Apostles' Creed Readings

Recently, Nicole and I have been running a discussion group on the Apostles' Creed at our Church.  The Apostles' Creed is a traditional statement of faith, used during baptisms, that developed organically in the Western Church over the first few centuries.  It wasn't actually written by the apostles, although it is an accurate summary of their teachings.

We're on hiatus now until mid-January, but some people asked for our written material, so here they are:


I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of Heaven and Earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary <-  Christmas readings!
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified
Dead, and buried
He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
I believe in the Holy Catholic* Church
The communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting

*i.e. universal

Each handout discusses a different line in the Creed, and contains 1) a few quotes from the Bible, 2) a few quotes from Christian writers, and 3) two very quick arguments for why Christians believe that part of the Creed.

If you or your church wish to run a similar group, you are free to print out, use, and/or modify these handouts with no restrictions.  We begin with prayer, and take turns reading from the handout.  Then I've been getting a different church member each Sunday (not necessarily a regular member of the group) to testify for 5-10 minutes what that line in the Creed means to them personally—unfortunately this isn't included in the handouts!—and this opens up a general discussion.  Then we end with prayer.  The whole thing takes an hour.

When we finish the rest of the handouts (sometime in Februrary or March probably), I will update this post, without making an announcement elsewhere.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted in Theology | 11 Comments

Tis the Season… For Revisionist History

[This is an updated version of an essay published at my own website in December 2014.—Scott Church]

As Christmas draws nigh, I am reminded of the many reasons why it’s my favorite holiday. It’s the culmination of my favorite time of year—when geese and swans are on the wing through crisp morning fog, the hills are on fire with the colors of dwindling annual life cycles in their foliage, and salmon fill the rivers, returning with such undying exuberance to complete a cycle of life as old as the cascades they leap with so much primal determination. My family and I visit a tree farm in the Cascade foothills and return with our Christmas tree. We decorate it, hang lights, and fill our home with Christmas carols, sacred hymns, and the canons of the season. Autumn wreath and other spicy scents waft from candles. The joy and worshipfulness of the whole season fills gives me joy. But most of all, Christmas is the time when we remember that God chose to come down from Heaven and become one of us, sharing in the fleshly reality of our joys and sorrows, and offering His life as a loving sacrifice for ours. Unto us a Savior is born!

But like so many other things that bring joy and meaning to our lives, it also has a way of bringing some of the lamest ax grinders among us out of the woodwork like moths to the flame. We’ve all heard the endless pratlling of benighted fundamentalists who take offense whenever someone says, “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas,” as though the Christmas story celebrated by 2.2 billion people worldwide is somehow threatened by anyone who doesn’t hold Christian beliefs and prefers to find their own meaning in the season. But for all their annoying priggishness, at least these people have some semblance of history and scholarship on their side. More bothersome (to me at least) are the self-proclaimed guardians of politically correct secularism who insist that Christmas, and indeed the entire body of Christian doctrine and tradition, were somehow stolen from pagan traditions by nefarious church leaders intent on suppressing them. The Immaculate Conception and virgin birth of Jesus, the manger, the visit of the magi bearing gifts, the date of December 25 and more… all, we’re told, originated in pagan myths such as those of the gods Mithras, Sol Invictus, Horus, and other ancient cosmogonies. Even the historical figure of Jesus Himself, His twelve disciples and the crucifixion and resurrection are said to have been plagiarized. Every fall, once the Thanksgiving decorations come down and the Christmas lights start going up, it’s only a matter of time before cartoons and Facebook memes like the one below start making the rounds in anti-religion social media chat rooms.

Apart from the boorish tastelessness of vandalizing a Christmas classic, every word of this is false and no reputable scholars take any of it seriously. Even so, the rise of such fashionable mythology within anti-religion circles makes for an interesting, and at times entertaining story. Verily, verily, human nature is a gift that keeps on giving.

The actual date of Jesus’ birth is not known. The gospels tell the Nativity story from different perspectives but contain few clues as to its date, and the next two centuries contain little extra-biblical evidence to supplement them. Surprising as it may be to some, the early church did not attach much significance to the birth of Jesus, preferring instead to celebrate his ministry, death and resurrection. Some Christian writers of the period even condemned the Roman practice of celebrating birth anniversaries as “pagan” practices (Origen), rendering it highly unlikely that they or the church would’ve been in the habit of celebrating the Nativity. Toward the end of the 2nd Century an interest in dating the birth of Jesus emerged in the Coptic Church of Northern Africa, and by 200 C.E. several dates were being proposed (Clement). During the 2nd Century some Christian writers saw intimations of Jesus in the vernal equinox and placed the Annunciation and the passion of Christ on or near the 14th day of Nisan (March 25 in the Julian calendar). Irenaeus (c. 130–202) made this claim and linked it to the crucifixion as well, as did Tertullian of Carthage (Tertullian), Hippolytus and the pseudo-Cyprianic (Talley, 1986). In 243 C.E. an anonymous work titled De Pascha Computus suggested that the creation of the sun and the Annunciation both occurred on or near the vernal equinox as well (McGowan, 2002).

The notion that the Annunciation and passion of Christ, as well as creation should fall on the vernal equinox was widespread by the mid-3rd Century, and by the middle of the 4th Century celebrations of Christmas had converged on two dates: December 25 in the West and January 6 in the East. Valentinus' Chronography of 354 refers to a Christian liturgical feast denoted as "Natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea." By this time the Donatists of Northern Africa were also honoring the December 25 date and appeared to have been doing so since their inception as a church under the persecution of Diocletian in 312 C.E. (McGowan, 2002). In the East, where the birth of Christ had been tied more strongly to the Epiphany, Christmas was celebrated on January 6. The period between the two dates came to be known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. By 388 C.E. the December 25 date had been imported into the Eastern Church as well by John Chrystosom who gave a sermon claiming, “Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December ... the eight before the calends of January [25 December] ..., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord ...? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice…" (Martindale, 1908; Roy, 2005; Wainwright and Tucker, 2006).

So, by the mid-3rd Century Christian writers had based the conception of Jesus on the vernal equinox leading to a birth date of December 25 (Duchesne, 1919; Alexander, 1994; Roll, 1995; Talley, 1996; Wybrew, 1997; McGowan, 2002; Roy, 2005; Senn 2006, 2012; Rothenberg, 2011). By the middle of the 4th Century, liturgical feasts had been marking the date for some time and had almost certainly been doing so before the ascension of Constantine to the Eastern and Western thrones in 312 C.E.

It’s important to note that prior to Constantine Christians were a persecuted minority. Official state sanctions against Christians were desultory throughout the 2nd Century and escalated to Diocletian great persecution from 303 to 311 C.E. during which as many as 20,000 Christians were executed for not bowing down before the officially recognized gods of Rome. They were hardly in a position to “usurp” any pagan festivals and in fact, for reasons of religion and physical safety they were actively trying to distance themselves from them. Prior to the 4th Century Christian writings make no references to altering, or otherwise laying claim to any pagan holidays or dates (McGowan, 2002). It was during this period (274 C.E.) that Aurelian declared Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) the official sun god of Rome and officially established the festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti on December 25 to commemorate him. Sun god worship was present in Rome in one form or another since before the 1st Century. But whereas Christian writers had established arguments for the birth of Jesus on this date by 200 C.E., there is little evidence to suggest that feast days commemorating Sol Invictus were celebrated prior to the mid-4th Century (Wikipedia, 2017). In fact, evidence suggests that Natalis Invicti may have been a response to December 25 Christian liturgical feasts rather than a motivator for them (Tighe, 2003). It wasn’t until Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E. that persecution of Christianity ended (only to be renewed to some degree by Julian the Apostate from 361 to 363 C.E.), and Christianity didn’t become the state religion of Rome acquiring the power “usurp” any pagan practices until 380 C.E. under the reign of Theodosius I (Wikipedia, 2017b).

But according to our cartoon historian… a minority of Christians launched a sinister plot to steal the festival of Natalis Invicti from the pagans who were persecuting them 50 to 70 years before it was even practiced, and nearly two centuries before the church had any sanctioned power to do so.

What about Saturnalia?  It originated as a festival for farmers in honor of Saturn (from satus for "sowing") that marked the end of the autumn planting, and was practiced in one form or another from as early as 217 B.C. until well into the 5th Century C.E. Originally a two day affair beginning around December 17, it eventually became a week-long festival culminating on December 23 (Salusbury, 2009; Wikipedia, 2017c). Though it has been suggested that the festival may have been extended to December 25 by Domitian (AD 51-96) during his reign as an assertion of authority (Salusbury, 2009), for the bulk of its C.E. history it was a 5-7 day festival that culminated with the Sigillaria (day of gift giving) on December 23. Its timing does not align well with December 25 or January 6 dates for Christmas, and it's very unlikely to have had any influence on the church's adoption of either date (Gwynn, 2011).

But if Sol Invictus and Saturnalia are questionable Christmas story candidates, the cult of Mithras is downright ludicrous. Mithras was a Roman reinvention of the ancient Indo-Iranian angelic deity Mithra (Sanskrit, Mitra), the guardian of covenant and oath, harvest, cattle, and water. He was the all-seeing protector of truth, and the divinity of contracts and judicial process (Wikipedia, 2017c). He is first mentioned in the Rig Veda circa 1400 B.C. after which his worship spread to the Persian world through Zoroastrianism where he was known as Mithra. It’s unclear whether Zoroaster himself embraced Mithra, but he appears throughout the Zoroastrian Avesta (particularly the Khorda Avesta, or Book of Common Prayer) possibly as early as 559 B.C. He entered the Hellenic world as Mithras when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in the late 4th Century B.C. Roman Mithraism first appears in the historical record late in the 1st Century C.E. and flourished throughout the empire, particularly among the military, until the 4th Century. Unlike other pagan religions of the period, Mithraism was a mystery religion whose doctrines, rituals and festivities were closely guarded secrets. No scriptures, writings or first-hand worship accounts are known to exist apart from a handful of catechisms and one 4th Century liturgy. Everything that is known about it has been derived from inscriptions at archaeological sites and second-hand commentary about it in the writings of contemporary outsiders (Clauss, 2001; Pearse, 2012; Pearse, 2012; Wikipedia, 2017e). There is general scholarly agreement that although he was derived from the Zoroastrian tradition, the Roman Mithras was noticeably dissimilar to his Persian counterpart and today he is regarded as a distinct product of the Roman Imperial religious world (Wikipedia, 2017c, 2017d, 2017e; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). It’s important to note that syncretism was a common feature of Roman paganism and Mithraism was no exception. Most archaeological finds associated with the worship of Mithras contain statues dedicated to other gods and inscriptions dedicated to Mithras were commonplace in other cult sanctuaries. Roman Mithraism was more a way of practicing pagan worship than a religion in its own right and Mithras' worshippers were often found worshipping other gods in the civic religion. Mithraism was far more likely to be influenced by other religions rather than an influence on any of them (Burkert, 1987; Clauss, 2001; Pearse, 2012).

Nevertheless, attempts have been made to explain Christianity away as a plagiarism of Roman Mithraism. The idea that the two might be related was first suggested during the 19th Century by Renan (1882) based on a criticism of Mithraic rituals by Justin Martyr (155-157 C.E.). This in turn led to decades of speculation culminating in numerous alleged similarities between Mithras and Jesus, including (but not restricted to) that he was born of a virgin on December 25, crucified and resurrected after 3 days, marked with the sign of a cross, and attended by 12 disciples. Apart from superficial similarities no real evidence exists for any of these claims and few if any scholars take them seriously. They survive mostly as urban legends circulated by New Age and/or New Atheist communities (Pearse, 2012, 2014; Wikipedia, 2017f). In fact, given that Christianity predates Roman Mithraism by nearly half a century, what few similarities there are, appear to be the result of Mithraism borrowing from Christianity rather than the other way around (Nash, 1984; Pearse, 2012). Of the current myths regarding Mithras and Christianity, the ones most relevant to Christmas are that he was born on December 25, and that he was a virgin birth.

The December 25 date is based entirely on conflations of Mithras with Sol Invictus. The sun (Sol) figures prominently in Mithraic tales like The Banquet of the Sun, and he was often referred to descriptively as sol invictus (the unconquered sun), but never by formal title. Sol Invictus and Mithras were separate deities. The title “Invictus” was given to a number of pagan deities (not unlike “Reverend”) and wasn’t reserved for Sol Invictus alone. In fact, Sol Invictus and Mithras are shown together in a number of scenes as separate deities (including The Banquet of the Sun). Some feature Mithras ascending behind Sol in the latter's chariot, the deities shaking hands, and sharing pieces of meat at the altar on a spit or spits. One even shows Sol Invictus kneeling before Mithras (Clauss, 2001; Beck, 2004). No other mention of December 25 relating to Mithras occurs anywhere in the ancient record, and there is no evidence to suggest that the state sanctioned Roman festival of Sol Invictus was related to Mithras in any way.

Attempts to ascribe a virgin birth to Mithras are downright bizarre. The historical record contains two accounts of his birth: The Roman version, and the Indo-Iranian version that preceded it. In the former Mithras is depicted as emerging fully grown from a rock in a cave bearing a torch or dagger and wearing a Phrygian cap after which his first act was the slaying of a bull (Clauss, 2001). Some accounts associate the rock of his birth to the water god Oceanus and it serves as a fountain. The Indo-Iranian myths are similar with a few variations. Here Mithra is born of a rock by the shore of Araxes (Widengren, 1966). Some have claimed that the Vedic tradition depicts Mitra as being born to the virgin goddess Anahita, but this is difficult to defend as that tradition portrays Mitra as her consort rather than her son (Lindemans, 1997). In any event, this aspect of the Vedic tradition appears to have had little or no impact on the Zoroastrian Mithra or the Roman Mithras.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but if there’s any similarity here to the virgin birth of Jesus or any other Christian doctrine I’m not seeing it. I doubt many virgins would take kindly to being equated with wet rocks or consorts.

Finally, we come to my personal favorite—Horus.

Horus, who was one of the oldest and most significant gods of the Egyptian pantheon, was worshipped from the late Predynastic period to the Greco-Roman era. The earliest records portray him as the patron deity of Nekhen, the first known national god of Upper Egypt. Most commonly he was portrayed as a falcon and the son of Isis and Osiris, but in some traditions Hathor, goddess of joy, feminine love, and motherhood is his mother or wife. Horus fulfilled numerous functions. Most notably he was the god of the sky, sun, war and protection. In some records he is described as containing the sun and moon as his right eye and left eyes which traversed the sky when he flew across it (Wikipedia, 2017h). Among the festivals of ancient Egypt Horus figures most prominently in Heb-Sed which honored his father, the god Osiris, in a series of rites that celebrated him as dead, dismembered, and reconstituted. There he is celebrated as Osiris’ son, alter-ego and eternal avenger. Heb-Sed culminated on the last day of Khoiak with a ceremony in which four arrows were shot in four directions to ward off of evil powers and acknowledge the rule of Pharoah and the role of Horus in his father’s battles (Roy, 2005). In addition to Heb-Sed Plutarch reports that the birth of Elder Horus (one of many variations of the Horus myth) was observed on the second epagomenal day of the Egyptian calendar (Plutarch, 1936).

The birth of Horus is recounted in the myth Isis and Osiris. In most versions of the myth he is born to the goddess Isis after she retrieves the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten, depending on the account by a catfish or a crab. Plutarch reports that when Isis was unable to retrieve Osiris’ penis she used her magic to fashion one from gold and impregnated herself with it. Some versions portray Isis either as reviving Osiris enough to have an erection via the refashioned penis, or reviving the penis itself (NYFS, 1973; Lesko, 1999; Scholtz, 2001; Shaw, 2003).

The Egyptian calendar was primarily lunar and varied in both time and population sector across the Early, Middle and Late Kingdoms. Often it being driven more by seasonal cycles (e.g. flooding of the Nile) than explicit astronomical events. The five epagomenal days were included to account for solar/lunar calendar creep (Wikipedia, 2017g; Meyboom, 1995). The Coptic calendar introduced by Ptolemy III in 238 BC was based on it with the primary difference being addition of a 6th epagomenal day. Depending on Kingdom period Khoiak roughly overlaps September and October, or November to January in the Gregorian calendar. In the Coptic calendar it runs from the Gregorian calendar period of December 10 to January 8 which translates to November 27 to December 26 in the Julian calendar (Wikipedia, 2017g). The second epagomenal day of the Egyptian calendar corresponds to an astronomical date of July 31. No historical or archaeological record of any kind directly or indirectly ties the birth of Horus to December 25.

So... Never mind alleged plots to steal Christmas Day from a Roman sun god’s holiday decades before it even existed, or “virgin” birth stories based on another god’s emergence from a wet rock, let me get this straight…

Osiris is murdered and dismembered, his johnson is whacked off, tossed into the Nile River, and promptly eaten by crabs…

But not to be deterred, his nubile young bride fashions for herself a magical golden dildo, screws herself silly with it, has a cigarette afterward, and spits out sweet, cherub-faced Horus…

And this, we’re told, is where Christians get their story of the *cough* virgin *cough* birth of Jesus of Nazareth to a first century Hebrew peasant girl.

On my best day, I couldn’t write material this good if I tried! :D 

What any of these epic tales have to do with Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth (an historical figure), or Christianity remains to be seen (Wikipedia, 2017b; Nash, 1994). But that hasn’t kept legions of secular conspiracy theorists from inventing ways to connect them, which raises the question of why such ideas have so much cache today. Clearly, scholarship isn’t involved, so what is? Having followed this sort of thing for some time, I believe there are at least three factors fueling its popularity.

First, there’s the general public’s fascination with pseudoscientific and/or controversial ideas, and the fact that there’s no shortage of people with an ax to grind against traditional Christianity (unfortunately, not always without cause). To those with anti-religion agendas, speculations of Christian plagiarism are a bloody 10-pound pot roast in a shark tank. Given their well-known fascination with genetic fallacies, New Atheists are particularly vulnerable to this sort of thing. Genetic fallacies assert that if the origin of some idea or belief can be accounted for it is thereby explained away, which is of course, false. The truth or falsehood of a belief has nothing whatsoever to do with how it was acquired (evolution has equipped us with binocular vision for instance, which gives us depth perception and the ability to ascertain curvature, but it doesn’t follow that the earth is flat or that space isn’t three-dimensional). Yet numerous popular books like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion are based almost entirely on the belief that if the origin of religious doctrines can be accounted for historically or psychologically they are thereby falsified. Christian conspiracies are bound to play a significant role in such works whether there’s any evidence for them or not.

Second, it is true that there are some superficial similarities between Christianity and ancient paganism. Dates sacred to both traditions do tend to be grouped together for instance, and on occasion, they even overlap. But the real reason is more pedestrian than any conspiracy. To the ancients, the sun was an obvious object of reverence, and thus, an obvious choice for a god. To Christians, it was an equally obvious symbol of God’s bounty and life-giving provision, and its seasonal cycles were given the utmost significance. Equinoxes were associated with planting and harvest, burgeoning life and death, and as the shortest day of the year, it was natural to equate the winter solstice with the birth of the sun and the coming year. So, it’s little wonder that pagan festivals would cluster around these astronomical dates. And as we saw earlier, for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with any pagan tradition Christians came to associate the vernal equinox with the Immaculate Conception and the passion of Christ, thereby placing his birth on or near the winter solstice as well.

There is a well-known logical fallacy referred to as cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: "With this, therefore because of this") which states that correlation implies causation. B correlates with A, therefore A caused B. This is also false. Two or more events might correlate by coincidence—accidents do happen after all, or they both might be separate consequences of something else. Events cannot be causally connected until these possibilities have been ruled out. In this case, they haven’t. The fortuitous alignment of Christian and pagan sacramental holidays is a natural consequence of the fact that the earth has seasons because its rotational axis isn’t perpendicular to its orbital ecliptic plane… in other words, astrophysics. No sinister, politically incorrect, anti-pagan conspiracies or cover-ups are involved.

It is true that after the 4th Century Christians incorporated many pagan traditions into Christmas celebrations and continue to do so to this day. My family and I put up Christmas lights and exchange presents, both practices inherited from Saturnalia. We also put up a Christmas tree, a custom which may have been borrowed from pre-Christian pagan traditions although this is speculative at best (Wikipedia, 2017i). I have many atheist and agnostic friends who do so as well. Does this mean we all believe in Mithras or Sol Invictus, or that we're plotting to suppress pagan ideas or steal their traditions? Of course not. We incorporate them because we find them beautiful and meaningful to us personally. We have no desire to inhibit anyone else’s worship, only to practice our own with whatever symbols and ceremonies speak to our hearts. Apart from prejudice, there's no reason to believe the early church as a whole was any different.

But to date, arguably the biggest factor in the spread of these ideas was a year 2007 pseudo-documentary called Zeitgeist, the first of a three-part series that eventually led to an international movement of the same name. The Zeitgeist series promoted a number of conspiracy theories not the least of which were that,

  • The 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by “New World Order” forces and the World Trade Center was deliberately brought down by a controlled demolition.
  • A global cabal of bankers has been manipulating world events
  • The Federal Reserve was behind the sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and several wars including the Vietnam War.
  • All humans will be implanted with RFID chips to monitor behavior and dissent.

All of which and more, we’re told, is part of a global plot to set up a religiously motivated “New World Order” (Wikipedia, 2017j).

The religiously motivated part is key to the movie’s claims. Zeitgeist is based on the so-called “Christ Myth” theory, an idea that originated during the 19th Century and has since assumed many forms most of which have been shaped more by intellectual and cultural fashion than anything concrete. According to the Christ Myth Jesus of Nazareth either never existed or had nothing to do with the origin of Christianity if He did, and Christianity was derived entirely from various pagan myths. Early in its history it had at least some scholarly support (particularly in the years prior to WWII when archaeology and text criticism were still in their infancy) but advances in these and other fields have relentlessly eroded what little support it originally had (Wikipedia, 2017k). Today few scholars take it seriously and it is confined almost exclusively to New Age conspiracy theorists and anti-religion activists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. In its most extreme forms, the Christ Myth go so far as to claim that Christianity was intentionally crafted by secretive religious cabals intent on gaining global power by eradicating pagan traditions. This is the starting point for the movie’s claims. The Christ Myth is at the root of nearly every claim made in Zeitgeist and the movie and its sources have become something of a one-stop-shopping kiosk for its defense. Skeptic Magazine described Zeitgeist as “The Da Vinci Code on steroids” (Callahan, 2009) and in fact, much of the movie’s content is strikingly similar to that series. A review of its sources (Joseph, 2007) yields little more than armchair archaeology, occult works (including one on “astrotheology and shamanism”), conspiracy theories and New Atheist agitprop. At best no more than 2 or 3 could be considered even remotely scholarly, and the most recent of these is nearly 60 years old.

But the real heavy lifting comes from the works of one Dorothy M. Murdoch, who publicly goes by the name “Acharya S” (Bertlet 2011; Winston, 2007; Callahan, 2009). Acharya is a Hindu term for a Brahmin teacher or guru, and as near as I can tell, the “S” doesn’t stand for anything. Murdoch, whose personal website is called “Truth Be Known,” was Zeitgeist’s primary consultant. Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but where I come from, a website named “Truth Be Known” run by someone who goes by the moniker “Guru [Capital Letter]” has wingnut written all over it. So, I decided to have a look at Ms. Murdoch’s credentials, and surprise, surprise… she has none. The Bio and Credentials pages at Truth Be known go to excessive lengths to convince us that she really does have some relevant expertise. There, she informs us that,

“While I myself am 'self-taught' in the sense that I developed a fascination for learning certain subjects at an early age, unlike the bulk of my detractors I actually do have formal, academic credentials relevant to my field of expertise.” (Truth Be Known, 2017)

What are these “formal, academic credentials,” you ask…?

  • "Schools in a small town known for its emphasis on academic excellence" including a 2nd Grade "experimental" program.
  • Growing up on a “small farm” with “loads of animals” and “fields and woods all around” where she learned “the nature-worshipping roots of many religious concepts.”
  • Serving as trench master on a few “archaeological excavations” in Corinth, Greece, and Connecticut (!).
  • Expertise in “esoterica” and other “mystical studies.”

Etc. etc. Naturally, details of the archaeological digs are carefully omitted, as are arguments for their alleged relevance to the origins of any Abrahamic religion, including Christianity (why she thinks a dig in Connecticut would have anything to do with either is anyone’s guess). Murdoch claims to have been “classically educated at some of the finest schools…” but the only verifiable education she has beyond high school is a BA in Classics from a small Pennsylvania college that she extols as one of America’s most august “potted Ivy League” institutions (which no one I’ve encountered has ever heard of). Murdoch also makes much of her alleged “membership” in the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. But a check of that institution’s website reveals no mention of her among its faculty or alumni. Callahan (2009) even contacted many people affiliated with the school, past and present, and was told that neither they, nor anyone they knew had ever heard of her. And Lord only knows what passes for “esoterica” and “mystical studies” (although I suspect some hallucinogens and a bottle of Night Train Express might render them more accessible).

The bottom line…? Murdoch is a New Age crank who has no formal education or professional experience in any field relevant to the topics she writes about. When one must devote multiple website pages to convincing others of their qualifications, even to the point of extolling their 2nd Grade education, it’s because those qualifications don’t speak for themselves. She, of course, defends this…

“The ‘credential argument’ frequently constitutes an ad hominem attack, especially in the case of individuals who disagree with mainstream perspectives. In reality, it is not always necessary to have perfect and proper credentials to become an expert or authority in a subject, or even to understand it.” (Truth Be Known, 2017)

True enough. But while none of the above specifically refutes any of her claims per se, in the very least, it calls her objectivity and competence into question—particularly since by her own admission her views are outside of “mainstream perspectives” (i.e. credible peer-reviewed scholarship). Reasonable people who are as lacking in qualifications as she is would be the first to admit that and would approach subjects like this with at least some humility. They would make every effort to ground their investigations in broadly-based extant research and solicit professional feedback whenever possible before running with any conclusions they reach.

There’s a term for people who are certain of their beliefs, and see themselves as visionaries persecuted by mainstream academia… they’re called crackpots.1

Which brings us to her seminal work, The Christ Conspiracy (Acharya, 1999), which is the primary source for Zeitgeist’s Christ Myth claims. Most of the movie’s other sources were taken from there as well, and as of January 26, 2008 many of these also cited it in return (Callahan, 2009). This is hardly surprising. Incestuous scholarship is rampant in Christ Myth circles. The same handful of conspiracy theorists and cranks routinely cite each other in circles, seldom venturing into peer-reviewed research. On the rare occasions that they do, they invariably cite it out of context. Murdoch even goes so far as to cite herself as an “independent” source for her claims. She is known for citing “D.M. Murdoch” as a source while publishing under her Brahmin guru name, and vice versa. As of this writing many of Zeitgeist’s original sources appear to have been removed from the Companion Guide, most likely because Murdoch and the movie’s producers have been covering their incestuous and/or discredited tracks. In what follows I will restrict myself to general comments about the book. First, because the content in it that is most relevant to the topic at hand, Christmas, has already been addressed. And second, because frankly, the content that isn’t erroneous is negligible and a reasonably complete catalog of its countless blunders would take up volumes.

Beyond a doubt, The Christ Conspiracy is one of the most amateurish and incompetently researched works I’ve ever seen. From start to finish it ricochets between hysterical anti-religion diatribes and arguments that range from questionable to schizophrenic. Every page contains numerous errors that even 10 minutes’ worth of fact-checking would have corrected. To wit;

  • Murdoch claims the 12 disciples of Jesus were taken from the 12 signs of the zodiac. The basis for this appears to be a carving showing Mithras surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, which Murdoch arbitrarily labels “disciples.” Similar claims are made about Horus in spite of the well-established fact that he is mythically portrayed as having four semi-divine disciples called "heru-shemsu,” or “followers of Horus” (Traunecker, 2001). Seattle Seahawks fans refer to themselves as the “12th Man.” If this sort of reasoning and carelessness with words like “disciple” were taken at face value, then football teams and their fans are borrowing from the zodiac as well.
  • She quotes Acts 11:26 as saying that the first Christians were found in Antioch, but claims there was no extant Gospel there until 200 C.E. A simple reading of the text reveals that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians there. Prior to that they were known as “disciples.” In virtually every modern Biblical translation even a casual inspection of the passage makes this obvious, yet somehow it eludes Murdoch. There is almost unanimous scholarly consensus that all four written Gospels were in circulation prior to the 2nd Century and their content had been passed by oral tradition long before that. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Antioch between 50 and 70 C.E. (Harris, 2010; Brown, 1994; and many others).
  • Murdoch repeatedly associates the “Son” of God with the Sun of God arguing that “son” and “sun” are the same word. Apparently, no one told her that the modern English language didn’t exist prior to the 16th Century, which makes conflating the two during the First Century a really neat trick. The Hebrew, Greek, and ancient Egyptian equivalents aren’t even remotely similar to each other either. One would think this should be obvious to someone with a BA in Classics from a “potted Ivy League” college. Apparently not.

And so on, and so on…

The book is riddled with errors like these. One struggles to find even five or six consecutive sentences that don’t contain at least one blunder that any attentive investigator would have caught. At times Murdoch’s assertions are downright bizarre. At one point we’re told that,

“To deflect the horrible guilt off the shoulders of their own faith, religionists have pointed to supposedly secular ideologies such as Communism and Nazism as oppressors and murderers of the people. However, few realize or acknowledge that the originators of Communism were Jewish (Marx, Lenin, Hess, Trotsky) and that the most overtly violent leaders of both bloody movements were Roman Catholic (Hitler, Mussolini, Franco) or Eastern Orthodox Catholic (Stalin), despotic and intolerant ideologies that breed fascistic dictators. In other words, these movements were not 'atheistic,' as religionists maintain.” (Achayra, 1999)

Never mind whether “deflecting guilt” is the only reason “religionists” (or anyone else) might oppose gas chambers and gulags. Apparently, being Jewish by race makes one Jewish by religion as well... even if said “Jew” has the most vehemently atheistic worldview imaginable. Murdoch doesn’t like Jews very much, and rarely misses an opportunity to castigate them—a fact which works very nicely with Zeitgeist’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. She also seems to think that being born into a religious family makes one religious as well. Mussolini, for instance, was a well-known atheist, and Hitler, who considered Christianity to be “nonsense founded on lies,” spoke positively of it only when doing so was necessary as propaganda (Wikipedia, 2017m; 2017n). Yet somehow, to Murdoch both pass for “Roman Catholic.” Richard Dawkins was born in Kenya to Anglican parents and was a Christian until halfway through his teenage years (Hattenstone, 2003). By her logic, that makes him a Christian. I wonder if he would agree with that assessment.

Like most works of its kind, The Christ Conspiracy is heavily sourced to like-minded lay writers publishing outside of the scientific peer-reviewed process, and what little is not is invariably out of context. But most of the book’s content regarding Egyptology and religious development in the ancient world can be traced to two 19th Century authors, Gerald Massey and Helena Blavatsky. Massey was a poet and spiritualist who also pursued Egyptology as a hobby (hence all of Murdoch’s nonsense about the god Horus). He had no formal education of any kind. Blavatsky was a spiritualist and occultist best known for founding the Theosophical Society. Broadly speaking, Theosophy (as taught by Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society) is founded on a doctrine referred to as The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence occurring on a “cosmic” scale involving the "physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe." Blavatsky believed the human race is part of the great “cosmic evolution” passing through a series of “Root Races,” the current being the Aryan, or Fifth Root Race. These Root Races are not ethnicities, but “evolutionary stages” of human development. The Fourth Root Race was in Atlantis, and the Sixth and final Root Race will be the “Spiritual” Root Race (Wikipedia, 2017o; 2017p). Blavatsky denied that Theosophy was a religion, preferring instead to call it “divine science” (as though study of the Divine isn’t religious in any way… like most occult thinkers, Blavatsky’s terminology and concepts tend to be muddled). She is considered by many to be the founder of the modern New Age movement.

And there you have it folks. The Christ Myth theory touted far and wide as a “scientific” investigation of the origin of Christianity ultimately boils down to…

The Da Vinci Code.

“Astrotheology,” pseudo-archaeology, Atlantis, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories… This is what our cartoon historian and other like-minded ambassadors for “reason” are offering as a rational alternative to Christianity and the traditional Christmas story.

Interestingly, the only professional affiliation of Ms. Murdoch’s that actually does check out is a 2005-2006 fellowship at the Council for Secular Humanism's Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (Wikipedia, 2017q). Apparently, in secular humanist circles “astrotheology,” “esoterica,” and Jewish bankers plotting to take over the world and microchip us all passes for “science.”

We pay a steep price when we allow fashionable “just so” stories to take precedence over properly researched facts. Not only do we make fools of ourselves, we miss out on the richness of a deeper understanding of the world and the best that is in us… the best in our souls. In the authentic version of the Peanuts cartoon above Linus quotes Luke;

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”  (Luke 2:8-14)

Unto us a Savior is born.

The word gospel comes from the Old English god-spell derived from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον which means good news. Good news indeed! God was not content just to gaze down upon us with pity from a safe and distant Heaven. He chose to be born into our world… to become one of us, see the world through mortal eyes, mingle His tears with ours, and die on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews compares Jesus to the Old Testament high priest Melchizedek, and goes on to say,

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  (Heb. 4:15-16)

On December 25, before my morning coffee… before watching my daughter tear into her presents under our Saturnalia tree and lights… I kneel before God and thank Him for entering the world. I thank Him for entering it as a peasant, not a king… I thank Him for suffering every temptation and hardship I do, so that He may walk beside me truly knowing what it’s like to be me in this veil of tears called life…

Most of all, I thank Him for laying down His own life to guarantee me a way through it, even though I do not, and never have deserved one. To me, and 2.2 billion Christians around the world, this is the true meaning of Christmas!

Many people do not share my Christian faith—in fact, most of humanity doesn’t. Some have sought God along other paths. Others are still searching for Him as best they can. Some have come to the honest conclusion that He simply doesn’t exist because so far, they’ve been unable to find evidence that speaks clearly enough to their listening ears. What all these folks have in common are open eyes, open hearts, and open hands. They are ready to receive a gift, and to whatever extent they’re able they will find their own meaning in the Christmas season and celebrate it with thanks. But many others mark the season with clenched fists. They have axes to grind—with God, with religion, with the church, perhaps with the very spirit of the holiday itself—and are more interested in defending personal ideological turf than receiving gifts. I imagine many of these folks enjoy the Christmas season with family and friends, and perhaps take something away from it despite that. But it’s sad to see people miss out on the deepest meaning of Christmas and God’s blessings for them, simply because they refuse to let go of ideas that wouldn’t survive even 30 seconds of due diligence.

I wish for everyone God’s richest Christmas blessings. Whatever our beliefs may be, and however we choose to celebrate it, may we do so in spirit and in truth… with open minds, and open hands rather than clenched fists.



1)    Incidentally, Murdoch’s critics aren’t restricted to the religious. Case in point, New Testament scholar Bart Erhman, whose work on textual criticism and the historical Jesus has led to much academic controversy in its own right (a topic for a separate essay). Ehrman, who describes himself as “an agnostic leaning toward atheism,” is hardly a friend of traditional Christianity. But although he disputes the picture of the historical Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, regarding The Christ Conspiracy he says, "all of Acharya's major points are in fact wrong..." and that the book "is filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe the author is serious…" He goes on to say that, "Mythicists of this ilk should not be surprised that their views are not taken seriously by real scholars, mentioned by experts in the field, or even read by them" (Ehrman & Dixon, 2012).


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Wikipedia (2017h). Horus. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horus. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017i). Christmas Tree. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017j). Zeitgeist (film series). Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeitgeist_(film_series). Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017k). Christ myth theory. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth_theory. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017m). Benito Mussolini: Religious Views. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini#Religious_views. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017n). Adolf Hitler: Religious Views. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler#Religious_views. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017o). Theosophical Society. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017p). Helena Blavatsky. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helena_Blavatsky. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wikipedia (2017q). Acharya S. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acharya_S. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Winston, E. L. (2007). Zeitgeist – The Movie Debunked. Skeptic Project Online, Nov. 29, 2007. Available online at http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Wybrew, H. (1997). Orthodox Feasts of Jesus Christ & the Virgin Mary: Liturgical Texts With Commentary. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 978-0-88141203-1; ISBN-13: 978-0881412031. Available online at http://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Feasts-Jesus-Christ-Virgin/dp/0881412031/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418062432&sr=8-1&keywords=Orthodox+Feasts+of+Jesus+Christ+%26+the+Virgin+Mary. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Posted in History, Theology | 8 Comments

The Spherical Heresy, and other Updates

A few random life events, and one invitation to the public:

1. As of Aug 1, I have accepted a new job as a "Research Associate" at the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics (SITP).  Really it's my 3rd postdoc position, but apparently their rules prohibit them from calling me a postdoc since it's been more than 5 years since I got my Ph.D.  (Hard to believe, but true.)

I've been commenting a bit less, because of all the work from moving.  Hopefully this is temporary.

2.  I don't know if any of you happen to live in the South Bay Area, but if you do, you are welcome to come to a Discussion Group I'm leading for the next few months on the Apostles' Creed, what it says and why Christians believe the various points mentioned in the Creed (although you don't have to believe anything to participate, you just have to be curious).  We will begin this Sunday, Aug 20, with the opening lines: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty".

It will be held on Sunday mornings, from 9:30-10:30 am, in Building D of New Life Church of the Nazarene in Cupertino, CA, which is also the church I grew up in.

If you can stick around for a while after that, there is a congregational worship service at 11 am.  On Aug 20, there will also be a free BBQ lunch at 12:15.  Again, you do not need to believe or buy anything to be welcome at these events.  (You could be a flaming gay atheist; but as long as and you and your boyfriend are willing to spend time with us, we will be willing to spend time with you.)

3. Speaking of creeds, a friend-of-a-friend pointed me to the following interesting interview with St. Jaroslav Pelikan on the role of creeds in the Christian Church.

Note however, that there is a critical misspelling: the Nicene Creed was written to combat Arianism (followers of Arius, who denied the full divinity of Christ), not Aryanism! This is particularly egregious considering that the same interview refers to actual Aryanism (the Nazi veneration of the Aryan race) later on... [NEVER MIND THEY FIXED IT]

Also, the interview doesn't provide the complete text of the Maasai Creed.

4. Also, I have found my new favorite heresy!  (Favorite to tell people about, anyway.)  Apparently, St. Justinian (the Byzantine Emperor) found it necessary to pronounce the following condemnation:

If anyone says or maintains that in resurrection the bodies of men are raised up from sleep spherical, and does not agree that we are raised up from sleep upright, let him be anathema.

In order to clearly see the stakes involved in this question, please consult the following two figures describing alternative pictures of the afterlife:

          raised upright                                                           but the sphere is a perfect shape!      

This "spherical heresy" might seem pretty funny, but I think in order for us moderns to understand it, we have to think of it as being like the ancient version of "body image disorder", where people are uncomfortable with the shape of their own body, even though God created us to be physical beings.

This discomfort with our own bodies is one of the many effects of the Fall, and therefore it will be remedied at the Resurrection, when our flesh and spirit will no longer be at war with each other.  So that will be all right then.

Posted in Blog, Theology | 20 Comments

Will the real god God please stand up?

[Updated Dec. 28, 2017, with a revised and expanded discussion of arguments from Sean Carroll's book The Big Picture. - SC]

There are many reasons why I’m not retired, but one of the bigger ones is that I haven’t figured out yet how to get at least a quarter (if not a dollar bill) from every person who’s ever asked me how I can believe in “a god or gods” in an age of “science” and “reason”. The question is usually sincere rather than an attempt to troll, but either way, the wording alone is enough to reveal where things are headed, and the ensuing discussions have been nothing if not utterly predictable. In virtually every case the underlying narrative was based on the same handful of fashionable just-so stories, none of which appeared to have ever been questioned.

Back in days of yore, I was told, bucolic ancients looked out on a universe resplendent with mysteries they could neither understand nor predict, yet depended on for their survival. For all its dependable seasons and regularities, the universe visited floods, fires, and other tragedies on them as often as it yielded its bounty. In their attempt to understand why and find a just order to it all, they attributed these mysteries to the capricious activities of spirits called “gods” who were like us in every respect, except that they were disembodied and endowed with vast magical powers over various parts of the natural order. As the rise of science rolled back these mysteries with rational explanations, such gods were no longer needed to account for them. Eventually, the faiths based on them were rendered superfluous, and thus did Science triumph over religion (note the capital “S” and lower-case “r”).

There are so many things wrong with this it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps the best way to unpack this mess is to start with the origins of the God of Classical Theism on which the Abrahamic religions are founded. These cover the professed religious beliefs of well over half of humanity and roughly 80% of North America and account for virtually every instance of the above narrative I’ve ever personally witnessed.1

Contrary to widespread belief, Classical Theism as a formal system of thought didn’t originate with Christianity or Judaism, nor was it an attempt to explain any mystery of the natural world (which makes it quite telling that the God that eventually emerged from that tradition bore a striking similarity to the uniquely monotheistic God of the Old Testament that the Israelites had been worshipping via revelation for nearly a millennium). The seminal theological question never was “is there a god?”—it is, and always has been, “why is there something rather than nothing?” In the Fifth Century BC, the Greek philosopher Parmenides formulated an axiom that was later Latinized as ex nihilo nihil fit (“out of nothing comes nothing”). Unless you believe in magic this is as straightforward as axioms get, and for nearly 2500 years no thinker of any repute has seriously challenged it. [At least not until the present day, when a handful of metaphysically illiterate Atheist physicists decided that philosophy is “dead” because it hasn’t kept up with their profession, and gave themselves permission to redefine the word “nothing” and make Magic a sub-discipline of physics. But that’s a topic for another day.] This, in turn, raised other issues. Parmenides went on to argue that change and differentiation must be illusory, for to change, he said, is for something to cease to exist in one state and begin to exist in another. Because that would require things to come from nothing, and disappear back into it, he considered it absurd. And yet, change is every bit as indisputable a fact of life as existence itself. What are we to make of these two realities, and how they relate to each other? For the next one or two centuries, philosophers of different schools argued these questions, some emphasizing the primacy of change, and others the primacy of the unchanging unity of things.

The first true leap forward came circa the mid-Fourth Century BC when Aristotle published his Metaphysics. Aristotle argued that the apparent tension between being and becoming can be accounted for if we differentiate between the actual state of existence of real-world things (or substances) and their innate potentialities for existing in different ones (later Scholastic thinkers denoted these respectively as acts and potencies). Change occurs when the active potencies of one substance causally instantiate outcomes from the passive potencies of another via four types of causality—Their material constituents (material causality), their essential form and identifying properties (formal causality), their direct physical interactions (efficient causality), and their directedness toward ends (final causality). For instance, we could say that the motion of massive objects reflects their mass and other properties (material and formal causes), and the forces they interact with (efficient causes). Aristotle would also say that they fall to the ground when dropped because the earth is their natural resting place (final causality). Similar ideas were developed by Plato, and by the Stoics and Neoplatonists after him, and eventually brought to fruition by medieval Scholastic philosophers and theologians of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. Various schools of thought were represented in each, but most if not all, eventually converged on some combination of the following axioms;

1)   The universe is contingent. Its essential nature, or form (and that of everything in it) is separate from its existence. [e.g. - We can meaningfully conceptualize horses and unicorns without regard to whether there are any.]

2)   The universe is causally interconnected. The acts and potencies of its physical constituents are interrelated in rationally consistent ways.

3)   The universe evolves. Per 2), its actual state of existence changes from moment to moment in dependable ways. [e.g. - Seeds grow into trees, objects fall toward a gravitational source, etc.] As such, science is a meaningful endeavor that gives us real, grounded knowledge about the way the world is.

4)   Potencies may be active powers or passive capacities for change, and the events that unfold from their activity may be (formal terms again) essentially ordered, or accidentally ordered (dependent on, or independent of the continuing activity of their cause/s). [e.g. - A father has the active power to father children, and his kids will continue to exist whether he continues fathering behavior or not (accidentally ordered events). A guitar has the passive power to make music by actualizing the passive power of air to produce sound, but only if it is played by a musician, and the music will exist only while the guitar is being played (essentially ordered events).]

5)   Purely passive potentialities cannot self-realize—they must be instantiated (made actual) by something else that is actual. [e.g. - wood has the passive potentiality to burn, but only if it's exposed to an actual source of heat. An infinitely long chain of stationary railroad cars (or one connected in a loop) cannot move, even though each car is connected to one that can pull it. There must be a least one engine with the active potency for inducing motion.]

6)   The universe's actualities and potentialities are a mix of active powers and passive possibilities. [e.g. - A locomotive has the active power to pull a train of cars with passive potentials for motion, but also has other passive dependencies, such as the need for an engineer; you have the active power to walk or run, but not to continue living without food and water; etc.]

7)   As persons with active and passive potencies of our own, we are rational, freely choosing, intentional agents. As such, our observations and thoughts can, and do, give us reliable knowledge of the universe.

From these (particularly the concept of essentially-ordered causality), they concluded that there must exist something that is pure act—the ground of all being and empowered possibility, with no passive potentialities or dependencies (Davies, 2004; Feser, 2010; 2014). Furthermore, this pure act must be;

a)   Eternal - Not within, or in any way constrained by time or space.

b)   Unchanging – Not evolving per any passive potencies susceptible to influences external to itself.

c)   Simple - A substantial, or essential unity without parts or differing properties of the sort possessed by physical things.

d)   Omnipotent - Unlimited in active powers.

e)   Omniscient - Present in, and aware of, all that is.

f)   Possessing both intellect and will, and as such, is the ground of all personhood (as opposed to being "a" person).

g)   The intentional cause of everything else that is, and thus, the objective source of the meaning, value, and purpose of things.

Aristotle referred to this pure act as the Unmoved Mover. Christian, Jewish, and Islamic philosophers recognized Him as the God of Classical Theism who appears in the Bible and Quran. How these conclusions were reached, and how this timeless, changeless God is related to the Christian Trinity and His portrayal in the pages of both Scriptures, would fill numerous posts and is beyond our scope today. But before we proceed, a few comments are in order.

First, it’s widely believed that Aristotle’s metaphysics is dependent on his outdated physics, and therefore no longer relevant today. In his 2014 debate with William Lane Craig, Atheist physicist Sean Carroll spoke for many when he addressed transcendent causality and the universe (Carroll & Craig, 2014) stating that,

“[T]here’s a bigger problem with it, which is that it is not even false. The real problem is that these are not the right vocabulary words to be using when we discuss fundamental physics and cosmology. This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word metaphysics means...

[T]he way physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature... There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage, like transcendent causes, on top of that. It’s precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works.”

All of this is either false or grossly misleading. In modern analytic philosophy, Aristotelian/Scholastic concepts of ontology and causality are every bit as active a field of study as they’ve ever been (e.g. - Martin, 1997; Davies, 2004; Feser, 2014; 2015; Oderberg, 2008, etc. and sources cited therein). There are, of course, differing schools of thought on them, and their relationship to the sciences is actively debated. Some lean toward a deep interrelationship between physics and these metaphysical ideas. Others such as Edward Feser (2010; 2014; 2015) argue that the two are entirely separate realms. Aron and I fall somewhere in the middle. [For more, see Aron’s entire series of posts on Fundamental Reality.]

While it is true that modern physics treats causality differently than Aristotle and the Scholastics did (e.g. - the notions of material and formal causes are largely redundant in physics and not really needed), clearly the two realms of thought speak to the same underlying realities and even share some common language. The very “patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature” Carroll speaks of inherently imply an underlying unity which not only makes physics possible but fits the terms act and potency beautifully. Potentials, for instance, are a regularly recurring theme in physics, and the fact that equations of motion can be derived from them also bears a striking similarity to the Aristotelian notion of final causality. The dynamics of a falling mass can be differentially specified in terms of a static gravitational potential, but a Scholastic would say that the mass falls to earth because that’s its natural resting place. The ideas being expressed here aren’t as different as many suppose. Another common misconception is that final causality involves teleology. In fact, it’s about directedness as much as purpose or design, if not more, and applies to inanimate objects as well as living things. It’s not a huge leap to see directedness in the way static potentials lead to equations of motion.

These Aristotelian concepts are less rigorously developed of course, but conceptually at least, they substantially overlap their counterparts in physics, which implies at least some unity between the two. But at the same time, as we saw in my last post, the fact that there are numerous ontic interpretations of QM alone should give us pause before assuming that one of these realms is entirely supervenient on the other. In any event, wherever one falls on this spectrum, the one thing that isn’t true is that "our metaphysics must follow our physics". Nor is that “what the word metaphysics means" as Carroll claims. Aristotle’s Metaphysics was so named because he wrote that book after he wrote his Physics, not because the former is in any less foundational than the latter, or entirely supervenient on it (in Greek, the root meta is equivalent to the Latin post, meaning “after”).

Second, it’s worth noting that this argument, which is known as the cosmological argument, is widely misunderstood. In popular writings, particularly those of its critics, it’s almost always presented as an argument for a historical creation event based on accidentally-ordered temporal chains of causality when in fact, it’s based entirely on essentially-ordered, or simultaneous causality.2 The traditional example given by St. Thomas Aquinas and other Scholastics is that of someone pushing a ball with a stick. The passive potency of the ball for rolling motion is realized only while it is being pushed by the stick’s passive potency for doing so, which in turn is realized only while the one wielding it is exercising his/her active potency for wielding it to push objects. The entire causal chain is simultaneous in the present moment and has nothing whatsoever to do with any cause or causes that may have existed even a few seconds prior. In fact, Aquinas, who developed the argument better than anyone else in history, famously believed that it wasn’t possible to demonstrate that the universe had a temporally-ordered causal beginning. He believed it did because Scripture said so, but he felt that observation and philosophical arguments alone couldn’t demonstrate that. Today, of course, Carroll’s dismissal of transcendent causes notwithstanding, the evidence for a beginning is considerable and whether they admit it or not, a source of dismay for Atheists. Aquinas’ claims to the contrary are relevant here, only to the extent that they emphasize that time-ordered causality plays no role in traditional cosmological arguments.

Furthermore, in the writings of Aristotle and the Scholastics, the term move denotes change in general, not just rectilinear motion as we understand it. To them, changes in any property—including say, color, temperature, or even a beginning of existence—would be considered “movement”. Interestingly, Carroll misses the subtleties of this as well. In his book The Big Picture (2017) he tells us that,

"[T]he whole structure of Aristotle's argument for an unmoved mover rests on his idea that motions require causes. Once we know about conservation of momentum, this idea loses its steam... What matters is that the new physics of Galileo and his friends implied an entirely new ontology, a deep shift in how we thought about the nature of reality. 'Causes' didn't have the central role that they once did. The universe doesn't need a push; it can just keep going." (My emphasis)

Clearly, this argument doesn’t account for accelerated motion, which anyone who’s ever dropped a $600 cell phone off a balcony will tell you, is quite real. For some reason, this doesn’t seem to concern him. The real puzzle, however, is that he acknowledges that Aristotelian motion is a much broader concept than mere spatial displacement, and even uses the word transformation to describe it. Why he imagines that an argument against an untransformed transformer could be based on rectilinear motion alone is anyone’s guess. The metaphysical importance of conservation of momentum, he tells us, is “hard to overemphasize” and he sees in it an underlying principle that in his view, can be extrapolated to all contingency and change. But how this is supposed to work in practice is never clarified. Throughout this chapter (aptly titled The World Moves by Itself) he speaks of “causes” and “motions“ in the most general metaphysical sense and uses those terms interchangeably. But the only working examples he offers involve frictionless displacement of objects like coffee cups, which he supplements with glib remarks about how terms like “cause” and “effect” aren’t found in physics textbooks (as though the language of physics and its methods are the only ones that are meaningful in the real world).

Near as I can tell, Carroll believes that conservation of momentum is built on a metaphysical foundation that generalizes to all conservation laws. Essentially, this amounts to the claim that Noether’s theorem (and possibly its extension to quantum field symmetries) constitutes a sort of “blood-brain barrier” isolating all contingent change in the universe from the interventions of any creator god. If so, the problems with this are obvious. For starters, he points out (correctly) that Aristotle’s unmoved mover was later fully developed by Aquinas. As we’ve already seen, essentially-ordered causality and God as the universe’s sustainer as well as its creator are foundational concepts in his thought. Anyone even remotely familiar with this will immediately recognize a universe that “keeps going” after an initial “push” as one based on an independent temporally-ordered causal chain that some divine machinist occasionally tinkers with—an argument that Aquinas went to great lengths to refute, and clearly not the cosmological argument he defended. Second, attributing virtually all contingency and change to conservation laws is, to say the least, a stretch. What sort of conservation law gave me blue rather than brown eyes, for instance, or required me to order a triple-shot cappuccino this morning rather than a hot chocolate? Even if we ignore all this, there’s one rather large elephant in the room that isn’t being addressed. The sort of conservation laws Carroll is appealing to are only valid over locally flat regions of space-time. For the universe as a whole, neither momentum nor energy is even well-defined, much less conserved (MTW, 2017)—a fact that he’s not only aware of but has written about elsewhere himself (Carroll, 2010), yet now conveniently chooses to forget.3

It’s odd that Carroll manages to muddle so many metaphysical concepts as completely, and chronically, as he does. Unlike many scientists these days, he has a background in philosophy (having minored in it as an undergraduate) and is known for his thoughtfulness and attention to detail with metaphysical topics. He’s repeatedly, and rightly, called out many of his colleagues for their Philistine recklessness in these areas and with philosophy in general. If anyone should know better, it would be him.

Finally, it should also be noted that the history of thought on God’s nature isn’t quite as monolithic as I perhaps made it sound. In recent years, for instance, some theologians and philosophers of religion have questioned the notions of God as grounded personhood (as opposed to personality), His simplicity, and the claim that He’s timeless and unchanging. God, it’s argued, cannot be meaningfully omniscient and loving, as He’s presented in the Bible and Quran, unless He has attributes that manifest in a personality, not unlike ours, and He in some sense experiences time (although opinions as to whether His time maps onto the space-time of our experience, and if so, how). This school of thought, referred to by some as theistic personalism, has been particularly popular among advocates of presentism (the so-called “A-Theory” of time). It’s more notable advocates include Richard Swineburne, Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, and William Lane Craig.

Theistic personalism is a relatively late development in the history of Classical Theism and hasn’t gained widespread acceptance among theologians and philosophers of religion (Davies, 2004). The traditional arguments for the simplicity and timelessness of the God of Classical Theism as presented above are formidable and well-supported not only by metaphysics but the Abrahamic Scriptures as well. The apparent difficulties presented by a timeless God in changing history are not as difficult as they may seem at first blush either. Once we realize that if God is omnipresent throughout His created space-time, and interacting with it at every point according to His Will, He will appear to change from the standpoint of time-bound creatures like us, much the way a static landscape appears to change to the passengers of a car driving through it. Dispensing with all this simply to bring God more in line with our experience adds layers of arbitrary, and unnecessary metaphysical complexity that cry out for Occam’s Razor. As if that weren’t enough, it runs badly afoul of physics as well. The presentism that it most naturally fits has numerous issues, not the least of which are the difficulties of reconciling it with the Lorentz boost. While it is possible to make presentism work in a relativistic framework (Copan & Craig, 2004), the match ain’t exactly made in Heaven and IMHO at least, creates far more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, theistic personalism does have its place in modern theological discourse, and it has been ably defended by its proponents (Moreland & Craig, 2003).

There… Now that all the fine print is out of the way, let’s return to our seven-axiom argument for the existence of God. At this point, several things should be readily apparent.

1)   God is not “a god”

When Atheists (or more commonly, New Atheists) speak of "a god or gods" what they invariably have in mind are demigods—minor deities of the sort one finds in ancient mythologies. These are the disembodied space and time-bound magical spirits central to their narrative. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins (2008) states that,

"I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further."

The problem with this is obvious—the “gods” he names bear no resemblance whatsoever to the God of Classical Theism. In Greek mythology, Zeus had a family tree like us. He was the child of the Titans Chronos and Rhea, and they were, in turn, descended from the primordial Greek deities (Wikipedia, 2016). Like the rest of the Greek pantheon, not only was he a time-bound spirit, he was earth-bound as well and "lived" at a physical location (Mt. Olympus). In fact, as often as not, such demigods were deified human rulers. Case in point, the Akkadian ruler/gods Gilgamesh and Naram-Sin who respectively ruled during the late Third and early Second Millennia BC (Armstrong, 2015).

God on the other hand (note the capital “G”), is the ground of all being and personhood. He is neither space and time-bound nor an instantiation—there is no general class of things called "grounds of all being" of which He can be said to be one example among many. The very claim that there could be more than one such ground is inherently self-contradictory. It’s no accident that the Abrahamic religions are all monotheistic. And as the creator of all else that exists—including the very space-time manifold whose geometry is, per general relativity, related to the mass-energy and momentum it contains—calling Him a demigod amounts to claiming that He's bound by His own creation, and dependent on it for His existence. That, my friends, is patently absurd. Saying that God is "a god” isn't merely wrong, it's a category error.

Interestingly, the distinction we find today between the anthropomorphic personified God of televangelist’s sermons and children’s picture Bibles, and the God of Classical Theism was every bit as true in Aristotle’s day as well. Then, as now, philosophers distinguished between Everyman’s bearded, gray haired Zeus who threw thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus, and the classical theistic "Zeus" (or more properly, Greek primordial God) of formal thought. If this were the 4th Century BC, New Atheists like Dawkins would be out in front of the Athens Peripatetic school in togas beating their well-inflated chests about "a zeus or zeus'es," and Aristotle would be the one biting his tongue and doing whatever could be done to educate them. Some things never change… ;-)

2)   God is not a hypothesis

Science doesn’t deal in “facts” (at least not as most people understand that word). More correctly, it deals with data. One begins with reproducible measurements of some observed phenomena (e.g. – the power density spectrum of the cosmic microwave background, or tracks emerging from particle collisions in a cloud chamber). One or more hypotheses are formed to account for them, and the most viable of these are developed into formal theories from which the outcomes of further, yet untested observations can be predicted. In the case of physics, this generally means a set of differential equations and boundary conditions, a Lie algebra that embodies an expected symmetry, or the like. Failure of a theory’s predictions is its null hypothesis and counts as evidence against it. If further experiments yield the predicted outcomes, confidence in the theory grows, and if not, suspicion does. In this sense, hypotheses that make no testable predictions cannot meaningfully be called scientific.4

Enter our axioms 1) through 7). Though all are based on observation, and scientific illustrations could be given for them, they cannot be called “data” in any scientifically meaningful sense. How does one create a “dataset” to quantify concepts like act and potency, and use it to validate a ground of all being and personhood and the contingency of the universe? What they are, is a set of metaphysical axioms about the underlying ontic nature of the universe, and God (again, note the capital “G”) isn’t a hypothesis we postulate to account for them—He’s a formally reasoned conclusion derived from them.

Alright, before anyone blows a gasket, let me be clear about what I mean. No, I am not saying that the existence of God can be logically/mathematically proven. If it were that easy Atheism wouldn’t be a worldview worth discussing, and its proponents wouldn’t include some of the finest minds in history. What I am saying is that it’s a different sort of argument than the traditional data -> hypothesis -> test methodology science relies on. Claiming that there’s no evidence for God, as opposed to "a god or gods," is like claiming that there’s no “evidence” for “an equation or equations” called the Mean Value Theorem of Calculus. The Mean Value Theorem isn’t a hypothesis—it’s a formal proof that begins with certain axioms (e.g. – a continuous manifold, monotonic everywhere differentiable functions, etc.). The extent to which one accepts those axioms is the extent to which one accepts the conclusion. Likewise, to reject that conclusion is to reject the axioms it begins with.

Which brings us to the next point…

3)   Atheism is not a null hypothesis

Finally, we arrive at New Atheism's most beloved get-out-of-jail-free card—the belief that it's merely the rejection of Theism, and as such, a null hypothesis that needs no defense. Sam Harris (2008) minces no words when he states that,

“’Atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.” … Atheism is nothing more than the noises people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

A New Atheist friend and colleague once put it to me even more starkly on social media,

“An Atheist is one who rejects the claims made by theists. An Atheist is simply a person who is not a theist. Atheism is not in itself a claim, and as such, simply cannot be false. Only claims can be proven false; a lack of claim cannot be said to be false. How can I be wrong when I say 'you haven't presented a compelling argument for your case'?” (My emphasis)

Clever, aren’t we? Don't state your claims directly, frame them as a rejection of someone else's… then conveniently excuse yourself from any responsibility for a proper defense of them, and set the standard of proof however high it needs to be to protect you, infinitely if necessary. Sleight of hand like this isn’t just bread-and-butter for New Atheists of course. Creationists and climate change skeptics rely heavily on it as well. Denial... it ain't just a river in Egypt anymore! ;-)

To be fair, this would be valid if we were postulating the activity of demigods in the created order as one possible explanation for some phenomenon. If my fishing buddy insists that the nibble I just had was a trout, I’m under no obligation to defend my skepticism when we both know the pond is full of bass and catfish as well. The burden of proof is on him to produce evidence for his “trout” theory as opposed to a bass or catfish one. But as we’ve seen, that’s not what’s happening here. We aren’t offering any “god hypothesis” to account for something in the natural world, whether it be trout in a pond or anything else. We’re formally demonstrating that a set of metaphysical axioms requires His existence. Atheists like Harris and my friend aren’t rejecting belief in “a god or gods”—they’re rejecting the metaphysical axioms that lead to the God of Classical Theism. That cannot be done in a vacuum without committing oneself to some, or all, of the following counter-axioms;

8)   The universe is a brute fact. Science may reveal its countless subtleties and underlying unities, but ultimately it just has the contingent features it does rather than an infinite number of other possibilities. There is no reason why... it just is that way.

9)   Per 8), the beginning of the universe's existence (13.73 billion years ago) is also a brute fact. There is no reason why... it just created itself from nothing.

10)   There is no such thing as causality—only events unfolding in certain ordered ways. “Causality” is just a concept we use to describe the appearance of mechanism between bits of stuff (what I referred to above as "interactions"), but ultimately those events are, to use David Hume's term, "loose and separate." They have no inherent relationship to each other.

11)   Matter does not actually possess any inherent properties or essential natures of the sort that could be described in terms of essence or potency (as I defined them above). Reality is ultimately just "bits of stuff" mechanically interacting according to mathematical laws expressed in terms of parameters that give the appearance of such. [“Um, ‘interactions’ and ‘laws’…? Didn’t you just say in 10) that…?” “Silence Dorothy! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain...!”]

12)   The rationality of the laws of nature—that those "loose and separate" events between bits of stuff happen to unfold according to what physicist Eugene Wigner called "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics—is also a brute fact. There is no reason why... it just is that way.

13)   "Loose and separately" ordered bits of stuff are blind, and as such the universe ascribes no objective value or purpose. Everything in it, including us, is a byproduct of random, meaningless accidents—what Richard Dawkins called "blind, pitiless indifference" (Dawkins, 1996). Thus, morality is either nihilistic or entirely subjective.

14)   Alternately, if objectively normative moral values do exist—yours, mine, or anyone else's—then they too are brute facts. There is no reason why... they just are what they are. [“But my goodness gracious… isn’t it marvelous how nicely they align with mine…?”]

15)   Consciousness and personhood are illusory. To again use David Hume's term, we're just "bundles of percepts" in bodies made up of bits of stuff behaving according to deterministic laws. [“Um, ‘deterministic’…? Didn’t you say in 10) that…?” “Silence Dorothy! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain...!”] "You" or "I" are concepts we use to describe our experience of the neural activity in our brains, and how it affects our perceptions and behaviors. Beyond that, we are no more “persons” in the sense of being freely empowered, intentional, and possessing rational agency than an email server is (analytic philosophers refer to this viewpoint as eliminative materialism).

16)   Though we are accidentally evolved "bundles of percepts," our perceptions and reasoned thoughts are reliable sources of knowledge of the deepest inner workings of the universe and ourselves.

Notice that these aren’t mere “rejections” of anything. Like 1) through 7), they’re positive metaphysical assertions about the ontic foundations of the universe, and as such, they have rational consequences. We can reject belief in mythological demigods, invisible dragons, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if we like. But we cannot reject the God of Classical Theism without committing ourselves to a fully developed and properly defended philosophy of Materialism, any more than we can reject belief in light without accepting belief in darkness—which is of course, precisely what every Atheist philosopher of any repute in history has labored to produce. David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew… these and many other luminaries devoted their lives to producing materialistic philosophies of nature, mind, and ethics based on some, or all of the above counter-axioms, and published countless influential works in the process (Hume, 2000; 2017; Nietzsche, 2000; Russell, 1967; 2017; Flew, 2005 to name a few).

According to Harris and my friend, all of that was a waste of time—what these and countless other luminaries should’ve been doing, was belittling televangelists and suicide bombers on social media and in TED talks to like-minded audiences. They, of course, knew better. Those who insist that there’s no evidence for “a god or gods” are merely demonstrating that they don’t even understand the question, much less have a properly thought out answer for it.5


A reporter once presented the late Samuel Shenton, then president of the Flat Earth Society, with a photograph of earth taken by the Apollo 13 astronauts from roughly 150,000 miles distance. Shenton stared long and hard at it, after which he began to nod. “Yes,” he finally said… “It is easy to see how the untrained eye could be fooled by that picture!” Well-trained eyes are becoming an increasingly important part of the modern intellectual landscape… particularly in secular communities that wear their claims to “reason” and objectivity like golden tiaras. But as I said in my last post, if our only tool is a hammer then sooner or later everything will look like a nail. Though some would deny it (sincerely, I believe), to many in these communities, science is no longer a discipline. It has become a religion in its own right—Scientism, the sacred Oracle whose mighty outstretched hand no question of earth, sky, heart, or soul can elude. Its practitioners are no longer experts, but authorities—high priests of the goddess Reason, whose metaphysical pronouncements are every bit as authoritative as the theistic fundamentalist dogmas they, often rightly, deride.

Nowhere is this more true than with physics—a discipline that not only knocks on the door of many metaphysical questions, but immerses itself in counterintuitive mysteries that at times seem almost magical, and higher mathematics that to the guy on the street are every bit as arcane as ancient hieroglyphics… so much so that a term has even been coined for it: physics envy. And human nature being what it is, once a scientist has been elevated from mere expertise to the august status of High Priest, he/she becomes an authority not only in their own field, but in beer brewing, Elizabethan poetry, personal lubricants, or any other topic for which it’s their whim to have an opinion. Anymore, hardly a week goes by that I don’t see yet another news story extolling Stephen Hawking’s latest complaints and/or warnings about society, international politics, or the impacts of technology on the future of humanity—as though expertise in quantum cosmology qualifies him to speak to any of those topics. [That isn’t Hawking’s fault of course. Scientists rarely ask for the deification so glibly bestowed on them by a credulous public.]

Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with all this… Like it or not, science is a discipline, not an Oracle. A powerful discipline to be sure, and one that has rolled back the mysteries of the universe like no other, but a discipline nonetheless, and for damn sure, no more either. And like all other disciplines, it is, and always will be, but one tool among many. As such, it lends itself to many but not all questions, and the experts who wield it are fallen mortals every bit as subject to their own hopes, fears, and human limitations as we are. It’s the height of naivete and outright hubris to pretend that we can cleanse it of our own limitations and treat it like a magic wand that can answer every question, meet every moral, spiritual, and existential need, and endow our existence with purpose… and we pay a steep price when we do. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said,

“Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study.”

True that.



1)   I’m not knowledgeable enough about Hinduism to speak with any authority about it, but its concept of Brahman as the Absolute appears to bear some similarity to the God of the Abrahamic traditions. If so, then including it in this list would raise the tally of humanity that embraces some version of the God of Classical Theism to nearly 70%.

2)   There is one version of the cosmological argument that does presume that the universe had a beginning—the Kalam cosmological argument whose most notable proponent is William Lane Craig. However, it isn’t based on time-ordered causality either. The Kalam argument differs from the traditional one in that it contains two additional premises: Whatever begins to exist has a cause; and that this cause must be transcendent because (per Parmenides) the universe cannot efficiently cause itself. But like the traditional cosmological argument, it takes this cause to be essentially-ordered as well.

3)  Conservation of energy is suspect even for a flat universe. In this case, the global energy of the universe can be derived from the Poisson equation, which has no solution for an unbounded fluid. There is one, and only one case in which the universe can be said to have a well-defined global energy, and that is if it’s closed, in which case, a global definition of energy/momentum flux (gravitationally equivalent to Gauss’ Law) would require it to be zero.

4)  Interestingly, some physicists and philosophers are now beginning to question this, and their reasons are rather surprising. In recent years, multiverse models based on eternal inflation and the so-called string landscape have in the eyes of many physicists, become “the best game in town” for a “theory of everything” that could potentially resolve many issues in physics and cosmology. The inflationary framework accounts beautifully for a few cosmological conundrums that would otherwise be inexplicable (e.g. – the “flatness" problem, and the uniformity of the cosmic microwave background). But in the absence of a viable candidate for the inflaton (as of this writing), the scalar potential/s in inflationary models are flexible enough that for the time being at least, validating the framework has largely proven to be a whack-a-mole exercise. For every model that’s been observationally ruled out, more have sprung up. Likewise, while string theory has led to much progress in many areas, it has also proven excessively flexible—so much so that since its inception more than 40 years ago, it has yet to make a single testable prediction. Furthermore, the scale on which it’s real nuts and bolts are expected to reveal themselves requires testing at energies that will never be accessible to us (Woit, 2007). For all intents and purposes, this renders string landscape multiverse models virtually untestable… even in principle. However, in spite of these problems, they offer two really big carrots that in addition to their other strengths have proven irresistible to many physicists: a) In conjunction with anthropic arguments, they currently offer the only workable explanations of fine tuning that are based solely on physics; and b) Though vulnerable to some formidable arguments that the universe had a beginning, eternal inflation does offer at least some hope for avoiding a creation event. Technically, “eternal” inflation is a reference to future-eternal inflation and thus a bit of a misnomer. A past-eternal universe would run afoul of the BGV theorem; there are a few ways to get around it, although the best of them are contrived to say the least.

The bottom line is that as of this writing, the string landscape/eternal inflation multiverse offers the only path forward for cosmology that doesn’t smack of a Creator. Given the theistic alternatives, it’s little wonder that many Atheist physicists (most notably Sean Carroll) are willing to accept these limitations and argue that it’s time to dispense with testable predictions in science. If a theory is “elegant” (in their view) and at least fits observation, it is de-facto true. Likewise, it also comes as no surprise that many of the strongest opponents of this movement (known as Post-Empiricism) are Christians like George Ellis (Ellis & Silk, 2014).

Ironically, the shoe is now on the other foot. Atheists who for so long have (often rightly) accused religious believers of clinging to comfortable dogmas without evidence, are now the ones insisting that science should be divorced from it. When their backs are against the wall (and to their credit IMHO), they prove to be every bit as mortal as people of faith. And like us, they cherish their worldviews enough that they’ll occasionally struggle for their preservation even to a fault.

5)   Antony Flew is a particularly telling case in point. Often referred to as the Father of 20th Century Atheism, he was arguably the most important Atheist philosopher of his age. His seminal work God and Philosophy (2005), which was originally published in 1966, almost single-handedly shaped the direction of Atheist thought and scholarship during his lifetime. Shortly before his death in 2010, he shocked the secular world when he set aside his life’s work and said that based on reason and evidence, he could no longer deny the existence of God (Flew & Varghese, 2008). Flew didn’t conclude with a God who is personal, as in the Bible and Quran, nor did he embrace any major religion. But his God did bear a striking similarity to the God of Classical Theism, and he gave a particularly deferential hat-tip to… Christianity.

Needless to say, this dealt New Atheists a narcissistic injury which they still haven’t recovered from to this day. The reaction was immediate, and what one would expect. Despite his life’s work, Flew was promptly branded an apostate to the True Faith and excommunicated. Dawkins (2008) fumed about his “tergiversation” (as though using the biggest and most impressive word he could find in a crossword puzzle would somehow convert bullshit into a valid argument). Others resorted to smear campaigns (up to and including accusing him of senility), and intellectual cross-burnings that would make even the flock of Westboro Baptist Church blush. The one thing that was not, and to this day has not been produced, is a properly researched and soundly defended critique of his stance.

Perhaps New Atheists are as offended by religion as they are because they have more in common with blindly dogmatic religious fundamentalists than they’re prepared to admit. Few people evoke as much hate as those who hold a mirror up to us that we don’t want to face.



Armstrong, K. (2015). Fields of blood: Religion and the history of violence. Anchor; Reprint edition (September 15, 2015). ISBN-10: 0307946967; ISBN-13: 978-0307946966. Available online at www.amazon.com/Fields-Blood-Religion-History-Violence/dp/0307946967/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1499969508&sr=8-1. Accessed July 13, 2017.

Carroll, S. 2010. Energy Is Not Conserved. Discover, Feb, 22, 2010. Online at http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/02/22/energy-is-not-conserved/#.WkLCkkqnFaQ. Accessed Dec. 26, 2017.

Carroll, S. (2017). The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. Dutton; Reprint edition (May 16, 2017). Chap. 3. ISBN-10: 1101984252; ISBN-13: 978-1101984253. Available online at www.amazon.com/Big-Picture-Origins-Meaning-Universe/dp/1101984252/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=. Accessed Dec. 27, 2017.

Carroll S. & W. L. Craig. (2014). “God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology”. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA – March 2014. Transcript available at www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-cosmology-the-existence-of-god-in-light-of-contemporary-cosmology. Accessed July 14, 2017.

Copan, P., & Craig, W. L. (2004). Creation out of nothing: A biblical, philosophical, and scientific exploration. Baker Academic (June 1, 2004). ISBN-10: 0801027330; ISBN-13: 978-0801027338. Available online at www.amazon.com/Creation-out-Nothing-Philosophical-Exploration/dp/0801027330/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500324234&sr=8-1&keywords=Creation+out+of+nothing. Accessed July 17, 2017.

Dawkins, R. (1996). River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life. Basic Books; Reprint edition. ISBN-10: 0465069908; ISBN-13: 978-0465069903. Available online at www.amazon.com/River-Out-Eden-Darwinian-Science/dp/0465069908/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499814281&sr=1-1&keywords=river+out+of+eden. Accessed July 11, 2017.

Davies, B. (2004). An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford University Press; 3 edition (January 8, 2004). ISBN-10: 0199263477; ISBN-13: 978-0199263479. Available online at www.amazon.com/Introduction-Philosophy-Religion-Brian-Davies/dp/0199263477/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499974934&sr=1-3&keywords=brian+davies. Accessed July 13, 2017.

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. Mariner Books; Reprint edition, ISBN-10: 0618918248; ISBN-13: 978-0618918249. Available online at www.amazon.com/God-Delusion-Richard-Dawkins/dp/0618918248/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408044395&sr=1-1&keywords=god+delusion. Accessed July 11, 2017.

Ellis, G., & Silk, J. (2014). Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics. Nature, 516(7531). Available online at www.nature.com/news/scientific-method-defend-the-integrity-of-physics-1.16535. Accessed July 11, 2017.

Feser, E. (2010). The last superstition: A refutation of the new atheism. St. Augustines Press; 1St Edition edition (December 10, 2010). ISBN-10: 1587314525; ISBN-13: 978-1587314520. Available online at www.amazon.com/Last-Superstition-Refutation-New-Atheism/dp/1587314525/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1499974707&sr=8-1. Accessed July 13, 2017.

Feser, E. (2014). Scholastic Metaphysics. Editions Scholasticae. ISBN-10: 3868385444; ISBN-13: 978-3868385441. Available online at www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Metaphysics-Contemporary-Introduction-Scholasticae/dp/3868385444/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1464406953&sr=8-3&keywords=feser. Accessed July 13, 2017.

Feser, E. (2015). Neo-scholastic Essays. St. Augustines Press; 1 edition (June 30, 2015). ISBN-10: 1587315580; ISBN-13: 978-1587315589 Available online at www.amazon.com/Neo-Scholastic-Essays-Edward-Feser/dp/1587315580/ref=pd_sim_14_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=51vOUR5k8eL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL320_SR214%2C320_&psc=1&refRID=MP3S70WMRDF7N9VQNPMA. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Flew, A. (2005). God and philosophy. Prometheus Books (April 8, 2005). ISBN-10: 1591023300; ISBN-13: 978-1591023302. Available online at www.amazon.com/God-Philosophy-Antony-Flew/dp/1591023300/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Flew, A., & Varghese, R. A. (2008). There is a God. HarperOne; unknown edition (November 4, 2008). ISBN-10: 0061335304; ISBN-13: 978-0061335303. Available online at www.amazon.com/There-God-Notorious-Atheist-Changed/dp/0061335304/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500661815&sr=1-1. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Harris, S. (2008). Letter to a Christian Nation. Vintage; Reprint edition. ISBN-10: 0307278778; ISBN-13: 978-0307278777. Available online at www.amazon.com/Letter-Christian-Nation-Sam-Harris/dp/0307278778/ref=sr_1_6_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408131913&sr=1-6&keywords=sam+harris. Accessed July 11, 2017.

Hume, D. (2017). An enquiry concerning human understanding. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 1, 2017). ISBN-10: 1461180198; ISBN-13: 978-1461180197. Available online at www.amazon.com/Enquiry-Concerning-Human-Understanding/dp/1461180198/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500660885&sr=8-3. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Hume, D. (2000). A treatise of human nature. Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (February 24, 2000). ISBN-10: 0198751729; ISBN-13: 978-0198751724. Available online at www.amazon.com/Treatise-Human-Nature-Oxford-Philosophical/dp/0198751729/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1500660885&sr=8-13&keywords=david+hume. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Martin, C. F. (1997). Thomas Aquinas God and Explanations. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (June 30, 1997). ISBN-10: 0748609016; ISBN-13: 978-0748609017. Available online at www.amazon.com/Thomas-Aquinas-Explanations-Christopher-Martin/dp/0748609016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500142014&sr=8-1&keywords=Thomas+Aquinas+God+and+Explanations. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Misner, C. W., Thorne, K. S., & Wheeler, J. A. (MTW). 2017. Gravitation. Princeton University Press. ISBN-10: 0691177791; ISBN-13: 978-0691177793. Chap. 20.2. Online at www.amazon.com/Gravitation-Charles-W-Misner/dp/0691177791/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514324449&sr=8-1&keywords=gravitation. Accessed Dec. 26, 2017.

Moreland, J. P., & Craig, W. L. (2003). Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. IVP Academic; unknown edition (April 28, 2003). ISBN-10: 0830826947; ISBN-13: 978-0830826940. Available online at www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Foundations-Christian-Worldview-Moreland/dp/0830826947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460753368&sr=8-1&keywords=Philosophical+Foundations+for+a+Christian+Worldview. Accessed July 17, 2017.

Nietzsche, F. (2000). Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Modern Library; Modern Library edition (November 28, 2000). ISBN-10: 0679783393; ISBN-13: 978-0679783398. Available online at www.amazon.com/Writings-Nietzsche-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/0679783393/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1500661604&sr=1-7. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Oderberg, D. S. (2008). Real essentialism. Routledge; 1 edition (January 30, 2008). ISBN-10: 041587212X; ISBN-13: 978-0415872126. Available online at www.amazon.com/Essentialism-Routledge-Studies-Contemporary-Philosophy/dp/041587212X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1500142092&sr=8-2&keywords=Thomas+Aquinas+God+and+Explanations. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Russell, B. (1967). History of Western Philosophy. Simon & Schuster/Touchstone (October 30, 1967). ISBN-10: 0671201581; ISBN-13: 978-0671201586. Available online at www.amazon.com/History-Western-Philosophy-Bertrand-Russell/dp/0671201581/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Russell, B. (2017). The problems of philosophy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 21, 2017). ISBN-10: 1545507635; ISBN-13: 978-1545507636. Available online at www.amazon.com/Problems-Philosophy-Bertrand-Russell/dp/1545507635/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=. Accessed July 21, 2017.

Wikipedia. (2016). Greek primordial deities. Available online at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_primordial_deities. Accessed July 17, 2017.

Woit, P. (2007). Not even wrong: The failure of string theory and the search for unity in physical law. Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007). ISBN-10: 0465092764; ISBN-13: 978-0465092765. Available online at www.amazon.com/Not-Even-Wrong-Failure-Physical/dp/0465092764/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=. Accessed July 16, 2017.



Posted in Metaphysics, Theology | 94 Comments

Random Linkiness

It's been a while since I've done one of these...

My bookmarks folder wasn't backed up when my laptop was stolen in March, so I lost a bunch of links, but I remembered some of the really cool stuff from before:

♦  It turns out that if you expose a synthetic diamond to radioactivity, it generates an electrical current.  Diamond is also pretty good at shielding certain kinds of radioactive rays.  So scientists at the University of Bristol are proposing to convert radioactive waste into diamond batteries, as shown in this video.  The batteries generate a very small amount of power, but would last for thousands of years, and would be safe to use e.g. inside of humans as pacemakers.  So apparently that sci-fi trope about using diamonds to generate power will be right after all!

♦  A searchable database of classical oaths, which I found from the author Jo Walton's website.

♦  Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts.

I've thought for a long time that the curriculum about Facts vs. Opinions harms critical thinking far more than it hurts it.  Is something a "fact" (rather than an "opinion") because it is objectively true?  Or decisively proven?  Because it is uncontroversial to a certain community, or can be used in an essay (aimed at a particular audience) as ammunition to support a conclusion?  Because it has to do with tangible, physical reality, rather than being a normative judgement like morality or aesthetics?

(For example, the Resurrection of Jesus is a fact in the sense that it is claimed to be about objective physical reality, it is a fact in the sense that it actually occurred, but it is certainly not an opinion shared by everybody and when talking to people outside of the Church, it is indeed the sort of opinion which requires backing up with other, less controversial, facts.  Admittedly, as St. N.T. Wright says [pdf lecture], this is kind of a category-bending "fact", but there are plenty of other examples I could have used as well.)

"Well, you can't expect elementary school students to understand subtle distinctions like the ones you've just distinguished!"  But these are completely different meanings of the word, related only by metaphorical similarity!  That's like saying that you shouldn't expect children to understand the fine distinction between breaking a glass and breaking the law.

And now for some bookmarks on the new laptop:

♦  Math with Bad Drawings, a blog by a math teacher sharing math [facts?/opinions?]

♦  Did you know that the world's richest dog inherited his wealth from another dog?

♦  Meet St. John Mitchell, the clergyman who in addition to many other scientific accomplishments wrote the first paper about black holes, entitled by the impressively long title:

"On the Means of Discovering the Distance, Magnitude, &c. of the Fixed Stars, in Consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of Their Light, in Case Such a Diminution Should be Found to Take Place in any of Them, and Such Other Data Should be Procured from Observations, as Would be Farther Necessary for That Purpose. By the Rev. John Michell, B. D. F. R. S. In a Letter to Henry Cavendish, Esq. F. R. S. and A. S."

♦  A blog post about some recent developments in black hole information theory, which happens to mention my work with some guys at Harvard about how to make a traversable wormhole!

♦ If you want to make your own black hole, check out this astonishingly black paint, which you can buy for a reasonable price.

♦  I've also been profiled by a journalist at HubPages (St. Joel Furches).  Oh, and I won a prize a while back.

♦  The fake history of Giordano Bruno, martyr for "Science!"?

♦  A sermon by a Coptic priest with a more legitimate claim than Cosmos to speak for martyrs.

♦  Speaking of dealing with grief over death, here is a tearjerking interview with a woman about coping with life after her son committed suicide.  I listened to it on Good Friday this year.  (Note: this is a Catholic radio show, so Protestant viewers may need to screen out all the remarks about how being Catholic is so very Catholic and have we mentioned that we're Catholic?)

Blog post on the same site: A Meditation On The Shocking Idea That Maybe Were Actually Not Just Lazy Whiners.

♦  Deconstructing the Documentary Hypothesis.  (Again, Roman Catholic site with various other polemics I don't endorse, but we're pretty much on the same team when it comes to the Old Testament having a basis in historical reality.)

♦  As for the New Testament, here's your periodic reminder that there are really easy ways to distinguish the historically authentic texts about Jesus from the rest.

♦  Why are women underrepresented in philosophy and should we care?  A statistical analysis of the academic ladder as it relates to gender politics.

My own private sources tell me that there is blatant, severe (and often illegal) discrimination in favor of women in academic philosophy, to the point where sometimes a woman with mediocre talents and a single publication in a mid-ranked journal, can win out in a competition with a brilliant male researcher with over a dozen publications in top journals.

♦  My Bionic Quest for Boléro, a story about what it takes to get a deaf person able to appreciate classical music again.  I highly recommend you listen to the musical piece in question while reading the article.

♦  Here is what a low-trust society looks like: Poor Russian Families Berate a Store Owner for Handing Out Free Bread.  It's also an image or an icon of how human beings treat God.  So now you know what it looks like from the other side.

Posted in Links | 10 Comments