Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy new years

Just a quick, belated happy new years to my readers. I'll have to start regularly posting soon, won't I?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Miracle apologists

I don't have a clue at what the hell this guy is talking about. The only people who take miracle claims seriously are Parapsychologists- and it as a discipline has been on the decline since the 80's. Plus, even if we were to include their findings as evidence for the supernatural, we'd have to deal with contradictory claims that seem to be incompatible, such as Reincarnation and NDE's. Plus, many Paranormal enthusiasts cite angel encounters as evidence for new age beliefs, and don't even believe in exorcisms.

Anyways, out of curiosity, I visited the website they were affiliated with to check out some of their miracles claims. I'll admit, they have some interesting claims. I found this one in particular somewhat impressive, but that's about it. As usual, they put heavy emphasis on healing miracles and miracles from third world countries. In the end, I felt like I wasted my time. But then I had a valuable revelation. If these Religious miracles are so great, why hasn't anyone bothered to carefully document them. For christsake, the recipients of the supposed "miracles" would pretty much write it down for you themselves (or orate it if they're illiterate). Christians love miracle stories- especially in Charismatic denominations. All the missionaries would have to do is store the documents they receive in a sort of encyclopedia.

After that, we could subject these claims to all sorts of scientific tests. We could tell, for instance, whether the rate of miracle cures matches the rate of spontaneous remissions. We could tell whether or not most angelic encounters occur when the recipient is in a hypnogenic state. Hell, if we increase our efforts we can at least get some insight on the psychological profiles of these miracle recipients. All these miracle apologists have to do is organise their resources a little better. Just some paper and tape recorders should suffice. A few digital cameras wouldn't hurt either. They could really give a skeptic like me a run for his money- if, that is, these miracles really are going on everywhere.

Suddenly, I had another thought- what if the miracle claims just aren't that impressive. Maybe eyewitness testimony is more rare than apologists lead on. Maybe healing don't happen at an abnormal rate. Maybe a part of them knows that, if they try to organise, they will be wasting time and money. Or perhaps not- after all, Craig keener recently released a book documenting modern day miracles. I have heard of some rather impressive miracle claims myself just by using the Internet. For example, here are two cases in which a person not only claimed to have had witnessed a deceased person, but also were given a service by them.

A skeptic could say that these two cases were strange coincidences coupled with theistic expectations and invented memories as the experiencers retold their story. In the first case, the pastor may have just assumed the taxi driver was the father due to his emotional investment- for all we know, he could've been a family friend, or a bystander who had heard of the story and wanted to do a kind deed. Even more humorously, the cab driver could've given the preacher the wrong room number, causing him to enter another childs room instead. Perhaps in the second case, the mother merely told the doctors the name of the wrong hospital. After all, how well could she have known it if she wasn't aware that it closed? Or, again, it could've simply been a matter of getting dates wrong. What if the hospital closed down and the nurse died only a few days after the child used it, and a few days before the kid went to the hospital? I mean, most stiches are removed ten days after they are added- more than the "couple days" the man claimed. It seems a little far out to claim that 2 years may have been 2 days, and several months may have have been several days, but I'm just saying it's a possibility. Besides, this account came from when the man was 8 years old- hardly a reliable source.

Any of these alternate theories is certainly possible. It's just a shame that the recepeints never give us strong enough evidence. They never mention how long they spent looking for the Taxi driver after he "vanished", or whether the mother returned to the clinic and discovered it was, in fact, closed. Miracle apologists just never inculde important details like these- they just assume they re correct. And this really irritated me. So, in conclusion, I think it would be very interesting to see more apologists do what Craig Keener did and document these phenomenal events. I seriously doubt they will- but I hope they at least try,

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas and the Virgin Birth

I apologise for being late, but merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays to you all! This year, I got to enjoy spending Christmas eve in a Pentecostal church watching a (rather bad) Nativity play. While I was watching it, I was thinking about the Virgin Birth- a topic I hadn't really put much thought into. I mean, it is one of the most Theologically important parts of the bible, yet it appears in only two Gospels. Plus, to make matters worse, there are quite considerable discrepancies between the two accounts. Today, I was planning on doing a post on why I didn't believe in the Virgin birth. However, as I began typing, I started asking myself "why"?  I'll put it this way: even Robert Turkell doesn't think he can prove it. If you ask me, that's pretty good evidence against it's historicity.

Now, Skeptics and Religious Liberals have always used an array of arguments to undermine it's literal history. Likewise, Conservatives usually retaliate with some sort of "you can't say it didn't happen" shtick. In the end, neither side gets any closer to the truth of the matter. Want to see what I mean- here is an example.

A popular argument against the virgin birth is that it only appears in two of the Gospels. Conservatives argue that, because each of the stories were intended for a specific audience, blah blah blah. If you want to see an example of a Conservative answer, you can find one from JP Holding here. Now, I can understand certain miracles not being mentioned for this reason, but not one as significant Virgin Birth! By this logic, should we be surprised that the Resurrection was included, considering that everyone already knew about it? Furthermore, I don't think it really explains why Paul never mentioned it, even when he was evangelising. I am no Pauline scholar- but I am highly skeptical of anyone who puts politics before evidence of the miraculous. After all, the Gospels do include a particular story of women finding a particular empty tomb, remember?

As we can see, they are arguing that the Virgin birth possibly happened, not probably. They will say that, because so much of the Gospels are reliable, we ought to believe the parts in which there is little evidence, even when we'd expect more. But this is clearly pulling the cart before the horse! These stories should indicate the exact opposite- that we should be less trusting of our source, because they are willing to include things so obviously false! Anyways, at the end of Holdings essay, he makes an interesting and revealing remark.
"Objections against the validity of the virgin birth are based mostly on preconcieved notions - in the main, that the miraculous is impossible. There is no reason, other than pre-conceived notions, to reject it as historical; and to be fair, no reason other than own's own perceptions to accept it as such. It simply depends on our starting point.
The reason I point this out isn't because of his spelling error (the "E" goes after the "I" in Preconceived). No, I point this out to show the reader what this is really about- that we atheists don't believe in miracles. It's never about whether or not their is sufficient evidence- it's just about having a philosophical prejudice against them. Now, I'll be the first person to admit that the Resurrection is usually denied due to philosophical prejudice. However, I hardly see how this relates to miracles like the zombies of Matt 27, of which there is no confirmatory evidence for. This just seems to me to be philosophical prejudice against Naturalism.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Creation-Evolution debate summed up in 30 minutes

It's pretty hard to find in-depth Creation-Evolution debates online. Serious scientists usually ignore creationists, believing them to be unworthy of their time. Sadly, Creationists have mistaken this silence as a sign that they have somehow won. Fortunatley, we still have some fine chaps like this guy to stick it to them! Plus he's Canadian :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens- an Obituary

Yes, I know- pretty much every atheist blogger has done a post on the death of Christopher Hitchens. I've been resisting the urges to write a post about it- but I cant help but share a few thoughts. I have to admit, I've seen very little of Hitches work. As many of my readers will know, I have never been a big fan of the new atheists or the new atheism movement. They are frequently criticised for not fully understanding the doctrines they criticise, for their rudeness, etc. And I agree with some of the criticism aimed at the new atheist movement. For instance, I really wish they'd stop supporting Jesus mythicism as a position on the Historical Jesus. I also wish that they'd be more specific when they accuse believers of having blind faith. While the majority of pew dwellers are guilty of the charge, it doesn't apply to the believers who think arguments for Theism work.

So as one can imagine, when I heard of Hitches death, I felt very strange. Here is a man who I hardly even knew, but meant so much to so many atheists. I enjoyed his book on Mother Teresa and his heat filled debates on such political issues as the separation between church and state, the war in Iraq, etc. He was a fantastic writer, simultaneously hilarious and serious, unlike any one else I had ever read. It's just too bad I never really appreciated his work before he died.

This whole year has been a strange one for us atheists. We've had to cope with the deaths of Pulliam and TG Baker, two of the smartest Internet atheists on the web. And the bad news doesn't stop there. Turns out I have a mild form of OCD- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I've always known this, but I never did anything about it since the urges were small and manageable. However, several months ago, they started to interfere with my life. I won't share the details of the affair with you, but I will say this- if you think you may have OCD, check it out and don't wait 6 months like I did for it to get alot worse. And don't feed small habits either. They can get pretty out of control.

So, this has turned out to be a pretty lousy Christmas. Of course, as a wise man once said, it always gets darkest before the dawn... and the dawn is coming.

The wise man that said that is Batman.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Andyman409: Miracle detective- 3 demons, an angel and Satan himself

Yeah, I know. I've written so many posts about the Paranormal I'd might as well make an entire series devoted to debunking them. So, here is my brand new series, Andyman409: Miracle Detective. It will not be periodical like Resurrection Sundays, but it will occasionally appear.

Todays story (here) is about a guy who calls himself Tassadar who claims to have spoken with 3 demons, an angel and Satan himself. He claims that the demons told something he couldn't have possibly known- their names. You see, they were named Cefwyn and Tiskrel- which are the names of two satanic princes according to the Catholic church. He also mentions that the demon made a Holocaust reference "Kristenalcht was only the beginning" (Kristenalcht being the first Jews to be gassed), but never states that he could've have known it, so I don't really count it as evidence. Anyways, after analysing the case he made, I have come to a conclusion: this guy is either extremely gullible, extremely crazy, or both. In a later post  specified one of his visions:
"Yeah dude but it wasn't an alter ego because like the 3rd demon that visited me visited me at 3:15 when i was at a park by myself an he tried to get me to go to the Jewish Community Center and give some of the kids a ride home... He even took me there and showed me the kids and at least 20 minutes must've passed while we were arguing over theological issues.. Like I asked him why he defied God because he must've known it wouldn't work. and he/it said "I had faith my Lord Lucifer, The Prince of Your World" I made a mistake by threatening him 'cuz i lost my temper and started cussing him out and he showed me 30 ways he could kill my family and friends and i got really angry and told him "In the name of my Lord and your Creator Jesus Christ of Nazareth leave this place and never return" Again, like Tiskrel, I never saw him again but i didn't get his name... definetly a Cheribum though, four wings and a big sword. The freaky thing is that after all fo that it was still 3:15 and i was sitting under the same tree at the same park and no time had passed and instantly i had this giant memory, i ran home, wrote it down and called up my pastor.. WE talked for liek 3 hrs. thatz it 4 that time"
Funny he should mention that bit about no time passing at all. This is exactly what we'd expect if he'd just been dreaming, wouldn't it? Elaborating on the dream hypothesis, we also know that this guy saw Satan himself and the angel during the same night, so it seems possible that these two cases were the result of either lucid dreaming or Sleep Paralysis induced hallucinations.

Of course, another explanation could be that his Youth Pastor did what many Psychoanalysts do and made him recall fictitious memories. We have much precedent for memories of UFO abductions to be "created" by the patient, due to the influence of the Psychologist. Now, I suppose if we knew what he had actually written down, it would help us alot; and luckily enough, he did promise his readers that he'd write it down. But he didn't- and I searched the whole damn site using their search engine too (just type in "Tassadar" and see for yourself).

Although this explanation covers the first experience, it doesn't do much to explain his other appearances. That's why I hesitantly lean towards a different hypothesis- that he is insane. It doesn't make me happy to make such an accusation, but I feel I must. I mean, his writing style and bizzare attitude towards the events is certainly evidence in favor of the crazy hypothesis. Also, the private nature of the revelations and the distances in between them also adds to my suspicions that this guy is just a loon. His episodes seem like those of a schizophrenic- they just kinda come and go, and never really personally effect him. The details and stuff he "couldn't of known" could be the things his priest "suggested" that he saw, later causing him to believe them. I mean, the only ones he mentions are the demons names. For all I know, the Youth Pastor could've been familiar with the names, suggesting them to Tassadar, and only later asking his Vatican friends to verify them. Obviously I can't prove that he's insane- but I can point out that, throughout this conversation, he never once mentioned seeing a Psychologist. He just says "btw im not crazy lol" once, and expects us to take him at his word. He also briefly stated that he was also "into the the hwole destroy the NWO and kill the aliens thing"- make of that what you will.

Of course, we don't have to go to this extreme. It's also possible that all of his encounters were just the result of false memories being recalled in a similiar manner to those of alien abductees. Personally, I think a bit of both were involved, mixed in with a bit of a hyper active imagination. Sadly, we'll never know for sure, for he gives out no contact information. All I can say is that this doesn't even match our standards for ordinary evidence, much less extraordinary evidence.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Happy birthday to me!

Firstly, I'd like to apologise once again for the empty space in my blog. It's Christmas season, and I've found it very hard to find time to blog in between my video games and Christmas shopping. I'd also like to apologise for not doing any posts on the Divinity of Christ of the Old Testament. I promise I'll do some posts on them after Christmas. Anyways, for those that didn't know, today is my birthday. Typically, I don't celebrate my Birthday that much. Actually, if it were up to me, I wouldn't celebrate it at all! I know it must sound alien to you but trust me- having a birthday close to Christmas sucks. Everyone is stressed out from Christmas shopping and you always get the shitty gifts that weren't good enough to go under the tree.

Today, however, was a very different Birthday. My brothers and two other friends decided to do some drinking. We don't drink often, but when we do, we like to experiment. This time, we tried out Jagger-bombs. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell was I thinking! I didn't feel the intoxicating effects of the Alcohol, so I kept drinking, thinking that I'd eventually get drunk. Well, my body never quite did get drunk, but my head certainly did. During the party, I hollard like a maniac, play fought, and even broke my friends $30 wooden katana by swinging it like a madman (Yes, I know a bit about sword fighting). In my intoxicated state, I agreed to pay for the Pizza's and some of the alcohol; if you include the compensation for the sword I broke, I spent almost $100! We did a few other things too- but I'm not going to share them with you... ever.

Anyways, when I got back at 1:00 AM, I crashed and immediately fell asleep. 3 hours later, I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling like a truck hit me, and having this horrible feeling of dread around me, like an evil spirit was trying to possess me. I tried to remember what happened, but I could only recall a little bit- mostly the stuff I didn't share with you. I've never had a hangover before- but it didn't seem like one based on what I've read on them.

Why am I sharing this story with you. Simple- because, at that very moment in time while I was lying in bed- I started wondering whether there was a God or not. I remembered JP Morelands angel encounter, and was wondering whether that counted as evidence in the affirmative. Than I was wondering whether Satan was behind the party. Interestingly, all my friends and brothers are Atheists and Agnostics, despite the fact that we attended Catholic school. During the party, we started talking about Religion- something we don't talk about much, and all publicly denounced it. Later on, I called my friend Satan, my Brother Screwtape, and myself Beezlebub. Later on, one of my friends started questioning whether Jesus even existed, much to my dismay. Needless to say, It was the most sacrilegious night I've ever had.

Now, I don't know why I felt so strange after waking up. A part of me wants to say it was just the Alcohol- but I think that's too simplistic. Perhaps there's a psychological reason why I still felt accountable for my actions while I lied there in bed. Perhaps it's as a result of being conditioned to feel guilty when I do bad things. Perhaps my brain was trying to make sense of a phenomena it had never experienced before. After all, I've never had a hangover. I suppose I'll never know what happened to me last night. It's just a pity that, unlike my party debts, the experience went away.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Should I send an email to JP Moreland?

I've been thinking quite a bit about whether or not I should send JP Moreland an email, to find out whether the details of his miracle story are accurate. Many skeptics (myself included) have suggested that he simply misremembered what the old woman claimed she saw. I mean, according to Morelands own account of the events (pages 155-156), the student was the first person to explain what he saw (3 angels, 1 taller one at the back and two at the sides). It seems like, if Moreland were to have experienced a faulty recall, it would have been at this exact moment. He would have taken the students report, and molded his memories of the old woman to match it. I mean, he WAS expecting a miracle, right?

So, as long as Moreland's report is accurate, this naturalistic explanation should explain away the miracle. The only problem is, I don't know if his report is accurate. It's quite clear by the way Moreland tells his story that he knows little about the power of suggestion and memory. If he did, he'd try to counter critics such as myself. But he doesn't. So, for all I know, there may crucial details he didn't mention that make his case a lot stronger.

However- there's still a catch. If I were to question Moreland on the details of his story, he may just end up just altering his memories to suit my demands! I know it sounds cynical of me, but I noticed that in his Closer to the truth interview, he said the angels stuck around for 10-15 minutes. However, in his book, he said they lasted 5-10 minutes. Contrary to what some of you may believe, this makes a big difference in determining whether regular hallucinations can account for the event. If the student reported that the vision was 5-10 minutes in length, was can reduce it to about 1-3 minutes, due to exaggeration/inability to perfectly record time, etc. But, If the vision were 15 minutes long, stretching it this much may look unrealistic. Details like this need to be sorted out if we want to come up with a conclusion as to whether this event really was miraculous or not.

So readers, do you think I should carry out this crazy plan? Do you think it will matter? Any feedback- positive or negative is appreciated.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What I'm up to now

I haven't been up to much lately. I had a great conversation with Kevin Brown (AKA Diglotting) on miracles that you can follow here. Turns out his experiences and my own were almost one and the same! For anyone that wants to know about my own strange experiences, I blogged about it here. I'm not sure which one of use had the stranger claims; I mean, my mom heard voices and smelled cooking on a few occasions! But than again, Kevin's experiences audio manifestations while awake, while I did not. What I found most fascinating, however, was that we had the exact same phobia of the dark and horrible dreams afterwards, which we both associated with our experiences in the house. The main difference between us was that my phobia gradually went away, while his went away all at once during his "born again" experience. Anyways, I hope to hear from him in a few months, when he's back from his vacation. It seems like, apart from the veridicality of our experiences, we agree on pretty much everything else!

In other news- I look forward to seeing Halliquist review Keeners book on miracles. Don't know how he got the idea to review it *cough cough me*, but I'm happy he did. Halliquist is popular in Atheist circles. When he reviews the book, it'll get a lot more attention from other skeptics, who will hopefully also take a closer look at it and Africa miracles in general. Also, I'd like to thank the commenter Rick for reminding me of the book. For some reason, the first time I heard about it, I just didn't care to probe it. Sorry, but Keener is a biblical scholar- not a Psychologist. He may know a bit about memory and the value of testimony, but not about hysteria, delusions, hallucinations, etc.

Finally, I'd like to say a few words on behalf of the late Tommy Baker. I never mentioned him on this blog- but I did read his posts, and even talked to him a few times. He was a smart guy who really did help raise the quality of Loftus' blog with his posts. Even though I disagreed with him on the Historical Jesus (he was a minimalist; I'm a moderate), I still found his posts very interesting. However, the thing I admired most about him was his dedication to informing the Skeptical movement.

This may seem random, but let me share a story with you. When I first started attending the Mississauga free thought association- I found that there were only three Philosophers. I asked one of them, an Epistemologist, why this was. He said he didn't know. I suggested that they, perhaps, didn't want to be associated with the New Atheist movement. He laughed affirmingly. It's sad, but many smart guys just don't care enough to blog or wrte about Atheism. This causes problems since, well, anyone with eyes can tell that there are far more apologetic books and blogs than skeptical ones. I remember when I first started to investigate the historical Jesus- I had to sift through tons of credulous apologists before I could find even a few skeptics like Carrier and Price- and even longer to find skeptics that were actually respected by scholars, like Vermes and Ludemann.

People like Tommy and Loftus are invaluable to the Atheism movement since, quite frankly, most Internet Atheists are uncritical and credulous. They need someone to at least point them in the direction of good arguments for and against Christianity. Now, as aforementioned- I disagree with them sometimes- but that doesn't matter. What matters is that they are at least trying- and I think that alone is commendable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

An open letter to Kevin Brown (AKA: Diglotting)

A while ago, I ran into a post from Kevin Brown (AKA: Diglotting) where he reviewed Loftus' book The End of Christianity. During the review, he stated that he experienced a genuine miracle. Intrigued, I scrolled down into the comments to look at the specifics. Sadly, Kevin didn't really say anything specific about it, other than that he and his family had "visual and audio manifestations of the same entity". When I first read this, I thought he said "at the same time". He did not. So I commented a few times on his blog, hoping to find out more about his experience. After all, if multiple people really did have the same visual/audio manifestations of the same entity at the same time multiple times- I think that would be almost conclusive proof that the supernatural exists.

Anyways, I commented on his blog a few times under the alias "DarwinFish", so that I wouldn't give away my identity. I know it sounds immature, but cut me some slack! Diglotting is one of my favorite Christian Bloggers. I didn't want to potentially make an ass out of myself for asking him about something undoubtedly personal.

Anyways, Kevin didn't respond to the posts. A few days later, The review of "The End of Christianity" was removed from the "reviews" section of his homepage. This coincidence convinced me that Kevin was intentionally ignoring me- so I sent him a rude comment and than wrote up the blog post "Kevin Brown's miracle claim". A week later, however, Kevin commented on my blog, informing me that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. He ignored the first few comments because they were anonymous and looked insulting. The later ones that were more serious ended up in his spam folder, so he never read them. He also informed me that the review of "The end of Christianity" was removed from the front page since it was rotational- and he was reviewing another book.

This whole experience shocked me. I was so certain that he was ignoring me that I was willing to write a blog post about it. publicly accusing him of deceit. And why? Because of a coincidence. I know that I like my blog neat and tidy. I also know that emails and comments go into spam all the time. Hell, one of my long-time readers had the same thing happen to his comment! I guess I just put two and two together.

Anyways, To anyone that's interested, Kevin responded to my question in the comment section. I'll let the reader decide whether it constitutes as powerful evidence for the supernatural or not. I have a few ideas of how I could explain away most of the phenomena- after all, I also believed that I had lived amongst evil spirits. However, as Kevin rightly says, I wasn't there, so I can only offer possibilities at most. Fortunately, because I know at least some of the details, I can say that something else possibly happened- before I could not.

I would also like to thank Kevin for being so open about his experiences, and would like to apologize for the rude remarks. Unlike so many Atheists- I care about truth. That is why, unlike many Atheists I have ever met, I will investigate these types of claims, to see if naturalistic explanations are at least possible. I hope there are no hard feelings about this misunderstanding.