Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mike Licona's demon haunted world

I know it's old news, but I want to comment on Mike Licona's interview with Luke Muelhauser. To anyone who hasn't watched the interview,  here is a link to it. To anyone who has watched it, watch it again. Watch it as many times as you need to until you get the joke in the title. Anyways, the reason I urge the viewer to watch this interview is not because of what it directly says- but because of what it indirectly says about the Resurrection and Christians in general. There is a specific point in the interview where Luke mentions the Hallucination hypothesis as a viable naturalistic explanation for the resurrection appearances. Mike Licona dismisses them instantly, as he believes that Hallucinations, as subjective projections, cannot explain away the visions to multiple people. Than, later in the interview, Luke mentions examples of events believed to be hallucinations, of which were experienced by multiple people, such as the Marian apparitions, and the dancing sun at Fatima. He presses Licona to explain them away in a reasonable manner. Than, it hits the fan for Licona, as he literally shoots his own foot in his answer.

So, what is his answer, you may ask? Well- he says that he doesn't know. He also states that, unlike a naturalist, he is open to supernatural explanations. Now this attitude seemed to really confuse me. I mean, I agree with the first part of his answer- I agree that we can be agnostic about these claims since we really don't know much about them. However, words cannot describe how much I disagree with him on his second point. Why does an event with an unknown cause have to be supernatural? How can you possibly make that judgement? And even if one is open to the supernatural, what would a supernatural hypothesis look like. Let's just say for arguments sake that our supernatural Hypothesis would be "God did it". Well, does that fit well with our evidence? For example, why would God cause sightings of the Virgin Mary if Protestant Christianity is the correct division (as Licona believes). Also, Why the hell would he make the sun dance around in the sky. Even if we further posit that we could never understand God's reason, it still seems to me like the explanation "gawdidit" is ad-hoc at best.

So, How does Licona avoid this problem? Easy- he uses a magicians trick called misdirection. He mentions a scary story about a demon that tried to strangle his friend because he was proclaiming the word of God. Now, how could a skeptic explain that away without recourse to a miracle, you may ask? Well, to be honest, I don't have a clue. It could be a hallucinatory experience, for all I know. After all, none of the Christian turned Muslims saw the event. A bigger issue to me, however, is how such a remarkable event could completely slip past the news. If that were to have happened, surely someone would have written about it. I mean, JP Moreland has no problem sharing his experience- why not this guy? Even if us hardheaded atheists were to ignore it, surely paranormal investigators would be all over it! Now, I am fully aware that this is an argument from silence- but honestly, this is a very damning silence that can't be ignored. All we have is the bear claim it happened by just one person- and that's really un-incredible evidence if you ask me.

Now, lets go back to the dancing sun and Marian apparitions; except this time, lets humour Licona and consider the demon hypothesis. Now, why would a demon want to fool people into seeing the blessed virgin Mary? Perhaps, as some Protestants like Ray Comfort believe (here), Catholics are so un-christian, they are comparable to Mormons- and likewise will not be saved. If that were the case, the Devil would be tricking believers into going to hell- kinda like how the Bible claims Satan will deceive many by "appearing as an angel of light". This explanation seems possible- although still I don't find it convincing at all. Considering that most Christians are Catholics, it seems silly to believe that God's plan would involve them being damned for all eternity alongside us atheists, wouldn't it? And yes, the Marian apparitions bring it's recipients closer to Catholicism, not Protestantism, so they never get that sacred "born again experience" so necessary for salvation (check this out for more). And last but not least, Demons have no reason to cause the sun to dance around in the sky supernaturally, as if that needs spelling out. So, it seems to me that an appeal to naturalistic explanations may be quite justifiable- and maybe even preferable in some circumstances to supernatural explanations like these ones

More thoughts on the Shroud of Turin

This stupid peice of Linen has caused me much stress lately. Although I still don't buy it, I would certainly like a straight answer on how the hell it came into being. It seems to me that there are two camps- those that think it was created by a body, and those who think it was created by an artist. Both parties seem plausible to the layman at first- but once you do a lot of research, things get a bit murkier. For one thing, the shroud advocates have to deal with the initial 1988 Carbon dating tests on the shroud which proved that it was created in the middle ages. Even William Lane Craig admits that the initial Carbon dating is a problem here.

"I think one can’t say that the shroud is authentic. You would need to have those tests somehow shown to be erroneous. Apart from those tests, the signs of authenticity on the shroud are quite remarkable."

They also have to come up with some fairly empty theories as to how the shroud could've actually made it from ancient Jerusalem into the hands of  the french crusader Geoffroi de Charny in 1353-1357. On the other hand, critics need to figure out how to create a perfect replica of the shroud- and so far they haven't (although they may have gotten close, see here ).

So, how the hell could such a conflict exist, you may ask? In a world of science, we should already have the answers to this conundrum, right? However, there is one point we need to consider, one that shroud supporters and deniers will agree with me on: that the Vatican is not allowing scholars to study the Shroud of Turin enough. Indeed, this whole controversy could end tommorow if the Vatican were to just let some more scholars re-date the damn thing. Then, we can all finally go home. Of course, I am still agnostic on whether the Shroud is authentic or not- but I tend to lean towards it being a hoax- for at least the re-creations of the shroud are getting better. Plus, even if it is authentic, so what? Many false messiahs were crucified back in the day. Surley one of them went through the physical conditions necessary for the shroud to develop, right? For some more brain food, check out this link here. It leads to an article reviewing a documentary on the subject called "Remaking the Shroud". I will try to find a link to the film online for you all to watch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So the Shroud of Turin is just a hoax, right?

Well, I really don't know anymore. It's common knowledge that in 1988 the artifact known as the Shroud of Turin was carbon dated to be created in between 1260–1390 AD, with 95% confidence, by an elite group of scientists. What seems to be unnoticed by the skeptical community and by many Christians, however, is that the infamous medieval dating of the Turin shroud has actually been disputed. Some scientists, mostly believers, now believe that the real age of the shroud is unknown, and that it is probably somewhere between 1300-3000 years old. Apologists rejoiced, as this new dating now made it at least possible that the Shroud really did once cover Jesus' body. But for skeptics, that doesn't help the Christian case much, as that still gives us 1699 other possible years for the shroud to have been produced- if indeed the tests were erroneous, which I and many scientists don't believe. Most certainly, a secondary argument needs to be mounted to establish that the Turin shroud is authentic- and that case is also an interesting and equally under-appreciated one.

Believers in the Shroud will have a plethora of arguments to appeal to- although I personally find only three of them persuasive. The first one is that the Turin shroud is unlike anything we've ever seen. They will point out the disturbing fact that nobody has ever replicated it in perfect detail. This argument is only half true though- scientists have created similar replicates using primitive medieval tools- but nothing that is EXACTLY the same. It's an argument from silence, but I guess that's better than nothing.

The second argument is that is that the image on the shroud of Turin must have come from a corpse; although once again other scientists deny this (see this article). The third argument is that, in conjunction with the second argument, the figure on the shroud has very similar injuries to the historical Jesus- so it couldn't have belonged to anyone else. For example, it has head injuries that look like they were caused by a crown of thorns. The body also appears to have remained under the sheet for very little time, as the shroud contains no traces of decay. Also, they will point out that if the shroud were removed from the body in a conventional manner, the blood stains would have looked slightly different. For more information of these arguments, check out Gary Habermas' article here.

Well- there are many ways a Skeptic can retain their skepticism even if they do accept the validity of the above arguments. For starters, some shroud scientists believe that there are theories as to how the image could have gotten into the shroud in a purely naturalistic way. For more information, I would recommend these articles from Raymond Rogers, a popular, pro-authentic scholar of the Shroud of Turin here, here and here. Secondly, if the shroud's image is proven to be from a corpse, I can only guess at why the figure seems to resemble the biblical depiction of Jesus. Perhaps it is from Jesus after all (although the image got there in a naturalistic way). perhaps the shroud was stolen off another corpse, that suffered a similar fate to Jesus. Other shroud supporters have pointed this out (see the bottom of the page here). Or perhaps, as many have suggested, the whole thing is a hoax, and we've wasted our time. I don't have a clue as to how a naturalist can prove the Shroud of Turin is inauthentic; but then again, most shroud advocates admit that they likewise cannot prove that it is authentic. As Dan Porter, owner of a pro-authenticity website states (in this article):
"About 100 scientists, archaeologists and historians representing a broad spectrum of Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Protestants, Evangelical Christians and non-Christians attended the conference. Most are academics.  Many are retired and have time to devote to many hours to the study of the shroud. Almost all believe at some level that the shroud is genuine, even if they cannot prove it."
So I suppose all we can do now is sit back and watch the Skeptics and Believers duke it out, as they always do

Dale Allison's article on the Resurrection

Published in the Journal Philosophia Christi three years ago, this article is very hard to come by- but totally worth it if you haven't read it yet. It is a written response to two articles also published in Philosophia Christi, one be Gary Habermas and one by William Lane Craig. It produces, in my opinion, the very best case for skepticism since the book "Resurrecting Jesus" (also written by Allison). If you haven't read it yet, get your hands on a copy and read it! You will thank yourself later. I can get you a copy of Allison's article if you email me at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: An Overview of the Hallucination Hypothesis

In order to get my new blog up and running, I decided to start a new Web series called "Resurrection Sundays". Every Sunday, I will explore a little piece of the evidence in support of the Resurrection and see if it really holds as much weight as Christians claim it does. Also, to all you Christians out there, I am NOT claiming that I'm debunking the Resurrection. I am merely seeing if alternative scenarios are at least possible.

The Hallucination Hypothesis is actually a very old hypothesis that has been around since the very beginning of Biblical studies. It posits that the post-mortem visions of Jesus could have been perfectly natural hallucinations. It was popularised by the great biblical scholar and theologian  David Strauss, and enjoyed a long life in academia until the latter half of the 20th century, when the secular alternatives to the resurrection began to be rejected. However, very recently these alternative theories have resurfaced and are once again being critically challenged.

Recent defenses of the Hallucination Theory can be found in the works of Gerd Ludemann and the late Michael Goulder. However, the best defense of the theory can be found in Dale Allison's book Resurrecting Jesus (2005). Although a Christian, Allison believes that the Resurrection appearances can be plausibly explained away as a part of a wider phenomena- apparitions of the dead. Whether they are veridical or not, this data seems to indicate that people can experience visions of the recently deceased, and that these visions often appear very physical in nature. Regardless of whether you find this theory persuasive, it is a must read for anyone interested in the Resurrection. Indeed, even famed apologist William Lane Craig admits in his review of Allison's book that:

"I’ve never seen a better presentation of the case for scepticism about Jesus’ resurrection than in Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus:  The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York:  T. & T. Clark, 2005). He’s far more persuasive than Crossan, L├╝demann, Goulder, and the rest who actually deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. "

So, if you are interested in the Hallucination Hypothesis, I would suggest reading Dale Allisons book Resurrecting Jesus. Than, I would suggest reading William Lane Craig's two reviews of the book here and here, as well as Gary Habermas' review here. Finally, try to get your hands on a copy of Dale Allisons own essay further defending his views called "The Resurrection of Jesus and rational apologetics". Email me if you if you want a copy of it here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

About me and my blog

I don't know about you, but whenever I visit a blog for the first time ever, I usually look for a short biography of the person running the blog. So, I hope this post will satisfy your curiosity.

My name is Andrew Scicluna. I have recently graduated from college and now have the rest of my working life to look foward to. I like to chat about atheism, so I made a blog dedicated to it. Just keep in mind that I am by no means a professional philosopher, scientist or Historian. I am a layman; and I blog exclusivley from a laymans perspective. However, just because I'm not an expert doesn't mean I can't turn to the relevant experts for answers, right? And indeed, I do this very often- for I value truth above all else.  However, I have come to the conclusion that not every atheist sees things from my perspective.
I spend a lot of my free time trying to understand why Theists reject Atheism- and the common responses to these attacks. For example, usually Theists argue against Naturalism, and than claim that since naturalism isn't true, only Theism can be true. I find this reasoning to be strange, since according to the recent Phil Papers survey, there are actually more atheists that don't call themselves naturalists than there are Theists in professional philosophy.

However, some Atheists are only interested in atheistic apologetics- like the works of the "Four Horseman", or the most recent publication from Prometheus Books. They think religion is poison, that Jesus never existed, and other silly ideas that most intellectual Atheists try to distance themselves from. These people are usually called the "New Atheists". They have garnered much criticism for their lack of understanding when it comes down to Philosophy, Theology and History, and have attracted several Apologetic responses. Now don't get me wrong- these atheists have done some good. They have probably inspired more people to "come out" with their atheistic beliefs than anyone else- even the patron saint of Atheism Bertrand Russell. However, they have also been a constant embarrassment to me- and to many other Atheists. For even Philosopher Michael Ruse admits in his endorsement of "The Dawkins Delusion":

"... "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why." (Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University )"

So, if you agree with me that Atheists should be more intellectually responsible, than this is your site! However, if you think that Acharya S is a serious historian, than maybe not.