Dan Barker’s miracle

maxresdefault-3Dan Barker is one of the world’s most famous atheists, but he hasn’t always been so well known. In fact, for over seventeen years he toiled in relative anonymity as a Christian evangelist, receiving virtually no fame or fortune in compensation for his efforts.

Now today Dan runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), one of the most zealous and successful special interest groups dedicated to opposing religion in the United States. He now has millions of dollars at his disposal  — the FFRF currently boasts of holding $11.5 million dollars in assets on their balance sheet.

Obviously, atheism pays a lot better than honest evangelism. Dishonest evangelism is something else entirely — those “prosperity pimps” really know how to rake in the dough, but that’s another story.

At any rate, shortly after declaring himself an atheist, Dan was invited as a guest on Oprah Winfrey‘s television show AM Chicago to speak about what led from preaching to atheism. On the show Dan met future wife (and co-founding partner of the FFRF) Annie Laurie Gaylor, and soon they started on their journey down the road leading to fame and fortune.

I’ve been familiar with the FFRF and Mr. Barker for quite a while now — once upon a time, he was even a “virtual” friend of mine on Facebook. But I got dumped once Dan figured out that I wasn’t an atheist.

Only a few years ago, I took and then self-graded Dan’s open Bible test — a clever ploy of his obviously designed to create doubt and confusion in the minds of Christians. The “test” wants the Christian to focus on the relatively minor discrepancies in the four gospel accounts, ignoring the fact they agree on the most salient points — that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, yet three days later, his tomb was empty because he rose from the dead. Naturally, I gave myself an “A”.

Anyway, the FFRF gets some great free publicity from the news media, plus they occasionally put up billboards mildly taunting religious believers which I used to see in the Atlanta area.

Recently the FFRF grabbed local headlines when they sent a letter to the University of Georgia and 24 other universities, demanding the schools terminate their chaplain positions associated with the school’s athletic programs. Their letter specifically accused Coach Mark Richt of using his position as head football coach to raise money for a Christian ministry, which I would assume referred to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

However, as an enthusiastic member of the Georgia Bulldog fan base, I can assure Mr. Barker that an overwhelming majority of us strongly support Coach Richt, even those who don’t share his Christian faith. Time and resources are being squandered on a fight the FFRF can’t win unless the Supreme Court overturns the First Amendment.

It would prove extraordinarily difficult to argue trying to make a case in court that holding Christian beliefs was necessary in order to play football for Mark Richt.

Evidence strongly says otherwise. For example, former first-string tailback Musa Smith is Muslim, and current starting center Brandon Kublanow is Jewish.

Belief in Christ doesn’t create football talent, and the most capable players earn the playing time on the field. The coaches make personnel decisions purely from the standpoint of keeping the best interests of the team at heart because it is their job to win football games.

There is absolutely no evidence that any sort of religious litmus test must be passed in order to play for UGA, and simply ludicrous to suggest otherwise.  11892233_10203178422740335_8179233804147072456_n

As this photo of a group of players praying on the field after a game illustrates, participation in group prayer is always optional, never mandatory — most of the team is clearly not participating. These players aren’t giving thanks for victory.

Nor are they likely to be asking God why they lost a football game. If anything, they are briefly bowing their head to give thanks that no one was seriously injured playing the game they all love — a game that provides them with free college tuition.

While my fellow Dawg fans may currently be grousing about the nefarious activities of the FFRF, I can’t help but feel sorry for Dan Barker. Sure, he has millions in the bank and authored a couple of books that became New York Times bestsellers, but I personally wouldn’t sell my soul just to make a few million dollars.

southernprose_cover_CAFGBesides, I’d gladly give away a free copy of my Counterargument for God to him, and any other atheist willing to read it. Chris Janson’s song tells the truth: money can’t buy happiness, but it could buy me a boat.

According to his own statements, Dan once had a relationship with God that others could only envy — and yet he somehow lost his faith.

Most remarkably, during his interview with Oprah, Dan claimed that the hearing of a mute had been restored after he prayed for the man’s healing in the name of Jesus Christ.

Wow.

Oprah asked Dan to explain how the miracle occurred, but Dan replied that he didn’t really understand what happened and couldn’t give an explanation for the miracle he’d witnessed himself.

Now if Dan still claimed to hold religious beliefs, the average atheist would accuse him of being a fraud. He would be excoriated and called a con artist and compared to Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Peter Popoff, and other notorious frauds famous for exploiting poor and gullible people.

Dan’s atheist friends would almost certainly make one or more of the following assumptions about him:

  1. Dan was deliberately, even maliciously lying. The story is a complete fabrication.
  2. The “victim” wasn’t really mute, but a speaking person pretending to be mute in order to fool Dan.
  3. Dan and the “mute” collaborated to fool their audience, working as a team.
  4. The placebo effect occurred — the “miracle cure” was a unique event coincidentally timed with relief from some psychosomatic illness that temporarily caused the “victim” to become mute, followed by the spontaneous remission of a perceived condition reversed by the power of suggestion.
  5. Assume any other explanation that doesn’t involve divine intervention or supernatural phenomena.

Curiously enough though, Dan didn’t confess that he’d perpetuated a fraud.

Nor did he claim the “healed” person was never mute. Instead, Mr. Barker seemed to suggest that he’d witnessed, and even facilitated an inexplicable phenomena, a remarkable healing.

He called on the power of Jesus Christ to heal the man. And the man was healed. Yet now Dan isn’t sure what happened, even though he was there.

Unlike my atheist friends, I would not assume that Dan lied, or that the mute man could actually speak the whole time. Instead, I would merely ask Dan a few questions:

  1. How did you verify that the man couldn’t speak prior to this remarkable healing took place?
  2. Did medical records document and confirm his condition?
  3. Were other witnesses able to confirm the man couldn’t speak before this alleged miracle occurred?

Depending on his answers, my followup questions to Mr. Barker would be these:

How can you be sure that a miracle did not occur? Why have you assumed that your prayers were not answered? And what exactly is your definition of a miracle, anyway?

Begging for money

RichardCarrierSM

Richard Carrier (From Wikipedia)

Richard Carrier holds a PhD from Columbia University in ancient history. He is a prolific author — his work includes books with provocative titles such as On the Historicity of JesusProving HistorySense and Goodness without GodNot the Impossible FaithWhy I Am Not a Christian, and Hitler Homer Bible Christ. 

According to his website, Dr. Carrier is also a very busy and highly sought “world-renowned author and speaker.” 

So naturally I became curious: why is this guy practically panhandling for money on his website that has not one or two, but six different ways you can “Help Support Dr. Carrier?”

Seriously? Exactly how many mouths does this man have to feed?

Admittedly, the first option we’re offered seems reasonable enough — Dr. Carrier wants you to buy one of his books. As a fellow author with my own books and novels promoted here on this very website, it would be rather hypocritical of me to criticize another author for trying to market his own work.

So no problems with option #1.

Visitors to his website are also offered a second option, which is buying a book recommended by Dr. Carrier through a link provided. He apparently earns a small percentage of the sale. That also sounds like a fairly decent way to bolster one’s income — something I admit that I wouldn’t mind learning how to do myself.

The third option we’re offered is where things begin to get sketchy — we are invited to send “Dr. Carrier” a donation via Paypal, ostensibly just because he’s a swell guy and needs the money more than we do.

But why? For what? Apparently, as we’ll soon see, it’s to “get your money for nothing, and your chicks for free.”

We are then offered the (4th) option to take a monthly online course from Dr. Carrier.

Or (a 5th option) we could pay him a speaking fee.

Finally, we are given the opportunity to negotiate hiring Dr. Carrier as a “consultant” for $150 per hour, though we are warned he is “rarely available” and his “services are expensive.”

No kidding — $150 per hour works out to roughly $300 grand per year. So I’ve been wondering — why does this guy with a PhD from an Ivy League school need to beg for money?

Richard Carrier’s website does offer us a few clues.

For example, he doesn’t appear to hold a legitimate teaching position anywhere, except offering monthly online courses through something called the Partners for Secular Activism…which hardly sounds like an academic enterprise. It sounds more like a brief indoctrination into becoming some sort of an evangelist for atheism.

Unlike his nemesis Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Carrier doesn’t have a cushy, secure full-time job to provide a steady income. So he’s got to scramble to make his money.

Furthermore, his lifestyle can be quite expensive — Carrier allegedly practices polyamory. That can’t be cheap, to constantly date and try to keep multiple women happy. He’s got more than a few mouths to feed. But if Dr. Carrier thinks his current lifestyle is expensive, just wait until one of these women has his baby. His monthly budget will get blown through the roof.

He might actually have to get a real job.

An experiment in wealth redistribution

Dan Price

Dan Price

Dan Price apparently had the best of intentions.

He wanted his employees to stop worrying about petty problems like their mortgages and car payments, so Dan one day called a company meeting and announced that going forward, everyone would receive the same pay.

Even his own salary would be slashed from seven figures all the way down to $70,000 — the arbitrary “minimum” (and maximum) wage for every employee of Gravity Payments.

Now everyone should be happy, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Well…everything. First, Dan’s two best employees quit.

“He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump,” said former Gravity financial manager Maisey McMaster. When she complained, Price called her selfish and naturally, she resigned.

Web designer Grant Moran observed, “Now the people who were just clocking in and out were making the same as me,” and he also quit.

Then Dan’s big brother filed a lawsuit against him that may bankrupt the company. However, “We don’t have the margin of error to pay those legal fees,” Dan told the New York Times.

Well, Shazam! Apparently it never occurred to Mr. Price that there might be some blowback to his plan to redistribute the wealth of the company’s investors by ludicrously increasing their salary expenses.

This story should become the classic case study that illustrates the value of capitalism and a free market system.

It would be easier to feel sorry for Mr. Price — he’s renting out his house, no longer able to afford to live in it himself, after all — except his own liberal arrogance brought about his current misfortune.

Price blamed his Christian upbringing and good intentions when he spoke to the Times for their articlebut God only asks for ten percent of the gross.

Question: the minimum NBA salary for a player with 3 years of experience is just about $1 million — should that be the same salary paid to LeBron James? Of course not.

LeBron James

LeBron James

No disrespect meant toward Anderson Varejao or Joe Harris, but fans aren’t buying Cavalier tickets to watch those guys ride the pines. They are buying tickets and wearing t-shirts with LeBron’s name and number on them. Whether you’re a fan or not, Mr. James draws thousands of fans to the game.

It sounds perfect and wonderful to say everyone should receive the same salary…except for the fact that not everyone deserves the same salary. People should be rewarded according to their efforts and ability.

If everyone is paid the same regardless of how hard they work, what is their incentive to work hard?

The new hire who is basically useless and the CEO of the company shouldn’t receive the exact same pay. That isn’t Christianity, or capitalism. You can’t sugarcoat it…that’s just plain stupid.

And now Mr. Price is paying a steep price for his foolish social experiment. He may even lose his company — due to legal fees. Pretty soon nobody will be making $70,000 per year.

The real minimum wage is zero.

Jon Snow and Game of Thrones

Kit Harington as Jon Snow

Kit Harington as Jon Snow

The HBO series Game of Thrones is famous for brutal, gory sword fights mixed in with dire wolves, dragons, and quite a bit of kinky sex.

Based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels written by George R. R. Martin, the television adaptation has largely remained faithful to the books thus far.

And for the most part, the television shows have been dazzling.

Martin has published five novels. The television series has now run for five complete seasons.

However, the novels and “seasons” of the show haven’t matched up perfectly — events occurred in the most recent novel that have not happened onscreen, and not everything in the books made it onscreen.

In the final episode of season 5,, one of the few remaining heroes in the broad saga, Jon Snow, was murdered,  which (according to my wife and son, who read them) also happened in the most recent novel. Readers of the books will remember that Jon was brought back from the dead in that same novel in which he was killed, because he’s become an essential character in the overall story.

Clearly, the word “ice” in the title for the series refers to Jon Snow, just as “fire” refers to the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen.

Yet in response to speculation coming from fans of the books, HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo has been quoted by Deadline Hollywood as saying, “Dead is dead as dead as dead. He be (SIC) dead. Yes. From everything I’ve seen, heard, read, Jon Snow is indeed dead.”

The problem is that the show really won’t make any sense or have much of a future without Jon Snow. Therefore, I don’t understand the current marketing strategy. The show is insanely popular already — there’s no need to create additional hype. In fact, this may backfire.

If Mr. Lombardo was deliberately trying to deceive fans (meaning Kit Harington will return next season as Jon Snow) he’s irritated people like me for no reason. If he really doesn’t know the fate of Jon Snow, he just should keep his mouth shut.

Conversely if he’s telling the truth and Jon Snow is gone, I’m done with the show.

If the character Jon Snow is permanently dead, Mr. Lombardo can forget about making three more seasons. I seriously doubt I’ll be the only fan who loses interest in the show after the last remaining truly heroic and noble character left in the story has been killed off.

Furthermore, if Jon Snow is truly gone for good, the storyline for Game of Thrones will no longer be faithful to Martin’s vision for the final resolution of the series, and his devoted fans will not be happy.

The writer in me will want to boycott the show on principle.

Why Atheism?

41DHqlC4qXL

I’ve discovered that some of my non virtual friends in the real world believe I’m being sarcastic when I refer to my “atheist friends”, but that isn’t always true.

I am being quite sincere when I say that there are people who call themselves atheists that I honestly consider to be my friends, even though we may have never met in person.

My friend David is a humanist. He and I have respectfully disagreed about many topics of mutual interest, but if I ever visit New Zealand or he ever comes to the U.S. I fully expect to shake his hand, buy him a beer, and for us to finally have a face-to-face conversation after several years of pleasant long-distance correspondence.

Philosophy professor and atheist author George H. Smith likewise has graciously accepted my friendship on Facebook. I’m also sure that he and I could have a friendly conversation over a beer, a single malt scotch, or even a glass of water, should we ever met in person.

Although Professor Smith and I do not appear to agree very often when the topic of conversation is religion, we agree most enthusiastically about the philosophy of Libertarianism.

My favorite book written by an atheist remains An Atheist Defends Religion by Bruce Sherman. It would be difficult to claim another book has supplanted it as my all-time favorite book written by an atheist, because so much of Sheiman’s philosophy echoed my own.

Basically, Sheiman made the same overall point about probability that was hammered home so well that I quoted him in my own book, Counterargument for God, after he wrote:

The propensity for matter and energy to self-organize in novel and unpredictable ways is a conspicuous feature of nature; it goes against the laws of thermodynamics (entropy) and cannot be explained by the known laws of physics. But according to conventional science, it’s all explained by a highly improbable confluence of accidents. And if you take “accidents” out of the life-creation equation, we would be left with nothing.

Of course, the problem with believing in “nothing” is that something, specifically this universe, allegedly came from nothing, which would mean nothing created something out of nothing, literally an incoherent proposition. 

Even more remarkable, that “something” created from absolutely nothing must then have somehow spawned a living organism from inanimate matter — the hypothesis known as abiogenesis.

southernprose_cover_CAFG

When some of my atheist friends say they don’t believe in miracles, I have to wonder if they really know what the word means. The dictionary defines a miracle as an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws, for which a supernatural God or humans may receive credit.

After reading Sheiman’s book, it seemed that about the only point on which he and I disagreed was a supernatural Creator as being the only sensible alternative to unbelievable good luck or nothing. He made the perfect argument in defense of having religious beliefs then strangely proclaimed his preference for atheism, in spite of the brilliant logic he’d just used to support his argument defending theism, and without getting very specific about what that third alternative might be.

The problem of having “accidents” in the life-creation equation is that accidents are random by definition, and seldom are the results of an accident beneficial. Given the grotesque improbabilities associated with the Big Bang, inflation, and abiogenesis, we simply can’t assume any possibility of bad luck occurring between the creation of the universe and the origin of life. Every accident must be serendipitous in nature, because the opposite of “by accident” is “on purpose.”

So I like Sheiman’s book very much. However, it doesn’t really offer much as a defense (or advocacy) of atheism. It’s a book written by an atheist, but it isn’t really about atheism. Bruce Sheiman really does defend religion.

51pwJKNefCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Now by far the best book written by an atheist that’s actually about atheism that I’ve read to date has been Why Atheism? by George H. Smith.

In my opinion, his book is far superior to comparable books I’ve read that were written by Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and their ilk.

What differentiates Smith’s book and makes it special?

For one thing, it was quite informative, packed with actual information about the philosophical development of the atheist movement.  Nor was it written with a smug and condescending tone typical of books written by atheists with an over-inflated estimation of their own personal intellect.

Smith provides clear and concise analysis of views ranging from the origins of atheism in ancient Greece to Kant and Spinoza, Locke, Bacon, Aquinas, Schopenhauer, and virtually every other famous philosopher in between who made important contributions to both atheist and theist schools of thought.

The book is refreshingly free of the tiresome vitriol and thinly-veiled hostility toward Christianity usually found in books of this genre. As a Christian, I didn’t feel like my faith was constantly under assault as Smith presented his information with clear and concise prose.

Smith wrote,

Logical possibility pertains to the internal coherence (emphasis original)  of a proposition. A proposition is logically possible if it is not self-contradictory. Consider, for example, the proposition: “There exists at least one married bachelor.” It is logically impossible for this proposition to be true, because the predicate (“a married man”)  contradicts the subject (“a bachelor”). Moreover. to call this proposition logically impossible is to say that it is incoherent, that it has no meaning. (page 41)

I liked that. By some strange coincidence, that explanation reminded me of the recent article I wrote about so-called Christian atheists.

Admittedly, not everything Smith said about religion made sense to me. For example, he wrote this about doubt:

It is the moralization of doubt–the prohibition of doubt as sinful–that makes the Christian scheme of faith fundamentally dishonest at its core. I say “dishonest” because a Christian, having committed himself, through faith, to the tenets of his religion, is thereafter prohibited from doubting his fundamental beliefs. (page 51)

Now in my total experience, which spans 55 years, during which I have visited multiple Protestant churches and a couple of Catholic ones, I don’t ever recall a pastor claiming that doubt was prohibited. In fact, I’ve always had the distinct impression that some element of doubt was quite natural to have. Thomas doubted. In fact, Jesus himself said that we only needed a kernel of faith as small as a mustard seed.

Considering Jesus died for far worse sins than doubt, I’m not sure that’s a big deal, anyway.

But a simple mistake doesn’t make an excellent book unworthy of reading. Atheists should read Why Atheism? to learn how to argue in defense of their worldview without their rancor for religion becoming so obvious. Theists should also read the book, to learn the best arguments against their beliefs if they hope to compete against the intelligent atheist (in a battle of wits, during a war of words.)

Why Atheism? was extremely informative for any person wanting to understand the philosophical arguments commonly used throughout the history of civilization as justification for atheism.

Interestingly, during his analysis of the philosophy of David Hume, Smith wrote:

Suppose someone tells me he saw a dead person brought back to life. Here I should consider “whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened.” There is no real contest in this case, because the possibility of resurrecting the dead conflicts with all of my personal experience, whereas I know of innumerable instances where people have related falsehoods. I therefore conclude that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish…” (page 208)

The obvious problem with Hume’s argument is that many things fall outside the realm of our personal experience — which is anecdotal. Almost all of our “knowledge” has also come from people who have related falsehoods…including our sources of scientific knowledge.

Hume’s mistake is fixating on the resurrection of Jesus as the impossible claim — the resurrection of the dead. The irony is that abiogenesis (which in fairness, Hume probably knew nothing about) is the animation of matter that was never alive — which would you say is harder to believe? Keep in mind we have numerous documented cases of spontaneous resuscitation and revival after a patient has been declared dead using modern medical technology (never mind what didn’t exist two thousand years ago), which Hume also knew nothing about.

Smith implies that he is still open to persuasion when he wrote:

I will therefore demand that the Christian justify his belief in the existence of God with objective reasons, i.e., evidence and arguments that can be evaluated by rational methods. And should the Christian be unable or unwilling to defend his belief, I will urge him to embrace the more reasonable alternative of atheism. And should he remain steadfastly indifferent to the issue of justification–should he say that he believes what he believes and that’s all there is to it–then I will question either his judgment or his sincerity. For I would have never taken the Christian seriously in the first place, I would have never engaged in this dialogue, had he not deceived me into thinking that his belief in God was the belief of a reasonable person. (page 49)

I would like to take Professor Smith at his word and offer him a free electronic copy of my book Counterargument for God in the format of his preference, if he will agree to accept my gift to him.

In that book I endeavored to give the reader objective reasons that I give in the hope they will be evaluated using rational methods in defense of my belief, in my counterargument for God.

I will take Professor Smith at his word, and look forward to hearing from him.

Dishonest skepticism

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer

How would you describe outer space?

Do you think you could draw a picture of deep space that someone else would recognize for what it represented? What would you draw?

I have a confession to make: I usually enjoy the writing of famous skeptic Michael Shermer, and personally think he is an excellent author. In fact, I even bought the hardcover copy of his book Why People Believe Weird Things from the Roswell Public Library.

Literally, I had some difficulty putting that book down when I was actively reading it a few years ago.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I felt compelled to replace the original library copy because I accidentally got ketchup stains on a page and didn’t want to give them back a book that I’d damaged. Otherwise, I probably would have settled for buying the more economically priced paperback copy to add to my book collection.

I’ve admired the work of Mr. Shermer for some time. I even thought his guest appearance on Mr. Deity was hilarious, albeit in a somewhat sacrilegious sort of way.

Probably the most famous skeptic in the world today, Mr. Shermer was the founding publisher of both Skeptic magazine and founder of the Skeptics Society. Interestingly, the word “skeptic” has been defined two different ways in the dictionary:

  1. a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.
    synonyms: cynicdoubterMore

  2. PHILOSOPHY
    an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.

Using those definitions as my standard, I would think that I should qualify for membership in Mr. Shermer’s club of skeptics, but I doubt that I’ll be welcomed in with open arms.

Personally, I think a certain degree of skepticism is healthy. Imagine my surprise to learn that I’m perhaps even more consistent in my skepticism than Mr. Shermer.

For example, I still have my doubts about “politically incorrect” things like global warming, and that the theory of evolution presents a rational belief explaining how monkeys can shape-shift into men, simply if given enough Deep Time for this amazing metamorphosis to occur. However, Mr. Shermer believes in both global warming and the theory of evolution, with a remarkable lack of curiosity in regard to the evidence allegedly supporting those theories.

It seems Mr. Shermer’s criteria requires that the skeptical person must also be an atheist in order to legitimately be called a skeptic. I’ve discovered over time that atheists seem to be quite eager to challenge my beliefs no matter what evidence is offered, but none of them are willing to equally apply skepticism to his or her own beliefs.

There is no balance. That’s not honest. That’s horribly biased skepticism.

The alternative to true skepticism is gullibility. The more preposterous a claim appears on the surface, the more critical it becomes to remain as skeptical as possible, until the evidence that substantiates the claim simply overwhelms you.

That’s much easier to do when applied to possibilities that you already doubt, and becomes infinitely more difficult to accomplish when applied to things you actually believe to be true.southernprose_cover_CAFG

It isn’t particularly easy for me to admit that my quest for truth has led me to believe some rather incredible scientific evidence exists that suggests reincarnation is actually possible, because that evidence conflicts with my Christian worldview, to at least some extent.

I would be dishonest if I denied that I’ve seen solid scientific evidence for reincarnation, because in fact, I have seen that evidence. Christianity doesn’t even address the issue, so I don’t know what to make of this evidence to which I refer.

I also know that my pastor isn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of reincarnation, but what can I say? It certainly isn’t required for me to like the concept of reincarnation in order to believe the evidence is credible, and it would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the evidence and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My point here is this: once someone makes a claim of possessing evidence, as skeptics we have an epistemic duty to investigate those claims, rather than summarily dismissing them.

In my book Counterargument for God I suggested that everyone consider themselves agnostic because there is tremendous difference between claiming to know something is true and being able to prove it.

I offered that we may characterize ourselves as atheist-agnostic, theist-agnostic, or apathetic-agnostic,depending on our current worldview

Once upon a time, I was an apathetic agnostic, on the brink of becoming an atheist. I considered the concept of supernatural intelligence to be about as preposterous as any other professed atheist would. Because I lacked paranormal experience, I assumed that ghosts were no more real than Casper, the cartoon character. 84620

Then a friend of mine claimed his house was haunted after I witnessed a supernatural phenomena. At first I didn’t believe him, of course.

But then over time, I experienced multiple examples of inexplicable phenomena that were irrational by any stretch of the imagination — phenomena caused by some sort of an invisible force, and not once or twice, but dozens, if not hundreds of times. Light switches would toggle themselves as I watched. Keys would disappear and reappear in the exact place last seen. The motion sensors in the burglar alarms would get triggered by nothing.

It got to the point where further denial would be dishonest, silliness born of cowardice in the fear of what others might say about that admission.

My skepticism was only slightly diminished by the first occurrence, because I was fairly sure what I had seen had to have been a trick, because I believed ghosts was irrational. Also my friend laughed about the incident, making me even more suspicious.

After a while, so many inexplicable occurrences had happened that I got to the point I accepted that ghosts were real. Over time it got to the point where I no longer bothered to investigate strange phenomena, because they had become routine.

Finally one day I was literally touched, in a well lit room, by something I couldn’t see. There wasn’t another human anywhere within arm’s reach. The only other person present never left my sight.

Even forty years later, I vividly remember that particular experience, because that raised the bar to a completely new level. Seeing had become believing, but touching kind of freaked me out, because it hadn’t occurred to me it would be possible to feel what I couldn’t see.

Of course, I naturally expect you to remain skeptical about my personal experiences.

But by the same token, I also expect people to understand why I say without fear of embarrassment that I believe ghosts exist — my own repeated personal experiences (which amounts to empirical evidence to me, when collected in the first person) have left me no choice.

It is prudent to remain skeptical of extraordinary claims such as that ghosts exist, and to demand extraordinary evidence to validate them. In fact, there have been a number of sensationalist, bogus ghost stories told by people apparently looking for free publicity, or for whatever reason.

Because I already believe in ghosts and because I know the history of the prison, I wouldn’t dream of sitting in the gas chamber in the New Mexico State Penitentiary at midnight like actor Scott Patterson did — that’s the very prison where the most brutal riot in American history took place in February 1980. Unspeakable horrors took place there.

However, before skeptics like Michael Shermer completely rule out the possibility ghosts exist, they should be willing to honestly investigate claims, not to summarily dismiss them with little or no investigatory effort.

Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect Mr. Shermer might be somewhat selective in the application of his skepticism. He curiously accepts the politically correct arguments for global warming and the theory of evolution with little or no skepticism, yet offers absurd challenges to phenomena that doesn’t fit into his current worldview.

JABiSVN

Deep Space photo from the Hubble telescope

In regard to alleged supernatural phenomena, it seems Mr. Shermer employs an impossibly high standard when evaluating alleged scientific evidence he deems questionable.

For example in one televised experiment, Mr. Shermer had been invited to observe experiments involving people who claimed to have psychic abilities.

One alleged psychic in particular appeared to be uncannily accurate in his results, so Mr. Shermer asked to personally test the subject.

In the first test, the psychic had drawn a picture that Mr. Shermer conceded had closely resembled the image in the photograph kept in a sealed envelope.

In the second test, however, rather than using a photograph of an object, or a person, animal, airplane, skyscraper — instead of using any image with a definable shape, Mr. Shermer chose the absurd.

He literally could have used a photograph of anything. Think about it.

Shermer could have used a photograph of a palm tree, a sports car, an airplane, an alligator, or the Statue of Liberty. He could have used Piss Christ. Shermer could have chosen an artist’s rendering of a Tyrannosaurus, Archaeopteryx, an ant, an Apple or an apple.

He even could have tried to trick the alleged psychic by reusing the same photograph from the first test, thinking he’d never suspect it.

But instead Shermer used a photograph of…nothing. He chose the photo of Deep Space taken from the Hubble telescope, shown above.

Naturally, with nothing to visualize, the “alleged” psychic simply drew dots on the page. And to no great surprise, Shermer determined that the psychic’s dots on the  paper failed to satisfy his demand for irrefutable proof.

Tough to dispute.

How exactly does one draw a reasonable and accurate picture of outer space? It would appear that Mr. Shermer never had any intention of allowing an alleged psychic to provide evidence which could possibly be construed as legitimate, concocting a ridiculous standard of proof in order to declare the experiment a failure, no matter the result.

Yet when presented with apparently quite credible evidence, rather than seeking to honestly attempt to validate the results, Mr. Sheerer moved the goalposts. Sadly, that makes him worse than just a dishonest skeptic.

Mr. Shermer apparently denies the existence of incredible evidence, no matter how credible it is.

The problem of suffering and death

11049461_10207429301717129_8529110916714375734_n

Derek Denhard

Perhaps the most difficult question my atheist friends like to ask to challenge my belief in God involves the problem of evil, pain and suffering, and our mortality.

Simply stated, the problem is this: how can a benevolent God allow evil to exist and torment us? Why does God allow us to suffer illness, pain, and eventually, death?

When I debated Ed Buckner, former president of American Atheists, I felt like that was the most difficult challenge he posed in his argument advocating atheism.

It’s a very good question, I must admit. I think part of the answer involves free will.

We are given the ability to choose or reject God by the fact the evidence for His existence is not direct, but mostly circumstantial in nature. However, there’s a little bit more to the answer than simply “free will”, in my opinion.

Derek Denhard was my friend. We graduated from the same high school, Savannah Christian, in 1978.

We weren’t exactly what you’d describe as close friends, but every time I ran into Derek after graduation, we always smiled, shook hands, and promised we’d get together soon for dinner. I can’t recall ever exchanging harsh words with the guy. Nobody disliked Derek.

Sadly, we both took “soon” for granted, I’m afraid.

The reason I am writing about Derek in past tense is because recently and quite unexpectedly, he died from a heart attack, at only 54 years old. Younger than me.

Derek seemed far too young. He was far too healthy and happy with his life, blessed with a beautiful family and great joy for life.

This is typically when my own morbid existential questions are posed to God: Why did Derek die? Why wasn’t it me instead? It is a fact that we’re all going to die, sooner or later.

But why did Derek have to die before me? From what I could ascertain from friends and family at the Atlanta visitation, Derek’s worst vice was an ice-cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Without incriminating myself unnecessarily by giving out all the gory details, I believe that I’ve done considerably worse than that to my own body on my best day.

For many years, I drank a Coke for breakfast.

Derek will never get to see his beautiful grandchildren that will surely come one day. I already have three. Quite frankly, that just doesn’t seem fair.

But as Jesus himself said that life isn’t supposed to be fair, in Matthew 5:45 :

…that you will become the children of your Father who is in Heaven, for his sun rises on the good and upon the evil and his rain descends on the just and on the unjust.

I don’t think anybody in their right mind would claim that Derek deserved to die anymore than any of us can claim that we deserve to live.

As testament to the life Derek lived, more than a thousand people came to the funeral home in Atlanta to pay their respects to his family. A two hour visitation lasted four hours — the employees at the mortuary said they couldn’t remember a larger turnout for a funeral.

Clearly, Derek was well-loved, and he will be sorely missed by family and friends alike.

In spite of their sorrow and mourning, Derek’s family take solace from the joy of his memory, and they find comfort in their firm belief, stated more than once and by more than one family member, that they will see Derek again, when they die.

I believe that, too. Derek was a man with faith. I’ll look forward to seeing him on the other side.

The problem of pain, suffering, and death doesn’t seem to make sense, until we realize that without experiencing pain, we don’t understand the meaning of pleasure — it would have no meaning, in fact.

Everything would be pleasant. Without knowing sorrow, we can’t truly appreciate joy.

Nothing helps us recognize the need to cherish the life we have more than the untimely death of a well-loved friend. Take nothing for granted. Be thankful for every day you have.

And make sure the people you love realize it.

Derek obviously did.

 

The Spiritual Brain and the God helmet

images-4In a very good book written by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, titled The Spiritual Brain, (I would give it five stars, if I rated books with stars at my website) there is a chapter called “The Strange Case of the God Helmet” which describes a physical device that “scientists” place on their head so that low-powered magnets can stimulate the temporal lobes of the test subject.

Seriously. The tin-foil hat crowd now has legitimate competition.

Only a person who doesn’t believe God exists and has apparently become desperate to prove it would deliberately try to artificially simulate the effect that belief in God has on people of faith.

About neuroscientist Michael Persinger (co-inventor of the God helmet) Beauregard wrote:

Echoing Dawkins, Persinger has called religion “an artifact of the brain” and a “cognitive virus.” (page 81)

Speaking of Richard Dawkins, he had to try the helmet dawkinsingodhelmethimself, of course, but he didn’t any of the hallucinations the helmet can allegedly sometimes cause.

Persinger attributed the failure of Dawkins to “experience God” using the helmet was due to his “well below average” score in temporal lobe sensitivity to magnetic fields, whatever that means.

Of course, Persinger had to publish the results of his 2002 “study” in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. Beauregard (and O’Leary) wrote:

Persinger concluded two things: that the experience of a sensed presence can be manipulated by experiment, and that such an experience “may be the fundamental source for phenomena attributed to visitations by gods, spirits, and other ephemeral phenomena. The first conclusion is a research result that should be able to be replicated if it is valid. The second is, of course, an opinion. (page 84)

Persinger is far from the only atheist looking for the scientific explanation for religious experience.  Though he claims his work is agnostic, Dean Hamer has been looking for God in our genes. Hamer was quoted by Beauregard and O’Leary as saying:

I think we follow our basic law of nature, which is that we’re a bunch of chemical reactions running around in a bag. (page 48)

This is why atheism can be such a hard sell — that’s not exactly a cheery outlook on life, is it?

Probably he best two chapters (my favorites) in The Spiritual Brain were called “Are the Mind and Brain Identical?” and “Toward a Nonmaterialist Science of Mind.”

Beauregard gets to the heart of why the famous account of corroborated veridical information learned during the neurosurgery of Pam Reynolds, known as “Operation Standstill.” He writes,

Pam’s case is unique for two reasons. First, she had the experience at a time when she was fully instrumented under medical conditions and known to be clinically dead. Clinical death is the state in which vital signs have ceased: the heart is in ventricular fibrillation, there is a total lack of electrical activity on the cortex of the brain (flat EEG), and brain-stem is abolished (loss of the corneal reflex, fixed and dilated pupils, and loss of the gag reflex.) Second, she was able to recall verifiable facts about her surgery that she could not have known if she were not in some way conscious when these events were taking place. [emphasis added] (page 155)

How can a person be conscious and clinically dead at the same time?

There seems to be only two alternatives: either liars have conspired to perpetrate a fraud for no discernible benefit, or Pam’s experience defied natural law.

Why on earth would anyone strap a helmet on their head designed to alter their brain waves with magnetic forces to force a fake hallucinogenic effect as a false religious experience?

Sincere prayer is a much more effective means of making a real connection with God.

 

Hector Avalos: world’s biggest hypocrite?

4cd86d8eaeca7.imageI used to think that Al Gore was the biggest hypocrite in the world as he flew around in his private jet, and the inconvenient truth that he bought an $8.875 million dollar oceanfront property, after scaring the sellers into believing the oceans are about to rise and drown everyone on the coast.

For Al to really believe his own nonsense, he’d have to understand geography about as well as Congressman Hank Johnson, who once thought the addition of eight thousand Marines to the island of Guam might cause the entire island to capsize.

Surely Al didn’t think the oceans would rise twenty feet on the east coast while sea level remained the same on the west coast.  He couldn’t possibly be that dumb, could he?

Remember, for eight years Gore was only a heartbeat (or impeachment conviction) away from becoming the 43rd President of the United States.

Personally, I think famous hoaxer P. T. Barnum would have been proud to call Al his son, I think, because it would be absolutely stupid to pay millions of dollars for oceanfront property if you really think it will be underwater in a few years. Nobody that stupid has millions of dollars for very long.

But I think Al has nothing on Hector Avalos, an atheist college professor with some really big cohones.

Avalos is (allegedly) a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. The need for qualifying his professional title should become quite obvious, by the very next sentence.

Almost eight years ago Hector Avalos wrote a book called The End of Religious Studies.

Yet Avalos continues to draw a hefty paycheck from Iowa State for teaching ‘religious studies.’ What irony! Now is this a great country, or what?

On the other hand…if that isn’t hypocrisy, what is?

His most recent published book isn’t available though Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,  or Amazon.  It seems to be exclusively offered through the publisher’s web page, apparently considered an academic work intended for young skulls full of mush. Nothing else could explain to me what would make this “scholarly” book worth a whopping $95 for the hardcover copy of The Bad Jesus. (even $35 just for the paperback?)

Avalos has a long history of cherry-picking verses from the Bible and weaponizing them against Christians as it suits his purposes — for example, to justify his support for gay marriage and suggest the Bible condoned polygamy.

I’m struggling to wrap my mind around this glaring contradiction. Why has this man kept his job? And why does he even want it, considering he’s the guy arguing for evolution theory in a debate about creationism? Does he need the easy paycheck that bad?frontpagecolumbo1

Unless I am misunderstanding something, as many as eight long years ago, Hector Avalos wrote a book effectively arguing that he shouldn’t have his job — that his job shouldn’t exist. I believe him, and wholeheartedly agree that taking his course would be useless.

Therefore Professor Avalos should resign. Immediately.

There isn’t a nice way of putting it — a guy who’s an atheist taking a paycheck to teach religious studies (that he has admitted he doesn’t believe is worthwhile) is committing academic fraud.

Avalos might know something about the Bible, but he obviously knows nothing at all about God.

I almost pity the charlatan.

Truth Be Known

southernprose_cover_CAFG

I’ve been a fan of Neil Young’s music going all the way back to his days with Buffalo Springfield.

Truth Be Known” is one of my favorite songs by Neil  (backed by Pearl Jam minus Eddie Vedder, with Neil on lead vocals), on his CD Mirror Ball.

Pearl Jam fans — please don’t rush out to buy the CD just because Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are playing rhythm and lead guitars behind Neil, and Jeff Ament is on bass. You might be disappointed.

At least, listen to “I’m the Ocean” and “Big Green Country” before you make a purchase decision either way. In fairness, at the very least, you need to be aware that Eddie Vedder only sings a single verse on one song. It’s not a Pearl Jam album, by any stretch of the imagination.

Fans of Neil Young, however,..shame on you if you don’t already own a copy. Neil’s vocals are an acquired taste, but you’ve already acquired it, right? The guys from Pearl Jam certainly seemed to have invigorated Young on the 1995 release. I especially liked the guitar work of Gossard and McCready on “Big Green Country”, and the lyrics from one particular verse in “Truth Be Known” that went:

When the fire that once was your friend
Burns your fingers to the bone
And your song meets a sudden end
Echoing through right and wrong
Truth be known…

There is great wisdom in those words — nothing hurts worse than being betrayed by a friend. Try to imagine what Jesus must have felt like, when Judas kissed his cheek.

Of course, if you’re a conspiracy theorist like D. M. Murdock, you may not even believe Jesus existed. By strange coincidence, a rather famous (in mythicist circles, at least) internet personality, Ms. Murdock (a.k.a. Acharya S.) owns the website provocatively titled Truth Be Known.

Presumably, the idea being conveyed by the name is that Ms. Murdock is some sort of extraordinarily gifted researcher who has learned truths that other people simply don’t know.

Ms. Murdock is perfectly willing to generously impart her wisdom to the masses through an astonishing array of products offered at bargain prices, of course. I certainly don’t fault Ms. Murdock for trying to sell her books, but she might better serve her readers to market her work as fiction, rather than the product of tireless research that may not be everything it’s cracked up to be.

After all, selling a book is sort of the point of writing one. Truth be known, the reason I used the cover photo for my book for this article was twofold: articles look better and catch the readers eye more frequently with at least one image embedded. Visual images tend to catch our eyes more easily than text, especially when a link to the article is posted on Facebook.

The other reason is related to marketing–shameless self promotion, if you will. Someone may actually click on the book cover and follow the link to Amazon to buy Counterargument for God, or perhaps one of my other books.

If you like what I write on my blog, just imagine how much better my work is when my editors cut out all the unnecessary banter. Of course, they’d cut all the stuff about Neil Young to keep me right on point, instead of letting me meander my way there.

However, let’s focus the spotlight back on our “independent scholar” Ms. Murdock, the inspiration for this article who among other things claims to be a polyglot (fluent in multiple languages) and a former trench master on archaeological digs in Corinth, Greece and Connecticut, whatever that means.

The ever-talented Ms. Murdock apparently researches, writes, edits, and publishes her work with very little help. She claims to have read (and translated) thousands of original sources written in multiple languages, even making the extraordinary assertion that she “had to teach herself hieroglyphics and ancient Egyptian on the spot as [she] was going along” in this interview promoting her book Christ in Egypt — The Horus/Jesus Connection

Wow! Really? How did she manage this remarkable feat? I can barely manage to string together a few sentences in English, most of the time. But how did she verify her translation was accurate? By any chance, is there some special version of Rosetta Stone for the actual Rosetta Stone?

Now Ms. Murdock’s most famous contribution to contemporary culture was her key role in development of the cult classic conspiracy theorist film titled Zeitgeist.

Someone needs to remind me…what is the saying my atheist friends parrot so frequently? Oh, yes. I remember now. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And quid est veritas? happens to be one of my favorite questions, one that Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the Christ in response when Jesus said he was “witness to the truth.”

(Translated into English) Pilate simply replied, “What is truth?” Now that’s a really great question that I’m constantly asking myself. What is truth? And conversely, what is B.S.?

So let’s get to the point — how seriously should we take the claims of Ms. Murdock, whose academic credentials consist of a Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (Classics, Greek civilization) from Franklin and Marshall University? Perhaps we can learn something about her credibility from reputable academic sources. For example, while giving his readers an update on his ongoing feud with Richard Carrier about the historicity of Jesus, professor Bart Ehrman happened to mention “Acharya S.”, writing:

     A case in point of my “carelessness and arrogance” is the first instance of an “Error of Fact” that he [Carrier] cites, which I assume he gives as his first example because he thinks it’s a real killer.   It has to do with a statue in the Vatican library that is of a rooster (a cock) with an erect penis for a nose (really!) which Acharya S, in her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, indicates is “hidden in the Vatican Treasury” (that damn Vatican: always hiding things that disprove Christianity!) which is a “symbol of Saint Peter” (p. 295).
In her discussion, Acharya S indicates that Jesus’ disciple Peter was not only the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church, but also the “cock.”  Get it?  They rhyme!   Moreover, the word cock is slang for penis (hard as a “rock,” one might think); and what is another slang word for penis?  Peter!   There you have it.  And so when there is a statue of a cock with a rock-hard peter for a nose, this symbolizes Peter, the disciple of Jesus.  No wonder the popes have kept this thing in hiding.
My comment on this entire discussion was simple and direct:  “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.”images-3

Wow. I’m not surprised people buy her garbage posing as nonfiction, but some of them actually believe such nonsense? A secret statue of a rooster with a penis nose, hidden by the Vatican? Even Dan Brown would have a hard time making up a story that absurd. But I’ll admit that I am laughing out loud.

I don’t exactly blame Ms. Murdock for writing such silliness. Nobody is putting a gun to the head of people who buy it.

And what else can one do with a liberal arts bachelor’s degree focused on ancient Greek civilization? Flip burgers for minimum wage? I’m guessing that her options are rather limited. I would suggest that her books are all harmless nonsense, except crazed mass murderer Jared Loughner was allegedly obsessed with and his subsequent behavior heavily influenced by the movie Zeitgeist, which prominently featured “information” culled from Murdock’s work.

I also know that Loughner killed several innocent people during his attempt to assassinate Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and close friends blamed the brainwashing effect the film had on him. But that is their opinion on record, the close friends of Loughner, not mine. I have no opinion on the movie’s influence on Loughner’s state of mind. I’ve never even met the guy.

To be brutally honest, I had almost forgotten about that ugly incident. Loughner’s victims probably haven’t, though. Perhaps “harmless” nonsense was a poor choice of words, though.

What drew my attention to the work of D. M. Murdock only this morning was her “analysis” of the evidence regarding the Shroud of Turin, which I also investigated to some degree, reaching far different conclusions than she.

I couldn’t help but notice that for an alleged polyglot, Ms. Murdock seems strangely unable to comprehend her native tongue.

She relies exclusively on the statements of former STURP member John Jackson to challenge the recent claims of a peer-reviewed research paper that asserted the sample material on which the carbon dating tests were performed were taken from a damaged section of the shroud that had undergone “modern” repairs using cotton fabric, alleged to have occurred in the sixteenth century. When I wrote my article, I wasn’t even aware that Jackson had stated his opinion for the record, and since Ray Rogers took point on the effort to debunk the 2000 paper written by Marino and Bedford and actually reviewed the their evidence and the remnants of the original test material and found cotton, I’d be inclined to give the opinion of Rogers more weight than the speculation of his fellow team member.

Most curiously, Ms. Murdock cited a statement from the Associated Press reporting a statement from a dubious organization known as CSICOP, claiming that blood evidence on the shroud “had been definitively proved [emphasis added] to be composed of red ocher and vermilion tempera paint.”

Sorry, but there’s no way to sugarcoat it but to say that is anything other than an outright lie.  Nothing of the sort has been “definitively proved.” The ONLY experts who have been allowed by the Catholic church to scientifically examine the shroud were the scientists involved in STURP.

So who exactly are these “experts” being cited by Ms. Murdock and CSICOP who definitively proved anything scientifically, in regard to the shroud? The official summary from STURP included the following statement:

We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.

That isn’t paint, Ms. Murdock.The scientific opinion of the real STURP experts were stated for the official record in plain English, and they said the substance on the shroud was blood.

Given your history, I don’t know that I’m all that surprised to find out you seem to have a penchant for making things up as you go along. But truth be known, you can’t claim that I burned your fingers to the bone. We have never been friends, and I seriously doubt we will ever be.

I value honesty from my friends.