Monday, April 30, 2012

John 12

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

Jesus was hanging out with Lazarus (the guy he has recently raised from the dead) and Mary used a bunch of expensive ointment to anoint the feet of Jesus. Then she wiped it clean with her hair. Judas asked why they didn't sell the ointment and donate the money to the poor. He didn't actually care about the poor, he was a thief and would dip into the money before it was donated. Jesus said to leave her alone, she should keep the rest of the ointment for the day of his burial. For the poor you always have but I will not always be here.

That last line is strange to me. I thought he was supposed to be in favor of giving all of your belongings to the poor, yet he seems to be indulging in this expensive thing and wants it to be kept for his death. 

Now, as to the part with Judas, we have seen this story before. Why was the detail about Judas never mentioned before? It seems like a pretty big detail to leave out. Also, in this version it is only Judas who complains where in the other versions it says there are multiple disciples who complain.

The Plot to Kill Lazarus

The chief priests wanted to put Lazarus to death as well as Jesus, because many have seen that Jesus raised him from the dead and they were following him.

Seems logical I guess, if you are willing to kill one person, why not another.

The Triumphal Entry

Jesus rode in to town on a donkey. This matched what was in some ancient prophecy and everyone thought it was great.

I've said this many times, but I just don't find these types of things interesting. The thing is, Jesus knew about the prophecy right? He wanted to fulfill the prophecy so he was seeking out the donkey. Doesn't that make the prophecy less impressive? As Matt Dillahunty has pointed out on numerous occasions, if I order a steak and then the waitress brings me a steak, is she fulfilling prophecy or just following instructions? For the prophecy to be interesting, I would think the players would have to at least not know what the prophecy means while they are fulfilling it, although even then, you have the problem of the players fitting the prophecy to events in the past. (Why is everything reminding me of star trek lately?)

Some Greeks Seek Jesus

Among the people that came to worship Jesus were some Greeks. Jesus says that whoever loves life loses it but whoever hates life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Not really sure what the message is supposed to be here. If I hate life, why would I want eternal life? I would rather live one life happily than eternal life which I hate. Is the implication that if you hate this life you will get eternal life later and that life will be good? It doesn't seem to say that, but I will be honest, I find the wording of this section fairly confusing so I might be missing something pretty big here.

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

Jesus shouts to the heavens that God should glorify his name. He does. Many in the crowd said they heard thunder while others said they heard angels.

My old roommate and I used to talk about this verse on occasion (he is catholic). We were discussing when people see Jesus or the virgin mary in objects that I thought it was just our natural pattern matching. He referenced this verse and said maybe there is something really there, but you only see it if you want to see it.

Jesus says he will be lifted up to heaven. The crowd responds that the Christ is supposed to stay forever, so how can he be lifted up? He avoids their question and just says that he won't be around forever so they should enjoy the light while they can.

The Unbelief of the People

After saying these things Jesus hid himself away from everyone. He was upset that he has performed so many miracles and yet people still don't believe in him. However, many people did believe in him they were just afraid to say it because the people in power didn't like Jesus.

Don't listen to what they are saying, they are picking on you because they are jealous.

Jesus Came to Save the World

verse 47 says he is not here to judge, but then verse 48 says he is here to judge, what am I missing?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Definition: Supernatural

In a recent post in the comments of another blog, I was accused of being biased against the supernatural. My first thought was to question whether or not this was supposed to be an insult. Why yes, I am biased against the supernatural, I don't believe that the supernatural exists.

But then I was wondering if we were really communicating properly, I wonder if we all think of the same thing when we hear the word "supernatural". I think we can all come up examples, things that we would consider supernatural "God, ghosts, magic", but what exactly does it take for something to be considered supernatural? I think it basically means something that we perceive to be unexplainable.

Let's take magic, which we currently would consider to be supernatural, and suppose it were real. There would presumably be some rules by which that magic operates. There is potentially some energy that most of us cannot detect, but magic users could sense and somehow gather. They can then channel this energy and use it to create fireballs or whatever. Perhaps there is a certain amount of time it takes to rebuild this energy, perhaps they can only build up so much at a time, perhaps they have to go to certain places where the energy is plentiful.  The specifics don't matter, the point is, there are some rules which govern the way this magic works. If we could create the correct diagnostic tools we should be able to figure out how it works. Suppose we were able to peel back this curtain, would we still call it supernatural?

But this example is silly, as far as we can tell, magic as I have described doesn't exist. But let's think about how this has played out in the past. What happens when we get sick? Clearly there is some supernatural entity that has caused the sickness. We are possessed by demons, or evil spirits, or God is upset with us. We can see that people are getting sick, but we don't know why. I wonder if people in those times would have thought that sickness itself was supernatural. Obviously we know that there is really some microscopic thing that was causing the sickness, but the people of the time had no way of detecting them.

So am I biased against the supernatural? absolutely! Do I think ghosts are real? Nope. What if ghosts did turn out to be real? Would we say they are supernatural? Probably. But what does that really mean? I think it mostly means that they are just very mysterious and poorly understood. If we learned a lot about them I bet they would stop being called supernatural after a while.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reminders of Secular Authority Reduce Believers' Distrust of Atheists

A friend sent me this paper (by Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan) that he saw published in psychological science. I found it really interesting and figured it would be a good topic for a blog post. I'm going to do my best to summarize what I find interesting about the article, if you find it interesting I highly encourage you to go check out the article yourself as I will surely leave out stuff. It is also written really well, so it is not difficult to understand as academic papers so often are. I also recommend checking out his other papers, there are other ones there that I think also look quite interesting.

The paper starts by pointing out that trust is very important in our social lives. We want to make sure that we trust the right people and don't trust the wrong people, and largely to figure out who is who we use indirect cues. Given that we know everyone else is looking for indirect cues in us, we are hypersensitive to being watched. Even to the point where having pictures of human eyes makes people act better, on the other side subtle things such as ambient darkness can make people act worse.

So how does God figure in? Basically, thinking of God has a similar effect as thinking of someone watching you. Even subtle reminders of God and religion can promote pro-social behavior in religious people. A result is religious people believe that if you also believe in a watchful God, you can be trusted. This plays out in studies as atheists are among the least trusted groups.

If the watchful eye of God is a source of distrust of atheists, then perhaps the watchful eye of a secular authority can counteract that. It seems that it does "In the lab, priming secular concepts (e.g., “civic,” “jury”) promotes prosocial behaviors just as effectively as do reminders of a watchful God" (note: everything I have said so far is in the introduction of the paper and cites a bunch of other papers to justify the claims)

The idea the authors of this paper wanted to explore was whether secular authority reduces all prejudices or if it is specific to atheists. They ran 3 experiments.

Experiment 1

Depending on which condition they were in, participants either watched a video of someone's first impressions visiting Vancouver, or they watched a video detailing successes of the Vancouver police department. Then they were asked to fill out questionnaires (which they thought were unrelated) which included questions about how much they trust certain groups. The groups that viewed the police video had a lower distrust of atheists, but there was no effect for their distrust of other groups.

Experiment 2

In the second study they used a more subtle priming technique, I think this was to head off complaints that the video was too obvious in the first experiment. Also, the reaction to various outgroups is different, so they compared distrust of atheists to disgust of gays. Similar results were found, after priming there was less distrust of atheists but not less disgust at gays

Experiment 3

This one is similar to experiment 2 except they were looking at distrust of atheists and gays rather than distrust of atheists and disgust of gays. They also used mturk to gather data. They got similar results as experiment 2.

Final Discussion

This study shows that not all prejudice is created equal. If something works to stop one kind of prejudice, it may be completely useless for another, researchers and policymakers should be aware of this fact. This study joins other previous ones to suggest that as governments do better to ensure cooperation religion becomes less important. Religious people from secular societies should be more accepting of atheists. This seems to be generally true in reality.


Well, I hope you found this paper as interesting as I did. I also want to state one more time that I am simply summarizing it quickly, there is much more detail in the paper and if something seems a bit off or if you want to see more detail don't take my word for it, go check out the source.

Friday, April 27, 2012

John 11

The Death of Lazarus

There was a man Lazarus in Bethany who is ill. Mary and Martha are his sisters, Mary is the one who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. They sent word to Jesus asking for help. He heard that Lazarus was in trouble, so he decided to stay put for a few days and then head back to Judea.

I'm confused, is Bethany and Judea the same thing or something? Shouldn't he be heading toward Bethany? Does he perhaps have to travel through Judea?

The disciples say that he is crazy because in Judea the people want to kill him. Jesus tells them he needs to go because Lazarus has fallen asleep. They say he will wake up so why worry about it. Then Jesus says more plainly that Lazarus has died and they need to go to him. Thomas then says to his fellow disciples "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

I suddenly like Thomas. Seriously though, why is Jesus being confusing on purpose? I feel like he does this all the time and it just serves to make things harder to follow.

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

When they get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for 4 days already. Martha said that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died. Jesus said Lazarus would rise again, Martha said she knows he will rise on the last day. Jesus said he is the resurrection and the life, everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die.

I'm curious what exactly this really means. Lazarus is dead right there. And people die all the time. We commonly interpret this as life in heaven after death, but that doesn't seem to be what Jesus is really saying here, he is saying people won't die.

Jesus Weeps

Mary heard the Jesus was calling for her, so she went to him and the disciples followed. She was weeping and said if he was there Lazarus wouldn't have died. He asks to be shown the body and he was so overcome that he wept when he saw how moved she was. Some people ask why Jesus let Lazarus die since he is able to heal a blind man.

Seems like a big leap, to expect that if you can heal blindness you can stop death. It actually reminds me of an episode of TNG.

Jesus Raises Lazarus

They get to the tomb, which is a cave with a stone in the way, and Jesus says to move the stone. They say that he has been dead for days and there will be an odor. Jesus asks if they believe in him, if they do they will see the glory of God. They take away the stone and Jesus talks to God and presumably asks for Lazarus to be brought back to life. Then they yelled for Lazarus to come out and he did, his hands and feet were wrapped with linen.

It occurred to me while I was reading this, is Lazarus a rich man? It seems that way as he is buried in a cave with a boulder at the entrance. Certainly this isn't how they bury everyone right? How does that mesh with the idea that rich people can't get into heaven and that people are supposed to give away all of their stuff?

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Many of the people who witnessed this believed in Jesus, but some went to the Pharisees and told them what happened, they didn't want him to do these things as it might make them lose power. So they worked on a plan to capture and kill Jesus

[Edit] If you want a much more thorough look at this passage, you should check out The Wise Fool post about it]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 5 How Did the Universe Begin?

As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.


Basically a very quick introduction to big bang ideas with a little history of it. It mentions Albert Einstein's cosmological constant and a few other interesting facts. It mentions that we now pretty much all agree that the universe has a beginning, which naturally leads to wonder what caused the beginning of the universe. It also mentions Anthony Flew, who used to be "the world's leading academic atheist" until 2003 when he announced he was a theist. It briefly talks about why he changed his mind, I hope they go into that more as it sounds very interesting, if they don't touch on it might I will have to put it on my list of things to look up later.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

What has actually been said I don't have much of a problem with, of course what was in this section doesn't talk about how we connect this to God at all. That is where the garbage starts to come in as far as I usually see. 

Alternate Explanations?

"Given the powerful theistic implications of the big bang model, the New Atheists have been eager to find an alternative explanation"

I have never seen an atheist try to claim the big bang didn't happen. This is just deceptive garbage.

In the 60s and 70s some cosmologists postulated that the universe infinitely expands and contracts. This theory is plagued with problems.

Yup, that is how science works, you come up with an idea and then test it out as best you can. This idea seems to been false.

Stephen Hawking popularized a theory that "rounded off" time at the beginning of the big bang by using imaginary numbers. "The problem is that imaginary numbers don't translate to the real world."

I don't even know what that quote is supposed to mean, but imaginary numbers show up in the real world all the time. Honestly, after reading that sentence, I want to just stop reading this book, it is pure garbage. It is so fucking dishonest! They also put "imaginary numbers" in quotes, implying they are bullshit. Just for the record, here is something I found with a quick google search about how imaginary numbers are used in real life.

Who Made God?

The atheists ask what caused God, but the point is that God is eternal. The argument only applies to things that begin to exist and God didn't begin to exist because he is eternal. Besides, if God was caused by something, then that thing must be caused by something and we have the same infinite regress problem. Since infinities are impossible this doesn't make sense.

Saying God can be eternal and the universe (or multiverse) can't be is special pleading. Infinite regress is not a problem if you are not afraid of infinities. You can have an infinite chain of causes provided you have an infinite amount of time in the past.

Kalam and the Judeo-Christian God

Sam Harris said that even if we accepted that the universe had to be created by an intelligent being, this would not suggest the God of the bible. We agree, but Kalam reveals that the universe was made and that someone made it

Wrong, it shows that there was a beginning of the universe, it does not show anything about an intelligent creator.


I'm pretty disgusted with this book right now. It has constantly misrepresented the arguments of the prominent atheists. It is possible that they are just mistaken about things, but I think they are purposefully misrepresenting their opponents for their own ends. They also said some pretty ridiculous things about math in this chapter that really irks me to read (for those new here, I am a mathematician).

The next chapter is "How Did Life Begin?". I'm sure it will be a hatchet job on abiogenesis. I'm not sure if I will do it, it partly will depend on if there is any interesting discussion over on apologetics 315 which is why I started this. Also, if anyone is reading along and wants me to continue please speak up. That could sway me.

John 10

I Am the Good Shepherd

Jesus says that if someone sneaks into the sheepfold they are a thief, but if they go in through the door they are a shepherd. If the sheep know the shepherd's voice they will follow, but they won't follow a stranger. Jesus is using a figure of speech which they don't understand, so he explains further. The people are the sheep and Jesus is a good shepherd. All others who came before are thieves who were not trusted. He also says that he has the authority to lay down his life for his sheep and take it up again, some people don't trust him because of this claim.

I like that after he says something that requires a bit of interpretation he explains it in further detail. I wish he would do that more often. As far as the actual message of this section, Jesus is basically saying everyone like him that came before was a fake but he is real. I personally don't find such declarations to be that convincing.

I and the Father Are One

The Jews gathered around Jesus and asked him to tell them if he is the Christ in plain language. He said he is, they said it was blasphemy and they tried to stone him and then they tried to arrest him. He got away.

Again, he is asked to talk more plainly and he complies. It appears that he was willing to answer plainly so long as he was asked, too bad someone didn't just follow him around constantly asking him to be more clear. I don't really have much else to say here, I guess it is pretty remarkable how barbaric the time seems to be, they want to stone him for saying he is God.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Atheist Blogroll

I have been added to the atheist blog roll. You should go check it out. If you want to see a complete list of the members of the blogroll you can click the button in my sidebar.

Also, if you have your own atheist blog you should think about joining the blog roll yourself. Just follow this link and it will show you what you need to do.

John 9

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

They come across a blind man and the disciples ask Jesus whether the man sinned or if it was his parents who made him blind. Jesus says neither, but instead he is blind so that God's might could be displayed in him.

So the guy was blind so Jesus could show off and heal him? That is garbage.

Jesus spits on the ground and anoints the guy's eyes with the resulting mud. When he washes it off he can see. Everyone who knows the guy is surprised he can see and he tells them what happened. They try to find Jesus but fail. They went to the Pharisees and told them the story, they pointed out that the day the guy was healed was the Sabbath and Jesus must therefore not be from God. But others pointed out that he must be because of what he can do.

Jesus again demonstrates that he doesn't think keeping the Sabbath is all that important, I like that.

They don't believe the man had been blind so they ask his parents and they verified that he was born blind. They ask the man once again and he said that Jesus healed him. They said Jesus was a sinner and the man, he said that may be so, but he was healed by Jesus. He asked them if they wanted to be disciples of Jesus and they were mad because they were disciples of Moses who they know talked to God. He said he was blind but now he can see so the man must be from God to be able to do such things.

Jesus heard of all of this happening and found the man he had healed. Jesus asks if he believed in the son of man and the guy said yes. Jesus said many people could become blind. A Pharisee nearby asks if he is blind and Jesus said if he was blind he would be guilt free.

Does this last bit show that we are talking about being blind to sin or something?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 6 - Human Pain

For anyone new here, I am doing a series of "book club" posts going through "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. The format I post in is similar to my bible posts, section headings in bold, summary in regular text, my comments in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings in the book so I make them up.


As was argued in previous chapters, any place where souls meet there will be the possibility that they will hurt one another, this perhaps accounts for four-fifths of suffering. The obvious question is why does God allow the worst of men to torture others.

A very good question, the central question of the book in fact.


There are 2 different ways in which we can use the word pain, one is restricted to physical types of pain, while the other also includes mental pain such as anguish. From now on, we will consider the more broad definition which includes both mental and physical pain.

Anyone who has been following my blog for long knows I am always happen to be clear and explicit with definitions.

Submit to Your Creator

It is a proper good for any creature to submit to its creator.

I think the problem here is that Lewis is thinking about God but he is trying to argue in a more general fashion and it doesn't work. Is he really trying to say that any creature who has a creator should submit to it's creator. What if the creator is evil. What if a demon created a bunch of people for the purpose of hunting them? Is it good for them to submit? What if someone created a bunch of sentient beings for the purpose of making them slaves? Is it good for them to submit?

By submitting to the creator, we often cause pain to ourselves because it goes against our own desires. This is why it is a good idea to break a child's will when they are young so the transformation will be easier. In a sense we die daily when we do this.

This seems a bit crazy to me. It also makes me wonder what heaven will be like. If simply following God's will in place of our own causes us pain, is heaven supposed to be pain free? Am I still me in heaven?

Pain is God's Megaphone

We won't surrender ourselves as long as we are comfortable. Error and sin are masked evil, but pain is unmasked. God can whisper to us in pleasure and conscience but he shouts at us in pain. 

I suppose there is some logic to that.

Retribution is Not Necessarily Evil

When people do us wrong, it is natural that we want the same or a similar fate to befall them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, retribution can be a good thing. This is true for us and when God seeks vengeance upon us. Our pain from such vengeance is God's way of showing us we should change.

Before the argument was that pain is just a necessity, which seems to make enough sense. But now he is trying to say pain is a tool that God uses on us, which seems pretty bad to me.

It Is Hard to be Good When Comfortable

When we are comfortable it is easy to view God as a parachute, nice to have but we hope we never need him. On the other hand, when people are down and out, it is easy to ask why God is punishing them, but it is easier for them to accept God so it is actually a blessing.

Sounds like a rationalization from a rich person to me.

Work for Self or God?

When our desires line up with God's do we serve him or ourselves when we do those things? If we are not putting effort into it does it count?

I would think that having your desires lining up with God's would be a good thing, he seems to question it.

Fear and Pity

Even if pain had no good effects for us, it is necessary for fear and pity. So if fear and pity are worthwhile, pain would be necessary. And it is, for example because of pity we love people we otherwise might not. Furthermore, fear is used to remind us that everything we have here on earth is not simply playthings for us to use. Once the fear is removed, it is natural to go back to thinking of things as toys.

This seems to me to just be a reflection of Lewis' issues. He seems to be writing as if everyone is going to identify with what he is saying, but for myself, I identify with very little of it.


Lewis rambled on for a while there. I tried to capture the interesting bits of it, but I may have missed some things. If anyone reading along found something interesting that I completely skipped over please speak up :)

Next week: Chapter 7 - Human pain continued

John 8

The Woman Caught in Adultery

Apparently this story is not in early manuscripts. I would think that leads to the conclusion that it is a forgery, but I suppose a believer might think that it just means God added it later. Unfalsifiability sure is convenient.

A woman was caught in adultery and she was brought to Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to see what he would do and hoped that they would get something to use against him. They said that the law of Moses says she should be stoned. He said that the person who is without sins should cast the first stone. Everyone went away and Jesus told the woman to also leave and sin no more.

This story is a forgery? Really!? This one is iconic.

I Am the Light of the World

Jesus said he is the light of life, the Pharisees said he is lying. He said it is not just him who talks but his father. They asked where his father is and he said if they knew him they would know his father too. Jesus said these things in the temple but no one arrested him because it wasn't time yet.

Seems to me that they are asking legitimate questions and he is not giving them very satisfying answers. Also, it sounds like he should be arrested because of what he is saying but it isn't time yet so God is intervening or something.

Jesus said he is going a place they cannot follow, so the people wondered if he was going to kill himself. Jesus said that he is from above, not from here. People will die for their sins unless they believe in him.

Seems to me like Jesus is talking in a more round-a-bout way than is necessary here.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Jesus tells the Jews listening to him the truth will set them free. They say they have never been slaves so how can they be set free. He says they are slaves to sin.

This is an interesting idea. There are certainly some sins that can spin out of control, but I don't like the idea that you can't get them back in control.

You Are of Your Father the Devil

The crowd tells Jesus their father is Abraham, he says that if that were true they would do the works of Abraham, but they are trying to kill him. They said they were not born of sexual immorality, but they were born of God, Jesus replies that if they were born of God they would love him, they were born of the devil because they didn't understand what he was saying.

It seems to me like there is a huge communication problem here. The crowd is trying to understand Jesus but failing and they are all getting frustrated. You would think God would be better at communicating.

Before Abraham Was, I Am

The crowd says that Jesus has a demon, he says he doesn't. Jesus says if they listen to him they won't die, they are mad he is saying he is better than Abraham who died. Jesus says he was around before Abraham but they say he isn't even 50 years old. They try to stone Jesus but he gets away.

Wow, Jesus is doing a bad job of communicating and they try to stone him. I'm surprised I've never heard this story before. Something about this story seems a bit off, I think because they are just talking past each other.

Monday, April 23, 2012

John 7

Jesus at the Feast of Booths

Jesus didn't want to go to Galilee because the Jews were seeking to kill him. His brothers and sisters wanted him to go because they said he shouldn't work in secret. He said his time hasn't come to speak openly. Jesus then went to the feast secretly and there was much talk of him. Some said he is great, some said he is leading his people astray.

At about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up to the temple to teach. They marvel at his teaching because he was never taught, he says he is teaching what the father wants him to. He doesn't seek his own glory but instead his fathers. They say he has a demon and he replies by talking about working on the Sabbath.

I didn't quite follow at the end there. But apart from that, the main point seems to be that Jesus is getting started in convincing a lot of people. And at the start he had a lot of opposition. 

Can This Be the Christ?

Some people pointed out that many people want to kill Jesus yet nobody is doing it. Then they asked if that is because those people realize he is Christ. Some say that we are not supposed to know where the Christ comes from yet we do know where Jesus comes from so he can't be the Christ. Jesus blows them off.

This sounds to me like he is justifying why a prophecy isn't being properly fulfilled (just a guess). Is there some old thing that says we aren't supposed to know the origin of Christ? Is this getting at something completely different and I'm misinterpreting?

Officers Sent to Arrest Jesus

The Pharisees heard the people talking about Jesus so they sent some guys to arrest him. Jesus said he would be with the people a little longer but then he would some place where they won't be able to find him.

Is this talking about when he is going to die and go to heaven? If so, aren't they supposed to also be able to go to heaven when they die? I'm confused

Rivers of Living Water

If you are thirsty come to me and drink and if you believe rivers of living water will flow out of your heart.


Division Among the People

Some people liked what he said, some people wanted to arrest him, but no one touched him. Then the officers from the Pharisees showed up and asked why they didn't bring him in. They said that no one had talked like him before and the officers asked if they had been fooled by him.

Seemed pretty much the same as a section up higher.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Taxicab Fallacy

A little while ago I watched a video of a debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss. At one point during the debate, WLC complained that someone had used the "taxicab fallacy". I had never heard of this fallacy so I wrote it down intending to look into it later. My first stop was wikipedia as usual, I failed to find an entry, although it is possible it is under a different name. My next stop was iron chariots, it does have a page but a quick glance shows that page very critical, so I decided to put that one on hold and look at it last. I don't want to taint my view of the idea before I give it a fair chance. I tried to find an explanation of the fallacy directly from WLC, but I was not able to find much. I found a few pages where he calls something "the taxicab fallacy" but never one devoted to it.

All I was able to find was these 2 blog posts which basically say the same thing. Let me just quote it from one of those blogs
The “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” is committed when one hops in and assumes a certain system of thought or worldview in an attempt to make a particular point but then jumps out of the system of thought when it suits their fancy.
I'm not sure I really understand this, and I did a quick scan of the comments of both blogs and was unable to find a good example. It seems that the complaint is that atheists are picking certain details out of the bible and then asking the theist to answer without being allowed to use other things from the bible. Depending on how it goes, I could see this being valid or not. It's hard to judge without an example. Although I will say, my initial reaction is that this sounds like a proof by contradiction. This is where you start with certain assumptions and show that they lead to nonsense, thereby proving that those assumptions were incorrect.


Ok, now I am going to go look at the iron chariots page. They have the example of challenging a theist as to whether it was morally correct for Abraham to go up to the mountain to sacrifice his son. If the theist says yes, the the Atheist can ask if it was moral because God commanded it or if God commanded it because it is moral. If the theist says that God commanded it because it is moral then the atheist could ask for a non-biblical answer as to why that is moral and then is when the theist would complain of taxicab fallacy. Which certainly seems like a fraudulent claim to me. I'm guessing that the theist  would try to argue taxicab fallacy without everything spelled out so nice and things get lost in the shuffle or something.


I was just not satisfied with this, so I waded back into the video from above, I found it at around 24 minutes on the video of the Q and A (actually someone asks a fairly stupid question at 22:30, Krauss rephrases it in a less stupid way at about 23:00 and then WLC responds afterward)

Basically Krauss said that people want to stop asking why at some point, so they say God. This gives them a reason to stop asking why and it is intellectual laziness. He says that there may not be an ultimate answer. Craig then says that the arbitrary point to stop is the universe and the Theists are the ones that are going further. He says that stopping at the universe is the taxicab fallacy. As far as I can tell, this doesn't mesh with the definition I found elsewhere and described above at all. Honestly, it looks to me like he throws it out there when he wants to sound smart and doesn't have a real fallacy to cite.

I'm pretty irritated here as this seems totally dishonest to me. I could be totally wrong here and if someone sees me misunderstanding something please point it out, but if this was a real fallacy WLC would properly explain it instead of just throwing it out offhand here and there.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Argument From Ignorance

Today I want to talk about the logical fallacy "argument from ignorance". Good resources on this are available at wikipedia and iron chariots.

First, I feel the need to point out that if you say someone is using an argument from ignorance, you are not calling them stupid. It is not an insult, it is just pointing out that they are making a logical error. Unfortunately, when people have never heard of this fallacy they might feel attacked when it is pointed out and they can stop listening. If you are arguing with someone and you point out an argument from ignorance you should be prepared for this and be ready to say something like "I didn't say you are ignorant, I am pointing out a logical fallacy." That doesn't always work either, but it is good to be aware of it.

The argument from ignorance is basically when someone simply claims that something is not understood and is therefore impossible. They will then often insert their claim which also has no evidence. You can see this fallacy at work most often when you hear people say things like "well how else would you explain it?" or alternatively "there is no other way to explain it."

The most common examples of this that I have seen relate to evolution, abiogenesis, and the beginning of the universe.

1. How could a single celled organism have become a human with random mutation? That doesn't make sense to me, so evolution must not have happened. (That is the argument from ignorance) I think God created everything.

2. How could life come from non-life by random natural processes? That doesn't make sense to me so it didn't happen. (Again, that was the argument from ignorance). God did it.

3. How could the universe just happen? What was there before the beginning of the universe? How could it have gotten started on it's own? That doesn't make sense, it couldn't have just happened by random natural processes (AFI) so God must have been guiding it.

The real shame here, is that an answer of "I don't know" is not a bad thing. Because of the answer "I don't know" we have a very good answer for my first example and there are very big strides being made on the second. The third example is a fair bit over my head to be honest, but my understand is that there are people working on that as well. Being comfortable with "I don't know" is a difficult thing, but it is important. It is better to know that you have a gap in knowledge than to fill it with incorrect things.

Suppose we were living before we understood how diseases were transmitted. Suppose I ask the question "How does disease spread?" What is a better answer
A. I don't know, we should look into it
B. Must be evil spirits
(A) might not be satisfying and it could leave people feeling helpless, but (B) is dangerous and who knows what it could lead to. "Billy is sick, let's go sacrifice a goat"

Friday, April 20, 2012

John 6

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

It was time for a passover feast and Jesus saw that a large crowd had gathered. He asked his disciples how much it would cost to feed them all and they said it would cost more than 200 denarii. Andrew pointed out that there is a boy with 2 fish and five loaves, so Jesus took it and prayed, then distributed them. After it was done they gathered the leftovers and it filled 12 baskets. The people said that Jesus was clearly a prophet and he could see they wanted to force him to be king, so he withdrew.

I found an differences from this version from the versions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The first is that in the other 3 versions they felt the need to feed the people because they were in a desolate place. In fact, I think Jesus actually went to the desolate place to be alone but was followed anyway. This time it was passover and Jesus wanted to feed everyone because it was time for a feast. I'm not sure I would have even noticed this except I went to my first passover seder a few weeks ago. I'm also not sure how much I think this discrepancy is a big deal, I find it interesting for sure, but in my opinion it is less of a big deal than other contradictions I have come across.

There is something about this story that I like but it requires assuming that Jesus did not use magic. Suppose there were many people in the crowd who actually did have bread on them and they could see that there was not enough being provided so they put some of their bread in the basket rather than taking some out. This story then becomes Jesus inspiring people to share with each other, which is a good message and also hints at the idea that people are generally good at their core.

Jesus Walks on Water

A few of Jesus' disciples went out to a boat and went a few miles out to sea. A storm picked up and then they saw Jesus coming out to them on the water. He told them not to be afraid and they were happy to get him into the boat, and they were immediately at the land.

The way it is told here it sounds like a dream. 

I Am the Bread of Life

The crowd noticed that Jesus and his disciples did not get into the boat together, but they are both gone even though there was only 1 boat available to them. They follow him and find Jesus and ask him what is up. He says they are looking for him because of the bread they got, but they should focus on food that endures forever. Jesus says that he is the bread of life, no one who believes in Jesus will be hungry or thirsty. Also those who believe will have eternal life for that is the father's will. The people are not satisfied with this because they know he came from Joseph and Mary. Then he says the manna from Moses was from heaven, but Jesus is the living bread, if you eat of him you will not die. You must eat of Jesus' flesh and drink of his blood to get eternal life.

Well based on that the whole transubstantiation thing does seem to make a bit more sense. According to this verse, I could see how some people would be insistent that the wine literally becomes blood and the cracker literally becomes flesh.

The Words of Eternal Life

Some of the disciples did not like the message he was delivering and complained, he said that they can only follow him if it is granted to them by the father and many of the disciples turned away. He then asked the 12 if they wanted to leave as well and said that one of them is a devil.

Wow, I have never heard this before. I always thought that anyone could be a Christian if they wanted, but this seems to be saying that some people are not allowed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 4 Is Darwinian Evolution the Only Game in Town?

As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.


People like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris claim that evolution is fact and the matter is settled. That all scientists except the "woefully uninformed" accept it as fact. However, this is not true. There are over 800 scientists who have signed a list at the discovery institute who say they are skeptical of evolution.

My first thought on this was that 800 seems like a pretty small number. But let's move past it, I am curious to see the list, and ideally a reason why they dissent. I went to the discovery institute site and was referred here to find the list. I was primarily interested in why these people are so skeptical of evolution, most just say what they study although there is one page with a few descriptions and one with an audio file, which I'm going to go listen to now... I don't want to go into the details here, but I'm not impressed with it.

Understanding Evolution

Evolution can mean different things, some think of it as "change over time", others say it is "organisms' adaptation to changing environments". We can see many subspecies of certain animals and we can see them change in small scale, this is micro-evolution. Macro-evolution is bigger change and this is what is controversial. Darwinian evolution claims that all animals can trace their lineage back to a common ancestor.

The difference between micro and macro evolution is not well defined. Any evidence can just be classified as micro and say we have never seen macro, this is moving the goalposts. It is hard to see big changes because it works on timescales much larger than our lifetimes.

Understanding Intelligent Design

Even evolutionists think that the world looks designed, they just think this appearance is illusory while ID proponents claim it looks designed because it is. A great example is the bacterial flagellum, it is basically a little motor where if you remove any part of it the function of the entire system is destroyed. Many darwinists try to propose various explanations as to how it evolved, but none of this wild speculation is proof.

The problem is this, the author here is trying to say that it is impossible for the flagellum to have evolved without a designer. The 'darwinists' are providing possible explanations, which is the first step to figuring out how it happened. According to what is written here, ID is simply trying to use an argument from ignorance. "We don't know how it happened so it couldn't have happened without God"

"The theory of intelligent design does not challenge the definition of evolution as change over time, or even common ancestry. But it does challenge the Darwinian claim that all life's complexity and diversity can emerge through a blind, undirected process."

This bit confuses me as to why there is a controversy at all. If I am reading this right, we are basically agreeing to everything except that at the end I would say it happened by random chance but you would say God did it. If we agree on everything else then we should focus on that. Are they saying that macro-evolution could happen but God had his hands in it? If so then why say it doesn't happen?

Let me illustrate with a slightly silly example. Suppose that I think gravity is just that 2 masses are attracted to each other by bending space-time, and you think that angels pull things toward each other. We agree on the equations involved, we think that things are attracted to each other with the same forces involved, everything is exactly the same except you think there are angels and I don't. Would you try to forbid me from teaching about gravity in school?

Doubting Darwin

Scientists are beginning to realize that mutation and natural selection play a role, but they are skeptical that this can account for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. We will look at a few of the common evidences for evolution.

I want to just say here that they should be skeptical, evolution is an incredible thing and should be looked at with a critical eye. 

HIV and Bacterial Resistance

Bacteria in general and HIV in particular great for looking at mutations and adaptations. HIV has undergone countless mutations worldwide and "is uniquely positioned to help determine whether natural selection is viable". However, "HIV has not gone through the radical changes we should expect if natural selection is the creative force the New Atheists claim."

I'm curious what changes are supposedly expected. As stated in the section, HIV has adapted to be drug resistant, which is where the selection pressure is so that seems to me to be what we would expect, and that would happen. I am curious what test HIV has supposedly failed here.


This is the idea that different organisms have similar structures, for example if you look at the skeleton of different animals it will be similar to yours, even though sizes and shapes might differ, the same underlying structure is there. The problem is that this makes sense from the point of view of evolution and from ID, so you can't use it to prove evolution over ID.

Fair enough, this plays right into my point from above though, we should celebrate the fact that we agree on this. I guess I'm still confused about what ID is really saying, it sounds to me like it is saying "evolution plus God did it", in that case it doesn't seem like we should be at odds. I really hope someone can help me out with this.


Darwin found variation with different birds on the Galapagos islands and thinks that they evolved from a common bird which originally migrated there. We agree with this idea, we just don't think it extends to the idea that all life has a common ancestor. Further, many geneticists believe that such birds change by losing genetic information over time, which clearly does not extend to the bigger picture.

Well this last idea must be easily testable. Apart from that, we just have more of the same micro vs macro argument

Poor Design

The New Atheists like to claim that there is poor design in nature and that is evidence for unguided evolution rather than a designer. However, just because something isn't perfect doesn't mean that it isn't designed. Just think about an ipod, earlier versions are not perfect as later versions show, but they are still functional and that is what matters.

This seems to be watering down what ID is claiming. The designer now doesn't even have to be very good, it's creations just have to be functional. But functional yet poorly constructed creatures seem to make more sense to me from the unguided perspective, if you disagree so be it, but I think that is the point they are making.


Psuedogenes are thought to be genes that once had a function and have since stopped working. This is said to be evidence of evolution. They could have formed after creation and they could be creatures losing abilities. This again, is micro evolution not macro.

Same micro/macro problem

Why Our Origin Matters

Why is this such a big deal? Why can't we just believe in God and evolution?

This is what I want to know!

Mostly, we fine the theory unpersuasive along with the 800 scientists who disagree.

Fair enough, but I would again like to point out that 800 is an incredibly small number. Not that this says much, but the book seems to be trying to say this is a point of strength where I instead read it as weakness.

Also important, is the fact that evolution tries to eliminate the need for God. Dawkins says that Darwinism leaves no room for a higher intelligence or purpose.  He has argued that Darwinism undermines theism in general and Christianity in particular.

I think this is the real reason for the opposition. They don't want it to be true and so they refuse to believe it. I don't see why they can't just fight the idea that evolution undermines theism instead of fighting evolution itself.

Endowed By a Creator

In the final section a quote by Thomas Jefferson from 1823 is used to show that it is "obvious" that there is a designer. Is this really the best "evidence" they have?

John 5

The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath

Jesus went to a place where there were a lot of invalids such as blind, lame, and paralyzed people. There was one guy who had been an invalid for 38 years and Jesus told him to get up, take his bed and walk, the guy was healed an immediately he was healed and he did so. People saw him carrying his bed and said he shouldn't do that because it is the Sabbath, he said the man who healed him told him to do it. They were mad at Jesus.

I know you aren't supposed to work on the Sabbath, but carrying your bed counts?

Jesus Is Equal with God

The Jews were upset with Jesus because he said God was his father making him equal with God, so they wanted to kill him.

Seems like a bit of an overreaction to me. 

The Authority of the Son

The son will do as the father can do. The father passes his power to the son. Soon the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and will live. "an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out."


Witnesses to Jesus

You don't need to trust me what I say about myself, you can trust what John the baptist said about me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

John 4

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

Jesus went to a well in the town of Sychar and he was tired. A Samaritan woman came to get water from the well and Jesus asked for a drink. She asked why a Jew would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink, and he said if she asked him for a drink he would give her one such that she would never be thirsty again. He tells her to bring others to see him and tells her things about her that he shouldn't know, so she is convinced he is Christ. While she is telling the other people of the town, the disciples return and try to get him to eat and he says his food is the works he does. He stays in that town for a few days then moves on to Galilee.

A lot of things here about spiritual food/drink and I guess spiritual health or something. I dunno.

Jesus Heals an Official's Son

An official had an ill son who was going to die soon, so he asked Jesus to heal him. Jesus said the kid would be fine and the official went on his way. On the way back one of his servants intercepted him and said his son was going to be fine, he asked when he started recovering and the time he gave was when the official was talking to Jesus.

My interest in this is really what could be gotten out of the bible in terms of lessons for life, that kind of thing. As far as I can tell, the miracles Jesus does are primarily to demonstrate that he is Godly and that he has power. I'm not really interested in that so I just don't have much to say here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 5 - The Fall of Man

For anyone new here, I am doing a series of "book club" posts going through "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. The format I post in is similar to my bible posts, section headings in bold, summary in regular text, my comments in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings in the book so I make them up.

The Fall of Man Was Inevitable?

Lewis starts by saying the fall of man explains the previous chapter, but then he says that God could have magically fixed the first sin of Adam, but then he would have had to fix an infinite string of sins. Eventually if God stopped doing this we would still wind up where we are today. So he says that we are evil because of the fall, but then says that the fall was inevitable presumably because we are evil. Which is it?

Disobedience or Knowledge

The story of Genesis has the apple as a magic object in which you gain knowledge when you eat it. In the developed doctrine the magical properties have been somewhat dropped away and the focus is on disobedience. This chapter will focus on the disobedience angle.

I didn't realize that the knowledge aspect of the story has been downplayed in the church, I guess I'll take his word on that.

Careful of Definitions

It is said that we have grown out of brutality and savagery, but those words are poorly defined. Like many words we use them in multiple ways and it can get confusing if you confound the various definitions. If you mean these words to generally describe a type of primitiveness, then it seems like a fine use, but sometimes they are used to claim some sort of a wicked quality, in which case there is not really any evidence for that.

I completely agree with this sentiment. In fact, I would argue that a lot of the arguments that I see on religious topics are mostly people talking past each other because they are using different definitions for the same words. It's a shame because often times both sides agree on a lot of points (not all points obviously) but just don't realize it.

Recurring Original Sin

People have argued that the first person could not have sinned because he wouldn't have time to evolve a sense of community enough that he could do something that we call sin. However, a sin is a crime against God so a single person can do it.

Is this what he was saying? I was a bit confused if I'm being honest.

Every person who is self-aware has to choose whether his life will center around his own interest or around God. We all have to make this choice every day and whenever we focus on ourselves we are sinning against God. So we all commit original sin all over again every day. Even from an evolutionary perspective, original sin makes sense.

To anyone who says there is no cost to Christianity, how about this? According to this, you basically need to spend all day every day making sure you are focusing completely on God or you are sinning. Am I miss stating this? I am finding this chapter fairly confusing. Maybe he is just saying this is a sin, and not original sin.

Early Man

God spent centuries perfecting the animal form that became man. At some point this animal that would become man could even use tools, yet he was not yet man until God descended down from heaven and endowed him with a soul. Early man had powers, like the yogi who can control their own metabolism. Early man had this power in abundance and others. He could sleep or not when he wanted, he could control even the decay of his body and live as long as he wanted.

I guess the idea that evolution happened and then at some point there was a human that was a modern human and God imbued him with a soul is an interesting idea. It certainly seems to reconcile evolution and the bible provided you don't need to take the bible literally. The only problem is it seems to be just made up out of thin air. And the next part about early man having all kinds of crazy powers demonstrates just how dangerous this kind of thinking is. If you can just make up stuff and have no reality check on it where can it go?

We don't know how many such creatures God created, but we do know that at some point they committed the original sin. They desired to care for their own future in their own interest instead of in God's. They wanted to carve out some part of the universe for themselves apart from God, but no such place exists. The fruit may have been metaphorical, but it doesn't really matter, the point is there was a fall.

Again, interesting take of the story of the fall, but where does it come from?

After the Fall

When the paradisal man committed original sin, he started living for himself rather than for God and was therefore in revolt against God. Because of this, he lost the ability to regulate his own body as that was really God regulating it through him. God stopped letting the body be regulated through the spirit, and instead let it be regulated by the laws of nature. By doing these things, this created a new version of man that had "sinned itself into existence."

Something occurred to me as I was reading this. He makes it out to be this huge sin, but really all "paradisal man" has done according to Lewis is to act on his own impulses, the ones that were given to him by God. Why is this so bad?

God Saw This All Coming

It might be concluded that these events caught God by surprise, but that is ridiculous. "God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula." Also, this does not mean that if we had not sinned then God would not have had some great thing for us. When we talk of contingencies, we don't really know what we are talking about. Perhaps if there is some sentient species somewhere else in the universe they may not have fallen.

At least he admits that he doesn't know what he is talking about, but it sounds to me like he is trying to have it both ways. Did God know we would fall ahead of time or not?

Our Condition is Not Punishment

We are not being punished for the sins of ancestors. But we are being treated like vermin because we are vermin. It is like a child who is raised poorly and then is put into a good family. The child will act up, and the new parents will be disappointed in the child as they should. It does not mean they hate him, but they demand that he stop acting up.

I feel like a broken record here, but again, this is my big problem with Christianity. The view that we are vermin is a terrible thing to inflict on people.


Well, that was an interesting chapter, a decent story if it were intended as fiction, but puzzling to be presented as fact. It seems to be completely pulled out of his ass. I guess it was his way of reconciling evolution with the creation story, but it doesn't seem to be supported by evolution or the bible or any church doctrine I have ever heard of. So what is the deal?

Next week: Chapter 6 - Human Pain

John 3

You Must Be Born Again

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. Jesus tells him that it is impossible to see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. He asks how you can be born again and Jesus replies that you must be born of water and spirit. Nicodemus asks how this can be and Jesus asks how he can be a teacher of Israel and not understand. He says "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe how can you believe heavenly things?"

Jesus says if you are not baptized then it is impossible to see the kingdom of God. This seems to make the "kingdom of God" more like what we normally think of as heaven than the earthly kingdom under rule of God discussed previously on this blog. Also, talking about being born again in spirit, sounds like he is talking of heavenly things to me as opposed to earthly things.

For God So Loved the World

God sent his son to earth so that whoever believes in him can have eternal life. If you don't believe you are condemned. If you are evil and do evil things you will hide from the light so your works will not be exposed.

I don't think belief is an act of will. If I don't believe in something, it is not an act of defiance, it is just that I have not been convinced. Punishing someone for not being convinced is not right. Put another way, suppose I don't really think any of this sounds real but I try to force myself to believe and act like I believe but deep down I really think the whole thing sounds fishy. Is that virtuous?

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

John and Jesus are both baptizing people, John's disciples tell him that Jesus is also baptizing and everyone is going to him. John says that he is from earth but Jesus is from heaven so Jesus is better than him.

Monday, April 16, 2012

John 2

The Wedding at Cana

Jesus was at a wedding and they ran out of wine. Jesus asked the servants to fill some huge pitchers up with water and then he turned it to wine.

I've mentioned this before, but I suppose this is a fine time to bring it up again as we are at the beginning of another book. I am not terribly interested in miracle claims of Jesus, I am more interested in lessons one could learn from reading the bible. Therefore I won't necessarily have much to say about this kind of stuff.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Jesus went to the temple and threw out the money changers. He said that they shouldn't make his father's house a house of trade. They asked him what sign he gave for doing these things and he said to destroy the temple and he would rebuild it in 3 days. They said it took 46 years to build it, how could he do it in 3 day. But Jesus had been talking about the body and his resurrection.

I like the money changer bit, I like the idea that church should not be a place of profit. I also really like the fact that after Jesus speaks in riddle the author clarifies it by pointing out that he is talking about his body and not the literal temple. These things may seem obvious to some, but it is so much more clear and useful when it is spelled out like this.

Jesus Knows What is in Man

When Jesus was at the passover feast many people believed in him for they say what he did, but he didn't entrust himself to them because he knew what was in man.

I just said I liked that things were clearly spelled out and then the very next thing is confusing. I have no idea what this was getting at. Oh well, win some lose some.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pascal's Wager

Even though this has been thoroughly debunked, it still gets used from time to time. I saw it used earlier this week so I figured it would be a good time to make my own post about it. If you want to see some background the wikipedia article and iron chariots article are both quite good.

According to the argument, there are 2 possibilities, either God exists or he doesn't. And you have 2 options, you can either believe in him or you can not. Combine these together and you have 4 possibilities, either God exists and you believe, God exists and you don't believe, God doesn't exist and you believe, God doesn't exist and you don't believe.

Now let's examine the possible outcomes, suppose God exists. If you believe, you will get infinite reward, if you don't believe you get infinite punishment. Obviously in this situation believing is the best option. But what if God doesn't exist? Whether you believe or not doesn't matter, in both situations you die and just cease to exist so they are completely equal. The conclusion is then obvious, Believing is either neutral or positive (and when it is positive it is infinitely positive) so the only logical conclusion is you should believe. (note: there is an alternate version on the wikipedia page that claims even if God doesn't exist belief is better than non-belief. That is not what I typically see in practice so I will stick to this version for now)

This might seem convincing the first time you hear it, it can certainly strike an emotional cord anytime infinite punishment is thrown at you, but it has major problems. Let's start with the biggest problem, it assumes that there are only 2 possibilities, the Christian God or no God at all. But there are many more gods that are believed in by people today and who knows how many others have fallen by the wayside to history. Many (most?) of those Gods also have consequences for not believing in them, if you believe in the Christian God and the Muslim God is real you will still wind up in hell. There is also the possibility that there is something like a God that nobody believes in and no one has heard of who has other rules besides what we know. What if the real god values critical thinking and would punish those who believe for a bad reason. What if believing because of Pascal's wager is the way to piss that god off the most? (Obviously I don't think this is true, but it is as much a possibility as any other God)

But there is another problem with this argument that is a bit more insidious, that is the assumption that there is no negative side to Christianity. There is nothing lost by being Christian, so even if you are wrong you should do it. If instead you want to argue that there are more positives than negatives in Christianity we can have that discussion, but the assertion that there is no downside to being Christian is garbage. So, let's talk about some downsides of Christianity:

1. It is expensive. I gotta say, it is pretty ballsy to claim that there is nothing lost by being a Christian and then to say you are supposed to give 10% of your check to the church. Sure, there is no penalty for it, but there is a lot of social pressure and guilt if you don't tithe. In the church I grew up in there was the occasional sermon that was completely devoted to tithing.

2. It is time consuming. We only have so much time on this planet, to have to go to church every sunday uses that time up. Again, it is not mandatory but it is expected and you will be guilted for not going. If you truly enjoy going then that is great, but many people go out of obligation, those people are wasting precious time.

3. It slows progress. Evolution and stem cell research. I've never heard an argument against these things that wasn't religiously motivated. Imagine the diseases we could have cured by now if our researchers could just do what they want to do.

4. Fanaticism. Religion can help people justify doing some crazy things. There are religiously motivated wars, suicide bombers, feuds, cults, faith healing, refusal of psychiatric treatment. The list goes on and on, this is just off the top of my head.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Definitions: Miracle

A few recent discussions have gotten me thinking about the meaning of the word 'miracle'. Like many words, we all have some intuitive sense of what we mean when we say it, but actually nailing down a definition can be hard. Does miracle mean something that happened that is great and unexpected? Does it mean something that is incredibly unlikely? Does it just mean that God did it?

Let's think about miracles using the definition of divine intervention. To me, this is a strange definition as it requires the belief in God as an assumption. I have not seen any good reason to think God exists, and therefore by necessity, I don't think miracles are real either. You can't use miracles to prove that God exists, because if I accept that it is a miracle I have already accepted that God exists. But I think that misses the point of what is being said a bit, it is also something amazing that we can't explain without God. Let me try to explain my point with an example.

Suppose I have been in some accident and my right arm has been amputated. Then one day I wake up and overnight my arm has grown back. We would all probably call it a miracle, some colloquially, some would use it as evidence that their God exists. What is really being said is that we don't understand how this thing happened, I guess God is real. What if it turned out that some aliens had come to earth and they did it using unimaginably advanced technology. Maybe they abducted me overnight to study us and fixed my arm as an afterthought. Is it still a miracle? I would say no if the definition of miracle hinges on the fact that God did it. Now, what if those aliens never made themselves known. What if they were passing by, abducted me overnight, healed my arm, then decided humans suck and kept going without ever telling us they were here. In this situation, we can see that a miracle never occurred while the people of that reality would say one did. They will never have enough information to conclude that a miracle didn't occur, they will always think that God did it, but they will be wrong.

The idea of a miracle is poorly defined and impossible to prove. The parameters of a miracle require that we have a lack of knowledge, which means as we learn, things that were once miracles will be reclassified. As long as 'miracle' is poorly defined it is useless, people who already believe in them will call some things miracles while people who don't believe in God can easily say there are no miracles.

Friday, April 13, 2012

John 1

The Word Became Flesh

John came to preach the word of God, he was not God but was sent from God. John was great and he said that the one that comes after him will be better than him as he will be God.

John is a bit more poetic than the previous gospels. I will do my best to properly interpret things but if I get things wrong please, as always, feel free to correct me.

The Testimony of John the Baptist

A group asks John if he is the christ, if he is a prohpet and if he is elijah, he answers no to all of those questions. They then ask who he is and he said he is just someone crying out in the wilderness. They asked why he baptizes if he is not any of those things, and he says that he is just baptizing with water, but the one who comes after him will be much better.

One thing I have learned from doing this blog is the place that John has. I grew up a Christian but never really knew how important he was. As far as I knew he was just another disciple. It's sad how poorly people are educated about their own religion.

Behold, the Lamb of God

Jesus came to be baptized by John and John "saw the spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him"

Is this supposed to be the holy spirit coming down to hang out with Jesus for a bit? 

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

John sees Jesus go by and says he is the lamb of God, his disciples hear and started following Jesus.

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

A couple more guys start following Jesus. Initially one of them thought that nothing good could come from Nazareth.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 3 Are Miracles Possible?

As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.


Dawkins says that miracles are impossible, that just shows how invested he is in his naturalistic worldview. He should be open to the possibility that there are miracles. There is an anecdote about Johann Ludwig Krapf who say show on mountaintops in 1849, when he reported this he was not believed by the scientific community of the time who thought such a thing was impossible. Those scientists should have been open to an unexpected idea and in the same way so should Dawkins. By simply ruling out the possiblities of miracles before examining the facts he is making a huge mistake. Furthermore, Christianity would crumble if miracles were impossible.

I have a few comments here, but largely I agree with the sentiment expressed. To simply state that certain things are impossible and refuse to consider evidence is a bad thing. The story of Krapf given in the book is a good example of that and the Dawkins portrayed in the section is also an example of it. My impression of Dawkins is not that he has simply dismissed miracles out of hand, but rather that he has looked at plenty of miracle claims and found them lacking and now doesn't think they are worth his time. He is not saying they are 100% for sure not true, just that it sounds similar to other miracle claims that he has examined that have failed to stand up to scrutiny. (Again, this is my impression of Dawkins after reading a fairly small amount of his writing)

But you might ask, what about the fact that Dawkins has clearly stated that he doesn't believe miracles are possible? I honestly wonder if that is at least partly a communication/terminology problem. I would ask what is really meant when you call something a miracle? Do you mean something that is impossible but it happened anyway? Is it something that has a supernatural origin? What does supernatural really mean? These are words that we have an intuitive sense of what they mean, but nailing down a definition can be difficult. I've written about this a little bit before.

Are Miracles Improbably?

In the God delusion Dawkins defines miracles as "events that are extremely improbably".

Perhaps what I just wrote is not quite right, Dawkins did talk about definitions. Now I'm going to have to go back and read his book again when I have time.

This definition is difficult because improbable depends on what the background is. If a student goes to a school where 10% of the students surf it is improbable that he surfs but if he goes to a different school in Hawaii for example, it is much more likely that he surfs.

Point taken I suppose, but using examples where 10% is your boundary for improbable really doesn't compare to what Dawkins means. (I can say that with confidence without going back to his book)

If we assume God exists then it isn't improbable that miracles occur, if we assume naturalism then miracles are impossible. It depends on where you start.

Why don't you start with an open mind? Starting by assuming you are correct is garbage. Assuming God doesn't exist is just as bad of a starting point as assuming he does exist, and the people you are talking about don't do that.

Didn't Hume Disprove the Case for Miracles?

Hume says that miracles are not possible and we should just discount them. They are not repeatable, they don't happen. His argument in circular, it only makes sense to say miracles are impossible if you start by assuming that miracles are impossible.

If that is a fair summary of Hume I would agree, however, I honestly don't trust this author. I am putting that book on my reading list, it sounds interesting, I might even do some posts about it later.

Hume's "In Fact" Objection

Hume gives 4 facts that he says discount the rational belief in miracles.

1. No historical miracle has been sufficiently attested by honest and reliable men. But the gospel writers were both intelligent and capable so this criticism falls flat.

My understanding is there is little to no extra-biblical evidence for those miracles.

2. People crave miraculous stories and will tend to be gullible. The author agrees with this and urges caution

3. Miracles only occur among barbarous people. The Jews were highly educated and sophisticated.

4. Miracles occur in all religions and cancel each other out in terms of likelihood. But Christianity is unique in it's claims being supported.

Obviously he would claim that, I'm curious to see his evidence.

Miracle Case Study: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

While naturalism challenges the resurrection, so does the resurrection challenge naturalism. Hitchens says that we can just write off the resurrection claim without looking at the evidence but this is a mistake as many have found the claims credible. There are 5 facts in "The case for the Resurrection of Jesus" which are "well evidenced and granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, regardless of his or her theological persuasion."

I'm not going to go into the details here as I am not a historian and don't really have much to add on specifics. I will say this though, I don't find it credible when it is claimed that everyone or almost everyone agrees with me in the way the author stated. Further, they offered 4 people as examples and only 1 was a historian. Why would I care what Anne Rice thinks about this? Why would these be the 4 examples you give? It suggests to me your argument is weak.

Luke Overview

As I have explained in the past, one of the reasons I am doing this blog is I am curious to see what kind of messages one might get from reading the bible. What might one learn as a take-away. Here is my quick summary of the good and bad from Luke

The Good:

2:46 learning and asking questions is good

3:10-14 help each other out, share with the needy

6:9-10 it is ok to break the rules for a good reason

6:37 don't be judgemental

10:20 don't focus on bad things for others, focus on good things for you

10:33-37 help everyone you can, regardless of prejudices.

12:1 don't be a hypocrite

12:3 don't be secretive

13:10-17 don't follow traditions for tradition sake

12:58 try to settle legal matters outside of court

14:13 be good to people who are down and out

18:11-12 don't be full of yourself

19:45-46 don't use the church for profit

The Bad:

4:12 you can't test God (God should be able to withstand a test)

5:20 you are paralyzed because of sins

6:22 be happy when people persecute you

6:45 people are either good or bad

8:10 Jesus was intentionally more confusing when talking to outsiders

8:21, 18:29 Family is less important than religion

8:48, 17:19 More faith healing

10:11-12 The entire town pays for the perceived transgressions of a few

10:21 God hides the truth from wise men (why hide it from anyone?)

12:10 Blasphemy against the holy spirit is unforgivable

12:51 Jesus is here to divide people, not to spread peace

16:18 Divorce and remarriage is the same as adultery

16:25 Eternal punishment for living a comfortable life

16:28-31 Refusal to give proper warning of hell to the living

17:6 having faith gives you magical powers to command plants

17:7 Jesus endorses slavery

18:5 be an annoying pest until you get what you want

20:16 Jesus gives the exact opposite lesson as the same story in Matthew 21

20:35 Only single people are eligible for resurrection

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Luke 24

The Resurrection

The disciples went to see Jesus in the tomb but when they got there he was gone and there were 2 guys in dazzling apparel. They asked why they were looking for the living among the dead, he is risen. They reminded the disciples that Jesus said he would have to be delivered into the hands of sinful men.

On the Road to Emmaus

Two disciples were walking to Emmaus and were talking to each other. On the way Jesus came up to them, but his identity was hidden from their eyes. He asked what was wrong and they told him all about what happened with Jesus. When they got to Emmaus they asked Jesus to come stay with them as the day was almost over. As they were eating their eyes were open and they could see he was Jesus then he disappeared.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

Jesus appears to his guys and tells them he has fulfilled prophecy.

The Ascension

He led them to Bethany and lifted his hands and blessed them.While he did this he was carried up into heaven.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 4 - Human Wickedness

For anyone new here, I am doing a series of "book club" posts going through "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. The format I post in is similar to my bible posts, section headings in bold, summary in regular text, my comments in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings in the book so I make them up.

People are Inherently Evil

We have used free will to become evil, this is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated. But this doctrine is hard to bring into practice nowadays. It used to be that it was known, even if a disciple of Jesus was preaching to Pagans, they had their gods to solve the problem of people being evil, but in modern day society this is not something that people assume. Christianity needs to first "preach the diagnosis and then preach the cure".

This is something I find completely disgusting about Christianity. It teaches that people are bad deep down, and the only way we can be good is through Jesus. This idea is so ingrained that Lewis doesn't even explain it, it is so obvious to him he just states it like everyone should take it for granted like he does. He says Christianity preaches the diagnosis, I say they preach the disease.

Why They Must Preach the Diagnosis

There are 2 main reasons that this is the case. We are taught simple ethics where kindness is the only good and cruelty is the only bad. In such a situation it is easy for someone to think they are good with little evidence, especially if they haven't had much challenge thrown their way.

Well I do agree that simple ethics is a bad idea. Replacing one simple ethic with another doesn't seem a good strategy.

People are taught that shame is bad, even when it is attached to bad things. We are told to get things out in the open and not be embarrassed by them. These things are very natural and we shouldn't be ashamed. "unless Christianity is wholly false, the perception of ourselves which we have in moments of shame must be the only true one"

Again, this attitude is something I see as incredibly dangerous. We shouldn't be ashamed of things that are natural just because they are in an ancient book, and to think our only true picture of ourselves comes in our moments of shame says a lot about Lewis' worldview. This seems to be a good answer to the question of "what's the harm"

To be a true Christian you must start with this sense of sin. If you try to be a Christian without the assumption that men are bad, you will fail as God will seem like he is "always making impossible demands and always inexplicably angry".

Can't help but agree

In a rare moment of guilt we might realize that our character is evil. In our core we ought to be hateful to all good men and good powers above if they exist. A God who did not regard this with distaste would not be a good being.

I just can't relate to this at all. I've never felt that I should feel hatred toward good men. Are so many people like this at their core? I think people have just been told that so many times that they believe it, but really they are good people.

How the Illusion of Our Goodness is Strong in Modern Times

When we get one of these moments of revelation of how bad we are at the core we need to take that idea on for when it is not so obvious. This is harder to do in modern times as it is easy to be in a "fool's paradise". There are many ways we can fall prey to this illusion.

1. We focus on outward appearance and unfair comparison. Who we are even choosing to compare ourselves to is suspect. It is like the tennis player who calls his typical play is bad days. Another man's character is between him and God.

While he did make a few decent points, we shouldn't spend all of our time comparing ourselves to others, and it is easy at times to make easy comparisons and to discount our bad qualities. But he talks as if this is the only possible way of doing things. He is very negative and talks as if no one compares themselves worse to others than reality.

2. We can focus on corporate guilt in place of personal guilt.

3. We think time forgives sins. Only the blood of Christ can forgive sins. For all we know God is reliving our childhood sins for eternity.

4. Safety in numbers. If all people are bad then badness is excusable. Many of us have experienced a situation where everyone acted a certain way and it seemed like the only possibility, but when you leave your pocket of reality you find out that most other people act a very different way. It is possible that the entirety of the human race is like this as a pocket of bad. "...a consistent practice of virtue by the human race even for ten years would fill the earth from pole to pole with peace, plenty, health, merriment, and heartsease, and that nothing else will."

I don't know what "fill the earth from pole to pole" is supposed to mean, but this is the kind of bald, somewhat nonsensical, assertion that this chapter is filled with.

5. Although we cannot see this humanity as a pocket described above, we can see small pockets by examining different societies. We might think we are not so bad by comparing ourselves to our ancestors, but "considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get some inkling how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how God looks at us both"

I'm not really sure what point he is making actually. I guess maybe that we both have faults? I thought he was going to say that we look at our ancestors as barbaric, imagine people from the future looking at us, would they also think we are barbaric. I would respond that yes that is possible, but we are working toward a better society.

6. I am harping on kindness, but as plato said, you can't be kind unless you possess the other virtues, for if you are cowardly conceited and slothful and you haven't been unkind to your neighbor, it is because they have never gotten in your way.

Seems like he just argued that focusing on kindness is fine, for by this logic, if you are kind then you must have the other virtues too. Unless perhaps he is claiming we don't get in each other's way enough.

7. The holiness of God is something more than moral perfection.

I'm not really sure what he was saying here

8. Many try to shift the responsibility of the bad deeds to a God or devil character, you shouldn't do this


This is Not the Doctrine of Total Depravity

We are not completely depraved, for then we would be unable to see our depravity. Also, there is much good in people.

Well at least he can see that.

Overall I must say I think the contents of this chapter sum up a large part of what I find horrible about Christianity. The view that we are evil to the core spelled out so clearly. Getting this into your mind on a base level is a terrible thing, it is a shame we do this to so many kids

Next week, Chapter 5, the fall of man
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