Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Comments are Banned by an Atheist

It appears that I have been banned from posting comments by John Loftus at Debunking Christianity.  The comments that got me banned concerned John's claim that the quality of any academic program in Christian apologetics could be judged by whether or not it dealt specifically with the books he has written on counter-apologetics.  I suggested "that criticizing apologists for not specifically addressing your arguments is the exact same tactic that apologists use to dismiss scholars they don't like."

Apparently, however, it is my agnosticism about the historical Jesus that really ticked John off:  "Vinny you are like every other atheist I have met who does not think Jesus existed. You have cookie cutter mentality. If I do not fit the mold you will find something to criticize me for if you can."

My response to that comment was evidently the straw that broke the camel's back:

I do not in fact believe that Jesus did not exist. I am agnostic about the historical Jesus. I don't think it really matters whether the historical Jesus existed or not because I think he has been too thoroughly mythologized to be recovered either way. I think that historicists overestimate the strength of their case and underestimate its vulnerability. However, I think that mythicists generally do the same thing.

I do find the discussions of mythicism interesting and I enjoy participating in them to test my own thinking and understanding. I have generally tried to be polite although I realize I can be a smart ass sometimes.

I think you are completely overreacting to my comment. If it's not too late to vote on whether you should take some time off from counter-apologetics, I think I might vote yes.
The next time I returned to John's blog, I found that I would not be allowed to post any more comments.  I have been banned from the blogs of some conservative Christians, however, this is the first time that I have been banned by an atheist.

I regret this because Debunking Christianity has always been one of my favorite blogs, and as far as I can tell, I have not violated any part of John's Comment Policy.  However, I guess it is just as well that there is one less internet site that I will have reason to waste time on. 

I was gratified to see that John has decided to take some time off from blogging.  I don't know whether it had anything to do with my suggestion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

We Are So Screwed

The economy is barely moving and the Democrats and Republicans are arguing over how hard to push on the brakes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Evidence Doesn't Matter to Rick Perry

I don't have any problem with people who believe that the Bible is a supernatural book.  I do have a problem with people who believe that objective evidence proves that the Bible is a supernatural book.  I have seen the convoluted mental gymnastics that people use to convince themselves the empirical evidence justifies their belief in a magic book.  I think that engaging in such distorted reasoning inevitably impairs their ability to deal with empirical data in other areas as well.

Here is a perfect example with Texas governor Rick Perry.  Confronted with the fact that Texas has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, Perry insists that Abstinence Only sex education works.  He has no idea why Texas has such a high teen pregnancy rate, but that doesn't matter because his personal subjective experience tells him that "abstinence works."

Watch live video from texastribune on

On August 6, Governor Perry will be hosting "a solemn gathering of prayer and fasting for our country" called The Response at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Here's how he is promoting the event:

Fellow Americans,

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.

Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.

I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.

Some problems might be easier to solve if we tried to figure out what actually works based on empirical evidence rather than our subjective feelings about what we wish would work. I don't know whether there is a God, but if there is, I think he wants us to use the brains he gave us to address our problems.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Apologetics in a Nutshell

Christian apologists love to make arguments based on the way things normally happen and the way people normally act. For example, they have no trouble asserting that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus couldn't have been hallucinations because we know that hallucinations are not shared. However, when some one points out that we also know that dead people stay dead, they insist that this is evidence of the skeptic's closed-minded anti-supernatural presuppositions.

I saw this phenomenon illustrated recently in a discussion over at Dagoods' blog about dating the composition of the Acts of the Apostles.  The book ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome.  Anette Acker, who blogs at Grace and Miracles, argued that Acts was written around 62 A.D. because it doesn't mention important events that occurred after that date.  Dagoods and I argued that the author had other reasons for ending the story there.  We argued that the book must have been written after the destruction of temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  because the author has Jesus foretell that event in the Gospel of Luke.

Anette insisted that our conclusion was being driven by our presuppositions about the impossibility of the supernatural:
The real question is this: How likely do you think it is that scholars would date Acts after the fall of Jerusalem if Jesus had not predicted it in Luke? Do you think that if it was written several decades later, it’s likely that Acts would have ended a) while Paul was in house arrest in Rome pending appeal, b) without mentioning the death of Paul, c) without mentioning the persecution of Nero, and d) without mentioning the Great Revolt and the fall of Jerusalem?

This is the problem: Biblical criticism is the study of the Bible as a human creation. By itself that is no problem, because the Bible can certainly be studied that way, like any other series of historical documents.

However, this means that everything is presumed to have a natural explanation. In other words, because Jesus “predicted” the fall of Jerusalem, critical Bible scholars have to date the Gospels—and by extension Acts—after 70 AD.

The real problem with this is that if you look to critical Bible scholars to help you decide whether the Bible is the word of God, they will give you only one possible answer: No. Why is that? Because the answer is already assumed in biblical criticism, which is “the treatment of Biblical texts as natural rather than supernatural artifacts” (Wikipedia).

Do you see the circularity in this approach if your question is whether the Bible is the word of God or just a human construct? In biblical criticism the presupposition is that the Bible is an entirely natural text.

So if you're approaching this in a neutral way, then the question is: Apart from the "prediction" of Jesus, what is the most likely explanation for why Acts ends the way it does?
Here’s the problem I see for the apologists who make this argument (and Anette is certainly not alone in doing so): The argument that Acts was written in 62 A.D--i.e., before Paul’s death, the Neronic persecution, and the fall of Jerusalem--depends upon the assumption that it is a human book. Only when a finite human writes a book can we infer from its silence about a particular event that the author doesn't know about the event and was, therefore, writing before the event occurred. God, on the other hand, knows everything that ever happens throughout all eternity. If a supernatural book omits mention of a particular event, we cannot conclude that its author doesn’t know about it or that it hasn’t occurred yet. That argument depends on the natural assumption that human beings cannot see into the future.

However, if we assume that the Acts is a human book, then how can we avoid making the same assumption about the Gospel of Luke?  If the assumption that human beings don't see into the future is valid when dating Acts, we have to conclude that that the detailed descriptions of the fall of Jerusalem in Luke are strong evidence that it was written after 70 A.D.  It is conceivable that the author of Luke simply recorded the canny predictions of an astute military and political analyst, but I don't think that the historian can assess that as more likely than the much more common phenomenon of someone claiming to have foreseen important events only after the fact. 

The real problem is that apologists want to apply the methodology of critical scholarship--i.e., methodological naturalism--only so long as it supports the conclusion that they wish to reach.  As soon as it poses a barrier, they deride it as closed-minded and biased.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How Strange are Dr. & Mrs. Bachmann?

Here's Michelle Bachman explaining how she became a tax lawyer because her husband told her to do so and the Bible tells wives to be submissive to her husband.

Here's Bill Maher noting that the really weird thing is that when Michelle told her husband that she would do anything he wanted, rather than asking for a three-way or asking her to cover herself with whipped cream, he asked he to become a tax lawyer.

That of course leads to Jon Stewart struggling to control the urge to make fun of the contrast between the "pray-the-gay-away" therapy that Dr. Bachmann's less than macho voice and mannerisms.

Finally we have South Park's take on reparative therapy with Pastor Phillip.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Republican Myths

Happy 4th of July
Consider the mythology that makes up GOP orthodoxy today. Imagine the contortions that cramp the brains and souls of men and women of intelligence and compassion who seek state and national office under the Republican banner.

• They must believe, despite the evidence of the 2008 financial collapse, that unregulated — or at most, lightly regulated — financial markets are good for America and the world.

• They must believe in the brilliantly cast conceit known as the "pro-growth agenda," in which economic growth can be attained only by reducing corporate and individual tax rates, especially among the investor class, and by freeing business from environmental rules that have cleaned up America's air and water and labor regulations that helped create America's middle class.

. . .

• GOP candidates must scoff at scientific consensus about global warming. Blame it on human activity? Bad. Cite Noah's Ark as evidence? Good. They must express at least some doubt about the science of evolution.

. . .
Read the rest at