Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Demons of stupidity

I know one of my readers is gonna hate me for it, but today I am gonna do a post on exorcisms. Exorcisms, while rightly frowned upon by Psychologists, are maintaining their popularity amongst the masses. Hell, even some Religious intellectuals like philosopher JP Moreland and Biblical scholar Clint Arnold claim that not only are exorcisms real, but that they can prove them. Believers will usually state that, although most exorcisms are frauds or psychiatric- a small few are genuine. According to Moreland, genuine exorcisms are ones in which the possessed has Clairvoyance, can levitate, can toss objects with their mind or exhibits other supernatural powers. In other words- the only real exorcisms are the ones where the possessed act like the girl from The Exorcist.

Honestly- I'm amazed at how arrogant some of these demon believers are. To say that they are certain of it should entail some pretty strong evidence. But that's not what we get. We get testimony. Oddly enough, no one ever thinks to enter an exorcism with a video camera. I remember reading an article from Joe Nickell in which, during one exorcism that was filmed, four priests were holding down a small girl claiming that, if they let go, she would've levitated! It makes me wonder why they let go of very good evidence when they had the chance to use it, doesn't it? Of course, these could be cases of mass hysteria, in which the small group of people become extremely excited and misinterpret mundane events into supernatural ones. This is well documented and, surprise surprise, scientifically verifiable through experiments!

Of course, Moreland is correct in that some very smart people not only believe in exorcisms, but also claim to have seen the supernatural side-effects of them personally. What he doesn't do, however, is give a comprehensive list of psychologists that believe in them. You see, Moreland seems to believe that anyone that's gone to college can be a credible witness to a supernatural event. He is wrong. And to make matters worse, the above study was actually done on college students who would, by his criteria, be credible witness'!

Now, I'd expect psychologists to take claims of exorcisms less seriously than, well, a Philosopher like Moreland or a historian like Clint, since they are aware of the limitations of human memory- and the capacity for invention, exaggeration, etc; Non-surprisingly, even a simple visit to Wikipedia reveals that:
"Demonic possession is not a valid psychiatric or medical diagnosis recognized by either the DSM-IV or the ICD-10."
So professional Psychologists say no. Now, I'll grant supporters that maybe, just maybe, these Psychologists just haven't seen the evidence. I don't know. What I do know, however, is that emphasis on cases that defy the psychological explanations should be given. I have read some of 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare and Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian mind, Renovate the Soul Restore the Spirit's power, so I know what kind of cases they make. They'll claim the demon could see into the exorcists past- but they don't like to share how accurate or vague the claim was. They will also say that objects flew, yet not even bother with corroboratory testimony to ensure the witness' saw the same thing. Overall- they just don't demonstrate a strong understanding of the Psychology necessary to deem something a miracle.

Now to conclude, I just want to point out that exorcisms are not exclusive to Christianity. According to that Wikipedia entry I quoted earlier, they occur in many of the world Religions- especially in Africa, where they are healed by Shamans. Most reasonable exorcist apologists, however, avoid this by stating that 99% of exorcisms are "true" exorcisms, while the rest are fantasies. All I ask is to go 1% further.

Monday, November 28, 2011

JP Moreland's angel encounter

As many skeptics are probably aware, JP Moreland has recently claimed to have had an angelic encounter. Although never actually saw the angles (and still hasn't, page 157), he has a little story about how he now "knows" they are real. According to his book and this report, he claims that an old woman at his church saw 3 angels around him. At first, he thought the woman was crazy. 8-10 months later, however, Moreland experienced a tragedy of some sort and decided to pray not only for the angels to protect him, but for God to verify the angels' existence to him. Less than a week later, a student claimed to have seen 3 angels hovering around Moreland in, apparently, the exact same manner described by the woman (pages 155-156). Hallelujah!

Now- what could've happened? Well, I'm sure even Moreland would agree that it could have been a very large coincidence. However- I think that, if we properly scrutinize the story, the coincidence in the end will not be that impressive. we'll begin by breaking the miracle claim into 3 separate parts- the Old woman, the prayer, and finally, the Student.

First off, lets keep in mind that he thought the old woman was crazy. Why was that, a skeptic will rightly ask? Could it be, perhaps, because the old woman was slightly crazy? It's not like it's hard to tell the difference between a crazy person from a sane person- they just don't look right. Also, we don't have evidence that the angels were in a sophisticated position- one that could not otherwise be guessed. According to the book, one angel stood by each of his sides, and another behind him. This position doesn't sound that complicated. In fact, it's really the only photogenic way three angels could huddle around someone! The only thing that seems strange is that the angel behind him was taller than him. Then again, it would look kinda funny if the angel behind him were shorter than him- since you wouldn't be able to see him! Plus, Moreland appears to be fairly  average height, at least according to this video (The first few seconds). Therefore, I doubt the backmost being taller is really that implausible to guess.

Moving on, lets look at part two of the miracle- the prayer. Now, it does seem somewhat odd that Moreland would think of the angels in his prayer- after all, he did say that he was experiencing a hard time. And remember, the first part of his prayer was for the angels to help him. Only later did he decide he wanted proof. In addition, keep in mind that Moreland only prayed that God would verify the angels' existence. He never instructed God in how this would happen. Moreland could've accepted anything as evidence for angels, as he never set up any limits.

Finally, we get to the icing on the cake. Why that student say 3 angels as opposed to two or four is beyond me. However, we must keep in mind that the old woman told Moreland of her vision 8-10 months ago, remember? For all we know, she could have seen two or five angels, and Moreland ended up changing the numbers in his head. She could have also said something ambigous, like "a few". Same thing for the details. Ten months is a lot of time to change the details- and he never mentions anything about going back and verifying what the old woman saw. He let 8-10 months pass, and thought very little of the experience, admitting that he "wasn't even sure if it was real". The details, like the angels height or even numbers could have been retrofitted. We do have precedent for this sort of thing happening- and 8-10 months is a hell of a lot of time.

I admit, this is all speculation, of course. What I do know, however, is that sane people regularly experience hallucinations. They typically occur when the person is tired or stressed out- conditions not uncommon in a university classroom. However- even sane people can and do experience hallucinations of strange things they don't even understand. Now, keep in mind that most hallucinations are of faces or humans. We all have an innate ability to detect patterns- and the most common ones tend to be faces. This is why we see faces in toast and why we see other people when we hallucinate (I will add a relevant link later). Interestingly enough, the angels all looked like regular people. Also, at least in the case of the student, the vision only lasted 5-10 minutes. Now, if we consider how bad human memory is, we can probably say the vision was closer to 5 minutes. Sound like a Hallucination to you? It does to me. Also, curiously enough, in this video, he claims that the vision from the student was "10-15 minutes", as opposed to the original "5-10 minutes". We can clearly see him changing the numbers.

So, I would like to conclude by saying that this case is an interesting one. It is the only angel case I have seen in which different people see the same entity(s) at different times. It is also rather strange that the student's angel appearance occurred at such a similar time to Moreland's prayer. According to Moreland, the student's vision occurred a few days prior to his sending the email to Moreland, which happened less than a week after the prayer. This means that, if Moreland can be taken at his word, the student saw the angels 2-4 days after the prayer. Although the angels's and their details don't impress me at all, it's the timing of the second prayer that makes me feel bad about dismissing the case entirely. Of course, I find it very strange that Moreland doesn't give out any numbers at all. All he says is "less than a week later", and "a few days earlier". I don't know why he wouldn't just give us hard numbers as opposed to estimates. It could be because, although he knows when he got the email, he forgot when he made the prayer request. If this is true, than the students email could've occurred much later, and, once again, Moreland was just retrofitting his memories to suit his expectations. It seems possible to me. According to Morelands "Closer to the truth" interview, the visit with the angel happened "2 years ago". Therefore, the miracles would have happened at least a year prior to the filming of that episode. I don't know when the episode was released, but I think it would be safe to say that the reports of his "miracle" came in about a year after they occurred- more than enough time to polish them off for apologetic purposes.

By the way, sorry for not doing a post on the OT. I was going to post a link to the  documentary "Unearthing the bible", but found that the video was removed from YouTube. I'll try to get a copy of it at the library.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kevin Brown's miracle claim

For the last few weeks, I've been looking for impressive miracle claims. Events that, if true, would totally shatter my deeply held world-view. I looked all over the Internet- I honestly have. But so many of the stories are just lame. The vast majority of them are miraculous healings that could easily  be explained by spontaneous remissions. There are some nature miracles- but they are far and few. For the most part, I haven't seen a single miracle that CANNOT be explained naturally. Now, I am agnostic as to whether the best explanation for the combined sum of miracles leans toward Atheism or not- but I think it can at least explain them all away. Well, all except one...

One of my favorite Christian bloggers Kevin Brown (AKA Diglotting) made a rather large claim in the comments sections of one of this posts. He claimed that only himself, but his entire family witnessed a supernatural entity on not only once, but several occasions. When I first read it, I immediately responded by saying that perhaps, in the future, a naturalistic explanation will be discovered. A few days later, however, I just couldn't keep it on the back of my head. I knew that this claim was different than the other ones. For one thing, he is an eye-witness- rarely do paranormal investigators and skeptics get the privilege of speaking directly to the ones who were involved. Secondly, I know that Kevin isn't a primitive, superstitious African tribal prone to hallucinating due to lack of food and clean water. Thirdly, there isn't much of a reason to lie.

All these factors made me want to investigate the claim further. I mean, I only have my immortal soul at stake, right? So, I commented on Kevin's post under the alias of "Darwinfish" in order to get some information out of him. Yes- I know the employment of alternate accounts is seen as dishonest in the bloggerspere, but cut me some slack, will you? I wanted to know the truth- even if it meant getting dirty and forcing it out of him. And so, I didn't want to stain my reputation with what I was planning to do to extract information.

Anyways, I waited for a few days; He didn't respond. Frustrated, I sent him two other comments, just to make sure he got the first one. Again, I got no response. Finally, I sent him a longer comment, accusing him of withholding valuable information that, according to him, could save my soul. At this point, I was extremely offended. How dare he let someone suffer for an eternity due to their ignorance. What kind of messed up, holier than thou attitude is that? Anyways, this time he deleted my comment, as well as every comment made under my alias of "Darwinfish".

Even when I pointed out the consequences of his actions, he still chose to ignore me. What the hell. At this point I am debating in my head whether he really did see a "supernatural entity". Did he make it up? Did he exaggerate his story so that he'd have something to fire at Papalinton, who he was debating in the comments section? I don't know- and I doubt I ever will. But this unproductive attitude isn't uncommon amongst miracle believers.

One middle aged woman claimed that her mother in laws arm miraculously grew one and a half inches longer right in front of her eyes. However, when one commenter suggested that she report the event to a skeptical investigator, she stated that she "didn't want to test God". Really? If God doesn't want us to be convinced by his miracles, why the hell does he permit them? The New Testament puts heavy emphasis on Jesus' faith healings, so I see no reason why Jesus would all of a sudden change his mind. To me, a better explanation is that people like her just don't want to challenge their beliefs. They'd rather believe in a miracle than admit to being mistaken. In the case of the woman, I found this video from Randi, explaining how faith healers do the elongated limbs trick.

Now, this whole preference to supernatural explanations seems innocent at first- I mean, I'm sure that old woman is enjoying thinking she's been healed out of what is obviously a sham. However, when you consider how many people like may change their minds- you realise it's a cruel, cruel thing they are doing. They are maintaining their comfort at the potential expense of other peoples eternal suffering. This attitude insults, degrades and belittles my worth as a human being.

So Kevin, if you are, by some miraculous coincidence reading this post, I am not accusing you of putting your feel-good beliefs before of my eternal soul. All I am saying is that it looks an awful lot like that from this perspective. Also, I don't really care if you find out that "Darwinfish" was me this whole time. Why should I? I just wanted answers. Your the one possibly sending me to hell. Something tells me I'm not visiting your blog anytime soon. And finally, thank you to the anonymous gent who asked me to blog thru the Old Testament. I would love to crack open the history books and look at a few of the sillier parts of the Bible in greater detail.

HT James McGrath for the picture


UPDATE

The information in this post is now outdated. Read this for more. I will keep this post up to serve as a lesson on how powerful coincidences can be.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: Concluding thoughts

As promised, here is this weeks "Resurrection Sundays" post. It will be a special post since, in addition to being quite late, it will also be my last one. Don't get me wrong- I will always post on the Resurrection. However, it will be the last one with the name "Ressurection Sundays", and the last one to be posted strictly on a Sunday. I had fun making this little series, I really did- but now it's Christmas season, and I have Christmas shopping and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim playing to do. So until further notice, Resurrection Sundays are on hiatus. However- as a little Christmas gift, I will put a poll on the side of my blog, allowing you to suggest to me what topic I should post on next.

Now for the post. To begin, I would like to state that, throughout my posts, I have never claimed to have "debunked the Resurrection". I have never even claimed to be infallible- after all, there is only one pope. However, I do think that I have sufficiently demonstrated why the Resurrection cannot be proven on historical grounds. Alternate scenarios cannot be ruled out. We know that many people can come to hold a false belief. We also know that tombs can become emptied in non-miraculous ways, and that stories of empty tombs have been invented. Long story short, there are alternative explainations that, at minimum, explain away the Resurrection without appeal to the divine.

As mentioned beforehand, we have precedent for claims of visionary experiences from multiple people. Hell, according to this article, angels have been seen and experiences not only Christians, but by Jews and Muslims as well. Although these angel cases are totally anonymous and of extremely poor evidential value, they can still be tell us alot about how easily people will accept unsubstantiated stories. Skeptics have usually argued that these cases arise due to the witness' altering their memories subconciously. Often, when these cases are scrutinized-it is revealed that only one person actually saw the entity, while the others, in a state of hysteria, just went along with it. In faith communities, especially conservative Christian ones, miracle claims are quite celebrated, and it becomes almost a contest of who has the better miracle story. Does this sound like the early Christian church to you? Add some end of the world prophecies to the mix, and I think it does!

Also, when it comes to the empty tomb, it could've been made up. Why not? According to Dale Allison, we have precedent for stories of empty tombs being discovered back in the day. Even if it can be proven improbable- it will always remain a possibility. Of course- the tomb could have been emptied naturalistically as well. For instance, what if the Jews were to have entered the tomb and stole Jesus' remains. Perhaps they didn't parade the corpse around the streets, as they merely wanted to deny Jesus a proper burial- perhaps in protest of Joseph of Aremathea's descision to let him be buried. Going even  further, what if this is the controversy Matt 28:11-15 alludes to? Now, I'm not saying this is what happened- but I am saying that a scenario like this is certainly possible- and perhaps even probable. As Allison maintains througout his excellent book and article on the Resurrection, there are many ways in which a tomb can be emptied naturalistically.

Finally, to conclude this post, I want to remind apologists that the sources we do have come only from believers. We haven't a shred of evidence that any non-Christian living at Jesus' time thought of him as being "unique". To them, he was the same as any other false messiah. He helaed a few people and was eventually killed. I have always felt that this is the very best argument against the divinity of Christ (and by extention, the Resurrection). Jesus' life was just simply unremarkable. He held common false beliefs at the time; he performed the same type of Psychosomatic healings other Pagans and false messiahs did; legends arose around him after he died; etc.

Overall, I think that the case for the Resurrection is strong. However, I also think that the evidence for alien encounters and angels are strong too. In all of these cases, we have groups of people claiming to have seen the same thing. However- angels are often affiliated with New age beliefs incompatible with Christianity, and Aliens are just hard to fit into a world where Theism is true. All these strange phenomena just don't seem to lead anywhere and, as I have argued before, all seem to be incompatible. And that's it for Resurrection Sundays! I hope that you all enjoyed these little posts as much as I have.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: Night of the living saints

There is one argument against the historicity of the empty tomb that I have always found extremely persuasive. I call it the argument from Matthew 27:52-53. That's right, the passage that got Licona sacked; The passage in which many zombies raise from their graves and terrorize Jerusalem. Now, the idea behind this argument is simple: since stories like this made it into the Gospels, we should be skeptical of other stories in the Gospels too- particularly the stories of the empty tomb being discovered, especially since stories of empty tombs being discovered weren't uncommon in the ancient world.

Now, most reasonable Christians will admit that Matthew 27: 52-53 was an invention of the early church. Even the most conservative Christians will commonly admit that this passage is "tricky". NT Wright, for instance, admits it in his tome on the subject:
"Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out"
So, as a heads up to people who think that this event actually happened, keep in mind NT Wright can't even affirm it with any confidence. Now, although most learned Christians will agree with me on the historicity of this passage, some have always been impervious to new ideas. One of these people is Jason Engwer from the infamous Triablogue. He has written several posts such as this one arguing not only in favor of the historicity of Matthew 27: 2-53, but against skeptics using it as evidence against the empty tomb.

After reading it, I was amazed. It seemed to me that most of his "arguments" were geared towards how the event in question was merely possible- not probable. The only positive argument he used was that, apparently, a few other hostorical sources may be alluding to this event (Ignatius, Letter To The Magnesians, 9; Quadratus, in Eusebius, Church History, 4:3). I am not familiar with any of these sources, so I will have to look into them in the future. Anyways, other than that, the rest are just mere possibility arguments.

For example, he argues that the resurrected saints may have not been recognised when they entered Jerusalem. Perhaps they looked just like regular people, as opposed to decaying zombies. Perhaps they had clothes on, as opposed to being naked. Perhaps they entered Jerusalem in small numbers, in order to remain inconspicuous. If we grant the inerranist this much, it seems very possible that, if this event occurred, only one known Gospel would record it. But a possibility is not the same as a probablity.

Jason's strategy, as well as the strategy of every conservative inneranist, is to prove that their position is just possible. Creationists will argue that the age of the earth might be wrong, since the age of the earth has "changed" as technology as progressed. Yet they give us little, if any evidence that we should favor their hypothesis over a better, simpler one.

So Jason, I concede that it's possible that the saints entered Jerusalem undetected. Hell, they could've been invisible and microscopic for all I know. But that doesn't mean they probably were. For one thing, the story only appears in one Gospel. Also, it is accompanied by claims of a great earthquake and eclipse, both of which there is even less evidence for. Arguing that the early Christians understood the Gospels as literal history is just pulling the buggy before the horse, for these passages should, if anything, challenge that assertion.

So, my readers shouldn't be surprised that I think this event never happened. How could I? Now, I acknowledge that it could've happened. After all, the zombie saints could have been microscopic or even disguised as regular Jewish peasants. They even could have disappeared milliseconds after they entered Jerusalem to avoid being seen. I can't prove that they didn't- but it's not my job to, either. This event never happened- and only the most fringe level conservative apologists would say otherwise.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pitting incompatible Supernatural beliefs against each other, Part 2

Religions, other than Christianity, have made miracle claims. This fact is unavoidable. Even Christians acknowledge that miracle claims are often made from members of other Religions. Some examples of miracle claims in the names of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism can be found here, here and here. New agers have a substantial amount of miracle claims, so I wont bother linking to any. So, how do Christians deal with this diversity? Well- some of them just throw their arms in the air and claim agnosticism. During a discussion on miracles at Victor Repperts blog, one commenter claimed that miracles done in the name of other Religions can actually be proof for Christianity, since, apparently, God had no quips about deceiving people into the wrong faith. And of course, many Christians will just outright deny the validity of other Religions' miracle claims, and happily affirm their own.

Now, I am not a trained theologian, so I can't really conclusively comment on the success of any of these strategies. However, that doesn't mean I can't hold a inconclusive opinion. For one thing- how can we determine which Religion is correct if they all make similar claims? If every miracle ever documented were done for and by Christians, than that would be good evidence that Christianity is the true faith. However, what we see instead are many miracles being claimed by many religions. The only possible scenarios I see are that, either God allows miracles to happen that inevitably draw people away from Christianity, or that these things all have natural causes. Well... I guess one can argue that there exists an all loving, Universalist God that does miracles for everyone. But even this scenario doesn't seem to fit in with the Christian concept of hell and atonement, does it? In the end, it just seems intuitive that all these miracle stories are false.

Also, even if we granted that miracles occur in Christianity alone- one would have to ask why they even exist in the first place? What is the criteria in which someone is allowed to witness a miracle, and someone is denied that opportunity? Because it seems to me that the person who witnessed a miracle will have a better chance of being/remaining a Christian than the person who does not- giving them an unfair advantage. A Theist could claim that God works in mysterious ways, or that he rewards people who would've believed anyways, using his Omniscience. Answers like these are clearly sound- but that doesn't mean they are good. For one thing- they are both unfalsifiable, and cannot ever be tested or proven false.

Just to conclude, I wanted to mention NDE's again- since they are generally considered the best evidence for an afterlife. I have argued before that, since NDE's occur to members of other faiths, they are probably of naturalistic origin. Ed Babinski argues this at length during the conversation about miracles he had on Victor Repperts blog.
"Same with Near Death Experiences, the majority of which are positive, even for people who do not become orthodox Christians. In fact Mormons have a journal devoted to recording and studying the Near Death Experiences of Mormons (some of them saw Lincoln in the afterlife, and guess what, Lincoln converted and became a Mormon after he died), which sometimes are quite detailed and involve a trip to a very Mormon-looking heaven. Betty Eade wrote several books about her Mormon NDE that were on the bestseller lists about ten years or so ago. "
Surprisingly, many commenters agreed with him that Miracles can't be used as evidence for the existence of God! I chalk that up as a victory for Atheism.

HT to Russ, Ed Babinski and the many other anonymous commenters

I'm cleaning up some of my blog posts

I'm sure some readers noticed that some of my blog posts have been changed since they were first posted. I have learned a few new things from skeptics like CSICOP since my first post in September, so I figured I'd update my older posts to include them. Plus, I forgot to use spellcheck a few times. Recent posts to have been renovated include "Should we pay attention to miracle claims", "A very personal Poltergeist case" and the newly renamed "Christian entity encounters". I guess that's kinda like writing up a real post, right? Alright, I'll right up a real post tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Licona loses his job?!

Here is the story (and Here is Jeff Lowder's thoughts on it). Licona lost his teaching position since he denied the historicity of Matthew 27. I have to admit- I feel really bad for Licona. Sure, I make fun of him alot for his inconsistent denial of group hallucinations- but really, does anyone deserve to lose their job over a ludicrous passage like Matthew 27. A passage in which a bunch of dead people came back to life and terrorized Jerusalem- only to disappear from the archaeological record completely. A passage in which an earthquake occurred, yet was unrecorded by other ancient historians. A passage that has all the obvious signs of fabrication, yet is still taken seriously by some extremely superstitious, credulous Zeleots; Zealots that found the need to immediately oust him without even a trial- without even considering the evidence that they may, in fact, be wrong. Licona owes it to himself to apply to a real University- one that doesn't require him to affirm to Biblical Literalism in the guise of Inerrancy. That is not honest scholarship- that is denying the truth when it is right in front of your nose.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pitting incompatible Supernatural beliefs against each other

Supernatural claims are a dime a dozen now adays. Many of them can be consistent with Christianty, like NDE's, Apparitions and Poltergeists. However, many aren't as adaptable, such as Reincarnation and Alien sightings. Furthermore, amonst the phenomena that are consistent with Christianity, I think that many cases can be shown to be incompatible with it as well- such as non-Christians having NDE's featuring members of their Religion. I have used this strategy in various posts, such as this one, this one and this one.

Here is an interesting article I discovered recently that illustrates my point. What makes it interesting, however, isn't the story itself- but the couple starring in it- Sarah & Michael Feeley. These two claim that they experienced  angelic visitations. Now, angelic visitations aren't incompatible with the truth of Christianity- as a matter of fact, they are what we'd expect if Christianity were true! Therefore, this couples experience serves as evidence that Christianity is true, right?

Wrong! In addition to the beliefs they hold that support Christianity, they also hold many absurd claims that don't gel as well with it- such as that they experienced ascended masters, energy meditations and even alien encounters. They also believe that  they had past lives in Egypt and Atlantis- a claim that is completely in conflict with most forms of Christianity since it removes hell from the picture.

So- if we were to assume that an angel did, in fact, visit them- one would have to ask why they hold all these absurd beliefs- some of which are irreconcilable with Christianity. Perhaps a demon disguised as an angel decieved them. That's a possible explaination- but than, how can ever we know whether "genuine" religious experiences are authentic? After all, they have just as much evidential merit as this couples experiences, don't they? Plus, the demon hypothesis can't be disproven, so it's on quite shaky ground. Only two other possibilities stick out in my mind- that they are all correct beliefs, or that they are all incorrect beliefs- and I think we all know what the answer is.

Now, as well as a being a good example of pitting incompatible beliefs against each other, this couple should also shed light on the power of belief. For those that have read the article, you'll know that these two aren't just superstitious tribals- their ex-police officers! This should demonstrate how even the most credible of witness' could be utterly, utterly deluded.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: The historicity of 1 Corinthians 15

A little while ago, I promised to do a post on 1 Cor 15. Well- that promise has come true! However- before I do so, I would like to justify myself on the lack of attention I've given to the empty tomb. You see... I just find it hard to care about it. I mean sure, 75% of scholars think it's historical- but so what. In a field filled with very conservative Christians (Like that one I make fun of here regularly), 25% is a fairly impressive number. Plus, even if the empty tomb were most certainly historical- that still doesn't prove that God raised Jesus from the dead. There are theories on how the body could of been moved or stolen. Anyways, I'll blog about the empty tomb on another Sunday. For now, I will discuss the historicity of 1 Cor 15.

For those that don't know, 1 Cor 15 is our earliest historical source that documents the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. However- most skeptics are rather uncomfortable with the fact that of all six appearances Jesus made, three include more than one witness. Most NT scholars take them pretty much at face value. I, however, have recently become very skeptical. My skepticism of the creed, however, did not occur when I started researching this passage; on the contrary- I found out that the passage could be as early as a few years after the event! No- my skepticism of the creed actually started to develop a week ago, when I started to research the Paranormal.

The first thing I noticed when doing my research was that most people who believe in "entities" (ghosts, angels, etc) relied on the testimony of witness'. They would spend most of their effort writing down witness reports, in order to validate their claims. However- most skeptics, like the members of CSICOP, have a far better approach- they investigate the origin and development of the belief. See, unlike in biblical studies, psychology plays a major role in investigating supernatural "appearances"- and if there is one thing psychology has proven- it's that humans are lousy witness'.

For one thing, we almost always interpret our evidence in accordance to our worldview. For example, if one already believe in ghosts, than a cold spot will be interpreted as evidence for a ghost. Also, in accordance with the above point, we also tend to alter the evidence we have in our heads to match the phenomena we are trying to prove. For example, Person A may see something fly in front of a window very quickly. Later on, when they recall that moment- they may recall it as an angel instead of, say, a bird. Perhaps they do this because they are long time angel believers- that are looking for evidence to prove their already held belief.

In addition to this- one may come to the false belief that other people near him also saw the entity. Although it sounds odd to say it- there are many paranormal cases in which many people will claim to see the same thing when they, in fact, did not see the same thing. This can be determined by interviewing the witness' individually, and seeing how similar their combined testimonies actually are. One example would be the "Timor revival", in which many miracles were reported, many of which including multiple witness'. However- when the witness' were interviewed independently, it became obvious that they had observed no such thing. Many other excellent examples can be found in Joe Nickell's book Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons and other alien beings.

So, my critique of 1 Cor 15 is that, even if it accurately preserves what the witness' claimed to have seen- it says little about what they actually saw. As mentioned earlier, multiple people have claimed to see the same thing, even though they did not. What makes the disciples any different than these cases is beyond me.

HT to Richard Carrier for the story of the Timor Revival

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The incredible Gef

On September, 1939, the Irving family had started hearing strange sounds. At first, they thought they were the victims of a horrible Poltergeist! However- they later discovered that the source of the commotion wasn't a scary ghost- but a cute little Mongoose named Gef. Now Gef wasn't your average, ordinary Mongoose- oh no, he was far more special than that. You see- Gef was a Mongoose that could talk! Don't believe me? Well, to all you nay-sayers, we have tons of evidence that Gef not only could talk, but did, in fact, exist!

Firstly, we have the eye witness testimony of the entire Irving family that they did, in fact, see and communicate with Gef. Also, in addition to this testimony, we also have the testimony of five outsiders. The first being their neighbour, Charles Northwood- who claims that he personally heard Gef talk- and that his voice was definitely not of natural origin. Two local Teenagers, Harry Hall and Will Cubbon, also heard Gef speak, as well as a nameless reporter and Government official which all claimed the same thing- that Gef's voice was too high pitched to be natural. The only people to have heard Gef's voice and not be convinced were two journalists, who visited Gef for the sole purpose of hearing him speak.
"Suddenly there was a shrill squeak from the corner of the room where Voirrey, the daughter, was sitting. Mr Irving, in great excitement, gripped my arm and pointing to the opposite side of the room, whispered: 'He's there! Did you hear him?'"

"Evans and I gazed at each other in sheer amazement... We were again conducted to the door and the squeaks at intermittent intervals continued. Each squeak was kindly translated by Mr Irving to mean: 'They don't believe' or 'I want to back a horse', etc. The squeak in every case was of a particularly short duration"
"On our way down, I noticed Voirrey had a tendency to hang behind, and once again we heard a piping squeak with Mr Irving again wildly gesticulating and pointing to the hedge and whispering: 'He's there, I tell you. He's there!'"

Now obviously. the Irvings faked this one. But come on! Just because they faked one doesn't mean they faked them all! I mean, we have a Government official that heard Gef's voice! They are highly educated in science and stuff, aren't they?

Anyways, in addition to testimony, we also have a sample of Gef's hair and of Gef's paw prints and teeth made in Plasticine! Now, I know what you're thinking- obviously the Irvings could've used any old Mongoose's teeth, paws and hair, right? Wrong! We can tell these samples are authentic because, according to tests carried out by scientists Reginald Innes Pocock and F.Martin Duncan - they don't match those of any known species of Mongoose! As a matter of fact, the only type of animal that these samples even come close to matching is a that of a Sheepdog- coincidentally the same type of Dog as the family pet. However, not to stray away from the point- the paw print is unique and, therefore, must be proof that a unique animal made them.

Now to conclude this post, I must say that, although we all know Gef is real, some will look at the story of Gef with doubt in their heart. Some will say that the people who heard Gef speak must have been mistaken since two reporters didn't believe it. They'll say that the hair and paw prints matched the families dog because it was from the families dog. They'll even say that the daughter, Viorrey, caused the whole thing, perhaps with the help of her dad, since most of their neighbours suspected that was the case. However- these charges do not belittle my faith in Gef- and they shouldn't belittle your faith in Gef, too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A very personal Poltergeist case

Poltergeists, as well as any empirical evidence for the supernatural, fascinate me. Although I don't believe in any of that stuff personally- I've always found it more interesting than, say, philosophical arguments for the existence of God. There just seems to be more of an evidential pull with flying utilities than there is with an unmoved mover. For that reason, I have been looking more into the case for the supernatural than I did at the beginning of this blog. If you'd rather I post about the historical Jesus more- just tell me. I have some interesting posts relating to the Old and New Testaments that I can't wait to post.

But to get back on track- I have a Poltergeist story I would like to share with you. Than, I will analyze it and demonstrate why I think it, as well as many other poltergeist stories, are obviously false. This story begins with a family that all start to experience strange phenomena. Their son starts having horrible dreams, often about death, hell and a possessed knight statue. The mom starts losing things at a high rate- claiming that the objects must of "moved by themselves" while she wasn't looking. At nights, she reports hearing things bump and bang against the floor. Now, the dad is a genius- with an IQ of 140. He doesn't believe in any of this stuff. However, one day, while half asleep, he sees a ghost, sitting on the side of his bed. He suddenly turns white, as the ghost disappears. Eventually, after a few years, they move out, as the dad has been saving up and can now afford a bigger house. They never contact the family that moved in.

I can testify, however, that the family was never haunted in the first place. This is because I was the son in this family. My old house, located on Harlow Road in Mississauga, Ontario, was believed by my family and I to be haunted. However- I stopped believing that it was a while ago, most probably since everything that we experienced could be explained naturally. For instance, my mother is a klutz that still loses things frequently. When we lived in the old house, she was  a new parent who had more responsibilities than she was used to. My belief is that she simply couldn't keep track of everything as well as she usually could due to the new heads. Also, my brothers and I had probably moved things from time to time. When it came to the supernatural noises- we did have a dog. Also, there are drafts, rats, and even cars and trucks outside. My fathers experience isn't that hard to explain either. He was groggy by his own admission, and when he saw the apparition, his vision was unfocused. It seems to me that he could have just saw something that looked like a ghost and experienced Pareidola, perhaps due to a shirt hanging on the doorknob, or some such thing.

My experiences, however, were the most strange. I was terrified of even leaving my room at night to use the bathroom. Although I never heard or saw anything supernatural at all, I had these bizarre hell dreams. Once, I dreamed of sliding down a slide to hell with my brother. Most often, however, my dreams featured a living knight statue, that would trick me into being all alone, and than would chase me. These dreams left me feeling terrified, even after I woke up. However- I do not regard these as being supernatural at all. The reason why I don't is because, even after the haunting stopped, I still had them occasionally. You see, although it's embarrassing to admit- I had a small speech impediment when I was a kid. I still speak too speak fast, and I can barely pronounce the "r" sound. As you could imagine, I was teased a lot for it, and this caused me a lot of anxiety when I was young. When the dreams started, I was in 5th grade, the time when most of my friends started teasing me. I stopped having the dreams when I was in the 8th grade. As time progressed, I had less and less of them, until they eventually reached a full halt. Humorously, in one of my very last "scary dreams", I punched the knight statue in the face after I realised I was dreaming. I think at that point I stopped believing they were anything other than a nuisance.

It seems to me that, at least in my own poltergeist case, the evidence looks strong at first since we have no background information. However, once we start to dig a little deeper, my case, as well as every other reported case, all of a sudden looks a lot weaker. For example, my hell dreams look more normal when you consider the fact that they persisted long after everyone else's experiences. Also, my whole family, including myself, were devout Catholics, who attended church regularly. I went to a Catholic school, and in it, I thought about God all the time. It was our expectation as Christians that this sort of thing occur once and a while. Also, my mom was very superstitious back than. For instance, she believed that the Ghosts came because she and a friend once played with an Ouija board in the living room. Nobody else in the family believed her, and eventually she stopped believing it as well.

In conclusion, I think the reason we stuck around with the house so long was because we were so fascinated with the possibility of it proving God 's existence. If any of us really believed the house was possessed by spirits or demons, we would've ran the hell out immediately. But we didn't. We acted as if we were the hero's in a horror film. It made for great conversations at social gatherings, with other superstitious people would recall stories they heard about exorcisms and the like. In conclusion, we believed in the poltergeist so long as it benefited us, as I suspect many other superstitious people do.