Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 10 Is Religion Dangerous?

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.



The New Atheists claim that religion is dangerous and produces violence. The authors of the book ask whether the world would be without violence if religion was removed.

Obviously the question is no. We are violent with or without religion. I think the main point is that with religion the violence has a  righteous to it. If people think God is on their side it gives them one more reason not to back down. One more reason not to negotiate or consider the other side's position. 

Details Matter When Examining Religion

Lumping all religion together doesn't really work as there are a lot of differences and those differences matter. A statement such as "All religions are bad for society" is not very meaningful unless you have a specific religion in mind or if you have some aspect of those religions in mind.

I think I basically agree with this. I am aware that there are a lot of religions in the world and I don't know much about them. I do make the claim that religion is bad for society, and when I do I am mostly referring to Christianity and religions similar to it.

Anything with people in it can be manipulated and religion is no exception.


Is there anything Jesus taught that necessarily leads to violence?

This is pretty close. But this one is right on the money.

Religion is Not the Problem - People Are

It's not religion that is the problem, but people. People are in power and no matter what they believe there will be violence. Atheism also leads to violence.

The difference is, Christianity is the cause of violence sometimes. Atheism isn't. There is nothing that would make me kill someone which stems from my atheism. Christianity simply can't make the same claim.

Is Atheism Really the Absence of Belief?

Before I read this section I will answer. NO!!! It is the absence of belief IN A GOD

Communism was an atheist ideology. Atheism was a central part of the doctrine and churches were systematically closed down and priests and religious believers were murdered.

Not believing in a God does not make you want to force churches to close down and murder believers. Being an asshole might make you want to kill people and being an atheist might direct that drive, but one doesn't lead to another. I do want churches to shut down, but I would never want it done by force, I want people to decide to stop going and them shut down naturally.

A Universal Problem

Atheists think that if we just educate people more that they will be good. Christians think that people are inherently bad and they need to have god renovate their heart.

Sounds like a pretty accurate summary to me.

Making the Case for Civility

Some people say we should be tolerant and accept anyone's belief. This way of thinking implies that all beliefs are equally valid or true. We don't like this.

I love it when we agree. I hate that crap.

The New Atheists say bad things about Christians. What if someone took what they wrote and ran with it and killed a bunch of Christians?

That would be really bad. I'm honestly not sure how to respond to that. Almost anything you write that is controversial could be taken by some nutjob as a reason to go kill people. At least the Atheists don't say that there is a reward for it. In fact, I have heard many prominent atheists say that violence against religious people is wrong explicitly. 

We want freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

Agreed. People should be able to exercise any religion they want. But it shouldn't come up in any official capacity in government as that inherently limits people of other religions (or no religion)

Disagreement is Here to Stay

We are going to disagree, we should do so without starting with the assumption that everyone's view is equally valid or by demonizing those who disagree with us.

Could not agree more.


Note: I am out of town for about a week. There will not be a disruption is posts as I have front-loaded enough content to fill the void while I am gone, however, I will most likely not be responding to any comments until I get back. If any comments do come from me this week please excuse typos as it means I am posting from my phone.

Acts 13

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off

A bunch of prophets and teachers were in the church at Antioch when the holy spirit told them to send off Barnabas and Saul.

Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus

Paul and Barnabas went to Cyprus and came across a false prophet who was a magician. He tried to turn them away from the faith. Paul then used the holy spirit (or the holy spirit worked through him, or something) to temporarily blind the guy. He then believed them.

I can't decide how I feel about this story. I obviously don't like the idea that he has been blinded for not believing, but is it really a terrible thing? I guess it depends on how temporary it is. If he is blinded for 5 minutes it doesn't really bother me at all. If he is blinded for 5 years it is a terrible thing. The story doesn't mention this detail.

Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia

Paul and some other disciples went to the synagogue in Antioch and were asked to give the people words of encouragement. The told the story of the Jews leaving Egypt and the story of Jesus. Most people liked it and asked for the story to be told again the following week. Some Jews were jealous and didn't like it but in the end they were kicked out of town.


Note: I am out of town for about a week. There will not be a disruption is posts as I have front-loaded enough content to fill the void while I am gone, however, I will most likely not be responding to any comments until I get back. If any comments do come from me this week please excuse typos as it means I am posting from my phone.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Acts 12

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

Herod killed James with the sword. This pleased the Jews so he also arrested Peter. It was around passover, so he was planning on bringing him out to the people afterward. The church prayed to God for Peter's safety.

I'm guessing "bring him out to the people" means that he is going to execute him or something? 

Peter Is Rescued

Peter was being held in prison surrounded by guards. An angel came and helped him break out of jail. He stopped by his friends place to tell them he is okay then he took off, presumably so he wouldn't get them in trouble for harboring a fugitive.

It is interesting to me that the angel breaks Peter out of jail. I would say a message you could get from that is that you should fight against unjust laws. I like it.

The Death of Herod

Herod was giving a speech to the people and they shouted "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" and God struck him down because "he did not give God the glory"

God sure does seem to be a violent fellow. Also, what is up with "The voice of a god"? Are the polytheistic roots of the time showing through here? I looked through other translations and it is the same in all of them as far as I can tell.


Note: I am out of town for about a week. There will not be a disruption is posts as I have front-loaded enough content to fill the void while I am gone, however, I will most likely not be responding to any comments until I get back. If any comments do come from me this week please excuse typos as it means I am posting from my phone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Acts 11

Peter Reports to the Church

When Peter gets back everyone is upset with him for sharing the word of God with the Gentiles. But he says that God told him to do it in a vision and everyone is happy with him.

These visions happen a lot in the bible. How could you tell the difference between a vision from God and a regular hallucination? Also, how could you tell if someone was simply lying?

The Church in Antioch

More people were teaching the word of God, many only taught to the Jews, but some also taught to others. One of these places was Antioch where they spoke to the Hellenists.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Acts 10

Peter and Cornelius

Cornelius was a very devout guy. He was visited by an angel and told to send some guys to get Simon who is called Peter. So he sent some guys.

I've never understood the whole "Simon who is called Peter" thing. Why not just say Peter?

Peter's Vision

Peter went to the roof to pray and got hungry. Then he had a vision that a great sheet descended on the earth from heaven with all manner of animal in it. A voice told him to kill and eat, but he said he can't eat some of those things. The voice said it is okay to eat it.

So is this basically throwing away kosher laws? What about the whole "not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished"?

Peter met up with Cornelius' guys and they traveled back to meet Cornelius. When they got there Cornelius asked Peter to share all that he had heard from the lord.

Gentiles Hear the Good News

Peter said that God shows no partiality but is happy with any nation that "fears him and does what is right and acceptable to him"

Maybe this is just on my mind from reading it on other blogs recently, but this sounds a hell of a lot like subjective morality to me.

Peter tells the story of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles

The holy spirit poured out on everyone who was listening. They crowd was speaking in tongues and Peter said that they should all be baptized.

This sounds really strange to me. Everyone who was listening just gets the holy spirit? They don't have to accept Jesus or form a personal relationship or anything? It's just that anyone who was lucky enough to be there gets it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Problem of Pain - Final Thoughts

Last week I finished "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. Overall, I found the book fairly disappointing, especially since so many people recommend CS Lewis to me, I was expecting more. His arguments were covered with logical fallacies. One thing I will say is that he seemed very genuine to me. I don't think he was ever being evasive or anything like I see many apologists do, but his logic was poor. I wasn't expecting to be convinced, but I was hoping for some arguments where I could say "I can see why someone would believe that" or maybe "that makes sense although I disagree with a premise". I saw none of that and am honestly a bit confused as to why so many people keep recommending his books to me. Maybe it is like the bible where people have heard it is good but haven't actually read it themselves.

I decided to take a quick look at what I have written about each chapter and do a very short summary here.

Chapter 1: He starts off saying he used to be an atheist and discussing what his reasons were. He gives a terrible reason why men could not have invented the idea of God and then moves on to the origin of religion. He talks about how morality and the numinous (spirits and such) are related and then explains that Jesus is what makes Christianity special.

Chapter 2: He begins discussing definitions and points out that we often mean different things with the same words. He says that omnipotence should mean anything that is logically possible. He says that sometimes we can't tell what is possible with our limited intelligence, this is a copout. He said that since we are self-aware God must exist, and since there is something other than ourselves God must exist. Both of these are terrible arguments. Then he talks about how 'evil' is in the eye of the beholder, an interesting idea although I would argue it breaks at extremes.

Chapter 3: Lewis claims God's moral judgement is more refined than ours. The goodness of God is love which includes tough love. It is an interesting idea, but again I think it breaks in extremes

Chapter 4: Starts with the idea that people are inherently evil, a doctrine of Christianity that I find disgusting. He talks about how Christianity first preaches the diagnosis and then preaches the cure, have to agree with that. Then he says that in modern times we can trick ourselves into thinking we are moral when we aren't. Then he says that we aren't totally depraved, not sure how he squares this with how the chapter started.

Chapter 5: The fall of man was inevitable due to our evil nature. Also, we are evil because of the fall. Gotta love that circular logic. The apple in genesis was a symbol but really it was disobedience. He cations about the definition of savage and brutal, good idea. There is discussion of early man and the fall, he seems to be trying to square evolution with adam and eve, it's interesting. The chapter ends by pointing out that God saw all of this coming and our current condition isn't punishment.

Chapter 6: Careful of your definition of pain. He claims that any creature should submit to its creator, which I think is nonsense. Pain is how God gets our attention because it is hard to be good when comfortable. He then claims that since fear and pity are worthwhile so is pain. Just seems like a pile of nonsense to me.

Chapter 7: There is an apparent paradox that suffering is good but God instructs us to reduce suffering. Tribulation will never end. It's not all bad, we have isolated happiness. It is a mistake to say 2 minor pains are as bad as a major pain.

Chapter 8: Hell is a detestable doctrine, I totally agree. He tries to defend the idea of hell in a few ways and basically just falls flat.

Chapter 9: If pain is a result of the fall of man then why do animals feel pain? An interesting question is raised, no real answer is given.

Chapter 10: A bit of talk about heaven, no real point as far as I could tell. He asserts that it is real and one of the things about hell is that you realize that you just missed going to heaven. Honestly felt like a lot of rambling to me.

Thanks for reading. Although it was frustrating at times I enjoyed the ride, I hope you did too.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence

Recently in the comments on another blog, there was discussion that science has plenty of evidence that there is an immaterial part of us. I was directed to the following video which describes these things. I am pretty skeptical of the whole thing, but I figured I would give it a look and a fair shake. I think I'll just watch it and comment as I go. Hopefully this will make an interesting blog post, it's an experiment! Let's give it a go.

I decided to put my overall reactions here and leave my running commentary below. My overall impression is that this guy has some pretty crazy ideas. He thinks that our minds are fields that extend past our skulls and he thinks that there is telepathy for example. All of this sounds pretty out there to me, and for most of what he was talking about there seems to be simpler answers to the questions.

That being said, he also seems to be very good at putting experiments together and it sounds like he has some pretty interesting data. I am intrigued by it and do plan on following up and looking into some of his work.

I'd also like to add that the experiments he described don't prove that these fields are real. His ideas are consistent with the data, which is really interesting. However, it is certainly possible that there is another explanation.

One more thing I will add, this guy seems very genuine. I have seen people peddle these kinds of ideas before who had something to gain and it seemed like they didn't really believe what they were saying. This guy is not trying to take money from anyone (as far as I can tell) and he is really believes what he is saying. He is trying to advance his ideas and is doing a lot of work to gather data to prove his point. You have to respect that.


2:42 Our minds spread out beyond our brains in a similar manner to the way magnetic fields spread out

3:08 He uses vision as an example and talks about this for a few minutes. One idea is that light bounces off of things, has an effect on the rods and cones in your eyes, and your brain interprets this to create a picture in your brain. If you look at the sky, there is a picture of the sky in your brain, so your mind is as big as the sky. So it must be more than just in your skull. This seems like utter nonsense to me. Why couldn't there just be a smaller representation of the sky in your brain? He is also arguing that your picture of something in your mind is right there with that thing. So if you are looking at someone the representation of that person is not in your skull, your mind is over there where they are.

6:15 Can you affect something simply by looking at it? He argues that you can and cites the common experience of feeling like you are being watched. I would argue that there are other senses involved (subtle sounds and such) rather than psychic phenomena.

8:10 He describes an experiment to test this idea. Two people are back to back and one randomly looks or doesn't look and the blindfolded person has to guess whether they are being looked at. I'd be curious to see the experimental design.

9:10 Another experiment involving closed circuit TV, very interesting.

10:25 "Private detectives know that when they are shadowing people they shouldn't stare at their back because the person is likely to turn around, catch their eye, and blow their cover" Wouldn't an alternate explanation be that if you are not staring and they happen to look back it wouldn't be suspicious?

13:09 "No one has ever seen a thought or an image inside a head...I'm suggesting our minds reach outside our brains" Yeah, no one has ever seen that either.

13:36 This also happens with animals, they can tell they are being looked at, just ask a hunter or a wildlife photographer. The much simpler explanation is that animals have really good senses and they can hear you or smell you. Also, the idea that an animal feels you looking at them, you'd have to compare how often they move for no reason other than staying in one place could be bad for them. I'm imagining an experiment where we have some video cameras on some wildlife and have people look at the animals and see if they move. We can have some people with a live feed and some people watching recordings from earlier and see how they shape up, I'm guessing no difference.

15:40 Flocks of birds and schools of fish move in formation and change it up quickly. He suggests the best explanation is their minds influence one another directly, instead of the birds simply having really good sense and the ability to move very quickly.

21:30 Another common phenomenon is that dogs and cats know when their owners are coming home and are waiting by the window. I remember reading about this a while ago. Someone tried to replicate it and found that the dogs would wait by the window frequently throughout the day. There wasn't a significant difference for when the owner was actually coming home. (Note from later, he claims this was James Randi and that is was BS. This shows how important having a source is)

31:20 Telephone telepathy. This is when you think of someone right before they call. This is so easily explained, usually the people this happens with are people you think about a lot. You remember the hits (when it happens) and forget the misses (when you think of them and they don't call). Also, there are plenty of times they call when you hadn't just thought of them.

33:00 Looks like he addressed this very complaint with an experiment. Interesting. This study actually looks pretty cool, I'd be interested to look at the paper that goes along with it. He describes a few related experiments that all sound very interesting. I am planning on looking into this more closely at some point soon.

48:00 QA starts

49:08 What about the million dollar challenge? He pretty much just attacks James Randi, don't care for that. Although he did address what I said above about the dog experiment, doesn't sound great toward Randi. I wonder what the real truth is there.

58:15 Q: What is you change the order to try to find precog? A: I tried that and it gave chance levels. This is interesting as it might eliminate certain biases in the experiment.

73:30 Q:What factors can affect this stuff?

79:00 He says he has had papers rejected out of hand without being looked at. That is too bad as it seems like he does interesting stuff, but it is not surprising as editors of scientific journals are very short on time. You simply can't examine and find the faults in every paper that sounds like it is from a crank.

1:23:50 It is asked how to measure this field in other ways, he says he has worked on that but it wasn't covered in this talk. I'd like to see some of this, he said there is some on his website, I'm happy about that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Acts 9

The Conversion of Saul

Saul was "breathing threats and murder" against the disciples of Jesus. He was going to travel to Damascus and he asked the high priest for a letter so that if he came across any disciples along the way he might bind them and bring them with him. When he was close to his destination a light from heaven flashed around him and the lord asked why Saul was persecuting him. Saul is told to go to the city to receive further instructions. Saul was blinded for 3 days by the exchange and was led into the city, he didn't eat or drink for those 3 days.

Then God told the disciple Ananias to go heal Saul's blindness. He asked God if he should really do this, for Saul has been very bad to the disciples. God said that Saul is a chosen instrument and he should go heal him. So Ananias goes to Saul, heals his blindness and he is filled with the holy spirit.

What is the purpose of blinding Saul? One possibility is that God is showing his power. Look how easy it is for me to blind you and then heal you back to normal. So what is the message? Work for me or face the consequences. These are the tactics of a bully or a tyrant.
Alternatively, simply being full of the holy spirit made him follow God, in which case him being blinded seems totally unnecessary. 
So which is it?

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

Saul hung out with the disciples for days and went to the synagogues and proclaimed that Jesus is the son of God. People were amazed because of his previous works. Saul increased in strength and proved that Jesus was the Christ.

The last statement, that this proves that Jesus is the Christ, that is just a poor definition of proof. Just because someone changes their mind one something doesn't mean the new position is correct. There is always the possibility that they have been fooled. Granted, it is compelling. The idea that someone who used to believe X very strongly now believes the opposite is very interesting. But what matters is their reason for changing, the change itself is not proof.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

The Jews were trying to kill Saul, but he heard of their plans and was able to get away.

I guess it makes sense that they were mad at Saul, if one of your big name guys switched sides you'd probably be pissed too. Killing him seems a bit extreme but that seems to be normal for the time I guess.

Saul in Jerusalem

When Saul got to Jerusalem he tried to hang out with the other disciples, but they were afraid of him because of his former actions. But one of the disciples who was with him in Damascus vouched for him and things went ok.

The Healing of Aeneas

Peter went to Lydda and found a man who had been paralyzed and bedridden for 8 years. He said that Jesus healed him and he should get up and the guy immediately did. Everyone who say this turned to the lord immediately.

Dorcas Restored to Life

Dorcas was a very good person but she became ill and died. So the people of her town went to the disciples in a neighboring town and asked for help. Peter came back with them and brought Dorcas back to life.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 9 Is God Just a Human Invention?

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.



A lot of people believe in God around the world. In this chapter we will explore why many skeptics think that God is just a human invention and explore if the best explanation is actually that God really exists.

Sounds interesting, I'm ready.

Also, there is the question of burden of proof, God exists and God doesn't exist are both expressions of fact, both should require proof, non-belief is not the default position, agnosticism is the default position.

The difference is that most atheists (in my experience) don't express the same level of knowledge that theists do. Theists know that they are right. Atheists think that there is no God, largely because of lack of evidence. But the obvious challenge here is to ask the theist what they think of Zeus or Xenu or any other God, are they agnostic on those guys? Or are they sure or at least pretty sure that they don't exist? I think we would agree that the default position on Zeus is that he doesn't exist unless there is proof that he is hanging around somewhere.

The Projection Theory

This idea is from Freud and basically says that we project the existence of God to satisfy a human need for a father figure. We think this idea falls flat for a number of reasons.

1. It begs the question against God. The argument starts with the assumption that god does not exist and concludes that we must be projecting.

Interesting. I suppose I agree with this idea, although I don't think this is supposed to be a proof against God, but more of an explanation for where God could have come from if he doesn't exist. It seems like an answer to the question "If God doesn't exist where did he come from?" In this situation you have to assume that God doesn't exist in step one, that is the space you are working in. (Note: I'm unfamiliar with this argument so I might be way off here, but that is the sense I get from what is being said here. If anyone is more familiar with this stuff please speak up)

We have evidence for God's existence and the New Atheists don't interact with the "most sophisticated defenders of Christianity".

I don't know who these people are, but I see plenty of debates and back and forth between the new atheists and several prominent people on the apologetics side. Furthermore, the evidence that has been presented is of pretty poor quality. In this book I have seen mostly just logical fallacies wrapped up in arguments. Also, I'm assuming one of the defenders of Christianity is William Lane Craig, I have seen a few debates with him and I have looked at some of his arguments, they are terrible.

2. An assumption of the argument is that if a belief brings you comfort it must be false, this is terrible and incorrect.

I agree, the idea that if a belief brings you comfort it must be false is garbage. If the argument uses that as a basis that is poor justification. I don't have the original argument so I can't speak to whether that is really what is being said or if that is the authors interpretation. 

3. This idea is based on Freud's supposed psychoanalysis, but he never really did any on it.

I'll go along with them here, my understanding is that Freud's methods were actually pretty poor. I'm largely in the dark here, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

4. It cuts both ways, if we can project a need for God onto the existence of God, atheists can project a need for freedom onto a lack of God. It's not surprising when you consider what a terrible childhood Bertrand Russell had.

Good point, it could go both ways, I'm not sure why they felt the need to throw in the ad hominem attack though.

5. Perhaps the idea that God was invented to meet our desire is backwards, perhaps we only have desires for a God because it can be fulfilled by God. As C.S. Lewis said "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists."

Seriously? I'm not even really sure how to respond to this. I'm sure there are plenty of things that people desire that are impossible. I'm sure there are people out there who desire to be vampires, does that mean vampires exist and they could possibly give you the dark gift if you could just convince them? There are probably millions of kids (and adults) who desire to go to Hogwarts, does that exist?

The arguments in this book are fucking terrible.

The "God Gene" and Neuroscience

We can look at genetics and try to find a God gene. We can also look at ways to physically manipulate the brain with drugs or electrodes to simulate a religious experience. None of these things disprove a God. The conclusions of these experiments are almost always overstated.

I'm pretty uninformed on this topic, but what is written in this section honestly seems fairly credible to me. The overall premise was that people claiming that neuroscience proves God doesn't exists are overstating their case, and I would agree to that. I would add that if someone were to instead say that we have a possible alternative explanation to God's existence, that would be something that sounds a lot more reasonable to me. Again, I'm mostly uninformed on this, but for now I'm willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.


Dawkins calls religion a virus of the mind, and he postulates that memes are idea replicators. He talks about ideas as replicators, this isn't something that is scientifically proven.

Meh, beat up on the idea of a meme, good for you.

A By-Product of Natural Selection

Many experiments show that the brain comes hard wired with some sort of software preinstalled. This is thought to be a product of natural selection. "This research is fascinating and illuminating, but not very controversial until it is applied to religion.

Shocking, we can agree with something that is evident until it gets in the way of religion and then people suddenly have a problem with it.


That's all for this week, look like next week we are starting part 2 of the book "Responding to Moral and Biblical Challenges". Beginning with chapter 10 "Is Religion Dangerous?"

Acts 8

Saul Ravages the Church

Saul approved of the execution of Stephen and there was great persecution of the church. Devout men buried Stephen, but Saul ravaged the church and threw many people in prison.

Saul is a jerk

Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria

Those who were scattered went around preaching the word and Philip wound up in Samaria. He did the normal miracles such as healing and much joy was had in the city.

More healing going on. It seems that people in the bible believed the teachings after they saw miracles happen. I feel like if this was the reality of the world today it would be a lot easier to convert people to Christianity. Why do those people get proof and we only get "you gotta have faith"?

Simon the Magician Believes

Simon was a magician who people believed was somebody great who had the power of God. When Philip came even Simon believed that he was the real deal. When the apostles heard of this they sent Peter and John. They prayed that the holy spirit would come down into these people as so far they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus. They then laid their hands on them and they received the holy spirit. Simon say this and offered money to the apostles to get this gift as well. They say he should perish along with his silver. They say his heart is not right before God. He asks them to pray that this doesn't happen to him.

Do the actions of the apostles seem incredibly harsh to anyone else here? Simon's sin here is that he wanted to help spread the holy spirit isn't it? It is an incredibly valuable skill, why is it so wrong that he thought it would be appropriate to pay the apostles to share it with him?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip was commanded by a spirit of the lord to go into a desert and he met with a Eunuch. The eunuch was reading scripture and asked Philip to help him understand. He explained that the story was referring to Jesus and he told him all about it. Then they stopped and Philip baptized him and then was carried away by the holy spirit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Acts 7

Stephen's Speech

Stephen said that God appeared to Abraham and told him to go out of Mesopotamia. He also told him about the covenant of circumcision. The patriarchs sold Joseph to Egypt. There was a famine, but our fathers heard that there was grain where Joseph happened to be, so when they went there Joseph made himself known to his family. Jacob died and was carried back to Shechem and was laid in a tomb.

I'm having a bit of trouble summarizing this story, it just seems like a bunch of random details to me.

The people of Abraham multiplied in Egypt until there was another king who didn't know Joseph who killed all newborns of their group. But Moses slipped through the cracks and wasn't killed and was even raised by Pharaoh's daughter. When Moses was 40, he defended the oppressed and killed the Egyptians. He then tried to stop quarreling among his people and they asked what his authority was to tell them what to do. He then fled to live in exile in Midian where he had 2 sons.

Then Moses went up to Mt Sinai and saw the burning bush and talked to God who told him to go to Egypt and help his people. So Moses went to Egypt and parted the red sea to help them get out of there. They were in the wilderness for 40 years. They didn't want to obey Moses and made calves to worship like the Egyptians. Stephen then calls all of the people holding him a lot of names.

As I said, that was a long meandering story as far as I can tell. There might have been more to it, but he basically seemed to just be telling the story of Moses and then called the people holding him captive names at the end. Given that he gets stoned in the next section, it seems like he is just pushing them to it.

The Stoning of Stephen

They were pissed at him, so they threw him out of town and stoned him. Stephen looked up at heaven and saw God and Jesus and told them to receive his spirit.

Basically looks like suicide by cop to me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 10 - Heaven

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.


Not Just Pie in the Sky

Heaven is the other side of the coin to the problem of pain, so a book on pain really needs to include something about heaven. Some say that Christians don't bring up heaven to avoid the jeer of pie in the sky hopes. But there is either pie in the sky or there isn't, and if there isn't Christianity is wrong. Some claim that heaven is a bribe, but heaven offers nothing a mercenary soul would want. It is safe to tell the pure at heart they get to see God, because only the pure of heart want to.

Maybe the standard view of heaven has changed a lot since this was written, but heaven is described as a lot more than simply seeing God.

Desire for Heaven is a Hidden Thread

Sometimes Lewis says he has thought that Christians don't really seek heaven, but then realized that the desire is subtly behind everything they do. It is like an indefinable quality that attracts us to our hobbies. It is like the hidden thread in the binding of books that most people are unaware of.

I am not really sure I follow his train of thought here.

Why Are Our Souls Different From One Another?

It is a mystery to us why our souls have differences, however, it is not a mystery to God. Imagine a person who had never seen a lock, how well would the understand keys? Each person's soul fits perfectly in their spot in heaven.

Interesting analogy I guess, but then what happens to that spot in heaven if you go to hell? I'm guessing that is where he is going next.

If You Go to Hell you Just Missed Heaven

You never know what heaven or hell will be like until you get there, no one has ever been able to express what it is like. If you go to hell, you will realize that you had the chance to go to heaven but you missed it.

Ideas like this are just strange to me. How can you say that something has never been expressed? If that is the case how do you know about it? The whole idea is odd.

Unions Only Exist Between Distincts

Again, why are our souls different from one another? Each person could love God in a different way, focusing on a different aspect. Also, unions can only exist between distinct entities so the idea that God is everything doesn't really work.

In Heaven We Must Give Everything Away

In heaven, we must give away everything. If you get something you must give it to someone else. Our souls are simply empty vessels that God fills.

This chapter is just a bunch of ramblings. It is just the ravings of C.S. Lewis, I don't know how much of this he has gotten from other people, what is from scripture, and what he just made up, but it seems that he just had crazy ideas and ran with them. 


Well, that was the last chapter. If you have been reading along with me I hope you found it as interesting as I did. Next week I am planning on doing one final summary post about this book. I'm going to go through all of my posts on the subject and give my final thoughts. See you next week.

Acts 6

Seven Chosen to Serve

The Hellenists complained that the Hebrews "because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution."

I'm not sure what this means, but it sounds like there was not enough people preaching to reach everyone. That's what I'm going with, if someone thinks I am not understanding this properly please let me know.

They decided to appoint seven guys to fill this void. Everyone was happy and the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. Also, a great many priests became obedient to the faith.

Stephen Is Seized

Some people who did not like Stephen made up a bunch of lies to get Stephen in trouble, he was seized because of these lies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Acts 5

Ananias and Sapphira

A husband and wife Ananias and Sapphira sold their property and were supposed to give all of the money to the group. But instead they put a little bit of the money away for themselves and only gave part of it to the group. Peter asks Ananias why Satan has filled his heart with lies. He says Ananias did not lie to men, but to God. Ananias died on the spot. He was buried shortly thereafter and Sapphira was brought in. She was asked if they had set this money aside for themselves and she said yes. Then he asked why the two of them wanted to test the spirit of the lord. She then also died.

Wow! So I have 2 possible interpretations of their crime.
1. They kept money from the collective
2. They lied to the collective
The actual crime was that they kept money for themselves but Peter specifically made the point that he was upset that they were lying. So, which of these crimes is worth the death penalty? These are the actions of a tyrant, not an all loving God.

It's funny, I was thinking the other day that my overview for John was pretty short. I thought that maybe I wasn't putting enough stuff in it, I should be summarizing the good and bad a little bit more. But I think the reason I want to not chronicle every single minor transgression is so when truly horrible things like this show up, they aren't washed out by a ton of little things.

Many Signs and Wonders Done

Many signs and wonders were done by the apostles. They gathered at Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them but they held them in high esteem.

I'm not sure I completely follow this. I think it is saying the average person was in awe of the apostles but very afraid of them too. What does it say about a religion if it inspires such a high level of fear?

Believers were added every day, they even brought their sick into the street so that at least the shadow of Peter would fall on them. All of these people were healed.

So the people around are believers, they want their sick to be healed, but they are terrified of the people in the group. This sounds to me like the way people would react to a powerful evil force. They need something but are scared of the consequences. Oh I know, it's like if you lived in a bad neighborhood and the mob was nearby. You know they could help you out, and you might seek that help, but you know the price is high so you would be afraid.

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

The high priests were jealous of the Apostles so they arrested them. But during the night an angel came down and released them and told them to go spread the word of God at the temple. So they did at daybreak. When the chief priests saw that the jail was empty and found the apostles teaching at the temple, they were upset and went and got them and put them before the council. The apostles said they must listen to God, not man. The chief priests did not want to go against God so they let the apostles go but told them not to teach anymore. They taught anyway and there was nothing the chief priests could do.

This whole story seems pretty fishy to me. It is all about how useless the council is. But it makes no sense. If they were so afraid to punish those guys why pick them up in the first place and wind up looking even more foolish?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Argument From Contingency

Recently in the comments of one of my posts, someone pointed me to the argument from contingency by WLC. I see some pretty major problems with the argument, so I figured it would be worthwhile to go through it in detail. I will start by explaining the argument. There are three assumptions that the argument makes

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause)
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
  3. The universe exists
Then he looks at what follows from those premises. He combines 1 and 3 to get

    4. The universe has an explanation of its existence

and then he combines 2 and 4 to get

    5. Therefore, the explanation for the universe's existence is God

WLC then says that this is a logically airtight argument. This is true provided you accept the premises 1-3. However, there is very little justification for them, it seems to me that his only argument is that they seem obvious. He spends the rest of the page arguing against attacks of points 1 and 2, but he never actually justifies them himself. This seems to be a common tactic of WLC, he makes claims and instead of justifying them he challenges his opponents to tear them down. This is nonsense, he is the one making a claim, he should support that claim.

But I will go ahead and point out what is wrong with his assumptions anyway, the first one certainly seems like a reasonable thing to assume. It is just common sense. Too bad it is incorrect. As was discussed recently in comments, at the quantum level things pop into and out of existence all the time without a cause. (I've also seen this on science programs for further reference, I think it was on fabric of the cosmos. A really interesting program and free if you have amazon prime). So we have refuted the claim that everything (which isn't necessary of its own nature) has a cause. 

But suppose we hadn't refuted claim 1, given that this is simply a common sense argument, shouldn't it only apply to common things? The universe itself is certainly not a common thing and the origin of the universe is vastly different in many respects than anything around today. Why should we expect our common sense to be correct for something so far out of the realm of our experience?

But claim 1 is just warm up, claim 2 is where this argument really comes off the rails for me. Claim 2 is that there are only 2 possibilities, either God is the explanation for the universe, or there is no explanation for the universe. It completely removes any other possible explanation from the table. It simply claims that anything else is impossible. This is a massive claim which has absolutely no justification. Furthermore, the entire proof is supposed to prove that God exists, but claim 2 assumes that as long as there is any explanation for the universe then God exists. This is a false dichotomy in which one half of the dichotomy they simply assume what they are trying to prove.


For the remainder of this post, I am going to dig into what is written in the paragraphs underneath the actual argument and comment on what is there.
Things which exist necessarily exist by a necessity of their own nature. Many mathematicians think that numbers, sets, and other mathematical entities exist in this way.
I'm not really sure what this mean, honestly. Does an abstract number 'exist'? When I say exist, I'm thinking about how my computer exists or how my table exists, I'm not thinking about an abstract concept. What does it mean for a mathematical set or a function to 'exist'? I'm not really sure. I think we are playing with the word 'exist' a little bit. And when he says 'God exists', I don't think he is talking in the way numbers exist in a purely abstract fashion, I think he is meaning in the same way my table exists. Going back and forth blurs this a bit and I wonder if that is intentional.
So what reason might be offered for thinking that premise 1 is true? Well, when you reflect on it, premise 1 has a sort of self-evidence about it.
Common sense argument, garbage.
Premise 1 is the premise that the atheist typically rejects. Sometimes atheists will respond to premise 1 by saying that it is true of everything in the universe but not of the universe itself. But this response commits what has been aptly called “the taxicab fallacy.”
 I still don't understand what the taxicab fallacy is, if anyone know please explain.

Some atheists have tried to justify making the universe an exception to premise 1 by saying that it’s impossible for the universe to have an explanation of its existence.

I have never heard an atheist say this (and of course, WLC has no references for it). What I have heard them say is that it is possible that the universe has no cause, that it is simply eternal. This might sound similar but it is very, very different.
The atheist typically asserts the following:
If atheism is true, the universe has no explanation of its existence.
Again, I have never heard an atheist put it this way, and the fact that this is exactly the contrapositive to his claim number 2, it makes me wonder if he has ever come across an atheist who said this or if it is just a convenient fiction to bolster his argument.
Besides that, premise 2 is very plausible in its own right.
Common sense argument again
It follows that if the universe has a cause of its existence, that cause must be a non-physical, immaterial being beyond space and time
Why? Explain why it must be non-physical and why it has to be "beyond space and time". In fact, first explain what "non-physical" and "beyond space and time" even mean.
The argument thus proves the existence of a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal Creator of the universe. This is truly mind-blowing!
I agree that is it mind-blowing. How can anyone think that you have argued anything when all you have done is assume all of the stuff that you want to be true?

The page is ended by talking about some specific incident at a talk he went to. It seems to be rehashing the same mistakes listed above so I'm not going to go into specifics on it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Common Sense

I have seen common sense arguments come up a number of times recently and I have a few things to say about it. By a common sense argument I mean something of the form "X must be true, it is common sense", or perhaps something like "it is obvious that X is true" or as Jimmy would say "I mean, it's like, come on"

This is not an argument, it is a starting point. The appropriate thing to do is to formalize the idea and test it. In this way you can see if your "common sense" was correct, or if you were in fact incorrect. This might seem like a waste of time, especially if you are correct, but would never know for sure if people didn't test these things.

How many times has our common sense been wrong?

  • It seems obvious that heavy objects are accelerated by gravity faster than light objects. 
  • Earth of obviously flat
  • Time is clearly constant no matter how close to a massive object you are
  • Length is constant no matter how fast you are going
All of these things seem reasonable, or they did at one time, and yet they are all false. This is just off the top of my head, anyone have other examples to add to the list?

Whenever I see someone argue that their position is obviously true, I assume that they either haven't looked into it, or they have and the argument is weak. If there was a good argument you would just explain it, if your argument is poor or you don't have a good reason you might just assert your conclusion without sufficient support.

In math we used to jokingly call this proof by intimidation. "This is obvious" has the subtext "If you don't see this you are an idiot." As a teacher grading proofs, I view the word "obvious" as "I don't know how to do this and I hope you won't look too close". Reading apologetics, I pretty much see the same exact thing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Acts 4

Peter and John Before the Council

The chief priests and Sadducees were irritated with Peter and John for preaching the resurrection of Jesus and threw them in jail.

I suppose if I murdered someone to stop a message from being spread I'd be annoyed that someone else continued spreading it.

They ask by what power they do these things, Peter said that they do it through Jesus Christ. They saw that these men were uneducated and yet they spoke so well about this, they must have really been with Jesus. They didn't want the word to spread about Jesus so they told them not to speak in his name anymore. They said they were going to anyway, because they couldn't help speak about the things they saw and did. The council threatened them more, but eventually let them go as they have nothing to punish them for.

I'm not really sure this makes any sense. They go to all the trouble to bring them in and threaten them, but when it comes down to it they just let them go. They really can't just make up some charges and throw them in jail or whatever? I suppose they might have thought they could just threaten Peter and John and make them stop, but it just doesn't seem realistic to me.

The Believers Pray for Boldness

The believers pray to God to ask that they continue to have the strength to speak out. The ground shakes and they were filled with the holy spirit.

Weren't they already filled with the holy spirit from when Jesus ascended? Did they need to be topped off?

They Had Everything in Common

No one in the group had anything of their own, everything was shared. Anyone who had anything of value sold it and gave it to the group and everyone had what they needed.

It makes me laugh to read this when I think of the republican right calling anyone they don't like a communist. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 8 Has Science Shown There Is No Soul?

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.



This chapter starts with an anecdote about a student who was laughed at in a college English class on the first day of the term for believing in a soul. I hope this is either exaggerated or fabricated. If not, the teaching in the story is a horrible teacher and an asshole.

To the new atheists, the evidence for a soul is so miniscule as to be laughable. Just as God is a delusion created by humankind, the mind is an illusion created by the brain.

I don't know if I would use the word 'laughable', but I agree with the sentiment. As have never seen any evidence for a soul. I'm curious what will be thrown at us here.

Admitting the Obvious

"The thought that the mind is an illusion of the brain runs contrary to the way we naturally think about ourselves."

Is this seriously the way we are going to start out? This is completely irrelevant. A lot of things that are true are counter intuitive. Does it seem intuitive that being near a gravity well changes how fast time goes by? Sure seems strange to me, but it is true.

The author once heard an outspoken atheist say that he didn't believe in a soul, but his language implied the existence of a soul.

again, irrelevant. Sometimes language is imprecise and we have to do what we can with what we have. 

Virtually all cultures throughout history have believed in life after death.


Can the Soul Survive Death?

Some people have near death experiences, so the soul must exist.

Or they reconstruct things later. I don't know all that much about NDE's, but from what I have read the claims of them seem to be overblown. Also, there are doctors that hide notes on the top of bookshelves and people never see those, only what they expect to be there.

Are Your Choices Really Free?

It has been argued that if the mind is simply a product of the brain then we don't have free will. We agree, but it is so obvious that we have free will there must be a soul.

What the hell kind of arguing is this? It seems like we have free will, so we do, so a soul exists? This is complete garbage. BTW, if you want to read something about free will, this book is supposed to be good. I haven't read it yet but it is on my reading list. I wish I was reading it right now.

"if a stranger stops to open the door for us, we might describe his thought process by saying, "The nice man made up his mind to stay a moment longer and hold the door open for us." We would not say, "the circuitry in his brain caused him to turn around and hold the door open."

Again, talking about the language we use, this is MEANINGLESS. When I talk about opening an email on my computer do I describe what the CPU and hard drive are doing? Do I explain how my video card is displaying it all for me? No, I say "I clicked the icon". All that other crap is happening in the background. By his logic I could argue that those components are not there. (I'm trying not to be so negative, but reading this is infuriating, we really need to teach basic logic in school so no one falls for this kind of argumentation. Even if you agree with the author's position on this you should be pissed at how terribly he is presenting his arguments)

Are You the Same Person as Before?

If you were to take apart a table one piece at a time slowly over time and replace it with new parts, and you eventually wound up with every part replaced, it is the same table you started with? If someone else took your original parts and made a new table, who has the original, you or the other person? This raises an interesting question as the atoms in our body get replaced over time. So are you still the same you from yesterday or from years ago? "Something nonphysical must account for the sameness of identity over time."

This is actually a really interesting question. Back to the table analogy, if you replace 1 leg of the table is it the same table? We would probably generally say yes, but once every part has been replaced we probably generally say no, but at what point is it not the same table? This is a difficult question to answer. 

When it comes to people it is still a very interesting question, if a skin cell replaces an old one are you a different person, I imagine pretty much everyone would agree that you are the same person. If every time a cell replaces another one it learns to act like the old one, that might explain the consistency over time. I would also point out that we subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) change over time. Perhaps this change of components is part of that process. Honestly, that last bit seems like a stretch to me but it could be I guess.

Neuroscientists to the Rescue

If you saw a news report that said we could hook someone up to a machine and read their thoughts would you believe it? No, you wouldn't, because such a thing is impossible because even though brain states can be scanned, thoughts are uniquely available to a person.

He states this as if it is fact. As if it is known, it is not. It is something to be proven. It is possible that he is right, but he could also be wrong. Perhaps one day we will be able to read people's thoughts with machines. How can he just claim such a thing is impossible with no proof? 

Mental and Physical States

There are several things that are true of mental states that are not true of physical states, one example is that mental states cannot be described in physical terms. For example, it makes no sense to ask how much a thought weighs.

I would say that a thought is an arrangement of brain matter. I would agree that I don't know if it makes any sense to ask how much a thought weighs, but I would similarly ask how much a computer program weighs. Does that mean that my internet browser has an immaterial component to it? 

An Insuperable Dilemma

It is hard to see how consciousness could be the result of purely material things. Even Dawkins admits that the origin of consciousness may be a gap as improbable as the origin of life.

This doesn't mean it didn't happen. It also doesn't mean that there must have been a mind doing it.

Acts 3

The Lame Beggar Healed

There was a guy who was lame since birth who begged at the temple every day. When he asked Peter and John for alms as they were about to enter the temple, they healed him in the name of Jesus. Everyone recognized the beggar and were amazed at what happened.

I never realized that the disciples also performed healings until I started this project. And even when I read about them doing it when Jesus was elsewhere, it didn't occur to me that they would keep doing it after Jesus was gone.

Peter Speaks in Solomon's Portico

Everyone is amazed at what was done, and Peter spoke to the group. He asked why they are amazed when Jesus did the same thing. They saw Jesus perform these types of miracles and they had him killed.

This does seem like a reasonable complaint. If they killed Jesus for doing these kinds of miracles why are they now happy to see it?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Acts 2

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

They were all sitting together in one place (again, I assume 'they' is the apostles) and from heaven came a wind which filled the house in which they were sitting. Each person started speaking in a different tongue. Then a bunch of people who speak different languages came to see them and everyone was able to understand what they were saying. They all heard it in their own native tongue.

Clearly everyone here has translator microbes. Now I feel like we can all go around saying "go watch farscape, it's in the bible."

Peter's Sermon at Pentecost

Peter stands up to address the crowd. He starts by saying that they are not drunk even though it might seem they are. Then he talks about things that the prophet Joel has said. He said in the last days God will pour his spirit on all flesh. People will see visions and various things will happen. Even slaves will benefit from the spirit. Anyone who calls on the name of the lord will be saved.

"In the last days", as usual, I'm sure there is some way to spin this, but it sounds like this is supposed to be end of times stuff.

Then he says that they killed, but he was raised from the dead because it was not possible for Jesus to be held by death. Now that Jesus is at the right hand of God, the holy spirit has been poured out. At some point the rest of the apostles asked what they should do, he says everyone should be baptized in the name of Christ to receive forgiveness of sins.

The Fellowship of the Believers

The followers devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles. Awe (or fear) came upon every soul at the wonders done by the apostles. They sold their possessions and passed the proceeds around to any in the group who was in need.

The idea of selling all of your stuff and giving to the group is an interesting one. On one hand, if people are truly in need and you can help them out, you should. It is good to have a society where people share and help each other out when they can. On the other hand, if you get everyone in this mindset, a greedy person can really take advantage. Ultimately I think this is a really good message, but I feel the need to urge caution.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 9 - Animal 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.


Animal Suffering is Different than Human Suffering

Animal suffering is different from human pain because they are incapable of sin and virtue, so they can neither deserve pain nor be improved by it. Therefore it might seem that animal pain is pointless. But because of the doctrine that God is good, we can confidently deduce that the appearance of reckless divine cruelty in the animal kingdom is an illusion. We have no experience with animal suffering, so everything we say is speculative.

I hope he justifies this as we go on in the chapter. It is not good to start by assuming what you want to be true.

Plants are Different than Animals

There are times when we talk of plant life as though the flower enjoys the sun, or that different plants compete with one another for resources. We must remember that these are mere metaphors. What really matters when we are talking about our current topic is sentience.

Always a good idea to remember that our metaphors will eventually break down and we shouldn't be slaves to them.

What Do Animals Suffer?

It is impossible to know for sure, but we can guess. The first thing we should do is distinguish between different kinds of animals. Apes for example, are much more developed than earthworms. We need not lump apes in the same category as the earthworms being "non-human animal" where they are actually quite like us. It is reasonable to assume apes have consciousness but there is no reason to think they have sentience or a soul.

I don't really understand the different between consciousness and sentience, and I don't believe we have a soul.

What is the Origin of Animal Suffering?

Animal suffering could be a result of the fall of man, except that animals existed long before man did, so that doesn't make sense. However, it is largely accepted that there was activity on earth before we got here and perhaps there was another fall before us. Perhaps Satan was there before humans got there and there was a different fall.

This seems pretty out of nowhere to me.

How Can Animal Suffering be Reconciled With the Justice of God?

The lower animals don't feel pain in the way we do. They are merely sentient but not conscious.

I still don't really understand this distinction and find it to be fairly silly.

But the question still remains for some of the higher level animals who seem to feel pain in similar ways as us.

He never really seemed to answer this, although I might have missed it. He talked a lot about how animals are probably not immortal, although when we have pets they might become immortal along with us, or something. He seemed to end the chapter by saying we can never be sure that animals are even in pain in the same way we are. This to me is just a huge cop-out. 

Again, he didn't satisfactorily answer the central question of the chapter.


Next week: chapter 10 heaven. 

Acts 1

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up"

Sounds like the author of this book wrote one of the gospels? Is he talking to Theophilus?

While with the apostles, Jesus gave them commands through the holy spirit. He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the father, they will be baptized with the holy spirit days from now.

Apparently the holy spirit is going to come to the apostles shortly after Jesus died.

The Ascension

They had come together (the apostles and Jesus?) and they asked Jesus if he was going to restore Israel. He said that they would not know the time it would happen. But they will get power when the holy spirit comes to them. Jesus then was lifted out of sight by a cloud. A couple of guys come by and ask why they are looking up into heaven, they say Jesus will come in the same way he was taken into heaven.

So a couple random guys don't think it's a big deal that Jesus just ascended into heaven? That's the strange part of the story to me.

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

Somebody had to take the place of Judas for obvious reasons, ultimately it fell to Matthias.

We were discussing this recently in some comments, I'm glad we did or the significance of this might have been lost on me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

John 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 John

The Good

2:6 Church should not be a place of profit

8:7 Don't judge others by a different standard than you judge yourself

9:16 Keeping the Sabbath not so important

13:34 Love one another

The Bad

9:3 A man is blind from birth so Jesus can show off and heal him

12:40 God removes people's free will

14:12 Christians can perform the miracles like Jesus did (clearly false)

19:28 Jesus does things expressly to "fulfill scripture"

20:29 Belief without evidence is a virtue

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Unicorns in the Bible

Recently I was pointed to the following video in the comments on another blog. I recommend checking out the video, it is pretty interesting and only about 8 minutes long. A quick summary of the video is that unicorns are mentioned in the bible a few times. This might seem crazy as when we hear the word unicorn we think of the mythical creature which is a horse with a horn. But, what is being talked about in the bible is really a rhinoceros. There are multiple kinds of rhinoceros, some with 2 horns and some with 1. The ones with 1 are called unicorns. The video itself went in to the linguistics of it all and it seemed pretty convincing to me.

One thing that stuck me about the video was a string of atheists mocking the bible for having unicorns in it. Those guys now look like idiots. My first thought was that they shouldn't have been such dicks about it. They were making fun of the bible but since they were wrong, in the end they just look bad. So generally, I like the 'don't be a dick' message, but as many have pointed out, there are places where mockery and even dickery are useful and effective tools. I have been thinking about this for a few days trying to decide where my opinion lands, and I think I settled on the following: If you are going to be a dick, you better make sure your argument is bulletproof.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro Dilemma is basically asking the question "Is an action Good because God said so, or does God say so because it is good?" Or from the other direction, if an action is immoral, is that because God said it is immoral, or is it inherently immoral?

As an example, let's think of something that we can all agree is horribly immoral, say child rape. Assuming we all agree this is immoral, there are 2 options here
1. It is immoral because God said so
2. It is inherently immoral independent of God

If it is option 1, that it is immoral because God said so, then what would happen if God changed his mind? Could this suddenly become moral? Could God command you to go rape a child? Would this make it a moral action? If the only reason that it is immoral is because God said so, then if he changes his mind then it must be moral.

The common response to this in my experience is to say that God wouldn't do that. This simply avoids the question and in my mind, puts you squarely in answer 2. Why would God never do that? It sounds to me like the claim is that he is moral and that is an immoral action. Therefore God would not have you do it. But if morality is defined by what God tells us to do this makes no sense.

What about option 2? What if morality is just what it is. Child rape is wrong. Period. If God told you to rape a child it still would not be a moral action. Perhaps you would say that since God is moral he would never do that, but the reason for that is what I am interested in. Since he is moral and child rape is inherently immoral, God would never tell you to do that. If this is the case, there is some morality outside of God.

If there is a morality that is independent of God, the charge that atheists are inherently immoral falls flat. We don't need God to tell us how to be moral, because morality exists outside of him.

Friday, May 11, 2012

John 21

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

Seven disciples were fishing and not catching many fish. Jesus then told them to throw the net off the right side of the boat and they caught so many they had trouble bring up the net. When they brought in the fish There was a fire going and Jesus was there. No one dared ask who it was, they knew it was the lord.

So, does Jesus not look like Jesus? Why is he coming back and people don't recognize him? 

Jesus and Peter

Jesus asked Peter several times if he loved him, and when Peter said yes he told him to watch his sheep.

Is sheep supposed to be the people following Jesus. Is Jesus putting Peter in charge?

Jesus and the Beloved Apostle

Peter asks if the "disciple whom Jesus loved" was following them is going to betray Jesus. Jesus says that he should stay until "I return" and that was spread around the group.

I didn't understand this at all. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 7 Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?

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.


The laws of the universe are delicately balanced to support the emergence and sustenance of intelligent life. This raises the question for atheists: "Why is the universe habitable?"

Fair enough, this is an interesting question.

A Fine-Tuned Universe

There are many thing that had to be just right for us to have a habitable universe.

1. If the balance between gravity and expansion rate were altered by on part in one million billion billion billion billion billion billion there would be no galaxies, starts, planets or life. To put another way, if there was one more grain of salt the universe would not have expanded and one less and it would have expanded too quickly.

I am completely out of my element here, but I'm guessing the one in blah blah blah is a bit overstated. But who knows, maybe it is correct. Maybe it is impossible for there to be more because at this amount of matter it expands. Maybe it was collecting from a black hole and slowing increasing, so there was less matter there before and it didn't expand, as expected. I admittedly don't really know what I'm talking about here, but the point is, it is possible that what is being claimed is true and yet it just makes sense that we would at some point get to just the right amount of matter, but no more.

2. The four forces are perfectly balanced, the gravitational force must be delicately balanced to one part in 10 to the 40th power. If it was tipped either way we couldn't have the right kind of stars that we have for life to emerge.

This is interesting, but I'm not really sure how relevant it is. Perhaps it is true that it is that delicately balanced, but is it possible for other relations to these natural laws to even exist? Maybe our collection of laws is stable and others will naturally settle on ours. And maybe if there were other natural laws, the world could still support life, it would just be different from what we are. 

3. The earth has extremely rare conditions that allow life to exist here.

This we definitely can explain. There are stars and planets all over the place, some might be in uninhabitable places, maybe a rare one like earth exists somewhere. Whatever life emerges will necessarily be in one of those places. The existence of billions of potential places where life doesn't exist makes this rare occurrence reasonable.

Put another way, suppose any given planet has about a 1 in a billion chance of having life. If there are billions of planets it is not a surprise that at least one has life. And where will the life who examines this fact be? It will be on the planet where the life was able to occur.

Objections to an Intelligent Designer

Some argue that since we could not exist in a universe that was not fine-tuned, we should not be surprised to find that the universe is fine-tuned.

That is basically what I was trying to say in point 3 above.

Dawkins says that there is no current explanation for why the universe is fine-tuned, but that doesn't point to God. The problem with this is that it just asks for further explanation. How can you just object to any explanation by asking for further explanation. Is this how science works.

No, the problem is that God doesn't explain anything in the first place.


That's enough for this week. I am pretty out of my element here, but it looks like the rest of this chapter is looking at criticisms for fine tuning and poorly shooting them down. I know enough to see that it is clumsy but not enough to properly refute it.

Next week's chapter is "Has Science Shown There Is No Soul?". That sounds a bit more interesting to me.

John 20

The Resurrection

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that it was open, so she went to Simon Peter and "the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved"

I thought he loved them all, what is with this?

She told them that someone has taken Jesus out of the tomb. They went to the tomb and say the linen cloths lying there. The face cloth was in a separate place, all folded up.

What about the earthquake and the angel, or the pair of angels

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

Mary was weeping outside the tomb and 2 angels were sitting where Jesus had lain and asked why she was weeping. She said it was because someone took away the body of Jesus. Then Jesus appeared behind her and asked why she was weeping, she didn't realize it was him and said if he knew where Jesus' body was to tell her. He had her pay attention and notice it was him and then told her to go tell everyone what she had seen, so she went and told the disciples.

Here is the part with the angels. At least all of the versions of this story seem to have angels, although the order of events is still all mixed up. For example, in the Matthew story the angel was there right at the beginning of it, here Mary brought everyone back to the tomb and they left before the angel made an appearance. 

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

The disciples were afraid of the Jews so they were hiding, Jesus appeared among them and told them to chill out. He breathed on them and told them to receive the holy spirit.

Jesus and Thomas

Thomas was not with the others when Jesus appeared, he said he wouldn't believe unless he could see Jesus and touch his wounds. 8 days later Jesus appeared before them again and let Thomas touch his wounds. He said "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"

I do not like this last bit. Why would it be a virtue to believe something without evidence?

The Purpose of This Book

Jesus did many other signs which are not recorded here, these have been recorded so that you can believe he is the son of God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

John 19

Jesus Delivered to Be Crucified

Pilate tries a few times to get the people to let them go, but they were determined to have him crucified. Pilate tries his best to help and get Jesus freed but he won't help himself and everyone seems against Jesus.

At one point people in the crowd said "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die", but recently they said that it is not lawful to put anyone to death. Which is it?

Pilate tried once again to get the people to let him go. He said to the Jews "this is your king" then he asks "should I crucify your king?" and they said that their only king is Caesar so he delivered Jesus over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

They took Jesus out to Golgotha and crucified him. They put a sign on his cross that said "king of the Jews" and they divided up his belongings. Jesus' mother was there and he acknowledged her.

The Death of Jesus

Jesus said that he was thirsty to fulfill the scripture, and so they gave him some wine and then he released his spirit.

This is the kind of thing that I am talking about when I discount prophecies. Does it really count if he is doing this for the express purpose of fulfilling the prophecy? Was he even thirsty or did he just say it because he thought he was supposed to?

Jesus' Side Is Pierced

The soldiers came to the three people who were crucified to break their legs, but since Jesus was already dead they didn't break his legs, but they pierced his side with a spear and water and blood came out. This fulfilled some scripture.

Jesus Is Buried

Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take the body of Jesus and he was allowed to. He put him in a tomb that was never used previously.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 8 - Hell

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.


Hell, a Detestable Doctrine

God gave us free will and to be saved we must surrender willingly to God. Some people will refuse to do this and hell becomes necessary. This is unfortunate but necessary. Hell is one of the big targets that opponents of Christianity use against it, hell is attacked as barbarous, a detestable doctrine. Lewis himself detests it. We are told the tragedies which have come from believing in it, we are told less of the tragedies that come from not believing in it.

I agree, it is detestable. I'm guessing the tragedy from not believing in it is people going to hell? Let's see where he goes with this.

The problem is not simply that god is consigning some creatures to hell, it is more complicated than that. God has so much mercy that he becomes human and dies from torture to help people avert hell, yet he can't or won't just remove hell all together. The doctrine is not tolerable, but I will try to prove it is moral.

I don't really see why it is so complicated, but let's see what he has to say. Also, I doubt he can possibly convince me that it is moral to torture someone for eternity. But still, let's see

Now Lewis will address common objections to the doctrine of hell.

Retributive Punishment is Bad

Basically, if there is a chance to correct the behavior, punishment is ok, but if the only reason to punish is because you want retribution that is a bad thing. In hell there is no correction so it is all retribution.

Sounds like a good argument against hell to me.

Lewis then describes a guy who is incredibly evil, who likes being evil, and who isn't regretful at all. Then he basically says that since this person is so evil isn't hell an ok place for him to be. At least he will know he is evil.

Garbage. He says that simple retributive justice is a bad then, then he creates a situation in which he thinks it is ok.

A man cannot be forgiven if he is not accepting of the fact that he did something wrong.

Assume this is correct, still, why does hell have to be forever? Why doesn't God just convince him that what he has done is wrong and then forgive him?

Eternal Damnation for Transitory Sin

Some complain that there is infinite punishment for finite crime. We visualize time as a line, and with this visualization this complaint seems valid. But we should visualize it as a plane or a solid.

I read this a few times, I honestly have no clue what he is talking about.

Hell Might Not be as Bad as You Think

We often think of Dante's picture of hell, but this is artistic and not from the Bible. What is in the Bible is not as bad.

Granted, but what is in the Bible is still pretty bad.

How Can You Enjoy Heaven Knowing There is a Hell?

We cannot say for sure that heaven and hell happen at the same time. They might not be parallel so it is not the same as how the US and England go along together. "That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt; but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration - or duration at all - we cannot say.

What does that even mean? It's nonsense! Either hell is eternal or it isn't. If you want to claim hell is not eternal (it doesn't really seem he does) then we can have that conversation, but in that case, we are not talking about the same hell everyone else seems to be talking about.

The Loss of a Soul Defeats Omnipotence

This is something that is accepted as a possibility when free will is given.

I'm not sure I follow the argument or the refutation that well. It doesn't seem that interesting to me honestly.


I imagine it is clear I was a bit frustrated with CS Lewis in this chapter. Too many of the arguments were complete garbage. I don't think he had fully formed ideas when he wrote it.

Next week Chapter 9 - Animal Pain

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