The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Early Renaissance fresco. Convent of San Marco, Florence, ca. 1440-45. Image courtesy of Magnus Manske and Wikipedia.
[This essay is part Q in my series, An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity on the crisis in Christian apologetics. Other parts completed to date:F. Angels, demons and aliens and H. Human Origins.]
The question I wish to discuss in this post is not “Is it true that Jesus was virginally conceived?” or even “Is it possible that Jesus was virginally conceived?” but “Is there any good evidence (historical, prophetic or otherwise) that Jesus was virginally conceived?” What I want to argue in today’s post is that even for someone who accepts the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the evidence for Jesus’ virginal conception is unpersuasive and the arguments marshaled in support of it are riddled with fallacies.
I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am not asserting that Jesus was conceived naturally. Generations of Christians down the ages have drawn hope and inspiration from their belief that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and who am I to contradict them? After all, I’m one of them. What I am questioning is not the belief itself, but the justification for treating it as an essential teaching of the faith, as the vast majority of Christians continue to do (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists and “Evangelical Christians”). As far as I can tell, there is no rational justification for doing so, and any attempt to argue for the Virgin Birth is sheer foolishness. Treating the doctrine as a “hill to die on” can only damage the credibility of Christianity, because it turns every argument against the doctrine into an argument against Christianity. Here’s why I think we should at least listen to the doubters, and why Christians who choose to believe in Jesus’ virginal conception should do so tentatively, acknowledging that they might, after all, be mistaken.
As discussed here extensively, nothing in “evolution” makes any sense: “natural selection, fitness, speciation, human evolution, gradualism, divergence of character, UCD, TOL, etc. etc.” Not one makes sense. Meanwhile, the “evolution” argument is just one big “affirms the consequent” logical fallacy, while Paley’s excellent argument has never been overturned, and an intuitive intelligent design detector can be used to easily disprove “evolution”. Is there a need for any more proofs? Not really. Are there any other proofs? You bet. Take entropy for instance… Continue reading
Astronaut Charles Duke became a Christian after he returned to Earth after being the youngest man to ever walk on the moon and after finding himself in a troubled marriage and problems with alcoholism. The Christian faith restored his marriage and brought sobriety into his life, and sometime thereafter he led a prayer meeting where a blind girl recovered her sight. Somewhere in all his life’s saga, he also became a Creationist.
One of the people who posted at TheSkepticalZone, Richard B. Hoppe (RBH), knew of Duke, perhaps even personally since RBH worked on the Apollo program intimately. When I confronted RBH about Duke’s Christianity and Creationism, RBH (normally quick to criticize Christian Creationists) became strangely silent. No one to my knowledge has questioned Charles Duke’s credibility or integrity as far a making up stories to draw attention to himself or make Christian converts. After all, he was a national hero, an air force general, an astronaut, and a successful businessman. Unlike a televangelist, there is little reason for him to make up stories of miracles.
I had the privilege of meeting Charle Duke when he spoke at a College Christian event…
For the past month or so I’ve been investigating the claim that the phylogenetic signal is evidence that a dataset shares common descent.
Supposedly, the phylogenetic signal is one of, if not the, strongest pieces of evidence for common descent. It is one of the first of the 29+ evidences for evolution offered over at Talk Origins (TO).
Quoting from the article:
The degree to which a given phylogeny displays a unique, well-supported, objective nested hierarchy can be rigorously quantified. Several different statistical tests have been developed for determining whether a phylogeny has a subjective or objective nested hierarchy, or whether a given nested hierarchy could have been generated by a chance process instead of a genealogical process (Swofford 1996, p. 504). These tests measure the degree of “cladistic hierarchical structure” (also known as the “phylogenetic signal”) in a phylogeny, and phylogenies based upon true genealogical processes give high values of hierarchical structure, whereas subjective phylogenies that have only apparent hierarchical structure (like a phylogeny of cars, for example) give low values (Archie 1989; Faith and Cranston 1991; Farris 1989; Felsenstein 1985; Hillis 1991; Hillis and Huelsenbeck 1992; Huelsenbeck et al. 2001; Klassen et al. 1991).
I’ve been skeptical of this claim. A tree is just one kind of directed acyclic graph (DAG), and my hunch is many kinds of DAGs will also score highly on metrics for phylogenetic signal. I picked one metric, the consistency index (CI), which according to Klassen 1991 is the most widely used metric. It also is the featured metric in the above TO article. Plus, it is very simple to calculate. So, I’ve focused my efforts on the CI metric. Continue reading
Nonlin.org has a burning desire to discuss sexual selection. So, let’s.
The topic was tangential (though not entirely unrelated) to the evolutionary psychology thread. Nonlin was unable to restrain his contempt for his interlocutors, and so his final missive was guanoed. The opportunity to repost was declined, as guanoing is ‘censorship’ (in plain sight!) and a ‘white flag’ allowing nonlin to declare victory and strut around like … well … a peacock.
Left: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Diorama of a Grey extra-terrestrial by G. W. Dodson, Roswell UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico, USA. Image courtesy of mr_t_77 from WV, USA and Wikipedia.
Let me begin with a confession. Temperamentally, I’m very much disposed to believing in angels – and aliens too, for that matter. I would certainly echo Hamlet’s famous saying, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The notion that human beings are the most intelligent creatures in existence strikes me as a monstrous vanity.
Now, I don’t claim to know what other kinds of intelligences exist in our cosmos. But one thing I do know: both angels and aliens pose genuine conundrums for would-be defenders of the Christian faith. In a nutshell:
[For a brief explanation of my “An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity” series, and for the skeptical tone of this article, please see here. I’m starting my A-Z series with the letter H, and I’ll be zipping around the alphabet, in the coming weeks.]
In this article, I take aim at the Christian teaching that there was a special moment in history at which humans, who were made in the image of God, came into existence, and that a sharp line can be drawn between man and beast. I argue that on purely scientific grounds, it can be shown that such a view is highly unlikely. If the scientific arguments I put forward here are correct, then Christianity is in very big trouble.
The sinking of the Titanic, by Willy Stöwer, 1912.
During the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic resurgence in Christian apologetics, as many talented individuals have written books and given public speeches in defense of the Christian faith. Some of these people have even gone so far as to claim that we are now living in the Golden Age of Christian apologetics (see here, here and here). More books are being published than ever before, and the New Atheist movement, which appeared so powerful ten years ago, has largely fizzled out. The future looks good – or does it?
In this series, I’m going to explain in detail why I believe this rosy view is utterly mistaken, and why Christians are actually facing a thirty-year winter. Continue reading
Yesterday afternoon, acting on a recommendation by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, I sat down and listened to a 43-minute Scientific American podcast featuring Stanford biology professor and hard determinist Robert Sapolsky being interviewed by Robert Mirsky, on the topic, “Your brain, free will and the law.” Suffice to say that I was underwhelmed. I had high expectations, as Professor Sapolsky is not only a well-published author (whose most recent work is Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst), but also a professor of biological sciences, neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya. I was both disappointed and amused with what I heard: disappointed with the complete absence of any rigorous argument against the existence of free will, and amused by the fake history related by Sapolsky, in the course of his interview with Robert Mirsky. By the way, for those readers who are looking for a critique of the doctrine of free will that’s both hard-hitting and substantive, I’d recommend the online writings of physicist Sabine Hossenfelder – in particular, her articles, How to live without free will, Free will is dead, let’s bury it and The Free Will Function: Free will from the perspective of a particle physicist (but see also the conclusion to her prize-winning 2018 essay, The Case for Strong Emergence, in which she acknowledges a gap in her argument). [Full disclosure here: I have previously critiqued Dr. Hossenfelder’s arguments against free will, and although I continue to find her case less than convincing, I would now acknowledge her general point that top-down causation alone won’t rescue free will.]
Back to Sapolsky. Since he’s a professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery, I had hoped that he would at least attempt to summarize the biological case against free will, but he didn’t. He alluded to experiments by Benjamin Libet, noted in passing that there were multiple interpretations of these experiments, and then proceeded to his central argument: the “shrinking pie” argument, which relied on a very heavy dollop of fake history. In a nutshell: science has already shown that we are not responsible for X, Y and Z, so in time, science will show that we are not responsible for any of our actions. (By the way, Sapolsky is a hard determinist, who has no time for compatibilism and who eschews any notions of personal responsibility for our actions: as he puts it in his podcast, “We have no control, ultimately, over anything we do… We have no agency, and the criminal justice system does not make any sense at all.”)
So, what’s wrong with the “shrinking pie” argument? Everything.
‘Stay the fuck home’. A less effective means of gaining general co-operation from the instinctively anti-establishment would be hard to imagine. How about you get the fuck out of my face? Our more formal UK government messaging has plumped for the ‘will-no-one-think-of-the-the-children’ emotional arm-twist of ‘Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives’. This appears at the foot of the rash of notices that has appeared all over my own rural region requesting people to approach a farm gate on a public path as they would open heart surgery, and disinfect or wear gloves before touching. After a day slapping cows’ backsides (I am hazy on the details of the profession!), it would be too much to expect farmers to take responsibility for their own biosecurity, and wash their own hands before dining.
[note: the author formatted this is a way that did not leave space for a page break. So I am inserting the break at the top — NR] Continue reading
I have been thinking about this. Who can one name, who is not in jail, and who would be eligible to be President, who would actually be worse than this moron, to lead the country through this crisis right now? Someone who is even more self-centered, who knows less about the world, less about proper management, who has had more business failures, who is even more divisive, who has more staffing problems, who is more petty, more insulting to reporters asking tough questions, and who generally would fuck things up even more than him? This is truly not an easy question to answer. Any suggestions? I am seriously finding it hard to name someone.
The republicans sure picked a doozy.
One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:
if evolutionism is the mechanism for biological changing of bodyplans then it must be a option it could happen today, and relative to billions of species, it should be happening to a powerful percentage. new population by the millions should be newly created with need for new scientific names. Yet i say there are none or less than six. WHY? I say because evolutionism is not accurate as a mechanism . it never existed. other mechanisms exist. the great evidence against evolutionism is the very unlikely situation of it not having occurred in the last twenty years in great, or any, numbers. Very unlikely but i offer the issue.
Over at UD, ID theorist johnnyb states that it makes perfect sense that economist Bob Murphy would support ID.
and they said that they used to use psychics regularly but the had a review and found that it was not really working and the ‘results’ could be by chance. So they’ve now stopped using them altogether as they have now determined there is no science supporting it.
Alan seemed to insinuate in my last thread that I didn’t explain WHY I think skeptics are full of hot air. So, in order to do so in a manner in which hopefully he can better understand, first I think I should start with a list of who these skeptic mouthpieces are, and then I can perhaps later fill in some of their statements, some of their backgrounds, and some of their beliefs. I hope this will ease Alan’s concerns. So, off the top of my head, here are some of the top ones I can think of. Sort of a Hall of Fame of atheist windbags. Guys who know everything about the universe, because they tell you so. Should be a useful database that we can refer back to later in other conversations. More added later:
I am sure that many readers have already concluded that I do not understand the role of sex in either organic or biotic evolution. At least I can claim, on the basis of the conflicting views in the recent literature, the consolation of abundant company.
– George C. Williams, Sex and Evolution, 1975
What’s sex all about? This question has been exercising biologists since well before Williams’s time, but in the 1970’s, with the rise of ‘gene-centrism’ and the related controversy over group selection, a succession of prominent authors grappled with the problem, trying to fit it with current evolutionary theory to no-one’s particular satisfaction. Males were deemed an impediment to a female’s efforts to maximise her reproductive output, time wasted on these feckless types resulting in her only passing on 50% of her genes per offspring. From the perspective of a ‘selfish gene’, meanwhile, getting into every offspring seems a preferable fate to only getting into half of them. On the basis of these apparent large costs, a cryptic offsetting benefit of corresponding magnitude was assumed. Like Godot, it is yet to appear.
Yet sex is widespread. All eukaryotes either do it now, or possess tell-tale signs that their recent ancestors did. Given that it appears costly to individuals, and genes, how did it evolve and why does it persist?
A short 9-page paper presents a model of conscious perception as a discrete process:
We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.