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19 July 2009

Book Review: Rejecting Pascal's Wager

I recently saw this book, and thumbed through it. While I didn't have the desire to spend $40 at the time, I think it's a worthwhile book from the reviews I have seen on it. I was particularly interested in what someone who went to seminary said about it. Now keep in mind, I have not read the 652 page book, so this is entirely someone else's opinion of the book. In the chapter outline though, it seems very familiar ground. Things that have been discussed over and over again. Things that make sense. Agree with the real world. Of course, if someone is inclined to believe in magic, no amount of logic or reason will really penetrate, but there has got to be hope (I do actually tend to be optimistic at times). So, for skeptics, this book is a nice consice reference book for you and a good refresher. For believers, well, yet more things you need to make excuses for.

Paul Tobin's Book: The Best Skeptical Book on the Bible as a Whole

Paul Tobin’s new book, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus has arrived and I am very glad it did. It is the best skeptical work on the Bible as a whole. Gerd Lüdemann, author of several skeptical works on early Christianity, recommends it “with the utmost enthusiasm.” I do too.

Tobin’s whole argument is aimed to show that Pascal’s famous wager has no effect on us because we are not forced to choose between Pascal’s Catholic brand of Christianity and unbelief. Why? Because the central claims of Christianity are false. He takes aim at the Bible to show that while it may be a great work of literature it is not the word of God. And Tobin backs his claim up with his massive 652 page book, complete with a nice bibliography and indexes.

If you’re a Christian who has deconverted at a later time in life then you need to re-learn most all of what you were taught about the Bible. If you were college and seminary trained like me, this can be a difficult thing to do. So, you could go on a massive reading binge, spending many hours and a lot of money feasting on book after book. Or, you could read this one. Given that choice I highly recommend you get this one. Tobin masterfully takes us through the Bible using critical scholarship to show us what we can and cannot know about it. It has helped me remember several things I learned back in college and seminary but had forgotten. It taught me some very interesting things I hadn’t yet thought through as a skeptic, and I think I’ve read a great deal on the subject since my deconversion. Tobin showed me I hadn’t read enough.

It’s all here for the most part in an encyclopedic fashion, covering the ancient myths, the errors, the lack of confirming archaeology, the failed prophecies, and the forged authorship. He also covers the ad hoc canonization process and the textual transmission of these texts. Tobin is a very good guide to these topics, using the results of critical scholars whom he refers to time and again.

He writes and thinks well too. Take for instance Noah’s Ark. Tobin tells us simply that on the one hand “it is too big,” in that the structure could not be seaworthy. On the other hand “it was too small,” with not enough room for all of the animals it would have had in it. (pp. 75-77).

Tobin also spends a few pages effectively dealing with the minutia of numerical “contradictions” in the Bible, like the value of π (pi) found in Kings 7:23-26 (pp. 29-38). He even shows how that the evangelical New International Version has purposely mistranslated several passages to eliminate the appearance of difficulties inherent in the original languages (pp. 197-204).

And he addresses how the liberals view the Bible by concluding that they “did not reach their conclusions by abstruse theological reasoning: they were forced by external circumstances—the findings of science, comparative religions, enlightenment philosophies and historical criticism.” (pp. 187-196).

If you want to know why scholars think the Gospel of Mark was written first you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why scholars don’t think Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the authors of their gospels, and why they are written later than evangelicals claim, you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why the Nativity stories are fictions you may only need to read this book. If you want to know why scholars have serious doubts about what Jesus may have said, or why they doubt the Passion Narratives and resurrection stories, you may only need to read this book.

If you have only one skeptical book about the Bible as a whole this one is all you need. And even if you have some other books, this one will still inform you of issues you probably haven’t read up on, like it did with me.

Tobin did a massive amount of work here. I will use it as a reference when dealing with some of these topics in the future. It’s worth the price. I liked it so much I asked Tobin to write a chapter for a book I’ve been editing/writing.

LARIAN AGAIN: Well, a pretty good review from someone who went to seminary. I'll leave you with a final thought today though.

Why is it, that on nearly every moral change issue involving human rights, the bible has been on the wrong side?


JD Curtis said...

Intersting how atheists have their own version of "apologists" as well. Faith is needed to maintain such a position.

Larian LeQuella said...

Hey, this is a former minister that saw the BS for what it was. It takes as much faith to be an atheist as it takes to not believe in a unicorn that shits gold and diamonds and farts rainbows.

Of course, given your history of links used to support your bronze age ideas, I have a funny feeling you have no concept of what an atheist is!

JD Curtis said...

It takes as much faith to be an atheist as it takes to not believe in a unicorn that shits gold and diamonds and farts rainbows.

We both know that Christianity doesnt teach these things. Might you be a good guy and point me toward a bibliography about Mr. Tobin? You have me interested.

Larian LeQuella said...

Of course it doesn't, but it makes equally silly claims with no evidence. By xtian logic, since gold and diamonds exist, and you have seen rainbows, said unicorn exists, despite the total lack of evidence for such, and that there are actual explanations for the phenomenon. But a bronze age collection of fables trumps all...

John W. Loftus is the former minister I am talking about who reviewed the book. I used his review since he attended seminary and such. I just could never swallow the load of BS in the bible, so my experience with theism is having read it and seen it for the crap it is.

Tobin, as far as I am aware is a Historian and atheist. Although, he looks at evidence as opposed to making excuses (which is what apologists do). He's not apologizing for anything, he's telling you how fucked up your fairy tales are in reference to reality.

Larian LeQuella said...

Some more details on the book itself.

I found the Replies to Common Fundamentalist Apologetics entertaining. Remember, atheists have nothing to have apologetics for, since there is no claim of magic, invisible sky zombies, or whatever fairy tale theists subscribe to. Hence why apologetics are unique to theists.

JD Curtis said...

atheists have nothing to have apologetics for, since there is no claim of magic, invisible sky zombies, or whatever fairy tale theists subscribe to. Hence why apologetics are unique to theists.

A large number of atheists that I encounter seem to have this "belief" that life emerged from some sort of "magic goop" that, when struck by lightening, became the primordial soup that eventually became everything from bacteria to elephants.

Larian LeQuella said...

That's called abiogenesis, and it's a valid theory following well understood laws of chemistry and evolution. However, we don't have a complete answer on that. Atheists are NOT AFRAID to say, "I don't know." as an answer to a question. The certitude of theists is what I find incredibly more troubling than not knowing an answer. Especially since the theist is basing their certitude on bronze age fables.

Furthermore, you are confusing belief with "most reasonable explanation" but again I think that's a distinction that may be beyond your facilities.

JD Curtis said...

That's called abiogenesis, and it's a valid theory following well understood laws of chemistry and evolution.

And can we replicate this *ahem* theory?

Aaron said...

Bloody hell, JD didn't read anything the man wrote, did you.

"most reasonable explanation"

"We're not afraid to say: I don't know."

See, because you're stuck in the idea that we HAVE to have certainty in order to make a claim, you fail to appreciate how science works. In your religious brain, you can't conceive of a question without an answer. To you, it all resolves in Goddidit.

To a scientific mind, abiogenesis rests as the "most reasonable explanation" until something comes along that corrupts or significantly challenges/conflicts with all of the evidence we have so far deduced and are able to prove through replication or observation.

JD Curtis said...

"most reasonable explanation"

My what remarkable FAITH I encounter at this blog! This rivals even the BAPTISTS! So without putting words in your mouth then I take that as a "Yes". You hold to the belief that lightning struck a pile of goop thus beginning the entire process whereby if you sprinkle enough fairy dust, pardon me, TIME on the equation, you eventually have a diverse animal population, the design and construction of the Verrazano Bridge and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. I don't wish to mischaracterize your position so tell me, is that accurate?

Ivan3man said...

Larian and Aaron, it is obvious that JD would not know how to even spell A-B-I-O-G-E-N-E-S-I-S, let alone understand it!

Larian LeQuella said...

"Lightning striking goop" is a gross misscharacterization and even outright lie perpetrated by IDiots and creationists. If you can't go beyond that, you don't DESERVE the courtesy of a real reply.

JD Curtis said...

(NOTE: I saw the lightining strike example on a PBS show one time) So the entire mindset here is something along the lines of "it has to be a naturalistic cause, it just HAS to! No matter HOW outlandish the explanation! (and if it's isnt, then boy am I in trouble)"

Getting back on topic, why reject Pascal's wager out of hand? It seems that Christians have lower divorce rates, longer life expectancies and lead more fulfilling lives than atheists. It would be worth exploring the subject with an open mind.

Larian LeQuella said...

Again, you misrepresent naturalistic causes. I could say to you (as a religious person) that it just HAS to be MAGIC because I just don't understand it. Stop being such a caveman....

You are probably referring to the Miller-Urey experiment of the 1950s... Again, try to stay in this century. And that experiment is just one possible mechanism, although subsequent experiments have shown even more possible mechanisms.

Christians divorse less than atheists? Again, NICE LIE asshole:

Variation in divorce rates by religion:
Religion % have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:
- 11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
- 25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
- Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

As for rejecting Pascal's wager... That discussion has been had millions of times, and the weakness of that argument is obvious to anyone with a functioning brain...

Try this wager on for size:

Instead, my wager is that if there is a god, and it is a just god, then living a just and moral life will be acknowledged regardless of ones beliefs. If there exists an unjust or immoral god, then I could never satisfy both my conscience and such a god. My wager is that if the christians are right about god being just and all-knowing and all-loving, I will be rewarded if I act in morally sound, justified ways.

I don’t think there is a god. To me, the idea of a god, or even of an afterlife pales in importance to what we experience everyday. Life. Life is the only thing that I “know” I have and when that is gone, I doubt I’ll be around to care, however, others will. I must live my life as I please, and since I believe I will only ever get one chance at it, I want to live it in the best manner that I can and help others do the same.

As far as I can tell in literature, your god is a fucking raving lunatic of a bastard, and pretty fucking stupid too. Just think about morality based on your impotent god.

JD Curtis said...

No Einstein, that Barna Group study is a flawed as the Miller experiment. Link

Furthermore, why is it that 37% of atheists never marry when the national average of the public as a whole is closer to 19%?

As is far too often the case, the atheist citing statistics is either ignorant or dishonest. This is only true because atheists are far less likely to get married in the first place. The low rate of atheist divorce vanishes if you look at the percent of atheist marriages that end in divorce rather than the percentage of atheists who have ever been divorced. It's in TIA. Vox Day

Insofar as the exhaustive link you directed me to, I've already dealt with a number of these arguements on other blogs. To say that their interpretation of Scripture is laughable is being too generous. Pick your favorite one and we'll talk.

JD Curtis said...

Do you dispute the suicide rate is higher among atheists? That would be a great in start to trying to convince people that your way of thinking is best. Just quit off-ing yourselves.

Larian LeQuella said...

That's not what the data says though. It's the countries and their culture, not the religiosity that drives the suicides. The Scandinavian countries are afflicted by seasonal affectiveness disorder due to their northern latitudes.

And one of the reports itself even states: "Social scientists believe that non-belief in God or lack of religiosity are not causitive [sic] factors leading to suicide." So again, twisting and manipulating without reading the whole thing...

Another interesting quote from the study: "Lower general psychopathology scores (BPRS) were found in the patients with no religious affiliation." So non-religious people might actually be mentally *healthier* than religious people even though they attempt and/or succeed at killing themselves more often?? Not sure what that says, and there are some severe limitations on the study. Again, from the report: "This study has some limitations. For example, it did not assess religious upbringing, religious practice, or the level of personal devotion. Therefore, it is possible that depressed patients who stated that they were atheists or had no religion had abandoned religion as a consequence of depression or hopelessness."

So, you do your cherry picking from whatever lies you want, I'll look at the whole picture and stay with reality.

And furthermore Mr Strawman, I'm not saying that my way of thinking is the best. It just seems a lot better than believing in magic fairies.

Larian LeQuella said...

Furthermore, I can imagine some other reasons why the suicide rate among atheists is higher.

1. Atheists would likely be more tolerant of euthanasia, assisted suicide and suicide in general because they might not share the views of religious people in point 2…

2. Most religions say suicide is a sin, and most religious people try to avoid sin, therefore suicide is not as much of an option.

3. Perhaps atheist do not fear death as much as religious people. It seems counter-intuitive, since religious people have hope of an afterlife in heaven if they are good, but maybe many religious people subconsciously fear death because they think that hell might be a possibility. I can't remember which comedian joked about it, but if you believe that when you die you will be in heaven, in paradise with God, why do you bother to wear a seat belt.

I think atheists are STRONGER, not WEAKER than religious folks in general. It's easy to submit yourself to mythology and religion.

4. I think that in general, atheists are much more rational, enlightened people and realize that our bodies are our own to do with and therefore are not afraid of religious prescriptions against it. (I guess this is just a restatement of reason 1)

JD Curtis said...

Left unanswered of course is why atheists tend not to get married.

From the American Journal of Psychiatry (hardly apologetics material) Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. Link
I would assert that most (but not all) of the atheists I encounter via the World Wide Web are angry, bitter nihilistic people and that would have something to do with it.

And again "Insofar as the exhaustive link you directed me to, I've already dealt with a number of these arguements on other blogs. To say that their interpretation of Scripture is laughable is being too generous. Pick your favorite one and we'll talk."

The vast majority of the time it is a misquoted version of Scripture that is cited and thus you attack a straw god.

JD Curtis said...

"These results provide evidence that a low level of religious commitment is a potential risk factor for suicide," Dr. Sterling C. Hilton of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and his colleagues write in the March 1st issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Another link for you

I think atheists are STRONGER, not WEAKER than religious folks in general. It's easy to submit yourself to mythology and religion.

And I think it's a cop out to off yourself and a horribly selfish act on top of that. Far easier to take the easy way out than to face life's problems head-on and deal with them.