Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Washing hands as divine inspiration?

Some Christian apologists argue that there's impossible scientific knowledge in the Bible in the passages that instruct people to clean themselves with fresh water to avoid and clean disease.

This argument is extremely naive and infantile. There's absolutely nothing strange about a culture finding out from experience, and deduction, that dirty water is bad for one's health, while clean water is better. Why would anybody think this shows some kind of impossible knowledge from divine inspiration? It's not even any kind of marvelous feat of knowledge or deduction, but something quite trivial.

However, the argument falls really flat when we examine what Jesus had to say about the subject. In Mark 7 we have this story:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
What a wonderful opportunity for Jesus, the son of God, to demonstrate supernatural divinely inspired knowledge about microbes and the reason why washing your hands before eating is good for you. Instead, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for following that custom.

Mind you, a custom that according to these Christian apologists, is divinely inspired and perfect.

Jesus concludes his criticism with this:
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
Again, this is a missed opportunity to explain why dirty hands and dirty water cause disease. Instead, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for following such rituals.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Jack Chick's views are not as fringe as you might think

Most non-Christians love to laugh at Jack Chick's tracts, and how utterly detached from actual society he seems to be (especially given that he is an American and lives in the United States.) It can be hard to believe that anybody would think like him about our society.

For someone who has never belonged to a Christian denomination of that kind, the views he has of our society may feel completely crazy and fringe, but he is not the only one who believes these thing. There are many Christian denominations, especially many of the so-called charismatic ones, where many members do indeed believe most of those things. In other words, they really do believe that the vast majority of people, even in the US, are hard-core militant atheists who hate God and are really aggressive about it, who are basically possessed by demons (often literally), and even mentioning religion to them hits a berserk button. They honestly believe that Christians are widely discriminated against and persecuted, and that even mentioning God or the Bible could end up badly (but that doesn't stop them from doing so, of course, because they are true believers and would gladly become martyrs for their cause). They constantly tell between themselves stories about how Christians are persecuted, imprisoned and even killed in other countries, etc. They also believe, like Jack Chick, that most people have never even heard of Jesus or the Bible, and that preaching the gospel to them is like a magical incantation that either converts them on the spot, or enrages them into demonic furor.

These people live in some kind of strange societal bubble, where they more or less subconsciously shut off their own perception of the real world. They pretend that the world they see and live in is something that it isn't. They basically deny their own senses and experiences, and want to believe something that just isn't there. Mind you, most of these people are not living in some secluded cult isolated from the outside world. Most of these people are everyday citizens, working and living like everybody else, interacting with people like everybody else, seeing the society that surrounds them every day... and yet, they still believe those things, against all evidence and personal experience.

It's hard to believe this unless you have been one, but it's true.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strange kind of YouTube Christian

I have had several lengthy conversations in the comment section of several Christian apologetic videos with Christians, pointing out the problems in biblical morality and infallibility, as well as the overt hypocrisy of many of those videos (eg. videos that critique Muslims for behavior that the very same Christians engage in, when the subject is the Bible and their god rather than the Muslim equivalents.)

In these conversations I have noticed a rather peculiar kind of "Christian" that often participates in the discussion. These seem rather prevalent at least on YouTube. While it's possible that at least some of them are poes, I believe that at least some, if not most of them are not.

These "Christians" seem to take a "I don't take s**t from anybody" thug attitude. Their method of operation seems to include:
  • Assume things about the critic (usually that he's an atheist) and use obnoxiously belittling and derogatory names and expressions to address him and his arguments based on those assumptions. Resort to mockery as much as possible.
  • Don't be afraid of using swearwords (like the f-word etc.), insults ("moron", "idiot", etc) and mockery.
  • Constantly stress how the critic doesn't know anything about Christianity and the Bible, no matter how detailed his arguments and knowledge seem to be time and again about those very subjects.
  • At the same time emphasize how you follow Jesus' teachings (completely ignoring what Jesus said about being kind to other people.)
  • When the critic points out the hypocrisy of your behavior in light of the holy scriptures you are claiming to obey, besides using the normal insults and derogatory terms, argue that Christians are not supposed to be wimps and pussies, that Jesus took a thug attitude towards pharisees.
  • Likewise point out that your critic doesn't believe in anything nor has any morals, and thus is in no position to preach about morality. (Ignore the point about hypocrisy.)
  • Remember to be as smug as possible.
One would think that this would be a small minority, and that other Christians would intervene with a more sane tone which is more in line with their own Christian and biblical principles, but they seem to be surprisingly absent. (Perhaps they are driven away by all the swearing, insults and mockery they see at the beginning of the comment thread and decide to skip it.) Of course this probably only bolsters these thugs because nobody of their own camp challenges or critiques their behavior.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The "no true scotsman" fallacy

The usage of the so-called "no true scotsman" fallacy can be a bit hard to understand as an actual argument. (In other words, it can be hard to understand how it could be used in a serious argument.) After all, it just sounds like a comical quip, rather than anything said seriously.

The classical rendition of the fallacy is as follows:
Person A: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Person B: "I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge."
Person A: "Well, no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
There is, however, a form of this fallacy that's surprisingly often used in Christian apologetics, most often by those who claim that Christians are different from other people thanks to the fact that the Holy Spirit is affecting them.

For example, a common claim is that Christians would never mass-murder people. Now if you bring up a counter-example ("this person was a devout Christian, and he mass-murdered people") the standard answer is the fallacy in its purest form: "He wasn't really a Christian."

This is basically a circular argument that's used to dodge any possible counter-arguments to the claim. The claim becomes basically impossible to prove wrong because any counter-example you may bring up will be countered with a simple "he/she wasn't really a Christian". It doesn't matter how deeply Christian the person might have been, it doesn't count if he was a mass-murderer.

The condition "does not commit mass-murder" (or any of the myriad other such claims) is basically implicitly added to the definition of "Christian", and thus anybody who does not fit that definition is thus "not really a Christian".

Ultimately this dodges the burden of proof for a claim such as "Christians never mass-murder people" (due to God acting upon them or such) because the definition of the term is basically circular.

Why is this a form of circular argumentation? Consider it like saying "no dog is white", and if a white dog is shown to you, just dismissing it by saying "that's not really a dog." And why isn't it a dog? Because it's white and, as established, "no dog is white", duh. The claim itself becomes the definition.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The one thing you won't see in creationist displays

Young-earth creationists just love dinosaurs, especially the big ones. Wherever you see a young-earth creationist display, you will invariably see two things: A mockup ark, and dinosaurs. Lots of big dinosaurs.

What you won't see, however, is realistic raptors. In other words, raptors with feathers. The reason for this is because the second-most popular objection that young-earth creationists have about evolutionary history is that birds evolved from dinosaurs (the most common being, of course, that humans and apes have a common ancestor.)

This is actually pretty funny and hypocritical. When paleontologists come to the conclusion that dinosaurs were reptiles, they believe it. When they conclude that theropods walked like ostriches, they believe it. When they conclude what their skin probably looked like, they believe it. But when they conclude that many theropods actually had fur-like proto-feathers, if not even outright feathers, they reject that one. And the sole reason is that accepting that particular claim would be too close to accepting that birds evolved from dinosaurs for comfort. Therefore they can accept everything except that.

"Honest creationist" really is an oxymoron.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Spiritual" = "emotional"

Many people will use words like "spiritual" and "spirituality" like they were common everyday words, like it's completely clear to anybody what they mean. However, try to ask someone what they mean by "spiritual", and you might find out that, even to their own surprise, they cannot clearly define it. (In a significant amount of cases they will even retort something like "you know perfectly well what it means", rather than trying to answer.)

I just had an epiphany: When for example reading any text that uses eg. the word "spiritual" (that's not just discussing said word in a rational skeptic manner), simply substitute it with the word "emotional". Suddenly all that text starts making much more sense!

For example, "that was a very spiritual experience" = "that was a very emotional experience."

"My spirit was moved" = "my emotions were moved."

"She's a very spiritual woman" = "she's a very emotional woman."

"You couldn't even begin to understand the spiritual world" = "you couldn't even begin to understand the emotional world."

It just fits so perfectly!

(And that's really what "spiritual" means: Emotional. It's all about feelings and emotions, nothing more. All those sentences start making a lot more sense this way.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fabricating ignorance

As commented many, many times, argument from ignorance is extremely prevalent in religion, ufology, new age, and all kinds of pseudoscience: The fact that science doesn't know something is taken as evidence of your favorite explanation.

Many pseudoscientists, however, go even farther. It's not enough for them to take things that we genuinely don't yet have an explanation for. No, they have to take things we know quite well how they work, and pretend that we don't. Just making the claim is enough to make many people believe that's so.

Example: "Science has no idea why water is the only substance that has a lower density when it freezes."

Present this claim to a fan audience, and they will swallow it without even a hint of skepticism. Just because a charismatic person is making such claims will automatically suspend any disbelief or skepticism in their audience.

In fact, there are two errors in that example. Firstly, water is not the only substance that has a lower density when it freezes. Secondly, we know quite well why water behaves in that manner. (Basically, the water molecules take more space when frozen because they rearrange themselves in a crystalline shape, and they rearrange themselves like that when frozen due to their electromagnetic properties.) Yet, how easy is it to sneak in not just one, but two errors like this, and have a gullible audience swallow it without question?

This is especially jarring nowadays when you can do fact-checking extremely easily by googling. We are today amazingly privileged in this manner compared to people of just 20 years ago who had no such resources at their disposal. Back then it could well take you a full day, or several days, to find the facts that you can find today in a couple of minutes from the comfort of your home. Yet people are still too lazy to do that.