The Cross: An embarrassment at the heart of Christianity

In a recent thread, I challenged Christians and other believers to explain why their supposedly loving God treats people so poorly. Toward the end of the thread, I commented:

We’re more than 1200 comments into this thread, and still none of the believers can explain why their “loving” God shits all over people, day after day.

If you loved someone, would you purposely trap them under the rubble of a collapsed building? Or drown them? Or drive them from their home and destroy their possessions? [Or stand by, doing nothing, while a maniac mowed them down using automatic weapons?]

Your supposedly loving God does that. Why?

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Remedial education for colewd

In the thread FMM throws Jesus under the bus, I had the following exchange with colewd:


Until you have an eye there is nothing to select for. You have 300k of nucleotides drifting toward a meaningless group of sequences. Until you find a group of sequences that can provide reproductive advantage (sight) it is drift drift drift.


This is just a version of the “what good is half an eye” PRATT.

Seriously, Bill, how can you possibly have missed everything that’s been written on this subject, from Darwin onward?

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Clever methodology aimed at detecting ‘stealth atheism’

From an article in Vox entitled How many American atheists are there really?

How to find “closet atheists”

So if you can’t ask people outright whether they’re atheist and get an honest response, how do you go about finding them?

Gervais and Najle set up a very subtle test. They sent a nationally representative poll to 2,000 Americans, who were randomly assigned to two conditions.

The first condition asked participants to read through a bunch of statements like, “I am a vegetarian,” “I own a dog,” and, “I have a dishwasher in my kitchen.”

All the participants had to do was simply write down the number of statements that were true for them.

The value of this method is that participants don’t have to directly say, “I am a vegetarian,” or, “I’m a dog owner” — they only have to acknowledge the number of statements that apply to them. That alone should zero out any embarrassment or hesitance to admit to a particular item.

That’s important because the other 1,000 or so participants saw the exact same list — but with one statement added: “I believe in God.”

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God loves you. Enjoy your eternity in hell.

A question for Christians, particularly those of the inerrantist stripe.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28, NIV


8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, NIV

“Punished with everlasting destruction.” Is that what a perfectly merciful, perfectly benevolent Father would do to his children?


An interesting essay in Aeon by neurologist Jules Montague:

Why is the brain prone to florid forms of confabulation?

She had visited Madonna’s mansion the week before, Maggie told me during my ward round. Helped her choose outfits for the tour. The only problem was that Maggie was a seamstress in Dublin. She had never met Madonna; she had never provided her with sartorial advice on cone brassieres. Instead, an MRI scan conducted a few days earlier – when Maggie arrived at the ER febrile and agitated – revealed encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.

Now she was confabulating, conveying false memories induced by injury to her brain. Not once did Maggie doubt that she was a seamstress to the stars, no matter how incongruous those stories seemed. And that’s the essence of confabulation: the critical faculty of doubt is compromised. These honest lies were Maggie’s truth…

RNA editing in cephalopods

From Wired:

But when Stanford University geneticist Jin Billy Li heard about Joshua Rosenthal’s work on RNA editing in squid, his jaw dropped. That’s because the work, published today in the journal Cell, revealed that many cephalopods present a monumental exception to how living things use the information in DNA to make proteins. In nearly every other animal, RNA—the middleman in that process—faithfully transmits the message in the genes. But octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish (but not their dumber relatives, the nautiluses) edit their RNA, changing the message that gets read out to make proteins.

In exchange for this remarkable adaptation, it appears these squishy, mysterious, and possibly conscious creatures might have given up the ability to evolve relatively quickly. Or, as the researchers put it, “positive selection of editing events slows down genome evolution.” More simply, these cephalopods don’t evolve quite like other animals. And that could one day lead to useful tools for humans.

From the paper itself:

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You and your future self

In my final months at work, I had many conversations about retirement with friends and colleagues who asked about my plans and preparations and shared their own. I was struck by the wide range of attitudes they expressed. For some, retirement was a concrete reality, something they had visualized and thought about in detail. For others it was more abstract, as if it were going to happen to someone else entirely. You might expect this to correlate straightforwardly with age: the closer to retirement, the more concrete the thinking about it. That didn’t seem to be the case for many people.

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On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit

This 2015 paper ought to provoke provoke an interesting discussion:

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit


Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.

War in the womb

I’ve never met an IDer or creationist who could explain this, and it should give pause to theistic evolutionists as well.

An article in Aeon:

War in the womb

A ferocious biological struggle between mother and baby belies any sentimental ideas we might have about pregnancy

Suzanne Sadedin is an evolutionary biologist who has worked at Monash University, University of Tennessee, Harvard University, and KU Leuven.

Sam Harris on objective morality

Since objective morality is The Topic That Won’t Die here at TSZ, I think we need Yet Another Thread to Discuss It.

A Sam Harris quote to get things rolling (h/t walto):

There are two mistakes I see moral subjectivists making. The first mistake is believing in the fact-value dichotomy. The second mistake is conflating moral philosophy and psychology, suggesting that our psychology ought to be the sole determinant of our beliefs.

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Does TSZ suffer from ‘a fundamentally anti-intellectual bias’?

Commenter Kantian Naturalist leveled the following charge against TSZ earlier today:

Folks here would rather persist in their confusion over basic issues than risk the realization that they don’t really understand what they assume they understand.

If you haven’t figured out that there’s a fundamentally anti-intellectual bias to TSZ and there’s really nothing you can do to change it, you’re going to have nothing but frustration in your interactions here.

That is an absurdly sweeping statement. Do some people here persist in their confusions, ignoring opposing arguments? Sure. Do some people express anti-intellectual opinions here? Sure, including KN himself on occasion, amusingly enough. Does this mean that TSZ suffers from “a fundamentally anti-intellectual bias” and that those seeking intelligent discussions are doomed to experience “nothing but frustration” here?

No. KN’s charge is ridiculous and way overblown.

A critique of Plantinga’s ‘Free Will Defense’

The ‘problem of evil’ is a perpetual thorn in the side of the omnitheist — that is, someone who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God. For if God is perfectly good and all-powerful, why does he allow so much evil in the world? He’s powerful enough to eradicate it; and if he’s perfectly good, he should want to eradicate it. So why doesn’t he?

One response, known as the ‘Free Will Defense’, comes from Alvin Plantinga:

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The purpose of theistic evolution

Dr. Joshua Swamidass, a theistic evolutionist, joined us recently at TSZ. I think the following comment of his will lead to some interesting and contentious discussion and is worthy of its own thread:

Third, if we drop “Darwinian” to just refer to the current modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, you are right that the scientific account does not find any evidence of direction or planning. I agree with you here and do not dispute this.
So the question becomes, really, is it possible that God could have created a process (like evolution) with a purposeful intent that science could not detect? I think the answer here is obvious. Of course He could. In fact, I would say, unless He wanted us to discern His purpose, we could not.
In my view, then, evolution has a purpose in creating us. Science itself cannot uncover its purpose. I find that out by other means.

Cartesian skepticism and the Sentinel Islander thought experiment

Cartesian skepticism has been a hot topic lately at TSZ. I’ve been defending a version of it that I’ve summarized as follows:

Any knowledge claim based on the veridicality of our senses is illegitimate, because we can’t know that our senses are veridical.

This means that even things that seem obvious — that there is a computer monitor in front of me as I write this, for instance — aren’t certain. Besides not being certain, we can’t even claim to know them, and that remains true even when we use a standard of knowledge that allows for some uncertainty. (There’s more — a lot more — on this in earlier threads.)

In explaining to Kantian Naturalist why I am a Cartesian skeptic, I introduced the analogy of the Sentinel Islander:

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Another take on the Conspira-Sea Cruise

Remember the Conspire-Sea Cruise, attended and reported on by TSZ commenter ‘Colin’, aka ‘Learned Hand’?

Popular Mechanics sent a reporter, Bronwen Dickey, on the same cruise, and here is her dispatch:


I Went on a Weeklong Cruise For Conspiracy Theorists. It Ended Poorly.

What do you get when you stick some of the conspiracy world’s biggest celebrities and their die-hard fans on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for a week? Some fascinating insight into our strange times. And one near fistfight.

The psychology of (not) admitting mistakes

To err is human. Mistakes are as inevitable as death and taxes, so why do many people find it so hard to admit them? Why will they go to great lengths to avoid doing so? What predisposes them to what I’ll call “mistake denial”?

An obvious first guess is that it relates to social status. We humans are a social species, and our standing in the eyes of others depends largely on our perceived competence. Mistakes whittle away at that perceived competence, and so a person who successfully avoids admitting a mistake has avoided a real social cost. There is a flip side, however. While successful mistake denial benefits the denier, unsuccessful denial exacts an even heavier social cost than admitting the mistake in the first place. The denier is seen not only as having made the mistake, but also of dishonestly and childishly trying to cover it up. Under this social cost model, then, we would expect people to deny their mistakes only when there was a reasonable likelihood of “getting away with it” — of successfully deceiving the audience.

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