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Principle of Analogy

There’s a name for a simple and common sense idea that is often abused in apologetics circles, the Principle of Analogy.

Bob Price explained it this way:

The principle of analogy is so simple, so natural, that everyone uses it in daily life.

Imagine someone sitting down in front of the television after a long day at work. The first image he sees is that of a giant reptile squashing tall buildings. Is one’s first hunch, “Oh! The news channel!”? Probably not.

More likely one surmises the TV set had been left on the science fiction channel. Why? Because one’s world of contemporary experience does not include newscasts of giant dinosaurs wreaking havoc in modern cities, but one has seen monster movies in which such disasters are quite typical. Which analogy does the TV screen image fit?

How do we categorize a miracle claim from history? What’s it analogous to? Does it look like the plausible activities of ordinary people or does it look like legend? You can’t say for sure, of course, but which bin does this claim best fit into?

Did a winged horse fly Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back? Did Joseph Smith find golden plates with the help of the angel Moroni? Is the “Buddha Boy” able to meditate for months without food or water? Could Sathya Sai Baba raise people from the dead? Can faith healers cure illness that modern medicine can’t? Science has no analogy to these claims, but mythology and legend do.

Incredibly, I’ve heard Christians reject this principle and argue instead that an atheist must bring positive evidence against their claims. Don’t simply say that the Jesus miracles look like myth or legends, so we should classify them that way; no—that doesn’t count.

Say for example that the question is whether Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The Christian points to this story in John—that’s the evidence in favor. And then he says, “So where’s your evidence against?”

Of course, I have no direct evidence against this particular event. I have no direct evidence that Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus or that Merlin wasn’t a shape-shifting wizard or that Paul Bunyan didn’t exist or that George Washington didn’t fly around Mount Vernon with a jet pack. The plausibility test that we all use helps ensure that we don’t simply believe everything we hear or read. Well, all of us, I guess, except someone who’s eager to make exceptions to preserve a preconception.

Something can violate the Principle of Analogy only with substantial evidence. The claim “I can see through opaque objects” properly fit into the magical category until Wilhelm Röntgen demonstrated x-rays.

Until we have an analogy to a miracle story, it properly belongs in the magical category as well.

I believe that an orderly universe,
one indifferent to human preoccupations,
in which everything has an explanation
even if we still have a long way to go before we find it,
is a more beautiful, more wonderful place
than a universe tricked out with capricious, ad hoc magic.
— Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

(This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 8/29/11.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jeff

    Where’s the evidence against Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? If you have a pen and piece of paper, it’s right in front of you. Just write “Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead” on it, and bam: you now have evidence against it that is every single bit as good as the theist’s evidence for. If he objects to the tactic, the burden falls on him to demonstrate why his words on paper supersede yours.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, but the Lazarus story in John was written by an eyewitness!

      Oh … wait a minute. There’s no good evidence of that.

      OK–never mind. Carry on.

    • Greg G.

      He would have to explain why the Principle of Abrogation does not apply, also.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I’ve heard the principle of abrogation applied in Islam, where later contrdicting verses supercede earlier ones (which is why contradiction in the Koran is impossible). Is this what you’re referring to?

  • Greg G.

    As I recall, there’s a story of Osiris being raised from the dead by Horus at the request of Isis and Nephthys, who were sisters of Osiris. John also has two sisters mourning the death of their brother.

    If the story was told in Hebrew, the name “Osiris” would be something like “El Osiris”. When it is transliterated into Greek, it would come out something like “Lazarus”.

    There is an Egyptian city with the Greek name Heliopolis that is referred to in the Old Testament as “The City of the Sun” (which reflects the Greek name) and “On” (which reflects the Egyptian name Anu). In Hebrew, “Anu” becomes “Beth-Anu” and the Greek version in John has the incident in Bethany.

    I think Robert M. Price has more parallels on this in one of his books. He mentions about as much as I have here in section 36 zt this link as an aside.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Fascinating, thanks.

    • John Kesler

      The name Lazarus is “an abbreviated transcription of El-azar (‘God helps’)” (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 4, page 265, entry: Lazarus). Eleazar is the name of multiple people in the Old Testament–includng one of the sons of Aaron– and Apocrypha, and is listed as an ancestor of Jesus in Matthew 1:15. In other words, it was a fairly common Semitic name. I’d like substantiation of Prices’s claim. Occam’s Razor leads me to believe that a Semitic origin is more likely.

      • Greg G.

        Hi John,

        Price cites “Helms (pp. 98-100)” at the beginning of section 36 and the bibliography at the bottom of the page refers to “Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989.” I was able to view the top of page 98 and it was mentioning the topic. Perhaps your Google powers can extract more information than mine.

        • John Kesler

          Here is what Helms says on page 98:
          “LIkewise ‘Lazarus’ (the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Eleazar’) readily associates itself with the name of the god Osiris (semitized as El-Osiris).” Is that really how the name Osiris is “semiticed”–just by prefixing it with “El,” the Hebrew word for God and the proper name of the god of the West Semitic pantheon? Some scholars suggest that the Hebrew form of Osiris is actually Assir, a name found in Exodus 6:24 (among other places). (Interestingly, the name Eleazar appears in the previous verse). See for example this link: http://www.tinyurl/assirosiris

          Helms appears to be taking a questionable premise–that the “semitized” version of Osiris is “El-Osiris”– then connecting the superficial resemblance between this “name” and Lazarus as proof of borrowing. I find this unpersuasive.

        • John Kesler
        • Greg G.

          Thanks, John.

          There was probably never a concensus on converting names from one language to another. Think of all the variations of “Catherine” and “Elizabeth” today. I doubt the story tellers would all necessarily be educated enough to follow all the rules of translation. It would be the equivalent of an English speaker trying to communicate to a Spanish speaker by putting “el” before the word and adding an “o” at the end.

    • Mr. X

      Attempts to explain New Testament stories as reworkings of pagan myths always remind me of this:

      http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nappy.html

      • Bob Seidensticker

        X: I’m not sure why. We have original letters written by “Nappy.” We have newspaper articles written about him that were printed within 24 hours of the events they document. The comparison with the gospels doesn’t show the Jesus story in a very good light.

        That the gospels were written in an environment that already knew of dying-and-rising gods and virgin births is quite relevant. Yes, it could be that Jesus was the one real deal, but it certainly casts doubt on that claim since the natural alternative (that the oral history picked up other legends as it moved along) is so plausible.

        • Mr. X

          “I’m not sure why. We have original letters written by “Nappy.” We have newspaper articles written about him that were printed within 24 hours of the events they document.”

          That whooshing noise you can hear is the sound of the point sailing right over Bob’s head.

          “dying-and-rising gods and virgin births”

          …None of which bore more than a passing resemblance to Jesus.

        • Mr. X

          Although come to think of it, I can’t actually think of any examples of virgin births in pagan mythology. Care to offer any examples?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          That whooshing noise you can hear is the sound of the point sailing right over Bob’s head.

          And you’ve given me no desire to find out what this point was.

          …None of which bore more than a passing resemblance to Jesus.

          I wonder how people can give this response with a straight face. Yes, I know that the dying-and-rising elements of Dionysus and Baal and Osiris aren’t identical. If they were, they’d be the same story. They’re different stories.

          Why do they all have this common element? Were they invented completely independently? Then I guess this idea of defeating death is an archetype that is common among cultures. Did later inventions take inspiration from earlier? Then I guess cultures steal from each other.

          Either way, that doesn’t look good for the gospel story.

          “Oh, please. Don’t try to tell me that Aquaman and Superman and the Fantastic Four were invented so that casts doubt on the Green Lantern. Those stories aren’t even close to Green Lantern!

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          I can’t actually think of any examples of virgin births in pagan mythology. Care to offer any examples?

          You’re saying that you think that Jesus was the only one?

          Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great were virgin born. Also, the Ptolemys. I wrote more here.

        • Mr. X

          “And you’ve given me no desire to find out what this point was.”

          Well, you don’t generally seem very motivated to look at evidence which contradicts your theories.

          “I wonder how people can give this response with a straight face. Yes, I know that the dying-and-rising elements of Dionysus and Baal and Osiris aren’t identical.”

          Dionysus and Baal and Osiris all happened in a vague mythical past hugely remote in time. None of them were supposed to have happened during recent history, recent enough to still be living memory. Also, their deaths and resurrections were fertility myths relating to the cycle of the seasons. Jesus’, on the other hand, was a one-time event. So that’s two pretty big differences there.

          “Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great were virgin born. Also, the Ptolemys.”

          Which ancient sources say that?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          Well, you don’t generally seem very motivated to look at evidence which contradicts your theories.

          Uh huh.

          Dionysus and Baal and Osiris all happened in a vague mythical past hugely remote in time.

          That’s true, though you’ve ignored the fact that the Greek culture from which the gospel came from was saturated with these dying-and-rising stories. No god worth his salt won’t have this attribute. That this just accreted onto the oral story is pretty plausible–far more plausible, of course, than the supernatural explanation.

          Also, their deaths and resurrections were fertility myths relating to the cycle of the seasons. Jesus’, on the other hand, was a one-time event.

          Dionysus died once and was raised once. When Baal defeated Mot, he also died, but he rose again.

          Which ancient sources say that?

          I thought I gave you a link …

        • Mr. X

          “That’s true, though you’ve ignored the fact that the Greek culture from which the gospel came from was saturated with these dying-and-rising stories. No god worth his salt won’t have this attribute. That this just accreted onto the oral story is pretty plausible–far more plausible, of course, than the supernatural explanation.”

          First of all, it’s completely untrue to say that “no god worth his salt won’t have this attribute”. Jupiter and Juno weren’t supposed to have died and risen again, and they were the king and queen of the gods. Secondly, “saturated” is a huge exaggeration. The vast majority of pagan gods and heroes had nothing to do with dying and rising stories. Thirdly, “the Greek culture from which the gospel came” is over-simplified to the point of being misleading. The Gospels were written in Greek, but they concerned the Son of a Semitic god who came and fulfilled the prophecies of a Semitic nation in a land populated largely by Semites, Semites whose religion was notoriously averse to ripping myths from other cultures, at least during this period.

          “Dionysus died once and was raised once. When Baal defeated Mot, he also died, but he rose again.”

          Dionysus died and was raised once, but his death represents a process which happens every year. Jesus’ doesn’t.

          “I thought I gave you a link …”

          Yes, but (a) your own work isn’t “an ancient source”, and (b) it doesn’t include more than a half-sentence assertion on Caesar, Alexander and the Ptolemies. I’m sorry, but if you want people to accept what you’re saying, you’ll have to try harder than that.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          First of all, it’s completely untrue to say that “no god worth his salt won’t have this attribute”.

          Yeah, it was an exaggeration. I thought it was obvious, but thanks for bringing that out.

          Secondly, “saturated” is a huge exaggeration. The vast majority of pagan gods and heroes had nothing to do with dying and rising stories.

          I meant that this was an important concept that was very plain to everyone within the culture. (Yes, I realized they talked about other things as well.)

          The Gospels were written in Greek, but they concerned the Son of a Semitic god who came and fulfilled the prophecies of a Semitic nation in a land populated largely by Semites, Semites whose religion was notoriously averse to ripping myths from other cultures, at least during this period.

          Did you think that the gospels were all written in Palestine?

          Dionysus died and was raised once, but his death represents a process which happens every year. Jesus’ doesn’t.

          Oh, I see now. Completely different. Apples and oranges. Dionysus died and was raised again, but by contrast, Jesus died and was raised again. OK–got it.

          Yes, but (a) your own work isn’t “an ancient source”, and (b) it doesn’t include more than a half-sentence assertion on Caesar, Alexander and the Ptolemies. I’m sorry, but if you want people to accept what you’re saying, you’ll have to try harder than that.

          Uh … you could treat my posts as if they have cooties, or you could give me the benefit of the doubt. The part of the post that you apparently has a link to here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_births#Heroes_and_historical_figures. That’s what I was referring to.

        • Mr. X

          “I meant that this was an important concept that was very plain to everyone within the culture.”

          What evidence do you have for that? From my readings in Classical literature, dying and rising myths are hardly ever mentioned. It was a pretty minor concept, rarely mentioned by the ancients.

          “Did you think that the gospels were all written in Palestine?”

          No, but I think they’re clearly written in the tradition of Jewish religion rather than pagan religion. Hence why the early Christians adopted Jewish texts as part of their scriptural cannon, and not, say, the Homeric Hymns. I also think that your theory offers no plausible explanation as to why they’d choose to steal this myth from the pagans and graft it onto their Jewish religion.

          “Oh, I see now. Completely different. Apples and oranges. Dionysus died and was raised again, but by contrast, Jesus died and was raised again. OK–got it.”

          Maybe for your next post, you could tell us all how Gulliver’s Travels proves that stories of pygmies are all made up.

          “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15.14). So you think that within twenty years of the supposed events, everybody in the Church had time to incorporate this dying and rising myth into their religion, then suffer an attack of collective amnesia, forget that they’d made it up, and proclaim it as the cornerstone of their religion?

          “Uh … you could treat my posts as if they have cooties, or you could give me the benefit of the doubt. The part of the post that you apparently has a link to here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_births#Heroes_and_historical_figures. That’s what I was referring to.”

          Perhaps, then, it might have helped to link to the actual Wikipedia page, instead of linking to an article on a tangentially-related topic and hope I’d guess what you wanted me to do. Not that that would have helped you much, since the only reference to the Ptolemies and Alexander is one vague unsourced sentence. Again, this isn’t really enough to establish your case.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          What evidence do you have for that?

          I dunno–what evidence do I need? Are you saying that the average man on the street in the Greek world didn’t even know who Dionysus was?

          No, but I think they’re clearly written in the tradition of Jewish religion rather than pagan religion.

          The 800-pound dying-and-rising myth remains: the Jesus story was preceded by others, therefore it’s possible that elements of those stories made it into the Jesus story during and after the long oral period. This natural explanation for the Resurrection is far more plausible than that a guy actually rose from the dead.

          Maybe for your next post, you could tell us all how Gulliver’s Travels proves that stories of pygmies are all made up.

          And maybe in your next comment you could tell us how this is analogous.

          Dionysus dying and rising was a miracle. Similarly, Jesus dying and rising was a miracle.

          There’s no parallel. Pygmies aren’t miraculous.

          everybody in the Church had time to incorporate this dying and rising myth into their religion, then suffer an attack of collective amnesia, forget that they’d made it up, and proclaim it as the cornerstone of their religion?

          Can you not imagine how oral history progresses? No one is lying at any part in the story, and yet the tale that comes out the other end, after 40 years, is vastly different. The changes are innocent.

          Perhaps, then, it might have helped to link to the actual Wikipedia page

          You found the relevant part in the post with the blue text no problem. Since the text written by Bob (as you noted) is hardly much of an authority, I thought that the blue text would point you to the source. My bad, I guess.

          the only reference to the Ptolemies and Alexander is one vague unsourced sentence. Again, this isn’t really enough to establish your case.

          So where are we on this question? Are you denying that virgin-birth stories were popular in that part of the world?

        • Mr. X

          “I dunno–what evidence do I need? Are you saying that the average man on the street in the Greek world didn’t even know who Dionysus was?”

          No, I’m saying the fact that dying and rising stories were hardly ever mentioned in classical literature is evidence that, contrary to what you seem to think, they were a rather minor part of pagan mythology. As for evidence, being able to point to a large body of ancient writings about dying and rising stories would be a good start.

          “And maybe in your next comment you could tell us how this is analogous.”

          Person 1: Oh, come on, of course pygmies don’t exist. There were lots of pygmies in European literature of the period — just look at Gulliver’s Travels, for example — and what do you think is more likely, that a bunch of people just happened to be born really small, or that a few travellers in search of tall tales (hahaha) to spice up their travelogues decided to plaigarise these stories and claim they were true?

          Person 2: Those two situations aren’t remotely comparable. For one thing, Gulliver’s Travels was obviously just a work of satire, and the Lilliputians are little to represent the pettiness of mankind. But pygmies are talked about in serious anthropological literature — heck, people have spent their entire professional lives researching them. Why would they bother doing that for something they just made up? Apart from the fact that pygmies and Lilliputians are both short, they have absolutely nothing in common.

          Person 1: Oh, yeah, silly me, comparing two stories of tiny people. Apples and oranges, isn’t it. Lilliput was a society of remarkably small people in a distant part of the earth, whilst pygmy societies are made up of remarkably small people in distant parts of the earth — totally different, I get that now.

          “Can you not imagine how oral history progresses? No one is lying at any part in the story, and yet the tale that comes out the other end, after 40 years, is vastly different. The changes are innocent.”

          Firstly, I note that you’re ignoring the epistles of St. Paul, which puts the end at closer to 20 years than 40. Secondly, the crucifixion was regarded as the central part of the Christian faith (see 1 Cor. 15.14, quoted above). Oral history might change a few details, even some quite major ones; but inventing a detail which is so important that if you disprove it, you essentially disprove Christianity? And then when this detail is spread around, nobody bothers to say “Hey, actually this didn’t happen”? And this detail gains such quick and general acceptance that absolutely no traces of earlier beliefs survive? Please. You can argue if you want that the first Christians were mistaken to think that Jesus rose from the dead; but arguing that they didn’t believe any such thing, and that the resurrection only got added on later, is completely incredible.

          “You found the relevant part in the post with the blue text no problem. Since the text written by Bob (as you noted) is hardly much of an authority, I thought that the blue text would point you to the source.”

          Given that the blue text isn’t any more of an authority, I’m forced to wonder whether you actually read it yourself.

          “So where are we on this question? Are you denying that virgin-birth stories were popular in that part of the world?”

          Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          No

          So I guess we’re on the same page then. Every author of a NT book heard about Jesus after hearing about other dying and rising gods.

          Person 1: Oh, come on, of course pygmies don’t exist. There were lots of pygmies in European literature of the period

          Europeans were quite familiar with short people within their own societies. “Pygmies exist” is hardly a supernatural claim.

          Contrast that with “Jesus was resurrected.”

          Firstly, I note that you’re ignoring the epistles of St. Paul, which puts the end at closer to 20 years than 40.

          Paul, 20 years after, is a bit supernatural. He’s got the big one–the resurrection of Jesus–but that’s it. Add 20-40 more years for the gospels, and the story is taller still–water into wine, walking on the water, raising Lazarus, healing at a distance, and so on.

          Oral history might change a few details, even some quite major ones; but inventing a detail which is so important that if you disprove it, you essentially disprove Christianity?

          And how do other religions form? I’m proposing nothing more for Christianity than what I imagine (you’ll correct me, I’m sure) you propose for all the miraculous claims in other religions.

          And then when this detail is spread around, nobody bothers to say “Hey, actually this didn’t happen”?

          Naysayer Hypothesis knocked down here.

          And this detail gains such quick and general acceptance that absolutely no traces of earlier beliefs survive? Please.

          You mean like the earlier attempts at Christianity that didn’t survive? The Ebionites, the Gnostics, the Marcionites? No, we do have clues to their existence. We can only wonder at other versions for which we simply have no evidence.

          You can argue if you want that the first Christians were mistaken to think that Jesus rose from the dead; but arguing that they didn’t believe any such thing, and that the resurrection only got added on later, is completely incredible.

          They weren’t Christian! They were Jews. Jesus was a charismatic leader who preached a reboot of Judaism. That’s enough to start a movement. Why is it hard to imagine a resurrection getting added on when that movement is translated to a foreign (Greek) culture?

          Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.

          I’d spend an hour digging up sources to satisfy you, but why bother? You’ll just find more busy work to throw my way.

        • Mr. X

          “So I guess we’re on the same page then. Every author of a NT book heard about Jesus after hearing about other dying and rising gods.”

          And for some reason decided to take this obscure detail from pagan mythology and make it the centrepiece of their own religion.

          “Paul, 20 years after, is a bit supernatural. He’s got the big one–the resurrection of Jesus–but that’s it. Add 20-40 more years for the gospels, and the story is taller still–water into wine, walking on the water, raising Lazarus, healing at a distance, and so on.”

          Well, Paul isn’t writing a biography of Jesus, so it’s not surprising that his writings contain fewer details of Jesus’ life. Anyway, though, you don’t deal with the major problem with your hypothesis, which is that twenty years is an implausibly short amount of time for such a major change to take place.

          “And how do other religions form? I’m proposing nothing more for Christianity than what I imagine (you’ll correct me, I’m sure) you propose for all the miraculous claims in other religions.”

          I don’t think that most religions are so dependent for their truth on one miracle as Christianity is on the resurrection. Maybe Mormonism with its golden plates, although I’m pretty certain that that was there from the beginning, and wasn’t just added on as the story was spread.

          “Naysayer Hypothesis knocked down here.”

          The New Testament makes fairly frequent mentions of combatting heresy, so we know that the early Church was concerned to stop false teaching.

          Claiming that the entire Christian faith hangs on Jesus being resurrected when Jesus was not in fact resurrected would be a pretty major false teaching.

          The early Church did not, as far as we know, do anything to stop this teaching from spreading.

          Therefore, the early Church did not believe that this teaching was false.

          “You mean like the earlier attempts at Christianity that didn’t survive? The Ebionites, the Gnostics, the Marcionites? No, we do have clues to their existence. We can only wonder at other versions for which we simply have no evidence.”

          Much of which we know about those sects (which, btw, neither denied the resurrection, nor were earlier than orthodox Christianity) comes from orthodox Christian writings against them. Do you think it plausible that the early Christians would have written and preserved counter-arguments to these heresies, but not your hypothetical other, far more damaging, heresy?

          “They weren’t Christian! They were Jews.”

          “The Jews who would go on the become the first Christians”, then. It doesn’t make any difference to my argument.

          “Why is it hard to imagine a resurrection getting added on when that movement is translated to a foreign (Greek) culture?”

          Because the Resurrection is the central event of Christianity! A Christianity without the resurrection wouldn’t really be Christianity at all. Adding it to your religion would change it to a completely different religion. It’s not the sort of thing you’d just decide to include because you think it sounds nice; even if you did, it’s not the sort of thing you’d be able to get immediately and universally accepted by all your co-believers.

          “I’d spend an hour digging up sources to satisfy you, but why bother?”

          To vindicate your credibility. At the moment, it’s looking suspiciously like you’ve swallowed this “Alexander and the Ptolemies were vigin born” idea without any proper evidence because it seemed to confirm your pre-conceived ideas, that you’ve now got called out on it, and are desperately trying to wriggle out of admitting this.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          And for some reason decided to take this obscure detail from pagan mythology and make it the centrepiece of their own religion.

          I think this “obscure detail” was rather essential to the believers in Osiris, Baal, Dionysus, and others.

          you don’t deal with the major problem with your hypothesis, which is that twenty years is an implausibly short amount of time for such a major change to take place.

          You seem to know more about oral transmission than I do. Tell me more. Why is 20 years too short when the game of telephone can produce a garbled sentence in 2 minutes?

          The New Testament makes fairly frequent mentions of combatting heresy, so we know that the early Church was concerned to stop false teaching.

          Irrelevant. I’m talking about the difficulty in practice of imagining a tiny group of people who know the truth stamping out an attractive meme.

          The early Church did not, as far as we know, do anything to stop this teaching from spreading.

          Therefore, the early Church did not believe that this teaching was false.

          Of course not. Naysayers wouldn’t be part of the early church. And suppose there were a handful of naysayers, spending their lives (why??) trying to stop the spread of this religion. What evidence should we expect to have today of their work?

          Much of which we know about those sects (which, btw, neither denied the resurrection, nor were earlier than orthodox Christianity) comes from orthodox Christian writings against them.

          I was responding to your comment, “And this detail gains such quick and general acceptance that absolutely no traces of earlier beliefs survive? Please.” I guess you’re abandoning that argument since you refer to Christian writings about them?

          Do you think it plausible that the early Christians would have written and preserved counter-arguments to these heresies, but not your hypothetical other, far more damaging, heresy?

          Not following. What is this other heresy?

          Because the Resurrection is the central event of Christianity!

          Right. And the earliest flickers of what would become Christianity wasn’t Christianity.

          At the moment, it’s looking suspiciously like you’ve swallowed this “Alexander and the Ptolemies were vigin born” idea without any proper evidence because it seemed to confirm your pre-conceived ideas, that you’ve now got called out on it, and are desperately trying to wriggle out of admitting this.

          If I show you credible evidence (from whatever category of source you choose), what’s in it for me? You’ll say, “Yeah, whatever” and then whine about something else.

          Make it worth my while and I’ll think about it.

        • Mr. X

          Bob:

          “If I show you credible evidence (from whatever category of source you choose), what’s in it for me? You’ll say, “Yeah, whatever” and then whine about something else.

          Make it worth my while and I’ll think about it.”

          Oh, I love this. So now I’m expected to beg you to even think about presenting evidence to back up your own arguments? Astonishing.

          I was going to ask whether you can name any mainstream scholars who maintain that the early Church didn’t believe in the Resurrection, but given your quoted statement above, I suspect you’ll just start trying to wriggle out of doing that, too.

          Still, this exchange has achieved one thing: any genuinely curious person who reads it will see how you make statements without being able to back them up, and will perhaps be less susceptible to being taken in by you in future.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          So now I’m expected to beg you to even think about presenting evidence to back up your own arguments? Astonishing.

          You don’t think that there is evidence of virgin birth stories within the ANE culture of the first century. Noted. I’m sure my effort in convincing you would not be repaid.

          Still, this exchange has achieved one thing: any genuinely curious person who reads it will see how you make statements without being able to back them up, and will perhaps be less susceptible to being taken in by you in future.

          Yep, you got me. It’s all lies. No scholarly backup at all. Your Christian beliefs are safe from criticism yet again.

        • Mr. X

          “You don’t think that there is evidence of virgin birth stories within the ANE culture of the first century. Noted. I’m sure my effort in convincing you would not be repaid.”

          Maybe I’m supposed to just have faith in your pronouncements…

          “Yep, you got me. It’s all lies. No scholarly backup at all. Your Christian beliefs are safe from criticism yet again.”

          I love the way this is meant to be sarcastic, and yet perfectly captures the arguments you actually made.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          X:

          I love the way this is meant to be sarcastic, and yet perfectly captures the arguments you actually made.

          And I find it interesting that you didn’t correct me.

  • John Kesler

    Price’s principle is effective to an extent, but what if you are a resident of a remote island and a Westerner describes a cell phone to you? Should you relegate such a tale to the “bin” of legend? Actually, I think that the answer is yes. This is Aristotle’s principle of endoxa–what are regarded as ordinary, commonly-believed claims are given presumptive weight, and what flies in the face of an ordinary belief is presumed unlikely, yet neither presumption for nor against a claim based on conventional belief can ever count as more than provisional (i.e. open to future refutation or disproof). The conventional wisdom before Copernicus was that the earth was stationary. The extraordinary Copernican claim therefore required a great deal of compelling evidence to supplant the millenia-old belief in the earth’s stability, and rightly so. This approach might seem to commit the logical fallacy of appeal to belief, but that would only be the case if the presumption were taken as definitive–not open to reasonable challenge. The minute reasonable challenge is offered or advanced, the proponents on endoxa must offer evidence (burden of proof shifts).

    Christian apologists are fond of using examples like my cell-phone scenario, and then proclaiming that just as the islander is wrong to discount the possibility of a cell phone just because he hasn’t personally come in contact with one, so, too, is the modern skeptic wrong to dismiss miracle claims from the Bible. The difference, however, is that if we adopt the principle of endoxa, we acknowledge that we are open to abandoning that which is known to us to be possible if sufficient evidence is presented. We can show cell phones to islanders, and thus shift the burden of proof to the islander to discount our evidence. The same cannot be said for miracles.

    • Kodie

      If I tried to explain our flying cars to you on your remote island, you might not believe me. You would say that is kind of bullshit, eh. And you know when I say flying cars because you’re not on a remote island (or how you describe people who are primitive and haven’t been reached by modern technology?), you know I’m making that up as well. Like in a book, where you suspend disbelief and supposed flying cars exist because the author describes characters using them as a matter of course to get around, and even if someone has invented an airplane, it’s still not the same, nor even a hover-car that might be a prototype, but obviously not on the market.

      Speaking of which, I was just hearing about these driver-less cars like this is some future thing. It’s actually legal in a few states to “operate” a driver-less car. So part of me is all WTF and the other part of me believes it because I saw it on a reputable news report on tv and also on the internet. I could be mistaken, but I think this is where it’s probably better some people draw the line. Just like a few years ago, someone said a phone is a phone and a camera is a camera and never the twain shall be in the same gadget, has finally complied with the present (of a couple years ago). The problem is I haven’t met very many adults who prefer to be the passenger, so being chauffeured around by nobody but your own car means hey, drunk all the time and texting and drunk-texting I guess. When I’m explaining this to you, you know these things are true or not true, modern, currently invented technology and possibly available in some markets. When you just try to explain these things to some older people, they resist, and if you explain it to some younger people, they don’t know how to fold a map (nobody does) but they wouldn’t cope without GPS like I still have to. You want to tell some primitive person who doesn’t know we’ve been to space that something in space tells me where I’m going and how I even got to this island to meet them?

      But you can show them. You can show them everything but the flying car because that’s still not real. If you heave all the smartphones and GPS and driver-less cars at them at once, they might be prone to believe you left your flying car at home.

  • Greg G

    Actually, if you’re on a remote island with no cell phones, there probably won’t be cell towers so it might be difficult to show them that they work.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      OK–sat phones then. Like Iridium.

  • Greg G

    Yes, that was my reference for abrogation.

    AIUI, abrogation is an old apologetic technique. Can’t they abrogate the Principle of Abrogation by saying that the earlier verses qre the over-riding principle and the later contradictions were temporary ad hoc instructions?

  • John Kesler

    Bob Seidensticker, I thought you’d be interested in the take of your “friend” J.P. Holding of Tekton Ministry/Tekton TV:

    http://tektonticker.blogspot.com/2012/11/book-snap-robert-prices-inerrant-wind.html
    [Price's] defense of the principle of analogy for historical criticism remains as uninspired as ever, as he asks, “Why is it that any television viewer tuning, halfway through, to a program depicting Godzilla crushing Tokyo, knows instantly that he has found a science fiction movie?” [45] Perhaps Price thinks it is because life’s “experience” tells the viewer that monsters don’t exist and do these things, and that may be the extent of his own analysis, but a far better source of realization would be genre markers such as cheesy music and sound effects and a very bad Godzilla costume. The “principle of analogy” is nothing more than Hume redressed after being denuded by ice cubes thrown by the tropical prince.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      JK:

      Thanks for the link.

      Perhaps Price thinks it is because life’s “experience” tells the viewer that monsters don’t exist and do these things, and that may be the extent of his own analysis, but a far better source of realization would be genre markers such as cheesy music and sound effects and a very bad Godzilla costume.

      And what does he propose that we do with our experience? Just ignore it?

      Price’s Principle of Analogy looks pretty strong from my standpoint.

  • chicago dyke

    what a nice blog this is! sorry i missed the “what would convert you, atheist?” thread. that looks fun and engaging as a topic that got a lot of responses.

    i read Hemant at friendly atheist daily, but i’ll add this place to my blogroll. yall are so erudite! very nice.

    i’m an old fashioned militant atheist. i tend to keep my answers short and simple, when talking to believers. it helps them understand, as many of them are intellectually challenged and/or emotionally unbalanced. and of course, trained since birth not to hear anything but what they’re told to believe.

    i’ve always really liked the “everybody’s an atheist, except for the god(s) of your choice” quip. it gets right to the point.

    i have an advanced degree in the history of religions, and more than anything else, that’s what cemented my atheism. almost all major or long lasting religions eventually contradict not only fact and reality, but their own histories and creeds of ages past. the number of religions that have been essentially used by greedy hypocrites to accomplish their political ends didn’t help me have faith either.

    thank you for your interesting writing Bob. I’ll be back!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      CD:

      Welcome. Thanks for your comments.

      i have an advanced degree in the history of religions, and more than anything else, that’s what cemented my atheism.

      They say that to make someone an atheist, you encourage them to read the Bible.

      almost all major or long lasting religions eventually contradict not only fact and reality, but their own histories and creeds of ages past.

      Y’know, you’d think that having contradictions would be a death knell. But consider how it’s worked in Christianity’s favor. Environments change, both for organisms and for religions. And both evolve. When slavery is cool, the Bible supports that. When slavery’s not cool, the Bible supports that as well. There are so many doors that (if you’re good at ignoring the stuff that discounts your view), you can make the sock puppet say just about whatever you want.

      thank you for your interesting writing Bob.

      Thanks!

  • avalon

    Another way to look at these claims is to try and examine natural events thru the eyes of people thousands of years ago.
    When I watched the video of the meteor hitting Russia I wondered what ancient people would have dreamed up to explain such sights.
    http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/15/16969092-nuclear-like-in-its-intensity-russian-meteor-blast-is-the-largest-since-1908?lite

    avalon

  • John Kesler

    Bob Seidensticker, regarding miraculous births you may be interested in the following from Philo:
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book5.html
    XIII. (43) But we must begin our explanation of these mysteries in this way. A husband unites with his wife, and the male human being with the female human being in a union which tends to the generation of children, in strict accordance with and obedience to nature. But it is not lawful for virtues, which are the parents of many perfect things, to associate with a mortal husband. But they, without having received the power of generation from any other being, will never be able by themselves alone to conceive any thing. (44) Who, then, is it who sows good seed in them, except the Father of the universe, the uncreated God, he who is the parent of all things? This, therefore, is the being who sows, and presently he bestows his own offspring, which he himself did sow; for God creates nothing for himself, inasmuch as he is in need of nothing, but he creates every thing for him who is able to take it. (45) And I will bring forward as a competent witness in proof of what I have said, the most holy Moses.{14}{#ge 21:1.} For he introduces Sarah as conceiving a son when God beheld her by himself; but he represents her as bringing forth her son, not to him who beheld her then, but to him who was eager to attain to wisdom, and his name is called Abraham. (46) And he teaches the same lesson more plainly in the case of Leah, where he says that “God opened her Womb.”{15}{#ge 29:13.} But to open the womb is the especial business of the husband. And she having conceived, brought forth, not to God, for he alone is sufficient and all-abundant for himself, but to him who underwent labour for the sake of that which is good, namely, for Jacob; so that in this instance virtue received the divine seed from the great Cause of all things, but brought forth her offspring to one of her lovers, who deserved to be preferred to all her other Suitors.{16}{#ge 25:21.}

    (47) Again, when the all-wise Isaac addressed his supplications to God, Rebecca, who is perseverance, became pregnant by the agency of him who received the supplication; but Moses, who received Zipporah, {17}{#ex 2:21.} that is to say, winged and sublime virtue, without any supplication or entreaty on his part, found that she conceived by no mortal man.

  • John Kesler

    Bob and “Mr. X,”
    In addition to my quote from Philo above, which shows a Hellenized Jew ascribing divine paternity to the offspring of various O.T. women, which could have been an influence on Matthew and Luke, the following from Bruce Malina’s page at “The Virtual World Project” at Creighton University shows what the impetus was for ascribing divine paternity to Jesus. After listing many people in antiquity said to have a mortal woman and a god for parents, the text says this:

    “First, the Gospel of Mark, which most scholars think was earlier than Matthew and Luke, lacks a birth narrative. It begins with John the Baptist and with Jesus as an adult. Second, some Christians believed that their relation with God de-pended on their taking the initiative and performing acceptably so that God would respond approvingly (e.g., Galatians 2:15–16; 3:1-5). The late second-century Church Father Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26, speaks of one Cerinthus (late first century) who believed Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the son of Joseph and Mary according to the usual manner of begetting. Because he was more righteous, more prudent, and wiser [86] than other humans, after his baptism the Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove. Then he preached the unknown Father and performed miracles. The Gospel of Mark, without a miraculous birth narrative, was susceptible to such an interpretation of a meritorious Jesus who is rewarded by God. If Jesus is the model for Christians, then they too must be meritorious. Ever since Paul, at least, this was not what mainstream Christians believed. The relation with God was based on God’s gracious initiative to which humans responded in trust and obedience (i.e., faith). When Matthew and Luke added birth narratives with a miraculous conception as part of their rewriting of Mark, they were saying that this type of life can be produced only by God’s prior gracious, creative act. If it is so for Jesus, then it is likewise true for his followers. The tradition of miraculous conceptions and births is thereby refined in its Christian-Jewish context. The Greco-Roman conviction that a human’s superiority can be explained only by a divine creative act is used to establish the prevenience of divine grace in the divine-human relation. This is what an ancient auditor would have heard.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      interesting, thanks.

  • John Kesler
  • John Kesler

    http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_z4.html
    Like all ancient kings, Alexander claimed that the gods were his ancestors. Already in the fifth century, the Macedonian kings said that they descended from Perdiccas, who descended from Temenos, a king of Argos; and he was great-grandchild of Hyllus, the son of Heracles. The oldest source for this family tree can be found in book eight of the Histories of the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus (text). It seems that this Heraclid (and thus: Greek) descent was first claimed by king Alexander I (497/496-c.454) and accepted at the Olympic games (496?), after which it was never seriously doubted again. According to the old legends, Heracles was a son of the supreme Zeus and a woman named Alcmene, who was a great-granddaughter of Perseus, incidentally a son of Zeus. Because of the similarity in name, the Persians were supposed to descent from Perseus too; again, we have the testimony of Herodotus that the Persians could be called ‘sons of Perseus’ in the fifth century (7.220).

    The old legend also maintained that Heracles’ wife Deianeira was a daughter of the god Dionysus. Stated differently, from the fifth century on, any Macedonian king could call himself son of Heracles, Perseus, Dionysus or Zeus. Alexander’s mother Olympias was a member of the royal house of Epirus, which claimed Andromache and Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, as ancestors. The first to write that Neoptolemus was married to Andromache, was the Athenian playwright Euripides (Trojan women); that Neoptolemus settled in Epirus was a well-known legendary fact that could already be found in the epic poem known as Nostoi (‘returns’).

    Alexander could -according to the legends: rightfully- claim Achilles as his ancestor; no one would object to it. In fact, out sources do not mention any objection. It was only when Alexander changed his ancestry, claiming that Olympias had had intercourse with Zeus (or Ammon), that people started to make remarks.

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