Thursday, December 31, 2015

Investigating the World

Today, this blog is as good a place as any to jot down an idea that is probably in the foundation of any religious person's world view. I 'm presuming that to be religious in the way that I once was decades ago, one has to accept the following premises:
  1. There is a Supernatural component to reality
  2. The Supernatural contains entities that can affect our existence
  3. Humans have souls
  4. The Supernatural realm has some relationship to the soul.
  5. Supernatural entities have some effect on human souls
  6. Humans should think and behave in a way that is most likely to bring about the kind treatment of us in the physical world ... and/or ...
  7. Humans should think and behave in a way that is most likely to bring about the kind treatment of our souls in the supernatural world

Obviously, the religiously and/or philosophically inclined might find more or less about this brief brain dump that they'd include in the consideration of the world - whatever they conceive it to be - but it seems like a good place to start the investigation.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How's Your Soul?

I’m sure that there are other concepts of religion, but the ones that most of us think of (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, etc) include some idea of a soul and an afterlife.

When was the last time you had a soul check-up?

I bet if you went to the doctor and asked for a soul check-up, you’d be told politely that they don't do that.

Try a chiropractor. Or a dentist. Don’t laugh - a dentist is a perfectly sensible choice to check your soul, given that we don’t know where a soul might reside. Maybe your opthamologist knows. Maybe not. A palm reader? Maybe they’d take your money. Your pastor? You never know, but he or she might offer to pray with you about the health of your soul.

Try an auto mechanic. Or a appliance repair man. I bet these guys don’t know soul from shinola. Nor do I. Which brings me to my point:

Shouldn’t we stop being touchy-feely-spiritual procrastinators and get that soul check up right away? And shouldn’t we stop worrying about it after the verdict comes back that souls are bronze-age fabrications?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

String Theory is what?

String Theory is - as a theory - a topic of controversy this week, as articles by Ethan Siegel and Sabine Hossenfelder attest. I recommend reading both posts and following links within them for a full morning's reading!

What does it mean for the working stiff?

Physics still explains all of the fundamental features of reality that affect us.

Do I care about features that are smaller than protons, electrons and neutrons? Intellectually I do, but practically, not so much.

Do I care about features that are larger than our galaxy? Intellectually I do, but practically, again it has little meaning.

So why do I even care enough to write a few words about it? Because I still think that experiencing life as fully as I am able is one of the driving forces of my human existence. And the work of the theoreticians and experimentalists helps me to expand the scope of what I consider conceivable, and thus expand the scope of what might be experienced.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Letter from God

I was musing about how we might react if we received a sign that God exists. Imagine that I send a letter to my sister. It’s hand-written, and signed “Love, Johnny”. My sister receives the letter in the mail, opens it up, reads it, recognizes my handwriting, sees my signature, and instantly knows that the letter came from me. After all, she knows that I exist (we DID grow up together!) and she knows I can write. She’s 99.999,999,999% sure that Johnny wrote her a letter. She has good reasons to.

In contrast, suppose my sister receives a letter, and it’s signed “Love, God". If God is the “uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power” that some theologians posit, then it would presumably be capable of writing and sending a letter to my sister. But how sure can she be that the supreme, no-lie, it's-really-her God actually did this?

If you’ve thought about this sort of thing before, then that last sentence is where it gets interesting. You see, Sis can know that Johnny sent her a letter signed “Love, Johnny” because she knows to a very high degree of certainty that I exist prior to any scenario involving a letter. She’s seen me. She’s yelled at me. She’s tried to hit me. She’s even kissed me. Unless her senses and intellect are unreliable, she knows I exist and that I am capable of writing letters. This should bolster her belief that she currently is in receipt of a letter from me. But she has no such experience with God. If God fell out of the sky and landed on her head, she wouldn’t know him/her/it from shinola. There’s nothing in her experience that demonstrates to her that an actual entity in this world is God. She has to rely on her ability to mentally picture what God might be, and to feel some certainty that he/she/it exists in the form she imagines, without having a concrete demonstration that it actually does. Is writing a letter that demonstration?

In fact, she can’t confidently associate this piece of evidence (no matter what it points to) with God unless God is either 1) a known entity with a propensity to write letters to pretty ladies, or 2) her conception of God is a better explanation for a letter that is signed “Love, God” than all competing explanations. The evidence points to a letter-writer. That’s all. And here is the crux of the problem for most arguments that God exists. That “uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power” that theologians posit cannot be established as a sensible concept in isolation from other concepts. There are no observations, hypotheses or theories that point to such a being existing as part of physical reality. Here in the twenty-first century, ideas such as “there must be a cause of the universe, or a designer, or a fine-tuner, or a being of greatest perfection” do not lead us to find an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power. In fact, finding a place where this thing might be situated is not even sensible. As cold as it sounds to people hoping there is a personal god behind the scenes, it appears that physical features are all there is. Space-time, matter, energy, the laws governing them and the attributes, behaviors and relationships that allow what we observe to be observed. There may always be that nagging question: “but what caused THAT?” - but the god-thingy doesn’t help us answer that question. It doesn’t stand on its own. Mankind continues to look for answers, and continues to find hypotheses such as the god-thingy useless in the search.

So, a letter signed “Love, God” ends up being better explained by a human letter-writer than an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power that also writes letters. It turns out that Sis has no good reason to believe she got a letter from God, because there’s no good reason to think God exists, based solely on this letter. I'm not suggesting that she can't believe in God, or have some other reasons to believe that don't rely on (weak) evidence like this. But this letter from God isn't a good reason. When you apply this type of thinking to the bigger questions - the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the existence of moral values, you find that those are not good reasons to think that God exists, either.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Was BlogPress for iPad finally fixed?

Yes, it was.
It's a miracle!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Incompetence of the Bible

I’m rewriting this post - “The Incompetence of the Bible” - because I was never happy with what it said, or how I said it. I can only remember withdrawing or rewriting a post once in my life, but it’s time to do it again.

While re-reading the New Testament, my focus this time around was 1) matches and gaps between the Gospels and 2) what Paul has to tell us about Jesus. The Gospels aren’t bad - this was (probably) my fifth time through them chapter-by-chapter. I took some time comparing them via the Gospel Parallels - good stuff. Then I get to Acts - ehh. I don’t know why, but I’ve already forgotten it after just a few months. Its just not that impressive to me. Now I’m into the Epistles, and for some reason I’m irritated. Paul just doesn’t know Jack about Jesus. And I let that irritation consume the original post. But my general idea still holds - that the Bible is full of incompetence.

When you read Genesis, its easy to see something’s wrong. The universe that we observe today has features that lead us to believe to a high degree of certainty that it was smaller, denser and hotter in the past. Projecting backward in time, approximately 13.8 billion years ago this model reaches maximum density and temperature, and minimum size. And that’s all we know for sure. What came “before” is a mystery, so much so that some physicists think using the word “before” is incoherent. But Genesis tells us a different story, and that’s where my claim of incompetence first finds an example. If God inspired or directed the authors of Genesis to write the account of the first appearance of the universe, it doesn’t appear that it made it to the twenty-first century correctly. And if God is the omni-bestest at everything - and our conceptions of God generally do assume this - then something is amiss. And without unpeeling what exactly is amiss, we must assume that if God is the inspiration or direction behind this account, then she failed to insure the story remained accurate down through the ages. And this is this first indication to us that God - again, if she exists - is not the omni-bestest that we might have thought. Other thinkers have suggested that God is a trickster, or God has a reason to allow this incongruity to persist, but I have (intemperately) decided to describe it as incompetence because Genesis was the ideal place to establish God’s bona fides. She could have even directed the author to end it with a caveat that admits that subsequent books are not inspired or directed by the great one, and we could still be confident that, in spite of what others subsequently said, that God does indeed exist in the form that was described in Genesis. But we don’t have that.

What we have us people trying to kill each other over supposedly God-inspired differences on how to worship and behave. And that tends to make one think that the concept of God as malicious, or a trickster, or negligent, or disinterested, or incompetent, applies.

I tend to think that the Bible was a combination of good-faith guessing about the universe, along with much borrowing from other traditions and some inventions to reach the concept of salvation as described in the New Testament. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it looks like they made a hash of it. Thus, every time I read it nowadays, I tend to see how hashed up it is, and think about how a supreme being could have prevented it, but didn’t. And it just looks like they did a bad job.

Or maybe God was never there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NT: 1 Thessalonians

I continue my cursory review of the New Testament with 1 Thessalonians, considered by many to be the first Epistle written, thus the first of any book in the New Testament. I’ve already skimmed over Galatians and James, also considered by some to be the first books written. It’s not relevant to me which is truly the first, because there seems to be nothing in any of them that tell me that this or that book is a direct consequence of meeting Jesus or those who met him. (See my NT index here for the entire series so far.)

I admit that my notes here are shallower than you might expect, given that this is the Bible we’re talking about. I’m a little surprised myself, having read this at least three other times over the decades - probably four. I attribute this to a slightly different point of view over the years. In the seventies, it was “this is the Bible - its the Word of God”. Then it became “this is inspired by thoughts of the divine, but probably muddled through human error”. Now it’s “where’s Jesus in all of this? How do I know that Paul is a fair broker?” Consequently, what Paul says, absent some clear authority from Jesus, is not that interesting to me. My sparse notes are a reflection of that ennui.

Chapter 1 is entirely a salutation.

Chapter 2 recounts travails at Phillippi, and expresses love for the Thessalonians. Verse 15 mentions that the Jews "... both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets". Red meat for the Mel Gibsons of the world?

Chapter 3 is more blessings and encouragement of the faithful. Meh.

Chapter 4 contains even more exhortations ... but includes a future meeting with Jesus and “them in the clouds” - clearly some imagery that took hold in Christianity.

Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Chapter 5 is still more exhortations ... and a closing blessing. That’s it.

As I sort through these early Epistles, I’m struck at how no mention of Jesus’ miracle-working is made. Ignore the lack of historical or biographical information - the idea that people might have witnessed healing the blind, curing the sick, raising the dead, turning water into wine, or walking on water is never brought up. I understand (via a Dr. Robert M. Price video) that the explanation for this is that the recipients of the letter would have already known about these, thus mention of the miracles was not necessary, but I find that ... ummmmmm ... interesting. Weren’t miracles noteworthy? Anyway, 1 Thessalonians is yet another example of an Epistle in which Jesus is mentioned solely as the object of worship, not as having performed behavior similar to actual beings.

Here are the mentions of Jesus that I can find:

1 Thessalonians 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians [which is] in God the Father and [in] the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (KJV)
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

1 Thessalonians 1:10 (KJV)
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 2:14 (KJV)
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they [have] of the Jews:

1 Thessalonians 2:15 (KJV)
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:

1 Thessalonians 2:19 (KJV)
For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [Are] not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

1 Thessalonians 3:11 (KJV)
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

1 Thessalonians 3:13 (KJV)
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 (KJV)
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more.

1 Thessalonians 4:2 (KJV)
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (KJV)
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 (KJV)
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV)
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:28 (KJV)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Theory of the Supernatural - Part 3

In my prior two posts on "A Theory of the Supernatural" (Part 1 and Part 2), I laid out what I thought were possible arrangements of S-world and N-world such that S-objects might be able to cause effects in N-world, much as we might expact a deity to.

In case I failed to mention it, it seems to me that there are a series of contingencies that must play out successfully for a human theory of the supernatural to be plausible. My list:

  1. A supernatural realm must exist to provide the possibility that supernatural entities exist
  2. The supernatural entities that we're interested in would have the ability to act independently, and cause physical effects in the Natural realm
  3. The means of maintaining awareness between the supernatural and natural realms must exist in order for actions in the supernatural realm to be carried out as expected in the natural realm
  4. A means of transmitting the action from S to N is required.
  5. An entity with at least one characteristic of unrivaled excellence exists in S-world that we might refer to as God

There are a number of quibbles that Theologists and Philosophers might have with these contingencies, such as whether God and the realm in which it exists are separate ideas, and whether the first four items in my list are even germane when we're discussing some entity that can perform any act, such as God allegedly can. But I'm sticking to my guns for the moment - I believe that asking "how does she do that?" is as meaningful as asking how we know that a particular event or circumstance is a result of God's action.

I realized during drafting my last post on a theory of the Supernatural that belaboring whether simpler Supernatual entities such as ghosts, faeries, poltergeists (etc.) exist, doesn't necessarily improve the case for a supreme being, so I'll skip it entirely. Let it be said that a Deity might exist in a Deity-capable realm, and ignore any further navel-gazing.

Also in my prior S-post, I surmised that an arrangement of S-world and N-world could (most likely) be one of the following:

  • SR3. N and S are identical
  • SR4. one supervenes upon the other
  • SR5. one contains the other

For brevity's sake, let's treat these three views as functionally equivalent. Given that S and N are coincident realms, and that humanity's current problem is just that we can't perceive S and don't understand what S might be (other than a place for supernatural stuff to originate), is there a mechanism that we can posit that will allow S-stuff to occur in N? This immediately brings to mind the idea that, regardless of our current inability to perceive S and understand it, any S-causes that affect N ought to raise an eyebrow. Occurrences that are inexplicable are candidates for S-stuff. If we can identify "S-stuff Candidates", then we might have found a starting point from which we can work back through the postulated S-affects-N mechanism, and establish the reality of S. What might we use to start the investigation?

I'm going to confess that I'm drawing a blank here. What the heck, in the history of the world, can we point to and say "this is unambiguous evidence that S-causes affect N"? We know where thunder comes from. And floods. And locusts. We know what red tide is. We know where the sun goes at night. We know that people sense something that they think is "the supernatural". We know that allegedly supernatural objects (crystals, star charts, spirits, deities) can be used to give people focus, organizing principles, a sense of importance, a sense of community, a feeling of certainty and power over an uncertain and intractable cosmos. So where do we look to find clear evidence of S-stuff?

First, I'm going to be really cold and toss out all personal anecdotes of the supernatural as irrelevant - including my own. I thought for several years that spirits existed, and that my grandmother, who had been unable to speak during most of my conscious childhood, guided me and watched over me after she passed away. How else to explain my ability to persevere and to make good when my life was a mess? Similarly, I felt in my early twenties that Jesus loved me, that God loved me, and that I was destined to find human love and to make a positive impact in the world. And both of those feelings are fully explainable. I was looking to be significant in the universe, to find love and friendship, to have something firm around which to organize my life. And was important to me back then. So it's easy for me to imagine other people - billions of other people - approaching their lives the same way, doing the same general things that I did when I was in need. And I don't see why they shouldn't do that, if they don't have a better plan. But I don't see why anyone should think that this human need, desire, hunch that there is something supernatural going on and is affecting them in a real way is evidence that there in fact is. It could be considered evidence if there were a way to validate its occurrence, then examine possible causes. Absent some good physical explanation, a candidate S-event could be important in our overall probability calculation of S's existence, but unsubstantiated personal anecdotes don't work here.

Let me point to where the supernatural might be found, given that trivial occurences and human feelings of the supernatural haven't produce anything substantive so far. We should look at the Great Unanswered Questions - things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the source of ostensibly objective moral values, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of consciousness, the fact that the universe is understandable. If this sounds familiar, it's because these are (obviously) some of the topics used in constructing arguments for the existence of God. And I believe that's where I should look, as well. So let's examine one.

Asking the question "where did the universe come from?" often results in one of two answers. First, a respondent might reply "we don't know". Fair enough ... seems like a difficult question to answer. Another answer we hear is "God created the universe". Here's Dr. William Lane Craig on the subject:

Now from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe?

Craig subsequently states that this cause is a Personal Creator, and that this Personal Creator is God.

Craig didn't think this one up by himself ... there is a history of musings about the "First Cause" - dating back to Plato and Aristotle. Much has been made of Craig's particular argument, with my particular take being that anyone claiming this - an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power that is also personal caused the universe - has the interesting task of explaining how those five exact characteristics are required for a being to create the universe, and how that being exists in some state somewhere in order to effect this universe's creation. These claims reek of bare assertion and flirt intimately with infinite regress.

Without good reason to acknowledge that a creator thingy has to have the characteristics just described, we don't really get any closer to describing a plausible first mover, let alone something that, additionally, has some influence on transient corporeal lives and eternal spiritual lives.

Next time, let me poke around into some of the individual characteristics.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NT: An Index

An index to my brief notes and comments on the New Testament:

NT: James

I turn my attention to the Epistle of James (Wikipedia, Blue Letter Bible), mainly because it is said by some that it might be the earliest book in the New Testament.

Fair Warning: James has approximately nothing to tell us about Jesus. He mentions Him by name twice. Two times. That’s all. So, whether or not James is the earliest mention of Jesus is practically irrelevant, since he provides no historical or biographical information that might make Jesus seem real.

Another note, if you’ve read the Gospels and Acts, then read James, you can imagine that itis written either 1) before an actual Jesus appears on Earth, or 2) before the tradition of an actual Jesus (as opposed to a wholly spiritual Jesus) is developed. Read Chapter 5, especially Verse 8 to see what I mean.

In the canonical order, James appears after Hebrews and before 1 Peter. It is the twentieth book in the New Testament. It, like Galatians, is brief, consequently I’ll charge through it in one post.

Chapter 1 is addressed to the twelve tribes - apparently of dispersed Judeo-Christians - and begins a sermon on sin. My favorite verse:

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Naughtiness! Yes, that’s our problem!

Chapter 2 shows us James view on justification - the act of becoming righteous - as he espouses works as well as faith. He sounds like a good man.

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Chapter 3 seems like general advice on not being sinners, while Chapter 4 continues the theme.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Chapter 5 repeats an earlier backhand to rich folk - James loves the poor and downtrodden.

1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

He closes with a final piece of advice.

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

James’ epistle is not addressed to a specific group, at least not in the sense that it might be delivered to a particular recipient or group of them. It appears to be a broadcast message. You can imagine printing (if printing had been invented) many tens of copies and leaving them in the public square for general distribution. All-in-all, a nice letter. I like James.

As before, here are the (only two) verses where Jesus is mentioned by name, although “Lord” and “Christ” appear more frequently. Jesus does not seem to be a real person in James’ eyes.

James 1:1 (KJV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

James 2:1 (KJV)
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons.

More Cheers!

NT: Galatians

I continue my occasional review of the New Testament with Galatians.

The Epistle to the Galatians appears in the New Testament after 2 Corinthians and before Ephesians - it’s the ninth book. It is worth noting that Galatians is thought by some to be the first of Paul’s Epistles to be written - between 45 and 55 C.E. As such, it serves as a window into what the Christian world was like at the earliest times, and may tell us something about what Paul - whom might be called the father of the Christian Church - believed about Jesus and the Jewish world in which he became aware of him.

To be charitable, there are other views about the order in which NT books were written. A quick Googling on “chronology of books in the new testament” returned me other timelines. I've omitted Galatians-first entries, since that seems to be a majority view:Galatians is short, just six chapters, and appears to be motivated by Paul’s concern that the Galatian congregation is already straying from “the gospel” that they’ve been given regarding Christ. From Chapter 1:

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Apparently there’s another gospel or two that are floating around, and which Paul considers bad juju. Here, we can already see that there’s a tradition of preaching about Christ - that there are at least two, in fact - the one that Paul prefers, and the one that he thinks will pervert what he’s preaching. We don’t know (yet) what these gospels are, whether they have a name or a source or what tradition they present, but it will be interesting to see what turns up as Galatians unfolds.

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

In the verses above, Paul attests that his version was received by revelation, not from man. Now this-heah is interesting! He hasn’t told us anything about Christ in this letter yet, but he claims his gospel came from beyond. You get the impression that he could be claiming that the revelation is from Jesus himself, but Gal 1:12 could be interpreted as an anonymous revelation _of_ Christ as well. We have no idea what his intention is, except to impress the audience that his words come from on high. That might work if you believe that sort of thing.

Anyway, Paul visits Peter and sees no other Apostles “save James the Lord’s brother”. The adventure begins.

The start of Chapter 2 tells us a couple of things about Paul, and (we might presume) the Christian community that he so strongly influences:

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

He “went up by revelation”. Does that meant he didn’t physically go? Curious choice of words!

In verse 4, he reports spies that might want to bring him into bondage. We thus have, in just four verses, a reliance on revelation (or his imagination, if you’re skeptical) and a feeling of persecution. If his followers adopt Paul’s particular way of seeing the world, we could be in for a long, strange trip.

It gets weirder. Paul’s obsession with circumcision is an unfortunate sign of the times. Of course, if the present-day U.S. Government was going around snipping the ends of dudes’ dicks off, I might be as obsessed (and fearful) too. So, maybe Paul’s not as bent as I first thought. One of the defining features of Christianity then appears to be their desire to keep their weiners in one piece. Okay then, we finally have a solid rationale for Christianity!

Among other oddities:

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

Wherein Paul mentions a John - but apparently not an Apostle, if the prior chapter is to be believed. Oh, and more dick mangling.

Chapter 3 seems to be one long admonishment of the “foolish Galations”.

In Chapter 4, he gives a shout out to Abba, then continues his rant in slightly more subdued tones. At least he enjoys ’70s pop music.

Now, in Chapter 5 - something memorable:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

But he still can’t get off the topic of circumcision completely.

Chapter 6 is just the denouement of his admonishments and encouragements. Kinda anti-climactic.

If Galatians is the earliest record of Jesus, then you’d think there’d be a hint of something more than just the object of worship or salvation. Jesus might be. a Golden Calf, for all Paul has told us. Even the reference to Peter only implies that he’s an Apostle, which implies the existence of an Apostle meme that his audience understands. The best evidence that Jesus is flesh-and-blood is the mention of James as His brother. That’s all that I can detect. So Jesus is pretty mysterious, circa 47 A.D.

Just for completeness, here are the verses in Galatians that mention Jesus. Not a one that gives us historical or biographical information.

Galatians 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Galatians 1:3 (KJV)
Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father, and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ,

Galatians 1:12 (KJV)
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:4 (KJV)
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:1 (KJV)
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Galatians 3:14 (KJV)
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:22 (KJV)
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Galatians 3:26 (KJV)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (KJV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:14 (KJV)
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:6 (KJV)
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 6:14 (KJV)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Galatians 6:15 (KJV)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Galatians 6:17 (KJV)
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Galatians 6:18 (KJV)
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit. Amen.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

NT: Romans - Where is Jesus?

I hope to eventually read all of Paul's authentic Epistles again, but after Romans, I'll bounce around a little, for reasons that I'll explain on a per-book basis. Regardless, I'm interested in just how little Paul knows about Jesus, so I'll do a quick summary of each Epistle that I review, just to confirm that this is actually the case. It certainly is here.

Paul mentions Jesus about 38 times in his Epistle to the Romans, but nowhere is it clear that he’s speaking of a flesh-and-blood bipedal anthropoid. When I first became un-born-again, I didn't know this at all. The only thing that jumped out at me was 1) what a dick Yahweh is in the Old Testament, and 2) Jesus is nowhere to be found in history. Here we see that Paul, the first writer that we know of that wrote about Jesus, doesn’t speak of him in biographical or historical terms at all. He simply refers to Jesus from a spiritual perspective.

Without further comment, here are the verses in Romans that mention Jesus:

Romans 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Romans 1:3 (KJV)
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

Romans 1:6 (KJV)
Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Romans 1:7 (KJV)
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called [to be] saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:8 (KJV)
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Romans 2:16 (KJV)
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Romans 3:22 (KJV)
Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Romans 3:24 (KJV)
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Romans 3:26 (KJV)
To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Romans 4:24 (KJV)
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

Romans 5:1 (KJV)
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Romans 5:11 (KJV)
And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Romans 5:15 (KJV)
But not as the offence, so also [is] the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, [which is] by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

Romans 5:17 (KJV)
For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

Romans 5:21 (KJV)
That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:3 (KJV)
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:11 (KJV)
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (KJV)
For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 7:25 (KJV)
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 8:1 (KJV)
[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Romans 8:2 (KJV)
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:11 (KJV)
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Romans 8:39 (KJV)
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9 (KJV)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 13:14 (KJV)
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to [fulfil] the lusts [thereof].

Romans 14:14 (KJV)
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that [there is] nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him [it is] unclean.

Romans 15:5 (KJV)
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Romans 15:6 (KJV)
That ye may with one mind [and] one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:8 (KJV)
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises [made] unto the fathers:

Romans 15:16 (KJV)
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:17 (KJV)
I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.

Romans 15:30 (KJV)
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in [your] prayers to God for me;

Romans 16:3 (KJV)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:

Romans 16:18 (KJV)
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Romans 16:20 (KJV)
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you. Amen.

Romans 16:24 (KJV)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen.

Romans 16:25 (KJV)
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

Romans 16:27 (KJV)
To God only wise, [be] glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

Is Non-Christian Thought Justifiable?

Is Non-Christian Thought Justifiable? That was the topic being debated at the Reformed Apologetics website by Douglas M. Jones III, Keith Parsons and Michael Martin back in 1991. Hat tip to Jeffrey Jay Lowder of Secular Outpost for providing a link.

I suppose the debate topic is a sensible question, whether or not one believes in the supernatural. After all, we know Christians exist, and we know they think, and we know that at least some Christians (Jones) apparently see a distinction between how Christians know about the world and how non-Christians know about the world. So there exists a debate topic by the name “Is Non-Christian Thought Justifiable” that’s coherent. We can base the debate on Jones’ assertion that Christians know about the world through the specifically Christian God’s revelations to them, and that non-Christians either 1) can’t truly know about the world because they haven’t received that God’s revelation; or 2) are lying or mistaken about having received that God’s revelation.

You can imagine that there must have been some advance stipulations such as “a God might exist” that were made in order to let such a derivative topic such as “Is Non-Christian Thought Justifiable” be brought up for debate. But as a layman, this always bugs me. I just think that establishing the existence of God, any God, is a prerequisite to discussions such as this one. Regardless, the question seems to resolve to “is revelation coherent?” Jones appears to assert so, but doesn’t support this in any way. A zany corollary of his is that you must have complete knowledge (as only God can provide, natch) if you are to have any knowledge at all. He doesn’t support this assertion either.

Both Parsons and Martin rebut Jones argument effectively, and using individual approaches that are different enough to make reading them both worthwhile and pleasurable.

Neither one raises their objections in the way that speaks to me most compellingly, however. I tend to think - obviously this is a preference, nothing more - that explicitly verifying what your mind perceives to be knowledge against the real world is the only way to achieve more knowledge. Turtles - all the way downParsons hints at it, but indirectly. Martin attacks Jones’ philosophy by deconstructing the propositions and the arguments that gird them. But neither - that I could detect - comes right out and says the words “you must verify what you think you know against the world. Otherwise, you’re just thinking you know”.

Ultimately, Jones whole schtick - and Van Til’s before him - is based on a stack of bare assertions. The supernatural exists. There exists a supreme entity we call a deity. That deity is the Christian God. That God has some influence over reality and humanity. That God reveals what is true. No other way of knowing anything is possible.

It’s utterly uncompelling. Jones’ proposition is never supported. The premises that might support the proposition are never supported. The turtles are missing all the way down. There is no reason to believe someone whose whole line of argument is “this is what I say, and what I say is correct because I think it’s correct”.


Speaking of zany, the Reformed Apologetics web site seems to be a hotbed of presuppositional material. Worth bookmarking!

Friday, June 5, 2015

BlogPress for iPad Sucks!!!

BlogPress for iPad Sucks!!!

I used it for years - it seems like - without any problem, but it has stopped working. Apparently the developer doesn't see fit to update it, which is a shame. It was simple, fast and would let you write your own HTML without attempting to overwrite your tags with its own craven ideas. I hate blog apps that try to do too much - they make for more work than is necessary.

Equally as bad is how difficult to edit the webpage at is - at least from iPad using Safari. So ... I switched over to a Windows laptop using Chrome.

Such is the life of a middle-aged slacker!

NT: Romans 11 - 16

Paul continues his preachifying to the Romans in Chapter 11, citing Elias - presumably in the Old Testament, which gives him cause to mention Baal. Wonder if Baal is still a thing in the first century? It's not clear when Paul mentions the word "Lord" who he's referring to, but it appears that he speaks of God, because Jesus and Christ are not mentioned at all. I bet this is Paul's Jewish roots showing.

Romans Chapter 12 is some inspiring stuff ... Paul is exhorting those that are brothers and sisters in Christ to do good and to be of charitable nature. It is most definitely worth reading word-for-word.
12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Chapter 13 begins with admonishments on obeying the ministers of the church...
Rom 13:2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Rom 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

Rom 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
He thens proscribes adultery ... again ... and invokes Jesus' name at the end of the chapter as a way of saying "we're all in this together". Reading between the lines, you can sense that there are problems in the Roman congregation(s) ... disobeying the ministers, bumping their uglies indiscriminately ... and Paul appears to be trying to refocus them.

Rom 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Rom 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Rom 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
...and he apparently believes salvation is at hand.

Chapter 14 is interesting for the way that Paul uses "the parable of meat" to say that the congregants should not be offended by the small stuff, that offense is in the eye of the person feeling the offense, God doesn't care about this petty stuff. Nicely said!

Chapter 15 appears to be a long closing section, where Paul tells the Roman congregation of his plans to see them soon, and Chapter 16 finds him saying a few good words about his associates Phebe, Priscilla and Aquila ... apparently to pave the way for them to join the Roman church members. He does this for many more, then closes with an Amen.


I’ve read Romans in NT order, but my interest is really in how the Jesus story evolved. Depending on who you read, one of Paul’s authentic Epistles was written first (Galatians? 1 Thessalonians?) or James. I even recall seeing one listing showing Mark to have been coincident with an Epistle. This was probably done by the author to establish Mark as plausibly independent of Paul. One of the things that these lists don't focus on, but should at least mention, is that there are ranges of dates for each book. In some cases, Matthew for instance, historians can establish “no later than" dates into the 2nd century. These generally are thought to be unlikely, but it illustrates how imprecise NT dating is.

So: I know with a reasonable certainty that Romans was not Paul’s earliest Epistle, but its order in the King James version of the New Testament led me to read it after Acts. I will switch up and read Galatians next, but first, my next NT post will reflect on Romans, and what Paul had to report about the living Jesus.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Presuppositionalist Tricks of the Trade

When I made comments about a polemic against Bill Nye’s book ”Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation”, I assumed that the polemicist was following some well-known presuppositional tacks. I’ll examine a small piece of that same post a bit more closely today, but as if the author is unknown, in order to avoid making it sound like a personal attack. The arguments he used are pretty much boilerplate presuppositionalism, so it’s not his fault - he’s just the messenger.

It occurred to me just how much there is to think about in just the couple of paragraphs that interest me. I wondered what the intended meaning of individual words were. And I wondered what strategy the writer might have had in mind in choosing the words and sentences that he did, in the order that he did. Is it a pre-rehearsed script he’s following - as I suspected? Has he added some additional meaning that’s meant to shape the scope and direction of any discourse that may follow? Assuming that I may look at this a number of different ways, I’ll try to organize this as clearly as I can. Let me introduce the two subjects of interest.

My first eyeful is the following:

We’re all limited in our viewpoints by our ultimate commitments—what we’re capable of affirming is limited by our presuppositions. Our ideological passions are skewed by our most basic philosophical assumptions we take for granted—we can’t help think the other side’s evidence is faulty or irreverent if it opposes our basic presuppositions.

Let me refer to this snippet as the “Presuppositional Limits Gambit”, or PLG. I’ll explain why in a moment.

The second topic of interest I was going to call the Intelligibility Argument for God, but you'll recognize it as just a healthy slice of the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG), which is granddaddy of most arguments positing God as a prerequisite for non-physical concepts.

[It’s a matter of] finding which worldview provides the ontological resources to account for research, analysis, deliberation, and knowledge. Strict naturalistic atheism is completely devoid of the necessary ontic endowment to account for such necessities. However, theism doesn’t win merely by default, but by having a foundation with the ontic capacity to account for the necessities of science and knowledge.

This is one of the grander assertions of all time, so it will be interesting to see how he clothes it, or if it remains as bare as it appears.

The Presuppositional Limits Gambit

The PLG is the hallmark of presuppositional apologetics. I have yet to see a presupp thesis that didn’t employ it in some fashion. When I try to consider it as if I just encountered it for the first time, I immediately wonder what the point of it is. The author could be doing a number of things. The first thing I notice is that it’s a gross generalization. No matter how he intends the word “presupposition”, he gives no good reason for applying this quirk of the intellect to everyone. He could have said “What we’re inclined to affirm is affected by our presuppositions” without controversy. But I suspect he intentionally employed this generalization to narrow the discussion to a playing field for which his script is tailored. Secondly, it might then follow that the word “limited” is intended to mean a hard limit - as in “here are the lines between which your presuppositions allow you to affirm some proposition. You can’t cross them”. Its clear that I’m interpreting this strictly, but after seeing similar scripts a few times, there’s little question where the claimant wants to go. Couching it this way allows him to zoom in to his preferred black-and-white arguments without messy diversions that involve real life shades of gray, and blue, and red, and...

There are other semantic concerns. For instance, the word “presupposition” can be understood several ways. One, it’s a linguistic concept, as in “background information that everyone assumes everyone else knows”. Taken this way, the word itself is not an issue, but it doesn’t follow that presuppositions (understood this way) impose epistemological limits. A second definition is akin to “bias” or “axiom”. This would be a more appropriate usage. A bias would certainly affect your inclination to affirm or deny a concept, although it still doesn’t indicate how it might impose hard limits on reasoning. A third understanding of the word would be to intend an “axiomatic theory of truth”. Here, the claimant would be making a much more sweeping claim on how individuals reason about data. This third understanding says “we reach the truth by asserting axioms upon which we reason about the world”. It ignores other theories of truth-seeking and similarly omits methods by which we acquire data about which to reason. If you intend this meaning, then you’re saying “all people approach the truth for all questions this way, all the time”. I don’t think he can mean it this way, but it’s clear that the presupposition has primacy in the polemicist’s approach to understanding and arguing about the world. My guess is that he means something that straddles the second and third definitions.

The Transcendental Argument for God

The TAG simply presumes that God is the foundation upon which existence is understandable. Anything that is beyond the physical - space-time, matter, energy - is fair game. You will see logic and mathematics as targets for this, as the existence of either field is not easily understood by we laymen. I’ve seen thoughts and love as two other targets for presuppositional arguments. Consciousness, the products of conscious thought, any abstract object is a candidate for a “you can’t explain that” attack. I’ll admit that these things are difficult to explain, but that doesn’t point to God as the best explanation. Let me discuss the argument from incredulity that undergirds this.

“I can’t understand why X exists, therefore my explanation Y obtains”. That’s it, in a nutshell - I can’t think of an explanation, so this other palatable explanation applies. There’s no reason given why that “other palatable explanation” might be a good one, let alone the right one, but you see this a lot in apologetics. It’s on display here - center stage. This maneuver omits something that other - better - apologetics arguments don’t. It fails to establish God as a better (or the best) explanation among all leading explanations. It can also be characterized as a bare assertion, but it relies on the audience not having a explanation, yet (probably) feeling that one ought to be accessible.

Tying It All Together

Walk your audience down a narrowing funnel, then, in a miniaturized arena just big enough to contain your preferred epistemological theory - and no other approaches - slug away at abstract concepts that your miniaturized epistemology can provide answers for. Voila! God is the answer! This is what you can do using the Presuppositional Limits Gambit to mark the playing field on which your Transcendental Argument for God can play. Crafty!

Once I’ve reached this point in an examination of the presuppositional apologetic, the remainder - whatever it might be - looks pretty uninteresting. The glaring flaw in presuppositionalism is its copious use of bare assertion and arguments from incredulity, and its failure to establish a theistic explanation as even possible, let alone plausible enough to consider. I guess it persists as an apologetics approach because it’s simple, and there are enough budding apologists in the world that can follow it while retaining the unwarranted sense of certainty that it takes to persevere in the face of reality.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Typically Bad Presuppositional Screed

A fellow by the name of Mike Robinson has written what could be titled “A How-To on how not to refute a claim that you disagree with”, in a screed that’s actually titled “Bill Nye's Naturalistic Evolution is Absurd: Contesting 'Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation' - Bill Nye's Atheistic Evolution Is Preposterous”.

That’s really the title.

He wants to make sure you know he’s talking about Bill Nye.

I skimmed the post first, and determined that Mike more or less employs a presuppositional apologetics script in this lively polemic, so be forewarned. This stuff is tedious, predictable and smug. It’s impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery.

My first impression is that Mike’s no dummy - he carries out the presuppositional procedure well enough. It’s the premises and reasoning that are defective, and presuppositionalism is not known for equipping people to detect their own bad reasoning. So this could be painful.

First off, a polemic on Bill Nye seems unwarranted and obsessive. Why is “Bill Nye’s Atheistic Evolution” the focus here? Why not someone's else's atheistic evolution? Why not evolution itself? Why the inclusion of Nye? Did he hurt someone’s feelings? Is he scary? Did he date your fiance in high school, and you’re still afraid she wants him? Did he write a book that might inspire your children to ignore your authoritarian babble and think for themselves, and possibly - gasp - learn? What on Earth is the motivation here?

As it turns out, it’s the book. Drat. I was hoping it was the fiance.

An attack on evolution carries with it a clear presumption that the polemicist has a differing viewpoint on how Earth’s life forms came to be the way they are. I will presume that Mike is either creationist or an Intelligent Design proponent - or both. Allow me to delve deeper.

The first paragraph below Mike’s byline is “The idea behind Undeniable Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye is absurd”. Yep, a third mention of Bill Nye. Okay, we get it.Bill Nye - The Science Guy Mike’s complaint is about Nye’s book “Undeniable - Evolution and the Science of Creation”. We’re on a roll.

It turns out that Jeffrey Jay Lowder at Secular Outpost (@secularoutpost on Twitter) already handled this last year, so it would be redundant of me to critique it in the same way. But there’s something else to examine here - several things, in fact. Something Else #1 is the general idea that “evolution is false”. Something Else #2 features the foundations of presuppositionalism. Something Else #3 is regarding the misuse of argumentation and logic.

Something Else #1: Evolution is False

There are some big unanswered questions out there, all of which provide an occasion for the thoughtful apologist to develop an argument that God is the best explanation for that specific question. Obviously, the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe that allows life, the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, the origin of logic and mathematics, the fact that the universe is intelligible, the existence of objective moral values, these are all “Big Questions” that open the door for arguments that God is the best explanation for (whichever Big Question). And these are just the ones that I can list while using a stylus in my left hand on an iPad, while petting my fat hairy cat with my normal writing hand! Evolution, as an explanation for speciation and diversity of lifeforms, doesn’t seem to fit the mold of “Big Question” any more, since it has been widely accepted for about 150 years. So you have to wonder why apologists pick this topic out for a lusty rogering, especially since it is the least mysterious. It turns out that unguided processes bug the shit out of them. That unguidedness indicates that God is not in control here, and that implies that he could conceivably not even be there at all. And that would be unthinkable. So we see Mike take on evolution as if he’s engaged in a holy war against hordes of infidels. It’s quite a spectacle.

Needless to say, many of Mike’s claims about evolution being false, or having been falsified, are utterly vacuous. Take for instance the premise that there are no transitional fossils. Here’s the rub: Biologists have more than enough to establish evolutionary descent from previous life forms. Is there enough? There’s enough to establish evolution as the leading explanation. If there were a competing explanation, we would have seen scads of research papers hit the universities, but we haven’t, not in the last century. Could there be more transitional forms? Of course! Biologists would love to have them all, but at what price? You can play the “there are no transitional forms” game indefinitely, however, because it represents an opportunity for almost infinite regress. A fantastic stalling and diversionary tactic. Taken to a preposterous extreme, you could claim that I am the product of divine intervention just because you can’t find the transitional fossils between my grandfather and I. (Sorry for calling you fossils, Mom and Dad!) It still remains true that evolution has no serious competitors. Mike just repeated stock sound bites.

Another common sound bite that Creationists like to trot out is that Stephen J. Gould “debunked” the idea of gradual evolution (he leaned towards a “punctuated equilibrium” model of evolution), but he wasn’t debunking evolution at all. He was proposing that evolution was not gradual, not that it doesn’t occur at all. So I don’t get it. If you have a better explanation for speciation than evolution, then write it up and submit it for academic review. If it’s better than evolution, the reviewers should be compelled to admit “we got it wrong”. If not, there still might be something about evolution that your research can correct. Otherwise, why keep beating a dead horse? Remember, if you want to claim God exists, this is the single weakest place to start. If unguided processes bug you, get over it. Pick another Big Question.

Something Else #2A: We all have Presuppositions

Mike exposes something that is behind presuppositional apologetics in general. He says:

We’re all limited in our viewpoints by our ultimate commitments—what we’re capable of affirming is limited by our presuppositions. Our ideological passions are skewed by our most basic philosophical assumptions we take for granted—we can’t help think the other side’s evidence is faulty or irreverent if it opposes our basic presuppositions.

Notice that he says “We’re all...”. He’s admitting that he is constrained by his presuppositions, and he’s ascribing the same limitation to everyone. To begin with, that’s plain wrong. It is most decidedly NOT the case that, if you have a defect, that everyone else has that same defect. So he invalidates any subsequent argument just by virtue of admitting the defect, and then accusing everyone else of the same. The plain truth of the matter is that some people will follow the evidence where it leads them, some will not, and there is a spectrum of variation between the two extremes. I think this single presumption of universal and uncompromising commitment to biases is the most damning argument against presuppositional apologetics that exists. It affirms that the person holding an uncompromising commitment to biases is not interested in seeking truth, hence not interested in bringing their mental view of reality into line with observed reality, thus disqualifying them as someone whose opinion would be of value when trying to understand the true nature of our existence. Reasonable people are capable of assent to effective, compelling arguments that oppose their personal viewpoints. Unreasonable people find this difficult. It’s as if he’s declaring “I'm an unreasonable person”.

Something Else #2b: Unwarranted Feelings of Certainty

Russell Glasser once participated in an on-line debate with a presupp that gives an apt example. His opponent’s first two entire posts were vague polysyllabic bombast, without making a single point. It was weird and irritating. Mike displays that same weird certainty that what he says is not only right, but devastating to the opposing viewpoint. Yet he never comes anywhere close to demonstrating that “Bill Nye's Naturalistic Evolution is Absurd”. Or that anyone else’s is, either. There is rehashing of unoriginal material, but little indication that enough original thought went in to this to have considered whether it's even coherent, let alone plausible.

Something Else #3: The misuse of argumentation and logic

Recall the presumption that “we all have presuppositions” - and that we’re not able to see another’s viewpoint because of it. It comes to mind that when Mike says “we can’t help think the other side’s evidence is faulty...”, it sounds like he’s preparing to address how biases color our perceptions, and how he could then conceivably deliver an argument to overcome his opponent’s biases with the strength of its wisdom and perspicacity. But no. He says:

It’s not a matter of dozing intellectually in a truce, but finding which worldview provides the ontological resources to account for research, analysis, deliberation, and knowledge. Strict naturalistic atheism is completely devoid of the necessary ontic endowment to account for such necessities. However, theism doesn’t win merely by default, but by having a foundation with the ontic capacity to account for the necessities of science and knowledge.

Very high-minded sounding, but it’s right out of the presuppositionalist playbook. What he’s really getting at is “Christian Theism provides you with the foundation for knowing stuff, and atheism doesn’t”. So he wins, you lose. Of course, he gives absolutely no evidence or argument that would even hint at why or how what he says is true, but he claims victory anyway. It’s not that your argument that evolution is true is faulty, it’s that you can’t even make a sane argument because you’re an atheist. Make sure you don't rely on an atheist auto mechanic or brain surgeon, you could be in trouble!

Look closely at this. You have to believe in “X” in order to make sense of the world. How does one explain how that works? Here is not the time to go into a discussion of the Supernatural versus the Natural, but the general problem there always remains that 1) we have no good reason to think that there is a Supernatural realm, and 2) if a Supernatural realm could exist, theres no explanation for how actions and causes from the Supernatural operate in the Natural world.

in Closing...

We can now imagine the presuppositionalist roadmap. The foundational principle is that “We all have presuppositions, and ’what we’re capable of affirming is limited’ by them”. Its corollary is “theistic presuppositions are correct, and atheistic presuppositions are not”. I’d love to see an actual argument that asserts that either of these claims are true.

From there, the rest follows:
  1. God exists
  2. God provides the foundation for intelligibility
  3. Atheists don’t believe in God, therefore they aren’t intelligible.
  4. Ignore the bare assertions and special pleading in 1 & 2.
  5. Ignore the non-sequitur in 3.
  6. Theists win.

It’s just that bad.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gagarin, Weinberg and the Supernatural

Last Sunday, April 12th, was the 54th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight. The first time a human had orbited the Earth. He was famously - and incorrectly - reported to have said something along the lines of “I don't see any God up here". Yuri Gagarin - CosmonautThose words were apparently interpolated from a claim made by Nikita Khrushchev some time later, to the effect that “Yuri Gagarin has orbited the Earth and didn’t see God up there”, but there’s no flight transcript that Gagarin actually said this. It does bring up an interesting thought, however.

It has been said elsewhere that gods (little “g”) were originally thought by primitive man to live on the mountain tops. When man climbed to the mountain tops, it was reported that there were no gods there, so it was then thought that the gods must reside above the clouds. When man gained the ability to see above the clouds, it was reported that there were no gods there, so it was then thought that the gods must reside in outer space. When man gained the ability to see and travel in outer space, where can the gods retreat to then?

When man stops looking for gods to physically “be” somewhere that we can observe, then men have to make inferences about features of the universe that are difficult to explain, and posit that gods, or “God” must be the cause of the feature(s), and thus we can “see” evidence that gods or God exists. Such it is with the existence of the universe.

I just finished reading Stephen Weinberg’s excellent book “The First Three Minutes”, a discussion of what elementary particle physicists and cosmologists agree can be known about the universe as early as one hundredth of a second after a hypothetical “big bang” singularity that might be the earliest point in the history of the observable universe that anything could be known. Even though this book was written in 1977, it is still fundamentally sound - and useful - today, 37 years after it was first published. And, although it’s not the point of the book, we don’t see any gods or God there, either. When you look into the night sky, there’s no omniscient, omnipotent being looking back at you. When astronomers look at the night sky, the furthest back they can look is to the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - the oldest remnants of the events that scientists now call the “Big Bang Model”. When the astronomer Edwin Hubble determined that the universe was expanding, it was eventually inferred that the universe must have been smaller in the past. And when you “run the clock backward” far enough, you get a smaller, denser, hotter universe, until, hypothetically, the whole universe crowds into a single point, the hypothetical “Big Bang Singularity”. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation depicted in a light cone There is no observational evidence that tells us that an actual Big Bang Singularity existed, but you can understand why that is the direction that scientists must look. Everything we see tells us that the universe was once smaller, and thus denser, and thus hotter. And as experiments are performed like those in the Large Hadron Collider, we gain a finer and more complete picture of what the universe would have been like far beyond what natural observations can ever tell us. And we still don’t see God.

That’s not to say he/she/it/they are not there. That’s to say we should follow where the evidence leads us. And it leads us in the direction that doesn't appear inhabited by gods. If a remote, indifferent, deistic God exists at the end of the search, so be it. But the provincial, primitive conceptions of God that continue to pop up throughout history are past ready for relegation to the trash heap. Supernatural conceptions of existence don’t appear to be coherent, let alone operative in reality. So where can the gods retreat to?

There will always be, I presume, more to learn. Your neighbor may point to the hypothetical “Big Bang Singularity” and ask “how do you explain that?” You will not explain it of course, because right now there is no explanation for it, and you and I would be foolish to attempt one. What’s more, we don’t know that the idea of a “Big Bang Singularity” is correct. It may be that, when all the data are in, that something happens between then and now that explains where all the space-time, matter and energy come from. One idea is simply that the fundamental components of this universe have always existed in some form, and this universe’s emergence from what looks like a Big Bang - whatever is obscured behind the CMBR - is just a natural occurrence. It will be nice to know what that natural occurrence is, but I don’t expect it to be determined in my lifetime. It may be that the question “where did it all come from?” is nonsense. We need to be careful when insisting on answers - it may be that some things are fundamental, and cannot be further deconstructed.

Now, I’m neither a scientist nor a philosopher, so if you hear me say that “it may be that some things are fundamental, and cannot be further deconstructed” - it’s explicitly with the caveat “it may be that...”. It may be something else. It may be a bunch of things - I just don’t know. So I don’t want to make the mistake of appearing to arbitrarily set a limit to the depth of inquiry by declaring that some things are fundamental and have no further explanations. I can’t ever declare some things to be off-limits. More importantly and more generally, I don’t want to have sacred cows. I don’t want to limit my intellectual growth by setting boundaries. I don’t want to presuppose, from moment to moment, that anything that I think I know about existence is beyond questioning and revision. If I ever do, slap me.

Follow the evidence where it leads.

Monday, April 6, 2015

NT: Romans 6 - 10

Paul ends the prior chapter with a setup:

Rom 5:19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

...for questions to open Chapter 6:

1 What shall we say then? Shall
continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

He goes on to say that sin is bad, Jesus is good, and

23 For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Chapter 7 brings us some pointed words on marriage, remarriage and adultery, the theme being that the body is inherently sinful, and likes to fuck and fuck and fuck. Paul is apparently hung up by a small weenie. Or he could have been cheated on by a previous lover.

Paul transitions from his “flesh is evil” spiel to a “nothing can change our love for Jesus” thesis in Chapter 8.

From there, we go to (what appears to be) a rant against believers in the Old Testament, who are getting it wrong, because Jesus.

In Chapter 10, Paul gets to the point:

1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
4 For Christ [is] the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

It goes on like this for the rest of this chapter, and on to several more, but I’ll give it a rest here.

Since Romans appears to be both admonishment and pep talk to the new congregation, as well as a polemic against the Jewish non-believers, I could pick out individual “do’s” and “don’t’s” from Pauls letter, but that’s not really my interest. It’s clear that gettin’ jiggy with your naughty bits upsets him, but this letter appears (still) to be directed against Jewish and Christian readers. I’d expect a rant against Roman, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern pagan religions, since my perception has always been that they were looser in the pants than the Jews, and that they would WAY out-number all other religions outside Israel. I wonder if that will ever come up.

Internet Fundraising - a How Not To

I’ve never tried fundraising of any sort, so I’m speculating here, but I suspect that people raising funds for a cause on the Interwebz are successful to the extent that they 1) have a worthy or interesting cause; 2) are effective at creating positive feelings towards the cause, so that potential contributors will be motivated to contribute; 3) have access to people that can potentially contribute (have discretionary income).


This looks like marketing 101 so far.

I recently followed a person on Twitter that had a project to be funded. Interesting enough project - not essential, doesn’t feed the poor, doesn’t cure cancer, doesn’t insure peace on earth. Probably useful to a small percentage of a small group of people, and only a small percentage of the time. In fact, I can’t imagine when I’ve ever had a real-life need for this person’s idea. Not that their idea was bad, but there are ways to get what this person was proposing, and get it right now, for free. So this person has a challenge in creating that feeling of “need” in prospective contributors.

Imagine that I have $100 in discretionary funds, and I already have a habit of contributing to charitable causes to the extent that all of my discretionary funds get distributed to what I think are worthy causes. How are you going to convince me to re-allocate money from the Food Bank or Save The Children or Serving Seniors to your pet project? It might be possible, but it would take some doing. I think the trick is to “create that positive feeling”. Create the buzz. No whining!

Did I just say “no whining”? Why, yes Bob, yes I did!

The Interwebz Fund-Raiser Person that I’m thinking of, besides having a project that is probably useful to a small percentage of a small group of people, only a small percentage of the time - and essential to none of them, appears to be a whiner.

If you have a project that you need funded, you can use facts, salesmanship, humor, hyperbole, even sympathy. If you’re saving the gay whales, feeding the poor, curing cancer, insuring world peace, or bringing about the transformation of humankind into Transcendant Beings, then by all means, spread the word! But don’t make yourself look like a whiny putz by wondering out loud why someone’s pet dog got twelve billion dollars for a prosthetic leg, but you can’t even get your probably-useful-to-a-small-percentage-of-a-small-group-of-people-a-small-percentage-of-the-time project funded. It makes you look like an unsympathetic, self-centered ass. It makes your project look relatively unattractive by association. And that is definitely not going to sell your idea.

P.S. For a day or two, I thought of suggesting to this person that they change their fund-raising tactics from "why aren't you guys funding me?" to "Fund this super-exciting-innovative-project-that-will-save-the-world", but the torrent of "why aren't you guys funding me?" tweets was so irritating that I whizzed right by the make-a-positive-suggestion phase and went directly to the extreme disgust phase, once the person misplayed the crippled dog comparison.

P.P.S. Yeah, I unfollowed this person

End of rant.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Merriam-Webster defines “miracle” as “an unusual or wonderful event that is believed to be caused by the power of God”.

Recently, Secular Outpost featured two posts addressing miracles - What if you Saw a Miracle?, and Geisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8, which triggered my reflection today.

The subject comes up (in my life, at least) every few years. Frequently enough to be of interest. For example, I have a relative that interpreted the sun breaking through on a cloudy day after leaving a funeral service as a miracle. She saw it as a sign from God that all was right with the dearly departed. Never mind that the sun appearing from behind clouds probably happened hundreds of times that day at the spot from which she witnessed it, and that it happens possibly millions of times a day throughout the world each day. This person has a low threshold for what qualifies as a miracle.

As for me, the question came up a few years ago in a (now moribund) Bible reading blog, in the form “what would it take you to believe that God exists?” My answer today would be that if I saw the moon drop into a low-earth polar orbit for a day, then reposition itself in its previous orbit, I would take that as a sign that God exists.

Technically, neither of these two examples (sunshine, low-orbit moon) is physically impossible, although the former is easily explainable by natural means, and the latter is wildly, preposterously improbable. Still, if billions of humans observed the low-orbit moon, then we’d have few alternatives to explain it. Maybe a super-advanced civilization flexing its muscles for that red-haired girl down the street. Maybe an optical illusion. Maybe Loki. Maybe God.

But that would do it for me.