Wednesday, May 12, 2010

50 blogs on disbelief - Welcome Back

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p.200 Kelly O’Connor “Welcome Me Back to the World of the Thinking”

This was an interesting mix, some of it I could relate to, and some was disappointing. She refers to an experience of finding religion later in life, but does not provide details. She was in Japan with no Internet access for a few years and missed the exponential growth of technology during that time. On her return to the U.S. she stumbled in to a chat room and “had the experience of arguing against people who knew the subject matter better than” her. She does not go into detail, but it seems she was taking the side of creationism or intelligent design against evolution.

The parts of the essay that I could relate to are some simple facts that unfortunately are rarely stated, for instance that our tenth-grade biology leaves us with an obfuscated and inadequate view of evolution. The Internet however has forced us to realize that we are not constrained by this. It does contain a wealth of inaccurate information, but there is no excuse for not looking things up.

This is the point when the essay became disappointing. When she realized she was in over her head in this online argument, she did the obligatory looking up and was hit like a tidal wave by what she found. This was mixed with some relief that the questions she was having about her faith were now essentially moot. Although there seems to be more study behind it, she mentions spending 3 days clicking through links hoping to defend her argument, but then eventually having to admit she was wrong. She includes the entire post of that admission she wrote in that discussion forum. This is the modern equivalent of what occurred for Margaret Downey over several years in the book’s third essay.

In that post she notes that she found a complete lack of historical evidence for Jesus and uncanny similarities between Jesus and earlier pagan gods. This sounds like the conclusions a believer in creationism might come to after 3 days of research. I have had enough of these “tidal wave” experiences in my life to realize that when I have one, it is best to keep my mouth shut for a few months and read some more and contemplate the ideas. If you have ever seen the zealotry of an ex-smoker, you know what I mean.

On the “historical evidence” for Jesus, relative to other documents from that time period, one written within 20 years of the events is pretty good, which is what we have in the gospel of Mark. We have many other copies of similar documents. Unfortunately they were all kept within small communities, a huge mark against their historical accuracy. But a more accurate statement would be to say there is no historical evidence of Jesus outside of the gospels, including those not found in the Bible, from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi.

As for the similarities to earlier pagan gods, if you ever come across some of this in movies like Religulous or Zeitgeist or websites by David Icke or Archarya, please do the obligatory research. Even Skeptic magazine debunks these ideas and finds them contrary to their cause. Here is a very good article by Tim Callahan, who has published in Skeptic.

Yes, many earlier gods claimed a virgin birth, but disbelief in the virgin birth of Jesus will not get you excommunicated from most mainline churches, not even Catholic ones. And let me be clear, I do not claim that eye witness accounts reported in the gospels are on par with something reported in the New York Times. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so I do not consider the reports of the resurrection adequate proof.

In case there is any doubt, she goes on to use words like “delusional” and “insanity” and “tyranny of religion” in describing belief. I can only guess what beliefs she was previously sold, but I imagine her and I would agree those words fit for them. We disagree on some other things she said, but I’m going to skip that and end with agreeing with her that

“… I would like to live in a world where people actually utilize that three pounds of grey matter between their ears…”


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