The Five Books That Shaped My Life!

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I was challenged for five days in a row to share a book that shaped my life in some way. I have done so on Facebook. Here are all five books, plus a little commentary.

1) Howard Van Till's book, The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling Us about the Creation. Van Till was a a professor of physics and astronomy. His book changed the way I thought about the Bible and science. It taught me I simply cannot trust what I was raised to believe. It also taught me that science can be trusted. It was the catalyst that took me from a conservative evangelical to a progressive and/or liberal Christian, and beyond to an agnostic and later to atheism. From then on I looked to scientific reasoning for the answers, not the Bible, and certainly not faith. After coming to this conclusion the rest was a forgone conclusion.

God’s Defenders Can’t Get Their Act Together

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More Evasion, Bluffing, and Pretending
Here we go again…trying to get believers to level with us. In my article published here on 4 May 2018, When God Is Nowhere to Be Found, I restated the Put-Up-or-Shut-Up Challenge for those who insist that God is real:

“Please tell us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about God, and all devout theists must agree: ‘Yes, this is where the reliable, verifiable data can be found.’”

We’re not asking them to prove anything. We’re not even asking them to show us the data. Just tell us where we can find it. How can that be unreasonable, if God is present everywhere? Apologists can be a sneaky bunch, and one who frequently drops in on the Debunking Christianity blog, offered this insult to our intelligence:

Stealing from God: Turek’s Flawed Information Argument

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In chapter three of Stealing from God, Turek asks us to imagine walking along a beach and seeing the words “John loves Mary” scribbled in the sand. We would never think that a crab making random marks on the ground was responsible. And the reason we wouldn’t, he says, is because “John loves Mary” contains information: That’s how we know that someone with a mind was responsible. But, Turek goes on, DNA also contains information. In fact, it contains far more information than “John loves Mary.” Therefore, we should conclude that a mind was responsible for it as well.

There’s just one problem with this argument:

Who Gets to Decide What God Meant?

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The Bible as Word of God: Fatal Flaw Number 3 (of 5)
Is it really smart to push the idea that God wrote a book to get his message across to the world? Of course, he didn’t write it himself, but his holy spirit settled upon authors whom he favored, and they wrote the actual words. Many Christians assume that this is how the Bible was created.

But it seems like a high-risk strategy.

The favored authors—flawed human beings, after all—ended up putting so much drivel and trash into their “inspired” writings. And, yes, even the most devout Christians (with the exception of die-hard fundamentalists) can spot the useless Bible filler that shouldn’t be in a ‘holy’ book. In fact, this damages any confidence that a perfect divine mind had anything to do with it, which I discussed in the second article this series, God Gets a Big Fat “F” as an Author.

Stealing from God: Reason, Part 2

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There’s a lot more to chapter two than the argument we considered last time. Turek raises several additional problems that the materialist supposedly faces, since, as he erroneously believes, “the category of immaterial reality is not available to the atheist.” Much of what he says just shows that he doesn’t have a good grasp of the subject. For instance, after pointing out that practically all the cells that were in our bodies fifteen years ago have since been replaced, he asks, “if the mind and the brain are the same, how could you remember anything earlier than fifteen years ago?” I doubt many materialists will lose any sleep pondering that one. The main issue he addresses, however, is that of the existence of logic itself.

Turek claims that the laws of logic are immaterial and therefore “would not exist if the purely material world of atheism were correct.” Thus, if there are logical laws, there must be a God.

This is a favorite tactic of presuppositionalists. The point is to immediately put a stop to any atheistic argument. If logic depends on God, then any reasoning the atheist uses presupposes that God exists and is therefore self-defeating.

Is There Value in Debunking Christianty?

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While we take aim at the Christian faith here at DC, there are skeptics and atheists who disagree with what we're doing, such as Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan in Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World. I have not read their book. I'm guessing it contains a lot I would not vehemently disagree with. What is their principal thesis? Ronald Lindsay tells us in a review for a recent issue of Free Inquiry Magazine. It's that "promoting science and secularism is more important and more useful than attacking theism directly."

Now anyone who knows me, knows I embrace all effective approaches when it comes to debunking Christianity, and that science is indeed the most effective way to do so. What I don't understand very well are people who steer all of our energy into one approach, discouraging and even disparaging other approaches.

I'm going to share a Facebook discussion I had about this very issue in a bit. Let me introduce it first. It arose out of my high recommendation of a recent posting by Dr. David Madison. This One! On Facebook I linked to it and wrote: "I consider this post by David Madison and the challenge itself, to be the most important one he's written. THIS. SHOULD. VIRAL. GO! If I could tag everyone of my FB friends I would do so. I can only select 50 people at a time." Then I tagged a few people who had names in the early letters of the alphabet. One of them showed up and proceeded to fire at me. Before I share it, let me first say a few things about the indefatigable and fantastic Madison.

The Anti-Jewish Jesus: Socio-Rhetorical Criticism as Apologetics

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The Bible and Interpretation has published an essay based on a chapter of my book, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015).  You can find it here.

ABSTRACT

Within biblical scholarship proper, one finds two basic positions concerning the historical responsibility for Christian antiJudaism. One position argues that any anti-Judaism is primarily the product of post-biblical Christian interpretation. Representative scholars include Paul N. Anderson and Paula Fredriksen. The other position argues that anti-Judaism is already present in the New Testament writings. Amy-Jill Levine and Adele Reinhartz, for example, explore how the Gospels bear some responsibility for the anti-Judaism of later Christianity. I will argue more emphatically that anti-Judaism can be traced back to Jesus himself, at least as he is portrayed in the Gospels.

When God Is Nowhere to Be Found

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Apologists bluff, evade, and pretend
Waffling is an art form among the academic crowd committed to defending the Christian faith at all costs. When presented with an unanswerable question, they pretend it’s the wrong question, and wander down a trail of pathetic excuses.

This is the Put-Up-or-Shut Up challenge that apologists run away from:

Please tell us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about God, and all devout theists must agree: “Yes, this is where the reliable, verifiable data can be found.”

Come Celebrate National Day Of Reason With Us, Or Admit You Don't Really Value It Over Faith

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Atheists celebrate reason because we are the party of reason. What's there not to like about this? Nothing at all. Come celebrate with us. Show us you too celebrate reason. Let's see if believers will share this meme. To the degree they don't is to the same degree that, despite all their talk, they place a higher value on faith than reason, even though we know faith is an utterly unreliable way to know anything about the nature of nature, or its workings.

Believers, admit it, you cringe when this day is celebrated. That's your lying reptilian brain telling you to avoid thinking about what reason has accomplished through the world of science.

Pre-Pub Announcement of Karen Garst's Book, "Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom"

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I haven't seen this book yet but the topic is one of the main reasons I debunk Christianity. I'm appalled by what Christianity (and religion) has done, and is doing to women. I know Dr. Garst and wrote a blurb for a previous book of hers titled, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion:
“Why would anyone embrace a male-dominated religion in today’s world, or any religion for that matter? Specifically, why would women embrace the religion of their male oppressors? Given the stories told in this wonderful tell-all book, they shouldn’t . . . . I bid all readers to follow the reasoning and examples of the authors in this book. Their stories are quite revealing and fascinating. Highly recommended!” —John W. Loftus, author, Why I Became an Atheist; editor, Christianity Is Not Great.
I also know of a few of the author's in this book. So it should be a very good one too!

Karen sent me an introduction to it, which can be read below.

HISTORIC NEWS – Announcing the Creation of the Congressional Freethought Caucus!

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I received an email from Roy Speckhardt about a historic event!
We made history!

The Center for Freethought Equality (CFE) and the American Humanist Association (AHA) are proud to announce the establishment of the first-ever Congressional Freethought Caucus as a Congressional Member Organization of the 115th Congress.

Founded by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Dan Kildee (D-MI) the mission of the Congressional Freethought Caucus is to:
promote public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values; protect the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state; oppose discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, and nonreligious persons; champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and provide a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.
The AHA and the CFE were honored to be participants in—and in one case the host of—the organizational meetings held to create and define the objectives for this caucus. The very existence of this Congressional caucus for freethinkers and humanists is a marker of how far the movement for secular and nontheist equality has come. This significant step is also a new beginning for our country as both religious and non-religious leaders work to better the nation.

Your support makes progress like this possible! Donate to the AHA today to help us ensure that public policy is based on reason, science and the separation of church and state.

Sincerely,
Roy Speckhardt

Faith is An Irrational Leap Over the Probabilities

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What else can faith mean? The probabilities are all we need to arrive at truth. Why would anyone need more than that? If we proportion our conclusions to the strength of the objective evidence (via David Hume) there's nothing to add, unless it's an irrational need.

Quote of the Day on Determinism, by Patricia Churchland

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This quote comes via Michael Williams, something Victor Reppert should take note of in his argument to his particular god from reason:
That determinism rules out reasoning is one of the most annoying arguments ever. It's just thrown out there as if it's obvious (kind of like "you need free will to love"). Even Edward Feser in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God says, "Human beings are rational animals and for that reason capable of such free action."

I think Patricia Churchland addressed this very well: "If determinism is correct, it does not in the least follow that we do not reason... On the contrary, what follows is that our reasoning and our reasoned behaviour is causally produced. So far from denying that humans are purposeful and reasonable, determinism is the thesis that there is a causal network which produces such behaviour."[Is Determinism Self-refuting? -- Patricia Smith Churchland -- Mind, New Series, Vol. 90, No. 357. (Jan., 1981), pp. 99-101.]

Stealing from God: Reason, Part 1

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In chapter two, Turek elaborates on a point he initially raises earlier in the book, namely that given atheism, we cannot trust any of our reasoning. In a godless universe, he claims, “we are mere meat machines without free will,” and thus “have no justification to believe anything we think, including any thought that atheism is true.”
What he’s essentially arguing, then, is that the absence of free will is incompatible with reasoning — which means he’s now conflating atheism not just with materialism, but with determinism as well.

At any rate, the idea behind the argument is that reasoning only occurs when we freely accept conclusions. If the conclusions we reach are the result of deterministic laws of cause and effect, then we have no choice but to accept them — and in that case, how can we know that we’ve reached the correct conclusion? As Turek puts it, given atheism, you have “no control over what you are doing or what you are thinking.”

When God Is on a Par with Donald Duck. Seriously.

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Christianity: sabotaged by the Old Testament

“Where did my religious beliefs come from?” If only pious people bothered to ask this question—and were genuinely curious—they might not be so compliant. I once asked a devout Christian woman this question and was told, “From my mother”—whom she confessed, she is eager to see again in heaven. And the mother, of course, had learned the faith at her mother’s knee. That seemed to satisfy this woman in terms of authenticating the faith.

Did she suppose that the faith had been handed down, uncorrupted, from mother to daughter, for the 50 or so generations since it had been proclaimed by the original Peter, Paul and Mary? Just skip all the councils, wars, heresy trials, and schisms that have made Christianity what it is today, all 30,000 versions of it.

Stealing from God: Causality, Part 2

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The second main point Turek makes in his chapter on causality is that without God, there would be no laws of nature — and therefore no cause and effect:
“Have you ever asked yourself, why are there laws at all?… Why is reality governed by cause and effect? Why are the laws of nature so uniform, precise, and predictable?”

He says that “Either they arose from a preexisting supernatural intelligence or they did not.” (And he adds that “even Lawrence Krauss recognizes this” — which shouldn’t be surprising, given that those are the only two logical possibilities!) And of the two, the first of course appears to him far more likely: “After all, experience tells us that laws always come from lawgivers.”

"Is Religious Faith Reasonable?" The Spiegel vs Loftus Debate, 4/19/18

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The following three videos (two for now) are of my recent debate with Dr. Jim Spiegel on the question, "Is Religious Faith Reasonable?"

As you watch us debate perhaps you'd like to read a newspaper write-up about it, HERE. Or, you might want to skip my opening statement to read it, HERE. I prepared more than I could say, so I'm sharing a few extras, HERE.

Two videos are below. The first one is from the Brookville Road Community Church near Indianapolis, on April 18th. The second one is from the Free-Thought Fort Wayne group on April 19th. The sound quality is lacking on this one, but I did much better. After the first debate my wife prompted me to answer Jim point for point, so I did.

There is a third video to be produced on Access TV by the Fort Wayne Library itself. Enjoy.



Former Pastor Dr. Calvin Kelly Leaves His Faith, Recommends Joseph Atwill's Book "Caesar's Messiah"

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I met Calvin at my debate with Jim Spiegel. What a superb guy he is, and a fantastic ally. His story is similar to many others in the clergy. It's heartbreaking. Anyone who thinks we ever wanted to reject our faith just doesn't understand the pain we have to go through. He lives in Fort Wayne and works with the NAACP. Where are the equivalent stories of atheists who are ex-Christians, former activists, Street Epistemologists, academics or debunkers who subsequently embraced evangelical Christianity? I don't think there has even been one. No, not C.S. Lewis, either. Here's a link to Caesar's Messiah.

Newspaper write-up of my debate with Jim Spiegel

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Here's a newspaper write-up of my debate with Jim Spiegel near Indianapolis. The church seemed fairly full, probably 400 people. A lot of young people were there. LINK.

The article mentions my vehicle broke down on my way to the church, and that Jim picked me up on his way. Yes, my van, the one pictured resting on the beach of Lake Mead when Sheila and I were there a few months back. I began my comments by saying God tried to stop me from coming tonight but the devil won ;-)

It threw a rod and needs another engine. Damn. I hate that. It's sitting at a mechanics shop waiting for another one to replace it. The mechanic found one that has 120,000 miles on it for $550, and the labor costs are $850. If you've been helped by what I do please consider helping me out on this. The one thing that has plagued me for years is money; not enough of it. Use "PayPal.Me/jwloftus" at PayPal. Please help.

Send 1 million dollars. I'll take less. ;-)

As you can see from the news article it was a civil debate between us. When dealing with respectful people who have some good arguments (as far can be expected anyway) I am friendly and respectful, especially in person. I may not always be that way online, since some people personally attack me and/or repeatedly spout off idiocies as facts.

A video of the debate is forthcoming so be patient.



Christianity is Unworthy of Thinking Adults: Three Decisive Cases in Point

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Case in Point One: Even Christians Agree Faith is Opposed to Reason

According to Paul in Colossians 2:8, “See no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Jesus purportedly said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21). Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:18–25). Tertullian (160–220 CE) asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” In words reminiscent of Søren Kierkegaard, Tertullian wrote of the incarnation of Jesus by saying, “Just because it is absurd, it is to be believed . . . it is certain because it is impossible.” Martin Luther called reason “the Devil’s Whore.” As such, reason “can do nothing but slander and harm all that God says and does.” Immanuel Kant said that he “found it necessary to deny knowledge of God…in order to find a place for faith.” William Lane Craig agrees with Luther’s viewpoint. He argues that “reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa.”

There is something wrong with a religious faith that needs to disparage reason like this. It's admitting Christianity cannot be defended by reason. If that's what they think, why should we think otherwise? Why should anyone? I see no reason to do so.

How Come Jesus Didn't Know Better?

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Mark, Chapter 3: Jesus and the demons
Even the most devout Christian believers have to admit that human imagination has been hyperactive in the creation of all other gods (but, oh not, not theirs). Thousands of gods have been invented throughout the millennia, and apologists for theism—well, the one true Christian theism—sometimes try to deflect suspicion by saying that all the other gods can be respected as symptoms of the human quest for God (capital “G”).

It’s even sometimes said that “we worship the same god”—but that is clearly a lie, a poorly designed dodge. The god that the Jews worship didn’t require the sacrifice of his son, and Allah is clearly not Trinitarian. Nope, these are different gods.

"Is Religious Faith Reasonable?" My Debate Opener Against Dr. Jim Spiegel

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This debate took place at the Fort Wayne Library last night. Videos should be forthcoming. See what you think.

Stealing from God: Causality, Part 1

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This is my second post on Frank Turek’s book, Stealing from God and the first one on his chapter on causality. Since he covers a lot of ground in this chapter, I’ll only deal with his major points.
As we saw last time, Turek conflates atheism with materialism. He therefore claims that atheists must say everything is physical. This of course includes every cause — and from that it follows either that the cause of the physical universe is itself physical, or that the universe doesn’t have a cause.

The first one can’t be true, however, since there would in that case have to be something physical before there was anything physical. And the second can’t be either, he says, since it makes no sense for the entire universe to just appear causelessly out of nothing. The only option that makes sense is the one atheists reject, namely, that the universe has a non-physical cause.

Bart Ehrman's Latest Book, "The Triumph of Christianity"

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I haven't read it yet, but it looks very good. It's getting a lot of five star reviews and accolades on Amazon. It seeks to explain the rise of Christianity from being a forbidden religion with just twenty peasants or so, in rural Galilee, to "the dominant religion in the West in less than four hundred years." See for yourselves: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Any comments from people who know of it?

The Illusion of Certainty, An Excellent Book by James Houk Now Available

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Somehow it slipped my mind to mention this when it was published in December 2017. So here it is. Anthropologist Dr. James T. Houk just published The Illusion of Certainty: How the Flawed Beliefs of Religion Harm Our Culture. I wrote a blurb for it:
This very powerful and informative book exposes the illusion of certainty borne of religious fundamentalism for what it really is, unsubstantiated ignorant beliefs that masquerade as certainty. Using several key examples, Houk illustrates that "virtually anything and everything, no matter how absurd, inane, or ridiculous, has been believed or claimed to be true at one time or another by somebody, somewhere in the name of faith." He proves that to adopt faith-based claims with blind certainty has caused untold misery and death and must be jettisoned from modern life if we want a good society. Excellent and highly recommended!
As you can tell, I think you should take a look then get it. I put it in the sidebar with other recommended books.

David Silverman Has Been Fired From American Atheists

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David Silverman just got fired as the president of American Atheists after allegations of financial conflicts and sexual assault. He was the president for about eight years. This is a sad state of affairs for us as atheists. If he did the actions he's accused of, and I have no reason to think otherwise, then he's done some real harm to people. LINK.

Lest Christians be giddy about this, let me remind them of what's in their own backyard.

God Gets a Big Fat “F” as an Author

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The Bible as Word of God: Fatal Flaw #2 (out of 5)
Surely one of the biggest PR challenges in Western history has been making the case that the Bible is The Good Book. Of course, the church had a free pass for a long time; it could get away with claiming the Bible as ‘word of God’ for the many centuries during which the laity had no access to scripture. The faithful could see scripture depicted on the ceilings and walls of the great churches and cathedrals: much larger-than-life, idealized portrayals of Bible heroes. It’s easy to get away with myth—and disguise the mistakes—when you’ve mastered awesome production values.

Stealing from God?

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A while back, I was told by a religious critic that I really needed to read Frank Turek’s Stealing from God. Well, I’ve finally accepted the challenge (even if it isn’t much of a challenge) — and thought it might be interesting to write a series of posts as a sort of running commentary on it.
Turek, though he doesn’t come right out and say so, is a presuppositionalist — he believes that, in order to make any meaningful claims, atheists have to appropriate concepts that only make sense if there is a God. That is why we “steal” from God — and why on his view atheism is self-defeating.

But even though presuppositionalism strikes me as rather desperate, I have to admit that the idea behind Turek’s book is pretty clever. In six chapters, he considers six areas in which the atheist supposedly steals from the Christian worldview: causality, reason, information and intentionality, morality, evil, and science. These six form (well, almost) the acronym CRIMES – the crimes against theism.

The problem is that Turek is a very bad judge of the evidence, and that that’s the case is obvious right from the start. In the introduction, he claims that atheists “must make a positive case that only material things exist” — something that would come as a surprise to such atheistic critics of materialism as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel. Worse, he then lists eleven things that, according to atheism, must be “caused by materials and consists only of materials”:

Why is the Religious Right Obsessed With Abortion?

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This topic is hotly debated in one form or another on social media all of the time. Liberals seem unable to get their heads around the fervent, single mindedness that drives the religious right when it comes to the question of abortion. This single issue has developed into the "great divider". I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve followed a debate between the two sides on a topic such as corporate wars or guns in schools without abortion being brought up. Inevitably, someone pitches abortion as a counter argument. Perhaps according to the devout, there is no other form of senseless murder that compares to what they perceive as a continuous slaughter of unborn children. We might as well have wars if we’re going to kill babies.

When Clergy “Just Say No” to Christianity

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A Review of John Compere’s book, Outgrowing Religion
Pope Francis may, as a show of theistic solidarity, offer handshakes and hugs to leading Protestant, Jewish and Muslim clerics. Such posturing plays well with the faithful and the media. We’ve all seen the feel-good photo ops. (I wonder, are the Mormons ever included? Or do they still smell too much like a cult?)

The pope knows full well, of course, that the other theistic brands are wrong about God—and he could tell you why. They all could point out the errors of the others, and they all have teams of apologists to back them up. When the most devout theists disagree with each other—as much as they disagree with nonbelievers—why aren’t they embarrassed by the discord? Sad to say, the brains of these hardcore faith fanatics have been wired not to allow interference. Each brand specializes in capturing brains at the earliest possible age.