What's New on the Secular Web?
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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.