Monthly Archives: September 2012

William Lane Craig is an Anti-Gay Bigot

Yes, that’s right. The most popular Christian apologist of the modern era is a rank homophobe.

For what it’s worth, I got this from reading a review by Chris Hallquist concerning WLC’s book Hard Questions, Real Answers. With that said, and accepting that this might bring charges of quote mining, here is a quote from said book:

For example, would you want a practicing lesbian to be your daughter’s physical education teacher at school? Would you want your son’s coach, who would be in the locker room with the boys, to be a homosexual? I, for one, would not support a law which could force public schools to hire such individuals.

WLC then goes on to say that with “[Christian] counseling”, homosexuals can go on “to enjoy normal, heterosexual relations”.


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in deception


The Tree Of Good And Evil

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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Funny


Yom Kippur

Leviticus 16

5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two he-goats for a sin-offering, and one ram for a burnt-offering.
6 And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself, and for his house.
7 And he shall take the two goats, and set them before Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting.
8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel.
9 And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for Yahweh, and offer him for a sin-offering.
10 But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before Yahweh, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness.
11 And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and shall make atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin-offering which is for himself.

Mark 10

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 14

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things.
4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.
7 A man called [Jesus] Barabbas (i.e. “son of the father”) was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.
8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate
10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in allegory, early Christianity


How To Reverse Someone’s Moral Compass

This article over at Scientific American People Can Be Tricked into Reversing Their Opinions on Morality is pretty interesting, I wonder if it could be applied to other things…

The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements — either about moral principles relating to society in general or about the morality of current issues in the news, from prostitution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

But the surveys also contained a ‘magic trick’. Each contained two sets of statements, one lightly glued on top of the other. Each survey was given on a clipboard, on the back of which the researchers had added a patch of glue. When participants turned the first page over to complete the second, the top set of statements would stick to the glue, exposing the hidden set but leaving the responses unchanged.

Two statements in every hidden set had been reworded to mean the opposite of the original statements. For example, if the top statement read, “Large-scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism,” the word ‘forbidden’ was replaced with ‘permitted’ in the hidden statement.

Participants were then asked to read aloud three of the statements, including the two that had been altered, and discuss their responses.

About half of the participants did not detect the changes, and 69% accepted at least one of the altered statements.

People were even willing to argue in favor of the reversed statements: A full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements, the authors write. Hall and his colleagues have previously reported this effect, called ‘choice blindness’, in other areas, including taste and smell and aesthetic choice.

I wish I could see what the actual questions were.

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in cognitive science


Jesus the Son of Fish

(Jesus fish)

“[T]he son of him whose name was as the name of a fish would lead them [the Israelites] into the land.” (Genesis Rabba 97:3.)

There’s a big push in astrotheology to place the emergence of Christianity on astrological beliefs. This, at first glance, seems pretty absurd to me since it assumes that Jews were the only ones who placed any value on reading the stars. Passover is quite obviously based on “astrology” (more accurately, the seasons/when to begin harvesting) but there’s no other evidence that Jews were actively seeking answers in looking at the movement of the stars. It actually seems to have been prohibited in some fashion (Deut. 4:19, 17:3) but that seems to only serve to create heretics.

As far as I can tell, the crux (heh) of this sort of Christ Myth hypothesis is that the time period that Christianity began was when the Age of Pisces was beginning, with the Pisces sign making some sort of cross or traveling across the sky or due to precession. Of course, precession occurs over the course of thousands of years and wouldn’t happen over just one century or on a particular day. I’m not even sure the ancients knew about precession.

Again, there’s no evidence that Jews or early Christians were paying attention to any of this stuff. Not even the Gnostics penned anything related to astrotheology. Granted, we don’t have all of their writings, but something as fundamental to the beginnings of Christianity being completely absent from the Gnostic writings that we do have seems highly unlikely. Moreover, somehow “the establishment” had successfully removed all traces of this evidence from the historical record. Again, seems highly unlikely since these traces would or should have been saturating the Gnostics’ craziness.

So why did Christians associate Jesus with the sign of a fish? It’s prima facie obvious that Christians were reading the OT. So that should be the first place we look.

Jesus, as I’ve written here in this blog multiple times, is derived from the Latin Iesus (the letter “J” didn’t exist until around the 8th century CE), which is derived from the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iesous), which is a transliteration — or Greek pronunciation — of the Aramaic יְשֻׁעַ‎‎ or Yeshua, that is, Joshua. Jesus and Joshua are the same exact name.

The first person in Jewish history to have the name “Joshua” was the successor of Moses, and incidentally, is the person who all messiah claimants attempt to emulate: Joshua the son of Nun.

Numbers 13.16:

And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun “Joshua”

But, Joshua wasn’t the son of an actual nun. He was the son of a guy named Nun, or נוּן (NWN). Since names with no meaning is a relatively modern construction, Nun must mean something. As the quote I posted from the Talmud at the beginning of this post implies, “Nun” is Aramaic for fish. And so it looks like “fish” was associated with the name Jesus for hundreds of years before Christianity came about.

So it doesn’t seem as though we have to look into astrotheology to generate a hypothesis for why Christians would use the fish symbol. The fish was already associated with Jesus.

If I take a quick stab at this using some Bayesianism, what are my three variables? The prior probability, the success rate, and the false positive rate. Or in this case, it’s really four variables: The prior probability of both the hypothesis and the alternative (to keep it simple — i.e. false dichotomy —  fish symbolism is from astrotheology or fish symbolism is due to Numbers 13), how strongly fish symbolism would be present in Christianity assuming the truth of astrotheology, and how strongly fish symbolism would be in Christianity assuming a link with Joshua’s parentage.

The prior probability obviously favors Christians getting their symbolism from the OT since this is the more “mundane” explanation. Assuming astrotheology is true, I would guess that it’s more necessary for Christians to have fish symbolism somewhere than assuming symbolism from the OT but not too much. So a Bayes’ Factor would slightly favor astrotheology but not by much since assuming astrotheology I would expect to have much more fish symbolism in Christianity, especially among the Gnostics or even in Paul’s writings. But this isn’t enough to rest a conclusion on, since that would be a base rate fallacy.

In general, then, I would say that the fish symbol is very weak evidence for astrotheology, while the posterior probability still vastly favors a non-astrotheology reason for the emergence of Christianity. Astrotheological mythicists would have to present much more high success rate/low false positive rate (while being careful to avoid being unfalsifiable) evidence for their hypothesis.

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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Bayes, historical jesus


Epileptic Seizures and the Birth of Monotheism

From this New Scientist article:

Ashrafian found that each pharaoh died at a slightly younger age than his predecessor, which suggests an inherited disorder, he says. Historical accounts associated with the individuals hint at what that disorder may have been.

“It’s significant that two [of the five related pharaohs] had stories of religious visions associated with them,” says Ashrafian. People with a form of epilepsy in which seizures begin in the brain’s temporal lobe are known to experience hallucinations and religious visions, particularly after exposure to sunlight. It’s likely that the family of pharaohs had a heritable form of temporal lobe epilepsy, he says.

This diagnosis would also account for the feminine features. The temporal lobe is connected to parts of the brain involved in the release of hormones, and epileptic seizures are known to alter the levels of hormones involved in sexual development. This might explain the development of the pharaohs’ large breasts. A seizure might also be to blame for Tutankhamun’s fractured leg, says Ashrafian (Epilepsy & Behavior,

Tuthmosis IV had a religious experience in the middle of a sunny day, recorded in the Dream Stele – an inscription near the Great Sphinx in Giza. But his visions were nothing compared with those experienced by Akhenaten. They encouraged Akhenaten to raise the status of a minor deity called the “sun-disk”, or Aten, into a supreme god – abandoning the ancient Egyptian polytheistic traditions to start what is thought to be the earliest recorded monotheistic religion. If Ashrafian’s theory is correct, Akhenaten’s religious experiment and Tutankhamun’s premature death may both have been a consequence of a medical condition.

“People with temporal lobe epilepsy who are exposed to sunlight get the same sort of stimulation to the mind and religious zeal,” says Ashrafian.

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in cognitive science


Bayes Theorem Greatest Hits

(The oft-worn image for posts about Bayes)

My blog was mentioned on Richard Carrier’s blog where he requests blogs that do Bayes. Alright! I have all of my posts about Bayes Theorem tagged as Bayes but a lot of the earlier posts were still me working through learning how to use the theorem properly, so they have some errors. I would correct them, but that would take too much work and I mainly blog through my mobile phone (which can be a pain).

So I thought I would do a roundup of my posts with the most hits that are about Bayes Theorem:

The most popular: Bayes Theorem and the Virgin Birth of Jesus

The prior probability would the number of people in human history that have ever lived who were sired by a god and a mortal woman… Imagine if the entirety of humanity were represented by 1,000,000,000 people standing in a room. How many of those 1,000,000,000 people were born from women and a god? It’s zero, but zero isn’t a probability, so for the sake of this example I’ll just say that ten people in that room of 1,000,000,000 people were born from a virgin (i.e. woman egg + god “sperm”).

The task, then, is to show the probability that Jesus is part of that population of people who are born from virgins, given our evidence. Our evidence is stories of people born from virgins. To find that out, we need the success rate and false positive rates for stories of people being born from virgins […] Out of the 100 people estimated to have stories of them being born from a virgin all throughout both recorded and non-recorded history, how many of those people actually were born from virgins? Remember, this is prior to looking at the evidence for Jesus… So for the sake of argument, let’s say that P(E | H) gets it right once out of the 100 times it asserts that someone is born from a virgin. This, by the way, also affects the compliment of P(E | H) which is P(~E | H). That one is the number of people born from a virgin who don’t have stories about them being born from a virgin. Meaning that 90% of 10 people (out of the 1 billion in the room) born from a virgin don’t have stories about it.

On the other hand, out of this group of 100 people, how many people were not born from a virgin? This in reality seems to be 100 out of 100. Again, this is prior to analyzing Jesus so he’s not included. But we also have to take into account the compliment of P(E | ~H) which is P(~E | ~H). That is, the probability of not having a story about you being born from a virgin given that you in fact were not born from a virgin. P(~E | ~H) is the “true negatives” rate which is 1 billion minus the 100 false positives divided by 1 billion. That is 99.99999%. This, in turn, means that P(E | ~H) is 100% – 99.99999% and that’s 0.00001% […]

1. P(H): What is the prior probability of being born from a virgin? 0.000001%

2. P(~H): What is the prior probability of not being born from a virgin? 99.999999%

3. P(E | H): What is the probability of having a story about being born from a virgin given that you actually were born from a virgin? 10%

4. P(~E | H): What is the probability of not having a story about being born from a virgin given that you actually were born from a virgin? 90%

5. P(E | ~H): What is the probability of having a story about being born from a virgin given that you in fact were not born from a virgin? 0.00001%

6. P(~E | ~H): What is the probability of not having a story about being born from a virgin given that you in fact were not born from a virgin? 99.99999%

The vast majority of humanity falls into the 6th category. There’s also a 7th variable, which is the Total Probability Theorem, or P(E). This is the probability of having a story about a virgin birth period. This number is actually the denominator of Bayes’: [P(E | H) * P(H)] + [P(E | ~H) * P(~H)].

7. P(E): What is the probability of having a story about being born from a virgin? 0.0000101%

This makes sense, because stories of virgin births in and of themselves are pretty rare. If we multiply P(E) by the total number of people in this hypothetical room – 1 billion – we get 101. Which is the 100 false virgin birth stories and the one success.


So, due to the evidence at hand, we went from 0.000001% probability of being born from a virgin (i.e. 10 out of 1 billion) to 0.990099019703951% probability of being born from a virgin. This [Matt 1.23] is still not very good evidence for Jesus’ virgin birth; it’s less than 1%. Especially since this still means that P(~H) is 100% – 0.990099019703951%, which is 99.009900990001%. Meaning that there is a 99.009900990001% chance that Jesus was not born from a virgin. We would need more evidence to continually corroborate and update that probability.

Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence (redux)

[T]here’s the common refrain that “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” but if that were true, then your probabilities won’t be coherent and you’ll Dutch Book yourself above; your terms won’t equal 1.00…

In formulaic terms, your friend [who says absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence] is saying P(H) = .5. P(H | E) > .5, yet P(H | ~E) = .5. We can model this by throwing in some values in Bayes’ Theorem. P(H) is already .5, so let’s say that P(E) is also .5 and P(E | H) is .6. This becomes:

Evidence is found:
P(H | E) = .6 * .5 / .5
P(H | E) = .6

Let’s try it for the absence of evidence. This would be P(H | ~E) = P(~E | H) * P(H) / P(~E). Again, P(H) is already .5, and to keep it simple let’s again make P(~E) equal .5. In order to make P(H) = P(H | ~E), the conditional probability P(~E | H) should also be .5:

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence: P(H | ~E) = .5 * .5 / .5
P(H | ~E) = .5

But wait, remember that P(E) + P(~E) = 1.00. This means that P(~E) is also necessarily .5. What’s the other axiom? P(E | H) + P(~E | H) should also equal 1.00. But in order to make sure that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, we made P(E | H) = .6, and P(~E | H) = .5. That totals to 1.10: DUTCH BOOKED!!11!!

In reality, if P(E | H) is .6 then P(~E | H) is .4.

Was the Eucharist Historical?

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called good news, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of me, this is my body”. And that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood”; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. – First Apology ch 66

Here Justin intimates that Mithraists had a similar meal with similar incantations to the Eucharist while he was alive…

Mithraism and Christianity both seem to have started around the same time, in the 1st century… Mithraism seems to have been a mystery cult that Roman soldiers followed. Similarly, Christianity also seems to have started out as a sort of mystery cult. So we do not have any idea whether the Christian Eucharist preceded the Mithraist “Eucharist”, or vice versa.


A basic syllogistic argument might look like this:

P1: Christians borrowed many ideas from their wider pagan matrix
P2: The Eucharist ceremony has a parallel in their wider pagan matrix
C: Therefore Christians borrowed the Eucharist ceremony from their wider pagan matrix

Justin Martyr’s argument (cleaned up to look more respectable than how he presents it [i.e. getting rid of an appeal to demons]) might look like this:

P1: Christians practice the Eucharist ceremony
P2: Mithraists practice a similar ceremony
C: Therefore Mithraists borrowed their ceremony from Christians


Which is more likely? I think I might try Bayes theorem to find out… Concerning the Eucharist we have two options that have the highest probability: Christians borrowed the Eucharist from pagans, or pagans borrowed the Eucharist from Christians. Or more generally, Christians borrowed ideas from pagans, or pagans borrowed ideas from Christians. Here is a list of themes and ideas that Christians borrowed from pagans for our prior probability (that is, prior to the Eucharist):

1. Hell
2. the Logos (from the Stoics)
3. Virgin births
4. Idea of a Heavenly Man (i.e. Platonism and Forms, cf 1 Cor 15.44-49)
5. Gods descending in the form of an avian creature (cf Mark 1.10)
6. Healing the blind with spit (Mark 8.22-26; John 9.1-7)

Here is a list of themes and ideas that pagans borrowed from Christians prior to the Eucharist:

Zero or unknown.


Since followers of Mithras were generally Roman soldiers, we might expect other military themes or ideas to find its way into Christian culture if Christians had contact with and syncretized with Mithraists. It just so happens that words like “Gospel” (from euaggelion [evangelion] > good news > god spell > gospel) and “Parousia” (para ousia, literally a presence next to; usually reserved for the arrival of royalty or a military ambassador) were both originally used in military applications in a Greco-Roman context. On the flip side, if Mithraists syncreticized ideas from Christians, I would expect followers of Mithras to adopt some other Christian culture besides the Eucharist if they indeed did adopt it from Christians. Maybe something like refering to Mithras as a christ. We have no evidence that they did so. Granted, there is very little evidence for the inner workings and language of Mithraism in general so it’s not saying much.


Running through Bayes Theorem, this puts the probability that Christians took the Eucharists ceremony in its current incarnation from Mithraists at 73%. Which means, I’m surmising, that there’s a 73% chance that the Last Supper is not historical, at least in the symbolically eating the flesh and blood of Jesus way. There probably was some sort of original ceremonial meal, as in the Didache and the probable original version of 1 Cor 11, but was overlapped by the current Mithras-like thanksgiving.

So maybe a Roman soldier joined Christianity after having been a Mithraist and ported the Mithraist “Eucharist” into Christianity. It might even be that, the first gospel Mark was written by a Roman soldier. It’s certainly possible and explains some other oddities/Latinisms in Mark (like the term Syro-Phoenitian), but is it probable? Who knows. That would take some more involved Bayesian judo.

Bayes Theorem and Falsifiability (redux)

Say your friend has two die. One has six sides numbering 1 – 6 and the other is a trick die that has a 1 on all faces. She rolls one of the die at random and it ends up with a 1. What is the probability that the die that she rolled was the normal 6 sided one or the trick die?

For the normal 6 sided die, our probability distribution is P(One | Normal) + P(Two | Normal) + P(Three | Normal) + P(Four | Normal) + P(Five | Normal) + P(Six | Normal) = 1.00. If it is a fair die, then the probability for P(One | Normal) = 1/6 or .1667.

For the trick die, our probability distribution is P(One | Trick) = 1.00.

We can then go through Bayes’ to see what the probability is for her rolling each:

P(Normal | One) = P(One | Normal) * P(Normal) / [P(One | Normal) * P(Normal)] + [P(One | Trick) * P(Trick)]
= .1667 * .5 / [.1667 * .5] + [1.00 * .5]
= .0834 / [.0834] + [.5]
= .0834 / .5834
= .1429

P(Trick | One) = P(One | Trick) * P(Trick) / [P(One | Trick) * P(Trick)] + [P(One | Normal) * P(Normal)]
= 1.00 * .5 / [1.00 * .5] + [.1667 * .5]
= .5 / [.5] + [.0834]
= .5 / .5834
= .8571

So upon rolling a 1, the probability that she rolled the normal sided die is .1429 and the probability that she rolled the trick die is .8571.


This is the problem with positing hypotheses that can equally explain multiple exclusive outcomes, even if there is a high initial probability of that hypothesis being true. If we had a 100 sided die, and a 90% chance of picking that die, upon rolling a 1 there would only be a .1337 probability that the 100 sided die was picked, in contrast to a .7426 probability that the trick die was picked. A 200 sided die would do worse. 300, even worse. Etc.

Moving Beyond Logical Fallacies

1. Prior beliefs influence whether or not the argument is accepted.

A) I’ve often drunk alcohol, and never gotten drunk. Therefore alcohol doesn’t cause intoxication.

B) I’ve often taken Acme Flu Medicine, and never gotten any side effects. Therefore Acme Flu Medicine doesn’t cause any side effects.

Both of these are examples of the argument from ignorance, and both seem fallacious. But B seems much more compelling than A, since we know that alcohol causes intoxication, while we also know that not all kinds of medicine have side effects.

2. The more evidence found that is compatible with the conclusions of these arguments, the more acceptable they seem to be.

C) Acme Flu Medicine is not toxic because no toxic effects were observed in 50 tests.

D) Acme Flu Medicine is not toxic because no toxic effects were observed in 1 test.

C seems more compelling than D.

3. Negative arguments are acceptable, but they are generally less acceptable than positive arguments.

E) Acme Flu Medicine is toxic because a toxic effect was observed (positive argument)

F) Acme Flu Medicine is not toxic because no toxic effect was observed (negative argument, the argument from ignorance)

Argument E seems more convincing than argument F, but F is somewhat convincing as well.

The Problem With Ad Hoc Hypotheses

For example, in order to flip a coin and get three flips of heads in a row, I would have to first flip two heads in a row. In order to flip two heads in a row I have to flip heads on the first flip. Three heads depends on two heads which depends on one heads. Since the probability of flipping heads once is .5, and each additional heads depends on the previous heads, they all multiply together: .5 * .5 * .5 = .125.


What is the probability that I will flip three heads in a row given that I have flipped heads once?

P(Flipping Three Heads In A Row | Flipping Heads Once) = P(E | H) * P(H) / P(E)
= 1.00 * .125 / .5
= .125 / .5
= .25

Given that I have flipped heads once, my prior has moved from .125 to .25.

The Fine Tuning Argument is an Argument for Atheism (Summerized)

According to this apologetics website the probability of the current arrangement of our universe’s constants is the equivalent of picking one red dime out of a pile of 1037 dimes. Or, P(Current Universal Constants) = 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001.


Back to our Total Probability formula:

0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001 = P(Current Universal Constants | Christian God) * .7412 + P(Current Universal Constants | Non Christian God, Atheism) * .2588.

0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001 = ???? * .7412 + P(Current Universal Constants | Naturalism, Atheism) * . 2588.

It looks like the equation has to be P(Current Universal Constants | Non Christian God, Atheism) > P(Current Universal Constants | Christian God) in such a manner that makes the Total Probability equal to 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001. Since P(Current Universal Constants | Christian God) is basically zero — the majority of the probability capital goes into P(Other Universal Constants | Christian God) — this means that P(Current Universal Constants | Non Christian God, Atheism) is equal to a miniscule amount more than P(Current Universal Constants). At this point, it might as well be equal to P(Current Universal Constants).

Since P(Current Universal Constants | Christian God) is basically, zero, this means that the probability of the Christian god’s existence given the current universal constants is also basically zero. It’s not actually zero because zero isn’t a probability. I’d like to say that I’m the first one to make that argument, but it already looks like other people have come to a similar conclusion about the fine-tuning argument [being an argument for atheism].

I’ll also keep this post in my Pages on the sidebar for quick reference.

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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Bayes

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