Revelation, Imagination...or Hallucination?

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The Bible as Word of God, Fatal Flaw #1
One of the most extraordinary claims made by Christians is that God’s only means of communicating with the world is through the mammalian brain of one species. Yes, think about it, that’s it: the three or four pounds of living matter in our skulls. We’re told, of course, that there are several forms of divine revelation, e.g., answered prayer, visions, scripture. But there’s no way to get around it: all of these emerge from human brains; they come out of our heads.

Well, the concept doesn’t work, and it’s not hard to spot the flaws. Why would an all-powerful god, who—you would think—wants to get unambiguous messages across to human beings, have set things up in such slipshod fashion? Couldn’t he have done better? It might have been Carl Sagan who suggested that, instead, a savvy deity could flash messages on a planet-sized billboard on the Moon; that way we could get clear, up-to-date directives from the Overlord of the Cosmos.

The Evidential Value of Conversion/Deconversion Stories. Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 7

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I'm reviewing Mark Mittelberg's book Confident Faith. [See the "Mark Mittelberg" tag below for others].

I want to digress a bit for this post to discuss the value of personal conversion/deconversion stories. [Nomenclature: A conversion story is one which an atheist or nonbeliever becomes a Christian. A deconversion story is one in which a Christian becomes a non-believer or atheist.] In Mittelberg's book, conversion stories seem to play an important role. He discusses the apostle Paul's Damascus Road conversion experience, who was a persecutor of the church then a believer. Then there's Augustine of Hippo's conversion, from out of the pagan religion of Manichaeism. Jumping to our time he tells us of Lee Strobel, an atheist who turned evangelical, and the late Nabeel Qureshi, who was a Muslim but later became an evangelical after discussions with David Wood, who has his own shocking conversion story from atheist to evangelical Christian (which has 825K hits so far!). There is Mark Mittelberg's own story in this book, from a doubter to a confident Christian. He mentions other nonbelievers who became Christians, like Simon Greeleaf, Frank Morison (A.K.A. Albert Henry Ross), C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. Mittelberg also exploits the late Antony Flew's story (pp. 144-145), who was an atheist philosopher but came to believe in a deistic creator of the universe (but nothing more).

Mittelberg never tells any Christian-to-atheist deconversion stories. He just tells atheist-to-Christian conversion stories (plus Antony Flew's story). Should we fault him for not telling any deconversion stories? Yes, I think so! For it means he's not offering readers any evidence to consider, but rather trying to persuade them to believe based on the conclusions others reached. His faulty line of reasoning goes this: since atheist person X became a Christian, you should too. Why should that matter? He had asked readers to follow the evidence for themselves. But by putting forth several stories of skeptic/atheist conversions to Christianity he's not actually presenting any objective evidence for the readers to consider. Instead, he's presenting the conclusions of others about the evidence, which is arguing by authority, the very thing he questions later. He had also asked readers to follow logic. But by adopting the conclusion of others just because they adopted it is not logical. Why not just present the evidence? The stories are a propaganda technique designed purposefully to persuade.

Out-of-Body Experiences

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One common type of near-death experience is the out-of-body experience, which often involves seeing one’s own body from above. But even though they’re common, how good are they as evidence that a non-physical mind or spirit can actually exit the body?

Well, for one thing none of these experiences has, so far as I know, ever been scientifically confirmed as an actual out-of-body event. At best, the evidence has been inconclusive, as in the case of the widely-reported AWARE study. In addition, there are reasonable alternative explanations for such experiences (in part arising from the fact that the experiences occur in many different situations, such as during sensory deprivation or as a result of hallucinogenic drugs). A third consideration that isn’t as often discussed, though, is this: how a priori reasonable is the claim that these are actual out-of-body events? Or, to put it in Bayesian terms, what is its prior probability?

Traditional Faith? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 6

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I'm reviewing Mark Mittelberg's book Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief (2013)—which won the Outreach Magazine's 2014 apologetics book of the year award. So far his book has been flying under the atheist radar. I aim to rectify that with a few posts offering my thoughts and criticisms of it. [See the "Mark Mittelberg" tag below for others].

The Six Paths of Faith are as follows, of which I'll deal with the second one below:

1) The Relativistic Path: "Truth is Whatever Works for You"
2) The Traditional Faith Path: "Truth is What You've Always Been Taught"
3) The Authoritarian Faith Path: "Truth Is What You've Always Been Told You Must Believe"
4) The Intuitive Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Feel In Your Heart"
5) The Mystical Faith Path" "Truth Is What You Think God Told You"
6) The Evidential Faith Path: "Truth Is What Logic and Evidence Point To"

Pragmatism? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 5

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I'm reviewing Mark Mittelberg's book Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief (2013)—which won the Outreach Magazine's 2014 apologetics book of the year award. So far his book has been flying under the atheist radar. I aim to rectify that with a few posts offering my thoughts and criticisms of it. [See the "Mark Mittelberg" tag below for others]

In Part One of his book the author discusses Six Paths of Faith, which represent the "criteria" readers are using to base their beliefs on, the goal of which is to get readers to reassess their faith. Hopefully though, readers don't do as Mittelberg did, since when he decided to reassess his faith due to the questioning of a college professor, he decided not to truly reassess it. In his words: "My Christian conclusions were, I'm convinced, correct, so I needed to go back and shore up the foundations underlying my faith." (p. 21) If that's what reassessing one's faith is about, Muslims would end up shoring up their faith as would Hindus, and almost everyone else. That's because, as Warren Buffett tells us, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” [Quoted in Confirmation Bias: Why You Should Seek Out Disconfirming Evidence.] In fact, it's worse than that. The brain treats questions about beliefs just exactly like they're physical threats to its host. This means you must really want to know the truth in order to find it. You must force your brain to go against what it tells you to do. The only way to properly reassess one's childhood indoctrinated faith is to treat it as an outsider would, a non-believer, by requiring--no demanding--nothing less than sufficient objective publicly verifiable evidence for your faith, the same kind of evidence you would require of any ancient Chinese religion that made a claim about a virgin giving birth to an incarnate god. Think about this. What would it require? I've said agnosticism is the default outsider perspective, but one could also say if you're a Christian, treat your faith as if you're non-Christian, if you're a Muslim, treat your faith as if you're a non-Muslim, and so forth.

My Latest Definition of Faith

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I was asked to define faith. So I said: It's accepting an extraordinary claim as true, such as a virgin having birthed an incarnate son of God, without sufficient objective publicly verifiable evidence, or even the need for sufficient objective publicly verifiable evidence.

Then I was asked what I mean by objective evidence. So I said:

That's your problem. You don't know what evidence looks like. That's a main point of mine. Just imagine what would convince you of such a claim in today's world. THAT!

Or just imagine what it would take for you to believe the same claim coming from an ancient Chinese religion. THAT!

Your brain is hard wired to believe. You must train it against its evolved tendencies to require hard evidence when someone, anyone, claims a virgin gave birth to an incarnate god, especially in the ancient world. There is an abundance of psychological evidence showing this. In other words. your brain is not functioning properly when it comes to truth. We know this. And we know the solution too!

Why Can't Christians Get Along With Each Other?

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Less than a mile from my house, the construction of a church is taking place. This new house for a god, a rather modest structure, stands in front of a much larger church and across the street from an even bigger church. Three buildings designed with one thing in mind, to provide a venue where Christians can fellowship with one another. Three conflicting interpretations of god’s will for humanity, making it apparently impossible for the members of these churches to congregate under one roof together. Yet, all claim to offer guidance to those who seek a spiritual life. The resources dumped into these three structures alone could have fed and sheltered many of our homeless in a city of churches that has far too many poor people. Yes, the town where I live is often referred to as the city of churches. There’s always room for another church it would seem. 

Dr. Chris Gadsden Argues Maybe Jesus Really Does Talk to VP Mike Pence

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In his own words Chris Gadsden tells us about himself:

"I have earned two master’s degrees and one PhD in philosophy over 14 years of study, combined with 20+ years experience of campus ministry (Cru) and teaching (as an adjunct instructor)...I am passionate about helping people learn to think and believe better, though...I won’t pretend to be neutral about religion. Good thinking leads us to truth, whatever that truth may be."

Earlier we were told by a former White House aide that Vice President Mike Pence believes Jesus is talking to him and telling him what to say. Dr. Gadsden has written an essay in response, where he considers how Christians can evaluate claims like “God spoke to me?” I've met Dr. Gadsden and he's a really nice guy, even to atheists. But it's time for him to get educated, and I'm just the guy to teach him.

Quote of the Day On Chronological Snobbery

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I just read something that reminded me Victor Reppert. He has repeatedly used the "chronological snob" straw-man aphorism against me (coined by C.S. Lewis) simply because I say some belief is no longer respected in today's world. But this is a misuse of the aphorism, if it can ever be used at all. For I also provide reasons why said beliefs are no longer respected.
Chronological snobbery doesn’t apply to any criticism or rejection of thinking from previous eras. If that’s the case, we’re all chronological snobs. If your doctor tried to treat your cancer with leeches, you wouldn’t be snobbish to object because we now know better. If your neighbor told you that the biblical story of Noah’s son Ham proves that some races are superior, you wouldn’t be snobbish to reject that theology because we now know better.

Chronological snobbery refers to the notion that all ideas from previous eras are inferior because they are old and that modern ideas are superior because they are new. And, frankly, I don’t know anyone who actually believes this. I certainly don’t. --by Jonathan Merritt, "The truth about ‘chronological snobbery’"

Did Jesus Graduate from Hogwarts?

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Mark, Chapter 1: The problems pile on, right from the start
The gospel of Mark is second in the iconic line-up of Jesus stories, but it’s universally agreed among New Testament scholars that Mark was written first; it’s not hard to tell that Matthew and Luke used it as a source. Well, let’s be honest: they copied most of it, without telling what they’d done. Today we call that plagiarism. Literary sin, however, is not our biggest worry. We have no idea what Mark’s sources were, which makes it virtually impossible to trust it as history.

Of course, it’s hard to get believers to think critically about the gospels. The aura of holiness hangs over them; congregations have traditionally stood to hear excerpts read aloud, under the glow of stained glass. This mystique blunts common sense and deflects curiosity. “What really happened?” is rarely asked.

Recent Political/Social Issues With Commentary

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After the recent Florida school killings "Thoughts and prayers aren't helping", said sports host Jim Rome, who admitted he didn't have the solution to mass shootings...“But I know what is not the answer: just saying thoughts and prayers,” he said. “Something has to be done. This is not normal and we’re allowing it to become normal.” LINK.
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A writer quotes every GOP lawmaker’s post-Florida "thoughts and prayers" tweet — and how much money they took from the NRA.
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A NY Times article says the reason America has so many mass killings is because we have too many guns. But why do we have so many guns? See criminologist Elicka Peterson Sparks's book, The Devil You Know: The Surprising Link between Conservative Christianity and Crime, for the answer.
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As a democratic Hoosier in Indiana I've been warning people they should be more concerned if Mike Pence became our President. Now we learn he believes Jesus talks to him. Here's the money quote by reality star Omarosa, who served as a White House aide and is an ordained minister:

“As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” she said. “So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their lives. We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president.” Why? “He’s extreme,” Omarosa said of the vice president. “I’m Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus ain’t saying that.’" LINK.
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While nothing will come of it, this message should be heard loud and clear! Because Larry Nassar was allowed free reign to sexually assault many of our Olympic athletes, Travis Waldron argues the United States should be banned from the Olympics. LINK.
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Lastly, here's what I wrote on the issue of free speech on campus. It's my first volley on that hot topic:

Facebook Discussion About Atheism with Matt McCormick, Alonzo Fyfe, David Eller, Richard C. Miller, Spencer Hawkins and Myself

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It's a good one. I'll just link to it.

Do We Have Free Will? Part 4: Neither Caused nor Random

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So far, we have looked at three arguments against the existence of free will, each one based on a different type of determinism. But there is another reason for denying freedom of the will: the concept itself appears to make no sense. In this fourth and final part, I explain why.

How Much Do Believers Trust in a God?

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I can remember it like it was yesterday, my father debating with a Christian from another sect about what it means to be a follower of Christ. 

He loved challenging believers from other churches, largely because he didn’t think they were real Christians. Most were far to “worldly’ to qualify in his opinion. This time, the point being made was about trusting in a god. So, he dared them to go home, get out their insurance policy, hold it up to the heavens and then say, “God, I trust you.”

What Does the Word Atheism Mean? Who or What is an Atheist?

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Another discussion on Facebook. This time with Spencer Hawkins about the word atheism.

Christians Can Figure It Out: the Bible Isn’t God’s Word

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Part 1 of 6: The Bible is not self-authenticating

Those intrepid Gideons claim that they are dedicated to “making the Word of God available to everyone.” The American Bible Society doesn’t hesitate to call its product “God’s Word.” Behind this positioning is a PR campaign that has endured for centuries, fueled, of course, by that famous text, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

In this text, the words “inspired by God” translate God-breathed. So, “God’s Word” isn’t far off the mark, in terms of nailing the concept.

Why Do Christians Believe? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Christianity" Part 4

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Mark Mittelberg
Mark Mittelberg is a bestselling author, sought-after speaker, and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic Evangelism, in partnership with Houston Baptist University. He wrote the book Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief (2013)—which won the Outreach Magazine's 2014 apologetics book of the year award. Yet, it appears his book has been flying under the atheist radar—so far. I aim to rectify that with a few posts offering my thoughts and criticisms of it. I found Mark’s book recently in a Goodwill store for $1. That was a lucky find. Thank Good...will.

Mittelberg begins his book in Part 1, "Six Paths of Faith", by speaking about approaches, or methods readers adopt to embrace their respective faiths (remember, *cough* he says we all have faith). "This is crucial" he says, "because the method (or methods) you use in deciding what to believe has a huge bearing on what those beliefs will actually be, as well as how confident you'll be in holding on to them." (p. 9) "Most people never consider this" he goes on to say. "They just arbitrarily adopt an approach--or adopt one that's been handed to them--and uncritically employ it to choose a set of beliefs that may or may not really add up." (p. 10)

Podcast Interview with David Madison, PhD Biblical Studies

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About his book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief
The interview was conducted by Clint Heacock for his MindShift podcast. It is divided into two segments.

Segment One, click here, the episode dated 19-1-2018

Segment Two, click here, the episode dated 26-1-2018

The Amazon link to the book, click here.


David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book,Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016.

The Clergy Project: Offering Support to Clergy Who No Longer Believe

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Shedding light: An interview about a documentary
I have been a member of The Clergy Project for several years. I had become an atheist by the time I finished my PhD in Biblical Studies at Boston University, a few decades ago. I also had nine years as a Methodist pastor under my belt.
There was no such support network back then, but these days clergy who no longer believe do have a way to reach out to others who have been through (or are still going through) the ordeal of finding a new identity, and a new way of making a living. This is usually a profound crisis—but it no longer has to be a lonely one. To read the interview, click here.

To find out more about The Clergy Project, click here

A List of Books for Your Skeptical Children and What It Tells Us About Christianity

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Here is a good list of books you should read or give to your children. We know believers indoctrinate their children by teaching them what to believe, just as my nephew and his wife do in raising their kids to root for the Green Bay Packers. To see a better approach take a good look at these books. You'll notice they teach kids how to think critically with a skeptical disposition that requires hard objective evidence before accepting miraculous claims in any supposed sacred book. I dare believers to get a few of these books for their children.

Reformed Epistemology and the Psychic Abilities of an Emperor Having No Clothes

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Cameron Bertuzzi recently posted a Master List of Free Resources on Reformed Epistemology, which can be seen here. Isn't this crazy? Here folks, is what faith does to otherwise rational adults. They are pretending to know things even a child can see are false. It reminds me of psychics and the story of the emperor who had no clothes on.

Alvin Plantinga is revered in some circles for coming up with the most robust defense of Reformed Epistemology (RE). Roughly his argument is that believers do not need an argument to believe (!!) nor do they need any objective evidence:

If I Ever Hear God's Voice, I'll Shit My Britches

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Let me begin by saying that I’ve never heard the voice of any god, demon or angel. 

Never! Trust me, I’ve never even gotten a phone call from one. I’m just as relieved to tell the you the truth, because if I ever did hear the voice of a god, any god, I’d shit my britches. On the one hand, it would be the most earth shattering conversation I’ve ever had, assuming that god would let me ask a few questions. But even if I’m rendered speechless from wonder, I can tell you that my life would never be the same again. And, if I actually got to see god, I probably wouldn't be able to recover from the experience. 

Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?

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Christians cannot even agree on what to think of their god's involvement in a game of football. But if s/he sits as a bystander they have denuded this world of their god's involvement. I suspect they have come to this conclusion, despite many biblical passages to the contrary, because of the problem of intense ubiquitous suffering. Richard Mouw's god is undeserving of worship when all is said and done. Gone is his god's sovereignty. LINK.

For my part, since underdogs are a dime a dozen I'm hoping to watch the best that ever played the game, play the game. This kind of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. ;-) #gopats

Wonder and Awe Aplenty—No God(s) Required, Thank You

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An awesome god is too much trouble
My oldest brother, twelve years my senior, was a musical prodigy. Thus my earliest childhood memories include listening to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons. Our phonograph record collection—and I remember the introduction of long-playing vinyl stereo records—was opera, symphony, violin and piano concertos. This was my comfort music, in rural Indiana, mind you, in the 1950s. The “heavy” music of Richard Wagner’s massive operas—well, that’s all easy listening to me.

I am especially grateful that my brother introduced me to the monumental symphonies of Gustaf Mahler—on those ancient stereo records; I have them all on my iPhone now. From Mahler’s genius came thousands of pages of composition, and well more than a century later, highly skilled musicians create his sound-visions, brilliantly, all over again, evoking feeling of tenderness, sadness and exuberance. He had an utterly unique musical language that has enchanted me for decades. Our lives are enriched beyond measure by human creativity, which can be such a powerful source of awe and wonder.

Julian Baggini Concerning Philosophy of Religion "What the Hell Are You Doing?"

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Julian Baggini's 2005 review of Michael Martin's anthology, The Impossibility of God, was needed and brilliant! It should be required reading for discussion by everyone interested in philosophy of religion. LINK. It might be subtitled, "What the hell are you doing?"

Baggini, as an atheist philosopher, starts off saying he "found the book faintly dispiriting, futile even. Rather than finding myself standing on the metaphorical touchline cheering my team as it chalked up point after point, it seemed to me that everyone on the pitch was engaged in a useless game that no-one was ever going to win. This was a bravura performance, but who was it for?" His main point is: "I just don't believe that detailed and sophisticated arguments make any significant difference to the beliefs of the religious or atheists."

The book is useless for the unintellectual, he says, who won't read it much less understand it. "The fight against unthinking religion must be fought in terms unthinking believers can relate to. Discovering Angelina Jolie is an atheist is much more likely to make the unintellectual doubt their belief than the arguments of Patrick Grim" (an author in the book). A current example is The Big Bang Theory sit-com. It's doing a fantastic job of influencing the young away from faith via example and ridicule. As many of us have argued, ridicule does indeed have an impact upon the masses. Baggini surprisingly also says Martin's book is useless for the intellectual, both the believer and the atheist, for "when we get to this level of detail and sophistication, the war has become phoney. Converts are won at the more general level." [My emphasis].

Do We Have Free Will? Part 3: Divine Foreknowledge

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So far, I’ve written about two arguments for determinism which, though not completely conclusive, present serious challenges to belief in free will. The same cannot be said of this next type of determinism. There actually is no reason for accepting it, since there is no reason for believing its premises. Nevertheless, it is a serious internal problem for Christianity. It shows that the beliefs of most Christians aren’t — as shocking as this may seem — entirely coherent.

Where, Oh, Where Have All the Virgins Gone?

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I have a confession to make. 

I was raised in a religious cult. Uh-oh, here we go again you may be thinking, another cult victim writing about her experiences. I understand how the stories may begin to blur in our collective minds. There really are so many of them. It shouldn’t surprise us though. After all, perhaps more than any other country in modern times, America is home to the Christian cult or what I like to refer to as the cross-eyed cousins of Christianity. You know what I’m talking about. An endless array of bizarre belief systems that have either sprung up from a single individual, usually a male, and then attracted a following or a splinter group that felt the need to redeem a church with stricter interpretations of the scriptures. These wacky doodle groups abound in the US like no other country in the western world. There’s nothing mainstream about them AT ALL. My father was one of those lone wolves who believed he had been called out from among them to be separate. The voices in his head literally told him that he was the last prophet of the last day and age. Lucky me. I was ten when he converted and it was a rough ride until I was old enough to finally leave home.

Telling Off God, the Supreme Procrastinator

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A review of Fernando Alcántar’s book, To the Cross and Back
“Well, you never were a real Christian.” I sometimes hear this from pious folks who can’t process my transition from Methodist pastor to atheist. They know that their ‘walk with the Lord’—their personal relationship with Jesus—is so authentic. They’re pretty sure I never had that.

And they’re right. I believed in God and I knew that Jesus was his son, but it was alien, under my mother’s devout tutelage, to speak of ‘having a walk with the Lord.’ Nor did it occur to her—no matter how sincere our prayers—that Jesus could somehow be a pal or friend. Perhaps my atheism is easier to explain since I failed to make that personal connection with Jesus; atheism is impossible once that has happened. Because Jesus is so real.

The Outsider Perspective Helps Believers in Two Ways

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I am arguing for a test to help believers examine their own faith fairly and honestly, without any special pleading or double standards. I am not specifically arguing any particular faith is false, hence no rebutting defeater. Nor am I specifically arguing on behalf of a different religious faith, hence no undercutting defeater either. How, for instance, does a fair test for religious truth argue for or against anything? This should be seen in the first few pages of my book.

I do think the test leads to unbelief, but that's a separate discussion. I can't even help most believers agree to this fair test, much less help them to abandon their faith.

The outsider test is designed to help believers see the need for requiring sufficient objective evidence. Believers can play lip service to this requirement by saying they accept it. But what is meant isn't always readily apparent. So the test also helps them see what is meant by sufficient objective evidence. That's it. In other words, the outsider test helps believers twice-over. It's both a test and a teaching tool. The test helps believers to accept the requirement for sufficient objective evidence (all by itself a hard task!). But it goes on to teach believers what it means by forcing them to consider how they reasonably examine the other religious faiths they reject. It teaches them to apply the same single standard across the board to their own religious faith.

If someone already accepts the requirement for sufficient objective evidence that person doesn't need the outsider test. To the degree then, that belief is involved--especially the kind that blinds people from seeing the need to require sufficient objective evidence--to that same degree the belief should be subjected to an outsider's perspective. And there is no better way to know who needs the outsider perspective than the believer who adamantly refuses to require sufficient objective evidence for their beliefs.

In other words, to the degree believers reject the outsider perspective is to the same degree they are the ones who need it the most.

A Facebook Discussion On Who Has the Burden of Proof

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Here's an insightful discussion with a young would-be apologist named Cameron Bertuzzi. It took place after I posted QualiaSoup's fantastic video on "Who has the burden of proof?" Note how many times Cameron says my criteria for knowing which religion is true, if there is one, are self-refuting. And what is my criterion? The criterion of sufficient objective evidence. The delusion is very strong with him to think this is a reasonable answer. Faith has a blinding effect on believers. It's plain and simple. It's clear and obvious. To see this portrayed in the best possible way watch the video I share below. It offers three tests for how well you can count. My bet is you will be wrong.

Introducing our discussion I had said: "I've long been a fan of QualiaSoup. This video is on who has the burden of proof. He nails it! Believers who make extraordinary bizarre supernatural claims do, that's who."