Initial Inspiration

Most religions that exist today are of ancient origin, and their scriptures and creeds reflect the immoral beliefs of their times. However, social progress in the civilized world has led to widespread recognition of the immorality of those practices, and many churches today are in the awkward position of disavowing such evils while simultaneously maintaining the sacredness and inerrancy of the texts that teach them. The Bible, for example, explicitly states that women must remain silent in the presence of men and are not allowed to teach them (1 Timothy 2:11-12), but most modern Christian denominations ignore this rule and allow women to speak in church and even be pastors and ministers. Yet these very same Christians still believe the book that contains this hateful and misogynistic rule to be inspired by God.

Other religious groups have similarly progressed beyond the immoral beliefs of their founding generations. The Roman Catholic church, which once threatened the elderly Galileo with torture, now admits their error and accepts the heliocentricity of the solar system. The Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed for the express purpose of defending the existence of slavery, now repudiates slavery. The Mormon church once endorsed polygamous marriage but now no longer does. In these cases and others, the moral progress of modern times has forced religions to give up practices that they once defended as just and necessary institutions ordained by God.

The question that inevitably arises in such circumstances is, if a church didn’t have it right at the beginning, why should anyone put any more confidence in them now? Given that they have made errors and admitted those errors, why should I assume that they now have access to a more reliable source of revelation, rather than judging their current dogmas to be the erroneous ideas of men just as their past dogmas were?

A believer might ask the parallel question of an atheist: knowing that science has been wrong in the past, why should we trust it now when it makes findings contrary to religion? The answer is that science, unlike religion, is an inherently self-correcting system. The constant competition between groups of scientists with differing viewpoints, as well as science’s demand that all results be testable and repeatable, ensures that mistakes will be detected in due time, and even initially controversial ideas can become part of the scientific canon if their advocates can produce the evidence to support them. Likewise, even long-believed ideas can eventually be overturned by new evidence showing them to be false or incomplete.

By contrast, religion has nothing like this. There is no mechanism in religion to add new ideas or to disprove old ones; in religion, once an idea becomes part of a church’s accepted creed, it is supposed to be holy writ no longer subject to questioning or doubt. Those who do persist in questioning are labeled heretics, and often, punished or expelled to silence them. Although creeds do change, it almost invariably happens through force or schism, or more rarely through a church head promulgating it by fiat as new dogma – almost never through a theologian convincing the majority of his peers that their core beliefs are mistaken by marshaling evidence and rational argumentation. Dissension within the framework of the existing creed is usually allowed, but a challenge to the creed itself never is. If anything, the believers who are rewarded and praised are the ones who most fiercely defend traditional beliefs.

It is to be expected that science would make mistakes from time to time. Scientists are only human, and have never claimed to be anything more. We are fallible and ignorant, and our quest to understand the extraordinary complexity of the universe must inevitably involve much arduous trial and error. But religion claims access to an infallible source of knowledge, an omniscient being who knows everything there is to know about the world. Any admitted error in a system that claims such a source shows that this claim is false. Admittedly, theists might say that the error is not with God but only with our flawed understanding of his will; but in that case, why does religion not have a self-correcting mechanism similar to science? Why do they not welcome challenges to even the most basic aspects of their creeds, just in case they are again mistaken about what God wants?

The answer is that religion, unlike science, is fundamentally not based on evidence. There is no way to decide on the truth of a religious proposition independent of personal opinion, and so attempting to introduce a self-correcting mechanism into religion would lead only to chaos, a Babel of irreconcilable diverging opinions (as indeed the human race as a whole is, when it comes to this subject). By contrast, centuries of scientific debate have produced continual advances in knowledge and a rock-solid consensus on many issues of fundamental importance. Just try to imagine if the human race as a whole was this united on religion! It never has been and it never will be, so long as religion persists. But the fundamental non-evidentiary basis – in other words, the fundamental irrationality – of religious belief serves as a strong reason to forsake it entirely, and instead trust in methods that have proven effective at delivering truth about the external world.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • SpeirM

    Oh, the tight, kinky, and complicated knots I used to have to tie myself into in my efforts to untwist the Bible! Sometimes I do wonder that my adult Sunday School students were able to keep a straight face. But they believed it just like I did.

  • Philip Thomas

    Hmmm….It would be a very unwise beleiver who decided to attack an atheist on the grounds of science being wrong. After all, most scientific knowledge is common ground between theists and atheists. At least, if we ignore embarassing theists who maintain creationism or the like.

    The Catholic Chuch continuously reviews and scrutinises its teachings, and sometimes they change. Its a fair point that there are some teachings which are said to be guaranteed though.

    As I have said before, my religion is an evidence-based religion, at least at its core. I believe, on the basis of the historical evidence before me, that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. It is possible to have a rational discussion about that evidence, at least for a while. More generally, if you can show me my beliefs are in contradiction or are not supported by the evidence I will try to adjust them so they do not contradict each other and are supported by the evidence- and this process could (and has) lead to changes in my religous beleifs, as it could lead to changes in my beliefs on other matter.

  • dhagrow

    There is a bit of a confusion of terms here. I wish there were better words for some of these concepts. Adam is using “religion” the way I would: as an ideology for acquiring knowledge about our universe. If we consider religion in this light alone it is in direct opposition to the scientific ideology. The former assumes that knowledge is divinely revealed and infallible. The latter assumes that knowledge can only be revealed through experiences, and that our certainty of those experiences can change over time. Science is clearly the better way to go here.

    I think Philip is using religion in another sense: as a belief in a divine power. In my mind, this has little to do with how we acquire knowledge. Rather, it is a matter of origin. I don’t have much of a problem with those who say that God must exist because otherwise nothing could exist. I find that I have a lot in common with such people. I only think it makes more sense to call it the Big Bang rather than God. There is nothing about the traditional concepts of any god (generally very human characters) that resembles the awesome uncertainty of why anything exists at all.

    By the way, I’m curious if anyone here has seen The Atheism Tapes. It is a collection of interviews made during the production of Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief. One of the interviews is with the theologian Denys Turner, and he gives the most convincing argument for the existance of God that I have ever heard. I can understand why he is a Deist, though I haven’t heard his arguments for why he is a Christian. I recommend the series to everyone, especially the interviews, if you can find them. To Philip and any other Christian or Deist lurkers, the interview with Denys Turner will likely increase your faith. You’ll still be horribly misguided though :).

  • SpeirM

    “The answer is that religion, unlike science, is fundamentally not based on evidence.”

    I’ll admit I have a little trouble with that statement. Most any and everything is evidence. If someone told me the Moon was about to fall out of the sky, the telling of it alone would be evidence. I might even forget myself for a moment and look up just to be sure.

    That people believe a proposition is evidence. When 100 people say Jesus rose from the dead, that’s evidence. When a billion people do, that’s a lot more evidence. The question is, What is the quality of the evidence? The quantity isn’t nearly so important as the quality. The Resurrection is just not a believable tale because the hard evidence–that the dead demonstrably don’t rise–is so qualitatively superior to the opinions of even a billion people, who themselves admit they didn’t see any such thing happen. They just believe the long-ago stories of others–that, again, fly in the face of the uniformly common experience–that can’t be demonstrated to be true, either.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, is this your argument?

    1. In the whole history of humanity, no human being has ever risen from the dead.
    2. Jesus of Nazereth was a human being.
    3. Therefore, Jesus of Nazereth didn’t rise from the dead

  • SpeirM

    Philip, you know very well that’s not my argument. In fact, there’s no need to arrange it syllogistically at all. I don’t need to “argue.” All I’m doing is pointing out that an absurd claim is, in fact, an absurd claim.

    You’ve never seen anyone rise from the dead. No one you’ve known has ever seen anyone rise from the dead. Neither you nor they can posit a mechanism that could even hypothetically bring a dead man back to life after more than two days. Thousands-years-old stories that claim someone rose from the dead are not verifiable. Therefore, neither you nor anyone you’ve ever known has any rational basis for claiming anyone ever has risen from the dead. You certainly are in no position to insist upon it.

  • Philip Thomas

    Ah well, I was assuming you were following some logical pattern. There are many things that I have never seen and that no one I’ve known has ever seen which I believe to have happened. I suppose you don’t think divine intervention is a mechanism. There are methods for determing the truth content of ancient sources, methods developed over time by serious scholars. Are you saying we can not trust those methods?

  • SpeirM

    “I suppose you don’t think divine intervention is a mechanism.”

    First, you’d have to demonstrate that there is a divine. Then you’d have to be willing to call God a “mechanism.” But we both know that fails the definition. To rightly call something a mechanism requires more than suggesting an agent; it requires some understanding of the processes involved. Can you explian the processes involved? What makes God “work”? What gives him his extraordinary power? If you can’t tell me that, at least at some rudimentary level, don’t pretend you have a mechanism.

    “There are methods for determing the truth content of ancient sources, methods developed over time by serious scholars. Are you saying we can not trust those methods?”

    Well, in the first place, many scholars say the New Testament fails these tests. I suspect the others dearly with it didn’t and try to make it so.

    But no matter. History isn’t a science. There are ways some stories in history can be tested scientifically; that is, if they leave physical traces that can be scrutinized and authenticated. Do you know of any unquestionable physical evidence for the Resurrection? (I stick in “unquestionable” because of the Shroud of Turin. Needless to say, scientific testing has not been kind to it.) If you do, you’re the first. There are lots of folks who would like to talk to you.

    I’ve had Christians ask why I accept Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War implicitly but reject the historicity of the NT. In the first place, I don’t accept Caesar’s work implicitly. Neither would any historian. It, too, is subjected to searing scrutiny. Where it fails, it’s considered an exaggeration at best.

    But likelihood is a key factor in these issues. We know Rome didn’t control Gaul before Caesar and did afterward. Then, Caesar makes few claims that are extraordinary. Basically, what he does is tell how he conquered a region. It’s the kind of thing that’s been done countless times throughout human history. In short, there’s no reason to suppose it didn’t happen, more or less as written.

    How very different it would be if Caesar had claimed to die and then rise from the dead three days later! How many historians would give that story any credit? Would you? If not, why not?

  • Philip Thomas

    When the evidence suggests something has happened, but you don’t understand how, do you say “We have no mechanism for this, therefore it didn’t happen”?

    many scholars? I am aware of one scholar who denies the existence of a historical Jesus. I expect there are others. But the bulk of the scholarly consensus is that he existed. On the Resurrection there is less consenseus. But thats normal, historians argue about what happened all the time, and one makes a judgement on their arguments.

    I do not know of any physical evidence for the Resurrection, in the sense of archaelogical remains that prove Jesus of Nazereth rose from the dead. I think the Shroud of Turin is a fake: but if it was genuine it wouldn’t prove the Resurrection, its just some guy’s face!

    Re Caesar:I would analyse the source using the normal methods. Since he would be making the claim about himself, it would be a slightly different case, and one would want to research the background for plausibility. Caesar was such an important figure in Roman politics that one would expect his death and Resurrection to be very well known…but if there was sufficient corroborating evidence I would beleive him.

    Sorry about the insistent tone of my answers on the other thread.

  • SpeirM

    “When the evidence suggests something has happened, but you don’t understand how, do you say “We have no mechanism for this, therefore it didn’t happen”?”

    Is that what I said? Read what I wrote again. You’ve never seen a resurrection. No one you’ve ever known ever has. The question is, What then could possibly lead you to think anybody has ever been dead for three days and come back to life? If you could at least come up with a mechanism, you could show how it *might* have been done. But you can’t even do that. You’re left altogether without any rational justification for insisting Jesus rose from the dead.

    Say 100 noted Roman historians from about the time of Jesus’ birth recorded that Caesar had risen from the dead. Would you believe that? I suspect you would not. And the reason you would not is that you know it doesn’t happen, no matter what 100 noted Roman historians said. Furthermore, it’s not essential to your faith, so you would have no emotional impulse to try to justify it.

    Yes, there are many scholars who give the Gospels some credence. (There are many more who don’t than you’d like to know.) But the quality of the evidence is there for all to see. It’s easy enough to see that it’s not good. For the same reason the Shroud proves nothing, the Gospels don’t, either. Even if it could be shown unquestionably that the shroud was from around the time of the supposed Resurrection, it still wouldn’t prove that Jesus rose. Not only would it not prove the case, it wouldn’t lend much credibility to it. There were lots of people crucified back then.

    Likewise, if it could be shown that the four Gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (and it cannot), that wouldn’t prove anything, either, would it? Having an old document in your hands doesn’t prove that what’s on it is the truth, does it? Not even if you know who the author was without doubt. And when what it says is altogether contrary to common experience–indeed, when it’s contrary to your own experience and the experiences of anyone you’ve ever known–and when there’s no conceivable mechanism for making it happen, you’re more than justified in raising an eyebrow and saying, “I’m going to need a heck of a lot more than this!”

  • Philip Thomas

    I’ve never seen an atom. No one I’ve ever known has seen an atom I don’t understand how atoms work. Any mechanism I can come up with to demonstrate how they work assumes the existence of atoms. But the evidence is they exist, so I believe they exist.

    I would believe it if it seemed to be historically true. 100 historians is normally a pretty good number.

    I understand you are sceptical. Its a big thing. For the moment I have made my judgement. Additonal evidence may change my mind. We shall see.

  • SpeirM

    Well, I’m tired of chasing my tail. Obviously, I can’t make you believe or disbelieve anything. Fortunately, it’s not critical that I do. Basically, I’m driven in these discussions mostly by bewilderment. At least when I was a Christian I used to insist I’d had spiritual experiences that I took as validation of my faith. You don’t even do that.

  • Philip Thomas

    Oh, I have had spiritual experiences. However, as I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, a condition which includes pschotic symptoms, I do not consider the experiences as sufficient evidence.

  • https://philosophicalkarl.blogspot.com karl

    Um, I really did not understand your argument in this post. You claim that Science is self-correcting, and Religion is not, so we should believe Science, and not Religion. You then give examples where Religion self-corrects, then deny it has any mechanism for doing so. If the SBC once believed in slavery, and now it doesn’t, assuming slavery to be wrong, the SBC has made a correction. Whatever they might SAY about stuff being part of their holy writ, you must look at what they actually believe, and its evolution to decide what religion actually is, just like all the scientific pronouncements of the past.

    Now, there are a great many reasons to believe in Science as giving us truths, and not religion, but I am unclear how your argument furthers this.

  • SpeirM

    “However, as I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, a condition which includes pschotic symptoms, I do not consider the experiences as sufficient evidence.”

    I commiserate with you. I had an ex-wife with that problem. Life wasn’t easy for her at all. (She’s still around–the Earth, that is, not me. She decided she couldn’t take me anymore. Imagine that! :( )

  • https://philosophicalkarl.blogspot.com karl.czemer

    I am a bit unclear as to how your argument here runs. It seems like you are saying that we have reason to believe that science gives us truths and religion does not, despite the fact that they have both been wrong in the past. Your reason is that science has a mechanism for self-correcting, and religion does not. Science has, I assume you mean, a peer review process of some sort and religion has dogma.

    But then you go and give examples of how religion self-corrects. The SBC for example no longer believes in slavery, the Church exonerated Galileo (and Darwin for that matter). Examples abound: Jews no longer belive in genocide of Amalekites, no one thinks the Earth has four corners. . . To see what a religion believes, one need not look at what some ancient book of dogmas believe, but rather what everyone who follows the religion believes. (In the same way that we might not judge a society by some ancient obscure laws that are still on the books but never enforced.)

    So if religion does have a mechanism for self correcting, then how does it differ from science? The answer to that requires things like appeals to the scientific method, and falsifiability, ability to make predictions, and produce technology, none of which we can get from religion. But the appeal to religions inability to self-correct seems, IMHO, misguiged.

  • Philip Thomas

    I think Adam’s point is that religion doesn’t have a clearly set out and rigorously defined self-correcting process, unlike Science.

    SpeirM, I’m sorry to hear that, I hope she is stable and on medication now.
    I was thinking about why I wasn’t convinced by your arguments. Why didn’t I change my position in reaction to the (true) information that people don’t normally rise from the dead and the Gospels are thousands of years old? I think it may be simply that I knew that already. Not that it wasn’t worth pointing it out, sometimes I have 2 and 2 there in front of me but don’t make 4 until they are drawn to my attention. But it would be an unusual believer who said “You mean the Gospels, are, like, ancient documents? Wow, I thought they were modern! I’ll have to think about that!” (winking smiley)

  • SpeirM

    karl.czemer:

    If the Church now accepts that the Earth goes around the Sun, it’s not due to religion correcting itself. It’s that science showed it something that it couldn’t deny forever. (And, oh, how it tried! Catholic and Protestant alike.)

    As to moral issues, it would be hard to demonstrate that religion even corrected itself on those. Adam’s point is that whole concept of revelation assumes that the wisdom of a religion comes “from on high.” It has no need of correction. Because it was God who spoke (supposedly), it was Truth as soon as the words left him mouth, so to speak.

    So, why did God, in the OT, command atrocities that we all find reprehensible today? Has God become a better being morally in the meantime? Why didn’t he outlaw polygamy and slavery rather than enforce both? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be the “Spirit-breathed” word of God? Why was it only 1700 years after the Christian era began that slavery was finally seen as such an evil that it was outlawed? Certainly not because of the Bible! The Bible never utters a word against the practice. While it’s true that many of the opponents of slavery (Clarkson, Wilberforce, et al) were Christians, they were preceded by some very outspoken Deists such as Thomas Paine. Also consider that Christians were represented in much greater numbers in the general population than Deists. It was inevitable that the overwhelming majority of abolitionists would be Christians. But, again, it’s easy enough to demonstrate that their improved moral sentiments did not come from any explicit word of Scripture. And some of the most prominent were very liberal Christians, Deists, and even atheists.

    Undoubtedly, there have been any number of Christians who have contributed to the moral improvement of the world. But the founders of their religion seemed blind to the need for these improvements. That’s telling.

    In the final analysis, Christianity has not, as a rule, been self-correcting. If it has changed, it has usually come despite dragging its feet. Even those within its ranks who saw a better way were often thought unorthodox and were resisted.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Karl,

    SpeirM has it right: just because religion changes does not mean that it has a self-correcting mechanism. In the instances I cite and others, religion did not correct itself but rather was corrected by social pressures and other external forces. On the contrary, religious institutions are set up to resist criticism and change as fiercely as possible. Just think of the very notion of a creed: a statement of beliefs to which you must agree if you are to call yourself a member of some religion! Science has nothing like this.

    And the cases I cite provide evidence of this: it took several hundred years for the Catholic church to officially apologize to Galileo. The Mormon church was forced to abandon polygamy because of social pressure and law, not because it recognized the immorality of its practice. And the SBC did not withdraw its defense of slavery voluntarily – in fact, it took a civil war! As I point out, despite the fact that many religions no longer support obviously immoral or false statements such as those endorsing genocide, those statements still exist unchanged in the holy books that they hold up as collections of divine wisdom. True, no Jews that I’m aware of advocate genocide today – but then why do they still believe in and venerate scriptures that unambiguously endorse it as a weapon of war against their enemies?

    The point of my post is to ask why religion, if it springs from divine inspiration, was ever wrong in the first place. An atheist, of course, has no trouble holding that religions are just social institutions whose moral beliefs evolve in tune with the moral beliefs of the societies they exist in. But theists who believe in inspiration do not believe this, or at least should not believe this.

  • Philip Thomas

    The problem might take a more general form: given reality is presenting itself to us, how is it that we can make mistakes about the nature of that reality? Now this is quite a profound philosophical issue, but a recognition that humans are quite capable of misunderstanding real data cautions us against assuming that data is false merely because humans have misunderstood it.

  • Interested Atheist

    Goodness me! Regarding Jesus coming back from the dead, I always have a little trouble with understanding this. My answer is no, it didn’t happen. Why not? Because people can’t come back from the dead. Why not? Because it’s impossible, that’s why not! But how do you know impossible things don’t happen? Uhhhhh…
    Basically, if you’re able to convince yourself that impossible things DO happen, where do you stop? What rationale do you have for dismissing anybody else’s fairy tale? Who are you, for example, to say that Thor wasn’t real?
    (I believe I discussed this with Philip a little while ago. Yes, taking Thor as an example, that does seem to have been an obviously mythic story. But if I say that I believe he existed, how can any Christian say it’s impossible?)

  • Philip Thomas

    As I failed to make clear on the other thread, saying its impossible for people to rise from the dead prejudges the issue.

    One can still reject other statements, using the normal principles of common sense and deduction/induction from the available evidence. One can’t say a given statement is impossible unless it is self-contradictory, but one can have a fairly shrewd guess as to its truth or falsity based on the nature of the evidence.

  • SpeirM

    “…saying its impossible for people to rise from the dead prejudges the issue.”

    Technically, yes. “Impossible” is an unfortunate choice of words. But the burden of proof is on you to show that it has ever happened, isn’t it?

  • Philip Thomas

    If I were attempting to persuade a non-believer, yes. In order to persuade someone you have to show them that their beleif is false. But that works both ways.

    In the more general case, of course, the burden of proof is on those who say Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Perhaps my phrasing has been inelegant: in my research I am expecting to find very good evidence for the Resurrection. If I find it, it won’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. That is why I say that I will change my mind if it is shown the Resurrection didn’t happen, and I won’t change my mind if it is shown the Resurrection did happen.

  • SpeirM

    “If I were attempting to persuade a non-believer, yes. In order to persuade someone you have to show them that their beleif is false. But that works both ways.”

    It doesn’t work both ways. The burden of proof lies with the one making the more improbable assertion. You say someone rose to life after being dead more than two days. In the common experience–universally common, as far as you and I can tell (You haven’t suggested that you or anyone you know has had a different experience)–this doesn’t happen. Furthermore, you haven’t even suggested any mechanism whereby it might be possible. The burden of proof is, without question, yours. That also means the default position should be that it didn’t happen until definitive proof can be provided to the contrary. Furthermore, it means we’re more than justified in not believing the story until then.

  • Philip Thomas

    It is of course essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism. If there were a scientific explanation for the Resurrection, atheists would simply adopt it and write God out of the picture entirely.

  • SpeirM

    “It is of course essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism. If there were a scientific explanation for the Resurrection, atheists would simply adopt it and write God out of the picture entirely.”

    Kinda like proof by lack of evidence, huh? Curious.

  • Padishah

    “Kinda like proof by lack of evidence, huh? Curious.”

    Not really. The argument is: We know Jesus rose from the dead (from sources and other evidence). But this is normally impossible. Ergo it must be due to divine intervention.

  • Tommykey

    When one claims that Jesus rose from the dead, what exactly does that mean? Did his dead body come back to life or did he transcend his physical body?

    If his body came back to life, did his wounds heal, or did he wander around the countryside naked and with his wounds exposed? If his resurrection was spiritual, then there was no need for an empty tomb, because his physical body no longer mattered.

    One of the arguments put forth in defense of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels is that if the resurrection were faked, the authors would have been more imaginative in having the resurrection be a more fantastical event witnessed by many people. Instead, they argue that the low key nature of the empty tomb story is proof that it must have happened because it is not what we would have expected. But maybe the author or authors of the Gospels wrote it they way they did precisely because if they had described some fantastical event, they would face the problem that no independent sources could corroborate it. Decades later, the discovery of an empty tomb is such a simple story that it is impossible to refute simply because there is no one who could challenge it. Especially when you consider that the Gospels were likely not written and circulated until after the Roman-jewish war of the late 60′s to early 70′s AD. Even if there really was a Jesus who was crucified, how many people were left in Jerusalem who could even rebut the story?

  • Padishah

    You think the Gospel writers cynically falsified and engineered their accounts to be as difficult to refute as possible?

    The Reusrrection is generally held to be physical – hence Thomas touching nail-holes etc. The physical body then somehow dissappears at the ascension.

  • SpeirM

    “Not really. The argument is: We know Jesus rose from the dead (from sources and other evidence). But this is normally impossible. Ergo it must be due to divine intervention.”

    Oh yes, really. The implicit claim is that the lack of quality evidence is just what Christianity would have predicted. Ergo, proof by lack of evidence. Not very convincing.

  • Philip Thomas

    His dead body came back to life. (and ascended into heaven, though this is less well attested).

    His wounds didn’t heal, or at the very least they left marks which could be felt. He appears to have been clothed, since Mary mistakes him for the gardener and gardeners don’t normally work naked.

    The Resurrection is attested by Paul before the Roman Jewish war. Most scholars believe the Passion narrative to be the oldest part of the stories about Jesus to be put in a coherent form. Why would there even be a Christian Church in AD 70 to create Mark’s Gospel if Jesus had just died?

  • Padishah

    “The implicit claim is that the lack of quality evidence is just what Christianity would have predicted.”

    No, stop randomly inventing things. The claim is that the evidence is of good quality considering the circumstances, or at least of good enough quality to be convincing.

  • Philip Thomas

    I think what SpeirM meant was that the argument runs that the non-existence of a scientific explanation for Jesus’s death is exactly what one would expect if Christianity was true:he points out that that is an argument from lack of explanation (which, confusingly, he renders ‘evidence’).

  • Padishah

    There are two seperate issues here: whether Jesus was resurrected or not, and whether (as a logical consequence) God exists. The fact that there is no known method for Jesus to be resurrected does not in itself suggest that he was resurrected, there is no argument from lack of evidence here. It does however suggest that given the resurrection, there must be divine intervention – again this is nor argument from lack of evidence. No-one is suggesting the resurrection should be considered based on the fact that the Christian worldview can account for present reality, so can the atheist worldview. The question is of the evidence at the time.

  • SpeirM

    Now, Padishah, let’s take a look, shall we?

    “It is of course essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism.”

    The Christian faith, I was told, predicts that there would be no mechanism. I had pointed out that the dead do not demonstrably rise. In lieu of that, I had said, pointing to a mechanism whereby the dead could conceivably rise would at least lend some credence to the notion. I was then told that “It is … essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism.” In other words, the attempt was made to turn the lack of this evidence around and use it as positive evidence.

    Beyond that, there was this:

    “If there were a scientific explanation for the Resurrection, atheists would simply adopt it and write God out of the picture entirely.”

    The admission is that there is no scientific explanation, and that, again, somehow that equates to positive evidence.

    “The claim is that the evidence is of good quality considering the circumstances, or at least of good enough quality to be convincing.”

    Philip has made it clear that he considers the evidence for the Resurrection good enough without having any experience with the dead rising and no conceivable mechanism. However, the post to which I allude clearly tries to turn a lack of evidence into positive evidence.

    I stand by what I said.

  • Philip Thomas

    I am sorry if you got that impression. I was not saying that the Christian faith predicts there would be no mechanism. After all, the Resurrection created Christianity: so logically speaking Christianity could not predict the Resurrection.

    I am indeed admitting there is no scientific explanation. I do not say this is an argument for the Resurrection having happened. I am saying that if there was a possible scientific explanation, and an atheist believed that the Resurrection happened, they could cite the scentific explanation to explain it: by definition such an explanation doesn’t include God, and so they could remain a happy atheist.

  • Tommykey

    What about Lazarus? Jesus is alleged to have resurrected Lazarus from the dead. For such a fantastic miracle, why do we not here more about Lazarus afterwards? Surely he must have become famous. After all, how many dead people are brought back to life? Why isn’t there a Gospel of Lazarus?

  • Philip Thomas

    Lazarus’ resurrection appears in only one Gospel and is not attested anywhere else in the New Testament. It probably didn’t happen, therefore- the points you make support that conclusion.

  • SpeirM

    “I was not saying that the Christian faith predicts there would be no mechanism.”

    Philip, you were saying it whether you intended to or not. If you say that “…it is essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism,” you’re as much as saying Christianity predicts there is no such mechanism. You were trying to deflect the negative implications of not being able to point to a mechanism by turning it around and telling me that, anyway, “…it is essential to the Christian faith that there is no such mechanism.” In other words, you were trying to turn a negative into a positive. What else can I infer but that you wanted to suggest that it is the very lack of the asked-for evidence that lends credence to the Resurrection story?

  • Padishah

    It doesn’t lend credence to the resurrection. However it does lend credence to the assertion of divinity – resurrection + no possible method –> deity.

  • Philip Thomas

    Look, the mechanism has nothing to do with evidence! The mechanism by which things fall to the ground is gravity, but gravity is not evidence that things fall to the ground.

  • Padishah

    However, the theory of gravity was derived from the observation that things fall to the ground. There was no other particularly good way of explaining it, therefore the falling indicated gravity. Likewise the existence of a deity is derived from the observation of the resurrection – there is no other good way of explaining it, therefore the resurrection indicates God. The lack of any other explanation therefore (given the resurrection) is evidence of divine intervention.

  • Tommykey

    But nobody observed the resurrection Padi.

  • SpeirM

    “However it does lend credence to the assertion of divinity – resurrection + no possible method –> deity.”

    If you grant that there was such a resurrection, yes. Thus far, we’ve seen no convincing evidence for it.

    In fact, that’s the kind of reasoning behind a lot of this stuff. And it’s not altogether irrational, either. If something happens that’s clearly beyond human powers, it’s not unreasonable to assume that something superhuman caused it. The problem is when we try to migrate from superhuman to supernatural. There’s a leap there that I think is unwarranted.

  • Padishah

    If something happens that’s clearly beyond human powers, it’s not unreasonable to assume that something superhuman caused it. The problem is when we try to migrate from superhuman to supernatural. There’s a leap there that I think is unwarranted.

    Alien intervention, that sort of thing?

  • Philip Thomas

    (Padishah is an atheist, by the way)

    Tommykey, people observed Jesus die and they observed him alive again some time after. The deduction that he had risen from the dead was fairly obvious.

  • SpeirM

    “Alien intervention, that sort of thing?”

    I assume you’re kidding, but I’ll bite, just for fun.

    Well, I suppose we could allow for aliens. But would they necessarily be superhuman? Depends on whether we consider inate capacities or level of advancement. Insofar as they’d just about have to be more advanced technologically to be here, we could probably guess that it would’ve been technology that brought Jesus back to life. (And, hey, for all I know, they may have inate superhuman powers–even the power to bring the dead back to life. That’s not the way to bet.)

    Note that I’m not insisting that we may not someday find a way to bring the dead back to life after three days. (Also note that it wasn’t me who used the word “impossible.” I don’t know that it’s impossible.) I’m just saying that considering what we know there’s no reason to allow such conjecture into consideration as evidence. Someone else has pointed out that such “reasoning” is open-ended. Any wild idea anybody comes up with could be considered evidence under that kind of rule.

    But now we’re just compounding speculation with speculation. And, anyway, I doubt many if any Christians would attribute the Resurrection to aliens. And it’d just make their burden that much worse if they did. Then they’d have to prove we’ve been visited by aliens with the requisite powers. Additionally, it would gut their religion in that the Resurrection could no longer–even conceivably–be attributed to an omnipotent God.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, the aliens could be seen as the agents of such a God. But I agree its not a hypothesis many Christians seriously entertain.

  • ex machina

    To personally see someone die and then live again is pretty convincing, But hearing about it from a third party isn’t.

    For those of you who feel that belief in the Ressurection is reasonable, would you believe me if I told you that I died and rose from the dead. If not, what would you reqire as proof or at least reason to believe that I had been resurrected?

  • SpeirM

    Somehow I missed this earlier:

    “Look, the mechanism has nothing to do with evidence! The mechanism by which things fall to the ground is gravity, but gravity is not evidence that things fall to the ground.”

    And you missed the point, Philip. If we lived in a world where nothing ever fell to the ground and you insisted that at some point in the past something did, in fact, fall to the ground, I would be justified in being skeptical. Why? Because no one ever seems to observe anything falling to the ground.

    If, on the other hand, you were able to demonstrate that there was–at least in concept–a thing called “gravity,” and if you could further outline how that one time in the past–even for a moment–conditions might have been right for this gravity to take hold and pull something to the ground, that would go some way toward making plausible your assertion that something had fallen to the ground in the past. (That must be the longest sentence I’ve ever constructed! Thing of beauty, isn’t it?)

    That’s how the introduction of a plausible mechanism could become evidence. Nothing close to proof in the absolute sense, but evidence.

  • Tommykey

    Even first person testimony cannot always be trusted ex. There are people who believe that they have kidnapped by extraterrestrials and had medical experiments performed on them. Others believe they saw Sasquatch in the woods of the American Northwest. But no extraterrestrials have ever landed a spacecraft in a public place in broad daylight and chatted it up with us humans and no Sasquatch body has ever been found.

    What would have convinced me that Jesus was the Messiah who rose from the dead? Well, let’s see. If after he died and rose from the dead, Jesus had appeared to the Roman Emperor Tiberius and conveyed his teachings directly to the Emperor, who then used all of the resources of his empire to spread the message of Jesus, that would be pretty darned convincing evidence. Even better, if Jesus had appear not only to Tiberis, but to the Parthian Shah of Persia, the Emperor of China, and so forth, at the same time, Christianity would have been spread simultaneously throughout the civilized world, and tens of millions of souls would have been saved. But instead, Christians would have us belief that we could only be saved through accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior, but God fixed it so that not only would the majority of the world’s population be unaware of Christianity until about 500 years ago, and in the interim, a major rival religion called Islam would arise and spread to parts of Asia well ahead of Christianity.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, I’ll put it another way: if there was a recognised mechanism by which people rose from the dead, this would not constitute evidence that Jesus rose from the dead- we would still need to go to the sources.

    ex machina.

    In order to demonstrate that you had died and risen from the dead, I would want you to demonstrate that you had died. Your being alive now would then indicate you had risen from the dead.

    Tommykey

    I do not think that people who do not accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour are not saved. Nor do I think that “God fixed it” is an appropriate description of human history unfolding: the human race has been endowed with free will.

  • SpeirM

    “SpeirM, I’ll put it another way: if there was a recognised mechanism by which people rose from the dead, this would not constitute evidence that Jesus rose from the dead- we would still need to go to the sources.”

    But what’s that got to do with the point I was making? I never said that having a mechanism would prove anything. On the contrary, I made it clear that it would not. It’s just that we live in a universe where people demonstrably do not rise from the dead. I’ve intentionally stopped short of calling it impossible, but it certainly looks like it’s impossible. *There’s nothing in the inventory of verifiable human experience that suggests it is possible.* If you had a mechanism, that at least might be evidence that rising from the dead is possible. We would then have to confront the conceptual possibility that Jesus rose from the dead. You don’t even have that.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, thats it. The historical evidence suggests Jesus of Nazereth rose from the dead. The laws of science say that is impossible. I’m not sure there’s anything else we can say to each other at this point.

  • SpeirM

    “I’m not sure there’s anything else we can say to each other at this point.”

    Just as long as we’re not kidding ourselves that this has resulted in a draw.

  • ex machina

    Tommy, I think you get my point. Those things would have been far more convincing than what had actually transpired.

    PT, you have skillfully avoided the real question. What ,then, would you accept as evidence of me dying, then living again, other than seeing it for yourself?

  • Padishah

    I assume you’re kidding, but I’ll bite, just for fun.

    It was a hypothetical, but not one said in jest. You said:

    something superhuman caused it. The problem is when we try to migrate from superhuman to supernatural

    I am confused; I presumed you were referring to something which was currently beyond human ability, but perfectly explicable in scientific terms given sufficient advancement, eg alien technology. So what do you mean by superhuman yet not supernatural?

  • SpeirM

    “So what do you mean by superhuman yet not supernatural?”

    I was referring to the common mistake of assuming that just because an observed phenomenon is beyond our understanding and/or our ability to reproduce it must have a supernatural cause.

  • Alex Weaver

    I was referring to the common mistake of assuming that just because an observed phenomenon is beyond our understanding and/or our ability to reproduce it must have a supernatural cause.

    Kind of like how people from a thousand years ago would assume modern electronics had to be magical.

  • SpeirM

    “Kind of like how people from a thousand years ago would assume modern electronics had to be magical.”

    Or electricity itself (lightning), for that matter. It seems a little arogant when you think about it too much. After all, we are the highest of all creatures, are we not? If we can’t understand it or duplicate it, it must originate with something higher than any creature. What could that something be called but a god? Surely, whatever this power is must have an unfair advantage. How else could we explain that we–the highest of creatures–often seem to have no defense against it? So gods become a kind of psychological palliative, allowing us to maintain the delusion that we’re lords of creation. And the forces behind powers we can’t control can be dismissed as not playing fair.

    Not the whole explanation, but only a tiny facet of it. Probably not the shiniest one, either.

  • Padishah

    Not really. By stating that God exists we are explicitly denying that we are the highest of all creatures…

  • SpeirM

    “By stating that God exists we are explicitly denying that we are the highest of all creatures…”

    Do you understand the relationship between the words “creature” and “create”? A creature is a created being. We do tend to pridefully see ourselves as the height of creation. We get a hint in the Bible here:

    Gen 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    There, God (uncreated) gives dominion over the Earth to Man. I, of course, believe this is (with other things) a reflection of Man’s own prideful wish to make himself the pinacle of creation.

  • Padishah

    I hadn’t though of the linguistic relationship you suggest; doubtless that is the root of the terms themselves. However ‘creature’ in common usage today no longer carries that meaning.

  • SpeirM

    Padishah, are you just trying to be difficult?

    Go to Dictionary.Com. Look up “creature.” This is what you’ll get:

    crea·ture Audio pronunciation of “creature” ( P ) Pronunciation Key (krchr)
    n.

    1. Something created.
    2.
    1. A living being, especially an animal: land creatures; microscopic creatures in a drop of water.
    2. A human.
    3. An imaginary or fantastical being: mythological creatures; a creature from outer space.
    3. One dependent on or subservient to another.

    You’ll notice that the first–primary–definition is “Something created.” Now, obviously, I wasn’t talking about trees, rocks, or, oh, plasmas. I was talking about created beings. Created beings would comprise a subset within the set of all things created. I intentionally used the word in that sense. It’s why I used “creature.”

    Now, frankly, it’s not worth the quibble. The whole idea about Man’s pride being a contributor to why we see gods behind things is purely speculation. I never intended it as anything else. If you’ve got an objection to the thought itself, trot it out. For all I know for sure, you may be right. But captiousness is hardly useful.

  • HiEv

    Your reference to 2 Timothy 2:11-12 should actually be 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Funny enough, I had just looked that one up about 15 minutes prior to reading this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Indeed it should be. I’ve fixed the typo – my thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Padishah

    Nevermind the linguistics then, my point was that it seems odd to suggest Christianity is an arrogant perspective when it explicitly subordinates man to a superior entity.

  • Alexander

    This is a bit off the topic but I’ve always wondered what’s so immoral about polygamous relationships? If multiple people desire to be married then what’s the problem with that picture. From what I’ve read of the matter, it seemed to me that the reason the Mormon Church gave up polygmony was because the prevailing Christian social customs of the day frowned on “nontraditional” marriages. In this case, it’s actually the Christians passing judgements on the Mormons based on their own religious prejudices. It had nothing to do with morality.

  • ex machina

    I think I agree with SpeirM on Christianity being an arrogant perspective. Humans know that they are not perfect, but they badly want to be. So they create a perfect creator and join his team, making them perfect by association. I think this at least applies to the more fanatical of Christians. If christians really wanted to be subordinate to God (for God’s word to be law), then why all the debauchery of the early church? I think it’s because they really wanted their word (not God’s) to be law, and believeing to be the conduit of the perfect God is a cheap psychological way to get there.

  • SpeirM

    “…my point was that it seems odd to suggest Christianity is an arrogant perspective when it explicitly subordinates man to a superior entity.”

    I see that. But many a sychophant gets his pride stroked by becoming the toady of a great man. He feels that makes him better and more powerful than most, at least.

    Likewise, the many natural phenomena beyond our control clearly spring from something greater than ourselves. (In at least one way. A volcano, for instance, is far more powerful, although not our intellectual equal. And to the primitive mind even that is not obvious.) If we can define that thing or things (even if we’re just guessing) and then go on to suggest that we have a special “in” with this thing or things, that elevates us above whatever does not have that kind of relationship.

    And in the moral realm the point ex machina makes should be considered as well.

    Again, this would hardly give a full accounting of why we believe in gods–and probably wouldn’t serve alone to explain how the notion of gods came to be–but could very well have been a factor in perpetuating and furthering the idea after it developed.

  • Alex Weaver

    This is a bit off the topic but I’ve always wondered what’s so immoral about polygamous relationships? If multiple people desire to be married then what’s the problem with that picture. From what I’ve read of the matter, it seemed to me that the reason the Mormon Church gave up polygmony was because the prevailing Christian social customs of the day frowned on “nontraditional” marriages. In this case, it’s actually the Christians passing judgements on the Mormons based on their own religious prejudices. It had nothing to do with morality.

    From a humanist perspective, the moral problem with the way the Mormons did it is the one-sidedness. One man could have multiple wives, if he could provide for them and their children, but women could not have multiple husbands. This stems from and tends to reinforce the view of women as property, or at most as being suited for domestic service and childrearing (the roles of women in Mormon communities, as I understand it), and the strong patriarchal tendencies in Mormon communities are probably not coincidental. This is in a very different spirit from mutualistic polyamorous relationships, which is probably what you have in mind. If multiple people desire to be married, and share a healthy, mutualistic connection analogous to that of a healthy couple, and can resolve the issues of jealousy and other complications such an arrangement might produce, there is indeed very little wrong with the picture from a reasonable standpoint. Patriarchal polygyny is another matter entirely.

  • Tommykey

    Regarding Genesis 1:26, the Bible got it wrong. Bacteria and viruses really have dominion over the Earth. Humans can’t survive without certain bacteria in our digestive tract, and some of the bacteria that harm us develop resistance to anti-biotics.

    Polygamy could really cause confusion and chaos if practiced on a widespread basis. The wives would plot against each other to gain greater favor from the husband, and this pathology would pass on to the children as well. See the Chinese film “Raise the Red Lantern” for an example of this. Then there are inheritance issues. Of course, assuming a roughly equal ratio of men and women in a society, it would not be practical to have polygamy on a large scale because it would dry up the pool of available women (or men) to those who are single. Sort of like the impossibility of everyone owning their own business. Some businesses just cannot function if they don’t have employees.

    A more flexible arrangement would be open marriages, where there is one husband and one wife, but the husband, for example, can have a “friendship with benefits” kind of relationship in which he provides her with shelter, college tuition or some other contribution that helps her to advance herself in life and in return she provides him with companionship, helps out around the house with cleaning and caring for the kids and so forth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    …my point was that it seems odd to suggest Christianity is an arrogant perspective when it explicitly subordinates man to a superior entity.

    I don’t think there’s anything odd about that at all – not when Christianity teaches that this superior entity loves us, watches over us, cares about us more than anything else, created the universe for the express purpose of bringing us into existence, and considers us so important that it will occasionally suspend the laws of physics governing the entire cosmos on our behalf. And that’s not even to mention the many prominent Christians who think that God agrees with and endorses their every thought and opinion.

    The essay “Who Needs God?” on Ebon Musings discusses some of these reasons and others in more detail.

    On the topic of polygamy:

    From a humanist perspective, the moral problem with the way the Mormons did it is the one-sidedness. One man could have multiple wives, if he could provide for them and their children, but women could not have multiple husbands. This stems from and tends to reinforce the view of women as property, or at most as being suited for domestic service and childrearing (the roles of women in Mormon communities, as I understand it), and the strong patriarchal tendencies in Mormon communities are probably not coincidental.

    Alex nails it in one here. The moral problem isn’t so much with polyamory per se as with the fact that it’s historically been used almost universally as a way to enslave women and female children. If consenting adults desire to enter into such a relationship of their own free will, that’s none of my business, but when it’s practiced by a fanatical and insular religious community that forces it on women to subordinate and control them, then it is the duty of the rest of society to put a stop to that. I am fully aware that in practice it may be difficult to draw a legal line separating one of these cases from the other, but morally speaking the distinction is quite clear.

  • Alexander

    Ahh yes, the Mormon version’s quite different from what I had in mind. Thanks for clarifying the issue.

  • Craig

    Personally, I stopped going to a ‘Christian’ counselor/therapist when he stated that he literally believed in the statement in Genesis about a ‘lesser light to govern the night”… and that he belived that the moon generated light by it’s own mechanism (whatever that may be)

  • http://www.sirthinkalot.wordpress.com Sir-Think-A-Lot

    “Say 100 noted Roman historians from about the time of Jesus’ birth recorded that Caesar had risen from the dead. Would you believe that? I suspect you would not. And the reason you would not is that you know it doesn’t happen, no matter what 100 noted Roman historians said. Furthermore, it’s not essential to your faith, so you would have no emotional impulse to try to justify it.”

    I cant speak for Phillip, but I for one would. Especially if those historians have shown themselves to be reliable on other claims(and with as many as 100 noting something like this, it’s probably a safe assumption that at least some of them have proven themselves reliable).