Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maybe He Should Pray for a Better Theological Education

Someone at TWeb nominated a story here for a Screwball Award, which deserves notice here on the Forge as well...

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson blamed God for dropping a game-winning touchdown in a 19-16 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Johnson was reluctant to accept responsibility for the gaffe, posting on his Twitter account post-game that it was in fact God's fault.
Can't wholly blame Johnson for this, though, since our churches teach such a sorry theology of prayer. We've set it up so that a belief that God micromanages even a football game is "rational".
And to think yesterday we noted that some moron Skeptic couldn't figure out the dangers of thinking the Bible in your lap was inerrant....duh huh....

Monday, November 29, 2010

Laziness, Inc.: Part 2

So, let’s continue peeling the couch potatoes from last week, shall we?

You said explaining apologetics to a critic is like explaining nuclear physics to an infant. So that must mean you think apologetics is complicated, and the Bible even more complicated.

Wrong. It simply means the critics are extraordinarily dumb.

You compared potential inerrant originals of the Bible to the original of the Declaration of Independence. But the Founders are all dead, so they can’t make new copies. That doesn’t apply to God, who is alive.

Well, there’s another example of missing the point. It doesn’t matter if an author is alive or not; if they don’t produce any more originals – whether because they can’t, won’t, or whatever – then that original is all the more valuable and all the more subject to abuses or special protections.

We have people today who think their copies of the Bible are inerrant. Yet they don’t seem to be in any difficulty.

Wrong. Those sorts of people are full of difficulties and problems: They are precisely the sort who fall most readily for scams of the sort perpetrated by cult figures like Darwin Fish; they are also the sort who (like Fish) will refuse any contextualizing information and wield the Bible like a club in other areas (like politics). The only reason they do not cause more trouble is because we live in a modern democracy and they don’t have the guns – in contrast to Islamic societies, where the copies ARE still held in high esteem by all, including those in power. If that doesn’t let you know what kind of trouble inerrant copies can foster, then you’re too dumb to be rehabilitated. Look at Islam’s example, and at the example of relics in the medieval period – not at manifestations in a modern, democratic society where those who believe in inerrant copies are a fringe minority that the majority look at as benighted.

You say God would be a micromanager if He assured that every copy was the same. Well, isn’t that what you would be if you wanted to make sure your own books were reprinted accurately?

Yes. That’s why I wouldn’t do it. But it doesn’t matter anyway. When it comes to places like Xulon Press, it is totally the author’s job to check the galleys before printing is actually done. So I don’t need to bother anyone that way in the first place. They don’t do any editing unless I pay them to (and I don’t). Xulon does not have any “techniques” or other means to assure a faithful reproduction beyond that, unless one wants to be so absurd as to suggest that merely converting my Word file to PDF and running the software is a “technique” for ensuring accuracy in transmission. To put it simply, no one “micromanages” the copies, and unless someone wishes to make the exceptionally stupid suggestion that God ought to have imported modern printing technology into the ancient world – just to satisfy a few modern crybabies who don’t want to pursue a serious education – there’s no parallel to be drawn here.

Not that it matters. Precision copying is an obsession of modern graphocentrists; as Jocelyn Small has pointed out in Wax Tablets of the Mind:

Exact wording is rarely crucial in oral societies, but often of great importance in literate ones, though this aspect took centuries to develop…Most oral societies are not only uninterested in the detail of the words per se, but even unaware of the unit of the word…for oral cultures it is not the words but the story or the gist that counts.

To that extent, there is no reason for God to be a micromanager and assure that every word gets transmitted exactly; this is the petulant, childish demand of fundamentalist minds. Rather, as long as the ideas were accurately transmitted – and there is no reason to say, even with errant copies, that they were not – then there is no basis for objection other than childish whining.

Relatedly, one should not confuse accurate transmission of the text with clarity of ideas in the text, which are two separate issues. If the Bible as we have it had been transmitted with 100% correctness from the originals, this would have no bearing on the “clarity complaints” of critics.

Surely God could have come up with some way to do this, like maybe making it part of the natural order that copies of His Word would come out inerrant – you know, like gravity works.

How funny. When someone comes up with specific mechanisms rather than vague fantasy, they can give us a call.

But aren’t natural laws examples of God micromanaging?

No. It’s not constant interference with the process.

But those laws do restrict our free will.

No, they do not. Free will, according to the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy among others, is the “capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.” It doesn’t mean the ability to do whatever comes to our mind, even the impossible (what might be called freedom of action). This is a distinction that is generally beyond most theological neophytes. Gravity restricts our freedom of action (we can’t float in the air whenever we want), but not our freedom of will (it does not stop our choices to try to float in the air, or to overcome gravity in an airplane).

Part 3 and last sometime soon!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many years ago I did a panel comic called Time Turkey about a Dr. Who type character who traveled through time causing mischief. I preserved a few examples here. I later had an idea for a revamped version in which he and his lady friend morphed into powerful heroes that went about setting right historic injustices in various ways. That'll probably never get done as a full concept, but to celebrate the holiday when other turkeys end up on our table, here's a little picture of that revamp as it might have been done for apologetics purposes...

As you might expect, the Forge will be off for the holiday weekend...back Monday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laziness, Inc.: Part 1

Some time back I had an article titled “The Clarity Complaint” in which the follow excerpt could be offered as thematic:

John W. "the Liar" Loftus admits in his tell-all biography that while a professing Christian, he had an adulterous affair. He also has complained that the Bible is not clear on certain points. Yet when I asked him on the forum what he found "unclear" about this commandment:
Thou shalt not commit adultery. ...he had no answer.

The typical whiny Skeptic who has problems with comprehension has plenty of excuses, though; let’s look at some of these over the days we do this series.

Even if you are right in pointing us to some context that interprets the Bible, the very fact that you have to do this shows that the Bible sometimes doesn't mean what it clearly says.

How moronic. The objection (“it doesn’t mean what it clearly says”) is little more than a reiteration of the original reading in which contexts were ignored, and it was imperialistically assumed the God should accommodate our unwillingness to do a little legwork. With those contexts, the Bible IS clear – to its original readers who knew the contexts.

This idea that God should have provided explanatory information to cover every possible misreading, every possible language, every possible cultural context, and every possible expression of ignorance, is simply childish refusal to accept a reasonable responsibility. God wants earnest disciples, not couch potatoes, and if the critic wants to be a couch potato – he has selected his own fate.

But why would I need such tools of context to read an inspired document?

Why is it assumed that a document being “inspired” means that it will accommodate the lazy, the stubborn, the ignorant, and the whiny? There is nothing about the semantic contexts of “inspired” – either in English or in Koine Greek – that indicates that inspiration does, or is obliged to, produce a message that is universally understandable in every language and culture, and in spite of ever effort to inform the text with one’s own agenda.

God has the power and knowledge to inspire such a text, so why didn’t He?

God also has the power and knowledge to serve you breakfast, change your TV channels, and wipe for you when you’re on the toilet. However, He has no obligation to do any of these things, and neither does He have the obligation to service the terminally dense and stubborn with their own personal Bible versions.

As I replied to John Loftus in a rebuttal to The Christian Delusion:

Loftus loftily proclaims that “communication is a two-way street,” [182] and he’s right. But what he does here is object that God failed to walk down the street 99% of the way to meet him on the last 1%. Each of the alleged “communication” deficiencies he cites are easily resolved with a few minutes of checking, as we shall see; or else they amount to people being stupid, foolish, or sinful. (We’ll see what he says about that response further on.) But Loftus would rather blame God for not saving him that walking distance, which is exactly what we might expect from someone who rationalizes away and refuses to answer for their own manifest sins. How does that work out with, Thou shalt not commit adultery? We can guess: He probably had some rationalization back then, too, of the Clintonesque “it depends what ‘is’ means” variety.

All “the Bible is not clear” amounts to is the critic saying, “I refuse to walk more than a few steps to achieve the proper understanding. God is obliged to do the rest. Why? Because I say so!”

You said that the ultimate “inerrant” copy of any message of God resides with God Himself in heaven (the Logos). How do you know this?

Gee, how do we know this? It’s sort of a logical step thing, you know? Once we assume God exists, once we assume God is omnipotent and perfect – two steps that are taken for granted at this level of the argument – it stands to reason that whatever messages God transmits are inerrant. The real question regarding inerrancy then becomes whether or to what extent any purported revelation (whether the Bible, the Quran, or Aunt Jenny’s prophecy down at the Assembly of God) reflects either God’s own statements – or the actual truth; for of course, a message need not be inspired by God to be without error. And we determine whether error exists in the same way we would decide if it exists in any other document or claim.

All these informing contexts are fine, but they are not evidence of biblical inerrancy.

Oops, missing a step there, aren’t we? The informing contexts are evidence showing that a claim of error is misguided. This in turn is evidence that particular charges raised against a claim of inerrancy are false. That in turn lends support to the doctrine of an inerrant whole, but no one has ever claimed (unless it is a backwards fundy, or a Skeptic who used to be one) that all by itself one such solution becomes “evidence of biblical inerrancy” as a whole.

Frankly, even if I were an atheist, I would be embarrassed by most of the claims made by Biblical “errantists” – and my replies to them would not change substantially.

I’ll continue this series next week sometime. In the meantime, be on the lookout for Skeptics who palm themselves off as competent critics.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Scrubbing New Jerusalem’s Toilets, Part 4: The Bless-You-Brothers

This past weekend, an elderly couple in their 60s went before our church to say that they were going on a mission trip – again. People had told them they should retire, but as the woman said, they couldn’t do that in good conscience because it was clear that there was no one volunteering to pick up where they left off.

Apparently, there wasn’t support available of any sort for new missions – personal or financial.
That brought to mind my own similar perceptions with a certain type of Christian that is all over churches these days. I’ve been dealing with them since I began doing apologetics as a hobby so many years ago. I call these people the Bless-You-Brothers.
Here’s how a typical conversation would go with a Bless-You-Brother:

BYB: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a Christian apologist.”

BYB: “Oh? What does that mean?” (may also be accompanied by some lame joke about being sorry I’m a Christian)

Me: (explains apologetics)

BYB: “Oh! Well, praise God! Bless you, brother!” (may be accompanied by clap on shoulder before scurrying away)

That’s what they say. But it’s code for:

BYB: “Yikes! This guy might ask me for support. I’d better find someone else to talk to.”

James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The Bless-You-Brothers are the sort of people who I know right away would never be interested in supporting a ministry (not just an apologetics ministry, either), financially or otherwise – with one exception. They might tell you that they’ll pray for you.
I don’t take that as an earnest pledge very often, though. More often than not, “I’ll pray for you” is code for, “I don’t want to give away any more of my precious money. I need to buy a new car to replace the one I’m getting tired of; the house needs a new coat of paint, and I already give away 10% to the church. So here’s a bone. Woof woof.”

Part of the problem is not their own: It’s also this idea that prayer is a sort of gumball machine. This gives the Bless-You-Brothers a sort of contrived justification for refusing any sort of other support: If they prayed for you, well, then they DID do something, right?

And yes, the doctrine of the tithe is partly to blame too. It’s given some people this idea that if they reach 10%, their obligation is done. But that’s not the model any more – it’s much more sacrificial than that. (See on that here.)

In the end, the Bless-You-Brothers are the ones with the problem: A sort of inherent self-centeredness, and an insulated nature that wants to make sure that those Third World orphans they saw on TV, stay on TV, and not in front of their faces on the mission field. They want all the benefits of Christianity (what my beloved Mrs H calls “fire insurance”) but none of the responsibilities.

Well, there’s at least some good news for those people.

Toilets aren’t flammable.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lunatics from Birth

I well remember the very first email I got from a Christian lunatic, back when I was writing for the Bookshelf in 1996. I didn’t keep a copy – who would have guessed I’d want it? But it came from a guy who said basically this:

The Genesis command to “be fruitful and multiply” could be rendered, essentially, as a command to men to “MAKE MONEY and MAKE BABIES”. (Yes – it was in screaming CAPS, I do remember that, very well.)

Women were intended, on this basis, to be perpetually pregnant, such that leaving any egg unfertilized was a sin.


When I told Mrs H about this, she remarked that that would be pretty harsh, since women have all their eggs in them as a fetus. I checked further on this just now, and one source says that every woman is born with over half a million immature eggs in their ovaries.

Sounds like you ladies will have a lot of penance ahead of you.

After asking this guy point blank if I was understanding him correctly – he said I was – I cut off correspondence. (Very early version of my “no more stupid people” policy, there.) Before I did, though, I couldn’t help but notice something about his email heading. It wasn’t just his name, but also, apparently, the name of his wife and daughter. The wife’s name indicated an Asian heritage, while his was a standard American name. To this day I wonder if this lunatic had imposed his reckless theology on some unfortunate “mail-order bride”. I don’t know for sure. But I had to wonder.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I got an email from another pseudo-Christian lunatic. I won’t say who he is, but his argument was one made in favor of abortion (of which, he claimed, he has never found a counterargument):

Jesus said to be eligible for salvation, you must be “born again”.

The unborn have not yet been born once.

Therefore, the unborn are not human, and do not have a spirit.

Yes, it was that stupid.

Of course, there are many problems with this argument, though the poor twit didn’t want to talk about it when I brought them up. For one thing, it is clear that “born again” is a metaphor – the person isn’t really “born” a second time, so you can’t formulate an anthropology based on the “first” birth. Then there’d be the question of whether someone who, say, in the future, is created by in vitro fertilization, and is allowed to mature in some sort of artificial womb, can be classed as human.

Despite the difference in these two lunatics, though, they have one thing in common: Both read texts in a highly fundamentalist manner with little or no concern for defining contexts and no potential exceptions brooked.

I always said Ecclesiastes had something there with that bit about nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Coffeehouse Microcosm

Right now I’m reading Rob Bell’s Sex God for an article in the E-Block series on Emergent Gurus. It’s nowhere near as controversial as the titles implies (sorry, folks) but Bell brought up a matter very similar to one raised by Leonard Sweet in The Gospel According to Starbucks which has inspired some reflection. Bear with me as I develop an analogy.

Sweet’s book used Starbucks as a potential model for churches to follow. He noted that Starbucks was more than a place to get a coffee and a sweet roll – it was marketed as an experience for the customer: a place to gather and socialize, a place to relax, and so on.

Something disturbed me about this immensely, as I saw in it the root of many problems already afflicting the church: Experience-based worship pushing out sound teaching; disinterest in sound doctrine; the use in the emergent church of service as a way to distract from the hard questions. But wait, there’s more.

My beloved Mrs H and I love our semi-educational TV shows; among them, various shows on the Food Network. One we particularly liked (summarized here) l was an account of the mega-battle between the two coffeehouse heavyweights out there: Starbucks, of course, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

There’s plenty of interesting data in this battle and I can add my own anecdotal two cents’ worth. Here in Orlando, Starbucks and DD are both to be found just about everywhere. In New England, though, where we took a recent vacation, we saw DD more than everywhere: In gas stations no less than two blocks apart, for example. Starbucks? Nowhere we saw, except the Portland airport. (Yes, I’m sure there are more. I’m also sure there are places where Starbucks is everywhere, and you can’t find a DD, even with a microscope.)

That Food Network show noted that the two shops have differing appeals. Starbucks caters mostly to the uppity, trendy crowd. DD appeals mostly to the blue collar worker. It’s easy to see why both can survive as well as they do. But yes, there’s more.

I can’t stand coffee. Mrs H, though, loves it (and says, in spite of my debilitating dislike of it, that I mix in her sugar and cream better than anyone can; I’m her expert mixer). So we frequent the coffee shops – both of them. Which one we stop at depends on factors like time and location.
Given an equal choice, though, we prefer DD. And when we go to Starbucks, it isn’t for the experience; it’s because Mrs H loves their Sumatra blend, and I like their Vivanno smoothies.

Now let me tie this together to something to do with the church.
We probably like DD better than Starbucks not because we’re blue collar workers, but because we’re both introverts. Hardcore – me more so than Mrs H. We don’t go to coffee houses for “experience”. We go for (duh) the coffee. Why else would you go to a coffee house?

I’m being facetious, because I understand in principle, if not personally, why some people want an “experience”. Generally, I suppose those people are extroverts. And it’s great that each side can support their favorite coffee houses enough for both to stay in business.

The problem, though, is that won’t work for churches. The further problem is that extroversion dominates our programming, while introversion is shut out . Many of the leaders are extroverted in practice if not in fact. The introverts get disgusted with the emphasis on “experience” and either leave, or complain and get tagged as fuddy-duddies, or do their best to contribute but end up ignored.

If churches were coffee houses, the introverts could start their own churches. But that’s not how the Body of Christ was intended to work. The antithesis is supposed to arrive at synthesis.

As it is, we can see the results of allowing extroversion to dominate. No doubt if introversion ever got the chance to dominate, there’d be a different sort of disaster, but I don’t expect we’ll ever get to see what it is.

So, no, Leonard – the church shouldn’t become Starbucks. Nor should it become DD. It needs to be a merger of the two, or the results will be all wrong: Either too much cream and sugar, or too black.

Let’s all become expert mixers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Please Shoot Me -- Fast

As a follow up to yesterday, here's the video I was making, now finished. I'm so ashamed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Scholarship and Creativity in the Same Grave

For today’s posting, we’ll be referencing the video below, to which I am presently working on a response video.

Yesterday I finished a new video on the doctrine of hell, and chose to respond to this one next as a sort of test. The reader will note that this is a rather simple production: Many scenes are nothing but words; many are just images; some few are words with images. No voice work, just music in the background, a single song.

In contrast, compare my own first video, which was a response to a certain YT Skeptic:

Now for some background – a little lesson, as it were, in how stuff like this is done.

I’m no professional, of course, but for scale, let’s keep in mind that a typical film runs at 24 frames per second. That would mean, for an animated film, 24 separate drawings per second, though of course, that can vary according to things like speed and level of action, number of characters involved, background work, and so on.

There are also times when drawings are re-used repeatedly. Hanna Barbera was good – or should I say bad – at this; think of how often Fred Flintstone ran past the same couch and table set and the same window. Apparently interior d├ęcor in the Flintstone household was pretty low on the priority list.

A YT vid like “Beat the Bible Scholar” is certainly much easier, and correspondingly, much less demanding. My files for that film contain about 350 different jpgs, which were derived from maybe a third that many actual drawings. But I did more work involving coordination of voices, sound effects, and music. (It’s demanding, precision work of the sort I really enjoy, though.) And it took weeks to finish, as did the latest film on the nature of hell.

In contrast, I am now working on a rebuttal to the Mithra video, and, as part of my test, I will be sticking to the same format it does. Words and pictures. Simple background music. No voices. I started on it yesterday, using up 2 ½ hours. At the rate I am going, I will use a total of maybe 35 jpgs, and the whole project will be launched tomorrow after an additional 3-4 hours of work. And that’s a generous estimate which allows me to do other projects too, and eat lunch.

What’s my point?

If you check the Mithra video’s YT page, you will see that it has had over 123,000 views as of this date. It’s bad enough that it has such poor scholarship, and uses some Sufi mystic as a source rather than serious Mitrhaic scholars. But what makes it worse – and what this experiment has taught me – is that it is remarkably easy to grind out such poor quality productions in a very, very short period of time, and still get a huge audience that thinks you are a genius. (Just check some of the laudatory comments on the page.)

A lot of this puzzles me.

Why in the world would anyone want to watch a video that is mostly words? Why do the same viewers frequently eschew reading books?

Why does anyone even think someone like this video’s author knows what he is talking about?

Actually I know the answer to this already. As has been told in a book I read lately, The Dumbest Generation, this is just the natural result of a generation that has become accustomed to being dumb. They see no need to learn facts, or retain them, because everything, so they figure, is on the Internet and can be looked up at any time. Conversely, if it isn’t on the Internet, it must not be that important anyway.

A few words on a screen? Not much of a burden, especially when you get to listen to music and see some pictures in between to keep you from getting too bored.

If my own response were not a sort of experiment, and also a sort of parody, I’d be highly dissatisfied with the results. It has been very tempting to add some original art to my response, but no: I’ll only re-use older drawings, perhaps, or whatever graphics I can find online; I’ll keep the experiment pure, as it were….no matter how much it offends my creative sensibilities.

Bleah. What a sorrowful picture this is, for both scholarship and creativity. Jersey Shore, anyone?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pass the Fat and Calories

I eat a fairly healthy diet – lots of berries and nuts and salads, almost no fried foods, and so on. But I’ve decided not to bother any more because it is clear that it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the thing. It’s obvious that the objective data about diet --- like good nutrition, vitamins and minerals, calories, and so on – are just something I was raised with as part of modern American society.

If I had been born in, say, the Arctic, I’d be promoting whale blubber as a healthy diet. If I’d been born in rural China, I’d be extolling the virtues of vegetables and rice as the way to go. If I’d been born in the United Kingdom, I’d be all about fish and chips.

It gets worse. If I’d been born in a movie theater, I’d be telling people that the best diet for them is popcorn and Raisenets (and gum unstuck from beneath your seats). If I’d been born in a football stadium, I’d be all for a diet of nachos and hot dogs. And if I’d been born in the back of a convenience store, I’d be telling people how good it was for them to consume donuts, potato chips, beer, and energy drinks.

And finally, consider this: The versions of me born in all these places would be mocking this current version of me who thinks that it is all about counting calories and checking nutrition labels. They’d all say that I was just a child of my culture, that I was raised to consider things like nutrition labels and calories, and that there’s no objective basis whatsoever to your selection of diet. It’s just a matter of where you were born and what circumstances you were raised in.

Stupid argument, isn’t it? Then why is the atheist version (eg, “If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d be a Muslim”) so popular?

Pretty clearly, because it’s a lot easier to whine about alleged biases than it is to actually argue for or against the objective truth of a religion.

I think I’ll stick with checking the nutrition labels.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Textual Hucksterism

Over on TWeb, a fundy atheist styled "Pitchforkpat" is asking why my books don't sell better on Amazon than atheist books by people like Dawkins. Gee, I dunno. Why do Hostess Ding Dongs sell better than heads of cabbage? Have a look see for all the exchanges.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Honor a Vet

I'm taking most of the day off, since my beloved Mrs H has it off, so just a short note today to everyone to be sure and honor any war veterans you know. I don't happen to have any in my family (my grandfather lived in the WW2 era, but never got past Fort Dix, New Jersey, due to bad eyesight) or immediate circle of friends, but if you do, give them a special word of thanks today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The John Loftus Know-Nothing Pity Party

One of the purposes of the Ticker and Forge blogs was to keep up with various anti-Christian blogs and provides answers to posts that struck me as needing a few whacks with a pointed stick. I had a list prepared of blogs to check, though with Thommy “the Wolf” Stark “retiring” from blogging, and Ken Pulliam regrettably passing away, two on that list vanished in just a week.

John Loftus? He’s still here, though it seems many of his posts these days are either composed while on Miller Lite (and plenty of it) or just repeat stuff he’s said before in some place or another.

But of course, that doesn’t mean a whack isn’t in order.

Case in point was a recent diatribe in which Loftus whined about epistemology (he didn’t use that exact word, though; it’s harder to spell when you’re inebriated):

Christians have faulted the so-called New Atheists with ignorance. They do the same thing with me.

That we do. John has proven time and again that ignorance is one of the few things at which he is exceptionally competent.

If only I knew this or that I would see the error of my way and believe again.

Huh? Um, no. I don’t harbor any such illusions about Loftus and many other Skeptics. Actually, I would think that of maybe 1% of those I know, because for the rest, their unbelief is not based in any sort of informed, rational epistemology, attempts to apply a thin coating of it to the contrary.

But anyway, this leads to the heart of the matter, a series of questions that Loftus apparently thinks are real stumpers, and which we will divide into two sets. The first is the “how much” set:

How much philosophy should Richard Dawkins know to rationally reject religion? How much science should Christopher Hitchens know? How much Bible should Daniel Dennett know? How much theology should Sam Harris know? How much should we know to rationally reject religion? How much?

Let’s get more specific by first discussing something about epistemology and information.

It’s always possible for there to be some little bit of “deal breaker” information which would offer sufficient knowledge to reject a larger paradigm wholesale. For example, if the body of Jesus were found in a grave in Palestine, you’d need to know no more about Christianity to reject it. Just one fact.

At other times, it takes a lot more to get a “deal breaker” level of information. For example, let's say there was a theory that one of Neptune's moons is covered in ice, and let's say that astronomers and other experts provide no clear consensus, meaning you have to decide for yourself. You'd have to dig out a lot of material from various scientific fields like astronomy to break the deal either way. (If the experts did weigh heavily in one direction, you'd have some significant weight to bend the deal, but not enough to actually break it. You'd need to understand their arguments better to break it for yourself.)

There’s just no pat answer; every situation must be taken on its own, though admittedly that would mean Loftus would actually have to break a leg now and then, which he’s never shown much interest in doing once he finds an argument he agrees with.

The real question is whether any of these guys possess “deal breaker” information on any of these topics. I’ve read Dawkins and Harris, and they definitely do not. Dawkins is an embarrassment who even manages to give implicit endorsement to the Christ myth; his philosophy is so bad that he has embarrassed atheist philosopher Michael Ruse with it. Harris’ knowledge of theology is also primitive to the point of embarrassment. They are not even close to possessing deal breaker data.

I have not read Dennett and Hitchens, but I can’t imagine how “science” would aid in rejecting “religion”, save under some primitive rubric whereby it is assumed that the two are antithetical. There are plenty of religious people who think otherwise. But it’s not my game, so I can’t comment further.

Then Loftus offers a collection of “how little” questions:

What if we know very little? What if all we know is that God did not save our child and she died from Leukemia? What if a scientist rejects religion because s/he cannot adequately test supernatural hypotheses? What if a historian rejects the claims of a religion because as a historian s/he must assume a natural explanation for the events in the past?

Pshaw. None of that is deal breaker knowledge, and each one involves serious logical fallacies or errors in thought. The person with the child assumes that God is obligated to step in and fix things, and is merely relying on strong emotional reactions, which provides absolutely no answer to a rational theodicy. There’s also the question of what actually causes such diseases, and how much we’re responsible for them in our own actions.

The scientist needs to get a grip and recognize that there is no distinction between natural and supernatural, and that not being able to “test” a “hypothesis” isn’t sufficient grounds for rejecting a claim; when was the last time you were able to put history in a test tube? Sometimes you can test historical hypotheses (eg, various ways Kennedy may have been assassinated in Dealey Plaza) but more frequently, you can’t.

The historian? Who said that they “must” assume any such thing? And that’s also the same false dichotomy between natural and supernatural at work.

All of this of course is just John offering props to his drones who already agree with this stuff and don’t have any interest in actually considering the evidence. Which leads to answers to Loftus’ final set:

What then? Are they culpable for doing so when this is all they know to do? When can it be said that a person can rationally reject a religion? Surely the theist cannot possibly demand that nonbelievers must know all that can be known before their rejection of religion is warranted.

Baloney. I've dealt with these people for years. It isn’t “all they know to do”. They are not being rational. And no one is demanding that they “know all that can be known” – just that they know more than they do now, and that they know enough. But none among that crowd does, and I’ve got years of observation and interaction to support that, and to show that Loftus is among the least knowing of all of them. The fact that he does so much of this type of whining speaks for itself in those terms.

Loftus closes:

To put it in terms of the Outsider Test for Faith, how much should someone know in order to reject Mormonism, or Catholicism, or Islam, or Orthodox Judaism, to name a few. How much do YOU know of them?

I wouldn’t see a need to reject Catholicism per se. Mormonism? I know a lot about it – more than Loftus ever will. As for the other two, there’s a deal breaker there: Both reject the Resurrection as historical, and I find the evidence for it to be more than satisfactory. Of course that doesn’t mean every word taught in Judaism and Islam is false, but it does mean there is sufficient grounds to reject their unique claims as ultimate answers to life’s questions.

Beyond that, let’s just sum it up this way: How much do you need to know, John?

A heck of a lot more than you do now. That’s for sure.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

John Loftus Needs Agoraphobia

I recently noticed that John Loftus recommended the movie Agora as “food for thought” in spite of the “poetic license” it takes with history.

Poetic license? I guess that’s what John calls a lie when he can’t think of a better name for it. I wonder if that worked for him back with the old adultery gig.

"Sorry, dear, I was, uh, out getting my poetic license renewed."

Just as a reminder, Agora takes a lot more than “poetic license” with history. It offers a number of blatant falsehoods. You’ll find some detailed examinations of the film here and here, and Glenn Miller addressed one of its main myths a while back here.

This leads to a question for John.

Why does he need to watch a blatantly ahistorical movie in order to get “food for thought”? Is he incapable of using real history to get his brain in gear?

Maybe the real point is, he doesn't care about truth as long as he gets what he wants. But we knew THAT already.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scrubbing New Jerusalem’s Toilets, Part 3: Christians with Their Heads in Dark Places

You know what I mean by “dark places,” of course.

This one hit home recently, as it happens. What do I mean when I refer to such people? Let me set some background.

As regular readers know, I hold to some views that are atypical with respect to the average churchgoer. I am a orthodox preterist that doesn’t buy into the standard end-times package of a big anti-guy stamping people on the forehead. I don’t think the flames of hell are literal, but are metaphors for shame. I can’t be pinned any sure place on the TULIP range. And so on.

Recently, I shared my views on one of these issues on which I diverge, with a local pastor, who I'll call Roscoe. Roscoe indicated that he didn’t agree with me, because he preferred to take the word of Jesus at seriously on the subject. (As if I don’t. But I didn’t say that.) I invited him to consider an article I wrote on the subject. A little later, he wrote me asking for a copy of that article, which I sent.

The next thing I heard wasn’t from Roscoe. It was from my local ministry partner, who informed me that Roscoe had “tattled” on me to my own pastor. Apparently I was to be regarded as some sort of danger because I held to one of these views.

So far, I haven’t had a call from the Inquisition, much less my pastor (who already knew I held to this view). I’m glad to say that it doesn’t look like there will be any negative consequences in the end concerning this; my ministry partner is brokering the resolution for me, and my pastor may even be interested in hearing more about my position.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Roscoe has a serious problem that he needs to get over, and that he is representative of a way of thinking that ultimately deserves our derision and scorn.

I’m not alone in this kind of encounter, of course. In fact just this past week one of my readers wrote me with this comment, after I told him what was going on with me:

Kind of weird the timing with that, because I gave a talk to a youth group in my church last month on Christian eschatology, that I recently was grilled by my church’s pastor and the youth pastor on. They were afraid I was "confusing" the kids with "academic gibberish.”

Hmm. How much you want to bet it was the pastors who were confused by the "academic gibberish"? People with heads in dark places, indeed. And they’re part of the reason we can’t make any progress: They cling ferociously and closed-mindedly to their views, insisting that any variation is dangerous and that we who hold to these views are misleading the flock. In reality, the objectors are control freaks who are frightened of a teaching they can’t understand and which they are helpless to respond to. (That's also bad because you can be just as sure they can't respond intelligently to something like Mormonism, either.)

By the way…

If you want to condemn me for my preterism, you also condemn R. C. Sproul, Hank Hanegraaff, and scholars like Ken Gentry.

If you want to condemn me for my views on hell, you also condemn C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and even (gulp) Billy Graham.

Also by the way....with these "dark places" sorts there also frequently comes a sort of dishonorable cowardice. I said that Roscoe contacted my pastor, but that was not the first person he contacted. The first person was a respected retired pastor, but that person didn't think I was a threat, so he ignored Roscoe's protest. I might add that Roscoe asked this pastor to keep his objection anonymous. Hmm, I guess Matthew 18 is missing from his Bible? More than that, did he think I wouldn't be able to connect the dots if, as he apparently dreamed would happen, this influential retired pastor got in touch with me?

Retired Pastor: "JP, I've had a word from a certain party who wishes to remain anonymous that you teach X." JPH: "Oh gee. Let me see. How many people have I talked to in the last 6 months who have objected to X, who would contact YOU?"

The Bible says that the condemned end up in the “outer darkness”. I suppose we could say that these people have already made it to “inner darkness”.

They’ll find their eternal toilet brush in there somewhere, too.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Requiem for an Edski

Ed "I'm Talking and I Can't Shut Up" Babinski posted this on the Ticker, which will be deleted from there; he still hasn't figured out, after being told three times, that he's not welcome there. Just as well though -- it makes for great fodder here and on TWeb.
I have asked J.P. for years about his personal journey (let's not call it a "testimony" but simply personal development over time). How old was he when Christianity became his belief system? Can he list all that he read prior to converting?
No, Edski. I can't define an age because there is NO point of conversion I can identify. There is also therefore no list I can offer beyond vague memories. Not that it matters, since that would have zero bearing on the truth of the matter.
Personally reviewing one's own life, what one has read and experienced at different stages, is an essential part of a feedback loop that teaches us who we are and what we truly DO believe.
Maybe for a weak mind like you, Edski, but for those of us who consider objective truth the main thing, that's just a waste of time.
And we all change, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ones. Life is change. Even those who remain Christians have experiences and read books that alter their views of what Christianity is or is not.
No, Edski. Not for an INTJ. We change very little over time. We do change our mind based on evidence though -- not just any old book we find in the gutter, the way you do it.
And our minds from adolescence to adulthood change as well. It's good to review one's own life journey, even in the face of questions from others. Richard Carrier's journey is online. Loftus' is in print. My own journey is online and in print. So is Robert Price's. I'm not saying there are not also stories of journey's toward conservative Christianity. I'm just saying there are people with stories and there are people who are less than willing to share theirs.
Yes, we know. You find those books in the "Horror" section at B and N. I don't give a crap for your "journeys," Edski. People like you who cling to the past and can't let go of it are part of the reason humanity in the West is stuck in regressive childhood functions.
But I am convinced that challenging one's self to write down an account as best as one can recall it, of what one's journey has been like, what it involved, what one read, what pertinent events and meetings and questions and quotations from others along the journey that led to you becoming "you" -- is an essential part of being human.
Yeah sure thing, Dr. Anthropologist.Then I'll spare myself the indignity of being "human" and join some other group, like the Vulcans.
Each person's life is not simply a rehearsal of religious dogmas, nor atheist dogmas. It's an historical process of intellectual growth, asking questions, ingesting data of all sorts. Writing down such a story clarifies things in one's own mind, and also outlines what's most fuzzy and where further clarification is needed. It helps us explain even to ourselves who we are.
That's something weak-minded people like you need, Edski, but not me. I don't need to write things down to be reflective. What you write down, I do internally.
I would like J.P. to consider leaving aside the mouthing of dogmas for a second,
I never "mouth dogmas", fundy boy. I state facts arrived at by careful consideration of evidence. Just because you never advanced past that sort of babyish thinking, don't assume no one else did. If all I did was mouth dogmas, I wouldn't be a preterist, or someone who believes hell is not literal flames, or hold a dozen other views I have that set the average pastor's head aswirl.
and the mouthing of insults and write the J.P. story. Even if he doesn't share it with anyone but close friends the first step is writing it down. No one is attacking him for having a story. So he should feel free to examine questions and different matters arguing only with himself throughout. The greatest challenge is always converting one's self, not converting others.
Thanks for the advice, Ann Landers. Stuff it up your nose with the end of a fire hose. The only reason you think this is necessary is because you arrogantly assume that I need it, since I have not become a heathen wretch the way you are. IOW I must not have done it right, or I'd be like you.
If he does eventually decide to share it like Carrier, Price, Loftus and myself have done, questions will be asked. And perhaps that's what he's concerned about concerning his story, i.e., that he wasn't in grad school nor well read prior to converting to Christianity.
Welcome to Fantasy Island. It's the same old story: Edski can't win arguments, so he resorts to the genetic fallacy.
That his testimony resembles that of many other youthful converts. That once converted he wanted to be the best Christian he could be and convert the rest of the world, and how early attempts to convert others ("turn or burn") may have resulted in some harsh responses from others, and how he eventually became J.P. Holding.
I didn't ever try to convert anyone, Edski, least of all with "turn or burn" techniques, with which I always harshly disagreed. I had maybe 5-10 non-Christians come to me with questions (plus many more Christians), but I never pressed them to make a decision and they were always open and friendly. I always had a sense -- since confirmed by research -- that modern evangelistic techniques were faulty and centered in false premises of the Gospel as a self-help mechanism. So I never "witnessed" to anyone and still don't.
So much for your fantasies. Time to wake up and slap yourself.
I'd pay money to read his story, laid out in detail.
OK. Send me a check in advance. $1000 for the actual printing by Xulon, plus another $2000 for my time. Make it out to Tekton, please. I'll wait for it.
Just the part about being a prison librarian might prove interesting. In fact I just saw an autobiography of a prison librarian at Barnes and Noble: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (Oct 19, 2010) 27 customer reviews and four stars at amazon.com.
How nice. I won't spoil the surprise then. Just send me the cash and we'll let you see for yourself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Holding's Helpful Hints

Thom Stark announced that he was “retiring” from blogging the other day; he said he needed more time for family and other responsibilities. I’m sure the fact that we were dropping responses on him like lightning hadn’t much to do with that.

Recently, too, John Loftus in mourning the death of a fellow Skeptic remarked that the death was making him re-evaluate his use of time he spends on the computer.

Hey guys?

Want a surefire way to spend less time on the computer? It’s simple:

Produce better arguments. Seriously.

If you produce better arguments, you won’t have to spend as much time defending yourself later from criticism. In other words, as the old saying goes, do it right the first time.

It’s no secret how to do this. It involves research and dedication. It involves surveying a wide variety of views from a wide variety of sources, so that you can anticipate potential counter arguments, and also synthesize findings from other related fields and resources. It involves anticipating possible objections by thinking through your argument and thinking how YOU would answer if you were on the other side. (Loftus calls this the “Outsider Test”. He thinks the only proof you did it right is that you became just like him.)

For example: When I look up something about, say, a passage in Luke, I don’t just look for the first Luke commentary I see. I pull down at least 5-7 of the most recent and best commentaries, including those from perspectives I generally disagree with, to see what they say. That way I know if answers are sound, or are open to criticism, or what sort of arguments I may get from an opponent in the future.

This isn’t 100% foolproof, of course. There are some objections (especially stupid ones) that can never be anticipated no matter how hard you try. But it sure helps, and that’s one reason why I very seldom find it necessary to spend time on the computer past usual working hours – maybe once or twice a month at most.

I wouldn’t look for Skeptics/critics to learn their lesson, though. It’s much easier for them to do it wrong the first time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Now that the political season is over, I will reveal something about an earlier post here. The figures of “Hal” and “Stan” respectively refer to Alan Grayson and Daniel Webster. The latter did indeed win the race quite handily. But that’s not what this post is about, per se. It’s about this:

I didn’t vote in their race. But my neighbor down the street did. So did the guy who lives in the house on the next street. So did scores of people whose houses I pass every day.

Did I forget to vote or refuse to vote? No.

I’m just not in the Grayson-Webster (GW) congressional district. I’m in someone else’s. (I won’t say whose, but let’s just say that they are pork-grabbers that give Robert Byrd a run for his money, which means there’s little hope of them being dis-elected any time soon. I'll just refer to this politician as Porky.)

Yet, I just said that all these neighbors voted in the GW race – how’s that?

Well, if you look at a political map of my neighborhood, what you see is that the line between the two districts enters the development right down the middle of the main entrance road. So people on one side of this road got to vote for Grayson or Webster. On the other side, where I am, I got a choice between Porky and someone who wouldn’t have won even if Porky had been sporting Nazi regalia throughout the election campaign.

The district line continues smack down the middle of this road, then takes a 90 degree turn down that road as it curves, where it continues south for a bit, through an empty space between two houses, and then on into the void. That means that on my own street, the guy about 10 houses down could vote for Webster or Grayson. The guy 9 houses down or so, like me, had a choice between a pig and a sacrificial lamb.

I’ve heard of gerrymandering. But this is ridiculous – this is gerrymeandering.

Porky’s district continues in this vein just about wherever it goes. I’m sure readers have similar stories in their own areas, with districts that favor either Republicans or Democrats. It's hardly limited to just one of the parties.

Voters here in Florida this past election day also passed an amendment that would redraw districts and make use of things like already-existing city and county boundaries. I’m rather glad of this myself, though I am sure opponents (like Porky, who immediately filed a lawsuit to reverse it) will have some sort of bizarre logic to offer as to why it’s a Bad Thing. But for me, this isn’t just a political principle, it’s a spiritual one.

Gerrymeandering is frequently justified – by those on all sides of the equation – in that it allegedly helps people with the same interests get themselves represented. That it does. But it thereby encourages fractious disunity at the expense of coming to a solution for the common good.

Can you imagine the Body of Christ operating on such bizarre principles as this, dividing itself down such microcosmic lines, simply for the sake of individual desires and at the expense of the whole?

Um…wait a second. That is one of our problems these days, isn’t it?

Update, August 2014: And in fact, a judge just struck down those gerry-meandered districts as unconstitutional, giving legislators just 2 weeks to fix them. I love it!! 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Origins of the Praise Chorus?

Yeah, I can't stand 'em. Twila Paris repeated that line, like, what, 16 times? Get me a barf bag.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Who Will Stuff the Boxes in 2040?

At our church this past weekend there was a promo for a program called Operation Christmas Child. This is an excellent program and I’ll let the link to a main page (it's under the umbrella of Samaritan's Purse) speak for itself; basically you stuff shoeboxes full of goodies to send to underprivileged children.

As it was being featured, though, something occurred to me.

I know lots of people will create gift boxes for it. And that’s great.

But in 30 years or so when the church in America, some say, will be dead – who will be making those boxes for those children? Anyone?

At the risk of repeating myself endlessly: Christianity requires an epistemic basis to be believed in the long term. The current epistemic foundations are rotten and will not survive. So say the doomsayers, and I tend to agree.

Maybe other people will pick up the slack, sure. Maybe the atheists will start something called, "Operation Winter Holidays Child." Maybe not. But is that what these churchgoers really want to see happen? Do they really want to see a day when they give their place, their ideology, up for someone else when it comes to ministering to these children?

The thought became even more poignant this morning as we listened in the car to the local Christian radio station. There are times when my wife and I turn this station off in disgust, especially when the hosts babble mindlessly about some triviality, or they play music by the apparently heretical Philips, Craig and Dean. But it's also frequently all we can find that isn't goofy or raunchy, and they do have traffic reports we can use. Good thing we have a CD collection, though.

But anyway, right now this station is doing their fundraising drive. One of two they usually have annually, actually. Do the math and you’ll see that their budget for the year amounts to $3.1 million dollars.

Hokey smokes. I could run Tekton living to be over 250 years old on that, and never ask for another cent from anyone starting today.

I have serious reservations about calling such an organization a “ministry”. They feature stories of how people were “saved” or more often just “inspired” listening to the station, that they offer as justification for you to contribute. Just check this one I found posted when I signed in:

I think Z88.3 is the best thing on the radio!! I play it all the time, I listen when I am on my way to work and to drop my daughter off at the babysitters house. My daughter just turn 2 years old, she can speak words and a few phrases. One day my favorite song "How Great is Our God" came on, and as soon as the song came on the station I hear my daughter mumbling. When I looked through the rear view mirror she was trying to sing the song!! She didn't say all the words but was keeping up with the melody. I started to cry and thank God that He is drawing my 2yr old into his loving arms.

How nice. The church is spending 3.1 million dollars so that someone’s toddler can learn to sing another insipid praise chorus. That’ll sure keep the epistemology solid when they get into college.

I don’t suppose it’d occur to this person to accomplish drawing this child to God with, say, some solid Biblical education at church or home, would it?

To be fair, this station does some good things for the community. But I judge that to be badly outweighed by the damage that they (and so many others) do long term to the Christian outlook, modeling it as one perpetual effort to keep ourselves mindlessly entertained as we hop from one crisis to the next. (By a crisis, too, they also often mean things like your toddler getting a skinned knee, on this station. I wish I weren’t serious.)

No one will take the future of Christianity in America seriously as long as they don’t take the concept of ministry and discipleship seriously. Unless something changes, Samaritan's Purse in 2040 might not even exist.

Or if it does, maybe they will have to find some smaller shoeboxes to stuff.