Ron Weinland: Failure

Last month I sent an e-mail to Ron Weinland, yet another deluded “prophet of God” who has been discussed at length on my blog before. Ron had the balls to predict a specific date for the Return of Jesus, which to his credit lends his prognostications the attribute of falsifiability. Unfortunately for him, that date was last Sunday, May 27, 2012.

Ron Weinland False Prophet

Weinland has previously stated that he would admit his wrongdoing and apologize if his prophecies fail to come to pass:

Some can’t wait for me to say that I am not a prophet or to say that I’m a false prophet. Indeed, no one has long to wait, do they? May the 27th 2012 is not too far away. And if Europe hasn’t arisen by early 2012 and if China does not begin destroying the earth before that date, then the reality would be manifest much sooner. Obviously. You have to wait until 2012. Then the question that they ask “What would I do?”

Well, first I’d repent before God and the church. I’d acknowledge my sin and pray that God have mercy on me for being so horribly presumptuous. Candidly, I’d deeply repent of all those things that concern prophecies that I’ve given in the office of a prophet.

On the strength of this, I wrote him the following message last month (to which I received the standard faceless autoreply.)

April 30, 2012

Ron,

I grew up in Armstrong’s WCG, believing we were living in the last days. I grew up during the Cold War, having nightmares of nuclear armageddon. I was a true believer from my childhood and later, a baptized adult member. And, I still live in the world today: I see the ongoing threat of humankind to itself. So, I think I understand what you’re going through now. And, I just wanted to say a couple things to you.

I think you’re sincere in your “prophecies.” I think that, right now, you really think you are one of the Two Witnesses of Revelation, and that somehow, in just a month, a whole bunch of things must surely come to pass that will astound the world and prove you and your God ultimately right.

However (and I’m sure you realize this already) I don’t think it will happen. I don’t have faith: I only have evidence and reason to go on. So please forgive the presumption of what I’m about to say, as I know you don’t agree.

When May 27th passes with just the typical unrests and instabilities in the world that humankind has always experienced (albeit reported instantly by the electronic media) and when you and you wife wake up on May 28th and Jesus still hasn’t returned, and when you watch the sun set on the evening of the 29th, I hope you will finally turn from the ways that so many of your predecessors have trodden before you… the ways of self-righteous denial that Yisrayl Hawkins and Harold Camping, and yes, even Herbert Armstrong (although his predictions were not nearly as precise as yours) have trod… they who said that, in all their earnest calculations about the precise day of the End, they simply forgot to carry the 1— and that God’s word is true even if they, God’s “true endtime prophets”, somehow got it wrong. Or, that God has decided to show mercy for the “sake of the elect,” or other such hogwash. I hope that after reflection, and being a seeker of truth, you’ll come to see the need for a quite different path to your life: the path that begins with you awakening to the fact that you have been living and teaching a lie… the path that continues with a thoughtful examination of how you came to fall into a trap that has ensnared so many others… the path leads to an ongoing dedication to healing the harm the lies have caused, and educating others on how to avoid repeating the lies and mistakes.

You wrote, “There are many examples of events in the lives of God’s people that did not seem reasonable to them and to those around them.” That is because these stories of “God’s people” are myths, so of course they are unreasonable— even to the fictional characters that inhabit them. When viewed from that context, the only thing that is truly unreasonable about them is that some people still believe them. You know exactly what I’m talking about: the story of Muhammad riding to heaven on a winged horse, or Joseph Smith scrying the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics etched into golden plates, are completely unreasonable to you too, yet millions of people believe them literally. After May 27th, I hope you will pause, step back, and see the world from that larger perspective. From that vantage, you will see that you have been preaching a myth exactly like all the others. If you can see that (and I fully understand how big an “if” that is) I hope you will discover the strength to admit it: to yourself, your wife, and your followers. If you do, I applaud you in advance: I think admitting a delusion is one of the bravest things anyone can do.

Since 1995 I’ve run a web site for former WCG non-believers. It is a chronicle in the words of people like you and me, of the harm experienced at the hands of other believers (usually) sincerely living the lie. Their expressions of pain and anger are part of their healing. I have also seen former ministers go through the posts there, leaving heartfelt comments sincerely apologizing for their role in harming others in the name of God. Clearly, they have learned their lesson and are now living better lives.

http://ironwolf.dangerousgames.com/exwcg/

I also want you to know that there is a thriving, growing, and vibrant community of former-believers who have moved beyond the myths: who love and live their lives to the fullest. They have healed, and they are ready to help you heal and find purpose… once you’re ready to admit the lie. I know that time isn’t quite yet— you have a big day of reckoning just ahead of you. But your opportunity is coming quickly.

After May 27th, if you want someone to talk with or correspond with, my contact information is below. I’ll be there for you.

Best wishes,

Robert McNally

Despite my plea, and despite his Ultimate Prophecy’s spectacular failure, he has apparently decided to maintain his public wall of denial and assert that he is still God’s True Prophet. This is a quote I have transcribed from his Pentecost sermon (link to MP3) that he posted on Sunday (17 minutes in):

So what about us? Well, Pentecost 2012 is proving to be incorrect as the date of Christ’s return. Because deep down inside I still hold to a desire that somehow on this day these things could still come to pass; that somehow, because the time zones haven’t completely gone around the world that perhaps somehow God would intervene and change this; that if there be some other way that it could still happen this way. But I feel I know where it’s going. And so I still have that hope— a desire— to the end of this day in the Earth, and the beginning of Pentecost, the last portion of the timing that goes around the Earth. So if indeed, as it appears that it’s headed that way, Pentecost 2012 has proven to be incorrect as the date for Christ’s return,does that make everything else untrue? Does that negate the fact that I am God’s prophet and apostle at this End Time? Absolutely not!

Now that Weinland’s own words have revealed the depth of his insanity, I of course expect nothing but more of the same drivel from him forever— he is a lost cause and therefore I can now happily ignore him, knowing that those who search for his name on the Internet will see all that has gone before and have the tools they need to make up their own minds.

In fact, at this point I have decided to retire from calling out false prophets entirely. I’ve made my point and gotten it out of my system. I have better things to do with my life.

However, I would make a final plea to anyone religious reading this: Weinland’s path took him to an obvious cliff of failure— one that is easy for the religious and non-religious alike to ridicule. But although you may smugly quote from Matthew that “No man knows the hour“, you really should consider that those still firm in their apocalyptic faith (which pretty much includes the vast majority of Christians who believe that these are the “End Times” and Jesus is “coming soon”) have no more to go on than Weinland did. Sadly their path never ends but only leads, generation after generation, deeper and deeper into the woods.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

Hacker Wisdom

Hackers built the Internet. Most of them don’t break into your computers or send you viruses or spam— cybercriminals do that, and hackers, in general, aren’t malicious. Hackers do neat things, and they like to share what they know with other hackers. Many hackers are programmers, but relatively few programmers are hackers. Hackers are often makers, activists, artists, pranksters, or social engineers. Sometimes hackers are well known, and sometimes they are anonymous. Hackers are passionate.

Experienced hackers are wise.

Hence my latest microblog: Hacker Wisdom

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

You Don’t Need “More Wisdom” But Here It Is Anyway

Raised as a Christian, I was often struck by some of the great wise sayings I found in the Bible, particularly in the Book of Proverbs. Some of the wisdom I learned from the Bible has withstood the test of time in my life, while other things I found there have not. But the fact that I had collected a number of valuable “gems” of wisdom from the Bible eventually put me on a course to begin collecting what I consider “timeless” wisdom from many sources— valuable ideas that I would wish to return to over and over to admire, to master, and to pass on to my children and the world. Considering the wide variety of sources, I decided to make each of these thoughts my own, paraphrasing them in simple, modern English in the form of maxims or aphorisms— terse, straightforward sayings stated with a minimum of poetry for its own sake.

At some point in reviewing my growing collection, I realized that the value I derived from it lay not in collecting more and more of it, but in consistently applying even a few of the principles it contained. “All the wisdom in the world,” I thought, “is useless unless I actualize it in my life, and even one successfully actualized maxim is more valuable than simply knowing a thousand.” This thought, paraphrased, became my First Law of Wisdom:

You will benefit more from applying the wisdom you already know than you will from learning more wisdom.

Wisdom collecting is a great hobby. But unlike most other collecting hobbies— bird watching, rock hounding, stamp collecting and the like, there is a deeply practical aspect to having a personal collection of wisdom that you actually study and attempt to apply. So, I encourage everyone who reads this to create your own personal wisdom collection. As for my own collection, I’ve started publishing it in a new blog here:

morewisdom.tumblr.com

Many of my maxims are easy to agree with, but harder to put into practice. People I’ve shown them to find a few of them difficult to accept (particularly if they’re from a religious worldview) but I stand by them nonetheless.

Agree or disagree, I invite you to leave questions or commentary of your own on the individual maxims at More Wisdom, and I’ll be happy to respond there. I will not respond to comments on particular maxims here.

Right now I’m publishing about one a day to catch up with my collection so far, but that will slow at some point, and I’ll put out one every week or two. If you use an RSS reader, I recommend subscribing to the feed so you don’t miss any.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

Prepare (Yet Again) To Meet Your Doom

Ig Nobel prizewinner Harold Camping is still firmly predicting the end of the world on October 21— a little over two days from the time of this writing… never mind that his previous two predictions came to naught. From the Family Radio web site:

Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.

So… this is cool! It’s like God’s given us each a lottery ticket and on October 21 we’ll all simultaneously scratch off the little silver spot with a coin and find out which of us are the lucky winners. Like a real lottery, most of us will be losers of course, and this is… The Lottery of DOOM! Even Camping himself isn’t positive he won, but he’s confident the little piece of cardboard he’s clutching is… really important, somehow. Pity he doesn’t realize that all he’s got is just a worn ticket stub to a cheesy B-movie we’ve all seen over and over on late-night reruns.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

Homework for Believers

When many religious believers I’ve met learn that I am an atheist and former Christian, they earnestly try to debate or proselytize me back into the faith. They assume that I haven’t heard the right gospel, or that I hate God, or that I am in some other kind of denial. Unfortunately, even when they think their evangelical training has prepared them to deal with unbelievers, I have found that they are invariably in a state of woeful ignorance: their training lacks one major thing, and that is an understanding of atheism from the atheist’s perspective. I don’t use the term “ignorance” pejoratively— it’s a natural state we all go through, and in this age of Information Overload I am an advocate of Choosing Your Ignorance. Nonetheless, if you want to be taken seriously on a given topic, you can’t afford to start out your part of the conversation from a position of ignorance— in order to get a seat at the table you need to do your homework on what’s gone before.

So I’ve decided to create this little bibliography to which to send believers who clearly have not done their homework before attempting to engage me in theological discussion. If you’re a believer and not acquainted with a good cross-section of this material, then it’s nothing personal, but you really aren’t worth my time.

Read through these foundational Internet resources that were a strong influence on me when I was struggling with my own faith:

Read a bunch of my own blog posts. (There are many more related posts here, just check the Philosophy tag— these are some of my own more substantial writings, ordered more or less by date.)

Watch these videos:

And read a few of these books, many of which are available for free at your public library:

Now, if you’ve done your homework and still have questions or issues you want to discuss, feel free to contact me, but understand that preaching is never welcome.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

My Journey Into Atheism

The following article dates from the late 1990s, and used to live on my old web site. As I’m slowly moving my old content into modern tools, this is its new permanent home.

I grew up Christian. In the Spring of 1995 at 30 years of age, I began a completely self-honest inventory of what I really believed and why. Although I think that the sweeping doctrinal changes taking place in my church (the Worldwide Church of God) at that time probably acted as a catalyst for my undertaking this review, I feel I would have followed the same course eventually anyway. For this evaluation, I put none of my past beliefs off-limits from critical examination. I began a review of the laws of rational inquiry, and for the first time in my life I began to seriously study atheist refutations to theistic arguments for belief.

I also studied Christian apologetics for the first time in my life. The field of apologetics deals with Christian scholars presenting the best rational reasons and evidence for why an intelligent person should come to the logical and necessary conclusion that

  1. some kind of “supernatural” being must exist,
  2. that this is the judeo-christian monotheistic God,
  3. that God must have certain specific attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and
  4. that the tenets of Christianity are true.

—And they must do this all without resorting to the Bible. (The reason resorting to the Bible won’t work to convince a non-believer is that since the authority of the Bible is what the apologist wants to prove, requiring that someone else accept it beforehand would be committing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, or “begging the question”).

In the balance, I found the apologists’ arguments unconvincing, and came to the considered conclusion that I didn’t have any credible evidence or irrefutable reasons to support the idea that God exists, or even “just have faith” that some kind of god exists. Rather than stop at simply lacking a positive belief in God, however, I realized that people allege the existence of other entities (such as unicorns, UFOs, ghosts, or gods from religions other than what I was raised in), and that I cannot absolutely prove the non-existence of these entities, but I nonetheless positively deny their existence. It is notoriously difficult to absolutely prove the non-existence of anything, but you also probably don’t believe in lots of things which you can’t absolutely prove don’t exist. For instance, imagine attempting to prove to someone who firmly believes in leprechauns that they simply don’t exist.

An excellent saying I have heard is “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I can positively deny that leprechauns exist because no credible evidence has been presented for their existence, and because claims or stories of the exploits of leprechauns have plausible explanations based in the realm of what we already know. Some explanations could be:

  • The person telling the story lied to cover up an embarrassing truth,
  • The person telling the story lied to protect someone else,
  • The person telling the story misperceived or misremembers reality,
  • Someone deliberately deceived the person telling the story,
  • The person is deceiving themselves into believing something they find comforting or simply want to believe,
  • The person draws upon mythology to explain an event for which they have no other good explanation,
  • The story has been told and retold by many people and has gotten “better” in the telling.

I don’t think many would deny that all of these things happen quite often to well-intentioned people, and must be ruled out before stories or anecdotes can be accepted as supporting an extraordinary premise.

The procedures of scientific investigation such as experimentation (a premise needs to be testable), falsifiability (a premise must suggest ways to show that it is or is not true), and verifiability (a result needs to be repeatable by independent experimenters) are designed to make sure that conclusions reached are not contaminated by any given experimenter’s personal biases or faulty methods. In my opinion, humankind has developed no better way than the scientific method to advance knowledge.

So, if extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, why then should I make an exception for the claim that God exists?

At this point, many would point out that the entire universe exists, and surely it must serve as extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary creator of some kind? Actually, I used to primarily base my belief on this point. I used to believe that since the universe was such a wonderful place, it must have had a creator, and that’s that. I came to realize, however, that this explanation replaces the big question of the physical universe’s existence with an even bigger one of God’s existence. If we claim that God simply exists as a neccessary fact, but can’t directly show his existence experimentally, then why can’t we simply believe that the physical universe simply exists as a necessary fact? Another useful scientific principle in this regard is “parsimony” (also known as Occam’s Razor), which says that when you observe a phenomenon (such as the existence of the universe), but have more than one theory to explain it (such as “God made it,” or “a committee of ten trillion gods made it,” or “it simply exists as a necessary fact”), choose to believe the simplest one that fits the observed facts, until the observed facts necessitate a more complex theory. God (as described by those who believe in him) would obviously be a very complex entity (at least as complex as the universe itself). And so accepting the idea of “God” merely increases the complexity of the theory without providing any really fundamental answer.

So, do I have a fundamental answer as to why the universe exists? No. Do I think humankind will ever come up with a good one? I don’t know. Part of my transition to atheism has involved reaching a place in my life where I don’t demand pat answers to fundamental existential questions.

In short, I decided I must base my life on the principles of evidence and reason, rather than those of mysticism and irrationality. In other words, for lack of evidence, skepticism (open-minded non-belief) becomes the default position, and is the only position which now makes sense to me. So, I am now a non-believer, and no longer live as if “God” exists any more than I live as if “unicorns” exist.

There are other related questions I have had to grapple with, such as “Can a person lead a moral life without believing in an absolute moral standard?” (my conclusion was yes) and “Can a person lead a positive, meaningful existence without believing in an externally-defined ‘higher purpose’, or life after death?” (again, yes).

Coming to this worldview has not been purely a cold, calculated process, however. I have also had to deal with feelings of anger directed at religion in general for the pain and suffering it has caused humankind throughout history as well as many of my personal friends, and grief resulting from no longer believing promises of a glorious-but-vague life after this one: the only life I truly know.

Probably the hardest part of my transition has been coming to terms with what I have heard called the “horror of being,” that is, the realization that we will all, as individuals, each in our own time, die and cease to exist. To greater or lesser degrees, we all find our personal annihilation “unthinkable”; we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a future in which we do not exist. Furthermore, we have all lost loved ones and have wished to be reunited with them in some distant time and place. I too like that idea, but I have no evidence it will happen.

I don’t blame people for believing in an afterlife and a “God” to offer them a way into it. My choice is now to content myself with the positive impact my loved ones have had on my life, to live as long and as well as I reasonably can, and to try to leave a positive impact on those who will be around after me.

Overall, I feel that life is now more precious to me than ever, and my life is meaningful and happy.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

Family Radi-D’oh!

The Bible Guarantees It!

It’s May 21, 2011, 6:00 PM on the Pacific Coast, and no apocalypse. But relax, I’m sure Family Radio’s Harold Camping can explain everything! (Update: Yep, here it is! Mark your calendars for October 21st.) The only question is, who now remains that is gullible enough to believe anything he says? Sadly, probably quite a few.

Even sadder, most “mainstream” Christians console themselves with the idea that their interpretation of the Bible forbids the prediction of dates for Jesus’ return, while conveniently ignoring the biblical authors themselves, who confidently made predictions that the Savior would return within their own lifetimes— failed predictions that set the tone for the ensuing procession of failed predictions that continue to this day. Oh, not predictions about specific dates to be sure. But even the Christians I know who refuse to commit to specific dates insist that we are living in the “end of days” and that Jesus’ return is imminent… to some personalized approximation of “imminent.” This itself is a form of prediction: a prediction which fails again and again as each generation of Christians watches their children grow up, and as they desperately indoctrinate them to carry forward that same defective prediction.

To Christian readers, whether or not you followed Harold Camping, or even if you don’t believe in “apocalypse soon” in some form, I hope that times like this can be “teachable moments” for you. And here is the lesson that I, as a former Christian, had to learn from times like this: to the extent that your beliefs promote the idea that this life is but a rehearsal for another, you become correspondingly more schizophrenic— dissociated from life and the people with whom you share the world. Please consider studying your beliefs from a more healthy, skeptical viewpoint. I guarantee that many of Harold Camping’s (formerly) most fervent followers are doing just that right now… and for good reason.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

Harold Camping: May 21, 2011 is the End of the World

…or he’s just another false prophet like the others I’ve reported on here— which is how I’m laying the odds.

Only 213 shopping days left!

For a man convinced the world is going to end in less than a year, Harold Camping was in a delightful mood.

I visited with Camping at his Oakland office two weeks ago, shortly after he’d returned from a business trip to prepare for his ministry’s last year on earth.

“There’s so much work to do,” Camping told me with some enthusiasm as he sat down. “And not a lot of time left to do it!”

As readers may already know, Harold Camping gained notoriety a few years ago when he announced he’d cracked a code within the Bible that revealed the date for Christ’s return: May 21, 2011.

Camping oversees Family Radio and his daily recorded sermons are translated into 54 languages, then beamed across the globe via short wave radio.(For some pics of his gospel’s reach into Ghana, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, see this article from a South African web site.)

Read the rest at SFGate

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!

A Brief Message to Muslims

This was originally posted as my comment to Thunderf00t’s video, Islam Fail:

Muslims, peaceful and not-so-peaceful: Only when you learn to keep your peace when provoked, instead of feeling that you must vehemently and/or violently defend your Allah and Muhammad, who (if they exist) can defend themselves just fine, then will such provocations become unnecessary, and thence stop. The weakling answers mocking with threats, and only invites more mocking. The strong man has nothing to prove.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!