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Book Reviews, Authors C-D

Carmona, R.N. Philosophical Atheism: Counter Apologetics and Arguments for Atheism. 2016, no publisher. given
    The Table of Contents is available on Amazon so I won't repeat it here. The author has researched the philosophical literature on atheism thoroughly, citing many Web sites and publications. Unfortunately, Carmona does not have a talent for clear explanation; furthermore, his grammar and sentences are faulty. Those defects interfere substantially in his presentation. Some ideas that are fairly simple are hard to understand.
    The first half of the book is devoted to negative argumentation: showing that proofs of God are flawed. He pays particular attention to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, noting that a nonphysical creator presumably has no way to interact with a physical world. (p. 35) He concludes, like many other skeptics, that the Kalam is ineffective. In the chapter on morality, Carmona dissects the Golden Rule, which, in his formulation, is self-centered in the extreme. There are other formulations that avoid this problem: “Do unto others as they want you to,” not what you want. Their needs could be very different from yours.
    He proceeds to knock down Plantinga’s argument, the arguments from consciousness, fine-tuning, presuppositionalism, cosmology, the many-religions confusion, and others. Carmona finds ample reason to discard all proofs of God. (I agree with his conclusion.) Following that is positive argumentation, where Carmona presents his case for atheism. He makes a minor mistake (p. 229) in denying that newborns are atheists. (They are agnostics.) Atheism means without God, not believing or disbelieving in the idea. Believers are theists, and active deniers would be better called antitheists.
    The book is worthwhile, not least for its discussion of ideas not often encountered in books about god’s existence. 

Carrier, Richard. “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible Chapter 2 in Loftus' The End of Christianity. Prometheus, 2011.
    This is the best of Carrier’s several chapters in this book. (He suppresses his usual overuse of parentheses and italics.) He states that Christianity’s early growth was unremarkable, but later was made the official superstition of the Roman Empire by Roman emperors in the 4th century. They installed it by force and forbade the practice of existing faiths. Carrier also says that Jesus was not unique in its claims of a dying-and-rising semi-God, but was just another mythical figure of the same type. That made it easy to install Christianity, especially since it maintained many features of Judaism, one of the prominent religions in the area. Christian martyrdom was not unique, having been practiced by religious fanatics of all sorts.
    The best part of the essay is questions we would ask God and his assistant (Jesus, not Satan). Why did these expectations fail?
   1. Why does God, creator of the stupendous universe, need to kill mere humans? We hardly seem to matter.
   2. Why did God let his Bible be confusing, wrong, incomplete, and ambiguous?
   3. Why didn’t Jesus appear in America, China, India, Southern Africa, and elsewhere?
   4. Why didn’t Jesus preach for more than one (or 3) years and convert more people?
   5. Why didn’t God just convert everyone himself without the complexity of Jesus?
   6. Why didn’t God explain how murdering his son forgives our sins?
   7. Why did Jesus make major predictions that failed, e.g. his imminent return?
   8. Why is Jesus’ death an obvious carryover of earlier beliefs about animal and human sacrifice?
    Based on these issues, Carrier compares Christianity’s (a) its supposed truth vs. (b) its status as just one more superstition. He conservatively claims that the probability of (a) is less than 50%. In section O2B of my book Christianity in Ruins, Bayesian probabilities of the truth of Christianity are estimated by one believer and two skeptics. The skeptics’ estimates are 10-3 (tiny, mine) and 10-16 (essentially zero, by Ford, a physicist).

Carrier, Richard. “Neither Life nor the Universe Are Intelligently Designed,” Chapter 12 in Loftus' The End of Christianity.
    The author relies heavily on Bayesian probability, a method for objectively estimating how likely something is.[1] Bayes theory is widely used in many probabilistic studies, but in issues of religion, the assumptions are so arbitrary and dependent on one’s desired outcome [2] that it is almost useless and can obscure appropriate qualitative thinking.
    Carrier says that a universe designed by an intelligent agent would look nothing like what we have, even though the fine-tuning argument holds that the values of physical constants, such as the strength of gravity, must have their exact values to allow life to exist and develop. From that, believers infer that God did it. But the earth and its life have had experienced too many near-disasters to be a competent design.
Further, of the universe’s immense volume, only a submicroscopic 10-67 part can be habitable; we would not expect such a stingy “gift” from a caring God. The chance that the present universe and its life came about by accident, i.e. by physical and biological evolution, is much greater than by design. If God did it, he’s careless, a moron, or both.
    This is not Carrier’s best work. The pages are loaded with parentheses and italics. It's repetitive, and even  at 25 pages is too long. 

Carrier, Richard. “Moral Facts Exist (and Science Could Find Them ), Chapter 14 in Loftus' The End of Christianity.
    Carrier claims that, contrary to the usual assumption that one cannot derive morality from non-moral facts, that at least some moral rules are objectively true. He further says that Christian morality cannot be objectively true because what you should do depends on what you want. That makes Christian morality relative, contrary to the normal claim that God gives us absolute, objective morals. Moreover, statistics show that Christians behave no better than others, therefore it follows that “Christian morality is wholly unverified and unverifiable.” The idea of absolute morality is indispensable to Christian doctrine (as are the dozens of the faith’s other claims). Absoluteness appeals to the faithful because they don’t have to think or make their own judgments about it. And behaving according to Christian principles to save yourself from hell is not moral; it’s purely selfish.
    Carrier cites famous examples of Christian immorality, such as the Inquisitions, witch hunts, the Christian-influenced Holocaust, pre-Civil War slavery (for whose defense the Southern Baptist Church was founded), and the horrid genocides of Native Americans. So “Christianity fails as a foundation for moral values, in both theory and practice.” The rest of his essay is about the scientific discoverability of objective morals. An appendix to the essay uses logic and symbols, which I find more spurious than enlightening. 

Carrier, Richard C. Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Prometheus Books, 2012.
    This book is more about historiography than history. Even as historiography it misses. He attempts to explain Bayes' theorem but his explanation is so wordy that the point is obscured. He should have cut back on the words by at least 80% and added many examples. The lack of examples makes the relevance of Bayes to Jesus' existence unclear. Carrier also states no numerical values for the probabilities. He spends many pages discussing the well-known arguments used by theists to bolster the probability that Jesus was historical. Aplologists assume that the Gospels' mentions of negative things about Jesus would probably not be made up to fit the writers' agenda, so they claim that  Jesus is probably not real. Carrier takes great pains to counter theists' objections and this part of the book is valuable. He promises a second volume but he does not state what will be in it. Victor Stenger's The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning (p. 247) clarifies Bayes theory, and he gives examples.

Carrier, Richard C. Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Author House, 2005.  
    Carrier covers many subjects, all presenting a unified, godless view of the world. I completely agree with almost everything he says but I find the information content uneven. The least interesting parts were in the early pages, where he provides a philosophical basis for the rest of the book. I found that part too long for what it conveyed, nor did I much like the last part, concerning morality and politics. Both sections were rather elementary, his aim being at an audience which is educated but relatively uninformed on these topics. The most informative part of the book was about the criteria for good historiography, where he points out that the Gospels violate almost every such criterion, so they are more probably deliberate fiction than truth. He also touches briefly on the many factual and philosophical problems with Christianity; that alone made the book worthwhile. This book could be shorter by half and the message would not be lost. He, like many philosophers, tends to write at too great length about ideas that can be conveyed more concisely. Despite some quibbles, it's a good choice for the appropriate reader.

Castle, Marie Elena. Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom. See Sharp Press, 2015.
    I am very familiar with the issues Castle covers, so I can attest that the book is well-informed, well organized, and well written. She covers most of the important aspects of the attempts of the Christian establishment to dominate the U.S. She points out the disgraceful anti-Constitutional privileges that all levels of our government give to religion, especially Christianity. Because of the false impression, pushed by religious leaders that religious belief is essential for moral behavior, atheism is regarded with deep suspicion. That prevents Federal and local governments from following the Constitution. The book is essential reading for any citizen who thinks Christianity is benign or that the government is neutral toward it. The book is excellent. 
Comings, David E. Did Man Create God?: Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace With Your Thinking Brain? Hope P., 2008.
    Comings demonstrates mastery of many different topics. An M.D. neurologist, he concentrates on what is going on in the mind of believers. He observes that rationality and belief take place in different brain regions, which allows contradictory thoughts to exist simultaneously. He is not alone in holding this opinion, but he explains it very thoroughly and clearly. An unusual property of the book is its outstanding production quality. It has color illustrations throughout and excellent paper. Minor quibble: the section on cellular automata is lacking in perspective. He gives Stephen Wolfram too much credit. Also the notion, not invented by Wolfram, that simple rules can create complex phenomena, allows Christians who claim that God is simple to also claim that the complex universe could be made by a simple God. That’s a spurious extrapolation, because cellular automata work by endlessly repeating the same exact process in each step, while the universe must be explained at many different scales and levels. I'm making my own extrapolation in saying that, but if a Christian claims that such a process could create the universe, he or she has loads of explaining to do. Without such an explanation, the theory is content-free, much like "intelligent design." But that never stops believers.

Coogan, Michael D. et al., The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, Augmented 3rd Edition , Oxford, 2007.
    This amazing volume consists of almost 2400 very thin 6.5 x 9" pages with small print. It allots 1375 pages to the Old Testament, 383 pages to the Apocrypha, and 576 pages to the New Testament. Extensive explanatory notes are at the bottom of each page. The book also includes essays, an index, a glossary, a timeline, and excellent color maps. The translation is the very readable and up-to-date New Revised Standard Version. Anyone serious about Bible study should have access to this book. Highly recommended.

,Copan,  Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, Baker Publishers, 2011.
    Copan cannot respond honestly to the observations below (not original with me). He can, like a typical deluded believer, concoct far-fetched, implausible excuses for each accusation. I'm not talking proof here, just argument to the best explanation. Copan cannot honestly pretend his alibis for God are the best explanation. God did all the things listed below (and more), and searching through the OT will verify every statement. I am not the first to observe that the OT makes Satan's behavior look greatly superior to God's. Compared to this God, even Hitler looks decent. God’s evil actions include these (I have omitted a few). Copan cannot retain  credibility and deny that Jehovah was a monster.

Jehovah taught war
He created evil
He rewarded lars
He’s often jealous
He caused adultery
He broke up families
He sanctioned slavery
He ordered cannibalism
He ordered murder 
He lied and ordered lying
He supported human sacrifice
He ordered stealing and gambling
He degraded the handicapped
He killed almost everything
He allowed beating slaves severely
He punishes eternally for limited sins
He delivered Job into Satan’s hands
He made a virgin marry her rapist

He demanded virgins as war plunderHe punished many for the acts of one.
He killed the righteous and the wicked.
He ordered killing women and children.
He violated his own laws against killing.
He punished children for their father's sins.
He punished David for following his orders.
He sanctioned raping the enemy's women.
He punished bastards for being illegitimate
Coyne, Jerry. Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Penguin, 2015.
    This is one of the best of many books on the subject. Coyne covers the important bases very well. He writes clearly and almost always kindly (unlike my Christianity in Ruins), with a few well-deserved exceptions. He strongly criticizes the prominent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Responding to Plantinga's stupid assertion that "Satan and his minions have steered evolution in the direction of predation, waste, and pain" (p. 149), Coyne says that "It is astounding to see this coming from a respected philosopher," It is clearer than ever than Christianity is as enfeebling to objective thought as early Alzheimer's. It causes bright people such as Plantinga and W.L. Craig to assert truly dumb statements. At another point Plantinga says [paraphrased], "It is not consistent with Christian belief to claim that no personal agent, not even God, has planned ... the unguided Darwinian process of evolution, ... but many scientists and philosophers [arrogantly] make this claim." He implies that Christianity should be adhered to by every writer on the subject. His statement competes in pure arrogance with Craig's narrow, provincial, self-centered, assertions. The sooner Christianity (the National Superstition) dies, the better

Craig, W.L. and Gerd Luedemann. Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate. InterVarsity, 2000.
    Craig's four arguments from history might make a decent case for the Resurrection, but there are other considerations: first, the four Gospels differ in important details. Second, there is no extra-biblical evidence for Jesus as a human, as admitted even by some evangelicals. Third, Craig can't do without assuming both the existence of God and his junior partner, Jesus, (like Batman and Robin), so Craig assumes what he's trying to prove, that Christianity is correct. Fourth, the Gospels were written decades after the supposed events. (Why didn't anyone write earlier? Probably because it took decades for Jesus to be firmly established as a myth.) Paul, whose letters preceded the Gospels, is doubtful about Jesus' earthly existence. Also, the authors of the Gospels are anonymous: the arbitrary names Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were attached to the books later. On the whole, the Resurrection is extremely dubious. Craig would have to be declared the winner of the debate, but what matters is the truth of the matter, where Craig is on exceedingly shaky ground. He has based his whole life on a worse-than-doubtful proposition.

D’Antonio, Michael. Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and  Catholic Scandals, Macmillan, 2013.
     Too much trivial irrelevancy and not informative enough about things that matter. Too much pointless fill. Insubstantial, boring, should have been edited by a professional. Amazon's undeserved praise: “An explosive, sweeping account of the scandal that has sent the Catholic Church into a tailspin - and the brave few who fought for justice.”

Book Reviews and Summaries