The new webcams

The Internet is a great equalizer, and a great way for communities to get together and share ideas and experiences. And in some countries, that’s seen as a bad thing.

Iran is mounting new clampdowns on Internet expression, including rules that will impose layers of surveillance in the country’s popular Internet cafes, as Tehran’s political establishment comes under increasing strains from economic turmoil and threats of more international sanctions.

The government’s attempts to control the Internet include installing cameras in cybercafes, collecting detailed information about users, and tracking their web histories.

If you’re a US citizen and you’re glad we live in a free country instead of in Iran, you’re probably not thinking about ongoing attempts under the so-called PATRIOT Act, to do the same sort of thing less openly. Some of them we’re catching, which is good. But how many are we missing? That’s a “state secret.”


Gospel Disproof #27: The disturbed (and disturbing) lover

I want to talk to the moms and dads out there for a moment, especially those parents who have an unmarried daughter in her late teens. Suppose she comes home one day and says, “Mom, Dad, I need to talk about my boyfriend problems.” There are two guys competing for her affections. One is just an ordinary Joe, not exceptionally bright or strong or handsome, but easy to get along with and genuinely caring—whenever she needs a hand with something, or someone to talk to, or just to hang out with, she knows she can count on him to show up and spend time with her.

The other guy is more, shall we say, attention-getting. He claims to love her with a love that no one else can match, but he has an odd way of showing it. He never shows up to hang out with her, or to help her when she needs it. Instead, he has given her his email address, and he expects her to send him all her requests, which he promises to “take care of” (even though she has no direct evidence that he’s doing so). He claims to be rich, though he frequently asks her for money, and he claims to have huge political influence, though he leaves it up to her to write to various government officials and tell them what he wants, in a way that will win their vote.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

News from Iowa

Just stopped by the local groceries for some sandwich fixings, and the headline on the local paper reads:

Santorum, Romney On Top

Santorum, and Romney on top. It’s going to take me all damn day to get that mental picture out of my head.


Depending on ignorance

This is proving to be a fun week. On Sunday I observed that the Gospel is a story and that we do not see God showing up in real life, attending church, and raising the long-dead. Jayman777 objected to that observation and tried to refute me—by supplying more stories about people seeing alleged miracles. He continues the same attempt in a second post, but like the first one, he only reinforces my original observation.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

Debunking Skepticism

A believer who goes by the handle “Jayman777” has written a blog post taking me to task. He’s not happy with my remarks at Evangelical Realism about how William Lane Craig handles the historical arguments for Jesus.

I have not read this book by Craig but DD’s post contains a few problems common to arguments from skeptics that should be addressed. I will restrict my focus to whether the Gospels are the best sources for reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus and whether the Gospels are generally reliable on historical matters.

Fair enough, I welcome his input. Let’s see what his criticisms are.

DD begins:

Christianity is, above all else, a story. . . . Miracles like healing someone born blind, or resurrecting someone who died three days ago, only happen in the tales told from the pulpit and in ancient parchments.

Notice how it is merely assumed that miracles do not happen in the present. It is hardly surprising that when you presuppose metaphysical naturalism, and you judge the Gospels on this basis, that the Gospels are determined to be of questionable historical value. But what if we take an approach that is neutral concerning the occurrence of miracles?

[Read more…]

The historical Jesus

Over at Evangelical Realism, we’re starting to look at William Lane Craig’s arguments for a historical resurrection. You can head on over if you’re interested in the full critique. Meanwhile, I’d like to take a look at a topic where I think a certain number of skeptics are mistaken (to the very great glee of apologists like Craig).

There is no serious question that the Gospel is false in its supernatural details. Believers argue in favor of the miracles because they’re believers, but the real-world evidence is pretty consistently against such stories. Some critics, however, have thrown the baby out with the bath water, by proposing that Jesus himself did not really exist either.

Frankly, I think that’s nonsense. If we go back to the origins of Christianity, there’s nothing special about the name “Jesus.” Obviously, somebody had to invent the religion. God did not create it ex nihilo. It didn’t just drop down out of the sky. We can tell from its flaws and human-centered superstitions that it’s a man-made product. Why, then, would one particular name (“Jesus”) be any less likely to be the name of the man who invented it?

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #26: No excuses

Here’s an interesting thought experiment, especially for Christians. Imagine, for a moment, what the world would be like if Christianity were a myth. How would it be different?

People would not suddenly become omniscient, would they? Of course not. Why would God’s failure to exist suddenly improve our mental abilities? A world in which God was a myth would still be a world where people don’t fully understand the world around them. That means believers would still have plenty of opportunities to superstitiously ascribe things to God, and to defend their faith by pointing to things and saying, “You can’t explain that!” Even if God never existed, we could still have creationists and philosophers building detailed apologetics out of what we don’t know.

Coincidences would not stop happening, would they? Of course not. The world is a complex place, with complex and subtle interactions. We can’t trace back every chain of cause and effect, even for relatively simple processes. To follow all the complex social, economic, and physical factors that influence our lives would be humanly impossible. We can’t predict our own futures with 100% accuracy, and consequently we will not uncommonly encounter things we didn’t expect. There would still be plenty of room for superstitious people to take those unexpected outcomes and call them “miracles.”

[Read more…]