What Will Ryan Bell Decide? Join Our Exciting New Online Course in December

Ryan Bell shall soon be ending his Year Without God. And in a special one month online course, he and I will be debating where he should now go from here: Remain an atheist, or a theist? Join the atheist community and help us move the cause forward, or not? (He may have criticisms of the atheism movement worth your being challenged by.) He will be making the best case he thinks possible for belief in God; and I, the contrary. You can join us to watch how the arguments between us go, and even join in the discussion, and attempt to persuade him, yea or nay. Register now. And buy the two recommended course texts as soon as possible, if you want to see where we will be coming from (see below).

We have structured the course to run two arguments in parallel:

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You’ll Want This Book: Christianity Is Not Great

Cover of Christianity Is Not Great.You can now pre-order the final volume of the Loftus trilogy, in print or kindle, which includes two chapters by me, and awesome chapters by many other excellent scholars. The previous two volumes were The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (building on The God Delusion with entries by experts on various of its subjects) and The End of Christianity (building on The End of Faith with entries by experts on various of its subjects). They were excellent collections, featuring the work of over a dozen different experts, brought together and edited by John Loftus. Now the final entry has arrived: Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails (building on God Is Not Great with entries by experts on various of its subjects).

To see a summary of what’s in the earlier volumes, see my past blogs on “The Christian Delusion” (2010) and “The End of Christianity” (2011).

What’s new in Christianity Is Not Great? Oh, it’s great…

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Giving Christians Their Due–Which Even Christians Won’t Do

Last week I blogged about the embarrassment of American Christian nationalism on the recent refugee crisis (and immigration policy altogether), and why atheists ought to be able to do better, and be seen doing better. But I have to give props this week to the fact that not all American Christians are like that. And I don’t mean liberal Christians (e.g. Episcopalians) or Hispanic Christians (e.g. because duh), who of course have more compassionate attitudes on these things (and are just ignored, even by most Christians–being that in the U.S. most Christians are not really all that touched by these crises and think Episcopalians are in the service of the Devil). No, I mean, even the institutional leaders of the conservative wing of Christianity.

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The American Refugee Crisis: It’s Time for the Godless to Speak Up

Tens of thousands of refugee children are massing across the U.S. border. And we’re responding like the biggest assholes on the planet. It’s time to do something about it. At a minimum that means spreading the word, and speaking out. Getting more people to know that this is even happening (because the U.S. media is useless) is the first step toward effecting change. Writing your senators and congressmen (state and federal) is the second step. Tell them human decency and compassion and any sense of justice requires more, and that you approve adequate funding for a humane response to the refugee crisis, and are willing as a taxpayer to forfeit a couple bucks a year for it if need be.

If you want to cut to the chase, and just get started helping spread this message, read Hutchinson’s summary and petition. And sign that. And write all your legislators. But if you need some catching up first…

Here is a quick primer on what’s going on: [Read more…]

Merry Christmas, God Is Still a Delusion

William Lane Craig once again advertised he’s past it last week when he published on the Fox News website A Christmas Gift for Atheists — Five Reasons Why God Exists, demonstrating that he hasn’t upped his game since, well, ever. He is still repeating the same illogical, refuted, lousy arguments. And somehow still thinking atheists are going to fall for it. Other bloggers here have taken it apart in their own way (e.g. PZ and Avicenna). But I’m struck with real sadness that there are still people as smart as Craig who are still convincing themselves with this delusional nonsense. It’s so astonishingly dishonest and irrational. Let me inoculate you.

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The Star of Bethlehem: The Definitive Takedown

Cover of Aaron Adair's book The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, showing a star to the left, the milky way as viewed from earth to the right, part of an astrological horoscope to the bottom right, and the stock bible image of the magi on camels in shadow at the bottom.An astrophysicist has just done a bang-up job debunking the Star of Bethlehem and its affiliated fawning scholarship. All in just 155 pages (in fact, really only 128 if you skip the appendix, glossary, and bibliography). The author is Dr. Aaron Adair. The book is The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (also available on kindle). Like any responsible amateur, he sought the help of historians, classicists, and specialists for composing his sections on the literary and historical arguments, and for translating the original Greek (even though he has some competence in the language himself). His research was exhaustive. His key arguments fairly conclusive. He explicitly sets aside many eye-rolling side-debates like dating the death of Herod the Great, yet even then he mentions them and his reasons for not delving further into them. And his command of the astronomical arguments is, of course, unmatched, being directly in his field of expertise.

I was one of the experts who advised him on the project and I got to read an advance draft and was very impressed with the result. Hence you’ll see my promotional blurb on the book’s cover. I wrote:

Well researched, scientifically reasoned, elegantly concise, this book will long be required reading on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Full of fascinating historical facts, and better informed and more careful than any other book on the subject, this should be on the shelf of everyone interested in that legendary celestial event.

True that. His bibliography alone is of great value. Scientists will find the book especially heartwarming. Historians will as well. It even taught me a few things. In the foreword by astronomer and science writer Bob Berman, for example, I learned something I hadn’t even thought of, an example of Christianity seeping its way even into popular astronomy education. Berman writes…

[The Star of Bethlehem] has been a staple of holiday planetarium shows since the 1930s…[and my] very first column, published in Discover in December 1989, was a two-page spread about the Star of Bethlehem. Basically I summarized the various “explanations” shown to the public during planetariums’ annual “Star of Wonder” shows, then noted that Planetarium Directors–I’d interviewed quite a few–were well aware that each was impossible. Nonetheless, the shows remain popular, and have become such a tradition in and of themselves that no one seems bothered by such make-believe science being annually offered to the public.

Indeed.

Beyond that, however, I find this book of value not just because it will teach you a lot of cool things about history and astronomy with an economy of words, nor only because it has a great bibliography and is the go-to resource now for discussing this subject, but also because in the process of addressing astrological theories of the Star account, Adair deftly demonstrates a point I had long made myself but never had the time to demonstrate: ancient astrology was so wildly inconsistent and diverse that any astrological theory of either Christian origins or biblical accounts is probably beyond any possibility of demonstrating.

And this is relevant to the historicity debate. Not because proving the star account was a wholesale myth (and was inspired by no actual natural or supernatural event), as Adair does, entails or even implies Jesus didn’t exist (a historical man can have such myths spun around him easily enough), but because it shows why every Jesus mythicist who attempts to make an astrotheological argument for the origins of Christianity and (especially) the construction of the Gospels is just engaging in a Rorschach inkblot test. There was no consistent symbolism or system of allusions in ancient astrology, so any attempt to use one (or cobble one together) is just another multiple comparisons fallacy run amok.

That doesn’t mean astrotheological theories are necessarily false. But it does mean none can be proved even probable on present evidence, so the whole attempt should be abandoned.

To understand why, Adair’s book is a must-read. And that’s on top of all the other reasons I’ve summarized. So if any of this is your thing, check it out!

Atwill’s Cranked-up Jesus

Joseph Atwill is one of those crank mythers I often get conflated with. Mythicists like him make the job of serious scholars like me so much harder, because people see, hear, or read them and think their nonsense is what mythicism is. They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

Note that I have divided this article into two parts, the second (titled “Our Long Conversation”) is something you can easily skip (see the intro there for whether reading it will be of any interest to you). So although this post looks extraordinarily long, it’s really that second part that gives it such length. You can just read up to the beginning of that section though. You don’t have to continue beyond that to get the overall point. [Read more…]

Strange Notions: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

The Catholic website Strange Notions asked me to write two brief articles on why questioning the historicity of Jesus is more plausible than commonly assumed. I was asked to respond to two earlier challenges to that thesis on their site, written from the perspective of Catholic apologetics: Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach by Jimmy Akin and Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed by Trent Horn.

My first article, responding to Akin, is Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. My second, responding to Horn, is Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins. Together these have accumulated almost two hundred comments, often long and thoughtful, which sadly I haven’t the time to read through. (If anyone has the gumption to do it and would like to summarize the whole thread and/or report to me which comments might be worth my attention or blogging a reply, feel free to post anything like that in comments here.)

Akin then replied to me in Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier. And then Horn replied in Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier. Here I shall respond to those… [Read more…]

Not the Impossible Faith Now an Audio Book!

Cover of AudioBook Not the Impossible FaithMy 2009 book Not the Impossible Faith is now available as an audio book. As I did for Sense and Goodness without God and Why I Am Not a Christian, I voiced the text for Pitchstone Publishing. You can buy NIF now through Audible.com or Amazon.com and also iTunes.

As usual, this is a somewhat “abridged” version, in the sense that it contains none of the chapter endnotes (and thus the sources are not there, nor any of the note anchors in the text itself). So for the visually impaired I have assembled those as a single PDF which you can run through a text-to-speech reader if needed (although you’ll have to guess where the notes refer to in the main text; the PDF only segregates them by chapter): see NIFaudiobookNotes.pdf.

There is also a PDF edition of the whole book for under three dollars [here] or an eBook edition for under six dollars [here] or kindle edition for about the same [here]. A voice-to-text on any of those will presumably include the note anchors as well as the notes, but alas it won’t be a human-voiced main text.

Hey, Free eBook! Christian vs. Atheist Intellectual Cage Match

Cover of the book God or Godless.Today (and today only!) you can get a free eBook, containing a written (and thus carefully thought-out) debate between an Atheist and a Christian. John Loftus (an atheist with two masters degrees, in theology and philosophy, who studied under none other than William Lane Craig) and Randal Rauser (a Canadian evangelical with a doctorate in philosophy) engage in an organized back-and-forth debate on twenty topics in the book God or Godless: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

You can, of course, buy it in print [here]. But this very day (July 1st) a special is on for the kindle and nook editions [although, it appears, only in the U.S. and select other countries]: if you grab it today, the book is free [see kindle and nook]. If you prefer the more generic eBook format, you can get that for free, too, at a Christian vendor [here]. (Although if you missed today, it’s still available on all three platforms for cheap through the end of the month).

Loftus and I have worked together on projects in this field over the years and he made use of my work and advice for some of the positions he takes. But overall, what you get here is what my blurb for the book says:

This is a fascinating and sometimes humorous intro to twenty common debates between atheists and theists. You’ll find countless rambling and confused versions of such debates online. But here you will find a clear, concise, well-written exchange on each. Keeping it short, the authors can’t include every point to be made, but they make a good show of where each side stands on these questions and why. If you want to continue these debates further, start with this.

Indeed, this book is an excellent starting point for any of the twenty debates included. I’d recommend starting any debate online, for example, by having both sides read the corresponding mini-debate in this book, and then continuing from there. And if you just want some ideas for how to debate these topics in general, or even to help you think about them in building your own philosophy of life, this book is well suited as a primer for the task. Even if you don’t think either side is making the very best possible defense of their position, it’s even a useful task to think through how you’d do it better, since both are representative of some of the best approaches. So even then it’s a good place to start.

The twenty questions debated (alternating between the philosophical and the biblical) are (1) the meaning of life, (2) whether early Biblical Judaism was actually monotheistic, (3) the reason to be moral, (4) whether the Bible promoted child sacrifice, (5) the value of religion in respect to science, (6) whether the Bible justified genocide, (7) whether theism or atheism explains the universe better, (8) whether the Bible promoted slavery, (9) whether human reason and knowledge require God, (10) whether the Bible is sexist, (11) whether love can exist without God, (12) whether the Biblical God cares one whit about animals, (13) whether even atheists “just have faith,” (14) whether the Biblical God was scientifically illiterate, (15) whether the power of music can prove God exists, (16) whether the Biblical God was a lousy prognosticator, (17) whether any miracles are real, (18) whether God is an incompetent creator, (19) the resurrection of Jesus (of course), and (20) whether God is an incompetent redeemer.

All interesting questions to see hashed out this way. Each side makes their case, then gets a short rebuttal, and then a quick closing statement, before moving on to the next. And today, you can get an electronic edition for free (links above).