History, Probability, and Miracles

Just in time for Easter, I discovered this amazing blog post!


One of the most common misconceptions about history is the idea that history *is* our past. This misconception is understandable, since when we are taught “history” in high school or even in college the courses provide an overview and summary of different periods in humankind’s past on Earth. The historiographical method, however, which enables us to discover what happened in the past, interpret what it means, and choose how to represent it in a narrative, is often discussed only briefly or not at all. Just as science *is not* the same thing as nature, but the method that we use to investigate nature, history *is not* the same thing as the past, but rather a method that we use in the present to investigate the past.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who is considered to be the “father of history,” had been told many stories about past events in the Greek and…

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It’s nearly March already, and I haven’t even acknowledged the new year.  I stopped smoking on Thanksgiving of 2016.  I made a New Year’s resolution to remain a non-smoker.  It’s been harder than I anticipated.  The end of 2016 arrived and I was really doing fine.  And then, after January 1, something happened.

Our heating oil tank had an issue with the whistle and some pipe thing. I don’t understand these things, but we knew about the problem because our oil company refused to drop off oil until the problem was fixed.  That was last July.  Harry said it would be really hard to do.  He said it would take a long time.  He said it would be expensive.

The first time he asked a question about the process at Home Depot, he discovered the project wasn’t nearly as terrible as he had thought it would be.  But it was January.  His plant is closing in August.  Many people have already left for other employment.  In January, he started having to work mandatory overtime.  We had to use space heaters around the house, and I was none too happy to have to use so much electricity.

Last weekend Harry managed to finally get the pipes done.  Now he has to call the oil company and arrange a time when he will be here to make certain there are no inside leaks.  This could have been taken care of months ago.

Did I mention that Harry works third shift?  He is only off on Sunday.  I am seething.  The one thing about which I am grateful is the warmer than usual winter. I don’t think the space heaters would have been sufficient had it not been that way.

The entire heating oil tank issue made me anxious right from the start in 2017.  Now we have a delusional man in the White House who spouts lies and has no cognitive skills with which to evaluate any information which is set before him.  Do you think I’ve been anxious?  Yes, I have been.

I think this election hit me particularly hard because I was a conservative Christian for decades.  I remember what it is like to take for granted what my church leaders tell me, and not think too hard about how some of it is obviously not correct  At leat, not in a scientific way.  I used to deny evolution’s veracity.  I did not believe the facts of evolution taught to me at my junior college and I did not finish my associate’s degree because of my mental resistance.

Imagine how it feels to see the same lack of curiosity in our President.  After it had taken me so many years to escape Christianity’s clutches, it grieved me to see Donald Trump mesmerize his followers with fanciful thinking.  To me, Donald Trump was the ultimate Pied Piper, with a magic flute of untruths putting out a siren’s song of salvation.  Evangelicals shocked me when they embraced him.  Donald Trump’s entire life up to the point he ran for office in 2015, had been anything but what Evangelicals believed a godly life should look like.  Donald Trump learned a few of the phrases of the Christian Right, and they all fell in behind him.  They were so used to thinking magically, in an unproven and untestable deity, that they actually believed he is one of them.  It was astounding.

It seems that if one is credulous in one area of life, that person is prone to being credulous about other things as well. (That’s a topic for another time.)  I don’t know why I didn’t think it could get worse in the White House, but it did.

We are being led by a man who makes statements to the world based on watching Fox News or Infowars.  It’s disheartening.  Presenting him with facts–as most of us atheists have discovered when it comes to the very religious–only creates a backfire effect.  “Fake news! Fake news!” he cries whenever he is fact checked.

No, I really didn’t want to start blogging about 2017.  Sigh.

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A Solution to Gettier Problems

I enjoyed this. I wish I had the opportunity to study philosophy.

Naturalist Philosophy

By R.N. Carmona

If I’m right to assume that all Gettier Problems involve a change either in the true aspect of our beliefs or the justified aspect of our beliefs, then there’s a way to salvage this intuitive definition of knowledge. Knowledge is ceteris paribus justified true belief. That is to say that knowledge, assuming that all things remain equal, is justified true belief. Gettier problems are set up using luck and fallibility. Clearly, most of what we think counts as knowledge doesn’t involve luck. When I say that I know there’s milk in my fridge, there’s no luck to be had. If all things remain equal, there’s definitely milk in my fridge and I know it. This discounts milk drinking ghosts or dairy loving burglars. In that case, the only reason I don’t actually know what I thought I knew is because I don’t know an added and pertinent…

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The civil rights movement for gay equality heated up quite a bit when the Supreme Court overturned DOMA. I was a Catholic at that point.  I was thrilled with the ruling.  I had a dear friend, a colleague, who was gay.  Through my friendship with this man, I met so many gays and lesbians and cross-dressers, and I fell in love with them all.  The gay culture was fun, exciting and creative.  Some of my best memories are from those fulfilling times I had with them all, back in the 70s.

But when the DOMA ruling came down, I was still a Catholic.  The Church was freaking out about this, and I could not understand why.  If a gay couple decided to tie the knot, why shouldn’t they get the benefits of that marriage?  I thought the ruling fell short.  I wanted the states that banned gay marriage to have the same reciprocity for legally wed gay couples which existed for straight marriages.  I could see my LGBT friends’ faces when that ruling came down.

I decided to look at the community of those in other Christian denominations, who called themselves gay Christians.  My first site on the internet was the Gay Christian Network.  I was stunned.  There were resources which led me to sites which delved into the so-called “clobber passages” in the Bible, which were used to justify anti-gay theologies.  There were other scholars with different interpretations of those passages,  and I learned more about the cultural context surrounding them.

By the time the Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell case, I was for marriage equality.  I believed the Catholic Church was wrong.  My parish priest moaned and maligned the outcome, making sarcastic and unkind words about gay couples. I left the Catholic Church, walking away from eleven years of serving as a CCD instructor, RCIA leader, Extraordinary Minister of Communion and Lector.  I considered myself a Progressive Christian.

That decision led to other problems.  There is no Progressive church where I live.  I interacted with Progressives on websites, and I started reading books by Progressive Christian authors.  I had no idea how doing so would shake my entire worldview.  I had been raised as a Fundamentalist, but as an adult, I realized that Biblical inerrancy was a false doctrine.  It wasn’t logical.  I spent decades in many different denominations and ended up in the Catholic Church because I believed the Church was the deposit of “truth” with a capital T.  I had no idea if I was following God the right way or not.

I began to wonder if the Bible was even inspired at all by God when I began to explore how the canon came to exist.  I found out that scholars did not think Moses wrote the Pentateuch and the escape from Egypt was not a historical event. There is good historical scholarship which puts the very existence of Moses into doubt. The more I studied the origins of the Bible, the less confidence I had about the existence of God. These doubts were scary for me, because if God was not real, then Jesus was not a divine person.  I started to read the Bible more often, praying and pleading with God to show me what I was missing.

The end of last year, a dramatic family conflict ended with my deconversion.  It is too complicated to go into here, but the problem of divine hiddenness finally caught up with me. Suddenly I realized Christianity was fake.  I had never believed in any other god, and therefore I became an atheist.  I was 60 years old.  That change happened abruptly on January 1, 2016.

I was on my own.  I had no information about the prominent atheists who wrote and debated extensively. I did see Christopher Hitchens interviewed on a conservative news channel, but I never read his books. My atheism was the result of exploring Christianity. I found that ironic. I was on my own.  I was enormously relieved and excited to learn more about the atheist community.  For the first time, I explored science and cosmology and physics with enormous energy.  The longer I lived as an atheist, the more joy I felt.  It was exciting to learn more about the atheist community.  I devoured atheist books.  For the first time, I explored science and cosmology and physics with enormous energy.  The longer I lived as an atheist, the more I felt truly alive.  I felt liberated from anxiety and doubt.

This is a long post, and if you have gotten this far, thank you for reading.  Hereafter, my blog will be my views on issues or items from the vantage point of being an atheist.  I will likely reference other atheists, which will give you a clue about my reading and exploring habits. My explanation of where I was and where I am is as complete as I wish it to be at this time.

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The Art of Starting Over

This is extraordinarily beautiful! Reblogging….

Holly Baer

In the last six months, my entire life fell apart.

I broke up with my fiancé of seven years, cancelled a wedding, found out I didn’t get into a single grad school, and fully understood the consequences of my deteriorated personal relationships.

As the entire world I’d created disintegrated, I watched my coworker with envy. She was getting married to her fiancé. She got into graduate school at Vanderbilt (my favored graduate school). She received a Taylor Medal, one of the most prestigious awards you can win at the University of Mississippi. She still had God to lean on.

I watched her live the life I thought I had earned.

I felt guilty every time I felt the pangs of envy in my gut. Our lives could not look anymore different: she was the obedient daughter of a Methodist minister. We shared a major, but her studies led her to…

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Bill Gothard entered our family after Scott was born.  (Google him if you have never heard of him).  Gothard’s teachings became a core part of what our fundamentalist pastor preached.  My parents became absolutely convinced that Gothard was a man who really knew how to apply Biblical principles to everyday life issues.  My father began to use Gothard’s teaching material after dinner, in our usual “family devotions”.  My parents became hard-core far-right conservatives.

They pulled Stephanie and Scott out of public schools and entered them into a private school with similar views.  The rest of us were out of high school by that time, and it was a good thing we didn’t have to leave public schooling, for sure.  One by one, as we watched our parents get sucked further into this new worldview, the older four of us began to withdraw from fundamentalism.  We went out into the world, discovered other ways of Christian thinking, and left our former belief systems.  My oldest sister Sandy left Christianity altogether and got involved in a community of “New Age” people, who found spirituality without Christianity.

Sue, Stacey and I stopped going to church.  We all had troubles in our lives, still believed in God, but didn’t prioritize church at all.  I won’t speak of them, but I will speak of myself.

I did the whole “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” stuff.  I had some really great times, and some really bad times.  One good thing was meeting my now-husband, Harry.  I got pregnant and we got married.  So many marriages that begin this way end in divorce, but we are about to celebrate our 35th anniversary.  When I gave birth to my daughter, I decided I needed to settle down.  I left those few wild years behind me and started going to church again.

I spent a good number of years in and out of all types of denominations.  I figured that if God is the author of truth, there had to be some church out there that had that truth.  I had so many questions that were still inside of me since my early childhood.  I became obsessed with finding God.  Who was he, what did he mean to convey in the Bible, how could I know with certainty that I was living in the truth of who he was?

The family scaffolding has shifted away from my early years, and now I will address my own life.  Future posts will center on my faith journey.

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The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts

An excellent treatment of inerrancy.

Jesus Without Baggage

Inerrancy is perhaps the most obvious example of what the Bible is NOT, and I have written about it many times. But today I approach it from a different angle by examining common inerrancy proof-texts.

I begin with the most popular one.

The Bible

All Scripture is God-Breathed

The #1 go-to inerrancy proof-text by far, considered by many as the defeater of any argument against inerrancy, is 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

This sounds like the death knell for those arguing against inerrancy, but there are several reasons why this passage cannot prove inerrancy. First, this is part of the author’s coaching of a specific person in a specific situation; it is not a revealed truth from God and is not even addressed to us but to the recipient.

Secondly, we must ask what the author means by…

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I haven’t finished my family history, and I haven’t been personally blogging because I didn’t finish my family history.  So much happened in the middle of putting my history into words on this blog.  It was difficult to continue it due to a major shift in my thinking.  I will get to that soon, I hope.

Life had settled into a kind of Christian normal for my family by the 60s  We went to school, went to church, and participated in both Christian and secular activities.  I was in my junior high chorus, and my two older sisters were in both the choir & marching band in high school.  We had friends with whom we spent time.

Then, in 1966, my mom gave birth to my baby sister, Stephanie.  She was born two months early.  In 1966, babies that small didn’t usually survive, and those who did had handicaps. Stephanie weighed in at 3 pounds, 2 ounces, and she was in the nursery for the next several weeks.  Her weight kept dropping until she was down to 2 pounds, 11 ounces. Our pediatrician came up with a formula that Stephanie could digest, and her weight turned around.  He saved her life.

When Stephanie stayed over 5 pounds, she was finally able to come home.  Because she was a preemie, and she had that specific formula to survive, my mom was up pretty much around the clock.  My mom became absolutely exhausted.  But we all adored Stephanie, and there was no shortage of love in her life.  When we older siblings were able, we helped with baths and diaper changes.  Still, in the days before Pampers, cloth diapers added to my mom’s already difficult laundry needs of a spouse & four other children.  I’m not sure how she made it through those first few months.  After Stephanie was out of the woods, our father told us that my mom had miscarried shortly before Stephanie was conceived, and that they had decided to try again.  So, the mental strain of a miscarriage and a preemie really wore my mom down that way, too.

Stephanie ended up with no permanent complications from her premature birth, but was a normal and happy baby.  We were all relieved.

Imagine our surprise when my mom got pregnant again!  That pregnancy was unplanned, and this time my mom went way past her due date.  In 1968 she delivered baby number six.  And so my brother, Scott, entered the world, the sixth child and the only son.  I think my mom must have gone through menopause or found better birth control, (she was 40 when Scott was born), because Scott was the last baby they had.  You can only imagine the attention Scott received, being the only boy!

Having another baby a mere two years after the miscarriage & exhaustion of raising a preemie, now age 2, sent my mom into a horrible post-partum depression.  It was so bad that she didn’t even get out of bed, except to use the bathroom.  The burden of cooking, cleaning, and dinner fell on my dad’s shoulders & my two older sisters.  I was in charge of the laundry.  My dad forcibly potty-trained Stephanie.  It was all pretty brutal.  I have no idea how my mom came out of it.  My parents did not believe in psychology.  Instead, they had Christian “counselors” they knew about.  I have no memory of any type of counseling my mom received, but eventually she came out of that dark place.

Because Stephanie and Scott were so much younger than the first four of us, we referred to them as our parents’ “second family”.  Their experiences growing up were much different than we older sisters’ experiences were.  My parents changed the location of the annual two week camping vacation, as well as gaining a whole new circle of friends with young children.  My dad, a devout fundamentalist, became alarmed at what he saw as a deterioration in society writ large.  He pulled Stephanie & Scott out of public schools, and enrolled them in a private evangelical school.  Both of them were pretty unhappy there.

My parents worked as janitors at the school in order to offset the tuition.  After a few years, my mom became the school’s bookkeeper. Now the main activities surrounded the school.  In all of this, my parents became even more conservative in their beliefs.  Not so, the rest of us.  But that is yet another story.  I’ll try to get to that earlier than I did this post.

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How Important are ‘Correct Beliefs’ to God?

Wow. This is so very well written!

Jesus Without Baggage

Many believers think people who claim to be Christian but stray too far from ‘correct beliefs’ are not Christian at all. And the corollary is that they are going to hell—just for not getting their beliefs right!

I used to think much the same way. I accepted some other denominations as Christians even though I considered them seriously misguided; but others were heretics whose beliefs went far beyond what was acceptable for Christians.

Someone invited two Mormon missionaries to an informal gathering at my Christian college. At the end of the argumentative session a student wished them ‘Godspeed’. I replied, ‘No! I will NOT wish them God-speed!’–because they were the enemy. Their beliefs disqualified them from being Christians.

Christians burning Christians by Myasoyedov Christians burning Christians, Grigoriy Myasoyedov [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsRight Beliefs through Christian History

Right beliefs have been important to Christians since early times. The Gnostics had ideas completely incompatible with…

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Anti-gay Christians: leave Orlando alone

Not sure I could express this better. It is absolutely TRUE for most of Christianity.

Signs you are a Sheltered Evangelical

I am heartbroken over the 49 lives lost in the worst mass-shooting hate crime in our country’s history.  I am sickened by the dismissive words of the murderer’s father.  I am sickened by the people who are more concerned about being allowed to own an assault rifle than the lives ended by one.  And I’m beyond sick of the people who refuse to acknowledge anti-LGBT hatred as the motive. But another thing has stood out for me that blinds me with rage, and that is Christians who want to use this tragedy to score points for their team.  I’m talking about the anti-gay Christians who want to criticize Islam for a crime they also bear responsibility for.  If you are one of those Christians, this post is directed at you.

I am not here to let homophobic Islamic theology off the hook.  By all means, lets call out, condemn, shout…

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