Science Then: The Bible vs. The Greeks Edition

Did the Bible predict modern science better than ancient scientists did? Funny to ask. Because naive Muslims have been making the same embarrassing claim for the Koran. Over a decade ago I published an article showing how silly conservative Muslim apologists were for claiming the Koran miraculously predicted scientific facts, by demonstrating that the Epicureans (and I just used the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius at that, and thus left out many other items that could have been added), who were the least fully scientific of the philosophers of the era who produced scientific results, got right a hell of a lot more, and more precisely and clearly declared their results, than the Koran, and all explicitly through just armchair reasoning from basic observations. No miraculous communications from angels. No telecom with the gods.

That article was Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed. In that I show several logical flaws in these kinds of arguments: (1) they use a fake translation (they ignore the actual language of the text in its actual context) to “invent” a better fit with modern science post hoc (a common scam run by psychics called retrofitting); (2) they ignore the fact that mere armchair thinking often had already produced the same conclusion or comparable conclusions and often in fact more and better conclusions (thus negating any claim that such “hits” required miraculous powers or informants); (3) they get ancient science wrong (e.g. they claim that ancient scientists hadn’t discovered a thing, when in fact they had); (4) they cherry pick bizarre data so as to rely on luck giving them hits (in any vast enough tome of baloney, you will inevitably find random matches with the truth by mere chance), but miss the fact that if one actually had a miraculous line to prescient scientific knowledge, you’d be reporting way more useful shit than this (compare the relative utility of knowing that cosmic expansion or heliocentrism are true, and knowing the germ theory of disease or the basic principles of electricity—for a religion that supposedly prioritizes the welfare of humanity).

Now there is an image going around (evidently even favorably shared by actual scientists in some cases) making the same stupid claim for the Christian Bible. It’s so bad I was laughing out loud before I even finished the third line. It has been debunked before (e.g. here and here). But since ancient science is my field, I figured my own fisk would be of use to the world. So here goes… [Read more…]

An Amazing Thing: The Humanist Experience

Production photo of Evan and Serah in a parking lot by trees holding up signs with the logo for The Humanist Experience, caption The Thumanist Experience Ep 2.Two humanists are traveling the country, living out of their car and on savings and donations for a whole year, interviewing or even embedding themselves among all sorts of people who are often ignored or ground under by the American system, and seeking empirical understanding of common human challenges and hardships. They are visiting the real America. And reporting on it. And reporting on what humanist values should mean for us in light of what they uncover.

This is The Humanist Experience. It’s a great podcast. And the most unusual to date. They are doing two things I’ve never seen before: (1) They are actually going all in, walking the walk, by actually giving up daily work lives to drive around the country experiencing things and talking to people, to hear and communicate their stories with understanding; and (2) They are using storytelling and experiential learning to do this. Their view is, you need experience to understand a thing, and you need understanding of a thing to have a valid opinion of it, in particular, an opinion of what to do about it, or even whether to do something about it. Storytelling, recording their own and others’ experiences, in their philosophy, is a crucial way to aesthetically communicate the reality of the world and to get people aware and comprehending of what’s going on in it. Part of their inspiration is This American Life, so fans of that take note. It’s fascinating. And I highly recommend checking it out.

Here is their description: [Read more…]

Celebrate the Holidays with My Class on the Historicity of the Baby Jesus!

Color drawing of the bust of Jesus, eyesturned up to heaven and head cocked to the side as if he is on the cross dying or dead, and over his crown of thorns has been placed a crown of colored Christmas lights. Source: I-Mockery.I’ll be teaching my one month online course on the historicity of Jesus this December: the best arguments pro and con, the cultural and historical background, the competing theories of the origins of Christianity, and more. We’ll go through my book chapter by chapter and discuss its contents, and look at some additional resources and challenges. And by the end you’ll be able to converse informedly about all the main issues in the debate: what the best evidence is for the historical Jesus, why it can be questioned and how, and how you can decide for yourself whether theories without one are better or not. You will also have the opportunity to ask me all the questions you want, challenge me with all the arguments you’ve run into, and otherwise pick my brain on all the related issues you think important.

The course, Questioning or Defending the Historicity of Jesus, begins December 1 (my birthday, incidentally!) and goes one month, covering four units, one per week. There are no timed events so you can do the readings or post questions or engage in the forum discussions whenever you want, any day and time that suits you. All the course materials, including the discussions, stay available for you to consult or download for an additional month after that.

The only course text you must acquire (if you don’t already have it) is my book On the Historicity of Jesus. Everything else will be provided. For a more complete course description, and how to register, visit the course announcement page.

Please acquire the required text in print or kindle or any format available, except the audiobook, which won’t be functional for the needs of the course. So you should only get that in addition to another version, if you get it at all. And be aware it probably won’t work with the whisper function either, since the read text differs from the printed text (I had to incorporate footnote commentary into the main text, and read out descriptions of diagrams and tables, so the audiobook is complete, but not verbatim or in the same order as the kindle text; the audio also doesn’t contain the useful indexes and reference lists and citations).

Open Letter to Academic Philosophy: All Your Moral Theories Are the Same

Graphic depicting the three standard moral theories and the two forms of consequentialism described in the main text, as well as the fourth way with the label of Foot, the other three are labeled Kant, Mill, and Aristotle. The one labeled Mill only marks the consequences for everyone box, but another form of consequentialism is listed, egoism. Finally, all three systems can serve as the foundation for Social Contract Theory, also thus depicted. And Foot's system of hypothetical imperatives is tied to all Moral Theories at the core.In my work I have repeatedly pointed out two things about what philosophers think the options are in developing a theory of moral truth: (1) that their standard assumption of only three options (consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethics) curiously omits a fourth of equal importance, the only one developed by a woman, and (2) that these are actually all the same ethical theory and the fact that no one has ever noticed this is very annoying, and impeding progress in moral philosophy. Today I’m going to outline why both points are true, and matter a great deal. Philosophy will forever remain stuck and getting barely more than nowhere, until it acknowledges and integrates both facts in all future analysis of this question: What moral propositions are true? [Read more…]

Might Stellar War Be a Good Christmas Gift? (Hint Hint)

Oh, sorry, “Holiday Gift.” For those atheists who abhor the Christ in Christmas. Although we know everything distinctive of Christmas is pagan. And paganism is fun. So most of us atheists happily celebrate the pagan holiday under its now familiar moniker. Because it’s hilarious to call all this pagan shit Christ-mas. Besides, we can use Christian apologetics to prove Santa Claus exists and flies to other planets on a rocket. And we all know gods don’t exist anyway, so who cares what we call it. No one freaks out over Mighty Saturn’s Day, er, I mean, Saturday.

So, regardless. If you will be giving sinful filthy heathen gifts to people this coming Winter Solstice, you might consider my card game Stellar War. What the hell is that? It’s this. Which you can buy here. Have someone you’ll be gifting to who is a fan of my work or of fun but complicated tabletop games (the kind of games that freak out the squares), consider the game I invented in my childhood, Stellar War. I’ve even updated the box so the title is on the sides as well so you know where it is in your crazy giant stack of boxed games. There are other Christmas gift buying options besides the game, of course, which can help support my work in various ways. This article summarizes them. Although since then my average income has gone up ten grand, but I am now living on my own, and thus entirely supporting myself on a starving artist’s wage.

Below the fold are some spoilers, however. Spoilers that might make Stellar War more attractive as a gift idea. What spoilers? Pictures of the three cards I added to spice the game with some humor. They were included in the original release two years ago, intended to surprise players of the game. I’m now revealing the secret to everyone. Imagine drawing them randomly through the course of the game. A game that is about an interstellar war, the goal of which is to destroy as many ships and space stations of your enemies as possible.


[Read more…]

Defining Polyamory

Diagram of a poly network, analogizing a polycule to a molecule, indicating Lisa and Maria as tertiary partners, and Maria having Amir and Kevin as secondary partners and no primary, and Lisa having Eric as a primary partner and no other bonded relationships than him and Maria. Diagram from What Do You Call It – Some Polyamory Network Terminology, by Violet Michelle Smith, published online at Life on the Swingset.Polyamory is relatively new, and consequently not well defined. The poly community is still experimenting and feeling out how to define its terms. I get asked a lot about what it means and whether one thing or another is or is not poly. When asked about my relationship status, I sometimes just say I am an ethical nonmonogamist, since that starts the kind of conversation I actually want to have with someone in order to explain my own sitch.

But my own sitch is my own sitch. Polyamory is inclusive of countless different relationship styles. One of the fundamental core values of the polyamory community is that we should get to negotiate the kind of relationships we want. Tradition is a square peg for a round hole. Rather than force ourselves to follow some culturally fabricated and packaged script of what a relationship is “supposed” to be or how it is “supposed” to proceed, we can just create the relationships we want, and proceed in the way we want. The outcome in practice is: there are lots of different ways to do poly. Mine is just what I’m doing now. In some respects it’s what’s best for me. It will never suit everyone else. In other respects it’s just what fits my current circumstances, which could change.

So what is poly?

[Read more…]

Appearing in Kenya! (And You Can Watch)

Blue meme ad for the event, with the twitter hashtag #christisahoax, 31 October 2015, Metro Hotel 5:00pm, and twitter handle @atheistsinkenya.Early this Saturday morning I’ll be joining Robert Price, David Fitzgerald, and Harrison Mumia of Atheists in Kenya in a live broadcast event held in the Metro Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. I won’t actually be in Africa (at least not this time!). This will be a Google Hangout and Q&A before a live Kenyan audience. The subject? The existence of Jesus and the truth of the Bible, Old Testament and New. Expect interesting questions from the audience in this highly religious country. And experience a feel for the rise of atheist activism in Kenya, as Mumia is heading what may be the highest profile organization of nonbelievers on the continent.

The event Presentation: Did Christ Ever Exist? will happen this Saturday, October 31 (2015). Though it will be an evening event there, it will start at 7am in the morning here in California. And it will be possible to watch from around the world. For more details follow the link!

(The link for viewing should be posted on that Facebook page shortly before it airs. Many thanks to Mythicist Milwaukee for inspiring and helping put on this event!)

No, Bacon Is Not as Bad for You as Smoking

Photo close-up of bacon sizzling in a pan.Some of you might have heard that bacon was rated as being as carcinogenic as smoking by the World Health Organization.

No. That did not happen.

And this is a good case for learning some modern critical thinking skills.

I’ll spoil the surprise by quoting them directly:

No, processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

In other words, all they said is that we are certain that “processed meats” (i.e. chemically treated meats) do cause cancer (in fact, just one cancer: colorectal cancer). They did not say it was all that bad a cause of it—certainly nowhere near as bad as smoking is of an assortment of other cancers (not only of the lung), which is dozens of times deadlier compared to an average consumption of processed meat—and most people are average consumers.


First Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Always go to the original source and read what it actually says. The media should never be trusted to get a story right. Even less so some rando on twitter.

Second Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Never buy any alarmism about risk until you know how to compare the newly claimed risk to risks you already accept.

What do I mean by that? [Read more…]