Gospel Disproof #45: A self-fulfilling prophecy

Back when I was an active member in the Church of Christ, I got myself in trouble with the pastor and the elders because I pointed out some discrepancies I’d found between what the church teaches and what it was actually practicing. For example, one of their big teachings is that the church has to have New Testament authorization for everything it does, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to substitute grape juice instead of wine in the weekly communion. They had all kinds of arguments about why this exception—or “necessary inference,” as they called it—was ok, but these inferences were fairly easy to expose as mere rationalizations.

They, unsurprisingly, didn’t want to hear it, and the eldest of the elders took it upon himself to warn me about the error of my ways. “You think too much,” he declared. “You’re on the road to atheism. Everyone I’ve met who thought about the Bible like you do ended up as an atheist.” If he’d come up to be and literally dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head, my emotional reaction (at the time) would not have been much different.

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Analytical thinking and religious belief

I bet we hear more about this one: a study at the University of British Columbia has found that analytical thinking actually decreases religious belief.

The study, which will appear in tomorrow’s issue of Science, finds that thinking analytically increases disbelief among believers and skeptics alike, shedding important new light on the psychology of religious belief…

Researchers used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce “analytic” thinking. The researchers, who assessed participants’ belief levels using a variety of self-reported measures, found that religious belief decreased when participants engaged in analytic tasks, compared to participants who engaged in tasks that did not involve analytic thinking.

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Kiss the Fourth Amendment good-bye

Wow, I thought the vote was supposed to be today, but it looks like CISPA has already been rushed through the House.

The measure, which some are calling the Son of SOPA, allows internet service providers to share information with the government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, about cybersecurity threats it detects on the internet. An ISP is not required to shield any personally identifying data of its customers when it believes it has detected threats, which include attack signatures, malicious code, phishing sites or botnets. In short, the measure seeks to undo privacy laws that generally forbid ISPs from disclosing customer communications with anybody else unless with a court order.

Orwell was off by a few years, but he had the right general idea. Big Brother is going to be watching you. Purely in your own best interests of course.


CISPA facing amendments

The International Business Times is reporting some possible good news on the individual liberties front.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act [CISPA] is the greatest potential threat to Internet freedom and privacy currently before the U.S. Congress, and many critics have been warning in recent weeks that it has the potential to do even more harm to Internet privacy than the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act would have done.

As such, the House is reigning in the bill in order to address some of the privacy concerns that have been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), millions of petition-signers and other opponents around the globe.

We need to keep the pressure on, because there are a number of business and political interests that could make substantial profits if certain legal protections were stripped away from us. Attacks like SOPA and CISPA are going to continue, just like creationism. Our only hope is constant vigilance.

And in the end, who pays?

The school board at Cranston RI racked up a $150,000 legal bill in their foolhardy attempt to defend the blatantly unconstitutional prayer banner in the Cranston High School. And now they’ve decided it’s unfair to expect them to pay the whole thing. Their solution? Split the bill with the taxpayers, 50/50. [UPDATE: A commenter informs me that I’ve got it exactly backwards: the city has already paid, and the school board is volunteering to pick up half of the tab. That’s marginally better, but still, that’s $75,000 that could have been spent on educating students, and it’s going to pay off a very foolishly-incurred debt instead.]

The vote was unanimous in favor of the proposed fee split proposal submitted by School Supt. Peter L. Nero.

The school district will pay $75,000 toward the legal fees owed the ACLU for representing Cranston High School West student Jessica Ahlquist, 16, in a challenge to the constitutionality of a prayer banner which used to hang in the school’s auditorium.

Yeah, I know, it’s taxpayer money either way. But still, why should the general public (including atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians) get stuck paying for Christian evangelism efforts? Give that bill to the local churches and let them split it up. They’re the ones who were driving the original push for Christian supremacy in the public schools. Let them pay their own damn bills.

Pentagon-sponsored identity theft

USA Today is reporting a disturbing and blatantly illegal propaganda campaign apparently being conducted by Pentagon contractors.

A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

A Pentagon spokesman denied being aware of any such activities on the part of its contractors, but the sites mysteriously disappeared after the contractors were asked about them.

An odd response

My latest post at Evangelical Realism seems to have attracted the attention of a self-described “New Evangelist” named David Roemer. It’s an odd response, though. My post was about William Lane Craig’s problems with the doctrine of Hell and Christian exclusivism, and, well, see if you can tell what (if anything) Roemer’s response has to do with the post he’s responding to.

There are three theories about our purpose in life: 1) To serve God in this world in order to be with Him in the next. 2) Life has no meaning. Man is a “useless passion” is the way Jean Paul Sartre put it. 3) To achieve self-realization and serve our fellow man.

There is a considerable amount of evidence for #1, some for #2, but none at all for #3. # 3 is irrational because we can achieve self-realization in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to achieve self-realization. Concerning # 1, we are not guaranteed salvation. It is something to hope for with “fear and trembling

That’s the whole post response, including the two missing punctuation marks at the end. But what does he mean by this odd response?

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This week at Evangelical Realism I give away the plot behind William Lane Craig’s argument for Christian exclusivism, and begin to look at the argument he uses to try and explain why an all-powerful God has no power to save most of His own children from Hell. Craig packs so much fail into such a small space that this one’s going to be a two-parter. Check it out if you’re interested.


The rest of the [back]story

Like I said yesterday, I decided in my mid-teens that I was going to follow God no matter what men said about Him, and that more than anything else led to my eventual rejection of Christianity. When you try to go beyond what men say about God, to the reality behind the words, you discover that the words are all there is to the reality. Superstition and subjective feelings reinforce the words, but when it comes down to the substance of the faith, it’s just words.

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The deacon’s backstory

Someone mentioned not knowing my backstory, so I thought I’d take a minute and share my background, and how I went from being a committed, conservative, Bible-believing Christian to being—well, whatever it is I am now.

I grew up in a nominally Christian home, and generally believed in God by familial osmosis. We weren’t terribly religious, though. When I was in the sixth grade (12-year-olds, for those of you outside the US educational system), my mother decided to start going to church again, and took us to one of the more liberal Methodist churches in the area. I hated to go because I was kind of a geek and got picked on a lot, but I did sing in the children’s choir and go to catechism class. It was there I got my very first Bible.

It was a “Young Readers” Bible, very large, with pictures and helpful footnotes and introductions to each book. The commentary confused me, because it sounded like the people who wrote the notes didn’t really believe in God, and were talking about the Bible like it had more or less evolved through human fumbling and good intentions. I decided, at that point, that I was going to believe in God regardless of what men said about Him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision made my eventual atheism inevitable.

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