Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books I finished in 2013

Thanks to Audible and 40 minutes of driving time every weekday - I was able to get through quite a few books this year. I'm pretty sure that if I had to read these in hard copy format I never would have had time to complete even half of these. Thanks Audible!

In no particular order, here are the audio books I finished this year:

  • The Making of the Fittest by Sean B. Carroll
  • The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
  • The Modern Scholar: Astronomy I  by Prof. James Kaler
  • The Modern Scholar: Astronomy II by Prof. James Kaler
  • Free Will by Sam Harris
  • Forged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
  • Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
  • Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
  • Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier
  • Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion by Dale McGowan
  • Science Matters: Achieving Science Literacy by James Trefil and Robert M. Hazen
  • Deconverted by Seth Andrews
  • Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible by Bart D. Ehrman
  • Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne
  • Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
and right now I'm listening to: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trying to explain the universe

"Claiming God as the ultimate explanation for what exists raises at least as many questions as it answers" - Richard Smith
I found the above quote while reading a new article on the Secular Web by Richard Smith. He gives a very concise explanation  for why he no longer sees Christianity as a credible worldview and it is worth checking out.

I have seen many Christians say things like: "When I consider the idea of something coming from nothing it just makes more sense to say that God did it." Rather than ponder too long about the mystery of the origin of the universe, they insert God and then relax. They assume that prior to our universe existing there was nothing, but there is also the possibility that something, such as energy or matter, has always existed.

When you insert "God" as the ultimate cause of the universe it may automatically "solve" the mystery of how the universe got here, but you now have an even bigger mystery to explain. You shouldn't just throw out an answer without explaining it.

Personally I feel it is more honest to say that I don't know how the universe got here and leave it at that. I enjoy reading the different theories about our universe's origin, but I also realize that a concrete answer may be unattainable and I am okay with that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Matrix Problem

In this post I'd like to outline what I think poses a problem for anyone claiming that an all-knowing deity created our universe. First off, I need to define some of the terms I will be using:

System: I use this word as a synonym of "Universe" and use it to describe everything that actually exists in a given realm.

Realm: I'm going to use this word to examine different possible systems. A familiar example of this is everything we call "natural" would exist in our realm and everything we think of as "supernatural" would exist in a higher realm. Some people think of this as a different "dimension".

Matrix: It would help if you've seen the movie, but basically I'm using the word matrix to describe a virtual system.

Ultimate System: An ultimate system could be called the "ultimate reality" and is the opposite of a matrix. It is a non-virtual system.

Okay, we got that out of the way, now let's take a leap down the proverbial rabbit hole. Try and imagine what an empty system would look like. This would be a system with no matter and no energy in it. No events take place in this system, so there is never a "before" or "after". As you try to imagine this vast emptiness are you imagining it with empty space? Does space exist in this empty system? I think it does, because space is not a thing. It doesn't really "exist" so to speak, it's just there.. with nothing in it. If you've ever worked in a 3-D modeling program, you know that before you add a sphere or a cube to the workspace your view is completely empty. You can zoom in and out and nothing actually changes. This is what I imagine an empty system would look like (empty!).

Now, I'll introduce the age old question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?". Usually this is asked concerning the beginning of our universe. This question implies that the default system is an empty system. We can imagine what an empty system looks like, but we can't really explain why it should be the "default" or why it should be the starting point. I'll come back to this later. Now I would like to discuss a virtual system or a "matrix" system.

Christians believe that "God" created our universe. Using my definitions above this would make our universe (our system) a matrix. Our realm would be a virtual reality created by a higher being and would not be an ultimate reality. "God" would then exist in a higher realm that Christians would say is the supernatural realm. This supernatural realm, they say, is the ultimate reality. The problem is that there is no way of knowing whether or not any given system is the ultimate system. This is the matrix problem. Anyone who lives inside a matrix has no way of knowing they are in one unless someone from outside the matrix tells them or takes them outside of the matrix and shows them. If this revelation never happens to you then you can assume one of two things:
  1. You are in a matrix, but have no way of confirming it. 
  2. You are not in a matrix, but instead exist inside an ultimate system.
If we are in a matrix created by God then God also would have no way of knowing whether or not he was in a matrix created by a higher God in a higher realm. If there is a creator of our system he is in the same boat as us, not knowing whether or not he was created from a higher realm. This is a problem for Christians who believe in a God that knows everything. Their God really has no way of knowing whether he was created or not.

If I create a virtual world on my computer and program some artificial intelligence to go along with some 3-D people in a land like Sim City and give them some advanced thinking abilities so that they start wondering whether or not they are in a matrix, this would add one more system to the layers of systems. There is no way the people in my matrix would know whether they are in a matrix or an ultimate system.

In light of this matrix problem, how should we proceed? Let's assume momentarily that God made our system. How should he proceed? Should he assume that his system is an ultimate system? What if his system was created by a higher God (HGod)? Perhaps HGod even created God as an eternal being within this system. Should God worry about this possibility? I would like to propose that unless HGod reveals himself to God,  God should not assume that HGod exists, since it is ultimately unknowable. What if God exists in a system with other deities and one of those deities claims that he has heard from HGod? Should God believe this other deity? What if there are several deities all claiming they have heard from different types of HGods? I think God should be skeptical of their claims because they could be lying or mistaken. Does this seem reasonable? I think we should apply the same skepticism to our own condition.

Should we then assume that our own system is an ultimate system? Personally I think this is unknowable, but I would leave this type of question to those who study our universe. Let people like Einstein and future geniuses try and figure out how our system actually works. We should not be surprised if the universe does not actually behave the way we intuitively think it should. Getting back to the empty system, our intuition tells us that the default system is an empty system. We think that the only reason something exists in our system is because it was formed from a previous state of nothingness. But what if an empty system is not actually possible? Perhaps our intuitions are wrong for thinking this way.

To summarize, it appears that no one can truly be all-knowing because it is logically impossible. You can never be certain whether you exist in a matrix or not. Even if you have always existed within your realm it is still possible that you were designed that way from a higher realm. I would also like to reiterate: Unless HGod reveals himself to God, God should not assume that HGod exists, since it is ultimately unknowable. The same applies to us as well.

Now I feel like watching the Matrix...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reading between the lines

Please carefully read Genesis 3:14-19 before reading this post. You may not see it at first, but within these six verses of specific curses for Adam, Eve and a snake are a multitude of punishments beyond imagining. You have to look very closely to realize what is actually being said: The entire universe is cursed with countless curses because of Adam and Eve's disobedience.

Yes, that's right, because a talking snake persuaded Adam and Eve to eat some forbidden fruit everyone from that point forward will be born with sin and condemned to hell. You don't see that line? Look closer, it also says that from now on animals will eat animals and diseases will abound. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, famine, pestilence, floods, wildfires, blizzards, sink holes, avalanches, sand storms and cosmic collisions are all neatly tucked away behind this unbelievable passage. Fungus, mold, bacteria, mites, lice, ticks, mosquitoes, leaches and other harmful parasites were added to the earth for further punishment.

In short, everything bad was created at this point in time. All manner of suffering was now unleashed upon the earth. Certain hornets were created with decapitation claws for slicing the heads off of their honeybee prey. Sharks were given immense lethal jaws for wreaking havoc on the ocean's inhabitants. Lions and tigers were given large teeth perfect for shredding the flesh of grazing herbivores. On top of this, Earth's young population was introduced to sicknesses and disabilities that would become spread throughout all of the future generations. I won't list them all, but here are some that you have probably heard of: mental disabilities, blindness, deafness, heart conditions, polio, influenza, aids/hiv, scarlet fever, fatal allergies, multiple sclerosis, liver failure, leukemia, brain tumors, cerebral palsy, birth defects, cancers, malaria, ebolavirus, hepatitus, bubonic plague, alzheimers, parkinsons, autism, dementia, epilepsy, arthritis, schizophrenia, rickets, leprosy, diabetes, cholera, rabies, shingles, tuberculosis, smallpox, whooping cough, tetanus, well I think you get the idea.

How can a loving God allow all this suffering? Christians point to the verses I referenced above and say that it is all a result of sin entering the world. I don't know where they see this, but if I'm not mistaken the writer of Genesis left a few items off of the list. I think this is important because it's one of the most common questions Christians are asked: "Why so much suffering? and even for children and infants?" This important question is quickly answered and blamed on our free will and the curse of sin. That's a nice polished answer, but you won't find it recorded in Genesis. All it mentions are some very specific curses: snakes have to crawl and eat dust, women have to endure pain during child birth and men have to sweat and work the ground among thorns and thistles. It appears to me that Christian apologists beginning with Paul and everyone since have really stuffed a lot more into these passages then should be allowed. I think it's another example of how man-made the Bible really is and how it has been a work in progress all along, still being appended and reinterpreted to this day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Facts that dislodged my faith in the Bible

I once believed that the Bible was historically accurate.

I now believe that it contains a lot of myths / folk stories and is therefore not a reliable history record. Most of these stories, such as the exodus, were probably not invented by a single person, but were passed down for generations with small embellishments made along the way. Other stories, like the story of Jonah, probably were invented by a single person who was trying to make a political or theological point. I'd like to list some facts that in my opinion make a solid case for the unreliability of the Bible.


Carbon dating of ancient settlements
The Biblical timeline can be pretty well established using all of the genealogies. According to this timeline, the world was created by God around 4000 BC. This timeline places the Biblical flood at around 2300 BC at which time the entire world was destroyed with a global flood that killed everyone except Noah and his family and the animals on the ark. This means that all of the nations that we have archaeological artifacts from must have existed after 2300 BC. The Akkadians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chinese, Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, Aboriginal Australians, etc. must have all descended from  Noah's three sons. If they had existed before the flood, all of their artifacts, buildings and remains would have been destroyed by the year long global flood. This creates some real dating problems for creationists because they have to squish all of the ancient history for these nations into two millenniums. We have written records from the Sumerians that date back to 2900 BC and historians date the settlement of Sumer at around 4000 BC. The Kish tablet is said to be the oldest preserved writing we have from the Sumerians and is dated to ca. 3500 BC.

There have been human settlements discovered that date back much further than the Sumerians. For example, the buildings at Gobekli Tepe were first built around 9500 BC. One of the methods used to date these settlements is C-14 dating. Creationists believe this method is unreliable, but this has really been disproven by the numerous findings that carbon dating has been checked against. It is a lot of work, but scientists are very thorough and have calibrated this method and have been able to cross-verify its accuracy with other dating methods such as tree-ring dating.

The distribution of animal species / endemic species
According to Answers in Genesis, Noah was able to fit about 8,000 different kinds of animals on his ark. From this number of animals we are to believe that they have diverged into the millions of species we have today. Creationists routinely scoff the idea of species evolving into different species, but they surprisingly have no problem with hyper fast animal diversity occurring within a few thousand years.

The animals that left the ark would have had to survive in the barren flood lands that would have followed the great deluge. They must have all made quite a run for it after being released from their cages on the ark. They needed to escape all of the carnivores and mate quickly before one of them died. Perhaps Noah gave the herbivores a head start. With this picture of the post-flood world in your mind, let's look at what we actually see today.

Consider all of the unique species that exist on islands. Kangaroos must have left the ark and headed straight for Australia since they are found nowhere else on the planet (including fossil remains). The same goes for the Koala, the Tasmanian Devil, the Platypus and the Echidna (to name a few) that all high-tailed it for Australia. Lemurs decided to go directly to Madagascar and are found nowhere else. Armadillos on the other hand headed directly to South / Central America and are found nowhere else. There are lots of these endemic species so I won't list them all, and I won't even get into all of the different endemic insects and plants. The point is, this is not what we would expect to see if all of the animals has dispersed from a central location only 4,000 years ago. Evolution, on the other hand, predicts that we would find exotic, unique species on islands because they have been isolated for long periods of time.

Also, in the post-flood world there were animals that had to get back to their natural habitats without dying on the way there. Try to picture the penguin family making their way from the middle east back to Antarctica. What about rain forest animals? Did they have to stand around waiting for their particular ecosystem to grow back? If all of the fresh water fish somehow survived the toxic mixing of salt water oceans with fresh water, did they afterward get lucky and end up in the right pond, river or lake? To read more about the problems with the idea of a global flood, click here.

The universe is very old
When I was a Christian I never researched how astronomers have been able to determine cosmological distances. Now that I realize that it is based on observable science and I've taken the time to understand how it works it has become quite clear to me that the universe is in fact billions of years old. The fact that we are able to see light from galaxies that are billions of light-years away, means that the light from those galaxies has been traveling for billions of years. Right now the furthest known galaxy is MACS0647-JD and is 13.3 billion light years from Earth. If you would like to learn how cosmological distances are calculated, I recommend starting with this article: Determining Distances to Astronomical Objects. If you look on the Answers in Genesis website, you'll see that they agree with these methods and admit that stars exist that are millions and billions of light-years away. They try to twist out of this problem by saying things like "Maybe time used to be faster" or "Maybe light used to travel faster", but even if this were possible they are ignoring the vast difference between billions and thousands of years.

Also interesting: Helium-burning binary stars give us a new tape measure for the universe. The distance to the   Large Magellanic Cloud, the second closest galaxy to the Milky Way, was calculated with new precision to 49.97 kiloparsecs from the Earth (~164,901 light years away).

Ancient human fossils
Click here for a list of fossils on Wikipedia. Biblical creationists have had to do a lot of work trying to figure out how all these fossils fit into the Biblical timeline. They usually try to classify the fossils as either being an ape or a human and they don't always agree on these. Neanderthals, I believe, are agreed on as being humans. There have been roughly 400 different Neanderthal specimens discovered, mainly in Europe. Many young-earth creationists say that the Neanderthals were part of the dispersal from Babel. I find this strange, because most Neanderthals lived in caves (some made dwellings out of animal bones) and they had primitive tools. In contrast, the people mentioned in the Bible who lived at Babel were city dwellers and were capable of building a tall tower. I don't see how a group of people from Babel would be able to go from city building to such primitive circumstances. Also, how did the Neanderthals develop such unique skull differences in such a short time? Click here for a picture of a Homo Sapiens skull next to a Neanderthal skull.


While the facts I have mentioned created some serious problems for my trust in the Bible, they are not what ultimately caused me to distrust it. It was the moral problems that really opened my eyes and helped me realize that the Bible could not be inspired or infallible. I read this lecture by Emmett Fields and by the time I reached the end of it my faith in the Bible had crumbled. I realized that it made much more sense to read the Bible strictly as the written works of men.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Shouldn't Christians hope they are wrong?

There are a bunch of things that Christians believe that I find hard to swallow. Yes, I was once a Christian so I can understand how they HAVE to believe these things in order to maintain their doctrines, but I wish they would consider, as I have, that they may be wrong. Some of these things they believe are so terrible that it should compel them to hope that they may be wrong. For example, if I believed that an ancient people prophesied that in three years the world would be impacted by an alien missile that would send the earth on a collision course with the sun and that subsequently every living thing on the planet would become fried - Shouldn't I spend all my time trying to prove myself wrong? Christians also believe that one day billions of people will fry in the flames of hell, but they take it another step further and make it last forever. What an awful thought. Shouldn't this compel them to hope that they are wrong? Shouldn't they be reading all of the critical books that have been written against their religion? Shouldn't they be researching all of the scientific discoveries that may contradict what is written in their holy book? It may dash their hopes of one day reaching their eternal paradise, but in my opinion that is a small price to pay.

A man may spend his life inventing medical cures that save the lives of millions and prevents much suffering, but in the Christian worldview, if he did not believe and dedicate his life to the god/man Jesus then he will spend an infinite number of years wailing and gnashing his teeth in unquenchable flames. 

According to Christian beliefs, I would have been infinitely better off if I had died in a car accident while I was still a Christian than later abandoning my faith in the religion and one day reaping the consequences. 

I'm sure if you asked most Christians they would say that aborted babies all end up in heaven along with miscarriages and other infants who die young. If this is true then, according to Christian beliefs, all of these babies are better off dead and in heaven then having to live here on earth and possibly not becoming a "real" Christian.

Christians look forward to the day that they can leave this earth for a better home where they can eternally be at the feet of Yahweh, worshiping him forever. Unfortunately they have to do this in spite of being aware of his deeds in the Old Testament. Yahweh was at one time fed up with people so much that he drowned a world full of them including plants, animals, children, elderly and everything that breathed. Yahweh also commanded his chosen people to annihilate the people who lived in Canaan and would not allow them to spare anything that breathed (except a group of virgins once). I'm not sure which was worse: being killed with a blunt sword or having to be the one doing the killing. Why do they want to believe this with all their heart? Because Jesus fixed all of this? 

Jesus had some good ideas, but he was not perfect. He supposedly said things like: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword", "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother", and "All these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them." If you think that's not so bad, read about what happens in the book of Revelation and I doubt you'll think the New Testament is a nice book anymore.

In a last attempt modern Christians will re-interpret every passage in the Bible that they have a problem with, they will focus on the social aspects of Jesus' words and Paul's writings, and they will try as much as possible to become relevant for the culture of today. Even this modern version of Christianity should raise some eyebrows. Most modern Christians still believe that the majority of the world is going to hell. Most of them still believe that human sacrifice is a medium for appeasing their god (thankfully it was a one time deal). Most of them still focus on the brutal act of a Roman crucifixion and focus on a broken body and spilled blood. Most of them still believe that any day now the world and everything left in it is going to be destroyed and remade. And most of them still become self-righteous and tend to look down on anyone who does not believe what they believe. All I ask is that they open up about their doubts and become honest with one another. They should be open to other points of view. 

If humanity is going to thrive in the future, things like bigotry and intolerance need to be set aside. Superstitions should be cast off. Apocalyptic and doomsday thinking should be kept in check with reality. Attempts at finding the truth of a matter should begin with evidence and probability and should not be based on dogma and presuppositions. The value of life must be upheld. Suffering should always be avoided. People should be kind and thoughtful to others because they want to, not because they want to gain an eternal reward. I'm not saying anything new. This has all been hashed out many times before. The question is, do Christians deep down really hope they are right about these things? Shouldn't they hope to be wrong?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thoughts on values, morality

In this post I'd like to comment on the controversial topic of absolute morality vs. moral relativism. From my point of view it seems that all we have available to us is moral relativism. In other words, all we have is everyone's different opinions on what's good for us and what's bad. Christians claim that God sets the standard for us to live by, but if that's the case then he has not made that clear to us. How can we be expected to trust in something written down by ancient people (the Bible)? Especially when it has many things that seem morally wrong, such as stoning disobedient children, killing witches, eternal torment, genocide, human sacrifice, etc. Also, this collection of ancient writings (the Bible) has been interpreted in many, many different ways.

Does everyone have the same set of values implanted within them by God? If that were true then we would all agree on what's right and wrong. In some cultures women are not given the same rights as men (even driving a car), they think that's right, but I think it's wrong. A few centuries ago there were people in America  who thought slavery was not wrong, but I think it is. Lying, in my opinion, is not always wrong. If you had lived in Nazi Germany and you were hiding Jews in your basement, it would have been good to lie when asked if you knew where any Jews were. If you are a spy that works for the CIA, you may have to lie all the time, and I think that is okay because it is a necessity for that type of job. The most clear example of different  moral standards is the stark contrast between modern people and ancient.

So, where do we get our values from? I think we get them from our parents and our culture. I think down through the years different cultures have been improving values little by little. Judaism and Christianity have given us the value of helping the poor and needy. The enlightenment period gave us the value of science and reason which helped dispose of superstitions. Modern thinking has given us the values of freedom and equality. Modern medicine has instructed us in good values for eating and exercising. And modern science has established the values of recycling and sustainability (to name a few). Having values gives us the ability to make this world a better place to live. Some day we may be able to do away with war and famine and we can try to minimize suffering as much as possible.

What about guilt, where does that come from? I think this uncomfortable feeling comes whenever we do something that other people do not agree with or perhaps we ourselves do not approve of. Since we worry about what other people think about us, we are constantly aware of their possible judgments. Also, if you've been raised in a Christian environment as I have, you will think that God is keeping tabs on you and expects you to do things a certain way. I think all of these things have been the ideas and creations of men, however.

Values help us everyday to make good decisions. Good decisions will result in a happier life and will make those around us happy as well. There may not be a clear standard for everyone to follow, but we try our best and learn from the past.

My challenge to someone who claims absolute morals exist is simple. If they exist, then tell us what they are. Once you've been able to decide on what those are tell us on what authority they are based. No matter what, you will have to rely on your own opinions and biases to make this list. Since they are based on your own opinions and biases they are, by definition, relative to you and not absolute.