A Skeptical Christmas

A Skeptical Christmas December 14, 2019

If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas, let me suggest my two novels. The apologetic argument becomes an additional character in Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. It’s the story of a young man torn between two mentors, his pastor and an atheist, as he struggles to make the Christian case in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

A Modern Christmas Carol is a reworking of Dickens’ classic, in which a shrewdly successful televangelist receives unexpected Christmas visitors: first, his long-dead partner, and then three ghostly guides. Finally able to acknowledge the shallowness of his Christian message and doubts he has long suppressed, he makes amends with far-reaching consequences.

Here are my Christmas-themed posts:

  • The virgin birth story for Jesus is a popular one in the list of supposed fulfilled biblical prophecies. When you actually read it, however, it’s surprising how many ways this claim falls apart.
  • Popular Christian apologist William Lane Craig tackled the virgin birth question and more, and I responded.
  • I summarized the argument behind Rick Larson’s popular Christian attempt to find a scientific explanation for the story of the Star of Bethlehem here (and critiqued that argument here).
  • A very different interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem story comes from an atheist source in the Zeitgeist movie (here). I didn’t think much of that argument, either (critique here).
  • In my long and growing list of Bible contradictions, I contrasted the many statements in the nativity stories that Jesus was divine with his family’s startling conclusion that he was insane.
  • My favorite Christmas movie makes an important rebuttal to empty Christian claims. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life finds powerful meaning in his life, destroying the apologists’ claims that only God can provide meaning (discussion here).
  • The War on Christmas™ seems to come sooner every year, doesn’t it? Some Christians seem to enjoy being offended, and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue is a professional at it. Literally—that’s his job. In one end-of-the-year survey, he thought he found a juicy factoid with which to attack the atheists, but it blew up in his face.
  • Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt demolished a pop song and taught an important lesson about how God doesn’t work at Christmas: “How Christianity Infantilizes Adults.”
  • A parable about two kids arguing about evidence for Santa has interesting parallels with evidence for Jesus. Be careful about dismissing the existence of Santa, because that reasoning may demand that you dismiss Jesus as well.
  • A few years ago, in what was must have been a War-on-Christmas miracle, I was given a copy of Sarah Palin’s newly released Good Tidings and Great Joy to review. I had a few thoughts. Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in that book.

Until it’s legal to once again say “Merry Christmas,” I’ll have to be content with “Happy Holidays”!

We cannot know that Santa definitely doesn’t exist.
This is technically true.
But what’s your best guess?
Go on. Be bold.
— Ricky Gervais

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Image from freestocks.org, CC license

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  • RichardSRussell

    For an unforgettable take on the Star of Bethlehem myth, read Arthur C. Clarke’s stunning 1955 short story “The Star”. Full text here: https://sites.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf

    • Cozmo the Magician

      I don’t remember when I first read that story but I remembered it. One of the best endings in all of sci-fi.

      • Michael Murray

        Ah there is a challenge. The 10 best sci-fi endings^1. OK what about

        The Star
        Nine Billion Names of God

        Footnote 1. Climate change apocalypse not allowed because not fiction.

        • Cozmo the Magician

          Well, another classic is of course “It’s a COOKBOOK!”

        • Michael Murray

          Ah I didn’t know that one. Some how missed The Twilight Zone in Australia. Nice ending though.

        • Cozmo the Magician

          Although it was supposed to be a ‘gotcha’ moment.. the ending of Planet of the Apes (the movie) was really no surprise to me. But some people consider it a classic. O_o

  • Lord Backwater
  • Jim Jones

    > Sarah Palin’s newly released Good Tidings and Great Joy to review.

    I hope it isn’t an audio book. Her voice is worse than water torture. Prisoners would rather stay in Abu Ghraib.

  • Jim Jones

    Since it’s Xmas and gifts for kids are a thing.

    My book list.

    Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker

    In today’s media-flooded world, there is no way to control all of the information, claims, and enticements that reach young people. The best thing to do is arm them with the sword of critical thinking.
    Maybe Yes, Maybe No is a charming introduction to self-confidence and self-reliance. The book’s ten-year-old heroine, Andrea, is always asking questions because she knows “you should prove the truth of a strange story before you believe it.”
    “Check it out. Repeat the experiment. Try to prove it wrong. It has to make sense.” writes Barker, as he assures young readers that they are fully capable of figuring out what to believe, and of knowing when there just isn’t enough information to decide. “You can do it your own way. If you are a good skeptic you will know how to think for yourself.”

    Another book is “Me & Dog” by Gene Weingarten.
    And Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story : Books 1, 2, 3
    Here Comes Science CD + DVD
    The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
    Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino.
    Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
    Grandmother Fish, more information.
    Also:
    Greek Myths – by Marcia Williams
    Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs – by Marcia Williams
    God and His Creations – by Marcia Williams
    I Wonder by Annaka Harris
    From Stardust to You: An Illustrated Guide to The Big Bang by Luciano Reni
    Meet Bacteria! by Rebecca Bielawski
    See also Highlights for Children – this has materials for younger children.
    Atheism books for children by Courtney Lynn
    “It Is Ok To Be A Godless Me”, “I’m An Atheist and That’s Ok”, “I’m a Freethinker”, “Please Don’t Bully Me” and “I’m a Little Thinker” etc.
    (Courtney Lynn has a couple more for grown ups as well.)
    Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weinersmith
    — See other books by by Zach Weinersmith as well.
    15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Secular Families
    Bedtime Bible Stories by Joey Lee Kirkman – for mature teens only
    Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

    Tiny Thinkers is a series of books introducing popular scientists to children, by telling their stories as if the scientists themselves were kids!

    • Good suggestions.

    • epeeist

      Greek Myths – by Marcia Williams

      After my departure from Catholicism it was mythology that contributed to my non-belief. So yes, the Greek myths. To this one can add Norse mythology (the latest translation by Neil Gaiman might be a good choice for children), the legends of King Arthur (King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green is a classic). After that you have things like The Mabinogion, The Kalevala, Cuchulain of Muirthemne and the Poetic and Prose Eddas.

      • Maltnothops

        I read (listened, actually) Gaiman’s book. It is fabulous.

  • Lord Backwater
  • Jennny

    There’s a wonderful series of board books for babies by Chris Fearne, just one word per page. Titles include Astrophysics for Babies, Quantum Physics for Babies, Newtonian Physics for Babies, Evolution for Babies and several more. Thoroughly field tested and approved by small g/son with scientist parents who think they are hilarious too.

  • Michael Murray

    I love the ads on this site. Has anyone tried the WD40 trick on the toilet bowl ? I guess it stops the toilet paper squeaking. I still don’t know what the tiny little hole in the padlock is for though. Apologies if some cunning algorithm has selected this ads just for me.

    • Michael Neville

      The ads I see have buxom women in bikinis inviting me to visit to Israel, Cyprus or Crete.

      • Michael Murray

        Ah so google knows my deep interest in toilet bowls and padlocks!

    • (A repeated story, apologies.)

      This reminds me of the Christian who came to the atheist blog site and launched into a tirade about their immorality because even the ads were immoral–lots of gay sex ads, etc.

      A regular at the blog had to break it to him (in public, I bet it was difficult) that ads aren’t specific to the site but are specific to the reader, and the google was simply picking up the gay sex from his previous searches.

      Apparently, he didn’t say much after that.

      • Michael Murray

        Nice. I hadn’t heard that one. I am prone sometimes to using Amazon as the quickest way to find a book to recommend to an undergraduate. That could be hazardous as well as it offers you up random things from your previous searches with no concept of “at work”.

      • LastManOnEarth

        Not with his mouth full.