Best of the Modern Library
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Our founding fathers established a religiously neutral nation, and a tragedy of our time is that so many people are striving to undo all that was accomplished by the wisdom of the founding fathers who framed for us a constitution that would protect the religious freedom of everyone regardless of personal creed. An even greater tragedy is that they many times hoodwink the public into believing that they are only trying to make our nation what the founding fathers would want it to be. Separation of church and state is what the founding fathers wanted for the nation, and we must never allow anyone to distort history to make it appear otherwise.
Even if we disregard the overwhelming evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain, there remains strong evidence from reports of near-death experiences themselves that NDEs are not glimpses of an afterlife.
An analysis of the philosophical arguments and scientific evidence against life after death which weighs the parapsychological evidence for survival of bodily death against the physiological evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain. This essay is divided into four main sections: Defining the Problem, The Philosophical Case Against Immortality, The Scientific Case Against Immortality, and Postscript on Survival.
This is a gentle but thorough introduction to the different varieties of atheism and agnosticism. It covers many common misunderstandings, and defines and explains terms used elsewhere. Recommended for all readers, religious or not. To provide a sense of cohesion and progression, the author has presented this article as an imaginary conversation between an atheist and a theist. All the questions asked by the imaginary theist are questions which have cropped up repeatedly.
Quick and simple answers to common questions about atheism: What is an Atheist? Why don’t you believe in God? Don’t you want to go to heaven? How can you turn your back on true happiness? How can you trust sinful humans, ignoring all the good god does? If there is no god, then where do you think the universe came from? So why be moral? What do you think happens when you die? What about all the people who experience god? Haven’t Christian values done much good in the world? So what do you believe in?
“When God is conceived of as an all-powerful and all-loving deity, many arguments for his nonexistence can be raised. Two of the main ones are the Argument from Evil (hereafter abbreviated AE) and the Argument from Nonbelief (hereafter abbreviated ANB). In what follows, I shall provide precise formulations of those two arguments, make some comments about them, and then try to refute the main defenses (of God’s existence) that might be put forward against ANB, which I consider the stronger of the two. I take ANB to be a sound argument establishing the proposition that God (conceived of in a certain way) does not exist.”
Does horrendous suffering constitute evidence against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinitely benevolent God? In this colorful hypothetical dialogue (based upon a real one in the philosophical literature), Mark Vuletic considers the primary issue of contention between the defender and skeptic of God’s goodness: Could any amount of suffering ever constitute evidence against the goodness of God?
Some common arguments for and against the atheist position, which crop up time and time again—each with one or more of the standard responses, and which don’t fit neatly into either of the above two categories. A “must read” if you think you have a good argument and you want to know if it has already been discussed.
If you want to be able put across a rigorous and convincing argument, you should read this document. Recommended for anyone who is going to be involved in debate or discussion. Included is a list of common fallacies to beware of.
Narveson refutes the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments. Narveson points out that if we are going to use theism as an explanation for the alleged fine-tuning of the universe, then we must know what God’s plan was and how he did it. It may be that God’s plan is beyond human comprehension, but in that case theism cannot be considered an explanation.
Why is there so much human suffering in the world if God is all good and all powerful? According to William Lane Craig, God aims for the maximal number of people as possible to know God and His salvation. Yet if this truly were God’s goal, there are many things which God could have done (but did not) and which do not involve suffering. Also, it is empirically false that suffering leads to knowledge of God. Moreover, if Craig’s theodicy were true, then God should actually increase the amount of suffering in the world.
The myth of “you can’t prove a negative” circulates throughout the nontheist community, and it is good to dispel myths whenever we can. The real issue is the problem of induction, which is faced by both positive and negative claims. But there can still be a reasonable belief or unbelief even in what we can never know for certain.
In this highly original and challenging essay, Raymond Bradley develops an argument that all religions are probably false inspired by David Hume’s famous discussion of the ‘contrary miracles’ of rival religions. According to Bradley’s argument from contrariety, any one of the vast numbers of religions ever conceived (or to be conceived) makes factual claims contradicted by the claims of all of the other religions. Moreover, the claims of any particular religion are generally as well-attested as the claims of all of the others. Consequently, given the “weight” of the “evidence” of all of the other religions, the probability that the claims of any one religion are true is exceedingly low. From this it follows that all religions are probably false.
An excellent, fictional introduction to the problem of evil and twelve theistic responses to the problem.
Supposing that atheism is true, is it important to defend its truth? Ryan Stringer emphatically answers in the affirmative. Stringer argues that if atheism is rationally held to be true, that alone is sufficient reason to defend it, for truth and rational belief are intrinsic goods, and it is generally noble to try to change others’ minds when they seem to hold false beliefs. In addition, Stringer considers a number of secondary, supplementary reasons for defending atheism. These range from fighting religiously motivated mistreatment, developing beneficial public policies, redirecting resources going to religious institutions to benefit those in need, understanding our place in the world, and fostering thinking freely as rational and autonomous beings, among other things. Stringer wraps up by considering whether anything indispensable to the good life is lost when we abandon traditional theistic belief for atheism, concluding that the purported benefits of theistic belief over atheism typically evaporate on closer inspection.
In the first part of this essay Augustine discusses what naturalism entails for one’s ontology, considers various ideas about how to define the categories “natural” and “nonnatural,” and develops criteria for identifying a potentially supernatural event. In part 2 he presents a persuasive empirical case for naturalism based on the lack of uncontroversial evidence for any potential instances of supernatural causation, particularly in our modern scientific account of the history of the universe and in modern parapsychological research.
God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence (2007) [ Index ] edited by Paul Draper
The Great Debate, God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence, aims to bring together nine distinguished philosophers in a series of four debates, each with a different focus on evidence for and against naturalism and theism. The first debate addresses evidence concerning the nature of the mind and the will as it relates to the truth of naturalism and theism. The second debate introduces an argument from evil informed by evolutionary biology and considers whether evolutionary naturalism is self-defeating. The third debate appeals to the physical sciences, alternatively providing a cosmological argument against theism on the one hand and considering design arguments against naturalism on the other. The final debate revolves around why, if God exists, he remains hidden from so many people, and whether we should believe in God for practical reasons even in the absence of compelling evidence for his existence.
Vitzthum surveys the materialist philosophical systems of Lucretius, Baron d’Holbach, and Ludwig Buechner, then turns to a discussion of 20th century materialism. Before delving into the mind-brain problem, he outlines the “metascientific” assumptions of materialism, their atheistic implications, and what materialism entails about life and mind. A brief consideration of the ontological status of numbers and moral concepts turns to a discussion of the success of reductionism in contemporary science.
All too frequently we hear statistics being offered to “prove” that the odds against the origin of life are so great that we must posit a Creator to explain the event. This is a summary analysis of all known examples. Carrier writes, “Although I cover a wide range of sources, I am certain that I have not found all of them. If you ever encounter a statistic being cited from a source which is not discussed here, please let me know and I will investigate and expand this essay accordingly.”
In a long overdue update to this popular article, Mark Vuletic offers a short but informed discussion of whether physical processes could have produced the universe from nothing. This discussion is divided into three main sections: (1) Can Something Come from Nothing? (2) Can the Universe Come from Nothing? and (3) Is the “Nothing” of the Physicists Really Nothing? This discussion is supplemented with an updated list of quotes from popular science works supporting the idea that the universe could come into existence from nothing via natural processes.
A survey of what entropy really is, and how it is often misunderstood or misused in theist literature.
This essay dispels many myths about the scientific mind, detailing what scientific methods really are, and how science really gets done, based on a scientific study revealing troubling levels of scientific illiteracy among college students and high school science teachers.
Theistic evolution (TE), the theological view that God creates through evolution, combines evolutionary biology and religion in a way that pretends to avoid a conflict between these two disciplines. This view is held to a greater or lesser extent by the Roman Catholic Church and major Protestant denominations, and is even propagated by some nonreligious scholars. In this essay Bart Klink argues that evolution is irreconcilable with theism, particularly Christian theism, on both philosophical and theological grounds.
“Appeals to the alleged ‘fine-tuning’ of the cosmos will have to wait until there is a compelling, definite reason to suspect that the existence of our universe really is improbable. Vague analogies with firing squads and arbitrarily selected probabilities may lead to some interesting speculations, but they do not point to any significant evidence for some kind of creator.”
Almost all evangelical Christians … believe that the Bible contains special features which constitute evidence of its divine inspiration. This would be a use of the Bible to prove God’s existence within natural theology rather than within revealed theology, since the book’s features are supposed to be evident even to (open-minded) skeptics…. [This] reasoning can be construed as an argument both for God’s existence and for the truth of the gospel message from the alleged special features of the Bible. We may refer to it as “the Argument from the Bible.” Although almost all evangelical Christians agree with it at least to some extent, it is an argument that is for the most part ignored by professional philosophers of religion. One explanation for such neglect is that the argument can be easily refuted.
AIK is a new probabilistic argument against the existence of the Christian God. According to one version of the argument, if the Christian God existed he would ensure that (nearly) all human beings have an excellent knowledge of the Bible before they die. But, as a matter of historical fact, most human beings do not even get close to having an excellent knowledge of the Bible before they die (if they even know it at all). Therefore, the Christian God probably doesn’t exist.
Ted Drange develops two arguments for the nonexistence of the God of evangelical Christianity, an all-powerful and loving being greatly concerned about the fate of human beings and desiring a personal relationship with them. According to his argument from confusion (AC), widespread confusion between Christians over matters of ultimate importance entails that the God of evangelical Christianity probably does not exist. In particular, the rampant diversification of Christian sects on such matters entails that, even if any one of those sects is correct, large numbers of Christians must hold false beliefs about issues of ultimate importance—contrary to what one would predict if the God of evangelical Christianity existed. The argument from biblical defects (ABD) contends that if the God of evangelical Christianity existed, then the Bible would probably be perfectly clear and authoritative and without marks of solely human authorship; but since the Bible does not meet either of these criteria, the God of evangelical Christianity probably does not exist.
Surveys the history of the formation of the New Testament canon, summarizing the work of Bruce Metzger. Eusebius, the first Christian historian, openly defends telling lies to support Christianity.
“The purpose of this document is to partially answer the question, ‘To what extent are the events described in the New Testament corroborated by contemporary non-Christian texts?’ I argue that the answer to this question is ‘not much’—at the very best, some of the texts I consider support the proposition that Jesus existed and perhaps was executed by the Romans.” Notice: The Historicity of Jesus FAQ has been superseded by Jeff Lowder’s Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence’ for Jesus—Is It Reliable? which is far more comprehensive and more up-to-date. The Historicity of Jesus FAQ is preserved for archival purposes only. The author has no plans at this time to update the text.
There are many reasons that I am not a Christian. I am an atheist for reasons more fundamental than anything to do with particular religions, but the arguments in favor of the Christian creed as opposed to any other are ubiquitous and always center around the historical claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. As an historian with a good knowledge of Greek, I am now very qualified to make a professional judgement in the matter. This essay explains why I find the Resurrection to be an unconvincing argument for becoming Christian.
A successful rebuttal to any form of Pascal’s Wager, a rebuttal which requires theists to abandon several of their cherished beliefs about god and/or heaven if they are to escape its logic, demonstrating in the process that unbelief may be the safest bet after all.
Is the Bible the work of God? Is it even a valid guidebook? How can we know? This introduction serves as a very basic introduction to the makeup of the Bible and to how the Bible came about, as well as to some basic kinds of biblical problems—especially the kinds of problems inherent in a fundamentalist/literalist approach to the Bible which views the Bible as the inerrant, infallible, inspired, and plenary “Word” of a perfect, omnipotent, and loving God—as exemplified in the categories that follow.
This essay was written to be delivered as a lecture and is worded accordingly. It was part of a two day debate with a Fundamentalist minister. For each evening there are two parts, one of thirty minutes and a conclusion of ten minutes. This essay takes the negative position.
Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith aims to answer the “toughest objections to Christianity” through interviews with well-known Christian apologists. In the introduction, Strobel lists what he calls Christianity’s “Big Eight Conundrums”—including many of the questions that I continually asked myself when I was still a Christian. Though Strobel generally does a good job of explaining the objections, the more I contemplated his interviewees’ responses, the less satisfying I found those responses to be. This point-by-point critique aims to explain why I found each of these responses to be weak at best or preposterous at worst, and I am consequently forced to conclude that Strobel may have actually produced a case against faith.
The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence” (1995-2004) edited by Jeffery Jay Lowder
A comprehensive rebuttal to Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which many Christians mysteriously hail as a masterpiece of Christian apologetics. McDowell refuses to link to this critique.
Lowder reviews Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, and concludes that “Strobel did not interview any critics of Evangelical apologetics. He sometimes refutes at great length objections not made by the critics (e.g., the claim that Jesus was mentally insane); more often, he doesn’t address objections the critics do make (e.g., the unreliability of human memory, that non-Christian historians do not provide any independent confirmation for the deity of Jesus, etc.) Perhaps this will be a welcome feature to people who already believe Christianity but have no idea why they believe it. For those of us who are primarily interested in the truth, however, we want to hear both sides of the story.”
“In the first place, there is no such thing as ‘mere Christianity.’ For instance, either the Virgin Birth is valid or it is not. Either it is essential to Christian Belief or it is not. [C. S.] Lewis discusses and then avoids conclusions about such issues as being too controversial. If he believes in historical Christianity, then he must take a stand one way or the other and be willing to justify and/or explain the reasons for his conclusions. He needs to take into account the Biblical record as well as the later traditions that developed and label them accordingly. In reading the Bible, he must deal with the two disparate accounts of Jesus’ lineage in Matthew and Luke and with the fact that both trace his genealogy through Joseph, not Mary. For the Christian who wants to ignore these difficulties, there is nothing reasonable that can be said…”
William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith is an apologetics textbook ranging over arguments for the existence of God to the alleged evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It also includes discussions of Craig’s views on faith, the meaning of life, miracles, history, and Jesus’ view of himself, as well as an original chapter on the reliability of the New Testament by evangelical New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg. In this critique Chris Hallquist argues that at best Reasonable Faith provides thoughtful arguments for the existence of some sort of God, but not the Christian God specifically, and that Craig fails to adequately answer arguments that belief in miracles—including belief in the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection—is unwarranted. Moreover, by implication Craig wants his audience to renounce the basic moral notion that no one deserves eternal punishment for picking the wrong religion. In the end, Craig wants us to believe something that all reason is against, though paradoxically every apologetic assumes that we must take reason seriously. This is, ultimately, why Craig’s apologetic fails.
Was the success of Christianity too improbable for Christianity to have been false? According to James Holding’s “Impossible Faith,” no one would have accepted early Christianity if it were not true. In particular, he offers seventeen hostile conditions, plus an additional critical assumption about the role of luck, that he claims would have made it impossible for Christianity to succeed—unless it was true. In this remarkably extensive chapter-by-chapter critique, Richard Carrier evaluates Holding’s arguments in light of historical scholarship and identifies several troubling fallacies in Holding’s reasoning.
Schultz defends a moral argument for the nonexistence of the Judeo-Christian god by summarizing a fictional trial of God on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The anthology Reason for the Hope Within aims to mount a broad defense of the Christian faith, in part by explaining how it can be reasonable for Christians to accept puzzling or paradoxical Christian doctrines, and in part by persuading nonbelievers that all of the core claims of Christianity are true. Oppy explains why he thinks that the book utterly fails to accomplish one of these aims, and thus fails to do much to advance the standing of Christian apologetics.
An essay on alleged messianic prophecies. This essay is divided into six main sections and a postscript: The Significance of Messianic Prophecy, Birth Prophecies, Ministry Prophecies, Betrayal Prophecies, Crucifixion Prophecies, Conclusions, and Postscript.
If bibliolaters would just once in their lives put aside all of their pet theories and take an objective look at the Bible, they would begin to see that the men who wrote the Old Testament were just ordinary religious zealots who thought that they and their people had been specifically chosen of God. The fanaticism with which they believed this led them to proclaim absurdly ethnocentric prophecies that history has proven wrong, much to the embarrassment of Bible fundamentalists who desperately want to believe that the Bible is the verbally inspired, inerrant word of God. They have no substantive proof on their side. All the proof declares very definitively to anyone who really wants to know the truth that the Bible is a veritable maze of nonsense and contradictions.
In this explanation of why he is not a Christian, Richard Carrier outlines the top four reasons why he rejects Christianity: God’s silence, God’s inactivity, lack of evidence, and the overt conflict between discovered reality and Christian theory. Though a lay exposition geared at a general audience, the essay appeals to a variety of atheistic arguments, including the argument from religious confusion, an evidential argument from evil, divine hiddenness, the argument from biological evolution, and the argument from physical minds. In an interesting twist on the argument from design, Carrier turns the fine-tuning argument on its head, noting that several features of our universe—features predicted by naturalism—are highly improbable if Christian theism is true.