11 PRATT questions answered by two atheists

It has been awhile and it is good to be back!

My hero (and possibly Odin in disguise), Aron Ra, made a blog and video response to Stephanie “SJ” Thomason, aka the “Twitter apologist” I’ve addressed on this blog numerous times. SJ made a video titled “11 Questions that Atheists Cannot Answer,” and Aron Ra decided to take a swing at the video…

And as you would expect from the Texan Tank, Aron knocked it out of the park!!!

After watching Aron’s video, SJ responded with “but you didn’t answer my first 2 questions.” Personally, I found Aron’s answers satisfactory. Still, Aron asked how would I have answered those questions.

Here’s how I would answer them:

“1. How do you explain why the early Christian martyrs preached for decades, saying they saw the risen Christ?”

The fact that I personally addressed this months ago, and the fact that SJ read them and wrote a response to them, proves that SJ is being deliberately misleading when she says straight up “no atheist can answer these questions.” No matter how much SJ wishes she can deny it, these questions have been answered. I’m more than happy to repeat them, but like last time, SJ will likely conveniently not address them.

But let’s go ahead an unpackage this (again):

“The early Christian Martyrs…”

SJ’s questions presumes there were martyrs… but were they martyrs? That’s the first thing that needs verification before addressing the second half.

The only martyrdoms recorded in the New Testament are, first, the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts. But Stephen was not a witness. He was a later convert. So if he died for anything, he died for hearsay alone. But even in Acts the story has it that he was not killed for what he believed, but for some trumped up false charge, and by a mob, whom he could not have escaped even if he had recanted. So his death does not prove anything in that respect. Moreover, in his last breaths, we are told, he says nothing about dying for any belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but mentions only his belief that Jesus was the messiah, and was at that moment in heaven. And then he sees Jesus–yet no one else does, so this was clearly a vision, not a physical appearance, and there is no good reason to believe earlier appearances were any different.

The second and only other “martyr” recorded in Acts is the execution of the Apostle James, but we are not told anything about why he was killed or whether recanting would have saved him, or what he thought he died for. In fact, we have one independent account in the Jewish history of Josephus, of the stoning of a certain “James the brother of Jesus” in 62 A.D., possibly but not necessarily the very same James, and in that account he is stoned for breaking the Jewish law, which recanting would not escape.

So James may have been arrested for breaking a Jewish law, but other than that we have no idea. So how do we know James or Stephen were arrested for their beliefs? How do we know they were tortured? And if they were tortured, how do we know that maybe they did recant, only to have the anonymous gospel authors 50-60 years later wrote stories that “re-wrote” history by asserting that they all “kept the faith” while being tortured?

Paul is believed to have been killed sometime before the end of Nero’s reign in 68 CE. Dionysius’s letter mentioning Peter and Pauls martyrdom was written about 100 years after the end of Nero’s reign. Tertillian’s source was written in 200 CE.

See the problem here? Even if we agree that Paul and Peter were executed, how can we know they were martyred for their faith? How do we know they never broke faith? For all we know, all of the so-called martyrs dropped their faiths in prison, only for Christian followers generations later re-write history and hype-up the deaths of the first believers.

Given the above shows how little we know, how we don’t have enough proof, to claim the disciples were martyrs as a historical “fact” is dishonest.

“[The martyrs] SAW the “risen” Christ.”

Did they?

Seriously, did they? How do we know what they saw? And even if they “saw” something, does that mean what they saw was real? People have seen Elvis and aliens. George Harrison of the Beatles said he had visions of Krishna. Records going back millennia share that Pagans and polytheists have had visions and experiences of their gods and goddesses. Are all of those real too? But for now, let’s stick to the “early Christians”:

Of all the early Christian “martyrs,” the only one who recorded their experience was Paul, the rest are hearsay accounts. The book of Acts gives us a hint of what Paul saw (or didn’t). Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians that Jesus lastly appeared to him… but Paul doesn’t say exactly what he saw. So some decades after 1 Corinthians, the author of Acts tells us that Paul saw a light that blinded him and heard a voice (Acts 9:3-7, 22:6-9, 26:13-15) whereas in Acts 9:7 the men with Paul are said to hear the voice, but see no one: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” In Acts 22:9 the claim is made that those accompanying Paul “saw the light, but did not hear the voice.” In Acts 26:13-14 Paul is quoted as saying that all those present saw the light, but mentions that he alone heard a voice. The light, it is claimed, blinds Paul. However, no one else but he is said to have been effected by the light. So what we have here is a contradiction among other witnesses, and a man (Paul) who had a seizure and heard a voice, but saw no form because he was blinded.

In 1 Corinthians 12:5-8, the verb ophthe simply expresses Paul’s claim that Jesus “appeared” too them. The use of ophthe within the context of Paul’s statement is significant. Paul’s use of ophthe in expressing both his own visionary experience and those allegedly seen by the disciples is significant because his supposed encounters with the risen Jesus are never with a tangible form. In claiming the same experience for himself as experienced by the disciples, Paul is relating that “what was seen” by the disciples is also a visionary experience devoid of any physical component.

In Acts 22:17-18 it is said that Paul “saw” (idein) Jesus while in a “trance” (ekstasei) in the Temple. The word ekstasei is a combination of stasis, “standing,” and ek, “out.” It suggests the idea of standing out of oneself, that is, the nature of a trance. In this description, Paul uses a different verb for seeing the apparition then he uses when describing the experiences of the disciples.

For his and the disciples’ experience, Paul used the word ophthe (“appeared to“). Yet, when he described his vision while in a trance in the Temple he used the word idein (“saw“). “Have I not seen [heoraka] Jesus our Lord?” Paul asks rhetorically in 1 Corinthians 9:1.

In summary, according to Paul, both his experience and that of the disciples were respectively not with a material bodily form. So according to Paul himself, did Jesus really rise from the dead? Or, as Richard Carrier noted here, perhaps Paul and the disciples believed that Jesus was not a historical person but a celestial being like an archangel.

“2. How do you explain the rise of Christianity, to between five and six million by 313 ce, when it was finally legalized, from such humble roots?”

SJ says no atheist has provided an answer to this question…

… yet I know an agnostic atheist who wrote a whole book answering this exact question.

And to make this even more embarrassing for SJ, she’s written several blogs addressing another who also answered this question.

So she knows who Richard Carrier is, yet it appears she hasn’t read his book, or even any of his books. Otherwise she wouldn’t be asking a question that has already been answered.

The short version answer to SJ’s question will leave out so many details, but if I had to cram it all down to a small paragraph, it would be:

Christianity started as a Mystery Cult, and grew in size due to grassroots activities. It turned out to be quite easy when they told Jews (and Gentiles) they could find salvation without obeying Jewish laws (keep in mind they were living in Israel that was occupied by the Romans preventing them from offering sacrifices at the Temple). And it helped a lot when they recruited the right people, such as women (who could sway their husbands) and especially the rich and powerful. The latter group was the biggest gift to the growing Christian community. And eventually, they recruited the best person they could hope for… the Emperor of Rome.

That is the short answer, but seriously all readers should go buy and read the two books that I provided above.

Aron Ra once referred to me as his “bulldog,” essentially making me Thomas Huxley to his Charles Darwin. Go Team Ra!

While Aron originally asked me to provide an answer to the first 2 questions, I’ll take this opportunity to demonstrate that the nickname “Aron Ra’s bulldog” is well earned. So I will tear up the other 9 questions:

3. What powered inflation of the Universe?”

Short answer is there are several valid explanations, but the concrete answer in cosmological physics remains uncertain.

Keep in mind: Just because the answer is uncertain does not mean “God” wins by default. What would make the God concept plausible is evidence, but none exist.

As for inflation, the first fractions of a second of the Big Bang, the rate of expansion of the universe exceeded the speed of light. Ordinarily, nothing is faster than the speed of light. However, this rule of Einstein only applies to objects moving within space, not to space itself. Space itself can expand faster than the speed of light. What “powers” space to move faster than light is perhaps empty space pulling it, similar to how in thermodynamics, cold areas pull in heat from other areas. Aron Ra already touched on this and brought up the 4th dimension.

“4. Why are humans spiritual?”

Short answer:

Because our imperfect brains can fool us.

Long answer:

To get the full picture, you have to understand how different parts of the brain operate, and since they operate with other parts, certain triggers/stimuli or aberrant functioning can result in the creation of what is commonly referred to as “spiritual sensations.”

The temporo limbic system consists of the temporal lobes and the amygdala and hippocampal portion of the limbic system. The latter two structures serve as the site of emotional memory. Different studies show that a wide range of factors that influence temporal lobe function can produce hallucinations, paranormal, spiritual, mystical, and religious experiences [See References 1 – 6 below]. These factors include the electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes; spontaneous temporal lobe epileptic auras and seizures; trauma; the severe anoxia of near death, G-forces and carbon dioxide inhalation; psychedelic drugs; speaking in tongues; and many environmental stressors.

In addition, the superior temporal gyrus, the hippocampus, and the surrounding ectorhinal cortex have been shown to be the site of a sense of the self in space. Aberrant functioning of this area can result in the out-of-body sensations, depersonalization and derealization so common in spiritual and mystical experiences. These spiritual experiences are seen as similar to those of ordinary experiences except that they are tagged by the limbic system as of profound importance, meaningful, immensely joyous and of providing a sense of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

The temporal lobe emotional memory system is often unable to distinguish between real, external events and non-real, internally generated non-real experiences. Thus, when these internally generated spiritual experiences occur they may be perceived as totally real.

It is necessary for rational people to understand that the brain can create sensations that appear real but aren’t, and these experiences can generate a strong desire to believe in something, even when the rationality says it is unreasonable or that it did not and could not have happened. This is the essence of faith over reason. The temporolimbic system is why humans are spiritual.

References:

(1) Weingarten, S. M.m Cherlow, D. G. & Holmgren, E. The relationship of hallucinations to the depth structures of the temporal lobe. Acta Neurochir (Wien). 199-216, 1977.

(2) Jasper, H. H. & Rasmussen, T. Studies of clinical and electrical responses to deep temporal stimulation in man with some considerations of functional anatomy. Association of Nervous and Mental Diseases. 36: 316-334, 1958.

(3) Higgins, J. W., Mahl, G. F., Delgado, M. J. & Hamlin, H. Behavioral changes during intracerebral electrical stimulation. Archives of Neurology. 76: 299-449, 1956.

(4) Horowitz, M. D. & Adams, J. E. Hallucinations on brain stimulation: Evidence for revision of the Penfield hypothesis. in: Keup, W. Origin and Mechanisms of Hallucinations. Plenum Press, New York, 1970.

(5) Halgren, E., Walter, R. D., Cherlow, D. G. & Crandall, P. H. Mental phenomena evoked by electrical stimulation of the human hippocampal formation and amygdala. Brain. 101: 83-117, 1978.

(6) Gloor, P., Olivier, A., Quesney, L. F., Andermann, F. & Horowitz, S. The role of the limbic system in experiential phenomena of temporal love epilepsy. Ann Neurol. 12: 129-144, 1982.

Bonus:

For all you “Westworld” fans reading this, you might recall a detail mentioned by Anthony Hopkins once in the first season. I was aware of this detail for almost a decade ago, so I’m glad the show brought it up. Let us observe Michelangelo’s the Creation of Man from the Sistine Chapel.

There is something there that few people realize. Michelangelo spent considerable time dissecting the human body to learn the secrets of anatomy, including removing and examining the brain. It is of interest that in his fresco, God is resting on the outline of a human brain, right in the area of the temporal lobe.

Whether as a part of his insightful genius or happy accident, it appears Michelangelo got it right.

And assuming the former that Michelangelo’s insightful genius was why he painted God in the temporal lobe area, keep this in mind: Michelangelo didn’t discover this nugget of wisdom of the brains role in spirituality from the pages of the Bible, he discovered it from physically inspecting the brains of humans… in other words, SCIENCE revealed the truth to him, not the gospels.

Oh, and speaking of Westworld….

“5. Where did consciousness come from?”

I’ve heard answers to this question almost a decade ago. Right after I concluded that the concept of God was illogical, I started asking questions like these… and low and behold, there were atheists already providing answers at the time. And to date, they are leagues more validated and thus more satisfying than the old answer, “God dun it.”

Consciousness is a self-awareness of feelings and awareness that we are feeling our feelings. Two investigators (Damasio and Edelmen) who have independently  written much about consciousness agree there are two types: the first is a core or primary consciousness representing an ongoing event-driven rush of consciousness operating in the here and now, while the second is an extended or higher-order consciousness that provides the organism with an elaborate sense of self and provides us with the ability to explicitly construct past and future scenes. Studies of a range of diseases suggest core consciousness involves midline structures of the brain, while extended consciousness involves the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, and possibly the claustrum.

Edelman proposed that consciousness emerged in evolution when, through the appearance of new circuits mediating cross-talk or re-entry, the sensory cortex (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) occupying the back half of the brain became dynamically linked to the frontal cortex at the front part of the brain responsible for value-based memory. With this in place an animal would be able to build a remembered present — a scene that adaptively linked immediate or imagined contingencies to that of the animal’s previous history of value-driven behavior.

Read more at:

Damasio, A. The Feeling of  What Happened. Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, New York, 1999

and

Edelman, G. M. & Tononi, G., A Universe of Consciousness. How Matter Becomes Imagination. Basic Books, New York, 2000.

“6. How do you explain what some have called our sixth sense?”

What exactly do you mean by our “sixth sense”?

Because if it is what it is commonly believed to be, then the short answer version to your question is this: the “sixth sense” does not exist.

You’re welcome.

Even if humans did possess a “sixth sense,” how could that possibly mean a God must therefore exist? Crediting aliens as a cause holds just as much weight as arguing God is the answer.

“7. How did the Earth overcome what M.I.T. and Stanford physicists call “statistically miraculous odds” to have habitable conditions?”

By the same reasons why Francis Crick, co-discovered of DNA, once said “We cannot decide whether the origin of life on Earth was an extremely unlikely event or almost a certainty.” – Francis Crick, Life Itself.

Turns out, given all the data we have so far about the early stages of Earth; known sources to provide vast amounts of organic compounds necessary for the building blocks of life; and numerous possible models that examine physical mechanisms for the production of the first self-replicating polymers, their assembly and sequestration within the membrane bound compartments and the the development of the chemical interfaces between different biopolymeric systems; all this together, we can comfortably lean on the latter of Francis Crick’s comment and conclude that the origin of life on Earth was a certainty.

While many models have been proposed, some are clearly better than others. One of the most likely is a protometabolism-transfer RNA model, consisting first of The Age of Chemicals providing the necessary organic compounds, followed by The Age of Information involving the co-evolution of polymers of RNA and protein. This model shows that the origin of life was not so intractable that only a divine creator could do it.

Christian apologists quite often try to make the probability of life seem so extreme that it makes the “God dun it” seem plausible — and how they formulate that is easy. The recipe for making a very high statistical trick is simple: simply state the odds that should be calculated ”before” an event ”after” the event as taken place. If you want the event to appear even more unlikely, begin adding complicated factors (which is very easy to do after the fact). And then viola! There you have it; you’ve made an ordinary event appear extraordinary. Of all the numerous uncertain factors in this universe, the same statistical methods can be repeated to make you next morning breakfast seem impossible. When applied to the universe, Christian apologists use this trick to make the existence of Earth or even the universe appear extraordinary. This is called the Anthropic Principle.

The scientific census has rejected the Anthropic Principle in favor of the Copernican Principle. The Copernican Principle is the opposite of the Anthropic Principle and states that humans do not occupy a privileged place in the universe. Successive astronomical discoveries seem to support this principle. In the middle Ages it was assumed that God created man in his image, and such, man and the earth were at the center of the universe. Copernicus and Galileo abolished the illusion that the earth was the center of the solar system and put the sun in its rightful heliocentric place. It was then found that the sun was not at the center of our galaxy, and Hubble showed that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, was not at the center of the universe. Finally, the multiverse concept suggests our universe may be just one of many constantly sprouting new universes, further diminishing the Anthropic Principle conclusion that the universe is here just for us. The Anthropic Principle emphasizes the rarity of life and consciousness while the Copernican Principle forces us to realize it was not all done just so we could exist.

“8. Why does humanity cherish humility and honesty over pride and deceit?”

Are you sure about that? Given that Donald Trump was elected as POTUS, I’d say there is plenty of room within humanity for favoring pride and deceit.

It seems to me that humanity values a certain balance of all of those, and they often have a tug-a-war. Such as, is it right to lie to a abusive spouse where their missing partner is? I’d say so. Humans try to find balance when it comes to deceit. We know that some forms of deceit is acceptable, while other forms are wrong enough for it to be warranted as criminal (such as perjury).

What’s wrong with pride? Have you ever bought any article of clothing for a purpose other than covering your body and protecting it from the elements? If so, you’re guilty of pride. Welcome to the club.

“9. Why do almost all feel compelled to do what’s right by helping neighbors? Why is there a norm of reciprocity?”

Because it is a biological fact that we are social animals.

There. That simple. We evolved to be social animals, which means our brains react that give us a certain sense of satisfaction from helping others. And a population that helps each other is one that survives.

Seriously, there is no need to go on further. Question answered.

“10. What is our greater purpose?”

What if you discovered that your purpose and the purpose of the entire universe was the exact same as the green alien (voiced by Steven Colbert) in this scene?

Stay schwifty my friends

If I found out that my purpose was the same as the green alien’s purpose, I’d shrug it off and continue to live my life exactly as I do right now.

As Albert Camus once pointed out, is the answer to the question “what’s our ultimate purpose?” even worth pursuing? For some people, maybe. But for others, like myself, not so much. Once you confront the unknown of the universe, the only option is to find importance in the stuff right in front of you. Friends, family, and doing what you enjoy are far more important than any unsolvable questions. That’s why I’d rather spend my life with those I care about, because the one thing worse than not knowing the purpose of your life is knowing your purpose but living your life alone.

“And 11. Why is there evil in the world?”

Atheists have provided answers for this for years, where have you been SJ???? Pretty much every atheist I know has answered this question. Not kidding.

How SJ thinks this question is still “unanswered” is beyond me. I suspect SJ is just terrible at researching. This isn’t mere speculation, she revealed just how bad she is at researching to me late last year. During one exchange, SJ had no idea that there were more than 2 eyewitnesses to Socrates. So I told her there are at least 12 confirmed ones, she responded “Yet in my investigations, I have found that only Plato and Xenophon wrote about Socrates.”

So I shared the 12 other sources: Aeschines Socraticus, Ameipsias, Antisthenes, Aristippus of Cyrene, Cebes of Thebes [not the author, however, of the extant Socratic dialog forged in his name], Chaerephon, Crito, Euclides, Teleclides, Simmias, Simon the Cobbler [whose shoe shop we’ve even excavated], Polycrates and Phaedon.

… and SJ never brought them up ever again.

The point is, the information is out there. I don’t know what SJ is waiting for. I suspect the confirmation bias that Faith demands all believers to embrace is the primary reason that holds SJ back or has her always looking in the wrong areas.

Well, that’s why people like Aron Ra and myself exist, to bring the answers and evidence to the believers who haven’t done the work (and in the process, calling out the bullshit spewed from the pulpits).

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