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Category Archives: atheism

I was just listening to a caller on an old episode of The Atheist Experience (about 1 hr 3 min in – I love that show). The caller was quite disingenuous, asked Matt and Jeff what their degrees were (they have none), went on to present his own bona fides (computer programmer “degree”), and then asked what their proof was for the origins of the universe. Matt headed the caller off at the pass quite nicely. He said (quite rightly) that that did not matter, since even if we had no explanation this lends no credence to any other hypothesis. Competing ideas are simply not necessarily equal in terms of their truth value, and just because someone considers one false does not make their own idea true, unless we are speaking of a true dichotomy (which this most definitely is not). A further problem is the caller desired “proof”. The only place the word “proof” is applicable is in mathematics and logic. In the natural sciences, conclusions are drawn based on evidence – we do not deal in “proof”.

The caller also committed another fallacy, claiming that if we do not observe something directly then it is not scientific. We did not observe the universe come into existence, therefor we can not say that Big Bang model is correct. That is patently absurd. All experiments – even those in a laboratory – are indirect measurements. When we mix chemicals in order to observe how they react, we are not directly looking at the individual molecules. We might see a color or temperature change in the mixture, but does the fact that these are indirect observations of what is going on invalidate the idea that a reaction has taken place? Even if we identify the product, it is still historical even if it happened only a few minutes ago. Historical evidence is simply another type of indirect observation. Jeff made a good point that since we have only known of Pluto’s existence for about six decades – far less than it takes Pluto to make a complete orbit – the caller must conclude that we can not know that Pluto orbits the sun!

Think of it this way. You come home to find the family cat looking guilty in front of an overturned plate of unsecured leftovers. There are many possible explanations for this scene, but are they all equally likely? Perhaps it was death rays from Mars – in a plot by Martians to assassinate my cat who is secretly the only thing standing between us and a planetary invasion – missed, the rays striking the plate on the counter sending it careening onto the floor. Does anyone really think that this explanation is on a par with the possibility that the cat (in its gastronomic zeal) pushed the plate off the counter and followed it onto the floor to finish off the leftovers? I don’t think so. Yet each explains the scene fully.

The truth is, each and every one of us uses historical evidence daily, yet this caller chose to claim that in this specific instance – coincidentally one in which he found it convenient to do so – one could not validly arrive at a scientific conclusion in this manner. This is obviously nonsense. Certainly, the caller is correct in one aspect – that we did not directly observe the Big Bang event. But this event gave rise to observable consequences. From astronomical observations (such as Hubble’s observation of a red shift proportional to the distance a galaxy is from ours) and particle physics cosmologists have built a model to explain what they see. Even more importantly, this model makes testable predictions – observations that weren’t been made at the time the model was proposed but what would be expected to be observed if we look, such as the cosmic background radiation and relative abundance of primordial elements such as hydrogen, helium and lithium.

Evolution as Darwin presented it similarly relied on historical evidence (it no longer does – evolution is being observed in action, such as the Pod Mrcaru lizard introduced onto the Croatian island in 1971 for this specific purpose). Predictions came fast and furious. It was hypothesized that horses evolved from mammals with more than one toe. This hypothesis was rapidly followed by its confirmation, particularly from North American fossil finds. There have been thousands of such finds. The whale evolved from a land mammal and its fossil lineage is incredibly well defined, right down to our ability to see how the position of the nasal passage moved from the front to the top of the head. Lineages derived from comparative morphology match those derived measuring genetic differences as predicted by the modern synthesis. These evidences all confirm predictions made by evolutionary theory and thus strengthen it greatly.

In short, conclusions based on historical evidence are perfectly valid and scientific. The only difference between doing an experiment in a lab and drawing conclusions from historical evidence is that there are tighter controls and a greater ease in adjusting variables in former. That’s it. The Earth, the universe- these are laboratories and nature itself has done the experiments. In both situations we are observing the results and explaining them. Rejection of this always seems to be associated with an incompatibility between closely-held ideas and reality. For those who deny evolution and Big Bang cosmology, grow up. If you think that when science conflicts with a held belief, so much worse for science, then you have abandoned reason and the only thing left which might get through to you is mockery.

Matt had as good a response. He hung up on his ass.

ABSTRACT. Like Ravi Zacharias, James S. Spiegel wrote a book. Good for him, too. Like Zacharias’s book, Spiegel’s (The Making of an Atheist , subtitled “How immorality leads to unbelief”) it is filled with the same flawed cosmological and moral arguments that all of us atheists have seen. But he makes the claim (and it’s an old one, too) that atheists are led to their unbelief through bad relationships with their fathers. In essence, we atheists all have “daddy issuess”. This causes us, so he claims, to reject father figures. But there are massive flaws in this argument. His sole evidence is a list subjectively characterizing the relationship of selected atheist thinkers with their fathers. Spiegel makes not even a pretense of providing us with a control group (e.g., believers and their relationships with their fathers). It is an ad hoc argument all the way. Additionally, it is one thing to reject a god that we believe exists because we had bad fathers. It is quite another to reject the claim of a god’s existence on the same basis. I don’t think Nietzshe rejected the existence of his father just because they didn’t get along. Supposedly, Spiegel is a philosopher. (It should come as no surprise that Taylor U is a evangelical Christian institution…) Maybe he is, but not in this book. For those looking for a philosophical and not a Christian apologetic book on why there are atheists, look elsewhere. Spiegel has definitely taken off his philosopher’s hat for this one, if indeed he even owns one. What Spiegel is really trying to do, it seems to this atheist, is to avoid addressing the shortcomings of his Christian theology by slandering us atheists as being psychologically damaged. It is pure ad hominem and in this way can convince himself that he has no need to respond to those of us who see no justification to his god claim. He claims that atheists are sufferring from “paradigm-induced blindness”, yet fails to see that this argument cuts both ways. Claiming atheists are damaged goods and glossing it over with a bunch of psychobabble is nothing short of Christian bigotry.

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ABSTRACT. A continuation of my last post dealing with not the second half of Ravi Zacharias’s The End of Reason, but the second half of what my stomach could stand. Here, the Argument from Morality, the stereotypical “evil atheist” argument, among other bric-a-brac and detritus, are discussed.

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ABSTRACT. Ravi Zacharias wrote a book. Good for him. It’s called The End of Reason, and it is aptly named. For those looking for logic and reason in believing in a God, I suggest looking elsewhere. No one but those seeking to entrench their bias will find anything other than tired, old and debunked arguments filled with logic fallacies that no grade schooler would be fooled by. Arguments from consequences and false dichotomies abound. It is supposedly an answer to the New Atheist books. In particular, to Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. If so, it is an answer to a question no atheist asked…

In this first of two parts, I go over some of the bad reasoning up to and including his discussion of cosmological arguments.
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I was listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, as I am wont to do while driving in to work, when a story that boiled my blood came on. Indeed, any time secular government considers funding sectarian activity I go into a blood rage. You believers out there can do what you want within limits, but not on my dime! The podcast of the full discussion from diverse points of view (one of the reasons I love listening to The Current) can be listened to below (23 min running time).

A walk-in proposal to Winnipeg city council by Crusade for Christ for an inner city youth facility at Main and Higgins will be voted on today. The proposal was a rush job, today being city council’s first look at the proposal. To be fair, such rush-to-vote issues occasionally happen. The MTS building proposal was apparently one such. However, I fail to see that the ethics of erecting a building that houses the headquarters of a telecommunications company compares to the questions surrounding the public funding of a facility run by an organization whose stated objective is converting people to their form of superstition.

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[From CTV news]

Ten American missionaries were been charged with human trafficking after trying to spirit (pun intended) 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic Friday night, claiming at the border that the children were orphans (that a number of these children claimed to not be orphans notwithstanding).

“God is the one who called us to come here and we just really believed that this was his purpose,” said Carla Thompson, another member of the group, which called itself the New Life Children’s Refuge.

The Reverend Clint Henry of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Idaho to which the group belongs also protested their innocence, saying their intention was “upright and pure”.

I couldn’t care less what their motives were for doing something clearly wrong. Belief in a deity does not give ANYONE carte blanche to flout international law. There is no indication that this group made any attempt whatsover to reunite any of these children with family, the first thing they should have done. Nor is religion any excuse for not contacting authorities to state their intentions.

The president and CEO of Plan Canada says concerns are growing over illegal child trafficking, and no matter how well intentioned people are, it is important to safeguard children during such an emergency by watching the borders and remaining vigilant about unaccompanied children.

Plan Canada President and CEO Rosemary McCarney says she’s not sure if the accused were attempting to engage in child trafficking. But even if they weren’t, just by taking the children away, they could do them more harm than good.

“Whether this is trafficking or not, it puts children at risk,” McCarney told Canada AM from Toronto. “Because even well-intentioned people who remove children from their communities and their country, by crossing borders, it makes it almost impossible for us to track them and find their parents and extended families and caring adults who could take care of these children.”

McCarney said her group aims to help families stay united, not send children away.

“Our job is to support the Haitian communities so that they can look after their children,” she said.

The New Life Children’s Refuge charity says it is “dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God’s love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ”. In other words, it is at least as much about forcing their beliefs on a captive audience as it is to feed, house and clothe them. I would say more so.

After the earthquake, their mission statement took a more sinister turn: “…rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, and bring them to New Life Children’s Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.” Nowhere in their manifesto is there anything about working with authorities or reunification of the children they find with families. This is about indoctrination of captives, not providing aid.

Some have called these people ‘misguided’. They’re wrong. They knew exactly what they were doing. They unilateraly and without consulting experts decided they (because their god ‘speaks’ to them) know better than anyone else. Had they been successful, it would have been next to impossible to track these children in order to reunite them with family. And the reason they didn’t contact authorities is because they knew their actions would have been stopped. And for damn good reason. They were taking advantage of the chaos produced by the earthquake for their own (not their purported) purposes. Nothing less. Honestly, I see nothing to differentiate what these people say from what was being said in Jonestown before the Kool-Aid. Religion does NOT override well-reasoned international laws or principles.

When asked about the charges against them, several in the group simply responded to ABC News, “Philippians 1.” The Bible’s first chapter of Philippians chronicles the apostle Paul’s time in prison for preaching the gospel.

Cry me a river. This trying to drum up sympathy by claiming they are being oppressed due to their religion is crap. And if their religion does involve the kidnapping of children, violating international laws on the trafficking of children and making it nearly impossible for these children to keep in touch with family, I say oppress them in the same manner we oppress the belief that pedophilia is acceptable because one is a priest.

The ten Baptist missionaries will likely be tried in the US, as the quake has essentially destroyed the infrastructure necessary for a trial. I hope jurers aren’t snowed by the irrelevant religious aspects of this. If UNICEF did anything similar (not that they would) I would not be any less harsh on them. But this tragedy is attracting wacko groups who, because they are “well-meaning”, are completely blind to the harm they cause. Intentions are nothing without reason. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Religion is no guarantor of good behavior, and is often used as an excuse for bad behavior.

The Making of an Atheist – How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, James S. Spiegel

The title says it all, doesn’t it? How often have we atheists seen the strawman that we are nonbelievers because we do not want to be held accountable to a higher power for our actions? Sorry, but I hold myself accountable to myself, and I am one harsh critic.

It gets worse than the title, though. From the author’s website:

Sigmund Freud famously dismissed belief in God as a psychological projection caused by wishful thinking. Today many of the “new atheists”—including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens—make a similar claim, insisting that believers are delusional. Faith is a kind of cognitive disease, according to them. And they are doing all they can to rid the world of all religious belief and practice.

Christian apologists, from Dinesh D’Souza to Ravi Zacharias, have been quick to respond to the new atheists, revealing holes in their arguments and showing why theistic belief, and the Christian worldview in particular, is reasonable. In fact, the evidence for God is overwhelming, confirming the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 1 that the reality of God is “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, NIV).

So if the evidence for God is so plain to see, then why are there atheists? That is the question that prompted The Making of an Atheist. The answer I propose turns the tables on the new atheists, as I show that unbelief is a psychological projection, a cognitive disorder arising from willful resistance to the evidence for God. In short, it is atheists who are the delusional ones.

Unlike Dawkins and his ilk, I give an account as to how the delusion occurs, showing that atheistic rejection of God is precipitated by immoral indulgences, usually combined with some deep psychological disturbances, such as a broken relationship with one’s father. I also show how atheists suffer from what I call “paradigm-induced blindness,” as their worldview inhibits their ability to recognize the reality of God manifest in creation. These and other factors I discuss are among the various dimensions of sin’s corrupting influence on the mind.

I’ve been told that The Making of an Atheist is a provocative book, but I didn’t write it to provoke anyone. I simply wanted to tell the truth about this issue. Anyway, since the new atheists are bold enough to trumpet their claim that theists are delusional, it seems appropriate that someone should be willing to propose that the opposite is true. As they say, turnabout is fair play. [Emphasis mine.]

While it is true about what Freud said about belief, Harris, Dawkins, et al do not make the claim that belief in god is a psychological disorder. When they use the word ‘delusion’ it is taken to mean ‘erroneous belief’ and not ‘mental illness’ as Spiegel thinks. And Freud’s views in general (including this one) have largely been discredited. His importance is in kick-starting psychoanalysis, but his views have been supplanted by evidence-based ones.

According to the author (a professor of philsophy at a little-known university in Indiana with no expertise in psychiatry and doesn’t even rate an entry in Wikipedia…), we are nonbelievers because we have “daddy issues”. The evidence for god is plain to see, according to Spiegel. One can only hope he actually presents said evidence in the book (I certainly am not aware of any evidence which I would consider slam-dunk for the existence of god(s), or even equivocal evidence, for that matter…), but I have my doubts it will be more than the bare assertion given above.

And this “turnabout is fair play” thing – what is this, a playground? What an infantile comment to make. It’s like PeeWee Herman, an adult, saying “I know you are, but what am I?” The difference is PeeWee is supposed to sound infantile and absurd. That’s the joke.

Am I prejudging the book? Indeed. From what I read, Spiegel is one of those “But they know, really know, in their hearts that god is real” kind of people. However, I can not possibly see how this is knowledge, but belief. And belief, even if it is believed so much that it seems like knowledge, isn’t knowledge. We can only attach confidence to what we call knowledge as being knowledge when it is independently verified. Till then, you can call it anything you want, but it ain’t knowledge.

I can also tell you what I expect Spiegel to give us in order for me to agree with him. Spiegel is not an expert in psychiatry (far from it), and expertise does count for something so long as one does not go so far as to fall into the Argument from Authority fallacy. But it is correct to take what a lay person has to say on a subject for which they have no expertise with a big grain of salt (okay, a big bag of salt) as compared to someone who has spent their whole lives studying the subject. I expect to see controlled studies (and more than one) not only showing an association between psychological trauma and atheism over believers, but a causal effect. Without any of this, my predisposition will be totally justified and the book will be nothing more than Spiegel’s baseless opinion, an opinion specifically designed to shore up his own biases.

One argument that theists like to pull is that Dawkins isn’t knowledgeable enough on ‘sophisticated’ theology (as if there were such a thing) to be able to pronounce judgements on them. But that is just so much bullshit. Dawkins does what theologists should be doing – testing their own hypotheses! Besides, Dawkins says it right in the book they love to attach this criticism to – he is going after the typical sky-daddy view of god that the vast majority of people have. It would be a verbose book indeed if he went after every version of god, including the so-called ‘sophisticated’ ones. (For Terry Eagleton, it’s apparently so sophisticated that he doesn’t seem able to answer what to me would be a simple yes-or-no question: does he pray? Eagleton seems to have outwitted himself with his own ‘sophistication’…), and I’m sure he firmly believed he sounded so erudite and witty when he was nothing of the sort. Dawkins (and others, like Physicist Victor Stenger) are far more qualified to perform hypothesis testing than these perveyors of sophistry.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Soviets declared rejection of communism a psychological disorder and institutionalized people on this basis. I see little difference. Neither has evidence going for it that I can tell.

I do plan on getting a copy just for the entertainment value, but I have little in the way of expectations.

Berfore I really got down and dirty with the history of the New Testament books, I knew that the situation was bad for believing in its veracity. But I was never prepared for just how bad the situation really is, all the while people taking the New Testament as – well, gospel. This is a transcript of part of episode 8.18 of the Non-Prophets podcast (aired in December) in which Matt Dillahunty responds to a letter from a listener who has a friend claiming that the evidence for miracle claims in the bible is irrefutable. I have to say I always enjoy listening to Matt on subjects biblical.

The facts are these – there are no contemporary extrabiblical accounts of any events specific to the life of Jesus. That means no independent sources from any eyewitnesses with regard to his birth, life, miracles, ministry, death or proposed resurrection. The gospels are anonymous; we have no original manuscripts; they do not agree on details; they do not agree with recorded history; and the consensus of New Testament scholarship is that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. The bible has stories about eyewitnesses, but we don’t have a single comment from anyone claiming to be an eyewitness.

The process of canonization included books that doctrinally agreed with those in power, and eliminated and attempted to destroy books that were considered heretical by those in power. Yet those same books were considered inspired by other sects. Books like Revelations barely made it into the bible as many considered them uninspired. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocolypse of Peter which have traditionally been considered divinely inspired were excluded. Paul’s epistles, some of which are of questionable authorship, were the first books of the New Testament to be written, and that was decades after the purported life of Jesus. The gospels were written many years later – perhaps even decades later – by unknown authors. Historians from the late first and second century do mention Christians and some refer to Jesus, but none of these were eyewitnesses, and most of them couldn’t even have spoken to someone who claimed to be an eyewitness.

So we have the bible, a collection of stories by largely unknown authors who were unlikely to be eyewitnesses and we don’t have originals of their work. We have copies of copies of copies of translations of copies of copies of anonymous books reporting an oral tradition passed down for decades or centuries after the purported events in a time when myths, superstitions and god-men claims were plentiful; during a time when fact-checking and literacy were rare; and when doctrinal wars prompted forged documents (Paul even mentions this in the bible) in order to prop up competing theologies as orthodox or heretical. And for my money, that means none of it is believable.

Contrast this with, for example, claims of alien abductions. You can – if you like – actually speak to people who claim to have actually been abducted by aliens. If you look around, you’ll find groups of people who tell consistent stories, and might even claim to have been abducted together. There are countless reports of UFO sightings, often by groups of people or, in rare cases, dozens or even hundreds of people in a particular town or area. These reports have been ongoing for decades, reported by countless news sources in addition to specialized periodicals. Many of these people sincerely believe their story. Do you? Does you’re friend?

I don’t, because there isn’t sufficient evidence. Yet the quantity and quality of evidence for these claims is vastly superior to any miracle claims reported in the bible. We have more evidence, and we’re not 2000 years removed from events, and we still don’t believe, and find the most fervent believers to be a little crazy. Yet somehow, millions of largely ignorant, well-meaning, nice people sincerely believe third-hand reports of miracles from thousands of years ago. And they don’t just believe – they strongly believe. They not only consider it not only absurd to disbelieve, but also their sacred duty to convince others – at a minimum – and legislate their beliefs on others – or worse. And yet we do not somehow don’t consider these people a little crazy.

Here endeth the lesson. Amen.

The man who called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who concurred with scumbag Jerry Falwell that 9/11 was his monstrous god’s retribution for the actions of the ACLU, feminists, pagans, gays and lesbians, abortionists and secularists, who gave credit to Ariel Sharon’s stroke to his monstrous despot of a god, who consorted with former presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (both internationally denounced for human rights violations), who lied about sending relief aid to Liberia (for which he was given mining rights by Taylor) but instead was smuggling diamond mining equipment in Operation Blessings aircraft, is at it again.

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In an ongoing series of blogs designed to slice through the credulous nonsense of new age mythology and antiquated religious concepts, I present here some of the surprisingly large number of papers dealing with what neuroscience has to say about so-called “out-of-body experience” (OBE). Along with heautoscopy (the hallucination of seeing one’s own body at a distance, which can occur with schizophrenia) and the strong feeling of a presence, OBEs comprise what is known as autoscopia.

I first started this series with a look at duality and why it is utter nonsense. Commenter leo1500 didn’t like my use of Phineas Gage as an example of brain damage refuting mind-brain dualism. Too bad. Phineas Gage is representative of thousands of people with frontal lobe damage induced permanent (it’s not as if temporary helps the dualist maintain the delusion…) personality change that have been studied.

Nor is this the only type of brain damage example I could have used. Hippocampal damage can permanently end a person’s ability to form new memories. Brain damage can also cause prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. Such people do not have any vision problems at all – they are as able to navigate in a complex environment as anyone. How does dualism explain these observations? In short, it doesn’t. But the computational theory of mind does -the circutry involved in processing new memories and facial information is disrupted.

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