I am Peter Ingersoll

When Mighty Timbo undertook his disproof of Mormonism, the first point he offered was eyewitness testimony by one Peter Ingersoll (or Ingersol, or Ingersall, not sure why there are so many different spellings), to the effect that Smith’s “Golden Bible” wasn’t really there. When I invited Timbo to submit that article, I told him that I would look for parallels between the weaknesses of Mormonism and the weaknesses of Christianity, and this is one of them. Just as Joseph Smith had eyewitnesses who could see for himself that the Book wasn’t really there, you and I and even Timbo himself are all eyewitnesses to the fact that Christianity’s God isn’t really there. In effect, we are all Peter Ingersolls, because we are eyewitnesses to God’s manifest absence from the real world.

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Well darn.

I had a feeling Mighty Timbo was bailing out when he ended his last comment here by saying, “Contact me again when you’re interested in genuine discourse.” A strange thing to say, considering that “genuine discourse”—as opposed to following a Jack Chick style script—is exactly what I have been doing, and what he appears to be trying to extricate himself from. He did, at least, promise to let me keep reviewing the material on his site: “You are always free to use quotes from my site. It is my request that when you do so you provide a link to the page you took the quote from. And you can certainly use anything I say as a springboard for any future articles.”

Except… quite suddenly, his entire web site has disappeared. This is not just a glitch. As of 5:00 AM GMT, his domain was listed as cancelled, and sortly thereafter someone was able to purchase the domain name and point it at The Secular Web.

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The skeptic’s role

Mighty Timbo appears to be upset with me for failing to follow whatever script he had in mind for my part in his proposed “debate” (which, as he may recall, I declined to participate in). I’ve been examining his post entitled “Why Doesn’t God Show Himself To Us and Prove He Exists?” and showing how (a) it fails to give the full scope of the apologetic difficulties inherent in God’s failure to show up, and (b) it fails to give an adequate answer even to the question as he proposes it. Apparently I’m not supposed to do that. Skeptics, it would seem, are only allowed to raise carefully-framed softball objections that can be easily dismissed by facile and disingenuous sermonizing.

Well I’m sorry, but that’s not really my role as a skeptic. The role of skepticism is to examine both the claims and the evidence, to expose any internal or external inconsistencies, and to prefer those conclusions that are more consistent with real-world facts than competing claims, rejecting any that are manifestly inconsistent with themselves and with the truth.  Thus, when Timbo points out that Bible accounts of God’s appearances are followed soon after by accounts of people rebelling and falling away, there’s an underlying inconsistency there, in that this is a remarkably poor outcome for Someone as great as God is supposed to be. As a skeptic, it’s my role to point out that Timbo is glossing over this problem when he tries to use the disobedience of men as a mere excuse for why God doesn’t show up. I’m not supposed to just blindly follow his script and say, “Ok it must be all man’s fault then.” My job is to cross-examine his evidence and give it a more comprehensive context.

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The historicity of the stolen body

I’m catching up on some issues that ended up on the back burner while I was under the weather, and one of them is this comment by Kevin Harris over at Evangelical Realism, on the topic of whether the “Resurrection theory” is a more historical explanation than the non-supernatural alternatives proposed by critics. Kevin claims that the critical theories are disqualified by application of Craig’s six criteria for historical credibility: historical fit, early independent sources, embarrassment, dissimilarity, semitisms and coherence. Just for fun, I’d like to take one of the alternatives and run it past Craig’s six criteria.

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An honest liar

This looks like it’s going to be, well, amazing…

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Meason, two of the filmmakers behind Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey and Sons of Perdition respectively, are making a documentary about the man, appropriately titled An Honest Liar: The Story of the Amazing James Randi. The film will not only dive into his past and talk to other fellow expert skeptics like Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Penn and Teller, but it will also serve to document Randi’s next grand debunking as he plans and assembles, “an Ocean’s Eleven-type team for a carefully orchestrated exposure of a fraudulent religious organization.”

Hat tip to Movies.com. Trailer below the fold.

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Damned if he do, damned if he don’t.

Over at Evangelical Realism, I’m having an interesting conversation with one Kevin Harris, who gives his web site as William Lane Craig’s reasonablefaith.org, on the topic of “The 7th Criterion.” If you’ve read the post, you may recall that I proposed a 7th criterion for historical authenticity, in addition to the 6 Craig provides: to be historically authentic, a report must be consistent with real-world truth. Kevin originally criticized the 7th criterion for having an anti-supernatural bias, but I pointed out that it’s really a bias against falsehood, and that if a bias against falsehood is an anti-supernatural bias, that in itself tells you something about the supernatural. Kevin agreed that we want to avoid falsehood, but told me not to equivocate “falsehood” with “the supernatural,” which was ironic. My reply led to Kevin’s latest response to me, which is, shall we say, interesting.

The problem, I think, is that I’m holding up a perfectly fair and reasonable and even fundamental criterion. A true report, by definition, is one that is consistent with the real-world truth. Before we accept an ancient story as historically authentic, therefore, we should first examine whether or not it is consistent with real-world truth. If it isn’t, then by definition it’s a false story, and it wouldn’t do to designate false stories as historically authentic!

For some reason, Kevin appears reluctant to commit himself to agreeing to measure the Gospel according to that standard. I’ll give you a sample below the fold.

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Low-cost space exploration

Recent budget cuts at NASA make it clear that the glory days are over, as far as funding is concerned. A report at the Discovery Channel website suggests the possibility of a lower-cost alternative to all those big, expensive rockets and stuff.

Over the past 50 years, billions of dollars have been spent visiting our nearest neighbor in space, the moon. It’s the only extraterrestrial body humans have ever walked on. Besides the United States and Russia, Japan, China, India and the European Space Agency have all sent robotic spacecraft moonward…

But why bother? says a group of parapsychology sleuths who accuse NASA of hiding evidence of aliens on the lunar surface.

Yep, a group of psychics has used “remote viewing” to discover that the Apollo 16 astronauts actually discovered wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed on the moon. The wreckage can even be seen in published photos—cleverly disguised as ordinary rocks and dirt. Damn those government censors for covering this all up!
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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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An odd little myth

The “historical Jesus” post is still collecting comments, so I suppose there might still be enough interest to justify bringing up the topic again. I’m still not convinced that Jesus never existed, and I’ve thought of an example which seems to suggest to me that some preacher by that name probably did exist. It’s found in Matthew 22:23-33. The most interesting bits are these:

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question…

Jesus replied, “…But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

I’d heard this story for years before I realized what an odd little story it really is. Here is Jesus, trying to find some Mosaic reference to resurrection, and the best he can come up with is an argument that God stops being your God when you die? That’s a bizarre thing for a Christian to teach, let alone ascribing such an idea to Jesus himself. As a myth invented decades or centuries later, in an attempt to promote a mythical Messiah in a growing Christian culture, it seems pretty unlikely to me. There’s an alternative, though, that makes a lot more sense.

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A prescription for gullibility

We’re approaching the point of beating a dead horse with this miracles discussion, but I do have one last point to cover before we move on. Jayman’s primary complaint is this:

Based on multiple surveys and polls, Keener notes that hundreds of millions of people alive today claim that they have witnessed or experienced miraculous healings… If miracles do not occur today, as atheists contend, then they must believe that each and every one of these hundreds of millions of people are either lying or mistaken. A substantial argument needs to be provided to justify such a belief.

Jayman does not believe that we can really know whether or not all these people are really failing to tell the truth, so for today’s post I want to look at why he thinks that and why he’s wrong.

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