Organized Religion

Please check out my forum, consider joining, and respond to this post here…

http://athans255.freeforums.net/thread/88/organized-religion

Most atheists and even many believers have a problem with organized religion, whether that be a church in general or something like the Catholic Church. My question is WHY is organized religion bad and how do you define it.

I ask this for a couple of reasons. First I want to point out that I do understand the problems we have had in the past, as well as current issues. I do certainly believe it is a problem when the Church is seen as a powerful political leader, like the Catholic Church used to be. The Catholic Church literally used to control Europe. Then of course we have the Church of England to a lesser extent and things such as Islamic governments in the Middle East. I doubt very many people would agree with the power and influence of those I listed above, except for the extremely religious, and of course they would want it to be their preferred faith. I think we can agree this causes major problems.

I guess what I want to focus on is a particular denomination or branch of a religion or even a specific Church. We certainly have issues with priests, and people in leadership positions, raping or molesting young children. This is always a problem. We also have bad denominations, such as the FLDS (Fundamentalists Latter Day Saints,) which could be considered a cult. I guess I want to randomly mention the Church of Scientology, which is a cult and does horrible things. There are also single Churches that are problems, such as some of the mega churches or churches like Westboro Baptist Church (which is unaffiliated with the Baptist Church.) We also read a book about Pentecostal snake handlers, which I have a serious problem with due to them allowed children near dangerous animals and teaching them that screwing with these animals is okay. Once again, I do not think anyone will agree these things are good. But does this make ALL organized religion bad?

The reason I bring up this topic is because of currently experiences as well as my upbringing and studies. As many of you know, our children are baptized and will be raised loosely Christian (meaning at a Liberal church that doesn’t pound it into their head so bad they will never recover.) Many atheists disagree with this and do not understand how I can do this being a non-believer. First, I am not religious, I do not believe in Christ as my personal savoir, so rubbing a little bit of water on their head does not mean anything to me. Most important, it is important to my wife and her family and since I do not believe, I do not care. I also plan on telling my kids the story of Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy and I assume there will not be any long term affects.

Anyways, my son is currently going to pre-school at my wife’s church (Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church) and everything about the place makes me feel good. Everyone is friendly and happy. One of the staff members is the sister of one of my wife’s best friends growing up. I like her very much and my younger son has a crush on her. Nearly all of my son’s friends are from this church. When we go there for his different preschool events, they are always a positive experience. We had one recently where we went around and did different activities and finished in a room with one of the pastors leading the kids in singing. My younger one, the one not actually in the class was the star of the show and made everyone laugh. It is true they sang about God and Jesus and guess what? I did not melt…nor did I leave a brainwashed believer. Everything about the place makes me feel good. We have donated food to their box for the food shelf. Nearly every time I go in there I wish I could work there just because of how the place makes me feel. The problem is I have that little not believing in God problem…

Besides this experience I have extensive experience in dealing with many different religions and denominations. I was raised loosely Lutheran Christian (I did Sunday school and we went to church on the holidays.) I went on a number of church trips and camps. I asked for Jesus into my life and for a sign. I never got one. Yet I only have good memories. The church I went too was fairly Liberal though I think they did lean Conservative on a few things, such as evolution. There were a couple other minor things but overall, it was mostly positive.
I was also a Chaplin’s assistant while in Tech School in the US Air Force. While in Basic Training I went to Mormon services. Both were positive experiences, especially going through those tough conditions.

Between my wife going to an all-girl Catholic University and my major in religious studies, as well as traveling to Europe and the Middle East with the Air Force, I have been to large variety of services and gatherings of many different religions and denominations. Nearly every single one was positive…or at least not negative. I always found the Mormons to be very friendly and I like their family aspect. I also appreciated the lack of judgment by the Catholics. I have gone to Catholic services more than anything else, at a number of different churches. I never take Communion, especially at Catholic churches because to do not allow non-Catholics to take Communion. Here is the thing though…not a single place ever asked people if they were Catholic or not, in addition to that not once have I received a dirty look, or even a look, or NOT taking Communion. My favorite was the Baha’I gathering. Their policy is that they can only accept donations from members. If a non-member donates, it is given to charity.

This has been my extensive experience. So I ask…do you simply dislike organized religion because you dislike religion or the way the media has portrayed it? Do you simply dislike it because the particular church you were brought up in was one of the “bad” ones? Do you believe not all organization is the same and some groups are not only not harmful, but positive? Or are they all bad? Is it the organization that is bad? I ask that because many atheists organize into groups…How do you define organized religion and what are your objections?

America’s Ignorance and Stupidity When it Comes to Muslim Countries

Once again we have Bill Maher saying stupid stuff about religion. Though I am a fan and find him correct most of the time, he keeps sticking his foot in his mouth about religion. I do not understand why he refuses to listen to the experts on this topic. This time though, it was not just Bill Maher, but our liberal media. Both sides, liberal and conservative, seem to be equally ignorant or stupid about the topic of religion, Islam, and the Middle East. I have spoken about this issue before but I wanted to do a blog dedicated to the topic because it really needs it. Religion, especially Islam, is very misunderstood in this country and for whatever reason, no one cares to listen to the experts.

The thing that made me feel the need to type this up was Reza Aslan’s interview on CNN. Before I show the video, I want to give his credentials…

Aslan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religions from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Aslan also received a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, focusing in the history of religion, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.[7][8][9] His dissertation was titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.”-Wikipedia

If anyone is confused about Religious Studies I would suggest either Googling it or reading my blog about it before you continue because it is more than reading the Bible or “studying God.”

Here is the interview.

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2014/09/30/cnn-tonight-reza-aslan-bill-maher.cnn&video_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FNgRGButZCG

I expect that kind of crap from Bill Maher when it comes to religion but CNN shows the larger problem. “Muslim countries,” “Muslim countries,” Muslim countries,” he really hits the nail on the head with everything he said. To keep saying “Muslim countries” as if they are all the same is stupid. It is more than ignorant because he is there educating them on the topic and they ignore him. That is stupid. He is pointing out the fact that not all Muslim countries are the same and Americans appear to be completely clueless to this. Before I get into Muslim countries, let me do the exact same thing with America…
Do you believe these pictures accurately represent America?

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Would you be offended if I said those pictures accurately represented most, or the average, American(s)? If you do not believe that is fair, why is it fair to do that to the Muslim world? Do you simply not realize the way we portray Muslims is not representative? The way we portray Muslims is the minority of Muslims, this is the point Reza was trying to make.

Contrary to popular belief, Religion is not the biggest driving factor in people’s actions, culture and society is. In Religious Studies we look at religion from all the different angles including sociological and anthropological (cultural) and it is painfully obvious that these issues are due to culture or society and not religion. The Sunni-Shia rift is a CULTURAL argument. We know culture and society are the driving factors because they both SHAPE religion. Religion can shape culture and society but culture and society are the bigger force. We know this because different cultures and societies with the same religion are very different. Also, if religion was the driving force, why are there so many denominations? The reason is people do not agree. Whether that disagreement is societal or personal, it is more powerful than religion because religion was changed because of that.

This is exactly what Reza was talking about. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an AFRICAN problem. Here are a few maps of FGM and Religion. Click on the pics to enlarge them

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It is certainly a problem in a very specific part of the world, mostly Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It does certainly appear to be in areas that are Muslim, but Christian majority countries in Africa also have an issue with it. One map echoes what Reza was saying about Ethiopia. Ethiopia has around 75% of women experiencing FGM and they are a Christian majority…

According to the 2007 National Census, Christians make up 62.8% of the country’s population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%

If this were strictly a Muslim issue we would expect to see around 1/3rd, not 3/4th. This shows it is clearly a cultural thing, not a religious thing. You may want to point out that the Arabian Peninsula is not Africa. Actually it is, in a cultural sense. If we trace culture backwards we will see that Arabs are a Semitic speaking peoples, and the Semitic language originated in Africa. Here is a map…

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You will notice that only a few pockets of people in Iran are Semitic peoples. That is because the Iranian peoples are Indo-European peoples. This is the nature of the Sunni-Shia rift, the culture, not religion.

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Besides FGM, how do we typically portray Muslims? Radical terrorists that treat women worse than dogs? As Reza says, that is certainly representative of certain countries, such as Saudi Arabia. No one is debating that the way SA treats their women is primitive and barbaric or that their beheading of people is alright. The problem is this is not representative of all Muslim countries. Would a Muslim country that saw women as inferior elect one as their head of state? As Reza mentions, seven women have been elected head of state in majority Muslim nations, another one was appointed…

Tansu Çiller, elected prime minister of Turkey, 1993-1996
Benazir Bhutto, elected prime minister of Pakistan 1988-1990, 1993-1996
Mame Madior Boye, appointed prime minister of Senegal, 2001-2002.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, elected president of Indonesia, 2001-2004
Khaleda Zia, elected prime minister of Bangladesh, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006
Sheikh Hasina, elected prime minister of Bangladesh 2009-
Roza Otunbayeva, president of Kyrgyzstan, 2010- 2011
Atifete Jahjaga, elected president of Kosovo 2011-

And actually throughout the history of Islam women have been leaders or held positions of power…

http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Muslim_Leaders.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_female_political_leaders

Like Reza asks, how many female leaders have we had here in the US?

Many Muslim nations are very secular. Take Turkey for example.

Turkey has been a secular state since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. He introduced the secularization of the state in the Turkish Constitution of 1924, alongside Atatürk’s Reforms. These were in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology, with a strict appliance of laicite in the constitution. Atatürk saw headscarves as backward-looking[original research?] and an obstacle to his campaign to secularize and modernize the new Turkish Republic. The issue of the headscarf debate has been very intense and controversial since it was banned.[1] Turkey is a secular country and over 95% of its people are Muslims.[2] It has resulted in a clash between those favouring the secular principles of the state, such as the Turkish Army,[3] and those who are more conservative with their religious beliefs.-Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headscarf_controversy_in_Turkey

The United States needs to grow some secular balls and ban the headscarves! Seriously, I am not for that, but look at a Muslim country our secularizing the United States, impressive for a primitive and oppressive, conservative religious people. *Sarcasm*

I can point out leaders and point out facts. I can tell you about my experience with Muslims in the Religious Studies department at the University of Minnesota. I can tell you about my classes in Middle Eastern studies and Islam, but I have a more effective method. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will save on the typing and post some pictures.

While in the Air Force I spent time in two Muslim countries. The first was Kyrgyzstan…

Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions.[70] A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims, with 86.3% of Kyrgyzstan’s population adhering to Islam.[71] The majority of Muslims are non-denominational Muslims at 64% while roughly 23% are Sunni, adhering to the Hanafi school of thought.[72] There are a few Ahmadiyya Muslims, though unrecognised by the country.-Wikipedia

The second was the United Arab Emirates…

Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE. The government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims.[77] By the same token, non-Muslims are expected to avoid interfering in Islamic religious matters or the Islamic upbringing of Muslims.

The government imposes restrictions on spreading other religions through any form of media as it is considered a form of proselytizing. There are approximately 31 churches throughout the country, one Hindu temple in the region of Bur Dubai,[172] one Sikh Gurudwara in Jebel Ali and also a Buddhist temple in Al Garhoud.

Based on the Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population was Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% other (mainly Hindu).[77] Census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers while also counting Baha’is and Druze as Muslim.[77] Among Emirati citizens, 85% are Sunni Muslim, while Shi’a Muslims are 15%, mostly concentrated in the emirates of Sharjah and Dubai.[77] Omani immigrants are mostly Ibadi, while Sufi influences exist too.[173]

People of all faiths or no faith are given equal protection under the country’s constitution and laws.-Wikipedia

While we were deployed, we had a shared folder of pictures taken while on our trips. That is where most of these pictures were taken from. The only purpose of these pictures is to show how the women dress and their freedom. Click on the pictures to enlarge them

Here are a few pictures from Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has a mixed population of Russians and Kyrgyz. They have a heavy Russian influence and 64% of their Muslims are non-denominational Muslims. It is safe to assume that in these pictures the white people are Russian Orthodox (the Kyrgyz look more Asian) and not Muslim but the point is how WOMEN are treated in a Muslim country.

Here is a picture from a typical market place. The women here are dressed the same way you would find them dressed in Europe or America. They are also out there by themselves, no men needed.

Here is a picture from what I believe is a class trip. If it were not for the background you might assume this was a group of American kids.

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The next three pictures are of the two lovely women that worked with us in linen exchange at Manas Air Base. They are there by themselves, no men. You will notice me in a picture with one of them and I am certainly not related to her.

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On to the UAE. This was a fun trip. The people were so diverse. You have very conservative Muslims with the women covered from head to toe all the way to what we typically see here in America. The pictures that truly show how oppressed women are is best illustrated at a water park. Here are pictures taken from the shared file of a trip to the water park. Keep a close eye on what people are wearing and who they are with.

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I want you to focus specifically on these two pictures. Notice that in the back ground there is a woman with a hijab with her face shown an in another it appears her face may be completely covered.

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The range of diversity rivals and probably surpasses the United States. They have very conservative to very secular or liberal. I know recently on the news they showed a picture of a female UAE pilot, which Fox News thought was appropriate to make fun of, calling it “boobs on the ground” and saying she would have problems parking the plane. So apparently in America the idea of a female pilot is something to joke about but in the UAE women have the right to be one and their armed forces see them as just as capable as a man to do the job. It really makes me wonder which country has the problem with women being equal, Muslim UAE, or Christian America. Here is the picture of that woman and also a picture of other female pilots in the UAE Air Force. Notice that half of the women have their head covered and the other half, do not.

Mariam HassanEtihad - women pilots-thumb-450x299-47232

Is this what you thought a Muslim country looked like? This is exactly what Reza Aslan was saying. Not all Muslims countries are the same and vary greatly with how conservative or secular they are. Some Muslims countries surpass the United States when it comes to the equality of women. Some are more secular than the United States. I would argue that some run their countries better. Take UAE for example. They have billions, possibly trillions, from their oil. Instead of letting it sit in banks accounts, like we do here in the United States, they have been putting it back into the country to build infrastructure and some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. They have turned it into a tourist destination. They have a ski resort inside of a mall. Like Reza says, to say “Muslim countries” to suggest that all Muslim countries are like Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Afghanistan is STUPID.

I leave you with some pictures of the UAE and what they have done with their oil money. I ask that you think about what billionaires have built for America recently…
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The Existence of Socrates vs Jesus

There are a large number of atheists that try to make the argument that we have no evidence that Jesus existed and go to great lengths to try and prove it. I argue that if one is to deny the existence of Jesus their burden of proof is so high that we should argue that Socrates did not exist. Of course this really irks people, except that this was a legitimate question in the scholarly arena.

Here is a brief bit on Wikipedia about the Socratic Problem (it actually has a name)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_problem

Even with this problem, very few, if any credible scholars will actually try to make the argument that Socrates did not exist. (Save this part for future quote mining.) Before we look at what the scholars actually say, there is something else I wanted to address.

When reading these anti-Jesus articles I notice three common themes. The first is simply quote mining and taking the words of scholars out of context, second is addressing issues that are mostly irrelevant. The third, and most important issue, is the complete lack of understanding of what historians do and how they work. I wanted to start by addressing this.

The first problem is that the anti-Jesus (AJ) people completely disregard any Christian source because of bias. This is completely the wrong approach. Christian sources should be considered but should not be placed above other sources. All texts and artifacts should we held on level ground and to exclude Christian sources would be the sign one does not understand how to do history.

Whenever we have a historical document we compare them with other historical documents to determine their validity. For example, many Christians claim the Bible is like a history book. We have actually tested this against other material, non Biblical material. Some of it fairs better than other parts.

We take the story of the Exodus for example. Some people believe it is a myth, others believe it is actually true. When looking at Egyptian records there is not a shred of evidence to support this claim. There is no record of an exodus or a large group of people leaving. Besides the fact that losing their entire work force would cripple the economy, there is not a single record to support the Exodus. Egyptians wrote down EVERYTHING. They recorded every single person that crossed their borders. If anyone wrote anything down, it would have been the Egyptians, but there is nothing. Based on the facts we cannot conclude that the Exodus was a historical event.

Other parts are more accurate with outside sources. We know from Egyptian sources that there were people called Israelites and we can date that to right around 1,200 BCE. Archaeological evidence also shows this was around the time when Canaanite communities started displaying characteristics we attribute to the Israelites. 1,200 BCE is also right around the time the Bible puts David and Solomon, and the Dividic Kingdom is mentioned outside of Israelite sources. Because of this we can be fairly confident, at least make a good argument, that David and Solomon existed.

Other examples are much easier to verify. The Babylonian exile is just one example. The Bible can also be used to verify non-Jewish, non-Biblical historical accounts because the Bible is just another historical document. The Bible is a book of myths but this does not mean it does not hold historical value or that everything in it is a myth. It shares clear historical facts, such as the Edict of Cyrus from Cyrus the Great of Persia. It all comes down to evaluating a specific claim with outside evidence. The wrong thing to do is throw out all of the texts and evidence on one side because that side is bias.

Using this type of analysis, how do Socrates and Jesus match up?

Let’s try the AJ approach first…Let’s eliminate the bias sources. That would be the Greek sources for Socrates and the Christian ones for Jesus.

Non-Greek sources for Socrates…none. If we exclude the Greek sources, no one in the world ever spoke of Socrates. Without any outside validation the stories of Socrates have as much validation as the Exodus.

If we allow the Greek sources in, which historians do, a number of important people spoke about Socrates, such as Plato, Aristophanes, Aristotle and Xenophon.

As it points out in the link at the beginning of this bit, we know that Plato voiced his own opinion under the name of Socrates in some cases. There is also the problem that the accounts are contradictory of each other. Because of these problems we cannot claim to know much about Socrates the person, how he was and his views.

Even with the problems of no outside evidence and contradictory statements about him, virtually every credible scholar agree that he existed based on the amount of evidence by his contemporaries.

For the bit on Jesus I will simply defer to Bart Ehrman…

Bart D. Ehrman (born 5 October 1955) is an American New Testamentscholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a leading scholar in his field, having written and edited over 25 books, including three college textbooks, and has also achieved acclaim at the popular level, authoring five New York Times bestsellers. Ehrman’s work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity.

For people who care Ehrman’s religion is none: atheist, humanist, agnostic.
Here is the link to a larger bit, but I will provide the relevant details…

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/07/bart-ehrman-on-did-jesus-exist-part-three/

“It is obviously important for a historian to look at all the evidence. To most modern people, it is surprising to learn just how little evidence there is for Jesus outside the Christian sources. He is not mentioned in any Roman (or Greek, or Syriac, or… whatever – any pagan [i.e., non-Jewish, non-Christian]) source of the entire first century. Never. That strikes people as surprising. He is mentioned a couple of times within about 80 years of his life by two Roman sources (Pliny and Tacitus; I’m not sure Suetonius can be used). And he is almost certainly referred to twice in the Jewish historian Josephus, once in an entire paragraph. But that’s it for the non-Christian sources for the first hundred years after his death. It’s not much. But it’s something, and since these are not sources that based their views on the Gospels (since these authors hadn’t read the Gospels), it shows that Jesus was indeed known to exist in pagan and Jewish circles within a century of his life.

Ehrman on non-Christian sources for Jesus within a hundred years of his crucifixion in his book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings…

“three pagan authors mention Jesus within one hundred years of his death. The first reference to Jesus in pagan literature is in a letter written by the governor Pliny to the emperor Trajan in 112 c.e. Pliny discusses the practices of the Christians in his province and, thus, gives us no information about the historical Jesus. The second (possible) reference to Jesus is by the historian Suetonius. Suetonius mentions a riot among Jews that was initiated by a man named “Chrestus.” Some scholars believe this is a misspelling of “Christ.” If, in fact, Suetonius is referring to Jesus, his narrative gives us information about later followers, not about Jesus himself. The only helpful information from pagan literature about Jesus’ life that dates within one hundred years of Jesus’ death is from another historian, Tacitus. Tacitus says that Pontius Pilate executed Jesus during the reign of Tiberius. Although not all of Tacitus’s information is correct (he says that Pilate was a procurator), he does corroborate information found in Christian sources. Looking beyond these three pagan sources, Jesus is mentioned twice in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, a first-century Jewish text. One reference indicates that Jesus’ brother James was killed by the high priest Ananus. In the other reference, Josephus gives more information: he says that Jesus was a teacher and a “doer of startling deeds” who had Jewish and Gentile followers. Josephus continues, reporting that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus and Pilate condemned him to the cross. In this passage, Josephus also states that Jesus was the messiah. Because Josephus never converted to Christianity, and because his works were copied and transmitted by Christians, we can be relatively sure that this “confession” was a later Christian insertion.”

http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195322590/student_resources/chap14/?view=usa

Right there we already have Socrates beat. We have non Christian sources which match up with Christian sources. That is as good as it comes when we are talking about ancient history. Ehrman goes on…

“The really compelling evidence, though, comes in the Christian sources. Mythicists write these sources off because they are Christian and therefore biased, but that is not a historically solid way to proceed. Christian sources do indeed have to be treated gingerly, but they are sources every bit as much as pagan and Jewish sources are. What I show in Did Jesus Exist? is that there are so many Christian sources that can be used by historians that there is really no doubt at all that Jesus at least existed. Just to give an example (so as not to repeat my entire book here): by any credible dating, the apostle Paul must have converted to believe in Jesus within two or three years of the traditional date of Jesus’ death. And Paul knew some facts about Jesus’ life; he knew some of his teachings; he knew his closest disciple Peter; and he knew his brother James. Personally! If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think that his brother would know about it. The historian cannot simply ignore what Paul has to say since he was a Christian. Taking his biases into account, we can use his letters for information about Jesus. And among other things, they show beyond a doubt that Jesus existed as a Jewish teacher in Palestine in the 20s CE. Otherwise we cannot explain Paul or his letters. That’s just one important piece of evidence for the existence of Jesus. I’ll discuss more in some of my later answers.”

Besides that, we have this…

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

Michael Grant (a classicist) states that “In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.” in Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004ISBN 1898799881 page 200

Richard A. Burridge states: “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34

Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

Whenever I point this out people cherry-pick and quote mine. I have talked about that here…
https://stern255.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/atheists-use-quote-mining-also/

Here is my new favorite link for why Jesus did not exist (it’s a fairly long read) …
http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm

I wanted to address some points in this bit. First, look at the website. I thought atheists were in the business of using non biased sources. Second, and most important, who the hell is Jim Walker? Jim Walker is apparently the author of this article but nowhere does it say anything about Jim Walker. Who is he? What does he have a degree in? Does he even have a degree? Not only am I apparently more qualified to talk about this topic than he is (you can read my about me where I explain exactly what I studied at a university,) but I have directly quoted Ph.D.s that say this guy is wrong. They go one step further and say the no credible scholar denies that Jesus existed. To believe anything this guy says requiring blind faith that he is trust worthy and/or knowledgeable.
But he provides quotes!

Yes, he cherry picked a lot of unrelated quotes. Here is the thing with his quotes and sources…I am familiar with a hand full of them. He quotes from books I have read or that were required for classes. Elaine Pagels, Michael Coogan, and David Noel Freedman, just to name a few. I have two of the Pagels books sitting on my bookshelf and he relies very heavily on her.

Oddly enough, even with the heavy reliance on Pagels, at the bottom of the article called “quotes from a few scholars,” he never quotes Pagels saying that Jesus did not exist. In fact the only quote that says Jesus did not exist is this one…

“Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.”

C. Dennis McKinsey, Bible critic (The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy)
Dennis McKinsey is an atheist and Bible critic with a BA in philosophy and a MA in social sciences. This is what we would call a bias non-expert. All the people he quoted and this is the only one. Earl Doherty gets close, but I will get to him in a bit.

One of the major flaws in this article is that it completely avoids the point. There are arguments about how the Gospels contradict each other and how they were written after Jesus died and that the people that wrote them did not actually know Jesus. A lot of scholars are pointed to for points like this and scholars agree. No one in the scholarly field is going against this point, in fact, they are the ones making it. This is exactly the same as our Socrates example in that we do not really know what he said or what he was like as a person. It is also true that those that spoke of Socrates contradicted each other.

People constantly make this argument as if it somehow makes Jesus not a real person. All it says is that we do not know anything about his teachings or historical Jesus, and that they are very possibly entirely made-up.

That leads to another point where Jim Walker is either trying to be deceptive or is simply ignorant. The term is “historical Jesus.” Historical Jesus can be used in a few different ways which makes it confusing right off the bat. Historical Jesus generally refers to the details of Jesus’ life, not that a man name Jesus existed. When someone says they do not believe in historical Jesus they are generally saying they do not believe in the stuff one might see on the History Channel where they do a documentary on his life. Virtually every scholar admits we know virtually nothing about the life of Jesus or if his teachings are attributed to him.

My favorite part is when he is criticizing the non-Christian sources. He completely dismisses every one of them without a single citation. This means we are take Walkers opinion on blind faith and it makes it worse that we know nothing about him. One would think he would use his big long list of scholars to provide a single quote validating a single thing he said. He then goes on to say this…

“Christian apologists mostly use the above sources for their “evidence” of Jesus because they believe they represent the best outside sources.”

“As you can see, apologist Christians embarrass themselves when they unwittingly or deceptively violate the rules of historiography by using after-the-event writings as evidence for the event itself. Not one of these writers gives a source or backs up his claims with evidential material about Jesus.”

By Christian apologists he must mean atheist scholars because Ehrman (and every other scholar) finds this as valid evidence. For someone with no degree in history and goes against virtually every scholar in the world, it is a pretty strong statement to mention the rules of historiography. It is also rather impressive that he calls out someone not using sources when he failed to provide a single one.

People make the argument that the evidence for Socrates is better because people actually talked about him during his life. That point is brought up in this article extensively and asks why no one in his day wrote about him. This again shows complete ignorance of history and the context of the situation.

I will provide a little historical context to the world at that time. For the last 500 years the Jews have been waiting for their Messiah. There have been hundreds of people thought or claimed to be the Messiah. This claim, if he actually claimed it, was nothing out of the ordinary. Also, if one is half way familiar with the Old Testament they will notice it is very different than the New Testament. That is because the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament are completely different than the Jewish religion. He was a heretic creating a radically different sect or religion. He is not talked about much in Jewish tradition for the same reason Prophet Muhammad or Joseph Smith are not talked about by Christian sources even though they came out of Christianity. They were crazy heretics that were going against the normal religion. There was a reason he was not talked about.

Besides the fact that most people during that day were illiterate, and Jesus followers would have been, what is the one moment in Christianity that is the most important? The Resurrection. The alleged resurrection would have taken place AFTER he had already died. Why did people not talk about him during his life? Because he was just another insignificant crazy person. Socrates was apparently an intellectual, or very influential, which is why he was important while he was living. His death is not what made him popular. This was also the case with Muhammad and Joseph Smith. Muhammad was waging wars and Joseph Smith was gathering a following. Both were more important during their lives, Jesus was standing around babbling parables.

If one simply understood the context of the situation they would not be overly surprised that there is not a ton of stuff from his life, they would more expect it.
One final point before I wrap it up. Walker cites this guy…

“In the book The Jesus Puzzle, the biblical scholar, Earl Doherty…”
He also quotes him…

“Before the Gospels were adopted as history, no record exists that he was ever in the city of Jerusalem at all– or anywhere else on earth.”

-Earl Doherty, “The Jesus Puzzle,” p.141

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Doherty

“Doherty has stated he has a bachelor’s degree in Ancient History and Classical Languages,[2] but no completed advanced degrees.”

Walker called this guy a Biblical Scholar? Is he ignorant or being deceptive? A BA in history does not someone a Biblical Scholar unless you are really stretching. I majored in History (Ancient Near East/Middle East) and Religious Studies (The Abrahamic religions) with a minor in Jewish Studies and I do not consider myself a Biblical Scholar. One should have a Ph.D. in the area, or at least a masters…But let’s see what a Ph.D. in the area has to say about Doherty…

“Bart Ehrman, an expert on textual criticism of the NT and Early Christianity, has dismissed Jesus, Neither God nor Man as “filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2,400-page book to deal with all the problems… Not a single early Christian source supports Doherty’s claim that Paul and those before him thought of Jesus as a spiritual, not a human being, who was executed in the spiritual, not the earthly realm.” “

“In a book criticizing the Christ myth theory, New Testament scholar Maurice Casey describes Doherty as “perhaps the most influential of all the mythicists”,[21] but one who is unable to understand the ancient texts he uses in his arguments”.[22]

My final words about this article will be pointing out this bit of it…

“FAKES, FRAUDS, AND FICTIONS
Because the religious mind relies on belief and faith, the religious person can inherit a dependence on any information that supports a belief and that includes fraudulent stories, rumors, unreliable data, and fictions, without the need to check sources, or to investigate the reliability of the information.”

That ladies and gentlemen perfectly describes this article…

So back to the beginning. Virtually no one in the scholarly world doubts either the existence of Socrates or Jesus as actual people. The same criticisms can be made for both. The one thing that people hang on to is that no one that lived at the time of Jesus spoke of him…except Paul did. But this is not good enough because it is a Christian source. So I can argue that Socrates did not exist because the people that spoke of him were Greek. For all we know he is just some mythical character the Greeks created. After all, he is not mentioned outside of Greek sources, where as Jesus is mentioned outside of Christian sources. The whole point is that the burden of proof being held to Jesus is unrealistic when compared to other figures we claim we know existed.

Bill Maher Is Wrong About Religion

Most people would not question Bill Maher’s stance on religion, but I am not one of those people. I think Bill (I call him Bill because I think of him as a friend, though I have never met him) is a brilliant guy and I agree with him 99 percent of the time. He typically does his research and gets his facts, but when it comes to religion, he is very biased. He is like Richard Dawkins in the way he ignores experts and makes unscientific claims. He is a hypocrite on the matter of religion. I own his movie Religulous, and enjoy it, for the most part, but he is untruthful about one thing…He keeps saying “I don’t know!” For someone that doesn’t know, one way or another, he makes very bold claims about believers.

This blog was inspired by his debate on Real Time with Brian Levin. Here is a bit about Brian Levin…

http://criminaljustice.csusb.edu/facultystaff/levin.htm

Brian Levin

Criminologist and civil rights attorney Brian Levin is a professor of criminal justice and Director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino where he specializes in analysis of hate crime, terrorism and legal issues. 

Previously, Professor Levin served as Associate Director-Legal Affairs of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch/Militia Task Force in Montgomery, Alabama; Legal Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnic and Racial Violence in Newport Beach, Ca. and as a corporate litigator for the law firm of Irell & Manella. He was also a New York City Police Officer in the Harlem and Washington Heights sections of Manhattan during the crack wars of the 1980s.

Prof. Levin began his academic career as an associate professor at Stockton College in New Jersey in 1996. Mr. Levin is a graduate of Stanford Law School, where he was awarded the Block Civil Liberties Award for his work on hate crime. He is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and the state of California. 

He is the author or co-author and editor of books, scholarly articles, training manuals and studies on extremism and hate crime. He was also the author of briefs in the Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Mitchell in 1992-3, where he analyzed criminological data establishing hate crime’s severity. His book, the Limits of Dissent is about the Constitution and domestic terrorism. His research has been cited by The California Court of Appeals and in numerous scholarly journals and major law reviews.

Prof. Levin has testified before both houses of Congress, the US Commission on Civil Rights and various state legislatures on hate and terrorism. He has presented instruction and/or advised the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Treasury Dept., U.S. Customs, American Bar Association, American Prosecutor’s Research Institute, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, National Bar Association, National College of District Attorneys, National District Attorneys Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, International Association of Chiefs of Police and numerous police departments, colleges, universities and human rights organizations.

Mr. Levin is a court certified expert on extremism in the United States and England. He has appeared on every network and cable television evening news broadcast and various network magazine shows on the subjects of extremism, civil rights and criminal law. He has also appeared in every major American newspaper, newsmagazine and wire service as well as four other continents.

In 2003, Professor Levin was selected to research terrorism for both a Hispanic Serving Institution fellowship from the United States Department of Agriculture and as a Visiting Scholar with the FBI Academy’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia. Professor Levin was named Outstanding Faculty member by the College of Extended Learning and wa co-recipient of the University’s Diversity Award in 2005. In 2005 Professor Levin was invited by the Metropolitan Police to make a presentation on hate crime in London and by the National Academies to make a presentation on terrorism at an international conference in Helsinki. 

The thing that really got me was when Bill said his facts are simply wrong. Being a Religious Studies scholar, I tend to side with Mr. Levin. I also find it ironic that Bill full-heartedly accepts scholars on climate change, but not on religion. Why do you assume you know more Bill?

Following, I will respond to the key points of their discussion…

Bill claims that not all religion is a like. Nothing is ever perfectly analogous, but for the most part, I find religion very similar. Islam is no different than Christianity. What Bill forgets is that culture and society play a role. The topic of religion is complex and not black and white, as Bill assumes. Culture and society are often the driving forces and cannot be separated from religion. This is especially true with Islam. Their culture and religion is blended together and cannot be separated. Bill totally ignores the cultural aspect and simply focuses on the religion, which ignores the bigger picture.

Bill admits there are good Muslims but suggests that Mr. Levin is wrong about his facts. No, Levin is perfectly correct…Muslim extremists are a fringe group. There are 1.4 Billion Muslims in the world and the vast majority are good people just trying to live a good life. Muslims will admit that 10% are the fundamentalist Muslims that follow the Qu’ran to a T. They are the terrorists and want to see non-believers killed. Whether they act on this is another story. What we are ignoring is the simple math…These Muslims are only 10%, a minority…but 10% of 1.4 Billion people is 140 million, a very significant group. The point is that there are a lot of these fundamentalists Muslims, that are the extremists that Bill speaks of, but they are a minority and do not represent Islam as a whole. The vast majority of Muslims, like Christians, are good people.

Bill claims that this religion (Islam) behaves differently. He admits that at other points in history, Christianity was the problem, but now, Islam is the problem. No, religion is religion. What is different is the other major driving factor…culture.

As is mentioned, religion or ideology can be used as an excuse but is not a bad thing in itself. (To the fact that religion and ideology itself is not a bad thing, Bill responded with “really? Interesting…”) The real issues dates back to the Crusades, but more strongly relates to Imperialism. The West took advantage of the Muslim world, deprived them of resources and wealth, and placed boarders that were meant to cause conflict. This is the root of their dislike for the West. It is a political and economic issue that is disguised as religion. Religion is the excuse, not the cause. Politics and economics are the cause of the clash…though in Muslim countries; law, culture, and religion cannot be totally separated. They are not like the United States.

When Mr. Levin is discussing reasons that people do crazy things, he does mention religion and ideology, in which Bill responds “so you admit religion is in there?” That statement proves that Bill thinks religion is a bad thing.  

What Bill does not realize is that Religion provides a lot of good things. Religion contains things such as Karma, the Golden Rule, the teachings of Buddha, the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Gandhi, Submission, Peace, and Charity. Churches are the largest community contributor.  No one donated more money to hurricane Katrina than Churches did. Religion also gives people the strength to live and to live a good life. It gives them hope and something to look forward to. Even if you disagree, you are wrong to say it does not make a difference.

Even groups here in the US, that many people would consider crazy, provide great lifestyles. Obviously there are crazies like the FLDS, but most Mormons live a very happy and healthy life that has no negative side effects. We also have Jehovah’s Witnesses’ come to the door on a regular basis. They are friendly, non-pushy, and provide us with a lot of reading material. Their intentions are good, not malicious.

The fact is, Bill, Religion does provide more good than harm. You attacked the comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. to terrorists, but the fact of the matter is that they both use(d) religion seriously and make a difference because of it. Religion can be used for good or bad. You, like Richard Dawkins, see it as a disease. I tend to see it as an evolutionary cause. I think it did, and still does, hold a purpose in human existence, and will never disappear.

Bill, for some reason, ignores the scholarship done on religion and ignores the scientific benefits. I love you Bill…but you are wrong on religion. You are not an Islamaphobe, you are a religionaphobe…hopefully you will grow some more and overcome this…

I feel I will expand on this topic in the future…

Rejection of God due to the Bible

To those that know me, it is common knowledge that I do not reject the possibility of their being a god. However, I do reject the Judeo-Christian God. I reject God based on the Bible, which may seem odd because the Bible is most Christian’s evidence for God. The main reason I reject the Bible is because I understand the context of it. This write-up will explain my views and reasoning on this topic. I will add that all of the professors, that I know of, that helped me understand this topic, are religious. Knowing the actual facts and contexts of things does not have to destroy faith unless the person chooses.

There is one thing that we must do to start. We must assume that there is nothing significant about the Bible. We must assume that it is not any different than any other historical document. We must do this because this is how historians and scientists do work. It is called inductive reasoning. We look at the evidence and then draw a conclusion based on the evidence, rather than assuming a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it. No one should have a problem with this, because if the Bible is what Christians and Jews believe it to be, the Bible should have no problem validating itself through this method.

Because we will be looking at the Bible in a historical aspect, I should explain what that means. To save time, here is a link about thinking historically.

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2007/0701/0701tea2.cfm

This will give you a brief introduction to what exactly historians do.

The most important part, in my opinion, is context. I wrote a short blog explaining why context is so critical. Please read it before continuing on, for it is the most important point.

http://athans-athansblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/pass-and-stow-importance-of-context.html

This demonstrates why it is crucial to understand the context of the Bible. Without the context, they are simply words open to interpretation. Now the question is where do we start?

I think the most obvious place to start is with the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible (HB) because if the God of the HB is not valid, in whatever sense, whatever follows is irrelevant, since Jesus is the son of this Hebrew God. To understand the context of the HB, we must be familiar with the history it came out of.

One should familiarize themselves with the history of the Ancient Near East, specifically what we now call the Middle East and Egypt. Getting a grasp of thousands of years of history is not easy and there is a lot of dry material. I will recommend a few books depending on your interests…

My personal favorite is The Oxford History of the Biblical World edited by Michael Coogan. This is not an easy read and is over 400 pages, much of it being very dry, but it is a great guide to the history we are looking at.

A shorter read is A History of the Ancient Near East by Van De Mieroop.

One should also be familiar with Egyptian history of the same period due to their influence and interactions in the Middle East. Our long, detailed, dry, book is The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw. However I am sure there are dozens of good books on Egypt that are an easier read.

More specifically to this topic, I would suggest How to Read the Bible by Marc Z. Brettler for the serious reader.

To everyone, I would suggest A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John J. Collins. This is a book that anyone could read in a day or 2.

If you would prefer to watch something, there is a great bit on NOVA.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/bibles-buried-secrets.html

But to the point…I will briefly hit on the major points since I doubt most people reading this have the time or energy to read the books on their own…

Key points:

Other cultures/people’s and their writings/beliefs.

The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.

Major events and politics of the time.

The “Hebrew” people themselves.

To make this short, when comparing the texts of the Torah (first 5 books of the HB) to other texts of that area, they are a disappointment. Nothing in the Torah is new or original and is dependent on older stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a clearer version of the Flood Story, nearly word for word, yet the Epic of Gilgamesh was written nearly 1000 years earlier. Other texts such as Hammurabi’s Law Codes are found word for word in the Torah, and predate it. There is also a striking resemblance between the Torah and the Assyrian Vassal Treaties. The examples are so numerous, that I will leave it at that for the purpose of this blog. Like I said, nothing is the Torah is new or original.

If you think I am exaggerating, look at these 2 portions of the texts…

Genesis

 7 and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. 
8 Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; 
9 but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. 
10 So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. 
11 The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. 
12 Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.

 Gilgamesh (Full text here http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab11.htm)

When a seventh day arrived

I sent forth a dove and released it.

The dove went off, but came back to me;

no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

I sent forth a swallow and released it.

The swallow went off, but came back to me;

no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

I sent forth a raven and released it.

The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.

It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.

 

What are the chances that two different peoples, writing over 1,000 years apart, both have a Raven and a dove? Gilgamesh is actually a clearer story and does not have the contradictions that Genesis does. The contradictions bring up another issue, which I will not go into much detail about, but will briefly mention. The Genesis story is actually 2 stories, by 2 different authors, that were blended together. We know that the Torah had 4 different authors, which had different political affiliations and ways of writing things. We know this by examining the text. There is an interactive program that shows this more perfectly than I could ever explain.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/flood.html

This shows that the Flood story is two separate stories that were combined. We see this in many stories, including the creation story. The creation story for example says God created man and woman at the same time, but it also says God created man and then woman from Adam’s rib. Over the years people have speculated that this meant Adam had two wives. This is where the Lilith myth comes into play. However, the idea of Lilith is unfounded. Like the flood story, the differences are simply because there were multiple sources and multiple authors.

So the Torah was compiled by different authors and is made up of a number of different texts. I know some of you may be thinking that these other texts may be copies of the Bible and that the Bible is the original. Besides the fact we can already see the version of the Bible we have is not the primary text, it is still plausible that there is an older version, a perfect version, which the stories were taken from. However, this is only wishful thinking. We have methods that are used to date things but if you are one of those that believe they are made up, I will explain another issue…The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.

If one is going to argue that the Bible is the primary source, we should investigate when the people actually came into existence. To do this, we need to look at the records of other people to see if they are mentioned. The very first instance in which “Israel” is mentioned, outside of the Bible, is the Merneptah Stele. This Stele is Egyptian and can be very specifically dated to right around 1,200 BCE. When compared with the HB and archeological evidence, we get a clear picture. 1,200 BCE was right around the time we would expect Israel would to start drawing attention. The height of Israel’s power in the region, is around 1,000 BCE, the time of David and Solomon. This is also the point at which the HB starts to match up with, on many but not all, accounts outside of the HB. The HB can now be used as a historical text and used as evidence to evaluate other historical claims.

We know the ancient Israelites were in existence by 1,200 BCE but how long did they exist before that? Well luckily we have a record of peoples living in that area dating back thousands of years. We know when the Canaanites lived in that area and when other peoples invaded them. The conclusion on the date is shortly before our 1,200 BCE date. The big question is HOW they got there. There are four debated theories in the scholarly world. One of these theories is the Out of Egypt theory, or the Exodus story. This is actually the least plausible of the four. There is not a shred of evidence, outside of the Bible, that matches up with the Exodus account. There is no account of these types of people ever being in Egypt, let alone an event such as the Exodus. The Egyptians kept amazing records, even of losses. They kept records of border crossings and still, nothing. They simply did not come from Egypt. So where did they come from? I find a combination of the other three to be the most likely result. The main point in the other 3 are quite simple…they are Canaanites.

            They were most likely outcasts, living in the hills, banning together and raiding cities in the area. When we take this idea and look for evidence of it in the HB, we find a figure that seems to match what we are looking for…David. Oddly enough this is right around the point in the HB when history starts matching up. Also when we look at early Israelite settlements, we find the remains of the Canaanite culture. We find idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah. But we also find evidence of a new culture, the Israelite culture, trying to establish a new identity, trying to distance itself from the Canaanite culture. This would be the time the HB started being compiled and/or written.

So our date is around 1,200 BCE for the earliest possible dates of the Biblical texts. Unfortunately for our theory (of the Biblical texts being older,) civilizations, the ones that wrote the other texts, have been around for thousands of years. The Great Pyramids were already ancient at this time. But we have a larger issue I have yet to address. Gods…

As I mentioned above, in case you missed it, I said idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah were found in Israelite settlements. For you that are not familiar, Yahweh is the name of God. In the Bible Yahweh is translated to LORD and God is translated from Elohim. Not only does Yahweh take on the identity of the Canaanite god Baal in the Song of the Sea (once again comparing texts) but he has a wife. Israelites were not monotheistic at this point. No one was monotheistic at this point. All of the surrounding cultures were polytheistic and that includes the Canaanites. If one reads the Old Testament carefully, there is not a monotheistic claim until the book of Isaiah. For example, one you have probably heard, “You shall have no other gods…” Does that sound like a monotheistic claim? It does not read “I am the only god.” It means you will not worship the other gods…There is no denial of other Gods. But back to the first monotheistic claim…Isaiah is the first point in which a clearly monotheistic statement is made. Isaiah is also around the time when the Jews were exposed to the Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism was the religion of nation of Persia. We know this because Isaiah tells us the name of Cyrus of Persia by name. Isaiah explains that God’s Messiah (God’s anointed) Cyrus, liberates the Jews from Babylon. This is also confirmed by the Persian records and the Cyrus Cylinder (though the Jews altered what it said in the Bible to suit their needs.)

So monotheism in the Bible actually first appeared when they were introduced to Zoroastrianism. They were also freed from Babylon and allowed to return to their homelands by Cyrus the Great, God’s Messiah. Other concepts found in Zoroastrianism would be the figure of the Devil, Hell, the idea behind the Holy Trinity, and many more things found in Christianity that are not found in the early part of the Bible. It is not more than obvious that the Jews acquired features of Zoroastrianism AFTER they were liberated and allowed to return to Judah? Cyrus the Great was God’s Messiah, after all, as stated by the book of Isaiah.

Do you see how context is starting to work? Do you see historical events affected what was written? We see the same types of things when looking at the Assyrian Exile and the Babylonian Exile. We see the political conflicts between Judah and Israel in the Bible. What was being written was directly related to the events of the time.

On that note, I will address the prophecies for Jesus. Ironically, Isaiah is often cited as a prophecy for Jesus…Isaiah 7:14

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

When one understands the context of Isaiah and the situation of the Hebrew people of that time, you would know they are in exile in Babylon and are then allowed to return to Judah to rebuild the temple and make it a great nation, once again. The prophecy refers to someone during that time, not someone to come 700 years in the future. We know this because we also study Rabbis and Jewish literature.

By studying Midrashic literature and writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can get an idea how and what these people thought of their writings. We cannot look at the Bible as people look at things today. We cannot assume they were writing “history.” We cannot assume their writings were to be taken as literal. We cannot assume they were opposed to altering the text. We cannot even assume they actually believed the stories because they may have simply been a teaching tool or part of their tradition. When we actually study the language and things such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find that the scribes were not opposed to editing and altering the writings. They do it plain as day and do not appear to have an issue with it. They clearly did not think of this stuff as “the word of God” because they constantly changed it. This was acceptable and not a problem to them. We have evidence that the “final text” found in the OT today had already been edited and changed.

The HB was written during a specific time, by specific people, for a specific reason. This is not speculation class where we decide what the Bible is or means. We study the context of it. We study the history of it. We study the linguistics of it.

The HB is nothing unique or special when compared to other writings from the same time. It is not monotheistic. It is polytheistic (or Henotheistic) at the start and is based on stories from other polytheistic religions. How do these facts equate to the existence of God, the one supreme creator of the universe? How did we start with a bunch of gods, that nearly everyone living today would reject and turn it into the Christian God? I have yet to even take the New Testament into consideration and its legitimacy is already destroyed. It has crumbled at the base. The next step is to examine the claim made by Jesus, that he is the son of the one God, Yahweh…One would imagine that Jesus would have known of the other gods in existence, the ones subordinate to his father. Or was he basing his claims on the popular opinion of the time, which was monotheism? Jesus and the NT are a discussion for another time, which we can have if one so desires, if you feel I have yet to invalidate the Bible.

Of course, you do not have to believe me on any of this stuff. You can spend years reading book after book on your own and come to your own conclusion.

Is Religion a Mental Illness?

Before I get into this, I would encourage and real scientist to correct me if I am wrong. I would also like mention that the atheist I am generally talking about in this article is @MaxAutonomy. You should probably follow him on twitter because he is the smartest guy in every room and way smarter than I am because he is an atheist.

I often hear atheists talk about science, reason, logic, facts, and evidence. Being part of the atheist community (I am an agnostic atheist,) I also enjoy practicing and promoting those things. Oddly enough, I constantly hear that religion is a mental illness or a disease (a virus specifically.) You constantly see anti-theists on twitter saying this, but occasionally we hear smart people, such as Richard Dawkins, making this claim.

Being the champions of science, atheists constantly send religious people pictures like this…

Image

If the claim that religion is a mental illness is true, I can only assume we have research and experiments that follow this model. We are not looking for just one example, but many examples because in science once a hypothesis is shown to be correct, we test it again, a number of times. This is the reason that theories, such as evolution, and the germ theory of disease, are nearly fully accepted in the scientific world. Hundreds of experiments have been done based on these theories and they are yet to be dis-proven, and it is highly unlikely that they ever will be.

I think we would also agree that the people doing these experiments should be experts in the related fields. There would be no reason to get the opinion of someone that has a Ph.D. in something such as geology, correct?

So what would be the areas of relevance in relation to the topic at hand? We would most certainly want an expert in psychopathology (the scientific study of mental disorders,) and an expert in Religious Studies.

(Side note: Do not confuse Religious Studies with theology. A brief introduction to Religious Studies can be found here…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_studies

Here is the introduction…

Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secularstudy of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.

While theology attempts to understand the nature of transcendent or supernatural forces (such as deities), religious studies tries to study religious behavior and belief from outside any particular religious viewpoint. Religious studies draws upon multiple disciplines and their methodologies including anthropologysociologypsychology,philosophy, and history of religion.)

In addition to those two fields, experts in the fields of biology and psychology may be competent enough to perform this type of experiment. Oddly enough, when one fills out the scientific method diagram posted above, it actually looks like this…

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I have been told by a number of atheists that this is incorrect and that there are “mountains” of evidence to support their claim. Typically I am simply insulted and called a moron, but a select few have been nice enough to point me towards the mountains of evidence…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_religion#Mental_illness_or_delusion

There are your three paragraphs, or “mountain of evidence…”

I however, have apparently studied this topic in slightly more detail than Wikipedia. Having completed the Religious Studies major at the University of Minnesota, this was a topic we discussed. I have also read most of the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (I mentioned I was an atheist, right?) I am also a fan of the works of Michael Shermer, who has discussed this topic. There is also an entertaining bit my Mr. Dawkins on YouTube called The God Delusion…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FiHRVb_uE0

 

That being said, I believe the most logical place to start would be with the person that first made these claims, and no, it is not Richard Dawkins. This claim was first made in the early 1900s by a man named Sigmund Freud. In my introductory class to the study of the theory of religions, we studied Freud in depth because he was the first person to look at religion though the field of psychology. We used the books Eight Theories of Religion, and Introducing Religion by Daniel L. Pals and A Beginner’s Guide to the Study of Religion by Bradley L. Herling.

 

It is obvious to any beginner in the study of religion that Freud was wrong, and a little crazy. But as many atheists have told me, I am just some stupid undergrad and Darwin’s theory is over 150 years old, so why is Freud wrong!? Even though I have the unique ability to read to what a Ph.D. says and mildly understand it, I took the liberty of scanning a few pages of the books mentioned above, so that a Ph.D. is saying it, and not myself…

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Here is a recap of the issues with Freud’s theory…

1.       His theory only works for monotheism

2.       He believed in Lamarckian evolution, not Darwinian evolution

3.       His Biblical and archeological claims were flat out wrong.

4.       His theory is purely guesswork that relies on ignorance and inaccessibility.

5.       He claims traits of individuals can be applied to an entire culture.

6.       He makes assumptions that things like prayer are unnatural. In addition to that he is ANTI-RELIGION.

7.       His argument is circular, he fails to prove the very thing he sets out to prove.

8.       He assumes the things he is seeing are neurosis and not a reasonable and appropriate understanding of the real world as we perceive it.

9.       Psychoanalysis is not a science.

10.   Freud was not a scientist.

11.   His theories cannot be proved or disproved because there is no way to test them.

12.   He bent evidence in his own self interest.

13.   He is a reductionist and reduces religion to sex

14.   Carl Jung, one of the people from his own time (along with many others) disagree with his claims and actually asserted the exact opposite of what Freud was saying.

 

First, I would like to point out that Freud did not even believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, so if one is going to equate Freud to Darwin, you should at least make sure that Freud agree with Darwin on the most basic of levels…

 

After providing this analysis of Freud, I am told that I am using second and their rate scholars and I am cherry picking (because using Richard Dawkins as one’s sole choice is not…)

 

As to the claim that I am using second and third rate scholars? Here is Daniel L. Pals…http://www.as.miami.edu/religion/cv/pals.pdf

Apparently, to atheists, a second and third rate scholar has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and is one of the leading experts in their field…

Here is the professor of that class, Jeanne Kilde, apparently, another clueless Ph.D…

https://apps.cla.umn.edu/directory/items/cv/300927.pdf

And did you notice that Carl Jung, another moron, disagree with Freud?

But back on topic, this was 100 years ago, so surely research has been done since then, right? Apparently it has. Here is 100% of the sources I have been given on this topic…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_religion#Mental_illness_or_delusion

That is a shocking three paragraphs of scientific experiments. Personally, I find the Lenski experiment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment to give a more of a scientific explanation than the bit listed above…But I am just an undergrad after all…

Seriously though, let’s start at the beginning of the scientific method. The first step is “ask a question.” Our question is “Is religion a mental illness.” Next, we need to do background research. I would argue that the first thing we need to research is mental illness. I was assured by @MaxAutonomy that the definition of mental illness is “believing something that is not true.” Since he is not an expert in the field, I went one step up…Wikipedia…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathology

“Psychopathology[a] is the scientific study of mental disorders, including efforts to understand their genetic, biological, psychological, and social causes; effective classification schemes (nosology); course across all stages of development; manifestations; and treatment.

Psychiatrists in particular are interested in descriptive psychopathology, which has the aim of describing the symptoms and syndromes of mental illness. This is both for the diagnosis of individual patients (to see whether the patient’s experience fits any pre-existing classification), or for the creation of diagnostic systems (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders orInternational Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) which define which signs and symptoms should make up a diagnosis, and how experiences and behaviours should be grouped in particular diagnoses (e.g. clinical depressionparaphreniaparanoia,schizophrenia).

Before diagnosing a psychological disorder, Clinicians must study the themes, also known as abnormalities, within psychological disorders. The most prominent themes consist of: deviance, distress, dysfunction and danger. These themes are known as the 4 D’s, which define abnormality.

The four D’s

A description of the 4 D’s when defining abnormality:

Deviance: this term describes the idea that specific thoughts, behaviours and emotions are considered deviant when they are unacceptable or not common in society. Clinicians must, however, remember that minority groups are not always deemed deviant just because they may not have anything in common with other groups. Therefore, we define an individual’s actions as deviant or abnormal when his or her behaviour is deemed unacceptable by the culture he or she belongs to.

Distress: this term accounts for negative feelings by the individual with the disorder. He or she may feel deeply troubled and affected by their illness.

Dysfunction: this term involves maladaptive behaviour that impairs the individual’s ability to perform normal daily functions, such as getting ready for work in the morning, or driving a car. Such maladaptive behaviours prevent the individual from living a normal, healthy lifestyle. However, dysfunctional behaviour is not always caused by a disorder; it may be voluntary, such as engaging in a hunger strike.

Danger: this term involves dangerous or violent behaviour directed at the individual, or others in the environment. An example of dangerous behaviour that may suggest a psychological disorder is engaging in suicidal activity.

The term psychopathology may also be used to denote behaviors or experiences which are indicative of mental illness, even if they do not constitute a formal diagnosis. For example, the presence of ahallucination may be considered as a psychopathological sign, even if there are not enough symptoms present to fulfill the criteria for one of the disorders listed in the DSM or ICD.

In a more general sense, any behaviour or experience which causes impairment, distress or disability, particularly if it is thought to arise from a functional breakdown in either the cognitive orneurocognitive systems in the brain, may be classified as psychopathology.

The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is an official guideline for the diagnosis of psychological disorders. Clinicians, researchers and psychologists use this manual as a reference guide to diagnose psychological disorders.

Formerly, for a diagnosis to be made, 2 levels of criteria within the DSM must be met. First, the disordered behavior must originate within the person, and it must not be a reaction due to external factors. Second, the disorder must be involuntary, meaning that the individual cannot physically or mentally control their symptoms.

Current diagnostic criteria within the DSM does not recognize this requirement. Instead, it recognizes that specific diagnoses may indeed be reactions to environmental or external factors (e.g. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The DSM-5 uses specific diagnostic criteria for each individual disorder listed within. Many disorder descriptions within do make the distinction that specific symptomatic criteria cannot be the result of medication or drug side effects, but this is mostly to segregate diagnoses, as there are specific diagnoses for conditions caused by drugs or medications. Additionally, mental control is no longer a factor, as conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorderhave elements that, while precipitated by involuntary compulsions, are marked with an element of agency and choice.

Examples of Disorders classified within the DSM include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder is a mood disorder defined by symptoms of loss of motivation, decreased mood, lack of energy and thoughts of suicide.
  • Bipolar Disorders are mood disorders characterized by depressive and manic episodes of varying lengths and degrees.
  • Dysthymia is a mood disorder similar to depression. Characterized by a persistent low mood, Dysthymia is a less debilitating form of depression with no break in ordinary functioning.”

There is our background research on mental disorders. Now let’s compare that traits of religion…

Deviance: Based on the statistics, religious views greatly out-weigh atheistic views, which means they are not abnormal, but actually THE normal.

Distress: The majority of religious people do not feel distressed. They are actually quite happy believing what they do and live very fulfilling lives.

Dysfunction: Religious people, as a whole, appear to be able to function and participate in human society.

Danger: Many religious people could actually fit into this category, oddly enough, it is the vast minority of religious people, not all, by any shot of the imagination.

Our hypothesis does get one bit of hope…

“The term psychopathology may also be used to denote behaviors or experiences which are indicative of mental illness, even if they do not constitute a formal diagnosis. For example, the presence of ahallucination may be considered as a psychopathological sign, even if there are not enough symptoms present to fulfill the criteria for one of the disorders listed in the DSM or ICD.”
So, let’s see if there are hallucinations…

“Formerly, for a diagnosis to be made, 2 levels of criteria within the DSM must be met. First, the disordered behavior must originate within the person, and it must not be a reaction due to external factors. Second, the disorder must be involuntary, meaning that the individual cannot physically or mentally control their symptoms.”

 

This says religion must not be a reaction due to EXTERNAL factors. This means religious beliefs cannot be caused by organized religion, an authority figure, parents, teachers, or Jesus walking on water. Oddly enough, the things I just listed are what most atheists claim are the causes of religious beliefs…

It also says that a person cannot physically or mentally control their symptoms. This is clearly not true in regards to religion because many religious people, including many of you reading this, have made the conversion from religion to atheism.

They do note that there is an exception. External factors can be a cause, such is the case with PTSD.

Examples of Disorders classified within the DSM include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder is a mood disorder defined by symptoms of loss of motivation, decreased mood, lack of energy and thoughts of suicide.
  • Bipolar Disorders are mood disorders characterized by depressive and manic episodes of varying lengths and degrees.
  • Dysthymia is a mood disorder similar to depression. Characterized by a persistent low mood, Dysthymia is a less debilitating form of depression with no break in ordinary functioning.

Do religious people, as a whole, express these symptoms? No, they do not.

 

Obviously, there is MUCH more background research that can be done, but by reading a single Wikipedia page, we can almost entirely eliminate religion from being a mental illness. However, we do have a lead, such as hallucinations. I can only assume that scientists will back up these claims…

The next step is constructing a hypothesis. I would argue that the background research suggests there is not enough evidence to define religion as a mental disorder, but let’s roll with it…

Following that, we must now perform an experiment…And we have hit gold! We have exactly one experiment done. Experiments have never been proven to be wrong or flawed, so let’s just assume it is truth (because that is how science works?)

Michael Persinger stimulated the temporal lobes of the brain artificially with a magnetic field using a device nicknamed the “God helmet,” and was able to artificially induce religious experiences along with near-death experiences and ghost sightings.[46] John Bradshaw has stated, “Some forms of temporal lobe tumours or epilepsy are associated with extreme religiosity. Recent brain imaging of devotees engaging in prayer or transcendental meditation has more precisely identified activation in such sites — God-spots, as Vilayanur Ramachandran calls them. Psilocybin from mushrooms contacts the serotonergic system, with terminals in these and other brain regions, generating a sense of cosmic unity, transcendental meaning and religious ecstasy. Certain physical rituals can generate both these feelings and corresponding serotonergic activity.”[47]

Let’s look into Michael Persinger…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Persinger

“Michael A. Persinger (born June 26, 1945) is a cognitive neuroscienceresearcher and university professor with over 200 peer-reviewed publications. He has worked at Laurentian University, located in Sudbury, Ontario, since 1971. He is primarily notable for his experimental work in the field of neurotheology…”

Looks good so far, but wait, I did not finish…

“…work which has been increasingly criticized in recent years.”
“During the 1980s he stimulated people’s temporal lobes artificially with a weak magnetic field to see if he could induce a religious state (see God helmet). He claimed that the field could produce the sensation of “an ethereal presence in the room”. This research has received wide coverage in the media, with high profile visitors to Persinger’s labSusan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins reporting positive[13] and negative[14] results respectively.

The only published attempt to replicate these effects failed to do so and concluded that subjects’ reports correlated with their personality characteristics and suggestibility. They also criticised Persinger for insufficient double-blinding and argued that there was no physiologically plausible mechanism by which his device could affect the brain.[1][5] Persinger responded that the researchers had an incorrect computer setup[15] and that many of his previous experiments were indeed carried out double-blind.[16] Both claims are disputed.[2]

The evidence base on which Persinger’s theory rests has been criticised[6] and commercial versions of Persinger’s devices sold by his research associate Todd Murphy have proved unable to produce the effects that Murphy claims under experimental conditions.[4][17]

            Thank God we already assumed that experiment was the truth, because if we had not, we would only have one flawed experiment that was not able to be reproduced. Dodged a bullet there…

Our next step? Analyze results. I would argue we have none based on the criticisms above. This would mean our hypothesis is wrong and we should rethink it and try again. Unless you are an atheist and just assume everything Richard Dawkins says is true…

I guess I means I stand by my model…
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How did we atheists, screw this claim and the scientific method up so royally? We fell victim to another areas we are self proclaimed experts at, the mighty logical fallacies. Atheists fell victim to Argumentum ab auctoritate or appeal to authority. We just assumed that because the greatest “intellectual” to ever live, Richard Dawkins, was correct or not flat out lying to us because he is not only a distinguished biologist, but our favorite prophet. Instead of questioning him or evaluating his arguments, we just assumed he was correct because we see him as an authority figure, the leading expert in atheism and science.

We also fall victim to argumentum ad ignorantiam. We assume that religion is either a mental disorder, or that it is not. We do not consider that religion may be more than black and white, right or wrong, or a mental disorder, or not. We do not consider that it is complex and may involved any number of factors or systems. We also shift the burden of proof to those that claim religion is not a mental disorder.

As with everything, I do not just assume because “Dawkins said so.” I evaluate claims. I also live by Russell’s Tea Pot, which basically means “if you are going to make a ridiculous claim, the burden of proof is on you.” I would argue that the burden of proof goes on the person making the claim that religion is a mental illness, due to the fact that there is not one shred of science to support this claim.

But how could Richard Dawkins have been so incredibly wrong!? See, Richard Dawkins is a very smart guy, he is not a moron. He found that there is a correlation between saying what people want to hear, and making money. I will most likely make no money off of this blog, because I am not telling you what you want to hear, but you will most likely buy the next Richard Dawkins book. Dawkins was smart enough to realize that after 9/11 people wanted to hear how stupid Muslims and religion was…

Is it possible that Dawkins is playing us for fools? That is the big question. I would like to hope not, but how does he make the same mistakes that Freud made 100 years ago? I mean let’s compare Dawkin’s arguments to those of Freud…

Criticisms of Freud compared to Dawkins…

1.His theory only works for monotheism (Probably true, It is the same argument)
2.He believed in Lamarckian evolution, not Darwinian evolution (At least Dawkins gets this one correct)
3.His Biblical and archeological claims were flat out wrong. (Dawkins are better than Freuds)
4.His theory is purely guesswork that relies on ignorance and inaccessibility. (I think we estabished that)
5.He claims traits of individuals can be applied to an entire culture. (Yup)
6.He makes assumptions that things like prayer are unnatural. In addition to that he is ANTI-RELIGION. (Yes, and yes)
7.His argument is circular, he fails to prove the very thing he sets out to prove. (Yup)
8.He assumes the things he is seeing are neurosis and not a reasonable and appropriate understanding of the real world as we perceive it. (Yup)
9.Psychoanalysis is not a science. (Don’t tell Mr. Dawkins that)
10.Freud was not a scientist. (Dawkins is actually an accomplished scientist which makes him look that much worse)
11.His theories cannot be proved or disproved because there is no way to test them. (There might be ways, he just does not even try to)
12.He bent evidence in his own self interest. (Yup)
13.He is a reductionist and reduces religion to sex (No, he reduces it to a mental illness)
14.Carl Jung, one of the people from his own time (along with many others) disagree with his claims and actually asserted the exact opposite of what Freud was saying. (How would Dawkins know what Jung said? I mean besides the fact Dawkins came after Jung?)

What Dawkins is doing is psychoanalysis AT BEST, but is really just using abductive reasoning and making inaccurate comparisons. Abductive reasoning is what Intelligent Design proponents do. They say “this looks like it was designed, therefore it was designed.” That is the exact same argument and line of reasoning as “religion looks like a mental disorder, therefore it is a mental disorder.” I have never heard an atheist claim that ID proponents are using science, so I can only conclude that when Dawkins uses the same type of reasoning, he is not using science.

When people such as Mr. Dawkins claims that religion is a mental illness, he is actually stating an opinion that is not based on any kind of science. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but if we are going to preach science and logic, we should at least practice what we preach…

I challenge any scientist to challenge these claims…or stop making them…

 

Darwin’s Theory Strengthens the Intelligent Design Theory

Anyone that follows the Intelligent Design/Creationism-Evolution controversy knows that most people trace the origin of the ID argument back to William Paley and his argument about the watch, “the watch maker analogy.” Basically the argument goes like this…

If you found something like a watch, we would conclude there is a watch maker because it is too complex to be random. Since organisms are complex and detailed, there clearly must be a designer.

However, this was not Paley’s main point. Paley goes into great detail about the parts of a watch and argues that it is obviously a “contrivance.” A contrivance must have a contriver, the maker/creator. Yes, creationists get this part, but they ignore what follows. Paley then goes on to explain that a “reproducing watch” would be superior. He is giving credit to our designer. A reproducing watch is superior because it can replicate which means the designer does not have to make every single watch. This would be much more efficient and would make the designer much more superior. He then goes on to make the analogy between organisms and reproducing watches. He argues that organisms display the signs of a designer, just like a watch, but they are able to reproduce. This makes organisms superior to a watch, or analogues to a reproducing watch. From this we can only conclude one thing…

The only thing that would be superior to a creator, that created life, is a creator that does not have to single-handedly create every piece of life. A superior creator would create a mechanism or a life form that could reproduce itself, so that they would not have to create everything one by one.

Charles Darwin proposed a theory of common decent, in which all living things evolved from a single life form, or a few. This is the life or mechanism we would expect to see from a superior creator, based on Paley’s philosophy. The creator simply created a single life form, or a few, and allowed them to reproduce and evolve, creating all the creatures we see today. Darwin’s theory of evolution supports and strengthens Paley’s theory. Intelligent Design proponents should be embracing and promoting Darwin’s theory because it strengthens theirs.