Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Are Iraqi's Mad at America?

Sounds like a silly question, right? It's obvious. Take a look at the info in my recent post for starters. Note that perhaps the 1,000,000 dead due to the invasion comes on the heels of maybe another 1,000,000 dead due to sanctions the U.S. and Britain imposed in order to remove a dictator that there is good reason to think we had installed.

But in Bob Dutko's world this question truly does cause puzzlement. The Egyptian journalist had thrown shoes at Bush and this was confusing for Bob. He and I discussed this on his radio show last Friday. You can listen here.

How Many Dead in Iraq?

Do you know how many have died in Iraq in response to the 2,998 who died on 9/11? Could it be as many as 1,000,000?

Iraq Body Count offers "documented" deaths. They readily admit that this estimate is an undercount, because many, if not most deaths simply aren't documented. But they defend themselves by saying that they are at least offering a number that must be conceded at a minimum. They have the death count at about 100,000.

The British medical journal The Lancet published a study in October of 2006 that put the death count at 655,000. The methods were criticized by conservatives, who claimed the figures were way too high. The publishers in turn offered counter criticisms.

The London based polling group Opinion Research Business published a study in January 2008 that estimated about 1,000,000 dead. I'm not aware of criticisms of the methodology. Many believe that media coverage of this study is been surprisingly limited. See for instance here.

Americans are woefully ignorant of the numbers, and yet well aware of the number of Americans killed. This was revealed in a poll that once again barely registered amongst the mainstream media, though it was administered by the AP. The median estimate for Iraqi deaths in the opinion of Americans: 10,000.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coming Out as an Atheist

It doesn't always go smoothly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

History-As It Was vs As It Was Taught

The Simpsons live in the town of Springfield near a town they regard as their rivals; Shelbyville. The founding of the towns is explained at the Simspons Archive:

In 1796, a fiercely determined band of pioneers leaves Maryland after misinterpreting a passage in the bible. Their destination, New Sodom. Marge says these pioneers were circus freaks.

Jebediah: "People, our search is over. On this site we shall build a new town, where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets."

Shelbyville Manhattan: "yes, and marry our cousins."

Jebediah: "I was -- What are you talking about Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?"

Shelbyville Manhattan: "Cause they're so attractive. I, I thought that was the whole point of this journey."

Jebediah: "Absolutely not."

Shelbyville Manhattan: "I tell you I won't live in a town that robs men of the right to marry their cousins."

Jebediah: "Well then, we'll form our own town. Who will come and live a life devoted to chastity, abstinence, and a flavorless mush I call rootmarm?"

Those that form the roots of our town our wonderful and virtuous. Our enemies are deviant. This is kind of how history is taught in our schools. When we reach adulthood many of us come to realize that maybe our history courses were a little whitewashed. It makes you wonder how many erroneous views you may still hold about American history.

And you don't have to be a liberal to recognize this. Even conservatives understand.

In light of this, it is interesting to me to watch Christians that appear to be shocked at the skepticism of someone like Robert Price with regards to the New Testament. He and an apologist by the name of Phil Fernandez had a discussion. While Price offered reasons for his views, Fernandez' constant response was "But your views are out of the mainstream. Your views are rejected by even liberals. This is hyper-skepticism."

Price repeatedly responded by saying he knows he's in the minority, but the reasons for his view are still compelling to him, and Fernandez needs to address the reasons. Basically Fernandez didn't seem to think he had any obligation to. The fact that Price is outside the mainstream is response enough.

But the lessons we can learn from the way we were taught history in high school ought to be enough to inform us that it is very easy for large groups of people, even smart educated people, to have fundamentally erroneous views about even American history, where information is far more readily accessible. Did Lincoln fight the Civil War to end slavery? We're taught in school that he did, but perhaps most Americans when they reach adulthood come to know that it's not quite that simple. But it's easy to suspect that there are many other things that the majority of Americans are wrong about.

It's easy to see this even in our own day. How will history record the events of the last few years? Maybe textbooks 100 years from now will say that George Bush invaded Iraq to set up lucrative oil deals for friends, under the pretense of a WMD threat. Or maybe they'll say that he invaded to bring freedom to the Middle East. Does it matter which is true, or does it matter more the biases of the author of that history?

What about global warming? Conservatives reading this blog can easily recognize how media pundits can shape public opinion in a false way. If you can imagine widespread misinformation with regards to this issue, which is easily studied in this age of accessible information, why do you think it is enough to respond to Robert Price by saying "You're out of the mainstream"?

This point just does not seem to get through to Christians. It's almost like they can't hear you when you say it. I discussed some of this with internet apologist Brian Auten, who provided the audio of the Price/Fernandez discussion. I summarize here how he reacted:

Jon: Fernandez wouldn't address Price's arguments, but contented himself to just say that Price is out of the mainstream.
Brian: I know what you mean. But Price is on the fringe? How can you react to such a person?
Jon: Evaluate his reasons.
Brian: But why believe one scholar over the vast majority? Price's arguments are ad hoc and based on an unreasonable skepticism.
Jon: Sigh. The majority can be wrong. Which of his arguments are ad hoc or unreasonable.
Brian: Thanks for taking the time, Jon. I'm shutting comments down here.

This is from a guy that supposedly has access to lots of resources refuting the Christ myth position. Likewise Fernandez is obviously very well read. Why is he so averse to discussion the actual arguments made by someone like Price?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things To Admit When You Are a Lame Duck

Well, at least something positive can be said of our President. Bush doubts that the Bible is literally true and seems to believe in evolution. Good for him. I'd prefer a President wrong on evolution and maybe more wrong about the Bible that didn't involve us in unnecessary wars and didn't accelerate our bankruptcy the way he did, but what can you do.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

So Who Was Right?

So it looks like the recession actually started in 2007. That's interesting, because I recall that questions about whether or not we were in a recession back in January of 2008 came up during the Republican Presidential Debates. Let's take a look back and see which candidates seemed to understand the situation and which did not.

Jan 6 Milford, NH

Romney: Senator McCain was one of two Republicans who voted against the Bush tax cuts. I believe the Bush tax cuts helped our economy grow and are one of the reasons that we’re not in a recession today.

Jan 10, Myrtle Beach, SC

Chris Wallace: Governor Romney, do you believe that we're headed for a recession?

ROMNEY: Well, first, Chris, let's get the record straight. Could we be headed for a recession? Absolutely. Do we have to be headed for a recession? Absolutely not.

McCain: And by the way, I don't believe we're headed into a recession. I believe the fundamentals of this economy are strong, and I believe they will remain strong. This is a rough patch, but I think America's greatness lies ahead of us.

Wallace: Do you believe we're headed for a recession? And do you have a short-term government economic stimulus package that you think would be more effective than what you've heard so far from Governors Romney and Senator McCain?

HUCKABEE: Chris, I hope we're not headed toward recession, but if we are, there's four factors that will be the reason..

Paul: I believe we're in a recession. I think it's going to get a lot worse if we continue to do the wrong things that we've done in the past, that it's going to be delayed, just as what happened in the Depression.

Thompson: We still have a bunch of two-handed economists in Washington. On the one hand, we may go into recession, and, on the other hand, we may not. Nobody knows.

Jan 30 Simi Valley, California

McCain: And finally, could I just mention on the issue of rebates, fine, because part of this is psychological. Part of the problem we have, of course, in any recession is psychological. And I'm still optimistic that nothing is inevitable.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Texan of the Year

Rod Dreher nominates Ron Paul for Texan of the Year in an article entitled Ron Paul: If Only We Listened. He's got my vote, though I'm in Michigan so my vote probably doesn't count.

HT: Sullivan

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Motivates Violence Against the US?

Bob Dutko and I discuss the reasons some violent Muslims attack the United States. Is it because they hate our prosperity, democracy, and religious freedom? That's what many people think. I don't. I debate the issue with Bob here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Christian Coalition for Gamblers

An interesting description of how lobbying works in America. Why would Ralph Reed work on behalf of the gambling industry? Why would Corning Inc., normally a Republican friendly company, suddenly shift and support Hillary Clinton? Find out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Are We Missing in the Outtakes

I finally got a chance to watch the movie Expelled. Much has been written about it, but I wanted to say something about the treatment of Dawkins.

It is clear that the creators wanted to make Dawkins look like a foolish villian. Their efforts were so obvious though that in the end for me it had the opposite effect.

For instance, in one brief clip Dawkins is shown taking a seat with an interviewer and he turns away looking behind himself just as the interviewer extends his hand for a handshake. It was a very brief clip and you wonder if the clip had been extended we would see Dawkins recognize that the hand was being offered finally and then go ahead and shake hands. Are the editors of Expelled really stooping to this level to make Dawkins appear rude? Maybe he really did afterwards refuse to shake the interviewers hand. I don't know. But the brief clip really communicated to me that the editors of Expelled wanted to make it appear that Dawkins had refused to shake hands, and that reflected poorly on them, not on Dawkins in my view.

Towards the end of the movie Stein interviews Dawkins and you can imagine much is being left on the cutting room floor to make Dawkins appear stupid. But even then it doesn't really work. One exchange went like this:

Stein: Suppose you had to put a number on it. What are the chances that there is a God.

Dawkins: I would say perhaps a 99% chance that there is no God.

Stein (looking thoughtful): But how do you know that?

Dawkins: Of course I don't know. You asked me what I thought and I'm telling you.

This actually made it into the film as if Stein's response makes any sense. It would be like if he asked me "What do you think the odds are that the Lions will win this weekend?" "Oh, maybe 10%." "But how do you know?"

What is that supposed to mean? You asked me what I thought the odds were and I told you. In other words, if I were told I must bet that the Lions will win, if I were offered 9:1 odds I might take it. But if a $2 bet won me $8, then I wouldn't take it.

If somehow we could determine if God exists and you told Dawkins he'd need to take the side that there was a God, he'd need 99 to 1 odds. If you told him a $2 bet would win him $98 he'd decline. In his mind the chances that he's wrong are so high that it's not worth the possible high payoff. He's not saying he knows. He's saying he thinks it's extremely unlikely that there is a God. What kind of sense does it make to say "How do you know that those are the odds?" That's nonsensical. And this is the good stuff that made it into the film.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Interview with Fred Phelp's Son Nate

Nate Phelps did not embrace his father's hate mongering, fear filled version of Christianity, but tried for a time to raise his family in a more moderate way. But he realized that in the end it's tough to really do Christianity without the fear. Money quote:

The turning point was one Christmas, when Nate decided to teach his children about God. In the end, his son Tyler began crying in the backseat of the car, saying that he didn’t want to go to hell.

“He wanted to believe because he didn’t want to go to hell,” Nate said. “I was just stunned because I didn’t know what I had said or how I had left him with that fear. I thought I was doing a good job of presenting it without the fear.

“Thinking about it after the fact, I realized you can’t do that. With a young mind it doesn’t matter. You can try as much as you want to talk about how good God is, but the bottom line is there’s this intolerably frightening punishment if you don’t accept it. And how does a young mind deal with that?”

Of course, if Christians are right, then maybe we ought to be afraid.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama's Pro-Choice Extremism

HispanicPundit points to an article here detailing Obama's stance on abortion. So extreme it would probably take Hillary Clinton back. Disappointing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sarah Palin: The Hannah Montana of American Politics

I got nothing against Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, or 98 degrees. They are perhaps half way talented people that are rich and famous. Good for them. But there's something about the way they rise that is a little irritating.

Some singers and bands become rich and famous because they are just extremely talented. Say what you will about Michael Jackson, but the guy can sing, dance, and write music. He's good. And he rose to fame and fortune because of that. Elvis earned his stardom. He wrote great music and performed it incredibly.

These manufactured bands don't really earn their fame based on their talent. Their fame is created in a board room, where Disney executives simply choose a talented person and create huge marketing on their behalf. They pay writers to write their music. They teach them to dance. They perform as directed, and become stars. Miley Cyrus can sing better than your average girl, but her fame is not so much based on her talent as it is on the decision of certain executives to make her a star. You would suspect that there are people much more talented that simply aren't known because they were not fortunate enough to be chosen by the executives. Hundreds of girls could have been just as successful as Miley Cyrus if they had been given the chance, because her success was not about her talent and smarts. It was about the marketing and song writing of people in the background. Not so with Michael Jackson, Elvis, and the Beatles. Their success had more to do with their talent, and this is why they deserve more respect.

Leaving aside the positions on the issues for a moment, consider a politician like Ronald Reagan and why he was considered presidential material. Here is a guy that looked at the issues of his day and actually pondered them. He began to form a certain philosophy about the issues. He then toured the country speaking to all the groups of people who would listen about why he held the beliefs he held. He interacted with these people in order to refine his own philosophy and come to his final conclusions. Finally, after spending years forming a philosophy and forming conclusions, he ran for president in 1976 and again in 1980 when he won. This is the type of person you are looking for. A person that has thought about the issues and come to conclusions based upon rational deliberation.

Compare this with Sarah Palin. Her interviews suggest that she really hasn't pondered many of the issues of the day. Don't worry, say her supporters. She'll be ready by inauguration day.

Really? How do you know she'll hold to the right opinions? I normally expect presidential candidates to think about things and draw conclusions based upon rational deliberation. If that is how she will do it, then how do you know she'll come to the correct conclusions? Maybe she'll conclude that talks with Iran make sense even without preconditions. Maybe she'll conclude that $800 billion in bailout money to banks that made poor decisions really isn't helpful. If she hasn't thought about the issues, then how do you know what conclusions she'll come to when she does think about the issues?

On the other hand, if she's an empty vessel that really isn't going to spend time rationally deliberating, but will simply parrot the correct lines, then in that case I suppose you can confidently claim that she'll be ready by inauguration day. But is that what we want in a vice-president?

The picture that emerges is that Palin was simply picked in a board room. Maybe Rove and Bill Kristol were present. They said "Here's a talented girl. She's pretty. She's got a great family and a great story. I bet we can market her. I bet we can write the proper lines, and when she says them the crowds will eat it up. It worked for Hannah Montana. It'll work for Sarah Palin."

I got nothing against her. She's moderately talented. But I want a candidate that has earned their status. I want a person that has already thought about things and knows why they think what they think. I don't listen to Hannah Montana. I prefer the Beatles.

Monday, October 20, 2008

No Significant Difference Between Obama and McCain

I'm beginning to recognize more and more the futility of the political process. Yet I watch as Obama cheerleaders on one side of the fence and McCain cheerleaders on the other get all excited about their man, and conclude that if the other wins everything will become a horror. It's quite a spectacle to watch, and interesting to me to think that I was a part of the spectacle not so long ago.

Part of it is the uniformity of opinions amongst the major candidates. There are so many issues that the candidates pretend to disagree about. But for now I'll just consider the two primary issues of the day. These are the economy and the war.

The economy is struggling mightily these days. Mostly because of government intrusion in my view. The typical leftist type of response would be to have more government intrusion. Have the government back all the failing banks by creating money our of thin air to sustain them. As a Democrat Obama naturally supports the massive government takeover and move to socialism. McCain, the ostensible Republican, agrees. Both candidates share virtually identical positions on the solution to our economic problems.

Now, it is true that Obama wants to roll back some of Bush's tax cuts for those making over $250K (while passing further tax cuts for the middle class), while McCain wants all of Bush's tax cuts to be permanent (though he voted against them, because he was concerned about deficits). In my view these are quibbles relative to the economic problems we're facing.

Should the top marginal rate be 33 or 38%? It's a worthwhile question. I prefer lower. But what about the staggering and stifling growth of government that has been marching onward for the last several decades. We have created enormous additional bureaucracies that are not only expensive to run, but are harmful to economic growth. Yet the politicians tell us what we want to hear in saying that there is no need to pay for any of this. No tax increases. We can have it all. We can run $500 billion deficits annually with no consequences. This is a road to disaster, and neither candidate indicates they are interested in doing what it takes to fix it.

In the past 8 years our long term debt obligations (mostly from Social Security and Medicare) have ballooned from $20 trillion to $53 trillion. The former head of the Government Accounting Office, David Walker, calls this a tsunami of debt that could swamp our ship of state. He's so desperate to get this message out, and so frustrated with the politicians unwillingness to address this issue, that he's trying to take the message directly to the American people. Where are Obama and McCain on this issue? Busy offering the American people tax cuts and an expanded war machine. These are our choices for president?

The war issue is also obviously directly relevant to the economic crisis. And yet there is no significant difference between the candidates on the war. Both are calling for increased troop levels in Afghanistan. Both support sending more resources to Georgia to continue prop up the government we've installed there, aggravating the Russians. Both want to continue bombing missions in Pakistan. Both are threatening Iran.

There has been some disagreement about tactics. McCain supported a surge, and thinks the surge is responsible for all the recent improvement in Iraq. Obama apparently was not in favor of the surge. But neither candidate is talking about how we're going bankrupt as a nation spending $1 trillion annually on overseas military operations. Nobody is talking about how our meddling all over the world creates the very resentment that makes us unsafe. We sustained military dictators in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many others, and when people from these countries react violently we don't understand why, so we pump billions of dollars into further intervention hoping that will solve the problem. This is the strategy of both McCain and Obama.

My liberal friends worked tirelessly to see Democrats sweep in in '06 because of the war issue. They succeeded. What do they have to show for it? Obama tells them what they want to hear, and makes them feel great. But nothing changes, and all indications are that nothing will change. Why do they still get so excited over Obama?

My conservative friends just hate big government telling them what to do and meddling in their lives. So they worked tirelessly and succeeded in the early part of this decade, electing Bush and a Republican House and Senate. What do they have to show for it? Government that is bigger than any government that has existed in the history of humanity. Unprecedented fiscal irresponsibility. Abortions are still widely available with few restrictions. Government sweeping up their phone conversations, internet habits, and preventing protesters from collecting video or audio. Threatening to build walls just like the old Soviets. Requiring papers for travel (you soon will need government permission even to travel to Canada) just like the old Soviets. Campaign finance reform, which greatly restricts access to the political process (see Stossel's depressing 20/20 segment on that covers this. Part 1 is here. I believe Part 4 covers campaign finance reform). Incumbency rates even higher than the old Soviets.

Obama or McCain? This is not a choice. Sadly Americans cannot recognize this. They'll wave their flags and jump up and down again in 4 years, 8 years, and 12 years, talking about hope and change, while things continue on the same path they would be on regardless of who wins.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Origins of Life

Perhaps we are one step closer to explaining life origins naturally. Stanley Miller is famous for performing experiments that produced amino acids naturally. Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of life on earth today. The atmospheric model he used is today regarded as not representative of that of the early earth, but his experiments still shed light on how life may have originated naturally.

Miller recently died. While going through his effects, sealed vials of material from his original experiment were discovered. They were reanalyzed and found to contain 17 additional amino acids that Miller had not detected as well as 5 amines. His experiment was more successful than he had realized.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Virgin Birth? Big Deal.

Virgin births don't just happen in the case of Jesus and Anakin Skywalker. It seems it also happens with sharks.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trusting God

Here's a conversation Bob Dutko just had with a caller here in Detroit, which I'm just going to transcribe as best I can from memory.

Caller: Bob, I don't understand why people call into question whether Barack Obama is a Christian and not John McCain. John McCain says that he sometimes gambles. He supports gun rights, and guns kill people. How is that Christian?

Bob: How is it un-Christian to own a gun?

Caller: Guns kill people, Bob.

Bob: Swords kill people to. Should Christians not have swords.

Caller: No they should not.

Bob: So Jesus was wrong to tell his followers to get swords.

Caller: Jesus said if you live by the sword you die by the sword.

Bob: Yes he did. But he also said get a sword. You don't agree with Jesus?

The caller generally refused to deal with the contradiction and questioned the faith of those that don't trust God to protect them.

Bob: You're not answering my question. Tell you what. I'll answer your question if you agree to answer mine. Why should Christians have tools to protect themselves? Because there is nothing un-Christian about protecting yourself. Do you lock your doors at night?

Caller: No.

Bob: You don't lock your doors at night. Do you ever lock your car when you go to a dangerous place?

Caller: No. The Bible says faith like a mustard seed can cast a mountain into the sea. If faith can do that, why do I need to be concerned about locking my doors?

Bob: If you had children and you lived in a dangerous area you wouldn't lock your doors at night?

Caller: No, I would not, Bob.

Bob: You wouldn't lock your home in a dangerous place to protect innocent children? Ok, how about this. Do you leave your money laying around where anyone can get it? Would you blindfold yourself and just walk across a busy freeway?

Caller: Well no. In that case there is a really good chance of getting hurt, but break ins don't happen that often.

Bob: What does that have to do with it? If you're trusting God the chances shouldn't matter?

Caller: Ok Bob. Since you put it that way, I will walk across a freeway blindfolded. My faith is that strong.

Bob: But that's testing God. You shouldn't test God. Gotta run. More of your calls next folks.

No joke. Sounded like a younger person. I seriously hope he doesn't really do this.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin's Facebook Page

Get a snapshot here.

Was It Worth It?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost about 3 trillion dollars when all the costs are included according to the video below. That's $10,000 per American. So for a typical family of 4 that's $40,000. Would I rather live in the supposedly more dangerous world where Saddam Hussein, who had no WMD's, was still alive and where the Taliban was still in power? Or would I rather have $40,000?

Even for the person that thinks these wars were necessary and have produced a lot of good, you still might hesitate at that price tag. Maybe the monetary cost is not worth the reduction in risk that resulted. If you think it is, what amount of money would tip the scales for you against war?

In my view though it's a no brainer. I truly believe the wars have made us less safe. We're creating a whole generation of angry orphans, all to depose a couple of governments that really didn't attack us. So of course I'd prefer a check.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Amazon Reviews

You never know what you might find. These are from someone named Henry Raddick.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Looking for a Prophet?

Forget the bible. Try Ron Paul. Here he is discussing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac 5 years ago. An excerpt is below:

This isolation from market discipline is the root cause of the recent reports of mismanagement occurring at Fannie and Freddie. After all, if Fannie and Freddie were not underwritten by the federal government, investors would demand Fannie and Freddie provide assurance that they follow accepted management and accounting practices.

Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market. This is because the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie have distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions. As a result, capital is diverted from its most productive use into housing. This reduces the efficacy of the entire market and thus reduces the standard of living of all Americans.

Despite the long-term damage to the economy inflicted by the government's interference in the housing market, the government's policy of diverting capital to other uses creates a short-term boom in housing. Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out. Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged over-investment in housing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary, but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Darwin Gets an Apology

The Church of England is apologizing to Charles Darwin for rejecting his theories in an overly emotional and over defensive way. The apology further calls "anti-evolution fervor" and "indictment" on the church. Sounds like a step in the right direction.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Narrow Mind

I recently listened to several episodes of Pastor Gene Cook Jr's podcast. I'd mentioned previously that I thought he did a very interesting interview with a critic of presuppositional apologetics. I thought I'd give a call and see how a he might approach my methodology. So I called in today. He and his co-host Jonathan Goundry spoke with me for the full hour. You can listen to it here. It was a respectful and fun conversation for all of us I think.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Positive Statements about Atheism at the Convention?

It's true. But not the convention you're thinking of. It's Ron Paul's counter convention for those that really believe in limited government, as opposed to the mainstream Republicans who only offer lip service.

Ron Paul's wife has been sick, and he was speaking of those that have sent him well wishes. He says that he was delighted to receive these notes, and they came not just from Christians and Jews, but also Muslims. Lo and behold he also got them from agnostics and atheists and he was delighted to receive those as well. Listen to this brief segment here or the entire speech here. The atheism statement is at about the 15 minute mark.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

They Hate Our Freedom

Sometimes I just think I'm in bizarro world. James White provided a link to a transcript between the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and the judge in his case, William Young. I think White regards Young's comments as profound or something. Here's a quick summary.

Reid: I am at war with America because you killed 2 million Iraqi kids.

Judge Young: Nope. You hate our freedom.

Me: WHAT?!?

What Reid did was wrong. The passengers on the plane that he tried to blow up were not responsible for the sanctions imposed on Iraq. But let's face facts. The U.S. did impose sanctions on Iraq that had the effect of starving a lot of kids. Maybe not 2 million. But it was a lot. Bush prior to the invasion touted the U.N. figures of 5000 children per month dying due to lack of food and medicine as justification for the invasion (which would be a pretty decent reason if not for the fact that the children were dying because the U.S. and Britain imposed the sanctions.) Whether this was the right thing to do in our effort to remove Saddam or not, we have to admit one thing. It is quite naturally going to make some people mad. It won't matter if they are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or atheist. Starve lots of kids (at least hundreds of thousands by any measure) and some people will get mad, and maybe even violent.

To pretend that Reid really hates us because we're free is insanity. How can we hope to solve the problem of violence from those in the Middle East when we won't admit the real reasons for their rage, even when they expressly tell us?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Jochebed Problem

Farrell Till manages to dig up some interesting tidbits in Scripture to reveal problems with inerrancy. One that I find interesting relates to the length of time of the sojourn in Egypt for the Israelites. According to Exodus 12:40 the Egyption sojourn lasted 430 years. But the chronology of Moses doesn't permit such a long stay. The relevant texts are below as well as a family tree describing the problem.

Gen 46:26 All the persons belonging to Jacob, who came to Egypt, his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob's sons, were sixty-six persons in all

Ex 6: 18 The sons of Kohath: Amram and Izhar and Hebron and Uzziel; and the length of Kohath's life was one hundred and thirty-three years.

Ex 6: 20 Amram married his father's sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses; and the length of Amram's life was one hundred and thirty-seven years.

Ex 7:7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh.

Ex 12:40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.

Num 26:59 The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.

Let's give the inerrantist every benefit of the doubt and assume that Kohath entered Egypt immediately after birth. Assume that the last thing he did in his life was to sire Amram at the age of 133. Similarly assume the last thing Amram did in his life was to sire Moses at the age of 137. With Moses leading the Exodus at the age of 80 we have only (133+137+80=) 350 years (ignoring pregnancy periods) for the Egyptian sojourn. Not enough time according to Ex 12:40.

How does an inerrantist handle this problem? Insert gaps in the geneology of course. Works most of the time, right?

But we have a bit of a problem in this case. First of all we know Kohath was alive when the entry to Egypt ocurred. He's listed amongst the descendants that entered and we're told that 66 in all entered. Kohath must be included to reach the number 66.

So how about a gap between Kohath and Amram? Normally this might be conceviable. But we have some inconvenient facts in this case. Amram married his father's sister, Jochebed. And there is no gap betweeen Levi and Jochebed. Why? Because of Num 26:59. Jochebed is distinguished from Levi's other children as having been born to him in Egypt, not prior to the entry into Egypt like some of his other children. She is Levi's direct descendent and sister of Kohath.

Note also that this is the understanding of extra-biblical Jewish literature. See The Testimony of the 12 Patriarchs 3:11-12. Here Jochebed is clearly Levi's direct descendant.

Given that Jochebed bore Moses and Aaron (Ex 6:20) we can see that there are no opportunities for gaps in this geneology. The Egyptian sojourn cannot have exceeded 350 years. But Ex 12:40 asserts that it was 430 years. Which is right?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Responding to Presuppositional Apologists

Dr. Gene Whitmer has an excellent paper detailing tactics for use against presuppositional apologetics. After posting the paper Dr. Whitmer participated in a very interesting interview with Gene Cook of Unchained Radio where he was able to apply his methods against Gene's arguments.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to Bob Dutko

I've previously spoken with Bob Dutko from the local Christian radio station in Detroit. I'd spoken with him a fourth time back in May and I hadn't posted that conversation. You can listen to it here.

Notice how he greets me. Kind of a bit of a groan in there. It seems he's to the point where he knows what he's about to go through when he takes my call. I gotta give him credit though. He takes my calls and he's not hostile to me. I enjoy our conversations.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jason Engwer's Apologetic Methodology: Insult and Obscure

I'm sort of dialoging with Jason Engwer at Triablogue. It's a very disjointed exchange, because Engwer doesn't comment at DC where the initial blog entry that started the exchange is placed. He responds at Triablogue. But he won't allow me to reply at Triablogue. So I've been responding at DC. The reason for this is that I'm banned at Triablogue.

One shining example of my irresponsible behavior that resulted in my being banned can be found here. I've now learned that there are other "criticisms" beyond my citation of Clement in that thread that justify my being banned, but I'm not being told what they are. There is a lot of vagueness in the explanation. This gives the appearance that the reasons have been explained without actually having to explain them.

But whatever. This is not an important issue. But what I notice is this same methodology (vague references to other links where answers are supposedly offered) is the same methodology Jason often uses in other debates.

For instance, in one of my posts I mentioned that Christians purged many heretical documents, which could plausibly explain why we don't have as much information about the variety of views from ancient Christians as we might otherwise have. Jason replies that these claims of mine were answered long ago in threads I abandoned, such as here and here.

I went ahead and read through the first link, where I encountered statements such as the following:

As I told you in the previous thread I linked to above, the fact that such things have to be explained to you is ridiculous. It’s even worse when you continue to misrepresent the subject after having had these things explained to you in another discussion.

I had to wonder if Jason is capable of alternative explanations for why so many people "abandon" discussion with him. I've wondered about this before.

Anyway, back to the supposed "replies" to my claims. In this thread Jason had asked me why Christians didn't continue to forge documents in the name of Paul beyond the time of Marcion. Why even stop? I replied that maybe people did and the orthodox tradition destroyed the evidence. The documents found of Nag Hammadi show a variety of views about Jesus unknown to us moderns until relatively recently due to the (temporary) successful Christian suppression.

Jason's response is far removed from the point I'm making. "Are you suggesting major revisions of Roman history, since Romans sometimes burned evidence? Or U.S. history? What are Constantine's motives? Why would people in the time of Constantine reject books that are accepted by the mainstream? Do you know how hard it is to cover up evidence of widely accepted documents?"

I truly believe that his is pure obscurantism. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Jason just doesn't know what I'm saying. But I've seen this before and at this point I just kind of say forget it. I'm not taking the time to clarify what I'm really saying. Because I kind of think he knows, but doesn't want to address it.

So this is not even a response to my point in that thread, let alone a response to what I'm saying now. But Jason points to this like it's relevant, when it wasn't even relevant in the first place.

This is his method of reasoning. In this same thread where he says he replied to my comments about Nag Hammadi he similarly points to other threads where I'm supposedly answered on other topics.

Jason-You're repeating what you said earlier about Roman Catholic support for my position on Ignatius, but you aren't interacting with what I said in defense of my position in my last post on the subject.

Jon-What in the thread you linked to is in any way relevant to my point (once more for emphasis because you often miss my point) that forgery is all over the Ignatian Epistles as all sides agree, so this means we need to approach them with skepticism. I think you are again waving towards a website that contains supposed refutations that really aren't there.

He had said I'd been answered, so I went through the thread to see. There was nothing. And when I asked him to show me which arguments addressed mine he ignored the question.

Similar methodology can be found here.

Jon-He's certainly talking about figures of speech, but that's not all he's talking about. Here is some relevant information from Carrier.

Jason-Carrier's claims are addressed by Roger Pearse in the material I linked to. You need to interact with what Pearse has documented rather than repeating what Richard Carrier said.

I spent the next two threads trying to get Jason to show me where this argument from Pearse was. He refused. There was no argument.

What about the second thread where Jason claims he replied to my point about Christians destroying evidence? I read that one from top to bottom, holding my nose through comments such as the following:

I'm not going to take the time to write out and discuss all of the relevant passages for somebody as irresponsible and dishonest as you are. You've wasted my time and the time of other readers more than enough already.

There can only be one reason why anyone would cease responding to Jason, right? His arguments are just unanswerable.

Anyway, what of his "replies" to my statements about Christian censorship and purges? The subject doesn't even come up. Are there some comments in that thread that are relevant to my statements about Nag Hammadi? We're not told. But Jason would have us conclude that I've been refuted anyway I suppose.

And once again within this very thread we do see more of Jason using this methodology of "I've answered you elsewhere" and when challenged he goes mute. Here is what is offered.

Jason-You keep repeating objections we've already addressed without attempting to interact with what we wrote in response previously.

Jon-Are you referring to this link here:

where you put forward your gross straw man characterizations of the skeptical position as if it entails that gullible people would never consider evidence? And when I asked you to show us where Loftus had argued in that way you resolutely refused to answer, time and time and time and time again, and then finally appealed to something John didn't write until after your gross straw man characterization? Is this the thread where I need to "interact" with what you wrote previously?....Are you here again proceeding with this misrepresnation and denying that Benny Hinn's followers are also concerned about evidence, or are you again very vaguely appealing to a link with lots of comments and asserting that some sort of refutation of my point is contained within it if I'd only look hard enough? If so, where is this supposed refutation? Show me what you said in that link, and how it is a refutation of what I have here.

Another method of obscuring that is even better than pointing to threads (which can be read and shown to be irrelevant) is to point to books that are not readily available to your opponent. We see this also from Jason in various threads, including the very thread I'm currently discussing. He points to a book from Jefford, and when I reply that I don't have the book, so I can't evaluate the claim, he says:

"your unwillingness to consult that book wouldn't refute my citation of it."

Well, OK. But when we can see how fast and loose Jason is with threads which he claims "reply" to arguments I've made, does it really make sense for me to invest in these books which Jason says reply to my claims? What kind of confidence can I put into assertions like that? I'd need to know that Jason is trustworthy when he claims a source refutes my argument, and I find that he is not.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Religion-Cooties Connection

Andrew Sullivan noted some interesting evolutionary research. I'll just excerpt the same section he did.

Their hypothesis is that in places where disease is rampant, it behoves groups not to mix with one another more than is strictly necessary, in order to reduce the risk of contagion. They therefore predict that patterns of behaviour which promote group exclusivity will be stronger in disease-ridden areas. Since religious differences are certainly in that category, they specifically predict that the number of different religions in a place will vary with the disease load. Which is, as they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the case.

Proving the point involved collating a lot of previous research.

Even defining what constitutes a religion is fraught with difficulty. But using accepted definitions of uniqueness, exclusivity, autonomy and superiority to other religions they calculated that the average number of religions per country is 31. The range, though, is enormous—from 3 to 643. Côte d’Ivoire, for example, has 76 while Norway has 13, and Brazil has 159 while Canada has 15. They then did the same thing for the number of parasitic diseases found in each country. The average here was 200, with a range from 178 to 248.

Obviously, some of the differences between countries are caused by differences in their areas and populations. But these can be accounted for statistically. When they have been, the correlation between the number of religions in a place and how disease-ridden it is looks impressive. There is less than one chance in 10,000 that it has come about accidentally.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Powerful Evidence for Evolution

I'm not extremely well informed about the evidence for common ancestry between humans, chimps, and other species. But from what I've learned so far this evidence described below is regarded as among the most powerful.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Would Jesus Tap?

It seems to me that the MMA world seems to possess an inordinate number of Christians. Matt Hughes coached a recent season of "The Ultimate Fighter" on Spike and he brought with him a stack of bibles and expected his team members to read them every day. It was interesting to watch as the single contestant that appeared most devout, Dan Barrera, who was even willing to trust God to the point where he quit his job hoping for big things on the show, suffered a pretty rough loss in his first fight and was eliminated.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (one of my favorites) is really struggling lately, and God seems to be part of the problem. Josh Gross of SI goes Inside the Mind of Rampage where we learn the effects of Jackson's God convictions. Hopefully he can recover from this and pull himself back together.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fact #4, James' Conversion Part 3, Hegesippus on James

Habermas and Licona believe that Jesus' brother James had been a skeptic prior to the resurrection and subsequently converted to Christianity. They are not claiming that this one fact alone proves that the resurrection occurred, but that this one event, taken with others that are agreed upon by the vast majority of scholarship, does point to the resurrection as an actual historical event. This is part of what I described as their minimal facts approach.

Do we really know that there was a man named James, brother of Jesus, that had been a skeptic prior to the resurrection and subsequently converted? I've shown that the evidence offered by Habermas and Licona simply do not warrant this conclusion.

Habermas and Licona point to the fact that two extra biblical sources mention the martyrdom of James. They first appealed to Josephus and then to Hegesippus. I discussed Josephus last time. Hegesippus' comments on James death can be viewed here.

It's interesting to compare the account of James' death from Josephus to that of Hegesippus. What's obvious immediately is that the circumstances are entirely different. This should be an immediate clue to the reader about the conclusions that can be drawn. Since the circumstances that lead to his death are different we should probably start by being agnostic about the reasons for the death.

But this is not how the apologist operates. James must have died on account of his Christian faith. According to Habermas and Licona, James apparently held this faith with conviction, to the point where he was willing to die for it. Josephus says no such thing, but Hegesippus does. Should we prefer Hegesippus to Josephus? Why? No argument is made.

It's reasonable to conclude that James was an important leader of a Jewish sect that operated around the time of the life of Jesus. It's reasonable to conclude that he was killed. We know that some sources imply that James is a skeptic, others say he's the leader of Jerusalem Christians. One source says he was killed due to the machinations related to who would become high priest. Another source says he was killed for professing Christianity. Does this entitle use to just assume that in fact he was a skeptic prior to the resurrection, became a Christian based on what he perceived to be a personal appearance from Jesus, and died as a martyr for this belief? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fact #4-James Conversion Part2, Josephus on James

I want to turn now to some of the extra biblical sources that Habermas and Licona mention regarding the supposed conversion of the skeptic James, starting with Josephus.

As was the case regarding the Testimonium Flavianum, Licona and Habermas confidently assert that James, the brother of Jesus Christ, is mentioned by Josephus. No mention of the questions associated with this text are made.

The text can be read here, but I'll offer my own summary of it.

The context of this passage is the machinations that occurred between rival factions regarding the appointment of the high priest. A man named Ananus had been high priest, and he was succeeded by his own son, also called Ananus. This younger Ananus was an insolent person. Apparently he decided that it was advantageous to have a person named James, brother of Jesus (who was called the Christ) killed. This killing outraged the esteemed Jewish citizens, who appealed to authorities. As a consequence Agrippa stripped Ananus of the high priesthood and gave it to Jesus, son of Damneus.

First, let's note the obvious problem here. Why in the world are Jewish authorities upset that James, the leader of a heretical sect of Christians who in their mind deserved death, has been killed? And even if this unlikely event did happen, why is it that Josephus, an orthodox Jew, would not even bother to comment on the outrageous nature of these events?

Finally, notice the punishment inflicted on Ananus for what he has done. The high priesthood passes to Jesus, son of Damneus. Is James in fact the brother of Jesus, son of Damneus? Was he killed because he was part of a rival faction vying for the high priesthood? The addition of the text "who was called Christ" by a later Christian interpolater would make perfect sense of all of these features. It explains why the Jews became enraged at these events. Because James was not the leader of a heretical Christian sect, but in fact was part of a rival orthodox sect vying for the priesthood. It explains why Josephus doesn't comment on what would be very unusual; orthodox Jews are upset that a heretical individual has been killed. He doesn't comment because in fact it wasn't written this way originally.

Of course it is not out of character for Christian copyists to modify texts. We've already seen this with Josephus, as even Christians admit. This is unfortunate for those that would wish that we can obtain certainty from these questionable ancient sources.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fact #4-The Conversion of the Skeptic James

I'm returning now to my review of Habermas and Licona's book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. My previous comments on the book are located here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,and here.

In this post I want to discuss the 4th alleged fact accepted by the majority of NT scholars. This is the claim that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic of Jesus' claims, but converted to Christianity subsequent to the resurrection.

Presumably this fact would be difficult to explain without at least concluding that James genuinely believed that Jesus was raised. After all, what would it take for you to become convinced your brother was the Messiah? What changed for James that lead him to become a follower of Christ when he had previously been a skeptic? An actual resurrection would of course fully explain these events.

But once again, do we really know these things as fact? Do any of our texts actually say that this is what happened with James? In fact they do not. This is an inference drawn from the fact that some texts portray James as an important Christian leader and others portray Jesus' family as skeptical of his claims. Is this inference justified? The texts discussed below (and cited in my most recent post) can help us decide.

The earliest Christian documents are the Pauline texts, and in them we are informed that James is a very important leader in the church and "brother of the Lord." In Gal 1:19 James is the lone apostle that Paul met with in Jerusalem. In Gal 2:9 James is portrayed as one of the three pillars along with Peter and John. In Gal 2:12 we find that James is the leader of a faction with members that appear to have caused Peter some embarrassment to the point that he withdrew from the Gentiles. Nothing written from Paul would suggest that James had been a skeptic that converted upon a post resurrection visit from Christ.

The earliest gospel is Mark. Mark tells us that Jesus had a brother named James (6:3), and that at one point Jesus' family members thought he might be crazy (3:21). Like Paul, Mark says that there is a person named James that is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (5:37, 9:2, 14:33). But for Mark this James is not the brother of Jesus. He's the brother of John and son of Zebedee. This James is listed as one of the twelve disciples according to Mark, along with another James, James the son of Alphaeus (3:17-18). Mark never informs us that Jesus' brother became a Christian.

The information that Matthew offers is similar to that of Mark. Jesus has a brother named James (13:55). But James the son of Zebedee (one of the 12 disciples along with James son of Alphaes, see 10:2-3) is part of the inner circle of three (17:1). Matthew doesn't suggest that Jesus' brother James became a Christian.

The author of Luke/Acts has a slightly different picture. Again, like Paul, Mark, and Matthew, James the son of Zebedee is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (8:51, 9:28). Two men with the name James are again listed as being among the 12 disciples (6:13-16). We are not told that Jesus has a brother named James. In fact, where Mark and Matthew tell us that James is Jesus brother, Luke appears to be using the same source, but he actually omits the reference to James, almost as if he doesn't want us to think that James is Jesus' brother (4:22). Turning to the book of Acts, Herod has James the son of Zebedee put to death by the sword (12:2). Then, without any fanfare or introduction, another James enters the picture, and this James is similar to the James we're familiar with from Paul. He seems to be a very important church leader. Peter tells others to inform James regarding his escape from prison (12:17). Then James (presumably the same one) is shown as if he's the leader of the Jerusalem Council, pronouncing his final judgment and orders (chapter 15). Who is this James? As far as Luke is concerned we have no reason to think he's the brother of Jesus.

How would an inerrantist make sense of all of this information. Obviously all of this information must fit together within a coherent historical framework. It must be purely a coincidence that the James that was part of the inner circle of three was replaced with another James, this time the brother of Jesus, now a member of the three reputed "pillars." The leader of the Jerusalem church of Acts 15 must be none other than the same skeptical James that thought Jesus was crazy at Mk 3:21. He was so persuaded by the appearance described in I Cor 15 that he was obliged to change his thinking.

And here we arrive at Habermas and Licona's supposed fact. But Habermas and Licona are presenting themselves as offering only those facts accepted by the scholarly consensus. Whether or not the scholarly consensus does agree that this is a fact, I would say that anybody that wants to call themselves a scholar simply cannot just take the inerrantist approach and assume that all of these pieces simply must fit together within a historical framework by hook or by crook.

The scholar needs to recognize that different authors may have different agendas. None of the biblical authors say that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic and subsequently became a follower. Maybe none of the biblical authors saw it this way. Is it possible that Paul and James represent rival factions, and while James is admitted to be relevant in the early going he is subsequently downplayed and perhaps his role is minimized? Anybody that knows anything about Catholic vs Protestant apologetics knows that the Roman Catholics take a more Jamesian approach to the gospel whereas Protestants emphasize Paul. Are the canonical scriptures reflecting that rivalry by sort of writing James out, spinning off different characters called James to obfuscate his real historical role, having the non-brother James stand in the place of the brother James as within the inner circle of three?

Habermas and Licona need to show why we shouldn't consider these alternative theories, rather than simply assuming that we must adopt a position that is really an amalgamation of all of the data. This position is really based on a demand for inerrancy, which the skeptic of course does not share and cannot assume.

Biblical Texts Relevant to James the Brother of Jesus

I'm posting these texts to provide easy reference for my next post regarding James.


Gal 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother.

Gal 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

Gal 2:12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.


Mk 3:16These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mk 5:37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.

Mk 6:3 "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Mk 9:2 [The Transfiguration] After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

Mk 12:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,

Mk 14:33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.


Mt 10 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mt 13:55 "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

Mt 17:1 [The Transfiguration] After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.


Lk 4:22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

Lk 5:8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Lk 6:13When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Lk 8:51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child's father and mother.

Lk 9:28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.


Acts 12 1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.

Acts 12 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.

Acts 15 13When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16"'After this I will return
and rebuild David's fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things'
18that have been known for ages.

19"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Republicans Oppose Abortion?

I have a theory on Roe v Wade and the ostensible Republican opposition to it. My theory is this: Republicans love Roe v Wade and don't oppose it.

Let's consider first what would happen if Roe v Wade were overturned. Republicans would remove from their base the single issue that motivates them the most. More money and more energy is invested in Republican candidates because of this issue than any other. What do Republican candidates actually gain by giving the pro-life what they want? What they gain is a lot less monetary contributions and a lot less zeal.

Now let's consider what the pro-life cause has to show for their efforts over the years. They worked really hard and got Reagan elected in 1980. He started by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor. I can imagine him speaking to his disappointed pro-life constituents after she voted in a pro-choice manner after her nomination. "Damn guys. I thought she'd do what you wanted. Who knew? Keep working hard for me and we'll get it next time."

So next it was Scalia in '86. All right. Now we're talking. So close now. Next up from Reagan: Kennedy. Once again I'm imagining him confronting his disappointed pro-life supporters. "Boy, do I have egg on my face. Who knew? Tell you what. Work really hard and get Bush the Elder elected. I'm sure we'll get it then."

And so they did. And what happened? Well, we got Souter. Once again, turns out he's pro-choice. "Who knew?" Well, I'll tell you who I think knew. I think Bush knew. And I think Reagan knew. With the sources a President has at his fingertips I just can't imagine they didn't know.

So then finally Bush throws the pro-lifers a bone and gives them Clarence Thomas. Then Clinton is elected and of course you get two pro-choice nominees. This pads out the pro-choice court such that W can come in and give us two more conservatives without seeing much change radically with regards to the law.

Doesn't this look exactly like the carrot? It's always almost within reach, but we never quite get there.

Now, a lot of people are ready to vote for McCain because he's more pro-life than Obama. I say you're wasting your time. He's the quintessential RINO. As a member of the "Gang of 14" he was instrumental in spiking many of the (supposed) pro-life justices that were waiting to be nominated. Can we really imagine that he'd get this done? Expect another O'Connor. Expect the carrot to remain just out of reach.

My advise to Democrats is to try and get Roe overturned and take the zeal and money away from the Republican candidates. It's not as if abortion would be illegal. It might be in a couple of states, like South Dakota or Nebraska. It might come with a few modest restrictions in most states. Perhaps you'd have to have an abortion prior to the end of the 2nd trimester. These are reasonable restrictions that middle America would be happy with. This move would help Democrats more than just about anything.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Bullets are Real, Your God is Not

Via Loqu

Error, Pride, and Bluster

Having been banned from Triablogue I'm forced to comment on their threads elsewhere, which is sometimes inconvenient, but oh well. I really probably shouldn't involve myself, but it's just too interesting sometimes.

Jason Engwer's form remains consistent as I had previously mentioned. His posts can in large part be recreated by simply cutting and pasting the same insults over and over. His recent discussion with John Loftus, Evan, and DingoDave from a thread at Debunking Christianity is another case in point.

This discussion though I think illustrates some personality differences that are very relevant to evaluating the trust that you can put in certain individuals. Here's how.

Being guilty of an error is obviously a problem. Nobody wants to make errors. But everybody does. It's certainly easy to do with regards to Christian origins. It's such a broad field and there is so much misinformation that it's easy to be misled and consequently repeat something that is false. Evan made statements that were mistaken regarding Celsus and Minucius Felix. That's a problem. But Evan's behavior after being shown the error is very important, and it suggests he's a trustworthy person. He immediately conceded the error.

I think this is a very important quality to have. I recently mentioned how Mark Shea likewise conceded an error. I disagree with Mark about a number of things, but I give him credit for admitting to a mistake. I like to think that I'm willing to admit to errors when I commit them. In this thread I mistakenly thought Eusebius was involved in the Easter controversy, when in fact he was just quoting others that had been involved with it long ago. In this thread I mistakenly asserted that the first manuscript that contained the gospel heading was 400 years after the fact, when in fact it is 200 AD. But as soon as I became aware of the error I conceded it.

I've probably made errors that I haven't conceded. Sometimes pride or lack of understanding makes it difficult to recognize them. But I make an effort.

But what of the Triabloggers? I have never seen one of them concede anything more than an inconsequential error, though in my (admittedly biased) view they are guilty of many. In this thread Steve in an effort to win a debating point redefines the term "atheist" to include Mormons. He went on to further defend this position against David Wood here. In this thread Jason shows his ignorance in making claims about Bayes' Theorem. In this thread Jason mis characterizes John's argument terribly, suggesting that because he claims that the ancients were generally more superstitious and gullible that he also believes that ancients would never consider evidence. I tried to get Jason to face his misrepresentation over and over again, but he just could not. In this thread Jason again misrepresents the position of some skeptics on hallucinations, claiming that skeptics would argue that when a group hallucination occurs this means that the group is seeing the exact same thing within their own mind. When I asked Jason which skeptics hold to such a view or why he is characterizing the skeptical position in this way he just refused to deal with my question over and over again.

What does it say about a person when they cannot concede that they've made a mistake? There's nothing wrong with failing to understand something mildly complex like Bayes' Theorem. It's not all that unusual to attribute the wrong views or arguments to someone. But what is unhealthy in my view is when these mistakes are pointed out to you that you are unable to concede them, for whatever reason. When a healthy person becomes aware of facts that he previously was unaware of, he allows those facts to modify his opinions. In this way he is more likely to hold to true opinions. Those unable to perform the self correction are more likely to hold to false opinions.

The other thing I notice is the constant Triablogue assertion that the opponent was previously "refuted." For instance, Jason is talking about how John has been "corrected many times" and he says "notice how poorly" John interacted with certain arguments in the past. This is in regards to this thread (which is the same thread that included one of Jason's misrepresentations that I referred to above).

Obviously I participated in that thread, and I don't see John as being "corrected" or that his arguments "poorly" interact with some of the information Jason is putting forward. But I also recognize that I have a bias, and I wouldn't expect Jason to see it the same way. Which is why I don't feel it necessary to pontificate on who exactly was the "victor." What value does it bring to the discussion for me to repeatedly bloviate on how I think I crushed all of my opponents?

Does Jason not recognize that he and his fellow Triabloggers may not be the best judge of who is the victor in an argument that he is involved in? How much trust should be placed in an individual that seems so oblivious to his own biases? Does he comprehend the message he's really communicating with these bloviations? Touchstone does. Read him react to Paul Manata's similar triumphalist statements here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Significant New Archaelogical Find

A stone tablet found in the area of the Dead Sea that dates to the decades just prior to Jesus' birth apparently communicates that a Jewish leader will be slain and resurrected in three days.

We've heard from such people as William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright that the concept of a singular resurrection prior to the general resurrection had no precedent in the Jewish mind and that Jews had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah. The former point is belied by the gospels themselves, which inform us that some of Jesus' followers believed him to be either Elijah or John the Baptist raised from the dead (Mt 16:14), and that Herod also believed that the beheaded John the Baptist was raised from the dead (Mk 6:16). This tablet would further confirm the apologetic error on that point and also suggest that Craig and Wright are wrong that this concept of a dying and rising savior was completely foreign to the Jewish mind.

HT: Greg Krehbiel

Monday, June 30, 2008

Where Did We Come From?

My daughter (she's 5) today asked me if I believed in God, and when I said I didn't know she said that there must be a God, otherwise where did we come from? I said that I came from my Mom, just as she did. "But where did the first person come from?" That's a pretty good question. I explained that some people do think God did make us just as we are. But others think it's a little bit different..

I told her that she's a little bit different from her Mom, and her Mom is a little different from Grandma. And Grandma is a little different from Great Grandma, and so on. If you went back, back, back to the long ago grandma she might look a little bit like an animal. And if you went further back than that, it might look a little like a fish. And if you went way back it might look sort of like a tiny little life that was so small we couldn't even see. She thought that was very interesting, and I asked her if she'd like to see a video that showed this, and she said yes. So I showed her this video below. She watched it all very intently, as did I. I had been looking for a video that showed the entire process of change for humans from the very beginning, and this did it. Have a look.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm In the Wrong Business

I was struck by an image of Joyce Meyer's family compound recently shown over at DC by Harry McCall. Here it is.

I think it's useful to actually see images of the lifestyle of some of these Christians. This gives us some perspective when we hear their impassioned pleas for money. So I thought I'd browse around and see what I could come up with.

Apparently televangelists are big fans of the private jet. Copeland's is representative, though I could post others. This one cost only $20 million, so he bought a couple. One for himself, another for the wife. I'd seen somewhere that he'd recently bought a third, but I'm not certain on that.

With that many private jets I guess you'd need your own private air strip. Here's an image of the Copeland residence from Google Maps.

Benny Hinn is of course well known for his extravagent lifestyle. This is perhaps partly to do the fact that mainstream media has exposed him a little. He stays in 5000 sq ft hotel rooms while on travel at a cost of over $10K per night. Just staggering. I couldn't find a good image of his home, so this is a screen shot from the youtube clip linked to above. It's worth $10 million. It's a 7 bedroom, 8 bathroom estate on the Pacific coast with 7000 sq ft of living space.

The founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network are Paul and Jan Crouch. They get by in the Harbor Ridge Mansion. Below is the leaflet from the realtor.

Then there's Creflo Dollar, who is not ashamed to flaunt his lavish lifestlye. Images of his estate are below.

Oh, but that's just crazy Pentecostals. Informed apologists would never fall for such things, right? Guess again. I continue to get impassioned mailings from Hanegraaff imploring me to send cash. "We need $250K pronto to maintain ourselves in the black." Well, maybe if CRI wasn't buying Hank a $60,000 Lexus, or if they weren't paying him $250K or his wife an additional approximately $100K, or maybe if he scaled back a bit and didn't live in a private gated golfing community things might be in better shape.
But why scale back. The faithful keep writing checks. It's hard to turn that money down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Forget About My Bad Arguments

Mark Shea is a Roman Catholic apologist that is sometimes fun to read. I interacted with him sometimes as a Protestant and wrote a critical review of his book at amazon (11/9/99). He has a bit of an acerbic style not unlike that of J.P. Holding. It's probably irritating to those he directs it to, but interesting for an outsider to read.

Anyway, he recently wrote an article about how some apologist types are maybe a little weird and misguided. The focus unfortunately is more about an apologist looking to bludgeon his opponent whereas the focus would preferably be elsewhere. And it's unhealthy to focus on apologetics to the exclusion of so many other wonderful things that should be experienced in life, like smelling the flowers or commenting on H.P. Lovecraft.

Sounds fine. But I do take exception to one thing. He mentions a letter he got from a Roman Catholic reader that was bothered by numerous blunders made by Roman Catholic apologists in defense of the faith that were being exposed by a Protestant. He mentioned one that Shea himself had been guilty of regarding Jerome.

Shea's response did graciously concede the error, but he continued by saying that the letter writer has a wrong headed approach. He needs to recognize that apologists are not protected with the charism of infallibility as the church is. Only the Church has that. The faith is not toppled by the fact that he made a mistake as an apologist. Don't look to the apologist. Look to the infallible Church.

But wait a second. How do I know there is an infallible church? To my mind the only valid reason is that the evidence suggests that there is. And who is it that helps explain to me that the evidence points towards the infallible church? Isn't it the Roman Catholic apologist? I'm not to be bothered when I see repeated critical mistakes from such people?

Imagine I'm a lawyer defending a client in a murder trial. A murder occurs in Detroit and in defense I say that my client was in Los Angeles at the time. But the prosecution presents credit card receipts proving that my client was in Detroit. What would you expect the jury to think? The fact that my client was in Detroit is not proof that he's a murderer. But when I, as the advocate of my client, repeatedly make use of bad arguments in defense of my client the jury is naturally going to conclude that since I don't have good replies to the claims of the prosecution my client is probably guilty. Why? Because this is how rational people evaluate claims.

"Don't look to my bad arguments," Shea would say. "Look to the innocence of my client." But your client's innocence is the very thing you need to show. I cannot assume your conclusion.

One mistake by an apologist is not proof that the apologist's overall position is wrong. Advocates on all sides make mistakes. But Shea seems to be saying that it is never rational to doubt a conclusion when numerous well known advocates of that conclusion make critical mistakes. I think such occurrences would very rationally lead to doubt.

Interestingly as my review at amazon indicates, Shea was initially pushed out of Protestantism because his fellow church goers were unable to give him valid reasons for accepting the particular Protestant canon of Scripture. So for him (if I remember right) rather than consulting well known advocates of the Protestant position, he began to make his move toward Roman Catholicism due to the poor defenses of ignorant lay Protestants. Yet now he seems to have a problem with a Roman Catholic that is troubled by bad arguments from well informed apologists. His criticisms seem to apply to himself as a Protestant much more than they apply to his Roman Catholic questioner today.