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Christianity's Problems
The Shroud of Turin

Book Reviews and Summaries
                                  and Authors, A-B

........These reviews are mostly of books by skeptics, atheists, and other nonbelievers, whose work I used for writing Christianity in Ruins and for preparing this site. More will appear as I have time. Most reviews are more widely applicable than the book itself, covering issues more generally. Some books with many separate essays are organized under the essay's author.
      Author names starting with letters C-Z are on separate pages.
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Alexander, A.F. Religious Right: The Greatest Threat to Democracy,Kindle, 2011
    I agree with everything he says and the book made me appropriately angry, but he needs an editor. As usual with mediocre writing, the content is clear but the style is distracting. From Amazon’s Review: “There is a deceptive movement to take over the government, courts, education system, media outlets, and American culture with stealth. How is this possible? Find out in the pages of this expose, written by an insider who left the Religious Right fold, and now shares why they believe they are mandated to have dominion over every aspect of life in the United States. It reveals how their vision for America is not a democracy at all.”
Alexander, Eben M.D. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, Simon & Schuster, 2012.
    Like other reviewers, I found very little of substance here. The huge number of sales and reviews proves once again that the public is eager to swallow any garbage that offers hope linked to religion, however false. (A dictionary shows almost no difference between the definitions of religion and superstition.) The author probably had a mystifying experience and exaggerated it to have a best-seller. Because the "afterlife" does not exist, unless you're hopelessly credulous, do not buy this book. If you are credulous, you will believe my book about the year I spent living on Pluto. God is my witness.
Antonacci, Mark. The Resurrection of the Shroud, Evans & Co., 2000. 328 pages. See Shroud of Turin page.
Armstrong, Karen. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Knopf, 2014.
    She makes numerous errors, including:
  1. “Modern science had made a scapegoat of faith.” Tell that to a secular citizen of the U.S. He/she will laugh. Faith is wrongly considered sacred here and criticism of it attracts the same paranoia as Armstrong manifests: a “War on Christianity.”
  2. She claims that secularists assert that religion has been the cause of all the wars in history. Only an ignorant moron would say that; they claim, correctly, that religion has been an important factor in some wars. Examples are too numerous to cite.
  3. She does not question the reality of Jesus (p. 131). The Bible, viewed objectively, does not support his physical presence, although the Gospels are allegedly stories of a year or so in his life. A scholar must critique his/her sources carefully, not except the Bible but especially the Bible. She does not, but seems to accept it uncritically.
  4. Armstrong even seems to believe Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents,” which was the alleged killing of all Jewish boys under two years old to prevent threats to his rule (p. 137). That has been thoroughly refuted by scholars, who note that even Josephus, the first century historian who detested Herod, never mentions it.
    When I found these statements I stopped reading, even though she relates most history knowledgeably. I have too many books to read that are more worthwhile. 
Shroud of Turin
 Avalos, Hector. “Why Bible Studies Must End,” Chapter 4 in Loftus, The End of Christianity.
This essay says that “The mission of biblical studies should be to end them as we know them.” He quotes experts who state the obvious: Christian preachers minimize or hide Bible verses and books that are downright immoral. Also, there are numerous verses that describe unimportant trivia such as the begats and decoration details. Avalos advocates spending less time on the Bible and more on other ancient texts. Trying to get more out of the Bible is like squeezing juice from a brick.

    The author singles out several areas that are hopelessly wrong or outdated:
  1. Translations are distorted to favor the prejudices of religionists;
  2. The Old Testament (OT) is clearly polytheistic in its older sections;
  3. Jesus suggests self-mutilation, as if sin is located in the body, not the brain;
  4. The New Testament is highly anti-Semitic, especially the Gospel of “John;”
  5. Archeology shows that much alleged biblical history is wrong, e.g. the exodus;

  6. Jesus is portrayed with irreconcilable conflicts. Where is biblical truth?
  7. Even liberal Bible scholars, such as the Jesus Seminar, are too credulous;
  8. The scores of non-canonical Bible books are no more reliable than the canon;
  9. The quest for the historical Jesus is an abject failure; and
 10. Religion, with its fictional characters, has taught us nothing about objective facts.
Barbour, Ian G. Issues in Science and Religion, SCM Press, 1966.
    Barbour includes his own essay on the problem of evil, which is the biggest difficulty Christians have in defending the omni-everything God. After admitting he doesn't know why God permits evil to exist, Barbour says he believes in the usual God anyway. This is not courageous: he never admits to doubting his convictions. I suspect that if a neutral philosopher delved deeply into the God question, he or she would become a  nonbeliever. (Almost without exception, philosophers are much too wordy. In their attempts to be perfectly clear and unambiguous, they load so many words onto a given topic that the main point gets lost.)

Bawer, Bruce. Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, Crown, 1997.
    This book is a sustained and effective objection to “legalistic” Christianity, which is the replacement of Jesus’ supposed Church of Love with a Church of Law. I would prefer calling it the Church of Rules, in which laws are dictated and must be followed to be saved. Anyone who does not follow the rules (which amounts to believing the doctrines without question) is either tortured forever by the God of Love or cast into outer darkness.  He does an excellent job of showing how legalistic Christianity concentrates on negativism and regards the unsaved as the enemy. He examines the religious practices of Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and James Dobson, in particular, and how they appeal so well to their deluded members, most of whom know very little about the Bible. Bawer believes strongly in what he takes to be the genuine teachings of Jesus, which was a message of love, and did not exclude people based on their beliefs. Christianity, he says, if viewed properly, is a religion of acceptance and love. But an objective view of Jesus reveals that he was anything but a Godly figure, one who had a degree of contempt for people. This leaves Bawer’s views on very shaky grounds. Also, like almost all books on Christianity, he never discusses the question of whether Jesus existed, which is obviously central to his view. To me, a book about Jesus which blindly accepts his historical existence is an exercise in fantasy. Bawer built a castle on a foundation of mud. A more valuable book could be called “Stealing Minds: How Christianity Betrays Humanity.” I give Bawer’s book five stars for achieving his goal with clarity, focus, and good writing, but only one star for the goal itself.

Billings, Lee. Five Billion Years of Solitude, Penguin, 2014.
        As other reviewers have said, the author spends too much time on irrelevant mini-bios. The reasons could be: 1) he was trying to add pages to the book; 2. He was overpersonalizing the material to attract easily-threatened readers, a tendency fairly common among science writers; 3) he was trying to prove that he actually met and knows the scientists involved. Another objection is he spends many pages explaining the chemistry and atmosphere of Earth, even when the connection to extra-solar planets is not clear. He also neglects the biology considerations of possible aliens. The book badly needs illustrations to clarify certain points. On the upside, he's a good writer and can be rhapsodic and even virtuosic in English, especially toward the end of Chapter 6. I will post reviews of the following books when I have time.
       Amir Aczel. Probability One: The book that proves there is life in outer space, 1998 (He is certain that life and possibly intelligence exists elsewhere, based only on the number of stars in the Universe. That's too optimistic.)
    Alan Boss. The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets, 2000 (Concentrates on the history and people.)
   Paul Davies. Are We Alone: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life, 1995 (Has spurious religious discussions.)
    Paul Davies. The Eerie Silence: Reviewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, 2010 (Good, with religion mostly absent.)
    John Gribbin: Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique, 2011 (Properly scientific and objective; pessimistic about ETI.)
    David Waltham. Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional - and What That Means for Life in the Universe, 2014 (Science only.)
    Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, 2000. (Pessimistic about ETI.)
    Stephen Webb. Where is Everybody? Fifty solutions to the Fermi paradox, 2002 (If life is everywhere, why do we see no signs of it? Webb presents convincing arguments without a definite conclusion.)
    Opinions about the existence of extra-terrestrial intellligence (ETI) vary widely. Recently, optimism is increasing with the discovery of thousands of extra-solar planets and extremophiles on Earth, but no scientist is certain that ETI does or does not exist.

Bloom, Harold. The God Problem: How a Godless Universe Creates, Prometheus Books, 2016.
    The author's style is so affected and self-conscious that I got tired of it before getting 10% through. It may have some valuable things to say but I was not patient enough find them. A specific complaint: He uncritically accepts Stephen Wolfram's crazy claims about cellular automata. Bloom never admits that Wolfram's ideas have contributed nothing to our understanding of anything. Bloom should have consulted am expert in CA but he doesn’t know enough about it to know how little he knows. The book would be improved if it were 1/8 its length and not apparently written for children. I am disappointed that Prometheus let this book appear under their name.

Bradley, Raymond D. God’s Gravediggers: Why No Deity Exists. Ockham, 2015.
    From the back cover: “Few can offer a more experienced view on religion than Ray Bradley. Having been raised as a [believer], he spent the next 40 years as an atheist professor of philosophy and an outspoken critic/debater of religion.” The lengthy Table of Contents is available on Amazon so I won't repeat it here. I list some issues in his valuable book:

oooooooo;
  1. Jesus likely never existed. (p. 23, 70, 113)
  2. Bible-God is worse than Hitler. (p. 27, 116)
  3. P
robably none of the incompatible religions that exist is true. (p. 39, 77-87)
  4. Bradley gives lessons in logic (which seem unneccessary). (p. 46-69)
  5. Belief in God is no more justified than belief in Santa Claus. (p. 98)
ooo
  6. The death penalty applies to at least 34 “crimes.” Most are not crimes so the penalty is immoral. (p. 116-118)
  7. Supernaturalism is inherently impossible. (p. 104)
  8. God could have written a less ridiculous creation story. (p. 110)
  9. The ontological argument for God’s existence is rubbish. (p. 123-141)
10. The cosmological arguments (such as “Kalam”) are no better. (p. 142-152)
ooo
11. Of the many incompatible religions that exist, probably none is true. (p. 39, 77-87)
12. Lessons in logic (which I think are unhelpful in this book). (p. 46-69)
13. Belief in God is no more reasonable than belief in Santa. (p. 98)
ooo
14. The death penalty is immorally mandated for 34 “crimes.” (p. 116-118)
ooo
15. Supernaturalism is inherently impossible. (p. 104)
16. God could have written a less ridiculous creation story. (p. 110)
17. The ontological argument for God’s existence is rubbish. (p. 123-141)
18. The cosmological arguments (such as “Kalam”) are no better. (p. 142-152)ooo
19. The fine-tuning argument is refuted by the contingent, fragile nature of human life. (p. 164)

ooo
20. Arguments for life being designed are incompatible with fine-tuning. (p. 165)
21. If God designed life, why are we subject to thousands of diseases? (p. 170)
22. If there are objective moral truths, God violates them left and right. (p. 178)
23. If, as theists claim, moral evils exist, God permits them. (p. 180)ooo
24. Jehovah is morally corrupt and cruel to the core. (p. 187-194)

ooo
25. If God is unjustifiably exempt from his own moral rules, so absolute morality is a farce. (p. 196-201)
26. The Christian concept of Heaven and Hell is logically impossible. (p.204)
27. Jesus repeatedly announces hideous punishment for disbelievers. (p. 213) [inspiring belief through fear]
28. Alvin Plantinga’s “proof” of the compatibility of evil and a good God is deeply flawed, as is W.L. Craig’s use of it. (p.226-230)ooo
29. If God could create a perfect Heaven, he could as easily create a perfect Earth. (p.240)

ooo
30. Why would God create creatures who are predestined to suffer forever? Predestination also contradicts free will. (p.  243-250)
31. An afterlife is impossible and the “soul” does not exist. (p.252-270)
31. The mind’s dependence on the brain guarantees no afterlife. (p.288-291)
32. “Emergence” is a key but unappreciated idea in naturalism. (p.271-281)
33. “Liberal” theologians propose and believe in meaningless theology. They would be better off dumping the faith. (p. 295-319)

Bufe, Chas. Provocations, Chapter 10, "20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity." See Sharp Press, 2014. I condensed his list.
  1. Christianity is based on fear: The faith preaches fear of death, fear of Hell, and fear of Satan. Innocent children are taught that if they don’t obey their parents (who, of course, speak for God) they will be captured by Satan and sent to eternal torture. This is a particularly evil form of child abuse. Even adults can find it very difficult to shed this terror.
  2. Christians are unsure of their faith: if they were as confident of it as, for example, the appearance of the sun in the morning, they would not have to proselytize and use threats to persuade the unpersuaded. The greater their efforts, the less sure they are of their beliefs. Hence, Christianity is dishonest. No believer will admit to being unsure. Note the loud, angry tone of TV preachers!
  3. Christianity is egocentric and arrogant: It is infantile for any human to believe that he or she is personally attended to or monitored by God. It is even more arrogant to think that humanity is specially favored by the God of the universe. It is unbelievable that people pray for their team to win or to find a parking spot. To think that God cares about such things is to render him trivial.
  4. Christianity trivializes real life: believers both care intensely that others follow their moral standards, yet claim that the afterlife is all-important. And why do many believers try so hard to accumulate earthly wealth? Jesus said to sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. Almost no Christians do that,  proving that they are hypocrites to the core.
  5. Christianity favors a we-vs.-them attitude: saved or unsaved, eternally damned or eternally blessed. How can a believer have real feelings for someone who will be damned for eternity?
  6. Christianity favors cruelty: The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch-hunters, and the evil doings of the conquistadors are only the most famous examples. Inquisitors would torture “heretics” until they confessed, with the idea that a heretic who admitted the Church’s “truth” would be saved from hell. The Bible never condemns torture or cruelty. Religious thinking is mass insanity.
  7. Christianity rejects critical thinking: Tertullian and Luther, among many other authorities, said that reason is the greatest enemy of faith. That’s true: someone who thinks is much less likely to swallow Christian garbage. As we see in the current fight over evolution, believers still think that the Bible is a science textbook. If so, it’s the worst one ever written. The world would be much better off if the Bible had never existed (unless even worse religious texts took its place). Christianity has never contributed to objective knowledge, but has consistently opposed advances in science and medicine. Having intolerant evangelicals in charge of war and nuclear weapons is a menace to human life.
  8. Christian morality is misdirected: Believers are enraged at gays, premarital sex, and any erotic behavior that they do not approve of (even while some are doing it). This distorted morality makes their moral views void. They hate abortion even when it’s a matter of a few cells, but they do not care for actual children, or childhood poverty or disease. Some Catholic charities are an exception, but their efforts are ruined because of the Church’s insane attitudes toward contraception and abortion. The Church is not pro-life, proved by their opposition to condoms, which can prevent the spread of AIDS.
  9. Christianity panders to secular powers: Paul said that obeying them is equivalent to obeying God, because he put the powers in place. The result is that the Church sucks up to governments so long as they favor the faith. Consequently, powerful religious establishments ignore the poor and downtrodden. Billy Graham was a prime example of this.
 10. Christianity disfavors the natural world: James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, said that it’s proper to rape and pillage nature because the Rapture would arrive soon. He, along with all other prophesying idiots, was wrong. Nature is still here but the Rapture will never happen.
 11. Christianity neglects women, children, and slaves: Bible verses condemning women are too numerous to quote. Church officials Paul, Tertullian, and others maintained this prejudice. Children are treated as semi-human inferiors. The Bible never opposes slavery.
 12. The Bible is an error-filled mess: There are literally thousands of contradictions, ambiguities, and mistakes of all kinds in the so-called Holy Book inspired by God. If he had anything to do with it, he’s a moron. He also failed to teach Jesus anything about how the world works. Christianity is mired in ignorance and teaches nothing worthwhile; its moral imperatives are obvious and predate it.
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