A revealed religion is defined everywhere I can find it as, "A religion founded primarily on the revelations of God to humankind." Of course that means there can only be one genuinely revealed religion at most, and if atheism is correct then there aren't any at all. To allow for all competing religions, I would amend the definition to, "A religion which claims to be founded primarily on the revelations of a god or gods to humankind." Otherwise, we can talk about which religions see themselves as revealed religions.
Into that category we would certainly put Judaism, Christianity and Islam by virtue of the messages from God/Allah via Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and various angels' messages to others. Within Christianity, Mormonism has a claim of additional revelation through the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith.
Outside of the Abrahamic religions, it's difficult to find even solid claims of revelation, let alone evidence. The first Buddha was apparently a self-made miracle worker who received his holy powers from the universe itself. Hinduism had a period in its mythological history where the gods regularly interacted with humans, but the subject of conversation wasn't usually the religion itself so I'm not sure that counts. There may be others, like Zoroastrianism in the Middle East, but their histories are harder to find.
The status of "revealed" seems moot when actually comparing religions, as each one will summarily dismiss any contradictory revelations as false.
Claimed predictions by the Bible (from which my examples will be drawn, since they're what I've been receiving lately) and other old texts are presented along with a false dilemma: either the authors took wild guesses and were correct multiple times purely by chance, or they were divinely inspired and therefore granted knowledge the rest of humanity didn't have at the time. There are a number of other possibilities for each supposed prophecy or prediction, which are generally more likely than either. The names below aren't universal, they're my own.
1. High Probability of Success: the event predicted was likely almost to the point of certainty, especially given unlimited time in which to occur.
In Jeremiah 49:16, the fall of the city of Edom was prophesied. Edom had many enemies, including Israel, and was regularly at war. Which was more likely, that it would triumph forever or that at some stage it would be destroyed?
2. Still Unknown: the fact given by the text is in dispute even today.
Christians credit the Bible with foreknowledge of cosmology for saying that the universe had a beginning. Even if this is correct, it had a one in two chance which is hardly imposing odds. Importantly, though, the Big Bang might be the very beginning or it may have been caused by some precursor. There's still the possibility of an eternally old universe or multiverse. Claiming credit for predicting a beginning at this point is like trying to collect your winnings from a horse race before it's ended.
3. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: the very existence of the prophecy assists in its fulfilment.
There were prophecies, at least as told in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that the captive Jews would return to their homeland of Israel. Assuming for now that the non-supernatural parts of the stories are true to begin with, the Jews themselves knew of this prophecy. They believed God had stated directly that they would return. To do so was to obey His will. No wonder they did everything they could to get back.
In a more general sense, the Bible lays out a complete future history of Israel and Jerusalem. The Jews there do everything in their power to follow the instructions as far as rebuilding and protecting it, and largely use the actions of the Muslims to fill in the bits about invasion, destruction and exile.
4. Shoehorned: the text only applies to reality or to the present day through an unwarranted act of lateral interpretation.
Isaiah 40:22 says, "It is He that sits upon the circle of the earth." Some take this as a signal that the author knew ahead of everyone else that the Earth is a sphere, when the word "circle" seems more likely to refer to the apparent disc one sees when one looks out from atop a mountain. The now-all-but-defunct Flat Earth Society, which believed the statement as much as any other Christian group, maintained their position of a flat Earth because they interpreted it as I do.
5. Made to Order: accounts of a subsequent event were in fact tailored to fit the prophecy.
This possibility is most often applicable to the story of Jesus. The authors of the Gospels had access to the writings of Isaiah et al, and had every opportunity to make sure their own accounts lined up with the old prophecies. Jesus, after all, would have been just one of an army of self-proclaimed Messiahs at the time. He needed everything possible to make him stand out, and that meant fitting the bill to the letter.
This is not a direct accusation that any of the above is in fact the case for any given prediction in an ancient text (extending beyond religion, to writers like Nostradamus). However, any given prediction in texts I've read can be explained by one or several of the above. These extra possibilities must therefore be considered in addition to the false dilemma of chance or God. In this company, divine inspiration is less of a sure thing to say the least.
So what kind of a prediction would bypass all of the above and appear truly, plainly supernatural in its accuracy? Simple: one that we are able to test ourselves, without any prior knowledge. An obvious example is the Rapture: if it happens, those of us who are left will know that prediction was right. You can't engineer the Rapture, or interpret the bodily disapparation of every Christian (of only one denomination, you would assume) any other way.
For a less extreme example, say that instead of interpreting dates gone by to match counts of days in the Bible, someone uses Revelations to predict the day of a future earthquake in Los Angeles, far in advance of seismologists. It could still be coincidence, but it couldn't be Shoehorned or Made to Order. Further, the chances are low, the outcome is known and the prophet couldn't fulfil it him/herself without a nuclear weapon.
That, therefore, is what believers in Biblical prophecy need to do in order to score credibility: use the old texts to make new and accurate predictions, instead of cultivating awe for those gone by. Many do try this, of course, and so there's a growing list of dates for the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second Coming and lesser events like the collapse of the United States. So far, all of these dates have passed by uneventfully.
Amber, it might be a typo but I've never seen this use of the word "penny" before. From context I'm assuming that it means "inadequate".
What your mother says is true in a way. If a god exists and is truly omnipotent, then it can do anything it wants to: form the solar system in the wrong order, make it look billions of years older than it really is, give a man the power to cure blindness by touch, and bring the same man back from the dead. Such a being, hypothetically, can change or suspend the laws of physics to achieve its goals, and also manipulate or bypass whatever constant logical constraints the universe may have.
This can have varying effects on an argument, depending. It's basically useless to argue that an omnipotent god can't do something. The possibily that a god is omnipotent pretty much guarantees that a god is possible (since it could be hiding anywhere). However, that which is possible is not necessarily true.
If we conclude from research that the Bible's stories are illogical, then we would have to dismiss logic to believe them. That means we would need an entirely different reason to believe, or we wouldn't do such a thing. So what reasons do people have to believe in the Bible besides logic?
It may be an emotional reason, like simply wanting there to be a Heaven. It might be a default, since one's family might always have believed and one follows along by sheer trust. It might be because of apparent personal experience of God: while at a charismatic church someone is "taken by the Holy Spirit" and starts speaking in tongues. (I think this is a combination of over-enthusiasm and subtle hypnosis, but it certainly does happen.) Otherwise, maybe someone has a particularly convincing dream or hallucination of God. What the hell, maybe God really does exist and comes down to say hi to some lucky sod.
So think about the people you know, for example your mother. Why does she believe, if not because of logic? (Relating back to your other question, has she ever used a bible dictionary to sort out an apparent contradiction herself?). Most importantly (and this is the reply to her which I think you're looking for), why should you believe the stories in the absence of substantive evidence or logical support as far as you can tell?
Perry Marshall presents himself as an invincible defender of his supposed proof of an Intelligent Designer, standing atop a mountain of vanquished counter-arguments from hordes of atheists.
The plain logical error in the argument is in the second premise, and it's the one logical fallacy I come across more than any other: an argument from ignorance. "There is no natural process known to science that creates coded information." That's not the same as saying there really is no such natural process (which would be a simple unsupported statement rather than a fallacy), but it expects us to assume as much. Is Mr Marshall, or any human alive, familiar with "all codes" in the universe? What qualifies anyone to make such a sweeping statement? This attempted proof by elimination of the origin of DNA must leave room for unknown alternatives to maintain any honesty, and is therefore not a real proof.
I realise that the fact of the logical error is not such a brilliant counter-argument when you're actually trying to convince people. There are plenty more objections, and Marshall has posted and replied to many on his site. He hasn't always done so convincingly, though you can judge that for yourself. I'll just take one approach as an exercise.
As support for the argument that all codes are designed by a mind, Marshall argues that random processes do not produce information. (I've been through this at length.) His primary demonstration is his own text-based random mutation generator which takes a sentence and, through single-letter changes, turns it to nonsense.
Marshall admits that the mutation utility does not simulate natural selection, the non-random element of evolution. Furthermore, he's not interested in adding that functionality to test his own argument. (He says instead that the reader is free to do it for him; if someone has taken him up on this, please let us know. Meanwhile, here's a more complex simulator.)
He argues that natural selection would only create sensible sentences if words only mutated into other meaningful words, but that's not applying natural selection at the letter level. An ideal extension of his program would present several choices of mutation at each step, and allow those letter mutations which destroy the legibility of a word to be manually or automatically ruled out. (The real world equivalent is a serious birth defect, which would keep a creature from breeding or even living long enough to breed.) In Marshall's program, detrimental mutations are allowed to compound until all sense is lost. Of course we won't likely get anything useful out of it.
Forgetting even the mechanism of natural selection, I submit a basic argument for the possibility of chance creating information which I've used before: think of a large grid of squares which can be either black or white, but all start as white. If you randomly pick the colour of every square at once, there is a chance, however small, that the newly black squares will form a simple but clear picture of a rectangle, or the letter G, or Elvis. Without adding any extra material, chance can increase the amount of information the grid provides. The prebiotic chemicals only had to manage a feat like this once, given potentially unlimited opportunities, to come up with DNA or its precursors.
You're really going at this. Good on you.
Butterflies are all in fact six-legged. The two front legs are sometimes non-functional (an evolutionary hold-over, like the remnants of our ancestors' tails) and are tucked up against the body where they're difficult to see.
Mammals are uniquely identified by the presence of sweat glands, and the related glands which produce milk. All female mammals nurse their young (except in the mammal species that was clever enough to invent "baby formula", although we do still have the option of course). Bats have both.
Birds, on the other hand, are defined most reliably by the presence of feathers, which bats definitely do not have. The only non-bird creatures which ever had feathers were specific late-age species of dinosaur identified as the ancestors of birds.
Internal errors in the Bible (that is, the Bible disagreeing with itself) can be explained, sure, but not always easily or satisfyingly. The Skeptics' Annotated Bible is the best-known repository of Biblical contradictions. Just look for the Contradictions section.
In the interests of fairness, Christian responses to each contradiction are linked in at the bottom of each comparison in the SAB. This doesn't always help the Bible's case, because the explanations given are often quite long and elaborate and not always convincing. But you can decide that for yourself. You've already realised that people have believed the whole book, and some continue to do so, without bothering to reconcile the apparent contradictions.
More difficult to reconcile with the Bible, of course, is scientific reality. The six-day creation story set six thousand years ago contradicts most of biology, geology and cosmology (which is like astronomy but more theory-based and less observational). Just looking at the earth, we have billions of years' worth of sediment under us and just as much evolutionary progress around us and within us. The response by those who still think Genesis is literally true nowadays is to argue that Noah's Flood (not an accepted historical event either) created some of the apparent signs of an old Earth in under a year, and God did the rest via intelligent design and various miracles. This view has yet to gain mainstream scientific support.
On a smaller scale, some of the individual stories contradict ordinary historical evidence. Take Moses, for example. There's no indication that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, let alone working as slaves, wandering in the desert for forty years or forcibly taking any land for the "12 tribes". The Egyptians would have written about some of this, had it happened. The Tenth Plague, which supposedly killed the first-born in most families in the capital including the Pharaoh's, would also have rated a mention. So there's really no place in real-world history for Moses.
Good luck with your own research.
I was looking for a piece of Way of the Master propaganda suitable for analysis, to apply real criticism to the real thing rather than just dealing with the occasional WOTM quotes people use. I found what I wanted on Comfort's own blog, which while not officially WOTM turf is certainly by the same author.
This piece flabbergasted me with its bare-faced sophistry. It is, in the main, an attempt to characterise legitimate objections to apologetic arguments as mindless talking points which believers can safely ignore. I'll be handling each one in turn, by number.
Introduction> There is no atheist belief. Comfort denounces the belief that there is no god, but most atheists don't have this. They simply don't believe in any gods, and are of the opinion that there are none.
1> Calling a credible argument these things is deceitful, but if you're calling a spade a spade...
- A straw man argument misrepresents the opposing view to make it easier to rebut, e.g. "Atheists have no morals."
- Circular reasoning relies on the conclusion in the premise, e.g. "Creation must have had a creator." (Response: what if it isn't a creation?)
- Quote mining is finding quotes which, out of context, appear to say something the author didn't. There's a quote by Darwin where he asks how the eye could possibly have evolved, and it's often used to say that he didn't know. In fact the very next thing he wrote was the answer to his own question.
2> The "Creator" argument is the watchmaker argument, but that would be fine if the watchmaker argument were sound. The real problem is that it illegitimately expands our reaction to complex and obviously manmade objects to all complex objects. It is the artificiality of a watch that tells us it's created, not its complexity.
3> Pascal's wager presents the same choice as the gain-loss argument. The trouble is that if you consider the possibility that other gods exist besides the Christian one, you realise you may have everything to lose by choosing Christianity or any other religion.
4> "Adultery in the heart" is Comfort's way of making sure anyone with working eyes and hormones has to admit to sinning. If sexual attraction without action is only a sin to the Christian god, it's important to determine whether that specific god exists. Therefore it matters whether Jesus not only existed, but performed miracles and came back to life as the son of God would do. That's the part that's lacking in evidence.
- Well, the Bible is full of mistakes. Many are listed here. That doesn't disqualify the whole thing automatically, but it does mean it's not inerrant. It is worth reading regardless, whether or not you believe it.
- Dawkins did say those things about the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion, and much more besides in that sentence alone. It's meant to be funny (it always gets laughter and applause from an audience), but every word of the takedown is supported by at least one action taken by God in those old books.
6> "No true Scotsman" means taking those who do not fit your image of your own group and finding excuses to exclude them. Comfort's definition of a Christian doesn't seem to match the usual one (scroll down to the Noun section).
- If the Lord doesn't exist, then it's impossible to know Him and according to Comfort there's no such thing as a genuine Christian.
7> Atheists question evolution all the time. The difference from faith is that evidence for evolution answers those questions. Here is an inventory of hundreds of species-to-species transitional species for which there is substantial credible evidence.
8> If there is no Hell, there is no eternal punishment. If there is a Hell, it could be anybody's Hell, and have any arbitrary entry requirements (say, eating with a fork). We have no way of knowing whether we're already on the train tracks, and that's how it is for our whole lives. So it's not worth worrying about.
9> Sorry, but this really is "no true Scotsman". Catholicism was Christianity in Europe until the 17th century and the advent of Protestantism and Lutheranism. With few exceptions, all Christians were Catholics, or branded heretics. If the true Christians in Europe weren't the Catholics, who were they?
- It's doubt, unbelief and lack of faith that makes people atheists in the first place. We don't abandon all that as soon as we find a new name for ourselves. We all entertain the possibility that we might be wrong, and to some extent we look for that one obvious argument for gods that we missed. That's partly why I write for this site. On behalf of all atheists, bring it on.
- This is Comfort's true opinion of atheists: that we're all theists in denial. Of course, denying something isn't the same as being in denial. Sometimes, a person will deny something because it really isn't true.
Hey BB. Don't worry about the spacing; it's not possible in the question field. In future, if you've got a large hunk of text to paste, put it in a comment.
I don't believe, but I'm not on the floor laughing either because many people do believe this stuff.
9/11 was also predicted, according to some people, by Nostradamus and/or by the Quran, and various other ancient sources too. For some it's only an oblique reference, for some it's purely a hoax. The Bible-based prophecy claim has easily had the most effort put into it.
The convenient thing about the tragedy is that the world's premier business centre has enough trades, commodities, people, money and numbers associated with it that you could connect just about anything to it if you are loose enough. Honestly, presidents and terrorists as kings?
On a more general note, this isn't the first event which people have claimed, after the fact, was predicted someplace. The real test of a prophet is whether you can take prophecies which have not yet come true, and use them to predict future events.
Project this back to the year 2000: if the connection to the WTC was so clear, why weren't evangelicals all over the world warning the American government of an impending attack on it? What's the point of a public prophecy if only the source understands it?
Consider the present day: Ammons has gone ahead and predicted that Obama won't serve a full term, and his successor will be the anti-Christ. If Obama leaves early, that'll be Joe Biden. This is something we can test. Therefore all we have to do is wait. I'm optimistic, because somehow I don't see Biden being the one who wants to damn us all.
Edit: On the other hand I'm really worried, because it's a dangerous prediction to make on Biblical authority. Remember the throngs of evangelicals at Sarah Palin's campaign rallies who seethed with hatred for Obama based on completely false premises? Well, now some of them may see an opportunity to fulfil an ancient prophecy, and please God, by ousting or murdering the President. If someone with any legal knowledge reads this, let us know: might Ammons therefore be guilty of incitement?