Nov 27 2013

Episode 122: A Deluge of Stupidity

Noahs_ArkKen Ham is trying to raise 24 million dollars to build a life size replica of Noah’s Ark for the Ark Encounter theme park and zoo. Ham hopes that the park will convince people that Noah really could have fit two of each of the worlds animals on a 450 foot wooden boat. While apologists like the Creation Research Institute’s John Woodmorappe argue it could have been feasible for Noah to build an ark, investors are not as confident in Ham’s Ark project. Which is why the young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis has been actively seeking public funding for the project,in the form of tax subsidies and public works projects for the park. But should tax payer dollars really be used to push a religious fantasy? For this episode we will plunge into the tale of Noah’s Ark and note the absurd consequences of reading this myth literally. Also for this episode we begin a multi-part “God Thinks Like You” mini-series examining the hidden influences behind how religious believers and skeptics make moral choices.

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Episode Links:

Should Quebec ban the scarf?

Ark Encounter trying to use public funds because their fundraising efforts have been a disaster

AU on Ark Encounter

How the animals fit in the Ark. 

Shitlist: Humanist leader resigns

Stranger Than Fiction: Jihadis accidentally behead wrong guy

Nov 05 2013

Episode 121: Divine Deception with guest Erik Wielenberg

Philosopher Erik Wielenberg joins us on the show to discuss his upcoming paper on Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception. The evidential argument from evil concludes that the existence of God is unlikely given the many cases of gratuitous suffering we witness in nature. Some theists have responded that we cannot grasp the mind of God and have no reason to assume these instances of suffering may not work out to some greater good. Wielenberg argues that this skepticism, if adopted, would undermine many other theistic claims to knowledge. At the heart of his argument is the idea of divine deception. The scriptures record numerous instances of God deceiving humans to achieve some greater moral end. But if God can lie to his children in this way, what reason do we have to suppose any doctrine based on divine testimony reliably speaks the truth?

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Oct 19 2013

Episode 120: Church for Atheists? with guest Jerry Dewitt

dewittAfter 25 years of ministry, Pentecostal preacher turned atheist, Jerry Dewitt, finds himself behind the pulpit once again. He’s still singing, teaching and calling upon his congregation to share testimonials…but this is no ordinary “church.” The Community Mission Chapel, where Dewitt now serves, spreads a humanist message to a congregation of atheists. But do atheists really need a church? Dewitt joins us in the studio to tell us about his church, the challenges of ministering to atheists and to share his thoughts on why some skeptics desire a more traditional form of fellowship.  Also on the episode: sorry, but Jesus was not made up by the Roman aristocracy no matter what biblical pseudo-scholar Joseph Atwill tells you.  We’ll tell you why for this episodes Skeptics Sunday School.

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Oct 04 2013

Episode 119: Quivering (part 2) with guest Vyckie Garrison

Ex-quiverful mom and activist, Vyckie Garrison, joins us in the studio to talk about the aftermath of her decision to leave her husband and religious community and to share what she is doing to help women like her to escape abusive patriarchal households. Also on this episode we take a critical look at Bill O’Reilly’s new book Killing Jesus. We also explore the new atheist mega-church “The Sunday Assembly” and debate just how closely secular communities should emulate religious congregations. Finally we examine and critique a research report which creates a taxonomy of non-believers to be used by researchers studying “the nones”.

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Sep 20 2013

Episode 118: Quivering (part 1) with guest Vyckie Garrison

A disturbing trend is catching on among Christian fundamentalists across the nation. Couples are abandoning birth control and encouraging women to view their “wombs as weapons” in America’s culture wars. Dubbed the “quiverful” movement, these families come from different denominational backgrounds but are united in the hope that by out breeding the competition they might stem the tide of secularism. Vyckie Garrison once made her living promoting this extreme patriarchal view of the family. But as the arrows in her quiver multiplied the quiverful lifestyle began to take its toll on her mental and physical health. Today she runs No Longer Quivering, a blog devoted to exposing the hidden struggles of quiverful families and to support those trying to escape. Also on this episode: the crisis in Syria has prophecy buffs combing the scriptures, an advice show for Catholic fathers explains why girls shouldn’t be allowed to attend college, and a mustache to die for infuriates the Taliban.

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Aug 31 2013

Episode 117: Why Are Atheists More Intelligent?

The Doubtcasters return from their ridiculously long, unannounced break to dissect  the research behind the much reported headline that non-religious people are, on average, more intelligent than the religious. While the available data makes it clear that religion is negatively correlated with intelligence, the reasons behind this relationship are less clear. We will review some of the best theories advanced to explain this relationship for this episodes “God Thinks Like You” segment. Also, a new counter-apologetics segment asks “What is the probability that God would want to raise a first century religious leader from the dead?”; and the laughter is contagious in this weeks “Stranger Than Fiction”

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Episode Links:

Zuckerman, Silberman & Hall’s Meta-Analysis on Intelligence and Religiosity

In mother Russia, feelings hurt you!

State Department’s office of “religious engagement”

Atheism is warning sign for suicide according to Marine Corps

Can Atheists be military chaplains

Aug 09 2013

Is the Divine Lies Argument Irrelevant in a Debate on the Existence of the Christian God?

Last week, Reasonable Doubts released a lengthy debate between Max Andrews (Sententias.org) and myself, Justin Schieber. The debate was on the existence of the Christian God and can be found here. It was a fascinating exchange and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. If you haven’t yet had the listening pleasure, I highly recommend it.


In the debate, I presented three arguments:
1. The Problem of Non-God Objects
2. The Problem of Hell
3. The Divine Lies Argument


A few days before we released the debate as an actual episode, Max Andrews posted the complete transcript with a few additional thoughts as to why he doesn’t find my arguments compelling (found here). In the debate and in his additional blog and commentary, Mr. Andrews pressed that my third argument was of complete “irrelevance to the debate” and “off-topic”.


Is this true?
If it is, it’s not at all obvious to me.


Because this post will concern itself with that third argument only, here is the portion from my closing statement wherein I review the argument, Max’s response and my counter to his response in the debate:

“First, recall that Mr. Andrews avoids the noseeum inference in the evidential problem of evil by saying that we are not in a privileged spacio-temporal position and so we shouldn’t expect to have epistemic access to the kinds of justifications God has for allowing certain evils – like children starving to death – to occur. I applauded Mr. Andrews for a strong view that lines up well with revealed scripture and is in great intellectual company.
I then noted that this has unwanted consequences. To be consistent, Mr. Andrews must agree that he is ALSO not in a position to know whether God has morally sufficient reasons beyond his understanding to lie to us in revealed scripture. This would of course prevent Mr. Andrews from being in a position to know that any claim with biblical justification only is ACTUALLY true.
Max responded by saying that it would contradict God’s moral perfection to lie. But when did God grant Mr. Andrews this special knowledge about the logical entailments of God’s moral perfection? Given Andrews‘ skeptical theism, he is left with little more than his moral feelings that lying is always wrong. Yet, presumably Mr. Andrews has much more potent intuitions about whether it is always wrong to allow children to starve to death as his God regularly does. If Mr. Andrews wants to appeal to skeptical theism when faced with questions about God’s potential justification for doing nothing while children are starving to death, then, as a matter of proper consistency,
he must also be epistemically humble when faced with questions about whether or not there exists a greater good beyond his understanding that justifies his God in lying to him about the necessary and sufficient conditions to be saved. All those claims to which Max confidently subscribes to but which only have biblical justification are claims whose truth or falsity Max can have no knowledge of.”


If there is anything obvious about these debates, it is that there are multiple kinds of argument that can be relevant to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. One kind of argument might attempt to show, either deductively or probabilistically, that such a God does not – or probably does not – exist. Another might attempt to argue in the reverse – that the Christian God does exist. Of course these do not exhaust the variety of kinds of arguments that can be relevant to such a debate. Another relevant argument type would be an argument that attempts to highlight a glaring inconsistency between an opponent’s positive case for the existence of God and their beliefs about that God.



I want to argue that the argument from Divine Lies is an example of this third kind of argument.

Indeed, Mr. Andrews is quite right in saying that the Divine Lies Argument has absolutely no bearing on the actual existence of the Christian God but that is not the same thing as saying the argument has no relevance to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. Sure, this is a subtle distinction but it should be obvious to anybody who has thought seriously about these issues.
To be clear, there is nothing logically impossible about the Christian conception of God existing in a world where nobody actually knows it. For example, Mr. Andrews would see no problem with some possible world wherein God exists but has not divinely inspired any texts.


This logical compatibility seems to be what Max is suggesting when he responds to a commenter further down on the post that I linked to above.

I’m afraid you’ve got your conditions backwards and it should be very obvious. Tell me, is the Bible a necessary condition for God’s existence?

The commenter should have answered “Of course not”. He didn’t.

The point Mr. Andrews was correctly drawing attention to was that the inability to ‘know’ the truth value of the assertions contained within Biblical revelation are perfectly compatible with the Christian God existing. There is no contradiction – I agree.
However, the supposedly inspired pages of the Bible do serve as the only epistemic access one has available to rationally justify an assent to exclusively Christian doctrines – which is what is needed in order to argue for the rational truth of – not just Theism – but specifically the Christian version of Theism.


For this reason, I think a more relevant question to ask would be…

“Tell me, is special revelation (The Bible) a necessary epistemic condition for rational/evidential assent to beliefs that are exclusively and essentially Christian?


Of course, if the answer to my question is yes, then an attempt to argue that you cannot have knowledge of the truth values of any assertion with biblical justification only would CLEARLY be relevant to a debate on the existence of the Christian God. This is because without knowing the truth values of such biblical assertions, you could never get past mere Theism.
In our debate Max voluntarily saddled himself with the burden of providing a case for specifically Christian theism – not just Theism. In order to meet this burden, he needed some rational/evidential argument or evidence to bullet past mere Theism and arrive at Mere Christianity.

The divine lies argument is useful and relevant to a debate on the Existence of the Christian God because, if successful, it sets fire to the bridge between uninteresting forms of Theism on the one side and a rational assent to specifically Christian conceptions of God on the other.


Without such a bridge, Mr. Andrews and his cumulative case are left standing on the cliff of Theism. Stretching out before them is a seemingly endless chasm which echoes back his arguments to serve as reminders of just how far away he is from justifying his specifically Christian version of Theism.

Aug 03 2013

Debate: Does the God of Christianity Exist? Max Andrews vs. Justin Schieber

andrews_v_schieberDoes the God of Christianity Exist? 

This debate was not a live debate, rather it was a series of audio exchanges that took place through the months of June and July of 2013 between Max Andrews of (Sententias.org) and Justin Schieber (Doubtcast.org). The exchanges were according to agreed upon time limitations on each section. For each of their several sections, the debaters were given at least a week to analyze, script and record their entries before submitting it to their opponent. Each submission, has been edited together in the agreed upon order for your listening interest. As one speaker ends, the next will follow without interruption.

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Jul 19 2013

RD Extra: A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality Research with Luke Galen

This RD extra features a lecture by Luke Galen “A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality” delivered to CFI Michigan June 26th 2013

It is often suggested that religion leads individuals to be more prosocial, that is, more cooperative, generous, friendly, and happy. A commonly held belief is that “religion makes better neighbors”. However, a closer examination of the research supporting these claims yields important qualifications to this relationship. Dr. Galen will offer some common examples of these types of studies and invite the audience to ask critical questions regarding the types of conclusions that can be drawn from the “religion makes you good” literature.

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And for everyone who asked for references…get a load of this:


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Jul 04 2013

A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.

Listeners of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast will know that I (Justin Schieber) often use an argument I sometimes call ‘The Problem of Non-God Objects’.  This argument has gone through many different versions over the last few years.  Put in its most recent, simplified form, the argument goes like this:



P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.

P2: If Godworld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.

P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.

-Therefore, the Christian God, as so defined, does not exist.

Note: The term ‘GodWorld’ refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.  This argument takes for granted that God’s initial act of creating the universe (or any non-God object) was a free act and not born out of necessity.)



Because the Christian God is to be understood as a maximally great being – he must be absolutely and essentially perfect both morally and ontologically.
What is meant by ontological perfection?

There are things called ‘great-making properties’ – things like power, being loving, having knowledge etc.  And God, if he exists, has these properties to their respective maximally compossible degrees.  The words of Christian philosopher, J.P. Moreland can shed some light on this…
 “To say that God is perfect means that there is no possible world where he has his attributes to a greater degree… God is not the most loving being that happens to exist, he is the most loving being that could possibly exist so that God’s possessing the attribute of being loving is to a degree such that it is impossible for him to have it to a greater degree.”
So the question being pressed by the argument is, If the Christian God were to exist, could he possibly have motivating reasons to intentionally create a universe?
I argue no.


If God exists, he is the best possible being – meaning he has those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree. A world composed entirely of the single best possible being existing alone for eternity would be a world composed entirely of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree – Now, unless there is some source of unique Goodness – Goodness that exists outside of and fully independent of God then GodWorld must be the unique best possible world.  It is the richest and, quite literally, the godliest of all possible worlds and since no other world can compare, it is the unique best possible world – one that God, if he is maximally great, would certainly maintain.  The empirical fact that there are things that exists that are not identical to God show us that the possible world of GodWorld was not maintained and so the Christian God does not exist.


Roughly six months ago, Randal Rauser (RandalRauser.com) wrote a blog post wherein he forwarded several challenges.  Here I want to look at those objections to see if they carry any weight.


Randal’s First Objection:
Randal’s first objection is to perform a kind of Moorean shift. Randal argues that because people believe that God is the creator of the universe (Perhaps by philosophical arguments or revelation etc.), they will be more likely to think that something must be wrong with the argument rather than simply accepting its conclusion.
Essentially, Randal rewrites the argument.  But, because of the deductive nature of the argument, Randal still has work to do.  If the argument is valid, then clearly I must be misunderstanding Randal’s particular nuanced version of God in some important way.  Perhaps P2 or P1 is in error?  The entire point of the argument is that, given this particular way of thinking about God and creation, God can not exist. I hope I can be forgiven for not finding the “But God does exist!” response to be one deserving of more attention.




Randal’s Second Objection
Randal’s second response is a bit more substantive.  He expresses skepticism that ‘GodWorld’ is a greater possible world than a World where God exists along with the Universe (Or a non-God object).  He injects his skepticism with some horsepower by providing an illustration about muscle car museums.


“Imagine two automobile museums devoted to the muscle car. Each museum has a perfect model of every muscle car ever built from the 1964 GTO straight up to the 2013 Shelby Mustang. However, the second muscle car museum also has an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the backlot. Which is the greater muscle car museum?”


Curiously, Randal doesn’t think that either museum has the upper hand.


To see why Randal’s intuitions about the car museum are poorly-formed, we need to think about how one might plausibly place relative values upon the particulars of a category like muscle car museums.  The value of any particular muscle car museum must be evaluated according to how well it fulfills the goals and purposes of the general category of muscle car museums.  Relevant factors might include educational value, number of exhibits, aesthetic appeal, average age of the cars, variety of make/model and condition of cars.  Given the fact that both museums are dedicated to fulfilling these goals, and given the fact that the museum with an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the back lot has more variety of make/model and condition and a greater number of exhibits so, all else being equal, the second museum is clearly better.


If Randal was at a fork in the road with each of these museums an equal distance in opposite directions and both were identical outside of the addition of a rusty 1970 Camaro, are we to think that Randal would be totally in a state of indifference as to which one to actually attend?




Here is where the analogy to God and possible worlds breaks down.  We evaluated the relative merit of each museum according to how well they fulfill the expectations of that category but that is not at all how we evaluate the relative ontological merits of two worlds consisting of God and a world consisting of God alongside non-god objects.




Because, If we take God to be the ONLY instance of essential and absolute moral perfection, moral grounding and the standard of all possible value, then a world where there exists something ontologically distinct from God is a world where there exists something that isn’t morally or ontologically perfect.  A world containing just one non-god object is a world whose overall quality can now be improved as it has been degraded. In GodWorld however, it simply makes no sense to talk about the improvement of absolute ontological perfection.


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