Friday, February 28, 2020
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Did God Create the Universe from Nothing?

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Short answer, probably not.

Long answer, read my book Did God Create the Universe from Nothing?: Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument and whilst you’re at it, please post a nice review or two on Amazon to counter those typical Christian reviews that give 1 star whilst not offering any substantive critique… Grrr.

Happy to have recieved this Tweet the other day, not least to confirm that people out there actually read my books, but that they are appreciated and have some use:

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Trump-Loving Evangelist Whines About Lack of “Moral Decency” in Halftime Show | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

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Evangelist Franklin Graham, never has a nasty word to say about Donald Trump. He proudly condones the pussy-grabbing, multiple marriages, hush money payments, children in cages, cruelty, ignorance, racism, and debasing of the office — at least Graham never thinks of those things as dealbreakers — in exchange for the proximity of power and a never-ending supply of federal judges.

But Shakira and Jennifer Lopez deliver a stunning performance during halftime of the Super Bowl, and he’s wagging his finger about the lack of “moral decency” on TV.

I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated tonight in the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show—with millions of children watching. This exhibition was Pepsi showing young girls that sexual exploitation of women is okay. With the exploitation of women on the rise worldwide, instead of lowering the standard, we as a society should be raising it. I’m disappointed in Pepsi and the NFL.

There are plenty of reasons you should condemn the NFL. Inviting two popular singers to entertain the country with their hit songs isn’t one of them.

If Graham cared about protecting children, then he should speak out against the Republicans who want refugee kids put in cages while separated from their families. But of course Graham doesn’t give a damn about any of that. Anything Republicans do is fine with him, no matter who gets hurt in the process.

But if women shake their hips while dancing — because they choose to — he considers it “sexual exploitation.” Which just goes to show you how little he understands the issue.

This is evangelical Christianity in a nutshell: Claiming a moral high ground while ignoring everything that actually deserves condemnation.





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Does Hoping for an End to Religion Make Me Intolerant?

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Church in Shandon, CA

I value religious believers and nonbelievers alike. I recognize that religious belief (or non-belief) does not make someone a good or bad person by itself. I support religious freedom, and I believe that one should have the right to practice one’s religion in the privacy of one’s home or place of worship as long as one does so in accordance with the law and does not inflict harm on others. I also recognize that true freedom of religion is not possible unless it is accompanied by freedom from religion. At the same time, I would welcome a gradual erosion of religion’s political influence to the point where it was considered a private matter that did not intrude into the public sphere. Does this make me intolerant?

As long as nobody is harmed and no valid laws are broken, people should be free to practice their religion (or lack thereof). Religious belief is supposed to be between the believer and his or her god(s). There should be no state interference in such matters, be they positive or negative. The believer deserves this freedom every bit as much as the non-believer does.

In fact, I’d like not to have to care what a believer believes. I’d like to leave that up to them and not concern myself with it. If religion could somehow be divorced from politics and if I could escape the constant bombardment by Jesus music when I’m shopping in December or the door-to-door evangelizing when I’m at home, I could probably remain content to remain oblivious to what religious folk believe. Maybe I’d examine it as a curiosity, but it wouldn’t have great relevance.

Unfortunately, many religious believers insist that part of their religion involves frequent attempts to poison others with it. It is not enough for them to believe; they must actively try to spread their belief. They do not appear willing to give this up. Moreover, few religious believers have been content to forgo their forays into politics. Evidently, their religion is less meaningful if they cannot impose it on the rest of us and restrict our freedoms.

Given the influence religion has on politics in the United States and the degree to which it repeatedly leads politicians to make horribly destructive decisions (e.g., denying global warming, preventing stem cell research, launching preemptive wars to fulfill end-times prophecy, etc.), I simply do not have the luxury of ignoring it. Given the frequent intrusions by believers into my personal domain, I have little opportunity to ignore it. Instead, I must work to defend reason and oppose religious extremism.

Does it make me intolerant to wish that religion was a private matter or to hope for an end to proselytizing? Does it make me intolerant to dream of a reality-based politics where decisions were made on the basis of sound reason, evidence, and science? Does it make me intolerant to wish I could get through two consecutive days without hearing about Jesus? I’m not sure it does.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2007. It was revised and expanded in 2019.



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Washington State Residents, Protect Children from Religious Medical Neglect!

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Although Washington State has laws protecting children from medical neglect, certain loopholes exempt faith healing practitioners from prosecution for child negligence and criminal mistreatment.

This situation endangers children and shields faith healers and caretakers from liability when a child dies from this type of medical neglect.

Fortunately, the Child Health Protection Act (HB 1376/SB 5749) has been passed by committee in both the Washington State House and Senate in order to protect vulnerable children and eliminate these unconstitutional religious exemptions.

State lawmakers almost passed this bill last year—but now there is a real opportunity to pass it into law! We need your help.

Please reach out to your state representative and senator and ask them to pass this bill into law!

The Child Health Protection Act will ensure that the government can take action to protect children and to prosecute instances of medical neglect. This legislation has broad bipartisan support and has been endorsed by child welfare advocates, medical professionals, religious groups, civil rights advocates, prosecutors, and parents’ groups.

Everyone agrees that this is the right thing to do, but lawmakers need to hear from you to understand that it is a priority.

In 2009, 17 year old Zachery Swezey of Carlton, Washington, died from appendicitis after his parents refused to seek medical treatment due to their religious beliefs. Appendicitis has a less than 1% fatality rate when treated with conventional medicine. Under Washington’s current law, caretakers and providers who cause tragic deaths like this one in the name of their religion cannot be prosecuted.

This cannot stand—no one’s religious beliefs are more important than a child’s life.

Ask your state representative and senator to vote this critical bill into law today!



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Darwin’s Apostles | Jonathan MS Pearce

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Humanist Press have recently published Darwin’s Apostles: The Men Who Fought to Have Evolution Accepted, Their Times, and How the Battle Continues, by David Orenstein and Abby Hafer. The description of the book is as follows:

When Darwin finally published The Origin of Species in 1859, there was no guarantee that the grand theory of natural selection would become one of the most valuable ideas impacting biology and our modernity. It was so controversial that some disapproving scientists, many in the Church, and powerful others worked to stop it from becoming known and accepted.

This is the story of Darwin, his life, times, and some of the brave scientists who supported and advocated for him at the birth of the scientific revolution.

I was sent an advance copy and was happy to endorse the book:

“Evolution lies at the intersection between science and religion, evidence and tradition, truth and faith. At the roadsides, marshaling traffic with loud hailers, have been Darwin’s Apostles, directing travelers away from dangerous roads, littered with potholes, and along sound highways, paved with logic and observation, patience and precision.

Darwin, who himself stood on the shoulders of giants, provided the inspirational content for others to herald, the foundations from which the scientific world could build a new edifice.

Darwin needed these engineers and communicators, architects and builders, to promote, disseminate and refine his legacy. It is this roadmap of evolution that the fantastic cartographers of science, Orenstein and Hafer, have so skillfully charted. The authors have masterfully captured the history, politic, sensation and importance of this time and the work of these visionary people, without whom Darwin’s revolutionary work might today be the purview of merely a fringe few. But for these people and their actions so articulately described in this book, we might still be living in a dull and murky world unlit by the shining examples of science and science communication.

Orenstein and Hafer have collated a story, no, a history, that everyone interested in science and the desire for truth to prevail should be interested in. If you have On the Origin of Species on your bookshelf, Darwin’s Apostles should be nestled next to it. If you have neither…well, that needs to change. This is essential reading for any traveler on the road to reality, for any thinker wishing to better understand the very world around them.”

Jonathan MS Pearce, philosopher and author of Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? and Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century

I suggest getting hold of the book as it gives a fascinating insight into the contemporaneous world and people around Darwin and his ideas, and we don’t often get to hear enough about them.

 

 


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Impeachment Post Mortem

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Although the final vote is probably not until Wednesday, the outcome is settled. Trump will be acquitted. This is almost the best possible outcome for Democrats…and everyone else who wants to kick Trump out of the White House. It would have been a bit better if we could have heard what John Bolton had to […]



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Pastor: Noah’s Family Cleared Away 12 Tons of Animal Feces on the Ark Every Day | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

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Right-wing pastor Perry Stone, best known for checking his phone while speaking on tongues, made a rather unusual claim during a recent on-the-spot sermon in the Golan Heights.

He was discussing why Noah’s Ark is literally true and tried to explain how Noah’s family handled all the animal waste…

It is estimated that there was 5 to 12 tons of manure a day on the Ark. Now there was a window on top of that Ark that could be opened — it actually was on the side, not the top, it’s on the side — where they could throw it out if they needed to, so it doesn’t necessarily mean it piled piled piled, they had a way getting rid of it, no doubt.

To reiterate: He’s saying Noah’s family — all eight of them — managed to clear away up to 12 tons of animal shit on a daily basis.

If you’ve ever wondered how so many people could believe a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, it’s because they never stop to think about what that means. They just accept without questioning. It’s a horrible way to go through life.

(Thanks to Kyle for the link)





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Impeachment Outrage Can Fuel Your Political Activism

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girl in front of smoking volcano

Long before the impeachment process started in the House of Representatives, almost everyone agreed about the inevitable outcome: Trump would probably be impeached in the House, but the Senate would never support removal. To nobody’s surprise, this appears to be exactly where we are headed. Those of us on the left should be preparing ourselves for the claims of “total exoneration” that will soon follow.

Even though the outcome of the process is predictable, I was surprised by the Senate’s decision to oppose the will of 75% of Americans surveyed by not allowing witnesses and documents. Had they allowed these things, they could have at least looked like they were supportive of an impartial trial aimed at getting to the truth of what happened. Even if this was not really the case because they had already decided how they were going to vote, the process would have looked fair. This would have allowed them to argue that they thoroughly considered all the evidence and found it insufficient. While I probably would have disagreed with that assessment, it would have put them on much firmer ground.

I believe that those on the left who are outraged by the decision not to allow witnesses and documents in the Senate trial are right to feel this way. It is outrageous. I also agree with all those on the left who are now attempting to channel the anger they are feeling into a very specific form of political activism: increased voter turnout not only in the presidential election but for all upcoming Senate elections. I think we need to be realistic about this. If “vote them all out” was as easy as some are now making it sound, none of these Republicans would have been elected in the first place. This does not mean it is not worth trying; it means that those determined to make this happen are going to need to invest considerable effort in mobilizing people to vote.

For the left to have any real chance of defeating Donald Trump, we are probably going to need to set some records with regard to voter turnout. Even if we aren’t passionate about the candidate eventually selected by the Democratic Party (which seems likely), we will need to show up to vote. We will need to show up not just for that candidate but also for Senate candidates. And because voter turnout in the United States is so pathetically low, we are going to need to tackle this problem head-on and do everything we can to persuade others to vote.

I encourage us to keep the following in mind:

  1. Elections have consequences, and this is true when it comes to Congress as well as the presidency.
  2. Although the two major political parties in the United States may have too many similarities for some of us, there are meaningful differences between them.
  3. Our representative democracy was designed in such a way that it requires our informed participation to function effectively.
  4. If our three branches of government are no longer willing to hold one another accountable, it is up to us to do so.



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Atheist: Florida’s “Moment of Silence” Bill Encourages Teachers to Proselytize

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Tallahassee, FL—Today, American Atheists’ Florida Assistant State Director Devon Graham testified in opposition to S946, a bill that would force public school teachers to lead students in a moment of silence at the start of every school day.

“It is difficult for me to reconcile how this time of meditation can be perceived of as anything but religious in nature when it explicitly amends a statute entitled, ‘Permitting study of the Bible and religion’ (Section 1003.45),” said Graham to the Senate Education Committee.

“As a mother of two children enrolled in Florida’s public schools, I am concerned that a moment of silence law would encourage educators to engage in improper proselytization,” said Graham. “There are no guidelines whatsoever for teachers on how to discuss the moment of silence in a way that does not promote religious practice.”

“Children who choose not to participate or outwardly object to unnecessary evangelization could be subjected to bullying,” she added. “We all want what’s best for our kids, and this isn’t it.”

Watch Devon Graham’s testimony here (at 1:27:13) and read her submitted testimony below.




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Eternity, Free Will, and the World” Refuted — Part 1

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A few months ago over at the Catholic apologist’s site Strange Notions, where I sometimes debate theists (but am now banned from), a post was written by Catholic philosopher Dr. Dennis Bonnette that was almost entirely addressed at some criticisms I’ve made on the site in the past year.

The post, entitled God: Eternity, Free Will, and the World, tries to defend the scholastic notion of god as coherent, with free will, and timelessness, yet able to interact with time. I had argued that such a god is incoherent, can’t possible have free will, and would be causally impotent if timeless.

In the the following series of posts I shall refute every section of Bonnette’s post, paragraph by paragraph, where ever I see a fallacy or incorrection. So let’s get right to it.

God’s Immutability and Eternity

Dr. Bonnette starts the first section arguing for god’s divine simplicity.


As has been shown previously, a key inference of St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for God’s existence is that God is the Uncaused First Cause. Since God is uncaused, he cannot be the subject of motion or change, because whatever is moved or changed must be moved or changed by another. Hence, God is immutable.

Let’s take god’s simplicity for the sake of argument: God can’t be the subject of motion or change. OK. So what about Jesus, who is god incarnate, and a person in time? If the response is that Jesus has a human and a divine nature, and his divine nature doesn’t change, how does the divine nature enter a female womb? Bonnette doesn’t mention Jesus at all in his post, but this is an inconsistency left unanswered that undermine’s his Christianity. Also, as I like to remind Thomists, the Aristotelian principle, that “whatever is moved or changed must be moved or changed by another” necessarily negates free will, since humans would always be moved by something outside them (ie. by another). I addressed this in more detail in my post on how Thomists like Edward Feser fail to defend free will. Bonnette continues,


Moreover, the Uncaused First Cause must be pure act, since change would require moving something from potency to act. But, if no change is possible, God must have no potency to further act. Hence, he is pure act, which means pure being. In fact, as the absolutely simple first being, God is not even composed of essence and existence. He is pure act of existence without any limiting essence, that is, the Infinite Being. Only one such being is possible, since if there were two, one would limit the infinity of the other.

Of course, there’s no need for an uncaused first cause to the universe, since the universe exists as an eternal block that never comes into or goes out of existence. Hence, to borrow Thomistic terminology, the explanation of the universe is in the nature of the universe, because something eternal can’t fail to exist. And it hasn’t been established (and certainly not from Bonnette’s post) that god is not moving or changing. The whole argument that tries to deduce god as unmoving and unchanging is predicated on movement and change in the universe in the sense of things coming into being, often referred to as becoming in philosophy. But as I’ve argued numerous times on this site, this presupposes the A-theory of time, also known as presentism. If one can’t defend the truth of that presupposition, the argument is begging the question. Bonnette on Strange Notions has tried to defend the falsity of eternalism before, which is the antithesis of presentism, but he makes a fool of himself misunderstanding the very basics of the debate. He naively assumes (like almost all people do) that eternalism means timelessness—as if all events would be happening at the same time. This is of course wrong.

Bonnette continues,


Some, confusing activity with motion, misconstrue God’s immutability as meaning frozen, static, lifeless, and impotent. Quite the contrary, the Infinite Being already possesses all existential perfections so completely that change could give no greater activity or power.

I certainly don’t confuse activity with motion. I fully grant god as an immaterial being that doesn’t move through space for the sake of argument, but activity requires change and time. A timeless activity is a non-sequitor. You can’t just define “activity” to be compatible with timelessness and changelessness. Changelessness is synonymous with being frozen, static, lifeless, and impotent. This is why Thomism is obvious to many as a giant word salad. It must clamp together irreconcilable properties as existing in the same thing.

God’s immutability entails his eternity, since what is immutable has neither beginning nor any progression through time. God is utterly outside of time, existing as it were “all at once.” Ordinary language betrays human understanding of God’s eternity. Eternity does not mean endless duration: time without beginning or end. God’s eternity means the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life. It is the term defining the divine life of God. We know God is living since he is the cause of that positive existential perfection that we call “life” in creatures. The term, “life,” in God must be understood analogously in that he does not live with the limitations inherent in earthly organisms, but rather possesses pre-eminently whatever positive perfections life entails in created living things.

I’m perfectly fine with the understanding that human language has immense difficulty describing deep philosophical (or scientific) concepts. On eternalism for example, words like “move” and “cause” must be redefined from the standard colloquial definitions. But they are not incoherent. On Thomism, god’s central characteristics are incoherent. We’re just told our brains and words can’t accurately describe them. But what assurance do I have that god’s central characteristics are coherent, if they can never be articulated as such? If eternity means the “simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life” then god would be like all of time squeezed down into a single instant, like a squeezed accordion. God “simultaneously” impregnates Mary, speaks to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and sends the asteroid to the earth that exterminates the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This defies logic, and I’d bet can’t be coherently articulated because it isn’t coherent. A timeless, unchanging being is necessarily static.

Regarding the claim that god “is the cause of that positive existential perfection that we call ‘life’ in creatures,” this is just false. All life conforms to and is explained by the natural laws of physics. It’s chemistry (and then physics) all the way down. There is no “extra” thing involved that makes life or animate living things. Theories that include an extra force, like vitalism, have been debunked for nearly a hundred years. And in recent years we have definitive proof from physics via Core Theory that there are no additional forces that can affect the matter that makes up life in ways that are undetectable. (More on this in part 2). So non-living things (like the forces and particles in the standard model) can explain life. Hence, the claim that god makes life, therefore god is living, is false. Non-life can make life.


In the divine eternity, God experiences no succession of events. Because of divine simplicity, God’s knowledge of himself and, thereby, of the world he causes, is one with his singular causal act whose multiple objects are the unfolding sequence of temporal world events — events novel to us, but not to God. God cannot change his mind or will or any aspect of his being during his eternal existence.

Funny how god is “absolutely simple,” yet apparently so obscure and complex that “Ordinary language betrays human understanding of God’s eternity.” So god is a single causal timeless act, with multiple objects that are an unfolding sequence of temporal world events. I’m still missing the coherence of this. If time is necessarily linear and sequential on a Thomistic view—meaning event C was preceded by event B, which was preceded by event A, and so on—then the only possible way that a timeless causal act could “create” such a sequence is if the whole sequence exists, like a block universe. But there is no unfolding of events on such a view, in the sense of things coming into being—which Thomism seems to require as a fundamental aspect of its ontology (given the requirement of the act/potency distinction) and such a sequence itself wouldn’t begin to exist, since the whole sequence exists co-eternally with god. So this is hardly a justification of the coherence of god’s immutability and eternity.

And that wraps up part 1.

When closely examined, you can see that for all the sophistication on Strange Notions, the arguments there implode under scrutiny. Dr Bonnette simply has no case for god’s coherency, nor does he have a case for god’s supposed necessary traits. I will follow up with the refutation for part 2 shortly.



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