What Too Many Atheists Don’t Get About Christians (part two)

indiana-jonesThis morning a student asked me if she could leave the classroom to get a drink of water from the water fountain across the hall. Since it’s not ten feet from my door, I said “okay,” but I also kept an eye on her because she regularly disappears down the hallway when I let her do this. Sure enough, she disappeared again today. I knew better than to trust her and my suspicions were correct. Before she could make it all the way down the hall I was standing in the hallway, calling her back to class. Few things upset administrators at an inner city school more than letting students roam the halls unsupervised. She came back, but acted insulted that I felt the need to monitor her so closely. “You don’t trust me, Coach Carter? Why you don’t trust me?” This is a running joke, of course, because everyone in the class (including her) knows good and well that she can’t be trusted. She pulls this all the time. My expectation that she would bolt was based on a fairly consistent track record, and at some point my letting her leave the room under this pretense becomes a fallacy of slothful induction. Unless I have some experimental, empirical reason to change my expectations, I’d be a fool to keep trusting her to go where she says she’s going.

You could say I didn’t have “faith” in her. You could. But why choose a word so heavy-laden with religious connotations when it would fit the situation much better to say, “I don’t trust her?” It’s a quirk of language that we use the same word in different ways at different times, and this works fine for us in normal, everyday interactions. I can say “I love my children” in one breath and in the next say “I love 80’s movies” and no one would jump to the conclusion that my feelings for both are equally strong. That’s because words have usage more than they have meaning, so context can dramatically alter what you mean when you use a word. People know this, but they conveniently forget at the most inopportune times. If my student had asked me to “have faith” in her, there’s a sense in which that would have been more appropriate than asking me to trust her. Both faith and trust mean similar things, but I would argue that one of them points heavily toward past experience while another points away from it. Maybe you’ll see what I mean by the end of this post.

In my last post I explained one of the ways that too many atheists misunderstand and misrepresent Christians, and this story introduces another. Because language is a fluid thing, the words we use can pivot and turn without warning so that we end up misunderstanding each other, often ending the conversation in frustration. If we’re going to talk about something as fraught with intense emotion as religion, we’re going to have to work at being a little more precise and more consistent than usual about the words we use (at least during these discussions if nowhere else). Toward that end I’d like to tease out what people mean when they use words like “faith” and “evidence.” But first, let me begin by making sure my fellow atheists consider a second thing about Christians which I don’t think they always get:

2) When we say that “faith” means “believing without evidence,” we are misrepresenting what they usually mean when they use the word.

Now, I would qualify this by saying there’s some truth to the notion that faith, both in the Bible and in common parlance today, implies some measure of overlooking things which contradict (or at least appear to contradict) what we are being told to believe. It might be more accurate to say that faith is believing irrespective of the evidence because that means something slightly different. It’s not accurate to say there is no evidence. From their perspective, there is evidence, it just happens to be the kind of evidence which atheists don’t find particularly convincing. We can always discuss what is and isn’t persuasive evidence for the kinds of claims we’re evaluating
(and I will in a minute, so keep your shirt on). But first for the sake of promoting mutually beneficial conversation I think we should note that this phrase “without evidence” fails to acknowledge that most Christians feel they have a good many reasons to believe what they believe. I know I did when I was a Christian. In his response to Peter Boghossian’s book A Manual for Creating Atheists, Phil Vischer says:

Now, to be fair, the evidence presented in the New Testament typically isn’t the kind of evidence modern scientists [or atheists] favor – meaning, it isn’t evidence that can be repeated in laboratory experiments, published in papers and peer-reviewed. It tends to be evidence of a historical and/or testimonial nature. Some folks are so scientifically wired they carry strong biases against historical or testimonial evidence. And that’s fine. Rejecting the evidence for the claims of Jesus is perfectly reasonable. Claiming there is no evidence is much less reasonable.

If I were still a Christian, I imagine I also would have taken offense at being told I was “pretending to know things I don’t really know.” To be fair, again I confess that I have yet to read how Boghossian unpacks and applies this definition. Perhaps he addresses my concerns and covers those objections which I know any sincere believer would have to this choice of words. But in the meantime, it strikes me as understandably offensive wording, even if I get where he is headed. It seems to me that a phrase chosen more for its provocativeness than for its precision is great for generating buzz, but it isn’t so great for fostering sympathetic conversation. Perhaps I will change my mind about that after reading the book. But I can see why this phrasing would ruffle a few feathers.

What Kind of Evidence?

Looking back over my days as a Christian, I would say there were two general categories of evidence which satisfied me at the time. The first I would generally label personal experience. So many things fall into this category: Powerful emotional experiences, unexplained occurrences, seemingly improbable coincidences, answers to prayer (mainly noting when things went as desired, of course), and even a regular perception of being “in relationship” with someone whose communication with me required specially-trained sensibilities to detect that “still small voice” in my own head/heart (Christians are big on distinguishing between those two things). With enough years of practice, you can cultivate this “inner awareness” into a semblance of a living personality with whom you can interact and communicate. You might even learn to “hear” from him/her/it when you need most to hear something comforting, encouraging, or even exhortational.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s little point in telling a devout believer that God isn’t real because, for them, God does exist. If my irreverent theory is correct, and they themselves actively create and maintain this person in their own minds as I believe I once did, it wouldn’t do much good to try and tell them that no such person exists. It certainly will fall on deaf ears to suggest that they have “no evidence” or that they are just “pretending.” I often think of the protagonist’s lifelong friends in the movie A Beautiful Mind. No one but he could put an end to their intrusive presence in his own mental world. Nobody else could do it for him.

The second category of evidence comes from the Bible itself. Vischer puts it this way:

In 1st century Israel, a guy from Nazareth named Jesus made claims about his place and role in Jewish history, and asked 1st century Jews to put confidence in those claims..Quite a few 1st century Jews put confidence in his claims, and even more didn’t. Some disliked his claims so much they wanted him dead. But those that did put confidence in Jesus didn’t do so in the absence of evidence. They did so BECAUSE of evidence.

I know that for me, the Bible itself was for many years Exhibit A for the believability of the claims of Christianity. This is how as an Evangelical I was taught to think. At the time I wasn’t able to squarely face the fact that the Bible itself is one of the claims. Do you see the problem there? It seems to most Christians that Jesus doing such-and-such and Paul saying this-and-that would constitute evidence to support the claims of Christianity. But the stories themselves are part of the claim. Telling me what the Bible says about what Jesus did (or what others witnessed) isn’t for me today “evidence,” but rather more claims needing evidence of their own. You can’t use the claim to support the claim, not without being hopelessly circular.

When I ask my friends now why I should believe the stories about Jesus and not the stories about Muhammad or Joseph Smith, they tell me that 500 witnesses testified to the resurrection of Jesus. But we don’t have 500 testimonies, we have one: the Bible. We don’t have 500 letters from different people saying they saw these things, we have in fact one passage—one passage—written by someone who wasn’t even there, telling us third-hand about a multitude of witnesses to this appearance. That’s not five hundred points for Jesus, that’s just one. And for what it’s worth, Muhammad and Joseph Smith each had multiple witnesses to their claims as well, according to each of their respective holy books. If those aren’t convincing “evidence” for those religions, then why is this one any different? Clearly there is some kind of favoritism going on here. This, for the Christian, is reliable evidence for the claims of Christianity. It’s not that there isn’t any evidence, it’s just that what passes for evidence doesn’t live up to the standards which most atheists demand before they’re willing to buy into the claims of this (or any) religion. They would say that they’re simply applying the same skepticism towards the Christian faith which Christians already display toward all other religions besides their own.

What Exactly is “Faith?”

Because of the fluidity of language, there can be an awful lot of slippery semantics when it comes to discussing faith. Ordinarily we know good and well that we use words in different ways at different times, but when it comes to discussing philosophy and religion, people tend to talk as if our words must mean the same thing everywhere, all the time. As with the word “love,” the word “faith” can signify many different things. For example, it can indicate an entire system of religious beliefs (as in “the Christian faith”), which to my mind would include the epistemology (“the way of knowing”) championed within that system. At first, Vischer sets aside this usage of the word, saying it “isn’t relevant here.” But then later on he has to acknowledge that many Christians do in fact include certain epistemic assumptions in their usage of the word faith, and that for them, some kind of a disregarding (or even dismissing) of evidence goes along with that. Vischer is uncomfortable with this usage of “faith,” but he admits:

…though I believe Dawkins, Boghossian and others are misdefining faith, I believe some Christians may be guilty of the same mistake

So one problem we have here is that even the practitioners of “the Christian faith” don’t agree with each other about what this word means. No wonder we don’t always seem to be speaking the same language! Perhaps we’re not, in a way.

Seeking to emphasize a definition of faith which doesn’t imply turning a blind eye to evidence, Vischer uses the popular illustration of a chair.

A chair is asking us to put confidence in its claims. “Sit on me. No really. I mean it. I’ll hold you up.” And we have to make a decision.

“Do I trust the claims of this chair?”

If I trust the chair, I sit. If I don’t trust the chair, I stand. I vote with my hindquarters. It’s just that simple. And that is faith.

Is that really faith, though? Is that even a responsible use of the word? Is that consistent with how the Bible uses the word? After spending some time interacting with his critics, Vischer vowed to revise his vocabulary a bit:

One atheist responder made the point that if we mean “trust,” (which is a synonym in the Bible for “faith”), why don’t we just say trust? Faith must mean something different if we only use it when we talk about religious stuff and then switch to “trust” when we’re talking about other things…Which is a fair point. So, personally, I’m not going to use the word “faith” when I mean “to put trust or confidence in.” I’m going to use “trust” or “confidence.”

Indeed I agree that faith seems like the wrong word for this…but why? What is it about the word “faith” that makes it such an ill fit for this illustration? The answer is that no matter in what context we use this word, it points to a tentative relationship toward the most probable outcomes. Faith implies some kind of expectation which is far from a given, otherwise the situation would merit a different word. After 99% of all chairs I sit in hold me up, if I decide to trust most chairs, I wouldn’t call that faith. What would make it faith is if more and more chairs started collapsing under me. That would change my relationship to chairs! Before I replace the word “trust” with “faith,” there would need to be a noticeable decrease in either the probability of a favorable outcome or at least a decrease in available information. This, I think, gets us closer to a more honest representation of how the Bible itself uses the word.

I have written before that the Bible often speaks of faith and sight as if they are inversely proportionate to each other. In the Bible, a man’s faith is said to be “great” in direct proportion to how much contrary evidence he must overlook. Consider the stories mentioned in Hebrews 11. Abraham was so old! If he had been 30 and had already been the father of six, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal to announce he’s gonna be a daddy. Sarah was infertile, too, as the story goes. Believing in the face of those circumstances is what earned their confidence in those extraordinary claims the right to be called “faith.” The same goes for the rest of the people mentioned in Hebrews and throughout the rest of the Bible. They are praised according to the extent to which they believed claims which contradicted their circumstances. Noah had so much to do! And it had never rained like he was told it would rain. And Goliath was so big! How is a little rock going to take him down? And Gideon was such a nobody! And then he whittles his army down to 300 guys? On and on it goes. These people were praised because they believed before they could see the evidence which would validate their beliefs (not after).

Vischer supposes that each of them must have had prior evidences of God’s faithfulness to draw on or else they never would have expected their respective miracles to occur. Once again this supports the notion that “without evidence” wouldn’t a be fair thing to say.

In some manner (we aren’t told exactly how), God communicated to Abraham that IF he left Ur and followed God, God would bless him in certain specific ways. In whatever form it was that God showed up, it was enough to convince Abraham that A) this was a supernatural entity talking to him, and that B) this supernatural entity had the ability and the intent to bless him if he left Ur. So Abraham put confidence in the claims of God.

Of course none of this really changes things if the prior “evidences” which initially inspired the faith of people like Abraham turned out to be figures of their own imaginations. We’re still talking about Bible stories, after all, and for people like me that carries little weight to begin with. But to be fair we should note that people who believe things usually have reasons to believe those things, even if we aren’t particularly impressed with those reasons ourselves. So it’s not entirely accurate to say they are “believing without evidence.” In fact, looking at people who have reasons (good or bad) for believing what they believe and then telling them they don’t have any reasons just makes you look like you’re the one “pretending to know something you don’t really know” about them. A little bit of charity can go a long way in these discussions.

Faith Comes by Hearing

Having said all of that, I’m now going to turn around and make an assertion which sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but bear with me for a minute. When you say that faith is “believing without evidence,” you misrepresent how Christians themselves view their faith. However, there’s an element of truth in what these critics are trying to say which needs to be pointed out. It’s not entirely invalid for people to suggest that, at least as it’s conceived in the Bible, the Christian concept of faith demands acceptance of its claims without regard for evidence beyond the authority of the message itself. In other words, if you believe that the message itself is self-authenticating, you can then admit the stories themselves as evidence (as Vischer does above). Paul declared in Romans 10:17:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

In theory this would trump even the absence of the first kind of “evidence” I mentioned above: Personal experience. When Thomas demanded tangible evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the story says that he got it. That validates the skeptic’s desire for evidence, right? “Not so fast!” my Evangelical friends tell me. The story of Thomas doesn’t seem to have made it into the gospel to exonerate those of us who want more than just the word of people long since dead. In fact, in the story of Jesus appearing to Thomas, he makes a point of saying “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed!” So even this story is there to suggest that it’s somehow better to believe without requiring the evidence which Thomas required. Most likely this is what Jesus meant when he said that you must become as a little child. Children believe things very easily. They are not naturally skeptical; they are innately trusting. That’s the kind of follower Jesus liked the best.

There is a principle throughout the Bible which asserts that the speaking of the message itself carries a kind of power and authority all its own. If you’ll forgive the expression, it’s like magic. That’s why so many Christians believe that the best way to answer a difficult question is to quote a Bible verse. They are taught to believe that the words themselves contain a kind of power which works on the listener whenever they are spoken. They are taught that reading it regularly will change them in a way which reading other books will not. Paul asserted that the Christian message is itself “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The catch there is that it has no such power for someone who doesn’t believe, although this seldom stops believers from trying it on us anyway! I’ve said before that quoting the Bible doesn’t work like a Jedi mind trick on us. But many seem to think it should. That’s because they were taught that the message itself contains a power to persuade, making it somehow “self-authenticating” (a phrase they taught me in seminary—I’m not making it up).

To people like me, nothing is self-authenticating, not even empirical observation or personal experience. People like me have come to distrust ourselves and our own powers of perception to the point that we are willing to doubt and question everything we think and see and experience. Even science can be wrong, yes, we agree. But it’s always improved upon by better science, not by reverting to authoritative pronouncements which are somehow supposed to be self-validating. This notion is at least partially responsible for the perception which many have that faith is “believing without evidence.” It may not be how most Christians would want to put it. But maybe if you can imagine how it looks from the outside looking in, you’ll understand why so many atheists keep disagreeing with what you are trying to say about faith.

About Neil Carter

Neil Carter is a high school Geometry teacher, a tutor, a swim coach, a father of five children, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil mostly writes now about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.

  • Jim Jones

    Ordinary faith is expectation based on experience.

    Religious faith is wishful thinking in spite of experience.

  • Jim Jones

    Ordinary faith is expectation based on experience.

    Religious faith is wishful thinking in spite of experience.

  • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

    I really enjoyed this. I find it is often a discussion lost in translation when talking with believers, some who obviously think I’m ignoring the evidence which is so personally moving to them. Others, because they are unwilling to admit personal experience and testimonial evidence is not the way of normal epistemological claims. They usually bring up history stories-enter George Washington- and try to draw a parallel from the bible to historical events and people. But they often miscalculate the wealth of evidences for historical data, and oft misrepresent what copies of manuscripts really means.

    • David W

      not to mention that no one claims that George Washington is the son of god and can perform miracles

  • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

    I really enjoyed this. I find it is often a discussion lost in translation when talking with believers, some who obviously think I’m ignoring the evidence which is so personally moving to them. Others, because they are unwilling to admit personal experience and testimonial evidence is not the way of normal epistemological claims. They usually bring up history stories-enter George Washington- and try to draw a parallel from the bible to historical events and people. But they often miscalculate the wealth of evidences for historical data, and oft misrepresent what copies of manuscripts really means.

    • David W

      not to mention that no one claims that George Washington is the son of god and can perform miracles

  • David W

    Thank you for reminding me of what faith used to mean to me.

    I made that exact error that you point out in this post in a recent conversation with a Christian friend when I told him that faith was believing without evidence.

    I would like to bring up something that you did not address directly, even though I am sure that we are all very familiar with the idea, and probably the quote.

    “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    When Christians claim that a certain man that lived long ago was the son of god, and then try to prove that this is true with a text which says that miracles were preformed by him, they might as well have no evidence. I see no difference between making the claim with and without a really old text which says that miracles were preformed.

    In order for a reasonable person to even entertain the idea that the laws of nature were suspended, one OUGHT to require a helluva lot more than 2000 year old hearsay ‘evidence.’

  • David W

    Thank you for reminding me of what faith used to mean to me.

    I made that exact error that you point out in this post in a recent conversation with a Christian friend when I told him that faith was believing without evidence.

    I would like to bring up something that you did not address directly, even though I am sure that we are all very familiar with the idea, and probably the quote.

    “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    When Christians claim that a certain man that lived long ago was the son of god, and then try to prove that this is true with a text which says that miracles were preformed by him, they might as well have no evidence. I see no difference between making the claim with and without a really old text which says that miracles were preformed.

    In order for a reasonable person to even entertain the idea that the laws of nature were suspended, one OUGHT to require a helluva lot more than 2000 year old hearsay ‘evidence.’

  • Esther O’Reilly

    The evidential case for Christianity is actually much richer and wider than I think you realize. But even aside from that, it seems that you’ve simply misread Vischer on the quote where he talks about how the original disciples believed on Jesus with evidence. He didn’t say that we can get the same kind of evidence the apostles had simply by reading the Bible. I’m sure he’d agree with you that “The Bible said so” isn’t a sufficient argument. He was just using an illustration to further clarify the nature of faith. While I don’t know how much research/reading he’s done, I would guess that the sort of evidence he has in mind for the modern Christian involves the comprehensive case for the gospels’ reliability (including numerous marks of authenticity within the text and external historical corroborations), Paul’s conversion and letters (some of which even Bart Ehrman concedes as authentic), and so on and so forth. But the point he meant to make here was simply that the Bible portrays Jesus as someone quite willing to “show you the money” to back up his own claims, and that this exemplifies the Christian’s definition of faith as belief with evidence.

    • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

      I understand your point. But those deeper and more scholarly authenticity markers and subsequent debates among textual critics are likely things that Neil, and myself, have become very familiar with and much of the reason for not accepting the Bible. Without getting deep into that debate, the external evidence for myself is less convincing when you leant more about it. Outside of Josephus, who even conservative scholars disqualify as having been tampered with, there is no outside first century witness. And the gospels themselves are not first person reports. For me, the more I learned about this-from all sides-the less convincing it became.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        There are probably a lot of resources you haven’t tapped into yet. Many of the most comprehensive and detailed resources on this go back a few centuries, which is why a lot of people aren’t familiar with the extent of the evidences. If you’d like I can point you to some fresh stuff.

        By the way, although that Josephus passage does contain a couple interpolations, the original text without interpolations is still a significant piece of evidence.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          As with most other ancient historians, a reference in Josephus points to the existence of the man but does little to support the more extraordinary claims of the miraculous. If we rule out the Bible itself, secular historians of the next three to four centuries speak of a preacher who was killed, and of a religious movement being born after that event. I have read those documents and they don’t say what people seem to think they say.

          Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as “rich” evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Josephus is just one snowflake on the top of the tip of an iceberg of evidence. And of course Josephus isn’t confirming the miracle claims, because if he did, he wouldn’t be a Jewish historian, he’d be a Christian historian! But an external source can lend credibility to the gospels as historical documents without confirming the miracle claims or even mentioning Jesus by name. We can look for indications that the gospel authors were familiar with the cultural context they’re writing about, that they were writing in the style of testimony versus the style of fiction, etc.

            If you are interested in probing deeply into this, Nathaniel Lardner’s multi-volume _Credibility of the Gospel History_ offers a relentlessly thorough examination of all the external evidences for the principal facts of the New Testament. Although it is a little outdated, many of the discoveries made since Lardner wrote are actually confirming something favorable to the Christian side which he rejected to be safe. To give you a sense of the scope of his work, the census in Luke takes up 86 pages all by itself.

          • http://gravatar.com/timmcgrew Tim McGrew

            Godless,

            You wrote:

            “Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as “rich” evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.”

            I agree with Esther that the quotation from Josephus is only a very small part of the evidence regarding Jesus. But In the spirit of sticking to the actual evidence, I wonder if you would be willing to elaborate by giving us actual references to Josephus to back up this claim.

            I’m familiar with the two Hercules references that are not simply references to a temple, and in neither of them is Josephus speaking in his own voice. In Antiquities 1.15.1 (Loeb #240-41), Josephus states that Abraham married Keturah and had sons by her; to bolster this, he gives a quotation from Alexander Polyhistor, who in turn quotes Cleodemus, who mentions that two of Abraham’s sons by Keturah “were auxiliaries to Hercules, when he fought against Libya and Antaeus.” So the reference to Hercules isn’t Josephus’s own; it’s in a source quoted by a source quoted by Josephus. And it does not look particularly mythic; if anything, it might provide evidence that the Greek mythic Hercules was a euhemerized North African warrior of the second millennium BC.

            The other reference is Antiquities 10.11.1 (Loeb #227), where, once again, Josephus is quoting someone else: “Megasthenes also, in his fourth book of his Accounts of India, makes mention. of these things, and thereby endeavors to show that this king [Nebuchadnezzar] exceeded Hercules in fortitude, and in the greatness of his actions …”

            Megasthenes needn’t even have believed in the existence of a historical Hercules to make this comment, any more than a modern writer who wrote that someone “had the patience of Job” would be committed to the existence of a historical Job. To say that Josephus writes about him “as a real person” does seem to be quite a stretch for this passage.

            As for Josephus’s speaking of Saturn, Jupiter, Romulus and Remus as real persons, I am afraid I have been unable to locate any references whatsoever to substantiate this claim. The references to Jupiter are mostly references to temples (Antiquities 8.141, 12.228, 14.34, 19.248), sacred vessels (1.115), oracles (2.347), or the madness of Caligula (19.1, 11). For the other figures, there appear to be no references at all.

            But if you have them that will, of course, settle the issue in the affirmative.

            Again, my point here is not to take Josephus at face value in everything he says. No reasonable historian would write him a blank check, though he has proven to be remarkably accurate regarding details of events within the final century of which he writes. But we can arrive at a just estimate of the weight of his testimony regarding Jesus and James and John the Baptist only by getting clear on what he has actually said (or not said) regarding such figures as you have named. And once we have that cleared up, it will be only reasonable keep in mind the distinction between his reporting what someone else said regarding a figure who was supposed to have lived a thousand miles away over a millennium and a half before Josephus’s own time, on the one hand, and his reporting in his own voice information about someone who was crucified in Jerusalem in the decade in which Josephus himself was born, on the other.

          • http://historicalapologetics.org Tim McGrew

            Godless,

            You write:

            “Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as ‘rich’ evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.”

            Like Esther, I find Josephus’s references to Jesus, James, and John the Baptist to be only a very small part of the evidence regarding the events and characters of the New Testament. Still, in the interest of grounding our claims about the first century in actual evidence, I’m wondering whether you would supply us with the passages in Josephus that you have in mind.

            I’m familiar with two passages in Josephus where the name “Hercules” comes up in reference to something other than a temple. In Antiquities 1.15.1 (Loeb #240-41), Josephus claims that Abraham had a number of sons by Keturah. To bolster this claim, he quotes a passage from Alexander Polyhistor, who in turn quotes a passage from Cleodemus, in which it is mentioned that two of Abraham’s descendants “were auxiliaries to Hercules, when he fought against Libya and Antaeus.” The names “Hercules” and “Antaeus” match names in a Greek tale about a wrestling match, but none of the panoply of myth is evident here; it appears that the source quoted by the source quoted by Josephus is referring to a military action in North Africa.

            The other passage is Antiquities 10.11.1 (Loeb #227), and here again, Josephus is not the one speaking: he is giving, in indirect discourse, the substance of a description of Nebuchadnezzar in another source: “Megasthenes also, in his fourth book of his Accounts of India, makes mention of these things, and thereby endeavors to show that this king [Nebuchadnezzar] exceeded Hercules in fortitude, and in the greatness of his actions; for he says that he conquered a great part of Libya and Iberia.”

            It is hardly clear from this brief passage that Megasthenes himself even believes that Hercules was a historical character. A modern writer might well speak of someone has having “more patience than Job” without committing himself thereby to the existence of Job as an historical personage. Still less can Josephus, in merely mentioning Megasthenes’s phrase, be said to be speaking about Hercules as if he were a real person.

            As for references to Jupiter, Saturn, Romulus, and Remus, I have not been able to find any passages containing even prima facie references to anyone by these names as real people. But I could be overlooking something. If you have references, that will of course settle the question in the affirmative.

            Again, I am not bringing this point up in order to argue that we must put implicit faith in everything Josephus says. No historian I know of would want to do that, though with regard to many events that took place in the first century, archaeology has shown Josephus to be right even in matters of detail. But we cannot properly estimate the weight of his testimony regarding figures like Jesus, James, and John the Baptist until we have cleared up the matter of what he did or did not say regarding Saturn and Jupiter or Romulus and Remus. And even with respect to the case of Hercules, a prudent historian would, I think, want to make a distinction between Josephus’s citing someone else’s words regarding a figure who, if he lived at all, lived 1,700 miles away some 1,700 years earlier, on the one hand, and his more detailed account, given in his own voice regarding someone who was crucified in Jerusalem in the very decade when Josephus himself was born, on the other.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Tim, I found an edition of Dissertation III where Josephus mentions Saturn, but only when describing a religious ritual. “Others say that they do honor thereby to Saturn.” Hardly an indication that Saturn is real. It would be like me saying, “Muslims do x to honor Allah.”

            As for Jupiter, in Antiquities Book XIX, he speaks of how Caius frequented the temple of Jupiter and had the arrogance to call himself Jupiter’s brother. Once again, not an historical reference, just a description of the height of a Roman’s arrogant fantasies.

            Still looking for Romulus and Remus.

        • David W

          Esther,

          If I accept that the Bible is perfectly historically authenticated you still are in the same difficult situation. You are asking me to believe in miracles on the basis of 2000 year old hearsay.

          There has not been one single verified miracle in the modern age. After the advent of modern science and technology, not a single miracle has stood up under the investigation of science.

          Why, oh why, do you think that I ought to believe that miracles occurred simply because you have authentic 2000 old hearsay evidence saying that they did?

          If you have hearsay evidence that a miracle occurred Yesterday, I would be negligent in my rational duties if I believed your claim.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            It’s not logically sound to rule out miracles prima facie. That’s begging the question. By refusing to engage with the texts as you would any other historical document, you’re showing a bias.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            If I told you a man down the street from me said a chant over a paralytic and it healed him, would your initial response be skepticism or belief?

            And if you would want to see some kind of verifiable evidence before you believed my story, why would your posture towards ancient versions of the same story be that of credence?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I do want evidence, for the claims of the Bible as much as I would want evidence for your claim. Sorry to disappoint if you were trying to pigeon-hole me as a presup.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            I have no such compulsions :) Just pointing out that incredulity is a natural and logical response to extraordinary claims.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            My point was that if we examine the cumulative evidence for our sources’ claims, and realize it’s more likely than not that they’re telling the truth, then it’s not intellectually honest to balk just because they are claiming something out of the ordinary. Dave’s argument has been done to death and goes all the way back to Hume, who was roundly drubbed by his own contemporaries.

        • http://www.SauceForAll.com Chris Dees

          Esther, all of the resources that you can provide will ultimately end up based on hearsay. Apologists generally cite the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, none of which we are certain who authored. A few of them most likely have multiple authors. The letters of Paul, who never met an actual “Earthly Jesus”, also date years after Jesus supposedly walked the earth. Whatever source you give, just look up that individual’s birthday and you’ll see that they are merely hearsay.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Hi Chris. You must be new to this thread. And this topic. I’m gonna leave it right there. Happy reading. :-D

          • John Fraser

            “Esther, dear let’s . . . refrain from talking down to people, shall we?”

            Am I the only one who sees an irony in this comment? Anyhow, regardless of age it’s somewhat natural for someone who is highly knowledgeable in some field to “talk down” to someone who clearly isn’t, even if it’s unintentional.

            “So I also know that the deeper into these arguments a person is, the more convinced of the rightness of her/his own thinking s/he is. S/he has build a wall around her/his perception that can only be breached by her/himself and no one else.”

            Try applying this same thinking to anyone in any field and I think you’ll see that it’s not a valid position. Being convinced that you’re right is not problematic. I am convinced that the earth revolves around the sun. And unlike most people who believe this based purely on authority (they were told that by an authority figure and accepted it on that basis), I can tell you the kinds of considerations that led to this conclusion being accepted (and it’s not a simple one). Have I built a wall around my perception that only I can breach? Of course, we could apply the same standard to something more controversial, but the point remains. What Godless is doing here is a subtle form of what C.S. Lewis called Bulverism. As Lewis writes, “You must show THAT a man is wrong before you start explaining WHY he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion THAT he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.”

            I also find it interesting the appeal to the fact that you’ve “got some experience in apologetics” yourself. Yet elsewhere on this thread I also saw you say that you weren’t familiar with Esther’s approach even though it’s bread-and-butter stuff for many of us (not to detract from Esther’s impressive command of it and excellent presentation). The underlying message is quite manipulative, actually. It allows you to look like you’ve got some good reasons for doubt without actually giving any! Nicely done.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            The irony was intentional.

            And which part of her method do you mean I’m unfamiliar with? The appeal to Bayesian probability? So far I would classify this method as a basic evidentialist approach. What’s new to me is the appeal to statistical models as a way to close the epistemological gaps of using logic to prove that logic can prove things, as if that escapes the circularity of it all.

            These are all head games, guys. For real. What led me out of the Christian belief system was that I realized how much of it involves living inside your own head. I’m not referencing anyone’s confidence as evidence that they’re incorrect, I’m referencing it to explain why I know taking the time to dismantle it is a fool’s errand.

            A friend of mine put it well: I can respect that you are standing in a place that you feel is valid because you have gone where the evidence has led you. The evidence has led me elsewhere.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Neil, with your regard to your comment that apologetics is for the saved, there is a long list of people who have been convinced by the arguments and returned to the faith after de-converting that would disagree with you.

            Also, your comments are bringing to mind Christopher Hitchens’ famous quote: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” You claim you have skill in apologetics, you’ve done your homework, and the evidence isn’t there. And yet when you write about your reasons for de-converting, it’s all knocking down straw-man arguments and personal/emotional feelings. Sounds a lot like what you accuse certain Christians of doing. Until you show us some hard work engaging with the evidence instead of simply asserting that you know better, you really haven’t given us a reason to take you seriously. You may be busy, but you have enough time to blog regularly. Why not devote some blog posts to showing that work, if you claim you’ve got the resources and the the knowledge to do so?

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Because convincing Christians to stop being Christians isn’t a focus of this blog, nor is it a personal burden I feel. I’m not sure why you think it is.

        • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

          I would be interested in reading some of the fresh stuff.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m so glad you asked. :)

            Here are a few to start with. I will add more as I’m reminded of them. These are three that are freely available online:

            Edmund Bennett, The Four Gospels From a Lawyer’s Standpoint

            Paley, Evidences of Christianity

            George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (this directly addresses the arguments of David Hume)

            Here are a couple more contemporary sources:

            E. M. Blaiklock, The Compact Handbook of New Testament Life

            Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend (arguing for the reliability of the synoptic Jesus Tradition)

            To be continued, but let me just say thanks for asking and for actually wanting an answer. You have no idea how rare that is.

            Anyone else is welcome to flesh out the list too.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Another one while we’re on the “Bs.”: Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus in five volumes. This is particularly helpful on the debates over prophecy. Brown clearly lays out every objection that’s been raised by Jewish scholars and draws on his knowledge of the languages and the text families to answer them one at a time.

    • Jim Jones

      > But the point he meant to make here was simply that the Bible portrays Jesus as someone quite willing to “show you the money” to back up his own claims

      The Harry Potter novels portray young Harry as being ready to show you real magic to back up his claims. We still don’t expect to see schoolboys flying broomsticks around Scotland.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Sigh. Again, that’s not the point. Let me try this again: PHIL IS NOT MAKING AN APOLOGETIC CLAIM WITH THIS EXAMPLE. He is explaining why Boghossian’s definition of “faith” fails to engage with how Christians actually understand and use the term, according to their own holy book.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          You are correct, Esther. I apologize if my response to Phil’s gospel reference misrepresented his point. I agree with you that his primary point was not that the story should count as evidence for us today, it was meant to illustrate that Jesus presented evidence to his audience at the time. BUT…I would counter that this reference still assumes that we are supposed to believe that these things actually happened in real life, which means that a secondary purpose in citing these stories is to validate the claims of Christianity for us today. My point still stands that since many of us don’t buy that these things really even happened, they kinda fall flat for the Phil’s purposes anyway. For example, It doesn’t mean much to me to say “Jesus presented Thomas with evidence” since I think this story is fictitious. AND I would add as I did above that the inclusion of this story seems to argue the opposite of what you’re saying: This story teaches that it’s better to believe without requiring such evidence.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Nicely put John, and sad but true that a lot of Christians also misinterpret the passage in that way. No doubt it’s how the Christians in Neil’s former evangelical background would have taken it.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    The evidential case for Christianity is actually much richer and wider than I think you realize. But even aside from that, it seems that you’ve simply misread Vischer on the quote where he talks about how the original disciples believed on Jesus with evidence. He didn’t say that we can get the same kind of evidence the apostles had simply by reading the Bible. I’m sure he’d agree with you that “The Bible said so” isn’t a sufficient argument. He was just using an illustration to further clarify the nature of faith. While I don’t know how much research/reading he’s done, I would guess that the sort of evidence he has in mind for the modern Christian involves the comprehensive case for the gospels’ reliability (including numerous marks of authenticity within the text and external historical corroborations), Paul’s conversion and letters (some of which even Bart Ehrman concedes as authentic), and so on and so forth. But the point he meant to make here was simply that the Bible portrays Jesus as someone quite willing to “show you the money” to back up his own claims, and that this exemplifies the Christian’s definition of faith as belief with evidence.

    • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

      I understand your point. But those deeper and more scholarly authenticity markers and subsequent debates among textual critics are likely things that Neil, and myself, have become very familiar with and much of the reason for not accepting the Bible. Without getting deep into that debate, the external evidence for myself is less convincing when you leant more about it. Outside of Josephus, who even conservative scholars disqualify as having been tampered with, there is no outside first century witness. And the gospels themselves are not first person reports. For me, the more I learned about this-from all sides-the less convincing it became.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        There are probably a lot of resources you haven’t tapped into yet. Many of the most comprehensive and detailed resources on this go back a few centuries, which is why a lot of people aren’t familiar with the extent of the evidences. If you’d like I can point you to some fresh stuff.

        By the way, although that Josephus passage does contain a couple interpolations, the original text without interpolations is still a significant piece of evidence.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          As with most other ancient historians, a reference in Josephus points to the existence of the man but does little to support the more extraordinary claims of the miraculous. If we rule out the Bible itself, secular historians of the next three to four centuries speak of a preacher who was killed, and of a religious movement being born after that event. I have read those documents and they don’t say what people seem to think they say.

          Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as “rich” evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Josephus is just one snowflake on the top of the tip of an iceberg of evidence. And of course Josephus isn’t confirming the miracle claims, because if he did, he wouldn’t be a Jewish historian, he’d be a Christian historian! But an external source can lend credibility to the gospels as historical documents without confirming the miracle claims or even mentioning Jesus by name. We can look for indications that the gospel authors were familiar with the cultural context they’re writing about, that they were writing in the style of testimony versus the style of fiction, etc.

            If you are interested in probing deeply into this, Nathaniel Lardner’s multi-volume _Credibility of the Gospel History_ offers a relentlessly thorough examination of all the external evidences for the principal facts of the New Testament. Although it is a little outdated, many of the discoveries made since Lardner wrote are actually confirming something favorable to the Christian side which he rejected to be safe. To give you a sense of the scope of his work, the census in Luke takes up 86 pages all by itself.

          • http://gravatar.com/timmcgrew Tim McGrew

            Godless,

            You wrote:

            “Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as “rich” evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.”

            I agree with Esther that the quotation from Josephus is only a very small part of the evidence regarding Jesus. But In the spirit of sticking to the actual evidence, I wonder if you would be willing to elaborate by giving us actual references to Josephus to back up this claim.

            I’m familiar with the two Hercules references that are not simply references to a temple, and in neither of them is Josephus speaking in his own voice. In Antiquities 1.15.1 (Loeb #240-41), Josephus states that Abraham married Keturah and had sons by her; to bolster this, he gives a quotation from Alexander Polyhistor, who in turn quotes Cleodemus, who mentions that two of Abraham’s sons by Keturah “were auxiliaries to Hercules, when he fought against Libya and Antaeus.” So the reference to Hercules isn’t Josephus’s own; it’s in a source quoted by a source quoted by Josephus. And it does not look particularly mythic; if anything, it might provide evidence that the Greek mythic Hercules was a euhemerized North African warrior of the second millennium BC.

            The other reference is Antiquities 10.11.1 (Loeb #227), where, once again, Josephus is quoting someone else: “Megasthenes also, in his fourth book of his Accounts of India, makes mention. of these things, and thereby endeavors to show that this king [Nebuchadnezzar] exceeded Hercules in fortitude, and in the greatness of his actions …”

            Megasthenes needn’t even have believed in the existence of a historical Hercules to make this comment, any more than a modern writer who wrote that someone “had the patience of Job” would be committed to the existence of a historical Job. To say that Josephus writes about him “as a real person” does seem to be quite a stretch for this passage.

            As for Josephus’s speaking of Saturn, Jupiter, Romulus and Remus as real persons, I am afraid I have been unable to locate any references whatsoever to substantiate this claim. The references to Jupiter are mostly references to temples (Antiquities 8.141, 12.228, 14.34, 19.248), sacred vessels (1.115), oracles (2.347), or the madness of Caligula (19.1, 11). For the other figures, there appear to be no references at all.

            But if you have them that will, of course, settle the issue in the affirmative.

            Again, my point here is not to take Josephus at face value in everything he says. No reasonable historian would write him a blank check, though he has proven to be remarkably accurate regarding details of events within the final century of which he writes. But we can arrive at a just estimate of the weight of his testimony regarding Jesus and James and John the Baptist only by getting clear on what he has actually said (or not said) regarding such figures as you have named. And once we have that cleared up, it will be only reasonable keep in mind the distinction between his reporting what someone else said regarding a figure who was supposed to have lived a thousand miles away over a millennium and a half before Josephus’s own time, on the one hand, and his reporting in his own voice information about someone who was crucified in Jerusalem in the decade in which Josephus himself was born, on the other.

          • http://historicalapologetics.org Tim McGrew

            Godless,

            You write:

            “Also, Josephus spoke of Saturn, Jupiter, Hercules, and Romulus and Remus as if they were all real people. As was typical of ancient historiography, Josephus mixed legend, myth, and fact together into a homogeneous blend. If you want to treat Josephus as ‘rich’ evidence for Jesus, you’re gonna need to revise your beliefs about Saturn and Jupiter as well.”

            Like Esther, I find Josephus’s references to Jesus, James, and John the Baptist to be only a very small part of the evidence regarding the events and characters of the New Testament. Still, in the interest of grounding our claims about the first century in actual evidence, I’m wondering whether you would supply us with the passages in Josephus that you have in mind.

            I’m familiar with two passages in Josephus where the name “Hercules” comes up in reference to something other than a temple. In Antiquities 1.15.1 (Loeb #240-41), Josephus claims that Abraham had a number of sons by Keturah. To bolster this claim, he quotes a passage from Alexander Polyhistor, who in turn quotes a passage from Cleodemus, in which it is mentioned that two of Abraham’s descendants “were auxiliaries to Hercules, when he fought against Libya and Antaeus.” The names “Hercules” and “Antaeus” match names in a Greek tale about a wrestling match, but none of the panoply of myth is evident here; it appears that the source quoted by the source quoted by Josephus is referring to a military action in North Africa.

            The other passage is Antiquities 10.11.1 (Loeb #227), and here again, Josephus is not the one speaking: he is giving, in indirect discourse, the substance of a description of Nebuchadnezzar in another source: “Megasthenes also, in his fourth book of his Accounts of India, makes mention of these things, and thereby endeavors to show that this king [Nebuchadnezzar] exceeded Hercules in fortitude, and in the greatness of his actions; for he says that he conquered a great part of Libya and Iberia.”

            It is hardly clear from this brief passage that Megasthenes himself even believes that Hercules was a historical character. A modern writer might well speak of someone has having “more patience than Job” without committing himself thereby to the existence of Job as an historical personage. Still less can Josephus, in merely mentioning Megasthenes’s phrase, be said to be speaking about Hercules as if he were a real person.

            As for references to Jupiter, Saturn, Romulus, and Remus, I have not been able to find any passages containing even prima facie references to anyone by these names as real people. But I could be overlooking something. If you have references, that will of course settle the question in the affirmative.

            Again, I am not bringing this point up in order to argue that we must put implicit faith in everything Josephus says. No historian I know of would want to do that, though with regard to many events that took place in the first century, archaeology has shown Josephus to be right even in matters of detail. But we cannot properly estimate the weight of his testimony regarding figures like Jesus, James, and John the Baptist until we have cleared up the matter of what he did or did not say regarding Saturn and Jupiter or Romulus and Remus. And even with respect to the case of Hercules, a prudent historian would, I think, want to make a distinction between Josephus’s citing someone else’s words regarding a figure who, if he lived at all, lived 1,700 miles away some 1,700 years earlier, on the one hand, and his more detailed account, given in his own voice regarding someone who was crucified in Jerusalem in the very decade when Josephus himself was born, on the other.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Tim, I found an edition of Dissertation III where Josephus mentions Saturn, but only when describing a religious ritual. “Others say that they do honor thereby to Saturn.” Hardly an indication that Saturn is real. It would be like me saying, “Muslims do x to honor Allah.”

            As for Jupiter, in Antiquities Book XIX, he speaks of how Caius frequented the temple of Jupiter and had the arrogance to call himself Jupiter’s brother. Once again, not an historical reference, just a description of the height of a Roman’s arrogant fantasies.

            Still looking for Romulus and Remus.

        • David W

          Esther,

          If I accept that the Bible is perfectly historically authenticated you still are in the same difficult situation. You are asking me to believe in miracles on the basis of 2000 year old hearsay.

          There has not been one single verified miracle in the modern age. After the advent of modern science and technology, not a single miracle has stood up under the investigation of science.

          Why, oh why, do you think that I ought to believe that miracles occurred simply because you have authentic 2000 old hearsay evidence saying that they did?

          If you have hearsay evidence that a miracle occurred Yesterday, I would be negligent in my rational duties if I believed your claim.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            It’s not logically sound to rule out miracles prima facie. That’s begging the question. By refusing to engage with the texts as you would any other historical document, you’re showing a bias.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            If I told you a man down the street from me said a chant over a paralytic and it healed him, would your initial response be skepticism or belief?

            And if you would want to see some kind of verifiable evidence before you believed my story, why would your posture towards ancient versions of the same story be that of credence?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I do want evidence, for the claims of the Bible as much as I would want evidence for your claim. Sorry to disappoint if you were trying to pigeon-hole me as a presup.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            I have no such compulsions :) Just pointing out that incredulity is a natural and logical response to extraordinary claims.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            My point was that if we examine the cumulative evidence for our sources’ claims, and realize it’s more likely than not that they’re telling the truth, then it’s not intellectually honest to balk just because they are claiming something out of the ordinary. Dave’s argument has been done to death and goes all the way back to Hume, who was roundly drubbed by his own contemporaries.

        • http://www.SauceForAll.com Chris Dees

          Esther, all of the resources that you can provide will ultimately end up based on hearsay. Apologists generally cite the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, none of which we are certain who authored. A few of them most likely have multiple authors. The letters of Paul, who never met an actual “Earthly Jesus”, also date years after Jesus supposedly walked the earth. Whatever source you give, just look up that individual’s birthday and you’ll see that they are merely hearsay.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Hi Chris. You must be new to this thread. And this topic. I’m gonna leave it right there. Happy reading. :-D

          • Esther O’Reilly

            And Chris, before you reply, let me say something else. I clicked on your name, I went to your site and read your story. And let me say without apology and without exaggeration that it is a tragedy. I speak as a Christian who hates nothing more than seeing people walk away from the faith because nobody gave them the answers. But, let me also say that your story made it clearer than ever that whether you realize it or not, Chris, you really are new at this stuff.

            Now you seem like a natively bright guy. You could learn. But your problem is that you think you’ve seen/read/heard it all, when you’ve only ever really scratched the surface. Because you had a couple basic philosophy classes and you could name some fallacies, everything looked like a nail to your hammer. Eventually, you couldn’t distinguish between what was truly fallacious and what was actually an argument worth considering and researching. So, without anyone to guide you in your research, you broke down and lost your faith.

            And the worst thing about it all is that there was a time in your life when you could have gotten the help you needed, had the right kind of person been there for you. But now, if you’re like a lot of de-converts I see, I worry you may not be ready or willing to follow the argument where it leads anymore. I hope I’m wrong. For your sake, and for the sake of so many, many others just like you, I sincerely hope I am wrong. Just know this—there is hope, and there is a way back. All you need is that little bit of humility to take the first step.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Esther, dear, let’s keep the discussion at a level commensurate with the intellectual rigor you’d like to see applied here and refrain from talking down to people, shall we? You’re not much older than Chris and you’re quite younger than many of us, so let’s dispense with the condescension which I’ve seen you display in other discussions online (yes, you’re not the only one who knows how to scope someone out). You could have just said, “We’ve already dealt with those issues; please see comments above” or something less catty than “you’re new here, aren’t you?” All you need is that little bit of humility.

            I’ve got some experience in apologetics myself and that’s part of why I haven’t interacted much on this thread (well, that and I’m just not available). Apologetics as a discipline is more about convincing believers that their beliefs are intellectually valid than it is about really converting people (even though that’s the stated goal). I know this by experience. So I also know that the deeper into these arguments a person is, the more convinced of the rightness of her/his own thinking s/he is. S/he has build a wall around her/his perception that can only be breached by her/himself and no one else. When you yourself are the one building the wall, there’s no use in anyone else trying to tell you there’s a wall.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Oh, almost forgot—so far the one apologetic claim you’ve ventured in this thread is that Josephus refers to legendary figures and pagan gods as real beings throughout his works. A couple of us offered every reference we could find to every name you mentioned, and none of them came close to your claim. You said the references were there and promised to find them. Now I understand that you’re busy. I sincerely get it. But you did make a pretty sweeping, emphatic claim, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you substantiate it. With google, it shouldn’t be too hard to find what you’re looking for.

            Anyone else is welcome to do a “search” for Josephus on this page to find the comment I’m referring to. Would others like to help Neil out with those references, since he’s been too busy to provide them?

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            The request is fair game, and I haven’t yet delivered. I used to have it bookmarked but my laptop got stolen. I will try to track that down for you.

            As for my speed, cut me some slack. I work three jobs and care for five children. Writing for a blog is difficult enough without trying to keep up with 200+ comment threads. Even my google access is spotty because my work filter blocks half the sites I try to access through it. I haven’t forgotten about it, though.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Alright, I finally got somewhere that isn’t blocking me. I see that the references to Jupiter and Saturn I had read were indeed in the Works of Josephus, vol.4 (p.511), but come from Dissertation III toward the back, which was not by Josephus himself but by a later commentator (Tacitus, perhaps?). So it was from his collected works but not written by him.

            I would have done better to mention instead that Josephus mentions Hercules in a passing manner which doesn’t strike me as entirely dissimilar to how he mentions Jesus. The point in this case is that finding a story about him in Josephus points more to existing legend than it does to actually validate that supernatural claims about anyone contained therein (Jesus or Hercules) were based in fact. It’s not as if these are significant claims about either individual; we’re dealing with ancient historiography here. Legend, folklore, and history get mixed together and that’s just how they wrote.

            It just seems to me that quoting Josephus to validate supernatural claims of Jesus is a bit of a stretch, especially with the general scholarly consensus being so hesitant about the passage about resurrection.

            And while this thread has been thoroughly hijacked into apologetics territory, you’ll notice that in the blog post above when I cite the sources of “evidence” which were always persuasive to me as a Christian, I say nothing about Josephus or Tacitus or Origen or anybody else from that time period. That’s because studying the minutiae of still-debated historical passages didn’t really contribute anything to my life. I find it difficult to understand why it would anybody, honestly. It seems to me that the most important evidence for a faith system would come from here-and-now kinds of things, not things from so long ago that anyone who could speak about them are long since passed on.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            You’re comparing the phrase “the strength of Hercules” to Josephus’s paragraph about Jesus? By saying “Well, they’re both ‘in passing,’ so they’re kinda sorta similar?” There’s absolutely no stylistic comparison to be made here. You yourself admitted that the Jesus passage “points to the existence of the man” and referred to similar passages from other historians that indicate the existence of an actual rabbi who was killed and spawned a religious movement. But “the strength of Hercules”? Come on man.

            Besides, I never claimed that Josephus confirmed the resurrection. There were some later interpolations that made the passage more admiring of Jesus. All I was saying was that in its soberer, sparer original form, it provides a useful historical marker of Jesus’ death and the development of the early church. Which is, essentially, what you were also saying. There are also other interesting interlocking passages in Josephus that mention Archelaus, Pilate, John the Baptist, and the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus, who was a skeptic until after Jesus’ crucifixion (curious). That reinforces an interesting point—people who were associated with other Jewish Messianic figures in their prime didn’t want anything to do with those people after their defeat and execution, but people who distanced themselves from Jesus during his lifetime (even Peter once, when he denies even knowing him), boldly proclaimed his name after his death.

            Finally, you say: “That’s because studying the minutiae of still-debated historical passages didn’t really contribute anything to my life. I find it difficult to understand why it would anybody, honestly.” How can you not give an honest evaluation of documents handed down through history without entering into the sometimes tedious details of historical research? I’m not exactly sure what you mean by saying that your research “didn’t really contribute anything to your life.” Do you not see the overwhelming significance of gathering data that grounds the New Testament in history and bolsters the reliability of its authors? You write further “It seems to me that the most important evidence for a faith system would come from here-and-now kinds of things, not things from so long ago that anyone who could speak about them are long since passed on.” Why do you assume that? This is an entirely subjective claim.

          • John Fraser

            “Esther, dear let’s . . . refrain from talking down to people, shall we?”

            Am I the only one who sees an irony in this comment? Anyhow, regardless of age it’s somewhat natural for someone who is highly knowledgeable in some field to “talk down” to someone who clearly isn’t, even if it’s unintentional.

            “So I also know that the deeper into these arguments a person is, the more convinced of the rightness of her/his own thinking s/he is. S/he has build a wall around her/his perception that can only be breached by her/himself and no one else.”

            Try applying this same thinking to anyone in any field and I think you’ll see that it’s not a valid position. Being convinced that you’re right is not problematic. I am convinced that the earth revolves around the sun. And unlike most people who believe this based purely on authority (they were told that by an authority figure and accepted it on that basis), I can tell you the kinds of considerations that led to this conclusion being accepted (and it’s not a simple one). Have I built a wall around my perception that only I can breach? Of course, we could apply the same standard to something more controversial, but the point remains. What Godless is doing here is a subtle form of what C.S. Lewis called Bulverism. As Lewis writes, “You must show THAT a man is wrong before you start explaining WHY he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion THAT he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.”

            I also find it interesting the appeal to the fact that you’ve “got some experience in apologetics” yourself. Yet elsewhere on this thread I also saw you say that you weren’t familiar with Esther’s approach even though it’s bread-and-butter stuff for many of us (not to detract from Esther’s impressive command of it and excellent presentation). The underlying message is quite manipulative, actually. It allows you to look like you’ve got some good reasons for doubt without actually giving any! Nicely done.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            The irony was intentional.

            And which part of her method do you mean I’m unfamiliar with? The appeal to Bayesian probability? So far I would classify this method as a basic evidentialist approach. What’s new to me is the appeal to statistical models as a way to close the epistemological gaps of using logic to prove that logic can prove things, as if that escapes the circularity of it all.

            These are all head games, guys. For real. What led me out of the Christian belief system was that I realized how much of it involves living inside your own head. I’m not referencing anyone’s confidence as evidence that they’re incorrect, I’m referencing it to explain why I know taking the time to dismantle it is a fool’s errand.

            A friend of mine put it well: I can respect that you are standing in a place that you feel is valid because you have gone where the evidence has led you. The evidence has led me elsewhere.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Neil, with your regard to your comment that apologetics is for the saved, there is a long list of people who have been convinced by the arguments and returned to the faith after de-converting that would disagree with you.

            Also, your comments are bringing to mind Christopher Hitchens’ famous quote: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” You claim you have skill in apologetics, you’ve done your homework, and the evidence isn’t there. And yet when you write about your reasons for de-converting, it’s all knocking down straw-man arguments and personal/emotional feelings. Sounds a lot like what you accuse certain Christians of doing. Until you show us some hard work engaging with the evidence instead of simply asserting that you know better, you really haven’t given us a reason to take you seriously. You may be busy, but you have enough time to blog regularly. Why not devote some blog posts to showing that work, if you claim you’ve got the resources and the the knowledge to do so?

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Because convincing Christians to stop being Christians isn’t a focus of this blog, nor is it a personal burden I feel. I’m not sure why you think it is.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Oh nos! Neil has discovered I comment on other blogs! I’ve been PWNED!

            Sorry you’re busy Neil. We would have liked to see you show off your mad apologetics skills, but my suspicion from browsing the rest of your site, particularly posts specifically addressing why you de-converted, is that John Fraser has pegged you pretty accurately.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            The sarcasm doesn’t add to the charm of your approach. One wonders if convincing anyone except yourself is even your aim?

            I repeat that apologetics is more for the saved than it is for the lost.

        • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

          I would be interested in reading some of the fresh stuff.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m so glad you asked. :)

            Here are a few to start with. I will add more as I’m reminded of them. These are three that are freely available online:

            Edmund Bennett, The Four Gospels From a Lawyer’s Standpoint

            Paley, Evidences of Christianity

            George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (this directly addresses the arguments of David Hume)

            Here are a couple more contemporary sources:

            E. M. Blaiklock, The Compact Handbook of New Testament Life

            Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend (arguing for the reliability of the synoptic Jesus Tradition)

            To be continued, but let me just say thanks for asking and for actually wanting an answer. You have no idea how rare that is.

            Anyone else is welcome to flesh out the list too.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Another one while we’re on the “Bs.”: Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus in five volumes. This is particularly helpful on the debates over prophecy. Brown clearly lays out every objection that’s been raised by Jewish scholars and draws on his knowledge of the languages and the text families to answer them one at a time.

    • Jim Jones

      > But the point he meant to make here was simply that the Bible portrays Jesus as someone quite willing to “show you the money” to back up his own claims

      The Harry Potter novels portray young Harry as being ready to show you real magic to back up his claims. We still don’t expect to see schoolboys flying broomsticks around Scotland.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Sigh. Again, that’s not the point. Let me try this again: PHIL IS NOT MAKING AN APOLOGETIC CLAIM WITH THIS EXAMPLE. He is explaining why Boghossian’s definition of “faith” fails to engage with how Christians actually understand and use the term, according to their own holy book.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          You are correct, Esther. I apologize if my response to Phil’s gospel reference misrepresented his point. I agree with you that his primary point was not that the story should count as evidence for us today, it was meant to illustrate that Jesus presented evidence to his audience at the time. BUT…I would counter that this reference still assumes that we are supposed to believe that these things actually happened in real life, which means that a secondary purpose in citing these stories is to validate the claims of Christianity for us today. My point still stands that since many of us don’t buy that these things really even happened, they kinda fall flat for the Phil’s purposes anyway. For example, It doesn’t mean much to me to say “Jesus presented Thomas with evidence” since I think this story is fictitious. AND I would add as I did above that the inclusion of this story seems to argue the opposite of what you’re saying: This story teaches that it’s better to believe without requiring such evidence.

          • John Fraser

            Hi Godless,

            If I understand you correctly here you are taking the story of Thomas to be communicating the lesson that people should believe without evidence. This would be a mistake based on an overly superficial reading of the passage (albeit a common mistake that even many Christians make). The point of the story (regardless of whether or not you think it’s historical, which you obviously do not) is that Thomas had the testimony of all of the other disciples who saw Jesus. We could put this in probabilistic terms, but basically the point is that Thomas already had sufficient evidence without having to see Jesus with his own two eyes and touch him with his own hands. It is certainly NOT a lesson on believing without evidence, rather it is a lesson on the sufficiency of the testimonial evidence of many sincere and trustworthy eyewitnesses – which in fact is exactly the argument that Esther (and some of us others) are making here.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Nicely put John, and sad but true that a lot of Christians also misinterpret the passage in that way. No doubt it’s how the Christians in Neil’s former evangelical background would have taken it.

  • http://www.TheWisdomOfLife.com The Wisdom of Life

    What most people call faith would be more accurately be termed “social glue” from my perspective.We carry our cultural history as a phylo-memetic vague place mark for shared cultural experiences that have long singe morphed beyond recognition by being whispered down the generational lane so many times. This is the glue making process – the jungles of Africa become the garden of Eden. Population or some other event becomes the casting out. The necessity to live by waters becomes the flood. The necessity to sacrifice lambs and our dependence on the grace of seasonal reality becomes how we see god. From a global perspective, faith in our particular brand of world view appears more geographically and culturally inspired, not divinely inspired. As children we are powerfully shaped by the ideas we are nourished with before we develop the capacity to think critically, that is; if we ever honestly question the foundations on which our views stand. I appreciate your contention that we should be likewise skeptical of our own biological doors of perception, no matter how much we are willing to brave the uncharted waters of science and reason.

  • http://www.TheWisdomOfLife.com The Wisdom of Life

    What most people call faith would be more accurately be termed “social glue” from my perspective.We carry our cultural history as a phylo-memetic vague place mark for shared cultural experiences that have long singe morphed beyond recognition by being whispered down the generational lane so many times. This is the glue making process – the jungles of Africa become the garden of Eden. Population or some other event becomes the casting out. The necessity to live by waters becomes the flood. The necessity to sacrifice lambs and our dependence on the grace of seasonal reality becomes how we see god. From a global perspective, faith in our particular brand of world view appears more geographically and culturally inspired, not divinely inspired. As children we are powerfully shaped by the ideas we are nourished with before we develop the capacity to think critically, that is; if we ever honestly question the foundations on which our views stand. I appreciate your contention that we should be likewise skeptical of our own biological doors of perception, no matter how much we are willing to brave the uncharted waters of science and reason.

  • emedeiros

    I loved the text.

    I, personally, use the word “faith” to talk about a kind of emotional commitment to an outcome, especially if the outcome depends on my actions (I may fail), on other people’s actions (they may fail too), and on “chance” (external factors over which I have no power or that I just can’t measure). It’s nothing like “believe in the impossible”, it’s actually based on the fact that that outcome is possible. I think this faith is particularly important when the actions I take can’t rely only on “mechanical” actions and require a mental and emotional commitment.

    And when a Christian claim that they have faith in facts of the Bible (or that they believe in those facts), it may be based on a kind of chain of trust: somebody witnessed or experienced something, told to somebody that later told to somebody, and so goes on, and even if the stories were written down, the veracity of those facts would still depend on this chain. The problem is that as this chain grows longer, the bonds of trust may lose their value, like: if my father tells me something that he witnessed I would believe him, but would I have to believe in something that his father told him (and in which my father believed because he was his father)? And what about something that my great-great-great-great-grandfather passed forward: would I be an asshole not to believe?

    And when a Christian say that they have faith in the Christian god, that particular sentence may mean that they trust that that god will behave in a sound manner, or that that god will provide what they need, whatever it may mean.

  • emedeiros

    I loved the text.

    I, personally, use the word “faith” to talk about a kind of emotional commitment to an outcome, especially if the outcome depends on my actions (I may fail), on other people’s actions (they may fail too), and on “chance” (external factors over which I have no power or that I just can’t measure). It’s nothing like “believe in the impossible”, it’s actually based on the fact that that outcome is possible. I think this faith is particularly important when the actions I take can’t rely only on “mechanical” actions and require a mental and emotional commitment.

    And when a Christian claim that they have faith in facts of the Bible (or that they believe in those facts), it may be based on a kind of chain of trust: somebody witnessed or experienced something, told to somebody that later told to somebody, and so goes on, and even if the stories were written down, the veracity of those facts would still depend on this chain. The problem is that as this chain grows longer, the bonds of trust may lose their value, like: if my father tells me something that he witnessed I would believe him, but would I have to believe in something that his father told him (and in which my father believed because he was his father)? And what about something that my great-great-great-great-grandfather passed forward: would I be an asshole not to believe?

    And when a Christian say that they have faith in the Christian god, that particular sentence may mean that they trust that that god will behave in a sound manner, or that that god will provide what they need, whatever it may mean.

  • Jacob

    This is a great post! I wonder if faith is more usefully seen as a living commitment to a particular way of seeing and living in the world. What are your thoughts about that?

  • Jacob

    This is a great post! I wonder if faith is more usefully seen as a living commitment to a particular way of seeing and living in the world. What are your thoughts about that?

  • http://www.streetepistemology.com streetepistemology

    Faith when used in a religious context that also excludes the meanings Hope, Trust and Confidence means Pretending to Know..

    Watch the first 20 minutes of Peter Boghossian in his lecture titled : Faith: Pretending to Know Things you don’t Know

    http://bit.ly/1aGmCwa

  • http://www.streetepistemology.com streetepistemology

    Faith when used in a religious context that also excludes the meanings Hope, Trust and Confidence means Pretending to Know..

    Watch the first 20 minutes of Peter Boghossian in his lecture titled : Faith: Pretending to Know Things you don’t Know

    http://bit.ly/1aGmCwa

  • http://gravatar.com/jdauie jdauie

    Faith is definitely a tricky topic. As you mention, separating usage and meaning is difficult even within a shared (religious) tradition. I have unfortunately been guilty of saying that believers “believe without evidence”, and although I always correct myself, it still makes the other person feel misunderstood. I have also been on the other side of things, with a pastor trying to get me to admit that I have faith in my position as an agnostic atheist.

    I feel that Daniel Fincke said it well when he defined faith as “beliefs beyond rational warrant”. His series on “Disambiguating Faith” on the Camels With Hammers blog has been a good resource for me in thinking about faith.

  • http://gravatar.com/jdauie jdauie

    Faith is definitely a tricky topic. As you mention, separating usage and meaning is difficult even within a shared (religious) tradition. I have unfortunately been guilty of saying that believers “believe without evidence”, and although I always correct myself, it still makes the other person feel misunderstood. I have also been on the other side of things, with a pastor trying to get me to admit that I have faith in my position as an agnostic atheist.

    I feel that Daniel Fincke said it well when he defined faith as “beliefs beyond rational warrant”. His series on “Disambiguating Faith” on the Camels With Hammers blog has been a good resource for me in thinking about faith.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Faith has as many meanings as there are people living on earth. There is no ‘Webster’s’ to define faith or any other religious terms in Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, etc if using a Bible, Torah, or Bhagavad-Gita, etc. as sources. Anyone can argue for or against a definition and all would be cyclical arguments, proving only that which is in the arguers mind and a personal interpretation of their book of reference.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Faith has as many meanings as there are people living on earth. There is no ‘Webster’s’ to define faith or any other religious terms in Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, etc if using a Bible, Torah, or Bhagavad-Gita, etc. as sources. Anyone can argue for or against a definition and all would be cyclical arguments, proving only that which is in the arguers mind and a personal interpretation of their book of reference.

  • wills

    Can’t/WON’T you ‘believers’ at least attempt to ‘get behind the spark’ on your narrative? We’re being judged – and sent to eternal punishment in HELL – For NOT believing an UNBELIEVABLE STORY??!?? A power/being who made a universe 13.6 BILLION years ago – something we can never fully comprehend – Decides the ONE TIME he ‘shows himself’ – is to desert nomadic tribes, in the middle east, on some tiny rock planet, on the outer edge of one of billions of galaxies, thousands of years BEFORE our ability to VERIFY?!? Right alongside all of the other saviour-gods wannabees who were part of everyday life in that part of the world at that period? WHAT A COINCIDENCE!..:-) Then, your perfect-god gives us a book laden w/ riddles, rape, genocide and contradictions which suffers through countless translations, explanations, political pressures (Ecumenical Council, etc)?!? Why-Oh-WHY can’t He – GOD – simply BE CLEAR? And (not so) FUNNY: All these religions have hair-raising similarities: BLOOD Sacrifice, VIRGINS & BS rules which cannot be applied to REALITY (see Leviticus!). As noteworthy: Whether Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, etc – Funny how god ONLY speaks to ONE SINGLE Dude – Joseph Smith/Paul/Moses (etc) Out there all by himself – No witnesses, no verification – “Just take me at my word, easy right?” Why can’t “GOD” just say what needs to be said – to ALL of us, so we’re ALL on the same page? Instead of hiding behind some opaque screen of hide and seek? And as modern times evolve (complete w/ video cameras, etc) and superstition recedes: SO HAVE ALL OF THOSE ‘miracles’ – Coincidence?!? Why can’t you people simply spell ‘god’ – WITH TWO “Os”? Easy/Peasy!

    Finally: If god knows what is/was/will be – WHY then did the very FIRST people he made SCREW EVERYTHING UP?!? He didn’t ‘see that coming’? Yes, we’re ‘imperfect’ – but according to YOUR fable, HE made us that way – Yet WE get the blame for his game of ‘Dare You’ over some fruit?

    Either you devolve into ‘We can’t understand HIS WAYS..” – OR – You believers indeed ‘get behind the spark’ and come to terms with this MAN-MADE FANTASY, just like all the others – and probe deeper into your being to find a means to manifest the GOODNESS you’d like to see in this world. Goodness – for a ticket to heaven? If your goodness is ‘for sale’ then it’s PROSTITUTION, so lose that ulterior motive! As for god and being good? Just CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMAN!

  • wills

    Can’t/WON’T you ‘believers’ at least attempt to ‘get behind the spark’ on your narrative? We’re being judged – and sent to eternal punishment in HELL – For NOT believing an UNBELIEVABLE STORY??!?? A power/being who made a universe 13.6 BILLION years ago – something we can never fully comprehend – Decides the ONE TIME he ‘shows himself’ – is to desert nomadic tribes, in the middle east, on some tiny rock planet, on the outer edge of one of billions of galaxies, thousands of years BEFORE our ability to VERIFY?!? Right alongside all of the other saviour-gods wannabees who were part of everyday life in that part of the world at that period? WHAT A COINCIDENCE!..:-) Then, your perfect-god gives us a book laden w/ riddles, rape, genocide and contradictions which suffers through countless translations, explanations, political pressures (Ecumenical Council, etc)?!? Why-Oh-WHY can’t He – GOD – simply BE CLEAR? And (not so) FUNNY: All these religions have hair-raising similarities: BLOOD Sacrifice, VIRGINS & BS rules which cannot be applied to REALITY (see Leviticus!). As noteworthy: Whether Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, etc – Funny how god ONLY speaks to ONE SINGLE Dude – Joseph Smith/Paul/Moses (etc) Out there all by himself – No witnesses, no verification – “Just take me at my word, easy right?” Why can’t “GOD” just say what needs to be said – to ALL of us, so we’re ALL on the same page? Instead of hiding behind some opaque screen of hide and seek? And as modern times evolve (complete w/ video cameras, etc) and superstition recedes: SO HAVE ALL OF THOSE ‘miracles’ – Coincidence?!? Why can’t you people simply spell ‘god’ – WITH TWO “Os”? Easy/Peasy!

    Finally: If god knows what is/was/will be – WHY then did the very FIRST people he made SCREW EVERYTHING UP?!? He didn’t ‘see that coming’? Yes, we’re ‘imperfect’ – but according to YOUR fable, HE made us that way – Yet WE get the blame for his game of ‘Dare You’ over some fruit?

    Either you devolve into ‘We can’t understand HIS WAYS..” – OR – You believers indeed ‘get behind the spark’ and come to terms with this MAN-MADE FANTASY, just like all the others – and probe deeper into your being to find a means to manifest the GOODNESS you’d like to see in this world. Goodness – for a ticket to heaven? If your goodness is ‘for sale’ then it’s PROSTITUTION, so lose that ulterior motive! As for god and being good? Just CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMAN!

  • http://humanistfox.wordpress.com humanistfox

    Peter Boghossian writes on page 36 of his book:

    “A recent move by apologists is to avoid the use of the word ‘faith’ entirely, and instead to use the word ‘trust.’ Given that the word ‘faith’ is inherently problematic, I think this is an excellent strategy. The counter to this, however, is identical: ‘Without sufficient evidence, how do you know what to trust?’ If the response is, ‘There’s sufficient evidence,’ then your reply should be, ‘Then you don’t need faith.’”

    Boghossian is absolutely right. As I mentioned in the comments section of Vischer’s article, reframing “faith” as “trust” commits the fallacy of begging the question. A chair is not the same thing as a god because we have evidence a chair actually exists in the first place, and we have demonstrable, observable evidence that it can be sat on without any issues.

    Boghossian addresses this fallacy a second time on pages 157-159 in the context of a conversation between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

    Personal experiences are claims. Ancient texts are claims. They are not evidence–or at least this type of evidence is vastly insufficient to warrant belief in the deities and miracles proposed.

    Ultimately, I think Boghossian is correct in his usage of the word faith. No amount of equivocation and question-begging can change the fact that epistemically unjustified beliefs (gods among them) are not based on sufficiently credible evidence. Hence, faith is pretending to know things you don’t know.

    If you find the time time to read Boghossian’s book, I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • mikespeir

      To say that Christian faith is the same thing as trust is transparently misguided. It’s intuitively obvious that we can’t trust what we don’t believe in. Even the author of the Espistle to the Hebrews understood this when he wrote (with my interpolations for definition), “…for he that cometh to God must [1] believe that he is, and [2] that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The mental assent to the proposition that God exists must necessarily precede any trust in God.

      The way Christians use “faith” and how they formally define the word are often different and even contradictory things.

      • https://plus.google.com/112255322654389763589 Red River

        Oxford English Dictionary

        faith, n.

        I. Belief, trust, confidence.

        1. a. Confidence, reliance, trust (in the ability, goodness, etc., of a person; in the efficacy or worth of a thing; or in the truth of a statement or doctrine). Const. in, †of. In early use, only with reference to religious objects; this is still the prevalent application, and often colours the wider use.

        b. Belief proceeding from reliance on testimony or authority.

  • http://humanistfox.wordpress.com humanistfox

    Peter Boghossian writes on page 36 of his book:

    “A recent move by apologists is to avoid the use of the word ‘faith’ entirely, and instead to use the word ‘trust.’ Given that the word ‘faith’ is inherently problematic, I think this is an excellent strategy. The counter to this, however, is identical: ‘Without sufficient evidence, how do you know what to trust?’ If the response is, ‘There’s sufficient evidence,’ then your reply should be, ‘Then you don’t need faith.’”

    Boghossian is absolutely right. As I mentioned in the comments section of Vischer’s article, reframing “faith” as “trust” commits the fallacy of begging the question. A chair is not the same thing as a god because we have evidence a chair actually exists in the first place, and we have demonstrable, observable evidence that it can be sat on without any issues.

    Boghossian addresses this fallacy a second time on pages 157-159 in the context of a conversation between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

    Personal experiences are claims. Ancient texts are claims. They are not evidence–or at least this type of evidence is vastly insufficient to warrant belief in the deities and miracles proposed.

    Ultimately, I think Boghossian is correct in his usage of the word faith. No amount of equivocation and question-begging can change the fact that epistemically unjustified beliefs (gods among them) are not based on sufficiently credible evidence. Hence, faith is pretending to know things you don’t know.

    If you find the time time to read Boghossian’s book, I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • mikespeir

      To say that Christian faith is the same thing as trust is transparently misguided. It’s intuitively obvious that we can’t trust what we don’t believe in. Even the author of the Espistle to the Hebrews understood this when he wrote (with my interpolations for definition), “…for he that cometh to God must [1] believe that he is, and [2] that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The mental assent to the proposition that God exists must necessarily precede any trust in God.

      The way Christians use “faith” and how they formally define the word are often different and even contradictory things.

      • https://plus.google.com/112255322654389763589 Red River

        Oxford English Dictionary

        faith, n.

        I. Belief, trust, confidence.

        1. a. Confidence, reliance, trust (in the ability, goodness, etc., of a person; in the efficacy or worth of a thing; or in the truth of a statement or doctrine). Const. in, †of. In early use, only with reference to religious objects; this is still the prevalent application, and often colours the wider use.

        b. Belief proceeding from reliance on testimony or authority.

  • http://gravatar.com/softmoth Tim Smith

    In case anyone’s having trouble finding it, Vischer’s vow to not say “faith” when he means “trust” is at http://philvischer.com/phil-news/boghossian-follow-up-or-send-in-the-atheists/ . At the bottom of that update Vischer also points to a further dialogue on this subject which I also find interesting.

  • http://gravatar.com/softmoth Tim Smith

    In case anyone’s having trouble finding it, Vischer’s vow to not say “faith” when he means “trust” is at http://philvischer.com/phil-news/boghossian-follow-up-or-send-in-the-atheists/ . At the bottom of that update Vischer also points to a further dialogue on this subject which I also find interesting.

  • David W

    Heya Esther,

    You said:

    “It’s not logically sound to rule out miracles prima facie. That’s begging the question. By refusing to engage with the texts as you would any other historical document, you’re showing a bias.”

    I know that I am not the most engaging writer, however, what I did write was clear.

    I am not ruling out miracles prima facie, and I did not say, nor suggest, that I was.

    I said that a miracle has NEVER stood-up under the investigation of modern science.

    If I am to believe that a miracle has occurred, what I will need, and what I OUGHT to require is good evidence. Hearsay is not good evidence showing that a miracle has occurred.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      And I’m saying that the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts. Not only can the documents be shown authentic, they can be shown to be reliable. If the kind of evidence we have qualifies as “hearsay” by your definition, then so does the evidence for more historical figures than I think you’re willing to admit.

      Normally, when we encounter a reliable, authentic account of eyewitness history, that should make us inclined to accept the claims. What I’m hearing you say is that even if I could show you the writers were who they said they were and could be relied on to tell the truth, it wouldn’t be convincing because “everyone knows dead people stay dead.” In that sense, good evidence by any other standard still wouldn’t be good enough for you.

      • mikespeir

        “And I’m saying that the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts.”

        Good enough that you’re entitled to insist that everyone believe they actually happened? Because, make no mistake, historic Christianity doesn’t admit of naysayers.

        Frankly, even if it were true that the evidence for the miracles of the NT were as good as for any other fact of history (an assertion I find laughable), I can’t see that ANY fact of ancient history is so well founded as to justify telling people their eternal destinies hang on whether they believe them.

      • David W

        Hi Esther,

        I will take the same line of argument that I attempted to take earlier; even if “the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts” your situation is not resolved.

        You are not asking me to believe just any historical fact. I do believe that Jesus existed on the basis of the New Testament and other documents, I do not believe that miracles occurred.

        Stating that a miracle (an event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency) has occurred is an extraordinary claim; such a claim requires MUCH more evidence than does saying that Jesus, or any person for that matter, existed.

        You say: “In that sense, good evidence by any other standard still wouldn’t be good enough for you.” You are not comparing apples to apples here. I have no trouble believing any non-miraculous claim that the Bible makes, in the same way that I have no trouble believing in other ancient events and figures based upon other ancient documents.

        What you are asking me to do is to accept the same level of evidence for historical events AND for miracles; even worse, you are asking me to do this when there has not been a single miracle which has been confirmed by modern science. If miracles occurred today, I would have MUCH less trouble believing the occurred in the past.

        In regard to your point that you could not present me with any evidence that would result in my belief in miracles, this is untrue. I just ask for a common biblical miracle to occur today. For example, a Christian who could lay hands on the lame and allows them to walk and the blind and allows them to see. Throw in a few HD camera phone recordings and a few before and after medical exams as well as an interview with the miracle worker. This is not asking for a lot, and apparently it was common place in the past.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          As I said before, this conversation has been had already, between David Hume and the men of his time who took turns methodically shredding everything you’re articulating here. I’m familiar with the “Extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence” line, and I don’t know how else to say it, but if you unpack the epistemology and the probability theory of it, you’re just wrong. Please, read Campbell or Adams or any of the contemporary responses to _Of Miracles_, or if you really want to delve into the technical flaws, read John Earman, who as I mentioned before, is not a Christian of any stripe.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          To clarify, you’re not wrong to say that a miraculous claim requires more evidence than normal, but you’re wrong to assert that testimonial evidence could never be strong enough to meet that requirement. As Earman explains, one can’t simply stay on the mountaintop and hurl generalities down below. To say “We need exceptionally strong evidence” is true but trivial, and to decide arbitrarily that you will only accept a, b and c as “exceptionally strong” betrays lack of imagination. The theory is just not as simplistic as you think. Furthermore, you miss the fact that if anything, modern science and technology makes it EASIER for magicians and scam artists to fool ordinary people in the disciples’ position, because they can produce a very convincing illusion of a miracle by purely natural means.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          (I.e., extraordinary testimonial evidence of a historical nature, as opposed to witnessing an event in the present time. Apologize for the multiple comments, I just don’t want to leave ambiguities hanging.)

          • David W

            Hey Esther,

            You said: ” The theory is just not as simplistic as you think.”

            I hear you, I really do. I finished my BA in Philosophy back in 2004, I know that this is only undergrad training, however, I mention it to point out that I do understand that philosophical arguments become very complex very quickly; and I mention it to point out that I in no way consider my posts here to be airtight arguments.

            I am not going to go back and read/re-read the philosophers and papers that you mentioned. I don’t have the time and desire, in that order, to do so.

            So to be clear, you hold that the Bible is factual, and you believe that the miracles in the Bible did occur; and I am atheist and do not believe that they occurred. I do not expect to change your mind. The reason that I do not expect to change your mind is that evidence is only a very small part of why Christians believe as they do. If I were able to demolish your arguments and show that you are unreasonable to believe that miracles occurred long ago, (which I am not able to do to your, or any other Christians satisfaction.) you would still likely believe as you do.

            For me, I do not think that there is any amount of hearsay that could convince me that miracles occurred in Biblical times. I require some sort of testable and verifiable evidence, something measurable, not eye-witnesses telling me what they saw. I understand that this is a unreasonable position to you.

            (As I am sure that you are aware, we have very good reasons to doubt both eye-witness testimony and our recollection of events.)

            My challenge to you is this, if you believe that miracles occurred back in Biblical times, for example perhaps you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then if you wish to remain consistent in your epistemology, and it appears that you do, you will have to also believe any number of things. For example, you may be in a position where you are forced to believe that witches were actually present at the Salem witch trials.

            http://www.provingthenegative.com/2013/12/the-salem-witchcraft-argument-against.html

            Anyhow, bottom line for me, we ought to require verifiable and testable evidence for extraordinary claims. Especially if the claims state that an event occurred which suspended the laws of nature, and even more so, because we have never seen this happen in the modern age.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I have not researched the Salem witch trials to a very deep extent. I actually do believe there is such a thing as witchcraft, so my first response would be that perhaps SOME of the women tried really were witches. However, it’s clear that many were not. I can think of one case in particular where the accusers were a couple of spiteful little girls, and when it was later revealed that they were lying, one of the judges literally repented in sack-cloth and ashes. Furthermore, many of the “confessions” referred to were extracted under torture, a confounding factor by any standard. But there could have been other individual cases where the evidence did point to witchcraft. The problem with the video is that it’s pulling together data that lumps together all of the cases, which could well be a mixed bag of guilty and innocent.

            Furthermore, the assertion at the end saying that to be epistemologically consistent one must accept ALL the world religions’ claims is ridiculous. Mormonism and Islam, to give two examples, were solidly constructed on the basis of material gain (mostly for men), and miracle claims weren’t the focus of either religion, beyond the initial angelic visitation. In fact, Mohammed expressly sneered at the idea of having to prove himself with miracles. I’m open to the existence of powerful angelic beings (including demons), so he may have told the truth that some being appeared to him with the command to start a new religion. That’s entirely different from the question of whether Allah is a real god. As for Mormonism, all the supposed “witnesses” of the golden plates were family members of Smith’s, one of whom stood to gain a lot of money if the Book of Mormon was a hit, and all of them eventually left the Mormon faith altogether. Then there are other religions like Hinduism which aren’t based on a historical claim at all.

            I would recommend that the uploader do more research on his world religions, the nature of their claims, and the historicity of said claims before going out on such a limb.

          • David W

            “… so my first response would be that perhaps SOME of the women tried really were witches.”

            Wow, biting that bullet.

            I gave that example because the view that witches exist is without merit in my view. There is zero evidence, other than hearsay, that they do exist.

            I never know quite how to respond when someone bites the bullet…

            Especially when it is a supernatural bullet.

      • http://nevercertain.wordpress.com davewarnock

        Esther

        As has been referenced here already, regarding historical evidence concerning events or people from long ago…There’s a big difference between the claims of the Bible (or other sources) concerning Jesus Christ, and the historical data concerning someone like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. The major claim of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead; and because He did that we can be “saved”, and by his doing that he finalized the “plan of salvation” for us all. And His resurrection is the basis for a whole new faith system, and if you refuse to believe in that “fact”, you are doomed to an eternity in burning flames.

        That’s the problem here, Esther. A claim like that requires a bit more evidence than normal historical “facts”. It really doesn’t matter to me what Alexander the Great did or didn’t do- or whether he even existed. It’s interesting, but not that critical to me one way or another.

        If you’re going to tell me that my eternal destiny depends on a miracle. You better have some really, really good evidence.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I do.

          • http://nevercertain.wordpress.com davewarnock

            oh, Esther. Is this where I say, “do not”?

            Your “evidence” cannot include the Bible- that’s circular reasoning- The Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true. No. I was a Christian for 35 years; and a pastor. I know all the “evidence”. And it all comes down to believing some ancient documents that are not even originals. That’s not enough evidence on which to base the eternal destiny of the entire human race.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Where did I say the Bible was true because it says it’s true? I’m afraid you’ve got me mistaken. But I’d be interested to know what sources you’ve read that led you to conclude we have no evidence at all for the historical reliability of the gospels and Acts. And I fail to see where the documents’ age comes into the argument, if they can be shown authentic and reliable. Do I detect a little chronological snobbery?

          • MIchael E

            The factual reality is that there is no source outside of the Bible that describes the existence of the historical Jesus. None. There are no monuments, no mention in history, nothing. The first outside sources of information on the existence of a person who led a small band of followers came at least 100 years later. The first document from the outside was Josephus and the reference to Christians has been completely repudiated as having been added after the original document was creaed.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Michael—do I understand correctly that you’re a “Jesus myther?” Good luck convincing the majority of scholars across the board on that one…

    • ctcss

      David

      “I said that a miracle has NEVER stood-up under the investigation of modern science.”

      Could you actually cite something here where what are termed by some as “miracles” have failed to stand up under the investigation of modern science? Specifically, doesn’t Lourdes have any unexplained healings that occur at that site investigated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lourdes_Medical_Bureau) ? Are you saying that other scientific investigative groups have refuted those specific claims?

      I realize that some well-publicized investigations of unexplained cures have occurred where the claims have been found to be bogus or unwarranted, but are you truly asserting that ALL unexplained cures have been investigated and found to be lacking?

      There is a huge difference between extrapolation (taking cases of actual mistakes or fraud and then assuming that all unexplained cases are also mistaken or fraudulent), and actually investigating each case and determining that that each is mistaken and fraudulent.

      So, are you just extrapolating here, or do you have something much more comprehensive to present?

      • David W

        Hi ctcss,

        You wrote “are you truly asserting that ALL unexplained cures have been investigated and found to be lacking?”

        No, I would never do that in regard to any situation; I wouldn’t do it in regard to miracles, the existence of big-foot or UFOs from other planets; What I will say is that there has not been a miraculous event which has been investigated by modern science and found to be truly miraculous.

        By miraculous I do not mean an unlikely recovery, or a recovery from a disease which has been considered fatal and is not fully understood(most diseases are not fully understood btw). These are just events with low probabilities.

        When I refer to miracles, I am speaking of divine intervention, and of the suspension of the laws of nature. A Biblical miracle like raising someone from the dead, healing the lame or blind or the withered hand; and I don’t mean a several day or week recovery, I am speaking of a Christian laying hands on this person, and saying “be healed” with a resulting instant recovery. The Bible says this type of event occurred fairly often.

        You say “There is a huge difference between extrapolation (taking cases of actual mistakes or fraud and then assuming that all unexplained cases are also mistaken or fraudulent), and actually investigating each case and determining that that each is mistaken and fraudulent.”

        I agree with your point; but I am not *just* assuming here. My position is MUCH stronger. I am saying that all miracles which have been investigated by modern science have been shown to something other than a miracle, such as a low-probability event or fraud or something else. I am justified in believing that miracles do not occur; but I am willing to change my position if presented with good evidence.

        What you seem to be getting at here is where does the burden of proof lie? You ask me to cite instances of failed miracles, and to refute claims made by a religiously affiliated organization that a miracle has occurred.

        Do you think I am being unfair? Do you believe that there are many miracles which have stood-up under scientific scrutiny which I am ignoring?

        Miraculous claims have been investigated and debunked many times, if one claims that a miraculous event has occurred, the burden of proof lies upon them to show us good evidence.

  • David W

    Heya Esther,

    You said:

    “It’s not logically sound to rule out miracles prima facie. That’s begging the question. By refusing to engage with the texts as you would any other historical document, you’re showing a bias.”

    I know that I am not the most engaging writer, however, what I did write was clear.

    I am not ruling out miracles prima facie, and I did not say, nor suggest, that I was.

    I said that a miracle has NEVER stood-up under the investigation of modern science.

    If I am to believe that a miracle has occurred, what I will need, and what I OUGHT to require is good evidence. Hearsay is not good evidence showing that a miracle has occurred.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      And I’m saying that the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts. Not only can the documents be shown authentic, they can be shown to be reliable. If the kind of evidence we have qualifies as “hearsay” by your definition, then so does the evidence for more historical figures than I think you’re willing to admit.

      Normally, when we encounter a reliable, authentic account of eyewitness history, that should make us inclined to accept the claims. What I’m hearing you say is that even if I could show you the writers were who they said they were and could be relied on to tell the truth, it wouldn’t be convincing because “everyone knows dead people stay dead.” In that sense, good evidence by any other standard still wouldn’t be good enough for you.

      • mikespeir

        “And I’m saying that the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts.”

        Good enough that you’re entitled to insist that everyone believe they actually happened? Because, make no mistake, historic Christianity doesn’t admit of naysayers.

        Frankly, even if it were true that the evidence for the miracles of the NT were as good as for any other fact of history (an assertion I find laughable), I can’t see that ANY fact of ancient history is so well founded as to justify telling people their eternal destinies hang on whether they believe them.

      • David W

        Hi Esther,

        I will take the same line of argument that I attempted to take earlier; even if “the evidence for the miracles recorded in the New Testament is as good as, if not better than what we have for many ancient historical facts” your situation is not resolved.

        You are not asking me to believe just any historical fact. I do believe that Jesus existed on the basis of the New Testament and other documents, I do not believe that miracles occurred.

        Stating that a miracle (an event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency) has occurred is an extraordinary claim; such a claim requires MUCH more evidence than does saying that Jesus, or any person for that matter, existed.

        You say: “In that sense, good evidence by any other standard still wouldn’t be good enough for you.” You are not comparing apples to apples here. I have no trouble believing any non-miraculous claim that the Bible makes, in the same way that I have no trouble believing in other ancient events and figures based upon other ancient documents.

        What you are asking me to do is to accept the same level of evidence for historical events AND for miracles; even worse, you are asking me to do this when there has not been a single miracle which has been confirmed by modern science. If miracles occurred today, I would have MUCH less trouble believing the occurred in the past.

        In regard to your point that you could not present me with any evidence that would result in my belief in miracles, this is untrue. I just ask for a common biblical miracle to occur today. For example, a Christian who could lay hands on the lame and allows them to walk and the blind and allows them to see. Throw in a few HD camera phone recordings and a few before and after medical exams as well as an interview with the miracle worker. This is not asking for a lot, and apparently it was common place in the past.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          As I said before, this conversation has been had already, between David Hume and the men of his time who took turns methodically shredding everything you’re articulating here. I’m familiar with the “Extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence” line, and I don’t know how else to say it, but if you unpack the epistemology and the probability theory of it, you’re just wrong. Please, read Campbell or Adams or any of the contemporary responses to _Of Miracles_, or if you really want to delve into the technical flaws, read John Earman, who as I mentioned before, is not a Christian of any stripe.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          To clarify, you’re not wrong to say that a miraculous claim requires more evidence than normal, but you’re wrong to assert that testimonial evidence could never be strong enough to meet that requirement. As Earman explains, one can’t simply stay on the mountaintop and hurl generalities down below. To say “We need exceptionally strong evidence” is true but trivial, and to decide arbitrarily that you will only accept a, b and c as “exceptionally strong” betrays lack of imagination. The theory is just not as simplistic as you think. Furthermore, you miss the fact that if anything, modern science and technology makes it EASIER for magicians and scam artists to fool ordinary people in the disciples’ position, because they can produce a very convincing illusion of a miracle by purely natural means.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          (I.e., extraordinary testimonial evidence of a historical nature, as opposed to witnessing an event in the present time. Apologize for the multiple comments, I just don’t want to leave ambiguities hanging.)

          • David W

            Hey Esther,

            You said: ” The theory is just not as simplistic as you think.”

            I hear you, I really do. I finished my BA in Philosophy back in 2004, I know that this is only undergrad training, however, I mention it to point out that I do understand that philosophical arguments become very complex very quickly; and I mention it to point out that I in no way consider my posts here to be airtight arguments.

            I am not going to go back and read/re-read the philosophers and papers that you mentioned. I don’t have the time and desire, in that order, to do so.

            So to be clear, you hold that the Bible is factual, and you believe that the miracles in the Bible did occur; and I am atheist and do not believe that they occurred. I do not expect to change your mind. The reason that I do not expect to change your mind is that evidence is only a very small part of why Christians believe as they do. If I were able to demolish your arguments and show that you are unreasonable to believe that miracles occurred long ago, (which I am not able to do to your, or any other Christians satisfaction.) you would still likely believe as you do.

            For me, I do not think that there is any amount of hearsay that could convince me that miracles occurred in Biblical times. I require some sort of testable and verifiable evidence, something measurable, not eye-witnesses telling me what they saw. I understand that this is a unreasonable position to you.

            (As I am sure that you are aware, we have very good reasons to doubt both eye-witness testimony and our recollection of events.)

            My challenge to you is this, if you believe that miracles occurred back in Biblical times, for example perhaps you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then if you wish to remain consistent in your epistemology, and it appears that you do, you will have to also believe any number of things. For example, you may be in a position where you are forced to believe that witches were actually present at the Salem witch trials.

            http://www.provingthenegative.com/2013/12/the-salem-witchcraft-argument-against.html

            Anyhow, bottom line for me, we ought to require verifiable and testable evidence for extraordinary claims. Especially if the claims state that an event occurred which suspended the laws of nature, and even more so, because we have never seen this happen in the modern age.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I have not researched the Salem witch trials to a very deep extent. I actually do believe there is such a thing as witchcraft, so my first response would be that perhaps SOME of the women tried really were witches. However, it’s clear that many were not. I can think of one case in particular where the accusers were a couple of spiteful little girls, and when it was later revealed that they were lying, one of the judges literally repented in sack-cloth and ashes. Furthermore, many of the “confessions” referred to were extracted under torture, a confounding factor by any standard. But there could have been other individual cases where the evidence did point to witchcraft. The problem with the video is that it’s pulling together data that lumps together all of the cases, which could well be a mixed bag of guilty and innocent.

            Furthermore, the assertion at the end saying that to be epistemologically consistent one must accept ALL the world religions’ claims is ridiculous. Mormonism and Islam, to give two examples, were solidly constructed on the basis of material gain (mostly for men), and miracle claims weren’t the focus of either religion, beyond the initial angelic visitation. In fact, Mohammed expressly sneered at the idea of having to prove himself with miracles. I’m open to the existence of powerful angelic beings (including demons), so he may have told the truth that some being appeared to him with the command to start a new religion. That’s entirely different from the question of whether Allah is a real god. As for Mormonism, all the supposed “witnesses” of the golden plates were family members of Smith’s, one of whom stood to gain a lot of money if the Book of Mormon was a hit, and all of them eventually left the Mormon faith altogether. Then there are other religions like Hinduism which aren’t based on a historical claim at all.

            I would recommend that the uploader do more research on his world religions, the nature of their claims, and the historicity of said claims before going out on such a limb.

          • David W

            “… so my first response would be that perhaps SOME of the women tried really were witches.”

            Wow, biting that bullet.

            I gave that example because the view that witches exist is without merit in my view. There is zero evidence, other than hearsay, that they do exist.

            I never know quite how to respond when someone bites the bullet…

            Especially when it is a supernatural bullet.

      • http://nevercertain.wordpress.com davewarnock

        Esther

        As has been referenced here already, regarding historical evidence concerning events or people from long ago…There’s a big difference between the claims of the Bible (or other sources) concerning Jesus Christ, and the historical data concerning someone like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. The major claim of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead; and because He did that we can be “saved”, and by his doing that he finalized the “plan of salvation” for us all. And His resurrection is the basis for a whole new faith system, and if you refuse to believe in that “fact”, you are doomed to an eternity in burning flames.

        That’s the problem here, Esther. A claim like that requires a bit more evidence than normal historical “facts”. It really doesn’t matter to me what Alexander the Great did or didn’t do- or whether he even existed. It’s interesting, but not that critical to me one way or another.

        If you’re going to tell me that my eternal destiny depends on a miracle. You better have some really, really good evidence.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I do.

          • http://nevercertain.wordpress.com davewarnock

            oh, Esther. Is this where I say, “do not”?

            Your “evidence” cannot include the Bible- that’s circular reasoning- The Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true. No. I was a Christian for 35 years; and a pastor. I know all the “evidence”. And it all comes down to believing some ancient documents that are not even originals. That’s not enough evidence on which to base the eternal destiny of the entire human race.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Where did I say the Bible was true because it says it’s true? I’m afraid you’ve got me mistaken. But I’d be interested to know what sources you’ve read that led you to conclude we have no evidence at all for the historical reliability of the gospels and Acts. And I fail to see where the documents’ age comes into the argument, if they can be shown authentic and reliable. Do I detect a little chronological snobbery?

          • MIchael E

            The factual reality is that there is no source outside of the Bible that describes the existence of the historical Jesus. None. There are no monuments, no mention in history, nothing. The first outside sources of information on the existence of a person who led a small band of followers came at least 100 years later. The first document from the outside was Josephus and the reference to Christians has been completely repudiated as having been added after the original document was creaed.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Michael—do I understand correctly that you’re a “Jesus myther?” Good luck convincing the majority of scholars across the board on that one…

  • Gra*ma Banana

    I think this sums it up for me: “Faith is whatever we bet our lives on.” – Pastor Jim Rigby, Austin, TX

  • Gra*ma Banana

    I think this sums it up for me: “Faith is whatever we bet our lives on.” – Pastor Jim Rigby, Austin, TX

    • MIchael E

      The upside for becoming a Christian is enormous. You avoid hell and gain the promise of eternal life after our bodily death. You get a hotline to someone who can heal you, help you get the job you want, and always make the decision that matches the will of God.

      As I know, leaving our Christianity behind means you are walking away from all of these beliefs. Having reviewed the Biblical evidence and the evidence on the other side, I have chosen the other side. I have decided to give up all of these benefits because I can be at peace with my belief in what is true. I have made a bet with my life when there are no overt reasons to do so.

      But life over here is so rewarding. I could never go back.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Actually Michael, what you’re articulating sounds much closer to the “prosperity gospel” than the true gospel. Mature Christians understand that belief in God isn’t the “get out of sickness/suffering/bankruptcy/uncertainty” free card.

        Out of curiosity, what sources led you to your conclusion?

        • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

          No true scotsman. The Bible is the major source used for justification by prosperity gospel proponents. I could probably make a case that the Bible can give someone justification for many contradictory positions.

          Before I would even have to try to make the case though, we can look at the various denominations and the differences between them to see the myriad of ways the Bible has been interpreted “incorrectly”. One wonders what a correct interpretation looks like. Likely it’s in the eye of the beholder.

  • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

    I was wonder if anyone on here knows of any external reference to this event: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Matthew 27. It seems to me if something like this happened, many people would have seen and passed on such an incredible historical event.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Sure, others have raised that question. There are a couple of good answers: First, we don’t have evidence that the earthquake extended beyond the local area. This means we shouldn’t automatically expect Roman or other historians to notice or record it. Secondly, keep in mind that there was no Jerusalem Times. There was no Internet, no twitter, no iphones. The gospels make up an overwhelming percentage of the written record we have dating to that period of history AT ALL, from any world civilization. Not much of anything was written down, and a backwater spot like Jerusalem certainly didn’t have its own official historian at that time. Josephus got the luxury of writing and publishing his history decades later because he landed a cushy position with the Romans.

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        How do you explain the fact that NOWHERE else in the New Testament is this story repeated, not even in the other gospels? You would think that a mass resurrection, followed by multiple appearances of once-dead people walking around Jerusalem would be mentioned again by SOMEONE in the New Testament. But Mark, Luke, and John say nothing of this, nor does Paul, Peter, James, or the writer of Hebrews. I find that astounding.

        Furthermore, I’ve noticed this very rarely gets mentioned from the pulpit. I wonder sometimes if Christians even believe this really happened. I like asking my Christian friends how many people were raised from the dead Easter weekend because they always say, “Duh! One, silly.” Then I tell them of this verse and they act like they’ve never even heard it before.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Ah yes, the resurrected saints bit. Let me give several different replies to that:

          1. First of all, some Christian scholars have tried to put a metaphorical spin on the passage, saying that Matthew had a spiritual rather than a literal meaning in mind. Myself, I don’t see a need for this, as I’ll address in a minute. But in the grand scheme of the gospels, this is really a minor footnote. So where exactly you land on the interpretation of that passage isn’t the test of your faith.

          2. Matthew himself is reporting the supposed appearances second or third-hand as something that happened after Jesus’ RESURRECTION. He does say the tombs were broken open from the crucifixion earthquake, but he doesn’t say the dead came sauntering out right then and there like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” And they needn’t have been dramatic appearances. The “many” could simply have been “many” among the faithful community. Probably he heard rumors that certain members of that community had seen Uncle Shlom and Grandpa Simon alive again. They may not have been people the apostles themselves would even recognize.

          3. Because it’s simply an intriguing occurrence mentioned in passing and not a pillar of the early gospel creed, there’s no reason to expect Peter, Paul, James or the writer of Hebrews to mention it in their disquisitions on Christian doctrine. Many of their epistles are narrowly focused, addressing the specific theological issues and questions being raised by the churches they wrote to. For that matter, Paul doesn’t mention that many significant events in the life of Jesus.

          As for other gospel writers, Mark’s gospel is taken from the preaching of Peter. These were spoken presentations limited to the events of Jesus’ life and ministry that Peter personally witnessed. And Luke, who is not an eyewitness, is attempting to create a smoothly flowing narrative as he weaves together facts from his sources. If you look at how his gospel is arranged, you can see that this occurrence would kind of stick out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t really fit anywhere in his distinctive narrative style. So it’s natural that he would have left it out. Finally, John, whose gospel comes much later, carefully avoids covering the same ground as the other writers even when it comes to anecdotes about Jesus.

          5. Speaking of John, have a look at John 12, which comes right after the resurrection of Lazarus. The Pharisees are not pleased that Lazarus has appeared alive again after having been dead. In fact, they immediately begin trying to plan out the best way to kill him and make sure he stays dead this time. Now, if we take Matthew literally to mean that families among “the faithful” saw loved ones alive again, this passage from John indicates they wouldn’t exactly want to shout the details from the rooftops.

          I hope that’s a fuller answer than you were expecting.

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Esther,

            Can you name on dermal breaker for you? Atheist are often asked what if anything they would accept as evidence. What if anything would cause you do doubt the validity of Christianity’s story? It is shocking to me that you can so cavalierly dismiss the Matthew passage as him reporting hearsay and say it really doesn’t matter in credibility. Belief dependent realism much?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Sorry, do you mean “deal-breaker?” Well, I suppose finding a skeleton that could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be Jesus. However, that proof would be easier said than done given how common the name “Yeshua” was and how common crucifixion was. I would also think about what makes me skeptical of other religious claims. Mormonism: “Witnesses” who recanted/left the faith without compulsion, instant earthly gain in terms of military power, sex etc. for (male) converts, which applies to Islam too, founders who relied on brain-washing and brute force to gain followers… the list goes on and on. But so far, nothing I’ve mentioned remotely resembles how Christianity was founded and spread. If I could find evidence that it really was founded just like Islam or Mormonism, I would doubt it. As it is, it just looks completely different.

            As for Matthew, he was saying that many people reported these appearances. That could have been absolutely true. But it seems he didn’t witness them for himself. He certainly doesn’t go on at any length about it. It seems to me that he gave it exactly the right amount of space in the gospel.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            We don’t even know who wrote the gospel in question. Whoever it was likely didn’t witness any of it first-hand. Huge chunks of his gospel are copied word-for-word from Mark’s gospel, and who was “Mark” anyway? Tradition points to a guy who wasn’t even there for any of this, or else was a small kid for much of it and certainly not in Jesus’ inner circle. This stuff really isn’t nearly as reliable as folks make it out to be, and your dismissal of this passage does an excellent job of illustrating how arbitrarily one can accept some parts of the Bible and dismiss others.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m not dismissing the passage. I’m giving one plausible interpretation of it. As for your assertions that Matthew wasn’t a real person or didn’t witness the events, that’s another conversation. Knock yourself out trying to back that assertion if you like, but understand that all the objections you and others are raising here (plus many more besides) have been hashed out, re-hashed out and answered in careful detail by respectable scholars on the other side. And you’d be surprised at just how old some of these objections are. For example, Bart Ehrman makes heavy weather of the fact that Matthew refers to himself in the third person, as if this is just a knock-down argument that Matthew couldn’t have written that gospel. This is an extremely low move on Ehrman’s part, because it’s hard to believe a scholar of his stature can’t be aware that ancients referred to themselves in the third person ALL THE TIME, from Xenophon’s _Anabasis_ to Caesar’s _Gallic Wars_ to the works of Josephus. The funny thing is, Ehrman’s objection goes all the way back to Faustus the Manichean (c. 400 AD). Augustine’s blistering response is sadly all too applicable to Ehrman today: “Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things.” That pretty much summarizes a lot of Ehrman’s work. This is just one of many similarly sleazy stunts he tries to pull.

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

        That’s interesting though right? I mean dead people (vaguely many) walking through the streets. Only matthew mentions this, and when later historians do talk about the events, they argue over eclipse vs. no eclipse. They ignore the largest part of the story. For instance:

        “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (XVIII.1)”

        This quote was taken from Julius Africanus’ work “The History of the World” up to about 220 A.D.

        Notice no one is talking about the most astonishing part of what only Matthew reports-dead saints walking. We know, and I think you’d agree, that most of the early church, including Paul, believed that the end of the age was upon them, because all good Jews believed it was only at the end of the age when resurrection was to occur. It’s not hard then to speculate that the writers of that gospel,who attributed their work to matthew, emphasize this curious event given their audience in seeking to fit the story of Jesus into Jewish prophecy. This theory is strengthened when earlier in the same chapter Matthew makes a an error by falsely attributing a prophecy to Jeremiah. Vs9 “Spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.” This is not a quote from Jeremiah, but a misquote of Zechariah (11:12-13).

        I’m not sure what brand of Christian you are Esther. But I came from the fundamentalist baptist type that believe the bible cannot make a mistake as it was written by a god through inspiration, the gospels where all written by early dates and by first person witnesses, and there are no contradictions. When I discovered that even Christian scholarship has demonstrated through textual criticism and historical grammatical schools that the gospels are sometimes copies of each other, perhaps copies of long lost articles, and often contradict each other in important details, and certainly not written early after said events, It began to erode a persons ability to accept what Christianity makes out to be the most important event of history as more than what some apocalyptic followers of the ancient world thought and believed.

        So for me, even if you want to argue authenticity of these beliefs as found in these four gospels, you still have a long way to go to prove what they reported actually happened and is the truth for all the world. We would need to discuss how canonization removed dissenting voices about what the early church believed, we would need to discuss how someone who never mentions the empty tomb, had only a visionary or hallucinary experience of Jesus, and had major disagreements with Jesus initial followers about what things actually meant, and subsequently influenced much of Christian theology. We would need to discuss how first century blue collar disciples could possibly write in chiastic typologyies. Then we would need to discuss how they reinterpreted the Jewish prophecies to fit the meaning and conclusions they sought ton make sense of. And much much more…

        The kind of atheist I am is not someone who no longer believes because I don’t think the documents or testimony is evidence per se, but because in the light of everything written by ancients in a pre scientific world, it makes more sense that a small group of people followed an apocolyotic Jewish preacher around and truly believed the things that got passed down when they tried to make sense of things in light of their current day second temple theologies, things got expanded and embellished, the legend grew and made sense to a people wrought with despair and longing in a heliocentric and oppressed world. It’s known that there where many other messiah types even in Jesus day that the Romans had to put down which had many followers. This doesn’t make all or none, true or false, but helps to make sense of what these particular people believed and wrote about. So even when second century and beyond outside histories tell us what certain ancients believed, that’s not exactly authentication. So when I look at present day realities that seem to have a god absent from intervening or suspending natural laws, it is reasonable to assume these exstrodinary past events, while sincencerly believed by ancients in a culture of mysticism, are not any more true than what other ancient mystics believed.

        It certainly is not as cut and dry as wether these documents themselves are authentic.

        • David W

          “So when I look at present day realities that seem to have a god absent from intervening or suspending natural laws, it is reasonable to assume these extraordinary past events, while sincerely believed by ancients in a culture of mysticism, are not any more true than what other ancient mystics believed.”

          I agree.

          While reading your post this came to mind, although I don’t recall where I read it, ‘supernatural explanations have always given way to scientific explanations, the opposite has never been the case.’

        • Esther O’Reilly

          cjoint, here are some brief answers to your objections. Of course, there is much more where this came from, but unfortunately I’ll have to bow out here soon. That’s the exhausting thing about apologetics—it can sometimes take pages of detailed research to answer a two-sentence objection. But I can point you to other resources if you’re interested, and I’m not talking about those 200-page pop apologetics books either.

          On the dead saints walking: See my long response to Neil. The appearances aren’t reported during the crucifixion, but after the resurrection, and not necessarily all at once or to everyone.

          On Matthew’s slip: I’ve heard of this before and read some of the arguments. I would have to do a bit more research to give a full response, but to answer your question I’m not a strict inerrantist. My faith is resilient enough to handle the occasional discrepancy or error, even in the gospels. However, it’s still fun to debunk many supposed “errors,” especially when they get turned completely inside out into a point bolstering the text’s reliability. See this video for a particularly amusing one about Mark’s “ignorance” of geography in Chapter 7 verse 31 (skip to 13:00):

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKzSV8bWKk0

          See related videos in this series for more on supposed errors, as well as internal contradictions. Essentially, the speaker demonstrates that many such discrepancies can actually be naturally resolved. But, and this is important, even when there isn’t an obvious resolution, the historicity of the gospels doesn’t come crashing down any more than other ancient documents do when they suffer similar contradictions. Josephus even contradicts HIMSELF when recording the circumstances surrounding how Herod killed one of his wives. Historians face this constantly. And with any other document, they roll with it.

          On blue-collar writers using sophisticated motifs/structures: First of all, the disciples would have been steeped in Torah learning from earliest childhood, as much as any other Jew of their time. That’s not a matter of class. And the Torah is full of the motifs I think you’re trying to describe. But if you’re referring more generally to a certain “polish” in the style, the two most sophisticated gospels in that respect are Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke are certainly not “blue-collar.” Matthew was a tax-collector, Luke was a Greek doctor. (And I know you don’t accept Matthew’s existence, but I think you’d be up against even some critics from your own side if you tried to wave away Luke.)

          On the prophecies: More specifics here would be helpful. If you’re referring to the Greek “parthenos” (virgin) from Isaiah’s Hebrew “alma,” that was an interpretation accepted by Jewish scholars before Christianity was even founded. And I’m not sure exactly how you’d like to address the “pierced for our transgressions” passage in Isaiah, which doesn’t really allow for any other interpretation. Especially when you consider that the Jews executed people by stoning them, not “piercing” them. Crucifixion was unknown in Isaiah’s time, so who or what else would he have been referring to?

          On Paul: Actually, I’m glad you brought Paul up. What do you think about the suddenness of his conversion, from someone bent on torturing and imprisoning Christians to a man willing to die for his Christian faith? His vision of Jesus is described as occurring not in a delirious fever of belief, but while he’s on the way to throw more Christians in jail. That’s a rather bizarre turnaround. As for his falling out with Peter and such, I’m not sure what you’re trying to wring out of this. If you’d like to conclude that Paul didn’t play well with others, I’ll go with that. But there simply were a lot of theological details to be hammered out after Jesus’ ascension. It’s only natural to expect some disagreement and personal friction in that process.

          On canonization: Are you referring to the exclusion of the Gnostic gospels when the New Testament was officially collated? If so, I would ask whether you’ve read the Gnostic gospels. Compare their style to that of the canonized gospels and see if you honestly can’t see a difference. Not only are they written in outrageously purple, fantastical prose, but they raise theological questions that were hot-button issues… in the 2nd century. The disciples ask Jesus questions about terms that were unheard of in the 1st century. Anyone could smell fraud on those documents a mile away.

          As a final point to address your final thoughts, let me ask you this simple question: Just how stupid do you think a first-century Jew was? Do you think they didn’t know where babies came from? Do you think they didn’t know that dead people generally stay dead? I can’t help thinking you’ve been influenced, like another commentator I responded to in this thread, by an unfortunate tendency toward chronological snobbery. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that just because we’ve discovered more things about science, we must be smarter than people who lived thousands of years ago.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Oh, I think even people today can believe all kinds of stories without legitimate reason. I sell supplements as a side job and I can’t talk some people out of buying Dr. Oz products no matter how much evidence I give them that they’re a waste of money. These people are like, “Shut up and take my money!”

            I don’t have nearly as much free time as you guys have to do this point-for-point, but as for the question about Paul’s turnaround (and subsequent health problems), this is my guess:

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

          • Esther O’Reilly

            We already found some of the citations you may have been referring to, but if you had others in mind feel free to put those here.

            As for the seizure theory about Paul, probably the best response is that it doesn’t account for the other travelers with Paul at the time also seeing the light and getting knocked down by the impact. Or the scales falling off his eyes when Ananias restored his sight. Many if not all of the other people involved in this experience would have been alive and able to contradict what Luke and Paul wrote about it if they were making up details. “We saw a light? What do you mean WE kemosabe?” And the complete and total personality turnaround is a far more drastic behavioral change than has ever been linked with epilepsy. Further, the type of seizure most commonly linked to behavioral change (complex partial) comes with amnesia. There’s no sign of amnesia in any of Paul’s writings.

  • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

    I was wonder if anyone on here knows of any external reference to this event: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Matthew 27. It seems to me if something like this happened, many people would have seen and passed on such an incredible historical event.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Sure, others have raised that question. There are a couple of good answers: First, we don’t have evidence that the earthquake extended beyond the local area. This means we shouldn’t automatically expect Roman or other historians to notice or record it. Secondly, keep in mind that there was no Jerusalem Times. There was no Internet, no twitter, no iphones. The gospels make up an overwhelming percentage of the written record we have dating to that period of history AT ALL, from any world civilization. Not much of anything was written down, and a backwater spot like Jerusalem certainly didn’t have its own official historian at that time. Josephus got the luxury of writing and publishing his history decades later because he landed a cushy position with the Romans.

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        How do you explain the fact that NOWHERE else in the New Testament is this story repeated, not even in the other gospels? You would think that a mass resurrection, followed by multiple appearances of once-dead people walking around Jerusalem would be mentioned again by SOMEONE in the New Testament. But Mark, Luke, and John say nothing of this, nor does Paul, Peter, James, or the writer of Hebrews. I find that astounding.

        Furthermore, I’ve noticed this very rarely gets mentioned from the pulpit. I wonder sometimes if Christians even believe this really happened. I like asking my Christian friends how many people were raised from the dead Easter weekend because they always say, “Duh! One, silly.” Then I tell them of this verse and they act like they’ve never even heard it before.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Ah yes, the resurrected saints bit. Let me give several different replies to that:

          1. First of all, some Christian scholars have tried to put a metaphorical spin on the passage, saying that Matthew had a spiritual rather than a literal meaning in mind. Myself, I don’t see a need for this, as I’ll address in a minute. But in the grand scheme of the gospels, this is really a minor footnote. So where exactly you land on the interpretation of that passage isn’t the test of your faith.

          2. Matthew himself is reporting the supposed appearances second or third-hand as something that happened after Jesus’ RESURRECTION. He does say the tombs were broken open from the crucifixion earthquake, but he doesn’t say the dead came sauntering out right then and there like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” And they needn’t have been dramatic appearances. The “many” could simply have been “many” among the faithful community. Probably he heard rumors that certain members of that community had seen Uncle Shlom and Grandpa Simon alive again. They may not have been people the apostles themselves would even recognize.

          3. Because it’s simply an intriguing occurrence mentioned in passing and not a pillar of the early gospel creed, there’s no reason to expect Peter, Paul, James or the writer of Hebrews to mention it in their disquisitions on Christian doctrine. Many of their epistles are narrowly focused, addressing the specific theological issues and questions being raised by the churches they wrote to. For that matter, Paul doesn’t mention that many significant events in the life of Jesus.

          As for other gospel writers, Mark’s gospel is taken from the preaching of Peter. These were spoken presentations limited to the events of Jesus’ life and ministry that Peter personally witnessed. And Luke, who is not an eyewitness, is attempting to create a smoothly flowing narrative as he weaves together facts from his sources. If you look at how his gospel is arranged, you can see that this occurrence would kind of stick out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t really fit anywhere in his distinctive narrative style. So it’s natural that he would have left it out. Finally, John, whose gospel comes much later, carefully avoids covering the same ground as the other writers even when it comes to anecdotes about Jesus.

          5. Speaking of John, have a look at John 12, which comes right after the resurrection of Lazarus. The Pharisees are not pleased that Lazarus has appeared alive again after having been dead. In fact, they immediately begin trying to plan out the best way to kill him and make sure he stays dead this time. Now, if we take Matthew literally to mean that families among “the faithful” saw loved ones alive again, this passage from John indicates they wouldn’t exactly want to shout the details from the rooftops.

          I hope that’s a fuller answer than you were expecting.

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Esther,

            Can you name on dermal breaker for you? Atheist are often asked what if anything they would accept as evidence. What if anything would cause you do doubt the validity of Christianity’s story? It is shocking to me that you can so cavalierly dismiss the Matthew passage as him reporting hearsay and say it really doesn’t matter in credibility. Belief dependent realism much?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Sorry, do you mean “deal-breaker?” Well, I suppose finding a skeleton that could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be Jesus. However, that proof would be easier said than done given how common the name “Yeshua” was and how common crucifixion was. I would also think about what makes me skeptical of other religious claims. Mormonism: “Witnesses” who recanted/left the faith without compulsion, instant earthly gain in terms of military power, sex etc. for (male) converts, which applies to Islam too, founders who relied on brain-washing and brute force to gain followers… the list goes on and on. But so far, nothing I’ve mentioned remotely resembles how Christianity was founded and spread. If I could find evidence that it really was founded just like Islam or Mormonism, I would doubt it. As it is, it just looks completely different.

            As for Matthew, he was saying that many people reported these appearances. That could have been absolutely true. But it seems he didn’t witness them for himself. He certainly doesn’t go on at any length about it. It seems to me that he gave it exactly the right amount of space in the gospel.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            We don’t even know who wrote the gospel in question. Whoever it was likely didn’t witness any of it first-hand. Huge chunks of his gospel are copied word-for-word from Mark’s gospel, and who was “Mark” anyway? Tradition points to a guy who wasn’t even there for any of this, or else was a small kid for much of it and certainly not in Jesus’ inner circle. This stuff really isn’t nearly as reliable as folks make it out to be, and your dismissal of this passage does an excellent job of illustrating how arbitrarily one can accept some parts of the Bible and dismiss others.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m not dismissing the passage. I’m giving one plausible interpretation of it. As for your assertions that Matthew wasn’t a real person or didn’t witness the events, that’s another conversation. Knock yourself out trying to back that assertion if you like, but understand that all the objections you and others are raising here (plus many more besides) have been hashed out, re-hashed out and answered in careful detail by respectable scholars on the other side. And you’d be surprised at just how old some of these objections are. For example, Bart Ehrman makes heavy weather of the fact that Matthew refers to himself in the third person, as if this is just a knock-down argument that Matthew couldn’t have written that gospel. This is an extremely low move on Ehrman’s part, because it’s hard to believe a scholar of his stature can’t be aware that ancients referred to themselves in the third person ALL THE TIME, from Xenophon’s _Anabasis_ to Caesar’s _Gallic Wars_ to the works of Josephus. The funny thing is, Ehrman’s objection goes all the way back to Faustus the Manichean (c. 400 AD). Augustine’s blistering response is sadly all too applicable to Ehrman today: “Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things.” That pretty much summarizes a lot of Ehrman’s work. This is just one of many similarly sleazy stunts he tries to pull.

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

        That’s interesting though right? I mean dead people (vaguely many) walking through the streets. Only matthew mentions this, and when later historians do talk about the events, they argue over eclipse vs. no eclipse. They ignore the largest part of the story. For instance:

        “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (XVIII.1)”

        This quote was taken from Julius Africanus’ work “The History of the World” up to about 220 A.D.

        Notice no one is talking about the most astonishing part of what only Matthew reports-dead saints walking. We know, and I think you’d agree, that most of the early church, including Paul, believed that the end of the age was upon them, because all good Jews believed it was only at the end of the age when resurrection was to occur. It’s not hard then to speculate that the writers of that gospel,who attributed their work to matthew, emphasize this curious event given their audience in seeking to fit the story of Jesus into Jewish prophecy. This theory is strengthened when earlier in the same chapter Matthew makes a an error by falsely attributing a prophecy to Jeremiah. Vs9 “Spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.” This is not a quote from Jeremiah, but a misquote of Zechariah (11:12-13).

        I’m not sure what brand of Christian you are Esther. But I came from the fundamentalist baptist type that believe the bible cannot make a mistake as it was written by a god through inspiration, the gospels where all written by early dates and by first person witnesses, and there are no contradictions. When I discovered that even Christian scholarship has demonstrated through textual criticism and historical grammatical schools that the gospels are sometimes copies of each other, perhaps copies of long lost articles, and often contradict each other in important details, and certainly not written early after said events, It began to erode a persons ability to accept what Christianity makes out to be the most important event of history as more than what some apocalyptic followers of the ancient world thought and believed.

        So for me, even if you want to argue authenticity of these beliefs as found in these four gospels, you still have a long way to go to prove what they reported actually happened and is the truth for all the world. We would need to discuss how canonization removed dissenting voices about what the early church believed, we would need to discuss how someone who never mentions the empty tomb, had only a visionary or hallucinary experience of Jesus, and had major disagreements with Jesus initial followers about what things actually meant, and subsequently influenced much of Christian theology. We would need to discuss how first century blue collar disciples could possibly write in chiastic typologyies. Then we would need to discuss how they reinterpreted the Jewish prophecies to fit the meaning and conclusions they sought ton make sense of. And much much more…

        The kind of atheist I am is not someone who no longer believes because I don’t think the documents or testimony is evidence per se, but because in the light of everything written by ancients in a pre scientific world, it makes more sense that a small group of people followed an apocolyotic Jewish preacher around and truly believed the things that got passed down when they tried to make sense of things in light of their current day second temple theologies, things got expanded and embellished, the legend grew and made sense to a people wrought with despair and longing in a heliocentric and oppressed world. It’s known that there where many other messiah types even in Jesus day that the Romans had to put down which had many followers. This doesn’t make all or none, true or false, but helps to make sense of what these particular people believed and wrote about. So even when second century and beyond outside histories tell us what certain ancients believed, that’s not exactly authentication. So when I look at present day realities that seem to have a god absent from intervening or suspending natural laws, it is reasonable to assume these exstrodinary past events, while sincencerly believed by ancients in a culture of mysticism, are not any more true than what other ancient mystics believed.

        It certainly is not as cut and dry as wether these documents themselves are authentic.

        • David W

          “So when I look at present day realities that seem to have a god absent from intervening or suspending natural laws, it is reasonable to assume these extraordinary past events, while sincerely believed by ancients in a culture of mysticism, are not any more true than what other ancient mystics believed.”

          I agree.

          While reading your post this came to mind, although I don’t recall where I read it, ‘supernatural explanations have always given way to scientific explanations, the opposite has never been the case.’

        • Esther O’Reilly

          cjoint, here are some brief answers to your objections. Of course, there is much more where this came from, but unfortunately I’ll have to bow out here soon. That’s the exhausting thing about apologetics—it can sometimes take pages of detailed research to answer a two-sentence objection. But I can point you to other resources if you’re interested, and I’m not talking about those 200-page pop apologetics books either.

          On the dead saints walking: See my long response to Neil. The appearances aren’t reported during the crucifixion, but after the resurrection, and not necessarily all at once or to everyone.

          On Matthew’s slip: I’ve heard of this before and read some of the arguments. I would have to do a bit more research to give a full response, but to answer your question I’m not a strict inerrantist. My faith is resilient enough to handle the occasional discrepancy or error, even in the gospels. However, it’s still fun to debunk many supposed “errors,” especially when they get turned completely inside out into a point bolstering the text’s reliability. See this video for a particularly amusing one about Mark’s “ignorance” of geography in Chapter 7 verse 31 (skip to 13:00):

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKzSV8bWKk0

          See related videos in this series for more on supposed errors, as well as internal contradictions. Essentially, the speaker demonstrates that many such discrepancies can actually be naturally resolved. But, and this is important, even when there isn’t an obvious resolution, the historicity of the gospels doesn’t come crashing down any more than other ancient documents do when they suffer similar contradictions. Josephus even contradicts HIMSELF when recording the circumstances surrounding how Herod killed one of his wives. Historians face this constantly. And with any other document, they roll with it.

          On blue-collar writers using sophisticated motifs/structures: First of all, the disciples would have been steeped in Torah learning from earliest childhood, as much as any other Jew of their time. That’s not a matter of class. And the Torah is full of the motifs I think you’re trying to describe. But if you’re referring more generally to a certain “polish” in the style, the two most sophisticated gospels in that respect are Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke are certainly not “blue-collar.” Matthew was a tax-collector, Luke was a Greek doctor. (And I know you don’t accept Matthew’s existence, but I think you’d be up against even some critics from your own side if you tried to wave away Luke.)

          On the prophecies: More specifics here would be helpful. If you’re referring to the Greek “parthenos” (virgin) from Isaiah’s Hebrew “alma,” that was an interpretation accepted by Jewish scholars before Christianity was even founded. And I’m not sure exactly how you’d like to address the “pierced for our transgressions” passage in Isaiah, which doesn’t really allow for any other interpretation. Especially when you consider that the Jews executed people by stoning them, not “piercing” them. Crucifixion was unknown in Isaiah’s time, so who or what else would he have been referring to?

          On Paul: Actually, I’m glad you brought Paul up. What do you think about the suddenness of his conversion, from someone bent on torturing and imprisoning Christians to a man willing to die for his Christian faith? His vision of Jesus is described as occurring not in a delirious fever of belief, but while he’s on the way to throw more Christians in jail. That’s a rather bizarre turnaround. As for his falling out with Peter and such, I’m not sure what you’re trying to wring out of this. If you’d like to conclude that Paul didn’t play well with others, I’ll go with that. But there simply were a lot of theological details to be hammered out after Jesus’ ascension. It’s only natural to expect some disagreement and personal friction in that process.

          On canonization: Are you referring to the exclusion of the Gnostic gospels when the New Testament was officially collated? If so, I would ask whether you’ve read the Gnostic gospels. Compare their style to that of the canonized gospels and see if you honestly can’t see a difference. Not only are they written in outrageously purple, fantastical prose, but they raise theological questions that were hot-button issues… in the 2nd century. The disciples ask Jesus questions about terms that were unheard of in the 1st century. Anyone could smell fraud on those documents a mile away.

          As a final point to address your final thoughts, let me ask you this simple question: Just how stupid do you think a first-century Jew was? Do you think they didn’t know where babies came from? Do you think they didn’t know that dead people generally stay dead? I can’t help thinking you’ve been influenced, like another commentator I responded to in this thread, by an unfortunate tendency toward chronological snobbery. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that just because we’ve discovered more things about science, we must be smarter than people who lived thousands of years ago.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Oh, I think even people today can believe all kinds of stories without legitimate reason. I sell supplements as a side job and I can’t talk some people out of buying Dr. Oz products no matter how much evidence I give them that they’re a waste of money. These people are like, “Shut up and take my money!”

            I don’t have nearly as much free time as you guys have to do this point-for-point, but as for the question about Paul’s turnaround (and subsequent health problems), this is my guess:

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

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Interesting. I’m not convinced, but thanks for the link. Out of curiosity, did you see the reply from me and another commentator on your comment regarding Josephus? That was a straightforward factual statement of yours that should be easy to support if true, but neither of us found evidence that Josephus believed any of those mythic figures to be real, or even mentioned all of them.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Yes. I’ve been working so I haven’t had the time to track down the citations. But when I get time I’ll locate those for you.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            We already found some of the citations you may have been referring to, but if you had others in mind feel free to put those here.

            As for the seizure theory about Paul, probably the best response is that it doesn’t account for the other travelers with Paul at the time also seeing the light and getting knocked down by the impact. Or the scales falling off his eyes when Ananias restored his sight. Many if not all of the other people involved in this experience would have been alive and able to contradict what Luke and Paul wrote about it if they were making up details. “We saw a light? What do you mean WE kemosabe?” And the complete and total personality turnaround is a far more drastic behavioral change than has ever been linked with epilepsy. Further, the type of seizure most commonly linked to behavioral change (complex partial) comes with amnesia. There’s no sign of amnesia in any of Paul’s writings.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    I meant Hellenistic, not heliocentric….that would come later, and not form the bible I might add.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    I meant Hellenistic, not heliocentric….that would come later, and not form the bible I might add.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell Turpin

    Good post.

    The way I often put it is that Christians accept as the evidence for their religion what they would never accept as evidence for a different religion. I’m continually surprised by Christians who seem to think that the reasons for their belief are qualitatively different from the reasons most Muslims believe in Islam.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell Turpin

    Good post.

    The way I often put it is that Christians accept as the evidence for their religion what they would never accept as evidence for a different religion. I’m continually surprised by Christians who seem to think that the reasons for their belief are qualitatively different from the reasons most Muslims believe in Islam.

  • dave warnock

    Esther

    If you have extra-Biblical evidence to prove that the resurrection of Jesus has been authenticated as a legitimate miracle and that Jesus ascended into heaven as the Bible declares, go ahead and share that here. My point is this- The case for Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And all of humanity’s eternal destiny hinges on what each individual believes about that event; and about who Jesus is/was. If that issue is that important (and evangelical Christianity certainly believes that it is), then I think there should be some strong evidence other than “the Bible tells me so”. If you have that evidence, bring it forward. If not, then let’s just admit that it all comes down to faith.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      You’re absolutely right Dave: If the Resurrection didn’t happen, we are dead in our sins and our faith is vain. It is the resurrection of the son of God, not inerrancy, 6-day creationism, or pre-trib theology that is the lynchpin of Christianity. To the end of starting to peel back the very first layer of the onion, as it were, I’ve left a couple comments elsewhere in the thread. Feel free to read those and follow any links I post for more resources that go into greater detail. I hope you find them useful. However, please do bear in mind that the word “proof” has a very specific epistemological meaning. If you’re looking for a deductive argument, that’s not the nature of the case for Jesus’ resurrection. We are approaching it as a historical claim, and historical claims are not authenticated deductively. For that matter, virtually no claim can. I can’t “prove” that I’m really sitting here typing a comment to you on this thread. I can’t even “prove” that you exist! So, don’t shut off possibilities to yourself by clinging to the word “proof.” We can be amply justified in believing something without a strictly deductive “proof.”

      I think I asked this before, but I really would like to know what you read in the process of becoming an atheist. Were there any authors in particular who had an impact on you?

    • Esther O’Reilly

      *Meant to say, virtually no claim is (authenticated deductively).

      • dave warnock

        Esther

        I asked you several days ago for extra-biblical evidence. I said, to back up such an extraordinary claim, you had better have some extraordinary evidence. You said: “I do”. And yet, you don’t. You have written a lot of words dancing around the issue. You’ve responded to everyone’s comments…and yet, you haven’t produced what you said you had. Put it forth here. Where’s the evidence- from respected sources, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in ancient times. Who has written about it? Who has recorded it? If the fate of humanity rests on it, there needs to be strong evidence. More than the Bible.

        You can respond to many more comments here and use a bunch more words, but it’s going to look more and more like you are avoiding the subject. The more you talk without answering a direct question, the more it looks like you don’t really have the answer.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I’m not sure what you’re looking for Dave, but I’ve tried to answer every question as straight-forwardly as possible. Here are a few factors I’ve been trying to highlight in the course of my responses, which have barely scratched the surface of what I’d be laying out if I were “on the attack” as it were. I’ll throw in a few more while I’m at it:

          1. The fact that the gospels and Acts get many details, including hard things, right. (This includes details of the culture, of the politics, of the currency, of the geographical area, etc.) The gospel author Luke has been acclaimed as a reliable guide for modern-day archaeological work. Writers who were not up close to the facts would have the devil of a time producing such an accurate description of this time and place in history, especially when you consider the devastating effect of the Destruction of Jerusalem.

          2. A plethora of undesigned coincidences within the gospels themselves. By this, I mean tiny, incidental facts that are mentioned in one gospel but only explained in another. By itself, one wouldn’t be significant, but there are literally hundreds of these. A forger would be trying NOT to leave loose ends hanging. Sometimes the facts aren’t even explained in another gospel, but we find the missing piece in an outside source like Josephus. To give just one example, in Luke’s Nativity account, it says that when Josephus was returning from Egypt, he changed his mind about their route when he learned that Archelaus had replaced Herod on the throne. Why? Well, read Josephus, and you’ll find the story of how Archelaus surrounded and slaughtered 3,000 Jewish pilgrims in the temple and cancelled Passover. Joseph and Mary would have encountered terrified surviving pilgrims coming back down the road with the grisly tale. Hence, Joseph’s choice to turn aside into Nazareth.

          3. The enormous difficulties of explaining away the nature and consistency of the apostles’ testimony, whether by mass hallucination, deception, etc.

          4. The problem of moving the stone, compounded by the Roman guards who were placed to prevent anyone from even trying.

          5. The fact that the Jewish leaders would certainly have produced a body to refute the resurrection claim had there been a body to produce.

          6. The heavy reliance on testimony from women, who were second-class citizens in that culture and whose testimony counted for less than a man’s in court. A forger trying to pass the story off as authentic wouldn’t have made such an awkward choice.

          7. Criterion of embarrassment: (Also related to 5.) The apostles doubt the women at first, they’re STILL slow to put the pieces together after they see the empty tomb, Thomas refuses to believe until Jesus is bodily standing in front of him, and the disciples are hiding out from the Jewish leaders together when Jesus first finds them. The men are portrayed as slow-witted, fearful, and skeptical. This is a mark of truth.

          8. The fact that Christianity BEGAN in Jerusalem, where every hostile force was stacked against it, and then radiated outward. This is the opposite of what we would expect had Jesus been bloodily killed and then stayed in the grave. No other Jewish Messiah-figure who suffered defeat at the hands of the Romans generated a religion based on his resurrection after the fact.

          9. The radical and counter-intuitive conversion of Saul the anti-Christian zealot to Paul the Christian saint. (A little farther removed from the actual resurrection, but related since Paul claimed to have seen a vision of the resurrected Jesus.)

          I gave a Youtube link in one comment that leads to a whole series elaborating on a lot of these points. For heavy reading, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is one exhaustive and critically acclaimed place to start.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          *Sorry, meant when JOSEPH was returning from Egypt. Ha!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Dang, another misprint—Number 7 is related to number 6, not 5. I did some re-ordering when I added more numbers.

  • dave warnock

    Esther

    If you have extra-Biblical evidence to prove that the resurrection of Jesus has been authenticated as a legitimate miracle and that Jesus ascended into heaven as the Bible declares, go ahead and share that here. My point is this- The case for Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And all of humanity’s eternal destiny hinges on what each individual believes about that event; and about who Jesus is/was. If that issue is that important (and evangelical Christianity certainly believes that it is), then I think there should be some strong evidence other than “the Bible tells me so”. If you have that evidence, bring it forward. If not, then let’s just admit that it all comes down to faith.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      You’re absolutely right Dave: If the Resurrection didn’t happen, we are dead in our sins and our faith is vain. It is the resurrection of the son of God, not inerrancy, 6-day creationism, or pre-trib theology that is the lynchpin of Christianity. To the end of starting to peel back the very first layer of the onion, as it were, I’ve left a couple comments elsewhere in the thread. Feel free to read those and follow any links I post for more resources that go into greater detail. I hope you find them useful. However, please do bear in mind that the word “proof” has a very specific epistemological meaning. If you’re looking for a deductive argument, that’s not the nature of the case for Jesus’ resurrection. We are approaching it as a historical claim, and historical claims are not authenticated deductively. For that matter, virtually no claim can. I can’t “prove” that I’m really sitting here typing a comment to you on this thread. I can’t even “prove” that you exist! So, don’t shut off possibilities to yourself by clinging to the word “proof.” We can be amply justified in believing something without a strictly deductive “proof.”

      I think I asked this before, but I really would like to know what you read in the process of becoming an atheist. Were there any authors in particular who had an impact on you?

    • Esther O’Reilly

      *Meant to say, virtually no claim is (authenticated deductively).

      • dave warnock

        Esther

        I asked you several days ago for extra-biblical evidence. I said, to back up such an extraordinary claim, you had better have some extraordinary evidence. You said: “I do”. And yet, you don’t. You have written a lot of words dancing around the issue. You’ve responded to everyone’s comments…and yet, you haven’t produced what you said you had. Put it forth here. Where’s the evidence- from respected sources, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in ancient times. Who has written about it? Who has recorded it? If the fate of humanity rests on it, there needs to be strong evidence. More than the Bible.

        You can respond to many more comments here and use a bunch more words, but it’s going to look more and more like you are avoiding the subject. The more you talk without answering a direct question, the more it looks like you don’t really have the answer.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I’m not sure what you’re looking for Dave, but I’ve tried to answer every question as straight-forwardly as possible. Here are a few factors I’ve been trying to highlight in the course of my responses, which have barely scratched the surface of what I’d be laying out if I were “on the attack” as it were. I’ll throw in a few more while I’m at it:

          1. The fact that the gospels and Acts get many details, including hard things, right. (This includes details of the culture, of the politics, of the currency, of the geographical area, etc.) The gospel author Luke has been acclaimed as a reliable guide for modern-day archaeological work. Writers who were not up close to the facts would have the devil of a time producing such an accurate description of this time and place in history, especially when you consider the devastating effect of the Destruction of Jerusalem.

          2. A plethora of undesigned coincidences within the gospels themselves. By this, I mean tiny, incidental facts that are mentioned in one gospel but only explained in another. By itself, one wouldn’t be significant, but there are literally hundreds of these. A forger would be trying NOT to leave loose ends hanging. Sometimes the facts aren’t even explained in another gospel, but we find the missing piece in an outside source like Josephus. To give just one example, in Luke’s Nativity account, it says that when Josephus was returning from Egypt, he changed his mind about their route when he learned that Archelaus had replaced Herod on the throne. Why? Well, read Josephus, and you’ll find the story of how Archelaus surrounded and slaughtered 3,000 Jewish pilgrims in the temple and cancelled Passover. Joseph and Mary would have encountered terrified surviving pilgrims coming back down the road with the grisly tale. Hence, Joseph’s choice to turn aside into Nazareth.

          3. The enormous difficulties of explaining away the nature and consistency of the apostles’ testimony, whether by mass hallucination, deception, etc.

          4. The problem of moving the stone, compounded by the Roman guards who were placed to prevent anyone from even trying.

          5. The fact that the Jewish leaders would certainly have produced a body to refute the resurrection claim had there been a body to produce.

          6. The heavy reliance on testimony from women, who were second-class citizens in that culture and whose testimony counted for less than a man’s in court. A forger trying to pass the story off as authentic wouldn’t have made such an awkward choice.

          7. Criterion of embarrassment: (Also related to 5.) The apostles doubt the women at first, they’re STILL slow to put the pieces together after they see the empty tomb, Thomas refuses to believe until Jesus is bodily standing in front of him, and the disciples are hiding out from the Jewish leaders together when Jesus first finds them. The men are portrayed as slow-witted, fearful, and skeptical. This is a mark of truth.

          8. The fact that Christianity BEGAN in Jerusalem, where every hostile force was stacked against it, and then radiated outward. This is the opposite of what we would expect had Jesus been bloodily killed and then stayed in the grave. No other Jewish Messiah-figure who suffered defeat at the hands of the Romans generated a religion based on his resurrection after the fact.

          9. The radical and counter-intuitive conversion of Saul the anti-Christian zealot to Paul the Christian saint. (A little farther removed from the actual resurrection, but related since Paul claimed to have seen a vision of the resurrected Jesus.)

          I gave a Youtube link in one comment that leads to a whole series elaborating on a lot of these points. For heavy reading, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is one exhaustive and critically acclaimed place to start.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          *Sorry, meant when JOSEPH was returning from Egypt. Ha!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Dang, another misprint—Number 7 is related to number 6, not 5. I did some re-ordering when I added more numbers.

  • Matt B

    After reading Esther’s comments it reminded me of a challenge I’ve heard a few times to atheists from Christians: “What can atheism do for me”, or “why should I switch to atheism”. I find this pretty much nonsensical since a belief shouldn’t be influenced by what it can do for you. I also didn’t think there was a good answer; atheism can be hard for a lot of people. But reading Esther arguments made me come to a good answer for me: inner peace. No longer do I have to rationalize the multi-layered absurdity of Christianity, no longer do I have to feel bad about questioning things. And to Esther – the fact that the bible requires apologists to “…sometimes take pages of detailed research to answer a two-sentence objection” and can’t just stand on its own is in and of itself a strike against it imo.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Matt, here are a few considerations for you, just off the top of my head here:

      1. I love questioning things. I love getting into the nerdy, nitty-gritty detail of this stuff. It’s not because I’m nervous that I’ll stumble onto that one objection that shatters my faith. I do know a couple Christians like that, but I try to explain they don’t have to be worried in that way because of the wealth of stuff they’ve already read on both sides. For myself, I’ve built a case stretching across so many different areas that at this point I feel really secure. The key difference between my case and that of some other Christians is that their “top-down” arguments allow for no link in the chain to be broken. If 6-day creationism is shown to be false, their whole world comes crashing down. Those are the people who strike me as insecure. There is actually a lot of freedom in my approach. Even if you don’t have time to read all the books or study all the arguments, you can still build a strong, flexible cumulative case, strong enough that if a little piece breaks off, your faith is still standing.

      2. Do you think atheists don’t spend a lot of time rationalizing their approach? Intelligent design is the easiest conclusion to leap to after spending just a few minutes examining creation, but evolution is a long, cumbersome argument with more holes and implausibilities than you’d probably like to admit. (Please note that I’m not saying intelligent design proves Christianity. I’m merely giving an example of what you’re describing from the other side.) Not to mention the myriad other questions atheism leaves unanswered. Now maybe that doesn’t bother you. But it bothers the heck out of a lot of other atheists.

      3. Here’s part of my point about objections, and maybe I wasn’t clear enough on this: Although it can be useful to answer as many objections as possible in the interests of thoroughness, not all objections are equally weighty. Many of the things raised by skeptics are trivialities when considered in the light of how real historical research is actually done. Technically, we don’t really have to prove that every single contradiction isn’t really a contradiction, or every single supposed error isn’t really an error, because even if there were a couple contradictions or errors left when we were done, we’d still be in a very secure place with these documents. That’s something I wish I could just hand to so many of these young people who are coming out of this top-down theology and getting shredded in college. I want to tell them to relax.

      4. Keeping #3 in mind, first of all I’m not even sure what you mean by “a religion that can stand on its own.” Again, there’s no technique I’m applying to Christianity that hasn’t been applied to the analysis of any other historical claim. But secondly, I do in fact believe there are many ways to approach Christianity. I happen to think it’s the missing puzzle piece across a wide range of areas—historical, scientific, and personal. If a Christian senses this intuitively and draws some logical conclusions without entering into the whole shebang, I think that’s legitimate even if I would encourage him to do more research. There are elements of the human experience that can’t be boiled down to an academic article. We feel guilty, we seek forgiveness, we long for something just beyond our reach that we can’t quite describe. Only Christianity can answer these desires in a satisfying and meaningful way. These are just some of the things that stand alone and apart from the work of any scholar.

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

        Esther,

        I like your flexible nature and openness with the doctrine of Inerrancy. It sounds like you would make a great emergent christian, maybe even a liberal one! What troubles me about your argument is your ease of masquerading your ontological conclusions as an epistemological argument. So when you say, “There are elements of the human experience that can’t be boiled down to an academic article. We feel guilty, we seek forgiveness, we long for something just beyond our reach that we can’t quite describe. Only Christianity can answer these desires in a satisfying and meaningful way.” It highlights how underneath your dealing with the validity of these ancient claims is a conclusion motivating the discovery. The cart is leading the horse. While I understand you believe that to you the story of Christianity best makes sense for those human experiences, you are undoubtedly aware that there are plenty of other rational, strong, and cogent explanations outside that story. And even when science or humanism has not brought forth a metaphorically satisfying answer, asserting objectivity for what is a subjective experience, obfuscates the nature of the claim, which is faith.

        Especially in the light of how Christianity operates: it asks you to place faith in extraordinary past and future events, while leaving the present reality devoid of any real power. And this is not observable by atheist. As a former pastor i would council believers all the time who had trouble with the apparent inertness of God. I know you call this mature faith, but it does highlight what I suspect is another option: doubt.

        Even if I conceded the points and rationalizations you have made here about why these books detail what some people believed happened, or about the nature of reality, it doesn’t reach the scope of an episitimological claim. It is a very narrow argument that makes extraordinary objective claims, that it just cannot justify outside of faith. Thus the argument ensues from the atheist point of view for more evidence. Evidence ontological faith is not able to really give. So, like the Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gerson wrote, “The Torah cannot prevent us from considering to be true that which our reason urges us to believe.” Or like Martin Luther wrote, “All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false.”

        I can respect your ontological reasoning, but think it is reasonable to-like the disciple Thomas-ask for a more empirical reasons to accept a god both exist and that if he does that his cosmological experiment should give my life meaning.

      • Piobaireachd

        Intelligent design has all sorts of serious issues… Evolution explains the diversity of life that we see quite well. Not only has it made accurate predictions about what sorts of life we might expect to find in various places around the globe (antarctic marsupials, amphibian creatures in Greenland, etc) but it dove tails incredibly well with genetics. Intelligent design on the other hand cannot make any predictions and when you examine the genetics and anatomy of animals and plants it becomes an absurd proposition. Examining anatomy is further confirmation of evolution. Evolution is compelled to build on existing systems most of the time… it can’t start over with a brand new design the way a designer could.

        The bible’s creation story is almost completely wrong about, well, everything. The cosmology of the bible is wildly inaccurate, the chronology of events is wrong, and means of creation described by the bible are wrong.

        That atheism leaves all sorts of things unanswered doesn’t annoy me in the slightest. (for starts, atheism isn’t a worldview, it’s just the default position on a single issue, so naturally it doesn’t have an answer for everything). It just means we have more work to do. It’s also a lot more honest. “Don’t know” is the proper answer to a great many questions right now. Your response suggests that you believe because you’re uncomfortable with the lack of knowledge. However, you have replaced your ignorance with “God did it”… which is to say you have replaced it at all. Intelligent design doesn’t tell us anything about how the world works… it’s an untestable hypothesis. Evolution is a theory, which means that it’s a working model that explains biodiversity (not the origins of life, mind you). It makes predictions about how things work and so far it has done that very well. However, as in the rest of science, its truths are provisional, and new evidence could things radically. However, it’s pretty mature now and that seems unlikely, but by no means impossible.

      • MIchael E

        The fundamental problem with ID is that creatures do not bear the resemblence of a designer. Our DNA strands are filled with errors and waste that are not the result of design but of a random chance. Our spinal stack was designed for animals that have four feet on the ground and are kind of a mess for bipeds. What design something that can get cancer or any other disease. If you want to claim that we are the result of ID, the designer (who apparently has the power to do things right by the religious people who came up with the idea) was well short of perfection.

      • Matt B

        Christianity is making the claim that the most important event in the history of the universe happened 2000 years ago in a specific location on a relatively large planet. Now, the ultimate book we have describing the details of that event is the bible, which is filled with copy errors, translation errors, and contradictions from authors some of which we don’t even know who they were. Based on those issues with the book it is not an unfounded position for anyone to question the validity of the extraordinary claims the book makes especially since it supposedly gives divine guidance for how you should live your life. So if studying this book has claimed the lives of thousands of scholars only to come up with a incredibly broad spectrum of different conclusions in what the original authors meant to say, the context of each passage and whether or not they were trustworthy, then that in and of itself is another problem for a book that god supposedly gave to us as a guide. I.E., why couldn’t a perfect god give us a more clear book.

        Again, this is not just some historical claim so it really doesn’t matter that “…there’s no technique I’m applying to Christianity that hasn’t been applied to the analysis of any other historical claim.”

        Nobody is basing how they live their life on whether not Megacles was Archon of Athens from 922 BC to 892 BC. All these claims of history are like scientific claims – just tentative positions until/unless other, better information comes out. Nobody is going to change their praying habits if Marylyn Monroe turned out to be a legend. Nobody is going to change their position on abortion if the Titanic didn’t actually sink.

        How many more analogies do you need? The bible is not making simply a historical claim, it is making a world changing claim.

        The bible is not the only problem either, like I said, the problem is multi-layered. Even if you could somehow convince me that the bible is the most reliable book from antiquity, that would only settle a very small section of why I don’t accept Christianity.

  • Matt B

    After reading Esther’s comments it reminded me of a challenge I’ve heard a few times to atheists from Christians: “What can atheism do for me”, or “why should I switch to atheism”. I find this pretty much nonsensical since a belief shouldn’t be influenced by what it can do for you. I also didn’t think there was a good answer; atheism can be hard for a lot of people. But reading Esther arguments made me come to a good answer for me: inner peace. No longer do I have to rationalize the multi-layered absurdity of Christianity, no longer do I have to feel bad about questioning things. And to Esther – the fact that the bible requires apologists to “…sometimes take pages of detailed research to answer a two-sentence objection” and can’t just stand on its own is in and of itself a strike against it imo.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Matt, here are a few considerations for you, just off the top of my head here:

      1. I love questioning things. I love getting into the nerdy, nitty-gritty detail of this stuff. It’s not because I’m nervous that I’ll stumble onto that one objection that shatters my faith. I do know a couple Christians like that, but I try to explain they don’t have to be worried in that way because of the wealth of stuff they’ve already read on both sides. For myself, I’ve built a case stretching across so many different areas that at this point I feel really secure. The key difference between my case and that of some other Christians is that their “top-down” arguments allow for no link in the chain to be broken. If 6-day creationism is shown to be false, their whole world comes crashing down. Those are the people who strike me as insecure. There is actually a lot of freedom in my approach. Even if you don’t have time to read all the books or study all the arguments, you can still build a strong, flexible cumulative case, strong enough that if a little piece breaks off, your faith is still standing.

      2. Do you think atheists don’t spend a lot of time rationalizing their approach? Intelligent design is the easiest conclusion to leap to after spending just a few minutes examining creation, but evolution is a long, cumbersome argument with more holes and implausibilities than you’d probably like to admit. (Please note that I’m not saying intelligent design proves Christianity. I’m merely giving an example of what you’re describing from the other side.) Not to mention the myriad other questions atheism leaves unanswered. Now maybe that doesn’t bother you. But it bothers the heck out of a lot of other atheists.

      3. Here’s part of my point about objections, and maybe I wasn’t clear enough on this: Although it can be useful to answer as many objections as possible in the interests of thoroughness, not all objections are equally weighty. Many of the things raised by skeptics are trivialities when considered in the light of how real historical research is actually done. Technically, we don’t really have to prove that every single contradiction isn’t really a contradiction, or every single supposed error isn’t really an error, because even if there were a couple contradictions or errors left when we were done, we’d still be in a very secure place with these documents. That’s something I wish I could just hand to so many of these young people who are coming out of this top-down theology and getting shredded in college. I want to tell them to relax.

      4. Keeping #3 in mind, first of all I’m not even sure what you mean by “a religion that can stand on its own.” Again, there’s no technique I’m applying to Christianity that hasn’t been applied to the analysis of any other historical claim. But secondly, I do in fact believe there are many ways to approach Christianity. I happen to think it’s the missing puzzle piece across a wide range of areas—historical, scientific, and personal. If a Christian senses this intuitively and draws some logical conclusions without entering into the whole shebang, I think that’s legitimate even if I would encourage him to do more research. There are elements of the human experience that can’t be boiled down to an academic article. We feel guilty, we seek forgiveness, we long for something just beyond our reach that we can’t quite describe. Only Christianity can answer these desires in a satisfying and meaningful way. These are just some of the things that stand alone and apart from the work of any scholar.

      • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

        Esther,

        I like your flexible nature and openness with the doctrine of Inerrancy. It sounds like you would make a great emergent christian, maybe even a liberal one! What troubles me about your argument is your ease of masquerading your ontological conclusions as an epistemological argument. So when you say, “There are elements of the human experience that can’t be boiled down to an academic article. We feel guilty, we seek forgiveness, we long for something just beyond our reach that we can’t quite describe. Only Christianity can answer these desires in a satisfying and meaningful way.” It highlights how underneath your dealing with the validity of these ancient claims is a conclusion motivating the discovery. The cart is leading the horse. While I understand you believe that to you the story of Christianity best makes sense for those human experiences, you are undoubtedly aware that there are plenty of other rational, strong, and cogent explanations outside that story. And even when science or humanism has not brought forth a metaphorically satisfying answer, asserting objectivity for what is a subjective experience, obfuscates the nature of the claim, which is faith.

        Especially in the light of how Christianity operates: it asks you to place faith in extraordinary past and future events, while leaving the present reality devoid of any real power. And this is not observable by atheist. As a former pastor i would council believers all the time who had trouble with the apparent inertness of God. I know you call this mature faith, but it does highlight what I suspect is another option: doubt.

        Even if I conceded the points and rationalizations you have made here about why these books detail what some people believed happened, or about the nature of reality, it doesn’t reach the scope of an episitimological claim. It is a very narrow argument that makes extraordinary objective claims, that it just cannot justify outside of faith. Thus the argument ensues from the atheist point of view for more evidence. Evidence ontological faith is not able to really give. So, like the Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gerson wrote, “The Torah cannot prevent us from considering to be true that which our reason urges us to believe.” Or like Martin Luther wrote, “All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false.”

        I can respect your ontological reasoning, but think it is reasonable to-like the disciple Thomas-ask for a more empirical reasons to accept a god both exist and that if he does that his cosmological experiment should give my life meaning.

      • Piobaireachd

        Intelligent design has all sorts of serious issues… Evolution explains the diversity of life that we see quite well. Not only has it made accurate predictions about what sorts of life we might expect to find in various places around the globe (antarctic marsupials, amphibian creatures in Greenland, etc) but it dove tails incredibly well with genetics. Intelligent design on the other hand cannot make any predictions and when you examine the genetics and anatomy of animals and plants it becomes an absurd proposition. Examining anatomy is further confirmation of evolution. Evolution is compelled to build on existing systems most of the time… it can’t start over with a brand new design the way a designer could.

        The bible’s creation story is almost completely wrong about, well, everything. The cosmology of the bible is wildly inaccurate, the chronology of events is wrong, and means of creation described by the bible are wrong.

        That atheism leaves all sorts of things unanswered doesn’t annoy me in the slightest. (for starts, atheism isn’t a worldview, it’s just the default position on a single issue, so naturally it doesn’t have an answer for everything). It just means we have more work to do. It’s also a lot more honest. “Don’t know” is the proper answer to a great many questions right now. Your response suggests that you believe because you’re uncomfortable with the lack of knowledge. However, you have replaced your ignorance with “God did it”… which is to say you have replaced it at all. Intelligent design doesn’t tell us anything about how the world works… it’s an untestable hypothesis. Evolution is a theory, which means that it’s a working model that explains biodiversity (not the origins of life, mind you). It makes predictions about how things work and so far it has done that very well. However, as in the rest of science, its truths are provisional, and new evidence could things radically. However, it’s pretty mature now and that seems unlikely, but by no means impossible.

      • MIchael E

        The fundamental problem with ID is that creatures do not bear the resemblence of a designer. Our DNA strands are filled with errors and waste that are not the result of design but of a random chance. Our spinal stack was designed for animals that have four feet on the ground and are kind of a mess for bipeds. What design something that can get cancer or any other disease. If you want to claim that we are the result of ID, the designer (who apparently has the power to do things right by the religious people who came up with the idea) was well short of perfection.

      • Matt B

        Christianity is making the claim that the most important event in the history of the universe happened 2000 years ago in a specific location on a relatively large planet. Now, the ultimate book we have describing the details of that event is the bible, which is filled with copy errors, translation errors, and contradictions from authors some of which we don’t even know who they were. Based on those issues with the book it is not an unfounded position for anyone to question the validity of the extraordinary claims the book makes especially since it supposedly gives divine guidance for how you should live your life. So if studying this book has claimed the lives of thousands of scholars only to come up with a incredibly broad spectrum of different conclusions in what the original authors meant to say, the context of each passage and whether or not they were trustworthy, then that in and of itself is another problem for a book that god supposedly gave to us as a guide. I.E., why couldn’t a perfect god give us a more clear book.

        Again, this is not just some historical claim so it really doesn’t matter that “…there’s no technique I’m applying to Christianity that hasn’t been applied to the analysis of any other historical claim.”

        Nobody is basing how they live their life on whether not Megacles was Archon of Athens from 922 BC to 892 BC. All these claims of history are like scientific claims – just tentative positions until/unless other, better information comes out. Nobody is going to change their praying habits if Marylyn Monroe turned out to be a legend. Nobody is going to change their position on abortion if the Titanic didn’t actually sink.

        How many more analogies do you need? The bible is not making simply a historical claim, it is making a world changing claim.

        The bible is not the only problem either, like I said, the problem is multi-layered. Even if you could somehow convince me that the bible is the most reliable book from antiquity, that would only settle a very small section of why I don’t accept Christianity.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Yes, the Bible is making a world-changing historical claim. Nevertheless, it is still a historical claim, and we can still examine the credibility of the gospel authors to determine whether we have good reason to believe that it actually happened. I don’t think that’s too radical a suggestion.

          • Piobaireachd

            The bible makes both historical and supernatural claims. We have some ability to investigate the historical claims, but the supernatural claims are impossible to corroborate. However, it’s claims about creation are testable and if fails miserably in its account of what the universe is and how it unfolded.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Why can a supernatural claim not also be a historical claim? God has not left himself without witness. The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion. The figure of Christ stands before us, inviting us to touch the evidence for ourselves.

            As for the Genesis accounts, it’s true that the evidence doesn’t support a strictly literal interpretation. But to wave your hands around and claim that Science has “proven” there can be no creator God is sheer silliness. Dig deeper.

          • dave warnock

            “he took on human flesh” or so says the gospel writers. Esther, you continue to dance around the central issues here and play fast and loose with the facts. For a “world-changing” historical claim, you are gonna need more than the “credibility of the gospel authors”. They (whoever they were) wrote these things decades later (not eye-witness accounts), they contradicted one another, and they copied from one another. Moreover, and I have requested this days ago from you- there is not any corroborative historical account that verifies these “supernatural” events outside the biblical text. You claimed you had this evidence, and yet you continue to refuse to produce it. Your words are getting noisier and noisier and saying less and less.

            Dig deeper

          • Matt B

            Ok, but there are many competing supernatural claims – there are people out there today that claim to be the second coming of Christ. If you talked to the followers they would probably give you all sorts of evidence – but you would not believe them would you? And these are first hand accounts from people living right now. How is their evidence less credible than what anonymous authors wrote down 30+ years after the event they were describing, in which we have no originals of, and the versions we have show a clear lineage resulting in errors from translating and copying.

            Also you proved you have do not understand what you are arguing against by stating: “But to wave your hands around and claim that Science has “proven” there can be no creator God is sheer silliness. Dig deeper.”

            Science does not claim to prove that no creator can exist, it’s simply that nobody has come up with a method or evidence for proving that one does exist. At best claiming that an intelligent being created the universe is a hypothesis. Ok, how do we test it? How do we test that it is intelligent? How do we test that he sent his only son 2000 years ago? How do we test there is only one? How do we test that he hates homosexuals? How do we test that we should give 10% on Sunday?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Dave, I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to understand how the verification of testimonial evidence works. You want the language of the chemistry lab, but I’m saying you need the language of the court room. I gave you multiple ways to approach the question of whether the authors were reliable or not, and I’ve already explained why the external corroboration of incidental facts mentioned in their accounts is significant by itself. There’s no reason to expect to find a confirmation of the resurrection from some other country’s historian who wasn’t there and had no desire to abandon his faith framework. What motivation would he have for potentially signing his own death warrant based on some strange-sounding tales circulated amongst a backwater cult? I think you forget the contempt in which Christians were universally held by the other cultures of their time.

            Matt, see my recent comment below. I was speaking metaphorically—Christ is presented as a real historical figure who did something that we can talk about as a historical focal point that forms the core of Christianity. It’s not a loose conglomeration of vague, fuzzy spiritual beliefs, like Hinduism or Buddhism. Those religions are impossible to discuss from a historical perspective at all, because that’s not the kind of religion they are.

            Modern-day Messiahs. Right, let’s ask some questions. Are these supposed Messiahs getting rich off the adulation of their followers? Do they appear to be of sound mind, or do they exhibit signs of insanity? Is the religious following springing up in an environment violently hostile to its leader outside the small band of believers? Is the leader predicting his own death and resurrection? If he’s dead, what evidence do we have that he’s in fact resurrected? Do we have multiple followers willing to go to bloody, torturous deaths testifying specifically that they saw him alive again (as opposed to simply “dying for a cause?”) Do we have the leaders in the very hostile environment where he was killed unable to produce the evidence that he stayed dead, despite placing the body under lock and key with security guards stationed day and night outside it? Do we have anyone who was a skeptic while the leader was doing his thing suddenly becoming a believer AFTER his death?

            Every one of these is a fair and natural question, and every one can be asked of the resurrection claim. And a fair compare and contrast is going to yield significant differences.

            P.S. God doesn’t hate homosexuals, but in the interests of keeping the discussion remotely focused let’s not head down that rabbit trail.

  • David W

    Esther

    “But to wave your hands around and claim that Science has “proven” there can be no creator God is sheer silliness”

    You are absolutely right. There could be a god, and science can never disprove this.

    However, to wave your hands around and say that the Bible is a nicely authenticated historical document, and this proves that the supernatural exists is sheer silliness.

    There is ZERO empirical proof of the supernatural of any stripe, let alone the Christian specific supernatural claims.

    As a former evangelical Christian, I do understand that verifying the historical authenticity of the Bible is very comforting if one already has a preexisting belief in its claims.

    To the skeptic, the Bible claims that supernatural events occurred and yet it offers only hearsay. If supernatural events were common place today, then I would start to take the Bible much more seriously. However, since the advent of the scientific method and the modern age, supernatural events have *mysteriously* disappeared.

    Once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

  • David W

    Esther

    “But to wave your hands around and claim that Science has “proven” there can be no creator God is sheer silliness”

    You are absolutely right. There could be a god, and science can never disprove this.

    However, to wave your hands around and say that the Bible is a nicely authenticated historical document, and this proves that the supernatural exists is sheer silliness.

    There is ZERO empirical proof of the supernatural of any stripe, let alone the Christian specific supernatural claims.

    As a former evangelical Christian, I do understand that verifying the historical authenticity of the Bible is very comforting if one already has a preexisting belief in its claims.

    To the skeptic, the Bible claims that supernatural events occurred and yet it offers only hearsay. If supernatural events were common place today, then I would start to take the Bible much more seriously. However, since the advent of the scientific method and the modern age, supernatural events have *mysteriously* disappeared.

    Once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

  • Piobaireachd

    “God has not left himself without witness. The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion. The figure of Christ stands before us, inviting us to touch the evidence for ourselves.”

    Another claim without evidence. You’re starting from the position that this is all true and arguing in a circle. The only text that supports these claims of miracles is the text claiming that they happened. We have no way to corroborate any of these miracles and even then… most of the world thought it was flat… that didn’t make it true. It comes back to the view that believing stuff with no evidence is somehow superior… how exactly I’m not sure. If there were a personal god that wanted us to know and love him why on earth would he go and hide and leave, as the only source of information about him, a book that’s so obviously fraught with incorrect information, numerous contradictions, all manner of immoral commandments and laws, and so horribly out of date. Shouldn’t we at least be on the 21st edition by now… or perhaps a few further along? The entire premise is wildly illogical and when you through hell into the mix it becomes diabolical.

    As to the second… why would an omniscient god get the story so wrong? If you’re going to try to spell it all out for people… and then be so completely wrong about how it all unfolded… that’s nonsense. Science may never be able to prove that no god exists, and that’s fine. There may, in fact, be some sort of creator… but we just don’t have any evidence and thus for the god of gaps just keeps receding. However, Yaweh’s existence seems very unlikely as the bible does make specific testable claims and falls flat on its face.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      *weary sigh*

      I was indulging in a tiny bit of metaphoric language. Yes, of course I believe one can’t literally say “Since God is real, the Bible is true, nyah-nyah-nyah.” The point I was trying to convey was that the claims of other religions are indeed the sorts of things one can’t discuss and collect empirical evidence for. Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, aren’t based on historical claims at all. But Christianity claims that a single, very real person stepped into history and split the timeline, and that we have a record left behind of this world-shattering event. This is something solid we can work with and sink our analytic teeth into, regardless of what conclusion we ultimately draw. Now, I cannot PROVE that this record is true, any more than I can PROVE Caesar crossed the Rubicon. But I can build a pretty darn comprehensive case for both claims that convinces me they’re more likely true than not. And yes, I know you don’t want to admit that we can extend historical analysis to the supernatural, but you haven’t given me any good reasons why not so far, just your assertion that we can’t. By your broadsword definition of “hearsay,” we have nothing but “hearsay” to go on for… well, just about everything. If it comes down to it, I can’t PROVE that you exist. I think I might have said that somewhere else here, but it bears repeating.

      And come now, are you really going to join the “people thought the earth was flat before Columbus” crowd? Please. Anyone could tell the earth was round by looking at an eclipse. More chronological snobbery. With regard to the creation narrative, re-read my words carefully: It’s the most _strictly literal_ interpretation of Genesis that doesn’t stand up to the evidence, not the creation account writ large. Obviously if you’re going to insist on literal 24-hour days, that won’t hold water. Carbon-dating alone pretty much kills the YEC’s position. But who says that’s the only or the best interpretation of Genesis 1? And who says you have to throw away intelligent design if you accept an Old Earth?

      The contradictions, I already told you, are in numerous cases not contradictions at all, and in others are so minor as to be of no consequence, certainly no worse than what historians encounter constantly in non-religious documents. And many is the time that a scholar has taken it upon himself to point out a “gross error” in the gospels, only to show up with egg on his face when a little more digging reveals the joke is on him and the authors actually knew what they were talking about. Again, I can point you to resources for all of this, but something tells me you really don’t want to hear it.

      • dave warnock

        “we have nothing but “hearsay” to go on for… well, just about everything. If it comes down to it, I can’t PROVE that you exist”

        *WEARIER sigh*

        Esther, seriously?! You can’t PROVE I exist? Yes, you actually can. I live in a very real house in a very real town somewhere on this planet. As do you. Unless a disembodied spirit is typing these words right now, I do indeed exist in flesh and blood. Now, I can’t prove that I am 6’4″ and strikingly handsome- not by telling you here with my words that I am…BUT, you could indeed verify that for yourself. (I’m not). We can indeed prove that we exist. It might take some effort, but we could get on planes or drive in cars that exist and use GPS that exists and has been developed by real science. You and I could sit down in a real cafe and have real coffee and discuss matters of religion in real voices.

        The point that many on this thread- myself included, have made is that for a claim as significant as the Bible makes concerning the eternal destiny of every human, God could have and by all means SHOULD have- made the evidence for such a claim much clearer. In fact, he could clear it all up right now for millions of people who are voicing similar concerns about Christianity- who sincerely are interested in the veracity of such matters. For many of us it’s not a speculative philosophical question, rather it’s an issue that has radically affected relationships and lives around us.

        He could show himself- clear everything up. Do similar miracles today- where we have the capacity to videotape it. But he doesn’t. No one is rising from the dead these days. No one is growing limbs in “Jesus name” these days. Not happening.

        Esther, for you to say something like- “I can’t PROVE you exist” is simply lazy.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I said it deliberately, because you are throwing around the word “proof” with seemingly no understanding of the epistemological history and uses of that term. I will say it again: I can’t “prove” that you exist. Suppose I did get on a plane and fly out to have coffee with you. How do I KNOW we’re not in the Matrix? How do I KNOW you aren’t a figment of my imagination in some malevolently created alternate reality?

          I can give you a water-tight, deductively sealed “proof” of barely anything. And I certainly can’t give you one for any historical claim. We approach those things using different tools—probability theory, inference to the best explanation, and so forth. You seem to have no interest in learning how these tools work, but they’re the tools you and I use day in and day out, without even thinking, to process the world around us. They’re the tools we use every time we write a research paper. And they’re the tools that we can and should apply to the scriptures.

          As for why God doesn’t perform miracles today—number one, I think you underestimate the lengths to which you’d go to dismiss just about anything, even in the present day. But number two, God doesn’t want lazy, puppeteered Christians. He wants Christians using the minds we were given, choosing to follow God without being forced into anything.

          What is the reasoning that has led you to dismiss the gospels as inauthentic and unreliable? I don’t think you ever answered that question for me. Do you have any recommended reading materials? That might be a good place to end the debate, as we seem to be running out of new things to say—I’ve made a couple recommendations, perhaps you could give me some.

          • dave warnock

            ok, Esther, you got me. We’re in the Matrix, or we’re not. Ugh…really?!

            Yeah, you’re right…we’re running out of new things to say. Your line of reasoning is exhausting and fruitless. Good luck in all you do. I’m done.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Good luck to you as well. I would still be genuinely interested to hear of any books or other sources you’d like to recommend.

  • Piobaireachd

    “God has not left himself without witness. The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion. The figure of Christ stands before us, inviting us to touch the evidence for ourselves.”

    Another claim without evidence. You’re starting from the position that this is all true and arguing in a circle. The only text that supports these claims of miracles is the text claiming that they happened. We have no way to corroborate any of these miracles and even then… most of the world thought it was flat… that didn’t make it true. It comes back to the view that believing stuff with no evidence is somehow superior… how exactly I’m not sure. If there were a personal god that wanted us to know and love him why on earth would he go and hide and leave, as the only source of information about him, a book that’s so obviously fraught with incorrect information, numerous contradictions, all manner of immoral commandments and laws, and so horribly out of date. Shouldn’t we at least be on the 21st edition by now… or perhaps a few further along? The entire premise is wildly illogical and when you through hell into the mix it becomes diabolical.

    As to the second… why would an omniscient god get the story so wrong? If you’re going to try to spell it all out for people… and then be so completely wrong about how it all unfolded… that’s nonsense. Science may never be able to prove that no god exists, and that’s fine. There may, in fact, be some sort of creator… but we just don’t have any evidence and thus for the god of gaps just keeps receding. However, Yaweh’s existence seems very unlikely as the bible does make specific testable claims and falls flat on its face.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      *weary sigh*

      I was indulging in a tiny bit of metaphoric language. Yes, of course I believe one can’t literally say “Since God is real, the Bible is true, nyah-nyah-nyah.” The point I was trying to convey was that the claims of other religions are indeed the sorts of things one can’t discuss and collect empirical evidence for. Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, aren’t based on historical claims at all. But Christianity claims that a single, very real person stepped into history and split the timeline, and that we have a record left behind of this world-shattering event. This is something solid we can work with and sink our analytic teeth into, regardless of what conclusion we ultimately draw. Now, I cannot PROVE that this record is true, any more than I can PROVE Caesar crossed the Rubicon. But I can build a pretty darn comprehensive case for both claims that convinces me they’re more likely true than not. And yes, I know you don’t want to admit that we can extend historical analysis to the supernatural, but you haven’t given me any good reasons why not so far, just your assertion that we can’t. By your broadsword definition of “hearsay,” we have nothing but “hearsay” to go on for… well, just about everything. If it comes down to it, I can’t PROVE that you exist. I think I might have said that somewhere else here, but it bears repeating.

      And come now, are you really going to join the “people thought the earth was flat before Columbus” crowd? Please. Anyone could tell the earth was round by looking at an eclipse. More chronological snobbery. With regard to the creation narrative, re-read my words carefully: It’s the most _strictly literal_ interpretation of Genesis that doesn’t stand up to the evidence, not the creation account writ large. Obviously if you’re going to insist on literal 24-hour days, that won’t hold water. Carbon-dating alone pretty much kills the YEC’s position. But who says that’s the only or the best interpretation of Genesis 1? And who says you have to throw away intelligent design if you accept an Old Earth?

      The contradictions, I already told you, are in numerous cases not contradictions at all, and in others are so minor as to be of no consequence, certainly no worse than what historians encounter constantly in non-religious documents. And many is the time that a scholar has taken it upon himself to point out a “gross error” in the gospels, only to show up with egg on his face when a little more digging reveals the joke is on him and the authors actually knew what they were talking about. Again, I can point you to resources for all of this, but something tells me you really don’t want to hear it.

      • dave warnock

        “we have nothing but “hearsay” to go on for… well, just about everything. If it comes down to it, I can’t PROVE that you exist”

        *WEARIER sigh*

        Esther, seriously?! You can’t PROVE I exist? Yes, you actually can. I live in a very real house in a very real town somewhere on this planet. As do you. Unless a disembodied spirit is typing these words right now, I do indeed exist in flesh and blood. Now, I can’t prove that I am 6’4″ and strikingly handsome- not by telling you here with my words that I am…BUT, you could indeed verify that for yourself. (I’m not). We can indeed prove that we exist. It might take some effort, but we could get on planes or drive in cars that exist and use GPS that exists and has been developed by real science. You and I could sit down in a real cafe and have real coffee and discuss matters of religion in real voices.

        The point that many on this thread- myself included, have made is that for a claim as significant as the Bible makes concerning the eternal destiny of every human, God could have and by all means SHOULD have- made the evidence for such a claim much clearer. In fact, he could clear it all up right now for millions of people who are voicing similar concerns about Christianity- who sincerely are interested in the veracity of such matters. For many of us it’s not a speculative philosophical question, rather it’s an issue that has radically affected relationships and lives around us.

        He could show himself- clear everything up. Do similar miracles today- where we have the capacity to videotape it. But he doesn’t. No one is rising from the dead these days. No one is growing limbs in “Jesus name” these days. Not happening.

        Esther, for you to say something like- “I can’t PROVE you exist” is simply lazy.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          I said it deliberately, because you are throwing around the word “proof” with seemingly no understanding of the epistemological history and uses of that term. I will say it again: I can’t “prove” that you exist. Suppose I did get on a plane and fly out to have coffee with you. How do I KNOW we’re not in the Matrix? How do I KNOW you aren’t a figment of my imagination in some malevolently created alternate reality?

          I can give you a water-tight, deductively sealed “proof” of barely anything. And I certainly can’t give you one for any historical claim. We approach those things using different tools—probability theory, inference to the best explanation, and so forth. You seem to have no interest in learning how these tools work, but they’re the tools you and I use day in and day out, without even thinking, to process the world around us. They’re the tools we use every time we write a research paper. And they’re the tools that we can and should apply to the scriptures.

          As for why God doesn’t perform miracles today—number one, I think you underestimate the lengths to which you’d go to dismiss just about anything, even in the present day. But number two, God doesn’t want lazy, puppeteered Christians. He wants Christians using the minds we were given, choosing to follow God without being forced into anything.

          What is the reasoning that has led you to dismiss the gospels as inauthentic and unreliable? I don’t think you ever answered that question for me. Do you have any recommended reading materials? That might be a good place to end the debate, as we seem to be running out of new things to say—I’ve made a couple recommendations, perhaps you could give me some.

          • dave warnock

            ok, Esther, you got me. We’re in the Matrix, or we’re not. Ugh…really?!

            Yeah, you’re right…we’re running out of new things to say. Your line of reasoning is exhausting and fruitless. Good luck in all you do. I’m done.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Good luck to you as well. I would still be genuinely interested to hear of any books or other sources you’d like to recommend.

  • Piobaireachd

    Esther, the bible makes it very clear that the authors conceived of a flat earth that is the center of, and the only substantial thing in, the universe. And this was the prevailing view throughout most of the classical world. The hebrews took other creation myths and incorporated them into their own. Yes, there were people, like Aristarchus, who figured out the reality, long after the OT was written. But their work went largely unnoticed and the Church definitely took the creation story literally. Just ask Copernicus and Galileo about that. The chronology is so out of whack, even if you play fast and loose with the days, that no two people, working in isolation, would be likely to reconcile Genesis with scientific fact in the same way (in fact, they’ve tried and there are glaring problems with their attempts… and the fact that they don’t even agree with each other). If god wanted to give a creation story, why use a story that attempts some level of detail, using fairly plain language (the hebrew word for a 24 hour day, Yom, is used in both the creation story and throughout the old testament… why not say “age” instead of “day” if that’s what you mean?), but is so wildly inaccurate? Why manufacture a controversy? Why not be plain? Why not reveal yourself and end the vast suffering caused by people who can’t agree on religious matters? Esp if the eternal well being of human souls is at stake. Even one. That’s absolutely mental. No rational being would set up a system like that… unless they were malevolent.

    Intelligent design doesn’t fail because of young or old earth, it fails because there’s no evidence to support it. Evolution describes what we find in reality much better. At best you could say that a creator set up the rules and then let evolution unfold, but that’s about it. At the present time, there’s simply no evidence for such a creator and there’s loads of evidence that supports the evolutionary theory of bio diversity. It’s a proper theory, supported empirical evidence. Intelligent design is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. They’re not competing theories and they are not equivalent.

    You keep using the bible as evidence. It’s part of the claim. How can you possibly confirm the veracity of claims of the bible when the only source you have is the bible itself? There are no contemporary accounts and we know that a lot of revision was going on, well after the fact. The gospels have discrepancies and strange omissions (like the bit from Matthew that’s already been brought up). If these accounts were introduced into a court of law, and the case at hand was deciding whether or not countless souls would be tortured in hell, there’s no way in hell that a sane jury would convict based on your “evidence”. It would be a complete miscarriage of justice.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Yes, the gospel authors believed the earth was in the center of the universe, but the Bible doesn’t have any inspired words to that effect. There’s a little bit of poetry that the Catholic church seized on as a scientific description, but as Kepler clearly explained, this was no more than a genre swap on the church’s part.

      And I really don’t have the energy to wade into the ID debate, except to say that you obviously aren’t up on the facts if you want to claim that there is “no evidence” for ID. Here’s one question for you to chew on: Consciousness. How did that evolve? I’ll wait here while you mull that one over.

      But here’s part of what I’m getting at: Even if I accept your proposed “compromise” where God winds up the clock and sets it going without further lending a hand in the origin of species, the question of the resurrection still remains. If the resurrection happened, quite frankly, the rest are details. You accuse me of using the Bible as evidence, but I’ve done no such thing. I’ve asked questions about how we can tell the authors are who they say they are and are telling the truth. You’re making demands that are unreasonable given the historical context. As I think I explained elsewhere, the sum total of ALL the literature we have dating to this period, religious or otherwise, is shockingly thin. And the Greeks/Romans certainly weren’t following the dealings of some obscure, itinerant Jewish rabbi with bated breath. Without the Internet, you had to wait for ripple effects to make themselves felt.

      • David W

        Hi Esther,

        Thanks for all of your time and interest in this post. This thread and all of the comments have been very enjoyable for me. :)

        You said: “Here’s one question for you to chew on: Consciousness. How did that evolve? I’ll wait here while you mull that one over.”

        I do not know. People are working hard to find the answer to this question. I am comfortable saying that I don’t know the answer. I am not sure as to why you pose this question, but it sure sounds suspiciously like the ‘god of the gaps’ line of reasoning.

        “I can’t “prove” that you exist.”

        Of course you can’t. This is a very interesting thought experiment in the philosophy classroom, but it is completely irrelevant anywhere else. We all assume that the world exists and that other people exist.

        “Why can a supernatural claim not also be a historical claim?”

        I want to try to get this point across once more.

        There is ZERO empirical proof of the supernatural of any stripe, let alone the Christian specific supernatural claims; and supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

        Because of this reality, the lack of empirical proof of the supernatural of any kind, your supernatural claims, which happen to be Christian claims, are not prescriptive beliefs; what I mean by prescriptive beliefs is that you can’t tell others that they ought to believe them.

        A reasonable person has a justified belief when they state that the supernatural does not exist.

        Now, I don’t know that I would say that you have an unjustified belief, or that you are unreasonable in believing that the supernatural exists, but, you certainly do not have a belief that you can tell others that they OUGHT to believe.

        If there were supernatural events occurring today, and we had empirical evidence for them, then historical claims of supernatural events would have to be taken seriously, and I would have to seriously consider the supernatural claims of the Bible, as well as every other religion as most likely having occurred.

        You wrote elsewhere: “As for why God doesn’t perform miracles today—number one, I think you underestimate the lengths to which you’d go to dismiss just about anything, even in the present day. ”

        I wanted to address this, because as a former Christian, I know how real this idea seems.

        The Bible is full of people who KNOW that God exists, he even talks to them, and they refuse to obey him still.

        There are also people who, in the face of overwhelming evidence, still will not accept certain truths, scientific or otherwise; so the idea that dismissal and denial are errors in thinking that we routinely make is definitely true.

        The crowd that you are speaking with on this forum, and atheists in the USA in general, are not somehow rebelling against god in the face of overwhelming evidence that a god exists.

        Also, the idea that we would dismiss just about anything is a completely unjustified statement, although it is an emotionally powerful idea.

        First, I am not dismissing anything, as a former Christian, I have read the Bible and examined the evidence, admittedly not to the level that you have.

        What I am saying is that I need some empirical evidence that the supernatural exists before I am ABLE to believe that the supernatural does exist; currently there is no empirical evidence.

        I am sure that you didn’t mean to create this atheist straw-man who ‘just won’t listen to reason’ and is ignoring this mountain of evidence, and is totally unjustified in their lack of belief; but this is exactly what a statement like “…the lengths to which you’d go to dismiss just about anything,” does.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Unless you’re sock-puppeting, I think that particular comment was addressed to a different commentator. So that wasn’t addressed to “you” personally. That commentator gave the appearance of being a little less open to reason than you have, if I’m tracking the comments accurately.

          I’ll add one more thing that hasn’t been brought up yet, but it is an interesting point—you can find some very hot debates around the ‘net where Christians argue both sides of the cessationist/continuationist debate. The pastor John Piper’s first answer to “Why don’t people experience miraculous signs today?” was “Well, some people do.” Do I agree with him? Honestly, I’m content to remain agnostic on the issue. My default posture, since I believe miracles occur only very rarely, is one of skepticism. I’m even more skeptical when it comes to certain claims of black magic, since even though I believe in a literal Satan, I think his powers are limited. I read an interesting case in an African missionary account where the people reported sightings of a shape-shifter, who turned into a leopard and preyed on livestock at night. The Christian missionary, far from naively accepting the accounts, calmly said “There is no such thing as a man who can turn into a leopard.” When he set up a night watch with a gun to investigate, he saw that the “shape-shifter” was really the local witch doctor in a leopard skin, faking the people out. Now I know you probably think of me and other Christians as superstitious and gullible, but this is just one example among many that points to the opposite trend. On the flip side, there are many non-Christians who will believe just about anything. Just take a little trip back to the 70s, or wander into Hollywood today. In this realm, it is often harder to pull the wool over the eyes of a Christian than any other kind of person.

          Returning to signs from God, one thing Piper did admit was that even in the Bible, there are these clear “hot spots” within history where God is concentrating his miraculous work, and then beyond those hot spots is a traceable decline in those signs. You can even see it fading beyond the life and acts of Jesus. When Paul is suffering from being horribly whipped, nobody waves their hands over his back to make the stripes go away. When he prays about the unspecified “thorn in the flesh” (some speculate it’s blindness), he comes to accept and deal with it as an ongoing burden instead of receiving an instant healing from God. So there is a logical trajectory even in the Bible’s depiction of the miraculous.

          The question of what prior probability we should assign to the existence of God or the supernatural is a fascinating one, but I fail to see why the prior for it should be any lower than the prior against. You’re talking about a posteriori probabilities. My answer is that the gospels are making an observational claim, which is is indeed an empirical claim. I submit that we can test and try these accounts to see if there’s truth in them, and that the cumulative weight of the evidence for their reliability is enough to justify my belief in their veracity. One wag wryly put the “extraordinary evidence” objection like this:

          (1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

          (2) The claim that God exists is extraordinary.

          (3) Therefore, any evidence supporting it ought to be extraordinary as well.

          (4) I’m not sure what I mean by “extraordinary.”

          (5) But whatever you come up with, it’s not going to work.

          (6) Therefore, God does not exist.

          Now, you’ve been a very respectful opponent here so please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to admit that some of your comments have brought premise 5 to mind. ;-) In any case, I never expected to convince you to change your mind in one blog thread, but obviously I hope one day you will re-consider.

          I’ll close by asking the same question I asked the other commentator, namely what sources have interested you or shaped your thoughts on these issues?

          • David W

            Hi again Esther,

            You said: “Unless you’re sock-puppeting, I think that particular comment was addressed to a different commentator. ”

            I am not sure what to make of your comment. If one posts on a public forum, one should expect replies from anyone and everyone, whether or not they were directly addressed.

            You said: ” Now I know you probably think of me and other Christians as superstitious and gullible,… ” and

            “In this realm, it is often harder to pull the wool over the eyes of a Christian than any other kind of person.”

            No, I wouldn’t want to make a blanket statement like Christians are superstitious and gullible. The superstitious and gullible belong to all camps. My wife is a Christian and I do not consider her to be superstitious or gullible. I am not sure what you were getting at with this paragraph…

            You said: “The question of what prior probability we should assign to the existence of God or the supernatural is a fascinating one, but I fail to see why the prior for it should be any lower than the prior against. You’re talking about a posteriori probabilities. My answer is that the gospels are making an observational claim, which is is indeed an empirical claim.” and “…the cumulative weight of the evidence for their reliability is enough to justify my belief in their veracity.”

            I don’t think we are understanding each other here. I am not speaking of probabilities per se.

            Let me define what I mean by empirical, or better yet, I will just forgo the word entirely.

            I mean to say that there has never been a supernatural event which has investigated by the unbiased parties, using modern techniques and the scientific method, which has turned out to be an actual supernatural event.

            There is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any type, at all.

            I understand that to Christians the historical evidence of supernatural events is convincing; (I was formerly convinced by the historical accounts of supernatural events btw.) However, you do not have a prescriptive belief, you can not tell others that they ought to believe what you believe about supernatural events, seeing as there is no scientific evidence for the existence of the supernatural of any kind.

            I am not claiming that your belief isn’t justified, we can all hold justified false beliefs at any moment, I am claiming that you do not have the right kind of evidence for your supernatural claim in order for it to qualify as a prescriptive belief.

            (I am completely aware that I could hold a justified and false belief in regards to my status as atheist.)

            You said: “(4) I’m not sure what I mean by “extraordinary.” (5) But whatever you come up with, it’s not going to work.” and

            “but I have to admit that some of your comments have brought premise 5 to mind.”

            And you mentioned that “…a little less open to reason than you have”

            Which comments exactly please? Where was I not open to reason?

            I have tried to be very clear, and it is always my goal to be reasonable, if I have failed to be reasonable in your opinion, please address it, I will reconsider/restate/apologize or defend my position. Otherwise, please do not wrongly accuse me of being either obstinate or unreasonable.

            Here is the situation:

            1. There is currently no scientific evidence of the supernatural.

            2. The Bible claims that supernatural events occurred in the past. As evidence, it gives us written accounts of what people saw and reported, as well as changes in actions after witnessing the supposed supernatural events.

            What would I accept as proof of these events? You claimed that I would move the goalposts and would accept nothing, even though I explicitly stated a small and trite example of an event that would result in my belief.

            If, in the future, there is scientific evidence of the supernatural of ANY type, I will reconsider my position on the Bibles supernatural claims.

            I posted this to you earlier, but I am going to say it here as well.

            In regard to your point that you could not present me with any evidence that would result in my belief in miracles, this is untrue. I just ask for a common biblical miracle to occur today. For example, a Christian who could lay hands on the lame and allows them to walk and the blind and allows them to see. Throw in a few HD camera phone recordings and a few before and after medical exams as well as an interview with the miracle worker, and have this miracle worker perform a handful of similar miracles. This is not asking for a lot, and apparently it was common place in the past.

            If this were to occur, a handful of supernatural events today, in the name of Jesus, which stood up to the scrutiny of unbiased scientists, I would become a Christian.

            This type of evidence would give you what you are looking for, a prescriptive belief.

            It is true that I will not accept your historical accounts of supernatural events as evidence that the supernatural exists, but this is not unreasonable by any stretch of the imagination.

            If you think that it is unreasonable to disbelieve in the existence of the supernatural I invite you to make your case that 1: I ought to believe that the supernatural exists, and 2: That I am unjustified in not believing that the supernatural exists. (As I am sure that you know, I use ‘ought’ and ‘justified’ in the philosophical sense.)

            I am not aware of any argument that has come anywhere near to succeeding in regard to these two points.

            Finally, you asked “what sources have interested you or shaped your thoughts on these issues?”

            -My entire undergrad in Philosophy was useful in my thinking about these issues.

            -”Philosophy of Religion, an anthology” by Pojman was a text in my Phil of religion course.

            -”Breaking the spell” has been useful to me.

            -Debates between various ‘new atheists’ and others, and William lane Craig have been useful.

            -This is not something I have read, but the complete absence of the supernatural from modern life is a pretty big nail in the coffin.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Okay, but I didn’t say you would move the goalposts, I said that to someone completely different. You did give that example, so I wouldn’t say that about you, and unless I accidentally cross-addressed something I said, I haven’t. I also said this other guy was less open to reason than you were, meaning you were more open to reason. These are positive comments about you! Again, you must be confusing my responses to another commentator with my interactions with you. I think I said you were being arbitrary at one point, but I never said “unreasonable.” Maybe you’re confused because the other guy’s name on here is similar to yours?

            In the comments about gullibility, I was referring to your response to my last comment about the Salem Witch trials—where you were kind of flabbergasted that I acknowledged the possibility of witchcraft.

            Thanks for the resources. I haven’t read Dennett but am familiar with some of the common arguments from the New Atheist camp. Interestingly, some of the things you mention have helped me on the opposite side–Craig’s debates, my own undergraduate degree in Philosophy, etc., although I do disagree with Craig on a few points. (Divine command theory, philosophy of time, etc.) I didn’t read Pojman’s religion anthology, but I did read selections from the Theory of Knowledge anthology.

            In the interests of just trying to understand where you’re coming from, this is roughly how I’ve understood your main argument:

            1.If supernatural beings existed, we should expect to see supernatural events occurring around us today.

            2. We don’t.

            Therefore

            3. I’m justified in rejecting historical accounts of the supernatural as evidence for the existence of supernatural beings.

            Even if we waive the ongoing debate over number 2, I’m not sure why one should automatically accept 1. I think in order to get to your conclusion, you need instead to show why you believe the authors are unreliable. Of course, since I think the authors are in fact reliable, I would most likely have issues with various steps in your reasoning if you took that route. But I think that’s the better route to take because at least you’re dealing with the accounts themselves.

          • dave warnock

            David, Esther is talking about me.

            She accused me of being unreasonable. If you have something to say about me, maybe you should say it to me instead of saying it to someone else (we read all the comments on here, you know). Exactly how have I been unreasonable? It seems that you think it unreasonable when we don’t swallow your line of reasoning. You have been asked by me and others- to directly answer several issues. You don’t have the answers; so you equivocate about what “evidence” or “proof” is. And you have the audacity to call me unreasonable? When confronted with direct requests on here, you avoid the question; scoot out the front door and then come in the back door and start talking about something else. I think you simply like to debate for the sake of argument.

            To many of us though, these are serious issues that have caused a great deal of pain in our lives; as many of us have left Christianity behind at great personal cost. I won’t go into it here, because that’s not what this post is about. These are not philosophical arguments for some of us.

            I, for one, have grown tired of going in these circles with you. It seems you enjoy it and maybe even find it amusing.

            You can call me what you want after this, but I’m done. Really.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m not sure how you expected me to answer Dave’s accusations without clarifying that I was addressing my comments to somebody else, but if you want me also to say it plainly to your face—you’re unreasonable. There you go. ;-) Besides, you said you were done last time so I didn’t see the point in directing more comments to you.

            I’m sorry I didn’t give the answers you wanted to hear, but if you’re asking all the wrong questions, you need to prepare for answers that don’t fit your preconceived ideas. Show me where I’ve failed to answer you honestly, either by giving a simple answer or explaining clearly (using more facts) why the question was framed wrongly.

          • David W

            Heya Esther,

            This is in response to your “January 25, 2014 at 9:17 pm’ comment, as I can’t reply there.

            In regard to your first paragraph, *shrug* okay, sounds like a misunderstanding, but please be aware, that to me, probably many people, saying ” …also said this other guy was less open to reason than you were, meaning you were more open to reason.” suggests that I am not open to reason to some degree, which isn’t nice to say unless it is true, and I don’t believe that this is true. If you do believe this is true, and it seems like you probably don’t? then I would hope you give me the chance to defend myself by letting me know where I failed to be open to reason in your view.

            You said this about my line of thinking:

            “1.If supernatural beings existed, we should expect to see supernatural events occurring around us today.

            2. We don’t.

            Therefore

            3. I’m justified in rejecting historical accounts of the supernatural as evidence for the existence of supernatural beings.

            … I think in order to get to your conclusion, you need instead to show why you believe the authors are unreliable. Of course, since I think the authors are in fact reliable, …””

            I would word my argument differently so as to be stronger, but that is fairly close, and i’ll reword it later if this convo continues and it appears that I need to.

            So here is where I think we diverge, what exactly do you mean by reliable? Do you mean honest and well intentioned or do you mean that they were factually correct?

            I am not personally interested in calling their honesty or goodwill into question, although I know that there are arguments which do so. I just think they were mistaken.

            Literally everything that happened in their time was ascribed to the supernatural: illness, rain, crop failure, deformities, mental illness, victory in battle, how many children you had, your body weight…literally everything. They were mistaken about all of these explanations. I think they were mistaken in regard to their religious supernatural claims as well.

            Just to head off an objection, (not sure if you even consider this to be a good objection), the idea that they wouldn’t ‘die for a lie’ is not a good reason to believe in any belief system.

            People today die for what are obviously lies; they are very sincere, but they are mistaken. Their behavior changes after adopting their new supernatural belief, and they are even willing to become martyrs.

            Change in behavior, or willingness to die, or preach a message, in no way speaks to the truth of the message; rather it speaks to the sincerity and devotion of the follower.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I’m glad I got the argument formulated correctly. I’d be interested to hear why you think 1 is a given, or why, for that matter, 3 should follow even if 1 and 2 are true (technically it shouldn’t, since it’s an argument of probabilities, not strictly deductive).

            As for people at the time ascribing “literally everything” to the supernatural—no. Just… really, they knew where babies came from, they knew that people got sick by natural means, they knew what caused death. Just read how Luke (a doctor) matter-of-factly describes the ailments of the various people Jesus heals in his account. Or read Paul telling Timothy to take some wine for his stomach. Yes, of course they were deprived of the advances of modern medicine which have popped the hood on precisely what these ailments are and how they arise, but to say they ascribed all sickness (let alone “literally everything”) to supernatural causes is obviously false. We’d be here all day if I dug out all the places in the gospels and Acts alone that make this crystal clear.

            Finally, I already rebutted the “Muslim terrorists/kool-aid drinkers” argument somewhere earlier in this thread, but I’ll do it again here: The apostles were not dying for an idea, a dream, a promise, or a cause. They died for something they claimed to have witnessed with their own eyes as a fact. To explain away their behavior, you’re going to have to venture into the realm of either mass deception or mass hallucination, both of which break down systematically the further you try to run with them.

      • dave warnock

        “Sigh. Again, that’s not the point. Let me try this again”

        Esther, gee I wish I had a $ for every time you’ve sighed or had to repeat something YET AGAIN for us ignorant rubes. (I can just hear you speaking real slow so we can try to understand you). I would have cashed in big time on this thread! :)

        Anyway, I digress…I asked the question about if you and John believe all those things actually happened, because I was curious. You seem like an intelligent young lady. And you seem to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. So it’s a bit troubling that you are able to dismiss the validity of a passage about insignificant children being mauled at the angry whim of a moody prophet- and God apparently partnering with him in that. It seems that you don’t care whether that happened or not as long as the resurrection happened.

        Well, if it truly happened- and the Bible is true- (all of it; not just the parts you deem relevant), then I have a problem with a God that behaves that way. If it didn’t happen, as the text plainly says, then why is it in the Good Book? And, further- how then do we get to decide what is true and accurate in the book, and what is not?

        (sorry, couldn’t find our particular comments in the thread, this may be getting too long for a stupid old man like me to keep up with. So I just placed it here)

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Here’s a tip: Subscribe via e-mail, and you can hit “reply” to answer each comment directly in the proper order.

          That was an old comment you found! And as I recall, the person I was replying to really didn’t understand my point. Anyway, you asked about Elisha and the bears. I didn’t “dismiss its validity,” I simply pointed out that it has no bearing on the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead, and that by comparison, it’s a minor detail. I do believe the Bible is inspired, but if I were presented with incontrovertible proof that this particular incident didn’t actually happen, I would shrug and move on. As for the age of the “children,” this analysis may be useful. From Adam Clarke’s The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, vol. 2 (New York: The Methodist Episcopal Church, 1825), pp. 380-81.

          “Elisha did not destroy them; he had no power by which he could bring two she-bears out of the wood to destroy them. It was evidently either accidental, or a divine judgment; and if a judgment, God must be the sole author of it. Elisha’s curse must be only declaratory of what God was about to do. See on [2 Kings] i.10.

          [Anticipating the objection.] ‘But then, as they were little children, they could scarcely be accountable for their conduct; and consequently, it was cruelty to destroy them.’ … But were they little children? for here the strength of the objection lies. Now I suppose the objection means children from four to seven or eight years old; for so we use the word: but the original נערים קטנים nearim ketannim, may mean young men, for קטן katan signifies to be young, in opposition to old, and is so translated in various places in our Bible; and נער naar signifies, not only a child, but a young man, a servant, or even a soldier, or one fit to go out to battle; and is so translated in a multitude of places in our common English version. I shall mention but a few, because they are sufficiently decisive: Isaac was called נער naar when twenty-eight years old, Genesis xxi. 5-12 And Joseph was so called when he was thirty-nine, Genesis xli. 12. Add to these 1 Kings xx. 14. And Ahab said, By whom? [shall the Assyrians be delivered into my hand] Thus saith the Lord, by the YOUNG MEN (בנערי benaarey) of the princes of the provinces. That these were soldiers, probably militia, or a selection from the militia, which served as a body-guard to Ahab, the event sufficiently declares; and the persons that mocked Elisha were perfectly accountable for their conduct.”

          • dave warnock

            wow. just. wow.

            what a long, convoluted, odd justification for the idea that God/Elisha could or should or would (use bears to) kill children/people of ANY age for mocking a balding prophet. wow. And the idea that it could be “accidental”. That is amateur theology 101, I don’t care who you’re quoting. And that you could shrug your shoulders that a passage in the inspired word of God was just “made up”? So you get to decide- or the scholars you deem worthy; which parts of the Bible we are to pay attention to and which we can just shrug off because they don’t pertain to the main story as you see it. IMO, it’s all the main story, as it all reflects on the character and nature of this god we are supposed to worship.

          • John Fraser

            I see we’re into “favorite atheist red herrings from obscure OT passages” territory. I’ll chime in. From the cultural setting of the Elisha story it looks like it may have actually involve a threat against Elisha and not just simple teasing. Also, the passage doesn’t say that anybody was killed. The skeptic is simply filling in whatever details he or she wants in this two-verse story. But I love how Dave then dismisses an actual scholarly analysis as “convoluted.” Is it because Dave has carefully studied the original language and cultural setting? I doubt it. The atheist reads these two verses in the most tendentious and uncharitable way, insist that their interpretation is the only possible correct interpretation, and then use that interpretation as an attack against believers. In this respect atheists and fundamentalists closely resemble one another.

    • http://www.increasinglearning.com Bill Fortenberry

      Piobaireachd,

      In addition to Esther’s comments, let me also suggest that you pick up a copy of the book “Inventing the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell. You can find it on Amazon at this link:

      http://www.amazon.com/Inventing-Flat-Earth-Columbus-Historians/dp/027595904X

      According to Russell, “with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.”

    • http://personhoodinitiative.wordpress.com personhoodinitiative

      Piobaireachd,

      In addition to Esther’s comment, let me also suggest that you pick up a copy of “Inventing the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell. You can find it on Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Inventing-Flat-Earth-Columbus-Historians/dp/027595904X#

      According to Russell, “with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.”

      • Piobaireachd

        But the genesis story long predates 300 BC so the point stands (it was originally written down at least 500 years before the Greeks figured out the true shape of the planet). The flat earth is also just the tip of the ice berg. The entire structure of the universe (earth with a firmament) is completely wrong. According to the genesis story the creation of the earth itself (in this case a flat disc) is created before the stars, sun, and moon. In fact, plants were created before the heavens… which is well off the mark. Most of the chronology given by the genesis story are flat out wrong. Not just in the length of time involved but in the sequence of events.

        Aristarchus gave the classical world a glimpse of the true nature of the universe, but until Copernicus the Ptolemaic model was the standard. Genesis even states that stars were added to the firmament for sends signs… a clear indication that the authors saw the universe (basically the earth and a whole lotta surrounding water) as created for us, with the earth at the center. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Fortunately, reality is far, far more interesting…. but it does make you wonder why a “divinely inspired” book is so far off the mark. If Yaweh really is the creator of the universe, he went out of his way to badly confuse the subject… a deadly confusion at that.

        You guys can talk in circles all you want, but until you provide real evidence we’re not going to get anywhere. Ester simple uses claims as evidence such as “The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion.” There is no fact here… there is a claim being made for which there is no evidence and she’s done this many times… continually arguing in a big circle. That’s why people have stopped listening to her.

        The way that this thread is evolving really dovetails nicely with the title the Neil gave to it.

  • Piobaireachd

    Esther, the bible makes it very clear that the authors conceived of a flat earth that is the center of, and the only substantial thing in, the universe. And this was the prevailing view throughout most of the classical world. The hebrews took other creation myths and incorporated them into their own. Yes, there were people, like Aristarchus, who figured out the reality, long after the OT was written. But their work went largely unnoticed and the Church definitely took the creation story literally. Just ask Copernicus and Galileo about that. The chronology is so out of whack, even if you play fast and loose with the days, that no two people, working in isolation, would be likely to reconcile Genesis with scientific fact in the same way (in fact, they’ve tried and there are glaring problems with their attempts… and the fact that they don’t even agree with each other). If god wanted to give a creation story, why use a story that attempts some level of detail, using fairly plain language (the hebrew word for a 24 hour day, Yom, is used in both the creation story and throughout the old testament… why not say “age” instead of “day” if that’s what you mean?), but is so wildly inaccurate? Why manufacture a controversy? Why not be plain? Why not reveal yourself and end the vast suffering caused by people who can’t agree on religious matters? Esp if the eternal well being of human souls is at stake. Even one. That’s absolutely mental. No rational being would set up a system like that… unless they were malevolent.

    Intelligent design doesn’t fail because of young or old earth, it fails because there’s no evidence to support it. Evolution describes what we find in reality much better. At best you could say that a creator set up the rules and then let evolution unfold, but that’s about it. At the present time, there’s simply no evidence for such a creator and there’s loads of evidence that supports the evolutionary theory of bio diversity. It’s a proper theory, supported empirical evidence. Intelligent design is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. They’re not competing theories and they are not equivalent.

    You keep using the bible as evidence. It’s part of the claim. How can you possibly confirm the veracity of claims of the bible when the only source you have is the bible itself? There are no contemporary accounts and we know that a lot of revision was going on, well after the fact. The gospels have discrepancies and strange omissions (like the bit from Matthew that’s already been brought up). If these accounts were introduced into a court of law, and the case at hand was deciding whether or not countless souls would be tortured in hell, there’s no way in hell that a sane jury would convict based on your “evidence”. It would be a complete miscarriage of justice.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Yes, the gospel authors believed the earth was in the center of the universe, but the Bible doesn’t have any inspired words to that effect. There’s a little bit of poetry that the Catholic church seized on as a scientific description, but as Kepler clearly explained, this was no more than a genre swap on the church’s part.

      And I really don’t have the energy to wade into the ID debate, except to say that you obviously aren’t up on the facts if you want to claim that there is “no evidence” for ID. Here’s one question for you to chew on: Consciousness. How did that evolve? I’ll wait here while you mull that one over.

      But here’s part of what I’m getting at: Even if I accept your proposed “compromise” where God winds up the clock and sets it going without further lending a hand in the origin of species, the question of the resurrection still remains. If the resurrection happened, quite frankly, the rest are details. You accuse me of using the Bible as evidence, but I’ve done no such thing. I’ve asked questions about how we can tell the authors are who they say they are and are telling the truth. You’re making demands that are unreasonable given the historical context. As I think I explained elsewhere, the sum total of ALL the literature we have dating to this period, religious or otherwise, is shockingly thin. And the Greeks/Romans certainly weren’t following the dealings of some obscure, itinerant Jewish rabbi with bated breath. Without the Internet, you had to wait for ripple effects to make themselves felt.

      • dave warnock

        “Sigh. Again, that’s not the point. Let me try this again”

        Esther, gee I wish I had a $ for every time you’ve sighed or had to repeat something YET AGAIN for us ignorant rubes. (I can just hear you speaking real slow so we can try to understand you). I would have cashed in big time on this thread! :)

        Anyway, I digress…I asked the question about if you and John believe all those things actually happened, because I was curious. You seem like an intelligent young lady. And you seem to believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. So it’s a bit troubling that you are able to dismiss the validity of a passage about insignificant children being mauled at the angry whim of a moody prophet- and God apparently partnering with him in that. It seems that you don’t care whether that happened or not as long as the resurrection happened.

        Well, if it truly happened- and the Bible is true- (all of it; not just the parts you deem relevant), then I have a problem with a God that behaves that way. If it didn’t happen, as the text plainly says, then why is it in the Good Book? And, further- how then do we get to decide what is true and accurate in the book, and what is not?

        (sorry, couldn’t find our particular comments in the thread, this may be getting too long for a stupid old man like me to keep up with. So I just placed it here)

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Here’s a tip: Subscribe via e-mail, and you can hit “reply” to answer each comment directly in the proper order.

          That was an old comment you found! And as I recall, the person I was replying to really didn’t understand my point. Anyway, you asked about Elisha and the bears. I didn’t “dismiss its validity,” I simply pointed out that it has no bearing on the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead, and that by comparison, it’s a minor detail. I do believe the Bible is inspired, but if I were presented with incontrovertible proof that this particular incident didn’t actually happen, I would shrug and move on. As for the age of the “children,” this analysis may be useful. From Adam Clarke’s The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, vol. 2 (New York: The Methodist Episcopal Church, 1825), pp. 380-81.

          “Elisha did not destroy them; he had no power by which he could bring two she-bears out of the wood to destroy them. It was evidently either accidental, or a divine judgment; and if a judgment, God must be the sole author of it. Elisha’s curse must be only declaratory of what God was about to do. See on [2 Kings] i.10.

          [Anticipating the objection.] ‘But then, as they were little children, they could scarcely be accountable for their conduct; and consequently, it was cruelty to destroy them.’ … But were they little children? for here the strength of the objection lies. Now I suppose the objection means children from four to seven or eight years old; for so we use the word: but the original נערים קטנים nearim ketannim, may mean young men, for קטן katan signifies to be young, in opposition to old, and is so translated in various places in our Bible; and נער naar signifies, not only a child, but a young man, a servant, or even a soldier, or one fit to go out to battle; and is so translated in a multitude of places in our common English version. I shall mention but a few, because they are sufficiently decisive: Isaac was called נער naar when twenty-eight years old, Genesis xxi. 5-12 And Joseph was so called when he was thirty-nine, Genesis xli. 12. Add to these 1 Kings xx. 14. And Ahab said, By whom? [shall the Assyrians be delivered into my hand] Thus saith the Lord, by the YOUNG MEN (בנערי benaarey) of the princes of the provinces. That these were soldiers, probably militia, or a selection from the militia, which served as a body-guard to Ahab, the event sufficiently declares; and the persons that mocked Elisha were perfectly accountable for their conduct.”

          • dave warnock

            wow. just. wow.

            what a long, convoluted, odd justification for the idea that God/Elisha could or should or would (use bears to) kill children/people of ANY age for mocking a balding prophet. wow. And the idea that it could be “accidental”. That is amateur theology 101, I don’t care who you’re quoting. And that you could shrug your shoulders that a passage in the inspired word of God was just “made up”? So you get to decide- or the scholars you deem worthy; which parts of the Bible we are to pay attention to and which we can just shrug off because they don’t pertain to the main story as you see it. IMO, it’s all the main story, as it all reflects on the character and nature of this god we are supposed to worship.

          • John Fraser

            I see we’re into “favorite atheist red herrings from obscure OT passages” territory. I’ll chime in. From the cultural setting of the Elisha story it looks like it may have actually involve a threat against Elisha and not just simple teasing. Also, the passage doesn’t say that anybody was killed. The skeptic is simply filling in whatever details he or she wants in this two-verse story. But I love how Dave then dismisses an actual scholarly analysis as “convoluted.” Is it because Dave has carefully studied the original language and cultural setting? I doubt it. The atheist reads these two verses in the most tendentious and uncharitable way, insist that their interpretation is the only possible correct interpretation, and then use that interpretation as an attack against believers. In this respect atheists and fundamentalists closely resemble one another.

    • http://www.increasinglearning.com Bill Fortenberry

      Piobaireachd,

      In addition to Esther’s comments, let me also suggest that you pick up a copy of the book “Inventing the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell. You can find it on Amazon at this link:

      http://www.amazon.com/Inventing-Flat-Earth-Columbus-Historians/dp/027595904X

      According to Russell, “with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.”

    • http://personhoodinitiative.wordpress.com personhoodinitiative

      Piobaireachd,

      In addition to Esther’s comment, let me also suggest that you pick up a copy of “Inventing the Flat Earth” by Jeffrey Burton Russell. You can find it on Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Inventing-Flat-Earth-Columbus-Historians/dp/027595904X#

      According to Russell, “with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.”

      • Piobaireachd

        But the genesis story long predates 300 BC so the point stands (it was originally written down at least 500 years before the Greeks figured out the true shape of the planet). The flat earth is also just the tip of the ice berg. The entire structure of the universe (earth with a firmament) is completely wrong. According to the genesis story the creation of the earth itself (in this case a flat disc) is created before the stars, sun, and moon. In fact, plants were created before the heavens… which is well off the mark. Most of the chronology given by the genesis story are flat out wrong. Not just in the length of time involved but in the sequence of events.

        Aristarchus gave the classical world a glimpse of the true nature of the universe, but until Copernicus the Ptolemaic model was the standard. Genesis even states that stars were added to the firmament for sends signs… a clear indication that the authors saw the universe (basically the earth and a whole lotta surrounding water) as created for us, with the earth at the center. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Fortunately, reality is far, far more interesting…. but it does make you wonder why a “divinely inspired” book is so far off the mark. If Yaweh really is the creator of the universe, he went out of his way to badly confuse the subject… a deadly confusion at that.

        You guys can talk in circles all you want, but until you provide real evidence we’re not going to get anywhere. Ester simple uses claims as evidence such as “The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion.” There is no fact here… there is a claim being made for which there is no evidence and she’s done this many times… continually arguing in a big circle. That’s why people have stopped listening to her.

        The way that this thread is evolving really dovetails nicely with the title the Neil gave to it.

  • Douglas Groothuis

    If you are interested, I recently gave a lecture called, “Is Faith Beyond Knowledge?” through The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. You should be able to find it on Google easily.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I didn’t find it immediately but I believe I’ve found it here:

      http://www.denverseminary.edu/sermon/is-faith-beyond-knowledge/

    • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

      Like your well written and exaughstive book, it doesn’t seem to be a new argument. Unless you can demonstrate a way to test which faith belief is true and which is not, beyond the death test, faith may seem reasonable to the user of its hopeful and diversified qualities but it can not be considered knowledge in an epistimological sense. We know what the leading Christian philosopher thinks, that atheist have dysfuntional brains:

      Faith, according to Plantinga, is another basic way of forming beliefs, distinct from but not in competition with reason, perception, memory, and the others. However, it is….

      “a wholly different kettle of fish: according to the Christian tradition (including both Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin), faith is a special gift from God, not part of our ordinary epistemic equipment. Faith is a source of belief, a source that goes beyond the faculties included in reason.

      God endows human beings with a sensus divinitatis that ordinarily leads them to believe in him. (In atheists the sensus divinitatis is either blocked or not functioning properly.)”

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Actually… “dysfunctional brains” is a really bad way to recast that passage. Plantinga isn’t saying atheists are stupid, he’s articulating the stock Calvinist idea that God will only grant the knowledge of truth to a select few. Now, speaking for myself, I’m not a Calvinist so I actually disagree with Plantinga on that point. I also think there are several issues with some of his philosophical arguments. But there are plenty of other good Christian philosophers to choose from if Plantinga isn’t your cup of tea.

  • Mary

    The gospels bear many hallmarks of being historical fiction..legendary events placed into action historical locales, similar to Tom Clancy novels. There is also evidence that many of the stories about Jesus are rewrites of OT stories. A very good case for this is made in a little book called Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms. Check it out when you find time Esther. http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-Fictions-Randel-Helms/dp/0879755725

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Thanks Mary. Of course, I’m sure you’re aware that there’s little scholarly dispute that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was crucified by the Romans, or that the life of Paul is accurately recorded as fact in the gospel author Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

    • http://www.increasinglearning.com personhoodinitiative

      Mary,

      You can find a page by page critique of Randel Helms’ “Gospel Fictions” at this link:

      http://www.tektonics.org/gk/helmsr01.php

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Enjoying this, thanks. I admit I probably shouldn’t be surprised at the poor quality of Helms’s arguments, but it’s hard not to shake one’s head over such a shoddy excuse for scholarship. There’s a lot of sheer ignorance here, but I think I get the most giggles out of his attempt to argue that the use of phrases like “against him” and “standing up” proves the apostles were creating fiction based on the OT.

        • John Fraser

          The historical fiction argument is almost as fringe as the mythicist position. It’s basically an exercise in starting with your desired conclusion, shoehorning a few pieces of data to fit (with great imagination), and ignoring the bulk of the evidence. In short, breaking just about every rule of historiography known to scholarship.

  • Mary

    The gospels bear many hallmarks of being historical fiction..legendary events placed into action historical locales, similar to Tom Clancy novels. There is also evidence that many of the stories about Jesus are rewrites of OT stories. A very good case for this is made in a little book called Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms. Check it out when you find time Esther. http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-Fictions-Randel-Helms/dp/0879755725

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Thanks Mary. Of course, I’m sure you’re aware that there’s little scholarly dispute that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was crucified by the Romans, or that the life of Paul is accurately recorded as fact in the gospel author Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

    • http://www.increasinglearning.com personhoodinitiative

      Mary,

      You can find a page by page critique of Randel Helms’ “Gospel Fictions” at this link:

      http://www.tektonics.org/gk/helmsr01.php

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Enjoying this, thanks. I admit I probably shouldn’t be surprised at the poor quality of Helms’s arguments, but it’s hard not to shake one’s head over such a shoddy excuse for scholarship. There’s a lot of sheer ignorance here, but I think I get the most giggles out of his attempt to argue that the use of phrases like “against him” and “standing up” proves the apostles were creating fiction based on the OT.

        • John Fraser

          The historical fiction argument is almost as fringe as the mythicist position. It’s basically an exercise in starting with your desired conclusion, shoehorning a few pieces of data to fit (with great imagination), and ignoring the bulk of the evidence. In short, breaking just about every rule of historiography known to scholarship.

  • Mary

    Esther, I am not talking about the historical Jesus..but the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. I agree there likely was an apocalyptic preacher who gained a following. The gospels strike me as the sort of thing that would be written to turn a martyred leader into something more..perhaps mentioning some of his teachings and the places he went, with a liberal dose of embellishment along the way. Even if he did die historically, it doesn’t seem likely that events like earthquakes, darkness covering the earth for three hours, and a crowd of undead saints breaking out of their tombs and walking around the city are actual history. They are legend that has been infused with the fact of his death..in an effort to make the story more powerful and gripping to the audience.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      You might want to catch up on the discussions of the earthquake/darkness/open tombs business earlier in the thread, if you haven’t done that already. Meanwhile, you’re using phrases like “strike me as…” “doesn’t seem likely…” If you want to make an argument, go ahead and lay it out for us.

      I admit I’ve never heard the gospels compared to Tom Clancy before. I’ll have to remember that one.

      • http://dovetheology.wordpress.com/ Calum Miller

        Esther, it’s really not very nice of you to destroy these chaps’ arguments in the way that you’ve been doing in this conversation!

        • Piobaireachd

          haha. Good one Calum. So far she’s run an enormous distance. The downside is that so far she’s gone in a massive circle.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            *picking UP on, sorry

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Thanks Calum!

          Piobaireachd, I’ve been drawing the curtain of quiet charity over your most recent comments because, in all sincerity, I think English might not be your first language. So, it’s entirely possible that you simply aren’t picking on some of the nuances I’ve tried to explain. For example, when I was speaking about the figure of Christ inviting us to examine the evidence, I was blending metaphoric language with the suppressed clarification that I was referring to God in human flesh _as described in the gospels_. I do happen to think it’s a fact, personally, and perhaps I could have spelled out more clearly that I was trying to indicate something striking and unusual about how the gospels are written as opposed to other holy documents. I think it should be obvious from my follow-up comments and the many other comments on this thread that I have studiously avoided begging the question, consistently arguing for the gospels’ reliability and credibility based on other techniques. When you want to figure out if a document is truthful, you ask certain questions about style, knowledge of the context, marks of honesty such as the criterion of embarrassment, loose ends that would be awkward in a forgery, and so on, and so on, and so forth. You also look at the behavior of the apostles after the religion was founded. None of this stuff involves begging the question. So, I’m sorry if you can’t or won’t see that, but what I wish you could see is how silly you’re making yourself look with your ranting comments on here. It’s really quite entertaining.

      • http://gravatar.com/brettkunkle Brett Kunkle

        Esther O’Reilly, you’re killing it on here. It’s very enjoyable to sit back & watch!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Hi Brett, thanks—enjoy your work too.

  • Mary

    Esther, I am not talking about the historical Jesus..but the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. I agree there likely was an apocalyptic preacher who gained a following. The gospels strike me as the sort of thing that would be written to turn a martyred leader into something more..perhaps mentioning some of his teachings and the places he went, with a liberal dose of embellishment along the way. Even if he did die historically, it doesn’t seem likely that events like earthquakes, darkness covering the earth for three hours, and a crowd of undead saints breaking out of their tombs and walking around the city are actual history. They are legend that has been infused with the fact of his death..in an effort to make the story more powerful and gripping to the audience.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      You might want to catch up on the discussions of the earthquake/darkness/open tombs business earlier in the thread, if you haven’t done that already. Meanwhile, you’re using phrases like “strike me as…” “doesn’t seem likely…” If you want to make an argument, go ahead and lay it out for us.

      I admit I’ve never heard the gospels compared to Tom Clancy before. I’ll have to remember that one.

      • http://dovetheology.wordpress.com/ Calum Miller

        Esther, it’s really not very nice of you to destroy these chaps’ arguments in the way that you’ve been doing in this conversation!

        • Piobaireachd

          haha. Good one Calum. So far she’s run an enormous distance. The downside is that so far she’s gone in a massive circle.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            *picking UP on, sorry

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Thanks Calum!

          Piobaireachd, I’ve been drawing the curtain of quiet charity over your most recent comments because, in all sincerity, I think English might not be your first language. So, it’s entirely possible that you simply aren’t picking on some of the nuances I’ve tried to explain. For example, when I was speaking about the figure of Christ inviting us to examine the evidence, I was blending metaphoric language with the suppressed clarification that I was referring to God in human flesh _as described in the gospels_. I do happen to think it’s a fact, personally, and perhaps I could have spelled out more clearly that I was trying to indicate something striking and unusual about how the gospels are written as opposed to other holy documents. I think it should be obvious from my follow-up comments and the many other comments on this thread that I have studiously avoided begging the question, consistently arguing for the gospels’ reliability and credibility based on other techniques. When you want to figure out if a document is truthful, you ask certain questions about style, knowledge of the context, marks of honesty such as the criterion of embarrassment, loose ends that would be awkward in a forgery, and so on, and so on, and so forth. You also look at the behavior of the apostles after the religion was founded. None of this stuff involves begging the question. So, I’m sorry if you can’t or won’t see that, but what I wish you could see is how silly you’re making yourself look with your ranting comments on here. It’s really quite entertaining.

      • http://gravatar.com/brettkunkle Brett Kunkle

        Esther O’Reilly, you’re killing it on here. It’s very enjoyable to sit back & watch!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Hi Brett, thanks—enjoy your work too.

  • Mary

    Esther, the point was..Tom Clancy incorporates actual people, places, historical events, and artifacts into his stories. I’ve heard that his descriptions of certain government buildings and technology like submarines is very precise. But the fact that he can create a convincing narrative using locations and artifacts that actually..placing it an an actual historical context (like the cold war) in no way implies that his radical plotlines are also historical.

    • http://jfraseroms.wordpress.com John Fraser

      The argument from Tom Clancy is nothing more than hand waving unless you can present an actual argument that the Gospel writers were intentionally writing historical fiction. After all, the same argument could be used against ANY written historical account, ancient or modern. But besides the lack of any evidence that the Gospels are historical fiction you also have extensive evidence that they were purported to be accounts of actual events seen by eyewitnesses. (Side note: before you respond by saying “but that doesn’t prove the events happened, I know that. That’s not my point. I am here addressing only the objection from historical fiction which is a separate issue of genre). You have explicit claims to eyewitness testimony in both Luke and John, and you also have very early external statements that the Gospels were intended and understood as historical accounts. You also have a long list of undesigned coincidences between Paul’s letters (I’m only talking about those universally recognized as authentic) and Acts, and you also have numerous historical facts about Jesus in Paul’s letters which corroborate the Gospel accounts (I have a list of 15 such facts which I’m happy to share if anyone actually cares about the details). This is in spite of the repeated ridiculous claim by some that Paul doesn’t say anything about a historical Jesus. In short, this is not a valid objection at all.

      • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

        http://youtu.be/MclBbZUFSag

        You obviously won’t agree but here is one facet of the argument about the gospel writers creating myth. I don’t personally agree with all of it but I think some of it is strong and worth thought.

        • Piobaireachd

          Bart Ehrman has made a number of good arguments along these lines as well… and of courrse those two disagree about other things, but they both agree that there are significant issues with the gospels as a description of reality.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Oh dear. You totally went and cited Richard Carrier.

          *facepalm*

          Yes, we know all about this joker. This is the guy who pretended he was an analytic philosopher and quickly realized he didn’t have the chops for it when his “scholarly” paper got demolished six ways from zero by people who actually knew what they were talking about.

        • http://jfraseroms.wordpress.com John Fraser

          Myth is a different genre from historical fiction. I was addressing the historical fiction objection raised by Mary. As far as Carrier goes, all I can say is that I have seen him comment positively on Richard Pervo’s attempt at arguing that Luke-Acts is historical fiction, but Pervo simply doesn’t deal with the evidence and his argument has not persuaded any real scholars that I know of (and I know several who consider it to be a complete non-starter).

          As far as the “myth” argument goes, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say and don’t really feel like watching the video. Carrier is sympathetic to the mythicist position which holds that Jesus was not a historical person at all. This position is simply untenable by any critical standards of historiography even if it gets more air time than it deserves on the internet and at Skepticon conferences.

          If you want to talk about more defensible (but ultimately mistaken) position that the New Testament contains layers of myth (or legendary accretion if you prefer) on top of some actual sayings by Jesus, I don’t mind going there. Again, that’s different than the historical fiction view because in this latter position the Gospel writers were deliberately writing stories they knew weren’t true. The legendary accretion view is what led scholars starting in the 19th century to find the “historical Jesus.” This project, however, was a dismal failure, and so there were further attempts (often called “quests”) to find the historical bedrock which scholars assumed were buried underneath the miracle stories in the NT. To summarize, these subsequent attempts also failed. One of the reasons they failed was that no matter how far you peel back the layers, you still find a depiction of Jesus as a miracle worker and exorcist. The material is too early to have been the result of legendary accretion, and the evidence for multiple eyewitness testimony of many of these events is – I would dare to say – undeniable. But of course people do deny them because to admit them would be to challenge the underpinnings of their worldview. A non-Christian scholar could not admit that the Resurrection, for example, actually occurred without becoming a Christian, basically. Thus the conclusion of the argument has to be denied by the one who finds this to be an unpalatable prospect.

          And actually the pendulum of New Testament scholarship has swung noticeably back towards more conservative positions in recent decades. This is true pretty much across the board if you’re at all familiar with the literature.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          C. S. Lewis writes very eloquently on the attempt to recast the gospels as some genre other than eyewitness narrative:

          “In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the Book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress’. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave out the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass–Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable en de nux (xiii, 30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage—though it may no doubt contain errors—pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.”

          http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html

          • Brian

            Still waiting to hear a good reason why we should take sources seirously that believe in wizards, witches, demons, etc. First century people were ignorant of many things and were quick to jump to magic explanations. The consistent replacement of magic with natural explanations since the dawn of the scientific age (and since we have been able to record events for posterity) is very telling. If one wants to claim that stories involving magic are anything other than creative fictions, they will need more than the stories themselves as evidence. So far, the Christians here have failed miserably to offer anything worth taking seriously.

  • Mary

    Esther, the point was..Tom Clancy incorporates actual people, places, historical events, and artifacts into his stories. I’ve heard that his descriptions of certain government buildings and technology like submarines is very precise. But the fact that he can create a convincing narrative using locations and artifacts that actually..placing it an an actual historical context (like the cold war) in no way implies that his radical plotlines are also historical.

    • http://jfraseroms.wordpress.com John Fraser

      The argument from Tom Clancy is nothing more than hand waving unless you can present an actual argument that the Gospel writers were intentionally writing historical fiction. After all, the same argument could be used against ANY written historical account, ancient or modern. But besides the lack of any evidence that the Gospels are historical fiction you also have extensive evidence that they were purported to be accounts of actual events seen by eyewitnesses. (Side note: before you respond by saying “but that doesn’t prove the events happened, I know that. That’s not my point. I am here addressing only the objection from historical fiction which is a separate issue of genre). You have explicit claims to eyewitness testimony in both Luke and John, and you also have very early external statements that the Gospels were intended and understood as historical accounts. You also have a long list of undesigned coincidences between Paul’s letters (I’m only talking about those universally recognized as authentic) and Acts, and you also have numerous historical facts about Jesus in Paul’s letters which corroborate the Gospel accounts (I have a list of 15 such facts which I’m happy to share if anyone actually cares about the details). This is in spite of the repeated ridiculous claim by some that Paul doesn’t say anything about a historical Jesus. In short, this is not a valid objection at all.

      • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

        http://youtu.be/MclBbZUFSag

        You obviously won’t agree but here is one facet of the argument about the gospel writers creating myth. I don’t personally agree with all of it but I think some of it is strong and worth thought.

        • Piobaireachd

          Bart Ehrman has made a number of good arguments along these lines as well… and of courrse those two disagree about other things, but they both agree that there are significant issues with the gospels as a description of reality.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Oh dear. You totally went and cited Richard Carrier.

          *facepalm*

          Yes, we know all about this joker. This is the guy who pretended he was an analytic philosopher and quickly realized he didn’t have the chops for it when his “scholarly” paper got demolished six ways from zero by people who actually knew what they were talking about.

        • http://jfraseroms.wordpress.com John Fraser

          Myth is a different genre from historical fiction. I was addressing the historical fiction objection raised by Mary. As far as Carrier goes, all I can say is that I have seen him comment positively on Richard Pervo’s attempt at arguing that Luke-Acts is historical fiction, but Pervo simply doesn’t deal with the evidence and his argument has not persuaded any real scholars that I know of (and I know several who consider it to be a complete non-starter).

          As far as the “myth” argument goes, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say and don’t really feel like watching the video. Carrier is sympathetic to the mythicist position which holds that Jesus was not a historical person at all. This position is simply untenable by any critical standards of historiography even if it gets more air time than it deserves on the internet and at Skepticon conferences.

          If you want to talk about more defensible (but ultimately mistaken) position that the New Testament contains layers of myth (or legendary accretion if you prefer) on top of some actual sayings by Jesus, I don’t mind going there. Again, that’s different than the historical fiction view because in this latter position the Gospel writers were deliberately writing stories they knew weren’t true. The legendary accretion view is what led scholars starting in the 19th century to find the “historical Jesus.” This project, however, was a dismal failure, and so there were further attempts (often called “quests”) to find the historical bedrock which scholars assumed were buried underneath the miracle stories in the NT. To summarize, these subsequent attempts also failed. One of the reasons they failed was that no matter how far you peel back the layers, you still find a depiction of Jesus as a miracle worker and exorcist. The material is too early to have been the result of legendary accretion, and the evidence for multiple eyewitness testimony of many of these events is – I would dare to say – undeniable. But of course people do deny them because to admit them would be to challenge the underpinnings of their worldview. A non-Christian scholar could not admit that the Resurrection, for example, actually occurred without becoming a Christian, basically. Thus the conclusion of the argument has to be denied by the one who finds this to be an unpalatable prospect.

          And actually the pendulum of New Testament scholarship has swung noticeably back towards more conservative positions in recent decades. This is true pretty much across the board if you’re at all familiar with the literature.

  • Mary

    This is something any creative writer can do. We have abundant evidence that people are good at creating fiction, and they are also good at exaggerating, embellishing, misperceiving, or misremembering non-fictional events. They are also prone to believing extraordinary tales and passing them along without verifying them. If one wants to claim that stories involving the suspension of the laws of physics or the reanimation of a pile of dead saints can be considered historically likely, rather than the result of one of these other common phenomena, they have a very high hurdle to climb.

    • Piobaireachd

      In fact, so far Ester has argued that the gospel story is the most probable series of events. She bases this on the gospels themselves… documents were written years after the fact and of which we have no originals. On top of that… she is asserting that the supernatural events are probable even though by definition supernatural events are highly improbable. It’s a dilemma and she has yet to provide any kind of evidence to get herself extracted from this mess. Instead, she simply keeps claiming that gospel is true because it says that it’s true. Then, when she gets called out on it, she states that her critics simply won’t accept any form of evidence at all. The whole thing is a rather pointless exercise at this point.

      • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Henry Larsen

        she is asserting that the supernatural events are probable even though by definition supernatural events are highly improbable

        You’re conflating prior and posterior probability.

        Imagine a good friend of yours is accused of a serious crime in court. The prior probability you assign to her guilt is, of course, very low. But then you hear that her fingerprints were found on the gun used to wound or kill the victim; that your friend was recorded on a security camera in the area moments before the crime took place; that she had argued bitterly with the victim the day before, over a large sum of money (context); &c., &c. In light of that evidence, you ought to think it far more likely than you did before that your friend is guilty of the crime.

        • MIchael E

          And exactly how does this apply to whether or not Jesus existed?

        • Piobaireachd

          We don’t have any evidence. We have testimony from the defendant alone. Nice try, but until you guys present outside, corroborating evidence, your arguments are extremely weak.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            We have RELIABLE testimony from the defendant. Do you seriously not understand how the tests for credible testimony work? Read the work of cold case detective J. Warner Wallace.

          • Matt B

            “We have RELIABLE testimony from the defendant. Do you seriously not understand how the tests for credible testimony work? Read the work of cold case detective J. Warner Wallace.”

            First off its not reliable.

            Second, even if you could claim it was reliable you could also claim reliable testimony from the other side in a way – they obviously didn’t believe he was the Messiah, otherwise why would they have crucified him? How do you know the people that believed him weren’t just the gullible people that were in need of something to believe in and/or were scared not too?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            “First off its not reliable.”

            Tell me more. Bring out your best arguments. We want to see them.

            As for the question of why the Jews crucified Jesus, that’s actually a good question and a fascinating one, but one that can be very adequately answered. You have to understand how counter-intuitive to the Jewish mind Jesus’ appearance was. He wasn’t the conquering Messiah they had been imagining and preparing for. And the idea of a man who was God in flesh—completely and utterly foreign. Now, if Jesus did in fact perform miracles in plain sight, they had evidence which should have convinced them. But as we can see, they sought security in alternate theories to explain these things away. There’s a Talmud fragment indicating they settled on the belief that he was a sorcerer who performed exorcisms through black magic. Put that together with the fact that the penalty for blasphemy was in fact death, as well as the fact that Jesus was upsetting the structure of the Pharisees’ authority by re-writing the law, and you can see quite easily how the Jews were motivated to drive Jesus to his death.

          • Matt B

            Sure, they are not reliable b/c from the best we can tell the earliest they were written were a couple or more decades after Jesus lived, they were written anonymously, we do not have the original copies, the copies we do have show how much they can change through the copy/translation process.

            So you came up with a hypothesis of why people didn’t accept Jesus. Here is my hypothesis: The people that did believe in him were desperate for a savior, liked how Jesus’ teachings justified their lives, and found hope in his words, felt comfort in believing in the afterlife etc etc. When skeptics questioned the authenticity of their claims they made up stories of Jesus performing miracles. When those stories weren’t enough they made up the legend of his virgin birth and him rising from the dead. These people didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong, b/c as per Jesus’ teachings, the most important thing was that the skeptics believed in him as their savior so they could be ‘saved’, and it didn’t matter necessarily how they got to that position.

            Ok, so from these two hypotheses (and millions of others if anyone else would like to contribute), both of which make sense and could have happened, through what method(s) do we determine which one is right?

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Easy Matt, Esther believes and therefore will give more weight to her hypothesis about what first century people would have thought and done. She will reject all other arguments as sophistry and use sarcastic and insulting language to dismiss anything seemingly credible and reasonable unless it affirms her already held position.

          • Matt B

            I know, it just floors me how some people of faith feel like all they have to do is come up with an explanation that makes sense, but not justify it or provide any proof. Of course the phenomenon is religion as a whole.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Actually Matt, your hypothesis doesn’t make sense. Right at the outset, your parallel to the Jewish authorities’ rejection of Christ fails because they were in a place of power. They played Jesus’ trial as an attempt to work with the Romans to get rid of a potentially troublesome upstart. Of course, the zealot faction among the Jews scorned Roman favor, but their behavior was different from the apostles because they were constantly trying to organize some kind of military uprising, in the vain hope that they could somehow throw off the Roman yoke. The apostles weren’t trying to overthrow Roman authority in the first place, and in several cases willingly submitted to Roman execution. But in the interests of thoroughness, let’s think through your comment carefully, one step at a time:

            1. “The people that did believe in him were desperate for a savior…”

            Again, this shows a failure to understand the Jewish context. The Jews were taught that one could already be right with God through obedience and remembrance. Salvation as described, embodied and offered in the person of Jesus was foreign to Judaism, and what is more, it functionally destroyed Judaism. It rendered the entire sacrificial system obsolete. It did away with large portions of the Mosaic law. This is shattering. This is ground-breaking. This is not something any devout Jew of the time would have dreamed up on his own.

            2. “liked how Jesus’ teachings justified their lives…”

            I have no idea where this is coming from, but Jesus regularly preached repentance and affirmed John the Baptist, who also preached repentance. He preached harsh parables about the kingdom of heaven, painted a truly terrifying picture of hell, laid down stricter rules than ever when it came to sexual sin and murder, and frequently pointed out specific areas where people needed to alter their behavior. Jesus didn’t affirm sin. To the contrary, he commanded radical change.

            3. “and found hope in his words, found comfort in believing in the afterlife, etc., etc…”

            So, you’re suggesting that Jesus’ closest friends and disciples had no evidence of a resurrection after his indisputable death… but somehow found “comfort” in… what exactly? Where is the comfort in a broken promise and a buried dream—literally? Are you saying they psyched themselves into thinking they saw Jesus alive again? You’re going to stretch the scientific bounds of hallucination to the breaking point if you go down that road. Are you saying they knowingly lied in saying they saw the risen Jesus? What could they possibly hope to gain from that, especially since they would be knowingly placing their faith in something they had no reason to believe? And why would they invent the ritual of a meal to celebrate his death if they knew there was no resurrection? A death, I might add, that was considered particularly shameful across all cultures. That would be the height of absurdity.

            4. “…as per Jesus’ teachings, the most important thing was that the skeptics believed in him as their savior so they could be ‘saved’, and it didn’t matter necessarily how they got to that position.”

            There’s nothing in Jesus’ teachings that says to inveigle souls into the kingdom no matter what. If you’re implying Jesus himself was a huckster, well, fat lot of good that did him if so. I’m honestly not sure where this comment is coming from either.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Oh yes, and I left out one more thing, namely that many Jews already believed in the afterlife at Jesus’ time, or Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come. Certainly it was accepted by all the Pharisees. Here is a Mishnah quote describing the Jewish perspective on the afterlife: “This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.” Here is a Talmud quote as well: “This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.”

        • Matt B

          I think your analogy proves our point better – you have a claim that is orders of magnitude more significant and life changing than finding out our friend committed a murder, and yet your proof is much worse than the examples you illustrated.

      • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Henry Larsen

        documents were written years after the fact and of which we have no originals.

        Why is this a problem exactly?

        she simply keeps claiming that gospel is true because it says that it’s true.

        Could you show where Esther has claimed that the Gospel accounts are authentic merely because the accounts claim to be? So far as I can see, on the contrary, Esther has pointed out multiple converging lines of evidence for the reliability of the Gospel accounts.

        • Piobaireachd

          Here’s a good one:

          “The very fact that he took on human flesh at a specific time and place in history is what sets the claims of Christianity apart from that of any other religion. The figure of Christ stands before us, inviting us to touch the evidence for ourselves. ”

          She’s stating this as fact (her words). She has no evidence for this what so ever. She bases this on the gospel, which is the actual source of the claim. Every thing derives from the claim, there are no independent accounts of any of this happening.

          • Piobaireachd

            I’ll tack on here that we have many, many copies of the gospels and they have thousands of errors and contradictions… so it’s very important that the don’t have the originals because the copies greatly muddy the water and for their own purposes at the time. The “evidence” has clearly been tampered with… it would likely be thrown out of a court of law for this reason.

          • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Henry Larsen

            She’s stating this as fact (her words). She has no evidence for this what so ever. She bases this on the gospel, which is the actual source of the claim. Every thing derives from the claim, there are no independent accounts of any of this happening.

            Nah. She’s pointing out that Christianity invites (and is proven true by) historical investigation – unlike Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, &c.

          • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Henry Larsen

            I’ll tack on here that we have many, many copies of the gospels

            Yes indeed.

            and they have thousands of errors and contradictions…

            This is gross misrepresentation of the facts. Even Bart Ehrman, no friend to orthodox Christianity, points out:

            “To be sure, all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.”

            (Bart Ehrman, Whose Word is It?: The Story Behind Who Changed The New Testament and Why, Continuum: 2006, p. 207.)

    • MIchael E

      The virgin birth is a key foundation to the Christian religion. Everyone would agree that the Pauline letters were the first pieces of the NT that were written. He never once mentions the virgin birth. And though it is hard to conclude by absence of evidence, the fact that he was trying to convince skeptics on the reality of Jesus, it seems that he might have slipped it in once or twice. The first Gospel written, Mark, never mentions it either. The only two places that it is mentioned is in Luke and Matthew who tell dramatically different stories. None of the four Gospels make any reference to the virgin birth within the body of the text. It seems clear that the writer of the bulk of the Gospels did not think it was relevant. Additionally, the historical data does not match to the timelines given. Much more likely, the virgin birth was added to fit the narrative and fulfill the prophecies such as the savior would be born in Bethlehem. There are so many reasons why the who prelude to Christianity was appended many years later is the most likely story.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        I don’t even know where to start with this comment. This sentence alone “the fact that he was trying to convince skeptics on the reality of Jesus…” is wrong in several different ways. First of all, Paul wasn’t writing to skeptics, he was writing to churches and individual Christians who were already intimately familiar with the language of Christianity. Second, no contemporary ancient was in doubt that Jesus EXISTED, and you are articulating a fringe position which goes against the consensus of all respectable NT scholars if you try to assert that. As for the argument from silence, yeah, it’s a really, really lousy way to make an argument for anything. The Emancipation Proclamation—you’d think Ulysses Grant might have mentioned it just ONCE in his memoirs. Marco Polo’s _Il Milione_ should surely mention tea, printed books, the Great Wall, or foot-binding—at least a couple mentions slipped in there somewhere. I could go on and on. With regard to the historical timeline, yes, I’m familiar with the argument about the census. Nathaniel Lardner painstakingly takes that all apart in his exhaustive _Credibility of the Gospel History_.

      • John Fraser

        For Paul it was the Resurrection, not the virgin birth, that was the foundation of Christianity and you can see this emphasis throughout his letters. I think it’s probable that Paul at least knew the story of the virgin birth given the strong evidence that he and Luke were coworkers, but the fact that he never directly mentioned it (it’s possible he alluded to it in Gal. 4:4 but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that) and never developed it as it was in later Christian theology isn’t a problem for me. So I’m a bit puzzled as to why this is even an issue worth talking about. It certainly wouldn’t have been any part of an argument for “the reality of Jesus” as you say, and I’m not sure what you even mean by that. If you mean the reality that Jesus existed, this was not even disputed until the 17th or 18th century so Paul needed no argument for that. If you mean the reality that Jesus is Lord, the Resurrection was Paul’s one and only argument for that.

        The fact is that we DO have two independent accounts of the virgin birth (I’m not sure why you say it isn’t in the body of the text in Matthew and Luke when it certainly is – Luke’s introduction is only 4 verses of chapter 1 and Matthew’s introduction is the genealogy which ends at 1:17). I also don’t understand why you say the virgin birth was invented so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The location of his birth and Mary’s virginity are two entirely separate topics. Matthew simply states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem with no further elaboration as Luke provides, but this had nothing to do with the virgin birth and nothing about the Bethlehem prophecy required it.

        There is some debate about the dating on the part of Matthew and Luke, but there is quite a bit written on this topic. It’s certainly not a cut-and-dried issue. At most that would be an argument against inerrancy or something, but inerrancy is not required for historicity (if it was then we would know almost nothing about history – unless you think you have some inerrant history books somewhere).

        But as for the virgin birth simply being added sometime later, the problem with that argument is actually contained in your own paragraph which acknowledges that Luke and Matthew tell the story very differently, which means they weren’t just copying off of each other or off of some other common source. So there were independent accounts of the virgin birth that predated Matthew and Luke. Remember that in those days there were no printing presses – so communication and transmission of stories was quite a bit slower. So the story had to have been quite early, and the multiple attestation is actually good evidence for historicity independent of questions of inerrancy or inspiration and the like.

  • Mary

    This is something any creative writer can do. We have abundant evidence that people are good at creating fiction, and they are also good at exaggerating, embellishing, misperceiving, or misremembering non-fictional events. They are also prone to believing extraordinary tales and passing them along without verifying them. If one wants to claim that stories involving the suspension of the laws of physics or the reanimation of a pile of dead saints can be considered historically likely, rather than the result of one of these other common phenomena, they have a very high hurdle to climb.

    • Piobaireachd

      In fact, so far Ester has argued that the gospel story is the most probable series of events. She bases this on the gospels themselves… documents were written years after the fact and of which we have no originals. On top of that… she is asserting that the supernatural events are probable even though by definition supernatural events are highly improbable. It’s a dilemma and she has yet to provide any kind of evidence to get herself extracted from this mess. Instead, she simply keeps claiming that gospel is true because it says that it’s true. Then, when she gets called out on it, she states that her critics simply won’t accept any form of evidence at all. The whole thing is a rather pointless exercise at this point.

      • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Henry Larsen

        she is asserting that the supernatural events are probable even though by definition supernatural events are highly improbable

        You’re conflating prior and posterior probability.

        Imagine a good friend of yours is accused of a serious crime in court. The prior probability you assign to her guilt is, of course, very low. But then you hear that her fingerprints were found on the gun used to wound or kill the victim; that your friend was recorded on a security camera in the area moments before the crime took place; that she had argued bitterly with the victim the day before, over a large sum of money (context); &c., &c. In light of that evidence, you ought to think it far more likely than you did before that your friend is guilty of the crime.

        • MIchael E

          And exactly how does this apply to whether or not Jesus existed?

        • Piobaireachd

          We don’t have any evidence. We have testimony from the defendant alone. Nice try, but until you guys present outside, corroborating evidence, your arguments are extremely weak.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            We have RELIABLE testimony from the defendant. Do you seriously not understand how the tests for credible testimony work? Read the work of cold case detective J. Warner Wallace.

          • Matt B

            “We have RELIABLE testimony from the defendant. Do you seriously not understand how the tests for credible testimony work? Read the work of cold case detective J. Warner Wallace.”

            First off its not reliable.

            Second, even if you could claim it was reliable you could also claim reliable testimony from the other side in a way – they obviously didn’t believe he was the Messiah, otherwise why would they have crucified him? How do you know the people that believed him weren’t just the gullible people that were in need of something to believe in and/or were scared not too?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            “First off its not reliable.”

            Tell me more. Bring out your best arguments. We want to see them.

            As for the question of why the Jews crucified Jesus, that’s actually a good question and a fascinating one, but one that can be very adequately answered. You have to understand how counter-intuitive to the Jewish mind Jesus’ appearance was. He wasn’t the conquering Messiah they had been imagining and preparing for. And the idea of a man who was God in flesh—completely and utterly foreign. Now, if Jesus did in fact perform miracles in plain sight, they had evidence which should have convinced them. But as we can see, they sought security in alternate theories to explain these things away. There’s a Talmud fragment indicating they settled on the belief that he was a sorcerer who performed exorcisms through black magic. Put that together with the fact that the penalty for blasphemy was in fact death, as well as the fact that Jesus was upsetting the structure of the Pharisees’ authority by re-writing the law, and you can see quite easily how the Jews were motivated to drive Jesus to his death.

          • Matt B

            Sure, they are not reliable b/c from the best we can tell the earliest they were written were a couple or more decades after Jesus lived, they were written anonymously, we do not have the original copies, the copies we do have show how much they can change through the copy/translation process.

            So you came up with a hypothesis of why people didn’t accept Jesus. Here is my hypothesis: The people that did believe in him were desperate for a savior, liked how Jesus’ teachings justified their lives, and found hope in his words, felt comfort in believing in the afterlife etc etc. When skeptics questioned the authenticity of their claims they made up stories of Jesus performing miracles. When those stories weren’t enough they made up the legend of his virgin birth and him rising from the dead. These people didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong, b/c as per Jesus’ teachings, the most important thing was that the skeptics believed in him as their savior so they could be ‘saved’, and it didn’t matter necessarily how they got to that position.

            Ok, so from these two hypotheses (and millions of others if anyone else would like to contribute), both of which make sense and could have happened, through what method(s) do we determine which one is right?

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Easy Matt, Esther believes and therefore will give more weight to her hypothesis about what first century people would have thought and done. She will reject all other arguments as sophistry and use sarcastic and insulting language to dismiss anything seemingly credible and reasonable unless it affirms her already held position.

          • Matt B

            I know, it just floors me how some people of faith feel like all they have to do is come up with an explanation that makes sense, but not justify it or provide any proof. Of course the phenomenon is religion as a whole.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Actually Matt, your hypothesis doesn’t make sense. Right at the outset, your parallel to the Jewish authorities’ rejection of Christ fails because they were in a place of power. They played Jesus’ trial as an attempt to work with the Romans to get rid of a potentially troublesome upstart. Of course, the zealot faction among the Jews scorned Roman favor, but their behavior was different from the apostles because they were constantly trying to organize some kind of military uprising, in the vain hope that they could somehow throw off the Roman yoke. The apostles weren’t trying to overthrow Roman authority in the first place, and in several cases willingly submitted to Roman execution. But in the interests of thoroughness, let’s think through your comment carefully, one step at a time:

            1. “The people that did believe in him were desperate for a savior…”

            Again, this shows a failure to understand the Jewish context. The Jews were taught that one could already be right with God through obedience and remembrance. Salvation as described, embodied and offered in the person of Jesus was foreign to Judaism, and what is more, it functionally destroyed Judaism. It rendered the entire sacrificial system obsolete. It did away with large portions of the Mosaic law. This is shattering. This is ground-breaking. This is not something any devout Jew of the time would have dreamed up on his own.

            2. “liked how Jesus’ teachings justified their lives…”

            I have no idea where this is coming from, but Jesus regularly preached repentance and affirmed John the Baptist, who also preached repentance. He preached harsh parables about the kingdom of heaven, painted a truly terrifying picture of hell, laid down stricter rules than ever when it came to sexual sin and murder, and frequently pointed out specific areas where people needed to alter their behavior. Jesus didn’t affirm sin. To the contrary, he commanded radical change.

            3. “and found hope in his words, found comfort in believing in the afterlife, etc., etc…”

            So, you’re suggesting that Jesus’ closest friends and disciples had no evidence of a resurrection after his indisputable death… but somehow found “comfort” in… what exactly? Where is the comfort in a broken promise and a buried dream—literally? Are you saying they psyched themselves into thinking they saw Jesus alive again? You’re going to stretch the scientific bounds of hallucination to the breaking point if you go down that road. Are you saying they knowingly lied in saying they saw the risen Jesus? What could they possibly hope to gain from that, especially since they would be knowingly placing their faith in something they had no reason to believe? And why would they invent the ritual of a meal to celebrate his death if they knew there was no resurrection? A death, I might add, that was considered particularly shameful across all cultures. That would be the height of absurdity.

            4. “…as per Jesus’ teachings, the most important thing was that the skeptics believed in him as their savior so they could be ‘saved’, and it didn’t matter necessarily how they got to that position.”

            There’s nothing in Jesus’ teachings that says to inveigle souls into the kingdom no matter what. If you’re implying Jesus himself was a huckster, well, fat lot of good that did him if so. I’m honestly not sure where this comment is coming from either.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Oh yes, and I left out one more thing, namely that many Jews already believed in the afterlife at Jesus’ time, or Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come. Certainly it was accepted by all the Pharisees. Here is a Mishnah quote describing the Jewish perspective on the afterlife: “This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.” Here is a Talmud quote as well: “This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.”

        • Matt B

          I think your analogy proves our point better – you have a claim that is orders of magnitude more significant and life changing than finding out our friend committed a murder, and yet your proof is much worse than the examples you illustrated.

    • MIchael E

      The virgin birth is a key foundation to the Christian religion. Everyone would agree that the Pauline letters were the first pieces of the NT that were written. He never once mentions the virgin birth. And though it is hard to conclude by absence of evidence, the fact that he was trying to convince skeptics on the reality of Jesus, it seems that he might have slipped it in once or twice. The first Gospel written, Mark, never mentions it either. The only two places that it is mentioned is in Luke and Matthew who tell dramatically different stories. None of the four Gospels make any reference to the virgin birth within the body of the text. It seems clear that the writer of the bulk of the Gospels did not think it was relevant. Additionally, the historical data does not match to the timelines given. Much more likely, the virgin birth was added to fit the narrative and fulfill the prophecies such as the savior would be born in Bethlehem. There are so many reasons why the who prelude to Christianity was appended many years later is the most likely story.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        I don’t even know where to start with this comment. This sentence alone “the fact that he was trying to convince skeptics on the reality of Jesus…” is wrong in several different ways. First of all, Paul wasn’t writing to skeptics, he was writing to churches and individual Christians who were already intimately familiar with the language of Christianity. Second, no contemporary ancient was in doubt that Jesus EXISTED, and you are articulating a fringe position which goes against the consensus of all respectable NT scholars if you try to assert that. As for the argument from silence, yeah, it’s a really, really lousy way to make an argument for anything. The Emancipation Proclamation—you’d think Ulysses Grant might have mentioned it just ONCE in his memoirs. Marco Polo’s _Il Milione_ should surely mention tea, printed books, the Great Wall, or foot-binding—at least a couple mentions slipped in there somewhere. I could go on and on. With regard to the historical timeline, yes, I’m familiar with the argument about the census. Nathaniel Lardner painstakingly takes that all apart in his exhaustive _Credibility of the Gospel History_.

      • John Fraser

        For Paul it was the Resurrection, not the virgin birth, that was the foundation of Christianity and you can see this emphasis throughout his letters. I think it’s probable that Paul at least knew the story of the virgin birth given the strong evidence that he and Luke were coworkers, but the fact that he never directly mentioned it (it’s possible he alluded to it in Gal. 4:4 but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that) and never developed it as it was in later Christian theology isn’t a problem for me. So I’m a bit puzzled as to why this is even an issue worth talking about. It certainly wouldn’t have been any part of an argument for “the reality of Jesus” as you say, and I’m not sure what you even mean by that. If you mean the reality that Jesus existed, this was not even disputed until the 17th or 18th century so Paul needed no argument for that. If you mean the reality that Jesus is Lord, the Resurrection was Paul’s one and only argument for that.

        The fact is that we DO have two independent accounts of the virgin birth (I’m not sure why you say it isn’t in the body of the text in Matthew and Luke when it certainly is – Luke’s introduction is only 4 verses of chapter 1 and Matthew’s introduction is the genealogy which ends at 1:17). I also don’t understand why you say the virgin birth was invented so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The location of his birth and Mary’s virginity are two entirely separate topics. Matthew simply states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem with no further elaboration as Luke provides, but this had nothing to do with the virgin birth and nothing about the Bethlehem prophecy required it.

        There is some debate about the dating on the part of Matthew and Luke, but there is quite a bit written on this topic. It’s certainly not a cut-and-dried issue. At most that would be an argument against inerrancy or something, but inerrancy is not required for historicity (if it was then we would know almost nothing about history – unless you think you have some inerrant history books somewhere).

        But as for the virgin birth simply being added sometime later, the problem with that argument is actually contained in your own paragraph which acknowledges that Luke and Matthew tell the story very differently, which means they weren’t just copying off of each other or off of some other common source. So there were independent accounts of the virgin birth that predated Matthew and Luke. Remember that in those days there were no printing presses – so communication and transmission of stories was quite a bit slower. So the story had to have been quite early, and the multiple attestation is actually good evidence for historicity independent of questions of inerrancy or inspiration and the like.

  • http://chab123.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/the-hearsay-objection-how-can-the-gospels-be-eyewitness-accounts-if-they-include-things-the-writers-didnt-see/ Eric
  • http://chab123.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/the-hearsay-objection-how-can-the-gospels-be-eyewitness-accounts-if-they-include-things-the-writers-didnt-see/ Eric
  • Speratus

    Esther 156 atheists 0

    Wow, Esther this is what is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,”

    • dave warnock

      Speratus,

      You must be part of the same group that thinks William Lane Craig “wins” all the debates he does. Saying the most words does not equal winning. It’s not the volume of the speech, nor the number of words spoken that wins the day, it’s the content and substance of that which is spoken that matters.

      There has been nothing shared here on this thread in the past few days- with all of the many many words and arguments and apologies (is that what apologists do- apologize? :) that I doubt would cause anyone here (among us agnostics/atheists) to give credibility to the notion that we should put our “faith” in a 1st century prophet who was said to have risen from the grave and is supposed to be returning (any day now as I have been told since 1973 when I was “saved”), simply because an ancient text that is riddled with contractions and errors says we should.

      If that’s the “divine power that is to demolish strongholds” (II Co 10:4), then it is indeed sorely lacking.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        As Bart Ehrman has been quoted in this thread as saying, the vast majority of the errors in the text are insignificant and prove nothing. Of the ones he does insist on making much of, many are actually not errors. The same goes for contradictions. See these links for more details. Happy watching!

        Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels, Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKzSV8bWKk0

        Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels, Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5kJuTkUo0w

        Alleged Contradictions in the Gospels, Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJizWvoGCIg

        Alleged Contradictions in the Gospels, Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww7_NKv6_Sg

        • David W

          Heya Esther,

          This is in response to your January 27, 2014 at 10:21 am comment and all of your comments I suppose.

          Thanks for all the replies, I think I have a good understanding of your position now.

          During my 15 years as a Christian most of those around me relied more upon faith and less upon the authenticity of the documents and of the historical claims.

          It is always interesting to me to learn about new ways(new to me) that the religious use to rationalize their beliefs; I do not think that I have come across your specific framework of rationalization before.

          I have one final question for you, I am curious about the demographics of the participants in this conversation, if you don’t mind, how old are you, or, which generation do you belong to? Also, it appears that you and a few people here seem to know each other, I assume you participate in a Christian forum somewhere, do you happen to know how old, or which generation, the majority of the participants are/fall into?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Hi again David. Thanks for the polite interaction. Although I wish to reiterate my sincere hope that you’ll revise your arguments one day, I appreciate the fact that you articulated your disagreements without… well, looking like a jerk. Which is more than I can say about several of the other skeptics in this thread, and sadly some professional skeptics as well.

            It doesn’t surprise me at all that my approach seems fresh to you. I grew up in the Anglican tradition, so I didn’t attend the kind of church you and a lot of de-converts are coming from, but I’m familiar enough with evangelical subculture that I know exactly what you’re describing. If this conversation has been useful to you in some way, that’s all I could hope for. And although it may not mean much to you at this point, I will pray for you.

            I’m in my 20s. I don’t personally know most of the other people commenting here. A few of them I can tell you are half a generation to a generation older. Another one looks like a grad student by his gravatar. But knowing what I know about the larger apologetics community, my sense is that there is quite a wide demographic range. There are a lot of young grad students, but there are also a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s. Some come from philosophical backgrounds, others don’t. There are resources for people at any level to get started, but there is always more for people who want to go deeper.

          • https://plus.google.com/112255322654389763589 Red River

            Hello, David,

            You said you were a Christian for 15 years. Are you familiar with the following verses:

            John 3:1-3

            1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

            2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

            3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

            Can you tell us about how you became born-again, please?

        • Brian

          lol…With enough imagination (and desperation), along with the willingness to insert assumptions into the text that no author mentions, literally any contradiction can be “reconciled”.

          • David W

            Yup. Also, I think that this applies here, as well as many other errors in cognition.

            “… motivated reasoning … is a well-studied proclivity in humans to acquire a belief, and then evaluate all new information they encounter in ways to make it conform to that belief. Preference inconsistent information is critically evaluated with much more sever skepticism, and preference consistent information is accepted with much less critical scrutiny. That is, if it’s not what we want to hear, we figure out some hyper-critical way to find flaws in it and reject it. We all do it about lots of topics.”

            I agree that we all do this with a lot of topics, unfortunately, some do it with supernatural beliefs, and they then attempt to enforce their belief system on the population at large, through various avenues.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Actually, a careful reading and vetting of many skeptical authors reveals that your description applies much better to the opposite side. Earlier in this thread, I gave just one among many examples where Bart Ehrman engages in blatant deception to further his thesis that Matthew’s gospel wasn’t written by Matthew. Furthermore, if you actually watch any of the videos, let alone all four, you will see how many of the “contradictions” result from sheer ignorance of context, genre, other pertinent facts, etc.

            But what many people don’t realize is that even in the cases where the skeptics aren’t just out and out getting their facts wrong, the contradictions are no more significant and often actually LESS dramatic than the sort of thing we encounter daily in the news or in other ancient documents. For example, the speaker gives an example of two different accounts of the life of Jonathan Edwards, which end with two wildly different dates for his death. What do we make of this? Do we conclude there was no such person as Jonathan Edwards? No, actually it turns out that there were two men—a father and a son, whose lives happened to match in every particular until the date of death. In another example, two different men are reported to have made a spoken presentation in public—did the presentation never happen? Actually, both men did, but the more illustrious one was reading too softly to be heard while the other acted as his “voice,” projecting the words for the audience to hear.

            Let me give you two more examples from research I’ve done on various topics. When I wrote a research paper on the Battle of Blood River, I came across two divergent primary source accounts that gave different numbers for the wounded, and even contradicted each other when it came to a few of the particulars of the wounds. As I recall, I couldn’t resolve that particular contradiction. Did it fling the entire Battle of Blood River into question? Obviously not. Another example: Sources are in agreement that Steve McQueen met with Billy Graham before his death, and that when he did die, he had a Bible on his chest. However, I found different accounts of how he met Billy Graham. A newspaper article said he attended a revival and met Graham there. Other sources said he met with Graham immediately before his final operation and death. There was also disagreement over which Bible verse the Bible on his chest was turned to when he died. However, it was never in question that he met with Billy Graham or that he had a Bible on his chest when he died.

            There are many, many more examples I could give of the sort of thing that no scholar would give a second thought to, were the documents in question not the gospels. If anything, the fact that they are so commonplace in real history and reportage is a mark of the gospels’ veracity, as carefully forged documents would strive to avoid apparent contradictions.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            (To clarify my wording a bit better, the fact that there are some apparent contradictions in the texts similar to that which we encounter regularly in other accepted historical accounts is a mark of veracity in the texts.)

        • Mary

          How commonplace is magic in real history Esther? What is the historical consensus on that? When we hear other reports of virgin births, angelic beings revealing things to individuals through blinding visions, incidents involving the laws of gravity being suspended as people float into the sky, etc..do you think most historians typically classify these kind of stories as sober history? Or do most typically think there is something else going on, perhaps related to religious fervor, gullibility, and the quirks of human psychology? Be honest now.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Since a miracle is by its definition a rare event, we must require strong evidence indeed for its occurrence, whether we are discussing a contemporary event or an event reported in a historical document. However, when explanations of religious fervor, gullibility, and the quirks of human psychology fail miserably and utterly to account for the body of evidence we have, the priors are wiped out by the Bayes factor. I’ve just been reviewing the theory of this myself. It’s quite fascinating. If I had a whiteboard I could draw a nice little picture for you, but a little background in probability theory would probably be helpful before you could follow the explanation.

          • John Fraser

            Just to add to your comment, Esther, I would also point out that miracles may not be as rare as is commonly thought. Craig Keener has done a seminal work on this in his two-volume tome entitled “Miracles.” One of the many takeaway points from Keener is that there are literally millions of eyewitness reports of miracles around the world today (actually hundreds of millions is not an exagerration). That doesn’t mean that one should accept the evidence uncritically as you say, but of course it is equally uncritical to simply dismiss it all as rubbish as these skeptics would do.

            Here is a blog post I wrote on this a while back: http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2012/10/03/hume-and-modern-miracle-claims/.

            And if you want to talk probability theory, you need to have a conversation with Tim McGrew. Have you seen his article on miracles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? It’s here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/. But it sounds like you are already up on that topic!

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yeah, I’ve heard about Keener’s work and some of his story, and I agree that there’s some very interesting material to consider there. As I think I outlined above, I personally am content not to advance one position definitely over the other. I regard it as an open question, and I’m open to evidence that might convince me. You’re absolutely right that one can’t just say “Never happens, end of story” without looking over that evidence. I was merely letting that premise go in my discussion with Dave W for the sake of the argument.

            I’ve been meaning to read that entire article by McGrew, but if memory serves me right I only read parts of it. So thanks for the reminder! I will check out your blog as well.

          • dave warnock

            John, and Esther-

            Let me get this straight. You believe a snake talked in the garden, and that a donkey also talked, and that several million people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years…after they had walked across dry land at the bottom of an ocean, and that god destroyed all his creation except Noah’s family and 2by2 animals, and that Samson killed a 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass (if I am getting that straight from memory) and that Elisha called down a curse on some boys for mocking his baldness and the bears mauled them. Elijah flew up into heaven in a flaming chariot, and Moses got 10 tablets of stone from God not once but twice (with 2 different 10 Commandments, by the way); while going without food for 80 days! And that Jesus walked on water and that he rose from the dead (as did Lazarus) and that he rose “up” into heaven in front of a bunch of people and that he will come back again (soon) in such a way that “every” eye will see him all at once, and that there will be a great battle at the end where he will FINALLY defeat satan- my GOD what has taken him so long! AND….that miracles still happen today- and that demons and angels and witches still exist, and could be anywhere.

            I know I left out a bunch but that was just a random collection.

            You believe all that, if I am to understand your theology correctly. Right?

            It’s a simple question.

            Thanks

            Dave

          • Esther O’Reilly

            The short answer is yes, except that John is convinced of the regular occurrence of miracles today, while I don’t have a position on that question. However, your description “a random collection” is quite apt, especially since you’ve bundled together some insignificant occurrences (like the bears mauling the mocking little boys) with claims like the Resurrection accounts. Honestly, if Jesus rose from the dead, I could really care less whether or not that particular incident happened to Elijah. So, while I appreciate your attempt to change the subject, let’s stay on target here.

            I have to ask Dave, exactly what do you hope to accomplish with your “question”? Are you trying to learn something? Do you even want to learn something, or do you just want to keep making like Miracle Max? “I’m not listening! La-la-la-la-la!”

          • Mary

            Since I can’t reply to Esther’s reply (for some strange reason), and since Esther did not answer it, I will just repeat my question:

            How commonplace is magic in real history Esther? What is the historical consensus on that? When we hear other reports of virgin births, angelic beings revealing things to individuals through blinding visions, incidents involving the laws of gravity being suspended as people float into the sky, piles of dead bodies rising and walking through cities, etc..do you think most historians typically classify these kind of stories as sober history? Or do most typically think there is something else going on, perhaps related to religious fervor, gullibility, and the quirks of human psychology? What is the historical consensus on magic?

  • Speratus

    Esther 156 atheists 0

    Wow, Esther this is what is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,”

  • DB

    Esther,

    I’m trying to catch up. Please clarify to me your position on the authorship of the four canonical gospels? Sorry, if you have stated your thoughts somewhere above, where I may have missed reading it.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I think they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Is that what you were looking for?

  • DB

    Esther,

    I’m trying to catch up. Please clarify to me your position on the authorship of the four canonical gospels? Sorry, if you have stated your thoughts somewhere above, where I may have missed reading it.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I think they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Is that what you were looking for?

  • DB

    Yes. Thanks. Follow up question. What is the best evidence for that position?

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Where would you like to start?

  • DB

    Yes. Thanks. Follow up question. What is the best evidence for that position?

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Where would you like to start?

  • DB

    I dunno. Throw me some softballs.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I meant which gospel—there are different lines of evidence for each of them.

  • DB

    I dunno. Throw me some softballs.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I meant which gospel—there are different lines of evidence for each of them.

  • DB

    Sorry. Mark and Matthew.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Let me sleep on it, collect some material and get back to you tomorrow. Full disclosure: I’m an enthusiastic amateur apologist, not a New Testament scholar in any official sense. So for literally the “best of the best,” with ALL the goods, all the details, and all the footnotes, definitely go read an established expert like Bruce Metzger (RIP). Also, while the discussion on this thread has been framed a little bit more generally, there’s still good stuff to think about in the comments I’ve already left so far (and that others have left).

      Meanwhile, anyone else still following is welcome to chip in with further commentary to answer DB’s question.

      • Greg

        Since you consider Metzger a credible authority, you may be interested to know that he agreed with the majority consensus among scholars on this issue, which is that the gospels were written by anonymous, second-generation Christians living 35-75 years after the events being narrated.

        • John Fraser

          Greg: What’s your source for this attribution to Metzger?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I think Greg may be thinking of this quote. But it’s quite a leap from this quote to his comment:

            “The text itself of each Gospel is anonymous and its title represents what later tradition had to say about the identity of the author. Of course the probabilities are that such traditions contain at least a substantial hint as to the identity of the evangelist. Sometimes, however, internal considerations are such as to cast doubt upon the full accuracy of the later tradition.”

            Metzger. The New Testament, its background, growth, and content, 1985. p. 96-97.

          • John Fraser

            I have to say that I’m more familiar with Metzger’s work in textual criticism, but here are some statements he made in an interview with Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ about the NT canon: “Basically the early church had three criteria [for determining canonicity] . . . First, the books must have apostolic authority – that is, they must have been written either by apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by followers of apostles. So in the case of Mark and Luke, while they weren’t among the twelve disciples, early tradition has it that Mark was a helper of Peter, and Luke was an associate of Paul” (Case for Christ, 66).

            Now, this doesn’t explicitly affirm the traditional authorship, it simply states one of the criteria used by the early church and what the tradition stated. But later Strobel asks, “So the four gospels we have in the New Testament today met those criteria [including the criteria of apostolic sources], while others didn’t?” Metzger says, “Yes” (Case for Christ, 67). So that sure sounds like an affirmation of the traditional authorship.

            Given that, I’m skeptical that Metzger would put any canonical Gospel as late as 75 years later which would be the second century. In the same interview with Strobel, he notes that the non-canonical gospels were written later than the canonical ones, “in the second, third, fourth, fifth, even sixth century, long after Jesus” (Case for Christ, 67). This implies that he believes the canonical Gospels were all from the first century (besides his affirmation that they were written either by apostles or by their co-workers).

            I’d have to see something more explicit, but Metzger was the kind of scholar who was so careful and nuanced in his statements out of sheer habit that sometimes it’s hard to see exactly what he’s affirming.

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            The late Bruce Metzger made it clear in his apologetic introduction, The New Testament, it’s background, growth, and content, 1985, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, p. 97 that the apostle Matthew can “scarcely be the final author” of the gospel attributed to him. Regarding the fourth gospel, even though the conclusion that the author was John the son of Zebedee was “early and widespread”, Metzger stated that “it is clear that others were also involved in its composition and authentication.” Metzger concluded: “No simple solution to the problem of authorship is possible, but it is probable that the fourth Gospel preserves Palestinian reminiscences of Jesus’ ministry.” (p. 98). Metzger wrote (pp. 96-97):

            Actually not much is known about these matters [the identity of the evangelists and the date of composition of each Gospel]. The text itself of each Gospel is anonymous and its title represents what later tradition had to say about the identity of the author. Of course the probabilities are that such traditions contain at least a substantial hint as to the identity of the evangelist. Sometimes, however, internal considerations are such as to cast doubt upon the full accuracy of the later tradition.

            Metzger had this to say about the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (pp. 238-239):

            .there are features about these letters which make it difficult to attribute them to the apostle Paul, and most scholars believe that they either were written by an amanuensis to whom Paul gave great freedom in their composition, or, more probably, where drawn up near the end of the first century by a devoted follower of Paul, who utilized several shorter letters of the apostle which otherwise would have been lost.

            Metzger was quicker to dismiss the Petrine authorship of II Peter (pp. 258-259):

            Although the author of this letter calls himself “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1), and makes reference to his being present at the transfiguration of Jesus Christ (1:18), several features of its style and contents have led nearly all modern scholars to regard it as the work of an unknown author of the early second century who wrote in Peter’s name.

            Unlike the style of I Peter, which is written in fluent koine Greek, the style of II Peter is almost pseudo-literary. The wording is unusual, artificial, and often obscure; it is the one book in the New Testament which gains by translation. Though some have suggested that the marked difference in style between the two letters might be accounted for by supposing them to be the work of different amanuenses, several passages of II Peter point to a date long after Peter’s lifetime. Thus, the section dealing with the delay of the second coming of Christ (3:3-4) presupposes that the first generation of Christians-to which Peter belonged-had passed away. Furthermore, the letters of Paul, it appears, have not only been collected but are referred to as “scripture” (3:16), a term that was not applied to them until some considerable time after the apostle’s death. The second chapter of II Peter embodies most of the little letter of Jude, which probably dates from the latter part of the first century. Moreover, II Peter is not definitely referred to by early church writers until the third century, when Origen speaks of its disputed authenticity. In the light of such internal and external evidence one must conclude that II Peter was drawn up sometime after A.D. 100 by an admirer of Peter who wrote under the name of the great apostle in order to give his letter greater authority.

            The letter is a general one addressed to all Christians in all places (1:1). An analysis of the contents shows that the author had two main purposes in writing: (a) to counteract the teaching of false prophets and heretics, and (b) to strengthen the faith of Christians in the second coming of Christ and make them living accordingly.

            Regarding the authorship of Hebrews Metzger wrote (p. 248):

            In addition to Paul many other guesses have been made about the author of the letter . [Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Aquila, Priscilla] . There is no compelling proof for any of these, and the only sure conclusion about the authorship of the letter is that it was not written by Paul.

          • John Fraser

            Cjoint: Your response is somewhat far afield, since we were talking about the Gospels and not the epistles. There is a view that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Aramaic which was later translated into Greek (perhaps with some material added), which might be what Metzger is getting at there. I would have to see the larger context of the discussion. It’s certainly a possibility that there was some editing done to make the final version, but that would be no different than Pascal’s Pensées which consists of postmously edited and published fragments of his. But he is still considered the author (it’s a rough example, but I think it makes the point). But you may be missing the point of what Metzger is saying when he says that the text of each Gospel is anonymous. I mentioned this in a different comment as well, but that simply means that the author’s name is not identified in the body of the book. But that does not mean that it’s an anonymous book any more than some book on my shelf would be anonymous just because I tore off the cover and title page with the author’s name (assuming his or her name did not appear anywhere else).

            I already touched on the issues with John’s Gospel. I also notice that you say nothing about his view of Mark or Luke.

          • dave warnock

            This is remarkable. Truly it is. Let’s step back a minute and look at this picture.

            The all-knowing, all-powerful God wanted to get a very important message to his people. So he chose a time marked by rudimentary communications and difficult copying methods; chose a mostly illiterate people in a hostile environment to be the prime conveyors of his message; and then was unable to preserve the message in a way that is incontrovertible and clear to see and understand for the generations to come (we all acknowledge that there are no originals). After all, this message- and what we as individuals think about it; is the most important issue before every man, woman, and child that has ever been, or will ever be born. Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance. And this is the best he could do?

            So here we are centuries later- still debating authorship and dating and reliability and every single bit of minutia concerning the delivery of this most-important message- the collection of writings known as the Bible. And books upon books have been written by learned scholars on both sides of the aisle, proclaiming that their view is the correct one. And denominations have peeled off of denominations over the years because one group believed that what this book says wasn’t being followed well enough. So they started their own branch- and did things better; guided by the book.

            God had waited several million years to start the human project; he couldn’t have waited a few thousand more so that there would be recording devices and smart phones? He could have had his disciples recording everything he said- videotaping the miracles; etc. He could have done interviews with media; Q&A. And it would all be available for generations to come. They could examine what he said and did and then make an informed decision as to whether they wanted to follow him.

            But for reasons Christians have always said (to me) are about the mystery of God; and His ways being higher than our ways, he chose to do it this way. And here we are still debating it all these years later.

            I can’t think of a way it could have been handled any more poorly! Seriously.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Thanks cjoint, for copying and pasting that long comment for us. ;-)

            I named Metzger off the top of my head because in his time, he was the world’s leading authority on textual criticism. That was his main specialty. But after a little more reflection and research, I realize I should have taken into account the scope of that specialty and the time period in which he was writing. The quotes you’ve given from the expanded edition are also found in the original edition, which dates back to 1965. Metzger’s multiple-source hypothesis was reflecting the scholarly consensus at the time, but more recent discoveries and developments have actually solidified the hypothesis that the gospel is Matthew’s. See Tal Ilan’s lexicon of Jewish names for an example. Furthermore, if you read the entire context of those quotes, Metzger seems to undermine the one argument he makes against Matthian authorship in this sentence: “… for why should one who presumably had been an eyewitness of much that he records depend so slavishly upon the account given by Mark, who had not been an eyewitness?” by going on to describe the ways in which Mark gives evidence of being based directly on Peter’s reminiscences. This implies that anyone using Mark would have considered Mark to be reliable since it’s essentially Peter speaking through Mark. There are many clues and details within Mark that point to Peter as the primary source, and as John has pointed out, the fact that it’s not called the Gospel of Peter, which would be the obvious choice for anyone trying to MAKE it look reliable, and in fact bears the name of someone who was the cause of some discord in the early church, is actually a point in favor of its authenticity.

            One small detail, which isn’t a huge thing but something to consider, is how when the apostles are named in a list, Matthew’s gospel alone adds the descriptor “the publican” after his name (chapter 10, verse 3). Publicans were a despised class in that culture. This could be a small mark of self-deprecation on Matthew’s part—just reminding the readers “And don’t forget, I was a publican.”

            As for the point about John, this is primarily an argument of style. Metzger opines that it would be awkward for John to refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” But even if we allow for another hand adding it those particular verses, this doesn’t cast the entire authorship of John into question.

            Now, as John has pointed out, commenter DB’s original question didn’t extend to the authorship of the epistles. But we can go there too. First of all, everyone allows unanimously that the first four are Pauline. Really, no disagreement though. Bart Ehrman additionally acknowledges Philippians, Philemon and 1 Thessalonians to be authentic. Metzger in addition attributes Colossians to Paul. The main argument against the attribution of the individual epistles (Timothy, for instance), as with Metzger’s point about John, is one of style. But this is hardly a knock-down case, in either instance. People’s styles are known to vary widely depending on the context and the person they’re writing to. We would expect Paul to write differently to a beloved disciple from the way he would address a church, particularly when he needs to deal sternly with that church, as he does in several epistles. The Petrine epistles are commonly attacked—I haven’t researched that area thoroughly, but again, it’s not relevant to the main question. Finally, the authorship of Hebrews has always been an open question. Exactly what that’s supposed to prove, I’m not sure.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            *Meant to say “Really, no disagreement THERE.” Apologize for any other typos.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            “Mostly illiterate?” “Rudimentary communications?” Wow. The snobbery is thick. Some familiarity with Jewish culture and oral tradition would help here.

          • dave warnock

            Esther, I think you know what I am talking about. Compared to modern communication and recoding methods, passing down oral traditions is rudimentary. That’s what I was making a reference to. There is no snobbery there- though you continue to try to paint me in that corner. Once again, you have bypassed the main point of my comment. You tend to pick through comments and seize on a single phrase or element of the comment and try to refute that- or belittle it. I am talking about advances in civilization. You don’t think it would have been easier to record the words and deeds of Jesus if he begun his ministry today as opposed to several thousand years ago? And are you arguing that Peter, James, and John could read and write? (the book of Acts refers to them as ignorant and unlearned) Is that a part of their training as fishermen? If you don’t care to respond to the body of my comment, maybe you should simply pass mine by and lock in on a different one. I am talking about the time and place that God apparently chose to break into human history with his gospel message.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            This is in reply to Dave Warnock’s latest comment directed to me. Dave, first of all Luke is describing the perception of the Sanhedrin, who held the apostles in contempt. He is not saying in his own words that they were ignorant. Moreover, “unlearned” by no means has to mean illiterate. In fact, Jewish children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and Torah in the synagogues from an early age. Boys learning a trade would have to balance that with Torah learning. Jesus certainly did. The word “unlearned” could mean that Peter and John did not have advanced training, like Paul did under Gamaliel. Also, one wouldn’t expect a fisherman to be a particularly good rhetorician or persuasive public speaker. This caught the priests by surprise. These men weren’t rabbis, they weren’t teachers or scholars, they were plain-spoken men of trade, yet here they were making bold, deep theological pronouncements.

          • dave warnock

            But we still don’t have the original documents, do we? And we don’t have recordings like we would in today’s age. So, countless scholars and all of us amateur theologians debate year after year as to what was what “back in the day”. And we’re as divided as ever on such a major, major topic. According to evangelical Christianity, the eternal destiny of every person ever born depends on those documents. And, that- again, is my main point in this comment. And again I will say- it seems to me that god chose a very odd way to get that message through; and did a poor job of preserving it. If he could inspire these guys (whoever they were!) to write it down, couldn’t he have figured out a way to preserve what they wrote?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Three things:

            1. You’re putting a lot of weight on the fact that people are deeply divided over this major topic, implying thereby that the answer isn’t clear. But can we not point to many times in history when people have been deeply divided over a major issue where one side was clearly right? “Lots of smart people seem to disagree with you” doesn’t strike me as the best argument. Especially since…

            2. Your own side is probably more biased than you think. I keep using the example of Bart Ehrman because it’s so relevant here. This is a very smart guy, with an impressive command of the original languages. But this does not equal good judgement. Time and time again, he presents something as fact when a little more digging reveals that he has slanted, clouded, and sometimes outright twisted the facts to fit his desired narrative. Now I’m not saying Christian scholars shouldn’t be held to the same standard. What I am saying is that it’s simply disingenuous to assume that “atheist biblical scholar” automatically equals “fair, factual, unbiased.” Finally…

            3. The fact that we don’t have the original copies of the documents hasn’t been significant enough to prevent almost unanimous scholarly consensus about at least the gospel of Luke and many of Paul’s letters. So in general, saying “It’s hopeless, we don’t have the originals” is not true or convincing by itself. Good scholars understand this.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            (Correction/clarification: The AUTHORSHIP of Luke and Acts is not unanimously acknowledged, however, scholars are in agreement that the author was the same, was a close friend of Paul’s and is an incredibly reliable source for the history of its time. Moreover, the fact that Acts ends abruptly before Paul’s death c.67 is another piece of evidence indicating an early date. This is an important point: Doubt about the precise NAME on the document isn’t the same thing as doubt about the TEXT. There’s a significant difference.)

          • John Fraser

            Esther,

            I wonder if Metzger’s position changed later in his life. In the Strobel interview he sounds like he basically accepts the traditional authorships. You’re right about the argument against Matthean authorship based on his dependence on Mark – that one just evaporates under the evidence for Mark being based on Peter’s testimony. I actually used that argument myself many years ago as a young Bible college student and didn’t find out about the Mark-Peter connection until much later, but Metzger should have known better.

            Also, good catch on the copy-and-paste job by cjoint. LOL! It looks like he actually copied it from a Muslim apologetics site! So we have him quoting a Muslim apologist quoting Metzger. And here I assumed he was taking it straight from Metzger! Looks like I can’t trust anything from cjoint in the future!

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Hey FYI, I wasn’t trying to pass that off as my own but I’m traveling and I wanted to find some Metzger quotes, because my understanding from seminary was that he wasn’t in the early date camp and took lots of flack from the historical grammatical crowd. So I thought those quotes were appropriate, from a Muslim or not, my memory of that book told me they were accurate. But my iPhone posted it before I was even done and I was like whatever. Frankly I find the arrogance and sarcasm from you guys fitting. In fact your so sure about your facts I’m surprised you need faith at all. Your dismissive of so many points from scholars on your own side and are so entrenched in belief defendant realism it’s hardily worth the time to respond. Read the damn book yourself.

          • John Fraser

            Dave Warnock,

            This thread is getting rather unwieldy, and your comment is quite off topic. I don’t find the “why would God do it THAT way?” argument to be very interesting. For one thing, it’s hardly relevant to me what YOU think God should have done, since you really aren’t in the same league as him (as much as you might be tempted on occasion to think you would know better). For another thing, even if he did do things differently and this all happened, say, last year with photos and a YouTube video, you still wouldn’t believe it and people would still argue about it. So I would say it’s a moot point.

          • dave warnock

            John, I respectfully disagree. It’s perfectly acceptable for me as a non-believer to ask why god did something a certain way. I guess, as a Christian, you choose not to raise those questions. That’s fine. But I do. I’m making an observation here. All these years have passed and scholars still can’t agree on the particulars. That is a valid observation if we’re on the discussion of the veracity and authenticity of sacred texts- especially if those texts are purportedly telling each of us how we are to live and condemning us to eternal torment if we don’t believe properly. I think it’s very reasonable to say: hmmmm, wonder why god chose to do it that way.

            And as for saying “you still wouldn’t believe it”….well, I did believe it. For 35 years.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Ha, thanks. I’ve seen the full context for some of those quotes, so I think they’re all legitimately drawn from that but I still thought the copy and paste job was amusing.

          • John Fraser

            Hi cjoint,

            Well, if you’re going to quote from a source like that it would help to indicate so up front and be open about it so as not to leave yourself susceptible to the charge of engaging in something a little fishy. Especially since you probably knew that saying up front that you were quoting a Muslim source would raise suspicions of bias (I think it’s possible that the author is reading ambiguous statements in a tendentious manner).

            Just a couple of things I wanted to respond to. You said, “In fact your so sure about your facts I’m surprised you need faith at all.’

            If your definition of faith is “belief without evidence,” then no I don’t need that. Actually that was addressed in the o.p. Facts do not replace faith, facts strengthen faith. So there is no antithesis between having facts and having faith.

            Also, you said, “Your dismissive of so many points from scholars on your own side and are so entrenched in belief defendant realism it’s hardily worth the time to respond. Read the damn book yourself.”

            Well, I don’t think I’ve been dismissive of anything and in fact I provided a bunch of Metzger quotes from an interview with Lee Strobel. And points where I disagree with Metzger I give my reasons for that (although my first interest was in just figuring out exactly what he said). But I might read the book myself at some point.

          • John Fraser

            Dave – Okay, so I retract the comment about how you still wouldn’t believe. Nevertheless, it still isn’t a good argument to say that God shouldn’t have done things the way Christians say he did because the simple fact is you would have to be omniscient in order to know that! In other words, for the objection to work you would have to actually be God yourself, and you aren’t. That’s my point.

      • John Fraser

        Let me chip in here. Mark is an easier one because of the fact that Mark was not an apostle or even an important figure in the early church. In fact all we know of him from Acts was that he was a failure as a missionary to such an extent that Paul refused to work with him for at least a time (Acts 15:37-39). What this means is that Mark would be the last person anyone would falsely attribute a Gospel to. Pseudonymous writings like that were attributed to people like Peter, Thomas, Mary, or even Judas – people of repute (or disrepute as the case may be) but who were directly involved in the events. Matthew was an apostle, but he’s also one of the apostles with the lowest profile of them all. His name is mentioned in Acts only once in the first chapter and we never hear from him again. Again, not a likely candidate for a pseudonymous attribution, albeit somewhat higher than Mark.

        With both of these writers you have early external attribution of authorship and you also have a complete absence of any alternative authorial traditions. If the names were appended at a later date after they had already been copied and distributed for some time then previous copies would have had no name. Let’s say someone in Alexandria decided (for some unknown reason) to say that Mark had written that Gospel. So he wrote Mark at the top and passed it on. That wouldn’t affect copies in, say, Rome. So what are the chances that the guy in Rome would also independently decide to say that Mark wrote it? About zero. You would expect to have other authorial traditions for these books in that case, but we have none. All of the full copies we have of these books attribute them to Mark and Matthew. All other ancient authorities from the second century on say that Matthew and Mark wrote a Gospel. Papias writes that Mark was Peter’s interpreter. In other words, Mark wrote his Gospel based on what Peter said. Thus it would be very odd for Mark to be attributed to Mark and be given wide authority and acceptance among Christians because of the connection to Peter if Mark didn’t actually write it that way. For any other book, these consideration would constitute conclusive proof.

        So far we have lack of alternative authorial traditions, universal attribution of authorship (all surviving copies contain the same attribution), and early external attribution. But we also have internal considerations. Do these books contain evidence of having come from eyewitness sources (remember that Mark was supposedly writing based on Peter’s testimony)? Yes, they do. Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White notes the accuracy of the Gospel accounts of the Roman legal system from the first-century even in minute details in, for example, the trial of Jesus. This is significant because a forger from a later generation would not have had access to this information for the reason that later Roman law was different. Sherwin-White gives several examples showing that the Gospels do indeed give unmistakable evidence of eyewitness testimony in those places where they can be verified (which is all that a historian can ask for).

        Another piece of evidence is noted by Richard Bauckham who has studied the use of names in the Gospels. Based on analyses of Jewish burial records from the first century, he discovered that the distribution of names in the Gospels corresponds perfectly to the distribution of names from the time period (ie. names which were more common from that time are also more common in the Gospels, and more common names, like Simon, are given another descriptor to distinguish one Simon from another whereas less common names have no additional descriptor appended). It would be very unlikely for later writers to independently come up with such details by chance. Also, the extensive presence of place names in the Gospels including the names of small villages is not something that would be present in forgeries and isn’t present in the non-canonical Gospels. With Mark, for example, we see that Mark mentions 73 specific place names. Compare that with the non-canonical gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, and Peter. Thomas has 1 place name, Mary has 0, Judas has 1, Philip has 3, and Peter has 4. But this is more striking when we see that the place names in the non-canonical gospels are names like Jerusalem, Judea, and the Garden of Joseph – place names that were well-known even by foreigners and later writers. By contrast Mark gives us dozens of names of small towns and villages in Palestine.

        The claim that the Gospels are anonymous documents, therefore, is without any basis whatsoever. In fact the skeptic has to use a novel definition of “anonymous” to make this claim – namely that the name of the author does not appear in the body of the text. By this definition many ancient works would have to be considered anonymous (I researched some of the works of Lucian which would have to be called anonymous by this standard, and I’m confident there are many others), as well as a lot of modern books. That’s because the name of the author might appear on the cover but not in the text. But I have never seen such a standard applied to any other book than the canonical Gospels. Thus I would have to declare it to be a bogus standard. The Gospels pass the historical tests of attribution and internal and external confirmation. The one question mark in my mind surrounds John, but that has to do with which “John” authored it (John was a very common name). The prima facie case for the authorship of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (I haven’t touched on Luke but the case for Luke is if anything much stronger) is as solid as any case for any similar document, so the burden to show otherwise is clearly on the skeptic. I have examined the arguments against, and there simply is no good argument there.

        • DB

          Thanks John for the reply. I have a few questions about your comments. I may have missed quite a bit seeing how much this thread has grown so if I ask a question that you have answered somewhere else please forgive me.

          “With both of these writers you have early external attribution of authorship and you also have a complete absence of any alternative authorial traditions.”

          If I’m not mistaken the earliest description of the early apostolic writings is by Justin Martyr 150 CE, and it was simply termed “Memoirs of the Apostles.” I believe he quotes some verses from the gospels? This is before Irenaeus , around 185 CE, names teh four gospels. Would not this reference without naming specific writers be considered competing evidence of the attributed authorship?

          You mentioned Papias. To me this is the strongest and earliest (125CE) evidence of attribution of Mark and Matthew to their respected books. However, Papias’ description of what Matthew wrote down “the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue translated by others in to Greek” is not what we have in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is so much more. Coupled with the fact that scholarship holds that Mark came first, then Matthew used Mark as source material. Should not we respect the anonymity of the gospels and at least hold to a neutral position concerning authorship? I’m not a scholar but, IMO, the debate seems more nuanced.

          • John Fraser

            DB,

            “If I’m not mistaken the earliest description of the early apostolic writings is by Justin Martyr 150 CE, and it was simply termed “Memoirs of the Apostles.” I believe he quotes some verses from the gospels? This is before Irenaeus , around 185 CE, names teh four gospels. Would not this reference without naming specific writers be considered competing evidence of the attributed authorship?”

            I don’t see how that would be a competing tradition. Justin doesn’t name someone else as the author and he actually refers to the Gospel of Mark as the “memoirs” of Peter, which is exactly the same term that Papias used for it. But Papias, as you pointed out, was earlier so I don’t understand why you say that Justin Martyr was the earliest. Nevertheless Justin’s testimony is perfectly consistent with the other traditions.

            “You mentioned Papias. To me this is the strongest and earliest (125CE) evidence of attribution of Mark and Matthew to their respected books. However, Papias’ description of what Matthew wrote down “the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue translated by others in to Greek” is not what we have in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is so much more.”

            One issue here has to do with the translation of the word “logia,” which isn’t necessarily just limited to “sayings” even though your English translation renders it that way. Papias appears to use the same term to refer to not just sayings but also to deeds of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. But yes, obviously the Gospel of Matthew is in Greek, so it could be a translation of an earlier work in Aramaic.

            “Coupled with the fact that scholarship holds that Mark came first, then Matthew used Mark as source material. Should not we respect the anonymity of the gospels and at least hold to a neutral position concerning authorship?”

            I don’t think we would do that with any other works of this kind from the same era, unless you know of some example that I’ve never heard of. Works are attributed to authors with far less evidence than this.

            “I’m not a scholar but, IMO, the debate seems more nuanced.”

            The debate is certainly more detailed, and there are any number of scholarly books written about it. On a blog thread I can only give a thumbnail sketch of the main issues. And certainly with Mark one of the big issues is why a book of such importance would be attributed to a virtually unknown Christian worker if he didn’t write it. With Matthew there is obviously more reason to do so, but with Matthew being one of the most obscure of the twelve and the absence of alternative authorial traditions (by which I mean either somebody else named as the author in another document or a copy of Matthew with somebody else’s name at the top as the author), the burden of proof is on those who say that it was written by someone else.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      DB, in addition to all of John Fraser’s great comments, here’s something to consider about the dating of Matthew and Mark (and Luke as well): All three synoptic gospels contain a prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ mouth. Now, if these accounts were written after 70 AD (roughly 40 years after Jesus is speaking), we would expect them to magnify the fact that the prophecy had indeed been fulfilled. Furthermore, we would expect them to make sure the details of this prophecy unambiguously matched up with the particulars of the event. But Jesus’ injunction to “flee to the hills” contradicts the actual flight to Pella. Jesus’ words are also mingled with some obscurer, apocalyptic language indicating an end times prophecy. Forgers writing after 70 AD would have made a cleaner separation. As it is, the accounts indicate that this is simply the way Jesus put it, and they are simply reporting what they heard, without artificially orchestrating anything to make a tidier passage and before the destruction actually took place.

      • John Fraser

        That’s a very good point, Esther, I’m glad you raised it. John A.T. Robinson (a moderately liberal scholar) used this as the basis for his argument that the entire NT was written before 70 because nowhere in the NT is there any hint that Jerusalem was destroyed. This point is even stronger when we note that Luke DOES record the fulfillment of Agabus’ prophecy of a famine in Acts 11:28, so apparently if he knew of a prophecy that was fulfilled, he recorded both prophecy and fulfillment.

        • ctcss

          I also find it interesting that that author of Luke and Acts commented very specifically on the death of James (the brother of John) at Herod’s hand. There is also the specific death, by execution, of Stephen, at Saul/Paul’s insistence. However, despite the later mention of James (the brother of Jesus, and a leader in the Jerusalem church) in Acts, as well as the many mentions of Paul and all of his physical trials at the hands of others, neither James’ nor Paul’s deaths are mentioned. Since it is known that both were executed before 70, it strikes me as being logical that Acts (as well as Luke) were also written before 70.

    • http://gravatar.com/timmcgrew Tim

      DB,

      I have a lecture on the authorship of the gospels, if you’re interested:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gldvim1yjYM

      The sound quality isn’t great, particularly at the beginning, but it can be understood.

  • DB

    Sorry. Mark and Matthew.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Let me sleep on it, collect some material and get back to you tomorrow. Full disclosure: I’m an enthusiastic amateur apologist, not a New Testament scholar in any official sense. So for literally the “best of the best,” with ALL the goods, all the details, and all the footnotes, definitely go read an established expert like Bruce Metzger (RIP). Also, while the discussion on this thread has been framed a little bit more generally, there’s still good stuff to think about in the comments I’ve already left so far (and that others have left).

      Meanwhile, anyone else still following is welcome to chip in with further commentary to answer DB’s question.

      • John Fraser

        Let me chip in here. Mark is an easier one because of the fact that Mark was not an apostle or even an important figure in the early church. In fact all we know of him from Acts was that he was a failure as a missionary to such an extent that Paul refused to work with him for at least a time (Acts 15:37-39). What this means is that Mark would be the last person anyone would falsely attribute a Gospel to. Pseudonymous writings like that were attributed to people like Peter, Thomas, Mary, or even Judas – people of repute (or disrepute as the case may be) but who were directly involved in the events. Matthew was an apostle, but he’s also one of the apostles with the lowest profile of them all. His name is mentioned in Acts only once in the first chapter and we never hear from him again. Again, not a likely candidate for a pseudonymous attribution, albeit somewhat higher than Mark.

        With both of these writers you have early external attribution of authorship and you also have a complete absence of any alternative authorial traditions. If the names were appended at a later date after they had already been copied and distributed for some time then previous copies would have had no name. Let’s say someone in Alexandria decided (for some unknown reason) to say that Mark had written that Gospel. So he wrote Mark at the top and passed it on. That wouldn’t affect copies in, say, Rome. So what are the chances that the guy in Rome would also independently decide to say that Mark wrote it? About zero. You would expect to have other authorial traditions for these books in that case, but we have none. All of the full copies we have of these books attribute them to Mark and Matthew. All other ancient authorities from the second century on say that Matthew and Mark wrote a Gospel. Papias writes that Mark was Peter’s interpreter. In other words, Mark wrote his Gospel based on what Peter said. Thus it would be very odd for Mark to be attributed to Mark and be given wide authority and acceptance among Christians because of the connection to Peter if Mark didn’t actually write it that way. For any other book, these consideration would constitute conclusive proof.

        So far we have lack of alternative authorial traditions, universal attribution of authorship (all surviving copies contain the same attribution), and early external attribution. But we also have internal considerations. Do these books contain evidence of having come from eyewitness sources (remember that Mark was supposedly writing based on Peter’s testimony)? Yes, they do. Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White notes the accuracy of the Gospel accounts of the Roman legal system from the first-century even in minute details in, for example, the trial of Jesus. This is significant because a forger from a later generation would not have had access to this information for the reason that later Roman law was different. Sherwin-White gives several examples showing that the Gospels do indeed give unmistakable evidence of eyewitness testimony in those places where they can be verified (which is all that a historian can ask for).

        Another piece of evidence is noted by Richard Bauckham who has studied the use of names in the Gospels. Based on analyses of Jewish burial records from the first century, he discovered that the distribution of names in the Gospels corresponds perfectly to the distribution of names from the time period (ie. names which were more common from that time are also more common in the Gospels, and more common names, like Simon, are given another descriptor to distinguish one Simon from another whereas less common names have no additional descriptor appended). It would be very unlikely for later writers to independently come up with such details by chance. Also, the extensive presence of place names in the Gospels including the names of small villages is not something that would be present in forgeries and isn’t present in the non-canonical Gospels. With Mark, for example, we see that Mark mentions 73 specific place names. Compare that with the non-canonical gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, and Peter. Thomas has 1 place name, Mary has 0, Judas has 1, Philip has 3, and Peter has 4. But this is more striking when we see that the place names in the non-canonical gospels are names like Jerusalem, Judea, and the Garden of Joseph – place names that were well-known even by foreigners and later writers. By contrast Mark gives us dozens of names of small towns and villages in Palestine.

        The claim that the Gospels are anonymous documents, therefore, is without any basis whatsoever. In fact the skeptic has to use a novel definition of “anonymous” to make this claim – namely that the name of the author does not appear in the body of the text. By this definition many ancient works would have to be considered anonymous (I researched some of the works of Lucian which would have to be called anonymous by this standard, and I’m confident there are many others), as well as a lot of modern books. That’s because the name of the author might appear on the cover but not in the text. But I have never seen such a standard applied to any other book than the canonical Gospels. Thus I would have to declare it to be a bogus standard. The Gospels pass the historical tests of attribution and internal and external confirmation. The one question mark in my mind surrounds John, but that has to do with which “John” authored it (John was a very common name). The prima facie case for the authorship of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (I haven’t touched on Luke but the case for Luke is if anything much stronger) is as solid as any case for any similar document, so the burden to show otherwise is clearly on the skeptic. I have examined the arguments against, and there simply is no good argument there.

        • DB

          Thanks John for the reply. I have a few questions about your comments. I may have missed quite a bit seeing how much this thread has grown so if I ask a question that you have answered somewhere else please forgive me.

          “With both of these writers you have early external attribution of authorship and you also have a complete absence of any alternative authorial traditions.”

          If I’m not mistaken the earliest description of the early apostolic writings is by Justin Martyr 150 CE, and it was simply termed “Memoirs of the Apostles.” I believe he quotes some verses from the gospels? This is before Irenaeus , around 185 CE, names teh four gospels. Would not this reference without naming specific writers be considered competing evidence of the attributed authorship?

          You mentioned Papias. To me this is the strongest and earliest (125CE) evidence of attribution of Mark and Matthew to their respected books. However, Papias’ description of what Matthew wrote down “the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue translated by others in to Greek” is not what we have in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is so much more. Coupled with the fact that scholarship holds that Mark came first, then Matthew used Mark as source material. Should not we respect the anonymity of the gospels and at least hold to a neutral position concerning authorship? I’m not a scholar but, IMO, the debate seems more nuanced.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      DB, in addition to all of John Fraser’s great comments, here’s something to consider about the dating of Matthew and Mark (and Luke as well): All three synoptic gospels contain a prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ mouth. Now, if these accounts were written after 70 AD (roughly 40 years after Jesus is speaking), we would expect them to magnify the fact that the prophecy had indeed been fulfilled. Furthermore, we would expect them to make sure the details of this prophecy unambiguously matched up with the particulars of the event. But Jesus’ injunction to “flee to the hills” contradicts the actual flight to Pella. Jesus’ words are also mingled with some obscurer, apocalyptic language indicating an end times prophecy. Forgers writing after 70 AD would have made a cleaner separation. As it is, the accounts indicate that this is simply the way Jesus put it, and they are simply reporting what they heard, without artificially orchestrating anything to make a tidier passage and before the destruction actually took place.

      • John Fraser

        That’s a very good point, Esther, I’m glad you raised it. John A.T. Robinson (a moderately liberal scholar) used this as the basis for his argument that the entire NT was written before 70 because nowhere in the NT is there any hint that Jerusalem was destroyed. This point is even stronger when we note that Luke DOES record the fulfillment of Agabus’ prophecy of a famine in Acts 11:28, so apparently if he knew of a prophecy that was fulfilled, he recorded both prophecy and fulfillment.

        • ctcss

          I also find it interesting that that author of Luke and Acts commented very specifically on the death of James (the brother of John) at Herod’s hand. There is also the specific death, by execution, of Stephen, at Saul/Paul’s insistence. However, despite the later mention of James (the brother of Jesus, and a leader in the Jerusalem church) in Acts, as well as the many mentions of Paul and all of his physical trials at the hands of others, neither James’ nor Paul’s deaths are mentioned. Since it is known that both were executed before 70, it strikes me as being logical that Acts (as well as Luke) were also written before 70.

    • http://gravatar.com/timmcgrew Tim

      DB,

      I have a lecture on the authorship of the gospels, if you’re interested:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gldvim1yjYM

      The sound quality isn’t great, particularly at the beginning, but it can be understood.

  • Greg

    Esther, the gospels were not written as comprehensive history books, so there is no reason to assume they would include events that took place 40 years after the story being told. They were about the life/death/resurrection of this Jesus fellow…all of them ending with the resurrection story. Using the point that they don’t mention an unrelated historical event as evidence of early dating is very weak.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Greg, I don’t think you understood the comment. We’re not talking about “an unrelated historical event.” We’re talking about prophecy. Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the Jewish people. This isn’t minor footnote material, these are shattering events that actually happened. And prophecy was a very big deal in the Jewish culture. Matthew is constantly noting various fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, the absence of anything describing fulfillment in this particular case is unusual and striking. And as I also pointed out, if a forger writing after the Destruction was going to have Jesus predicting it, why leave loose ends and conflicting details?

      • Greg

        I don’t see it as a loose end at all. Matthew does go to great links to rip Old Testament passages out of context and claimed in they are prophecies about Jesus, but as far as I know he is not dumb enough to include a new prophecy and the fulfillment in the same book. It would be a bit too obvious that way. It would be more impressive to the audience to put those words in the mouth of Jesus and let later readers interpret it as a “prophecy” of events the author knew full well had already happened.

        • John Fraser

          Greg – But Luke does do exactly that in Acts 11:28 (not sure why that’s supposed to be dumb). You seem to assume that they were trying to hoodwink people. Did it ever occur to you that maybe they weren’t?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Agreed, besides which that’s just one among many pieces of evidences placing the circulation of the synoptics before 70 AD, and one among numerous signs that the texts aren’t forgeries at all. Greg, I’m curious—you seem to be saying the gospel authors are cleverly planning ahead, but how clever do you think they’d have to be to arrange numerous undesigned coincidences criss-crossing all four of the gospels? I addressed this in an earlier comment, and it’s one of the best lines of evidences against the forgery argument. Think of it like velcro—one tiny burr by itself can be explained away, but get a whole cluster together and it’ll grip like death. Here are half a dozen I have on hand just here. (See also the one I put in an earlier comment about Archelaus. Matthew just says the name and seems to expect his audience to understand why Joseph reacts as he does when he hears Archelaus has assumed the throne. We would naturally expect this from someone writing close up to the time and the facts, not from a forger.)

            1. In John 6:5, when Jesus is preparing to feed the 5000, he turns to Philip and asks,

            “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

            But who’s Phillip? We don’t know. He’s a minor character. Peter, James and John seem more important, so why didn’t Jesus ask their opinion? We know Judas held the purse, so that might make even more sense. Why this Phillip guy? John doesn’t answer the question. But in chapter 12, verse 21, he does give us a little bit more information about where Phillip came from, telling us, in passing, that he came from Bethsaida.

            The significance of this fact only becomes clear when we turn to Luke 9:10, which tells us that the feeding of the 5000 took place in Bethsaida. Now it makes sense: Jesus asked Phillip because Phillip would know the best place to buy bread—he lived there! But this information is revealed to us in a very disorganized, piece-meal way. You have to put together scattered pieces from two different passages in one gospel and a third passage in another to get the picture. And yet this is exactly what real history so often looks like.

            2. In Mark 14:58, one of the charges raised at Jesus’ trial is that he threatened to destroy the Temple at Jerusalem. But Mark doesn’t explain this, and neither does Matthew or Luke. But it’s repeated yet another time by people mocking Jesus on the cross, so clearly it was known and circulated among his accusers.

            We get the answer only in John, and only in a totally different context. John 2:18-19 reports this exchange between Jesus and some Jews, who are questioning him after his first purging of the money-changers in the temple:

            So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

            This is pretty clearly the origin of the accusation. But the contexts are so far removed that you really have to hunt for the explanation.

            3. Luke 9:36, after describing the Transfiguration (where Jesus appeared in dazzling white to be conversing with Elijah and Moses), it says that Peter, James and John “kept silent and told noone what they had seen.” This behavior is very odd. I mean, Elijah and Moses hob-nobbing with their Rabbi in the present day? Why would they not be shouting this amazing occurrence from the rooftops? Flip over to Mark 9:9, and you see the explanation: “And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Now we see the inter-locking.

            4. This is another one about the feeding of the 5000. Mark 6:31 sets it up by explaining that Jesus and his disciples were being followed by these large, pressing crowds of people. This is when Jesus invites them to sit down and eat. A little bit later, Mark notes the detail that the people sat down on “the green grass.” Now normally we wouldn’t think twice about a phrase like “green grass,” but we’re talking about Palestine here. The grass is hardly ever “green.” There’s one very narrow window of time when the grass is green in the spring.

            There happens to be an explanation that fits both of these curious facts perfectly—the fact that large crowds of people were crammed into a small Galilean town at one time and the fact that the grass is described as green. As we learn only in John 6:4, the miracle was recorded as taking place during Passover, when thousands of Jews were traveling from abroad back to Jerusalem for the celebration. Passover also falls smack in the middle of the grass’s green period. But Mark doesn’t tell us it was Passover. He’s recording other details that happen to interlock with it.

            5. Another one from Jesus’ trial. In Luke 23:1-4, the Jews inform Pilate that Jesus has declared himself a king, implying that he has set himself up against Caesar. Pilate goes back to question Jesus in private about this accusation. Jesus’ reply, “You have said so,” is a little reticent, but whatever it is it’s certainly not a denial of the accusation. More likely another way of saying “You said it.” Whereupon Pilate turns around to face the crowd again and says… “I find no guilt in this man.” Wait… what? Far from pleading innocent, Jesus has pretty much given the nod to the core truth of this accusation, that he does indeed regard himself as a king. Yet Pilate immediately goes and starts lobbying to get him released. What’s going on here?

            Compare now with John 18:33-38, where we get a few more details. We learn that the Jews hand Jesus over without further specifics from their end beyond assuring Pilate that Jesus is “a malefactor,” so when Pilate immediately begins questioning Jesus about whether he is “King of the Jews,” the question seems to come out of nowhere. Then Jesus asks, again with a hint of mischief, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” Pilate answers sarcasm for sarcasm: “Am I a Jew?” He presses for a straight answer, and then Jesus says quite clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” And THEN Pilate goes out and says “I find in him no fault at all.” Except now we have the missing piece. In fact, we have a missing piece on both counts. Each gospel explains the other, once again.

            6. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was ruler in Galilee when John the Baptist began his ministry. Antipas ultimately had John executed because John publicly condemned Herod and his wife’s double divorce from previous spouses to marry each other. So when Herod begins hearing rumors about the popularity of this new prophet, Jesus, Matthew 14:1-2 says:

            “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’ ”

            Now why is he talking to his servants about this? We don’t find out in Matthew, but Luke 8:3 gives us a clue in a list of various people who provided for Jesus and the disciples during their ministry. One of them is Joanna, and Luke mentions in passing that she is “the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager.” Ah, now it makes sense why Herod would talk to his servants about Jesus, as if he expected them to know what he was talking about already. His household manager was married to one of Jesus’ followers. But once again, the two contexts are wholly separate.

            For many, many more examples, Blunt’s _Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences_ is your go-to source.

  • Greg

    Esther, the gospels were not written as comprehensive history books, so there is no reason to assume they would include events that took place 40 years after the story being told. They were about the life/death/resurrection of this Jesus fellow…all of them ending with the resurrection story. Using the point that they don’t mention an unrelated historical event as evidence of early dating is very weak.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Greg, I don’t think you understood the comment. We’re not talking about “an unrelated historical event.” We’re talking about prophecy. Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the Jewish people. This isn’t minor footnote material, these are shattering events that actually happened. And prophecy was a very big deal in the Jewish culture. Matthew is constantly noting various fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, the absence of anything describing fulfillment in this particular case is unusual and striking. And as I also pointed out, if a forger writing after the Destruction was going to have Jesus predicting it, why leave loose ends and conflicting details?

      • Greg

        I don’t see it as a loose end at all. Matthew does go to great links to rip Old Testament passages out of context and claimed in they are prophecies about Jesus, but as far as I know he is not dumb enough to include a new prophecy and the fulfillment in the same book. It would be a bit too obvious that way. It would be more impressive to the audience to put those words in the mouth of Jesus and let later readers interpret it as a “prophecy” of events the author knew full well had already happened.

        • John Fraser

          Greg – But Luke does do exactly that in Acts 11:28 (not sure why that’s supposed to be dumb). You seem to assume that they were trying to hoodwink people. Did it ever occur to you that maybe they weren’t?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Agreed, besides which that’s just one among many pieces of evidences placing the circulation of the synoptics before 70 AD, and one among numerous signs that the texts aren’t forgeries at all. Greg, I’m curious—you seem to be saying the gospel authors are cleverly planning ahead, but how clever do you think they’d have to be to arrange numerous undesigned coincidences criss-crossing all four of the gospels? I addressed this in an earlier comment, and it’s one of the best lines of evidences against the forgery argument. Think of it like velcro—one tiny burr by itself can be explained away, but get a whole cluster together and it’ll grip like death. Here are half a dozen I have on hand just here. (See also the one I put in an earlier comment about Archelaus. Matthew just says the name and seems to expect his audience to understand why Joseph reacts as he does when he hears Archelaus has assumed the throne. We would naturally expect this from someone writing close up to the time and the facts, not from a forger.)

            1. In John 6:5, when Jesus is preparing to feed the 5000, he turns to Philip and asks,

            “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

            But who’s Phillip? We don’t know. He’s a minor character. Peter, James and John seem more important, so why didn’t Jesus ask their opinion? We know Judas held the purse, so that might make even more sense. Why this Phillip guy? John doesn’t answer the question. But in chapter 12, verse 21, he does give us a little bit more information about where Phillip came from, telling us, in passing, that he came from Bethsaida.

            The significance of this fact only becomes clear when we turn to Luke 9:10, which tells us that the feeding of the 5000 took place in Bethsaida. Now it makes sense: Jesus asked Phillip because Phillip would know the best place to buy bread—he lived there! But this information is revealed to us in a very disorganized, piece-meal way. You have to put together scattered pieces from two different passages in one gospel and a third passage in another to get the picture. And yet this is exactly what real history so often looks like.

            2. In Mark 14:58, one of the charges raised at Jesus’ trial is that he threatened to destroy the Temple at Jerusalem. But Mark doesn’t explain this, and neither does Matthew or Luke. But it’s repeated yet another time by people mocking Jesus on the cross, so clearly it was known and circulated among his accusers.

            We get the answer only in John, and only in a totally different context. John 2:18-19 reports this exchange between Jesus and some Jews, who are questioning him after his first purging of the money-changers in the temple:

            So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

            This is pretty clearly the origin of the accusation. But the contexts are so far removed that you really have to hunt for the explanation.

            3. Luke 9:36, after describing the Transfiguration (where Jesus appeared in dazzling white to be conversing with Elijah and Moses), it says that Peter, James and John “kept silent and told noone what they had seen.” This behavior is very odd. I mean, Elijah and Moses hob-nobbing with their Rabbi in the present day? Why would they not be shouting this amazing occurrence from the rooftops? Flip over to Mark 9:9, and you see the explanation: “And as they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Now we see the inter-locking.

            4. This is another one about the feeding of the 5000. Mark 6:31 sets it up by explaining that Jesus and his disciples were being followed by these large, pressing crowds of people. This is when Jesus invites them to sit down and eat. A little bit later, Mark notes the detail that the people sat down on “the green grass.” Now normally we wouldn’t think twice about a phrase like “green grass,” but we’re talking about Palestine here. The grass is hardly ever “green.” There’s one very narrow window of time when the grass is green in the spring.

            There happens to be an explanation that fits both of these curious facts perfectly—the fact that large crowds of people were crammed into a small Galilean town at one time and the fact that the grass is described as green. As we learn only in John 6:4, the miracle was recorded as taking place during Passover, when thousands of Jews were traveling from abroad back to Jerusalem for the celebration. Passover also falls smack in the middle of the grass’s green period. But Mark doesn’t tell us it was Passover. He’s recording other details that happen to interlock with it.

            5. Another one from Jesus’ trial. In Luke 23:1-4, the Jews inform Pilate that Jesus has declared himself a king, implying that he has set himself up against Caesar. Pilate goes back to question Jesus in private about this accusation. Jesus’ reply, “You have said so,” is a little reticent, but whatever it is it’s certainly not a denial of the accusation. More likely another way of saying “You said it.” Whereupon Pilate turns around to face the crowd again and says… “I find no guilt in this man.” Wait… what? Far from pleading innocent, Jesus has pretty much given the nod to the core truth of this accusation, that he does indeed regard himself as a king. Yet Pilate immediately goes and starts lobbying to get him released. What’s going on here?

            Compare now with John 18:33-38, where we get a few more details. We learn that the Jews hand Jesus over without further specifics from their end beyond assuring Pilate that Jesus is “a malefactor,” so when Pilate immediately begins questioning Jesus about whether he is “King of the Jews,” the question seems to come out of nowhere. Then Jesus asks, again with a hint of mischief, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” Pilate answers sarcasm for sarcasm: “Am I a Jew?” He presses for a straight answer, and then Jesus says quite clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” And THEN Pilate goes out and says “I find in him no fault at all.” Except now we have the missing piece. In fact, we have a missing piece on both counts. Each gospel explains the other, once again.

            6. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was ruler in Galilee when John the Baptist began his ministry. Antipas ultimately had John executed because John publicly condemned Herod and his wife’s double divorce from previous spouses to marry each other. So when Herod begins hearing rumors about the popularity of this new prophet, Jesus, Matthew 14:1-2 says:

            “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’ ”

            Now why is he talking to his servants about this? We don’t find out in Matthew, but Luke 8:3 gives us a clue in a list of various people who provided for Jesus and the disciples during their ministry. One of them is Joanna, and Luke mentions in passing that she is “the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager.” Ah, now it makes sense why Herod would talk to his servants about Jesus, as if he expected them to know what he was talking about already. His household manager was married to one of Jesus’ followers. But once again, the two contexts are wholly separate.

            For many, many more examples, Blunt’s _Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences_ is your go-to source.

  • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

    Honest questions for any Christians here. I legitimately would be interested in the answers so that if you have some information I am lacking, I can adjust.

    1. How can we know who wrote the Gospels?

    2. How can we know they were present at the events that they portray?

    3. How can we know they are recording the events accurately and not mistaken?

    4. How can we know they are recording the events accurately and not deceiving the reader intentionally?

    Thank you for your responses. I would like to believe in any concepts present that are actually true, and if the Bible recounts true events, I think there are important questions.

    • John Fraser

      Hi Ernest,

      I could go on at quite a bit of length about questions 1 and 3, and I already wrote a response about the authorship of Mark and Matthew above (my interlocutor apparently wasn’t so curious about Luke and John for some reason). Question 2 is misguided. Nobody claims that the Gospel writers were present for every event they describe, nor is that a valid criterion for historiography. If that were the case, then only autobiographies would count as history! But if you read any history book you are reading about many things that were researched by the writer, in which case the question is whether there is evidence of eyewitness testimony behind the events, not whether the Gospel writers themselves were present for every event. Below I’m going to paste a comment of mine from another blog where I address in some detail the evidence for eyewitness testimony in the Gospels which will address what should have been your question 2 and also question 3, whether the events are reported accurately.

      I will also make a comment about #4, the possibility that the evangelists (all four of them) were deliberately deceiving people. What would be their motive for that? Well, there could be many reasons. One reason would be to gain financial or other earthly benefits. However, not only was there no prospect for such reward by what they did, we also have the testimony not only of the early Christians, but also of their adversaries that they were persecuted, and sometimes tortured and executed for their faith. Tacitus describes Nero’s persecution of Christians in this way: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skin of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” This comports with the depiction in Acts of the persecution of Christians as they traveled across the Empire proclaiming their message. So not only is their no evident earthly motive, there was a strong motive to cease and desist in their message. It seems far more likely to me that they would have recanted of their message even if they knew it was true than that they would have perpetrated a known falsehood, so I don’t think there is any argument against their sincerity. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing that. So I think question 4 is answered pretty easily.

      ________

      First, how do you determine if some historical source contains eyewitness testimony? Just read it, and if it sounds plausible then you believe it, and if not then you reject it? That seems to be the approach of many skeptics. How, for example, would you evaluate the claim that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon? Just guess? Or is there any way to evaluate the evidence and draw a historical conclusion?

      First, we have to look at the nature of the claims themselves. Do they claim to be eyewitness testimony, or do they simply come in the form of stories and legends from the unspecified distant past? With the Gospels we have two specific claims to eyewitness testimony, in Luke and in John. John’s Gospel explicitly claims to have been written by an eyewitness, while the Gospel of Luke explicitly claims to be based on historical research from eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s preface has been studied quite thoroughly and actually bears similiarities to the prefaces of scientific treatises from the time period. This is an interesting fact in and of itself since it was allegedly written by a physician who would likely have been familiar with such writings. Nevertheless, the important thing to note is that it specifically says the author conducted historical investigation of eyewitnesses. Also, since Luke is the first part of a two-part work (Acts being the second part) by the same author, we have much more material to use in evaluating the reliability of the author than we do with the other Gospels. The book of Acts covers a period of approximately 30 years, and includes events from across the Roman Empire with many details of geography, history, customs, culture, and legal practices from several different provinces of the Roman Empire in the first century. There are also several passages in Acts where the author changes to the first person in the narrative, indicating that he was present for some of the events himself. At least one of these events included a meeting between James, Paul, and several of the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:18).

      The question concerning Luke and Acts, then, is whether there is any way to corroborate any of the information it contains to verify if it came from eyewitnesses or not. Myths and legends characteristically lack such verifiable details. Historical accounts based on eyewitness testimony (such as the History of the Pelopponesian War by Thucydides for example) contain them. So do we have evidence of verifiable historical details from Luke and Acts that would be indicative of eyewitness testimony? Remember, the author of Luke-Acts explicitly claims to have investigated the events reported from eyewitnesses. If he wasn’t telling the truth, then it was a lie, a deliberate fabrication. If he was lying, then the writings itself should provide evidence of the forgery. Do they?

      In fact the historical evidence shows a remarkable amount of verifiable details. Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White gives several detailed examples from the Gospels and Acts where they accurately represent the legal practices of the Roman Empire from several different provinces (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament).

      Among the evidence cited by Sherwin-White is the correctness of the charges against Paul in his trail before Felix and Festus. Sherwin-White shows that the charge of stirring up strife was normal under the existing system of the period as reflected in a letter from Claudius to the Alexandrines which contains similar language to the charge against Paul. [51] Although this detail was considered unhistorical by many scholars, Sherwin-White concludes that “the narrative of Acts is using contemporary language” [51]. Likewise in his handling of the status of the province of Cilicia and Felix’s decision to hear Paul’s case in Acts 23:34-35, Luke shows “remarkable familiarity with the provincial and juridical situation in the last years of Claudius” [57]. Other examples include the situation in Acts 24:18-19 when the Asian Jews who brought charges against Paul withdrew, giving Paul a valid technical objection against them, properly corresponding to the offence of destitio</[52-53]. Acts also correctly handles the appeal of Paul as it would have been done under the rule of provocatio, which differed in many ways from the later procedure of appellatio which would have been in effect in the time period when critics believe Acts was written. Sherwin-White dryly remarks that in this the author of Acts “has the advantage over some modern critics” [68].

      There is much additional evidence as well, including that provided by archaeologist Sir William Ramsay who devoted a significant part of his career to research in Asia minor. At first, Ramsay started out with the view, dominant at the time, that Acts was a second-century forgery and was written for Christians at that time period. Thus the author cared nothing about the actual historical situation in first century Rome. Quite by accident, Ramsay came across evidence that confirmed Acts against other historical sources. As he continued to investigate, he continued to find more and more evidence that Acts was historically accurate even in minute details. As other scholars have noted, those details include the correct titles of Roman officials from several different cities and provinces of the Roman Empire in the first century. There is simply no way that such accuracy could have been the result of guessing or fabrication. Nor would such details be included with stories that were mere legends – legends are stories which simply pass from one person to another. They don’t have those sorts of verifiable details in them.

      How does the skeptic account for this record of verifiable accuracy? It obviously can’t be by accident. Somehow the author had access to accurate information of all of these different places (and remember, we’re talking about details of people, places and customs from across the Roman Empire). This would be the case if, as he claimed, he received these accounts from eyewitnesses themselves as they recounted the incidental details of what they had seen and heard themselves. It would not be the case if he received the stories as mere legends and myths over numerous retellings and an unknown process of transmission. So the evidence is consistent with the claim.

      There is much more evidence that could be adduced for the fact that the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony, such as the evidence that Richard Bauckham provides in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses based on names in the Gospels. One of the interesting features of the Gospels is that when the names of individuals are examined against the prevalence of those names in first-century Judaism, they correspond very closely – too closely to have been a coincidence. It’s also instructive to note that when names appear in the Gospels that were very common in that time period (such as Simon, which was the most common male Jewish name from that period based on its prevalence in Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Ossuaries), some other descriptor is usually added to distinguish different people with the same name. There is Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18)Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21), Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). Names which were less common (and thus would not require an extra designation) did not have this feature.

      But even this is still the tip of the iceburg. Copious amounts of published scholarship has amassed an enormous amount of data on the historical details in the Gospels and Acts that show that they are, in fact, based on eyewitness testimony as they claim and that they are authentic documents written by the authors to whom they are traditionally ascribed. This is an issue which deserves a separate thread, but one of the things about almost all skeptical scholarship is that it ignores all of this data and often the skeptics appear to be unaware that such research even exists. Instead the skeptic makes huge issues out of very minor apparent discrepancies (usually getting even those wrong), and relies heavily on arguments from silence. Such approaches would never be accepted in other fields of historical research.

      _____________

      I could say much more about Luke such as the 84 confirmed historical and geographical facts that Luke accurately reports in just the first 16 chapters of Acts alone, in minutely accurate detail. It's simply not possible that some later writer far removed in time and space could do that as the information would not have been available. The detailed accuracy of Luke across a broad swath of the Roman Empire over a 30 year span (in Acts) is quite unparalleled as far as I know. This evidence shows that Luke's claim to having researched his history based on the testimony of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4) is true. But why would anyone falsely attribute books of such importance to Mark and Luke, who were not apostles, or to Matthew who was an apostle but had just about the lowest profile of any of them? And why are there no alternative authorial traditions for this books if they were written by people other than the traditional authors even though these four Gospels were widely circulated from early on? The simple fact is that we have so much evidence for the authorship of these books (as good as for any comparable documents) that the burden of proof is on those who would deny it. You need to show that there is good reason to doubt the traditional ascriptions.

      • Mary

        “Luke’s preface has been studied quite thoroughly and actually bears similiarities to the prefaces of scientific treatises from the time period. This is an interesting fact in and of itself since it was allegedly written by a physician who would likely have been familiar with such writings”

        Unfortunaterly Luke names NONE of his sources like a good historian, seems to express no skepticism whatsoever about the accounts he does receive. He copies around 40% of his gospel directly from witness Mark (without attribution) so this is obviously not the result of a careful “interrogation” of eye witnesses. He is simply pulling material from previous books that never claimed to be history. He also shows no awareness of conflicting stories (like the nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew), and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject. If you read his introduction carefully, you will note that he never mentions speaking to witnesses himself..but is merely collecting what “many (anonymous people) took it in hand” to write down about Jesus, supposedly based their accounts on what other (unnamed) “witnesses said. So this is quite literally a non-witness who is passing on reports of other non witnesses who claimed to speak to unnamed witnesses. It is frankly embarrassing that this is the best Christians have to offer.

        • John Fraser

          “Unfortunaterly Luke names NONE of his sources like a good historian,”

          You mean like a good MODERN historian presumably. Luke followed the conventions of his day, not ours, and so it’s a bogus critique. Try reading some other ancient historiography like Thucydides, Herodotus, Plutarch, or Livy. In fact if you want to see an excellent comparison of the Gospels and Acts to other ancient Roman sources, try A.N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.

          “He copies around 40% of his gospel directly from witness Mark (without attribution) so this is obviously not the result of a careful “interrogation” of eye witnesses.

          Luke’s use of Mark again comports very well with ancient historiography, and given the early tradition that Mark was writing based on Peter’s testimony (see my comments about Mark elsewhere), it’s exactly BECAUSE of the invaluable eyewitness testimony provided by Mark that Luke uses him as one of his sources.

          “He is simply pulling material from previous books that never claimed to be history.”

          Are you talking about Mark? If you’re trying to Mark an argument from silence because Mark doesn’t contain the words, “this is history,” that’s a bad argument. Mark clearly is writing history – he is writing about historical places, events, and people, and he was also clearly understood to be writing history by ancient readers. As for pulling material from other books, didn’t you know that historians do this all the time? Or do you object to people using material from other books when they write?

          “He also shows no awareness of conflicting stories (like the nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew),”

          First you say he was using other books and now you say he wasn’t aware of any? Strange. Anyhow, you’re right that Luke was probably not aware of Matthew, but go ahead and tell us what conflicts you see between the accounts. I’ve studied them quite in-depth and so I know that the kinds of discrepancies that skeptics use for the Gospels would not even raise an eyebrow in any other work. Actually, they are consistent with independent accounts (which indicates multiple attestation, an important criterion for historicity) of the same events.

          “and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject.”

          I don’t even understand this complaint, but maybe you can elaborate. Again, read some other ancient historiography for comparison.

          “If you read his introduction carefully, you will note that he never mentions speaking to witnesses himself..but is merely collecting what “many (anonymous people) took it in hand” to write down about Jesus,”

          Luke 1:2 does indicate that Luke had received his material from eyewitnesses: “just as they were handed down to US by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,” Note the “us” would included Luke. And as far as anonymous witnesses, Luke doesn’t say anonymous. In Acts he describes meeting with James, the brother of Jesus: Acts 21:18 – “And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” Once again, a comparison with ancient historiography is in order. Luke is following accepted practices and standards of his day, he wasn’t writing for 21st century Westerners! You are far too ethnocentric in your criticisms.

          “So this is quite literally a non-witness who is passing on reports of other non witnesses who claimed to speak to unnamed witnesses.”

          This is an astounding leap in logic you have made. First you read his introduction in the most uncharitable way possible and then attempt to draw a positive conclusion based on silence, which actually isn’t silence at all! Sorry, but this is a fail.

          “It is frankly embarrassing that this is the best Christians have to offer.”

          Well, if you can come up with a legitimate objection maybe then we can talk.

        • John Fraser

          Oh, I should also mention the fact that Mary has completely ignored all of the data I presented, including the many confirmed historical facts reported accurately in minute detail by Luke, instead choosing to complain essentially that Luke didn’t write like a modern historian. But that’s because Luke wasn’t a modern historian! That has no bearing on whether he was a good or bad historian – that can only be determined by examining the actual data. And as I have shown, the actual data indicates that Sir William Ramsay (the archaeologist, not the chemist) was correct in assessing Luke as a historian of the first rank.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          As an addendum to all John’s comments, re-read Luke’s nativity narrative with an eye for detail, and you’ll notice some curious things about how he describes Mary. After the narrative, he says “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Now who would know something like that besides Mary? In fact, Luke’s gospel gives us the most complete picture of Mary we have. He recounts major events that are lacking in the other gospels (visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat). There’s at least one other reference to what Mary was thinking in Luke 2, after Jesus was discovered in the temple: “But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” All these details point to the hypothesis that Luke interviewed Mary.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Hey Ernest, you might find these quotations interesting. They’re specifically about the early church creed contained in 1 Corinthians 15 (which scholars on all sides agree is authentically Paul’s). This gives you a sense of how early the fundamental tenets of Christianity were condensed and circulated:

      Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” ["The Baseless Fabric of a Vision," in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), p. 48.]

      Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), pp. 171-72.]

      Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, p. 466.]

    • http://historicalapologetics.org Tim McGrew

      Ernest,

      Good questions!

      1. The same way that we know who wrote any historical work of antiquity: we look for early ascriptions of authorship, early uses of the work (with any indications about prestige or authorship they might have), and for any alternative traditions of authorship or expressions of doubt regarding authorship. The four canonical Gospels hold up very well by this standard. I’ve spoken about this issue; you can watch the lecture here.

      2. Two of them probably were not: Mark and Luke were not among the disciples. Luke appears (both from his preface (Luke 1:1-4) and from internal indications in the narrative) to have obtained his information from a variety of sources. Mark’s account was reported by the early church fathers to be derived from Peter’s preaching, and internal clues do support this. I believe Esther quoted a passage to this effect from Bruce Metzger’s work. The other two, Matthew and John, were disciples of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel contains several suggestive clues regarding the author (9:10 (cf. Mark 2:15 and Luke 5:29); 10:3; 17:24-27; 27:66). For an account of some of the evidence for the authorship of the fourth Gospel, you might find this to be a good place to start.

      3. We look for evidence that they were well informed and habitually honest, both external and internal evidence, if we can get it. I’ve covered some of that evidence here and here. It’s also useful to look at allegations of error brought against them and see how those hold up under scrutiny. I have four other videos in the same series devoted to that subject, two for claims of historical inaccuracy and two for some of the claims of internal contradictions.

      4. This is partly answered by the evidence I listed in 3: it’s really hard to keep a large conspiracy like that together. We know too much about the earliest Christians to assimilate them to the model of Joseph Smith, who stood to gain by his frauds in ways that they most definitely did not.

  • http://ernestleecking.wordpress.com Ernest Lee C King

    Honest questions for any Christians here. I legitimately would be interested in the answers so that if you have some information I am lacking, I can adjust.

    1. How can we know who wrote the Gospels?

    2. How can we know they were present at the events that they portray?

    3. How can we know they are recording the events accurately and not mistaken?

    4. How can we know they are recording the events accurately and not deceiving the reader intentionally?

    Thank you for your responses. I would like to believe in any concepts present that are actually true, and if the Bible recounts true events, I think there are important questions.

    • John Fraser

      Hi Ernest,

      I could go on at quite a bit of length about questions 1 and 3, and I already wrote a response about the authorship of Mark and Matthew above (my interlocutor apparently wasn’t so curious about Luke and John for some reason). Question 2 is misguided. Nobody claims that the Gospel writers were present for every event they describe, nor is that a valid criterion for historiography. If that were the case, then only autobiographies would count as history! But if you read any history book you are reading about many things that were researched by the writer, in which case the question is whether there is evidence of eyewitness testimony behind the events, not whether the Gospel writers themselves were present for every event. Below I’m going to paste a comment of mine from another blog where I address in some detail the evidence for eyewitness testimony in the Gospels which will address what should have been your question 2 and also question 3, whether the events are reported accurately.

      I will also make a comment about #4, the possibility that the evangelists (all four of them) were deliberately deceiving people. What would be their motive for that? Well, there could be many reasons. One reason would be to gain financial or other earthly benefits. However, not only was there no prospect for such reward by what they did, we also have the testimony not only of the early Christians, but also of their adversaries that they were persecuted, and sometimes tortured and executed for their faith. Tacitus describes Nero’s persecution of Christians in this way: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skin of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” This comports with the depiction in Acts of the persecution of Christians as they traveled across the Empire proclaiming their message. So not only is their no evident earthly motive, there was a strong motive to cease and desist in their message. It seems far more likely to me that they would have recanted of their message even if they knew it was true than that they would have perpetrated a known falsehood, so I don’t think there is any argument against their sincerity. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing that. So I think question 4 is answered pretty easily.

      ________

      First, how do you determine if some historical source contains eyewitness testimony? Just read it, and if it sounds plausible then you believe it, and if not then you reject it? That seems to be the approach of many skeptics. How, for example, would you evaluate the claim that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon? Just guess? Or is there any way to evaluate the evidence and draw a historical conclusion?

      First, we have to look at the nature of the claims themselves. Do they claim to be eyewitness testimony, or do they simply come in the form of stories and legends from the unspecified distant past? With the Gospels we have two specific claims to eyewitness testimony, in Luke and in John. John’s Gospel explicitly claims to have been written by an eyewitness, while the Gospel of Luke explicitly claims to be based on historical research from eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s preface has been studied quite thoroughly and actually bears similiarities to the prefaces of scientific treatises from the time period. This is an interesting fact in and of itself since it was allegedly written by a physician who would likely have been familiar with such writings. Nevertheless, the important thing to note is that it specifically says the author conducted historical investigation of eyewitnesses. Also, since Luke is the first part of a two-part work (Acts being the second part) by the same author, we have much more material to use in evaluating the reliability of the author than we do with the other Gospels. The book of Acts covers a period of approximately 30 years, and includes events from across the Roman Empire with many details of geography, history, customs, culture, and legal practices from several different provinces of the Roman Empire in the first century. There are also several passages in Acts where the author changes to the first person in the narrative, indicating that he was present for some of the events himself. At least one of these events included a meeting between James, Paul, and several of the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:18).

      The question concerning Luke and Acts, then, is whether there is any way to corroborate any of the information it contains to verify if it came from eyewitnesses or not. Myths and legends characteristically lack such verifiable details. Historical accounts based on eyewitness testimony (such as the History of the Pelopponesian War by Thucydides for example) contain them. So do we have evidence of verifiable historical details from Luke and Acts that would be indicative of eyewitness testimony? Remember, the author of Luke-Acts explicitly claims to have investigated the events reported from eyewitnesses. If he wasn’t telling the truth, then it was a lie, a deliberate fabrication. If he was lying, then the writings itself should provide evidence of the forgery. Do they?

      In fact the historical evidence shows a remarkable amount of verifiable details. Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White gives several detailed examples from the Gospels and Acts where they accurately represent the legal practices of the Roman Empire from several different provinces (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament).

      Among the evidence cited by Sherwin-White is the correctness of the charges against Paul in his trail before Felix and Festus. Sherwin-White shows that the charge of stirring up strife was normal under the existing system of the period as reflected in a letter from Claudius to the Alexandrines which contains similar language to the charge against Paul. [51] Although this detail was considered unhistorical by many scholars, Sherwin-White concludes that “the narrative of Acts is using contemporary language” [51]. Likewise in his handling of the status of the province of Cilicia and Felix’s decision to hear Paul’s case in Acts 23:34-35, Luke shows “remarkable familiarity with the provincial and juridical situation in the last years of Claudius” [57]. Other examples include the situation in Acts 24:18-19 when the Asian Jews who brought charges against Paul withdrew, giving Paul a valid technical objection against them, properly corresponding to the offence of destitio</[52-53]. Acts also correctly handles the appeal of Paul as it would have been done under the rule of provocatio, which differed in many ways from the later procedure of appellatio which would have been in effect in the time period when critics believe Acts was written. Sherwin-White dryly remarks that in this the author of Acts “has the advantage over some modern critics” [68].

      There is much additional evidence as well, including that provided by archaeologist Sir William Ramsay who devoted a significant part of his career to research in Asia minor. At first, Ramsay started out with the view, dominant at the time, that Acts was a second-century forgery and was written for Christians at that time period. Thus the author cared nothing about the actual historical situation in first century Rome. Quite by accident, Ramsay came across evidence that confirmed Acts against other historical sources. As he continued to investigate, he continued to find more and more evidence that Acts was historically accurate even in minute details. As other scholars have noted, those details include the correct titles of Roman officials from several different cities and provinces of the Roman Empire in the first century. There is simply no way that such accuracy could have been the result of guessing or fabrication. Nor would such details be included with stories that were mere legends – legends are stories which simply pass from one person to another. They don’t have those sorts of verifiable details in them.

      How does the skeptic account for this record of verifiable accuracy? It obviously can’t be by accident. Somehow the author had access to accurate information of all of these different places (and remember, we’re talking about details of people, places and customs from across the Roman Empire). This would be the case if, as he claimed, he received these accounts from eyewitnesses themselves as they recounted the incidental details of what they had seen and heard themselves. It would not be the case if he received the stories as mere legends and myths over numerous retellings and an unknown process of transmission. So the evidence is consistent with the claim.

      There is much more evidence that could be adduced for the fact that the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony, such as the evidence that Richard Bauckham provides in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses based on names in the Gospels. One of the interesting features of the Gospels is that when the names of individuals are examined against the prevalence of those names in first-century Judaism, they correspond very closely – too closely to have been a coincidence. It’s also instructive to note that when names appear in the Gospels that were very common in that time period (such as Simon, which was the most common male Jewish name from that period based on its prevalence in Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Ossuaries), some other descriptor is usually added to distinguish different people with the same name. There is Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18)Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21), Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). Names which were less common (and thus would not require an extra designation) did not have this feature.

      But even this is still the tip of the iceburg. Copious amounts of published scholarship has amassed an enormous amount of data on the historical details in the Gospels and Acts that show that they are, in fact, based on eyewitness testimony as they claim and that they are authentic documents written by the authors to whom they are traditionally ascribed. This is an issue which deserves a separate thread, but one of the things about almost all skeptical scholarship is that it ignores all of this data and often the skeptics appear to be unaware that such research even exists. Instead the skeptic makes huge issues out of very minor apparent discrepancies (usually getting even those wrong), and relies heavily on arguments from silence. Such approaches would never be accepted in other fields of historical research.

      _____________

      I could say much more about Luke such as the 84 confirmed historical and geographical facts that Luke accurately reports in just the first 16 chapters of Acts alone, in minutely accurate detail. It's simply not possible that some later writer far removed in time and space could do that as the information would not have been available. The detailed accuracy of Luke across a broad swath of the Roman Empire over a 30 year span (in Acts) is quite unparalleled as far as I know. This evidence shows that Luke's claim to having researched his history based on the testimony of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4) is true. But why would anyone falsely attribute books of such importance to Mark and Luke, who were not apostles, or to Matthew who was an apostle but had just about the lowest profile of any of them? And why are there no alternative authorial traditions for this books if they were written by people other than the traditional authors even though these four Gospels were widely circulated from early on? The simple fact is that we have so much evidence for the authorship of these books (as good as for any comparable documents) that the burden of proof is on those who would deny it. You need to show that there is good reason to doubt the traditional ascriptions.

      • Mary

        “Luke’s preface has been studied quite thoroughly and actually bears similiarities to the prefaces of scientific treatises from the time period. This is an interesting fact in and of itself since it was allegedly written by a physician who would likely have been familiar with such writings”

        Unfortunaterly Luke names NONE of his sources like a good historian, seems to express no skepticism whatsoever about the accounts he does receive. He copies around 40% of his gospel directly from witness Mark (without attribution) so this is obviously not the result of a careful “interrogation” of eye witnesses. He is simply pulling material from previous books that never claimed to be history. He also shows no awareness of conflicting stories (like the nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew), and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject. If you read his introduction carefully, you will note that he never mentions speaking to witnesses himself..but is merely collecting what “many (anonymous people) took it in hand” to write down about Jesus, supposedly based their accounts on what other (unnamed) “witnesses said. So this is quite literally a non-witness who is passing on reports of other non witnesses who claimed to speak to unnamed witnesses. It is frankly embarrassing that this is the best Christians have to offer.

        • John Fraser

          “Unfortunaterly Luke names NONE of his sources like a good historian,”

          You mean like a good MODERN historian presumably. Luke followed the conventions of his day, not ours, and so it’s a bogus critique. Try reading some other ancient historiography like Thucydides, Herodotus, Plutarch, or Livy. In fact if you want to see an excellent comparison of the Gospels and Acts to other ancient Roman sources, try A.N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.

          “He copies around 40% of his gospel directly from witness Mark (without attribution) so this is obviously not the result of a careful “interrogation” of eye witnesses.

          Luke’s use of Mark again comports very well with ancient historiography, and given the early tradition that Mark was writing based on Peter’s testimony (see my comments about Mark elsewhere), it’s exactly BECAUSE of the invaluable eyewitness testimony provided by Mark that Luke uses him as one of his sources.

          “He is simply pulling material from previous books that never claimed to be history.”

          Are you talking about Mark? If you’re trying to Mark an argument from silence because Mark doesn’t contain the words, “this is history,” that’s a bad argument. Mark clearly is writing history – he is writing about historical places, events, and people, and he was also clearly understood to be writing history by ancient readers. As for pulling material from other books, didn’t you know that historians do this all the time? Or do you object to people using material from other books when they write?

          “He also shows no awareness of conflicting stories (like the nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew),”

          First you say he was using other books and now you say he wasn’t aware of any? Strange. Anyhow, you’re right that Luke was probably not aware of Matthew, but go ahead and tell us what conflicts you see between the accounts. I’ve studied them quite in-depth and so I know that the kinds of discrepancies that skeptics use for the Gospels would not even raise an eyebrow in any other work. Actually, they are consistent with independent accounts (which indicates multiple attestation, an important criterion for historicity) of the same events.

          “and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject.”

          I don’t even understand this complaint, but maybe you can elaborate. Again, read some other ancient historiography for comparison.

          “If you read his introduction carefully, you will note that he never mentions speaking to witnesses himself..but is merely collecting what “many (anonymous people) took it in hand” to write down about Jesus,”

          Luke 1:2 does indicate that Luke had received his material from eyewitnesses: “just as they were handed down to US by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,” Note the “us” would included Luke. And as far as anonymous witnesses, Luke doesn’t say anonymous. In Acts he describes meeting with James, the brother of Jesus: Acts 21:18 – “And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” Once again, a comparison with ancient historiography is in order. Luke is following accepted practices and standards of his day, he wasn’t writing for 21st century Westerners! You are far too ethnocentric in your criticisms.

          “So this is quite literally a non-witness who is passing on reports of other non witnesses who claimed to speak to unnamed witnesses.”

          This is an astounding leap in logic you have made. First you read his introduction in the most uncharitable way possible and then attempt to draw a positive conclusion based on silence, which actually isn’t silence at all! Sorry, but this is a fail.

          “It is frankly embarrassing that this is the best Christians have to offer.”

          Well, if you can come up with a legitimate objection maybe then we can talk.

        • John Fraser

          Oh, I should also mention the fact that Mary has completely ignored all of the data I presented, including the many confirmed historical facts reported accurately in minute detail by Luke, instead choosing to complain essentially that Luke didn’t write like a modern historian. But that’s because Luke wasn’t a modern historian! That has no bearing on whether he was a good or bad historian – that can only be determined by examining the actual data. And as I have shown, the actual data indicates that Sir William Ramsay (the archaeologist, not the chemist) was correct in assessing Luke as a historian of the first rank.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          As an addendum to all John’s comments, re-read Luke’s nativity narrative with an eye for detail, and you’ll notice some curious things about how he describes Mary. After the narrative, he says “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Now who would know something like that besides Mary? In fact, Luke’s gospel gives us the most complete picture of Mary we have. He recounts major events that are lacking in the other gospels (visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat). There’s at least one other reference to what Mary was thinking in Luke 2, after Jesus was discovered in the temple: “But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” All these details point to the hypothesis that Luke interviewed Mary.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Hey Ernest, you might find these quotations interesting. They’re specifically about the early church creed contained in 1 Corinthians 15 (which scholars on all sides agree is authentically Paul’s). This gives you a sense of how early the fundamental tenets of Christianity were condensed and circulated:

      Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” ["The Baseless Fabric of a Vision," in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), p. 48.]

      Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), pp. 171-72.]

      Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, p. 466.]

    • http://historicalapologetics.org Tim McGrew

      Ernest,

      Good questions!

      1. The same way that we know who wrote any historical work of antiquity: we look for early ascriptions of authorship, early uses of the work (with any indications about prestige or authorship they might have), and for any alternative traditions of authorship or expressions of doubt regarding authorship. The four canonical Gospels hold up very well by this standard. I’ve spoken about this issue; you can watch the lecture here.

      2. Two of them probably were not: Mark and Luke were not among the disciples. Luke appears (both from his preface (Luke 1:1-4) and from internal indications in the narrative) to have obtained his information from a variety of sources. Mark’s account was reported by the early church fathers to be derived from Peter’s preaching, and internal clues do support this. I believe Esther quoted a passage to this effect from Bruce Metzger’s work. The other two, Matthew and John, were disciples of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel contains several suggestive clues regarding the author (9:10 (cf. Mark 2:15 and Luke 5:29); 10:3; 17:24-27; 27:66). For an account of some of the evidence for the authorship of the fourth Gospel, you might find this to be a good place to start.

      3. We look for evidence that they were well informed and habitually honest, both external and internal evidence, if we can get it. I’ve covered some of that evidence here and here. It’s also useful to look at allegations of error brought against them and see how those hold up under scrutiny. I have four other videos in the same series devoted to that subject, two for claims of historical inaccuracy and two for some of the claims of internal contradictions.

      4. This is partly answered by the evidence I listed in 3: it’s really hard to keep a large conspiracy like that together. We know too much about the earliest Christians to assimilate them to the model of Joseph Smith, who stood to gain by his frauds in ways that they most definitely did not.

  • http://twitter.com/HISteveWilliams Steve Williams (@HISteveWilliams)

    Esther; you rock!

    “Little eyes are watching”, and enjoying these interactions very much. Keep up the good work!

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Thanks Steve. It’s been fun.

  • http://twitter.com/HISteveWilliams Steve Williams (@HISteveWilliams)

    Esther; you rock!

    “Little eyes are watching”, and enjoying these interactions very much. Keep up the good work!

    • mikespeir

      You guys are a riot. How many times does it have to be pointed out to you that bad evidence can look so much better when seen through the lens of faith? Do you think it would be any different here if we had been hit by a swarm of Kennedy assassination conspiratorialists or moon landing denialists or 911 Truthers? They’d probably run roughshod over the place, too. The True Believer is possessed of a zeal rarely matched by the skeptic.

      Have you ever seen what it’s like to get into a skirmish with Gerardus Bouw, bona fide physics PhD, over the placement of the Earth in the universe? It’s in the center, don’t you know? The Coriolis effect? The jet stream? Satellite pictures from space? Don’t waste your time. Don’t exhaust yourself pointing out the obvious to him. He’s ready for you. He’s got an argument, and he can make it sound good. And he’s nothing if not dogged.

      You folks are like all other Christian apologists: you start your structure on the third floor and build upward. Every so often someone will poke his head out a window and look down.

      “Th–there’s no first floor!” he cries in astonishment. “No second floor!”

      “Of course there is,” you reply calmly. “You should read Dr. Blather Jones’ Foundational Proofs.

      “But I can see for myself.”

      “Jones deals with that and puts it to rest nicely. Dr. Ardor Smith goes even further in The Reification of Vapor.

      “Well, I’ve been reading Havid Dume, and Dume says—”

      “Havid Dume! LOL! You’ve got to be kidding. Billiam Barwurton demolished Dume!”

      What’s returned to you is the dumbfounded look of someone who now realizes he’s been talking to a denizen of La-La Land; the look of someone who knows the consensus of history is that Barwurton isn’t worthy to hold Dume’s shoes as the latter man goes for a wade.

      That’s why I won’t jump back into this fray (at least not beyond this rant of exasperation). What would I hope to accomplish in the face of your zeal? As I pointed out above, in a comment Esther wisely avoided replying to, there’s not a single “fact” of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. Climb up into the treetops if you like and stroke the leaves you imagine swaddling you, but it won’t change the fact that the trunk and roots are bad. The hard evidence just isn’t there, your determined insistence notwithstanding.

      • ctcss

        “there’s not a single “fact” of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us.”

        Mike, you appear to be complaining about the unfairness of eternal punishment as your reason for rejecting Christianity (or at least these particular apologist arguments). But not every Christian sect puts forth that concept. (I certainly wasn’t taught it.) And even if the scriptural statements mention the possibility of of such a thing happening, do you have any evidence that such statements were not hyperbole meant to get the attention of the people who were listening at the time? From what I have gotten from the gospels over the years, I would say that Jesus was trying to get the people he was preaching to to think more deeply about their religious understanding and practice. Mere superficial changes in a person’s life wouldn’t count for much, since hypocrisy doesn’t succeed even on a merely human basis, since even people rather easily detect the difference between one’s words and one’s deeds. Change has to go deep in order to count. And that requires something more than merely saying “yes” to someone else’s verbal importunings. Change also takes time, reflection, repentance, sincerity, and self-discipline, not to mention that most people will not do a 180 until life circumstances force their hand. To put off one’s old ways and to put on the new is not easily accomplished.

        The point being, Jesus seemed to understand the nature of human change, and how difficult it can be. His parables point out the need for human redemption, but also the role of heavenly love, patience, and forgiveness in fulfilling that need. Just being humanly good isn’t enough. Jesus pointed out that we are supposed to be spiritually perfect. And since humans are not likely to achieve that state of perfection in one attempt (or even in many attempts), the notion of God (who lives in eternity and timelessness) holding a stopwatch and casting an impatient and jaundiced eye on His creation seems rather ludicrous. It would make a whole lot more sense (given that we are talking about God, who is love itself) for God to be patiently and gently encouraging, wanting nothing more than to restore each prodigal to a place of love and honor in His household. Hell, after all, is more about realizing one’s (often, self-imposed) separation from God and His goodness, than it is about God wanting to make us separate from Him.

        Basically, you are complaining about a shallow notion of God’s nature. Perhaps you might want to adopt a less jaundiced view of God yourself if you want to get a clearer and more helpful view of things. Whatever it was that Jesus preached to the sinners and outcasts of his time seemed to encourage them, rather than repelled them. Perhaps that is because what they heard and saw was a lot more encouraging and appealing than what you have apparently decided comprises the “good news” of the gospel.

        Something to consider.

        • mikespeir

          You know, ctcss, I’m 58 years old. I was raised a Christian, was a Christian, and taught the Bible longer than some people here have been alive. What’s more, I’ve spent a lot of the last ten years since recognizing that I no longer bought the tale in debates with all manner of believers. You can believe me when I tell you I’ve considered it. Don’t come here expecting we’re ignorant or inexperienced.

          Again the bottom line: the evidence is not of sufficient quantity and quality to justify even temporal punishment or censure (or, for that matter, duty)–period! And yet, historically, the Christian religion has threatened much worse than that. It is still what the main, and certainly the most dangerous, strains of Christianity teach. To try to sidestep that embarrassing fact by pointing out that nowadays not all do is more than a bit disingenuous.

          Now, maybe you’re a universalist of something. If so, good for you. Such a stance imposes no obligation on me. If you came here to play defense, don’t bother. When somebody tells you you’re not allowed to believe what you do, send them my way. I’ll set them straight. But if you want to aver that your religion levies any kind of duty on me, we’re going to have a problem, because you don’t have the evidence to back up that expectation.

          • https://plus.google.com/112255322654389763589 Red River

            Hello, Mikespeir,

            You said you were a Christian. Are you familiar with the following verses:

            John 3:1-3

            1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

            2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

            3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

            Can you tell us about how you became born-again, please?

          • dave warnock

            Hey Mikespeir, You Rock! Little eyes are watching!

            Mikespeir-156

            Apologists- 0

          • mikespeir

            “Can you tell us about how you became born-again, please?”

            No, Red River, I won’t. Beside the point.

          • https://plus.google.com/112255322654389763589 Red River

            But it’s my point. If you weren’t born again, how could you be a Christian?

          • mikespeir

            But I was born again. As born again as anybody is, anyway.

        • Lee

          Esther, a question:

          How do you reconcile the claim that those sacred texts are divinely inspired historical testimony and yet lack the most elementary understanding of our natural universe? A single accurate account of a recent significant scientific accomplishment would offer irrefutable evidence that the inspiration was anything other than a human being. I urge you to consider the lack of intelligence in those texts. Now consider the nature of an evangelical. There purpose in life is to spread the truth. Would you claim Jesus had no such knowledge of the universe? Why? If he did, then how are the texts void of such intelligence? A single affirmation of such predated intelligence would quiet naysayers forever. Yet, we see no evidence whatsoever of any higher intelligence in any of the sacred texts. You see what one would expect to see for post event oral accounts having been oft interpreted, translated, and manipulated by a people with a rooted, possibly genetic predisposition for a supreme entity. As Dave and others have mentioned, the Judeo-Christian god(s) missed their chance at infallibility. I urge you to give credence to the cognitive dissonance pounding in your psyche. Give some time to the more rational arguments regarding those events. Consider the seemingly infinite natural universe and your sentience. Give equal research effort to the counter arguments. Finally, consider one day you will be faced with passing your faith down to your children. If not indoctrinated, would they choose your beliefs? Another religion? No religion? You’re quite well versed in the Christian apologetics and obviously intelligent, but I wonder if you’ve allowed yourself a more mature path of critical thought. Please do at some point…

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Your attempted “gotcha” argument that had I not been “indoctrinated,” I would have been of some other religious persuasion is completely bogus and avoids the question of historical substantiation altogether. A thorough compare and contrast reveals that all other religious claims collapse in short order while Christianity is still left standing. As for your question about why the gospels show a lack of intelligence/understanding about the universe, quite frankly I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Jesus didn’t come to give a disquisition on science. If you’re thinking about some Old Testament passages that were seized upon by the Catholic church as “evidence” for an earth-centric universe, those verses are patently poetic and not to be taken literally. If you’re generally looking for signs of divine inspiration, you could try some of the prophecies. No other historical figure besides Jesus even comes close to matching the prophetic description in Isaiah 40.

            And finally, the fact that the Bible doesn’t meet your favorite arbitrary standard for “good evidence” is beside the point. The point we’re making is that the evidence is enough as it stands. The question is whether you’re willing to take the tinted glasses off long enough to see that. Or do you honestly think yourself free from bias?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Isaiah 53, sorry! Geez, I need to stop staying up til 2 AM writing blog comments. ;-)

      • John Fraser

        Mike (I’m guessing that’s your name based on your handle),

        Several people have asked for arguments and evidence, and I have done my best to provide those. So I find your complaint a bit odd. Basically you’re saying that we make our arguments look good because of our sheer skill at sophistry (which I suppose is a back-handed compliment), but that anyone can make any argument look good about anything so you don’t really care. Well, if your mind is made up that’s certainly up to you. But you make an allusion to “the consensus of history” in your parody (which I enjoyed reading, actually) which I gather is actually a comment on how you believe the consensus of history is against Christianity (and probably religion and belief in God as well) and in favor of secularism. But this is nothing more than the secular narrative, what has come to be known as secularization theory. The thing is, it’s false. By secularization theory, religion should have disappeared a long time ago, but actually it’s as strong as ever. I would actually submit that secularism is a relative newcomer which is actually on the way out – a somewhat isolated phenomenon centered mainly in the Western world, particularly in academia and pop culture (like the media). If I’m reading you rightly (and you are welcome to correct me if I’m wrong), then your evident confidence that Christianity and religion have been consigned to the dustbin of history is very much premature.

        Also, the comparison to Bouw is frankly silly, and also insulting to plenty of respected and mainstream academics. You’re right that there are a few fringe nutcases (think Richard Carrier for example). But simply dismissing a significant body of respected academics and their body of work as fringe nutcases is just not legit.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Except for the niggling fact that anyone with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy should have the tools to see why Havid Dume’s arguments really are as full of holes as Swiss cheese…

        You know Mike, you’re a funny guy, but you’re still only engaging in so much hand-waving. More is acknowledged by scholars who are actually on your “side” than you’d probably like to admit, and more is covered up or twisted by those scholars than you know. These distortions of fact are not a matter of opinion, anyone can look up primary sources and see for themselves.

        I’m also going to venture a guess that you haven’t studied Bayes Theorem or its applications. If you had, then you wouldn’t be adding your voice to the “C’mon, how often do miracles happen, huh, huh, huh?” crowd. A little training in probability theory goes a long way, but the problem is that without that training, really shallow statements look really appealing to otherwise bright people who simply don’t have the proper tools. You seem to be a case of that.

        • mikespeir

          You do like to skirt the issue, don’t you?

        • David W

          “C’mon, how often do miracles happen, huh, huh, huh?”

          Straw man much?

          Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any stripe.

          If you disagree, please link me to a single miracle that you think that unbiased scientists have confirmed.

          Also once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

          Finally, miracles no longer occur with the advent of modern science and the scientific method…is this coincidence? I think not.

          I know that this problem doesn’t seem to bother you very much, as you have managed to come up with what you consider to be good reasons for the apparent absence of modern day miracles; but please be aware that presenting most skeptics with old documents which say that there was magic long ago, and then proceeding to argue and ‘show’ how reliable said documents are, will not in any way convince most skeptics that magic indeed exists, or ever existed.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Thanks Steve. It’s been fun.

  • dave warnock

    Oh and Mike, I’m 58 too. Was a Christian for 35 years; a pastor for many of those years. Read the Bible through many times; taught the Bible, preached it, all of it. I probably didn’t really understand what I was preaching and teaching, but anyway…You know, maybe just maybe I haven’t considered everything. Maybe I need another enthusiastic amateur apologist to enlighten me. If they would give me ONE MORE compelling argument for this fantastic (I mean that in the true sense of the word- Fantasy) salvation story, I would fall down and repent and turn from my apostasy. Or maybe- as implied in the comment above, I truly never understood what it meant to be “born again”, so therefor, after 35 years I was never really saved, and maybe one of these compelling arguments for who wrote what text and when they wrote it- will convince me that God needed to murder his son/himself to appease his father/himself because the original creation ate a piece of fruit. I wonder if this army of apologists trolls all the atheist blogs in hopes of snatching a few (younger) apostates from the fires. Or do they just pick on godlessndixie. I dunno.

    • John Fraser

      Dave,

      So you would prefer if no Christians posted here and only atheists? What’s the purpose of this blog, then? Just to preach to the choir? Pat yourselves on the back in your own de-convert echo chamber? BTW, I had an older brother who was a Christian for many years before his de-conversion (as it seems to be called nowadays) so I’m not really moved by the “I was a Christian/pastor/apologist for decades before I saw how completely absurd it all was” thing. If it’s so obviously absurd then why did you believe it in the first place? Or better question, what REALLY made you decide to abandon it all? For my brother it was his bitterness over how his life apparently was harder than he thought it should have been. But that’s because he was partly converted by people telling him that Jesus was a better way of getting high than smoking dope (which is what he was into before – and after – his days as a Christian). Or maybe it was something else, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t any intellectual issue. It never is.

      At the same time, I would love to have it so easy as the skeptic. I could just cross my arms and say “your arguments will never convince me you young whipper-snapper [I'm 45 in case you're wondering], but go ahead and let’s see you try!” It’s a lot less effort than what I do; and no doubt makes you feel quite superior!

  • dave warnock

    Oh and Mike, I’m 58 too. Was a Christian for 35 years; a pastor for many of those years. Read the Bible through many times; taught the Bible, preached it, all of it. I probably didn’t really understand what I was preaching and teaching, but anyway…You know, maybe just maybe I haven’t considered everything. Maybe I need another enthusiastic amateur apologist to enlighten me. If they would give me ONE MORE compelling argument for this fantastic (I mean that in the true sense of the word- Fantasy) salvation story, I would fall down and repent and turn from my apostasy. Or maybe- as implied in the comment above, I truly never understood what it meant to be “born again”, so therefor, after 35 years I was never really saved, and maybe one of these compelling arguments for who wrote what text and when they wrote it- will convince me that God needed to murder his son/himself to appease his father/himself because the original creation ate a piece of fruit. I wonder if this army of apologists trolls all the atheist blogs in hopes of snatching a few (younger) apostates from the fires. Or do they just pick on godlessndixie. I dunno.

    • John Fraser

      Dave,

      So you would prefer if no Christians posted here and only atheists? What’s the purpose of this blog, then? Just to preach to the choir? Pat yourselves on the back in your own de-convert echo chamber? BTW, I had an older brother who was a Christian for many years before his de-conversion (as it seems to be called nowadays) so I’m not really moved by the “I was a Christian/pastor/apologist for decades before I saw how completely absurd it all was” thing. If it’s so obviously absurd then why did you believe it in the first place? Or better question, what REALLY made you decide to abandon it all? For my brother it was his bitterness over how his life apparently was harder than he thought it should have been. But that’s because he was partly converted by people telling him that Jesus was a better way of getting high than smoking dope (which is what he was into before – and after – his days as a Christian). Or maybe it was something else, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t any intellectual issue. It never is.

      At the same time, I would love to have it so easy as the skeptic. I could just cross my arms and say “your arguments will never convince me you young whipper-snapper [I'm 45 in case you're wondering], but go ahead and let’s see you try!” It’s a lot less effort than what I do; and no doubt makes you feel quite superior!

      • dave warnock

        not superior at all. I’m not the one on here trying to convert others- if I was trying to do that, I’d be on some Christian blogs. And I’m not sure what the purpose of this blog is- you’d have to ask Neil, it’s his blog. or had you decided that it now belonged to you and Esther?

        • John Fraser

          I guess my point is if you’re so put off by Christians commenting, why read and participate? I certainly never said or even thought that it was our blog now – I post on lots of blogs and I’ve had my own blog that atheists have commented on. That’s the internet for you. And this particular post was of interest because it’s an atheist talking about Christians. It seems to me that in the interest of freethinking some Christians ought to respond, no? But I certainly never complained about atheists commenting on my bog (though I did have to censor some of the profanity-laced missives I received from the more vulgar ones).

  • mikespeir

    Yet again, here we are: “There’s not a single ‘fact’ of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us.”

    When somebody wants to deal with that head-on, I’ll be interested.

  • mikespeir

    Yet again, here we are: “There’s not a single ‘fact’ of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us.”

    When somebody wants to deal with that head-on, I’ll be interested.

  • John Fraser

    I’ve moved a comment from Godless down here because I can’t find a way to reply in the previous part of the thread. A couple of things jumped out at me. First, you said ” I’m not referencing anyone’s confidence as evidence that they’re incorrect, I’m referencing it to explain why I know taking the time to dismantle it is a fool’s errand.”

    That was sort of my point with the Bulverism comment. As Lewis points out, the modern approach is to dispense with the step of showing THAT your opponent is wrong, instead simply assume that and then distract them by trying to explain how they came to believe it. Your comment actually proves my point. Rather than even dealing with the evidence or arguments (let alone showing them to be wrong), you simply accuse Esther of “building a wall around her perception” (which is nonsense if applied to other beliefs as I pointed out), implying that she is, in effect, deceiving herself. Well, she MIGHT be deceiving herself – but then YOU might be deceiving yourself as well. It cuts both ways, and the only way to settle it is by actually dealing with the evidence – which you have not done on here.

    You also said, “A friend of mine put it well: I can respect that you are standing in a place that you feel is valid because you have gone where the evidence has led you. The evidence has led me elsewhere.”

    That’s the curious thing to me. I see an asymmetry between my Christian faith and your unbelief. My faith is based on evidence, and the more evidence I have examined the stronger it has gotten. Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another. So I don’t see how evidence could ever lead someone to atheism, because atheism isn’t based on evidence. The only thing remotely resembling a positive argument for atheism is the problem of evil, but not only is that eminently answerable it’s also a faulty objection from the atheist standpoint because you have to start with a standard for what is good and what is evil – and where does that come from? Christianity answers the problem of evil better by far than any other worldview or belief system, including naturalism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever else you want to throw in there. I can give you positive evidence for Christianity from cosmology, history, philosophy, and science. What positive evidence for atheism (or let’s say naturalism, since I assume that’s what you are) can you give me? Your one and only argument seems to be “your evidence isn’t good enough.” That’s not much of an argument since anyone can say that to any evidence for anything.

    • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

      “Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another. So I don’t see how evidence could ever lead someone to atheism, because atheism isn’t based on evidence.”

      This is an unfounded assertion. Just because someone has not laid out the evidence in a blog or even in a comment thread doesn’t mean they do not have any. You assign a lot of motivation to others in your comments. I understand atheist may do this to you as well, but two wrongs do not make a right. I’ve been refraining from commenting as I travel for lack of time and energy because as I see it you, and Esther, are very dismissive of any other scholarly work. Everyone that doesn’t support your view is distorting the evidence according to you. It’s one big conspiracy. And if shown where Christian scholars support contrary views, they must have simply changed their minds later or have been decieved. Your own reliance on Strobels “The Case for Christ” is troubling too. How many scholars did he interview that had contrary opinions to his own agenda? None. Have you read The Case Against the Case for Christ”? Have you read the Himan Faces of God”? Two of my favorites.

      As you have stated, you do not believe that any of us who were formerly Christians became atheist for intellectual reasons and you do not allow that that can even be true, or that we have any evidence that lead us to our doubts. With this schema, what could anyone possibly say that would even be sincerely heard by you? Your listening simply to argue. We are all your brother it seems.

      Your lack of respect of other’s journies and rationales is prejudicial and lacks a sincerity to understanding how others think and feel, or how after spending years seeking the truth about this, they arrived at their own conclusions. To disparage their interpretations of the evidences for and against is simply pride. It’s easy to do that in a comment thread, to dismiss others so easily and demean their experiences. I feel for your brother who lives in relation to such an unempathtic person.

      Obviously, you are confident that the evidence you’ve examined strengthens your faith. Is there any one argument from non believers that gives you any pause or doubt? Do you even pray “help my unbeleif” or have you dismissed all of your human qualities?

      • John Fraser

        “This is an unfounded assertion. Just because someone has not laid out the evidence in a blog or even in a comment thread doesn’t mean they do not have any.”

        No, it’s not unfounded. You seem to think this is the first time I’ve interacted with atheists! I’ve been doing this for years, my friend. But it’s the entire structure of the worldview – how could you have positive evidence for the non-existence of God or the supernatural? If you can tell me anything besides the problem of evil (which I mentioned already) I’d be interested.

        “I’ve been refraining from commenting as I travel for lack of time and energy because as I see it you, and Esther, are very dismissive of any other scholarly work.”

        Nope, dismissive is when you just say, “meh, that’s nothing.” I go through the arguments of skeptics piece-by-piece. I’m just that kind of guy. I don’t dismiss, I refute. So if you want to produce detailed arguments, I will give you detailed responses. It’s actually the skeptics on this thread who are dismissive of scholarly work that doesn’t fit their presuppositions. I’ve laid out in several comments the detailed and rigorous work of professional academics and nobody has even touched them. Instead I get responses like, “well anyone can make a good argument for anything, so what?” THAT’S dismissive. So you’ve got it backwards here.

        “Everyone that doesn’t support your view is distorting the evidence according to you. It’s one big conspiracy.”

        Where did I say that?

        “Your own reliance on Strobels “The Case for Christ” is troubling too.”

        I only referred to that book because I noticed it contained an interview with Metzger and I was trying to get some clarity on what Metzger had said. I figured a published interview was a good place to start, regardless of the source. Don’t you think? I don’t rely on popular apologetics sources for anything. If I see an argument that someone has made I always try to go to the primary sources to make sure they’ve gotten it right. I don’t want to be guilty of repeating someone else’s bad argument (and there are some bad and sloppy arguments out there – on both sides). In fact I basically swore off reading popular apologetics books years ago with very few exceptions.

        “Have you read The Case Against the Case for Christ”? Have you read the Himan Faces of God”? Two of my favorites.”

        Can’t say that I have. I don’t read popular anti-apologist books much at all, I prefer reading anti-apologist scholars like Gerd Ludemann, Richard Pervo, Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, etc. They’re a bit more of a challenge than popular writers who are generally so far out of their depth it’s embarrassing.

        “As you have stated, you do not believe that any of us who were formerly Christians became atheist for intellectual reasons and you do not allow that that can even be true, or that we have any evidence that lead us to our doubts.”

        I guess I can’t exclude it categorically; go ahead and try me.

        “To disparage their interpretations of the evidences for and against is simply pride.”

        I haven’t seen much in the way of either evidence for or against on this thread from the skeptics, and not on other threads that I participate on. It’s the Christians who are the ones presenting evidence and arguments for the most part, which is generally the case in my experience. Seriously, give me some of your evidence. Where is it? Was there some scientific experiment that disproved God? Or that showed Christianity to be false? When was it carried out? Of course you don’t have anything like that. Instead you have things like, “we all know all of those dimwitted superstitious ancient people were gullible and accepted all kinds of ghost stories, but now we know better.” That’s not an argument or evidence of anything. So if you want to show that you’re more than just bluster, give me your best shot.

        “I feel for your brother who lives in relation to such an unempathtic person.”

        Heh. You don’t know my brother. He’s basically estranged from the whole family. And it’s not because of his de-conversion either, because I don’t come from a Christian family. But you have no clue what you’re talking about, either about me or about my brother, so this is quite an ignorant statement. Do you always make snap judgements about people based on a few (rather innocuous) blog comments?

        “Obviously, you are confident that the evidence you’ve examined strengthens your faith. Is there any one argument from non believers that gives you any pause or doubt?”

        I guess there have been in the past, but whenever I come across an issue like that I work on trying to see if I can resolve it. That’s basically how my theological and apologetic method has developed over the years. But I have no current unresolved questions like that. There are some theological questions that I still wonder about but I have no doubts about God’s existence, the reality of the afterlife, or Jesus’ resurrection. I also believe that naturalism as a worldview is on the decline.

        “Do you even pray “help my unbeleif” or have you dismissed all of your human qualities?”

        Oh, this to me is a different question entirely. The context of this quote of course was a guy who wanted Jesus to heal his son and evidently felt his faith was weak and he needed help with it. He lacked confidence that Jesus would come through in his need. I struggle with that all the time – that’s part of the Christian life in my opinion. That’s an issue of trusting in God’s providence, not in questioning his reality.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          “I’ve been doing this for years, my friend. But it’s the entire structure of the worldview – how could you have positive evidence for the non-existence of God or the supernatural?”

          Are you under the impression that atheism necessarily requires a positive claim for the non-existence of God (which one, btw)? Because I’ve said many times that I do not identify with that. I, for one, would be willing to concede the possibility of a ground-of-being type God which doesn’t intervene in the world in any detectable way. I don’t encounter many people fighting for such a being, but I have no basis for asserting the non-existence of such a God. Do you define atheism so narrowly as to only include those who make positive claims for the non-existence of all possible gods? If you’re not new to this, I’m sure you’ve noticed that atheism doesn’t necessitate such claims.

          • John Fraser

            “Are you under the impression that atheism necessarily requires a positive claim for the non-existence of God (which one, btw)? Because I’ve said many times that I do not identify with that.”

            And yet you also say that you followed the evidence where it led. To me that’s a positive claim – you saw evidence that pointed to the non-existence of God (as opposed to simply what you saw as unconvincing evidence or something). If you acknowledge that you have no positive claim for the non-existence of God, then how did evidence lead you to that? Although I read your letters on your deconversion, and what I saw is that your experience didn’t match what you thought or expected it to. That’s not what I would call following the evidence, because the only evidence you’re talking about is subjective. Not only do I not see that as good evidence for myself, I don’t see it as good evidence for yourself, either.

            “I, for one, would be willing to concede the possibility of a ground-of-being type God which doesn’t intervene in the world in any detectable way.”

            That’s obviously not the kind of God that I’m talking about. Here’s how I would put it: I can grant that someone could argue based on a lack of evidence for some being that said being does not exist IF they have a good idea of what evidence should be present in the case of the existence of that being and such evidence is not found in the expected place. So my question is, what evidence do you expect in the case of God’s existence (I’m speaking for the traditional Christian God) which has not been found? Let me give you a few of my own for starters. First, we would expect there to be evidence that the universe had a beginning. This is not a given, because many ancients and even scientists up until the 20th century held that the universe was eternal. But today the most commonly accepted view is that the universe did have a beginning. So check one. Second, we would expect evidence for the universe to have been designed for the purpose of supporting intelligent life. We now have abundant evidence from cosmology for the fine-tuning of the universe which would have been uninhabitable if one of any of a number of constants and variables in the initial conditions of the universe (including but not limited to the remarkable initial low entropy) had been off by the smallest amount. That’s check two. Third, we would expect evidence of God’s continuing activity in the world through things like miracles. In a previous comment I referred to Craig Keener’s work on this subject which shows that in fact there are literally hundreds of millions of eyewitness claims to miracles around the world today, including the Western world. And no, they don’t just come from Pentecostals or charismatics. I have personally talked to people with miracle testimonies which are very much on par with the miracles recorded in the Bible. The claim that miracles are extremely rare really isn’t true (unless you call hundreds of millions rare). Humean-style attempts to simply dismiss all miracle claims based on probability are actually demonstrably false. So that’s check three. So if you think there is some evidence lacking, what exactly is it that you are expecting which has not turned up? That you weren’t as happy when you were a Christian as you thought you should be as you said in your letter? Is that really good evidence? Maybe your expectations were unrealistic.

            “Do you define atheism so narrowly as to only include those who make positive claims for the non-existence of all possible gods? If you’re not new to this, I’m sure you’ve noticed that atheism doesn’t necessitate such claims.”

            Yes, I know that many atheists like to claim that atheism is simply lack of belief in a god or something like that, but this is not what the English word has meant historically. There is a word for that, and it’s agnostic. But I wasn’t going on the fact that you claim to be an atheist, I was going on your statement that you followed the evidence where it led. But as I said, your atheism isn’t based on evidence. It’s based on the alleged lack of evidence or the alleged insufficiency of the evidence of believers. Thus there is a real asymmetry between our positions. And this is in direct contrast to the oft-repeated claim that religious belief is not based on evidence. It’s actually the opposite: religious belief IS based on evidence, whereas unbelief is not.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        cjoint, you’re right to point out that since Neil hasn’t given all his reasons, we can’t accurately say that he doesn’t have any that are ostensibly evidential. Maybe John could have worded that part of his response in a more politic way. However, the comments Neil has made do indeed smack of Bulverism as John has pointed out.

        As for the approach to scholars who disagree, what you’re glossing over is the question of fact. There is a fact of the matter about all of these things, and in many cases, it doesn’t take some arcane bit of knowledge to grasp that fact. For example, it is a fact that Metzger was writing in the 1960s and that scholarly consensus has evolved since his writing. It is a fact that fresh, relevant findings have come to light since that date. It is also a fact that Metzger’s own wording, in that exact same passage, has an undermining effect by affirming the reliability of Mark as the account of Peter’s eyewitness testimony. You can plainly see it in the paragraph immediately following:

        “According to traditions reported by several Church fathers of the second and third centuries, the Gospel of mark embodies what John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37) wrote down at Rome from the preaching of Peter. Its colloquial style and graphic description of incidents in which Simon Peter figures prominently or which must have had special interest for him (for example, Mark 1:16-20; 1:29-31; 1:35-38; 14:27-31, 32-42, 54, 66-72) give the impression of being derived directly from the reminiscence of Peter himself. Furthermore in 1:36 the disciples are called ‘Simon and those who were with him,’ and in 16:7 the women are commissioned to announce to “his disciples and Peter” that the risen Christ goes before them into Galilee.”

        Now John didn’t state as fact that Metzger changed his mind, he merely quoted an interview that might point in that direction. Neither of us said that Metzger “must have” changed his mind, although were he alive today it would be interesting to see how he reacted to the new findings since he wrote.

        Also, it is a fact that Bart Ehrman uses the “third person” argument to deceive people who are unfamiliar with the ancient custom of referring to oneself in the third person when one appears as a player in one’s own narrative. Either Ehrman is unaware of this custom, which is doubtful, or he is deliberately leaving it out. Either way, it’s a fact that this is a shockingly poor argument against the authorship of Matthew, and it’s a fact that he advances it as a significant consideration. Read the excerpt from p. 104 of Jesus, Interrupted for yourself:

        “Moreover, Matthew’s Gospel is written completely in the third person, about what “they” — Jesus and the disciples — were doing, never about what “we” — Jesus and the rest of us — were doing. Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about “him,” not about “me.” Read the account for yourself (Matthew 9:9). There’s not a thing in it that would make you suspect the author is talking about himself.”

        To give another example from that book, Ehrman writes on p. 102:

        “In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity.”

        You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get out your Bible and fact-check Ehrman on this for yourself. Let’s see what the text actually says.

        Matthew 1:3 Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us).

        The cross-reference to the Isaiah prophecy here also contains the name “Mighty God” when listing titles for the prophesied one.

        Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

        This is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah 40. The word for “Lord” in the original Hebrew text is the sacred tetragrammaton, the holy name that no devout Jew will speak out loud. Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. The fact that he’s quoting this prophecy leaves no doubt about what he intends to convey to them regarding Jesus’ identity.

        For another passage that also refutes Ehrman’s further comment that Jesus never indicated his own divinity, see…

        Matthew 9:2-6:

        2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

        3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

        4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

        5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

        6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

        Why are the scribes accusing Jesus of blasphemy? Because he claimed the power to forgive sins. The Jews believed only God had that power. Jesus was quite pointedly and clearly declaring himself to be God by declaring this divine authority. No other reading makes any sense at all.

        I’ve just given you three passages in Matthew, which anyone with a Bible can look up, that outright contradict Ehrman’s statement. I could go on just about Ehrman, but you get my point, and Ehrman is actually far from the worst example I could give. I also made reference earlier to Dennis Nineham’s accusation in _The Gospel of Mark_ (1963, p.40) that Mark gets his geography wrong when describing Jesus’ puzzlingly roundabout route from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. But we can look at a topographical map to see that the critical scholar simply didn’t realize there was a mountain (Mount Meron) blocking the most natural route. Moreover, there was fresh water along the path Jesus chose, through Sidon. So far from being a point against Mark, it’s actually a point in Mark’s favor, that he was familiar with the lie of the land. Again, this is a FACT, not a matter of opinion.

        The point I’m getting at here is this isn’t about whether we “like” the scholars or their opinions. This is about whether they are right or whether they are wrong, and what the primary information tells us.

    • mikespeir

      “Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another.”

      Gee, really? And exactly what should it be based on? Why should anyone believe something for which he sees too little evidence? Do you? Is it even possible?

      • John Fraser

        Mike,

        I was responding to Godless’s comment that “the evidence has led me elsewhere.” That seems to imply that he had some evidential basis for his atheism, which I’m saying there isn’t any with the possible exception of the problem of evil, but that one is actually handled better under Christianity anyhow.

        As for the evidence, however, it’s always possible for someone to close their eyes to any amount of evidence if they have decided not to believe in something or not to accept some unwelcome conclusion.

        • mikespeir

          Sure. Or confabulate evidence that’s not there.

          • John Fraser

            The thing is, we’ve given you copious amounts of evidence. Which of it do you claim isn’t really there?

          • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

            John and Esther,

            I appreciate your responses, especially Esther who has withdrawn her fangs somewhat and at least enters a more firmly tone. You lost me though way back when you so easily waived away thousands of people rising from the dead in Matthew as unimportant, your “facepalm” of Carrier who has some valid points IMO, and your constant appeal and weight to your own projections about what first century people would or would not do and how that supports he gospels validity. The criterion of embarrassment was never very convincing to me. We all have to consider the context but how do we decide which projections we should give weight and which ones we don’t. I notice that the one you give weight to all support your conclusion ( I.e. The Jews did this, or believed that, the writers wouldn’t have done this etc..) I’m not saying they are irrelevant factors but it’s not the most compelling way for either side.

            John, I think what I would like to point out is that the evidence we may have all found compelling is not positive evidence that there is no god, that’s stupid, but have explored the same evidence as you and find it wanting. We are talking about the same evidence for the bible, specifically the gospels in this post, and coming to very different conclusions. We have valid intellectual reasons. I’m sorry you don’t recognize them.

            I can’t speak for the others but after being exposed to all the scholars that were pro-Christianity in seminary and beyond, many that you both have mentioned our experience and examinations of this evidence, combined with our own personal journeys, along with science and humanistic arguments, we decided to move back to the default position that would like more evidence for the specific god of Christianity.

            To claim new testament scholars are in some type of consensus isn’t really fair handed. It should surprise no one that the great mainstream of biblical scholars hold views friendly to traditional Christianity, for the simple reason that most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians by larger percentages, even if not fundamentalists. So yes, I tend to be more convinced by the arguments of Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, Robert M. Price, Hector Avalos, John Dominic Crossan and others. That’s the experience that I am claiming John is denying me and others. It reminds me of being a Christian and arguing over doctrines with other Christians. Appealing to your own intuitions and interpretations as fact, while calling the other person experience into repute, is not really a conversation. It reads with the tenor of, “no reasonable person could possibly conclude x” when in fact there are reasonable people on all side of all kinds of issues.

            P.S., Thom Stark, the author of “The Human faces of God” is a scholar and Christian I would offer his work as a valid read.

            When I read your post, I mentally put, “in my opinion” or “from my perspective” or “I’m convinced” in front of your many statements and it reads much better than the way it reads now. It puts your belief in a proper category. I place my own perspective in the same category, based on my experiences and my readings of all the same scholars I’m convinced the bible is not what I grew up thinking it was, is not written by a god and that the gospels are. It in fact first person eye witnesses, that detail fantastical but real occurrences.

            I’ll end with a quote from James F. MacArth about the gospel of probability:

            “In thinking about the issues of history and faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that a key challenge facing Christianity in our time can be outlined as follows:

            First, Christianity as historically understood has a close connection with historical events.

            Second, historical study provides the only tools available by which to answer questions such as “Is this text from ancient Israel a folktale, a parable, a work of historical fiction, or a well-documented historical account of actual events?”

            Third, historical study deals in probabilities. The best it could ever say about Jesus’ resurrection, for instance, assuming it can deal with such an occurrence at all, is that “Jesus probably rose from the dead. That is the most likely of several possible explanations for the rise of this early Christian belief.” [I'm not saying this is the actual state of the historical evidence, just offering a "best-case scenario"].

            Fourth, it seems like an inadequate form of the Gospel to go around proclaiming “It is probable that Jesus rose from the dead.”

            This is the conundrum Christians face. Even if we want to take historical study seriously, it can’t provide what most religious believers want: certainty. So even if the likelihood of Biblical accounts could be established (and in many instances this is clearly not the case), what is Christianity’s message?

            Is Christianity faced with the choice of proclaiming a Gospel about what is probable, or of focusing on those things we can experience for ourselves in the present? Is there a third option?”

            So yes, there are lots of us, many former believers who have found the evidence lacking from a god so marvelous and miraculous 2000 years ago but seems remarkably inert today. We have found secular arguments and rationales more appealing to our integrity.

            I’ve come to the conclusion that for me to be a Christian, I would need to embrace the fantastical claims of the past contained in an imperfect copy of copies of letters and books (of which are disputably inaccurate), its claims about the future which is unknowable, and largely ignore the reality and experiences of the present, where there is no direct evidence of a supernatural divinity intervening in anything.

          • John Fraser

            Cjoint,

            “John, I think what I would like to point out is that the evidence we may have all found compelling is not positive evidence that there is no god, that’s stupid, but have explored the same evidence as you and find it wanting.”

            But that’s exactly what I said and you took me to task for it. Is this your final answer? Let me know when you make up your mind.

            “We have valid intellectual reasons.”

            When are you going to let us know what those are?

            “To claim new testament scholars are in some type of consensus isn’t really fair handed.”

            There is almost nothing in New Testament studies that there is a consensus about. Why, who appealed to a consensus of scholars?

            “Third, historical study deals in probabilities. The best it could ever say about Jesus’ resurrection, for instance, assuming it can deal with such an occurrence at all, is that “Jesus probably rose from the dead.”

            And yet we all hold beliefs about history without batting an eye. Who was the first president of the United States? Did you say it was PROBABLY George Washington, or did you just say George Washington? Because I think people would look at you funny if you said the former, yet we only have probabilistic evidence for it. And btw, all of the scientific truths which you think are so certain are also probabilistic in nature. I have no problem with that because in epistemology I’m a probabilist, and if science is your thing then you should be, too. But in that case this objection really isn’t an objection at all.

            “Fourth, it seems like an inadequate form of the Gospel to go around proclaiming “It is probable that Jesus rose from the dead.””

            I also don’t go around saying that the earth probably revolves around the sun or that there probably exists an external universe or that there are probably other minds. Yet by this same standard that’s what I should be obliged to do. If you’re going to be a skeptic, you need to be consistent and take your skepticism all the way. Having a double standard is illegitimate.

            “This is the conundrum Christians face. Even if we want to take historical study seriously, it can’t provide what most religious believers want: certainty.”

            No, I realized a lot time ago that the quest for certainty is problematic, but that’s not just true when it comes to religious belief. But what makes you think that most religious believers want certainty anyhow? I haven’t talked to any who say that that I can recall.

            “and largely ignore the reality and experiences of the present, where there is no direct evidence of a supernatural divinity intervening in anything.”

            Sorry, but there is all kinds of evidence of God’s present activity in the world. I’ve already pointed that out a couple of times on here.

          • mikespeir

            “The thing is, we’ve given you copious amounts of evidence. Which of it do you claim isn’t really there?”

            And you’ve all ignored my challenge to you which shows that all your superficial and speculative evidence counts for little and proves less.

            Yet again: “There’s not a single ‘fact’ of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us.”

            Anybody want to deny that?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            John, earlier I said there was a consensus that Jesus existed and died by crucifixion. Also, there’s consensus that the first four epistles of Paul are authentic, and I added some additional ones acknowledged by Bart Ehrman as well. I also said there was a consensus about the fact that the author of Luke and Acts was an associate of Paul up close to the times whereof he wrote.

          • John Fraser

            Esther,

            Yes, I would agree that there is consensus about those facts. And actually it’s striking how far those facts can actually get you. For example, just the fact that Jesus was executed by crucifixion eliminates virtually all liberal reconstructions of Jesus. None of those reconstructions are “crucifiable.” In fact after thinking about it, you have to realize that how the Gospel writers portray Jesus fits those facts better than anyone else’s version of Jesus.

        • dave warnock

          “with the possible exception of the problem of evil, but that one is actually handled better under Christianity anyhow”

          In your opinion.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            *Meant to say Elisha there, not Elijah.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Errrr, in reply to a different comment, that is. It’s up there. Somewhere.

  • John Fraser

    I’ve moved a comment from Godless down here because I can’t find a way to reply in the previous part of the thread. A couple of things jumped out at me. First, you said ” I’m not referencing anyone’s confidence as evidence that they’re incorrect, I’m referencing it to explain why I know taking the time to dismantle it is a fool’s errand.”

    That was sort of my point with the Bulverism comment. As Lewis points out, the modern approach is to dispense with the step of showing THAT your opponent is wrong, instead simply assume that and then distract them by trying to explain how they came to believe it. Your comment actually proves my point. Rather than even dealing with the evidence or arguments (let alone showing them to be wrong), you simply accuse Esther of “building a wall around her perception” (which is nonsense if applied to other beliefs as I pointed out), implying that she is, in effect, deceiving herself. Well, she MIGHT be deceiving herself – but then YOU might be deceiving yourself as well. It cuts both ways, and the only way to settle it is by actually dealing with the evidence – which you have not done on here.

    You also said, “A friend of mine put it well: I can respect that you are standing in a place that you feel is valid because you have gone where the evidence has led you. The evidence has led me elsewhere.”

    That’s the curious thing to me. I see an asymmetry between my Christian faith and your unbelief. My faith is based on evidence, and the more evidence I have examined the stronger it has gotten. Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another. So I don’t see how evidence could ever lead someone to atheism, because atheism isn’t based on evidence. The only thing remotely resembling a positive argument for atheism is the problem of evil, but not only is that eminently answerable it’s also a faulty objection from the atheist standpoint because you have to start with a standard for what is good and what is evil – and where does that come from? Christianity answers the problem of evil better by far than any other worldview or belief system, including naturalism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever else you want to throw in there. I can give you positive evidence for Christianity from cosmology, history, philosophy, and science. What positive evidence for atheism (or let’s say naturalism, since I assume that’s what you are) can you give me? Your one and only argument seems to be “your evidence isn’t good enough.” That’s not much of an argument since anyone can say that to any evidence for anything.

    • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

      “Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another. So I don’t see how evidence could ever lead someone to atheism, because atheism isn’t based on evidence.”

      This is an unfounded assertion. Just because someone has not laid out the evidence in a blog or even in a comment thread doesn’t mean they do not have any. You assign a lot of motivation to others in your comments. I understand atheist may do this to you as well, but two wrongs do not make a right. I’ve been refraining from commenting as I travel for lack of time and energy because as I see it you, and Esther, are very dismissive of any other scholarly work. Everyone that doesn’t support your view is distorting the evidence according to you. It’s one big conspiracy. And if shown where Christian scholars support contrary views, they must have simply changed their minds later or have been decieved. Your own reliance on Strobels “The Case for Christ” is troubling too. How many scholars did he interview that had contrary opinions to his own agenda? None. Have you read The Case Against the Case for Christ”? Have you read the Himan Faces of God”? Two of my favorites.

      As you have stated, you do not believe that any of us who were formerly Christians became atheist for intellectual reasons and you do not allow that that can even be true, or that we have any evidence that lead us to our doubts. With this schema, what could anyone possibly say that would even be sincerely heard by you? Your listening simply to argue. We are all your brother it seems.

      Your lack of respect of other’s journies and rationales is prejudicial and lacks a sincerity to understanding how others think and feel, or how after spending years seeking the truth about this, they arrived at their own conclusions. To disparage their interpretations of the evidences for and against is simply pride. It’s easy to do that in a comment thread, to dismiss others so easily and demean their experiences. I feel for your brother who lives in relation to such an unempathtic person.

      Obviously, you are confident that the evidence you’ve examined strengthens your faith. Is there any one argument from non believers that gives you any pause or doubt? Do you even pray “help my unbeleif” or have you dismissed all of your human qualities?

      • John Fraser

        “This is an unfounded assertion. Just because someone has not laid out the evidence in a blog or even in a comment thread doesn’t mean they do not have any.”

        No, it’s not unfounded. You seem to think this is the first time I’ve interacted with atheists! I’ve been doing this for years, my friend. But it’s the entire structure of the worldview – how could you have positive evidence for the non-existence of God or the supernatural? If you can tell me anything besides the problem of evil (which I mentioned already) I’d be interested.

        “I’ve been refraining from commenting as I travel for lack of time and energy because as I see it you, and Esther, are very dismissive of any other scholarly work.”

        Nope, dismissive is when you just say, “meh, that’s nothing.” I go through the arguments of skeptics piece-by-piece. I’m just that kind of guy. I don’t dismiss, I refute. So if you want to produce detailed arguments, I will give you detailed responses. It’s actually the skeptics on this thread who are dismissive of scholarly work that doesn’t fit their presuppositions. I’ve laid out in several comments the detailed and rigorous work of professional academics and nobody has even touched them. Instead I get responses like, “well anyone can make a good argument for anything, so what?” THAT’S dismissive. So you’ve got it backwards here.

        “Everyone that doesn’t support your view is distorting the evidence according to you. It’s one big conspiracy.”

        Where did I say that?

        “Your own reliance on Strobels “The Case for Christ” is troubling too.”

        I only referred to that book because I noticed it contained an interview with Metzger and I was trying to get some clarity on what Metzger had said. I figured a published interview was a good place to start, regardless of the source. Don’t you think? I don’t rely on popular apologetics sources for anything. If I see an argument that someone has made I always try to go to the primary sources to make sure they’ve gotten it right. I don’t want to be guilty of repeating someone else’s bad argument (and there are some bad and sloppy arguments out there – on both sides). In fact I basically swore off reading popular apologetics books years ago with very few exceptions.

        “Have you read The Case Against the Case for Christ”? Have you read the Himan Faces of God”? Two of my favorites.”

        Can’t say that I have. I don’t read popular anti-apologist books much at all, I prefer reading anti-apologist scholars like Gerd Ludemann, Richard Pervo, Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, etc. They’re a bit more of a challenge than popular writers who are generally so far out of their depth it’s embarrassing.

        “As you have stated, you do not believe that any of us who were formerly Christians became atheist for intellectual reasons and you do not allow that that can even be true, or that we have any evidence that lead us to our doubts.”

        I guess I can’t exclude it categorically; go ahead and try me.

        “To disparage their interpretations of the evidences for and against is simply pride.”

        I haven’t seen much in the way of either evidence for or against on this thread from the skeptics, and not on other threads that I participate on. It’s the Christians who are the ones presenting evidence and arguments for the most part, which is generally the case in my experience. Seriously, give me some of your evidence. Where is it? Was there some scientific experiment that disproved God? Or that showed Christianity to be false? When was it carried out? Of course you don’t have anything like that. Instead you have things like, “we all know all of those dimwitted superstitious ancient people were gullible and accepted all kinds of ghost stories, but now we know better.” That’s not an argument or evidence of anything. So if you want to show that you’re more than just bluster, give me your best shot.

        “I feel for your brother who lives in relation to such an unempathtic person.”

        Heh. You don’t know my brother. He’s basically estranged from the whole family. And it’s not because of his de-conversion either, because I don’t come from a Christian family. But you have no clue what you’re talking about, either about me or about my brother, so this is quite an ignorant statement. Do you always make snap judgements about people based on a few (rather innocuous) blog comments?

        “Obviously, you are confident that the evidence you’ve examined strengthens your faith. Is there any one argument from non believers that gives you any pause or doubt?”

        I guess there have been in the past, but whenever I come across an issue like that I work on trying to see if I can resolve it. That’s basically how my theological and apologetic method has developed over the years. But I have no current unresolved questions like that. There are some theological questions that I still wonder about but I have no doubts about God’s existence, the reality of the afterlife, or Jesus’ resurrection. I also believe that naturalism as a worldview is on the decline.

        “Do you even pray “help my unbeleif” or have you dismissed all of your human qualities?”

        Oh, this to me is a different question entirely. The context of this quote of course was a guy who wanted Jesus to heal his son and evidently felt his faith was weak and he needed help with it. He lacked confidence that Jesus would come through in his need. I struggle with that all the time – that’s part of the Christian life in my opinion. That’s an issue of trusting in God’s providence, not in questioning his reality.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          “I’ve been doing this for years, my friend. But it’s the entire structure of the worldview – how could you have positive evidence for the non-existence of God or the supernatural?”

          Are you under the impression that atheism necessarily requires a positive claim for the non-existence of God (which one, btw)? Because I’ve said many times that I do not identify with that. I, for one, would be willing to concede the possibility of a ground-of-being type God which doesn’t intervene in the world in any detectable way. I don’t encounter many people fighting for such a being, but I have no basis for asserting the non-existence of such a God. Do you define atheism so narrowly as to only include those who make positive claims for the non-existence of all possible gods? If you’re not new to this, I’m sure you’ve noticed that atheism doesn’t necessitate such claims.

          • John Fraser

            “Are you under the impression that atheism necessarily requires a positive claim for the non-existence of God (which one, btw)? Because I’ve said many times that I do not identify with that.”

            And yet you also say that you followed the evidence where it led. To me that’s a positive claim – you saw evidence that pointed to the non-existence of God (as opposed to simply what you saw as unconvincing evidence or something). If you acknowledge that you have no positive claim for the non-existence of God, then how did evidence lead you to that? Although I read your letters on your deconversion, and what I saw is that your experience didn’t match what you thought or expected it to. That’s not what I would call following the evidence, because the only evidence you’re talking about is subjective. Not only do I not see that as good evidence for myself, I don’t see it as good evidence for yourself, either.

            “I, for one, would be willing to concede the possibility of a ground-of-being type God which doesn’t intervene in the world in any detectable way.”

            That’s obviously not the kind of God that I’m talking about. Here’s how I would put it: I can grant that someone could argue based on a lack of evidence for some being that said being does not exist IF they have a good idea of what evidence should be present in the case of the existence of that being and such evidence is not found in the expected place. So my question is, what evidence do you expect in the case of God’s existence (I’m speaking for the traditional Christian God) which has not been found? Let me give you a few of my own for starters. First, we would expect there to be evidence that the universe had a beginning. This is not a given, because many ancients and even scientists up until the 20th century held that the universe was eternal. But today the most commonly accepted view is that the universe did have a beginning. So check one. Second, we would expect evidence for the universe to have been designed for the purpose of supporting intelligent life. We now have abundant evidence from cosmology for the fine-tuning of the universe which would have been uninhabitable if one of any of a number of constants and variables in the initial conditions of the universe (including but not limited to the remarkable initial low entropy) had been off by the smallest amount. That’s check two. Third, we would expect evidence of God’s continuing activity in the world through things like miracles. In a previous comment I referred to Craig Keener’s work on this subject which shows that in fact there are literally hundreds of millions of eyewitness claims to miracles around the world today, including the Western world. And no, they don’t just come from Pentecostals or charismatics. I have personally talked to people with miracle testimonies which are very much on par with the miracles recorded in the Bible. The claim that miracles are extremely rare really isn’t true (unless you call hundreds of millions rare). Humean-style attempts to simply dismiss all miracle claims based on probability are actually demonstrably false. So that’s check three. So if you think there is some evidence lacking, what exactly is it that you are expecting which has not turned up? That you weren’t as happy when you were a Christian as you thought you should be as you said in your letter? Is that really good evidence? Maybe your expectations were unrealistic.

            “Do you define atheism so narrowly as to only include those who make positive claims for the non-existence of all possible gods? If you’re not new to this, I’m sure you’ve noticed that atheism doesn’t necessitate such claims.”

            Yes, I know that many atheists like to claim that atheism is simply lack of belief in a god or something like that, but this is not what the English word has meant historically. There is a word for that, and it’s agnostic. But I wasn’t going on the fact that you claim to be an atheist, I was going on your statement that you followed the evidence where it led. But as I said, your atheism isn’t based on evidence. It’s based on the alleged lack of evidence or the alleged insufficiency of the evidence of believers. Thus there is a real asymmetry between our positions. And this is in direct contrast to the oft-repeated claim that religious belief is not based on evidence. It’s actually the opposite: religious belief IS based on evidence, whereas unbelief is not.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        cjoint, you’re right to point out that since Neil hasn’t given all his reasons, we can’t accurately say that he doesn’t have any that are ostensibly evidential. Maybe John could have worded that part of his response in a more politic way. However, the comments Neil has made do indeed smack of Bulverism as John has pointed out.

        As for the approach to scholars who disagree, what you’re glossing over is the question of fact. There is a fact of the matter about all of these things, and in many cases, it doesn’t take some arcane bit of knowledge to grasp that fact. For example, it is a fact that Metzger was writing in the 1960s and that scholarly consensus has evolved since his writing. It is a fact that fresh, relevant findings have come to light since that date. It is also a fact that Metzger’s own wording, in that exact same passage, has an undermining effect by affirming the reliability of Mark as the account of Peter’s eyewitness testimony. You can plainly see it in the paragraph immediately following:

        “According to traditions reported by several Church fathers of the second and third centuries, the Gospel of mark embodies what John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37) wrote down at Rome from the preaching of Peter. Its colloquial style and graphic description of incidents in which Simon Peter figures prominently or which must have had special interest for him (for example, Mark 1:16-20; 1:29-31; 1:35-38; 14:27-31, 32-42, 54, 66-72) give the impression of being derived directly from the reminiscence of Peter himself. Furthermore in 1:36 the disciples are called ‘Simon and those who were with him,’ and in 16:7 the women are commissioned to announce to “his disciples and Peter” that the risen Christ goes before them into Galilee.”

        Now John didn’t state as fact that Metzger changed his mind, he merely quoted an interview that might point in that direction. Neither of us said that Metzger “must have” changed his mind, although were he alive today it would be interesting to see how he reacted to the new findings since he wrote.

        Also, it is a fact that Bart Ehrman uses the “third person” argument to deceive people who are unfamiliar with the ancient custom of referring to oneself in the third person when one appears as a player in one’s own narrative. Either Ehrman is unaware of this custom, which is doubtful, or he is deliberately leaving it out. Either way, it’s a fact that this is a shockingly poor argument against the authorship of Matthew, and it’s a fact that he advances it as a significant consideration. Read the excerpt from p. 104 of Jesus, Interrupted for yourself:

        “Moreover, Matthew’s Gospel is written completely in the third person, about what “they” — Jesus and the disciples — were doing, never about what “we” — Jesus and the rest of us — were doing. Even when this Gospel narrates the event of Matthew being called to become a disciple, it talks about “him,” not about “me.” Read the account for yourself (Matthew 9:9). There’s not a thing in it that would make you suspect the author is talking about himself.”

        To give another example from that book, Ehrman writes on p. 102:

        “In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity.”

        You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get out your Bible and fact-check Ehrman on this for yourself. Let’s see what the text actually says.

        Matthew 1:3 Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us).

        The cross-reference to the Isaiah prophecy here also contains the name “Mighty God” when listing titles for the prophesied one.

        Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

        This is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah 40. The word for “Lord” in the original Hebrew text is the sacred tetragrammaton, the holy name that no devout Jew will speak out loud. Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. The fact that he’s quoting this prophecy leaves no doubt about what he intends to convey to them regarding Jesus’ identity.

        For another passage that also refutes Ehrman’s further comment that Jesus never indicated his own divinity, see…

        Matthew 9:2-6:

        2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

        3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

        4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

        5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

        6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

        Why are the scribes accusing Jesus of blasphemy? Because he claimed the power to forgive sins. The Jews believed only God had that power. Jesus was quite pointedly and clearly declaring himself to be God by declaring this divine authority. No other reading makes any sense at all.

        I’ve just given you three passages in Matthew, which anyone with a Bible can look up, that outright contradict Ehrman’s statement. I could go on just about Ehrman, but you get my point, and Ehrman is actually far from the worst example I could give. I also made reference earlier to Dennis Nineham’s accusation in _The Gospel of Mark_ (1963, p.40) that Mark gets his geography wrong when describing Jesus’ puzzlingly roundabout route from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. But we can look at a topographical map to see that the critical scholar simply didn’t realize there was a mountain (Mount Meron) blocking the most natural route. Moreover, there was fresh water along the path Jesus chose, through Sidon. So far from being a point against Mark, it’s actually a point in Mark’s favor, that he was familiar with the lie of the land. Again, this is a FACT, not a matter of opinion.

        The point I’m getting at here is this isn’t about whether we “like” the scholars or their opinions. This is about whether they are right or whether they are wrong, and what the primary information tells us.

    • mikespeir

      “Your unbelief is not based on evidence at all, it’s based on the claim that my evidence isn’t good enough for one reason or another.”

      Gee, really? And exactly what should it be based on? Why should anyone believe something for which he sees too little evidence? Do you? Is it even possible?

      • John Fraser

        Mike,

        I was responding to Godless’s comment that “the evidence has led me elsewhere.” That seems to imply that he had some evidential basis for his atheism, which I’m saying there isn’t any with the possible exception of the problem of evil, but that one is actually handled better under Christianity anyhow.

        As for the evidence, however, it’s always possible for someone to close their eyes to any amount of evidence if they have decided not to believe in something or not to accept some unwelcome conclusion.

        • mikespeir

          Sure. Or confabulate evidence that’s not there.

          • John Fraser

            The thing is, we’ve given you copious amounts of evidence. Which of it do you claim isn’t really there?

          • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

            John and Esther,

            I appreciate your responses, especially Esther who has withdrawn her fangs somewhat and at least enters a more firmly tone. You lost me though way back when you so easily waived away thousands of people rising from the dead in Matthew as unimportant, your “facepalm” of Carrier who has some valid points IMO, and your constant appeal and weight to your own projections about what first century people would or would not do and how that supports he gospels validity. The criterion of embarrassment was never very convincing to me. We all have to consider the context but how do we decide which projections we should give weight and which ones we don’t. I notice that the one you give weight to all support your conclusion ( I.e. The Jews did this, or believed that, the writers wouldn’t have done this etc..) I’m not saying they are irrelevant factors but it’s not the most compelling way for either side.

            John, I think what I would like to point out is that the evidence we may have all found compelling is not positive evidence that there is no god, that’s stupid, but have explored the same evidence as you and find it wanting. We are talking about the same evidence for the bible, specifically the gospels in this post, and coming to very different conclusions. We have valid intellectual reasons. I’m sorry you don’t recognize them.

            I can’t speak for the others but after being exposed to all the scholars that were pro-Christianity in seminary and beyond, many that you both have mentioned our experience and examinations of this evidence, combined with our own personal journeys, along with science and humanistic arguments, we decided to move back to the default position that would like more evidence for the specific god of Christianity.

            To claim new testament scholars are in some type of consensus isn’t really fair handed. It should surprise no one that the great mainstream of biblical scholars hold views friendly to traditional Christianity, for the simple reason that most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians by larger percentages, even if not fundamentalists. So yes, I tend to be more convinced by the arguments of Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, Robert M. Price, Hector Avalos, John Dominic Crossan and others. That’s the experience that I am claiming John is denying me and others. It reminds me of being a Christian and arguing over doctrines with other Christians. Appealing to your own intuitions and interpretations as fact, while calling the other person experience into repute, is not really a conversation. It reads with the tenor of, “no reasonable person could possibly conclude x” when in fact there are reasonable people on all side of all kinds of issues.

            P.S., Thom Stark, the author of “The Human faces of God” is a scholar and Christian I would offer his work as a valid read.

            When I read your post, I mentally put, “in my opinion” or “from my perspective” or “I’m convinced” in front of your many statements and it reads much better than the way it reads now. It puts your belief in a proper category. I place my own perspective in the same category, based on my experiences and my readings of all the same scholars I’m convinced the bible is not what I grew up thinking it was, is not written by a god and that the gospels are. It in fact first person eye witnesses, that detail fantastical but real occurrences.

            I’ll end with a quote from James F. MacArth about the gospel of probability:

            “In thinking about the issues of history and faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that a key challenge facing Christianity in our time can be outlined as follows:

            First, Christianity as historically understood has a close connection with historical events.

            Second, historical study provides the only tools available by which to answer questions such as “Is this text from ancient Israel a folktale, a parable, a work of historical fiction, or a well-documented historical account of actual events?”

            Third, historical study deals in probabilities. The best it could ever say about Jesus’ resurrection, for instance, assuming it can deal with such an occurrence at all, is that “Jesus probably rose from the dead. That is the most likely of several possible explanations for the rise of this early Christian belief.” [I'm not saying this is the actual state of the historical evidence, just offering a "best-case scenario"].

            Fourth, it seems like an inadequate form of the Gospel to go around proclaiming “It is probable that Jesus rose from the dead.”

            This is the conundrum Christians face. Even if we want to take historical study seriously, it can’t provide what most religious believers want: certainty. So even if the likelihood of Biblical accounts could be established (and in many instances this is clearly not the case), what is Christianity’s message?

            Is Christianity faced with the choice of proclaiming a Gospel about what is probable, or of focusing on those things we can experience for ourselves in the present? Is there a third option?”

            So yes, there are lots of us, many former believers who have found the evidence lacking from a god so marvelous and miraculous 2000 years ago but seems remarkably inert today. We have found secular arguments and rationales more appealing to our integrity.

            I’ve come to the conclusion that for me to be a Christian, I would need to embrace the fantastical claims of the past contained in an imperfect copy of copies of letters and books (of which are disputably inaccurate), its claims about the future which is unknowable, and largely ignore the reality and experiences of the present, where there is no direct evidence of a supernatural divinity intervening in anything.

          • John Fraser

            Cjoint,

            “John, I think what I would like to point out is that the evidence we may have all found compelling is not positive evidence that there is no god, that’s stupid, but have explored the same evidence as you and find it wanting.”

            But that’s exactly what I said and you took me to task for it. Is this your final answer? Let me know when you make up your mind.

            “We have valid intellectual reasons.”

            When are you going to let us know what those are?

            “To claim new testament scholars are in some type of consensus isn’t really fair handed.”

            There is almost nothing in New Testament studies that there is a consensus about. Why, who appealed to a consensus of scholars?

            “Third, historical study deals in probabilities. The best it could ever say about Jesus’ resurrection, for instance, assuming it can deal with such an occurrence at all, is that “Jesus probably rose from the dead.”

            And yet we all hold beliefs about history without batting an eye. Who was the first president of the United States? Did you say it was PROBABLY George Washington, or did you just say George Washington? Because I think people would look at you funny if you said the former, yet we only have probabilistic evidence for it. And btw, all of the scientific truths which you think are so certain are also probabilistic in nature. I have no problem with that because in epistemology I’m a probabilist, and if science is your thing then you should be, too. But in that case this objection really isn’t an objection at all.

            “Fourth, it seems like an inadequate form of the Gospel to go around proclaiming “It is probable that Jesus rose from the dead.””

            I also don’t go around saying that the earth probably revolves around the sun or that there probably exists an external universe or that there are probably other minds. Yet by this same standard that’s what I should be obliged to do. If you’re going to be a skeptic, you need to be consistent and take your skepticism all the way. Having a double standard is illegitimate.

            “This is the conundrum Christians face. Even if we want to take historical study seriously, it can’t provide what most religious believers want: certainty.”

            No, I realized a lot time ago that the quest for certainty is problematic, but that’s not just true when it comes to religious belief. But what makes you think that most religious believers want certainty anyhow? I haven’t talked to any who say that that I can recall.

            “and largely ignore the reality and experiences of the present, where there is no direct evidence of a supernatural divinity intervening in anything.”

            Sorry, but there is all kinds of evidence of God’s present activity in the world. I’ve already pointed that out a couple of times on here.

          • mikespeir

            “The thing is, we’ve given you copious amounts of evidence. Which of it do you claim isn’t really there?”

            And you’ve all ignored my challenge to you which shows that all your superficial and speculative evidence counts for little and proves less.

            Yet again: “There’s not a single ‘fact’ of ancient history so well substantiated that it could conceivably justify the kind of high-handed obligations, and penalties for failing to meet those obligations, that Christianity attempts to foist on us.”

            Anybody want to deny that?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            John, earlier I said there was a consensus that Jesus existed and died by crucifixion. Also, there’s consensus that the first four epistles of Paul are authentic, and I added some additional ones acknowledged by Bart Ehrman as well. I also said there was a consensus about the fact that the author of Luke and Acts was an associate of Paul up close to the times whereof he wrote.

          • John Fraser

            Esther,

            Yes, I would agree that there is consensus about those facts. And actually it’s striking how far those facts can actually get you. For example, just the fact that Jesus was executed by crucifixion eliminates virtually all liberal reconstructions of Jesus. None of those reconstructions are “crucifiable.” In fact after thinking about it, you have to realize that how the Gospel writers portray Jesus fits those facts better than anyone else’s version of Jesus.

        • dave warnock

          “with the possible exception of the problem of evil, but that one is actually handled better under Christianity anyhow”

          In your opinion.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            *Meant to say Elisha there, not Elijah.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Errrr, in reply to a different comment, that is. It’s up there. Somewhere.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    Apologies for all my typing mishaps in that last post. I gotta stop typing on my iPhone, it really betrays me sometimes.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    Apologies for all my typing mishaps in that last post. I gotta stop typing on my iPhone, it really betrays me sometimes.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    “the New Testament Gospels do not give us direct access to firsthand accounts of eyewitness testimony.” P. 35

    I’m interested in reading this book, as it will be yet another Christian scholar who does not support the standard conservative view, or that historical evidence demonstrates the validity of the resurrection.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Burial-Jesus-History-Faith/dp/1439210179

    “…since most religious believers would agree that resurrections are both unusual and improbable events, for that very reason no historian will ever be able to say “the body was probably missing because God raised Jesus from the dead.” P. 95

    Add it to the pile.

  • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

    “the New Testament Gospels do not give us direct access to firsthand accounts of eyewitness testimony.” P. 35

    I’m interested in reading this book, as it will be yet another Christian scholar who does not support the standard conservative view, or that historical evidence demonstrates the validity of the resurrection.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Burial-Jesus-History-Faith/dp/1439210179

    “…since most religious believers would agree that resurrections are both unusual and improbable events, for that very reason no historian will ever be able to say “the body was probably missing because God raised Jesus from the dead.” P. 95

    Add it to the pile.

  • mikespeir

    Let me just throw this out to twist the knife a little.

    Notice what Esther did just above, as one example among many. She’s come up with a way to justify believing that “Mark,” far from demonstrating a lack of acquaintance with the geography of Palestine, actually was showing that he was better acquainted with it. She can even cite some people with the proper credentials who are of the same mind. (Although, as I understand it, such persons constitute a woeful minority among scholars.) Do you see the problem with that? Here is is. Read carefully.

    So what? There’s nothing compulsory about that take on the thing. It’s an opinion, and a minority opinion at that. Even if it were the opinion of the majority, it’s one that’s far from unanimous. And for good reason: it relies too much on speculation, on demonstrating things that can only be guessed at from this side of a 2000-year-old veil.

    But Christianity makes itself compuslory. Do I need to illustrate that? For those of you who like Bible verses, here are a few:

    Mar 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (And, no, I’m not going to get into whether that ought to be there. Excise it and it won’t be missed. There are plenty more where it came from.)

    Joh 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    Joh 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

    Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

    Gal 1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    2Th 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

    2Th 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

    2Th 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

    2Th 1:10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

    I said above that I’m 58 years old. One of the most traumatic experiences of my young life was what happened on November 22nd of the year I was eight: President Kennedy was assassinated. As young as I was, the day is burned clearly into my psyche. I remember sitting around the television that evening. As you can imagine, there was no other news to speak of. I recall how angry I became when it was announced that the Soviet Union had sent its condolences. Many of us were just sure the “Russians” had been behind the whole thing. The murderous hypocrites!

    But even persons born since that time are thoroughly familiar with the events of the day. You’ve seen the videos, from all angles, countless times, as well as the photographs, both professional and amateur. You’ve heard from the hundreds of eyewitnesses, testimonies recorded in official records for all to see. You’re aware of the intense Congressional investigation, the findings of which run into the hundreds of pages plus something like twenty-six volumes of supporting documentation.

    That, my friends, is a well-attested historical event. That’s what a well-attested historical event looks like.

    Surely–surely!–it must be conceded that the assassination of John Kennedy is whole orders of magnitude better attested than is the resurrection of Jesus, about which the Apostle Paul wrote this:

    1Co 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

    (And how about we not get off on a red herring about “whole orders of magnitude.” I’m not talking numbers here, but the galaxy-sized disparity in the quality and quantity of the attesting evidence.)

    We have no videos of Jesus coming back to life, no photographs, no hundreds of eyewitnesses (we only learn of the alleged 500+ [15:6] through the bottleneck of a single source: Paul himself), no Congressional investigation, nobody still around who saw it happen or even knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody….

    And yet, even the events surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy are controversial to this day; unresolved in so many minds.

    What do you think the penalty for departing from the official version of those events ought to be? Hell? Annihilation? Prison? A slap in the face? Remember, they’re about as well-attested as it’s possible to get.

    Do you see my point? The best you can do is climb up into the treetops and quibble over a few fluttering leaves that may or may not even be there, such as Mark’s purported familiarity (or lack of familiarity) with the geography of Palestine. You cannot justify insisting that people must become Christians on pain of–well, anything at all.

    But then go back up and read those verses from the Bible–the sourcebook for your religion–again. The hard evidence doesn’t rise to anywhere nearly a level sufficient to justify being laughed at, much less those threats.

    • John Fraser

      Mike,

      This seems to be your favorite objection, and you seem to think it’s a knockout punch. The thing is, it consists of two fallacies: appeal to authority and argument from personal incredulity. You are appealing to the fact that many scholars are not convinced by the arguments, basically. So? The New Testament itself basically says as much. See 1 Cor. 1:19-24 for example. Your argument seems to be that if this were really true then it should be convincing to most scholars and intellectuals. But if that were the case, then people with intellectual gifts would be at an advantage over those without. Intellectual giftedness, however, is just an accident of birth – it’s not a virtue. One can be intellectually gifted and virtuous, but one can also be intellectually gifted and desperately wicked. Instead what we have is a message which can be understood and received even by children, but which also gives the intellectual deep meaning and satisfaction. It’s a message for everyone, not just intellectual elites. The intellectual elites are the ones who are generally quite full of themselves with pride at their great learning and wisdom – and also very clever at inventing objections which appeal to intellectual pride but are actually without substance. And actually I see that over and over again on threads where I’m arguing with atheists – religious believers are looked down on as rubes, ignoramuses, stupid, intellectually inferior (whereas I happen to know many believers who are vastly intellectually superior to most atheists in terms of aptitude and also learning), etc. It isn’t credulity or gullibility that God favors, it’s humility. So I see it as perfectly appropriate that God would so craft his plan in such a way as to expose that intellectual pride for what it is. That’s why I’m perfectly happy to say that those believers whom atheists mock and ridicule as ignoramuses are my brothers and sisters.

      • mikespeir

        So, are you saying that the evidence for the events of the Gospels is on par with the evidence for Kennedy’s assassination? And if it were, would it justify the high-handed demands of the Christian religion?

        You’re not even trying, John. You’re not here to play defense. You’re playing offense. You’re pushing a religion that insists I must agree with it. Justify that.

      • John Fraser

        “So, are you saying that the evidence for the events of the Gospels is on par with the evidence for Kennedy’s assassination?”

        You mean for the mere fact that he was assassinated? Or for whodunnit? No, I don’t think the Gospels are that good, but since nobody could really doubt that Kennedy was, in fact, assassinated, I don’t see why that would be a comparison. There are many events in history which are less well attested than Kennedy’s assassination which are still accepted as fact. In fact, that’s true for the vast, vast majority of historical events.

        “And if it were, would it justify the high-handed demands of the Christian religion?”

        What you call the “high-handed demands” I would call simply living by the moral law, especially the law of love. And the result of living that way is life and peace. That’s why Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. But we need to be shaken out of our self-deception in order to see that. Again, you really haven’t given an argument against anything here, except that you personally find the demands of Christianity to be unreasonable or something. But that again is just personal incredulity (or perhaps a close cousin). That’s not evidence.

        “You’re not even trying, John. You’re not here to play defense. You’re playing offense. You’re pushing a religion that insists I must agree with it. Justify that.”

        No, I’m not pushing anything. Whether you agree or not is up to you. I believe in free will. I don’t accept the skeptical challenge of “you have to convince me, see?” No, I don’t have to convince you of anything. Sorry to disappoint.

        • mikespeir

          “There are many events in history which are less well attested than Kennedy’s assassination which are still accepted as fact.”

          And nobody tries to impose obligations on you to believe them, and penalties if you don’t, do they?

          “But that again is just personal incredulity (or perhaps a close cousin). That’s not evidence.”

          Don’t try to reverse the burden of proof, John. Christianity says I must believe or dire consequences will follow. It’s with Christianity that the burden of proof lies. All I’m saying is that the evidence doesn’t pile up high enough to justify imposing belief on me. Do you feel you have to give an account for everything you don’t believe in? Or don’t you consider a paucity of good evidence alone good enough? (Why even the expectation that there has to be a “good enough” when the evidence is so obviously paltry is insulting!) Indeed, is it even possible to believe when the evidence isn’t good? And I mean good by one’s own lights. I don’t think with anyone’s brain but my own.

          “I don’t accept the skeptical challenge of “you have to convince me, see?” No, I don’t have to convince you of anything. Sorry to disappoint.”

          Then what’s your object here? It sure looks like you’ve been trying to convince people. On the other hand, all I’m trying to convince you of is that I’m not convinced; that the evidence isn’t good enough that anyone has a right to insist I be convinced. If you’re not trying to convince me of something, let’s call the whole thing off. But I go away just like I came in: unbelieving–and feeling very good about it.

        • John Fraser

          “Don’t try to reverse the burden of proof, John.”

          Are you serious? Did you happen to notice a few comments of mine which were loaded with arguments and evidence? Nobody has actually addressed any of it except in a hand-waving, dismissive way, but to accuse me of reversing the burden of proof is a bit of a howler. And anyhow, pointing out that your objection is an argument from personal incredulity is not reversing the burden of proof. It’s just pointing out that your argument is fallacious.

          “All I’m saying is that the evidence doesn’t pile up high enough to justify imposing belief on me.”

          Well, I beg to differ. But since you haven’t actually addressed any of the actual evidence that I have seen, I don’t have much else to say. You just keep pressing this same objection as if it’s a knock-down winner, and it’s not even actually a valid argument.

          “I don’t think with anyone’s brain but my own.”

          Well, I might hasten to point out that you have previously made appeals to authority and how the majority of scholars don’t seem to accept my view, so that apparently lets you off the hook. That’s not thinking with your own brain, that’s following the herd. What if the herd is wrong? Are you then going to say, “but hey, I was basing my unbelief on good authority!”

          “It sure looks like you’ve been trying to convince people.”

          I present the arguments and evidence, I don’t hammer people over the head with it. That’s what I meant by that. I’ve encountered many a skeptic who seemed to think that the fact that they were not convinced was itself evidence that my argument was no good! It’s an interesting posture because it sets the skeptic up as the universal authority and only judge of what is and is not a good argument, and what does or does not constitute good evidence. Anyone can set up standards to prevent themselves from being convinced of something. And when it entails an unwanted moral obligation as it does in this case, it’s the easiest thing in the world. But I can’t make you do otherwise.

          “On the other hand, all I’m trying to convince you of is that I’m not convinced; that the evidence isn’t good enough that anyone has a right to insist I be convinced.”

          In other words, your lack of being convinced is actually evidence that my argument is no good. I love that approach. I should try it myself. Since you haven’t persuaded me that the evidence is no good (or even made so much as an attempt that I have seen), that proves that your objection is no good. How does that sound to you? Valid or invalid?

          • http://truthiselusive.wordpress.com Howie

            John – I don’t personally think there are any knock-down winner arguments in any of this stuff, but Mike’s argument seems to make a lot of sense to me and seems like a very reasonable argument. Yes, I am also not convinced but I don’t think that means that it is not true – it just means that I am not convinced. I am not the final authority. When I dig into the details on these kinds of apologetic arguments I find myself mired in so many details and differing of opinions that it is often almost impossible for me to see the forest for the trees. It also does seem clear to me that the answers that apologists like to give are not near as certain as they are made out to be. Again I’m not the final authority – it is simply my own conclusion – you are also not the final authority.

            But Mike’s main point seems to be one I struggle with as well – how can an eternity of pain be an appropriate response to someone who has tried their best to wade through a lot of apologetic material and simply ends up being honestly not convinced enough to believe?

            Yes, please feel free to beat me up as well for not answering the evidence you have given. But I just wanted to reply to this one particular argument that makes sense to me.

          • mikespeir

            “Are you serious? Did you happen to notice a few comments of mine which were loaded with arguments and evidence?”

            You were asking me to give evidence. I don’t have to do anything but point out that 1. your religion has not historically tolerated naysayers and 2. that it can’t point to any fact of history that’s well enough substantiated to justify that position.

            I am not going to get tied up in haggling over propositions that are at best guesswork anyway. Can you or can you not justify the Church’s hard line insistence that no one has a right not to believe? Can you point to any foundational event from its history that is incontrovertably true–and at least as well attested as the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination? If you think you can, show me comparable attestation. If you can’t, I’ve made my point.

          • John Fraser

            Mike,

            “You were asking me to give evidence. I don’t have to do anything but point out that 1. your religion has not historically tolerated naysayers and 2. that it can’t point to any fact of history that’s well enough substantiated to justify that position.”

            All you do is keep saying the evidence isn’t good enough, but you have yet to actually interact with the evidence that has been provided. So it amounts to nothing more than a bare assertion on your part. Yes, it’s easy to just say, “not good enough.” It’s the skeptic’s mantra, I know. I also know that skeptics are almost always allergic to the step of actually getting into the details. Better to just stay above the fray and wave your hands. That’s not an argument.

            “I am not going to get tied up in haggling over propositions that are at best guesswork anyway.”

            Of course you aren’t. I figured that out at least a couple of days ago.

            “Can you or can you not justify the Church’s hard line insistence that no one has a right not to believe?”

            I don’t really understand what a “right not to believe” even means. You make it sound like there is no fact-of-the-matter. The whole point is to have your beliefs line up with what’s true, isn’t it?

            “Can you point to any foundational event from its history that is incontrovertably true–and at least as well attested as the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination? If you think you can, show me comparable attestation. If you can’t, I’ve made my point.”

            I still don’t understand why the Kennedy assassination is the standard you’re using. Do you admit that events which are less well attested than that are nevertheless historically established? The assassination of Lincoln, for example is obviously not as well attested. We have no video of it, for example. Is that established to your satisfaction or not? How about the assassination of Julius Caesar? Not as well attested as either of these others but still seems to be accepted as a historical fact. Good enough? Or not?

            Now, let’s go one step further. Just about every ancient source we have on Jesus says that he was crucified. That includes both Christian and non-Christian sources. Would you consider that to be established as a fact, or not? If not, why not?

          • mikespeir

            I explained myself well enough, John. Surely, you can’t be missing the point. I’m using the Kennedy assassination as an example of an extremely well-established historical event that, even so, is contested. I’m claiming that no event in the Gospels rises to anywhere nearly the same level of attestation. In other words, if events surrounding the Kennedy assassination can be legitimately doubted, certaintly the events surrounding the central pillar of the Gospels–the Resurrection–can, too.

            Now, you’re not really missing that, are you? How about answering the question plainly: Do you think I am under any kind of legitimate obligation, imposed by anyone, to be a Christian?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Did you just say the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination could be “legitimately” doubted? Now I’ve heard everything. Getting back to the gospels, we’ve given you several key facts on which scholars across the board are agreed. We’ve also discussed many reasons why the resurrection is overwhelmingly the best explanation for all the converging lines of evidence we have. I’ve begun to demonstrate (not even scratching the surface really) that atheist scholars are not always the most reliable sources for judging the reliability of the gospel authors, using plain and simple fact. At this point, if you’re asking whether I think you “should” become a Christian, I would reply that your own bias seems to be much more of a problem for you than the actual evidence, which you persist in ignoring loudly. So, yes, I think you should put aside your bias and do your homework with an open mind. Essentially, I would argue that there are well-informed atheists, and there are reasonable atheists. Bart Ehrman is an example of a well-informed atheist who’s repeatedly shown poor judgment and a distorting bias. Someone like DB or Ernest, who left very polite comments earlier seeking more information, is a reasonable atheist who wants to pursue the truth with an open mind but simply hasn’t explored the material that’s available yet, or hasn’t explored it enough. And then there are the ones who remain firmly entrenched in their own biases and also refuse to become better informed. Until you quit bloviating and engage, Mike, I’m afraid it’s not looking good for you.

          • John Fraser

            Mike,

            “I explained myself well enough, John. Surely, you can’t be missing the point. I’m using the Kennedy assassination as an example of an extremely well-established historical event that, even so, is contested.”

            Now you’re engaging in a bit of equivocation. Nobody contests that Kennedy was assassinated, that he died from gunshot wounds, that he was shot while sitting in an open-air vehicle while driving through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The part that is contested is who exactly was involved in the killing and how many. But nobody doubts that he was killed and that somebody intended to kill him. If you want to make a comparison between this and the Gospel accounts, what exactly is the relevant comparison?

            “I’m claiming that no event in the Gospels rises to anywhere nearly the same level of attestation.”

            And yet as I have already pointed out, we don’t need nearly the same level of attestation to have historical facts. If we did, then we would scarcely have any historical facts because Kennedy’s assassination has an unusually high level of attestation. So let’s go back to the questions you dodged about Lincoln and Julius Caesar. Are these established as historical facts even without having nearly the level of attestation as Kennedy’s assassination? Why don’t you want to answer that one?

            “In other words, if events surrounding the Kennedy assassination can be legitimately doubted, certaintly the events surrounding the central pillar of the Gospels–the Resurrection–can, too.”

            If you mean that some secondary details surrounding the Resurrection can be doubted, I don’t really have a big problem with that. Which details are you talking about?

            “Now, you’re not really missing that, are you? How about answering the question plainly: Do you think I am under any kind of legitimate obligation, imposed by anyone, to be a Christian?”

            Funny you get on me for not answering a question plainly enough when you completely dodge mine! I tried to explain that this question doesn’t make any sense to me – or at least I’m not sure exactly what you mean by it. I would say yes, since we should aim to have our beliefs correspond to truth and Christianity is true. But Christianity is not merely about epistemic duties and holding certain propositions about Jesus to be true, it’s about being restored to right standing with God by humbly accepting his provision for that end. And yes, everyone should do that.

          • mikespeir

            Are you saying you want to answer the question for me, Esther? Do you think I’m under an obligation to be a Christian? Let me rehearse the evidence for you:

            1. Videos: Kennedy, numerous; Jesus’ Resurrection, none

            2. Photographs: Kennedy many; Jesus, none

            3. Eyewitnesses: Kennedy many and some still alive; Jesus, none that are uncontroversial

            4. Investigation by trained investigators: Kennedy numerous; Jesus, none

            5. Official inquiries: Kennedy, Congressional; Jesus none

            What’s more, consider the likelihood. Political assassinations are not uncommon. We have good attestation for those of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. There was an attempt on the life of Jackson. Pretty common stuff. We also know that when you blow somebody’s brains out they die. Uncontroversial.

            How about someone coming back to life after having been really dead for two+ days? No known mechanism; no indubitable examples from history to draw on. In short, no good reason to think it’s ever happened.

            Now, again, in light of that, do you think I’m under an obligation to believe in the Resurrection and be a Christian? Do you think I should be punished in some way, however mild, if I don’t? A yes or no answer should come first and then you can bloviate all you want.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yes Mike you should. Honestly though, you’ve obviously put so little honest effort into this topic (which should be front-burner priority kind of stuff for, well, any thinking human being), that to be brutally straight with you, I’m having trouble caring. I give Dave W and cjoint brownie points for actually TRYING to grapple with it, even if I still think they’re profoundly misguided/insufficiently informed. But you? You’re in another class entirely, and not in a good way at all.

          • mikespeir

            What you’re missing, Esther, is that I’ve aleady “grappled” with it, long before you came along.

            Frankly, I have little stomach for this kind of thing. I used to debate a lot, but it got to be the same old tiresome regimen time and time again, with nothing being accomplished. You throw out your experts and I throw out mine. You cite this piece of evidence and I counter with another. You speculate in one direction, and I go the other way. There is no resolution to that kind of thing. Not handled in that way.

            Like I said, I rarely do this anymore. Every now and again, though, somebody like you happens onto one of these sites, someone intelligent, fairly well educated, articulate, and seriously misguided. But you’re good enough to send everybody into a tizzy; to tie them up in knots in trivia, with asseverations that can’t possibly be settled with any finality, though you claim utter confidence. Usually, your type will burn themselves out quickly enough. Then the storm assuages and peace settles over the land again.

            Not this time.

            There’s an arrogance to the Christian religion that’s scarcely matched in any other realm. It’s an arrogance with which other everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden variety arrogances don’t want to associate and for which they wish we’d find another word. I can only take so much of it. You religion makes demands that are so unutterably beyond the pale, and on the slightest, trumped-up evidence. And, no, I realize you can’t see that. I couldn’t either while I remained inside the bubble.

            So I’ve stepped in. And, yes, I may get a little nasty about it. Your arrogance and the arrogance of the religion you represent are what provoke that.

            So, yet again: There is NO “fact” of history that is so well established that it could justify the arrogance of your religion or the demands it makes on people. That, and that only, is what I’m here to discuss.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            That’s funny. You’ve described exactly how I feel about people like Peter Boghossian and, on a more sophisticated level, Bart Ehrman. They’re just good enough to tie people up in knots. Then we get to deal with the mess and the wrecked lives they leave behind. Our job is both to repair and preempt that damage.

          • mikespeir

            I hardly see how fantasy and delusion could be very efficacious in repairing “wrecked lives,” especially in view of the life-wrecking track record your religion has.

            But I must refrain. I didn’t come here to quibble over that.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If I told you a young Christian man committed suicide after reading a book by Richard Dawkins, you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you marriages have fallen apart after one spouse deconverted, you probably wouldn’t believe me either. And if I gave you story after story about people who have kicked addiction, repaired their marriages, and become altogether more decent human beings after becoming Christians, you’d laugh at me. I say all this not to claim they prove the truth of Christianity, but to show why your words are bogus sniping. So you’re right, it would indeed be wise for you not to speak beyond your experience here.

      • David W

        Heya John,

        I am replying here due to the reply limit earlier.

        You said: . “…Craig Keener has done a seminal work on this in his two-volume tome entitled “Miracles.” One of the many takeaway points from Keener is that there are literally millions of eyewitness reports of miracles around the world today…”

        I am going to keep beating this drum as it is an important piece of the puzzle. I said earlier:

        Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any stripe.

        If you disagree, please link me to a single miracle that you think that unbiased scientists have confirmed.

        Also once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

        Please be aware that presenting most skeptics with old documents which say that there was magic long ago, and then proceeding to argue and ‘show’ how reliable said documents are, will not in any way convince most skeptics that magic indeed exists, or ever existed.

        So John, of those millions of eyewitness reports of miracles today, unfortunately not a single one has withstood rigorous unbiased scientific investigation, not a single one.

        This bothers me and I think that it ought to bother those who believe that there miracles actually occur.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          David, since you’re continuing to beat the drum on this by your own admission, maybe you could answer the question I asked earlier: Why do you assume that first premise must be a given? I’m speaking of the premise that if there were a God, we should expect to see miracles happening around us today. If God is a person, as Judeo-Christian theology teaches, and not a random miracle-generating vending machine, might it not be reasonable to suppose that He works miracles at specific times for specific purposes?

          • David W

            Hi again Esther,

            “Why do you assume that first premise must be a given? I’m speaking of the premise that if there were a God, we should expect to see miracles happening around us today. … might it not be reasonable to suppose that He works miracles at specific times for specific purposes?”

            I am not assuming that it is a given, and sure, anything is possible. I have admitted that I may hold a justified false belief. I have no trouble at all admitting that all of my beliefs could be false.

            In regard to the supernatural and the existence of the Christian God who intervenes in this world today; the world looks exactly like it would if the supernatural did not exist, and exactly like it would if there were not a God who intervened in this world today.

            I understand that you have what you consider to be good reasons for the lack of scientific evidence for the supernatural of any kind. However, documents which claim that the supernatural was common in the past, no matter how reliable, pale in the cold reality of the complete lack of the supernatural in the modern day.

            All I would need to accept the existence of the supernatural would be a single time that a scientific explanation gave way to a supernatural one, or a single miracle that withstood scientific investigation, this is not asking for much.

        • John Fraser

          David,

          “Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any stripe.”

          Depending on what you mean by “scientific,” I would say that’s necessarily the case. Science in general studies repeated regularities in nature, or ordinary events. Science is the wrong discipline for studying singular events like miracles, which fall under the realm of history, not really science per se.

          “If you disagree, please link me to a single miracle that you think that unbiased scientists have confirmed.”

          Let me guess – an unbiased scientist is one who would never say that a miracle had occurred. So if a scientist confirmed a miracle, you would declare him biased. Am I right?

          “Also once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.”

          Here you seem to be using “scientific” as a synonym for “naturalistic.” I don’t accept that these are synonymous. You can explain things by discussing the laws of physics or what have you, but the story can’t stop there because you also have personal agency, and I don’t believe science can’t explain that. Again, it’s the wrong tool for the job. Science is a wonderful thing in its place. But like any tool it can only handle certain kinds of jobs. Great for explaining how to build an airplane. Not so good at explaining how to live. Which of those are more important?

          “Please be aware that presenting most skeptics with old documents which say that there was magic long ago, and then proceeding to argue and ‘show’ how reliable said documents are, will not in any way convince most skeptics that magic indeed exists, or ever existed.”

          Haven’t actually said anything about magic.

          “So John, of those millions of eyewitness reports of miracles today, unfortunately not a single one has withstood rigorous unbiased scientific investigation, not a single one.”

          Really? How many have you investigated?

          “This bothers me and I think that it ought to bother those who believe that there miracles actually occur.”

          I’m going to hazard a guess and say that you have investigated approximately zero. I could be wrong. But I’m really, really confident that you haven’t investigated millions.

          • David W

            Hmm, you have sidestepped my point quite nicely. I am going to try to get you to respond to my main point again, I trust that you understand what it is as you seem like an intelligent person.

            The only ‘evidence’ that we have of the supernatural is the eyewitness account. Whenever these accounts are investigated, they are explainable “… by natural or scientific laws…”

            If you have evidence other than eyewitness accounts of the supernatural, please, lets hear it. If you only have eyewitness accounts, you do not have a prescriptive belief; especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            John cited the Stanford Encyclopedia article on miracles a while back. I encourage you to check it out and come back with your thoughts, as it may help clarify the discussion:

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/

          • John Fraser

            “Hmm, you have sidestepped my point quite nicely.”

            That’s funny, I’m pretty sure I answered you point-by-point. Maybe try reading my comment again a little more carefully.

            “The only ‘evidence’ that we have of the supernatural is the eyewitness account.” There are also cases with medical documentation, but most of the time the eyewitness account is what you would expect by the nature of the case. That’s why I tried to explain the difference between non-repeatable events and repeatable regularities in nature. Did you not understand that? It’s the difference between history and science. We only have eyewitness accounts for most historical claims, too. History can’t be scientifically proven, it’s accessible by historical methods. Maybe I’m assuming too much about your level of background knowledge, but that seems pretty straightforward to me.

            “Whenever these accounts are investigated, they are explainable “… by natural or scientific laws…””

            No, that’s simply not true. There are many cases which are not explainable this way. But rather than say it was miracle, the skeptic files it under “unexplained.” Surely you’ve seen that designation used before, like “unexplained phenomena” or something?

            “If you have evidence other than eyewitness accounts of the supernatural, please, lets hear it.”

            Well, I refer you to Keener’s book for the time being. I don’t have any specific reference for you at the moment. But your insistence that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count is not a valid position.

            “If you only have eyewitness accounts, you do not have a prescriptive belief;”

            Says who?

            “especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.”

            This is just empty bluster. You can’t substantiate this claim, and I suspect you know that.

      • mikespeir

        John, I’m not here to play your game. I came on to expose the bad root and trunk of your belief system. Once again, there is no “fact” of history so well established as to justify insisting that people agree with it on pain of anything. The Resurrection is no exception. After that, the rest is pretty much fluff. I’m not going to get tied up in niggling over relative trivialities. If the Resurrection can’t be substantiated well enough so as to make belief mandatory, who cares about the rest?

        • John Fraser

          Mike,

          “John, I’m not here to play your game.”

          Right. Because you’re too busy playing your own game of avoiding my questions. No problem, I think others can see that for what it is. Like I said, I’m not here to hammer people. Have a good one.

          • dave warnock

            John

            In my 35 years as a Christian, I met many many Christians like you. The man or woman who was convinced that his/her take on scripture and theology was the correct one, and that everyone else had it wrong- even if just a little bit wrong. And they were ALL getting their theology from the same book! Amazing when you stop to think about it. The problem is, they pretty much all disagreed with one another. Whether the issue is baptism, speaking in tongues, miracles for today, communion (wine or grape juice), church structure, literal interpretation of biblical passages, prophecy, eschatology- OH MY!!! (rapture; pre-trip; post-trip; pre-milenneal, post-milenneal, a-milenneal, or my favorite: pan-milenneal (“it’s all gonna pan out in the end”). That’s why there are 4.2 gazillion (official count) denominations today- all of them CONVINCED they got the doctrine just a little bit better than their predecessors. ugh. It nauseated me as a Christian, but now I find it tragically comical.

            I know, you’d say that all TRUE Christians agree on the fundamental, or credal issues; and then you would (and probably will) list them off. Problem is, not all Christians agree on those either; and no one, not you or anyone, gets to decide who the true Christians are. But in all of your comments here, you continue to spout your view on every issue as though it is incontrovertibly the ONLY one that is correct- and my goodness, can’t you people see…it’s as plain as the nose on your face!

            But it’s not. And all of your lengthy dissertations and references to volumes of works of today and back through history don’t make it any more so.

            You have chosen to believe a fantastic story. Good for you. Many of us here used to and now choose not to- for a variety of reasons. But make no mistake, the more you argue for your positions- point by exhausting point, the less of a case you make- as I see it anyway; I can’t speak for the others.

            All it does is remind those of us who left Christianity exactly why we did. And it makes me all the more glad I am not in that crazy house anymore.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to you, Dave?

          • dave warnock

            Esther said: “does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to you, Dave?”

            wow, Esther. Of all the condescending and arrogant things you have said in these comments, that may top the list.

            I am 58, Esther. I have been seeking truth since I was 18; since December 26, 1973. Forty years. You stated somewhere here that you were in your 20′s. So you maybe have been seeking truth for what, 15-20 years? And you know so much more than me about truth. Or at least from your inference, you must think you are seeking after truth so much harder than I am. Why, because you’ve read a lot of books? because you’ve taken college courses? because you’ve spent untold hours online doing research?

            Maybe you are smarter than me. Maybe you are inherently wiser than me; I wouldn’t know that unless we spent real time together (provided I’m not lost in the Matrix or something).

            Truth means everything to me. Many people I have know who have left Christianity have done so at very great personal cost. Myself included. I have 2 daughters near your age who have cut off relationship with me because I no longer share their faith. I have 4 granddaughters that I cannot see. I have lost friends (or at least I thought they were). I have lost hair. And I have lost much sleep.

            This is not an intellectual exercise for me; it’s not some amateur atheist experiment. This is not a hobby for me- or some game to see if I can outwit someone on a message board. After what this has cost me personally, I would gladly go back to Christianity- if I could. If it was true. If it was the truth. But I cannot do it if it’s not the truth. It would be the most dishonest thing I have ever done in my life. I don’t believe it’s true anymore. And nothing you or John or anyone in this whole comment thread has said has in any way shape or form given me any reason whatsoever to reconsider the claims of Christianity. None. I could no more believe in Santa Clause again.

            And no- please, don’t haul out some other overwhelming piece of “evidence” that you think will be the spring that works. No. Just. Don’t. You haven’t earned that credibility with me, Esther. Come back in 20 years when you’ve lived a little more life. If I’m still here, let’s talk then.

            So, to your question: does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to me?

            No. It means everything.

            And that is why I am no longer a Christian

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If truth means everything to you, then you need to consider the fact that as long as you’ve lived, and as much self-inflicted pain as you have caused, other people have the right to call you on the floor when you offer posturing in place of argument. From day one, your tone has been childish (“Do not!”) ranting and evasive. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want people to jump to conclusions about you, try presenting a more gracious side of yourself for the world to see.

            I’m sorry that you’ve gone to such lengths to shut yourself off from the evidence. And I mean it when I say that, I sincerely pity you. But that doesn’t erase the fact that you’ve gone to great lengths to shut yourself off from the evidence. It’s like the child who commits suicide because he thinks his parents have made him miserable, when really it was himself all along. And all he accomplishes by that foolish act is untold hurt and pain.

          • dave warnock

            I haven’t shut myself off from any evidence Esther. And I really don’t care that you pity me. What you think of me makes no difference at all. None. You can think I’ve been childish, ranting and evasive on here- fine. That’s your opinion but I don’t share it. But I have been guilty of that and much more in my long life.

            I wish you well, Esther, I do. I have no malice toward you or anyone. One thing the years do gain us is that we do learn things in life along the way, and one thing I have learned is that arrogance and ego don’t serve us well in the long run. Talking down to people, belittling them, carrying oneself in a superior tone- those things don’t help us in life. And if my only desire is to prove myself right and be known as the smartest person in the room, I may find that I have the room to myself at the end of the day. I’ll win the war of words- but at what cost?

            You can have the last word, Esther. I won’t respond any longer to you.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I believe you dave. And I can assure you our purpose is not to be seen as smart. The work I’m doing here, which others have done before me in many times and many ways, in much more detail, is for the purpose of anchoring those already in the faith and illuminating a path for those who have left it or were never in it to begin with. And while you may disbelieve me, that work has saved souls. Lifelong atheists have converted after approaching the research with an open mind. The deconverted have come back. Many Christians have turned away from the brink of disbelief. If we didn’t have that fruit to show for any of this, our work would not be complete. This, quite simply, is why we do what we do.

          • David W

            Heya John and Esther,

            Esther, I did go and read that article, thanks for the suggestion.

            John, man, it’s stressful reading your responses. I don’t want to get into an argument about how you come across, so I will just suggest that perhaps you should just consider coming across differently.

            You said “Well, I refer you to Keener’s book for the time being. I don’t have any specific reference for you at the moment. ”

            Ya, I am not going to read an entire book that you happen to like, just like you won’t read an entire book at my suggestion.

            It seems that we seem to disagree on where the burden of proof happens to lie; I don’t think that I will be able to convince you of this, however, I submit that if you think that miraculous events occur, and you think that there is medical documentation of these miracles, that the burden is upon you to show me where this medical documentation is.

            You quoted me and said:

            ““especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.”

            This is just empty bluster. You can’t substantiate this claim, and I suspect you know that.”

            I don’t think that I can prove the negative, that miracles never occur; I was hoping that you would present evidence that they do occur, as I think that is where the burden of proof lies.

            You said: “But your insistence that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count is not a valid position.”

            Well, I am not sure how much we disagree here. I don’t think that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count per se. It is that in light of the current realities that I have mentioned again and again, I do not think that eyewitness testimony is enough to give you a prescriptive belief which you can then attempt to enforce upon others. When I say attempt to enforce upon others, I am thinking of things like: teaching creationism in schools, banning same-sex marriage, opposing stem-cell research, opposing birth-control, denying evolution etc.

            Perhaps all of ‘you guys’ that recently came to this forum do none of these things.

            It occurred to me while reading the article that you had mentioned, that we may have no quarrel, and ‘you guys’ may have no quarrel with many, probably most, atheists.

            I can only speak for myself, but I really don’t have any interest in what you believe.

            My interest is in what you do with your belief.

            If you think that you have a prescriptive belief, and you attempt to enforce it upon others, through legislation and other means, then I will object.

            If on the other hand, you just want to be viewed as holding a reasonable belief, but you have no designs to attempt to enforce your belief on others, then I have no quarrel and would like to be friends. =D

            I think that Christianity can be a reasonable belief so far as the Christian doesn’t attempt to enforce it upon others.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Mike, you write, “She’s come up with a way to justify believing that ‘Mark,’ far from demonstrating a lack of acquaintance with the geography of Palestine, actually was showing that he was better acquainted with it. She can even cite some people with the proper credentials who are of the same mind. (Although, as I understand it, such persons constitute a woeful minority among scholars.)”

      Mike, I didn’t “come up” with anything or cite any scholars to say that Nineham is wrong. I pointed out (which is absolutely true—look up a map for yourself) that there is a mountain blocking the immediate route that Nineham was saying it was so strange for Jesus not to take. Nineham was WRONG. There’s no dispute about this. He just was wrong. That’s one small example, but there are so many others I could give. That was just one especially neat, open-and-shut example.

      • mikespeir

        Again, so what? How about the thrust of my comment?

      • David W

        “that work has saved souls.” “This, quite simply, is why we do what we do.”

        Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war… You know that song right Esther?

        Man, it sure was nice when I used to believe that I was a soldier in some grand spiritual war. I mean, who wouldn’t think that was cool?!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Indeed, David W the 3rd (it sure is getting hard to keep track of all the Dave or david w/Ws in this thread). But surely you don’t deny that good and evil are at war in this world, even if you have your opinion about what constitutes “good” or “evil?”

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Or wait, I guess you’re the same David I’ve already interacted with. All this time I filed you away as Dave W in my head. ;-)

          • David W

            Sure, there is absolutely good and evil, but, they are man-made.

            I just no longer believe that there are invisible angels and demons battling it out all around me or that my prayers affect the outcome.

            Of course I could be wrong and there could be invisible angels and demons going at it right in my house, and wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony; seeing as this world looks exactly like it would if the supernatural did not exist.

          • David W

            FYI: I don’t have my last name listed here as I am attending a religious institution and I am worried about blow back and lost job opportunities should I be outed as an atheist.

            I hope this worry of mine is not something that atheists in future generations have to worry about.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Lost job opportunities where? Out in the real world or at other religious institutions? I’m not sure why you’d be trying to apply for a job specifically within the Christian realm if you’re an atheist. If I may ask, why are you attending a religious institution in the first place? Did you de-convert in the middle of a degree?

    • dave warnock

      Mike, don’t you know? According to Esther, you can’t PROVE JFK was assassinated at all. He could have been in the Matrix.

      John and Esther choose to believe an unbelievable story and seem hell bent on spending every waking hour of their lives attempting to convince skeptics that their story is believable. I am assuming it’s either a great hobby of theirs or they are on a mission from God. They choose to believe in talking snakes and worldwide floods and angels and demons and witches, and a prophet who flies through the air in a flaming chariot, and so on. I get it. I am surrounded by people like that; I am married to someone like that. Hell, I used to be someone like that. I don’t fault them.

      I understand that a huge scaffolding of rationale has to be constructed and maintained in order to get their minds to accept what is clearly an unbelievable story. The intellectual gymnastics one has to go through to support this ideology is simply exhausting. But, more power to them. I for one, and certainly glad to be off that ride. Truly. I am so glad to be living in the land of reason and logic and not having to spend large amounts of time justifying and defending a book of superstition.

      • John Fraser

        “They choose to believe in talking snakes and worldwide floods and angels and demons and witches, and a prophet who flies through the air in a flaming chariot, and so on.

        No, I don’t believe in either talking snakes or a worldwide flood. You seem to be confusing me with a young-earth creationist or something. Angels and demons, sure. I actually don’t see what the big problem is with those. Those aren’t unique to Christianity. Witches? Well, there are people who call themselves witches. What does that have to do with anything? If you mean wicked old ladies who fly around on broomsticks, don’t be silly if you can help it. But I suppose it’s easier this way for you than, say, actually trying to respond to what has actually been said. Strawmen make life so much easier for the skeptic, do they not? Oh, and I guess I should say something about the flaming chariot or you’ll accuse me of dodging. The actual story says that there appeared a flaming chariot and that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” I don’t really know what that means, but it doesn’t say he flew through the air in a flaming chariot. I don’t know if the chariot was a vision that Elisha had or what. I know you love taking one- or two-verse snippets, putting the most ridiculous spin on them possible, and making an issue of it but that makes you a lapsed fundamentalist. A little deeper thought would be of benefit to you. So I can’t really make a judgement on that one because I’m not sure what it’s really communicating.

        • mikespeir

          It’s always a little difficult to judge what flavor of Christian you’re dealing with on the Internet. There are so many varieties.

          Is anybody else having trouble opening this thread? Dang! Almost 300 comments! Is that a record here?

        • Esther O’Reilly

          John, just a quick question on “talking snakes” — I’m sure you realize david w is referring to the Garden of Eden. To clarify, you do believe that Satan entered into the body of the snake to tempt Eve verbally, right? But I’m assuming you’re distinguishing between “talking snake” and “snake being controlled by a sentient being.”

          • John Fraser

            Esther,

            My personal opinion is that the serpent in Gen. 3 isn’t a reference to an animal at all, it’s just a name for Satan. Just like Adam and Eve could communicate directly with God I think they could also communicate with other spiritual beings, so I don’t see any need for an actual reptile, controlled by another being or not. Part of the issue for me has to do with the curse of “going on your belly”. That’s just what snakes do. So unless this snake talked AND walked, it wouldn’t be much of a curse for a snake. But if you interpret the verse literally, it starts to become absurd – did snakes NOT go on their belly before this? But then why would all of snake-kind (as it were) be punished for what was actually Satan “possessing” a snake? The punishment or curse has to be against Satan, not against snakes (or even a snake that would have been an innocent bystander). I haven’t done a lot of research on this to examine the historical interpretation, but I do know many of the church fathers took it as allegorical. In some cases they perhaps went overboard, but I don’t think a reading involving an actual snake can really work.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            This little eddy in this stream strikes me as comical. A talking snake, whether by “possession” or by natural capability is patently silly. Taking it metaphorically is certainly smarter, I think.

            But John, your objection that punishing all snakes because one of them got possessed sounds remarkably like the objection others have toward the notion of original sin. I am told not only that all of mankind is punished for the actions of one couple, but also that the entire planet is being punished for it. Seems like the same logic to me.

          • John Fraser

            Neil,

            “If Christians can’t even agree with each other over what is real and what is not, then I’d say Mike has a point about the logic of saying people deserve to be punished for not seeing things the same way.”

            No, you’re talking about secondary issues. There are always issues which are debatable, but those aren’t the central claims. That’s why the early church wrote the creeds, to affirm those central beliefs that all Christians everywhere affirmed and to separate those from secondary issues. They are also seen in some of the creedal formulas in Paul’s letters, like 1 Cor. 15:3-8. The interpretation of Genesis 3 is a secondary, debatable issue. The resurrection of Jesus is not. Earlier someone asked me about having doubts and I said I have theological questions about some things, but no doubts about the existence of God, the afterlife, and the resurrection of Jesus. Those are also the things for which we have the strongest evidence, and the wise man proportions his beliefs according to the strength of the evidence.

          • David W

            I am replying here due to a diminishing number of “reply” prompts lol.

            you said “Are you also a materialist, or do you remain a dualist?”

            It depends on the day, but more often I am a materialist, and I am not being cute here. I don’t see what kind of serious work dualism does for me, and I see no evidence of anything outside of the natural world.

            I know the questions and lines of argument that answering this question opens me up to, but I suppose I answer without concern because as I move through life, I am finding that I am more and more okay with the idea of saying “I don’t know.”

            How did consciousness emerge, or how did the universe begin? I don’t know. The experts are trying to answer these and other questions, if they can be answered.

            For me, positing that the Christian God exists doesn’t answer any questions, it just brings up more questions which can’t be answered.

            I am anticipating here, but I also have no serious problem with the ‘moral relativism’ objection to materialism. All I have to do is to make one assumption, that the worst possible suffering is bad; I am comfortable making this unfounded assumption.

            You said:”Lost job opportunities where? Out in the real world or at other religious institutions? I’m not sure why you’d be trying to apply for a job specifically within the Christian realm if you’re an atheist. If I may ask, why are you attending a religious institution in the first place? Did you de-convert in the middle of a degree?”

            I am sure that you are aware of the atheist bias in the USA, so I will be brief here. Lost job opportunities anywhere. Most people don’t trust atheists and think they may be immoral etc.

            I am attending a religious institution because I was accepted into two programs, and the religious institution had the better program, I was atheist long before I even applied. I can play the Christian game as well as the next person, it really isn’t that burdensome to me to attend a religious institution.

            Sadly, many “Christians” are playing the same game that I am, they just haven’t really thought about what they believe. I am sure that this is a sticking point with you more than it is with me however.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            LOL. I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that job owners “anywhere” don’t trust atheists and think they’re immoral. If you’re good at what you do I wouldn’t worry your head too much. But this interests me. You say “I can play the Christian game as well as anyone.” Do you mean to say that you are actively pretending to be a Christian as long as you’re attending this institution? Or are you simply keeping quiet and allowing others to draw their own conclusions? Your word choice seems to imply the former, in which case I’m a little surprised. Why violate your personal integrity in that way?

          • David W

            you said: “LOL. I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that job owners “anywhere” don’t trust atheists and think they’re immoral…. and …Why violate your personal integrity in that way?”

            Hmm, I am surprised that you are unaware of the anti-atheist bias in the USA. This may be interesting to you then. There are multiple states which require religious tests to hold office and there have been multiple studies which rate trust of atheists below rapists and Muslims, and other groups which are deemed undesireable in the USA.

            Just google it, Wikipedia has some info, but you should get several dozen legit returns with links to the studies in regard to the trust in atheists. I had no trouble locating multiple studies in under 5 minutes.

            I am not violating my personal integrity by playing a role that I am forced into by the bias that surrounds me, anymore than the person who lies in response to an inappropriate question is violating her integrity. (The institution that I am attending does not have a religious test before admission, they do not require you to be religious to attend their college.)

            Inappropriate questioner: are you a still a virgin.

            victim: Yes I am. (but she is lying)

            This person is not violating her integrity anymore than I am.

            It is not an issue of truthfully answering inappropriate questions and disclosing private information vs violating your integrity. That is a misread of the situation.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yes, I found the same thing you did. It looks like one series of studies conducted by the same group. I’ve had some stats and I’m not easily impressed by the phrase “studies show” — you can find a “study” that shows just about anything.

            I can understand if you prefer to just not say anything about your religion one way or the other, but can’t you hear why a phrase like “playing the Christian game” might have an unsavory ring to it? Look, I can give you concrete examples of Christians getting bullied and harassed in the work-place for their faith, but that doesn’t mean I would ever “play the atheist game” if that meant actively pretending to be an atheist. You voluntarily chose to apply to and attend this religious institution. You weren’t “forced” into going there. There’s no good parallel to the girl who’s approached out of the blue about her sex life. Since the majority of people going to a Christian school are in fact Christian, it’s perfectly reasonable for the people around you to assume you are one, even if there may be no official test. In fact, many people deliberately choose a Christian institution over a secular one because they feel like the community will be better for them, whether they’re spouse-hunting or just looking for like-minded friends with whom to share their educational experience.

            If you were that worried you could have picked the non-Christian school instead of using the Christian school and deceiving your friends for your own purposes while contradicting your deepest convictions in the process. I mean look, I totally disagree with your position as an atheist—I think it’s unfounded and incorrect. But to talk and act like a Christian when you’re not—that’s not being true to yourself. Read the atheist de-convert Robert Bolt’s _A Man For All Seasons_ some time. If nothing else, read the preface. I’ve said my piece about this and I’m not going to go on and on about it, but you volunteered the information and I think it’s been a telling little eddy in this stream, to borrow a phrase Neil used elsewhere here.

          • David W

            You said “But to talk and act like a Christian when you’re not—that’s not being true to yourself.”

            I have two problems with this.

            One, what do you mean by ‘act like a Christian’? There is no evidence that Christians are more moral or good, or whatever, than non-Christians, none at all. I lead a moral life now, just as I did when I was a professing Christian.

            Second, I am not being untrue to myself. If I keep silent, or give the impression that I agree with the group when I do not, I am not being untrue to myself, I am being wise. In the past, I thought that I had to be “true to myself” at all times. If someone challenged me, I stood up and told them exactly what I thought; I considered this as being ‘real’ or ‘true to myself’. I have since learned that it is often wiser to stay silent, and to let others draw whatever conclusion they wish to draw, and to avoid the conflict.

            My close friends in the program know that I am atheist, as does my wife and close friends outside of the program. My classmates in general and my professors do not. This is not deception on my part, this is me being an adult and not seeking out conflict my shoving my unwanted ideas and thoughts into conversations when they are not wanted.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If all you’re doing is keeping your ideas to yourself, that’s a different matter, but your word choice implied more. “Playing the Christian game” makes it sound like you’re speaking the Christian lingo, verbally assenting to questions about your faith, and so on. That’s what I meant by “acting like a Christian,” and the fact that you used the phrase “playing the Christian game” shows you must already have some idea of what that means. You also compared yourself to a girl being asked about her virginity, implying that there have been times when you outright lied as opposed to simply taking the Lollard’s approach. Now, if that’s not true and ALL you have ever done is to not say anything one way or the other, I withdraw my statement. You can see how I got another impression.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            By the way, where are you getting this idea that you have to pass a religious test to serve in some state legislatures? The constitution forbids such a test, and by the doctrine of incorporation, any attempt on a state’s part to enforce such a thing would be struck down before you could say Jack Robinson. Are you quite sure you know what you’re talking about here? Because I have my doubts.

  • mikespeir

    Let me just throw this out to twist the knife a little.

    Notice what Esther did just above, as one example among many. She’s come up with a way to justify believing that “Mark,” far from demonstrating a lack of acquaintance with the geography of Palestine, actually was showing that he was better acquainted with it. She can even cite some people with the proper credentials who are of the same mind. (Although, as I understand it, such persons constitute a woeful minority among scholars.) Do you see the problem with that? Here is is. Read carefully.

    So what? There’s nothing compulsory about that take on the thing. It’s an opinion, and a minority opinion at that. Even if it were the opinion of the majority, it’s one that’s far from unanimous. And for good reason: it relies too much on speculation, on demonstrating things that can only be guessed at from this side of a 2000-year-old veil.

    But Christianity makes itself compuslory. Do I need to illustrate that? For those of you who like Bible verses, here are a few:

    Mar 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (And, no, I’m not going to get into whether that ought to be there. Excise it and it won’t be missed. There are plenty more where it came from.)

    Joh 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    Joh 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

    Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

    Gal 1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    2Th 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

    2Th 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

    2Th 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

    2Th 1:10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

    I said above that I’m 58 years old. One of the most traumatic experiences of my young life was what happened on November 22nd of the year I was eight: President Kennedy was assassinated. As young as I was, the day is burned clearly into my psyche. I remember sitting around the television that evening. As you can imagine, there was no other news to speak of. I recall how angry I became when it was announced that the Soviet Union had sent its condolences. Many of us were just sure the “Russians” had been behind the whole thing. The murderous hypocrites!

    But even persons born since that time are thoroughly familiar with the events of the day. You’ve seen the videos, from all angles, countless times, as well as the photographs, both professional and amateur. You’ve heard from the hundreds of eyewitnesses, testimonies recorded in official records for all to see. You’re aware of the intense Congressional investigation, the findings of which run into the hundreds of pages plus something like twenty-six volumes of supporting documentation.

    That, my friends, is a well-attested historical event. That’s what a well-attested historical event looks like.

    Surely–surely!–it must be conceded that the assassination of John Kennedy is whole orders of magnitude better attested than is the resurrection of Jesus, about which the Apostle Paul wrote this:

    1Co 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

    (And how about we not get off on a red herring about “whole orders of magnitude.” I’m not talking numbers here, but the galaxy-sized disparity in the quality and quantity of the attesting evidence.)

    We have no videos of Jesus coming back to life, no photographs, no hundreds of eyewitnesses (we only learn of the alleged 500+ [15:6] through the bottleneck of a single source: Paul himself), no Congressional investigation, nobody still around who saw it happen or even knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody….

    And yet, even the events surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy are controversial to this day; unresolved in so many minds.

    What do you think the penalty for departing from the official version of those events ought to be? Hell? Annihilation? Prison? A slap in the face? Remember, they’re about as well-attested as it’s possible to get.

    Do you see my point? The best you can do is climb up into the treetops and quibble over a few fluttering leaves that may or may not even be there, such as Mark’s purported familiarity (or lack of familiarity) with the geography of Palestine. You cannot justify insisting that people must become Christians on pain of–well, anything at all.

    But then go back up and read those verses from the Bible–the sourcebook for your religion–again. The hard evidence doesn’t rise to anywhere nearly a level sufficient to justify being laughed at, much less those threats.

    • John Fraser

      Mike,

      This seems to be your favorite objection, and you seem to think it’s a knockout punch. The thing is, it consists of two fallacies: appeal to authority and argument from personal incredulity. You are appealing to the fact that many scholars are not convinced by the arguments, basically. So? The New Testament itself basically says as much. See 1 Cor. 1:19-24 for example. Your argument seems to be that if this were really true then it should be convincing to most scholars and intellectuals. But if that were the case, then people with intellectual gifts would be at an advantage over those without. Intellectual giftedness, however, is just an accident of birth – it’s not a virtue. One can be intellectually gifted and virtuous, but one can also be intellectually gifted and desperately wicked. Instead what we have is a message which can be understood and received even by children, but which also gives the intellectual deep meaning and satisfaction. It’s a message for everyone, not just intellectual elites. The intellectual elites are the ones who are generally quite full of themselves with pride at their great learning and wisdom – and also very clever at inventing objections which appeal to intellectual pride but are actually without substance. And actually I see that over and over again on threads where I’m arguing with atheists – religious believers are looked down on as rubes, ignoramuses, stupid, intellectually inferior (whereas I happen to know many believers who are vastly intellectually superior to most atheists in terms of aptitude and also learning), etc. It isn’t credulity or gullibility that God favors, it’s humility. So I see it as perfectly appropriate that God would so craft his plan in such a way as to expose that intellectual pride for what it is. That’s why I’m perfectly happy to say that those believers whom atheists mock and ridicule as ignoramuses are my brothers and sisters.

      • mikespeir

        So, are you saying that the evidence for the events of the Gospels is on par with the evidence for Kennedy’s assassination? And if it were, would it justify the high-handed demands of the Christian religion?

        You’re not even trying, John. You’re not here to play defense. You’re playing offense. You’re pushing a religion that insists I must agree with it. Justify that.

      • John Fraser

        “So, are you saying that the evidence for the events of the Gospels is on par with the evidence for Kennedy’s assassination?”

        You mean for the mere fact that he was assassinated? Or for whodunnit? No, I don’t think the Gospels are that good, but since nobody could really doubt that Kennedy was, in fact, assassinated, I don’t see why that would be a comparison. There are many events in history which are less well attested than Kennedy’s assassination which are still accepted as fact. In fact, that’s true for the vast, vast majority of historical events.

        “And if it were, would it justify the high-handed demands of the Christian religion?”

        What you call the “high-handed demands” I would call simply living by the moral law, especially the law of love. And the result of living that way is life and peace. That’s why Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. But we need to be shaken out of our self-deception in order to see that. Again, you really haven’t given an argument against anything here, except that you personally find the demands of Christianity to be unreasonable or something. But that again is just personal incredulity (or perhaps a close cousin). That’s not evidence.

        “You’re not even trying, John. You’re not here to play defense. You’re playing offense. You’re pushing a religion that insists I must agree with it. Justify that.”

        No, I’m not pushing anything. Whether you agree or not is up to you. I believe in free will. I don’t accept the skeptical challenge of “you have to convince me, see?” No, I don’t have to convince you of anything. Sorry to disappoint.

        • mikespeir

          “There are many events in history which are less well attested than Kennedy’s assassination which are still accepted as fact.”

          And nobody tries to impose obligations on you to believe them, and penalties if you don’t, do they?

          “But that again is just personal incredulity (or perhaps a close cousin). That’s not evidence.”

          Don’t try to reverse the burden of proof, John. Christianity says I must believe or dire consequences will follow. It’s with Christianity that the burden of proof lies. All I’m saying is that the evidence doesn’t pile up high enough to justify imposing belief on me. Do you feel you have to give an account for everything you don’t believe in? Or don’t you consider a paucity of good evidence alone good enough? (Why even the expectation that there has to be a “good enough” when the evidence is so obviously paltry is insulting!) Indeed, is it even possible to believe when the evidence isn’t good? And I mean good by one’s own lights. I don’t think with anyone’s brain but my own.

          “I don’t accept the skeptical challenge of “you have to convince me, see?” No, I don’t have to convince you of anything. Sorry to disappoint.”

          Then what’s your object here? It sure looks like you’ve been trying to convince people. On the other hand, all I’m trying to convince you of is that I’m not convinced; that the evidence isn’t good enough that anyone has a right to insist I be convinced. If you’re not trying to convince me of something, let’s call the whole thing off. But I go away just like I came in: unbelieving–and feeling very good about it.

        • John Fraser

          “Don’t try to reverse the burden of proof, John.”

          Are you serious? Did you happen to notice a few comments of mine which were loaded with arguments and evidence? Nobody has actually addressed any of it except in a hand-waving, dismissive way, but to accuse me of reversing the burden of proof is a bit of a howler. And anyhow, pointing out that your objection is an argument from personal incredulity is not reversing the burden of proof. It’s just pointing out that your argument is fallacious.

          “All I’m saying is that the evidence doesn’t pile up high enough to justify imposing belief on me.”

          Well, I beg to differ. But since you haven’t actually addressed any of the actual evidence that I have seen, I don’t have much else to say. You just keep pressing this same objection as if it’s a knock-down winner, and it’s not even actually a valid argument.

          “I don’t think with anyone’s brain but my own.”

          Well, I might hasten to point out that you have previously made appeals to authority and how the majority of scholars don’t seem to accept my view, so that apparently lets you off the hook. That’s not thinking with your own brain, that’s following the herd. What if the herd is wrong? Are you then going to say, “but hey, I was basing my unbelief on good authority!”

          “It sure looks like you’ve been trying to convince people.”

          I present the arguments and evidence, I don’t hammer people over the head with it. That’s what I meant by that. I’ve encountered many a skeptic who seemed to think that the fact that they were not convinced was itself evidence that my argument was no good! It’s an interesting posture because it sets the skeptic up as the universal authority and only judge of what is and is not a good argument, and what does or does not constitute good evidence. Anyone can set up standards to prevent themselves from being convinced of something. And when it entails an unwanted moral obligation as it does in this case, it’s the easiest thing in the world. But I can’t make you do otherwise.

          “On the other hand, all I’m trying to convince you of is that I’m not convinced; that the evidence isn’t good enough that anyone has a right to insist I be convinced.”

          In other words, your lack of being convinced is actually evidence that my argument is no good. I love that approach. I should try it myself. Since you haven’t persuaded me that the evidence is no good (or even made so much as an attempt that I have seen), that proves that your objection is no good. How does that sound to you? Valid or invalid?

          • http://truthiselusive.wordpress.com Howie

            John – I don’t personally think there are any knock-down winner arguments in any of this stuff, but Mike’s argument seems to make a lot of sense to me and seems like a very reasonable argument. Yes, I am also not convinced but I don’t think that means that it is not true – it just means that I am not convinced. I am not the final authority. When I dig into the details on these kinds of apologetic arguments I find myself mired in so many details and differing of opinions that it is often almost impossible for me to see the forest for the trees. It also does seem clear to me that the answers that apologists like to give are not near as certain as they are made out to be. Again I’m not the final authority – it is simply my own conclusion – you are also not the final authority.

            But Mike’s main point seems to be one I struggle with as well – how can an eternity of pain be an appropriate response to someone who has tried their best to wade through a lot of apologetic material and simply ends up being honestly not convinced enough to believe?

            Yes, please feel free to beat me up as well for not answering the evidence you have given. But I just wanted to reply to this one particular argument that makes sense to me.

          • mikespeir

            “Are you serious? Did you happen to notice a few comments of mine which were loaded with arguments and evidence?”

            You were asking me to give evidence. I don’t have to do anything but point out that 1. your religion has not historically tolerated naysayers and 2. that it can’t point to any fact of history that’s well enough substantiated to justify that position.

            I am not going to get tied up in haggling over propositions that are at best guesswork anyway. Can you or can you not justify the Church’s hard line insistence that no one has a right not to believe? Can you point to any foundational event from its history that is incontrovertably true–and at least as well attested as the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination? If you think you can, show me comparable attestation. If you can’t, I’ve made my point.

          • John Fraser

            Mike,

            “You were asking me to give evidence. I don’t have to do anything but point out that 1. your religion has not historically tolerated naysayers and 2. that it can’t point to any fact of history that’s well enough substantiated to justify that position.”

            All you do is keep saying the evidence isn’t good enough, but you have yet to actually interact with the evidence that has been provided. So it amounts to nothing more than a bare assertion on your part. Yes, it’s easy to just say, “not good enough.” It’s the skeptic’s mantra, I know. I also know that skeptics are almost always allergic to the step of actually getting into the details. Better to just stay above the fray and wave your hands. That’s not an argument.

            “I am not going to get tied up in haggling over propositions that are at best guesswork anyway.”

            Of course you aren’t. I figured that out at least a couple of days ago.

            “Can you or can you not justify the Church’s hard line insistence that no one has a right not to believe?”

            I don’t really understand what a “right not to believe” even means. You make it sound like there is no fact-of-the-matter. The whole point is to have your beliefs line up with what’s true, isn’t it?

            “Can you point to any foundational event from its history that is incontrovertably true–and at least as well attested as the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination? If you think you can, show me comparable attestation. If you can’t, I’ve made my point.”

            I still don’t understand why the Kennedy assassination is the standard you’re using. Do you admit that events which are less well attested than that are nevertheless historically established? The assassination of Lincoln, for example is obviously not as well attested. We have no video of it, for example. Is that established to your satisfaction or not? How about the assassination of Julius Caesar? Not as well attested as either of these others but still seems to be accepted as a historical fact. Good enough? Or not?

            Now, let’s go one step further. Just about every ancient source we have on Jesus says that he was crucified. That includes both Christian and non-Christian sources. Would you consider that to be established as a fact, or not? If not, why not?

          • mikespeir

            I explained myself well enough, John. Surely, you can’t be missing the point. I’m using the Kennedy assassination as an example of an extremely well-established historical event that, even so, is contested. I’m claiming that no event in the Gospels rises to anywhere nearly the same level of attestation. In other words, if events surrounding the Kennedy assassination can be legitimately doubted, certaintly the events surrounding the central pillar of the Gospels–the Resurrection–can, too.

            Now, you’re not really missing that, are you? How about answering the question plainly: Do you think I am under any kind of legitimate obligation, imposed by anyone, to be a Christian?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Did you just say the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination could be “legitimately” doubted? Now I’ve heard everything. Getting back to the gospels, we’ve given you several key facts on which scholars across the board are agreed. We’ve also discussed many reasons why the resurrection is overwhelmingly the best explanation for all the converging lines of evidence we have. I’ve begun to demonstrate (not even scratching the surface really) that atheist scholars are not always the most reliable sources for judging the reliability of the gospel authors, using plain and simple fact. At this point, if you’re asking whether I think you “should” become a Christian, I would reply that your own bias seems to be much more of a problem for you than the actual evidence, which you persist in ignoring loudly. So, yes, I think you should put aside your bias and do your homework with an open mind. Essentially, I would argue that there are well-informed atheists, and there are reasonable atheists. Bart Ehrman is an example of a well-informed atheist who’s repeatedly shown poor judgment and a distorting bias. Someone like DB or Ernest, who left very polite comments earlier seeking more information, is a reasonable atheist who wants to pursue the truth with an open mind but simply hasn’t explored the material that’s available yet, or hasn’t explored it enough. And then there are the ones who remain firmly entrenched in their own biases and also refuse to become better informed. Until you quit bloviating and engage, Mike, I’m afraid it’s not looking good for you.

          • John Fraser

            Mike,

            “I explained myself well enough, John. Surely, you can’t be missing the point. I’m using the Kennedy assassination as an example of an extremely well-established historical event that, even so, is contested.”

            Now you’re engaging in a bit of equivocation. Nobody contests that Kennedy was assassinated, that he died from gunshot wounds, that he was shot while sitting in an open-air vehicle while driving through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The part that is contested is who exactly was involved in the killing and how many. But nobody doubts that he was killed and that somebody intended to kill him. If you want to make a comparison between this and the Gospel accounts, what exactly is the relevant comparison?

            “I’m claiming that no event in the Gospels rises to anywhere nearly the same level of attestation.”

            And yet as I have already pointed out, we don’t need nearly the same level of attestation to have historical facts. If we did, then we would scarcely have any historical facts because Kennedy’s assassination has an unusually high level of attestation. So let’s go back to the questions you dodged about Lincoln and Julius Caesar. Are these established as historical facts even without having nearly the level of attestation as Kennedy’s assassination? Why don’t you want to answer that one?

            “In other words, if events surrounding the Kennedy assassination can be legitimately doubted, certaintly the events surrounding the central pillar of the Gospels–the Resurrection–can, too.”

            If you mean that some secondary details surrounding the Resurrection can be doubted, I don’t really have a big problem with that. Which details are you talking about?

            “Now, you’re not really missing that, are you? How about answering the question plainly: Do you think I am under any kind of legitimate obligation, imposed by anyone, to be a Christian?”

            Funny you get on me for not answering a question plainly enough when you completely dodge mine! I tried to explain that this question doesn’t make any sense to me – or at least I’m not sure exactly what you mean by it. I would say yes, since we should aim to have our beliefs correspond to truth and Christianity is true. But Christianity is not merely about epistemic duties and holding certain propositions about Jesus to be true, it’s about being restored to right standing with God by humbly accepting his provision for that end. And yes, everyone should do that.

          • mikespeir

            Are you saying you want to answer the question for me, Esther? Do you think I’m under an obligation to be a Christian? Let me rehearse the evidence for you:

            1. Videos: Kennedy, numerous; Jesus’ Resurrection, none

            2. Photographs: Kennedy many; Jesus, none

            3. Eyewitnesses: Kennedy many and some still alive; Jesus, none that are uncontroversial

            4. Investigation by trained investigators: Kennedy numerous; Jesus, none

            5. Official inquiries: Kennedy, Congressional; Jesus none

            What’s more, consider the likelihood. Political assassinations are not uncommon. We have good attestation for those of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. There was an attempt on the life of Jackson. Pretty common stuff. We also know that when you blow somebody’s brains out they die. Uncontroversial.

            How about someone coming back to life after having been really dead for two+ days? No known mechanism; no indubitable examples from history to draw on. In short, no good reason to think it’s ever happened.

            Now, again, in light of that, do you think I’m under an obligation to believe in the Resurrection and be a Christian? Do you think I should be punished in some way, however mild, if I don’t? A yes or no answer should come first and then you can bloviate all you want.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yes Mike you should. Honestly though, you’ve obviously put so little honest effort into this topic (which should be front-burner priority kind of stuff for, well, any thinking human being), that to be brutally straight with you, I’m having trouble caring. I give Dave W and cjoint brownie points for actually TRYING to grapple with it, even if I still think they’re profoundly misguided/insufficiently informed. But you? You’re in another class entirely, and not in a good way at all.

          • mikespeir

            What you’re missing, Esther, is that I’ve aleady “grappled” with it, long before you came along.

            Frankly, I have little stomach for this kind of thing. I used to debate a lot, but it got to be the same old tiresome regimen time and time again, with nothing being accomplished. You throw out your experts and I throw out mine. You cite this piece of evidence and I counter with another. You speculate in one direction, and I go the other way. There is no resolution to that kind of thing. Not handled in that way.

            Like I said, I rarely do this anymore. Every now and again, though, somebody like you happens onto one of these sites, someone intelligent, fairly well educated, articulate, and seriously misguided. But you’re good enough to send everybody into a tizzy; to tie them up in knots in trivia, with asseverations that can’t possibly be settled with any finality, though you claim utter confidence. Usually, your type will burn themselves out quickly enough. Then the storm assuages and peace settles over the land again.

            Not this time.

            There’s an arrogance to the Christian religion that’s scarcely matched in any other realm. It’s an arrogance with which other everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden variety arrogances don’t want to associate and for which they wish we’d find another word. I can only take so much of it. You religion makes demands that are so unutterably beyond the pale, and on the slightest, trumped-up evidence. And, no, I realize you can’t see that. I couldn’t either while I remained inside the bubble.

            So I’ve stepped in. And, yes, I may get a little nasty about it. Your arrogance and the arrogance of the religion you represent are what provoke that.

            So, yet again: There is NO “fact” of history that is so well established that it could justify the arrogance of your religion or the demands it makes on people. That, and that only, is what I’m here to discuss.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            That’s funny. You’ve described exactly how I feel about people like Peter Boghossian and, on a more sophisticated level, Bart Ehrman. They’re just good enough to tie people up in knots. Then we get to deal with the mess and the wrecked lives they leave behind. Our job is both to repair and preempt that damage.

          • mikespeir

            I hardly see how fantasy and delusion could be very efficacious in repairing “wrecked lives,” especially in view of the life-wrecking track record your religion has.

            But I must refrain. I didn’t come here to quibble over that.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If I told you a young Christian man committed suicide after reading a book by Richard Dawkins, you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you marriages have fallen apart after one spouse deconverted, you probably wouldn’t believe me either. And if I gave you story after story about people who have kicked addiction, repaired their marriages, and become altogether more decent human beings after becoming Christians, you’d laugh at me. I say all this not to claim they prove the truth of Christianity, but to show why your words are bogus sniping. So you’re right, it would indeed be wise for you not to speak beyond your experience here.

      • David W

        Heya John,

        I am replying here due to the reply limit earlier.

        You said: . “…Craig Keener has done a seminal work on this in his two-volume tome entitled “Miracles.” One of the many takeaway points from Keener is that there are literally millions of eyewitness reports of miracles around the world today…”

        I am going to keep beating this drum as it is an important piece of the puzzle. I said earlier:

        Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any stripe.

        If you disagree, please link me to a single miracle that you think that unbiased scientists have confirmed.

        Also once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.

        Please be aware that presenting most skeptics with old documents which say that there was magic long ago, and then proceeding to argue and ‘show’ how reliable said documents are, will not in any way convince most skeptics that magic indeed exists, or ever existed.

        So John, of those millions of eyewitness reports of miracles today, unfortunately not a single one has withstood rigorous unbiased scientific investigation, not a single one.

        This bothers me and I think that it ought to bother those who believe that there miracles actually occur.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          David, since you’re continuing to beat the drum on this by your own admission, maybe you could answer the question I asked earlier: Why do you assume that first premise must be a given? I’m speaking of the premise that if there were a God, we should expect to see miracles happening around us today. If God is a person, as Judeo-Christian theology teaches, and not a random miracle-generating vending machine, might it not be reasonable to suppose that He works miracles at specific times for specific purposes?

          • David W

            Hi again Esther,

            “Why do you assume that first premise must be a given? I’m speaking of the premise that if there were a God, we should expect to see miracles happening around us today. … might it not be reasonable to suppose that He works miracles at specific times for specific purposes?”

            I am not assuming that it is a given, and sure, anything is possible. I have admitted that I may hold a justified false belief. I have no trouble at all admitting that all of my beliefs could be false.

            In regard to the supernatural and the existence of the Christian God who intervenes in this world today; the world looks exactly like it would if the supernatural did not exist, and exactly like it would if there were not a God who intervened in this world today.

            I understand that you have what you consider to be good reasons for the lack of scientific evidence for the supernatural of any kind. However, documents which claim that the supernatural was common in the past, no matter how reliable, pale in the cold reality of the complete lack of the supernatural in the modern day.

            All I would need to accept the existence of the supernatural would be a single time that a scientific explanation gave way to a supernatural one, or a single miracle that withstood scientific investigation, this is not asking for much.

          • http://truthiselusive.wordpress.com Howie

            Hi David – I like your term “justified false belief” and I understand exactly what you mean by that. What I have had a hard time finding is what the criteria would be for a belief being “justified”. I would imagine this is a very subjective part of epistemology, but I wonder if there are some philosophical agreements on this topic. Do you know?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            And for a real brain-bender, Edmund Gettier posited the idea that justified true belief isn’t really knowledge:

            http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/courses/gettierphilreading.pdf

          • http://truthiselusive.wordpress.com Howie

            And for a real brain-bender, Edmund Gettier posited the idea that justified true belief isn’t really knowledge:

            Hi Esther: I learned about the Gettier recently in a Coursera course – the more I dig into epistemology the more confused I get about what it is I truly know. :) Hume’s problem with induction is another one that just makes me feel queazy and weak at the knees. ;-)

        • John Fraser

          David,

          “Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence of the supernatural of any stripe.”

          Depending on what you mean by “scientific,” I would say that’s necessarily the case. Science in general studies repeated regularities in nature, or ordinary events. Science is the wrong discipline for studying singular events like miracles, which fall under the realm of history, not really science per se.

          “If you disagree, please link me to a single miracle that you think that unbiased scientists have confirmed.”

          Let me guess – an unbiased scientist is one who would never say that a miracle had occurred. So if a scientist confirmed a miracle, you would declare him biased. Am I right?

          “Also once again, supernatural explanations have given way to scientific ones every time, the converse has never been the case.”

          Here you seem to be using “scientific” as a synonym for “naturalistic.” I don’t accept that these are synonymous. You can explain things by discussing the laws of physics or what have you, but the story can’t stop there because you also have personal agency, and I don’t believe science can’t explain that. Again, it’s the wrong tool for the job. Science is a wonderful thing in its place. But like any tool it can only handle certain kinds of jobs. Great for explaining how to build an airplane. Not so good at explaining how to live. Which of those are more important?

          “Please be aware that presenting most skeptics with old documents which say that there was magic long ago, and then proceeding to argue and ‘show’ how reliable said documents are, will not in any way convince most skeptics that magic indeed exists, or ever existed.”

          Haven’t actually said anything about magic.

          “So John, of those millions of eyewitness reports of miracles today, unfortunately not a single one has withstood rigorous unbiased scientific investigation, not a single one.”

          Really? How many have you investigated?

          “This bothers me and I think that it ought to bother those who believe that there miracles actually occur.”

          I’m going to hazard a guess and say that you have investigated approximately zero. I could be wrong. But I’m really, really confident that you haven’t investigated millions.

          • David W

            Hmm, you have sidestepped my point quite nicely. I am going to try to get you to respond to my main point again, I trust that you understand what it is as you seem like an intelligent person.

            The only ‘evidence’ that we have of the supernatural is the eyewitness account. Whenever these accounts are investigated, they are explainable “… by natural or scientific laws…”

            If you have evidence other than eyewitness accounts of the supernatural, please, lets hear it. If you only have eyewitness accounts, you do not have a prescriptive belief; especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            John cited the Stanford Encyclopedia article on miracles a while back. I encourage you to check it out and come back with your thoughts, as it may help clarify the discussion:

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/

          • John Fraser

            “Hmm, you have sidestepped my point quite nicely.”

            That’s funny, I’m pretty sure I answered you point-by-point. Maybe try reading my comment again a little more carefully.

            “The only ‘evidence’ that we have of the supernatural is the eyewitness account.” There are also cases with medical documentation, but most of the time the eyewitness account is what you would expect by the nature of the case. That’s why I tried to explain the difference between non-repeatable events and repeatable regularities in nature. Did you not understand that? It’s the difference between history and science. We only have eyewitness accounts for most historical claims, too. History can’t be scientifically proven, it’s accessible by historical methods. Maybe I’m assuming too much about your level of background knowledge, but that seems pretty straightforward to me.

            “Whenever these accounts are investigated, they are explainable “… by natural or scientific laws…””

            No, that’s simply not true. There are many cases which are not explainable this way. But rather than say it was miracle, the skeptic files it under “unexplained.” Surely you’ve seen that designation used before, like “unexplained phenomena” or something?

            “If you have evidence other than eyewitness accounts of the supernatural, please, lets hear it.”

            Well, I refer you to Keener’s book for the time being. I don’t have any specific reference for you at the moment. But your insistence that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count is not a valid position.

            “If you only have eyewitness accounts, you do not have a prescriptive belief;”

            Says who?

            “especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.”

            This is just empty bluster. You can’t substantiate this claim, and I suspect you know that.

      • mikespeir

        John, I’m not here to play your game. I came on to expose the bad root and trunk of your belief system. Once again, there is no “fact” of history so well established as to justify insisting that people agree with it on pain of anything. The Resurrection is no exception. After that, the rest is pretty much fluff. I’m not going to get tied up in niggling over relative trivialities. If the Resurrection can’t be substantiated well enough so as to make belief mandatory, who cares about the rest?

        • John Fraser

          Mike,

          “John, I’m not here to play your game.”

          Right. Because you’re too busy playing your own game of avoiding my questions. No problem, I think others can see that for what it is. Like I said, I’m not here to hammer people. Have a good one.

          • dave warnock

            John

            In my 35 years as a Christian, I met many many Christians like you. The man or woman who was convinced that his/her take on scripture and theology was the correct one, and that everyone else had it wrong- even if just a little bit wrong. And they were ALL getting their theology from the same book! Amazing when you stop to think about it. The problem is, they pretty much all disagreed with one another. Whether the issue is baptism, speaking in tongues, miracles for today, communion (wine or grape juice), church structure, literal interpretation of biblical passages, prophecy, eschatology- OH MY!!! (rapture; pre-trip; post-trip; pre-milenneal, post-milenneal, a-milenneal, or my favorite: pan-milenneal (“it’s all gonna pan out in the end”). That’s why there are 4.2 gazillion (official count) denominations today- all of them CONVINCED they got the doctrine just a little bit better than their predecessors. ugh. It nauseated me as a Christian, but now I find it tragically comical.

            I know, you’d say that all TRUE Christians agree on the fundamental, or credal issues; and then you would (and probably will) list them off. Problem is, not all Christians agree on those either; and no one, not you or anyone, gets to decide who the true Christians are. But in all of your comments here, you continue to spout your view on every issue as though it is incontrovertibly the ONLY one that is correct- and my goodness, can’t you people see…it’s as plain as the nose on your face!

            But it’s not. And all of your lengthy dissertations and references to volumes of works of today and back through history don’t make it any more so.

            You have chosen to believe a fantastic story. Good for you. Many of us here used to and now choose not to- for a variety of reasons. But make no mistake, the more you argue for your positions- point by exhausting point, the less of a case you make- as I see it anyway; I can’t speak for the others.

            All it does is remind those of us who left Christianity exactly why we did. And it makes me all the more glad I am not in that crazy house anymore.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to you, Dave?

          • dave warnock

            Esther said: “does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to you, Dave?”

            wow, Esther. Of all the condescending and arrogant things you have said in these comments, that may top the list.

            I am 58, Esther. I have been seeking truth since I was 18; since December 26, 1973. Forty years. You stated somewhere here that you were in your 20′s. So you maybe have been seeking truth for what, 15-20 years? And you know so much more than me about truth. Or at least from your inference, you must think you are seeking after truth so much harder than I am. Why, because you’ve read a lot of books? because you’ve taken college courses? because you’ve spent untold hours online doing research?

            Maybe you are smarter than me. Maybe you are inherently wiser than me; I wouldn’t know that unless we spent real time together (provided I’m not lost in the Matrix or something).

            Truth means everything to me. Many people I have know who have left Christianity have done so at very great personal cost. Myself included. I have 2 daughters near your age who have cut off relationship with me because I no longer share their faith. I have 4 granddaughters that I cannot see. I have lost friends (or at least I thought they were). I have lost hair. And I have lost much sleep.

            This is not an intellectual exercise for me; it’s not some amateur atheist experiment. This is not a hobby for me- or some game to see if I can outwit someone on a message board. After what this has cost me personally, I would gladly go back to Christianity- if I could. If it was true. If it was the truth. But I cannot do it if it’s not the truth. It would be the most dishonest thing I have ever done in my life. I don’t believe it’s true anymore. And nothing you or John or anyone in this whole comment thread has said has in any way shape or form given me any reason whatsoever to reconsider the claims of Christianity. None. I could no more believe in Santa Clause again.

            And no- please, don’t haul out some other overwhelming piece of “evidence” that you think will be the spring that works. No. Just. Don’t. You haven’t earned that credibility with me, Esther. Come back in 20 years when you’ve lived a little more life. If I’m still here, let’s talk then.

            So, to your question: does truth and the pursuit of it mean nothing to me?

            No. It means everything.

            And that is why I am no longer a Christian

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If truth means everything to you, then you need to consider the fact that as long as you’ve lived, and as much self-inflicted pain as you have caused, other people have the right to call you on the floor when you offer posturing in place of argument. From day one, your tone has been childish (“Do not!”) ranting and evasive. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want people to jump to conclusions about you, try presenting a more gracious side of yourself for the world to see.

            I’m sorry that you’ve gone to such lengths to shut yourself off from the evidence. And I mean it when I say that, I sincerely pity you. But that doesn’t erase the fact that you’ve gone to great lengths to shut yourself off from the evidence. It’s like the child who commits suicide because he thinks his parents have made him miserable, when really it was himself all along. And all he accomplishes by that foolish act is untold hurt and pain.

          • dave warnock

            I haven’t shut myself off from any evidence Esther. And I really don’t care that you pity me. What you think of me makes no difference at all. None. You can think I’ve been childish, ranting and evasive on here- fine. That’s your opinion but I don’t share it. But I have been guilty of that and much more in my long life.

            I wish you well, Esther, I do. I have no malice toward you or anyone. One thing the years do gain us is that we do learn things in life along the way, and one thing I have learned is that arrogance and ego don’t serve us well in the long run. Talking down to people, belittling them, carrying oneself in a superior tone- those things don’t help us in life. And if my only desire is to prove myself right and be known as the smartest person in the room, I may find that I have the room to myself at the end of the day. I’ll win the war of words- but at what cost?

            You can have the last word, Esther. I won’t respond any longer to you.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I believe you dave. And I can assure you our purpose is not to be seen as smart. The work I’m doing here, which others have done before me in many times and many ways, in much more detail, is for the purpose of anchoring those already in the faith and illuminating a path for those who have left it or were never in it to begin with. And while you may disbelieve me, that work has saved souls. Lifelong atheists have converted after approaching the research with an open mind. The deconverted have come back. Many Christians have turned away from the brink of disbelief. If we didn’t have that fruit to show for any of this, our work would not be complete. This, quite simply, is why we do what we do.

          • mikespeir

            Kid yourself if you like. I think it’s telling. Now, maybe Esther will have an answer for me.

          • David W

            Heya John and Esther,

            Esther, I did go and read that article, thanks for the suggestion.

            John, man, it’s stressful reading your responses. I don’t want to get into an argument about how you come across, so I will just suggest that perhaps you should just consider coming across differently.

            You said “Well, I refer you to Keener’s book for the time being. I don’t have any specific reference for you at the moment. ”

            Ya, I am not going to read an entire book that you happen to like, just like you won’t read an entire book at my suggestion.

            It seems that we seem to disagree on where the burden of proof happens to lie; I don’t think that I will be able to convince you of this, however, I submit that if you think that miraculous events occur, and you think that there is medical documentation of these miracles, that the burden is upon you to show me where this medical documentation is.

            You quoted me and said:

            ““especially in light of the fact that when they are investigated by modern scientific methods they fall apart, every single time.”

            This is just empty bluster. You can’t substantiate this claim, and I suspect you know that.”

            I don’t think that I can prove the negative, that miracles never occur; I was hoping that you would present evidence that they do occur, as I think that is where the burden of proof lies.

            You said: “But your insistence that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count is not a valid position.”

            Well, I am not sure how much we disagree here. I don’t think that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count per se. It is that in light of the current realities that I have mentioned again and again, I do not think that eyewitness testimony is enough to give you a prescriptive belief which you can then attempt to enforce upon others. When I say attempt to enforce upon others, I am thinking of things like: teaching creationism in schools, banning same-sex marriage, opposing stem-cell research, opposing birth-control, denying evolution etc.

            Perhaps all of ‘you guys’ that recently came to this forum do none of these things.

            It occurred to me while reading the article that you had mentioned, that we may have no quarrel, and ‘you guys’ may have no quarrel with many, probably most, atheists.

            I can only speak for myself, but I really don’t have any interest in what you believe.

            My interest is in what you do with your belief.

            If you think that you have a prescriptive belief, and you attempt to enforce it upon others, through legislation and other means, then I will object.

            If on the other hand, you just want to be viewed as holding a reasonable belief, but you have no designs to attempt to enforce your belief on others, then I have no quarrel and would like to be friends. =D

            I think that Christianity can be a reasonable belief so far as the Christian doesn’t attempt to enforce it upon others.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Mike, you write, “She’s come up with a way to justify believing that ‘Mark,’ far from demonstrating a lack of acquaintance with the geography of Palestine, actually was showing that he was better acquainted with it. She can even cite some people with the proper credentials who are of the same mind. (Although, as I understand it, such persons constitute a woeful minority among scholars.)”

      Mike, I didn’t “come up” with anything or cite any scholars to say that Nineham is wrong. I pointed out (which is absolutely true—look up a map for yourself) that there is a mountain blocking the immediate route that Nineham was saying it was so strange for Jesus not to take. Nineham was WRONG. There’s no dispute about this. He just was wrong. That’s one small example, but there are so many others I could give. That was just one especially neat, open-and-shut example.

      • mikespeir

        Again, so what? How about the thrust of my comment?

      • David W

        “that work has saved souls.” “This, quite simply, is why we do what we do.”

        Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war… You know that song right Esther?

        Man, it sure was nice when I used to believe that I was a soldier in some grand spiritual war. I mean, who wouldn’t think that was cool?!

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Indeed, David W the 3rd (it sure is getting hard to keep track of all the Dave or david w/Ws in this thread). But surely you don’t deny that good and evil are at war in this world, even if you have your opinion about what constitutes “good” or “evil?”

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Or wait, I guess you’re the same David I’ve already interacted with. All this time I filed you away as Dave W in my head. ;-)

          • David W

            Sure, there is absolutely good and evil, but, they are man-made.

            I just no longer believe that there are invisible angels and demons battling it out all around me or that my prayers affect the outcome.

            Of course I could be wrong and there could be invisible angels and demons going at it right in my house, and wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony; seeing as this world looks exactly like it would if the supernatural did not exist.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Are you also a materialist, or do you remain a dualist?

          • David W

            FYI: I don’t have my last name listed here as I am attending a religious institution and I am worried about blow back and lost job opportunities should I be outed as an atheist.

            I hope this worry of mine is not something that atheists in future generations have to worry about.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Lost job opportunities where? Out in the real world or at other religious institutions? I’m not sure why you’d be trying to apply for a job specifically within the Christian realm if you’re an atheist. If I may ask, why are you attending a religious institution in the first place? Did you de-convert in the middle of a degree?

    • dave warnock

      Mike, don’t you know? According to Esther, you can’t PROVE JFK was assassinated at all. He could have been in the Matrix.

      John and Esther choose to believe an unbelievable story and seem hell bent on spending every waking hour of their lives attempting to convince skeptics that their story is believable. I am assuming it’s either a great hobby of theirs or they are on a mission from God. They choose to believe in talking snakes and worldwide floods and angels and demons and witches, and a prophet who flies through the air in a flaming chariot, and so on. I get it. I am surrounded by people like that; I am married to someone like that. Hell, I used to be someone like that. I don’t fault them.

      I understand that a huge scaffolding of rationale has to be constructed and maintained in order to get their minds to accept what is clearly an unbelievable story. The intellectual gymnastics one has to go through to support this ideology is simply exhausting. But, more power to them. I for one, and certainly glad to be off that ride. Truly. I am so glad to be living in the land of reason and logic and not having to spend large amounts of time justifying and defending a book of superstition.

      • mikespeir

        Indeed! Ain’t it funny how heavy the evidence can weigh when you’ve got your thumb on the scale?

      • John Fraser

        “They choose to believe in talking snakes and worldwide floods and angels and demons and witches, and a prophet who flies through the air in a flaming chariot, and so on.

        No, I don’t believe in either talking snakes or a worldwide flood. You seem to be confusing me with a young-earth creationist or something. Angels and demons, sure. I actually don’t see what the big problem is with those. Those aren’t unique to Christianity. Witches? Well, there are people who call themselves witches. What does that have to do with anything? If you mean wicked old ladies who fly around on broomsticks, don’t be silly if you can help it. But I suppose it’s easier this way for you than, say, actually trying to respond to what has actually been said. Strawmen make life so much easier for the skeptic, do they not? Oh, and I guess I should say something about the flaming chariot or you’ll accuse me of dodging. The actual story says that there appeared a flaming chariot and that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” I don’t really know what that means, but it doesn’t say he flew through the air in a flaming chariot. I don’t know if the chariot was a vision that Elisha had or what. I know you love taking one- or two-verse snippets, putting the most ridiculous spin on them possible, and making an issue of it but that makes you a lapsed fundamentalist. A little deeper thought would be of benefit to you. So I can’t really make a judgement on that one because I’m not sure what it’s really communicating.

        • mikespeir

          It’s always a little difficult to judge what flavor of Christian you’re dealing with on the Internet. There are so many varieties.

          Is anybody else having trouble opening this thread? Dang! Almost 300 comments! Is that a record here?

        • Esther O’Reilly

          John, just a quick question on “talking snakes” — I’m sure you realize david w is referring to the Garden of Eden. To clarify, you do believe that Satan entered into the body of the snake to tempt Eve verbally, right? But I’m assuming you’re distinguishing between “talking snake” and “snake being controlled by a sentient being.”

          • John Fraser

            Esther,

            My personal opinion is that the serpent in Gen. 3 isn’t a reference to an animal at all, it’s just a name for Satan. Just like Adam and Eve could communicate directly with God I think they could also communicate with other spiritual beings, so I don’t see any need for an actual reptile, controlled by another being or not. Part of the issue for me has to do with the curse of “going on your belly”. That’s just what snakes do. So unless this snake talked AND walked, it wouldn’t be much of a curse for a snake. But if you interpret the verse literally, it starts to become absurd – did snakes NOT go on their belly before this? But then why would all of snake-kind (as it were) be punished for what was actually Satan “possessing” a snake? The punishment or curse has to be against Satan, not against snakes (or even a snake that would have been an innocent bystander). I haven’t done a lot of research on this to examine the historical interpretation, but I do know many of the church fathers took it as allegorical. In some cases they perhaps went overboard, but I don’t think a reading involving an actual snake can really work.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            This little eddy in this stream strikes me as comical. A talking snake, whether by “possession” or by natural capability is patently silly. Taking it metaphorically is certainly smarter, I think.

            But John, your objection that punishing all snakes because one of them got possessed sounds remarkably like the objection others have toward the notion of original sin. I am told not only that all of mankind is punished for the actions of one couple, but also that the entire planet is being punished for it. Seems like the same logic to me.

          • John Fraser

            Neil,

            I don’t believe anybody is punished for original sin, so you’re talking to the wrong person. Maybe you need to find a Calvinist to argue with. :)

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            If only I knew which theology was the right one, then I would know which one to disagree with ;)

            If Christians can’t even agree with each other over what is real and what is not, then I’d say Mike has a point about the logic of saying people deserve to be punished for not seeing things the same way.

          • John Fraser

            Neil,

            “If Christians can’t even agree with each other over what is real and what is not, then I’d say Mike has a point about the logic of saying people deserve to be punished for not seeing things the same way.”

            No, you’re talking about secondary issues. There are always issues which are debatable, but those aren’t the central claims. That’s why the early church wrote the creeds, to affirm those central beliefs that all Christians everywhere affirmed and to separate those from secondary issues. They are also seen in some of the creedal formulas in Paul’s letters, like 1 Cor. 15:3-8. The interpretation of Genesis 3 is a secondary, debatable issue. The resurrection of Jesus is not. Earlier someone asked me about having doubts and I said I have theological questions about some things, but no doubts about the existence of God, the afterlife, and the resurrection of Jesus. Those are also the things for which we have the strongest evidence, and the wise man proportions his beliefs according to the strength of the evidence.

          • David W

            I am replying here due to a diminishing number of “reply” prompts lol.

            you said “Are you also a materialist, or do you remain a dualist?”

            It depends on the day, but more often I am a materialist, and I am not being cute here. I don’t see what kind of serious work dualism does for me, and I see no evidence of anything outside of the natural world.

            I know the questions and lines of argument that answering this question opens me up to, but I suppose I answer without concern because as I move through life, I am finding that I am more and more okay with the idea of saying “I don’t know.”

            How did consciousness emerge, or how did the universe begin? I don’t know. The experts are trying to answer these and other questions, if they can be answered.

            For me, positing that the Christian God exists doesn’t answer any questions, it just brings up more questions which can’t be answered.

            I am anticipating here, but I also have no serious problem with the ‘moral relativism’ objection to materialism. All I have to do is to make one assumption, that the worst possible suffering is bad; I am comfortable making this unfounded assumption.

            You said:”Lost job opportunities where? Out in the real world or at other religious institutions? I’m not sure why you’d be trying to apply for a job specifically within the Christian realm if you’re an atheist. If I may ask, why are you attending a religious institution in the first place? Did you de-convert in the middle of a degree?”

            I am sure that you are aware of the atheist bias in the USA, so I will be brief here. Lost job opportunities anywhere. Most people don’t trust atheists and think they may be immoral etc.

            I am attending a religious institution because I was accepted into two programs, and the religious institution had the better program, I was atheist long before I even applied. I can play the Christian game as well as the next person, it really isn’t that burdensome to me to attend a religious institution.

            Sadly, many “Christians” are playing the same game that I am, they just haven’t really thought about what they believe. I am sure that this is a sticking point with you more than it is with me however.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            LOL. I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that job owners “anywhere” don’t trust atheists and think they’re immoral. If you’re good at what you do I wouldn’t worry your head too much. But this interests me. You say “I can play the Christian game as well as anyone.” Do you mean to say that you are actively pretending to be a Christian as long as you’re attending this institution? Or are you simply keeping quiet and allowing others to draw their own conclusions? Your word choice seems to imply the former, in which case I’m a little surprised. Why violate your personal integrity in that way?

          • David W

            you said: “LOL. I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that job owners “anywhere” don’t trust atheists and think they’re immoral…. and …Why violate your personal integrity in that way?”

            Hmm, I am surprised that you are unaware of the anti-atheist bias in the USA. This may be interesting to you then. There are multiple states which require religious tests to hold office and there have been multiple studies which rate trust of atheists below rapists and Muslims, and other groups which are deemed undesireable in the USA.

            Just google it, Wikipedia has some info, but you should get several dozen legit returns with links to the studies in regard to the trust in atheists. I had no trouble locating multiple studies in under 5 minutes.

            I am not violating my personal integrity by playing a role that I am forced into by the bias that surrounds me, anymore than the person who lies in response to an inappropriate question is violating her integrity. (The institution that I am attending does not have a religious test before admission, they do not require you to be religious to attend their college.)

            Inappropriate questioner: are you a still a virgin.

            victim: Yes I am. (but she is lying)

            This person is not violating her integrity anymore than I am.

            It is not an issue of truthfully answering inappropriate questions and disclosing private information vs violating your integrity. That is a misread of the situation.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yes, I found the same thing you did. It looks like one series of studies conducted by the same group. I’ve had some stats and I’m not easily impressed by the phrase “studies show” — you can find a “study” that shows just about anything.

            I can understand if you prefer to just not say anything about your religion one way or the other, but can’t you hear why a phrase like “playing the Christian game” might have an unsavory ring to it? Look, I can give you concrete examples of Christians getting bullied and harassed in the work-place for their faith, but that doesn’t mean I would ever “play the atheist game” if that meant actively pretending to be an atheist. You voluntarily chose to apply to and attend this religious institution. You weren’t “forced” into going there. There’s no good parallel to the girl who’s approached out of the blue about her sex life. Since the majority of people going to a Christian school are in fact Christian, it’s perfectly reasonable for the people around you to assume you are one, even if there may be no official test. In fact, many people deliberately choose a Christian institution over a secular one because they feel like the community will be better for them, whether they’re spouse-hunting or just looking for like-minded friends with whom to share their educational experience.

            If you were that worried you could have picked the non-Christian school instead of using the Christian school and deceiving your friends for your own purposes while contradicting your deepest convictions in the process. I mean look, I totally disagree with your position as an atheist—I think it’s unfounded and incorrect. But to talk and act like a Christian when you’re not—that’s not being true to yourself. Read the atheist de-convert Robert Bolt’s _A Man For All Seasons_ some time. If nothing else, read the preface. I’ve said my piece about this and I’m not going to go on and on about it, but you volunteered the information and I think it’s been a telling little eddy in this stream, to borrow a phrase Neil used elsewhere here.

          • David W

            You said “But to talk and act like a Christian when you’re not—that’s not being true to yourself.”

            I have two problems with this.

            One, what do you mean by ‘act like a Christian’? There is no evidence that Christians are more moral or good, or whatever, than non-Christians, none at all. I lead a moral life now, just as I did when I was a professing Christian.

            Second, I am not being untrue to myself. If I keep silent, or give the impression that I agree with the group when I do not, I am not being untrue to myself, I am being wise. In the past, I thought that I had to be “true to myself” at all times. If someone challenged me, I stood up and told them exactly what I thought; I considered this as being ‘real’ or ‘true to myself’. I have since learned that it is often wiser to stay silent, and to let others draw whatever conclusion they wish to draw, and to avoid the conflict.

            My close friends in the program know that I am atheist, as does my wife and close friends outside of the program. My classmates in general and my professors do not. This is not deception on my part, this is me being an adult and not seeking out conflict my shoving my unwanted ideas and thoughts into conversations when they are not wanted.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            If all you’re doing is keeping your ideas to yourself, that’s a different matter, but your word choice implied more. “Playing the Christian game” makes it sound like you’re speaking the Christian lingo, verbally assenting to questions about your faith, and so on. That’s what I meant by “acting like a Christian,” and the fact that you used the phrase “playing the Christian game” shows you must already have some idea of what that means. You also compared yourself to a girl being asked about her virginity, implying that there have been times when you outright lied as opposed to simply taking the Lollard’s approach. Now, if that’s not true and ALL you have ever done is to not say anything one way or the other, I withdraw my statement. You can see how I got another impression.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            By the way, where are you getting this idea that you have to pass a religious test to serve in some state legislatures? The constitution forbids such a test, and by the doctrine of incorporation, any attempt on a state’s part to enforce such a thing would be struck down before you could say Jack Robinson. Are you quite sure you know what you’re talking about here? Because I have my doubts.

  • David W

    Hi Howie,

    You said “Hi David – I like your term “justified false belief” and I understand exactly what you mean by that. What I have had a hard time finding is what the criteria would be for a belief being “justified”. I would imagine this is a very subjective part of epistemology, but I wonder if there are some philosophical agreements on this topic. Do you know?”

    Thanks, but I can’t claim the term. :)
    Justified belief is a topic that is covered in undergrad philosophy courses. Any textbook on the theory of knowledge or epistemology should quite a bit to say about the topic.
    For a free resource, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a reliable source: http://plato.stanford.edu/:

    These two pages might give you what you are looking for: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/
    and
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

  • David W

    Hi Howie,

    You said “Hi David – I like your term “justified false belief” and I understand exactly what you mean by that. What I have had a hard time finding is what the criteria would be for a belief being “justified”. I would imagine this is a very subjective part of epistemology, but I wonder if there are some philosophical agreements on this topic. Do you know?”

    Thanks, but I can’t claim the term. :)
    Justified belief is a topic that is covered in undergrad philosophy courses. Any textbook on the theory of knowledge or epistemology should quite a bit to say about the topic.
    For a free resource, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a reliable source: http://plato.stanford.edu/:

    These two pages might give you what you are looking for: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/
    and
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/

  • John Fraser

    David W,

    Moving your comment down here.

    “John, man, it’s stressful reading your responses. I don’t want to get into an argument about how you come across, so I will just suggest that perhaps you should just consider coming across differently.”

    You should see me when I’m not in such a good mood. But I’m glad you don’t want to get into an argument about “how I come across” because I always find that to be a red herring. And somehow my “tone” is never good enough for some people – which I really think is more their problem than mine. You can’t please everyone. So ’nuff said.

    “It seems that we seem to disagree on where the burden of proof happens to lie; I don’t think that I will be able to convince you of this, however, I submit that if you think that miraculous events occur, and you think that there is medical documentation of these miracles, that the burden is upon you to show me where this medical documentation is.”

    I have no disagreement about where the burden of proof lies, and I fully accept that burden. The only miracle I have actually presented evidence for on here is the Resurrection. Well, actually I’ve just been showing the extensive evidence for eyewitness testimony in the Gospels, but nobody wants to talk about that. So there’s not much I can do if I present evidence and nobody wants to talk about it. The reference to Keener was in connection with the claim that miracles don’t happen anymore. Actually, Keener’s book started as a refutation of the argument that the Gospels couldn’t have come from eyewitness sources because eyewitness don’t report such events. The entire foundation of skeptical New Testament scholarship is built on this premise. So the assumption of the critics is that the NT HAD to have been written later after a long period of mythological development because eyewitnesses don’t say things like this. Keener set out to show that eyewitnesses DO report things like this, and found so much of it that it grew from a footnote in his commentary on Acts into a two-volume tome. But I’m not really here to argue about all of that – the only miracle that I’m interesting in defending here is the Resurrection.

    “I don’t think that I can prove the negative, that miracles never occur;”

    I don’t think you can either. I’m glad we agree on that. But nevertheless you did make that sweeping claim, that every miracle claim has been debunked by science. That’s simply not true.

    “I was hoping that you would present evidence that they do occur, as I think that is where the burden of proof lies.”

    I agree, see my comments along that vein above.

    “Well, I am not sure how much we disagree here. I don’t think that eyewitness testimony doesn’t count per se. It is that in light of the current realities that I have mentioned again and again, I do not think that eyewitness testimony is enough to give you a prescriptive belief which you can then attempt to enforce upon others.”

    I see no basis for this. Eyewitness testimony can be used to convict someone of a crime and send them to prison, can’t it? Multiple eyewitness testimony is extremely good evidence in this regard, so I think eyewitness testimony in principle CAN be used to enforce prescriptive beliefs on others. You want to make an exception for supernatural claims, but this is simply an assumption of naturalism which I do not accept. Naturalists presume to make the rules for everyone else, but I challenge that assumption.

    “When I say attempt to enforce upon others, I am thinking of things like: teaching creationism in schools, banning same-sex marriage, opposing stem-cell research, opposing birth-control, denying evolution etc.

    Perhaps all of ‘you guys’ that recently came to this forum do none of these things.”

    If you mean people shouldn’t be allowed to let their worldview affect their opinions on public policy issues, I disagree strongly. Democracy and religious freedom (which is freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion) dictate that they can. The alternative is not something I would want to live under.

    “If you think that you have a prescriptive belief, and you attempt to enforce it upon others, through legislation and other means, then I will object.”

    It’s your right to object, naturally, just like it’s the right of religious believers to object to your views. Do you disagree?

    “If on the other hand, you just want to be viewed as holding a reasonable belief, but you have no designs to attempt to enforce your belief on others, then I have no quarrel and would like to be friends. =D”

    If by this you mean that you have no problem with my religion as long as I keep it to myself, sorry. If I did that it would actually betray my beliefs.

    “I think that Christianity can be a reasonable belief so far as the Christian doesn’t attempt to enforce it upon others.”

    You mean as long as Christians just capitulate to secularism? The problem is that secularists insist on forcing their worldview and agenda on others, and use things like public schools to do that. I would have no problem if they would adopt a neutral position, but this does not seem to be the case. It doesn’t affect me at the moment since I don’t live in the U.S. and my kids don’t attend public schools, but if it did then I would object in the same way that you do against Christians.

    • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

      Good thing Jesus died for you, because frankly your a dick.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        Hey, hey, cool off man. I’ve really enjoyed reading your contributions to this thread but that’s below your usual standard.

        • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

          I’m totally cool. But I think somebody should tell him. I would have said the same thing if I was still a Christian to him. He’s an obnoxious bore. You, I find charming if not sometimes a little too sure of yourself.

          Your comments up above to Dave about suicides and marriages and such are interesting. But you know they are totally anecdotal. As a therapist and former pastor I have seen more people hurt from religious rigidity than secularism, but that’s anecdotal too. The fact is, people get hurt by other people in all kinds of contexts. But people should not have to avoid being assertive and honest with each other. There is a ton of pressure religion puts on people to capitulate and keep their bouts quiet because Christian are known for shooting their wounded. That has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of it, but is an artifact of our biological tribalistic instinct.

          I haven’t had much time to respond here, but have followed along. I like that you are interacting with the scholarly works you mentioned. I would, just offer to you that just because people didn’t give you a point by point argument, doesn’t mean there are not strong arguments against the authorship and trustworthiness of the New Testament, and the way in which the canonization process defined Christianity as we know it today. My sense is that many people like me and Neil are not speaking out of hand, or that our deconversions are simply emotional. For the most part, it was the many books and lines of evidence from many different sources that informed our doubt and we bravely stepped out on what we believed was our informed truth. While it is helpful to debate what experts from all sides have to offer, it’s not helpful to dismiss someone’s journey as intellectually inferior. I don’t like when atheist or Christians do it. So yea, John strikes me as someone who is polemic.

          For me, to return to bing a Christian I would have to ignore my doubts about the nature of the bible and it’s claims, accepting a god who seemingly only works directly in nature in ancient times and ignore his lacks of direct involvement in the present. This is a genuine rationale objection. Doesn’t it bother you that seemingly the only miracles we here about today are in some dark corner of Africa where no one can verify it? It seems very much akin to claims of UFO sightings. I mean there is a reason why Christians created the doctrine of Cessationalism, right? Because they live in that experience too. And Continuationism relies heavily on attributions, because when god works it seems only evident to them.

          I will be interested to see where your journey takes you.

          • John Fraser

            “I’m totally cool. But I think somebody should tell him. I would have said the same thing if I was still a Christian to him. He’s an obnoxious bore.”

            I’m always curious about people who do this kind of name-calling. Do you think I’m going to say to myself, “gosh, this guy on the internet (who posts under the handle “cjoint”) seems to think I need to change. I’d better change, pronto! Do you think I have so little self-respect as that? Well, I guess whatever. I won’t tell you how I find you, because I don’t really see much point. You might be a perfectly nice person in real life for all I now.

          • John Fraser

            er, “know”.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            There’s some interesting stuff in your comment that I plan to get around to later, but for now I’ll just point out the irony that John answers every comment point by point and gets called “an obnoxious bore,” while I don’t and I get accused (though not by you) of being evasive, slippery, dodging the question, etc. Apparently we can’t win.

          • John Fraser

            It’s still better than a lot of debating threads with atheists I’ve been on, like the one where a guy said I shouldn’t be allowed to have children and he hoped I would be run over by a truck (not sure why a truck in particular as opposed to some other motor vehicle, but whatever). With the exception of cjoint, they’re a relatively civil group actually. Kudos to Neil for setting a good tone on his blog.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            cjoint, I’m pulling together some things you’ve written here and above for consolidation’s sake.

            First of all, I gave those examples to Mike simply because he was expressing incredulity that a) the work of skeptical atheists could ruin anyone’s life and b) that the Christian religion (or “fantasy and delusion” as he put it) could ever repair a wrecked life. That was my only purpose—to offer counter-examples to his sweeping claims. As for the hurtfulness of religious rigidity, I can personally speak to that and also recognize how other people have been hurt in that way. I’m not denying that avowed Christians can hurt people. However, as I think you’d agree, I don’t think it has any bearing on the truth of the matter when it comes to evaluating the historical claims of Christianity. Jesus himself says that many people will call him “Lord, Lord” and get a nasty surprise on judgement day, so why should we be surprised that there are hypocrites in the church? Especially since there are hypocrites everywhere?

            You’ve said there are strong arguments, but my sense of it is that you’ve gotten these mainly by interacting with the work of people like Bart Ehrman, whom by the way, that Greenberg book you cited earlier is merely re-hashing. Ehrman is a charming writer who impresses people easily, but have you taken the time to put his claims under the microscope? I’ve put in a link to this talk before, but around 06:00, the speaker rolls a clip where Ehrman beats his favorite drum about contradictions in the gospels, rattling off an impressive little list of his favorite examples. The speaker then walks through every single item in the list and shows why Ehrman’s display of intellectual legerdemain isn’t nearly so impressive once you’ve scratched the shiny surface.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww7_NKv6_Sg

            Now, you may not feel like going through every page of every book Ehrman’s written and looking up all the possible replies to his objections, but there are enough clear examples out there where that homework has been done for you that I think you should start to question Ehrman’s trustworthiness as a source. As for the one other book you mentioned, The Human Faces of God, Stark admits at the end that he has a political agenda to push, but even aside from that, his book is mainly designed to attack inerrancy. Inerrancy isn’t an essential doctrine. I realize in your denomination it probably was, and that once inerrancy fell apart from you it struck a critical psychological blow to your faith as a whole, but really, it’s quite possible to be a Christian (even, believe it or not, a quite conservative Christian) without believing the doctrine of inerrancy. I’m sure there are other books that you could cite but didn’t, but nothing specific you’ve mentioned so far gives me reason to believe you’re as well informed as you claim.

            Ultimately, I’m getting the sense that a lot comes down to the problem of evil for you, although you haven’t used that phrase specifically. That’s an interesting debate in itself. But regardless of how low a prior probability you want to put on the occurrence of a miracle, the factor that counts is the factor that takes into account the probability of the evidence we have given the hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection. And that factor is top heavy. Now earlier you quoted someone else who was saying that even if we grant that Jesus probably rose from the dead, this isn’t enough for the Christian. I love the theory of knowledge, so this caught my interest. My very first question would be for the author to define his terms. How probable is “probable” in his statement? Somewhat probable? Very probable? Almost certain? He doesn’t seem to make much of a distinction, he just lumps it all together as “not certain, therefore, not enough.” Now, much ink has been spilled on this, but I ultimately take the foundationalist view, that there are a few bare certainties at the bottom, but even though most things aren’t strictly certain, they may still be very well justified beliefs. You may be right that this would be hard for some Christians to accept, but it’s not at all a stretch for those of us who understand that were we to demand “certainty” for most things, we couldn’t even interact normally with the world around us, let alone form opinions about historical events. The resurrection is amply affirmed by multiple converging lines of evidence. That’s good enough for me. In this world, there will always be tough-minded and tender-minded people. Christianity has room for both.

          • http://www.chasingblackswans.com/about-me/ cjoint

            “I’m sure there are other books that you could cite but didn’t, but nothing specific you’ve mentioned so far gives me reason to believe you’re as well informed as you claim.”

            Do you see Esther how you have developed a preconception based on so little information? Should one need to lead with “here are all the books I’ve read in my life, listed alphabetically and categorized by conservative, liberal and secular scholarship” in order to be given the benefit of the doubt? Did you miss where I went to seminary, and I, and others here were pastors for many years. Do you imagine that we were exposed to many scholars from many sides of the issues? To original texts in Hebrew and Greek? Do you see how by arguing to me about Erhman, seeks to minimize my disbelief as unexamined by linking me to argument I have never made?

            I imagine, even at your age, that you are aware of the bulk of scholarship on the continuum from the Jesus seminar scholars to middle and liberal scholars to Dallas seminary and Moody bible ilk etc..but that’s me giving you the benefit of the doubt, of which you could not afford to offer? The issues you have spoken about here are far from settled among scholars, and a comment thread will likely not render it so.

            By the way, Thom Starke’s book is about inerrancy, but it also exposes the myth of Yahweh and the pressures of second temple monotheism on the early church, built on other scholarship of course. I would encourage you to read it. I offered it because the scope of a discussion on the four canonical gospels is certainly narrow. If the beginning of Judaism was polytheistic, as some scholars convincingly argue, it certainly colors the Judaism from which the Jesus story springs forth.

            All of us, atheist and Christian alike are viewing evidences and arguments for and against, through the lens of experiences and imagination? For myself, it’s the bible itself, ethics and morality, science, and personal experiences and thinking that leave me in the default position of atheism. Not to play to the age card, but I imagine as you age, you will become less and less of a foundationalist. But without exception, we all see things not as they are, but as we are. The map is not the territory.

            I’ll appeal to your imagination, When your in heaven dancing in the glory that it is imagined to be, and you look across the gulf at loved ones burning in a lake of fire, forever. How will you then continue to dance? Will god wipe away the memory of hell for you? Could you simply ignore that just beyond you people, who have been somehow recreated to withstand eternal torture, are mashing together their teeth, screaming and writhing in intense pain because they could not overcome their objections while on earth and give cognitive ascent? Will there be any empathy in heaven?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            I mentioned Ehrman for a couple reasons. First of all, one of the books you cited is merely a repackaging of work Ehrman’s already done. Secondly, although you may not personally think contradictions in the Bible are serious, Ehrman has chosen to magnify them as significant, and the fact that he uses misleading, deceptive tactics in the process casts a shadow over his reliability in general. And Ehrman’s approach is imitated across much of the contemporary skeptical literature about the gospels and Acts. These arguments and tactics are certainly very typical of the work of scholars in the Jesus Seminar. Furthermore, unlike Carrier, who’s heartily despised even by his own side, Ehrman has some respect in the field.

            But it seems increasingly clear, the more you elaborate on your feelings about Christianity, that whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead isn’t your primary concern. Your doubts seem rather to be stemming from some powerful mental/emotional blocks to the religion’s theological tenets. The questions you ask are natural, but as you yourself are admitting, they’re about what feelings the theology generates in you, they’re about the emotional and imaginative lens through which you see it. But all that is beside the point of truth.

            By the way, I have indeed thought a good deal about the fate of the damned. I think C. S. Lewis addresses it quite well in his thought experiment _The Great Divorce_.

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Yes, yes. I’ve read all of C.S. lewis. You do realize that it is impossible for any of us to divorce our emotional drives and be purely rationale, right? It’s a pre-frontal cortex kind of thing. But is it possible that people have both intelligent objections and human responses to the consequences of such implications? Holding to both is perfectly compatible.

            You do also realize that Erhman was Metzger’s last doctoral student, right?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Indeed I do. Metzger wasn’t too impressed with how Ehrman picked and chose the data to fit his narrative either.

          • http://cjoint.wordpress.com cjoint

            Have you read anything by a Jesus seminar scholar or other non conforming scholar? Is there any scholar you have read that does not support your thesis that the gospels are full proof and reliable histories of fact in every way, that gives you concern? There is a theme from you that anyone who does not support your view must be twisting the truth and can’t have integrity. I suspect you read what others say about them rather than the source, but I’ll leave the door open for you to set the record straight.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            By the way, the direct quotes I gave, foo