Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bad to Worse

Incredibly, the quality of criticism from new atheists seems to have deteriorated.

First there is Richard Carrier who, if his let-me-talk-about-myself-in-the-third-person blog purports to demonstrate “quite conclusively” mathematically sound results pertaining, negatively, to god’s existence. He does not tell you (at least on his blog) what his assumptions are, their validity, or that he is doing nothing more than using those assumptions in a simple theorem accompanied by seventh-grade Algebra-1 manipulations.

And then, also under the freethoughtblogs domain, there is the much heralded and apparently famous (although I had never heard of him, but I lead a sheltered life) John Loftus, whose cv trumpets the exceptional qualification that he studied under the rather regrettable apologist William Lane Craig. Loftus’s blog is titled Debunking Christianity. At least that sounds interesting. And a much better name than “Richard Carrier Blogs” for the blog on which, well, Richard Carrier blogs. (Which reminds me of those NASCAR segues: we are happy to bring you the Coca Cola 600, proudly sponsored by Coca Cola.)

Debunking Christianity. Famous debunker. Studied under William Lane Craig. What could go wrong?

Let’s begin with a recent post. Top Seven Ways Christianity is Debunked by the sciences.
  1. Philology (scientific textual criticism.) As Loftus points out, philology "proved" (more accurately: in conjunction with other supporting evidence demonstrated with high confidence--but Loftus, as we'll see, habitually oversells) that the Donation of Constantine was forged. Loftus fails to mention what the hell that has to do with Christianity (as opposed to ecclesiastical history and shenanigans.) Answer: nothing. Nothing debunked here. He also alludes that the same (imprecise) science might have something to say about books in the canon. He’s right, it might—and as Christians we embrace these studies given that the original autographs are lost. We, more than anyone, have a stake in learning about possible additions and redactions. But Loftus gives the absolutely false impression that these studies are conclusive—when they are merely suggestive. Also he does not address how Christianity would be “debunked” if, say, in his dream of dreams, 2 Peter was shown to be a forgery. How would that effect Christian theology? Answer: In no significant way. Christian theology is the gospel. The gospel is presented in a redundant and fault-tolerant manner. You would have to more or less destroy the entire bible. But Loftus preens at the end: That’s science, baby, kick against the goads all you want to. As a quibble, it is not actually science, it is a science based approach. And Loftus again oversold what it has taught us as “debunking” Christianity. The only thing apparent here is his commitment to false braggadocio.
  2. The Copernican astronomical revolution as defended later by Galileo showed us that we do not live in a geocentric universe. Never did. The Biblical viewpoint, supposedly coming from a divine mind, did not understand this basic fact. Sigh. Now we know we are dealing with a lightweight, because only a lightweight would repeat such a tiresome canard. The bible does not teach geocentricism—there is not one verse in the bible that does—not one verse that is not similar to current figures of speech (The sun rose and moved across the sky) that also do not teach geocentricism. The fact that, prior to the advent of modern science, many believed in geocentricism is irrelevant—they were wrong.
  3. Evolution/biology. Perhaps his strongest point, and the only one of the seven that is at least causing a great deal of concern among Christians. As he points out, however, some Christians are adopting a theistic evolution viewpoint and others are at least accepting that viewpoint as withing the pale of orthodoxy. Of course even here he can't resist, and once again screws up badly, writing: But with evolution we no longer need a creator, for there is nothing left to explain by means of the supernatural hypothesis. It is perhaps true that ultimately there will be nothing left to explain, only time will tell. But in the real world there is a little matter of abiogenesis.
  4. Archaeology. Loftus: "Archeologists have discovered several ancient Mesopotamian texts that predate the ones in the Bible and tell similar superstitious stories of the origins of the universe." Yeah, so what? Is there a verse in the bible that states: this is the first time this was written down! There is not. If there was a catastrophic Mesopotamian flood, then there is nothing in the bible that states: by divine fiat this was never passed by word of mouth, distorted, and written down prior to the inspired biblical writer. Another Loftus misspeak: "It has also shown us there was no Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt." Gosh Loftus if you had any integrity you would write it in a accurate manner that is troublesome for Christians: There is little (and no undisputed) documentation indicating the presence Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and little or no archeological evidence of a massive exodus. Instead you, once again, take the low-brow approach of exaggeration—that "Archaeology has shown there was no Exodus." Proving a negative John, proving a negative.
  5. What has that great science Psychology taught us? Loftus reports! "Psychology shows us there can be no wrathful God who will punish us forever because of what we believe." I missed that issue of Science where the data were published.
  6. Anthropology has shown us from the fact that there are many different cultures around the globe and with it a great deal of religious diversity. I’m stunned. I don’t know how to reply. Clearly Christianity, which teaches that there are but a few cultures and little religious diversity has be refuted.Totally.
  7. Loftus: A) Neurology shows us there is an extremely close relationship between our beliefs and neuron firings, which can be drug induced, or even surgically removed. B) There is therefore no need for the supernatural explanation of the soul. Yes John it is crystal clear that A→B.
I hate this feeling of being debunked. I feel all violated. Loftus, however, helps us forget feeling dirty by topping this travesty with another post that is mind-numbingly stupid. I mean, it is way beyond the pale.
Scientists to Theologians: Put Up Or Shut Up!
Christian theists love to point out the limits of science, and it does have some. But to focus on them to the exclusion of the massive amount of information we have acquired from science is being extremely ungrateful for what it has achieved. To me that is one aspect of the denigration of science. The limits of science are based in 1) the limits of human imagination, and 2) the limits of that which we can detect. That which is undetectable does not fall within the realm of science, although, with further advances in our scientific instruments we can detect things that were previously thought undetectable. If science does reach its limits in the future, there won’t be any cause for theistic celebration because scientists may not know they have reached its limits, and because there are probably some things they might never know. Why should that conclusion, if they reach it, be preferred to an evolving God concept in a sea of god-concepts without any means to settle which one is to be preferred as the best explanation of the same data? What is the theistic alternative method for squeezing the truth out of the universe? What is it? Until theists can propose a better method than science to learn about the universe, they should just shut up!
First I’ll point out that the title is a lie. It promises examples of scientists telling theologians to put up or shut up. It gives no such examples. The phrase “Scientists to Theologians” in the title should, if truth means anything to the writer, be replaced with “Me, John Loftus, non-scientist, to Theologians:”

That aside, the post is incoherent. It lacks the charm of a mushroom-induced hallucination and/or the redeeming naiveté of a all-night freshmen bull session. It’s just bad. Awful. Sentences strung together. Misunderstandings about science. Non sequiturs about theology. No theme. No connections. Garbage. One of the worst essays I have ever read about science and religion. Ever. Including posts written by fanatical YECs.

John, you don’t know what science is. Science is an agnostic methodology. Nothing more, nothing less. It is a very successful agreement on the rules for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data, rules that serve as checks and balances against bias. It actually has no limits—because it is a process. Its success may come in fits and starts but it can be done indefinitely. Theology is not in competition with science. Christian theology does not argue that it can teach you all about quarks. Christian theology readily defers such questions to science.

I see why such thoughts as Loftus's are "free." Carrier and Loftus are among your best and brightest? Sucks to be you.

24 comments:

  1. there is not one verse in the bible that does—not one verse that is not similar to current figures of speech (The sun rose and moved across the sky) that also do not teach geocentricism.

    I believe our current figures of speech are a result of our ancestors believing in geocentrism. It seems disingenuous to imply that because the phrase "the sun rose" isn't meant literally today, doesn't mean it wasn't meant literally when it originated.

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  2. whilst i admire your attempt to show the world how foolish and idiotic loftus and carrier are, they will themselves only consider it a good thing because it publicizes their ignorance.

    best to leave them stew in the soupy-lunacy which they and their readers enjoy. no one with sense takes them seriously and any interaction with them just makes them think people do.

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  3. As he points out, however, some Christians are adopting a theistic evolution viewpoint and others are at least accepting that viewpoint as withing the pale of orthodoxy.

    I don't know too many Christians who are buying the whole evolutionary enchilada though, including the notion that naturalistic evolution explains all of human psychology, including the moral sense, consciousness, reliosity, the concept of God, the "sin nature", etc (not that they should - materialistic explanations for these things are unavoidably incoherent in addition to being irreconcilable with theism).

    But in the real world there is a little matter of abiogenesis.

    Not to mention intentionality, and the whole concept of biological function, which are even bigger problems since they strike and the very logical coherence of the naturalistic/ateleological picture, rather than merely being improbable.

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  4. Ryan- good point. While it's possible to take phrases such as "the four corners of the Earth" or "stopping the Sun in the sky" figuratively today, you have to be wearing apologetic-colored glasses to believe that the authors of the Bible knew better than that, since (as far as we know) no one else did before Aristarchus in the third century BC, well after the Old Testament was presumably composed.

    This is an example of a general problem for Christians, which is apparent in intramural debates- if you once admit that parts of the Bible are figurative, how far do you go with this? Is there any clear line you can draw between what's intended literally and what not? I sure don't see any, and self-professed Christians often disagree about this too.

    Deuce- you say, about the problem of abiogenesis:

    Not to mention intentionality, and the whole concept of biological function, which are even bigger problems since they strike and the very logical coherence of the naturalistic/ateleological picture, rather than merely being improbable.

    It's hard to say if "biological function" and "intentionality" are "bigger" problems: the main problem I see with abiogenesis, like evolution, is that it is largely a historical problem; we don't have direct access to the early Earth, so we probably can't ever know for certain what happened.

    I'll agree that all three are big problems, but I don't see how they are problems of logical coherency. Sure, life and intentionality are dauntingly complex problems, but unless you can demonstrate that they are logically different from, say, the problem of crystal formation, I don't see where atheists are in a different boat than theists here.

    I know, theists claim that God accounts for life and intentionality (among other things). But unless you can account for God, or at least show how the God hypothesis explains our world better than the ateleological hypothesis, all you have is an empty assertion.

    Oh yeah- yes, Loftus and Carrier are rather full of themselves. Hubris is an equal-opportunity employer.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  5. Our Lord is speaking to us!! The link below bestows a precious message upon us!!

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/
    jesus-appears-in-a-dog-butt/

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  6. Sure, life and intentionality are dauntingly complex problems, but unless you can demonstrate that they are logically different from, say, the problem of crystal formation

    Yes, it's logically demonstrable that intentionality and function are different from crystal formation (though I'm not going to attempt to demonstrate it in a combox comment). The options are to either give up materialism or to deny that they actually exist (which is also incoherent).

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  7. Deuce- too bad you won't attempt to demonstrate that intentionality and function are logically different from crystal formation. I've yet to see any such demonstration, and I'd be very curious to see how it worked. You can put up a link if the combox is too small.

    kilo- you do get around, don't you? But as amusing as your link is, it's not really on topic here. I'd also be curious if you have anything to say other than random driveby insults for Christians.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  8. Now, I think it is probably fair to say that forming intentions is almost certainly different from forming crystals. They are completely different processes for sure, and I think we can all agree on that. I think what Zilch is actually trying to say is that intention formation is not really different from other physical processes, which is a more modest proposition. Now, I would argue that whether or not we need supernatural laws to deal with minds, consciousness and intentions are almost certainly different from the other physical processes we have observed up until now (unless you are some kind of pantheist or believe everything is somehow conscious). I don't think we need a really sophisticated logical argument to say that much.
    Still, all that said, I don't see why some types of materialism are "irreconcilable" with theism. I don't know how God made us or the universe in general, if it turns out souls or whatever are a "normal" part of nature, I don't see why that would bother anybody. I think "normal" nature is already really impressive, that's actually one reason I believe in God.

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  9. I think what Zilch is actually trying to say is that intention formation is not really different from other physical processes, which is a more modest proposition.

    Exactly. Obviously, crystals don't have anything like intention. But I don't see any logical difference here, only a difference in complexity. As Giulio Giorelli said, "Si, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot." / Yes, we have a soul. But it's made of lots of tiny robots.

    I think "normal" nature is already really impressive, that's actually one reason I believe in God.

    I think "normal" nature is really impressive too. That's actually one reason I believe in "normal" nature.

    But to each his own. I don't really care what people believe, as long as they behave nicely.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  10. Zilch wrote: But unless you can account for God, or at least show how the God hypothesis explains our world better than the ateleological hypothesis, all you have is an empty assertion.

    We have the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. That's a lot more than "empty assertion."

    However, that's not what caught my eye in your post. Rather, it was the word "ateleological". I assume you're aware of the studies showing that teleology is a function of brain wiring? If not, I reference two of them in this post (note: shameless blog plug). The first reference is linked in the 10th paragraph; the second reference is in the second footnote.

    Zilch also wrote: I don't really care what people believe, as long as they behave nicely.

    But you should. The purpose of "behaving nicely", for the atheist, has to be reproductive success. Since religion leads to reproductive success, forcing religion out of society actually has a deleterious effect. On the other hand, (some) freedoms have a positive effect, so the hard problem is balancing the two. Atheism is clearly detrimental to the health and happiness of a society. On the other hand, so is tyranny. I suspect future, more scientific, societies will permit atheism, but will not promote it.

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  11. We have the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. That's a lot more than "empty assertion."

    We also have "the historical evidence" that Enkidu fought the Bull of Heaven. Is that also a lot more than an "empty assertion"?

    The purpose of "behaving nicely", for the atheist, has to be reproductive success.

    Oh? Can you support that?

    Atheism is clearly detrimental to the health and happiness of a society.

    That's risible. Can you document that?

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  12. Zilch wrote: That's risible. Can you document that?

    I did. Please take the time to read it.

    In part, it cites Axelrod's landmark Evolution of Cooperation. He shows how the iterated prisoner's dilemma leads to the evolution of cooperation in species that frequently interact with each other. Since humans are wired for teleological thinking (as the cited studies show, atheists think teleologically -- they just suppress it), atheism is defection against the majority. That means that atheists either have to adopt protective coloration (in which case they have to adopt a form of intellectual dishonesty), or they overtly defect against the majority. As Oxford professor Roger Trigg said, "The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless." Therefore, a more scientific society will gradually displace atheism. As scientific studies have shown, the religious lead longer, happier, more productive lives.

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  13. Okay, wrf, I read your link, but I don't see any evidence cited there demonstrating that atheism is detrimental to the health and happiness of society- in fact, the topic is not even mentioned there, as far as I can see. Can you point out this evidence, with sources, please?

    Yes, you do claim in your article that "the purpose of "behaving nicely", for the atheist, has to be reproductive success." But you don't support it. Can you supply some evidence for this, too, please?

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  14. May this message from our Lord bless you at this special time of the year.

    http://flipthatbird.com/random/jesus-christ-velvet-painting-finger/

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  15. "A rising sun..." is absolutely a fine statement in our reference frame' as is "the earth is stationary". It's all about reference frames. And why, for day-to-day usage, would we use any reference frame than the obvious one?

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  16. iblase- yes, I'll grant you that, which is why I don't cite "the rising Sun" as proof that the Bible is not divinely inspired, any more than I cite I Kings 7:23-26, where pi is supposedly given as 3. But the problem of drawing a line between figurative and literal in the Bible remains.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  17. May this message from our Lord bless you during this special time of year.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/jesus-appears-in-a-dog-butt/

    ReplyDelete
  18. kilo- yeah, we heard you the first, second, and following times. You sound like a broken record. Heddle and the other Christians here are not the enemy- why don't you go troll some televangelists?

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  19. I have to disagree mildly regarding geocentrism. For one, it stretches credulity to suggest that the ancients thought that the universe was heliocentric. For two, there are two places in the OT that do seem to suggest a geocentric universe: Joshua 10 and 2 Kings 20. (They figure into the first urban legend that I closely examined as a teenager.) The former states that God, at Joshua's request, made the sun "stand still" (which could have a heliocentric interpretation, but not a very natural one); the latter states that Hezekiah asked for a sign from God, which was for the "shadow" to move backward "ten steps" ("degrees" in the KJV). I think that's a fairly unambiguous piece of evidence for geocentrism in the Bible.

    Personally, I'm not bothered by it: as a Christian, I'm already committed to the idea that the ancient Hebrews were given an incomplete revelation, and I can easily presume that the parts of the cosmology that are demonstrably false were not revealed but simply assumed to be true by the biblical authors. (But I'm not an inerrantist, so that may make my position a little more nuanced.)

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  20. Thanks for the link to the "lost day" legend, cynic- that's a great example of how stories catch on.

    Merry Christmas everyone!
    cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

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  21. zilch wrote: Okay, wrf, I read your link, but I don't see any evidence cited there demonstrating that atheism is detrimental to the health and happiness of society- in fact, the topic is not even mentioned there, as far as I can see. Can you point out this evidence, with sources, please?

    This article, which is primarily about why conservatives are happier than liberals, also says "Religion boosts happiness." Google can provide additional references. As to whether or not religious people are healthier seems to be an example of Newton's 3rd law of PhD's: "for every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD."

    However, this study claims that religious belief is a fundamental part of human nature. Oxford professor Trigg said, ""If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests."

    Secular utopias simply won't exist, as one blogger briefly argues here.

    Furthermore, if you read Axelrod's "Evolution of Cooperation", it's fairly obvious that atheists are seen as defectors to the larger religious population. That means they will either adopt "protective coloration" or, if not, they'll actively work to subvert the majority. Either option breeds distrust based on dishonesty, yet cooperative societies have to be based on trust. So atheism works to undermine that.

    Yes, you do claim in your article that "the purpose of "behaving nicely", for the atheist, has to be reproductive success." But you don't support it.

    One would think that it would be patently obvious. If you don't reproduce, you die out. Now, maybe, for the atheist the goal is death. If so, those who choose life should let you achieve your personal ends while protecting those who want to live.

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  22. wrf- you say:

    This article, which is primarily about why conservatives are happier than liberals, also says "Religion boosts happiness."

    But your claim was Atheism is clearly detrimental to the health and happiness of a society. That's not the same thing as being happy oneself. Sure, I might be happier if I believed I was going to Heaven, or even if I still believed in Santa, but would society be happier, or healthier? I don't see any data here. Drunks and gun runners might be happy too.

    What's more, my ideal of "happiness" extends further than my society or my time here. Sure, the same is true of many religious people as well, but I've encountered many, especially American fundamentalists, who are obviously "happy" that they've got their ticket to Heaven, and take that as a license to despoil the Earth. If they are right, and this American Neocon God exists, then they are perfectly rational: the only thing that matters is that ticket to Heaven, and the Earth can go to Hell. But if I'm right, then their present happiness is at the expense of my, and their, children's unhappiness. Conservatives might well be happier than liberals because they just don't care as much, or they care only about themselves.

    However, this study claims that religious belief is a fundamental part of human nature. Oxford professor Trigg said, ""If you've got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests."

    I can well imagine that religiosity, if not some particular religious belief, is genetically underpinned. Religion, the divine carrot and stick, is a powerful force in making good citizens- and fearless armies- it would not be surprising if it conferred differential reproductive fitness on its benefactors. That doesn't mean it's true, though. And times change- we also have a genetic disposition to eat as much sugar as we can. Past utility is no guarantee of present utility, however.

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  23. Secular utopias simply won't exist, as one blogger briefly argues here.

    Predicting the course of society is notoriously difficult: the very best thinkers of the past repeatedly flubbed spectacularly, and I see no reason that "one blogger" is likely to be more prescient.

    Furthermore, if you read Axelrod's "Evolution of Cooperation", it's fairly obvious that atheists are seen as defectors to the larger religious population. That means they will either adopt "protective coloration" or, if not, they'll actively work to subvert the majority. Either option breeds distrust based on dishonesty, yet cooperative societies have to be based on trust. So atheism works to undermine that.

    Models are fine, but societies formed of agents are more complex than the models, and moreover, we live in them. Can you point me to some evidence from a real society that atheists "undermine trust"? Not only that, but again, you're assuming that the theists are "right" here. I could also say that heliocentrists "undermined trust" in geocentric societies, or Jews "undermine trust" in Christian societies.

    I said:

    Yes, you do claim in your article that "the purpose of "behaving nicely", for the atheist, has to be reproductive success." But you don't support it.

    You replied:

    One would think that it would be patently obvious. If you don't reproduce, you die out.

    This may be news to you, but atheists, just like theists, are "people", and as such, are capable of entertaining goals other than reproduction. In fact, many atheists, like many theists, have made the conscious decision to tell their genes to go jump in a lake.

    Now, maybe, for the atheist the goal is death. No, that would be the goal of death cultists, such as those who believe in an infinite afterlife. My goal is to live my life now, and do what I can to help my children live theirs.

    If so, those who choose life should let you achieve your personal ends while protecting those who want to live.

    Okay, I have no idea what that means.

    cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

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  24. Atheism is clearly detrimental to the health and happiness of a society.

    Really? I think there are a few folks in the Netherlands that might disagree.

    Actually, your statement is perhaps true enough for those whose objective is theocracy.

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