Magi Mike's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Science and Belief

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death

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Heaven may not be what you imagine

Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.

In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.

Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)

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Written by mikemagee

13 April, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Why are Christians so Ignorant of when Human Life Begins?

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First Breath

Christians are sorely mistaken about when human life begins, yet the bible tells believers in several places when a fœtus becomes a living being. It is not at the moment of conception as the pro-lifers have insisted for the last thirty years…, though not before!

The bible does not support the idea that God makes a human being at conception. Conception is when a living sperm from a male penetrates a living ovum in a woman forming a living fœtus, but it is wrong to think that, from then on, the fœtus is a living human being. The bible says a fœtus must draw a breath to become a living person with a soul.

It is clear. God formed the first man in Genesis 2:7, but Adam was not a living being until he had taken a breath. God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became the living being” whom God named Adam.

There is nothing in the bible to indicate that a fœtus is considered to be anything other than living tissue and, according to scripture, it does not become a living being until after it has taken a breath. Thus Job 33:4, says:

The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Plainly, life is conferred not by the union of a sperm and an egg, but God’s breath. No one can be alive until they have gasped God’s breath—taken a breath. How does God revive the dead bones in Ezekiel? It cannot have anything to do with conception. Not at all, Ezekiel 37:5-6 states:

Thus says the Lord God to these bones, Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

It is absolutely clear that God instils life into dead matter by His breath. Exodus 21:22 adds that if a man causes a woman to have a miscarriage, he shall be fined, but, if the woman dies then he will be put to death. The death of a fœtus is not equal to the death of an adult woman because the punishment for the abortion is merely a fine, whereas the death of the living woman was its equal—death! The bible does not class the death of the unborn infant as a capital offense.

The bible does not equate destroying a living fœtus with killing a living human being, even though we know the fœtus has the potential of becoming a human being. One can not kill something that has not been born and not yet taken a breath because it simply was not considered alive. Equally, a stillborn child could not be considered to be a living human being either. Of course, a mother will feel the loss because a fertilized egg has the potential of being born and therefore of becoming a living being. But sadly, not all of them do! Indeed, every living sperm has the potential of becoming a human being, although not one in a million will make it. The rest die, but it is absurd for a mother to grieve over all the potential children she could not have.

The Christian has to accept that God has provided for around a third of all pregnancies to be terminated by a spontaneous abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, and that some more will be terminated even after the first three months. Like it or not, God does not regard the loss of a fœtus any differently from the loss of a placenta or a foreskin, both of which were living tissues which grew from conception.

On the other hand, God made it plain that murder of a living being, one which had breathed a breath of air, was wrong. It was wrong to sacrifice one’s infant son, like Isaac. The Commandments say it is wrong to murder, and a judicial murder is justified only in particular circumstances that are far from common, and indeed Christ’s plain instruction is that such judgements should be left to God.

US Christians particularly get terribly exercised about abortion but have a psychotic inclination to condemn adults all too freely to often cruel deaths. They take a line diametrically opposed to the teachings of the bible, particularly the teachings of Christ, whose unmistakable message was one of love of others. Needless to say, murdering people is not loving them, though US Christians cannot see anything wrong in it.

In contrast, tissue that has no soul, until God breathes life into it, according to the bible, is defended as if it were Christ himself facing crucifixion anew. They really ought to discard their wicked pastors who teach them what suits them rather than Christian morals, and start to read the bible, especially, as Christians the New Testament, for themselves. Aborting a fœtus is not pleasant or optional, but it is not an equal sin to killing a living, breathing human being.

Written by mikemagee

3 November, 2012 at 1:20 am

Which Bits of Scripture are Literal and which Allegorical?

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Richard Dawkins and Jonathan SacksProminent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks met in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

“How do you decide which bits [of scripture] are symbolic and which bits are not?” asked Prof Dawkins at one point during the discussion.

“Very simple,” replied the Chief Rabbi.

“The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: if a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally.”

Christians take note. The Old Testament is the scripture of Jews. Maybe the Rabbis can be expected to know it better than TV evangelicals.

Written by mikemagee

16 September, 2012 at 5:27 pm

MIT Series on Scientists—Cambridge Nights

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Written by mikemagee

9 September, 2012 at 10:57 pm

No Relationship Between the Level of Sacrificial Behaviour and Religiosity

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Sacrificing to God Game

Physorg.com reports that Professor Paul Frijters and World Bank economist Juan Baron, economists at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the World Bank in Washington found a pervading and persistent “default belief” among believers and nonbelievers in bargaining with the unknown, and it was greater in times of uncertainty. Professor Frijters said:

There seems to be a default belief that people can bargain with the unknown, and they need a lot of evidence to the contrary before it fades away. Much like some cultures dance for their gods in order to get rain, Western participants will spend money on problems even when that expenditure has no demonstrable effect. Even when witnessing hundreds of occasions where it made no difference, they keep sacrificing large portions of their income to the perceived source of the problem. Only if they personally experience dozens of disappointments will they slowly stop sacrificing.

Professor Frijters said the study was an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that will be revealed in a book due later this year called An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

In it, 500 participants played a game in which the price for the goods they “produced” was determined by a source of uncertainty called Theoi. Although the price was set completely at random for each of 20 rounds, the participants had the option of contributing some of their produced goods to Theoi. At the start, the average participant donated half of all production towards Theoi, even when there was no relationship between the level of sacrifice and the market price. Professor Frijters said:

Even after 20 rounds, the average participant still donated a quarter of all production. There were no participants who didn’t donate anything for all 20 rounds, and there were very few who didn’t donate anything the last 10 rounds. The wish to sacrifice was very strong. In an experiment where the level of sacrifice was set initially at 10 per cent, nearly all participants changed the level to much higher. Aggregate sacrifices were over 30 per cent of all takings in the main experiments, and only slightly lower if we didn’t use a human name for the uncertainty in price (like Theoi) or if we allowed participants to see what others experienced. Sacrifices only really dropped when the level of uncertainty was lower.

General findings were:

  • there was no relationship between the level of sacrificial behaviour and whether participants belonged to a recognised religion
  • engineering students donated more than economics students
  • participants who were selfish towards others were also less likely to sacrifice to Theoi.

The authors conclude that “any important source of uncertainty” will witness the development of a religion around it in which people sacrifice towards its perceived source.

While this is only a summary by an online agency of the paper, if it is at all accurate, the findings are terrible. The authors totally lack any scientific credibility on this evidence. Their choice of the word Theoi (Gods) suggests they had already a conclusion in their minds when they chose that as the name of this mysterious agent.

It seems the subjects’ knowledge of the mechanics of the game was simply that they could donate some of their money to Theoi (“a sacrifice”) before it decided upon their winnings. To be told that is to imply that the “sacrifice” might influence the outcome. It is therefore quite natural to any inquisitive human being to conduct a series of experiments to determine what the optimum “sacrifice” is. For most people it would simply be a matter of “suck it and see”, and in only 20 tries there is little chance for anything more sophisticated, anything approaching a scientific method. So, on the information provided in the summary, Professor Frijters and Juan Baron have presupposed an outcome—everyone believes in a supernatural agent, so must be at heart religious—and have not even been clever enough to disguise it, by using words like gods and sacrifice that give away their thinking. The subjects, whether atheists or believers are simply trying to get a clue about what strategy will give the best rewards in the game. The superimposition of gods and sacrifice are simply in the minds of the experimenter. One would hazard a guess that they are themselves religious believers!

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2012 at 12:42 am

Albert Einstein’s 1954 Letter Concerning God

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… The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,
Yours, A. Einstein

Written by mikemagee

15 August, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Is David Barton a Typical Christian Apologist—a Liar?

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Amateur Historian, Barton, Shows off Some of His Collection of US History

The Christian Historian

According to Time magazine, David Barton is one of the most influential evangelicals. He presides over the WallBuilders, a company he owns in Aledo, Texas. Allegedly, he gives 400 speeches a year, advises the federal government and state school boards, and testifies in court as an expert witness. He was for long the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and is a frequent guest of Glenn Beck, the outlandish Mormon chat show host. It should not therefore be surprising that his vision of America as a nation infused from the start with Christianity is popular with churches, Christian schools and universities, Mitt Romney, the GOP and a plethora of other elephantine celebrities—Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. Huckabee said at a conference:

I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans will be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it.

Sounds typically right wing hypocrisy in view of the GOP’s supposed libertarian principles. Still, Barton’s supporters call him a hero, while his detractors think he is sowing confusion and misinformation.

One way that he does it is by writing “Christian history” books about the founding of America, lately one called The Jefferson Lies which made The New York Times best seller list. He boasts he has collected and analyzed 100,000 documents from before 1812—original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas. Barton’s popularity notwithstanding, conventional wisdom begs to differ!

Critics accuse Barton of misinterpretations and errors, says Thomas Kidd writing for World Community, and even some conservative Christian scholars are now openly questioning Barton’s work. Readers of the History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies as the “least credible history book in print”. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, writing a column syndicated by National Public Radio, points out David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University not in history, and has only published one peer reviewed article.

It seems that Christian Education frankly must mean lying (see Liars for Jesus, by Chris Rodda). Honest researchers, historians included, try to tell the truth, but Barton has qualified critics who say he tells lies, damned lies, and cannot understand statistics. Barton is being criticized by many scholars and historians, not simply for taking a different view of American history but for changing historically documented facts to further his own agenda. He is accused of cherry picking old documents on American history, selectively quoting them to make them say what he wants them to say, a popular ploy of Christian apologists, utterly dishonest but approved by most gullible evangelicals. Critics find his work riddled with unjustified historical revision with which he has misled millions of credulous Christians and gotten rich in the process. Such consistent misinterpretation cannot be other than deliberate, historians say. He is even alleged to have tried to silence critics through the courts, using his ill-gotten wealth.

Some Critics and Criticisms

Jay W Richards of the creationist Discovery Institute has spoken on the same platform as Barton at Christian conferences, but openly said Barton’s writings so troubled him he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess his work. Many concurred with Richards.

Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton, in his desire in The Jefferson Lies to portray Jefferson favorably for Christians, omits obvious evidence that Jefferson was in no way an “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity”.

Gregg Frazer of the Master’s College, exposed factual claims in Barton’s video, America’s Godly Heritage, as being at least dubious. An example is the statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians’ ”. Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University went further, saying Barton’s ideas of Jefferson’s religious views are “unsupportable”.

One of the “myths” about Jefferson, Barton told Huckabee on Fox News, is that Jefferson was a religious skeptic. Barton argues that for the first 70 or so years of his life, Jefferson was a “conventional Christian”, although he did express doubts in his final 15 years. As evidence of the third president’s religiosity, Barton, showing Huckabee an original document signed by Jefferson, explained:

Jefferson, unlike the other presidents, closes his documents: “In the year of our Lord Christ”.

He did not point out that Jefferson was adding his signature to a pre-printed form required by law. Barton goes on to say that Jefferson started church services at the Capitol, that he ordered the Marine Corps band to play at the services and that he funded a treaty to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians—three claims that experts say are demonstrably false.

Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of the evangelical Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, named their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, plainly challenging Barton whom they argue “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances”. Regarding the nature of Jefferson’s faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians—Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity:

  • he didn’t see Jesus as God
  • he didn’t believe that Jesus performed miracles
  • he dismissed the Trinity.

Jefferson even decided to write his own version of the gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, a task he considered as “taking ‘diamonds as if from a dunghill’, picking out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule as the diamonds. The dunghill was the virgin birth, the Resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission”, and so on. Thus, ending his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson has nothing to say about the core of Christian belief, the Resurrection, simply writing:

There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

Barton insists that Jefferson not only bought a copy of the Bible, but invested in a 1798 edition, showing his philosophical support for the sacred text. Doubtless, he wanted a copy to write his own version of it! But he claims Congress published the first American Bible in 1782, and intended the Bible to be used in public schools. Barton is quite wrong in these facts and his conclusion. Congress did not publish or pay for the 1782 Bible. At the request of Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitken, Congress agreed to have its chaplains read for errors the bible he was printing at his own expense. Honest historians agree it was not a government promotion of religion.

Like many of his kind, Barton seems to think that the Americans of 300 years ago are simply modern Americans in old fashioned gear. He utterly fails to comprehend the changes brought about by the passage of time, and therefore cannot make allowances for changing manners and ways of thinking. For example, Jefferson owned nearly 200 slaves, but Barton says he wanted to free them, as any devout Christian would—omitting that Jesus Christ never condemned slavery, nor did Paul who advised slaves to accept their situation—but he could not because in Virginia it was illegal to free them. Barton claims:

Had his plans been followed, Virginia would’ve ended slavery really early on. They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense.

Critics say Barton “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery”. They mean he deliberately or incompetantly omits the section of Virginian law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton moved the goalposts, claiming now that Jefferson was too poor to free his slaves. Warren Throckmorton adds:

Mr Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern day evangelicals could love and identify with. The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson. It’s not getting him right.

Barton accuses Throckmorton and Coulter of being “academic elitists” posing as the “sole caretakers of historical knowledge”, and hostile toward his “personal religious beliefs”. It is a popular apologetic ploy to denigrate proper scholars in defense of Christian falsehoods.

The Rev Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati and president of Cincinnati Area Pastors, is boycotting the publisher of Barton’s book, Thomas Nelson. He says that by whitewashing Jefferson, and through him all the other slaveholding founders, Barton is rewriting history to make it palatable for white Christians today. He says frankly:

Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans. He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body. All in their hearts they [Right wing evangelicals like Barton] are saying, “If we could just go back there, America would be right”. Right for who? Not for blacks, not for women, not for Native Americans. Only for white men.

Anyway no Christian golden founding age ever existed. John Fea, an evangelical himself, chairman of the history department at evangelical Messiah College and author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, says:

None of the founders were necessarily interested in promoting a specifically Christian nation. Many of the founders believed in something akin to separating church and state even though they didn’t use those terms. And in fact, most of the people in America were not regular churchgoers. So what is that great culture that we’re returning to?

Barton’s reply is:

I’m not trying to throw the nation back 200 years. I don’t want the technology to go backward, I love the health [care] stuff we got now. What I try to use is principles that are timeless.

He loves ObamaCare?! And what about the timeless Christian principle, indeed necessity that Christians should give all they have to the poor!

“Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Mark 10:21-22

It means that Jesus required the rich to give all of their wealth to the poor to be saved. The treasure in heaven is obviously not gold nuggets or silver dollars, it is salvation itself, but the rich man preferred his material wealth to salvation. They all do! Not one of them can be a Christian and be rich. Jesus is quite clear about it. No rich Christian can be a Christian!

Christian Social Engineering or Building Tomorrow’s Dark Age

These scholars criticizing Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics, who agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but reject the notion of a concoction called “Christian history” as something other than and superior to “history”. It ends up with books and videos full of “embarrassing factual errors, selective quotes, and misleading claims”. Barton finds the Constitution is a not a secular document, but is filled with biblical quotations. He told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network:

You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause. Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document. We’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.

When you do as he says you find that none of this is true. The Constitution of 1787 does not speak of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. It is the First Amendment which mentions religion. John Fea says Barton is peddling a distorted history that appeals to conservative believers.

David Barton is offering an alternative vision of American history which places God, the providence of God, Christianity, at the center.

Fea sees Barton is a danger because he’s using a skewed version of the past to shape the future for political reasons:

He’s in this for activism. He’s in this for policy. He’s in this to make changes to our culture.

In short, it is cavalier social engineering with no thought for the future success of the USA, merely that it should be right wing and evangelical. For example, in 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to publish more conservative and Christian friendly school history textbooks. David Barton was one of the board’s advisers. Later on the God show Chapter and Verse, he said it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids get through the entire curriculum, then another 10 years before those kids get elected to office and start doing things:

So we’re talking 30 years from now. But, it’s in the pipe coming down.

Asked about this, Barton agreed he wanted to shape future leaders like any educator, but he didn’t see himself as a particularly influential person, but just that “I’m going to be an active citizen and be involved and do everything I can to help move these principles forward.”

Barton even thinks the Founding Fathers had amazing powers of prophecy. It was prophecy to exceed the bible itself, as Charles Darwin was not born for another quarter of a century, in 1809, and it was three quarters of a century before he published his theory of evolution in 1859. He said on TV they opposed the theory of evolution:

You go back to the Founding Fathers, as far as they’re concerned, they already had the entire debate on creation-evolution. And you get Thomas Paine, who’s the least religious Founding Father saying, ’“You’ve got to teach creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that”.

It all goes to show that Christians will believe just anything that suits them!

Update: As this article was being composed Thomas Nelson decided to stop publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. See Warren Throckmorton”s website.

Written by mikemagee

10 August, 2012 at 1:46 am