A Convincing Holy Book? Not Possible.

Here’s a thought experiment. Say you’re a strong Christian. You’re comfortable arguing for your position. You don’t think much of the atheist arguments that you’ve seen so far, and you’ve seen quite a few.

Now you come across a holy book from some other religion. It’s an English translation from an original written in a long-dead language from a foreign culture.

What could the book possibly say that would convince you that its miracle claims are correct? That it—and not your own Christianity—is correct? It’s just words on paper. What possible combination would be compelling?

We’ll make the case for the ancient religion as strong as possible

  • Oral history. The earliest New Testament books were some of Paul’s epistles, written more than two decades after the life of Jesus. The gospel of John was written roughly six decades after, and Revelation possibly later still. The books of our imaginary religion were written roughly contemporaneously so that the period of oral history is almost nonexistent.
  • Translation. The Christian story came from Jewish culture and the Aramaic language, but the original New Testament documents came from a very different culture (Greek) and language (Greek). Our imaginary religion will not have this extra level of translation.
  • Copies far removed from originals. Our oldest copies of the books of the New Testament were written centuries after the originals. We’ll make ours just decades after. No—what the heck—let’s make them the originals themselves, 100% complete.
  • Eyewitness testimony? Some of the noncanonical gospels claimed to have been written by eyewitnesses. For example, the Gospel of Peter says, “But I Simon Peter and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea.” The Infancy Gospel of Thomas begins, “I Thomas, an Israelite, write you this account.” Historians doubt that they are actual eyewitness accounts, but at least they claimed that they were. The four canonical gospels make no such claim, but the books in our imaginary religion will.
  • Contradictions. The four gospels tell an inconsistent story. Was Jesus on earth 40 days after the resurrection (Acts) or one day (Luke)? Was there an earthquake followed by the dead rising from their graves? Only Matthew makes this claim. How many women were there? In what ways did Peter deny Jesus three times? And so on. The typical apologist’s response is to harmonize any differing accounts into a clumsy whole, but our imaginary religion will have multiple accounts with no contradictions.

In short, any positive feature of the evidence for the Jesus story will be matched or exceeded by our imaginary religion.

How are we doing so far, my Christian friend? Do you have any remaining objections where you see better evidence in favor of the gospel claims? Apply those features to the imaginary religion. How many independent accounts of the miraculous events do you want? Add that to the list. Does an ancient book sound more in touch with cosmic truth, or would you prefer a more recent and verifiable book? Would you prefer the documents to be written in an ancient language or modern English? A living language or a dead one? Do incidental elements in the story make it sound more authentic? Add it to the list. The only rule is that the evidence itself must be natural, as we have with Christianity. No microfiche or levitating tablets or anything else outside of the technology of the time. No modern English written on a papyrus dating to 2000 years ago.

Given all this, would you become a believer? After a few days kicking the tires to verify that scholars indeed did agree to these claims, would you switch your allegiance?

If you say that you might, but it would take a lot more than a few days to make the transition, then evidence can’t be particularly important to you. If you say that your belief is based primarily on something besides objective evidence—personal witness or experience, perhaps—then don’t imagine that your claims of evidence will be convincing to anyone else. If they don’t underlie your belief, why should they support mine?

Instead, make clear that you believe because of this personal experience and not from evidence. Don’t raise evidence-based arguments if you believe in spite of the evidence.

The invisible and the non-existent
look very much alike.
— Delos McKown

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    Interestingly, Bob, many of the standards you set forth for your imaginary religion’s holy book are met already by the Book of Mormon, which most fundamentalist Christians consider to be the product of Satan’s own amanuensis.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Doesn’t the Book of Kush do well on this criteria as well?

      • RichardSRussell

        Any of your readers with 5 minutes to spare can judge for themselves.

        Yes, one of the great advantages that The Sacred Book of Kush has over other holy texts is, as its preface notes, “a merciful brevity”.

        • MNb

          I convert. I’m terribly scared of itching.

        • RichardSRussell

          One of the consequences of Pascal’s Wager (for those who are inclined to be seduced by its simple-minded analysis) is that you lose bigger if you disbelieve in a fierce god than a relatively benign one. And Kush is kind of a teddy bear among the vengeful gods, threatening only itching.

          Yahweh, OTOH, is the biggest, baddest, meanest, cruelest mother-fucker in the valley, and he will fuck you up real good for doubting his existence, which (Darwin would agree) helps explain why he’s out-intimidated his nicer competition.

        • Alex Harman

          I don’t know about that; his alter-ego Allah is just as mean on the punitive side, and offers a more appealing heaven on the reward side. If I bought Pascal’s Wager I’d become a Muslim, not a Christian.

        • RichardSRussell

          It is true that Kush only speaks of punishment, not of reward. It’s one of his failings. But, as a humble god, he’s willing to admit that it is a failing. This probably further discredits him in the eyes of those who crave perfection and certainty from their preferred deities.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m sure Hera could tell you about Zeus’s failings all day long.

        • Itarion

          I don’t convert. I know some very good masseuses who can reach that spot for me. [I don’t respond well to threats.]

          Well done, sir, you have my compliments.

    • UWIR

      What standards do you think the Book of Mormon fulfill?

      • RichardSRussell

        The 5 Bob listed above, as further explicated in my response to Greg G. below.

        • UWIR

          Smith claimed to have personally witnessed the angel giving the tablets, but he did not claim to have personally witnessed the events themselves that the tablets describe. I guess you could argue that the Book of Mormon claims to have come from an angel, and the angel presumably witnessed the events, but that’s a stretch.

        • RichardSRussell

          You understand that I think the Book of Mormon is just as big a crock of shit as all the rest of them, but ole Joe had clearly learned something about how to string together a good story after 1800 years of bad examples.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “I got this directly from an angel, and angels report events perfectly” is a stronger claim than the 40+ years of oral history from event to gospel.

        • UWIR

          There are likely people who find “There were actual human beings who claimed to have witnessed this, and their stories were written down by people who heard them” to be more convincing than “Someone claimed to have talked to an angel”. Stronger claims are often less convincing; which is more convincing, “I talked to a witness who saw the shooting” or “I talked to an invisible unicorn who saw the shooting”?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Which is more convincing: “I spoke to someone who said he saw a miracle 40 years ago” or “I spoke to an angel yesterday who told me about all the miracles”?

          Both have miracles, but the second one has a more reliable connection to the truth.

    • wtfwjtd

      ….Unless, of course, a Mormon is running for president, and has an “R” behind his name, and then the fundies have a sudden case of amnesia about that whole product of Satan thing…

  • Jason

    But what’s the content of this hypothetical book? Does it matter?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s some sort of complete religious tract–the definition of the supernatural, how you must live to be in harmony with the being(s) in the supernatural, and so on. In short, something that can’t reside alongside Christianity.

      • JohnH2

        Can the Book of Mormon reside alongside Christianity? I don’t want to comment on what Christianity can or can not reside with without knowing whether I should consider myself a Christian for this purpose.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Isn’t the conventional Christian view incompatible with the Mormon one? Can they both be accurate?

          Seems to me that the Trinity alone won’t fit alongside Mormonism.

        • JohnH2

          ” Can they both be accurate?”

          Not so much.

        • Itarion

          But can they both be inaccurate? I’d say yes.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If they can’t both be accurate, then what was your hesitation before about? That’s what I was replying to.

      • Itarion

        You should go with “your current religion” rather than “Christianity”. Yeah, Christianity is the subject of this blog [“Cross Examined”, I do like the wordplay], but this event could, theoretically, happen to a member of any and every religion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, good correction.

  • Y. A. Warren

    How about we compare what is accepted as “Sacred Scripture” to the many millions of words that have been written about living in a manner that honors all on earth? Surely “God” didn’t become mute when Jesus “rose from the dead.”

    • smrnda

      If we take all writings on ethics, of either a supernatural origin or not, they’re fairly close together on a lot of points.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I very much agree with this. This is what I believe we need to heal the spirit of humanity, to look for translations of the languages that we all use to describe our value systems. Instead, we tend to compete to “prove” each other wrong, simply because we don’t want to take the time to fully listen until we comprehend.

  • arkenaten

    I could imagine the answer would be similar to how William Lane Craig apparently replied when asked what would happen if he were shown irrefutable evidence that god did not exist?
    Craig replied, (more or less) that he would pray to god for guidance.

    You know then, that it’s time to call the guys in white coats, pack up and go home.

    I have a blogpal in Brazil, John Zande, who is currently liaising with numerous Rabbis and Israeli/Jewish archaeologists trying to get as much info/perspective regarding the Moses/Exodus angle vis a vis Finkelstein Herzog & Devers, Wolpe etc
    He will soon be doing a blog series.

    Anyway, one ultra orthodox Rabbi wrote back to John and told him that God had commissioned one special tribe to remove all traces of the Exodus from their passage through the Sinai.
    And people truly believe this!
    Tell me, Bob, where does one go when dealing with this level of insanity?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      And, with yesterday being election day, I’m reminded that these people get the same number of votes that we do.

  • ElderMusician

    I’m reminded of the adage that if people didn’t choose their religion (or to be religious, for that matter) by logic, then they won’t be dissuaded by logic either. g

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      And seen from the other side, that which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

      • JohnH2

        That would seem to be a reason to present some evidence to me; Ones personal experiences isn’t very much evidence at all to anyone but that person (even if one accepts that the other has had experiences), so it seems that to be not dismissed without evidence that other evidences are important to have. Not to cause belief but to make one harder to dismiss so that perhaps belief can form.

        • Itarion

          Here’s some evidence: Our current understanding of scientific laws precludes the supernatural from interacting with humans in any meaningful way. See this video.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ypyVjSaj4w
          It was in the comments in a previous Cross Examined post, and I rather liked it.

        • JohnH2

          And the stars in the galaxies all fly apart and the expansion of the universe isn’t accelerating which, as we currently understand it, would break the second laws of thermodynamics. He says one thing and then at the very end of that clip tries to hide an elephant, actually entire herds of elephants.

        • Itarion

          I will freely and gladly admit that we don’t know everything that there is to know about the universe. My point in sharing this video, and what Dr. Carroll’s point in producing this video, is to show that anything that could potentially fill the role of god could only have an infinitesimal effect upon an individual. There is no known force by which a god [though he says the more general “supernatural”] could influence you or anyone else, and no possible undiscovered way, and so worship of such an entity is meaningless and pointless.

          The universe’s expansion is due to effects that human scientists cannot currently explain. However, we can conclude that there is not a god within five percent of the universe [that being normal, atomic matter], which is a statistically significant portion, so it is reasonable to extrapolate that there is not a god in the remainder.

          The fact that “normal” matter isn’t strong enough to hold together the galaxies, or that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate doesn’t mean that there aren’t natural explanations for these phenomena.

          Actually, expansion of space gives more space for “stuff” to move around in, so expansion of the universe actually increases, rather than decreases, entropy. For example, a mole of gas in a 1 liter container is less entropic than a mole of gas in a 10 liter container, which is why gases expand into larger spaces.

          He’s not dealing with this purported herd of elephants because dealing with such is not necessary to disprove the everyday supernatural, including, but not limited to, telekinesis, prophecy, psychic powers, ghosts, an afterlife, angels, devils, demons, crystal energy, homeopathy, ESP, and gods.

        • JohnH2

          There is no known force by which a god [though he says the more general “supernatural”] could influence you or anyone else

          I would have thought that the electromagnetic force would be quite sufficient for a god to influence a person.

          “no possible undiscovered way”

          Because we can accurately predict when each particle will decay?

          You do realize that I believe in a God that exists in nature, right?

          “prophecy”

          Actually this one is sort of false. If the world is fully explained completely by the laws of physics like he holds and nothing else can possibly effect us then by knowing precisely those laws of physics, some initial state of local space, and the orbit of Saturn, or the entrails of animals, (or whatever else) then one should be able to accurately make prophecies (of say, the weather for the next seven days (or anything else)). Computing power to do so might be a problem, but a species that had the ability to make semi-accurate prophecies in such a way in their head would probably have an evolutionary advantage over one that couldn’t.

          Also, certain psychic powers are not necessarily ruled out for somewhat related reasons. Not that there is any evidence in favor of them but to say they are ruled out via basic physics is to go too far.

        • Itarion

          I would have thought that the electromagnetic force would be quite sufficient for a god to influence a person.

          Really? I would have thought any electromagnetic message a god sends would be drowned out by the sun, or else cause irritation. What is the mechanism by which a god uses electromagnetism to influence your behavior?

          “no possible undiscovered way”

          More precisely, no possible undiscovered force by which a god may influence the world. There are the four fundamental forces, namely gravitation, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear. Two of those fall off too quickly to effect anything outside of atoms. Electromagnetic, as light, can effect unidirectionally [each photon travels in on direction at a time], or as charge [magnetic or electric] in all directions, falling off within a few hundred meters of the source particle. Gravitation is the only long range force that affects “normal” matter.

          Because we can accurately predict when each particle will decay?

          Each specific particle? No. Because particle decay is probabilistic. [edit: formerly “statistic” until I got called on poor grammar and word choice.] Chance based. For a sufficiently large quantity, it is possible to predict, with reasonable accuracy, the ratios of decayed to undecayed particles at a given time.

          You do realize that I believe in a God that exists in nature, right? Yep. Which means that he would be bound by physical laws, and therefor measurable. He has not been measured, and so I find him wanting.

          Prophetics versus prediction. Using animal entrails and nothing else to predict when solar eclipses will happen is prophetics, and it is bullshit. Using variations in the Moon’s orbit to predict when the Moon’s shadow will next fall on a specific location on the Earth’s surface is prediction. The difference is the relation between the prediction sources, and what is being predicted.

          I would hardly call the Standard Model “basic physics”. That is advanced particle physics.

        • JohnH2

          “statistic”

          I think you should ask yourself what this word actually means in the real world.

          “Using animal entrails”

          In theory with sufficiently accurate model of the laws of physics and sufficiently accurate measurements of the particles of the entrails and sufficient computing power, if one discounts inherent randomness (statistic), then one should be able to accurately predict when solar eclipses (and everything else in the universe) will happen based solely on the entrails. In practice this is obviously improbable on every single level listed.

          “by the sun”
          D&C 88:7 (6-13)

        • Itarion

          I think you should ask yourself what this word actually means in the real world.

          Oh, forgive me Lord, for failing to come up with a word that completely and accurately conveys the meaning I desired. Look, either you knew what I meant, or there was a politer way to say, “You dun jaked up.”

          In theory with sufficiently accurate model of the laws of physics and sufficiently accurate measurements of the particles of the entrails and sufficient computing power, if one discounts inherent randomness (statistic), then one should be able to accurately predict when solar eclipses (and everything else in the universe) will happen based solely on the entrails. In practice this is obviously improbable on every single level listed.

          In theory, no. You’re grasping at straws that don’t exist. The effect of solar and lunar gravitation on the position, coloration, and particular orientation of a sack of intestines is negligible compared to a slew of other things, and the effect of those intestines on the sun is actually nil, since the change in the sun’s position, as far as a human could move them would be less than the Planck length. The best way to accurately predict the positions of objects in a system is to analyze the motions of the parts in the system. The parts of the system involved in a eclipses are Luna, Terra, and Sol, and those entrails are orders of orders of magnitude too small to do a damned thing.

          7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

          Well, then. All praise be to Helios, Apollo, Aten-Ra, Shapash, Horus, Aryaman, Inti, Ao, Dagr, Beiwe, and Hors. Other sun gods aside, since everyone is affected by the same sunlight daily, shouldn’t everyone then have the same set of beliefs about what is right or wrong in the world? And, since God is broadcasting from the sun, shouldn’t there be a discernible and computable signal which we can find and which has not, to date, been mentioned in any respectable journal? After all, a message from the sun would be very interesting, and patterned fluctuations reminiscent of a language in the radiation we receive would be a fascinating thing to study.

        • JohnH2

          Statistics covers randomness, if the randomness is nor reducible but is inherent then there is a philosophical problem for your view of the world, if you take the time to notice it. I recently had to sit through a lecture by a top researcher in my field as he attempted to rescue your position but in doing so had to go against both all observation and current theory.

          “Other sun gods aside”

          Actually God wouldn’t be a sun god, not from those verses and especially not when considering the Book of Abraham. He lives in Kolob which is likely Sirius based on the worldview in the Book of Abraham (though the point isn’t that God actually lives at Sirius).

          ” shouldn’t everyone then have the same set of beliefs about what is right or wrong in the world?”

          I believe I recently covered this, to an extent yes.

          “shouldn’t there be a discernible and computable signal which we can find and which has not, to date, been mentioned in any respectable journal?”

          Interesting theory; I don’t know if there should be or not.

        • Itarion

          Statistics covers randomness, if the randomness is nor reducible but is inherent then there is a philosophical problem for your view of the world, if you take the time to notice it. I recently had to sit through a lecture by a top researcher in my field as he attempted to rescue your position but in doing so had to go against both all observation and current theory.

          I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: philosophy that doesn’t draw on the real world and doesn’t apply to the real world isn’t worth bothering about. Do you have a recording of said lecture? What is “my position”, how did he defend it, and what observation/current theory did he violate?

          “Other sun gods aside”

          Actually God wouldn’t be a sun god, not from those verses and especially not when considering the Book of Abraham. He lives in Kolob which is likely Sirius based on the worldview in the Book of Abraham (though the point isn’t that God actually lives at Sirius).

          So the sun is just a radio antenna beaming undetectable messages into our subconscious. Bull. What ever happened to the omnipresence thing? I LIKED the omnipresence thing. It’s so much easier to play with, and generate a hypothetical entity with actual deistic qualities. A humanoid god is just a sufficiently advanced human. “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C Clarke.

          ” shouldn’t everyone then have the same set of beliefs about what is right or wrong in the world?”

          I believe I recently covered this, to an extent yes.

          To what extent, and why don’t we?

          “shouldn’t there be a discernible and computable signal which we can find and which has not, to date, been mentioned in any respectable journal?”

          Interesting theory; I don’t know if there should be or not.

          It’s not a theory, it’s a postulation. Theory have mounds of evidence that agrees with them, and negligible [read: none] evidence which refutes them. This is a logical argument, following from the premises:
          A) There is a god.

          B) He communicates to us through the sun.
          If A and B are true, then we should be able to detect his signals scientifically. Therefore, A and/or B is false. According to your Mormon faith, both A and B are true. A, or B, or both are false, therefore your faith is false.

        • JohnH2

          “B) He communicates to us through the sun.”

          Not sure that is exactly what the verse is trying to say. Also, just because we have not as yet detected such a signal doesn’t mean the signal doesn’t exist any more then the lack of extra-solar planets prior to the 90’s meant they didn’t exist, or that the lack of evidence of extra-earth life means that it doesn’t exist. B is a theory based on the scripture.

          “What ever happened to the omnipresence thing?”

          The Spirit of God is omnipresent and “fills the immensity of space”, but Christ and the Father are “sufficiently advanced humans”.

          “Do you have a recording of said lecture?”
          No, there is one on YouTube which is very similar but he doesn’t end up getting into his idea of making Quantum Mechanics completely deterministic and his other points, J.T. Oden from U.T Austen is the researcher in question.

        • Itarion

          Not sure that is exactly what the verse is trying to say.

          Yeah, me neither. We should discard it.

          Also, just because we have not as yet detected such a signal doesn’t mean the signal doesn’t exist any more then the lack of extra-solar planets prior to the 90’s meant they didn’t exist, or that the lack of evidence of extra-earth life means that it doesn’t exist.

          We didn’t have the capability to detect those planets prior to the ’90’s. Are you saying that we don’t have the technology to detect and analyze radio signals? Because AM and FM would like to disagree.

          The Spirit of God is omnipresent and “fills the immensity of space”, but Christ and the Father are “sufficiently advanced humans”.

          Ah, yes, the whole Trinity bit. And you aren’t a polytheist. Right. I’m not going to pretend I think that that is worth understanding.

          No, there is one on YouTube which is very similar but he doesn’t end up getting into his idea of making Quantum Mechanics completely deterministic and his other points, J.T. Oden from U.T Austen is the researcher in question.

          Quantum mechanics is absolutely not deterministic, and so he doesn’t even begin to hold to “my position.”

        • JohnH2

          “Ah, yes, the whole Trinity bit. And you aren’t a polytheist. Right. I’m
          not going to pretend I think that that is worth understanding.”

          Monolatrist, it is like polytheism but you only worship one God. I don’t believe in the Trinity.

          “Quantum mechanics is absolutely not deterministic”

          Glad you agree, but non-determinism opens up quite a lot of problems for the dominant atheist philosophies (and a lot theist ones as well but that is beside the point).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I can’t think of problems that nondeterminism creates for the atheist. What do you have in mind?

        • JohnH2

          Nondeterminism opens up a space for the cause of nondeterminism, it allows for movers (or a singular unmoved mover) to exist unobserved but to have real effects and real choice within the observed universe. It allows for the destruction of the problem of evil.

          Even more so it is a direct denial of most forms of physicalism and the thesis that the world can be fully explained by externally measurable quantities. Specifically reductive materialism (what is commonly just called materialism) fails with the inclusion of nondeterminism into the universe.

        • Alex Harman

          The “real effects” that quantum indeterminacy would allow an unobservable entity to exert are far too small to result in anything recognizable at the macroscopic scale, or even the molecular scale for that matter, as divine intervention.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The cause of nondeterminism? You mean quantum physics?

          If your response is, “Ah, but why is it nondeterministic?” then I answer either that science doesn’t yet know (which gives the supernaturalist nothing) or that the ball is in your court to show that this would be surprising. That is, that a world without a god should look different.

        • JohnH2

          ” Planck length”

          For prediction, not changing the world just predicting it, then all that is needed is a completely accurate description of physics and of the position of the particles in the entrails. If either the position description actually does end at the Planck length or our ability to get that description will always end at the Planck length then the predictive power of observing the entrails becomes more limited, though probably not nil. I would imagine that the Sun and Moon would probably have sufficient influence to be measurable above the Planck scale, though if you are actually interested in doing the math to determine whether or not that is true I would be interested in seeing it either way.

          In practice though the difference between nil and the difficulty in obtaining sufficiently accurate measurements and then the computation needed to go from those measurements to when an eclipse will occur is less then any reasonable epsilon.

          “The best way”

          I wasn’t claiming it was the best way, as stated it is terribly improbable; the observations and calculations and accuracy of both needed to make a prediction of solar eclipses from observing the sun and moon and earth are insanely easier to obtain then trying to do so via animal entrails, but it is not necessarily theoretically impossible to observe the entrails and get to when eclipses will occur.

        • Itarion

          For prediction, not changing the world just predicting it, then all that is needed is a completely accurate description of physics and of the position of the particles in the entrails.

          And this will predict the effect that the entrails will have on the sun and the moon. Using the entrails as a middleman between the sun and the moon doesn’t change the fact that you’re comparing the sun and the moon to predict the eclipse.

          If either the position description actually does end at the Planck length or our ability to get that description will always end at the Planck length then the predictive power of observing the entrails becomes more limited, though probably not nil.

          I think you misunderstood what I said. The universe is essentially graphed on a very fine three dimensional grid, where the possible occupiable positions occur every Planck length in the X, Y, and Z orientations of the universe. It is not possible to move partial Planck lengths, as distance is a quantized value. So, as far as a human could individually move said entrails, said entrails have no effect on the position of the sun, insofar as the entrails fail to move the sun 1 Planck length or more.

          I would imagine that the Sun and Moon would probably have sufficient influence to be measurable above the Planck scale, though if you are actually interested in doing the math to determine whether or not that is true I would be interested in seeing it either way.

          Oh, sure the sun and moon absolutely have an influence on the entrails, but the influence of the sun on the influence of the entrails on the moon is negligible.

          I wasn’t claiming it was the best way, as stated it is terribly improbable

          Then why bother defending it?! The animal entrails prophetic method doesn’t rely on mathematical and physical principles. It, as a subset of divination, relies on mystical supernatural forces, which were disproved en masse in Dr. Carroll’s video.

        • JohnH2

          why bother defending it?

          As a thought experiment.

        • Itarion

          Ah. I’d argue with that, but this page’s article is a thought experiment.

        • RichardSRussell

          JohnH2, did you actually listen to what he said? He acknowledged many times over that there may well be tiny, obscure, short-lived or short-distance influences at work in the Universe — and he specifically called out dark matter and dark energy as being among them — but that they cannot possibly affect us here at the middle-Earth scale or we would have observed them by now.

          IOW, there is no elephant in the room, because we would have noticed something the size of an elephant.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          An amazing video. I summarize it here.

        • Itarion

          Well, cool. I just saw it in one of the comments here within the past couple of weeks.

        • RichardSRussell

          A dandy presentation, indeed. But I am always at pains to point out that it is by physicist Sean M. Carroll of Caltech, not evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll of my own beloved University of Wisconsin – Madison, tho our guy is just as distinguished in his own field, equally respected, similarly articulate, with comparable-quality books under his name, and just as much death on the TBs as Caltech’s.

        • Itarion

          TB?

        • RichardSRussell

          True Believer

          After the title of my favorite non-fiction book, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), Wikipedia entry here.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m convinced that religious belief for most people is so much more a product of indoctrination and confirmation bias than it is personal experience or dare I say, evidence. So what would it take for this new holy book to gain credence among Christians? A mass exodus to the point where they can comfortably adopt it while still feeling that their beliefs are protected. That of course would take some people of great influence adopting it first and just a lot of time…several generations before Christianity were reduced to cult-like status. Now if that can happen without some hip new religion replacing it…even better.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      still feeling that their beliefs are protected

      Since the beliefs are incompatible, I think this could be better stated: still feeling like their community is intact.

      • Art_Vandelay

        Yes…that’s much more accurate. Good point.

  • watcher_b

    THIS! This is a point I’ve been trying to make lately. That even if everything Christians say about the accuracy of the Bible were true, it is STILL not enough to believe. It still comes down to anecdotal evidence which is not enough to dedicate one’s life to.

    The take away for the Atheist camp should be then to establish this and then get away from arguing the bible with Christians. The inaccuracy of the bible is beside the point. Even if it wasn’t inaccurate (which will be a difficult point to get Christians to agree to) it still would not be enough evidence to prove their point.

    • wtfwjtd

      You can even grant the “miracles” part of the gospels, and I’d still agree with your conclusion. People have asked me, if I saw the miracles of Jesus personally, would I believe he is the Son of God? My answer is still “no”. Think about it: water into wine, “healing” a few sick folk, a dead-raising, feeding a large crowd. Son of God? Are you kidding ? Sounds more like the stunts of a parlor-trick magician to me. Think: Geller, Copperfield, Houdini,etc. I’m far more impressed with the inventions of John Deere–with which, we have literally fed millions; the actions of Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, that has saved countless thousands of lives; Nobel’s invention of dynamite, with which man literally CAN move mountains.
      I guess the supposed exploits of Jesus must have been impressive to an illiterate, pre-scientific culture, but they hardly raise an eyebrow today.

      • Itarion

        Well, yeah… But nitroglycerin sticks are a touch larger than a mustard seed.

        • wtfwjtd

          But even a mustard seed is large compared to a uranium atom, or maybe a hydrogen atom. And then, when you split one in half–whoa!

        • Itarion

          Truly I tell you, if you have total mass conversion as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.

        • JohnH2

          1.8x 10^11 Joules doesn’t seem like it would be quite enough to move a mountain very much. I think the mustard seed would probably have to be relativistic.

        • Itarion

          It’s a small mountain. Perhaps I made it out of a molehill.

        • JohnH2

          That is too bad because I used this http://www.1728.org/einstein.htm and this http://www.1728.org/reltivty.htm with the mass of mt. Everest to determine that the average mustard seed would need to be going .99999999999 C in order to move Everest one meter.

        • Itarion

          But Mount Everest isn’t the only mountain there is. A mountain just needs to be a kilometer tall. http://web.archive.org/web/20090226124321/http://www.unep-wcmc.org/mountains/mountain_watch/pdfs/WholeReport.pdf , see page 74.

          Assuming a pyramidal shape with a square kilometer base, the volume is 1/3*base*height, or 1/3 of a cubic kilometer. For m = V*rho, and a basalt mountain (basically a volcano) has a density of ~2.9 g/cm^3, gives a mass of approximately 9.7*10^8 kg. [For comparison, Everest is about 6 orders of magnitude (that’s a million there) more massive.]

          A mustard seed might have a 3 mm diameter, so it’s volume is 4/3pi*r^3, and density is 1.5g/cm^3 (assuming it’s mostly cellulose), yields a mass of .021 grams. [actually, that is rather small.] Using your calculator, total mass conversion yields 1.9*10^12 joules.

          Assuming totally efficient mass conversion, and perfect transferral of energy, by P = mgh, this mustard seed would lift this much smaller mountain about 0.2 kilometers straight up, without having any extra mass by relativistic velocities. Total mass conversion isn’t magic, but it’s still damned impressive.

          Please note: I did say “It’s a small mountain”, and not “It’s fucking Everest.” Everest is an outlier.

        • JohnH2

          I was using 0.002 gram from http://askville.amazon.com/mustard-seed-weigh/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=5460571 gotten off google as the mass of the mustard seed.

        • Itarion

          So that’s where that difference came from. Good, thank you. I found an approximation of the diameter on Wikipedia, as three mm, the application of some assumptions yielded .02 grams. Still, 20 meters of straight up is still a pretty good distance for a typical mountain to travel (that being the approximate distance with the mass you used).

        • Greg G.

          The verses say the faith can be as small as a mustard seed, not that it has the mass/energy of a mustard seed. We must compare the density of faith to the density of a mustard seed to determine the relative mass/energy of faith.

        • Itarion

          Some people I’ve talked to [I don’t think anyone here] have shown that the faithful, at least, are awfully dense. Whether that is because of the density of faith itself or some other quality has yet to be determined.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We’re getting a bit off on a tangent here, but here’s my calculation. I could easily have made a mistake here.

          What’s the energy equivalent of the mass of a mustard seed? One gram of seeds has 507 seeds (source). That’s 0.00197 grams in our single seed, or .00000197 kg. Using e = mc^2, this works out to be 1.77×10^13 joules.

          A ton of TNT is 4.184×10^9 J (source), so our seed works out to have 4.2 kilotons of TNT in its mass.

          Properly placed, that could destroy a small mountain (the Hiroshima bomb was roughly 10 kilotons), I’d think, and if that energy were harnessed for mere transportation, it could probably move a big mountain.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Yeah, but there is that durn fig tree. Jesus taught it a good lesson! It won’t be bare in the off season again, I’ll bet.

        • wtfwjtd

          Yeah, real instructive lesson in logic and “faith” there…

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’d think that curing cancer or teaching germ theory would be more useful, but the Lord moves in strange ways. If you have any fig trees that need smiting, he’s your man!

  • Itarion

    Now you come across a holy book from some other religion. It’s an English translation from an original written in a long-dead language from a foreign culture.

    What could the book possibly say that would convince you that its miracle claims are correct? That it—and not your own Christianity—is correct? It’s just words on paper. What possible combination would be compelling?

    As you speak the words quietly, they echo thunderously, though you stand in a room with little echo to it. As the echoes fade to silence, the pages glow, and flashes of scenery flip past behind the words. You look closer, and the images burst from the pages, and spring to glorious life before you, re-enacting what the words in the book say. The entire story plays out in a minute, from the beginning of time until the end, and though you can catch little, and comprehend less, what you grasp rewrites your understanding of the world, confirming what was already right, correcting what was nearly so, and erasing what was wrong. At the end, a golden figure manifests, and speaks words in a language you have never heard of, and you are transformed. You no longer require sustenance, though you still enjoy it. Your earthly needs are fulfilled for the remainder of your life, and – short of instantly fatal wounds – no injury or disease can kill you.

    The book in front of you fades, though the words in their entirety are still printed indelibly upon your mind.

    Although, technically that’s more than just words on a page. But still. That would convince me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Very eloquent, though that violated my rule that this new book be all natural.

      But to your point, yes, that would be very compelling. Then we get into a very different issue, whether this marvelous sorcery could be correctly defined as supernatural or simply alien technology. Heck, humans might be able to pull off that very stunt in a thousand years. We can in a hologram or on the movie screen already.

      • Itarion

        I did realize that, yes. But it would be awesome. Do you think my imagination is even just a tad overactive?

        The visual effects, sure. Some fancy laser play, or similar. The physiological effects would be harder to explain. Null metabolism and a healing factor. Eh, nanobots, I suppose. Photosynthetic nanos in the skin and something like an upgraded, debugged immune system.

        If you can’t explain it, it’s probably tiny machines.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Bill O’Reilly can’t explain the tides. That’s probably tiny machines as well.

        • Alex Harman

          Bullshit comes out of Bill O’Lielly’s mouth and money goes into his bank account; I have much more trouble explaining that than the tides.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And that new movie about Kennedy is based on O’Reilly’s book, isn’t it? I would’ve thought that they’d have more reputable historians to work with.

    • Alex Harman

      Yeah, that would about do it for me, too.

      • Itarion

        Thanks. Actually, I’d need less than that, personally. Just the words permanently imprinting themselves in my memory after a single reading is enough.

  • Mick

    Most (and I mean ‘most’) Christians haven’t got a clue what their bible says. They all know John 3:16 off by heart but hardly any of them could quote John 3:26. They all know that Jesus said ‘love thine enemy’ but only a few know that Jesus actually prefers to have his enemies weighted down and thrown into the sea to drown.

    Tell a Christian that god threatens to make his people so hungry they will eat their own children and the Christian will say, “God makes no such threats.” Show them the bible verses (there is more than one) where the threat is made and they immediately explain that it is taken out of context, misinterpreted, and metaphorical to boot (all that within a few seconds of seeing a verse that they didn’t even know existed!)

    Even better (for the modern Christians) there are any number of boutique churches that will pander to their tastes; churches with tattooed preachers, bikie preachers, skateboarding preachers, guitar playing preachers, hellfire and damnation preachers, and libertarian preachers who say that anything goes as long as you say “amen” afterwards. The modern Christians check out their pain threshold and then boldly follow the preacher who seems to be most like them. ‘Don’t give me any of the technical details,’ they say, “As long as I’m allowed to go dancing on Saturday night, that’s all I want.’

    Watch them when they “study” the bible. They skip from book to book, verse to verse, word to word, and eventually come up with a message that tells them exactly what they want to hear. Their preachers use exactly the same ‘pick-and-choose’ technique during their sermons from the pulpit. Christianity is not a worldview that parishioners try to follow, it is a textbook that is open to interpretation, and they use it to legitimize their own biased opinions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      My favorite is the Bible’s support of slavery. Christians will say it away as indentured servitude. Show them Lev. 25:44-46, where non-Jews can be kept for life, and they handwave it away, though it clearly defeats their argument.

      I don’t know about Jesus wanting his enemies weighted down and drowned, however. What are you referring to?

      • JohnH2

        I assume that it is better that a person be weighed down with a millstone and drowned then that they offend one of these little ones. Mat 18:6

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Helpful, thanks.

          The last first and first last stuff (of which this seems to be a variant) seems to point to apocalyptic thinking. Have you read enough about that to have an opinion?

        • JohnH2

          God totally makes those threats repeatedly in the Bible; it isn’t (always) apocalyptic. I am positive that I have referenced Deuteronomy 28 previously: God through Moses presents two ways to everyone and if we choose the way of death then God describes what the consequences of that are. In particular it describes the scattering of Israel to all nations where they will be a hiss and a byword and shall fear for their lives and their very existence. The precise part that Mick is referring to here is Deuteronomy 28:52 (49-57) which prophecies that the Roman Eagle speaking a non-semitic language would come and besiege Judea and the people in the cities would eat their children due to the siege.

          Not to worry though, the curse is now passed and God is gathering His people Israel as He promised to do in Deuteronomy 30.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I was thinking about not apocalyptic thought in general but the specific philosophy of apocalypticism.

          But that’s a tangent.

        • JohnH2

          Oh, sorry, I misunderstood what you were saying then.

    • MNb

      “They skip …”
      That’s called teleology.
      While I’m not thrilled by Jerry Coyne’s attempt to philosophy he has asked one good and important question: if one Bible student says A and another one B, what means do they have to decide who is right and who is wrong?

      • Itarion

        Well… They both say the other is wrong. Maybe – just a possibility here, mind you – just maybe they’re both right. About that.

  • Rick

    I’ve been away from this forum for a while (life happens), but it appears you are still kind of grasping at straws here. Instead of evidence you are now using a thought experiment? And so you make up a scenario and use that to see if you can convince others to engage in dialogue about your made up scenario?

    The evidence for Christianity is far more secure than a made up just so story which you can fine tune as you like. Ancient history is not as neat and clean as looking at yesterday’s headline, which you seem to hold as the standard of forensics acceptable to consider the possibility of ancient history being valid only as it pertains to Christianity. You don’t hold the same standard for Plato or Alexander the Great.

    This is a step beyond straw man fallacy. You don’t even find an argument to exaggerate into your straw man. You just make him up out of whole cloth.

    I, for one, am not believing in spite of evidence.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Instead of evidence you are now using a thought experiment?

      Today a thought experiment; 2 days ago, a discussion of evidence. There are lots of ways of slicing this topic.

      I’m missing the grasping at straws thing. You’ll have to explain that to me.

      The evidence for Christianity is far more secure than a made up just so story which you can fine tune as you like.

      Huh? We’re imagining the best possible case, with no constraints from reality, and yet Christianity is far better than that? Once again, you’ll have to explain that to me.

      Ancient history is not as neat and clean as looking at yesterday’s headline

      No—apparently it’s neater and cleaner, if the evidence for Christianity is better than what our imagination can come up with.

      You don’t hold the same standard for Plato or Alexander the Great.

      You are mistaken. I reject the supernatural in the case of Plato or Alexander. And, y’know what? I do that simply because historians do that.

      When it comes to the Jesus story, I do the exact same thing. I use the exact same standard.

      I like the idea you’re pointing to. I just wish you’d follow it.

      This is a step beyond straw man fallacy.

      Uh … did you even read this post? If there is some logical error here you will, again, have to explain that to me.

      • Rick

        Yep. Read the post. You, on the other hand, have continued to demonstrate an incredible ability to twist what others say into the pretzel you want to see rather than the plain meaning of their words.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wow—this sounds serious. But I wonder if this is just bluster to avoid answering the quite plain requests for elaboration in my last comment.

          This problem sounds like it’s screamingly obvious to you. Unfortunately, it’s not in the least clear to me. Pretend you’re talking to a child and show me.

        • Rick

          Nah. I already stated clearly what my point was. You can disparage as you see fit. I’m used to that.

          But OK. Just one more try. Ready? Here it is.

          A thought experiment is a made up thing to make your point. It should not be confused with actual evidence.

          I’m just a glutton for punishment.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There’s lots of stuff in my comment from 4 days ago, but I guess you either don’t see it or prefer to ignore it. If you’re actually interested in a discussion, respond to that comment.

    • Nemo

      Alexander the Great, when he conquered Egypt and Persia, took for himself the titles and religious roles associated with their leaders. We have no doubt that Alexander existed. Nobody, however, thinks that he is the son of Ra. Jesus made claims far more extravagant than Alexander, so the Bible should be subject to far greater scrutiny.

    • smrnda

      I actually, myself, do hold the same standards. If you read Sutenius’ 12 Caesars, a number of supernatural events are recorded. I dismiss those as totally impossible, accept that the accounts can be exaggerated and biased, and that’s about where I stand on those.

      • Rick

        I’ve given some thought to your response and believe you have a valid point. I agree that standards should be consistent. Therefore, if “Sutenius’ 12 Caesars” or the man in the moon claim divinity, there should be evidence.

        In the case of the Biblical narrative, there are thousands of years of historically consistent texts that build on a single theme (God’s relationship with his creation and how that works). There are thousands of years of prophecy, some fulfilled, some yet to be. There are documented miracles in the hundreds, not a few scattered ones. There are thousands of years of evidence of lives being changed in instances where people trusted in that God of the Bible. There are no cases of surviving documents disparaging those historic narrative, and much archaeology supporting it.

        If Sutenius’s evidence (whatever that is—haven’t heard of him previously) had been that strong, I might well believe in his stuff. But it’s not. I don’t. I will stick with the God of the Bible. Do I have all the answers? Nah. But I have enough. And I do use consistent standards.

        Thanks for making that point. I agree.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There are thousands of years of prophecy, some fulfilled, some yet to be.

          I’ve explored three of the big ones (Ps. 22, Is. 53, and Is. 7) here and haven’t been impressed. You can take a look if you want to correct me. Are there other important fulfilled prophecies that I should look at?

          There are thousands of years of evidence of lives being changed in instances where people trusted in that God of the Bible.

          How do we rule out natural explanations here?

          There are no cases of surviving documents disparaging those historic narrative, and much archaeology supporting it.

          Our oldest evidence for the Shroud of Turin is a document that makes clear that it’s a forgery, and yet that cult continues on. Why would we even expect to find today naysayers’ arguments, let alone imagine that they’d be effective?

          If Sutenius’s evidence (whatever that is—haven’t heard of him previously) had been that strong

          He’s on the short list of extra-biblical historians of the years shortly after the crucifixion who mention Christians. He’s cited almost as often as Josephus.

          But perhaps that’s not for strong reasons. As smrnda noted, Suetonius credulously parrots supernatural tales about some of the Caesars. Maybe he’s not that reliable a source.

          I do use consistent standards.

          And the standards that reject Suetonius’s supernatural claims about the Caesars and the Mormon’s claims about angels and Jesus don’t affect your views? How does that work?

    • RichardSRussell

      Instead of evidence you are now using a thought experiment?

      More like “In addition to evidence …”. It’s not like this is the only hook Bob has available to hang his hat on.

      Besides, have you ever heard of Einstein’s explanation for how gravity is a form of acceleration? Imagine you’re in a windowless elevator and are pressed firmly to the floor by a force of 1 g. Can you tell whether the elevator is standing still on the surface of the Earth or being accelerated at ~10 m/s^2 thru space? No, you can’t. Therefore the effects are identical. Did Einstein actually perform that test in the real world? No. It was a thot experiment, and it helped lead to the Theory of Relativity. So don’t be so quick to pooh-pooh the value of thot experiments.

  • Jonas

    Just saying this here and now, if it’s a holy book passing on a divine message, then at the very least it would be understandable to all who see it, irregardless of language or even literacy. At that point, I can’t rule out sufficiently advanced technology as a hoax though…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, but then why would we need faith?!

      (Oh wait a minute. Not needing faith would be a good thing.)

  • TheRealRandomFunction

    Bob’s post, the shorter version:
    If there was a religion that had better evidence than Christianity in all possible respects would you believe it?
    While a possible interesting thought experiment, its ultimately meaningless. Bob has no other religion that he can show to have better evidence than Christianity in all respects, and atheism (by its very nature) has no evidence for it at all (as its based on a perceived abscence of evidence, and not an evidence of abscence).
    One might as well ask Bob, “If you were somehow convinced that a religion is true, would you believe it?”

    • MNb

      Yes. I can explicitly tell you how I could be convinced. If possible victims get warned for natural disasters like tsunami’s by means of a collective nightmare a week before and this happens on a statistical significant base I will believe.

      “not an evidence of absence”
      Is a logical contradiction valid evidence of absence for you? If yes Herman Philipse has provided it in his God in the Age of Science.

      • Guest

        I didn’t ask how you might be convinced, I asked if you would believe if you were convinced.

        Personally, I think if something like that ever actually occurred, you would probably cite “mass hysteria” , and / or “coincidence” and that it really wouldn’t cause you to change your mind, but I admit that’s just my opinion. There’s also the fact that, unless it happened to you, personally, and you somehow had proof that each individual person was telling the truth about their nightmare you could dismiss the story as potentially being hearsay, and no different than any number of stories of miraculous events being witnessed by many people.

        If you had an actual logical contradiction, that would be interesting. So far most “logical contradictions” I’ve heard are little more than “Well, I think the Bible says this, and science says differently and that’s a logical contradiction.” Perhaps Herman Philipse has something better. From what information I can find online, while its possible he may have some good arguments, I see nothing as serious as a true logical contradiction. Perhaps, since you seem to know that he has one, you could offer it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I asked if you would believe if you were convinced.

          Huh? How can you be convinced and not believe?

        • Itarion

          By defining belief as confidence without proof. If I am convinced by proof, then I do not believe.

        • MNb

          Yes, in fact this is the only meaningful way to believe, but then TRRF’s question becomes meaningless. He asked:

          “If there was a religion that had better evidence than Christianity in all possible respects would you believe it?”

          Not too many believers are aware of it, but Gould’s NOMA is the only way to uphold a belief system.
          Of course Kierkegaard understood this already 200 years ago. He is still not too popular.
          And it’s the foundation of pastafarianism. So many believers are still faced with an awkward dilemma.
          Herman Philipse also considers this point btw.

        • Itarion

          Yes, NOMA works, but only until either of the magisteria begin infringing upon the territory of the other magisterium. Of course, it is my belief – and though supported, it is by no means proven – that everything falls under the purview of the naturalistic science magisterium, rather than the religious or philosophical side, in that there is a measurable quantity associated with every possible question, and so the question can be studied scientifically, either now or in the future.

        • MNb

          Please reread my comment. You will find “I will believe.” What’s the hard part of these three words?
          First of all we must god partly define as an immaterial being. The Mormons will protest here; their Holy Spirit is immaterial too so it still applies. Of course a material god and son have their problems too..
          That immaterial being called god is supposed to play some role in our Universe: he created it, he loves his believers. The problem is that all these interaction demand some material assets.
          Consider (this example is from Herman Philipse) X loves Y. If X happens to be BobS and Y is MNb this perfectly makes sense. BobS can express his love by means of language, behaviour, facial expressions and body language. These are all firmly material.
          God though being immaterial doesn’t have such means. So God loves TRRF doesn’t make sense.
          Mutatis mutandis this applies to every divine interaction with (any part of) the Universe, including creating it. So a god as defined above interacting with material phenomena is similar to a square circle.
          That’s why theists and also dualists bypass this and never explain how this interaction works. Sometimes less clever believers suggest things like electro-magnetism, but they forget that that is a thoroughly material phenomenon too, due to matter/energy dualism.

        • JohnH2

          “their Holy Spirit is immaterial”

          ” 7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter” D&C 131:7.

        • MNb

          Then I’d like to know what the mass and the size of your Holy Spirit is (preferably in SI-units, ie kilogram and meter). Or, if you prefer a Quantum Mechanical approach, the spin, electrical charge and mass/energy.
          Could you also explain how you measure these quantities, so that we can verify them?
          Of course the same questions apply to your god and his son.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          That immaterial being called god is supposed to play some role in our Universe: he created it, he loves his believers. The problem is that all these interaction demand some material assets.

          Why? What proof do you have of this? Certainly if by “material” you mean matter (while considering energy immaterial), this is obviously false. Energy can, and does interact with matter quite frequently.

          Even if we say that energy is “material” (which is somewhat of a stretch), you still haven’t shown why a “immaterial” being is incapable of language. Which would be hard for you, as you have no capability to reason about a “immaterial” being at all. Yes, an immaterial being may not have a face, and may not have a facial expression. If you want to demonstrate why God must have a physical face at all times, feel free.

          Aside from all that, why should I assume that a being that is not constrained by the laws of physics should be judged by them at all? The idea that God must be restricted to utilize some sort of natural, scientifically known process to interact with the world is ridiculous and shows a misunderstanding of the scope of science.

        • MNb

          No – your misunderstanding of modern physics is ridiculous. Or you just reject it. You may choose.

          Energy is material. We know this since Einstein’s famous E = mc^2. It’s typical for your lack of understanding that you think this is a stretch, of course without substantiating.

          “why a “immaterial” being is incapable of language”
          For language we need a medium, like sound or letters written on paper. Both are material. If we understand language as a form of communication we also need a source and a recipient. This is what 15 years old kids learn in physics class. Both source and recipient in all testable forms of communication are material too.
          You are the one who has to show how your immaterial god is capable of interacting with our material Universe. Thus far you have failed spectacularly. Thus I can maintain that your concept of god is meaningless – like a square circle.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Energy is material. We know this since Einstein’s famous E = mc^2. It’s typical for your lack of understanding that you think this is a stretch, of course without substantiating.

          Yes, I am aware of Einstein and the relationship between energy and matter. Consider how most branches of physics operate however. In conventional Newtonian physics one does not talk about “energy” in motion, one talks about bodies in motion (matter). In acoustics one talks about waves moving through matter, not “energy moving through energy”. So at the very least, in a functional sense most branches of physics treat energy and matter as different, but related terms.

          Even with E=mc^2, we do not have that one can interchangeably utilize the terms “energy” and “matter”, but that “energy” and “mass” (a property of matter, but not all of matter) are equivalent. And not equivalent in a philosophical sense, but in a very specified sense that is spelled out in that equation. The amount of energy affects mass, and the amount of mass affects energy, however it is not the case that we can simply replace the word “mass” with “energy” in all cases.

          A quick 5 minute reading of Wikipedia would have fixed your ignorance. But I am always amused by the arrogance of atheists.

          For language we need a medium, like sound or letters written on paper.

          No. The only requirement we need for a language is information. How that language is transmitted is not a property of that language.

          Both source and recipient in all testable forms of communication are material too.

          Why must this be necessary? Yes, I understand that all natural forms of communication are this way, but that means nothing. By the fact that they are “natural”, they must be that way.

          All you are doing here is the same old argument that atheists have done for centuries. You presuppose that the natural world is all there is, was, and ever will be, and that all things must be tested by methodologies that can only test this natural world. That is fine that you have these biases, but unless you give me some evidence or reasoning as to why I should share them, do not expect me to.

          You are the one who has to show how your immaterial god is capable of interacting with our material Universe.

          Ah yes. The old athiest “burden of proof” nonsense. You need do nothing, and offer no evidence, and only offer insults because in your brain you are just that much smarter than all those poor ignorant theists out there.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I am always amused by the arrogance of atheists.

          Well, yeah. We need arrogance to bluff our way through this. It’s not like we’re backing the right horse or anything.

          Ah yes. The old athiest “burden of proof” nonsense. You need do nothing, and offer no evidence, and only offer insults because in your brain you are just that much smarter than all those poor ignorant theists out there.

          You know about insults. You’re the authority.

          Since the Christian is making the claim (“God exists,” for example), doesn’t it make sense that the Christian has the burden of proof?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If atheism was simply the statement that “I believe that the evidence is insufficient to show that God exists”, that’s fine, but that’s just an opinion. If you aren’t convinced by the arguments of theists, that tells me very little about their arguments, and much more about your state of mind.

          My issue comes when atheists go on from their opinions, and state (or just imply) that everyone else is either ignorant, unintelligent, or (perhaps) insane for believing differently than they do. That’s when we go from just atheists being unconvinced, to atheists actually making a claim. As such, they should provide evidence for that claim.

          I have a problem with fundamentalists claiming (or implying) that atheists have no morals. I have an equal problem with atheists claiming that theists are unintelligent, or uninformed. They are both efforts to not engage in discussion, but to simply marginalize the “:other”.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          but that’s just an opinion

          As opposed to … ? I’m wondering what else you’d call a conclusion.

          If you aren’t convinced by the arguments of theists, that tells me very little about their arguments, and much more about your state of mind.

          Hmm. Let me start with the assumption that Christians are right and atheists completely wrong and evaluate your statement … wow—you’re right! Someone who rejects the Christian truth must be closed minded at best.

          My issue comes when atheists go on from their opinions, and state (or just imply) that everyone else is either ignorant, unintelligent, or (perhaps) insane for believing differently than they do.

          Perhaps you’re a little thin skinned to be in this game.

          They are both efforts to not engage in discussion, but to simply marginalize the “:other”.

          There’s too much substantive discussion to waste much time with marginalizing.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          As opposed to … ? I’m wondering what else you’d call a conclusion.

          Personally, I differentiate an opinion from something that is supported by evidence. An atheist may have an opinion that the evidence is insufficient for them. I count that the same as their opinion that there food needs more (or less) spice. They have every right to their opinion, just don’t expect me to share it.

          Hmm. Let me start with the assumption that Christians are right and atheists completely wrong and evaluate your statement … wow—you’re right!

          Did I ever say that that is the assumption that I am starting with? No.. I didn’t. It’s almost like you’re putting words in my mouth. Of course you would never do that though. I must be mistaken.

          Even if I started with that assumption, so what? You begin with the assumption that all religious believers are wrong and you are right until proven otherwise to your satisfaction.

          There’s too much substantive discussion to waste much time with marginalizing.

          Substantive discussion? Where’s that?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Personally, I differentiate an opinion from something that is supported by evidence.

          Your opinions aren’t backed by evidence? That’s a startling admission.

          An atheist may have an opinion that the evidence is insufficient for them. I count that the same as their opinion that there food needs more (or less) spice.

          I think you’re confusing how well evidenced a conclusion is vs. how important it is. Spiciness isn’t very important, but that’s got nothing to do with evidence.

          It’s almost like you’re putting words in my mouth. Of course you would never do that though. I must be mistaken.

          It was extrapolation mixed with sarcasm. The next step is where you tell me if I’m on target or not. Perhaps that’s too sophisticated for your tastes?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Your opinions aren’t backed by evidence? That’s a startling admission.

          Not really when you understand what an opinion is, and what it isn’t.

          Spiciness isn’t very important, but that’s got nothing to do with evidence.

          Quite true. You can provide no evidence in support of opinion on how spicy you want your food to be. You simply like it a certain way. You have every right to do so, and you need not provide any evidence substantiating the idea that food should be that way.

          In a similar fashion, you need not provide any actual evidence demonstrating that what other people consider as evidence or argumentation should not be considered that way. It is just your opinion that you find these evidences / arguments wanting.

          If you want to argue that I too should find them wanting, that’s fine. Feel free to do so. But you’ll need to provide some sort of argument or evidence in support of that.

          It was extrapolation mixed with sarcasm. The next step is where you tell me if I’m on target or not.

          You’re not. Try again. I would suggest reading the words that I write. If you do that, then your extrapolation might be more on target. If you insist on making up words I never said, you will miss every time (though you will probably feel better).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Not really when you understand what an opinion is, and what it isn’t.

          Well there’s my problem. I’ve been using Webster’s as my dictionary. I’ll know that you’re the better source in the future.

          In a similar fashion, you need not provide any actual evidence demonstrating that what other people consider as evidence or argumentation should not be considered that way. It is just your opinion that you find these evidences / arguments wanting.

          That does sound like the way you do it. But it’s not the way I do.

          If you insist on making up words I never said, you will miss every time

          I will miss every time with you no matter what I say. (And that’s not an “opinion”; it’s based on evidence.)

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          That does sound like the way you do it. But it’s not the way I do.

          What evidence have you supplied then?

          I will miss every time with you no matter what I say. (And that’s not an “opinion”; it’s based on evidence.)

          What evidence? You’ve never even tried to actually read what I right. You consistently misinterpret and add words to what I say. You have never once tried to do otherwise.

    • Makoto

      “Bob has no other religion that he can show to have better evidence than Christianity in all respects” – That’s a difficult point to grant. After all, pretty much any believer of any religion thinks that theirs is the one true religion, with the best evidence for it being correct.

      Personally, if I were convinced a religion was true, I would believe it. That’s the entire point of examining them, or imagining what it would take for one to sound convincing. So far, I have yet to find one that is convincing enough, especially with so many holy books that read like a game of Telephone gone bad.

      Does the Christian bible have some good messages? Absolutely. So do most holy books, in fact. Or most books in general, when you get down to it, but that doesn’t make Harry Potter any more convincingly real to me than Dianetics or the bible. At least Dianetics was written by Scientology’s founder, so it avoids the Telephone problem… but then, it’s hard to trust a holy work written by a sci-fi author who said “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”.. and then did so.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        —“Bob has no other religion that he can show to have better evidence than Christianity in all respects” – That’s a difficult point to grant. After all, pretty much any believer of any religion thinks that theirs is the one true religion, with the best evidence for it being correct.—

        True. What I meant by that comment was that Bob cannot point to any existing religion and say “Here, this religion is better evidenced than Christianity in all respects.” You are right though that all religious believers consider their religion to have the best evidence. I could say the same about atheism as well.

        —-

        At least Dianetics was written by Scientology’s founder, so it avoids the Telephone problem… but then, it’s hard to trust a holy work written by a sci-fi author who said “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”.. and then did so.

        —-

        This is a sidenote, but how bad truly is the “telephone” problem? Yes, I’m familiar with the game, but the point of the game is not to accurately transfer information. When humanity has actually tried to accurately transfer information, while they sometimes will get details wrong, they tend to be good (overall) on major issues. The Bible is not the only document that may be a translation of a translation of a translation. Do you not trust any such document of being correct?

        • Makoto

          Eh, I don’t think atheism is necessarily the best answer, to be honest. To me it’s more the neutral position. I don’t disbelieve in the Christian god any more than a Christian or I disbelieves in Zeus, after all. Should one god pop up that has rational reasons to follow it, that make sense to me (which it should, if that creator deity created me, it would know how to push my believe buttons), then I’d hop on board right quick.

          “Do you not trust any such document of being correct?” – well, no, I don’t really trust any document as being correct.

          I mean, we can leave off obvious works of fiction – they don’t matter to my life, well-being, or eternal afterlife, so if errors crop up, or they change over time (which they obviously do – sometime look up how the Nancy Drew novels have changed over the course of their history for an example), that’s no big deal. But it does show that they change with time, and are no longer “correct” as the author originally intended, at least.

          With historical documents, obviously they have errors & blind spots – “history is recorded by the winners” pretty blatantly lets us infer that many writings are written by the winners in any conflict, who have an agenda. Whether the conflict was physical or philosophical or anything else, there are winners and losers just the same. For example, the crusaders destroying so much of pretty much anyone else’s holy stuff. And that’s something concrete – reality, not paranormal at all. Something we can confirm in the recent past, even based on their own writings of destroying such things.

          Political influence, intentional destruction, translation errors (intentional or not), regional influence.. all of these things play into just what can be found and used.. not to mention all that was lost. That’s what I mostly mean by a game of telephone – where the first person says “A red fox runs over the river blue” and by the end it becomes “A fox jumps the stream”, or maybe even “Critter jumped”.. and sometimes it just gets to something completely unrelated from the original, like “Red barn rocks”. Even if the intent is the same (which is by no means guaranteed), the details have changed, even during a game where the goal is to have the last person have the same message as the first, with no jumps between languages or any motive to stop the next person from hearing the message correctly – and given how often people cite passages of their bible (which is much longer than my example, far more prone to changes because of that), one would think that the game of telephone played behind any passage would be most concerning.

          This is especially true since my potential eternal afterlife is far more important than works of fiction (no impact) or works of history (some impact) – I want more reliability as the impact goes up, not less. And the bible contradicts itself, so…

        • MNb

          ” I don’t disbelieve in the Christian god any more than ….”
          That applies to atheists as well, so it’s not an argument for your statement that atheism is not necessarily the best answer. But possibly you don’t mean it that way.

        • Makoto

          It wasn’t an argument for atheism being the best answer or not.. I probably should’ve put a paragraph break at that point since they were somewhat separate thoughts.

          Like I said, atheism to me is the default (a good default, one I’m comfortable in), but still the default. Only with training do people believe in specific god(s) or other things that defy observation or analysis.

          But being the default doesn’t necessarily make it correct – there *could* be gods or sufficiently advanced aliens or whatever out there, who have just abandoned this planet in favor of other playthings in the past few thousand years since the last miracle-type stuff supposedly happened. So atheism might not be the correct/best answer.. just the best one I’ve found so far.

          (Apologies if that doesn’t clear things up, I’m pretty beat but wanted to reply before hitting the hay)

        • smrnda

          You should check our research on the inaccuracy of memory. Elizabeth Loftus has done some great work there.

          Also, atheism is a disbelief in gods. So far, I see no evidence for any gods, and I have been presented with no claims that I can test in a systematic fashion concerning the existence of gods. There is no ‘say this prayer and the god will answer with five thunderbolts’ test. I have been presented with no falsifiable tests that can be used for any gods.

        • Ron

          Not true. The Old Testament provides just such a test for determining whose god is for real:

          1) Each “true god” contestant builds an alter of wood, butchers a bull and places the pieces upon the alter.

          2) Each alter gets doused three times with four pots of water.

          3) Each participant takes turns calling upon their chosen deity to light the alter (no cheating with incendiary materials such as lighter fluid or flamethrowers allowed).

          4) The god who answers by consuming everything in flames is the real deal.

          Bonus: the winners get to slaughter the losers. (See here for complete details.)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Bob cannot point to any existing religion and say “Here, this religion is better evidenced than Christianity in all respects.”

          But Bob can point to Mormonism and say that it is better evidenced than Christianity in most categories.

          the point of the game is not to accurately transfer information

          No, I don’t think you are familiar with the game. The point of the game is precisely to pass along accurate information. It wouldn’t be an interesting game if people just deliberately passed along silly paraphrases of the message that they received.

          while they sometimes will get details wrong, they tend to be good (overall) on major issues.

          So that’s your defense of Christianity? That people tend to pass along information fairly well?

          That’s not much on which to base the incredible supernatural claims of Christianity, I’m afraid.

          The Bible is not the only document that may be a translation of a translation of a translation.

          Well, we can go back to the original Greek. Do you mean “copy of a copy of a copy”?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          But Bob can point to Mormonism and say that it is better evidenced than Christianity in most categories.

          And far worse in others.

          So that’s your defense of Christianity? That people tend to pass along information fairly well?

          I wasn’t trying to defend Christianity. I was examining a point that atheists make quite often regarding information transfer. Atheists love to point out all the studies that show that memory is innaccurate, or they point out that the Bible is a copy of a copy, or that stories can change over time, and then they conclude from that that the major points in the Bible are just “obviously” false. If its true that every time we find something that’s a copy of a copy, or has relied on an oral retelling, or has relied on memory, or was written several years after the event(s) they were describing, that its obviously false, then there would be very few things that we would be able to know or believe at all, if anything.

          If atheists truly believe that because the Bible is a copy of a copy of a copy that we shouldn’t trust some of the major events depicted in it, they should be consistent and say that every single time we find a copy of a copy of a copy that we should not believe anything in it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You need to use “blockquote,” not “quote.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And far worse in others.

          Yes, Mormonism did commit the unpardonable sin of making testable claims. Christianity is better in that it’s vaguer. Hurray—my confidence is bolstered.

          Of course, it’s not like believers much care. Most will respond to strong evidence against their religion’s claims with a shrug.

          If its true that every time we find something that’s a copy of a copy, or has relied on an oral retelling, or has relied on memory, or was written several years after the event(s) they were describing, that its obviously false, then there would be very few things that we would be able to know or believe at all, if anything.

          I agree. Are we done straw-manning? Can we return to the topic now?

          You, me, and all historians laugh at supernatural elements in stories claiming to be history. Caesar Augustus rose into heaven on his death? Alexander was the product of a union between his mother and a god? Nope and nope.

          Given this, what should we do with the supernatural claims within religion?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          You, me, and all historians laugh at supernatural elements in stories claiming to be history. Caesar Augustus rose into heaven on his death? Alexander was the product of a union between his mother and a god? Nope and nope.

          Well, you laugh, provide no evidence that “historians” laugh (or even examine such claims at all), and I tend try and not offer blanket dismissals of claims. Other than that, your above post is completely correct.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Just to be clear, my claim is that the field of history rejects all supernatural claims. Was it said that Caesar Augustus ascended to heaven? Yes. Did it actually happen? No.

          You reject this?

        • Itarion

          Umm… Yes?

          Hail Caesar!

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          If you provide evidence that the consensus of historians (not just atheist historians) is that no supernatural event has ever occurred then I’ll believe it.

          Otherwise I will continue believing that the consensus of historians offers no opinion on the veracity of all supernatural events (Note: this may mean that some historians have rejected some supernatural events, but that’s not your claim. You claim that the field of history rejects all supernatural claims. Some is not all.)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you provide evidence that the consensus
          of historians (not just atheist historians) is that no supernatural event has ever occurred then I’ll believe it.

          I’m sure you’ll reject any that I provide, so I got none. I
          also got no consensus evidence that air is safe to breathe.

          I recommend that you reject both hypotheses for lack of
          evidence.

        • MNb

          “then they conclude from that that the major points in the Bible are just “obviously” false.”
          Well, atheists being averagely not any more clever than theists you can easily find several atheists who use this non-sequitur. The clever ones, like on Patheos, tend to argue why the major points in the Bible are false (and admit that some of them, like Matth 7:1 afaIc, are pretty good) and don’t rely on the copy of a copy of a copy argument. That one they use to refute the theists’ claim that their particular brand of religion contains the Absolute Truth, which is supposed to be unchangeable. They understand that if science can’t produce Absolute Truth either the argument is not sufficient to refute a belief system, only the claim of Absolute Truth.

        • MNb

          ” I could say the same about atheism as well. ”
          Not really. Even diehards like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne admit that they don’t have conclusive evidence that there is no god.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Can’t address the actual point, so you want to change the topic?

      I think you need to reread The Basics of Sleight of Hand. This attempt failed.

      atheism (by its very nature) has no evidence for it at all (as its based on a perceived abscence of evidence, and not an evidence of abscence).

      Absence of evidence is frequently evidence of absence. And the perpetual search for Yahweh is an example.

      Atheism simply argues that there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the supernatural exists.

      One might as well ask Bob, “If you were somehow convinced that a religion is true, would you believe it?”

      One might as well read my post, “Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

      • Itarion

        It’s like we have never been asked the question “If you were somehow convinced that a religion is true, would you believe it?”

        There’s a reason that I don’t argue with the gods inside video games. I won’t pick a fight with Kratos, as he and his swords are more than happy to kick my character’s ass. I don’t deny Pelor, since his clerics routinely fix my fighter up. Atheism is a lot harder in a high magic world with active gods.

        • JohnH2

          “Atheism is a lot harder in a high magic world with active gods.”

          That really depends on what one means by Atheism. There have in antiquity (and currently) been plenty of polytheists that are also atheists: they believe in super-powerful beings which can bless ones life or ruin it on a whim but don’t believe in (and actively deny) the existence of a supreme being.

          Some of the earliest claims against Christianity were that it was Atheistic because having God the Father and Jesus Christ gives the appearance of denying the philosophical conception of God per Plato and Aristotle; The Trinity is an attempt to not be ‘atheist’ but get back to that philosophical conception of God.

          Imagine that dogs have religion for a moment, from their perspective we would be essentially polytheistic gods and so dogs may serve us and attempt to not offend us but may not believe in a supreme Dog.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If someone believes in the supernatural, that person isn’t an atheist according to most modern atheists, I’m guessing.

        • RichardSRussell

          I’m not one of those, Bob. I hew to the literal meaning of “atheism” — without god belief. They can believe any other crazy thing under the sun they want (as do about a billion Chinese, with their ancestor veneration, traditional Chinese “medicine”, lucky numbers, etc.), but if they don’t believe in gods, they’re atheists in my book. “Atheist” is not a synonym for “rationalist”; rationalism is simply one avenue for achieving the condition of atheism, and not even the most popular or reliable one.

        • MNb

          Same for me. On internet I have met a few spiritual atheists.

        • Itarion

          Lit.; saying that gods do not exist, or that there is insufficient evidence to support their existence. If a man with a glowing cross made severe wounds disappear near instantaneously, but he couldn’t do it without the cross, I would suspect that the glowy cross had something to do with it. If someone conjured a holy sword from nothing, if inflicted fear upon their enemies without intimidation, if they could make others people incapable of attacking them, if they called otherworldly creatures to this world, If they caused unnatural light, if they caused unnatural darkness, if they paralyzed another person, if they healed another’s physical paralysis, if they restored limbs, if they transferred others’ physical damage to themselves, if they made it impossible to lie for a time, if they did any of these effects or many more, I would not and could not deny the presence of gods.

          Indeed, Christianity is atheistic. Most religions are mostly atheistic, because most religions deny most proposed gods. You are only slightly less an atheist than I.

          I’ll tell you from personal experience that dogs don’t even begin to think we’re gods. I have had two in my short – so far – life, and both of them could tell that I wasn’t looking at something. Dogs serve humans, not because we’re all powerful, but because we’re more powerful. We get things that they cannot comprehend, and we give them things that they like. Domestication is a symbiotic relationship, but one of intelligence. Dogs can see things, can calculate events that humans can’t, and we use that. Humans can see things and calculate events that dogs can’t, and they use that. It’s just a more complex pack than a pure canine or a pure sapiens pack.

        • JohnH2

          “Dogs serve humans, not because we’re all powerful, but because we’re more powerful.”

          Isn’t that what polytheism often is? That was basically my point.

          “I would not and could not deny the presence of gods.”

          So a surgeon with a flashlight and the right drugs is your idea of god?

          “Most religions are mostly atheistic, because most religions deny most proposed gods.”

          I believe you missed the point of why Christianity was considered to be atheistic. Worshiping or denying the existence of other deities wasn’t really a point of any concern, the problem was that they were denying a certain philosophical conception of God. Perhaps it will make more sense if I go to Hinduism: to the polytheist at that time it made no difference if one worshiped (essentially) Vishnu or Shiva (or denied their existence) but denying the existence of Brahman was considered to be a serious problem.

          It is quite possible that your conceptions of existence and reality would make you less of an atheist theologically for the majority of the worlds religions then I am.

        • Itarion

          Isn’t that what polytheism often is? That was basically my point.

          True enough, I’ll give you that one.

          So a surgeon with a flashlight and the right drugs is your idea of god?

          No. The healing was instantaneous, with no recovery time. You were injured severely, then within the space of a few minutes you were not. See the miracles of Jesus, healing the sick, deformed, paralyzed, blind, and similar. I don’t believe that because it’s from an ancient text, but I would believe it if it was shown to happen regularly in modern times.

          I believe you missed the point of why Christianity was considered to be atheistic. Worshiping or denying the existence of other deities wasn’t really a point of any concern, the problem was that they were denying a certain philosophical conception of God. Perhaps it will make more sense if I go to Hinduism: to the polytheist at that time it made no difference if one worshiped (essentially) Vishnu or Shiva (or denied their existence) but denying the existence of Brahman was considered to be a serious problem.

          I don’t think that I did. There are a great many religions, mono- and polytheistic, throughout the world, all of which believe that all other religions are false. Hindus all accept that each of the sub-deities are merely facets of the greater Brahman, so they are different sects of the same religion. Denying the existence of Brahman would be a problem, because that sets you outside of the framework of the common religion.

          It is quite possible that your conceptions of existence and reality would make you less of an atheist theologically for the majority of the worlds religions then I am.

          Interesting. Explain.

        • JohnH2

          “the existence of Brahman”

          I should point out that it is often taken to be the case that Brahman is Allah is Jehovah is the Unmoved Mover.

          “Explain.”

          I assume you believe that existence itself is real? If you happen to believe that the universe came to exist then the difference between you and a classical theist is an assertion that the reason the universe exists is God; which god can be taken as the causer of existence or even just existence itself. If you happen to not believe that the universe came to exist (meaning it always existed) then it is likely that you should be considered more of an atheist then me by classical theism, but even that is not entirely certain: the usage of the Big Bang as the start of the creation of God is actually a recent thing and the older theist position is different.

          To put it another way, Atheists assert that Nothing is God, classical Theism asserts that God is Nothing, and Mormons assert that there is no ‘Nothing’.

        • Itarion

          I should point out that it is often taken to be the case that Brahman is Allah is Jehovah is the Unmoved Mover.

          Just because something is taken to be the case does not mean that such is the case. Can you prove that they are the same? Then there is no strong reason to assert that they are.

          I assume you believe that existence itself is real?

          As per my definition listed elsewhere on this page [confidence without proof] yes. I have no proof that existence is real, yet I am confident that it is.

          If you happen to believe that the universe came to exist then the difference between you and a classical theist is an assertion that the reason the universe exists is God; which god can be taken as the causer of existence or even just existence itself.

          Still following, a theist will assert that God caused the universe, I [and any atheist by definition] will not.

          If you happen to not believe that the universe came to exist (meaning it always existed) then it is likely that you should be considered more of an atheist then me by classical theism, but even that is not entirely certain: the usage of the Big Bang as the start of the creation of God is actually a recent thing and the older theist position is different.

          Right, atheist, but not scientifically literate. The age of the universe has been measure, and it is finite. Extraordinarily large, but finite. And don’t get me started on the Big Bang as God creating the Universe, or shit like that. If you want to accept the science, just accept the damn science, and don’t try to make it religious. It’s not.

          To put it another way, Atheists assert that Nothing is God, classical Theism asserts that God is Nothing, and Mormons assert that there is no ‘Nothing’.

          That doesn’t make much sense to me. I think that naught is a god, as you say. I don’t follow either of the theistic statements you give, classical theist or Mormon.

        • JohnH2

          “Can you prove that they are the same?”

          That the ultimate reality that is existence and that existence depends on is the same? It doesn’t appear that Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians are living in three or four separate realities.

          “scientifically literate”

          There is a problem with saying that the Universe came to be or that the Big Bang was the start of the Universe: there are two separate concepts which are being conflated in saying that. Philosophically the Universe is all that exists, in physics that isn’t necessarily the case, the current state of spatial-temporal existence may not be the complete extent of all that exists.

          From some classical theists:

          “God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.” God is literally nothing — no-thing. God is not an object in the world; not a being. God does not exist in a manner like anything else but in a fundemantally different, unique mode.”

          Mormonism asserts that the above is nonsense but that there is an embodied being who is God and that there is no ‘nothing’:the Big Bang came from a pre-existing state.

        • Itarion

          That the ultimate reality that is existence and that existence depends on is the same? It doesn’t appear that Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians are living in three or four separate realities.

          They, the list of theological constructs you listed. These constructs are defined as more than just the origins of the universe. Can you show that the rest of the definitions match up. They are all “The Origin”, but there is a clear difference between “The Origin: Big Bang” and “The Origin: Creationism”. The universe, assuming that it actually exists in the manner we experience it, has a beginning. No human currently alive knows what that origin is. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves and you.

          There is a problem with saying that the Universe came to be or that the Big Bang was the start of the Universe: there are two separate concepts which are being conflated in saying that. Philosophically the Universe is all that exists, in physics that isn’t necessarily the case, the current state of spatial-temporal existence may not be the complete extent of all that exists.

          The universe came to be, and the Big Bang best explains what happens immediately following that. Philosophy without reference to the natural world is meaningless. The universe has been shown to have a beginning, therefore there is something outside it. We don’t know what that is. That’s all that we can currently say about the topic, and anything else essentially amounts to mental masturbation. It feels good, but it don’t really accomplish anything, and it’s best not to do in public. [Please forgive my vulgarity, “philosophy” tends to be a hot button for me.]

          From some classical theists:

          “God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.” God is literally nothing — no-thing. God is not an object in the world; not a being. God does not exist in a manner like anything else but in a fundemantally different, unique mode.”

          Wow… That is stupid. God is nothing, but also something, but not something as you understand it? I mean, excellent mindnastics, but wow. I assert that the above is nonsense too. The embodied god I disagree with, but yeah, there’s a preexisting state. I think that it’s part of inflationary theory and has some multiversal properties, but is meaningless until testable.

        • Greg G.

          I should point out that it is often taken to be the case that Brahman is Allah is Jehovah is the Unmoved Mover.

          Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are the same person, too. We’ve never seen an actaul, unretouched photograph of them together.

        • Itarion

          You haven’t? Oh, unretouched. Okay, yeah, that is true…. weird.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Nor is there an unretouched photo of Batman and me together.

          Make of that what you will …

        • Itarion

          Holy crap, you’re Superman

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          (Whoa–keep it under your hat, will you?)

        • Greg G.

          Nana nana nana nana nana nana – Seidensticker!

        • RichardSRussell

          On more than one occasion during my 37-year experience playing D&D (yes, I go back go Gygax and Arneson), I’ve played a cleric, who not only believed in the gods but was a devout follower of and advocate for one of them.

          Of course, the D&D gods themselves would’ve laffed themselves silly at any among their number who pretended to be the only one, let alone all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, etc. “What an arrogant asshole!”, they would’ve said. And they would’ve been right, too.

          And in my own campaign, there was a minority of atheist characters who contended that all those “gods” were just ordinary people who’d figured out better than everybody else how the magic system worked. (As it happens, tho they were widely ridiculed by the rest of their fake society, they were correct in the world design of the DM, IE, me.)

        • Itarion

          Well, they’d have laffed themselves silly after taking this arrogant asshole out back and tearing his powers to shreds. A highly powerful egotist is a danger. Dragonlance had an arc where Takhisis [Tiamat] managed to banish all other gods for a short bit. It ended poorly for her.

          there was a minority of atheist characters who contended that all those “gods” were just ordinary people who’d figured out better than everybody else how the magic system worked.

          This is the basis of the magic system in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Becoming a god is “ascending”. Sometimes it involves dying, sometimes not. Sometimes it involves magic, sometimes not, though ascendants gain magical abilities upon ascending. It always involves being a legend. I would actually think that these “atheists” would be more likely to become a god, and could still pay homage to one of these gods, even if they “knew” how it worked. I would be more likely to pay homage to a humanish god – humans play favorites better.

    • RichardSRussell

      If there was a religion that had better evidence than Christianity in all possible respects would you believe it?

      As I pointed out earlier, Mormonism meets Bob’s credibility criteria. It’s still available in the language in which it was written; we have many identical copies of that original work, so there’s been no linguistic drift; it was attested to (in writing, no less) by many of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries; its followers are demonstrably less likely to be imprisoned, go bankrupt, etc.; and it provides a mechanism (God’s living prophet on Earth) for resolving contradictions if and as they arise. In pretty much every respect, it’s superior to Christianity.

      How do Christian fundamentalists react to Mormonism, then? We saw exactly how when Mitt Romney was the likely Republican presidential nominee. The TBs grasped at every crazy straw that popped up — Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, each of whom had a brief tenure as the GOP front-runner — desperately hoping to find somebody, anybody, other than the agent of Satan’s own synagog on Earth, 95% likely to be the anti-Christ they were always fretting over. In the end, tho, they held their noses and pulled the lever for Lucifer’s emissary over the lying anti-American commie Nazi atheist Muslim socialist from Kenya (thotfully color-coded for their convenience in telling the good guys from the bad ones).

      In short, to once again validate the quotation from Jonathan Swift frequently hauled out by bemused atheist onlookers in such a situation, “You do not reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into in the 1st place.”

      • JohnH2

        “we have many identical copies of that original work, so there’s been no linguistic drift”

        There is some textual variation between the original manuscript (which I don’t think the entire thing exists any more), the printers copy, a later edition that Joseph Smith copy edited, and the current printed version. A large part of that variation is fairly minor, but some of it does make a difference. A Dr. Royal Skousen has spent a long time doing critical text analysis to try and come up with the original most accurate text.

        • John Bell

          Some of the embarrassing stuff has been edited. Like, for example, the “white and delightsome” line. The Mormons have no trouble whitewashing their history when it suits them.

        • JohnH2

          That change actually appeared in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon copy-edited by Joseph Smith; However, the 1837 edition was the one that was used as the basis for reprinting until the 1981 edition. That doesn’t address though why the 1837 reading was used as opposed to the 1840 corrected reading until 1981, not sure I want to speculate on that one.

        • John Bell

          It does seem odd that the “most correct book on earth” would need to be edited and revised so often.

          Another convenient change I like is the revision (in 2006 I believe) from describing the Lamanites as the “principal ancestors” of the Native Americans to “among the ancestors” of the Native Americans. Of course, even the revision is absurd and demonstrably false.

        • JohnH2

          “Lamanites as the “principal ancestors” of the Native Americans to “among the ancestors” of the Native Americans.”

          That is from the introduction; I am not sure who wrote that but it is fairly recent and isn’t itself scripture; neither are the chapter headings. The change reflects a shift away from the theory of the Book of Mormon being a hemispheric text to one of much more limited geography.

          As used in the Book of Mormon, saying Lamanites are the ancestors of the Native Americans is actually correct because the Nephites didn’t play well with others and called everyone who wasn’t a Nephite as a Lamanite, regardless of whether the people being referred to had any connection to the people that could actually be called Lamanite. So anyone not Nephite that lives in the Americas is automatically a Lamanite, per the Nephite view of the world.

        • Thin-ice

          . . . only if you totally ignore DNA and genetic evidence. That’s the only way a true believer like yourself could believe that African and Near Eastern ethniticies are the direct ancestors of the Lamanites and Nephites. Science is a bitch, isn’t it?

        • JohnH2

          You just ignored what I said. The Nephites called everyone that wasn’t them Lamanites regardless of who they actually were.

          Reading comprehension is a good thing, you should try it.

          So anyone not Nephite that lives in the Americas is automatically a Lamanite, per the Nephite view of the world.

        • Thin-ice

          Sorry, I’m just speechless that any person with even ordinary intelligence and knowledge of science could believe that the Book of Mormon contains ANY literal world history. Again, only true believers. No one else gives the BOM even the slightest credibility.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The “white and delightsome” thing was the version printed before 1981? I hadn’t heard that.

          But how do you respond to the fact that this racist crap was in there in the first place?

          And, something of a tangent: I understand Joseph Smith was against slavery but Brigham Young was not. Your thoughts?

        • JohnH2

          “The “white and delightsome” thing was the version printed before 1981?”

          Except for the 1840 edition.

          “But how do you respond to the fact that this racist crap was in there in the first place?”

          White can mean pure, Joseph Smith translated the concept as white and later clarified it as being pure due to the confusion having it be white causes.

          “I understand Joseph Smith was against slavery but Brigham Young was not. Your thoughts?”

          Joseph Smith was completely against slavery and gave the priesthood to black people. Brigham Young was completely and utterly a racist and denied blacks the priesthood. I know that the 1837 edition was the basis for the European printing of the Book of Mormon, but I am certain that Brigham Young could have corrected that fairly quickly had he had any desire to do so. He did manage to move tens of thousands of people successfully into the middle of a desert and navigate the difficult politics, among other things, so I believe he was a prophet of God but that doesn’t make him a nice person or infallible any more then Jonah appears to have been (for instance).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Interesting. Is your frank assessment of Brigham Young universal among Mormons?

        • JohnH2

          I actually imagine not, the church’s sunday school and the Church Education System (CES) have an extremely strong tendency to ‘whitewash’ the past prophets and church history and to almost encourage something similar to the ‘veneration’ of practicing anglo-American Catholics (as opposed to the Latin American variety of ‘veneration’), a sort of hero worship and extreme respect. Neither deals really at all with such issues so unless someone has read either online or in other books what Brigham Young said and did they may not be familiar with the issue. (Same thing with Joseph Smith’s faults).

          I personally strongly believe that such an approach to church history is highly misguided and very damaging. It doesn’t fit with the doctrine. It creates a sort of false history that can cause challenges when people learn the true history. It sets up these fallible men that were called to do amazing things despite their weaknesses as being instead nearly perfect messiah like figures which if a person buys into and then is confronted with their utter humanness can be shattering.

        • Itarion

          Yeah, whitewashing and heroization is actually fairly common with historical figures. It’s fairly irritating, actually. We should so NOT be celebrating Columbus. He was frankly an idiot, and not the only person thinking the world was round. Plus he was a bastard to the natives.
          And a whole bunch of similar instances throughout history.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Are you out within your Mormon community about this? You seem to be an unusual “Mormon.”

        • JohnH2

          I haven’t said anything that is contrary to the doctrine of the church (nor the policy).

          The internet appears to be forcing the issue, even though the actual percentages don’t appear to be significantly higher then previously, the internet has given those that leave the church over such issues or that are struggling with dealing with the disconnect between the image painted in the CES manuals and reality a place to connect and be vocal about the subject; they are much harder to ignore then when they were dealt with quietly at the local level.

          One of the Apostles actually admitted that the church has made mistakes in the past and the same with church leaders in the last conference so hopefully that leads to actual change on the subject of teaching church history.

          I don’t think there should be any question here or any where else that I am a Mormon and one that actually believes in the truthfulness of the church and the Book of Mormon. Obviously, I am probably somewhat unusual because I think it is fun to debate the subject of religion online but really anyone that knows me would probably say I was unusual anyways.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So are you out about this?

        • JohnH2

          ???

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Out of the closet. Does everyone in your religious community know that you have some unflattering opinions about the early church leaders?

        • JohnH2

          “Out of the closet”

          ???

          “unflattering opinions”

          I don’t see why this would be a problem; God Himself said that Joseph Smith would perform the sacrifice required of him for his transgressions (D&C 132:60) (he was dead less then a year later), meaning Joseph Smith did have transgressions, even apparently very serious ones, but that even with his transgressions and his weaknesses it was still possible for him to become acceptable to God; as it is with all of us.

          People in my local religious community actually do know that I believe in the humanness of everyone and in our ability through the grace of Christ to still choose the way of perfection, and that in doing so we will still stumble as we are tried and tested in all things before we receive the end to our faith. That I logically apply this to everyone, including myself and current and past church leaders, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I am not going to hide that church leaders are humans given great authority and responsibility but still capable of error but I have no desire to force others to confront what that means unless there was a specific reason to do so.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The closet metaphor is used for people keeping any sort of secret from their community or family. It’s used for atheists, for example.

          Let me get this straight. Joseph Smith wrote the D&C, it came from God, it predicted his own death (not precisely, but vaguely), and then Smith did indeed die shortly afterwards?

        • JohnH2

          Joseph Smith wrote the D&C, it came from God, it predicted his own death (not precisely, but vaguely), and then Smith did indeed die shortly afterwards?

          Yes, within a year, and the reason for his imprisonment and the mod that killed him fairly precisely and directly related to that revelation, the practice of plural marriage (which is the main content of the revelation), and his practicing of it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s interesting. Is there a brief summary of this that you can point me to?

          I ask because conventional Christians are quick to reject Mormonism, despite the fact that the Mormon evidence is so much clearer. They want to claim that Jesus predicted his own death, for example, and yet they reject Joseph Smith’s prediction, which seems to me to be better evidence on every point. Do you agree?

        • Craig S.

          “Joseph Smith was completely against slavery and gave the priesthood to black people.”

          It’s true that he did not deny the priesthood to black men completely as Brigham Young did, but to say Joseph Smith was completely against slavery is too simplified. By the time of his presidential run in 1844, he was anti-slavery; part of his platform was a proposal to end slavery by having the government pay slaveholders “a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from members of Congress.” (History of the Church, 6:205)

          However, he didn’t always hold those views. In an 1836 letter to Oliver Cowdery, he sets out a pretty firm anti-abolition stance. http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/letter-to-oliver-cowdery-circa-april-1836
          Some highlights:

          “No one will pretend to say, that the people of the free states are as capa ble of knowing the evils of slavery as those who hold them. If slavery is an evil, who, could we expect, would first learn it? Would the people of the free states, or would the slave states? All must readily admit, that th[e] latter would first learn this fact. If the fact was learned first by those immediately concerned, who would be more capa ble than they of prescribing a remedy?”

          “After having expressed myself so freely upon this subject, I do not doubt but those who have been forward in raising their voice against the South, will cry out against me as being un charitable, unfeeling and unkind— wholly unacquainted with the gospel of Christ. It is my privilege then, to name certain passages from the bible, and examine the teachings of the an cients upon this matter, as the fact is uncontrovertable, that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the ho ly bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation and walked with God. And so far from that prediction’s being averse from the mind of God it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude!

          “And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his serva[n]t.— God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem: and Canaan shall be his servant.”—Gen, 8: 25,26,27.

          Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfilment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is af fected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pur sue a course which shows an opposi tion and a feverish restlessness against the designs of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his own work without the aid of those who are not dictated by his counsel.”

          So at least earlier on in his life, he was definitely not against slavery. I don’t know what made him change his mind on it, though, I’m not aware of other writings he made on the subject.

        • JohnH2

          This has some more on the subject of what Joseph Smiths views were at different times:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_people_and_early_Mormonism

  • Greg G.

    What if every time a book was reproduced without error, no matter what materials or languages were used, the letters glowed? I would be very interested in the content.