Thinking Christian

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Reason On Display

Posted on Feb 23, 2012 by Tom Gilson

A visitor to the True Reason website sent this message via the contact form there. I wrote back and asked permission to re-post it here, and shortly thereafter he posted it as a comment on at least three different web pages here, using the name Richard Harris. (I say “using the name” not because I doubt that’s his name, but because on the Internet one just doesn’t know.) Like all posts from first-time commenters, his comments went into moderation.

As you read this, I’d like you to bear in mind what the True Reason website is all about. Christians are making preparations to attend the atheists’ “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C. We’re not going there with any intent to gather crowds, to disrupt, or to press ourselves upon anyone in any way, but just to talk with people who want to have those conversations. Note, however, that it is a Reason rally, and that many of its organizers have made a point of associating themselves with reason.

Thus it seems reasonable for us to expect all messages from the Reason Rally crowd to adhere to a high standard of reasoned discourse. I think that provides helpful context for what follows here.

Here’s a Hudibrastic verse on woo,
for superstitious folk like you.

The Christian’s Jehovah, an Almighty God,
is a capricious and cantankerous clod;
and, so far as I can tell,
the Christian often is as well.
Confused by dogma, the foolish fogey
can’t fathom the nature of that Bible Bogey.

Is it a father, his son, and a g-g-ghost too?
Well, it should be obvious that’s ridiculous woo.
And Christians claim this god, in its Empyrean lair,
is omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent and fair,
but, with the problem of theodicy,
their dogma is Christian idiocy.

The Jew’s Yahweh, the meshugener, the jerk,
set Jews strict rules on when to work,
how to dress, and what to sup or sip,
and giving baby boys the snip.
The myths of Bronze Age, goat-herding nomads,
have them, metaphorically, by the gonads.

The Moslem’s Allah, a fierce desert djinn,
demands under ‘Islam’, literally, ‘Submission’.
Apostasy is treated just like a crime;
they’ll threaten to kill you, to keep you in line,
and if you dare draw Mohammad in a comic cartoon,
there’ll be riots and killings from here to Khartoum.

Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist,
Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Mormon, and Scientologist,
Confucianist, Shintoist, and Taoist too,
Spiritualist, Wiccan, and the New Ager into woo.
Yea, verily, those of each and every religion,
are mired in the miasma of superstition.

So, why should yours be the one true faith,
in a magic, phantasmagorical wraith?
Belief, without evidence, is just plain crazy,
ignorant, stupid, or thoughtlessly lazy.
When evolution happens, it’s due to Natural Selection,
and life derives no purpose, at a theistic god’s direction.

Religion is dangerous, but it’s socially sanctioned to such an extent that the dangers are mostly overlooked. If someone has a problem to solve, they need correct information to help them come to a good answer. And so it is with life, & seeking what Aristotle called eudaemonia, or human flourishing. Religion, being false, is bound to provide wrong answers, (except in the ‘trivial’ sense that it provides social cohesion to members of its various in-groups). Without the attempts at social engineering made by religion operating in the public sphere, society could discuss & implement democratically sanctioned ethics & mores.

Richard wanted his message to be made public here. I’m happy to oblige, in light of the above-mentioned context. I suggest we discuss this in light of whether it meets an acceptable standard of reasonable discourse: attention to empirical evidences concerning Christian belief, for example; or care in the use of ambiguous language (“religion is dangerous”).

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172 Responses to “ Reason On Display ”

  1. vel says:

    I’d love to know of any “empirical evidence” that supports the claims of Christianity. Now, I do expect this to be empirical as that evidence which is gained by observation and experimentation, and not a shell game where you attempt to change the meaning of the word. I am quite familiar with many claims that Christians have this, but after reading WLC, and so many others, that has not been shown to be the case.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    vel,

    Before we accept that challenge, I’d love to know of what empirical evidence supports the claim that this line applies to the Christian faith, in the sense that it characterizes thinking Christians:

    Belief, without evidence, is just plain crazy,
    ignorant, stupid, or thoughtlessly lazy

    I’d like to know whether you think empirical evidence is the only valid kind of evidence, and why.

    If so, then I’d like to know whether you consider “empirical” to include only that which is of the sort that the natural sciences study, and why.

    I’d also like to know whether you would actually listen to an answer.

    Thanks.

  3. JAD says:

    Is Richard someone who supports the “Reason Rally” or was his message meant to be a kind of satire?

    I say this because IMO his message is an example of very bad reasoning. Good reasoning does not rely on uncorroborated assertions and ridicule, but that is about all Mr. Harris’ message contains.

    For example, Harris writes, “Religion is dangerous…” By that does he mean all religions? Does he mean that no religion is capable of doing any good? How does he know that? How did he come to his conclusions?

  4. Victoria says:

    @vel
    So,by empirical evidence gained by observation and experimentation, are you implicitly excluding historical data/evidence (and of course, everything we could claim to know about the past)?

  5. BillT says:

    It would also be interesting if vel could supply any empirical evidence that supports his point of view. It’s pretty easy to snipe at others beliefs when you don’t have to support your own. After all, putting the other side on the defensive is a pretty standard tactic. Also, attempting to limit the discussion to “empirical evidence”, which isn’t the most relevant kind of evidence when the subject is religious belief, is just another tactic.

    If we take an honest look at vel’s post he’s done three things to try and stack the deck. Set empirical evidence as the standard of proof, tried to place the burden of proof on us rather than him and accused us of attempting to “change the meaning of the word” before we’ve done anything like that. Not a promising start.

  6. Patrick says:

    Historical ‘data/evidence’ is relevant, but as the implausibility of a historical claim increases, so should the independent unbiased historical attestation of that claim. Within Christianity, this is not the case; the book of Mark in Codex Sianiticus had no virgin birth nor resurrection; the accounts of these two supernatural events are not accurately corroborated in detail in the gospels; The Testimonium Flavium (by Josephus, who was born after Jesus’ death) was a forgery, lending credibility to the theory that the whole thing was a sham. The talmudic references to Yeshua show no corroboration with the Jesus of the bibles. The gospels (especially matthew) show evidence of having been written to fulfil prophecies (such as the virgin birth, having been a greek mistranslation of Isaiah)

    Not to mention the lack of extrabiblical attestation of any of the miracles of Jesus, the inaccuracy of the census, the death of herod, hundreds of thousands of followers with no historians taking note… Most atheists value historical evidence as well, however, we don’t suspend critical thinking or reason just to confirm our biases; we actually look at the history and see what most likely happened.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Did you say something about “unbiased,” Patrick? Did you know that there is another side to the story you’ve tried to present here? Does it matter to you that there is? Haven’t you just provided prima facie evidence of suspending critical thinking to confirm your biases?

  8. JAD says:

    If you have reason on your side, why would you need to rely on the use of ridicule and contempt to win your arguments? Apparently Richard Dawkins thinks you do. In 2009 on his website (see comment #16) Dawkins wrote:

    “If they’ve [the creationists] been told that there’s an incompatibility between religion and evolution, well, let’s convince them of evolution, and we’re there! Because after all, we’ve got the evidence. … I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry [Coyne] is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt. …You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!”
    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/3767#368197

    How many people have been ridiculed into their beliefs? Is that how Dawkins became convinced that Darwinian evolution is true?

    Ironically, there are many atheists who are not really thrilled by Dawkin’s approach. For example, Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at CUNY, writes for Psychology Today:

    look at Dawkins’ prescription here. According to him we should be even more “contemptuous” than the religious fanatics are; we should “really hurt” with our “sharp barbs”; we “can’t lose” because truth is clearly on our side. One almost gets the feeling that if Dawkins had the resources of the Inquisition at his disposal he might just use them in the name of scientific Truth (a philosophical oxymoron, by the way). Thanks for the public relations disaster, Dick!
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rationally-speaking/200904/is-richard-dawkins-really-naive

    I wonder if Pigliucci will be attending the “Reason Rally”?

  9. JAD says:

    Patrick writes:

    The Testimonium Flavium (by Josephus, who was born after Jesus’ death) was a forgery

    Paul L. Maier, the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, agrees that the standard Josephus text is unreliable. However, that is not the only text. There is the Agapian text that does not appear to contain any Christian interpolations. He writes:

    Although this passage is so worded in the Josephus manuscripts as early as the third-century church historian Eusebius, scholars have long suspected a Christian interpolation, since Josephus could hardly have believed Jesus to be the Messiah or in his resurrection and have remained, as he did, a non-Christian Jew. In 1972, however, Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced his discovery of a different manuscript tradition of Josephus’s writings in the tenth-century Melkite historian Agapius, which reads as follows at Antiquities 18:63:

    “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.”
    http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbjesus.aspx?pageid=8589952897 block

    Compare that with the standard text:

    “About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was the achiever of extraordinary deeds and was a teacher of those who accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When he was indicted by the principal men among us and Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him originally did not cease to do so; for he appeared to them on the third day restored to life, as the prophets of the Deity had foretold these and countless other marvelous things about him, and the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day. (All Josephus citations, except the next, are from P. L. Maier, ed./trans., Josephus –The Essential Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1994).”

    It took me just a few minutes google this source. Of course, I knew that there was another side to the debate. Just a little example of what Tom was talking about above.

    By the way, according Maier only a minority of scholars consider the Testimonium Flavium to be an out right forgery. According to him the majority opinion is that it was corrupted by Christian interpolations. That’s because that even though there are many differesnt versions of the text “Josephus must have mentioned Jesus in authentic core material at 18:63 since this passage is present in all Greek manuscripts of Josephus.”

  10. Patrick says:

    You’re still using the possible strictly hearsay account of Josephus, who was born after Christ supposedly died. I’m aware of the other side, being a Christian for 10 years, studying the problems, the manuscripts, and seeing things from the apologist-slanted side.

    I appreciate the work you did here, and I’m in the process of reading it. However, I’d like to know how even this new interpolation is treated in the context of the surrounding passages (which are the best indicator of forgery/interpolation of the entire passage); the testimonium breaks the flow of the narrative significantly.

    I suppose a rabbi that served as the prototype for Jesus probably existed, as most scholars also believe, but I severely doubt the miraculous nature of his birth, death, and resurrection, as it has zero direct attestation, and only exists as interpolation, forgeries, and hearsay accounts. I’m just willing to admit that hearsay doesn’t provide a reliable historical source, especially for a miracle like dying and rising from the dead.

    If you accept hearsay testimony as fact, by what standard do you dismiss Islam, Mormonism, or even Sati Sai Baba’s followers? I am unbiased; I simply apply the same historical standards to all religions, instead of just the one that is the predominant one of the nation I live in.

  11. Patrick says:

    I read the article you linked to by Maier; he doesn’t address the context of the passage at all, or provide any citation for saying that the idea that its a complete forgery is a super-minority position. Good on him for anecdotes. The reason people think its a forgery is the context of the passage. It doesn’t make sense. Read Antiquities 18:3(2-4)

    2. But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews (8) were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.

    3. Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

    4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs…

    4 makes sense right after 2, because the entire passage about Jesus, even the “alternate tradition” Meier mentions makes no sense whatsoever; Josephus shows evidence of being a skilled writer, and under no other circumstance would interpolate such unrelated information.

    Furthermore, while we’re on Josephus, he’s the reason we know that the virgin birth is an invented myth; Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Quirinius became governor in 6 AD. Therefore Jesus was born twice, 10 years apart. These dates are corroborated by roman sources and Josephus

    Or a story that didn’t exist in Mark in the earliest manuscripts was Matthew and Luke’s crappy attempt at fulfilling a mistranslation in Isaiah. Either your Jesus was born 10 years apart or the gospels are wrong. take your pick. I can do this all (most of) the day.

    http://coffeeshopatheist.com/blog/2011/09/jesus-lord-liar-lunatic-literal/

  12. Melissa says:

    Patrick,

    I can do this all (most of) the day.

    I have no doubt that you can but I for one am not going to play your game. Anyway from memory I’m pretty sure that census question was tecently raised in a ppst by Tom. While you are majoring on the tiny details you successfully manage to avoid looking at the big picture. There is no good alternative explanation that works to explain the rise of the early church. It doesn’t work just to say these documents are hearsay and therefore unreliable any historical explanation must also explain what happened next. The circumstances surrounding the birth of the early church are in fact unique which makes me wonder why, given your claims of knowledge of the case for Christianity you would ask a question like this:

    If you accept hearsay testimony as fact, by what standard do you dismiss Islam, Mormonism, or even Sati Sai Baba’s followers? I am unbiased; I simply apply the same historical standards to all religions, instead of just the one that is the predominant one of the nation I live in.

  13. Joe Dan says:

    If you accept hearsay testimony as fact…
    Evidence, not fact. Words, and their meanings, are important.

    But speaking of facts,
    Josephus shows evidence of being a skilled writer, and under no other circumstance would interpolate such unrelated information.
    is this a fact? As in, something you know to be true? Or is it something you believe to be the case based on what you believe to be credible evidence?

    I can do this all (most of) the day.
    I’m sure you can!

  14. BillT says:

    Well put Melissa. Further, Patrick plays the “extra biblical sources” game and expects us all to play along. The facts are that the gospels are the most historically reliable ancient documents in history. They are multiple orders of magnitude more reliable than any other anciet text and the logical starting place for any examination of facts of Christianity. This is especially true in light of the soon to be released examination of seven new manuscript fragments including the oldest ever found. It always seems to be the same with this crowd. First, let’s ignore the best evidence and then start the conversation from there. It’s neither honest or convincing.

  15. Patrick says:

    There is no good alternative explanation that works to explain the rise of the early church.

    I gave one; there was probably a man who existed and taught, had some embellished writings about the hearsay accounts of his life, and it evolved into a religion. Just like every other mythology to ever exist. People had hearsay accounts of the acts of Hercules; people had hearsay accounts of the actions of Saint Nicholaus, King Arthur had hearsay accounts about his actions, and these (probably) real people became mythologized.

    the birth of the early church are in fact unique

    What is unique about people having ‘visions’ of god, telling stories to their friends, and people following a new deity, that is different from every other mythology in history? You betray your confirmation bias here.

    Lets look at mormonism in particular. After Joseph Smith ‘discovered’ and translated the golden tablets in 1820, which have 12 (thats 12 more than the bible has) eyewitness signatures attesting to their existence, the church had 17,000+ members by 1838. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints

    This parallels the (probably embellished) growth of the early church as attested in acts, with 3,000 being added in one day. But then again acts wasnt written until 40 years after the crucifixion, so its fairly unreliable.

    Evidence, not fact

    Yes, and you are judging the evidence (evidence being the facts that Josephus was not an eyewitness, nor were the gospel authors, and all these hearsay testimonies underwent interpolation) by your confirmation bias.

    And yes, scholars point out the literary alien-ness of the passage in context. Except for Meier, who takes a (surprise surprise) contrary view about both the unique (read:interpolated) language of the passage as well as Josephus’ habits of random paragraph insertion (after the removal of the “Christian interpolations”). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authenticity_of_the_Testimonium_Flavianum#Vocabulary_and_style

    “The facts are that the gospels are the most historically reliable ancient documents in history.”

    About the only historical detail the gospels get right is the foretold destruction of the temple, which isn’t too difficult when you write after it happening. There are a myriad of geographical and historical inconsistencies throughout the gospels, especially in the stories about the conditions of the fabricated virgin birth.

    the logical starting place for any examination of facts of Christianity

    Exactly. So lets start with the first gospel: Mark. Written in 65-70 AD, 30+ years after the supposed resurrection. It contains no mention whatsoever of the virgin birth, no mention whatsoever of the resurrection (later interpolation http://codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx?book=34&chapter=16&lid=en&side=r&zoomSlider=0), and is (from textual criticism) a 2nd-generation hearsay account about someone that probably didn’t even live in the area (based on geographical inconsistencies http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/markauthor.html).

    If this is the sort of intellectual dishonesty you guys are going to ‘bring’ to us damned heathens at the rally, you’d best stay home. There are people like me who actually care whether what we believe is true, and superstitious myth has no place around people who have actually taken a cautious, reasoned look at Christianity (or Islam, Mormon, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, New age, Astrology, or any other lie about some non-existant metaphysical entity).

  16. Patrick says:

    Also, melissa, the “little details” are fairly important when we’re talking about me sufferring excrutiating pain and torment. If something is a blatant forgery with conflicting details, I’m going to throw it out as an accurate representation of reality.

    I just have less propensity for ignorance and the suspension of critical thinking than you do. I actually took 1 Peter 3:15 seriously, and valued truth over “Truth,” resulting in my deconversion.

  17. SteveK says:

    What you are doing is cherry picking what you want to take seriously and you do it out of context. 1 Peter 3:15 has nothing to do with disbelieving.

  18. Melissa says:

    Patrick,

    I gave one; there was probably a man who existed and taught, had some embellished writings about the hearsay accounts of his life, and it evolved into a religion. Just like every other mythology to ever exist. People had hearsay accounts of the acts of Hercules; people had hearsay accounts of the actions of Saint Nicholaus, King Arthur had hearsay accounts about his actions, and these (probably) real people became mythologized.

    Really? You’re going to try that one? Peter and Paul were not acting on hearsay when they were martyred for the faith. The early church were not acting on hearsay when they faced persecution. In the early church we have people acting on account of their own experience or in response to the experience of others who were alive and accessible to cross examination.

    What is unique about people having ‘visions’ of god, telling stories to their friends, and people following a new deity, that is different from every other mythology in history? You betray your confirmation bias here.

    What we have in other religions is a charismatic leader with a private revelation. I’m sure with your knowledge I don’t need to spell out how the early church differed from this scenario. Let’s see we have 12 witnesses under the influence of a strong charismatic leader in the Mormon church who sign a form and some who later recant their statement, compared to witnesses to the resurrection with no single leader calling the shots who persisted in their claim in spite of persecution and ultimately many being put to death. I know whose testimony I would consider more trustworthy.

    Also, melissa, the “little details” are fairly important when we’re talking about me sufferring excrutiating pain and torment.

    I agree, so why do you ignore the details that crucially undermine your theory?

    I just have less propensity for ignorance and the suspension of critical thinking than you do.

    From your response I doubt that very much. I will attempt to give you a broad brush view so you can understand where I’m coming from. Firstly I think the God of classical theism is the only possible coherent worldview that gives a strong foundation for scientific realism, moral realism, human free will and rationality in humans. Since no one lives as if these things are false I would consider it unreasonable to embrace a worldview that if taken to its logical conclusion renders these an illusion and can only really result in hyper skepticism of all our experiences, hence why I reject atheism.

    Secondly God as revealed in the bible is consistent with the God arrived at by use of reason alone. For that reason it makes sense to examine the claims of the bible seriously, not from the point of view of a naturalist but with the goal of determining whether Jesus really was God.

    The problem with the objections you raise is that they do not offer a defeater for the reasons that lead me to believe the resurrection really happened. Providing evidence that the gospels and acts do not conform to modern standards of historical writing is not addressing the question but changing the subject.

    A word of caution: do not assume that every Christian grew up in the church and have just never heard the things you have.

  19. JAD says:

    I think Patrick is being unfair. History is full of real and apparent contradictions yet that doesn’t necessarily undermine the trustworthiness of a particular historical account. History is recorded by people, and people are not perfect. Consider for example the sinking of the Titanic. Some of the eyewitnesses said that it broke in two, others claimed it went down in one piece. Obviously both accounts can’t both be true. It’s a blatant contraction. But does it follow from that the historical account of the Titanic is unreliable or made up?

    Look at the leaps Patrick is making. Josephus, he writes, is “the reason we know that the virgin birth is an invented myth; Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Quirinius became governor in 6 AD. Therefore Jesus was born twice, 10 years apart.”

    When I defend the NT as history that is all I am trying to do. I am not trying to prove miracles, the Bible’s inspiration or the truth of some theological doctrine. I expect after 2000 years there are going to be some problem texts.

    However, I would argue that the texts that Patrick has cited are problem texts, with plausible explanations, not blatantly contradictory accounts like the eyewitness accounts of the Titanic disaster. For example, the problem with Quirinius census may be because of the way the Greek word prote is translated. The Greek is “usually translated ‘first’, [but] according to some Greek scholars can also be translated ‘prior.’ If that is Luke’s meaning, then, he would be referring to a census taken prior to the one taken when Quirinius was governor in 6 A.D.”
    http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/editors-choice/EC1205W3C.htm

    Ironically, though Patrick claims that he is seeking the truth, he is really pursuing an agenda. Unfortunately, if his purpose is to deconvert people, like me with the reasoning he is using, he is barking up the wrong tree.

  20. Joe Dan says:

    Yes, and you are judging the evidence (evidence being the facts that Josephus was not an eyewitness, nor were the gospel authors, and all these hearsay testimonies underwent interpolation) by your confirmation bias.

    1. You don’t know any where near enough about me or what I believe to toss “confirmation bias” into the discussion. And on a closely related note,
    2. If you’re going to assume things not in evidence, you should probably not accuse others of bias.
    3. I said nothing to you at all about the gospels or their authors.

    And yes, scholars point out the literary alien-ness of the passage in context.

    That’s not what I asked, and if you’re going to refuse to answer questions you should probably not lecture others on intellectual dishonesty.

    Cue the “It’s not my fault you can’t communicate clearly” response in 3, 2, 1…

  21. Doug says:

    I was going to respond to Patrick, but both Melissa and JAD have done such an excellent job, I’ll only echo one of JAD’s points: Patrick’s data (if honestly applied, rather than in pursuit of that agenda JAD mentions) only brings us to a place of historical agnosticism. Applying such standards of historical legitimacy, there is not a single event prior to Gutenberg and very few after that could not be dismissed as “hearsay”.
    I’ve lived through events in which the “official historical account” was certainly rubbish (because those of us who were on the inside know better).
    But I gotta ask @Patrick: do you still take 1 Peter 3:15 seriously? :)

  22. SteveK says:

    If something is a blatant forgery with conflicting details, I’m going to throw it out as an accurate representation of reality.

    Patrick accepts the hearsay testimony of the text in order to first conclude that Paul and the other apostles believed that Jesus was God. Patrick later rejects the testimony of the text because it is hearsay and therefore untrustworthy, so Jesus was probably just an ordinary rabbi.

  23. Doug says:

    The greatest irony in Patrick’s comments is the repeated disavowal of personal bias coupled with the repeated accusation of bias upon those with whom he disagrees.

    Let us briefly consider the possibility that the gospel (or, if you prefer, “the Christian narrative”) is true in its entirety.

    1) Would we not expect that there would be people and forces throughout history who act to discredit this gospel?
    2) Would we not expect that there would be people and forces throughout history who embellish/falsify/act mistakenly in support of this gospel?

    Now in such an event, how would we describe the process of accepting uncritically every instance of 1) while treating as damning every instance of 2)?

    Oh yeah — we have a term for that, don’t we? “confirmation bias”.

  24. BillT says:

    More of the same from vel and Patrick. Drive by posters who throw out a few poorly supported arguments and when the serious disussion begins, disappear. Where have we seen this before.

  25. JAD says:

    Patrick @15 linked a Wikipedia article. Apparently, he didn’t read it, because it agrees with, even quotes Maier’s postion.

    Scholars have differing views on the authenticity of the Testimonium.[6] The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate which was then subject to interpolation.

    That is Maier’s position. In the article I linked above @ #9 Maier writes:

    Scholars fall into three basic camps regarding Antiquities 18:63 [the so called "Testimonium Flavium"]:

    1) The original passage is entirely authentic—a minority position;

    2) it is entirely a Christian forgery – a much smaller minority position; and

    3) it contains Christian interpolations in what was Josephus’s original, authentic material about Jesus—the large majority position today, particularly in view of the Agapian text (immediately above) which shows no signs of interpolation.

    Here is an article by Oxford Universities, professor(retired) of Jewish studies, Géza Vermes.
    http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/2507/full

    “Regarding the authenticity of the Testimonium”, Vermes writes, “three stances are possible:

    1. One may accept it lock, stock and barrel, as did all the pre-16th-century authorities.

    2. With more recent scholars, one may reject the entire passage as a Christian interpolation.

    3. In the company of an increasing number of recent students, it is possible to recognise some parts of the notice as authentic and discard the remainder as spurious.”

    Essentially Vermes agrees with Maier, though he sees position #3 as one that is being increasingly supported, while Maier describes the position as being already “the large majority position.”

    However more importantly are the reasons Vermes give as to why he thinks the Testimonium has an partially authentic.
    In his Standpoint article he argues,

    Once the Christian supplements are removed, the original notice is reduced to the description of Jesus as “wise man” and “performer of paradoxical deeds”, the epithet “Christ” attached to the name of Jesus; the crediting of the death sentence to Pilate; and the mention of the existence of the followers of Jesus at the time of the writing of the Testimonium in the 90s CE.

    Both “wise man” and “performer of paradoxical deeds” take us to plain Josephus territory. Great biblical and post-biblical characters like the priest Ezra, the miracle-worker Honi-Onias (Hame’agel, the circle-maker), and the Pharisaic leader Samaias are regularly portrayed as “just men” and John is called a “good man”. More specifically, the legendary King Solomon and the Prophet Daniel carry the title of “wise man”, and the miracle-working prophet Elisha is said to have performed “paradoxical deeds”. The notion of a paradox is commonly used by Josephus in relation to extraordinary events caused by God (the manna or the burning bush) and to miracles performed by Moses (Ant. 3:37-38) and by the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9:182).

    In other words, the key terminolgy used in the Testimonium is distinctly Josephan.

    Patrick, however, has been trying to argue first @11 that when you read it in context the Testamonian seems to be out of place.

    “I read the article you linked to by Maier; he doesn’t address the context of the passage at all, or provide any citation for saying that the idea that its a complete forgery is a super-minority position. Good on him for anecdotes. The reason people think its a forgery is the context of the passage. It doesn’t make sense. Read Antiquities 18:3(2-4).”

    Then @ 15:

    And yes, scholars point out the literary alien-ness of the passage in context. Except for Meier, who takes a (surprise surprise) contrary view about both the unique (read:interpolated) language of the passage as well as Josephus’ habits of random paragraph insertion (after the removal of the “Christian interpolations”)

    However, Patricks argument does not follow if most scholars, according to Maier and Vermes, (as well as Wikipedia) now accept that there is an “authentic nucleus” to the Testamonian.

    Furthermore, Wikipedia states that the argument that “the paragraph before the Testimonium flows naturally into the paragraph after it… has been rejected as inconclusive or unconvincing by some modern scholars, who have argued that Josephus was a “patchwork” writer, who often employed such digressive techniques, inserting passages, sometimes based on barely revised sources, that do not fit smoothly with, and sometimes even contradict, surrounding narratives.”

    However, Patrick continues to try make that argument but cites no scholars who support it.

    Of course most Christians don’t place their faith in the authenticity/ non-authenticity of the the Testimonium.

    I am just intrigued with Patrick’s reasoning here. He seems to think he has landed a knock-out punch when he has really been just shadow boxing.

  26. Joe Dan says:

    Furthermore, Wikipedia states that the argument that “the paragraph before the Testimonium flows naturally into the paragraph after it… has been rejected as inconclusive or unconvincing by some modern scholars, who have argued that Josephus was a “patchwork” writer, who often employed such digressive techniques, inserting passages, sometimes based on barely revised sources, that do not fit smoothly with, and sometimes even contradict, surrounding narratives.”

    Yes, and that was kinda the direction I was going, had Patrick the integrity to own up to the subjective nature of his conclusions.

    I’ve not read everything that Josephus wrote, but I have read enough to know better than to assert as fact that he would never insert something in the text that might seem “out of order” to our modern, Western ears.

  27. JAD says:

    BillT:

    More of the same from vel and Patrick. Drive by posters who throw out a few poorly supported arguments and when the serious discussion begins, disappear. Where have we seen this before.

    It seems to me, whether they admit it or not, the so-called “new” atheists are motivated more by arrogance than reason (see my comment @#8 for evidence of this). They think that because they are atheists that somehow this automatically makes them more reasonable and knowledgeable than any Christian theist. However, what these people don’t realize is that this attitude ironically helps to prove the truth of the Bible. (Psalm 14:1)

  28. Robert O'Brien says:

    Patrick has “just enough of learning to misquote” concerning biblical scholarship, which I intend to address point by point. (Unfortunately, it takes longer to address his errors than it takes him to post them.) Also, it is instructive that he fell for the pseudoscientific claptrap known as evolutionary psychology.

    Anyway, Patrick alludes to the fact that the earliest extant versions of Mark we have end at 16:8. That is correct but what we don’t know is if Mark intended to end his gospel there. I would say no, since in Mark 14:28 Jesus says “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

    Patrick also claims that Mark was written after the temple was destroyed but that is nonsense. Mark does not display the detail that is indicative of vaticinium ex eventu and Josephus mentions another Jesus (i.e., another person named Jesus) predicting the destruction of the temple before it occurred.

    More to come…

  29. Robert O'Brien says:

    The following concerns the Testimonium:

    (I originally posted this here: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-did-josephus-really-say-about.html)

    Alice Whealey’s 2003 book is excellent but have you all read her 2008 article?

    Whealey, A. 2008. “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic”. New Testament Studies. 573–590

    She argues that the version preserved by Michael the Syrian is closest to the original:

    “In fact, much of the
    past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been
    based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus
    could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of
    primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most
    first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more
    aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day
    was not as firm as it would later become.5 The implication of this is that supposedly
    Christian-sounding elements in either the textus receptus or in Michael’s
    Testimonium cannot be ruled inauthentic a priori.”

    “This study thus also implies that it is
    Michael’s Testimonium that is much more important as a witness to Josephus’
    original text about Jesus than Agapius’ Testimonium. By far the most important
    aspect of Michael’s Testimonium in terms of recovering Josephus’ original passage
    is its reading ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’, because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, and
    because it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus
    as the Messiah. Therefore the most important aspect of Agapius’ text is its reading
    that Jesus was ‘perhaps’ the Messiah, because this reading lends weight to the
    hypothesis that Michael’s qualification of Jesus’ Messianic status was based on an
    older exemplar of the Testimonium rather than being created by Michael ex
    nihilo.”

    “In arguing that Agapius’ Testimonium was closer to Josephus’ original passage
    about Jesus than any extant Testimonium, Pines followed a long line of earlier
    scholars who assumed that Josephus’ original passage about Jesus must have
    been very different from the textus receptus Testimonium, which these same
    scholars assumed to have been substantially rewritten by a Christian forger.43 In
    contrast, in arguing that Michael’s Testimonium, which is generally close to the
    textus receptus Testimonium and which has clearly been taken from a recension
    of the Syriac Historia Ecclesiastica, is more authentic than Agapius’ Testimonium,
    this study implies that the textus receptus Testimonium is much closer to the passage
    that Josephus originally wrote about Jesus than is often assumed. Indeed, the
    evidence of Michael the Syrian’s Testimonium, used in conjunction with the evidence
    of Jerome’s Testimonium, indicates that the only major alteration44 that has
    been made to Josephus’ original passage about Jesus is the alteration of the
    phrase ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’ to the textus receptus phrase ‘he was the
    Messiah’.”

  30. Robert O'Brien says:

    Patrick wrote:

    the testimonium breaks the flow of the narrative significantly.

    I know (and you all should know as well) that Patrick has not read Josephus in the original Greek (aside to Patrick — Josephus did not write in English, nor did Jesus speak it, in case you were wondering), so his claim that the Testimonium “breaks the flow of the narrative significantly” is nonsense. (Also, I am confident that he has not read the works of Josephus in their entirety, in any language, to see if Josephus “digresses” elsewhere.)

    Patrick again:

    You’re still using the possible strictly hearsay account of Josephus, who was born after Christ supposedly died.

    Ex post facto historical accounts are very common in antiquity and they are not necessarily unreliable.

  31. Victoria says:

    The ending to Mark’s gospel narrative is indeed a puzzle. Commentaries (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, and New Testament scholar/historian N. T. Wright http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm ) suggest the following probable answer:

    One final question arises: Did Mark actually intend to end his gospel at 16:8? Although some defend this view, it does not adequately explain (1) why the early church felt so strongly its lack of completion, witnessed by the insertion of both the Shorter and Longer endings; (2) why a book that purports to be the “good news about Jesus Christ” should end with the women being afraid; and (3) why it records no fulfillment of Jesus’ promised resurrection appearances to Peter and the other disciples (cf. 16:7).
    Thus the best solution seems to be that Mark did write an ending to his gospel but that it was lost in the early transmission of the text. The endings we now possess represent attempts by the church to supply what was obviously lacking

    and, from Wright

    Sixth, a word about the ending of Mark. Did Mark intend to include a resurrection story as such? Let us approach this question by thinking of the rest of the gospel. Mark has introduced us to Jairus’s daughter. He has told as that Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, raised from the dead. He has conveyed to us the puzzlement of the disciples when Jesus spoke of the Son of Man rising from the dead. What is more, he has told us three times that Jesus warned the disciples of his coming death and told them that afterward he would be raised to life. Finally, he has emphasized that Jesus told the disciples on the Mount of Olives, and Caiaphas in the Jewish hearing, that the Son of Man would be vindicated, exalted on the clouds to a position or glory (not returning in the clouds in a second coming, please note). Mark’s structure is a lot more sophisticated than his grammar. He has so ordered his gospel that the warnings about suffering come to a great climactic crescendo in his crucifixion narrative. What are we to say about what follows?

    I tried for some years to believe that Mark was really a postmodernist who would deliberately leave his gospel with a dark and puzzling ending, but I have for some time now given up the attempt. Grammatically, the gospel could have ended with “for they were afraid” (ephobounto gar); structurally, it could not have ended without the story of the risen, vindicated Jesus. I am convinced that Mark’s scroll, like so many scrolls in the ancient world, lost its ending, and quite possibly its beginning, at a very early stage. What the ending contained I do not know. Stephen Neill reckoned it must have been pretty similar to the ending of Matthew. I am sure, however, that it told stories not unlike those in Matthew, Luke, and John, though no doubt in Mark’s own way: stories about a risen Jesus appearing and disappearing, teaching and commissioning, and finally being seen in that way no more. If so many others within the scholarly world have the right to invent new early Christian texts, why should we not do so as well, just this once?

    Other commentaries suggest that Mark deliberately ended his narrative at verse 16:8 (see http://net.bible.org/#!bible/Mark+16 and the commentary notes therein).

    If the gospel were written on a codex (like a book), then it is possible that the last page went missing – if it were written on a scroll, it is possible that the ends of the scroll (where it would have been attached to the wooden rollers) could have been damaged at some time and had to be reattached. The possibilities are intriguing.

    This puzzle reminds us of the Bible’s dual nature: both divinely inspired and human written ( 2 Peter 1:20-21, and Deuteronomy 31:24, for example ).

    Scripture is full of such puzzles – I think God intended this, for in solving them, we have to dig deeper into the text, the history, the languages and the cultures. This sort of thing separates those who have a heart for God from those who do not.

  32. d says:

    There is no good alternative explanation that works to explain the rise of the early church. It doesn’t work just to say these documents are hearsay and therefore unreliable any historical explanation must also explain what happened next. The circumstances surrounding the birth of the early church are in fact unique which makes me wonder why, given your claims of knowledge of the case for Christianity you would ask a question like this:

    Even if there are no good alternative explanations that work to explain the rise of the early church, it doesn’t mean that the Christian explanation is a good explanation for the rise of the early church (though, actually, there are many such good explanations).

    If you want a recent expose of such an explanation, see Richard Carrier’s latest debate with Douglas Jacoby, where he defends the hypothesis that – historically – we cannot say that Jesus was anything more than an ordinary man (and that the origin of the church has a natural explanation): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJmKxTB7Twg&feature=player_embedded

  33. Doug says:

    there are many such good explanations

    Humor us: provide more than one, please?

  34. BillT says:

    “…historically – we cannot say that Jesus was anything more than an ordinary man…”

    We know the Gospels, Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events they recorded and refer to. Thus, we know that the church has always taught the diety, miracles, death and resurection of Jesus (the) Christ. If and only if the members of the early church were able to verify those facts could Christianity have established itself and survived at all much less prospered as it did. You can hypothesize all you like but without a better explanation than the above any hypothesis is just that.

  35. Victoria says:

    In Acts 5:34-42, one of the Pharisees, Gamaliel, unwittingly(?) provided support for Jesus being much more than an ordinary man….talking about Messiah-wanna-be’s whose efforts came to nothing.

    I wonder if Gamaliel (or one of the other Pharisees present) took his own advice and became a follower of the Way – since Peter and John were sent out of the council chambers, they were probably not the source of this part of the story – but someone there was, to relate the story to Luke….

    Skeptics will accept only naturalistic explanations because that is all they want to see. To entertain even the possibility that there is a supernatural explanation, that Jesus really is God, both frightens and offends them, having been blinded by their own rebellion and by the god of this age.

  36. Melissa says:

    d,

    How about you explain why you think the Christian explanation is not a good one and give us a summary of one good natural explanation for the rise of the early church.

  37. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    I think d should address central issue of how the early church could make such a bold claim that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was supernaturally resurrected , performed miraculous healings in his name, without being challenged on the facts. They were told to stop proclaiming the resurrection, but the authorities did not produce the one irrefutable piece of evidence that would have stopped Christianity in its tracks, namely Jesus’s body, dead or alive. Why? Because they could not (and who would doubt that they would have tried very hard to find Him?)

  38. Patrick says:

    Peter and Paul were not acting on hearsay when they were martyred for the faith.

    The early apostles’ “martyrdom”s are based on additional hearsay testimony, or entirely fabricated by church tradition. This was one of the final realities that “sealed the deal” in my deconversion. Esubius writes about Peter and Paul’s death, but we have no way of knowing what their intentions were. Again I can point to Mormonism, which endured extreme persecution in its infancy, as a parallel of well-meaning, convinced people following what their hearts were telling them.

    http://coffeeshopatheist.com/blog/2011/09/patricks-wager-updated/

    Paul shows evidence of seeing visions that he was convinced were God in the flesh; doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting inauthentically, just that he was probably the victim of epilepsy or some other thorn in his side. (see the Koren Helmet)

    History is full of real and apparent contradictions yet that doesn’t necessarily undermine the trustworthiness of a particular historical account.

    Yes. And socrates may not have existed, etc. etc. But we’re not talking about simple history, we’re talking about the Son of God, remember? The one on whose belief rests my eternal soul. I’m not going to accept it on hearsay with marked contradictions in the text. The incorrect dating is much less a problem than the fact that in Mark, the earliest gospel, makes no mention of the virgin birth, and in the earliest manuscripts, no reference to the resurrection either.

    Unless god is to impotent to preserve the texts, which is what many arguments fall back to. But then how can you tell if Islam, Mormon, or Judaism are true or false?

    My deconversion wasn’t something i took lightly; I made every effort not to leave my church family of 5 years. I didn’t want to have my parents say I’m deluded, wrong, and going to hell. I didn’t want to lose all of my friends. But I value honesty more than faith, which made it impossible for me to be anything but an atheist.

    Yes, and that was kinda the direction I was going, had Patrick the integrity to own up to the subjective nature of his conclusions.

    I’m re-examining my views on Josephus, and would like to see other scholars (such as the rabbi you pointed out) that agree with Maier. However, even if there are authentic portions of the testimonium (as there are elsewhere in Josephus’ works), Joe was born c.37, so every account we have of him was not that of an eyewitness, but that of a second-hand source.

    However, what these people don’t realize is that this attitude ironically helps to prove the truth of the Bible. (Psalm 14:1)

    Putting aside the fact that you’re going around calling people who took an honest look at reality ‘fools’ (which does oodles to help your case), Psalm 53 and Psalm 14 illustrate one of the most clear-cut cases of the documentary hypothesis, which effectively undermines the fundamentalist ideas behind revelation; Instead it supports the theory that the majority of the old testament was a hodgepodge of different writers freely editing, redacting, inserting, and creating revisionist history that is not supported by the archaeological record.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/02/the-best-evidence-for-the-documentary-hypothesis-is-in-the-psalms.html

    Mark does not display the detail that is indicative of vaticinium ex eventu

    What detail is that? Mark 13:1-2
    And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

    aside to Patrick — Josephus did not write in English, nor did Jesus speak it, in case you were wondering

    Really? Man I’m so ignorant. Thanks for pointing that out, never would’ve guessed a Hellinized Jew writing in the first century would write in Greek. Your previous writing gave me food for thought; there was no need for a low blow of ignorance here.

    I am convinced that Mark’s scroll, like so many scrolls in the ancient world, lost its ending, and quite possibly its beginning, at a very early stage.

    Evidence? The evidence to me point that the Resurrection, along with the Virgin birth, were later interpolations to support some of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jews don’t believe Jesus was the messiah because there were so many unfulfilled prophecies, as well as incorrect prophecies fulfilled (virgin birth + lineage of david through Joseph = impossible)

    MLK, Jr. gave some good points for this:
    http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/volume_i_13_september_to_23_november_19491/
    http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/volume_i_13_september_to_23_november_1949/

    More to come.

  39. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    Skeptics will accept only naturalistic explanations because that is all they want to see.

    They also should give a non-circular, non-question begging naturalistic justification for why only naturalistic explanations are acceptable.

  40. vel says:

    Tom,

    sorry it’s taken me a bit to get back to you. you responded to my post thusly:
    “Before we accept that challenge, I’d love to know of what empirical evidence supports the claim that this line applies to the Christian faith, in the sense that it characterizes thinking Christians: Belief, without evidence, is just plain crazy, ignorant, stupid, or thoughtlessly lazy”

    What empirical evidence? Well, let’s make sure we both know what empirical evidence is: Empirical evidence (the record of one’s direct observations or experiences) can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively. You seemed to think you had this empirical evidence since you brought it up “I suggest we discuss this in light of whether it meets an acceptable standard of reasonable discourse: attention to empirical evidences concerning Christian belief, for example; or care in the use of ambiguous language. “

    If we go with this definition, then we have the problem that Christianity has nothing like this *that* distinguishes it from other religions which I think I can be fairly certain you do not believe in. At best you can claim you have experiences, but they are not backed up with physical evidence, they cannot be reproduced in a neutral subject nor can they be distinguished from the experiences of any other theist.

    Common theists claims are that: they can see *their* god’s hand in creation. I cannot see divine influence at all. And along with this problem, how can I tell that the universe was by your particular god and not another one?

    Christians claim that their supposedly divinely inspired book has an accurate depiction of events. However, there is no evidence for many of the special events claimed in the bible. No flood, no babel, no “exodus”, no massive powerful kingdom of David or Solomon, no mass meetings in the area just outside of Jerusalem in an occupied and fractious country, no walking dead, earthquake, or darkening of the sun at the supposed cruxifiction. Many of these should have left either physical evidence e.g. the flood or been noticed by other countries e.g. why no massive invasion of Egypt if all of the plagues and destruction of the army had happened? Many Christians claim that since the bible mentions real places and people, that means it’s *all* true, but that fails in that this logic would make the Iliad true, The Hunt for Red October true, Japanese emperors to truly be gods, etc.

    I find empirical evidence the only valid evidence since it is the only evidence that can be reproduced and experienced by more than the claimant. As far as I can tell, you find empirical evidence the only evidence to accept too since I assume you demand it for cars, computers, modern medicine, food safety, and other religions. It is only when your particular religion comes up, that you find the need to question empirical evidence, to protect your belief. Even in the bible, it says that your god has no problem with providing such evidence when asked. Thomas got it, Gideon got it, etc. It seems that the end of any acts of your god ended with the blind acceptance that your religion was true. Christians now must come up with reasons why their god does not do this anymore, claiming that this god wants “only faith”, that free will is involved, the bible times were somehow “different”, etc. All of which have various problems, how can a unchangeable god change, if miracles do occur, how does that affect free will, etc.

    If you wish to accept evidence that is not empirical, how do you decide what is valid and what is not? If I am a Muslim and I say that my evidence for Allah and Mohammed riding on a magic pony is my holy book and the feeling I have in my heart, do you believe me without question or do you ask for empirical evidence? I would ask for empirical evidence since to accept my claims would mean that my religion is as valid as yours.

    And of course I would listen to an answer. Isn’t that what you are expecting people to do at the Reason Rally? “We’re not going there with any intent to gather crowds, to disrupt, or to press ourselves upon anyone in any way, but just to talk with people who want to have those conversations.” It seems that you may be confusing listening to an answer and blindly accepting an answer. You may give your best arguments for your god and I will tell you what I think of them using the knowledge I have, expecting you to be as honest with me as I am with you. I’m pretty sure you’ll also encounter this at the Rally, if you wish to hand out books full of apologetics; people will look at them and tell you what they think. If you aren’t willing to have that happen, to actually talk with people who want to have those conversations, you will likely be seen as party crashers who just wanted to preach at us with no “reason” at all.

    If you wish to continue this discussion here or at the WWGHA forum: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php or via email: [email protected] I’m more than happy to continue. Please let me know. I’m giving you and yuor guests my email in confidence that you will not abuse it. If anyone does, well, we know how that would reflect on them.

  41. Patrick says:

    Ex post facto historical accounts are very common in antiquity and they are not necessarily unreliable.

    I know. So why is Islam wrong? Its fine if you accept hearsay as authentic. I don’t.

    We know the Gospels, Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events they recorded and refer to.

    Then why do a sum total of zero eyewitnesses refer to it?

    Thus, we know that the church has always taught the diety, miracles, death and resurection of Jesus (the) Christ.

    Wrong. See:gnostics, Council of Nicea (i know it passed clearly, but there were people who disagreed, necessitating the council. Orthodoxy was established, and there was a need for it to be established, disproving your idea that the way things are was always the way things were).

    In Acts 5:34-42, one of the Pharisees, Gamaliel, unwittingly(?) provided support for Jesus being much more than an ordinary man…

    And then Nero messed it all up by blaming the flames of Rome on a new cult. Persecution historically breeds mission fervor. The early persecution caused the christians in Jerusalem to scatter and fan out.

    To entertain even the possibility that there is a supernatural explanation, that Jesus really is God, both frightens and offends them, having been blinded by their own rebellion and by the god of this age

    To entertain the possibility that Jesus was a mythologized figure that became a cultural icon for disenfranchized Jews in the first century, both frightens and offends Christians, having been blinded by their own faith, knowingly ignoring evidence and clinging to fairy-tales.

    See how I did that? Its easy to say the other side is ignorant and just doesn’t look at the ‘right’ facts. I was a Christian for 10 years, and I studied apologetics for 7 of them. I taught bible studies, lectured on the historicity of Christ, led several large-scale university initiatives including FCA, served as a youth intern for two churches, actually left a church because they were anti-reformed theology.

    Its easy to point fingers when you’ve never done any legwork yourself, but are a mere ignorant sheep, content to take other people’s word for it and live in the comfort of mental slavery afforded by religion, complete with absolution from decision making, evaluation of morals, or any form of accountability (since you die and go to heaven anyway).

    How about you explain why you think the Christian explanation is not a good one and give us a summary of one good natural explanation for the rise of the early church.

    Melissa, you did a great job earlier. I’ll just add a few things to your own explanation of the rise of Mormonism.

    Let’s see we have 12 witnesses under the influence of a strong charismatic leader(Jesus) in the Mormon church who sign a form spread the message of the charismatic leader.

    Add to that the persecution of the Christians suffered under Nero, and you have the recipe for a cult gaining a following. Same as Mormonism. Oh and again, there’s really crappy hearsay evidence for most of the apostles’ martyrdoms.

    They were told to stop proclaiming the resurrection, but the authorities did not produce the one irrefutable piece of evidence that would have stopped Christianity in its tracks, namely Jesus’s body, dead or alive.

    I have an invisible pet dragon. You can’t disprove that he exists because he’s invisible.

    I have an invisible Jesus. You can’t disprove that he exists because he’s invisible.

    Same. Logic.

  42. Doug says:

    Mark, the earliest gospel, makes …no reference to the resurrection

    oh really?
    Have you read Mark 8:31?
    How about Mark 9:31?
    I guess you missed Mark 10:34?
    Oh, and Mark 14:28, too?

    Goodness — you’d think you’ve learned your Bible from reddit!

  43. Victoria says:

    Patrick
    I really do feel sorry for you

  44. d says:

    Victoria wrote:

    skeptics will accept only naturalistic explanations because that is all they want to see.

    G. Rodrigues wrote:

    They also should give a non-circular, non-question begging naturalistic justification for why only naturalistic explanations are acceptable.

    Why would anyone feel the need to justify the absurd position you two keep throwing my (our) way.

    Its possible that a supernatural explanation could be the best or most plausible explanation for a particular event. Or its possible that an actual alien encounter could be a best or most plausible explanation for a series of claimed alien abductions or other paranormal phenomena.

    But… as the saying goes… extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. More rigorously, what that statement means is that probability is heavily weighted against those types of explanations. Why? Because claims of both are common – yet in nearly every case where a definitive explanations can be found, they have refuted the supernatural explanations on offer. The evidence for the supernatural explanation must be sufficient enough to overcome the odds against it.

    So what we have here then, is a non-circular, non-question begging Baysian reason to prefer natural explanations over supernatural explanations – and good reasons to demand a high standard of evidence when assessing supernatural claims. Unfortunately, that standard of evidence has not been met when it comes to the rise of the early church, and the supernatural explanations offered for that event.

  45. SteveK says:

    Its fine if you accept hearsay as authentic. I don’t.

    Said the man who accepts the truth of scientific realities based on articles written by others.

    Said the man who accepts the truth of his classroom education based on the hearsay testimony of teachers and textbooks.

  46. Victoria says:

    @d
    So, do as Melissa asked…provide us with a natural explanation…

  47. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    They also should give a non-circular, non-question begging naturalistic justification for why only naturalistic explanations are acceptable.

    Why would anyone feel the need to justify the absurd position you two keep throwing my (our) way.

    Where is the absurdity?

    So what we have here then, is a non-circular, non-question begging Baysian reason to prefer natural explanations over supernatural explanations – and good reasons to demand a high standard of evidence when assessing supernatural claims.

    Can you read? In the part you quoted of my post I write “why only naturalistic explanations are acceptable” and you say that your Bayesian argument establishes that we should “prefer natural explanations over supernatural explanations”. Can you spot the difference or do I need to spell it out to you? And since the issue of contention is precisely whether the case under discussion is best explained by a supernatural intervention (I do not like this terminology as it is prone to equivocations), your Bayesian argument is exactly what I termed it: circular and question-begging.

    As Victoria said: put up or shut up.

  48. BillT says:

    “Then why do a sum total of zero eyewitnesses refer to it?”

    Refer to what? I gather you’re referring to the events in the Gospels. The Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Did you not know that. If not, try Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham. Though the Gospels have long been considered eyewitness accounts, Bauckham’s research and scholarship generally have put the question to rest.

    If you were referring to the dating of the Gospels that is so well established that not even critics of Christianity (at least serious ones) dispute them.

    As far as your reference to the Gnostic gospels and the Council of Nicea neither challenge the claim that the church has always taught the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gnostic gospels were written at least two hundred years after the events and have little historic value. The idea that they were excluded from the cannon at the Council of Nicea is a myth. The inclusion or exclusion of the Gnostic gospels was not part of the considerations at the Council of Nicea.

  49. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    How on earth did you turn…

    “So what we have here then, is a non-circular, non-question begging Baysian reason to prefer natural explanations over supernatural explanations – and good reasons to demand a high standard of evidence when assessing supernatural claims.”

    … into …

    “only naturalistic explanations are acceptable”

    There certainly is a reading problem here, but it isnt mine. Supernatural claims have a high evidentiary burden to overcome – I didn’t say “only natural explanations are acceptable”.

  50. JAD says:

    If God does not exist human beings have no more significance in the cosmic scheme of things than pond scum. The reason I think Patrick is foolish is because he is trying to convert people to his position (or, he is just wasting everyone’s time). There is nothing to convert people to, Patrick!

    If I were an atheist the last thing I would being doing is proselytizing. That’s something religious people do.
    Furthermore, it is none of my business what other people believe. Some evolutionists explain religion as a coping mechanism. Why not leave religious people alone and let them cope?

  51. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    How on earth did you turn…

    “So what we have here then, is a non-circular, non-question begging Baysian reason to prefer natural explanations over supernatural explanations – and good reasons to demand a high standard of evidence when assessing supernatural claims.”

    … into …

    “only naturalistic explanations are acceptable”

    There certainly is a reading problem here, but it isnt mine. Supernatural claims have a high evidentiary burden to overcome – I didn’t say “only natural explanations are acceptable”.

    Your post #44 was in response to my post #39 — you even quoted it for Heaven’s sake. So naturally, I assumed that you were disputing what I claimed. In this post, it seems instead you are claimimg that you were just making a point irrelevant to the whole discussion as I showed in #47. Intellectual honesty is always to be praised.

    And contrary to the mantra you keep repeating, supernatural claims have the same “evidentiary burden” as any other sorts of claims. Singling out supernatural claims as extraordinary qua supernatural is question begging and you, nor anyone else for that matter, have not coherently explained what counts as extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence. So will you drop the empty sound-byte slogans, please?

  52. d says:

    JAD,

    Can you really imagine no good reasons for an atheist/naturalist/non-religious person/whatever to want to influence the religious to a different point of view?

  53. JAD says:

    The logical conclusion of naturalism/materialism/atheism IMO is nihilism.

  54. BillT says:

    “Can you really imagine no good reasons for an atheist/naturalist/non-religious person/whatever to want to influence the religious to a different point of view?”

    Misery loves company?

  55. d says:

    G. Rodrigues

    And contrary to the mantra you keep repeating, supernatural claims have the same “evidentiary burden” as any other sorts of claims. Singling out supernatural claims as extraordinary qua supernatural is question begging and you, nor anyone else for that matter, have not coherently explained what counts as extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence. So will you drop the empty sound-byte slogans, please?

    The evidentiary burden is not the same.

    Supernatural explanations are common. Actual supernatural events are very rare (if they even occur at all). Supernatural explanations refuted by natural explanations are very, very common. Therefore, the a priori probability for any supernatural claim being true, is exceedingly low, right off the bat.

    To reasonably believe a supernatural explanation, you have to overcome those initial low probabilities with evidence. Lots of evidence… more and better evidence than one would need to reasonably believe some other type of explanation.

    The slogan is true, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – and that’s backed up by rigorous mathematical theory (eg. Bayes).

  56. d says:

    JAD,

    Well, that’s great, but lots of atheists don’t share your opinion. Few actually do, in my experience.

  57. Doug says:

    Few actually do, in my experience.

    But the real question is “how in the world do they arrive at any other position from a atheistic/materialistic position?”
    Atheists of old were clearly cut from a different cloth: Sartre and Nietzsche were actually willing to live with the logical conclusion of their position, rather than the insipid mockery of “atheism” that smuggles in all kinds of values-laden rhetoric from who-knows-where by who-knows-what-means. ;)

  58. d says:

    Its pretty much impossible to summarize a historical explanation for the early church in a blog comment. So I just highlight some of the major points (which you can see more of, more in depth, in the debate I linked too).

    1. The early Christian movement, anthropologically speaking, looks just like other cult movements based on schizotypal personalities (a mild schizophrenic condition where one regularly hallucinates or has “visions” – but is otherwise functional and able to remain integrated in society).
    2. They based many of their beliefs on these visions and hallucinations, which are unreliable sources of information.
    3. Jew were actually diverse, religiously innovative, and its not that unlikely that they adopted beliefs from other cultures (resurrection myths, murdered saviors, etc).
    4. The gospels are the worst kinds of sources historians can hope to have (not independent from one another, no cited sources, apologetic in nature, mysterious authors, etc)

  59. JAD says:

    d,

    Well then they are not being honest with themselves.

    In his book, The Universe Next Door, James W. Sire writes that the problem with philosophical naturalism is that it “places us as humans in a box. But for us to have confidence that our knowledge in a box is true, we need to stand outside the box or have some other being outside the box to provide us information… But there is nothing or no one outside the box to give us revelation and we cannot ourselves transcend the box. Ergo: epistemological nihilism.”

    Another example comes from the from the movie The Matrix. Neo doesn’t know that he has been part of the Matrix until he is disconnected and ejected from the Matrix.

    I think there is evidence and then there is evidence. Within the box (our universe) we empirical evidence than can give us reliable knowledge about things within our universe. However, if we ask questions about the origin of the universe the chain of cause and effect leads us “outside the box”. Logically whatever caused our universe must transcend our universe.

  60. d says:

    As if Sartr and Neitzche were the only atheists of note throughout history.

    Christians glob onto those guys because they can shock and awe with their dismal existentialism. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a single logical argument from either of those two. They are by no means the official spokespeople of atheism.

  61. BillT says:

    It the above from d suppose to be serious?

    1. Cult movements based on schizotypal personalities die out quickly. Christianity certainly didn’t. One down.

    2. Not a shred of evidence that this speculation is true. Two down.

    3. More seculation without evidence. Three down.

    4. The Gospels are the most reliable ancient historical documents in history by multiple orders of magnitude over any other ancient sources. Four down.

  62. BillT says:

    You notice how the new athiests always want to distance themselves from Sartre and Nietzsche. Why? Because they can’t refute them and they can’t take the heat that Sartre and Nietzsche’s arguments generate.

  63. d says:

    JAD,

    Sure, humans are faced with the task of bootstraping themselves to a position of genuine knowledge, on imperfect, faulty hardware. Its a problem, but not one that logically requires nihilism.

    If by nihilism you mean something rather mild like “even our most fundamental beliefs are subject to questioning”, then OK – but it sounds like you really want to associate all the existential dismay and despair of guys like Nietzche onto naturalism – which doesnt really work (especially since continental philosophers werent especially concerned with logical argument).
    .

  64. Melissa says:

    Patrick,

    I know. So why is Islam wrong? Its fine if you accept hearsay as authentic. I don’t.

    For one thing it’s based on a private revelation to a single charismatic leader.

    “We know the Gospels, Paul’s letters and the rest of the New Testament were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events they recorded and refer to.”

    Then why do a sum total of zero eyewitnesses refer to it?

    Explain yourself. Are you really suggesting that none of the writers of the NT books were not eyewitnesses to some of what they wrote about?

    Add to that the persecution of the Christians suffered under Nero, and you have the recipe for a cult gaining a following. Same as Mormonism.

    Oh dear, you miss the details again. You would have done well to include the previous sentences from your quote of me. Mormonism is based on a private revelation to a single charismatic leader. Christianity is based on the public experience of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If your naturalistic explanation is true they were not under the influence of Jesus and the accounts of the time immediately following Jesus’ death show that when Jesus died he did not have a controlling influence on them.

    The early apostles’ “martyrdom”s are based on additional hearsay testimony, or entirely fabricated by church tradition.

    I do not share you contempt for hearsay evidence and I’m sure, as pointed out by Steve K., that you don’t apply this standard across the board. The fact that it is hearsay does not make it necessarily unreliable each case needs to be assessed on it’s own merits.

    As to the fabrication by church tradition. What you are suggesting is that a group of believers being persecuted and with no political power somehow pulled off the greatest hoax in history or once the church gained political power it managed to completely rewrite history leaving not a trace of what really happened.

    Psalm 53 and Psalm 14 illustrate one of the most clear-cut cases of the documentary hypothesis, which effectively undermines the fundamentalist ideas behind revelation;

    What you are refuting here is a particular brand of biblical inerrancy ie you are changing the subject.

    Its easy to point fingers when you’ve never done any legwork yourself, but are a mere ignorant sheep, content to take other people’s word for it and live in the comfort of mental slavery afforded by religion, complete with absolution from decision making, evaluation of morals, or any form of accountability (since you die and go to heaven anyway).

    I suggest you don’t assume that your state when you professed Christianity represents where the rest of us are. It seems from what you have written that when you were a Christian you were operating under some unargued assumptions (the nature of revelation, the nature of God, what counts as evidence, natural vs supernatural distinctions). Your Christianity was not rationally defensible given those background assumptions and so you stopped believing. What you should have done was examined everything.

    I have an invisible pet dragon. You can’t disprove that he exists because he’s invisible.

    I have an invisible Jesus. You can’t disprove that he exists because he’s invisible.

    Same. Logic.

    Now that is just embarrassing. How do you go from Victoria’s statement about the fact that no body was produced by the early opponents of Christianity to this?

  65. JAD says:

    d writes:

    Sure, humans are faced with the task of bootstraping themselves to a position of genuine knowledge, on imperfect, faulty hardware. Its a problem, but not one that logically requires nihilism.

    If by nihilism you mean something rather mild like “even our most fundamental beliefs are subject to questioning”, then OK

    British-born geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane was an avowed atheist. He writes:

    “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course… I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

    However, he also saw atheism leading to some rather troubling dilemmas. For example:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.”
    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/J.B.S._Haldane

    Theists don’t have that dilemma. We believe man has the potential to discover real Truth, not only in science but also in the realm of meaning and values.

  66. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    The slogan is true, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – and that’s backed up by rigorous mathematical theory (eg. Bayes).

    I notice you did not deign to clarify what extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence are. So what counts as extraordinary evidence? Lots of evidence? Lots according to whom? Overwhelming evidence? Why overwhelming? Why is the bar unreasonably high? And overwhelming to whom? Overwhelming to defeat your a priori commitments?

    It is a tad complicated for a mathematical theorem to justify anything whatsoever, when said anything is not rigorously formulated. Related, but slightly different, it is also difficult to judge the a priori probabilities to be able to apply Bayes’ theorem — but by all means do not let such inconvenient details stop you. You want to keep repeating the mantra? Have a ball.

  67. d says:

    It the above from d suppose to be serious?

    Absolutely, but if you want to see some of those issues spelled out in more detail, see the debate I linked to earlier.

    1. Cult movements based on schizotypal personalities die out quickly. Christianity certainly didn’t. One down.

    That’s absurd. *Most* schizotypal cults die out quickly. Heck, most cults die out quickly. Some stick around. Some succeed. The point is that Christianity displays all the typical anthropological attributes of a schizotypal cult. That a cult would succeed and grow into a dominant major religion is rare, so we would only expect to see it happen every once in a while – like we do.

    2. Not a shred of evidence that this speculation is true. Two down.

    You have heard of Saul of Tarsus, yes? Paul is glaring evidence for #2.

    3. More seculation without evidence. Three down.

    What there’s no evidence for, is the claim that some Jews could never have possibly have adopted religious beliefs about a dying messiah. That dying messiah myths diffused into some Jewish sects is not outside the parameters of what people might do.

    4. The Gospels are the most reliable ancient historical documents in history by multiple orders of magnitude over any other ancient sources. Four down.

    Ummm…. yea… right… but even if they are the most reliable ancient historical documents – that doesnt necessarily suggest any high degree reliability. But as it is, no historian worth his degree would ever, EVER, say that historical claims in the Bible can be confidently believed without some other corroborating evidence.

  68. Victoria says:

    I don’t think it has occurred to most atheists (and especially Patrick, who should have known better) that faith is God’s way of interacting with us (Hebrews 11:1 and Hebrews 11:6, for starters).

    In John 20:24-29, Jesus appears to His disciples (Thomas now being there). Jesus offers him the evidence he asked for, and chides Thomas for not believing his fellow disciples (like, what, their word was not good enough for Thomas?) Jesus says, “…blessed are those who have not seen and have yet believed”. Who could He be referring to except people who would come to believe that He is the Son of God and believing, have life in His name (John 24:30-31), on the basis of the eyewitness testimony of those who had seen the risen Jesus. All we have to go on, as far as ‘empirical data’ is concerned, are the historical documents of the New Testament (and the Old as well). Clearly Jesus thought that this should be good enough as a starting point for a person’s faith. Faith has a rational foundation, but it is not limited to that. As Pascal said, “The heart has reasons for faith that reason knows nothing about”. Faith is more that just intellectual assent, it is a heart and will matter too. It demands a response from us – to acknowledge our rebellion against God’s rightful sovereignty over us, it requires humility to bow in obedience to Him, and to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the relationship that He offers to us through His grace. God helps us with this process, and if we accept His help, He takes us across the chasm that separates us from Him, adopts us into His eternal kingdom, and gives us new life (Ephesians 1:1-14 and Ephesians 2:1-22 for example).

    In my time on this blog, I have seen the truth of Romans 1:18-3:1 so amply demonstrated.

    If the historical basis of Christianity is not good enough for you, and you continue to resist the grace of God and remain in your spiritual blindness, then, well, that is really too bad for you.

  69. d says:

    JAD,

    Similar dilemmas can be posed to most theists. You say that God values truth? Well, then explain the pandemic levels of false belief in the world.

    You’ll inevitably either have to take a skeptical theist reply, or invoke a theodicy that explains why God would allow so many people in the world to be deceived, despite wishing them to know the truth. And.. at the end of either road is the conclusion that truth values of beliefs under theism are essentially inscrutable – because there’s always the possibility that God has a good reason, beyond your ken, to allow your deception.

    And you should see how easy it is for the naturalist to conjecture similarly – perhaps we live in a world where true belief tends to enhance survival value. Therefore, we should expect to see creatures like us, who can form true beliefs, arise from evolution and natural selection. My speculation is as good as yours.

  70. d says:

    I notice you did not deign to clarify what extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence are. So what counts as extraordinary evidence? Lots of evidence? Lots according to whom? Overwhelming evidence? Why overwhelming? Why is the bar unreasonably high? And overwhelming to whom? Overwhelming to defeat your a priori commitments?

    Consider a scenario. Bob is a strange, guy who seems mentally unstable.

    One explanation offered for his mental condition is that he was abducted and experimented on by aliens.

    Another explanation offered is that he was struck by lighting, and his brain got fried.

    Neither of these options is probable, but which is more reasonable to believe, and why? Can you somehow answer this question without committing yourself to the slogan in question?

    It is a tad complicated for a mathematical theorem to justify anything whatsoever, when said anything is not rigorously formulated. Related, but slightly different, it is also difficult to judge the a priori probabilities to be able to apply Bayes’ theorem — but by all means do not let such inconvenient details stop you. You want to keep repeating the mantra? Have a ball.

    Such details do not stop apologists from confidently proclaiming the historicity of the resurrection and the supernatural origins of the Christian church. So do you disavow their claims, or do they have some superior methods for assessing the probability of historical claims (note – there isnt one – so whatever little confidence you have in results from historical Bayesian calculations – you should have EVEN LESS for claims based on other less formal methods)

  71. Victoria says:

    @d
    Similar dilemma’s can be posed to most theists. You say that God values truth? Well, then explain the pandemic levels of false belief in the world

    Nice try, d…false dilemma.

    Remember Genesis 3? That serpent, who was a mouthpiece for the Devil? This ruthless being has rebelled against God – there is a civil war going on, and we are in enemy occupied territory; moreover, we are all participants in that rebellion ourselves. Satan is the great deceiver, the very father of lies. God has given us a choice – we can listen to Him or we can listen to the enemy and be deceived. Because of what happened in Genesis 3, we humans suffered spiritual death, which is really separation from God. This is why no person can come to faith in God without His help. Biblical Christianity has an answer – that you do not like it, or even comprehend it, is your problem, not ours

  72. d says:

    Victoria,

    Whatever the back-story is behind all the falsehood and deception in the world, is really besides the point.

    The point is, that God has a good reason to allow your deception to persist, despite possessing the ability to correct it.

  73. Victoria says:

    @d
    Actually, it is your deception, not mine :)

    And, in fact, He has provided the means to correct it, always has (see Romans 2, for example, or 2 Chronicles 16:9, or the story of Ruth or Rahab (in Joshua ), and in these last days, through His Son. God is probably far more gracious to people than we can imagine. One thing I am certain of – God’s eternal kingdom will be filled with people who want to be there, who want to be with Him.

    You have the opportunity in front of you to accept that offer of grace, and correct your deception. Why don’t you take it?

  74. Victoria says:

    @d
    And, if you insist on remaining in your rebellious, blind state, then the curse described in Romans 1:18-2:1 will be the inevitable result, with eternal consequences that you won’t like

  75. d says:

    Victoria,

    How does any of that actually address anything that has been said between me and JAD?

  76. JAD says:

    d,

    Similar dilemmas can be posed to most theists.

    No, with theism there is no dilemma because there is an explanation– a very reasonable explanation.

    Francis Schaeffer put it this way:

    I have a lung system, and the lung system fits the earth atmosphere in which I live. It would not fit Venus or Mars and it does not fit the moon, but it fits my own environment. Why does it fit the world in which I live? It is not surprising that my lung system is in correlation to the world’s atmosphere, for the same reasonable God made both my lung system and the atmosphere and he put me in this world. So we should expect a correlation between my lung system and the atmosphere in which I live. Going back the the area of epistemology, there is no surprise that God has given me a correlation between the categories of my mind and the world in which I live. Thus in the matter of knowledge, if a reasonable God made the world and has also made me, we are not surprised if he made the categories of the human mind to fit the categories of the external world. Both are his creation. There are categories of the external world and there are categories of my mind. Should I be surprised if they fit? (He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 77)

    In an apples-oranges comparison I choose Theism because it is a better more reasonable explanation. You haven’t given me any reason to choose naturalism.

  77. Melissa says:

    d,

    Neither of these options is probable, but which is more reasonable to believe, and why? Can you somehow answer this question without committing yourself to the slogan in question?

    The answer is that since we have no evidence that aliens even exist it is more probable that he got hit by lightning. That’s where your analogy breaks down. We have independent reasons for believing God exists. Of course not all claims of God did it are equally valid but that just means each case needs to be assessed on it’s own merits, hence our rejection of your slogan.

    They based many of their beliefs on these visions and hallucinations, which are unreliable sources of information.

    Are you thinking that multiple people had shared hallucinations?

    Ummm…. yea… right… but even if they are the most reliable ancient historical documents – that doesnt necessarily suggest any high degree reliability. But as it is, no historian worth his degree would ever, EVER, say that historical claims in the Bible can be confidently believed without some other corroborating evidence.

    Since no one is making that claim who cares. What it does show is that your claim that “The gospels are the worst kinds of sources historians can hope to have.” was a lie.

  78. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    I notice you did not deign to clarify what extraordinary claims or extraordinary evidence are. So what counts as extraordinary evidence? Lots of evidence? Lots according to whom? Overwhelming evidence? Why overwhelming? Why is the bar unreasonably high? And overwhelming to whom? Overwhelming to defeat your a priori commitments?

    Consider a scenario.

    So I ask a clarification and intead of offering it you give me a crappy irrelevant scenario. Sigh.

    Bob is a strange, guy who seems mentally unstable.

    One explanation offered for his mental condition is that he was abducted and experimented on by aliens.

    Another explanation offered is that he was struck by lighting, and his brain got fried.

    Neither of these options is probable, but which is more reasonable to believe, and why? Can you somehow answer this question without committing yourself to the slogan in question?

    Give me the evidence available for both cases and I will assess their merits. Absent any evidence offered, I will just say I have no reason to believe any of the explanations and a humble “I do not know why Bob is mentally unstable” is my answer. That you think that this crappy scenario is any sort of justification for your asinine slogan speaks volumes about you.

    Such details do not stop apologists from confidently proclaiming the historicity of the resurrection and the supernatural origins of the Christian church. So do you disavow their claims, or do they have some superior methods for assessing the probability of historical claims (note – there isnt one – so whatever little confidence you have in results from historical Bayesian calculations – you should have EVEN LESS for claims based on other less formal methods)

    So you do not clarify what extraordinary evidence or claims are, you do not give justifications for the a priori probabilities you assign and yet you have the audacity to speak of formal methods? Look, I am not going to educate you on apologetics, on how to gauge historical claims or on the correct use of Bayes’ theorem. If you want to see the latter put to good use in respect to the former, see for example “The argument from miracles: a cumulative case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” by Lydia and Timothy McGrew in the Blackwell companion to Natural Theology. As I said, you want to continue repeating that stupid mantra? Be my guest.

  79. d says:

    The answer is that since we have no evidence that aliens even exist it
    is more probable that he got hit by lightning. That’s where your
    analogy breaks down. We have independent reasons for believing God
    exists. Of course not all claims of God did it are equally valid but
    that just means each case needs to be assessed on it’s own merits,
    hence our rejection of your slogan.

    Actually, what you write above is an implicit affirmation of the slogan, not a rejection of it. Strong independent reasons are things that can make extraordinary claims into plausible claims, if those reasons are strong enough (ie, extraordinary).

    And sure, you can claim that there is strong independent evidence that God exists, but that’s not enough. You need enough evidence to overcome the prior probability against claims of divine intervention – again, a common type of claim that is often debunked, and rarely (if ever confirmed). You also need strong independent evidence that God would act in ways consistent with the Christian narrative (as opposed to say… the Islamic narrative, or something else) and a whole host of other things.

    And as you lay out the case for these things, it will become clear pretty quickly: you aren’t really doing history, as practiced by historians, anymore. And it will also become pretty clear that you aren’t ruling out natural explanations for the rise of the church through sound historical methodology, but through a complicated, highly controversial, and sectarian metaphysical conjecture – something that isn’t a standard part of the historians toolbox.

    And that’s fine… but a few things need to be made apparent:

    1) History, as practiced by historians, can’t rule out natural explanations for the rise of the church
    2) History, as practiced by historians, can’t reliably establish supernatural explanations for the rise of the early church
    3) Those of us think the rise of the early church can be explained consistently and plausibly with the framework of naturalism, aren’t necessarily rejecting supernatural claims out of hand

    Are you thinking that multiple people had shared hallucinations?

    Sure. There are such things as group hallucinations. In the context of religious cults, they aren’t really even that rare or improbable.

    Since no one is making that claim who cares. What it does show is that your claim that “The gospels are the worst kinds of sources historians can hope to have.” was a lie.

    I’m sorry but they are, for many of the reasons I mentioned – they are polemical in nature, cite no reliable sources, have mysterious authors, are written years after the events they describe, and we lack any original documents.. and the list could go on. These are not qualities that historians seek. Just the opposite.

    Now true, often when it comes to ancient documents, that’s the best we can hope to have. However, anything we conclude from that kind of evidence, must be properly underwritten with those caveats in mind.

  80. JAD says:

    Here is quote relevant to the historical Jesus:

    “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    Can you guess who said it?

  81. Victoria says:

    @d
    Read N. T. Wright, Craig Blomberg and Mike Licona, for example, for answers to your objections.

    The fact that the gospels have a theological purpose does not make them untrustworthy or untrue – it just means the authors intent was to provide more than just historical information about people and events – they wanted to explain the significance of these events as well (Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31, 2 Peter 1:16-21, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). In fact, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is regarded by all New Testament scholars (even Erhman) as representing an early oral tradition of the Christian community – all NT scholars regard 1 Corinthians as a genuine letter of Paul, written in ythr mid -50′s ( see http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/NTIntro/1cor.htm for a discussion, or http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-corinthians/ ), so we have an independent witness to what the early church believed about Jesus; The gospels were written down some time later, but they make the same claims. The gospels are a written record of what the early church already knew about Jesus.

    If you actually take the time to read those books (or at least the gist of them), you will see why Christians have always maintained our viewpoint that we are perfectly entitled to take the NT documents at face value, that they are trustworthy sources (see http://www.ridley.cam.ac.uk/documents/moulemem.pdf, or other articles by NT Wright on the parent page). For that reason, we are confident in taking God at His word and putting our faith and trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. When a person truly does that, he or she is given new life and the indwelling of the Spirit of God, who confirms the truth of what the written word says.

    You are wasting your time and energy if you think you will be able to convince us otherwise – (“Huh Huh Huh! Your jedi mind tricks won’t work on us, boy”)

  82. d says:

    JAD,

    Its simply trivial to speculate that a truth-valuing God would engineer us to be able to know truth. That kind of talk is cheap, and shouldn’t be mistaken for some compelling advantage for theism.

    And the quoted passage does nothing to really avoid the issue I raised. In order to explain false belief, the theist may have to claim that God might have good reasons, beyond our ken, to allow us to remain deceived in many instances. The theist can no longer be sure his deeply moving religious epiphany was true revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit. It could just be a deception, or a false feeling that God allows to persist, for His own reasons. The theist can no longer be sure he is a free-willed agent with causal power – it may just be a deception, a delusion that God allows to persist in him for some reason he cannot comprehend. And so on and so forth.

    None of that would really concern me much if I were a theist, mind you (just as the epistemological issues you raise against naturalism, don’t concern me that much) – this is essentially just to show you that this reasoning can easily be turned against you, and that the perceived advantage of theism, in this regard, is just a bunch of hot air.

  83. Victoria says:

    Here’s a more relevant article by N. T Wright

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm

  84. d says:

    Victoria,

    Oh how the well is poisoned…

    It speaks volumes that you think I’m using “Jedi mind tricks”, rather than honest, good faith thinking.

  85. Victoria says:

    @d
    Is that all you have to say? You focus on one line that I said tongue-in-cheek (should have added the :) emoticon, actually) and ignore what came before it?

    Get over yourself, d

  86. vel says:

    Victorian, the New Testament and its books are not “historical documents” and they do not record “eyewitness testimony”. As for your god wanting only “faith”, you can see that Thomas was chided but not condemned for asking for evidence. We have JC saying that one should believe in his works/miracles even if one could not believe in him (John 10). Your bible presents a god that has no problem with people asking for empirical evidence. It is only modern Christians who have changed what their god “really wants”. It’s much easier to declare that your god suddenly wants only “faith” with no questions asked, than deal with the fact that your god does nothing when prayed do and has no evidence to support it other than the same myths that any religion claims.

  87. vel says:

    Oh and JAD, nice quote from Einstein, which is simply an appeal to authority fallacy. I’d suggest reading this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein's_religious_views#Judaism_and_Jewish_identity rather than speciously making claims about Einstein. He’s not what you think. I know you’ve been told by your fellow Christians that invoking Einstein is a great idea but unfortunately, those Christian can and will lie to you, intentionally and unintentionally.

  88. Victoria says:

    @vel
    not buying your snake oil :)
    Why don’t you take the time to read N. T. Wright and other NT scholars/historians?

    I never said that faith was not based on evidence, or that it should not ask questions. you misunderstand Jesus and Thomas in John 20. you misunderstand John 10:31-39, by not looking at the context. you misunderstand the Christian experience.

  89. SteveK says:

    Is quoting Wiki also an appeal to authority?

  90. d says:

    Victoria,

    Sorry, I have Victoria fatigue – Conversations with obstinate proof-texters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prooftext) like yourself are just tiring and uninteresting after a while.

  91. Victoria says:

    @d
    same goes

    all you want to do is engage in an intellectual debate, without ever coming to grips with the real spiritual issues of your own rebellion, blindness and deception. I am here to present the Christian position – if I have to refer to Scripture, I will do so – if you don’t like that, well, nobody is forcing you to read them or forcing you to stay here.

  92. JAD says:

    vel,

    I wasn’t appealing to Einstein as an authority. On religion, he wasn’t. I was appealing to him for his objective and fair non-Christian (agnostic) opinion. You can’t accuse Einstein for being unintelligent. He did have some very good, sometime profound insights on the topics of religion and philosophy, which is ironic because he also said that scientists were very poor philosophers.

    I know you’ve been told by your fellow Christians that invoking Einstein is a great idea but unfortunately, those Christian can and will lie to you, intentionally and unintentionally.

    That is insulting. You have no idea how I form my beliefs and opinions.

  93. JAD says:

    d,

    On naturalism there is neither an explanation or a fix for man’s fallibility, which you seem to admit exists. From a Christian-theist perspective our falleness is rooted in our moral nature. And even though our falleness effects us epistemologically, there is no solution for our problems from the standpoint of reason alone.

    Schaeffer explains it this way:

    “There was a space-time historic change in man. There is a discontinuity and not continuity in man. Man, made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice from his proper integration point at a certain time in history. When he did this man became something that he previously was not and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem rather merely a metaphysical one. Man at a certain point in history change himself, and hence stands, in his cruelty, in discontinuity with what he was, and we have a true moral situation: morals suddenly exist.”

    Naturalism has no solution for man’s moral dilemma, because naturalism reduces man to a machine.

  94. d says:

    JAD:

    On naturalism there is neither an explanation or a fix for man’s fallibility…

    Says who?!?

    And even though our falleness effects us epistemologically, there is no solution for our problems from the standpoint of reason alone.

    Correction – there’s no solution, because there’s no limit to how one could in theory be deceived – that includes the belief that you have an epistemological escape from the problem at hand, apart from reason.

    Naturalism has no solution for man’s moral dilemma…

    Says who?!?

    because naturalism reduces man to a machine

    and a non-sequitor..

  95. Patrick says:

    Patrick
    I really do feel sorry for you

    And I feel sorry for you. Except I was a Christian, so I know what actual freedom from mental slavery feels like.

    The Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Did you not know that.

    Oh, I didn’t know one book could overturn 200 years of biblical scholarship, especially one that (from what I’ve read of it) writes from a theological slant

    On Nicea, the council, along with works such as “Against Heresies” took place over the divinity of Christ, on the nature of his divinity, on the material he was made of.

    I said nothing of the gnostic gospels anywhere in any posts I’ve made; When I said “gnostics” I meant the “gnostics,” the sect referred to that believed starkly different things from the later-established orthodoxy, who had unique teachings and held several documents in esteem (known as the Gnostic Gospels).

    Thank you for proving my point about the fact that in the first century there were competing theological views present, though.

    I know how the cannon was established, through the quotations of Iraneus (Against Heresies), Oigen, and Esubius (Church History).

    Good job beating up a straw man though.

    Goodness — you’d think you’ve learned your Bible from reddit!

    You caught me. The codex Sinaticus has no reference to the resurrection actually occurring; it has references to the resurrection, which never happened (according to the gospel, anyways)

    Said the man who accepts the truth of scientific realities based on articles written by others.

    You really don’t understand the process of peer-review do you? Ever used medicine? A computer? Its based on this magical thing called science.

    You see, in academia, if someone writes something that is total baloney, then people get credit for dismantling that baloney and putting something more accurate as a theory in its place.

    Things like “Evolution” and “Gravity” are theories, that help explain reality.

    Hearsay testimony in historical context, especially for miracles, is nearly universally thrown out. Satia Sai Baba has eyewitness testimony of his miracles. Today! Why don’t you believe him?

    d has been trying to explain why a few unreliable contradictory fragments that show evidence of tampering do not merit the supposition of a supernatural claim over a naturalistic one, but all I see is special pleading, furthered when I bring up any other mythology/cult/religion that has identical features to Christianity.

    If God does not exist human beings have no more significance in the cosmic scheme of things than pond scum

    Just because you’re too mentally underdeveloped to be have empathy, morals, or a reason for living doesn’t mean everyone on the earth shares your inability to think.

    Nihilism isn’t the only philosophy in history held by non-theists; keep in mind that Epicurus was an atheist, and had his own fully-formed philosophy that needed no supernatural force to validate it.

    Why not leave religious people alone and let them cope?

    I’d love to. Don’t come to the reason rally, trying to proselytize with half-truths and idiocy. I’ve barely seen any coherent statements on this thread that aren’t swimming in historical ignorance, revisionism, logical fallacy, theistic bias, and just plain stupidity.

    I came here to test the waters and gauge the level of ignorance “thinking christian”s would have, and I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew more than 95% of Christians when I was in the flock, and now I know even more.

    Also, from personal testimony, the freedom to think for your self is better than the ‘freedom’ promised by a fairy tale about God slaughtering himself because he is too arrogant to forgive his own flawed creation.

    I want freedom for you, but you’d have to admit you are wrong, which takes a thing called humility; I have it, and most theists don’t.

    For one thing it’s based on a private revelation to a single charismatic leader.

    Who then told his 4 friends. Jesus was the son of God. Seriously, are you mentally challenged? They are the same thing.

    NT books were not eyewitnesses to some of what they wrote about?

    NO. 200 years of textual criticism in every seminary and religious institution in the freaking world knows this fact.

    that you don’t apply this standard across the board

    No. I don’t treat the hearsay testimony of supernatural events on the same footing as professors in respective fields who publish peer reviewed repeatable results that are based on consensus of hundreds of independent research bodies.

    This “single Charismatic leader” baloney is getting just sad. Jesus (according to the gospels, and history in fact), was most likely a charismatic leader who taught throughout Judea and the surrounding areas due to a private (one person) revelation.

    I’m sorry, but you plugging your ears and whining about how your religion should get special treatment won’t float. Look up “Special Pleading.” It’s what you’re doing. Over and over again. Joseph Smith = charismatic prophet with revelation that people believed. Jesus = charismatic prophet with private revelation that people believed. Both cults were spread through early persecution. Both grew rapidly in their first few years.

    What you should have done was examined everything.

    I did. Have you? Do you know why seminaries teach that the gospels were anonymous? Do you know that they were not eyewitnesses? I didn’t. Now I do, and much much more. I took the time. You asking me about the eyewitness status of the gospels shows me you’ve never done a thorough investigation of textual criticism. Read Bart Ehrman, or Dave Metzger, even. I’m making assumptions based on fact, and the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about shows me that you probably haven’t done a thorough evaluation of the claims.

    Do you know which of Paul’s writings are pseudoepigraphical? Do you know how the torah was compiled? Do you know the archaeological perspective surrounding the Exodus, the takeover of Caanan, king David, king Solomon? Do you know about the book that Josiah discovered? Do you know what the difference between Yahweh and Elohim are?

    Do you know what the theory of evolution says? Do you know what evolutionary psychology informs us about? Do you know why Aquinas’ five ways are worthless?

    I doubt it.

    How do you go from Victoria’s statement about the fact that no body was produced by the early opponents of Christianity to this?

    Because absence of evidence is not evidence of anything. No body doesn’t mean Jesus ascended to heaven, just as much as me claiming there’s an invisible dragon doesn’t mean there is one.

    Theists don’t have that dilemma.

    Atheists don’t have the dilemma to decide what verses were inspired, and which to ignore, nor are we obliged to feel guilty for natural tendencies, such as anger, lust, or hunger. We have the full council of human history at our disposal to evaluate reality by, and I (personally) believe that my search for truth started when I quit believing mythology as reality.

    Victoria, I just skipped your comment. Gospels aren’t eyewitness accounts, and yes blind faith is enshrined in Hebrews and in John as substitution for actual evidence. I don’t think gullibility is a virtue, no matter how many ‘holy book’s tell me it is.

    You are wasting your time and energy if you think you will be able to convince us otherwise – (“Huh Huh Huh! Your jedi mind tricks won’t work on us, boy”)

    I was never trying to convince. I just wanted to see the level of scholarship I should expect from proselytizers at the Reason Rally. I’ve been woefully disappointed, though not surprised. Half the posters on here think the gospels are eyewitness accounts. You probably think Moses wrote the Torah, too.

    My ignorance-o-meter is almost through the roof, so I’m going to bow out. If I see you at the reason rally, be sure to find me. I’ll be the one pointing out reality to all the Christians.

    Until then, read up on what a logical fallacy is, what Bayes’ theorem states, Church history, textual criticism (from, you know.. real scholars) and while you’re at it, evolutionary psychology.

    Then maybe you’ll have the opportunity not to look like ignorant fools clinging to blind faith.

  96. Melissa says:

    d,

    Actually, what you write above is an implicit affirmation of the slogan, not a rejection of it. Strong independent reasons are things that can make extraordinary claims into plausible claims, if those reasons are strong enough (ie, extraordinary).

    No, what I am affirming is that things that don’t exist can’t do anything.

    And as you lay out the case for these things, it will become clear pretty quickly: you aren’t really doing history, as practiced by historians, anymore …

    Once again d argues against a position conjured by his imagination. I laid out my reasoning on the resurrection in one of my earliest posts on this thread.

    Sure. There are such things as group hallucinations. In the context of religious cults, they aren’t really even that rare or improbable.

    Can you point me towards the evidence for that?

    Now true, often when it comes to ancient documents, that’s the best we can hope to have.

    Which still contradicts your statement that the gospels are the worst kinds of sources historians could hope to have. Clearly there are worse sources and as ancient documents go they’re actually pretty good.

    However, anything we conclude from that kind of evidence, must be properly underwritten with those caveats in mind.

    No one here is claiming that the gospels conform to modern university standards of historical record and we don’t need them to be to build a case.

  97. Charlie says:

    John 2:

    11 Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

    John 4:51 While he was still going down, his slaves met him saying that his boy was alive. 52 He asked them at what time he got better. “Yesterday at seven in the morning[q] the fever left him,” they answered. 53 The father realized this was the very hour at which Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” Then he himself believed, along with his whole household.

    John 10: 38 But if I am doing them and you don’t believe Me, believe the works. This way you will know and understand[k] that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”

    John 11:14 So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. 15 I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”

    40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

    41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. 42 I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.”

    45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
    47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? 48 If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place[e] and our nation.”

    John 13: 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.

    John 14: 29 I have told you now before it happens so that when it does happen you may believe.

    John 20: 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.”

    28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

  98. Melissa says:

    Patrick,

    I was never trying to convince. I just wanted to see the level of scholarship I should expect from proselytizers at the Reason Rally. I’ve been woefully disappointed, though not surprised. Half the posters on here think the gospels are eyewitness accounts. You probably think Moses wrote the Torah, too.

    My ignorance-o-meter is almost through the roof, so I’m going to bow out. If I see you at the reason rally, be sure to find me. I’ll be the one pointing out reality to all the Christians.

    Until then, read up on what a logical fallacy is, what Bayes’ theorem states, Church history, textual criticism (from, you know.. real scholars) and while you’re at it, evolutionary psychology.

    Then maybe you’ll have the opportunity not to look like ignorant fools clinging to blind faith.

    What was that phrase you were using before … oh yes … confirmation bias. You see what you want to see. I realise you said you wouldn’t be back but I’d hate for someone passing through to be fooled by your arrogant posturing into thinking you had actually made a point in your diatribe.

    You really don’t understand the process of peer-review do you? Ever used medicine? A computer? Its based on this magical thing called science.

    The point was that you do not consider all hearsay unreliable. Much of the information in a scientific textbook is in fact hearsay. Instead of dealing with that you change the subject by accusations of scientific ignorance. The ironic thing is that there are several posters on this thread with PhD’s in various scientific fields such as chemistry, physics and maths, including myself. While on the topic, much of evolutionary psychology is the modern atheists myths dressed up as science.

    Who then told his 4 friends. Jesus was the son of God. Seriously, are you mentally challenged? They are the same thing.

    But it wasn’t Jesus telling his 4 friends that he was the Son of God before he died that gave birth to the church or do you dispute the account of the disciples behaviour after Jesus death, and if so, on what grounds?

    I did

    That is you response to my suggestion that you should have examined everything but it’s clear that you haven’t and that your beliefs when you were Christian were of the unbelievable variety.

    Do you know why seminaries teach that the gospels were anonymous? Do you know that they were not eyewitnesses? I didn’t. Now I do, and much much more. I took the time. You asking me about the eyewitness status of the gospels shows me you’ve never done a thorough investigation of textual criticism. Read Bart Ehrman, or Dave Metzger, even. I’m making assumptions based on fact, and the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about shows me that you probably haven’t done a thorough evaluation of the claims.

    Do you know which of Paul’s writings are pseudoepigraphical? Do you know how the torah was compiled? Do you know the archaeological perspective surrounding the Exodus, the takeover of Caanan, king David, king Solomon? Do you know about the book that Josiah discovered? Do you know what the difference between Yahweh and Elohim are?

    Firstly you would to explain why any of this is relevant to the question of the resurrection otherwise, as I told you twice before already, you are simply changing the subject. I hate to bring up my credentials a second time but you don’t get HD’s in post graduate biblical studies without being familiar with the latest biblical scholarship. I’m not suggesting that because of this you should give more weight to my arguments, each should be judged according to it’s merits but it does refute your accusations of ignorance.Tell me though Patrick, how much of this do you know through your own study and how much through reading of atheist websites and books?

    Because absence of evidence is not evidence of anything. No body doesn’t mean Jesus ascended to heaven, just as much as me claiming there’s an invisible dragon doesn’t mean there is one.

    You are just wrong on this one. If there was no body that is evidence (not proof) in favour of the disciples claims and Victoria is right that if the authorities had produced the body it would have severely damaged the credibility of the claims about Jesus.

    NO. 200 years of textual criticism in every seminary and religious institution in the freaking world knows this fact.

    This is response to my question that the “NT books were not eyewitnesses to some of what they wrote about”. It’s clear that you are wrong on this. The letters for a start give eye witness evidence to some events in the life of the early church and scholarly opinion is not as clear cut as you would make out on a lot of the rest.

    Do you know why Aquinas’ five ways are worthless?

    Pity we won’t hear your opinion of this, I’m sure I’m not up to date on the latest atheistic mischaracterisation of Aquinas. Ignoring the conclusions of A-T metaphysics makes it easier to ignore God but unfortunately also makes it very difficult, maybe impossible to rationally justify much of anything.

  99. Tom Gilson says:

    Patrick, you wrote to two (maybe more) Ph.D. physical scientists,

    You really don’t understand the process of peer-review do you? Ever used medicine? A computer? Its based on this magical thing called science.

    You wrote,

    Just because you’re too mentally underdeveloped to be have empathy, morals, or a reason for living doesn’t mean everyone on the earth shares your inability to think.

    And

    I’ve barely seen any coherent statements on this thread that aren’t swimming in historical ignorance, revisionism, logical fallacy, theistic bias, and just plain stupidity.

    And

    Seriously, are you mentally challenged?

    And

    I was never trying to convince. I just wanted to see the level of scholarship I should expect from proselytizers at the Reason Rally. I’ve been woefully disappointed, though not surprised.

    And

    Then maybe you’ll have the opportunity not to look like ignorant fools clinging to blind faith.

    I bring all that to your attention to highlight the wackily hypocritical absurdity of this that you also wrote:

    I want freedom for you, but you’d have to admit you are wrong, which takes a thing called humility; I have it, and most theists don’t.

    You recommended that we read up on logical fallacies (etc.). I’ll be back before long with a class session on them. I think I can find some examples.

  100. Doug says:

    the resurrection, which never happened (according to the gospel, anyways)

    logic fail! (in a w-o-w sort of reveal-my-profound-bias kinda way).

    FWIW, I received my PhD with a dissertation in “advanced signal processing techniques” (which might sound familiar), and I’m reasonably up on textual criticism and actual history. Ad hominem dismissal smacks of intellectual dishonesty (see #7), Patrick.

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    Patrick, you suggested we read up on logical fallacies. I have some reading material to offer you. You might even think of it as a class session.

    There are formal and informal fallacies. The straw man is a favorite informal fallacy among careless thinkers. I won’t define it, since I think you know already. Let me instead offer an example.

    Oh, I didn’t know one book could overturn 200 years of biblical scholarship, especially one that (from what I’ve read of it) writes from a theological slant

    You distorted Bill’s position there. He also wrote,

    Though the Gospels have long been considered eyewitness accounts, Bauckham’s research and scholarship generally have put the question to rest.

    Had you read that, you would not have come to the false conclusion that BillT was claiming that one book was overturning all scholarship.

    Here’s another straw man:

    Also, from personal testimony, the freedom to think for your self is better than the ‘freedom’ promised by a fairy tale about God slaughtering himself because he is too arrogant to forgive his own flawed creation.

    No thinking Christian believes that is an accurate representation for why Jesus died on the cross. That’s a misrepresentation of Christianity. The same for this:

    blind faith is enshrined in Hebrews and in John as substitution for actual evidence

    A favorite formal fallacy among careless thinkers is non sequitur. From the data of gnosticism and the disputes leading up to Nicea you conclude that

    Orthodoxy was established, and there was a need for it to be established, disproving your idea that the way things are was always the way things were).

    That needs a bit more context. The “idea that the way things are was always the way things were” was your version of “Thus, we know that the church has always taught the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus (the) Christ.”

    The fact of controversy does not logically entail that these things were not taught by the Church. It means that more than one thing was taught. More historical analysis would be needed to assess the relative prominence of various teachings. (Although that historical analysis is not relevant to our logic lesson here, if you undertook it you would find that the church had very much emphasized the miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and that although it took some time for a careful formulation of Christ’s deity to be made at Nicaea and Chalcedon, those formulations were consistent with and the fruit of prior teachings, especially Scripture.) You ran way away ahead of logic with your conclusion of “disproving.”

    Another informal fallacy (actually more of a rhetorical maneuver to prejudice the hearer) is poisoning the well. I can find an example here:

    You really don’t understand the process of peer-review do you? Ever used medicine? A computer? Its based on this magical thing called science.

    And another one is changing the subject. (It comes in various forms, the most sophisticated of which is equivocation.) Someone on this thread has already mentioned someone else changing the subject. You can find that with your search function on the page. I think it’s worth pointing out, though that the one who changed the subject is the one who recommended we study logical fallacies. And that same person also wrote,

    If God does not exist human beings have no more significance in the cosmic scheme of things than pond scum

    Just because you’re too mentally underdeveloped to be have empathy, morals, or a reason for living doesn’t mean everyone on the earth shares your inability to think.

    Here we find almost a catalog of fallacies. There is poisoning the well. There is non sequitur; for the quoted passage does not entail that the person writing it lacks empathy, morals or a reason for living. There is changing the subject, for it was not about whether persons have those characteristics, it is whether we have significance. It was, all in all, a serious failure to consider the point being made. That in itself is no sin, but to jump from that lazy approach to a conclusion anyway (JAD is unable to think) is intellectual irresponsibility. It’s not a logical fallacy, but it is a good reason for you to be even more humble than you think you are.

    You did address it to some extent, I’ll admit, but your appeal to authority in Epicurus was another instance of a logical fallacy.

    Considering mathematics as a form of logic, I think we might regard this an algrebraic fallacy:

    I knew more than 95% of Christians when I was in the flock, and now I know even more.

    I don’t think you know almost all of the Christians in the world.

    Selective evidence—failure to regard the full range of evidence—is another fallacy. You wrote,

    For one thing it’s based on a private revelation to a single charismatic leader.

    Who then told his 4 friends. Jesus was the son of God. Seriously, are you mentally challenged? They are the same thing.

    Your clarity of language here leaves much to be desire, but I think you’re saying that Jesus’ revelation was as private as Mohammed’s. Surely you know that they are not the same thing. The one was actually represented from the start as a private revelation; the other has always been represented as being publicly substantiated by signs and wonders.

    Even though you say,

    This “single Charismatic leader” baloney is getting just sad. Jesus (according to the gospels, and history in fact), was most likely a charismatic leader who taught throughout Judea and the surrounding areas due to a private (one person) revelation.

    You cannot call the case with Jesus the same as with Mohammed, because there is (at least!) evidence that Jesus gave public demonstrations that supported his teachings.

    You also get the evidence wrong when you say,

    NO. 200 years of textual criticism in every seminary and religious institution in the freaking world knows this fact.

    Granting you space for hyperbole, still that’s just not true.

    Read Bart Ehrman, or Dave Metzger, even. I’m making assumptions based on fact, and the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about shows me that you probably haven’t done a thorough evaluation of the claims.

    I don’t know about others on this thread, but I’ve read Ehrman, and I don’t think that disagreeing with him entails that a person hasn’t evaluated the claims thoroughly. It is another non sequitur; for Ehrman has been seriously challenged by scholars.

    Finally, there is the general fallacy of believing stupidity.

    Do you know what evolutionary psychology informs us about?

    It informs us about nothing. It is a vapor, a wisp, an untestable set of just-so stories.

    There are other logical fallacies besides these, but thank you for suggesting we do some reading.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, nuts; how could I have missed that one? Doug, thank you for catching the most obvious fallacy of them all: ad hominem. It was so pervasive in Patrick’s writing that I completely missed it. It was that forest and trees thing.

  103. asdf says:

    I wonder if Patrick will read all that. I find it telling that intelligent people usually won’t resort to reduce the opponents’ position to ‘fairy tales’ and ‘mentally challenged’, especially when they are noticeably more level-headed and articulate in their responses.

    Also, Patrick, Joseph Smith is a liar (or at best insane), proven beyond a doubt. The Book of Abraham is pretty much unquestionably a complete forgery. Seeing as no similar discrediting has occurred for ANY of the Bible to date, I’d like to see your justification for the comparison to Jesus.

  104. BillT says:

    We relly need to be a bit nicer to Partick here. After all, with his recent posts he has shown how little of this he really gets. To wit:

    “Read Bart Ehrman…”

    We all here are quite familiar with Mr. Ehrman. It’s you Patrick, I fear, that don’t know much about him. His books and papers have been thouoghly discredited by any number of serious theologians. More than that he has been personally discredited for misusing and attempting to rewrite the rules of textual criticism to fit his dubious “conclusions”. He has simply become a joke in serious acedemic circles.

    What’s maybe worse is Patricks attemt to discredit Richard Bauckham because he “…writes from a theological slant” Yes, he does Patrick. That’s because he actually is a theologian which is something Bart Erhman only pretends to be.

    However, even this may not top Patrick’s idea that the Gospels are not eyewiteness accounts when the exact opposite is true. The Gospels are the most relaible ancient texts in recorded history and have long been taught as eyewiteness accounts. Bauckham’s work simply confirms this.

    You can always find “facts” to back up any conclusion you have come to. Patrick certainly has.

  105. d says:

    BillT:

    Where do you get the impression that Bart Erhman is a joke in “serious academic circles”?

  106. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t know where BillT got that impression, but I got it from reading some serious academics.

  107. SteveK says:

    In nearly every post Patrick accepts the truth of gospels in order to build his case that they are unreliable and cannot be trusted.

  108. d says:

    Tom:

    Such as?

  109. d says:

    SteveK:

    Its not an all or nothing proposition here… c’mon.

    Would you condemn someone for doing an analysis of wikipedia, if they found a mixture of facts which seem false, and some which seem true – and then pieced together a most probable narrative on that analysis?

    (Ironically, I think we have every reason to believe Wikipedia a more reliable source information, than the gospels – and its not even fit to cite in a high school report)

  110. Charlie says:

    I think it is likely still the case that when Erhman publishes for academics he does so competently and within the bounds of responsible scholarship. It is when he uses this rather esoteric and unremarkable knowledge in his popular writings, in a sensationalized fashion, in order to gull his audience, that he loses credibility.
    And all because he has no solution to the problem of evil.

  111. Charlie says:

    Thanks for that resource, Tom. I look forward to watching it. Ehrman in debate is at his jokiest …. trying to equate the historical evidence for the miracles of Jesus and Apollonius, for instance.

  112. BillT says:

    “…but I got it from reading some serious academics.”

    Exactly, and here’s why. It’s one thing to apply standard academic criteria and come to a different conclusion than another writer. However, it’s another thing to rewite the standard academic criteria so that it supports your conclusion. The latter is what Ehrman has done. This is not unlike someone rewritnig the laws of Newtonian physics to support one’s conclusions. This has been ponted out by number of theologians but given the public profile of serious theology and theologians few who do not seek them are aware of it. The following is only one response that points out the errors Ehrman is guilty of. To quote the author:

    “Rather, I found this [Ehrman's] book difficult because virtually every assertion and every claim is so fully laden with exaggeration, misrepresentation, selective reporting, and outright falsehoods that almost every line requires a recasting in an accurate light and involves a lengthy response to a series of misrepresentations and half-truths, each built upon the conclusions of the previous.”

    http://www.isca-apologetics.org/papers/isca-2006/response-bart-d-ehrmans-misquoting-jesus

  113. BillT says:

    “I think it is likely still the case that when Erhman publishes for academics he does so competently and within the bounds of responsible scholarship.”

    Actually, this isn’t true either. In fact, his “Misquoting Jesus” was released as an academic paper before its popular incarnations. It was absolutely excoriated. He then released it in popular form where it was gobbled up by the new atheist crowd. He reversed the release of his latest tome to avoid the academic repercussions he previously faced.

  114. Charlie says:

    :)
    And people say I hate to be corrected!
    Thanks very much, BillT.

  115. SteveK says:

    d,

    Its not an all or nothing proposition here… c’mon.

    I agree. You should explain that to Patrick. He’s a one trick pony.

  116. Victoria says:

    Mark Roberts (http://www.markdroberts.com/), a Harvard trained New Testament historian/scholar (who, despite Harvard Theological Seminary’s blatant anti-supernatural bias, affirms the trustworthiness of the NT and is in fact an evangelical Christian) relates his experiences in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?. He frankly admits that when he was first exposed to the ‘assured results of modern biblical scholarship’, his confidence in the NT was shaken. He also describes how his studies and graduate work eventually restored his confidence. Good book for an apologist to read, and a challenge to the skeptics.

  117. G. Rodrigues says:

    @all:

    I am largely ignorant of the subjects discussed here, so I can only stand on the sideline and not join the fray. And before anyone asks, no I will not dress in a mini-skirt, wear pompons and start cheerleading. Anyway, thanks guys; very interesting posts and references — now, where will I get the time to sink my teeth on them…

  118. Melissa says:

    Victoria,

    He frankly admits that when he was first exposed to the ‘assured results of modern biblical scholarship’, his confidence in the NT was shaken. He also describes how his studies and graduate work eventually restored his confidence

    When I was discussing options for theological studies with my pastor one thing he said about where I did decide to study is that it will break down much of your faith but you need to stick around for the rebuilding. He teaches some subjects there so he wasn’t trying to talk me out of it but he wanted me to be aware. My MIL did try to talk me out of it and is not happy with my decision. I can see how for some people exposure to the academic work may shake the foundations of their faith but often that is just a sign that their foundations were shaky anyway.

    What is interesting is that atheists come along with accusations of ignorance and yet most are only aware of the scholarly work through the writings of atheists. For many their knowledge of the recent scholarship is non-existent, which is problematic because especially for the source hypotheses the opinions are very fluid. They take a small bit of truth, mix in some hyperbole fail to assess the real significance of the findings and present it as an argument against Christianity. Which is why I ask the question of Patrick as to what sources he relies on for his knowledge. Does he go to the library himself do the research himself so he can be aware of the full spectrum of opinion on any issue. Does he talk to some of the world class scholars in these issues who are also Christian to see why they don’t think the scholarship supports the atheists claims?

  119. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    When I was at university, 25 years ago, I remember going to some public lectures by members of the Religious Studies Department. In these lectures (which were about the Bible, Christianity and modern scholarship) and in talking with the faculty and students, I found that they had the most unapologetic anti-supernatural bias imaginable, and had a hyper-critical view against the Bible or its trustworthiness as a historical document, let alone a supernaturally inspired book. Evidently, that is not an isolated case in secular scholarship.

  120. BillT says:

    Right on time! A lecture from Richard Bauckham.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oJAplnhnpY

    The title of the lecture is “The Gospels as Histories: What sort of history are they?”

  121. d says:

    Victoria,

    Sounds like your university was doing it right. I mean.. if you want anything more (like an overt preference for your sectarian views), you’re essentially asking scholars to stop being scholars.

    Let’s hope its not an isolated case!

  122. Melissa says:

    Victoria,

    I am studying at a Christian institution. Critical biblical study is not a bad thing or a threat to the faith. Unsupported conclusions of the significance of the findings of biblical studies is a problem. People like Patrick attempt to force the biblical texts into a framework that measures truthfulness through quite strict modern categories. When they find evidence that the bible can’t support those claims instead of rejecting this obviously invalid stance they reject Christianity and carry similar errors into their atheism. You will notice that quite often the ex-fundamentalists usually embrace scientism

  123. Melissa says:

    d,

    Sounds like your university was doing it right. I mean.. if you want anything more (like an overt preference for your sectarian views), you’re essentially asking scholars to stop being scholars.

    Let’s hope its not an isolated case!

    Hang on a minute. Are you suggesting that bias is fine as long as it is not towards Christianity?

  124. d says:

    Well, no… I wouldn’t use the words “anti-supernatural bias”, as Victoria did. I’d hope they have the same “bias” when studying Islam… or Hinduism… or Buddhism… wouldn’t you?

    Having one’s mental filters tilted heavily against supernatural explanations isn’t really a bias – it’s the proper stance to take, after taking even a quick glance back over man-kind’s long, difficult struggle for knowledge.

    Natural explanations are the explanations that have won millions of races.. supernatural explanations have lost millions, and have yet to score a single decisive win. Induction points the way from here…

  125. Melissa says:

    d,

    Having one’s mental filters tilted heavily against supernatural explanations isn’t really a bias – it’s the proper stance to take, after taking even a quick glance back over man-kind’s long, difficult struggle for knowledge.

    Natural explanations are the explanations that have won millions of races.. supernatural explanations have lost millions, and have yet to score a single decisive win. Induction points the way from here…

    If you’re referring to the fact that we no longer believe there is a being called Zeus that throws bolts of thunder, it’s rather irrelevant to the question of miracles which are by definition singular events that cannot be studied by science. I will also point out that under classical theism if there was a being like Zeus he would be classed as natural not supernatural.

    The proper stance to take, unless you are going to declare that God would never intervene in his creation, is to examine each case on it’s own merits.

  126. Doug says:

    Natural explanations are the explanations that have won millions of races.. supernatural explanations have lost millions, and have yet to score a single decisive win. Induction points the way from here…

    …more reddit propaganda swallowed hook, line and sinker.

    The only winning natural explanations are the boring ones. Every interesting question in the universe is beyond “natural explanation”:
    – There is no natural explanation for existence.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of the universe.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of information.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of life.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of consciousness.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of reason.
    – There is no natural explanation for the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”.
    – There is no natural explanation for art.
    – There is no natural explanation for morals.
    – There is no natural explanation for love.

    What was that again about induction?

  127. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for that, Doug.

  128. Victoria says:

    @d
    When I said ‘anti-supernatural bias’, I meant an a priori decision as to what classes of data and explanations would be acceptable. It’s not like they went in to their studies of the Bible with an open mind and came to an unprejudiced conclusion that the supernatural elements did not bear up under scrutiny – they were dismissed at the outset. That’s not being scholarly, that’s just question-begging.

    Despite your claims ad nauseum, empirical science has not eliminated the supernatural; of course our empirical descriptions of the natural universe work well – they do so by definition. There is no use saying there is nothing in the attic if you never go up there (or cannot)to look around.

  129. JAD says:

    To do science you have to assume that certain claims about the laws of nature are universal. Paradoxically the assumptions of science themselves are not scientifically provable.

    For example Robert Koons, professor of philosphy, U. of Texas, Austin, writes: “It is a fundamental maxim of the scientific method to assume that the basic form of the laws of nature is uniform, that what we observe in our own neighborhood is typical of all of reality. If we abandon this maxim, then all inductive or scientific learning becomes impossible.”
    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/svsu.html

    But how did science ever discover that there were natural laws? This where a theistic world view enters the picture.
    According to C.S. Lewis, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

  130. d says:

    @Melissa 127:

    Supposed miracles are debunked by science all the time, so that’s simply not true.

    In many cases, debunked miracles are singular, unrepeatable events. How can they be debunked with science? By reasonable, natural explanations. But even in the case where there is no natural explanation forthcoming, disfavor towards the supernatural is inductively warranted and actually an epistemic responsibility.

    We have independent evidence that lightning strikes actually hit people, and none that aliens mess with their brains, right?

    We have independent evidence of fraudulent miracle claims (an incredible amount, actually), and none that people actually rise from the dead, or heal the sick with laying of hands, or walk on water, etc.

    We have independent evidence that small cults can grow into large religious bodies based on false beliefs.

    We have independent evidence that the vast majority of supernatural claims are debunked or explainable by natural forces, even when we don’t have an immediate, probable natural explanation – and none that supernaturalism actually successfully explains anything.

    The list can go on, and on…. and on.

    This independent evidence is part of what it means to examine an explanation on its own merits.

    If a scholar isn’t “biased” against the supernatural, he’s no scholar at all.

  131. d says:

    @JAD:

    But how did science ever discover that there were natural laws? This where a theistic world view enters the picture.

    According to C.S. Lewis, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

    It’s not really a surprise that beings with the ability to observe things, actually observe things.

  132. d says:

    Doug,

    – There is no natural explanation for existence.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of the universe.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of information.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of life.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of consciousness.
    – There is no natural explanation for the existence of reason.
    – There is no natural explanation for the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”.
    – There is no natural explanation for art.
    – There is no natural explanation for morals.
    – There is no natural explanation for love.

    What was that again about induction?

    Begging the question much?

  133. Doug says:

    Begging the question much?

    Not at all: I was simply supplying facts (as an atheist, aren’t you supposed to appreciate “facts”? – and it doesn’t say a great deal about your logical abilities that you can’t distinguish between facts and “begging the question”! ;) ).
    But my list of facts was too short.
    – There is no natural explanation for communication.
    – There is no natural explanation for free will.
    – There is no natural explanation for language.

  134. Tom Gilson says:

    d, your question about begging the question is utterly astonishing.

    Would you care to try to explain it? (Good luck.)

  135. Tom Gilson says:

    Why would it surprise us that people with the ability to observe things, observe things? No reason at all. Why is that question relevant, though? It’s not, because observation is not really what science is about. It’s about observation plus inference and interpretation, building toward observation of more sophisticated sorts, building toward further inference and interpretation….

    It’s also about the development of theory. That’s just another way of saying “inference and interpretation,” but it’s important to note that theories are not observed. They are produced by people who think that theory is possible and that it can really describe nature.

    Inference and interpretation both take place within conceptual frameworks. Now with that in mind, d, please take another look at the Lewis quote and try again.

  136. Tom Gilson says:

    Doug, you could add,
    —There is no natural explanation for explanation.

  137. d says:

    Actually, Doug’s list might be understood in at least a couple ways…

    1) That there are no definitively established natural explanations for the phenomena he lists.

    To this I would agree, for the most part – but we have plenty of plausible natural explanations for many of those phenomena (existence of the universe, morals, life, communication, language, etc)

    2) More strongly, that there are no natural explanations for the phenomena, in principle.

    And in this case, he’s begging the question – either by defining his terms outside the scope of naturalism (morals are an aspect of God’s nature, and not something natural), assuming the existence of things not actually demonstrated to exist (libertarian free will), or some slipperiness with the term “why”.

    I suspect the only kinds of “why”‘s that will satisfy him, are teleological in nature.

  138. Doug says:

    Actually, I’d be quite satisfied with an explanation other than wildly-optimistic hand-waving squinty-eyed just-so-stories. :D

    In my field (language), there simple are no such “plausible natural explanations” for the origin of language (let alone “plenty” of them).

    And language is one of the “leaves” on the tree. The difficulty is multiplied as one migrates down the trunk.

    Incidentally, there is a cool one million dollars waiting for you if you really have a single scientifically-coherent theory for the origin of life. Or perhaps you’re bluffing? ;)

  139. d says:

    Doug,

    Actually, I’d be quite satisfied with an explanation other than wildly-optimistic hand-waving squinty-eyed just-so-stories.

    Then I take it you dismiss supernatural explanations for language, with disdain and disgust!

  140. Doug says:

    —There is no natural explanation for explanation.

    I like it! :)

  141. Doug says:

    Then I take it you dismiss supernatural explanations for language, with disdain and disgust!

    The advantage of supernatural explanations in some cases is that they are actually causally sufficient to the phenomenon under consideration. The disadvantage of purported “natural explanations” for the items I’ve listed is that they simply aren’t.
    Perhaps my language was too technical for clear communication… but no eye-squinting or hand-waving is required for “God created the heavens and the earth.”

  142. d says:

    You guys might take a moment to apply this same critical line of thinking towards supernaturalism…

    Can you offer an explanation for these things that doesn’t boil down to:

    “Well, I think God is like X, Y and Z, or would value X, Y, and Z, therefore X, Y and Z exist”

    … like the C.S. Lewis quote …

  143. SteveK says:

    d,

    2) More strongly, that there are no natural explanations for the phenomena, in principle.

    And in this case, he’s begging the question

    There exists no version of naturalism that can explain these things, in principle, so why do you say Doug is begging the question? Your faith in naturalism is quite strong.

  144. Doug says:

    @d – you’re evading.
    You claimed there were plenty of natural explanations, but when we call you on it, you now ask us to give a natural explanation of God? Chutzpah, sure. Logic? Not so much.

  145. Doug says:

    Can you offer an explanation for these things that doesn’t boil down to

    As a matter of fact, we can! :)
    God has revealed himself to be someone who lives/values these things. (NB: revelation is a form of communication!)

  146. d says:

    Doug,

    First clarify which meaning you intended – that there are no natural explanations, in principle, or just forthcoming.

    I already said I agree that for many there are no forthcoming natural explanations.. but that’s hardly surprising – there’s lots left for us to explain in this world, and we’ve only scratched the surface, since we’ve been working at it only a short time.

    I find it rather unbelievable that you would suggest, for example, that there are in principle no natural explanations for life, morals, love, etc. That’s so outrageous, I think it hardly deserves a reply.

  147. d says:

    Doug,

    God has revealed himself to be someone who lives/values these things. (NB: revelation is a form of communication!)

    Umm… huh? Let’s put this in question/answer form.

    Q: What is the explanation for life?
    A: God revealed Himself.

    Do you see how that’s not an answer?

  148. SteveK says:

    The explanation given in that revelation is the answer, d.

  149. SteveK says:

    d,

    I find it rather unbelievable that you would suggest, for example, that there are in principle no natural explanations for life, morals, love, etc. That’s so outrageous, I think it hardly deserves a reply.

    Taking a look at morals only, all naturalistic explanations for morality leave the term devoid of any prescriptive meaning. There are no prescriptive’s in naturalistic reality. Morality as you understand it doesn’t exist, cannot exist.

    So if you want to say that naturalism can explain it, you’re wrong. The best you can do is explain, using evolutionary storytelling, how our minds evolved to think that there are moral prescriptives. The best you can do is explain the illusion.

    But that isn’t the same thing is it, d?

  150. Doug says:

    Do you see how that’s not an answer?

    Sure — but do you see how that’s not what I offered as an answer??

  151. Doug says:

    I find it rather unbelievable that you would suggest, for example, that there are in principle no natural explanations for life, morals, love, etc.

    Actually, I made no such suggestion. It may be the case that there are in principle no natural explanations for any of those things, but I do not believe that we have grounds for such a claim.

  152. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Doug:

    It may be the case that there are in principle no natural explanations for any of those things, but I do not believe that we have grounds for such a claim.

    I do believe that there are grounds for claiming that there can be no naturalistic explanations for various things like reason, free will, the orderliness of the universe, etc. And before d bluffs his way out, I have already substantiated these claims in several other threads with either silence or a pathetic, wimpy response from d’s part, so I will not rehash them here.

    And by the way, yes we can provide explanations (at least partial ones and for some facts) that are not of the form “Well, I think God is like X, Y and Z, or would value X, Y, and Z, therefore X, Y and Z exist” (d’s ignorant caricature) and that make no appeal to revelation.

  153. Grace says:

    Currently there are no natural explanations for the origin of the universe and the origin of life.

    “[The Big Bang]…represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden, abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing. It represents a _true_ miracle_—transcending physical principles….” (Paul Davies, The Edge of Infinity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981, p161).

    Regarding DNA replication and protein synthesis in the origin of life: “To produce this _miracle_ of molecular construction all the cell need do is to string together the amino acids (which make up the polypeptide chain) in the correct order. This is a complicated biochemical process, a molecular assembly line, using instructions in the form of a nucleic acid tape (the so-called messenger RNA). Here we need only ask, how many possible proteins are there? If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how _rare_ of an event would that be?” (Francis Crick, Life Itself, Its Origin and Nature,1981, pp 51-52). Note-these are two scientists who are not Christians. Paul Davies is a physicist, cosmologist and astrobiologist, and Francis Crick is a molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist who received a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

    MIT physicist Gerald Schroeder makes the same point:

    “…and then there is the uncontested reality that life started immediately on just-cooled earth and not after billions of years as had been once posited. Elso Barghoorn, while at Harvard University, discovered this fact that changed the entire emphasis in origin of life studies. Barghoorn discovered that the oldest rocks that can bear fossils already have fully formed fossils of one-celled life. And most amazingly, and yet by necessity, those first forms of life already had the ability to reproduce. Reproduction is not something that can gradually evolve. The first cell to survive had to have all the mechanisms for mitosis the first time around since all the attempts at life that came before (if there were other attempts) died without leaving any heritage simply because there was no succeeding generation prior to reproduction.” (http://www.godevidence.com/2011/11/why-life-could-not-have-emerged-without-god/)

    Actually, the link provided is a very informative essay entitled “Why life could not have emerged without God.” Regarding natural explanations for immaterial abstract concepts, the natural atheistic explanations fail to explain the origins of such concepts, unless, as SteveK pointed out, you want to admit that everything we experience is just an illusion.

  154. Doug says:

    Thanks, Grace and G.

    It all boils down to the three-year-old’s “power game” — i.e., asking “why?” For every answer to “why?” there is another “why?” question.

    So does the first answer constitute an “explanation” of the first question? Perhaps (an “explanation” based on other things-which-need-explaining). Perhaps not (an “ultimate” explanation).

    Similarly, I think that the points that G. and Grace have graciously brought forward are addressing this problem. I am willing to entertain the possibility that “natural explanations” (of the “explanation-based-on-other-things-that-need-explaining” sort) could possibly exist. However, I would agree with them that no ultimate natural explanation can — even in principle — exist for these things.

  155. JAD says:

    Life COULD have originated by some mindless natural process.

    Therefore, IT DID originate by some mindless natural process.

    That seems to be d’s logic.

  156. Victoria says:

    I’d suggest that d reads Edgar Andrews’ book Who Made God?, but since he(?) is only here to reinforce his own atheistic presuppositions and tempt Christians to deconvert,I won’t

  157. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Doug:

    It all boils down to the three-year-old’s “power game” — i.e., asking “why?” For every answer to “why?” there is another “why?” question.

    We must distinguish two types of explanation: the reason of a being’s existence can be found in another being, in which case we say that the being is contingent, or the reason must reside in the being itself, in which case we have a necessary being.

    One of the lessons we can extract from Aquinas’ Third Way is that to avoid infinite regresses, which of their own nature cannot explain anything at all (and if infinite causal series existed — there are good reasons to believe they do not — they themselves would demand an explanation), any chain of causal explanations must either end in a brute fact, that is the first member is the way it is and there is no explanation for the way it is, or in a necessary being. Now God is, on classical theism, a necessary being and thus He can be the ultimate ground for the explanation — with no prejudice of invoking secondary or proximate causes — but a naturalist does not have such resources. Invoking natural laws or some such is no answer, because natural laws have no ontological status on naturalism (if they had, since they are not material in any relevant sense, naturalism would be falsified) and even if they had, one would have to show that they are necessary (*). Good luck with that. Brute facts, has many many problems, but it commits one to what at bottom is an irrational stance since it literally means that there are facts that have no explanation at all. But if the first member has no explanation at all, how can it be said to explain the subsequent members in the causal series? (**) If the first member is per se un-explainable, how can it be said to explain anything at all?

    (*) In the AT (Aristotelian-Thomistic) conception of laws of nature, since they are the laws of natures, they are necessary in the modal sense.

    (**) This can be seen as one instance of the Scholastic AT principle of proportionate causality.

  158. Grace says:

    (and if infinite causal series existed — there are good reasons to believe they do not — they themselves would demand an explanation)

    We can rule out infinite series with regards to the universe. The January 11, 2012 edition of the New Scientist magazine reports a meeting of scientists who gathered to honor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday. At this meeting, Alexander Vilenkin presented evidence along with his verdict that the universe had a beginning. You can read the full article which presents his evidence here http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/vilenkins-verdict-all-the-evidence-we-have-says-that-the-universe-had-a-beginning/.

    G. Rodrigues basically presented the Kalam cosmological argument and the cosmological argument from contingency convincing. Next is the Teleological argument. Are we still building a case for the existence of the Christian God, or is Vel (or any other skeptic) not interested anymore?

  159. vel says:

    Victoria, and others, many Christians claim that atheists “misunderstand” various bits of the bible. Alas for you, I was a Christian, and I’ve read the bible as believer and as not. I am not “misunderstanding” the verses in John and I do know the “context”. Many Christians claim “context” when finding a problematic verse like the one where Thomas asks for evidence. There is nothing saying that doing that is bad. If there is, please show me JC saying that Thomas will be damned for asking. As for John 10, you of course say i have it wrong but never show how I am, you just try to gainsay me. I can watch Christians all claim to know what their god “really” meant and all disagree. That’s why there are so many sects of your religion. None of you knows any “truth”, you all simply have your own hatreds and desires that you need supported by an invisible friend.

    You have also wrote asking me about empirical evidence and history. I would direct you to the sciences of archaeology and paleontology. Lots of empirical evidence there. You see, one “observes” the relics. You also question if I’ve read some new testament scholars. Yes, I have and they do not all agree about the provenance of the bible either. You see, many “scholars” do something very bad when it comes to real research, they have a presupposition and do all they can to support it. N.T. Wright’s book “What Saint Paul Really Said” is just more of the same Christian deciding what their god “really” meant. Wright wants a conservative Christianity, that hates homosexuals, etc. Other Christians, just as good as him and as you, are quite sure that their version of God has no problem with homosexuals. Now, until one of you Christians can do the miracles that your savior promised you, and can show that your god exists, its no more real than any other set of myths.

    And JAD, I do know how you form your opinions, it’s obvious from your posts. Chrisitainity is spread through trust, abused as it might be. No one suddenly has the idea of JC or your god in their brain, they learn it from their culture (and if you think they do, explain feral children). You laud Einstein because you think it supports your claims. All people do that, glom onto the bits they like and ignore the rest. In that Einstein did not believe in a god like you do, I find that quite hypocritical since I’m fairly certain you probably think anyone who does not accept god like you, will go to hell.

    Now, I’m going to end my participation here. You may take that as you will and make whatever comments you see fit about it. Just between you and your god right? I will hope to see some of you at the Reason Rally and get one of the booklets that you will be wasting $5000 on. This is the age of the internet, folks, atheists already know your excuses. Printing them won’t make them any more accepted. You’d be further ahead in donating that money to a good charity.

  160. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Grace:

    We can rule out infinite series with regards to the universe. The January 11, 2012 edition of the New Scientist magazine reports a meeting of scientists who gathered to honor Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday. At this meeting, Alexander Vilenkin presented evidence along with his verdict that the universe had a beginning.

    Although I am not opposed to marshal evidence from the empirical sciences to prop up a given argument, one should be fully aware of the intrinsic limitations of what such evidence can accomplish. And in the specific case of the Kalam, there are *deductive*, *metaphysical* arguments, much more powerful than appealing to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem or what have you.

    Since in my previous post I invoked Aquinas, I should probably note that Aquinas held that it was impossible to demonstrate from reason alone that the universe was past-finite. I am loathe to disagree with the angelic doctor, but even Homer nods, and I think the two arguments he gives in the Summa can be adequately met. And to repeat myself, even if infinite causal chains did happen to exist (necessarily per accidens and not per se, to use the Scholastic jargon), it would still be the case that they demanded explanation, so without considerable extra work, it does no good to the naturalist to appeal to this hypothesis. I do agree that the Kalam is inferior to Aquinas’ Five Ways, separately or taken together, essentially because the conceptual analysis of the argument does not get us to the God of classical theism but something less — this can be seen when for example, W. L. Craig uses such an expression as “unimaginably powerful”.

  161. G. Rodrigues says:

    @vel:

    Many Christians claim “context” when finding a problematic verse like the one where Thomas asks for evidence. There is nothing saying that doing that is bad.

    It is part of the discipline that is called “reading”. You should learn it.

    I can watch Christians all claim to know what their god “really” meant and all disagree. That’s why there are so many sects of your religion. None of you knows any “truth”

    First, the fact that there are differing opinions on some questions does not mean that there are differences of opinion on all questions. Following your logic (heh, an oxymoron if ever there was one), since there are several differing interpretations of Quantum Mechanics and no consensus on them, Quantum Mechanics must be false. Congratulations, you have just thrown overboard the most fundamental of physical theories.

    you all simply have your own hatreds and desires that you need supported by an invisible friend.

    As opposed to you, that simply has hatred and desires, with absolutely no reason at all. This is called irrationality.

    Now, until one of you Christians can do the miracles that your savior promised you, and can show that your god exists, its no more real than any other set of myths.

    So that is your criteria for establishing Christianity? You could have said it sooner, as it would prevent us from wasting time, ours and your, providing *rational* arguments when the only thing that will convince you is a miraculous intervention of God in your life. So please drop the pretensions of rationality, you are just a bubble of emotional hot air. And guess what? If there is something that the Bible consistently tells us, is that not even miracles will convince men.

    And JAD, I do know how you form your opinions, it’s obvious from your posts. Chrisitainity is spread through trust, abused as it might be. No one suddenly has the idea of JC or your god in their brain, they learn it from their culture (and if you think they do, explain feral children).

    How one forms one’s opinions is irrelevant to their truth — you are committing the genetic fallacy, another sign of your irrationality. Besides, how do *you* form your own opinions? Are you trying to tell us that your belief-forming processes are different than our own? Of course, this is patently false, so by your own logic you damn yourself as well. Another sign of irrationality.

    I find that quite hypocritical since I’m fairly certain you probably think anyone who does not accept god like you, will go to hell.

    I cannot speak for JAD, but you are “fairly certain” of several things that are demonstrably false.

    Now, I’m going to end my participation here.

    What participation? A series of unargued claims and irrationalities does not count as “participation”.

    By the way, bye bye and God bless you.

  162. JAD says:

    I think Leibnitz gives the best explanation why an infinite regress of causes is not a good explanation.

    ‘Let us suppose the book of the elements of geometry to have been eternal, one copy always to have been written down from an earlier one; it is evident that, even though a reason can be given for the present book of a past one, nevertheless out of any number of books taken in order going backwards we shall never come upon a full reason… why there are books at all, and why they were written in this manner.’

  163. Victoria says:

    @vel

    Many Christians claim “context” when finding a problematic verse like the one where Thomas asks for evidence. There is nothing saying that doing that is bad. If there is, please show me JC saying that Thomas will be damned for asking

    Where did I say that? I never intimated that Thomas was damned for asking, only that Jesus chided him for not accepting the eyewitness testimony of his fellow disciples, the reason being that all those who came after this generation of disciples and eyewitnesses would have only that to go on.

    That some Christians would use this to condemn someone for asking for ‘evidence’ is a bit of a straw man, as it is certainly not representative of Christians as a whole, and is not supported by the general teaching of Scripture anyway ( Psalm 19, Romans 1:18ff, 1 Peter 3:15, for example), and the plain fact that the first thing Jesus did was to give Thomas the evidence that he asked for.

    In John 10:36-38, the passage is quite clear – the works that Jesus performs testify to His claims about His relationship to God, so even if the Jewish leaders refused to believe Jesus’ own claims, they had the evidence of what He did right in front of them. If you were saying that this provides a biblical basis for evidence-based faith, then I agree with you, and apologize for misunderstanding your reference to John 10.

    The fact that you abandoned your beliefs, vel, should make you question the depth and sincerity of your faith, if you were ever sealed with the indwelling Holy Spirit. I don’t know you, so I am not in a position to make that call, but the fact that you now have an attitude that stinks of hating God and could deny every core Christian doctrine makes me wonder.

  164. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    It is part of the discipline that is called “reading”. You should learn it.

    LOL
    Yeah, but they hide that sort of information in books :)

  165. JAD says:

    vel wrote:

    And JAD, I do know how you form your opinions, it’s obvious from your posts. Chrisitainity is spread through trust, abused as it might be. No one suddenly has the idea of JC or your god in their brain, they learn it from their culture (and if you think they do, explain feral children). You laud Einstein because you think it supports your claims. All people do that, glom onto the bits they like and ignore the rest. In that Einstein did not believe in a god like you do, I find that quite hypocritical since I’m fairly certain you probably think anyone who does not accept god like you, will go to hell…

    Now, I’m going to end my participation here…

    I feel like the victim of a drive-by shooting.

    Just is case vel is still lurking about…

    I’ll readily admit that Einstien was an agnostic, but I’ll also argue that he wasn’t antireligious, so he didn’t have an axe to grind. Once again he said:“No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    If atheist’s want to claim Einstein, then they can’t claim that his opinion about the historical Jesus was from a pro-Christian bias. Not a big point. Just something to think about.

    Finally it’s not my call who goes to hell, so I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. If you are worried I suggest that you take it up with someone who can really do something about it.

  166. Charlie says:

    Not only did Jesus show Thomas the evidence he wanted, but when He appeared to the others He showed them exactly what Thomas was to ask for:

    John 20:20 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

    Acts 1:3
    After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

  167. BillT says:

    “I’m fairly certain you probably think anyone who does not accept god like you, will go to hell…”

    vel doesn’t quite get it. He thinks we want to punish people for disagreeing with us. It isn’t about what we think. It’s about what people choose. People who do not accept God choose their own future. Hell isn’t a place God created and sends people to. Hell is a place we created and go to voluntarily.

    You can’t read vel’s and Patrick’s and d’s posts and not see how angry they are at God. God wouldn’t make anyone who disliked him so stay with him. He gives them the choice to do whatever they want and go wherever they want yet they’re still mad at him. Don’t get that.

    And this is besides the fact that they’re angry at a God that (they believe) doesn’t exist for sending them to a place that (they believe) doesn’t exist for commiting sins that (they believe) don’t exist. Go figure that one out.

  168. JAD says:

    From a naturalistic perspective there is no ultimate explanation for the existence of the universe, nor is there any kind of knowable ultimate purpose.

    The Leibnitz quote that I provided about naturalism @ 164 illustrates the problem with naturalism: At best you get an infinite regress of natural causes.

    That’s a logical possibility but it’s not something that can be proven in an empirically. Ultimately as an explanation it must be accepted by faith.

    On the other hand, an eternally existing mind (God) is the only conceivable thing that could ever be an ultimate explanation. If a naturalist is honest about his beliefs he must concede that naturalism does not, or ever will, provide an ultimate explanation.

  169. Grace says:

    Thank you G. Rodrigues and Jad; I’m still learning :)

  170. Doug says:

    Reflecting on the O/P, it occurred to me:

    Surely the essence of “superstition” is the false assignment of causality. Rabbit’s feet, broken mirrors, walking under a ladder. “Luck” in most forms. We call it “superstition” because the purported causal connection is imaginary and false.

    Given this definition, the nadir of superstition must certainly be attained by those who wish to assign causal sufficiency for the creation of the universe to… nothing.

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