Monday, December 24, 2007

The "Atheism" of Adolph Hitler

You often hear it claimed that Hitler was an atheist, and this is supposed to demonstrate that atheism leads to moral depravity, or something of that sort. I've heard conflicting claims, but certainly the quotes here seem to indicate he wasn't an atheist.

Not that this shows that theism (or Roman Catholicism, if it can be shown that Hitler was Catholic) is proven to be deviant on the basis of Hitler's actions. Hitler may have thought that God was on his side, but he probably wasn't motivated by his Christianity to kill as he did. He had other motivations. In the same way Stalin was an atheist, but it's not clear that it was his atheism that motivated him to kill as he did. He had a communistic ideology that he thought validated his murderous actions.

On the other hand we do somewhat regularly see religious people do immoral things because of their religious convictions. The obvious example would be 9/11 hijackers. Muslims violence that resulted from the Danish cartoons stems from Islamic prohibition of the creation of graven images. Normal, moral people don't stone adulterers, but Muslims in some countries do because of their religious convictions.

It's easy to pick on Islam in this regard, but it's also easy to find examples of immoral behavior that stems from peoples' Christian religious convictions. Fred Phelps and his church delight in the death of U.S. soldiers because the Bible teaches that God wants to render punishment to nations that turn from him. They believe it is pleasing to God to render this punishment, so if it pleases God it should please us. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed for the very purpose of promoting Southern slavery. It is obvious that religious convictions motivate people to act in immoral ways. It would be interesting to see examples of people that are driven to act immorally on the basis of atheistic convictions.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Can Steve Hays Learn Empathy?

Steve over at Triablogue seems to think that posing the question "what does the world think of the United States and our foreign policy" reveals some sort of self-loathing on the part of the American questioner. I think what it reveals is Steves inability to empathize with someone on the other side of the fence, which was apparent to me immediately after I came into contact with him.

One way to help understand the perspective of some foreigners is to simply but the shoe on the other foot. Can Steve do this? I don't think he can. For people who can though, here is one way to think about some of the events that are now occuring some of the world's Muslim countries.

Let's suppose that the election in 1984 had just occurred and Ronald Reagan had been elected to a landslide victory with your support. Let's suppose further that his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, went to war in Mexico without Reagan's knowledge, so he fired him. In response Weinberger had Reagan arrested and would have hanged him without Canadian intervention. Weinberger then assumed power. Suppose that Weinberger was flooded with support from the Chinese and was able to sustain his grip on power because of their support. How would we feel about the Chinese? We would feel exactly the same way that people in Pakistan feel about us.

Let's suppose the Chinese had forcefully overthrown our government in the past. Let's suppose subsequent to that they had encouraged Vicente Fox of Mexico to attack us and they provided him with military arms to acomplish this. Let's suppose that war cost a million lives. Let's suppose that after this war the Chinese then declared that Vicente Fox was evil, and they invaded Mexico and attempted to set up military bases there. How would we react? Would we want to support the Mexican rebels against the Chinese? Would we want to develop nuclear weapons to protect ourselves from the Chinese? If you can understand why you would react this way, then you can understand why Iran reacts as they do.

But I don't think Steve can understand. In his world skeptics are nothing but evil people in rebellion against his God, and truths as he understands them are simply rejected due to pride and unwillingness. Iranians are simply insane and irrational for opposing our efforts. Osama bin Laden probably attacked us simply because he hates God and Christianity. Don't think about things too deeply. Just label these people evil, and bomb, bomb, bomb, and hope for the best. Life is pretty simple in Steve's world, and unfortunately he's not the only American with this attitude.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Happened?

What did happen in the days following Jesus crucifixion? Here is what happened according to the gospels, as best as I can ascertain:

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea removed Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in an enormous 100 lbs of spices. They placed him in the tomb there (Jn 19: 38-42). The women followed Joseph and saw how the body was laid. Thinking that 100 lbs of spices wasn't enough and that perhaps the next day they would want to remove the cloth that wrapped Jesus and stuff in more spices they went to prepare spices. (??) They then rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (Lk 23: 55-56).

In the morning, just after sunrise (Mk 16:2), while it was still dark (??) (Jn 20:1), Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome and other women (Lk 24:10) went and bought still more spices (??) (Mk 16:1). When they got there they saw that the stone had been rolled away (Mk 16:4). Apparently an earthquake had occurred and an angel rolled away the stone and sat on top of it (Mt 28:2). They ignored him and went in and saw a young man to the right (Mk 16:5). He spoke. 6"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" Then two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening stood beside them (Lk 24:4). They said "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" 8Then they remembered his words. At some point the angel that had been sitting on the stone from Mt says "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

The women fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid (Mk 16:8). They were also joyful and fled to tell the disciples (??) (Mt 28:8). On the way they met Jesus, clasped his feet, and worshiped him. He told them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee (Mt 28:9)

While they were on the way the guards reported to the chief priests what had happened and the chief priests bribed the guards to say that the body had been stolen. (Mt 28:11).

The women arrived to tell the disciples. They told these things to the disciples. (Lk 24:10). Mary Magdalene also shared her fears that the body had been stolen (??) (Jn 20:2). They did not believe the women (Lk 24:11). Peter and John then ran for the tomb and saw the strips of linen. John saw and believed. (Jn 20:3-9). Peter left, wondering what had happened (Lk 24:12).

Mary Magdalene stayed, weeping. She saw two angels in white. They asked her why she was crying. She told them it was because they had taken her Lord and she didn’t know where he was. (??) Jesus then appeared and she didn’t recognize him. (??) He asked her why she was crying. She thought he was the gardener and asked him if he had taken the body and if so, would he tell her where the body was so she could get it. Jesus then spoke her name and she recognized him. He charged her not to touch him (??) because he had not yet gone to the Father. Mary then went to tell the disciples. (Jn 20:10-18)

That same day Jesus appeared to two people about seven miles from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. (Lk 24:13-32). They left immediately and headed for Jerusalem to tell the eleven (Lk 24:33).

Later that evening (Jn 20:19) the men from the road to Emmaus arrived (Lk 24:34-35) and told of what had happened. While they discussed this Jesus appeared to them. He proved that it was he, and he ate with them. He charged them to stay in Jerusalem until they received power. (Lk 24:36-49). Thomas wasn’t with them at the time. When he heard of these things he didn’t believe. A week later Jesus again appeared and proved himself to Thomas (Jn 20:24-28).

Jesus then appeared to the 500 brethren, to James, and last of all to Paul (I Cor 15:6-7).

Despite the fact that Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem the disciples left for Galilee (about 70 miles away) to meet Jesus in the mountain he had appointed for his meeting with them as Mary Magdalene had said. They saw him, worshipped him, but some doubted. (Mt 28:16-17).

Jesus then lead them to the vicinity of Bethany where he ascended (Lk 24:51). Two men appeared and said: "Men of Galilee (??), why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Ac 1:11)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dembski on the Daily Show

Hey, I didn't know Dembski appeared on the Daily Show. Here it is:

And here's another Daily Show commentary on evolution.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's the problem, Frank?

My recent mention of Frank Walton reminded me that he had disallowed my comments on his blog regarding the claim that Darwinian evolution was getting peer reviewed in a sense and was the worse for wear because of it. The proof is that a list of people, some of whom teach at Biola, some of whom hold doctorates in subjects like Electrical Engineering, have signed a statement saying they aren't so sure Darwinism explains everything. I didn't think that made a lot of sense, nor did I think the fact that some teachers at Biola dissent from evolution was all that surprising, and I said so in the comments section. Frank replied that he didn't see why it matters that they are from Biola, and I replied. Frank apparently didn't like my reply. Is it offensive or something? Here is what I wrote:

I happen to have a couple of relatives that have attended Biola (the Bible Institute of Los Angeles for those that don't know the acronym), and from what I can tell they're about as conservative as you're going to get this side of a padded cell. One relative had difficulty gaining admittance to the apologetics program because of his beliefs about evolution. You guys I'm sure would think that's great, but that's not the point. The point is, this list is intended to show some sort of surprising dissent from educated people about Darwinism. But it isn't surprising at all that Biology professors at Biola don't think that Darwinian evolution ENTIRELY accounts for the complexity of life (even if they do grant macro evolution). It isn't surprising that people with Electrical Engineering degrees (who for all we know are evangelical Christians) dissent from evolution. We have no reason to think they have a better understanding of the issues than anybody else, or if they've been pounded at church with absurd argumentation from ICR types. These type of people on this list just don't mean anything.

Do you guys see how bizarre your actions are? Do you really think this is what constitutes peer review? Imagine a scientist that had a new theory about quantum mechanics. Can you imagine him trying to promote his theory by defending it in churches, by trying to get school board members to advocate his theory, by compiling lists of people, the majority of whom are not experts in quantum mechanics, to sign petitions saying they advocate his theory. I mean, it's just silliness. Why don't you do some science instead of trying to pass off your views with propaganda. How about some real peer review. How about proposing some real scientific tests that can be used to evaluate ID, rather than simply pointing to things in another theory that you don't understand. Evolution is about as well established as any scientific theory. This is a losing battle, guys. Try reinterpreting the Bible. It's your only hope.

Project Steve is an interesting counter to this type of reasoning.

Pentecostal Shysterism Spreading to Africa

We've all heard of horrifying actions committed by people in the name of Islam. The Islamic faith is motivating parents do execute their children for refusing to wear traditional head gear, or motivating the Saudi's to violently punish rape victims. But it's not just Islam that motivates people in this way.

We're seeing the Christian faith motivate people in the same way. This time the result is abandonment, violence, and in some cases execution of children, from infants to 8 year olds. The article begins as follows:
Children are targets of Nigerian witch huntEvangelical pastors are helping to create a terrible new campaign of violence against young Nigerians. Children and babies branded as evil are being abused, abandoned and even murdered while the preachers make money out of the fear of their parents and their communities.
Read more here:

HT to Pharyngula.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins on Hardtalk

Watch Richard Dawkins respond gracefully and brilliantly to what really is a somewhat hostile interviewer. Notice Stephen Sackur frequently interrupt Dawkins or not allow him to finish his point, whereas Dawkins goes silent when Sackur speaks always allowing him to clearly state his points. I was immensely impressed with Dawkins here. Thanks for the link Frank.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Friday, December 7, 2007

Clues to the Reliability of the Gospels

Ken makes the point in the comment section here that if you’re wondering whether or not the disciples believed that Jesus was raised physically from the dead, you might as well just accept the statements to that effect in the gospels. Why not?

The problem with this approach is that we have learned through analysis of the gospels that it is clear that these writers have an agenda, and the facts sometimes suffer in the face of that agenda.

A very interesting example of this is in Mark 7. To understand the issue a little background is necessary.

Mark is of course written in Greek to a Greek speaking audience. But Jesus likely spoke Aramaic. Certainly as Jesus argued with the Pharisees he was speaking Aramaic, and the Pharisees would have been using their Hebrew Scriptures, not the Greek Septuagint. In Mark 7 Jesus is debating the Pharisees, yet Mark places in his mouth quotations of the Old Testament Scriptures that are right out of the Septuagint.

This in itself is not a problem. We understand that Mark is translating what it is that Jesus is supposed to have said. So we don’t expect Mark to be telling us the precise wording Jesus used. When Mark refers to Jesus quoting the OT, of course he’s just going to grab a copy of the Septuagint and give us the standard Greek reading.

Normally this isn’t a problem for a fundamentalist Christian. But in Mark 7 things are a little different. In this case Jesus bases his very argument on a mistranslation found in the Septuagint. Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees about their hand washing practices (this also is another anachronism, because it was only after the destruction of the Temple that the Pharisees adopted this practice, because having been expelled from Jerusalem they were forced to live among Gentiles, but that is another matter). He quotes Is 29:13. Here is the text from Mark 7 in the NIV:

5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"
6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:


8 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

Here is what Is 29:13 says in the Septuagint:

They worship me in vain; / their teachings are but rules taught by men

And here is the Hebrew:

Because this people draw near with their mouthand honor me with their lips,while their hearts are far from me,and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote;

Jesus’ argument is established on the basis of the Septuagint translation, but in the actual Hebrew the point is a little different. There it is talking about how fear of God is pure charade, i.e. an act of going through the motions, not genuine worship.

We can see that for Mark Jesus is a ventriloquist dummy. He will put words in Jesus’ mouth simply to tell a story as he wants it to be told, not as it actually would have occurred had it really happened.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

But Paul Converted!!

Habermas and Licona list Paul's conversion from persecutor of the church to the church's great advocate as the third key fact which helps point to the fact of the resurrection. Somehow they expect that for the skeptic this fact, along with the others, is difficult to account for.

The obvious question is, why do they think this is so significant? Don't people convert from one religion to the other all the time? Habermas and Licona address this objection on page 65. The difference, they say, is that Paul's conversion is based upon primary sources (what he perceived as a personal encounter with Jesus) whereas other people that convert do so usually because they are persuaded by secondary sources.

Once again the skeptic is left wondering how people as intelligent as Habermas and Licona can make such claims. The follow up question is obvious. Don't people convert from one religion to the other based upon what they perceive as personal experiences all the time? Didn't Joseph Smith convert based upon a personal encounter with the angel Moroni? Didn't Mohamed advocate his god Allah as the one true deity based upon what he perceived as a personal encounter with the angel Gabriel? Don't many people become Roman Catholics based upon personal encounters with Mary? Don't Pentecostals convert based upon personal encounters with the Holy Spirit and with Jesus as well? Don't thousands upon thousands of people convert to one religion or another based upon what they perceive as personal encounters?

Skeptical readers may be wondering why I'm even bothering to review such silliness. This is again just nonsense that Habermas and Licona can't possibly think would be persuasive to anyone but those that want to be persuaded. Why bother with this book? Frankly I didn't expect the reasoning to be this poor when I started. And honestly it's not always as weak as this. But this book does raise issues that will lead to more interesting critiques in the future, so don't give up on me here.

One other point in rebuttal to Habermas and Licona. They haven't really argued that Paul really wrote things like Galatians and I Corinthians. I understand that most so called critics assume he did, but that doesn't prove it. I actually think there are good reasons to doubt this, as I argued in the comments section here, but of course even if he did write it, it really doesn't prove anything.