Monday, December 26, 2005

My Christmas

My Christmas was a bit different this year. We've always had our family Christmas Eve party at Grandma's house, but this year we had it up at my folks house. It is even the first time we've had any parties up at my folk's house--they have been working really hard on getting the place rearranged and even putting in a insert wood stove and building a hearth around it. I wish I had before and after pictures to post--it's a bit like Changing Spaces or something 'cept they did it themselves. :-p

The Christmas Eve party went off great--we ate, Grampa shared some of his Christmas memories, the Christmas myth was read, we sang some carols. I'll see if I can get some digital photo's from Dad so I can post them.

I spent the night up at Mom and Dad's house after the party. It was weird sleeping on the couch, and I didn't get to sleep until about 3 in the morning. As Christmas morning is also Sunday morning, Mom invited me to go to church, as expected. I pretty much planned on going with them anyway, so I accepted.

We missed half of the service since it went from 10am-11am. I'm not sure of the reason for the shift in schedule; I think it was something to do with the pastor's traveling plans. Anyway, what it meant to me was that I only had to sit there for 30 minutes as opposed to an hour. LOL The service was alright--we walked in where the pastor was reading Isaiah 53 and then switched to the birth of Jesus and then to the bit in Revelation about the Lamb and the seven seals. A team with a soprano sax and a singer who I know from when I was in the youth group did "O Holy Night." They did quite a good job on it too, the singer even did it in sign language.

Then, to my dismay, I found out that they were going to do Communion. This was the first time I'd been to a Communion service since I decided that I definitely was not a believer. It was also the first time that I sat still during the entire thing--just breathing in and out and trying not to look too conspicuous. I used to love Communion when I was a Christian, and the combination of that and that of going against the peer pressure made it all an unpleasant experience. What else could I do--to take it is no less than a public proclamation of faith. Far as I know, most in the church are totally unaware that I have rejected Christianity--they only know that I've not been going to church. I wonder how many noticed that I didn't even take Communion when it is open to anyone who has "accepted Christ as their lord and savior"? Not that anyone mentioned it afterward, of course.

The rest of the day went alright--but as this post is already pretty long I'm going to make the rest of it very short. We ate Christmas dinner at Grampa's and then I went to my roomate's family party. And that was my Christmas this year.

Monday, December 19, 2005

events of the day

Today I went to a memorial service. Also known as a funeral. It was for my little neice who, as it turned out, died before ever seeing the light of day. Her name was Rebecca Grace. I've never seen such a tiny casket.
I've also observed in the last few year that funerals are much harder for me than they used to be. This being because most of the "comforting words" are about mythical stuff that most of the people there happen to believe. While the pastor was going on at the memorial service about how "God knows how to lose a child" and "the baby is in the arms of Jesus" and all that I just stared at the tree behind him and concentrated on breathing in and out and waited for him to get done. I suppose it doesn't really matter if those words were any comfort to me or not, as they meant something to the parents and the others there. I'm not going to sit and wallow in self-pity over it--just thought I'd share my thoughts here for all the others out there who have similar experiences. At least no one tried to witness to me, or talked much at all about it after the sermon, far as I could tell. It was good to be around family, and it was heartening to see how many people showed up. I do know my brother and sis-in-law are going to need support this Christmas.

On a brighter note, I have finished with my classes. No more tests (of the written and graded type, anyway). Woo hoo.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A false dichotomy

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I have discovered the thing that I've heard as the sort of reason that people renounce atheism in order to embrace some religion or another. That is, that science and reason in themselves are unable to give meaning to life.

Most of my life I have held this assumption that to be spiritual and to find warmth and meaning in life was somehow tied to believing things that defy what my eyes see and what my science teacher tried to teach me. Salvation was found in believing things and trusting that if your eyes and reason said otherwise, then your eyes and reason were deceiving you. The alternative was simply disbelieving anything that couldn't be proven for certain--after all I've always hated being uncertain in these matters. (Especially when I thought my eternal destiny was tied to my degree of certainty, but I digress). This is the false dichotomy that I'm talking about.

I came to the point of recognizing that reason is not everything on my own. My explorations into Buddhism revealed the rest. I'd hardly considered the possibility of a religion that is not based on faith, but rather experience. There may be faith involved in varying degrees for different people, but it's not essential. Well, anyway, Buddhism as I know it is primarily about our experience of the present moment--no so much about the origins of life or what, if anything, happens after we die. Not much reason to get into debates about evolution versus creationism here.

Also, today I read chapter one in a book called The End of Faith by Sam Harris. He expressed very clearly the idea that has been rattling around in my head for the past couple of months, and it was this reading that moved me to write this entry. It seems so damn simple--like it was right on the edge of my thoughts before but I've never been quite able to bring it to the surface of my thoughts before. Too many of my old assumptions were in the way.

We cannot live by reason alone. This is why no quantity of reason, applied as antiseptic, can compete with the balm of faith, once the terrors of the world begin to intrude upon our lives. Your child has died, or your wife has acquired a horrible illness that no doctor can cure, or your own body has suddenly begun striding toward the grave--and reason, no matter how broad it's compass, will begin to smell distinctly of formaldehyde. This has lead many of us to conclude, wrongly, that human beings have needs that only beliefs in certain fantastical beliefs can fulfill. It is nowhere written, however, that human beings must be irrational, or live in a perpetual state of seige, to enjoy an abidng sense of the sacred. On the contrary, I hope to show that spirituality can be--indeed, must be--deeply rational, even as it elucidates the limits of reason.


So you don't have to either hold absurd beliefs or refuse to consider any ideas that your reason cannot understand. There is a whole lot of middle ground here. And it's a wonderful sense of freedom when you realize that you need not fear reality causing your beliefs to crash down around you! If a belief is shattered by reality, then that is just one more obstacle on the road to a clear view of the world out of the way--and this is a good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

my new home

I'm now out in an apartment. I moved out of my folk's house at the end of October. I'm pretty much just now getting both the time and the motivation to write on this blog. SO now I'm on my own, sort of. I got this apartment with my best friend, and it had really worked out better than I expected.
Josh and I'd been considering the possiblility of getting an apartment for almost the whole last year. He was sitting in an apartment he hated and wanted a way out of there, and I was looking at finally moving out of my parent's house. I just felt I'd outgrown living at home and was ready to move on. The conditions for moving out were ideal. After we figured up the expenses and decided we could afford it, there was just one psychological barrier to overcome: what are people going to think about a guy and a girl who are not married and not related moving in together? We're not even boyfriend/girlfriend, and we have discussed the idea that either of us could invite dates to the apartment. We ended up just pretty much just deciding that it's no one's freaking business if we are sharing an apartment. LOL
I've been pretty busy lately since now I have to shop for groceries and do laundry for two and take care of utility billys and think of stuff like what to eat for dinner. Yea yea I do his laundry, which will just have to be a fact of life until we get the washer and dryer labeled in braille. I don't mind it at all actually, which is almost a bit of a surprise to myself. I think I could go on living this way for a long time without any trouble.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I now have DSL and a wireless. Woo Hoo! I'm writing this blog entry over the wireless using my company laptop.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

bits of starstuff: Coincidence? Who cares!

bits of starstuff: Coincidence? Who cares!

I said I'd write more about the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh that inspired me to go to the Unitarian Church when I wrote that post a few months ago. Well, today I found the poem on the internet, and thought I'd provide a link to it: Call Me By My True Names

Thursday, October 06, 2005

personality test

You are both logical and creative. You are full of ideas.
You are so rational that you analyze everything. This drives people a little crazy!

Intelligence is important to you. You always like to be around smart people.
In fact, you're often a little short with people who don't impress you mentally.

You seem distant to some - but it's usually because you're deep in thought.
Those who understand you best are fellow Rationals.

In love, you tend to approach things with logic. You seek a compatible mate - who is also very intelligent.

At work, you tend to gravitate toward idea building careers - like programming, medicine, or academia.

With others, you are very honest and direct. People often can't take your criticism well.

As far as your looks go, you're coasting on what you were born with. You think fashion is silly.

On weekends, you spend most of your time thinking, experimenting with new ideas, or learning new things.

The Three Question Personality Test

birth order predictor

Interesting, I'm actually third-born (and the youngest). The rest is pretty accurate. Except the jobs . . .

You Are Likely A Forth Born
At your darkest moments, you feel angry.At work and school, you do best when your analyzing.When you love someone, you tend to be very giving.
In friendship, you don't take the initiative in reaching out.Your ideal jobs are: factory jobs, comedy, and dentistry.You will leave your mark on the world with your own personal philosophy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

my Sangha*

As I've written about before, I've been exploring Buddhism a bit lately. Well, last night I discoved a mindfulness group in Louisville that meets on Sundays a good 45 minute drive from my house (that is, I found their website, http://www.sanghalou.org/. Isn't the internet a great thing?). It's a bit far to drive, but I'm thankful that at least there is one within driving distance. I went today and it was really great. I think I'll go back next Sunday.

I could just go on meditating in the mornings on my own, but it's really great to meet with like-minded people. My social urge has even caused me to consider going back to my folk's church, but I have a few problems with that. For one thing, I would feel really uncomfortable talking about my experiences with meditation in Sunday School . . .

Anyhow, it's been a wonderful Sunday for me. Looks like I've finally found my sangha :)

*A loose translation of the word would be "community". Often it means something deeper than that, but I'll stick with that translation for now.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Religious have no Monopoly on Charity

Today I was reading the letters to the editor in the Courier Journal, and felt a strong compulsion to reply to one of them which was entitled "Where's the ACLU?". The author only specifically mentions the ACLU as apparently doing nothing to help Katrina victims, in contrast to all the help given by various religious organizations (that the ACLU supposedly opposes). I don't know specifically what the ACLU has done in this situation, but I take issue with the idea that only the religious are interested in relief efforts. Here is the letter that I wrote and sent in:

In the Monday edition of the paper, A. J. Edwards mentioned a few religious
organizations that have been helping with the Katrina relief efforts. This is a
good thing! But the point of his letter was that Secular and Atheist
organizations (represented by the ACLU in Edward’s letter) are not interested in
helping. What do godless atheists have to do with charity work anyway?

The Universist Movement: Hands on Humanity (http://www.handsonhumanity.org/) is
organizing help for Katrina victims in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
See their website for more information.


American Atheists (http://www.atheists.org/) has a list of
secular organizations contributing to relief efforts. They also have ad space on
their main page for their members who are in the affected areas and wish to
help, such as an atheist business owner in Houston who is offering work to
people displaced by Katrina.


The Council for Secular Humanism and the Center
for Inquiry (http://www.secularhumanism.org/) is
working to collect donations for AmeriCares (http://www.americares.org/).


I expect that there are many secularists out there, including myself, who have
contributed to the relief efforts without trumpeting the fact that we are not
religious and our motives have nothing to do with any gods. The religious do not
have a monopoly on charity.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

checking in

Been a while since I've posted, mainly since I've been busy reading and writing for school and otherwise too lazy to write in the blog. But here is what has gone one since I last wrote. I'm in a break between classes so I have to make it quick.

I have managed to work a 15-20 minute meditation time into my mornings. Right about 7 am I invite my virtual bell to ring (http://www.mindfulnessdc.org/mindfulclock.html) and sit and breathe, basically. Sometimes I do a guided meditation, observe my thoughts or feelings without being caught up in them. I've already seen improvements in my general attitude about life. I love it, and miss it if my schedule gets messed up and I don't get my sitting time (as I call it).

Have to get to class now.

EDIT: In case anyone is interested, I've been using the book Beginning Mindfulness by Andrew Weiss for instruction and the guided meditations. It's a great guide to meditation and mindfulness practice for people like me who have regular job and family responsibilities. Highly recommended. It's also non-sectarian and doesn't assume any particular religious beliefs, which helps.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The God Who Wasn't There

I ordered the DVD and soundtrack from the official website
www.thegodmovie.com
and it arrived a couple of days ago. I think it was put together very well altogether--the soundtrack, visual effects, and content are all very good.

It starts with the question that if the church was wrong about the solar system, could it be wrong about something else, namely Jesus?

Next there is a brief overview of the story of Jesus, making use of some footage of dramatizations of the gospels. A brief, but thorough and accurate overview, as I remember it. Except for the comments that Jesus mysteriously "disappeared" for most of this childhood and then from when he was 12 to when he was 30, this bit could have been put together by a Christian.

Next he deals with how the history of the early church came together. He makes the point that there is a few decades gap between when the Gospels were supposed to have taken place, and when they were written. Also, he talks about Paul and how we know nothing about the history of Christianity other than the letters of Paul in those decades. And that Paul only saw Jesus in a "vision" and that he appears not to have even been aware that Jesus was ever a flesh and blood human being. I dunno if this is accurate, I'd have to check the sources.

The only complaint that I can think of is a verse from Hebrews (8:4) that was ripped from context to be used as evidence that Paul didn't know Jesus was ever an actual human. This is problematic for me since I've heard that Paul didn't even write Hebrews (I think no one knows who did, which is problematic in itself.) Anyway, this point was the only bit of the movie that I objected to. Mainly because any evangelical Christian who watches this movie would probably latch onto that objection and simply not see the rest of show . . .

Because the rest of the show is great! My favorite bit is the comparison of the story of Jesus with the conventions of folklore hero stories, and with the stories of pagan god-men that came before him. Even stuff like being a son of a God, having virgin birth, being crucified, and being raised from the dead, and then ruling with a God figure are found in mythologies of pagan god-men like Dionysus. As far as I can tell, this is the best evidence that the story of Jesus is mythological. For more information try the Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth link (in the sidebar to your right).

The rest of the movie is mostly an inditment of the fundamentalist church in America. Things like fundamentalist rants by people like Pat Robertson about how America must be brought back to God, and by someone else about how homosexuals ought to be put to death, and a book burning are shown. There is also an interview with the webmaster of www.raptureletters.com, and one with the principal of the fundamentalist Christian school in which the director of this film was taught to love God and fear hell.

This was a great film! For it's controversial subject matter I even found it to be very well reasoned and respectful. This is no ranting diatribe against Christianity, just an expose of historical evidence and the personal experience of the director which is contrary to what the teachings of fundamentalist Christianity.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Coincidence? Who cares!

I've taken quite an interest in Buddhism lately. Dunno yet if this will be a long-term thing for me, or if it's just another one of my tangents. But so far, it really looks like it could stick.

While I was in the public library about 3 weeks ago, I was just browsing the religion/philosophy section. I happened upon a book called Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness by Andrew Weiss. It looked interesting, and I had a bit of time on my hands, so I picked it up and took it over to the reading area to have a look at the intro. It is a sorta 10 week guide to meditation. I've been interested in meditation before but never had very good guidance. So I decided to give it a try and checked the book out. Anyway, this was the start (and least I can mark it as a starting point . . .)

Much of the stuff in the book comes from a a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. I'd not heard of him before (or so I thought) had a bit of trouble with the name because I had no clue how it should be pronouced. Anyway, while I was sitting in the hospital with only my Aunt Dee and Uncle Harvey in the room (see my previous post), Dee was talking a bit about her spiritual leanings and such and made a comment that a friend of her's had said that maybe she's a Buddhist and didn't know it. At this point I commented also that I'd been thinking the same of my self (at this point I'd been reading BM and following the instruction for a couple weeks). Then Harvey mentioned something about Thich Nhat Hanh and a book he was reading by him called Living Buddha, Living Christ. The name recognition got my attention--I'd heard of the book but never paid attention to who wrote it.

On Saturday the family was all over at Grampa's house. Probably due to the previous conversation, Dee brought a book she had (actually a compilation of sorts) by Thich Nhat Hanh to show to Harvey. I was interested and asked if I could borrow it for a few days and she said that I could.

Anyway, now I'm finally getting to the interesting coincidence that I mentioned in the title. This morning I was reading a bit of the book that I borrowed--a section called something like "call me by my real name." I was very touched by it--I'll post more about it later--and sorta got the urge to go to the Unitarian Church that I'd not been to for a couple months. I supposed I just decided I wanted to go to a church, and that was the only one that I had any desire whatsoever to go to. I didn't even look up what the sermon would be about before I left, like I usually do.

When I entered the sanctuary, I accepted a hymnal and order of service, and sat down to look over the order of service. I was rather amazed by what I saw. The readings were all from Thich Nhat Hanh! A couple of them were even ones that I'd read from the book. Now, it's nothing unusual in this church for the readings to be taken from the writings of a Buddhist monk. But the timing of it, and the idea that I had just gotten the urge to go after reading stuff from the same monk.

This may be an exceptionally odd thing for an atheist like me to say, but do you ever just get the feeling you are being led?
My Grandma died about a week ago.
It's been in interesting couple of weeks . . .
She had a massive stroke on Wednesday the 3rd this month, and it was soon known that she was very unlikely to wake up. And that even if she did wake, she would not be the same person, so to speak. When I saw her, the only reason she was alive was the ventalator--she was not breathing on her own at all. After all of the family had arrived and gotten a chance to come to terms with the situation, the decision was made to turn of the ventalator on 1pm Friday. According to what I heard (as I was not there), she died instantly.

I've known for a few years now that she may not live much longer, but it was still a shock to find out about it. I was in the hospital all day Friday as family members came in from as far as Oregon and Arizona--it was quite a family reunion. My sister even flew in from Oregon, and I got to meet my baby neice for the first time. :)

This was a sad time for me, especially since this is the first time that I've been though the death of anyone who has played a big role in my life. I do feel a sort of peace about the whole thing though. For one thing, is this not the way it is supposed to happen? She was 89, she lived a full life, and had a sharp mind all the way to the end. She had just arrived at her 64th wedding aniversary the day before her stroke, and I am very glad that I decided to visit her along with my parents. When someone has lived a good life, right up to a ripe old age, and then dies of natural causes, I can't quite think of it as a tragedy. But I will still miss her greatly.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

thoughts on honesty

Damn, I was moody last week. LOL Much better now.

Anyway, I've given a bit of thought about the importance of honesty. I seem to have gotten these mixed messages about honesty all my life. On one hand there was the "honesty is the best policy" side. But then, in everyday life what I saw was that it is fine to lie, or at least not speak the truth, in little situations all the time. If so-and-so calls, tell them I'm not home. Or "that haircut looks great on you". Or on a much more serious note "I believe in God the Father . . . "

I've spent a lot of my life afraid to speak the truth on a variety of issues, because of fear of offending having someone diapprove of me. Or of hurting someone's feelings. And sometimes I'm afraid of just being too blunt in an honest negative opinion of someone. Anyway, I've had a few experiences last week, even today, where I've risked telling people things about myself or things I've done or thought when I knew that they would not like it. But it's been worth the risk. I've found that it is much better to have a thing in the open, than it is to try and conceal it and act like there is nothing there.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Love Bites - Def Leppard

[I love this song. And it fits with what I feel like today. Not all the lyrics fit, but the general mood definately does.

Speaking of music . . . I just subscribed to Yahoo music. If you really want to hear what I like, check out starseyer's station.]

If you've got love in your sights
Watch out, love bites

When you make love, do you look in the mirror?
Who do you think of, does he look like me?
Do you tell lies and say that it's forever?
Do you think twice, or just touch 'n' see?
Ooh babe ooh yeah

When you're alone, do you let go?
Are you wild 'n' willin' or is it just for show?
Ooh c'mon

I don't wanna touch you too much baby
'Cos making love to you might drive me crazy
I know you think that love is the way you make it
So I don't wanna be there when you decide to break it
No!

Love bites, love bleeds
It's bringin' me to my knees
Love lives, love dies
It's no surprise
Love begs, love pleads
It's what I need

When I'm with you are you somewhere else?
Am I gettin' thru or do you please yourself?
When you wake up will you walk out?
It can't be love if you throw it about
Ooh babe

I don't wanna touch you too much baby
'Cos making love to you might drive me crazy

[Repeat Chorus]

[guitar solo]

Ooh yeah

[Repeat Bridge]

Love bites, love bleeds
It's bringin' me to my knees
Love lives, love dies

[Repeat Chorus]

If you've got love in your sights
Watch out, love bites
Yes it does
It will be hell

Update

I'll start with professional life . . .
My job is going well. Currently I'm working on the analysis and design stage for an internal web application for handling an invoice payment service. Learning a bunch about asp.net in the process--basically training myself as needed. It's a pretty nice arrangement for a devolper fresh from college like me.

About personal life:
I've been dating more this year than I have in my entire life. LOL I would like to find a long term relationship as a goal, but I don't feel quite ready for a commitment yet. Sometimes dating leaves me confused a bit--lol just how many personal details do I want to post on this blog?

Let's just say that, at the moment, it feels like my hormones, emotions, and reason are all pulling me in different directions. I may explain later, if I decide to spill that sort of personal stuff on the web for all to see.

Friday, June 24, 2005

My Birthday!

I turned 25 yesterday. So that makes me a quarter of a century old. And that my car insurance rate goes down, finally. :-p

Mom and Dad took me to the Outback Steakhouse since I'd never been there and wanted to try it. I wasn't disappointed either. I got the North Atlantic Salmon and it was just perfect. And after we talked a bit about drinks, Mom actually ordered me a shot of Maker's Mark. LOL And to think I was nervous about ordering drinks around them. I grew up so used to hearing that alcohol was evil to Christians that it's still hard to believe my folks have no problem with it, in moderation of course.
After we ate they took me to Sears and bought me a pair of tennis shoes. Which I needed, cause my old ones were starting to fall apart.
I also got a $25 gift certificate for Barns and Noble from my sis, via e-mail. I used it to buy a book on ASP.NET--strange for a birthday present since it's mainly for work. But I'd been eyeing it, and the thing costs nearly $50. Now I'm just waiting for it to arrive.

It still doesn't feel any different at 25 than it did at 24. I'm still too young to be getting old. :D

Thursday, June 16, 2005

argument for strong atheism

Today I was thinking about what it means to be an atheist. In philosopical terms there are two different types of atheists. "Weak" atheists do not have a belief in god(s). "Strong" atheists believe that there is no god or gods. A common argument against strong atheism is that it is an irrational and unrealistic position, since no one can no for sure that there is no god. However, this argument hinges on what you mean by the word "god."

What characteristics does a person have to have in order to be considered a god? Does a god even have to be a person? I wonder this because I hear of people talking about a being that is anything from "all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present" to one that is simply some sort of force that permeates the universe. There is no universally agreed upon definition of "god" not even among Christians of the same denominations!

What I was wondering about is this: If we were to find evidence of a "supreme being", how would it be distinguished from an advanced alien? A perfectly natural being or force, and a product of evolution just as we are? Can anything that has come to be though natural forces--even forces that exist outside of or prior to our universe--properly be called a god?

I contend that no being or force that comes from natural causes (or human imagination, for that matter) can properly be called a god. And until I see some real good reason to believe that things can come from non-natural causes (could the supernatural even have causation??) then a person is perfectly justified in being a strong atheist.

(And, of course, this is an argument aimed people who are already agnostic or atheist. Most believers, I've noticed, will just say that I'm not giving the possibility of the supernatural its due. And I never will, at least until you can tell be what it is beyond just it's being "other than what I am able to see or otherwise detect around me." )

Schiavo autopsy in

I first knew something about this when I got a Yahoo News Alert on my desktop at work yesterday. It said something about how the autopsy results are not inconsistant with a perminant vegetative state. And according to the New York Times, there were more surprises about Terri Schiavo which showed both that she was not "smiling at the camera" as her family claimed because she was blind, that her brain had deteriorated to about 1/2 normal size, and that the brain deterioration meant that she was encapable of feeling pain or emotion. Apparently all her "responses" were reflex actions. She had no hope of recovery.

But the autopsy left unresolved the mystery, which haunted not just her
husband and parents but ultimately much of the nation, of why Ms. Schiavo's
heart stopped beating late one night when she was 26. The ensuing brain damage
left her able to breathe on her own but not, most doctors said, to think or to
have emotions . . .

The autopsy also found that the brain deterioration had left her blind.That finding, along with the determination that the brain damage was
irreversible, caused some Republicans in Washington, who had pushed so hard for
federal intervention in her case, to have second thoughts. And Democrats cited
the autopsy results as proof that critics of the federal intervention had been
vindicated.




Here is the link to the NYT article.
Unfortunately, you have to sign in to read it.

Also, here is what Americans United for the Seperation of Church and State have to say on the subject. So much for the "culture of life" of the religious right.

"What is this "culture of life" anyway? Does it every actually apply to the living?" --quote heard on Freethought Radio.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Inherit the Wind

I finally saw Inherit the Wind (1999) today. I'd looked for it at a couple of local video rental stores without success, but today I was at the library and, while looking for something else, I noticed it on the shelf with the videos.
This is not a full review of the movie, but here are a few observations:
  1. I was a little surprised that very little of the movie has anything whatsoever about evolution. And this was because the court actually prohibited science discussion from the trial! I've read that this is a historically accurate detail too.
  2. The lawyer in defense of the teacher who was on trial for teaching evolution speaks very eloquently in defense of freethought--which turned out to be what the defense hinged on. Freethought vs. unthinking adherence to a dogma.
  3. The friendship between Drummond and Brady (the prosecuting lawyer) was fascinating. At the end of the movie Drummond even describes Brady as a "giant," even thought they disagree and fight each other like crazy in the courtroom.
  4. Two versions of atheism are presented in the film. There was Henry Drummond, the defense lawyer, who believed in a lot. In contrast to the stereotype of the atheist who believes in nothing, he holds truth and the ability of humans to reason to be nothing less than sacred. The contrast is provided by the newspaperman, the hardened and cynical atheist. Near the end of the movie, after the trial, they have an interesting conversation in which Drummond castigates the newspaperman for his cynicism and scoffing at other's beliefs.
  5. Also true to history, as I've heard, the teacher is found guilty but only fined $100. It was a technical loss, but an idealogical win. And Drummond mentioned an intent to appeal--I'll have to look up what happened as the appeal is not in the movie.
  6. This could be a hard movie for some Christians to watch, I think due to the portrayal of religious fanatisism and the grilling about the Bible that Drummond gave Brady when he called him to the stand. I, however, found that scene highly enjoyable.
In short, it's a beautiful movie.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

what's going on

This week I started on a new job. My first job where I'm actually what I went to school to do. :) I'm helping to redesign and manage the database system of a small telecommunications consulting firm. So far, so good. ;)

Also, due to a lack of interest (on my part) and a squeeze on my time from working full-time, I don't intend to finish reviews for the rest of the chapters of The Case for Faith. For one thing, I've gotten sick of it. I'm clearly not the target audience for the book--this was written for Christians and non-skeptical non-belivers. There is little here of interest to skeptics, and I'm getting tired of refuting the same types of arguments over and over. Also, Mom admited to me over a week ago that she wasn't getting anywere on the book I gave her (The Demon-haunted World) because she is just not open to what he is saying. She could read my opinions, sure, but not the opinions of someone like Carl Sagan. Oh well.

Wow, I've got to go or I'll be late for work!

EDIT: Name of employer has been removed at request, to protect the company from associations with religions and views on religions.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Chapter 4: God isn’t of warship if he kills innocent children.

Interviewee: Norman L. Geisler, Ph. D.

Right off the bat, the title of this chapter is misleading. When I read it in the table of contents (as you will see in my pre-read impressions), I was thinking of the children who died in disasters and the tsunami and famines. However, what this chapter actually addresses is the problems of atrocities commanded by God in the Old Testament. The objection could have been better worded as “God isn’t worthy of worship if he commanded genocide and cruel acts.” And as it turns out, only about half of the chapter addresses this question, while the other half focuses on proofs of the bible’s reliability.

Strobel presents the objection very well.

“God’s image as a loving and benevolent deity gets called into question by stores of seemingly cruel and vengeful behavior. Do these brutal accounts disclose the true character of God? And if they do, does he deserve to be worshiped?”

I’m not going to pick apart each and every argument given by Geisler as to why the Old Testament stories are not as cruel as they appear. But here are the highlights:

In answer to a charge from Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason that the Bible contained “cruel and torturous executions,” Geisler says that the charge of torture is due to misinterpretation in the King James Version. In fact, what David really did was force his enemies to either submit to forced labor or be killed. (Neither Strobel nor his interviewee gives Biblical references so I’m not going to try to find the passages in question.)

In the case of the Amalekites, Geisler basically says that they were bad people beyond any hope of salvation and deserved to be utterly destroyed--right down to the smallest infant and all the animals. How does he know this? Because Israel’s history books say so! The land was promised to Israel—and of course the Amalekites knew about this! Besides, God owns them and he can kill them if it pleases him. God has the right to do anything he wants and we have no right to judge, according to Geisler: “People assume that what is wrong for us is wrong for God.” (pg. 119)

And did you know that the children who were mauled by bears for making fun of Elisha? They weren’t really children. They were a dangerous gang that threatened Elisha’s life and reputation. This is what Geisler says, anyway. And God viciously killed them as an example for anyone who would dare malign God or his prophet, so that maybe the people would take the hint and avoid his later wrath. This still sounds more like a tyrant than a loving deity to me.

Next Strobel brings up the cruelty that is built into the food chain in nature. This bit, I think, is rather out of topic for the chapter and should have been addressed in Chapter 1. Anyway, Geisler’s solution is that all animals were originally herbivores, but then were converted to carnivores sometime later as a result of the fall. My main problem with this argument has to do with the fact that predators are so wonderfully designed to be killing machines. The idea of a lion gaining nutrition from grass and fruit is totally absurd in the light that their teeth, claws, and digestive systems are specially designed for the killing and digestion of animal flesh. And can you imagine sharks eating seaweed? If Geisler is right, the curse must have been a new act of creation in its own right! Another problem is that this makes it out that God punished all of creation for the rebellion of humans. I can’t see how this could be considered just.

Speaking of cruelty to animals, it would be more in line with the topic of this chapter if Strobel would have asked about the justice in God commanding David to hamstring the horses of their enemies. This can be found in Joshua 11:6-9. What was the point? More references to biblical atrocities can be found at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.shtml.

The rest of the chapter is concerned with arguments that the Biblical accounts are trustworthy. In the interest of shortening my chapter reviews, I’ll not address these arguments here—particularly since they have little to do with the topic of the chapter.

Verdict

Objection sustained. The only thing this article convinced me of is that Geisler and company should lead a revolt to have the King James Version of the Bible banned, if it contains such grievous errors as Geisler claims. Can he even think of it as the Word of God anymore?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Chapter 3: Evolution explains life, so God isn’t needed

Interviewee: Walter L. Bradley, Ph. D.

As good journalists often do, Strobel opens this chapter with a compelling story. He recounts the story of how Ronald Keith Williamson is wrongly convicted of a murder in Oklahoma. The clinching evidence came from the matching of his hairs with some found on the victim’s body. Convinced by the prosecution that the hair sample was irrefutable proof of his guilt, the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death row. However, spending nine years in prison, DNA testing of the hairs cleared him and he was set free. The reason that Strobel opens with this story is to prove that sometimes what appears to be scientific fact isn’t. Then he goes on to say that this story parallels the theory that life started naturally, with no need for divine intervention. In a sense, he is claiming that the naturalistic theories of evolution are faulty in much the same way as “hair evidence” in murder trials (that is, hair evidence before DNA testing was developed, I presume.)

He then goes on to establish the link between atheism and evolutionism, citing Richard Dawkins as saying that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Strobel even sites his own motivations for embracing evolution in his high school biology class: “I was more than happy to latch onto Darwinism as an excuse to jettison the idea of God so I could unabashedly pursue my own agenda in life without moral constraints.” I’m not going to bother refuting this point, or Strobel’s former motivations, though I think he is a bit narrow in the assumption that evolutionists are necessarily atheists. Evolutionary theory, like all branches of science, is simply concerned with natural explanations. In Chapter 2, even Dr. William Craig agreed that scientists seek natural explanations. On the other hand, Craig also thought that we should appeal to the supernatural beyond the frontiers of our knowledge of the beginnings of the universe; as here Strobel and his interviewee argue that we should appeal to the supernatural to beyond the frontiers of our knowledge of the beginnings of life on Earth.

At this point Strobel makes an interesting statement: “Everyone concedes that evolution is true to some extent.” He then explains that he accepts the evidence of the adaptability of bacteria to antibiotics, and the breeding of animals and such. Fine, as long as the adaptations restrict themselves to the boundaries of species. This is called micro-evolution. This is in contrast to macro-evolution, or the development of new species from old. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that macro-evolution is nothing more or less than the cumulative effects of micro-evolution over millions of years. There have been several papers written on this topic, so I’m not going to get into it here.

Then he goes on to make an interesting statement that: “I knew that if scientists could convincingly demonstrate how life could emerge purely though natural chemical processes, then there’s no need for God.” Surely he does not mean that when the origins of life are figured out, he will conclude that there is no need for God? That could be a dangerous bet. Of course, he goes on to say “On the other hand, if the evidence points in the other direction towards an Intelligent Designer, then Darwin’s entire evolutionary house of cards would collapse.” Mr. Strobel must have never read Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” because if he had, he would know that Darwin hardly even begun to speculate about the origins of life. His theory was that all life on earth had developed from a common ancestor though a process of evolution and natural selection—a theory which Strobel has already accepted in part if he affirms the truth of micro-evolution. Even if life were proven to be of divine origin, Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection would still stand.

It is not until this point when the interview with Dr. Walter L. Bradley commences. Bradley uses a number of arguments to disprove the idea that life could evolve from a natural chemical source. I will address them one by one below (note that these are not all headings that are used in the book—a whole section is not devoted to each claim in the book):


Spontaneous generation has proven impossible; therefore life could not have come from nonliving chemicals.

Spontaneous generation is the term used to describe the idea that living things could form spontaneously from nonliving matter. For example, it was once commonly believed that maggots formed from rotting meat. This was famously disproved by Francesco Redi one hundred years before Darwin wrote the “Origin of Species,” as Bradley says. Today no one believes that spontaneous generation occurs, and no one (besides creationists) believes that this is necessary for the natural development of life. The early development of life is referred to as abiogenesis, and it doesn’t involve the spontaneous arrival of even the simplest of cells from a random mix of chemicals—in fact there are several steps between the chemicals and living cells. I can’t really do justice to the topic, but if you want more information check out http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob.html.

Miller’s “life in a test-tube” experiment was based on faulty data; therefore life could not have come from nonliving chemicals.

In this experiment, which is famously touted in high school biology books, scientists Miller and Oparin attempted to simulate the early creation of life on Earth by mimicking the conditions on early earth. While they did not actually create life, or even claim to, their experiment did yield some of the amino acids—which are vital to life as we know it. However, they went on the assumption that the early Earth atmosphere contained ammonia, methane, and hydrogen—in other words; they assumed the theory of the atmosphere of the early Earth that was in vogue at the time. Bradley points out a major flaw in the experiment: NASA has, since 1980, affirmed that the early Earth atmosphere was more likely composed of water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. These gasses are too inert to work in Miller’s experiment. Therefore life could not have naturally developed in the conditions of early Earth.

Or could it? Skeptic that I am, I checked the NASA website for verification of Bradley’s claim. What I found was a press release with this headline:

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO STUDY SHOWS EARLY EARTH ATMOSPHERE HYDROGEN-RICH, FAVORABLE TO LIFE

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaAlerts/2005/2005040718746.html

I can’t blame Strobel for not mentioning this, since his book was published in 2000, and this press release came out in April 2005 (a month prior to this writing.)

Among the statements in the article are as follows:

“This study indicates that the carbon-dioxide, hydrogen poor Mars and Venus-like model of Earth’s early atmosphere that scientists have been working with for the last 25 years is incorrect . . . In such atmospheres, organic molecules are not produced by photochemical reactions or electrical discharges.”

However:

“In the new CU-Boulder scenario, it is a hydrogen and CO2 –dominated atmosphere that leads to the production of organic molecules, not the methane and ammonia atmosphere used in Miller’s experiment, [University of Colorado Professor Owen Toon] said.”

The CU-Boulder studies found that there was much more hydrogen in the early Earth atmosphere than they had previously supposed—making it favorable to the development of life. It turns out that Bradley’s observation was right on the money, but is now obsolete. This serves as an example of how solutions to unanswered scientific questions are best found, not though an appeal to the supernatural, but rather through further experimentation and study.

Moving on . . .

Next Bradley goes on to discuss various ideas about the mechanics of how evolutionists say that life on earth evolved. He mentions The “Random Chance” theory (which no one believes anymore), “Chemical Affinity” (that the chemicals needed for life were inevitably attracted to one another), “Self-ordering tendencies” (that life formed from self-organizing matter), “Seeding from space” (the idea that life originated somewhere else and ended up on Earth. I quite agree with Bradley that this only postponed the question of how life came to be.), “Vents in the Ocean” (that life originated near hot-springs in the ocean), and “Life from Clay” (that live evolved in clay rather than in water—I don’t really get this one.) I’m not going to get into detail on these, as I don’t have the time. I’m going to skip to the real crux of the matter.

Intelligent Design

Naturally, the discussion turns to the Intelligent Design theory, just like in chapter 2. As this chapter review is getting rather long, I’m not going to bother going into any detail on ID. For what I know of it, it just sounds like some Christians embrace both evolution and creation. (As opposed to the Biblical literalist creationists, who think God created the world in six literal days. Their view is not even mentioned in Strobel’s book.) There are some things that are not yet completely understood about the mechanism of evolution, so there is even some room for the God of the Gaps. Hence the ID proponent’s appeal to what they call ‘irreducible complexity.’ I say that if you even want to believe that a god has guided evolution, more power to you. Just don’t tell me that your belief is a scientific theory.

Verdict

Not convinced. Actually, I don’t even think the objection for which the chapter was named was even adequately addressed. Most of the chapter was did not even address evolution, but abiogenesis—the origin of life. As I mentioned before, even proving a divine origin for life would not disprove evolution. It could still be believed that God just got the process started. Nor would proving a natural origin for life prove that no god exists. It’s just that such a proof would point towards the credibility of a belief that there is no intelligent creator, which is what I think Richard Dawkins meant when he said that Darwin’s theory helps to make atheism intellectually fulfilling.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

in light of the 'problem of evil'

Here is an interesting bit of writing I found that both theists and atheists should be able to appreciate:

The Perfect World

Friday, May 13, 2005

Chapter 2: Since miracles contradict science, they cannot be true

Interviewee: William Lane Craig, Ph. D. in philosophy and theology

I’ve noticed that although the wording of this objection is misleading (see the pre-read impressions) the issue is cleared up in the chapter. I think this chapter started off very well, with a good definition of the word miracle. Craig defines a miracle as “an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operative in the place and time the miracle occurs.” He is also straight on the point that miracles do not contradict science, but that science is the pursuit of natural causes and not supernatural ones. And he notes that miracles should not be difficult for even a scientifically minded person to believe—assuming that they believe in the Christian God. If God exists, it is not unthinkable that he would intervene in nature from time to time. Fair enough. He even, to my surprise actually (I thought maybe Strobel would just assume that his audience believed in God), outlines a few of the arguments for the existence of God in the chapter.

There is one point made in the chapter about the necessity of extraordinary evidence to back up extraordinary claims, such as the resurrection. He tries to disprove the idea that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” by comparing the improbability of the resurrection with the improbability of a set of six numbers in a lottery. After all, that any particular set of six numbers should come out of the lottery is very improbable. And the news source needs to show no extraordinary evidence that is was indeed those six numbers that popped out of the machine! Therefore an extraordinary event does not need to be backed up with extraordinary evidence. There is a serious flaw in this argument. It was a perfectly ordinary event for six random numbers to pop out of the machine, and unless the lottery was a fraud any set of six numbers should be equally improbable. I can say with some confidence that it is a whole lot more improbable for a person to rise from the dead than it is for them to stay dead (or for his followers to be mistakenly convinced that he had risen from the dead--just take Elvis sightings as an example!) And the news people should have nothing to gain in lying about it either, so it’s perfectly rational to trust that they are not deceiving us about lottery numbers. Now, if there was a physic who claimed that she could predict what numbers would come out beforehand, that would be an extraordinary claim which would require extraordinary evidence! We do not have extraordinary evidence regarding the resurrection, only the records of claims.

Next Craig gives us another definition of faith. He defines it as “trust or commitment to what you think is true.” He has an idea of a very rational faith. Anyone who is committed to an idea has faith. Maybe what many of the more intellectual Christians believe (such as C. S. Lewis) but this definition is often not what is meant by the word faith. In a rational way, may Christians call ‘faith’ what is more accurately called ‘justified belief.’ But faith in the Bible is irrational faith—belief without evidence, belief without ‘sight’. At least, this was the faith argued for by St. Augustine—as to distinguish the faith of demons—whose faith is rational because they have seen lots of signs and know that God is real—from the belief of Christians, which is supposedly voluntary. As Kreft said in Chapter 1: “Unlike reason, which bows down faithfully to evidence, faith is prejudiced.”

Next, Craig offers five of the classic arguments for the existence of God. The arguments he gives are as follows.

The First Cause Argument

This argument, as presented by Craig goes as such:

P1: “The universe and time itself had a beginning at some point in the finite past”

P2: “But something cannot come out of nothing”

C: “there has to be a transcendent cause beyond space and time which brought the universe into being”

Predictably, Craig equates the “transcendent cause” with the evangelical Christian conception of God. He rather glosses over the issue of where God came from, by saying that God never had a beginning, therefore he was uncaused.

I have some major problems with this argument, and that is that it appeals to the “God of the Gaps” theory, which basically states that “What we know we call science; what we don’t, we call God.” We just don’t know what came before the Big Bang, and it could be that we will never know. Perhaps there is some sort of “uncaused cause” out of which the Big Bang came, but it’s quite a leap to assume that it is a god, much less a particular conception of God. For all we know, it was some sort of catalyst that was destroyed in the process of creation. Until we have pushed the frontiers of science to the time before the Big Bang (or until, possibly, the Big Bang is overthrown by a better theory) the possibilities will be limited only by human imagination.

The Fine-tuning Argument

Craig presents this argument as follows:

P1: “The Big Bang was . . . a highly organized event which required an enormous amount of information.”

P2: “At the very moment of its inception, the universe has to be fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of life like ourselves.”

C: There must have been an Intelligent Designer.

I have a few observations to make on this argument. First, had the factors involved in the creation of the universe not been favorable to life, we would not be here to contemplate the reasons for our existence. I wonder how he defines “highly organized” in P1 above. Strobel suggests the possibility that there are other universes, but Craig simply dismisses the idea because even if it were true we have no way to verify it. He claims that the only reason the skeptics form such hypothesis was to avoid the idea of an intelligent designer of the universe. This is after he agreed, earlier in the chapter, that science is interested in natural explanations to phenomena—not supernatural ones. Interestingly we can’t verify the existence of his God either, though he holds this as self-evident.

The Argument from the Existence of Morality

Craig’s presentation of this argument:

P1: Objective moral values exist

C: God must exist

When Strobel asks for a definition of objective moral values, Craig replies that “Objective moral values are valid and binding independently of whether anyone believes them or not.” If God didn’t exist, Craig asserts, then “moral values are simply the product of socio-biological evolution.” I find it interesting that he does, at least, acknowledge that moral values could evolve naturally. But then he states that if that were the case, then moral values would be no more than opinions and tastes, like “Broccoli tastes good.” He doesn’t say much to support this assumption (that evolutionary morals would only be a matter of individual taste), however. I don’t have time or incentive here to explore the evolution of morality, though much has been written on the subject elsewhere.

Actually, the idea that moral values come from God faces a problem that is not mentioned in this book. It is the classic challenge that Socrates thought up: “Is an action good because the gods (God) command it, or do the gods (God) command it because it is good?” Take, for example, the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. According to the account, as a test of his faith God commands Abraham to take his son Isaac up onto a mountain and kill him as a burnt offering. As the story goes, Abraham gets to the point where he is holding the dagger above his son, preparing to slaughter him—but the angel intervenes right at the last moment. Now as far as Abraham knew, there would be no intervention. Would it have been morally wrong to murder his son because God commanded him to do it? If so, then morality really does not come from God, because God commanded Abraham to commit a morally reprehensible act. And this would mean that there is a standard of morality external to God, to which he is subject. If not, then the very notion of “objective moral standards” is meaningless, because morals would be relative to the will of God.

That being said, how do you judge the actions of a woman who is deluded into thinking that God wants her to, say, drown her children in the bathtub? She knows that to do such a deed would be reprehensible evil, and yet she thinks that God said to do it. Should she follow her own judgment—that the act is wrong and she shouldn’t do it—or should she follow what she perceives as the will of God? How do you judge such an act?

The Argument from the Resurrection

Here is Craig’s Argument:

P1: If we can believe in God, then we can believe in miracles.

P2: Miracles point toward the existence of God.

P3: If Jesus was raised from the dead, miracles exist.

P4: Ancient documents testify to the resurrection of Jesus.

C: God exists.

Nevermind the testimony of many Biblical scholars, most of them theists, who doubt the reliability of these ancient documents (all of which make up New Testament material.) Even assuming the authenticity of the documents themselves, it does not follow that the claims made in the documents are accurate. This argument suffers from both circular reasoning (prior assumption that God exists), and begging the question (of the accuracy of biblical documents).

The Argument from Personal Experience

P1: People have experienced God in their personal lives

C: God exists.

Logically, this argument is begging the question (that it is actually God that the people experience.) However, I don’t think that this is even intended to be a logical argument. It’s an emotional appeal. As I’ve decided that I’m not even going to try and argue about the authenticity of others’ personal experiences, there is not much I can say about this. I can’t believe on the basis of someone else’s supposed experience of God. Most Christians I know will likely agree with me on this point.

Closing and Verdict

The chapter concludes with an appeal to the certainty of Craig as to the truth of his beliefs, and an appeal to Revelation 3:20 (“Behold I stand at the door and knock . . .”). Backing this certainty is the evidence of lives changed by Christianity. Actually, I would be greatly astonished if a dramatic change in a person’s beliefs and worldview did not greatly change their life. In fact, I would wonder about the honesty of their belief if there were no change. This effect is seen regardless of the actual truth of the beliefs, as shown by the fact that this claim of changed lives is not limited to Christianity, or even religion itself.

At least, Strobel does recognize that atheists may very well be good and moral people in this during the discussion of “objective morality.” I guess he did not fit this category as an atheist, as shown by his reference to his “living in the mire of immorality as an atheist” near the end of the chapter. But at least he recognizes that atheism is not equivalent to immorality.

I’m not convinced by the arguments in this chapter. I did however, find it to be a worthwhile challenge to read and respond to it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chapter 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving God cannot

Chapter 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving god cannot.

Interviewee: Peter John Kreeft, Ph. D.

I was partly surprised that in the introduction he does interview Templeton, who is an agnostic former Christian. I’ve never read Templeton’s book, though Strobel paints it as a hateful diatribe against Christianity. It may be an interesting next read.

Anyway, this chapter is supposed to answer Templeton’s objections that the suffering in the world disproves the existence of God. Strobel interviews Peter Kreft about this problem of evil. Kreft shows some good thoughts in the interview, makes some nonsensical statements about atheism, and also gives a few arguments about how the existence of evil is not incompatible with the existence of God.

I’ll start with his arguments.

A bear, a trap, a hunter, and God.

In this analogy, a hunter finds a bear in agony in a trap, has pity on it, and tries to set it free. The bear, naturally, can not comprehend and resists the hunter. In the analogy, a suffering human is the bear, the merciful hunter is God. Interesting point to make is that, in all likelihood the bear has every reason in the world to mistrust the hunter. And who placed the trap to begin with? Maybe it’s just a bad analogy, at least if the bear is held responsible for misunderstanding the intentions of the hunter. Another point of breakdown in this analogy is that the hunter has reason to fear the bear—an angry wounded bear is a force to be reckoned with! The hunter is putting his life in danger, while on the other hand God would be totally shielded from any harm.

Faith and Prejudice

Here it gets interesting.

Kreft says: “The Bible says, ‘Seek and you will find.’ It doesn’t say everybody will find him; it doesn’t say nobody will find him. Some will find. Who? Those who seek. Those whose hearts are set on finding him and following the clues.”

No skeptics allowed? Skeptical seeking wouldn’t count here as true seeking, because in order for this to work you must have already decided what you will find before you start. This negates any reason to search anyway, if you’ve predetermined “who” you will find. No thanks.

Kreft confirms my suspicion that belief is a prerequisite for this search with a later statement:

“Unlike reason, which bows down faithfully to evidence, faith is prejudiced.”

As an example of what he means by prejudice, he says that he wouldn’t believe a policeman who said that his wife had been caught chopping people’s heads off. Because he is prejudiced; because he knows she is not likely to do something like that. Sorry Kreft, that’s not faith. That is reason based on past experience. This is another bad analogy.

On a side note, how can someone who has not had previous experience with a person (or God) be expected to trust them unreservedly from the start? Trust is something that is gained though experience.

Supreme Good

Next he gives that classic argument that if Templeton is upset over injustice, then he must have in mind some standard of justice. Kreft calls this standard the “Supreme Good” and then says that this is also called God. This is begging the question. For one thing, any notion we may have of a supreme good is a human construct; it does not come from outside of us. Everyone has a notion of what the words ‘good’ and ‘evil’ mean, but not everyone mean exactly the same things by the words. It is like ‘hot’ and ‘cold’—though everyone has similar notions of these terms, they often don’t refer to the exact same temperatures as hot or cold. One person may feel perfectly comfortable in a room, while to another person it will be uncomfortably warm. Everyone’s view of exactly what the “supreme good” looks like is different. People, unless they are psychopaths, empathize with the sufferings of other people and feel that is wrong for people to suffer, and unjust if that person could not have possibly done something to deserve it. And there are certain issues that are in definite dispute as to their moral status. Take killing for example: I’ve never spoken to a person who thinks that cold-blooded murder is moral. But what about killing in self-defense, or to protect one’s family? Or abortion, the death penalty, or wartime killing? Many who believe some of these are moral hold others to be immoral. Where is the “objective moral standard” here?

Besides, “Supreme Good” is an abstract concept. I seriously don’t think Kreft or Strobal really that believe their God is an abstract concept . . .

Free Will Argument

Next he gives the standard Free Will argument, which says that it is really humans’ fault that there is suffering, not God’s. This world of suffering is what humanity chose. But he says that if there is no free will, and no possibility of moral evil, there can be no choice except to obey--and therefore no love. Later he talks about heaven as being the place where we will be compensated for all our sufferings. I wonder if he thinks there will be no free will, and therefore no love, in heaven. No sin is allowed in heaven. It will be perfect, right?

Good from Evil

He claims that good comes from suffering, and uses the sacrificial death of Jesus as an example. Generally, this is only an example that works for conservative Christians, and as I’m not, I’ll not bother going into more detail here.

The Suffering of the Innocent

He then asks the question of why a loving god would watch while an innocent child is hit by a truck. Judging from the example he choose to explain, he seems to says it was allowed to teach the child some lesson though suffering. The analogy he gives is of his daughter pricking her fingers with a pin trying to sew a Girl Scout badge. Of course she finally succeeds and is proud and elated that she did it all by herself, forgetting about the pain. He doesn’t say what sort of lesson or character development was learned by the child who was hit by the truck in the original question.

The Suffering God

This one says that God feels all our sufferings. Every tear is his tear. This one I just don’t buy. If I had cancer and were suffering terrible pain, I doubt it would do me any good whatsoever to know that my father was—even by his own choice—feeling that pain as well. I’d be a whole lot more interested in relief than in the knowledge that someone else “feels my pain.”

There is a bit more to the chapter, but this about sums up the arguments. The best appeals are the emotional ones, talking about how God has shaped his life though painful experiences, etc. I’ll not say anything to attempt to invalidate the personal experiences of the author and his interviewee, though personal anecdotes don’t prove anything.

He also made a couple of comments about atheism (and evolution) that showed a total misunderstanding of the whole issue from that view. He actually tried to argue that the existence of evil in the world proves the existence of God because if the atheists were right about there being no moment of creation (i.e. if the universe is eternal), then it must have been evolving for an infinite amount of time and should be perfect by now. But evolution does not tend toward some human ideal of perfection! Dr. Kreft is here only displaying his ignorance of evolutionary theory.

Next, he says that atheism robs death of meaning, and therefore robs life of meaning. Oddly, that’s exactly the opposite of anything I’ve heard from an atheist. Death is the final end of life—and the finiteness of life makes every moment all that more precious to the atheist! This guy has obviously not seriously considered the atheist’s point of view. And neither has Strobel, apparently, though he is supposed to know all about how an atheist thinks. Well meaning Christians who read this book should know that atheism is not equivalent with nihilism, as it is all too often characterized in Christian propaganda.


Verdict:

Not convinced. For one thing, I’ve heard rebuttals to all the arguments that he has presented, and most of his analogies are bad. The free will argument is the most convincing argument in the chapter, though it still has problems. What about natural disasters? Did evil human will bring on the tsunami, for instance? My point being that there is suffering that occurs that has nothing to do with human choice. So the argument by free will is not sufficient to explain suffering.

The problem of evil is one that has mainly only supported my atheism after the fact. When I believed in God, I could believe that somehow he had reasons for all the suffering that were beyond my understanding. Why would I worship a God that wasn’t so far above me that I could never figure out his thoughts and reasons? This is the stance I took as a believer. But it works if, and only if, one is convinced that God (the Christian God, specifically) actually exists. And at this point I’m far from being convinced of that.

I think that the best reason that the problem of evil points to the non-existence of God is that the suffering in the world, natural disasters and all, is totally consistant with a universe that is unaware that we exist and indifferent to us. The wrongs done to humans against each other are a result of people taking care of their own interests without regard to others. This is why any decent civilization has laws against robbery, and insider trading. Postulating a creator God who is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful makes the whole thing so much more complicated than it has to be.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Case for Faith: a review

The other day I was in a bookstore with my Mom. She seems rather intent on finding more or less subtle ways of exposing my to Christianity lately. She asked me if I would read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. In return, I asked her if she would read a book of my choosing if I read her book, and she agreed. I've picked a book out for her, though I haven't given it to her yet (I've picked Why Atheism, by George Smith). I have now read the intros and chapters 1 and 2 of Strobel's book. And I've decided to get the most out of it by writing a fairly thourough review, chapter by chapter. I'm doing it mainly to thoroughly scrutinize his arguments and provide rebuttals. I will be posting these here on my blog every few days, as I have time to write and revise my chapter reviews. I've started with my pre-read impressions:

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The Case for Faith: Pre-read impressions


Cover:
The blurb on the cover says that this is “A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity”

A journalist—ok, fair enough. Not likely to have expertise it the subject matter, as journalists usually are more interested in communicating facts than studying them.

Investigates—if The Case for Christ is any indication, I doubt there will be much actual investigation. I expect to see interviews and such with Christians, Theologians, and perhaps former atheists who have converted for such or such reasons. But I don’t expect to see any interviews of present Atheists or religious skeptics, or even liberal Christians. It will be a one-sided investigation.

Toughest Objections to Christianity? I will examine this when I see what issues he is addressing.


Contents:

Good, descriptive table of contents. I will write my impression to each of these “toughest objections” before reading.

Objection 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving god cannot.
Ah, the problem of evil. This is an interesting one, but it was not a major that turned me on to atheism—though it has strengthened my position. I’ve heard lots of answers to this one. It is a worthwhile argument for atheism however, as it greatly simplifies life if you don’t have to try to make sense of preventable, senseless suffering in light of a good god.

2: Since miracles contradict science, they cannot be true
This one I have never heard before. I can see where the misconception comes from, however. When doing scientific analysis, bringing in supernatural causes to explain things doesn’t explain anything. Miracles are just useless to science. That’s no proof that they never happen, but as none have been really verified, we have every reason to be skeptical that they do happen. Especially in the light of the fact that most every phenomena which used to be clearly miraculous or supernatural now has a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation.


3: Evolution explains life, so god isn’t needed
Straw man. Evolution doesn’t even address the issue of god. It provides a natural explanation of how species evolve, or on a grander scale how the universe evolves. Whether or not God exists or is needed is irrelevant. A lot of Christians both acknowledge evolution and believe in God.

4: God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children
This one is worth considering, but I would think it should have been addressed in chapter one. It is an extension to the problem of evil. Strobel is getting two objections for the price of one.

5: It’s offensive to claim Jesus is the only way to god
It wouldn’t be offensive, assuming that god is real and there was evidence to support the exclusivity claim. As is, there is no more support for it than there is for the claims of other religions. No evidence, just blind faith.

6: A loving god would never torture people in hell
Perhaps the best objection listed so far. Doesn’t the idea of eternal torturous punishment make God sound, well, pretty darn sadistic?

7: Church history is littered with oppression and violence
Too true. While not negating the claims of Christianity, per sea, it I think it does shed doubts on the Christian claims to morality.

8: I still have doubts, so I can’t be a Christian
No comment. Not relevant to my situation, and not really an objection to Christianity at all. Except for the apparent inability of god to give assurance to his followers.

Note: all these objections are objections to Christianity, not to “faith.” I think this book should be called The Case for Christianity, not The Case for Faith.

Also, I have lots of objections that are not listed here, that I think are tougher than the ones he’s listed. Like:

If complexity cannot exist without a designer, who designed God? (I would not call the Christian concept of God simple.)
Is an action good because god said so, or does god say so because the action is good

I have more—my point is that Strobel is not really addressing the “Toughest Objections to Christianity,” as he claims. I expect that this book is not designed to convince skeptics but to shore up the faith of doubting Christians. We shall see.

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Check back soon for my review of Chapter 1!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

sad news in the paper

This morning I was flipping though the local newspaper. My eyes caught the headline:



Parents on trial in child's death
Indiana case will touch on religion




I found this intriguing, and read on . . .


FRANKLIN, Ind, -- The trial of a couple whose ailing newborn daughter died when they rejected medical treatment in favor of prayer may focus more on facts than faith. . . .

. . .The couple belong to a church that advocates prayer and faith healing over medical intervention. Instead of seeking a doctor's help, prosecutors said, the parents called church elders to their home to pray for the child, who died less than two days later.


Naturally, the couple did what the Bible said, and only that. According to the church they belong to (The General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which I never heard of before) they take these verses literally:

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15)


Fortuately, most Christians no longer trust in prayer to the extent that they rely on it exclusively when their children are deathly ill. In practical matters of life and death such as this, scientific thought has overtaken faith in the miraculous. Unfortunately they are also mostly likely to attibute cases like this to some kooky cult, and never think to apply this lesson on the failure of prayer to their own religion.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Happy Day of Reason!

The Offical Website of the National Day of Reason


This is where you can go to find the history of the NDR and find out where there are events in your area.



National Day of Reason on ReligiousTolerance.org


Also interesting information, and a discussion of the tension between the National Day of Reason and the National Day of Prayer.



Unfortunately there are no event scheduled within a reasonable drive from my home. So I'm observing the day by writing this blog, and by wearing my "America: It's not a Religion Thing, It's a Freedom Thing!" t-shirt. And maybe I'll visit the library :).

Monday, May 02, 2005

you might be an atheist if . . .

These are original, but I'm not saying they all apply to me.
I need help! Think of more and put them in the comments. Thanks :)


  • You might be an atheist if you have ever tried to sell your soul on eBay.


  • You might be an atheist if your list of heroes includes Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. (Or you may be a Deist :-p)


  • You might be an atheist if “god” means less to you than “dog,” or if you have a bumper sticker that says “Dog is my co-pilot.”


  • You might be an atheist if you have ever been expelled from Sunday school.


  • You might be an atheist if you’ve ever mentioned the babblefish as proof of the non-existence of god.


  • You might be an atheist if the idea of life after death makes no sense to you.


  • You might be an atheist if you write Thomas Paine or Carl Sagan quotes on gospel tracts you find in bathroom stalls. (I do this. lol)


  • You might be an atheist if you’ve said that you serve the IPU only, bless her holy mane.


  • You might be an atheist if you’ve joked about going to hell.

  • You might be an atheist if you do not worry about what anyone else thinks of that lustful thought that just ran though your mind. ;)


  • You might be an atheist if you've ever baited Christians on internet forums. (This does get old after a while.)



  • I need more ideas!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

followup on the last post

Well, I went. It was really like I'd expected, down to the guilty reflections at the end. I didn't out myself as an apostate to anyone though--the topic didn't come up. Slipped out during the final musical reinforcement at the end--I sat in the back just in case. Ranted a bit in the car. Heard nothing about "salvation" which is not the basic Nazarene version which I have heard dozens of times before.

There was an interesting bit where Pastor seemed to get it right about how we cannot believe without God taking the initiative. But it turned out to be a bait and switch, as he then insisting that god is taking the initiative--therefore the next step is ours. Well, if god is speaking I must not be one of his sheep, cause I sure don't recognise his voice.

I think next time Mom invites me to church, I will just politely decline.

Mom wants me to go to church (big surprise?)

Last night Mom and me had a bit of a discussion--heated, though not hostile--about atheism vs. Christianity. She is trying to talk me into going to church today because Pastor is starting a series on what salvation is. I am quite sure that he could say nothing that I have never heard before--and that if he does he's only giving his opinion and not actual Christian doctrine. And he's not likely to really get down to the root of my disbelief. Remember, he'll be talking to Christians for the most part, not to skeptics.



I may go, but think of what I'll have to face if I do.




  1. I'll be sure to be greeted by at least half a dozen of the usual well-meaning people who will want to know where I've been (read: "Why haven't you been coming to church?"). And I'll likely be met by the college age pastor, who has been calling me and send invitation to church events (which I've not had time for lately anyway).


  2. I'll have to sit and stand though about 45 minutes of modern praise music. Some of the songs are alright, but this got old even when I was a believer. And heaven forbid the emotional impact of the music get to me, lest some well-intentioned soul think god is speaking to me. (Some days I get emotional over jingles on the radio. LOL)


  3. Then I get to listen to about 30 minutes of sermon. This could be the best part on some days, since I've always liked listening to a good speech. It's just that if I hear something that I think is ridiculous I just have to stuff it, and try not to let it show on my face. And then there is the usual cathartic guilt trip at the end, where the point of how we have not been living up to god's plan, in some way or another, is beat into the ground. Last few times I went I didn't even feel guilty, but was a bit disgusted at how easily most of the congregation was lead along.


  4. Normally at the end of the sermon I just get up and leave. And release some pent-up frustration with a good rant as soon as I get out to the privacy of my car.




On the other hand, this is a chance to show Mom that I'm taking her seriously and am willing to expose myself to Christianity. What a choice. Maybe I should go and report on what happened when I get back. Now that could be some good blog material for you. . .

Saturday, April 23, 2005

the meaning of life

This has been on my mind for the last few days, when I'm not occupied with other things. Where is my life going anyway? What is my purpose in life. (Bear with me . . .)
One thing I lost when I left the Christian fold is an easy answer to this question. The answer that usually came to mind was the one in Ecclesiastes 12:13

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.




Now, obvously, as an atheist I can't say this means much to me anymore. Life is easier when someone else can tell you who you are and what your purpose is in life. We atheists are more free--and freedom is wonderful though it can be tough. So what do I do now? It's not an easy question. Well, what is meaning anyway? Meaning is the significance that humans give to things--a very subjective concept. The conclusion I've come to so far is that I must find a meaning to my own life, if I am to have one. Maybe the purpose of life is to find that meaning . . . dunno, that sounds a bit too philosophical. This one is going to take a bit more seeking to figure out.



Since I'm visiting Ecclesiastes, I'd also like to post my favorite bit from the Bible--one of the bits that actually makes sense.


There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8