Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Miracle Pill

Sometimes theistic apologists go to great lengths to rationalize their belief in an imaginary magical man in the sky who poofed us all into existence with magic.

One of the silliest arguments that I read and hear all the time is the argument that while science is all well and good for, you know, those unimportant material things like kitchen appliances, automobiles, spaceships, and life saving medical pharmacology, the really important immaterial things, like "God" and "why are we here", can only be answered by religion - specifically, the apologist's own personal religion.

The Rev. Dan Marler, pastor at the First Church of God in Oak Lawn, IL, writes an opinion column today in the Daily Southtown and asks the question, "Are faith and science enemies?"

More below the fold...

Jim Downey's picture

Do we need an athiests' rights movement?

Just a quickie - the title of this is also the title of an interesting diary on dKos which has a lot of attention. It is sometimes insightful to see how this sort of topic plays out in a large, and largely friendly, environment. Take a look.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Somehow I don't think...

...that this is good news, though it will depend on exactly what the content of such a course turns out to be.

At Harvard, Religion Course May Be Required

This passage from the article:

The report, which calls traditional academics "profoundly secular," seeks to place Harvard's students and faculty in the center of contemporary religious debates.

kind of gives away the attitude they have. And then there's this:

"I think 30 years ago," when the school's curriculum was last overhauled, "people would have said that religion is not something that everyone needs to know," said Louis Menand, a Harvard professor and co-chairman of the committee that drafted the report. "But today, few would disagree that religion is supremely important to modern life."

Charming. Summers, who resigned as prez of Harvard earlier this year, had been lobbying to get more science in the curriculum. Instead, they come up with this.

Jim Downey

A Rational Being's picture

Anti-superstition Begins at Home

It's ubiquitous. Superstition has worked its way into every day living. Here are some examples:

"Cross you fingers."
"Knock on wood."
"God bless you." (For sneezing)

The list goes on. What's an anti-superstitious person to do?

If you really are not superstitious why use these phrases at all. Instead, start using phrases that suggest your direct involvement or an expression that conveys randomness. So you must catch yourself before you you say these things then decide to not say them.

Here is an example:

Recently I was discussing the start-up of a new business and the sale of my old business. The start up of the new business depends on the sale of the old business (need the money). The sale is not quite complete so I said, "cross your fingers." Oops. Instead I should have said, "Should the buyer follow through on his commitments..." or "If I'm dealt the right cards," "with the luck of the draw" You get the idea.

Instead of crediting some unseen power, tie success either to the parties involved (when they can be identified) or pure chance.

Pure chance is one of those subjects that theists have a hard time with. But I think of pure chance as our inability to know all the variables (and their values) in a system. Not knowing these variables prevents us from making accurate predictions. "Pure chance" is really an "excuse" for not knowing everything. Theists, on the other hand, put their gods in the role of pure chance.

A Rational Being's picture

Christian Baseball

Ed Fitzgerald, a little known blogger at Unfutz has a nice series on the Colorado Rockies.

It seems that the Rockies announced that they are a Christian Baseball Team. Ed, an avid baseball fan (and an atheist), wondered how that was working out for them.

We all know the answer, but check out Ed's site and his analysis. It would appear that there is a reverse correlation between baseball success and christian decision making.

Since I am a Red Sox fan, I guess that means I should start praying for the Yankees to win. :-)


Brent Rasmussen's picture

Michael Novak And The Imaginary Argument

First of all I'd like to point out that I really do appreciate Michael Novak's attempt to bridge the gap, as it were. He is unfailingly polite in his writing about atheists and atheism.

However, the problem for me is that he uses 1000 words when one will do, and creates an argument where - by his own admission - there should not be one.

In a recent article Mr. Novak responded to atheist writer Heather Mac Donald. Miss Mac Donald made the very good point that from the outside looking-in, from an objective standpoint, it was very difficult to tell whether or not a person was an atheist or a believer.

[Heather Mac Donald] I wonder whether religious conservatives can spot the atheists among them by their deeds or, for that matter, by their political positions. I very much doubt it. Skeptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make ethical choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer’s. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others.

More below the fold...

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Miracle Bog Psalms A Bust

A 1200-year-old book of Psalms found in an irish peat bog by a construction worker earlier this week has the whole Christian world afire with rumors of apocalypse. You see, the book was opened to Psalm 83, which exhorts God to act against conspirator nations plotting to wipe out "the name of Israel.

Unfortunately for the end-of-the-world crowd, the book is a Latin translation of the Greek called the Vulgate, so "Psalm 83" in the peat-bog version...

...is actually Psalm 84 in the Hebrew-to-English King James version.


[link] The newfound prayer book, they explain, is an ancient Latin translation from the Greek known as the Vulgate. But the King James Bible, which was translated from Hebrew to English more than a thousand years later, assigns different numbers to the psalms.

So the Psalm 83 found in the Irish book, they say, appears in King James as Psalm 84, which is a song of praise and longing for godliness.

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee," the passage reads, "… who passing through the valley of Baca [the vale of tears] make[s] it a well."

The museum officials say they expect the difference speaks for itself.

"It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text," they said.

Poor J. Grant Swank Jr. He can't even get all excited and start salivating about the end times anymore without some nasty old scientist or museum ruining his ghoulish fun. Of course, this will not mean much to the true believers. They'll spin it so that it is now even more significant!

Prophesy! Miracle! Doom! Anihilation! Yay!

Christians scare me sometimes.

(Thank you to Denis Robert for the correction. The Greek translation of the Hebrew is the Septuagint, and The Vulgate is the latin translation of the Greek.)

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Failure To Communicate

"What we've got here is failure to communicate." -Captain, Road Prison 36, Cool Hand Luke

A lot of words used by Christians seem like they actually mean things - but do they really? How do you define "God", for instance without lapsing into inchoherence and circular references?

Forbes magazine recently ran a story on how some "Christian thinkers" are concerned that we are "losing heaven".

I gotta tell you, I read through the entire article and realized at the end that it is 100% gibberish. Semantic content zero. I read the words, and it looks like sentences, but it is completely and utterly incomprehensible to me as an atheist. And this content-free "news story" is printed in a major US magazine - as if it actually means something. Amazing.

So, I re-wrote it to show all the fine Christian types exactly what I'm talking about.

Heh. Enjoy.

[link] Belief in Blippyboo is going to you-know-where. And belief in Frizzlesnap is in trouble, too.

That's the concern of some Frankian thinkers, including Jeffrey Burton Russell, an emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the new book "Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Frizzlesnap and How We Can Regain It" (Oxford).

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Hellbound Allee Is My Hero

Ray "The Banana" Comfort, who works with our good buddy Kirk "The Atheist Fighter" Cameron to produce videos showing the world what a couple of boobs they are, appeared on the Hellbound Allee Show...

...and conceded the "Banana Argument" to Allee! Wow! Great job, Allee!

[link] Hellbound Alleee : I'm just saying that, that there are very few plants, and we argue - with some environmentalists a lot who don't believe in bioengineered food, because all, because most of the food that we eat of course is farmed, and is done through horticulture, and we've engineered these - these fruits and vegetables to be more tasty to us. So actually, the banana seems to be not, not made by God at this point, it's more like um... what, what came first, the banana or the hand ? [laugh] You know ? Man took the banana and made it better for man...

Ray Comfort : Okay, you've got that one. You can have the banana.

Francois Tremblay : WE WIN ! WE WIN ! WE'VE WON THE BANANA !


Brent Rasmussen's picture

'Round And 'Round We Go

Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. In an op-ed piece in the WorldNetDaily, he claims to be a skeptic who doesn't believe something just because someone tells him it's true.

Then, he descends into insane irrationality when he takes on the Problem Of Evil articulated by Epicurus more than 2200 years ago:

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?"

The Good Pastor (heh) tells us that old Epicurus is dead wrong because "good" is what his god says it is. How do we know? Because god said so.

So there. Nyah.

[link] What is "good"? Good is what God approves. We may ask, "Why is what God approves good?" Answer: Because He approves it! That is to say, there is no higher standard of goodness than God's own character and His approval of whatever is consistent with that character. So God is good. Period.

I see! It all makes perfect, circular sense now! That Epicurus was an idiot.

Wow, Pastor Laurie! You're so skeptical! A real rebel!

Or maybe you're just believing in something because someone told you it was true.

Alon Levy's picture

Historical Scholarship vs. the Washington Post

Violet Socks fisks a very clueless Washington Post article about Easter, the historicity of Jesus, and historical scholarship about the origins of Christianity. It would be bad enough if this article gave equal time to real scholarship, which overwhelmingly rejects the literal reading of the Gospels, and fundamentalist apologetics; but this article ups the ante and portrays the literalist view as the rising one, pun intended.

The money quote in Violet's post is,

[Pro-literalism books are] popular religion, fact-free and geared towards the devotional mindset. Their relationship to genuine New Testament scholarship is like the relationship of creationist pamphlets to evolutionary biology: they’re designed to reassure the public that it’s okay to keep believing religion because smart people have looked at that science stuff (or history stuff) and concluded that the Bible is still reliable.

Go to Violet's blog and read the rest.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

We Kill More Gods Before Breakfast Than Most People Do All Day

Our old friends the Christian Underground have gone even further around the bend. Edward F Blick, PhD who bills himself as a "Emeritus Professor of Engineering, Univ. of Oklahoma" has written a whining, puling screed disguised as a humorous op/ed piece that manages to mention every bad creationist argument, every Discovery Institute talking point I've ever heard, all in the same article.

Well, he left out the moon dust argument. Thank Darwin for small favors.

This person sounds like a lunatic. I can only speculate that it is because he's a lunatic. I mean, after all, who else would be associated with the Christian "You Big, Meany Secular 10% Quit Picking On Us Poor, Defenseless Christian 90% 'Minority', Wahh-Wahh" Underground? Here's a taste:

[link] The Darwinists have a well-oiled propaganda machine to keep their true goals hidden from the taxpayers who pay their salaries. They have web sites set up to deflect criticism of evolution and to further their legislative and judicial goals, which are to kill God and elevate humanism to His throne.

More below the flip...

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Thinking Hard, Or Hardly Thinking

Joe Carter has written yet another diatribe arguing against his made-up, strawman religious position that he calls "Neism". Neism is, according to Joe, a "...a blend of naturalism and deism." He also claims that this "Neism" religion was "birthed" by the science of evolutionary biology.

There is lots of good discussion in the comments of this post - Boonton is absolutely on fire. Well worth the read-through.

One of the other commenters who goes by the handle "ex-preacher" brought up an excellent point with a series of rhetorical questions:

[link] I'm more interested in the question of why so many scientists are atheist or agnostic when 94% of the American public believes in God. Are scientists required to lose their faith when they get a Ph.D.? Do the universities only accept atheists? Do they become atheists because that is somehow fashionable? Maybe they really do believe in God but can't admit it because they had a bad relationship with their fathers? Or do they learn things about the world that lead them to believe that the involvement of a god or other intelligent designer is highly unlikely? Has anyone asked them why they don't believe in God?

Alon Levy's picture

The Importance of Facts

Many of the recent unconstructive debates UTI has had lately are due to a single problem, namely people debating without regard for evidence. The problem begins not so much when people play at rhetoric without taking themselves seriously as when they substitute witnessing, anecdotes, emotional appeals, and other logical fallacies for logic and evidence; thus we get substance-free, emotion-packed comments. Appeals to “finding God in your heart” are no substitute for providing evidence that a god exists.

Many false belief systems can use evidential arguments. Neo-conservatives have no problem with debating with facts; what they believe happens to be wrong, but they can at least bring some evidence why they are right. But other false views don’t—in fact, the most popular false views, including all religions, are nothing without emotional appeals and rhetorical tricks. And most importantly, the truth is evidential, which means that correct views can and so use evidence-based arguments.

Sometimes debating completely pragmatically is impossible. You can debate whether there’s evidence for fetal consciousness, or whether public health care works better than private health care, but debating whether protectionism is justified or what restrictions there should be on immigration is something else. Sometimes moral arguments are unavoidable, especially when the facts establish some conflict of interests—for example, if media violence doesn’t cause crime then there’s no moral case against censoring it, but what if it does cause crime?

Still, even when you have to resort to moral arguments, there are reasonable ways to do it—there are various moral philosophies one can use here—and unreasonable ways, such as unsubstantiated shrieks of “But premarital sex is immoral!” Appeals to first principles are a bad way to go, mostly because about ninety-eight percent of the time, they’re not necessary. Appeals to the consequences are better, although at times they require careful judgment calls, as in the case of media violence. Appeals to universal morality, that is general principles of what is good for everyone, can work as well, although they usually don’t tell you much. Appeals to shared assumptions, such as that minority rights are a good concept, are even better, although when there is no shared assumption they can degenerate to appeals to first principles.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Atheism And Letting It Go

DarkSyde's "Why I Am An Atheist" post garnered many responses. Some supportive - some not so supportive. I would like to take this opportunity to answer one of the commenters to that post. This person's comments are a fairly typical objection used by religious folks when atheists have the unmitigated gall to speak up for themselves and call the religionists on their BS. This started out as a response in the comments, but got long enough to become a post in it's own right.

[link] Why is it then that atheists spend so much time, like many of you, disapproving of God on any level (Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.)?

I think that this is a common misconception. Atheists, as a group, are extremely diverse in their beliefs, their wants, needs, and desires. The only thing we share is the absence of god-belief.

When you come to a blog run by an atheist, to a post where the topic is entitled Why I'm an Atheist, then complain about all the time spent by atheists in "disapproving" of your god, and other gods - then I think you're missing the point somewhat.

Sporkyy's picture

The benefits of theistic moral frameworks

This was originally a comment I left at the Exiled Preacher blog. I thought it might be good to make a blog post of my own based on it. I think the basics of the argument that since (at least certain kinds of) theism lead to more moral lives that it somehow counts as evidence that the supernatural parts (for which there is otherwise no evidence) are true as well.

I see many theists arguing that Christianity provides a moral framework that leads to better lives and atheism offers nothing. That’s an arguable point, until you examine the actual arguments which seem to drag in issues of the existence of God and Jesus.

Atheism isn’t the lack of a belief in the Christian moral framework (assuming they could ever agree on the particulars of one), it’s the lack of a belief in the existence of supreme beings. And before you try to say it is, it isn’t the lack of a belief in the use of moral frameworks to improve people’s lives either.

It’s like arguing that unicorns say people shouldn’t drink and drive. Aunicornism, the lack of a belief in unicorns, doesn’t offer anything. Thus unicorns are real.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Leaving Kirk Cameron Behind

Note: This was originally posted in the old UTI back on April 23, 2004 and was lost during my server crash earlier this year. I recently stumbled upon a video by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron that is so incredibly insipid that I had to dig into my hard drive and find that old post and post it again. The video is called "The Beauty of a Broken Spirit - Atheism". Here's the byline:

"Never again do you need to be intimidated by an atheist. Learn how to prove God's existence and effectively witness to these so-called 'intellectuals'".

"So called"? "So called", eh?!? Them's fightin' words, podner! Please excuse me while I take a short break to scrub my eyes out with bleach and scream until my throat hurts. While I'm away, enjoy this blast from UTI's past.

Gadfly's picture

The Duel Continues: Sam Harris Sees No Progress in Religion

Imagine that we could revive a well-educated Christian of the fourteenth century.  The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. (emphasis mine) His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God.  Though he would be considered a fool to think that the earth is the center of the cosmos, ... his religious ideas would still be beyond reproach.  There are two explanations for this:  either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago- whil our knowledge of all other fronts was still hopelessly inchoate - or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma (emphasis mine), is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress.

Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 22
Cross posted at Gadfly's Muse  and UTI

As is often the case, it is the critics of Christianity that force us to confront our own inadequacies.

What Sam Harris has done here is ignore a few things and then commit the logical error of the "excluded middle".  I will deal with that.  But I find that we Evangelicals far too often agree with him.  It is astonishing to me how many Christians talk and act as if our "deposit of faith, handed down to us through the generations" consists of a few propositions preached by the early church and retained in relative purity ever since.  Sam Harris is in error because Christians have not only allowed but actually promoted the idea that God stopped leading His Church in the developing understanding of His Gospel after John the Evangelist died.  Christians don't see progress in their own history and therefore shy away from any responsibility for continuing and advancing that progress in our own times.

Gadfly's picture

En Garde!!!! Sam Harris & "The End of Faith"

The customary cheek-slapping  is past, the "seconds" have been named, the weapons have been selected, the meeting place is arranged, all that is left is for the blood-letting to commence.

Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" is deadly serious and he desires a quick, decisive and deadly victory  in the duel this book initiates.  He is no novice swordsman either.  For the life of me, his picture and manner brings to mind the most despicable villain ever to grace the big screen, Tim Roth's character, Archibald Cunningham,  in Rob Roy.  He even looks like him a bit.  But, be warned, like Archibald, this man is an expert duelist, highly trained in deadly skills and quite content to skewer his opponent without the slightest trace of remorse.

Cross posted at Gadfly's Muse

The back cover tells us that Mr. Harris is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University where, (presumeably) he studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of spiritual disciplines.  He is completing a doctorate in neuroscience, studying the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty.  Hmmm.  We had better be getting in shape for this one.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

I Am A Believer

What the heck is this "God" thing that religious folks keep going on about? They speak as if I should know what they are talking about.

Well, I don't.

Can someone, anyone, define this "God"? Describe it? What are it's characteristics? What is it? Why is it necessary? And how, exactly, do they know these things about this God? Why is your definition any better than the next person's?

I contend that the word "God" is literally incomprehensible. Each person who uses the word assigns a different meaning to it, and none of them match. The word "God" isn't like the word "rock". You can't point to a god and say, "There it is. Pick it up. Feel it, sense it, measure it. It's real." It seems to be a catch-all answer that is complete nonsense. Why is there air? God. Why do the birds sing? God. What happens after we die? God. It's a null-hypothesis. It answers no questions, simply pushes them farther away. It is a placebo. It is self-deception. It is bad for us. It stops us from thinking. If God is the answer, then why look for other answers?

I talk a lot about atheism on this blog. My own, and the definition of the word itself. I have forcefully argued in the past that atheism is merely a description. That it is not a "worldview", does not denote any particular belief or politics, and that it cannot be a "religion" unless you stretch the definitions of both the words "atheism" and "religion" all out of shape to the point where they become meaningless. I still believe this.

But recently I have begun to swing away from my weak-atheist position into the realm of positive belief. I know, I know. Weird, huh? I now claim the positive belief that there is no god. Or "God", or "gods", or "godlets", or "goddesses", etc. Period. The very idea is ridiculous. None of the words have any real meaning at all. They are semantically null carrying zero content. No information is conveyed by saying the words, only confusion. This is not to say that I am closed-minded to the very idea of a deity of some sort, just that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence (to steal a phrase from the late Dr. Sagan.) I cannot in good conscience hold to my weak-atheist position in light of this lack of evidence.

Now, before all of my theistically-inclined readers freak right the hell out and start listing their own personal opinions about the nature and attributes of their gods, let me say this; If you can give me a good, clear, cogent, and concise definition of your god-thing and point me at some real evidence that supports your definition, then I will consider your evidence critically, objectively and make a belief decision about your particular god. I am nothing if not fair. Heh. If there is good, credible, incontrovertible evidence to support your own flavor of deity, I will become a theist.

As you can probably imagine, I am not holding my breath.

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