Month: August 2013

The Skeptics Annotated Bible – the newest addition to my collection

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

Behold, the newest addition to my collection of bibles (sadly I only own one copy of the Koran). This is the Skeptics Annotated Bible and it’s fairly new to the market (I believe it was originally an internet project and is still available for free online). You might have guessed, but it’s the first Bible published from a nonbeliever’s point of view, carefully noting each verse that falls into one of the following categories: absurdity (2,178 instances), injustice (1,541), cruelty and violence (1,316), intolerance (701), contradictions (462), conflicts with science and history (428), misogyny and insults to women (384), sex (253), false prophecy and misquotes (231), and a few more, including “good stuff” (507).

The translation is the King James Version, which is a bonus because that’s one I didn’t own before. I’ve already thumbed through a bit and it’s great, though lacking detail in terms of historical context – for that I’ve got the ESV study edition along with the NET, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in getting as close as possible to our earliest manuscripts.

Finally, the SAB is beautiful – it’s leather-bound with an easy-to-read font – and looks right at home next to the others:

Bible bookshelf

Debate reflection: Lawrence Krauss vs. William Lane Craig in Melbourne

I’ve now watched two of the three “Life, the Universe and Nothing” debates between cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (LK) and apologist/theologian William Lane Craig (WLC), and wanted to share my reflections. While some will undoubtedly try, it is impossible to assert who really “won” in any of these debates – they are (thankfully) better described as dialogues – and you’ll notice that in any event most opinions about such a thing tend to line up with the person’s preferences beforehand. I will try my best to be objective, but to guard against any bias will also make a point to post reviews that differ with mine as I find them. Of course, the best thing you can do if you’re interested is to simply watch the debates yourself.

First, to mimic Krauss’ opening statement in the Brisbane debate (I’ll post my reflections on Brisbane later), I want to lay out my biases in detail. I consider WLC a minor intellectual (case in point, he’s more famous for his activity on the debate circuit and for his Christian apology books than for any scholarly work or major contributions to philosophy), and think he is often deceitful in his use of language and argument. He is, in my opinion, much more style than substance, and has a habit of making sweeping generalizations about areas outside his specialty, namely ancient history and cosmology, as well as taking others’ words out of context and/or distorting their intended views. I have also never seen him (and can hardly imagine him doing so) concede that he was or has ever been wrong. This last point is a major concern, as it’s difficult to trust someone who is not legitimately open to changing his or her opinion given new arguments or information.

Also, in full disclosure, I think the ethos of science – characterized namely by skepticism, peer-review, open inquiry, and test-ability – is more effective at determining truth than the general ethos of religion – characterized namely by deferral to authority, tradition, revelation, and personal experience.

With that said, I will just make the following observations about the dialogue in Melbourne, for which the topic was “Is a belief in God reasonable?”:

  • LK over-stated the similarities between Jesus and contemporary pagan/mythic Gods like Dionysus, Krishna, Horus, et al. The tropes of these mythic stories do have similarities with Jesus, including virgin births and resurrections, but I agree with WLC that the evidence Jesus was a whole-sale copy of any of these Gods is lacking. If anyone knows of credible scholarship in this area, please let me know, as I’ve been unable to find much.
  • I think WLC is (charitably) exaggerating when he says the testimony of the Gospels can be traced to “within 5 years” of Christ’s death. This seems absurdly early compared to the estimates I’ve heard elsewhere, and he would have to get there indirectly because the earliest written accounts we have do not come up until at least 20 years after Christ’s death. Again, any sources on this would be helpful.
  • LK is a bit out of his element in discussing morality and moral philosophy, and does much better when sticking to questions of science and particularly physics. That’s not to say Krauss is wrong, because I actually agree with him, but he’s just not as well-versed as Craig in this area and it gives the impression he’s losing the argument. Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan does a terrific job handling Craig on the question of morality in this debate.
  • Craig’s syllogisms, as Krauss correctly points out, are over-simplistic and based on premises that are likely wrong and very far from certain. Time and time again, what is astounding to me as I watch William Lane Craig present his 6 arguments (he always offers the same six) is how tenable the premises are, yet how certain he seems of their conclusions. The Cosmological Argument, for example, does what’s known in introductory logic as “begging the question” that is, assuming the conclusion in a premise intended to confirm the conclusion. To show how over-simplistic Craig’s syllogisms are, Krauss gave the audience a humorous one: “1) All mammals display homosexual tendencies, 2) William Lane Craig is a mammal … ” In any event, even if Craig’s syllogisms were proved correct, they wouldn’t get you from deism to theism, and certainty not from theism to Christianity. Debate opponents, other than Hitchens, tend to forget to point this out to Craig.
  • To me, the most effective part of Krauss’ strategy in this debate was just to continually ask Craig, “how do you know that?” and to show that there is nothing like absolute certainty in cosmology or ancient history, and that it’s therefore unreasonable to make such grand claims – and God is certainly a grand claim – without equally grand evidence.
  • Krauss effectively argues that Craig’s arguments could be used to support almost all the creation myths. Craig demurs on this, pointing out that few non-Christian creation stories having creation literally coming from nothing, but Krauss again argues that if you take those other stories metaphorically, they could just as well be supported by his syllogisms. He also traps Craig in highlighting the contradiction between saying the Bible isn’t a science textbook on one hand, then pulling out the pieces that agree with science and trying to prop it up as a book prescient of modern cosmology.
  • I think Craig’s weakest argument is the one regarding the resurrection. He – and this makes me pull my hair out every time I hear it – seems convinced that it’s actually more likely that 1) God exists (NOT a trivial assumption) 2) the Bible is true 3) Jesus was divine 4) Jesus rose from the dead and 5) Jewish oral tradition was immaculate, than it is that somebody stole Christ’s body and/or his followers either hallucinated or made-up visions. We have evidence for the latter happening all the time (think of UFO’s or the many cults that go in and out of existence each decade), but absolutely no evidence for someone rising from the dead (or of oral tradition being remotely consistent over large swaths of time). How is the former more reasonable than the latter? Craig seems to distort the alleged visions of Christ into a very narrow band, whereas he images hundreds of people having almost identical, independent experiences of Jesus at the same time. There’s just no objective evidence for that, and it’s such a cartoony, simplistic way to imagine the past that I feel embarrassed for him every time he utters it – he’s just so committed to believing in the Bible that he will ignore any evidence against it.

Before watching this debate, I heard rumors that Krauss dominated. I don’t think that’s the case (I actually think he did better in Brisbane), but I do think he was effective in showing uncertainty as a very real issue in cosmology and history, and thus demonstrated the inherent problems with Craig’s overly simplistic syllogisms.

Krauss seemed at times tired and more than frustrated at having to engage with a man who is so unlikely to ever change his views. As LK pointed out several times, Craig “assumes the answer before even asking the question,” and I can’t think of anything more opposed to reason than that.

 

Watch Now: William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, Melbourne debate now up!

The Melbourne discussion between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss has now been posted (meaning we’re only waiting on the one in Sydney). Jerry Coyne has a good overview of all the events here, and you can read my previous posts as well.

“Is it reasonable to believe in God?”

Answers to Ehrman’s Bible quiz, part 1:

I posted bible scholar Bart Ehrman’s pop-quiz to undergraduates at UNC in this post, and he’s just come out with half the answers. Don’t look until you’ve taken it!

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  1. How many books are in the NT? 27.  I tell them that this is an easy one.  Here’s why: if you think of the NT, you think about God, and specifically about the Christian God, and therefore specifically about the Trinity.  And what is 27?  3 to the 3rd power (3 x 3 x 3).   It’s a miracle!   (Also there are 3 letters in New and 9 in Testament so 3×9 = 27)
  1. In what language were they written? Yes, Greek.  But some of my students don’t know that.  A good number think the answer is Hebrew; some think it’s Aramaic; and only a very few think it’s English.  I’ve never understood the Hebrew thing, but I think it’s because whenever there’s a Jesus documentary on the History Channel or Discovery or whatever, they flash up Hebrew manuscripts as backdrop, and so people associate Hebrew with Jesus.  (Plus, he was a Jew; Hebrew is language of ancient Jews; and so on).  In any event,  I use this question to talk to them about Greek as the lingua franca of the Roman Empire even though the language of Rome was Latin, and this lets me say a few things about Alexander the Great and the significance of Hellenization in the Mediterranean.
  1. In what century were they written? Yes, some of you pointed out this is problematic.  For the answer I accept first century CE.  And I also accept first and (some) second century CE.  I use this answer to explain to them that we will not be using AD and BC  (and I tell them that if they *do* use them, AD needs to  precede the date – it’s AD 1984, not 1984 AD – and BC follows the date) (moreover AD does not mean “After Death” the way I learned in grade school!! If it *did*, we’d be missing 30 years somewhere….) but CE and BCE, and I explain why historians prefer these dates.  I also have a chance to explain why we have the calendar we have, who devised it (Diogenes Exiguus – a Latin name meaning “Dennis the Short” – in the 8th century CE), how it is that there was no year Zero, and sundry related things.
  1. Name the Gospels of the NT. This is the one every student gets right.  Good for them!  If I have time I explain that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not actually written by people who called themselves Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but that they are all anonymous, only later to be attributed to these people.  If I have a lot of time I tell them that the first one to make these attributions was Ireneus in 180 CE, and I say a few things about anonymity, pseudonymity, and so on.   But I do make the point that even though these (decades later) came to be attributed to apostles, they originally circulated without names attached to them.   Students haven’t heard that before!  (Although, as should be painfully obvious, they haven’t hear a lot of things before…  Or if they have, it passed right through them)
  1. Name three Gospels from outside the New Testament. Given the Zeitgeist, most students do know that there are other Gospels not found in the New Testament, though most of them are hardpressed to name any of them.  In this case some students were able to name the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Judas.  Occasionally someone will know the Gospel of Mary.  Someone this time suggested the Gospel of James, and I had to count it, since we have the Protevangelium Jacobi, the “Proto-Gospel of James.”
  1. What does the word “Gospel” mean? Some of the students knew this one:  “Good news.”   We get it from Old English gōd-spell (good tidings) itself a translation of the Greek (not sure through what avenues) “euanggelion” (eu = good; aggellion = news), the word from which we get “evangelist.”  And that’s why the four Gospel writers are sometimes known as the four Evangelist.  My students get all sorts of tidbits from this little quiz/discussion…..

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How’d you do? I got 5/6 right in this section (I always forget what “gospel” means, even though that’s quite easy), but I have to say, I only know most of these because Ehrman’s books got me interested in historical Christianity.

 

Watch: William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss Brisbane debate. Now up!

It’s here!

See previous post for background. Slight caveat – if you’re not familiar with WLC, you might think the other guy, Lawrence Krauss, is coming across a little rudely. He is, but that’s only because he considers WLC dishonest (see post here ) and agreed to the discussions (this is the first of three) mostly to make that point.

Enjoy:

Life, the Universe and Nothing: Has science buried God? from City Bible Forum on Vimeo.

William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss debate videos to be up tomorrow?

UPDATE 8-28-2013, 7:45am CST: Still nothing posted on the web, but should be sometime today. As far as I’m aware, it will only be the Brisbane video released for now (recall there were 3 events with both WLC and Krauss, and one with just Krauss in Perth). In the meantime, Krauss did tweet an update on his film, The Unbelievers, hinting it may come to NY and LA later this fall:

  1. hope to have update on Unbelievers distribution within a week. Spoiler alert: if you live in NYC or LA think late fall. Elsewhere stay tuned

After weeks of waiting, representatives from Life, the Universe and Nothing have stated that we should expect debate videos from this series featuring cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and apologist William Lane Craig to appear…tomorrow! Now, I’m not sure if that’s tomorrow in Australia, or tomorrow here, but I will post as soon as they are released.

Christians lie for their faith, and I get a personal email from Lawrence Krauss…

A few months ago, I attended a talk hosted by the local chapter of William Lane Craig’s apologist organization, Reasonable Faith. The discussion was centered on whether or not science has disproven God (admittedly no…but it doesn’t seem to point to one either) and was given by a local engineer and nice enough guy with an undergraduate degree in physics. I’m fairly informed of the stock arguments for and against God, particularly as they regard science, and was perhaps naively expecting to learn something. Instead, I was forced to squirm in my seat through an hour and a half of what could at best be called misrepresentations and at worst be called lies.

The presenter took countless quotes from scientists (most of them confirmed atheists) out of context in support of his particular Christian theology, attributing connotations not present in the original formation. He also inserted helping after helping of meta-physics, which is not science, and shouldn’t in my opinion have been part of the discussion since it quickly delved into attacking atheistic arguments that had nothing to do with science – again, not what the promised discussion was supposed to have been focused on. I’m not sure why, but nobody in the audience asked the speaker why 93% of NAS members remained atheists despite all this purported evidence for God…one would have to assume that the best scientists in the world are simply too dim to see the theological implications of their own work, but that you, lucky you, are special enough to see them.

I’m having trouble finding a link to the original physics slides online (you can download the biology version here), but I’ve posted the introductory slide below. You may note that of the three photos he chose to put up, only Dawkins has ever actually been a practicing scientist (and this was from the physics lecture, not biology). Daniel Dennett is a renowned philosopher, and Sam Harris has a neuroscience degree but is essentially an essayist. And really, a 75% youth exodus? Might that be helping to justify the lying?

Does Science Disprove God?

But my point is that the kind of dishonesty I witnessed should be troubling for any genuine Christian who is also committed to scientific and intellectual integrity. There are people out there who are so defensive about their faith that they are literally lying for it, and it reflects poorly on a large segment of believers.

Anyway, knowing physicist Lawrence Krauss had just finished debating William Lane Craig in Australia, I thought I would share with him the dishonesty that WLC’s organization is committed to spreading, so I tracked down the PowerPoint I had downloaded from the meeting and sent it to him via email. He responded almost immediately, and I now have what I consider almost better than an autograph – a personal email from Larry Krauss. Thanks, WLC.