Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christians Love Climate Gate

Why is it that Christians are a disproportionately high number of global warming skeptics? The apologetic minded Christians love this hole email conspiracy thing. They love it at Triablogue. They love it at Uncommon Descent. They love it at Evolution News and Views. A friend asked me recently why that would be. Why does it seem that the people that latch on to any type of global warming denial evidence are always Christians?

I believe it is because Christians trust Jesus to take care of everything and expect him to come again and fix all problems. So why sacrifice now and reduce carbon emissions when the Lord will come again soon and none of this will matter? Secularists on the other hand think that if we destroy our planet we really will be screwed. No magic man will come to save us.

If you're a Christian that thinks that the email scandal reveals some sort of massive conspiracy and cover up to get politicians to run your lives, depriving you of Hummer's, etc, watch the video below. Then maybe ask yourself why your conservative sources are always leading you astray. I'm coming to learn that if it's coming out or Rush Limbaugh's mouth and it's remotely debatable it's probably false. Learn that lesson or continue to lose debates with informed people. Or worse.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When Stumped Call Names

Here's a clip where Ron Paul considers the motivations of the terrorist action in Detroit recently. It's pretty hard to deny as far as I'm concerned. He tells us what motivated him. U.S. bombings in Yemen which killed innocent people. This is not that hard. It's an obvious truth, but a truth that kind of can't be acknowledged anyway according to present orthodoxy. So in the linked clip after Ron Paul makes this obvious point that needs to be denied despite the transparent truth of it, Ben Stein is asked to reply. Notice the long pause. He's stumped. How to deny this obvious truth which can't be acknowledged. In the end he resorts to name calling. Paul is using an "anti-Semitic" argument. Pathetic, but what else can you do?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thoughts on Free Markets

What I like about having a blog is that I can simply capture my thoughts, along with links that form the basis of my thinking at the time. It allows me to think out loud and perhaps get some feedback in case my views are off base.

With that in mind I want to say a few things about free markets and capitalism. Maybe later I'll think I was completely wrong, but I just want to capture my thinking anyway.

I've always fancied myself as a liberterian, but lately I'm having some misgivings about some of it and wondering if government regulation sometimes isn't as awful as is often portrayed. I know I've lambasted government generally, arguing that it's the root cause of major problems in the world, and I still think that's true, but lately I'm wondering if that's more due to the fact that the public is in a major way isolated from government and government itself is more under the control of private interests. What this would imply is that government itself is not inherently as villainous as is sometimes thought and in fact can be a means of correcting gross imbalances and dangerous actions that can come about in free markets.

Here's a good area where the government should get involved. Bum Fights. These kids apparently offer homeless people something like $50 to beat each other senseless. The first to go unconscious loses. A true liberterian would have to say there's nothing wrong with it. These are free people that own their own bodies and if they decide it's worth it to them why shouldn't they be allowed to chose?

Because it's awful and harmful to them even if they're not smart enough to realize it. Like any liberterian I don't want a government nanny state. But I think in this case the liberals have a point. Maybe the government should be used to protect people from themselves.

We do this for children. An adult can choose to go to school or not, but a child can easily be convinced that he doesn't need school if, for instance, his parents decide they don't want to make the effort to see that he goes to school. This is why have have laws that mandate that kids have to go to school. These homeless people are like children in the sense that for whatever reason they don't have the mental faculties needed to make wise choices and I think it is right for the government to step in.

Maybe these are easy cases, but let's get into something a little more blurry. Take the UFC. It's almost like a perfect example of the famous the Pyramid of Capitalism caricature. Fat cats at the top making millions while dedicated fighters slave away beating their bodies for pennies.

Take Karo Parisyan. This guy is an amazing fighter. Not a champ, but championship caliber. He's a huge draw. And yet he's having panic attacks that result from financial problems. He's trying to simply provide for his family. He's a superstar athlete that has put millions in the pockets of the owners, but he's just scraping by. Or take Hermes Franca. He got a title shot against Sean Sherk but suffered an injury in training. He took steroids to help himself recover and avoid canceling the fight because he just couldn't afford it. He needed the fight to put food on the table. See his statement here. He made $14K in that fight, but had to forfeit $2500 in penalties due to his positive test for steroids. His earnings are listed here. His opponent, the champ, Sean Sherk, made a whopping $25K.

Take Anthony Johnson. He basically had his eye gouged out and managed to earn $9K for it. This guy is not a poser. He's a serious, top tier fighter. Anybody in the UFC is tougher than anyone that most of us have met and Johnson is among the best of these. He made $17K in his recent bout, taking multiple gouges to the eye once again and basically lost probably in large part because of these possibly intentional gouges. I'm sorry, but $17K and you're among the best in the world, getting destroyed both in the gym and in the ring. And you can only do this a few times a year. Meanwhile the President and owners are making millions sitting behind their comfortable desks, destroying all competing fight organizations ensuring that there is no competition available to drive up fighter's salaries.

But then these are grown men. These are people that are competent to make their own choices. These are not children.

Well, aren't they? Aren't we all in a sense? Here's what I'm thinking. We protect children because they can be so easily manipulated into making choices that are not in their own best interest? Is that not also true of adults?

The marketing industry is huge multi-billion dollar industry that has one goal. Convince people of their need to purchase things or take actions that are for the benefit of the corporations that finance them. Do you think you can stand up to that? Do you think you are not motivated by that to buy crap that you don't really even want and certainly don't need? Are you smarter than they are?

Marketing techniques are designed not just to persuade you of your need to purchase a product but also to do so in a way that leads you to believe that you came to that conclusion independent of their influence. It's an extremely sophisticated and almost frightening thing. Watch in this video as master illusionist Derren Brown uses subliminal marketing techniques to cause two marketing experts to come up with an advertising campaign for a new product. What's amazing is that the experts imagine themselves to be coming up with ideas independently when in reality they've been manipulated to do what they do.

So how does this play out in the UFC? In Season 1 of the Ultimate Fighter some fighters express concern about the fact that they aren't paid to fight at all. They can go out and suffer serious injury and have absolutely nothing to show for it. This prompts the President of the UFC to come in and give a supposedly rousing and impressive speech, which is now referred to as the "Do You Want to be an Effing Fighter" speech. This speech is kind of embarrassing to watch as White tries to act like a tough guy and the fighters basically get no answers, but it's played up on the show like it's some sort of impressive thing. The UFC would go on to make a show about the 25 Tuffest Moments of The Ultimate Fighter. White is so impressed with himself that he saw to it that his very speech clocked in at #2. See here. The marketing message is this. Sacrifice your bodies for our business. Forget about the fact that you may end up permanently damaged and have nothing to show for it. This creates big pressure to sacrifice, and these fighters do, while the UFC rakes in the cash and the fighters for the most part leave with nothing but broken bodies. Except for the select few champions, who can make decent money at the top.

Some have speculated that former UFC champion Evan Tanner committed suicide. Past his prime and with little to show for his efforts that helped make the UFC as profitable as it is John Koppenhaver wonders if in fact this motivated behavior in Tanner that lead to his own death. That could be completely false. I have no idea. But it is the shabby treatment that fighters receive that prompts this kind of speculation. Koppenhaver says the UFC cut him due to these comments.

Free markets are great if informed people are making decisions that are in their own best interest without subliminal outside influence. Also if their choices are not being reduced through manipulation and regulation (for instance if the UFC is destroying competition through underhanded ways, which reduces a fighters options). But is this the world we live in?

And I have been wondering lately if what is maybe a little more obvious with the UFC isn't also true in other sectors of the economy where perhaps it isn't quite as obvious.

Take me as an example. I'm a mechanical engineer. When I was growing up engineers were rich people. Today it's considered pretty much middle class. But look at the gains in productivity that have been made? Today a mechanical engineer has wonderful tools available that have dramatically increased his productivity. I design with solid modeling tools. I analyze vibration and structural performance with finite element analysis. I perform thermal simulations using computational fluid dynamics. I correct potential problems before the parts are ever built. All with tools unavailable to my predecessors. I do it all and do it quickly. I can do three to four times the amount of work an engineer did in 1980. How is it that mechanical engineers have gone from being upper middle class to merely middle class? If markets are free wouldn't we expect gains in wages along with the gains in productivity? But this is not what we are seeing. We're seeing wages flat while productivity rises, and this trend seems to have begun around 1980.

So I'm having a mild shift in my thinking on wealth redistribution. People are entitled to the fruits of their own labor. But when that labor involves manipulating others to sacrifice for you in moves that are not in their own best interest, or when that labor involves bribing the government into passing laws that funnel money from the poor to the rich (see the health insurance industry and the recent changes to health care laws) then the consequence is redistribution of wealth already. It's wealth from the poor to the rich. So when there is some talk of reversing that to some degree I'm wondering if that's really so bad.

And I could be totally wrong here. This is thinking out loud.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Great Source for Biblical Diagrams

Here's a great source for biblical diagrams/timelines, etc for those that are interested.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Did Jesus Descend to Hell?

Some skeptics claim that the death of Jesus is not sufficient to pay the enormous price of the sins of all of humanity. After all he was only dead three days and then came back to life. What kind of punishment is that? It's pretty small in a sense. Doesn't that simply grant someone else a three day reprieve from death?

The apologist will respond and say that the three days is not the issue. It was the act of dying that redeemed mankind.

I could buy off on that as an evangelical, but then why would Jesus go to Sheol for a few days? Why not just rise and be done with it? Well apparently he had to go preach to those that had already died. Seems kind of odd. God can do whatever he wants, right? It's not like he has to play games to get himself into Sheol and communicate with the dead right? Yet it sort of seems like God can't get through to Sheol without dying like a human in kind of a Trojan Horse move.

God has his ways I guess. If that's the way he wants to do it then what can you say?

On the other hand let's consider this through a different paradigm. Let's just suppose that C.S. Lewis kind of has the right idea in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. God is sort of stuck with these weird rules and he has to trick his opponents into making mistakes. Here's a way to look at it. And I'm not arguing for it. I'm just saying consider this paradigm and see how it illuminates early Christian texts.

Let's suppose that the goal is to defeat death. Death resides in hell. But who goes to hell? Only dead people. So how can God make his way into hell? He has to take the Christ and give him a human form and likeness. The Christ is not human. He only has a human likeness. But if God can trick the demons into thinking that the Christ is human maybe they'll kill him, which will translate him into hell where he can basically plunder hell and crush death. How do some early Christian texts look in light of this paradigm?

Who does Paul think is responsible for the death of Jesus. Is it the Romans? When did Jesus die for Paul? Was it a few years back in Palestine? Or was it before the creation of the world? Was Jesus fleshly or is flesh inherently sinful and corruptible? I'll look at these in subsequent posts, but for now consider how the above paradigm makes sense of the following texts. Two are from The Ascension of Isaiah, which is an early Christian text, and one is from I Corinthians.

Chapter 9

13The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. 14And the god of that world will stretch out [his hand against the Son], and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is. 15And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed even from the heavens so that it will not be known who he is. 16And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day and will remain in that world for five hundred and forty-five days. 17And then many of the righteous will ascend with him, whose spirits do not receive (their) robes until the Lord Christ ascends and they ascend with him.

Chapter 10

8"Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition. 9And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens, 10and you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol. 11And none of the angels of that world shall know that you (are) Lord with me of the seven heavens and of their angels. And they shall not know that you (are) with me

I Corinthians 2

6We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The "Coming" of Jesus

As mentioned in my previous post, if Jesus was a historical person then we would expect the authors of the epistles to refer to the future appearance of Jesus as a return, a second coming, or a re-appearance. If however Jesus was regarded by these authors as a person that didn't walk the earth as a real physical human we would expect them to refer to the future appearance as a "coming", and "appearance", or perhaps a "revealing". Remember that you can't "reveal" things twice. The word "revelation" connotes something that is understood for the first time.

In light of this, consider the following biblical texts. Did these writers regard the coming appearance of Jesus as something that was about to happen for the first time or as something that would be understood to be a return of Jesus?

1 Thessalonians 2:19

19For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?

1 Thessalonians 3:13

13so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

James 5:7

7Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.

James 5:8

8You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

2 Thessalonians 1:10

10when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed--for our testimony to you was believed.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

1Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,

2that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

2 Thessalonians 2:8

8Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

Hebrews 10:37


Revelation 1:4

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,

Revelation 2:16

16'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

Revelation 2:25

25'Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.

Revelation 3:3

3'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Revelation 22:20

20He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly " Amen Come, Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.

Philippians 1:6

6For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:10

10so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

1 John 2:28

28Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.

Colossians 3:4

4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

1 Peter 5:4

4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

1 Timothy 6:14-16

14that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

16who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

2 Timothy 4:1

1I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:

Titus 2:13

13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,

1 Peter 4:13

13but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

1 Peter 5:1

1Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,

2 Thessalonians 1:7

7and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,

2 Thessalonians 2:6

6And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.

1 Peter 1:13

13Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:7

7so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

All of this is compilation of work done by Truthsurge.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

TruthSurge on Jesus as Myth

There's a great series of youtube videos put out by someone that calls themselves "TruthSurge" that's really great. The first is here. Nothing flashy. Just a straightforward case for why the data makes more sense on the mythical paradigm.

His approach is the right one. The question is not about which view can be conclusively proved. Neither can. The question is about which view makes better sense of the data.

Consider for instance his initial point. If the earliest biblical writers (reflected in the epistles) did not believe Jesus was a historical person then we would expect them to talk about his "second" coming as if it were just his first appearance. So it would be a "coming" an "appearance" a "revealing" etc. On the other hand if Jesus was a historical person we would expect the writers to talk about a "return" or a "second coming", etc. So what do we find in the earliest texts? 41 instances that refer to the coming as if it were a first time event, one (at Hebrews) that on the surface might appear to be referring to a return (though of course the mythicist case argues that it doesn't mean that). Assuming that Hebrews is referring to a second coming though, which view makes the best sense of the majority of the data?

Or consider the following. If the earliest writers believed Jesus was not a historical person that died a couple of decades before they wrote you would expect them to not place his death in Palestine just a few years back. It would make perfect sense for instance if they thought he died before the creation of the world. On the other hand if they thought Jesus was a historical person they wouldn't think he was the first to be raised from the dead. Lazarus and others preceded him, though they probably died later. What do the texts indicate that the writers believed?

I Cor 15

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

1Clem 24:1

Let us understand, dearly beloved, how the Master continually showeth unto us the resurrection that shall be hereafter; whereof He made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit, when He raised Him from the dead.

Colossians 1

18He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

Note the reasoning here. Christ had to be the first raised from the dead in order for him to have pre-eminence in all things. One way in which he is in the first place is in that he's the first to be raised from the dead.

Hebrews 9

25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.

This is quite surprising. Why would Christ have to suffer continually since the creation of the world unless he was in fact first sacrificed at the beginning of creation?

Again, the historicist can force these texts within their own paradigm but the question is which view makes the best sense of all of the data with the least amount of forcing? In my view it's the mythicists case.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Richard Carrier on the Historicity of Jesus

Richard Carrier has been doing extensive research on the historicity of Jesus. Generally he seems to reluctantly but tentatively lean in favor of the supposedly "extremist, wacky, clownish" view that perhaps Jesus wasn't a historical figure at all. I'm very interested to read the results of his research. For now, via AIG Busted, you can watch a talk he gave on the subject via youtube starting here and in 6 additional segments. I'm just now starting to listen. He mentions an anonymous psychologist friend that had this to say about the information Paul provides regarding the historicity of Jesus:
Imagine for a moment that one of your friends writes you a 20 page letter passionately wanting to share his excitement about a new teacher. This letter has only one topic; your friend's new teacher. Yet by the end of his letter, after all 20 pages of it, you still don't know one thing about his teacher. Paul presents the central figure of his theology in just this way. For those of us not lost in delusional worlds it might seem impossible to imagine how Paul could avoid telling even one story or parable or fail to note one physical trait or personal quality of Jesus. But Paul's lack of interest in or even curiousity about the life of this Jesus does fit a characteristic pattern of paranoid delusions.

On a totally unrelated note I want to mention one thing that I've always paid attention to. Swearing. I have a theory. Some people got it. Some don't. These guys can swear. So can this guy (yes, the link is right. Give it 20 seconds. Listen a couple of times to fully appreciate). Others sound totally unnatural. I was raised in a very evangelical family and never developed my swearing capacity. Now as an adult that doesn't feel like there's a huge moral problem with it I still find that it's difficult for me to do it without sounding like a nerd. Seems to me Richard has the same problem. He seems to swear occasionally perhaps to elicit laughter but to me it's seems unnatural for him.

Anyway, he's done some great work and I've learned a lot from him.

Friday, December 11, 2009

100K people to fight 100 people

Jon Stewart interviews Dan Rather here and asks how many Al Qaeda are left in Afghanistan, since this is kind of why we went there in the first place, right? You know how many? 100 freaking people. This is why Obama has ordered another one of his troop surges? 60,000 troops isn't enough? We need more like 100,000, not to mention the already 100,000 contractors?

I suppose the aims have change. But what are they? Replacing the Taliban? Why? Next they'll tell us this is about the danger of communism.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Read Kent Hovind's Doctoral Dissertation

It's available at Wikileaks. Read an informed critical review here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Callous Disregard for Elementary Moral Principles

Here's something that bothers me a lot. There are a lot of atrocities that go on in the world, but this one strikes me for some reason. Part of it I think is just the realization that I was so oblivious to it while it was occurring and supported the aggressive U.S. foreign policies at the time, genuinely believing they were for the betterment of the world.

I was an ignorant fool though, not really engaged in the issues. Had I been I would think that the obvious truth of Article 50 of the Hague Convention and Regulations of 1907 (No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise shall be inflicted on the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly or severally responsible) would have mattered to me. Why didn't others see it? How can someone like Bill Clinton defend these murderous sanctions?

The sanctions in Iraq killed at least hundreds of thousands of people, if not over a million. The people were deprived of medicines, water pumps needed to grow crops, chemicals needed to make water potable. What had brought this on? Saddam had invaded Kuwait and was thus a danger. He had killed 1000 people in Kuwait according to the British Foreign Office (Saddam Hussein - Crimes and Human Rights Abuses, London, November 2000, p. 22 quoted via Hans Von Sponek "A Different Kind of War - The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq.") That's pretty bad. But how does it justify killing a million people with sanctions and another million with a subsequent invasion in 2003 when the population had nothing to do with it and couldn't prevent it?

Contrast the 1000 dead in Kuwait with another invasion that happened 8 months earlier. In this case it was the United States invading Panama. There is dispute about the numbers killed apparently, with the U.S. government claiming a mere 200 civilians were killed verses multiple human rights organizations that claim that it was several thousand. If you watch the academy award winning documentary The Panama Deception and take a look at the blocks and blocks of flattened homes, random corpses, and evidence that media was entirely restricted, and in the case of one journalist even executed, it's hard to find the U.S. claims to be believable, but regardless it was an atrocity of at least a similar order of magnitude as that of Saddam Hussein.

So would it be right to respond to this invasion by starving the American people? Is it right to deprive the American people of water pumps needed to grow crops and medicine for fear that they have potential dual uses? Should the American population suffer until the American government disarms? These are questions that people just don't seem to ask. Yet they are fair questions for those that adhere to elementary moral principles, such as the belief that we should demand that we are held to the same standards we require of others.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Random Stuff

I find this Twilight and New Moon movie series to be annoying. God agrees. See here and here.

A great clip from Sam Harris here. His final line was the kicker. "We have Sathya Sai Baba's miracles stories attested to by thousands upon thousands of living eyewitnesses and they don't even merit an hour on cable television, and yet you put a few miracle stories in an ancient book and half the people on earth think it a legitamate project to organize their lives around them. Does anyone else see a problem with that?"

Apparently a mother nearly let her children starve as she waited for God to provide food. See here.

Here's a fun article on what it's like to be an atheist from the very beginning of your life. I find it hard to relate honestly, but what he says makes a lot of sense.

Audio of the recent Intelligent Design/Evolution debate can be found here.

William Lane Craig debated Francisco Ayala. Once again Apologetics 315 has the audio. Craig technically scores a victory, but to do it he basically grants (at least for the sake of argument) common descent of all living things and that they eye is not irreducibly complex and can come about by natural processes. For Craig it's about whether the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection can account for everything. So Craig improves his own win/loss record while Biblically based Christianity suffers another defeat. When you're conceding that humans and chimps share a common ancestor you're giving away the evangelical farm.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sounds Like the Evolution Debate Was Entertaining

I haven't heard the audio yet, but last night Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero debated ID advocates Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg. Prothero has written the best book I'm aware of laying out the evidence for evolution. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. Coyne's book is good but Prothero's book has more detail.

Here's Prothero's account of the events and here is an account from a fan of the ID'ers. Sounds like Prothero is getting under their skin. I bet I'll like what I hear from him when the audio becomes available.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama Change Watch

Nice try, Michael Moore, but it looks like more war has won today. Many more dead Afghans on the horizon. I remain hopeful though that this can be changed eventually.

Monday, November 30, 2009

When US Foreign Policy Makes No Sense

Just wondering aloud here. Some of our government's policies on the surface make absolutely no sense. I know several right wing war mongers that will defend the invasion of Iraq, but even they can't understand why we're fighting in Afghanistan. I've wondered as well.

But it's not just Afghanistan. Consider the hostility and punishment directed towards Cuba even with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The hostility has only been intensified since the fall.

Everybody knows that the war on drugs has been a complete failure. A Rand report study compared the cost effectiveness of 4 methods of dealing with drugs. These were 1-source country control, 2-prohibition, 3-domestic enforcement, and 4-prevention and treatment. Prevention and treatment was FAR superior (which is also proved by the recent decriminalization in Portugal, see here), yet the vast bulk of the money in fact is spent on the very least effective technique; source country control (i.e. bombing Colombian peasants). More people die from tobacco than cocaine, yet we're not bombing North Carolina. What's going on here? It makes no sense. Or does it?

It only makes no sense if we assume that the stated reasons are the real reasons. What if the war on Colombia is more about clearing the land for agri-business or mining interests in this resource rich country? What if the aggression against Cuba was never about fear of the Soviets, but once again about installing governments that do as they are told by Washington, and the very act of defiance had to be squelched to prevent others from following a similar course? And the best way to overthrow a government you disapprove of is to portray them as a threat to the American people. Though that's no longer tenable the aggression towards Cuba remains and is kind of not discussed.

Tomorrow Obama will let us know if he'll be sending additional troops to Afghanistan. Michael Moore pleads with him not to. I wish Michael all the success in the world. And it might work. Politicians know more and more these days that popular resistance is a big problem for their imperial ambitions. But why would Obama even consider expanding a purposeless war? Well, maybe it isn't purposeless. Maybe there's a lot of money to be made piping oil out of the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan and Pakistan and out to the Indian Ocean (bypassing Iran). Is that what's going on? I really don't know. But when our wars appear to make no sense I tend to think that there must be a way in which they do make sense. Obama has pressure from some people that stand to make a lot of money, and he must balance that against popular resistance. Tomorrow we will find out which way he goes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Would Humans Evolve the Capacity for Tickling?

What's great about the Theory of Evolution is it provides us a paradigm with which we can really explore the features of living organisms. The old "Godidit" hypothesis always works, but it's not very satisfying intellectually. It's pretty much a dead end.

So why would humans develop the capacity for tickling? This is just a recent curiosity of mine. A little google research provides some interesting insight. The theory is that laughter creates social cohesion, indicating to other members of the species that you aren't there for threatening purposes, improving social bonds, etc. Apparently tickling is a mere extension of that.

This may be true and it may be false. Searching google I find that creationists like to mock such explanations. In truth they are speculative. But they do conform to an overall paradigm that we know is true and they offer testable features. What do the creationists offer? Nothing but the untestable and unfalsifiable assertion that God is responsible complex things. There's not so much to mock on that view because there's basically almost nothing there to mock.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Barack Obama on Religion

Some interesting tidbits via Common Sense Atheism and his commenter Scott, apparently his mother was practically an atheist, as was his father when he met her. Below is some mildly interesting commentary from Obama that is unlikely to please evangelicals. Not that they liked him anyway. Is Obama an atheist as well?

By the way I think the youtube heading "Obama Attacks Religion" is a little overstated. It's basically general criticism of those that want to govern as if the Scriptures were inerrant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

American Priorities

Remember about a year ago how Israel started bombing a bunch of civilians trapped in a tiny cage and the initial pretexts evaporated?. You might remember how they admitted to using chemical warfare on these trapped civilians.

Now there's a report on the war crimes in the conflict called the Goldstone Report. I really don't know much about it except to say that it does accuse Israel of war crimes and does call for an investigation. Also it's been endorsed by the U.N. despite U.S. opposition.

Maybe these are complex issues. Maybe reasonable people can think differently. Would you expect the U.S. House of Representatives to go out of their way to overwhelmingly condemn the report? It seems strange to me that our country is so concerned about working on behalf of a foreign country. Should we be expending so much capital on them? Don't we have our own problems?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Christian Suicide Terrorists

An excerpt from Pape's Dying to Win with regards to suicide terrorists from Lebanon, where there exists a significant Christian population:
New information about the identity of the suicide attackers presents a fresh picture that casts the role of Islamic fundamentalism in a new light. I spent a year leading a team of researchers who collected detailed evidence on the ideological and other demographic characteristics of suicide terrorists. The results show that at least thirty of the forty-one attackers do not fit the description of Islamic fundamentalism. Twenty-seven were communists or socialists with no commitment to religious extremism; three were Christians. Only eight suicide attackers were affiliated with Islamic fundamentalism; the ideological affiliation of three cannot be identified. Moreover, although Iran did provide money and other support to the Lebanese resistance fighters, the rise of Hezbollah and large popluar support for the movement were directly caused by a clear external event, Israel's massive occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982. Further, although religion was a recruiting tool, examination of the logic of martyrdom articulated by Hezbollah and other Lebanese political leaders overwhelmingly justified suicide terrorists acts, commonly called "self-martyr" operations, as an extreme measure necessary to end foreign occupation of the homeland, while explicitly ruling out such acts as an end in themselves or for other, even religious, goals.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I argue that religious difference-not Islam-played the key enabling role in causing suicide terrorism in Lebanon. Although foreign occupation created the necessary basis for armed resistance, the religious schism between the occupiers' societies and the occupied society enabled resistance leaders to inflame nationalist sentiments to the point that the occupied community supoprted and glorified suicide terrorism. Fear of a religiously motivated occupier, more than anything in Islam, encouraged a significant level of community support for extreme self-sacrifice to end the occupation. (p129-130)

Alan Dershowitz is Pissing Me Off

I became interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict and while earlier in my life I was reading more pro-Zionist sources recently I've been reading more from the other side of the conflict. For instance I read a couple of books by Norman Finkelstein. In one of Finkelstein's books, Beyond Chutzpah, he lays out a detailed case for why Alan Dershowitz book, The Case for Israel, is a blatant hoax, and further it's a plagiaristic work of a prior book widely regarded as an earlier blatant hoax, Joan Peter's book From Time Immemorial.

Finklestein's case looks pretty strong to me. The detailed documentation of plagiarism is devastating. But the outright fabrication is also clearly documented.

But I wanted to give Dershowitz a chance to respond and I had heard him say he responded in a recent book called The Case for Peace. So I got a hold of the audio version and I listened to his response to Finkelstein's book, which I have just read. Dershowitz starts by quoting Noam Chomsky as follows. And be aware that I'm listening to the audio book, so I'm not sure on punctuation, capitalization, etc.

"The Jews do not merit a 'second homeland' because they already have New York, with a huge Jewish run population, Jewish-run media, a Jewish mayor, and domination of cultural and economic life."

I'm no Noam Chomsky expert, but I've heard him make this statement. What he said was in response to the claim that Palestinians don't need a homeland because they are nothing but Jordanians. He says that argument is just as absurd as the claim that Jews don't need a homeland because they already have New York. He rejects that argument as absurd and as far as I know has long been on record in support of a two state solution. Dershowitz has taken that statement, which was intended to express what Chomsky thought was an absurd notion, and he's made it such that this is in fact Chomsky's view.

Is this sloppiness or deception? Read Beyond Chutzpah and you'll see that Dershowitz engages in both. As Finkelstein emphasized when he debated Dershowitz on Democracy Now (which is quite fun to watch), this guy is the Felix Frankfurter Chair at Harvard Law School. To see such sloppiness and error is pretty surprising.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama Change Watch

I've outlined a few of the items that show that Obama represents nothing but the status quo as far as peace. See here and here and here for examples. I just stumbled across another item that is interesting.

The old Obama was highly critical of Bush's use of "signing statements." These were basically declarations Bush would issue when he signed legislation indicating those parts of the law he believed he could ignore. Pretty rough stuff, right?

Well, that was the old Obama. The new Obama sees things differently and is now issuing the same kind of signing statements of his own. See here.

Really though this wasn't unforeseeable. His voting record belied the implications of his rhetoric. Even smart people didn't get it. I wonder if they would get it now?

Bob Dutko Fears Muslims

Bob now says that when he meets a Muslim he can't help but feel suspicious, since there is so much support for terrorism among Muslims. Is he justified in thinking this way? This is the question he put to callers. All of his callers think so (meaning he's whipping up the fear, and probably resulting violence, which seems to be his goal). I think differently of course, and I told him why.

I didn't say all that I had wished to say, so I sent him a quick email with a couple of additional points, which I reproduce below.

Your fear mongering of Muslims is quite sad. U.S. foreign policy has lead to the death of millions of Muslims over the last 30 years. The starvation campaign in Iraq. Pushing Saddam into a war with Iran, wherein we supplied him the weaponry and logistics support. Maybe a million dead Iraqi's since 2003. Just like the Germans feared the Jews, in the same way you attempt to whip up support for more violence against Muslims by engendering more fear.

Your argument is that polls show that Muslims support terrorists groups. Well, so do Christians. Leaving aside your support for the Nicaraguan Contras, who killed 40,000 civilians or so and all of your other support for U.S. terrorism, look at Lebanon, where Christian suicide terrorists have emerged to expel occupying forces. This poll shows that 80% of Christians supported Hezbollah, the group that pioneered suicide bombing in the 80's.

So now it is time for you to ignore the facts Bob, and spread the fear. You're like the prophets of Ahab, telling the King exactly what he wanted to hear. I suppose Elijah was "hating Israel" when he criticized Ahab's behavior.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meet a Christian Suicide Terrorist

To the left is Norma Hassan. She was a Christian school teacher from Lebanon. She blew herself up as part of an effort to expel Israeli occupation forces from southern Lebanon. She brought 7 people down with her.

But isn't this all about 72 virgins? Isn't it about jihad? Isn't it because Islam is a violent religion? Isn't it because these people hate freedom and democracy?

To me anybody that can think there way out of a paper bag should be able to figure out the motivations of suicide terrorists. They say it repeatedly. Their actions are very consistent with their statements. And now Robert Pape has shown based on evaluations of the terrorist's profiles what the motivations are and are not. It's not about religion. It's not about poverty. It's not about lack of education. It's not about jealousy of prosperity or about fear of western values. This is about weak parties living in a homeland that they regard as occupied by an outside force.

Consider some of the facts that many regard as so paradoxical. Most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. But they were our allies. Most were Sunni Muslims, not more radical Shia Muslims. Mohammad Atta was well educated and from a wealthy family. What kind of sense does this make? It makes perfect sense if you ready Robert Pape. There were U.S. troops present in Saudi Arabia at the time, and Atta and others regard that as an occupying force.

If you do read Pape you might assume he'd come to leftist conclusions. It was pretty staggering though for me to read his final thoughts. What to do to resolve the problem? Our military presence in the Middle East is the chief motor for Arab antagonism towards us. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam feel the same way towards the Sri Lankan military. Hamas and Hezbollah feel the same way toward Israel. Should we just leave and wash our hands of the region?

That's not really an option for Pape. Why? Well we need their oil. His solution is to pull out as much as possible, but be ready to pounce if necessary. Basically these natives are sitting on our oil, so we have to do what's necessary to protect our property, but don't overdo it and aggravate them. It's kind of an outright commitment to empire as I read it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Believes in Evolution?

The educated of course. Interesting polling data on the question here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whoops! Afghan Opium Production Way Up

You may have heard that prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan the Taliban had successfully basically shut down opium production (see here). It has since taken off again under the U.S. occupation. Is that just a mistake or is that designed?

According to some critics you would expect drug sales in regions where the CIA operates. This is an effort to raise untraceable money in order to engage in covert activity. I remember reports of a plane traced to the CIA that crashed with tons of cocaine aboard. Of course Noriega worked for the CIA and was a drug trafficker.

So now in Afghanistan Karzai, the formerly favored U.S. candidate and now president has a brother alleged to be involved in the drug trade that is also alleged to be on the CIA payroll. Check it out here.

When I first heard Ron Paul say that the CIA should be eliminated I thought he was crazy. I've since come on board fully.

Secular Suicide Bombers?

I've just started a book called Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Did you know that the most prolific suicide bombers prior to 9/11 were the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. This is a secular group that regarded their land as being occupied by a foreign entity.

Of course Palestinians are known for suicide bombing. Turns out they regard their territory as occupied by a foreign entity.

Since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan we've seen dramatic spikes in suicide bombing in both of those states now that the natives regard their territory as occupied by a foreign entity. Should we have expected anything different?

The data show that suicide terrorism is not about religion, as many of my secular friends seem prone to believe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Open Line Friday...Any Issue...Any Topic

"Get on line right now. 313 838-1035"

And so I did on Friday like I've often done. Somebody's got to do it. He demonizes people like me 4 hours a day. His listeners need an itsy bitsy bit of the other side of the story from someone. If not me then who?

I haven't had much opportunity to catch Bob Dutko lately, but I listened to about 15 minutes on Thursday as I ran out to grab a bite to eat. He had an agnostic on and he repeated an argument he's often made. "Why wouldn't you accept the testimony of the eyewitnesses about Jesus? We have historical documented fact from actual eyewitnesses to Jesus." The stupefied agnostic said pretty much nothing in reply.

I thought maybe I'd get a chance to call in Friday and if I did I'd ask him why he thinks the NT contains eyewitness reporting? That's a pretty good topic for an "Open Line Friday", right?

No dice. After getting through to the screener, and having the screener come on and ask me to clarify my question a couple of times (which I think was about as straightforward a question as could be asked) the screener came back on to tell me that Bob wouldn't be taking my call. I need to try back Wednesday when Bob's bible expert, Grady McMurtry is on.

I don't know when on Wednesday Grady will be on. I certainly don't know if I'll be free. And why is this a call for Grady? Bob is the one that constantly asserts we have "actual eyewitness documents recorded in history" regarding the life of Jesus. I haven't heard Grady say that, so I'm not calling to challenge Grady. And what if I don't get through and I get a busy signal? Wait a month for Grady to be back?

Often the talks with Grady are kind of a disaster. He's not usually in studio but on the phone and he can't hear when the caller wants to interject and there is lots more confusion.

But what's the deal here? Bob asserts that he loves to hear from skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. He brags that he shoves them to the front of the line. And Fridays are about anything the callers want to talk about. So what gives?

Also I find it interesting that some of my Christian acquaintances think Bob does a pretty good job kicking my butt. That's fine with me that they think that. But it doesn't seem that Bob wants to take those opportunities. The prior time I called I was screened and re-screened and finally not put on the air on one Friday. The following Friday I asked the exact same question I intended to ask the prior week, so there was time to prepare if Bob wanted to. Again I was screened and re-screened by Jen. Jen seems like a nice person and I get the feeling she's simply acting as Bob's mouthpiece as if my questions were unclear.

I'll try and listen Wednesday in order to get through to Bob and Grady. I might miss. If I do I might try to get through again Friday. Maybe they'll tell me to try back in a month when Grady is on again. It's Open Line Friday, but no bible questions? Or no bible questions from me?

Canadians Pay Less In Taxes?

I was curious due the health care debate if it's really true that Canadians pay more in taxes than Americans do. Do they actually pay less and do it without running a deficit like we do? Here's what I found.

According to Wikipedia Canadian taxes amount to 33.4% of GDP whereas in the United States taxes amount to 28.2% of GDP. Canada typically operates at a surplus of about 1% of GDP compared to the U.S. which runs a deficit of about 4%. According to this website GDP in Canada is $39,300 per capita whereas in the United States it's $47,000. This means that Canadians pay $13,126 in taxes as compared to $13,254 in the United States. And their health care is fully paid for, whereas my employer and I pay huge bucks for my coverage.

Consider our health care costs. Look at what we're paying (though keep in mind that our government also pays the majority of our medical bills already).

Well, we've got a great system, some might say. Not according to the World Health Organization. France has an amazing health care system, with doctors that come to your home, crazy support for pregnant women. They do it at a cost of $3662 per capita verses $7098 in the U.S. I got these figures based on the 2005 % of GDP on health care compared to the 2008 per capita GDP figures, so it's a little skewed because I'm not using the latest #'s on health care, but it's giving us a sense of things.

Not that I'm a huge fan of Obama Care, but it seems we could adopt any other countries' system and do better than we're doing. Unfortunately what we'll get with our crony capitalist system is the worst of all worlds. We'll retain the features that keep us absurdly overpriced (third payer, no negotiating for reduced prices based on bulk purchasing) and adopt the worst features of other nations (less medical advancement).

Friday, October 23, 2009


Despite repeated warnings to back off on the insults over at str, as I discussed before here, Jason Engwer still just cannot resist. He's still doing it. In comes Amy again, the Christian moderator, to ask him why he thinks it is necessary to waste time talking about what people do. She says "We can see what people do. You don't need to take time away from your arguments to tell us." She goes on to say "if you can't represent Christ to people--Christ, who treats you in a way you do not in the least deserve--then you can't stay."

I think this is worth pointing out only because as Jason continues to insult new people he comes in contact with, and as he continues to use the same techniques of pointing to voluminous writings that supposedly reply to a given argument but in fact don't, or as he confidently asserts the victorious nature of his own arguments, I like to have sources available for these people so they can see that what he's doing is nothing new, so don't take it personally or seriously.

His inability to resist the temptation to insult reminded me immediately of Homer Simpson. Homer can't resist the temptation to eat rotten meat, because it is cheap. In Homer and Apu we observe Apu, the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart ripping off his customers. He overwrites an expiration date on some ham.

Apu: Jiminy Cricket! Wooh, expired ham. [scribbles over the expiry date]
Oh, this time I have gone to far. No, no one will fall for --
Homer: Woo hoo! Cheap meat! [picks it up] Ooh, this one's open.
[starts eating it]

At home on the couch, Homer continues devouring the expired ham, but his stomach begins to rebel.

[eats ham, but his stomach groans]
[eats some more]
Bowels...clenching! Not much time...must...finish...[eats some more]

Incensed, Homer returns to the Kwik-E-Mart to have it out with Apu.

Homer: Your old meat made me sick!
Apu: Oh, I'm so sorry. [gets a pail of shrimp] Please accept five pounds of frozen shrimp?
Homer: [holds one up, sniffs it] This shrimp isn't frozen! And it
smells funny.
Apu: OK, ten pounds.
Homer: Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Few More Random Thoughts on Licona/Ehrman

A couple of more points I think are worth mentioning on this debate between Licona and Ehrman.

I was disappointed to listen to Licona go off on a wild ad hominem diatribe against people that hold to the mythicst position. These people are not "serious and sober minded." They remind us of those contestants on American Idol that think they're so good, but we all know better. Is that what he really thinks? I remember Licona in another debate offering pretty high praise for Robert Price. I believe he called him a "very smart man." Has Licona heard Price's debates with Greg Boyd and W.L. Craig? His performances are generally regarded as among the best from sketpics. He's a fellow at the Jesus Seminar and Jesus Project. Holds 2 PhD's in the field. In fact Price single handedly debated Habermas and Licona on Infidel Guy radio with Richard Spencer as Spencer kind of listened in (not to criticize Spenser, who does really good interviews. He was getting out muscled by heavyweights Habermas and Price). In my view Licona didn't look too great in his attempts to tangle with Price. Pick any random episode of the Bible Geek and try and sustain the view that he's nothing but a clown.

I would like to think this is beneath Mike Licona. People can rationally disagree about things that are as complicated and murky as ancient history. Why such hostility? I think dismissal is being substituted for refutation.

Another point is that Licona grossly misrepresents skeptical claims regarding hallucinations. He says that hallucinations are not group events. It's not like you can have a dream about a vacation and wake up and shake your wife and say "Honey, wake up. I'm having a dream I'm in Hawaii. Come join me in my dream and we'll have a free vacation." That's not what skeptics are claiming when they posit a group hallucination, yet Christians follow Licona down this straw man path. The claim from the skeptic is not that a group of people all saw the exact same thing in their own mind. The claim is that they experienced something and later upon talking with others they came to believe they had witnessed the same thing. One may have experienced Jesus descending the clouds wearing a blue sash. Another many have experienced Jesus simply floating towards him or her wearing a red sash. When they compared notes they may have bent their own memories so they came to believe they had seen the same thing. This vacation analogy from Licona is really awful.

But one positive thing. Licona denies inerrancy. He admits that he believes the Gospel of John changed the timing of the crucifixion of Jesus for theological purposes. For John Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation while the lambs are being slaughtered whereas in the synoptics Jesus dies after the Passover meal is eaten. So there's a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ehrman/Licona Debate

In my view Mike Licona did not perform well in his last debate with Bart Ehrman. I'm somewhat surprised by the poor quality of his rebuttals. From what I had heard from him in the past I expected a strong performance. But consider some of the exchanges.

Licona opens with anecdotes about the depth to which he examines things before making decisions. He spends a lot of time on this during the debate, so it's a major part of his own presentation. The implication is that his conclusions are quite trustworthy given his character.

Ehrman's first rebuttal responds to this first point from Licona. He wonders if we should really have such high confidence in Licona's ability to draw this type of conclusion. He started with Christianity, evaluated the evidence, and confirmed his conclusion. Is that just a coincidence, or in fact was Mike driving toward his desired conclusion? Ehrman on the other hand started with Christianity and upon examination came to a different conclusion. If his incentives point him to one conclusion but he draws another one this would suggest that he's reached the conclusion honestly. If anything he is more trustworthy.

In reply to this point Licona says this is a red herring. The arguments are what matter. He says he really did agonize over this decision, but it doesn't matter if people believe him or not. He says "This doesn't matter to anyone else here. It does matter to me." Well then why are you bringing it up as your very first point in the debate and spending so much time on it? We're talking about it because it is a major part of your presentation regarding why the resurrection is provable historically. To pretend that Ehrman is off track as he responds to your off-track point doesn't make sense to me.

Licona's argument is that there are 3 facts that must be explained by any adequate hypothesis. These are 1-Jesus died by crucifixion, 2-the disciples had experiences of appearances that they thought were of a resurrected Jesus, and 3-Paul likewise had experiences wherein he believed the resurrected Jesus had appeared to him. I already talked about how Licona's discussion of the plausibility of the resurrection hypothesis as compared to a hallucination hypothesis was nothing but a blatant double standard. Ehrman also pointed out that in fact 1 of the 3 facts was irrelevant to the question of resurrection and the other 2 were really saying the same thing.

Ehrman says that what matters with regards to the resurrection is that Jesus died in some manner. He doesn't need to be crucified. Everybody dies in some manner, so who cares that he was crucified? With regards to the appearances all Licona is saying is that some people had experiences where they thought they had seen a resurrected Jesus. You can divide them up and say 1-there were appearances to the disciples and 2-Paul had an appearance, but at the end of the day all we have is appearances to multiple people. So really there is one fact that needs to be explained.

In response Licona says that Ehrman is confusing necessary and sufficient conditions. For Jesus to be resurrected it is necessary that he die. But this is irrelevant and Ehrman pounced on Licona for this. There are a number of things that are necessary. Jesus would need to have existed. Jesus would need to have eaten food at some point in his life. Otherwise he wouldn't have lived to the necessary age. He would need to have lived in Palestine. So what? None of these necessary conditions really point us to resurrection, so what's the point in bringing them up? And it just is not necessary that Jesus be crucified. He just needs to die in some way. Why couldn't he have been stoned? Licona is just dead wrong here. There is only one thing that needs to be explained. Some people thought they saw Jesus after he died. Do we really need to look for miracles here? Licona's thesis is completely undermined on this point since this single fact is just not very difficult to understand naturally. Licona never recovered from this.

Keeping the above point in mind Ehrman asked a couple of questions that just were not answered in a serious way by Licona. He asks, given that Paul had never seen Jesus during his earthly ministry how was Paul able to know that it was Jesus he was seeing? He doesn't even know what Jesus looks like. And invoking a miracle is not how the historian operates. How do you know it from a historical perspective? Licona had no answer.

Ehrman offered a single fact of his own. People had appearances where they thought they had seen Moses after he had died. Does this Moses was resurrected? Licona in response talked about the nature of hallucinations generally, never bothering to answer the question.

I do have a couple of problems with Ehrman. He says that "by definition" a miracle is the least probable occurrence. I don't see how that's true. A miracle by definition is simply a supernatural suspension of the natural order. It's an intervention by God. So if the stars started moving in violation of our known laws of gravitation and they spelled out "Jesus lives, so repent of your sins" are we supposed to say that can't be divine intervention because "by definition" a miraculous explanation is ruled out? It must automatically be less plausible than any bizarre naturalistic explanation offered? I don't see that.

Also his point about Paul being wrong in saying that Jesus appeared to "the twelve" is mistaken since Judas is missing seems possibly true to me, but likewise it's possible that "the twelve" is kind of a group name that can be used when not all members are present. I don't think the point is strong enough that it's worth bringing up.

But let me review what we saw from Licona. An admission that the first point of his opening statement is irrelevant. Transparent double standards regarding plausibility. Critical errors corrected by Ehrman. Ignoring of critical questions. Dodging of others. Ehrman is pouncing on every point, letting nothing get by. Heck, even his joke delivery is way better. A solid win for Ehrman.

As usual all indications are that Licona was good enough in Jason Engwer's mind. I like the title of Jason's review of the earlier Licona/Ehrman debate. Why Bart Ehrman Keeps Losing Debates. Probably because Jason Engwer is the one doing the evaluating.

James White Is Projecting Again

I pay attention to James White only occasionally these days and I noticed something that's probably been happening forever that didn't pop out at me like it has been doing recently. James White may be the best example of someone that is projecting that I know of.

In his debate with Barker there was a lot about how atheists will do whatever it takes to discredit the Bible. They'll latch on to crazy views and adhere to bad scholarship to sustain their atheism and justify their God-hating ways.

This is true for me, says James White. When I explained to him that he was misrepresenting Dan Barker's claims (and I explained more fully here) he ultimately hung up on me and finished with words to the effect that some people just can't see, etc. Well, he's right about that, but isn't it him rather than me? Later he writes about how I throw consistency to the wind just so I can suppress knowledge of God.

Now there is a scholar in Europe that thinks Genesis 1:1 has been mistranslated all these years. Rather than saying "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" it should read "In the beginning God separated the heaven and the earth." So it's not a creation out of nothing but an ordering of pre-existing material. That's not too far from what I've long understood was an exegetical option (see under exegetical points here), but I'm not qualified to say who's right.

For James White this is "Stunningly Silly". Bunch of hubris. She lacks humility and balance.

Unlike James White?

James White is a young earth creationist. Why would anybody be a young earth creationist except because they are desperate to sustain their Christianity? How's the scholarship on that? Who's latching on to crazy arguments to sustain their beliefs? All of these scientists are wrong? When he rejects the scientific consensus, does that demonstrate hubris or lack of consistency?

James White is a Calvinist who believes Christ's atoning sacrifice paid only for the sins of the elect. 2 Peter 2:1 reads "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves." Somehow that doesn't mean that Christ's atoning sacrifice paid for the sins of the reprobate. How is that possible you ask? In the end it doesn't matter. James White has a prior commitment to limited atonement. That's all you really need to know.

I John 2:1-2 reads "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world"

Well, that just means Christians all over the world, says James White in The Potter's Freedom. Really? Is that what he means with "world"? Because in the same chapter of the same book he uses the same word again. "15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world."

James White spins away at these problems further in TPF. He skips 2 Pet 2:1, though you know he'd resolve it somehow. He approaches the text with the idea of "How can I man handle the bible to make it say what I need it to say to sustain my Calvinism, which is clearly taught at Romans 9."

My point is this. Is it really atheists that approach texts with pre-determined conclusions? Note my approach to the question of Genesis 1:1. I don't know. If it's true that it has been mistranslated over these years, then this is another strike against evangelical Christianity. So if all I cared about was suppressing knowledge of God and denying the truth of the Bible I suppose I'd start by assuming that this scholar is right. Why don't I do that? Because I have no prior commitment to either conclusion. So I am free to consider the question on the merits. James White's conclusion is already known before the evidence has even been evaluated. We don't need to see him exegete 2 Pet 2:1. We know where he will end up no matter what a text says about universal atonement.

Notice that the same was true regarding the point I brought up with Josephus. James White was obviously ignorant of the matter, but this makes no difference. He already knew there was nothing to it before even evaluating it. An open minded person would say "That's interesting. Never heard of it. I'll look into it and see what the evidence shows." Not James White. There's no need to look into it. He's got that prior commitment. And yet he would have us believe it is atheists that are blinded by their prior commitments. It's really quite the opposite.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's Columbus Day

You may have heard mamby pamby liberals criticize the memory of Columbus before. If you've ever wondered where they are getting this stuff go here, read, and learn.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mike Licona Has Lost Me

First things first. Mike Licona seems like a nice enough guy, but he's obviously a bit of a nerd. I'm not knocking it. I have nerd tendencies. I'm an engineer. But his attempts at jokes are hard to listen to. I'm talking about his last debate with Ehrman. "Run Forrest!! Run!!" This is not funny, nor is his repeated use of this "There's a Jew an agnostic and a Christian...this is not a joke." He's getting polite laughter and nothing more.

OK, on to some substance. I like it when I hear a debate where the issue of the plausibility of a claim of resurrection comes up. Mike brought it up in his opening statement. He puts 3 facts on the table. They are 1-Jesus died by crucifixion, 2-the disciples had experiences where they thought they saw Jesus post mortem and 3-Paul likewise saw Jesus post mortem.

He then considers different explanations for these facts. One explanation would be hallucinations, but this seems implausible. The reason is that you can't share a hallucination with someone else. The authors of Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception couldn't find much on shared hallucinations. Also licensed critical psychologist Gary Sipsey (sp?) says he looked at the professional literature for about 2 decades and couldn't find anything on it.

So next Mike compares this explanation to the resurrection hypothesis. There's nothing in the literature that says people rise from the dead, however it's not implausible like hallucinations because there's nothing that says resurrection can't occur. God could raise someone from the dead. So resurrection is more plausible than hallucinations, which find themselves in a negative position.

Somebody please explain to me how this makes any sense at all. Hallucinations are implausible because a couple of people say they couldn't find anything on it. But there's nothing on resurrections, yet they're not implausible. Is this not transparent double standards? If nothing in the literature makes hallucinations implausible, why doesn't it make resurrections implausible?

Well, God could make it happen, says Mike. God can make anything happen. God can make group hallucinations happen. God can make the Lions win. Nothing is implausible if "God can make it happen" is somehow relevant to the discussion.

The apologist says "Sure, Jesus rising from the dead naturally is implausible, but not Jesus rising supernaturally." Then my running 100m in 8 seconds is not implausible, because God could have intervened to make it happen. God could intervene to have you fly in a space ship, levitate, or leap across the Grand Canyon while simultaneously throwing 1000 stones at 1000 targets placed along the perimeter and hitting bullseye for each.

Face facts, Christians. The resurrection hypothesis is implausible. Doesn't mean it didn't happen. Doesn't necessarily means it's not knowable (in theory). But it's implausible. If you want to deny it then deny the nose on your face as well.

Sell the Vatican, Feed the World

This is brilliant. And funny. Here's a great line:

"You preach to live humbly, and I totally agree. So now maybe it's time for you to move out of your house that is a city."

Friday, October 9, 2009

More On My Discussion with James White

Atheists have an advantage. You see, having no morals they are free to lie and cheat and steal. Or break the rules of a debate with their atheistic ethics. There's no reason not to for an atheist. What does it matter? If it gives him an advantage, go for it (see about the 5:25 mark and following). In contrast Christians like James White have "transcendent moral values" that limit the scope of their behavior.

So says James White with regards to his debate with Dan Barker. Among several examples of Dan's wickedness is his use of Justin Martyr. Here is what Dan said during the debate:

Now it's not just modern scholars, but even early Christians. In the 2nd century there was a christian apologist who had been a pagan believer who converted to Christianity: Justin Martyr. And he was arguing with the pagans about we should all convert to Christianity, you know why? Because it's no different. Look what he says: When we say also that the Word, who is the firstborn of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you pagans believe regarding those whom you esteem to be the sons of Jupiter. Like Mercury Jesus is the logos. Like Perseus he was born of a virgin. Like Aesculapius Jesus healed the sick. If early Christians claimed that the Jesus story was nothing different from paganism who am I to disagree?

I think this is a fair point. James White thinks it's a pretty egregious example of wicked atheistic ethics. How so? Go again to his youtube clip to see. Supposedly Dan is taking Justin Martyr out of context and misrepresenting him. He starts by quoting chapters 3 and 6 of Justin's First Apology wherein he shows that in those chapters Justin is talking about how though Christian beliefs are similar to some pagan beliefs Christians are persecuted but pagan's aren't, so that's not fair. Further Justin believes pagan gods aren't real. He says "we could stop right here" as if he's already demonstrated his point. Dan is misrepresenting Justin Martyr.

But Dan is quoting chapter 21. How is it that the fact that Justin makes a different point in chapters 3 and 6 this somehow overturns his other point in chapter 21? Can a person make only a single point in a multi-chapter book, so White is free to impose the intention of chapter 3 on chapter 21? This is proof of the case already?

In chapter 9 Justin says other gods aren't real. In chapter 13 he says that our beliefs are true. In chapter 20 he says that he offers proof that his beliefs are true, so why are Christians being persecuted? Fair enough. White then says "Is he in any way shape or form saying....oh we just got this or we just derived this from over here and we grabbed this from over here? No."

But where did Dan say that Justin is admitting that Christian beliefs were derived from pagan stories? Nowhere. So who is James arguing with?

He then quotes chapter 21, which is where Justin starts to make his case for why Christianity is believable. Here he basically says that you shouldn't reject Christianity due to something like a virgin birth claim. After all you pagans already accept such things. Or in other words Christianity is believable despite what might on the surface appear to be an outlandish claim. You already believe things that are no different. Our claims are likewise believable. That's exactly what Dan said Justin Martyr had claimed and it's exactly what Justin Martyr did claim. But for some reason James still wants to assume that Dan is arguing that Justin believes Christian stories are derived from pagan stories.

At about the 21 minute mark again James says "It's not saying we pulled these from the same things" as if that was what Dan claimed. At about 22:15 "Notice he didn't say 'we borrowed this.'" Who claims otherwise, James? After Justin asserts that Christianity is alone true White says "So much for getting it from them" (24:25) and later (24:45) "Anyone who quotes Justin and does not deal with this is simply dishonest. Just dishonest!! That's the only way to describe it....If you try to make it sound like Justin was doing something he wasn't doing you're lying. It's dishonesty." Really? Who is it that is making someone say what they didn't say? Who says Justin believes they "got it from them", James? Read what Dan said and I've transcribed. Nowhere does Dan say that Justin admits Christian stories were borrowed from pagan stories.

James White offered the same misrepresentation in my call with him multiple times. When he did it at the 22:30 mark I corrected him. He quickly shifted away from the point about the derivation from pagan sources to something else, and soon after that he was hanging up on me like he had done to his prior caller.

Now, what would be easy to do is to just start going off about Christian dishonesty and how Christians are all ready to lie for the kingdom and misrepresent things, whereas we atheists have moral standards that don't come from a genocidal, misogynistic, slave promoting book. But then that would not be very gracious, and we all know how big Calvinists are on grace. We atheists will show some, though the Calvinist doesn't always return the favor. In my view James White probably just made a mistake and imposed a view on Dan that Dan didn't actually say. These things happen.

As to Dan's breaking of the rules, I have a suggestion for James White that might help prevent such things. As I said when I spoke to him I think he spends way too much time asserting the correctness of his view rather than arguing for it. This is "parralelomania." This was rejected 50 years ago. It's absurd, awful, embarrassing, etc. I say why not just make arguments and show that his claims are embarrassing. It's far more persuasive to let the audience draw the conclusion than to emphatically assert the conclusion.

The reason this could also help with rule breaking is that this behavior is also rude. When you say a belief is absurd, embarrassing, etc you automatically imply that anyone that adheres to it (like your opponent) has some sort of character flaw. Maybe he's stupid or too wicked to admit truth. That's rude and creates a hostile environment, which might incline someone to do something like break a rule. Sticking to arguments is win/win. More persuasive. Less rude. Try that. That's what Dan did. That's why he was so effective.

James White is a young earth Christian as far as I can tell. Suppose he debated the topic and his opponent spent a lot of time saying stuff like "No reputable scientist believes this sort of thing, this is absurd, embarrassing, etc." That may actually be his opponents view, but to say that is rude and ineffective on a young earth Christian. Show that the view is absurd by argument and let the young earther draw his own conclusions. That's more persuasive in my view and it makes the whole discussion more pleasant.

The Obama Record on Peace

To Obama's credit I think even he is a little embarrassed to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He hasn't really had much of a chance to do anything and he knows that.

But I want to provide a brief overview of some of the things I've documented about his record. If this is peace, what would anti-peace look like?

During the early part of his presidency, Obama was fighting tooth and nail to retain Bush's torture prisons in Afghanistan. See here.

Like Bush he's fighting for indefinite detention of prisoners without charge. See here.

His supposed promises to pull troops out of Iraq are now gone. He's basically on the Bush timetable. See here.

Still tapping our phones. See here.

His bombing campaigns in Pakistan are absolutely outrageous, driving 2.4 million people into refugee camps. See here.

The number of boots on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan are up when you consider that Obama is adding mercenaries via Blackwater (or Xe if you prefer). Here is a must watch discussion with Bill Moyers on this topic.

In Israel we're seeing outrageous war crimes perpetuated against civilians in Gaza, including the dumping of chemical weapons on these people, which Israel has admitted. Obama responds by pressuring the Palestinian Authority to keep quiet about it and did nothing to slow that onslaught back around the turn of the year.

He's also giving Israel the go-ahead to expand settlement construction, an outrageous violation of international law and obstacle to peace.

Columbia probably has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. No matter. Obama still supports their right wing thug dictator.

I seem to recall that OBL had said that he doesn't want a Democrat to win the White House because he believes that Democrats are just as much a war mongering party but somehow trick people into thinking they are peaceful. So the world goes to sleep as they rampage everywhere. Unfortunately I can't seem to track that quote down, but if OBL did say it I'd have to say he's right.

Luke Screws Up Josephus' Chronology

I spoke with James White yesterday on his Dividing Line program. Mainly we talked about the recent White/Barker debate, which I thought White lost by a nose. In the course of my discussion the reliability of the book of Acts came up, and I mentioned an apparent error in the book of Acts. In this post I want to further explain what I'm talking about.

In Acts chapter 5 we're told that the high priest Gamaliel told the Jews not to worry about this new Jesus movement. If it was of God there would be no way to stop it anyway, whereas if it wasn't it would collapse under it's own weight, like movements of the past have. Here's the text, with important points in bold:

"Men of Israel, be cautious in deciding what to do with these men. Some time ago, Theudas came forward, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. But he was killed and his whole following was broken up and disappeared. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census; he induced some people to revolt under his leadership, but he too perished and his whole following was scattered." (NEB, Acts 5:36-8)

What's interesting about this is that Josephus at Antiquities Book 20 Chapter 5 actually mentions these same two insurrectionists. In his telling he first mentions Theudas then subsequently talks about Judas of Galilee. But what Josephus does is he mentions them in reverse chronological order. He mentions Theudas first, then sort of by way of reflection talks about Judas of Galilee. Someone reading Josephus hastily might understand him in a mistaken fashion and switch the chronology. Looking above to Acts we can see that this is exactly what Luke has done. Here's the text from Josephus:

1. Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus's government.

2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified. But now Herod, king of Chalcis, removed Joseph, the son of Camydus, from the high priesthood, and made Ananias, the son of Nebedeu, his successor. And now it was that Cumanus came as successor to Tiberius Alexander; as also that Herod, brother of Agrippa the great king, departed this life, in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar. He left behind him three sons; Aristobulus, whom he had by his first wife, with Bernicianus, and Hyrcanus, both whom he had by Bernice his brother's daughter. But Claudius Caesar bestowed his dominions on Agrippa, junior.

What we're seeing in Acts is exactly what we would expect to see from someone that was borrowing from Josephus. We've got the same insurrectionists that are mentioned in a single chapter. We've got a reversed chronology error like we might expect someone to do based upon Josephus' somewhat confusing way of telling the story. This makes really good sense as an error on the part of Luke.

Of course it's possible Luke is right and Josephus is wrong. It's possible that there is no dependence. If this were the only point of contact between Josephus and the book of Acts I could see the point of the claim that the dependence claim is not all that solid. But in fact there are additional points of contact.