Christians Don’t Understand the Scientific Method

“[a Christian author] says, essentially that the reader must start the process of inquiry by assuming a certain outcome.  Don’t look for the most likely hypothesis suggested by the evidence, he says, nor the one that is most likely straightforward or reasonable.  Start by believing a certain conclusion is true…Examine the evidence throught the lens of that conclusion…..Ask yourself, ‘What explanations or intepretations can I come up with that would allow me to maintain my belief that these texts are not contradictory?’  If you can find any at all, you have succeeded in your task.  If you cannot, the problem lies with you, not the text…”

-James W. Loftus, from Why I Became an Atheist

When I was young, I was a Christian. I was taught the scientific method, but I didn’t learn where and when I should apply it. But I know now that the scientific method is good for evaluating the truth of any statement, as the Mythbusters demonstrate on TV every week. Let’s examine how they do it with a myth such as “You can torture a prisoner by letting bamboo grow through their torso”:

1.  The first thing to do is lay out your characterizations, which means defining the terms. Usually the definitions are obvious (don’t we all know what a duck is?) but if you want to prove a statement such as “Obama is a Republican“, you  have to clarify that by “Republican” you mean “a person with Republican values”, not “a person registered with the Republican party”. If someone wants to refute the results of an experiment that you’ve done, this is usually the easiest place to attack (your suppositions).

In this myth, it was important to note not only if bamboo could grow through a person, but whether it made a feasible means of torture.

2. The second thing is the hypothesis, which is just stating the myth. They may make some predictions on how the testing will go based on what they already know about bamboo and the strength of human flesh, but these predictions aren’t allowed to sway the conclusion of the test, otherwise you have bias, and people who review your experiment afterwards will dismiss the results if they feel you’re biased (as they should). The Mythbusters are frequently surprised (as they were with this experiment) which is only natural if you don’t make your conclusion before running the test.

3. Next comes the experiment. This test was easy – they simply put a bamboo shoot underneath a simulated corpse (made out of ballistics gel, a material that simulates human flesh) and let it grow. It did grow over 3 days into the torso of the “corpse”.

4. Finally, there’s the conclusion. This step includes many smaller steps – evaluating if the test gave you an answer to your hypothesis, improvements, and peer review. The Mythbusters felt it was too close to call (the bamboo died before going all the way through the corpse) so they retested and got a better result. They came to the conclusion that bamboo could be used as torture (painful yet slow) because it worked in both tests, but more so in the second try (after an improvement on the first try). And of course they do these experiments on TV, where you can look over their entire methodology and e-mail them with your complaints if you have any… and the Mythbusters, being true scientists, do re-run earlier experiments with viewer suggestions to see if they come up with a new conclusion.

Now that I’ve properly explained the scientific method, let me explain what doesn’t constitute a scientific conclusion. If you start your test with a presupposition that your test can come to one conclusion and one conclusion only, you’ve failed. The experiment is pointless, as it is not only swayed by bias but also can’t prove anything that you won’t allow it to. And if you come to a conclusion that doesn’t agree with your hypothesis prediction, you can’t throw out the results as being flawed because you messed up somewhere along the way… you may have, but if you feel that you can’t do the experiment properly then you shouldn’t have done it at all.

The bible is not proof of anything. You can’t solve a mystery with a mystery, and reading is not a step in the scientific method. When scripture is presented as evidence of something, we skeptics say “So how did you prove that this piece of scripture is true?”

“….there’s some forms of logic puzzles that I enjoy a lot where you’re trying to decide whether somebody is a knight who always tells the truth, or a knave who always lies. And so if somebody makes one true statement then you can establish for certain they’re a knight and every other thing coming out of their mouth is true. In real life, it doesn’t work like that. And so you see these apologists saying things like “Oh yeah, they dug up this ancient city that nobody knew about and it was in the bible, so the bible’s confirmed again.” No, that proves that this sentence in the bible is true, but it doesn’t make any progress towards determining whether Jesus rose from the dead.”

-Russell Glasser, from The Non-Prophets podcast


Beware of Fear Mongering

Listening to the republican debates, there’s non-stop talk of the dangers of living in this country. They talk about how the country is getting away from its “founding principals”, or how it’s getting so much more evil, or how our children will be without benefits such as social security.

Whenever anyone argues that taxes shouldn’t be cut, the argument also falls inevitably on the “dangers” of less funding for whatever is getting cut. This is also the argument made in defense of the environment or our country – it always falls back on fear mongering, an attempt to scare people towards action.

In my opinion, you should not be guided to a belief or opinion based on emotional blackmail, terrorism, double binds, bullying, shaming, and other forms of psychological or physical coercion. Your beliefs and opinions should be based on balancing available tested evidence and going with the more heavily weighted (lacking bias, peer-reviewed, within scientific scope, etc.).

I think that we all agree that our opinions shouldn’t be formed through these methods – so why are we imposing them on others? Would you like to believe that your knowledge on a subject came by propaganda? Would you like to think that your opinions were formed through brainwashing? So why are we trying to push ideas on others through these methods? If an idea can’t be demonstrated with fact then why believe it? And if it is backed with fact, then it doesn’t require anything more than explanation and citing – there’s no need for any manipulation.

To sell an honest product, a person needs only to show how their product will fill its obvious need (cleaning products often run television advertisements that show the product being used on a mess). To sell a dishonest product, a person needs to create a need and then show how they fill it (cosmetic companies must first convince you that having normal-colored lips or short lashes are a deficiency). To sell a truly dishonest product, a person needs to manipulate you with psychology – such as the notorious video that explains how the US economy is going to collapse and the only solution is to invest in silver.

I pick on fear mongering because I hear that one more than any other. I was sitting at my parents’ table a week ago listening to my father talk to my sister-in-law about homeschooling, but he was selling it on fear of her kid being taught evolution, biology, moral relativism, and acceptance of gays. I threw in the evidence for homeschooling, mainly how it gives children a personal tutor that can give them the most possible attention. It was clear that my input wasn’t important, and she agreed with my father.

My father and sister-in-law are Christian, as I was at one time. And I know they’re Christian for the same reason I was – fear mongering. They’re scared by Hell. I know, because I was there. And I’m not alone. Does any Christian ever find God through evidence? If so, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to comment below about how you found Christianity even though you weren’t told about the danger of Hell.

 


Life is Not Worthless

One of the common misconceptions about atheism is that it equates to existential nihilism, the belief that “life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value”. If there’s no God in my life, how can it have any meaning? That strikes me as a silly question, as I will try to persuade you that life has greater meaning without a belief in an afterlife.

I do not believe in an afterlife, so if my life has any meaning, it is to be found in my current life. I love my daughter and value my relationship with her, and hope that I can make her life better through my parenting. I love my family and friends and hope that their lives are better off for having me in them. I will try to make scientific and philosophical contributions to humankind in the future, although that means a lot of learning in the present. I may also leave a legacy when I die, but I personally don’t care what is thought about me after death, because I don’t believe that I will be around to care.

Let’s compare this belief with that of someone who thinks there is an afterlife. When defining afterlife in this context, we’re going to assume it’s eternal, as all known forms of afterlife except reincarnation are eternal. This type of person believes that life is infinitesimally short compared to their afterlife. So naturally the biggest part of their existence will be invested in their afterlife.

To get a sense of the word “value”, let’s imagine the afterlife as a party. You’ve been invited, but you merely need to give the correct password at the door to get in. Anyone who’s familiar with any of the monotheistic traditions can understand the similarities between this and the entrance to an afterlife. Life in this context can be seen as everything in between the invitation and the entrance. If the whole importance of this situation is getting in to the party (and I don’t think anyone will disagree with the value placed on entrance into this eternal party), then the value of life is similar to the value of coming up with the correct password at the door.

Now you may place emphasis on the value of your trip to the party. Sure, you want to make sure you spread this password to all the people you love, and you need to feel certain that you have the right password. But in the complete analogy, the person inviting people to the party (God) is actually the one responsible for all of this. If we are to assume that all of these things are going to be done by Him with or without your help (after all, you’re just the “tools” that He uses to make His will happen) then your responsibility is simply to get to the party with the right password. Life’s value is equal to that of a doormat, just a stopping place on the way to your ‘real’ existence.

Now maybe you don’t believe that God will fulfill these responsibilities without your help. In that case, any time spent not spreading the password (preaching to the unsaved) is valueless. You’re wasting your life.

In either case, you may place value in those things that I place my value in, the betterment of lives outside of your own. As I don’t require a God for those values, then neither do you. With that in mind, I truly wonder why this objection to an atheist’s life having value keeps coming up over and over and over. I’ve heard it from everyone I’ve debated the existence of God with – no exceptions (not that it’s evidence for God’s existence being true, but rather evidence for why God’s existence would be desirable).

I don’t see life as merely an entrance exam to paradise. Life is what I put into it, and therefore it has as much value as I want it to have. If you’re living to appease a God who doesn’t exist, and to teach a false doctrine, and to lead others down a path that leads nowhere, then what value does your life have? It has the same value as mine… with undue emphasis on the aspects of your life that actually gain you nothing.


Is That Really in the Bible? Part 2

Some more tales from the bible that are hard to swallow, this time from the New Testament…

Jesus is Forgetful

A man approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. I’m sure that my Christian readers know that faith, not works, will get a person to heaven. However, Jesus tells him that it is works, and he recites the 10 commandments… sorta….

1. Thou shalt not murder
2. Thou shalt not bear false witness
3. Thou shalt not steal
4. Thou shalt not commit adultery
5. Honor thy father and thy mother
6. Love thy neighbor as thyself

Number 6 is a bonus, not found among the 10 commandments but still an important one, as he also tells another man that it is the second greatest commandment of them all (why is the greatest, love thy God, not listed as an important command here?) but somehow he fails to mention the other 5 commandments. Why? If you’re an average American, you won’t even come up with this many of them, but it’s quite likely that these are the ones you’ll know. These are commandments that even Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists agree on.

After failing to quote the ten commandments, the man says that he has already kept these commandments. Jesus still doesn’t mention anything about belief, which as Christians know, is more important than keeping any command. Instead he tells the man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. Why the sudden change of heart? Job, David, and Solomon are among a few that God blessed with riches, so it’s
obvious that God doesn’t feel that believers have to remain poor. This was a perfect opportunity for him to mention that “love of money is the root of all evil”, but instead he passes on the idea that having money is wrong, and multiplies the confusion with an analogy… a rich man getting into heaven is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It’s impossible for a camel to pass through a needle (obviously). Therefore it’s impossible for rich people to go to heaven, right? Jesus explains “all things are possible with God”. In other words, “impossible” as a word is meaningless and so is his analogy.

Jesus Loses His Cool

We all know the tale about Jesus losing his cool in the temple and driving out the people selling animals. I’m sure we rationalize it, picturing Jesus swinging a whip but never actually striking anybody with it (vigilante justice in the form of deadly assault is pretty immoral in any given
situation). But how about the story of Jesus encountering a fig tree with no fruit?

Jesus and his disciples were hungry, so when they spotted a fig tree they approached it. They found no figs (picked clean, or it just wasn’t the season for figs, or perhaps it hadn’t blossomed the way it was supposed to). Jesus immediately cursed the tree and it withered, never to bear fruit again (as if it had been full of fruit before his curse).

Take a moment to consider the tree. Trees are incapable of committing evil. They don’t have free will, and can’t “choose” to sprout figs or not. This tantrum of Jesus was against an inanimate object, much like kicking your car because it doesn’t start in the morning. Jesus, fully capable of producing figs from thin air or making figs appear on the tree, instead curses the tree so it will never produce fruit again.

It has been suggested that this was an object lesson, and that this tree was merely symbolic. However, Jesus had done that before with parables and no trees were harmed in those lessons. Also, he never tells his disciples that it is purely symbolic, and so it would be logical if they (and you, the bible reader) thought that emulating his actions here was permissible.

Jesus Protects the Guilty

Jesus has the potential to call down wrath on sinners, but one has to wonder what standard he uses to pick and choose these battles, though.

I’ve already discussed the many absurdities of protecting the adulteress caught in the act, but what about the occasion where a mob tried to push Jesus off a cliff? His response was to “pass through the crowd”, probably a magical walk into another dimension. The mob was clearly trying to murder an innocent man, and yet the bible doesn’t mention any harm or punishment coming to them. How about the prostitute that emptied a vase of fine perfume on his feet and then wiped his feet with her hair? Her sins were forgiven for this favor, but Simon – the host that had kindly invited Jesus into his home – is rebuked for not cleaning his feet. Don’t you think Jesus could forgive him, too?

The strangest story of Jesus protecting sinners is when Jesus is seized by the elders to be tried and later crucified. When they come upon Jesus and Peter, Peter cuts off a man’s ear. It’s pretty clear this was attempted murder, or even if he his intention was just to get the ear (this fisherman was the first Zorro?), a dangerous act that could have ended in manslaughter. And yet Jesus just repairs the ear and rebukes Peter, who was nearly a murderer. It doesn’t seem that this act changes Jesus’ mind about building a church via Peter.

I’m sure we all enjoy the picture of a meek, merciful Jesus who doesn’t wish that any harm should come to anyone. So why did he feel that murderers and whores get a pass but merchants in the temple (and trees without fruit) don’t?


Is That Really in the Bible? part 1

Today will be my first post among a series exploring stories in the bible that are hard to believe. I’ll minimize the commentary – I think they speak well for themselves.

God Kills 14,700 People For Disagreeing With His Earlier Killing (Numbers 16)

Four men – Korah, Dathan, Abirah, and On – challenged Moses’ authority. Please note that they didn’t challenge God’s authority, just that of Moses. Moses said to them, “Tomorrow we’ll see who’s holy. I’m allowed to approach God personally and you aren’t, and I’ll prove it.”

So the next day he had them set their tents apart from the rest of the congregation and had 250 others burn incense in censors (to appease God’s wrath, I’m guessing). He put God to the test saying, “If God agrees that I’m the chosen representative for the Israelites, then God will open the ground and swallow up these rebels along with their wives, children, and livestock.” And sure enough, it happened.

The Israelites who watched this happen were understandably upset and scared, and this angered God. He killed the 250 people burning incense (why them?). Then God demanded that Aaron’s son Eleazar fetch the censors and pound them into metal plates for an altar covering, to be a makeshift memorial for all the people who died (250 innocent incense-burners and an unknown number of innocent family members with their rebellious patriarchs).

The next day, the Israelites were pretty unhappy about these random killings and they blamed Moses and Aaron (who, after all, set the rebels apart to be swallowed by the earth and commanded the incense-burners to burn incense). God got mad again for having his judgement questioned and this time killed 14,700 people with a plague – and asked Aaron to quickly burn incense to atone for sins. It didn’t seem to work the day before for the 250, but that was then and this was now. Would questioning God’s judgement of killing 14,700 people for such a minor sin bring on God’s wrath today? Well, no. That was then and this is now.

Elisha Has Kids Murdered For Mocking His Baldness (2 Kings 2:23-25)

Elisha was traveling to Bethel when some kids made fun of him for being bald. He cursed them, which resulted in two bears coming out of the woods and mauling 42 boys to death. The book doesn’t mention him telling the nearby town of the tragic deaths or apologize to the grieving mothers, nor does it mention him apologizing to God. The author of this book didn’t feel it was necessary to linger on the aftermath of the killing, and just moved on. And perhaps this prophet with wounded pride just moved on, too, as if it was no big deal.

Next post will continue with what, in my humble opinion, are absurd stories that you wouldn’t believe if you hadn’t been commanded to believe them.


Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Faith is a barrier to understanding. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but until the average person realizes that faith is not a virtue but rather a hurdle to learning, I’ll keep saying it.

Let’s say that you’re training me how to do your job. You spend several hours, probably 40 a week, doing your job. You have manuals that explain how your job is done, and you’ve been trained. There are good reasons for you to believe that you do your job correctly. And your only desire is to pass on that knowledge and experience to me so that I will also be capable of doing your job. Do you think it’s worth your time to train me if I respond to you with “I know for a fact that you’re training me wrong”???

Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’ve spotted a way to do your job more efficiently, or perhaps I already have relevant experience that doesn’t line up with your instructions. But you’d expect me to demonstrate the difference between my methods and yours and prove that my method is better. If I’m simply acting close-minded and unwilling to accept the information that you’re providing, then I’m wasting your time. To say with conviction and certainty “I know you’re wrong” doesn’t prove anything or resolve the difference of opinion. You’d be presenting me with useful information, but I’ve rendered it useless because I refuse to use it – or as the bible puts it, your wisdom is like “pearls before swine”.

I’m trying to put you in my shoes. I want you to know what it’s like to spend the time on a lesson, but to have it rejected offhand just because the person you’re instructing doesn’t accept that you could possibly know what you’re talking about. I want you to feel the frustration of trying to train someone, only to be told “people that I trust told me that you’re wrong.” Or “you’d be happier and more fulfilled doing it my way”. Or “you think you know everything”.

Can you picture this? Do you understand how it feels to be ridiculed, slandered, or dismissed when you try to pass on your wisdom to someone who doesn’t want it? It’s like trying to explain to a child why they have to eat their peas. You wish that the child would trust you, but the child is immune to reason. You can only keep feeding that child peas and hoping for the best.

Now I’m not saying for certain that you know how to do your job (or in the obvious parallel, that my blogs are always correct). But the proper response is to explain why it’s wrong, and that explanation involves evidence. Personal certainty isn’t convincing to anyone. To say “I know it’s true because I believe it’s true” is the ultimate circular argument, and even kids know “because I said so” is a stupid explanation. This is the absurd logic behind faith. Faith is nothing more than admitting that your belief is based on nothing more than belief and being satisfied with that. It may satisfy you, but to everyone else it just sounds stubborn. “You can’t train me. I know everything I’ll ever need to know.”

I don’t care as much about what you believe as why you believe it. People believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, or that they’ve seen Bigfoot, or that they remember past lives. There are people who have been to seances and they have faith that they’ve spoken to the dead. It doesn’t mean they’ve talked to dead people, it just means they’ve been deceived. People are, by nature, easily deceived. The only protection against this is reason based on evidence.

Imagine a world where religious belief wasn’t based on faith. Wouldn’t it be satisfying if religion worked as easily as your toaster? You put bread in, push down the handle, and in a few minutes you get toast. There’s little room for argument about whether or not toasters make toast – the answer comes in a reliable fashion and with reliable timing. Imagine if you could pray “God, give that atheist Supernova proof of your existence” and I suddenly received a stone tablet with God’s phone number and email address on it. Wouldn’t that be satisfying? And yet it doesn’t happen.

There are Muslims praying to Allah right now. They have faith in their religion’s truth. They believe that their prayers are answered, and not because they see actual results, but because they have faith that their prayers are answered. It should be obvious that their prayers are ineffective – after all, they aren’t really praying to anyone – and yet they don’t see the lack of results. Faith is a barrier to understanding, and a hurdle to learning. Do you get “toaster” answers to your prayers, or do you interpret the answers through faith? Does faith keep you from seeing the answer right in front of your eyes? The Muslims are blinded by faith. Are you? Yes, you. Don’t excuse it, don’t deny it, and don’t put your faith in me. You can think for yourself. Test it for real and trust the results.

-Supernova


Christians Live Like There Is No God

I’m ashamed of Christians for not replying to my posts, and even more ashamed that they don’t confront me with efforts to convert. After all, doesn’t the bible say that its believers are to do exactly that, preach to the unbelieving? Time and time again I’ve expressed both a lack of belief in the bible as well as a willingness to discuss whether God exists with anyone who disagrees with me. And time and time again nobody bothers to take me up on this challenge.

In a new video by TheThinkingAtheist entitled “The Dinner Party”, a man falls over with a heart attack and the rest of the people at the party gather around him to pray for his health. This is a satire aimed at the fact that such a thing doesn’t happen… when Christians are pressed to depend on either God or medical science, they depend on science and give the credit to God. Isn’t prayer supposed to be more dependable and cheaper? Why would a believer ever go to the hospital when they have the power of prayer? Because, when they’re honest, they don’t believe that prayer has power.

In the same way, Christians don’t challenge me to debate because they’ll be embarrassed and (worse) they won’t change my mind. It’s true, they’re not likely to change my mind. I’ve heard all the arguments before, and I know the replies. The Christians I know aren’t even aware of the atheist arguments (even though I post them here repeatedly) and never have a ready answer for them. I do more research and study than my opponents, and that’s why I debate better. Not having God on my side doesn’t hinder my success, and having God “working through them” makes me think that God isn’t so great at debate, either.

I became an atheist when I realized that God’s power didn’t change a thing. There was a time when I desperately wanted to be sin-free, and despite my best efforts, coupled with prayer and strong will, I couldn’t accomplish it. If it’s clearly God’s will that I should be free from sin, and if my free will isn’t hindering God’s attempts to rid me of sin, then why would I still sin? Because God’s power wasn’t even part of the equation.

If Christians lived like there was a God, as I did, they’d quickly become disappointed with life and filled with doubt. And that, I suppose, is why they don’t.

-Supernova

P.S. Really, I’m always open for debate, even if you just want to test an argument for “This is Why God Exists”.  By testing it on me, I can tell you the weaknesses of the argument and you can become better at debating your case. Just put your ego aside, the one that tells you personally “there’s no response to such a strong argument”, and give it a try. If you want to debate me privately, my email address is starcrash6984@gmail.com. I can always make the time to reply to a reader.


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