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Posts Tagged ‘Skepticism’

Ever the glutton for punishment, I was listening to a sermon not too long ago, and the pastor had these words to say to their congregation:

“What I see in front of me might contradict everything he [Jesus] has said, but I believe in the end he’ll be born out to be true.”

This type of attitude is very disturbing, and in essence says, “Look, you can show me all the evidence you want to, and it can be the most solid evidence ever, and I’m still not going to accept it.” There are few things to be pitied more than a person who says their mind cannot be changed no matter what evidence is provided. Such a person is a prisoner in their own mind, who when handed the key to set themselves free, gouges out their eyes with it lest they find the lock.

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You’ve got to love those email forwards that you get with those little stories about the mysterious ways that God works, and the miracles, like a gallon of milk showing up at a house with a hungry baby just in time.  Most of those stories are likely made up whole cloth, and they can never be tracked back to an original source.  Every now and then you come across one of these stories where you can trace it back to it’s source, but just because you can trace something to a source, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.  Here is the story as told by Christian Missionary Helen Roseveare, which was included in her book Living Faith, …

One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.

We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.

A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”

(more…)

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I’ve quickly become a fan of Derren Brown’s work, and this special that originally aired in 2005 is no exception.  Someone on Wikipedia was nice enough to lay out a synopsis, so rather than re-inventing the wheel — here it is:

“Shown on 7 January 2005, Brown travelled to the United States to try to convince five leading figures that he had powers in their particular field of expertise: Christian evangelism, alien abduction, psychic powers, New Age theories and contacting the dead.

Using a false name each time, he succeeded in convincing all of the “experts” that he had powers, and four openly endorsed him as a true practitioner. The fifth expert, the Christian evangelist Curt Nordhielm, whilst impressed by Brown’s performance, asked to meet him again before giving an endorsement. The concept of the show was to highlight the power of suggestion with regard to beliefs and people’s abilities, and failure to question them. Brown made it quite clear with each experiment that if any of the subjects accused him of trickery he would immediately come clean about the whole thing, a rule similar to one of the self-imposed rules of the perpetrators of the Project Alpha hoax. His conclusion was that people tend to hear only things that support their own ideas and ignore contradictory evidence; this is known in psychology as confirmation bias. During the section concerned with religious belief, he ‘converted’ people to Christian belief with a touch. Afterwards, he ‘deprogrammed’ them of any such belief.”

Here is part 1 of 8.  Part two is queued up to play next at the conclusion of part 1, and so on and so forth.

In the day and age we live, with the knowledge of the world and the universe that we have, people can and do believe in things that are purported to be miracles, and yet are nothing more that tricks.  If people in this day and age are so ready to believe tricks are miracles, how much more so were the people in an era where knowledge was in short supply, and superstition was at a fever pitch?

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Greg Boyd is the senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church, and has authored a number of books.  I personally have read: Letters From A Skeptic, and Lord or Legend?: Wrestling With The Jesus Dilemma.  While I obviously don’t agree with Boyd, his books tend to be very readable despite the frequent times I find myself frustrated saying, “But you’re not considering x-y-z!”  Greg comes from the Open Theism school of thought and would likely be considered by fundamentalists to be on the liberal side of the Christian spectrum.

On May 19, 2011 Greg tweeted the following:

“Boyd’s ‘Pascal’s Wager’: You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by living AS IF Jesus is Lord and love is all that matters.”

I happen to disagree with Greg on this matter, and would like to unpack exactly why I think this way of thinking is flawed.  The reason I’m taking the time to even blog about it is because it happens to be something I’ve thought about a great deal, and as a matter of conscience, is a pattern of living that I could never follow.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m wrong about everything, and there is a god in heaven.  And let’s say that god happens to not be one of the tens-of-thousands of other gods who have been worshiped in human history, but that it happens to be the monotheistic, three-in-one god of Christianity, with Jesus on the throne.  I’ve died; St. Pete has let me through the pearly gates (that’s how it happens in all the jokes anyways), and I’m standing before the creator who says, “Why didn’t you believe in me, and why did you lead others to not believe in me?”  My response would be something along the lines that he is the one who made me, and gave me the brain in my head.  With that brain I doubted due to the lack of evidence there was, and due to the destructive nature of false beliefs, I spoke out against what I sincerely thought was an untrue delusion — a delusion of which I was a part of for many years no less.  I would follow that with a request that if he required torture in hell for my actions, that he would not hold those that I had “led astray” accountable, but that the punishment would be solely mine to bare.  In essence, I can still ask for mercy, and more importantly; I still have the opportunity to say the words, “I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”

Now let’s say that I’m right and there is no God.  Greg Boyd dies and as a result his consciousness becomes just like it was before he was born — non-existent.  He will have lived his entire life promoting a lie.  Despite the desire to live a life where Jesus is Lord, and where “love is all that matters,” people will have followed after and believed in a delusion that he promoted his entire life.  People will have lived their lives feeling guilt for doing what comes natural biologically.  Families will have lived lives full of grief and strife over loved ones who did not believe, fearing that they were suffering for eternity after their death, or fearing it for decades before as they waited for the inevitable.  Individuals will have suffered at the words and hands of those living where “love is all that matters,” as they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”  To promote this point of view when it is not true is to rob people of the only life they will ever get to live, and this is indeed a great tragedy.  However, the greatest tragedy of all is that Greg Boyd will not have the opportunity to say: “I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”

With the odds (tens-of-thousands of gods to one) and the evidence in favor of the atheist, agnostic, and the skeptic point of view, I stand fixed as a matter of conscience in the position of now being able to say I’m presently sorry for promoting what I now see was not truth (i.e. Christianity) for 15 years of my life.  In the event that both the odds and the evidence are wrong, then I guess I’ll find out later, and I’ll still be able to say, “I’m sorry.”  To say that “you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by living AS IF Jesus is Lord” is not only untrue, but it is to say you do not care so much for the truth, as much as for what makes you feel good.

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