Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Don't Know Much About History (2): The Sandy Rios Story Con't

A few weeks back, I caught Chicago Christian radio hostess Sandy Rios talking to a guest about how students these days are not taught about the United States Constitution. Given her previous assertion that the absence of any mention of God in the Constitution "doesn't matter," I found this rather amusing, but I did not really think it was worth a blog post. However, her exchange with a caller yesterday afternoon seems worth pointing out.

After accusing Barack Obama of being socialist, Rios took a call from an African American woman named Betty who maintained that the United States has always been a racist society.

Betty: When you first wrote the Constitution, you said that we were three fifths human.

Sandy Rios: No no Betty, that’s not true. Somebody’s got you confused on that. That was the Dred Scott decision and that was overturned.

Betty: It was in the United States Constitution.

Sandy Rios: No no. No ma'am, it was not.

While I do not agree with everything that Betty had to say, on this point, Sandy Rios was the only person who was confused and who was doing the confusing. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution reads: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." (emphasis added) It does not appear that Justice Taney cited the apportionment clause in his Dred Scott opinion although he certainly embraced its spirit. Moreover, Dred Scott was not really overturned so much as mooted by the 13th and 14th Amendments, the latter of which also revised the apportionment clause. In any case, Betty is quite right that the Constitution originally treated Negro slaves as less than fully persons.

As Mark Twain so wisely said: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." I cringe to think how many evangelical Christians in the Chicago area listen every afternoon as Sandy Rios spouts her misunderstandings of law and government. Unfortunately, I have encountered a number of them trying to get my local high school district to get rid of books that offend their sensibilities.

For anyone who is interested in further inanities from Rios, check out the following clip from Real Time with Bill Maher, in which she explains how the United States has earned the right to put permanent military bases in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who is Bombing Who

In his victory speech in after the Wisconsin primary last night, John McCain criticized Barack Obama's suggestion that he might favor bombing Al Queda strongholds in Pakistan if the Pakistani government failed to address the problem.

Senator McCain did not sing any verses of "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More of Craig's Crap

God I'm a dancer. A dancer dances.
The Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

William Lane Craig is not plagued by any hobgoblins when he is presented the opportunity to score cheap rhetorical points. In an August 2002 debate, Craig attacked Peter Slezak for suggesting that the lack of evidence for God's existence might be some reason to think God might not exist. Craig insisted that the lack of evidence was not a concern as long as you did not expect too much.

We need to ask what is the evidence for atheism. And here Dr. Slezak says that the only evidence against God’s existence is the absence of evidence for God’s existence. Now this admission is highly significant because it means that he tacitly agrees that all of the traditional arguments for atheism like the problem of evil and the incoherence of the concept of God, all of these arguments fail. The only argument for atheism is the absence of evidence for God. But the problem here is that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence....
So when then does the absence of evidence count as evidence that something does not exist? Well theorists of knowledge agree that the lack of evidence for some entity X counts as positive evidence against X’s existence only in the case that if X did exist then we should expect to see more evidence of X’s existence than what we do see....
Now apply that then to the case of God, the absence of evidence for God’s existence counts as evidence against God’s existence only in the case that if God did exist, then we should see more evidence of his existence than we do in fact see. In practical terms what that means is this: if God exists should we expect to see more evidence of his being than the origin of the universe out of nothing; the exquisite fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life; the apprehension of a realm of moral an aesthetic values; the radical claims and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead; and the immediate experience of fellowship with God? Well I think the answer is obviously not.
So to carry his argument, Dr. Slezak has to prove that it is highly probable that if God exists we should have more evidence of his existence than what we do in fact have, and that I think is sheer speculation. And thus in the case of God, I do not think that the absence of evidence is at all a positive argument
against the existence of God and yet that is all he’s had to offer you tonight on behalf of atheism, so I don’t think that we have seen any good reason to think that atheism is true.

It seems to me that Craig is saying that by lowering our expectations for the less evidence that we expect there to be for God, we lower the probability that atheism is true. By this logic, we should not reject the existence of leprechauns since we don’t expect there to be any evidence for them in the first place.

As strange as Craig's argument against Slezak might be, he was not plagued by any foolish consistency in February 2005 when Austin Dacey tried to make the very argument that Craig said Slezak failed to make. When Dacey argued that we should expect to see more evidence of God's existence, Craig insisted that the only evidence we should ever expect to see is whatever evidence we actually do see.

Now in this speech I would like to examine Dr. Dacey's arguments on behalf of atheism to see whether they pass philosophical muster.
All five of his arguments share the same basic form: Step one is to say that if God existed, we should expect to find "blank," and you fill in the blank, step two is “but we do not find blank” and therefore one concludes that God does not exist.
Now I want to make two general comments about this style of argumentation: First of all, its enormously presumptuous. Basically, what Dr. Dacey is saying is that if God doesn’t fulfill our expectations, then we should conclude that He doesn’t exist. But who says that God has to fulfill our expectations? How can we predict with any confidence what God would do if He existed? If we find that our expectations aren’t met, then isn’t it the better part of discretion and humility to reexamine and perhaps revise those expectations? We’re simply not in a position to dictate to God that He has to act in accordance with our expectations


Woohoo!!!!! Brilliant!!!! We should adjust our expectations to whatever evidence we find for God’s existence. Then, since the evidence always perfectly meets our expectations, we can never conclude that God doesn’t exist. What bullshit.

BTW, I don't cruise YouTube looking for Craig videos. These were both cited by bloggers in the last few days as examples of Craig's brilliance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Was Jesus a Republican?

From the front page of today's Chicago Tribune under the headline A bitter pill for conservatives:

COLORADO SPRINGS - Kathleen and Myron Buzby listen closely to conservative talk radio, consider themselves "serious Christians," and count themselves blessed to have 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

They are exactly the kind of people who flocked to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Colorado caucuses and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in other contests, not to Sen. John McCain. Now that McCain has virtually clinched the Republican nomination for president, the Buzbys are dismayed and somewhat dispirited."

I think McCain is temperamental and he gets revenge," said Kathleen Buzby, who can easily tick off the issues where she disagrees with the Arizona senator, starting with campaign finance reform, his unsuccessful attempt to overhaul immigration laws and his two votes against President Bush's tax cuts.

Pardon my French, but what the #&@$ does being a "serious Christian" have to do with campaign finance reform, immigration laws, or tax cuts? The only thing I know that Jesus taught that touches on any of those topics was "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" and that does not sound like an argument against taxes to me.

I am currently reading God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and I am not eager to embrace his argument that religion's natural tendency is to do more harm than good. I have not yet felt compelled to take the step from agnosticism to atheism and I still find the liberal theology of a John Shelby Spong very appealing. On the other hand, when I see people who insist on justifying purely political positions as mandates of their religious faith, it is very hard to curb my cynicism about the whole enterprise.

The Best Religion Debate Ever

Islam v. Christianity by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Would God Pass AP Science?

If, for example, the strong nuclear force that holds together the protons
and neutrons in the nucleus of atoms were a tad weaker, elements other than
hydrogen would either be unlikely or impossible; if a tad stronger, you wouldn’t
have hydrogen. Change the ratio of the mass of the electron to the proton just a
mite and molecules cannot form. If gravity were made just a bit weaker, stars
large enough to produce the heavier elements necessary for biological life would
not exist; a bit stronger, and stars would be too massive, producing the
necessary elements but burning too rapidly and unevenly to support life. Fiddle
a smidgeon with the expansion rate of the universe, and you either cause it to
collapse or exceed the ideal rate at which galaxies, and hence solar systems,
can form.
Benjamin Wiker, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow

Wow! God is like soooooo smart! It's the ultimate science fair project.

On the other hand, God could have done anything He wanted to do, couldn't He? He could make the strong nuclear force anything He wanted it to be and He could make the gravititational force anything He wanted it to be. The notion that something God wanted stuck together would become unstuck because of a variation in some natural law is absurd. He could make any ratio anything He wanted. He could make pi equal sixty-two. He is not bound by any natural laws because He invented them and He can ignore them or change them as it so pleases Him.

So why would God make the universe look so orderly? Wouldn't randomly changing natural laws be a much better indication of God's existence than predicatable ones? Is He just messin' with our heads?

Let Us Pray

O Lord, please don't burn us.
Don't grill or toast Your flock.
Don't put us on the barbecue
Or simmer us in stock.
Don't braise or bake or boil us
Or stir-fry us in a wok.
Oh, please don't lightly poach us
Or baste us with hot fat.
Don't fricassee or roast us
Or boil us in a vat,
And please don't stick Thy servants, Lord,
In a Rotissomat.

From Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cluelessness at the Wall Street Journal

On the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal today, Daniel Henninger takes Barack Obama to task today because his message is "a downer." "What one hears is a message that is largely negative, illustrated with anecdotes of unremitting bleakness." Henninger thinks that Obama's failure to talk "sunshine in America" is going to make him vulnerable in the general election. Of course Henninger invokes Ronald Reagan as the right kind of optimist.

What Henninger doesn't get is that the Republicans have succeeded in generating an awful lot of bleakness for the average American. People are having a hard time figuring out how to pay for their houses, their health care, their kids college education, and their retirements. They see an economy sliding and an endless war. Henninger also seems to forget that Reagan's refreshing optimism was only refreshing because everyone felt everything was so crappy in the late 1970's. Ronny would have been a fool to go out and tell people how well they were doing under Jimmy Carter.

If the cluelessness of the Wall Street Journal is representative of Republicans in general, I don't see how McCain has a chance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Agnosticism, Atheism, and Proof

I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist because I am just as unsure that there is no God as I am that there is a God. There are many religious beliefs that I consider foolish or harmful, including the belief in the Bible as some sort of magic book, however, I do not share the belief of many of the militant atheists who see all religious belief as inherently irrational and destructive.

Evangelical Christians frequently assert that atheists have a double standard in that they demand proof of God before they will believe, but they don’t require proof of God’s non-existence before they disbelieve. I consider this to be an absurd argument because such Christians don't require proof of the non-existence of leprechauns, pixies, gnomes, flying reindeer, unicorns, the abominable snowmen, the Loch Ness monster, or Suzy Snowflake before they disbelieve in those beings. I will leave it to the philosophers to decide whether their non-existence even could be proved.

After considering the similarity between my basis for rejecting the existence of leprechauns and my reasons for doubting the existence of God, I can't decide whether I am really an atheist or whether I am simply an agnostic regarding leprechauns as well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strobel's Intellectual Dishonesty

In surfing the blogosphere yesterday I ran across this on the Zondervan Quote of the Day:

"If Darwinism is true, then there are five inescapable conclusions: there's no evidence for God, there's no life after death, there's no absolute foundation for right and wrong, there's no ultimate meaning for life, and people don't really have free will."Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator.

Strobel knows perfectly well that this is not true and anyone who has read his book should know this is not true. In fact, Strobel's book contains many arguments for God's existence based on cosmology, astronomy, and physics that are not effected in the slightest by the truth or falsity of Darwinism. Strobel himself finds each and every one of these arguments inescapably convincing.

The only thing that is effected if Darwinism is true is Strobel's irrational insistence upon a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What's that Smell?

Consider the following three statements:

(1) Commenting on John McCain’s speech to at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, former House Majority leader Tom Delay told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “He laid out a good treatise on what conservative principles are, but then he didn’t apply those principles to the issue of global warming for instance.” When asked the conservative position on global warming, Delay went on to say: “Man is not causing climate change. . . . It is arrogance to suggest that man can affect climate change.”

(2) Leading apologetics scholar, William Lane Craig says: “The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. This gives me a self authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”

(3) Leading apologetics popularizer Josh McDowell says: “Postmodernism is a worldview that asserts that external, absolute truth—that is, a truth that is true for all people, in all places, and at all times—cannot be known through reason or science because truth is either nonexistent or unknowable.”

So there you have it. Delay denies the findings of the climatologists on the basis of political ideology. Craig rejects historical evidence in favor of his subjective religious feelings. Nevertheless, McDowell claims that it is the postmodernists rather than the theists who reject the idea of objective truth.

"There ain't nuthin' more powerful than the smell of mendacity!" Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Who Wrote the Gospel of Mark?

What is our evidence that Mark, the companion of Peter, wrote the Gospel of Mark?

The gospel is written somewhere around 65-70 A.D by an author who does not identify himself.

In 125 A.D., a man considered somewhat stupid, wrote that he had heard from unnamed sources that Mark had written down Peter’s teachings in no particular order. This man does not indicate that he had seen the gospel and he does not quote from it.

In 180 A.D. another man identified Mark as the author of the Gospel that now appears under his name in the New Testament. The second man does not indicate his basis for believing that Mark wrote this gospel. He does indicate his basis for believing that there are no more or less than four gospels, which is that there are four winds and cherubim have four faces.

That’s it. That’s our evidence for Markan authorship. We have Papias, who church historian Eusebius considered a man of "very limited understanding," writing a half century after the gospel was written. Papias does not give us any information that would confirm that the book he heard about is the same book that we identify as the Gospel of Mark and in fact gives us some reason to doubt it. Then we have Irenaeous writing a full century after the gospel was written. He does not provide us with his reasons for believing in Markan authorship, but he indicate the types of reasons that he finds convincing when it comes to questions of the authority of the gospels. These reasons do not inspire confidence.

What brings this to mind is Craig Blomberg’s statement in The Case for Christ that the gospel “is obviously based on eyewitness material” and Lee Strobel’s claim that he sought out Blomberg because he was looking for someone who would not make “the kind of sweeping statements that conceal rather than deal with critical issues.”

I don’t think Strobel found his man.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

William Lane Craig's Double Standard Regarding Evidence.

I recently ran across a video on YouTube in which William Lane Craig, makes the following statement:
The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis the
witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. This gives me a self
authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the
evidence. And therefore, if in some historically contingent circumstances,
the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity.
I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit. In
such a situation, and I should regard that simply as a result of the contingent
circumstances that I am in, and that if I were to pursue this with due diligence
and with time I would discover that in fact that the evidence—if I could get the
correct picture—would support exactly what the witness of the Holy Spirit tells

Apologists are always claiming that they just follow the evidence wherever it leads, but in fact, the rule for Christians is: Follow the evidence whenever it leads to Christianity; otherwise follow your subjective feelings.