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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Documenting miracles

Following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d take some time to explore further the question of how we can observe that miracles do not happen in real life. Some believers like to think that ignorance is their ally, that nobody knows everything, so they’re safe (they hope) in assuming that no skeptic can know for sure that miracles do not happen. Somewhere out in the vast body of things people don’t know—i.e. somewhere out in the great expanse of human ignorance—they can surely find a place to hide some undetectable and unverifiable miracle that is still somehow real.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. If we apply the principle that truth is consistent with itself, we can see that even given the vast number of things we don’t know, we can still establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, for example, we do not see the dead being brought back to life after 3 days or more with no vital signs. We can observe the fact that miracles do not happen. It’s simply a matter of thinking things through.

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