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August 17, 2019
An embellished and creatively written history of the origins and development of a Canaanite tribe underlies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. None of the myriad of documents from ancient Egypt ever mention hundreds of thousands of foreign slaves leaving following a series of catastrophes, for example, nor has any archaeological evidence of the movement of a supposed half a million refugees from the Sinai peninsula ever been uncovered. Nevertheless, the Jesus of the Gospels seems to concur with this erroneous version of history, affirming the Genesis creation myth, the existence of the mythological Noah and Abraham, and the historicity of Moses' exodus, among other things. The Qur'an and Islamic exegesis subscribe to the historicity of such people and events no less. The arbitrary selection of Yahweh—the Canaanite god of metallurgy—from the vast Canaanite pantheon of gods over 2,500 years ago has had a profound effect on the belief systems of billions of people who have lived since.
July 31, 2019
Added Filthy Lucre: The Church and Wealth (2019) by Michael Moore to the Christian Worldview page under Christianity and Psychology of Religion page under Theism in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
The New Testament laments that "money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith." Meanwhile, the Vatican discovers "hundreds of millions of euros 'tucked away'" off the books in various departments of the Holy See, to say nothing of the officially recorded cost of the construction and maintenance of various lavish Catholic buildings. While there is no lack of "prosperity gospel" apologists who twist and turn in their efforts to explain the blaring discrepancy between the New Testament's condemnation of wealth and the mammon accumulated by the Church, as Pope Francis himself noted, "It is a scandal to say one thing and do another."
In what sociologists call a total institution, daily life is strictly regulated according to the norms, rules, and schedules set forth by a single authority, whose subordinates enforce these directives. Erving Goffman's original typology of total institutions included (among other things) convents, nursing homes, boarding schools, prisons, and concentration camps, but subsequent scholars have expanded it to include elementary schools, the home, the media, tourism, universities, and other organizations. In this essay Michael Moore argues that religion should also take its rightful place alongside these institutions since it, too, exerts control over its subjects by "putting to death" one's self along the same seven dimensions that characterize other total institutions.
I share with my friend Peter the idea that organized religion and contemporary beliefs about God are not credible, but I think he still possesses some of the elements of a "seeker." He recently expressed excitement after learning about neuroscientist David Eagleman's "possibilianism." After listening to one of Eagleman's talks, it seemed to me that he made an argument from ignorance when he concluded that "our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism." What does "ignorance of the cosmos" have to do with atheism? I think he does not understand what atheists actually think. Simply stated, we think that there is no evidence to support the supernatural in general or God in particular. It seems that Dr. Eagleman has created a straw man, but unfortunately many people, including my dear friends, are impressed with his presentation. Nothing about the astronomical information he cites refutes the idea that there is no evidence for God or the supernatural. Indeed, if anything, that information reinforces that science and reason offer the only possible hope that we will ever understand the cosmos.
June 29, 2019
A paper written over twenty years proves a mathematical theorem purporting to show that a supernaturalistic explanation for the universe is not supported by the anthropic principle, the notion that the observed properties of the universe must be compatible with its observers since otherwise the observers couldn't exist. Although this theorem is undoubtedly correct, it is not a very useful argument against the fine-tuning argument, whose standard premise is that fine-tuning is extremely improbable if naturalism is true. In the present paper Stephen Nygaard explains this mathematical theorem, presents some criticisms of it, and examines some counterarguments to the fine-tuning argument in which this theorem does not play a significant role. Nygaard shows that other aspects of probability theory, particularly the odds form of Bayes' theorem, are much more useful in uncovering the shortcomings of the fine-tuning argument. In particular, the fine-tuning argument ultimately fails because theism is not an explanation of apparent fine-tuning at all in any practical sense, so even if naturalism were unable to explain apparent fine-tuning, theism would not be a better alternative.
As far as we know, the natural world is all there is. If there are realms that we cannot know, then there is no use in speculating upon them. Weak naturalism limits itself to what we know. Just as a weak atheist simply disbelieves in God given the lack of evidence, weak naturalism disavows the supernatural for the same reason.
In only asserting the existence of the natural world, the burden of proof is transferred to the "supernaturalist." Proposing weak naturalism does not require positive evidence showing why it's probable that nothing transcends nature. Rather, it appeals to the lack of evidence for anything supernatural, period. It's not scientism to expect knowledge-claims to be verifiable or testable. The scientific method has become the accepted method for ascertaining which empirical claims are true or not for a reason.
Recommended reading from the Bookstore: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (2011) by Victor J. Stenger.
Drawing on the findings of modern physics and cosmology, numerous authors have argued that it would have taken only slight changes to some of the universe's physical parameters to make life, as we know it, extremely unlikely or even impossible. But does the seemingly "fine-tuned" nature of the universe also suggest that there must be a creator god who intentionally calibrated the initial conditions of the universe to assure that life on Earth and the evolution of humanity would inevitably emerge? Some influential scientists, such as National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, think so. Others go even further, asserting that science "has found God." But physicist Victor J. Stenger looks at the same body of evidence and comes to the opposite conclusion. After many years of research in particle physics and cosmology and careful thought about their implications, he finds that the observations of science and our naked senses not only show no evidence for God, they provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that God does not exist.
May 31, 2019
Added Moshe Averick's Nonsense of a High Order as a Model of the Flaws of Biblicist Denial of a Naturalistic Origin of Life (2019) by Michael D. Reynolds to the Argument to Design: Reviews/Critiques page under Arguments for the Existence of a God page, as well as the Naturalism page under Nontheism, in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In an earlier critique of Orthodox rabbi Moshe Averick's Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused World of Modern Atheism, Michael D. Reynolds pointed out that Averick's book is typical of recent popular works attacking "atheism" in leaning on various informal logical fallacies. In this follow-up critique Reynolds focuses specifically on what Averick has to say about the "failure" of naturalistic accounts of the origin of life, which comprise forty-eight percent of the text of Nonsense of a High Order. Reynolds finds that Averick is ignorant of the nature of science and its principles, that he either does not know, or else fails to understand, the standard scientific explanations of the topics that he addresses, that this ignorance or incomprehension causes him to invent odd notions that completely misrepresent the standard scientific view, that he arbitrarily rejects standard scientific explanations without providing any substantial argument against them, and that he repeatedly asserts that something is true without offering any argument for its truth, among other things.
April 24, 2019
Added Moshe Averick's Nonsense of a High Order as a Model of the Flaws of Attacks on Nontheism (2019) by Michael D. Reynolds to the Naturalism page under Nontheism in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
Orthodox rabbi Moshe Averick's Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused World of Modern Atheism is in many ways typical of that niche of recent popular books that attack modern "atheism." The errors that plague Averick's own thinking are often found in other authors of similar works. For example, Averick repeatedly makes assertions without providing any arguments to back them up, fails to engage relevant research on the issues that he touches on, and misrepresents the views of his opponents. He also spills a great deal of ink critiquing idiosyncratic views of his opponents as if they were typical of nontheists as a whole, uncharitably attaches false meanings to his opponents' statements, and takes their words out of context. He both mischaracterizes how science is done and twists cherry-picked scientific findings to create the appearance that they support his own religiously informed positions. Projecting his own unwillingness "to consider anything that presents a challenge to his dearly held belief system" on to his opponents, Averick steadfastly advocates the existence of spirits and their frequent interaction with our world, that human minds involve a spiritual component, and that the Supreme Spirit sustaining the physical world has handed down rules for us to follow, dismissing naturalistic accounts of mind, meaning, and morality for the flimsiest of reasons.
Christianity has brought many people to believe that those who behave badly face permanent torture in the afterlife. In this article, Robert Shaw argues that the historical Jesus envisaged a rather different fate for such individuals, and that the very idea of Hell as pictured by many Christians today was in fact an invention of the later Church.
February 28, 2019
Added Theodical Individualism against Skeptical Theism (2019) by Horia Plugaru to the Evidential Arguments from Evil page under Arguments for Atheism in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In this essay Horia George Plugaru rebuts the skeptical theism response to the evidential argument from evil by employing an intuitive moral principle called the principle of theodical individualism. Although skeptical theists deny the existence of pointless evil, theodical individualism signals its existence. The only recourse left to skeptical theists is to fall into moral paralysis or make serious concessions to proponents of the evidential argument from evil.
Miracles are the staple food of religions. In order for a religion to flourish, its adherents must believe in a supernatural power greater than that of mere mortals. While some alleged miracles are held to have originated from a divine power alone, more often than not a particular individual is believed to have been chosen to work wonders. Picking up from his earlier work on false prophets, in this essay Michael Moore explores the psychological methods employed by various "miracle-workers."
February 9, 2019
Added Misunderstanding the Burden of Proof (2019) (Off Site) by Richard Carrier to the On the Nonexistence of God and Proving a Negative page under Atheism in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In this response to Don McIntosh's "Transcending Proof," Richard Carrier explains how McIntosh does not actually address the logic or arguments that Carrier makes in his "Proving a Negative," and updates its logical structure to make the same point using Bayesian epistemology.
January 31, 2019
Knowledge has traditionally been transmitted across generations through spoken and written words. Both mediums have disadvantages: spoken words get distorted, and written ones are often destroyed. In this essay Michael Moore discusses the willful, ideologically motivated destruction of religious and cultural heritage by representatives of competing religions. Illustrative cases exemplify violent religious intolerance in general.
In this article, Robert Shaw explores the crucifixion of Jesus and how the Gospel narratives of this event were embellished with allusions to Old Testament passages. In addition, Shaw shows that early Christians developed an interpretation of Jesus' death as part of a premeditated divine plan that was at odds with contemporary Jewish expectations of the Messiah.
In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies as we know them. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today's world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities.
December 31, 2018
Added Science vs. Religion: The Conflict Thesis Revisited (2018) by Bart Klink to the Science and Religion page in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
It is commonly held that science and religion are in conflict, but a number of sophisticated believers and historians have disputed this. They have pointed out that there has never been a state of continuous conflict between science and religion, and that many scientists have been religious. Though both of these points are true, neither speak to whether the content of religious doctrines remain tenable in light of various scientific developments. In this essay Bart Klink argues that there is indeed a genuine conflict between science and religion, and that it manifests itself on four different levels. Historically, there has been conflict between the content of religious doctrines and the developing body of scientific knowledge. Sociologically, scientists are significantly less religious than nonscientists, and people of faith explicitly reject scientific findings on religious grounds. In psychology, the cognitive science of religion has had a debunking effect by providing naturalistic explanations for religious beliefs that, while not strictly refuting them, nevertheless render supernatural accounts of their origins improbable. Finally, there has been a philosophical conflict in the sense that the sciences have made the existence of a personal God and other theistic claims (e.g., to divine revelations, miracles, and answered prayers) improbable. Science has historically 'desupernaturalized' phenomena and provided a coherent naturalistic big picture of the universe that has only lead to a monologue between science and religion—one in favor of science.
New in the Kiosk: Why Would Anyone Believe Justin Barrett's Theistic Arguments? (2018) by Michael D. Reynolds
Christian psychologist Justin Barrett argues that belief in immaterial minds is similar to and justifies belief in God. In this essay Michael D. Reynolds demonstrates that Barrett's concept of mind is outmoded. Moreover, Barrett does not distinguish between innate beliefs in other people's mental abilities and the cultural concept of mind, which is learned, not innate. The belief that other people think, have emotions, and so forth is supported by evidence, but there is no evidence for the existence of God.
Barrett presumes that "atheism" is difficult to maintain because innate ways of thinking promote belief in spirits. In response, Reynolds provides some of the reasons for nontheism and refutes Barrett's arguments that having moral principles and confidence in one's beliefs pose special problems for nontheists. Reynolds concludes that, to the contrary, living as a nontheist is not difficult and does not require social and cultural segregation to sustain it.
December 22, 2018
Please help up keep the momentum of the demographic shift away from religion going by pitching in to keep the Secular Web online now.
A familiar commonplace tells us that we ought to treat religion as a highly personal matter, one best avoided altogether at the dinner table. Yet in the last year, despite widespread opposition from the general public, Christian conservatives have now secured a majority on the Supreme Court of the United States, whose decisions have to potential to undermine the freedoms of millions of secular Americans for decades to come. Worse still, for almost two years the circuit courts have been quietly stacked with conservative judges holding lifetime appointments, whose decisions will determine the outcomes of the majority of cases declined by the US Supreme Court.
Despite these gloomy events, the populace itself has been moving in the right direction. Only a little over half of the youngest generation (those born since 1999) identify as Christian or Catholic, a trend that The Barna Group's Brooke Hempell blames in part on younger generations' perceptual shift toward the view that science and religion are in conflict. A survey of 106 countries over the past decade similarly found that, by several measures, "young adults are drifting away from the faith commitments of their elders," as Religion News Service put it. RNS also notes that even though people have tended to become more religious as they get older, as the members of today's younger generations age, "they will likely be less religious than previous generations." Although the survey didn't look into the effect of the Internet on religiosity, lead researcher Conrad Hackett suggested that "in many countries there is a pattern of lower religiosity among younger generations that may be the unfolding of secularization."
October 31, 2018
New in the Kiosk: How the Story of Jesus' Birth was Cobbled Together from Jewish Sources (2018) by Robert Shaw
It's that time of the year when the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth begins to pervade the everyday lives of people in the West. In this article, Robert Shaw looks at the origins of the story in first-century Palestine. Neither the earliest Gospel nor the earlier letters from St. Paul to fledgling Christian churches around the Mediterranean make any mention of the circumstances of Jesus' birth, but later embellishments are weaved together with contrived reinterpretations of Old Testament passages to bolster Jesus' messianic credentials.
September 30, 2018
Deepak Chopra operates a business that offers "life-changing retreats" and courses instructing clients in meditation and "alternative medicine," especially Indian techniques. In How to Know God he postulates seven responses of the brain to God. From this notion he constructs a detailed theistic scheme. A prominent theme of the book is an attempt to relate his ideas to quantum physics. Readers and reviewers have heaped praise on the work, but it contains numerous errors of fact and logic. In this essay Michael D. Reynolds demonstrates some of the errors in the foundational first chapter of the book.
Recommended reading from the Bookstore: The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (2011) by Richard Dawkins.
Magic takes many forms. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world. But there is another kind of magic, the magic of reality—science. Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations, and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.
August 28, 2018
The president has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Full legal equality for nonbelievers hangs by a thread even now. The Court has already gone very far in providing special privileges for the religious. In addition to generally favoring belief over nonbelief, Kavanaugh has let stand the Navy's preferential treatment of Catholics over Protestants, argued to exempt religious claimants from following laws applicable to everyone else, argued to allow proselytizing on elementary school grounds, written that keeping government ceremonies neutral in matters of religion shows hostility to religion and establishes atheism, and ruled in a way that obstructed government efforts to combat global warming, among other things.
Please immediately contact your two United States senators and urge them to vote against Kavanaugh. Urge everyone you know in other states to contact their senators, too. Kavanaugh is a clear and present danger to the separation of church and state.
August 9, 2018
Presuppositionalist apologetics has gained popularity in the state of Arizona, where several of the author's family friends attend churches led by presuppositionalist pastors. In this essay A. E. Wright presents a more informal account of the presuppositionalist position than what has been previously published on the Secular Web before subjecting presuppositionalist theology to several original rebuttals of his own.
July 31, 2018
Added The Argument from Cognitive Biases (2018) by Aron Lucas to the Argument from Reason page under Arguments for the Existence of a God, as well as the Naturalism page and Alvin Plantinga page under Christian Apologetics and Apologists, in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
A family of theistic arguments contends that the human ability to reason is to be expected under theism, but is surprising under metaphysical naturalism, and thus provides evidence favoring theism over naturalism. One common line of argument is that unguided evolution favors traits that aid in survival and reproduction, rather than traits conducive to discovering the truth. Thus, evolutionary naturalism provides us with no reason to expect our cognitive faculties to be reliable, whereas theism does provide us with reason to believe that God would have created human beings with cognitive faculties aimed at discovering the truth. Several naturalists have responded with arguments that there is in fact significant survival and reproductive value in having accurate cognitive faculties, but in this paper Aron Lucas takes a different tact. Namely, Lucas argues that even if the general fact that human beings can reason favors theism over naturalism, nevertheless the more specific fact that human reasoning suffers from a variety of cognitive biases favors naturalism over theism. If this is right, then arguments from reason can only be deemed successful by understating the full extent of our knowledge concerning human reasoning, thereby committing what Paul Draper has called the fallacy of understated evidence. After fully outlining the available data concerning human reasoning, Lucas concludes that the existence of human cognitive biases does not merely neutralize the evidential significance of the human ability to reason, but in fact overpowers it, tipping the scales in favor of naturalism (all else held equal).
June 30, 2018
One common expression of religiosity by candidates for government office in the United States is a statement that Judeo-Christian values are foundational for American society and government. Unfortunately, no one has the idea or the courage to ask candidates what they mean by "Judeo-Christian values." In this essay Michael D. Reynolds attempts to determine what this phrase might mean.
May 30, 2018
The fundamentalist claim that the Bible is inerrant does not stand up to scrutiny. Just one error is sufficient to refute the claim. Given the quite inventive explanations that inerrantists have devised to explain away textual problems, it nevertheless takes a really choice error to flummox them. In "Establishing Errancy Beyond Error," Stephen Van Eck presents just such an error.
April 22, 2018
In this paper exploring the links between prejudice and religion, Michael Moore distinguishes between a kind of institutionalized religiosity that promotes an in-group mentality, and a more interiorized kind of belongingness. Moore then goes on to consider several competing explanations of the demonstrated connections between religiosity and prejudice. For example, psychologists have long noted the tension between professed attitudes of welcoming openness among the religious and an actual positive correlation between religiosity and prejudice. Part of the reason for such a correlation is that intolerance is almost the inevitable outcome of privileging one's own religion as more important than all others. There are also significant correlations between greater religious participation or identification and greater levels of racial prejudice, even apart from the correlation between racist attitudes and authoritarian fundamentalism in particular.
Blaise Pascal is famous for, among other things, devising an argument for belief in God's existence even in the absence of good reasons to believe in God. He proposed that a rational person would reason that if God does not exist, then either believing or not believing that He does exist would cost nothing. But a rational person would also reason that if God does in fact exist, then failing to believe that He does would cost personal salvation. Does Pascal's wager really work? Would a rational person place greater value on a questionable promise of benefit than on intellectual rigor? How rational would a parallel belief in "Philo's benefactor" be, and what does the answer to that question tell us about the reasonableness of forming beliefs on the basis of Pascal's wager?
Recommended reading from the Bookstore: The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (2011) by Michael Shermer.
In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths. Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.
February 28, 2018
Added Review of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2018) by Aron Lucas to the Theistic Cosmological Arguments, Argument to Design, Moral Arguments, and Argument from Miracles pages under Arguments for the Existence of a God, as well as the William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland pages under Christian Apologetics and Apologists, in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
The massive Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology aims to be the standard reference work supplying the best reasons to believe that God exists from the foremost experts on various arguments for the existence of God. It is not recommended for readers without some background knowledge of the philosophy of religion, modal logic, and Bayesian confirmation theory. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to argue that belief in God is irrational or intellectually bankrupt. In this review, Aron Lucas focuses on its chapters on the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, and the argument from miracles. Despite some valuable novel contributions, the volume focuses too heavily on defending some premises while ignoring others, and is highly technical even for advanced readers, with one argument presented in 87 steps purely using symbolic logic. One can only wonder why God would make the evidence for his existence accessible only to a select handful of professional academics, let alone punish people with eternal torment because they failed to properly apply Bayesian reasoning to little known historical data. The very fact that the volume needs to dig so deep in order to make its case is, in a way, evidence against the existence of God.
December 31, 2017
Added Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels (2017) by Matthew Wade Ferguson to the Biblical Criticism page under Christianity, as well as the Argument from Holy Scripture page under Arguments for the Existence of a God, in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
The traditional authors of the canonical Gospels—Matthew the tax collector, Mark the attendant of Peter, Luke the attendant of Paul, and John the son of Zebedee—are not held to be the Gospels' actual authors by the majority of mainstream New Testament scholars. Christian apologists nevertheless produce a lot of material advocating the view that the Gospels are the eyewitness testimonies of either Jesus' disciples or their attendants. Much of the general public is unfamiliar with the mainstream scholarly view that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a faith narrative of Christianity's central figure, Jesus Christ. While Matthew Wade Ferguson has previously discussed why scholars do not consider the Gospels to be historical documents, in this essay he explores a number of internal and external reasons why scholars doubt the traditional authorial attributions of the Gospels.