The Cherished So-Called Evidence for God Hits Brick Walls

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…
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

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

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

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."

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

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!

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!

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

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


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

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

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?

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

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

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!

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 (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?

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!

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

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

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?

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


 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

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

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


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”?

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).

Our Culture Is Littered with Unverifiable Claims About God

Are we any better off because of it? 

When I was growing up in a small town (pop. 1,600) in rural Indiana in the 1940-1950s, there were four churches: three Protestant and one Roman Catholic. It would have been unthinkable for Protestants ever to attend Sunday worship at the Catholic church. We knew that the Catholic version of the faith was just plain wrong—and the Catholics felt exactly the same way about us. In fact, one of their favorite taunts was that we’d all go to hell because we weren’t Catholic. Yet the profound disagreements didn’t touch the one basic truth we held dear: God was real.

My Reply to a Trump Supporter

You know much, much more than the evidence shows. In other words, you believe that which lacks evidence. Final answer.

Demand evidence!

Coincidences do not count, since the brain is an expert at finding them.

Faith and Reason are Mutually Exclusive Opposites

This is the conclusion I have come to. In my years of Blogging there is nothing I have written that elicits more of an adverse response from Christian believers than when I have denounced faith in favor of scientifically based reasoning. I can write against the resurrection, miracles, or the inspiration of the Bible, but when I write against faith the blog world lights up (well, those who read my blog anyway). Why? George H. Smith tells us in Atheism: The Case Against God: “In order to understand the nature of a philosophical conflict one must grasp the fundamental differences that give rise to the conflict.” True enough. Applied to debates between atheism and Christianity he identifies what it is: “The conflict between Christian theism and atheism is fundamentally a conflict between faith and reason. This, in epistemological terms, is the essence of the controversy. Reason and faith are opposites, two mutually exclusive terms: there is no reconciliation or common ground. Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason.” (pp. 96-98) As such, “For the atheist, to embrace faith is to abandon reason.” (p. 100)

Jesus Quotes—Among Many—Christian Could Do Without, Part 2


Many believers just ignore what Jesus would do

If we are sliding toward American Theocracy—there are many super religious folks pushing hard to make it happen—we’re in for a lot of stress and pain. But why should nonbelievers be the only ones to suffer? We should hold Christians themselves to high standards. If they’re going to be calling the shots, let’s require they be experts in their own religion. Let’s push for a federal law that all professed Christians must show proof that they’ve read the four gospels carefully—and that they do this on an ongoing basis. We want them to be experts on the teaching of Jesus. Proof of this expertise would include a written test—by federal law. There could be a Department of Verified Bible Study.

Dr. Richard Carrier Interview On the 𝟝 Endings of Mark, and More!


How Yahweh Became a Donkey-Headed Egyptian Demon Called Set

This is an interesting post written by Dr. Darren Slade.
The conflation of Yahweh with the Egyptian demon-god Set, influenced early Christian interpretations of the Old Testament god as an evil deity. LINK.
As I read this, it just reinforces how people argued against other myths with their own. Plus, it shows just how superstitious and mythically-minded the prescientific people were. Other thoughts?

The Audible Version of My Book, Guessing About God, Narrated by Seth Andrews


is now available on Amazon

Seth Andrews did such a great job narrating Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught, so we’re super pleased that he has done this book as well. 


Why the title Guessing About God? Because that’s what theologians and clergy have been doing for centuries, because reliable, verifiable, objective evidence for god(s) has never been found. Which is exactly why religions cannot agree—even Christians have fought each other, often to the point of bloodshed, because they can’t agree about god. There are now more than 30,000 Christian denominations, divisions, factions, sects, and cults. 


All their guessing about god has been disastrous. 


The link to the Audible is here.

The link to the paperback is here.

The link to the Kindle is here

Defending Miracles as Proof of Faith: Mission Impossible


Miracles are far more trouble than they’re worth

When my first book was published in 2016 (Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief) I used its Facebook page for promotion. Many Christians who found the page made blistering comments, pumped with rage and hate— they assured me I’d never been a real believer, and that I was destined for hell. Almost none were interested in engaging with the ideas advanced in the book, but one fellow did; he had intense emotional investment in the Jesus’ resurrection—it was his guarantee for escaping death. I responded that there were other ancient religions that worshipped dying-rising gods, and that promised the same thing. He responded confidently, proudly that his Jesus was the only one who had really done it. It was clear that this belief had been instilled in his brain from a very early age. And how could the Bible be wrong?

Christians Are Taking Atheists’ Jobs!

By Robert Conner

I’ve been writing about early Christian belief since 2006, not professionally or as a side hustle, but more as a hobby. While the serious hobbyist must remain cognizant of academic opinion and have sufficient knowledge to navigate the relevant professional literature, as a dedicated dilettante I was free to explore the byways, guided principally by my language aptitude and interest. 
After following the twists and turns of the “secret Mark” controversy for a number of years, I wrote The “Secret” Gospel of Mark: Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria, and Four Decades of Academic Burlesque, released in 2015 by a niche publisher in the UK. Although Morton Smith had written both scholarly and popular books describing his discovery and interpretation of extra-canonical passages attributed to Mark, it could be safely assumed that exeedingly few people outside the area of New Testament textual studies were even aware of Smith’s claims or had followed the tortuous progression of the ensuing debate over the authenticity of his find. I assumed the teapot tempest triggered by Smith’s work would blow over soon enough and be forgotten, but discovered quite by accident that my translation of Clement’s letter to Theodore had been used by historian Donald Ostrowski in his 2020 book, Who Wrote That? Authorship Controversies from Moses to Sholokhov. Who knew?