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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.
December 22, 2017
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It's long been said that religion provides harmless consolation in the face of an unforgiving world. But the dangerous decline of rational dialogue today belies this convenient fiction. Everywhere we turn, the facts themselves seem up for debate. The uninformed feelings of amateurs are given equal weight to the carefully vetted conclusions of experts. How did we stray so far from our Enlightenment values? Long before fake news entered the lexicon, unquestioning adherence to religious beliefs laid the foundations for our post-truth world. Those Christian institutions that insulated their students from the "fallen" secular world functioned as the original echo chambers.
Nevertheless, we've seen unprecedented grounds for cautious optimism. For the first time in history, almost a full third of Americans (31%) declare that they are neither spiritual nor religious. Compared to 38% of "nones" over 65, 79% of nones under 30 became religiously unaffiliated before they turned 18. While white evangelicals are on the decline, unaffiliated nones have become the majority "religious" demographic in 20 of the 50 US states. Overall, the religiously unaffiliated make up 24% of the US population—up from 7% in 1976, 12% in 1996, 14% in 2000, 17% in 2008, and 20% in 2012!
October 31, 2017
Added An Analysis of Arnold T. Guminski's Alternative Version of the Application of Cantorian Theory to the Real World (2017) by Stephen Nygaard to the Theistic Cosmological Arguments page and William Lane Craig page under Christian Apologetics and Apologists in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
William Lane Craig's kalam cosmological argument maintains that the universe had a beginning. One of his arguments for this premise aims to show that a beginningless universe is metaphysically impossible, either because an actual infinite cannot exist because it would result in counterintuitive absurdities, or because time consists of a temporal series of events formed by successive addition, and that it's not possible for any such series to be an actual infinite. In the first of two previous papers, Arnold T. Guminski presents his solution to the problem of counterintuitive absurdities, which he believes results from applying Cantorian theory to the real world. However, his alternative version of the application of Cantorian theory to the real world attempts to achieve by a priori methods what can only be accomplished a posteriori, raises the question of whether a set theory can be fully developed that is consistent with it, and addresses "counterintuitive absurdities" that are not absurdities at all. In his second paper, Guminski correctly argues that it's possible for time to have no beginning by showing that the totality of all time need not be formed by successive addition, but this argument succeeds independently of his alternative version of the application of Cantorian theory to the real world, rendering it unnecessary.
Resurrected from the past: Craig, Kalam, and Quantum Mechanics: Has Craig Defeated the Quantum Mechanics Objection to the Causal Principle? (2013) by Aron Lucas
William Lane Craig has long appealed to the beginning of the universe in his arguments for the existence of God. In this essay, Aron Lucas challenges the first premise of Craig's kalam cosmological argument (that everything that begins to exist has a cause) using the "quantum mechanics objection," before ultimately turning to Craig's typical rebuttal to that objection. Lucas concludes that Craig's response is not only irrelevant to the quantum mechanics objection, but comes with a whole host of other problems, such as leading Craig to equivocate on "begins to exist," rendering his first premise completely unverifiable, making Craig's entire argument question-begging, and resulting in him adopting contradictory definitions of "nothing."
This book makes a compelling case for the idea that the universe didn't come about through the handiwork of some magical deity. The naysayers will throw about their arguments from incredulity while kicking and screaming but, in the end, even they will be forced to admit that this concept deserves serious consideration. Once, it was considered common sense that the Sun moved around the Earth. "Look up at the sky and see it for yourself!", they would exclaim. But a reflective mind will take the known facts and discard the hypotheses that don't have compelling evidence to support them in favor of the ones that do.
September 30, 2017
New in the Kiosk: Why I Am Not a Christian (and Am an Atheist... and Antitheist) (2017) by David W. Smith
In "Why I Am Not a Christian (and Am an Atheist... and Antitheist)," David W. Smith first provides his basic reasons for rejecting Christianity, then his reasons for rejecting religion in general. In their place he offers a modified Apostle's Creed.
Among the many thinkers and writers of contemporary Western culture, Bertrand Russell stands out as one of the most brilliant and prolific. The range of his inquiring mind is virtually without parallel, and never more sharp than when it seeks to critically analyze cherished popular beliefs respecting God and religion. Al Seckel has rescued many of Russell's best essays on religion, free thought, and rationalism from their resting places in obscure pamphlets, hard-to-find books, and out-of-print periodicals to form a superb combination. No current volume captures the scope and depth of Russell's thinking on the subject of religion quite like Bertrand Russell on God and Religion.
August 25, 2017
Added A Sympathetic Critique of a Socratic Argument for Atheism (2017) by Stephen Sullivan to the Logical Arguments for Atheism page under Arguments for Atheism, as well as the Moral Arguments and Divine Command Theory pages under Arguments for the Existence of a God in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
Does God command what is morally right because it is right, or is it right because God commands it? If God commands what is right because it is right, then rightness appears to be determined by moral standards that are independent of God's commands, and that God himself is morally required to obey, calling into question his status as Supreme Being. On the other hand, if what is right is right because God commands it, then there are no moral constraints on what God commands, rendering morality completely arbitrary: even horrific actions would be deemed right. This modernized Euthyphro dilemma can be converted into an argument against the existence of the God of traditional monotheism, a sovereign creator. Although this Socratic argument does not refute God's existence as a Supreme Being, it nevertheless underscores a serious challenge to theists who argue that morality requires the truth of theism.
"The Anthropic Principle: Too Clever by Half" argues that Christians' effort to fall back on the anthropic principle to defend their concept of God falls short not only on scientific grounds, as Victor Stenger and others have pointed out, but on moral grounds as well.
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.
August 3, 2017
Added Hume's Maxim: How a "Trivial Truth" is Too Strong for Christian Apologetics (2017) by Aron Lucas to the Argument from Miracles and Resurrection pages, as well as the William Lane Craig, Stephen T. Davis, and J. P. Moreland pages under Criticisms of Christian Apologetics and Apologists, in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In Hume's Abject Failure, philosopher John Earman argues that David Hume's famous maxim that no testimony is sufficient to establish that a miracle has occurred unless its falsehood would be more miraculous than the miracle itself is just a trivial tautology, namely that we should not believe a miracle claim unless the evidence makes it more probable than not. But even if this interpretation is correct, contemporary Christian apologists fail to satisfy Hume's purportedly obvious condition that it must be more probable that a miracle occurred than that it did not occur when they argue that the miraculous resurrection of Jesus probably occurred.
Recommended reading from the Bookstore: Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed (2009) by Richard Carrier.
Not the Impossible Faith is a tour de force, dissecting and refuting the oft-repeated claim that Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world unless it were true. Dr. Carrier surveys a whole range of topics regarding the origin of Christianity and its cultural context, demonstrating that its success has entirely natural explanations and nothing to do with whether its supernatural claims were true. Written with occasional humor and an easy style, thoroughly referenced, and with many entertaining "gotcha!" moments, Not the Impossible Faith is a must-read for anyone interested in the origins of Christianity.
July 1, 2017
Trinitarianism has had a long and colorful history, and belief in the concept was once rigorously enforced. Yet it seems to attract little critical attention today. An analysis of its tenets, however, does not withstand scrutiny.
Recommended reading from the Bookstore: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (2009) by Bart D. Ehrman.
Picking up where his Misquoting Jesus left off, Bart D. Ehrman addresses the larger issue of what the New Testament actually teaches--and it's not what most people think. Here Ehrman reveals what scholars have unearthed: The authors of the New Testament have diverging views about who Jesus was and how salvation works; the New Testament contains books that were forged in the names of the apostles by Christian writers who lived decades later; Jesus, Paul, Matthew, and John all represented fundamentally different religions; established Christian doctrines--such as the suffering messiah, the divinity of Jesus, and the Trinity--were the inventions of still later theologians.
June 12, 2017
In recent years there have been a number of claims for substantial social benefits stemming from religious belief. On balance, however, the prevalence of religious violence calls these claims into question. Even a casual review turns up ample instances of violence between the members of different religions, both throughout history and across the world today. In addition, tens of thousands of members of the same faith were killed for "witchcraft" or the slightest deviations from orthodox Christian doctrine during the Inquisition. And since the advent of Islam, millions more have been killed over the Sunni/Shia rift. Finally, while religious spouses are not more likely to be abusive, the victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse when they live in religious households.
May 23, 2017
"Banished from Eden" is the story of one man's efforts to find religious answers to the brutal murder of his son. It's an in-depth emotional and intellectual journey from his struggles to reconcile religion with reality to his rejection of religion as an answer to anything.
50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media, and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists. It features an international cast of contributors, ranging from public intellectuals to heavyweight philosophers of religion, and spans between rigorous philosophical arguments and highly personal accounts of how each of these notable thinkers have come to reject religion in their lives.
April 21, 2017
In this paper Michael Moore explores the veneration of individuals afflicted with madness in several religious traditions. An early example of this practice is the high regard that the Hebrews placed on prophets, but the explicit appellation of the label "holy fool" or "fool for Christ" starts with the apostle Paul. Said in irony, that irony was nevertheless lost on many of the faithful, who occasionally regarded mentally disturbed individuals who had a religious predilection as "fools for Christ's sake." Strange behaviors taken to be religiously inspired include slaying in the spirit, holy laughter, and religious ecstasy. The reported behaviors of seminal Judeo-Christian figures resemble symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, but reports of similar behavior have not been limited to Western religious traditions. The Avadhuta of India, Japanese Zen masters, and Chinese adepts also exhibited bizarre behaviors. Islamic Malamatiyya Sufists interpreted apparently unethical acts committed during "divine intoxication" as illustrations of the deeper meaning of Shari'a law. Early Church Father Tertullian turned the connection between religion and irrationality into dogma, and the widespread rejection of Jesus by his contemporaries has often been seen as proof of his divinity by his followers.
April 11, 2017
Think you know the details regarding the New Testament Empty Tomb and Resurrection stories? Check your knowledge with this short, twenty-two question quiz. The answers may surprise you! You will likely find that the details are so inconsistent from one biblical source to the next that the picture that we are typically given of the events surrounding the alleged Resurrection is necessarily a composite of carefully selected verses which exclude other verses where the details significantly differ.
A book for the season: Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995) by Gregory J. Riley.
Resurrection Reconsidered is an eye-opening exposition of the various views of resurrection among early Christians that centers on the protracted debate within early Christian circles concerning a foundational aspect of the Gospel of Thomas and its related literature: the concept of the body and resurrection. It traces the background of this idea in the Semitic and Greco-Roman world, and its expression in the Thomas literature as a whole: the Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas, and the Acts of Thomas. But the inspiration for the study, and its main focus, is the controversy between the two closely related Christian communities of Thomas and John, between the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John on the issue of resurrection, which is expressed in John most clearly in the story of Doubting Thomas.
April 8, 2017
Monotheists believe that a purposeful being (God) created the universe. But why did he create it? In this essay Michael D. Reynolds aims to show that there is no plausible answer, and that there are cogent reasons why God would not have desired to make a universe.
March 13, 2017
New in the Kiosk: What is Secularism? Reflections of a Secular Humanist (2017) by Dr. Khalid Sohail
According to Collins Dictionary, secularism is "a system of social organization and education where religion is not allowed to play a part in civil affairs." Among its fundamental principles are the separation of church and state, a secular court system, fully secular state organizations, and a fully secular education system grounded in modern science, psychology, and philosophy. As the winds of religious fundamentalism get stronger, discussion about secularism becomes increasingly important.
March 5, 2017
Added A Critical Review of Is God a Moral Monster? (2017) by Craig Vander Hart to the Paul Copan entry on the Criticisms of Christian Apologetics and Apologists page, as well as the Biblical Criticism and Christian Worldview pages page under Christianity in the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, Paul Copan attempts a bold apologetic of the Judeo-Christian God's moral status. The so-called new atheists see the biblical God as a promotor of genocide, slavery, murder, rape, and other immoral acts. But the only serious objections to the biblical God's moral status are passages in which immoral acts are clearly done because of God's will, or are explicitly approved of by God. Even with this caveat, however, the Bible clearly prescribes immoral behavior that Copan cannot explain away in this fashion. Premarital sex is explicit grounds for divorce or execution of a wife, but not of a husband; rape warrants punishment when a married woman is raped, but not when an unmarried one is violated; the fathers of female victims of rape can refuse marriage to their rapist, but not the victims themselves; peoples who simply do not accept the dominant theology of Israel should be executed in war, making exception for the traumatized adolescent girls of conquered nations, whom Israelite soldiers can "spare" for themselves; and so on. In order to maintain his belief that Yahweh is morally perfect, Copan must explain away any Old Testament evidence of God's moral culpability in light of the more loving and inclusive New Testament passages. But this does not provide an objective examination of the biblical God's moral status, and thus will only appeal to Christians who are worried the about possibility that their God might be a moral monster.
February 16, 2017
The problem of evil can be used in two different ways. It can be used offensively; that is, in an attempt to criticize and undermine theistic belief, to show that theism is false and that belief in God is unfounded--a very difficult task. But the problem of evil can also be used defensively, i.e., to show that atheism is epistemically warranted, justified, or reasonable. Such efforts can succeed even when the proffered arguments fail to convince theists that God does not exist.
January 28, 2017
"Oh, My God!" is a humorous anecdote involving a door-to-door Bible-thumper and a former minister.