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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Straw Man: The Motion Picture (God's Not Dead)

Major Themes of this film:

  • Martyrdom
  • Martyrdom
  • Atheists are awful
  • Martyrdom
  • Muslims are awful
  • Martyrdom
  • Martyrdom
  • Academics are awful
  • Big Business people are awful
  • Oh, and Martyrdom.  Did I mention Martyrdom?
  • Actually, scratch a lot of what I said before.  Anyone who isn't Christian is awful, and some people who 'claim' to be Christians are also awful.
This movie can be summed up as 3 logical fallacies:
  • Arguments from Emotion
  • Arguments from Ignorance
  • Arguments from Authority
First, just like with the TV appearance of Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, this movie most certainly is NOT persuasive in regards to the existence of God.

Virtually every stereotype which could be played, was played.  The abusive Muslim who disowns his daughter when he learns that she is a Christian.  The scenes with the Academic crowd show them all to be vapid anti-theists.  Every student in the philosophy class, save one, simply go along with the anti-religious nature of the class.  The Atheist is just 'angry at God', the list goes on and on.

The movie is an obnoxious advertisement for the Newsboys, and to a certain extent, Duck Dynasty.  Obviously it's an advertisement for Christianity as well, but we knew that right from the start.

Philosophy 150:
Professor Radisson opens the very first class of the year by pointing out philosophers who all happened to be Atheists.  I won't bother to find out if each and every one really can be considered Atheists because it doesn't really matter.

While I realize that the movie was only supposed to be trying to portray a single example of Atheism, it is hardly surprising that the example that they chose was such a poor one.  It is even revealed later that he isn't really an Atheist at all, but we'll get to that later.  (Straw Man #1)

So on Day 1 of Philosophy 150, an introductory class filled presumably with college freshmen, the Professor decides to mandate that every student essentially declare their non-belief.  Ehh, okay, it's stretching the boundaries quite a bit, but maybe if it's just this one guy I can suspend my disbelief, so to speak.

Out of the eighty or so students in the class, exactly one person decides not to go along with it. (Straw Man #2)  Martyrdom!

Wait a minute, seriously?  I'm supposed to believe that Christians, who take up about 85% of the general population in this country, have virtually zero presence in this class?  I'm guessing that this is based on the notion that going to college 'turns you Atheist' but aren't we talking about freshmen here?

Or are we supposed to take away from this the notion that everyone else in the class is just being a sheep and going along with the Professor for the sake of the class?  Perhaps this is so, and it's certainly reinforced by the insufferable girlfriend character throughout the movie.

Either way, our 'hero' Josh is the only person who doesn't agree to go along with the Professor's evil scheme, so the Professor basically challenges him to prove the existence of God.  He threatens Josh with poor grades and ultimate failure of the class if he fails to do so.  Josh suggests that the rest of the class be the determining factor in the 'argument', and they will determine whether Josh was convincing or not.  Martyrdom!

I really want to just gloss over the relationship between Josh and whatsername (it's Kara but who really cares) because her character is just a device to keep beating the martyrdom idea into our heads.  She is the 'false Christian' of the movie, the person who appears to be Christian (they met at a youth group activity) but who continuously tells Josh to bow out of the 'debate' for the sake of his academic future.  She eventually breaks up with him, apparently at first just as more of a threat to try and get him to stop, but then for good, which I was grateful for.  There, she's no longer important (I think).

We're introduced to Reverends Dave and Jude.  Reverend Jude is a Christian missionary who has returned to the States for a vacation.  He is picked up from the airport by Reverend Dave and they are together for pretty much the rest of the movie.  Reverend Dave seems to barely tolerate the very presence of Reverend Jude for most of the movie, seeming to be uncomfortable in his presence.  I'm not sure if this was some subtle hint at something else, but I just found it annoying.  Plus, this movie is nothing but un-subtle.

I don't care about Duck Dynasty and know pretty much nothing about it, so I don't really have much to say about the brief appearances by Willie and Korie Robertson.  What I do have to say is about the portrayal of the 'journalist' character Amy.  She works for some 'left-wing' journal and is trying to...  umm..  get a comment I guess?  I'm not really sure, but it is established in the movie that basically mentioning the Duck Dynasty people was enough to get tons of coverage, so I'm guessing that is supposed to be her motivation.  Anyway, so she ambushes Willie and Korie at Generic Christian Worship Center #436 while on their way in for church.  She then proceeds to awkwardly question them about hunting.  This is when it becomes obvious that the film is completely conflating liberalism with Atheism.

Obviously, her character is established as this 'cynical atheist' journalist who is really just trying to rile people up.  (Straw Man #3)  The problem is, she's terrible at it, and the glib answers that she receives just seem to make her head whirl.  This is another common theme of this movie, that Christianity (and apparently right-wing ideals) are really just simple, down-home traditions that don't hurt anyone and that any idiot could understand and accept, if only we would just stop thinking so damn much and trying to prove everything before accepting claims which wildly diverge from the known laws of physics.

This is also done in the next scene with Josh, in the local Catholic church, where Reverend Dave drops by to share some 'wisdom'.  Their conversation, amongst other things, reinforces the idea that nobody else in his class would even step foot in a church.  Dave's advice to Josh?  Matthew 10:32-33, as well as Luke 12:48.  Martyrdom!

The movie gets around to it in it's own sweet time, but let's go ahead and take a look at it now, shall we?

Matthew 10:32-33  New International Version (NIV)
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Oooh, that's a real zinger!  Josh is seriously put on the spot right here - he can't even go along with the class without pissing off the Big Guy!

What about that Luke passage?

Luke 12:48  New International Version (NIV)
48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

That's...  weird...  I'm a little confused, can we see that in context please?
Luke 12:35-53 New International Version (NIV)
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
 Ohh!  So the passage was taken from a parable regarding the coming End, which (as all of the others) is told from the point of view that it was coming in their (the characters) lifetimes.  So the passage which Josh is reading basically means this:  The person who believes and doesn't prepare for his Master's coming will be punished harshly, but the person who has no idea what's going on and doesn't prepare for his Master's coming will be punished less severely.  It's basically just saying that you can only be (severely) punished for knowingly not preparing for the coming apocalypse, but if you just didn't know any better then you might just get the crap beaten out of you.  What does this have to do with the movie?  Seemingly nothing, but it raises an ironic point.  This is one of those passages which seems to offer a 'get out of Hell free card' for people who just have never heard the news.  If this is the case, then the last thing that Josh should do is tell everyone about Jeebus, because then they have graduated to 'severe punishment' as a best-case scenario.

That makes me really want to check out the Matthew passage in-context, just to see what might come of it.
Matthew 10:24-39  New International Version (NIV)
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Interesting.  This one actually does a pretty good job of being relevant to this movie.  Many of the ideas expressed by Jesus to his twelve disciples here are also brought to bear in the movie in some way or other.  For instance, verse 35 regarding how the teachings of Jesus will turn people against one another is shown time and time again in this movie.  It is a martyr's wet dream.  Martyrdom!

 So the journalist Amy appears in a doctor's office and the stereotyping continues in abundance.  Her phone is more important than the doctor, she has to keep responding to people absolutely immediately, et cetera and ad nauseum.  She then learns that she has cancer, so we know that she'll be converting by the end of the movie.

More uninterested Reverend Dave with his missionary companion, but this time a new story element is introduced:  The case of the mysterious engine troubles.  Dave calls for a rental and they have a laugh about how Jude doesn't know how rental car companies have worked since 2002.  'You can just call some guy and he will bring you a car?'

Phew, back to the philosophy class and to the first argument which Josh will give in support of his position.
"Atheists say that no one can prove the existence of God, and they're right".  Generalizations aside, I have a serious problem with this sentence already.  I can only speak for myself, so I will give my modified version, what Josh should have said.  "Chris Dunigan says that no one has managed to prove the existence of any God to him thus far, and he's right."

Oh shit, he wasn't done...  "...  but I say that no one can disprove that God exists."  Wrong again!  Disproving the existence of a specific God is actually pretty easy, mostly because theistic definitions tend to be sloppy, inconsistent and largely incongruous with observations of the real world.  However, it would be accurate to state that "No one can disprove the hypothetical existence of something that we would identify as a God, or divine being."  This would be correct.  However, all of this, ALL of it, is a blatant shifting of the burden of proof away from those making positive claims, namely, the existence of one or more God(s).

Ok, so Josh drops this bombshell and just plows on, and brings up Steven Weinberg's description of the Big Bang event.  He starts out by claiming that, since Weinberg is an Atheist, his statement should be free from any 'religious bias'.  An interesting tactic, but let's see the quote.
"In the beginning there was an explosion, and in 3 minutes, 98% of the matter there is or ever will be was produced."
I don't so much have a problem with the quote, although it isn't exactly scientifically accurate based on more recent developments in the field since the quote was taken, but what I do have a problem with is the video accompaniment which goes along with the quote in the movie.  It basically shows the entire universe - stars, planets, nebula, galaxies - being created at that moment.  Uhh, no.  Sorry, but it doesn't work that way, and it is a deliberate attempt to make Weinberg seem to be saying that the Universe just 'poofed' into existence, fully formed.  A similar argument will be made later regarding evolution, but even more blatant.  (Straw Man #4)

Josh goes on to argue that scientists used to accept a 'steady-state' theory about the universe, that it was eternal and had no start or end.  He states that the Bible disagrees, and then explains that some theist from the early 20th century decided that the Big Bang idea is exactly what he would 'expect to see' based on the Genesis passage which contains 'Let there be light'.

Are..   are you being serious right now?  One of the most complex interactions which we have ever observed in the history of observation, and you think it's positively indicated by 'Let there be light?'  Really?   Interestingly, no Jew (remember, those are the guys who actually wrote the Old Testament) was ever able to work out a fundamental physical principle of the universe based on the words 'Let there be light', much less any pre-Science Christian, but odd how once Science actually finds the real answers you suddenly proclaim that 'the Bible had it right all along!'  Of course, they skip right over the actual Creation account, the order of creation, etc.  Josh then claims that Science had it wrong for 2500 years, while the Bible had it 'right'....  Based on that.  Whew boy....

After a brief interlude with the Revs, Josh concludes his apparent sentence with '.....all of which points to a God that created it.'  The actual evidence that he presented seems to have been edited out, but we are to presume that he presented some.  I guess.  Then, Shane Harper suddenly seems to channel Kirk Cameron and proclaims that "In the real world, we never see things jumping into existence out of nothingness, but Atheists want to make one small exception to this rule; namely, the Universe and everything in it."  (Straw Man #5)

Whoo, okay, where to begin.  For starters, as Aron Ra pointed out in his 'Fundamental Falsehoods of Creationism', this is kind of true.  We never do see things being created, fully formed, out of nothingness.  However, we do see 'things' which seem to come from 'nothingness' (whatever that means), and the 'thing' which contained all of the matter and energy which formed the Universe might be one of those things.  What does this have to do with Atheism, the lack of a belief in any God(s)?  Nothing.  It's a straw man which assumes that all Atheists accept the Big Bang, without addressing the existence of God whatsoever.  Checkmate, Atheists!

Also, not to nitpick or anything, but Quantum Theory has been consistently demonstrated for something like 50 years now, and we most certainly do seem to observe particles which pop into and out of existence seemingly at random.  Unless God needs to continuously 'create' new particles by sheer force of will, with no particular goal seemingly in mind, just to yank them from existence within fractions of a nanosecond.....

Now we get to the one and only instance of someone asking a semi-relevant question.  Josh is asked, if God created the Universe, then who created God?  Now, remember that Josh just accused Atheists (Or scientists, I'm not sure which anymore) of using special pleading in the case of the Universe, and he flat-out does this with God.  Oh, well that question just magically doesn't apply to God because we Christians believe that he was not created.

It gets worse, in case you couldn't tell.  He then shifts the burden of proof (Classic!) by stating that he can turn the argument back around and ask 'If the Universe created you, who created the Universe?'  It's a risky move, this line of thinking.  You have to assume that your audience simply accepts your equivocation fallacy, that somehow the deterministic, naturally-occurring form that life takes today can be considered 'Created by the Universe' in the same way that Christians mean that God 'Created' anything.  It's wholly preposterous, and it shows a distinct lack of any understanding of what science actually does, as well as the actual claims of theists.

He goes on to claim that both Theists and Atheists are burdened with the question of how the Universe began.  Emphatically NO, Josh.  Atheists tend to say 'We don't accept your proposition that a magic being created everything by way of a spoken effect, otherwise known as a magic spell.  We want you to justify that claim.'  Atheism has exactly zero inherent claims.  It is, by definition, a rejection of the claims of others (hopefully due to a lack of supporting evidence, but sadly this is not always the case).  Josh's statement is a direct misrepresentation of the Atheist position, as is the entire movie.  Certainly, many Atheists are scientifically literate enough to understand the general cosmological concepts involved with the Big Bang, and yes, I grant that scientific literacy tends to shift people away from religious belief, but that is no excuse for presuming your opponent's position and, worse, generalizing about an entire group based on that presumed position.

He then goes on to commit an argument from ignorance fallacy by claiming that "What I'm hoping you'll pick up from all this is that you don't have to commit intellectual suicide to believe in a Creator behind the Creation, and to the extent that you don't allow for God, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find any credible alternative explanation for how things came to be."

Don't need one in order to dismiss the silliness of the Super-Being who defies all logic, laws of nature, and any attempt at confirmation of it's existence. If the answer is 'I Don't Know', then that's the answer until actual evidence is presented which points to a particular conclusion.  Shoehorning your God claim into an area of scientific ignorance is called the 'God of the Gaps', and believers will find that those gaps will just keep getting smaller and smaller over time, while the answers contained in their holy books keep getting replaced with scientific answers.

Hercules brings up Hawking and places him on quite a pedestal, making several arguments from authority to 'prove' his view of Atheism, as well as continuing to try to humiliate the main character in front of the class.  He makes an argument that the Universe created 'itself' from nothing and that a God is not required.  When pressed with this, Josh simply says 'I don't know'.  Herc then seems to not accept Josh's "I don't know" answer, in exactly the same way that many Theists behave when we answer in this way.  Project much?

Thus ends the first round of the debate, and then the movie takes a giant leap off of the deep end.  Professor Radisson virtually assaults Josh in the hallway and bullies him verbally, ending with a threat that if Josh doesn't give up, Radisson will do everything that he can to ruin Josh's chances at a law degree.

I could honestly write an entire article about this scene alone.  The Atheist antagonist makes petty threats trying to scare Josh into backing down from his beliefs.  Sound familiar?  No?  Certainly not from Atheists, but a cursory knowledge of history tells us that this was a common tactic for the spread of Christianity, just substitute 'ruining chances at a law degree' to 'ruining chances at staying alive'.  Not surprisingly, these tactics are still very much in use by many religious groups, mostly Fundamentalists (See the United Pentacostal Church) but also by groups such as the LDS Church.  'Accept this set of beliefs, or we will make you a pariah with no friends, family, lifelines, or future'.  Once again, Christianity seems to be projecting their past and current faults onto Atheists, because somehow making me look bad means that God suddenly exists.

We next have an extremely slow and boring scene where Ayisha, the secret Christian daughter of a strictly Muslim father, is listening to some Christian audiobook on her iPod.  She is drifting to sleep and her younger brother sneaks into her room and snatches the iPod away.  Seeing the title and realizing what she is listening to, he is ordered by Ayisha not to tell their father.  It is now obvious (if it wasn't before) that this particular sub-plot is leading towards an inevitable confrontation with the father.  Martyrdom!

Next, we shift to Amy with her 'boyfriend' Mark, the high-powered businessman who doesn't care about anyone but himself and money.  Hmm, I wonder what his religious beliefs might tend toward?  So Amy reveals that she has cancer.  Mark responds exactly the way that the audience has been programmed to expect - he's basically a monster (huge surprise).  He accuses her of 'breaking their deal' and breaks up with her.

There is an entirely pointless conversation in the library between Josh and Martin, the Japanese boy in his Philosophy class with a stereotypical Japanese father.  This scene is really just a setup for Martin's later conversion, but even then it's unnecessary and just shoves more Martyrdom! in your face.

Awesome, we finally meet pretty much the only likable character in this movie, Tom Blanchard from the rental car company, who is delivering a car to the Revs for their trip.  They go through the whole rigmarole, and then Dave gets in the rental car (which Tom just drove in to the lot).  The car won't start, and the same sound effect is used from when he tried his car before.  It was at this point that the viewer is supposed to get interested in the 'Case of the Mysterious Engine Troubles', but I knew exactly what this was from the get-go.  They were actually going to claim that there was a supernatural explanation for the cars, and then something would happen which would magically make them work again.  We'll get back to the Revs later.

Again, I really, really want to skip over the relationship between Hercules and Not- Jennifer Garner, but it's sort of important to the plot of the movie so let's get into this.  Hercules met Not- Jennifer Garner and started dating her when she was a student.  Hercules doesn't treat her so well all the time.  Oh, and she's a Christian who is just now starting to re-think her relationship with an ardent anti-theist.  Because with movie magic, we can pretend that, since we just started watching them, they just realized how people have been acting around them for years, just now!

Zap back to the Revs getting a new rental car the next day, and wouldn't you know it, the car doesn't start.  Each time this happens, Dave gets frustrated and Jude gets amused, so the setup is downright transparent at this point.

Then we are transported to Radisson's dinner party with his Academic colleagues, where he belittles Not- Jennifer Garner in front of all of them when she tries to 'stand up for her faith'.  The quote from this scene which really amused both my wife and I was this, "I know that I'm in the minority here, but I actually believe in God."  While yes, it is technically true in the context of this scene, it is also a sentiment which is echoed loudly throughout the movie in regards to the general public.  Martyrdom!  Hercules humiliates her on purpose and she ducks out while she still can.

Amy's getting an MRI, blah blah blah, fairly pointless filler scene to keep us emotional.

Ahh, good, it seems we get to hear Josh's second round of arguments.  Josh brings up the Hawking quote from the previous week and then proceeds to explain the '3 errors of logic' contained in the quote, based on a response by John Lennox .  Just for reference, here is the quote:
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." --Stephen Hawking
It already seems like this quote is being used as a straw man and is being touted as 'the evidence' for the self-creation of the Universe, and the fact that this was a single sentence which was pulled from a book containing 208 pages is just never addressed, and in fact Josh simply attacks the sentence as the evidence, rather than what it was, a summary of evidence which Hawking has presented - in the book the sentence was taken out-of-context from.

Anyway, here are the 3 'errors of logic' used in the Hawking quote:\

Oh, sorry, it appears that we don't have them.  Instead of specifically pointing these out (the way that a scientist would), he instead does what an Apologist would do and just makes an argument from analogy, stating that the Hawking quote was a circular argument.  Joshie, Joshie poo...  It's not even an argument.  It is clear that Josh hasn't actually read the Hawking book that the quote comes from, otherwise he might have realized this.  Instead, since he used Apologist sources for all of his research, he unsurprisingly comes up with Apologist answers, and not even any of the good ones.  Oh, and Josh then takes yet another Hawking quote out of context, wherein Hawking seems to have proclaimed 'Philosophy is dead', and uses this to poke fun at the Professor.  Again, Radisson has used an argument from authority (that of Hawking) so Josh is able to turn it on it's head very easily.  It seems very clever, but it's again based on a straw man, namely the notion that Atheists hold particular scientists to be some kind of 'Supreme Authority' that we just bow down to.  (Straw Man #...  shit...)  Just to clarify, you do remember what a Straw Man is, right?  The point of a Straw Man is that, since you can't or won't attack your opponent's actual position, instead you invent one and attack that.  That is what this movie is - one big straw man.  Straw Man:  The Motion Picture.

Here, for funsies, is the original text from Hawking's book "The Grand Design":
We each exist for but a short time, and in that time explore but a small part of the whole universe. But humans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time. 
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances. They lead us to a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago.
Does Hawking at all imply that he means that Philosophy is a worthless artifact of human history?  Doesn't seem that way to me.  He lays out many of the explicit questions which mankind has sought to answer, and then states that these questions have traditionally been in the realm of Philosophy.  But he goes on to say that the time for Philosophy to answer important questions is long gone, because Science gives us the ability to actually test the answers to questions, rather than debating them endlessly.  He is certainly not condemning the practice of learning about Philosophy, which is of course (supposed to be) the purpose of the class that Radisson is teaching.

Next we jump to Rev. Dave having lunch with Not- Jennifer Garner and counseling her about her relationship.  It goes on too long and is just supposed to indicate her coming decision to leave the Professor.  Big surprise, and did we need to waste another 3 minutes of the film for this?

And back to Josh.  "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; for the last 150 years, Darwinists have been saying that God is unnecessary to explain Man's existence, and that Evolution 'replaces God'."

Stop.  Right.  There.  We have a problem, and it's (you guessed it!)...  another Straw Man!  So for starters, he refers to scientists as Darwinists, which I find interesting as we usually don't refer to Physicists as 'Newtonians', but that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Apparently he is making the bald-faced claim that those who understand and accept Evolution are just using it to 'replace God'.  This obviously ignores the hundreds of millions of 'progressive' Theists who are perfectly willing to accept Evolution, including Darwin himself.

Josh goes on to state (correctly, I might add - I know, I was as surprised as anyone!) that Evolution does not take into account how life arose, it simply explains what happened once life got here.  Good on you, mate!  You've made the realization which has eluded thousands upon thousands of theists before you.

He says that Darwin didn't claim to understand how life arose, but that he assumed that it was something simple, like lightning striking some ooze.  I'm not certain whether Darwin ever entertained any such theory, but Josh then explains that, though Darwin didn't know how it happened, he was pretty certain that the development from the initial life forms would have been slow and gradual, and that 'Nature does not jump'.

This at first seems completely irrelevant, but then the movie actually does something unexpected.
"As noted, author Lee Strobel pointed out that if you can picture the entire 3.8 billion years that Scientists say that life has been around as one 24-hour day, in the space of just about 90 seconds, most major animal groups suddenly appear in the forms which they currently hold, not slowly and steadily, as Darwin predicted, but in Evolutionary terms, almost instantly.  So, 'nature does not jump' becomes 'nature makes a giant leap'"
Just hold the fucking phone right there, Josh.  For one thing, getting accurate scientific information about biology from a Christian Apologist with a journalism degree might just be the height of stupidity.  The above statement is not just wrong, not just really wrong, it's fractally wrong.  The evolutionary process wasn't some slow-moving tortoise for 3 billion years and just decided to make huge changes in the last few hundred thousand years.  That's goddamned absurd to anyone who has the slightest bit of knowledge about the fossil record or just about anything else.  Not to mention the fact that 'most major animal groups' is hardly any kind of scientific designation of any kind.  Does it mean the genetic 'roots' of life?  Surely not, since those contain the absolute simplest of life forms, the vast majority of which have existed in some form or other for 3 and a half billion years.  More to the point that I think you're trying to make, though, is theoretically, if you could look at evolutionary history from any point in time, you will find that most of the common animal species that you encounter at that time made it to their current form sometime in the last few million years, or less.  This is precisely because of the relative 'slowness' of evolution, as well as the incredible diversity of life on this planet.

Oh, and just for my own curiosity mostly, the '90 seconds' that Strobel seems to be referring to calculates to be about 3,958,333, or around 4 million years.

"So how do Theists explain this sudden outburst of new biological information?"  *INSERT BIBLE VERSE HERE*
We've got a problem again, Josh.  The 'explanation' which you just parroted from your holy book is just the claim, not the evidence. Oh, and it's nice to see that the Apologetics notion of 'biological information' is being referred to here, it just further proves the scientific ignorance of everyone involved with this project.
 "And even what looks to our eyes to be a blind, unguided process, could really be divinely controlled from start to finish."
I suppose that it could, but there is no reason to believe that it was.  Evolution, as pointed out before, by you, has no need of a guiding hand.  An all-powerful being could simply speak life into existence, and that life would have no need to be genetically related in any way, nor would there be a need for evolution whatsoever.  Evolution, as well as the Big Bang, are explanations (like every single other scientific explanation) which do not need to account for a logically-impossible being.  And even where there is little or no information, all that can honestly be said is 'We have little to no information on this matter', whereas the Theist is more than happy to fill that gap with their preferred God (without justification, of course).  The problem is that any 'Creator God' will do, and this makes the proposed 'explanation' meaningless.  You might as well propose that we need 'Q' (played by John de Lancie, who else?) as the initial cause of the Big Bang in order to make sense of the Universe.   How does this help if we can't investigate, question, or confirm the claim?  Moreover we can be fairly certain based on tons of evidence that 'Q' is a fictional character and always has been, just as with Yahweh.  We can trace both of their existences to obviously fictional or mythological origins, so why should we blindly accept that either one just so happens to coincidentally exist anyway?

Furthermore, this movie seems to further the notion that most Theists don't seem to understand how Science actually works.  In Science, you make observations and try to come up with explanations for those observations which are falsifiable, as in, explanations which can be proven wrong.  Only once the evidence has stacked up on the side of your explanation without pointing to other conclusions, can you call your explanation a Theory.  Theists, however, seem to approach the God subject from the exact opposite end; they start with the preferred conclusion (My God Exists) and then they look for anything which might lend any kind of credence to the notion, proclaiming it as Proof, and reinforcing their belief but without actually having questioned it in the first place.

I'd like to try and show you just how wrong-headed this approach is.
Let's take the example of someone who believes in Bigfoot.  For years, they have read stories upon stories of Bigfoot, but they have never been able to prove it to skeptics.  Then, one day, they come upon a YouTube video made from footage taken in the 70's or so which proclaims to be 'Proof that Bigfoot is Real!'  Since the evidence seems to line up with their pre-existing belief, they accept the video as proof for their belief, which is therefore reinforced.

See the problem?  No scientific rigour whatsoever and the conclusion is assumed right from the start.  In fact, such a person would likely have arguments with fellow Bigfoot-ers about what Bigfoot eats, drinks, where he sleeps, what kind of movies he's in to, that sort of thing.  The actual existence or non-existence just gets whitewashed and instead they argue with each other about Bigfoot, as if the creature actually exists and they are holding a legitimate debate.

Back to the movie.  Amy's back at the doctor for a scene whose entire purpose seems to be to establish the fact that Amy has no friends or family to speak of, that she is alone.

Back at the school, it's after class and Josh and the Prof are chatting about the debate.  Josh makes some comment about people who either 'don't understand' or 'don't want to understand', implying that Atheists just don't understand the Bible.  Interestingly, the producers opted to actually just admit the truth on this one, something that they have been unable or unwilling to do thus far.  Radisson displays his Atheist Biblical prowess by quoting Job to him as a response.

Not bad, really, for showing that Atheists often really do know as much or more about the Bible as believers do.  Then, again a bit surprisingly, Josh acts in perfect accordance with the vast majority of Christians engaging an Atheist who has hammered down every last point with perfection.
"What happened to you?"
Oh boy, here it comes!  Come on, Herc, he's down!  Finish him!  Every Atheist knows that all this kid's got left at this point is 'Don't you want to avoid being punished eternally?' and 'Just look at the trees!' He's on the ropes man, just take him down.
Radisson:  "When a 12-year old watches his mother die of cancer, it's only natural to beg God for her life..."
God.  Dammit.

 Does this count as a straw man?  I'm not sure, but it is certainly misleading, especially when coupled with the fact that other 'non-religious' people in the film are shown to have experienced trauma of some kind as well.  Is it really so hard to believe that someone might be an Atheist because they tried to examine the evidence to support religious claims and found it wanting?  Funny, because a huge number of Atheists will tell you that this is exactly what happened, no trauma necessary.  In fact, lots of Atheists experience trauma as a result of their Atheism, from family and friends who find the very existence of an Atheist to be an attack on their faith (and it is, but that's another article).

The film lost me a long time ago, but this made me lose any remaining hope that Atheism might get some kind of accurate portrayal.

Ok, now comes the most uncomfortable point in the movie, which is a huge problem on SO many levels.  Ayisha is confronted by her father because her brother obviously snitched on her, and the father proceeds to beat the living shit out of her while trying to force her to renounce Christianity.  She of course fully declares her belief in Jesus and is rewarded with another huge slap.  She is then forcibly removed from the house, presumably disowned permanently.

Oh, I almost forgot!  Martyrdom!

So the only Muslim in the film is an abusive father who disowns his daughter because of her beliefs.  Yet again, project much, ye oh-so-tolerant Christians?  Not to even mention how offensive this is to Muslims...

The inevitable breakup of Mina and Radisson.  Of course, he's an asshole about that too.  What a huge surprise.

Rev. Dave uses the traumatic and abusive recent events of Ayisha's life in order to dig Christianity's claws even deeper into her, as if it hasn't caused her enough trouble so far.  This, incidentally, is exactly what Professor Radisson is going to talk about later in the film, that Christians always strike when the victim is weakened, either emotionally or physically.  Good to know that they just owned up to that one, although I'm not sure that they would see it quite that way.

Josh and Herc have a weird, uncomfortable conversation in an elevator where the Prof states that he shouldn't have let Josh 'spew his religious propaganda' in his classroom, so he's going to do things different for the next session.

We next see Josh at the podium talking about what seems to be the Problem of Evil.  In true Apologist fashion, he dismisses the Problem with a wave of his hand; oh, and two words - "Free Will".
"God allows evil to exist because of Free Will.  From the Christian standpoint, God tolerates evil in this world on a temporary basis, so that one day those who choose to love Him freely will dwell with Him in heaven, free from the influence of evil but with their Free Will intact.  In other words, God's intention concerning evil is to one day destroy it."
Radisson points out the 'convenience' of such a notion and brings up the topic of 'Moral Absolutes', which conveniently gives Josh the freedom to not have to actually explain how the existence of evil is somehow necessary for Free Will.  That's okay, because he's about to make a huge conflation between 'Moral Absolutes' and 'Morality'.  The Professor says that, 'Next he'll be lecturing us on Moral Absolutes'.
"Why not?  Professor Radisson, who's clearly an Atheist, doesn't believe in Moral Absolutes, but his core syllabus says he plans on giving exams on Finals week.  Now, I'm betting that if I manage to get an 'A' on the exam by cheating, he'll suddenly start sounding like a Christian, insisting that it's wrong to cheat, that I shouldn't have done that.  And yet, what basis does he have?  If my actions are calculated to help me succeed, why shouldn't I perform them?  For Christians, the fixed point of morality, what constitutes right and wrong, is a straight line that leads directly back to God.  "
Before we move on, even though Josh is spewing these claims in rapid-fire succession, we have the luxury of shutting him the hell up for a minute and responding.  First of all, the idea of 'Moral Absolutes' is patently NOT THE SAME as 'Morality'.  I know that you need to think that it is, because you can then claim that you have to have God to have either.  However, you have not demonstrated that morals have any kind of absolute basis, that morals cannot be created by the people they are meant to apply to, and you certainly have not demonstrated that the existence of your God is evident in any way.  He then quotes Dostoevsky "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible."  He also claims that, if Atheism is accurate, then 'whatever we decide here is meaningless!  Our lives are of little to no consequence!'

Radisson pretty much ignores this extremely important point and instead decides to just move the movie plot along by inexplicably summarizing Josh's argument as 'a choice'.  Where did this come from?  What could you have possibly derived from this discussion about the origins of morality that led you to make that statement?  Apparently nothing at all, it just conveniently leads Josh to his ultimate conclusion - 'It's up to YOU!' (finger pointing at you like Uncle Sam).  Wait a minute here, seriously, how did we get here?  Josh just made a series of unsubstantiated claims which all need to be vigorously justified before we can even begin to get to any kind of informed decision.  Why does Free Will necessitate evil?  Why do you not understand that the term Moral Absolutes is not interchangeable with the word Morality?  How do you justify your 'fixed point of morality' as being accurate, or useful, or otherwise non-fictional?

Josh states that this all just about choice and that the difference between him and Radisson is that Radisson takes away the freedom of choice from the students. The conversation devolves into stupidity at this point, with Radisson vainly attempting to justify his decision to force the students to be Atheists by listing some of the 'evils' of religion, particularly Christianity.  Remember Ayisha from just a few minutes ago?  He's describing that situation to a bloody T.  However, Radisson has quickly lost all credibility (and rightly so, in this completely fictional universe where atheists are all assholes).

Josh then accuses Radisson of being an Anti-Theist, which to him seems to be defined as someone who forces their non-belief on others.

Radisson gives the line from all the movie trailers for this film - "I am gonna enjoy failing you this semester." which is answered with "Who are you looking to fail?  Me, or God?"

I realize that this is supposed to be a profound moment in this movie, (hence the long pause after that line)...... but what the fuck is that supposed to even mean?  Seriously, that doesn't actually make any sense.

This scene, of course, leads Josh to ask the obvious question, 'Do you hate God?', and when Radisson finally answers in the affirmative, Josh of course asks 'How can you hate something if it doesn't exist?'  (Straw Man #n)

Yes, if someone tells you that they are angry at the God that you believe in, you can honestly ask that question.  Again the film misses the point that virtually every Atheist can tell you about, which is that Atheism is sometimes the end product of anger towards God, but not directly.  Anger can beget learning, learning can beget critical thinking, and critical thinking (if applied properly) will beget Atheism.

Of course, the movie producers had literally no idea how Atheists actually think or believe, so none of that was an issue.  This scene is supposed to be the 'slam-dunk' of the movie which convinces the entire class of students that 'God's Not Dead'.  Each student stands in succession and dramatically proclaims it.

Yay!  The premise has been resolved and the movie is over!  Right?  ...  26 minutes left on the little bar at the bottom?  ...  Dammit.

Oh, right, we actually start getting some payoff from earlier in the movie.  Let's see if I can fast-forward through most of this (the movie pretty much does):

  • Martin converts to Christianity
  • The Revs finally get their car to start (Because Faith!)
  • Mark goes to see his mother, basically converts to Christianity
  • Amy just walks in to the Newsboys dressing room at the concert and starts attacking their beliefs, converts to Christianity
  • Radisson reads a letter his mother wrote him before she died, starts rethinking his beliefs.  Sees a Newsboys mention in the newspaper and rushes away.
Ok, that wasn't too bad.  The concert is underway and ol' Herc is jogging down the street.  It's like a montage, but even lamer.  Of course, all of the 'true Christians' that have appeared in the film are at the concert.

Then Sorbo is hit by a car.  Rev. Dave yells out 'Call an ambulance!' to nobody in particular and has his Christian Missionary buddy make a snap medical decision based on no prior mention of any medical training or experience whatsoever.  The atheist is gonna die.

I wonder what's gonna happen next?

Well, if it's a helpful clue, I became nearly physically ill due to what happened next.

As expected, the "Atheist" antagonist accepts Jeebus just moments before he dies.  And there was much rejoicing.

No, seriously.  The movie ends with the two Reverends smiling to each other and talking about how awesome their God is, with this dead dude literally inches away from them, just as the ambulance arrives.  Cut to the concert for final advertisement of the Newsboys and of Duck Dynasty, then roll credits.

***********************************************

Most of the time when I watch a film, regardless of the content, production quality, acting quality, or story quality, I can honestly say that I have mixed feelings.  Not so with 'God's Not Dead'.  My feelings are quite aligned on this movie, and they all point to disgust.

I am disgusted that the people involved made absolutely no effort whatsoever to try and accurately portray...  well, much of anything, but especially Atheism. Kevin Sorbo is even on record as having said something to the effect of, "I don't understand how Atheists can be so angry at something that they don't even believe in!".

Seriously Herc, you don't understand?  You don't understand how the mind of an Atheist works?  You don't understand how Atheists think the way that they do?

Remember Hercules?  Remember Andromeda (no, maybe let's leave that one off the list...)  I was once quite convinced that Kevin Sorbo was a pretty darn good actor, but now I have to question his very understanding of what acting is.

You don't understand what it's like to be an Atheist?  You're a goddamn actor who played a goddamn Atheist!  How do you do no preparation whatsoever (for your JOB) and then have the gall to admit it, on air, and somehow we are supposed to come off as the irrational ones?!?!

Mr. Sorbo, you disappoint me, sir.



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Coitus Interruptus, Masturbation, & The Bible

When many Christians, particularly Catholics, talk about the 'Biblical Prohibitions' against masturbation and birth control, they all seem to refer to a single story in the Old Testament.  Interestingly, none of these people seem to know what the verses are referring to.
Genesis 38:7-10  New International Version (NIV)
7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
Catholic.com Entry:  (Source:  http://www.catholic.com/tracts/birth-control)
"The Bible mentions at least one form of contraception specifically and condemns it. Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother. "Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also" (Gen. 38:8–10)."
 First of all, the story does not make it explicitly clear that Coitus interruptus was the particular mechanism involved.  In fact, many Christians (and virtually no Jews) interpret this passage to refer to masturbation.  However, even if this were the case, the story makes it abundantly clear that the punishment inflicted had nothing to do with the mechanism he used, but the essential fact that he did not fulfill his obligation to sire a child for his dead brother.  There is exactly nothing in this passage which makes clear that Yahweh is 'condemning' any kind of birth control.

Furthermore, the story explicitly states that Onan did not want to produce offspring that would belong to another lineage, which was literally the entire point of the tradition.  It has also been suggested that Onan did use coitus interruptus and therefore used his grieving sister-in-law, as well as his father's instruction, to have himself a bout of what he deemed to be consequence-free sex.  Either way, the most common current Christian interpretations rely on information which is simply not present, and it ignores the information which is present and which also places the story in a more accurate context.
"The biblical penalty for not giving your brother’s widow children was public humiliation, not death (Deut. 25:7–10). But Onan received death as punishment for his crime. This means his crime was more than simply not fulfilling the duty of a brother-in-law. He lost his life because he violated natural law, as Jewish and Christian commentators have always understood. For this reason, certain forms of contraception have historically been known as "Onanism," after the man who practiced it, just as homosexuality has historically been known as "Sodomy," after the men of Sodom, who practiced that vice (cf. Gen. 19). "
It is certainly true that the Genesis account of Onan differs from the penalty given in Deuteronomy.  However, this makes perfect sense if the law-givers are using a mythological story to 'back up' their strict rules about keeping the lineage secure.  Think about it this way, "Listen, we do this because Yahweh commands it, and because the man known as Onan was punished with death for not fulfilling his obligation to his brother, as well as to Yahweh.  Onan's death is a reminder for all of us to keep strictly to these rules."  This is very common for this time, as the Moses stories are used to accomplish the same goal.
Also, take a look at the Deuteronomy verses that they mention.
7 And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ 9 then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.’ 10 And the name of his house[a] shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’
It is clearly outlined how the early Hebrews had defined this situation, correct?  However, Onan was punished by death.  It isn't clear exactly when the death occurred, but the story seems to indicate that it happened quickly.  If we take on their belief that the Deuteronomic law was basically in effect at the time of the Onan story, then I have 2 points -

  1. Tamar is never given the opportunity to go to the elders and register her complaint.  Therefore, Onan is never given the opportunity to change his mind, per the law.  If Yahweh set these explicit rules, then he Himself is guilty of breaking the contract, not Onan.  If, however, the story is meant to explain the later rules, that would imply that the Deuteronomic law (and associated penalties) were not yet in place.  However, a cultural rule (tradition) was in place wherein Yahweh was invoked as the one who keeps on eye on everyone and makes sure that they fulfill their familial duties.
  2. If, as the Catholic.com site claims, the Onan story is supposed to describe a greater sin, then why is this greater sin not also clearly outlined in the Deuteronomic laws?  Nor is it outlined in the Levitican laws. 
I've heard it argued that Leviticus does contain a prohibition against masturbation.  Let's examine this briefly:
 Leviticus 15:16-18
16 “If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. 17 And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. 18 If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening. 
This is clearly referring to being in an 'unclean' state after any emission of semen (regardless of the circumstances) and how to deal with it.  It is not outlining any kind of 'sin' in the Christian sense, it requires a ritualistic cleansing and those involved, being 'unclean', cannot enter the Temple during this time.  Once the time is over (the evening) as long as they have undergone the cleansing ritual, the persons involved will no longer be considered 'unclean' and can resume life normally.  It can even be seen as reinforcing good cleanliness habits through a minor law.

It seems clear to me that the story of Onan and Tamar was a mythological story which was intended to explain where the Deuteronomic law on that topic was derived from.  

Also notice how the Onan verses are literally the only Bible verses which Catholic.com references to back up their prohibition against birth control.  Every single other 'source' that they refer to are not only extra-biblical, they are all written several hundred years later than Deuteronomy, AND they were all written after the advent of Christianity, which was keen on re-interpreting Old Testament stories to mean something completely different from what the authors had intended.  So to me, it sounds like we're being told this:

"This is the Bible verse we're referring to, this is why it doesn't mean what it says, and here are people who, hundreds of years later, decided to interpret it like this.  That makes it God's Word."

Friday, August 29, 2014

How We Evaluate Claims

I wrote this some time ago and never published it. It's pretty simple but I hope that it helps to get the point across.

How We Evaluate Claims

When we are presented with a particular claim, regardless of the content, we go through a process to determine whether or not the claim is true.

If we can find nothing with which to justify the claim, we can simply stop there. There is no need to accept a claim which has not been positively justified.

We certainly can go on to search for disconfirming evidence, something which would show that the claim is not true; however by this point it isn’t necessary to do so in order to reject the claim’s truthfulness.

However, time and time again, we see and hear people making the argument that ‘you can’t prove that it’s NOT true’. We don’t have to. It is never reasonable to accept a claim based on the non-existence of disconfirming evidence alone. Bertrand Russell demonstrates why this is so with his teapot analogy.

For example, it may be that ‘String Theory’ is a true and accurate model by which to view reality. ‘String Theory’ has not yet been justified as true, therefore it is only reasonable to withhold belief in ‘String Theory’ being true.

It may be that, in the future, we will find evidence which disconfirms, or disproves, ‘String Theory’. However, even if that does not happen, there is not sufficient reason to believe that it is true, until it has been justified.

It may be that, in the future, we will find evidence which confirms ‘String Theory’. However, even if that happens, it does not justify belief in ‘String Theory’ now.

By the same token, even if we were suddenly presented good evidence that a ‘God’ exists, it would not retroactively justify the people who believe that a ‘God’ exists now.

Make sense?

De-Compressing Creationism - A Thought Experiment

If, for the moment, we accept the Creationist argument that our scientific observations regarding the age of the Earth are off by a scale of about 1:750,000 (6,000 years versus 4.5 billion), then it logically follows that our method should be proportionally ‘off’ by about the same amount.  We should be able to recalculate our findings accordingly and, on paper, this should match up our findings to be closer to the Creationist claims.   I am basing these calculations on an ending point of 8/1/2014 at 8:00 AM (the date that I originally wrote this article).


So, for instance, the claim is that the Earth was created on or around 4,000 BCE, compared to the scientific view of the Earth forming about 4.5 billion years ago.  We will now synchronize our Scientific chronology to this timetable and see what happens. Just for contrast, according to Science, in 4000 BCE the wooden plow is being used in central Europe. Agriculture has spread to what today is Britain and Ireland.  Some agricultural hubs have come into being in southern Scandinavia.  It is hypothesized that in the Eurasian steppes, horses have begun to be domesticated.


Scientific findings indicate that life appears on Earth about 1 billion years later (3.5 billion years ago).  Adjusting for our scale, that places life appearing 4,666.67 years ago, around 2652 BCE.  By contrast, archeology places Pharaoh Djoser’s rule in Egypt at this time.  The Mesoamerican peoples are planting and domesticating corn.


Scientists believe that Photosynthetic life forms starting appearing about 2 billion years ago.  Using our ratio for the calculation, this places the event around 652 BCE.  Historians place the Babylonian Revolt against the Assyrians at around this time.  First evidence of the production of wine appears.


According to the scientific community, the Paleozoic Era started about 540 million years ago.  Adjusted with our handy ratio, this would place the event around 1294 CE.  Historians place the end of the Srivijaya Empire in Indonesia at around this time. The undermining of Scottish rule by England is well underway.  Some early versions of the Robin Hood story may have been circulating by this time.


Reptiles appear, according to Scientific estimates, around 323 million years ago.  Plugged into our calculator, this equals about 1583 CE.  Smallpox and typhus are wiping out natives of South and Central America in the wake of Spanish conquest.


The Dinosaurs nearly all disappear during a mass extinction event calculated to have occurred about 65 million years ago.  Using our handy-dandy scale, we find this event to have taken place in the year 1928 CE.  Mussolini is abolishing the electoral system of Italy, and the 54th Kentucky Derby is underway.


Scientists estimate that modern humans arose about 100,000 years ago, depending on your definition of ‘modern human’.  Calculating with our scale and being as generous as possible, this places the rise of the human race at June 11, 2014 CE.  The human race arose on a Wednesday, likely while I was at work.


According to 'archeologists', the first Egyptian settlers arrived at the Nile Valley around 3500 BCE.  Using our calculations to match the Biblical time scale, the ‘adjusted’ date is actually July 29, 2014.  A new Dilbert comic strip was released on dilbert.com.  It was okay.


Our best guess for the approximate beginning of the Babylonian Empire is about 605 BCE.  Once we apply our ‘God-Glasses’ and recalculate to account for the obvious discrepancy, we arrive at July 31, 2014 at 1:23 AM.  I was developing a website for my contracting job and my wife was arriving home from her job.


This just gets more and more ridiculous.  The Roman Empire fell at 2:01 PM on the same day.  13 hours later, Galileo published his great work.  America declared independence at 7:14 AM, about 3 and a half hours later.  Finally, 23 minutes after that, I was born.  According to the scale proposed by Creationists, if applied in this way, I was born at 7:37 AM, 23 minutes before I started these calculations.

Obviously this over-simplifies the discrepancy, but it makes for a very interesting thought experiment, and it makes you wonder at what arbitrary point in human history they will now claim the discrepancy ‘starts’, and I’ll be very curious to see how they justify that.  Do our dating methods work accurately all the way back to 2000 BCE and then we lose complete control?  I’m happy to narrow down my discrepancy ratio if we have an arbitrary date at which the discrepancy begins/ends.

Of course, this also doesn't even touch on the Creation account itself, but that might have to wait for a future article...

Some thoughts on Free Will and Morality

Over the course of several years, through education, discussion and hours upon hours of deep thought, I no longer accept the traditional, mostly-absolute view of 'Free Will'. During some of my discussions, an issue kept coming up which kept me wondering about one particular aspect, though. Mainly, what does this mean for morality and law? How do we hold people 'accountable' to our societal and legal rules if they don't really have a say in their own thoughts and behavior?

For the duration of this article (rant?), when I use the term 'Free Will' without qualification, I am specifically referring to the version of 'Free Will' which has been traditionally held by the majority of the populace for (probably) thousands of years.

It occurs to me that the reason why we can still hold people accountable even without Free Will is because, when our brain is faced with a decision to make, it takes everything possible into account, including memories of laws, taboos, etc, and it even checks to see if anyone important to us would look positively or negatively on a given action.  It does essentially what proponents of Free Will claim that ‘we’ do, just in a deterministic manner.  This is also why promoting real change of behavior in society must always address childhood factors as well as other factors (because the majority of our brain function is ‘set’ by the time we’re teenagers or so), and it is also why we can still desire to remove the more harmful and inaccurate beliefs from society, because it gives our brains more accurate information and less inaccurate information to work with (Consequently, this also means that we have to look at beliefs with a similar perspective, and this might help to explain why some beliefs are much harder to overcome than others, as well as why some people are more or less receptive to change).  

Obviously when the brain is compromised in some way, it isn’t necessarily able to take all of the appropriate factors into account, so we can ‘make decisions’ that we wouldn’t normally make and thus the illusion of ‘Free Will’ often shatters.  Furthermore, if the factors that the brain is taking into account include or are based on faulty information (i.e. inaccurate beliefs, hallucinations, paranoia), the brain doesn’t know the difference and it gives the resultant ‘decision’ that best fits all of it’s preconceptions.  Therefore, if our society includes penalties for certain actions or inaction in a given situation, and if we are well-informed about those penalties, then our brains will take that factor into account whenever a situation seems to require it.  It will also take other factors into account, (many of which we aren't even aware of) which is why perfectly rational people who seem to possess ‘uncompromised’ Free Will are still capable of making decisions which undermine societal laws or taboos.  This explains why our illusion of Free Will does not naturally lead to Fatalism simply from the act of understanding it, as has been argued historically.


There are even more factors which further complicate this.  Recognition of Cognitive Dissonance will often reveal that we had little or no control over the acceptance of mutually exclusive beliefs, otherwise we would not have accepted mutually exclusive beliefs.


In children, the illusion of Free Will is not apparent because it actually doesn’t fully exist yet.  This is one area where most of humanity has progressed to match the reality - in most places, children are not considered to be ‘moral agents’.  Bill Cosby comedically referred to this as ‘Brain Damage’, but the reality is virtually the opposite - children often don’t understand why they seemed to make certain choices because the brain is still absorbing all of the justifications, beliefs, ideas, and other concepts which will form the eventual basis for all of the person’s decision-making.  During childhood, when that process is still going at full speed, their decision-making abilities are similar to someone who possesses what we consider ‘compromised’ Free Will; i.e. decisions which seem to have no rational basis - they do, but the basis just isn't necessarily apparent to either the observer or observed.


For me, this strongly implies that our societal constructs of rules and penalties for breaking those rules are actually still vital for our brains to have these ‘markers’ to refer to when making decisions.  It also implies that our current system of justice (and pretty much all of our past ones, too) is poorly executed, because it does not take all of the important factors into account - in fact, it ignores the most important factors that determine the choices that people make, and it ignores the fact that at any given time every person, regardless of mental state, is virtually forced into making the only decision that they can conceivably make given all of the factors involved.

These ‘markers’ (whatever they are, probably just collections of neurons) also seem to have a sort of entropic property, and they will start to fade if they are not reinforced.  Reinforcement can come in a variety of ways, including the ability to virtually ‘program’ a self-reinforcement mechanism, such as always telling a particular story about how someone was seriously injured due to choosing not to wear a seat belt (done repeatedly during childhood).  Whenever the person thinks about driving, or seat belts, or the story, or even related elements to any of those things, the ‘marker’ will be reinforced.  

Similarly, if one of these markers is relatively unused for long periods of time, the brain will stop referring to it as often, even if it applies to a given situation.  They can also be ‘undone’, sometimes vanishingly quickly, when one learns new information which convinces you that your former ‘marker’ was misplaced.  For example, if a child is taught the story of Santa Claus throughout childhood, often it only takes a single instance of waking up to find your parents hauling in gifts from some secret location to completely vaporize the belief, as well as future expectations of miraculous gifts from an impossible figure.  Later education will (hopefully) reinforce the new ‘marker’, such as learning about the true size of the world, the number of people, how travel works, etc.  Progressive parents might even use this opportunity to explain and demonstrate concepts such as generosity, compassion, what ‘good will’ really means, and continue reinforcing these concepts in the hopes that they will become strong new  ‘markers’ and will guide decision-making later.


When I use mental illness in relation to Free Will, I am referring to the fact that often the person who is experiencing it still believes that they are working under the conditions of a ‘normal’ brain, and it can be strongly argued that many (maybe most) mental illnesses result in the patient believing that they still have complete control over their decisions (i.e. the ‘illusion’ of Free Will without having ‘true’ Free Will.)  In my opinion, this calls into question just how much the rest of us are able to recognize our Free Will in the same regard.  If we only had the illusion of Free Will, would you know it?  How would you determine this?

Furthermore, this brings up an excellent example of hallucination. If a person 'makes a decision' which is wholly based on the content or intensity of a hallucination, was this a 'Free' decision? If not, then I would argue that this would mean that any decision which is made based on faulty information would fall prey to the same exact problem.

I am quite certain that I don't have the most accurate information at my disposal, but all of this seems to be the case based on my understanding of the current research on the subject. I gladly welcome any and all discussion, argument, and correction!