Sunday, June 5, 2011

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
~ AnswersinGenesis.org (http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith)

Of all the jaw-dropping statements made by Christians, this one takes the cake. Answers in Genesis is one of the biggest and most popular apologetics websites, giving Christian arguments in favor of the flood, the 6-day creation, the 6,000-year-old earth, and dinosaurs living with humans. But I believe that this statement in their “Statement of Faith” completely removes any integrity from its authors.

This quote is saying that before the folks at AnswersinGenesis.org look at any evidence, before they think about or approach the problem at all, they have already decided the outcome. They completely base their findings on their own preconceptions, preemptively plugging their ears and eyes and accepting only what they already assume. Their is no worse way to pursue truth than that.

The criticism I make here has been responded to by some, claiming that going off the authority of the Bible is no different than going off the authority of science. But science doesn’t operate off of authority. Claims in science aren’t true merely because someone said they are. The conclusions of scientists are based on evidence, and the evidence remains for all to see. Scientists know that their ideas must stand to the scrutiny of other scientists, who may not share their preconceptions. The way to do this is to make the case strong enough on the basis of evidence so that preconceptions don’t matter.

The history of science is filled with scientists accepting ideas contrary to their preconceptions. Examples include the reality of extinctions, the reality of meteors, meteors as causes of mass extinctions, ice ages, continental drift, bacteria as cause of ulcers, and of course, evolution. Scientists are not immune to being sidetracked by their preconceptions, but ultimately go where the evidence leads.

Scientists make a deliberate effort to remove subjectivity from their work, and do a good job in general of removing bias. They do such a good job, in fact, that what creationists really object to is the fact that scientists do no interpret evidence according to certain religious preconceptions.

- Evan

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Foundation of Sand

Christianity relies on the authenticity of the New Testament of the Bible as a true, first-hand account of Jesus’ life. Arguments from design and from the creation of the universe are arguments from ignorance (god-of-the-gaps), and don’t prove the Christian god. Rather, they leave us with a vague super-being with any number of unknowable attributes. Miracle stories lack any good evidence beyond that of hearsay and anecdote, and evidence for the supernatural in general has never been verifiable. This leaves only the Bible (specifically the New Testament) as the one thing that Christians can point to as supporting their beliefs.

Before I go on, however, we must make one thing clear. Even if the Bible were a document written by eye-witnesses, that would lend nothing to the truth of those claims. That people merely said it does not make it true. We could drive out to New Mexico and gather stories of U.F.O. abductions from entire communities, families, and individuals, some of which are mysteriously unexplainable and morbidly intriguing, but these people’s words say nothing about the truth of those words. Instead we require real, hard evidence for such claims, not merely stories. Words do not prove themselves. This is the larger point, a reasonable general principle that overshadows the historical unreliability of the Bible that will be later shown.

There is also the reasonable assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. They require extraordinary evidence because the observation of a supernatural entity/event would be highly unusual. Also, proponents often claim that these events violate the known laws of science, making them difficult to square with the way the universe is understood to work. Even a good historical account of a supernatural event would not be good enough evidence of their truth. We would need much more extra support before a rational person could accept them as true.

Moreover, a common apologist claim is that all of written history is from the mouths of people, so we can trust the Bible just like the history books. If that were true, we could equally trust the Quran and the Bhagavad-Gita as true historical accounts. There are differing levels of reliability of historical sources, and in this post I will discuss the unreliability of the New Testament as an authentic source.

The four Gospels are the primary books of the Bible that narrate the life of Jesus. These are the closest thing we have to historical sources about him. He is not mentioned by any contemporary historians, so his life and his miracles are not verified by any third party. But these Gospels, on face value, are not reliable sources. Basic scholarship reveals that these books were not written by the people attributed to them. They are all internally anonymous (they don’t mention the author within the text) and we have no original signed copies. The names of the four apostles were not attributed to the texts until the late 2nd century, and as late as the 4th c. in the case of Mark. Furthermore, they were written many years after the events they describe. Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written no earlier than year 70, a full 40 years after the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus. And the Gospel of John, which differs highly from the other three, was written as late as the early 2nd century.

What furthermore calls the eye-witness nature of the Gospels into question is that Mark, Matthew, and Luke are directly based on each other, with large slabs of text copied word for word. Why would an eye-witness rely so heavily on a third-party account? Inconsistencies between the four Gospels also makes the idea of eye-witness authors less likely. Not counting the inconsistencies between Matthew, Mark, and Luke (such as the differing versions of the empty tomb story) The Gospel of John differs radically in its content and claims from the other gospels, such as the date of the last supper and even larger details such as Jesus’ performance of miracles and his stance on Judaic law.

Much of the rest of the New Testament is attributed to Paul of Tarsus and Luke the Evangelist. However, by their own admission, neither of them had ever met Jesus (but Paul claimed that he saw a vision of Jesus while traveling on the road to Damascus).

A further issue is that there are known forgeries and edits to the text of the Bible that were added for years after the original writing. For instance, the last few passages of Mark are not in the original copy that we have, having been added some time in the mid 2nd century. Some denominations such as the Pentacostal church base their teachings off of these known forgeries. Early copyists of the Bible were often illiterate themselves (most early Christians were from the lower, uneducated class), and could only copy letter-by-letter, greatly increasing the likelihood of error. There are known cases of early Christians intentionally changing the canon in order to more closely align the text with their personal take on the religion. To quote Origen, a 3rd-c. church father, “The difference among the manuscripts have become great, either through negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please."

This information is not the view of fringe-atheists. It is widely accepted by Bible scholars, and even some Bibles such as New International Version make notes of some of this on their relevant title pages. The Gospels are not the sort of sources that would be used to make a history book, and would not be accepted in a court of law. They make several grandiose claims such as the dead rising from their graves and walking through the streets of Jerusalem, and a mass exodus in the Roman empire with everyone having to return to their place of ancestry for an empire-wide census. If these events were even remotely true, we should expect some sort of third-party mention of them in the detailed Roman and Jewish annals. Instead we find nothing. There is no reliable evidence, within or outside the Bible, to support any of the claims about Jesus as his spectacular life.

- Evan

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Video: Feynmann on Flying Saucers

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This is a good point about any claims that lack evidence.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Some Poignant Quotes

Just a few quotes I have come across over the years of exploring freethinking/atheism material on the web. Some of them help to wrap up effective points into small packages.

"If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.
"
~ Thomas Szasz

"Could a being create the fifty billion galaxies, each with two hundred billion stars, then rejoice in the smell of burning goat flesh?
"
~ Ron Patterson

"I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.
"
~ Adolf Hitler (just to debunk the myth of Hitler being an atheist)

"To use the term blind faith, is to use an adjective needlessly.
"
~ Julian Ruck

"When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself."

~ Jack Gurney – “The Ruling Class”

“...if the definition of God is unfalsifiable, the question of the existence of God is meaningless.”
~ freethoughtpedia.com

"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."


~ Gene Roddenberry

Monday, February 21, 2011

Video Series 7: Feynman on Science and Not Knowing

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Renowned physicist Richard Feynman speaks about science, knowledge, and not knowing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On the Supernatural

During the entire history of mankind, there has never been any independently verifiable evidence of the supernatural. Indeed, many proponents of the supernatural realm hardly have any idea what implications such a realm would have in the observable world, let alone any ideas of how to prove its existence. In previous posts, I have insisted that a rational person should have evidence of something before it is believed. This is hardly a novel thought, and I think anyone would agree with it. But due to the supposed non-physical nature of the supernatural, religious people feel they are exempt from having any burden of proof. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone has a reason for believing something, and we can honestly say that with the supernatural, evidence is not it.

As the first basic precept of religion, proving the existence of a supernatural realm should be at the top of the believer’s list of things to do. It should come before any other arguments, because if the supernatural does not exist, nothing in their religion is true. Given the very definition of immaterial, acceptable evidence for may never surface. This leaves argument as the only tool one can use to justify belief, but the arguments I have heard make flawed assumptions.
  • Some mysterious or unknown feature of our universe (before the big bang, beauty in nature, physical laws, complexity of life). Things that are unknown are unknown. The ignorance of a cause for something does not make it magic. Things like the stars, the weather, and disease used to be thought to have supernatural causes.
  • The existence of morality and of abstract ideas and concepts in our brains as being separate from our physical reality. Every one of those thoughts, ideas and concepts we have we have — including morality (view video in previous post) — is a result of known physical processes in a physical brain.
  • The authority of the Bible. What if the only evidence for evolution was a book, and not all that observation, experiment, and not the independent lines of verification from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology, embryology, population genetics, genome sequencing, and many other sciences?

Skeptics of the supernatural have often been called “closed-minded," and accused of bias towards a particular world-view. This is an disingenuous thing to say. Anyone can agree that it is not close-minded to require evidence for beliefs. If you can’t provide the evidence for something, you shouldn’t malign those who don't believe it. How can you blame them for not believing you? If your position takes faith to begin with, you cannot expect others to follow suit. But more to the point, if your position takes faith to believe it, maybe you shouldn’t have so much confidence in your position.

- Evan

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Video Series 6: Morality and the Brain

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A study that revealed some strange facts about our brain and our moral choices.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Video Series 5: Universe Size Comparison

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I don't know why I haven't posted this video before. It is the most mind-blowing thing on the internet. Prepare for your brain to explode.