My blog post on “Atheism Is Not a Belief” garnered thirty-seven comments from 2:46 pm, when I posted it, to 8:11 pm today.

Peter Boghossian Pretends …” was commented on twenty-nine times today.

It's Easy To Disprove the Existence of God*” has received ninety-one comments today.

Atheists were quick to jump all over my statements about atheism. The dialogue has been brisk. All told there have been 157 comments on those posts, just today. For much of the day we were running one comment every three minutes or so.

But then I asked them to tell me whether I got closer to a good definition of atheism here.

Two hours and twenty minutes ago: and silence.

Well, one response so far.

Did the blog break?

Is it Super Bowl Sunday today, and I missed it somehow?

Are they playing the final episode of M*A*S*H for the first time? (Seems unlikely. I remember seeing it a long time ago.

Or what?

227 thoughts on “Silence

  1. @Tom Gilson:

    The dialogue has been brisk.

    While it may have been brisk, it has not been a *dialogue*. Quite honestly, dialogue is just impossible with these interlocutors.

    Atheism (athe-ism noun \ˈā-thē-ˌi-zəm\): it starts as a tragedy, ends up a farce.

  2. Tom:

    Permit me to be a bit provocative (and perhaps even presumptuous–for which I apologize) by asking you to step back, read within the context of the particular chapter and book, meditate upon, and pray over the following Scriptural references: 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 7:6; and the four-related references Matthew 10:9-14, Mark 6:8-11, Luke 9:3-5, Luke 10:4-12. I also suggest you consult interpretations of these references to consider what the general consensus is regarding what they mean.

    Is it being too provocative to ask whether, just maybe, evangelization must be balanced against non-receptivity… and that one may have to accept that the other side is mostly intellectually incapable and viciously (from the root “vice”, i.e., a moral consideration) opposed to truth and Truth? I get the fact that it’s hard to let go, and I get the fact that a calling to continue must be taken very, very seriously. I also get the fact that one fears to “lose the battle”… until one realizes it’s not their battle in the first place.

    Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m NOT advising or counseling for you to stop. Just, perhaps, to step back and pray for confirmation… or direction. It must be admitted there is always the risk of easlily slipping into the mode of trying to do God’s work for Him…

    I’m NOT trying to judge you, Tom. Just wondering within the context of this post and reflecting upon the past 6 or so years whether a painful realization might actually have to be accepted about the other side. Do I have an answer? No. Am I worried about you? Not really, because you bear the intellectual and moral depravity of the other side with great grace, charity, and patience. But, again, it’s easy to make one’s bearing the focus rather than, well, you get it…

  3. Tom:

    Let me also add, you’re dealing with fundamentally bad people. I don’t mean in the general sense of Romans 3:23 in which we’re all broken. I don’t mean that atheists can’t be kind and they don’t (at least so far) go around killing innocent children. (Strike that: the vast majority of atheists support abortion–not just “choice”… as if the latter is some kind of conscience-soothing “get out of jail” card.) And, ignorance can’t be used as an excuse on their part.

    I mean in the sense that they reject an ultimate ground for right or wrong, even as they are hypocritical moral absolutists when it serves their particular interests. I’ll even throw them a bone regarding their blatant moral and intellectual dishonesty in the content of their comments and their approach on this blog.

    By “fundamentally bad” I mean that they have no objective reason for being good… and that vision is embraced and celebrated. The only morality is amorality; the only good is the “freedom” to do non-good through will-to-power; the only person that counts ultimately is the self. To echo and amplify G. Rodrigues: they aren’t interlocutors… they are thugs.

  4. Alternatively, because we don’t have an imaginary friend who we’re trying to please, we have to think for ourselves and if we’re kind it’s not because we’ve been told to, it’s because we want to be.

    In my world view, no-one is intrinsically bad. People may do bad things but that doesn’t make them bad people. I try to look for the good in people.

    I find it sad that you think this way of thinking about the world is “fundamentally bad”.

  5. In my world view, no-one is intrinsically bad. People may do bad things but that doesn’t make them bad people.

    The actions that people do are bad – just the actions – but the people are not bad? Interesting theory you have there.

  6. Yes! It’s much better than thinking people are bad because if you think that way it’s easy to give up on people and not try to understand the pressures they are under and what they’re trying to achieve. People can change their actions.

    If you look for the good in people you find it. If you look for the bad you find that. What you focus on you get more of in your life; it occupies your thoughts.

  7. I should not be surprised by now, but the complete lack of self-awareness, failure to even be interested what is entailed by the beliefs they are claiming and the ignorance of what it is that they are rejecting coupled by utter refusal to remedy the situation, but it still amazes me.

  8. I have noticed a lot of contempt for atheists on this site in the form of invective, derogatory comments and intellectual snobbery. (Not from everyone, I must add.)

    I don’t think you’re “bad people” because of this.

    I understand that you have strongly held views that are important to you and that you have thought long and hard about, and it is frustrating to have those views repeatedly challenged by people who have not invested the same amount of time as you (and whom you consider “fundamentally bad”).

    I would rather you acted nicer, but I can understand why it’s hard.

  9. David P,

    What else but contempt do you expect us to have for what you write when you continue to post things like your first paragraph in #5. It’s not like you just arrived on the site and don’t know any better. As for the rest of it, I do generally expect the best from people, I believe they can change and learn, that’s why I am taken aback that you continue to post descriptions of our beliefs that you should know are false.

  10. Melissa

    They are descriptions of my beliefs not yours. Obviously I know you don’t think God is an imaginary friend. That is how I see Him. I was explaining an alternative view.

    I don’t have any problem with people criticizing ideas. What I dislike (but understand) are the personal attacks and the superciliousness (e.g. see any post by Holopupenko or G. Rodrigues).

  11. David P,

    Nice try but I was not objecting primarily to your use of imaginary friend. As you say you were presenting your supposedly superior beliefs in contrast to the inferior Christian morality of Holo and by extension the rest of us. The problem is that you know that we do not do good grudgingly because we’re told to – or you should. Don’t you think that’s insulting … contemptuous?

    Edited to add: the asymmetry is that your contempt is for something that we do not do.

  12. Adhering to the teachings of the Bible and doing what pleases God are the same thing. Or do you disagree?

    Both of them are essentially delegating your personal responsibility for determining good and bad. That was the point I was making.

    I don’t claim “superiority”. What I do have is the luxury of being able to decide for myself on questions of morality even if the answers contradict God’s. A great example is that I can completely reject the idea of original sin.

  13. David P,

    I assuming your response above is to my comment at #13 but it’s hard to tell because you have completely ignored what I actually wrote.

    Both of them are essentially delegating your personal responsibility for determining good and bad. That was the point I was making.

    Your point is wrong which you would know if you bothered to find out anything about the Christian view of morality. How do you think you can critique a worldview that you know next to nothing about?

  14. Melissa,

    I can state my opinions and ask questions like “Do you disagree?” and you can enlighten me – or not – it’s entirely up to you.

    Let me rephrase post#5 to remove the invalid and controversial interpretation of Christianity and make it only about what I know about:

    I can think and decide on my moral framework completely for myself. I don’t need to refer to an authority for guidance. (I choose to abide by the law but would break it if I felt that following it would be immoral or unhelpful.)

    I value people and don’t believe anyone is intrinsically evil. People may do bad things but that doesn’t make them bad people. I try to look for the good in people and try to understand what thoughts and pressures lie behind their actions.

    I find it sad that Holopupenko thinks people can be “fundamentally bad”, but it does explain his vitriol.

    I think the Christian version of morality – the idea – is fundamentally bad if it labels people as bad, but I don’t think that Christians themselves are fundamentally bad. On the contrary.

  15. In fairness to our atheist friends this is the nature of some internet interactions. Perhaps your post was trending somewhere and it attracted the ire of your detractors and they have since moved on. Besides, it is easier (and perhaps perversely more fun) to knock someone down with a one liner then to take the time to actually dialogue.

  16. You badly missed the point, Billy: it is not fun in any sense of the word to “dialogue” with those opposed to dialogue in the first place (except, maybe, on their own terms) and who feel no ultimate compulsion to dialogue because it just doesn’t matter to them in any ultimate sense: even for the sake of truth, there is no ultimate commitment. There is no good or evil, no right or wrong (channeling Dawkins) other than that which is so sophomorically and self-servingly reduced to brain states. I mean, how do you deal with the mind-numbing, dialogue-destroying inanity of the assertion @5 “In my world view, no-one is intrinsically bad. People may do bad things but that doesn’t make them bad people.” If that isn’t out of touch with reality, I don’t know what is.

    In fact, look at the very way such a view of reality begins: “In my world view…” Precisely. EVERYTHING is reduced to “my” world view or “my” opinion. But, truth is not about opinion—personal or otherwise. And, dialogue is about resolution, i.e., moving toward the goal (a telos) of truth. But, if that world view a priori rejects teleological content to reality, dialogue is literally impossible. (What does it mean to enjoy “local” teleology but no ultimate teleology? What does is mean for someone to claim the universe is meaningless, but can be a sum total of negative and positive “meanings”?) If everything is an opinion, then there is nothing left but sheer conflict of the strong over the weak.

    Veritas? Quid est veritas? (John 18:38)

    Atheism is a renunciation of real reality for one’s own version… and hence a renunciation of responsibility, of truth, of human nature… literally the loss of one’s self (see Rosenberg and Mark 5:9) by elevating one’s self to the ultimate arbiter of what conveniently “counts” for them at the moment. That is why Atheists are fundamentally bad people: truth be damned–I AM TRUTH!

  17. Holopupenko,

    What reliable method are you proposing to find the answers? And how do you know when you’ve found them?

  18. I doubt these word games over what “faith” and “atheism” really mean are going to win any converts — too abstract, and the people who’ve devoted serious thought to them are by definition pretty entrenched in their respective positions. But I can’t let the cheap shot about “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” pass. I’m a conservative. Not every atheist supports PETA. There’s more right-of-center atheism than you might think. Conservatives are perhaps more reluctant to come out to their family and political peers about their lack of belief.

    And atheism (perhaps even PETA) has a far higher view of humanity than Yahweh of the Bible, who engaged in genocide against the Canaanites and Amalekites, and yet is defended by apologists like William Lane Craig and (ugh) Paul Copan in the name of “divine command morality” — i.e. it’s not evil if God does it. So much for objective morality.

    In this view all humans are just God’s playthings to dispose of as he wishes. And there are a lot more Bible passages portraying humans as predestined for heaven or eternal torture in hell, than you can find passages of human ability to choose one’s eternal fate. So much for “God doesn’t want robots!” and all that guff about the dignity of man under Christianity.

  19. Clay

    I’m sorry, but your assessment of the Bible’s view of humanity is based on a superficial reading. Sure, it makes sense viewed through 21st century Western eyes, but you’re not in a good position to know how it would have been read by those for whom it was originally written. That may seem dismissive. It isn’t. What I mean is this: it was written in a genre unlike any other that you have read, and as you know, principles of interpretation vary according to genre. It was written in a context utterly unlike any you have known: thousands of years ago in a very foreign land, distant from you and me in every imaginable way.

    Have you read any Chinese or (Asian) Indian literature from the last fifty to one hundred years — especially poetry? Would you take it as literally as you would a science textbook? And that’s nowhere near as culturally distant as the ancient near east.

    So to approach this issue with a sense of certainty in your conclusions is premature at best. I think every literate reader would take that as a caution.

    I have written further on this elsewhere, and based on a wider context of knowledge I have found that your conclusion is unsupported. See the series where it begins, note the scholarly articles linked here, and two recent books on the topic.

    Whether you follow those links is up to you, but I would think intellectual integrity would at least cause you to use caution in what conclusions you come to concerning the Old Testament.

    I don’t intend to make this a topic of discussion for this thread, since I prefer to keep things focused.

    Meanwhile, however, the thought that humans are just God’s playthings is more descriptive of God* than God.

    And the reference to humans and animals is really quite thoroughly in line with naturalistic evolution. It was an illustration of the fact that naturalistic evolution entails the ontological equivalence of all of nature. I didn’t mean (neither did Ingrid Newkirk) that a rat is identical with a boy. What we both meant is that there’s no fundamental, ontological distinction between them. In my case I would have to add to that, “if naturalistic evolution is true.”

  20. Holopupenko is correct in his assessment of this dialogue.

    I think you’ll find that for the most part, the Christians here have taken seriously what the non-believers have said, virtually point by point.

    From the other side, however, especially as demonstrated by David, there have been many identified points of evasion, deflection, and otherwise not engaging in what we have said. Where you have engaged, for some of you it has been on the level of personal perspective, which amounts to autobiographical information that isn’t all that useful for dialogue. All we can do is nod our heads and say, “that’s interesting,” or the like; but if we want to talk about whether your beliefs make sense, or whether they have any application beyond your own feeling-state, some of you won’t go there.

    David and Michael, you were toying with us on how you think Christians are behaving here. But there are multiple dimensions to a discussion like this. We believe that atheism in any form — the lack of belief in God revealed in Jesus Christ — is a position that leads away from life and toward death, so these are life and death issues. We believe that it is demonstrably implausible, if not actually provably false, on its own terms, so we want to press with you what its terms are and show that it cannot logically stand.

    We believe that you are in a position that is implausible at best, and which leads toward death; and we also believe that there are better things for you. But what we can communicate is limited here. We cannot sit across the table with you and talk shop, as I did with a very outspoken atheist a week or so ago; and it was a chance to get to know and appreciate one another as three-dimensional human beings. We cannot look you in the eye and show we care. We cannot laugh at jokes together, at least not easily. We cannot show you by casual demonstration that we’re real human beings interacting with others as real human beings; as for example in the way we interact with a restaurant server or a barista.

    So it’s easy for you to think we’re nothing but hostile argument. We’re not. We’re real people. But what we can bring here are the propositions. And beyond that, I’ve tried here to express what you believe, so that I can find out whether I understand you. In other words I’m trying to do my best to connect. Granted, Holopupenko in particular has a feisty side to him; he’s a real person too. I don’t share his style, and we’ve talked about that often: we go back a long way.

    Anyway, my desire to connect with you is partly to understand; it’s partly to help you understand. I see points of significant internal contradiction in your world view (I speak for others here when I say this, by the way). I think highly enough of you to think you might care to live in a less self-contradictory way, so I bring out those points of contradiction. That probably feels like attack, because it is, on one level: I’m pushing against your sense of security in your beliefs. But the arms I bear are only your propositions and the canons of logical reasoning: both of which you claim allegiance to. I’m not bringing any foreign weapon against you.

    So I’m sorry (in a way) this feels like attack. I would much, much rather we were doing this together over coffee where we could share smiles and a sense of humor. But I’m not apologizing for pointing out to you your own position’s inconsistencies, even if it hurts. As I said, I’m only using your propositions and the methods of rational discourse.

    That’s what I’ve set up this blog to do. If only I could serve coffee besides. I hope you’ll feel free to stay with us in it.

  21. “In this view all humans are just God’s playthings to dispose of as he wishes. “


    I mean this in all sincerity and hope you will take this in the good will it is offered. Based on the above comment, your understanding of the Bible and God is not just wrong but 180 degrees opposed to what the Bible teaches us about God. You certainly seem a serious and thoughtful person. This is beneath you.

  22. Tom,

    Thanks for writing this. I appreciate it. I don’t mind you pointing out inconsistencies. It’s all the ad hominem stuff – the snide remarks about our limited intellect – that I think are quite unnecessary.

    I felt I’d answered all your questions and feel like you’ve evaded all my good ones too, so it’s funny that you feel that way about me. In my opinion, we are all tying ourselves up in philosophical knots. Argument has become point-scoring and ego-strutting, rather than a collaborative effort to explore the subject.

    You made some noise about Peter Boghossian’s ideas. I have asked several times if you can explain your epistemology – not the conclusions, not your position, but how you arrive (generally) at knowledge about supernatural claims. In particular, how your method allows you to reliably distinguish the rantings of a madman from the lies of charlatan from a true claim (e.g. about a miracle). You told me to go first and I have done so to a reasonable extent on the other thread.

    Are you prepared now to write about your own methods? (i.e. about your epistemological method, not the evidence for Christianity, but the generic method you apply to evaluate evidence for this kind of claim.)

    Maybe one day we can go for that coffee. It’d be nice to meet you in person.

  23. Tom, it’s a good thing my “intellectual integrity” or lack of same does not rely on whether or not I read several of your blog posts and a review of a book I’ve already read and found morally callous, inappropriately flip — just google Copan and “non-prophet organizations,” gross — and whose cherry-picked scholarship has been excoriated by a Christian with better scholastic chops than I at

    Throwing up the handy word “context” does not make these hard passages disappear, and the argument that they must be metaphorical or poetic or otherwise not strictly factual is awfully convenient. I also wonder how long people who made that argument would have lived in a less secular, less tolerant age.

    This passage from Numbers seems pretty straightforward. Moses speaking on behalf of Yahweh regarding the conquered Midianites:

    “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

    So did Yahweh not actually order that? Did he order it but not mean it? Did Moses misinterpret it? Is it just “poetry”? Is this anecdote exaggerated? Does it have no basis in truth at all? So what else in the Bible isn’t wholly truthful, and how can one tell the true from the false or the mixed? Did the saints rise from their graves after the Crucifixion, as Matthew (but no one else in either the Bible or otherwise) claims? Was there a Resurrection, or was that just metaphorical as well?

    How do you know when to stop, once you’ve started? Presumably everyone is free to pick and choose what they choose to believe from the Bible. And of course, there are still many Christians (Al Mohler, et al.) who say the Bible is wholly true in everything it says, including the clear inference that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

  24. David
    You ask a lot of questions, which is good, and you get a lot of replies. The disconnect is that you don’t follow up on the recommendations given in those replies because it’s too much trouble or you’re not interested (your words).

    If you insist on learning Christian theology from a blog and from blog comments then know that you will forever be stuck at the Freshman level. Don’t be surprised if at some point the Seniors and Graduates get tired of responding to a person who says he wants to remain a Freshman. And no, I don’t consider myself to be either a Senior or a Graduate.

  25. On a lighthearted note….how can we learn the truth about atheism if there is no definitive definition or definitive source that we can consult? What we need is *evidence* that there is a specific definition of the term. Not hearsay, not opinion not philosophical “proof” but real evidence. Until we get that I lack belief that the term has any meaning.


  26. @23:

    Again, with the personal opinions and subtle craftiness of avoiding thinking–exhibit A: In my opinion, we are all tying ourselves up in philosophical knots… that then hides behind absolutist moral claims (which at base are supposed to be based in truth, right?) as a cry-baby.

    This is precisely the framework for “discussions” DavidP and other atheists promote: opinion [δόξα (doxa)] over love of wisdom [φιλοσοφία (philosophia)]. “Operationally” what is philosophy? Reflection upon reality in which any human can and should engage properly. How many times have we seen atheists decry philosophy on these pages… in favor of their parochial scientism?

    The subtle lie continues… unabated.

  27. @Holopupenko
    If you have a more reliable method than science for separating the claims of a deluded individual from the claims of a charlatan from true knowledge then please explain it. I’m listening.

  28. Jeepers, David. When Holo responds with details that are not subject to the scientific method, what will you do – ask the same question again?

  29. SteveK, I predict he won’t make any real effort to answer the question and will pour more scorn on science, and my attachment to it, while he doesn’t.

  30. Clay,

    I took you as a serious person with with serious thoughts about this subject. Instead, I find another person, like many that have been here before, using the Canaanites and Amalekites as a way to do anything but engage in serious thought. You take a very limited Biblical perspective and with a little quote mining, voila! a reason not to think seriously about really any of this. Sprinkle some well chose invectives on Paul Copan (who brought him up anyway?) or WLC and your perfectly self-justified. Which is, of course, just what you want. Self-justification.

  31. Clay, I never said your intellectual integrity depended on your reading those sources. I said it was connected to your using caution about what conclusions you draw when you lack the background to draw an informed conclusion.

    I think intellectual integrity also involves not putting words in others’ mouths. Please be careful what you read into what I say, for I didn’t say what you said I said.

    Copan and Stark are having a serious online discussion. Does that mean that you are qualified to determine what passages from long ago really mean? Really? Look around the web, and you’ll discover that Stark’s word wasn’t the last word on it.

    Again, I urge you to use caution in assuming you understand what was going on there and then.

    If you think context is just a handy and convenient term, then I question your ability to understand literature. But I don’t think you really think that. I think you do understand the importance of context and genre. So I have trouble seeing why you would object to including it in any writing’s interpretive framework. Sure, the matter of context might help us understand those hard passages in a different light than the way we would understand it through 21st century Western eyes. Is there something wrong with thinking that?

    It’s not just “convenient,” because it’s not ad hoc. It is a standard protocol for understanding all of literature.

    What else in the Bible “isn’t wholly truthful”? I reject the premise of the question, because the Bible doesn’t claim to be “truthful when interpreted through a 21st century Western lens.” It claims to be truthful in what was written, in the way it would have been understood by the original audience. That means we have to do some work to get to that information. There’s lots of available scholarship, though, and it’s not that hard to find. The Bible doesn’t claim to be perspicuous in everything on the surface, anyay: it calls for study. (If you think God should have done it another way, then you have come up with a good argument against God*, not God.)

    How do we know when to stop? When we have a good idea what the original audiences might have understood a passage to mean.

  32. Scorn? Holo is a scientist, or perhaps more accurately a teacher of it.

    Can you answer my question, David?

  33. Holo is a Ph.D. physical scientist who has led research with highly significant international repercussions (not military, lest anyone’s eyebrows be raised at that). Some of his work and writings have been featured in very visible public places in the U.S. More than that I should not say, since he prefers to use a pseudonym.

  34. You, DavidP, are the one who initially promulgated the notion that the natural sciences are the epistemic arbiters of all human knowledge (I’m using more sophisticated language to characterize your world view), and just now asserted the natural sciences the most “reliable method” for… whatever.

    So, the onus is on you to back up that claim–a claim that fundamentally animates your world view… err, opinion. Surely you can’t back it up with science because that would be viciously circular: science is the most reliable because science is the best. Heh.

    So, what is the basis for your claim? If it can’t be science, then per your own assertion (science is the most reliable) your claim itself is unscientific and hence unreliable. If there’s another basis for that claim, say philosophy, then not only have you demonstrated an almost utter inability to reason philosophically (discounting it, in fact, as “knots”), but your position collapses as well.

    So, again, you made the assertions and multiple times base your comments on it. Now, do some real thinking and back it up. Otherwise, keep your personal and false opinions to yourself.

  35. Wow, David. That may have set a new high water mark for self-serving statements if not quite a few other categories.

  36. @David P:

    Exactly as I predicted.

    I presume you mean this:

    If you have a more reliable method than science for separating the claims of a deluded individual from the claims of a charlatan from true knowledge then please explain it. I’m listening.

    Holopupenko explained *exactly* where you have gone wrong; he mounted a reductio ad absurdum. But you, being the obtuse ignorant that you are, take the argument he made as a vindication of your prediction.

  37. Holo
    Science is the most reliable method I know, based on my own experience – it has helped me gain knowledge. If you know of a more reliable method please explain it. It is easy to criticize, but not so easy to actually say something constructive is it?

  38. David,

    I have a more reliable method. It starts with evidence. It’s not the only more-reliable method, but it’s a good one.

    You’ve been asking me to detail my epistemic approaches, and you’ve been waiting for an answer, but not as long as I’ve been waiting for you to go to the evidence: the Christians’ source documents, the New Testament.

    You have specifically, pointedly, directly refused to go there.

    I have said (not often, but you can find it buried if you try hard) that in the not-too-distant future I’ll write on the actual meaning of faith. That will probably answer your question about epistemological questions.

    So here we have you pointedly refusing a reasonable request. We have me setting one aside for a while. And if you haven’t noticed: I’ve been writing a lot here lately! What kind of a machine do you think I am, to expect me to do that additional besides? My reason for not responding is that I haven’t had time to get to it yet. Your reason for refusing is that you are convinced without reading the evidence that when you read the evidence it won’t be evidence.

    Here’s the deal I’ll make with you: I’ll write about my epistemology. You won’t understand it, because it will involve the expectation that people will have a passing familiarity with the teachings of Christianity.


    Better deal: I’ll write something that you’ll have a chance of understanding because you’ve done some work of your own.

    But it won’t be until at least next week: I have some significant work challenges to get to the rest of today and tomorrow. I need to disappear from the comment threads pretty soon today for that reason.

  39. Holopupenko
    I back up my claim with evidence that science has given me personally knowledge and has also driven an explosion in knowledge in the world.

    The fact that in the face of this evidence you deny the strength of science because of a philosophical paradox is a beautiful demonstration of what I mean by philosophical knots. You appear to be wrapped up in logic while reality passes you by.

    Now, as I have said, I am prepared to be proven wrong. I am prepared to listen to your own method. I would be surprised if it is better than science at evaluating the truth of a supernatural claim, but I would sincerely love to be proven wrong about that.

  40. @40 Really, this is like shooting fish in a barrel…

    First, I did: you’re not “listening.” See above. “Science is the most reliable method I know” you assert in one form or another over and over and over again… without ever entertaining the possibility that there are other forms of knowledge… nor do you back it up except with personal opinions (again, see above). It’s not science I’m attacking, it’s your unscientific assertion that science is, for you personally–hence it must be accepted by everyone–the do-all-and-end-all of human knowledge. Are you that obtuse to repeatedly miss such a simple point?

    Second, science is not a “method” but an intellectual virtue (the scientific method is a method), which among other things means science is reasoning in an excellent manner… something you’ve repeatedly failed to do, AND refused to address that which YOU initially imposed.

    Third, given you are so wrong (and can’t support your unscientific claims), there’s nothing constructive that can be said except: re-examine your thinking… which you blatantly refuse to do because of your emotional ties (and admittedly personal: “based on my own experience”) to science uber alles.

    Fourth, please explain to all of us which of the natural sciences is the basis for the moral imperative you aim at me: “It is easy to criticize, but not so easy to actually say something constructive is it?”. Do it now… otherwise, please stop while you’re behind.

  41. Tom,

    I want to know about your generic epistemology for evaluating supernatural claims – unrelated to the specifics of Christianity. Let’s say you’re evaluating Islam or a (we now know, fraudulent) healer / evangelist like Peter Popoff.

    Once I have a handle on your generic epistemology (and if it makes sense – i.e. I can see how it reliably differentiates between charlatans and the truth) then you can explain how it applies to Christianity and I’ll be in a far better position to evaluate the evidence. I may even end up believing it, if your epistemology really is sound.

  42. And this is a beautiful piece of ignorance: has also driven an explosion in knowledge in the world. Like there have been no other “explosions” of knowledge and creativity in the world? And, this leaves apart the question of what gave birth to the natural sciences as a self-sustaining human endeavor in only one place and historical context?

    Wait… did I just predicate beauty of ignorance…?!? Oh my… poor Aristotle must be having a CTN moment just about now…

  43. Holopupenko
    I happily admit that my opinions about the value of science (the scientific method) are not the one, the only truth. I also don’t have ready answers to your questions.

    However, let me point out the elephant in the room. You do not have a better method. Your attacks on my thinking are a smoke-screen to conceal that fact.

    If you really do have a method, imagine I’m an interested young student and give me a broad overview in language and concepts I can understand.

  44. Holo the graduate is doing his best to help David the incoming freshman understand where he is wrong and all David can do is roll his eyes and snicker.

  45. David at 46: I’m done playing games with you. You act as if you want to know but you refuse to read the source documents.

    I don’t know who else might want to interact with you, but I have nothing else to say to someone so entrenched in intentional ignorance.

    Let me know when you’ve changed your mind

  46. Look, why is so important what I think? I’m asking you what you think. I’ve already said what I think and you’ve told me I’m wrong. Let’s hear what you think is a reliable method. Forget about the scientific method for now.

  47. Boghossian’s thesis is that if you press people of faith into explaining their epistemology it will cause their fragile faith to crumble. Of course they could evade and avoid instead.

    The difficult question isn’t why do you believe in Christ, but how do you know this is true compared with Islam or other faiths? How do you determine reliably whether or not to believe one of the multitude of supernatural claims that are made daily around the world? What is your method for knowing?

    Maybe you won’t talk to me about it. Maybe you’ll think about it on your own, or maybe you’ll continue to not think deeply about it, not question it. Who knows? I’m not going to force you.

  48. Maybe???

    You can’t claim the high ground on this one, David. Your attempt to do so is offensive and it’s based in blatant falsehood. It’s no better than a bald-faced lie. I told you I was going to do it. I told you why I haven’t done so already.

    Let me know when you’re done with both your persistent insistence on maintaining your ignorance. (Other readers: there us context here you may not know of; there is an objective basis of fact in that description that we could point you to if you need to see it.)

    And let me know when you’re going to give distorting things the way you’ve done here.

    Then I might have something further to talk about with you. Until then I’ll give you the time that prevaricating ignorance-choosers deserve.

  49. Sorry I assumed the “I’m done playing games with you” comment superseded your previous promise.

  50. David P,

    How do we sift through truth claims to work out which are most likely to correspond to reality? The way anyone does – consider all the data then interpret what the significance of the data is be applying the appropriate tools, which hopefully includes sound reasoning in whatever field you are working in. Contrary to what you might be thinking I personally and I presume others here apply this across the board, whether the claim is “supernatural” or not.

    Let’s say though that we come across some data that challenges our current paradigm, then we have a choice – we can ignore it or we can give everything a second look. Maybe what I thought was true actually isn’t. I’ve had one major shift in my life when I went from a “none” to a Christian in my early 20’s while I was studying for my undergrad science degree (that’s a little bit of data that you can either ignore or you might want to change any conflicting beliefs you might have.) but I’ve also had many other more minor changes in my beliefs since then.

    The problem is, is that if you decide beforehand that the data can’t possibly lead to a certain conclusion you are closing yourself to what might turn out to be the truth.

  51. Tom:

    I hate to say I told ya so, but…

    This is not just a DavidP thing: to whatever degree, all atheists–or at least the ones who comment here–spout little more than moral and intellectual depravity.

    I don’t know if you recognize his last barb about challenging a Christian’s “epistemology”. This formulation is common among atheists at their own sites: they pick up on an important and highly-nuanced philosophical term of art, and without understanding it nonetheless brandish it as a weapon that ends up cutting them… even as they ignore ontological considerations… even as they can’t formulate a logically-coherent argument… even as they decry philosophy in favor of the sophistry of scientism.

    In your previous post you noted you’re still trying to get a handle on what atheism is. Well, there you have in the form of DavidP’s nonsense. Who needs millions of body-counts of victims when the everyday banality of atheism’s stupidity will do just fine.

    This is the face of atheism.

  52. Clay the atheist:

    “And atheism (perhaps even PETA) has a far higher view of humanity than Yahweh of the Bible,”

    Wait, I’m confused… I thought atheism was just an absence of belief in theism, and how can an absence of belief have a view on something? Or has the meaning of the word changed again since the last thread?

    In this view all humans are just God’s playthings to dispose of as he wishes.

    And how many people have you know to lay down their lives for disposable playthings?

    “I also wonder how long people who made that argument would have lived in a less secular, less tolerant age.”

    At least as long as everybody else, I’d say, given all the ink spilt in the middle ages on scriptural exegesis. (In fact, if anything mediaeval scholars were probably too inclined to attribute complex metaphorical meanings to quite straightforwards passages.)

  53. And good Heavens, can’t we just ban David P already? He does nothing but derail threads with his stupidity and wilful ignorance.

  54. I’m fairly new to this site and even then I’ve been busy of late with other things, so I’ll admit from the outset that in my ignorance I don’t know the back-story.

    However, I can’t help but read the comments and conclude that the prevailing attitude expressed towards DavidP to be harsh. His request to Tom regarding how one determines the validity of Christianity over and against other religions and world-views (and atheism doesn’t get a free pass, btw) is a good one irrespective of the intentions behind the request. To be sure this is a huge question; too large to be answered in a post or even many posts. But it’s also a worthy question.

    Now David may have absolutely no intention of ever really engaging with the evidence. (I’m not familiar enough with his online persona to make a judgement there.) If this is the case then it most certainly is a loss. Nevertheless I think it might be helpful to others if you outlined why you believe what you believe, Tom. (Or maybe you have done so already?) As a Christian I am always happy to hear rational explanations given for belief, even though I accept that faith isn’t ultimately an enterprise (for want of a better word) composed entirely of reason.


    I don’t think that I missed Tom’s point. I’ve spent countless hours in conversation with people who I now realised were either unwilling or incapable of giving my words a fair hearing. It’s tedious and I have to say it generates resentment, which is exactly the wrong way to deal with it. Better to shake the dust from your feet. Back then I thought that a multitude of words comprised a dialogue. Now I think differently.

    My comment was merely there to offer a reason why so many swooped in seemingly never to return. I don’t doubt that some, perhaps most, had no intention of actually having a discussion.

  55. “And good Heavens, can’t we just ban David P already? He does nothing but derail threads with his stupidity and wilful ignorance.”

    By all means no! Even though we’ve had many here like David. They come feigning good intentions. But maybe feigning is too strong a word. Given Holo’s quite thorough and accurate understanding of the limitations and destructiveness of atheism we shouldn’t expect much more from David than what he’s given us so far. He is another poster who can’t in any way even understand, much less admit, his myopia. He is really unable to confront much less engage in any discussion that really challenges his worldview. He stays on the periphery, always on the defensive, always using the offensive to keep his distance from any meaningful discussion or admssion. He’s another great example of how destructive atheism is to rationality.

  56. At the risk of going off-topic:

    Clay, do you think the Amalekites deserved death? How do you reach that conclusion based on the available evidence?

    Yes, I realise the topic is potentially a lot broader, but I want to focus on this one narrow point first: is what happened to them unjust?)

    Alternatively, if that is too hard to handle, is it unjust that people die from floods? Show your reasoning.

    Note from siteowner: that really is off topic, and I would like you to save it for another day. Thanks.

  57. BSquibs @ #61

    I can’t help but read the comments and conclude that the prevailing attitude expressed towards DavidP to be harsh. His request to Tom regarding how one determines the validity of Christianity over and against other religions and world-views (and atheism doesn’t get a free pass, btw) is a good one irrespective of the intentions behind the request.

    I agree. Honest questions deserve honest answers. However, what if the person asking the question is not honest? Should we be wasting our time with him? David P. and several others who visit this site have a talent of ducking, dodging and weaving to avoid questions we ask them, as well as taking the discussion off onto rabbit trails into the weeds… He appears to be here waiting for those few gotcha moments when he can deliver an insulting one liner or put-down that apparently he thinks is clever. I have already told him several times that I think he’s being disingenuous. By analogy he’s like someone who’s been invited to a party in someone’s home and shows up with the intention of being rude, obnoxious and insulting the other guests as well as the host… At least that’s my impression. What do others think?

    I think maybe it’s time for David P. to declare victory and move on to someplace else. Of course it would be a Pyrrhic victory because he hasn’t convinced anyone here (except maybe for a few fellow trolls) that he has anything worth considering.

  58. I guess it depends. Does the liability of responding to a good question delivered in bad faith outweigh the possibility that there are those out there who are honestly asking the same question and might get something from an answer?

  59. Just to add – I’m not saying that DavidP is posing questions in bad faith. (I suppose in time I’ll form an opinion on that.) Rather, I’m suggesting that even one does think that this is case there might yet be some benefit gained from answering the challenge. Whatever about those who will not be convinced and are here to post “gotchas”, I suggest there are silent readers (and also people like myself) who might conclude that Tom’s response was helpful.

  60. Billy, I appreciate your comments here, but were you online here when David was refusing to read the source documents? This wasn’t just a casual, “I haven’t gotten around to it and I don’t know if I ever will.”

    It starts here, and goes on for a long series of comments (set your browser to look for “source” on the page).

    It continues here and here.

    I believe there are others out there who might be asking the same question in good faith. I’ve told David that I’m going to continue the Boghossian series and develop that answer, and I’ve told him why it hasn’t happened yet. That was in this thread and elsewhere (see #43 for the most recent).

    Also, you suggest it would be a good idea to outline why I believe what I believe. I have indeed done so already, over the course of eight years of blogging or so. It’s always worth doing it again, and I certainly will. The thing is, I’ve been spending so much time on the already-written blog posts my regular job is suffering, and I can’t do everything in a day.

    But here’s the heart of it. If it’s overly harsh, then I made an error. I am not yet convinced of that, but I could be wrong. It’s not always easy to know.

  61. Tom,
    I still don’t understand your reaction in that thread. Can you tell me in your own words what you heard me say (how you interpreted my argument)?

  62. Thanks Tom. For what it is worth I greatly appreciate what you do here and long may it continue.

    I was aware of David’s refusal to do the leg work and I must admit that I thought it suspicious. When somebody spends so much time arguing in ignorance I would probably conclude that they aren’t interested in listening to their opponents or learning from them (even if learning just means “fact finding”).

    However, on some level I have some sympathy with David. For example, if I was encouraged by a follower of Sathya Sai Baba to investigate his alleged miracles then I probably wouldn’t be much interested*. I might even think that I was being fobbed off in a “read these 10 books and then we can talk” type of way. In this regard my preconceptions are very much at the fore of my thinking. I suppose David is the same. There is one obvious and important difference though – he is actively seeking out believers to argue against their beliefs. So I would think that eventually he actually has to step up and engage with the strongest argument in an intellectually honest manner, and that means actually investigating them.

    All this said, I must say David’s approach reminds me somewhat of Lewis Wolpert who has appeared on the Unbelievable? radio programme that I’m trying to encourage you to go on, Tom. It’s his standard line to ask for evidence – “if you just show me I’ll believe” – but to then dismiss all evidence out of hand because there can be no evidence and therefore no evidence to investigate.

    *Actually, come to think of it, I was challenged by an atheist on this very matter and I did some investigation. I was unimpressed by the claim and the man but I must also admit that I didn’t go deeply into these claims.

  63. David, I heard you say that you wouldn’t investigate the source documents because you knew that there was no valid evidence to be found in them.

    I heard you repeatedly rejecting not only the source documents, but also our explanations to you about them: that if you tried reading them, you would find that your perspective on them was not accurate.

    I heard you repeatedly saying that people in ancient times didn’t know how to tell when someone was dead. I asked you to consider not only the crucifixion accounts but also the resurrection accounts and to see if that theory made sense in light of the full information there, and you refused.

    I heard you proposing the sandbar theory for Jesus’ walking on water, and refusing to look at the source document to see whether your theory fit the accounts there.

    I heard you asking, “How will reading the source documents help?” and not taking our answers seriously, but going on later to ask, “what do the source documents have to do with anything?”

    I heard you saying,

    the detailed contents of the source documents are irrelevant to me. I have already rejected them on the grounds of “insufficient evidence” based on their supernatural claims and my assessment of the lack of ability of people of that era to gather evidence to a suitable level of reliability to back up the claims.

    That’s not all in my own words, obviously, but I don’t know why it needs to be. I wrote my own words in those threads. In sum, what I heard you saying was that you knew in advance that there was nothing to be gained by finding out for yourself what the source documents had to say; and that you could nevertheless continue to offer theories about what they said; which I consider to be careless when one begins to do it, lazy when one continues to do it in the course of a discussion like these, and intellectually reprehensible when one takes the position that there is nothing to be gained by reading the documents.

    Now, did I get that wrong?

  64. What Tom said in his #70 is exactly how the discussion proceeded in that thread. I know because I was in on that discussion (to say nothing of the fact that one can go to the thread and read it in its entirety).

  65. Tom:

    No, Tom: @70 you’re correct. Permit me to expand upon some points… and forgive my pedantic professorially style.

    There’s a deeper nuance here that is, admittedly, historically nuanced and geeky, but revelatory of atheists’ “thinking”. They are independent thinkers: the “arguments” they rehash are old, tired, false. DavidP simply doesn’t realize that his little game of “epistemological challenges” is misguided, and that it only serves his preconceptions—as you so well highlighted in the general sense. He’s letting others do his thinking for him (witness the puerile “imaginary friends who we’re trying to please” swipes he takes).

    In any event, this fundy-infatuation with epistemology is, at least formally, the spawn of Descartes, who was looking for hyper-certitude in all knowledge by essentially trying to mathematicize it. In other words, he was looking for mathematical certitude in disciplines and areas of knowledge to which it doesn’t apply in the first place. (Let’s leave aside his unfortunate bifurcation of humans into two substances…)

    In one form or another, this approach has seriously infected thinking up to our time and, unfortunately, will continue to do so for a long time. Witness the logicism of Russell, positivism, the abuse of information theory by ID, etc. In any event, it is a view that presupposes things are reducible to quantification… when, in fact, only sensory-accessible properties (accidents) are quantifiable. The assumption is that one can reason (“infer” sounds sexier, doesn’t it?) to conclusions directly through the sciences that are not scientific conclusions. DavidP is a sad example of this, and you’ve witness a slew of this stuff… perhaps the most adamant example was DL.

    DavidP dishonestly deflects @53 with “Look, why is so important what I think?” It’s as childish, in fact, as Hilary Clinton angrily retorting “What does it matter?” in the face of the death of four Americans. What DavidP thinks does matter—it is important—because it reveals the pedigree of ideas, it reveals his emotional commitments, and it explains why his errors are what they are. What he’s basically trying to do is to browbeat us, surreptitiously suggesting his “thinking” is correct, when it’s egregiously wrong: his whole worldview is screwed up beyond all recognition. Then, he uses this to hide behind a false humility of “I’m just asking questions,” or “I’m asking what you think.” Well, given his reasoning is so screwed up, how exactly is he to understand what others are saying? Said another way, why should pearls be trashed under the feet of a swine?

    And, just to make sure I’m not misunderstood, this is NOT a call for DavidP to accept what we say. It’s a call (a) for him to recognize his own deep-seated ignorance of many topics/issues/disciplines, and (b) for him to understand what we’re saying. But, again, how is he supposed to understand (but NOT necessarily accept what we say) if his capacity for reasoning is so screwed up? For crying out loud, he doesn’t understand what “evidence” or “nature” or a slew of other important terms mean.

    What’s my prediction (playing the @30 game)? He won’t challenge his own scientistic world view (as we’ve seen he seems to have missed the difference between “scientific” and “scientistic”) and he won’t invest in the long, hard effort necessary to understand a lot of what we’re saying. Most of what we’re saying isn’t about religious faith… but, he doesn’t even get that because DavidP is heavily invested in the genetic fallacy: ‘no matter what a Christian says, they must be trying to sneak up on me and even their non-faith ideas are wrong.’ Faith, as we know, is a gift (and as actualized, a virtue)… and the receiver must be, well, receptive to that gift. But how can one be receptive if one rejects one’s own humanity—which, at base, is the result of atheism. That’s why atheism is a fundamentally bad (false) viral meme… and why it turns its adherents into fundamentally bad people: they lose touch with reality, as provocative as that sounds.

  66. What David does not seem to grasp is that Christianity is rooted in history, namely that God has acted in real human history in order to communicate with us and reveal Himself to us. Our core beliefs are inseparably intertwined with real events, ultimately in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth – we maintain that God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) stepped into human history, becoming God Incarnate (fully human and fully God, two natures in one Person) in Jesus of Nazareth; He lived, walked among His people (Jews of the Old Covenant, living in Palestine during what we now call the early 1st century AD, a province in the Roman Empire, ruled by the Caesars), taught His people about the reality of God’s kingdom, demonstrated that they were in the presence of The King Himself, by His words and deeds (His miracles), was crucified on a Roman cross, died, was buried in a known tomb, and was subsequently seen alive again in a body that was physical, yet more than physical. The Resurrection is the abductive inference to the best explanation of these events, yes, even though it involves the supernatural activity of God. The Incarnation (at the beginning of Jesus’ time on earth) and the Resurrection (at the end of Jesus’ time on earth) are the two core truths that make sense out of the data. Yes, they go beyond the limits of historical investigation and the MES’s, but that is one aspect of faith as Christians understand and live it – following the evidence to the Person it all points to.

    (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Acts 2:14-36, 2 Peter 1:16-17, 1 John 1:1-3, John 20:30-31. The uniform and consistent testimony of the NT is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and is alive again as a matter of actual events that occurred in the presence of people who were eyewitnesses to those events.

    John 1:1-5 and John 1:14-18 , along with Hebrews 1:1-3, tell us that the ‘Word’ (that is the Son of God) stepped into human history, into the physical universe, as a human being, and that this is God’s grand miracle of communicating with us (not just to us).

    Even creedal statements like the Apostles’ Creed,and the Nicene Creed affirm:

    I believe
    (Apostles’ Creed)
    And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    (Nicene Creed)
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
    he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
    and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.

    What we know of Christianity comes from the New Testament documents, which record these events and explain their significance and implications for the human race. Thus, part of our way of knowing necessarily comes from a careful study of these documents. This also necessarily includes establishing that these are trustworthy historical sources. If they are trustworthy, then faith has a reasonable justification for taking the next step – accepting Jesus as both LORD and Saviour – see Romans 10:3-17 for example.

    But faith is more than this – becoming a Christian is an act of the will and heart as well. It is more like accepting a marriage proposal, and it is being adopted into a new family (Romans 8:9-17). It is to gain a new kind of life, to share in the kind of life that God has, through what Christians call the ‘indwelling of the Holy Spirit’ – with Him, we participate in a relationship with the Triune God. It is the Spirit of God Who draws people to faith, by showing us the truth about Jesus Christ, convicting us of our need for repentance and forgiveness (see John 16:5-13). When a person is ready to say “Okay, God, I’m ready to listen”, then he or she will hear what He has to say.

  67. I can see that I wasn’t clear. Let me try one more time to make it more succinct.

    My argument was that, since it is easy for us and other people to make mistakes or to be deliberately misled, if we wanted to prove to beyond reasonable doubt that someone came back from the dead today it would take a lot of high-quality evidence to show: (1) the person had died, (2) the same person came back from the dead.

    We would need the people collecting that evidence to be medically-trained, rigorous and skeptical. We would need for them to show explicit consideration to all plausible other explanations and the reasoning and evidence as to why they were not the case.

    I already knew that Jesus was in tact when he left the cross. His head wasn’t cut off and even his legs weren’t broken. OK, so they pierced his side and blood and water came out. You have decided that means his heart was pierced but I contend it could just as easily be his bladder. In short, he appeared dead, but there is a distinct possibility he was not.

    For centuries, people have been unintentionally buried alive. Even now mistakes are possible. I actually believe our modern level of clinical expertise is such that given sufficient rigor we could show beyond reasonable doubt that a resurrection had actually occurred.

    Unfortunately, that kind of medical capability and rigor was not available in the first century. I did check this assumption with you and you did not show me anything to contradict it. Hence, there was no real point in reading the “source documents” as our need (1) was not fulfilled.

    We didn’t even cover the evidence needed to show (2) or that the Bible itself is reliable.

    You argued that “beyond reasonable doubt” is too high a bar and that’s fine. We can lower the bar and lower our confidence in the conclusion.

  68. And when we try cover the evidence that the Bible is reliable, you demure and say that you don’t want to discuss evidences for Christianity.

  69. I agree with you, Holopupenko and Victoria, except I’d want to make sure that nothing in what Holo says would carry the implication that Christians are inherently better than atheists.

    This may be just as hard for the non-believers to get as what Holo himself said, but the facts are these: that every human is born in the same condition of spiritual blindness and indifference toward God, which we act out in ways that range from benign-seeming apathy to complete outright rebellion. That’s true for all of us. But for those who come by faith into a relationship with God (Eph. 2:8-9, John 1:12, John 3:16) there is a renewed life and the beginnings of a renewed mind, which we all need to develop through living lives as students/apprentices (a more modern but perfectly accurate rendering of “disciples”) of Jesus Christ.

    So we’re not smarter by nature. We’re not better by nature. But when Christ begins his work in us, we have the opportunity to take on his nature to the extent that we grow in it, and of course also to the extent possible in created human bodies.

    I don’t like implications that we have some superiority over non-believers. Jesus Christ has superiority over us all, and he offers all the chance to participate in his life.

  70. David,

    You write,

    We would need the people collecting that evidence to be medically-trained, rigorous and skeptical. We would need for them to show explicit consideration to all plausible other explanations and the reasoning and evidence as to why they were not the case.


    Have you read the source documents?

    What effect did Jesus reportedly have on his disciples a few days after his reported death?

    Is that consistent with your conviction that a medically confirmed death was required?

    Your confidence in your conclusion is premature at best. Because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because you have persistently refused to find out.

  71. @Victoria
    If the claim about the resurrection isn’t reliable and it is a fundamental – or the fundamental – claim of the Bible then it has already shown the Bible to be unreliable. Further investigation doesn’t really help does it?

  72. OK, David – let’s just say that the Roman executioners botched their job and a half-dead Jesus stumbled out of the tomb. Then what?

  73. Tom:

    Very much agreed… although I thought I made that qualification clear @4. Admittedly, my focus is on how and why atheism denigrates human nature and the person. It’s not that we’re “better” by nature and smarter (that itself would be a stupid–in fact, sinful, claim)–it’s that atheism makes people worse by reducing them to much less than they can be… even as God’s Grace perfects nature. Atheism is a rejection that we are can can be even better. Atheism is a rejection of excellence… which is a rejection of moral and intellectual virtue, because to act excellently per our nature (per Aristotle) is to act virtuously. It is no wonder that one of the likely outcomes of acceding to the atheist viral meme is nihilism.

    Your “relationship” thing is especially pointed (and important) in this regard. Take Rosenberg as an example: (a) how are we to have a healthy Socratic “Know Thyself” if there is no self, (b) how are we to have personal relationship with others is there are no “selves,” and worst (c) how are we then to have a relationship to and with God? IMPOSSIBLE if one goes down the hole of atheism.

    You’ve likely heard the characterization of evangelization as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Well, if the skeptical beggar rejects the existence of bread… or even rejects that he’s hungry… or even rejects that there’s a self beyond the crawling collection of atoms and molecules, what’s the point?

  74. Josephus talks about victims of crucifixion (see here

    In this passage, he talks about 3 victims who were taken down from their crosses while still alive, and even with serious medical attention, only one managed to survive.

    Jesus was flogged first, so severely that the Romans pulled Simon of Cyrene out of the crowd to carry the crossbeam for Him. A Roman soldier was dispatched by Pilate to confirm that Jesus was indeed dead, when Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body. That soldier drove a spear into Jesus’ side (just how high up do you think Jesus was on the cross, anyway, that the spear thrust would pass through the bladder rather that into the heart? ). Mark and John give us a dovetailed account of just the details we need to know that we can be confident that everyone knew Jesus was dead.

    He lays in a tomb, wrapped in 100lbs of spices and tight linen grave cloths, with no medical attention whatsoever, recovers, manages to get out of the linens, takes the time to place them neatly in the grave, rolls away a massive grave stone (that would have taken at least a couple of strong, healthy men to move), overcomes a battle-hardened, armed Roman guard unit, and then manages to convince His disciples that He has been resurrected in a body that shows no ill effects (other than the scars) of His ordeal? Nobody who sees Him after He gets out of the tomb says, “Oh, my, You look like hell, like death warmed over, you need serious medical attention”.

    If you can believe that this is a plausible explanation, David, then you are beyond hope – Holopupenko’s response didn’t cut deep enough!

  75. @78: just as I predicted @72. He won’t because he can’t, and he can’t because he won’t.

  76. @Tom

    No, I haven’t, not much anyway. I can’t see how it could change (1) anyway. I am assuming that if the Bible covered in rigorous detail the many, many alternative theories as to what might have occurred and the evidence and reasoning as to why they did not occur then I would have heard about before. I would also have thought that you would have been keen to bring it up and quote it to me.

    The unfortunate fact is that the kind of rigor and skepticism necessary to show a supernatural claim simply wasn’t available in those days – people hadn’t learnt how to do it well. In the case of the disciples it was even harder because there was a heady mix of social biases (groupthink) and wanting to believe (confirmation bias).

  77. @David
    Did you know that there is one alternative theory about what happened to Jesus’ body and why the tomb was empty, stated in the Gospel accounts?

    Tertullian, one of the early Church fathers in his Apology (circa 200 AD), writes that he has encountered the same story (see here, Chapter XXL, para 36 – scroll about halfway through the document)

    Did you know that the disciples were reluctant to believe at first that Jesus was alive, let alone raised in a supernatural, yet physical, body?

  78. @Victoria

    I’m not going to continue with this argument any more because it’s completely pointless. I believe the Bible is a fairytale, so me continuing to try to argue for an alternative explanation to one of the stories is really beyond silly. It’s far away from anything I’m interested in discussing.

  79. @83: The unfortunate fact is that the kind of rigor and skepticism necessary to show a supernatural claim simply wasn’t available in those days – people hadn’t learnt how to do it well.

    DavidP, of course, knows because he was there. But if he wasn’t there AND he has admitted to “not much anyway” educating himself… and still continues with his nonsense, then Victoria may be right: there may be no hope.

    I mean, really… witness his smug historicist fallacy and arrogant sense of superiority over people from two-thousand years ago: he thinks they’re stupid because they’re historically in the past. He can’t imagine that his own atheism might be groupthink… or that his narrowly-construed and copied-from-other-fools “epidemiological challenge” might be “confirmation bias.” No, that’s impossible, for DavidP believes he is immune–that his “thinking” is correct… and that’s why @85 he will NOT continue.

    What was it that you said about “superiority,” Tom?

  80. Social biases/group think: disconfirmed in the source documents.

    Confirmation bias: disconfirmed in the source documents.

    Almost but not quite dead: disconfirmed in the source documents.

    Inability to confirm a supernatural claim: disconfirmed in the source documents, for many if not necessarily all of the miracle claims.

    “I am assuming” — meaning that that’s your own attitude: confirmed in comment #83, the relevant source document.

    My eagerness to bring these things up and quote them to you has been overshadowed by my eagerness to get you into the source documents for yourself. They’re not that long. You could read Mark and John, the sources I recommended most to you, in an hour or so. So you don’t need me to do all your homework for you.

  81. I continue with dogged persistence to maintain that what I said about superiority is true, Holopupenko, because it is. It’s offensive to other people and to the Gospel itself to suggest that believers are inherently superior; we depend on Christ and his nature in us to lift us above ourselves.

  82. @David
    Then why are you bothering to waste our bandwidth here?
    We will not discuss the Christian faith, what we believe and why we believe it apart from the source documents, their essential historicity and their significance.

  83. Tom, you missed my point: the “superiority” comment was directed at DavidP through you based on his latest comments.

  84. @Holopupenko

    I think you are having difficulty making a distinction between intelligence and knowledge.

    I’m not claiming superiority in terms of worth or intelligence. I don’t believe we have superior worth or intelligence to people in history. Not at all.

    But superior knowledge and reasoning skills, yes! Nowadays, we have access to education, almost all of us can read and write, we travel widely, and we have the Internet for goodness sake for practising our smug arguments on forums like this one and for opening our eyes to the wonderful weirdness of the world.

  85. David @85: thank you for that honest autobiographical information. You believe something about the Bible, based on a strong and persistent refusal to find out what the hell you’re talking about. That tells no one anything about the Bible. It tells us a lot about you.

    It tells us also that you are willing to dismiss all of us here as fairy tale-believers, again without examining the evidence to know whether that dismissal is justified.

    You tell us that you think this discussion is completely pointless: in other words, it’s pointless to examine whether the source on which we ground our worldview can be trusted. I suppose we could still discuss philosophical or scientific matters with you, but given your contempt for our worldview and its major source, I don’t know how you could do that with any intellectual honesty.

    Your theories in 83 are contrafactual: they’re invented out of thin air, divorced from all knowledge, as I said in 87. You cannot continue to affirm them with any shred of intellectual integrity, because quite literally you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Would you like to continue in the discussions on this blog? I’ve already told you I see no point in communicating with you, given your intractable (so far) refusal to practice integrity here, but I’ve come back to the conversation anyway. I can’t point to one single item in the discussion policy that you’re violating, though you have skirted/evaded discussion (#9) at least. So I’m not going to ban you as someone suggested–not at this point, for sure–but I’m going to make up a text snippet to answer you with in the future. It will feature links to this comment and to this current one, in both of which I have said I’m done trying to converse with you.

    Unless you decide to man up, learn something about what you don’t agree with, and take part here with some courage and integrity.

  86. I think you are having difficulty making a distinction between intelligence and knowledge.

    And you, David, have failed to distinguish between wisdom and blatant foolishness

  87. @Tom

    Don’t you think that Holopupenko shows just the slightest bit of contempt for my world view? I really don’t care about that; it’s like water off a duck’s back. I dislike his contempt for people, though. I think that’s very sad.

    I don’t believe in God. I believe God is a creation of man and not the other way round. I don’t believe the Bible is much more than a collection of fairytales. And realistically there’s absolutely no chance of you convincing me otherwise. So if you want to debate whether the Bible is factual with me I really have no interest in that topic whatsoever.

    What I am interested in, though, is your (and others) thought processes – how (in an abstract way) you came to your conclusions about your faith and other supernatural events. I am also interested in how you make moral choices. We’ve already talked about this a bit. I’m interested in mental models and processes. That’s why I’m here really, not for the God bit.

    I don’t want to convert you to atheism or anything like that really. I’ve been sucked into these conversations, but it’s not what I’m really interested in. I’m happy that you have found something that gives your life meaning.

  88. What I am interested in, though, is your thought processes – how you came to your conclusions. That I am interested in. I am also interested in how you make moral choices. We’ve already talked about this a bit. I’m interested in mental models and processes. That’s why I’m here really, not for the God bit.

    And what we have been trying to tell you is that you cannot divorce our thinking and reasoning about these things from our Christian faith and core beliefs, from our experiences of being Christians filled with the Spirit of the Living God, learning to walk with Him, being part of a family that transcends space and time, being made fit for living with Him in eternity.

    How can we talk about how we make moral choices without reference to NT passages such as Romans 12:1-21, or Romans 8:1-39, to name but a couple of examples?

    What you are asking is like asking a physicist to talk about electromagnetic phenomena without ever bringing up Maxwell’s equations, or vice versa for that matter

  89. There is contempt and there is contempt. Your contempt is of the sort that says, “what you people believe is so outlandish I don’t even care to find out what you really think.” Holopupenko is dismissive of your worldview based on knowledge of naturalism, and based on his observations of your intransigent unwillingness to open your mind to other knowledge.

    If you are not interested in the Bible but you are interested in our thought processes, then you are very confused, because our thought processes are inextricably intertwined with biblical thinking.

    Frankly it sounds a lot like you’re interested in us as specimens. You want to investigate our thought processes without giving a #*#$ to find out what’s behind them.

    I’m not interested in cooperating as a lab rat in a study of that sort.

    So do us a favor, okay? If you ask a question, and someone says, “look at the source documents,” look at the source documents before you ask the question again. Please.

    Because we’re not here to do your homework for you.

    For my part I don’t plan on answering many more of your questions anyway. Feel free to observe. Feel free to don your white coat and take notes. Feel free to nod sagely as we speak our supernaturalist inanities. Feel free to ignore everything that’s been said to you so far about your own irrationalities and closed-mindedness. Feel free to hide and evade from your own demonstrated fallacious logic and reasoning. None of that matters to the man wearing the white lab coat.

    But remember this, as you play the anthropologist among us: true scientists know they can learn the most about primitive cultures when they disturb them least. We’re fairy tale-believers here, in your mind. We must seem terribly primitive. Feel free to observe. Do not feel free to disturb.

  90. Are you not interested in your own thought processes? I wasn’t thinking of myself as a scientist in a lab coat examining my subjects. I was thinking it could be a collaborative exploration because it would be interesting for all of us. And an interesting alternative to the repetitive arguments here over religion.

  91. @Tom
    You should have not deleted your last comment 🙂 I’m finding myself in agreement with what you said, more so after #98

  92. Victoria @ 81:

    “If you can believe that this is a plausible explanation, David, then you are beyond hope – Holopupenko’s response didn’t cut deep enough!”

    Given that he’s unable to see the problems with making self-contradictory statements (see his post at # 44), I think he’s beyond hope already.

  93. David @ 98:

    If you find religious arguments boring and want to examine other people’s thought processes, maybe you shart your own blog, instead of trying to hijacks threads on someone else’s.

  94. And you, David, have failed to distinguish between wisdom and blatant foolishness

    Knowing that a tomato is technically a fruit is an example of a person being knowledgeable. Knowing that you don’t put tomatoes in a fruit salad is an example of a person being wise. Having knowledge and properly using it are two very different things.


  95. David, no, I’m not particularly interested in thought processes in the way you want to study them. I’m interested in thoughts. I’m interested in assessing their truth, their cogency, their reasonableness, their connection to reality.

    In that sense of course there are processes involved: processes of investigation, rational inference, and also of confusion, misinformation, bias, and so forth. There is information, there is philosophy, there is logic, and there is psychology in all its manifold ramifications. But it’s all meaningless except in relation to whether the thoughts are true or not.

    But you are convinced our thought processes are all disconnected from truth, so your study could only be anthropological in nature, and your attitude toward us could only be as primitives.

    I think you’ll be best able to carry out your researches by observing from a distance and not disturbing us here in our native habitat. Which I will now enforce. We’ve had some interesting conversations. I wish we could also say we had had some fruitful ones; but at least now by your admission of what you’re here for, it’s easier to see why that’s never happened.

    Go with God, whether you believe he exists or not. He believes you exist, and I’m praying you’ll make the connection with him someday.

  96. @Mr X
    See my #261 in a previous thread for why I believe it is not the paradox that Holo claims it is.

    If you find religious arguments boring and want to examine other people’s thought processes, maybe you start your own blog, instead of trying to hijacks threads on someone else’s.

    I could do. To be fair, Tom was the one who brought up the subject of Peter Boghossian and his mission to expose epistemologies to the light of day. I don’t share Boghossian’s intention of “creating atheists”, but I am interested in epistemology.

  97. @SteveK
    or in our case, a knowledge of human physiology, anatomy and biomechanics can tell you that a human being can run 26.2 miles in 4 hours (or better). Wisdom tells you that you need to train long and hard for months before making the attempt yourself. Foolishness is a sedentary couch potato deciding on Saturday morning to run a marathon scheduled for the next day 🙂

  98. David @98

    I was thinking it could be a collaborative exploration because it would be interesting for all of us. And an interesting alternative to the repetitive arguments here over religion.

    Perhaps! But it would seem that there would first have to be a sufficient level of trust and openness shared amongst the participants. I’m sure you have not failed to notice that there are a number of people here who question your motives. The idea of collaborative exploration seems to be an impossibility. Still, I applaud you for sticking around, even in the face of those who very much question your motives.

    One final thought. A collaborative exploration requires more than talking. It also involves listening and comprehending other people’s opinions. For example, you have been repeatedly asked to examine Christianity’s foundational documents and yet you have refused. This is precisely not the type of behaviour I would expect from somebody interested in building bridges. I don’t particularly have a side in this debate with regards to your motives, but this strikes me as exceedingly odd.

  99. I have approved one last comment from David. I think it encapsulates his problem: he shows great interest in epistemology, but little interest in knowledge. He wants to observe processes rather than know what is true. I mean that even in the sense of knowing what is true about what he believes is false: for he has persisted in shielding himself even from discovering what we Christians are talking about. He is not so much uninterested, it seems to me, as he is disinterested, as if he were not involved; he thinks he can study people without being involved with their basic beliefs. But this is to treat people as meme-machines. Or as primitives.

    David, maybe your problem is that you won’t allow yourself to dive in deep. You want to stay on the surface. You shield yourself.

    Man up, okay? And again, go with God.

  100. David entered a comment asking me to let people know I have placed him on moderation, since he’s concerned we would think he’s not responding quickly. Actually, David, in case it wasn’t clear, I have decided to allow you to continue to observe us without disturbing us, and I have said I would enforce that. If that’s not clear, what it means is that you will now be able to watch and observe and draw your conclusions without participating any longer.

  101. We would need the people collecting that evidence to be medically-trained, rigorous and skeptical. We would need for them to show explicit consideration to all plausible other explanations and the reasoning and evidence as to why they were not the case.

    We need this, really?

    You don’t do this in your everyday life so there is an obvious double standard at work here. You are confident in the knowledge you’ve obtained in your day-to-day life without the need for any of this extra checking and rechecking.

    Do you think people back in the 1st century knew when a person was dead? I think so. If today you saw a guy fall from a cliff onto a wooded and rocky surface such that a stick punctured his heart and the rocks broke open his skull with blood flowing everywhere, would you need to bring in medically-trained, rigorous and skeptical people to confirm the death or is this pretty much common sense?

    This arrogant notion that you need to bring in a trained expert to verify and confirm/bless these things is …well, arrogant. It’s a strange modern concept.

    This mentality is what gives us stupid research projects that do little more than “prove” what everyone else on the plant already knows – that men are different than women, that water is wet (gee, really!), that the road up ahead on a hot dry day really isn’t wet, it just looks that way (who believes it dries up just before you get there – nobody) – and in the case of Jesus, that dead people stay dead.

  102. Edited by siteowner. Aside from the doubtful appropriateness, the person identified in the now-removed link is definitely not the same one we have been conversing with.

  103. Not sure that link is appropriate, Holo, even if it is part of the public domain. Wouldn’t want David to think people are wanting to somehow track him down. It’s a touchy subject and I know I wouldn’t want that done to me. Tom and David P can work that out.

    But beside that…I’m from the Central Valley too so David and I are “neighbors”. Not really, but close enough.

  104. If the claim about the resurrection isn’t reliable and it is a fundamental – or the fundamental – claim of the Bible then it has already shown the Bible to be unreliable. Further investigation doesn’t really help does it?

    Dear readers:

    Actually, the historical reliability of the Bible can be examined and established independently of its accounts of miracles, by methods used by historical scholars, secular or Biblical.

    But that’s a topic for another blog thread 🙂

  105. @117
    That quote by David was similarly expressed by the apostle Paul himself. The same Paul who encountered the risen Christ. His conclusion was not the same as David’s.

    1 Cor. 15:12-20

  106. I came across this article over at the ASA web site’s God and Nature e-zine. It’s by astronomer Owen Gingerich. It nicely illustrates how Christians think about science and faith issues.

  107. re my #84
    this is the other reference from the Church Fathers I was looking for:


    “And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilaean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Moreover, you accuse Him of having taught those godless, lawless, and unholy doctrines which you mention to the condemnation of those who confess Him to be Christ, and a Teacher from and Son of God. Besides this, even when your city is captured, and your land ravaged, you do not repent, but dare to utter imprecations on Him and all who believe in Him. Yet we do not hate you or those who, by your means, have conceived such prejudices against us; but we pray that even now all of you may repent and obtain mercy from God, the compassionate and long-suffering Father of all.

    This is from Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, here, circa 150-160AD

  108. From one of Victoria’s links:

    “But let me quote from a public skeptic, in a little known passage from Fred Hoyle, made near the end of his life:

    “The issue of whether the universe is purposive is an ultimate question that is at the back of everybody’s mind. . . . And Dr. [Ruth Nanda] Ashen has now just raised exactly the same question as to whether the universe is a product of thought. And I have to say that that is also my personal opinion, but I can’t back it up by too much of precise argument. There are very many aspects of the universe where you either have to say there have been monstrous coincidences, which there might have been, or, alternatively, there is a purposive scenario to which the universe conforms.””

    This faith in coincidence seems impossible to justify for this particular, and highly unique situation. On what grounds does this faith rest?

    Sure, you can point to events you’ve heard about or experienced in your life where people have beat the odds or have been the product of mere coincidence (some would argue against even that). In those situations we have other background information (personal experience, trusted testimony, etc) that helps us justify the belief that it actually happened the way we believe it did. Without that background information the faith rests on air.

    When it comes to the fine-tuned universe, we don’t have any background knowledge to work with. No personal experience, no trusted testimony, no knowledge of how universes form – nothing. It all goes dark prior to 10^-43 seconds. That some believe it was the result of coincidence is an example of faith resting firmly on air.

  109. A quote from my current reading material that I thought relevant:

    “But we may say more particularly and more precisely that the reading of the Bible, in all it’s truthfulness, is now urgent because our society is dire tempted to reduce the human project to commodity, to the making of money, to the reduction of human persons to objects, to the thinning of human communications to electronic icons. The threat is technique, whether ‘ten ways to wealth’ or ‘six ways to sex’ or whatever. Technique, in all it’s military modes and delicately in every other mode, is aimed at control, the fencing out of death, the fencing out of gift, and eventually the fencing out of humanness”

    David P (and Yet Another Tom with his insistence that we could construct an experiment to study God’s actions) speak with the voice of our modern age where truth is superceded by ‘usefulness’ which may be translated as useful to attain their desires. We see it in David’s desire to study us and Ray’s contention that human thought, intellect, imagination are nothing more than the blip of electrical circuits.

    A word of warning and exhortation for us that I direct as much to myself as to anyone else:

    “Then consider that the church in its disputatious anxiety is sorely tempted to noon the choice for technique, to thin the Bible and make it one dimensional, deeply tempted to trivialization by acting as though the Bible is important because it may resolve some disruptive social incovenience. The dispute tends to reduce what us rich and dangerous in the book to knowlable technique, and what is urgent and immense to what is exhaustible trivia”

    Quotes by Walter Bruggenann in “Struggling with Scripture” p26.

    (Please excuse typos I’m on my phone. some of you may be amused by one typo I did find – instead of Yet Another Tom I’d written Yet Another atom )

  110. I’ve been lurking (as usual, I try and read it all, but also try to keep quiet most of the time.) 😉

    I don’t understand why David P.’s avoidance of the “source materials” is the deal-killer it seems to be. I didn’t hear him say he’d never read the Bible, maybe I missed that?

    Atheists (and, of course, Dr. Ehrman), have read the source materials many, many times. We’re unconvinced they’re reliable. We’ve honestly, carefully, read and studied, and we see no evidence the source materials are either supernatural in origin or true accounts of events.

    I guess this is a question for Tom — I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m missing the point you’re making by digging in your heels here.

  111. He kept telling us there was nothing to be learned there, and he knew that for a fact without reading it. That was probably what showed his hand more than anything else.

  112. David P.: Read the Bible. Trust me, it’s worth doing, and it’s not that long — get that done, OK? 😉

    Tom, it’s your blog of course… but what’s the deal with Holopupenko?

    In a single post he’s said: atheists (at least Dave P.) are “intellectually incapable” (#2), “viciously opposed to truth/Truth (#2), “intellectually and morally depraved” (#2), “fundamentally bad people” (#4), “child killers” (#4), “hypocritical” (#4), “morally and intellectually dishonest” (#4), “amoral” (#4), interested only in power (#4), selfish (#4), “thugs” (#4), lacking commitment to truth (#17), “sophomoric” (#17), “self-serving” (#17), “mind-numbing” (#17), “inane” (#17), “fundamentally bad people” (#17), “cry-baby” (#27), opinionated over love of wisdom (#27), “subtle liars” (#27), “obtuse” (#45), ignorant (#47), “morally and intellectually depraved” (#58), lacking understanding (#58), ignorant (#58), unable to formulate a logically coherent argument (#58), “nonsensical” (#58), “banal” (#58), “stupid” (#58), “old, tired, false” (#72), unable to “think” (#72), dishonest (#72), childish (#72), Hillary Clinton-like (#72), brow-beaters (#72), “surreptitious” (#72), “falsely humble” (#72), “swine” (#72), “ignorant” (#72), unable to reason (#72), rejecting his own humanity (#72), “bad people” (#72), out of touch with reality (#72), denigrated human nature (#80), “worse person” (#80), nonsensical (#86), hopeless (#86), “smug” (#86), “arrogant” (#86), inferior (#86), “narrow” (#86), unable to think for themselves, content to “copy from other fools”.

    And this is just one posting.

    I know he’s your friend, but seriously, he’s kind of a d*ck.

    (The reference to Hillary Clinton was amazing, though — I’d have to ask David P. to be sure, but being compared to a Secretary of State and all; man, that’s gotta hurt.)

  113. Quack! Quack!

    Yes, ducks are honest creatures: we call things as they really are.

  114. Any time you want to go a few rounds again, Keith, on Biblical historicity. I imagine you’ve recovered from previous encounters, even if you haven’t learned anything.

    Of course, if we are going to discuss problem areas, you can be sure we are also going to discuss all the places where solid historical and archaeological studies have shown how well the Bible fits into its world, both in the OT (for the Ancient Near East) and the NT, for life in the Roman Empire and 1st century Palestine. We will discuss how Luke, for instance, gets the details right.

  115. Point taken, Keith.

    Yes, Holopupenko is a friend, but I let some things slide there that I really don’t agree with and wish hadn’t been said.

    But it’s not because they’re not true; it’s because of the context. I don’t think those things of atheists: I think them of humans.

    The Apostle Paul’s description in Romans 3:9-18 is considerably more harsh than Holopupenko’s, including, “Together they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive, the venom of asps is under their lips…. in their paths are ruin and misery.”

    Of whom is he speaking there? In the introduction to that passage, in Romans 3:9-10, he writes, “What then? Are Jews any better off [for having been given the law of God]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that at all, both Jews and Greeks are under sin, as it is written….”

    And then he goes into the above-mentioned description of humanity. All humanity: for in the context of this writing, “both Jews and Greeks” means “both Jews and Gentiles,” i.e., everyone.

    Some will say this is too negative. Some of it is of course figurative; but if “the poison of asps” is not literally true, still its metaphorical effect is even more intense than a literal statement would be.

    Humans are not universally bad in every possible way; that’s not what he’s saying. Just a few paragraphs earlier (Romans 2:14-15), he had written,

    For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

    His point rather is to say that we’re all deeply tainted by our flaws, which the Bible calls sin. We can understand what is good to an extent, we can do what is good to an extent, but no one is consistently free of hate, anger, selfish ambition, greed, foolishness.

    This is the one fact in the Bible that remains more empirically obvious than any other.

    Romans 3:21-24 goes on to speak of God’s means of rescue:

    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

    If anyone comes out of sin it is by God’s gift of redemption in Christ through faith.

    Further, (Romans 3:27-28):

    Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

    The point hinted at here — it is expressed much more deeply elsewhere, but I thought I’d stay in one place for this — is that we have nothing to boast of as Christians, except for Jesus Christ himself. That also means that it’s wrong to describe others as worse than ourselves (Paul called himself the “chief of sinners”). We who have been rescued from the foolishness of atheism (yes, it’s foolish, Psalms 14:1) have not come out of it by our own wisdom but by God’s goodness and grace, which we have experienced and accepted.

    This is what I implore Holopupenko to bear in mind.

    What he said about atheists is pretty much true. It’s also pretty much true of Christians in our original nature; but we have been given a new life and a new nature, which we are growing into, imperfectly now, and each at our own pace.

    It is God who is good.

  116. Hi Tom:

    The problem, however, is that atheists are even less receptive to having Bible verses quoted at them. Since their reasoning is so “old man” deficient, they run like cockroaches from the light you’re trying to share.

    For example, and this is in no way meant disrespectfully, Melissa and Victoria put me to shame in concrete Biblical specifics as well as the ancillary comments they provide in support of their comments. What’s the response of atheists? A shrugging of shoulders and “well that’s what you believe… and you can’t prove it”… and the discussion invariably goes nowhere. (I cringe when Victoria and Melissa go intellectually–yet charitably–medieval on Kieth’s Scriptural and historical ignorance. Why? Because I’m so embarrassed for him…)

    Now, go on the level where they claim to be “superior”: reasoning. In other words, on a level where at least a modicum of something is shared. Frankly, at least for the atheists here, that’s the only level to which they’ll admit is a relevant forum for discussion… and that’s why I generally try to minimize appeals to faith and Scripture (except for context).

    Appealing back to your characterization “What [Holopupenko] said about atheists is pretty much true,” what do we find on the level of atheist “reasoning”? Incompetence, ignorance, fallacy, fear, etc., etc., In other words, pretty much Kieth’s laundry list @125. That is the face of atheist “reasoning.” and, when confronted with their blatant nonsense, they DO cry like little babies and ignore and avoid… and provide us more nonsense.

    They can’t reason well and they are willfully ignorant because they embrace the old nature. They embrace sin by rejecting its existence, and thereby denigrate their broken human nature even more. Since the definition of a human being is a “rational animal,” the FIRST thing to go is the very core of what distinguishes them as human: their reason. If they are not receptive to what we share with them–reason, how do you expect them to be receptive to Revelation? The wages of sin is indeed death… starting with brain death.

    Now, there is a huge caveat to what I said. Faith is a gift… and one does not need to necessarily depend on syllogisms, etc. to trust, i.e., to have faith… or perhaps better, to be receptive to the gift. We “see” the kindness of others and our hearts are moved by it. MO deficiencies on my part notwithstanding, it’s not merely atheism for which any person should have contempt. It’s the root of atheism: pride–in particular, pride of one’s own “local” truth. They, ultimately are against the good and the beautiful because they are opposed to truth… DavidP came right out and said as much oh so arrogantly (paraphrasing): I know, and I will not investigate further.

    That is the face of atheism: the rejection of one’s own humanity.

  117. I think there are different questions at play here and it would be good to separate them.

    1. It is true as a matter of fact that insofar as one rebels against Him, our very humanity suffers and shrivels just that little bit more. And since our nature is that of rational animals, our rationality suffers and shrivels just that little bit more: we lust and greed and rebel; but deep down, we cannot not know that we lust and greed and rebel; so we justify our lust and greed and rebellion; but our justification cannot be a rational one, for indeed we do lust and greed and rebel; and since reason tells us that we are lusting and in greed and rebellion we must shut off reason and choose unreason.

    2. It is also true as a matter of fact that Christians must speak the Truth in all honesty.

    3. It is also true as a matter of fact, and contrary to the common opinion in certain more liberal sectors, that a Christian is at liberty to use the full resources of imprecation, irony and execration in exposing Evil for what it is and Lies for what they are, for evil must be rendered odious and detestable. It is therefore no sin against charity to call Evil Evil, and no harm is done to the body of the Church and the Flock in calling a Lie a Lie.

    4. But it is also true as a matter of fact, that our Speech must be tempered with grace; that we must abstain from expressions that are personally injurious according to the precept of Charity. That there is fine line between telling the Truth in honesty and Speech that sows discord and does not edify, but only puffs up, which is foolish pride.

    5. Lest I be misunderstood, first, Holopupenko is a grown man and I am not his Father (spiritual or otherwise), neither his Bishop nor his spiritual advisor, so I have no authority over him. Second, what do I know? Third, I have no *moral* authority, because I likewise have little tolerance for ignorance and stupidity and come down hard and harsh on people. But who am I fooling? Is it not a relish to stick the knife and turn it over, again and again? God knows that I am a bastard and that my sins pile up at my back; but every day is a new beginning and with His grace a little good may still be accomplished so that Despair is kept at bay.

    6. I try to reread the Desert Fathers at least once every year and what always strikes me the most about them is how madly in love they are with God, how radical and unflinching is their commitment to Him. Here is Abba Poemen, from the alphabetical series (translation by Benedicta Ward):

    (34) Another brother questioned him in these words: “What does, ‘See that none of you repays evil for evil’ mean?” (1 Thess. 5:15) The old man said to him, “Passions work in four stages — first, in the heart; secondly, in the face; thirdly, in words; and fourthly, it is essential not to render evil for evil in deeds. If you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil.”

    (97) Abba Poemen said, “If a man has attained to that which the Apostle speaks of ‘to the pure, everything is pure,’ (Titus 1:15) he sees himself less than all creatures.” The brother said, “How can I deem myself less than a murderer?” The old man said, “When a man has really comprehended this saying, if he sees a man committing a murder, he says ‘He has only committed this one sin but I commit sins every day.'”

    (98) A brother put the same question to Abba Anoub, telling him what Abba Poemen had said. Abba Anoub said to him, “If a man really affirms this saying, when he sees his brother’s faults he sees that his integrity exceeds his faults.” The brother said, “What is integrity?” The old man replied, “Always to accuse himself.”

  118. Forgot to add between 3 and 4 the following:

    3a. It is also true as matter of fact that while 1. is true as a matter of fact, pointing it out in public discourse to its very targets is bound to accomplish very little: Christians already know it (or so I presume) and the targets will reject it, because they do not see themselves as being in a state of rebellion against Him. “How can we be in rebellion against Him if He does not even so much as exist?” they will ask — whether through honest error or not is not for me to judge. In order for they to come to see that they are in rebellion, they must first come to see that they really are denying Him, which for the reasons already stated raises a practical conundrum. But to Him nothing is impossible, so as far as we are concerned, we must continue doing His work as the rest is not our business.

  119. Victoria @127:

    “Even if I haven’t learned anything”?

    To the keyboards, Robin, it’s another “feisty” poster!

    Happy to join you, Victoria. Has someone learned something new about the Bible that wasn’t known a month ago?

    Does anyone argue the Bible gets everything wrong? Nobody says the Bible wasn’t written at that particular time and place, and of course it correctly records many details of life, and even geography, at that time.

    Or is your argument that because Luke faithfully described his society, we can reasonably agree 12,000 people really did get up out of their graves with Jesus and enter the city, staying there for a month… and somehow managed to escape the notice of, well, everybody?

    [Edited: Just to be clear, I’m referencing Matthew 27:52-53; the more specific numbers and time period come from non-canonical manuscripts. Although, if someone can give me an explanation why one manuscript is canonical and another is not, other than “because”, or “God just made sure it worked out that way”, I’d be interested.]

  120. The argument is that because Luke was a careful historian, accurate in the dozens and dozens of details we can verify, we can trust that he was accurate in what we cannot check.

    Your reference in the last paragraph is to something that Matthew wrote.

    The argument is not that because Luke was an accurate historian, therefore the Bible is inerrant or infallible in all it affirms. That would be silly. The doctrine of inerrancy comes from other sources.

    And though I don’t know about everyone else here, I certainly wouldn’t ask you or any other inquirer to accept inerrancy from the outset, or early on, or necessarily even ever. What I’m asking is that you investigate it on a more normal historical level, and that you suspend any question-begging disbelief in the supernatural as you do so. Inerrancy can wait.

  121. Actually your last paragraph is rather a distorted version of what Matthew wrote in Matthew 27:52-53. The rest of what I said applies regardless.

  122. @Keith
    but not today – I’m off to a 15km race this afternoon on Toronto’s Center Island and won’t be back until later this evening 🙂

    In your case, I think the appropriate line that is a better fit is “Yikes! And away!”, as quoted by Daffy Duck in Robin Hood Daffy

  123. Holopupenko @129:

    “Since the definition of a human being is a “rational animal,” the FIRST thing to go is the very core of what distinguishes them as human: their reason. … The wages of sin is indeed death… starting with brain death.”

    OK, we have an hypothesis: atheists will be less rational than Christians, and we could test that.

    What’s a career where rationality would be prized, or is there some test a large enough population participates in that tests rationality?

    Maybe we’ll find scientists are more likely to be Christian! And maybe Christians tend to higher IQ scores!

    Or maybe not, and not.

    The correlation goes the other way, in short.

    All is not lost, however: “The wages of sin is death, but the wages of belief is brain death” is a great T-shirt slogan.

    Tom, just let me know if I start rocking this whole “feistiness” thing too much, it’s a new thing for me. 🙂

  124. Tom @133:

    I don’t understand that argument.

    As an obvious analogy, the Iliad contains details we can verify, but that doesn’t persuade you that Athena exists? Harry Potter is full of verifiable detail, but that doesn’t argue Hogwarts is real. Combining fiction with historical fact has a long, long history in our writing.

    What I know about Biblical scholarship is limited, so I’m asking: on one hand, you have the Iliad, on the other, the Bible, each with a set of verifiable facts alongside of supernatural claims. What allows you to differentiate between the two (in terms of this particular argument)?

  125. “What’s a career where rationality would be prized, or is there some test a large enough population participates in that tests rationality?

    Maybe we’ll find scientists are more likely to be Christian! And maybe Christians tend to higher IQ scores!

    Oh I don’t know, scientists can be pretty irrational. Just look at the writings of Richard Dawkins, for example.

  126. That’s not a relevant analogy, Keith. I didn’t say Luke got some information right. I said he was known to be an accurate historian in the many, many details where his facts could be verified.

    None of his geographical, political, or chronological data has been shown wrong. Much, much of it has been shown to be right.

    No one would say that of Homer or of Rowling.

    So the key phrase is, “found to be an accurate and careful historian.”

  127. Tom @139, 140:

    To say “None of his geographical, political or chronological data has been shown wrong” requires an unsupportable standard of what it might mean to “show something wrong”.

    As a specific example, there seems to be widespread agreement Luke got the census wrong: see here, and here.

    The Wikipedia article addresses some of the facts your links presented, such as the Quirinius governorship and the Antioch inscription.

    I’m entirely unqualified to judge the competing viewpoints — are you?

  128. I’m off to a 15km race this afternoon on Toronto’s Center Island and won’t be back until later this evening

    Hope you had a good race, Victoria. Our family did a fun 5k today in 95 degree heat…ugh. I was the family photographer.

  129. Back at last…too tired to post much 🙂
    There is also this article

    about the census issue.

    SteveK: awesome run – warm and humid, but I finished with a nice 1:29:44 gun time, with a 200 meter all out sprint to the finish (my legs felt like rubber afterwards, but it was worth it). Nice to be out of the training slump finally (Isaiah 40:29-31)

  130. David P said way up-thread:

    “Alternatively, because we don’t have an imaginary friend who we’re trying to please…”

    Now, how can anyone who makes such a statement claim that his position is a simple lack of belief in the existence of something? If this statement does not bespeak a positive belief in the non-existence of something, what would? David P illustrates in what he throws off so casually that he doesn’t simply lack a belief in God, but that he positively believes that God doesn’t exist. So why all the endless hemming and hawing? When a modern atheist is cornered, why does he downshift to claiming that his position is essentially no different than that of an ignorant, pre-rational newborn (hey, it’s just a lack of belief)?

    I see this again and again. Atheists claim that they are supremely rational and via superior intellect and reasoning skills have liberated themselves from millenia of irrational superstition, but when they encounter a rational counterargument, suddenly they don’t actually believe anything that requires rational defense. Then at the earliest opportunity it’s back to categorical statements essentially stating that theists are retarded with “imaginary friends”.

    But hey, they don’t actually know this. They just don’t not-know this.

  131. Keith,

    You state the the gospels are unreliable, but before we make a claim like that we need to understand what we mean by unreliable. The question is to what extent and in what areas are they “unreliable”. We know that they are not unbiased (the perspective free account is a myth), we know that they are not modern scholarly history (that would be an unrealistic expectation considering that particular genre is a recent phenomena), but does that mean that they are fictions with a few historical details thrown in? I hope that is not what you are suggesting. What we can say is that they are the testimony of early Christians about Jesus, written into particular communities, they do not just seek to relate history but also to explore the meaning and significance of these events for the communities they were writing into. Does this mean that we are unable to form some kind of educated and reasonable opinion on whether the events contained in the gospels really occurred? Specifically can we reasonably hold the Jesus was raised from the dead? I think we can and that N.T. Wright gives the best defence of this position. Defending the resurrection as an historical event does not require that we believe that the gospels are correct in every historical detail which is a separate question. I think that if you read N.T. Wright you will find that these questions you raise over the census are irrelevant.

    Of course the case in support of the resurrection is not water tight and I think whether you accept it or not depends on whether you accept the implications of this event. The first of those would be what kind of world we live in. Those of us who maintain that Theism is correct (and by Theism I mean God as being itself, the God of the philosophers not your non-gods for example Thor. If you don’t understand the distinction you should find out.) are obviously predisposed to accept the strong historical case for the resurrection because we do not automatically rule out miracles. I don’t get any sense that you have seriously wrestled with the charge that your worldview is incoherent, to be honest I’m not sure how you live with such contradiction. We really do have thoughts, free will, we really can reason and there is a way to be good that is not our own invention.

    The second set of implications concern the human condition. In order to accept the cross of Christ we must first acknowledge our need but that requires that we admit our imperfections, sins, pride, selfishness etc. That is not an easy thing to gaze honestly into your own dark heart and I think it is not unconnected that while the acceptance of Christianity dwindles in the west, the culture of entitlement and victimhood grows. The second point of friction with our modern sensibilities is that we can not make ourselves right. Any honest appraisal will tell you that this is true but with the scientific program that searches for control over nature we are often able to insulate ourselves from the fact that we are not masters of the universe.

    I think these truths about humanity are what set Christianity apart from other religions. I look at myself and I know they are true. Some would like to argue that this sense that they are true is just due to the accident of growing up in a culture that was once Christian, but I would point you to the millions of people from all different times and places that have seen in the gospel the truth about themselves and the world. (I do not offer this last as evidence of the truth of the gospel but rather as evidence against the claim that particular religious belief is solely an accident of birth)

    I realise there is much in this that you will want to pick apart but I offer it as a whole in the hope that you will see some little truth that speaks to your experience.

  132. Melissa @146:

    I would never term the gospels “unreliable” without a lot more agreement as to what “unreliable” might mean. Speaking for myself, I don’t require literalism or inerrancy (I’m a fan of Brueggemann).

    I don’t think I’ve read anything by NT Wright: any recommendations on where to start?

    We diverge in the second paragraph. 🙂

    I don’t want to pick your posting apart — if I may, I have a couple of questions, not necessarily to start a debate on any topic, but to better understand the connections.

    First, you connected Theism to your chosen God (and then referenced the “accident of birth” argument). Was it the strong evidence for the resurrection that made that connection for you, or something else?

    Second (of course!) I don’t see my worldview as incoherent: you state as fact we have free will, we can reason, and there is a way to be good that is not our own invention.

    What convinces you of free will?

    What convinces you of an absolute morality?

  133. What could possibly convince a person there is no free will? To be convinced is to accept a position for reasons. Denial of free will entails that we hold (not accept, but hold) our positions because of the natural necessities involved in our neurophysiology. It means there is no such thing as being convinced, for the processes necessary for being convinced would be non-existent, shouldered out of the way (metaphorically of course) by the all-encompassing, causally closed system of physical necessity.

    Beyond that: what could possibly be a good reason to deny free will, other than its being a necessary correlate of naturalistic atheism? I mean, everyone knows they make choices. No one could doubt it: unless their atheism required them to. But if it’s a necessary entailment of atheism, at the same time it is an impossible correlate of rationality.

  134. Here’s an example of what I spoke about in 110.

    Why We Choke When All Is on the Line

    “The one time we really needed to pull it off, and we choked. Why? A growing body of evidence shows the answer may be incredibly simple. Thinking too much at the wrong time can be a bad thing because your brain tries to take charge at the precise moment when your body doesn’t need any help.”

    This is the mentality of too many people today, that we really don’t know anything until it’s been tested out by a scientist.

  135. Tom @148:

    So, atheists have to stop using the words “convince”, or “think”, or “feel”, or “reason”? (Just like people stopped talking about clocks being “set to the same time” when Einstein did his work.)

    We get it, seriously, we do: if things are fixed by the physical, parts of human speech are not literally correct. And no, we’re not going to stop saying “I feel”, or “I think”, or “I love you”.

    Good reasons to deny free will: there’s exactly zero physical evidence free will exists, there’s reasonable physical evidence free will does not exist, and there is a physical explanation for every related phenomenon of which I’m aware.

  136. Look, Tom…

    Keith is just not a very smart guy… and he is (and has been) playing you. He’s also playing the old scientistic canard animating his personal, subjective opinion, namely, that “there’s exactly zero physical evidence free will exists, there’s reasonable physical evidence free will does not exist.” He cannot–and he will not (it’s a free will thing, btw)–provide you any sound argument that physical evidence is the only kind of evidence that counts.

    As a knock-on effect, by the way, he–like all atheists–have an extremely pessimistic view of the efficacy of human reason. What they a priori assert is that no argument can be accepted that starts with sensory-accessible data and ends with something that is non-sensory accessible. The sad howler in all this is that it undermines most human reason–including the scientific method (what exactly is sensory accessible about the scientific method: can one be put on the table for us to measures its physical properties?) BTW, I’d love for Keith to put on the table for us so that we can measure the physical properties of the moral admonition that scientists should not “cook” experimental results in their laboratory books.

    It’s like the foolishness of believing biology studies “life,” when in fact it does nothing of the kind: biology studies “living things” that can be observed directly through the sense. If Keith is so confident in his scientism, let’s see him put a “life” on the table as a physically/sensory accessible observable, i.e., as an object in its own right. One step further: life is a concept. If Keith refuses to do so (I predict he will adamantly refuse), and attempts to reduce the concept of life to “complex time-dependent electro-chemical signals crossing brain synapses” in the mind–ahem, brain–of the observer, then the concept is not on the table… it’s in the brain. Moreover, what does a collection of molecules in the brain have to do with what we’re asking him to put on the table? If he keeps sinking into his hole, he’ll try to say “that collection of molecules in the brain is a sign or represents my little invisible friend called ‘life'”. But, then, he’s again not showing us his little invisible friend, he’s showing us a sign [map] that he confusing with his little invisible friend [territory].

    So, let’s keep it simple for him. Let’s back up to what so blatantly animates him–his scientism and physical-evidence-only canard. He must show us why it’s okay to jettison all other types of evidence: he must argue soundly that physical evidence is the only kind of evidence. But, he faces a huge problem:

    (1) If he tries argues to do so directly from the modern empirical (natural) sciences, i.e., that only “physical evidence” is valid, then he’s arguing fallaciously (circular or self-referential).

    (2) If he argues some other way (say, philosophically… yeah, right), then he’s just undermined his animating notion.

    That’s pretty straight-forward. Let’s see if he can do it. By the way, I’m happy to play the bookie in anyone interested in having a piece of this. 😉

  137. Keith, if you agree that certain words are not literally correct on naturalism, that’s good.

    If however you think that good reasons exist to deny free will, then you will have to include “reasons” in your list of words that do not mean what they seem to mean, because as I pointed out, if there’s no free will, then no one chooses the denial of free will for any reasons whatsoever.

    Further (echoing Holopupenko), so what if there’s exactly zero physical evidence that free will exists? There’s exactly zero physical evidence that other minds exist. There’s also exactly zero physical evidence that meaning and purpose exist, including the subjective form of meaning and purpose that atheists commonly ascribe to. And there’s exactly zero physical evidence that the square root of -1 isn’t a real number, or that a circle cannot be squared.

    I’m not impressed by “exactly zero physical evidence” arguments.

    Second, the only “physical” evidence that free will does not exist is of this form:

    1. If physicalism is true, then free will could not exist.
    2. Physicalism is true.
    3. Free will cannot exist.

    Where, my friend, is the physical evidence for 2?

    You say there is a physical explanation for every related phenomenon of which you’re aware. Sorry, but that doesn’t serve as evidence for 2; it’s just begging the question in favor of physicalism. There’s no physical explanation at all right now for consciousness, for qualia, for rational thinking processes, for mind, or for personal identity. None.

  138. And while we are at it, what does this

    So, atheists have to stop using the words “convince”, or “think”, or “feel”, or “reason”? (Just like people stopped talking about clocks being “set to the same time” when Einstein did his work.)

    mean? What does the revised understanding of simultaneity implied by a manifestly Lorentz Invariant formulation of kinematics and dynamics in a 4-dimensional space-time have to do with the meanings and implications of those words?

    Your use of people no longer talking about clocks being set to the same time, to a physicist who has taught Special Relativity at the university level smacks of someone who does not understand the theory very well, if at all. Relativity (which, BTW, Einstein did not like as a name for his theory – it should have been called ‘Invariance Theory’) describes how to compare clocks in different reference frames, and it delineates under what conditions clocks can be synchronized.

  139. Holopupenko @151:

    You’re a hoot and a half, big guy.

    Here’s my challenge for you: try and write a whole post in which you don’t insult anyone. (Pro-Tip: make it a short one because that will be easier!) We’re all rooting for you!

    Yes: there are other ways of knowing things. I don’t think physical evidence is the only evidence that counts, but I believe it is fair to say that physical evidence has proven superior to all others in describing our shared reality. When physical evidence runs into the other kinds of evidence, physical evidence has an enviable won/lost record.

    No; I can think of no reason sensory-accessible data cannot lead to non-sensory accessible events, so I have no clue why an atheist would assert that. I can’t think of an example where it has happened (but if it did happen, we’re unlikely to notice, to be fair).

    Yes; we are all tugging on the same bootstraps, so to speak. We all have the same shared, underlying assumptions we cannot prove. We act as if they are true, because that leads to planes, rockets and indoor plumbing. (Well, we think it leads to them. shrug)

    To your challenge, I see no reason to state physical evidence is the only kind of evidence. Why do you want me to do that?

  140. Keith,

    Are you saying here that people haven’t been attributing phenomena to God for centuries? Or that they have, but we should still be attributing phenomena such as tides or the changing of the seasons to God?

    My reference to Theism was specifying that we were talking about one Creator as opposed to gods. A worldview that just has gods faces some of the exact same problems of naturalism that lead me to reject it. The reasons why I believe Christianity specifically is true is because of the resurrection and what it has to say about the human condition, as I said above, that connects to my experience and observations.

    Second (of course!) I don’t see my worldview as incoherent: you state as fact we have free will, we can reason, and there is a way to be good that is not our own invention.

    I realise you don’t see your worldview as incoherent but I think that’s because you refuse to consider the possibility. If our every experience contradicts what my adopted worldview tells me is true then there is a problem somewhere. You want to jettison you experience for no good reason ( setting aside that according to you there is no reason.) why? Is the evidence for your worldview really that strong? You should know that it is not.

    Edited to add: NT Wright and the Resurrection of the Son of God is the best place to go but it is not a short book. You could also pop over to his we page to get a feel for his writing. ( just google)

  141. Tom @152:

    Yes; there many words that get hurt by a physical understanding of the brain.

    Why does that bother you so much? Does it somehow make a fact less true that it damages our use of a word?

    When you say there is no physical evidence that free will does not exist, you’d be wrong. EEG/fMRI imaging can accurately predict actions human subjects will take before the subjects report the decision being made. In other words, we hook you up to the machine, and before you “decide” we know what you’re going to “decide”. And, of course, the real decision isn’t always found in the logical parts of the brain. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that we decide before “we decide” with the sense we have of being conscious actors.

    As to physicalism being true, it’s impossible to prove that nothing else exists outside the physical realm, a fact of which you’re well aware.

    But the only evidence for free-will is that you think there’s free will.

    Tom, when you see a visual illusion, and “think” all the rods are the same length, you have no problem agreeing with me the physical evidence wins, we’ll measure the rods and know for sure. But for some reason that I don’t understand, you are able to differentiate that experiment from your “thinking” about free-will. Apparently, your brain is a lot more reliable on the topic of free-will than it is on other things, and I’m not sure why that is the case?

  142. Does it hurt a fact less true if it damages our use of a word?

    Well, not if the topic under discussion is interior decoration and the word being damaged is “vole.”

    But if the topic under discussion is reasoning, the word is rationality, and the word’s meaning is not just damaged by completely destroyed, then yes, it makes related facts considerably less true. And why would that “bother” me? Do you think I’m just emotionally upset over this? No, that’s the wrong answer. I’m not bothered, but you should be: for it shows that your view of reasoning is incoherent.

    The only evidence I have for free will is that I think I have free will? Do I have any evidence, Keith, that you can read? Please look again at what we’ve written above. Sheesh, but this gets tiresome.

    It’s absolutely impossible to prove scientifically that nothing exists outside the physical realm, would you agree? Careful: your answer runs the severe risk of begging the question.

    I’m aware of the machine studies. Are you aware of the follow-up studies showing how little applicability they have to real life?

    As for illusion-analogies, the reason we can speak of illusions coherently is because somewhere someone knows the reality that the illusion is spoofing, and can experience it subjectively/first-person. Who is the person who knows the reality that our “illusion” of free wll is spoofing? I’m not talking about third-person knowledge, of the form that most “objective” philosophical/scientific accounts take. I’m talking about first-person awareness. Free will is no illusion according to the normal meaning of the word.

  143. Melissa @155:

    Just FYI: the first quoted paragraph isn’t mine.

    I had not thought about if/why I distrust my experiences, or perhaps trust/distrust of experiences vs. what physical evidence exists is more like a zero-sum game: your trust/distrust values led you to Christianity, mine led me away.

    Thank you, and thanks for the Wright reference.

  144. Tom @157:

    First, I shouldn’t have said “the only evidence”, that was not the right wording, that’s not what I meant. (Your time and words have not entirely been wasted.)

    My view of reasoning is only incoherent if you insist the word “reason” means what you believe it means, and when I’m using it, I’m bound to mean what you mean. Yes: dictionary definitions matter, but nobody changed the word simultaneous for Einstein (there’s my shout-out to Victoria!). You don’t get to yell “incoherent” every time an atheist uses the word “convinced”.

    I agree: there’s no way to prove scientifically (or any other way, for that matter), that nothing exists outside of the physical realm.

    I am not aware of the follow-up studies, I’d be interested, would you forward me a link if it’s easily available? (Sorry to ask, I’ve been Googling around and haven’t found anything.)

    When you talk about the illusion, I’m having trouble following (it kind of depends on what you meant by “it”).

    What do you mean by “knows the reality” the illusion is spoofing? Obviously, some illusions aren’t based in reality, obviously some illusions are perfect (no human can penetrate them without aid of some tool so a person can only know the reality as reported by that tool). At some point we realize there’s no perfect representation of reality, so there’s never anyone who “knows the reality”?

    Anyway, this really interests me, if you have the time to explain how you’re drawing this line, I’d appreciate it.

  145. @Keith:

    EEG/fMRI imaging can accurately predict actions human subjects will take before the subjects report the decision being made. In other words, we hook you up to the machine, and before you “decide” we know what you’re going to “decide”. And, of course, the real decision isn’t always found in the logical parts of the brain. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that we decide before “we decide” with the sense we have of being conscious actors.

    I presume this is a reference to the Libet and Libet-like experiments. It is, as so many other alleged evidence against Free Will, a case of conceptual muddle. For a start on cleaning up the mess, see this and references therein; Bennet and Hacker’s book (two Wittgensteinians) is particularly good.

  146. But Relativity does redefine the way we think about time. In order to determine if two events are simultaneous, we need to specify in what reference frame the determination is made. This a deep change. Your comparison still fails, because physicists have changed the working definition of time.

    If you are going to use modern Physics to bolster your arguments, at least get it right. Then maybe I’ll cut you some slack.

  147. Does anyone else see the (a) inanity (apart from the admitted nature of Keith’s comments being personal opinion: “I don’t think…”) of the ideas he bandies about, and (b) which, when strung together, yield little more than an inconsistent mess? I challenge anyone to extract from Keith’s words a coherent view of reality or at least something having at least a distant resemblance to an argument. Consider the following (note in particular, the last two paragraphs):

    @150: “… there’s exactly zero physical evidence free will exists, there’s reasonable physical evidence free will does not exist.”

    @ 154: “I don’t think physical evidence is the only evidence that counts, but I believe it is fair to say that physical evidence has proven superior to all others in describing our shared reality. When physical evidence runs into the other kinds of evidence, physical evidence has an enviable won/lost record.”

    [“fair to say” Now that’s scientific reasoning… NOT! BTW, still no response on the character of the “scientific method” (I posed) per Keith’s continued assertions… Come, Keith, you can do it: exactly what kind of a thing is the “scientific method”?]

    … “I can think of no reason sensory-accessible data cannot lead to non-sensory accessible events…”

    @159: “there’s no way to prove scientifically (or any other way, for that matter), that nothing exists outside of the physical realm.”

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is pretty indicative of desperation, evasiveness, and fear… It is typical of what most atheists do: they try as hard as possible to hold on to their presuppositions by stringing together stuff like the above in the hopes that it works (and, also likely, to try to bamboozle the audience). This isn’t reasoning: it’s the face of atheism.

    Come, Keith, give it the ole college try–the onus is on you since you made the assertions @150: what exactly is the “physical evidence” for or against the existence of the “scientific method” [or free will or your absolutist moral imperative directed against me], and tell us exactly what kind of object the “scientific method” [or free will or your absolutist moral imperative directed against me] is. Hint: the pretty lights on an MRI signify something, but you haven’t rigorously told us what that something is… and (again hint) I’m baiting you per your own assertions.

    “I don’t think…” is personal opinion… and certainly it is neither rigorous science nor philosophy. We’re not interested in your personal opinion: we’re interested in truth.

  148. G. Rodrigues, @160:

    Thank you!

    Victoria, @161:

    A1: Physicists changed their definition of time, nobody else did; I’m getting the impression atheists should not use the word “time” any more.

    A2: Neuroscientists are changing the working definition of “free-will”.

  149. Victoria @161:

    physicists have changed the working [operational] definition of time

    Agreed. But, while their work certainly provides very interesting insights, an “operational” definition is not an “essential” definition (both of which differ from a “nominal” definition), i.e., one that tells us WHAT time is. Think about it this way: mathematical formalisms were developed to describe physical phenomena in a relativistic context. But “space” is a mathematical reduction of Aristotelian “place” (which is an accident of real being) and “time” (in the modern physics sense) is a mathematicized version of Aristotle’s “counting of the before and after” (also an accident). Just because two accidents can be combined mathematically to produce a very useful descriptive tool does not mean there is such a thing as “space-time” existing somewhere out there as a substance in its own right: to claim this (which is unfortunately the case with a great many physicists) is to commit a monumental ontological non sequitur. Take the vast majority of derived properties considered by physics: what sensory-accessible properties does, e.g., “brittleness” have? Answer: none. If physicists could just jettison the reification of their mathematical formalisms, they might not be so surprised at the results of their work… and they wouldn’t browbeat an unsuspecting public with their arrogance.

    This, of course, is straying outside the scope of this thread, so I’m just offering it for thought.

  150. @Holo
    Good points and clarifications. I always appreciate your deep thoughts 🙂
    However, I think Keith was implicitly referring to an operational definition with reference to the ‘setting of clocks’, without fully understanding what changed about that operation in Special Relativity.

    BTW- looks like you’ve been dragged back into commenting 😉

    @Keith A1: Oh, brother! I think Holo has given you food for thought there as well.

    A2: which may very well be hokum in the worst way, a la G. Rodrigues’ references

  151. Wow, I must say I am disappointed. I generally like this site, and as an atheist have learned a lot about Christianity and generally about the sophisticated philosophical arguments on its favour. Some of them even challenged my opinions and made me think.

    However, the rediculous behaviour of “holopupenko” combined with the restrictions on davidP have made me decide that this site is not for me.

    Good luck Tom, I hope you’ll exercise better judgement on who you let post to your blog in the future.

  152. Keith,

    Apologies for the wrong quote, I’m on my phone and mucked up the copy/paste.

    My view of reasoning is only incoherent if you insist the word “reason” means what you believe it means, and when I’m using it, I’m bound to mean what you mean. Yes: dictionary definitions matter, but nobody changed the word simultaneous for Einstein (there’s my shout-out to Victoria!). You don’t get to yell “incoherent” every time an atheist uses the word “convinced”.

    Actually for this argument to work you would need to define what you mean by the words reason, convince etc in a way that is not incoherent but so they still do the work that needs to be done to produce a rational argument. People have tried and failed. Of course you are welcome to continue to try to salvage your worldview but until you do it’s a bit much to label it the most “reasonable” view.

    Edited to add: I suggest you do think more fully through the “reasons” why you distrust experience and whether your “reasons” you distrust some experiences don’t equally apply to those you do trust.

  153. Victoria @165: Sorry for the lack of clarity – I wasn’t really addressing Keith (his missing relativity is the least of his problems)… just throwing some food for thought your way. Regarding commenting, as the semester ramps up, I’ll be fading back out… and partly–only partly–because I do need to rein in my MO…

    Chris: your disingenuousness is barely able to hide below the radar inasmuch as it doesn’t mention the “ridiculousness” of the atheists commenting here. (Might it not be possible that Keith is eliciting the help of fellow trolls to deflect from himself?) I think that’s called “selective inattention.” C’est la vie… c’est la guerre.

  154. Actually, Holopupenko, your reputation for insulting people is deserved. I don’t understand why you can’t make your points as arguments rather than as personal attacks, but please don’t bring those attacks here any more.

  155. Does that apply to the “imaginary friends” (and other) insults leveled at people of faith, Tom… and the plethora of inane “arguments” posed by the loyal opposition? (Thick vs. thin-skinned considerations notwithstanding.) There comes a point when repeated fallacies and other pseudo-arguments themselves become insults. Yes, I get the Ephesians 4:15 admonition… and no I don’t propose to “hate”. But, the loyal opposition–knowing this–has subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways of taking advantage of the situation. They can level such insults, and are usually permitted to do so: is the inarticulated tone of Keith any better than DavidP’s “lab rats” attitude?

    But, when in doubt, bearing that cross is the only possible answer. G. Rodrigues reminded me of the Desert Fathers’ “better way.” Thanks.

  156. Holopupenko,

    First let me say I perceive many qualities evident in your posts. You are intelligent, well read and your views are obviously well respected by some of the regulars here.

    I realise that you are deeply, deeply sceptical of the possibility that meaningful dialogue can happen with certain people who hold to particular beliefs. Whatever the truth of this I hope that you would consider the possibility that your approach is counter-productive to dialogue in exactly the same way that the goading hostility of some outspoken anti-theists is counter-productive to their cause. Richard Dawkins, a very grumpy man when it comes to matters of religion, is an excellent example of this. The man has turned into a caricature of “the angry atheist”, which I suggest is damaging to his cause amongst those sitting on the fence.

    The goal is not to whip the rabble into a frenzy by serving up a plate of invective. You should remember that you are speaking to more than your immediate opponent. Rudeness – a trait sadly evident in your posts – may well alienate those watching from the sidelines and perhaps [email protected] is evidence of this. We aren’t composed entirely of reason and that is why persuasiveness rests not just in the power of a given argument, it also rests in the quality of character on display.

    This said, I’m personally torn between 1Peter 3:15 and those times when Jesus frankly told it like it was. I don’t think Christians should avoid robust engagements and “telling it like it is” but at the same point there must me a middle ground. Somewhere between a defence so weak as to appear there is no substance behind Christianity and an attack so strong as to make Christianity seem repugnant to seekers. No?

  157. Jesus reserved his invective for the smug religionists, not for the “sinners.” That’s how I resolve the difficulty you mentioned here, Billy.

    2 Cor. 10:5-7 speaks of a warfare against false thinking. There are ideas out there that are deadly and need to be combatted just like deadly enemies. The persons holding them are not the enemy; they are loved by God no less than the saintliest Christian. I just don’t see any fruitful engagement with “sinners” that’s based in insult, except perhaps when it’s obviously done with a wry and friendly sort of smile. You can call me an idiot that way, too, and I don’t mind.

  158. That’s a good point, Tom. But I suppose an obvious response is that there isn’t much evidence to suggest that back then there were many anti-religionists out there – smug or otherwise.

    Do you think Jesus would have dealt with the Dawkins of our day in the same way as he dealt with the legalists of his? Perhaps it’s a meaningless question because a) it’s like one of those unanswerable “what if… ” type questions and b) comparing chalk to cheese.

    Yet it might have some value after all.

    To some degree I think perhaps he may have given Dawkins both barrels, so to speak. He wasn’t to my thinking an apologist for his beliefs, at least not in a “here is a categorical syllogism for the existence of God” type of way. Perhaps – and this is just a stream of thought/ devil’s advocate type of thing – this means that Christians shouldn’t be afraid to be forthright in defending their beliefs (or attacking others) even to the point of being perceived as being rude (or being plain rude).

  159. @Keith
    You asked about the canon of the Bible a while back, but nobody has given you an answer yet.

    For now, I’ll point you (and our readers who want to know) to a few scholarly references by trained NT scholars and historians.

    This is by Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary (he gives the state of the art on the NT books, book by book

    A good summary of what scholars have learned about how the Christian Church recognized what books should be considered canonical:

    Of course, you can also go to the writings of the Church Fathers, to see what issues about the canon of Scripture they were dealing in their time.

    Craig Evans has a lot of useful scholarly material for those who want to invest a few denarii in their libraries

    NT historian F. F. Bruce, in his The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? has this to say about the canon

    and a more comprehensive site

    That’s all I have time for right now 🙂
    Edited: here is NT Wright’s page

  160. Victoria @175:

    Thank you, Victoria.

    This sentence arrested me: “Some decisions and choices had to be made, and God guided groups of people to make correct choices (not without guidelines) and to collect the various writings into the canons of the Old and New Testaments.”

    I’m steeped in an existing Christian theology and I’ve only read non-canonical scriptures as curiosities, instead of “what could have been”.

    Christian theology might have been incredibly different if other books had been chosen.

  161. @Keith
    To focus on just one of the criteria, and not all of them, especially the more objective ones is disingenuous (since you obviously read at least one of the links). There are still these criteria:

    The early church councils applied several basic standards in recognizing whether a book was inspired.

    A. Is it authoritative (“Thus saith the Lord”)?

    B. Is it prophetic (“a man of God” 2 Peter 1:20)?

    – A book in the Bible must have the authority of a spiritual leader of Israel (O.T. – prophet, king, judge, scribe) or and apostle of the church (N.T. – It must be based on the testimony of an original apostle.).

    C. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?

    D. Is it dynamic – demonstrating God’s life-changing power (Hebrews 4:12)?

    E. Is it received (accepted and used by believers – 1 Thessalonians 2:13)?

    (Norman L. Geisler & William Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible. pp. 137-144).

    from here.

    If you read the series starting here:

    then you will get an expanded discussion of the main issues

    New Testament scholar Michael J. Kruger has been working through a blog series entitled 10 Basic Facts About the New Testament Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize. Check out his book Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books for more. Hear the interview with Michael Kruger here.
    The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess
    Apocryphal Writings Are All Written in the Second Century or Later
    The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books
    Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture
    The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century
    At the End of the 2nd Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of 27 NT Books
    Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings
    The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council
    Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books
    Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books Were Self-Authenticating

    you can find all the above items linked here.

    It’s not a case of ‘what could have been’, but one of ‘what really happened’. What you erroneously think ‘could have been’ was determined by the early Church as ‘what never was’.

    If you know the existing Christian theology as well as you claim, and if you have read the non-canonical books, then surely even you can see the enormous gulf that separates the two. If not, then you really do lack the wisdom to discern truth from error that the indwelling of the Spirit of God gives.

  162. Victoria @180:

    I didn’t mean to be attacking in that reply, I just found that particular sentence striking — as I said, I never considered choice of a canon being determinative of subsequent theology (it’s obvious, once you get there, I’m not saying it’s an amazing insight, it simply hadn’t occurred to me).

    Yes, there were more objective criteria, but that’s “more” objective at best. To say C or D (“Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?”, and “Is it dynamic – demonstrating God’s life-changing power?”), are “objective” rules is marginal, and the other “rules” aren’t much better.

    Thank you for the Michael Kruger link. He lays out a reasonable case for canonicity, I found it more persuasive than anything I’ve seen previously. (For anyone interested, here’s a complete list of Kruger’s blog postings in order.)

    It seems to me you raise two points in your post, one of “objective rules” and one of an “enormous gulf” between the canonical and non-canonical books, and (of course!) I have problems with both.

    With respect to “objective rules”, I’ll quote Kruger quoting Irenaeus:

    “It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer than the number they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live and four principle winds… [and] the cherubim, too, were four-faced.”

    The point Kruger intends to make is that by the end of the second century, Christianity had fixed on 4 gospels. The point Kruger really makes is that Irenaeus’ reason for choosing 4 gospels was numerology.

    Yes, there are guidelines, some of which have been consistent since the early church, but I think it’s clear there were never objective rules dividing the canonical/non-canonical books, and reading Kruger repeatedly drives that point home.

    With respect to an “enormous gulf ” separating the non-canonical books from the canonical books, I don’t see it. More importantly, Christians don’t see it.

    Consider two facts on which we can agree: first, the Catholics/Orthodox churches disagree with Protestants on the “final” list of canonical books today, and Kruger’s point that early Christians both received books later declared non-canonical, and vice-versa, they rejected books later declared canonical.

    Kruger spends an entire post on the claim of “obviousness” (he calls it self-authentication), and a typical quote is:

    [Origen] defends the canonicity of the book of Jude because “it is filled with the healthful words of heavenly grace” and defends the canonical gospels because of their “truly venerable and divine contents.” He even defends the canonicity of the book of Hebrews on the ground that “the ideas of the epistle are magnificent.”

    If an enormous gulf exists, why did second-century Christians not see it? Less than two centuries after Christ, why are they forced to rely on numerology, or their responses to the literature, to determine canonicity?

    And, of course, I cheerfully agree with you that problem is resolved by 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, and we’re done. 🙂

  163. Irenaeus was arguing analogically, backwards from the existence of only 4 Gospels that were approved by apostolic authority, not the other way around.

    The fact is that there is a strong and consistent tradition that associates the 4 Gospels we have with those 4 authors and the apostolic approval of those Gospels. There is a chain of custody that links the 1st century NT documents through their history up to the point where we have the earliest complete manuscripts (like Codex Sinaiticus in the early 300’s). I refer the interested readers to J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity for a good description of that.

    The early Christians did see the enormous gulf between the books that are considered canonical and those that aren’t. Why do you think that so many books were just ignored and not used by the majority, or explicitly shown to be incompatible with apostolic Christianity?

    What we find in the Church Fathers of the Second Century and onward are arguments against heterodox books like the ones we find in the Gnostic writings ( look up the Nag Hammadi texts).

    You can find a nice compilation here:

    If you still can’t see the difference, then I can’t help you any further.

    As to why the settling of the canon of Scripture is not a trivial task,
    consider what Daniel Wallace has to say about 2 Peter:

    As for your reference to 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, are you being sarcastic (considering that you are a self-admitted apostate ex-Christian, for whom John 15:1-8 is more fitting – being pruned off the vine as a dead branch)? It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 2:14 fits you to a tee.

  164. Let me include the rest of Kruger’s post on the disputes over canonicity, lest the interested readers miss what he really said (Keith is selectively citing, not presenting the whole argument)

    For instance, Origen mentions that books like 2 Peter, 2-3 John, and James were doubted and disputed by some in his own day. Also, Dionysius of Alexandria tells us that some thought that Revelation was not written by the apostle John and should therefore be rejected.

    It is important that we be reminded of such disputes and debates lest we conceive of the history of the canon in an overly-sanitized fashion. The canon was not given to us on golden tablets by an angel from heaven (as claimed for the Book of Mormon). God, for his own providential reasons, chose to deliver the canon through normal historical circumstances. And historical circumstances are not always smooth.

    What is unfortunate, however, is that these disagreements amongst Christians are sometimes used as an argument against the validity of the 27-book canon we know today. Critics claim that such disagreements call into question the entire canonical enterprise. Why should we trust the outcome, it is argued, if some Christians disagreed?

    Several factors should be considered in response. First, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that these disputes only affected a handful of books. Critics often present the history of the canon as if every book were equally in dispute. That is simply not the case. As we saw in a prior post, the vast majority of these books were in place by the end of the second century.

    Second, we should not overestimate the extent of these disputes. Origen, for example, simply tells us that these books were disputed by some. But, in the case of 2 Peter, Origen is quite clear that he himself accepts it. Thus, there are no reasons to think that most Christians during this time period rejected these books. On the contrary, it seems that church fathers like Origen were simply acknowledging the minority report.

    Third, we should also remember that the church eventually reached a broad, deep, and long-lasting consensus over these books that some disputed. After the dust had settled on all these canonical discussions, the church was quite unified regarding these writings. Of course, critics will suggest this is an irrelevant fact and should be given no weight. For them, the decisive issue is that Christians disagreed. But, why should we think that disagreements amongst Christians are significant, while unity amongst Christians is insignificant? The latter should be given the same consideration as the former.

    But, even after offering these three responses, we should recognize that there is still a deeper issue in play for those who think disagreements amongst Christians invalidate the truth of the canon. Beneath this objection is a key (and unspoken) assumption, namely that if God were to give his church a canon he would not have done it this way.

    Put differently, there is an assumption that we can only believe that we have the writings God intended if there are very few (if any) dissenters and if there is virtually immediate and universal agreement on all 27 books. But, where does this assumption come from? And why should we think it is true?

    Indeed, there are many reasons to think it is false. For one, how does the critic know how God would give canonical books? This is a theological claim about how God works and what he would do (or wouldn’t do). But, how does the critic know what God would or wouldn’t do? To what source is he appealing? Surely, not the New Testament for that is the very source being criticized!

    But, even more than this, we have good reasons to think that some dispute amongst Christians would be inevitable. Just the practical reality of giving books in real time and space, in real historical circumstances, spread out over different authors, on different continents, and at different times, would naturally create dispute in some places.

    Whenever someone shows angst over these early canonical disagreements, I often ask a simple question: “What did you expect the process would be like?” It is at this point, that people often realize they have an overly-pristine expectation about how God would deliver his books—an expectation that is entirely their own and not derived from Scripture or from history.

    All of this reminds us that God sometimes uses normal historical processes to accomplish his ends. And those historical processes are not always neat and tidy. But, this should not detract from the reality that the ends are still God’s.

    This is from:

    Kruger also has series about common myths and misconceptions about the canon of the New Testament, here:

    Specifically, this one

  165. Victoria @182:

    Thanks for that link — that’s fantastic, I’d never run into it before! There goes next weekend… 🙂

    Victoria, I’m confused how on the one hand you say it’s obvious what should be canonical and/or non-canonical, yet reference 2,000 year-long arguments as to whether or not II Peter is canonical. You don’t see any conflict between those two positions?

    I think either it’s obvious and we got it right, or it’s not obvious and we’ve been arguing about it for 20 centuries.

    When you say second-century Church Fathers and onward argued against heterodox writings, what you’re really saying is the writings of the “winners” included lots of arguments about why the “losers” were wrong. That’s hardly surprising.

    I meant no sarcasm by noting 1 Corinthians 2:14-15; it’s an absolute Christian defense in this argument. The Bible clearly states that without the Spirit you cannot understand God’s word. Christians can reasonably assert those who decided which books are canonical were Spirit-led, and those with other opinions were deceived, and so we know the right choices were made.

    Then the argument becomes whether or not being Spirit-led is a real thing or not, but that’s a different argument.

  166. @Keith
    I didn’t use the word obvious – I said when you compare the non-canonical writings, such as the Gnostics, with the canonical writings, the difference between them is plain for all to see.

    The issues with books like 2 Peter are nothing in comparison to the Gnostics, for example. That is what I am referring to. It was eventually decided that 2 Peter fit in with the other canonical books of the NT, whereas the Gnostics (for example) clearly do not.

    You have been reading too much Dan Brown, and not enough Dan Wallace or Darrell Bock, with your ‘history is written by the winners’ reference. The NT as it stands today ‘won out’ because it is true and authentic.

  167. Victoria, @183:

    I would supplement Victoria’s comments by pointing out two things in Kruger’s post.

    First, a minor point, but Kruger doesn’t argue there wasn’t widespread disagreement in the early church over the canonical list of books, he’s arguing it hasn’t been proved there was widespread disagreement. Fair enough.

    More interesting, Kruger’s post consistently refers to the “core NT canon”, and he’s not talking about the NT canon we have today. Kruger says the “core” is “the four gospels, the epistles of Paul (at least 10, if not 13), and a handful of other books”.

    Then he appends, “most of the disagreements dealt with only a handful of books—2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, Revelation.”

    No matter how you slice it, that’s a big chunk of missing theology — what, at least 10-15% of the total?

    Imagine evangelical Christianity in America today (or the world’s political map!), if Revelation hadn’t been made canonical.

  168. @Keith
    What is your point, anyway, by having us imagine a counterfactual?

    You are falling into the very trap that Kruger warns us about, and you still have not clued in on the differences between the NT books and the rejected writings.

    Also, would you please link to the references in addition to quoting them? It makes it easier for the readers to view the quote in a more comprehensive context.

    It is a consistent practice of poor scholarship toquote or paraphrase without the reference to the sources.

    Keith is referring to this excerpt

    A core NT canon existed very early. As I noted in my prior blog post in this series (see here), there was a core canon of NT books that was well-established by the early to middle second century. These would have included the four gospels, the epistles of Paul (at least 10, if not 13), and a handful of other books. Although discussions about some of the smaller books would continue on for a while, the core books were not really ever seriously disputed. John Barton comments, “Astonishingly early, the great central core of the present New Testament was already being treated as the main authoritative source for Christians. There is little to suggest that there were any serious controversies about the Synoptics, John, or the major Pauline epistles.”[1]

    If so, then the idea that Christians disagreed widely over canonical books simply isn’t accurate. At most, this occurred for just a handful of books.

    from here:

    Kruger is referring to what the picture of the NT canon was during the 2nd century AD

  169. Victoria @188:

    I thought the idea was interesting: Revelation was a disputed book, chosen as canonical. It could have gone the other way, and there is no question the choice has profoundly changed both modern Christian theology and the world in which we live.

    I agree I have not clued in on the difference between the NT books and the rejected writings, but as far as I can tell neither you or Kruger are willing to draw any bright lines.

    You flagged the Gnostic writings, and I agree, some of those writings are wildly different from the canonical writings, it’s easy to distinguish. But then you go on to say “the issues with books like 2 Peter are nothing in comparison to the Gnostics” and I agree with that, too.

    When you said in @186 “the difference is plain for all to see”, I read your sentence as “the difference is plain” in the case of all non-canonical writings, not just the Gnostics. Is that correct?

    I apologize for the lack of hyperlinking, I agree to do better.

  170. @Keith
    I was referring to the Gnostics in particular, because the theology is so divergent from the apostolic writings of the NT. For other works, like the Shepherd of Hermas (, which was widely used and rather orthodox in its theology, it didn’t make the cut because of authorship. Don’t forget, apostolic authority was based on having been an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:21-26 and Acts 9:1-19 in Paul’s case).

    There were many very good books and letters written by the Church Fathers themselves (, which would be considered orthodox and in keeping with the apostolic teachings, that are not considered canonical, simply because these were 2nd generation Christians who were not vested with apostolic authority(eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus). However, they were involved in the chain of custody (look at Clement of Rome’s bio (he might be associated with Paul: Philippians 4:3 – see also and or Polycarp’s bio (, for example.

    In the case of Mark and Luke, while not apostles themselves, the Church Fathers indicate that Mark was associated with Peter (and if he is the John Mark of Acts 15:37 and Acts 12:12 then with Paul and Barnabas as well) see here; Luke was associated with Paul and wrote Luke/Acts (see here and They received the apostolic nod of approval.

  171. Here’s what most don’t understand about the process of the formation of the cannon. The church leaders weren’t choosing what books to include, they were deciding what books they couldn’t exclude. That’s what became the cannon. The books they could find no reason to exclude.

  172. Keith,

    Perhaps that’s true and perhaps that isn’t. On the on the hand, Hebrews met the early dating that the rest of the NT adhered to. Unlike the Gnostic writings (which don’t meet either early dating or the known Apostolic authorship) it would have at least survived a first pass. It was a process and done carefully with great circumspection.

  173. BillT @196:

    I agree about dating, with the caveat there are exceptions; the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has been dated as early as AD 40, which would be plenty early enough to be canonical.

    I would tentatively disagree about apostolic authorship: if “Mary” in The Gospel of Mary is Mary Magdalene, wouldn’t it qualify? Mary met Jesus (unlike Mark, Luke or Paul).

    I wouldn’t want to argue either of those writings should have been canonical: there are good reasons both would have been excluded from the canonical choices, I only raise the points to note problems with simple rules.

    That said: to what “careful process” do you refer? That’s new information to me, would you please tell me more?

  174. Please stop with the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary stuff. Neither of these books has anything like the qualifications or the historicity of even the “most questionable” (if there is such a thing) of any of the NT books. These aren’t “simple rules” they are the exclusive domain of the NT cannon. There are no other books that we know of that come close to meeting even the most basic requirements that are set by the books in the NT cannon. And that’s not to mention that the historicity of the NT is orders of magnitude better than any other ancient texts.

    Your own ” if “Mary” in The Gospel of Mary is Mary Magdalene”, couldn’t be a better example of the problem. We don’t know and almost certainly will never will know the authorship of that book or the Gospel of Thomas. Nor will those books have the thousands of manuscript copies that exist for the NT cannon that verify it’s content and authenticity. Where is the mention of those books in the thousands of letters written by the early Christians which are so numerous as to be able to reconstruct the entire NT from the quotes in their writings. Questioning the NT cannon is simply a dead end for skeptics.

  175. BillT @198:

    I never said either the Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Mary should have been canonical — in fact, I specifically said they should not. You pointed out some simple rules, I pointed out exceptions to your rules.

    As far as authorship being primary: we don’t know and almost certainly will never know the author of Hebrews, which I think closes the door on that argument.

    It’s not a question of whether or not the content of a particular book is correct and/or consistent with the content we have today. That’s an entirely separate argument (one I’m happy to have if you like). This discussion is how/why one particular book was included in the canon instead of another particular book.

    You have repeatedly referred to a “process” taken to choose the canon; as far as I’m aware, no such process existed, and I’d genuinely like to hear about it.

  176. You cannot have looked at church writing and scholarship over the centuries and come to any conclusion other than the how very careful and deliberate the church has been in what it publishes as its official religious documents. But given that, you somehow question that this same group of church fathers was somehow other than very careful and deliberate when examining and deciding the books of the cannon. Doesn’t seem a very reasonable conclusion to me.

  177. BillT @200:

    Victoria’s link to Michael Kruger’s series on the NT canon is worth your time.

    Bill, there are reasonable arguments to be made that the NT canon is true and accurate (and I think Victoria made them). But the idea the church fathers had anything like a rigorous criteria, selection mechanism or quality control isn’t one of them.

  178. I knew someone would bring up Hebrews 🙂 I was thinking about it myself last night, wondering how it fit in.

    As always, we can count on Dan Wallace to provide scholarly input

    There never was a consensus on who the author was (BillT – let’s ask around in Eternity – Keith, I hope you will be able to join us 🙂 ). Perhaps that information was known at some point ( cf Hebrews 13:19, 22, 23 ), but the documentary evidence to prove it was lost. Clement of Rome knew about the Hebrews (see his letter 1 Clement to the Corinthians), and held the view that it was Paul’s – others thought that Paul gave the letter his apostolic sanction because it was written by one of his colleagues, which would put it in the same boat as Luke/Acts.

    There is no question that content-wise, Hebrews dovetails so perfectly with the NT portraits of Christ, giving us a picture of Christ as our King and High Priest (after the order of Melchizedek – who was both King of Salem and Priest of El Elyon (God Most High). (see Hebrews 7:1-28) Hebrews links together the promise of the new covenant given in Jeremiah with Christ as the fulfilment of that covenant (Hebrews 8:1-9:28, as well as 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, where Paul even makes a reference to the same tradition as in Luke 22:14-19 ). If the Holy Spirit’s job is to exalt Jesus Christ and point us to Him (and it is), then Hebrews does this in a most excellent manner.

    Thus, Hebrews meets the criteria of A, C, D and probably E that I posted back in #180, and maybe the early Church fathers were reasonably sure that it had apostolic sanction (B)., even if they could not be specific about the actual author.

    We are also talking about a process that is not a purely human endeavour here – just as the Spirit of God inspired and superintended the human authorship of His Word, He can also superintend and guide its preservation through human means. Those with an anti-supernatural bias as a fundamental premise of their worldview, will necessarily interpret all of this through the filter of that view, and reject the possibility (as do most of the skeptical and hostile critics of the Bible), but that is another issue.

  179. I think BillT is using the word ‘process’ in a more informal sense – one that implies a time-dependent development and growing consensus among the Church Fathers (and probably the rank and file members as well) as to what writings were considered authoritative and essential to the NT document set. By the time of the Council of Nicea ( c 325 AD ), they reached a point where they could put a stake in the ground to say that this was the list of authoritative books.

  180. “But the idea the church fathers had anything like a rigorous criteria, selection mechanism or quality control isn’t one of them.”

    And I said they did where exactly? I said nothing about “a rigorous criteria, selection mechanism or quality control”. I believe you have read a great deal into my completely unremarkable statement that the church fathers used a process. What, did you think they voted on the cannon after doing a few shots of tequila?

    And thank you Victoria for a reasonable explanation of my reasonable suggestion.

  181. @Keith
    If you are going to use references, you should at least read them carefully, and do not selectively quote bits and pieces. Also, if you use Wikipedia, then you should check out real scholarly works, by real scholars (you don’t know who writes the Wikipedia articles, or what their credentials are, nor do you know what the authors’ worldviews are).

    Your reference to the Gospel of Thomas has this to say about the date:

    Assigning a date to the Gospel of Thomas is very complex because it is difficult to know precisely to what a date is being assigned. Scholars have proposed a date as early as AD 40 or as late as AD 140, depending upon whether the Gospel of Thomas is identified with the original core of sayings, or with the author’s published text, or with the Greek or Coptic texts, or with parallels in other literature.[27]

    What are you trying to do – mislead readers into thinking that 40AD is the consensus date?

    Your reference to the Gospel of Mary says that the scholarly consensus for the date is 2nd century, so it could not have been written or approved by apostolic authority. Neither does it say that Mary (Magdalene was the author, but that a woman named Mary is the central character.

    What about the content – the reference also suggests that it could be Gnostic in tone – that would exclude it from the canon as well. When I have more time, we can open up the text and compare its theology to that of the apostolic NT.

    For the interested readers, I would recommend Darrell Bock’s The Missing Gospels here:

    Also, Kruger has this to say


  182. Victoria, @205:

    Victoria, with all due respect, if you are going to reply to my posts, you should at least read them.

    What are you trying to do — mislead readers into thinking that 40AD is the consensus date?

    Well, no. That’s why I said “as early as 40AD”, my key point being that “as early as” are completely different words than “the consensus is”.

    Neither does it say that Mary Magdalene was the author, but that a woman named Mary is the central character.

    Well, yes. That’s why I said “if “Mary” in The Gospel of Mary is Mary Magdalene”, my key point being that “if Mary is Mary Magdalene” are completely different words than “because Mary is Mary Magdalene”.

    the reference also suggests that it could be Gnostic in tone – that would exclude it from the canon as well.

    Well, yes. That’s why I said “I wouldn’t want to argue either of those writings should have been canonical: there are good reasons both would have been excluded from the canonical choices, I only raise the points to note problems with simple rules.”

    And Wikipedia is roughly as good as anything else out there; the key quote:

    A notable early study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.

    There’s a anti-Wikipedia view to the ThinkingChristian blog I don’t understand: people have run comparison studies, Wikipedia has a reasonable accuracy rate, what’s the problem?

    Although I will grant you that Wikipedia makes it harder (but not impossible), to consider author bias.

  183. BillT @204:

    I apologize, I’m guilty as charged.

    I read far too much into your use of the word “process”, it never occurred to me you meant the kind of organic process Victoria and I have been describing.

  184. @Keith

    You quoted ‘as early as 40AD’, which was only part of the full text – that is misquoting and misleading.

  185. It occurs to me that there is a misunderstanding of how the criterion of comparison with the apostolic teaching works. Being consistent with the apostolic teaching is necessary but not sufficient by itself to warrant inclusion into the canon. However, a departure from the apostolic teaching itself is sufficient to warrant exclusion from the canon (cf Galatians 1:8-9)

    Oh, with regards to selective quoting, I realized that I did the same thing in regards to the content of the Gospel of Mary – the article did suggest that the work could be Gnostic in character, but it also did say that some scholars disagreed with that.

  186. @Keith
    This is what you said about the Gospel of Mary and apostolic authorship, in response to BillT’s #196

    I would tentatively disagree about apostolic authorship: if “Mary” in The Gospel of Mary is Mary Magdalene, wouldn’t it qualify? Mary met Jesus (unlike Mark, Luke or Paul).

    You seem to be speculating that, if this Mary is Mary Magdalene, then she would have known Jesus personally, both before and after His death and resurrection, and then…..would that not qualify the Gospel of Mary on the basis of apostolic authorship?

    You responded to my critique with

    Well, yes. That’s why I said “if “Mary” in The Gospel of Mary is Mary Magdalene”, my key point being that “if Mary is Mary Magdalene” are completely different words than “because Mary is Mary Magdalene”.

    Well, no! That’s not what your first statement said, nor what the article said. You coupled this unwarranted speculation to apostolic authorship.

  187. Victoria, @211:

    Yes, that’s all I was saying — if written by Mary Magdalene (and it’s only arguably the case, so it’s a big if), that would seem to qualify it for apostolic authorship.

  188. If one actually reads the text of the Gospel of Mary

    The estimated date range is 120-180AD

    it becomes clear that it, in Karen King’s own words

    . the Gospel of Mary communicates a vision that the world is passing away, not toward a new creation or a new world order, but toward the dissolution of an illusory chaos of suffering, death, and illegitimate domination. The Savior has come so that each soul might discover its own true spiritual nature, its “root” in the Good, and return to the place of eternal rest beyond the constraints of time, matter, and false morality.

    The confrontation of Mary with Peter, a scenario also found in The Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia, and The Gospel of the Egyptians, reflects some of the tensions in second-century Christianity. Peter and Andrew represent orthodox positions that deny the validity of esoteric revelation and reject the authority of women to teach. The Gospel of Mary attacks both of these positions head-on through its portrayal of Mary Magdalene. She is the Savior’s beloved, possessed of knowledge and teaching superior to that of the public apostolic tradition. Her superiority is based on vision and private revelation and is demonstrated in her capacity to strengthen the wavering disciples and turn them toward the Good.

    This alone suggests that this is ‘another gospel’ of Galatians 1:8-9, and thus should be excluded from the canon. Would a genuine apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ so completely contradict other apostolic teaching? No, for the Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself.

  189. I think we’ve dealt sufficiently with the canon 🙂

    Next topic?

    I would suggest the transmission of the Biblical documents – how do we know that what we have today is what they wrote back in the 1st century?
    Of course, apart from Bart Ehrman’s deliberate misinformation on the matter, this is a relatively straightforward issue – the basic answer is yes, because of the sheer number of manuscripts, citations and translations that NT textual scholars have to work with, they have been able to reconstruct the original text with something like 95% or better confidence.

    Daniel Wallace also has mentioned that some manuscripts containing Mark’s Gospel have been found that might date back to the late first century, but I haven’t seen too much more yet

  190. Victoria, @214:

    Why do you attribute Ehrman’s writings to deliberate misinformation? I saw nothing in the review you linked to (although I’ve read it before and I didn’t re-read it closely, I might have just missed it).

    I’m certainly interested in the discussion to learn what other people have to say on the topic: Victoria and I went a few rounds some months ago and were mostly in agreement, IIRC.

  191. Keith,

    Appreciate your #208 but no apology necessary. I probably was guilty of “writing without brain fully engaged” and failed to take into account how my original statement could have been misconstrued.

  192. @Keith, re #215
    There is the issue of the 400,000+ variants in the collections of NT manuscripts:

    Although we should thank Bart for a number of things, we must also respectfully part company with him where his core assault on Biblical reliability begins. While there are a number of examples that can be cited of where I believe Ehrman to be incorrect, let me take aim at just two.[3]

    First, Bart tells his audience that the number of differences (“variants”) in the existing New Testament manuscripts can be pegged at about 400,000[4] which equates to there being “more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”[5]Ehrman’s claim shows how a partial truth – one left without full explanation – can lead to people walking away with the wrong conclusion.

    While an uninformed Christian lay audience may gasp at the statistics Bart relays, anyone who has studied Biblical textual criticism yawns at Ehrman’s statements. First, keep in mind that one variant of one letter of one word in one verse in 2,000 manuscripts counts as 2,000 variants (and there are nearly 6,000 manuscripts to compare).

    Second, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of variants are completely inconsequential, consisting of spelling and numerical differences that can’t be translated in certain manuscripts, sentence word order changes, etc. The bottom line? Scholars have concluded that the New Testament text is 99% pure with there being only 1% of the text that contains any meaningful variants.[6]

    “Aha!” cries the skeptic, “even if 1% of the New Testament has ‘meaningful’ differences that can still greatly affect things!” I’m sorry to disappoint them, but that simply isn’t the case.

    To understand why I say this, let’s look at an example of a ‘meaningful variant’. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul describes himself either as ‘gentle’ or as ‘little children’, with there being a one letter discrepancy with the Greek terms used in the differing manuscripts (epioi vs. nepioi). Does such a thing affect any Biblical doctrine or call into question something about Paul that could change our view of him? Not at all.

    Examples like this and the real story behind those 400,000 variants is why I believe Ehrman to be shooting blanks in his attempt to call into question the New Testament’s transmission reliability.

    Dr. Erhman is using the 400,000 number in a way that misleads the uninformed readers/listeners, even though he is well-versed in textual criticism and knows the real details of those variants.

    There are a number of debates that the interested readers can listen to:

    Another issue that he brings up is that the Synoptics and John disagree on the day of Jesus’ death (Wallace’s links talk about that), and that discussion went on for a while in this blog, with myself, Tim McGrew ( and a number of other people – I don’t recall if you were in on that one or not. If I can find the thread on the site, I’ll post the link.

    It’s easy to see that there is no disagreement between the Synoptics and John on the fact that it was on Friday (the day of preparation before the Sabbath), just before the start of the Sabbath, which happened to be a high Sabbath because it was a Passover Sabbath. Just work backwards, starting from Sunday morning.
    Tim McGrew presented a really good analysis of what the Pharisees were worried about (John 18:28) and he showed how nicely the accounts dovetail in the light of 1st century Passover customs.

    This is the thread

  193. One more closing comment on the canon:

    FF Bruce (in his book, linked above) emphasizes that the purpose of having a canon (and he draws this from the Church Fathers themselves) was to name the NT documents that were authoritative for defining Christian doctrine and foundational truths. The otherwise orthodox, but non-canonical writings were useful for edification and commentary, but were not to be used to determine core doctrines.

    It is also true that even after the Council of Nicea, canon issues were still being discussed, but it had more to do with the disputed books that are now part of the NT as we have it today. The major battles between orthodox writings and heretical writings were fought and won.

    FF Bruce says about this:

    It is sometimes said the books which made their way into the New Testament Canon are those which supported the victorious cause in the second century conflict with the various gnostic schools of thought. There is no reason why the student of this conflict should shrink from making a value-judgement: the gnostic schools lost because they deserved to lose.

    The depth and breadth of FF Bruce’s knowledge and understanding of history behind the NT documents and the formation of the Church’s understanding of the meaning and implications of the events they record and what the authors wrote, is amazing. I’m going to have to read it again. If you read no other books on the Canon of Scripture, read this one.

  194. update to my last comment:

    read Kruger’s book:

    His analysis and discussion of a self-authenticating canon is excellent: “My sheep hear My Voice”, and that is exactly right:
    He discusses the three aspects of this model:
    (1) Providential exposure: God providentially ensured that the writings He desired to be His authoritative Word would get into the hands of the Christian community (one can’t evaluate a book that one does not have),
    (2) The attributes of canonicity : its divine qualities, its corporate reception by the Christian community as a whole, and its apostolic origins
    (3) The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately ( cf John 10:3-5 and John 10:25-28, as well as 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 ). Basically, if you can’t hear God speaking to you through His Word, you are a goat(*) 🙂

    I can’t do justice to his explanations of these here, so read his book 🙂

    (*) It’s not as simple as that, of course, due to the noetic effects of sin on our minds and hearts ( Romans 1:18-3:1 ), and it is possible to resist the Spirit’s voice or grieve Him through willful sin and disobedience, but that is a subject of another discussion.

  195. continuing from my last comment….
    It is not my intention to write a book review here, just to encourage interested readers to read it 🙂

    Kruger explains this self-authenticating model in great detail, emphasizing that the three aspects must be treated as interdependent, and cannot be considered in isolation.

    Last, but not least, Kruger deals with potential defeaters for this model:
    (a) challenges to the divine qualities: apparent contradictions and/or disagreements between NT books,
    (b) challenges to the apostolic origins of the NT: authorship and date questions raised by modern NT scholarship (of the skeptical/anti-supernaturalist persuasion),
    (c) challenges to corporate reception – disagreement throughout history, continuing to the present day, over the NT canon.

  196. I read Kruger’s book Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.

    An OK read, I’ll echo Victoria’s +1.

    But, thinking over his description of a self-authenticating canon today, I realized what bugs me about his arguments: like many Christian apologists, he declares for the smallest and/or least creepy miracle possible.

    (I should note that Kruger’s book is not written for skeptics, and he makes that clear. I’m not saying Kruger didn’t prove something he never set out to prove, I’m writing about Kruger’s “story” of how the canon was chosen and the supernatural intervention his story requires.)

    Anyway, in Kruger’s story, the church will be guided by the Holy Spirit to recognize the divinity of the canon. If that’s true, there’s a problem to solve: the early church can’t order books from Amazon, somehow the church has to get access to the books.

    Kruger says:

    If God intended to give a canon to his corporate church — and not just to an isolated congregation for a limited period of time — then we have every reason to believe that he would providentially preserve these books and expose them to the church so that, through the Holy Spirit, it can rightly recognize them as canonical. As Evans has argued, the fact that certain books are lost “provides reason to think that God did not desire those writings to be included in the authorized revelation.

    He’s made a big jump, here. We only have every reason to believe after we’ve made an entirely unfounded assumption as to God’s role in the process.

    How does Kruger know God performed that miracle rather than some other one?

    Maybe God appeared in visions to Irenaeus and Origen and told them which books to jot down. Maybe God “called home” any person who might have argued for other books, or simply used mind-control to enforce his will. Maybe God made every non-canonical gospel physically invisible for 100 years.

    Kruger could have chosen a story based on one of those miracles, rather than the one he wrote, it’s not like there’s evidence one way or another.

    Nobody — Kruger included — has any idea what miracle God used, and what I find interesting is Kruger chooses the simplest, most comfortable miracle he can.

    If Kruger claims God made all the non-canonical books invisible, it sounds silly. If Kruger claims God appeared in visions, it sounds like mental illness. If Kruger claims God used mind-control or killed those who would have disagreed, that’s creepy and scary.

    Kruger doesn’t want to sound silly, improbable, creepy or scary, so he declares God must have done a comfortable little miracle, loading the dice just slightly so humans would then make the choices He wanted them to make, and his story gains plausibility as a result.

    After 60 centuries of freakishly powerful and obvious behavior, from world-wide floods and talking donkeys to halting the sun-and-moon in their tracks, Kruger wants us to believe God has discovered subtlety, and limits himself to mis-delivering the occasional letter.

  197. @Keith
    Ever hear of Divine Providence? Of things ‘just falling into place’? Ever read the story of Ruth and Boaz? Do you understand what Proverbs 21:1 implies?

    Your caricature of how God works is beyond ridiculous.
    God’s role in the process is entirely to be expected, given that Christianity is true. It is not an unfounded assumption at all.

    My guess is, that never having had the experience of the indwelling Spirit of God at all, despite your claim to have once been a Christian so that 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 most definitely applies to you.

  198. Victoria @222:

    I accept the correction: God does act in subtle ways at times, I didn’t mean to imply He doesn’t.

    I’m not sure how I’m caricaturing how God works, though. I didn’t intend to say anything at all about how God works.

    My comment was about how we make up stories to explain things, and how we choose which supernatural events will be part of those stories.

    (And, no, I’m not commenting on whether or not Kruger’s story is true, either. There are stories we write to explain things for which there is no way to ever know the “truth” (absent a time-machine). Kruger’s book made me think about how we craft those stories and whether we choose to believe those stories.)

  199. Victoria @222:

    I didn’t say God’s role in the process is unexpected — I questioned how Kruger knew God’s role in the process took this particular form.

    Out of so many possibilities, Kruger chose that one.

  200. @Keith
    But you did say:

    He’s made a big jump, here. We only have every reason to believe after we’ve made an entirely unfounded assumption as to God’s role in the process

    (a) Why is the assumption unfounded? Divine Providence is a perfectly valid Biblical assumption – it would be perfectly consistent with the purposes of the Holy Spirit to work within a historical and human process to ensure the integrity of His written revelation – if Divine Inspiration / human authorship, Divine preservation / human preservers is a reasonable extrapolation.

    There is an additional reason for the Spirit of God to do things this way – He knows how much we all love solving puzzles – those of us who know His presence also know that He never just hands us answers on a silver platter; as a most excellent teacher, He draws us and guides us into doing the work, under His tutelage, to discover His truths, and then to apply them.

  201. Victoria @225:

    That was a badly written sentence, I can see how you read it the way you did.

    I did not mean to say God’s supernatural intervention was an unfounded assumption; I meant to say there’s no reason to assume one particular supernatural intervention is the one God chose.

    In other words, we’ve got all the possible ways God might supernaturally intervene in the process. Kruger simply chooses one of those ways, and then continues with “now that we know how God intervened, it makes perfect sense that some texts were lost.” If God were to have intervened in some other way, there might be no relationship at all between God’s intervention and lost texts.

    I agree with you Kruger’s story is consistent with the purpose and historical pattern of the Holy Spirit in interacting with human process.

    However, Kruger could have written an equally consistent story where a supernatural visitation simply declared the canonical list.

    We have no way to know which really happened: why does Kruger choose this version instead of any one of many other possibilities?

  202. You still don’t seem to understand the concept of Divine Providence ( maybe this will help the interested readers:

    Read Ruth and Esther if you want to see classic examples of Divine Providence at work.

    How about the obvious fact of the actual history of the recognition of the canon of the Bible? The providential guidance of the Spirit of God is the abductive inference to the best explanation in this case.

    However, Kruger could have written an equally consistent story where a supernatural visitation simply declared the canonical list.

    Consistent with what? The actual history? How could it be so?

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