Why Would a Cosmos-Creating God Play Games with Humanity?

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…and allow many thousands of clergy to pose as the referees? 


The Game: The creator-god lays down many (often cruel, conflicting) rules for human behavior—in different scriptures—but neglects/declines to provide clear evidence that he/she/it even exists. 
 
The Referees: Countless clergy who claim to know the real rules, yet are unable to show their followers clear evidence that their god(s) exist: “Just take our word for it.” And this has gone on for millennia. Look around at the world today: what a mess religion is—because the referees don’t agree.

The God of Job

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God originally had a body (Genesis 3:8-10; 32:20-30; Exodus 33:21-22). He had sons (Genesis 1:26; 6:2; Job 1:1) and lived in the sky above, from which he looked down on the earth below (Job 1:6).[1] No omnipresence here. God needed a servant, Satan, to check on the sincere loyalty of his subjects. God subsequently allowed Job to be put to the test twice by Satan. But there was no need to test Job if God knew he would pass the test, which he did (1:22, 2:22). No omniscience here. If Job was tested for a show, then God is an egomaniac only interested in being praised at the expense of others. What we see here is the only great-making quality God had in those early days, absolute power over his subjects, just like other Mesopotamian kings.[2] He had the power to destroy people at will, including Job’s children and servants (Isaiah 45:7). This is something his subjects should never question. It’s the main point of Job  (chapters 38-42). No omnibenelovence here.


[1] See the chapter on biblical cosmology by Edward Babinski in The Christian Delusion (2010). To read about the biblical god see my paper, “Does God Exist? A Definitive Biblical Case” at  https://infidels.org/kiosk/article/does-god-exist-a-definitive-biblical-case/

[2] Except when it came to iron chariots (Judges 1:19).

Christianity Thrives Because of the Failure of Curiosity

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It doesn’t take much curiosity to puncture theology


How does the church get away with its theology games? A church in Texas recently refused entrance to a blind woman and her service dog, as reported in an article published a few days ago by The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta. Falling far short of the compassion of Jesus, church security was worried about the dog, because the worship service included “a live band and flashing lights.” Why are we not surprised? These are tricks of the trade. The clergy have learned how to be dramatists. For a very long time, worship has been entertainment: putting on a show, using razzle-dazzle to give theology as much heft as possible: ceremony, music, costumes, rituals, art, scenery and set design. And it works. Folks go to the churches where they find familiar, cherished reinforcements of their certainties about god and securing eternal life. Just savor the moment and the emotion. The clergy might as well say—as part of this heavenly bargain: “Please don’t think too much about what we’re doing, that might deflate the high you’re feeling.”

It Was 80-Years Ago This Month: A Hideous Crime

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How do Christians explain their god’s negligence? 


Many Christian brands willingly embrace the wrathful god of the Old Testament, and there are plenty of texts in the New Testament as well that endorse this anger: the coming of this god’s kingdom will bring extreme suffering. Other Christian brands downplay this concept of god, preferring to stress their god’s love and compassion. These clergy promote a warmer, fuzzier concept of god, e.g., what a friend we have in Jesus. Your sins will be forgiven if you ask for mercy: god wants to welcome you to eternal life. 
 
Challenges to this view of god are commonly deflected. The clergy don’t want their parishioners to ponder the devastating implications of horrendous suffering. How could a good, caring, powerful god allow the Holocaust to happen? Or the Black Plague? And what a tragic irony that Christian extremism brought so much suffering during the Inquisition, the violent Crusades, and the Thirty Years War.

Disqus uses Markdown now

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Debunking Christianity (DC), the site you’re probably looking at now, is the blog of noted atheist author John W. Loftus, featuring blog posts by him and his stable of guest bloggers. The blog itself runs on the blogging platform Blogger, a content management system for blog sites owned by Google since 2003.

A valuable feature of DC is its lively comment section, featuring a remarkable concentration of educated, well-read, and articulate partipants. (The comment section here is the inverse of a Trump rally crowd.) The comment section runs on Disqus. For many years, the Disqus editor accepted a limited set of HTML tags for formatting text…until one day, perhaps around May 30, 2024, HTML tags simply stopped working. If you suddenly felt like a character in a Franz Kafka novel, you’re not alone. From Wikipedia:

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and writer from Prague. He is widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work fuses elements of realism and the fantastic. It typically features isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible socio-bureaucratic powers. It has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. (…) The term Kafkaesque has entered English to describe absurd situations like those depicted in his writing.

From the Movie "A Million Ways To Die in the West" [2014]

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"A Million Ways To Die in the West" 2014 (timestamp 12:49 to 15:09). This is fairly accurate and funny! What an awful era it was to live in! How could people living in it know God would fulfill his promises in the afterlife, when it was so awful in their own lives?

‐----------

What is there to live for on the frontier in 1882? Huh?

Look, let me tell you something. We live in a terrible place and time. The American West is a disgusting, awful, dirty, dangerous place.

Look around you. Everything out here that's not you, wants to kill you. Outlaws, angry drunk people, scorned hookers, hungry animals, diseases, major and minor injuries, Indians, the weather.

You can get killed just going to the bathroom. I take my life in my hands every time I walk out to my outhouse. There's rattlesnakes all in the grass out there. And even if I make it, you know what can kill me? Cholera. You know cholera? The latest offering in the frontier's disease-of-the-month club.

And even if you survive all those things, you know what else can kill you? The doctor can kill you. I had a cold a couple of years ago. I went in there. You know what he said to me? He goes, "Oh, you need an ear nail." A nail in my ear! That is modern medicine for you. "Yeah, Doc, I have a fever of 102." "Oh, you need a donkey kickin'."

You know our pastor has shot two people? Our pastor. Honest to God. Shot a guy in a duel and then went back and killed the guy's teenage son because he was afraid he would kill him out of revenge.

Wait, how do you know that? Because he did a whole sermon about it! A lesson about seeing things through.

By the way, see those guys over there? The guys who work in the silver mines? See what they're eating? Ribs doused in hot sauce. They eat hot spicy foods every meal of the day. Do you know why? Because their palates are so completely dulled from inhaling poisoned gas, 12 hours a day, down in the mines. That's all they can taste.

You know what that kind of diet does to your guts? Constipation, cramps, dyspepsia, liver disease, kidney disease, hemorrhoids, bowel inflammation. They literally die from their own farts.

That, my friends, is the American West. A disgusting, awful, dirty cesspool of despair.

What a Shame: the Writings of a Crank Got Into the Bible

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Please stop calling him “saint” Paul

One particular Christian cult has dedicated itself to putting Bibles in motel/hotel rooms; by one estimate they’ve distributed more than a billion Bibles over the decades. The idea is to put the Word of God within easy reach, right there in the drawer beside the bed. This probably worked better in the era before every motel/hotel room had a TV—and when many travelers had their laptop computers and cell phones. But picking up the Bible and reading a few verses or chapters doesn’t solve the problem of figuring out the meaning of the texts. Christianity has shattered into so many warring brands because there is so much difference of opinion about meaning.

I Forgot to Mention Paul Copan Recommended My Book

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This is no big deal really, but it does get one closer to a recommendation by William Lane Craig, since Copan and Craig are pretty close friends. You see, I had sent Paul some book files of God and Horrendous Suffering for a recommendation, and he said he was still convinced God is good. I said that's not the point, and I sent him the recommendation by Chad Meister, author/ co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil. Meister wrote this blurb:
The most pressing challenge to belief in God today is undoubtedly the problem of pain. One only needs to read the provocative array of essays in this volume of leading atheists and other non-theists to see why this is such an ongoing problem for those of us who believe that God is real. Whatever one’s beliefs or worldview, and whether one agrees or disagrees, I commend all seekers of truth to read and reflect on this significant work that John Loftus has so skillfully edited.
So Paul said this:

How Christianity Disintegrated Right in Front of Me

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While I was in seminary!

When I was growing up, missing church on Sunday was unthinkable. My mother was devout, and this had a major impact on my world view. But she was gifted with intense curiosity—born and raised in Indiana, she had somehow escaped being a fundamentalist—and was a voracious reader. When I was a teenager, she bought the 12-Volume Interpreter’s Bible, a product of liberal Protestant scholarship. Because I read the scriptures with this kind of guidance, taking the Bible literally wasn’t something I was coached to do. But doubting the existence of God wasn’t on the horizon for me at that time. My mother allowed me to take the Interpreter’s Bible with me to college, and during those four years my interest intensified: I decided the ministry ought to be my career.

The Cherished So-Called Evidence for God Hits Brick Walls

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This is not hard to figure out

But you do have to think about what is claimed as evidence for god(s). Does the evidence hold up to careful, critical analysis? What is the evidence usually cited? At the end of the 1942 film, Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault utters the famous line, “Round up all the usual suspects.” So let’s review the usual evidence-for-god(s) suspects, starting with…
 
Scripture/Revelation
 
The problem is that devout theologians/clergy have never been able to agree on which scriptures, which portions of scriptures, actually qualify as divinely inspired word-of-a-god. Once the New Testament had become the Christian scripture, the Old Testament was downgraded, especially since it includes so much god-generated brutality. It’s still in the Christian Bible, but much of it can be dismissed with “Oh, that’s in the Old Testament…” And it’s no surprise that Jewish theologians don’t give divine ranking to the New Testament. Nor are Christians about to add the Qur’an to their Bible, though it is considered the supremely divine word of Allah. You mean the Muslim theologians have it all wrong? And it would be hard to find any Jewish, Christian, or Muslim theologians who doesn’t think The Book of Mormon is a joke. It’ll never happen that these thousands of devout theologians from different brands will come to an agreement.

The Desperate Desire to Know What Jesus Actually Taught

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But we can’t get there from here


Most of the devout would have no clue what I’m talking about, i.e., that we have no way of knowing what Jesus actually taught. Their holy gospels, inspired by a god, are chock full of the words of Jesus. So can’t they just pick up their Bible and read the wisdom of Jesus? But New Testament scholars—many of whom are devout believers—know that the gospels present major problems for historians. Not the least of which is identifying/verifying what Jesus actually taught.

Revised Edition of God & Horrendus Suffering

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We're working on the chapters to this book now. To read about it click here!

A Handy Concise Guide, Part 2: Why the New Testament Is a Disaster

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Two major things it got really wrong



By really wrong I mean that these New Testament errors have caused unspeakable horrors, so much suffering and death. The authors had no clue that their texts would have such disastrous impact on history. After all, they expected history would soon end, upon the arrival of Jesus on the clouds: the new kingdom of their god would prevail, the Romans would be vanquished. As the apostle Paul put it in I Thessalonians 4:17: after the dead are raised, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever.
 
A generous helping of fantasy, indeed.

Published: Don McIntosh's Article In Response to Mine On "God and Horrendous Suffering."

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Volume 2, Issue 1 (Spring 2024) of the Trinity Journal of Natural & Philosophical Theology has just been published. Included is the response by Editor-in-Chief Don McIntosh, titled, “Horrendous Evil and Christian Theism: A Reply to John Loftus” (pp. 25-44). 
With his permission I'm publishing it in its entirety below. This isn't the first time I've published a paper by a Christian philosopher, or apologist. Just click on the Tag "Christian Scholars" below to see some others. Comment as you will. Don will be reading and may respond.
If you remember, my previous article was published in an earlier issue in the TJNPT, and can be read at The Secular Web, along with a video of it on YouTube.  
I will write a response to his response which will be published at The Secular Web
 

Three Big Items the Clergy Don’t Want the Faithful to Think About

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It’s just far too dangerous

ONE: What is humanity’s place/status in the cosmos?
 
It was in 1950 that Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven. We may be tempted to wonder if he was out of his mind, but no: he was very much in his mind as it had been shaped by Catholic devotion as a child. His mother had her children worship daily at a Mary shrine in their home. Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) was born in 1876, just twenty-two years after Pope Pius IX declared in 1854 the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception—that is she had been conceived without original sin. Catholic devotion to this female goddess had been enhanced and encouraged for a long time. Pius XII made precisely this point in the lengthy document (48 points) explaining Mary’s bodily assumption to heaven, Munificentissimus Deus. It’s a tedious read, a labyrinth of theobabble.

A New Printing of My Book!

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I just received a copy of my massive refutation of Christianity with 536 pages to it. The book to the right was too small. The middle one was okay as it goes. The left one is best, using thicker paper. It's almost 1/8th of an inch thicker. I like it! Go getcha one!

David Hume's Argument against Miracles Cannot Be Disputed. I Prove It Beyond Any Reasonable Doubt!

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The title to this post echoes the certainty of David Hume, known as the greatest English speaking philosopher. He said:
I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. [Enquiry "Of Miracles" X (#86)]
I argue this is still true. Now I'm not sure why many Christian intellectuals ignore my books and my arguments. Many or most evangelical apologists know of them. So I'll say it. I think many of them have decided not to deal with them, or to give them any oxygen, because they cannot dispute them. It's so much easier to go after popular but low hanging fruit. Apologist Frank Turek, for instance, knows of my work but never addresses it in his daily posts at X (or Twitter). I find that very odd. So I must conclude he cannot dispute them.

Okay this sounds like I'm challenging apologists to a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, so it makes me arrogant. But I have the goods. Others do as well. Is it really arrogant to say Christianity of the evangelical kind is bunk, when it is in fact bunk? No it's not, not anymore than it is to say Leprechauns don't exist. Many atheists, agnostics, deists, and even liberals agree with me on that score. But because I state the obvious many evangelical apologists will conclude I'm uniformed of the underpinnings of their faith, since they are so sure of it. They might also think this of the title to this blog. I can't change that now. But if they read just one of my papers they will see my scholarship. Check out just one peer reviewed paper, in defense of David Hume on miracles at The Secular Web. THIS ONE. Can you dispute it? I say you can't do it. Timothy McGrew, I’m looking at you.

A Handy Concise Guide: Why the New Testament Is a Disaster

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The church and clergy are masters at covering this up


Since my retirement ten years ago, I have made several trips to England, France, and Italy. Upon my arrival, always high on my agenda is visiting museums. One type of museum, by the way, is a cathedral or grand church, even if it is not a cathedral. I love to wander in these places, because of the art and architecture, which include magnificent stained glass, paintings, and sculpture. It is tempting to think—which after all, is the purpose of this extravagance—that a wonderful religion is the source of it all. This idea is reinforced when my visit happens at a time when worship services are being held. The organ music adds to the splendor of it all.

Has Counter-Apologetics Peaked? By Robert Conner

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Everyone old enough to remember that day knows where they were
and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001, the day of madness that marked the true beginning of the 21st century. As the world watched in a mixture of horror and incomprehension, nineteen Islamist terrorists flew planes into American landmarks. United Airlines flight 93, reportedly intended to hit the U.S. Capitol building, crashed instead in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers wrested control of the plane from the hijackers.

More Jesus Quotes Christians Could Do Without, Part 4

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Maybe Jesus himself could talk you out of Christianity


Where would theology be without human imagination? The gospel authors show just how true this is. Matthew came up with dystopian fantasy when he reported (Matthew 27:52-53) that many dead people came alive in their tombs at the moment Jesus died, then wandered around Jerusalem on Easter morning. This detail is missing from the other gospels, whose authors didn’t imagine it. Likewise Matthew reported an earthquake when the women arrived at the tomb on Easter morning: an angel descended from heaven to roll back the stone, then sat on it. This also was beyond the imagination of the other gospel authors. In John’s gospel we find the story of the voice-activated resurrection of Lazarus (i.e., a magic spell)—which the other gospels authors knew nothing about. John’s imagination ran wild: his gospel is so different from the others. Elsewhere I have accused John of theology inflation.

Questioning Miracles: In Defense of David Hume

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My peer reviewed paper in defense of David Hume on miracles just dropped at The Secular Web. It's long because his detractors are many. LINK

Are Religious Dictatorships a Good Idea?

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Adored holy heroes can be too full of themselves


How well I remember, as a teenager, my mother’s annoyance at seeing Billy Graham on TV, theatrically waving the Bible above his head, and urging folks to come forward to accept Jesus. She was especially upset when she saw coverage of Vatican ceremonies—all the extravagant costumes, and the pope being carried on an ornate chair. “What has all that got to do with Christianity?” she would declare. She was a devout Methodist, and didn’t care for the hype. And let’s face it: the Vatican shows a keen awareness of the value of show business. The annual budget of the Vatican costume department could provide food for many thousands of poor people. What are these guys playing at?

God and the Evidential Problem of Horrendous Suffering

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Written by John W. Loftus. Narrated by Seth Andrews. Video produced by Michael Maletin. The text of this video has been published by Internet Infidels.

Description: This video highlights the evidential problem of horrendous suffering for the theistic God. It's a problem apologists have ignored for far too long. It comes from the introduction Loftus wrote for his book, God and Horrendous Suffering, published by the Global Center for Religious Research.

Loftus first lays out the general problem to be answered. Then he discusses the force it has for several different theologies. He goes on to deal with four moral concerns a theistic god would have in creating a world, along with the four apologetic strategies used to answer it. It ends with a challenge not to do what other Christian apologists have done.


The Church’s Fan Base Is Slipping Away

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Christian sins, intolerance, and confusion are largely to blame


It has been said that the Internet is a place where religion goes to die. That’s because it’s an easily accessible portal to ideas and information that clergy would prefer to keep hidden from their congregations. Of course, deeply committed religious believers have their presence on the Internet as well, but atheists have achieved a level of prominence, for example, Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist), Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist), John W. Loftus, prolific author and founder of the Debunking Christianity Blog, Annie Laurie Gaylor (author and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation), Valerie Tarico, author and blogger, Greta Christina, author and blogger—to name but a very few. It would seem that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—with their devastating critiques of religion—provided the impetus for the atheist publishing surge we’ve seen since the turn of the century.

This is now an Ad free Blog!

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The Ads here at DC had taken over. I don't know how that happened, nor did I want it. No more. David Madison and Michael Trollan took care of it yesterday. Yay! This is now an Ad free Blog and will remain so into the indefinate future. Enjoy! This is not to say we're rich. It's rather that Ads are annoying and not reader friendly.

I want to thank everyone for your readership and your "clicks". Thanks for any donations you've sent to help sustain me while I did my work here. Thanks also to the readers who have commented over the years. They are the best online, making possible intelligent discussions and debates with believers.

With this loss of income I must still ask something of you. If this Blog has been helpful please consider helping out financially. You can do so by buying something off Amazon.com. (USA)I get pennies on the dollar for every purchase, and this can add up. Amazon has most anything you want at some of the best prices too. You can also donate $5-$20-$50-$100 or more. This is by far the best way you can help! Just click on the donate button below:



Christian ministries rake in a great deal of money. I'd like to think atheists financially support writers who help them as well. I have no institutional support nor am I a paid employee of any atheist organization.

You can encourage me by e-mail [loftusjohnw at gmail dot com]. You could also buy a book or two from my Amazon wish list. Your support is still very important to me personally! It just will no longer be in your face, with Ads out of control!

Heads up this coming Monday! I'll be posting a YouTube video of the paper Seth Andrews read on God and Horrendous Suffering. Michael Maletin put it to some really good images! It's awesome!

Why Aren’t Christians Obsessed with Throwing Out Their Trash?

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Their faith is damaged by the crazies

I sometimes wonder why there isn’t a League of Decent Christians Against Abusive Evangelicals. Not too long ago, I saw a photo of Franklin Graham praying with Donald Trump, whom he had embraced as a defender of his brand of Christianity. In 2019, when Trump was still president, John Pavlovitz wrote a scathing article about Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., in which he wrote:

“History is recording the Evangelical Right’s abomination of a marriage with this godless President, and though there were what surely felt like short-term wins, the lasting damage to the Church will be irreparable. People outside Christianity suspecting that religious people are all hypocritical frauds, are being given plenty of evidence for it. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the multitude of lesser known spiritually compromised leaders, need the barrier-breaking, wall-obliterating Jesus whose name they invoke, even as they praise a President who is completely antithetical to him. They need the knees-in-the-dirt repentance they so demand of the world, so that they can admit culpability in the violence of these days and push back against the walls and the bans and the barriers.”  (emphasis added)

I Know What Best Describes a Reasonable Person!

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Well, I know an essential characteristic anyway. You want to know what best describes reasonable people? I know.

Reasonable people are the ones who accept the results of science.

Conversely, unreasonable people are the ones who reject the results of science. Since religious believers (theistic or otherwise) believe in at least one doctrine that goes against the consensus of scientists working in their fields, then religious believers are not reasonable people to believe them.

Agnostics are also not reasonable people by the same standard. For by claiming not to know about a specific doctrine that has been shown to be false by science, they are not reasonable either. Saying they don’t know, when science knows, is to be a science denier.

More Jesus Quotes Christians Could Do Without, Part 3

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Many of the devout would be shocked at what Jesus would do

I suspect most devout believers adore their Jesus, as he is portrayed in stained glass, great art, hymns (e.g., What a Friend We Have in Jesus)—and, of course, how is he lovingly described from the pulpit. Thus they skip careful study of the gospels. Years ago, when I was a pastor, it was a tiny minority of the congregation that attended my Bible study classes. When folks do study the gospels carefully/critically, they may notice things that seem farfetched. How many of us have heard the voice of god booming from the sky? That seems a mark of fantasy literature. In Mark, the first gospel written, this is how Jesus’ baptism is described (1:10-11): “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’”

About David Corner, Author of Chapter 1 in The Case Against Miracles

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Dr. David Corner wrote a fantastic chapter in my book. I didn't know he died two months before it was published. I learned later. I have an email record of what he believes, and I think readers might be interested. I ask authors to tell readers something about themselves. Here is what he sent me:
David Corner received his PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He’s a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy of California State University, Sacramento. He is the author of The Philosophy of Miracles.
I asked him what he thought of my chapter 3, on Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. He said to me:
I am reading your chapter, but I have to teach tomorrow so I won't finish until at least Tuesday. Looks pretty good so far, though I'm shocked at how poor some of the arguments are that you are criticizing. I don't even read that stuff... but it's a good thing someone is. You are doing a good service.
I asked him what he believes.

Did the Good Christian God Relocate to Another Galaxy?

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He hasn’t been paying much attention to planet Earth


When anyone says, “Can you prove God doesn’t exist?” I am tempted to reply, “Just look around you. What do you see?” Answers from the devout might include, “Beautiful sunsets, glorious flowers, majestic mountains—-how wonderful—this is my Father’s world!” But take a closer look: the god who supposedly engineered the marvels that prompt believers to sing “how great thou art”—isn’t that the same god who made huge blunders? Just look around you, they’re so easy to spot. One of the great curses on humankind has been mental illnesses, which have plagued us for millennia, causing horrible suffering. Couldn’t our brains have been better designed? Then there are thousands of genetic diseases: that newborn baby who looks “so perfect” may be programed by his/her genes to a life of pain and disability. Diseases spread by microbes also don’t make sense if there was an Intelligent Designer. Millions of people died in agony during the Black Plague in the 14th century, with no understanding as to its cause. The church was clueless as well, proclaiming the bad news that the plague was god’s punishment for sin. Moreover, marveling at the beauties of the natural world is misplaced when we realize how much suffering and death have been caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis. Why would a good god who cares about humans have placed us in such a brutal environment? How can it be argued that he’s paying attention? Maybe he took off for another galaxy a long time ago.

Of Miracles: In Defense of David Hume against Graham Oppy

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 David Hume (1711-1776) offered some good philosophical arguments against miracles that still resonate today. His arguments focused on the unreliability of human testimony on behalf of miracles. He did not live in a technological age like ours with modern forensics that include blood analysis, with tests that can determine one’s type, and detects diseases, poison, drugs and alcohol. We also have x-ray technology, DNA evidence, CAT scans, dash cams, and security cameras at convenience stores, on street intersections, and neighborhood homes. Especially noteworthy are the ubiquitous number of cell phones that give us immediate access to the police by a 911 call, cameras that can capture any event on video, and GPS tracking capability showing where we are at any given time. So Hume didn’t have the capability we do to establish miracles, or debunk them.

In our day the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) offered a one-million-dollar prize “to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” From 1964, when it first offered such a challenge, until 2015 when they stopped doing it, no challenger had even gotten past the preliminary test.[1] That should settle the question of miracles. If not, why not?

One might ask why we even need philosophical arguments. Why not just teach how science works and why the methods of science are the best we have to get at the truth? In a real sense we don’t need philosophical arguments, per se, including those from Hume.[2] However, given so many possible existential threats to life on our planet, we should do everything we can to reach people who value blind faith over scientific evidence.[3] So practically speaking, some believers might be attentive to listen to Hume, rather than to Darwin, Sagan, Shermer, Dawkins and others.[4]

One of the best philosophical arguments that can help believers acknowledge the value of sufficient evidence, objective evidence, scientific evidence, is found in my book, the Outsider Test for Faith. [5] It challenges them to doubt their own culturally indoctrinated childhood faith for perhaps the first time, just as if they never heard of it before. It calls on them to require of their own religious faith what they already require of the religious faith’s they reject. It forces them to rigorously demand logical consistency with their doctrines along with sufficient evidence for their faith, just as they already demand of the religions they reject.

My Paper on "God and Horrendous Suffering" Has Been Published

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My paper on "God and Horrendous Suffering", with the same title as my book, has just been published by Internet Infidels. My thanks to Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief Keith Augustine, for making it happen!

This is a short, sharable, powerful paper on an issue that has largely been ignored by analytical philosophers, who have focused instead on the logical problem of evil, then on the probabilistic problem of evil. It reveals the ugly underbelly of theistic worship and praise of a monstrous a god.

Horrendous Suffering Caused by—Wait for It—the Church

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When you're sure God is your boss, others can take a big hit 


Two of the riskiest things Christians can do—from the standpoint of preserving and protecting their faith: (1) Read/study the gospels carefully, critically, with curiosity fully engaged, (2) Read/study Christian history, i.e., what has been done in the name of Jesus over the centuries. There’s a pretty good chance that faith will be abandoned when this kind of homework is done. The clergy know that there are 1,001 embarrassing Bible verses, so many of which are in the gospels—so these are not preached from the pulpit. But it’s not hard to figure out that Jesus fails to qualify as a great moral teacher, based on so much of the Jesus-script we find in the gospel accounts.

Some comments on Hume and miracles

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Comment threads are easier to resurrect than corpses

In his re-post of February 26, 2024 (What is Hume Doing In His Essay “Of Miracles”?), John W. Loftus asks:

So let me put it to my readers. What would it take for you to believe a miracle had taken place given natural law and the fact you have never previously experienced a miracle nor anyone else you know (that is true, right?) What kind of miracle would it have to be? Let’s say one day a man’s arm was blown off and the next day it had regrown. It’s never going to happen, that’s for sure. If someone claimed it did, would you believe it was a magic trick of some kind? How about a virgin having a baby without any male sperm? How about someone telling you s/he heard god’s voice? What about YOUR hearing a god’s voice? What of someone coming back to life after being embalmed at the morgue?

The original article appeared several years ago; apparently as a result of that, the comments below the re-post article are closed. So that we may Lift Every Voice and … comment, I’m posting a reply article, which will have the welcome side effect of starting a new discussion thread.

Note that this business of miracles has been beaten to death in many books, articles, and blog posts, so it would be a miracle if anything I write is either original, comprehensive, final, or perhaps even correct. But maybe something here will be useful to someone. Just because everything’s in libraries doesn’t mean we all know all of it. And as always if you spot a goof, correct me.

The arrow of time - one of the ways to distinguish the mundane from the miraculous

Reality is kind of a One Direction concert

So, what would it take for me to believe a miracle had taken place? Two of John’s hypotheticals involve something like reversals of the arrow of time. There are many natural processes which we only ever observe moving in one direction. If you were to record such a one-way process as a motion picture, you could replay the event forwards or backwards. The backwards replay would then appear jarringly unnatural. For example, imagine someone’s arm exploding, and then un-exploding. Things sometimes explode, but they do not then un-explode. Similarly, we could record a person dying and then being embalmed by an undertaker, but we never observe that process reversing itself: a person being un-embalmed and then resurrected. Cremating the corpse would make for an even more dramatically impossible backwards replay, as that would require the widely scattered combustion products to coalesce back and un-combust themselves to reconstitute the corpse, which would then re-animate. (As an aside, the cryonics movement rests on the premise that super-duper technology of the future will be able to re-animate frozen corpses and repair whatever diseases or accidents killed them. If you’re skeptical about that you’ve got lots of company.)

Similarly, we can videorecord a baker making bread. The backwards replay would show the loaf of bread un-baking back into dough and the dough un-mixing back into the original ingredients. If we ran it farther back, we’d see the flour traveling back to the store, and then to the mill, and un-milling itself back into wheat, which would then un-grow back into carbon dioxide, water, soil nutrients, and the wheat seeds.

The arrow of time happens to be a paradox. According to the Wikipedia article:

The arrow of time paradox was originally recognized in the 1800s for gases (and other substances) as a discrepancy between microscopic and macroscopic description of thermodynamics / statistical Physics: at the microscopic level physical processes are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true. Yet at the macroscopic level it often appears that this is not the case: there is an obvious direction (or flow) of time.

Entropy as an arrow of time

Shot through the heart, and Clausius is to blame; he gave the heat death of the universe a bad name

We can think of entropy as an arrow of time. One way to think about this is in terms of probability: everything that happens is an “attempt” by the universe to push itself into a more probable (or more disordered) state. Local excursions into lower probability (higher order, lower entropy) are possible, but they must be somehow coupled to larger offsetting increases in entropy elsewhere. A classic example is the evolution of life on Earth, which represents a substantial increase in order. It was driven mostly by the much larger decrease in order in the Sun as it consumed its nuclear fuel, unleashing solar energy which was then harnessed by the mechanisms of mutation and natural section. This decrease in order manifested largely as nuclei in the Sun transmuting along the curve of binding energy. The evolution of life also depended on plate tectonics which is driven largely by the decay of heavy radionuclides inside the Earth, as they approach the same spot on that curve of binding energy from the upper end. Those heavy radionuclides in turn originated in earlier supernovae and neutron star mergers.

(And sorry if I upset fans of Rudolf Clausius and/or Bon Jovi and/or the English language with my terrible puns. Sticklers might protest that Lord Kelvin is more to blame for the heat death of the universe.)

The second law: why anything happens at all

In the Preface to his book The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction, Peter Atkins introduces the four laws of thermodynamics (emphasis mine):

The mighty handful consists of four laws, with the numbering starting inconveniently at zero and ending at three. The first two laws (the ‘zeroth’ and the ‘first’) introduce two familiar but nevertheless enigmatic properties, the temperature and the energy. The third of the four (the ‘second law’) introduces what many take to be an even more elusive property, the entropy, but which I hope to show is easier to comprehend than the seemingly more familiar properties of temperature and energy. The second law is one of the all-time great laws of science, for it illuminates why anything — anything from the cooling of hot matter to the formulation of a thought — happens at all. The fourth of the laws (the ‘third law’) has a more technical role, but rounds out the structure of the subject and both enables and foils its applications. Although the third law establishes a barrier that prevents us from reaching the absolute zero of temperature, of becoming absolutely cold, we shall see that there is a bizarre and attainable mirror world that lies below zero.

Given that the second law is why anything happens at all (as Atkins puts it), demonstrable violations of the second law might be strong candidates for miracles. No such violation has ever been reliably observed in the roughly 400 years of modern science. (The period of modern science is my focus because that’s when scientists have had an exponentially increasing capacity to detect, recognize, and record such violations of natural law, if any were to occur.) That’s how natural “laws” get to be called laws: they appear to be exceptionless. Thousands of scientists make millions of observations and nobody can demonstrate the “law” to admit exceptions. Then the engineers and industrialists join the party by stamping out millions or billions of artifacts made possible by the laws, and all of them appear to obey the laws as well. Then there is evolution, which mindlessly solved some molecular problems over a billion years ago, and the resulting genes and proteins have been “conserved” from yeast to humans. That means that at no point were the laws ever violated by enough to erase the adaptive advantages of those genes and proteins, which would have interrupted the Tree of Life. The laws of physics and chemistry that dictate the behavior of biomolecules have held sufficiently well since at least back to the last universal common ancestor.

Would you believe a miracle if you saw it?

Nobody has ever reliably demonstrated a violation of the second law, but suppose someone did. That leads to John’s thought question:

If someone claimed [that an exploded arm unexploded or grew back], would you believe it was a magic trick of some kind?

Skepticism would be my starting hypothesis. I’m aware of the history of failed attempts to violate the second law, such as with perpetual motion machines, water-fueled cars, and so on. As Hume famously pointed out in his essay Of Miracles, violations of natural law appear to be so improbable that almost any alternative explanation for our observation of a supposed miracle which does not violate natural law is more likely to be true.

I would certainly need more than someone’s claim! I would need evidence comparable in strength to the evidence that World War II happened.

We are smarter than me

I certainly wouldn’t set myself up as the final authority on what I’m seeing. For example, I’ve seen videos of close-up magic by David Blaine and others. Some of what they do looks to me like miracles, but I know they are just doing tricks that obey natural laws and fool my perceptions. Rather, I would rely on the entire community of scientists, magicians, skeptics, journalists, and so on to vet a miracle claim for me. For example, the Randi prize went unclaimed for over 50 years. If anyone had claimed it, I wouldn’t have needed to examine the claim for myself, given that the winner would probably have become a household name and probably would have started a whole new field of inquiry, with practical spin-offs galore. A real-life Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry would likely spring up in no time around the trick - if it were reproducible. But as Richard Carrier and others have pointed out, if a “supernatural” phenomenon turned out to be reproducible, then it would satisfy one of the necessary conditions to be a natural phenomenon, and the result might be that it would get incorporated into the rest of science. (Reproducibility is among the foundations of the scientific method.) In the past, seemingly magical phenomena like electricity, magnetism, and radioactivity were eventually shown to be reproducible, whereupon they became part of science.

Do miracles have to be one-offs?

For a miracle to remain a miracle then, it might have to be irreproducible, and that creates all sorts of problems. One of the strongest forms of evidence for the plausibility of a phenomenon is being able to observe it or elicit it again under known conditions. If a miracle is a one-off, then we would lose the strongest argument for its plausibility. We might be left wondering if it were just some sort of a glitch, with no clear way to resolve that. We would only have the reliability of the records of that one event - and that reliability tends to decay over time, as memories fade, the original witnesses die off and can no longer be cross-examined, libraries full of documents get sacked and burned, physical books wear out, and so on.

Alleged reproducibility in the bible

Reproducibility of a sort sneaks into the bible. The books of the bible were written over a span of several centuries, and the times they purport to describe cover even more centuries. But throughout all that time, according to the bible, miracles were almost a dime a dozen. In all the bible stories involving people from Genesis to the Acts of the Apostles, it’s just one miracle after another. Reading the bible is not unlike reading the Harry Potter series with its spell-casting and wizardry and trampling of natural law underfoot. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both of these domains of fiction enjoy such enduring popularity. Reality kind of sucks, since that pesky second law constantly works against us. Few people get everything they want just handed to them. Instead we have to work hard to temporarily and locally hold back the forces of decay. Everybody wants a shortcut, a magical way to “manifest” the goodies we want. The so-called “New Thought” law of attraction is the same kind of something-for-nothing snake oil that nearly every religion has always sold to the gullible.

Presupposing naturalism; the Moses and Red Sea example

John summarizes Levine (from The Cambridge Companion to Miracles):

Part I presupposes naturalism, Levine says. Philosophers like him, who rule out the possibility of miracles “are in effect presupposing or else arguing for a thoroughgoing naturalism. Hence, Hume’s empiricism commits him to naturalism, and if that goes unrecognized, his a priori argument in Part I of his essay against the possibility of justified belief in miracles is impossible to follow.” (p. 292). All one has to admit is that “naturalism is possibly false.” Once this is admitted “miracles are possible.” (p. 292).

John then quotes Levine directly (emphasis mine):

Hume is thus constrained by his empiricism in such a way that had he been on the shore of the Red Sea with Moses, and had the Red Sea crashed to a close the moment the last Israelite was safe, Hume would still be constrained by his principles to deny that what was witnessing was a miracle (p. 298).

There’s a tricky point about “principles” here - are we talking about principles, as in a prior commitment (an axiom, a presupposition, etc.), or are we talking about prior experience (an inductive conclusion)? See for example Richard Carrier’s Naturalism Is Not an Axiom of the Sciences but a Conclusion of Them and In defense of naturalism by Gregory W. Dawes. I confess to not having read enough of Hume or Levine to know whether Hume actually made the mistake that Levine appears to charge Hume with having made, but I don’t think that matters very much unless we’re trying to get past peer review, in which case we need all those attributional ducks in a row. Carrier and Dawes warn against this very mistake. Just read Carrier and Dawes and don’t make the same mistake yourself!

As to the Red Sea example given, I think Hume was in something like the same position with regard to most of what we now understand to constitute modern science. For example, during Hume’s life, nobody had a clue about plate tectonics (and thus why there are mountains, volcanoes, and even land above sea level at all); nor did anyone have a satisfying natural explanation for biodiversity; nor did anyone know how the stars shine (that had to wait for Hans Bethe in 1938); nor what a virus was; and on and on. Everywhere that Hume looked he saw candidate miracles, as far as anyone knew at the time. Given Hume’s lack of understanding of the physical mechanisms to explain the wonders he saw, his primary fall-back seems to have been regularity. For example, he didn’t know how the stars shine, but he saw that they always shine. Therefore, the shining stars didn’t constitute a miracle for Hume, even though a satisfying natural explanation lay centuries in the future.

Further, it’s worth recalling that the Moses and Red Sea example is a pure hypothetical, given that archaeologists and historians who aren’t Christian fundamentalists have accepted that the whole Exodus account is almost certainly fictional. See for example Did Moses Exist?: The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver and The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origins of Its Sacred Texts. The Moses and Red Sea example is as likely to have actually happened as the successful spell-casting in Harry Potter.

Further reading

For more on the impossibility claims of science, see A Physicist’s Guide to Skepticism: Applying Laws of Physics to Faster-Than-Light Travel, Psychic Phenomena, Telepathy, Time Travel, UFOs, and Other Pseudoscientific Claims by Milton A. Rothman. If I were King of the World, I would require the people who reject the impossibility claims of science to live without the technological goodies made possible by science. That is, I would require the science deniers to live according to their professed beliefs. Among Christians, it seems that only the Amish minority comes close to such consistency of behavior with belief.

To understand the difference between “impossible” and the merely improbable, see The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand.

For more on miracles, see (of course) the anthology John W. Loftus edited after his original blog post: The Case Against Miracles.

For more on Hume, see Hume’s oeuvre. If that’s too ambitious, start with Hume: A Very Short Introduction by A. J. Ayer, himself a prominent philosopher of the 20th century.

For the prior (and rather massive) blog activity and discussion history about these topics on Debunking Christianity, follow the labels.

What is Hume Doing In His Essay “Of Miracles”?

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I'm writing a paper on David Hume so I'm republishing this. Enjoy!

Much of the scholarship having to do with Hume’s argument against miracles has to do with trying to understand it. Philosopher Michael Levine claims Part I of Hume’s essay is an "a priori" case against miracles
(The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, p. 302) based on considerations of natural law before there's a miracle claim--that the evidence of natural law outweighs any testimony to a miracle--whereas Part II is an a posteriori case against miracles, “even if miracles have occurred.” (p. 293).
About Hume’s principal argument in Part I, Levine says “it fails” (p. 296) as an “unsuccessful” (p. 292) “superfluous” (p. 302) “misadventure” (p. 292). “It is a gloss for understanding the underlying supposition that one cannot have an ‘impression’ of a supernatural event” (p. 302). This underlying empiricist supposition is a theme of Hume’s, in which he argues we don’t have empirical sense impressions of ‘cause and effect’ or any divine activity, or the self for that matter, which is nothing but a bundle of sensations. So “Given his view that divine activity is impossible to know, Hume’s argument in Part I is in a sense superfluous” (p. 302).
Part I presupposes naturalism, Levine says. Philosophers like him, who rule out the possibility of miracles “are in effect presupposing or else arguing for a thoroughgoing naturalism. Hence, Hume’s empiricism commits him to naturalism, and if that goes unrecognized, his a priori argument in Part I of his essay against the possibility of justified belief in miracles is impossible to follow.” (p. 292). All one has to admit is that “naturalism is possibly false.” Once this is admitted “miracles are possible.” (p. 292).
Hume is thus constrained by his empiricism in such a way that had he been on the shore of the Red Sea with Moses, and had the Red Sea crashed to a close the moment the last Israelite was safe, Hume would still be constrained by his principles to deny that what was witnessing was a miracle (p. 298).