Friday, September 29, 2017

THE VOICE OF GOD

Here is a question for my Christian friends:  Does God ever speak to you personally?

When I was a child, I often talked to God, usually when saying my prayers but sometimes when I really wanted something, like a new toy that I coveted, and I thought God might intervene to make it happen.  When I abandoned my faith in my teens, I stopped talking to God because I believed God was imaginary and I saw no reason to speak to an imaginary being.  But during the time when I believed in God, not once do I recall God speaking personally to me.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

CHOOSING TO BELIEVE

Can you change what you believe just by deciding to?

When I was in my early 20s I thought I had fallen in love.  (True story.)  But there was a problem:  She was a devout Christian, and I had become a steadfast atheist.  She let me know that she felt it was vital to our relationship that we both be Christians.  Given that ultimatum, I told her that I would see what I could do.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

OCKHAM'S RAZOR AND THE GENESIS FLOOD

Anyone who has spent much time studying science or the philosophy of science is at least superficially familiar with Ockham’s Razor.  But what is it?  Well, you can read all about it in Wikipedia here, but the entry is 21 pages long, and it might test your patience.  It did mine, so I thought I would offer my own abbreviated version.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

21ST CENTURY CULT

If the Seventh-day Adventist church had been founded in the 21st century, it would have been a cult.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE WORD OF GOD?

Almost every morning I drive to a nearby Starbucks to get my morning venti dark roast.  Each Wednesday morning I run into a group of four or five men who meet at the Starbucks for Bible study.  Their discussions are generally serious ones, as each pores over his own copy of the Bible.  I am most curious about what passages they are studying, and I confess to eavesdropping sometimes while I am doctoring my coffee.  I have sometimes thought I should ask to join their group and explain, in a respectful way, my secular views on the Bible and on religion in general.  My guess is that they would not be particularly interested, and I wouldn’t want them to feel that I was hijacking their discussion.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AS A CHRISTIAN SYMBOL

What’s with the continuing Christian obsession with the Ten Commandments, anyway?  The most recent was a report that a granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments had been erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.  The monument lasted less than 24 hours.  Early the next morning an individual destroyed it by ramming it with his car.  He stated that, while he was a born-again Christian, he also respected the First Amendment to the Constitution.   The man was taken into custody, suspected of having mental illness issues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE LIFESAVER RELAY

On a Saturday night in the fall of my freshman year my parents dropped me off at a party in the gymnasium of the small parochial high school that I attended.  All the students had been invited to the party, but most of the upperclassmen either had gone to these events before and knew to avoid it or had taken off in the cars that they now had licenses to drive.  As a result, nearly all of the kids remaining were freshmen or sophomores.  A few of the teachers had come to chaperone, but most of the party’s organizers were parents.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

REFLECTIONS ON THE VARIETIES OF ATHEIST EXPERIENCE

I have the sense that persons of faith commonly lump atheists into a single class of nonbelievers, as if all of them have a similar attitude toward religion and the existence of God.  That is not the case.  To borrow a phrase from the philosopher William James, just as there are varieties of religious experience, so there are varieties of atheist experience.  And I thought it might be helpful to describe some of the differences among those varieties of nonbelief.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

CHOOSING TO FORGIVE

Years ago, I participated in a book club discussion regarding The Sunflower, a slim volume of essays that addressed the question of whether it would have been appropriate for a Jewish prisoner in the Holocaust to forgive a dying Nazi guard who was seeking forgiveness for his role in the Nazi atrocities. I was new to the book club and didn’t say much during the discussion, but now I wish I had, because the question addressed by the book struck me as a very odd one.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A CASE STUDY IN FAKE NEWS

A friend forwarded to me without comment a 2017 YouTube video concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster that resulted from a tsunami that hit the Japanese coast in March of 2011.  Here is a cite to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1ECWtWk85k.  I would invite you to watch it.  It’s about five minutes long.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

WHY IS THE UNIVERSE SO YOUNG?

In an earlier post I pointed out that one of the original rationales underpinning belief in a god was the notion that we occupied a special place in the universe, that the earth was in fact the center of the universe, and that we were the reason that the universe existed at all.  Science has shown that that just isn’t true.  The earth is just one of a number of planets circling a mediocre star out on one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy that includes some 200 billion other stars, billions of which have planets that are favorably situated to harbor life, including intelligent life.  Moreover, the Milky Way is just one of perhaps a trillion such galaxies.  In short, there is nothing to support the notion that we are special in any way.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

RHETORICAL QUESTIONS

At the time that the Bible was written, roughly during the millennium running from 800 BCE to 200 CE, we understood that the earth was flat and, importantly, that it was at the center of the universe.  That was understandable since we considered ourselves the most important beings in the universe, the very reason God created the universe in the first place.  We observed that, in addition to the sun and moon, there were stars in the night sky and we surely had observed that some of them (the planets) moved against the otherwise fixed background of stars.  Of course, all of the objects in the sky revolved around the earth, because we could see that they rose and set each day.  We had no idea how large the universe was, since our ability to travel through it was so limited.  But the sky appeared to be a dome that fit over the earth, so that defined the extent of the universe.  Beyond that was God’s realm.  In terms of age, we understood the universe to be old—as we understood that term—as old as all the generations of humans that we could recall or invent stories about.  We believed that the universe, since it was God’s creation, was perfect, but we didn’t know the rules under which it operated, and so we assumed that God continued to “operate” the universe much as a human might operate a mechanical device that he had made.  From time to time there were unexpected celestial events, such as meteors, comets, and eclipses, but we assumed those were orchestrated by God for purposes about which we could speculate.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

HOLY ROLLERS TO CHARISMATICS

In June of 1970 I found myself sitting in the second row under a big top tent in an open field, sweating in the heat and humidity of an early summer evening.  But this was no circus.  Instead, I watched as dozens of animated and agitated people lined up in front of a low stage, waiting eagerly to be struck on the forehead by a man in a business suit.   But this story really began more than 15 years earlier.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RUNNING FOR GOD

From early childhood most of us have been taught that there is one God.  Not only did he create everything, but he has always been in charge.  He sets the rules and commands both loyalty and obedience.  Anyone who challenges his authority (e.g., Lucifer and his band of dissidents) is subject to being exiled, and humans who fail to believe in him and to worship him may be destined for perdition.  In essence, we are taught, God runs a classic dictatorship.

But what if creation were not a dictatorship but a democracy?  What if we got to elect our deity and God was up for reelection?   Would you vote for him?  Or would you support a different candidate on the basis that someone else could do a better job, that it’s time for a fresh administration?  Or would you throw your own hat in the ring?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

FAITH HEALING AND THE RESURRECTION: EVALUATING THE EVIDENCE

The other day I stumbled onto a video clip that featured a “faith healer” who was working to heal a subject who appeared to have one arm shorter than the other.  The subject was standing with his arms stretched out in front of him, his palms facing each other and touching.  But the subject’s palms did not match up.  Instead, it appeared that his left arm (on the side toward the camera) was about two inches shorter than the right.  The healer was frantically waving his arms over the subject’s hands, and as he did, the subject’s left hand slowly started to move to line up with the right.  When eventually the subject’s two hands coincided, the crowd, as they say, went wild.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A SECULAR DEATH

In early December of last year we lost my wife’s father.  By nearly every measure, Frank had had a extraordinarily long and interesting life, and we viewed his passing as cause for the celebration of a life rather than the mourning of a death.  I’m sure he would feel the same way.  I thought I would share here a few of my personal thoughts regarding our relationship and his passing.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

FRANKENSTEIN SOAP AND THE BIBLE

I don’t know about you, but when a bar of soap gets down to a sliver, I don’t throw it away.  Instead, I press it on to a new bar so that I can use up the rest of it in the course of using the next bar.  But that’s not what my mother did when I was growing up.  She didn’t throw the slivers away either; that would have been wasteful and expensive.  Instead, she would save up a bunch of the slivers for months.  And when she had a big enough pile, perhaps 10 or 15, she would put them into hot water to make them pliable and press all of them together into one massive, misshapen lump—Frankenstein soap.

Monday, January 30, 2017

FALSEHOODS, LIES, AND FAKE NEWS

In its purest sense, skepticism is not a philosophy about the nature of reality.  It does not presume to establish specific facts about the history or structure of the world.  Rather, it is about identifying the best method for sifting through the evidence to gain a better understanding of the nature of the world.  Most of my essays on this blog have been in the context of religious thought, because I feel that there is an especially wide gulf between the approach to understanding reality called for by religion and the approach called for by skepticism.  However, for this essay I have wandered into the morass of the media.  Heaven help me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

YOUR GOD IS TOO BIG

Growing up, I was taught that God had three overarching qualities.  He was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.  And for centuries theologians have been defending the belief that the Christian God possesses each of those qualities.  After all, God is . . . well, almighty God.  But I would here argue that history and the general advancement of knowledge, as well as, frankly, the descriptions of God contained in scripture, belie his possession of those three qualities.  

In the past I have argued that God could not possess all three of these qualities.  This argument is based largely on the problem of theodicy—the existence of pain and suffering in the world that God supposedly created.  As a matter of logic one of these supposed theistic qualities must not be true.  

In this essay I am taking this two steps further.  I am arguing that, based on what we know about the world, the Christian God would have none of those qualities.  He would be neither all-powerful nor all-knowing nor all-loving.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A BRIEF NOTE ON NOMENCLATURE—EVOLUTION: THEORY OR FACT

One of advantages of writing essays for my blog has been that the discipline forces me to test my points of view and, if necessary, modify or at least refine them.  This essay represents one such refinement.  In past references to evolution, I have often avoided using the term “theory” on the assumption that the principles of evolution are much too firmly established to relegate them to what might be considered “just a theory.”  Upon further reflection, I have decided that there is nothing wrong with referring to evolution as a theory.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

VETTING STORIES ON SOCIAL MEDIA

A Facebook friend recently sent me a link to an article entitled, “Noah’s Ark Theme Park Destroyed in a Flood.”  It was fake, of course, and we had a good laugh over it.  My guess is, though, that there were plenty of readers who believed the story was true.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A FEW PERSISTENT QUESTIONS

It’s a new year and I thought it would be appropriate to review briefly a few of the differences between my fundamental view of the world and that of my Christian friends.  I am trying to maintain an open mind, but for me these are real stumbling blocks to acceptance of the basic premises of Christian faith.  If anyone feels that he or she has persuasive responses, I would be most interested.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A NOTE ON SKEPTICISM

I want to begin this post with a little quiz.  Easy.  Consider the following propositions:
  1. Vaccines can cause autism in children.
  2. Acupuncture is an effective way to relieve chronic pain.
  3. Humans have free will.
  4. The universe was created by a deity who is omnipotent and who remains involved in human affairs.
  5. Through the intercession of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity for salvation and eternal life.