Sara Jayne’s Near-Death Experience: What do you think?

Sara Jayne is a cardiac diagnostic imaging specialist with over 20 years’ experience in the medical field. After being diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease, she underwent a profound near-death experience (her second), which turned her life around. She now works in Mind-Body Medicine and Applied Neuroscience, delivering mindfulness-based health & wellbeing programs, workshops and retreats. On a recent episode of Passion Harvest Podcast, Sara Jayne shared her story with the host, Luisa, who had the very good sense to let her speak without interruption. Sara Jayne’s Near-Death Experience testimony (which begins at 18:00) was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I was impressed by her modesty, her frank admission that what she saw makes no medical sense, and the powerful transformative effect her experience has had on her life. What do readers think?

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Gender identity: A thought experiment

An open fiberglass float pool at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. Image courtesy of Justin S. Feinstein , Sahib S. Khalsa, Hung-wen Yeh, Colleen Wohlrab, W. Kyle Simmons, Murray B. Stein, Martin P. Paulus and Wikipedia.

Gender identity is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as “an individual’s self-conception as a man or woman or as a boy or girl or as some combination of man/boy and woman/girl or as someone fluctuating between man/boy and woman/girl or as someone outside those categories altogether.” While it is thought to have a genetic component, no genes have yet been found to underpin it, and a recent scientific paper titled, “Brain Sex Differences Related to Gender Identity Development: Genes or Hormones?” (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020 Mar 19;21(6):2123. doi: 10.3390/ijms21062123. PMID: 32204531; PMCID: PMC7139786) modestly concludes that “to provide reliable conclusions, more data are needed.” Anyway, what interests me as a philosopher is whether gender identity is something purely subjective (like my perception of the color of a bank note), intersubjective (like the value that we as a society collectively assign to pieces of paper we call bank notes), or objective (like the length or mass of a bank note when it is at rest). So I came up with an interesting thought experiment involving a hitman, post-traumatic amnesia and a sensory deprivation tank. (Students of philosophy will notice the resemblance of this case to Avicenna’s “floating man” thought experiment, but my purpose is altogether different.) Curious? Read on.

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Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. explains the Trinity and the Incarnation (or does he)?

Introduction
Fr. Spitzer’s Proof of the Unity of God
The Trinity explained by the act of looking at a bottle
The Incarnation
The central paradoxes of the Trinity and the Incarnation

(NOTE: I’ve included the above podcast, which is divided into five sections, for the benefit of those who would prefer to listen to what I’ve written, rather than read it. People who prefer to read my post are welcome to continue scrolling down.)

Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order and a retired President of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Currently, he is President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center of Ethical Leadership. As well as having a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, Fr. Spitzer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a Master of Divinity degree, a Master of Theology degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He has published more than ten books, as well as dozens of articles, and he has appeared on several national television programs, including Larry King Live, The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” The Today Show, the PBS series “Closer to the Truth,” and the Hugh Hewitt Show. So when I came across a Youtube video featuring Fr. Spitzer being interviewed by Lila Rose (a pro-life activist and convert to Catholicism) titled, You’ve Never Heard the Trinity Explained Like THIS, I was intrigued.

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New Year’s Trifecta

Hi everyone, and Happy New Year! After having five enjoyable days off with my family, I’ll be returning to work this evening. In the meantime, I thought I’d present viewers of The Skeptical Zone with three interesting items for their perusal, as a New Year’s gift. The first is a thoughtfully argued essay on the problem of evil with reference to the atrocities committed by Hamas, titled, Where was God on October 7? A Different Perspective (The Times of Israel, January 1, 2024) by Professor Benjamin Porat, an Associate Professor at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. The second is an article titled, Kurt Gödel, his mother and the argument for life after death by Alexander Englert at Aeon Essays (January 2, 2024), which discusses Gödel’s reasons for believing in an afterlife, which he set forth in four letters he wrote to his mother in 1961. The third is a two-on-two debate held on December 22, 2023, in which two Christians (Jimmy Akin and Caleb Jackson) debated two atheists (John Loftus and Dr. Darren Slade) on whether Jesus was born of a virgin. The debate was hosted by Cameron Bertuzzi, of Capturing Christianity. Readers can view the debate below (see the Youtube video).
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An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: Y. Has Christianity made the world a better place?

When one is assessing the credibility of a religion, impact matters: has it been a force for good or for evil? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers how to discern false prophets: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, NASB). This is a test that can be applied not only to prophets, but to entire religions. What I am proposing in this essay is that while a religion which makes our world a better place may not necessarily be true on that account, its positive influence on the course of human history at least renders it worthy of consideration. On the other hand, we can probably disregard the truth claims of a religion which leaves the world no better than it was before, and ignore altogether the claims of a religion which actually makes the world a worse place in which to live. So the question we need to ask, before examining the intellectual claims of Christianity, is: has Christianity made the world a better place?

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Dr. Jeffrey Tripp on the failure of undesigned coincidences

Dr. Jeffrey Tripp has a PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity. He is also the author of a text titled, Direct Internal Quotation in the Gospel of John. His academic publications can be found here. In this interview with Derek Lambert of Mythvision, Dr. Tripp critiques the argument from undesigned coincidences developed by Christian apologist Dr. Lydia McGrew in her book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. I have to say that Dr. Tripp’s rebuttal of Dr. McGrew’s argument is about the best I’ve seen yet: it’s fair, thorough, courteous and scholarly. What do viewers think?

The Expanded Problem of Animal Suffering

Phil Halper (aka SkydivePhil) has produced a hard-hitting new video titled, “Atheism’s Best Argument? The Problem of Animal Suffering & The Neuroscience of Pain,” in conjunction with philosopher of consciousness Ken Williford, neuroscientist David Rudrauf, pain expert Perry Fuchs, as well as ethicists Peter Singer and Mark Bernstein, and philosopher Joe Schmid and Within Reason host Alex O’Connor (the artist formerly known as cosmic skeptic). Here’s a brief excerpt from the video’s description:

The problem of animal suffering (a version of the problem of evil) has recently been described as the biggest problem for Christianity. However, a new paper in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion suggests that the problem is far worse than imagined. Here, we explain why and counter attempts by theists to reply.

I’ll be putting out a TSZ post on the problem of evil later this year. In the meantime, I’d like to ask viewers what they think of SkydivePhil’s latest video. Comment is welcome.

The Shroud of Turin: Why I think the image is natural and probably medieval

Recently, some prominent defenders of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin have produced a spate of online videos promoting their point of view. We’ll have a look at two of these below. At first blush, they sounded pretty convincing – especially their attempts to debunk the carbon-14 dating for the Shroud to somewhere between 1260 and 1390. I then did some online research, and I came across some very convincing rebuttals of popular pro-Shroud arguments. Interestingly, these rebuttals were made by a Catholic science teacher named Hugh Farey, a current former editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter, and a former Shroud believer. I was highly impressed with Hugh Farey’s eloquence as a speaker. Shroud believers will find his arguments devastating. I post them here for readers’ interest.

5 Popular Arguments for the Shroud of Turin Debunked

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What do you think of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Elevator Pitch for the Resurrection?

Dr. Lydia McGrew is a renowned Christian apologist and philosopher, who surely needs no introduction to viewers of this blog. Recently, she released her Elevator Pitch for the Resurrection of Jesus on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Youtube channel, Capturing Christianity. Here it is:

(For the benefit of viewers, I should explain that Dr. Lydia McGrew suffers from severe back pain.)

I decided to post a short six-minute reply, summarizing and rebutting her case. I conclude that the Resurrection of Jesus is something that believers have to take on faith. What do you think?

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How not to argue for the Resurrection PLUS my latest interview with Ed Tahmizian

(Note: my recent interview with Edouard Tahmizian of Internet Infidels is at the end of this post.)

Christian apologist Dr. Jeremiah Johnston, a New Testament Baptist scholar, pastor and author who ministers internationally as president of Christian Thinkers Society, was recently interviewed by Ruth Jackson on the show, Unapologetic, from Premium Unbelievable about his latest book, Body of Proof: The 7 Best Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus–and Why It Matters Today (Bethany House Publishers, 2023). Dr. Johnston wrote a 93,000-word dissertation while he was studying at Oxford on the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus, concluding that the resurrection was the best explanation for what happened. In his interview, he makes an even stronger claim (13:11): “We can prove the resurrection of Jesus really happened.” That’s a very tall claim, to put it mildly. As Scripture testifies, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
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The best debate I’ve seen on the Resurrection of Jesus

A few hours ago, I watched an online debate between acclaimed New Testament scholar and historian Professor Bart Ehrman and evangelical scholar Justin Bass, who is Professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. Dr. Bass, who now lives in Jordan, is also the author of “The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection” (Lexham Press, 2020).

The debate, hosted by Justin Brierley of Premier Unbelievable, was a spirited one, in which Ehrman and Bass went at each other hammer and tongs. At the same time, the tone of the debate was scholarly, and Justin Brierley did an excellent job of keeping it civil. Personally, I thought that both sides presented their case very well, and that it was the best debate I’ve ever seen on Jesus’ resurrection. My personal opinion is that Bart Ehrman clearly won the debate on historical grounds, but that a Christian viewer might find Justin Bass’s arguments convincing, on theological grounds. Without further ado, here it is. Happy Easter!

Calvinist apologist deconverts from Christianity (but not theism)

Tyler Vela, a Calvinist apologist and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in America who converted from atheism to Christianity as a young man, graduated with a Pre-seminary B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from the Moody Bible Institute, and was partway through a Masters of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary, has announced his deconversion at his Youtube channel, The Freed Thinker. Recently, he was interviewed by Derek Lambert of Mythvision on his reasons for leaving Christianity, several months ago. The interview may be viewed here:

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Dr. Gavin Ortlund’s defense of C.S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” trichotomy, and Why I think it won’t work on skeptics

In this blog article, I’ll be summarizing Dr. Gavin Ortlund‘s recent rehabilitation of C. S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” trichotomy, which he defended last year in a 41-minute interview (shown below) with Cameron Bertuzzi, who runs the Youtube channel, Capturing Christianity. After that, I’ll be playing devil’s advocate and responding as if I were a skeptic, instead of a Catholic. The views I advance here are not my own: my intention in playing devil’s advocate is to illustrate how an intelligent unbeliever might go about refuting this popular argument for Christianity. In so doing, I hope to persuade apologists like Dr. Ortlund that the argument should not be used against skeptics. Without further ado, here it is:

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Window dressing, or: Is the God of Thomistic classical theism as dumb as a rock?


[Courtesy of Unsplash.com & Kitti Incédi]

[Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey]

Dr. Gaven Kerr is a lecturer in philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland. In a recent online interview with writer and philosopher Pat Flynn on a Youtube video titled, “Philosophy Friday: Classical Theism and Divine Simplicity” (March 23, 2021), Dr. Kerr (who is a Thomist and a stalwart defender of classical theism) made nine incredible metaphysical claims (two about agents in general, and seven about God), as well as six philosophically controversial background assumptions. Below, I shall argue that when taken together, these claims and assumptions add up to a picture of a God Who is literally as dumb as a rock. Basically, He’s a black box. The exalted language which Thomists use to describe God is mere window dressing, obscuring the fact that the God they worship never even thinks about the creatures He has made: they depend on Him, but on the Thomistic view, God creates them without having to think any thoughts about them, like “Let there be light” or “Let us make man in our own image.” All God ever thinks about is Himself, and even His act of “thinking about” Himself consists in nothing more than His being Himself. In other words, God knows Himself (and His creatures) simply by existing. In this post, I shall argue that the Thomistic account of knowledge is downright nonsensical, that Thomists’ reasons for denying that God has any thoughts and feelings about us are based on faulty assumptions, and finally, that if their account of God were correct, it would be irrational of us to love God or to feel grateful to Him for anything. Taken to its logical extreme, Thomistic classical theism makes the hearts of believers grow cold, and it is a lucky thing indeed that most Christians (Catholics included) are blissfully ignorant of what it teaches about God.

For those readers who are interested, here is Pat Flynn’s interview with Dr. Kerr:

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An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: W. The Sacraments

The vast majority of Christians agree that Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ, in which God’s grace is bestowed on those who receive them with the right disposition. In this essay I shall argue that notwithstanding believers’ protestations to the contrary, the standard Christian understanding of these sacraments is a magical one. In addition, Christian accounts of how the sacraments impart grace are, as far as I can tell, nonsensical: they explain nothing. Finally, the metaphysical schemes used by various Christian denominations to explain the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist all turn out to be philosophically incoherent.

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God as Author and the Problem of Evil: A Response to Feser

Abstract

In a recent article, Edward Feser argues that the logical problem of evil rests on a category mistake regarding the nature of God and of his relationship to the world, and that a proper understanding of God’s nature and how he is related to the cosmos enables us to resolve this problem. To help his readers achieve a correct understanding of the Creator and his relation to creatures, Feser proposes an analogy between God and the author of a novel: God is “the necessary precondition of there being any natural order at all, just as an author is the necessary precondition of there being any novel at all.” I maintain that there are several fundamental flaws in the “author” analogy which render it useless as a tool for eliminating the logical problem of evil, whatever its other merits may be.

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Gunther Laird critiques natural law in The Unnecessary Science

Back in 2008, Catholic philosopher Edward Feser wrote a spirited defense of classical theism and natural law theory, which made quite a splash. Although Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, was subtitled “A Refutation of the New Atheism,” it was primarily a ringing reaffirmation of teleology as a pervasive feature of the natural world – a feature highlighted in the philosophical writings of Aristotle and his medieval exponent, Thomas Aquinas. What Feser was proposing was that the modern scientific worldview, with its “mechanical” view of Nature, was a metaphysically impoverished one; that human beings have built-in goals which serve as the basis of objective ethical norms; that the existence of God could be rationally established; and that religion (specifically, the Catholic religion) is grounded in reason, rather than blind faith. Since then, Feser has authored several other books in the same vein: Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, Philosophy of Mind, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, Neo-Scholastic Essays, Scholastic Metaphysics, and most recently, Aristotle’s Revenge.

Until now, Feser’s skeptical critics haven’t been able to land any decisive blows, and many of those who have tried have come away with bloody noses. (The Australian philosopher Graham Oppy, who recently took part in two very civilized online debates with Feser on the existence of God [here and here], is one of the rare exceptions; Bradley Bowen, who reviewed Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God three years ago, is another critic whom Feser treats with respect; Arif Ahmed, who went toe to toe with Feser on the existence of God, is a third critic who held his own against Feser.) However, Feser is now definitely on the ropes, with the publication of a new book titled, The Unnecessary Science, by Gunther Laird. The style of the book is engaging, the prose is limpidly clear, and the author possesses a rare ability to make philosophical arguments readily comprehensible to lay readers. As a further bonus, Laird is a true gentleman, whose book is refreshingly free of polemic. Throughout his book, he is highly respectful of Aristotle and Aquinas, even when he profoundly disagrees with them, and while he has occasional digs at Feser, they are lighthearted and in good humor. The scope of Laird’s book is bold and ambitious: the target of his attack is not merely the God of classical theism, but the entire Aristotelian-Thomistic enterprise of natural law theory, which he attacks on three levels: metaphysical, ethical and religious. Amazingly, despite the fact that Laird has no philosophical training beyond the baccalaureate level, he makes a very persuasive case: skeptics who read his book will come away firmly convinced that Feser has failed to prove his case, and that natural law theory needs to go back to the drawing board. And they will be right.
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