Archive for April, 2008

If you read Pharyngula, then you’ve probably already seen this video:

So many thing wrong with Ben Stein’s claims in that video.

(1) He says that audiences love the new Expelled movie. Big deal – even if that were true, and I’m sure some people loved it – all it shows is that theists love when the movie “beats up” evolutionary theory by smearing it with allegations of a Nazi link. I’m sure the Protocols of Zion was well received in the Muslim world, too. What does that prove other than “pandering to people’s preconceived notions, no matter how stupid they are, makes them love you”.

(2) He says that “science leads you to killing people”, but religion leads to kindness. This shouldn’t even deserve a rebuttal because it’s plainly stupid, but I guess the stupidity isn’t obvious enough, because some people (like the host) agree with him. Personally, I think anti-science idiots should practice what they preach: no clean water, no electricity, no modern medicine, no machine-created clothing, no automobiles, etc. Given Mel Gibson’s devout Catholicism, I have to wonder how Ben Stein explains his anti-semitic outburst – “science made him do it?” Martin Luther’s aggressive anti-semitism – “he was a closet scientist?”

(3) He says that the United States needs to enlarge its military so that it can simultaneously win three wars: Iran attacking Saudi Arabia, North Korea attacking South Korea and Japan, and China attacking Taiwan. First of all, I’m not sure why the United States must be the sole “policeman” in the world – intervening and winning whenever country A attacks country B. Second, what makes him think all three conflicts will happen, and happen simultaneously? And third, if we agree to increase spending to handle all three conflicts simultaneously, then why not add a fourth and a fifth conflict – thus legitimizing a few-trillion dollar military budget to prepare for something that will probably never happen? I don’t know about you, but there’s a limit to the amount of money I’m going to pay for insurance, and the “insurance” (in the form of military spending, just in case something happens) that Stein advocates is very expensive. Or maybe it’s Ben Stein’s plan to bankrupt the United States by goading it into excessive military spending, like the USSR.

And on the subject of Ben Stein’s dishonesty, here’s one from the Scientific American podcast – where he quotes Charles Darwin out of context to make him sound like a Nazi.

Update: the Bad Astronomer (via TheFriendlyAtheist) points out this Ben Stein quote:

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. [PZ] Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed.

Lovely. Science = bad. Scientists = nazis. Time to defend Western Civilization against these nutjobs.

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April 22nd will be the first anniversary of this blog. The very first post? The Barber and the Barb. I’ll be out of town this week, which is why I’m writing this now – on the 21st.

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Researchers hunting for new antibiotics might get some aid from gator blood. Scientists are zeroing in on snippets of proteins found in American alligator blood that kill a wide range of disease-causing microbes and bacteria, including the formidable MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Previous experiments have revealed that gator blood extract cripples many human pathogens, including E. coli, the herpes simplex virus and some strains of the yeast Candida albicans. The serum’s antimicrobial power probably derives from protein bits called peptides. Widespread among reptiles and amphibians, several such germ-fighting peptides have been isolated from the skin of frogs in recent years… ( Link )

Whenever I read stories like this, I just can’t help but think about the origins of humankind. Looking through the human genome, it becomes clear that our DNA is fully ape plus the addition of some mutations spread throughout the genome. Theoretically, a divine creator could’ve created humankind as an amalgamation of superior animal traits (like adding some of the the immune system traits found in alligators). I’ve read that camels have a similarly unusual immune system that might make it over to human medicine:

Antibodies, often described as magic bullets, are actually more like tanks: big, complicated and expensive. Tinier “nanobodies,” derived from camels and llamas, may be able to infiltrate a wider range of diseases at lower cost. That is the hope, at least, of one small start-up in Belgium. (Link)

But instead of our “divine creator” inserting these enhanced traits into the “pinnacle of creation”, our genome is just a few percent different from chimpanzees, with no obvious insertions of any additional traits (which would be difficult to explain from an evolutionary perspective). Like I said earlier, there are no chimeras.

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Heh. This is funny:

We receive a lot of hate email here at Feministing, and this one was too good not to share.

Men are better than women look at the comparison in IQ men are scientifically proven to have a higher IQ by roughly 5 points, or 5% you cannot dispute science sorry and if you want a much better website than your shitty one you might want to go to [redacted]. I think you would gain a lot more knowledge from that website and you might learn about the truth that way you would not be so stupid and ignorant you stupid cunts.

Apparently that extra five percent doesn’t help prevent run-on sentences. You would also think that those extra brain power percentage points would stop a dude from sending harassing emails from his school email address. Because then we wouldn’t know that our charming admirer is the public relations officer (yes, public relations) of the Southern Illinois University College Republicans, Alex Kochno. I think I’ll stick with my stupid cunt lady brain, thanks very much.
( Link )

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The BBC has a new article about what happens when Muslims become Christians:

There’s a widespread belief that the penalty for leaving Islam is death – hence, perhaps, the killing of a British teacher last week. But Shiraz Maher believes attitudes may be softening.

Ziya Miral’s parents disowned him when he converted from Islam to Christianity.

“They said ‘go away, you’re not our son.’ They told people I died in an accident rather than having the shame of their son leaving Islam.”

Born and raised in Turkey, he decided to convert to Christianity after moving to university. He knew telling his parents would be a difficult moment even though they’re not particularly observant Muslims, and he planned to break the news to them gently.

In the end, events overtook him. Before heading back to Turkey for the holidays, Ziya briefly visited a Christian summer camp where he was filmed eating a bowl of spaghetti.

The first his parents heard of his conversion was when they saw Ziya on the national news being described as “an evil missionary” intent on “brainwashing” Turkish children.

(Yesh – the Turkish national news described him as an “an evil missionary” intent on “brainwashing” Turkish children?)

Those renouncing their faith for atheism or agnosticism are viewed in a similar way to those who adopt another faith.

A poll conducted by the Policy Exchange last year suggested that over a third of young British Muslims believe that the death penalty should apply for apostasy.

The whole article is worth a read.

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Ha ha. How ridiculous.

NEW YORK (AP) – There’s another side to Alicia Keys: conspiracy theorist. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter tells Blender magazine: “‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other. ‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist.”

Keys, 27, said she’s read several Black Panther autobiographies and wears a gold AK-47 pendant around her neck “to symbolize strength, power and killing ’em dead,” according to an interview in the magazine’s May issue, on newsstands Tuesday.

Another of her theories: That the bicoastal feud between slain rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. was fueled “by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing.”

Keys’ AK-47 jewelry came as a surprise to her mother, who is quoted as telling Blender: “She wears what? That doesn’t sound like Alicia.” Keys’ publicist, Theola Borden, said Keys was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Though she’s known for her romantic tunes, she told Blender that she wants to write more political songs. If black leaders such as the late Black Panther Huey Newton “had the outlets our musicians have today, it’d be global. I have to figure out a way to do it myself,” she said. (Source)

Funny that she blames gangsta rap on a government/media conspiracy, but then wears an AK-47 necklace. These kinds of stories makes me miss “Rainbow Soul” – an Black internet talk radio station that I would occasionally listen to — for its unintentional entertainment value, kinda like Coast-to-Coast AM, except tailored for Black people. They played up the racist conspiracy angle or various types of “woo” quite a bit. I had actually planned on recording a bit of it and doing a blog post about it a while back, but then they took it off free internet radio (you have to pay for it now).

A quick look at the Rainbow Soul shows should give you a taste though. Admittedly, some of the shows are normal, but many of them really are this hokey. I feel bad for people getting advice from these shows – it’s like getting directions from someone holding the map upsidedown.

Heal Thyself with Queen Afua
Queen Afua is a nationally renowned herbalist, wholistic health specialist and dedicated healer of women’s bodies and souls, who practices from a uniquely Afrocentric spiritual perspective. Through her work as a Certified Colon therapist, polarity practitioner, Hatha Yoga and Ari Ankh Ka (Ancient Afrikan Yoga / Movements) Instructor, lay midwife and fasting specialist, she has guided thousands of women and men coast to coast in the art and science of Natural Living.
An initiate of the Shrine of Ptah and Chief Khamitic Priestess of Purification in the Temple of Nebt-Het (an ancient Afrikan order) in New York City, Queen Afua is the Founder, Director, and Spiritual Guide to the Global Sacred Woman Village Center.

What’s Ailing America? with Dr. Rebecca Carley
On her journey to becoming an awakened allopath, her most disturbing revelation was the realization that there is an epidemic of disease of the immune systems, or immunopathies, caused by vaccinations. This led her to begin a new specialty; VIDS: Vaccine Induced Disease Syndromes. She teaches her patients how to heal themselves, and uses homeopathy and other natural products with no side effects to detoxify the vaccinations and other immune system assaulters… She is successfully reversing the epidemic of autoimmune diseases (such as autism, ADD, learning disabilities, asthma, lupus psoriasis, allergies, etc.), as well as cancer with the Hippokrates protocol she has developed.

An Insight To You with Dora Jones
Tune in and just listen and feel. Use her viable words for daily living step by step as she guides you using numerology and astrology to chart your spiritual destiny and mission in life…answers to why am I here?

Conscious Rasta with Keidi Awadu
Books by Keidi Obi Awadu
• Vaccines: An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Death? (1996)
• Mind Control (1996)
• Prisons: The Lockdown of Black (America’s Future) (1996)
• Epidemic: The Rise of New Childhood Diseases in the U.S. (1997)
• Rap, Hip Hop & the New World Order (“This shocking report documents how a complex government operation penetrated hip hop music to its core in order to cause confusion among urban youth.”) (1997)
• The Technology of Control (“The computer revolution has created a myriad of new methods of controlling us and suppressing our true will. We cover lasers, microwaves, spy satellites, microchips, cameras all around, and various other forms of The Technology of Control.”) (1997)
• Busted: The Latex Condom Conspiracy (“Latex condoms cause cancer, sterility, ectopic pregnancy, gender confusion, allergies and we’ve got a solution.”) (1998)
• AIDS: The Establishment Confesses (It’s A Hoax!) (1998)
• High Crimes of Murder (1998)
• The Road to Power: Seven Steps to an African Global Order (1999)

It’s too bad they didn’t find any space in their schedule for the Infidel Guy or Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

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Logging into my facebook account today, I noticed that one of my friends has subscribed to something called the “Reasonable Doubts” podcast. That sounds like a skeptics podcast, and I had no idea she had any skeptical leanings. Sure enough, here’s the description:

Reasonable Doubts takes an informative and humorous look at religion from a freethinking perspective–offering news and commentary of interest to skeptics, atheists, agnostics, humanists, courageous religious believers looking for a challenge and freethinkers of all persuasions. In addition to interviewing the top minds in skepticism (former guests include Paul Kurtz, Susan Jacoby, Edward Tabash, Taner Edis, DJ Grothe) RD offers regular segments on counter-apologetics, biblical criticism, creationism and intelligent design as well as church state issues. RD also examines the psychology of religion, reviewing recent and exciting research you won’t hear about anywhere else. Tune in for a hard-hitting critique of religion balanced by fair-mindedness and a commitment critical thinking. Check out our website at http://www.doubtcast.org for information, episode links or to email questions, comments and challenges.

Looking a little deeper, and I discovered that her husband is one of the co-hosts of the podcast. I had no idea.

Here’s some links: Google, podcast feed

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Link to the chapter by chapter review of “The Case for Faith”

Objection #5: It’s Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God

The chapter begins with this quote:

I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred. – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Well, I have to say – this is one chapter where I agree with Strobel, and disagree with the Rabbi Boteach quote. I think it’s fair to say that one religion is correct and divinely inspired, and other religions are incorrect or less correct. If you believe that religion is simply a man-made cultural institution or that God speaks through all religions, then I suppose Rabbi Boteach’s idea makes sense. It also makes sense if a major motivation is to end religiously-based conflicts.

I would say, however, that I don’t think a loving God would create Christianity as the “one true way”, and then fail to provide decent evidence for it’s clear superiority over other religions. Yet, I think that’s exactly the situation. The consequences of Christianity being the one true way, combined with a lack of evidence means billions of people will end up in hell for accidentally, innocently following the wrong religion. It’s a situation that could be remedied by God, but isn’t. (Admittedly, there are ways around this: for example – if God saves everyone, if God chooses who will be saved regardless of their religion, etc. None seem to be very appealing to the majority of Christians, but it would solve this Christian paradox.)

Strobel goes on to complain about the appeals to tolerance, open-mindedness, and political correctness used to reinforce the ‘all religions are okay’ idea. He talks with Ravi Zacharias (who was born in India) about this. Zacharias argues that all religions appeal to the idea that they are more correct than the others. For example:

“Hinduism allows you to practice your religion so long as it buys into their notion of truth, which is syncretistic,” [Zacharias] said. Syncretism is the attempt to blend together different or even opposing beliefs.(p.209)

Actually, as far as I know, Hinduism believes that it supersedes the other religions. It doesn’t “[allow] you to practice your religion so long as it buys into their notion of truth” – as if Christians must acknowledge and accept that Hindu belief.

“As for Sikhism,” he continued, “it came as a challenge to both Hinduism and Buddhsim. Then there are the atheists — they reject the viewpoints of those who believe in God. And even Baha’ism, which claims to be a cosmic embrace of all religions, ends up excluding the exclusivists! Therefore, the statement that Christians are being arrogant by claiming exclusivity ignores the reality that every other major religion does as well. So when people talk of arrogance, this cannot be a logical attack they are making.” (p.209)

While I agree that all religions claim they are ‘more correct’ than other religions, he smooths over the important issues:

(1) Some religions (Hinduism, Baha’i) see Christianity as subsumed into their larger religious pantheon. This makes Christianity useful and partially correct, but lacking the big picture. This situation isn’t mirrored by Christians. Christians look at Hinduism and say, “You’ve got it all wrong.” This situation is not symmetrical. Christians claim exclusivity, and Hindus are claiming superior revelation.
(2) Some religions (like Islam) see Judaism and Christianity as early revelations of God. They think Jews and Christians got some things wrong, but Islam does give a higher status to Jews and Christians (whom they call “people of the book”) than to pagans and atheists. Again, this isn’t mirrored by Christians, who simply think Muslims have got it all wrong. Christians claim exclusivity, and Muslims are claiming superior revelation.
(3) Even when religions claim superior revelation over Christianity, it doesn’t mean all members of those religions believe that’s true. It’s logical for Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to call religious exclusivity wrong as long as *he* doesn’t claim Judaism is the exclusive way to God.

In the end, Zacharias’ argument that other religions are just like Christianity in claiming exclusive truth falls flat. Although, it’s true (as Zacharias argues later) that “all religions lead to God” is a claim just as much as “Christianity is the only way” is a claim.

While I believe no religions lead to God, I would also add something else against the “all religions lead to God” idea: if true, then all religions contain an enormous amount of teaching that simply isn’t true. From the dietary laws (that vary from religion to religion), to teachings about reincarnation (eastern religions) versus ‘one life and then judgment’ (western religions), to teachings about the age of the universe (very old according to Hinduism, very young according to Western religions), to teachings about the role of God in religion (Buddhism teaches that the Gods can’t help you reach enlightenment and remain agnostic about the very existence of Gods, Western religions place a lot of emphasis on worshiping and praising God) — there are vast differences between religions. To say they have equal claims on truth means throwing out most of each religion until you get to a common core: “do good things and you will be rewarded” and (with the exception of Judaism) “some kind of life happens after death”.

Zacharias then goes on to argue that Christianity is distinct from other major religions because only Christianity is logically consistent:

Anyone can claim to be the only path to God. In fact, quite a few crackpots made made that assertion throughout history. The real issue is why anybody should believe Jesus was telling the truth when he said it … “you can say that the resurrection of Jesus established him as being the son of God. If that’s true, then all other faith systems cannot be true, because they each assert something contrary to his divinity. An of course, the historical record concerning the Resurrection is extremely compelling.” (p.211-212)

This paragraph has so many problems: (1) the historical record concerning the Resurrection is not compelling, (2) the resurrection of Jesus (if true) would *not* establish him as being the son of God. According to the Bible, Jesus raised people from the dead, including Lazarus. No one claims Lazarus is the son of God. Why couldn’t God have raised Jesus from the dead, just as Lazarus was raised from the dead? So, even if I accepted the resurrection, it doesn’t constitute any proof that Jesus is divine or the son of God. (3) Other religions deal with Jesus in various ways. Islam says Jesus never died – he was rescued by God and replaced by a look-alike who was crucified. (I prefer to think of him as Jesus’ stunt double.) Islam denies that Jesus was divine, claiming that he was just a prophet. Hinduism teaches that all people have parts of the divine – some people are more in touch with it than others. Hindus don’t assert “something contrary to his divinity”, but view it from an entirely different perspective.

Zacharias goes on to make a number of attacks on various non-Christian religious teachings and atheist ideas. The ever-present ‘there is no such thing as morality unless there is a deity’ makes an appearance:

“Buddhism is technically nontheistic, if not atheistic. But if there was no Creator, from where does one arrive at a moral law?” (p.212)

Concerning origins, the Bible says we are not identical with God — contrary to the Hindu claim … we are a creation of God. Since we were created in his image, this accounts for human beings having a moral point of reference. No system is able to explain this except the monotheistic ones. Even naturalists have no explanation for humanity’s moral framework. (p.213)

“Christianity says morality is not culturally based, but instead grows out of the very character of God. Otherwise, you end up with the dilemma from philosophy of old: is the moral law over and above you, or is a moral law subject to you? If it is over and above you, where do you find its root, then? The only way to explain that is to find it in an eternal, moral, omnipotent, infinite God who is inseparable from his character.” (p.214)

This seems to be the argument Christians never get tired of. This is the third time one of Strobel’s interviewees have brought up the “no supreme being = no morality” argument – and we’re only on the fifth interview. Personally, I think the whole ‘morality doesn’t exist unless a Creator gives it to us’ is about on par with saying ‘friendship doesn’t exist unless God says it does’. There’s also one glaring problem: how do we know that God’s moral teachings are, in fact, moral? If God says that we should kill our neighbors, is it moral or does it insult our sense of morality? How do you know that God isn’t a kind of devil, teaching right-is-wrong, and wrong-is-right? All of these are questions you’d ponder in a discussion of “does might make right?”. According to Zacharias, there is no reference point except what God says. But, once you say there is a reference point for morality which allows us to judge “God’s” moral teachings as ‘right’ and ‘good’, then you are admitting the existence of a moral standpoint that is independent of God. But, then, God become superfluous as a moral standard.

“Or consider the Hindu version of reincarnation. If every birth is a rebirth, and if every life pays for the previous life, then what were you paying for in your first birth? You see — incoherence dominates.” (p.212)

I’m no expert on Hinduism, but I doubt this is much of a problem for Hinduism. I can think of a few possibilities – for example, they could say that there is a gradual accumulation of “soul stuff” for the “first birth” – like clouds coalescing into rain – resulting in a primitive soul in a primitive organism, and it needs to be “refined”. It seems rather silly for Zacharias to pretend like he has these great ‘gotchas’ for other religions. Sure, it might work on the average Christian reader, but considering that they never give actual Hindus or Buddhists a chance to respond, it’s just seems like an echo chamber of ‘problems we think other religions have’. Besides, just last chapter, they were claiming that Christians should trust God that an answer exists for apparent Biblical contradictions:

“But because they weren’t able to answer [Biblical contradictions] didn’t mean there weren’t answers.” (p.196)

To be fair to all sides, they should offer the same argument for other religions.

Zacharias goes on to make the argument (as I did earlier) that the world’s religions are too different to be paths to God. For some odd reason, he then raises the question of atheism:

“does the atheist have a piece of the truth, or is the atheist marginalized here? If the atheist does have a piece of the truth, which piece is it, since the fundamental tenet of atheism is the denial of God’s very existence?” (p.217)

I’m not clear who Zacharias was even aiming this question at. I would think that “all religions lead to God” believers would not include atheism as a path to God – rather, we are outsiders.

Strobel: “People say Gandhi lived a more virtuous life than most Christians. Why should he be sent to hell just because he wasn’t a follower of Jesus?”

Zacharias: “First and foremost, it’s important to know that no human being consigns anybody to heaven or hell. In fact, God himself does not send anybody to heaven or to hell; the person chooses to respond to the grace of God or to reject the grace of God, although even that decision is enabled by his grace.” (p.219-220)

First of all, no one makes a fully informed decision on matters of religion. To merely say, “the person chooses to respond to the grace of God or to reject the grace of God” obscures the reality of the situation. A person’s religious background, access to religious information, beliefs about the accuracy of religious information, fake miracles, fake preachers, a person’s general gullibility, mental capability to think through information, interpersonal relationships, personal biases and personality all affect people’s ideas about religion. No religion has any kind of objective evidence that validates it (although every religion has apologists that will claim otherwise). It’s just ridiculous to push all the world’s non-Christians (including Gandhi) into the category of “people who chose to … reject the grace of God”. Yet, I see Christians make this same sort of argument over and over: trying to divide the entire world into “chose to accept the grace of God” or “chose to reject the grace of God”. If you can convince yourself of such a hugely oversimplified fiction, then you can make yourself feel better about the division of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. But, I find this whole idea to be a ridiculously obvious oversimplification.

Second, Zacharias’ statement that “even that decision is enabled by his grace” seems to hint at predestination. Certain parts of the New Testament hint that God chooses who will be saved, and he does this before you’re even born. If you’re chosen, then you’ll probably be a Christian. If you’re not chosen, then you’re going to hell – because, without God touching your heart, you won’t ever choose to convert because you’re too wicked to be subservient to God (thanks to original sin). For obvious reasons, predestination hasn’t been very popular – it essentially says your eternity in heaven or hell is based on God’s decision, not your own. All of this raises the question: if God chooses who goes to heaven or hell, then why not choose everyone? And how can God not be responsible for people who go to hell? Of course, their answer is this: everyone is going to hell by default, but the ones God picks to go to heaven are saved from that terrible fate. That doesn’t quite make sense for me. Even if God doesn’t save everyone, then rather than sending them to hell for eternity, why not simply wink them out of existence – to save them from eternal torture?

“Second, Abraham asked God in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah whether he was going to let the righteous die with the unrighteous, and it was wonderful how Abraham answered his own question. He said, ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ This means we can be absolutely confident that whatever God does in the case of Gandhi or any other person, he will do what is right.” (p.220)

This argument presupposes that Christianity is true. But, okay, I’ll let that side because maybe we’re a troubled Christian who basically still believes, but has trouble with the idea of Gandhi going to hell, and that concern is making us doubt the validity of Christianity.

“Now, think about this: the Bible says anyone spending eternity with God in heaven is there because of the grace and provision of Jesus Christ, which the person has trusted and received. If the person has rejected that grace, then was he a good man or a bad man? That’s an interesting question, because Scripture tells us nobody is really good until he is first redeemed.” (p.220)

So, we’re supposed to put Gandhi into the category of “rejected that grace”, and thus conclude that he was really a bad man. We’re also never, ever supposed to think of Gandhi’s sacrifices in service of Hinduism or humanity as having anything to do with service to God. I can’t help but think back to the earlier discussion of morality. If our ideas about morality are based on divine revelation, then how is it that we find the idea of Gandhi spending eternity in hell so wrong? If God’s position is that Gandhi goes to hell, then how can we possibly think that God is doing something wrong by putting him in hell? And if God did put Gandhi in hell, and we were morally outraged by that action, wouldn’t it validate the idea that morality is independent of what God says it is?

“Because we are moral human beings, we want to see equity. But when we reduce equity to issues of who behaved in what way during a given span of time, we miss the whole concept of equity. We are judging this from the point of view of our system. If God were to truly give what every one of us deserved, none of us would get into heaven.” (p.221)

By saying “We are judging this from the point of view of our system.”, Zacharias is implicitly admitting the existence of a moral system independent of God. Second, the “If God were to truly give what every one of us deserved” statement is another throwback to arguments in earlier chapters that amount to “you suck, and you deserve eternity in hell”. And, let’s face it: Zacharias is sugar coating it when he says, “If God were to truly give what every one of us deserved, none of us would get into heaven.” What he *really* means is this: “If God were to truly give what every one of us deserved, all of us would be tortured forever in hell.” He might lose a few readers with that statement, though, because it’s hard to believe that even the most self-sacrificing members of humanity deserve eternal torture and suffering. Personally, the ethics of God – which apparently require absolute perfection – is unbelievably harsh and unfair. God’s justice would require torturing a puppy for eternity because it peed on the rug. Whenever I hear this “only perfection is good enough” idea about God, I can’t help but see him as some sort of an obsessive-compulsive, except instead of being deathly afraid of germs, he’s deathly afraid of anyone disobeying him – whether in the past, present, or future. Of course, Christian apologists know that they have to continually reinforce the “only perfection is good enough for God” idea because otherwise the whole system would fall apart. By maintaining “only perfection is good enough”, they make sure “conversion to Christianity” (i.e. salvation through faith in Jesus alone) is the only possible route to heaven. If, on the other hand, being a good person held any weight, then it would allow for non-Christians to get into heaven – and that’s very, very bad for making new converts.

“We try desperately to claim goodness by comparing ourselves to others. [The serial killer] David Berkowitz can say, ‘Wait a minute; I’m not Hitler! I didn’t kill millions, I just killed a few.’ Or ‘I wasn’t Jeffrey Dahmer; I didn’t eat my victims.’ We tend to do the kind of comparisons by which we always emerge better than someone else, and so we think we’re good. But by the perfect moral standard of God, we all fail. We all need God’s forgiveness and grace. (p.222)

So – the fact that people will always find ways to justify the belief that they are a good person means that the very idea of “good person” is utterly useless? I don’t think so. Further, by switching the discussion from “Gandhi” to “you”, Zacharias can more convincingly lead the reader to believe that he is being biased in favor of himself.

“You see, there are worse things than death or murder.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Though it’s hard to comprehend,” he said, “the worst thing is to say to God that you don’t need him.” (p.222)

No doubt when Zacharias says “the worst thing is to say to God that you don’t need him”, he makes that synonymous with “you didn’t become a Christian” – as if everyone who isn’t a Christian is guilty of looking directly in God’s face, fully cognizant of everything God has and hasn’t done, and yelling “I don’t need you”. The implicit conclusion of his argument is this: Gandhi is far more guilty and worthy of punishment by failing to become a Christian than serial-murderers David Berkowitz or Jeffery Dahmer who did convert to Christianity. And Hitler? Well, if he was a Christian, then he was better than Gandhi.

But, what about people who haven’t heard of Christianity?

“Serial killer David Berkowitz was fortunate. He lives in a country where people freely talk about Christianity… But what about people who live in places where the gospel isn’t routinely discussed or where its dissemination is actually outlawed?

Isn’t it unfair to condemn them when they never heard about Jesus and merely followed religious traditions of their parents?” I asked.

Zacharias: “God knows where we will be born and raised, and he puts us in a position where we might seek him. We are clearly told that wherever we live — in whatever culture, in whatever nation — he is within reach of every one of us. There is always the possibility of a person crying out on their knees, ‘God, help me,’ and if that happens there are ways in which God can minister to them that are beyond our understanding.” (p.224-225)

Well, I certainly don’t believe that’s true. I can’t help but think about the fact that Native Americans lived for fifteen centuries after the death of Jesus before there was any contact with the Old World. Were there any Christians in the New World when Europeans arrived? No, not a single one not as far as anyone knows. I guess we should consider them guilty of not crying out to God. Anyway, when I was losing my faith, I prayed to God, but I didn’t receive any confirmation that Christianity was true. I highly doubt this is different for anyone else in the world.

Zacharias goes on to relate a story about a Muslim woman who was unhappy, and she cried out to Jesus. Then she questioned why she used Jesus’ name, pursued Christianity, and converted. It’s hard to know whether the story is anything other than a fictional anecdote. Further, Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, so it’s not entirely odd that she would use his name. There was really nothing here that substantiated anything about Christianity – rather, she pursued Christianity based on a fluke occurrence. I also have to wonder how many stories there are of people doing something similar, but converting to non-Christian religions. I doubt there’s any kind of uni-directional trend towards Christianity.

“Another way of looking at this issue comes from Romans, where Paul says that God’s infinite power and deity are revealed to everyone through creation… I think more and more that this word of Christ comes within the framework of different cultures.” (p.226)

This sounds a lot like Geisler’s “the heavens declare the glory of God” argument in the last chapter. I also don’t believe it. I find it ridiculous that people are supposed to look around at the world and somehow see the truth of Christianity in it.

“Virtually every Muslim who has come to follow Christ has done so, first, because of the love of Christ expressed through a Christian, or second, because of a vision, a dream, or some other supernatural intervention… One of India’s greatest converts was a Sikh, Sundar Singh, who came to know Christ in his room in a dream one night. It had a tremendous impact on his life and he became a Christian. (p.226-227)

It’s hard to know how much these stories are just fictional anecdotes. No doubt, any story about a miraculous conversion to Christianity is going to get repeated over and over. Even if such events are extremely rare, I’m sure they could easily dominate the field of conversion stories based on their miraculous nature.

I should also point out that Zacharias leaves out some details from Sundar Singh’s story. From wikipedia:

Sundar Singh was born into an important landowning Sikh family in Patiala State in northern India. Sikhs, rejecting Hindu polytheism and Muslim intolerance in the sixteenth century, had become a vigorous nation with a religion of their own. Sundar Singh’s mother took him week by week to sit at the feet of a Sadhu, an ascetic holy man, who lived in the jungle some miles away, but she also sent him to a Christian mission school where he could learn English.

The death of Sundar Singh’s mother, when he was fourteen, plunged him into violence and despair. He turned on the missionaries, persecuted their Christian converts, and ridiculed their faith. In final defiance of their religion, he bought a Bible and burned it page by page in his home compound while his friends watched. Three nights later he went to his room determined to commit suicide on a railway line. Sitting on the railway track, Sadhu loudly asked who is the true God and if that true God didn’t show Himself to him tonight, that he will commit suicide. … it was said that finally before the break of dawn and short time before the arrival of the train that he was supposed to commit suicide, God finally came to Sadhu.

However, before dawn, he wakened his father to announce that he had seen Jesus Christ in a vision and heard his voice. Henceforth he would follow Christ forever, he declared.

So Singh was already in contact with Christian missionaries. He was also clearly uncertain about religion – as evidenced by his demand that the true God reveal himself. It’s also unclear how accurate this account is (as I’ve seen Christians make-up fantastic tales in service of Christianity – example: Mike Warnke). Lending support to the “this is fiction” explanation is the fact that Singh has told numerous fantastic stories, including: meeting a three-hundred year old Christian hermit in the mountains, talking to people in the spirit world, having power over wild animals, etc.

“We have to be very careful here, but I believe that if a person genuinely and sincerely seeks after him, there will be some way God makes available for that person to hear of him. If that person would not have responded to God under any circumstance, then perhaps he will not hear of him. But, all people know enough to condemn them; they do not need to head John 3:16 in order to be lost. They are lost because they’ve already rejected what God has spoken to them through creation, their conscience, and other ways. Because of that, we will all stand accountable before him. (p.227-228)

I find this whole thing wrong. Sure, you can claim it’s true, but that doesn’t mean I believe it. No doubt, there are Muslims would could sincerely repeat that paragraph – to legitimize sending all the Christians to hell. (In fact, the Muslim I talked to at the coffeeshop a number of months ago made much the same argument: if I sincerely prayed, that Allah would reveal himself to me.) No doubt, there are cult leaders and members who could also make that statement. And if I pray and their particular god doesn’t answer – well, maybe I wasn’t really sincere, or maybe I wasn’t predestined, or something. I don’t believe it coming from a Christian any more than I believe it when a Muslim or cult member says it.

Now get ready for eye-rolling idiocy because Zacharias is going to explain why non-Christians believe in those silly false religions:

If Jesus is the truth, why do so many people reject him? If Christianity is true, shouldn’t it ultimately triumph? That’s not what the statistics show, however. Christianity is making relatively little progress in winning converts from other major world religions. Basically, people around the globe tend to adopt the religion of their parents.

I asked Zacharias about this, and he said these issues trouble him as a defender of Christianity. There are, though, some explanation, he said.

“To look at this from a different perspective, why is Buddhism so popular in America today?” he asked. “My answer is simple: because you can be good without having God. If you can have a nice little dose of spirituality from three to five in the afternoon and then dichotomize your life once again and go live it any way you please — well, why not? A religion like that would have a lot of attraction. (p.228-229)

Translation: Buddhism is the lazy-man’s religion. If you believe it – it’s ‘cuz your lazy. And what’s with the part where he says Buddhism allows you to “be good without having God”? Aren’t humans just itching to do evil things, by their very nature? Now, we’re supposed to believe that people want to do good? I’m not sure why he restricted his discussion on Buddhism to Buddhism in America. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with Buddhists monks overseas who actually spend a great deal of time and energy in their religion. I’m pretty sure Buddhists don’t look very kindly on getting a “nice little dose of spirituality” and then “living your life any way you please”. Further, if all people wanted was a lazy-man’s religion, then why not be a Christian and get your “nice little dose of spirituality” on Sunday morning (if they go to church at all), and then “living your life any way they please” because their sins are always forgiven? Ironically, a few paragraphs later, Zacharias contradicts himself. This time, he says that Buddhism isn’t the lazy-man’s religion, but it over-emphasizes self-reliance:

“Buddhism and other religious systems basically tell people how to pull themselves up by their ethical bootstraps. I have never had a problem knowing what is right and wrong in most situations; what I have lacked is the will to do what is right. That’s where Christ comes in. He says if you’ll bring all of yourself to him, he will not only give you eternal life, but he will change what you want to do in life.” (p.229-230)

So which is it: Buddhism is the lazy-man’s religion, or it’s a religion that tells people how to pull themselves up by their ethical bootstraps? Those sound like opposite things to me. Further, he argues that Christianity is easier because Jesus changes you. Wait – and Buddhism is the lazy-man’s religion? Anyway, I’ve never seen this transformative power of Christianity – although, I can think of a few people who wish they had their desires changed (Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, and numerous frontmen for the Christian “ex-gay” movement caught picking up men after they were “transformed” by Christianity).

“Why is Islam attractive to some? Because of geopolitical considerations.” (p.229)

Yes, that’s his entire commentary on Islam. Seems kind of trite, don’t you think?

“What is it about the Hindu faith that’s attractive? It is rich in philosophy, and its tenet of treating the earth with reverence has some appeal today.” (p.229)

Another one-sentence answer for a major religion. I’m only surprised he didn’t add a more disparaging explanation that would legitimize making all the Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims suffer an eternity in hell. Oh wait – here we go:

“Why not Christ?” I asked.

“Because he calls you to die to yourself,” he replied. (p.229)

Yes, because when I think of people who are sacrificing for their religion, I think of Christians in America.

“Any time truth involves a total commitment in which you bring yourself to complete humility, to the surrender of the will, you will always have resistance.” (p.229)

Wait – he’s talking about Christianity, right? The reason people aren’t converting to Christianity is because it requires too much sacrifice?

“Christ violates our power and autonomy. He challenges us in areas of purity. John the Baptist came giving the law. People did not like it. Jesus came giving the message of grace and they said, “Why don’t you give us the firmness of the law?’ Whatever Jesus brings into culture, culture will want to change it. At the heart of the rejection is resistance to the claim of who he is.” (p.229)

Yeah — people are just trying to reject Jesus, that’s why people aren’t Christians. That’s an explanation that David Koresh would love: the reason people don’t recognize him as the second coming of Jesus Christ is because “at the heart of the rejection is resistance to the claim of who he is.” And, Sun Myung Moon: same thing – he’s the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and the reason people don’t immediately bow down in subservience is because it’s fundamentally about “resistance to the claim of who he is”.

“Given the level of commitment required by Christianity, I was curious about what prompted Zacharias to respond positively to the message of Jesus” (p.230)

Wow. Christianity requires so much commitment that it’s mystifying that anyone would want to convert? I can almost imagine the apologists in other religions writing a book like this. They’d probably say something like, “In Christianity, you don’t have to be a good person because Christians believe everything they do will be forgiven. A religion like that would have a lot of attraction.” Anyway, it’s hard to believe they can even keep up this charade of Christianity requiring deep levels of sacrifice. They’d have a point if Christianity actually adhered to some of Jesus teachings: “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21). But, that’s not the Christianity practiced by 99% of the Christians in the world.

“I took some philosophy courses at Cambridge under a renowned atheist, and I remember thinking in astonishment, ‘These are the best arguments atheists have?’ It merely confirmed the truth of the Scripture. (p.232)

Unfortunately, Zacharias doesn’t tell us what these arguments were. But, in light of Strobel’s bad arguments, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony in the statement “‘These are the best arguments atheists have?’ It merely confirmed the truth of the Scripture.”

Next: Objection #6: A Loving God would Never Torture People in Hell

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A senior priest in Florence is under investigation for fraud after allegedly amassing [$6 million] by performing fake exorcisms.

Prosecutors said that Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi would “stage shows” at the House of the Sainted Archangels, an organisation he founded.

During the events, which regularly attracted crowds of over 400 people, a number of associates would “pretend to be possessed by demons” and Fr Bazzoffi would allegedly exorcise them using ancient and obscure rites.

He would then offer to “heal” members of the audience who were sick, and solicit donations to his organisation.

(rest of the article)

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