Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ehrman vs. Craig on Miracles.

After William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman debated the Resurrection of Jesus in 2006, someone in the audience asked if many reports of miracles make them more likely to be true.  I'm not satisfied with how the question was worded (though otherwise it's a great question), or with either gentleman's reply.  I find Ehrman's reply most problematic of the three, but also the most revealing, partly because of the Humean dogmatism Ehrman reveals, but even more because of his failure, despite his great learning, to notice the obvious about the gospels and their "rivals." 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Auden on death (As I Walked Out One Evening)

A recent visitor happened to bring up the name of W.H. Auden.  I like Auden because his review of The Lord of the Rings was so on the money, and so helpful in making the book popular.  (Tolkien and Auden carried on a friendly correspondence afterwards: Tolkien always appreciated those who appreciated his creations!)  I also like Auden's poem, As I Walked Out One Evening.  It's so honest and true to life, deathly sad but not quite despairing.  Plus it has glaciers in cupboards.  So I thought I'd share it:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Et tu, Soren Kierkegaard?

Informed Christians know that the New Atheism sect is defined by blind faith in the silly notion that Christianity recommends blind faith.  The evidence against this notion is overwhelming, as Christians like Alister McGrath and the co-authors of True Reason, including myself, have pointed out again and again.  (I also targetted the idea in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.)  The evidence for the "Blind Faith Meme," by contrast, runs the gamet of sketchiness from anecdotal to outright mistaken.  As for the latter, I have personally rebutted popular misconstruals of Jesus' words to "Doubting Thomas," Justin Martyr, Origen, and of Pascal's Wager, among other targets.  Pascal is even misrepresented by those who should know better, like A. C. Grayling.  (One hardly even wants Richard Dawkins to read Pensees.  "A man has to know his limits," as Clint Eastwood put it.)

One almost finds oneself feeling a little sorry for the New Atheists as the dominoes continue to fall.  Even so theologically marginal a thinker as Tertullian, and so rhetorical a writer as Martin Luther, are shown by people who know their thought more fully to not really promote fideism much at all. 

But surely Soren Kierkegaard is an impregnable fortress of fideism!  Surely Kierkegaard, if anyone, recommended that we believe without reasons! 

Or maybe not. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not all Control Freaks live in China . . .

"You have to break a lot of eggs to
make an omelette."
This morning, Carson Weitnauer, a Christian who works with students on East Coast campuses, pointed out an article in the New York Times about the cruelty and now uselessness of China's one-child policy.  It described how millions of women were forced to have abortions, even at eight months, and treated with extreme savagery.  (As, of course, were the babies.)  It told of intrusive government checkups (a mild way to put it), and how women flee to remote, unsanitary barges to give birth away from the government's prying eye.  The article also referred to infanticide, which is often also carried out, skewing the sex ratio and (though they didn't point this out) leaving tens of millions of men without the chance to marry.  (China's future warriors, one might guess.) 

And yet all this has now apparently become unnecessary. The birth rate in China, as in most of East Asia and the world, has fallen dramatically, and is now well below replacement level. 

The callousness and fanaticism (also sheer stupidity) of some of the comments New York Times readers, liberal and no doubt mostly secular Americans and Canadians, concerned over "the Environment" (a god to which we must sacrifice our children, now) were almost as disheartening as the article itself.

Seven of the first 13 comments took that tone.  I've copied them here, with a slightly lengthened version of my reply, following. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Theist Argument from Cultural Transcendence (TACT): Does it Work?

In my last post, I described what I call TACT, the Theistic Argument from Cultural Transcendence:

(a) If an understanding of God transcends a particular culture, it is much more likely to be true than if it does not.

(b) The idea of God does, in fact, transcend the Abrahamic tradition from which monotheism is often said to have arisen. It can, in fact, be found in many highly scattered and diverse cultures, where it must have arisen independently.

 (c) Therefore God is much more likely to be real than religious ideas that are limitted to one particular culture, or flow out from one localized source.

I have made this argument before, beginning in 2000 in Jesus and the Religions of Man, and most recently this February in a debate with Richard Carrier.  In my last post, I analyzed Dr. Hector Avalos' long critique of the argument, and various negative comments he made (again) against my scholarship and against Christian missions, and found them almost entirely without foundation.  In fact, I argued that many of the points he brought up actually help strengthen the argument. 

Which is promising, but does not of course mean that TACT really works. 

So does it?

Towards the end of his post, Avalos made objections that I have not considered yet.  Let's look at those objections, then others that come to mind, or have been offered by other TACT-less critics.  And then let's consider what might or might not lend TACT weight, and how much weight it should be lent, if any. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Avalos attacks TACT (and me, and, yes, Christianity)

Beginning in 2000, in Jesus and the Religions of Man, I have offered an argument for God that we might call the Theistic Argument from Cultural Transcendence (TACT). 

The Altar of Heaven in Beijing, where the emperor came to
worship "Huang Tian Shangdi," a strong theistic term used
in the Classics. (My photo, 1984.)
The gist of the argument is that (a) if an understanding of God transcends a particular culture, it is much more likely to be true than if it does not.  (b) The idea of God does, in fact, transcend the Abrahamic tradition from which monotheism is often said to have arisen.  It can, in fact, be found in many highly scattered and diverse cultures, where it must have arisen independently.  (c) Therefore God is much more likely to be real than religious ideas that are limitted to one particular culture, or flow out from one localized source. 

One of my arguments was that even some well-known atheists admit the first premise of this argument -- when they think it will hurt Christianity.  I cited Emile Durkheim in paricular, who admits that a concept of God closely resembling the Christian concept can be widely found in Australia, even though on another page, he uses the first premise of TACT to argue against religion.   Several years later, in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, I cited Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who also argued against religion based on the first premise of TACT. 

This February, William Lane Craig having monopolized so many other good arguments for theism, I thought I'd take this one out for a spin in public debate with Richard Carrier. 

In the heat of the moment, Richard Carrier didn't offer much of a response to TACT, which was the second argument in my opening statement.  Now Iowa State Religious Studies professor Hector Avalos has posted an article rebutting my argument.  Avalos, who has studied anthropology and finds mine grossly defective, if not dishonest, is prepared to show where TACT falls flat, and where I fail miserably as a scholar. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Perspectives: Dragon Mountain Temple

On a pillar outside Dragon Mountain Temple.  The words in red read, "Stability to the nation and peace
to the people."  Since at least the Tang Dynasty, all new faiths that come to China, from Buddhism
to Nestorian Christianity to Marxism, have appealed to these sentiments, justifiably or not.
One of the dragons at Dragon Mountain Temple, in the Wan Hua district of Taipei, Taiwan.  This is the heart of the district, with a subway stop across the road, now.  The temple, in which the chief deity is as a recall the bodhisattva Guan Yin, is older than the United States.  You smell loftus flowers and incense, hear chanting and epic dramas played live, and watch the crowds come to sacrifice to the chief deities -- it's a strange combination of noise and peace.  The neighborhood is also called "Snake Alley," for another kind of serpent one can find a block over.  Snake blood was considered an aphrodesiac, mixed with alcohol, and drunk before visiting the many prostitutes that used to work in the neighborhood -- and still do, though they look older than they used to.  Here's a scene I described in True Son of Heaven, many years ago -- some things have changed.

"It was a raid.  The police swooped down with lightening speed on Taipei's most infamous criminal district, Snake Alley.

The police came on a mission of mercy.  They came to free young victims of a vicious trade in flesh, who had been treated without a trace of human decency. 

The snakes, that is.  Some were endangered species. 

Brothel owners had little to worry about, even with a police station just a block away.  For one thing, many of them were retired police.  The rest, as one later told me, sent little red envelopes each month to friends in the station.

Nor did fear of the gods restrain them.  The gods, too seemed on the side of the oppressing classes.  Mafia gangs in Taiwan form around Taoist temples.

Dragon Mountain temple, the Buddhist place of worship on the same block as the police station, also got a cut.  Guan Yin (the goddess of mercy) has been worshipped there for a hundred years without disturbing business. She reached a thousand arms out to the brothels, one for each girl in that district, and drew back . . . cash."

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Atheists damn The Truth Behind the New Atheism!

OK, so we did the outliers -- or should we call them, the out-truthers, those few and proud atheists who have read The Truth Behind the New Atheism and have been willing to admit that yes, it is a pretty decent read.

But being something of an out-truther myself, I have to report, and I know this will shock you, that a majority of on-line reviews from writers who really dislike Christianity have given the book a decided "thumbs down."

And some of those skeptics don't like me, either.  I have been wished into the belly of a long, water-dwelling South American serpent.  I have been wished to hell.  Often enough, along with my fellow "apologists," (not a word that much resonates with me -- I prefer titles like "cross-country skiier," "grower of succulent grapes," "John and James' Dad," even "history buff," if you will -- and in my heart of hearts, "lover of truth") -- I often hear myself called a "liar." 

Yes, it is tedious.  When someone starts calling you that (unless you really happen to be a liar, then one must make do), it's probably time to pull up tent stakes and find new grazing ground.  That's what I did a few weeks ago when John Loftus, after years of relative civility, dropped the "l" word on me.  His running dogs over at Deconstructing Christianity strain at a tattered leash, and when the big L drops the little l, it has much the same effect as Montgomery Burns saying "Loose the hounds!"  You know they won't listen to reason anymore, if they ever did. 

"Liar" is, for many New Atheists, a defense against genuine thinking, as is most ad hominem.  If you demean a person, you don't need to really consider her arguments.  A word can be a lazy man's border security system. 

A couple days ago, I discovered a month-and-a-half old thread on Amazon entitled, "David Marshall and Lying for Jesus."  The thread had more than 200 posts. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Atheists praise The Truth Behind New Atheism!

The Amazon site for my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, has been dominated by atheists almost from Day One.  While a number of very thoughtful (and positive, though that's not the only thing that makes them thoughtful!) reviews have been posted there by intelligent and well-read Christians, hoards of crusading "skeptics" have voted those excellent reviews down.  In the Amazon system, that means people won't see them. (See especially the reviews by William Muehlenberg, Clifford Martin, Sol Lobbes, Rick Thiessen, and Benjamin Devan.  Bruce Bain, a dedicated Amazon contributor, gets in some good points in his quirky way, too.  Please vote up the ones you like, even if it's a bit late, now!)

About a third of the reviews are negative.  These are all by people who are ideologically opposed to Christianity, and (in a few cases) have a personal grudge against the author.  (Two or three of the one-star reviews are actually by the same person, a lawyer from San Diego who uses various "sock puppets" to attack me -- a dozen or so of his reviews have already been removed by Amazon.)  I'm glad to say, no one who wasn't ideologically opposed, has yet claimed the book is a bad read.  There was a Young Earth creationist from Northern Ireland who gave the book three stars, but he removed his review.  Other than my mistaken notion that the universe is old, he seemed pretty cool with the book, anyway. 

But here I'd like to focus on those few reviewers on either side who "cross the picket line," so to speak, and review Truth Behind the New Atheism against their ideological interests. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Old School Lies: Religion and Environment

Here's a propaganda flick I showed in a high school class earlier this school year, as part of the assigned classwork in a science or history class -- I forget which -- in which I was subbing.  This is interesting for a few reasons.  First, I was surprised this film would still be shown in public schools -- if anything, it shows how dramatically the environmentalist line has changed over the past 20 years.  Second, I was shocked to hear Paul Ehrlich seriously quoted as an authority on population -- whom I read as apocalyptic literature, as a young man, and took seriously -- and whose prophesies failed miserably, to put it mildly.  Third, the shoddiness and shamelessly one-sided character of this propaganda flick -- from CNN, which is supposed to be "down the middle" -- still takes my breath away. 
Lap it up, 16 year olds!  Memorize yesteryear's liberal propaganda.  If the details have changed a bit -- if we're at war with Eastasia and not Eurasia this year -- well, no need to rewrite history, when you're "learning" it for the first time! 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Howard Zinn, the Boston Bombers, and school propaganda.

One day I subbed in a Washington State middle school, and noticed student papers on the wall of a classroom entitled, "The Life of Mohammed."  Looking the reports over, I found them universally flattering of the prophet, and not terribly accurate historically.  Why, I wondered, were students in a state school being asked to write hagiographies of the founder of Islam?  Is parroting sectarian propaganda -- and foreign propaganda, at that -- how we are supposed to learn history in American schools?

A couple years later, reading the history text used both in middle and high school in our school district, I discovered the probable source of this propaganda.  The text book, which I plan to analyze in some detail in a later post, included several chapters lauding Islam, and making excuses for the crimes of Mohammed -- or rather ignoring them.  The man comes across as a model citizen, a liberal country gentleman.  No mention is made of his murder of 700 Jewish men in Medina, attacks on neighboring tribes, enslavement of those he conquered, assassinations or torture of enemies, or the fact that he consummated marriage (at over 50) to a nine year old girl. 

In short, our children were being systematically lied to about history.