christianity

UFOs, Ghosts and a Rising God
Chris Hallquist’s debunking of the stories of the resurrection of Jesus is now online. It’s a good read. It’s mostly a response to popular apologetics on the subject (Habermas, Craig, McDowell and so on) and an argument that the evidence is worse than that for more modern paranormal events which we justly reject (the ghosts and UFOs of the title).
(tags: history william-lane-craig christianity jesus resurrection apologetics scepticism ufo paranormal chris-hallquist)
Do try not to get your penis stuck in a toaster. A message from the fire brigade | Dave Brown | Comment is free | theguardian.com
"Our #FiftyShadesofRed campaign is designed to remind people we should be attending fires, not tambourines on heads or yet another handcuff incident."
(tags: fire-brigade bdsm sex funny)
Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the internet is | Technology | The Observer
"The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system. Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their "cloud" services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA. That means that if you’re thinking of outsourcing your troublesome IT operations to, say, Google or Microsoft, then think again."
(tags: nsa google xkeyscore cloud edward-snowden security internet china)

Shock and Law | The Tab Cambridge
"The Red Tops are blowing the law exam way out of proportion, says CHRIS ROWLANDS. He’s seen things you can’t even imagine."
(tags: law funny newspapers cambridge-university exam)
National Trust – Nature’s Playground » The Click Design Consultants
I saw these signs in local National Trust places recently: they look like they’re nasty prohibitive ones but they’re actually encouraging you to hug trees and sit on the grass and stuff. A bit twee but fun.
(tags: signs funny national-trust)
The Biggest Challenges to Staying Christian
Peter Enns asks his Christian readers for the biggest challenges to staying Christian, and then tells them to be "trans-rational". Adam Lee comments.
(tags: religion de-conversion christianity atheism peter-enns rationality)

BBC News – How religions change their mind
How do doctrinal shifts occur in various world religions?
(tags: religion christianity mormonism islam change doctrine judaism)
I Went Down to St. James Infirmary
An entire blog full of different versions of the song. Super.
(tags: music jazz blues)
The Ethics of Extreme Porn: Is Some Sex Wrong Even Among Consenting Adults? – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic
Does consent make everything OK? An article summarising responses to another article about a Kink.com shoot. (In the comments, I somehow end up arguing with someone about whether St Paul thought Jesus would be back within his lifetime).
(tags: kink bdsm sex consent porn ethics)
Against the seriousness of theology : Gene Expression
"Theology and texts have far less power over shaping a religion’s lived experience than intellectuals would like to credit. This is a difficult issue to approach, because even believers who are vague on peculiarities of the details of theology (i.e., nearly all of them!) nevertheless espouse that theology as true. Very few Christians that I have spoken to actually understand the substance of the elements of the Athanasian Creed, though they accept it on faith. Similarly, very few Sunni Muslims could explain with any level of coherency why al-Ghazali‘s refutation of the Hellenistic tendency within early Islam shaped their own theology (if they are Sunni it by definition does!). Conversely, very few Shia could explain why their own tradition retains within its intellectual toolkit the esoteric Hellenistic philosophy which the Sunni have rejected. That’s because almost no believers actually make recourse to their own religion’s intellectual toolkit."
(tags: religion theology culture)

Traffic Waves – YouTube
If you drive at the average speed of the traffic and leave a gap in front of you, you can alleviate traffic jams, apparently.
(tags: traffic waves cars driving)
Salsa Dance Etiquette for Leads: How to Avoid Being Blacklisted When Social Dancing | danceclasschallenge
Also applies to a bunch of other partner dances.
(tags: dancing leading etiquette salsa dance)
Salsa Dance Etiquette for Follows: How to Avoid Being Blacklisted When Social Dancing | danceclasschallenge
Much of this is applicable to other partner dances.
(tags: dancing following etiquette salsa)
Why you shouldn’t believe the Resurrection happened » The Polemical MedicThe Polemical Medic
A nice summary of some good and bad arguments about the Resurrection.
(tags: religion miracles christianity resurrection philosophy)
Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church « Marc5Solas
An American Christian on why they’re losing their youth. Obviously, they’re not going to say "because it’s all lies", but I don’t think an atheist has to support the idea that all de-converts thought very hard about it and left on rational grounds.
(tags: religion christianity de-conversion atheism)
Kevin and Jo videos
Jo and Kevin recap a course they did a couple of years ago, which has some of the same material they taught in Cambridge recently, but in a Charleston context.
(tags: dancing charleston lindy)
Power of Suggestion – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
"The amazing influence of unconscious cues is among the most fascinating discoveries of our time­—that is, if it’s true." Attempts to replicate some of the classic experiments in psychological priming have failed. Interesting article about the role of reputations in science (as well as about priming).
(tags: priming psychology science)
hot as fuck: bands | dogpossum.org
Top tips for bands playing for dancers (and dancers dancing to bands).
(tags: music dancing lindy jazz lindyhop)
Carsie Blanton’s Baby Can Dance – OFFICIAL VIDEO – YouTube
Nice song, cool lindy in the video (almost all lead and followed apparently, there’s no choreography apart from one tiny bit) illustrating that it’s not all about the aerials.
(tags: music lindy lindyhop dance)
European Swing Dance Championships presents: Lindy Hop Bloopers – YouTube
Alternatively hilarious and terrifying. My favourite is the one where they kick the spotter, I think.
(tags: dancing lindy funny aerials lindyhop)

Glen Scrivener, who blogs at Christ the Truth, recently watched Derren Brown’s Fear and Faith programme. In it, Brown apparently converts (or at least induces a religious experience in) a staunch atheist, a biologist called Natalie. Brown used this as a jumping off point for an argument that we don’t need to invoke a god to explain religious experiences. Glen’s posting argued that the existence of fakes doesn’t disprove the existence of the genuine article.

Blah blah blah Bayes

I commented that Brown would go too far if he claimed that an ability to reproduce religious experiences means there’s no God, but he could use it to negate the value of religious experience as evidence for God’s existence. If it is trivial for people who aren’t God to produce such experiences, then they are about as likely to occur in a world without God as they are in a world with a God, so they aren’t good evidence. Glen tried a variant of the Argument from Wife, saying that his belief in his wife’s existence is not invalidated because of his feelings about her. But this doesn’t work, since he presumably saw and heard her and so believed she existed prior to having feelings for her, so the causality isn’t backwards, as it is when Christians point to feelings from God as evidence for God’s existence.

Then I watched the programme on Channel 4’s website. In it, we see Brown convert Natalie in what looks like a church, with 15 minutes of chat about her father and tapping on the table to “anchor” certain feelings. He leaves her alone (except for the cameras, of course) for a bit, at which point she stands up and bursts into tears, speaking about how sorry she is and wishing she could have had this feeling all her life. Well, that about wraps it up for God, right?

Hang on a sec…

Something’s gone wrong with everyone’s argument here, and I probably should have spotted it before I watched the programme, because I’ve written about Derren Brown before. Can you spot it? Have a think for a moment, then read on.

Christian and atheists alike were assuming that Brown can convert someone in 15 minutes with NLP (and then arguing about what that means for God-belief). We’ve been taken in. It was a trick! Nobody can really produce a conversion experience in 15 minutes in the way we’re supposed to believe he did. Brown’s tricks don’t work by using NLP (because NLP doesn’t work so dramatically, if indeed it works at all, which I rather doubt). Remember, the bit at the end of the trick where he shows you how he did it using NLP (though he never uses the phrase) to implant suggestions in people’s minds is itself misdirection, part of his act.

I should have realised that, because I’ve had a similar conversation about Brown before, with an NLP believer on Less Wrong. See also Ferretbrain’s Derren Brown is a Liar and this discussion on the show: pjc229 has it right.

The bit at the end with the moral of today’s episode

That little “something doesn’t make sense” feeling is something you want to train yourself to listen to: as Saunt Yudkowsky says, your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. At the point where someone claims to be able to produce religious conversion experiences after 15 minutes of chat about fathers and tapping on the table, you should be feeling confused; not trying to defend religion as if the story Brown’s telling really happened and you had to explain how it doesn’t really threaten Christianity, or attacking religion as if Brown had shown it was bunk (these are like Yudkowsky trying to defend the paramedics in his story).

I must congratulate Brown on getting me seriously debating whether he’d provided a contribution to the psychology of religion, though. The man’s a genius. I wish I knew how he did it (pjc229’s suggestions about what Natalie saw not being what we saw must have something to do with it, I guess).

(None of which is to say that there aren’t satisfying psychological explanations for religious experiences which remove the need to invoke gods, of course, just that we shouldn’t go to magicians for that kind of evidence).

30 open questions in physics and astronomy « Locklin on science
(tags: questions astronomy physics science)
Going Soul-o: one young atheist’s week at Christian camp (Day One)
Gay atheist Alex Gabriel went to Soul Survivor, a charismatic Christian festival, and blogged about it (the link is to part one of the series). I went in about 1998, shit was so crazy (to my conservative evangelical eyes) but bits of it were inspirational, and indeed, Alex does find some good things to say about it, but mostly worries about people converting for the wrong reasons (i.e. no reasons at all).
(tags: festival conversion alex gabriel charismatic christianity soul-survivor soul survivor)
Philosophy Bro
Excellent summaries of philosophical works in bro-speak, plus readers’ questions answered. Fist-bump!
(tags: aristotle descartes religion morality kant david hume bro funny philosophy)

Bring on the crocoducks

Remember Ray Comfort, of Crocoduck fame? Tony Miano, Comfort’s vicar on Earth, made a blog posting in which he argued that the Clergy Project (which tries to help ministers of religion who’ve become closet atheists) was doing the church a favour by ridding it of people who were never Christians in the first place. He also mentioned that atheists know there’s a God really (see previous discussion).

This attracted the attention of the Dawkins massive, mainly because they thought it was written by their arch-enemy Comfort himself, so it got quite a few comments. There was some good stuff. An ex-Christian called The Skeptical Magician had a go at beating the fundies at their own game, arguing from the Bible that he was a real Christian (someone who believes Jesus was the Son of God who rose from the dead) who changed his mind. I stuck my oar in, pointing out that if Miano is right, we can’t know someone’s a Christian until they die. Is Tony Miano a Christian? Well, we’ll have to wait and see, by his definition.

Had the Magician merely said that he was a believer, the first responses from Christians would have been “it’s easy to say you’re a believer, but that doesn’t make you one”. So he gave examples of doing things he would likely do only if he were truly a believer (faith without deeds being dead, as James tells us). He got replies telling him that his faith had been all about “doing” rather than “believing”, therefore his actions were evidence against him being a believer. This is cheating of the “heads I win/tails you lose” sort, as any Bayesian could tell you.

Some presuppositionalists commented, including my old mate the Internet-famous Sye Ten Bruggencate, who invented the Proof That God Exists (Danger! Atheists, don’t click that link!) Presuppositionalists start out sounding as if they might be fun, in a “late night conversation with philosophy students” sort of way: they like to ask for “accounts” of stuff that most people take, if not as a brute fact, then as a reasonable starting point (the evidence of our senses, memory, logic, belief in the sun rising tomorrow and so on). This might lead to an interesting philosophical discussion, but they spoil it all by applying radical scepticism to all views other than their own, which is cheating. If you read their literature, the reason for this is that they’re not interested in a discussion where both parties might modify their views, they just want to force their opponent “below the line of despair” so they’ll turn to Christianity. It’s fun to ask what an “account” would have to look like to satisfy them, and how they “account” for God’s unchangeable nature. They don’t answer, of course, but the point of intervening in such discussions is to defend the philosophically naive marks who’ve never run into Hume and Descartes before, not to change the presuppers’ minds.

But! I’ve never been one of them

Leah Libresco, an atheist blogger who originally started her Unequally Yoked blog when she was going out with Catholic, announced she’d converted to Catholicism because she’d realised that Morality is a Person who loves her. Camels with Hammers did a good summary of ways atheists responded, noting that the best response was probably to point out that she seemed to have missed a few steps in her argument, rather than accusing her of being off her medication.

squid314 wondered about local maximas in belief-space (which is mathematician speak for wondering whether the steps he’d have to take to get Catholicism individually made his new view seem less likely than before, even if once you get there Catholicism is actually more likely than the Official Bayesian Conspiracy Worldview). He noted that he knew quite a few clever people who’d become Catholic, so maybe it was worth looking into. He reported back on his investigation of the Catholic blogsphere in an amusing fashion, which makes me think he’s safe, for now.

A friend of Libresco’s started a thread on Less Wrong’s discussion board on how to thwart the conversion. Someone there was prepared to predict that the conversion won’t stick, as it’s based on metaphysics rather than the unpleasant reality of the Catholic church (Libresco is already wobbling a bit on the issue of homosexuality). We’ll see: I don’t know her well enough to want to bet on it.

I made a few comments on Libresco’s blog: on the Euthyphro Dilemma (ended up going in circles as usual, gave up); pointing out that the Catholic orthodoxy is that God is not morally good (he’s ontologically good, see Camels with Hammers again), making him a poor choice for a virtue ethicist like Leah; and dealing with the usual bad arguments about science.

God Is Not Dead Yet | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
William Lane Craig lays out his best arguments for the existence of God.
(tags: kalam william-lane-craig christianity religion apologetics atheism philosophy)
On God and Our Ultimate Purpose
Stephen Maitzen argues that introducing a God does not solve the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.
(tags: god purpose stephen-maitzen maitzen atheism philosophy)
Cycle of Fear – NYTimes.com
Tim Kreider (of “The Pain, When Will It End?”) on the meditative value of fear: “When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in.”
(tags: meditation funny flow cycling anxiety)
How filthy lucre could subvert the Church of England | World news | The Guardian
“Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal ‘heretics'”. What fun.
(tags: andrew-brown money evangelicalism church-of-england anglicanism anglican)
Beyond Mitt’s Underwear: Part 1: Apostasy and Restoration
tongodeon did an excellent series on Mormon beliefs. This is the first part, which links to all the others. The conclusion is worth reading even if you skim the rest.
(tags: lds joseph-smith underwear mitt-romney religion mormonism mormon)
Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Whatever
An explanation which tries to avoid those problematic identity politics jargon terms (see what I did there?)
(tags: sexuality feminism race privilege gender)

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, recently released a statement on gay marriage. It’s doing the rounds on Facebook. Here’s a comment I posted there:

What an odd article: long on words, short on reasons why broadening the definition of marriage would be a bad thing.

Civil partnerships aren’t identical to marriage for some people: for example, married couples where one person transitions from one gender to another are forced to dissolve marriages and get civil parterships. For such people, it is very clear that a civil partnership is a second-class marriage: see http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=87 for example.

The Archbishop claims that no Act of Parliament touches upon a definition of marriage, but then quotes a Canon which defines it as being lifelong. Did Parliament lack the authority to legalise divorce and re-marriage (a practice which, as I’ve said previously in http://pw201.livejournal.com/71272.html, has much stronger Biblical condemnation than homosexual relationships, and yet is curiously rather more acceptable to evangelicals)?

The Archbishop fears it may become “impossible to say how a good society needs most of its members to live”. But, if we want government to be involved in marriages at all, it is presumably because we think they are a social good. The people who want to broaden marriage need not be seeking a free for all, they may just think that gay marriages would also be a good. The Archbishop gives no good reasons to think that they wouldn’t be.

Despite saying that he is not merely advocating Christian marriage, his argument ultimately seems to rely on an (evangelical) Christian conception of it and of gender roles. I agree that Parliament has no warrant to define what that conception should be, nor what Pagan marriage or Quaker marriage should be (the fact that Parliament would prevent religious ministers from marrying two people of the same sex is a similarly unwarranted intervention). Let us have a civil conception of marriage based on public reason, and let everyone else do as they like: evangelicals can choose to marry only straight non-divorcees, Quakers can marry gays, and so on, in separate ceremonies, with only the civil marriage being recognised in law, and no compulsion on ministers of religion from equality laws.

Stephen Law read a bunch of stuff by top apologist William Lane Craig and noted that Craig believes a bunch of odd things (apart from the odd things you’d already know about from Craig’s debates, I mean). There was some discussion in the comments over this one:

“Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.”

[William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), pp. 35-36.]

This is all very Biblical: Craig’s “loves darkness rather than light” is a reference to the verse following that famous verse in John 3:16: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

As a good inerrantist, Craig apparently believes this and other passages like Romans 1 (see my old blog post about this) where the Apostle Paul writes that unbelievers are “without excuse”. Atheists know there’s a God really but don’t worship him because to do so we’d have to acknowledge how bad we are, or something. This is a culpable error, not a mistake, too.

The pathologising of non-belief based on knowing what people think better than they do is itself pathological, as Thrasymachus says, at least if it’s used to dismiss atheist arguments without engaging with them (note that Craig does not do this in debates, though he seems to do it personally, and to advocate other Christians doing it, which is bad).

In the comments, wombat suggests that the evangelical claim is that atheists are in the situation “where one accepts something intellectually but not at a more basic emotional level e.g cigarette smokers who continue in spite of acknowledging its dangers. The Christian apologists here are claiming that the “knowledge” is at that deeper visceral level.” wombat also linked to Jamie Whyte’s observation that religious believers don’t really act like they believe what they say they believe.

On that subject, there’s also Georges Rey’s “Meta-atheism: religious avowal as self-deception“, where he argues that Christians generally don’t act as if they believe what they say they believe. I’ve discussed Rey’s paper before.

There’s a folk psychology where “thoughts” are propositional sentences that occur to us, and “beliefs” are the ones we hold on to as true over time and use to guide our actions. But the way the phenomenon we call “belief” really works doesn’t seem much like that. This doesn’t just apply to religion: see The Mystery of the Haunted Rationalist.

If the evangelical claim is just to know that atheists are secretly lying, it’s bizarre, as Thrasymachus says. On the other hand, if the evangelical claim is that atheists anticipate-as-if there’s a God while avowing-as-if there isn’t, I don’t think that works. What are the things that atheists are doing which give away the fact that they are anticipating that way? And why does this make them culpable and deserving of Hell?

I don’t think the atheist version (i.e. Rey’s or Whyte’s) has the same problem, because there are plenty of examples of Christians who don’t act like there’s a God.