Sunday, September 16, 2012

America vs. Islam

If you're not aware, there have been a lot of protests lately in the Muslim world. They have been protesting against an amateur video on the internet (that was made by an American) which is extremely offensive and extremely shitty (link). Some of the protests turned into riots, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked leaving fourteen dead (link).

Obviously I'm opposed to the violence, that is a given. I'm also opposed to the making of the film, it is incredibly racist and discriminatory and I'm not surprised that many Muslims were gravely offended by it. What makes me really sad however are the flow on effects of this conflict. Instead of accomplishing their goal of stopping people making films like the one in question, the escalation of violence is only going to make it worse. Anti-Islamic sentiment around the Western world is only being stoked by this, and the film that started it (this was probably the intention) only serves to fuel the same, and inflames anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim and particularly Arabic world.

The damage has been done, I just hope like fuck that this doesn't start another war in the Middle East, because that's the bloody last thing they need right now. The U.S. Presidential Election just became that much more important, and I hope that whoever wins it (Rombama or Obomney) isn't a closeted warmonger.

Friday, August 10, 2012

For Marriage Equality Part 2

Since the last post I made on marriage equality was focussed on an argument someone made that tried to rely on evidence (it failed though), I thought I would address some more subjective elements. I may not mirror this post on my politics blog because a lot of the content of this one will be religious in nature.

Recently I had a conversation with someone about various churches positions on homosexuality. Their church they said was welcoming of LGBTQIA people and that it is sad that Christianity has a bad reputation in this respect. What I tried to communicate to them was that the reason Christianity has a bad rep is because even most of the churches that are 'welcoming' of LGBTQIA people, most of these churches are not accepting and their church fell under this category. What I mean by welcoming and accepting is quite simple. A church that welcomes LGBTQIA people will not shun them or be nasty to them, but what they won't do is accept them as they are. Instead, there is an underlying belief that being LGBTQ (not sure about church positions on intersex and asexual people..) is immoral and sinful, and in order to not be continually living in sin, you either have to turn straight or remain celibate forever.

Arguably, this position is worse than simply being hateful, though those who hold to it are generally well intentioned. It reminds me of all those "I'm not racist, but...", "I'm not sexist, but..." kind of things. This one would be "I'm not homophobic, but LGBTQ people were born the wrong way and should change who they are to suit my beliefs." I don't know about everyone, but I certainly wouldn't choose to be friends with people who thought that part of who I am (not something that I do, or believe in) is immoral.

So how does this relate to marriage equality? Because many of these kinds of Christians who welcome but don't accept LGBTQIA people are opposed to marriage equality, because they feel like supporting it would mean they tacitly endorse homosexuality, which they believe is inherently sinful. I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way. We do not live in a conservative theocracy where people's personal lives are subjected to the moral code of a particular subset of a religion. You may also believe that pre-marital sex is sinful, and depending on how conservative you are, you may also think piercings and tattoos are sinful too. I don't see you out there trying to petition the government to make them illegal, so why in this particular instance do you think that allowing consenting adults of the same gender to marry all of a sudden becomes your business?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Three Years On

As of this month, it has been 3 years since I first 'came out' as an atheist. That was a big step for me then and my views and attitudes towards things have changed even more since then than they did in the 3 years leading up to my deconversion. A friend of mine recently used the term 'action-potential' (a neuroscience term) to describe the way I explained my shifts in views. I think this is quite accurate, as my views were quite extreme as a teenager, and swung back well past the 'zero' point before leveling off to a stable state. For quite some time after deconversion I was quite militant, always up for a debate and very confrontational (at least on the internet) about my opinions. I still have a few hot-button topics but in general I've become much less combative over religion.

These days I tend to shy away from identifying myself as an atheist, though the term definitely still applies to me, since I personally do not think any gods exist. I changed my religious beliefs on facebook from 'Atheist', to 'Metaphysical Naturalism' and recently to a simple 'none'. This is for several reasons. First and foremost because I no longer see atheism as a defining characteristic of what constitutes 'me'. I much prefer to identify with terms that actually reflect the things I do believe in rather than those that I don't. Some terms that I currently identify myself with are things like Feminist, Liberal and Socialist.

Perhaps one of the biggest contributors behind no longer identifying myself as an atheist has been the company that I keep. When I first deconverted a large portion of the people that I frequently interacted with were Christians. Over time however that number has dwindled, and Christians now make up less than 10% of the people I converse with. Among my closest friends I think you'd be hard pressed to require two hands to count those who identify as Christian, and I suspect the number is actually zero. Bearing that in mind, it seems rather trite to use 'atheist' as a label that I actively place on myself.

I'm not going to bother trying to explain how my views on religion, life and politics have changed over the course of these three years. I will however say that it has been an adventurous three years of self discovery and personal evolution. The journey through the intellectual, emotional and spiritual (whichever way you interpret that) maze of my life is far from over, I just hope that at each point like this when I look back at where I've been I can say that I've become a better person as a result.

Monday, August 6, 2012

For Marriage Equality

I was recently linked to this blog post titled 'Against Gay Marriage'. The author is a gay man who opposes legalising same-sex marriage. What are his reasons for holding such a position? Because same-sex relationships don’t ‘tend towards’ raising children. He admits in the post that not all heterosexual couples raise children, but he doesn’t flesh out the implications of this, for obvious reasons, as it would leave his argument sorely wanting.

What implications can I see that naturally lead from suggesting the function of a marriage is to raise children? Marriages should then not be allowed to people who are past the age of conception, to people with chromosomal abnormalities, to people with reproductive disorders and the list goes on. I recognise that this is somewhat of a slippery slope but I do not see how this can be avoided when such a limited definition of what defines marriage is offered.

On top of this, what of same-sex couples who do wish to raise children? Should they be forced to call their partnership by a different name simply because they cannot conceive by ‘natural’ means? If you extend that logic like the prior situation whereby marriage is denied to infertile people, should those who cannot conceive naturally or who adopt children then be forced to annul their marriage and get a civil partnership/union instead?

The author of this post also suggests that research indicates that children do better with straight parents. Rubbish, I say. There is plenty of modern research that suggests the opposite (, that there is either no noticeable difference or in some studies, the children of same-sex parents performed better than their straight-parented counterparts. Even if all the research strongly indicated that children of same-sex parents outperformed those of straight parents solidly on every metric, would I offer an argument to ban straight people from raising children and getting married? Of course not! Rather, I would argue for more integrated and comprehensive parental support systems through local/national governmental programmes, to try to normalise outcomes so that all children regardless of their parentage receive a fair shot. That seems to be the obvious solution to me, but apparently others seem content on relying on flawed or outdated research and holding to a system that is inherently unequal in terms of the distribution of rights.

Obviously the author of the article is not some kind of gay-hating bigot, but he has bought into the bigoted belief that straight people make better parents, which is unfortunate.

More links:

Friday, April 13, 2012

We Are Not So Smart

We Homo sapiens often like to champion ourselves as the most intelligent species. In fact by all known metrics of intelligence, we are. However as whole, our species doesn't act intelligent. Take Creationism for example. It is a sad indictment of the intelligence of our species when educated people who in other aspects of life are 'smart', yet still manage to accept something so vapid, so devoid of truth of which all evidence points to the contrary as true. This phenomena itself is clearly evidence of evolution. No intelligent creator would craft a brain that so easily deludes itself into believing things as stupid as creationism.

This doesn't mean I think all creationists are stupid though, they simply have a faulty brain. We all do. I once was a creationist because I was led to believe it as a child by adults who didn't know any better. When I learned more about it I rejected it, but for a number of years, I looked at the evidence and rejected it, opting instead for a position of faith. Some people may never end up giving up cretinous beliefs and it is sad to realise this. Humanity is not as smart as we delude ourselves to believe. Sometimes, some people are smart at some things, but in general, we are not so smart.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Straight Up Socialist

I've started another blog called 'Straight Up Socialist' as an avenue for my political musings, as I find this blog is a somewhat inappropriate venue for the inevitable onslaught of my radical left-wing views across the internet. I'll probably post as infrequently as I currently do on here, but the content will be coherent between the two as I'll be dividing my interests allowing URL lines. Expect to see content relating to political activism, environmentalism, socialism, protests, union movements and so forth there, and any content relating to irreligion and religion here.

So if you're interested in following me over on my new blog as well I'd appreciate the support, and I will try to keep the content here relevant to blog title as much as I can.

Efficiency and Rubbish

I was driving through the suburb I live in last week on rubbish collection day. One thing that for some reason caught my attention more so than usual was the number of different branded rubbish bins on the side of the road. I counted at least 6; not including the council’s recycling bins and the various green-waste company bins; this was just the household-waste wheelie-bins. This means that every week, just in my small suburb, at least 6 rubbish-bin trucks (probably closer to 10), 1 rubbish-bag truck, 3+ garden-waste trucks and every second week the recycling trucks come through.

Here’s why I think this is a problem and it can be summed up in one word: redundancy. If all the rubbish collection was socialised, those 6-10 private rubbish trucks that come through my small suburb could probably be reduced to just one truck. If rubbish collection was all conducted by the local council (and not just the rubbish bags and recycling) the cost would be lower and the environmental impact would be reduced by not having redundant rubbish trucks trekking all over the city increasing congestion and emitting more pollutants and greenhouse gases.

However now that a large portion of rubbish collection has been privatised for profit it is hard to go back to the more logical socialised system, as you would have to either force the companies to sell to the council (which would cost ratepayers), or simply cut the private companies out of the picture, which could be disputed on legal grounds. Whatever the solution is to cut out this unnecessary waste something needs to be done. We have an oil crisis looming in the foreseeable future, and then there’s runaway climate change, which is exasperated by our excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The redundancy in Auckland’s rubbish collection may be a negligible contributor to the global problem but it is indicative of a larger problem in society. We need to find ways to cut back emissions and pollution wherever we can.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Opiate of the Masses

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
—Karl Marx

I relate to this sentiment more and more as my interests broaden and I’ll explain why. I see religion as a distraction. There are so many more important things that are happening in this world. Our climate is changing, our environment is under threat, and there are civil wars, oppressive governments, corrupt politicians, unscrupulous capitalists, greedy corporations, human rights violations, poverty, famine, preventable diseases and many more things which require immediate attention. However, millions of people spend unfathomable amounts of time practicing and spreading religion. Without portraying myself as an elitist who claims to have found “the truth”, I think the debate on religion is over, and has been for a long time. When leading apologists like William Lane Craig when push comes to shove, rely on faith and a subjective sense of the ‘witness of the holy spirit’ and admit that their reasons alone will not convince anything, the debate is over.

I was having a discussion this week, and the prospect of what could happen if we fail to do anything about where humanity is headed, we are doomed. If we don’t put an end to the profit and consumption-driven capitalism that western culture is based on within a decade, our future may be very bleak indeed. I don’t think most common people really take seriously the consequences of runaway climate change. Sure, people have watched Al Gore’s documentary, or perhaps have watched ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, but the message still hasn’t hit home with everyday people. Overconsumption of food and fossil fuels continues unabated, farm land in New Zealand is largely used for extremely inefficient Dairy and Meat industries, which are the biggest polluters in this country, and produce the bulk of our carbon emissions.

Imagine if all that time and effort being put into religion, was diverted into something that would really make a difference? Those millions of people could pressure governments to stop feeding the corporate gravy train, and enact measures to protect our future, and our planet. We could stop the habitat destruction and mass wildlife extinctions that are taking place. Instead we have largely apathetic populations that are caught up in trivialities like religion and celebrity pop-culture. As long as people are distracted by these kinds of things, they fall prey to consumerism and maintaining the status quo that will lead to our collective demise.

However, these are not the only things that keep the population in the dark. People get distracted by television, video games, facebook and the list goes on. That’s not to say any of these things are bad, but simply that they play too large a role in a society that is on the verge of collapse. People need to be aware and to get active. Sorry for the length and rantiness.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Christians, Conservatives and Israel

Recently I had a scuffle on facebook with a conservative and it got me thinking again about something that I wanted to write about last year. Why do Christians and conservatives in particular support Israel? I want to explore a few avenues in this post.

The first avenue I want to explore is skepticism. In my recent debacle, the conservative in question said something along the lines of “Why would you possibly think that Israel is not a legitimate state?” when I had expressed such an opinion. He seemed totally unaware of the dialogue in this subject, and cited the fact that Israel is a member of the UN and nearly every country in the world recognises them as legitimate as his reasons for supporting Israel. That blew my mind. He’s an intelligent person too, but apparently practices no skepticism on popularly held views that he also holds. Is this view typical of conservatives? Are they completely unaware that there is serious debate over this issue and unwilling to question the status quo?

Related to the previous, conservatives tend to laud Israel for being the only truly democratic state in the region, as if that automatically deems them worthy of support. They fail to realise that many of the corrupt and fascist states in the area have been propped up and supported financially and militarily by the United States. It’s difficult to have a stable democratic government when foreign superpowers are actively destroying all hope of liberty. Furthermore, Israel only acts with liberty and democratically within its own borders. Their actions toward other countries are anything but. The constant oppression of the Palestinian people, along with massive human rights violation shows that Israel is not just as bad as some of the worst dictators in the region, but is possibly worse, as they get away with it.

Finally (I had to get to it eventually), the religious reasons. These puzzle me the most, as Christians throughout history have been some of the most zealous anti-Semites around. Yet for some reason, in the last 70 years that has all changed. These reasons range from the insane apocalyptic end-of-days beliefs to simple tacit support for their god’s “chosen people”. Perhaps I’m missing an important piece of the puzzle here, but this seems to me like a good example of religious beliefs trampling common decency and human rights underfoot. Palestine was stolen from its inhabitants and given away on what appear to me to be religious-based grounds. The Jewish people had not ruled that area in any meaningful sense for over two millennia, so what right did the imperial west have to take that land off the people living there? None whatsoever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Invisible Bigotry

It has been a month since I last posted on my blog unfortunately, but this really prompted me to speak out. In the wake of the KONY 2012 campaign, a friend of mine posted a link to another blog on facebook. The title of the post was "Invisible Children Funded By Antigay, Creationist Christian Right" which caught my attention. I had been somewhat critical of the movement for other reasons, such as the tacit, or sometimes explicit support for foreign military occupation in the region.

I'll just take a quote from this post, which you should really read for yourself.

But Invisible Children’s first yearly report, from 2006, gives “special thanks” to the “Caster Family Foundation” and IC’s 2007 report is more specific, thanking Terry and Barbara Caster. In the lead up to the 2008 election, the California-based Caster family was identified as one of the biggest financial backers of the push for California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8.

 Always be skeptical of popular movements, and if they pass the test, give them your support, but don't blindly support causes, ever.

Friday, February 10, 2012

John Loftus' Challenge to William Lane Craig

John Loftus has recently posted a challenge to Dr. Craig regarding his claims of the evidential status of the 'inner witness of the holy spirit'. In the past John has defended the integrity of Dr. Craig in the face of many accusations from within the skeptical movement that Craig is dishonest. I personally don't think Craig is intentionally dishonest, but his portrayals of modern physics are possibly bordering on dishonesty.

Loftus' challenge to Craig involves three specific questions, they are as follows.

Do you agree that objective evidence is external to the knower and can be verified by a third party at least in principle? Yes or no? How then can any third party verify a claim such as someone else's inner witness of the Spirit? At least someone's claim to be abducted by aliens is able to be verified in principle by a third party. Anyone in any religion or sect within one can claim to have had a veridical religious experience. These claims are a dime a dozen when they cannot be verified even in principle by a third party. What then do you say to the argument that these claims are subject to the charge of delusion, and as such, no evidence at all even to someone who claims to have had one? 

Dr. Craig, here is a follow-up question given the inherent subjectivity of the inner witness of the Spirit. How is possible for a reasonable faith to be based upon a subjective experience? Furthermore and more importantly, how is it possible for a reasonable man like yourself to claim such a subjective experience defeats all objective evidence? Now it's one thing to say a subjective experience is to be considered objective evidence. It's another thing entirely to say a subjective experience carries more weight than all objective evidence. 

One last question my friend. Put all three of them together and answer them all at one time if you wish.

Would you please specify the propositional content of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? Plantinga calls the content "the great things of the gospel", and includes the idea that "God exists", "God has forgiven and accepted me", or "God is the author of the Bible." You claim this content assures Christians that they are children of God. But such a notion echoes the poet whom Paul quoted who said, "we are his offspring." (Acts 17:28) You are surely arguing that the inner witness of the third person of the trinity contains more propositional content than that. Shouldn't this witness be more specific about what is meant to be a "child" of the kind of "God" one believes in, how one becomes a child of this God, where one can learn additional information about this God, what he must think of the authority of that source of information, and how he can best interpret it? For instance, to say "God exists" does not say anything about the attributes of this God, and might even be consistent with panentheism. To say "God is the author of the Bible" doesn't say what a believer should think about the specific nature of the Bible, or how to best interpret it.

I have repeatedly asked you this last question and have posted it on my blog several times. Again, these types of arguments are swaying the faithful. You need to answer them if you want to be perceived as being honest with the facts. Many skeptics are saying you are not honest and I have been defending you.

If you refuse to answer these questions about the inner witness of the Spirit then I can no longer defend you from the charge of being dishonest with the facts. I hope you do respond, I really do.

Sorry, but it's your choice now.

It will be interested to see if Craig responds, and if he does, in what manner will he do so.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Absurdity of Christ

Today I want to explore the supposed purpose behind the message of Christ. The main message, blood sacrifice, not any of the other things like moral teaching or anything like that. We are told that Christ came to earth to die for our sins, so we can be reconciled to God. One could dispute the concept of sin and would be justified in doing so, I think the concept is meaningless but it distracts us from the more important issue of the actual atonement. I wish to argue that the concept of blood sacrifice and substitutional punishment is outdated, barbaric and illogical.

Firstly, the idea bloodshed will pay for wrongdoings assumes that the god in question desires blood. Believing in the god of the philosophers does not get you to this position. Admittedly, the god of the old testament is such a god, in fact there are passages such as Exodus 29:18 which explicitly state that the smell of burnt flesh is a pleasing odour to God. However this is not the god that modern Christians actually believe in. If it were, then Christians would still be engaging in the practice of burnt sacrifices, not to atone for the sins, because God killed himself in human form for that, but because they would believe it to be pleasing to god. After all, isn't that the reason Christians sing songs of praise to God? To please him?

The idea is outdated because it has no relevance to the modern conceptions of justice. Evangelists like Ray Comfort like to use the following analogy:
You commit a crime, the punishment for which is monetary compensation. Someone else pays your fine for you and you are let off the hook. They claim that the execution of Jesus does the same thing, you committed the crime of existing, and for it you deserve to die, Jesus was executed instead of you, so you are let off the hook. Is justice done in either of these cases? I contend that it is not, in fact that to allow such an event to take place would rather be a perversion of justice, yet Christians want you to believe that this is perfect justice.

Let me also try a logical reconstruction of the Christian theory of atonement as I see it. This is possibly an over-simplification, but it should suffice for my purposes here.

1. You trespassed God
2. Trespassing God deserves death
3. Jesus was killed instead of you
C. You are no longer culpable for your actions.

It should be quite plain that such an argument is logically invalid as it is currently written above. In order to make the conclusion follow from the premises, a fourth suppressed premise would need to be added.

1. You trespassed God
2. Trespassing God deserves death
3. Jesus was killed instead of you
[4. Any person who has not trespassed God and is killed in the place of another removes the accountability of the guilty person to their actions]
C. You are no longer culpable for your actions.

When it is expressed in this way it becomes quite apparent that such a principle is a blatant perversion of justice. If the same principle was applied in society toward its legal system, the entire social structure would likely collapse, as many innocent, honest persons would be imprisoned or killed, while many manipulative and sociopathic individuals would roam free.

Aside from that extremely contentious suppressed premise I think that premises 1 through 3 are not legitimate either. More than that, I think they cannot be established to be legitimate, they are things which we can only ever be in the dark about (assuming that it's impossible to prove God does not exist).

So in conclusion to all of that, I maintain that the message of Christ is absurd. It is outdated, barbaric and without reasonable support. The conclusions of the atonement will only be seen as viable by those who have already committed belief in Christianity. Perhaps it is possible to formulate a more cogent explanation of the atonement, but I suspect that it too will suffer from many of the same failings as my example.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

God is Not a 'Necessary Being'

It is my contention that a Creator God is not a necessary being; in fact a Creator God would in some sense (or at least some attributes of God) be contingent. I’ll try to explain. Note, I am not addressing the ontological argument here, as I think that would be a facile victory. As far as I'm aware Anselm's ontological argument and its variants are generally ignored these days.

In the general logical form:
1.If P then Q

the argument has it that P is sufficient for Q to be true, and Q is necessary for P to be true. I’ll give an example argument

Example 1:
1.If Bob drinks Beer, then he becomes drunk.
2. Bob drank Beer,
C. Bob became drunk

In the first premise, becoming drunk is the necessary effect of Bob drinking beer. This is a valid logical structure, and given that the premises are true, the conclusion is entailed. However it is not the case that if Bob is drunk, then he must have consumed some beer, he could have consumed rum. In this case, we can say that drinking beer is a sufficient cause for Bob being drunk, but it not a necessary cause.

If we inverted the argument's structure so as to try and work backwards from the drunken state to draw the conclusion that Bob drank beer, it would be an invalid argument. It would fail logically.

Example 2:
1. If Bob drinks Beer, then he becomes drunk.
2. Bob is drunk
C. Bob drank beer

This is a bad argument, so let's apply this to gods.

Example 3:
1. If a creator god exists, then a universe exists.
2. A creator god exists
C. A universe exists

In the first premise, the creation is the necessary effect of a creator god existing. The creator god is merely a sufficient cause of the universe existing, but not a necessary one. This means that at least in some sense, that the creator god is contingent on the existence of the universe. In order for it to be a creator god, it must have engaged in an act of creation, which means that before this 'time' it was not a creator god. A possible contradiction between theistic belief and the bible amigo? That can be a discussion for another time though.

Like in the first example, it is a valid logical structure, and given the truth of the premises, the conclusion must be true. Similarly, if we try to invert the argument to work backwards from the existence of the creation/universe to prove the existence of the creator god, we encounter logical failure.

Example 4:
1. If a creator god exists, then a universe exists.
2. The universe exists
C. A creator god exists.

This is a bad argument, and it is very similar to arguments that try to establish a god as a 'necessary being'. These arguments are deceptive and should be exposed whenever used.

People like William Lane Craig know this, which is why he opts to use the Kalam Cosmological argument, which does have a valid logical structure, but rests on deceptive or demonstrably false premises. It is my contention that what theists actually engage in is closer to Example 4. They work from the existence of the universe, and under their belief system, their god would have created this universe, and arrive at their predetermined conclusion.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Case Against Christianity

I just finished reading 'The Case Against Christianity' by Michael Martin. The book is around 250 pages long and covers topics such as the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the second coming, the incarnation, Christian ethics, salvation by faith, divine command theory, the atonement and the philosophical basis of Christian belief. The two chapters I thought were the best were Chapter 3: 'The Resurrection' and Chapter 4: 'The Virgin Birth and the Second Coming', though the rest of the book was very good also.

Some of the chapters are quite jargon-laden, but if one is familiar with the technical terms used in logic then understanding the book won't be an issue. I think perhaps the best feature of this book is the philosophical and logical nature of many of the arguments against Christianity, as opposed to the scientific approach of Dawkins, or the 'bad for society' approach of Harris and Hitchens (I'm not saying this is the only trick up their sleeves, but it forms a large portion!). Having a different approach to the discussion I feel brings a breath of fresh air to a debate that all too often revolves around the same stale talking points.

I highly recommend that everyone reads this book, it's well worth your time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Excellent Underrated Books

Since I've been in a bit of a book-reading-mood this year (8 books read so far since Christmas, onto number 9) I have decided to read some books which are on lukeprog's 'Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge' page. I've already read a number of books from his list, but they are all from the beginner/intermediate rankings that he's given them.

Currently I have withdrawn 'The Case Against Christianity' by Michael Martin, 'Theism and Explanation' by Gregory Dawes and 'The Miracle of Theism' by J.L. Mackie from my University's library. I have high respect for lukeprog (which makes me sad that he's no longer posting on Common Sense Atheism) and if he recommends a book it's probably well worth reading. The Martin and Mackie books were probably more well known back when they were first published (1993 and 1983) but don't seem to be as widely read today, which is unfortunate. Gregory Dawes book came out in 2009, but it only has 2 reviews on Amazon. Meanwhile many vastly inferior books in a similar vein (four horsemen I'm looking at you!) have many hundreds if not thousands of reviews, and countless more copies are available.

Unfortunately these books are much more expensive than the popular atheist books, which is probably a huge disincentive for people (who like to buy books) to read them. This is why I'm having to get them out of my university library, because I simply cannot afford them. I think that people should read the best books available, rather than the most popular.

When I have read them I will post a short review of them, and let you know whether I think you should read them too (chances are that I will recommend them).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - My Thoughts

I recently finished reading Richard Bauckham's book 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony' and thought I would share my thoughts with you. I'm not going to do a lengthy-ish review of it like I did with Timothy Keller's 'The Reason For God' last month, as there are really only a handful of things I wanted to say in response to this book.

For starters the book is quite a hefty tome, but it has long footnotes at the bottom of most pages which significantly reduces the average page length of actual content, so it's not as long of a read as it first gives the impression of. The book is fairly easy to understand although Bauckham tends to be quite tangential, and by that I mean he has asides which last up to 10 pages before continuing his argument, this detracts somewhat from his arguments, but I managed to follow them well enough.

The content and arguments however I found extremely underwhelming and often particularly specious. He often relies on many assumptions which I am not willing to accept and I do not think he provided sufficient reason for them. The first of these is his reliance on Papias of Hierapolis. The problem I see with Bauckham's reliance on Papias is that we do not have Papias' writings. What we have are a few quotations of his works by Eusebius and a mention by Iranaeus. Despite this, Bauckham takes the liberty to espouse the mind of Papias well beyond what the dubious quotes can possibly tell us. Bauckham does not address many of the problems associated with Papias such as the fact that his descriptions (via quotation) of the Gospel of Matthew and Mark do not match up with the gospels that we have today, so to rely so uncritically on the word of Papias as attesting to the eyewitness tradition within these gospels I find is very credulous and disappointing.

The other frustrating assumption I encountered while reading the book was the trustworthiness of the canonical gospels. Bauckham uses internal evidence within the gospel narratives to point to eyewitness testimony. One of the examples he uses is the preface of Luke, which alludes to the testimony upon which the author says he based his writing on. Bauckham pokes around the words used in this passage and finds a definition that supports his case, which has connotations of eye-witness testimony to the actual events. He seems to accept this rather uncritically, how we know the author was telling the truth Bauckham never reveals. His other main piece of internal evidence really requires a stretch of the imagination, it is what he called the 'Inclusio'. This is a literary device used in ancient literature by which the author conveys the source of information via using their perspective in the text, without outright claiming it came from them. Bauckham primarily claims Inclusio in the gospel of Mark as Peter's witness and in the gospel of Luke as the women disciples' witness. Bauckham seemed pretty convinced of his arguments strength here but I simply failed to see how he actually demonstrated that this was in fact the case. Like I said, it's a stretch of the imagination.

Overall I think Bauckham overstates the force of his arguments, but I commend him for putting forth new arguments and as he admits in the text, he is effectively going against the grain of nearly all modern New Testament scholarship. Credit is due to him for bringing a new spark to the debate, but I think the book was overwhelmingly unsuccessful in giving a solid case for eyewitness testimony.

For a far more in-depth critical analysis of the book and its specific arguments I suggest having a read of Neil Godfrey's blog Vridar, where he did a thorough review of the book in 2007. If you're more audio-inclined you may want to have a listen to a few of Robert M. Price's Bible Geek podcast, relevant episodes linked below.
January 19th 2012, Dr. Price reads Theodore J. Weeden's review of 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses'
February 14th 2011, Dr. Price answers a listener's questions about the validity of Bauckham's arguments.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why I Rarely Post About Creationism

For the few regular readers that I have, you may or may not have noticed that lately I very rarely post about creationism. The main reason for this is because the debate is well and truly over and it has been for a long, long time. Creationists (I include ID as a sub-category of creationism) should know this, and I'd wager that most professional creationists do realise it. People like Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, Creation Science Evangelism, The Discovery Institute, Institute for Creation Research and any others you can think of are actively putting out information that they must know is false. They are after all the deceitful demagogues that I mentioned in my 'Two Types of Creationist' post back in 2010.

If on the odd chance they are really just willfully ignorant and delusional, what can we do about that? We can't go around locking them up or sending them into looney bins can we? The scientific battle is over, but the social war will never end. I hate to be so pessimistic, but I fear that as long as humanity is rife with shit-heads like the aforementioned creationist groups whose main goal is to undermine science with a religious agenda we will never stamp out the pestilence that is creationism.

We will never get rid of magical thinking, faulty reasoning and conspiratorial tendencies. These mis-firings of our thinking faculties are hard wired into humanity.

This is not to say that we do nothing, I still make efforts in my personal life to combat creationism. A few of the Christians that I know (that number dwindles by the year too) are still creationists. I don't try and force them to accept evolution, but I do try and convey to them how serious the evidence for evolution really is, within the context of an amicable conversation. I have a few books and online resources that I try to pass along to them, but they're rarely, if ever interested. There seems to be comfort in delusion. They're more content thinking wrong-headed beliefs are true than actually learning something new.

If there is some 'miracle' cure for the plague of creationism, I'd love to know about it but until then, I think I'll just carry on as I have been, pessimistic about the intellectual honesty of humankind, and continuing to learn new things myself every day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sucker For Punishment - Christian Books

It hasn't been that long since I endured 'The Reason for God', and I have somehow managed to agree to read 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses' by Richard Bauckham. It's like 550 pages long and I heard it was a difficult read so I guess that makes me a sucker for punishment. My university library has a copy, so I'll probably read it slowly between now and the end of the first semester. I guess the good thing about me doing this kind of thing is that no one can accuse me of only reading one side of the debate.

How about I make it official. I'm going to try and make an effort to read at least two scholarly Christian books a year. I actually finished reading Timothy Keller in December, so my tally this year is 0.

In other book news, I'm currently reading 'The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity' by the late Hyam Maccoby. I don't agree with everything in the book but he brings up some analyses of the New Testament texts that I haven't seen before and draws some novel and thought provoking conclusions. Since Maccoby is a Jewish Talmudic scholar the book is quite notably pro-Judaism but it makes for fresh reading.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Religious Apathy

Here in New Zealand it seems to me that there is a substantial portion of the population that just doesn't really care about religious issues at all. Perhaps it's just the people who I associate with, but I suspect it is somewhat representative of the population at large.

 Out of the approximately 100-300 people I interact with socially on a regular-infrequent basis the topic of religion only comes up in conversations with an extreme minority of them (less than 10%). Out of those few, less than half of them are religious (and half of those that are religious are my own family members). A large number of my friends that I grew up going to church with have either stopped going altogether, or still go, but no longer believe. Approximately (very rough guess) 10-30% of those from the aforementioned social group nominally belong to some religion. For example it might list 'Christian' on their facebook info, but that's about the extent of their outwards religiosity. As far as I can tell, the remainder of the group either is nominally irreligious, believes in a 'higher power' or just don't seem to give a damn.

Just to clarify, if any of you are reading this post, I'm not trying to criticise your beliefs or lack thereof, just pointing out what I think is an interesting piece of sociological data.

The reason I'm so fascinated in these issues is because I used to be so religious, and I find the phenomena of religious belief intriguing. For those on whom religion has had a negligible effect it may all seem like hocus pocus and make-believe, or just something that's a part of life that doesn't need to be questioned. No real over-arching point to this, but hopefully it has given you something to think about.

First Causality

The notion of having a cause for the universe that is outside of the universe is nonsensical. Causality is dependent on the existence of time and space, which don’t exist outside of the universe. So the best way to describe this hypothetical first cause would be ‘non-existent’.

That's it.  A short and sweet argument against the existence of gods, or at least the idea of a transcendent creator god that is a first cause outside the universe.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Critical Thinking and Statistics

I discovered as I was enrolling for my university courses for 2012 in December last year that I was missing a prerequisite course (statistics) for one of my first semester classes (ecology). I decided to enroll in summer school (I live in the southern hemisphere remember), and to make the most of it I took a philosophy course in critical thinking as well. I wasn't really thinking of the applications of these two disciplines when I enrolled in them, but once I started attending lectures I realised that these two areas of study are perhaps two of the most important things anyone can have a solid grounding in.

I'm not sure about highschools everywhere, but when I was in highschool, there was no philosophy (let alone logic or critical thinking) taught at all and statistics was an elective class one could opt to take in 6th form (age 16-17). I am almost certain that if everybody had at least some grounding in critical thinking and statistics as teenagers, society as a whole would be a more intelligent place. People would be better equipped to deflect bad arguments and to not be duped by deceptive statistics used frequently in marketing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why the Christian God would be Stupid if He Existed - Part 2: Special Revelation

I’ve brought this issue up in several venues before but I thought it really deserved its own post. Special revelation, i.e. a god giving its message to specific individuals to relay on to others is an imbecilic system and I’ll try to explain why I think so.

The Weakest Link

The weakest link of a chain is where it is going to break first, so let’s imagine the conveying of God’s message as a chain. At the very least, a special revelation chain has to have 3 links, God, the receiver of the message, and then the rest of the population. In that circumstance the populace first has to have faith in the conveyor before they can have faith in the message being conveyed. This is not an ideal situation, as obviously the messenger is the weakest link of the chain, whether interpreting the message from the deity incorrectly, relaying it incorrectly, or something not being believed by others. This is a faulty chain and a god that would use such a chain should be considered stupid in my books. However, this is not the chain that we supposedly have (given the assumption that the Bible is actually God’s message).

The special revelation chain that we would actually have would be something like this (for the New Testament Gospels).
God/Jesus->First Century Followers->Converts->[insert several decades and who knows how many other transmissions]->Anonymous Gospel Authors->Scribes (who altered the texts)->Translators (for those of us who don’t read Greek)->Us

The number of weak links in this chain is stunning, and many of them have already been broken in the texts, as we have numerous contradictions between gospels and sometimes within the same gospel, perhaps due to interpolations. Any god who would use such a system, where one must place faith in the transmission process before one can have faith in the message and then believe the true religion must be a moron. This is one reason why I think the better explanation is that no such God exists.

Faith in Humans

As I mentioned, in order to have faith in the religion, you must first have faith in the people who transmitted it to you. In some circumstances I am willing to put faith (trust) in other human beings, if they have been shown to have a track record of trustworthiness. For example, a Scientist who has a history of being innovative and ahead of his time, who has later been confirmed to be correct many times over would deserve considerably more faith in their judgment than a John Doe off the street with no credentials.

Surely if a God was dead-set on transmitting his one true religion via special revelation through many people he would at least make sure that the people had an air of trustworthiness around them? Unfortunately for the Christian, that isn’t the case with the Bible. The overwhelming majority of which is anonymously authored. The only books from the Old Testament of moderately ‘certain’ authorship are a few of the prophets (the first part of Isaiah for example). All of the ‘history’ and myth, and law found in the Old Testament is completely anonymous (No, Moses did not write any of it). The New Testament is arguably worse off than the Old, as a substantial portion of that which isn’t anonymous is forged. Half of the letters claimed in Paul’s name are forgeries (2 Thessalonians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians) and some of the ones we’re pretty sure were written by him have anonymous interpolations added into them by scribes. 1 & 2 Peter are forgeries; Jude is a forgery and so on. I am not about to go placing my faith in anonymous writers 1900-1800 years ago nor am I going to place my faith in writers who lied about they were. Hell, I’m not even going to place faith in the single identified author of the New Testament (Paul) because I have absolutely no reason to trust him on anything. An Intelligent god surely would have accounted for this, which is why I cannot avoid the conclusion that if the Christian God existed, he would be an idiot.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of 'The Reason for God' - Part 5

Chapter 13: “The Reality of the Resurrection”

At the start of the chapter Keller mentions that he studied religion and philosophy in college, which means he can’t have been ignorant of moral philosophy. That leads me to conclude he either ignores it, or is intentionally presenting an uncharitable interpretation of opposing views. I am no doubt guilty of the same thing (though not intentionally), perhaps even in this strange review of his book. The best explanation of his seeming ignorant of moral philosophy is probably due to the Christian-tinted glasses that he undoubtedly wears.

Much of the chapter is fairly conventional Christian apologetics, and as he is arguing straight out of the work of N.T. Wright it is unsurprising. I find the work of people like Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman and Robert M. Price far more interesting and compelling, but perhaps I am biased too. Regardless, Keller does not address works like these, and at times presents the skeptic position as saying “It (the resurrection) just couldn’t have happened.” Point me to a single serious skeptical source that says anything remotely along those lines. You can’t? That’s because that’s not what skeptics are saying. Keller is out of touch with his opponents, or perhaps he just isn’t interested in going after the best arguments and only interested in the low-hanging fruit and in burning straw men.

Chapter 14: “The Dance of God”

This chapter reads like one should expect of a book that finds itself successful in arguing its points in previous chapters. For someone like me who went into it trying to be as open-minded as possible, only to be insulted in the introduction and bored for much of the rest of it this chapter was dull. It does things like trying to explain the trinity and ties off some threads on other Christian doctrines. This chapter along with the epilogue which I won’t do an entry on really sum up the book for me. This is not a book for skeptics to convert them to Christianity even though it claims to be. This is probably a really great book for a doubting Christian who doesn’t know much about their own religion but wants to reassure themselves that they’ve picked the right belief. The arguments are incredibly superficial and the refutations are weak. He provides no evidence or reason to believe, and the only chapter that comes close to this is the one where he talks about ‘clues’ of god.


I give the book overall a 2/5. One star for effort and one star for what seems to me to be an honest attempt to reach skeptics. Keller’s biggest downfall in this book is that he doesn’t really address much in the way of real skepticism, doesn’t take on the best arguments, proclaims victory prematurely and obviously hasn’t put any effort into actually understanding the position of the people he is attempting to write for. What I’m trying to say is, the book is crap.

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Review of 'The Reason for God' - Part 4

Chapter 9: “The Knowledge of God”

Okay this chapter seals the deal; Keller must be ignorant of moral philosophy. He shows no working knowledge of ethical models like utilitarianism or desirism. He just goes on the incredibly weak assumption that because some people can’t explain why they hold certain values (such as human rights) that they’re objective values imprinted upon our subconscious. He also jumps from saying that there are debates about evolutionary mechanisms for morality to 'evolution can’t explain moral intuition'. I don’t want to say I’m done with the book just yet, but my patience is diminishing rapidly.

Chapter 10: “The Problem of Sin”

What a boring chapter. I really have nothing else to say about it. It reads like a chapter written for Christians who don’t understand the doctrine of sin. I feel I somewhat understand it (a few interpretations of it at least) and I’m not really interested in it and reject the concept. Yawn.

Chapter 11: “Religion and the Gospel”

This chapter immediately builds on the previous one, and delves straight into an allusion to the pop-Christianity idea that Christianity is not a religion. Get real. This chapter is effectively a sermon. If one doesn’t accept the conclusion of the previous chapter, one will likely finish the chapter as I did: uninterested. Even if Christianity was true, I don’t feel like I need saving, so it doesn’t appeal to me. There is no argumentation in here, just sermonising.

Chapter 12: “The (True) Story of the Cross"

I feel like I’m letting down anyone reading this, as with the last two chapters I found it simply boring. I don’t really have much to say about it either. The chapter title got me interested, but it didn’t pan out the way I thought it was going to. It ended up being another sermon.
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review of 'The Reason for God' - Part 3

Chapter 6: “Science has disproved Christianity”

Most of this chapter is non-contentious and doesn’t really need much said about it. It’s basically just a discussion of the conflict model of science vs. Religion, which I agree is not an accurate description of reality. This is not because I think religion and science coalesce, but because like many popular level criticisms of religion, it is too simplistic, and too black and white. The reality of the situation is much more complicated than some atheist writers would lead you to believe.

Despite the fact that the chapter doesn’t say anything starkly wrong in my opinion, I think Keller still fails to address the best skeptical arguments against religion from the scientific perspective so I walk away unsatisfied once again.

Chapter 7: “You Can’t Take The Bible Literally”

My mouth was hanging open for approximately two thirds of this chapter out of sheer surprise of what he was saying (in a bad way). I don’t really feel like trying to refute any of his points here, as this is supposed to be a book review not a refutation. Keller refers to the Da Vinci Code many times as examples of “biblical skepticism” and “historical revisionism”. I understand he is trying to write for the popular level, but seriously, no one interested in this subject takes the Da Vinci Code seriously anyway, stop wasting my time Keller!

I was especially gobsmacked at Keller’s attempt to gloss over cultural anachronisms in the Bible and moral horrors (such as slavery) by trying to say that they aren’t the key message, so you should first accept Christianity as true, and then try and figure those out later. It’s a package deal, If I disagree with biblical teachings, I’m not going to follow the Bible. Honestly, I almost feel like saying that even if Jesus were God, I wouldn’t be a Christian because of the content of the Bible.

He attempts the argument that Biblical slavery wasn’t as bad as the slavery of the middle ages. He tries to say that slaves weren’t actually owned by slave-masters back then, only their labour was, but ignores the passage in Exodus where it explicitly states that the slave is the property of his master. I find this is typical of Christian apologetics, it’s disingenuous. At least he makes some reference to views that skeptics actually hold, but his refutations of them are extremely vapid and effectively amount to “the evidence for this older, skeptical view of the Bible has been crumbling steadily for the past thirty years, even as it has been promoted by the popular media...” Weak man, weak.

Chapter 8: “The Clues of God”

This chapter was bad. His first argument relies on outdated science, he quotes Stephen Hawking from the 90’s saying that “almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.” This is problematic because the most up-to-date understanding of the Big Bang Theory is that it only shows us an inflationary event from a dense state, it does not reveal a singularity or a creation moment. Keller’s use of this argument shows that he has either not kept up to date, or is intentionally staying out-of-date because he can use it to support his case.

His second argument is the fine-tuning argument. This is dealt (in my opinion) a death-blow in Victor Stenger’s latest book ‘The Fallacy of Fine Tuning’. The fine tuning argument is built on many false premises two of which I’ll list here.
1) That the ‘constants’ are variable
2) That the constants are independent

Once those assumptions are removed, fine tuning falls flat.

His next argument is that because nature is regular, god must exist, because we can’t create a rational explanation for why nature should be regular. This weak argument encounters a fatal flaw when one points out that one cannot make a rational argument for why nature shouldn’t be regular either.
Then he goes to beauty, and says that’s a clue for god. I’m not convinced, beauty is subjective, it doesn’t actually exist and is entirely explicable under naturalism.
He finishes the chapter with what is essentially Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, which is built upon an argument of C.S. Lewis’ from Miracles. The argument basically says that if our brains are the result of natural evolution, we cannot trust them. I find that every person I’ve seen making this argument doesn’t really understand evolution or the scientific method.
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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review of 'The Reason for God' - Part 2

Chapter 4: “The Church is responsible for so much injustice”

This chapter boils down to one giant ‘no-true Scotsman’ fallacy in the end. Slave owners, crusaders and anyone motivated by Christianity to do wrong is not a real Christian, while true Christianity motivates abolitionists, the civil rights movement and peace according to Keller. Even if I was to grant Keller everything in the chapter, it would still have no bearing on the truth of Christianity. However I think Keller would do well to note that his scriptures contain morally questionable (read: horrific) content, like the blatant endorsement of slavery. I have no doubt that many, many people are inspired by Christianity to do good, but people are also inspired by poetry, music, film, art and literature, and this inspiration has no bearing on the truth or falsity of any subject in question.

Keller also tries to slander moral relativism by offering a very crude description of it he says “If everything is relative, there would have been no inventive for white people in the South to give up their power.” (referring to the end of the slave trade in the United States). Earlier in the chapter he effectively claims that Christianity invented the golden rule saying “to give up Christian standards would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism.” Either Tim Keller is ignorant of moral philosophy, or he is ignorant of moral philosophy, there is no way around it. To claim that without Christianity you cannot morally criticise the Crusades (as he was referring to in that quote) is incredibly pathetic.

Chapter 5: “How can a loving God send people to Hell?”

Firstly, this chapter is barely about Hell at all and the picture that Keller attempts to paint of Hell is one that people choose to go to and do not want to leave. I find this extremely puzzling, as one can find biblical support for annihilationism and for agonising eternal torture depending on how one interprets various passages, but Keller’s view seems incredibly weak. He bases this doctrine of his own invention (correct me if I’m wrong) on the fact that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, “[the rich man] does not ask to get out of hell”.

Near the end of the chapter it becomes incredibly clear why this book is failing so miserably to actually address anything atheists and skeptics actually say. Keller says “Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they “believe in a God of Love.”” There you have it, the elusive skeptics that Keller refers to in the book are at the very least Theists, or at the most, Christians who have doubts. If the rest of the book continues down this path, I envisage face-palms of epic proportions.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review of 'The Reason for God' - Part 1

I've decided to split this into several parts, as I ended up writing quite a bit.

Also, the way I wrote the review changed considerably over the course of reading it.

The Introduction

I started reading this book with the intention of being as open to the possibility of being wrong as possible, but the introduction really irritated me. It didn't feel to me like it was really introducing the book and there were a few things he says that got on my nerves which I have written here. Perhaps I'm being pedantic though, and if so I apologize.

Keller conflates relative morality with arbitrary morality and says this "If morality is relative, why isn't social justice as well?"

He tries to insult moral relativists by comparing them to "the morally upright".

"The people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn't seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world."

Shows more bias here: "Liberals' individualism comes out in their views of abortion, sex, and marriage. Conservatives' individualism comes out in their deep distrust of the public sector and in their understanding of poverty as simply a failure of personal responsibility."
It seems like he is trying to paint liberals as shallow and superficial, while portraying conservatives as "deep" and showing "understanding". I hope this isn't indicative of the rest of the book.

Chapter 1: "There Can't Just Be One True Religion"

"Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true." Wrong. That's not what skepticism is at all, either Timothy Keller is an idiot, or he's never picked up a dictionary in his life (He'd still be an idiot in that case).

Furthermore, the crux of this chapter is arguing against something that skeptics DO NOT CLAIM. The fact that all religions cannot be true is something that skeptics acknowledge and use as ammunition against specific religious claims. The people who claim that all religions are true are spiritualists or new-agers or members of inclusive religious sects. Keller fails miserably in actually arguing against skepticism in this chapter.

Chapter 2: "How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?"

Keller simply parrots C.S. Lewis here and pays no attention to the actual arguments made by skeptics that he claims to be rebutting.
"C.S. Lewis described how he had originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty of life. Then he came to realize that evil was more problematic for his new atheism. In the end, he realized that suffering provided a better argument for God's existence than one against it."

Keller just accepts this and moves on. I'm not impressed. He spends most of the rest of the chapter talking about how Christianity can comfort those that suffer. I do not dispute that this may be the case, but it has absolutely no bearing on the truth of the religion, which is the reason I do not believe. Keller seems to assume people all disbelieve for emotional reasons.

Chapter 3: "Christianity is a Straitjacket"

Keller attempts to rebut multiple arguments in this chapter. The first is the idea of relative truth. I do not disagree with him that many contradictory statements can't all be true. He falls flat on his face once again though, because he isn't actually addressing the arguments of skeptics, but rather of spiritualists, new-agers or members of inclusive religious sects. He also goes after the idea of freedom saying "Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us." His justification for this is a quote from C.S. Lewis, so once again he is just parroting another apologist while not actually addressing skeptics. Unimpressive.
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