A best-selling book on a child’s trip to Heaven used as an excuse to diss science

Friday’s New York Times contained a discussion by Maud Newton of a publishing phenomenon, Pastor Todd Burpo’s bestelling book (written with Lynn Vincent), Heaven is for Real.

I wrote about this book thirteen months ago. It recounts how Todd’s son Colton, four years old at the time, suffered a burst appendix, and how his “near death experience” involved visiting heaven—for real!—and seeing things like his dead relatives, God sitting on a big throne (of course), and Jesus riding a huge horse. Colton supposedly also learned things that he could not have known in real life, like the fact that his mother had a miscarriage. (You can read a chapter of the book here.)

In my earlier discussion of the book, I listed young Colton (now twelve) as the main author, with his father, mother and Lynn Vincent as co-authors. Curiously, in the latest version of the book neither Colton nor his mother are listed as authors.

Anyway, Newton elaborates:

. . . over the months following his recovery did his parents hear his whole story: that while in surgery, he went to heaven and met Jesus, who assigned him homework; he also encountered angels, a rainbow-hued horse, John the Baptist, God the father, the Holy Spirit, a sister his mother miscarried (unknown to Colton) before he was born and his great-grandfather, Pop, as a young man. Everyone in heaven had wings; Colton’s were smaller than most. He learned that the righteous, including his father, would fight in a coming last battle.

Heaven Is for Real” was published in late 2010, became a word-of-mouth best seller and has spent 59 (nonconsecutive) weeks as the No. 1 nonfiction paperback on The New York Times’s best-seller list. Recently the publisher, Thomas Nelson, spun off a children’s picture book, now also a best seller, with illustrations verified by Colton. And sometime in 2014, courtesy of DeVon Franklin, vice president of production at Columbia Pictures, who considers his faith “a professional asset,” a movie version should be released in theaters.

Newton gives further  “evidence” for Colton’s entry into heaven (he knew several things he couldn’t have known otherwise), recounts her own indoctrination with faith as a girl, and describes some post-book developments, in which Colton seems to have become a bit of a religious jerk:

Not long after his celestial journey, Colton interrupted one of Todd’s funeral services, pointing at the coffin, nearly shouting: “Did that man have Jesus?! . . . He had to! He had to! . . . He can’t get into heaven if he didn’t have Jesus in his heart!” [JAC: Can you imagine how the mourners felt?] The success of “Heaven Is for Real” has as much to do with the undercurrent of blame in these asides as it does with the feel-good, I-met-Jesus story.

Newton then uses the book to lay blame on both evangelical religion and on science, which has tried to explain near-death experiences—NDEs—as a combination of psychology and physiology:

These explanations, however respectful, won’t persuade a believer that her visions are imaginary, just as “Heaven Is for Real” will never convert an atheist. Whichever side of this divide you sit on, you’re unlikely to seek rapprochement with the other. In our à la carte media world, most of us seek only to reinforce what we already think, and it’s zealots who drive the discourse. Pat Robertson depicts natural disasters as God’s punishment for homosexuality; Richard Dawkins seems almost reasonable by comparison, arguing that religion begets persecution, that teaching children to believe in God is abuse and that science is the only principled way to order existence. Yet as Marilynne Robinson has observed, Hitler embarked upon the Holocaust in the name of science; the fact that eugenics was bad science doesn’t negate that fact. No matter how much we learn, the vision science offers — of ourselves and of the universe — will always be incomplete and consequently imperfect. Stories of gods, angels and rainbow horses will persist in the gaps.

(n.b. I’ve just finished Marilynne Robinson’s book, Absence of Mind, and it’s dreadful. It’s not only very poorly written—in contrast, Robinson was nominated for a Pulitzer for her fiction—but it’s almost incoherent in its attack on “scientism”.)

It’s ridiculous to invoke Hitler’s eugenics to cast aspersions on scientific analysis of religious experiences. First of all, there are serious arguments about how much of Nazi eugenics was really drawn from contemporary genetics—as opposed to the “selective breeding” that had been practiced for centuries without any knowledge of genetics beyond “like begets like”. Further, even if the Nazis had drawn on genetics when extirpating mental defectives, Jews, and gypsies, how is that an indictment of science itself?  And the Nazis could fabricate plenty of other excuses to exterminate Jews.

The blame here lay not on genetics and science in general, but on people who misused science in the service of warped ideologies. I’m not sure what Newton means by saying that “the fact that eugenics was bad science doesn’t negate that fact” (the “fact” being that “Hitler embarked on the Holocaust in the name of science”); but it sure looks as if she’s casting aspersions on science itself simply because it was misused. That’s a common tactic used by theologians to justify faith (“both have been misused!”).

And does science really seek to “reinforce what we already think”? If that were true, science wouldn’t progress. (In contrast, faith does seek to reinforce what the faithful already think, which explains why, while theological doctrine may change, it doesn’t progress.) Indeed, science seeks to test, or even to overturn, what we already think.  Think of all the excitement attending the now-dubious finding of faster-than-light neutrinos.

Too, it may well be that science some day will explain NDEs as a combination of one’s psychology, religious or other beliefs, and physiological changes accompanying on a medical crisis. Newton doesn’t consider whether the interstices for angels and rainbows may be growing insupportably small.

Finally, note how Dawkins is implicitly characterized as a “zealot” for his criticisms of faith.

This essay is an example of how one person—Newton—tries to place herself in the “reasonable middle” between science and faith. This becomes clear at the end of her piece:

As for me, in matters of the soul, I’m a devout agnostic. What astounds me, what has always astounded me, is not that so many people are so certain of their beliefs but that they excoriate people who don’t share them. As a child, I repented for my doubt. Now I embrace it. Religious dogma is not verifiable; science is fallible. Uncertainty is the only belief system I feel sure of.

Yes, I am so certain that evolution is true that I do excoriate—or try to educate—people who don’t share my acceptance. In her desire to occupy the “reasonable middle” (P. Z. would call it “halfway to crazy town”), Newton seems oblivious to the fact that the evidence for God and heaven is far less certain, indeed nonexistent, than the evidence for most scientific propositions.  Is Newton an “agnostic” about taking antibiotics when she has a bacterial infection? Does she fly in airplanes or use a computer? Is she agnostic about the existence of dinosaurs in the past?

Of course science is fallible: none of us pretend that we possess the absolute and final truth, and scientific consensus has been wrong (most scientists once poo-pooed continental drift).  Yet science is nearly infallible about many things: water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom per molecule, evolution happened, the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and objects attract each other gravitationally with a strength inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them and directly proportional to the product of their masses. I doubt that Maud Newton is as “uncertain” about these issues as she is about the existence of heaven or souls.

*****

This list of books also purchased on Amazon by those who bought Heaven is for Real appeared at the end of Newton’s story yesterday, but seems to have disappeared today.  It reinforces the lessons from Todd Burpo’s best-seller: there’s an enormous appetite for books reassuring people that there is indeed a chance that they’ll be with Jesus after they die.  Most of the books below reinforce the desire of the faithful to fool themselves:

“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Kevin Malarkey and Alex Malarkey (2010) [JAC: the authors’ names are appropriate].

“90 Minutes In Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life,” by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey (2004)

“Flight to Heaven: A Pilot’s True Story, by Capt. Dale Black with Ken Gire (2010)

“23 Minutes in Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard and Felt in That Place of Torment,” by Bill Wiese (2006)

“The Five People You Meet In Heaven,” by Mitch Albom (2003)

“Through My Eyes: A Quarterback’s Journey,” by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (2011)

“Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (2011)

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James (2012)

135 Comments

  1. Tulse
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Quotemine gold:

    “There were plenty of other reasons to exterminate Jews besides genetics.”
    — Darwinist Jerry Coyne

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Oy vey! I was oblivious to the possibility of quote-mining. I’ve changed it to something that I think is less mine-able. Thanks.

  2. justiceforall2
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    how on earth can the death of a small child be justified as they will go to a heaven made up by man. False hope I suppose is better than no hope at all.
    I know Harry Potter is a reincarnation.
    Whose heaven will you know to go to a bit strange if you are a baptist and you go to a christain heaven.

  3. Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure “On Jews And Their Lies”, written by the very first Protestant, influenced Protestant Germany more than “Origin of Species”.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Not everyone knows that this is a capital book written by Martin Luther (1543), a few years before his death. It is worth mentioning in your comment in addition to your cryptic remark.
      “You are pretty sure” becomes much stronger when you give the background info.

      • Buzz
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        I thought “written by the very first Protestant” explained the situation pretty well.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          In your mind, but you cannot presume general knowledge among unknown readers. Many Christians and non-Christians have never heard of this book, and show extreme surprise when they encounter it, and extreme stupefaction when they ever come around to reading it (easily found online).

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism

          It is vastly instructive to relate the Luther book to the old and famous 8 orations by John Chrysostom, “Adversus Judaeos” (386-7), which are the foundation of all extreme antisemitic literature in the West. Reading them (they’re online) is a revelation.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adversus_Judaeos

          • bernardhurley
            Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            It’s also instructive to relate what Luther said should happen to the Jews to the events of Kristallnacht.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            Many Christians – even some Lutherans – wouldn’t make the connection between Martin Luther and “the very first protestant”.

            • Filippo
              Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

              “Many Christians – even some Lutherans – wouldn’t make the connection between Martin Luther and “the very first protestant”.

              Do Lutherans make much reference to Martin Luther? I would think that, all else being equal, the more they mentioned him, the more they would get accused (by other sects, especially So. Baptists) of being a “cult.” Beyond that of course are all his vile anti-Semitic and anti-women statements.

              I grew up in the So. Baptist fold. I had some vague idea that So. Baptists were “Protestant,” but I had to confirm that later as my impertinent adolescent skepticism and critical thinking awakened and developed. Never was taught about anything other than the So. Baptists.

              (Went to a summer camp for a week or two. Seemed like a good thing to do “to have fun.” Didn’t much if any dawn on me at that tender age that there was some ulterior motive/agenda afoot. Those in charge made sure that we learned about “foreign missions” and “home missions.” And of course the end of the week was when they hoped to reap professions of faith. I made a profession of faith, and I’m pretty sure that I knew what I was doing at age 9, serious little gentleman that I was. But I have this vague recollection that I did it in part because it looked like no other kids were making the move to the foot of the pulpit, and perhaps I didn’t want the adult staff to be disappointed that their evangelical efforts had availed them naught. As a kid one “goes along to get along.”)

              I was so naive and unlearned about the matter that I did not associate “protestant” with “protest.” (I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that [at least some] So. Baptists do not consider themselves “Protestant,” as if they are somehow above-and-beyond removed from the Protestant herd.

              More than a few righteous So. Baptists, when speaking of their impressive negotiation skills, speak of “jewing ‘em down” on the price of, for example, a car. We are not born with a lexicon of such words/phrases; someone has to teach us, just as a high school, whose father was a deacon in the church, was apparently taught, since he liked to throw the phrase around. (If I ever get the opportunity, I’ll ask him if he “baptisted” or “protestanted” someone down on the price of a consumer good or service, and closely note his clueless response.)

              Those who taught us were themselves so used to hearing the phrase, and significantly ignorant of its historical provenance, that they did not associate the above phrase with Jews, and would take offense at any accusation of bigotry directed toward them as a result.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Here’s that bloody Martin Luther quote I’ve been trying to locate for a good while:

        “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.”

        More:

        “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason.”

        “Die verfluchte Huhre, Vernunft.” (The damned whore, Reason).

        For more such vile quotes from that charitable, compassionate soul Martin Luther, see:

        http://articles.exchristian.net/2002/04/martin-luther-quotes.php

        • raven
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          Martin Luther was a notorious antisemite and misogynist, a fact well known from his writings.

          It seems like you have to be more than a little evil and crazy to start a religion.

          The founders we know about sure are.

          Reverent Moon, divorced excon Korean
          Joseph Smith convicted conman
          Elron Hubbard Scientology says it all
          David Koresh Died in a shootout with the feds
          Warren Jeffs FLDS Doing life + 20 years in a Texas prison
          Reverent Jim Jones Guyana

          One wonders what the older founders of religions were like. Such as the historical jesus if he ever existed.

  4. Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This poor kid’s head has obviously been well pummelled by his doctrinaire parents. The ‘God on his throne’ and ‘Jesus on his horse’ smacks of the childish type of fairy bedtime story that some may tell a child. The general consensus among believers that God is not lounging about on a throne seems to be on trial here. Nevertheless, the major concern must be for the abused child.

    • Sunny
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Next stop: Quarterback in the NFL. Although Tebow against Colton would get really confusing, even for God.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      The next Marjoe Gortner?

  5. eNeMeE
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Comments are closed, and I didn’t spot a single positive one in there. At least that’s something…

  6. Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I hate to do this to you…but you need to re-read Mein Kampf. Hitler makes painfully clear his justification and authority for the Holocaust, and it’s thoroughly Biblical and Christian, including extended in-context quotes from Jesus.

    But please don’t just take my word for it. Everybody needs to read that book in order to understand just how truly evil Christianity is at its heart.

    b&

    • rhetoric
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm

      Here are some other sources as well.

      But yes, Mein Kampf, and Hitler’s philosophy in general, is thoroughly christian.

      Just more outright lies by the religious, no surprise there, but the surprise lies in the nonbelievers who also buy this crap – depressing.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      The trouble with reading Mein Kampf is that it involves reading Mein Kampf. I got about twenty pages in before going “I am not reading any more of this tedious shite.” Awful, terrible writing.

      Though I note the footnotes in the current English edition are fun – they call out every lie and exaggeration Hitler makes, from page one.

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        “The trouble with reading Mein Kampf is that it involves reading Mein Kampf.” — Priceless!

        /@

      • Filippo
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        As I recall, Hitchens got through it but, of course, that was The Hitch.

      • Marta
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • joe piecuch
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      in the same way that everyone needs to read any number of scalia-authored supreme court opinions to understand just how truly evil are the u.s. constitution and the american republic. yes, hitler…that widely acknowledged as authoritative interpreter of christian texts.

      may i suggest that you spend some time with a critical thinking text, rather than with ‘mein kampf’?

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Sorry to break it to you, Joe, but the Bible makes Mein Kampf look like a Winnie-the-Pooh storybook.

        Christianity really is that evil, and the Jesus character really is virulently anti-Semitic — and was intended to be so from the very beginning.

        All Hitler did was read the plain meaning of the text, in context, as written. And, yes. He did a superlative job of capturing the real essence of it.

        All that sweetness-and-light about turning your neighbor’s other mote? Inevitably, not more than a sentence or three away, Jesus is condemning huge swaths of people, generally Jews, to eternal Hellfire.

        “He’d never really do that to me. And he didn’t really mean it the last time he did it. He loves me — he said so himself. It’s my fault I make him mad. I just have to become a better person, and then he’ll be nice to me forever.”

        Uh-huh. Sure. Yeah, right.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • joe piecuch
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          sorry to break it to you, but making unfounded assumptions about me to facilitate an argument informed largely by your own biases makes you look like someone who could stand to do some reading about how to think clearly.

          • Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            I see your plans for an interfaith dialogue between dark-colored kitchen utensils are coming along nicely.

            b&

            • Marella
              Posted May 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              ROFL!

        • SLC
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          Ah gee, Yeshua of Nazareth, the world’s first self-hating Jew.

          • Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            Silly SLC.

            Jesus was exactly as much of a Jew as Orpheus was a Thracian, and in exactly the same way and for the same reason.

            That is, not hardly even in the slightest.

            Jesus was the anti-Jew, portrayed as a rebel from within by the non-Jewish Greek authors precisely to undermine and discredit Judaism.

            The only thing Jesus had in common with Judaism is the etymology of his name. Everything — and I do mean everything — else about him and Christianity is antithetical, heretical, and abhorrent to Judaism and hateful of it.

            And if you don’t think that’s on purpose, I’ve got some prime Arizona beachfront property to sell you….

            b&

        • joe piecuch
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          please provide new testament chapter and verse citations in support of your contentions; if you can reference them where cited in ‘mein kampf’,it would be helpful.

          • Posted May 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            *cough* special pleading. Christianity as practiced picks the nasty bits of Leviticus as it chooses, and doing so is standard practice. But nice try.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted May 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

              surely you jest; he said:

              “Christianity really is that evil, and the Jesus character really is virulently anti-Semitic — and was intended to be so from the very beginning.

              All Hitler did was read the plain meaning of the text, in context, as written. And, yes. He did a superlative job of capturing the real essence of it.

              All that sweetness-and-light about turning your neighbor’s other mote? Inevitably, not more than a sentence or three away, Jesus is condemning huge swaths of people, generally Jews, to eternal Hellfire.”

              and

              “Hitler makes painfully clear his justification and authority for the Holocaust, and it’s thoroughly Biblical and Christian, including extended in-context quotes from Jesus.”

              asking for the citations is special pleading? how so?

            • raven
              Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

              Hitler mentions the words “jesus” and “god” 33 times in Mein Kampf.

              He mentions Darwin exactly zero (0) times.

              We could copy and paste Hitler quotes invoking jesus and god for pages and pages.

              BTW, Joe, the jesus of the NT isn’t always such a nice guy.

              He rants on for a long time about the Jews and how evil they are, calling them the spawn of the devil. This is the origin of antisemitism, straight out of Matthew and John.

              Jesus gives advice on how to beat your slaves, oblivious to the fact that slavery itself isn’t such a great idea.

              Jesus recommends that men cut off their testicles presumably to keep them from having sex or something.

              Jesus says when he comes back he is going to kill everyone who doesn’t believe he is god. Fortunately for the 5 billion people who don’t do so, he is 2,000 years late and probably is never going to show up.

              If you want I will copy and paste the relevant passages. They are well known in the Moslem and atheist communities. Xians of course, avoid them like they avoid almost all of the Old Testament.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                why don’t you? i’d appreciate that.

              • raven
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                Matthew 19:12:

                For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

                Have fun cutting off your testicles Joe. I would recommend having an MD do it though. Bleeding to death can be a problem if it isn’t done right.

              • raven
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                Jesus speaking:

                The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

                Instructions for Joe on how to beat your slaves, when and why. The bible translation uses the word “servant”. This is just to make jesus sound slightly less evil. In the original Greek, the word used means “slave”.

                Hey Joe, you don’t sound very bright. I’ll add to what jesus says. Make sure they really are your slaves. Make sure they aren’t carrying a gun too. These days you could get shot to death for doing this and it would be legal in the USA. Self defense.

                Luke 19 jesus speaking:

                But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

                there are so many absurd assumptions, bizarre interpretations, and errors of both fact and logic in your postings that i can see why ben goren deferred to you to argue his case.

              • raven
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                Joe the troll:

                there are so many absurd assumptions, bizarre interpretations, and errors of both fact and logic in your postings that i can see why ben goren deferred to you to argue his case.

                Down to insults and lies now.

                That is all you have. Oh well, what is a notblog without a troll or two.

          • raven
            Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

            wikipedia:

            In several places John’s gospel also associates “the Jews” with darkness and with the devil. In John 8:37-39;[16] 44-47,[17] Jesus says, speaking to a group of Pharisees:

            “ I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did. …

            You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.

            He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is you are not of God.

            Jesus: You (the Jews) are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.

            Here is the start of antisemitism right here from the Gospel of John. You can bet this passage has been repeated almost infinitely by bigots for 2,000 years. For most of the time, the Catholic church was antisemitic including up to and during World War II.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted May 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

              your reading, while regrettably not novel, is not representative of any widely held view. i would feel a little disturbed were i to realise that my interpretation of an ambiguous biblical text accorded with that of someone attempting to employ it in the service of justifying antisemitism.

              • raven
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                Joe Peicuch you are simply lying now.

                There is nothing ambiguous about any of those passages. That is a fact.

                BTW, Joe, it is well known by anyone with a microgram of honesty that antisemitism has deep roots, all the way back to the New Testament. The Europeans were massacring the Jews in pogroms long before Darwin was even born. Constantine, the first xian emperor was also the first government official to enact anti-Judaic laws around 350 CE. Martin Luther wrote a book detailing his final solution. Those are all well known facts, easily documented as well.

                And all you can do is lie some more. We are done here.

              • raven
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                wikipedia:

                Constantine instituted several legislative measures which had an impact on Jews. They were forbidden to own Christian slaves or to circumcise their slaves. Conversion of Christians to Judaism was outlawed. Congregations for religious services were restricted, but Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. From the time of Constantine more and more anti-Jewish legislation was passed as Christianity grew in prestige and power.

                For anyone who wants to know the truth.

                The first xian emperor was Constantine, in the early 300’s CE. One of the first things he did was enact a lot of anti-Jewish legislation. The successor Emperors and Popes enacted more and more anti-Jewish laws.

                And of course, none of these ancient rulers ever read Darwin. Or even heard of him. Darwin was born roughly 1,500 years later.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                enough already! perhaps you’ve heard the expression ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'; in your case, a VERY little knowledge is fatal to your credibility.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

                “your reading, while regrettably not novel, is not representative of any widely held view”

                Are you completely unaware of the history of Christianity from 300 AD to 1945 AD?

                Where do you think the Crusaders got the idea to kill Jewish civilians?

                Where do you think the rulers of England got the idea to expel all Jews in 1290? The rulers of France in 1306? The rulers of Spain in 1492? Where do you think the people inciting pogroms in central and eastern Europe drew their justification from?

      • onkelbob
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        The difficulty with your argument is that as venerated as it may be, the US Constitution, is never considered to be divinely inspired. Nor is it particularly easy to use it to justify some of the more heinous behavior of humanity. Furthermore, even the most horrific of SCOTUS decisions (Dredd Scott, Plessy v, Ferguson) were less a product of the text and the reflection of the political will of the authors.
        Unfortunately, divinely inspired texts are often rife with passages that provide cover for such activity. Religious texts are by their very nature are divisive, they serve to identify the adherent from the agnostic. As others pointed out, notable figures in religion promulgated same unquestionably bead behavior. Christians martyred each other from the start (Arian heresy) and continued on for centuries afterward (Cathars). That they (and other religions) also choose to be antagonistic to those outside their tribe is par for the course.
        The difference between US Code and most religious text is that the law of unintended consequences is not merely ignored, it is blatantly disregarded. Where the reasonable man standard is applicable to legislation, that cannot be used in religious text. It would be too easy for a reasonable man to justify all sorts of abhorrent behavior using religious text. That an unreasonable man was able to manipulate the text shows the flaws in the text, not flaws in the person.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          perhaps, then, you did not grasp my argument, which in simplest terms is that hitler’s interpretation of the bible is no more reasonable and valid than scalia’s view of the constitution; they each depend on a strained and incredible reading.

          • onkelbob
            Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            I understood your original argument and my rebuttal remains that the text is at fault, the agent reading it is of no matter. It is a false equivalency, Scalia’s arguments are reasonable. It would be very difficult to use the US Constitution to condone capital punishment for minors; especially holding a to reasonable man standard.
            To the contrary, a number of religious texts would allow such punishment for trivial crimes when held to reasonable man standard. This indicates the text cannot be trusted; a reasonable man can be led astray by it. There is no “strained and incredible reading,” a reasonable man could reach conclusions to impose the death sentence on a teen for being gay. That’s the fault of the text, not the reader.

          • raven
            Posted May 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

            they each depend on a strained and incredible reading.

            That is true for Scalia.

            It is false for Hitler.

            Antisemitism originated in the NT, mostly Matthew and John.
            The first anti-Jewish laws were enacted as soon as the xians gained power. By Constantine right after he made xianity the state religion in the 300’s CE.
            The Catholic church kept antisemitism going right up to modern times. Hitler himself was a Catholic as were half the Nazis because half of Germany was RCC.

            Martin Luther in his book outlined a Final Solution involving mass murder of the Jews. At Nuremburg, some of the Nazis said they were just carrying out Luther’s plan.

            These are basic, well known facts that anyone who looks can easily find out.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted May 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

              “Antisemitism originated in the NT…”

              oh, dear; i hope you’ll pardon my decision to get my history lessons elsewhere.

              “Hey Joe, you don’t sound very bright.”

              i’m not at all surprised.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          “…as venerated as it may be, the US Constitution, is never considered to be divinely inspired.”

          surely you jest. a google search will quickly demonstrate to you that many people think otherwise; some of them appear to also consider thomas paine a good christian.

          “…Scalia’s arguments are reasonable. It would be very difficult to use the US Constitution to condone capital punishment for minors;”

          surely you jest; are you referring to the same scalia who voted against abolishing the death penalty for minors in 2005?

    • Roz
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      It’s high time I read that book too. Cheers

  7. Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    > Newton seems oblivious to the fact that the evidence for God and heaven is far less certain, indeed nonexistent, than the evidence for most scientific propositions.

    This is the key point, I think. Many theologians, apologists, and “reasonable middle” people focus on “kind” and ignore “degree”. To say that science has produced wrong answers before isn’t to say it is AS LIKELY to produce wrong answers as other means of reaching conclusions.

    Science isn’t a set or system of beliefs. It is a method. Blaming science for things like the Nazi’s is like blaming logic or rationality. We don’t blame logic or dispense with it when somebody reaches faulty conclusions, even if they carry out horrific acts because of it.

    I describe the method of science as one of incremental improvement. It may be 2 steps forward, 1 step back, but that still gets you a step closer. Everybody intuitively knows science works better than anything else. This is why they use it when they don’t know it. I’ve never seen anyone use a different method, or lose using it, when it comes to the blindfold game during hockey intermissions: http://adnausi.ca/post/3955224392/

  8. bernardhurley
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    If only I had seen a few people with halos and a guy riding a white horse when I nearly died from a paratyphoid infection + various complications aged 2 and a half then I might be a multi-millionaire by now!

    • DV
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      It’s easy to manufacture false memory. You still have a chance to be a multi-millionaire.

  9. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    In dream analysis, the very first focus of
    any dream content is on day residue. Most images in dreams come from that.

    Clearly, this kid’s imagery is almost purely day residue, especially considering the family’s religious intensity. The images are so cliche, it’s almost laughable.

    The nonsense about knowing stuff he couldn’t have known is easily explained and discounted by overhearing. The parents have an investment in denying the kid’s knowledge, so they are not a reliable source.

    Dreams that occur under anaesthesia are often very intense and seem real to the dreamer. There is absolutely nothing uncommon in that.

    Isn’t it fun to watch people slurping up stuff that they REALLY< REALLY want to be true? L

    • Roz
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Agreed

  10. Tulse
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I’m really intrigued by this bit:

    he went to heaven and met Jesus, who assigned him homework

    What kind of homework is there in Heaven? Does this mean there is school in Heaven? Do they teach evolutionary biology?

    • Sunny
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Just Creation Science 101 ad infinitum every semester.

    • Solomon Wagstaff
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Those who bought “Heaven is for Real” might also enjoy reading “The 5 Homework assignments you get in heaven” by Mitch Albumin.

      • bernardhurley
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Copleston once told Russell that he thought of the ten commandments as an exam you had to pass in order to get to heaven. Russell retorted “In that case there ought to be a preamble that said ‘Only eight to be attempted.'”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      Homework? In Heaven? By definition, if you get homework then it is NOT heaven, no way. Never.

      This is as bizarre as Santa Claus confiscating your presents.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

        No no, you don’t get it. You’ll get homework, and you’ll like it. Or else.

  11. NMcC
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy the task of reading that list of trashy titles. But I’d bet a pretty penny that there are as many conflicting descriptions of heaven as there are visitors there. The nutty old fool Bob Jones went there for a while, for instance, and he never noticed everyone having wings. Indeed, you don’t need wings to get about according to Jones. You just have to think yourself in another place and you instantly appear there. (Either that, or drink an awful lot of Red Bull.)

    And don’t forget, Jones is a reputable preacher, seer, prophet and all round loon. So I would take his word for it over those other frauds any day of the week.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      “(Either that, or drink an awful lot of Red Bull.)” — Well, there’s a awful lot of some kind of bull…

      /@

  12. Sunny
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    NDEs and encounters with God would be more interesting if someone professing a particular faith would encounter a God from another faith. After all if there is one correct faith, then among all NDEs and encounters with God in history, one would expect at least one such instance of a cross-faith encounter. After all God loves to show off.

  13. Nom de Plume
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Colton’s “heaven” sounds like an awful place. Also, Jesus riding around on a sparkle pony? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it sounds as if Colton might have interests that his dad wouldn’t approve of.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Jesus only gets a horse? I would think he would rate a Lamborghini. That’s it. Forget Christian heaven. I’m going to look for a religion where I’ll get a better ride in the afterlife.

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        “I would think he would rate a Lamborghini.” — More bull!

        /@

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

          Wonder how many car nuts got the in-joke there? ;)

          • Posted May 2, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

            No true car-nut wouldn’t have got the in joke! It probably left most other people cold though.

            Maybe a “Lamborghini of God” joke would’ve been more accessible…

            /@

            • bernardhurley
              Posted May 2, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink

              Still haven’t got it but then I’m totally indifferent to cars.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 3, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

                Apparently the Lamborghini badge is a bull, many of the cars have bull(fighting) names – Miura and Gallardo are breeds of bull, Murcielago was a famous fighting bull, Espada is a sword. But Diablo is the Devil and Countach is Piedmontese for “Holy sh*t! Look at that!” – said by the stylist Bertone when he first saw it. (Pinched from uk.answers.yahoo.com)

                Personally I think Ferrari’s prancing horse or Jaguar are much more evocative symbols for fast cars. Specially Jaguar. Super kitteh!

      • SLC
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        How about those 72 virgins in Islamic heaven?

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Hey, it’s a horse. That’s better than coveting your neighbor’s ass.

  14. eric
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    No matter how much we learn, the vision science offers — of ourselves and of the universe — will always be incomplete and consequently imperfect. Stories of gods, angels and rainbow horses will persist in the gaps.

    This seems to be a backhanded compliment to religion, at best, portraying it as not much more than a psychological crutch. I wonder if Newton’s implication was intentional or not.

  15. procrastin8or
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Well I had a dream the other night that I visited Mars and the place was crawling with zombies.

    Whaddyasay to that then, hmmm? huh? There’s proof of zombies on Mars right there.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      More than that – we have multiple independent attestations of your visit to Mars in the form of L, M, N, O, P and Q, written in the original Aramaic. Well, when I say have, I don’t mean “have” as in have, but that we could have them if we had them. And only a crank would say otherwise.

      • procrastin8or
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        And who would they be to disagree with the experts who are so expert and so knowledgeable that they don’t need to present the evidence.

        Thanks for is. I always knew that my experience was real if I felt it in my heart enough.

      • Darth Dog
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        I hate to be a skeptic, but I have to point out that all of those zombie sources aren’t independent. They were all written by Max Brooks.

        • bernardhurley
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but he didn’t write them all on the same day!!

        • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

          HOW DO YOU KNOW? WERE YOU THERE?? Ergo, Martian zombies. Check mate, a-zombieists!

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I think those sources were in Aremaic.

        /@

      • Filippo
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I used to have a “friend.” He actually was a con arti$t. I’m somewhat more empowered to recognize con artists. Sorta smelled it then but refused to acknowledge. Inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. No longer do so.

        One day I heard him tell a woman that he was “37.” (That was the first con artist “red flag.”) I knew he would soon turn 43 and couldn’t help but inquire of him about it. He replied that he “COULD” be 37.

  16. MWalton
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I’m confused…In the second and third paragraphs, didn’t you use “Todd” for “Colton” a couple of times? Or was Todd (the father) actually 12?

    (Sorry for the tersness but typing on an iPad is a pain.)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Fixed, thanks.

    • Nom de Plume
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Todd (the father)

      Oh shit, no wonder my prayers are never answered. I’ve been getting it wrong!

      • MWalton
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Eat the Feather, that’s upper case ‘F’ vs. lower case ‘f’.

  17. ivy privy
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Todd supposedly also learned things that he could not have known in real life, like the fact that his mother had a miscarriage.
    .
    Why not? My mother had a miscarriage, and I learned about it In Real Life.

    • bernardhurley
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Spoilsport!

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Mom: Honey, tell us what you saw? Was it Jesus?
      Colton: Yes, mommy, and he was riding a pretty horse and there was this girl…
      Mom: PRAISE THE LORD! That must have been your miscarried sister! How could he have known that! PROOF OF GOD!!!

      I’m sure that interview was handled in a thoroughly scientific matter, never leading the boy to additional details. Nevermind that the boy’s father is a preacher and the boy is inundated with this imagery on a weekly basis.

      As for me, in matters of the soul, I’m a devout agnostic. What astounds me, what has always astounded me, is not that so many people are so certain of their beliefs but that they excoriate people who don’t share them. As a child, I repented for my doubt. Now I embrace it. Religious dogma is not verifiable; science is fallible. Uncertainty is the only belief system I feel sure of.

      “devout agnostic”? How does that work? Do you wake up every morning and list off the things you don’t know? Do you then intentionally never learn anything so you can remain completely ignorant? There is absolutely nothing of value in that last paragraph.

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        devout agnostic = intentionally never learning anything

        Brilliant!

        +1

      • Darth Dog
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Is she sure that she’s an agnostic? Or on some days does she have doubts?

      • Filippo
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Can there be such a creature as a “willful” agnostic? I presume that an agnostic strives to find out all s/he can. Otherwise, perhaps one ought to admit to being “willfully ignorant?

        • Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          Which is, of course, why Justin’s joke works. “Devout” doesn’t really make sense as a modifier of “agnostic.” It implies she’s trying very hard not to figure things out.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        “Uncertainty is the only belief system I feel sure of.”

        Uncertainty is a belief system? I must be pretty devout then, since I’m never sure about anything. ;)

  18. Gareth Price
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    When I was a child, I found the concept of going to heaven for eternity actually quite frightening, although I am not sure I ever voiced that fear. I think if I had known that Jesus also assigns homework, that would have been utterly unbearable.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Thx, you now owe me one cup of coffee. Black.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I wonder when the game comes out?

    “All your dead are belong to us”.

  20. elsburymk14
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I feel like an ‘unknown’ atheist, with good writing skills, should do the following:

    1. Write a really convincing book about a NDE, seeing Jesus, etc.
    2. Do everything you can to promote the book (tour, church appearances, interviews, viral marketing on religious web sites, etc.)
    3. Wait until the book has sold a healthy number of copies…
    4. Come out and say you lied about everything.
    5. Make a number of prepared and incisive statements to make some points about how ridiculous these books are, how terrible the people are who write them, how easy it is to take advantage of people with lies about god, etc.
    6. Make more borderline obnoxious comments about the falsity of the book and your reason for doing it to get some serious media attention.
    7. Publicly donate all the book proceeds to a good secular cause.

    I haven’t really thought about this critically and I’m sure lots of atheist would be opposed to the idea (it would hurt the gnu cause, it’s unethical, etc). But I can’t help but think that if this happened, and I was following the story in the news, I would be laughing my ass off. I guess I’m just a ‘shake the hornet’s nest’ kind of guy… ;)

    • Alektorophile
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      A bit like pulling a Sokal hoax? That might even be easier than fooling the postmodernist crowd.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Kind of like James Randi did with Carlos. http://www.skepdic.com/carlos.html

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      The standard reply:

      Just because that one was a hoax doesn’t mean all the other ones are!

      • elsburymk14
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Ah, you are right. I sometimes forget how hopeless it is to change people’s minds about religion. Especially after reading Darth Dog’s post about “Carlos”. People will still believe in crazy things even if they are proven to be untrue. But then again, maybe I’m just as guilty – I can hardly accept that that kind of mind set is even possible, even though there is all kinds of real world examples backing it up!

        • Linda Grilli Calhoun
          Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          This reminds me of reading Round in Circles, Jim Schnabel’s account of the crop circles in England.

          Even after the book came out, there were lots of people trying to deny that the circles were a hoax.

          Schnabel himself did one, with a combine, no less. The following morning he was out in the field where he’d done it, and this “expert” who was standing next to him was telling him how significant it was.

          If you’ve never read the book, I highly recommend it. It’s a hoot. L

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 2, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      Wouldn’t work. The faithful would declare the whole thing is true and you’re just lying about Step 4.

      This happens all the time when people confess that their previous statements were false.

  21. Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Prediction 2032: Colton Burpo comes out as an atheist and gives a tearful interview about how screwed up his worldview was growing up and completely debunks the nearly forgotten book.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Sounds somewhat parallel to Stalin’s daughter. But I think you have a decent, credible prediction going here.

      Me? I’m going with the English footballer “Gassy”..Paul Gascoigne:

      “I never make predictions, and I never will!”

      • Nick Evans
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

        At the risk of starting an ecumenical dispute, it’s “Gazza”.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      This whole thing is the Marjoe Gortner scam updated for the present.

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Oh crap, history repeating itself. Watching the documentary on Google Video now.

  22. trombus
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I never thought about Matt Lauer one way or another, but after watching his interview with the family (you can see it on their webpage) I have now formed an opinion. I fear for our future.

  23. Alektorophile
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Wait a minute, I just saw that last title on the list of books purchased by people who bought the “Heaven is for Real Book”, isn’t that a soft-porn/erotica title? The NYT had an article about it recently, IIRC. I mean, really, what would poor Jesus-on-a-glittery-stallion say?

  24. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Wings. Wings on angels. Now there’s a conundrum. An obvious example of the total absence of knowledge of how the world works.

    If a human, homo sapien, possessed wings that allowed him to fly (within the constrains of gravity, air composition and density, as we know them) the muscles on his chest would need to grow to enormous size: extending six feet out from the breastbone, which also would need alteration in order to accommodate the imposing amount of muscle.

    OK, OK, so it’s supernatural, Superman-type flying. So, why the wings? Why giant wings? Why not Ostrich-type ‘pro forma’ wings? What good would big big wings do, with no muscles to make them even flap? And what about gliding? We’ve all seen the pitiful movies from the 1920s of people and their flight machines, that never produce any lift what-so-ever, and the wings collapse in a heap under the merest of stress. So even gliding on a pair of wings attached to your back would be impossible.

    Just as the fable of Icarus, who had wings and flew too close to the sun (and the wax melted!!! HOT HOT HOT!!!) all images of winged angels demonstrate a complete absence of aerodynamic knowledge.

    • eric
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Why think their function is flight? Maybe excessively big wings are the the result of sexual selection. ;)

    • DV
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      There is less gravity on heaven and more air density, don’t you know?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the Bible ever mentions angels as having wings. IIRC the visuals of angels with wings come from Persian mythology.

      Which makes you wonder why, if this child had a genuine vision of Christian heaven, he saw angels with wings. It’s almost as if he had a pre-existing concept of what angels looked like.

      • Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Supernaturalist response: Well of course heaven doesn’t literally look like that! After all our souls do not have eyes and the energy of the Spirit would appear to that little boy’s soul according to how he sees it in his imagination. His young mind merely translates the pure energy of the Spirit into whatever forms he’s familiar with.

        Materialist: Wait, what’s that woo-ing noise?

        Supernaturlist: Oh that, it must be the wind… going through my ears.

        Pointing out obvious physical flaws in a spiritual experience is nearly useless with true-believers. It’s like trying to wrestle castor oil (as opposed to IN castor oil, which is entertainment for another venue), the supernaturalist doesn’t have rules, so they can make up any damned thing they want, while us materialists are stuck adhering to the laws of physics. This then incites accusations of being “closed-minded”, and of ignoring the possibilities, while the possibility that the experience has a natural explanation is completely passed over by the supernaturalist.

      • raven
        Posted May 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Good point.

        I never paid that much attention to angels in the bible.

        The ones who visited Lot didn’t have wings. We know this because the villagers who wanted to rape them thought they were humans.

        Presumably real angels could have defended themselves by turning those villagers into frogs or something.

  25. Roz
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    The late Darcy Clay was also a believer in Jesus and proclaims in his song how he turned back on his evil ways and turned to prayer. Bless his heart

  26. Bob Carlson
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    After getting my Kindle, I would sometimes check the NYT Best Seller nonfiction list for titles to check out, but I no longer pay attention to it because so much of the stuff in the list was really fiction of this very type. It is really discouraging to see the kinds of tripe most popular with the masses.

  27. darrelle
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    The two most disgusting things in this post.

    Heaven Is for Real” was published in late 2010, became a word-of-mouth best seller and has spent 59 (nonconsecutive) weeks as the No. 1 nonfiction paperback on The New York Times’s best-seller list.

    and

    Yet as Marilynne Robinson has observed, Hitler embarked upon the Holocaust in the name of science;. . .

    This is nearly as bad.

    Religious dogma is not verifiable; science is fallible. Uncertainty is the only belief system I feel sure of.

    Major false equivalence. Anyone who can’t see the differences between religious dogma and science, especially when it comes to generating useful information about how reality works, is as deluded as any religious fundementalist. Or is lying to maintain a certain image.

  28. MadScientist
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny how the religious are fixated on a few notes from Dawkins such as the one about how religion promotes evil and yet if you read his books, even The God Delusion, that’s really not what the book is about. I guess they just like to pick out a few bits so that they can whine about how mean Dawkins is.

  29. Kevin
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    “faith does seek to reinforce what the faithful already think, which explains why, while theological doctrine may change, it doesn’t progress”

    How would you like it to progress – until it becomes a warped ideology (something you rightly deplore)? What you are talking about here is divine Revelation, which by definition cannot be performed by human beings.

    “Newton doesn’t consider whether the interstices for angels and rainbows may be growing insupportably small.”

    Like the “watertight” selfish gene theory that was blown wide open by the invention and mass use of artificial contraception?

    • Roz
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Being clever enough to invent contraception or even medicine itself is not necessarily an evolutionary advantage for that species. Of course it’s an advantage to a group of individuals of one species not to have to die an agonising death or give birth to unwanted children, but whether it’s an advantage towards survival of the genes of that species is yet to be seen. It could very well work the opposite way. Natural selection is indifferent towards what suits individuals comfort and convenience.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      What do you mean by warped ideology? Isn’t belief in the supernatural already warped?

      The selfish gene description was never claimed to be “watertight”, but the invention and use of artificial contraception has nothing to do with it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      “Like the “watertight” selfish gene theory that was blown wide open by the invention and mass use of artificial contraception?”

      That’s a complete strawman. Genetic theory as applied to evolution has absolutely nothing to say (so far as I know) about contraception, ultrasound scans, MMR vaccines, treated water supplies, or electric light – all of which arguably have huge effects on the survival probabilities of individuals. We are capable of defying evolution using technology in the same way we are capable of defying gravity. Doesn’t mean it don’t exist.

  30. Filippo
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    ” . . . Colton seems to have become a bit of a religious jerk:

    Not long after his celestial journey, Colton interrupted one of Todd’s funeral services, pointing at the coffin, nearly shouting: ‘Did that man have Jesus?! . . . He had to! He had to! . . . He can’t get into heaven if he didn’t have Jesus in his heart!’ [JAC: Can you imagine how the mourners felt?]”

    The apparent lesson for parishioners is that they are obliged to check in with Colton first and negotiate a deal for him to forbear from his omniscient adolescent pronunciamentos.

    13-year-old males are insufferable enough without the addition of such an exalted sense of self-regard and entitlement.

    • Erp
      Posted May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      “Shortly after” suggests he was more like 5 or 6 not 13. Kids that age sometimes do say things aloud that are embarrassing to adults (even if the adults privately think them).

      The genre of visiting heaven (and/or hell) stories is quite old and appears even in the Bible (several prophets, the author of Revelation). Later versions include Dante (though he doesn’t claim it was true). They do tend to tell us about the author and his/her milieu. For instance Drythelm in Bede’s account has him seeing four places for those who have died. The first for souls that hadn’t been good but did repent before dying; they have to leap from flame to ice and back but will (may?) enter into heaven after the last judgment (or to place number 3 earlier if people pray for them). The second is hell with no chance of salvation. The third is a very pleasant valley where everyone is happy; this is for those who had led good lives but have to await the last judgment before entering heaven. The fourth is heaven. Very much a pre-Protestant and pre-Dante vision (it took place about 700CE) where still living people can help those who have died (at least ones who haven’t ended up in hell) and with two purgatories.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        I agree. “Shortly after” would most reasonably imply age 5 or 6.

        I guess I homed in too quickly on the word “jerk” and started contemplating my experiences with adolescent males. The younger one is, all else being equal, the less likely one is a “jerk,” in that the younger we are, the less likely we know any better. Hence the old pop song standard, “Blame It on My Youth.” The problem is, some people try to blame it on their youth all their lives.

  31. Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Isn’t there a fairly strong association of NDEs with the use of ketamines for anaethesia? Ketatimes are dissociative anaesthetics and still used quite a lot on children.

    Back-fill with wishful thinking and you have a book.

  32. Posted May 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    When my appendix burst, I had visions I had been transported to the Realm of 80’s video game Boulder Dash.

    I guess that means Rockford is realz! :-)

  33. Robert
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Newton gets at least one thing concerning NDEs wrong; “bright light, celestial figures and a sense of watching your own body from above” are not universal, as Keith Augustine has shown: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html#differences

    • Posted May 7, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      But those results don’t confirm my bias…

      That’s gotta be the most awesome refutation of NDE’s that I’ve ever read, thanks for posting!


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