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Dec 08 2013

What happens when God is wrong?

Pastor Rick Warren recently appeared on Piers Morgan’s show and discussed his stand on gay marriage.

Warren claimed that he believes in equality, but admitted he cannot support same-sex marriage because, he said, “I don’t get to change what God says.”

I’ve pulled out just this one quote because I think it exemplifies one of the most fundamental and unresolvable problems with religions like Christianity. They’re based on “revealed” authority, the idea that “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” You never have to learn anything new or adapt to anything that changes, because nothing is allowed to change. Once God speaks, that’s the way things are and must be, always and forever after.

But what happens when God is wrong?

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Nov 25 2013

Two wrongs don’t make a right?

You may have heard the moral principle that two wrongs don’t make a right, but you’ve never read it in the Bible. I was thinking of that in connection with the creation/evolution debate, and specifically in connection with the YEC argument that a merciful, loving God would never use millions of years of death and extinction to create the rich variety of life on earth.

This God, you remember, is a God who wants to “mark” baby boys as His by taking an unsterilized knife to their genitals. This is a God who would snuff out the life of every firstborn child in Egypt, down to the tiniest baby of the lowliest (non-Jewish) slave, just to make a point to Pharoah. This is a God who allegedly produced all the fossils in the ground not over the natural course of eons, but in a sudden fit of wrath that destroyed 99.9999% or more of all life on earth, even in places where there weren’t any of the men He was mad at. This is the “merciful” and “loving” God who is supposedly too nice to use evolution to produce biological diversity.

But this isn’t even the half of it, because in pointing out the above Scriptural stories, we haven’t even mentioned animal sacrifice. And that’s where “two wrongs don’t make a right” comes in.

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Nov 24 2013

Public schools “terrified” of creationism

Writing for the “Communities” section of the Washington Times, one Frank Kacer asks, Why are public schools terrified of examining evolution & creation?

If evolution is true, there’s a simple way for public schools to destroy any student’s belief in creation. Simply test each theory objectively in science classes using the scientific method. Instead, irrational lawsuits, court orders and fears of anything hinting of Christianity have become the weapons of choice to prevent use of objective science.

So, what are public schools really afraid of?

One wonders exactly who Mr Kacer believes the public schools are suing. If he stopped for a moment and remembered that the public schools are the ones being sued for First Amendment violations, he’d know that it’s only the creationists in public schools who are afraid right now. And if they’re not, then the school district is going to get taken to court and ordered to obey the law.

But despite his garbled grasp of the relevant facts, I think he has the germ of a good idea. Creationism has benefited a great deal from its special, protected status as a religious account of origins. I think we should teach the controversy and let public schools teach kids exactly why Genesis is a myth. If Mr Kacer and other creationists really want a head-to-head confrontation over the scientific study of origins, let’s take them up on it. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 23 2013

American Bible Society Sends 525 ‘Poverty and Justice’ Bibles to Congress Following Government Shutdown

The Christian Post reports that a bunch of believers are trying to meddle in politics again.

Fulfilling a promise they made during the government shutdown, members of the anti-poverty coalition “Circle of Protection,” are delivering 535 “Poverty and Justice” Bibles into the hands of senators and representatives this week.

Over the course of the 16-day-long government shutdown last month, members of the 65 denominations and relief and development agencies composing the coalition, publicly read the nearly 2,100 Bible verses pertaining to poverty and justice and vowed to reinforce the Scripture’s messages to their Congressmen and women.

Goddamn liberal Christians and their goddamn liberal Bible, always trying to shove that socialist “care for widows, orphans and the poor” religion down everyone’s throat, eh? It’s just not American. And I don’t care how many thousands of Bible verses preach it. It’s downright humanism. Haven’t they heard that whoever has the gold makes the rules?

Nov 19 2013

Faith-based global warming insurance

One of the consequences of global warming is an increase in the number and severity of major storms such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards. Forgive me for indulging in a bit of rational thought, but since religious conservatives are among the most vocal deniers of climate change, wouldn’t it be nice if we could tax churches to raise funds for federal disaster relief to pay for repairs in the aftermath of such “acts of God”? Base the tax rate on the total damage done by storms, and grant an exemption to any church willing to sign a waiver stating that their god has no control over the weather and thus should not be held accountable for the resulting damages. If believers want lower taxes, they either get their god to do a better job managing the weather, or they sign the waiver.

Yeah, dumb idea. But still…

Nov 17 2013

Kentucky City to help defraud gullible investors

As PZ Myers reported a little while ago, the latest scam from Answers In Genesis is to sell junk bonds to gullible investors—bonds that AiG has no binding obligation to ever pay back. Classic sucker bait, right? Anybody who knows anything at all about investing is going to steer clear of the giant red flags all over this investment.

But there’s a new twist in this sweet little con game. Everyone knows that government bonds are a much more sound investment than ordinary junk bonds. So why not sell your junk bonds through some government office, in order to trick people into thinking they’re getting government bonds instead of junk bonds? Ken Ham apparently has enough inside influence to make it happen.

A city in Kentucky may soon offer $62 million in securities for prospective investors to help aid the completion of a Creationist theme park and replica of Noah’s Ark.

Beginning next month, Williamstown may oversee the amount of taxable securities for investors to the project overseen by Answers in Genesis, reported Brian Chappatta and Priya Anand of Business Week.

Yes, for a mere $100,000 dollars, you too can purchase a “lifetime family pass,” allowing you to enjoy a full day of overcooked french fries and half-baked mythology for as long as the park remains profitable. And if it never does return a profit, AiG gets to keep all of your money, absolutely free.

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Nov 10 2013

Why revelation fails

One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

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Nov 03 2013

The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

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Oct 27 2013

Ultimate authority

Whatever it may sell itself as to believers, presuppositionalism in practice usually boils down to a loose collection of contrived and superficial “gotcha” dialogs in which the entire skeptical worldview ends up “exposed” as self-contradictory and invalid. The catch is that creating this illusion requires that the unbeliever stick to some rigid and narrow constraints on what they’re supposed to say. It’s a schtick that works best with 1-dimensional bad guys, who oppose the hero only to make the hero look good.

Real skeptics don’t talk or think like cartoons, however, so when the presuppositionalist tries to interact with a real live skeptic, they end up floundering around trying to force the conversation back into the canned script. Sometimes they meet unbelievers who haven’t thought much about the topic, and are easily steered, but if the skeptic knows anything at all about philosophy, epistemology, and phenomenology, the result can be a series of exchanges so disjointed they border on the surreal. For example, here’s Murk trying to respond to my observation that religious beliefs are necessarily subjective perceptions rather than verifiable objective fact.

“you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.” not true- boils down to ultimate authority – we all have one – what is yours again?

His response seems only tangentially related, if not completely disconnected, from the observation he’s trying to respond to. But that’s because he’s trying to get back to a script in which rationalism is really the vain assumptions of a conceited heart. I didn’t say anything that would support such a conclusion, but that’s beside the point. He’s here to have the scripted conversation from his apologetics texts, no matter how the real-world conversation may be proceeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 20 2013

The subjective choices of religion

Our old friend Murk has returned with a reply to a comment on one of my older posts. Rather than let it languish in the past, I’d like to reply to it up front. Let’s start by reconstructing the thread of the conversation so far.

KEVIN: Yeah, murk. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. You see, there’s this little problem you theists have. It’s one of a plethora of choices. You claim that your choice is the correct one. OK, fine. But every single person who believes in the supernatural makes the same claim.

MURK: Let me see if i get this straight – many choice = non-existence? by analogy then since there are many counterfeit moneys there is no real one? the counterfeit is dependent on the real my friend.

DEACON DUNCAN: Not quite. The problem is not just that there are many choices, it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference, in the absence of any objective means of demonstrating that any of them is actually true. After all, if you had objective proof that any of them were correct, you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.

So far so good, eh? Granted, Murk is making a bad analogy with his counterfeit money example, and I didn’t address that specifically. I wanted to focus on the weakness of the theological argument, which is the lack of a “gold standard” against which you can apply the various conflicting theological positions. We know that counterfeit money is fake precisely because there is a real-world standard to compare it to. No similar standard exists for the innumerable, conflicting versions of the story about what god(s) ought to be, and what he/she/it/they expect from us.

Turnabout’s fair play, so Murk wants to pick apart my response and see if he can find any weaknesses in it.

” it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference,” is this an objective claim? if so by what standard?

My replies are below the fold.

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