jump to navigation

No coincidence January 16, 2019

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Humor.
Tags: , , , ,
8 comments

I just had to write a quick post about something fun that happened recently.

My spouse and I took a weekend at a local hotel for our anniversary. (33 years!  Woo!)  One of the drawbacks to our tiny townhouse is that it doesn’t have a proper bathtub, and a long hot bath is one of my favorite ways to relax.  There’s a hotel near my office that has a whole bunch of jacuzzi suites, so we have occasionally gone there for our anniversary weekends over the past years.

Whenever I go to a hotel I check to see if there is a Gideon bible, and there usually is.  And before I check out, I’ll leave some helpful annotations in it.  Sometimes on the pages where they are recommending certain passages to read for certain concerns, I’ll add a note to be certain to check out the actual story of Gideon, or the story of Dinah, or Judges 1:19, or some other part that most christians aren’t aware of.  But I’ll always go to the first page and line through “In the beginning” and write in “Once upon a time”.

We cut our trip short this time because of way too much snow, but as we were packing up I realized that I hadn’t done my usual annotations yet, so I pulled out the bible to at least add a quick “Once upon a time.”  But it was already there!  I grinned – was somebody else doing this too?  Were there enough people not taking this book seriously that I had encountered another “fixed” bible?  Wow!

Alas, I quickly realized that the annotation was in my own handwriting.  Apparently we had stayed in the same room in a previous year.  Oh, well.  At least that shows how little used those bibles are.  The book looked brand spanking new, no wear and tear at all.  And even though the Gideons encourage people to keep the bibles if they want to, nobody had taken this one.  It was still there, pretty much untouched, for years.  I hope that someday all “holy books” can be so thoroughly ignored.

Funeral update October 20, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,
19 comments

Well, I went to the funeral for my friend.  And it was pretty much like I expected.

First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:

  • There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
  • There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
  • There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
  • There was a crowd of more than 600 people.  The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
  • My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
  • There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.

But.

The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him.  The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god.  Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor.  I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.

But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.

The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon.  It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy.  Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus.   OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.  But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend.  My friend who died in a pointless accident.  My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years.  I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens.  You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.

But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better.  On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:

I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family.  So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.

Evangelists and the Reason Rally, First Epistle June 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,
14 comments

Reason Rally 2012

I’ll be at the Reason Rally on Saturday.  This is kind of a no-brainer for me, all I need to do is drive to the Metro station and take a train downtown, it’s not like this will require any special travel arrangements.  I went last time, and even though it was a cold rainy day in March, I had a blast.  I’m expecting this one to be just as good, and better weather.

But there was one extra bonus I was looking forward to for this year’s Rally, and that was that Ray Comfort was planning to spend a weekend training up a thousand preachers with his version of “converting the atheists” and then bring them to the rally and sic them on us.  He was also going to bring books to give away, and free Subway gift cards, since apparently the bestest and truest Truth™ ever still requires bribery to get people to listen to it.  Since there’s likely to be at least 20,000 atheists at the rally, that’s twenty atheists up against each of these poor indoctrinated people, at a minimum.  And not just your everyday apatheists, either, the crowd will be full of people who care enough about non-belief to turn out for an event like this.  Bloggers and podcasters, and people with real experience against apologists.  This was shaping up to be really entertaining.

Alas, Ray’s quest to “save the atheists” will not be happening.  Turns out that bringing a group like that counts as a “counter protest” and that he would have to get a permit, and also do his protesting at the other end of the mall from our Rally.  So much for the fun, there.  At least Ray is donating the Subway cards to the homeless, or so he says.

I had some things I wanted to say to those wanna-be Magic Christians at the rally.  But since they are not showing up in a group*, I’ll outline a few of them here instead.

Ubi Dubium’s First Epistle to the Evangelists

“Well, Mr. Preacher, let me talk to you about false teachers.  You are an evangelical christian, yes?  So I hope that you will agree with me that if you are right, then all those other preachers from all those other religions and sects out there must be at least partially wrong, if not totally wrong.  You want me to listen only to you, yes?

“Well, if there is somebody out there that actually has correct answers, then I would want to listen to that person.  But I think you and I would agree that the world is full of false teachers.  (Your bible even says there will be false prophets.)  How full?  I looked up some numbers.  Out of a world population of 7 billion people, the population of Evangelical Christians is 300 million.  Or about 4%.  So, Mr. True Christian™, if your sect is the one with the correct message, that means that 96% of the potential preachers out there are false teachers.   So from my point of view, a random preacher has at least a 96% chance of being the wrong person to listen to.  (I actually think that this percentage is much closer to 100%, but I’m being generous here.)

“That’s the first hurdle you need to get past to get me to listen to you, Mr. Preacher.  You are talking to someone who thinks there’s at least a 96% chance that you are full of B.S.  You have got to be pretty amazing to overcome that.  You can’t just come at me with the same tired old apologetics that’s I’ve heard a million times before.  Rhetorical tricks like Ray is famous for won’t do it either.  If you really have a “message from god”, you have got to stand out from all those other guys.

“And by “stand out” I don’t mean preach “we have this one bit of dogma that’s really great, and nobody else has exactly this.”  I mean different in a major way, not just in the picky details of belief.  Let’s take a look at a bunch of religions that you consider false.  They believe in a god that started out only being concerned with a small group of humans.  They believe that a special select human was given a particular message from god, that was written down by humans in a holy book.  A book that requires copying and translating by humans.  That message is now spread from person to person by preaching and encouraging unquestioning belief in that book.  And the believers in each of those sects form tribal groups with specific customs and rules to distinguish members of their in-group from everybody else, and they require financial support from those members to support their organization.

“That’s the way false religions are spread.  Why would a real god who wanted people to spread a true religion have them spread it in exactly the same way as all the false ones???

“The question of whether there is a god, and whether that god talks to people, is an important question.  Too important to be determined by whatever random preacher feels like pushing their dogma on me today.  Too important to leave to an accident of geography, for whichever is the majority religion in the area I find myself in.   If I’m going to listen to a preacher, they have to distinguish themselves from all the others in some meaningful way, a way that I’m not going to confuse with a guy just being a persuasive speaker.

“So what am I looking for?  Here’s an example that I’ve used before – my passcode.  I have a sentence that I have thought in my head many times, but never told anybody or written down.  It’s a sentence in plain English, but one that would never come up in casual conversation.   An actual god would know what it is, and somebody that can really communicate with a god could ask their god to tell them what that code is.  If an evangelist comes up to me, and can tell me my personal code, that person will have my undivided attention.  That person has done something that no other preacher has ever been able to do, and different enough to make them stand out.  And I shouldn’t even have to tell them I want this code, their god could tell them the code and tell them to go talk to me, that would be even more convincing!

“Now is my passcode the only thing that I would accept?  No, of course not, but it’s the minimum level of extraordinariness that I would accept.  Any other evidence you want to use is going to need to be as strong or stronger than that.  For example, if you can produce a holy text that does not require translation, but can magically be read by anybody as if it were in their own language, that would also work.  Or if the stars rearranged to spell a different bible verse every night.  Or if the tree in my front yard stopped growing crabapples and started growing KJV bibles.  Or  you actually moved a mountain, a real one, just by prayer.  You know, real things happening, not just a bunch of talk.

“If there is a god who can read people’s thoughts then that god would already know, better than I would, what evidence would convince me.  And an all-powerful god could send it.  But there’s nothing so far.  So either your god doesn’t want to be found, or doesn’t care whether I believe, or is a jerk, or (what I think is most likely) is fictional.

“So consider, Mr. Preacher, why your all-powerful god sends you out to preach with no better tools to work with than all the false preachers out there have.  Go ask your god for something better.  Or resign yourself to the fact that you are not the magical evangelist that is going to convert all the heathens out there, you’re just another member of the fan club for your hidden, silent god.”

Thus endeth the first epistle.  Stay tuned.

*Some of those preachers may still show up on on their own at the event, since it is free and open to the public.

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 2) June 17, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
15 comments

Previous post in this series.

So continuing on with this set of thoughtful answers to stupid questions.

9. Do you know that Jesus loves you?

No, because he doesn’t.  He’s dead, so he doesn’t love anybody.  Dead people don’t feel emotions, it’s one of the major side effects of being dead.  I know that his fan club says that he’s alive and he loves people.  But then some members of Elvis’s fanclub still think Elvis is alive.  They know because they saw him shopping down at the Piggly-Wiggly.

10. If Christianity is false, then why is it popular?

Ah – the old argument ad populum, if it’s popular it must be true.  For hundreds of years bleeding was the most popular medical treatment. That didn’t mean it was effective.  Power Balance bracelets were so popular that the company had the money to buy naming rights to a stadium!  But the bracelets turned out to be overpriced rubber bands with a big campaign of deceptive marketing behind them.  There’s plenty of things that are popular that are still complete rubbish.

And you also have to consider the availability heuristic, which is a fancy phrase that means we give too much importance to the information we see right around us, and ignore other factors.  If you live in the US Bible Belt, it’s easy to think that christianity is the most popular, because it’s what’s around you every day.  But only about 1/3 of the world’s population is christian, the rest are muslim, hindu, buddhist, etc etc.  If christianity were so obviously true, you’d think it would be more popular.

11. If you say Christianity is not true, then why do hundreds of people continue to become saved every day?

Now we need to talk about confirmation bias.  We pay attention to and remember things that are different,  interesting, or that agree with the opinions we already have.  We ignore information that is ordinary,  boring, or that contradicts our opinions.  So hundreds of people are becoming “saved” every day?  How many are quitting?  You don’t actually know.  Your church doesn’t pay attention to those numbers, or at least they don’t tell you if they do, and you don’t notice when somebody stops showing up, unless it’s a friend.  Can you imagine if a church had an announcement in it’s bulletin that said “Well this week we saved two souls for jesus, and five other people stopped believing”?  Yeah, they don’t print that part.

So how do we know whether christianity is gaining or losing converts overall?  Here’s a chart, made with information about the US gathered from the Pew Forum, showing the religion people were raised with, and their current religion.  There’s a lot a switching, but it’s apparent that  a lot more people are switching out of religion than are switching into it.

religion switching

This second graphic shows that all US christian groups declined in membership from 2007-2014, but the numbers of unaffiliated increased dramatically.

religious landscape

So at least in the US, you are not converting more people than you are losing.  Sorry.

12. Why do we not see half trees and half carrots, fronkeys, and crocoducks if evolution is real?

Because that’s not the way evolution works, and this question shows a refusal to even try to understand the basics of it.  If we saw crazy things like that, instead of slow stepwise modifications over time, it would be evidence that our theories about evolution were totally wrong, and we’d have to rethink things.  But we don’t see those.

13. Why is Richard Dawkins afraid to debate Ray Comfort?

He’s not afraid, a debate with Comfort just isn’t worth his time.  There’s several reasons for that.

  • He’s a famous and accomplished biologist and science communicator, and engaging Comfort in a debate would indicate that he thought Comfort was a worthy adversary and raise Comfort’s perceived status.  To paraphrase Dawkins’ comment on this (in American English) “It would look better on his resume than on mine.”
  • Comfort offered $10,000 as a challenge.  That’s much less than Dawkins’ usual speaking fee for a regular appearance.
  • Comfort is not an honest debater.  Matt Dillahunty once accepted a debate with Comfort, agreeing on the format and subject matter ahead of time.  But once the debate started, Comfort declared that he didn’t care what the subject of debate was, he was just going to preach, and launched into his usual soapbox spiel.  I listened to this entire debate, and Comfort was rude and dishonest about his intentions from the beginning.  Matt has said he would never accept another debate with Comfort, and I don’t see any reason why anybody else would want to either.
  • Debates are not a good format for arriving at truth or changing minds.  There are better ways to go about it.

14. Did you know Christopher Hitchens was saved before death?

No, because he wasn’t.  You don’t get to make stuff up and claim it’s true.  He was very definite about not believing, right up to the end, and had harsh words for the people that he knew would try to propagate a fiction like that. This is called “lying for jesus” and it doesn’t make you look like someone who should be listened to and trusted.  If making up stories like that is the best you’ve got to support your religion, then give up now.

15. Are you aware Ray Comfort disproved atheism with a banana?

I’m aware that Comfort made a fool out of himself with a banana.  This is one of the questions that is so silly it makes me think this entire list is a spoof.  But for the benefit of those few people out there that still think this is a legitimate question, I’ll explain.

Ray (with Kirk Cameron) claimed that the shape and tastiness and convenience of bananas was evidence that god had designed them for us.

This is a wild banana.  If a god had designed bananas, this is what he designed.  It’s green and hard and full of seeds and really unappetizing and inconvenient.

Inside_a_wild-type_banana

Sweet yellow seedless bananas don’t happen in the wild.  They are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding by humans.  We selected for the traits we wanted, and over time produced a plant that suited our needs.  So of course it’s handy and tasty and  easy to peel and seedless.  (Duh.)

And how does Ray then explain a pineapple?  The best fruit in the world, hidden under a nasty hard rind that won’t peel off, with spiky leaves in your face.  Is that god saying “pppppbbbbbfttthhhh on you!” or what?

16.Why do people laugh at evolutionists?

It’s a defense mechanism.  Fundamentalist christians (unlike mainstream christians) have based their entire worldview around the literal truth of every single word of their book.  Anything that undermines any small part of that belief is a threat to all of it.  Ask a Presbyterian or a Methodist if the Garden of Eden was a real place and most will say “That’s obviously a myth, meant to teach a moral lesson.  Now lets sing some more happy songs about how great god is.”  They aren’t concerned about the literal truth of every word, so evolution is not a threat to them, and most of them are just fine with it. But for a fundamentalist, if you undermine even a small piece of their book their whole faith could come crashing down.

And another feature of christianity is that it puts mankind up on a pedestal as it were, insisting that the entire universe was created just for us.  We are the center of everything, we are special, we are different.  Everything we discover that puts us farther away from being the center of the universe must be fought tooth and nail. That’s why the catholic church fought so hard against Copernicus and Galileo when they proposed heliocentrism.  Not being in the center of everything made us seem less special, and they couldn’t have that.  Evolution likewise pushes us off that pedestal of specialness and puts us as just one animal among many.

So evolution tells us the bible is wrong and that we are not the pinnacle of creation.  Rather than face that possibility, fundamentalists make up nonsense “creation science” that doesn’t actually discover anything, and ignore inconvenient scientific findings, and tell themselves that all the professional biologists are making it all up.  And they laugh, and cover their ears, and say “LA LA LA!!  I can’t hear you!!” because if they didn’t they might actually learn something that would endanger their fragile belief system.

Next Post in this series.

10 Questions for Every Atheist July 16, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
13 comments

This list has been floating around the internet for a few days.  I did a response to a similar list of 15 questions awhile back, and you can find my answers to that one here: 15 Question Atheist Challenge (Edit – and another fairly stupid 10-question set I answered here.)  But I suppose I’ll join in and answer these too.

The list recently appeared here: http://todaychristian.net/10-questions-every-atheist/#_

But was lifted from a post by Robert Neilsen, an atheist, here: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/

The first thing that caught my eye is this lead-in on the TodayChristian website:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

And you will never hear any of those conclusions from their website, because commenting was not allowed on that post.  Because throwing out an assertion like that wouldn’t be any fun if the real atheists were actually allowed to show up and refute it by truly and honestly really answering them.  So here’s my shot at truly and honestly really answering them.  I’ll try to keep each answer succinct, since I tend to ramble sometimes.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Short version: I read the bible, just like my youth leaders said I should.  Twice, cover to cover, two different translations. And then in college, I ran headlong into people who were crazy fundamentalists of one sort or another, and the nutcase preachers like Brother Jed, each totally certain that they were right and everybody else was going to burn in hell.  And I started thinking about whether it made sense to believe any of this, and I realized that it didn’t.  And I thought about whether the stuff I had been taught had any more solid basis in reality, and it didn’t.  By the end of college I was functionally an atheist, but didn’t adopt the word until later.  That was around 30 years ago now, and I’m still not believing any of it.

2.       What happens when we die?

We decompose, and the brain that produces the activity that we call our “conscious mind” stops doing that.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Then I’ll have a wonderful time at the Beer Volcano, while all you christian infidels have to settle for flat beer and ugly strippers down in Hell Lite.  Oh, did you mean YOUR version of heaven and hell?  Why are those any more likely to be true than all the other versions?

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Same place everybody does.  My own sense of empathy and compassion, plus rules devised from the need to live together with other people in groups.  By trial and error over thousands of years, we’ve worked out some pretty good rules for co-existing.  Not that there still isn’t room for improvement.

Some people think they get their morality from ancient books or supernatural beings.  But I think that’s just religion taking credit for something it didn’t invent.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

How would there being a god make you not free to do those things?  Plenty of religious people do those things all the time, the fact that they think there is a god watching doesn’t stop them.

But I’m not free to murder and rape if I want to live as part of a community of other people.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

I create my own meaning in life.  Being told what my life is supposed to be by some superbeing would be awful.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

I don’t know.  But we are developing some good ideas about what happened right at the start, and those come from looking at the evidence and following where it leads.  I don’t pretend to know stuff that I don’t, that’s what religion does.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

Look up confirmation bias.  Humans are really good at paying attention to the things that match up with their preconceptions and ignoring everything that doesn’t.  And we’re really good at fooling ourselves.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

You left out Dennett!  I agree with some of the things they say, and disagree with others.  There are other atheist writers and speakers I find more often in line with what I think, including Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty, and Hemant Mehta.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there were a god, then why do we have thousands of mutually contradicting religions?  If there were an all-intelligent super-being who wanted people to know what he wants from them, why has he done such a lousy job of communicating it?

People are superstitious, due to patternicity, agenticity, confirmation bias and credulous childhoods.  From that beginning, religions coalesce and grow and compete for followers, and those that are the most successful endure and spread.  (OOOOH- there’s that Darwin again!)  The other, less successful ones die off, which is why nobody is still worshipping Marduk or Osiris anymore.  Nowadays most people are stuck with some form of the mental malware of religion, but some of us are recognizing it for what it is and getting rid of it.

 

There, that’s enough for now.

Don’t say “Miracles are impossible” May 3, 2013

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
8 comments

Every so often, I hear a discussion or debate between a believer and a non-believer, and the non-believer will begin going on about how the miracles claimed by religion are physically impossible.  How people can’t walk on water because there isn’t enough surface tension, how people can’t really turn into pillars of salt, how water can’t become wine, how people can’t actually come back from the dead, etc.  Even JT, in what was otherwise a very good debate, recently used this argument.

I feel a need to point out that this is a very weak argument against theism, and that it’s an ineffective tactic for use in a debate.  This is because the believer comes back with “Well DUH!  That’s how god shows his power.  If it was physically possible, then it wouldn’t be much of a miracle, would it?”  Rather like the way a child believes in Santa, even when you point out that he really could not fit down the chimney.  “It’s magic, silly.”  If someone believes in magic, then no amount of pointing out how impossible it all is will change their minds.

Now I do think bringing up miracles can be a useful tactic in a debate or a discussion.  But not in the context of “they’re impossible”.  So here’s my version of a more useful discussion of “miracles”.

First, I think we should define exactly what we mean by a “miracle”.  Some people talk about the victory of a sports team as a miracle, or the spontaneous remission of cancer, or their finding just the parking space they need right when they need it.  These events might be very unlikely, but there is enough of a chance that these things would occur that we would expect them to happen every once in awhile.  When I’m discussing miracles with believers, I want to rule out these unlikely but possible things as miracles.  If we take a group of 100 people who have a cancer that has a 99% fatality rate and have all the members of a church pray for those people and one survives, that’s not a miracle.  That’s the statistically expected result.  That one person might feel like they were granted a personal miracle, but the 99 other dead people certainly weren’t.

When I’m discussing miracles, I want to discuss those claimed events that would be in complete violation of all observed natural law.  Religions certainly have enough of those in their ancient books.  A good example of this would be the story of the sun stopping in the sky during a battle.  In reality, if this happened, that would mean the earth had stopped rotating, and then started up again later.  I have not run the numbers, but I think that the amount of energy that would be required to overcome the earth’s angular momentum, and then to put it back again, would cause catastrophic damage to everything on the surface and maybe melt the earth’s crust.  This is the kind of miracle I would want to discuss, literally impossible things, the sort of event where the statistically expected number of times we should ever expect it to happen on its own is “none”.

Biblegod is described as an all-powerful being who is able to do things that violate the known laws of the universe.  He is protrayed as making specific local violations happen, in order to establish his existence or power, reward the faithful, or punish evildoers.  The OT in particular is full of this sort of miracle. Why don’t they happen any more?

There are several possible answers I commonly hear on this:

1.  They still happen, but we aren’t looking in the right way.

2. They don’t happen anymore because Jesus.

3. They don’t happen anymore because Mysterious Ways™

4. They never happened because the bible is a big book of tall tales.

So, my responses to these:

1. ” We aren’t looking in the right way.”  With our  modern advances, we have many more ways of observing the universe than ever before, and also more ways of communicating those results to each other.  If there were genuine supernatual events happening, someone would have measured them by now, written a paper and won a Nobel.  Or at least won the $1,000,000 from the JREF.  But so far, the closer and more accurately we look, the more the miracles are just not showing up.  We study intercessory prayer and discover that it does nothing.   Amputees are never healed.  People who say god talks to them are never given any accurate information that they could not hve gotten another way.   I’ve actually heard believers say things like “Well, if you don’t believe, then you won’t see the miracle.  You have to believe first.”  There’s a name for making up your mind first, then looking for the evidence to back it up afterward: Confirmation Bias.

2. “They don’t happen anymore because Jesus.”  The premise is that god doesn’t need any of that OT stuff anymore because there’s a “new covenant” and now all that’s needed is a personal relationship with Jesus.  No more animal sacrifices, no big showy miracles, bacon is OK now, tattoos are allowed, all of that stuff that was so vital to keep biblegod from smiting you is now not needed anymore (although somehow homosexuality is still bad, go figure).  I have a couple of problems with this.  First, the NT also has miracles.  People had Jesus right in front of them, and they still needed miracles, and even then most of those people did not drop everything to become followers.  Thomas asked for evidence before he could believe, and he got it.  Later the apostles were supposedly also working miracles to demonstrate the truth of their message.  So “not needing miracles” anymore does not fly.

My other problem with this is that biblegod is supposed to be a perfect being.  So, a perfect being who used to show off all the time but now doesn’t?  A perfect being who used to throw temper tantrums if people were wicked, flooding the earth or swallowing them up with an earthquake or a fish, but now he’s apparently had anger management lessons?  Why would a perfect being change?  Why would a perfect being ever need to change the rules?   He used to be all jealous and badass and smitey, and insisted on strange pointless rituals and demanded the smell of barbeque, and now he just wants to live in your heart and help you find your keys?  This makes no sense at all.

3. They don’t happen anymore because Mysterious Ways™.  “God has a plan and we can’t understand it. He’s just so far above us that we couldn’t begin to comprehend him.  We just have to trust.”  This one is a cop-out.  If biblegod is so frikkin mysterious, then how do you claim to understand anything about him at all?  Yet preachers get up and say:  “I know what god wants, he wants you to think a and b and c, never think d or e or f, and you must hate x and y and z because he does.  I assure you that if you believe exactly what I tell you this book says, you’ll be doing exactly what he wants.  He loves guns, he hates gays, he will rain down blessings if you say this particular prayer, and he wants you to give me at least 10% of your money.”  This version of god is not mysterious in the least! If he’s so mysterious you can’t understand him, then he’s mysterious enough that the preachers don’t understand him and the prophets didn’t understand him either.   If you use “Mysterious Ways™” to explain theological problems away, then you need to stop trying to convince people that you understand anything about your god.

4. They never happened because the bible is a big book of tall tales.   People tell impressive stories around the campfire, later other people write them down, and then years later other people think all that stuff was supposed to be real.  Yeah. This is the only one of the options that really makes any consistent sense.

Does anybody else have any other explanations they’ve heard from believers for the absense of modern miracles?

Random Bible Verse game December 4, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Games, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,
15 comments

http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/85278042fe462222e411c068b9b6403a?s=120&d=%2Fuploads%2Fgravatar.png&r=G

I was reading a comment thread on NonStampCollector’s Blog:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/nonstampcollector/2012/11/21/the-bible-is-mainly-nice-right/

The post was about how the claim that “the Bible may have some awful things in it, but it’s mainly nice” is bollocks.  The Bible is mostly boring, and of the parts that aren’t boring, most of it is pretty awful.

Anyway, in the comments, commenter James Sweet posted a link to a random Bible verse generator.  He had to be careful in finding one, because a lot of the inspirational sites have generators that only pick from a list of the nicey-nicey stuff, instead of being truly random verses.  But he found a real one, that picks from the whole bible:

http://www.stevenmarkford.com/random-bible-verse/

Other commenters, trying it, were (un)surprised how quickly a verse would come up containing an atrocity or something truly nasty.  So I gave it a try.  Here’s what came up on my third click:

Exodus 32:27 and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Each man fasten his sword on his side, and go back and forth from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and each one kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.”

Third click!

So if anybody out there tries this game, how quickly did you arrive at something awful?

*** Edit: The Chaplain found a link to an improved version of the random generator: http://www.stevenmarkford.com/random-bible-verse-version-2/.  Thanks!

The Problem of Evil and Morality, a Humanist Answer, Part 2 April 20, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

From Part 1:

So back the xians come, inevitably, with something like this: ‘Well, you can’t explain it either, smarty-pants!  And anyway, without god and the bible we woudn’t have morality at all.  We’d all be running aroung killing everybody, so you’d better be grateful there’s a god!”

So how does a Humanist explain the presence of Evil in the world?  And how to explain the existence of morality?  My answer covers both of these isues. 

First – as to all the natural disasters, etc.  The absence of any benevolent god covers this one.  The universe simply does not care about us.  This is actually really comforting!  When something bad happens, there is no reason to agonize about what one might have done to “deserve it”.   Crap happens, and it happens randomly to the good and the bad alike.  Nobody deserves a tsunami or a tornado or Alzheimers.  These things just happen, and it’s nothing personal.  (Of course, there are some things that happen that people do bring on themselves, by deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way.  If someone has lung cancer from smoking, or loses their house to a hurricane because they built it on a barrier island, it is largely their fault.  But it’s not some divine retribution, or bad karma, it’s just playing the odds and losing.)

So, why do people sometimes treat each other very badly, and why are people, for the most part, not running around like homicidal maniacs? 

First, a side note.  It should be abundantly obvious to anyone who is paying attention, and whose life is not ruled by confirmation bias, that the origin of “moral” behavior is not the christianity, the bible, or any particular religion.  Social animals have behavior codes, and for the brainier ones this is not instinctual but learned.  Read what Jane Goodall writes about chimpanzees, and you can see this.  Ancient peoples had “moral” codes, and some of those were much superior to the ancient Hebrew patriarchal nonsense that appears in the OT.  And many of the most stable, peaceful, healthy and happy countries in the world today are also some of the least religious.  Check out Sweden, for instance.  So the claims of morality originating from some god or some book are obviously invalid.

So here is my personal explanation for the origin of both “evil” and “morality”: 

 Human beings are the product of evolution.  This means that we are the desendants of the winners in the fight for survival that has been going on since the origin of life.  We are scrappy survivors.  We  each must agressively pursue our own self-interests, as must all other organisms, because if we don’t do this, we don’t survive or reproduce.

AND – we have evolved to be social animals.  That’s our niche, our survival strategy.  Each of us is incredibly dependent on the other members of our community.  So we each must also aggresively pursue the welfare of our social group if we are to survive and reproduce.

So, it’s a balancing act.  To be successful as a human being, it’s necessary to balance individual interests against social interests.  And it’s necessary to be aware of what that “social group” is, and who it includes.  There is no one perfect balance, because the right mix depends on the situation at the time.  Sometimes the best survival strategy is complete cooperation with your society, and sometimes it’s not.

And sometimes people get that balance really wrong.   Whether it’s putting your own interests too far ahead of the interests of those you depend on, or whether it’s blind obedience to a social group that has been misled by a destructive ideology, there are ample opportunities to get it really wrong, and either one can cause human suffering. 

Human morality is a set of rules that we have developed over thousands of years that are practical for helping us achieve that balance.  Mostly, these rules concern how to best get along with other people, how to rein in individual interests, because we make these rules as a social group for the smooth functioning of the social group.  These rules have changed over the years, but in general we keep the rules that work, and eventually chuck out the rules that don’t. Rules like “don’t kill each other” and “don’t steal stuff” have likely been around  longer than homo sapiens has.  And those basic rules are common to all successful cultures around the world, not just the ones with an Abrahamic religion.

Religion hijacks the basic moral rules that all cultures use, adds some additional arbitrary rules for distinguishing “us” from “them”, and then takes credit for all of morality.  As a result we get comments like “Well without the bible, we’d all just be totally amoral!  I’d just be going around killing everybody if not for Jeeesus!”  To the people that say that I say “Well, if you genuinely believe that, I think you should stay with your religion.  Please!”   For everybody else, before you act think about what effect your actions will have on you, what effect they will have on those in your immediate social group, and what effect they will have on your community, given that our whole world is now one enormous  interconnected community.  And remember that there is no divine fix or forgiveness coming to clean up your mistakes, and you only get one chance at life, so please try really hard not to screw it up.

That’s my personal thoughts.  Subject, of course, to modification over time as I run into new ideas and new evidence.

Answer to Rocky March 21, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

More than a year ago I began receiving private messages on a now-defunct de-convert forum from a xian with the handle “Rocky”. He sent me some generic questions that were not directly preachy and I answered in ways that briefly made my position clear without directly challenging his faith. Until one day he asked a rather more pointed question, to which I drafted a very detailed answer:

Rocky, sorry this has been so long in coming. You asked a question which I know touches on a subject near and dear to your heart. So far I have tried to stay away from direct challenges to your faith. But to give you an honest answer to this question, I must directly address just those issues. So if you have had a bad day, or are feeling particularly touchy just now, I recommend you put this answer aside and read it later.

Take a deep breath, here we go.

You asked: “I have a question for you, if you found out tomorrow that Christ truly rose from the dead would you submit to and follow Him? I am really interested in your answer.”

The short answer, which may surprise you, is NO.

But you should have a more detailed answer. Sorry, but this is going to be long. I’m not concerned whether you agree with me, but I am hoping that you can understand my reasoning, and it may help you understand and relate to other non-believers better.

First, your very question makes assumptions on it’s own. You use the word “Christ” instead of “Jesus”. That word has a lot of mythology and expectations attached to it, it’s a title rather than a name. It a Greek word that means “the anointed one” and Christians usually use the word to mean the Jewish messiah, with a specific claim that Jesus was that messiah. (And the idea of a “messiah” has a whole host of assumptions that it rests on, as well.)

There are a lot of things that I would need to believe in to before I could accept the premise of your question, the miraculous rising from the dead. (Someone once asked my oldest daughter “Do you believe a person can come back from the dead?” and she answered, “Well, if you have a defibrillator…”)

Here’s some of what I’d have to be ready to accept: 

  • A supernatural being (or beings) exists or has existed. (from here on, I’m going to use the singular “being” but please realize that it can mean “beings” where appropriate.)
  • This being created the universe.
  • This being still exists.
  • This being is capable of interacting with the inhabitants of the natural world.
  • This being is interested in interacting with the inhabitants of natural world. 
  • This being is all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent. 
  • This being has a particular interest in the humans on our small planet, and created the whole of the vast cosmos entirely for our benefit. 
  • This being is interested in what you do, what you think, what you eat, what you wear, who you sleep with, whether you believe, and for some reason desires your submission and worship.
  • This being took a special interest in one particular small mideastern tribe of bronze-age goat herders, and became their personal war totem, helping them to kill many thousands of innocent people.
  • This being also gave them a list of very picky laws that he wanted followed, and was quick to punish them for any small transgression of those rules.
  • In the bronze age this being was extremely interested in blood sacrifices, worked many obvious miracles, and interacted visibly with humans.
  •  This being gave some of his chosen humans the power of prophecy, and they correctly predicted the coming of a messiah.
  • During the Roman Era that same being miraculously became a human, and continued to work miracles, but now delivered an entirely different message than the legalistic rules delivered before.
  • That human was actually the promised messiah, was executed, and rose from the dead. Correct belief in this event is what divides humans into two groups: those who will be eternally rewarded and those who will be eternally punished.
  • And this being chooses to communicate with humanity by means of a book, which we do not have an original copy of, but which is nevertheless perfect in every word.

Are you following me so far? I’d have to be willing to accept all of those above statements to be able to accept your premise “if you found out tomorrow that Christ truly rose from the dead…” And I don’t accept any of them.

However, your question began “If…” So let’s try the hypothetical “If I actually thought all of the above were true, if I thought that everything that was said and done in the bible actually happened, would I submit and bow down?”

Again my answer has to be “NO”.

Surprised again? Your Biblegod HAS A LOT OF EXPLAINING TO DO!

(I’m going to use the word Biblegod to differentiate the god your church preaches about from all the other ideas out there about any other god or gods, or mysterious forces, or whatever.)

The only thing that really distinguishes us from the other animals is our higher reasoning ability. Why should we have to set this aside in order to please Biblegod? Why should we have to just “believe” instead of thinking things out?

Why should our eternal salvation depend on our understanding of a 2000 year old book when nobody can agree on what that book even means? How many different denominations are out there, each claiming to have the Real Truth? None of them can agree with any other about what the correct interpretation is, or which translation to use. If Biblegod couldn’t even make this clear, how are lowly humans supposed to work this out?

If Jesus were bringing humanity the most important message they would ever receive, why didn’t he write it down himself? (Muhammad wrote his own book and so did Joseph Smith!) Why depend on second, third and fourth-hand accounts written by people who hadn’t even met him? Since they wrote in Greek, but Jesus spoke Aramaic, we don’t have ANY of his original words, anyway. And why don’t we have the original manuscripts? We have hundreds of various manuscripts, all copies of copies of copies, none of which match each other. You’d think Biblegod could have made sure that we had an actual authoritative copy of his perfect book. But we don’t.

Jesus also could have included something in his message that mankind could not possibly have known at the time. That would be a better evidence of divinity than “casting out demons”. He could have told us about germs, or about electricity. He could have said:

Write this down: I say unto you that the attraction between objects decreases in proportion to the distance between them multiplied unto itself. Yes, I know you don’t understand it yet, just write it down.”

That kind of thing would have made it really clear to us in our time that he was something other than just one more cult leader. As it is, he didn’t say anything that we now can confirm, but that a normal human of his time could not have known.

Looking at the idea of “original sin,” if Adam didn’t know the difference between good and evil, then he could not have known it was “wrong” to eat the apple until it was too late! How is this just?

And how is it just for Biblegod to punish all ALL of somebody’s descendants, when they had nothing to do with the original infraction?

If your Biblegod knows everything, then when a baby is born, he already knows whether that person will eventually be saved or spend eternity in hell. Why would a loving god allow billions of people to be born knowing that this will be their fate?

If becoming a Christian is supposed to make people “better” then why don’t we see that? Christian rates of incarceration, divorce, drug use, alcoholism, etc. are as high as for everybody else. For any measure of “morality” Christians do not come out ahead. They behave just as badly as everybody else.

Why do natural disasters hit True Believers just as hard as they do everybody else? Biblegod will help his faithful find a parking space at the mall, but won’t divert a tornado around a church, or send hurricanes back out to sea?

And – there are promises in the bible that Biblegod does not keep. Your book promises that prayers will be answered, that believers will be able to move mountains, and work greater miracles than Jesus did, and none of this can be shown to happen. Sure, believers claim that their prayers work, but when put to any actual tests, they are no better than placebos. Your book says “nothing will be impossible for you” but even with all the millions that prayed for the Gulf Oil spill to just go away, it didn’t. It stayed there until humans stopped the leak and started to clean up the mess.

Why is the universe so inhospitable to human life? In our solar system, out of all the planets and moons and other stuff orbiting out there, why is there only one small planet that will support us? And the surface of that one is 2/3 water, and of the remaining land, a lot of it is deserts, mountaintops, glaciers, and other places unsuitable for humans to live on. And the nearest star to the sun is 3 light-years away, and even with our powerful telescopes we still have not yet been able to find another earth-like planet. This “perfectly designed” universe is a very hostile place overall.

 And what about evil? I think Epicurus put it well in 300 B.C.:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God”

So no, if the events in your bible were true, and your Biblegod really did exist, and was just the way your bible says he is, I would not bow down and grovel to him, in hopes that I could spend eternity singing his praises. Your literal biblical god is capricious, murderous, unfair and a bully. If you protest that “god isn’t really like that” then I suggest you read your bible. All of it, not just the parts you focus on in church. Read about Jericho, Jephthah, Gideon, and Dinah. If that’s a true account of the actions of a real god and his “chosen people”, then I want no part of it.

 (This message was the end of the conversation with Rocky. He never replied, so I don’t even know if he read it.)