Top 7 Redefinitions of Marriage

“If you think same-sex marriage is the biggest redefinition of marriage in history, even in Christian history, you either don’t know your history or you think gender and orientation are more important than number of parties, God, consent, love, permanence, slavery, and equality.”

Lucas's Weblog

A friend asked me if the idea of same-sex marriage was the biggest redefinition of marriage in Western history.  With a nod to her and others who seem attached to this trope, here are my top 7 historical redefinitions of marriage, all of which I consider far more significant than the gender of the couple.

1) From Polygyny (multiple wife marriage) to Monogamy

This debate has been going on for millennia. Polygamy is common in the Old Testament and is still legal in one out of four countries, mostly Muslim. It was only outlawed in the US in the late 19th century. Some Christian Churches in Africa still allow and recognize polygynous marriages.

2) From Civil to Religious Marriage (and back)

In Christian marriage, God plays an important role. However you view the history of the institution – whether it’s a sacrament, who makes it happen, whether it’s permanent…

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RE: Religions Are Products of Culture and Geography, Not Truth

My response:

The source of the “challenge” comes from John Loftus’ blog. Here it is in its full context:

0:22 No, Loftus’ argument is not a genetic fallacy. Loftus is not claiming that the geographic sources of the beliefs themselves invalidate the claims of those beliefs. If you read the article, Loftus argues that religions make objective claims about truth, but they conspicuously conflict each and vary depending on geographic location. Brett’s misrepresentation is a straw man.

1:27 Tu quoque. Moving on….

1:36 Another straw man. If someone out there is claiming that “secularism is true because of the geography” (whatever that means), I’d like to see the source.

2:05 No, Loftus’ argument is not a sociological claim. He is responding directly to the religions that claim to provide objective truths and observing that these claims are inconsistent with the evidence of reality worldwide; and, moreover, the beliefs of those claims conspicuously tend to correspond with their respective geographic locations, suggesting an alternative explanation. Claiming that this is a “sociological claim” is yet another misrepresentation and a straw man.

2:34 “We want to look at the beliefs themselves and see whether or not there’s evidence for them”: This I can agree with. Unfortunately, human beings tend to be very good at rationalizing beliefs despite vastly insufficient evidence for those beliefs.

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Why we have no use for a disembodied intellect – a book review

An excellent review of my favorite book about atheism.

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Words Worth Repeating #7

I saw in a thread on the timeline of a person who shall remain nameless a group of Christians bemoaning marriage equality’s victories, denouncing same-sex couples’ marriages as not real, and offering various dire predictions about what will result from same-sex couples in every American state having the right to marry. Some of the comments ooze anti-gay animus while the commenters insist they love or at least have no particular grievance against same-sex married couples–well, except for the belief that our marriages will bring down the Christian god’s judgment (a judgment that has never arrived, predictions of its arrival for nearly 2,000 years notwithstanding).

The SCOTUS will likely put the last nail in the coffin of marriage inequality by June of this year. Then all these prophets of doom (and their ilk) will have is their dire predictions, which will continue to fail. This is one of the best contemporary examples of religious belief blinding its adherents to reality and triggering cognitive dissonance and the management thereof in response to “prophetic” disconfirmation. As their baleful prognostications continue to fail, they will, as the author of 2 Peter 3:8-10 did in reaction to Jesus failing to return, offer excuses, insisting that “[t]he Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but he is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord WILL come…” (emphasis added).

From an atheist’s perspective, this is good news: another addition to the long line of failed religious prognosis will cause at least some religionists to question, if not abandon their beliefs in light of those beliefs continuing to have an obviously adversarial relationship with reality.

–Mitch Profmth, via Facebook (January 27, 2015)

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RE: Atheists, Prove Abraham Lincoln is Real!

My response:

False analogies–false analogies everywhere.

Let’s start here: Contemporaneous records for Abraham Lincoln exist. Contemporaneous records for Jesus of Nazareth (or was it Bethlehem?) do not exist. Unlike Jesus, it is significantly more likely that Abraham Lincoln existed than that he did not exist. In that regard alone, the two are not analogous.

2:25 It is the believer, not the skeptic, who claims that “if Abraham exists, then vampires exist”; or “if Muhammad exists, then jinn exist”; or “if Jesus exists, then demons exist.” It is the believer who accepts the legend along with the history. A good skeptic fails to see sufficient evidence for the extraordinary claims about vampires, jinn, and demons, but will be less skeptical about the existence of Abraham, Muhammad, and Jesus–all depending on the evidence.

Some propositions are highly likely to be true (Muhammad existed, Abraham Lincoln existed); some are highly unlikely to be true (Krishna existed, Athena existed); and some are uncertain (Jesus existed, King Arthur existed). All of this is quantifiable via Bayesian inference, if you want to get pedantic about it.

“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence,” as Hume famously wrote.  It was true then, and it remains true now. How often do we have to repeat this before it begins to sink in?

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Words Worth Repeating #6

The best manipulators are charlatans. I define charlatans as fraudsters with the unique ability of being able to fool themselves.

Regular fraudsters envision how their victims could be fooled by appearances. They know they are lying, but do it anyway. They are aware they are being dishonest. It’s all about keeping up with appearances.

Charlatans go one step further : they are masters in the art of self-deception. It comes to them naturally. The delimitation between honesty and dishonesty becomes so blurry that lying to their victims doesn’t feel like a reprehensible act anymore, but a virtue. It’s all about repressing doubts until they turn into a feeling of righteousness. The theological term for that transmutation is “faith”.

Both types of fraudsters ―the consciously and subconsciously dishonest ones― enjoy condescension immensely. It’s their primary gain. Being able to manipulate others makes them feel superior and justifies their dishonesty. They compensate by blaming their victims. And, when their victims rebel, they find other means of belittling them; ironically, often by vilifying them. Or, by carrying out threats of ostracism. And, in most severe cases, by killing those that refuse to volunteer as victims-perpetrators.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” ―Matthew 20:16

Religion is such a powerful self-perpetuating meme because, just like in a pyramid scheme, the swindled are also the swindlers. Adult perpetrators are mostly victims of childhood indoctrination. Despair is the recruitment hook for others. Imaginary benefits, like eternal bliss and denial of death, are the selling points to close the deal. The greed that blinds the mark. Condescension is the immediate payoff for participating in the scam. Wanting more power is the motivation for climbing in the hierarchy; it confers, among other advantages, impunity.


–Max Moore, via Facebook, November 16, 2014

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Saving Christmas Review: An interminable, shoddily-researched lecture masquerading as comedy

For those of us who have watched Kirk Cameron pontificate on the wonders of the banana, or read his musings on the legitimacy of the existence of fire-breathing dragons, we know that Kirk Cameron himself is comedy gold. One might expect more hilarity from Cameron in Saving Christmas, but Cameron actually intentionally tries to build a comedy here, and the result is an unfunny, unfocused, interminable mess.

The film begins with an uncomfortable scene involving Kirk Cameron sitting in a chair, lecturing at the audience. “They don’t want us to love Christmas,” Cameron declares authoritatively, never bothering to define exactly who “they” are. Cameron drones on for several more minutes, and at this point in the film, I heard a kid in the back of the theater yawn loudly—perhaps an audible protest that this film would not be the exciting romp promised on the poster.

Finally, the film cuts away from Kirk Cameron, and we see several characters enjoying a Christmas party. But then we see Kirk Cameron again, the film freezes, and we hear Kirk Cameron narrating about himself: “That’s me—Kirk!” More lecturing ensues.

Eventually, a character by the name of Christian (almost as clever as “Josh Wheaton”), a Christian himself, despondently finds his way to a car, apparently disillusioned by the materialism of Christmas. Enter Kirk Cameron, who enters the vehicle and does what he does best—more lecturing.

The majority of the film takes place in this car as Kirk lectures to Christian, with occasional cutaways to Biblical imagery. Cameron tries to make the case that Christmas traditions, such as celebratory trees and gifts, all somehow originated with Christianity, not paganism. (Never mind the fact that ancient paganism predates Christianity.) “Last time I checked, God created the winter solstice!” is the type of asinine reasoning you’ll hear from Kirk Cameron throughout the film. Cameron’s facts are both dubious and sparse, and his connections are spurious—but Christian is nevertheless invariably blown away by Kirk Cameron’s apparently amazing insight.

Perhaps aware that interminable lecturing on its own would be unbearable for an audience, the film provides characters with quirky personalities in an effort to break up the tedium. In particular, we are treated to a scene back in the house of two characters rambling schizophrenically as they drink hot chocolate. It has nothing to do with Christian’s story, it makes the movie feel unfocused, it goes on for far too long, and if my theater is any indication, it is not funny at all. In fact, there was dead silence in my theater throughout the entire run of this “comedy” film.

The film ends with a dance sequence that feels like it lasts ten minutes, as well as multiple, gratuitous blooper scenes—I suppose for no reason other than to pad the running time. Just when you think it’s finally over, we see Kirk Cameron again, and he continues to lecture the audience—this time about how materialism is just fine, because Jesus came to us in a material body, after all.

One gets the impression that Kirk Cameron actually started reading his own Bible, was disturbed by what he found (such as Jesus’ instruction to “go sell your possessions and give to the poor”), and produced this film as a desperate justification for his own hypocrisy.

At my theater, nobody laughed, and nobody stayed for the end credits. This purported comedy film fails at every level. If you’re really looking for a laugh, go back and take a look at what Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort have to say about the glorious design of the banana.

(This review was originally published on IMDb here.)

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What Hawking Actually Meant

I recently posted a message on the God’s Not Dead IMDb message board here, in which I clarified what Stephen Hawking actually meant when he writes that “philosophy is dead.” My clarification resulted in me being accused of being an agent of Satan. Below, you’ll find the contents of my original post.

I remember reading The Grand Design back in 2010. One of the things that surprised me most about the book was Hawking’s regular use of dry humor—often by means of hyperbole.

I’m reminded of this because Hawking recently joined Facebook. His sense of humor remains present, as reflected in one of his most recent posts:

I greatly enjoyed the STARMUS festival. It is a combination of science and rock music, both of which I love. I was interested in the talks by the astronauts and why the Soviet Union didn’t beat Neil Armstrong to the Moon. I will have to read the transcript, because I didn’t understand the translation. I enjoyed hearing how Bob Wilson eliminated pigeons, they thought the microwave background was caused by pigeon droppings, and Richard Dawkins on alien life. Some people say I’m an alien myself, with my robot voice.

In God’s Not Dead, Josh Wheaton smugly announces to a classroom full of students, “Hawking insists that philosophy is dead!” This statement goes completely unquestioned by his audience. However, for those of who actually read Hawking’s book, this line is facepalm-inducingly stupid as someone who might read the above Facebook post and smugly declare, “Hawking insists that he’s an alien robot!!”

In context, Hawking writes:

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. Still, the first sketches of the new concept can be traced back almost a century.

Hawking spends the next few chapters outlining the history of the philosophy of science, and he argues that model-dependent realism is the culmination of that history of scientific inquiry. The remainder of the book explores the physics behind M-theory with that framework in mind.

Obviously, the writers of God’s Not Dead did not read Hawking’s book. My hunch is that they skimmed a Christian blog’s misinterpretation of it and incorporated that misinterpretation of it into their movie. That’s frustrating enough in itself, but when you’re sitting in a theater full of people who are chuckling at how “clever” the aforementioned line about Stephen Hawking is (none of whom have read Hawking’s book, either), you begin to lose all hope for humanity.

All that I can do at this point is continue to tell the truth as much as possible and as loudly as possible. And maybe—just maybe—a few of you out there will take a step back and say, “Hey, those people who told me that the book with the talking donkey is ‘the word of God’ might not have been completely honest with me. And maybe that guy in the wheelchair has a point.”

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Understanding Evolution

After a family member shared the first image in this post to his Facebook page, I feel the need to offer a rudimentary introduction to evolution at a grade-school level–again.


Enough is enough.

This is one of the most misunderstood topics there is. It’s really simple. The problem is that it’s not intuitive. So, unless you learn it properly, you’ll listen to the misleading nonsense and fail to grasp its simplicity, beauty and truth. I’ll explain by example.

Evolution is NOT this:

  1. An animal lives in a place where it has to stretch its neck high to reach leaves (its food).
  2. It stretches for a lifetime, eating and stretching.
  3. It dies, eventually, having stretched its neck two millimetres longer over many years.
  4. Before dying, it gives birth to offspring with slightly longer necks (passing on the trait).
  5. They live their lives in the same way, stretching, adding more length to their neck length.
  6. They pass on this trait to their offspring.
  7. And so on, until a thousand years later, you’ve got a giraffe.

Don’t be impressed by misleading images such…

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Re: What caused you to leave your religion?

Question: “What convinced you to leave your religion? I myself am an atheist and would like to hear other people’s reasons/stories.”

My response:

That’s a question that literally needs a novel to describe in detail—so I’ll keep this as brief as I can.

It began with a willingness to question myself—or at least being forced to question myself when I discovered atheism on the Internet. After that, it moved on to a discovery of formal skepticism (how to properly identify logical fallacies, etc.)—and realizing as a result of that knowledge that many of the apologetic arguments I thought were valid were, to my dismay, invalid.

The more I learned, the less I believed. Philosophy, anthropology, history, biology, physics, and other fields of study all led me to one conclusion: If God exists, then he, she, or it is absolutely determined to build a universe in which it appears that no God exists.

Finally, it was apparent that the religion I was raised with (Protestant Christianity) made absolutely no sense. God wants us to believe based on the teachings of the New Testament, but he didn’t bother preserving the original manuscripts? Salvation is unconditional—under the condition of belief? God loves everyone—so he created Hell? God’s morality is static and objective—but moral pronouncements on matters like slavery change over time? God is not the author of confusion—but there are thousands of different Christian denominations, not to mention other religions?

The more questions I asked, the less sense it made. When I posed these questions to other Christians, the responses were pathetic. “God can do what he wants with His creation.” “You don’t understand: God is God.” “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” “Leave those questions in God’s hands.” “Just look at the trees!” “It takes more faith to be an atheist.”

In fact, I was sometimes accused of being an atheist simply because I was asking the difficult questions. Then more accusations came along: “You choose to believe there is no God because you want sin.” “You just want to believe there is no God because you want to go to Hell.” “You’re blinded by Satan.” The list goes on.

As a result of this quest for understanding my own beliefs, my original belief in Christianity dissolved. In its place, I discovered the joys of discovery through science—the joy of living the one life I know I have to its utmost—and the joy of being at peace about the idea of death. I could finally fully embrace the humility of recognizing my position as a finite, mortal human being. Demons, souls, and Hells were imaginary.

Ultimately, the feeling was one of freedom.

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