On Expertise

One of the most common complaints leveled against Richard Dawkins (and other atheist writers) is that his understanding of religion isn’t sufficiently sophisticated – that he dismisses religion without delving into all its intricacies of doctrine. For instance, Terry Eagleton:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?

What any of this has to do with the basic question of whether God exists is left unexplained. So common is this attack that P.Z. Myers gave it its own, very appropriate name – The Courtier’s Reply – a reference to the famous fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The analogy behind the Courtier’s Reply is that no one has the right to claim the Emperor is naked unless they’ve first engaged in a detailed study of all the latest fashions in imaginary fabrics.

The use of this argument shows how religious apologists set the bar at a different height for atheists than they do for their own fellow believers. Why is it that that atheists are expected to be fluent in every last detail and nuance of theology, while no similar qualifications are needed to be a churchgoer?

Millions of theists pray, worship and attend church each week despite possessing pathetically shallow levels of knowledge and familiarity with their own religion. If atheists criticized Christianity despite possessing such shoddy knowledge of its teachings, they’d be lambasted – and rightly so. But no one seems to be demanding that the ill-informed faithful clear out of the pews until they’ve brought their theological knowledge up to code.

In fact, some of the world’s major religions have commitment ceremonies where children as young as 12 or 13 are expected to pledge their lifelong devotion. Clearly, these faiths believe that even a child can understand their teachings well enough to make a meaningful vow of allegiance to them. How, then, can those same faiths turn around and say that atheists need to have a postgraduate education in theology to even think about objecting? This is just an attempt to create a double standard where detailed understanding is required to deny, but not to assent.

If anything, this is a bar that’s not just uneven, it’s perpetually moving. A lifetime of study would not be enough to learn every last detail about even a single religion. No one, atheist or theologian, could possibly know everything about the history and culture of a large faith. And again, while this is not viewed as a liability in believers, it serves as a convenient cudgel for apologists to use against us. When challenged, they can always demand that the atheist go away and study another long-dead theologian before questioning the existence of God.

But as Eagleton’s excerpt shows, this is just a smokescreen. It rarely if ever has any bearing on the key question of whether theism is true. If God does not exist, of what possible relevance is the epistemological difference between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? We seek to respond to religious beliefs as they are actually held and practiced by a vast majority of the faithful, not to the rarefied views held by a tiny minority of theologians. We have no interest in debating how many angels can dance on a pinhead; we want to know whether there’s any reason to believe in angels in the first place.

And, it should be noted, this argument is almost never applied in the reverse direction. That is to say, most of the believers who reject atheism know little, if anything, about it, and I’d bet that only a vanishing minority have ever read anything written by us in our own words. Greta Christina, as always, shines a clear light on the double standard being applied here. If we’re expected to possess expertise on theism, why aren’t theists expected to read up on atheism before rejecting it? Why aren’t they expected to be experts on all the other faiths which they don’t belong to?

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.

  • velkyn

    I love that term “the courtier’s reply”! This “argument” reminds me of the other one that theists use e.g. “you must look under every rock in the universe to prove that there is no God”. Don’t know if there’s a spiffy name for that one yet or not :) Neither are arguments at all. They just try to delay the inevitable.

  • mike

    Why aren’t they expected to be experts on all the other faiths which they don’t belong to?

    I think this is a pretty good rule of thumb for dealing with theists — substitute their religion of choice by another religion in their own logic. It’s not always effective, but at least has the possibility of moving someone beyond the “either no god or the Christian God” false dilemma. It’s also the reason the Flying Spaghetti Monster revealed himself to us, praise be unto him.

  • Mat Wilder

    Mike, don’t you mean the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Peace Be Upon Her, May Her Hooves Never Be Shod!?

  • sterculius

    Hooray!!! How refreshing to read a post that addresses the essential issue. I am tired of reading ad nauseam, tirades about arcane points of doctrinal interpretation, which are all rendered moot when faced with the patent absurdity of the basic suppostion of the “prime mover”, the “divine creator”, and the “God who works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform” concept.

  • paradoctor

    Velkyn: I think the term you’re looking for is “God of the Gaps”.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Well, Terry Eagleton’s piece certainly answers the question of whether the ‘Courtier’s Reply’ is always a straw man. It’s perfectly reasonable to remark in a review that Dawkins, when he criticises specific points of theology, occasionally gets them wrong, and I’m equally sympathetic to more self-questioning liberal theists who, after reading ‘The God Delusion’, remark that they would have appreciated a more thorough testing of their own views. However, making a lack of sophisticated theological knowledge your first major point, central to the whole first half of your reaction, really does border on the ridiculous. Oddly, he does finally get to the point after lots and lots of theological fluff:

    Now it may well be that all this is no more plausible than the tooth fairy.

    Yes, Mr. Eagleton, this is the point that we are interested in. I regret to say that Eagleton does not go on to examine this point more closely, preferring to argue that his theological fluff, even if it is no more plausible than the tooth fairy, is still ‘worthy of respect’.

    To be as fair to Eagleton as he is to Dawkins, however, I will state (in a short statement at the end of my criticism) that he is at least capable of absorbing some of Dawkins’ points, and he’d probably be quite fun to argue with. I’d be very interested to see Eagleton’s response to this piece. Would he agree that children are not capable of committing themselves to a religion? By tying this idea to the ‘sophisticated theological’ viewpoint, Ebonmuse, I think you might have made a better case for it (from the viewpoint of a ‘sophisticated theological’ theist) than Dawkins has.

  • Mat Wilder

    You make excellent points as always. I’m lucky. Not that I have a lot of conversations with theists, but I have a degree in Catholic theology. That was what drove me to atheism, ironically. I completely agree that the “finer” points of theology are irrelevant, but sadly, I can believe that it will continue to be used. Theists, of course, are grasping at straws.

  • Brad

    I suppose the response to this would be that by not looking into the relevant theology, atheists are being scoffish and dismissive, and deliberately ignore significant information. This still leaves the very good point, however, that most religion only puts up high bar when it comes to denying religion, and not to accepting it. This double standard exists independent of whether or not there is a reasonable argument for believing in God somewhere in the theological literature.

  • Michael Kremer

    There is no double standard. It is not any old atheists who are criticized for not knowing enough about theological argument. It is only atheists who write 400 page books claiming to show things like “God almost certainly does not exist.” The same standard should be applied to theists writing 400 page books claiming to prove things like “God does indeed exist.” Ordinary atheists can have their beliefs without having any reasons for them at all, or for whatever reasons they like — Eagleton isn’t criticizing them.

    As to the courtier’s reply: I have yet to see an atheist respond to this excellent little post: http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com/2007/09/everything-you-never-wanted-to-know.html

  • Justin

    I think it is a sign of lack of confidence on the part of believers to demand such standards from us. If a belief is true and easy to defend, it should not be necessary to set up such an unfair standard. Scientific theories have the concept of falsifiability; it would not require omniscience to disprove them, just evidence in contrast to the current understanding. Any honest search for truth needs to be set up that way. And, it just so happens that atheism is a position with that feature. If, in the unlikely event that God ended world hunger with some sort of miracle, how could we need a higher standard of evidence?

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Yes, do they know whether the teapot is Dresden or Meissen?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Michael Kremer: I believe the comments by Gareth McCaughan in the comment thread of the post you cited already more than satisfactorily answer the arguments raised there.

  • Bob Carlson

    The statement regarding “children as young as 12 or 13″ is presumably correct for some denominations or perhaps even most, but the typical age of the First Communion for children of Catholic parents is typically 7 or 8 because that is deemed to be the usual “age of reason.” See for example:

    http://www.home.newadvent.org/cathen/01209a.htm

  • Andrew

    “In fact, some of the world’s major religions have commitment ceremonies where children as young as 12 or 13 are expected to pledge their lifelong devotion. Clearly, these faiths believe that even a child can understand their teachings well enough to make a meaningful vow of allegiance to them. How, then, can those same faiths turn around and say that atheists need to have a postgraduate education in theology to even think about objecting? This is just an attempt to create a double standard where detailed understanding is required to deny, but not to assent.”

    That is an excellent point I never considered. It would probably be lost on many who believe that the faith of a child is a desirable trait. Maybe someday people won’t have to wait so many years after religious indoctrination, as I have, to be able to think more clearly. Keep up the good posts!

  • Jeff T.

    Why in the world would I be expected to study in detail a foolish idea that has been proven time and time again to be improbable? No amazing amount of wordcrafting is going to change the probability that god is a delusion. Western society owes so much to Greek culture and yet we dismiss their gods as superstition while we worship the god of a bunch of desert Bedouins who could barely rub two sticks together to make fire.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Kremer seems to be embracing the “agnostic is it own category” and “why don’t you be quiet” beliefs. I ask for a master in daylight foo to link the rebuttals.

  • http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    I have no problem with the person who says: “Since I think that there is no God, there is no point in discussing what Christians say about him.”

    However, if a person says “One of the reasons that I think there is no God is that what Christians say about him is silly / illogical / perverted / child molesty” I would expect him to have a reasonably sophisticated understanding of Christian belief.

    This is particularly true if they propose to put their arguments in a book and charge me money for it.

    Andrew Rilstone

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Andrew,

    What are some specific examples of things Dawkins says about Christian theology that you believe are inaccurate?

  • velkyn

    Thanks, paradoctor. “God of the Gaps” iss exactly what I wanted :)

  • velkyn

    “However, if a person says “One of the reasons that I think there is no God is that what Christians say about him is silly / illogical / perverted / child molesty” I would expect him to have a reasonably sophisticated understanding of Christian belief. ”

    Exactly what *is* a “reasonable sophisticated understanding of Christian belief”? Being that I have read the Bible and various apologetics, I have *been* a Christian, etc, I would think I would meet the criteria. However, I have found that when a Christian says the above, they really mean “understand and believe Christianity the exact same as me”.

  • Ingersoll’s Revenge

    I was required to take numerous theology classes in college. Because of those courses, I don’t consider it a requisite for an atheist to be well-versed in theology in order to criticize religion for one simple reason:

    All theology is based on the presupposition that God exists.

    So, Ebon, you’re spot-on once again when you write:

    If God does not exist, of what possible relevance is the epistemological difference between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?…We have no interest in debating how many angels can dance on a pinhead; we want to know whether there’s any reason to believe in angels in the first place.

    I once had it out with a theology student who had memorized of Aquinas’ writings. He sat there attempting to show the ironclad relationship between the “Esse” and the “Essence,” or whatever, and all the while I’m trying to point out to him that the entire argument falls apart if the pre-Council of Trent, Catholic Christian God does not exist.

    All theology, instead of providing convincing evidence for the existence of a god, attempts to explain other phenomena within the context of that god (and for religions without a comprehensive holy text, I’m not sure how they go about doing this). The whole thing is one big house of cards.

    Though people like Dawkins may be intransigent at times, the question still remains: why should we have to be well-versed in a subject that can’t even survive basic skeptical scrutiny?

  • Christopher

    Theology in a nutshell: presuppose that something we may be able to call a “god” exists, then start explaining as many physical and social phenomena as possible using that presupposition.

    I wonder if anyone will develop a corresponding study to compete with it – like Satanology!

  • Polly

    I think a similar analogy would be any ongoing debates in biology about HOW evolution occured or how it yielded a specific organism. Explaining this to a creationist would evoke the exact same reaction: “I don’t believe in evolution, what do I care about the different evolutionary hypotheses?!?”

  • Brad

    I guess the theist response to your comment, Jeff T, would be that you should study some amount of theology / apologetics before you conclude that God is improbable in the first place. Likewise (Ingersoll’s Revenge): your disagreement with the theist would be in whether it survives “basic” scrutiny. Velkyn, I think your experience is shared. The double standard is obvious.

    A feature of this double standard, I think, can be seen in two bipartite definitions of “faith.” One version holds that we must make assumptions about the universe, like that we have brains in our heads even if we haven’t seen them. Another version of faith is the blind type that skeptics disdain – the same type employed in both cults and child indoctrination. Then, some religious authorities transparently equate the two when criticizing skepticism.

  • Brad

    I’m a little frustrated when anti-evolutionists use that card. Whenever they speak of the first life, or of competing evolutionary hypotheses, I think of this allegory: Imagine you are flying over the desert, and you see a man walking. There is no water for miles, so you wonder how he could be walking in he desert. Also, you search his footprints back as far as you can, and you see it ends (or begins) around a few dunehills. However the man managed to get to that place, it does not change the fact the man was walking in the desert to get to where he is now.

  • Jim Baerg

    Re: Polly’s creationism example.

    In either case evolution or theology, there is no point in going into great detail about the advanced matters before the existence of the subject matter is established.

    If one is talking to someone who has only heard the creationist side of things, but who is sufficiently intellectually honest to want to hear the other side, one can point to such things as the similarities in tetrapod skeletons indicating that eg: frogs birds & humans are all modifications of an ancestral design. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    If one is a theist talking to an atheist about theology, what can one point to, to indicate the subject matter even exists?

  • windy

    Explaining this to a creationist would evoke the exact same reaction: “I don’t believe in evolution, what do I care about the different evolutionary hypotheses?!?”

    Look, if someone refuses to give the creationist any reason why evolution makes sense, and instead starts “oh, but have you read Darwin on the origin of species and Huxley on human fossils? What are your views on the differences between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium? What do you think about Woese’s views on the structure of the tree of life?” – the creationist would be right to think that this person is an evasive ass.

    I think it would be acceptable to say to a creationist “You don’t seem to understand genetics, please go read a basic textbook on evolution.”

    If the creationist has written a book attacking evolution, it would be better to point to specific errors the creationist has made, and not just scoff “well, he obviously hasn’t read so-and-so!”

    Another bad answer would be “It’s useless to talk to you unless you’ve read Gould’s Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Never mind that it’s 1,400 pages, and that most biologists haven’t read it either, and I can’t tell you what’s so great about it, but just read it and you’ll understand.”

  • TEP

    The conversation between the ‘sophisticated’ believer and the skeptic is something like this:

    “I believe that there are intelligent octapusses living on Mars!”

    “Okay, why do you think that? That sound like something of a silly belief, given that there isn’t any evidence that there are octapusses on Mars. Sure, there’s some evidence that there -might- be bacteria on Mars, but something as complex as an octapus is highly unlikely.”

    “You’re clearly not basing your criticism on a sophisticated understanding of Martian octapus belief. I’m not going to listen to you until you address the more sophisticated claims made by Martian octapus believers.”

    “What ‘sophisticated’ claims? Nobody has presented any evidence that there is a single octapus living on Mars. Until somebody does, there is no need to deal with the more detailed claims made by believers in Martian Octapusses, because there is no justification for believing that they exist at all.”

    “You are clearly ignorant of the nuances Martian Octapus belief. Are you familiar with Dr Tinfoil Treacle’s paper on what TV shows intercepted from Earth these octapusses are likely to prefer?”

    “No.”

    “Can you tell me what colour towels are traditionally used in hotels run by Martian octapusses, according to Credule?”

    “No.”

    “Are you familiar with what the seven most popular Martian Octapus sporting events are, according to Lyar’s Book of Martian Speculation?”

    “No.”

    “Then how are you qualified to say that Martian Octapusses don’t exist? If you don’t even know about Martian Octapus tea-cozy fashion trends, then you are clearly far to ignorant about Martian Octapusses to say that they don’t exist. How dare you waste my time trying to disprove something you clearly know nothing about!”

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Nice post.

    I think those who criticize Dawkins and atheism in the vein of Terry Eagleton usually do so hypocritically, and actually display weakness over strength. For example, most believers care not to explain or understand Gould’s use of Scilla’s coral as a triune metaphoric depiction of evolutionary theory; most believers haven’t read Ingersoll or Bertrand Russell; in fact, many (possibly most) believers have never even considered the fact they might be wrong.

    Those who concoct Eagleton-esque arguments unnecessarily overshoot the mark, possibly in an overcompensatory attempt to respond to Dawkins under the auspices of intelligent debate. One need not demonstrate Dawkins’ ignorance of Aquinas, Duns Scrotus, Rahner, et al. when he (Dawkins) already shows basic ignorance of the Bible.

    Genuinely intellectual atheists often know far more about Christianity / Bible / religion than most believers, and genuinely intellectual believers often know far more about skepticism / science / atheism than most skeptics.

  • James H

    I take a bit of a different approach. I went to Dawkins, then Hitchens, then Harris — or their books at least — seeking a philosophical and intellectual grounding for my own atheism. I came away intensely dissatisfied. I went to Ravi Zacharias to get a sample of the other side, and also came away dissatisfied.

    Part of the problem is that these writers of what amount to pop-culture philosophy aren’t terribly interested in sophisticated discussion. To the contrary, my own reading of their work wuggests that tey are more interested in restating their own points at length, but without a real intellectual foundation.

    But a second part of the problem is that a theological and philosophical discourse — I mean, a truly enlightening tome — would be largely incomprehensible to the wider public, thus selling fewer copies.

  • karatemack

    Many of you are missing the point. The critique doesn’t say you can’t disbelieve in something you know nothing about. The critique is that you cannot argue against something you don’t understand.

    It would be like me encountering someone who tells me NASA has put a man on the moon. I then respond saying NASA does not exist because trained mice in clown suits cannot fly rockets. The reason for my disbelief doesn’t address any of the TRUE claims about NASA the person made. It would be valid for me to dispute the possibility of a rocket going into space. It would be valid for me to not believe in rockets, or (without further evidence being provided) for me to choose not to believe a man could operate a rocket. It is absurb, however, for me to argue points about NASA which were never raised in the first place.

    This is where a little knowledge of what you are critiquing is absolutely essential. You can choose not to believe whatever you wish until evidence is supplied to ‘prove’ it. It is another matter entirely to critique something you do not understand.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    …and genuinely intellectual believers often know far more about skepticism / science / atheism than most skeptics.

    In my experience, this has not been the case. Do you have any specific people in mind?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    Well hell… nice to meet you.

    “In my experience, this has not been the case.”

    Understandable. Everyone’s experience differs and I don’t know whether I would classify the believers you’ve experienced as genuine intellectuals or not, so I can’t agree or disagree with you on that point.

    “Do you have any specific people in mind?”

    I don’t keep up with theologians, I don’t go to church, and I haven’t met a believer I would classify as a genuine intellectual in over 3 years now. The last was a guy I worked for named John the Printer.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    karatemack,

    Many of you are missing the point. The critique doesn’t say you can’t disbelieve in something you know nothing about. The critique is that you cannot argue against something you don’t understand.

    In that case, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Andrew Rilstone: What are some specific examples of things that Richard Dawkins (or any other prominent new atheist) says about Christian theology that you believe are inaccurate?

  • http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    What are some specific examples of things Dawkins says about Christian theology that you believe are inaccurate?

    Well, off the top of my head. Dawkins claims that “the Bible” is a pro-semitic, racist work – that the book of Revelation says that only Jews go to heaven; and that Jesus thought that “love thy neigbour” only applies to Jews. He says that the infancy gospel of Thomas was left out of the New Testament as a result of an “arbitrary” process, and that it had just as much right to be part of the Bible as the the four canonical texts. He claims that the argument between those who believed in the Holy Trinity and those who denied it was essentially meaningless. He talks about the more blood curdling elements in the Old Testement without any apparent awareness of Christian teaching about the Jewish Law being superceded. He seems to think that all Christians support the “penal substitution” view of the Atonement (that God wanted to punish someone, and the innocent Jesus volunteered). And he still thinks Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews.

    But the real problem isn’t the errors. If I’ve understood the book right, he’s arguing that our scientific knowledge of evolution proves that story of “creation” in Old Testement isn’t true; that it follows that the “God” in that story doesn’t exist; and that therefore all other possible versions of God don’t exist either. I agree, and have always agreed, with the first part: to make me an atheist, he’d have to demonstrate that the second part follows from it. And that would, I think, require some understanding of “theology” in the sense of “the kind of thing that intelligent theists mean when they say “God.”

    It is, by the way, perfectly possible to ask meaningful questions about non-existant beings. “What was the name of David Copperfield’s wife”; “What planet did Superman come from”; “Do Hobbits have leap years?”

  • karatemack

    My remark is mainly a rebuttal to the use of The Courtier’s Reply in defense of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. I do not feel as though The Courtier’s Reply really addresses the original critique set forth in Dawkins’ published material.

    That said; Dawkins asserts that religions are all oriented around family and upbringing. The first christians were Jews who denounced their ‘family’ faiths to follow what was considered at the time to be a radical new teaching. For this reason they were persecuted, not from without, but from within their own community. Also he shows a map, during his presentation, showing where all the people of a certain faith live. This presentation was highly misleading and actually full of error. People of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths are located all over the world.

    Dawkins asserts that all religous gods have, in modern times, become anachronisms of the past. Each of these suppossed rulers of the universe now disproven through a consensus among mankind as a whole. I would say his assertion is absolutely correct, and yet I would draw a different conclusion as what Dawkins fails to point out is that the God of the Bible is worshipped during the same period as all of these gods who have now ‘ceased to exist’… and yet He remains. Why is this God different? Dawkins, for me, fails to answer this.

    Dawkins asserts that “skyhooks” must be put aside in favor of “cranes”. Simply because we cannot force God to reveal Himself, He obviously does not exist. In a lecture at Burkeley (which is what I’m responding to, found here: http://richarddawkins.net/article,2989,Richard-Dawkins-Lecture-at-UC-Berkeley,Richard-Dawkins) Dawkins admits that intelligent design would be a plausable explanation if only we could define the source of the creator. I find this reasoning flawed. When I smell freshly cooked apples, I do not have to locate the source of the smell to know that there is something causing the smell.

    Dawkins asserts that the probability, as suggested by creationists, for evolution to have occurred through natural selection is looked at through a flawed lense. He states that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. He uses the example of the dribbling lock, trying to undermine the essence of the probability argument. What he fails to acknowledge is that the statistical improbability listed (which is 4.9 X 10 -191) applies only to the likelihood that proteins came together in the correct way to form RNA. It isn’t applied to the entire evolutionary process, only the intial stage of life. Therefore it is an irreducible minimum which cannot be simplified in the way that Dawkins attempts to.

    This is all in the first 20 minutes of Dawkins 56 minute lecture.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’ll take Andrew’s comments in order:

    Dawkins claims that “the Bible” is a pro-semitic, racist work…

    I find it difficult to believe that anyone would seriously deny that.

    …that the book of Revelation says that only Jews go to heaven…

    That is, in fact, what the Book of Revelation says. This comes from Dawkins discussing the famous verses about the 144,000 witnesses, which, as Revelation points out, consist of twelve thousand people from each of the original 12 tribes of Israel (7:4-8). Dawkins himself does not accept this as gospel, but specifically points out that “some sects”, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret these 144,000 witnesses to be the sum total of those who will be saved from the earth.

    …and that Jesus thought that “love thy neigbour” only applies to Jews.

    Since that is clearly the way it’s stated in the original text of the Bible, I fail to see the problem. Here’s Leviticus 19:18:

    “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.”

    Note that Dawkins is not, as you imply, pulling this conclusion and the two before it out of thin air. All three of these points, although you didn’t give citations for them, come from a section of TGD which discusses a paper by the evolutionary anthropologist John Hartung on in-group versus out-group morality in biblical society. This paper presents specific arguments for the views you disdain as “inaccurate”. For instance, here’s Dawkins drawing from Hartung:

    Moses Maimonides, the highly respected twelfth-century rabbi and physician, expounds the full meaning of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ as follows: ‘If one slays a single Israelite, he transgresses a negative commandment, for Scripture says, Thou shalt not murder. If one murders willfully in the presence of witnesses, he is put to death by the sword. Needless to say, one is not put to death if he kills a heathen.’ Needless to say! (p.254)

    Your strategy here, Andrew, is quite similar to the one John McCain employed in the first Presidential debate: adopt a patronizing tone and treat every point of disagreement not as a legitimate clash of opinions, but as evidence that your opponent is “naive” and “inexperienced” for not recognizing the superiority of your own position.

    Next:

    He says that the infancy gospel of Thomas was left out of the New Testament as a result of an “arbitrary” process, and that it had just as much right to be part of the Bible as the the four canonical texts.

    Yes. And?

    He claims that the argument between those who believed in the Holy Trinity and those who denied it was essentially meaningless.

    I quite agree.

    He talks about the more blood curdling elements in the Old Testement without any apparent awareness of Christian teaching about the Jewish Law being superceded.

    Let’s be clear that I asked you for examples of things Dawkins says that are inaccurate. It is not inaccurate to say that the Old Testament contains a great number of brutal, violent laws. That is a true statement and a valid observation. Your complaint seems to consist solely of saying that Dawkins doesn’t accept the usual Christian apologetics for why we should give that a pass.

    He seems to think that all Christians support the “penal substitution” view of the Atonement (that God wanted to punish someone, and the innocent Jesus volunteered).

    It’s true that, when discussing Christian doctrine about the death and resurrection of Jesus, Dawkins does focus on the penal substitution theory – and rightly so, in my opinion, as that is no doubt the view held by the vast majority of Christians today. Nowhere that I see does he state either that this is universally believed or that there are no alternatives. Your complaint here is actually an excellent example of the Courtier’s Reply: you seem to be asserting that, in the middle of an argument against the barbarous doctrine that sin can be forgiven by punishing the guilty in place of the innocent, Dawkins should veer off into discussing all the obscure Christian views of soteriology and consider them each in turn.

    And he still thinks Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews.

    I’ll grant you this one: Dawkins does attribute authorship of Hebrews to Paul. As I’ve shown, though, most of your other objections are not about factual inaccuracies but differences of opinion. If your most substantial objection to a 400-page book is that Dawkins isn’t up to date with New Testament critical scholarship regarding the authorship of the minor epistles, I’m fine to let the debate stand at that. And let’s not forget that there are still plenty of Christians who also believe that Hebrews was written by Paul (example).

    If I’ve understood the book right, he’s arguing that our scientific knowledge of evolution proves that story of “creation” in Old Testement isn’t true; that it follows that the “God” in that story doesn’t exist; and that therefore all other possible versions of God don’t exist either.

    I’ve read TGD and I have no idea where it says anything remotely like this. Dawkins’ actual argument is that, if we reject the hypothesis that a world as complexly ordered as our own simply exists with no particular explanation, we should consider the analogous hypothesis even less likely for an even more complex and highly ordered being such as a deity. His argument holds that complex things only come about through evolution-like processes from simpler origins.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack

    I would say his assertion is absolutely correct, and yet I would draw a different conclusion as what Dawkins fails to point out is that the God of the Bible is worshipped during the same period as all of these gods who have now ‘ceased to exist’… and yet He remains. Why is this God different?

    The Hindu gods were around all that time as well and for longer. What’s your point?

    Dawkins asserts that the probability, as suggested by creationists, for evolution to have occurred through natural selection is looked at through a flawed lense.

    And he’s right, which is a classic blunder of creationists. Having a fully-formed organism appear is beyond the bounds of what we would consider statistically possible, and it’s a good thing that no one is saying that this is what happened. Unfortunately, the creationists insist that this is what people are claiming happened so that they can “debunk” evolution (even though this isn’t even evolution, but abiogenesis – meaning the creos are doubly wrong).

  • Nes

    karatemack:

    Dawkins asserts that the probability, as suggested by creationists, for evolution to have occurred through natural selection is looked at through a flawed lense. He states that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. He uses the example of the dribbling lock, trying to undermine the essence of the probability argument. What he fails to acknowledge is that the statistical improbability listed (which is 4.9 X 10 -191) applies only to the likelihood that proteins came together in the correct way to form RNA. It isn’t applied to the entire evolutionary process, only the intial stage of life. Therefore it is an irreducible minimum which cannot be simplified in the way that Dawkins attempts to.

    I must say right up front that I’m on dial up and thus it is not feasible for me to watch that video, so I must rely on your description of what was said.

    talk.origins has a decent explanation for why that probability of RNA/protein/whatever forming is flawed, though I wish it had better references, especially since the one listed for that page doesn’t exist. The two points that I had typed out before finding that link are echoed there: “Any calculation of odds must take into account all possible molecules (not just proteins) that might function to promote life.” and “The calculation of odds ignores the fact that innumerable trials would have been occurring simultaneously.”

    Basically, as I understand it, Dawkins may have mislabeled what the probability was for, but he was correct in stating that “it’s not an all or nothing proposition.” A protein or whatever may have built up in pieces, had its formation accelerated by other molecules, etc.

    Dawkins admits that intelligent design would be a plausable explanation if only we could define the source of the creator. I find this reasoning flawed. When I smell freshly cooked apples, I do not have to locate the source of the smell to know that there is something causing the smell.

    I don’t have Dawkins’ exact words, so I’m not sure if his argument is flawed or not; “the source of the creator” doesn’t make much sense. I would say, however, that if we knew something about the creator, then ID could potentially be tested. As it is, ID is worthless.

    I agree that if we can smell baked apples (I presume you mean “design” by this analogy) that something is causing that smell… but we can follow that smell to find the source, and we’ve done so as well as we can so far, and it isn’t looking like a baker so much as an apple that splattered on a warm stone and cooked in the sun.

  • http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    That is, in fact, what the Book of Revelation says. This comes from Dawkins discussing the famous verses about the 144,000 witnesses, which, as Revelation points out, consist of twelve thousand people from each of the original 12 tribes of Israel (7:4-8). Dawkins himself does not accept this as gospel, but specifically points out that “some sects”, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret these 144,000 witnesses to be the sum total of those who will be saved from the earth.

    I think that this discussion should be kept at a serious and mature level, so let me just say

    LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE! LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!

    In the Book of Revelation, St John has a vision of heaven. In Heaven, he sees two, count them, TWO, groups of people. The first group of people consists, as you say, of 12,000 people from each of the twleve tribes. The second group of people, which John says is far too large to count, consists of people from every nation on earth. Small group of Jews, huge group of gentiles. (The Jehovahs Witnesses do not, as far as I know, say the the 144,000 represent all thse who will be saved: they believe in a two teir system of salvation, with the 144,000 representing the heavenly “government”, and the much bigger group representing those who will “live for ever in a paradise on earth.” TWO groups.) The Dawk has read a passage which says, in effect “In heaven there will be Jews and Gentiles” and quoted it as “In heaven, there will be Jews”. It is, I agree, a long passage in a difficult book. What the error shows is that he has not read Revelations and tried to understand it. He’s scanned it looking for proof texts which support his text. Like the stupidist kind of Christian, in fact.

    …and that Jesus thought that “love thy neigbour” only applies to Jews.

    Since that is clearly the way it’s stated in the original text of the Bible, I fail to see the problem

    Jesus is SPECIFICALLY ASKED whether “neigbhour” means “Jew”. He replies, to paraphrase, “Well, if you had been mugged, and a heretic foriegner helped you, but two religious jews ignored you, who would have been your neigbour?” It seems to me that when we read a book which is (at least partly) a critique of religion, and discover that the author has NEVER HEARD OF THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN, the only sensible thing to do is to say “This is not a serious book, and we won’t pay any more attention to it.”

    You cite a passage from Leviticus which talks about charitable behaviour towards fellow Jews. What about all the passages which tell the Jews to welcome strangers and foriegners in their land, treating them like members of the family, because they, the Jews, were slaves and outcasts in Egypt? The game of proof texts doesn’t work. At all.

    The point about the Talmud is more valid, but one has no right to say “The Bible says…” if one means “Respected first century commentators of the Bible interpret it to mean” and without noting if there are dissenting voices, and that not all modern Jews use the Talmud in the first place. It is also striking that when the Talmud appears to make a text more harsh, he says that the Talmudic interpetation is what the Bible “really means.” But when the Talmud appears to soften a passage – interpreting that the death penalty for rebellious children only applies to those who have cursed their parents in the name of YHWH – he mysteriously doesn’t mention it. In a British news paper, he asserted without qualification that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” really means “Though shalt not kill a jew”, which since there isn’t (correct me if I’m wrong) a hebrew word for “kill a jew”, is a downright lie.

    He says that the infancy gospel of Thomas was left out of the New Testament as a result of an “arbitrary” process, and that it had just as much right to be part of the Bible as the the four canonical texts.

    Yes. And?

    Er…this indicates a naive understanding of the question of the formation of the canon? I mean, where is his evidence that any Christian group ever regarded Thomas as canon? That he possibly has it confused it with the gnostic “sayings” Gospel? That he’s vaguely heard that there are books with “gospel” in the title and vaguely heard that the canon of tne New Testament was fixed rather late, and assumed that means that at some point someone arbitrarily decided “Peter – in” “Judas – out”? That Mary Magdalen was Jesus wife and the ancestor of Kylie Minogue?

    A lot of books which are now regarded as “Patristic Literature” — the Shepherd of Hermas, and the epistles of Clement, I think, without looking it up — may at one time have been regarded as part of the Bible; and one or two books which canonical (Jude, John’s letters, Revelation) were rejected by some groups. And this is an important subject in the history of Christianity, and the idea that some Christians have that the Bible dropped out of the sky fully formed in the second century is as silly as the Dan Brown fantasies that Dawkins seems to indulge in.) But “Thomas was left out of the Bible by an arbitrary process” isn’t an argument: it’s a slogan.

    He claims that the argument between those who believed in the Holy Trinity and those who denied it was essentially meaningless.

    I quite agree.

    Five minutes research could show you why Christians might have thought it made a different if Jesus was God-in-Human-Form or A-messenger-who-God-sent. I agree, of course, that if there isn’t a God, than asking ANY question about God is a waste of time. But it isn’t hard to find out why, among people who did believe in God, the question “What is Jesus relation to God?” was meaningful and important. The argument that says “Christians are silly, because they ask questions about God, and it’s silly to ask questions about God, becasue there isn’t a God” seems a little circular to me. If you don’t play “Dungeons and Dragons” then an argument about whether a level fifteen dwarf assassin can use and edged weapon on a Tuesday might seem to be a question “about nothing”. But if you do, it’s a perfectly answerable question, and “Dungeons and Dragons players are silly because they attach meaning to the rules of Dungeons and Dragons” is not an argument.


    He talks about the more blood curdling elements in the Old Testement without any apparent awareness of Christian teaching about the Jewish Law being superceded.

    Let’s be clear that I asked you for examples of things Dawkins says that are inaccurate. It is not inaccurate to say that the Old Testament contains a great number of brutal, violent laws. That is a true statement and a valid observation. Your complaint seems to consist solely of saying that Dawkins doesn’t accept the usual Christian apologetics for why we should give that a pass.

    My apologies, Sir. I had passed beyond mere “inaccuracies” and was adressing myself to the question “Why the Dawk’s ingnorance of What Christians Believe makes his critique of the Christian religion valueless.”

    I am not saying that Christian aplogetics say that we should give the Old Testament “a pass”. You know that I’m not saying that. The Christian New Testament — the books of Hebrews and Romans, for a start — are ABOUT the question “Does the Torah still apply? If not, what was the point of it?” If a book is going to do a critique of Christianity without mentioning a cardinal, central, elementary point of Christian belief, then I don’t see why I should waste my time on it.

    It’s true that, when discussing Christian doctrine about the death and resurrection of Jesus, Dawkins does focus on the penal substitution theory – and rightly so, in my opinion, as that is no doubt the view held by the vast majority of Christians today. Nowhere that I see does he state either that this is universally believed or that there are no alternatives. Your complaint here is actually an excellent example of the Courtier’s Reply: you seem to be asserting that, in the middle of an argument against the barbarous doctrine that sin can be forgiven by punishing the guilty in place of the innocent, Dawkins should veer off into discussing all the obscure Christian views of soteriology and consider them each in turn.

    The Courtier’s Reply is a riff on an Andersen story about how easy it is to fall in line with recieved wisdom, yes? (In the story, every one knows that the emperor is naked, but no-one steps out of line and says so due to social embarassment.)

    The analogy, in this case, would be as follows.

    I say “Look a the King’s beautiful blue robe. It’s beautiful and blue. Oh, the beauty of it’s blueness!”

    Along comes a little boy who says “I can prove to you that the Emperor is naked. He would never wear a green robe, because he hates the colour green and promised is mother in law that he would never wear it.”

    I reply. “But I never said that the robe is green. I keep saying that it’s blue.”

    “Why do you insist on talking about the colour of a robe that obviously isn’t there?” replies the boy.

    “Well, you started it.” say I.

    It is not my contention that the boy’s stupid ignorant unwillingness to listen to what I have said about the robe proves that the robe exists. I only suggest that that particular argument (“the king would never wear green”) is invalid.

    I think that it is a little bit naughty of you to imply that I am setting a simple, mainstrem doctrine of the atonement (Jesus as cosmic whipping boy) against an rarefied, erudite one which only someone who can spell “soteriology” might be expected to understand. I’m not. I have on my shelf C.S Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”, about as popular and mainstream a book as you could find: he rejects the idea of penal substitution. I also have a book called “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott, a very mainstream conservative evangelical, darling of the Christian Union. He also rejects penal substitution. You have almost certainly been handed a tract called “Three Steps To God” at some time in your life: if so, it argues that “sin” is a gulf between man and God and says that Jesus bridged that chasm.

    I am sure that there are objections to these ideas as well; and I am not saying they shouldn’t be debated. Of course they should. All I’m really saying is that “The God Delusion” is a silly book which contributes nothing substantial to the discussion.

  • heliobates

    @ karatemack

    When I smell freshly cooked apples, I do not have to locate the source of the smell to know that there is something causing the smell.

    If you are conscious on an operating table and, as the neurosurgeon goes about her business, you suddenly smell burnt toast, then you should be very careful about drawing inferences concerning the “source” of that smell.

    Dawkins is making the point that we cannot start a coherent empirical investigation from the starting position that an undetectible designer is responsible for the processes we’re observing. If I have to explain that any further, then you’re guilty in your criticism of Dawkins of exactly the flaws you’re supposedly pointing out. That [ahem] somewhat mitigates how seriously we should take your argument, dontcha think?

  • windy

    The Courtier’s Reply is a riff on an Andersen story about how easy it is to fall in line with recieved wisdom, yes? (In the story, every one knows that the emperor is naked, but no-one steps out of line and says so due to social embarassment.)

    Being infamiliar with this particular “sacred text” might be more excusable than being infamiliar with the Bible :) But I’m surprised how many people have this impression! It’s clear from the story that everyone (except the swindlers) assumes that it’s possible to see the clothing.

    ““How is this?” said the Emperor to himself. “I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen–Oh! the cloth is charming,” said he, aloud. “It has my complete approbation.” And he smiled most graciously, and looked closely at the empty looms; for on no account would he say that he could not see what two of the officers of his court had praised so much. All his retinue now strained their eyes, hoping to discover something on the looms, but they could see no more than the others; nevertheless, they all exclaimed, “Oh, how beautiful!” and advised his majesty to have some new clothes made from this splendid material, for the approaching procession.”

    (this is from here, should be reasonably faithful to the original)

  • karatemack

    To OMGF:

    “The Hindu gods were around all that time as well and for longer. What’s your point?”

    My point is only to establish that the God of the Bible is not the same as the gods Dawkins chose to compare Him to. I was not asked to prove God’s existence, only to demonstrate why I disagree with Dawkins’ position. Dawkins, by his own presentation, shows that the God of the Bible is uniquely different. (he claims that this ‘difference’ is only perpetuated by the followers of this faith)

    “Having a fully-formed organism appear is beyond the bounds of what we would consider statistically possible, and it’s a good thing that no one is saying that this is what happened.”

    You didn’t respond to my point. I have already addressed the point you’ve tried to establish here. The statistical probability of inanimate proteins coming together to form RNA is what’s in question. We’re looking at the first essential step in the process. The probability focuses only on this, not the entire process. And please do me to service of claiming probability is no reason to reject an argument. As in the first few minutes of Dawkins’ presentation he states that he does NOT completely reject the idea God COULD exist, however makes the claim that it is so highly unlikely that God does exist that we should not put our trust in theories which suggest He does.

    To Nes:

    “A protein or whatever may have built up in pieces, had its formation accelerated by other molecules, etc.”

    No one is saying that it is impossible for evolution to have occurred this way (as currently ‘provable’ by science). If I could show beyond all reasonable doubt that evolution could not have occurred, then I doubt this conversation would continue. I am simply applying Dawkins’ own logic to the problem at hand. He claims that the existence of God is so unlikely that we should reject it. Following his logic, if it is found that the evolutionary process is statistically unprobable (overwhelmingly so) then we should reject it as well. Again, this is not a proof for the existence of God, only a valid critism of the alternative to God suggested.

    “As it is, ID is worthless.”

    Does worthlessness lie in the unproven theories of the world or in their application? A theory may one day prove false, but may still have proved helpful in other ways. Again, not an argument to PROVE ID is true, but rather to criticize your assessment of theories as a whole. As a christian, if it is proven that the theories on the Origin of Life are false and ID was correct the entire time, I would still say that the theory itself contributed something to the honest study of ID as a valid critique which afforded us an opportunity to more deeply consider the conclusions we hold to be true.

    “I agree that if we can smell baked apples (I presume you mean “design” by this analogy) that something is causing that smell… but we can follow that smell to find the source, and we’ve done so as well as we can so far, and it isn’t looking like a baker so much as an apple that splattered on a warm stone and cooked in the sun.”

    Please take my comments in context. This comment was a critique of Dawkins’ skyhooks and cranes symbolism. The assertion he made is that only theories which have an identifyable source are valid. In my example I should have been more specific. Let’s say I’m blind and strapped to a table. I smell apples. Someone tells me of an apple tree nearby. They bring me a piece of it’s bark and let me feel it. Another tells me a baker made an apple pie, and that is why I smell the apples. They don’t have the pie, but they assure me it’s been made. The baker has left and has put the pie out of reach so that there is no way for the person trying to convince me of the pie’s existence to provide me with tangible evidence that it is real. I might have a good reason to believe in the tree, given that I’ve handled tangible evidence of it. But in reality, the pie may exist… My criticism is only that this ‘skyhooks’ and ‘cranes’ symbolism does not rule out the possibility of creation.

    To Heliobates:

    “Dawkins is making the point that we cannot start a coherent empirical investigation from the starting position that an undetectible designer is responsible for the processes we’re observing.”

    I agree that theology is not science. Without doubt. Science should NEVER begin with conclusions about what is being observed. That is also a flaw with the origins of life and evolution. Where did matter come from? Where did the items which caused those items come from? Dawkins’ himself examined a claim that we were planted here by alien life forms. He said the problem is that we will always be caught in a cycle of explaining the origin of the origin. I don’t see how the Origin of Life overcomes this.

    “That [ahem] somewhat mitigates how seriously we should take your argument, dontcha think?”

    If I were using this as the BASIS for my belief in ID or creationism, then yes. I would be completely undone. A common misconception is that ID is simply an answer or argument to evolution (mainly because many christians use and see it this way). I am NOT establishing points for ID or creationism. The only reason I am brining these concepts into view is because Dawkins’ has supplied us with logical patterns of reasoning by which he claims we can rule these theories out as possibilites. I am simply applying this same logic to the theory he WOULD have us believe, and I find it does not hold up under the same criticism it applies to other views.

  • heliobates

    I am simply applying this same logic to the theory he WOULD have us believe, and I find it does not hold up under the same criticism it applies to other views.

    To be fair to you, Dawkins often reasons from supressed premises. So do most of us.

    So I think I detect a Ubangi in your fuel supply here:

    That is also a flaw with the origins of life and evolution. Where did matter come from? Where did the items which caused those items come from?

    I think Dawkins often simply assumes that his audience will grant him the limitations of methodological naturalism. There may be a point at which we, with our ability to detect, observe, replicate via experimentation… the phenomenae of our universe, may have to throw up our hands and say “can’t be done”. The metaphysical naturalist, who assumes naturalistic causes at this point, isn’t really doing the same thing as the creationist who says “musta been God!”. Your suppressed premise seems to be that we will be able to devise an account of the origins of the universe and the origin of life on our planet and this is a kind of goalpost-shifting since no supernatural explanation of origins has to be constrained by repeatability, verifiability, evidentiary support and (possibly) falsifiability. If I’m misreading you, I apologize, but you do seem to presume that these two models have some equivalence of explanatory power. In other words I say “goddidit” is not an explanation, but rather a refusal to explain.

    Unlike religious explanations, scientific explanations not only try to answer questions such as “Where did matter come from? Where did the items which caused those items come from?” by formulating hypotheses based on observation. It also vigorously tests these hypotheses and discards them when necessary.

    If the CERN physicists find the Higgs Boson, the Standard Model of particle physics will have been completely vindicated and we’ll be a lot closer to answering the apologists’ favorite brand of misdirection: “how can something come from nothing?” On the other hand, if the LHC experiments fail to demonstrate the existence of the Higgs Boson, or something with an equivalent function, all physicists are going to have to carefully re-evaluate the Standard Model, possibly junking it if necessary and starting over from scratch. Are you suggesting any religion can survive that kind of scrutiny? If you equate the two “methods” of “investigation” then you do. And then you have to be prepared to accept that religion has to fundamentally realign itself just based on the discoveries of the past century, or admit that you’re not really talking about two methods with the same explanatory power.

    As a christian, if it is proven that the theories on the Origin of Life are false and ID was correct the entire time, I would still say that the theory itself contributed something to the honest study of ID as a valid critique which afforded us an opportunity to more deeply consider the conclusions we hold to be true.

    This may be true in some huggy-feely philosophical sense, but it’s very important to acknowledge that ID proponents have not pursued a scientific process of investigation. Whatever it’s utility as a stone to sharpen critical thinking skills, ID contributes nothing to our developing scientific understanding.

    I think this is the substrate of Dawkins “crane vs. skyhook” argument, whether or not he successfully articulates this view.

  • HL

    @ James H

    I went to Dawkins, then Hitchens, then Harris — or their books at least — seeking a philosophical and intellectual grounding for my own atheism. I came away intensely dissatisfied.

    You might try Nicholas Everitt’s philosophy textbook, The Nonexistence of God. Everitt discusses the logical validity of claims about God’s nature and existence from a strictly neutral starting point. It’s a good, exhaustive read that showcases sophistication on both sides (check out Plantinga’s revamped ontological argument on pp. 41-3). For the scientific viewpoint I liked Stenger’s God, the Failed Hypothesis although it’s a little more polemical.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Heliobates..

    Nice response. I realize it’s thread drift, but I’d like to comment on this: you said, “If the CERN physicists find the Higgs Boson, the Standard Model of particle physics will have been completely vindicated and we’ll be a lot closer to answering the apologists’ favorite brand of misdirection: “‘how can something come from nothing?’”

    Let’s say they find it (the Higgs Boson). Then great; we can now explain how something came from nothing. Thus we obtain a mechanical framework for the appearance of material existence.

    On the surface, I’ll say this fact would still contribute absolutely nothing conclusive to any arguments about the existence or non-existence of God.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    In response to Heliobates, I said,

    “Let’s say they find it (the Higgs Boson). Then great; we can now explain how something came from nothing. Thus we obtain a mechanical framework for the appearance of material existence. On the surface, I’ll say this fact would still contribute absolutely nothing conclusive to any arguments about the existence or non-existence of God.”

    Thinking further, the discovery of the Higgs Boson could actually lend well to the plausibility of atheism. However, this is a different ballgame than saying the discovery of the Higgs Boson contributes anything conclusive to arguments about the existence or non-existence of God.

  • Nes

    karatemack:

    Ahh, I see what you meant by the apples thing now. I wasn’t familiar with the skyhooks and cranes thing. While I agree that it’s possible that the pie exists, I see no reason to suppose that it actually does until some evidence comes in to support it… which I guess puts me in Dawkins’ camp?

    [Dawkins] claims that the existence of God is so unlikely that we should reject it. Following his logic, if it is found that the evolutionary process is statistically unprobable (overwhelmingly so) then we should reject it as well. Again, this is not a proof for the existence of God, only a valid critism of the alternative to God suggested. [sic]

    I would agree that if there were huge valid improbabilities for evolution, then the theory should be closely examined and either discarded or refined (whichever is more appropriate). The particular example given, however, is not a valid improbability.

    “As it is, ID is worthless.”

    Does worthlessness lie in the unproven theories of the world or in their application? A theory may one day prove false, but may still have proved helpful in other ways. Again, not an argument to PROVE ID is true, but rather to criticize your assessment of theories as a whole. As a christian, if it is proven that the theories on the Origin of Life are false and ID was correct the entire time, I would still say that the theory itself contributed something to the honest study of ID as a valid critique which afforded us an opportunity to more deeply consider the conclusions we hold to be true.

    I couldn’t agree more with what heliobates said: “Whatever it’s utility as a stone to sharpen critical thinking skills, ID contributes nothing to our developing scientific understanding. [sic]” (Contrast with Newton’s theory of gravity; compare to the flat earth theory.)

    Thus, I say it’s worthless.

    (I fear we are straying too far off topic, so this will probably be my last response in this direction. Feel free to respond.)

  • karatemack

    To Heliobates:

    “To be fair to you, Dawkins often reasons from supressed premises. So do most of us.”

    Are you justifying Dawkins’ assertions using a ‘two wrongs make a right’ standpoint? That’s what it seems like.

    “I think Dawkins often simply assumes that his audience will grant him the limitations of methodological naturalism. There may be a point at which we, with our ability to detect, observe, replicate via experimentation… the phenomenae of our universe, may have to throw up our hands and say “can’t be done”. The metaphysical naturalist, who assumes naturalistic causes at this point, isn’t really doing the same thing as the creationist who says “musta been God!”. Your suppressed premise seems to be that we will be able to devise an account of the origins of the universe and the origin of life on our planet and this is a kind of goalpost-shifting since no supernatural explanation of origins has to be constrained by repeatability, verifiability, evidentiary support and (possibly) falsifiability. If I’m misreading you, I apologize, but you do seem to presume that these two models have some equivalence of explanatory power. In other words I say “goddidit” is not an explanation, but rather a refusal to explain.”

    This is a straw man argument. I state this because I have stated many times already that I am not arguing FOR creationism, only AGAINST Dawkins’ assertions. You keep responding as though I am attempting to ‘prove’ creationism. I am not. I am only applying Dawkins’ own logic to the assertions he makes, and stating that I find his own conclusions do not hold up under the scrutiny of his own logic. In the first place this opinion was offered in response to the question of what critiques I had about Dawkins’ or any other atheists’ view of Biblical theology.

    Stop ignoring the points I’m making about Dawkins. Even you admit twice in your post that Dawkins’ logic has flaws:

    “To be fair to you, Dawkins often reasons from supressed premises.”

    “I think this is the substrate of Dawkins “crane vs. skyhook” argument, whether or not he successfully articulates this view.”

    I want to pose a question here. Do you believe there DOES exist anything which is not observable and definable by science? Or is existence itself defined by the ability to be evaluated scientifically?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    karatemack,

    My point is only to establish that the God of the Bible is not the same as the gods Dawkins chose to compare Him to.

    Dawkins clearly states in TGD, that he is tackling the god that most regular Xians believe in. If you have a different conception of god, then he wasn’t speaking directly to you. It is not cool to criticize someone for not addressing your specific god and saying that they are necessarily ignorant of all Xianity because they did not conform to your wishes on which god they should address.

    You didn’t respond to my point. I have already addressed the point you’ve tried to establish here. The statistical probability of inanimate proteins coming together to form RNA is what’s in question. We’re looking at the first essential step in the process. The probability focuses only on this, not the entire process.

    That’s only partially true. Creationists are known for doing a bait and switch here where they try and calculate the probability of a fully formed cell and then claim that no pieces could form. Either way, you are still wrong, because the probabilities being discussed do not resemble the actual probabilities of the arguments put forth by scientists.

    And please do me to service of claiming probability is no reason to reject an argument. As in the first few minutes of Dawkins’ presentation he states that he does NOT completely reject the idea God COULD exist, however makes the claim that it is so highly unlikely that God does exist that we should not put our trust in theories which suggest He does.

    No one is saying that it is impossible for evolution to have occurred this way (as currently ‘provable’ by science). If I could show beyond all reasonable doubt that evolution could not have occurred, then I doubt this conversation would continue. I am simply applying Dawkins’ own logic to the problem at hand. He claims that the existence of God is so unlikely that we should reject it. Following his logic, if it is found that the evolutionary process is statistically unprobable (overwhelmingly so) then we should reject it as well.

    As to Dawkins’ claim, the probability of god existing is vanishingly small, and we should not put our trust in this probability. In fact, it is irrational to do so.

    As for your second paragraph, please note (once again) that you are speaking of abiogenesis, not evolution. Either way, I see no reason to say that we should hold onto a flawed theory (evolution or any other) that is statistically impossible if we have no other evidence in which to use to account for it. What’s the problem?

    As a christian, if it is proven that the theories on the Origin of Life are false and ID was correct the entire time, I would still say that the theory itself contributed something to the honest study of ID as a valid critique which afforded us an opportunity to more deeply consider the conclusions we hold to be true.

    How so? I can make a wild-assed, stab-in-the-dark guess about something and end up being right, but it doesn’t mean that my guess contributed anything to anything.

    Let’s say I’m blind and strapped to a table. I smell apples. Someone tells me of an apple tree nearby. They bring me a piece of it’s bark and let me feel it. Another tells me a baker made an apple pie, and that is why I smell the apples. They don’t have the pie, but they assure me it’s been made. The baker has left and has put the pie out of reach so that there is no way for the person trying to convince me of the pie’s existence to provide me with tangible evidence that it is real. I might have a good reason to believe in the tree, given that I’ve handled tangible evidence of it. But in reality, the pie may exist… My criticism is only that this ‘skyhooks’ and ‘cranes’ symbolism does not rule out the possibility of creation.

    How does your apple analogy bear any resemblance, what-so-ever, to the “goddidit” of ID and creationism?

    Science should NEVER begin with conclusions about what is being observed. That is also a flaw with the origins of life and evolution. Where did matter come from? Where did the items which caused those items come from? Dawkins’ himself examined a claim that we were planted here by alien life forms. He said the problem is that we will always be caught in a cycle of explaining the origin of the origin. I don’t see how the Origin of Life overcomes this.

    You’re not serious are you? You’re trying to equate a cycle of pushing back the answer to another level with a natural explanation for the formation of life? I’m failing to see the flaw that you claim exists with abiogenetic studies.

    A common misconception is that ID is simply an answer or argument to evolution (mainly because many christians use and see it this way).

    Actually, ID is just creationism in a cheap tuxedo. We even have evidence of this in “cdesign proponentists.”

  • karatemack

    Sorry for the double post.

    To Nes:

    I don’t want to be too ridiculous… but at my own expense… even if religious thought existed for no other reason other than to drive (by reason of it’s absurdity) men to search for ‘true reason’, though a negative catalyst, it would still prove to be an effective catalyst.

    Review the posts found here and you will see a repeated theme of your own members who admit that their journey towards atheism began with theism. Would they have arrived at their same conclusions without the disappointment of the religion they now reject? Or would they be complacent towards these matters entirely? Just a thought. (for the sake of argument)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I am only applying Dawkins’ own logic to the assertions he makes, and stating that I find his own conclusions do not hold up under the scrutiny of his own logic.

    And you are failing to provide arguments to support this assertion of yours. You make the argument that using Dawkins’ own logic we should reject evolution, but it’s based on the made-up, erroneous BS of creationists. Thus, your argument fails.

    Your second assertion that abiogenesis somehow falters under the same problems as creationism is also cleary false. Thus, both your arguments are defeated.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Review the posts found here and you will see a repeated theme of your own members who admit that their journey towards atheism began with theism.

    That’s like saying alcoholism is a driving force towards becoming sober.

  • karatemack

    To OMGF:

    You frequently state things to be so without any explanation. I, in fact, did explain why I feel Dawkins’ suggestions refute his own theories. You never reply to anything of substance. I should probably point out that I don’t plan to necessarily ‘convert’ anyone to my line of thinking. Draw your own conclusions certainly. But the slight suggestion that Dawkins’ logic might be flawed is met by the same blind support you claim creationists give their own theories.

    “That’s like saying alcoholism is a driving force towards becoming sober.”

    You’re point being? You don’t think education about the EFFECTS of alcoholism affects whether or not people chooses to drink? How would we know these effects unless someone, in fact, were observed in an alcoholic lifestyle? You’re right. Let’s abandon all education on sex, alcohol and drug abuse. This sounds like an argument many conservative evangelicals make… are you arguing my points now?

  • heliobates

    This is a straw man argument. I state this because I have stated many times already that I am not arguing FOR creationism, only AGAINST Dawkins’ assertions.

    It’s not a straw man. You can’t argue for the “skyhook” without aligning yourself with the creationists. The skyhook is supposed to be the premise that something unprovable or undetectable is a cause of something that is provable or detectable. If the “cause” was detectable, it would be part of the scaffolding, or the crane, to use Dawkins’ metaphor. In your own words “this ‘skyhooks’ and ‘cranes’ symbolism does not rule out the possibility of creation”. I responded by saying that Dawkins is presuming methodological naturalism and his “logic” is completely consistent with this. Methodological naturalism has to rule out supernatural causes. Supernatural causes cannot even be coherently defined, much less investigated.

    And don’t get too pissy with me about your creationist affiliations or lack thereof. You advanced the serious possibility that the scientific world view claims that “something comes from nothing”. This is a creationist talking point. As you conveniently ignored, I mentioned that the Standard Model of physics suggests that the Higgs Boson, or something that fulfills its function, plays the role of “creator” vis a vis matter in this universe. Studies of stochastic processes and emergent properties are current research proposals directly concerned with the development of the first organic replicators.* If you are proposing a supernatural first cause, then you’re a creationist. Period. If you’re not a creationist, stop using rhetoric like: “Where did matter come from? Where did the items which caused those items come from?”.

    Dawkins’ logic isn’t flawed. Your understanding of it is. That may still be Dawkins’ fault, because he might be sloppy in assuming that the people he’s talking to understand methodological naturalism, which you apparently do not.

    You keep responding as though I am attempting to ‘prove’ creationism. I am not. I am only applying Dawkins’ own logic to the assertions he makes, and stating that I find his own conclusions do not hold up under the scrutiny of his own logic.

    His own logic is buttressed by his presumption of methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism must a priori exclude the possibility of the supernatural. There’s no other way to do empirical science. Now who’s arguing a straw man refutation?

    In the first place this opinion was offered in response to the question of what critiques I had about Dawkins’ or any other atheists’ view of Biblical theology.

    Then stick with what you know. Dawkins may not be able argue effectively on your turf, but you’re completely outclassed on his.

    Do you believe there DOES exist anything which is not observable and definable by science?

    It depends on your definition of the word “exists”. Seriously. In a nutshell: the only reliable set of tools for investigating the phenomenological universe is the scientific method backed by presumptions of methodological naturalism. The inevitable “love”, “truth”, “beauty”… do not exist apart from human neuro-cognition in the context of human society. To say that “love” exists in the same sense that faux-amphibolite exists is to commit a serious category error.

    If you really want to argue philosophy, we’re going to have to start from first principles or else you’re just going to wind up arguing in bad faith. You should dig into Owen Flanagan, Galen Strawson or David MacArthur if you’re really interested in an answer to this question.

    * See Robert Hazen’s excellent Genesis:The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins

  • heliobates

    However, this is a different ballgame than saying the discovery of the Higgs Boson contributes anything conclusive to arguments about the existence or non-existence of God.

    Well, the believers will just retreat behind the Higgs Boson. The “how did all the stuff get there” is an ubiquitous theistic refrain. If the Higgs Boson or something like it is discovered or demonstrated to be probable, then believers will just say “Well who made the Higgs Boson, huh? Huh?” If the Standard Model collapses because the LHC experiments demonstrate that it’s fundamentally unsound, then the believers will say “see, you scientists really don’t know anything”, despite that this would be a total vindication of the scientific method.

    There’s no winning with people for whom arguing in bad faith is a world view.

  • karatemack

    “Then stick with what you know. Dawkins may not be able argue effectively on your turf, but you’re completely outclassed on his.”

    Admittedly, excellent advice. Obviously my reason for being here (or perhaps not so obvious) is to gain a solid understanding of the ‘other side’ of the debate. Thank you for your refrences. I will consider them.

    “It depends on your definition of the word “exists”.”

    Would you account the existence of love on the same level with God? IE: Love is no more provable or disprovable by science than God is.

  • heliobates

    Would you account the existence of love on the same level with God? IE: Love is no more provable or disprovable by science than God is.

    Trying to do “internet philosophy” is like trying to get “a little bit pregnant”. You’re correct in asserting that some things cannot be “proven”. So yes, “love” is no more “provable or disprovable than God” because “love” and “God” cannot be coherently defined. And even if they could be defined, Godel put paid to the idea that anything could be proven in a non-trivial sense of the word (not that Russell and Whitehead didn’t try).

    Let me put it this way: God, as an entity existing separately from human neuro-cognition and social interactions (SFHNCASI), certainly doesn’t “exist” in the sense that the computer I’m typing on “exists”. Any other type of existence SFHNCASI is contraindicated by overwhelming evidence from separate but mutually-supporting lines of empirical research going back at least 200 years.

    I have yet to see a testable proposition about some aspect of “God’s” nature. So much for religious empiricism. All philosophical approaches, including “argument from cosmology”, “argument from design”, “argument from history”, “argument from morality”, “argument from adverse consequences”, “argument from it-feels-too-good-to stop”… are all based on question-begging suppressed premises.

    Are we justified in a priori asserting that supernatural causes don’t exist? No. But we’re a posteriori justified in not taking them seriously. 2,500 years worth of “crickets chirping” makes for poor evidential support.

    But really, if you want to read what I consider to be THE SLAM DUNK argument against theism, check out our host’s A Ghost in the Machine. Without Cartesian dualism, religion is dead in the water.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    karatemack,

    You frequently state things to be so without any explanation.

    I suggest you actually read my posts then.

    I, in fact, did explain why I feel Dawkins’ suggestions refute his own theories.

    And I as well as others have pointed out why you are not making a good argument.

    You never reply to anything of substance.

    I was replying (point by point) to your comments, so if you wish to assert that your comments are substanceless, you’ll get no argument from me.

    But the slight suggestion that Dawkins’ logic might be flawed is met by the same blind support you claim creationists give their own theories.

    No one is suggesting that Dawkins’ logic is necessarily not-flawed. What we are saying is that YOU aren’t pointing out any flaws in it.

    You’re point being?

    Did you really not understand what I said? Based on the rest of what you said, it’s obvious that you didn’t. I really doubt that you can get so much wrong without trying to. I believe that Ebon stated it well here:

    Like a crooked lawyer scrutinizing a contract for loopholes, he parses everything we’ve written, trying to find even one interpretation – no matter how unreasonable – that would give him an excuse to attack or condemn us.

    This is what you seem to be doing. You are continually unable (probably on purpose) to grasp what others here say and then turn around with “arguments” based on your erroneous interpretations of what was said. You yourself stated that atheism begins with theism, which I likened to sober beginning with alcoholism. To that you start to attack me about education about the effects of alcoholism? WTF?

  • karatemack

    Another quick question for you.

    Does science always get it right? Have scientific explanations, even those considered “concrete” at the time, ever been proven wrong?

    I’m not making a point (or even trying to) with these questions. But the answers to them will help me in my research.

  • heliobates

    @karatemack

    With a minimal effort you could answer your own questions.

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

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

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

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

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

    Does science always get it right? Have scientific explanations, even those considered “concrete” at the time, ever been proven wrong?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift#Examples_of_paradigm_shifts_in_science

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    A further reply to Andrew Rilstone’s last comment:

    The Dawk has read a passage which says, in effect “In heaven there will be Jews and Gentiles” and quoted it as “In heaven, there will be Jews”.

    Much as I admire your determination to find something wrong in Dawkins, Andrew, it would help your case if you confined your criticism to things he actually says. Here is the sum total of Dawkins’ discussion of the passage in question:

    Hartung draws attention to the two verses in Revelation where the number of those ‘sealed’ (which some sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, interpret to mean ‘saved’) is limited to 144,000. Hartung’s point is that they all had to be Jews: 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes.

    Are you sure you’ve actually read this book?

    Jesus is SPECIFICALLY ASKED whether “neigbhour” means “Jew”. He replies, to paraphrase, “Well, if you had been mugged, and a heretic foriegner helped you, but two religious jews ignored you, who would have been your neigbour?” It seems to me that when we read a book which is (at least partly) a critique of religion, and discover that the author has NEVER HEARD OF THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN, the only sensible thing to do is to say “This is not a serious book, and we won’t pay any more attention to it.”

    On what grounds do you conclude that Dawkins has never heard of the story of the Good Samaritan? Because he didn’t mention it in this section of this book? Should I likewise conclude that you don’t know anything about Islam because you didn’t present a thesis on the Five Pillars in your most recent comment?

    As I said, you’re trying to inflate mere differences of opinion into conclusions that Dawkins is ignorant because he doesn’t agree with you. Like it or not, Andrew, Dawkins is not automatically wrong just because he doesn’t accept the apologetic arguments you espouse. Nor is he obligated to present every possible counterargument to his own claims; his critics are more than capable of doing that, and Christians certainly don’t hold themselves to the same standard.

    On the specific claim under discussion, is the Good Samaritan a potential counterargument against exclusively in-group morality? Yes, certainly. On the other hand, the Bible also has Jesus say that those who are not with him are against him, that anyone who loves their parents or children more than him is not worthy of him, and that those who abandon their families to follow him will be richly rewarded. Clearer examples of in-group morality you could not ask for. Morally speaking, the Bible is a mixed and multifarious amalgamation. Good people can find verses in it to justify their behavior, of course. The problem is that evil people can do the same.

    The game of proof texts doesn’t work. At all.

    Quite the contrary, it’s perfect support for the point that Dawkins and I are making. You seem to think that if you can counter a bad verse with a good one, you’ve nullified the atheist argument. But this shows a failure to grasp the point at hand. The point at hand, as I think most atheists would phrase it, is that the Bible’s contradictory and morally ambiguous nature is itself evidence that the book was not written by a perfectly good being. A book written by a bad person might still have some good parts; a book written by a good person would not have so many bad parts.

    I mean, where is his evidence that any Christian group ever regarded Thomas as canon?

    Again, Andrew, you have missed the essence of Dawkins’ point. He wasn’t arguing about the relative popularity of Thomas versus the other gospels: he was saying that there were no clearly defined or objective criteria by which the decision to include some books and exclude others was made. That is what it means to say that the Gospel of Thomas was left out as the result of an arbitrary process.

    Five minutes research could show you why Christians might have thought it made a different if Jesus was God-in-Human-Form or A-messenger-who-God-sent.

    I don’t doubt that some Christians thought, and still do think, it makes a great difference. But their argument is sterile – it affects nothing about the wider world – and insoluble – there is no conceivable test or evidence that could settle the question. Like the archetypal debate over angels dancing on pinheads, it is ultimately irresolvable, and ultimately pointless. If Jesus was the firstfruits of God’s creation rather than a co-eternal part of the triune creator, would you throw morality to the wind? I doubt it.

    The Christian New Testament — the books of Hebrews and Romans, for a start — are ABOUT the question “Does the Torah still apply? If not, what was the point of it?” If a book is going to do a critique of Christianity without mentioning a cardinal, central, elementary point of Christian belief, then I don’t see why I should waste my time on it.

    Whether the Torah still applies, and why, is irrelevant to the question at hand. The question at hand is: “Why were these brutal and violent laws in the Bible in the first place?” This is plainly a legitimate and important thing to ask, and saying that these rules no longer apply is of no relevance in answering it.

    Again, your critique of Dawkins boils down to the fact that he’s not talking about the things you want him to talk about, and that he doesn’t accept the standard apologetic arguments against his position.

    I have on my shelf C.S Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”, about as popular and mainstream a book as you could find: he rejects the idea of penal substitution.

    It would really help your case if you gave specific citations rather than vague generalities about what a book does or does not say. I also have a copy of Mere Christianity, and Lewis does in fact endorse the idea of penal substitution or something very like it:

    If you ask God to take you back without [repenting], you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak.

    …Our attempts at this… will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying… but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

    The mention of Jesus “paying our debt” and suffering “for us” seem to be incontrovertible indications that Lewis does in fact endorse a theory of penal substitution.

    All I’m really saying is that “The God Delusion” is a silly book which contributes nothing substantial to the discussion.

    And I maintain that this is true only if you hold that the only issues of importance are abstract matters of exegesis and theology. You still don’t seem to grasp why this book was written.

    Dawkins was not setting out to compare and contrast various theories of the atonement or to debate the authorship of the epistles. He wrote it to address the serious and real harm that religious belief has caused and is still causing in the world – the indoctrination of the young, the mental torment caused by teaching children about Hell, the oppression of women and gays in the name of God, the subversion of science, the very real danger of apocalypse fanatics gaining the secular power to make their fondest wishes come true. He wrote it to offer an alternative for people who didn’t know there was one, to show that you can be happy and lead a good life without believing in God, and to call for atheists to receive the respect which we deserve.

    These are great and laudable aims, and I don’t accept the nitpicking reply that the entire book is worthless if Dawkins doesn’t correctly attribute the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, or if he doesn’t accept the critic’s own pet beliefs about what topics he should or should not have discussed. People like that – like you – are in search of a petty excuse to dismiss a much larger and more important message that needs to be heard.

  • windy

    Here’s a tangentially related quote.

    “The suffering, death and resurrection of Christ must call the shots,” he said. “If Christ had not risen from the dead, we never would have thought of original sin,” because no one would have needed to explain why absolutely every human needed Christ’s salvation.

    How backwards, and revealing, is that?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    This is a most interesting thread.

    A few comments up, Heliobates said,

    …if you want to read what I consider to be THE SLAM DUNK argument against theism, check out our host’s A Ghost in the Machine. Without Cartesian dualism, religion is dead in the water.

    I’m about 1/3 through Ghost In The Machine and although in a writer’s context I’ll say it’s a most cohesive, well-written and wonderfully entertaining piece with a near-seamless progression of pertinent and well-supported facts, by no means do I agree with all of the conclusions, I feel the piece contains pivotal misunderstandings of religion that ironically merit the subject matter of this post (the Courtier’s reply), and I do not consider it a slam dunk against theism. I don’t even consider it a slam dunk against dualism, and this is not to say I particularly care for the dualist paradigm.

    IMO the error in saying, “…without Cartesian dualism religion is dead in the water” is in assuming all religion dependent upon the Cartesian paradigm. Yes, I can and will offer a detailed counter-explanation, but it is far beyond the scope of the thread. Should Ebonmuse consider it worthwhile perhaps he’ll post it.

  • http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    As I always say at this point in discussion: what follows is very boring and I strongly recommend everyone not to read it…

    ME: The Dawk has read a passage which says, in effect “In heaven there will be Jews and Gentiles” and quoted it as “In heaven, there will be Jews”.

    EBONMUSE: Much as I admire your determination to find something wrong in Dawkins, Andrew, it would help your case if you confined your criticism to things he actually says. Here is the sum total of Dawkins’ discussion of the passage in question:

    Hartung draws attention to the two verses in Revelation where the number of those ‘sealed’ (which some sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, interpret to mean ‘saved’) is limited to 144,000. Hartung’s point is that they all had to be Jews: 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes.

    Are you sure you’ve actually read this book?

    Yes, I have.

    The passage which Dawkins quotes out of context goes like this:

    “The I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. [Lists the tribes of Israel]. After that I looked and there boefore me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

    The Lamb is (I think this is not controversial) a symbol for Jesus. The worship is described. An angel asks John, rhetorically, who “those in white robes” are, and when he doesn’t know, tells him:

    “These are they who have come out of the great tributlation: they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb.”

    I think we can all agree that those who have “washed their robes in the blood of the lamb” means “Christians”; any interpretation would have, therefore, to say that “the Revelation-author thought that anyone, regardless of race or nation, could be a Christian”. The 144,000 sealed is, I agree, more controversial. The most common interpretation is, I think: “The Sealed represent the Jews who have perfectly obeyed the Torah: Jews get into heaven by obeying the Torah; but everyone else needs to be forgiven through Christ.” I agree that there are other possible interpretations. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, I understand, believe that it represents a higher “grade” of salvation which they call the Heavenly Government. But it is really, really, really dishonest to quote the J.W’s in support of your “racial in-group” theory, without pointing out that the J.W’s DO NOT think that all the “heavenly government” will be Jews. They think that the “tribes of Israel” is only symbolic. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t think that Dawkins can have it both ways.

    The original question was “Does someone have to understand Christian theology to deny the existence of God.” My answer is “No, they don’t.”

    But I submit that if someone is going to invoke the book of Revelation as part of an argument against Christianity, they ought to read it first, and to read some of the standard commentaries about it.

    There has been a very silly argument put forward in this forum which goes: “since you can’t possibly read EVERYTHING which has been written about the Bible, you can’t really be blamed for having read practically nothing.” I doubt that you’d apply this argument to a book which refers to a book about, say, the French Revolution or the works of Aristotle. I couldn’t possibly read every technical tome that has ever been written about natural selection, but if I wanted to ridicule the idea, which I don’t, you might at least expect me to have read, say, The Blind Watchmaker or some other popular intorduction.

    EBONMUSE: On what grounds do you conclude that Dawkins has never heard of the story of the Good Samaritan? Because he didn’t mention it in this section of this book? Should I likewise conclude that you don’t know anything about Islam because you didn’t present a thesis on the Five Pillars in your most recent comment?

    You see, it seems to me that you are just being silly. If, as part of my argument, I had said “Islam requires you to eat especially big meals during Ramadan, and forbids Muslims from ever entering the Holy City”, you could legitimately say, “You don’t know anything about Islam, and therefore I am not going to take very seriously anything you say about it.” In fact I don’t know anything about Islam, and as a matter of fact, couldn’t tell you what the five pillars are without going away and looking them up. (Fasting, Praying, Pilgrimage, Charity, and, er….) Which is why I keep off the subject.

    Dawkins says that “Jesus limited his in-group of the saved strictly to Jews” and that this is because he fully accepted the Old Testament teaching that “neighbour” meant only “Jew”. Dawkins claims to be drawing out attention to “one particularly unpalatable aspect of (the Bible’s) ethical teaching” and telling us what “love thy neigbour” originally (or, when writing in newspapers, “really”) means.

    As a matter of fact, Jesus did not (he simply did not, it is printed in the text which the Dawk is attacking, in black and white: this is not a matter of intereptation) define “neighbour” as “fellow-Jew”. He defined it as “anyone who needs help.”

    I tell you where I agree with you, though. I may have been too charitable in assuming that the Dawk didn’t refer to this passage because he didn’t know it. It maybe that he knew perfectly well that Jesus said that “neighbours” means “anyone who needs help”, and deliberately didn’t mention it. I assumed he was a fool: it may be that he’s actually a villain.

    Quite the contrary, it’s perfect support for the point that Dawkins and I are making. You seem to think that if you can counter a bad verse with a good one, you’ve nullified the atheist argument. But this shows a failure to grasp the point at hand. The point at hand, as I think most atheists would phrase it, is that the Bible’s contradictory and morally ambiguous nature is itself evidence that the book was not written by a perfectly good being. A book written by a bad person might still have some good parts; a book written by a good person would not have so many bad parts

    That is not what he says. He says “Jesus thought only Jews would be saved”, “Jesus thought gentiles were pigs”, “Jesus thought that “neigbhour” meant “Jews.” ” I agree that you are making a much more sophisticated and interesting point than Dawkins, and one that could, presumably, be debated. I don’t think that because “The God Delusion” is a bad book, not good book about atheism could be written; nor that because “The God Delusion” is a bad book, all atheists are fools.

    ME: I mean, where is his evidence that any Christian group ever regarded Thomas as canon?

    EBONMOUSE: Again, Andrew, you have missed the essence of Dawkins’ point. He wasn’t arguing about the relative popularity of Thomas versus the other gospels: he was saying that there were no clearly defined or objective criteria by which the decision to include some books and exclude others was made. That is what it means to say that the Gospel of Thomas was left out as the result of an arbitrary process.

    This is really interesting. Every time I say that Dawkins has made a bad point, you draw my attention to a better point that he might have made, but didn’t.

    Dawkins quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying that a “council of eclessiastics” deciding for us which gospels were real and which were not; and Dawkins talks about the Gospel of Thomas “not making it” because “those eccelstiastics” thought that the stories in it were inauthentic. He says that they were “chosen” out of a “sample” which “Included “Thomas, Peter, Nicodemus, Philip, Bartholemew and Mary Magdalene.” Surely we can agree that the idea of some churchmen sitting down with a dozen different Gospels (most of which aren’t even “gospels” in the sense of beign “lives of Jesus”)is entirely fanciful?

    Oh, and it’s a bit hard to see how you can, in one breath, say that Jesus is only thought to be a carpenter because of a silly mistranslation, and in the next breath say that Thomas, which is full of stories about Jesus in his father’s carpentry shop, might perfectly well have been canonical.

    ME: Five minutes research could show you why Christians might have thought it made a different if Jesus was God-in-Human-Form or A-messenger-who-God-sent.

    EBONMOUSE: I don’t doubt that some Christians thought, and still do think, it makes a great difference. But their argument is sterile – it affects nothing about the wider world – and insoluble – there is no conceivable test or evidence that could settle the question. Like the archetypal debate over angels dancing on pinheads, it is ultimately irresolvable, and ultimately pointless. If Jesus was the firstfruits of God’s creation rather than a co-eternal part of the triune creator, would you throw morality to the wind? I doubt it.

    1: I assume that you do know that “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” is a way of illustrating a perfectly good question about number theory. (“How many infinitely small things can fit into a mathematical point?”)

    2: I agree with you that if there is no God , then discussing the nature of God is pointless. You are correct to say that the definition of Morality doesn’t hang on the difference between Trinitarians and Arians. It is also true that Trinitarians and Arians probably agree about the best way to cook a pancake and the capital of Belgium. I am not see what that is to the purpose: the premise “Religious discussions are only important to the extent they effect morality” is not one I would accept. What Dawkins says is that Arius and Athanasisus disagreed about the term “consubstantial”; he asks rhetorically what “substance” means in this context; replies that the only possible reply is that it means “very little” and moves on. He could easily have found out what “substance” meant, and why it was thought to be important. He doesn’t. Why would I read a book about Christian theology by someone who claims not to understand elementary points about the history of Christian belief? (Every day, tabloid journalists make the same mistake writing about science: they quote a technical term that some scientist as used; mock the term for being far too difficult to understand, and then conclude that scientists don’t know anything.)

    EBONMUSE Whether the Torah still applies, and why, is irrelevant to the question at hand. The question at hand is: “Why were these brutal and violent laws in the Bible in the first place?” This is plainly a legitimate and important thing to ask, and saying that these rules no longer apply is of no relevance in answering it.

    I agree with you that saying “Why were these brutal and violent laws in the Bible in the first place” is a good question. If you are making a serious argument, then part of your answer would be “Why, according to Christians, were these brutal law in the Bible? Does this answer stack up? Why, according to Jews, where these brutal laws in the Bible? Does this answer stack up? Why, according to the Bible itself, were these brutal laws in the Bible?” (You’d do this with any other Sacred Text, wouldn’t you? What does the gun lobby say about the second ammendment? What does the anti gun lobby say about the second ammendment? What, so far as we can tell, did the founding fathers intend by the second ammendment? What has it been interpretted as meaning at different point over the last two centuries. A book which said “Har-har Americans can carry guns around all the time, democracy is stupid” is one you would lay aside in disgust.)

    ME: I have on my shelf C.S Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”, about as popular and mainstream a book as you could find: he rejects the idea of penal substitution.

    EBONMOUSE: It would really help your case if you gave specific citations rather than vague generalities about what a book does or does not say. I also have a copy of Mere Christianity, and Lewis does in fact endorse the idea of penal substitution or something very like it:

    This is my fault, and not Dawkins’, yours, or Lewis’s.

    By “penal substitution” I meant “the doctrine that says that God was angry and needed to punish someone; but Jesus, who was innocent, volunteered to take the punishment, so everyone else was let off.” It is presented in an extreme form in Mel Gibson’s “Passion” movie, where it is specifically implied that the more physical punishment Jesus can take, the more forgiveness there will be. (I understand that this is a more extreme version of doctrine than the Catholic Church would currently endorce.) I did not mean “any doctrine which says that Jesus had to did in order for human beings to get back in touch with God and go to heaven”. I think that my usage is the usual one, but it may not be, and it would be a shame to get bogged down in terminology.

    “Jesus died for our sins” would certainly be agreed by all Christians; there have been different doctrinal answers to “how and in what way does this work?” C.S Lewis says that before he became a Christian he thought that “what you had to believe” was that “God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off”. Lewis says that this is “a silly theory” is you are thinking of punishment in a court, but less so if you think of it in terms of someone with money paying a debt on behalf of a bankrupt; and that everyone knows that when one person has got themselves into trouble “the task of getting them out usually falls to a friend”. He then expounds a version of St Anselm’s idea that people were seperated from God and unable to return to him; and that Jesus did the “going back” on our behalf. To be fair, Lewis doesn’t exactly reject the “punishment” theory: he says that all “theories” of the atonement are only theories or models; and that the “punishment” one is not one he finds particularly helpful (i.e he recognizes that other people might, and thinks this is okay, provided you distinguish between the theory and the “thing itself.”)

    Similarly, John Stott rejects the “punishment” theory because it isn’t Trinitarian – it implies that Jesus is a third party in the transaction; but he certainly does think that Jesus death was necessary for human being to get in touch with God.

    I had assumed that the Dawk’s use of terms like “sado-masochistic” implied that he thought the “punishment” theory was the one everyone believed: I agree that he doesn’t say so in so many words.

    My issue with his comments remains pretty much the same, though. He isn’t obligated to refer to the specifically Christian idea of the Atonement in a book on whether or not God exists; in fact, on his terms, it’s rather odd that he should want to. But having raised it, I think he ought to take the trouble to find out what different Christian groups believe, and what they have believed at different times. (Not to have read every book that has ever been written on the subject, nor to find out about ever obscure sect. Just a few standard works. Going out and talking to some Christians of different kinds would have been almost as good.)

    EBONMUSE: Dawkins was not setting out to compare and contrast various theories of the atonement or to debate the authorship of the epistles. He wrote it to address the serious and real harm that religious belief has caused and is still causing in the world – the indoctrination of the young, the mental torment caused by teaching children about Hell, the oppression of women and gays in the name of God, the subversion of science, the very real danger of apocalypse fanatics gaining the secular power to make their fondest wishes come true. He wrote it to offer an alternative for people who didn’t know there was one, to show that you can be happy and lead a good life without believing in God, and to call for atheists to receive the respect which we deserve.

    But, because he is ignorant and dishonest about relgion, in my opinion, he does this very badly. In my opinion.

  • heliobates

    @cl

    . Yes, I can and will offer a detailed counter-explanation, but it is far beyond the scope of the thread. Should Ebonmuse consider it worthwhile perhaps he’ll post it.

    Blog party at cl’s!

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Although it’s thread drift and borderline tacky, since we are unable to comment on A Ghost In The Machine, I’ll tuck this link right here..

    The Biblical Distinction Between Soul And Spirit:
    or, My Response To ‘A Ghost In The Machine’ – Part One

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Andrew Rilstone,

    The passage which Dawkins quotes out of context goes like this…

    Again, you seem to be complaining that Dawkins does not agree with your interpretations/apologetics, therefore he is wrong and ignorant.

    There has been a very silly argument put forward in this forum which goes: “since you can’t possibly read EVERYTHING which has been written about the Bible, you can’t really be blamed for having read practically nothing.”

    Nice straw man, but that is NOT what is being said here. What is being said is apologists are attacking Dawkins for not reading everything about the Bible, including the most trivial and minute opinion on it from every last apologist/theologian on the planet, so therefore Dawkins must be ignorant and unqualified to speak out against the Bible. Your attempts to shift the argument are duly noted.

    Dawkins says that “Jesus limited his in-group of the saved strictly to Jews” and that this is because he fully accepted the Old Testament teaching that “neighbour” meant only “Jew”. Dawkins claims to be drawing out attention to “one particularly unpalatable aspect of (the Bible’s) ethical teaching” and telling us what “love thy neigbour” originally (or, when writing in newspapers, “really”) means.

    And, he’s drawing on some scholarly writings when he makes this argument, so I guess the people who wrote that (like Hartung) must be wholly ignorant of what they were writing about? Again, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them stupid, ignorant, etc.

    This is really interesting. Every time I say that Dawkins has made a bad point, you draw my attention to a better point that he might have made, but didn’t.

    Sigh. Perhaps you don’t know the meaning of the word arbitrary?

    Oh, and it’s a bit hard to see how you can, in one breath, say that Jesus is only thought to be a carpenter because of a silly mistranslation, and in the next breath say that Thomas, which is full of stories about Jesus in his father’s carpentry shop, might perfectly well have been canonical.

    Nice try at putting words in someone’s mouth, but I’m calling you out on this. No one has argued this (at least not on this thread). I suggest you have the intellectual integrity/honesty to admit that you are making unfounded accusations.

    1: I assume that you do know that “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” is a way of illustrating a perfectly good question about number theory. (“How many infinitely small things can fit into a mathematical point?”)

    Poe’s law?

    What Dawkins says is that Arius and Athanasisus disagreed about the term “consubstantial”; he asks rhetorically what “substance” means in this context; replies that the only possible reply is that it means “very little” and moves on. He could easily have found out what “substance” meant, and why it was thought to be important. He doesn’t. Why would I read a book about Christian theology by someone who claims not to understand elementary points about the history of Christian belief?

    Are those goalposts heavy? I wouldn’t want you to strain your back.

    A book which said “Har-har Americans can carry guns around all the time, democracy is stupid” is one you would lay aside in disgust.

    And now a red herring.

    But having raised it, I think he ought to take the trouble to find out what different Christian groups believe, and what they have believed at different times. (Not to have read every book that has ever been written on the subject, nor to find out about ever obscure sect. Just a few standard works. Going out and talking to some Christians of different kinds would have been almost as good.)

    And you have no proof that he didn’t, except that he didn’t tackle YOUR pet theory of things. In fact, he states in the book that he will be addressing the Xianity that most common people hold, which is what he tackles. I’m sorry that he didn’t take on your “sophisticated” version of the Xian myth, but you can’t fault him for not taking on every single nuance of Xianity, because there are way too many for any single book to address.

    But, because he is ignorant and dishonest about relgion, in my opinion, he does this very badly. In my opinion.

    Again, simply because he didn’t deal with your specific opinions doesn’t mean that he’s ignorant or dishonest.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I may have been too charitable in assuming that the Dawk didn’t refer to this passage because he didn’t know it. It maybe that he knew perfectly well that Jesus said that “neighbours” means “anyone who needs help”, and deliberately didn’t mention it. I assumed he was a fool: it may be that he’s actually a villain.

    For the record, Dawkins does refer to the Good Samaritan several times throughout the book, just not in this particular section. I suppose by your lights that makes him a villain.

    However, in truth, your quarrel is not with Dawkins, but with the multitudes of Christians both historically as well as in the present day who do cite the Bible’s in-group/out-group teachings (such as “He who is not with me is against me”) to justify untold division, strife, oppression, and hatred. The pro-Semitic bias and “chosen people” myth that is inescapable in the Old Testament, and still finds prominent expression in the New Testament is one example of this. Again, Dawkins criticizes the things religious people actually believe and the acts they actually commit.

    Yes, of necessity Christianity expanded its notion of salvation to non-Jews; that is an obvious factual point which I think we can assume Dawkins knows. But the interpretation that Christianity started as an exclusively Jewish sect, and only later opened its doors to Gentiles, is a perfectly legitimate one which people other than Dawkins have made before. You don’t have the power to declare it invalid by fiat because you don’t agree with it.

    Also, I’d add a related point which doesn’t seem to have occurred to you: atheists as well as NT critical scholars do not assume that all the writings in the gospels can historically be traced back to one man. You seem to assume that if the gospels depict Jesus as expressing more universal sentiments, such as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, then that must be the lens through which we must interpret everything else he says. In reality, it’s not just likely but almost certain that the NT has undergone much editorial revision, and even outright interpolation, by various writers who may not all have held the same point of view. We can see that at work in even the canonical gospels. We cannot just assume that all early Christians, or even Jesus himself (if there was such a person, which I doubt) held the sentiments you’d like to depict them as holding. The Bible contains many different threads of tradition, not all of them consistent with each other.

    Surely we can agree that the idea of some churchmen sitting down with a dozen different Gospels (most of which aren’t even “gospels” in the sense of beign “lives of Jesus”)is entirely fanciful?

    No, that isn’t fanciful, that is what happened. Have you ever heard of the Alogi? They were a group of second-century Christians who denied that the Gospel of John should be canonical. According to Tertullian, Marcion was using a Gospel of Luke that did not agree with our version as late as 140. Other church fathers cite apocryphal gospels such as the Gospel of the Hebrews or the Gospel of the Egyptians which seem to have been fairly popular in their day. And there were no end of Gnostics, docetists, and other retrospectively-judged “heretical” Christian sects back in the early days.

    But, perhaps, you mean that all these variants faded away of their own accord, until authentic Christianity was left the winner by unanimous acclaim? Not quite. The Synod of Laodicea, in the fourth century CE, one of the first official conferences held to decide the contents of the Bible, condemned “heretics” of all kinds, assembled an “official” list of canonical books (one that matched our New Testament, minus Revelation) and decreed: “Let no private psalms nor any uncanonical books be read in the church.” Athanasius, too, issued his own list of canonical books – one that matched ours – and, as you know since you mentioned it yourself, engaged in fierce doctrinal battles with Arius at the Council of Nicea, successfully getting him declared a heretic and having his writings expunged. Then there was the Synod of Hippo and the Synod of Carthage, which endorsed the deuterocanonical books. Dissenting from any of these was a great way to get yourself anathematized. I don’t know how you imagine it happened, but it’s historically true that the canon of the NT was settled largely by fiat, with dissenters being forced out or silenced.

    I am not see what that is to the purpose: the premise “Religious discussions are only important to the extent they effect morality” is not one I would accept.

    I wouldn’t either. I would say that questions are important in only one of two ways: either (1) they affect what we believe about other matters, or (2) they are about issues of fact that can be objectively resolved. This question is neither of these. And no, I’m not merely saying that the question is irrelevant because God doesn’t exist. Even if there is a god, there is no way to resolve this that I can imagine.

    If you have a method in mind to investigate the question, please share it with us. Otherwise, this argument is like J.R.R. Tolkien fans arguing about whether Balrogs had wings: an ultimately futile debate, one that affects nothing else, and one where your conclusions are entirely determined by whatever assumptions you bring to it.

  • http://www.andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    I don’t see how we can go any further with this discussion.

    Dawkins claims, explicitly, to be showing what the Bible, both Old and New Testaments teach. (“Before leaving the Bible, I need to call attention to one particularly unpalatable aspect of it’s ethical teaching.”) He cites examples of Jewish exclusivity in the Old Testament, and then asserts (simiply asserts) that Jesus believed the same thing. The only text he quotes in support of this is the Book of Revelation, and, as we’ve seen, he quotes this out of context. He says that “much of the moral consideration for others which is apparently promoted by both Old and New Testaments was originally intended only to apply to a narrowly defined in-group: “Love thy neigbour” didn’t mean what we now think it means. It meant only love another Jew.”

    If part of one’s case that the Bible is an immoral book, and that the New Testament is just as bad as the Old, is that Christians have misinterpreted a text which means “love fellow Jews” to mean “love everyone”, then a passage in which a learned Jew goes to Jesus and says “Please define the term “neigbour”?” is absolutely crucial. He choses not to quote it. And, so far as I can see, you don’t think that effects his argument.

    It would be rather as if I said “God exists, because Einstien believed that God exists”, and had based several pages of my book “Why Dawkins is a Tosser” on this point. You would have quite reasonably come forward and said “But Einstien said, on several occassions, that he didn’t believe in God, at any rate, not a “personal god” of the kind that Christians and Jews talk about. That undermines that whole section of your argument; and the fact that you are unaware of such obvious facts makes it very hard to take the rest of your book seriously.” I suppose I might have responded “Oh, these silly atheists, wanting me to quote all their pet passages and know obscure facts about the life of Einstien before I am allowed to talk about God.”

    You say that perhaps there are different traditions and interpolations in the canonical gospels; that perhaps Jesus believed different things from Christians or that early Christians believed different things from later Christians. These are good points and ones worth discussing. But there aren’t the points that Dawkins is making: he claims to be revealing “an unpalatable aspect of the Bible’s ethical teaching”: not what a lost ur-text or first draft of the Bible might have said.

    (Question: If Jesus didn’t exist — if, as Dawkins says, the Gospels should be treated at the same level as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table — what does it MEAN to talk about what Jesus believe about the Gentiles, or what he would have thought about St Paul?)

    But really: if you can’t see why I think that Jesus, in the Bible, defines “neigbour” as meaning “everyone” refutes the claim that The Bible is nasty because it says that “neigbour” only means “Jew” I don’t see any way of taking the argument forward.

    Otherwise, this argument is like J.R.R. Tolkien fans arguing about whether Balrogs had wings: an ultimately futile debate, one that affects nothing else, and one where your conclusions are entirely determined by whatever assumptions you bring to it.

    I don’t know whether this is a particular dig at me as an amateur Tolkien scholar. If I asked the question “What was the name of Hamlet’s mother” you might, I suppose, says “Har-har, Hamlet didn’t exist, the stupid god botherer thinks that non-existent people have mothers.” In fact, the question is perfectly intelligible and has a right and a wrong answer. Similarly, if you were to say “Unicorns have scales and firey breath” I could perfectly well reply “No: unicorns have a single horn, it’s dragons who have scales and firey breath.” You would not reply “Har-har, unicorns don’t have any horns at all because they don’t exist.” Or maybe you would. If you have embarked on a study of Tolkien’s legendarium, then perfectly meaningful things can be said about Balrogs: whether a particular depiction of them is consistent with what it says in the text; the extent to which the Moria Balrog is or is not intended to be the same kind of creature as the Gondolin Balrog, based on the known facts about the Professor’s developing picture of Arda. You can, of course, say that reading the Lord of the rings in the first place is a waste of time, or that, it’s okay to read it but thinking about it is a waste of time : but it doesn’t follow from that that all statements about Balrogs are equally valid and determined only by the pre-suppositions of the speaker.

    I say again: if you believe in God, then discussing “What is God like” is perfectly sensible thing to do. If you don’t believe in God, then it isn’t. “God doesn’t exist because people who think that God exists argue about what God is like which is a silly thing to argue about because he doesn’t exist” is not a very compelling argument. Which appears to be Dawkins claim.

    You attempt to raise the wider issue of how you could ever chose between Arius’ and Athanasius’ view of the Trinity. This is a different question. Presumably, you would look at the consistency between the two versions and the known teachings of Jesus; their internal consistency; and how they effect other elements of Christian theology. Your beliefs about Christology (whether and to what extent Jesus is God) effect your beliefs about the Atonement; and therefore your beliefs about what it is necessary to do to get in touch with God; and therefore to other areas of faith and practice.

    You seem to ask better questions than Dawkins because you know more theology than he does; because you have a greater degree of expertise. That was the original question, I think.If you are interested in my more general thoughts about religion and my more detailed critique of Dawkins book, they are on my blog.

  • http://www.andrewrilstone.blogspot.com Andrew Rilstone

    ME: Oh, and it’s a bit hard to see how you can, in one breath, say that Jesus is only thought to be a carpenter because of a silly mistranslation, and in the next breath say that Thomas, which is full of stories about Jesus in his father’s carpentry shop, might perfectly well have been canonical.

    OMFG: Nice try at putting words in someone’s mouth, but I’m calling you out on this. No one has argued this (at least not on this thread). I suggest you have the intellectual integrity/honesty to admit that you are making unfounded accusations.

    This unworthy one apologizes profoundly for having committed this great offence! This unworthy one careless wrote “How you can say…” when he intended to say “How one can say.”

    This unworthy one meant that Professor Richard Dawkins, Peace Be Upon Him, stated, on page 96 of his book, that Christians had mistranslated the Bible, and that the word translated as “carpenter” did not necessarily refer to one who worked with wood, but could include in all makers of dairy producer.

    This unworthy notes that he has has just inserted a reference to an old movie, in an attmept to insert wit an levity into the discussion, and will chastise himself heavily if anyone takes him literally. Professor Richard Dawkins, On Whom Be Peace, did not in fact make the joke about cheese. This unworthy one made it himself, and he will severely box his own ears before going to bed to punish himself for the presumtion.

    But, also on page 96 of his most estimable book, he says that the Gospel of Thomas, which states in so many words that Jospeh (Jesus father) was a wood-worker has as much right or as little right ot be in the Bible as any other Gospel. This is, in my view, an inconsistency, suggesting that Professor Richard Dawkins, On Whom Be Pease, just types whatever comes into his head without thinking about it.

    This unworthy one thinks that Dawkins actually has a very good point about the definition of “carpeneter” and seems to remember once reading somewhere that there are Anglo Saxon translations in which Joseph was a blacksmith (i.e a metal worker, not a wood worker.)

    This unworthy one believes, and believes that everyone who has studied the subject believes, that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a work of pious fan fiction, in which a Christian took the brief infancy narrative in Luke and expanded it. This would show that the “mistranslation”, if such it was, was made very early.

    This unworthy one is very very sorry that he careless implied that people on this forum had suggested that Jesus father was not a carpenter, when really it was Richard Dawkins, On Whom Be Pease, who said so, and as a pennance, promises never ever to post anything on this forum ever again.

    Do please read this unworthy one’s blog if you are interested in his unworthy opinions of Richard Dawkins and the wings of balrogs.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Andrew Rilstone,

    But really: if you can’t see why I think that Jesus, in the Bible, defines “neigbour” as meaning “everyone” refutes the claim that The Bible is nasty because it says that “neigbour” only means “Jew” I don’t see any way of taking the argument forward.

    And if you can’t see how that is a straw man representation of the argument that Dawkins makes, then perhaps the fault lies with you for not being able to move forward.

    This unworthy one apologizes profoundly for having committed this great offence! This unworthy one careless wrote “How you can say…” when he intended to say “How one can say.”

    Your “notpology” only serves to further show your intellectual dishonesty. This is the coward’s way of debate.

    But, also on page 96 of his most estimable book, he says that the Gospel of Thomas, which states in so many words that Jospeh (Jesus father) was a wood-worker has as much right or as little right ot be in the Bible as any other Gospel. This is, in my view, an inconsistency, suggesting that Professor Richard Dawkins, On Whom Be Pease, just types whatever comes into his head without thinking about it.

    Or maybe it isn’t and you are just making an ass of yourself. But, hey, to each his own.

    This unworthy one believes, and believes that everyone who has studied the subject believes, that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a work of pious fan fiction, in which a Christian took the brief infancy narrative in Luke and expanded it.

    If Thomas came from Luke, then it’s in good company, because Luke and Matthew both came from Mark, and both of those were attempts to supplant the testimony of Mark with a version of god that better fit their opinions of what a god should be like. Hence, we have a god in Luke that is cool and calm even while being tortured and dying, while in Mark god is much more human. The stories were meant as replacements for earlier versions. So, keeping Luke and Mark in while holding Thomas out is still arbitrary.

    This unworthy one is very very sorry that he careless implied that people on this forum had suggested that Jesus father was not a carpenter, when really it was Richard Dawkins, On Whom Be Pease, who said so, and as a pennance, promises never ever to post anything on this forum ever again.

    I was seriously considering writing something like this about how you obviously have such a grasp of Xian nuance as to put us all to shame with your oh-so sophisticated and other-worldly version of Xianity and your splendid knowledge of little nuances of the Xian myth and its various made-up stories. I figured I would look like an ass if I did that though. Now, I know that I would have looked like an ass, almost as big an ass as you look like right now.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Sorry to butt in on what’s not my argument, and sorry to link to my own blog like an ass, but i can’t stay off this thread and the following does actually relate:

    The Courtier’s Revisited, or, My Response To ‘A Ghost In The Machine’ – Part II

  • karatemack

    To Ebonmuse:

    “Dissenting from any of these was a great way to get yourself anathematized. I don’t know how you imagine it happened, but it’s historically true that the canon of the NT was settled largely by fiat, with dissenters being forced out or silenced.”

    Church history certainly is full of evil men posing as “good shepherds”. I don’t know that this means that Christianity definately has to have lost all of it’s validity. Simply because bad methods may have been used in the past to determine things such as cannonicity (I will plead ‘no contest’ to the charge that the cannonization process was handled improperly as I only want to try to establish a point that valid textual criticism of the Bible is possible, not necessarily that it happened but that it is possible) does not mean that no good methods to determine cannonicity exist.

    I readily admit that there were more than likely certain revisions of the Biblical text. A good example of this in the OT is the recording of Moses death in the Pentateuch. (unless you hold the view that he wrote knowing how he would die, which I do not). What seems to be in question with regard to the OT is whether or not the revealed message of God was preserved in the OT through translation and the revisions made. What makes this especially difficult for any christian to try to prove (in fact it makes it impossible to ‘prove’ in the strictest of terms) is the known fact that there exists today NO original manuscript of the Bible (OT or NT). I believe the oldest copy (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here) we have of the OT is from around 120 AD. Many highly intelligent and credible scholars have been critical of the Biblical text for the gap which exists between suppossed original date of writing and also because of variants in the text. So then, why still accept these texts as valid?

    Despite it’s shortcomings, the Bible is the best manuscripted book in the world. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (hopefully coming to an internet near you in 2009)there was sparked a new textual criticism of the English OT as these manuscripts provided much older records than we possessed before. When the records were compared there were variants however none which affected the meaning of the text. Also, although there were variants, most scholars of antiquities walked away shocked by the amazing agreement the manuscripts possessed. Assuming (and I acknowledge this is a HUGE leap of faith) the texts were preserved with the same scholarly tenacity from their conception (as they were between the Dead Sea Scrolls and say the Masoretic Texts), then I would say we can be confident the OT is now as it always was. I agree that this does NOTHING to support the theological claims the Bible makes, however it does show that the Bible is now (nearly) as it always was. With over 12,000 manuscripts of the OT in existence today, and the amount of agreement between these manuscripts, I doubt any scholar who takes seriously the notion that the Iliad is now as it always was written (with the Iliad having around 600 or so manuscripts) will remotely question this point with the Biblical OT. I’m just asking that the assumptions we make about other texts based upon manuscript evidence be applied also to criticism of the Biblical texts. (Otherwise we have to call into question Shakespear, Homer and many of the other accepted ‘classic works’ of literature)

    The Hebrew OT and the English OT contain the exact same cannon, only arranged differently (in terms of order of the books) and with some books grouped together (the english version split “kings” into “1 Kings” and “2 Kings”). What I mean to state by that, is that both the Jewish and Christian faith’s accept the OT as cannonitical (is that a word?). But then we come to the NT and the Apocropha. (these sections being why I attempted to build a case for the textual validity of the OT)

    Let’s say we’ll assume the OT is accepted as God’s Revelatory Word. Could we not then, with very precise and accurate methods, determine which books (of the NT and apocropha) should be considered cannonical using the OT as a guide? Any book which compromised the principle messages recorded in the OT could be rejected could they not?

    I pose this question with many presuppositions:

    1. The OT is accepted as God’s Word.

    2. God Exists (actually I guess that point should come first)

    Anyhow, I’m not saying this ‘proves’ the Bible, but it at least (I hope) shows that some verifiable methods COULD have been used in determining the NT cannon if an OT cannon had been agreed upon. I also hope this shows that all criticism of Christian doctrine must begin by refuting the validity of the OT (which many people have made a ‘reasonable’ attempt at).

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Reasonable believers don’t ask that critics know every last nuance of archaic theological doctrine. Getting the very basics right and addressing one’s opponents with respect would be a good start, and that’s where Dawkins fails MISERABLY, especially for a distinguished scholar.

    For example, there are no complete copies of the Hebrew Old Testament earlier than around 900. The text dating from around 900 is called the Massoretic Text because it was the product of Jewish scribes known as the Massoretes. All of the present copies of the Hebrew text are in remarkable agreement with the Massoretic texts. It is also evident that a group of copyist Jews lived at a place called Qumran from about 150 b.c. to 70 A.D. Their scrolls, including parts of the Old Testament, survived undisturbed until a wandering Bedouin goat herdsman accidentally discovered them in early 1947. Thus, the Old Testament, previously traceable only as far back as 900 A.D., became traceable to before Christ’s birth.

    As for the accuracy, the Dead Sea Scrolls were nearly identical to the Massoretic text. The fifty-third chapter of the book of Isaiah contained only seventeen ‘differences’ in the text. Ten of those differences consisted in spelling: i.e. “honour” and “honor.” Four of the other differences were in the presence or lack of a conjunction. The point is, out of 166 words in the entire chapter, only one was really in question, and it did not change at all the meaning of the passage as a whole.

    Dawkins doesn’t mention any of this in his Argument From Scripture (TGD), and my guess is that most atheists would reply he doesn’t have to. It’s quite an easy escape to simply claim, “The Bible’s been mistranslated, we can’t possibly trust it.” But if you want your claim to be taken seriously, you ought to at least demonstrate that you’ve made intelligible attempts at understanding what you criticize.

    Omission and selective de-emphasis of facts which present hurdles to one’s argument are clearly the signs of either an honest amateur, an intentional deceiver, or an old-fashioned ignoramus. They are not the earmarks of good scholarship.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack,

    Church history certainly is full of evil men posing as “good shepherds”. I don’t know that this means that Christianity definately has to have lost all of it’s validity.

    No one is arguing that.

    Simply because bad methods may have been used in the past to determine things such as cannonicity (I will plead ‘no contest’ to the charge that the cannonization process was handled improperly as I only want to try to establish a point that valid textual criticism of the Bible is possible, not necessarily that it happened but that it is possible) does not mean that no good methods to determine cannonicity exist.

    That’s fine, but the central point that is being debated (in regards to cannonicity) is whether Dawkins is right about them being arbitrarily selected. Do you disagree? You seem not to here.

    Let’s say we’ll assume the OT is accepted as God’s Revelatory Word. Could we not then, with very precise and accurate methods, determine which books (of the NT and apocropha) should be considered cannonical using the OT as a guide? Any book which compromised the principle messages recorded in the OT could be rejected could they not?

    You would still have to interpret the OT and the NT books.

    Anyhow, I’m not saying this ‘proves’ the Bible, but it at least (I hope) shows that some verifiable methods COULD have been used in determining the NT cannon if an OT cannon had been agreed upon.

    I’m not sure that’s true, because of the problem of interpretation of the texts.

    I also hope this shows that all criticism of Christian doctrine must begin by refuting the validity of the OT (which many people have made a ‘reasonable’ attempt at).

    What do you mean by “validity of the OT?” If you mean what I think you mean, then it simply doesn’t follow from what you typed that this would be so.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl

    Reasonable believers don’t ask that critics know every last nuance of archaic theological doctrine.

    Yet, some believers do seem to be asking this, so do you agree they are unreasonable?

    Dawkins doesn’t mention any of this in his Argument From Scripture (TGD), and my guess is that most atheists would reply he doesn’t have to. It’s quite an easy escape to simply claim, “The Bible’s been mistranslated, we can’t possibly trust it.” But if you want your claim to be taken seriously, you ought to at least demonstrate that you’ve made intelligible attempts at understanding what you criticize.

    IOW, you seem to be saying that he didn’t address this particular piece of information that you deem important, so therefore he’s either ignorant or dishonest, right? Implicit in that, however, is your assumption that what you consider important is necessarily important, and therefore anyone who doesn’t address what you find important is necessarily wrong. This is what Rilstone was doing above.

  • karatemack

    To OMGF:

    “You would still have to interpret the OT and the NT books.”

    Do you think it is possible to know the author’s original intended meaning for ANY classic work of literature? Many who make the study of literature their life’s work seem to think so. And I’m not just referring to the Biblical text, I’m referring to other ‘classic’ works which at times present a much less complete picture of the original message (some of Shakespear’s works are missing entire sections and at times the ending to the play itself). If it is possible to develop a system by which any type of literature’s meaning may be determined, then I would assume we could do the same with the Bible. Otherwise, we should remove much of the ‘english’ program from our high schools, including those classes which teach young minds how to ‘interpret’ poetry as there is no ‘accurate’ way to do this. Are you implying that true exegesis is impossible?

    “What do you mean by “validity of the OT?” If you mean what I think you mean, then it simply doesn’t follow from what you typed that this would be so.”

    I only meant to try to establish (at least in terms of manuscripts) that there is evidence to support those who claim the Bible now is as it always was. If examined closely, there is much more evidence than I have presented. I concede that there is no ‘concrete’ evidence as we have no original manuscript to compare the current work to. That being said, if we call into question the validity of the Biblical text (in terms of it’s transmission and translation into other languages), then we must discard ALL other works of literature which fall into the same category. (Enuma Elish, Epic of Gilgamesh, Iliad, the government records of certain ancient civilizations, the assertion that pottery fragments reveal anything substantial about a culture, etc.)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack,

    If it is possible to develop a system by which any type of literature’s meaning may be determined, then I would assume we could do the same with the Bible.

    And, if you hold that the Bible is inspired by god, then you would be completely wrong. How would you ever know that you’ve found god’s preferred interpretation?

    Otherwise, we should remove much of the ‘english’ program from our high schools, including those classes which teach young minds how to ‘interpret’ poetry as there is no ‘accurate’ way to do this. Are you implying that true exegesis is impossible?

    I’m saying that the Bible is different from most books in that it is highly contradictory, it’s written by multiple authors that had different interpretations of god and god’s nature, and that if it were inspired by god you would not be able to compare it to any human work of literature.

    I only meant to try to establish (at least in terms of manuscripts) that there is evidence to support those who claim the Bible now is as it always was.

    Even if the OT is word for word as it was originally written, what does this have to do with criticizing Xian doctrine?

    That being said, if we call into question the validity of the Biblical text (in terms of it’s transmission and translation into other languages), then we must discard ALL other works of literature which fall into the same category.

    No, actually we don’t have to discard anything. Why the hyperbole? Simply because the Bible has more manuscripts (more chances for error?) doesn’t mean it is necessarily better preserved than any other book. Each book has to be taken as a separate case and examined based on its merits, not on the merits of another particular book.

  • karatemack

    “And, if you hold that the Bible is inspired by god, then you would be completely wrong. How would you ever know that you’ve found god’s preferred interpretation?”

    I’m sorry if you thought by this I mean to ‘prove’ the theology of the Bible. This was an answer to the textual criticism of the Bible and it’s cannonization process.

    “I’m saying that the Bible is different from most books in that it is highly contradictory, it’s written by multiple authors that had different interpretations of god and god’s nature, and that if it were inspired by god you would not be able to compare it to any human work of literature.”

    The Bible has been said to contain numerous contradictions, I assert that if it is properly interpreted it does not. I don’t know if this is the appropriate thread to post more on this topic in though.

    The Bible was written by multiple authors, however they all agreed upon the nature of God and His Person. That is one of the strongest proofs for the theology of the Biblical texts. Again, this can be examined more closely, but I’m not sure it should happen on this thread.

    And the assertion that a Biblical text would be distinct from the rest of literature is true. Just because the Bible is distinct does not mean that it is not comparable. Both use words, sentence structures, literary forms (poetry, prophecy, narrative, etc.) and similiar methods of transmission. In this way we can put forth a certain criteria by which we can accept or reject a document. If you reject the Bible because it’s manuscripts have 20 variants, then why would you not reject another document which had 30 variants among it’s manuscripts. If don’t see how I’m being unfair in this.

    “Even if the OT is word for word as it was originally written, what does this have to do with criticizing Xian doctrine?”

    It means that any doctrine of the NT (or book being considered for the NT) which contradicts any doctrine of the OT must be excluded. Doctine not being the central issue here, but validity of the process used for cannonization.

    “Simply because the Bible has more manuscripts (more chances for error?) doesn’t mean it is necessarily better preserved than any other book.”

    The manuscripts alone, no. The number of manuscripts which exist in nearly complete agreement with almost 1000 years gap between each writing… pretty solid evidence. Strictly speaking of textual criticism, if the Bible is a lie, it is the best presevered, perpetuated, and influential lie that was ever told. If you do not value the Bible for it’s theological assertions, it is of no less value as the best work of literature produced to date by mankind.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack,

    I’m sorry if you thought by this I mean to ‘prove’ the theology of the Bible. This was an answer to the textual criticism of the Bible and it’s cannonization process.

    OK, but you are still wrong. You can’t make leaps from literature born of natural minds and processes to literature born of supernatural minds and processes.

    The Bible has been said to contain numerous contradictions, I assert that if it is properly interpreted it does not. I don’t know if this is the appropriate thread to post more on this topic in though.

    Probably not. I have heard this assertion before that one can “harmonize” the Bible, and that’s the wrong approach to take. The authors had different perspectives on god and wanted to paint a picture of god’s attributes as they saw them and make those attributes be gospel (for lack of a better word).

    The Bible was written by multiple authors, however they all agreed upon the nature of God and His Person.

    This is trivially false. Read Mark and Luke side by side. They are not the same god. In Mark, Jesus is wailing and in despair, he’s forsaken, etc. In Luke, Jesus has a calm demeanor, he’s in control, he’s godlike and aloof. These are NOT agreements upon the nature of god and his person, but competing stories about what god’s nature really is.

    If you reject the Bible because it’s manuscripts have 20 variants, then why would you not reject another document which had 30 variants among it’s manuscripts. If don’t see how I’m being unfair in this.

    For a number of reasons: 1) We don’t reject manuscripts based solely on the number, but on the quality, which is determined on a case by case basis. So, even though we know that the Epic of Gilgamesh has been through many revisions and changes, we still accept the central thrust of the story. 2) We accept it as a story, however, not as verified historical fact or the actual tales of gods, etc. This is, and should be, the same with the Bible.

    It means that any doctrine of the NT (or book being considered for the NT) which contradicts any doctrine of the OT must be excluded. Doctine not being the central issue here, but validity of the process used for cannonization.

    And, how would you ever determine that when both your interpretation of the OT and the NT must be taken into account? How do you know that your interpretation is correct or authoritative? What about pretty obvious contradictions like the Psalm (I forget which one off the top of my head) that says not to suffer fools and then in the next line tells us to suffer fools? If a NT passage says not to suffer fools, does it line up or doesn’t it?

    The number of manuscripts which exist in nearly complete agreement with almost 1000 years gap between each writing… pretty solid evidence.

    So, the addition of stories like the “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or the ending to the book of Mark are “nearly complete agreement?” I hear this a lot and it’s simply not true. Bart Ehrman notes that there are more alterations of the text than there are words in the Bible.

    Strictly speaking of textual criticism, if the Bible is a lie, it is the best presevered, perpetuated, and influential lie that was ever told.

    Really? More than the Hindu scriptures which have been around a lot longer? More than the Sumerian scriptures that the Bible stole from? Etc.?

    If you do not value the Bible for it’s theological assertions, it is of no less value as the best work of literature produced to date by mankind.

    What the best work of literature is is a subjective thing. I don’t find it to be very good literature in that it’s not very compelling. The plot holes are huge, with obvious contradictions and re-tellings of the same story over and over. I wouldn’t buy a novel in order to read the same part of the story over and over in successive chapters with each chapter getting something wrong and disagreeing with the previous chapters. And, the parts about X begat Y who begat Z are tedious and boring. This isn’t a good work of literature.

  • MS (Quixote)

    OMGF,

    There are plenty of alterations, but let’s be fair. Not crossing a t, not dotting an i, or mispelling a word does not count as an alteration in the sense you are trying to set forth.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,
    But wholesale additions of stories or changes of words even when unintentional do. You can assert that it doesn’t change the overall message of the Bible, and maybe they don’t, but I find that hard to believe.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF asks,

    “..some believers do seem to be asking (that critics know every last nuance of archaic theological doctrine), so do you agree they are unreasonable?” (paren. mine)

    Yes. And I would add that the malady of unreasonableness is not inherently Christian. Atheists, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and really anybody with a heartbeat is fair game.

    OMGF also asked,

    “..you seem to be saying that he didn’t address this particular piece of information that you deem important, so therefore he’s either ignorant or dishonest, right?”

    Wrong. I mentioned an isolated incident as support for a larger point, and you seem to have taken that incident as the larger point.

    So what is that larger point? To repeat, omission and selective de-emphasis of facts which present hurdles to one’s argument are clearly the signs of either an honest amateur, an intentional deceiver, or an old-fashioned ignoramus. They are not the earmarks of good scholarship.

    For example.. in TGD Dawkins discusses what he feels to be contradictions in Matthew and Luke over Jesus’ birthplace, but he omits to tell the readers that there were two Bethlehems. He charges Luke with using the enrollment as a poetic device to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary’s decision to leave Roman lines for the census fits remarkably well with Jewish custom of that day. Both of these things are certainly important to the discussion; that is, unless you wish to present a one-sided critique.

    For example.. just like a rabid creationist, Dawkins repeatedly quote mines and jumps on the bandwagon of whatever or whoever can be made to support his argument. Dawkins cites G.A. Wells while arguing that a sound historical case can be made against Jesus’ existence, but fails to inform his readership that Wells has recanted his original position on the basis of evidence from Q. Said Wells in response to pastor Gregory S. Neal,

    “More important than all this, apropos of the gospels, is that Neal ignores the change in my position.. Recent work on Q led me to accept that the gospels (unlike the Pauline and the other early epistles) may include traditions about a truly historical itinerant preacher of the early first century. So it is not true to say, as Neal does, that I deny this. Likewise, my acceptance of recent Q scholarship means that I am no longer asserting that all the traditions about Jesus in Mark must have evolved after the Pauline period.”

    I’m not saying Wells believed in Jesus; I’m saying Dawkins has a responsibility to portray those he calls as advocates correctly. This is no better than Christians who attempt to monopolize Einstein. Ironically, the entire first chapter of TGD is dedicated to this point, then Dawkins commits the exact same error.

    For example.. although I agree wholeheartedly with Dawkins that Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Adams, and all their friends would have recoiled in horror from the theocrats of today, consider Dawkins’ one-sided misquote recital of John Adams famous “best possible worlds” passage. While I will not argue that Adams was a Christian, listen to the entire paragraph in context, and tell me that it can be fairly used to support atheism:

    “Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.” – John Adams

    You say,

    “..your assumption that what you consider important is necessarily important, and therefore anyone who doesn’t address what you find important is necessarily wrong.”

    I disagree. My argument is that a scholarly case cannot be made if an author only discusses that which supports his or her point. It’s not that I feel Dawkins omits hair-splitting minutia that only a select group of fanatics think is important; the above three examples are all very important to their respective topics in Dawkins’ discussion – unless we wish to present a one-sided critique.

    As for,

    “This is what Rilstone was doing above.”

    Don’t you dare paint me with Rilstone’s brush! Will you seriously argue that any of these points are moot, and that none of them reveal laziness in Dawkins’ scholarship? If you feel any of these three brief examples are not important, pertinent or otherwise relevant to their respective topics in Dawkins’ discussion, (pp. 92-97 TGD), then the burden to demonstrate such is on you. Show me that Dawkins has treated these issues with scholarly merit.

  • mikespeir

    As for the accuracy, the Dead Sea Scrolls were nearly identical to the Massoretic text.

    Did you just not know how different the Jeremiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls is from the Massoretic version, cl? http://www.holysmoke.org/hs00/accurate.htm

  • Michael Kremer

    OMGF: “IOW, you seem to be saying that he didn’t address this particular piece of information that you deem important, so therefore he’s either ignorant or dishonest, right? Implicit in that, however, is your assumption that what you consider important is necessarily important, and therefore anyone who doesn’t address what you find important is necessarily wrong. This is what Rilstone was doing above.”

    Remember that originally Rilstone was responding to the following challenge upthread from ebonmuse: “What are some specific examples of things that Richard Dawkins (or any other prominent new atheist) says about Christian theology that you believe are inaccurate?”

    Nothing there about importance, etc. And in spite of all the defenses mounted after his reply, I think he did demonstrate real inaccuracies (and worse) on Dawkins’s part.

  • MS (Quixote)

    OMGF,

    Trying not to butt in to y’all’s conversation. From my perspective, since we know what they are, we know what they do.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,
    Huh?

    Michael Kremer,
    His responses, as Ebon pointed out, were along the lines that Dawkins is ignorant/wrong/etc. because he doesn’t accept Rilstone’s apologetics. This is no way to conduct a debate. He also presumed to speak for all Xians, while he was really only speaking for his own interpretation of Xianity. For instance, Dawkins is NOT wrong to speak about Xians believing in penal substitution since a lot of Xians do believe in it. Yet, according to Rilstone, he was wrong because Rilstone applied a specialized definition of it to fit his own interpretations of scripture in order to say that Dawkins was wrong (i.e. special pleading).

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    @ mikespeir,

    That’s a good point. I’d be glad to discuss that with you anytime, and if I wrote a 400-page book called The Atheist’s Delusion you can bet I would surely discuss such an appropriate counterpoint. However, our opinions of the Qumran manuscripts have no bearing on my argument, which is that omission and selective de-emphasis of facts which present hurdles to one’s argument are clearly the signs of either an honest amateur, an intentional deceiver, or an old-fashioned ignoramus. They are not the earmarks of good scholarship.

    My point in bringing Qumran into the discussion at all is not to argue the validity of the Bible, but to show that Dawkins tends to overlook whatever doesn’t support his argument. There are better examples of this, for example the three offered to OMGF just above.

    If you’d like to discuss Dawkins’ scholarship and whether various critiques of said scholarship are with or without merit, I’m all for it.

  • mikespeir

    My point in bringing Qumran into the discussion at all is not to argue the validity of the Bible, but to show that Dawkins tends to overlook whatever doesn’t support his argument. There are better examples of this, for example the three offered to OMGF just above.

    Granted, it would be off-topic. However, if you’re going to make a claim, whatever the context, it should be accurate, don’t you think? If it’s not, what does that say about your own scholarship?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,
    I don’t have TGD in front of me right now, so I’ll have to pull it out and look again at those pages. In the meantime, it is NOT incumbent upon me to refute your assertions. The onus lies upon you to support them. And, I wasn’t painting you with the ass-hattery of Rilstone, simply pointing out that he was making a similar argument (IMO) that what he deems important is important and if Dawkins didn’t discuss it, then he was either ignorant or lying, etc.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    “I don’t have TGD in front of me right now, so I’ll have to pull it out and look again at those pages.”

    Please do.

    “In the meantime, it is NOT incumbent upon me to refute your assertions. The onus lies upon you to support them.”

    I have made an argument that Dawkins engages in sloppy scholarship thus meriting a certain degree of critique, and I have included four examples, three of which were directed specifically at you. You’re right – the onus does lay on me to support them – which I believe I did. And in a debate, when somebody supports their assertions, (remember, Ebonmuse asked for SPECIFIC examples of Dawkins’ sloppy scholarship) the onus lies on their opponent to respond. So, if you and I are engaging in debate, which I believe we are, it IS incumbent upon you to either refute or accept my assertions.

    And please note that should you feel compelled, you can accept my criticisms of Dawkins while still maintaining your hatred of Jesus. Admitting that Dawkins engages in sloppy scholarship is not tantamount to betraying your currently held opinions.

    If your goal is for me to take you seriously, you have two choices far as I can see: 1) Admit that the SPECIFIC examples offered do reveal weaknesses (or at least partiality) in Dawkins’ scholarship; or 2) Demonstrate that Dawkins’ treatment of these issues can be reasonably described as well-rounded research.

  • Michael Kremer

    OMGF:
    “This is trivially false. Read Mark and Luke side by side. They are not the same god. In Mark, Jesus is wailing and in despair, he’s forsaken, etc. In Luke, Jesus has a calm demeanor, he’s in control, he’s godlike and aloof. These are NOT agreements upon the nature of god and his person, but competing stories about what god’s nature really is.”

    This seems to be based not on reading Mark and Luke’s gospels side-by-side, but on reading a few lines from Mark side-by-side with a few lines from Luke, namely their descriptions of the last moments of Jesus’s life. In all three synoptic gospels we have the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus is near despair. In Luke, he is in such anguish that he requires to be strengthened by an angel from heaven, and yet even after that “he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Here Jesus’s anguish is if anything more dramatic than in Mark. In Mark, on the other hand, Jesus predicts his passion and death repeatedly, and when Pilate questions him he makes no reply.

    Even if we turn to the scene I believe you have in mind, things are not so clear as you imagine. You say that in Mark, Jesus is “wailing and in despair, he’s forsaken, etc” but actually it nowhere says that he is in despair at the moment of his crucifixion, or that he is wailing. Rather it simply says that “he cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?”.” Now, is that clearly a wail of despair? Well, what Jesus says here is the first line of Psalm 22. Mark includes references to this Psalm in preceding lines (Mark 15:24 “Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get” Psalm 22: 18 “they divide my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing” Mark 15: 29 “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” Psalm 22: 7 “All who see me mock me/ they hurl insults at me, shaking their heads/ ‘He trusted in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him/ Let Him deliver him/ since he delights in him’”.) All the Gospels interweave references to this Psalm in their accounts of the crucifixion, in fact.

    As one commentator puts it “Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage.” (http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/oct1985/v42-3-article4.htm) Given this, if you think of this line uttered by Jesus as the first line of a Psalm that he probably knew by heart, uttered as a prayer, it takes on a new aspect. To see this, I recommend reading the entire Psalm, which alternates between utterances of despair and affirmations of the saving power of God. This pattern is established in the first lines of the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?/ O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest./ Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel./ In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them./ To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” The pattern carries through to the concluding section of the Psalm, where the Psalmist gives himself over to trust in and praise of God. (Indeed, I think it can be argued that the last words of Jesus in Luke (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”) and John (“It is finished/accomplished”) are references to the conclusion of this Psalm (more specifically “But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Ps. 22: 19 and “they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,that he has done it.” Ps. 22: 31). If that’s right, then in all the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as praying this Psalm on the Cross — but the different Gospels emphasize different aspects of it. This, I admit, is speculation, though.)

    In the light of all this, it appears that in Mark’s telling, Jesus utters a prayer that calls up not only the image of abandonment by God, but also (in the whole Psalm) the hope of a redemption through faith in that God who appears to be absent. (Again, see the article referenced above for more on this as the meaning of the psalm.) I submit that while this is different from Luke, the difference is not of the sort you imagine.

  • windy

    As for the accuracy, the Dead Sea Scrolls were nearly identical to the Massoretic text. The fifty-third chapter of the book of Isaiah contained only seventeen ‘differences’ in the text. Ten of those differences consisted in spelling: i.e. “honour” and “honor.” Four of the other differences were in the presence or lack of a conjunction. The point is, out of 166 words in the entire chapter, only one was really in question, and it did not change at all the meaning of the passage as a whole.

    Dawkins doesn’t mention any of this in his Argument From Scripture (TGD), and my guess is that most atheists would reply he doesn’t have to. It’s quite an easy escape to simply claim, “The Bible’s been mistranslated, we can’t possibly trust it.”

    Do you expect anyone to fall for this apples-to-oranges sidestep? The reliability of the translation is A DIFFERENT QUESTION than the age of the original text. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in itself doesn’t tell us whether (for example) Isaiah’s “almah” meant “virgin” or not.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Windy,

    If I may politely suggest that you slow down.. Too often people on these threads want to move and talk and be correct so much they end up seventeen blocks away from the street the post’s topic lives on..

    “Do you expect anyone to fall for this apples-to-oranges sidestep? The reliability of the translation is A DIFFERENT QUESTION than the age of the original text. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in itself doesn’t tell us whether (for example) Isaiah’s “almah” meant “virgin” or not.”

    I didn’t say it did, I never once brought into question the age of any ancient manuscript, and I actually argued your same words to OMGF a few comments back. As I told OMGF, I brought Qumran up as an isolated incident to draw a much larger point about whether certain critiques of Dawkins’ scholarship were valid. You possibly confuse the supporting argument for the thesis. If you think it’s a weak supporting argument, that’s fine. You’re entitled to that.

    I have made three other non-Qumran-related arguments to support my thesis that Dawkins’ engages in sloppy scholarship. That’s the original topic of this post – not all this canonical, translation-concern, this-means-that / that-means-this chutzpah that everyone seems to be getting sucked into. In your opinion, does Dawkins show ANY examples of weak scholarship in TGD or not?

    You are more than welcomed to show me which of my critiques of Dawkins’ scholarship you agree or disagree with, and why. Simply gassing on about my statements when it appears you’ve misunderstood them won’t get us any closer to common ground.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    For example.. in TGD Dawkins discusses what he feels to be contradictions in Matthew and Luke over Jesus’ birthplace, but he omits to tell the readers that there were two Bethlehems.

    And why should this matter? His main point is that they probably didn’t know where Jesus was born, so they said it was Bethlehem in order to have Jesus fulfill the prophecy. John didn’t even bother to do that. Stating that there were two towns named Bethlehem does NOTHING to counter the arguments or add to the arguments. Also, the contradiction between Matthew and Luke is over how Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem to birth Jesus, which again has nothing to do with the existence of multiple Bethlehems.

    He charges Luke with using the enrollment as a poetic device to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary’s decision to leave Roman lines for the census fits remarkably well with Jewish custom of that day.

    Please provide evidence that Jews routinely moved their whole families to some ancestor’s town every time the Romans called for a census.

    For example.. just like a rabid creationist, Dawkins repeatedly quote mines and jumps on the bandwagon of whatever or whoever can be made to support his argument. Dawkins cites G.A. Wells while arguing that a sound historical case can be made against Jesus’ existence, but fails to inform his readership that Wells has recanted his original position on the basis of evidence from Q. Said Wells in response to pastor Gregory S. Neal…

    I’m not so sure this is as slam dunk as you think. First, let’s look at what Wells actually says, (which you quoted):

    More important than all this, apropos of the gospels, is that Neal ignores the change in my position.. Recent work on Q led me to accept that the gospels (unlike the Pauline and the other early epistles) may include traditions about a truly historical itinerant preacher of the early first century. So it is not true to say, as Neal does, that I deny this. Likewise, my acceptance of recent Q scholarship means that I am no longer asserting that all the traditions about Jesus in Mark must have evolved after the Pauline period.

    [emphasis added]
    Nowhere in there does he say that Q proves Jesus existed, so it’s not clear that Wells has recanted his position.

    Let’s also look at what Dawkins says:

    It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others, Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist?.

    Although Jesus probably existed

    [emphasis added]
    Yeah, that looks to me like someone who is quote mining and being one-sided unfairly, I mean stating that he believes Jesus probably existed and all.

    You have a point about the Adams quote (although it’s on page 43, not 92-97), although many people seem to make the same mistake. It’s also rather clear that he saw religion as a salve that the normal people need in order to keep from acting up.

    I have made an argument that Dawkins engages in sloppy scholarship thus meriting a certain degree of critique, and I have included four examples, three of which were directed specifically at you.

    And two of them don’t hold up.

    You’re right – the onus does lay on me to support them – which I believe I did.

    And I don’t believe that you have, except for maybe the Adams quote.

    And please note that should you feel compelled, you can accept my criticisms of Dawkins while still maintaining your hatred of Jesus.

    Hey, thanks for the concern trolling/condescension. I don’t actually hate Jesus though (it’s hard to hate a literary figure) and I’m fully aware that my arguments don’t stand or fall based on what Dawkins says.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Michael Kremer,

    This seems to be based not on reading Mark and Luke’s gospels side-by-side, but on reading a few lines from Mark side-by-side with a few lines from Luke, namely their descriptions of the last moments of Jesus’s life. In all three synoptic gospels we have the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus is near despair. In Luke, he is in such anguish that he requires to be strengthened by an angel from heaven, and yet even after that “he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Here Jesus’s anguish is if anything more dramatic than in Mark. In Mark, on the other hand, Jesus predicts his passion and death repeatedly, and when Pilate questions him he makes no reply.

    You can take it up with Bart Ehrman. And, it’s not a few lines, it’s the reality of what the authors were trying to do. There were attacks from pagans of the time that the Jesus depictions did not show an entity that was actually godly, but a poor human. Luke was written to counter those criticisms, which were based on the Mark writings.

    Even if we turn to the scene I believe you have in mind, things are not so clear as you imagine. You say that in Mark, Jesus is “wailing and in despair, he’s forsaken, etc” but actually it nowhere says that he is in despair at the moment of his crucifixion, or that he is wailing.

    You’re right, I was going off of memory and got it wrong. In Mark, Jesus is actually rather silent, except for crying out before he dies. In Luke, he’s self-assured and preaching and ministering all the way to his death. These are pretty different accounts. I suggest you read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus for a rather illuminating discussion about these tracts.

  • windy

    I didn’t say it did, I never once brought into question the age of any ancient manuscript, and I actually argued your same words to OMGF a few comments back. As I told OMGF, I brought Qumran up as an isolated incident to draw a much larger point about whether certain critiques of Dawkins’ scholarship were valid. You possibly confuse the supporting argument for the thesis. If you think it’s a weak supporting argument, that’s fine. You’re entitled to that.

    You’re not being very clear here. The comment I quoted mentioned Qumran as if it had some bearing on the translation issue. Otherwise why do you think Dawkins should have discussed it in the “Argument from Scripture” section, which is very short and only mentions some issues with the reliability of the New Testament?

    Since Dawkins doesn’t say anything about the reliability of the Old testament in this chapter, it’s hard to see why it’s unfair of him to not mention the Qumran scrolls?

    I have made three other non-Qumran-related arguments to support my thesis that Dawkins’ engages in sloppy scholarship. That’s the original topic of this post – not all this canonical, translation-concern, this-means-that / that-means-this chutzpah that everyone seems to be getting sucked into. In your opinion, does Dawkins show ANY examples of weak scholarship in TGD or not?

    Of course he does. However, it’s sort of amusing that you now ask us to bypass the points where you seem to have engaged in sloppy scholarship of your own.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    I had reservations about my final remark, but I simply thought since that was the name of your blog that it would be considered in decent taste and not perceived as an ad nominem, or inflammatory. You took the liberty of calling Rilstone’s arguments “ass-hattery,” so I figured a lesser jest certainly wouldn’t hurt ya. My apologies.

    Regarding our little debate..

    If you don’t think that the existence of two Bethlehems is important and relevant to Dawkins’ discussion, then I guess we just disagree.

    “Please provide evidence that Jews routinely moved their whole families to some ancestor’s town every time the Romans called for a census.”

    I actually said,

    “Joseph and Mary’s decision to leave Roman lines for the census fits remarkably well with Jewish custom of that day.”

    Your paraphrase does not accurately reflect my argument. Nonetheless I’ll provide further explanation if you are interested in hearing it.

    The manner and competence level with which Dawkins argues against religion is about the same as creationists who argue against gradualism. For example(#5).. Dawkins uses one verse from John (without citing it) to concoct his argument that John’s gospel admits confusion over Jesus’ birthplace. Attacking a Bible quote out-of-context, drawing a faulty conclusion about it because it was taken out-of-context, and not even listing the verse is shoddy scholarship. When creationists do this and present their arguments as scholarly, they denigrated, and rightfully so. Dawkins does this at the outset of his argument and at other points throughout the entire book.

    Either way, my point is not even the minutia or the “who’s right / who’s wrong” of each particular argument. Dawkins presents things around which there is legitimate debate as ironclad support for his atheism. This is but one of many flaws that weaken his overall argument in TGD. (The fact that he talks down to believers probably doesn’t help his case much either) Just as there are valid reasons why scientists don’t take creationism seriously, there are valid reasons why believers don’t take TGD seriously. That we are legitimately debating Dawkins’ arguments is in itself interesting. No offense to you or Ebonmuse, but as a believer, I don’t want a 400-page tome of loose arguments I can debate with a random commenter on a random blog. I want Dawkins to present a scholarly case that might change my mind, but his incompetency and bitterness get in the way. I hope these snippets help at least one atheist understand why so many believers (and even some atheists) eschew TGD and Dawkins in general.

    Regarding Adams, at least you gave me one of three. Quoting somebody’s words out-of-context to embellish your point is poor scholarship, and I’m glad we agree.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    You took the liberty of calling Rilstone’s arguments “ass-hattery,” so I figured a lesser jest certainly wouldn’t hurt ya. My apologies.

    Actually, I called his antics ass-hattery, not his arguments. I accept that you didn’t mean to offend, and please be assured that I wasn’t offended, but I thank you for the apology all the same.

    If you don’t think that the existence of two Bethlehems is important and relevant to Dawkins’ discussion, then I guess we just disagree.

    I don’t see how it can be considering that his argument is that John doesn’t place Jesus in Bethlehem, and the difference between Luke and Matthew is how they got there.

    Your paraphrase does not accurately reflect my argument.

    I’m not seeing why not, but I’m not trying to mess up your argument.

    Nonetheless I’ll provide further explanation if you are interested in hearing it.

    It sounds to me like you are saying that because a Roman census was called, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in order to be counted in the city of their ancestor from long ago (how many generations back and how did they determine which ancestor’s city to use?) as a matter of Jewish custom?

    Dawkins uses one verse from John (without citing it) to concoct his argument that John’s gospel admits confusion over Jesus’ birthplace.

    Are you referring to page 93? If you are, that’s not what Dawkins says. He says that Jesus’s followers were surprised that he was born in Galilee instead of Bethlehem.

    Attacking a Bible quote out-of-context, drawing a faulty conclusion about it because it was taken out-of-context, and not even listing the verse is shoddy scholarship.

    Maybe he should have listed the verse, but out of context? Let’s look at the verse:

    7:41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
    7:42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?

    I don’t see how that is out of context.

    Dawkins presents things around which there is legitimate debate as ironclad support for his atheism.

    No, actually he never does this. He never says anything proves there is no god or that atheism is ironclad in support. And, what legitimate debate is there about where Jesus was born? We can look at one gospel or two gospels which say different things, and we can tell which one is right how exactly? For a work supposedly inspired by god, it’s not at all clear and there’s no way to tell which part we should follow and which we shouldn’t. You may as well toss a coin, which is no way to conduct a legitimate debate or even have one.

    Just as there are valid reasons why scientists don’t take creationism seriously, there are valid reasons why believers don’t take TGD seriously.

    Besides the Adams quote, which still doesn’t help you as much as you’d like, I haven’t seen much from the his detractors here to support this notion. My personal opinion is that people reflexively disregard his argument simply because it is an argument against religion and for non-religion, because it is ingrained in our culture that religion = good and atheism = bad.

    No offense to you or Ebonmuse, but as a believer, I don’t want a 400-page tome of loose arguments I can debate with a random commenter on a random blog.

    Then, what must you think of the Bible?

    I want Dawkins to present a scholarly case that might change my mind, but his incompetency and bitterness get in the way.

    I haven’t seen much in the way of proving incompetence, and I sure as heck haven’t seen anything that approaches showing that he is bitter in any way. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that all atheists must be bitter, angry, etc. (It’s a bigoted position to hold.)

    I hope these snippets help at least one atheist understand why so many believers (and even some atheists) eschew TGD and Dawkins in general.

    I’m not seeing it, considering that you’ve not made your case on the points you raised and you’ve not fairly represented his arguments.

    Regarding Adams, at least you gave me one of three. Quoting somebody’s words out-of-context to embellish your point is poor scholarship, and I’m glad we agree.

    I think we should probably also agree that it’s a common mistake, as a quick google search will show you. We should also probably agree that his intent was probably not to mislead, and that it doesn’t actually hurt the substance of his argument that Adams’ quote is not in its full context. You’re right that getting something wrong like that is bad form, but it’s not the knock-down that you think it is.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    For now I can only address these points due to a time constraint. I have to go meet a friend for a beer.

    You said,

    “I don’t see how (the existence of two Bethlehems can be important) considering that (Dawkins’) argument is that John doesn’t place Jesus in Bethlehem, and the difference between Luke and Matthew is how they got there.” (paren. mine)

    and in response to me stating that Dawkins’ argument was that John’s gospel admits confusion over Jesus’ birthplace, you said,

    “..that’s not what Dawkins says. He says that Jesus’s followers were surprised that he was born in Galilee instead of Bethlehem.”

    This statement is half-correct. Dawkins says both. Dawkins actually takes John to task for being silent about details of Jesus’ birth, but feel free to double-check that. Dawkins also, specifically relating to John 7:41, argues something along the lines of, “..even his followers had disagreement over where Jesus was from.” So we agree on these points, although, ahem, you told me Dawkins didn’t say something that he actually did.

    At any rate, aside from being dead wrong in this case, Dawkins further displays poor scholarship by both omitting relevant backstory to this verse and quoting it out-of-context. The people speaking in John 7:41 were not Jesus’ followers; John attributes those words to the many random Jews that happened to be at the Feast of Tabernacles, where Jesus was. Many, if not most of them, no doubt were seeing Jesus for the first time.

    I’m left to presume that although you read Dawkins TGD p.93 before responding, you likely didn’t read John 7 in context. Now a little bit of geographic, historic or cultural background that reasonably challenges Dawkins’ argument is certainly worth address, wouldn’t you think?

    Dawkins tells us that Jesus’ followers spoke those words, yet in actuality it was random people at the Feast of Tabernacles. He misleads people to think that Jesus’ closest disciples spoke those words, when they were a paraphrase of the verbal hubris floating around some Jewish customary event.

    Don’t think this alters the integrity of Mr. Dawkins argument quite significantly?

    Don’t you think that is poor scholarship, or at least as you say, “poor form?”

    If yes, do I get one more point?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Oh, and earlier, you (OMGF) said in response to Dawkins’ blunder with the Adams quote,

    “I think we should probably also agree that it’s a common mistake..”

    I agree, and you’ve just admitted Dawkins made a “common mistake,” and perhaps it is; but isn’t it the duty of sound scholarship to screen common mistakes out of our research, especially, (as I believe Rilstone said earlier) “If he’s going to put them in a book and charge (us) money for it?” (paren. mine)

    Honestly..

  • Chet

    The critique is that you cannot argue against something you don’t understand.

    Well, we certainly don’t “understand” the compelling intellectual case for the existence of God, since it has yet to be presented by any theist in recorded history.

    Since it can’t be found in Aquinas, nor in Eriugena, nor Moltmann, what’s the relevance of those theologians? Certainly, atheists should understand theism before they criticize it. But in my experience, it’s only atheists – and not theologians like Eagleton – who accurately understand theism as a fundamentally false belief.

    If you believe that God exists you, by definition, cannot understand theism.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    This exchange is going nowhere fast, but I’ll make one final reply:

    He cites examples of Jewish exclusivity in the Old Testament, and then asserts (simiply asserts) that Jesus believed the same thing.

    No, he does not “simply assert” that, he cites a paper arguing it. For all that you criticize Dawkins for getting things wrong, it seems to me that you repeatedly misrepresent him to cast him in the worst possible light and further your own arguments. The verse about the 144,000 was another example: you repeatedly claimed that Dawkins describes this as the sum total of the people who get into heaven, when in fact, as I showed by citing the relevant passage, he merely states that Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret it this way.

    …he claims to be revealing “an unpalatable aspect of the Bible’s ethical teaching”: not what a lost ur-text or first draft of the Bible might have said.

    I don’t know how often I have to repeat myself here. There are verses in the NT in which Jesus says he was only sent to minister to Jews (Matthew 15:24), and describes Gentiles as “dogs” (15:26). He orders his disciples to preach only to Jews, not to Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). He says that anyone who is not with him is against him (Luke 11:23). And these verses are just the tip of the iceberg compared to the massive number of OT verses which say that God considers the Jews his chosen people whom he loves better than everyone else.

    I don’t need to deny the story of the Good Samaritan, nor does Dawkins, because we’re comfortable with the idea that the Bible is not always consistent. You, on the other hand, seem determined to take the position that that parable must overrule any contrary message, and that it’s not just incorrect but inexcusable to believe otherwise. As I’ve said, all you’re really trying to do is to dictate which interpretations of the Bible are and are not acceptable. We atheists don’t grant that.

    If Jesus didn’t exist — if, as Dawkins says, the Gospels should be treated at the same level as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table — what does it MEAN to talk about what Jesus believe about the Gentiles, or what he would have thought about St Paul?

    That’s no more problematic than asking why Hamlet chose to spare Claudius’ life when he had a chance to kill him.

    I don’t know whether this is a particular dig at me as an amateur Tolkien scholar… You can, of course, say that reading the Lord of the rings in the first place is a waste of time, or that, it’s okay to read it but thinking about it is a waste of time : but it doesn’t follow from that that all statements about Balrogs are equally valid and determined only by the pre-suppositions of the speaker.

    I didn’t know you were a Tolkien scholar; actually, it was on my mind because I just read The Children of Hurin. But since you are familiar with Tolkien, then you should fully understand my point. All of Tolkien’s writings only contain one physical description of a Balrog, and that passage is ambiguous as to whether it has literal wings or whether the key phrase just refers to the cloak of shadow surrounding it. Tolkien fans have spilled rivers of ink arguing over which is the case. But, in truth, the question is insoluble. There is no correct answer, given the evidence we possess. The competing interpretations are just that, and no further text is forthcoming to decide among them.

    No doubt, many Tolkien fans on one side or the other consider this debate extremely important. But the fact is, it’s a sterile argument with no relevance and no answer. And this isn’t because “Middle-earth is a fantasy world and Balrogs don’t really exist” – that is true, of course, but even within the parameters of the story, there is no possible way to objectively decide. And all of these conclusions can be straightforwardly transferred to the question of whether the Trinity is a correct interpretation of Christian scripture.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Not to get embroiled in another long debate, but I do want to say something about this comment by cl:

    He charges Luke with using the enrollment as a poetic device to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary’s decision to leave Roman lines for the census fits remarkably well with Jewish custom of that day.

    Are you serious? I really would like to know what evidence you have in mind for this.

    Let’s be clear about what the Bible says. The Gospel of Luke (the only one to mention anything about a census, please note) asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces. What on earth would be the point of such an outlandish custom? Just imagine the chaos this would cause if it were actually tried.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Ebon,

    You just told me,

    “Are you serious? … Let’s be clear about what the Bible says. The Gospel of Luke asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces. What on earth would be the point of such an outlandish custom?”

    Are you serious? If so, why should I accept such a fumbled paraphrase of Luke? Indeed, let’s actually be clear about what the Bible says. Chapter 2, verses 1-5, please. The passages completely obliterate your argument. For example, you just said that Luke “asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces.” (ital. mine)

    In actuality, Luke 2:1-5

    1) mentions no requisite formalities of registration for people of Judea as you imply; and

    2) reads damn near the exact opposite of what you just claimed:

    “..and everyone went to his own town to register.” (v. 2:3)

    Most people’s homes are in their own town, agree or disagree? There is no mention in Luke 2:1-5 of any requirements for residents of Judea to cross Roman lines and return to their distant ancestors birthplaces, and furthermore I did not state this was the “Jewish custom” I mentioned.

    No need for long, embroiled debate.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    Here’s another thing I’d like to comment on.. Earlier in the thread I said,

    “I want Dawkins to present a scholarly case that might change my mind, but his incompetency and bitterness get in the way.”

    You replied,

    “I haven’t seen much in the way of proving incompetence, and I sure as heck haven’t seen anything that approaches showing that he is bitter in any way. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that all atheists must be bitter, angry, etc. (It’s a bigoted position to hold.)”

    As far as me proving incompetence, well..

    1) I’ve gotten two points from you (the Adams quote and a minor point for faulting Dawkins’ lack of scripture citation);

    2) You’ve admitted with your own words that Dawkins made a “common mistake;”

    3) I just demonstrated that Dawkins absolutely murdered John 7 to portray the idea that Jesus’ closest associates quarreled about his birthplace;

    4) I’ve demonstrated that you yourself have not looked into scripture enough to catch an obvious blunder, and this was the basis of my analogy to creationists who argue against gradualism.

    I think these (at least the first 3) are good foundations to build upon if my goal is demonstrating Dawkins’ incompetence. You are entitled to disagree.

    And, how you feel the liberty to say,

    “Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that all atheists must be bitter, angry, etc. (It’s a bigoted position to hold.)”

    My opinion that Dawkins’ bitterness carries into his delivery at several points in TGD is one I can back up. Why even bring the word ‘bigoted’ into the conversation? It’s quite interesting you’d suggest that of me. Quite, quite unfair. You’ve taken a single statement I made concerning Dawkins delivery in TGD, and implied I’ve painted all of atheism with the same broad stroke.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    This statement is half-correct. Dawkins says both.

    No he does not. He states that John probably left it out because he didn’t know where Jesus was born, as the rest of the writers didn’t seem to know.

    Dawkins actually takes John to task for being silent about details of Jesus’ birth, but feel free to double-check that.

    Which is different from saying that “John’s gospel admits confusion.” If you are going to take someone to task for not being precise, perhaps you should try to be precise on your end.

    So we agree on these points, although, ahem, you told me Dawkins didn’t say something that he actually did.

    No we don’t, and having re-read the passage in question I feel that you are misrepresenting Dawkins’ argument.

    At any rate, aside from being dead wrong in this case, Dawkins further displays poor scholarship by both omitting relevant backstory to this verse and quoting it out-of-context.

    No, he is not dead wrong. The point is that two of the gospel authors place Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem (either one, it doesn’t matter) and John’s story places it in Galilee.

    Now a little bit of geographic, historic or cultural background that reasonably challenges Dawkins’ argument is certainly worth address, wouldn’t you think?

    Sure, if it actually challenged his argument, which it doesn’t.

    He misleads people to think that Jesus’ closest disciples spoke those words, when they were a paraphrase of the verbal hubris floating around some Jewish customary event.

    You are over-reaching here, in that Dawkins never says it was his disciples.

    Most people’s homes are in their own town, agree or disagree? There is no mention in Luke 2:1-5 of any requirements for residents of Judea to cross Roman lines and return to their distant ancestors birthplaces, and furthermore I did not state this was the “Jewish custom” I mentioned.

    Then what is the Jewish custom you are referring to? And, why would they be travelling to Bethlehem since they did not live there?

    2) You’ve admitted with your own words that Dawkins made a “common mistake;”

    Which is part of point 1. By splitting them up you seem to inflate your gains.

    3) I just demonstrated that Dawkins absolutely murdered John 7 to portray the idea that Jesus’ closest associates quarreled about his birthplace;

    No, you have not.

    4) I’ve demonstrated that you yourself have not looked into scripture enough to catch an obvious blunder, and this was the basis of my analogy to creationists who argue against gradualism.

    No, you have not. This would be like if Dawkins claimed that we know 1 and 1 are 2 because John proved it, and you rebut with, Matthew actually said it so 1 and 1 are not 2 and you are ignorant and wrong.

    My opinion that Dawkins’ bitterness carries into his delivery at several points in TGD is one I can back up.

    I’d like to see that. Please, please, demonstrate that Dawkins is “bitter” by showing us the relevant passages in his book where he claims and/or demonstrates that he is bitter.

    Why even bring the word ‘bigoted’ into the conversation? It’s quite interesting you’d suggest that of me. Quite, quite unfair. You’ve taken a single statement I made concerning Dawkins delivery in TGD, and implied I’ve painted all of atheism with the same broad stroke.

    For someone who criticizes others for not understanding content or taking things out of context, you certainly have done well at doing just that with what I wrote. If you are saying that Dawkins is bitter simply because all atheists are bitter, then that is bigoted. If you read what I wrote, you’ll see that’s exactly what I said. I only brought it up for 2 reasons. 1) If you really felt that, I wanted to point out to you that it is bigoted (and believe me, many, many theists believe this is the case). 2) For those that are reading this and do believe it, they need to be told that they are holding to a prejudiced, bigoted view. Nowhere did I call you a bigot (unless you actually do hold the position that all atheists are bitter, angry, etc). Again, it’s all in the context.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF… I’ll say up front that there is a technicality in your last comment on which you are correct. I implied Dawkins’ lament over “John’s silence over Jesus’ birthplace” was on p. 93. It’s not. So I’m going to slow down and choose my words a bit more carefully.

    I am more than willing to address all your points, but this whole “let’s argue five cases to each other at once” thing is a bit taxing.. If you don’t mind, I’d like to focus and tackle one point at a time.

    Boolean style – In TGD, Dawkins

    1) Uses a single verse from John to support his argument that John’s followers were confused over Jesus’ birthplace; Yes or No?

    2) Fails to provide source of said verse; Yes or No?

    3) Attributes words in said verse to Jesus’ followers that were not spoken by Jesus’ followers; Yes or No?

    4) Gives absolutely zero historical, geographical or cultural context, which would allow the reader to make a truly informed decision; Yes or No?

    Very clearly, the answer to each of these questions is “Yes.”

    Now don’t you think that is poor scholarship, or at the bare minimum, as you say, “poor form?”

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to focus and tackle one point at a time.

    Don’t mind at all.

    1) Uses a single verse from John to support his argument that John’s followers were confused over Jesus’ birthplace; Yes or No?

    No. As I’ve already pointed out, this is not what he says. In fact, you contradict yourself with your assertion number 3.

    2) Fails to provide source of said verse; Yes or No?

    He correctly attributes the source as being John. He doesn’t provide the specific verse. I don’t think he should be crucified for it.

    3) Attributes words in said verse to Jesus’ followers that were not spoken by Jesus’ followers; Yes or No?

    I’d have to go back and look at the specific words he uses, but note that this does not affect his argument in the least.

    4) Gives absolutely zero historical, geographical or cultural context, which would allow the reader to make a truly informed decision; Yes or No?

    He gives enough content. Here you are arguing that unless he gives the courtier’s amount of context, information, etc, that he is either dishonest or ignorant or sloppy or lazy.

    Very clearly, the answer to each of these questions is “Yes.”

    Now don’t you think that is poor scholarship, or at the bare minimum, as you say, “poor form?”

    Considering that the answer is not “Yes” to all, I’m rather disappointed in your arguments. I’ve already argued against these things and you are simply repeating yourself with no new arguments to rebut. Simply repeating yourself doesn’t make your argument more correct or have more weight.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    well, we might have to leave this one to the jury, but I’m still in. Let’s focus just on point #1 if you don’t mind.

    My two-fold statement was that Dawkins,

    “Uses a single verse from John to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were confused over Jesus’ birthplace; Yes or No?”

    You said,

    “No. As I’ve already pointed out, this is not what he says..”

    In regards to my words as stated, I see two points on which you may disagree. The first is to deny that the number of verses Dawkins used to support his case was one. The second is to reject my paraphrase of Dawkins’ argument.

    In pp. 92-97 of TGD, Dawkins devotes exactly one sentence to the discussion of John’s gospel. Dawkins says,

    “In light of this prophecy, John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem: (John 7:41)” -TGD p.93

    From the verbatim text we see that my paraphrase of Dawkins’ argument is accurate. Dawkins’ argument IS in fact that John’s gospel says Jesus’ followers were confused over Jesus’ birthplace. After this, Dawkins moves on to Matthew and Luke, and never returns to the gospel of John.

    So do you disagree to the number of verses I claim Dawkins uses to support this argument? If not, please advise. If so, what other verses from John does Dawkins cite? If none, then am I not correct in saying that Dawkins “..uses only a single verse to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were confused as to Jesus’ birthplace?”

    To me, this is plain logic. Either Dawkins used more than one verse, exactly one verse, or less than one verse to support his argument, which I have correctly paraphrased and cited verbatim. Unless you can demonstrate that I have either misrepresented Dawkins’ argument, or that ‘X > 1′ where ‘X’ equals the number of verses from John’s gospel Dawkins cites in his argument on p.93, then what other evidence do you base your disagreement upon?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    From the verbatim text we see that my paraphrase of Dawkins’ argument is accurate.

    No it most certainly is not. They were not confused according to the gospel of John, they believed that he was born in Galilee. They were surprised by this because they were aware of the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, not Galilee.

    To me, this is plain logic.

    Actually, there’s some reading comprehension needed as well, which is where you are lacking.

    Either Dawkins used more than one verse…

    Actually, it’s really 2 verses, but hey, what’s one more mistake by you when you harp on the smallest mistakes of others?

    Unless you can demonstrate that I have either misrepresented Dawkins’ argument…

    Which you most assuredly have.

    So, here’s something for you to think about. If we used your argument on yourself, where would we be?

    You’ve been corrected on the Qumrum, you’ve been corrected (twice) on the pages that you’ve referenced, you’ve been corrected multiple times on what Dawkins actually says, etc. Why should we not use your argument against Dawkins to denounce you as ignorant, stupid, lazy, and/or dishonest and disregard any argument that you might make?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    I’ve already conceded I need to be much more clearer with my words in our little debate. How about one single point. You are still saying I’ve misrepresented Dawkins’ argument. I said Dawkins,

    “Uses a single verse from John to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were confused over Jesus’ birthplace..

    Dawkins verbatim text reads,

    “”In light of this prophecy, John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem..” -TGD p.93

    Just so I can be clear,

    Are your grounds for saying I’ve misrepresented Dawkins’ argument,

    1) That I used ‘confused’ where he used actually used ‘surprised;’ and

    2) That I claim he used ‘a single verse’ when I should have claimed he used ‘a single passage / excerpt / whatever-you-want-to-call-it?’

    If not, please advise.

    If so, explain how these differences affect my overall argument, which is that Dawkins is in the wrong for attributing words spoken by a random crowd to Jesus’ followers.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    If so, explain how these differences affect my overall argument, which is that Dawkins is in the wrong for attributing words spoken by a random crowd to Jesus’ followers.

    As I explained above, John notes that they were “Surprised” not “Confused” and there is a difference there. Why are you not more precise?

    And if this is your overall argument, then why continue to argue over a different matter? Oh yeah, it’s because this was one of your 4 points and what you are calling your overall argument was also one of your 4 points. Will you make up your mind? Again, if you can’t get your own story straight, if you can’t be precise and scholarly, why should we not use your argument against Dawkins to denounce you as ignorant, stupid, lazy, and/or dishonest and disregard any argument that you might make?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I feel the degree between ‘confused’ and ‘surprised’ is negligible, OMGF. Both entail the experience of receiving knowledge that conflicts with a previously held position. A couple of the thesauri I just checked even grouped them together; a couple did not.

    To contrast, the degree between ‘Jesus’ followers’ and ‘random people attending a customary Jewish event’ is significant, and a similar thesauri exercise for ‘followers’ and ‘random people’ or ‘crowd’ was not as permitting. Now, this is important because if Jesus’ own followers (ie, people that had already spent an unspecified amount of time with Jesus) were surprised / confused, this would be stronger evidence for Dawkins’ case against Jesus actually being born where Micah 5:2 implies.

    “..if this is your overall argument, then why continue to argue over a different matter?”

    The four-point argument from my comment dated October 7, 2008, 12:00 pm could be reasonably summarized as Example #6 I’ve given of an instance where I feel Dawkins in TGD says things that misrepresent “Christian theology,” as I believe Ebonmuse or somebody asked another commenter earlier. At 12:35 pm we agreed to stay on one argument at a time. I decided to go through Example #6 with you point by point, to see where and why we’re disagreeing, and we are still on sub-point #1 of said example.

    For me, the bottom line for point #1 is that Dawkins cites a single passage out-of-context to justify his assertion that Jesus’ followers were surprised, because Jesus was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2. He attributes words to people whose opinion and knowledge of Jesus we would expect to be a little more intact than random folks in at a customary Jewish event. He presents the reader with an inaccurate rendering of scripture, and uses this to support his claim. This one instance does very little to compromise Dawkins’ overall thesis in TGD; however, in order to support my case I have to provide more than one convincing example of Dawkins’ “earnestness,” if you will.

    So, now that we’re clear on semantics, do we agree that Dawkins cites only one passage / excerpt which consists of two verses to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were surprised / confused?

    Yes or No?

  • windy

    So, now that we’re clear on semantics, do we agree that Dawkins cites only one passage / excerpt which consists of two verses to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were surprised / confused?

    Why do you insist putting “confused” in there? Dawkins didn’t claim it, we didn’t claim it. And if you have a problem with Dawkins using one passage, what is your opinion of Christians using Micah 5:2 (one verse out of context!) as an example of a fulfilled prophecy?

    In fact there is another very similar occasion in John (1:45-46) where two soon-to-be disciples discuss Jesus:

    45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
    46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

    Perhaps after N started following Jesus, his surprise abated. But what do you think explains these comments in John -
    a) Jesus was not born in Bethlehem of Judea
    b) the disciples didn’t know where Jesus was born
    c) the author of the gospel didn’t know where Jesus was born
    d) he knew but was not interested in writing it down, instead preferring to record some random gossip?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    For me, the bottom line for point #1 is that Dawkins cites a single passage out-of-context to justify his assertion that Jesus’ followers were surprised, because Jesus was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2.

    Until you can actually understand Dawkins’ argument, I don’t know what we can do to progress. I’ve explained it to you multiple times, yet you persist in your strawman version.

    So, now that we’re clear on semantics, do we agree that Dawkins cites only one passage / excerpt which consists of two verses to support his argument that Jesus’ followers were surprised / confused?

    Your insistence on taking Dawkins out of context (what is the full sentence where he talks about John, BTW? I know it, do you?) is really annoying and no better than what you are accusing Dawkins of. Before you try to remove the mote from Dawkins’ eyes, you might want to remove the log from your own.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    I will get to your response; I couldn’t get to your last one and I apologize..

    OMGF,

    Because I used ‘confused’ in passing, instead of ‘surprised,’ you say I show,

    “..insistence on taking Dawkins out of context..”

    Even though Dawkins’ error remains whichever word we use. Then you ask,

    “..what is the full sentence where (Dawkins) talks about John, BTW? I know it, do you?”

    Of course I know it! How could I not know the full sentence in question when I have quoted it verbatim three times now? Honestly. I’m not trying to patronize you. Did you just miss all three comments where I cited it? Here it is again:

    “In light of this prophecy, John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem..” -Dawkins, TGD p.93

    That makes four times now, and whether the people where confused or surprised has no bearing on the fact that Dawkins attributes the words to the wrong group of people to support his argument.

    Yes or No?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    I’ve already apologized / conceded ad nauseum for substituting Dawkins’ original ‘surprised’ with my own ‘confused.’ The two are very similar, and my original paraphrasing of Dawkins’ argument on p. 93 was from memory. I have since stated the verbatim passage four times now, and either way, my argument that Dawkins attributes the words to the wrong people stands.

    Would you agree or disagree?

    And when you ask me,

    “..what do you think explains these comments in John?” (ital. mine)

    In particular, when you say these comments – which comments are you referring to? The ones Dawkins originally cites? (v 7:41,42)

    Or the new ones you recently brought into the discussion? (v 1:45,46)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    Even though Dawkins’ error remains whichever word we use.

    No it doesn’t. You’re even quote mining Dawkins to gain the result you want, which is why I asked you about the whole sentence. Have you found it yet?

    Of course I know it! How could I not know the full sentence in question when I have quoted it verbatim three times now?

    And you continually skip over the first part of the sentence which gives insight into what he is saying.

    …whether the people where confused or surprised has no bearing on the fact that Dawkins attributes the words to the wrong group of people to support his argument.

    Whoever said it doesn’t matter to his argument, and that’s what you simply refuse to understand! John’s gospel indicates that Jesus was born in Galilee, not in Bethlehem! If you can’t understand that point, what makes you think you are competent to judge the rest of his work? Again, seeing as how you have serious errors and have taken Dawkins out of context many times, why should we consider any of your arguments? We wouldn’t if we were to take your argument seriously that we shouldn’t. You still have not answered this objection to you, meaning that I have even less reason to take you seriously.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    …my argument that Dawkins attributes the words to the wrong people stands.

    Not so fast. By the time that the passage occurs, Jesus has been at the feast and won over many converts. They are no longer a random set of people that doesn’t know who Jesus is as you asserted, they are a group of people he is ministering to. The passage indicates that it could have been skeptics or it could have been confused converts remembering their OT and how the savior is supposed to come from Bethlehem. In short, it may have been his followers that were wondering aloud, or it may have been others trying to discredit him. Either way, we have to rely on an interpretation of the works. Personally, I think that the work leans more towards it being a set of discreditors, but it could be the other way.

    Either way, it does nothing to counter the fact that John does not dispute that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, meaning that Dawkins is right that the gospels do not agree on the birthplace of Jesus. You don’t seem to be able to see the forest for the trees.

  • windy

    I have since stated the verbatim passage four times now, and either way, my argument that Dawkins attributes the words to the wrong people stands.
    Would you agree or disagree?

    I think that Dawkins could have chosen his word here better, yes. So let’s put it down to ‘sloppy’. But I don’t think it destroys Dawkins’ argument about the gospel of John. So let’s say that Jesus’ listeners, rather than actual followers, asked why he wasn’t from Bethlehem.

    In particular, when you say these comments – which comments are you referring to? The ones Dawkins originally cites? (v 7:41,42)

    Or the new ones you recently brought into the discussion? (v 1:45,46)

    Both.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    I’m replying only to your 6:15 pm comment here.

    You say that I,

    “..continually skip over the first part of the sentence which gives insight into what (Dawkins) is saying.” (paren. mine)

    I’ll wait until I have the text in front of me again to respond to this, but I do recall Dawkins only writing a single sentence regarding the gospel of John, and I do recall quoting it in its entirety, but we’ll see.

    As for you saying,

    “..John’s gospel indicates that Jesus was born in Galilee.”

    Are you sure? John’s gospel indicates only that random people in a crowd at a ceremonial Jewish event asked amongst themselves whether the man before them was the Christ. Verse 41 reads,

    “Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?’”

    Are you arguing that “come from Galilee” means “born in Galilee?”

    Or do you think “come from Galilee” more likely referred to the fact that Jesus came to the Feast of Tabernacles from Galilee, where John asserts in verse 1 that Jesus lived at the time?

    John makes absolutely no authoritative statements about Jesus’ birthplace. If you disagree, show me where the gospel of John “..indicates that Jesus was born in Galilee” as you contend.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    you said,

    “I think that Dawkins could have chosen his word here better, yes. So let’s put it down to ‘sloppy’.”

    Thank you, and I mean that sincerely. A concession of sloppy scholarship is all I was asking for from anybody regarding this issue in the first place.

    Next you say,

    “But I don’t think it destroys Dawkins’ argument about the gospel of John.”

    Well, I don’t want to argue against what I think you think Dawkins’ argument about the gospel of John is, but if you could either please state Dawkins’ actual argument from the text or provide an acceptable paraphrase, I’ll be happy to comment about it.

  • windy

    Or do you think “come from Galilee” more likely referred to the fact that Jesus came to the Feast of Tabernacles from Galilee, where John asserts in verse 1 that Jesus lived at the time?

    Why would the people at the feast argue about the scriptural implications of Jesus’ then-current ‘zipcode’? Do you think the next verse is simply about where Jesus lived at the time?

    Verse 42 says: “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

    Well, I don’t want to argue against what I think you think Dawkins’ argument about the gospel of John is, but if you could either please state Dawkins’ actual argument from the text or provide an acceptable paraphrase, I’ll be happy to comment about it.

    I think, and I assume this was Dawkins’ point too, that John at least implies that Jesus was from Galilee/Nazareth, and does not offer any support to the theory that he was born in Bethlehem. Dawkins said that this bit of prophecy was ‘handled’ very differently by the gospel authors. You’re right that John doesn’t outright say where Jesus was born, but as I asked above, why do you think that is?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    I’m still not quite sure where we disagree, or if we even do yet..

    Here’s John 7: 41 & 42,

    “Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?’ Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

    As a quick aside, and this is more for OMGF, but we can now notice with certainty that nowhere in John 7: 41, 42 is there any mention of anybody being surprised, first of all, which makes my overall argument against Dawkins even stronger and makes my substitution of ‘confused’ even less trivial.

    We see that Dawkins not only incorrectly cited words spoken in the crowd as those of Jesus’ followers, and then alleged they were ‘surprised’ when the verse lists no word even remotely construable as ‘surprised.’ In my opinion that REALLY takes the rug out from under his whole argument. He got the speakers wrong, and added details that were not in the original text. But we’ve already agreed that it was sloppy and I’m not trying to beat a dead horse to you. So..

    It’s clear there was debate and discussion in the crowd over whether Jesus was the one to fulfill Micah 5:2. We both agree on that, right? I feel pretty safe saying so.

    So the words in John 7: 41 & 42 reflect this debate and discussion in the crowd.

    So when you say,

    “I think, and I assume this was Dawkins’ point too, that John at least implies that Jesus was from Galilee/Nazareth, and does not offer any support to the theory that he was born in Bethlehem.”

    I agree fully with the second half of that statement. You, myself and Dawkins are all in agreement on that point.

    And I loosely agree with the first part. Jesus was from Nazareth and Galilee. But this in no way excludes the possibility that he was born in Bethlehem, and John’s mentioning of people having a discussion does not imply anything other than that people had a discussion in which they asked amongst themselves if indeed this could be the messiah. At some point, they probably figured out that Jesus had come from Galilee that day, and lived there at the time. And the scripture doesn’t say the messiah would come from Galilee but Bethlehem. So the crowd’s investigative discussion is warranted, but cannot be used to argue as Dawkins does that “John’s gospel specifically remarks that (Jesus’) followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem..” -Dawkins, TGD p.93, (paren. mine) Incidentally, the crowd’s words cannot be used to substantiate an argument that John’s gospel says Jesus was ‘born in Galilee,’ as OMGF contends.

    I was born in city X, but I’m actually ‘from’ city Y or even multiple cities. This is not uncommon. We used to be a nomadic species.

    So where are we now? Does any of this jibe at all?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    cl:

    There is no mention in Luke 2:1-5 of any requirements for residents of Judea to cross Roman lines and return to their distant ancestors birthplaces…

    Wrong. Verse 4:

    And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.

    And then verse 15:

    And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.

    If Joseph and Mary lived anywhere, it was Nazareth. Christian theology has always agreed about that. The only reason they traveled to Bethlehem, according to Luke, was that David was born there and Joseph was a descendant of David.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    There’s a lot in your last two comments I take issue with, but if you’re still at all interested, I just caught this, and figured I can focus on where we (kind of) agree.

    You said,

    “Personally, I think that the work leans more towards it being a set of discreditors..”

    I agree to an extent. I think ‘the work’ (taken to mean the gospel of John) makes no statement about where Jesus was born as you’ve alleged, and just for the record I never alleged that it did; but I do think some of the crowdspeople John cites in 7:41 and 42 were doubting or discrediting of Jesus as the messiah, and that John simply intended to record this fact.

    John simply records their words, records that some people in the crowd believed, others not; some people in the crowd noted that Jesus was ‘from Galilee.’ That’s not much to go on, and I don’t think we have the liberty of saying the crowds’ words are indicative of the gospel’s of John’s point of view.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Hello Ebon,

    So first you told me that Luke,

    “..asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to the birthplace of their ancestors,”

    when v. 2:3 actually reads,

    “..and everyone went to his own town to register,”

    and has a complete lack of reference about any requirements. Later Luke mentions that Joseph also went up to Bethlehem.

    Here is Luke 2: 1-4 in full context:

    “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David.”

    No requirement mentioned anywhere. The verses say nothing more than, “Everyone went to his own town,” and that “Joseph also went up to Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Did you italicize ‘because he was of the house and lineage of David’ because you think those words support the argument that there was a requirement for Jews to leave Roman lines? Is that your inference? Some other scholars’ maybe? I don’t see it in the text as quoted.

    So just where in Luke does it mention any requirement to travel to their ancestor’s birthplaces? I still maintain that it does not. The verses simply say Joseph also went back to Bethlehem because that’s where he was from.

    Roman rule permitted Jews to travel to the place of their ancestry to appease religio-political tension at the time. That, to actually (kind of) bring our discussion full circle, is what I meant by my original “Jewish custom” comment a day or two ago that everyone challenged and I never got to comment on. Some more nationalist Jews really resented Rome you know, and had both the custom and desire of being counted tribally.

    As for these comments,

    “If Joseph and Mary lived anywhere, it was Nazareth. Christian theology has always agreed about that. The only reason they traveled to Bethlehem, according to Luke, was that David was born there and Joseph was a descendant of David.”

    I agree fully to each as stated.

  • windy

    We see that Dawkins not only incorrectly cited words spoken in the crowd as those of Jesus’ followers, and then alleged they were ‘surprised’ when the verse lists no word even remotely construable as ‘surprised.’ In my opinion that REALLY takes the rug out from under his whole argument. He got the speakers wrong, and added details that were not in the original text. But we’ve already agreed that it was sloppy and I’m not trying to beat a dead horse to you.

    Of course they can be construed as being “surprised” since they are querying how a prophet could come from Galilee! And don’t read too much into it when I say Dawkins can be sloppy- you have been much sloppier in your arguments here. So would you agree that some sloppiness does not discredit a person’s whole argument?

    It’s clear there was debate and discussion in the crowd over whether Jesus was the one to fulfill Micah 5:2. We both agree on that, right? I feel pretty safe saying so.

    Yes, so do you think the prophecy referred to someone who would be born in Bethlehem?

    PS. What are these “Roman lines” you speak of?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    you say I,

    “..have been much sloppier in (my) arguments here.”

    Far as I remember, all I’ve botched so far was that I said Dawkins’ implied Jesus’ followers were confused instead of surprised, and at one point I mistakenly said Dawkins’ implied it was Jesus’ disciples when in actuality Dawkins said followers. I corrected myself on both.

    Will you seriously say this is sloppier than,

    1) Quoting out-of-context and not citing sources;

    2) Attributing words to the wrong speakers

    3) Undeniably quote-mining John Adams so bad even OMGF agreed?

    Now I typed a few rushed replies without TGD in front of me, sure.. but soon as I had the text in front of me we all got on the same page right?

    I disagree that I’ve been sloppier than Dawkins. And if you don’t mind, would you please show me what else I’ve stated that you feel to be factually incorrect?

    Do I think Micah 5:2 refers to someone who would be born in Bethlehem? Sure, that’s a reasonable assumption.

    ‘Roman lines’ meaning during the census many Jews left the Roman-controlled territories they lived in as Luke says of Joseph, who also went up to Bethlehem.

    If I am honestly speaking gibberish I will recant every point I’ve made and crawl out of here with my tail between my legs; just lead the way.

  • Mathew Wilder

    I’m not going to jump into this already lengthy debate. I just wanted to say two things:

    (1) I also recommend Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus

    (2) I think balrogs should have wings – even if they don’t, or if the fact of the matter is indeterminable (as Ebon rightly, I think, points out that it is). What I mean is, if Tolkien didn’t in his mind consider balrogs to have wings, I think he ought to have.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    I’ll wait until I have the text in front of me again to respond to this, but I do recall Dawkins only writing a single sentence regarding the gospel of John, and I do recall quoting it in its entirety, but we’ll see.

    You quote it but you don’t use the whole thing.

    Are you sure? John’s gospel indicates only that random people in a crowd at a ceremonial Jewish event asked amongst themselves whether the man before them was the Christ.

    Yes. The context is pretty clear. Why would the crowd say, “This can’t be Jesus since this guy lives in Galilee but he was supposed to be born in Bethlehem?” Like you said, for a nomadic people, where one lived at a given time wouldn’t have necessarily indicated where they were born. Thus, it would not make sense to use your interpretation of what is being said. They would have been referring to where he was born, not where he currently lived.

    Are you arguing that “come from Galilee” means “born in Galilee?”

    In this instance, yes, as is indicated by the context of the verse. They are speaking of the prophecy, which is the first part of the sentence that you continually ignore from Dawkins. Dawkins specifically states this and it makes more sense than what you are putting forth. Seems to me that he understands this verse better than you.

    John makes absolutely no authoritative statements about Jesus’ birthplace.

    That’s correct, but he also does nothing to correct the supposed mistake (assuming Jesus was born in Bethlehem). There’s a guideline that people use when doing textual criticism that goes something like this: if there’s something in the text that is embarrassing to the religion, it was probably left in there because it is accurate and was undeniable. In this case, it would have been embarrassing for the savior to not come from Bethlehem as the prophecy was thought to indicate.

    As a quick aside, and this is more for OMGF, but we can now notice with certainty that nowhere in John 7: 41, 42 is there any mention of anybody being surprised…

    That depends on your interpretation of who said the verse in question. If it really was people who were on the fence or had recently been won over by Jesus, they would be surprised that Jesus didn’t come from Bethlehem. If it were detractors, they could also be surprised that the obvious fraud would try and sell them snake oil and not even get his back-story correct.

    In my opinion that REALLY takes the rug out from under his whole argument.

    Once again, forest for the trees. Why will you not read what I wrote about what Dawkins’ argument is? His overall argument has nothing to do with whether it was supporters or detractors or antelopes.

    It’s clear there was debate and discussion in the crowd over whether Jesus was the one to fulfill Micah 5:2.

    If there was debate, it was completely one-sided as no one stated Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Once again we find you reading into the text things that aren’t there in a bid to support your argument, while you simultaneously want to crucify Dawkins for allegedly doing the same thing. Why the double standard?

    Far as I remember, all I’ve botched so far was that I said Dawkins’ implied Jesus’ followers were confused instead of surprised, and at one point I mistakenly said Dawkins’ implied it was Jesus’ disciples when in actuality Dawkins said followers. I corrected myself on both.

    You’ve also botched the Qumrum discussion, the page numbers multiple times, not understanding Dawkins’ argument, not understanding the scripture, leaving out parts of sentences that hurt your argument, and being contradictory in your discussion with Ebon over whether Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because that was his own town or whether Nazareth was his own town (and I’m sure I’m missing something). All in all, you’re not doing very well here. So, once again (and you keep ignoring this which is also poor form) why shouldn’t we apply your argument towards Dawkins to you?

    1) Quoting out-of-context and not citing sources;

    This is a charge (the first part of it) that you have yet to back up. You keep asserting that, but you can only make it stick when you insist on your unproven interpretation and when you take Dawkins out of context. As for not citing sources, is it really that important to state the specific verse in every argument or whatever? I don’t see this as a strong argument on your part. It’s a style question, not a question of accuracy.

    2) Attributing words to the wrong speakers

    Only if your interpretation is correct, which you have not shown is the case.

    3) Undeniably quote-mining John Adams so bad even OMGF agreed?

    Let’s get something straight, he didn’t quote-mine, he used someone else’s quote-mine. I think we can agree that he didn’t intentionally misuse Adams there, especially because he didn’t have to. Adams has many other quotes that would have worked just as well.

    Now I typed a few rushed replies without TGD in front of me, sure.. but soon as I had the text in front of me we all got on the same page right?

    IOW, “Yes, I engaged in sloppy scholarship, but you can’t hold it against me like I do to Dawkins’ alleged sloppy scholarship.”

    I disagree that I’ve been sloppier than Dawkins.

    Of course you don’t. It’s easy to sweep your own problems under the rug as you did above, conveniently forgetting that you’ve made many other mistakes, and conveniently speaking as if everything you’ve tried to show and failed at was somehow shown.

    If I am honestly speaking gibberish I will recant every point I’ve made and crawl out of here with my tail between my legs…

    I doubt that will happen, considering that you’ve been wrong on quite a few points already and continue to soldier on and simply ignore those issues.

  • windy

    Now I typed a few rushed replies without TGD in front of me, sure.. but soon as I had the text in front of me we all got on the same page right?

    I think that we can’t hold you to as strict a standard as Dawkins since writing a book is different from writing a few blog comments, but even by the latter standard I think you have been unusually unclear at times.

    PS. The Adams quote in question is not in my paperback edition, so it looks like Dawkins corrected his mistake there.

    I disagree that I’ve been sloppier than Dawkins. And if you don’t mind, would you please show me what else I’ve stated that you feel to be factually incorrect?

    The Dead sea scrolls thing for one, but let’s not rehash that argument again… For another example, see below the argument about the “Jewish custom” of leaving “Roman lines”.

    Do I think Micah 5:2 refers to someone who would be born in Bethlehem? Sure, that’s a reasonable assumption.

    Do you really not see the double standard here? It’s all right to infer that from Micah 5:2, but when people discuss this same prophecy in John, it’s not all right to infer that they are talking about where Jesus was born? (And then there’s the additional problem of taking this verse as a prophecy of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, when it’s questionable whether it’s referring to a town at all. Do you have a problem with taking one verse out of context and using it as prophecy?)

    ‘Roman lines’ meaning during the census many Jews left the Roman-controlled territories they lived in as Luke says of Joseph, who also went up to Bethlehem.

    This, I fear, is another example of a double standard. Apparently it’s not allowed to infer anything beyond a strict literal reading of the text if you’re arguing against the Bible. But it’s all right to concoct this weird argument about Joseph’s motives for going to Bethlehem although there is no trace of evidence in the text!

    To quote your previous statement, feel free to offer evidence for it, but as far as I know these arguments are either unsupported or factually incorrect:

    Roman rule permitted Jews to travel to the place of their ancestry to appease religio-political tension at the time. That, to actually (kind of) bring our discussion full circle, is what I meant by my original “Jewish custom” comment a day or two ago that everyone challenged and I never got to comment on. Some more nationalist Jews really resented Rome you know, and had both the custom and desire of being counted tribally.

    It would not have made any sense to leave Roman-controlled territories to participate in a Roman census! Some Jews may have rebelled and refused to participate, but the Bible explicitly says that Joseph and Mary went in order to participate in the census. AFAIK, Judea was Roman-controlled at the time, so that’s another factual error.

    And there’s still the glaring problem of this census being too late to begin with, so I’m not sure what this argument would accomplish even if it there were evidence for it.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    I can’t possibly tackle all 14 points of your last comment simultaneously, which is why I’ve asked that you and I stick to one issue at a time until we can either prove one another incorrect with a simple “Yes” or “No,” or until we reach common ground on that issue, then proceed. We can count score later.

    For now, I will tackle your first point that I am certain you are wrong on. I am absolutely correct that Dawkins only devotes one sentence to his discussion of John on p.93, and that I quoted it from its beginning. On October 7, 2008, 6:15 pm, you said I,

    “..continually skip over the first part of the sentence which gives insight into what he is saying.”

    I said I would wait until I had TGD in front of me again before I responded, and now I do. In his The Argument From Scripture, the only sentence Dawkins devotes to his discussion of John begins, “In light of this prophecy..” (p.93)

    Now, you allege that I “skip over the first part of the sentence,” but, if I might politely remind you of an ad hominem insult you put to me earlier, notice the capital ‘I’ which typically denotes the beginning of a sentence, and what I could snarkily say this says about your reading comprehension.

    You alleged I left important first parts of that sentence out, yet no language from Dawkins about John precedes “In the light of this prophecy..” This is the point from which I continually quoted it, and clearly, there are no “first parts of the sentence” as you allege.

    Although certain things can alter the degree, you are undeniably incorrect on this point, and have made a false allegation against me. No biggie, that’s how debates go, but there’s no point in any debate if those involved aren’t amenable to correction, right?

    I’ve admitted I was wrong on some rushed word choices. Please, just admit this mistake of yours to show me you’re human, and I’ll be glad to carry on.

    If you cannot, you suggest you are not amenable to correction, when you are clearly wrong on this point.

    So were you wrong – Yes or No?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Ebonmuse,

    I’ll admit and eat my own errors for breakfast all day long. I can only hope people here will do the same. I would rather go slow with somebody point by point and learn something than ‘get embroiled’ in these long, drawn-out responses. I am falling prey to rushing, and although a printed book from a distinguished scholar should certainly have a higher standard than an undergraduate commenting on a blog post with three others, folks here are right – it does compromise the validity of my scholarship. Before I leave I’ll post my list of oversights I think I’ve made, and see if anyone has anything to add to it. I will also post a list of the points I feel I stand vindicated on.

    At any rate, I would like to address your points about Luke. If you don’t mind and have a second, you made a two-fold truth claim to me on October 7, 2008, 12:25 am that followed with a question. You said,

    “Luke asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces. What on earth would be the point of such an outlandish custom?” (ital. & emph. mine)

    First off, to be clear, I never said Luke stated the census required people to return to their own home, in case you thought that.

    Second, what you say Luke says is clearly not what Luke says. The text permits only that each went to “..his own town to register,” and that, “..Joseph also went up” to Bethlehem. No mention of a requirement. Was that your inference? Again, here’s your version:

    “Luke asserts that the census required residents of Judea to return, not to their own home, but to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces.”

    Luke asserts only that each went to his own town to register, and that Joseph also went up to Bethlehem “because he was of the house and lineage of David,” not “because he was of the house and lineage of David, and that was the requirement, if that’s what you mean to imply.”

    Incidentally, your inclusion of the conjunctive ‘but’ is interesting; it phrases the proposition as if the two options were mutually exclusive, i.e. they went “not to their own (town),” but “to their distant ancestors’ birthplaces.” Seeing as how the original text uses ‘also,’ is it not possible Joseph was counted in the enrollment, in his own town, then also proceeded up to Bethlehem, for some reason specified only as “..because he was of the house and lineage of David?”

    Now, that I am arguing no assertion in Luke about a requirement does not mean I am arguing no assertion in Luke about Joseph returning to his ancestral grounds, and in fact Luke says he did (2:4,15). Note that these enrollments were not for taxation purposes, nor property; they were simply numberings of the people by household. That many would return home takes due recognition of the strong Jewish national prejudice at that time. Further, I do not imply that the census lists were prepared by tribe or family, as this was not the Roman custom. Herod had to manage a people full of stubborn pride and inherent suspicions, and the opinion that he would afford them the privilege of indulging them so long as it kept things in order is reasonable. This is the basis for my original comment on the matter, which you, OMGF and I believe one other commenter took me to task for.

    So..

    Do you still maintain Luke asserts a requirement?

    If so, are you saying “his own town” actually meant “town of birth?”

    Or are you saying the word ‘because’ implies a requirement?

    All of those seem inconclusive, and I ask you to clarify your support for your argument that Luke asserts Jewish trips to their ancestoral grounds were a requirement.

    If I’ve misunderstood your argument please advise.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy,

    I understand your latest comment to take me to task on the following two issues:

    1) My original comments about Qumran, and

    2) The whole “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” comment

    I’m pretty against the wall after just getting to OMGF and Ebonmuse back to back, but in fact, my last response to Ebon might clarify some of your confusion over my “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” remark. Would it be fair for me to ask that, instead of me responding right off to you, can you maybe check my comment to Ebonmuse dated October 8, 2008, 3:51 pm, and throw me some additional questions about any remaining issues of uncertainty regarding my “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” comments?

    As for Qumran, mikespeir took me to task on that comment, and I have not yet been able to reply to it. So, do you think it is actually fair to say I’m wrong on Qumran yet when I’ve not had a chance to either A) relate it to my argument against Dawkins, or B) address mikespeir’s concerns?

  • windy

    I’m pretty against the wall after just getting to OMGF and Ebonmuse back to back, but in fact, my last response to Ebon might clarify some of your confusion over my “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” remark. Would it be fair for me to ask that, instead of me responding right off to you, can you maybe check my comment to Ebonmuse dated October 8, 2008, 3:51 pm, and throw me some additional questions about any remaining issues of uncertainty regarding my “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” comments?

    OK, don’t sweat it, I don’t have time for a very detailed argument either so I’ll just comment on the Joseph part:

    Seeing as how the original text uses ‘also,’ is it not possible Joseph was counted in the enrollment, in his own town, then also proceeded up to Bethlehem, for some reason specified only as “..because he was of the house and lineage of David?”

    Sorry, it doesn’t work at all. The next verse explains why they went to Bethlehem:
    4:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

    And you haven’t explained why it’s all right for you to infer things about “crossing Roman lines” and so forth that certainly aren’t in the text.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    cl,

    Now, you allege that I “skip over the first part of the sentence,” but, if I might politely remind you of an ad hominem insult you put to me earlier, notice the capital ‘I’ which typically denotes the beginning of a sentence, and what I could snarkily say this says about your reading comprehension.

    And your reading comprehension still sucks. Simply quoting what he said is not what I’m talking about, but actually reading that part of the sentence instead of ignoring it (which I believe I already stated, but you’ve also ignored!) This is a point that you’ve struggled with, trying to assert that the people were simply talking about where Jesus walked from or lived instead of where he was born. Dawkins’ full sentence shows that he understands the context of the statement better than you.

    Although certain things can alter the degree, you are undeniably incorrect on this point, and have made a false allegation against me. No biggie, that’s how debates go, but there’s no point in any debate if those involved aren’t amenable to correction, right?

    I’m only undeniably incorrect based on your straw man. It’s not my fault that you can’t understand the arguments being put forth when they are put forth in clear language. That you skipped over that part of the sentence to harp on the second clause is what I was contesting, which I explained.

  • Mathew Wilder

    It seems to me that any interpretations of the texts in the Bible ought to refer to the closest things we have to originals; in other words, interpretation ought to be about Greek. I don’t think any of the discussion about what Luke means has any validity, since I don’t think anyone here is a koine Greek reader, and there might be some nuances of language that we’re missing. Or we might be using different English translations. Or different ones than Dawkins used.

  • windy

    I don’t think any of the discussion about what Luke means has any validity, since I don’t think anyone here is a koine Greek reader, and there might be some nuances of language that we’re missing.

    I was going to comment on that when cl was talking about the word “also”, at the very least it’s dodgy to base anything on a specific word. But do you really think that I can’t point out that Luke 4:5 is completely inconsistent with cl’s “taxation first, then Bethlehem” theory without knowing Koine Greek?

    (Unless the Bible is actually in Phrase-embedded Three or similar weird code)

    Or different ones than Dawkins used.

    Dawkins uses the King James Authorized English version ;)

  • Mathew Wilder

    @ windy: Yeah, I was too strong in saying that any interpretation is meaningless; I think you’re right about ‘also’, though.

    From the NIV translation:

    1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

    4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

    Let me comment a bit here.

    1.) We have an order for a census.

    2.) We are told when the census took place (and it appears there was at least one other census during Quirinius’ governorship.)

    3.) I would interpret “to his own town” to mean “to the town of his birth” or “to the town of his ancestors” because if it meant only “to the town where he lived” hardly anyone would have to go anywhere. Certainly, Joseph wouldn’t have had to go to Bethlehem. (Since Joseph lived in Nazareth after Jesus’ birth, and he had come from there to Bethlehem, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Nazareth was the town Joseph lived in when the census was called. Now, I’m not certain this is right, but it makes sense to me. If only I had my Collegeville Bible Commentary with me!) It also seems obvious to me that it was part of the census order to go to one’s place of birth or to the town of one’s ancestors’ to register, since “everyone” did so.

    4.)As a result of everyone having to go to his place of birth, Joseph went to Bethlehem, where either he was born, or where his ancestors had lived.

    Does anything above seem disagreeable to anyone? I don’t think the other two translations below undermine my reading of the text. If you think it does, please tell me why.

    For reference:

    -from the NAB:

    1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

    2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

    3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

    4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,

    5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

    -from the NRSV (which is FYI according to my theology professors at St. John’s University is the most scholarly English translation. I didn’t use this originally because the NIV is what came up from Google first. I’m lazy – sue me.):

    1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF,

    “That you skipped over that part of the sentence to harp on the second clause is what I was contesting, which I explained.”

    Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification. Almost conscionable, except for its untruth. Your argument actually progressed from saying I was,

    “..quote mining Dawkins to gain the result (I) want..” October 7 6:15 pm

    when in reality I never did, to saying I,

    “..can’t understand the arguments being put forth when they are put forth in clear language.. Simply quoting what he said is not what I’m talking about, but actually reading that part of the sentence instead of ignoring it..” October 8, 2008, 6:31 pm

    First you allege I quote mine by failing to cite Dawkins in full, then I prove you wrong, and now you claim that I actually just don’t understand it? You haven’t demonstrated I misunderstand Dawkins – because I don’t. I disagree with the man, and I know the friggen’ difference.

    Contrary to your protestations, I’ve understood and quoted the man in context and entirety since comment #1, just like I said.

    Move the goalpost all you want, but if you expect me to buy this load of chutzpah you’re gonna have to include some actual evidence (in the form of my own words indicating the misunderstanding) for your assertion that I don’t or didn’t understand Dawkins passage.

    Oh yeah, one last thing -

    “And your reading comprehension still sucks..”

    Ha-ha, very funny, poke insults at the theist.. expected in the sandbox maybe, but from an intellectual ‘adult?’

  • windy

    It also seems obvious to me that it was part of the census order to go to one’s place of birth or to the town of one’s ancestors’ to register, since “everyone” did so. … Does anything above seem disagreeable to anyone?

    It makes sense in the context of this particular verse. It makes no sense in the context of what is known about the census from history.

    It also does not fit with something Luke says later:
    Luke 2:39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

    Now “their own city” is listed as Nazareth. So Luke does not seem self-consistent. If everyone was required to go to “his own city”, and Joseph went to B-hem, why is “his own city” later named as Nazareth?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy / Mathew Wilder,

    To be clear, I threw out the hypothetical scenario of Joseph and Mary first getting counted then going up to Bethlehem only to show that the text itself makes no implication of a requirement. It was in a “for all we know they could have” type context. My argument was and is that Luke’s text does not support Ebonmuse’s contention that there was a requirement. I myself have no idea whether Joseph and Mary actually engaged in their census activities in their own towns, or in Bethlehem. When we come to verse 5, that Joseph went to ‘register’ could also possibly have to do with registry for their wedding. Other texts use ‘taxed,’ as windy pointed out.

    I pointed out ‘also’ only because Ebonmuse used ‘but’ and the two are different. ‘Also’ permits the idea that Joseph did more than one thing; hence, the hypothetical ‘maybe he enrolled in his town and then split to Bethlehem.”

    And windy, I apologize for any instances where I’m coming across as “unusually unclear.” I think we are on the right track though.

    Make any sense?

  • Mathew Wilder

    @ windy:

    1.) Luke very well could be self-inconsistent. But interpreting him charitably, let us say that “own city” refers to Nazareth. What possible reason could Joseph have had, then, to leave his “own city” and go to a different one? The problem is just replaced with a different one.

    2.) The article you link to says basically that there was no census, as Luke claims there was. If any census taking was done, it was done by traveling census-takers, not by making the people being counted moved. This seems to me a great problem; why bother trying to interpret a text that is flat out false? If there was no census, and Joseph didn’t go to Bethlehem, the entire point is moot.

    This gets us…well, I’m not entirely sure where it gets us. I’m not even sure, looking back over this long, LONG thread how the verses from Luke 2 came up, or how they’re relevant to Dawkin’s not understanding theology or the bible well enough, or any atheist understanding theology or the bible enough.

    I guess, I would argue, why should an atheist have to know about the ins-and-outs of biblical hermeneutics to criticize Christianity, when the text(s) being interpreted are false? It does seem like a cut-and-dried case of the Courtier’s Reply to say otherwise.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Mathew Wilder,

    Hi,

    I think the debate over Luke 2 came up because of my poorly-worded “Jewish custom” and “Roman lines” remarks that Ebonmuse took issue with. On my end, the disagreement began when Ebonmuse said that Luke’s verses asserted this “traveling census” was a requirement. Even if there was such a requirement, I disagree that its deduction is justified from language in Luke 2:1-5, then and now.

    And – it is hairsplitting – what windy, OMGF, Ebon and myself have been doing. Most of this mess is because of me. I came in here after Ebonmuse asked Rilstone for a few examples of Dawkins misrepresenting Christian “theology,” and I gave the first few I thought of. Although they’ve been picked to pieces, I think my overall points remain – about Dawkins quotemining John Adams to imply he was an atheist, about Dawkins attributing words of a crowd to Jesus’ followers, about Dawkins quoting people and books with full lack of sources, etc.

    My intention was to use a few examples to build an overall case that Dawkins rushed much of TGD, but it turned into trying to extinguish about 15 fires at once.

    Taken at their individual merit or as isolated arguments, you’re all correct – none of them impact, overthrow or even necessarily challenge Dawkins’ overall arguments, which Bertrand Russell argued much better IMO. (For example Dawkins posits, ‘Who made God?’ as an argument, but that’s like a creationist taunting, ‘Where’s the missing link?’)

    Believe me, I’m not one of those believers who asks much of Dawkins and I think he’s stated his case far stronger and more eloquently than your average theist who publishes. However, if it can be demonstrated that Dawkins fudges on several minor points, then the sum of these minor errors adds up and this speaks more clearly against TGD as a whole.

    A compelling argument with one or two weak points is still pretty strong; but a compelling argument with a dozen or more less so.

  • karatemack

    I’ve been trying to keep up, a daunting task, and I just have one question for myself and any other simpletons who read this later;

    Is the real question whether or not Jesus was born in Bethlehem?

    Is the real question whether or not people thought Jesus was born in Bethlehem or not?

    Or is the real problem that you feel John asserts that Jesus was born in Galilee and therefore could not fulfill the prophecy from Micah (5:2 I think or 2:5)?

    It seems like there’s all this talk about a census and whether or not Joseph and Mary had to go and where they were taxed and whatnot and I’m just wondering (as the layman trying to ‘keep score’) if it really is relevent?

  • windy

    When we come to verse 5, that Joseph went to ‘register’ could also possibly have to do with registry for their wedding.

    :D :D sorry, but now I can’t shake this image of Joseph registering for the wedding at Macy’s of Bethlehem…

    And windy, I apologize for any instances where I’m coming across as “unusually unclear.” I think we are on the right track though.

    Thanks, and I’ve appreciated the discussion despite the difficulties. But I’m not sure where this is going, since even if you can present a hypothetical back story that would make Luke consistent with the Roman census, that census is much too late to fit with the other claims in the bible about the birth of Jesus?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    @ karatemack,

    I believe we all got quite sidetracked into minutia, and I accept full responsibility for my part of that.

    To answer your question in short, I don’t think John’s inclusion of people discussing amongst themselves whether Jesus was the messiah or not gives anyone permission to say that John’s gospel supports the argument that Jesus was born in Galilee. Clearly, some of the people talking thought he was; others thought he wasn’t, and their remarks paraphrased are basically, “This ain’t the dood! The dood isn’t supposed to come from Galilee,” but it’s very reasonably that somebody would say that if they were under the impression. I think some of the people at the Feast Of Tabernacles knew Jesus was from Galilee, and assumed that was Jesus’ birthplace. This explains their (confused / surprised) remarks that the messiah was supposed to be from Bethlehem, not Galilee.

    And this, in itself, is not directly relevant to Dawkins’ overall arguments. My goal was to show how his series of lesser errors build a case that detracts from his overall work.

  • windy

    The article you link to says basically that there was no census, as Luke claims there was.

    No, the census of Quirinius was real, but Luke is making unsupported claims about it.

    I’m not even sure, looking back over this long, LONG thread how the verses from Luke 2 came up, or how they’re relevant to Dawkin’s not understanding theology or the bible well enough

    Well, originally cl said this: “[Dawkins] charges Luke with using the enrollment as a poetic device to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary’s decision to leave Roman lines for the census fits remarkably well with Jewish custom of that day.” We have been trying to figure this out for the rest of the thread :)

    I guess, I would argue, why should an atheist have to know about the ins-and-outs of biblical hermeneutics to criticize Christianity, when the text(s) being interpreted are false?

    I agree, but it seems that cl challenges even the claim that it is false.

  • Mathew Wilder

    @ windy:

    I should’ve worded that sentence differently. I meant, As Luke portrays it, there was no census. Or, in other words, Luke was flat wrong; whether ignorantly or willfully (who can say?), he was mistaken.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Edit: As Luke portrays it, there was no such census.

    Obviously Luke portrays a census. Just a false picture of a real one, or a made up one to fit his narrative needs.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    windy / Mathew,

    “Obviously Luke portrays a census. Just a false picture of a real one, or a made up one to fit his narrative needs.”

    Scholars on both sides of the debate write books about this, but just so I can see where each of you stand, what exactly is it you feel is so damning to Luke’s account of the census? The alleged 10-year discrepancy? The scope of the census? A combination of these and/or other pertinent facts??

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    First you allege I quote mine by failing to cite Dawkins in full, then I prove you wrong, and now you claim that I actually just don’t understand it?

    Man, if you can misinterpret me, you will. I’m beginning to think it’s being done on purpose.

    You quoted me saying that you quote mined Dawkins to get the result you want, not failing to cite in full. If you over-emphasize part of what he said in order to skew his meaning it’s still a quote mine. Then, you claim that I’m saying you don’t understand Dawkins’ argument, which is true, you don’t understand it (or at least you haven’t shown that you understand it) but you fail to recognize that I was talking about you not understanding my argument! Once again, it’s your inability to understand what others are saying that is the stumbling block.

    Contrary to your protestations, I’ve understood and quoted the man in context and entirety since comment #1, just like I said.

    No, you haven’t. You’ve entirely missed his argument, harping on inconsequentials such as who said what. The fact remains that whether it was Jesus’s supporters, his detractors, or Arthur Fonzarelli who noted that Jesus was born in Galilee and not Bethlehem, John doesn’t dispute it and it supports Dawkins’ assertion that there are inconsistencies in the place of Jesus’s birth. (Not to mention your assertion that somehow having 2 Bethlehems is pertinent to the argument, when in reality it doesn’t matter if there were 1, 2, or 10,000 Bethlehems!) That you can’t or won’t understand this means that you don’t have a grasp on the actual arguments at hand, preferring instead to wallow in inconsequential attempts at “gotchas.” And, now you are simply trying to gotcha me.

    Move the goalpost all you want, but if you expect me to buy this load of chutzpah you’re gonna have to include some actual evidence (in the form of my own words indicating the misunderstanding) for your assertion that I don’t or didn’t understand Dawkins passage.

    There’s no goalpost moving here, it’s simply what is and has been. And, I’ve been arguing for a while now that you don’t understand Dawkins. Maybe you do, but you haven’t shown it, as evidenced by your harping on the number of Bethlehems, your confusion over the words in Luke and the census, and your confusion over what he’s saying about John and why.

    To be clear, I threw out the hypothetical scenario of Joseph and Mary first getting counted then going up to Bethlehem only to show that the text itself makes no implication of a requirement. It was in a “for all we know they could have” type context. My argument was and is that Luke’s text does not support Ebonmuse’s contention that there was a requirement.

    Except that it does. “Also” in this sense does not mean that Joseph was counted and “also” went to Bethlehem. It means that everyone was required to “go to his own town” and Joseph “also” did this.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    cl,

    Clearly, some of the people talking thought he was [born in Bethlehem]; others thought he wasn’t, and their remarks paraphrased are basically, “This ain’t the dood! The dood isn’t supposed to come from Galilee,” but it’s very reasonably that somebody would say that if they were under the impression.

    [Emphasis mine]
    The part I bolded, unfortunately for you, is not supported by the text of John. No one claims that Jesus really was born in Bethlehem; Jesus doesn’t claim it, John doesn’t claim it, the people at the feast don’t claim it. You have no reason to suspect that people in John’s story thought Jesus came from Bethlehem. This is a case of you reading context into the story that simply isn’t there in a bid to buttress your argument. It is wholly unmerited, however.

  • karatemack

    I’m quoting the NASB version here as I consider it to be one of the most literal of the translations in modern English. I’m not sure what the problem with Luke is:

    “1Now in those days a decree went out from (A)Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of (B)all [a]the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while [b]Quirinius was governor of (C)Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because (D)he was of the house and family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.”

    1. I think it’s agreed upon that some sort of census was ordered. (v1)

    2. It seems clear that the census was the reason for Joseph and Mary’s trip. (v4,5)

    3. Because the were in Bethlehem for the census, Jesus was born there. (v6)

    Again, just to clarify so maybe I can follow along… is the dispute in Luke over whether or not Joseph HAD to go (by reason of a decree) to Bethlehem to register, or whether or not he CHOSE to go?

    The problem if he HAD to go, is the Jews were discontent with Rome and not always willing to ‘go with the flow’ of Roman rule. (ultimately leading to the destruction of Jerusalem after Jesus’ life) If Joseph hated Rome, and was ordered by Rome to take his pregnant wife on a ridiculous journey for the purpose of a census… I’m not sure he would have been so quick to oblige. (of course those were different times…)

    The problem if he DIDN’T have to go, is that the only reason for him going would be his Jewish pride. (according to the arguments set forth so far) To me that’s a pretty poor reason for taking a rough journey with your pregnant-and-soon-to-deliver wife. (it seems she had the baby soon after they arrived in Bethlehem)

    What I wonder though… is does it matter WHY Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem (in Luke’s account)? If so, why?

    Windy:
    “Now “their own city” is listed as Nazareth. So Luke does not seem self-consistent. If everyone was required to go to “his own city”, and Joseph went to B-hem, why is “his own city” later named as Nazareth?”

    The Bible seems to clarify this in v4, that the first ‘their own city’ refers to the city of their ancient heritage and since we know that the second ‘his own city’ refers to Galilee (and Galilee is where Joseph and Mary lived (see Luke ch. 1)) then it is (I think) safe to say the second their own city refers to where they currently lived. I’ll admit that this is confusing in the English, and I wonder (as others have pointed out) if there’s something we’re not missing here from the original language. (I don’t know there is.)

    As for the John debate. Looking in John 1, the author chooses to reveal Jesus in a much different way. Not beginning with his humble earthly existence, but rather by stating that Jesus existed before all creation. In John chapter 1 the author states that all things were made by Him and through Him, showing Jesus preeminence in all of creation.

    When we come to John chapter 7, it seems that Jesus legitimacy as a ‘prophet’ was called into question based upon his human birthplace. And I think it is very fair and correct to state that the author does NOT correct this. There is certainly a climax being presented in the text which I think is important.

    In John 1 the author presents Jesus as Lord over all Creation. In John 7 people don’t even think Jesus is qualified to be ‘the prophet’. In John 8 Jesus answers the question of WHO He is and WHERE He came from, but not in the way it was questioned in chapter 7. As the author of John’s purpose (as stated in chapter 1) was to reveal Jesus as Lord over all Creation, then isn’t it fitting that he answers the question of Jesus origin by revealing what Jesus Himself had to say about the subject. To me, it seems like the question of whether or not Jesus was a prophet or not was meant to call into question the words of Jesus, instead of simply revealing that Jesus was a prophet (therefore valid) the author chooses to reveal Jesus as the Son of God (making his Words all the more worthy of note). Perhaps some of you will disagree with my assessment, but it seems to me that the Book of John is a complete work, and we must look at the author’s intent for the Book to understand why he may have left some things out.

  • Mathew Wilder

    @cl:

    Scholars on both sides of the debate write books about this, but just so I can see where each of you stand, what exactly is it you feel is so damning to Luke’s account of the census? The alleged 10-year discrepancy? The scope of the census? A combination of these and/or other pertinent facts??

    I suggest reading the article windy linked to. And also this section of the Wikipedia article, also linked to above. Raymond Brown, E.P. Sanders, and Joseph Fitzmeyer, and John P. Meier, all excellently regarded scholars, agree that the Lucan account of the census is faulty. From my own studies in theology, I gather the general scholarly census is that Luke is incorrect, and that only certain Evangelicals, determined to save the historicity of the gospel accounts for doctrinal reasons, argue otherwise. I would cite other scholars as well, if I had my collection of theology and biblical studies books with me.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    karatemack,

    What I wonder though… is does it matter WHY Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem (in Luke’s account)? If so, why?

    Yes, for the simple reason that the why gives us insight into whether it actually happened, and it’s pretty obvious that the story is made up. Maybe someone named Jesus did exist and maybe that person was born in Bethlehem, but the story of Luke certainly doesn’t lend any evidence to that.

    In John 8 Jesus answers the question of WHO He is and WHERE He came from, but not in the way it was questioned in chapter 7.

    After the late-added story of the woman in adultery and casting the first stone, Jesus doesn’t really tackle the place of his birth. He claims, actually, that he was here before Abraham. What he’s claiming is that he is part of god, which either doesn’t say anything about his birthplace, or it says that he still does not fulfill the prophecy since he wasn’t “born” per se at all.

    Perhaps some of you will disagree with my assessment, but it seems to me that the Book of John is a complete work, and we must look at the author’s intent for the Book to understand why he may have left some things out.

    And it still doesn’t make sense, it still contradicts other gospels, etc.

  • http://beyond-school.org clay

    “The Courtier’s Reply” reminds me of my own use of Occam’s Razor against, er, Occam’s religion. (It was actually against a student in a Hebrew school arguing that “thousands of years of oral commentary” “complicated” the savagery of the Pentateuch in ways we lay people wouldn’t understand. To which it was so easy to reply, “Yeah, but Occam’s razor can cut those thousands of years of wrangling with one slice, because it’s clear that most of the book it’s based on is wrong, unfounded, or both.”)

    A horrible first comment, but I’m tired. Apologies.

    BTW, Ebon, I just discovered (and subscribed) to this site. I’d bookmarked dozens of posts of yours I found elsewhere a couple years ago. Nice to re-discover you and this site.

  • karatemack

    “Maybe someone named Jesus did exist and maybe that person was born in Bethlehem, but the story of Luke certainly doesn’t lend any evidence to that.”

    For my own research, where do the dates of the Roman Census and Herod’s death come from? (Which reliable historical resource is being referred to for the dates of 4 BC and 6 AD?)

    “After the late-added story of the woman in adultery and casting the first stone, Jesus doesn’t really tackle the place of his birth.”

    It is only theologically significant that this story would appear here. As there is a question of Jesus personhood, and then the answer. Right in the middle of this exchange the author includes a story which SHOWS Jesus’ relationship to sinners. Again, only significant theologically, and certainly not a story included in all the manuscripts.

    “What he’s claiming is that he is part of god, which either doesn’t say anything about his birthplace, or it says that he still does not fulfill the prophecy since he wasn’t “born” per se at all.”

    I think you’re absolutely right, but I don’t know that this implies that there was ‘no good answer’. What I meant to imply (and perhaps I argued for it horribly) is that the author meant to answer the larger question of who Jesus was and where He was from instead of answering the question posed by the crowd in John 7. IE: By occasion of a question of Jesus earthly heritage, the author instead takes advantage of the controvery to tell us of Jesus heavenly heritage.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack,

    For my own research, where do the dates of the Roman Census and Herod’s death come from? (Which reliable historical resource is being referred to for the dates of 4 BC and 6 AD?)

    I don’t remember off the top of my head; I’m sure that someone else here probably does know off the top of their head. I could dig up some sources, however, if no one else jumps in.

    It is only theologically significant that this story would appear here. As there is a question of Jesus personhood, and then the answer. Right in the middle of this exchange the author includes a story which SHOWS Jesus’ relationship to sinners. Again, only significant theologically, and certainly not a story included in all the manuscripts.

    Actually, it breaks up the flow of John. John certainly didn’t write the story of the adulterous woman, it was added later by someone else.

    I think you’re absolutely right, but I don’t know that this implies that there was ‘no good answer’.

    Except none is given. Like I said, maybe there was a Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and was an itinerant preacher, but we don’t have accurate records that display this, and the Bible certainly doesn’t lend itself to this.

    What I meant to imply (and perhaps I argued for it horribly) is that the author meant to answer the larger question of who Jesus was and where He was from instead of answering the question posed by the crowd in John 7. IE: By occasion of a question of Jesus earthly heritage, the author instead takes advantage of the controvery to tell us of Jesus heavenly heritage.

    And that may very well be the case, which makes it pretty stupid for the late addition of the adulterous woman story to have been inserted right there. Either way, if this is correct, John seems to be trying to diffuse the problems with Jesus not being born in Bethlehem by saying that he is god and therefore not subject to having a birthplace, ignoring the supposed prophecy.

  • karatemack

    “Either way, if this is correct, John seems to be trying to diffuse the problems with Jesus not being born in Bethlehem by saying that he is god and therefore not subject to having a birthplace, ignoring the supposed prophecy.”

    Again I might not be typing clearly. I don’t think John brought up the birthplace of Jesus as the central issue he was dealing with. In John 7:15 the Jewish leaders question Jesus on the grounds of His official schooling. In John 7:20 the crowd question Jesus’ sanity because of His teaching. In John 7:27 the crowd questions Jesus as the messiah as they believe no one will know where the messiah comes from. In John 7:32 Jesus was almost arrested as the crowd attributed Jesus’ miraculous acts as the overarching qualifier for Him as the messiah. In John 7:42 the crowd again is awed by Jesus’ words leaving some to believe he is the messiah, this is where His birthplace in Bethlehem is brought into question.

    As I see it Jesus is questioned because of: (1) His teaching (2)the fact His birthplace is known (some think it should be unknown) (3) His ‘miraculous signs’ as ‘proof’ of His being the messiah (4) because people assume since Jesus is from Galilee that He was born in Galilee (making the prophecy of the messiah coming from Bethlehem not applicable to Jesus)

    From this text we see that the crowd definately got it wrong at least once. Either the messiah’s birthplace should be known or it shouldn’t. I believe we also see that Jesus’ messiah-ship was in question on more grounds than JUST His birthplace. It seems that John gives what he felt was better proof of Jesus being the messiah than simply answering the question of where Jesus was born.

    If you see the point of John 7 being that of Jesus birthplace, then I guess you’ll disagree with my assessment wholeheartedly. However, and I’ve probably done a horrible job of trying to say this, I feel the point of John 7 is more of Jesus’ Lordship than anything else, His birthplace just being a small part of the perception in the crowd’s mind. Jesus often answered people’s questions not in the way they would have liked.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    karatemack,

    (4) because people assume since Jesus is from Galilee that He was born in Galilee (making the prophecy of the messiah coming from Bethlehem not applicable to Jesus)

    You’re making the same mistake that cl made – you’re reading things into the text that aren’t there. In order for this to be true, the crowd would be saying, “Jesus lives in Galilee but the messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem.” This makes no sense.

    From this text we see that the crowd definately got it wrong at least once.

    Got what wrong?

    It seems that John gives what he felt was better proof of Jesus being the messiah than simply answering the question of where Jesus was born.

    And he fails to answer the mail in that regard.

    If you see the point of John 7 being that of Jesus birthplace, then I guess you’ll disagree with my assessment wholeheartedly.

    No one is saying that point of John 7 is the birthplace of Jesus – it is a relatively small part of it.

    However, and I’ve probably done a horrible job of trying to say this, I feel the point of John 7 is more of Jesus’ Lordship than anything else, His birthplace just being a small part of the perception in the crowd’s mind.

    The point of John 7 is to relate a story of Jesus attending a feast. The crowd is referring to a well-known prophecy that Jesus will be born in Bethlehem. If that is not the case, and the prophecy is correctly understood, then John is invalidating the OT and calling the Bible into question. Plus, the other gospel writers surely believed the prophecy meant Bethlehem, else they would not have gone through such mental gymnastics to get Jesus to Bethlehem.

  • karatemack

    “In order for this to be true, the crowd would be saying, “Jesus lives in Galilee but the messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem.” This makes no sense.”

    Ok. So you’re saying the crowd said “Jesus was born in Galilee, the messiah should be born in Bethlehem, so Jesus can’t be the messiah”, right?

    And if that is what they are saying, then because John doesn’t throw in a “even though Jesus was really born in Bethlehem” to set the record straight, that we are to assume (from this passage) that John thought Jesus was born in Galilee?

    “Got what wrong?”

    At one point the crowd says the messiah should be born in Bethlehem. At another point the crowd says they won’t know where the messiah is from (this is actually posed first). It seems as though there is either a misconception about where the messiah where be from, or that the people who originally thought it could not be known went back and did some research (asked a rabbi or something) and found out the messiah should be born in Bethlehem.

    Also, I find it interesting that the crowd first claims we won’t know where the messiah will be from, John then gives the answer to that in Ch 8.

    Anyway, no one has yet tackled the question of where the evidence of 4 BC and 6 AD come from. I’m sure I could “find” information, but I’d like to examine the text offered as evidence in this discussion. (As if the dates do line up, then it seems that much of the criticism here would disappear)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    karatemack,

    And if that is what they are saying, then because John doesn’t throw in a “even though Jesus was really born in Bethlehem” to set the record straight, that we are to assume (from this passage) that John thought Jesus was born in Galilee?

    No, but I think it would be safe to say that John doesn’t have a good answer for it, especially in light of the non-answer given in chapter 8.

    At one point the crowd says the messiah should be born in Bethlehem. At another point the crowd says they won’t know where the messiah is from (this is actually posed first). It seems as though there is either a misconception about where the messiah where be from, or that the people who originally thought it could not be known went back and did some research (asked a rabbi or something) and found out the messiah should be born in Bethlehem.

    What’s your point?

    Also, I find it interesting that the crowd first claims we won’t know where the messiah will be from, John then gives the answer to that in Ch 8.

    Not really.

    Anyway, no one has yet tackled the question of where the evidence of 4 BC and 6 AD come from. I’m sure I could “find” information, but I’d like to examine the text offered as evidence in this discussion. (As if the dates do line up, then it seems that much of the criticism here would disappear)

    Probably because no one else is still reading.
    Josephus speaks of Archelaus coming to power after Herod’s death, which is dated to 4 BCE. After ten years of rule by Archelaus, and Cyrenius takes over. This would put the census at 6 CE (earliest).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X