This episode of the podcast is a bonus audio edition ahead of a full-length episode to follow. Aidan’s guest is Eric Pratt, who for over 20 years was an aggressively active member of the Mormon Church, including two years spent as a proselytizing Mormon missionary. Although it is addressed only briefly in this episode, in the full episode, Eric will explain his journey into, and out of, the Mormon faith. In this bonus audio, Aidan and Eric talk about the life and influence of Christopher Hitchens, whose reasoned arguments assisted Eric in leaving religion altogether. Aidan and Eric also discuss atheism and religion, friendship, and Eric’s possible foray into podcast hosting. Eric, as will be discussed in the full episode, is not on social media, but is working on a book about his life which will hopefully be available in the near future.
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In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan is joined by author, historian, philosopher and exceptional debunker of Christian apologetics, Dr. Richard Carrier. What are the origins of Christianity? What is the evidence for a historical Jesus? What is it like to debate Christian apologists, and what are the common arguments made in defence of the faith? These questions, and much more, are answered in this episode. Dr. Carrier’s books and articles have received international attention. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University in ancient history, Dr. Carrier specializes in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science, with an emphasis on the origins of Christianity, and the use and progress of science under the Roman empire. Dr. Carrier is also a published expert in the modern philosophy of naturalism as a worldview. Dr. Carrier is the author of On the Historicity of Jesus, Proving History, Sense and Goodness without God, Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, Not the Impossible Faith, Why I Am Not a Christian, and Hitler Homer Bible Christ. For purchase options, see https://www.richardcarrier.info/BooksbyRichardCarrier.html
Dr. Carrier’s website is an incredible resource for additional information, including articles, useful links, classes, social media, and more. See https://www.richardcarrier.info/ Expanded show notes: A summary of Christianity, as discussed on this episode:
[Source unknown] “The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.” Richard Carrier debates William Lane Craig: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead (2009)
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Abraham is the common patriarch of the three major world religions. Indeed, Abraham was supposedly a man of such faith in God that, when commanded to do so, he would have sacrificed his son, Isaac, to prove his devotion. Such fanciful tales are easily dismissed, but Aidan’s guest, Bernard Lamborelle, argues that the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – very likely do have a real story to tell about a covenant, but not a religious one. Instead, an earthly tale, argues Lamborelle, would later be adapted and obscured until a simple handshake between Abraham and a mortal lord became a story which proclaimed a divine covenant with the almighty. Lamborelle’s industrious research resulted in a book, The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification, which takes readers back to 3,500 years ago, to a time when men of power were viewed as living gods. Using a holistic, literal, and secular interpretation, this historical essay first demonstrates that the Abrahamic narrative from Genesis is far more coherent when considered from the standpoint of a mortal lord alongside the establishment of an earthly, rather than divine, covenant. In this episode, Aidan and Bernard discuss the fascinating reframing of Abraham’s covenant, the implications that the adoption of such an understanding could have for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and a great deal more, including the battle between the forces of secularism and religious literalism.
Bernard has very kindly made the book available via Smashwords for a period of 30 days following the release of this episode. Head to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/766677 and simply enter the code HG64L at the checkout. The offer expires on 16 March 2018.
In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan examines Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a talented French mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer, but he is most famous for his theological work. Pascal’s famous wager argues that it is rational to believe in God, because the benefits of this belief being justified when you die are vast: Entry into heaven, avoidance of hell. By contrast, said Pascal, even if God does not exist, the costs of living as if God does exist are trivial. To not believe in God, therefore, is irrational. Whilst it also means you will never know that God does not exist if He, in fact, does not exist, you risk fiery damnation if He does exist. Your life is a bet, believed Pascal, and, on the balance of probability, there is only one way to place it – on belief. In a mathematical sense, if we believe in God, and He exists, the rewards are infinite, and if we are wrong, the losses are hardly worth worrying about. If we do not believe in God, but we are wrong, the punishments are potentially infinite. Aidan examines the merits of Pascal’s Wager, and explores its common criticisms. Place your bets. Further reading: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Transworld, 2006). Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve, 2007).
The status of Jerusalem is a leading news story, following Donald Trump’s historic announcement that the United States will recognise the Holy City as the capital of Israel. Aidan looked at the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine back in episode five, The Demise of the Two State Solution. The ancient city of Jerusalem, well known for its importance to the Abrahamic religions, is also at the centre of a peculiar religious psychosis, called Jerusalem syndrome. On this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan explores Jerusalem syndrome, a clinical psychiatric condition, defined as a temporary state of sudden and intense religious delusions, which manifest while visiting or living in Jerusalem. Examples of Jerusalem syndrome include that of a man from Austria, who became enraged at hotel staff who would not prepare for him a last supper, and a man from the United States Midwest, who was found wandering the city, dressed in a white robe, claiming to be the Apostle Paul. Indeed, many people have become intoxicated with religious devotion in Jerusalem, including Homer Simpson. In a 2010 episode of The Simpsons, the phenomena served as the key plot point, with Homer believing himself to be the Messiah. Aidan also looks at Christopher Hitchens’ verdict on Jerusalem syndrome, which was as unforgiving as one might expect.
References: Christelle Evans and Jonathan Behar, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, Student BMJ, 14, 2006. [Subscription required]
Yair Bar-El, Rimona Durst, Gregory Katz, Josef Zislin, Ziva Strauss, Haim Y. Knobler, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 1, 2000.
A scene from the religious satire, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979, directed by Terry Jones.
My latest podcast, Notes on Belief, in which I argue that beliefs matter and are open to reasonable scrutiny.
The phrase, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was famously offered by Carl Sagan as a response to beliefs formed despite a lack of tangible certification. Christopher Hitchens, likewise, stated that, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
These quotes typify my approach to unsubstantiated claims and superstitious beliefs. I released a podcast on June 15, Notes on Belief, which was well-received by the majority of those who heard it (and listened to the argument carefully). As I was so grateful to receive such positive feedback, I have decided – in case you missed them – to point out a selection of other Aidan Project podcasts in which irrational religious beliefs are rightly challenged. I am quite sure that more such episodes will follow, as there are no shortage of theocratic outrages deserving criticism, in the past, in the present and, inevitably, in the future.
It is imperative that society tackles the issues surrounding belief honestly. No free pass for religion, ever. My mission is to speak candidly and to challenge abhorrent ideas.
Liberalism does not mean rolling over for fear of causing offence. Liberalism means standing up for decency and veracity in pursuit of a just world, not apologising for the obscenities of others. I want to do something during my fleeting existence that, even in the most minute way, pushes society towards a brighter future. It is a rather modest, microscopic, contribution amongst such a vast array of discourse, but it is my own.