AfterWords 2 – The Role & Limits of Faith

AfterWords 2: “The Role and Limits of Faith,” an epilogue to “Believers and Nonbelievers In Discussion, Episode 2”

Watch this as video on our YouTube channel: Believe In Reality.

Please support us at Patreon: Phil Calderone

AfterWords1 – Why I Believe Or Disbelieve

AfterWords 1: “Why I Believe/Disbelieve,” an epilogue to “Believers and Nonbelievers In Discussion, Episode 1”

Watch this as video on our YouTube channel: Believe In Reality.

Please support us at Patreon: Phil Calderone

BNB3 The Origin of Life

What is the origin of life on Earth? How could life have come from non-life?

Watch this as video on our YouTube channel: Believe In Reality.

For the Q&A session please support us at Patreon: Phil Calderone

BNB2 The Role and Limits of Faith

What is the role of faith in belief and life? Where does the use of evidence stop and faith begin?

Watch this as video on our YouTube channel: Believe In Reality

For the Q&A session please support us at Patreon: Phil Calderone

BNB1 Why I Believe Or Disbelieve

Christians and atheists explain how they came to their belief positions.

Watch this as video on our YouTube channel: Believe In Reality.
For the Q&A session please support us at Patreon: Phil Calderone

For and Against The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel

One of the best Christian apologetic books, “The Case for Christ” makes a weak, diluted case, which says volumes about the field. It is written by an apologist via interviews with apologists. Strobel appears to take on a skeptical role but his acceptance–hook, line and sinker–of poor or speculative explanations for everything from the existence of Jesus to the question of divinity makes one wonder about the sincerity of his effort. If one grants that sincerity then Strobel is displaying a large dose of believence (credulousness).

Stroebel incessantly ignores or gives insufficient arguments against common explanations like myth-making or the possibility of Jesus as an everyday preacher. The argument is made that Jesus’ resurrection must have been true because without it the Christian faith would fall apart… Um, yeah. So he goes with a belief conclusion. This type of forced reverse logic is common with apologists.

One can give the benefit of the doubt for some questions like the existence of Jesus, but Strobel does not raise the burden of proof for supernatural events like Jesus walking around after death. Sorry no, for something like that you’re going to have to do better than ‘people said they saw him.’ Walking dead is no sleight of hand card trick.

For those who want to believe in Jesus and the whole package (biased by that condition) this book will probably do the trick. But those with unclouded reason will recognize the quick insufficiency of Strobel’s conclusions. This point is punctuated in the last paragraphs where he puts forth a horrible analogy, comparing seeing a physical person in real life with “…the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” No, these two things are not alike.

You are credulous, Mr Strobel. Case closed.


The Case Against The Case For Christ, by Robert M Price

Robert M. Price’s “The Case Against The Case for Christ” (Lee Strobel’s popular book) is both a critique of Strobel’s book and its specific arguments. On the overall book Price points out the major methodological flaw, being a collection of interviews with Christian apologists rather than a diverse set of scholars on various subjects from the historicity to the divinity of Jesus. Price knows who many of these scholars are, meaning they are not inaccessible.

He cites them, others similar and his own analysis and yields alternate explanations of oddities in biblical content. He also compares the Bible to other writings of the era, noting similarities in style, content and purpose. Going further back he notes the same in much earlier writings. These draw a historical trend line as evidence of Christianity being yet another religion derived from previous supernatural beliefs, many rewriting similar elements (virgin birth, flood story, death and resurrection) while adding their own cultural spin.

Of interesting note is his observation that ancient writers often prioritized purposeful messages over historical accuracy. Their point was lesson, not history. Too, “authors” were not always those who wrote the material but attributed to those whose name would give the content more legitimacy. Similarly, named authors could be compilations of writers unified into a fictional name (ex Moses).

Moving forward to gospel times, Price points out the same pattern on a small scale–the Gospel of Mark being the earliest writing then the others being rewritten and elaborated on in a pattern consistent with mythopoeia. For more detail on this see Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus.”

But Price is just one person so let’s put him under the same critical microscope I previously put Strobel (see my review of “The Case for Christ,”…). Price’s hypotheses of this or that circumstance are rational but generally lack sufficient evidence–particularly corroborating evidence–to make them the reliable most-likely true historical conclusions. Is this a criticism? No but it is a limitation. We are observing a researcher trying to put together pieces of a story puzzle to find a factual story beneath, if one exists. Contrast this to an apologist whose methodology is to twine together, often rationalize, puzzle pieces to a preferential storyline. Price shows himself to be more credible by following through on what he realized he must do to investigate naggingly inadequate apologetic arguments, ironically in a attempt to resolve those inadequacies:

I knew it was a matter of basic honesty that I had to place myself, for the moment, in the shoes of the nonbeliever if I were to evaluate each argument for the historical Jesus or for Bible accuracy. I knew it would be phony for me to try to convince others by using arguments that I did not actually think were cogent. I didn’t want to use any tactics, say anything that might work, as if I were used car dealer or a mere propagandist.

His journey led him to disbelief. Others with the same intention from the same starting point reach a different conclusion. The difference with “The Case Against The Case for Christ” is that there are no dissonance-inducing moments here, no extrapolations of under-justified preferences, no hypotheses miraculously elevated to Law. I cannot say the same for any apologetic book I have read. Not one.

So in the end give both men their shot. Read Strobel’s book and read Price’s book, one after the other. See where you land.


Religious Science

I have a better internal and intuitive understanding of folklore and myth than science and technology, so in that way fantasy is easier.
-Sarah Zettel, novelist

Josh Peck is a self-described biblical researcher, author and online show host. He has written several books, including “Quantum Creation,” a book about prophecy and “quantum physics from a Christian perspective.” You may be thinking that there is no such thing as “quantum physics from a Christian perspective,” but Mr. Peck tells us otherwise. He explains there is nothing wrong with the experimental results of science, just the interpretation by those who do not cross-reference the holy book. He claims no conflict between science and religion because:

“When we have the proper interpretation of scripture and the proper interpretation of scientific observation, they should both agree in full. They both should act as two pillars holding up the true understanding of reality. If they do not agree then one or both of the pillars are broken and must be fixed, otherwise the whole structure will come crashing down.”

In other words, scientific observation and scripture have the same level of legitimacy and since scripture is correct because, you know…word of deity…any scientific finding that conflicts with scripture must be reinterpreted until it matches. There now, no conflict.

It is hard to swallow that this bastardization of sound methodology is what many believers call science. It is not, though this is what is being taught to the faithful uncomfortable with scientific findings that imply their deity is not the creator of the universe. Their thinking is rationalization (conscious and unconscious) biased by a presupposition of biblical inerrancy. The cognitive blindness is stunning, truthiness applied like a taste preference.

Interestingly, this type of science-off-the-rails often does include some true science. It may even include a great deal as this presentation by Jason Lisle demonstrates. However where Dr. Lisle goes off track can be hard to decipher if one does not already have strong science knowledge, an inherent problem. If one has been raised with a religiously dominated education where evolution, geology and psychology have been replaced with creation myth, a flood story and objective moral rules, it is nearly impossible to notice the slips. To a student listening to this mangled science such presentations can appear to reinforce scriptural texts. Passages are “matched” through numerology-like  pattern recognition, subjective interpretation and prophesy-alignment presented as evidence.

Real science does not operate in this manner. It works on a much tougher playing field where objective evidence rules. Results only sufficient for subjective interpretation are used as guideposts for further investigation (and replication by other studies); they are not touted as final conclusions to be taught to the public. (Note: despite this standard practice scientists are human and can overstep at times, but the fields are aware of this, constantly open to  internal criticism and correction. For good coverage on this, check out Robert Burton’s “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.”

The vast majority of scientists follow evidence where it leads them. Often this disagrees with chunks of what religiously-filtered “science” teaches. A young believer can find themselves stuck trying to understand these different positions, akin to being asked to take sides in a parental dispute. Worse, parents and preachers may fight back with accusations of academic conspiracy and ivory tower arrogance. If a student buys this defense they not only learn bad science, they learn to mistrust true experts and even the scientific method.

If a student is able to remain objective she will find the position conflicts unresolvable; where there is disagreement, one side is right and one side is wrong. Contrasting this, a true believer (defined as one unwilling or unable to de-sanctify false beliefs) will learn to swim in a fog of cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning tools at the ready, perhaps for the rest of her life.

Another feature in hesitation to accept scientists conclusions can lie in the personality trait of mistrust. You know the accusations—scientists are money mongers who deliver results their patrons desire, universities are places where snobby faculty pretend they are smarter than the rest of us, arrogant intellectuals create fancy jargon so they can talk over our heads. Tables are turned with true scientists being branded as pseudoscientists.

The believer’s solution to this supposed deception? A call to individual critical thinking (paradoxically), self-evaluation of experimental results. In other words a belief that a single person, believent and less educated, is more likely to make a better conclusion than a highly educated specialist.

This is purely wrong. First, anyone with less information is by definition less capable of making a better judgement than one with more information, though admittedly we must be wary of researcher confirmation bias. Second, this type of self-confident believer puts more weight on intuition (Type One thinking) than is valid. (See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”) Third, individual conclusion, be it by a highly educated researcher or an individual, is prone to error—exactly why scientific conclusion relies on expert consensus, not expert opinion. Further yet, scientific consensus is subject to longitudinal review—study over time—subject to future refinement or replacement.

Meanwhile unscientific believers apply the tools of intuition, apologetics, argument and reinterpretation to scientific findings, mushing results into scripturally-shaped conclusions of their satisfaction. Have you ever watched a numerologist finding patterns everywhere they look? It really is amazing, the mental gymnastics humans are capable of.

Argument is not evidence, nor philosophy experimentation. Bias avoidance does not include presupposition; it starts with a null position. And “not considering deity” is not a presupposition; it is an appropriate “we don’t know” starting position.

Sadly, expect religious scientism to continue because it appears to relieve believers of some of their dissonance. Many of their conclusions will be wrong of course but lay believers may not recognize this.

Spins your head, doesn’t it? Keep this in mind the next time you consider popping a chad for a candidate who denies climate change, supports funding educational vouchers, or advocates shutting down the Department of Education. Meanwhile teach your children well. Give them science toys as gifts. Challenge their minds. Foster curiosity, wonder and intellectual interest. There is a big real world to learn about and it is much more accessible if they do not have to first dig themselves out of a false information hole.



Inter-Religion Clashes

All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black.

-Umberto Eco

A video has been posted showing a British Christian group, Britain First, walking into a Luton neighborhood (a suburb of London) with a concentrated population of Muslim citizens, intending to antagonize them with large crosses. As expected both sides quickly engaged in angry shouting and middle-finger brandishing. The exchange is unsettling, though no violence ensued.

As demographics grow and shift we will watch this type of event happen with greater frequency. Though groups of humans will always find ways to conflict with one another there is a desire among many to have us grow out of this part of our nature. Do we really have to continue a conflict that has been raging regionally since 700 A.C.E.?

I remember watching a movie about Camelot years ago, Arthur the good king coming to power replacing the bad king of yore. It was exciting, romantic, righteous and triumphant. Years later it occurred to me that this narrowly-timed story, a mythical consolidation of English kings, would be but a happy(ish) episode in a long line of sad stories. Without a system to cultivate good kings it was likely that despicable kings would follow as common as not. The average person, largely powerless, would be dragged through the reign of one ruler after another, stability and happiness in their lives subject to rounds of Russian Roulette leadership quality. (See too Russian history when murder and assassination was the typical method of succession for centuries.)

This is how it feels watching religious adherents clash—endless rounds of righteous rivalry teeing up to claim territory. (This is not to imply that one side is better than the other. Certainly there are differences; your viewpoint can apply those labels.) Though both religions have scriptural elements that teach of peaceful coexistence they also teach the opposite, that their worldview is the holy correct one and the edge of the sword should be taken up in defense and offense. It is far too easy to cherry-pick justification into righteous conflict. From Roman era conflicts to twentieth century Christian/Protestant battles to Islamic sectarian rumbles of today, mankind has seen uncompromising threats of misery from literalists, aimed at those who do not yield from without or stay true from within.

But we no longer live in 3000 B.C.E., 700 C.E., or 1800 C.E.; we live in a time when the findings of physics, astronomy, biology, cognitive science and geology have demonstrated that the existence of deities is…no longer the most likely explanation for reality. However we are stuck with brains that evolution has provided—prone to belief. It feels archaic to be among those who hiss, fume and attack in the name of religion but this is modern. It is present day. And a few miles from such street conflicts colleges teach evolution, secular courts enforce civil laws, and stores sell meat products that have not been sorted by cloven hoof. Collectively, we are of mixed mind.

Humanity seems to be going through its adolescent phase—persisting with its early intuitions while, holding a thickening encyclopedia of new knowledge, not yet able to let the new information revise the old. This growth arc, the lifespan of intellectual humanity, seems to be thousands of years long. In maturity years we have just passed our teens.

Can we use cultural tools to help this maturation, to help strong believers get along despite their impulses to not? Hopefully but the time scale remains unknown. It will take an unprecedented shift within religious communities led by the leaders within. Sacred needs to be corralled. This is not to suggest that strong believers give up their belief; that aspiration is unreachable. But why can’t they agree to let God make the judgments in His appointed time (end of natural life) instead of mortal humans making and imposing judgments here and now? Where is the trust in the deity? Where is the mortal humility? Must we continue to site writings of human leaders, old and new, to force faith and impose harm onto others? Doesn’t our mortal imperfection disqualify us from imposing irreversible punishments on other mortal beings? Are we that arrogant, that unable to control our tribal impulses?

Scriptural interpretations are just that—interpretations. They may be flawed. This does not mean the scriptures are wrong, but our readings of them can be fallible. Every holy person who has disagreed over the smallest scriptural word, phrase or passage—over thousands of years—has proven this. Sounds like a decent basis for minimally, not harming one another.

In light of these issues, not the least of which are ongoing terrorist bombings, can we also agree to do more as a global population? How about an annual Copenhagen-style worldwide conference on the issue of religious conflict, on the scale of what we did to battle the HIV crisis? Time sensitive. High on the priority list. Ongoing. Until we are done. If we can’t evolve our biology out of religious conflict can we at least evolve our culture?