Studying the Bible, Loving the Bible

A Facebook friend asked me the following:

I’m sure this is an extremely broad question but I’m really curious! How do you combine a love for scripture and a respect for it’s authority whilst still acknowledging the non-historical nature of it?

I responded by saying that I thought the question deserved a long reply, and might be of interest to others, and that I would answer it on my blog.

Let me first rephrase the question, since I think there are some things in the wording that I would want to adjust. Talking about the “non-historical nature” of the Bible seems to me to be too sweeping a generalization. There is historical material, non-historical material which is presented as though it were historical, and non-historical material which should never have been mistaken for such by anyone. And so I would prefer to talk of taking a historical-critical approach to the Bible (where appropriate) and being open to the possibility that it includes things that are not historically factual depictions, even though many readers assume otherwise.

I should also comment on the term “authority.” Even for a liberal Christian, there is a sense in which the Bible is an authority. It is just not considered an inerrant divine authority. But there is a wider and more common usage of the term “authority” such as when one talks about Stephen Hawking as an authority in the realm of physics. It doesn’t make him infallible, it makes him knowledgeable, insightful, and important to interact with. And it means that, if you want to disagree with him, you will first need to attain a level of expertise in the area in question comparable to his.

We can think about the Bible the same way. Inasmuch as there is historical information to be had about the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, for instance, you won’t accomplish much if you simply ignore the New Testament authors. They are not writers of history in the modern sense, and they are not always trustworthy, but they are closer to the source than anyone else, and they cannot be ignored.

But, as someone who studies the Bible critically, I know that Paul loved Genesis, but he did not simply accept everything that it said in the most obvious way. He loved that it described Abraham as having been reckoned righteous on the basis of his trust in God. And he found a creative way to circumvent its requirement that one must be circumcised to be considered part of Abraham’s household.

His love for Scripture was seen in his wrestling with it and attention to it, not in rigid adherence to everything it said.

And so none of what I’ve written above about approaching the Bible critically is at odds with loving the Bible.

Indeed, if we look at human relationships, we often see people who have an unrealistic notion of what their significant other is like. We could say that they are in love with the idea of the other person, not the reality.

And so I love the Bible – the real Bible, with all its flaws. It continues to fascinate me and inspire me. And I would argue that that is a more genuine love for the Bible than those who pretend it is something it isn’t, and whose love is for an inerrant Bible that exists only in their imagination, rather than the actual Bible.

Real love isn’t pretending the other is perfect when that is obviously not true. It is learning to delight in the other’s strengths and weaknesses and the way they complement your own. It is discovering that your life is transformed through your interaction with the other, and richer because of the other’s presence.

Love for the Bible is no exception.

  • Rick

    The love for the Bible comes from the love of the One who inspired it, and to Whom it points. As NT Wright states, the “authority of Scripture” is shorthand for the authority of God.

    People who defend inerrancy do so because they see it as a direct reflection of the God they love, and not something that is just in “their imagination”. They have a reason for that belief.

    Now, are their views of Scripture correct? That is another question.

    • Pseudonym

      As NT Wright states, the “authority of Scripture” is shorthand for the authority of God.

      Now I realise that this is third-hand information (you are relaying NT Wright, who is relaying other people), but that sounds just a little bit idolatrous to me. God is not scripture, and scripture is not God.

      I do like the picture of scripture being a reflection of God. Humans are reflections of God, too, “made in God’s image”. But we wouldn’t characterise humans as perfect.

      • Rick

        “but that sounds just a little bit idolatrous to me. God is not scripture, and scripture is not God”
        That is exactly what Wright is trying not to say. He writes:
        “I want to suggest that scripture’s own view of authority focuses on the authority of God himself. (I recall a well-known lecturer once insisting that ‘there can be no authority other than scripture’, and thumping the tub so completely that I wanted to ask ‘but what
        about God?’) If we think for a moment what we are actually saying when we use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’, we must surely acknowledge that this is a shorthand way of saying that, though
        authority belongs to God, God has somehow invested this authority in scripture.”
        I think some people are so concerned about the idea that some may worship the Bible, that they go too far in the other direction. I think the “worshipping Bible” aspect is not as wide-spread as some present, and is, in some ways, a straw-man.

        • ngotts

          The problem is, even if there were a god, we’d have no way of knowing what it wanted, since it quite obviously doesn’t issue clear instructions. Even if it did, we’d still need to decide whether its instructions were ethical.

          • Rick

            “since it quite obviously doesn’t issue clear instructions”
            I don’t know, it seems like his instructions were pretty clear: Love God/worship Jesus, love others.

            • ngotts

              1) How do you think you know those are instructions from a god? They’re just words in an old book, full of contradictions, absurdities, and morally outrageous approvals of genocide, child murder, rape, slavery, the subjection of women, stoning people to death for adultery and blasphemy, etc.

              2) Even among those who agree (without any rational grounds for doing so) that those are instructions from a god, there is a notable lack of agreement about how to translate them into practice. Does “loving others” allow for killing them in war, or not? Does it allow for divorce, homosexual relationships, eating pork and shellfish? How exactly should you worship? Does the Pope have any authority to define doctrine? As I said, quite obviously, no clear instructions.

              • Rick

                ngotts-

                Excellent questions, and clearly not ones that can be summed up here (there are plenty of resources available for that), nor are there necessarily easy answers (even the Bible mentions some difficult passages and concepts that are tough to understand with our finite minds). Some overarching, main themes are clear (the centrality of Christ), some are not.

                However, one reason I believe is due to the historicity of events, namely the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the testimony of his followers.

                Let me quote Scot McKnight (another Patheos writer/blogger) in a recent post he had regarding a book he was reviewing:

                “We can finesse “Scripture” in a number of ways — it needs to be interpreted, it derives from the Holy Spirit, it derives from apostolic authority, it is an expression of the regula fidei (rule of faith, earliest confessions) — but when at the bottom all Christian theology begins with Scripture.
                To be sure, the Nicene Creed does not begin with a confession “I believe in the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments.” Yet, without Scripture there is no Nicene Creed since the apostolic testimony, now recorded in Scripture/New Testament, without the Scripture. The Nicene Creed authors were Scripture theologians…What we call Scripture — a book of 27 books in the NT and 39 in the OT — is not what the first Christians would have thought was Scripture. For the first 100 years or so the OT was “Scripture” while the apostolic writings were gaining the same status only because they were already recognized as the Word of God because they witnessed to the gospel. They were the “canon” of the gospel as the gospel was the canon of the 27 books.
                The Christian Writings were added to the Scripture (OT) in that the Gospels compelled recognition because they told the Story of Jesus. Paul’s writings reveal three source of authority: the Hebrew Scriptures/OT in Septuagint version, traditions and sayings about Jesus, and apostolic teachings. The Gospels were the first books to be recognized but soon also the apostolic writings. This happened substantively by about 150 to 200.”
                http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/05/13/where-christian-theology-all-of-it-begins/

                • ngotts

                  The resurrection is most certainly not historical. It’s a miracle claim based on ludicrously weak evidence – hearsay written down decades after the alleged event, and of which the different versions are full of inconsistencies (ask James McGrath about this – I’ll wager he doesn’t believe in it any more than I do, although he may be reluctant to say so outright). You would dismiss it immediately if it came from any religion but your own. Do you credit that Muhammad was miraculously transported to heaven on a horse? That Sathya Sai Baba could materialize flowers? Do you credit testimony of ghosts, fairies, alien abductions? We know that dreams and hallucinations of the recently dead are common among those who knew them well, and that many cult members disappointed by the failure of their leader’s predictions of triumphant vindication to come true will seize on any rationalization to avoid admitting that they were deluded.

                  You don’t even attempt to deal with the contradictions, absurdities and morally outrageous aspects of the Bible, nor the notable lack of agreement among those who give it authority. These alone should be enough to tell you that the claims you and others make for this book are ridiculous.

                  The Council of Nicaea, incidentally, was prompted by Constantine’s political need for a monolithic state religion, and came to at least one conclusion that makes doctrinally orthodox Christianity not just false, but necessarily false – the claim that Jesus was simultaneously God and man. Since “God” and “man” have incompatible attributes, this is logically impossible. Its version of Christianity was subsequently imposed on both pagans and Arian Christians with all the brutal power of the Roman state, setting a precedent for the settlement of theological disputes which was generally followed until the late 17th century (in many case, later), when Christians began to lose the power to impose their beliefs by force.

                  • arcseconds

                    The Council of Nicaea, incidentally, was prompted by Constantine’s political need for a monolithic state religion, and came to at least one conclusion that makes doctrinally orthodox Christianity not just false, but necessarily false – the claim that Jesus was simultaneously God and man. Since “God” and “man” have incompatible attributes, this is logically impossible.

                    Ah, Nick, we can always rely on you to testify to the truth of atheism, and pile objection on top of objection even when it’s not very relevant!

                    But far from showing that the Jesus-God identity thesis is necessarily false, all this shows is that you have an oddball idea about how things are defined, and plus you have little imagination.

                    Why, just off the top of my head I can think of four ways this could fail to be necessarily false:

                    1) By ‘God’, is meant the person named God. Jesus is identical with that person, and has the personal qualites of God. (But perhaps no other properties). This is no more necessarily false than reincarnation or uploading consciousness to machine-minds or time lords regenerating (William Hartnell has incompatible properties with Patrick Troughton, so Dr. Who is logically impossible!)

                    This kind of depends on your notion of personal identity of course. But maybe God or the council of Nicea has a different notion than yours.

                    2) Jesus embodies God in the same way a King embodies a country. We don’t tend to think this way any more, but once upon a time rulers were often referred to by the name of their dominion. Thus it could be read similarly to ‘Elizabeth II is both woman and England’.

                    3) The whole phrase was meant in a completely figurative fashion. Your objection is therefore like objecting to ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ on the basis that love and roses have incompatible properties.

                    4) even if we take standard definitions of ‘God’ as ‘the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent entity’ and ‘man’ as ‘adult male homo sapiens’, they aren’t actually incompatible. I’ve never seen ‘isn’t omnipotent’ in any definition of species I’ve ever seen. Often, of course, it’s defined by the possibility of breeding to produce fertile offspring, but descent is usually considered quite important too.

                    So, Jesus was an adult male creature, descended directly from at least one homo sapiens, with the usual morphology you expect of homo sapiens, who just happened to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. the last one maybe we need to fudge a tiny bit, but we could note that his mind and awareness was everywhere.

                    (On the other hand, you could check out ‘omnipresent man’ and ‘mr everywhere’ in Basic Instructions:

                    http://basicinstructions.net/basic-instructions/2010/1/10/how-to-write-a-superhero-story.html )

                    this, actually, suggests to me that you have an odd definition of what a man is, because i can’t see the problem here. Are you an unreconstructed Aristotelean, or something? Perhaps you use a programming language without multiple inheritance, which is much the same thing.

                    Speaking of which,

                    5) Jesus is an instance of God, which implements the Man interface. So it’s all the same God code under the hood (identically the same: object-oriented systems don’t copy the code, that would be dreadfully inefficient!), just looks and feels like a man.

                    And here’s two ways that being inconsistent might not be a problem:

                    1) the true logic of the universe is paraconsistent:

                    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-paraconsistent/

                    2) God is omnipotent in a stronger sense than can achieve any logically possible result. They can also achieve any stateable result.

                    So, basically, I’m sure you’re right that with ngotts’s interpretation of what that means, ngotts’s definitions, and ngotts’s logic, it is inconsistent and therefore logically impossible.

                    But there are more things (and certainly concepts) in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by your philosophy, nickatio.

                    • ngotts

                      Since it was Rick who raised the Council of Nicaea, its genesis and conclusions are indeed relevant.

                      “God”, in the Abrahamic sense, is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. No human being is any of these things. Therefore, nothing can be both. All your handwaving nonsense can’t change that. Consider the implications of Jesus being “wholly God and wholly man” or “true God and true man” (standard formulations). These formulations could have been designed to rule out your various suggestions of metaphorical or metonymic interpretation. Was Jesus omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, or was he not? If he was “wholly God”, he must have been. If he was “wholly man”, he could not have been.

                      You quite evidently have no understanding of paraconsistent logics – I suggest you follow your own link and learn about them. Logics are human inventions, and paraconsistent logics are useful in particular applications because they allow inconsistency to be reasoned about coherently; they do not make what is impossible, possible.

                      Jesus was an adult male creature, descended directly from at least one homo sapiens, with the usual morphology you expect of homo sapiens, who
                      just happened to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. the last one maybe we need to fudge a tiny bit

                      No, it’s not a matter of a tiny fudge; it’s a matter of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent entity being completely unlike a man in crucial respects. Ordinary language terms seldom have formal definitions, and are often somewhat elastic, but to pretend that can cover this case is just silly.

                      By the way, if you’re going to use scientific terminology, get it right: it’s Homo sapiens – initial upper-case letter and italics (or underlining if italics are not available) are both required.

                    • arcseconds

                      how do you know no human is omnipotent?

                      that’s not part of the definition of homo sapiens, surely. it’s an empirical result, no? Which could be disproved by finding a human being who is omnipotent.

                      (if it is part of the definition, as i’ve already mentioned i’d like to know what kind of definition you’re using, because it doesn’t seem to be the standard scientific definition)

                      granted, that’s not very likely, but your argument is that it’s logically impossible, not that it couldn’t happen given the laws of physics as we know them.

                      that means some kind of contradiction results from a human being having the property of omnipotence, not that a human being has a unique, extremely surprising, or even physically impossible property.

                      also, even if you do have a definition of humanity that rules out omnipotence, that doesn’t mean that a being that’s like a human being in every way except for being omnipotent couldn’t logically exist. it’s just that you wouldn’t call them a human being, because they don’t fit the definition (*).

                      and of course this wouldn’t be any objection to the council of nicea using ‘man’, without showing that they were using the same definition as you.


                      (*)this might be likened to the logical possibility of a being that looks like a human, acts like a human, and has the same biochemistry as a human, but wasn’t descended from a human being (maybe they were made in a lab), can’t interbreed, and has different dna. by most of the current definition of species it isn’t homo sapiens

                    • arcseconds

                      ok, i can kind of see on re-reading your post that you might be going with an ‘ordinary language’ definition of ‘man’, rather than a scientific one, say. but surely the facts of how flexible the possible extension of an ordinary language term is is an empirical fact about linguistics, not what you personally are uncomfortable with.

                      and the fact that the people of the time seemed happy about calling the jesus of their understanding a ‘man’, is empirical proof that they were comfortable with this extension.

                      and to me this seems pretty unproblematic. we don’t have a problem with accepting superman as a ‘man’ (or are you active on superhero comic sites complaining that superman is not just impossible but logically impossible too?), even though he has qualities that no actual human has ever had, and aren’t even physically possible.

                      we call him a man because he looks sufficiently like one and acts sufficiently likes one. that’s usually enough for an ordinary language term to apply.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      the fact that the people of the time seemed happy about calling the jesus of their understanding a ‘man’, is empirical proof that they were comfortable with this extension

                      No, it isn’t, because the Council of Nicaea far from put an end to the controversy, see for example this wikipedia article on the “Person of Christ”. In fact, and here I was in error, the formulae “true God and true man” or “wholly God and wholly man” came rather later, and I think might not be accepted by Nestorians or Monophysites. Nicaea was primarily concerned, so far as this issue goes, to reject the doctrines of Arianism (that the Son was inferior to the Father and had not always existed) and Docetism, that Jesus was not really human – his physical body being an illusion. The conclusion that Jesus was both a real man and an eternal person of the Trinity (i.e., God) was thus a compromise formulation that inevitably, because it really made no sense, led to further doctrinal disputes.

                      Of course Superman isn’t a man: he’s from another planet, and has no human ancestry. I have no idea whether comic-book fans refer to him as a man, nor do I care. But in any case, the orthodox Christian doctrine of the “hypostatic union” (the one expressed as “true God and true man”) doesn’t say Jesus is a man with the unusual properties of being omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent (I think everyone but you can see you’re just being ridiculous in pretending that there could be a man who had these properties). It says he had two natures, one that of a man, the other that of a God, united in one person. As this article on the doctrine of the hypostatic union says: “the precise nature of this union is held to defy finite human comprehension”. IOW, the churches admit they cannot come up with a formulation of the claim that makes sense.

                    • arcseconds

                      i’m not pretending anything, nick. it certainly is physically impossible given our current understanding of physics, just as Superman is physically impossible.

                      but it certainly is logically possible just as Superman is logically possible.

                      just to recap: logically possible for either a homo sapiens to be omnipotent, or for a being that’s enough like an adult male human being for many, if not most people to be happy using ‘man’ to describe him.

                      you have yet to demonstrate how an inconsistency arises here.

                      all that seems to be going on is that you, personally, would not be happy using the word ‘man’ to describe such a being, not that one couldn’t logically exist.

                      i’m wondering whether you really understand what logical possibility is. i mean, you seem to be able to wield the concept to some extent, but at some point you seem to be conflating it with what you happen to find conceivable.

                      the rest of your post, while interesting, doesn’t show logical impossibility, it just shows they had created a puzzle.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      Yes, you are pretending, at more than one level. You are pretending to be interested in a substantive discussion, but you are not – or you would take more trouble to use scientific terminology properly if you are going to use it at all, you would avoid ridiculous drivel about topics you don’t understand, such as paraconsistent logics – which I notice you have dropped; and you would check simple points such as when God came to be thought of as omnipotent, for yourself. You are also pretending that it is logically possible for a man to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Natural language terms are elastic, but not limitlessly so. A curve which is not quite a set of points on a plane equidistant from a given point can still be called a circle; but if it has four straight sides and four right-angled corners, it is a square, and it is not a circle. Similarly, a man with some unusual powers could reasonably still be called a man, but a man is a being of limited powers, limited knowledge, and limited spatial extent. You know this as well as I do. Find me one relevant author – in this case that would be a Christian theologian – who says that a man can be unlimited in these ways. You ignore the point that the doctrine in question does not pretend, as you do, that a man can be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. It does not define Jesus as a man, but as a “person” with two “natures”, one of which is the “nature” of a man, the other, the “nature” of God. It is you who are deeply confused about the nature of logical possibility – as you showed with that nonsense about paraconsistent logics. You appear to think that because the meaning assigned to words is a contingent matter, you can change their meaning as you please to avoid a logical impossibility. It reminds me of the saw attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

                      Q: How many legs does a dog have, if you call the tail a leg?

                      A: Four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

                    • arcseconds

                      well, you seem to be very convinced that the community of english-speakers would agree with you in saying that an omnipotent being was not a man.

                      what makes you so convinced of this?

                      people are happy to call all sorts of things ‘men’ that they take to have incredible supernatural powers. i mentioned comic books, but in fantastic fiction more generally all sorts of abilities and powers can be possessed by people ‘born of women’ and no-one seems to have a problem with this. i’ve never heard anyone apart from you suggest that ‘well, he’s not really a man, because men don’t fly’ or anything of the kind.

                      it’s not as though people react to this as though the media was filled with four-sided triangles or barbers that shave all and only those who don’t shave themselves or things that are really logically impossible.

                      ‘man’ is even attributed to things which plainly aren’t human beings, like ‘robo-men’.

                      the fictional context doesn’t matter either, because people really believe that all sorts of people have amazing supernatural powers. here’s just one random example:

                      http://www.amazingabilities.com/sai12a.html

                      and they’re prepared to talk about ‘little green men’ and ‘wolf-men’ and all sorts of other things which don’t neatly fit into some rigid definition.

                      so, what i take from this is that the term ‘man’ in common usage is very flexible indeed. true, it’s not infintely flexible, but adding incredible abilities absolutely does not seem to be a problem.

                      what would be a problem is if the being wasn’t humanoid, or maybe was obviously female.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      The formulation of the hypostatic union says that Jesus is “wholly God and wholly man” or “true God and true man”? Why do you think that “wholly” or “true” is there? Just decoration? The obvious answer is that it’s there not only to rule out the methaphorical and metonymic interpretations you suggested, but to insist that however tight you make your definition of “man” (or of course, “God”), Jesus fits it.

                    • arcseconds

                      That’s not the obvious answer at all.

                      If someone says a device is a ‘true computer’, that probably means it meets the current definition of a general purpose computer, which is likely to be a universal turing machine with memory constraints.

                      It’s reasonably likely it’s there to inform you that it’s not a special-purpose computational device.

                      It doesn’t follow that you can interpret this statement by making ‘computer’ as tight as you like, e.g. you can’t decide that it means ‘von Neumann architecture’, ‘made of silicon’, ‘powered by electricity’, ‘programmed using a symbolic programming language’ or anything like this.

                      It also doesn’t mean that this device isn’t capable of more than a Turing machine. Of course, if someone’s being sufficiently informative, they should probably tell you that, but the hypostatic union people aren’t holding back on this front!

                      I think what they’re trying to insist on here is that he was not a phantom, or something like that, just as you said before.

                      Now, I think you may be quite right that this did get them into trouble with their definitions, but it’s not because it’s logically impossible for something to be plausibly called ‘man’ and yet be omnipotent, but because they could well have been, like you, working with rigid Aristotelean categories, in which this sort of thing might well be problematic.

                      This sort of thing is an opportunity to revise your framework, rather than just give up in hopelessness, which is what they did do, or at least, tried to do.

                      But that’s just speculation, I don’t really know all that much about how they treated terms and what their metaphysical framework for dealing with properties was. I’m assuming it was reasonably Aristotelean.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      I’m not of course working with “rigid Aristotelian categories”, as you must be well aware, since I have repeatedly noted that natural language terms are elastic. Your continued dishonesty is noted.

                    • arcseconds

                      OK, you got me nick, I admit it, I know nothing about paraconsistent logics, I just threw that out there to see if it would stick.

                      And obviously substantial people always make sure their typography is awesome, because that’s widely acknowledged by serious people to be extremely important for deep and meaningful discussion, as so much of importance depends on it.

                      Granted these points, what follows?

                      Absolutely nothing!

                      Oh, except, you know, you’ve shown me to be a ridiculous fool, but I already knew that.

                      Thing is, though, whether an objection is voiced by a fool or not doesn’t stop it being an objection. You’ve still yet to actually prove your assertion that it’s logically impossible for a man to be omnipotent.

                      Clearly you’ve been distracted by my poor typography and side issues from my main arguments and insulting me and so forth. I’ll try to keep you more focused on the actual argument from now on. I’m using capitals now! I’ll even, just for you, italicize Homo sapiens.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      What follows is that you have been arguing in bad faith throughout. Why? Just a personal dislike for me? I can understand that, but the amount of time and effort you’ve put into it seems rather obsessive. Or is there some other motivation?

                      A small personal request: would you kindly drop the faux self-deprecation?

                    • arcseconds

                      I’ve consistently pressed my main argument.

                      You’ve responded to this, yes, but rather than sticking to a reasonable discussion on this, you’ve also employed your usual tactics of striking out at anything that looks like weakness, or anything you can get a hold of, to the detriment of making a good show of responding to my main argument.

                      Including attacking my typography! I mean, really, Nick, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that you actually think that was a useful addition to the discussion. You suggest you did it because you took me for being pompous, but you continued to criticise me for it after I explained that I had perfectly good non-pompous reasons for employing the term.

                      I’ve encountered pedantry before, but really, who insists on correct typography for species names in comments on a blog? You’re lucky if you get consistent capitalisation and proper use of apostrophes.

                      I stopped talking about the omni-definition and paraconsistent logic because they were side issues. No other reason.

                      My typography, my laziness, my alleged wrongness on the topic of paraconsistent logic, they are all irrelevant to whether or not man and God are logically compatible. So why discuss them at all, let alone treat them as though they are fatal to my position?

                      Well, I suppose it allows you to charge me with bad faith when I tell you they’re irrelevant! Another opportunity to try to make me look bad that doesn’t involve actually discussing the issue.

                      When you’re the model of graciousness and charity in a discussion, rather than the vicious attack dog going for anything that looks like a loose end and not letting go, growling ad hominems all the while, then you can teach me about good faith.

                      But not before :-)

                    • Nick Gotts

                      I’ve encountered pedantry before, but really, who insists on correct typography for species names in comments on a blog?

                      That particular incorrect usage annoys me because it is so often an attempt to give a scientific gloss to an argument by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, but likes to show off. How could I possibly have got the idea that you might fall into that category?

                      You admitted you know nothing about paraconsistent logics, yet you introduced them “to see if it would stick”. Yet you accuse me as follows:

                      you’ve also employed your usual tactics of striking out at anything that looks like weakness, or anything you can get a hold of, to the detriment of making a good show of responding to my main argument.

                      I have responded to your “main argument”, such as it is, by arguing that natural language terms are not infinitely elastic and that you are misrepresenting the meaning of scientific definitions; and by showing that the framers and interpreters of the doctrine did not claim that a man could be omnipotent, insisted that Jesus had two natures each with their own properties, and admit that they cannot give a comprehensible account of how these two natures can inhere in one being. You have given no remotely adequate response.

                      Another opportunity to try to make me look bad that doesn’t involve actually discussing the issue.

                      Your first comment, apart from a quote from me, began as follows:

                      Ah, Nick, we can always rely on you to testify to the truth of atheism, and pile objection on top of objection even when it’s not very relevant!

                      But far from showing that the Jesus-God identity thesis is
                      necessarily false, all this shows is that you have an oddball idea about how things are defined, and plus you have little imagination.

                      So that’s several irrelevant sneers in the first two paragraphs. You set the tone for this argument, and I’m sure you did so quite deliberately.

                      then you can teach me about good faith.

                      I really don’t think anyone would be able to do that.

                    • arcseconds

                      I’m sorry, nick, it doesn’t follow at all. I think it’s pretty clear that my initial post was a bunch of suggestions as to how it might not actually be a problem, and that they were meant with varying degrees of seriousness. I mean, the paraconsistent logic one went with God being able to make inconsistent things true!

                      Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t wring my neck over that one too. I guess you felt the paraconsistent logic one would hurt more, or something.

                      I guess you see this as bad faith, but geez, nick, lighten up. Not everything has to be a jaw-clenching fight to the finish and intended with absolute deadly seriousness.

                      But even accepting your accusation here, it certainly doesn’t follow from one instance of bad-faith argumentation — which I didn’t follow up on — shows that every argument I’ve made, I’ve made in bad faith.

                      As for why I’m doing this, well, it takes two to tango! Why are you doing this?

                      I’m doing this because it amuses me, principally. But, you know, I’ve got my values to further, my principles to uphold, and all that sort of thing! Plus, it’s good for you — I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t!

                      No, I’m not going to stop any self-deprecation I might be indulging myself in. I’m not going to let you have all the fun!

                    • Nick Gotts

                      But, you know, I’ve got my values to further, my principles to uphold, and all that sort of thing!

                      No, I don’t know, or believe, that.

                      No, I’m not going to stop any self-deprecation I might be indulging myself in.

                      I wasn’t asking you to: just the fake self-deprecation.

                    • arcseconds

                      Let’s put it this way. You think adding ‘omnipotent’ to a human being is analogous to adding a fourth side to a triangle.

                      I think it’s like colouring the triangle green.

                      And who is right? Well, the definition of the triangle very clearly rules out a fourth side.

                      Whereas definitions of species as they’re actually written don’t rule out one member of a species having unusual properties, even if they contradict the usual description of the species. Thus, we have white ravens and two-legged goats, and supernumerate humans with eidetic memory.

                      I think you actually do realise this, which is why you’re going on about ‘assumed in definitions’, and appeals to what biologists might or might not do if confronted with an omnipotent human being.

                      It’s got nothing to do with definitions. It has to do with mental categories, and your ones just happen to be particularly strict and rigid.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      It’s got nothing to do with definitions.

                      It was not me who introduced definitions, and I noted early on that natural language terms seldom have them. So again, it’s clear you’ve been arguing in bad faith throughout. But as I’ve pointed out more than once, the framers of the doctrine apparently knew as well as you and I do that the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent man is an absurdity: they would have agreed with me, and not with the position you have adopted in bad faith. That’s why they insisted that Jesus had two natures in one person. I quote again from wikipedia on the hypostatic union:

                      the Council [of Chalcedon, at which an attempt to clear up the doctrinal mess left by Nicaea was made] declared that in Christ there are two natures; each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person

                      What do you think that “each retaining its own properties” is there for? If they meant “Oh by the way, in this case, the properties of ‘man’ include being omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent”, would they not have said so? They were, in fact, insisting that Jesus had incompatible properties. Now, to use your own favourite recourse, that’s allowed for comic-book characters, because they don’t actually exist; fans may argue over inconsistencies in the Superman canon, but they all know it’s just a game. So I’m prepared to concede that the Jesus of orthodox Christian doctrine is an acceptable comic-book character, because in the comic-book world, logical impossibility is allowed, even if regarded as an artistic flaw.

                    • arcseconds

                      I really can’t see the problem here, Nick, and I’m sorry if you think it’s bad faith.

                      As God, he has the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.

                      As a man, he weighs 70kgs, was born in 5BC to a woman, breathed oxygen, and had two arms and two legs.

                      There’s nothing logically inconsistent about the list of properties: omnipotent, omniscient, two arms, two legs, breathes oxygen. He’s called ‘man’ because of the man-properties, and God because of the god-properties. Omnipresence is a little more difficult, yes, but it hardly seems insumountable.

                      And what, exactly, is wrong with calling a hairless, rational, biped, born of a woman, presumably with recognizably human DNA, standing 5’6″ tall, breathing oxygen a man?

                      That’s what it boils down to, and you can’t just assert that such a being stops being a man if they’re omnipotent, especially not when there’s considerable evidence that supernatural powers don’t usually (and certainly don’t universally) cause people to bring the entity’s humanity into question.

                      The rest of it is, I suspect, them trying to make sense of this in a framework which was kind of rigid. If your point is that they had problems dealing with this in their framework, then sure, I agree with that, but that’s a far cry from saying the entire doctrine is logically inconsistent.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      At this point, I’m prepared to leave it to other to judge whether you have been arguing in bad faith. If you have any motivation other than personal dislike, I guess it may have been that you considered my argument with Rick too abrasive, and you would have a point: I do too easily slip into that mode, appropriate to my main online hangout at Pharyngula, but not here. However, Rick did not appear to be troubled by it, responded very graciously, and as you may have noticed, we ended on good terms. If that was your motivation, then possibly something like: “Hey, Nick, remember what you said about being less aggressive?”, combined if you like with a sneer-free presentation of your objections to my claim, might have been an alternative worth considering.

                    • arcseconds

                      oh, i missed your point that you think ‘omnipotent’ is stretching the term too much.

                      well, you think it is. i don’t. it doesn’t seem to be a problem for Christians either (i mean, yes, they could be logically confused on this, but you can’t just assume that, that’s begging the question) or for traditional Buddhists, either – I gather the Buddha is traditionally supposed to be omniscient.

                      also, from comic-book-land, Spectre seems to be pretty much omnipotent, but that doesn’t seem to prevent him from being considered a man. Granted, Spectre seems to raise much the same kinds of questions as Jesus and the Trinity have due to how this is justified, but again, it’s not treated as if an inconceivable, logically impossible thing has been asserted.

                      incidentally, do you think a person stops being a man as soon as they become omnipotent? i.e. do things change if it’s an acquired trait? how powerful do you have to be, in your view, before you stop being a man?

                    • Nick Gotts

                      You are repeatedly ignoring the point – because it destroys your position – that the framers and later defenders of the doctrine of the hypostatic union have been at pains to insist that they know the doctrine means that Jesus had incompatible properties, and that this does not make sense. At no time has any defender of the doctrine, to my knowledge, claimed that the properties of omnipotence, omniscience or omnipresence can be attributed to a man. I have already challenged you to find a counter-example. I repeat that challenge.

                    • arcseconds

                      Nothing in your quotes suggests to me that they think these categories are logically incompatible in our sense.

                      And they clearly think Jesus is such a man! OK, so they say that omniscience derives from his godness, not his manness, but so what?

                    • Nick Gotts

                      Of course they don’t have exactly the same sense of “logically incompatible” we do. But why the insistence on “two natures in one person” if they did not recognise that there was a fundamental problem? Why the insistence on the “true God and true man” terminology? Why the admission that the precise nature of this union defies finite human comprehension?

                      OK, so they say that omniscience derives from his godness, not his manness, but so what?

                      That in his nature as a man, Jesus would have had the normal human properties of non-omnipotence, non-omniscience, and non-omnipresence: so as a person with two natures, he would have been both omnipotent and non-omnipotent, omniscient and non-omniscient, omnipresent and non-omnipresent. They do not pretend that the idea of an omniscient (or omnipotent, or omnipresent) man makes sense, which is the whole basis of your “main argument”. They presumably thought they could make the notion of two natures, each with their own (mutually incompatible) properties, in one person coherent, but no-one has ever been able to do so. So whatever you think you’re defending, it certainly isn’t the doctrine I’m attacking. In that clear sense, your “main argument” has been one big irrelevance.

                    • arcseconds

                      see my other reply – it’s a problem for aristotelian frameworks that think in terms of fixed nature.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      Yes: such frameworks – which the framers of the doctrine were working within (although Platonic rather than Aristotelian) do run into insoluble logical problems when they insist that one entity has two natures with incompatible properties. That’s been my point throughout.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      “Though no man may draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are on the whole tolerably distinguishable” – Edmund Burke

                      More prosaically, there does not have to be an exact boundary between what a word can mean and what it can’t, for there to be clear cases of the misuse of natural language. As I think you’re perfectly well aware.

                    • arcseconds

                      also, this is kind of a side-issue because obviously my main argument rests on accepting the omni-god definition, but i’m wondering about it.

                      you baldly state that the abrahamic god is the omni-god.

                      i’m pretty certain that it’s more the case that the abrahamic god came to be understood as the omni-god at some point, and that point was comparatively late, certainly later than when jesus lived.

                      the being portrayed in the bible doesn’t appear to be omniscient, appears to have a location (and a back and a face, apparently!) and while very powerful, it’s not clear that he’s omnipotent, as far as i know.

                      so when did the omni-god understanding come about?

                    • Nick Gotts

                      Are you unable to look things up for yourself, or just too lazy? Here:

                      In the Old Testament there are more than seventy passages I which God is called Shaddai, i.e. omnipotent. The Scriptures represent this attribute as infinite power (Job 42:2; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37); Matthew 19:26, etc.) which God alone possesses (Tobit 13:4; Ecclus. I, 8; etc.). The Greek and Latin Fathers unanimously teach the doctrine of Divine omnipotence. Origen testifies to this belief when he infers the amplitude of Divine providence from God’s omnipotence: “Just as we hold that God is incorporeal and omnipotent and invisible, so likewise do we confess as a certain and immovable dogma that His providence extends to all things”

                    • arcseconds

                      finally, i must confess you’ve got me in a turmoil over your insistence of proper scientific style of ‘homo sapiens’

                      initially i thought it was a hilarious cheap shot and i was thinking of a suitably sarcastic reply, but maybe you suffer from some kind of condition by which you find it incredibly upsetting and painful when people don’t respect proper usage?

                      if that’s the case the internet must be a horrible place indeed for you. that probably explains why you’re so curmudgeonly

                      so i’m not sure whether to laugh or to cry

                      i’m disinclined to let you have your way with me just because of arbitrary, point-scoring pedantistry, though.

                      also, italic html tags are a pain to type

                      but i appreciate your concern for consistency, so i have taken all the capitals out, and only used italics when necessary for meaning

                    • Nick Gotts

                      If you are pompous and pretentious enough to use a scientific term when an ordinary language one (“human being”) would do perfectly well (in fact, better, since we would probably judge members of Homo neanderthalensis, Homo antecessor, and perhaps Homo erectus to be human beings, and thus adult male members of those species to be men), failure to do so properly makes you look both ignorant and lazy. But since you admit at least to the latter (“html tags are a pain to type”), and evidently don’t care about the former, carry on.

                    • arcseconds

                      :-)

                      the reason i used the term was because i was using the scientific definition of ‘man’ in order to show that by a reasonably tight definition in current use, it isn’t actually logically incompatible with omnipotence.

                      and not, you know, pomposity or pretensiousness

                      how did you not see that? i think you may want to look at the level of charity you’re applying, it’s causing you to make embarrassing mistakes.

                      i thought you had given up being a dick in your admission last time i crossed swords with you that you ended up going for cheap shots and weak links rather than having a substantial discussion, but it seems it’s hard for a leopard called nick gotts to change his spots,

                      but that’s ok! it’s so much more fun when you ignore the fact i’m using a biological definition in order to sneer at me.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      the reason i used the term was because i was using the scientific definition of ‘man’ in order to show that by a reasonably tight definition in current use, it isn’t actually logically incompatible with omnipotence.

                      Tosh. Are you seriously claiming that if a team of scientists were to find that an entity they were studying turned out to be coextensive with the universe, to know everything, and to be able to do anything logically possible, they would consider that it fell under “the scientific definition of ‘man’”? Because it has to be the scientists who came up with it, and not you, who get to say what that scientific definition includes and excludes, does it not? In your first comment, you said:

                      I’ve never seen ‘isn’t omnipotent’ in any definition of species I’ve ever seen.

                      This alone is enough to demonstrate your bad faith. Of course no scientist is going to put “isn’t omniscient” in such a definition, or “doesn’t explode with the force of a 100 Mt bomb”, or “doesn’t temporarily turn into ten million elephants whenever someone says ‘Boo!’ in the vicinity”, or any other such nonsense – because they assume their definitions are going to be read and used in scientific contexts, and by people with common sense. I know that, you know that, everyone reading this knows that. Follow the first rule of holes, arcseconds.

                      Oh, and wouldn’t it be better to drop the silliness of using only lower-case letters now? It was never actually witty – it’s really just one continuous sneer, which rather undermines the pose of moral superiority; and it does make what you write a bit harder to read – not just for me, but for anyone else.

                    • arcseconds

                      Are you seriously claiming that if a team of scientists were to find that an entity they were studying turned out to be coextensive with the universe, to know everything, and to be able to do anything logically possible, they would consider that it fell under “the scientific definition of ‘man’”?

                      If it was descended from a homo sapiens, and had all the usual physical attributes of a homo sapiens, and the same DNA as a homo sapiens, and could reasonably be expected to be able to interbreed with homo sapiens, yes, i would expect them to, because it meets with all the current definitions of ‘species’ in biology.

                      now, a scientist or the scientific community may well abandon such a definition in face of such an individual,
                      but that’s a different argument. maybe omnipotence will be ruled out by a future definition.

                      i’m not sure how to help you here, nick, you seem a bit wedded to some kind of rigid classification concerning lists of properties, which is why i suggested you’re some kind of neo-aristotelean.

                      and of course you could have a definition of ‘man’ defined by a list of properties and either explicitly exclude omnipotence or have some blanket rule that excludes it. but so what? all that shows is that you’re unhappy calling such a being ‘man’, which is fine, but it doesn’t give you the right to clobber anyone who doesn’t share your definitions with the ‘logical impossibility’ stick.

                      biologists used to categorize species by common properties, so you might have had a point then (although it’s still an open question. such a being still has all the properties that would normally get it categorised as ‘man’).

                      but these days they’re much more concerned with common descent and breeding patterns. old categories defined by morphological properties that are polyphyletic or paraphelytic are rejected, deprecated, or at least noted as such depending on how religious the biologist is about monophyly.

                      this is one of the motivating reasons behind asserting that birds are dinosaurs, despite the fact that their properties are very different.

                      Because it has to be the scientists who came up with it, and not you, who get to say what that scientific definition includes and excludes, does it not?

                      well, it is possible for the entire scientific community to ignore their own definitions, isn’t it?

                      anyway, doesn’t this apply to you as well as me?

                    • Nick Gotts

                      No, it doesn’t apply in the same way to me as to you, because you are the one who introduced scientific definitions, which are, as I have pointed out, irrelevant. If you want to use them in your argument, you need to make a good-faith effort to establish that you are doing so in a way their framers would find acceptable, but of course, you won’t, because you are not arguing in good faith. To anticipate your next tu quoque, yes, I have made such an effort in the case of the hypostatic union. I have pointed out the care with which its framers insisted that each of Jesus’s two “natures” retained its properties; that its interpreters have used the phrases “true man” or “wholly man”, ruling out the kind of Procrustean torture you have been applying to the term “man”; and have honestly admitted that they cannot explain how two natures with incompatible properties can inhere in one being.

                    • arcseconds

                      That’s more or less where I was going with this.

                      What your position amounts to is that an aristotelian framework insisting on fixed natures for classes cannot deal with an entity that appears to have natures drawn from two different classes.

                      They (and you?) would have similar trouble with a tree that could talk.

                      I think that could well be an accurate criticism of the theology of the day, but it hardly amounts to what they were trying to say about Jesus being logically impossible.

                      That’s an interesting result. They took themselves to have encountered an entity that challenged their framework, and the rest of traditional western theology could plausibly be described as an ongoing attempt to make sense of this.

                      I’m not an expert on this (obviously), and it’d be good to get an expert opinion on this, but it sounds kinda right to me.

                      It’s not unlike the situation that modern physics found itself in with quantum mechanics, although they were admittedly a bit better at adapting.

                      What’s surprising about all of this is that you also appear to be stuck in some kind of crypto-neo-aristotelian framework, which makes you think that this is somehow a permanent, fatal blow!

                      Modern science officially gave up on aristotelian categories and natures back in the 1600s, Nick. Your ‘logically impossible’ objection is just a historical point, interesting to those interested in the history of theology, unless you can show it’s also a problem for modern thought.

                      As you’re stuck in the past yourself, it doesn’t look like you can do that.

                    • Nick Gotts

                      What’s surprising about all of this is that you also appear to be stuck
                      in some kind of crypto-neo-aristotelian framework, which makes you think
                      that this is somehow a permanent, fatal blow!

                      My objection was aimed specifically at the doctrine of the hypostatic union, formulated in the 4th-6th centuries, but still officially maintained by most churches. This was clear form the start, but you have persisted throughout in pretending otherwise – although you now appear to be conceding that yes, that doctrine is indeed logically impossible (I expect you’ll be along to take this concession back). Some churches have abandoned the doctrine: the Unitarians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, the LDS, maybe others I haven’t heard of or have forgotten (and of course many non-theologian Christians would just shrug their shoulders and say it doesn’t matter to them). None of the churches I list have tried to keep the notion of Jesus being both a man, and the triple-omni God of orthodox Christianity; and none of the rest have, to my knowledge, claimed to come up with a formulation of the doctrine comprehensible to human minds (i.e., that actually makes sense).

                    • arcseconds

                      I haven’t forgotten about this, but I have a cold that’s sapped my capacity for going back over the conversation to see what was clear from the start or not, to say nothing of my will to live!

                    • Nick Gotts

                      maybe you suffer from some kind of condition by which you find it
                      incredibly upsetting and painful when people don’t respect proper usage?

                      Whether I do or do not, it’s interesting that you find such a disability a fit subject for mockery.

                      that probably explains why you’re so curmudgeonly

                      Pot, meet kettle.

                    • arcseconds

                      that probably explains why you’re so curmudgeonly

                      Pot, meet kettle.

                      i think it would help our mutual understanding if you read all of my posts in your head (or out loud, if you like) in the voice of bugs bunny.

                      would it help if i called you ‘doc’?

                      is there any cartoon character you’d like me to imagine you as?

                      ‘cos at the moment, i’m definitely picturing you as yosemite sam.

                      you can call me ‘varmint’ if you want! :-)

                    • Nick Gotts

                      No, what would help in our mutual understanding would be some honesty on your part.

                    • arcseconds

                      Bad faith, laziness, faux-scientific vaneers, poor typography, and now dishonesty!
                      I’m going for ‘sophistry’ next :-)

                  • Rick

                    ngotts:
                    Thanks for your feedback. Again, you raise good questions. However, we clearly disagree on the historicity of the Resurrection, and on the development of doctrine at Nicea. I recommend NT Wright’s work on the historicity of the Resurrection, and in regards to Nicea, the development of orthodox doctrine was well underway prior to that council.
                    I do agree that some Christians have unfortunately used force to impose their will, and that is not acceptable. However, please do not confuse how some people sought power as reflective of the faith, including the One we worship and follow.

                    • ngotts

                      Thanks for the recommendation, and I may follow it up, but I don’t need to read N.T. Wright to know that even eyewitness testimony taken immediately after the event is unreliable; inconsistent hearsay from decades later is next to worthless with regard to a claimed miracle. You may be interested in this article, by Byron R. McCane, a Christian NT scholar, on Jesus’s burial. Of particular interest is this passage (E.P. Sanders, as I’m sure you know, is also a Christian; whether to count Crossan as one, I don’t know):

                      E. P. Sanders, in attempting to reconstruct the course of events at Jesus’ trial, has pointed out that probably no single individual was in a position to know fully the exact course of events that night. The point is well taken and should serve as a reminder that a degree of uncertainty will always inhere in any effort to reconstruct what happened at the death and burial of Jesus. It was, after all, almost two thousand years ago. John Dominic Crossan, of course, takes scepticism a good deal further and argues that “nobody knew what had happened to Jesus’ body…With regard to the body of Jesus, by Easter Sunday morning, those who cared did not know, and those who knew did not care.” There are reasons to agree with this sobering assessment, at least in part. Certainly few–if any–of Jesus’ followers directly witnessed his death and burial, and the glamorized Christian stories of his interment cannot be trusted to describe wie es eigentlich war [as it actually was]. Yet there are good reasons to stop short of complete scepticism about the fate of Jesus’ body. Indeed, the evidence from Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources
                      all coheres around a single conclusion: Jesus was buried in shame. Someone from the Council approached Pilate about the body and put it in an underground tomb reserved for Jewish criminals.

                      How far Wright, or you, rely on the “empty tomb” story, I don’t know, but many believers consider it their strongest point. Yet, assuming those coming to anoint the body really did find an empty tomb, McCane’s account suggests an obvious possibility (this is my suggestion, not his): they went to the wrong tomb (these women were Galileans, not Jerusalemites, and if they witnessed the burial at all, probably did so from a distance if McCane’s account is correct), and it was empty because no-one had been put in it.

                      On your last point, I’m afraid the way Christians behaved as long as they had the power to do so is inevitably reflective of the faith; and Jesus of the gospels is by no means a model of religious tolerance.

                    • Rick

                      It is interesting that both Sanders are Wright are seen as leaders in the New Perspective on Paul camp, yet differ so much on this issue.

                      I am going to have to side with Wright on this one though, as he writes:

                      “as far as I am concerned, the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity arose, and why it took the shape it did, are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer: that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him. The origins of Christianity, the reason why this new movement came into being and took the unexpected form it did, and particularly the strange mutations it produced within the Jewish hope for resurrection and the Jewish hope for a Messiah, are best explained by saying that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have.
                      Of course, there are several reasons why people may
                      not want, and often refuse, to believe this. But the historian must weigh, as well, the alternative accounts they themselves offer. And, to date, none of them have anything like the explanatory power of the simple, but utterly challenging, Christian one. The historian’s task is not to force people to believe. It is to make it clear that the sort of reasoning historians characteristically employ —
                      inference to the best explanation, tested rigorously in terms of the explanatory power of the hypothesis thus generated — points strongly towards the bodily resurrection of Jesus; and to make clear, too, that from that point on the historian alone cannot help.”

                    • ngotts

                      Sorry, but that really is nonsense. We know from modern examples (e.g. the “Great Disappointment”, the numerous prophetic failures of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) that religious sects will often seize on some implausible excuse to avoid admitting they have been wrong. We know that psychological and social processes frequently lead to the belief in supernatural or otherwise extraordinary events for which there is no good evidence – you only have to look around the web to confirm that. As I’ve pointed out, you wouldn’t get a conviction for a parking offense on “evidence” of the quality of the gospel accounts – inconsistent hearsay from decades later.

                      Wright grossly misrepresents normal historical method, which is first to assess whether an account of a historical event is plausible in relation to what we know about how the world works in general. This is not just in relation to accounts of putative miracles. For example, no modern historian accepts that the Persian forces invading Greece during the reign of Xerxes consisted of five million men (half of them combatants, half support), as Herodotus claims, because there is no way a force of that size could have been assembled or supplied at that time. Now if a genuine supernatural event happened, this general principle could lead to it being wrongly dismissed; so I would say that if the evidence were sufficiently strong, it would be right to deviate from that method. In the case of the resurrection, it quite clearly isn’t, and Christian historians such as Sanders recognize that. They are still free to believe in the resurrection, but to claim that it can be verified by normal historical methods, as Wright does, is less than honest.

                      Of course, there are several reasons why people may not want, and often refuse, to believe this.

                      That kind of accusation of bias cuts both ways: there is also a very obvious reason why Wright, and you, want to believe in the supernatural explanation.

                    • Rick

                      Clearly we come to very different conclusions, but I appreciate your feedback.
                      Have a great weekend.

                    • ngotts

                      Thanks, you too.

  • Paul D.

    It’s a bit like loving a person. If you worship someone you think is utterly flawless and perfect, what you’re actually in love with is a caricature you have invented in your mind. No such person exists in the real world. Actually wanting to know and love a person means wanting to know about their imperfections and deficiencies as well.

    The Bible isn’t so different. I love all its weirdness, its paradoxes, its inconsistencies and internal debates, its mythology, and its hagiographical fiction. To pretend it is something else simply means I have created an imaginary idol to worship.

    • ngotts

      You’re right, no-one’s perfect. But my wife, whom I love, is a sight more ethical than the Bible, or any character therein. She doesn’t go around breaking up families, cursing whole cities for refusing to recognise her authority, threatening people with hell, or even driving herds of pigs off cliffs, for a start.

  • Beau Quilter

    I love the Bible the way I love Mexican food. Sometimes I’m really in the mood for it; but it usually gives me indigestion.

  • ngotts

    “Inasmuch as there is historical information to be had about the figure
    of Jesus of Nazareth, for instance, you won’t accomplish much if you
    simply ignore the New Testament authors.”

    This is clearly true, since there is next to no such information anywhere else. The same is true for the history of very early Christianity. It’s a significant source of information for Jewish history and culture, and to a lesser extent, that of other aspects of ancient near-Eastern history and culture. I don’t see any case for it being an “authority”, in any sense, on any other aspect of knowledge, or on ethics.


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