Christianity

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.

Class is in session: Bart Ehrman’s biblical pop quiz to undergraduates…

Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman (Univ. North Carolina) is famous for giving a short introductory quiz to his undergraduates on their first day of class to test their knowledge of the New Testament. He’s always surprised by how few get more than half correct as they are fairly easy, particularly if you’ve gone to church with any frequency during your life  (he even sometimes offers to buy students a steak dinner if they get more than 8 right, but admits he doesn’t have to buy very often) .

Earlier today he actually posted his questions (you can visit his blog here), so now you can try yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to see if Erhman would be buying me a steak dinner. I’ll post the answers in the next few days. No cheating.

  1. How many books are in the NT?
  2. In what language were they written?
  3. In what century were they written?
  4. Name the Gospels of the NT
  5. Name three Gospels from outside the New Testament
  6. What does the word “Gospel” mean?
  7. According to the Gospels, who baptized Jesus?  Who carried his cross?  Who buried him?
  8. In about what year did Jesus die? What year was he born?
  9. The author of the Gospel of Luke wrote two books.  Name two of them.
  10. What is normally thought to have been the occupations of (a) Matthew and (b) Luke?
  11. Which of the following were Jews?  John the Baptist, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Simon Peter, Tacitus, the Apostle Paul.
  12. What is the shortest verse in the New Testament?

Bart Ehrman comments on Zealot and Reza Aslan

After getting several email inquiries about Reza Aslan’s new book Zealot, biblical scholar Bart Ehrman has commented on the subject via his blog. You can’t read the full post unless you are a subscriber, but I with a few bullet points below. Finally, if you have any interest in biblical studies at all, consider becoming a member of Ehrman’s site, as his commentary is always interesting, the subscriber rate is minimal, and all the proceeds go to charity.

About Zealot, Ehrman notes that:

  • He hasn’t read it yet. The publisher sent him a copy before it was anywhere near a hit book, but Ehrman notes he’s generally swamped with reading scholarship and doesn’t have much time for books written for non-experts.
  • Because it has become such a hit, he has added it to the syllabus for his upcoming class at UNC, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film”.
  • His answer, in short, to the question of “is Reza Aslan a recognized scholar of early Christianity?”, is no.
  • Two other books he often has students read for the “Jesus in Scholarship and Film class” are Elain Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels (which I’ve read, and it’s terrific) and John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (which I have not read but am planning to).

You can dig into these answers quite a bit more by visiting the actual site, so if you’re at all interested I would go here now. I would also suggest, as I have before, checking out some of Ehrman’s own trade books like Jesus Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus.

Does God Exist? William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, First Post-Debate Analysis

If you read my post here, you know WLC and Lawrence Krauss just finished a three-night debate series at various locations throughout Australia. The host organization is currently working on editing the videos, and they should be released soon. In the meantime, I’ve been following Life, the Universe and Nothing’s facebook page to read reactions from those in attendance, trying to piece together how each performed.

As you might expect, comments are mixed, with theists generally siding with WLC and skeptics with Krauss. Surprisingly, however, there is a little buzz suggesting that Krauss actually trounced WLC in the final debate (recall that WLC is almost never beaten in debates by atheists, not because he makes good arguments, but because he’s such a practiced and formidable debater). Here’s a brief review from Christadelphian Unbelievers:

I never thought that I would live to see William Lane Craig beaten in a debate with an Unbeliever; but tonight (16 August 2013) I saw him outgunned by Lawrence Krauss.
The moderated discussion in the Melbourne Town Hall was packed to the back and it was a thrilling night. Bill spoke first with his usual style and closely reasoned arguments. It was WLC at his best and I cringed at the thought of Lawrence having to handle such a strong presentation.But when it was LMK’s turn to speak we were treated to a devastating barrage of blockbuster points one after another that never seemed to end.

The moderated discussion afterwards was poorly moderated by someone who hardly spoke a word and at times looked as if he was reading a newspaper. The two protagonists tore into each other unrelentingly; but WLC sensed that he was fighting a losing battle and before long Krauss had taken over the evening.

In one sense there was nothing new in the points made. It was the dazzling new style of Krauss that amazed me. He’d done his homework, learned from his losses to WLC in the past and lifted his game substantially.

Nevertheless, Bill did well and acquitted himself with his usual dignity. He was firm, but respectful to Lawrence; his keen intelligence added considerable depth to the scintillating discussion. I only wish that the discussion had lasted into the early hours of the morning. It was superb.

I’m excited for the videos, and have been checking for them every day since last week (I will post as soon as they go up). Krauss apparently used a “bullshit” buzzer in the first debate to combat inaccuracies and lies, in addition to creating this post-debate video:

Evangelical Christians Launch Smear Campaign Against Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”

There’s a new book out causing quite a stir in the Christian community – Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I haven’t read it, but from what I’ve gathered listening to interviews (the book has gotten lots of media attention) it covers pretty familiar stuff if you follow biblical scholarship or textual criticism at all (which is not that many people, hence the media stir).

The main argument of the book is to redefine Jesus not as God or someone who thought he was God, but as (one of several) apocalyptic Jews. That is, Jesus was an influential Jewish teacher who taught that the Kingdom of God was coming within his lifetime (aka the apocalypse) and was executed by the Romans for sedition. Later followers of Jesus then created the mythology that became our modern understanding of Christianity.

Again, I want to emphasize that none of this is really new – the idea of Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher has been discussed and debated among mainline scholars  for many decades. See contemporary works by Bart Ehrman, E.P. Sanders, John Meier, Paula Fredriksen, or Dale Allison if you are interested in learning more.

Since I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment on its arguments directly, but what I can comment on is the smear campaign by a small group of conservative Christians to discredit Aslan’s credibility as a scholar. The most sickening part of this is that the reasons they are giving focus on Aslan’s identification as a Muslim – as in, because he’s a Muslim, he can’t be trusted to write responsibly about Jesus. The effort to discredit seems to have come from this Fox News blog by John Dickerson. Members of the smear campaign have completely commandeered the Amazon review section of Zealot – giving the book 1-star reviews and posting such insightful comments as:

The author of this fiction is a confirmed Muslim and not an Historian and is clearly presenting biased opinions. This author clearly has an agenda to present. An agenda that if changed to an analysis of Mohammad would earn a Fatwa.

If you go to the review page, it’s quite sad. The 1-star reviews are almost exclusively by people who obviously haven’t read the book, and many are just copying and pasting pieces of Dickerson’s Fox News blog. The highly rated reviews are also often by Christians, but more reasonable ones who attest to the books merit as a work of history and make a point to say that it did not damage their faith and in fact helped them better understand Jesus and the times he lived in.

The problems with the smear campaign are pretty obvious. First of all, Aslan is rather well qualified to write about the historical Jesus (though he’s not as seasoned as either Ehrman or Borg). He earned a masters of theology from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in the sociology of religions from UC – Santa Barbara. He’s also written several popular books about the history of religion. Second of all, ideas should be judged on merit alone, not on the religious persuasions of their author. Saying Aslan can’t be trusted to write about Christianity because he’s Muslim is like saying an American who studies Middle Eastern history shouldn’t be allowed to write a book about the Middle East. Is a Jewish scholar allowed to write about Jesus? Or an agnostic? Or a catholic (if you happen to be protestant)? Should we only read books that already agree with our points of view? If Aslan’s scholarship is sloppy, that should be easy enough to point out with a few clear examples. But instead of doing that, this group of Christians has stormed Amazon before even reading the book, and begun spouting off that he’s a “devout Muslim” and his book is full of lies. Finally, Aslan, from what I can tell via interviews and debates like this, is a rather liberal practitioner of Islam, in that he seems to suggest the different views (Islam, Christianity, etc) are just unique ways of getting to the same thing – the same water from different wells that is. He’s far from a fundamentalist (which I think they are using “devout” as a euphemism for) and doesn’t seem at all interested in converting anyone to his particular beliefs.

I have not been a major fan of Aslan’s writings or the views he’s expressed in public forums or debates – and we couldn’t have more different views of the divine – but he needs to be defended. The only thing to judge is the idea, not the person. A faith that can be destroyed by reading different perspectives is not a faith worth having, and trying to dissuade people from information by misinformation is ignoble at best.

So if you want to write a review about Zealot, by all means, do so – but please consider reading it first.

Lawrence Krauss to Debate William Lane Craig – Thank You, Australia!

I’m surprised but very pleased to learn today that physicist Lawrence Krauss and Christian apologist William Lane Craig have agreed to a three-part debate series in Australia to take place this August. Details here. Each night will focus on a different topic:

  • August 7th, “Has science buried God?”
  • August 13th, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
  • August 16th, “Is it reasonable to believe there is a God?”

Krauss of course is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, a respected physicist (there were Nobel rumblings at one point), and more recently a vocal advocate for scientific literacy. Along with Richard Dawkins, he will be the subject of the upcoming documentary, The Unbelievers (see Richard’s reason for not debating Craig here). William Lane Craig (or WLC) is a philosopher, theologian, and popular Christian apologist (though popular mostly with the public, not so much intellectuals – see post here). He also has a somewhat well-deserved reputation as a formidable debater.

The two have gone head to head before, but I think Krauss clearly “lost” in terms of style. You can watch the whole thing here, but be warned the audio quality is poor. Krauss is much too loose, informal, unprepared, and at times discusses scientific concepts in far too much detail to get his point across. That said, he’s gotten much better (I think this was one of his earliest attempts at debating a theologian), and you can watch a more recent debate here (Intelligence Squared) and his fantastic Science of Storytelling series here (featuring Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Brian Greene, among others).

I’m not sure who’s the favorite in this match-up. Looking solely at the last time they debated, I’d be forced to go with WLC, but if the format is informal, as Krauss prefers and WLC dislikes, then it could be very interesting. Directly below is a debate WLC had with philosopher Shelly Kagan, in which he looks more uncomfortable than ever because of the conversational style of the latter half. And directly below that video is a debate where Krauss got a little angry (they tried to segregate women and men in the audience at the start of the event) and took it out on poor Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, repeatedly calling attention to his ignorance of science and mathematics.

Here’s looking forward to August!

Secular Humanists Don’t Give? Joe Klein, Dale McGowan, and the Kiva Leaderboard

Atheists Don't Give?

When the set of devastating tornadoes struck Oklahoma not too long ago, I sent out an email to my coworkers directing them to four reputable organizations they could donate through (on the advice of this article). These included the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army (though if I’d known this then, I probably would have left them out), Operation USA, and the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief. I personally donated through the Foundation Beyond Belief because I had been alerted to the fund earlier that morning via the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Only a few days ago, respected Time Magazine journalist Joe Klein wrote an article called “Can Service Save Us?” and insinuated that secular humanists did little to aid relief in the area:

“…But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon…”

This comment was rightly ridiculed by representatives of the many thousands of secular humanists who had donated their time and money to disaster relief in Oklahoma, and elsewhere around the country both in the recent and distant past. Dale McGowan, executive director of the Foundation Beyond Belief, has written a marvelous response to Joe Klein in the Washington Post, which you can read here.

But what I found most telling was something in the comment section of McGowan’s article. A user casually pointed out the current team giving standings on Kiva, the popular micro-lending site. Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, and Freethinkers are by far the most generous lenders, currently outpacing “Kiva Christians” by approximately $4 million. Come on, Christians, are you perhaps forgetting Matthew 19:21 (or am I overlooking a conflict with Exodus 22:25…it’s difficult to keep these straight, no?)?

If you are someone who needs God to be a good person, that’s terrific – just don’t go around assuming everyone else does too.

 

On Correcting Bookstore Mistakes – Intelligent Design is Not Science

A few days ago, I took a trip to a small town in central Texas and, as is habit, stopped by a local bookstore. I was a little shocked (though maybe I shouldn’t have been) to find two fringe “science” books displayed prominently near the door: Stephen C. Meyer’s recently released “Darwin’s Doubt” and physician Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven“. The rest of this particular bookstore’s science section, meanwhile, was suspiciously weak, relegated to one small wall of five shelves and containing only three or four volumes on Darwinian evolution. The Christianity section, meanwhile, stretched across six aisles.

Meyer’s book, which I have not read, apparently advocates for Intelligent Design (a movement that should be categorized as religion, not science – see overview here, description of the Discovery Institute’s “wedge strategy” here, and if you have lots of time, a fantastic PBS documentary on the controversy here). Alexander’s book, “Proof of Heaven” is even more offensive as a representation of responsible science. You should first read his account here (he, like many others, had a NDE, or near-death experience, that he says proves consciousness exists outside the brain) and then read Sam Harris’ response here, which rightly decimates such a stupendous claim. The two most important points to remember – being a neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you actually understand neuroscience all that well (cutting brains is not the same as studying them), and being highly educated doesn’t mean you have much critical thinking capacity (since he wrote a book, he apparently emerged from his COMA, so isn’t it much more likely he had his NDE as he was regaining consciousness, and not while completely “brain-dead”?).

Proof of Heaven?

Bookstores have no obligation to maintain a balanced inventory of material. They are businesses that need to cater to customer demands in order to make a profit and survive. But I can’t help feeling sad that customers in this particular location (and probably numerous others throughout the country) are in some way being cheated out of access to proper science and instead being fed garbage.

I did the only thing I could think of – moved Meyer’s book out of the thin science section and put it where it belonged, in the middle of the Christian apology aisle (well, it was more of a wing).

Watch Where You Give: The Salvation Army and Homosexuality

I hate to admit this, but I’ve had a serious case of “head in the sand” about the Salvation Army. I have always known that they are an organization based on Christian principles, having volunteered with them several times over the last few years, but I had no idea they held such a fundamental stance on homosexuality.

The article below brought it home, with Major Andrew Craibe, a Salvation Army Media Relations Director in Australia, essentially agreeing that homosexuals should be put to death (because, you know, it’s what Scripture says). He did this on the record, folks! I’ve never heard such an ignorant remark from a major charitable organization like SA. I immediately rushed to investigate whether this was the view held by the organization as a whole, and luckily it wasn’t (see this HuffPo article which is a little better researched than that below), but their stance is still remarkably benighted.

I will no longer be volunteering with the Salvation Army, and am tempted to stop my donations altogether as well (yes even in the red buckets during Christmas). Plenty of organizations with more humane philosophies can meet the same needs and I don’t want my cash spreading hate or intolerance in any way.

FULL ARTICLE HERE: “Salvation Army Says, “Gays Need to Be Put to Death”

The Blind Men And The Elephant – Reblogged from The Rookie Theologian

Re-posting an interesting article from this blog that highlights another example of Matt Chandler’s skilled rhetoric and deceptively poor logic. Again, this is why I think Chandler is dangerous – he’s sophisticated and entertaining enough to maintain credibility with his congregation (you can just imagine his parishioners nodding their heads in agreement during the referenced sermon), but not quite smart enough to well…reason effectively. I’m not qualified to comment on the weaknesses or merits of his personal theology, but I suspect it has its problems too (if he can make such glaring logical mistakes like in the post below and in this video, how can anyone trust him to interpret the Bible?!?)

Post starts now (click the link below to read in full):

The Blind Men And The Elephant

The Neo-Calvinist preacher Matt Chandler, who belongs to the same doctrinal camp as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, is responsible for this video. But before I get into discussing the video’s content let me first say that while Chandler and his cohorts may lay claim to “bare-bones Gospel” theology, what they proclaim is just as much a culturally and historically derived variant of Christianity as any that can be found in the theological marketplace of Protestantism. They all claim that their orthodoxy and orthopraxy parallel that of the early Church in Pre-Constantinian Christianity, but this is simply not the case. Chandler, Driscoll, and Piper all adhere to a denominational form of Christianity that is the product of thousands of years of religious evolution. Unfortunately, these men are some of the loudest voices representing Christianity in America. It is important that we remember that they do not speak for all of Christianity, but only a single form of it. With that being said, let’s move on to the video.

The video is called “The Elephant and Blind Men Contradiction.” As its name suggests, the video is Chandler’s response to The Blind Men And The Elephant, a parable by John Godfrey Saxe, which addresses the mutually incomplete and imperfect understandings of God in the world’s enduring religious traditions. Chandler’s claim is that there is a philosophical contradiction in the parable that undermines its central message. What I am going to do here is argue for the parable’s philosophical validity.

Here we go…

continue reading at: The Blind Men And The Elephant.