Monday, December 23, 2013

Faith is Belief without Good Evidence

It's been too long since I've engaged in some hardcore Counter Apologetics, but I'm on vacation and I've had the time to do a lot of reading lately.  This article is meant to be an in depth, but hopefully respectful critique of the Christian definition of faith by Tom Gilson.

There's been some back and forth on how the word faith is to be defined in light of Peter Boghossian's new book A Manual for Creating Atheists. 

The primary antagonist I've read defending faith is Christian Apologist Tom Gilson who writes at  To say the least, Tom has written rather extensively against the definitions of faith espoused by Boghossian, Loftus, Lindsay, and Coyne.

What's more is that I think he actually makes a few good points, including a few where I think I may agree with him over those four atheists whose work I admire greatly.  

Now I still  think Tom is wrong on the whole of it, and that's the focus of this post, but the devil is in the details.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Real War on Christmas

There really is a “War on Christmas”, it’s just not what you think.

The “War on Christmas” is simply what religious conservatives call the culture war in late November and December.

The problem for religious conservatives is that it’s less a “War on Christmas” and more about the secular appropriation of Christmas. 

More specifically, it’s about the American culture becoming less religious but keeping the fun Christmas stuff that never really had anything to do with Christianity anyway.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Naturalism, Falsifiability, and Hiddenness

This post is a bit off the cuff, as it’s mainly in response to a Twitter conversation to elaborate on something you can’t put into a series of tweets.  This was born of a conversation with Alex and Elijiah, and the topic was meaty enough that I wanted to write about it.

The question is whether or not a-priori Naturalism is “reasonable” or at least “not scary”.  That’s basically the starting position in philosophy that: no matter what we observe, we would never accept evidence of something supernatural existing.   It’s rejecting the supernatural a-priori.

Personally, I kind of abhor this line of reasoning, or at least I find it terrible to be in a position where I’d say that there can never be evidence of any kind to prove the existence of a god or other supernatural entities.  

To me, this reeks of a sort of fundamentalism that I’d normally chastise certain religious people for practicing. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Münchhausen trilemma entails Secularism

Not too long ago I had a nice discussion with Jonathan Pearce that lead to his posting about the Münchhausen trilemma.

This is an interesting thing I picked up on while debating with a (surprisingly nice) Presuppositional Apologist. 

The interesting thing that came about was that once both theists and atheists come to accept the Münchhausen trilemma as the major issue in epistemology that it is, I think that secularism in terms of governance follows as a result.  This post is to explain why I think that to be the case.

It should be said that if you haven't read up on the Münchhausen trilemma, follow the links above to check it out before continuing with this article.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I was on Atheist Hangouts

Work and family life has been pretty crazy lately, so I'm a bit late in putting this up here for general sharing, especially since it's not hosted on my YouTube channel. 

I was on an Atheist Hangout hosted by Gamma Atheist last Thursday night.  It was a mock debate with Karlton George.

I have to say it was an absolute blast, and I really enjoyed interacting with Karl.  He's an apostate like me, and his former apologist credentials are absolutely spot on.  He was throwing out stuff so hard and fast on the first real exchange we had where he played the apologist that I come across as completely flummoxed.

I didn't do so well when trying to play the apologist in terms of free will, I just don't get their arguments there quite as well as I should.

I do want to thank Dave for hosting and having me on.  He does a TON of these hangouts and they're a good time, so check out his website and his YouTube channel.

There was a funny aside from all this.  I actually got on the Hangout all early to talk to Dave, prepped with a healthy glass of wine, and when I saw how messy my basement was with my wife making Halloween costumes, I was going to hang up a blanket to hide the basement. Well doing that, I moved over a empty DVD case, which then fell over when I turned around and completely shattered the glass my wine was in. 

I was lucky that this was early, I ended up ruining my keyboard and had to act fast to get the glass and wine cleaned up in about a 10 foot radius around everything.  I'm just lucky the wine didn't really get into my gaming computer and the server that sits right underneath it.  Dave probably got a good chuckle at the level of cursing going on after getting over the shock. :P 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Quiverfull movement and Skeptical Theism

The latest Reasonable Doubts series with Vyckie Garrison (who blogs at No Longer Quivering) is really compelling because her story is so painful, but because things seem to have worked out well in the end for her and her children. 

Her interview in RD Episode 119 where she started talking about “spiritual abuse” it struck me as being related to a counter-apologetic argument – the idea that skeptical theism leads to moral paralysis

This seems to be a very real instantiation of that argument playing out in real life, much to the detriment of Vyckie and other women like her in the Quiverfull movement.

For those that don’t know Skeptical Theism is the idea that humans have such a large chasm of knowledge between themselves and the mind of an infinite god that they should not expect to know what reasons god has to permit evils to obtain some greater good. 

The argument is that such a view would lead to moral paralysis because on this view, we don’t know whether or not any given evil that we seemingly come across is being used by god to fulfill a greater good. So if we were to come across an instance of evil (like say a mugging), we wouldn't know whether or not to intervene or otherwise act on our moral intuitions because the mugging may be part of gods greater plan.

This relates directly to Vyckie’s account of “spiritual abuse” where she internalizes the problems with her marriage and the problems with her children that came about as a result of following what she thought was “god’s plan” for the family.  When she speaks about recognizing opportunities to object to or escape the Quiverful doctrine she wouldn’t do so, because she would think “what if god needs me here to intervene in the life of my husband/child/etc.” 

It seems to be a terrible real life instantiation of the epistemic problems that would plague someone who took the skeptical theist answer to the problem of evil seriously and consistently.  I think this is significant because the kinds of problems that pop up in the Quiverfull movement would probably be acknowledged as problems by more progressive or moderate Evangelical Christians.  The issue for them is they would then have to deal with the epistemic problem that arises from the skeptical theism view that the people in the Quiverfull movement take so seriously.

I’d even start to wonder if people in the Quiverfull movement go to such extreme lengths because they take the epistemic issues brought up by their views on the bible so seriously.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I was on the "A Matter of Doubt" Podcast!

I was on the A Matter of Doubt podcast this weekend, and you can listen to it right here.

It was a really fun time and we had a great discussion about the argument from hell and we dug deep down into the problems with the moral argument. I was really happy to discuss this stuff since it's what I've been working on for months as my next big series.

I want to thank Brian and Steve for having me on their show.  A Matterof Doubt is definitely a good podcast to add into your rotation if you're a podcast junkie like I am.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Actually, Quantum Mechanics does undermine the Kalam

I had a reader send me this article over at the Strange Notions blog with a request that I put a comment in given the work I’ve done providing a counter argument to the Kalam.

I find that the article brings up some good points on the theistic side to address objections from quantum mechanics, but it leaves out key points that would count most strongly against the Kalam.

First, there isn’t a direct difference laid out between efficient causation and material causation, the difference is effectively discussed, but it’s not made clear.

What we have in quantum mechanics is what appears to be an effect without an efficient cause. One can argue that there are interpretations of QM that will provide us with efficient causes for these effects, but the standard view currently is that these effects lack an efficient cause.

Given that the Kalam wants to argue that the universe has an efficient, but not a material cause, this is a fairly significant point that shouldn’t be understated.

What Trent rightfully points out is that even if these QM events lack an efficient cause, it’s not “something coming from nothing”, which he calls the main intuitive support for Premise 1. What this is pointing out is that we don’t have something coming beginning to exist without a material cause.

Combine this with the common interpretations of QM, and we find intuitive and evidential support for the idea that we can have things begin to exist with an “efficient and material cause” or “just a material cause”, but never any cases where we have just an efficient cause. This is again a very strong point against the Kalam, since it supports the idea that “something material has always existed”.

That line of thought brings us into premise two of the Kalam, which isn’t really at issue here, so I won’t say much more than there is absolutely no evidence that all of material reality was preceded by a state of “absolute nothingness” in cosmology or philosophy. The most we could say is "we don't know what happened before the first Planck second in the Big Bang".

But let’s get back to this issue of “something can’t come from nothing” since it’s another point where I think counts very strongly against the theist.

The idea that “something can’t come from nothing” is typically supported by the idea that “we don’t see things just popping into existence from nothing”. The QM objection that Trent is addressing here tries to challenge this notion, which he rebuffs by pointing out that “the quantum vacuum is not nothing”.

However in doing this, Trent undermines the only support he has for the premise that “something can’t come from nothing”. How does one know “something can’t come from nothing”? Trent cannot appeal to the common experience we have of things not just popping into existence, since he’s rightly pointed out that when we DO see things popping into existence from “seemingly nothing”, it’s not really the “nothing” he’s talking about in the context of the Kalam.

Let’s pretend that “something could come from nothing”, this notion is no longer problematic or at odds with our common experience, because we have absolutely no experience with the kind of “nothing” in question. This all boils down to how one defines “nothing”, and the definition required by proponents of the Kalam gives us a version of “nothing” that we have absolutely no experience with that we have very good reasons for doubting that a state of this kind of “nothing” could exist in the first place (the First Law of Thermodynamics says hi).

When it comes to cosmological arguments, atheists are generally left with the idea that “something material has always existed” or “something actually can come from nothing”. While I personally hold to the former, the apologist answer to the QM objection shows that the latter could very well be a live option simply because “something coming from nothing” doesn’t contradict any of our common experience.

Monday, September 9, 2013

I was on the Faith & Skepticism Podcast discussing Kalam!

This past weekend I was a guest on the Faith and Skepticism Podcast, and it was honestly awesome!  I was on there with ElijiahT who blogs over at Hashtag Apologetics. He turned out to be as cordial to interact with verbally as he is on Twitter.  I'd definitely class him and Jason (the F&S Podcast Theist Co-Host) as the type of apologist I can happily converse with on these kinds of topics.  They're strong in their positions, but are willing to recognize the validity of others opinions.  That always helps when you're going to go into a debate.  Nathan (the Atheist F&S Co-Host) was also a lot of fun to work with on this, and I recommend checking him out on Twitter.

I was on to debate/discuss the Kalam. I say debate since that's kind of the premise of the show, but in reality I think we had more of a discussion which I think was far more productive for all sides.  We were able to highlight most of the major issues with the Kalam and identified key points where the underlying assumptions of either side play a big role in whether or not someone will find the argument compelling.

I highly recommend checking out the Faith and Skepticism Podcast in general, but you should of course start with the episode featuring me!

Just in case you wanted some links, here's the total of my "Countering the Kalam" series, as well as a helpful video by YouTube Team Skydivephil on Loop Quantum Cosmology which helps answer arguments that reference the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin Theorem that gets brought up so often to try and support the Kalam.  Additionally, here's a great post detailing problems with William Lane Craig's arguments against actual infinites written up by ExApologist.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Virtual Beers with Jonathan Pearce, Justin Schieber - Evidential Problem of Evil!

I just finished up another awesome Virtual Beers session with Jonathan Pearce and Justin Schieber where we discuss the Evidential Problem of Evil and the problems with common theistic responses.

I think that we packed in a lot of philosophical meat in this session and it was honestly a blast!

Extra geek cred if anyone can identify what the wall scroll to the left of me is (ie. not the Dragon Ball Z one). I'd be pleasantly surprised to see if anyone can!

EDIT: The answer is Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury/King of Fighters.  Here's the actual source artwork, from Real Bout Fatal Fury 2

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Upcoming Virtual Beers 9/1/13 - with Justin Schieber and Jonathan Pearce

UPDATE: The Hangout has been postponed until Monday 9/2/13.  Time is 4PM EST!
There will be another live Google Hangout with Justin Schieber, Jonathan Pearce, and myself discussing the Problem of Evil.

The plan is to have the hangout at Monday 9/2/13, time 4PM EST.  It's a bit of an odd time but we have to account for the different time zones for each of us.  The hangout will be available to watch after the fact, but if you can get questions to us live and before hand by commenting on our blogs here or over at Jon's blog, or you can use Twitter and the hashtag #CAVirtualBeers

Be sure to tune in!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Virtual Beers - Counter Apologist, Justin Schieber, & Moonwalking Unicorn

I did another Google Hangout! This time with Justin Schieber and Moonwalking Unicorn, so it was all atheists.

This was a ton of fun and I think we had some really good discussions going on.  We started with a discussion on the types of atheistic arguments: Offensive vs. Defensive and then touched on some arguments that atheists can use that are as intuitively appealing as some theistic arguments.

Our Twitter Handles:

Our Blogs:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Debate Review: Justin Schieber vs. Max Andrews

If you're like me then you probably already subscribe to the Reasonable Doubts Podcast and you've seen the latest RD Extra episode which is a scripted audio debate between Justin Schieber and Max Andrews.

If you haven't already I highly recommend giving it a listen, but be warned - you will have to do a lot of work to follow these two.

I wanted to put out a few of my thoughts on the whole thing.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Great video on Loop Quantum Cosmology

YouTube user Skydivephil has produced another amazing video where they interview some of the scientists working on Loop Quantum Gravity, and the kind of quantum cosmological models that come out from it.

They touch on the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin theorem that apologists love to cite as evidence that the universe "must have had a beginning" and most importantly they explain why the theory doesn't necessarily lead to that conclusion.

There's a lot we don't know here, but this is an example of how science is progressing on the issue in cosmology rather than throwing our hands up in the air and saying "god did it".

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Misunderstandings regarding Craig, Kalam, and Relativity

Jonathan Pearce is having a "Why I am a Christian" series and in the inevitable discussion on Vincent Torley's piece it seems Vincent has done some criticism of my Countering the Kalam series.  Vincent alleges that I've gotten my science wrong and that I have misrepresented William Lane Craig.

I believe this is all based on a misunderstanding of some of the science involved and in a superficial reading of Craig's work in which he's talking about how different philosophies of time impact the cosmological argument.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Miracle Pluralism

I know that lately it seems that all I've been posting about has been goings on from other blogs I like, but I swear that I'm actually working on some a substantive piece of counter apologeitcs.  That said, there has been a nice back and forth between Jonathan Pearce and Randal Rauser on a specific kind of "miracle" that was Randal discussed in the book God or Godless that I reviewed.

I put both these guys in the category of "smart motherfuckers" and they both write stuff I find engaging to read.  So here's my take on the back and forth with a perspective that hopefully adds something to the discussion.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"No gods or kings, only man."

As usual lately I've been inspired to post a bit from stuff over at Randal Rauser's blog.  I posted this as a comment there in response to the idea of "How much freedom would you surrender to live comfortably?".

Randal has the very right-headed sentiment that giving up freedom for extra security is not something worth doing, and I pointed out that this is a bit of an odd view for him to take, considering the Christian god knows all our thoughts, before even we do, and that it is a punishable sin to merely even think certain thoughts. You don't even have to act on them, just thinking about something Yahweh doesn't like is enough to get cast into hell if you don't accept Jesus to forgive your thoughtcrime.

After a brief exchange, the entire thing reminded me of something rather profound that was pointed out to me by other atheists online when I had just deconverted and was reaching out for help - the idea that my thoughts and my mind are my own.

To see the reply to Randal keep on reading.

Author's side note: This is not an attack on Randal, it's just another area we disagree.  It's just that his posts helped me remember something rather profound when I had just deconverted. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Virtual Beers with Counter Apologist - Randal Rauser (6/13/2013)

Virtual Beers with Counter Apologist is where I have a conversation (not a debate!) with other people involved in the debate over god's existence online.

This session was with Christian apologist and theologian Randal Rauser and we covered a lot of topics from Metaphysics to Morality and had what I think was a great conversation.  Many thanks for Randal for participating!

This is my first attempt at doing this, and I didn't know how to use Google Hangout's On Air, so instead of swapping between Randal and me talking, the video turned out to only show Randal. My sincere apologies to Randal, I thought it was showing the full screen view that I saw on the controls.

So much for all my cool gestures and the visual cues from my side of the discussion. :(

I'd also like to note that I was sharing my thoughts on what will go into a series on the Moral argument, but it's still in development, so if you've got criticisms on what I said (or good feedback!) please let me know!

Monday, June 10, 2013

On the use of Mockery

There is a discussion going on between John Loftus and Randal Rauser on the use of mockery.

Many in the atheist community do engage in mockery, and predictably Randal disagrees with that decision.

Since I seem to enjoy taking abuse, I come in on the middle ground:

Mockery is a double edged sword, but to pretend that this sword is always unnecessary is wrong.

Certainly there are plenty of atheists who don’t engage on the issues strongly, and all too often resort to mockery of religious believers.  Blanket mockery is a dangerous thing that can lead to uncritical acceptance of the status quo. I would imagine that this is something Christians would appreciate. 

However, this doesn’t mean that mockery cannot or even should not be used.  It does mean that mockery should not be the default response, reason and kindness should always be the first thing to be employed.  But that can only go so far.

Riddle me this dear moderate Christians:

What response should we have towards the more dangerous fundamentalists like Ken Ham, or the (US) congressmen who cite bible passages as to why climate change isn’t a real problem because human’s can’t really harm the planet due to god’s providence?

Ken Ham is a perfect example, many have attempted to reason with the man, and his response is to ask “Were you there?” as though it was a piece of rhetorical brilliance.

When reason has been tried, and your ideological opponents consciously reject the use of reason and science to determine the truth of empirical matters, what exactly are we left to do?  These are the people who define “truth” as a literal reading of the bible, and they reject any attempts at defining it otherwise.  Reasonable, meaningful dialog is pretty much lost at that point. 

I think quoting Sam Harris is appropriate here:

“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence? 

If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?” 

There are certainly many problems that will come as a result of mockery, and Randal has highlighted many of them.  The conscious anti-intellectualism, the Young Earth “Creation Science”, the increasing levels of cultural isolation (homeschooling, ideologically “pure” colleges, etc).

The only good thing is that on the long haul, the mockery is working.  The numbers of the Young Earth creationists are dwindling, and they will continue to dwindle as each generation progressively rejects their ideology.  

That said I fear we have no other recourse.  There is at the core of this a fundamental disconnect between science and religion because sub-groups of religious people have decided to reject the accomodationist approach and have made it the case. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: God or Godless

I've been interacting with Randal Rauser a good bit on his blog recently, and I've been a fan of John Loftus's counter apologetics for a while.  These two guys have a bit of an admirable history together as a textbook case of "Frenemies". They're on opposite sides of the issue but treat each other with respect, despite the fact that they trade effective rhetorical blows.

So when the two of them released a book debating various topics on god's existence I went ahead and picked up a copy.  I was not disappointed.

Here's the quick version of my review:

If you like following competent debates between theists and atheists then you should read God or Godless.

The book is immediately accessible to folks who are new to the issue, but it also has value for those of us who've been engaged in the debate for some time.  It also has the benefit of being entertaining to read.

If you'd like to see the full review, keep on reading below.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Theological Dilemma for Christians

I've been pretty bad about being "active" in having counter apologetic discussions online (Twitter, commenting in other blogs, etc) and not actually blogging here.   Time to rectify this, by laying out a substantive exchange I've had with Randal Rauser on his blog last week.

Randal was very kind in asking me to write up why I don't believe for a segment over on his blog, which started a pretty interesting discussion that centered around the problem of Christian's calling things related to morality "good"  that at the same time cannot be a part of their god's "necessary nature".

The problem for the Christian in this case is that they end up having to give up the moral argument for god's existence, since they have to ground moral "goodness" in their god's "necessary nature" in order to avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma.

This problem becomes particularly acute when we consider the problem of evil, the problem of hell, and the existence of heaven.  Since being morally free to commit sin is something that absolutely cannot be a part of god's necessary nature, such a moral ability is not "good" on the Christian's own set of definitions.

Now for what it's worth, Randal is to be commended for trying to actually engage this very tough issue.  I've not seen a substantive engagement on this point before, so while I think he's wrong, you've got to give the man some props for trying.

This led to a discussion on Randal's blog that spanned three different posts by Randal replying to issues myself and Jason Thibodeau were bringing up as he tried to come up with answers to problems related to the core issue outlined above.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Arguments Against Christianity - The Argument from Hell (Part 2)

Responding to common objections

Hell is not really torture

One of the most common apologetic acrobatics that happens here is that the apologist will try and white wash hell to make it seem as though eternal conscious torture isn’t all that bad.

First, let’s take a look at how the Christian bible, specifically the New Testament and Jesus describe hell:

Arguments Against Christianity - The Argument from Hell (Part 1)

There are many reasons why you should not be a Christian, but one of the most powerful ways to cause a believer to question their faith is to show them how terrible their supposed god is.  The vast majority of people who identify as Christian are wonderful, loving, good people – and they’ve probably never thought through exactly how terrible their god would have to be if it existed.

One of the most powerful ways to show this is through the argument from the existence of hell. This argument is powerful because it is an internal critique.  It assumes the truth claims of Christianity for the creation and final destiny of the universe, two things that really can’t be whitewashed over as easily as the particularly nasty bits of slavery and genocide in the bible.  That doesn’t mean the apologists won’t try, but this part of Christian theology is so horrible that they’re going to have a hard time of it.

So let’s start with the argument in a simple syllogism: