Thursday, December 31, 2009

TF - Chapter 3 part 2

The last half of this chapter is a rehashing of things I have covered before on my blog. Instead of posting about them again I will just link to what I wrote before.

The first of these last two sections is on Textual Criticism. Colson is not theologian nor is he a biblical scholar. I would think it is a safe bet that he cannot read ancient Greek nor can he read ancient Hebrew. Colson has a law degree. Yet, in this section, Colson makes no references to any outside materials. The one end note in this section just talks about the date of P52, which is a small fragment of the Gospel of John. Even then he is dishonest with it, not mentioning that it is only a fragment of a few verses. He also doesn't seem to know about textual and higher criticism, which are two separate things. Instead he treats them as if they are the same thing.

The first claim he makes is:

Beyond the archeological discoveries, the truth claims of the Bible are supported by the uncanny coherence and unity of the Bible itself. It consists of sixty-six books, or seventy-three, as in the Catholic tradition, written over 1,500 years by forty people in three different languages, and yet there's a remarkable harmony and consistency in the overarching story. The ancient manuscripts possess an astounding consistency and integrity.

I have heard this claim before and it is ridiculous from the premise. First off it is not really that hard to add to a series that you have read. Fanfic exists for a reason. Also, has Colson or anyone who makes this claim ever looked in the Fantasy/Science Fiction section of a bookstore? In the Star Wars section alone there are several authors who have read the previous work (or at least glanced at it) and created a "coherent" arching story line through it all. Does this mean Star Wars is true now? I can hear the objections already, well that doesn't go over 1,000 of years and different languages (actually it does go over different languages) and the original author is still alive. So let's use the example of the Vedas. They were compiled from 1500 BCE to 500 BCE. That is 1000 years which is close to 1500. They were of oral tradition before that, much like the Tanakh. The original authors are unknown but the Vedas claim to be directly from Brahma. It is highly likely that there were several authors involved in the creation of the Vedas. So why should I take the Bible as truth and not the Vedas?

Next, does the Bible contain an "uncanny coherence and unity"? Let's refer to the skeptic's annotated Bible. They have a list of 442 contradictions found in the Bible (that is not counting the near 1500 absurdities they have listed also). That doesn't seem very coherent or unified to me. Also what is the overarching story in the Bible? I see the claim that the overarching story is the same throughout but no one bothers to say what that story is? Is it Good Vs. Evil in God's triumph over Satan and sin, or is it how God wants to have a personal relationship with everyone, or is it about the prophecies of the end of the world, or maybe something else? What is it? Each of these things I listed are in the Bible and they are each very different stories.

Colson never talks about his claims or present evidence, he just makes the claim and expects to be believed. I am sorry that is not enough for me, especially from someone who has been convicted of obstruction of justice for his actions in the Watergate scandal. That was before Colson was "born again" so surely he has changed now. He would not make any hypocritical responses or show no reason to not be trusted today, would he? If Colson expects to convince anyone of what he is saying, he needs more than words, he needs facts and evidence. This is the problem for most fundamentalist evangelicals, facts and evidence. I am expected to take their word on everything they say because they are speaking for God. Well there are a lot of people speaking for God what makes you so different than the others? I want facts and evidence. If you don't bring those you might as well leave.

For his next claim, Colson compares apples with oranges. He goes on about how there are so many copies of the Bible and not the Iliad or other random works of fiction that are not considered the word of God today. I have covered this before here and here.

He ends his section on textual criticism with the claim:

Why are the manuscript copies of Scripture so accurate? Jewish tradition provides one answer. According to Hebrew practice, only eyewitness testimony was accepted; and when copying documents, the Jews would copy one letter at a time - not word by word, not phrase by phrase, not sentence by sentence.

Again no notes on where he got this information. Is it really that hard to document your sources? I can't find a source for this anywhere. What I have found are talks about how Jewish copyists did things during the Middle Ages and brief overview of Textual Criticism in the Jewish study Bible. If anyone can find where Colson got this information from let me know.

The next part of the chapter is about how the Bible has changed lives. This is suppose to mean that the Bible is true. Ignore all the stories from every other religion in the world of people whose lives were changed by them (here, here, here, here, etc). This line of reasoning makes every religion true and atheism true, which is just not possible. So what does Colson do to show that this is true only for Christianity? Absolutely nothing, instead he goes off on Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris:

The latest wave of atheist literature of the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris genre ignores the centuries of careful scholarship and evidence; taking verses and sections out of context, these authors argue that the Bible is a dreadful book filled with violence and war, and reflects a mean-spirited God who represses people - a "celestial dictatorship," in Hitchens's words. (The principles of interpretation these authors employ have been scorned even by secular peers.)

The article that Colson is quoting is "An Atheist Responds" from the Washington Post July 14, 2007 (Colson actually cited this source). Here is the quote:

It's uncommonly generous of Michael Gerson[" What Atheists Can't Answer," op-ed, July 13] to refer to me as "intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind," since (a) this might be taken as proof that he hardly knows me and (b) it was he who was so kind when I once rang him to check a scurrilous peacenik rumor that he was a secret convert from Judaism to Christian fundamentalism.

However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.

Hitchens is calling God's rule a celestial dictatorship, because that is what it is. A dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state. How is that not describing God's rule?

Also point out where they are quote-mining. Show don't tell. Give examples, because I can point to several places in the Bible where what they say is absolutely right (the Book of Judges and Daniel 4:24-26 come to mind).

I also love the appeal to unnamed secular sources at the end. Again I ask how hard is it to list sources or even just names of some of these "critics"?

He follows that up with a list of questions:

I would ask Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and company, if this book is so evil, how has it survived all of these years?

I don't really fall into any of those categories but I can give answers. By force. It survived long enough to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. Then it was mandated to the people. After the fall of the Roman Empire, we have the Middle Ages, where Christianity ruled supreme. The inquisition, the crusades and colonization of the world forced people to accept Christianity or die. After that, most people accepted it as the truth because they never questioned it or looked into it very deeply. Low educational standards helped to keep people from looking into it also. The more educated a country the less religious they are, with the US being the only real exception to that rule and religiousness in America is falling.

Edit: This is not the only way Christianity flourished. I would also say a cult of personality helped it at many times (much like most mega-churches today, that struggle when the pastor leaves or dies), plus many other sociological reasons. It is not a simple answer to give.

Why has it been the bedrock of forming the most humane civilization in history?

I have no idea of what civilization you are talking about. The only civilization ever formed on the Bible was Europe in the Middle Ages, I doubt you would call that humane. If you speak of America, I wouldn't call us the most humane (death penalties, high crime rates, health care for only the elect few, etc) and it would be extreme revisionist history to claim the US was founded on the Bible. Just point to where the Bible or Jesus is mentioned in the US Constitution or even the Declaration of Independence (God and Creator are mentioned in the Declaration but Jefferson's God and Creator was not the Christian God, but it does not specify which God or Creator).

How does it continue, if it is mean-spirited, to spread love around the world and turn hard-hearted criminals into gentle lambs?

Psychological reasons of the human mind. Christians cherry-pick what they read in it and into it. The same reason some Muslims can find peace and love for all things in the Koran and others find justification for killing infidels. The Crusades were a Christian undertaking. The killing of abortion doctors has been a Christian undertaking.

How could reading it have resulted in such people as Augustine and St. Francis?

How could reading the Koran resulted in such people as Benazir Bhutto, André Carson, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is a retarded question and can support any religion or just about anything.

Why would the Chinese, in the midst of atheistic madness, turn to it as their refuge?

Don't try and load the question or anything there Colson. Define atheistic madness. Mao was power hungry and it had little to do with atheism, except that Mao disliked religion (Christianity was never outlawed in China). Most people didn't turn to Christianity. So how did those people survive?

Finally Colson says that because people have predicted the death of Christianity and it hasn't happened yet, then it must be divine influence keeping it around. Non sequitur much? So by that logic, since people have predicted the death of atheism, then it must be divinely inspired also (possibly even more so since atheism is on the rise)...

That is it, that is all his evidence for the Bible being true and infallible.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TF - Chapter 3 part 1

Chapter 3 is entitled "He Has Spoken". I want to point out the title and the purpose of this book because Colson follows neither of these here. Instead he continues his Quixote-esque crusade against the army of straw men he constructs. He employs a plethora of logical fallacies, old arguments and make believe to destroy these straw men. Let's just dig right into it all.

Colson starts off with the story of a man named Speratus. There is great detail about how Speratus lived and interacted with his family and community. What he dreamed and hoped of for the future. Finally his brave efforts in preserving part of what we would call the New Testament. This is all just part of Colson's make believe world. Colson is trying to reference the Scillitan Martyrs. The thing is, all we have of what happened to them is what is the equivalent of a court transcript. We know nothing of their lives except there response to being told to "Swear by the genius of our Lord the Emperor." To which they refused. Speratus did quote Paul's letter to Timothy and did have a satchel containing letters of Paul. What they were being asked to do was to swear loyalty to the Empire, they were not asked to renounce their faith. They were put to death as traitors to the Empire. The actions of the government seems very similar to the right-wing 9/12 project and tea party movement going on in America right now, which Colson is a part of (see the Manhattan Declaration). Speratus and his fellow Christians died for being un-American un-Roman. I find it amusing that Colson, who has called people un-American, is hoisting these men up.

Colson talks about the house churches of China in the 70's. He makes it as if these people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, which is true for the time period he choose. That time period was a ten year period between 1966 and 1976, when even registered churches were being closed. Currently, if the church is registered with the government it can continue operation, albeit with some influence from government officials. Churches have never been officially outlawed in China. Colson never says that people were martyred for their belief but implies it. From what I have read the common punishment for underground unsanctioned churches is heavy fines and sentencing to forced labor camps. I do not advocate these things and I think they should be allowed to worship how they please, but this is not execution.

Wang Mingdao is mentioned specifically by Colson. It is never mentioned why Mingdao was arrested but again Colson implies it has to do with his Christianity. In actuality, Mingdao was arrested for speaking out against the government and not registering his church with the government. I think it was wrong that he was imprisoned and I believe in the right to free speech, but this man was not arrested for his beliefs. He was arrested for being un-American un-Chinese.

Even if both of these groups died for Christianity, that does nothing to prove that Christianity is true. I can cite martyrs from every major religion. Martyrs just show that some followers are willing to give their life for what they believe to be true. Notice the word believe in that last sentence, that is the important part. Martyrdom is not a statement of truth but a statement of belief. Every Christian in the world could die for their beliefs and it would not prove whether Christianity was the truth or not.

Colson writes all this so he can pull the Christian persecution card. He equates the persecution people face in the Middle East for being Christian (which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries) with The Da Vinci Code being printed in America.

Just as in ancient North Africa, Christianity today in North Korea, much of the Muslim world, and elsewhere risk violent punishment for even possessing the Scriptures. Pakistani Christians must hide their bibles or endure severe attacks by imams and roving gangs.

In America and elsewhere in the West, the Bible continues to be attacked, if more subtly. Every Christmas and Easter the media runs programs with titles like "Who was Jesus?" Their advertising suggests that new scholarly discoveries transcend the narrow confines of faith and provide a greater truth devoid of the supernatural. Conspiracy theory books like The Da Vinci Code and articles related the publication of ancient Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas abound.

That first paragraph was the entirety of the paragraph. The second paragraph continues on. Colson shows that he is more concerned with what is happening in America than with what is going on elsewhere in the world. He is just using the first paragraph, the one of actual persecution, to make it seem like American Christians are being just as persecuted as all the other Christians around the world. My response is to quote a book:

The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 16:5

Colson continues on for another 2 paragraphs about how Christians are persecuted in America. How people make fun of them for saying they believe in Jesus and so forth. I personally have never seen this where I live. Instead people ostracize you if say you don't believe in Jesus. I have heard it is different on the East Coast but that is not all of America. Last I checked the most populous religion in America was Christianity. There have been a few non-Christian presidents but only early in American history (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe come quickly to mind). A list of the presidents and their religious affiliations can be found here. In recent polls, it seems that the last person most Americans would vote for is an atheist ( Gallup poll, and yes the percentage is changing but it is slow). Colson's claims of persecution, especially after listing real persecution, is just ridiculous. I don't see him going to jail or being beaten to death for writing and publishing this book.

The next section of Chapter 3 is the claim that the Holy Spirit helped write the Bible. Colson makes the statement that the New Testament was decided to be written by the apostles and they started writing about Jesus' life 20 years after Jesus' death. He provides no evidence to back this up. What we do know is that the earliest of the Gospels, Mark, was written around 70 CE, that would be close to 40 years after Jesus died. The purpose of the writing was not to create the New Testament, but to convert Greeks to Christianity and strengthen the beliefs of current Greek followers. It was a Chick tract, albeit much better than anything Jack Chick has ever thought about printing. Paul's letters started appearing around 40 to 60 CE but they say very little about the life of Jesus.

This book was written for believers, so I will grant some slack when Colson takes the Bible as exact history. Personally, I would want secondary evidence backing up the stories presented in the Bible. Especially things like the day of Pentecost and the resurrection of 500 on the day Jesus was crucified.

Next, Colson covers his version of the canonization of the New Testament. I say his version because he cites no references for his claims and I have never seen anyone seriously make the claims he does. Let me quote:

The young Church first embraced the written records from Paul's careful explication of Jesus' teaching. Paul's letters to individual churches were copied and exchanged among all church communities. Not long after his death in AD 66 or 67 every new center of the Church had a set of the most recognized letters of Paul. In the same way, manuscripts with the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, circulated and were copied by the churches and were quickly accepted as authoritative.7

Notice the reference note. Here is the end note:

7. The differences in the four Gospels were duly noted. The early Church Fathers could see that the evangelists present the life of Christ in different chronological orders. They also represent Jesus' teachings from different angles with a particular audience in mind. Rather than being disturbed by this, scholars int he early Church understood that the different accounts broaden and enrich our understanding of Christ's life. They also served as proof against the one-sided interpretations that characterized false teachings in that day - and ours as well.

In other words, Colson is pulling this garbage out of his ass. Then he adds an end note to make it look he referenced a real scholar, but it turns out to be more apologetics pulled directly from his ass. I am so glad that Colson has mind reading powers that can actually travel back in time. Instead of doing things like, I don't know, listing the letters and documents where the "early Church Fathers" talked about this. Things that would give his story some credibility.

I might also take back that part where Colson is writing for believers. Unless he believes his believing readers are completely retarded, which would explain some things, then there is no reason to mention what books the Gospels are. I know for a fact that this is beaten into children in Sunday school as soon as they can understand words. Of course, this would imply that Colson is writing to the straw man atheist that has never heard of Jesus or Christianity also. I notice a lot of fundamentalist writers do this, just go back and check out any of those Chick tracts. It is a weird idea that atheists are only atheists because they haven't really looked at Christianity. Most atheists I know, not all, grew up in Christian households. Even the ones that didn't, especially the Americans, still hear about Christianity because it is the world's largest religion.

Colson next claims that Archeology proves the Bible is flawless. He uses the Hittites as an example. For a long time the only evidence that these people existed was in the Bible. So many scholars believed them to be imaginary. Well absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and in recent years there have been some findings of these people. The Hittites were real. This in no way means that every story in the Bible is real, it just means that it wrote about a real group of people called the Hittites. By Colson's logic, and the logic of many other fundamentalist evangelicals, this means that Spiderman and every Marvel comic is real. I have an X-men comic with the character Rogue blowing a kiss to President Reagan as he flies by in Air Force 1. Since Reagan and Air Force 1 are real that must mean that Rogue is real also.

Shortly after admonishing scholars for dismissing the Hittites because of a lack of evidence, Colson writes this:

The Book of Mormon, for example, talks about a civilization in North America in 400-600 BC. Not a single artifact of that civilization has ever been discovered.

Hello, Pot, this is Kettle speaking, you are black. Again absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There are many other reasons to not believe the claims of the Mormons. Just like there are many reasons not to believe the claims of Genesis, Exodus and Judges, besides an absence of evidence. A lot of it has to do with evidence we have of other cultures in the area. Egyptian culture has no break or mention of there ever being a mass of Jewish slaves or their escape. There is an absence of evidence of any movement of the Jews across the desert for forty years. The land of Canaan did not fall in the matter of a few years by a conquering force. Instead archeological evidence shows that it fell from internal revolt or peasant uprisings. (Watch this show from the NOVA series on PBS).

So from what I am seeing the Bible's stories are shown to be based on real countries, but the archeological evidence is showing that in the very least a few of these stories are made up and I am not even talking about the obvious made up stories of Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel and 7 day creation. (There is just so much wrong with the Noah story, languages evolved separately in different places, and the earth with all its life formed over a period of 4.54 billion years.)

Colson's only real claim in this section is:

Then there is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that Psalm 22, which predicted Christ's crucifixion, was indeed dated well before the Maccabean era. For several generations, Bible scholars had believed Psalm 22 could not have been written before the Maccabean era because the practice of crucifixion, which it had referred to, had not been invented.

Now here is a real claim, that could prove the Bible. Apparently Psalm 22 talks about crucifixion of Jesus before crucifixion had been in invented. If this is true it gives the Bible some real evidence.

So first let's look into the history of crucifixion. Crucifixion started around the 6th century BCE, 600 to 501 BCE. Herodotus describes a crucifixion taking place in 479 BCE, in his Histories, Book IX, as "they nailed him to a plank and hung him up...this Artacytus who suffered death by crucifixion." So that gives a rough lower limit to how long crucifixion has been going on.

Next, here is Psalm 22:16-18 (the main verses dealing with the crucifixion prophecy, verse 1 is quoted also in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34):

Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

Okay the first stanza is supposed to be the actual crucifixion. The word crucifixion is not used there, just they have pierced my hands and feet. The second verse is supposed to mean that his bones weren't broken. The third verse is about the guards betting on Jesus' clothes.

Now, let's look at when the Maccabean era was. The Maccabees ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE.

Finally, let's see the date of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls generally date between 150 BCE to 70 CE.

Now putting everything together, starting with the claim: Psalm 22 predicts Christ's death by crucifixion and predates crucifixion which was invented in the Maccabean era.

Crucifixion was started in the 6th century BCE, which is well before the Maccabean era and well before the Dead Sea Scrolls. So the last two claims are easily found to be false. The Dead Sea Scrolls do not date well before the Maccabean era. They date around the same time and after. So that claim is false also. The final claim is that Psalm 22 predicts Christs death by crucifixion. I will quote Chuck Colson:

But remember, Jesus and His disciples were well versed in and abided by the Old Testament.

So the early Christians knew the Old Testament or the Tanakh. Then some 30 to 70 plus years after Jesus lived, they wrote stories about his life. Is it so hard to fathom that these writers, who had learned the Tanakh, wrote their stories to fulfill messianic prophecies? I could write a story about my friend Steve that fulfills all the "prophecies" also. Especially if I can set the story 30 years before and considering the technological level of the time, there would have been no way to prove it didn't happen. Considering the average life expectancy in the first century was 49 to 62 years old, would mean that most of your eye witnesses would have died by then too.

Once again, Colson is fractally wrong.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Faith - Chapter 2 part 2

My last post was about Colson's description of what he said were the only three choices for the origin of the universe. Colson follows up these three positions with this statement:

"The choice we make among these three options as to the universe's origin is the most important choice in life. Everything else follows from it. It's the place where the search for the truth begins."

This is the most important choice in life, so go out and ask people how much they think on it. Then ask if what they do is based on their belief in the origin of the universe. Finally do a little research to see how science works. Colson manages to keep putting strings of sentences together that are so wrong it makes me pause and reread them several times.

So instead of going directly into why this choice is so important, Colson describes a personal anecdote. This story involves Colson, an unnamed atheist and Colson redefining terms in order to trick the unnamed atheist. Personally, I believe Colson has made this entire story up, much like Kent Hovind's story about him and the unnamed professor on a plane.

To go into the story, Colson starts off by telling the UA (unnamed atheist) that he (Colson) had never met an atheist before. Colson then completely redefines the word atheist to mean, "An atheist believes the existence of God can be disproved." This is why I believe the story is fake, the UA does not immediately respond, 'No you are incorrect and are trying to shift the burden of proof. Atheist simply means the lack of a belief in a god or gods.' Instead in Colson's fantasy world the UA responds by back peddling and claiming instead that he is agnostic. Colson then decides to redefine the word agnostic as "But an agnostic is one who says he doesn't think God can be known, and you can only be agnostic if you've tried to know Him and exhausted the search." Again the UA in Colson's story just stops talking to Colson (that part I can believe especially after Colson just told the guy what he supposed to believe). Personally I would have rebutted that definition also saying, 'Again you have changed the definition. Agnostic is a person that believes the ultimate truth value of God is unknowable. You do not have to continually search to come to this conclusion. We say Pi is an irrational number because it never repeats itself, but we have only gone so many decimal places in Pi, according to your definition we cannot call it irrational because we have yet to find an end or repetition. Again you have shifted the burden of proof. It is impossible to prove a universally negative. Instead it is up to the positive claimant, that would be you Chuck, to show evidence for your positive claim in God. Furthermore atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. One deals in belief and the other in knowledge. Your first description was more akin to a gnostic atheist or a strong atheist, you are completely ignoring an agnostic atheist or weak atheist.' Again this is why I believe this is a fictional story, or the UA was just trying to be polite at an "exclusive dinner party" for the governor, instead of being pushy and antagonistic in mixed company.

Colson does admit that this was just a "clever debating ploy" (clever is not the word I would use but it is not my ego he is trying to feed). He proceeds to create another straw man, this time about science (scarecrows beware when Chuck Colson comes to town), "it doesn't answer modern science, which has rendered belief in a personal God irrational." When did this happen? Possibly with the recent study of the brain when trying to decide what would God do, but this book was out way before that study. Please someone show me the peer reviewed scientific paper that renders a personal god irrational. Here all along I thought it was the irrational claims of the Bible that made the Christian God irrational (let's face it this is what Colson is on about, he doesn't care about any other versions of God, this is evident in his only 3 choices for the origin of the universe).

Next Colson tries his hand at philosophy and presuppositions. It is painfully obvious already that Colson has no idea of anything outside of fundamentalist Christianity. In a case of pseudo admittance of this, he quotes Alvin Plantinga. Colson claims that the statement 'God is' is a valid first presupposition. He "proves" this by pointing out that Plantinga makes the same presupposition (wow a Christian agrees to there being a God). He also claims that when Plantinga is questioned on this, he responds "whether they believe that other people have minds. Is this rational?" Now Colson gets tricky and replaces naturalism with solipsism. "But Platinga points out that individuals who call themselves solipsists each believe that they alone have a mind." Naturalism does not make this claim. This is the logical fallacy of equivocation. Naturalism would point out that we can take an MRI of the person and see a picture of their brain, so where is the picture of God? What is actually happening here is that Colson is mixing Plantinga's arguments. Plantinga has an argument against Naturalism. It is basically and argument from personal incredulity. He doesn't understand how a reliable cognitive brain could come about through evolution, therefore God did it. Yes, there is a little more to it than that, but that is the gist of it. You can read all about it here.

Colson's next evidence of the existence of God is intelligent design. He claims that the universe was intelligently designed, citing the structure of human cells and DNA. He even trots out the Bill Gates quote of DNA being more complicated than any software ever written. Bill Gates is not a biologist, nor has he ever studied biology. What Bill Gates says about DNA means absolutely nothing. This is an argument from authority. If DNA is a program, it is loaded with unnecessary code, something that no intelligent agent would ever put into their programs. Also, the most advance computer programs are not written by a single person. Several programmers write out different parts which are put together by other programmers. It would seem that calling DNA a program favors polytheism over monotheism. Of course the argument against that is that God is all knowing so he could do it himself, which leads me back to junk DNA.

Colson then quickly jumps to the Strong Anthropic Principle. Which is easily defeated by pointing out that the major assumption is that life can only evolve as it did on Earth. This assumption has been called "carbon chauvinism" in recent years. Victor J. Stenger has also shown that these so called "just right for life" factors, can be varied well outside their current just right state and still produce the basics for life. Using a program he created called "MonkeyGod", Victor simulated multiple universes by varying factors claimed to be "just right" for human life according to the SAP (strong anthropic principle). Not all of the universes survived or could contain the basics for life, but several did. This utterly defeats the SAP. Colson still tries to defend the SAP by quoting and unnamed scientist:

"It is as if, one scientist wrote, 'the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming.'"

He has an end note saying that the quote is from Freeman Dyson in his book Disturbing the Universe (Colson had the quote from the magazine Skeptical Inquirer in an article entitled "Intelligent Design and Phillip Johnson"). The quote is found on page 250 of that book and here it is in its entirety:

"It is true that we emerged in the universe by chance, but the idea of chance itself is only a cover for our ignorance. I do not feel like an alien in this universe. The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming."

In the book, Dyson goes on to lay out the case for SAP. Dyson is an adopter of the theistic evolution idea. Unlike Colson who is a YEC (young earth creationist).

The next part of the chapter asks the question "Is God Is irrational?" Colson goes back to his make believe Roman world from the prologue, citing it as fact. This time he does give an end note for where he got this information. It comes from the book "Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark. Without having read the book I can only make so many comments on it. On the very cover of the book, Stark admits he is a sociologist and not a historian. I do know that Stark actually uses faith healing as an example of miracles going on in the church to this day. James Randi and the James Randi Educational Foundation would love to see examples of this. They have a million dollars on the line for any proof of miraculous healing and have had that money on the line since the 70's. No one has claimed it yet. This review of the Stark's book tells me enough about the book. It also tells me enough about Colson's fact checking, that it is close to if not at zero.

Colson next talks about a study in the early 1990's of the spread of evangelical and pentecostal Christianity in Roman Catholic South America. Except he leaves out the bit about the people being Catholic and implies they were pagans. So instead of this being about Christianity overcoming pagan society, which it is painted as, it is more like a revival of Christianity among Christians. Colson says this is meeting the "criteria of secular social scientists as to what constitutes a rational choice." Of course again he does not mention the scientist but has an end note. The secular scientist is Rodney Stark, who is anything but secular.

Colson then tries to prove that God is not wish fulfillment by quoting the Bible.

So his logic follows like this:

The Bible says we are born with an innate sense of God.
Some scientists, that are not named nor end noted, are claimed to be studying this idea looking for a "God gene" (follow the link, it is one scientist and his study has not been replicated or published in a peer reviewed journal).
Because of these two factors and the fact that he (Colson) cannot come up with a way (argument from personal incredulity) for the straw man of evolution he created to do this, then God exists and the bible is right.

Colson then tries to take on Dawkins' book "The God Delusion". Claiming Dawkins called YHWH psychotic. Here is the exact quote: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." That is a bit more than just psychotic and Dawkins can point to scripture to prove every description he gave. If a human did what YHWH was claimed to have done in the Old Testament, no one would hesitate to call them a monster. Colson continues this Quixote quest against Dawkins with the ever popular quote mine.

"This is how Dawkins explains that belief in God is not rational: 'Any God capable of designing a universe, carefully tuned to lead to our evolution, must be supremely complex and improbable entity that needs an even bigger explanation than the one He is supposed to provide.' 'Thus,' Dawkins says, 'He's ruled out by the laws of probability.' Dawkins is saying God can't be God because He is beyond our comprehension."

Wrong. First notice the break in the two quotes. It is because these two quotes from "The God Delusion" are not even close to each other in the book. The first is a response to the SAP argument, pointing out that one would have to explain how such a complex God that could do these things could come into existence. It is found on page 176 of "The God Delusion". The second quote is found on page 68. This is the full quote:

"The deist God, often associated with the Founding Fathers, is certainly an improvement over the monster of the Bible. Unfortunately it is scarcely more likely that he exists, or ever did. In any of its forms the God Hypothesis is unnecessary. The God Hypothesis is also very close to being ruled out by the laws of probability."

Colson is a liar for Jesus. A person who thinks the ends justify the means. He has bankrupted his own position of moral superiority that he tries to cash in on at the end of this chapter. Colson is just another televangelist out for the money of the sheep. The only thing he learned from his time in prison, over his part in the Watergate scandal, is how to steal from people legally.

Colson ends his proofs of God with Pascal's wager. There is so much wrong with Pascal's wager that I will just link to the Iron Chariots page on it.

He concludes the chapter with the claim, "If we live in an exclusively material world, human life - including mine and yours - is absolutely meaningless. No matter how intense our passions, how great our accomplishments, or what side of history we choose, all of this will turn to dust in a universe doomed to extinction." Yes, if you don't believe in God then you are a nihilist. Just because the universe has no purpose, does not mean you can have no purpose. This is yet another straw man. Colson goes on to claim that only God can give meaning to life and thus moral responsibility. That we are nothing without God. I will end this with the Atheist Eve cartoon by Tracie Harris:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Faith - Chapter 2 part 1

Anything I cite from the book is used under Fair Use Copyright Laws within the US.

Been busy and I haven't had a chance to write this in awhile, but I am getting back to it finally.

Chapter 2 - God Is

This chapter starts with Colson quoting Sam Harris' book Letter to a Christian Nation and the talk of Hurricane Katrina. Colson compares the lose that so many suffered, good christian people that prayed all their life like Harris said, to his son having cancer and Colson having to wait through an 11 hour surgery before he got they good news that his son would be fine and shortly after his daughter is diagnosed with minor skin cancer which is successfully removed also. So yes, losing your everything you own, your town, loved ones and friends is equivalent to Colson having to sit through an 11 hour surgery. What an arrogant prick.

Colson then gives several straw men of worldviews that oppose his own. Describing evolution as mere chance and believers in Spinoza's God as tree hugging hippies who "join environmental groups and even flock to mountain tops to experience the 'harmonic convergence' of natural forces." He also claims that people who worship Spinoza's God, he includes Einstein as an example, are strict determinists "they don't believe people make their own decisions." Yes, Einstein who showed why determinism can't possibly be correct on the quantum level.

He takes these straw men even further claiming they are the only 3 major ideas of the origin of the Universe. He lists them as a purely Materialistic Godless Universe, a Universal Mind/God is present in all things (Spinoza's God) and a Personal God. Sorry my deistic friends that believe in an impersonal God that started the universe and let it evolve on its own is right out. So already Colson has committed the logical fallacy of false dichotomy or in this case trichotomy.

The first option is "A Godless Material Universe". Colson explains it as the idea "that the material universe is the sum and substance of all that exists and that it has either always existed or it came into existence without a cause. Therefore, natural explanations suffice to answer all questions about the nature and origin of the universe and of life." Colson proceeds to do one of Ray Comfort's standard canards of everything came from nothing. He then compounds it by saying that it is mere chance that stars were formed and intelligent life came about. These are two different claims and are both straw men.

First the idea that everything came from nothing. This is because we know the universe had a beginning, the Big Bang. So what happened before the Big Bang? To some extent that is an absurd question as time did not exist before the Big Bang, but we can still call it before even if there technically was no before. So what was there? Was it nothing or was it something? The answer is yes. It was nothing and something at the same time. This is a very complicated topic and it is best left to physicists, of which I am not, so here is Lawrence Krauss. This video is an hour long but well worth the watch.

The idea that it is mere chance is also wrong, unless he thinks the laws of physics are mere chance. What created the stars was gravity. Here are two articles from on the subject:

First Star in the Universe Born With the Help of Dark Matter

The First Star: Things Heated up Quickly

This is not mere chance. There are certain ways that matter and energy react with one another. It is those reactions that create the universe. When it comes to the complexity of life, it is based off of those reactions and environmental pressures (aka natural selection). Mutations are random, but selection for mutations is not. Colson continues with an argument from personal incredulity added to the straw man of evolution he created.

Option number two is "God Is an Intelligent Presence in All Things, a Universal Mind". He starts this section by continuing to beat on his straw man of the first option:

"Our universe has an intelligible character for which the material theory cannot account. It can be investigated, reasoned about, and its phenomena translated into elegant mathematical expressions, like Einstein's E=MC^2. How can the intelligible, the predictable, and the uniform emerge out of pure chance?"

Not just wrong but fractally wrong, that is it is wrong in the whole and wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution (one exception Einstein did come up with the equation E=MC^2). What this has to do with the a universal mind, absolutely nothing. Colson is just beating his dead straw man further.

The next claim is that "many of the greatest scientists have concluded that an ultimate intelligence must be present in all things, if not behind them." Besides this being the logical fallacy an appeal to authority, he doesn't list the scientists or provide any evidence for this claim or what constitutes "the greatest scientists" except for making a claim as to what Einstein believed. No other scientists are mentioned. I personally get the feeling that Colson doesn't care about backing up any of his claims but actually thinks an appeal to random unmentioned authority is a valid argument.

Colson goes on to compare Einstein's Spinoza's God to Eastern religions, whatever that means and I think Hindus would like to talk to him about their Gods especially since Hinduism is the 3rd largest religion in the world, and New Age spiritualism as all the same thing. Claiming that they are strict determinists. A claim that he yet again provides no evidence for. Yet he goes to demonize all these groups through the idea of strict determinism saying that Einstein "thought human beings were no more responsible for their own actions than a chicken laying an egg." I don't know where Colson pulled this idea out of but I have a clue. If you are really interested in learning about Einstein's religious views click here, they are varied and interesting. You will notice that Einstein spoke out against theological determinism, which is a Christian idea.

Finally, Colson presents his third theory, a personal god. His reason, again if you have visited Ray Comfort's site you will have heard this before, is look at nature, look at the trees and look at the mountains. He claims that because we can find beauty in the world then it must mean that God exists and the beauty is an expression of this love. He actually writes look at the trees, mentioning apple blossoms in particular. Colson can not think of any reason for flowers to be pretty other than God. This again shows the shallow thinking of Chuck Colson. He either does not, can not or will not look at the evolutionary biological reasons for colorful flowers. Here are a couple of articles from Science Daily and Wikipedia on the evolution of flowers and why they are colorful (1 2 3), hint it is to attract pollinators. This claim is also just one large logical fallacy, argument from personal incredulity, just because Colson can't understand the biological reasons for plants ("The scientist may look at the white clouds of apple blossoms as nothing more than an adaptive response, but if only an adaptive response were required, then why this dazzling display? And why should the ingenious cooperation of the blossoms and bees be called for?") does not mean that it can't be understood.

This is the only evidence Colson provides, beauty in nature followed by a scripture in the Bible. Does that mean anything ugly or abhorrent found in nature, like worms that can only live by mating in the eyes of certain primates (humans and baboons mainly) or parasites that can only live by atrophying the tongues of other animals and replacing it with themselves, proves that there is no God? He does not consider the question in his book, but I would guess the answer to be no. The blame of such things is laid down to a "fallen world full of sin". This makes the hypothesis of beauty reveling God completely unfalsifiable and worthless for science or the philosophy of science.

I am stopping my review of this chapter for now and will continue more later. Colson continues to build on these straw men and does some quote mining too.