Eyewitness

Here’s an lightly-edited excerpt from this week’s installment of my chapter-by-chapter analysis of William Lane Craig’s book, On Guard:

In a study published in 2003 [PDF], psychology researchers Gary Wells and Elizabeth Loftus gave an example of how eyewitness testimony can evolve over time. A young woman was sexually assaulted and her friend was murdered. The young woman, Sherry Gillaspey worked with a police artist to put together a composite sketch of the assailant, and based this sketch, a young man named Thomas Brewster became a “person of interest.”

What happened next is a textbook case of how eyewitness testimony can be “improved” over time.

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Gospel Disproof #32: Salvation by faith

In Gospel Disproof #28 we looked at conditional salvation and how bizarre it was to suppose that a loving and self-sufficient Father would create a situation where His beloved children would go to Hell forever unless they met certain rarely-obtained conditions. As a parenting scenario, it just doesn’t work, but by an odd coincidence it works great as a tool for manipulating people and making them think that they have to submit to you and your teachings in order to be saved.

Salvation by faith takes that manipulation one step further: not only does your salvation depend on submitting to some human teacher, but you have to believe that what he tells you is absolutely and infallibly true. It’s not enough to merely try to be good or to behave in ways that make you an asset to the community. You have to believe, even when it makes no sense, and even when it’s in conflict with what you see around you.

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Gospel Disproof #31: Burning coals

Ask the average layman who Jesus was, and if they’re a more secular/liberal sort of person you’ll probably hear that he was a “great moral teacher.” Ironically, however, the one uniquely Christian moral principle he taught was this:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Great philosophy, isn’t it? Let’s dismantle airport security and send Al Qaeda free tickets. Do good to those that hate you, give them whatever they want, let them hurt you and take your stuff and get away with it.

Obviously, for all their praise, even Christians do not follow Jesus’ one uniquely Christian moral teaching, except on rare occasions when it’s to their advantage to do so. This is a doctrine whose true virtue lies not so much in practicing it as in just teaching it. Hypocrisy aside, there’s a certain gloss of nobility and selflessness in the idea of being more generous to one’s enemies than they are to you.

Unless you look at this sentiment in its biblical context.

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Exercise

Freedom is like a muscle: if you don’t exercise it, you lose it. We can’t just sit back and expect the First Amendment to protect us. If all that stands between the wealthy and their profits is a “goddamn piece of paper,” they will find a way around it. They’ll even buy whatever legislative influence it takes to make it all nice and “legal.”

SOPA, PROTECT IP, and now RWA, are all working hard to take something that fails to profit the wealthy (i.e. your First Amendment freedoms), and exchange it for more lucrative controls that keep the money flowing out of your pockets and into theirs, indefinitely. Freedom of the many, versus the profits of the few. It’s an uneven contest, and if we don’t defend our individual liberties, we’ll lose them.

What is SOPA?

A significant loophole

I got into an interesting discussion with Jayman777 over at Evangelical Realism on the topic of whether the New Testament documents can be considered independent accounts of first century events. After I pointed out that the NT documents are derived from a common source (church tradition), Jayman replied:

[C]laiming that NT authors are not independent of each other runs counter to the scholarly consensus. In the Gospels alone scholars typically point out the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition. At least Craig is apparently starting from a consensus position.

My response to that was that, scholarly consensus or not, if you have a bunch of people collaborating for years and even decades on preaching a common and consistent story, it’s rather silly to call them independent sources. If that’s not collaborating on a common story, then what is? But after I made that reply, I realized that I was overlooking a rather significant loophole, and that the scholarly consensus could be right after all.

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On the effectiveness of prayer

From time to time various people attempt to study the effect of prayer under real-world conditions, and it occurs to me that we have ideal conditions for undertaking such a study right now. The Cranston West High School has recently concluded a 48-year experiment in which students were exposed to a specific “School Prayer” on a daily basis. Has this prayer worked? Granted, atheists and unbelievers of various sorts might be expected to resist the effects of pious appeals to the Almighty Heavenly Father, so we shouldn’t look at the impact it has had on the godless. Instead, let’s examine the specific petitions in the prayer and see how it has changed believers’ lives, attitudes, and conduct.

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Now there’s a surprise

You’ll never guess how Christians are reacting to the successful lawsuit against the School Prayer mural formerly hanging in Cranston High School West.

The uncle of the 16-year-old Cranston West student and victorious plaintiff at the forefront of the school prayer mural case said his niece is the victim of cyberbullying and police and school officials confirmed they are investigating…

Yesterday, one Twitter user said “this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face.”

Another user bragged “your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you ****ing worthless c***.”

And remember, these are the “meek” that expect to inherit the earth. The good news is that this time there may be some blowback to the blowback.

[S]ome of the comments could constitute cyberbullying and represent violations of the Safe Schools Act — recently passed legislation that establishes a unified state policy against cyberbullying approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly last year and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee last summer.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Beatrice A. Lanzi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) defines cyberbullying as “the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression” that “causes physical or emotional harm to the student,” “places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself,” or “creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment for the student.”

I say nail ‘em. My right to swing my fist ends at the tip of someone else’s nose, and my right to free speech ends at the point where it becomes an explicit or implicit threat to harm someone. We’re a democracy, not a mob. We don’t get to stomp minorities, no matter how much they stand up for their own constitutional rights.