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Religiosity-Biology or Brain-Washing?

In this blog I’m going to suggest that the extent of our eventual adult religiosity is predetermined by the way our temporal lobes are “wired”.  Most people accept their own religious beliefs, if any, are influenced by the religious beliefs of their parents. They also accept these beliefs are also influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by the prevailing cultural values of those around them. Many people simply adsorb the religious culture of their parents. These people are just the product of effective brain washing whilst young & vulnerable, as this short video illustrates so succinctly.

Cultural propagation of beliefs from one generation to the next is particularly effective where Islam is concerned. Every Muslim is brain washed from birth to believe Allah is the one true god, & to believe Muhammad is both his prophet and the ideal Muslim. All critical thought and opposition to Islam is crushed at a very early age, and all Muslim apostates are threatened with punishment & often killed. If you think my assessment of Islam is an outrageous over simplification, then I suggest you’re either a Muslim yourself, or a non-Muslim who knows nothing whatsoever about real Islam.

However, early parental brain washing is only one factor influencing our eventual religiosity. Many do just stick with the faith imposed on them as children, and then repeat the process with the next generation. Most people in this category are, I would suggest, just nominal, unquestioning believers, who simply accept what they are told. A few people discard their early belief system & adopt a new one when they get older. Yet others simply grow up & eventually grow out of it. And yet others grow up without any religious influences whatsoever.

So what really decides what we chose to believe as we get older? Why do some of us appear to have an intrinsic need to believe, whilst others are left wondering why anyone believes what they seem to believe? What other factors are at play that can either reinforce early-established beliefs or lead us to completely reject such beliefs? Obviously we are all defined by our own unique blend of nature & nurture, but in this blog I’m going raise a very contentious issue, and suggest that ardent religiosity, & the complete lack of it, are both more a question of nature and less a question of nurture.

I now believe that our potential religiosity is just another facet of our humanity, and like all such facets, both physical & non physical, there exists a spectrum of potential responses, ranging from total vulnerability to religion at one end to absolute indifference at the other end. We all fit somewhere on this religiosity spectrum, & where we fit more or less determines how we respond to religion & religious influences. The controlling factor determining where we actually fit on this religiosity spectrum seems to be the “wiring” in the temporal lobe region of our brains. It is becoming increasingly clear that both ardent religiosity at one end of this spectrum, and the complete lack of it at the other end, seem to be far more dependent on nature , and far less dependent on nurture.

Now I fully appreciate that this idea/suggestion is not going to be well received by ardent theists, but I do think the facts now speak for themselves. I openly admit I neither understand nor fully appreciate the finer points of the intricate physiology involved, but this lack of understanding does not stop me appreciating the implications of a new branch of neurology called neurotheology. This new discipline specifically studies how our brains, most notably our temporal lobes, influence our religiosity. These studies are helping us to understand why some people are more religious than others, and helping us to explain why those with temporal lobe sensitivity can often have hallucinatory spiritual experiences, which leaves them totally convinced they are real experiences. Trying to convince these people that their experiences are just hallucinatory experiences triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE] is extremely difficult, such is their conviction that their experiences are real. To those who remain unconvinced & sceptical about TLE induced religiosity and TLE induced religious conversions I simply say this; those with open minds who are prepared to look will find more than enough information/evidence to satisfy even the most sceptical person.

Perhaps the most iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul claims he met Jesus who he knew was dead, but  his various “conversion symptoms” are all classic  symptoms of TLE. Landsborough in 1987 [1] and Brorson & Brewer in 1988 [2], both suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy, and both papers state that focal epileptic seizures starting in the temporal lobes are fairly common occurrences, and potentially at least, anyone could have a single epileptic seizure at some point in their life.Most of these epileptic seizures follow a pattern very similar to that experienced by Paul. That is, they happen suddenly, without any warning, last only a relatively short period of time, and then just stop by themselves.

The other iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Muhammad claims he received many verbal messages from God, revealed to him through the angel Gabriel, and again Muhammad’s various symptoms exhibited whilst “receiving” these messages are all classic symptoms of TLE, all of which have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina [3], by M. A. Sherlock [4] and by F. W. Burleigh [5]. Looking back at history, it is now possible to see many other such instances that probably resulted from similar experiences, notably Joan of Arc’ visions in 1429 and possibly John Wesley’s Aldergate experience in 1738.

Many other lesser examples of TLE induced religiosity can now be found in the scientific/medical literature. Dewhurst and Beard in 1970 published a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry [6] called “Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy”. This very comprehensive review paper, demonstrated that religiosity of the epileptic was a recognised medical phenomenon, even as far back as the mid 19th century. Dewhurst and Beard’s review paper summarises many scientific reports mentioning religious experiences triggered by epilepsy, many of which were published well before the advent of sophisticated brain imaging techniques. In 1872/73, Howden [7] reported a conversion experience in which the patient believed that he was in Heaven. In 1899, Mabille [8] discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy. In 1919, Boven [9] stressed the intensified piety of the epileptic after a severe seizure, and mentioned a 14 year-old boy who, after a seizure, saw God and the angels, and heard a celestial fanfare of music. In 1955, Karagulla and Robertson [10] discussed four temporal lobe epileptics with visual hallucinations. One of them had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky.

More recent reports listed by Dewhurst and Bear include the following. In 1963, Beard [11] reported the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind. In 1963, Slater and Beard [12] reported that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common, and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences. In 1963, Christensen [13] reported on the religious conversions of 22 men, all professionally engaged in the field of religion. Christensen also defined conversion, as an acute hallucinatory experience, occurring within the framework of religious belief, and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert. Finally, in 1966, Sedman [14] mentioned states of ecstasy, in which the victim sees the Heaven open, hears God speaking, and feels himself transfigured, and even believes that he is God.

Such, apparently, is the power of one’s mind to deceive one’s senses. I was particularly struck by obvious similarities with Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. In particular, the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind” as reported by Beard [11].

Also, Christensen’s definition of conversion [13] as an acute hallucinatory experience occurring within the framework of religious belief and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert” could have been describing Paul himself. I also thought that Slater and Beard’s report [12] that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences” was also highly relevant.

Since the publication of Dewhurst and Beard’s 1970 review paper [6], medical understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy has come on in leaps and bounds, thanks in part, to the development of more and more sophisticated brain imaging techniques. More recently, scientist like Dr Michael Persinger, Ph.D., professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Laurentian University in Canada, and like Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, Ph.D., director of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, have regularly reported on, and/or lectured on, new developments in this new field of brain science called neurotheology viz. the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality.

In 2009 Dr Persinger [15], working at Laurentian University, reported that 80% of normal people felt a sensed presence within the room, when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. He also found that very religious people, with temporal lobe sensitivity, had a religious experience when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. Working in parallel, at the University of California, Dr Ramachandran and his team studied the brains of people with temporal lobe epilepsy, and found that the extent of a person’s religious belief, may depend on how enhanced is this part of the brain’s electrical circuitry. Perhaps the most sensational headline in this scientific field occurred back in 1997, when Dr Ramachandran’s team of neuroscientists first announced the discovery of the god spot or “God Module” in the brain. This announcement was widely reported in the world media e.g. by Steve Connor (LA Times) [16] and by Robert Lee Hotz (Seattle Times) [17].

Dr Ramachandran’s findings, back in 1997, pointed to a region of the brain [temporal lobes], that when stimulated, creates hallucinations that are interpreted as mystical or spiritual experiences. It was claimed, that this “God module” may be responsible for man’s evolutionary instinct to believe in religion. This god spot is affected by epilepsy, and it is often stimulated naturally during meditation and prayer. It can also be affected by externally applied electromagnetic fields. Those who responded to this external stimulation, tended to explain their hallucination experiences in terms that were related to their own personal beliefs. Typical examples include visits from angels, visits from lost loved ones, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness and even visits from God.

It is now widely thought, that hallucinations occurring as the result of temporal lobe epilepsy, may be the real cause of mystical, spiritual and paranormal experiences, such as out-of-body experiences, and feelings of a presence in the room. It was suggested, that such experiences may explain why so many epileptics become obsessed with religion. However, most scientists today, including Ramachandran, think the idea of a single God module in the brain is far too simplistic. Nevertheless, it is now possible to routinely induce epileptic-like religious experiences in perfectly normal people. Obviously, those with strong emotional needs to maintain the religious status quo will have great difficulty accepting the implications of these new studies, but for the rest of us, they offer a chance to look anew at the origins of religions.

Having now offered some food for thought, I’m hoping those with anything resembling an open mind will now accept that both ardent religiosity & complete indifference to religion may indeed be just biological responses to biological needs triggered by biological stimuli. I’ll thus finish this blog by asking a very simple personal question. Where do you fit on this religiosity spectrum? Are you simply someone in the middle who follows blithely in your parents footsteps? Or does your temporal lobe “wiring” make you a needy religious person who has great difficulty understanding why some of us have no need for religion. Or perhaps like me, your temporal lobe “wiring” makes you critically sceptical of all religions and leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about.

References

[1] Landsborough D, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1987 Jun; 50(6):659-64.

[2] Brorson J R & Brewer K, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1988 Jun; 51(6):886-7.

[3] Ali Sina, Muhammad and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)

[4] M. A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?

[5] F. W. Burleigh, Was Muhammad an Epileptic?

[6] Dewhurst K & Beard A W, Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy, British Journal of Psychiatry 1970: 117: 497–507.

[7] Howden J C, The religious sentiments in epileptic, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7.

[8] Mabille H, Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81.

[9] Boven W, Religiosite et _epilepsie. Schweiz Arch f Neurol u Psychiat 1919: 4: 153–69.

[10] Karagulla S & Robertson E E, Physical phenomena in temporal lobe epilepsy and the psychoses. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52.

[11] Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29.

[12] Slater E & Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50.

[13] Christensen C, Religious conversion. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16.

[14] Sedman G, Being an epileptic: a phenomenological study of epileptic experiences. Psychiat Neurol 1966: 152:1–16.

[15] Persinger M, 2009, Are our brains structured to avoid refutations of belief in God? An experimental study. Religion, 39(1): 34-42].

[16] Steve Connor, Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 29 October 1997

[17] Robert Lee Hotz, via Seattle Times, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997

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I’m So Lucky

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told how lucky I am to be still fit & active in my late seventies, with no signs [as yet] of any of the many debilitating physical diseases and mental illnesses that seem to afflict most people of my age. And yes, people who say I’m lucky are right. I really am lucky. Lucky that I can ignore my early morning aches & pains and force myself to do my little routine workout before getting ready for the day. And very lucky in deed, that come rain or shine, I can force myself to go out everyday [well almost] for a brisk three mile walk. And whilst out on these walks, I’m amazed at how lucky I am to be able to walk on pass those two eating establishments offering reasonably priced all day breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs, sausages chips & baked beans. Well lucky on most days anyway. Occasionally my luck runs out, and I find myself having to endure one of those delectable brunches.

Most of the time, however, my luck holds and I return home ready to force myself to eat more sensible food. But don’t get me wrong. I’m no veggie. I like meat & junk food as well as any man, but because I’m so lucky, I’m usually able to resist the temptations to snack all day on crisps & chocolate etc and lucky enough to be able to force myself to eat a more healthy diet. And come the evening, whilst relaxing in front of the goggle box or listening to Classic FM, my luck prevails and I’m able to force myself to reach for my mini dumbbells, ready for an upper torso work out whilst enjoying the entertainment.

So yes, when all is said and done, I really do feel very very lucky. But my two luckiest breaks both occurred back in 1983 when I got married & settled down. Both of these lucky breaks resulted in dramatic changes to my lifestyle. Lucky break number one occurred when I finally managed to quit smoking [some 30-40 a day for over 25 years]. Lucky break number two followed shortly afterwards, when I managed to give up my serious drinking habit [some 6 pints a day on weekdays and 10 pints a day at weekends]. I say lucky enough to give up serious drinking deliberately, because I still enjoy a couple of pints every now & then. But the funny thing is, neither of these lucky breaks left me feeling any better off financially. Guess that’s married life for you.

So, although none of us can escape the fact that we are all basically products of chosen lifestyles that dictate what we do/don’t do & dictate what we eat/don’t eat, only we lucky ones seem able to make the right choices. The rest, the unlucky ones who seem to live on junk food diets and adopt sedentary lifestyles, have to accept the inevitable consequences. If you just slob around and eat nothing but shit most of the time, be prepared to look shit & feel shit in later life,.

Life really is so unfair.

 

The Firebrand — via Rdxdave’s Weblog

The last paragraph of Rdxdave’s blog says it all.

//We shouldn’t disrespect people just because they think differently than us. We can disrespect the ideas, but purposely attacking their person just because of their ideas? No. Fight the idea because ideas can be changed as rare as that is//

 

Getting more involved in an atheist/skeptic group has reawakened some of the harder disparities within a single movement. While everyone seems to have the same general goal, the method of getting there seems to always be in dispute. This is quite important because how you get to a place will no doubt speak to the […]

via The Firebrand — Rdxdave’s Weblog

7 Tips for Closeted Atheist Teenagers

The Closet Atheist

Over the years, I have received a lot of emails and messages from other closeted atheists asking for advice. Most of these messages have been from atheists in high school, wondering what to do in regards to having this secret among Christian friends, parents, and church members. Thanks to a tweet from Godless Iowan, I decided that compiling my advice together could hopefully prove helpful for at least one of my younger readers.

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Religiosity v Objectivity

Just a couple of quick points following on from the religiosity spectrum concept introduced in my last blog 

First point. I think it’s fair to say most people can be classified either as needy theists, passive theists or non theists. Needy theists are those with a strong intrinsic need to believe what they do believe & they often have great difficulty understanding why others do not share their beliefs. Passive theists are those who blithely follow where their parents lead, and they seem happy to just accept what they are told without too much questioning. Passive theists presumably tailor the extent of their belief & the depth of their belief  to match their own intrinsic needs. Non theists have a natural immunity to all religious influences, & eventually they come to view all religions with sceptical disbelief. They often have great difficulty understanding why others believe what they do believe.

Second, and slightly more contentious, point. I think it’s fair to say that needy theists with strong intrinsic needs to believe cannot possibly remain objective when assessing the veracity of the available evidence. They will automatically classify “evidence” as relevant/true or irrelevant/untrue according to how it fits in with their intrinsic needs. More often than not, they will do this completely unconsciously. Therefore, needy theists will  always end up finding the evidence/proof they so desperately need. Only non theists who are immune/indifferent to religious influences can hope to assess the evidence in a realistic & objective manner. They alone have no emotional baggage invested in the final outcome. They alone have no interest in preserving the status quo.

My apologies to those who think this smacks of grandmothers & eggs but there are still some people out there who just don’t get it.

 

Six Reasons Why I’m Not a Christian

I did think my blogging days were well & truly over. I’d said all I wanted to say about Christianity and its dubious origins, and I’d relegated myself to a casual blog reader who left occasional comments. However, recent unprovoked abusive comments from a certain blogger [see here and here] have caused me to saddle up and respond to this unwarranted & totally unprovoked abuse [see below for a flavour of these comments]

if you and s****** want my vote for most profoundly ignorant bloggers on WordPress”

“don’t have time to endlessly entertain your silliness”

reduces your credibility to less than worthless”

you seem more like an angry lunatic

“Sorry, Ken but you are a dime a dozen internet atheist and not worth the time”

I’ll start this blog by clarifying the central issue causing all this animosity. Christians claim Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem 2000 years ago & then resurrected from the dead. I’m happy to accept Jesus was crucified as claimed, but I do not accept he was then resurrected. I reject the Christian resurrection claims for the following six reasons.

  1. The resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Anyone who actually looks closely at Christianity soon realises that the only evidence for the resurrection claims is the evidence found in the New Testament Gospels. There is no other credible evidence available. This does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of these Gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This simple argument has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it. However, as I’ve already demonstrated in an earlier blog, the existence of these Gospels does not prove conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

  1. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

The New Testament portrays this conversion as a divine encounter with “a resurrected Jesus” and Christians reject totally all suggestions that this was just a sensory hallucinatory experience triggered by TLE. We can’t blame Paul for thinking it was a divine encounter, because back then they knew nothing about TLE, but today there is a growing mountain of medical evidence that enables us to explain Paul’s so called divine experience in a simple & rational manner. Christians, however, still prefer to stick to their 2000 year old supernatural interpretation, of what we now know is a fairly common occurrence. See “Resurrection! What Resurrection?” in The Christianity Myth for more details on this topic.

  1. Claims made by Peter & by Paul.

Christians accept that Paul never met Jesus whilst he was alive. They also accept Paul’s knowledge of events in Jerusalem came directly from Peter when they first met, some three years after Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul summarised what he learned from Peter in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. He later relays this second-hand hearsay information to his early Christian communities. Established Christian apologists like Habermas do not dispute this chain of events. On the contrary, many of today’s Christian scholars believe it strengthens their resurrection argument, because it links the resurrection claims found in the Gospels directly to a reliable & reputable eye witness, namely Peter. I address the veracity of Peter’s claims in section 5.

  1. New Testament Chronology.

Professor Taboo’s excellent table in the section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” provides us with an excellent up to date summary of the relevant chronology. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all four Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem oblivious of this point.

  1. Veracity of Gospel resurrection claims.

Given the chronology involved [see point 4], I think we can safely assume that all four resurrection accounts found in the New Testament Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original claims, which Paul later passed on to his early Christian communities. This simple chain of events highlights Christianity’s Achilles heel [see my earlier blog for more details]. Because Christians automatically assume the alleged resurrection actually happened, they never stop to question the veracity of Peter’s original claims. They just tacitly assume he told the truth, & then hope nobody notices. Who knows, maybe they just do it unconsciously. However, Peter’s claims are in fact, just uncorroborated & unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, I think we can say with some certainty, that all four Gospel resurrection claims are based entirely on unsubstantiated & uncorroborated claims made 2000 years ago by a peasant fisherman from Galilee. Christians have no choice but to just ignore this awkward fact and again hope no one notices [again I’ve dealt with this issue in more detail in an earlier blog ].

  1. The Gospel gap.

There is a 40-60 year gap between the alleged resurrection c 30 AD and the appearance of the four cannonised gospels c 70-90 AD. Explaining this gap has always been a thorny issue for Christians, because their starting point must be “the resurrection actually happened”. Therefore, logic dictates that someone somewhere should have recorded the alleged event whilst eye witnesses were still around. But they didn’t, and Christian scholars still struggle to explain why several adult generations passed by before the Gospels finally appeared.

But if you change the starting-point to “the resurrection never happened” and then divide this awkward gap into two separate periods, a pre gospel period [c 30-70 AD] and a gospel period [c 70-90 AD], there is no problem explaining the dating of the gospels. No gospels were written in the Pre-Gospel Period [c 30-70 AD] because there was no resurrection to write about. There was just Paul going round the pagan world establishing his early Christian communities. He established these nascent Christian communities because he genuinely believed Peter’s claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Paul tells these communities about the death & resurrection of Jesus, but he tells them absolutely nothing about Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Later, after the death of all concerned, it was inevitable that Paul’s newly converted pagans would eventually want to know more about Jesus’ life prior to his death. Cue the Gospel Period [c 70-90 AD] and the appearance of the gospels, all of which appeared when they did in response to growing demands to know more about Jesus. This simple rational explanation yet again challenges Christian assertions that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem [see Pre-Gospel Period & Gospel-Period in The Christianity Myth for more details].

All six points listed above are totally compatible with the evidence as I understand it. The various weaknesses I’ve identified in the orthodox version of events are only weaknesses for those insisting that Jesus was resurrected. If you assume Jesus wasn’t resurrected, as I do, then all these weaknesses just disappear, and you end up with a simpler and more pragmatic explanation of all the know facts and, as a bonus, no divine interventions are needed to make this simpler explanation work.

Thus there are now two alternatives to chose from.

The orthodox Christian version requires acceptance of two divine interventions, one in Jerusalem and one on the road to Damascus. It also requires acceptance of the fact that all resurrection claims found in the Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original uncorroborated and unsubstantiated claims.

My simpler alternative version requires acceptance that Paul’s conversion experience was a simple hallucinatory experience triggered by a common medical condition call temporal lobe epilepsy, and acceptance that Peter just lied to Paul about this Jerusalem resurrection. [I’ve already dealt with all this stuff in much greater detail in my book The Christianity Myth which can be read here free of charge]

So in effect I’m challenging the credibility of the orthodox version of events & offering instead an alternative explanation which I personally think better explains the known facts. Christians of course can choose to reject any or all of the above six points and continue to stick to their current position. That’s not a problem. What is a problem is the unwarranted abuse from certain Christian bloggers. If you insist on claiming I’m just some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, then I’m going to insist you put your money where your mouth is. I’ve now made it as easy as I can for you to respond. I’ve set out my store, and I’ve lined up all my ducks in a row. Feel free to drop by anytime and point out where you think I’m going wrong. My comment section is there, ready, willing & waiting. Feel free to refute any or all of the weaknesses I’ve highlighted. Prove me wrong & you’ll have my eternal gratitude. Those who feel their necessary response is too substantial for my comment section, can leave a heads up in the comments section, together with a relevant link.

Ignoring this challenge will be taken both as an apology, and as an admission that there are no absolutes where religion is concerned. All world views are just personal choices. We all chose to believe what we want/need to believe, based on the evidence we chose to accept/reject. These personal choices are invariably conditioned/influenced by prevailing cultural values, as this video on Professor Taboo ‘s blog demonstrates so succinctly. Some of us may not like to admit this awkward truth, but both the questions posed in this video and the claims made in this video are abundantly self evident. The time has come to stop hurling childish abuse, to stop making facetious claims & spouting empty rhetoric and to start behaving like adults. If the relevant Christians want to draw a line under their unwarranted animosity, then fine, all you have to do is admit none of us possess knowledge of the absolute truth & accept that some of us prefer to let the evidence dictate our world view, whilst others prefer to let their world view dictate the evidence.

Post Scripts

Hope Professor Taboo doesn’t mind my plagiarizing some of his material. I discovered his blog a few days ago, after he dropped by and left some favourable comments. Having read his material I think we complement each other quite well. He seems to relish details. I on the other hand prefer to stand back and look at the bigger picture.

The Isaiah 53:5 Project recently posted a very good blog pointing out the dangers of confirmational bias. I even commented positively, saying I wished I’d written it. In this blog, he rightly says

// Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to unconsciously buy into beliefs that feel right in our hearts, even though they are objectively false. But it’s precisely when we’re sure that we’ve cornered the truth that we should take a step back, breathe deeply, and open our minds as far as we can//

Given these words of wisdom, I find it difficult to understand his abject hostility, both to me personally & to my blog. He seems to simply characterise evidence in one of two ways. If it affirms his world view he calls it evidence. If it conflicts with his world view he calls it rubbish. It’s ironic but he appears to be doing the very thing he so rightly warns us about.

 

4 Ways that Christians are Persecuted

A good read from a fellow atheist known as The Closet Atheist

The Closet Atheist

I would like to preface this post with some apologies.

I’m sorry to all my friends and classmates, for persecuting you by being openly atheist at school.

I’m sorry to my pastor, for persecuting you by giggling at your bible studies with my fiance instead of agreeing with you.

I’m sorry to my friend from high school, for persecuting you by supporting gay rights.

And I’m sorry to my mom and family for persecuting you by having premarital sex and not believing the religion you raised me with.

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Why You cannot prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem

 

Two billion Christians believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. They believe this because the Gospels say he was resurrected, and because they believe the existence of these Gospels actually proves Jesus was resurrected. However, the  existence of these Gospels does not actually prove Jesus was resurrected, because their existence can readily be explained without assuming Jesus was resurrected,

The following argument compares two very similar scenarios. The first scenario is the current orthodox scenario advocated by most biblical scholars. The second scenario is an almost identical scenario advocated by yours truly. Both scenarios produce exactly the same final outcome, but the two slight variations I introduce in my scenario have enormous implications.

Orthodox Scenario             

C 30 AD        Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem

C 36 AD         Peter tells Paul about the resurrection [their first meeting]

C 40-65 AD   Paul propagates Peter’s claims [1 Corinthians 15: 3-9]

C 70-90 AD   Gospel authors immortalise Peter’s claims in their gospels

Alternative Scenario          

 C 30 AD        Jesus not resurrected in Jerusalem

C 36 AD          Peter lies to Paul about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem

C 40-65 AD    Paul unknowingly propagates Peter’s lies

C 70-90 AD    Gospel authors unknowingly immortalise Peter’s lies in their gospels

So either Jesus was resurrected & Peter didn’t lie to Paul [orthodox scenario] or Jesus wasn’t resurrected & Peter did lie to Paul [alternative scenario]. Both scenarios produce exactly the same final outcome, namely Gospels portraying a resurrection in Jerusalem. In the orthodox scenario the resurrection accounts are based on Peter’s original claims, and in the alternative scenario they are based on Peter’s lies.  Because both scenarios produce exactly the same final outcome, and because we have no other information to go on, we cannot now differentiate between these two possible scenarios.

Conclusions                          

To validate the orthodox scenario &/or to reject the alternative scenario you must either prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem or prove Peter didn’t lie to Paul.

Since both scenarios result in exactly the same Gospels, depicting exactly the same resurrection in Jerusalem, the existence of these Gospels does not prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, nor does the existence of these Gospels prove Peter didn’t lie to Paul.

There is no other reliable evidence available to corroborate Peter’s claims. Nor is there any means of substantiating these claims. Therefore the orthodox scenario cannot be validated and the alternative scenario cannot be rejected.

Therefore you cannot prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. QED

So now the million dollar question is “Did Peter tell the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection when he & Paul first met?” Unfortunately, we will never know for certain, because the only evidence available is the so called Gospel evidence, & this Gospel evidence is now called into question. Some Christians try to assert that Paul actually validates the resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, but actually, in this citation, Paul is just reiterating what he learned from Peter.

Personally, I’d like my chosen world view to be based on something a little more substantive, than uncorroborated & unsubstantiated claims made 2000 years ago, by an illiterate peasant fisherman from Galilee. In my opinion, given the two possibilities outlined above, it’s far more likely that Peter just lied to Paul about the resurrection in Jerusalem, & Paul then propagated these lies unknowingly. I can’t prove Peter lied of course, anymore than Christians can prove he didn’t lie, but I can think of very plausible reasons why he probably did lie. These reasons are outlined in  The Christianity Myth, a very short book explaining how Christianity really started. Click here to read this book free of charge.

 

Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?

Mythicists like Richard Carrier argue that Jesus probably never even existed. I don’t subscribe to this minority view for two reasons. One, there are now much easier ways to explain what did or didn’t happen in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and two, Occam’s razor suggests the best explanation is invariably the simplest explanation.

Most biblical scholars, including many who are not Christian apologists, now accept that the following facts are almost certainly true:

C 30 AD                  Jesus crucified in Jerusalem

C 33 AD                  Paul converted on the road to Damascus

C 36 AD                  Paul learns of the resurrection in Jerusalem

C 50 AD                  Paul meets Peter in Jerusalem for the second time

C 54 AD                  Paul writes 1-Corinthians

C 70-90 AD            Gospel authors write gospels

The current Christian argument supporting Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is presented very succinctly by Gary Habermas in a U-Tube video called The Resurrection Evidence that Changed Current Scholarship. In this fairly long video, which is just one of many similar videos, Gary Habermas argues that the resurrection accounts found in the gospels, all of which appeared within 40-60 years of the actual resurrection, can truly be trusted, because they are all based on very reliable eye witness evidence that was relayed to the gospel authors by a very reliable intermediary.

It is claimed that the resurrection accounts in the gospels are reliable because they are all based on information provided by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. It is further claimed that this information in 1-Corinthians is itself reliable, because it is based on what Paul was told c 36 AD, when he first met Peter in Jerusalem. In other words, the resurrection accounts in the gospels are all based on eye witness accounts provided by Peter at that first meeting. You could even say the gospel authors just immortalised Peter’s claims in their gospels.

On the surface, this Christian argument appears very powerful, but it does have a very small, but very significant flaw. This flaw is the subject of this short blog.

We know this first meeting in Jerusalem took place c 36 AD, because in Galatians 1: 18, Paul tells us that this meeting occurred about three years after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. We can also infer with some confidence, that this meeting was when Paul first learned of the resurrection in Jerusalem. However, because there’s no independent evidence to verify the veracity of what Paul was told, we cannot know for certain, that Paul was told the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection. In the above Christian argument, it is just tacitly assumed that Paul was told the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection. Now although this seems to be a perfectly rational thing to do, albeit unconsciously, I can think of at least one very plausible scenario that could have resulted in Paul being told a cock & bull story about a resurrection that never happened, but you’ll have see The Christianity Myth for more details.

This ignored uncertainty about the veracity of what Paul was told at that first meeting c 36 AD raises an interesting dilemma for Christians. If Paul was lied to about the resurrection in Jerusalem, Paul would not know he had been lied to. He would simply propagate the lies unknowingly, and the gospel authors would then immortalise these lies unknowingly. The final outcome would still be exactly the same, but there would now be two possibilities to consider. If Paul was told the truth at this first meeting, the gospels would portray a resurrection that did actually happen, but if Paul was not told the truth, then the gospels would actually portray a resurrection that never happened. How do we differentiate between these two possibilities? Quite simply, we don’t, because we can’t. Those who actually knew the truth about this Jerusalem resurrection are long dead, and there is now no way we can verify the veracity of the resurrection claims made at that first meeting in Jerusalem. You either make a tacit assumption to believe Paul was told the truth, or you simply accept there’s no absolute proof this resurrection ever happened.

So was Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem as Christians claim? Paul obviously thought so, and so did the gospel authors, but was their belief based on fact, or was it based on bogus allegations? We’ll never know because even today, the resurrection allegations made at that first meeting in Jerusalem remain both unverified and unverifiable. Therefore, we can never say with any certainty that Jesus was in fact resurrected in Jerusalem. However, looking on the bright side, we can now use this uncertainty to topple the last remaining bastion of Christian support for this Jerusalem resurrection. We can now deny this resurrection ever happened and still explain the existence of the gospels, a feat thought impossible until now.

So, the Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is indeed a simple matter of faith. A faith based entirely on a simple tacit assumption that Paul was told the truth at that first meeting in Jerusalem. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. This simple tacit assumption is Christianity’s unspoken and unacknowledged Achilles heel and all fellow atheists should strive to point this out to Christians whenever the opportunity arises.

Personally, I’d like my world view to be based on something a little more substantial than unverified allegations made 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

 

So Who Goes To Hell?

Will it be heaven or will it be hell? A quick tongue-in-cheek assessment.

According to Christians, all good Christians go to Christian heaven & everybody else, including Muslims, goes to Christian hell.

According to Muslims, all good Muslims go to Islamic heaven & everybody else, including Christians, goes to Islamic hell.

So, if Christians say Christians go to Christian heaven, & Muslims say Christians go to Islamic hell, does this not imply that Christian heaven & Islamic hell are one and the same place?

Likewise, if Muslims say Muslims go to Islamic heaven, & Christians say Muslims go to Christian hell, does this not imply that Islamic heaven & Christian hell are also one and the same place?

So if Christian heaven & Islamic hell are one and the same place, and Islamic heaven & Christian hell are one and the same place, what happens when you die?

Well, according to Christians,  you would end up either in Christian heaven or Islamic heaven, and according to Muslims,  you would end up either in Islamic heaven or Christian heaven.

So who actually goes to hell?

At this point, a little common sense rides to the rescue and reminds us that all this heaven & hell stuff is just theistic bullshit.