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).

Our Culture Is Littered with Unverifiable Claims About God

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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How Yahweh Became a Donkey-Headed Egyptian Demon Called Set

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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

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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

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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!

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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?

On the Alleged Christian Origins of Modern Science

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There is an often repeated claim by Christians that belief in their god produced modern science. There are a number of ways to show them wrong.

1) Richard Carrier destroys such a claim in my anthology, The Christian Delusion. As you might guess, I love how he opens his chapter. He excoriates it!

The Horrifying Sins of Christianity, Century after Century

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Victimizing indigenous peoples, slaves, women and children



A few months ago, an elderly Catholic friend explained to me how the church had guided her religious development. Regarding the certainties about god they’d been taught in catechism, she said the priests “…told us not to think about them.” Hence reading the Bible was never encouraged, because that might provoke skeptical thoughts. In fact the gospels are dangerous territory: there is so much in them that can alarm modern readers who are even somewhat aware of how the world works. Nor do the clergy want their parishioners to explore—to think about— the history of Christianity: how the church and the faithful have responded to those who disagree and resist; examples include the Crusades, the Inquisition, burning women thought to be witches. However, Christianity is guilty of so much more—so much worse—but the devout don’t want to explore these realities of history.

The Barbaric God of The Bible

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[Written by John W. Loftus using a different email address he no longer has access to. First published in Feb 2006]

One thing is sure to me. The Triune God in the Bible simply cannot be describing the God who exists. That God is a barbaric God. He is a hateful, racist, sexist God.

Consider these stories: In the Flood story we’re told God wanted to destroy all mankind. In Moses’ day God wanted to destroy all of the Israelites. In Joshua’s day God wanted the Israelites to kill all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Saul was told by God to destroy all of the Amalekites. According to Jonah, God was going to destroy the people of Nineveh. God also destroyed and scattered the northern tribes of Israel because he was displeased with them. God allowed the accuser to destroy Job’s health and family life just to win a “bet.” In the New Testament, God will destroy all unbelievers in the lake of fire. He’s a pretty barbaric God, if you ask me. This God is simply the reflection of ancient barbaric peoples.
Christians think the Militant Muslims are wrong for wanting to kill free loving people in the world, and they are. But the only difference between these Muslims and the Christian Biblical God is that they simply disagree on who should be killed. They both agree people should be killed; they just disagree on who should die.

Six Degrees of Separation: Between Modern Christians and Jesus

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The gospels stand in the way



It is so common for churchgoers to assume they know what Jesus was like. This knowledge comes from what their clergy tell them, the content of favorite hymns—and sometimes by selectively reading the gospels, that is, returning to comforting teachings of Jesus remembered from childhood. 
 
The content of sermons and hymns is based on what can be found—and what is carefully ignored—in the gospels. But the gospels are not, in fact, a portal to Jesus information. They are a barrier. So many devout Christian seem not to have a clue that this is the case, and, moreover, why it is the case. Let’s look at six ways in which the gospels fail to deliver.

Review of: "Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will" by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will by Robert M. Sapolsky
Penguin Publishing Group | 2023 | ISBN: 9780525560982, 052556098X | Page count: 528 | Wikipedia article | Goodreads entry and quotations from the book | Google Books entry with preview | Amazon link

Determined is Robert M. Sapolsky's skeptical take on the topic of free will. The topic is relevant to this blog since conceptions of free will have a long (and contentious) history in Christianity and other religions. In the religion debate, the issue of free will is likely to come up at some point, given that religious conceptions of free will tend to be pretty far from the scientific picture. See for example: As Sapolsky's book demonstrates at great length, free will is nowhere to be found in a scientific study of the human organism. Now, maybe some future scientific discovery will rescue free will, and therefore breathe some life into religious talking points that assume free will, but the trend so far is not encouraging for those who chain their theistic wagons to it.

Determined is a fairly high-profile book in its niche, and has attracted its share of comment. Rather than rewrite everything in the existing commentary, I'll link to some of it. If anything in the rest of my review seems hard to follow, consider coming back here to read some or all of these:

Paul Moser decisively answers the evidential problem of horrendous suffering via assertions!

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Philosopher Paul Moser answers the evidential problem of horrendous suffering via assertions! This is so unenlightening! He asserts his faith despite this problem, But is this doing his readers any good? Is he helping them through this serious problem for faith? FACEBOOK LINK.

Ten Jesus Quotes—Among Many—Christians Could Do Without

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What would Jesus do?—Well, that’s anybody’s guess


Let’s start on a positive note—before I move on to discuss very problematic Jesus quotes from the gospels. Of course, there are good Jesus quotes, and I like to combine Matthew 7:1-2 with John 8:7, which are, in fact, hard for conservative Christians especially to deal with:
 
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
 
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
 
But evangelicals savor despising gay people, feminists, and those who campaign for women’s rights (such as access to abortion). So they have ways to work around these compassionate teachings of Jesus, not to judge, not to throw stones. Their severe Christianity demands strident opposition. So Jesus can take a hike—at least they turn their backs on these quotes of their lord and savior: they can’t mean what they seem to mean.

On the Resurrection: Evidences, Vol. 1, by Gary Habermas

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This book by my friend Gary Habermas just came out. It's volume 1 of an expected 4 volumes. They represent the culmination of decades of research that he spent on a lifelong quest to defend the resurrection of Jesus. Other notables who have done a great deal of research on the resurrection include William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, and NT Wright. 

The reason why so much research has been devoted to the resurrection claim is because it is the linchpin upon which everything else hangs when it comes to a  Bible believing faith. If Jesus was raised from the dead their faith is not in vain, Paul tells them. But it also provides the justification for believing in a miracle working god of the Bible, including the story of the garden of Eden, Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac, the Exodus, and all other miracles, including the virgin birthed son of a god. It also guarantees the return of Jesus, and his promise of everlasting reward in a heavenly existence.   

Gary and I have met and have emailed each other for more than a dozen years. He invited me to Skype into a class of PhD students [in June 2020] who were majoring in Apologetics to discuss my book, The Case Against Miracles

Having known about his upcoming set of books I suggested a blurb he could use based on his previous writings:

My friend Gary Habermas has produced the most exhaustive defense of the indefensible claim of faith in the resurrection of Jesus that has ever been attempted. No non-Christian who cares to argue otherwise can avoid it. [Sent on February 18, 2020]

Science and Biblical Literalism

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Christians take the Bible literally until such time as the literal interpretation becomes indefensible. Then they find some other meaning, no matter how strange. In other words, it says what it says until refuted by reason, morality, and/or science; then it says something other than what it says.

A Big Chunk of Cult Posturing in John’s Gospel

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A mighty stream of pompous theobabble



Insight into Christian origins is provided by three texts, written by a man who never met Jesus. (1) The apostle Paul states in Galatians 1:11-12: “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” A revelation as he imagined it, unless you’re willing to credit visions claimed by hundreds of other religions. (2) He also imagined that Jesus was a dying-rising savior god; that is, those who believe in this hero are entitled to eternal life, as he states in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (3) In I Thessalonians 4:17, Paul assured his followers that their dead Christian relatives and friends would be the first to rise to meet Jesus when he arrives on the clouds: “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.”

Zeke Piestrup On His New Film, "Satan's Guide to the Bible!"

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[This is a guest post by Zeke Piestrup about his new film. Don't let the cartoonish background fool you as it quotes from Bible scholars, especially Hector Avalos and Bart Ehrman.]

Praise John Loftus for allowing me to grab the wheel of DC, in hopes of steering y’all straight to my new flick: Satan's Guide to the Bible! Satan is the substitute Sunday school teacher. Today’s lesson? All the Bible secrets the children’s pastor learned at Christian seminary, but won’t share. He’d get fired. Below is a trailer and the full movie!

My Virgin Birth Debate Slides

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I've had some difficulty posting these slides from an online debate with Jimmy Akin, which was hosted by Capturing Christianity. Initially we had agreed to 20 minute openers but decided 10 minutes was enough. Below is my 20 minute slide presentation, which I extended a bit. It puzzles me a great deal why this information doesn't cause more believers to abandon the virgin myth. This is what led me to doubt the gospels as a whole. Enjoy. Please share!

Rampant Gospel Confusion, Number 2: Why Four Different Endings?

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Theology is written this way, not history



Devout scholars have been pondering—and arguing about—the four gospel endings for a long time now. Is there any way that these different endings qualify as history? So much has been written about this, so I’m going to mention here just a few of the issues that come to mind. For those who want to insist that the story of Jesus is supremely important, the end of his story—well, the end of his supposed earthly existence—should be of the best possible quality. But that’s not what we find. Let’s look at each of the four endings.

Two Good Reviews of My Debate with Jimmy Akin On the Virgin Birth

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I was approached by "Capturing Christianity" to debate Marian miracles in general. But I didn't want to do that for a number of reasons. So I got them to focus on the virgin birth, a specialty of mine. 
In the debate I didn't want to reward Jiimmy Akins by commenting on his opener, which I considered an apologist's trick. It's used to take charge of a debate. Akins did not defend any of his premises so there was nothing to do. I wanted to spend all my available time on the unevidenced uncorroborated ancient hearsay testimonial claim of the virgin birth itself.

Dr. Vincent Torley reviewed it and said:

It seemed to me that Loftus was questioning premise P5 of Akin’s argument (that the New Testament is inspired by God), but unfortunately, he did not explicitly say so, preferring to focus on his own argument against the Virgin Birth, which I have to say was very well-presented. Loftus made a powerfully convincing case that miracle claims should rest on solid evidence, and that belief in the Virgin Birth does not. Loftus highlighted the numerous historical problems Matthew’s and Luke’s historical narratives succinctly and cogently. The Skeptical Zone.

Here's an excellent debunking of what Jimmy Akins said. Thanks go out to Dr. Aaron Adair and the Godless Engineer for this! Adair and GE claim that I did very well!

 



New Year Resolutions for Christians, 2024

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Embrace curiosity, question everything!

It’s probably a safe bet that Christian bookstores don’t have shelves marked, “Books by Our Atheist Critics.” There would be few sales—perhaps zero sales, because there is zero curiosity about critiques of Christianity written by serious thinkers. Thus I won’t encourage curiosity in this direction. I suspect most of the devout remain unaware of the boom in atheist publishing during the last couple of decades. This boom was stimulated by the best-selling atheist books written by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris; these seemed to open the floodgates. By my count, there are now well over 500 books—most published since 1999—that explain the falsification of theism, Christianity especially. The owner of this blog, John W. Loftus, has made a major contribution to this growing body of literature (see the books pictured at the right). Even if some churchgoers are vaguely aware of this, they look the other way.

My Virgin Birth Debate Slides Again

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Here are my updated and extended Powerpoint slides from a recent debate on the virgin birth. Don't miss the last slide, which is telling! Enjoy!

My Virgin Birth Debate Slides

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I consider the myth of the virgin birth to be the gateway to doubting the whole New Testament. It was the first tale in the gospels that led me to doubting it all. It was also the last tale William Lane Craig could bring himself to believe. You can watch my extended Powerpoint slide presentation by following this link to Dropbox.

Rampant Gospel Confusion

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The gospels could have been so much better



Here’s a story I’ve told before, but deeper research has revealed more details. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had submitted their gospels to the New Testament Approval Committee. They had been instructed to go to a nearby bar to await the decision on whose gospel would be chosen. So they sat there at the same table, sipping cheap booze, and there was a lot of tension: these guys didn’t like each other at all. Mark was furious that both Matthew and Luke had copied most of his gospel, without mentioning they’d done so, without giving him any credit. Mark was wondering how long it would take for plagiarism to be considered a sin. He was also annoyed they’d changed his wording whenever they saw fit.

The Gateway to Doubting the Gospel Narratives Is The Virgin Birth Myth

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[First published on 6/13/20] OPEN THREAD! There is an often repeated argument that marijuana is the gateway drug leading to dangerous drugs. [I think it's largely false but don't get sidetracked on it.] There is however, a gateway to doubting the whole Bible that I want to highlight here. Lately I've been focusing on the virgin birth claim because this is the gateway to doubting the gospel narratives, just as Genesis 1-11 is the gateway to doubting the Old Testament narratives. It was for me anyway. It was the first tale in the gospels that led me to doubting it all. It was also the last tale William Lane Craig could bring himself to believe. You can see this double doubting of both Testaments in the list of the five most important books that changed my mind, and the five most powerful reasons not to believe.

Capturing Christianity Debate On the Virgin Birth! Jimmy Akin and Caleb Jackson vs John Loftus and Dr. Darren Slade

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Two Christians Jimmy Akin and Caleb Jackson debate two atheists, John W. Loftus and Dr. Darren Slade. I'm thankful for this opportunity. This should be challenging, interesting, educational, and some fun too!

Virgin Birth Debate Tonight!

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A debate hosted by "Capturing Christianity" on YouTube will take place tonight, Thursday at 7 PM Central time.

In this 2v2 debate, two Christians (Jimmy Akin and Caleb Jackson) debate two atheists (John Loftus and Dr. Darren Slade) on whether Jesus was born of a virgin. The first half of the debate will focus on the Virgin Birth. The second half of the debate will focus on Christmas miracles/Marian apparitions. LINK

Here We Go Again with the Fake News Christmas Story

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It’s not hard to find the goofs and gaffs


[First Published in December 2022] Churches all over the world will once again get away with the traditional Christmas story, for one simple reason: the folks in the pews can’t be bothered to carefully read the Jesus birth stories in Matthew and Luke. It’s just a fact these stories don’t make sense and cannot be reconciled: Fake News! A few of the more charming verses from these stories have been set to music and are recited during Christmas pageants; these deflect attention from the utter failure of these stories to quality as history.

 

"How the New Testament Writers Used Prophecy," An Excerpt from "Why I Became an Atheist" pp. 353-59.

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"How the New Testament Writers Used Prophecy" by John W. Loftus. 

One of the major things claimed by the New Testament in support of Jesus’ life and mission is that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (Luke 24:26–27; Acts 3:17–24). If God cannot predict the future as time moves farther and farther into the distance, as I questioned earlier, then neither can any prophet who claims to speak for God. As we will see with regard to the virgin birth of Jesus, none of the Old Testament passages in the original Hebrew prophetically applied singularly and specifically to Jesus. [In chapter 18, "Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Bethlehem?"]. Early Christian preachers simply went into the Old Testament looking for verses that would support their view of Jesus. They took these Old Testament verses out of context and applied them to Jesus in order to support their views of his life and mission.9

Apologetics Based On Coincidental "Miracles" Is Dead

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How many times have you heard a believer say God did a miracle, or answered a prayer, based on a very unlikely set of circumstances? All the time, right!! Christian apologists will even argue there are coincidental miracles in the Bible, called "timing" miracles, events that took place naturally at the right time. Not so fast! Become informed. Read the following books. See why they don't count as miracles, or answered prayers.

I've previously highly recommended the book The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, by David J. Hand, who is an emeritus professor of mathematics, a senior research investigator at Imperial College London, and former president of the Royal Statistical Society. Book description is as follows:
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, they’re commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month. But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough.
Other important books by people who know say the same thing, such as: Knock on Wood: Luck, Chance, and the Meaning of Everything, by Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, who also wrote the book, Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities. Rosenthal is a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, having received his PhD in mathematics from Harvard. Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence, by Joseph Mazur, who is an emeritus professor of mathematics at Marlboro College in Vermont. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow, who co-wrote with Stephen Hawking "The Grand Design", and had previously earned his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley. What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives, by Gary Smith, who is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and It's Consequences, by John Allen Paulos who is a professor of mathematics at Temple University.

You see evidence of miracles and answered prayers in coincidences not because there's a god doing them, but because you look for them. They are not evidence of anything but your own subjective awareness placing a grid upon these events where you see your god acting on your behalf. They are also evidence that you are ignorant of math and statistics and the probabilities built on them. Q.E.D.

Frank Tipler refuted on his Star of Bethlehem thesis by Aaron Adair

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[First published on 8/7/12 by Jonathan Pearce] To coincide with the recent release of my book The Nativity: A Critical Examination, I wrote a couple of posts concerning issues with the nativity accounts in Luke and Matthew. One Christian commentator, Vincent, made replies to many of my points, all of which I rebutted. There was one point on which he pushed and that was a thesis by Christian physicist Frank Tipler that sets out to defend the Star of Bethlehem from a naturalistic standpoint. Tipler hypothesises that the Star of Bethlehem could have been a supernova or hypernova. Frank Tipler is a physicist who once seemed to produce decent work but who has since adopted his work to a Christian outlook, attempting to find physical and scientific evidence for the miracles of Jesus and the workings of the Bible. Many know him from the strong anthropic principle he developed with John Barrow (himself a deistic member of the United Reformed Church). Vincent's points on Tipler can be summed up with this quote:

Christopher Hitchens on the Virgin Birth of Jesus

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The Bethlehem Star, by Dr. Aaron Adair

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Chapter 13: The Bethlehem Star, by Dr. Aaron Adair, in Christianity in the light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2016): 297-313. [Used with permission].

        About two centuries ago, there was a major transition in the way scholars were approaching the stories of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. There was a greater attempt to look at the historical context and formation of the holy book and its stories, and the tales of Jesus were a major issue for critical scholars and theologians. It was also at around this time that the acceptability of wondrous stories was not palatable, at least for the educated where a deistic god was more ideal, one that did not perform miracles and was consistent with the universe of Newtonian mechanics. A naturalistic understanding of the world, inspired by the success of the physical sciences, along with inspiration from Enlightenment thinkers, changed the way people looked at the world, and that caused for a significant reassessment of the spectacular stories of the ancient world. What was one to do with the miracle stories of Jesus if miracles don’t happen? The solution was a series of rationalizations, none seen as terribly plausible but preferable to claiming a miracle or a myth. For example, Jesus walking on water was a mistake on the part of the Disciples, seeing their master walk along the beach shore on a foggy morning and not actually atop the water. Even the resurrection of Jesus was so retrofitted into scenarios that are unlikely, to say the least, but at least they weren’t impossible.

O Holy Night! How Matthew Screwed Up the Christmas Story

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[First Published 12/21/18].          

Get those Wise Men out of the stable…  

We can imagine the literary agents for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John meeting for drinks one Friday evening after work. They all get texts that the church’s Authorized Bible Committee has decided to publish the four gospels together, back-to-back. They all wince. Not a good idea! This will encourage the faithful to compare the four Jesus accounts. Matthew and Luke plagiarized (and altered) Mark extensively—without telling anyone—and the author of John’s gospel was pretty sure that the other three hadn’t told the story well at all, and made up stuff to ‘improve’ to tale. What a mess.

Matthew J. Marohl On Joseph's Dilemma, and the Ethics of Jesus

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[Edited version of a Dec. 6, 2014 post]. Matthew J. Marohl’s book, Joseph’s Dilemma: ‘Honor Killing’ in the Birth Narrative of Matthew (2008), is a provocative one that examines Joseph’s dilemma in some detail. It highlights something absolutely barbaric that both Joseph and Jesus acknowledged. We read of it in Matthew 1:18-19:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her secretly.

Believers Specialize in the Denial of Grim Reality

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Especially the reality of horrendous suffering


What does it take for a person to say No to belief in a god? No matter the depth of indoctrination, it might happen when one is faced with suffering on an unprecedented scale. This happened to Martin Selling, born in Germany in 1918. He was Jewish, thus was caught up in the Nazi frenzy of hate. He ended up in Dachau.

Robert Sapolsky To Be Interviewed On FFRF This Sunday!

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This Sunday Neurologist Robert Sapolsky will be interviewed about his book, Determined: A Science of Life without Freee Will by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Click on the first link above. Don't miss it!

John Beversluis, "The Gospel According to Whom? A Nonbeliever Looks at The New Testament and its Contemporary Defenders" 3

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[First Published 8/3/21] I'm posthumously posting six chapters from an unfinished book sent to me for comment in 2008 by the late John Beversluis (see Tag below). Here is chapter three on "The Genealogies of Matthew and Luke." Do not skip this chapter! It's the most thorough taken-down of the inconsistent, inaccurate, absurd genealogies you will find. It deserves to be studied! I highlighted a few awesome statements of his.

The hoops the Christian has to jump through to believe the Nativity

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[First published by Jonathan Pearce on 7/19/12] I was recently talking in a thread or two, about the historical implausibility of pretty much all of the claims in both Luke and Matthew with regards to the infancy accounts of Jesus' birth.

The situation is this. I maintain that, to hold to the notion that the accounts are historical, one has to jump through hoops. However, the Christian might say that one or two claims in the accounts may be false, but that does not mean that the other claims are false. But in this approach lie many issues. For example:

1) If we accept that some claims in the accounts are false, does the Christian special plead that the other claims are true?
2) The claims are so interconnected that to falsify one or two of them means that the house of cards comes tumbling down.
3) If we establish that at least some of the claims are false, how does this affect other claims within the same Gospel? How can we know that claims of Jesus' miracles are true given that the reliability of the writer is accepted as questionable?

And so on. In my book, The Nativity: A Critical Examination, I think I give ample evidence that allows one to conclude that the historicity of the nativity accounts is sorely and surely challenged. All of the aspects and claims, that is. There are problems, for sure, if one accepts that some claims are false but others are true. But the simple fact of the matter is that all of the claims are highly questionable.

The Birth of Jesus in History & Legend (Bart Ehrman with Michael Shermer)

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A Pop-Quiz for Christians, Number 9

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Tis the season to carefully study the Jesus birth stories



A few years ago I attended the special Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. It ended with the famous tableau depicting the night Jesus was born: the baby resting on straw in a stable, shepherds and Wise Men adoring the infant, surrounded by farm animals—and a star hovering above the humble shelter. Radio City did it splendidly, of course, but the scene is reenacted at countless churches during the Christmas season. The devout are in awe—well, those who haven’t carefully read the birth stories in Matthew and Luke. This adored tableau is actually a daft attempt to reconcile the two gospel accounts—which cannot, in fact, be done.

“Keeping Secularism in the Holidays” by Edouard Tahmizian

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“Keeping Secularism in the Holidays” by Edouard Tahmizian, Vice President & Social Media Manager of Internet Infidels (The Secular Web). He wrote a little 50-second piece dedicated to keeping Secularism alive. Happy Holidays! Sheet Music by Edouard Tahmizian for Piano/Keyboard. Noteflight (click on the play button on the digital score). LINK.

An Excerpt From Chapter 2, From "The Outsider Test for Faith", pp. 33-44

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Chapter 2: The Fact of Religious Diversity

This chapter supports my first contention—that people who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of mutually exclusive religious faiths due to their particular upbringing and shared cultural heritage. This is the Religious Diversity Thesis (RDVT), and it is a well-established fact in today’s world. The problem of religious diversity cries out for reasonable explanation, something that faith has not provided so far. Attempts to mitigate it or explain it, as we’ll see, either fail to take it seriously or explain religion itself away.

Disestablished: Goodbye Church of England? But Meanwhile in America… by Robert Conner

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New legislation scheduled to be introduced in Parliament on

December 6, 2023, proposes to finally, officially, separate the British government from the Church of England: 
 
“Perhaps the distressing sight of King Charles III kneeling before a bible and kissing it at his coronation ceremony hastened the decision to introduce this legislation. The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey, where Charles swore an oath before the bible to uphold the Church of England’s privileges during the ritual led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The National Secular Society, which has been campaigning for the church’s disestablishment since its founding in 1866, reports that a cross claiming what was purported to be shards from Jesus’ crucifix (sic) was part of the ritual.”[1]
 
The new king’s oath “to preserve the Church of England, guarantees Church of England bishops and archbishops 26 seats in the House of Lords, and means state schools can be required to hold Christian worship.” Dr. Scot Peterson of Corpus Christi College remarked, “It’s been difficult to defend having an established church since the beginning of the 20th century but it is now becoming a figment of the imagination. The king being the head of the Church of England made sense in 1650, but not in 2022.”[2]
 

How Did Christianity Get to Be Such a Mess?

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Churchgoers don’t seem to care 

Evidence of the Mess: One

When American Christians head off for church on Sunday morning, how many church buildings of other Christian brands do they pass on the way to their own denomination? Baptists would be horrified at the thought of worshipping at a Catholic church instead. And Catholics would be baffled at the style of worship at a Methodist or Presbyterian church. This is the essence of Mess One: there are, in fact, thousands of different Christian brands, i.e. denominations, divisions, sects, and cults. There has been rampant splintering for hundreds of years because the devout cannot agree on basics about god and how he wants to be worshipped.

Reality Check: What Must Be the Case if Christianity is True?

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In 2011 I did a series of posts called "Reality Check: What Must Be the Case if Christianity is True?"  I put some of them in the third chapter in  The End of Christianity, and the first chapter in God and Horrendous Suffering.

Below I've put together thirty of them that most Christians agree on and why they are all improbable:

1) There must be a God who is a simple being yet made up of three inexplicable persons existing forever outside of time without a beginning, who therefore never learned anything new, never took a risk, never made a decision, never disagreed within the Godhead, and never had a prior moment to freely choose his own nature.

2) There must be a personal non-embodied omnipresent God who created the physical universe ex-nihilo in the first moment of time who will subsequently forever experience a sequence of events in time.