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My answers to Lee Strobel’s recent questions

In atheism, friendlyatheist, Lee Strobel on January 31, 2009 at 2:22 am

Recently Lee Strobel sent a series of questions to the readers of friendlyatheist.com. Here are my answers to his recent round.

What argument is most convincing to plant the seeds of doubt (or, rather, faith) in an atheist’s mind?
Do you mind if I restate your question while retaining its original intent? It might be more interesting to phrase it this way: Atheists on this site have kindly submitted questions for me, but what questions would I ask an atheist? As I pondered that issue, I decided to send emails to some of my friends to get advice on what they would ask. Here are a few of their replies — all of which I agree would be excellent to ask a skeptic. If they’re considered fully with all of their implications, they might indeed plant some seeds:

Historian Gary Habermas: “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.”
These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.

Let’s take these so called “facts” in order shall we?

  1. Assuming you can trust the accounts of Jesus existing and being crucified in the normal Roman way, I’ll grant him this one. Be aware though that there are no ROMAN accounts of this. But the romans crucified lots of people, perhaps this one just didn’t get recorded.
  2. Hrm, this is interesting, okay, I’ll even grant you that the disciples might have believed he rose and appeared to them. But just because people believe things, doesn’t mean they are true. People believe lots of incorrect stuff.
  3. Okay, so Paul believed to. I’m beginning to see a trend here.
  4. Ah, and so does James. Geez, that’s almost 14 people so far!
  5. Okay, just for humor’s sake I’ll grant you an empty tomb. Of course, there are lots of explanations for that. Perhaps the tomb was looted? Perhaps these so called “believing” disciples believed so much that they faked the empty tomb. Both possibilities are more likely than any supernatural event… And that’s just off the top of my head, there are probably dozens of more likely explanations that don’t require magic.

Philosopher Paul Copan: “Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?
“And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?”

“ontologically haunted”. LOL. (He means “there is a god”, I think he just wants to sound smarter than he is, either that or he wants us to imagine god lurking in the shadows ready to jump out and go BOO.). Anyway, on to the point.

I don’t know why people keep saying the universe is fine tuned for life. Have they looked around? There’s a large portion of our planet that isn’t very hospitable to life. Most of the solar system is downright hostile to life. Even probes sent to Venus MELT within a few minutes of landing. That’s not to mention the vast miles of interstellar space, and all the stars, and black holes, and quasars, and pulsars and well, you get the point. The universe is pretty hostile to life.

As for his second point. I don’t believe in the existence of objective morality in the same way I believe in the objective reality of say, a rock. Think about it this way. If there were no human beings. Would anything be EVIL? Good and Evil are concepts that humans use to describe actions and behaviors we like or don’t like. That’s it. I can’t emphasize this enough. “Meaning” is something human beings assign to things. “Meaning” is not a thing like a rock is a thing.

Talk show host Frank Pastore: “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from non-life, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

Let’s take these in order as well.

Something from Nothing:
Well, as nobody is really claiming this, I’m not sure what you mean. At least SCIENCE doesn’t claim this. If you’ve heard a physicist talking about something coming from nothing, they were probably paraphrasing. The Big Bang is all about all the matter, time and energy being created from a single thing, a “singularity”.. That’s sure as hell not “nothing”. As for where the singularity came from? We don’t know. But we certainly aren’t claiming we do know. Only theists do that.

Life from non-Life:
This is called the theory of abiogenesis. Much is not known of the actual process.

Mind from brain:
Well, where pray-tell do you THINK that the mind is? Floating in a cartoon bubble outside our bodies? In another dimension? In a supernatural realm? If so, how does it communicate with our body? Through what mechanism? Ah, you don’t know. Then why are you making the claim? Also, see Functional MRI studies.

Moral from aMoral:
I guess the best answer to this is to say that humans are not the only creatures to have a morality. The great apes definitely have morality, and as you look around the animals kingdom you see lots of animals with differing moral “codes”. I will say that you only see these in the social animals ( like the apes ). This was probably an evolutionary advantage long ago.

Historian Mike Licona: “Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt. Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

Actually, this is funny. I rarely doubt my “atheism”. Once I had run through all the logical problems with God existing, I was kind of done. I had far more doubt when I was a Christian and Deist.

Author Greg Koukl: “Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?”

I’m not going into the something from nothing thing again. I’ll just say it this way.

There’s no such thing as Nothing.

Also, quit using a false dichotomy. You forgot the choice that science actually shows.. Everything came from a singularity. The singularity BECAME all the matter and energy in the universe. In other words. Things that exist, exist. Things that don’t, don’t.

I didn’t email Alvin Plantinga, considered by many to be among the greatest philosophers of modern times. But based on his assertion that naturalism is self-defeating, we could formulate this question (thanks to William Lane Craig for some of the concise wording): If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true? (By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)

Ah, Plantinga. I recently finished reading his tome “Warranted Christian Belief”. He sure can fill up pages with words. I’ll have a long post soon on his work. So for now I’ll just say this. Learn how science works. Do some actual science experiments. (They can be simple ones) Think about how you know what you know. If you do the work, you’ll eventually understand. Here’s the trick. Human perception was evolved for survival and not for truth. We use the methods of science precisely because our senses and brains are so bad at discerning what is true. This is why we have things like double-blind studies. You trust the data, not your senses.


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Little Rock’s Science Cafe to present woo as ‘science’

In acupuncture, alternative medicine, hypnosis, oriental medicine, Skepticism, woo on January 27, 2009 at 2:38 am

Tomorrow night at Little Rock’s Science Cafe discussion group, the topic will be “Alternative Medicine: Eat, Sleep and Stick”. Science Cafes are supposed to be an opportunity for the public to meet with scientists from different fields and ask them questions, and promote discussion.

However, it looks as though the Little Rock chapter is being invaded by the pseudo-scientific world of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine”. The three ‘scientists’ who will be speaking Tuesday night are Wesley Pilcher, a team leader from Whole Foods Market, D.J. Lynch a hypnotist from Arkansas Hypnosis, and Martin Eisley from Evergreen Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Mr. Eisley will also be speaking on the local public radio station (KUAR 89.1FM) at 6:05pm tomorrow night about the Science Cafe.

Hopefully they will be taking callers, I’m going to attempt to call in to ask questions concerning their use of the term ‘science’ to describe what it is they do. I’ll try to record the episode and post it somewhere if possible (if KUAR doesn’t post it on their own).