Faith Meets TARDIS

I have shared on my blog more than once a challenge that I was given a while ago, or better, a thought experiment I was encouraged to carry out, namely, to ask myself “What would it take to make you lose your faith?”

For the purpose of this scenario, I was allowed to have a time and space machine, and so could go anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.

You can click through to read more about my thoughts back when I first reflected on the question. Suffice it to say that, if I went back to first century Palestine and saw Jesus kicking a puppy, that would change my beliefs. But what I discovered in exploring this thought experiment was that my faith is something that is not merely this or that religious belief. If my beliefs changed enough, I might stop calling my faith Christian. But a loss of faith for me would involve something rather different, namely the removal of the conviction that life is meaningful, that there is a purpose and significance to existence. And so the thought experiment was important to me, precisely as a way of getting to the point of recognizing that distinction.

I’ve taken to mentioning this thought experiment in my freshman seminar class “Faith, Doubt, and Reason” because it is a useful exercise in reflecting on those issues. And today, one of the students in my class responded to the thought experiment in a manner that I considered profound and insightful.

The students suggested that, in addition to having the possibility of traveling through time and space to first century Palestine to witness the life and activity of Jesus (his choice of destination), he would also want something else: the opportunity to forget the faith that he already has, which would expect Jesus to be impressive and believable. He would want the opportunity to find out whether, when confronted with Jesus as he really was, and himself having no prior commitment to him, he would respond positively and come to faith in him.

I thought that was insightful, and thus wanted to share it here on the blog. Of course, Doctor Who fans can guess what is coming. Using the Chameleon Arch featured in the Doctor Who episodes “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” or any number of other examples of sci-fi technology (think Total Recall), it would be possible to do just that (in the realm of fiction, of course).

Another student wondered whether she would have the faith that she currently does if she had been born in a different time and context. There too, with a time machine and cloning, we could arrange for another version of herself to grow up in a different setting and see what happens.

And so, as I mentioned in class, one reason why I love science fiction, and exploring the intersection of sci-fi, philosophy, and religion, is precisely because it allows us to explore these sorts of scenarios. Science fiction thought experiments are among the best ways of exploring really fundamental questions about things like our faith and what makes us human.

What science fiction technology would you use to explore your faith, and to reflect on what, if anything, might cause you to lose your faith, or change your beliefs, or come to faith? Where and when would you go, and how might what you saw there change things for you?

  • Beau Quilter

    Given a clone and a tardis, I don’t think one would have to travel far in space and time to make interesting observations about our faith. Just place infant clones of oneself with a Hindu family in India, a Buddhist family in Thailand, and a Muslim family in Iran. Assuming you could avoid the families making racial distinctions between your clones and themselves, my educated guess is that your clones would become (respectively) a Hindu, a Buddhist, and a Muslim. If you placed hundreds of thousands of clones, you might begin to see a few exceptions that would “cross-over” to other faiths, and perhaps a growing number that would lose faith completely, but more often than not, the clones would accept the faiths of their families and regions.

    This what we see with normal populations in religious regions of the world. The vast majority of the populations adopt the faiths of their region.

  • Beau Quilter

    “But a loss of faith for me would involve something rather different, namely the removal of the conviction that life is meaningful, that there is a purpose and significance to existence.”

    If you were to define faith as the conviction that life is meaningful, then you could say that I have faith – but with this special distinction:

    I don’t subscribe to any religion. I do not believe that my life is meaningful to the universe (I don’t think the universe has the capacity to “find things meaningful”). I do not believe that my life is meaningful to any one in the Andromeda galaxy – except in the most esoteric sense, if some intelligent life there “wonders” about life in our galaxy.

    My life is meaningful to me and to the people who know me. To a lesser degree, my life is meaningful to humans who don’t know me personally, but who understand that society improves when we care for humanity as a whole.

    That is enough for me. My life is meaningful locally – not cosmically.

    This is almost the same distinction that one hears in debates over so-called “objective morality”. Christian apologists frequently try to win points against nonbelievers by claiming that they cannot logically believe in “objective morality.” And to the apologist, “objective morality” is “cosmic morality”, the morality of the universe, the morality created when God created the universe.

    It’s true that I don’t believe in this sense of “objective morality”, but “objective morality” seems to me a strange term for what is really a mythology of “cosmic morality”.

    My morality is admittedly “local”. It doesn’t apply to the universe. It applies to me, my fellow humans, and perhaps to some of the animals that share the planet with us. This is a morality that we continue to refine, as we understand each other better and seek to reduce suffering and improve conditions for all humans (and perhaps other sentient creatures). To me this is truly “objective” morality. It is objective in that it is considered objectively, rationally. Religious morality is bound to the religious biases of your upbringing, tradition, and region of the world. Religious morality ranges widely and is highly subjective, not objective.

    So I find my life meaningful in a local, human sense – not a cosmic religious sense. This may still qualify as “faith” to you if faith is only defined as “finding life meaningful”. But I don’t think that’s what most people mean by faith, and I don’t feel inclined to use the word “faith” to describe myself.

    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

      Well said and well worth saying. And you’re right, religious people – most people – do not mean that and I don’t think that’s what James meant. I would love to hear any response about this from him.

    • billwald

      Why do most people insist that life must be meaningful? Would you act differently toward your family and neighbors if you decided that life had no meaning?

      (I think) Socrates taught that moral people were happier than immoral people but he defined “moral” roughly as conforming to the nation’s social contract? He also thought that most people were crazy?

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        How could moral people be happier unless God had wired them so?  It’s hard for me to imagine how natural selection would favor the moral.  On the contrary, it would seem to reward the selfish.

        • beau_quilter

          Mike

          That’s false. Natural selection does not exclusively reward selfishness. Even a cursory familiarity with the research would tell you that.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            The point is that I don’t see how it would reward morality.  Are you saying that it does?  If so, please explain.

            • beau_quilter

              Human feeling is an extremely minute part of the driving forces behind natural selection. To the extent that evolutionary biologists use the term “selfish” to describe natural selection, they are using the term metaphorically, not in terms of literal feelings (as evidenced by the fact that we are vastly outnumbered by species of plant and microorganisms on this planet).

              And even if you were to say that individual organisms at least “behave” as though they were “selfish”, you would still be missing the point of the metaphor. Natural selection is metaphorically “selfish” at the level of the gene, not at the level of the individual organism. Individual organisms exhibit a huge array of behaviors, some that might be described as “selfish” and many that could never be described as “selfish”.

              Scientists, again, do describe individual genes as being “selfish”. A gene in this metaphor, does not simply mean a gene in one organism (or a gene in one cell of an organism), but a gene as it is expressed throughout all of life on earth. Therefore the selfish behavior of a gene might mean that it will survive only if an entire ecosystem survives. A species, for example, could be threatened by a period of rampant overpopulation, if the species uses up all the resources of an ecosystem in one generation, leaving the next generation to starve. The selfish behavior of genes often leads directly to specifically “unselfish” behavior in an individual organism, as when, for example, a bee or other insect dies to protect the remaining hive, or when a male spider remains on the web after copulation in order to provide it’s body as food for the pregnant mother, or when the older animals in a herd circle to protect the younger animals in a herd. 

              To say that natural selection only rewards “selfish” behavior at the level of the individual organism is simply incorrect. 

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    I would lose my faith in Christ if I were to learn that the New Testament texts were unreliable as historical documents.

    • Beau Quilter

      Have you read “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts” by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman?

      • Beau Quilter

        of course that’s an archaeological study of the OT not the new.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        No.

        There’s no end to the making of books about the Bible.

        • Beau Quilter

          True, but this is one of the best tomes combining textual analysis with the best archaeological evidence. Well received in scholarly circles.

    • Claude

      Why? The NT could be unreliable history (and is, in fact) and Jesus divine. Or, the NT could be unreliable yet essentially true.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        The NT is history’s best record of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching. Without it, you don’t have a reliable record.

        As to your assertion that the NT’s unreliability is fact, I have noted that “Claude” has declared it so.

        • Claude

          Mike! It isn’t I, of course, who declares it so. Blame the scholars.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Your exposure to scholarship must be quite limited. Even those on the far left of the scholarly spectrum consider them reliable enough to affirm the historicity of a first-century Jewish preacher named Jesus who was crucified by the Romans – and that his followers believed he was raised from the dead. Even the Jesus Mythicists, who sit leftward of the scholarly spectrum without being on it, use New Testament documents to support their nutty speculations.

            • Beau Quilter

              Mike

              Honest question. Is it really the reliability of ancient documents that undergirds your faith, that convinces you? Or is it personal experience of some kind, perhaps an experience of the Holy Spirit?

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                It’s really the former. Having said that, I don’t see how I could have come to understand them as I do without the Holy Spirit’s help.

            • Claude

              Mike: I don’t dispute this at all. As I said below, I misunderstood what you meant by “reliability.” All I meant was that the New Testament contains unreliable information, a pretty innocuous point.

              I’ve always said I’ve found the scholarly consensus persuasive, and I would not make grandiose statements about the NT being entirely bunk. Good grief.

      • billwald

        The NT is the primary history we have about Judaism in the decades it covers.

    • arcseconds

      And what evidence would show you that the New Testament texts are unreliable as historical documents?

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Proof that they are not what they appear and claim to be – that is, documents internal to the first-century movement of people (primarily Jews) who claimed Jesus of Nazareth to have been Israel’s Messiah, raised from the dead.

        • Claude

          That is not what I had understood you to mean by “unreliability.” I thought you meant something more like inerrancy.

          Never mind!

    • billwald

      Christianity did not become a text based religion until Constantine messed (with) everything around 315 AD.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Have you never read the New Testament?  The Christ movement was text-based from the very beginning.  Peter’s first sermon is loaded with appeals to authoritative texts. 

        In the beginning, all the preaching about Christ was corroborated by the Old Testament, not the New Testament.  Reliance on the New Testament came later.

  • angievandemerwe

    James, You use the term “faith” as something one “owns” or doesn’t, meaning that there is a way to judge it from the outside by a universal standard, as if anyone has the same sense of what it means to have “faith”. I disagree because faith is whatever one uses to interpret their reality. Everyone observes and makes judgments based on their understanding of life, but some have the advantage of a particular frame of knowledge that interprets life.
    . I agree with Beau in that “faith” is whatever one chooses to make life meaningful for themselves. It may or may not include humanitarian action. But, whatever one chooses offers something to society and betters it, in that sense, if only to serve as someone else’s judgment about “what not to do or be”, as compared to some definition of a “moral model”!

    • billwald

      AGREE, mostly. Seems to me that people don’t choose what they believe (in).

      “Belief” is based on personal experience and observations  from birth,  and from data received from trusted sources. I think people make a “truth analysis” of information and then a risk analysis to determine where to go from there. It is easier to “believe in” something that has no personal cost, the local social contract’s religion.  

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

    Does anyone, even an 18 year old, really believe that they would have the same faith if they had a different background or upbringing?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t think that student was assuming that, and I thought it was to her credit that she was even asking the question and proposing an experiment (even if an imaginary one) to test it. Many 18 year olds have never even given the matter much thought. I don’t think I had asked myself this question yet when I was 18.

      • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

        My point is, when a person has finally thought about it, if they think that their faith would be the same whenever and wherever they were raised, I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

        Btw, I finally got Allison’s Constructing Jesus. You misremembered quite a bit, as the long section is not about Paul’s knowledge of Jesus’ teaching but what we’d know about the crucifixion without the gospels. Of course, he promptly reads the gospels into Paul. Oy vey. I am embarrassed for the historicist position in that you, Watts and Hurtado can’t even point to a single paper about Jesus’ teaching in Paul I could read. I’d settle for a list of examples at this point, as Hurtado only ever listed one parallel: the don’t divorce bit, which is very weak evidence Paul knew Jesus’ teachings at best.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I didn’t misremember, but apparently I misunderstood what you were looking for. I didn’t get, I am afraid, that you were looking not for evidence of Paul’s knowledge of details about the life and death of Jesus, but specifically his teaching. Many volumes on Paul and/or Jesus touch on that, and I can give you a list of some that might be worth looking at, although if you are prone to dismiss the explicit appeal to Jesus’ teaching about divorce, then I am not sure that you will find them very useful.

          I don’t think, as far as I can tell, that what you object to is right,y catgorized as “reading the Gospels into Paul.” The earliest Gospels are not much later than Paul’s letters, and while it is appropriate to avoid anachronism, what mythicists do is drive an unnecessary wedge between these sources even when they complement one another naturally and straightforwardly.

          • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

            Well, I’m not sure I could be more explicit than “the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth”. But even so, Allison only deals with the death of Jesus in Paul. Give away.

            As to the divorce teaching, first you have to rule out they both heard and agreed with some one else teaching divorce is always wrong, then rule out they both came to same conclusion independently (and it certainly isn’t an esoteric teaching), then you have to rule out the Gospel authors borrowed it from Paul. All of those are more likely scenarios, given the evidence we have. Only then could you adduce the evidence Paul borrowed from Jesus. And with only a couple of verses in Paul to go on, that is a tough road to hoe. Oh, don’t forget to prove Jesus of Nazareth really said the lines about divorce. But like I said, hit me with your best shot.

            Allison says “pretend that we never knew” the gospels, so your timeline two step is of no use here. And if you think Paul and the gospels have material about the life of Jesus that meshes naturally and straightforwardly, then you are the one with a problem.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              As long as you are asking mainstream historians to “prove” rather than reason to the best explanation, and are happy to accept any ad hoc explanation of the evidence without concern for likelihood when it supporte mythicism, then I can’t imagine what you mean by saying that I am the one with the problem. The evidence consistently seems to those most familiar with it to point clearly in one direction. If it does not seem that way to you, all I can advise is increasing your familiarity with the relevant evidence and the methods of secular historical study.

              • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                I’m a layman, so excuse my use of prove. I’ll wait for your edifying reading suggestions about Paul knowing about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

                • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                  Well, the long section didn’t fit my bill, but I found a short one that did: 346-348 in Constructing Jesus. Allison compares the Sermon on the Plain to Romans 12:14 (and ff) and Romans 14:10-13. What a joke! Not only does Paul not attribute anything there to Jesus, he quotes Scripture in both places! The second is particularly egregious because Allison explicity includes the scripture passage in Paul, but passes over it with an ellipses in his text.

                  There are recommendations however. Michael Thompson, Clothed with Christ and James Dunn “Jesus Tradition in Paul”.

              • billwald

                History is an art, not a science.

          • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

            And BTW, you shouldn’t complain about my slip into “prove” language when you say things like “The earliest Gospels are not much later than Paul’s letters … [and] they complement one another naturally and straightforwardly” without qualification – that is as gospel truth. Even ignoring the incredible dodge of obfuscating the first part to avoid saying one Gospel *might* be within two decades of authentic Pauline letters and those letters are *at best* two decades after a putative crucifixion of Jesus, it is blatant reading the gospels into the epistles if you think the two sources have a natural and straightforward relationship. If you disagree, please elaborate on what that natural and straightforward relationship is.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              They are all part of the phenomenon we today refer to as early Christianity, they all have as their central focus a human being named Jesus who was believed to be the Messiah and who was crucified. Recognizing where Matthew and Paul diverge is absolutely appropriate. Driving a wedge between them when they agree is not, and is simply a denialist tactic and not something any scholar ought to view otherwise.

              • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                I’m disputing that they agree, so kindly keep your arguments to showing that they do, rather than claim I’m being denialist. And how does someone who is asking for citations become a denialist? As for scholars, I do not regard what Allison does on page 347 of Constructing Jesus to be scholarship. He actually states that because Romans 14 and Luke 6:27-42 (? on exact verses – the Sermon on the Plain, and Allison cites it as Q.) both use the word “brothers” that they are both using teachings of Jesus. I think another point of his is similar verb tenses. As I said, Oy vey!

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  And I can respond with
                  אױ גװאַלד , but that doesn’t change the fact that you as an amateur are saying that you don’t accept what scholars and historians do and what they conclude about the historical figure of Jesus. It seems that Richard Carrier’s attempt to get mythicists to understand how scholarship works, and how those who are not scholars in a particular field ought to view the work that scholars do, is falling on deaf ears.

                  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                    BS. Respond with Yiddish all you like, page 347 is still a terrible argument. I would even say dishonest because of the … replacing the Scripture. He also puts an … in to the beginning of the quote where there shouldn’t be one to make it seem the later … is natural. At least on page 346 he cites the Scripture Paul uses in the Romans 12 example.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      You are free to switch to English, but that doesn’t change the fact that Allison is addressing on those pages a point of contact between what Paul wrote and the Jesus tradition. That there was also a point of contact with the Jewish Scriptures should not surprise you or anyone, since both Jesus and Paul were Jewish, and the teaching of both, whether they overlap or diverge, regularly involves direct reference to the Jewish Scriptures as well as many echoes. None of this should be surprising, or controversial – unless of course you’ve gone beyond modern mythicism into the antisemitic roots of that approach to the figure of Jesus, which sought to find a Jesus who was a product of non-Jewish cultural elements. In which case it would indeed seem appropriate for you to drop the use of Yiddish.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      That’s contemptible McGrath. Anti-Semitism? That’s where you want to go? Boy oh boy, you are quite a biblical scholar, aren’t you.

                      The point is that if Paul got it from Scripture, he didn’t get it from Jesus. Can you be so dense?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Unless you think that Jesus could never have talked about the Scriptures, and that Paul could not have looked at Jesus through the lens of Scripture or related what he said to Scripture, then I cannot imagine why you do not view your statement as posing a false antithesis.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      Well, your thoughts are so “in the box” I don’t suppose you could figure that one out on your own. Maybe a college student with an unhardened heart can explain it to you.

                      Still hoping for at least one citation for arguments that Paul wrote about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Thinking outside the box is crucial to scholarship. But when a consensus – a “box” if you will – exists, it is often because there is good reason for it to. Not every criticism of every consensus is a valid one, whether in science, in history, or any other academic field.

                      Perhaps we can deal with the one you mentioned, divorce, where Paul explicitly contrasts his own viewpoint with what the Lord says, which is the most explicit, before adding other less clear instances to the mix?

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      I’m glad to hear you say that divorce (1 Cor 7:10-12) is the most explicit. (That it’s all downhill from there) We can discuss that – it was Hurtado’s only offering as well. It seems to me, you both consider “not I, but the Lord (kyrios)” and “I say, not the Lord (kyrios)” to cinch the argument. But where is anything that connects this saying to the mouth of an earthly preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who spoke these words within living memory? In the whole of 1 Cor, the only quotes of Jesus are 1 Cor 11:23-26. (The Lord’s Supper) Paul quotes body parts more in 1 Cor! And he certainly quotes a lot of Scripture, so it’s not like he doesn’t do proof texts.

                      All you’ve got is kyrios = Christos = Iesous. If you want to hang your hat on that, so be it. If you have more, please let me know.

                      Compare Mark 10:1-12. Now that’s attribution! Direct quotes. Context of where and who is in conversation with Jesus. Paul has an aside that one view is the Lord’s (kyrios) and that another isn’t. But he doesn’t say a single word about how he has the Lord’s feelings on divorce. As Jesus uses Scripture to make his point on this issue, isn’t it more likely that Paul was doing the same?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well, there are several things that make the conclusion that scholarly interpreters draw more probable than what you are coming up with. First, the identification of Jesus as the Lord by Paul is explicit and frequent, and so there is nothing at all problematic with understanding him to mean that in this particular context. If one considers the possibility that the Lord he is referring to is simply God and where he says it is Scripture, then one encounters the problem that there is no explicit or even implicit prohibition of divorce and remarriage in Jewish Scripture. And so there is nothing that would make Paul’s contrast between what the Lord says and what he says meaningful, if that were the case.

                      And so, assuming you can set aside your apologetist’s approach and discuss this in a scholarly manner, as historians do, can you explain what it is that makes you think that the scenario you envisage is not merely possible (few things are truly impossible) but more likely than the way professional scholars and historians understand these texts and the relationship between their traditions at this point?

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      How does Mark 10:6-9 fit your claim that Paul can’t use scripture to prohibit divorce? Jesus: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      That was not understood throughout most of Jewish history, or in the Jewish law, to prohibit divorce. And so, if Paul made the same argument, then it might indeed be a possibility to take seriously that Paul developed the argument and the later Gospels wrongly attributed the argument to Jesus. But Paul does not make the argument here. He simply refers to the Lord having given a command not to divorce. Without Jesus’ teaching and creative use of the Scripture to make the argument in view, all we are left with is Paul asserting that the Lord said something that no Lord of Paul’s had said, which he seemingly inexplicably contrasts with his own teaching.

                      So again, please explain to me why you think that is not only possible but more likely than that Paul had in view teaching of Jesus which would within a relatively short time, if it hadn’t been already, be written down in a Gospel or one of the sources of the Gospels.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      I’ll grant your argument on this specific point. I still think it is a major problem that Paul wrote down his words well before Mark wrote down his. You end up treating speculation about earlier sources and oral tradition as good evidence. And it would be nice if you could state your best guess as to the actual amount of time you’re talking about, rather than always use phrases such as “a relatively short time.” As you know from your post on BT, it is best to make your assumptions as explicit as possible.

                      On the larger issue, if the divorce example is the best case you have that Paul knew the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I’m not impressed. And what I’ve seen in Constructing Jesus (looking through the index for Paul citations) has been very weak. Romans 12-14 to Sermon on the Plain and 1 Cor 4 to I think the same, but I don’t have it in front of me. I’m also shocked that Allison has a long section on how Luke 6:29-42 is based on Lev 19, but never considers that Paul could have been using the same text for his teaching.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well, you use the phrase “well before” but there a range of dates that have been suggested for the final version of Mark, but it seems clearly to have used sources or materials that were composed earlier, if it is not in fact written as early as those materials suggest (which James Crossley argues). Mark 13 seems to reflect the Caligula crisis and would thus naturally be thought of as having been composed and put into its present form at least in part at that time. While I am not sure that it makes sense to date Mark that early, it doesn’t make sense to pretend that it does not incorporate early material, material that is older than Paul’s letters.

                      Be that as it may, I am not sure why this is “a major problem” from your perspective. Why could people remember at least some details correctly for as long as may have passed between Paul and Acts, for instance, but not between the time of Jesus and the Gospels? Once Paul writes, why does that suddenly cast a shadow on everything written somewhat later, for you?

                      As for your other points, I am not sure why you still insist on this false antithesis. If there was a historical Jesus, why would he not have spoken about the Jewish Scriptures, in your opinion? Why would it be the case that anything that has to do with discussion of Scripture would by definition be a later writer’s own original use of those texts, rather than reflecting what Jesus did with those texts? Throughout Rabbinic literature, for instance, we see lots of examples of interpretations of Scripture by one rabbi which are either credited to or clearly seem to reflect earlier use of that Scripture by another rabbi. Insisting that it must be either/or, simple logic aside, can only seem plausible to someone who is not intimately acquainted with ancient Jewish literature.

                      None of what you have written gives me the impression that you have made or can make a case for mythicism offering a more probable interpretation of the evidence, a more probable scenario, or a better fit to the evidence than what mainstream historical scholarship has to say.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      Touche on the “well before” but you follow it right up with your standard: Crossley’s (he’s an atheist you know) extremely early dating. “Mark 13 seems to reflect the Caligula crisis” Even “seems” is too strong for that claim.

                      ” it doesn’t make sense to pretend that it does not incorporate early material, material that is older than Paul’s letters.” I’m not pretending, I’m asking for more than speculation about documents we don’t have and such a strong reliance on oral tradition.

                      Jesus probably would have spoken about Scripture, and he apparently did. But you have to admit that Paul could have had the same source for his teachings.

                      “a later writer’s [Paul, right?] own original use of those texts, rather than reflecting what Jesus did with those texts” What Jesus did with those texts may have taken place before Paul wrote, but Jesus – or anyone during the time he was alive – didn’t write it down. Paul wrote before Mark. Can you admit that?

                      I’m not trying to make a case for mythicism! For gosh sakes, we’re talking about whether Paul used the words of Jesus of Nazareth as a source of teaching. I still think he didn’t. I’ve been trying to pry out something beyond your logorrhea for your case, you know, scholarship, but you’ve never even said boo about that. Rather than misinterpret and babble, why don’t you cite some papers or books and I’ll go my merry way?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I am still trying to figure out what it is you are looking for. Since you seem to have a strong resistance to the possibility of the later Gospels preserving teaching of Jesus that was known to Paul in his time, even when the evidence fits that scenario better than others, I am not sure what I could usefully offer you, unless I were to find an actual copy of the Q source. :-)

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      Dude, not funny. You are incredibly exasperating. It is very simple: I’m looking for readings – scholarship – about Paul’s use of Jesus’ teaching. I find the divorce deal not convincing with what has been offered by you and Hurtado online. I have read bits of Allison and they are no better. I’ve said I’m going to read Michael Thompson “Clothed with Christ” and James D.G. Dunn, “Jesus Tradition in Paul” As I will need interlibrary loan to get these, if I am able to, it would be nice for some other more accessible sources. I have access to EBSCO and some other online databases, but they seem to not have much Biblical studies. Would it crucify you to just list a few sources?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Would you be open to some tips on how to approach an adult when you are seeking information from them and not trying to start an argument? I suspect that you will find that your sense of exasperation suddenly vanishes if you approach people with respect and courtesy.

                      I will see if I can come up with some recommendations that do not involve having access to JSTOR or other scholarly databases, but if you do not have access to a library that has scholarly monograph series, then it may not be much. It is the sad fact that far too little scholarship in the humanities is open access at present.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      Excuse me, but you implied I was an anti-Semite. Talk about a plank in your eye. And if you can’t handle a bit of invective, don’t respond.

                      I can get JSTOR in the library. Just give me a crumb, for gods sake.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      I didn’t think you could find a discussion on Jesus’ teachings in Paul. The material is so sparse, even a journal article would be hard to fill.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      See my comment immediately above this one.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Here are a few works that might be worth consulting. But I also encourage you to actually read Paul’s letters, and to reflect on what Paul shows himself to have already told the churches he founded, in his references to “the law of Christ” and to things that he passed on to them. Also consider whether Paul’s summary of the Law in terms also attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, and his reference to calling God Abba as an indication of sonship shared with Jesus, most probably spread from Paul to all other streams of Christianity, or from Jesus to all of them including Paul’s.

                      Here are some that are likely to be useful:

                      Paul and Jesus ed. A. J. M. Wedderburn.

                      David Wenham has written more than one book about the connection between Jesus and Paul, such as Paul: follower of Jesus or founder of Christianity?.

                      “”Jesus” in Romans” by Leander E. Keck, JBL 108:3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 443-460 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3267113

                      “Jesus and the Upper Class” by George Wesley Buchanan inNovum Testamentum , 7:3 (Jun., 1964), pp. 195-209 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1560312
                      HTR 90:4 (Oct., 1997) Jesus’ Sayings in the Life of the Early Church: Papers Presented in Honor of Helmut Koester’s Seventieth Birthday

                      “The Jesus of Paul: a contribution from the social sciences” by Guijarro Oporto, Santiago HTS 67 no 1 2011

                      Fiensy D. The synoptic logia of Jesus in the ethical teachings of Paul. Stone-Campbell Journal. March 1, 2010;13(1):81-98

                      I will stop here, even though I had only worked through several pages of search results to put this together, since you just left a sarcastic comment suggesting that I was taking too long. Apparently you have little idea of what is involved in academic research, even starting from putting together a bibliography focused only on the most relevant sources. Perhaps you should do such work yourself, in order to have a better perspective on what you are asking others to do for you when you ask a scholar for a list of relevant sources.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      By “Paul,” do you mean the actual Paul who met Peter and James, the writer(s) who called themself Paul, or the last redactor of an individual letter?

                      And, excuse me, but you obviously didn’t start even trying to find some titles until my sarcastic comment. My first request was over two weeks ago. If you wish to completely ignore my request, fine. But don’t give me the I’m-a-fancy-pants-scholar routine.

                    • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

                      Okay, that was entirely too generous. You could have thrown Paul, Jesus, teaching in the subject field and the few verses in Pauline epistles and the Gospels that are reputed to show Paul knew Jesus’ teachings (I know a few from just recent side reading on this topic) and filter by most recent and voila! Ten minutes perhaps? Surely these works would have included footnotes I could follow even if they barely addressed the question themselves. But thanks for throwing your back out by saying you bended over backwards.

                    • billwald

                      Paul probably did not write the Pastorals. The Pastorals change Christianity from a bottom up egalitarian religion to a top down authoritarian religion. 

              • billwald

                Early Christianity, as reported in Acts, evolves as time passes and Jesus does not return and establish a political kingdom.

  • arcseconds

    Is a genetically identical individual ‘you’, though?

    I would have thought ‘pretty clearly not’, as we don’t regard identical twins as being the same person.

    So what happens to a genetically identical individual doesn’t tell you about what it would take for you to lose your faith, as they’re not you.

    This does raise a larger point as to what is actually required for an entity to still be you. This point was raised reasonably well in ‘Family of Blood’, I thought, where there’s a strongly advanced suggestion that the Doctor’s ‘front’ is actually a different person entirely, although it was all over rather quickly.

    • Beau Quilter

      Excellent point, arcseconds. When we ask questions such as, what would you have done or believed if your life had been different, haven’t we changed the definition of you?

      It’s true that a clone (like an identical twin) is not “you”. But i would argue that if even “you” literally (every molecule the same) had suddenly changed direction and led a different life from birth – then “you” would no longer be “you”. You would be a different person.

      This gets at the heart of what Christians mean by the concept of “free will”. What part of you is responsible for the choices you make, if you are the sum total of all of your genetics and experiences.

      And if there is something about “you” which is separate from the sum total of your genetics and experiences (a soul?) – how can it be held responsible for choices, Presumably, God made the soul. Doesn’t that make God ultimately responsible for what the soul “chooses”. The rest is DNA and experiences.

      • billwald

        Your will is “free” if you can act against your dna, nature, and training.  Like a cat that likes to swim. Or the story about the scorpion who wanted to cross a river. 

        • beau_quilter

          That’s a vague definition of free will. What is our “nature”? Doesn’t “nature” involve many interrelated and complex drives? How do you know if you are acting “against your dna, nature and training”?
          And even if you are acting against your “dna, nature, and training”, who are “you”? Who is doing the acting? Once you have taken away “dna, nature, and training”, what is left that can make independent decisions? And how do you hold an entity that is devoid of “dna, nature, and training” responsible for it’s actions?

    • billwald

      At birth identical twins could be identical but then diverge because of personal history.

  • http://digestofworms.blogspot.com/ admiralmattbar

    I’m not sure I have faith that humanity is meaningful. I think they might be, and it might be possible for God to, as a divine creator, make a universe in which an absolute concept of meaning exists and applies to humanity. I think that when I talk about my personal faith (trust and devotion faith, not belief faith) it is a thing that comes out of my belief. I would lose my faith if I no longer thought that Jesus (the man himself) was not a real person who lived a life worth imitating. Perhaps I’m using a different definition of faith that is found in the New Testament, I am not fluent in Koine Greek, but right now this is the meaning of faith that makes most sense to me.

  • http://twitter.com/joey89924 joey

    precisely as a way of getting to the point of recognizing that distinction.
    TLP181

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    That may be, but I still don’t understand how you account for human morality, including the happiness often attends good moral choices, with only natural causes.

    • beau_quilter

      Really? Can you think of no evolutionary value for a mother to feel good about caring for her young. Or for an older person to feel good about protecting younger people? Or for any creature to feel good about protecting his tribe?

      To the extent that moral choices reflect our altruism, the evolutionary advantages are clear as day. 

      To the extent that some morality has grown to become the complex sets of rules imposed by hegemonic religious authorities, well, that sort of morality is too young (by evolutionary standards) to measure as advantageous or not. 

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    I’m saying that I can’t understand how in that scenario morality would ever arise in the first place.  Morality is not a naturally measurable phenomenon.

    • beau_quilter

      There is a wealth of research and published studies related to the biological emergence of morality. 

      If you are really interested in understanding this topic I would recommend books such as R. Alexander’s “The Biology of Moral Systems”, Richard Joyce’s “The Evolution of Morality”, Frans De Waal’s “Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved”, Michael Shermer’s “The Science of Good and Evil”, Bowles’ and Gintis’ “A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution”, to name just a few. 

      I would encourage you not to limit yourself by what you “can’t understand.”

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Ah, if only I had enough faith, eh?

    • beau_quilter

      What an odd thing to say.

      I recommended research, not faith.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Life is short.  There is not enough time to research every thesis.  The first cut is plausibility.  The idea that, given enough time, morality can arise from amorality without an external stimulus is not plausible.  

    • beau_quilter

      The only argument you’ve made for implausibility is that you “can’t understand” it. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone limit themselves by what Mike Gantt “can’t understand”.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    On the contrary, that morality cannot arise from amorality is a common sense notion that anyone can understand.  The fact that you have no rejoinder to it is telling.  

    If you really want me – or anyone – to take the books seriously, you have to present a reason why we should believe that something can come from nothing (i.e. morality can come from no morality).  Only then might it be worth the time to read one or more of the books.

  • beau_quilter

    Mike

    What, exactly, would you like a “rejoinder” to? 

    You first stated that natural selection “would seem to reward the selfish,” showing that you misunderstood the metaphor of selfishness as scientists apply it to evolution. I gave clear and obvious examples of unselfish behaviors that provide an evolutionary advantage. 

    You then shifted your position to say that you couldn’t see how natural selection could “reward morality”. My first examples of selfless behavior providing evolutionary advantage should have sufficed, but I gave you more.

    Now you just assert (with no evidence), “that morality cannot arise from amorality is a common sense notion”. 

    No, Mike, it isn’t a common sense notion. The simplest animals with neuron cells benefit from the sensory input that, for example, guide flatworms toward light sources. That certain sensory input leads to pleasure and pain responses in most animals has clear evolutionary advantage as well. That some of our pleasure responses lead to selfless behaviors (in humans the fondness and protectiveness that we feel when holding babies is a clear example), has an extended evolutionary advantage. 

    This is only scratching the surface. Fortunately, whether or not you take such research seriously doesn’t affect the rest of us. Researchers all over the world take it seriously. It is obvious from the amount of peer-reviewed writing on this topic that your assessment of what is a “common sense notion” is false. You are sticking your fingers in your ears.

    Mike, it is you who fail to take discussion seriously. 

    You argue as though you are in a high school debate, trying to one-up your opponent with one-liners instead engaging in meaningful discussion. I don’t see how you expect readers to listen to you with such a sneering, arrogant, dismissive approach. Especially one that is ignorant of the all the relevant literature.

    • Joseph Shaw

      Hello Beau

      I would like to engage in meaningful discussion. I can’t tell if Mike is a young earth creationist or if he subscribes to theistic evolution or if he is somewhere in between, but I tend towards theistic evolution. I read a lot about evolutionary science and it makes sense to me. I’ve read Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” and, as a Christian, I appreciate his view of evolution as a tool of God. He makes an interesting note that if evolution had gone differently, if a comet had not wiped out the dinosaurs, God might have sent his son to earth as an intelligent dinosaur with a soul. An interesting thought and it makes me smile.

      In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis acknowledges that certain instincts in humans and animals could be seen as good and selfless. He talks specifically about the mother instinct and the herd instinct. But he goes on to say that when these instincts come into conflict, something higher than instinct must come into play, and he thinks that this something higher must be a God-given sense of good and evil.

      What do you think of this idea?

      • beau_quilter

        Hi Joseph

        Thanks for the thoughts! I’ve read both the Miller book and Lewis’s Mere Christianity. 

        Miller doesn’t really make a case that evolution is evidence of God, though he does try to envision a universe that includes both evolution and a creative God. In my reading, I found his arguments against YE creationism and ID creationism, well-argued and clearly evidenced. His later chapters that bring God into the picture read less like scientific argumentation and more like homilies – not my cup of tea.

        Lewis writes charming stories for children, but his understanding of science is shaky at best. He doesn’t really explain why the “something higher” that decides between instincts couldn’t be another instinct, or our reason, or a combination of the two. It is an argument in which he allows for only one possible answer, when in fact there are many. 

        I find it similar to the faulty reasoning you find elsewhere in Mere Christianity – the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” fallacy. He basically says that you can’t claim that Jesus was just a man who was a good teacher, because he claimed to be God. Therefore one must believe that Jesus can only be “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic.” Of course, this leaves out other possibilities – for example, Jesus could have been misrepresented by his “biographers”. 

        But back to evolution – I am glad for Christians who accept the theory of evolution, in the face of far right senators trying to impose religion on science education in public schools. 


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