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August 24, 2006
Addressed one new argument by Stephen Carlson, shortened some wordy sections, added minor points, and clarified language in several places.
August 20, 2006
For those convinced that Christianity was founded by the disciples of a charismatic rabbi called Jesus of Nazareth, Gerd Lüdemann's Jesus After 2000 Years offers a plausible sorting of fact from fiction. The book is accessible, but difficult to evaluate, as it largely represents Lüdemann's own verdict on which actions and sayings attributed to Jesus are authentic, mentioning other scholars' verdicts only in passing. Moreover, Lüdemann merely outlines how he sorts authentic from inauthentic history in the Gospels, using at least one criterion this reviewer finds dubious. The main problem, however, is how Lüdemann attempts to get from "it could have happened this way" to "it did happen this way." Finally, some readers might find Jesus After 2000 Years wanting for failing to offer grounds for believing that a historical Jesus ever existed in the first place, or if he did, for believing that any of the sayings or actions attributed to him had anything to do with anything he actually said or did.
Keith Augustine has updated this paper with a survey of experimental tests of out-of-body perception during NDEs and an endnote on the scarcity of prototypical Western NDE motifs in 'afterlife accounts' prior to the 20th century.
August 18, 2006
O'Kane argues that even if a punishing god were to exist, it would remain a logical and ethical necessity to behave as if it did not, that to succumb to such a being would be a moral failure, and that the only moral course of action would be nonbelief and the acceptance of damnation--"in essence, the virtuous must all 'go to hell.'"
August 13, 2006
Added Cosmological Arguments Against the Existence of God (2006) by David Baake to the Kiosk.
"Theists frequently make the assertion that it is just as impossible to prove that there is no such thing as god as it is to prove that there is such a thing as god; therefore, atheism (the positive assertion that no god can exist) is rooted in blind faith, just as theism (the positive assertion that a god does exist) is. I believe, however, that there is a rational basis for the positive assertion that god cannot exist, which can be arrived at through extrapolation on empirical evidence, and through deductive reasoning regarding the properties of the universe."
August 8, 2006
Added No Creator Need Apply: A Reply to Roy Abraham Varghese (2006) by Keith Parsons to the Theistic Cosmological Arguments page in the the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
One of the clearest statements of the case for a Creator is written by Roy Abraham Varghese in his introduction to the volume Cosmos, Bios, Theos. Here Varghese argues that the best explanation for why there is something rather than nothing necessarily terminates in God, rather than the ultimate features of the physical universe, for unlike any physical thing, God is self-explanatory. But we are left completely in the dark on the sense in which God is self-explanatory, and how that would differ from the self-explanatoriness of a putative original, uncaused state of the physical universe. Consequently, I argue that there is no intellectual difficulty in postulating an initial state of the universe as an ultimate brute fact, and conclude that Varghese's arguments to the contrary fail.
August 5, 2006
Added Is the Evidence for Theism Ambiguous by Divine Design? (2006) by Philip Kuchar to the Kiosk.
A popular theistic "explanation" for why God would permit even a slim evidential basis for atheism goes something like this: "God does not give us absolute proof because this would work against our free will. He gives us just enough evidence so that we can find Him and just enough to reject His existence if that is our desire." But is this reasonable? Kuchar says not.
August 2, 2006
The latest release from the senior pastor of the World Harvest Church might not inspire great thoughts, but it certainly invites a great deal of criticism. A litany of deficiencies could be ennumerated: citing the founding fathers only when it suits him; glossing over the Bible's endorsement of slavery and the Christian Crusaders' brutality; showing little sign of compassion for the poor; demonizing entire segments of society because he dislikes their "lifestyle"; and so on. After noting the irony of Parsley's characterization of Islam as a violent superstition, Krause supplements Parsley's chapter on education with a history of Christian attitudes to public education. Peddling the standard fare in evangelical circles on abortion and the media, Parsley leaves little doubt that he intends Silent No More to do nothing more than play off its audience's fears as a vehicle for his own (unreflective) ideas.
Added Review of Rights From Wrongs (2006) by Kenneth Krause to the Without God, What Grounds Right and Wrong? page in the Morality and Atheism index of the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In his typical accessible style, Alan Dershowitz tackles some of the most central ethical questions in Rights From Wrongs. Do we discover rights derived from either God or Nature, and if not, on what basis do we invent them? Should we pretend that there is a perfect and absolute source of rights even if we know that there is no such beast, lest everything be permitted? Arguing that such "fraud" would only invite more mischief, Dershowitz develops a secular theory of rights that he intends to ground, among other things, the free marketplace of ideas. But while appreciating the merits of Dershowitz's attempt to derive rights from agreed-upon wrongs, Krause is skeptical of the capacity of the general public to come to any sort of reasoned agreement about what sorts of actions are morally wrong.
Helen Bennett's Humanism, What's That? will undoubtedly please those searching for philosophical confirmation, but utterly fails as a work of children's fiction. With her mechanical writing style and one-dimensional characters, Bennett virtually ignores the most fundamental elements of effective storytelling, never revealing the finer details of the story's setting. The fictional teacher's encouragement to trust doctors rather than the will of God, and to seek knowledge in general, is commendable. But her mildly informative history lessions are hardly inspiring, and her god-like characterization of Humanism's adherents are Pollyannaish and dogmatic. Though potentially helpful to some, freethinking parents ought to be aware of its occasional tendency toward irrational or shallow thinking.
August 1, 2006
A. E. Housman is one of the most acclaimed poets and Latin scholars of the twentieth century. His poetry and prose contain eloquent observations palatable to atheists.
No one ever argued more forcefully or with such acerbic wit against the foolish aspects of religion as H. L. Mencken (1880-1956). But both before and after the Scopes trial, Mencken spent much of his career as a columnist and book reviewer lampooning the ignorant piety of gullible Americans. S. T. Joshi has brought together and organized many of Mencken's writings on religion in this provocative and entertaining collection.
While the notions of God are countless, this essay focuses on the Christian God. Several important incongruities in the concept of God are revealed.