About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

666 Revealed, Revealed

The "Documentary" 666 Revealed is such an unconvincing piece of video that it hardly seems worth mentioning, but for anyone who may be inclined to accept what it says at face value, here are a few of the serious flaws in it.

When 666 Revealed begins, it gives the distinct impression of being a 1980s or earlier production based on the abysmal technical production quality, and this apparent lack of care permeates the "film" (which looks and sounds much more like an aging VHS tape than any type of film). According to its copyright however, it was produced in 2006, when high quality digital editing equipment was already ubiquitous within the industry, and easily accessible for even amateur home movie producers.

These shortcomings could be forgiven however, if its contents appeared to be anything more than extremely speculative propaganda. Sadly, that is a generous description of the fear-mongering dreck presented here.

Continue reading

Mack Wolford – Needlessly Dead at 44

The crueler part of me wants to make a joke and be done with this, but I think that there is an important message to get out in the wake of Mack Wolford’s death by snake bite.

Mack Wolford, like his father who also died from a venomous snake bite, was a Pentecostal Pastor who handled snakes to show is faith. He had been bitten before, trusted in God and prayer and had come through. This time however, the Yellow Timber Rattlesnake injected more venom than his body could handle, and after 10 and 1/2 hours of agony, he died a needless death, one day after his 44th birthday. He made it 5 years longer than his father, who he saw die the same way.

It is always somewhat inspiring to see someone carry their beliefs through to the bitter end, but he was not dying by the oppressive hand of a government that he sought to overthrow. He was not even a religious martyr in any real sense. He simply let himself die for misplaced faith; just like members of Heaven’s Gate, or the followers of Jim Jones, who had the ultimate faith in false beliefs.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know my views on faith in general, but that is not what this is about. This man, and perhaps even his father, should be alive today. With timely medical care, they probably would have survived their envenomations.

No matter what you think of prayer, the evidence is clear; in most (and I believe all) cases, medical professionals will do more than God to intervene and help a person who is sick or injured. If seeking medical help shows a lack of faith, then it is a lack of faith that is well warranted, but I believe that it shows only a concern for a person’s wellbeing and has no bearing on faith.

The most important thing to let Pentecostals know about though is the fact that Mark 16:9–20, the verses that the peculiarities of their religion hinge upon, are almost certainly not original to that book. Not one of the oldest manuscripts in existence contains these verses, and there are multiple different endings that were added on later, including the one that we see in modern English copies.

As Wolford’s mother said in the With Signs Following documentary trailer above, "the word is still the word"; except when it’s not.

If these verses are later additions, which seems almost certain to be the case, then it leaves even faithful Christians with no reason to believe that handling venomous snakes or drinking poison is a good idea. So please, don’t do it, and if you are envenomated, seek medical attention at least as quickly and fervently as prayers.

Review: Beyond Religion

I am not a Buddhist. While I respect and admire Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, for many reasons, I do not revere him the way that many do. Rather than a holy icon, I simply see an intelligent and compassionate man who wants to help the world in whatever way he can. Fortunately, that also seems to be the way he sees himself.

Because of this, rather than the preachy and unsupported religious mandates conveyed by so many religious leaders, in his book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama appropriately shows one of the great differences between Buddhism and most Western religions by championing good ideas because they are good, not because we have been commanded to do them. He explains why he believes that these things are good for us, for the rest of the world, and why other things are not.

He explicitly is not attempting to win converts to Buddhism. Instead he seems to want to help all of us to benefit from some of its important observations about the world we live in, and how we can best live in and improve it, no matter what our views on religion may be. He simply conveys what he finds to be the best ethical ideas in a secular rather than religious framework.

Although he does show his respect for other religious traditions, given the nature of this book he primarily focuses on practical applications, real effects, and what we know of the science behind our ethical (and un-ethical) desires and actions.

To be sure, many different pieces of this book could be filled out into even longer books by themselves, so this should not be seen as the single go-to book for all ethical questions. Rather it is a book which the non-religious may benefit from by taking its good advice, and perhaps also gaining insight into their own ethical motivations and those of others, and it may also aid the religious in understanding that it is possible, and good, for all of us to follow the same basic ethical guidelines. Guidelines that don’t strictly adhere to or contradict any religious tradition, but which all believers and non-believers alike can agree on, if they are thoughtful and honest with themselves.

Rather than being an extremely in depth exploration of all ethical issues, this is a good introduction to secular ethics through the lenses of eastern philosophy and science; the lenses worn for a lifetime by its author.

There are certain things which I disagree with him on, such as the degree of difference between humans minds and those of other animals, probably stemming from a lack of extensive experience with them, and he seems to believe that there is a primarily good nature in all major religions. I can understand why someone, particularly someone in his position, might see things that way, but I do not share that view.

I do not doubt that the original believers in (if not always the creators of) almost all religions had good intentions and intended to produce something with a good nature, but every one of them was a fallible and (on a cosmic scale) very ignorant person, as we all are. Good intentions are great but when, by your own doing or that of others, negative and even dangerous ideas creep into the works, they can be every bit as much a negative force as the good parts are positive. Even worse, in many religions there is no way to ever truly remove such bad ideas…but I digress.

Fortunately the religious content of this book primarily consists of mentions of characters from the mythology of different religions, which may help to illustrate certain points to the people who know the stories, and occasional tips for believers in certain religions (or no religion). For example when discussing how to meditate, he explains how it is traditionally done, but also suggests that some religious people may be more comfortable or put into the correct frame of mind more easily by kneeling.

None of this is intended to dissuade anyone from reading the book. In fact I highly recommend it. It is simply a recognition that no one is an expert in every area, and that (as should probably be expected), the Dalai Lama’s writing is inclusive of all people, with and without faith, and despite the secular foundation of this book, it does not oppose religion – it just shows that it isn’t a necessity in building an ethical society.

Beyond Religion: Free Through December 20th

Through December 20th, 2011 Audible.com is offering the Dalai Lama’s new book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World for free!

I haven’t read it yet, but after reading a description I’m excited to see what’s in it.

In his new book "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World" His Holiness the Dalai Lama argues that religion is not a necessity for pursuing a spiritual life. Rather he proposes a system of secular ethics that transcends religion as a way to recognize our common humanity and so contributes to a global human community based on understanding and mutual respect.

I’ll post a review here once I’m done with it, but I have no doubt that it has some good advice to offer, so don’t hesitate to download it from Audible or get ahold of a physical or e-book version.

May 21st, 2011

Starting 2,000 years ago, Christians picked up the Jewish tradition of predicting the coming Kingdom of God / judgement / end of the world / etc. In fact according to the Bible, Jesus himself is depicted as predicting its imminent arrival!

“…there shall be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

- Matthew 16:28

We have records of hundreds of such predictions made by Christians since that time, and there were undoubtedly many, many more predictions made. Many if not all of these people seem to be very sure about their predictions. In fact the most recently famous prediction by Harold Camping came with billboards claiming that “The Bible Guarantees it”.

The truth is that it is possible to find numbers, patterns, coincidences and all kinds of things on which to base a prediction or other belief. When this is combined with a belief system like Christianity which teaches people to expect – even look forward to – the end of the world, you get one doomsday prediction after another, ad infinitum.

I will make one small prediction though, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here:

Anyone who predicts a date for the end of the world based entirely on the Christian Bible or other Christian teachings will be wrong.

Harold Camping, I am proud to induct you into the Hall of Fail for your incorrect prediction.

You could have looked at the long trail of failures behind you and decided not to needlessly embarrass yourself, but damn it, that numerology and bizarre Bible Math was just so convincing that you couldn’t hold your tongue.

I noticed that to cover your ass you claimed that this event was an invisible judgement that actually happened, and that the real end of the world is actually coming on October 21st, 2011. The second time around it gets even more difficult to weasel out of your failure, so I’m assuming you don’t plan to be around for that…?

Well, Godspeed ya crazy old bastard. Your senile ramblings will not soon be forgotten!

May 21, 2011

According to televangelist Harold Camping and his multitude of billboards, the end of the world is coming tomorrow, May 21st, 2001. He has previously given an incorrect date for “The Rapture”, but this time he is REALLY SURE about it, and he’s spent a lot of money on advertising, so we’d better take him seriously.

Maybe Harold made some kind of deal with Jesus for a special appearance? A reunion tour with the zombie apostles perhaps? Jesus hasn’t put anything out in millenia, so his funds must be running low. Who knows, maybe he’ll even open up a can of Divine Judgement on our asses just for fun!

So, since we’re so sure that Jesus will be here tomorrow, what are you doing in the last day before Judgement Day?

Are you making sure the house is clean for him? Looking for a hotel in case he tries to crash on your couch? Are you giving everything away to your heathen friends who won’t be Raptured? Are you the heathen friends, and if so are you fervently begging for forgiveness just in case?

Most of you are probably just like me, not worrying in the least. Perhaps I’ll spend the time writing about Christianity’s long and fruitless history of such predictions for you to read when the world doesn’t end tomorrow.

…but hey, if you want and excuse to party like it’s Judgement Day Eve……

Dr. Eugenie Scott – “Creationism, Evolution, Education – and Politics”

April 17, 2011
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 pm

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is bringing Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), to talk about “Creationism, Evolution, Education – and Politics”.

Dr. Scott is an intelligent and good speaker, and there will even be an opportunity to have dinner and talk to her after the event at Los Olivos Restaurant, 7328 E 2nd St, so if you are interested in this subject, the event should be well worth attending!

Scottsdale Civic Center Library Auditorium
3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Coereced Attendance of Evangelical Christian Concerts by Military Officers

Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concerts. They have been going on for years at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee, but these disturbing misuses of government funds and abuses of soldiers’ rights have only recently been brought to our attention.

These concerts, and the stories of soldiers who were punished for choosing not to attend, were reported in a recent article by Chris Rodda, Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Rodda reports that Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers has started these religious conversion oriented concerts at both bases where he has been the commanding officer, and that they have continued at For Lee even after his departure, at an appalling cost to taxpayers.

The costs may be small compared to the enormous military budget, but any money spent on promotion of a religion by government agencies is unacceptable, and “Spiritual Fitness” programs in the military cost uncounted millions of dollars per year. Millions of dollars taken from citizens who for the most part are not Evangelical Christians and who would not willingly pay to promote that religion, or to coerce anyone into sitting through repeated and extended attempts to convert them.

The fact that military officers are wasting up to $100,000 per act at each concert with the clear intent of promoting Evangelical Christianity is disturbing enough, but punishing soldiers who choose not to attend these “Spiritual Fitness” events where their commanders support these blatant attempts to convert them to Evangelical Christianity is an unmitigated abuse of the rights granted to every citizen by the constitution of the United States of America.

Lest there be any confusion as to the purpose of these bands and the officials who hired them, an article in the Fort Eustis Wheel quotes one member of the BarlowGirl trio who headlined this particular concert as stating that their group is “on a mission to bring the armor of God to servicemembers”, and they are doing it with your money and with the support of your military commanders.

Resurrection Debate – Vocab’s Closing Remarks

I want to thank Tim for accepting the challenge to debate this very important question. He was easy going through the whole process and very nice to work with. The reason I asked him to do this was because an atheist on a message board was ridiculing the resurrection. I challenged him to a debate on the topic and never heard back from him, but Tim did respond and I am glad he did.

Even though I’m not sure if I can always do this, lately I’ve made a resolution to myself to challenge any naysayer on the Internet to a moderated debate. I think this will help people be held accountable for what they say more. In fact, I would say more Christians should do this more often – in a nice and friendly way, of course. I Peter 3:15 tells us, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." I pray this debate was a model of sorts for that kind of dialogue. If not, chalk it up to my immaturity, for I am still learning and working on developing a more God-honoring character.

I also want to thank Sean ‘Kazz’ Esplin for being willing to host this debate at Better Than Faith.com. I am so glad to see him being willing to give the other side a voice. I honestly hope this discussion drives up their traffic. I also hope that the comments on the posts are very insightful and lead to new learning on this topic. That way, we all can benefit and maybe BTF will do something like this again in the future? Anyway, here’s to hoping!

I also want to thank Shawn White (please do not ask if he is a snow boarder =) of the blog ‘Living Dead Man‘. He did so much work in formatting our responses so they looked more presentable and fixed a lot of potentially embarrassing spelling errors (mainly on my end). He did so much to make this happen and put in a lot of work – we honestly could not have pulled this off without his commitment and dedication to this mini-project.

At this point people may be asking why I am doing a bunch of shout outs instead of doing what folks traditionally do here, which is rehash their arguments in summary fashion? Well, I figure people can read the debate if they want that! Maybe next time I do a debate I will go the more traditional route but all I ask this time around is for people to read the Opening Statements and Rebuttals and draw their own conclusions. I especially want people to read the Cross Examinations, as I feel they may be the most telling part of the whole back and forth. The comments attached to the Cross Examinations are also very significant; I sincerely hope people can read them and follow along and even chime in.

I promise I do not think I am a "Superman debater" or anything but I do think the resurrection of Jesus has been shown to be a valid historical consideration. In fact, it is really the only plausible explanation to the known facts. On this, let me share two brief frustrations I have: one is dealing with those who reject the resurrection outright due to their philosophical bias against the supernatural. I don’t just mean Tim, for many people I run into share this bias and many of the comments belie it as well. Perhaps we can do another debate on the philosophical possibility of miracles sometime soon to look at this?

A second frustration I have is sometimes it seems as if some of the people making comments on these debates and sometimes the debaters themselves seem ill equipped to discuss first century Palestine. This context is absolutely essential to understanding the historical Jesus. Not so much with Tim but sometimes I get the feeling that some folks have never read any scholarly level works on the historical Jesus. It sure would help if people became familiar with the work of NT Wright, Craig A. Evans, Darrel Bock or Richard Bauckham – maybe even John P. Meier, James Charlesworth, EP Sanders or Burton Mack. But if they can’t do that, then even guys like Jon Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk or Bart Ehrman will suffice. But it seems as if more and more atheists have only read Richard Carrier, GA Wells, Robert Price or Earl Doherty. It’s just hard to have an on-the-level serious discussion with those kind of dudes floating in the background because their work is so far afield and speculative. But alas, I digress …

Before I finish, I want to briefly address a few things Tim said in his final statement, such as: “It would be proven if Jesus appeared to each of us daily and had a little chat.” This kind of statement is an illustration of the creature wanting to tell the Creator what to do. It also shows how insanely high Tim wants to set the bar in his state of denial. Tim prophesies in his final remarks that I’ll respond by saying that we have to “access God through faith.” Wrong – we can have access to God’s working by opening our eyes and viewing history. This can bring us to a place where he place our trust in God because of who he is and what he has already done. This is the biblical view of faith – it means a TRUST based upon verifiable evidence, not a blind hoping in the darkness.

Tim made another misstatement about the nature of Christianity when he said,

Religions have always been with us, and the idea of divine men bending the harsh rules of nature, and promising us the benefits of these powers, have always been in the cultural landscape of religions. Many religions have converted great numbers of people with their basic appeal to the wonderful notion that the converts can, though actions or confessions, be saved from the hardship of daily life and be part of a grander scheme, protected by an all-powerful God.

Christians believe Jesus is the one and only God-Man (not merely ‘divine’) who does not just “bend the rules of nature” but rather holds all of creation together by the sheer power of his will (Colossians 1:17). In fact, Mark talks about Jesus calming a storm and the disciples respond in Mark 4:41: “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Christianity does not promise that people can be saved “through actions or confessions” but rather by admitting their sin, turning from it and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. This is not a works-based system, unlike every other belief system on the planet, but instead it is a grace-based system – major difference. Also, Christianity does not promise us we will be saved from the hardship of daily life – on the contrary, Jesus constantly spoke of counting the cost of following him and how his disciples had to pick up their cross!

While we’re doing theology, let me mention the awesome beauty of the resurrection of Jesus. It shows us that our Creator God stepped into the time and space continuum to demonstrate his glory and love. The resurrection tells us death is not the final stop but that we can live with God – forever – in a new and glorified body. No more sickness and no more sorrow and we will eternally be giving God all the praise for what he has done via the resurrection. I am so glad it is fact and not fantasy!

Now let me briefly be the evangelical Christian that I am. In these kinds of discussions, we sometimes act as if Jesus – his credentials and the like – is on trial. I just want to remind everyone that if Jesus really did rise from the dead – and we can know that he did – then he is not really the one on trial, so to speak, but rather, we are (John 5:22, 27). Why? Because Jesus executed judgment against the forces of evil through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection and Acts 10:42 and 2 Timothy 4:1 tell us that Jesus will judge both the living and the dead. Paul informed the Athenians that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some may say this seems out of place to bring this up (and I understand their concerns) but what really is this debate about if not the implications of a risen Jesus? I pray we all honestly consider these implications as we go about our days.

Vocab Malone

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Resurrection Debate – Tim’s Closing Remarks

Here is a story of a person who performed miraculous things, inexplicable and witnessed by many people. Lots of people follow this person, believing in the divinity they have witnessed and accepting the divine consequence of the stories they have heard from other followers. This person carried a message from Heaven which has been delivered far and wide. And finally, this person died and bodily resurrected.

And here is a story about a book with some amazing, fascinating, radical claims about the way the world is. The book claims that it is historical, and a great many of the historical and geographical details indeed turn out to be true. The book now exists in millions upon millions of copies all around the world. There were many people able to challenge the factual content of this book at the time of the writings, and yet many people – even people who could easily themselves have checked the facts! – were convinced of its truthfulness.

I’m talking, of course, about “the Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. And the person I was talking about first is Mama Domitilla, according to the description by her followers.

My point? A book that claims to be true and containing checkable facts here and there, and which is swallowed as truth by large number of people is not true by default. What is needed is clear evidence, and Vocab can provide no more a snifter of positive, historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ than there is for the ascension of Mohammed to heaven on a donkey or to L. Ron Hubbard’s death-cheating passage from this world to the next.

And a story about a resurrecting person with miraculous powers need not be true even though a lot of people believe it. Mama Domitilla allegedly died and was resurrected (after a tour of Heaven) less than 50 years ago. She is still alive today. There are all manner of fact-checking possibilities available to all of us, regarding this case. And of course, those who have checked her out find her to be either deluded or an outright fraud. (see, for instance, www.csicop.org) And yet, it seems to make no difference – she is still regarded by many, many people as the real deal. I’m not one of them. Nor, I’d wager, are you. You’re too smart to believe a story like that. Go read it if you didn’t already. It’s outrageous!

Religions have always been with us, and the idea of divine men bending the harsh rules of nature, and promising us the benefits of these powers, have always been in the cultural landscape of religions. Many religions have converted great numbers of people with their basic appeal to the wonderful notion that the converts can, though actions or confessions, be saved from the hardship of daily life and be part of a grander scheme, protected by an all-powerful God.

Vocab’s claim is that Christianity, out of all the religions, is more than yet another fanciful dream arising from the breathless hopes, dreams and superstitions of the general population. This is a strong claim which requires a lot more evidence than the type Vocab has provided, which have largely been appeals to authority, arguments of the sort “I can’t see how this happened, so it couldn’t have happened” and a conspicuous lack of anything approaching firm historical evidence for the central tent-pole in the Christian creed – the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The divinity of Jesus is not an ahistorical claim. It can be proven. It would be proven if Jesus appeared to each of us daily and had a little chat. It would be proven if the Bible were an amazing book, full of stuff only an omniscient and omnipotent being could know and say, deep truths that were, and still are, inaccesible to human inquiry but observed to be true. It would be proven if prayers actually worked over random statistical noise. There *are* measurable consequences to the world if Christianity were true – consequences anyone would be able to detect. It doesn’t all happen in a faith vacuum. If anything, the evidence we would have of an omnipotent being should be the strongest, most awe-inspiring and undoubtable evidence we would have of ANYTHING. No-one on earth would be an unbeliever.

I can almost hear you saying “that’s not how it works! You access God only through faith, you can’t expect God to reveal himself in this way to suit your desires for evidence, we must have faith that He knows what he’s doing!” Christians have become entirely used to not expecting actual evidence for the existence of their God, to the point that it seems childish and naive to them when someone like me starts asking for it.

However, if Vocab is right, this kind of thing was EXACTLY what happened at the time of Jesus. Jesus DID appear to lots of people, 500+ according to Paul, after his resurrection – proving to them that he was indeed God. If Vocab is right, this experience WAS so awe-inspiring that it converted skeptics. Right here, in the Gospels, we see described an event where God, indisputably, intervened in the world in such a way that it left no room for faith. The early Christians, if Vocab is right, were Christians not of faith, but of reason: they SAW this stuff happen. Paul converted because he SAW Jesus in a vision, not because of faith.

There is something odd about the fact that this debate is being held at all. The resurrection of Jesus, according to the Christian creed, is of fundamental importance. It is this event, more than any other, that showed humanity the way to Heaven and avoiding Hell, and this distinction is entirely dependant on whether or not you accept Jesus as your saviour – in other words, whether you believe the resurrection of Jesus. This makes the event, if it happened, the most important ever in the history of humanity. And God, in sending his son to die for our sins, seems interested in saving humanity from Hell by giving them this choice. And as I stated, to the witnesses of the resurrection, there was nothing to doubt about this revelation. Jesus went as far as allowing people to touch his resurrected body and, essentially, perform small experiments to verify the truthfulness of this most important fact.

What changed? Why are Christians today content with faith and not evidence? They are, because they have to be – the well of evidence, overflowing beyond any reasonable doubt to a number of people in the right place at the right time – has now dried up. The mindset has to change if one is to remain a Christian after Jesus’ ascension. From there on in, you had no more evidence except the stories of other Christians. Truth comes from trust in other people’s stories, not from evidence. Maybe this is why Vocab seems so easily satisfied by his presentation, lacking in evidence that it is, though rich in confident conclusions based on his own or other autorities’ personal convictions. Maybe that’s all there is left. But believable arguments from trusted sources don’t make for evidence. “The Da Vinci Code” is an example of that. As another, we all thought peptic ulcers were cause by stress and lifestyle – it seemed so plausible! – until evidence forced us to change our views and accept that they are caused by bacteria. We can put too much trust in an idea because we love the sound of it, because everyone else believes it, or because the alternative just seems too far-fetched. Skepticism disallows such cognitive luxury.

Evidence is king.

In the end, as always, the burden of proof lies on the claimant. Vocab’s job was to convince his readers of the resurrection of Jesus.

As a reader, I enjoyed the ride. As a debater, I went in with an open mind, I learned a lot and thank Vocab for keeping the debate on a level of seriousness and politeness most apologist/skeptic debates can only aspire to. But in the echoing lack of evidence, I remain unconvinced.