Failure to Think

I have a lot of debates with religious people, and I’m always amazed by the same thing: the complete lack of any idea of how to talk to someone who doesn’t believe what you do.

There is almost never any rational discussion of “This is why I believe the things I believe”. The theist’s beliefs are simply presented as fact, as if I had never heard of Christianity or Islam or Cargo Cults or whatever. It’s quite baffling.

I’ve tried to point this out many times, and it’s usually met with either “But my beliefs are true!” or ignored. It’s a pretty serious failure of critical thinking.

It’s very odd to me that people respond this way. When I am arguing with a theist, I don’t just keep repeating “There is no God” because it wouldn’t make any sense to do that. Obviously, the theist already knows that I don’t believe in God, and obviously, they disagree. I do see atheists doing that sometimes, but I don’t think it makes them look very bright.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

If someone told me they didn’t believe 2+2 was 4, I wouldn’t repeat over and over that it was. I would demonstrate it. This is pretty easy to do with things that are objectively true. Of course, it’s impossible to demonstrate that God exists, so that isn’t an option for the theist, but what a hypothetical rational theist would do is present reasons why they believe what they believe.

The way to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with you is to start from the common ground of things you agree on, and try to build a case for your idea based on those. If you can’t figure that out, then you probably shouldn’t be trying to argue your ideas with grown ups.

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The Ontological Argument

Imagining Elephants

I do a fair bit of debating on the existence of gods, so I’ve heard pretty much every argument for God at one time or another, but one of the few that I’ve never had used on me is the Ontological Argument. I was surprised recently when someone on Twitter listed it as a good reason for belief, though they never actually got around to arguing it. There are a variety of versions of this argument, but they are all similar. The classic one by St. Anselm runs like this:

  1. By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
  2. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
  3. Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
  4. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
  5. Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
  6. God exists in the mind as an idea.
  7. Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality.

The criticisms of the argument that you find in philosophical sources often suggest that it is difficult to refute. I think when you first glance over it, the flaw in it is immediately apparent: it makes a jump from the imaginary to the real. I think that most people see the argument as nonsense when they first read it; but upon deeper thought, many are unable to identify the specific flaw in it.

Line 1 is just a definition, so we can accept it as is. The flaws in the formal argument begin with line 2.

2. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.

Statement #2 can be accepted as true, but it is setting up the trick; starting to mix imagination and reality. Even though the words “in reality” are in there, both of these proposed beings are imagined; imagining that a being is necessary in reality doesn’t mean that it actually is necessary in reality.

3. Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.

Statement #3 is where the sleight of hand occurs. The definition of God was “a being than which none greater can be imagined”. If a maximally great being exists as an idea in your imagination, then you can’t imagine something greater, so statement #3 is false. The fact that it doesn’t actually exist in reality is not relevant. The fact that it doesn’t necessarily exist in reality is not relevant. If you have imagined it as necessarily existing in reality, you’ve completed the thought experiment. It just means you’ve imagined something that, like many things you can imagine, isn’t known to exist in reality. Nothing here absolves you of the responsibility to prove that it exists or that it must exist.

To reiterate, you can imagine a god that must necessarily exist, but its necessity is also an attribute that you have imagined; it isn’t something that’s shown to be real. You can’t make an imaginary thing “break out of the thought bubble” into reality by simply claiming that it is necessary. You only imagined it to be necessary; that doesn’t make it so, any more than imagining a pink elephant makes it real. Not even if you imagine that the pink elephant is a necessary being.

The trick of the argument is the language limitations that make it difficult to express exactly what is flawed in the syllogism. I hope I have done that.

God Breaks Out?

Since statement #3 is false, that makes #5 false and leaves #7 unsupported, which is probably what most people thought at first glance.

All versions of the ontological argument are variations on this same sleight of hand, intended to make you forget that you were discussing imaginary things and switch to talking about real things.

Here’s is Alvin Plantinga’s version as pitched by William Lane Craig:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being (MGB) exists.
  2. If it is possible that an MGB exists, then an MGB exists in some possible world.
  3. If an MGB exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If an MGB exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If an MGB exists in the actual world, then an MGB exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

In this version, they try to fool you into accepting premises which already contain the conclusion they claim to argue. The question begging is hidden in the definition of MGB: since an MGB is defined as having the property that if it exists in one possible world (which is to say that it isn’t logically contradictory) then it must exist in all possible worlds, premise #1 amounts to “an MGB exists unless it’s logically contradictory” and you can stop right there. Argument by assertion; religious apologetics at its finest. This kind of intellectual dishonesty gives philosophers a bad name.

The God in your imagination might be a representation of a real god (if theists are correct), or not (if atheists are correct), but either way, that particular god is in your imagination. The ontological argument sheds no light on the question of whether a god exists in reality.

Note: this post does not address whether god(s) exist; it only addresses a specific argument for a god’s existence, so if you comment, please stick to this argument.

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The Interview Project

Mike Towers (@miketowerstweet) on Twitter has been doing Skype interviews with atheists, and had asked me to participate. I didn’t really want to do the Skype interview, but I listened to his interviews with @Stooshie and @crispysea. Mike was very respectful; he mostly just listened to what people had to say. I wrote down the questions he asked; here are my answers.

Tell me a little about yourself?

Engineer by training; always interested in science; logical, critical thinker. I’m a pretty boring guy, really. Politically liberal, personally conservative, etc.

Do you consider yourself an atheist or agnostic?

Both, but I self identify as an atheist.

Technically, I would call myself an agnostic atheist, but I think the distinction is pretty meaningless. God has been defined in such a way that he’s impossible to prove or disprove, so everyone who is honest has to admit agnosticism. People who claim to know for certain that God exists are using as evidence things like personal revelation, visions and signs and such. We know that this type of evidence convinces some people that astrology, New Age beliefs, contradictory religions, etc. are true, so we know it isn’t reliable evidence.

I don’t like the term “agnostic” by itself; I think it’s used by nonbelievers when they don’t want to argue, and by believers as a dishonest attempt to make belief look more universal than it is by dividing the world into people who believe in God vs. people who aren’t sure. The question: “Are you certain about your position on the existence of God?” only has meaning after you’ve first established what that position is, with the question “Do you believe in God?” Based on that, I would describe myself as an atheist. I don’t think anyone can claim certainty, but I certainly don’t believe in any god.

When did you become an atheist/agnostic?

I’m embarrassed to say I came to it pretty late. I went to church into my early twenties; and I maintained belief until I stopped attending. Very soon after I stopped getting that weekly reinforcement from church, I started to admit to myself that there is no evidence of a god that answers prayer and intervenes in the operation of the world. I suppose I was briefly a deist; but I don’t think I held that belief for more than a matter of weeks. I quickly came to the conclusion that the simplest and best explanation is that there is no god.

Do you consider yourself a former Christian or other religion?

Yes, I was raised Catholic and stayed in the religion until around 25. I went to church every Sunday and Holy Day for those first 25 years. I was an altar boy, went to Catholic schools, and I even wanted to be a priest when I was young, probably until puberty started and I realized celibacy is a pretty bad idea.

I never had the bad experience with religion that many Christians assume atheists had. I thought church was boring, and I never really “felt God” the way people claim they do, but I wasn’t abused by the church or anything like that. My main problem with religion is just the basic one: I don’t think it’s morally acceptable to present as fact things that you don’t (or can’t) know to be true.

Why do you not believe in God?

I’ve never seen any good reason to believe, and I have looked pretty hard, harder than most Christians have looked, I think. When I was a kid, I would ask hard questions in religion classes; the teacher would usually try to redirect, and when that failed, they would say that smart people like C.S. Lewis or Thomas Aquinas had the answers and I would see them when I was older. When I read “Mere Christianity” and saw how flawed Lewis’ logic was, I realized that they didn’t have any answers. They just try to push the questions off until you’re so invested in the religion that you’ll be willing to accept the weak answers they give.

I think when you look at the world objectively, it is completely inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being like the Christian God is claimed to be. The counter arguments to the Argument from Evil fail miserably to explain the problem away.

What would you say to God-believers out there?

Analyze the things you believe. Stop uncritically accepting what your preacher tells you. For example, don’t just accept that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, so that when you see that the Bible conflicts with reality, you must conclude that reality is wrong. Recognize that if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d almost certainly be using the same logic to argue that Islam/Quran is true and Christianity is false. Think about how you would convince an outsider, someone who had never heard of your god, that your beliefs are correct. Don’t rely on the Bible’s authority.

Are you mad at God?

No, you can’t be mad at something if you don’t believe it exists.

Do you hate the Christian God at all?

Same answer as above. I don’t hate Darth Vader or Sauron and I don’t hate God. I think the character is pretty despicable as written, but no more so than other god myths. If I thought God existed, I would be trying pretty hard to hide my opinion that he’s a monster so he wouldn’t read my thoughts and burn me.

Should I stop believing in God, or stay the way I am?

I’m not here to tell Christians what to do. I’m here to counter people who’ll tell you to accept things on faith, and that they know what a god is thinking and that you need to do what they say. But if you care that the things that you believe are true, then yes, you should stop believing in anything that you accept without good evidence.

Have you or do you currently read the Bible or any religious books?

Unlike most Christians, I read the Bible cover to cover when I was 12 or 13. It always amazes me how many people claim that they believe that the Bible is the One True God’s inerrant Word, and don’t actually read it. I don’t think it’s possible to really believe that way; if you thought it was God word, you would read it, from start to finish, not just the parts that your preacher cherry picks for you.

I use Bible Gateway all the time in my debates with Christians; I particularly like Net Bible (https://net.bible.org/) with its original Greek and Hebrew available with word for word translation.

If you could recommend any one book, what would it be?

To convince people religion is false? The Bible. Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” If you can detach yourself from what you’ve been indoctrinated with your whole life, that idea that the Bible is God’s Word, and just take it on its own merit, I think it will be clear that the Bible is perfectly consistent with the work of Bronze Age men and completely inconsistent with the inspired word of God. Until you bring in a lot of rationalization and excuses, there’s nothing supernatural about the Bible. None of the prophecies are remotely convincing, and some (like the destruction of Tyre) clearly prove the Bible false.

Have you ever heard of “presuppositional apologetics”?

Yes. To me, it’s simply a refusal to discuss the idea of God rationally by claiming that you can’t be rational without God. Presuppositionalism is the philosophical equivalent of saying “I’m taking my ball and going home” when it wasn’t even your ball.

The core idea of critical thinking is to question everything, and see which things can be supported by evidence and reason and which can’t. When you do that, you’ll come down to certain basic things that you can’t prove or disprove, like “I’m not a brain in a vat.” There’s no way we know of to prove that we aren’t, so we accept the appearance that we are not and move on. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a possibility that we are brains in vats, just that there isn’t any reason to believe we are, and no way to prove we’re not. So you have to accept that idea as unprovable, but the whole point is to make as few of those unprovable assumptions as possible.

Presuppositionalists try to claim that God’s existence is one of those core ideas you just have to accept, but it isn’t. Believers just present the claim that way because there’s no evidence to support it; not because it couldn’t have evidence in principle. We all get our information through our senses, so we are all vulnerable to the brain in a vat problem. We do not all have the experience that there is a God, and in fact it’s hard to find two believers who have the same experience. When I look at reality, I don’t see a god. You may look at the same type of input and say that you do see God. The way you come to believe in God is not through some unknown mystical process; it’s through input from your senses and the conclusions you draw from them. You read the Bible, you hear what your parents tell you, or you take input from your senses and run it though some reasoning process like the Cosmological Argument that’s available to atheists to critique. People believe for different reasons, but it is usually along the lines of questions that they can’t answer that they feel God is the best answer for, and personal experiences, like the way they feel when they pray which they interpret as God’s presence. Both involve getting information through their senses. I look at the same evidence and I don’t see God.

The way rational people settle disputes is with evidence and reason. Presuppositionalists simply refuse to discuss why they might be wrong. I saw the Sye Ten Bruggencate debate with Matt Dilahunty, and thought Bruggencate acted like a child. Instead of answering any question Matt asked him, he just kept saying Matt couldn’t prove he wasn’t a brain in a vat, as if we wouldn’t notice that Sye couldn’t either. He just declared by fiat that he wasn’t. (Note: I am NOT recommending that anyone watch this debate.)

It’s a fair point that the people best qualified to assess the idea of presuppositionalism would be professional philosophers. The majority of philosophers are atheist, and I don’t think any substantial proportion of the minority believers are presuppositionalists, so clearly philosophers don’t take the idea seriously.

I’d like to read you a Bible passage. Is that ok? Romans 1: 18-21 — Do you agree or disagree with that?

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

You’re basically asking me whether I agree that I am a liar. This verse is pure ad hominem. It says “If anyone claims they don’t believe what I say is true, it is because they are liars that really know I’m right.” This is not the kind of thing that people who are telling the truth say. If I said “You know there’s no god, but you’re just a liar that wants to make a living on religion”, I think you might call me unkind. I would not say that. When I’m telling you the truth, and you question it, I provide reasons to believe that what I say is the truth. It’s pointless and childish to say your opponent is a liar who knows you’re right.

Think about what this verse is actually saying. It’s saying the atheist 93% of the National Academy of Sciences members know that God exists and will torture them infinitely for denying it, but they deny it anyway because they want to sleep in on Sundays or smoke crack or whatever. It’s not an idea worthy of debate. It’s just the kind of thing you say when you have no argument.

It strikes me as odd that Christians put Paul’s word at the same level as Jesus’, and sometimes even use Paul to override Jesus. Paul was a man who never met Jesus when he was alive. It makes no sense to accept Paul’s word as inerrant. If, in another thousand years, another Christian writer’s words get accepted into the Bible, will they become inerrant? Christians often reject questioning of the Bible by saying “it’s man’s word against God’s word”. This ignores the fact that the Bible is ALL man’s word; the question is whether it is true or inspired.

Is there anything in the Bible you strongly disagree with?

There are certainly some good things in the Bible, but so much bad: slavery and genocide, treatment of women, foreigners, and non-believers…

To pick a few things to focus on, the worst of Jesus’ teachings is Hell. Infinite punishment for finite or trivial crime is infinitely unjust. Then there’s the idea of thought crime: if you even think about a woman with desire it’s the same as adultery, so you can be sentenced to infinite punishment for something you can’t even control.

One of my least favorite things in the Bible is reliance on faith. It just seems so obvious that the only people who tell you to take things on faith are people who are lying to you. I might occasionally be a bit hurt by having my honesty questioned, but I wouldn’t be afraid of having my claims checked out unless I had something to hide.

It makes no sense that God would make a universe where you are continually punished for taking things on faith in every area of life, and then demand faith in one area only: belief in God. When you’re walking near a cliff, do you accept without evidence that you won’t fall off, or do you open your eyes and look for the edge? When someone tells you they have a bridge to sell, do you give him your life’s savings on faith, or research the deal so you don’t get scammed?

Accepting things on faith, meaning without evidence, is a sure way to get stung over and over in the world that we live in. Yet Christians believe that, for some unknown reason, God decided that this was the most important thing for people to do, to use faith in this one area only. It sounds a lot like what the guy with the bridge to sell would tell you, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Do you ever debate religion/existence of God with anybody?

All the time; it’s my sole purpose on Twitter. I’m an idea Darwinist. I think the best ideas should survive, so I want to put my ideas to the test. I will debate religion with anyone who will engage. I started out trying to understand why intelligent people believe in something that is so obviously false to me. I have refined my ideas and learned a lot more about religion and philosophy from the experience, but no one has ever given me the slightest reason to believe that the Christian god exists.

Most don’t even try to argue for Christianity. Some are just rude and insulting, but most either ask me to disprove God, or they argue for deism. The problem with that is that deism is closer to my position than it is to Christianity. Think about it: if tomorrow we find out we’re both wrong and deism has the correct answer, whose life would change more? I’d say “Wow, I was wrong about a creator god” and not change anything else about my life. A Christian’s whole basis for life would have to change.

Have Christians ever tried talking to you about becoming a Christian?

Well, I was Christian for 25 years or so. I live on earth, so we know that Mormons & Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. Christians on Twitter often ignore the points being made against them and tell me to just give up on logic and rationality and believe in their God.

Are you open to the existence of a God?

I am open to anything that is supported by evidence. As far as being open to the existence of the Christian God, I guess I’d say I’m as open to that as I am to the idea of a flat earth. I’ll accept it if good evidence is provided, but I don’t think that it’s possible.

If you discovered that Christianity was true, would you believe it and become a Christian?

Of course. I don’t know what it means to not believe something that I know is true. I would start trying to convince myself that God wasn’t an immoral monster, so I could avoid the eternal torture.

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31 Questions for Atheists

31 Questions for Atheists

There is a list of questions for atheists at CARM ; I saw them on Godless Mom and thought I’d write up my responses.

1. How would you define atheism?

I would use the dictionary, which says “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God”. So the term includes both strong atheists who assert that there is no God, and weak atheists who just don’t believe in any god, but do not make the positive assertion that none exists. For myself, I am a weak atheist on gods in general, since there’s no way to prove they don’t exist, but no reason to believe they do, either. On the Abrahamic God, I am happy to assert that he does not exist as described, based on his inherent contradictions and the obvious mythical nature of the Bible.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in God)?

I find the question to be nonsensical. In general, I would say I act based on what I believe, but I don’t act according to the idea that there is no god. I don’t know how to do that.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?

It is clearly not inconsistent. Whether any gods exist or not, it’s a fact that real people believe in them. If gods do not exist, and real people believe they do, and act on it, why would it be inconsistent to tell them?

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

This is an oddly worded question. I am 100% sure that atheism represents reality, because even if a god exists, the universe behaves as if one doesn’t.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

The question is basically the same as above; I will assume it means “how sure are you that there is no God?” I am as sure as I am of anything that the God of the Bible does not exist as described. Anyone who has critically read the whole Bible can see that. I cannot really assess the probability that a deist, non-interventionist god exists. It doesn’t seem likely, but if I found out that one did, it would not change how I live my life in any meaningful way.

6. How would you define what truth is?

The dictionary says “conformity with reality” and that aligns with how I use the word. Most people, theist and atheist, agree that some claims (ones that aren’t opinion) have truth value. The statement “God exists as described in the Bible” is either true or false, whether or not we are capable of determining the truth of it. People who reject all truth with relativism like “It’s true for me” aren’t capable of rational discussion.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Atheism is justified because there is no good evidence of any gods. Disbelief in anything that has no evidence for its existence is a logical default. If it’s good enough for leprechauns and fairies, it’s good enough for gods.

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

I suppose I am a provisional materialist. I do not see any reason to think anything totally detached from the physical exists, but I am open to it, if it can be shown to exist.

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

I don’t see how atheism could be considered a worldview in and of itself. I don’t think it would make much sense to answer the question “How do you view the world?” with “I don’t believe in any gods.” It is one word that you could use to describe a worldview, so I don’t object to the phrase “atheistic worldview” per se, though it’s usually followed by a straw man.

10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

I object to many features of many religions, not just Christianity. Many Christians use their beliefs to treat homosexuals as second class citizens, to get privilege for their own beliefs, try to teach religion in science classes, etc.

Mostly I object to people claiming they have truth, when all they have is belief and conjecture. I think it’s morally wrong to claim things as truth that you don’t (and can’t) know to be true. It’s a form of lying.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?

I’ll ignore the “deny” baiting and answer. I did something few Christians do: I read the Bible cover to cover. I saw that it looks nothing like a book inspired by God as he is described to be. When I asked the hard questions, I was pushed aside, and told that smart people like C.S. Lewis had good answers. Then I read them, and saw that they didn’t have good answers, either.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Mostly. I think there would be a mix of results. For smart people, it would be much better. They would understand which morals to keep and which to dump and much of the justification for war and hatred would fall away.

I also recognize that the threat of eternal torture may be the only thing keeping certain people from killing me and taking my stuff.

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

Same answer as above. Christianity is better than some religions (like Islam) only because most people don’t take it so literally. The Bible has as much barbaric stuff in it as the Quran, but most Christians ignore it completely, or twist Jesus’ words to justify not following it.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

No. Faith is a failed epistemological process; a way of pretending that you know with certainty that your beliefs are true, even though you can’t support them rationally. It’s not a mental health problem, it’s a problem of education.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?

If a god existed, I can’t see why he would not be scientifically verifiable. It’s one of the least believable claims of religion, that God hides from rational people, and rewards faith: belief without good evidence.

16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

There is no category mistake to avoid. If the claim were that God is immaterial and does not affect the material world at all, then it would not make sense to ask for material evidence. (Though it would make sense to ask the difference between that kind of existence and non-existence.)

Since God is claimed to affect the material world, it makes perfect sense to ask for material evidence of this.

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

I don’t see a purpose set by an outsider. We are evolved to reproduce, but I wouldn’t call that purpose. We can set our own purpose. I set my purpose as something like “Be a good father, husband, friend, worker, citizen. Learn as much as possible. Leave the world a little better than you found it.”

18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

You have to set your own purpose. Everyone does, even religious people. They just set their purpose as “do what a preacher or an ancient book told me God wants me to do”.

19. Where does morality come from?

We are evolved to be social animals. Society doesn’t work without a code of behavior.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

No. This is intended to be a gotcha question for atheists. It attempts to create a false dilemma between “moral absolutes exist” and “morals are based only on your opinion”. This omits at least one more choice: morals are relative, but not just based on an individual person’s opinion. That happens to be the correct choice. Good morals are based on causing the least suffering/creating the greatest well-being for sentient beings. Of course people disagree on how to do that, so they disagree on morals.

21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

N/A

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

It’s a word, it describes something people observe. I don’t think it’s a mystical thing. Some people are born without empathy, or abused or both, and they do horrible things to people. I might call Hitler evil, but I don’t mean possessed by some demon or something silly like that. For whatever reason (genetics, mental defect, upbringing) Hitler had a shocking disregard for causing suffering in certain groups, which made him a horrible person. Evil, if you like.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?

Take your pick. You could judge the character God by my secular morals: if he would send a single person to infinite torture for finite crime, he clearly is not interested in minimizing suffering or maximizing well-being.

You could also judge God by his own morals as listed in the Bible, and he would be seen as immoral. Baby killing in 1 Samuel 15:3? Immoral by God’s or any other standard. Rationalizing that is usually done with “If God gave us life, doesn’t He have the right to take it away?” Unless you believe it’s moral to murder your children for disobedience, the answer is “No”.

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

Evidence would be good. Personal experience is known to be unreliable, since it convinces people of Tarot, astrology, crystals, whatever. (Yeah, I know, those are all real; demons do that stuff to mislead. Whatever.)

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

I will steal this answer from Matt Dilahunty: I don’t know, but if God exists, he knows what would convince me.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

I don’t know what kind of useful evidence would fall outside those categories.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

Atheists. We only have the one life to live, so we don’t want to squander it. The Christians who want to speed Armageddon along are pretty terrifying.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).

No, I think free will is probably an illusion. In an alternate universe where all the circumstances, conditions, past history and everything were the same, I doubt that I could really choose differently than I do in this one. Quantum randomness may roll a die, but that isn’t choice.

Ironically, the God of the Bible doesn’t, either; he forces people to do evil so he can punish them.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

N/A

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

No, I don’t see any reason to believe evolution would move us away from the physical, or allow us to violate laws of physics. But any sufficiently advanced being might appear like a god to you, if you’re inclined to think that way.

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

N/A, but that would rule out Yahweh and leave many, many gods.

Posted in Atheism, Religion | 2 Comments

The Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus

It’s commonly said that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies from the Bible. When I was a Christian, I never bothered to check into any of these, but of course that was before web-based Bibles made it so easy. Here is a look at the 44 prophecies that Jesus is said to have fulfilled on http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Prophecies-Jesus.htm

If you are a believer, try to keep in mind that it’s not good enough to look back with hindsight and assume that what was written was a prophecy that came true. Try to honestly look at what was predicted to happen, and what the evidence shows actually happened. Was it something unlikely that actually came to pass? Or is it a vague prediction like a fortune-teller makes, that can always be found to be true in hindsight? Objectively assess whether you could still make as strong a claim that the same prophecy had come true if something different had happened. If you could, it’s not a convincing prophecy.

I will give each one a persuasiveness score and tally them up and the end. Keep your own score and see how convincing you think these prophecies are after you actually read what they really say.

1. The Messiah would be born of a woman.

Prophecy: Genesis 3:15

Fulfillment: Matthew 1:20; Galatians 4:4

There’s not much to dispute with this claim as presented. But truth be known, I was also born of a woman.

The problem with this claim (and many others throughout this list) as presented is that the Genesis verse says nothing remotely close to this claim. It says that humans and snakes will have a strained relationship because of the whole Eve-Apple thing. There is no rational reason to believe that “your offspring” meant a Messiah. This list is not off to a good start.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

2. The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Prophecy: Micah 5:2

Fulfillment: Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6

This is a legitimate Messianic prophecy, but its fulfillment by Jesus of Nazareth (not Jesus of Bethlehem, you’ll note) is highly suspect. The census that supposedly forced Jesus’ family to travel to Bethlehem is not recorded by historians as other censuses of the time were, nor is there any precedent or logic for requiring travel to your ancestral town for a census. It also leaves the question of how the author knew this story, since they were certainly not around at the time of Jesus’ birth. At best, they are repeating a story told to them by Jesus or his family.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

3. Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Prophecy: Isaiah 7:14

Fulfillment: Matthew 1:22-23; Luke 1:26-31

This one is strong evidence against the truth of the Gospels. It is well known that the Hebrew word “almah” from Isaiah 7:14 meant “young woman”, not just “virgin”. It is very apparent to unbiased readers that the Greek-speaking Gospel authors were familiar with the Septuagint (a Greek version of the Old Testament available at the time) which contained the “virgin” mistranslation, and fabricated the virgin birth story to “fulfill prophecy”. Huge red flag here.

Also, how did they know Mary was a virgin?

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -8

4. Messiah would come from the line of Abraham.

Prophecy: Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18

Fulfillment: Matthew 1:1; Romans 9:5

There’s not much to argue about the claim that the Jewish Messiah would be a Jew, and thus a descendant of Abraham. Too bad neither OT verse supports the claim; they have nothing to do with the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

5. Messiah would be a descendant of Isaac.

Prophecy: Genesis 17:19; Genesis 21:12

Fulfillment: Luke 3:34

So the Messiah was from Abraham’s line AND from Isaac’s line?!? Uncanny.

Add another two verses that say nothing like what this author claims.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

6. Messiah would be a descendant of Jacob.

Prophecy: Numbers 24:17

Fulfillment: Matthew 1:2

Wait, wait, he was from Jacob’s line, too? This is just too much to be coincidence. (For those not getting it, Abraham was Issac’s father and Jacob’s grandfather, and Jacob was also known as Israel, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.)

So now Jesus has fulfilled four prophecies by being Jewish and having a mother. The bar for fulfilling Biblical prophecy seems to be set rather low.

On the plus side, this Numbers verse is one of the few verses on this list that is actually a prophecy.

On the minus side, it says that this person would crush Moab and conquer Edom. I am not aware of Jesus’ military conquests.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -5

7. The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.

Prophecy: Genesis 49:10

Fulfillment: Luke 3:33; Hebrews 7:14

Like many of these, this one depends on you not bothering to read the verse, as it says nothing like what is claimed. What it says is:

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”

The “scepter” had departed from Judah centuries before Jesus’ birth; Judah was conquered by others, and under Roman control by Jesus’ time, so this one is not exactly making the case for Jesus as the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -2

8. Messiah would be heir to King David’s throne.

Prophecy: 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 9:7

Fulfillment: Luke 1:32-33; Romans 1:3

This Samuel verse talks about a descendant of David reclaiming the throne, but it is very clearly referring to a fallible human, not a perfect God-man.

“When he does wrong, I will punish him” -2 Samuel 7:14

The Isaiah verse is better, but predicts endless peace for Israel, which certainly hasn’t been fulfilled yet.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

9. Messiah’s throne will be anointed and eternal.

Prophecy: Psalm 45:6-7; Daniel 2:44

Fulfillment: Luke 1:33; Hebrews 1:8-12

The Psalms verse is about God’s throne, not the Messiah’s, and unless someone has seen Jesus’ throne, this is simply a claim, not a fulfilled prophecy. Daniel is about a dream of Nebuchadnezzar; it also says nothing about the Messiah. Instead, it says:

“God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”

If this was a prophecy about the Messiah, it must be that Jesus hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

10. Messiah would be called Immanuel.

Prophecy: Isaiah 7:14

Fulfillment: Matthew 1:23

This is another serious strike against the Bible, as Jesus’ name was in fact, Yeshua, not Immanuel. There is no record of him ever being called by that name, even in the NT. This verse simply shows that the Gospel author knew of the prophecy. If you would argue that the prophecy is fulfilled by the fact that Christians sometimes call Jesus by that name now, then you are not capable of understanding the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy. Stick with blind faith.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -5

11. Messiah would spend a season in Egypt.

Prophecy: Hosea 11:1

Fulfillment: Matthew 2:14-15

The whole claim of prophecy here is ridiculous. The verse is clearly referring to the Exodus, not to the Messiah. And if you do insist on twisting the verse to make it refer to the Messiah and not to Israel, you might want to read verse 2, since you will be required to accept that the Messiah worshiped Baal.

If you can get past all that, then the fulfillment story is highly unconvincing, since it depends on Herod having slaughtered all the male infants in the Bethlehem area, which is recorded nowhere else in history. This would have been a pretty big event; historians would have noticed. For some reason, none of the Gospel writers besides Matthew noticed these events, either.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

12. A massacre of children would happen at Messiah’s birthplace.

Prophecy: Jeremiah 31:15

Fulfillment: Matthew 2:16-18

The Jeremiah verse is not a prophecy about the Messiah. It refers to a mother in Ramah (not Bethlehem) weeping for her children, but if you read on to verses 16-17, God says the children will return. So this verse is not about a massacre or the Messiah’s birthplace.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

13. A messenger would prepare the way for the Messiah.

Prophecy: Isaiah 40:3-5

Fulfillment: Luke 3:3-6

This is another unremarkable prediction, but it is talking about preparing the way for God, not the Messiah. The Jews didn’t see the Messiah as being God, and that is required for this to make any sense.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

14. Messiah would be rejected by his own people.

Prophecy: Psalm 69:8; Isaiah 53:3

Fulfillment: John 1:11; John 7:5

This Psalm has nothing to do with the Messiah. It is written in the first person and speaks of “my guilt”, so if it’s about Jesus, then Jesus wasn’t sinless.

The Isaiah verse is is unremarkable, and I don’t see any reason to think it was referring to the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

15. Messiah would be a prophet.

Prophecy: Deuteronomy 18:15

Fulfillment: Acts 3:20-22

Jesus’ prophecies included his own return within the lifetimes of his disciples, so I’m not convinced he was much of a prophet. And this is another verse that makes no mention of a Messiah, only another prophet. If you read on to Deuteronomy 18:21-22, though, you’ll find:

“You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.”

That is surprisingly sensible advice, and counts Jesus out as a prophet.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -5

16. Messiah would be preceded by Elijah.

Prophecy: Malachi 4:5-6

Fulfillment: Matthew 11:13-14

This one is really stretching, since around 60 billion people (more than half of the people who have ever lived) came after Elijah. If it just meant he would be a prophet, it’s the same as the last one.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

17. The Messiah would be declared the Son of God.

Prophecy: Psalm 2:7

Fulfillment: Matthew 3:16-17

This verse is about David and has nothing to do with the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

18. The Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

Prophecy: Isaiah 11:1

Fulfillment: Matthew 2:23

This verse doesn’t even say anything about Nazareth; says a new branch will grow from David’s line.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

19. The Messiah would bring light to Galilee.

Prophecy: Isaiah 9:1-2

Fulfillment: Matthew 4:13-16

I’m sure this sounds convincing to those already convinced, but it isn’t really a testable claim; it’s just a Gospel author echoing the Old Testament.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

20. The Messiah would speak in parables.

Prophecy: Psalm 78:2-4; Isaiah 6:9-10

Fulfillment: Matthew 13:10-15,34-35

I don’t see that this verse is a prophecy of the Messiah, nor is it in any way remarkable if fulfilled.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

21. Messiah would be sent to heal the brokenhearted.

Prophecy: Isaiah 61:1-2

Fulfillment: Luke 4:18-19

This is pretty non-specific; pretty much anyone could claim they heal the brokenhearted. Maybe James Taylor is the Messiah?

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

22. The Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Prophecy: Psalm 110:4

Fulfillment: Hebrews 5:5-6

The NIV version of the Bible even subtitles this “Of David”. It is not referring to the Messiah. Nor was Jesus a priest; the Hebrews verse admits this, and then rationalizes it by claiming Jesus was a priest anyway, even though he wasn’t.

“Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him…’You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ -Hebrews 5:5-6

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -1

23. The Messiah would be called King.

Prophecy: Psalm 2:6; Zechariah 9:9

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:37; Mark 11:7-11

The Psalms verse says nothing like what is claimed; it is about David again.

Zechariah is probably one of the most convincing of this sad bunch. Too bad it only says the king will ride a donkey. OK.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

24. The Messiah would be praised by little children.

Prophecy: Psalm 8:2

Fulfillment: Matthew 21:16

Like all of the Psalms quotes, this has nothing to do with the Messiah, but is clearly David referring to Yahweh directly:

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

25. The Messiah would be betrayed.

Prophecy: Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12-13

Fulfillment: Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:14-16

Again, the Psalm does not appear to be a prophecy about the Messiah.

The Zechariah verse mentions 30 pieces of silver, but the only betrayal here is the shepherd (God) abandoning his flock.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

26. The Messiah’s price money would be used to buy a potter’s field.

Prophecy: Zechariah 11:12-13

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:9-10

Complete fabrication. The Zechariah verse says nothing about buying a field from the potter, nor is it about the Messiah’s betrayal. If it was, Judas would have to be the shepherd character, which makes no sense.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

27. Messiah would be falsely accused.

Prophecy: Psalm 35:11

Fulfillment: Mark 14:57-58

Like all the Psalms, this is David moaning. It is not a prophecy of the Messiah, nor would it be remarkable if it was. If Jesus fulfilled this, so did every criminal who ever proclaimed his own innocence.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

28. The Messiah would be silent before his accusers.

Prophecy: Isaiah 53:7

Fulfillment: Mark 15:4-5

This one isn’t too terrible; though Jesus wasn’t silent in Mark 15:2. Still, it’s one of the best so far, which is not saying much. I’ll give it a point out of generosity.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 1

29. The Messiah would be spat upon and struck.

Prophecy: Isaiah 50:6

Fulfillment: Matthew 26:67

This one is unremarkable, but not obviously false. By the standard of this list, I’ll call it an amazing win.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 2

30. The Messiah would be hated without cause.

Prophecy: Psalm 35:19; Psalm 69:4

Fulfillment: John 15:24-25

Like all Psalms, both are about David; there’s no reason to think either refers to the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

31. Messiah would be crucified with criminals.

Prophecy: Isaiah 53:12

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27

This is another whopper; the verse says nothing like “crucified with criminals” it says he was “numbered with transgressors”. It also says “though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring.” This clearly proves that it was not referring to Jesus. Or maybe the DaVinci Code was right and Jesus had children?

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -5

32. Messiah would be given vinegar to drink.

Prophecy: Psalm 69:21

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:34; John 19:28-29

More Davidic whinging, not Messianic prophecy.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

33. Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced.

Prophecy: Psalm 22:16; Zechariah 12:10

Fulfillment: John 20:25-27

The Psalm is more Davidic whinging, not a Messianic prophecy. This is a favorite of Christians, the one they claim foreshadows the crucifixion. The problem is the Hebrew word (כארי “karah”) that they claim means “pierce” is never translated that way anywhere else in the Bible. Strong’s says the word karah appears in the Bible 16 times, and is translated as “dig” 12 times. (Note, there is also significant disagreement among scholars over whether “karah” is even the correct word; see the “NET Note” on this verse.) It seems convenient that it means “pierce” only in the one place Christians want it to mean pierce. The prophecies work better if you get to change the meanings of the words to whatever you want them to mean.

The Zechariah verse only says “pierced” (using a different Hebrew word, דָּקַר “dakar“, which actually does mean “pierce”); no specifics like hands and feet. Again, one of the best of a sorry lot.

Given the ambiguities I’ve pointed out, Jesus could have been knifed, killed by an arrow, eaten by lions, buried alive, whatever; and Christians would still be able to make the same weak claim of fulfilled prophecy.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 1

34. Messiah would be mocked and ridiculed.

Prophecy: Psalm 22:7-8

Fulfillment: Luke 23:35

More Davidic whinging, not Messianic prophecy.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

35. Soldiers would gamble for Messiah’s garments.

Prophecy: Psalm 22:18

Fulfillment: Luke 23:34; Matthew 27:35-36

More Davidic whinging, not Messianic prophecy.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

36. The Messiah’s bones would not be broken.

Prophecy: Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20

Fulfillment: John 19:33-36

The Exodus verse is a bizarre claim; it is instruction not to break the bones of the Passover meal. It is obvious the author of this list did not expect people to read the verses.

The Psalm is again, not about the Messiah, but is making the obviously false claim that God will protect the righteous man, not allowing his bones to be broken.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

37. The Messiah would be forsaken by God.

Prophecy: Psalm 22:1

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:46

More Davidic whinging. Psalm 22 now makes up 3 separate “prophecies” Jesus fulfilled, all of which prophesy nothing.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

38. The Messiah would pray for his enemies.

Prophecy: Psalm 109:4

Fulfillment: Luke 23:34

More Davidic whinging. Psalm 22 now makes up 4 separate “prophecies” Jesus fulfilled, all of which prophesy nothing.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

39. Soldiers would pierce Messiah’s side.

Prophecy: Zechariah 12:10

Fulfillment: John 19:34

Now the Zechariah verse is trotted out a second time. Unfortunately, it STILL says only “They will look on me, the one they have pierced”. No points given for repeats.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

40. Messiah would be buried with the rich.

Prophecy: Isaiah 53:9

Fulfillment: Matthew 27:57-60

This is one of the best ones, as long as we believe the story of Joseph of Arimithea burying Jesus was not just fabricated to match Isaiah, and pretend the “made his grave with the wicked” part isn’t there.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 2

41. Messiah would resurrect from the dead.

Prophecy: Psalm 16:10; Psalm 49:15

Fulfillment: Matthew 28:2-7; Acts 2:22-32

Psalms, again, are about David, not the Messiah. These verses say:

“you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” Psalms 16:10

“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.” Psalms 49:15

Both sound more like a profession of belief in an afterlife than a prediction of bodily resurrection, which the Jews had never expected of their Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

42. Messiah would ascend to heaven.

Prophecy: Psalm 24:1-10

Fulfillment: Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51

This verse from Psalms is another one that makes no claim remotely similar to “the Messiah would ascend to heaven.” In fact, it goes 0 for 2 by not in any way mentioning the Messiah or heaven.

Mark 16:19 is known to be a later addition to the Gospel, and shouldn’t be cited as evidence of anything other than the willingness of believers to commit forgery.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: -1

43. Messiah would be seated at God’s right hand.

Prophecy: Psalm 68:18; Psalm 110:1

Fulfillment: Mark 16:19; Matthew 22:44

Psalm 68 says nothing about anyone being seated at God’s right hand, much less the Messiah:

“When you ascended on high,
you took many captives;
you received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious-
that you, Lord God, might dwell there.” -Psalm 68:18

Psalm 110 has been cited before and is clearly referring to David again, not the Messiah.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

44. Messiah would be a sacrifice for sin.

Prophecy: Isaiah 53:5-12

Fulfillment: Romans 5:6-8

This seems to me direction to be subservient to God’s will, again, not a Messianic prophecy. If it is, it is a circular claim, since the idea that Jesus was a sacrifice for sins is dependent on him having been the Messiah. If he wasn’t the Messiah, he was just a guy who died.

Haywood’s Persuasiveness Factor: 0

Conclusion

That’s the whole list of 44. My final score is:

Cumulative Persuasiveness Factor: -26

Note that these are 44 selected from the list of 300+ by a Christian who is trying to claim they are persuasive. It’s fair to assume that they chose what they thought were some of the best 44 from the list. Imagine how weak the others must be.

The dishonesty in this list is pretty shocking. Few of the verses say anything that could possibly be mistaken for what the author of the list claims they say. This is really a shining example of why you should not just uncritically accept the claims of religion. You can’t seriously read these and claim that they would convince anyone.

So much for the prophecies Jesus “fulfilled”.

Posted in Atheism, Religion | 14 Comments