Atheist Dogmatism about Jesus

After having a discussion here at Exploring Our Matrix in which an atheist insisted that there cannot be atheist fundamentalists because atheists reject all dogmas, it was interesting to see Harry McCall dogmatically insist what atheists “must assert” when it comes to the historicity of Jesus. Indeed, he goes further and insists that he (despite offering nothing more than weak garbage in his post) knows why all professional historians, and all but a couple of fringe New Testament scholars, draw the conclusions that they do.

If nothing else, it is worth reading just to see the attempt to use a false antithesis in the same way Christian fundamentalists do: atheism and mythicism must go hand in hand, allegedly – just as Christianity and young-earth creationism must, according to Ken Ham and others like him.

I rather get the impression that there are some atheists who – like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts – irrationally believe that simply by embracing the true faith/antifaith, it automatically bestows upon them the infallible ability to reason, deduce, evaluate, and in other ways see clearly and comprehend.

But those who actually do the hard work of critical investigation, including of their own cherished beliefs, will know that neither atheism nor theism nor any other worldview leads their automatically, much less bestows it instantaneously.

Dare I hope that McCall’s presentation of mythicist dogma in this way will help many atheists realize that what scholars offer is far superior?

UPDATE: I wrote the above before McCall followed up with another post which focuses on the fact that Ehrman’s book lacks subject and author indexes, and then goes on to use the classic creationist ploy of claiming that a range of studies do not demonstrate evolution/the historical Jesus, but simply assume it.

 

If someone moves from fundamentalist religion to fundamentalist atheism

 

 

Stay in touch! Like Religion Prof on Facebook:
  • John MacDonald

    You get the sense that The New Atheists are under the impression that “if” you make an argument that avoids formal logical fallacies, “then” you have made a reasonable argument. This way of thinking is fallacious in its own right, of course.

    • Nofun

      So a reasonable argument must be chock full of logical fallacies to be reasonable. You sure about that?

      • Ian

        That’s wonderfully meta. Denying the antecedent in a comment about the importance of logical argument. Perfect.

        I’d love to believe it was intentional, but from your other comments, I can’t.

        • Nofun

          A logical argument should be free of fallacies … nothing meta about it.

          Like an argument that involves god should have some evidence of this god.

          • Ian

            Your lack of self awareness is impressive. As I said, I didn’t think you intended the humour in your comment.

          • Nofun

            All pseudo intellectual condescension aside, your comments are meaningless and undeserved smugness.

          • Ian

            I’m sorry for the condescension and smugness, that is impolite, I agree.

            But you responded to a post about logical fallacies with a huge and very basic logical fallacy, one that is covered in any logic 101 class. Then even after it was pointed out and named, you responded without any indication you’d understood the comment you were replying to. If you find that pseudo-intellectual, I’m not surprised. People tend to think that anything they weren’t capable of understanding is hifalutin nonsense. I’m sure you’ve had the same talking to some fundies. A LPT for discussion is to at least give understanding a go, especially when you can just google the words you didn’t understand.

          • Jim

            Smugness may be below the belt … but what’s wrong with a bit of condescension here and there? :)

          • Nofun

            Yea, its all good, I really don’t care.

          • Jim

            Yes you do … God told me you do dammit

          • Nofun

            Damn that God …. he just can’t stop gossiping.

          • Nofun

            The statement was:

            “You get the sense that The New Atheists are under the impression that “if” you make an argument that avoids formal logical fallacies, “then” you have made a reasonable argument”.

            The statement is trying to say that even if your argument is free of logical fallacies it still might not be reasonable.

            But an argument free of logical fallacies beats every religious person’s argument, which do contain such fallacies, every time. The primary fallacy being god.

            Its a dig at atheists back it kind of backfires as religious argument can’t escape fallacy. Thus it is quite valid to question if arguments with logical fallacies can ever be reasonable.

          • Ian

            If only you’d said that rather than what you actually wrote, your comment wouldn’t have been so unintentionally amusing. It would still have missed the point being made, but wouldn’t have been funny.

            As I implied: a little self-awareness would go a long way. Being able to not take yourself so seriously, and admit your mistakes is a good start.

            I suspect, in either case, you’ve little grasp of what a logical fallacy is. Since you fail to spot your own egregious example, and now identify ‘god’ as the primary such logical fallacy. ‘God’ may be many things, and may be a very unreasonable point in an argument. But it is not a logical fallacy, and rarely a fallacy in the normal sense of the word.

            But, I suspect saying that is going to make no difference to your intent to actually learn anything. I suspect you’ll decide that I’m defending arguments involving God, or claiming God is a reasonable argument, or some such. You can prove me wrong, and show some ability to figure out what is being said to you, or you can accuse me of pseudo intellectualism again. Your call.

          • Nofun

            Logical fallacy.

            “Are but the bible say this so that makes what I am saying true”.

            Appeals to authorities without even evidence for the authority are illogical.

          • Ian

            [Edit: Deleted – I honestly can’t figure out how to reply without more condescension, so I give up.]

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      How do you get this sense about New Atheists? From Harry McCall? Do you think he represents all, or even most, New Atheists?

      Your logical fallacy is called an argument from a false premise.

  • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

    As you know, I’m an atheist who is not a mythicist. I don’t find the position compelling. In time, perhaps it will me, but for now I think it lacks sufficient evidence to convince me that Jesus never existed. While I am certain that much of what the Bible says about Jesus is myth, I do think a person can reasonably conclude that a man named Jesus lived and died in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

    As far as fundamentalist atheists are concerned. Looking at the issue from a behavioral perspective, I think a person can be a fundamentalist atheist. It is the approach of certain atheists to dissent and their certainty of belief that leads me to conclude they are fundamentalists. They act in ways quite similar to a Bible thumping Baptist preacher. Anyone who doesn’t see things as they do is dismissed as ignorant or brainwashed. When challenged, fundamentalist atheists often resort to bullying, personal attack, and name calling, behaviors that are quite common in some religious sects. When it comes to religion, these atheists are so caustic towards people of faith that their behavior makes it hard for anyone to hear their arguments. While I could name names I won’t for the sake of not wanting to get drawn into wearying discussions about this or that personality. I can say this, there are several notable atheist men and women that I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear speak.

    • Brad Feaker

      I do not find the mythicist hypothesis compelling for now. Which is not to say I will dismiss it out of hand either.

      There are some intriguing ideas in the hypothesis. I think further research is required before I buy into it.

      And as to fundamentalist atheists – I agree with the OP that it matters not what ideology one clings to…it is a function of that individual’s personality that creates the ‘fundamentalist’ behavior.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      This sums it up well. The behaviour that you describe is particularly evident at Debunking Christianity.

      BTW, excellent idea for a post, James :-)

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        Cecil, I am disappointed with Harry’s dogmatism as well.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          Thanks for your comment, John. I know that you have been very cautious about mythicism. Harry is entitled to his opinion, of course. I am sure that he and I will have a good-natured discussion.

    • John MacDonald

      Atheism is just theism in the guise of “apparent” critical thinking. Theism is based on making guesses about divine entities that we have no epistemological access to, and of which there is no reason to think they even exist. Similarly, atheists conclude there are no such things as divine entities, even though there are no reasons to think they do not exist. Only agnosticism respects the epistemological limits of our understanding.

      • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

        Nice try, but you fail to understand how many atheists view the God question. Many of the atheists I know, including Richard Dawkins, are agnostic on the God question. It’s all about probabilities. Is it probable based on the extant data that a God of some sort exists? No. Is it possible? Sure. Perhaps there is a deity that has not yet revealed itself to us. I doubt it, and I’m not going to waste my time worrying about it. When new evidence is presented I’ll take a look at it.That said, I highly doubt any new evidence is forthcoming. Based on this fact I live my day to day life as an atheist. Now if you are referring to the Abrahamic God found in the Bible, then I speak with a greater degree of certainty. This God is certainly a fiction, the work of human hands.

        • James

          Well said!

      • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

        When you make up your own definition of “theism”, you can make it mean anything you like, I suppose. However, I wouldn’t expect anyone to take your definition seriously.

        • John MacDonald

          I mean theism simply as a general term that is the opposite of atheism. Hence, the alpha privative that begins the word a-theism.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Yes, theism might be seen as the opposite of atheism. But that is not the assertion I was addressing. Atheism is certainly not “just theism in the guise of ‘apparent’ critical thinking”.

          • James

            Mr MacDonald built a nice strawman there and gave it a good wack, now didn’t he?

      • Nofun

        There is no evidence of any gods. So there is every reason to accept they don’t exist.

        Anything can be true but only real things are true. Real things have evidence and matter. Things without evidence, like god, don’t have evidence so don’t matter.

  • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

    Insisting that atheism carries a requisite dogma seems akin to demanding that there must be rules for not playing poker…

    • spinkham

      You’ve missed the point: The point is not that atheism requires acceptance of a particular dogma, the point is that claiming the label “atheist” doesn’t free you from in-group bias any more than any other label.

      • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

        Then I’m left to wonder which requisite “in-group bias” the whole of atheism might be guilty of…?

        • spinkham

          Exactly the number required by his statement “there are some atheists who”..

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            The whole of atheism is guilty of the bias suffered by “some” hypothetical atheists who the author imagines to consider themselves infallible…?

          • spinkham

            Where in the article or in my comments does anyone say that the “whole of atheism” is guilty of any particular bias? I’m a person who claims the atheist label, BTW, though I prefer ignostic among people who know that that means.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            It was the precise grammar of my question which you were kind enough to answer and I’d (injudiciously, it appears) presumed that you had read.

            Look, the bottom line is this: The headline touts Atheist Dogmatism, and there is no such thing. There are dogmatic atheists, to be certain, but that’s the dogmatism of an atheist, not atheist dogmatism.

            The distinction not is an unimportant one. When the author’s premise is unfounded, and his ensuing essay assails an indistinct straw man by “getting the impression” that “some atheists” irrationally believe themselves infallible, the article is rendered laughably incoherent.

            But lest somebody wave a finger at me and claim I’m the sort of inerrant egotist he was describing, let me exculpate myself immediately:

            I may very well be wrong… 😉

          • John MacDonald

            Atheism is based on the unsupported assumption that it is more likely than not that there is no God. In fact, there is no more evidential support for the claim that there is no God, than there is for the claim that there is a God. Atheism and theism are little more than guesswork.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “Atheism is based on the unsupported assumption…”

            You can stop right there, my friend. Atheism is, quite literally, not theism. Period.

            One need not claim that “there is no god” to be an atheist. One merely needs to be unconvinced about the existence of god[s].

            I don’t assume there is no Loch Ness Monster. I remain unconvinced there IS one. I am thus: “Anessian”.

            And please don’t pronounce that word out loud. It sounds like it might mean something else entirely…

          • Mark

            This has never, in any time or place or period, been the meaning of ‘atheism.’ The atheist must reject the gods; in the post-medieval European context, it is the denial of the existence of “God”. No amount of assertion can alter this fact.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I don’t want to put words in your mouth, my friend. Just so I’m clear: Are you saying that “atheist” does not mean “not a theist”…?

          • Mark

            It has never, in any time or place, or under religious regime, meant that, and does not mean it now. A so-called agnostic person is not an atheist; babies are not atheists.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Me: “Are you saying that ‘atheist’ does not mean ‘not a theist’…?”

            Mark: “It has never, in any time or place, or under religious regime, meant that, and does not mean it now.”

            You are demonstrably mistaken, sir. The prefix “a-” has, since the time of the ancient Greeks, meant “not, without, or having no” [Source: Michigan State University – http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/Wordpower/handouts/gkaffix.pdf ]

            Examples: amoral = not moral; abiogenic = not biogenic; atypical = not typical.

            A person who believes in a god or gods is a theist. An atheist is simply not one of those people.

            It would appear Huxley’s muddying of the agnostic/atheist definitions has yet another casualty. Agnosticism addresses knowledge, atheism falls in the realm of belief. They aren’t either-or propositions. One can be both, or neither, as seen below…

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            You could make a distinction between an atheist and an antitheist – the latter being someone who actively seeks to refute theism. The problem with this is that those who seek to refute theism – by engaging in blog debates, for example – would not accept the term “antitheist”. If James had written a blog post about “antitheists”, then the targets of his criticism would have declared that it didn’t apply to them.

            When the word “atheist” is used in the blogosphere, it probably means antitheist. I think we will just have to accept the imprecision of terminology. Atheism does not entail mythicism, but those atheists who are part of an online community that discusses and criticises theism will come under pressure to endorse mythicism. In that sense there is dogma.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “When the word ‘atheist’ is used in the blogosphere, it probably means antitheist.”

            Since the latter is a subset of the former, specificity would behoove the readership. If I don’t think Leonardo di Caprio can act, I probably shouldn’t title my critique of his latest movie “Italian Actors Suck”…

          • arcseconds

            If there were a single Italian actor, it would be ridiculous, but if there were many Italian actors all bad in the same kind of way, it would make sense to write a post about ‘bad Italian acting’, and this would make sense even if most Italian actors were fine. It would be a shorthand for ‘the kind of bad acting that is characteristic of bad Italian actors’.

            The other aspect to this is that there is a loose-knit international community of like-minded people connected by the internet, books, and face-to-face organisations, that call themselves ‘atheists’, ‘the atheist community’, ‘atheist’ organisations, ‘atheist’ authors, ‘atheist’ websites, etc. The dogmatic members of this community don’t self-identify as ‘antitheist’, just atheist still. Of course not all atheists are involved in this community, probably only a minority are, so we sometimes speak of ‘movement atheists’ or slightly more facetiously ‘internet atheists’.

            Now, it certainly would be helpful if atheist community atheists realised a community is ipso facto more than ‘mere atheism’ so calling themselves ‘atheists’ can be misleading, and adopted another name for themselves and their websites. And if there really was a clear distinction between dogmatic and non-dogmatic atheists, and the later were marked by antitheism, it would be nice if they self-identified as antitheists.

            But unfortunately real life is a messy place, so ‘atheist’ for the foreseeable future will be ambiguous among ‘someone who doesn’t believe in God’, ‘someone who is committed to scientific materialism and therefore doesn’t believe in God’ and ‘someone who owns all of Hitchens’ books, goes to Sunday Assembly, subscribes to Mehta’s twitter feed and spends their spare time insulting religious people on the internet and denying the historical existence of Jesus’.

            Also, atheists, like any group of human beings, aren’t neatly divided into ‘dogmatic’ and ‘undogmatic’ camps, and vary considerably as to what bits of characteristically atheist dogma they subscribe to and what degree. Antitheism is only one dogmatic attitude among many: you yourself don’t appear to be especially antitheistic, and seem to be indicating you would repudiate such a charge, but you are dogmatic about atheism not being dogmatic, and I imagine that probably goes along with prejudices about the superior intellectual virtue of the atheist position.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “… if there were many Italian actors all bad in the same kind of way, it
            would make sense to write a post about ‘bad Italian acting’…”

            In a critique about a specific Italian actor it would actually be prejudicial, not to mention fallacious to pursue any sort of ‘lots of Italian actors are bad and Leo is an Italian actor so if follows that his acting is bad’ line of syllogistic silliness.

            “The dogmatic members of this community…” Now the unfounded charge spills over into the collective. Swell.

            “..’atheist’ for the foreseeable future will be ambiguous…”

            Only if the likes of you continue to blur the definition. An atheist doesn’t believe in god[s]. Period.

            “…someone who is committed to scientific materialism…”

            Deists can be theistic materialists. That’s not an atheist. An atheist doesn’t believe in god[s]. Period.

            “someone who owns all of Hitchens’ books”

            Anybody can own all Hitchens’ books. That wouldn’t make them an atheist. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in god[s]. Period.

            “…goes to Sunday Assembly”

            Sunday Assembly welcomes people of all faiths. Attending S.A. doesn’t make one an atheist. Not believing in god[s] does. Period.

            “…subscribes to Mehta’s twitter feed…”

            The FriendlyAtheist has all sorts of theistic followers. That doesn’t make them atheists. Atheists don’t believe in god[s]. Period.

            “…denying the historical existence of Jesus…”

            One can be a Sanatana Dharmist (ergo, a theist) and deny the historical Jesus. Not believing in Jesus doesn’t make one an atheist. Not believing in any god[s] does.

            Period…

          • arcseconds

            As atheists do not believe in god, period, shouldn’t the atheist community (that is, the community that identifies themselves with the term ‘atheist’) which definitely has values beyond not believing in god, call themselves something else to avoid the confusion that you’ve obviously fallen into?

            I’m not sure of the point of all these examples of yours. Did you somehow think by speaking of an atheist that does attend sunday assembly that I think only atheists attend Sunday assembly?

            Or, even more absurdly, that I think everyone who follows Mehta’s blog is an atheist?

            This sort of misunderstanding must make life very difficult for you, surely. I’m imagining you must have conversations like this frequently:

            Person A: I went and had coffee with a friend the other day, and he…
            JGravelle: Wait a bit! Women can drink coffee can’t they? Or are you saying all men drink coffee, that’s pretty sexist! How about intersex people?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            People who don’t believe in god[s] should identify as atheists.

            Because that’s what atheists are. Period…

          • arcseconds

            But they don’t just don’t believe in god. The people who identify as atheists, by books identified as books written for atheists, subscribe to atheists blogs, etc. have beliefs and attitudes in common that go beyond merely not believing in god.

            You must have noticed this, yes?

            Unfortunately for you, this means the meaning of the word ‘atheist’ has shifted beyond the literal definition that you are so wedded to. It is now a label adopted by a particular community who are (mostly) atheists in the literal sense, but have a lot of other qualities besides.

            That’s how language works, I’m afraid: words don’t have meanings that are eternally fixed by some kind of Platonic ideal. ‘Gay’ is no longer a synonym for ‘happy’, ‘atom’ once meant ‘indivisible thing’ but does not mean that any longer, and unfortunately for me ‘rationalist’ doesn’t mean ‘someone who thinks knowledge can be acquired through a priori reasoning’ but rather ostensibly ‘one commited to reason’ but really has become part of the atheist/freethinker/sceptic melange.

            But maybe you can make ‘atheist’ mean what you want it to mean!

            I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to, but it’d be interesting to see you try.

            If you want to attempt this, the people you need to start with isn’t us, we’re just using the label that the group have adopted themselves. You need to talk to people like McCall and Mehta and get them to adopt some new term for the atheist/sceptic/science fandom movement to avoid polluting the purity of ‘atheist’ with things that are not part of the literal definition.

            If Mehta and others continue to identify themselves primarily as atheists, and continue to post on topics of common interest such as separation of church and state (‘athiesm just means no god, period’ (and therefore not ‘seperation of church and state’) or horrible things that Christians do (‘atheistm just means no god, period’ (and therefore not ‘criticism of Christianity’), then those topics are just going to be associated with atheism, by people adopting the label ‘atheist’, and by everyone else.

            So you need to convince them to only post stuff denying the existence of God, and that’s it, or to adopt another name that can imply all the other stuff as well without triggering your definitional obsessions.

            Tell me, are you on McCall’s blog right now telling him that it’s nonsense for him to say ‘atheists should assert Jesus did not exist’ on the basis that ‘atheism just means no god. period.’?

            Or is it only people who are critical of the atheist community you bug about this?

          • Mark

            People actually read McCall’s blog?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “But they don’t just don’t believe in god.”

            True. But not believing in god[s] is what makes them atheists. Period…

          • arcseconds

            You’re like a broken record.

            Have you given some consideration to my remarks about how language works and meanings change?

            Do you think ‘atom’ means ‘indivisible thing’?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “You’re like a broken record.”

            Ask me what ASantaClausism is instead if you’d like. It’s the absence of a belief in Santa Claus. Period.

            “Have you given some consideration to my remarks about how language works and meanings change?”

            I’ve given every one of your replies its due consideration.

            Do you think ‘atom’ means ‘indivisible thing’?

            I think it CAN mean that. Currently that’s the tertiary definition, and it specifies the hypothetical nature of that description…

          • arcseconds

            OK. How did ‘atom’ stop meaning ‘invisible thing. period.’ ?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            You, my friend, could not have picked a better example.

            It doesn’t appear that it ever DID mean “invisible thing”. It meant in-DIVISIBLE thing. It’s from the Greek ‘atomos’.

            And I hope you’re as delighted as I was to learn that “tomos” meant “a cutting” (not hewn, ergo, not divisible) and the “a-” prefix meant simply “not”.

            So just as “a-theist” means simply “not a theist”, “a-tomos” meant simply “not divisible”. Period…

          • arcseconds

            yeah, that was a typo.

            Earlier you said that you understood that ‘atom’ no longer has this meaning, or at least its most frequent use does not.

            Now you are saying that it does mean ‘not divisible. Period.’

            So do you think the meaning has changed, or do you think that physicists are using the word all wrong?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Actually, dictionary.com segregates both the scientific and colloquial uses of the word for us.

            Similarly, the word “theory” means something different to scientists than it does in common usage.

            Fortunately, the word “atheist” has no duality between the scientific and colloquial. Either way, it simply means somebody who doesn’t believe in god[s]. Period…

          • arcseconds

            I’m still wanting to know how you think words acquire new meanings, and what makes you so sure that ‘atheism’ has just the meaning you ascribe to it.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle
          • arcseconds

            Well, from your earlier statements on the matter, I suppose this is you conceding the argument.

            By the way, you have perhaps noticed that our host does have standards of behaviour here. It might be time for James to have a bit of a talk with you about what they are…

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Nobody would welcome an objective review of our respective decorum shown herein more than I…

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

            I didn’t chime in because I was bewildered by the thread as it was unfolding. Spinkham pointed out early on that I had made a claim about a particular atheist making a particular dogmatic assertion, and suggested that he was not alone in this, but also made clear that I was not suggesting that dogmatism characterizes all atheists, nor that it characterizes all of them in the same way. It does seem to me that, inasmuch as it is a characteristic assertion of atheists in general that no gods whatsoever of any sort exist, this could indeed be construed as a dogmatic statement, since the god of pantheism – the cosmos as a whole – clearly exists, and while one could then debate the appropriateness of viewing the cosmos as divine, that is a different sort of question.

            I have no interest in going back through the whole discussion, but I didn’t notice either of you crossing the line as far as appropriate decorum. If I missed it, it is my fault. :-) Carry on, if you are so inclined!

          • arcseconds

            I don’t want to be running crying to teacher here just because someone was mean to me in the playground, but did you click on the link JGravelle provided me?

            Getting such a sarcastic, unengaging, and insulting response to a serious question through the dismissive and high-handed medium of a ‘let me google that for you’ page certainly indicates fairly strongly to me that JGravelle’s capacity for serious discussion has its limits, and I’ve reached them.

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

            I did feel that he was digging in his heels on a point that was at best dubious. But when it comes to sarcasm, I cannot be the one to throw the first stone…

          • arcseconds

            I also can’t reasonably object to sarcasm.

            It’s not the stubbornness, the dubious point, the sarcasm, or even the insult that I’m objecting to. Hell, we’ve had plenty of all of that in the past, and I never complain, and it’s not as if I’m above all of that myself.

            It’s the gratuitous, unprovoked insult issued in a dismissive medium with no discernible point to it, with absolutely no attempt to genuinely engage my argument that I think means JGravelle has stepped over the line into troll-like behaviour, and I thought you might be concerned about this. Especially as he’s clearly capable of doing better than that.

            But beyond making it clear what I was objecting to, I have no interest in pursuing this matter any further. If he hasn’t stepped over a line as far as you’re concerned then that’s the end of it.

            It’s still clear to me that his capacity for serious discussion on this topic has been reached, though, and it was fairly clear even before his closing shot. He’d have to say something pretty interesting (an intelligent response to my query, say) before I’d think it worthwhile continuing.

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

            As I said, I confess to having stopped paying attention to this thread long ago, and so if I failed to intervene when I ought to have, I sincerely apologize.

          • arcseconds

            Eh, it was probably a bit borderline anyway. Part of my thinking was just that given he started off quite well, he could probably be encouraged towards a more productive style of debating if someone other than me did so.

          • arcseconds

            I also probably have given a false impression of how important this is to me! Naturally I’d prefer it if people actually engaged in argument, and I was enjoying some of this one when he was actually giving reasonable responses, but it’s no more than mildly disappointing to me that he’s decided to opt for playground tactics…

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “…it would make sense to write a post about ‘bad Italian acting’…”

            You’re free to assume that the actions of a few in a group are a valid indictment of any other member of that group. The term society has for that sort of thinking is not flattering…

          • arcseconds

            If you think speaking of ‘Italian cuisine’ means all italians cook and eat that cuisine, the problem with stereotyping lies with you, not with me.

          • Mark

            Yeah, I know ancient Greek, so I won’t need that lesson. Your remarks just make it clearer that you cannot distinguish between external and internal negation. Try another textbook triad:

            It’s forbidden not to go to church in this country
            it’s forbidden to go to church in this country
            it’s not forbidden to go to church in this country

            or

            it’s permitted not to smoke dope in this country
            its permitted to smoke dope in this county
            it’s not permitted to smoke dope in this country

            As above, the proposition in the middle contains no sign of negation; but there are two ways of negating it. So no number of affirmations of “Greek ‘a’ = English ‘not’/’non'” can decide the matter.
            Your repeated claim that “A person who believes in a god or gods is a theist. An atheist is simply not one of those people” just shows that you are engaged in some sort of internet emulation of thinking.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “I know ancient Greek…”

            Apparently, since your logic is Greek to me.

            Do you believe an atheist can BE a theist…?!

          • Mark

            No, in the triads like the ones above, one of the first or third propositions will tend to entail the other. The case of belief is a little delicate insofar as we think people hold contradictory beliefs from time to time. But still there is the distinction between taking a position / not taking a position / taking the opposite position. That you can’t at once take a position and the opposite position, doesn’t entail that there’s no such thing as not taking a position. Atheists and so-called theists take opposite positions, but there is also not taking a position. That /not taking a position on a proposition is the default case/ follows from elementary facts, such as that the number of propositions that might be affirmed or denied is infinite, but the human individual can only have brought finitely many to judgment, thinking Yes or No.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “…not taking a position on a proposition is the default case…”

            Agreed. And the default is to not believe an extraordinary, supernatural claim until such time as extraordinary evidence for such is provided. Thus I cannot believe in a god or god[s] until such time as a compelling case is made for one. I don’t assert there are none. I assert none has been proven.

            Which is what makes me an atheist.

            I am also an Aleprechaunist. I don’t insist there ARE no leprechauns, but until Darby O’Gill introduces me to the little people, I cannot believe there are. Aleprechaunist Anti-Leprechaunist. Neither does atheist = anti-theist…

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            This gets complicated though, right? Semantics are involved. For instance, I consider myself a committed theist, but one scholar said that some Atheists are Platonists!

            Which confused me, since my Theism is based in thinking that matter and energy aren’t ultimate reality, the Good is.

            So am I then an Atheist since I don’t believe in mythological gods, but I don’t think reality is “meaningless and purposeless” as some Atheists do?

            I don’t think so, but the words do sometimes get in the way. Was Spinoza a Pantheist in the way that Albert Einstein meant (who said he wasn’t an Atheist either, but believed in the god of Spinoza)?

            Or was Spinoza an Atheist as other Jews claimed?

            (Contrary to traditional usage, I capitalize the word Atheist, because a fairly well-known Atheist said I demeaned atheism by not capitalizing the term. So I do it in honor of that Atheist with whom I dialogged many a page.)

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “…am I then an Atheist since I don’t believe in mythological gods…”

            I might have to know what a non-mythological god is to offer a more concise reply. But the definition isn’t categorical: if you don’t believe in god[s], you’re an atheist…

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I thought I was clear by giving the examples of Plato, Einstein and Spinoza.

            None of them were Atheists, but now some claim that they actually were.

            Einstein specifically denied being an Atheist; he said he didn’t believe in a personal god, probably meaning the god of Jews and Christians.

            Plato thought the religious gods of the Greeks were delusions, but he thought that the Good existed.

            I just finished a biography of Spinoza. It’s still difficult for me to figure out whether he was a Pantheist or an Atheist.

            Other examples would be mathematician and philosopher Alfred Lord Whitehead and philosopher Charles Hartshorne. They didn’t believe in a creedal god such as Jehovah or Allah,
            but they thought ultimate reality existed ‘beyond’ matter and energy.

            I’m somewhere between Plato and Hartshorne when it comes to philosophical speculation. For many reasons I don’t agree with materialism.

            On the other hand, I used to joke that every Thursday, I agree with Albert Camus that the universe is absurd.

            So a lot depends on how Atheism and Theism are defined.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “I thought I was clear…”

            I thought you were, too. And I was as well.

            If Einstein were a deist, and deism is a subset of theism, he would not have been an atheist. My understanding is he subscribed to a Spinozan-esque “god-of-the-gaps” where, when saying things like “God doesn’t play dice” he was doing so colloquially, with “God” as the placeholder for whatever causal agency or phenomenon were being explored.

            If that’s the case, he did NOT believe in god[s], and was thus, an atheist.

            And thanks for cracking the door open for Camus who, one might argue, “prophesized” my ongoing debates in this arena with:

            “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal…” 😉

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I recently finished two biographies on Einstein. In them it appeared that Einstein wasn’t referring to the “god-of-the-gaps” but was referring to the intellectual beauty of the cosmos–the order and structure–that it is very meaningful and purposeful. In other words, like his reference to believing in Spinoza’s God, he was some sort of Pantheist.

            I wasn’t referring to “God doesn’t play dice.” That phrase hadn’t even entered my thoughts today.

            As I recall that sentence is considered by biographers to be a metaphoric comment by Einstein of how he strongly opposed the view of quantum physics,
            not anything related to his view of an impersonal God.

            Thanks for the discussion. It’s gotten me thinking:-) though the mass shooting south of here in California is deeply tragic and is most on my mind right now.

          • arcseconds

            Well, ‘platonism’ might just mean they think numbers exist: it doesn’t necessarily imply a follower of Plato and a belief in the Good as an entity.

            What makes this complicated is that ‘God’ means a great many different things to different people. A great ghostly man in the sky who controls the universe; an entity with the properties of omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence; the Hegelian Absolute; the Platonic Good; the universe; an entity of which the universe is but a part; a psychological experience; etc. etc.

            (Things get even more confusing if you move away from discussing a monotheistic God to discussing polytheistic gods.)

            An atheist almost certainly doesn’t believe in the first two, but they probably do believe in the universe, so the difference between an atheist and a pantheist isn’t one of what entities they believe exist.

            Again, atheists don’t usually deny there are religious experiences, so the difference between an atheist and someone like jekylldoc isn’t about the existence of entities, either.

            The safest thing to say is that the difference is one of attitude: atheists would deny that it’s worth calling any of these things ‘God’.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Hmm…

            You wrote, “A great ghostly man in the sky who controls the universe…”

            Have you actually spoken within anyone, even a fire-breathing fundamentalist who actually thought God was a “great ghostly man”?

            #1 I’ll be blunt: Never in all of my years as a Christian did I EVER meet anyone who thought this of God. Nor did I believe in such a being, not even when I was a Baptist fundamentalist from the ages of 8 to about 11.

            #2 “an entity with the properties of omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence”

            We wouldn’t have put it this way, but when I was an evangelical and a liberal, we did think God had the omnis;-) Sounds like a bad disease.

            #3 “the Hegelian Absolute” Yes, I studied that at university, etc., but I’ve not known any individual who thought that way. Maybe if I had been born in Germany in the 1800’s, I would have known quite a few who did.

            #4 “the Platonic Good” Probably, most of my adult life I’ve moved in amongst the Platonists, especially in the last 20 years or so.

            #5 “the universe” I’ve read a little Spinoza and a biography by him. And I’ve read biographies about Einstein (who wrote that he didn’t believe in a personal god, but the god of Spinoza). However, I don’t remember meeting any Pantheists. On the other hand, I keep hearing about Pantheists now, so maybe that movement is growing.

            #6 “an entity of which the universe is but a part” This sounds like Whitehead or Hartshorne. I admit that when I speculate philosophically I do incline toward a panentheistic view of reality and the universe. That God is mind to the body of the universe, or that the universe is within God, or that God is within the universe.

            Process philosophy makes quite a bit of sense, though it is way over my pay grade:-) when Hartshorne and other such philosophers get technical.

            Panentheism or the Platonic Good, help explain how mathematics, reason, logic, meaning and purpose, ethics, aesthetics exist. That seems like a better explanation than that they are brain illusions (one popular view) or that they are real but came about by cosmic chance (Jacques Monad, the French evolutionist).

            #7 “psychological experience” This is becoming a popular view among “progressive Christians” and “nontheistic Quakers.” Dandelion in his book on Introduction to Quakerism says a large percentage of British Quakers think God is “non-real.” In other words the word “God” means a religious experience a human has, not ultimate reality, not anything real.

            #8 “polytheistic gods” Ah, yes, Mormonism, the New Age, Hinduism, and so forth.

            Then you wrote: “An atheist almost certainly doesn’t believe in the first two,”

            Well, I’ve never believed in #1, not even when I was 8 years old. I never thought God was a “ghostly man in the sky.”

            But then I’ve always been a philosophically oriented individual, forever asking why even when I was about 4, so I wasn’t a good candidate for literalism or religious mythology.

            And I no longer agree with #2.

            Then you add, “but they probably do believe in the universe, so the difference between an atheist and a pantheist isn’t one of what entities they believe exist.”

            I would disagree. It appears–based on all the Atheists I’ve read and/or talked with that Atheism comes in several varieties:
            –Materialists who think that only energy and matter exist, and that the human “I” doesn’t exist, is only an illusion. Existence is purposeless and meaningless.

            –Atheists who think that there is no “mythological god/gods,” but who think the universe itself has within it inherent qualities including reason, logic, math, creativity, ethics. But they hate the idea of Theism even Pantheism as it sound superstitious.

            In contrast, Pantheists, often deny being Atheists (as did Einstein). They think that the universe is very meaningful and purposeful.

            They think essential reality is in the structure of the cosmos, it’s laws, intellectual beauty, etc. of which matter and energy are only the ‘building blocks.’

            Most of the Atheists I’ve known or read have claimed religious experiences are either delusions or illusions. Heck, Sam Harris thinks “I” don’t even exist–but am only an illusion of the brain. Everything is determined. There is no creativity, no human choice..

            I guess that’s another key difference among Atheists–those who think there is choice and creativity versus those who think (to quote Harris and Coyne from Harris’ website podcasts) everything is determined including every murder and every rape, etc. So Farook and is wife aren’t “morally responsible” for their murdering.

            I’m mostly #4 and #6 for many reasons.

            However, most of the reason I wouldn’t become an Atheist is related to ethics. Many Atheists think that ethics are relative and subjective; slavery is sort of like liking the color blue or not. Such Atheists have tried to persuade me that in a different situation rape and murder would be good.

            When I almost became an existentialist in 1966, what kept me from doing so was the unethical outlook of the Atheists I knew and read.

            On the other hand, recently I’ve encountered a few Atheists who argue for moral realism. I’m not sure how they square that with Atheism, but my guess is some form of secular Platonism.

            Thanks for the discussion.

          • arcseconds

            –Atheists who think that there is no “mythological god/gods,” but who think the universe itself has within it inherent qualities including reason, logic, math, creativity, ethics. But they hate the idea of Theism even Pantheism as it sound superstitious.

            This is why I say the essential difference is one of attitude. Or to put it another way, atheism versus _theism is a cultural marker.

            You have people who believe pretty much exactly what you put here who don’t value religious observances (at least, not for themselves), don’t want to be associated with religion or religious types, and would rather hang out with other people who don’t associate themselves with religion, so they call themselves ‘atheists’.

            Then you have people who believe pretty much exactly the same things about the universe, but do value religion and like being part of a religious tradition, so they call themselves ‘Christians’ (if that is their religious tradition) and ‘pantheists’.

            My experience of ethical relativists is that they are often functionally fairly moral people, certainly they’re not more inclined to act immorally than anyone else.

            Sometimes it is a crossed-arms sceptical kind of position where it almost seems about letting themselves off the hook, or getting to be provocative, or being ‘in the know’, as you indicate.

            But often it seems to be held (funnily enough) as a moral position in its own right: it’s a reaction against cultural imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of dominance. The notion seems to be that it’s objective morality that justifies this kind of thing, and if we realise that there is no objective reality we’ll stop forcing our parochial ideas onto other cultures and respect them more. Or something.

            It seems to me to be a highly confused position, and if you take the starting-point seriously it seems equivalent to nihilism or ‘do as you want’ism, but ‘moral moral relativists’ don’t seem to think of it this way.

            The question for me is: how does theism help the matter at all? The view of a edict-issuing being with a will, no matter how supreme, seems to immediately fall afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma. People taking this line try to define this being as being the Good, but what justifies this identification? If goodness is defined entirely by comparison with this being, then saying “God is good” is like saying “the SI kilogram in Paris is a kilogram”: it reminds us how the word is defined, it doesn’t inform us about God.

            Some form Platonism is a bit more attractive, but I’m still not really sure how it helps to reify the Good as an eternal being. Does it help to reify the ideal checkers strategy as The Ideal Checkers Strategy? I have some sympathy for this kind of metaphysics, but I don’t think it helps us understand checkers, particularly, and I’m not sure how it helps us understand normativitiy?

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            You wrote, “My experience of ethical relativists is that they are often functionally fairly moral people, certainly they’re not more inclined to act immorally than anyone else.”

            Yes and no. What a person claims to think versus how they actually act is often contradictory. Plus, some people are by temperament more benign than others, no matter what their outlook on reality is.

            In countless historical examples (and in my own very limited experiences) ethical relativists don’t follow some moral truths. Here’s just one famous example: Che Guevara. If you haven’t read a long scholarly biography on him, please do so.

            Then you wrote, “it’s a reaction against cultural imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of dominance.”

            Hmmm…Not in the case of the Atheists who tried to convince me. And, heck, I’m a former SDS member of 1966 (radical left), etc., not exactly your “colonialism” type. There have been so many Atheists from 1965 to the present who have tried to convince me that many of the standard ethical concerns (that now most humans accept as true) aren’t true. Just about a month ago this happened here on the Internet again. After 50 years, I again thanked the Cosmos;-) that I’m not a relativist, but am convinced that human rights, opposition to slavery and rape, opposition to theft, honesty, etc. are true–for everyone, (would be true for aliens if they were also conscious, rational, ethical beings).

            Then you wrote, “we’ll stop forcing our parochial ideas onto other cultures..”

            Do we disagree here? I do think parents in Muslim countries such as Egypt (about 80% for female mutilation!) should stop mutilating their little girls. Do think that honor killings should be banned world wide. Do think (as I wrote for a dire case in Burkina Faso, for Amnesty International this month) that men in their 60’s and 70 shouldn’t be allowed to marry 9 year old girls.:-(

            Then you wrote, “The question for me is: how does theism help the matter at all?”

            Well, I’ve tried to give you reasons why I think theism is the best answer to many questions. But I’m not a philosopher. I suggest you read again works by Alfred Lord Whitehead, Hartshorne, Kant, etc. Or even some of the writings of Einstein who emphasized why he wasn’t an Atheist.

            Then you wrote, “fall afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma.”

            Nope. Again it appears that you are thinking about “mythological gods, “ghostly man,” etc. The dilemma shows keen insight when it comes to some forms of theism.

            But Plato himself wasn’t an Atheist in the usual sense. While he who wrote that dilemma, he argued for the reality of the Good, for transcendent reality.

            Some of our disagreement does appear to be semantic. For instance, on another discussion of yours I see that you have stated that Marxists don’t slaughter humans because they are Atheists. Based on my readings of history I would strongly disagree. Right now I am reading an in depth book on Stalin. Besides, the defining term of most Marxists is “dialectical materialism”–very hard Atheism.

            More later…my wife is calling:-)

          • arcseconds

            I think we might have to accept that we know different moral relativists :-). The ones I’ve met have often been anthropology students or similar at some point, if that’s any help. Either that, or postmodernists. And it’s sometimes combined with epistemic relativism, so knowledge claims are only true relative to a certain culture or way of thinking.

            Actually, I understand moral relativism is (or at least has been) more or less de riguer for anthropology departments. That’s the impression I got from one of my anthropology lecturers, who was a moral relativist (and I understood it was by training); it took the combined strength of an entire philosophy department to argue him out of it! :-)

            While of course there are plenty of examples of horrible things one can point to that one would like removed, there are plenty of examples of paternalistic imposition of ‘superior’ culture, that my ethical relativists would point to as being the (Paternalistic, if not outright exploitative). Languages and cultures have been destroyed, people have been enslaved, children have been forcibly removed from their mothers and fostered out to white parents, there have been ethnic cleansings and outright genocides, all justified (and often motivated) by the idea that middle class heteronormative white people are superior to everyone else — the thing to do being to either make everyone else like them, or to hasten the poor sods’ inevitable end.

            The moral relativists I have encountered would point to this sort of thing as where assumptions of a superior worldview gets you. And of course they’ve got a point: by and large the assumption of moral and cultural superiority has been disastrous. Even with your examples,we should be more careful than just going with a gut reaction. We might be revolted by some practice, but what makes us think we know any better than, say, some 19th century governor or missionary revolted by black skin, unchristian practices, and women holding positions of power?

            Of course it’s possible to point out that actually respecting other cultures seems to be a cultural norm they want universalized, and they often talk as though this is in fact an objective moral obligation. Plus it’s a pat point that if we’re just going to respect everyone’s cultural norms, well some people’s cultural norms are to dominate other cultures. I haven’t managed to have a useful discussion about this yet with such a relativist. They can always point out that they’re free to promote their own norms, but then if so are the Nazis, one wonders what the point of this all is.

            It is important to foster methodological relativism, however. One can’t understand another culture if one’s constantly sniffing about how barbaric and inferior it all it is. But I think Husserl’s notion of ‘bracketing’ is more useful here than thinking we need to purge the interfering concept from ourselves entirely.

            Anyway, there are a few points where you are misunderstanding me:

            Then you wrote, “fall afoul of the Euthyphro dilemma.”

            Nope. Again it appears that you are thinking about “mythological gods, “ghostly man,” etc. The dilemma shows keen insight when it comes to some forms of theism.

            Yes, I explicitly said that this was about a traditionally theistic god that a Platonic Good does not fall afoul of.

            For instance, on another discussion of yours I see that you have stated that Marxists don’t slaughter humans because they are Atheists.

            I don’t recall saying this. Where was this?

            Well, I’ve tried to give you reasons why I think theism is the best answer to many questions.

            Not as far as I can see, you haven’t. You’ve said you prefer it, and you’ve claimed that it gives better answers or that the explanations are better, but I can’t see anywhere where you actually give these supposedly better explanations or tell us why the answers are better.

            I suggest you read again works by Alfred Lord Whitehead, Hartshorne, Kant, etc

            As it happens, I do know a thing or two about Kant, and I was considering raising him as an example of someone with an objective theory of ethics who isn’t a Platonist. He gives no sense of the categorical imperative (or, in fact, anything else) as having some eternal, timeless existence independent of human minds.

            It’s true that Kant thinks we need to believe in God for moral reasons, but God isn’t central to morality, it’s a side-business for limited creatures who might otherwise get disheartened with the moral project. We’re morally obligated to believe in such a being because otherwise we might fall into despair and cease acting morally. Many Kantian philosophers are pretty unpersuaded by this argument. I think it’s kind of interesting myself, and in fact if someone needs to believe in God (or thinks they do) to act well, then sure, I’d rather have people acting well and believing nonsense than believing well and acting terribly. But it does seem rather contingent on vagaries of human psychology: is it really true we need this idea to keep from despairing? It seems empirically the case that at least not everyone does, as there are plenty of atheists who are moral people. Can we really just summon the belief in such a being despite the fact it’s empirically unwarranted? And is it really the case that this will fix the problem?

            At any rate, it’s not at all central to Kant’s account of morality, and it’s open to an atheist to drop this and keep the rest.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I can’t answer now because need to leave computer, but will try to do so tomorrow.

            I was an anthropology major for a while before settling on creative writing as my major. Will explain.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I was an anthropology major for a while, before I eventually got my B.A. in Creative Writing. It’s true that some famous anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Margaret Mead emphasized the relativity of ethics. However, even Margaret Mead, later contradicted herself, emphasizing the objectivity of some ethics.

            Generally, many anthropologists emphasize that “mores” and “customs” are relative to society and culture, not ethics such as cannibalism, slaughter, rape and so forth.

            There are a few societies anthropologists have studied such as one in South America which seem to have a reversal of morals, but for the most part humanity has gradually moved forward in similar ethics over the hundreds of years. However, as the 20th century shows, and recent events in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, etc. educated humans with cell phones and other tech know-how can quickly descend into the most cruel, murderous raping rampage.

            I don’t remember any of our anthropologist profs being ethical relativists. Some of our literature professors were anti-capitalistic, anti-colonialist (it was the late 1960’s!) such as the hard Marxist who taught us advanced American literature of the 1930’s, but even he mostly supported ethical absolutes.

            Then you wrote, “there are plenty of examples of paternalistic imposition of ‘superior’ culture, that my ethical relativists would point to as being the (Paternalistic, if not outright exploitative).”

            And in many cases, such thinkers are right. However, it is humorously ironic how many of the same thinkers have their own ethical absolutes by which they just “paternalism.”:-)

            One of the huge dangers of ethical relativism has shown up in the very tolerant Netherlands, where now Muslims are allegedly allowed to impose Sharia Law in their neighborhoods, honor killings happen regularly, etc.

            I agree with a number of your points.

            Then you wrote, “Yes, I explicitly said that this was about a traditionally theistic god that a Platonic Good does not fall afoul of.”

            Sorry, I don’t remember you “explicitly” confining your conversation to Allah, Jehovah, etc. I write these comments hurriedly, in the midst of many other activities. When I refer to theism, I mean any transcendent worldview. This shows I should have asked more about your terms. My mistake . I apologize.

            As for the Marxist quote, I will have to look it up.

            Then you wrote, “Not so far as I can see, you haven’t.”

            I think I have. Probably the case is that you weren’t satisfied with my answers. Or, maybe, you are looking for proof. I don’t have any proof. Heck, I can’t even prove that “I” exist. Maybe Sam Harris is correct, that every “I” is an illusion. That only hard determinism is the true, that even if time and the universe happens a “trillion” times again, “I” will miss-type that “happens” every time.

            In most things of life we deal in what seems to be true, what is reasonable, what works within our finite grasp of the life and existence. After learning about Atheism (and many other worldviews) academically, studying them for years, and teaching most of them, it seems to me that some form of theism makes the most sense.

            Then you disagree about Kant, saying he doesn’t think ethics, “ought” is transcendent.

            Hmm…I found him very difficult to understand when I studied him at Cal State. I am only going on the basis of what his interpreters have said. Maybe I studied the wrong interpreters. I don’t know.

            Then you wrote, according to Kant, “someone needs to believe in God (or thinks they do) to act well…”

            I don’t agree with that at all.

            Gotta go, more later:-)

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Part #2 continuing….
            I was rudely interrupted from explaining the nature of the cosmos by a few practical requirements including taking the trash out for the refuse truck;-)

            As I was saying, I don’t agree with Kant–that humans need to believe in God in order to act morally.

            I know otherwise. Did you see that Jewish Hasidic story somewhere on the Internet where a Rabbi says Atheists exist to show people that some humans don’t need a reward to be good? Great tale! So true.

            Besides millions of religious people who believe devoutly in God commit all sorts of horrific evil because they believe in God, as the two San Bernandino killers did here this last week and the Paris jihadists did, as the Syrians and Saudis do, Christians have done, Hindus and so forth.

            But I do think that when societies reject objective ethics philosophically, often what follows is a bloodbath. At least that is the view of many historians.

            So whether we are religious or relativist, we’re doomed;-)

            I basically came to have severe doubts about Christianity in 1967, but when I dialogued with other college students, listened to our professors, studied other worldviews, most of the opposing worldviews were so much worse–especially the ones which were relativistic when it came to ethics.

            Now, as an ex-Christian, I am out there with Plato and the guys:-)

            Most of the Atheists I have read/and/or met have been ethical relativists to one degree or another. Though this does seem to be changing. At least recently one Atheist said most of the Atheists he knows are “moral realists.”

            I think that where ever in the cosmos (or the multiverse if it exists) there are conscious, rational, ethical creatures, they will eventually oppose rape, slaughter, slavery, abuse, dishonesty, etc.
            and will support compassion, honesty, equality, justice, and so forth.

            Thanks for the discussion.

          • arcseconds

            As far as the ghostly man goes, it’s not particularly important, but it definitely seems to be frequently how the less attentive atheists suppose theists think of God. Maybe they’re just being facetious, but as you can see from this whole comment thread some atheists have some pretty skewed ideas about what anyone who asserts the historical existence of Jesus thinks, let alone theists.

            I also think that children frequently do think of God in this way, and if you never did you’re unusual. Without wanting to be insulting about this, I’m inclined to take such recollections with a grain of salt, though: memory, especially early memory, is notoriously fickle. It’s more the case we continually recreate the past in our heads than we remember things veridically.

            It seems to me that the author of Exodus also thought of the Lord as not too far removed from this: he has a back and a face, for example.

            Anyway, it’s certainly the case that a lot of traditionally-minded theists suppose that God has opinions, gets angry about things, supports their sports team, is deliberately slowing down the queue they are in to test them, stuff like that, so the view is definitely very mentally anthropomorphic, even if it isn’t physically.

            The supposition appears to be that despite the fact that God is omniscient and eternal, he has a mind surprisingly like the believer’s, down to cheering for the Knicks or whatever…

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            You wrote, “I’m inclined to take such recollections with a grain of salt…”

            Well, my short term memory sucks. My wife will ask me to go down and get her tea; I’ll go down and shut off the lights and come back. She: Where’s my tea?
            Oops:-)

            But my long term memory is very good. (I’m not trying to earn theistic score points here.) I very specifically remember as a child reflecting on God many times, trying to conceive of God. I didn’t think of him as a “ghostly man.” On the contrary that is one of the reason why I was so confused when I often looked at the picture of Jesus above my bed, because since he was a man, how could he be connected to God who wasn’t a man?!

            Secondly, I don’t know how other children think of God. I was, as I already emphasized, only explaining my experience. Also, it was emphasized in our denomination that God isn’t a man.

            I agree with the rest of your points.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Actually in the ancient Roman context, Christians were considered atheists, because they rejected all gods but their own.

          • Mark

            Yes, I am using this and many similar facts. In antiquity the situation is more complicated, but even then, no one would declare a baby to be an atheist, even by extension or as a remote analogy. Foreigners in remote places are not atheists by dint of never having heard of our gods.

            The element of negation in ‘a’ – theism, is an internal not an external negation, in the logical or philosophical sense. It characterizes the thought affirmed. Anyone who cannot distinguish the separate the elements in the triad

            X does not think that p
            X thinks that p
            X thinks that not p.

            is in very dire mental straights …

          • arcseconds

            to make the external versus internal negation a little clearer:

            not( X thinks that p) ( it is not the case that X thinks that p).
            X thinks that p
            X thinks that not p.

            Clearly the first can be true of someone who doesn’t have an opinion on X, can’t understand X, etc. It certainly seems true that baboons don’t think there’s a God, it’s perhaps a stretch but at least somewhat comprehensible to say they’re agnostic (‘no knowledge’ seems fair enough), it seems wrong to say they’re atheists.

          • Ben Murray

            Both types of atheism exist. The first has often been described as “weak atheism” and the last has been called “strong atheism.” So baboons (insofar as they have beliefs at all), or babies (ditto), or people who’ve never thought about the issue, would be weak atheists, but not strong atheists.

          • Mark

            Propositions come in contradictory pairs, Yes and No, and we sometime name people after the position they take on a given question. Atheism, in the modern period, is saying No to ‘There is a God’ or equivalently, saying Yes to ‘There is no God’, or the like. The person who suspends judgment is no more a weak atheist than he or she is a weak ‘theist’, to think otherwise is to enter a state of incurable mental confusion.

          • arcseconds

            I know that some people make that distinction, but I think Mark’s right: historically and currently the majority, standard usage (e.g. in academic literature) has always been denying the God(s), not sitting on the fence about them.

            I also think he’s right that the ‘weak atheism’ style definition comes about by a neologistic misunderstanding what the ‘a-‘ means.

            I’m a (nuanced) descriptivist about language so I’m not prepared to insist that ‘weak atheism’ can’t mean agnosticism if there’s a community that does use it like that, but contrariwise they can’t insist that this is always what ‘atheism’ means.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            The use of the words “atheism” and “atheist” have changed quite a bit over time. It’s use in antiquity is quite different from it’s use in the medieval era, which is quite different from it’s use since the enlightenment.

            I am not suggesting that anyone is an atheist by “default”. I am an atheist, because I don’t see any compelling evidence for the existence of God. I don’t consider this a “rejection” of God; how can I “reject” something that doesn’t exist?

          • Mark

            Yes, I was just using ‘reject’ to characterize the element of negation as internal. You think ‘there is no compelling evidence for the existence of God’, and thus affirm something that is naturally expressed with a negative particle; i.e. there is something you deny. It’s not just that you fail to affirm something, as the baby does; the element of negation is internal.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Well, if all you’re asserting is that there are no atheist babies, then I don’t disagree. But then neither are there any Christian babies …

            … not even the Baby Jesus.

          • Mark

            Of course, yes.

          • Nofun

            They have to be one or other. Either they are born with an innate knowledge of an invisible god or not.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Then what’s your point? You seem adamant in your assertion that babies are not atheists:

            “A so-called agnostic person is not an atheist; babies are not atheists.”

            But who is suggesting that babies are?

            Agnostics, on the other hand, can certainly be atheists. Your assertion about agnostics is flatly wrong. The term “agnostic” was only coined in the late 19th century and one of its earliest philosophical uses was in the term “agnostic atheism” as discussed by the late 19th century philosopher/theologian Robert Flint. In philosophical literature, agnosticism and atheism are not seen as mutually exclusive positions. For that matter, one can also be an agnostic theist.

          • Mark

            The bit where I refer to ‘so-called agnostic persons’ can be dropped; I was deliberately avoiding entering into a discussion of the meaning of that term, which lacks any tradition, and has no interest. I don’t think I was disagreeing with you but with an internet troll here present who keeps affirming that the class of atheists is the complement of the class of ‘theists’, and that anyone is an atheist who is ‘not a theist’ and so on.

            If we drop the constraint that a person who says “I am an atheist,” must also seriously affirm in his or her own person: “There is no God”, then we are in NewSpeak and there is no point even in continuing with civilization or thought.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I would be careful of calling other commenters “trolls”, when you are so quick to throw in as evidence your own misunderstandings about the term agnosticism and the history of the term atheism. Frankly, atheism has had a range of meanings throughout time. Since the enlightenment, certainly, there have been atheists who might assert “there is no God”, but there are also atheists who simply say “there is not enough evidence to convince me to believe in a God”. You’ll find both characterizations in contemporary philosophy. Insisting on your own litmus test for atheism is frankly silly.

            I am an atheist. I have no interest in (as you say) affirming in my own person “there is no God”. I simply see no evidence for the existence of a God.

          • Mark

            I see now why you are testy; you want to ‘identify’ as an ‘atheist’ but are unwilling to affirm ‘There is no God’. In other words, you are unwilling actually to affirm atheism, considered as a proposition. It is not clear what space there is for rational thought under conditions of newspeak like this.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Testy? Not sure where you get that notion.

            I am an atheist. I don’t believe in gods that created the universe. It’s really that simple. I have no need to go around pronouncing “there is no God”, because it is not a proposition that interests me, and I have no desire to convince you or anyone else of such a proposition.

            Have you actually read Orwell’s 1984? Because you clearly have no idea what “newspeak” even means.

          • Mark

            English ‘I don’t believe …’ is ambiguous in the familiar ways discussed. Atheism is a doctrine, a proposition; we want to know whether it is true; and it is directly expressed by saying: ‘No gods created (etc.)’ and indirectly, through the use of a verb for a suitable propositional attitude in the first person, saying ‘I deny that any gods created …’ or the like. (I’m not worrying about the use of ‘creation’ in this.) If words like ‘atheist’ or ‘atheism’ become bound up with religious and anti-religious identity politics, there is no hope for rational discussion and enquiry into the truth.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            What?! I’m having trouble making grammatical sense of half your last comment. The nonexistence of gods is no more propositional than the nonexistence of fairies, or elves, or fire-breathing dragons; or any other fantastical entity lacking in evidence.

          • Mark

            It probably wasn’t very clear, but these propositions: that there aren’t any fairies; that nothing is a fairy; that everything is a non-fairy, and that fairies don’t exist — come out the same in the usual ways of symbolizing sentences in elementary logic. (There are two options, of course, depending on whether one begins with the universal quantifier, or adopts the equivalent form where an existential quantifier follows a sign of negation; some of the ordinary language forms I gave suggest one or another ‘symbolization’) I affirm all of those propositions. Similarly, I affirm that there aren’t any Republican giraffes, that no giraffe is a Republican, that every Republican is a non-giraffe, and that Republican giraffes don’t exist. It’s pretty simple really.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Well I would agree that God is no more likely to exist than fairies, but I think that a Republican giraffe might be slightly more possible, depending upon how you define “Republican”.

          • Mark

            So do you affirm this, Maybe there are fairies? And why not just say, in your own person, meaning what you do by ‘Republican’ and ‘giraffe’ that there aren’t any Republican giraffes. I wasn’t myself talking about the words, or taking a stand on whether there might be an interpretation of ‘there are Republican giraffes’ that would make it true.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Um … no, I said that God is no more likely to exist than fairies. Why would I say “maybe there are fairies”?

            You seem fond of the phrase “in your own person”; but I have no idea what you mean by it, nor can I tell what you want me to “just say”. Your second sentence is grammatically incomprehensible.

          • Mark

            Yes, I asked whether you affirm or deny “Maybe there are fairies” in order to get rid of the distracting ‘likely’ business and figure out what you thought. On the usual assumptions about ‘epistemic possibility’, if you think it’s not possible that there are fairies – i.e. if you reject ‘Maybe there are fairies’ – but affirm ‘Gods are no more likely to exist than fairies’, then you must also reject ‘Maybe there is a God’, i.e. you must inter alia affirm that there is no God. So it seems you do affirm the proposition of atheism outright, “There is no God”, just as, with me, you affirm the no-fairies proposition “There are no fairies”. That is, the external-negation reading of ‘I don’t believe in God’ is not adequate for your case: you believe there isn’t one, or equivalently, deny that there is one.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Why is “likely” any more distracting than “maybe”? Why are you determined to put your own words in someone else’s mouth? I have no interest in “affirming or denying” whatever wordings make you comfortable, especially since you have trouble writing cogent sentences.

            I don’t believe in God, because I find the existence of a creator of the universe (and fairies) an extremely improbable proposition.

          • Mark

            “Maybe there’s no God” is no more atheism than “Maybe there is a God” is. They are typically affirmed together by people who have no opinion on the matter. I’m just trying to tell whether you think that there is no god, a point on which you are surprisingly evasive. I was able to deduce that you do think this from your statement about fairies.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            What part of “I don’t believe in God” is evasive to you! Though you deceptively put it in quotes, I never said the words “Maybe there’s no God”; those are your words – not mine.

            Here is the primary definition of atheism in the Merriam Webster dictionary:

            “a disbelief in the existence of deity”

            Here is what I have stated clearly:

            “I don’t believe in God”.

            I am an atheist; I can’t be any clearer. And it completely escapes me what you hope to gain by denying it.

          • Mark

            No, it could be clearer. It sort of amazes me that you can’t see this. The dictionary identifies the practitioner of atheism thus:

            X disbelieves in the existence of a god

            using the concept of disbelieving, denying, affirming-that-not. Even now you express atheism thus:

            X doesn’t believe in the existence of a god.

            and seem to be pretending that the latter couldn’t possibly be clearer in expressing what the former does.

            This thread arose when it was claimed that ‘theists’ form a class: they ‘believe in God’; atheists are /everyone else/, everyone not in that class. That is, the privative element in ‘a-theism’ was repeatedly affirmed to constitute an external negation. This is the only claim I am interested in disputing; all of the remarks above are organized around this one point. A state of doubt, or ignorance of the topic, or infancy, is adequate to make it true of someone that he doesn’t ‘believe in God’ or, equivalently, doesn’t believe that there is a God.

            The proposition “She doesn’t believe in God” could be clearer, since in fact it just doesn’t entail anything about atheism; the dictionary you are quoting is perfectly aware of this and correctly employs the concept of disbelief/denial/believing-that-not.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Mark, do you imagine that you are saying something substantive, here? All you are doing is continually rewording your own contention (usually clumsily), and declaring false presumptions about me when I don’t repeat your exact words. I disbelieve in the existence of a god. I don’t believe in the existence of a god. Take your pick!

            What amazes me is that you throw out terms such as agnostic and newspeak in complete ignorance of what they mean. To give you the apparent context you lack, newspeak was George Orwell’s depiction of language control in which all future speech is stripped of nuance and forced into a short list of black and white, contentless terms determined by the state. Citizens were required to express themselves in the terms that the state declared to be “correct”. In fact, your penchant for glazing words together as though they all mean exactly the same thing – “disbelief/denial/believing-that-not” – and demanding a declaration of words that you determine is exactly the practice of newspeak that you accuse others of! (Obviously, you’ve read about as much Orwell as you’ve read of “ancient Greek”).

            For what it’s worth I don’t think that everyone who is not a theist is automatically an atheist. But if that’s the only point you’re making, it’s a rather dull point. Why bother?

          • Mark

            I foreswore any interest in the meaning of ‘agnostic’. The use of ‘newspeak’ was quite precise. You are forgetting that you intervened on a particular line of discussion, which was about the question whether JGravelle was right to say that an atheist is anyone outside the class of ‘theists’. I have been lecturing on this topic for 32 years, on and off – it’s not my specialization, but it will happen again next fall – and it is of some importance to me to figure out what the going nonsense sounds like.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Bless your heart, Mark, how conveniently you “foreswear” your own displays of ignorance. And to be “precise” you accused me of “newspeak”, while exemplifying the constricting practices of “newspeak” far more obviously yourself. My first post on this thread (which you do not own) was to correct your rather dull declaration on the history of atheism, then to correct your misunderstanding of agnosticism, and finally to show your profound misuse of the term newspeak.

            If you’re a “lecturer”, I feel rather sorry for any students who have to endure your peddling of nonsense.

          • Mark

            I wasn’t declaring ‘ownership’ of this thread, but clarifying the point that I am only interested in defending the familiar logical distinction between external and internal negation and its bearing on the interpretation of the epithet ‘atheist’. (It is seeming to me now that the sophistical movement between these may actually permeate the internet “atheism” culture.) I only referred to earlier bits of the thread because you had raised a question about what I meant, and whether I was speaking intelligibly; so I don’t see what you are complaining about under that heading. I can’t tell what you think I’m “ignorant” of.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            You seem “only interested” in a rather banal point. Unfortunately, you attempted to press this point with bad logic, false declarations about me, and a poor (or nonexistent) grasp of terms such as agnosticism and newspeak.

          • arcseconds

            It also was used for someone who might accept that the gods exist as a matter of fact, but deny that they’re worthy of worship, wasn’t it? So it seems usefully ambiguous to cover that form of rejection, too…

          • Nofun

            Prove the existence of your magic god before you claim atheists deny it.

          • Mark

            Are you thinking I was expressing belief in God in saying that? Strange.

          • Nofun

            Words mean things.

            Saying you deny something posits it exists

          • Mark

            If I say “Jones denies the existence of Zeus”, I don’t affirm the existence of Zeus.

          • Nofun

            To my mind it does.

            “Jones accepts there is no evidence of Zeus” is a better description of the situation.

          • arcseconds

            Really? So “NASA denies the world will end next month” suggests to you that it will?

            http://www.scoopnest.com/user/Independent/634642123103563776

            This seems like a huge misunderstanding of simple English to me.

          • Nofun

            Its not about English it is about not lending comfort to the theist.

          • arcseconds

            I see, so in situations involving theism you twist the meaning of the word ‘denies’ into something different then what it means when it’s NASA, just to make people uncomfortable.

            How charming!

          • Nofun

            No, they do.

            The very next question out of their mouths would be”So you admit you are just in denial of the real entity that is Jesus”.

          • arcseconds

            Who is ‘they’, and what do you suppose I’m denying they do?

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Adragonism is based on the unsupported assumption that it is more likely than not that there are no fire-breathing dragons. In fact, there is no more evidential support for the claim that there are no dragons, than there is for the claim that there are dragons. Adragonism and dragonism are little more than guesswork.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, belief in any fantastical creature that we do not have evidence for is the same as a belief in God. This does not change the fact that no evidence could ever push our epistemological base from “God is possible” to “God is improbable.”.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            So … no evidence could ever push our epistemological base from “fire-breathing dragons are possible” to “fire-breathing dragons are improbable”? We should all be agnostic on the existence of fire-breathing dragons … and fairies, and elves, and unicorns, and …

          • John MacDonald

            Now you’re getting it. One day we may invent the technology to detect invisible, immaterial dragons among us, or maybe we will find fire breathing dragons on other planets.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I may be “getting” what your point of view is, perhaps, but certainly not finding it anything but silly. I needn’t be an agnostic simply because God is as likely as Santa Claus.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s your analogy that’s silly. Going around and not finding dragons is not the same as going around and not finding God. There is no evidence that could ever disprove God, just as there is no evidence that would ever suggest God is “improbable.”

          • arcseconds

            What makes God different from dragons?

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Oh dear, you have shifted your argument. You were the one who said:

            “Yes, belief in any fantastical creature that we do not have evidence for is the same as a belief in God.”

            So now you’re backtracking to say that this analogy (which you made yourself) is silly?

            “Going around and not finding dragons is not the same as going around and not finding God.”

            If your argument is now that fantastical creatures require evidence but God does not, then your case has nothing to do with evidence and is only a case of special pleading.

          • James

            Of course your analogy holds when “God” is defined in totally unfalsifiable terms, as apologists so often do when atheists are present. The same type of argument works equally well for Allah, Zeus, Shiva, flying spaghetti monsters and invisible pink unicorns. But as soon as we go away, ya’ll get busy asserting that a talking snake convinced a rib-woman to eat a magic fruit and that’s why we need Jesus…

          • Mark

            Popper introduce the jargon of ‘falsifiability’ and with it the epithet ‘unfalsifiable’ in order to “demarcate” science from metaphysics. He presupposes that metaphysical questions are something different; similarly, mathematical questions are something different and have a totally different ‘epistemology’. If someone had a ‘falsifiable’ conception of god, they would be doing science, not metaphysics, and presumably bad science. The doctrine of ‘falsifiability’ was basically introduced as a defense of the possibility of a priori disciplines like mathematics, philosophy, logic and metaphysics, against the attack on them by logical positivists and such like ultra empiricists.

          • James

            Lack of positive evidence of existence is the best possible evidence that something doesn’t exist; that’s why we have the concept of burden of proof. It’s theists who make unsupported assumptions that any given deity exists, much less that this deity is their own very particular deity, with a long list of very particular wants and worship preferences and alleged actions in human history. Atheists simply say “prove it.” To which theists respond with unfalsifiable arguments for why they don’t need to provide evidence. Apologists seem to be given to using rhetoric to make their points; shifting the burden of proof being the apparent goal of such rhetoric.

          • Nofun

            There is no evidence of god and no phenomena has been found to have supernatural causes.

            The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

          • spinkham

            So you have no problems with the content, just the title? I assumed we were talking about the article content.

            How would you say “this subset of atheists is overly dogmatic about this issue”? I can’t think of a better way to do so in a short title than the author did. I can see how it could be seen as imprecise, but titles often are and you have to go on to read the content to see what the author actually means.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            No sir. My issue[s] began with the fallacious headline and escalated from there.

            “How would you say ‘this subset of–‘ …”

            Dude, give the word “SOME” a chance. Too often, these sorts of articles paint with a comically wide brush, and this piece did not disappoint.

            Invalid premise = bad syllogism…

          • arcseconds

            The headline touts Atheist Dogmatism, and there is no such thing.

            That seems a very strong assertion, your closing assertion of fallibility notwithstanding. In fact, one might almost be inclined to think it looks like a dogmatic assertion.

            What evidence would it take for you to revise your opinion of this?

            If it’s not a statement of dogma, presumably there is some such evidence…

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I’m happy to back it up. Can we first agree on any particular dictionary’s definition of “dogma”? Yours may differ from mine, and I’d like to avoid the confusion that can accompany that sort of schism.

            Partial to Oxford myself, but I’m open to suggestions…

          • arcseconds

            Happy to accept definition 1. in the OED:

            1. An opinion, a belief; spec. a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, esp. by a church or sect. Also: an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion.

            Surely insisting that atheists must assert ‘Jesus never existed’ counts as an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion, and it’s also surely at least an attempt to lay this down authoritatively.

            I would also note that McCall is insisting on scholastic research to prove that Jesus didn’t exist is also dogmatic in the sense that he appears to already be sure of the conclusion despite the fact he is seeking proof for it. The investigation is in order to support a pre-existing belief.

            (The OED doesn’t really address this meaning of ‘dogmatic’ very well, which certainly exists and is common, the closest is:

            Proceeding upon principles accepted a priori as true, instead of being founded upon experience or induction, as dogmatic philosophy, dogmatic medicine.

            But that seems to be true of, say, mathematics, which we would not usually say is a dogmatic enterprise.)

            I’d be interested in hearing a defense that there is no atheist dogma that doesn’t also prove that there is no Christian dogma.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “Surely insisting that atheists must assert ‘Jesus never existed’ counts as an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion…”

            It might, but I didn’t make that claim. If your retort is anything along the lines of “SOME atheists claim that”, mine is simply: so what? That makes it the opinion of “some atheists”, not Atheist Dogmatism. Is “The The Flying Spaghetti Monster never existed” likewise imperious and arrogant?

            There’s no requisite dogma to being an atheist. One need only not believe in god[s]. Period.

            “I’d be interested in hearing a defense that there is no atheist dogma that doesn’t also prove that there is no Christian dogma.”

            Happy to oblige. So, the definition you’ve offered is:

            “…a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, esp. by a church or sect…”

            There is no centralized, authoritative church nor sect of atheism making proclamations nor issuing tenets nor doctrines. The same cannot be said of the various flavors of Christianity…

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

            OK, so what authority makes proclamations or issues tenets that apply to all the various flavors of Christianity?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Ubiquity isn’t a requirement of dogmatism.

            If Disqus ever asks us for user-feature enhancement suggestions, I’m pretty sure a Venn-diagram generator will be first on my list…

          • arcseconds

            I hereby pronounce myself authoritative over all atheists.

            They should all believe and do as I say.

            All atheists must have a mandatory coffee and doughnut within the next hour. If no doughnuts are available, then cake will suffice.

            As ubiquity isn’t required for dogmatism, and I am now issuing edicts that I maintain are binding on all atheists, there is now atheist dogma!

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            And in the event we make you the Apope and build you an Avatican, you’ll be on your way to having the centralized authority required to fulfill the definition.

            For what it’s worth though, your proposed dogma would make way more sense than that of most major religions so, I mean, props…

          • arcseconds

            But surely it isn’t necessary for ‘we’ to make me into a pope.

            The Christian community on the whole has not accepted the Pope as authoritative.

            Are you some kind of unreformed Catholic atheist, who thinks the Pope is the supreme earthly representative of the God that doesn’t exist?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Forgive the cut/copy/paste, but I’m having the same discussion in parallel with our friend Mr. McGrath and, fortunately for me, my reply to him fits both threads:

            You are, no doubt, aware that the Pope speaks for ~50% of Christians (link below). You can’t honestly be suggesting that the Old Testament (Pentateuch, et al) and the New Testament (anonymous Gospels, and all) and the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. are NOT dogmatic, but an inconsequential tome like “the God Delusion” IS…?

            http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/world-religions-by-the-numbers.html

          • arcseconds

            There is no requisite dogma to being a Christian, either.

            And there is no centralized authoritative church of Christianity that all Christians regard as authoritative.

            (Hell, it’s not even the case that all Roman Catholics regard the Vatican as authoritative: just look at the widespread use of contraceptives among Catholics in countries like France and Germany as an obvious example. )

            So by parity of reasoning there is no such thing as Christian dogma, either.

            Of course there are SOME Christians who claim there is dogma that one must believe to be a proper Christian, just as there are SOME atheists who make similar claims regarding atheists.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I don’t have a dog in the “Is there an official Christian Dogma” fight, though I’d love to watch you mix it up with somebody who did.

            But the Vatican IS undeniably a centralized Christian authority. There’s no atheist Vatican; no atheist Pope. Those who assert Christian Dogma insist that acceptance of the Trinity, the Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Church and its Sacraments; and the Last Judgement are all dogmatic.

            When we erect an Avatican for our Apope, you may be on to something. But not until.

            You don’t seem to refute: “There is no centralized, authoritative church nor sect of atheism making proclamations nor issuing tenets nor doctrines.” …so, is it safe to conclude we both accept that there’s no Atheist Dogma, but that there ARE dogmatic atheists…?

          • arcseconds

            You seem to regard it as a requirement for there to be a centralized authority, but there is no such requirement in the definition we’ve supposedly agreed to.

            And I don’t agree that this is a requirement for there to be dogma. It surely makes sense to talk of ‘the dogma of neoliberal economics’ or ‘the dogma of academic Marxism’ or ‘Baptist dogma’ even though these groups don’t have centralized authorities making pronouncements.

            Anyway, most Christians reject the authority of the Vatican. Just because they claim authority over all Christians, doesn’t mean they have it.

            What is the difference between the Vatican making a pronouncement for all believers, and McCall making a pronouncement for all atheists? In both cases, someone insists that all Christians/atheists should do X, and in both cases in practice everyone’s at liberty to ignore them.

            Anyway, as it happens, we’ve just seen an example of an atheistic organisation that has issued tenets: the Satanic Temple. So maybe it’s OK to talk of atheist dogma now there is such an organization?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “What is the difference between the Vatican making a pronouncement for all believers, and McCall making a pronouncement for all atheists?”

            McCall wasn’t anointed by an Apapal conclave to represent the Acatholic sect of the Atheist community at large. I don’t see why this is a hard concept.

            Again: Atheism = not theism. Period. No dogma, no scripture, no worldview, etc. Just no god[s]…

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

            You genuinely seem to be unaware that the pope does not speak for all Christians any more than Richard Dawkins speaks for all atheists.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Thanks for admitting I’m being genuine, I guess.

            You are, no doubt, aware that the Pope speaks for ~50% of Christians (link below). You can’t honestly be suggesting that the Old Testament (Pentateuch, et al) and the New Testament (anonymous Gospels, and all) and the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. are NOT dogmatic, but “the God Delusion” IS…?

            http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/world-religions-by-the-numbers.html

          • arcseconds

            50% is not even a majority, and of course many Catholics in practice do not listen to the Pope, so the de facto authority he has is much less than that. There are certainly examples of conservative Catholics whose conservativism is more important than their allegiance to the Pope, to say nothing of liberal Catholics.

            It’s not clear to me that the Bible can really be said to be a dogmatic text, as contradictions in detail and in ‘vibe’ are rife. Much of it even seems to be deliberate revisionism. Plus a lot of it just tells a story without any explicit exhortation to believe in something as a result of it. Perhaps individual books are sometimes dogmatic, that’s not sufficient to say the collection is, any more than the public library is dogmatic because some of the books within it are.

            So it doesn’t seem to me you can get to a ‘Biblical view’ without considerable hermeneutic work. And as that view will be the construction of the interpreter as much as the Bible, it seems to me that if that view is dogmatic, then the dogmatism can be laid at the feet of the interpreter.

            Even in the case of a dogmatic text, the attitude of a follower need not be dogmatic. Someone strongly influenced by The God Delusion might not be dogmatic themselves. I did once meet a Randian who was at least less dogmatic than most, so maybe there’s a possibility of a really non-dogmatic Randian.

            (oh, I had forgotten about Randians. is it your opinion that Randian Objectivists can’t be dogmatic because there’s no Randian Apope, no ritual anointment, and no palatian Randian temple? Because really, they’re the ne plus ultra of dogmaticism in my opinion, and if we can’t talk about Randian dogma, the problem is clearly with your definition.)

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “50% is not even a majority…”

            Doesn’t matter. Adhering to the OED cited above, 1.25 billion Catholics certainly constitutes “a church or sect”, and the “tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down” by their Papal/hierarchical “authority” is that they are replete with dogma:

            “”Progress” of dogmas is, in reality, nothing
            but corruption of dogmas … I absolutely reject the heretical doctrine
            of the evolution of dogma, as passing from one meaning to another, and
            different from the sense in which the Church originally held it.” ~Pope St. Pius X

            “On the other hand, [Catholicism’s] constant uniformity of
            doctrine in the dogmas of faith, from its first foundation by Jesus
            Christ, demonstrates the truth of the Catholic Church.” ~ St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori

            Then there’s their pesky ” Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumen_gentium

            The Baptists have the Priesthood of all Believers dogma. Then there’s the Lutheran dogma (explored in Ferdinand Christian Baur’s “The HISTORY Of Christian Dogma”, for your God’s sake!).

            Until you dig up a Lumen Gentium for atheism, you have no case…

          • arcseconds

            This is all quite irrelevant. Edicts and official hierarchies (and elaborate rituals and impressive architecture) are not required for dogma to exist. It is not a requirement in the definition you say you’re prepared to accept, I have explained at length why it’s not a requirement, and I’ve given plenty of examples of groups that clearly possess dogma and do not have such hierarchies.

            You haven’t engaged with any of this, and haven’t provided an argument for why hierarchies are required, and haven’t explained why we should accept a definition of dogma that excludes Randian Objectivists from having dogma.

            (Plus you apparently accept that an individual atheist can be dogmatic… how can this be true if a hierarchy is required?)

            This all seems to be ad hoc reasoning to support your preconceived idea that there can be no atheist dogma, and it looks more and more like you’re not actually open to questioning this preconceived idea. It’s a common atheist claim that there’s no atheist dogma, and this discussion just shows what a dogmatic claim that ends up being.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “Edicts and official hierarchies … are not required for dogma to exist…”

            Correct. “a tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, esp. by a church or sect” is. And atheism has none. Ergo, while there are dogmatic atheists, there is no Atheist Dogma…

          • arcseconds

            Firstly, do you not understand what “especially” means?

            Secondly, you are aware that there are churches and sects that do not have hierarchies, yes?

            Thirdly, can you confirm that you don’t, on the basis of your requirement for hierarchy, think there can be Marxist dogma et. al?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Sure there can be Marxist dogma. There was a Marxist government (and, FWIW, THE MARX, who was certainly an authority on Marxism).

            So THE Marx with the backing of THE Marxist government is certainly guilty of establishing a Marxist Dogma. Just as THE Pope[s] with the backing of THE church have established Catholic Dogma.

            But there’s no grand THE Atheist operating with the backing of any authoritative THE Atheist Cadre decreeing Atheist Dogma.

            Because there IS no Atheist Dogma…

          • arcseconds

            I don’t have to take any of this seriously, because there’s no reason to accept hierarchies are necessary for there to be group dogma .

            But your position is confusing, so let me try to get this straight:

            – There has to be a hierarchy. (why is this again?)
            – The fact this hierarchy doesn’t exist now, or has only ever been regarded as authoritative for a minority of the wider group, doesn’t matter.
            – The proportion of the wider group it’s authoritative over does seem to matter though: because the Satanic Temple, McCall, and I don’t seem to count as relevant authorities for atheists.

            So what proportion is necessary before it’s OK to speak of dogma? And how long does this authority need to last for? If I got 10% of atheists to accept my authority over coffee for one day, would that mean we could talk about atheist dogma forever after?

            What justifies speaking of ‘Christian dogma’ when most Christians do not in practice accept the Pope’s authority? Surely it would be more appropriate to only speak of ‘Catholic dogma’: i.e. only hierarchical groups can have dogma and it’s only dogma for the people who accept the authority of the hierarchy?

            Can the beliefs of a non-heirarchical sect still count as Christian dogma just because Catholicism exists somewhere else? So for example could ‘sola scriptura’ be appropriately called a Christian dogma even though the Vatican denies this principle vehemently? How about young -earth creationism? Is that a Christian dogma, despite not being propounded by the Vatican?

            Are you happy to talk of Randian Objectivist dogma just because there’s a single author involved and an institute?

            You have yet to explain why a hierarchy is necessary for a group to have dogma, but unnecessary for an individual to have dogma.

            So this all seems complex, bizarre, contrived, and out of step with the way ‘dogma’ is normally used. Quine wrote a famous paper called ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, yet in this case you can’t find an empiricist authority or an empiricist government. Did he use the word wrongly?

            “Because there IS no Atheist Dogma…”

            Yes, that seems a correct description of your position. Because there is no atheist dogma it is necessary to wind up with an idiosyncratic, bizarre and contrived understanding of ‘dogma’ to exclude this possibility.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “I don’t have to take any of this seriously…”

            Dude, I’d be the LAST person to accuse you of that…

          • arcseconds

            Hmm, it’s just occurred to me that among the absurdities of your position is the fact that the said Marxist government was also an explicitly atheist government.

            So there was an atheist authority that pretty much mandated atheism. So it seems we can, even according to your idiosyncratic theory of dogma, speak of atheist dogma, after all. It doesn’t matter that this government no longer exists or that it never had authority over all atheists, as you deny the first is a consideration when it comes to Marxism, and that the later is a consideration when it comes to Christianity.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “…the said Marxist government was also an explicitly atheist government”

            No, it was a government run by an atheist.

            My car is run by an atheist. It is not an atheist car…

          • arcseconds

            So it’s not a marxist government either, but run by a marxist?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            No.

            And the U.S. government under J.F.K. was not an Irish-Catholic government, either…

          • arcseconds

            Do you mean ‘no’, the USSR was not governed by a marxist government?

            Then doesn’t this mean there is no marxist authority for you to appeal to, and therefore no marxist dogma by your lights?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “Do you mean ‘no’, the USSR was not governed by a marxist [sic] government?”

            No. You shouldn’t need my input to argue with things I did NOT say…

          • arcseconds

            Please explain how the government of the USSR was marxist but not atheist. As atheism is a well-known piece of marxist dogma, that they by no means were shy about turning into policy, this seems absurd. You appear to think that only people can be atheists, is that what is going on? Why would that be? And why does it not entail that only people can be marxist?

            This just seems to be another example of you coming up with arbitrary rules to get the result you want, but maybe you’ll surprise me by having a principled account here…

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “Please explain how the government of the USSR was marxist but not atheist.”

            Gladly. Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis. Atheism is, if I haven’t mentioned it, just the absence of a belief in god[s]. It is not a method, not a system, not a dogma, not an outline for social change, etc. It reflects a singular belief on a singular issue.

            If he liked pie, we wouldn’t call it a pie-lover’s government. Among atheists you have the Will/Krauthammer conservative branch (me), you have moderates, liberals, libertarians, don’t-give-a-damn-about-government-ists, etc.

            Atheism is just the absence of a belief in god[s]. Period…

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

            I am not suggesting that the texts that became part of the Bible are not dogmatic. Even the Song of Songs is dogmatic about the beauty of the person the poet or poets is/are writing about. There are lots of different kinds of dogmatism, and Dawkins is certainly dogmatic at times, for instance when he reduces all religious options to two by claiming that deism is merely watered-down theism, and pantheism is merely sexed-up atheism.

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/why-be-an-atheist-rather-than-a-pantheist.html

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I don’t disagree with any of that, except perhaps the very end. I can’t really make an equivocation between pantheism and atheism but I get the point. It’s similar to youth sports leagues that don’t keep score: If everybody won, then nobody did.

            If that was an invitation to indulge myself in the linked-to discussion, I’ll be happy to. Kinda got my hands full in this one right now, though… 😉

          • arcseconds

            So now you’re insisting that someone be annointed before there can be dogmatism?

            You wanted to be clear about the definition, but here you are adding requirements of hierarchical organisations and dramatic rituals (and, apparently, impressive buildings) before you’re happy speaking of dogma, when there’s little mention of the former and no mention of the later in the definition you seem to have accepted.

            This really looks like you’re tailoring your definition of dogma to fit your preconceived idea of who is dogmatic and who isn’t. Which, you know, is itself a dogmatic thing to do.

            The fact that atheism doesn’t by definition include dogma shows nothing, of course. Neither does ‘libertarian’, ‘Marxist’ or ‘Mac user’ but there is nevertheless dogma associated with all of them. This is, of course, a totally different argument to the argument that atheism doesn’t have a pope, and both are a bit silly: the fact that you’ve come up with a new silly argument this late in the piece again suggests to me that these are post-factum rationalisations for something you just want to believe in any case.

            Perhaps it’s worth trying to explain where I’m coming from. It’s obvious that various groups of people who have some shared beliefs behave in very similar ways concerning their beliefs: they regard them as beyond question, superior to their rivals, they talk about them as though they were unproblematic, obvious, and not open to doubt, they get defensive when these beliefs are questioned, and if you question them too much, or even aren’t sufficiently enthusiastic about them, you quickly end up with social opprobrium directed your way. Whenever that occurs, it seems worth calling these set of beliefs the dogma of the group in question.

            Whether or not there’s an official hierarchy is really beside the point. You don’t need a hierarchy to police ideas. The Baptist community does quite fine at this without one, for example.

            A further question remains of whether such dogma is worth associating with the name of the group. There might be a significant group of Marxists who are dogmatic and share a dogma, but is it worth calling it ‘Marxist dogma’?

            Well, firstly, note that even if it is just beliefs that the group randomly happens to have that doesn’t have anything to do with the core activity of the group, it’s still defensible to give the dogma the name of the group, particularly when it’s distinctive to that group. So if the Indianapolis Table Tennis club on the whole dogmatically insist on using Apple products and in originalist jurisprudence, then despite the fact this has nothing to do with table tennis it is still worth calling Indianapolis Table Tennis dogma, because it’s unique to them (or at least a rather rare combination that is distinctive to them).

            But of course in many cases the dogma has a deeper connection to the core values or beliefs or even the cultural history of the group. For example, it’s possible to encounter dogmatic computer geeks who pour scorn on double negatives such as “nobody tells me nuffin’ “. They will quickly tell you that this entails that actually everyone tells you something.

            Here the objection clearly isn’t some free-floating thing that they happen to have culturally picked up that has nothing to do with computer programming, but rather stems from their commitment to logic (in standard logic, a double negative becomes a positive) and to a form of linguistic prescriptivism that similarly arises out of a commitment to logic and clarity (or at least non-ambiguity) of expression that programming languages provide.

            So we could, with some justice, call this ‘computer geek dogma’ surrounding double negatives, despite the fact that there is no centralized authority or text governing computer geekery, and it’s not even specifically about computing. In fact, I think the only reason it seems at all odd to say this is that it’s not specific to computer geeks: more famously any dogmatic defender of ‘standard’ dialects of English over non-prestige dialects has this prejudice.

            So there you go, a potted analysis of group dogmatism. I think this picks out the phenomenon of dogmatism that I, at least, find useful to talk about, and indicates why it’s justifiable to identify it with particular groups.

            Note that this means we can unproblematically speak of Christian dogma, even though there is no authority that speaks for all Christianity and no beliefs that all Christians hold in common. Christian dogma is anything that is distinctive of Christian groups that stems from core commitments, cultural norms, that Christians characteristically have, or from Christian history.

            How does mythicism fare in all of this? It is certainly often a dogmatic claim, because the proponents are frequently not really open to reason about it.

            And it is characteristic of atheists in the sense that by and large only atheists hold this belief. I suppose an agnostic could hold it, but I have never heard of such a person, and it doesn’t seem like a likely combination to me.

            (And actually I’m somewhat surprised I’ve never heard of a Jew being a Jesus mythicist. I kind of wouldn’t be surprised if there was one, but I’ve never met one or heard of one, despite knowing several Jews in person and online. )

            And it is also connected to core beliefs and attitudes that are again characteristic of atheists.

            Scepticism of the claims of religion obviously is a core value, even though this is not part of the definition of atheism. How many atheists do you know who don’t believe in God but do believe in miracles and intercessory prayer? That’s certainly logically possible, and in keeping with the definition of ‘atheists’, but either completely or virtually unknown among, say, subscribers to atheist blogs.

            Some level of antipathy to all religion is also a characteristic of atheists. It’s not true of all atheists, but it’s certainly true of many atheists, and it’s by and large only true of atheists. Even atheists who express some degree of respect for some forms of religion and try to be nice about it frequently are clearly not really down with the idea.

            ‘Freethinking’ is also fairly characteristic of atheists, as is a pro-science attitude.

            And these appear to be why mythicism is motivated among atheists. I can explain why I think the ‘freethinking’ and pro-science attitude is important later, if you want.

            Plus, of course, there’s the obvious fact that many atheists, some of whom have considerable influence in the atheist community, are encouraging atheists (qua atheists) to be mythicists. The only way that could fail to count as atheist dogma is if they were completely or almost completely unsuccessful in their attempts (I suppose Stephen Fry’s pipe-smoking dogma doesn’t count as atheist dogma for this reason).

            I would encourage you to reflect on the similarities between atheists and, say, Baptists in this regard. Baptists do not have a hierarchy and in fact ostensibly believe in ‘soul freedom’. But there is nevertheless Baptist dogma, and there are certainly Baptists who have considerable clout in the Baptist community and are capable of shaping it. Anti-abortion might serve as an instructive example of something that never used to be considered important but now very much is an element of dogma (although, I hasten to add, not all Baptists believe in this dogma, naturally).

            Plus, of course, the fact that there is an atheist community should suggest to you that the same sorts of things that are or can be true of any human community might be true of the atheist community.

          • arcseconds

            (As an addenum, it might be worth pointing out that while I’ve characterized a dogmatic computer geek as being committed to logic, their understanding is usually not very thoroughgoing. There are formal logics in which double negation does not result in reversing the negation, but it’s extremely rare to meet computer enthusiasts who know anything about this, let alone can make a good case for why natural languages need to follow classical logic rather than some other logic.

            This parallels to some extent the commitment that Christians have to the Bible…)

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “The fact that atheism doesn’t by definition include dogma shows nothing…”

            It shows you accept my premise, and have thus ceded the argument. We agree there’s no Atheist Dogma.

            Given that, any syllogism premised on the claim is a faulty one…

          • arcseconds

            I’m not sure what combination of dimness, laziness, and facetiousness you’re exhibiting here.

            dimness: not being able to distinguish “doesn’t by definition” and “by definition doesn’t”

            laziness:
            – can’t be bothered dealing with the fact I clearly still disagree and interpreting my words accordingly
            – prematurely declaring victory.
            – not actually engaging with anything I’ve said
            – apparently not even reading it.

            facetiousness: knowing perfectly well what I meant but pretending to the above anyway.

            I thought you were interested in a serious discussion, perhaps I was mistaken? If you really, honestly thought I was admitting that atheism is by definition non-dogmatic, fess up. Everyone is a bit dim sometimes, and if there’s still confusion about the matter I’ll try to explain it to you.

            If, on the other hand, the discussion is just a joke to you, or you’re not actually interested in investigating the matter but just want to declare victory at the earliest opportunity, then fine, you got me or whatever, go and notch your belt or skite to your mates and I’ll find something else to do.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “I’m not sure what combination of dimness, laziness, and facetiousness you’re exhibiting here.”

            Any of our audience with formal debate experience know what happens when one participate begins hurling invective. I’m feeling the brotherly love. #represent

            “…apparently not even reading it”

            Nobody, at this point, wishes I were guilty of that more than I.

            “I’ll find something else to do.”

            Use lotion or you’ll chafe…

          • arcseconds

            You think that’s invective?

            You must be new to the internet…

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “You must be new to the internet…”

            Been online since Fidonet, junior. I ran a hub. Getting an email in one day was thrilling. I used to Gopher at 300 baud. I did my time. 😉

            But if “dim”, “lazy”, and “facetious” have become compliments, I’m admittedly out of the loop. You kids and your colorful, groovy new sayings…

          • arcseconds

            I’m surprised you’ve remained so sensitive that failure to compliment counts as invective.

            ‘Dim’ is perhaps an extremely mild insult (how would you like your apparent failure to understand simple English sentences described?), ‘lazy’ a warranted criticism, and ‘facetious’ isn’t even necessarily a negative remark. Calling this ‘invective’ seems absurdly hyperbolic; are you sure you’re not being facetious?

            Suggesting you’ve ‘won’ on this basis is definitely lazy, at any rate.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Determining a who won or lost isn’t the purview of the debate participants. But its certainly fair for me to point out when one contestant has, even involuntarily, laid down their king…

            [Andrew, “Popular Culture and Public Debate,” page 409 re: insults]

          • arcseconds

            Well, it’s good to know that you’re not going to declare victory on the basis of misconstruing criticism (or lack of compliments) as invective, but merely going to appeal to some authority to strongly imply that you’ve won.

            I’m glad I’m dealing with someone of such sterling integrity and commitment to principles of honest debate.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I beg you to never stop typing, my friend. This is, after all, for posterity…

            #represent

          • Nofun

            Being agnostic is the worst compromise.

            At least the religious only pick one non-existent thing to believe. The agnostic has to believe a trillion trillion stupid notions because they might be true.

            If it isn’t real it doesn’t matter.

      • Nofun

        What dogma?

        All atheism is the acceptance of there being no evidence of a god.
        No beliefs required.

        Religionists want to drag everything down to a choice of beliefs, even science, but the choice is between reality and belief.

      • Ken Campbell

        Ok…lets assume this is true. What is the ‘group bias’?

        • spinkham

          In-group bias is what I said. The tendency of people to think that something is much more credible because a member of a group they identify with says it.

          If you’re a young republican, It doesn’t matter as much that 97% of climate scientists (experts in the subject) accept human caused global warming and as a group assign an over 95% certainty as if someone in your young republicans group who knows very little on the subject makes an impassioned argument against it.

          If you’re a conservative evangelical it’s much more critical what your pastor thinks about evolution than the fact that there’s 99.9% consensus among experts in the field, who say there’s basically zero chance of common descent being shown to be false at this point.

          99.9% of subject matter experts think it’s very likely there was an historical Jesus of one sort of another. There are exactly 4 people credentialed in the subject (Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Thomas Brodie and Thomas Thompson) who disagree out of thousands, and many of those thousands express a high certainty in their position.

          If you want to be taken seriously on any of these issues, publish in the journals. If you’re just mostly talking to people in your own group who are biased towards accepting what you have to say as a group member over and above your actual credibility, you’re just playing to in-group bias.

          • Ken Campbell

            I appreciate your comment on the concept of group bias. My question really is :what is the group bias of atheists. Atheists do not take a ‘group’ position on the existence of Jesus or any other figure. The position taken by atheists is that there are no gods in the equation. That is not a bias. It is the definition of the position

          • spinkham

            Where does anyone say there is a group position? I said:

            > claiming the label “atheist” doesn’t free you from in-group bias any more than any other label.

            And I’ve explained what I meant by that.

            Nobody has said anything about the position of all atheists here. The title can be read that way if you like, but that’s not the only possible meaning and by the article content it’s clear that’s not what the author meant. Nobody has pointed to anything in the article or my comments yet that even implies that all atheists have a particular position, and I’m pretty sure that’s because it’s not there.

          • Ken Campbell

            OK….thank you for clearing that up. I was under the impression that you had identified a ‘group bias’ for atheists. My mistake

      • Nofun

        Atheists are even a group. They only agree on one thing. They accept there is no evidence of any god.

    • Nofun

      There are such rules:

      1) No cards each.

      2) You discard two nothings only once.

      3) Four of a nothing beats three of a nothing beats two of a nothing.

      4) Bluffing is unwise.

      • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

        In that case, I have a Royal Fizbin… 😉

  • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

    James, what was the title and url of your article showing the weakness of mythicism? I’ve googled for it, but not found it yet.

    Also, what do you think is the best resource online to understand the differences between mythicists such as Carrier and Price versus secular historians?

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

      Which article are you referring to? I have had three or four on this topic recently in The Bible and Interpretation. Is it one of those? Those will help you understand why professional historians and scholars rarely if ever find Carrier or Price persuasive in their distinctive ideas.

      If you were looking for a blog post, I know it can be hard to find a specific one you are looking for amid the many I have written over the past decade or so. But this round-up of the ones prior to 2011 can be useful for finding older ones: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/round-up-of-mythicist-blogging.html

      Let me know if his helps you find the article you were referring to.

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        Thanks, I’ll check those out.

  • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

    And here’s what Christian Dogmatism about Jesus looks like – the fallacy of the false dilemma (or trilemma):

    “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.”

    C.S. Lewis

    • Rachel Slurz

      This says it all about Jesus

      • Nofun

        Don’t let him in Gerald …he’s not wearing pants.

  • Nofun

    An atheist has to be dogmatic about what is real and what is not.

    You can’t be a bit atheist and still partially cling to a faith construct. Once the faith construct is deflated it disappears and leaves no hole …. and there is no going back.

    There simply is no first century evidence of Jesus and no evidence of any phenomena having a supernatural cause.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      I was wondering whether a dogmatic atheist would show up. Thanks for giving us the party line. You say “there simply is no first century evidence of Jesus”. Are you splitting hairs about the fact that we don’t have the original versions of documents written in the first century, or are you denying that those documents would be evidence if we had them?

      • Nofun

        I don’t deny any evidence… a dogmatic atheist like myself couldn’t even if he wanted to.

        It isn’t splitting hairs to want to have actual source documents.

        The problem with the bulk of this research is it is done by theologians looking for evidence of Jesus rather than an objective professional.

        Its kind of pointless anyway as a lack of evidence has not stopped people believing in a magic Jesus. Belief is not necessary if you have actual evidence.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          In my experience, dogmatic atheists are rather good at denying evidence. For example, Paul’s statement that Jesus was a descendant of David is turned into a reference to cosmic insemination.

          Dogmatic atheists also have a regrettable tendency to accuse biblical scholars of bias. They are unable to accept that the rejection of the myth theory is due to its utter implausibility.

          • Nofun

            Nice switch there where the myth of there being no Jesus must be rejected before you start. Sorry no one is fooled by that.

            I am also not sure an atheist would care what bible said about anything.

            if you approach any subject in a rational manner you have to be objective. You can’t have pre-judgements like Jesus must exist. You can’t reject anything apriori as you have to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            the myth of there being no Jesus

            This myth is becoming quite prevalent amongst atheists. But you are wrong to say that the question of Jesus’ existence has been decided a priori. We are able to explain the facts by postulating the existence of a historical Jesus. When we try to explain the facts on some other basis, we run into obvious difficulties. For example, if we suppose that the first Christians regarded Jesus as a purely celestial being, we are unable to explain why Paul would say that Jesus was a descendant of David.

            The judgement is based on evidence; it is not made in advance.

          • Nofun

            Really. At what point did atheists accept Jesus?

            Please. The Jesus brother inscription was faked.

            The willingness to believe in evidence which is not evidence is the whole problem with this line of research.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            An increasing number of atheists are starting to believe the myth that Jesus never existed. This should concern rational and objective thinkers, among whom you number yourself.

            I’m not sure why you would mention the James ossuary. You seem to have a preoccupation with physical evidence. While it is always nice to have such evidence, textual evidence is not to be discounted.

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

            And the studies of the James ossuary are best described as inconclusive. The artifact wasn’t excavated by professionals and was handled poorly throughout, interfering with chemical analyses. And so the James Ossuary is a good argument for why history is best left to professionals, but a bad argument for or against the historicity of Jesus or James.

          • Nofun

            Please, there is no question it is fake.

            The letter you refer to is far from settled history.

            Some say superior level of Greek in the letter seems beyond what James, brother of Jesus, could have produced and that the author seems well-versed in current Hellenistic philosophies.

            So how could a Galilean Jew, whose first language was Aramaic and who probably would not have had access to a Hellenistic education, have written such a letter.

            Catholics reject outright that Jesus had any brothers at all.

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

            So Catholicism is an authority you accept?

            You seem not to know what letter we were talking about…

          • Nofun

            No. Just saying that the letter is not universally accepted as real. And since it is the primary evidence for a historical Jesus, the whole theory looks shaky.

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

            You quickly looked up some information about the wrong letter and repeated it here. Since you don’t know enough about this topic to follow the discussion, why pray tell do you hold such staunchly dogmatic views on the subject?

            You are giving me the strong impression that you are a troll. I will give you one more chance to up your game and engage in the kind of rigorous, academically-informed conversations that this blog is dedicated to, or otherwise to move on and realize that this isn’t the place for your kind of short comments with dogmatic assertions unsupported by relevant evidence.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Don’t you think it might be an idea to find out what the case for a historical Jesus actually is, before you express an opinion on it. I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t depend on the James ossuary. Another clue is that Catholic apologetics has no relevance to the study of the historical Jesus.

          • Nofun

            Well you see I am not the one saying that a historical Jesus is real.

            The only thing I have heard in this discussion is about a letter about Jesus brother which is not accepted by all as evidence as the author of the article claims.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            “I am not the one saying that a historical Jesus is real.”

            So someone who asserts the existence of Jesus needs to know the case for this position, but someone who denies the existence of Jesus need not know the case for the position he is denying. Is that what you are saying? This would be an odd attitude for anyone to take, but it is particularly odd in someone who has spoken of the need to approach questions in a rational and objective way.

            The only thing I have heard in this discussion is about a letter about Jesus brother which is not accepted by all as evidence as the author of the article claims.

            But you got the wrong letter. The letter in question is Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which he says that he met James, the brother of the Lord”, (Gal. 1:19). So your policy of not wanting to know the opposition case has let you down.

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

            Nofun has been banned, after several warnings that he or she was engaging in troll-like behaviors: misrepresenting mainstream scholarship as well as commenters here, posting lots of brief comments that make assertions without evidence, and so on. I encouraged them to contact me if they decided that they think they can actually engage in the kind of serious discussion that I try to foster here. So if he or she returns, you’ll know that has happened.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Right. I think that is reasonable. I noticed that he would come on here and post something like five comments in as many minutes. There was no indication that he was taking the discussion seriously.

          • arcseconds

            I like to imagine most atheists ‘accept’ Jesus in the sense that they think he existed.

            In the last few years I’ve encountered many atheists who think that he never existed, but there’s a big selection bias here: I started reading this blog, and mythcists seem to really want to come in here and set the record straight for everyone.

            Outside of this forum, and other, similar ones, virtually all of the atheists I’ve ever encountered, many of them very intelligent people, either believe that Jesus really did exist, or that his existence is the most likely hypothesis that explains the evidence.

            The few exceptions have been merely sceptical, not outright deniers.

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

      But McCall is saying (and you seem to agree) that atheists have to be dogmatic about things being unreal (or better unhistorical) which secular historians consistently conclude to be historical.

      Why is a letter written by someone who had met Jesus’ brother not “first century evidence of Jesus”?

      • Nofun

        I would say that none of this is settled history.

        A letter to someone about a story about meeting someone’s brother? Kind of third hand isn’t it.

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

          Perhaps you might want to familiarize yourself with the primary source material, so that you can know what it says and base your amateur historical judgment on that rather than your own imagination?

    • Andrew Dowling

      To believe a historical person of Jesus existed requires no faith construct . . in fact, a ton of non-Christians have managed to believe such a thing for centuries.

      • Rachel Slurz

        Very minimal acknowledgement for such an important (thing), Don’t you think. Why is God such a weakling he can’t provide reasonable evidence that (he ) or his son ever existed.

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

          This might make sense if you were addressing claims of Christian apologists or something like that. But it makes no sense as an objection to mainstream historical study, which does not look to God to provide evidence for the historicity of past humans.

      • Nofun

        Was there really only one person called Jesus back then?

        Yea, I was one of those people …. until I looked into it.

        You have to be careful here though as if you accept Jesus the real person and there is no evidence of his miracles it tends to make Jesus look somewhat ordinary and Christianity wrong about his divinity.

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

          The name Joshua was quite common. The question suggests a complete lack of historical awareness about the time and place in question. And the rest of your comment seems to misunderstand the topic under discussion here, which is not about the later idea of a divine Jesus, but the human historical figure that historians investigate.

          • Nofun

            But there is only one divine Jesus …. everyone else called Jesus at the time must be ignored …yes?

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

            There is no “divine” Jesus, the discussion here is about the evidence for a historical figure, not ideas that are imposed upon him later. And I can’t imagine why you would suggest that if one person with a particular common name is of interest to you, then others will not be. If John Lennon is of interest to you as a historian, therefore John F. Kennedy ought to be ignored? What kind of “logic” is that supposed to be?!

          • Nofun

            Really? Then why is the article about how dogmatic unbelievers are? The historical Jesus is sought to underpin the Christian faith with some evidence.

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

            Historians seek information about figures in the past to better understand history. The historical Jesus, who was wrong about the imminent dawn of the kingdom of God, and was not a divine figure, has been an inconvenience for traditional Christian views of him ever since historical investigation began, and so you seem not to be informed about the history of this field.

          • Nofun

            Believers don’t care about facts and histories. But even a secular study of the evidence for an historical Jesus is pretty sketchy. The engravings on the bone box about Jesus’s brother was a fake.

            Seems it:

            Dogmatic Atheists – 1, Pretend Secular Jesus Hunting – 0.

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

            What you write is certainly true about many believers.

            Your comments also show how it is true about some atheists.

            The fact that your aim is cheap point-scoring rather than historical precision is clear frome your comments even without the addition of the scoreboard.

          • Nofun

            So you admit the Jesus brother thing is fake?

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

            Unless you can explain to me in detail precisely what I wrote that can be construed as “admitting the Jesus brother thing is fake,” not to mention why I should consider that a clearly-worded sentence indicative that you are taking this discussion seriously, you will have given me the impression that you are a troll.

            We don’t like trolls around here, just so you know.

          • Cygnus

            “…the human historical figure that historians investigate.”

            Easter is canceled, historians found the bones :)

  • Rachel Slurz

    All we know is there is precious little evidence that Jesus ever walked the earth. The thousands of relics in Europe, proving (at the time) the existence of Jesus and the apostles have proven to be fakes. All of them!

    There is no atheist dogma. Invite Jesus down to earth for a “meet and greet” and you will have a conversion the likes the world has never seen. You can’t because there is absolutely no evidence for a contemporary Jesus. You have no more power to conjure him up than I do..

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

      This is a strange comment. Our inability to conjure any dead person has no bearing on their historicity. And the inauthenticity of relics related to individuals like Paul or John the Baptist has no bearing on their historicity, since relics are rarely authentic in those traditions that value them.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      If you think that the Holy Foreskin is considered to be important evidence for a historical Jesus, then you may need to do a bit more research on the subject.

    • Jim

      I’d say your comment verifies the existence of an atheist dogma – “the intent to deliberately conflate the Christ of Christianity with a historical Jesus in an effort to completely misunderstand the field of HJ research”.

  • John Thomas

    It is unfortunate to see many atheists being unreasonable. They don’t understand what historians are dealing with. Great great grandfathers of all those who live now existed in first century in some part of earth. Only few of them had the fortune to enter into surviving historical records. Just because they didn’t enter into historical records does not mean that they did not exist. So by principle, historians will have to grant (if they are reasonable) that if someone’s name is mentioned in historical records that have survived, such person must have existed in the past. Of course, one could acknowledge that there might be legendary accounts written around them, but one cannot say for sure, such a person did not exist unless one have some agenda.

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      John Thomas, don’t pin this so generally on atheists. I am an atheist, but not a mythicist. Another such person is John Loftus in the comments below. Most atheists don’t self identify as mythicists. Most of us simply don’t have dog in this race.

      Although, I do have dog – that I love. hmmm does that make me a dogmatic atheist?

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        “a dogmatic atheist”? LOL>

        And you don’t have a “god” in this fight either, right;-)?

        I have a cat–as in catastrophe, cataclysm, catalog, catalyst…

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Aren’t legendary characters sometimes mentioned in historical records?

      • John Thomas

        Yes. How can a historian say that person around whom legends are made did not exist?

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          I would think that a historian tries to establish some historical core independent of the legendary embellishment, but I don’t know that he can ever prove that there wasn’t any historical inspiration for any part of the legend.

          • John Thomas

            That is exactly my point. A historian could make some inferences about legendary embellishments made to the life of person in that it most likely did not happen, but cannot in anyway make an inference in regards to whether the person around whom such legendary embellishments are made did not exist.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            If everything looks like legendary embellishment, might not the simplest hypothesis be that the character is legendary?

          • John Thomas

            How can one make that leap? It maybe, it may not be. The simplest hypothesis would be that the person involved was so influential in some way (either through his wisdom, or through his military feats) that those around him wanted to write an account about him.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            It depends on the situation. Should I treat King Arthur as historical just because there might have been some person who was influential in some way that somehow contributed to the tales that were told?

          • John Thomas

            Just out of curiosity, do you consider any of the known persons who lived in first century to have existed? If so, how do you make that judgment?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I think that there are many people in the ancient world whose historical footprint is sufficient that we can be reasonably certain about their existence. I think that these are mostly people who were literate or prominent during their lives or who did things during their lives that brought them to the attention of literate or prominent people.

            I think that it is much harder to be certain about the existence of an illiterate peasant who led his life largely unnoticed outside a small group of illiterate peasant followers. That is not the type of person for whom we should expect to find a historical footprint that is discernible two thousand years later.

            Historians reason by analogy and I find it hard to see any good analogies when the earliest sources for a person’s existence are based on supernatural events that took place after his death rather than things he said or did during his life.

          • John Thomas

            If Jesus was just an illiterate peasant, I agree that nobody would have written an account about him. But it seems to me that he was more than that. There is good reason to think that he might have studied Torah under some rabbis. He might have influenced those around him with better interpretation of Torah. He might have pushed for reforms within Judaism which might have upset the Jewish religious leadership and have him killed. He might have been courageous for standing upto the cause he advocated and not running away throwing his disciples under the bus. As a result, there might have been sympathizers for him after his death. His life might have been influential in some way to write an account about him.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I agree that those things might have happened, but I don’t see anything about that in our earliest source; all I find there is the claim that God raised a man from the dead. As a result, I also have to acknowledge the possibility that the gospel stories were invented later in order to portray that man as the kind of man that God would want to raise from the dead.

          • John Thomas

            I am assuming by earliest source, you mean epistles of Paul. How do we know for sure that stories about life of Jesus wasn’t already circulating in some core form even when Paul was writing the epistles? Why do we have to assume that entirety of gospel stories were invented to fit in the claim that a man was raised from dead? That is bit a stretch to assume that.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            We don’t know for sure that the stories weren’t circulating at the time Paul was writing, but I don’t think we have any evidence that they were, and I think that the content of Paul’s writings as well as the other first century epistles makes more sense on the hypothesis that the stories only became known and accepted later.

            I would add some other points as well: I think there is good reason to think that a lot of invention did take place; we have no evidence to tell us what the early core of stories might have been even if there was one; and I don’t even think we can establish that much of a core was widely circulated and accepted before the second century due to the lack of external references.

            I think all of this adds up to evidence that is uniquely problematic when it comes to establishing the historicity of Jesus.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            We have some indication that the author of Mark’s Gospel used written sources. Since this Gospel was written about ten years after Paul’s last letter, it is reasonable to suppose that stories about Jesus were circulating at the time when Paul was sending his letters. In fact, it would be quite odd to think that people only started to tell stories about Jesus after Paul stopped writing his letters.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I’m not sure what indication you are referring to regarding Mark.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I was thinking of Maurice Casey’s ideas on Aramaic sources.

          • John Thomas

            When I say that during the time Paul was writing, there could have been stories about life of Jesus in some core form, I have a basis for it in Paul’s epistles. I am not making a leap. Paul talks about Jesus being born as a descendant of David, being born of woman under law, Jesus’ final night with his disciples before he was betrayed where he took bread and wine, his death on cross, his appearance before Pontius Pilate, his meeting with brother of Jesus. Just because Paul did not mention every event in the current gospels does not mean that every one of those are later invention. His silence cannot be used as a criterion as he might be expecting the community he is writing to, already knows these stories and hence just picked certian events in life of Jesus that he found useful to make a point. At the same time, I am not saying that there are no later legendary embellishments in the gospels. Where I disagree with you is about your claim that entirety of gospel stories are invention and a man named Jesus did not exist at all. I am trying to understand your position, but I feel it is a stretch to accept what you are claiming. It seems to me that there was an initial core story of Jesus which could be the true about life of Jesus and later legendary embellishments.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I self-identify as a historical Jesus agnostic. I think that there are probably much better arguments for historicity than have been made so far, but I don’t think that any of them will be a slam dunk. Even if there was a historical Jesus, I don’t believe that is possible to determine what he really said or did.

            My starting point is Paul’s claim that he had a vision/revelation of a crucified guy that God had raised from the dead and exalted as the risen Christ. Paul thought that others had had similar experiences. I tend to think that Paul thought that the risen Christ had once been a man who walked the earth, but I don’t think that anything that man had said or done was relevant to Paul’s message which solely concerned the risen Christ. I don’t think that Paul thought that anyone he knew had been a follower of that man.

            I suspect that visions of the risen Christ would have been sufficient to sustain Paul’s faith, but that others would have been curious about the man Jesus. Moreover, I think that stories about the man Jesus would have proved useful in winning converts leading some people to invent stories from whole cloth and others to search the scriptures to determine what kinds of things the Anointed One would have done.

            I don’t think that Paul would have needed to have mentioned every event in the gospels, but I think he reasonably could have been expected to mention more than he did. Paul dealt with controversies in his communities. Had the doings and teachings of the man Jesus been viewed as authoritative, Paul’s opponent would have claimed that those doings and teachings supported their position, and some of them would have invented such doings and teachings. Had there been stories about the man Jesus circulating, I think that determining the meaning and authenticity of such stories would have been of such import that Paul would have been forced to touch on it in his writings.

            As to the things you cite from Paul’s letters: (1) Paul would not have to have heard any stories to know that Jesus was born of a woman from the line of David. He would have known from scripture or his revelation that these things must be true. (2) Paul seems to be claiming that his understanding of the last supper came by revelation. (3) The reference to Pontius Pillate is not considered genuinely Pauline. (4) I do not view Galatians 1:19 as all that compelling but I would rather not go through it all right now.

          • John Thomas

            I am not fully understanding your view. I assume that you agree that Paul considered Jesus to be a human being, right? I assume that you agree that Paul considered Jesus to be crucified, right? Doesn’t both of those statements reveal that Jesus was thought to be existing as a person in the earliest sources. Regarding how Paul coming to know of it, it could be revelation, but I don’t think that we should rule out the possibility that Paul was in touch with disciples of Jesus after his conversion. I understand that you are giving Paul’s claim in Galatians lot of weight as if everything he is saying is from revelation. I am not convinced that it is warranted.

            But I think that we have strayed away from my point in initial post, which is that as a historian, when one sees the account of someone, he should treat it as historical person, whether it be Philostratus’ account of Apolonius, Plato’s account of Socrates or gospel writers’ account of Jesus. A radical skeptic could say that Plato made up the character of Socrates to put across his points and give an example of a wise teacher. But a historian has to say that a person named Socrates could have existed. That is all a historian could say, given what is available, if he is consistent across the board.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Regardless of what Paul thought about the man Jesus, in effect, Paul claims only to have seen Jesus’ ghost, and as far as I can see, he doesn’t claim that anyone he knew had done anything more that see Jesus’ ghost. While it is natural to think that the person who sees a ghost believes that there was an actual person who died and became the ghost, the apparition is no evidence that such a person really existed. If I claim to have seen the ghost of Batman, that is no evidence that Batman is a real person.

          • John Thomas

            So are you saying that when Paul was talking to Jesus’ disciples Peter, James and John, he was talking about a ghost Jesus and they were talking about human Jesus? Or are you saying Paul believed that Peter, James and John also was interacting with a ghost Jesus when they said that they were disciples of Jesus? So even if Paul lived in the same time period as Jesus and had the opportunity to interact with Jesus’ disciples and still did not believe Jesus existed as a human being few years before his conversion? Are you saying when Paul says Jesus was born of a woman in line of David, gave his disciples bread to eat and wine to drink, died on cross, and that he met the brother of Jesus, he was not talking about a human Jesus? It is a stretch to assume that.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Paul never says that anyone he talked to was Jesus’ disciple or that they had encountered Jesus other than through visions of the risen Christ. He never says that anyone he knew was at the last supper. Paul is also quite vague about when and where it was that Jesus lived and died. Based on Paul’s eschatology, I think it can reasonably be inferred that Paul thought that Jesus’ death had been a relatively recent event, but there is no indication that Paul thought that anyone he knew had been there.

            I’m not saying that Paul didn’t think Jesus had been an actual human. I’m saying his claim to having seen Jesus’ ghost is not evidence that he was.

          • Jim

            Maybe I’m crawling out on a limb, but I assume Paul might have been quite genuine when he referred to himself as a persecutor of Jesus followers initially. If that was the case, he would have likely known something about what they thought or knew about Jesus … while suffering through their witnessing as he was chasing them. :) In fact from a persecutors perspective, I might refer to this info as “extracted revelation”.

            So I think that going with Paul getting everything he knew about Jesus purely via ethereal visions (and scripture) as maybe not really being the whole picture to his understanding of Jesus. It’s too bad he hadn’t detailed any of this info in his surviving writings (maybe he did elsewhere, who knows?).

            I wonder if Paul would have even persecuted Jesus followers if he thought that there wasn’t a human Jesus behind their zeal/allegiance (he seems in some ways to be practical). I think my strategy would have been to keep a safe distance from cultists who allied themselves with imaginary people (in case the disease might be airborne), but then again, maybe I would have thought differently back in the day.

            In any case, do you think that Paul was originally a persecutor of Jesus follower is historically accurate? If so, is it possible that some of what Paul knew about Jesus originated from testimonies from the people he persecuted. (Again granted that there is no surviving written breakdown of this info.)

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            We know there were details that Paul could have mentioned but didn’t. Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to various people, but he doesn’t say when it happened, where it happened, what they saw, how they reacted etc. These details must have been known, but we don’t read about them in Paul’s letters.

            Paul’s silence is disappointing for the historian, but we should be very wary of attributing any significance to it. We should also note that Paul is equally silent about any alleged details concerning a celestial Jesus. He doesn’t tell us how cosmic sperm banks work, for instance.

          • Jim

            Yeah, intergalactic sperm is only common in the
            RC universe …. where if you are going on a space journey … better bring a lot of windshield washer fluid with you. :)

            For me, difficulties with reading Paul’s letters include; six of his seven letters seem to be mainly addressing specific questions that have been sent to him from communities started by him, and these seemingly only contain other material in passing. The seventh letter, to the Romans, includes a bit more theology, but the Roman community he is addressing appears to be an already established group of Jesus followers, so there would not seem to be any need to go over common ground (which happens to be the info mythicists want).

            Likely Paul wrote other letters/material that we don’t have anymore, and that might have clarified a few more aspects of what he knew about Jesus. Unfortunately, we’ve only gotz what we’ve gotz.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            That sums it up well. Paul’s letters give us information about administrative issues and theology but not much else. As Vinny points out, Paul doesn’t say that Peter or anyone else was a disciple of Jesus, but is that surprising? The letters give us no biographical information about Peter. Paul briefly mentions his own dealings with Peter, and he also states that Peter was the first to see the risen Jesus, which must have been regarded as a very important event, but gives no details about it.

            Whichever way you look at it, things must have been said that we don’t know about from Paul’s letters. Perhaps there is a missing letter in which Paul said the following:

            I understand that you wanted to know more information about Jesus. You were wondering where he was born, what his family was like, what sort of life he lived, what sort of person he was, what actually happened when he was crucified and so on. The answer is that I haven’t the faintest idea.

            It seems more likely that Paul did have the answers to those questions than that anyone would have been satisfied with that reply.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            What I find surprising is that there is no discussion of the things that Jesus said or did during his earthly minisistry if there were people around who could have claimed to have been eyewitnesses to that ministry and those things were considered authoritative and normative. Not only is Paul silent about this, all the early letters are including James, Hebrews, Jude, John, the pseudo-Pauline epistles, and 1 Clement.

          • Mark

            It seems plain that, on Paul’s view, Jesus didn’t actually have much authority, to speak of, before the resurrection. Thus e.g. Romans 1 says he was ‘determined’/’defined as’ the son of God (= king of Israel) only with the resurrection. Other passages are in tension with this one, but as it stands it is basically saying directly that before the resurrection, Jesus was chopped liver. In fact, there is in general zero reason to know what a King/Emperor/Caliph… says before s/he is King/Emperor/Caliph… If a king makes his pre-royal words and acts somehow binding and exemplary, this will only be by direct institution /as king/. Your surprise can thus only be surprise that the Resurrected Jesus didn’t tell Paul to obey his earlier wisdoms. That some so-called gospels later interested themselves in the question what the pre-royal Jesus did and said is something that needs to be explained; presumably it is some sort of decay of the tradition due to the so-called delay of the parousia.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Since I don’t believe that the Resurrected Jesus actually existed, I am not surprised by anything that he didn’t tell Paul.

          • Mark

            Yes, I know. That’s why you can’t have any reason to think Paul would have said things about the baby Jesus if he knew things about the baby Jesus, nor any reason to be surprised. Diplomatic and military personnel do not in general yammer on about the infancy of their Kings and commanding officers – unless they think they are under orders to do so. It’s pure assertion and mythicism meme-recycling to find anything remarkable in it that “there is no discussion of the things that Jesus said or did during his earthly minisistry”. He wasn’t king / emperor / christ then, so anything Paul knows is on the index as old school stories.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I’ve never suggested that I think Paul would have said anything about the baby Jesus.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I don’t think the solution to the problem is to suppose that nothing was known about Jesus. This “solution” would create an even bigger problem, which is how people could have been so interested in a figure about whom absolutely nothing could be said.

            Although there is no actual discussion of Jesus’ ministry, there is still a reference to something that implies or is at least compatible with a ministry. Paul mentions Jesus’ opinion on divorce. You can say that this information was obtained through revelation but that rather misses the point. Suppose that Paul had mentioned numerous teachings. If you can explain one teaching as the product of revelation then you could explain many teachings in the same way. In other words, even detailed information would not count as evidence of an earthly ministry, from your point of view.

            It is perhaps curious that Paul doesn’t mention more teachings, but we must assume that he could have mentioned more. If Paul knew about Jesus’ teachings through oral tradition, then he could have recounted more of them. Likewise, if Paul learned about Jesus’ teachings through revelation, then he could have recounted more of them.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I don’t see how that is a problem at all. Presumably nothing could be known about Jesus’ childhood, but that didn’t stop people from being curious about it and it didn’t stop the invention of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Paul preached the risen Christ. It would be natural for people to be interested in what happened to him before he died and natural for people to make up stories about it.

            My conclusions are based on the evidence we have, and I am happy to discuss them. I know of no way to address the conclusions that you think I might reach if we had different evidence, and I do not think that your speculations as to them are meaningful.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            My “speculation” is that not everything that could have been said about Jesus was said in the letters. To dismiss that as meaningless is itself a rather meaningless gesture. Admittedly, it is a matter of speculation that Paul could have relayed other teachings of Jesus besides his view on divorce. On the other hand, it is also speculation to suppose that the teaching on divorce was the only one that Paul was in a position to pass on.

            If it was “natural for people to be interested in what happened to [Jesus] before he died,” then presumably it would have been a problem for Paul if he had been unable to say anything about it.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I suppose you could frame it as “a problem for Paul,” but I don’t think that I would anymore than I would say that it was a problem for Mark that he was unable to say anything about Jesus’ birth. Everybody loves the nativity stories, so I would say that Matthew and Luke made the story better by adding them. Nonetheless, Mark’s story is pretty darn good and I wouldn’t want to fault him too much. By the same token, Paul’s message was pretty good even without details about the life of Jesus, but there was room for improvement.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            According to you, there was quite a lot of room for improvement, since Paul would not have been able to tell anyone where the crucifixion took place. Would you be prepared to go out on a limb and say that Paul thought it happened on Earth, or would that be too speculative?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I know how badly you would like to turn the conversation to Carrier’s celestial crucifixion theory because you feel that you are on such solid ground mocking it, but I’ll pass. My arguments here have been based on the assumption that Paul thought Jesus had been a man who lived and died on earth. I haven’t read Carrier’s latest book or any of Doherty’s books, so I’m not in a position to say much either way. I suspect that I am more sympathetic towards Carrier than I should be by virtue of the relentless mocking he gets from people whose arguments I otherwise find far from persuasive.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I know how badly you would like to turn the conversation to Carrier’s celestial crucifixion theory

            That implies rather more enthusiasm for the conversation than I actually feel. This blog has the admirable aim of promoting the consensus on Jesus’ historicity (among other things). That involves discussions with mythicists who turn up to challenge the consensus. The discussions tend to have a shelf-life. Someone will turn up, argue the case for mythicism and then depart. It is unusual for someone to keep coming back, particularly when that person doesn’t really have anything to say on the matter.

            It would make more sense if you were promoting Carrier’s theory.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Maybe your problem is that the only two alternatives you see are mythicism and the main stream consensus.

          • Mark

            It’s true Cecil is ignoring the VinnyJH Hypothesis, defended at length here in the past, that Paul is talking about a messiah he thinks was crucified in the period of Isaiah. How could the scholars have overlooked /that/ ‘possibility’?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I have never propounded such a theory at all, much less defended it at length.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I’m not sure that we can knowthat there were details that Paul could have mentioned but didn’t, but it certainly is a reasonable hypothesis. The trouble is that we cannot know which way they would tilt the scale. He might have known details about the appearances that would make it clear that the other apostles had known Jesus personally prior to his crucifixion, or he might have known details that indicated that the only encounters anyone had were with the risen Christ. We cannot assume that those unmentioned details would favor one side or the other.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            According to Carrier, Paul could have said much more about Jesus than he did in the letters. So the two leading theories (if that is the right way to describe them) both make the same assumption. It is just that they disagree on what the extra information would be.

            I don’t assume that if Paul had said more, it would favour my theory, but I do think there are indications that Paul could not have held the beliefs which Carrier attributes to him.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Personally, I’m not sure whether Paul could have said much more about the earthly Jesus or not. As he says in 1 Cor 2:2 “I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Chirist and him crucified. If Paul thought that Jesus had only become the Anointed One upon the crucifixion and resurrection, he might have thought that there was nothing much worth knowing about the earthly Jesus.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I would agree that Paul probably had little interest in Jesus’ life before the crucifixion. As you say, Jesus’ death and resurrection was all that mattered to Paul. Presumably, if he had been more interested in Jesus’ earthly life, then he would have spent more time in Jerusalem with those who had known (might have known?) Jesus.

            When Paul mentions Jesus’ teaching on divorce, he does so in passing. It doesn’t sound as if Paul considered it to be crucial information.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            How do you determine that the instruction on divorce was something the earthly Jesus taught rather than something that someone believed the risen Christ had revealed?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I wouldn’t try to decide one way or the other, but I imagine that Paul would have known more teachings than he mentioned, whether through revelation or more conventional channels. The casual way that Paul mentions the teaching on divorce suggests that if Jesus had pursued an earthly ministry, then Paul wasn’t concerned to discuss it.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Maybe you will call me hyper-skeptical, but I don’t assume that Paul is being genuine about persecuting Jesus’ followers. I simply have encountered too many Christians whose testimony consists largely of what rotten people they were before they got saved. Paul might be telling the truth about persecuting Christians or he might have discovered the evangelistic effectiveness of the “I was the church’s worst enemy” shtick.

            Even if he it wasn’t just shtick, isn’t it often the case that the perpetrators of religious persecution don’t have an accurate picture of their victims beliefs and practices? The Romans accused the early Christians of incest ans cannibalism. Pogroms were justified with charges of ritual infanticide. The victims of religious persecution are often scapegoated for problems that have nothing to do with true beliefs or practices. If the persecutors use torture, they are likely to hear any fantastic story that the victim things my save him from further pain.

          • Jim

            I don’t find your comment to be hyper-skeptical. I also don’t really know how to determine how much of what Paul wrote should be taken solely at face value. He was reasonably well educated and also a skilled rhetorician.

            If you feel that Paul’s persecution comments were mainly a polished churchy testimonial rather than related to some kind of earlier self-justified persecution of Christians, what would lead Paul to associate his vision experience with Jesus? In other words, how do you think Paul would associate the ghost he saw with the Jesus of the Christians if he hadn’t been ticked off at a few of them earlier? (Unless of course the ghost had shoulder length brown hair, blue eyes, a well-groomed beard and a white robe :) )

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I have no idea how to determine when Paul was being sincere and when he wasn’t either, but I can’t see any reason to think that I should be able to. If I cannot be sure whether Joseph Smith was an insane person, a pathological liar, or a sincere religious visionary, how can I hope to psychoanalyze Paul with a tiny fraction of the evidence I have for Smith. It’s another case where I have to allow for a range of possibilities.

            One of my problems is that Paul tells me next to nothing about what his predecessors’ Jesus looked like. He says that some of them also saw Jesus’ ghost, but he doesn’t say that they encountered Jesus in any other way. He never credits any of his understanding to them, and he never says what it was about them that he opposed. If Paul was a persecutor, he might not have understood their beliefs. I think this leaves me with no way to determine what the movement looked like before Paul came along, and what part of his message was his own invention.

            I do think the fact that he associated his visions with their experience may be significant, but I’m not sure how significant it is.

          • Jim

            That might be true based on our current analytical standards, but maybe since people in antiquity viewed things differently (sometimes quite differently) than we do today, wouldn’t the simplest hypothesis be “we have no friggen clue”?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Absolutely. Sometimes we don’t have sufficient evidence to do anything more than layout a range of possibilities.

          • Mark

            People have attempted to ‘lay out a possibility’ where Jesus didn’t exist. Experience shows that they turn Jewish messianism into disguised Ishtar worship, and the like. Holding to this ‘possibility’ is exactly as rational as holding to the ‘possibility’ that the patient will be cured by a miracle. That someone does this is in either case only explicable by an underlying emotional state; in cases of desperation, we hold out for the epistemic possibility of what we want.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I don’t think very highly of your emotional state either.

          • Mark

            I’m sure there’s some hope that Jesus never existed. It is just a question of getting the scholars to respect the feelings of those of use who cleave to this hope.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I can see why some people might hope that he did exist because their religious identity is tied up in the question. I cannot see why anyone would hope that he didn’t.

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

            Then you really aren’t using your imagination. For the same reason religious people would want him to exist – as the person of their creeds, not the one discovered by historians – people who have been hurt by religion may well desire the simplicity of being able to treat Jesus as a fiction, rather than the complexity historians offer in which some things are authentic, some unsure, and some inauthentic.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            What matters is whether the Jesus of the creeds existed. If he is a fiction, whether there was some real person who can be identified as “the historical Jesus” or no such person is of little consequence to the unbeliever.

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

            Perhaps that should be true, but it clearly is not in at least some cases.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I will concede that some find the idea of Jesus’ non-existence emotionally appealing as a result of their negative feelings about religion or religious people, but I do not believe that is “hope” in the same sense that the believer hopes that Jesus existed because his eternal destiny depends on it.

          • Jim

            So upfront, I’d be labelled as an “unbeliever” and maybe I’m just weird on this one, but I’m interested in the status of HJ work (even though it presumably leads to a reconstruction/model) because of the major influence/impact of “this Jesus” on Western culture that remains still to this day.

            I default to consensus (whether it ‘s currently optimal or requires further readjustment) because I trust that HJ scholars will ultimately work it out. I also feel that consensus is a way of establishing a baseline for subsequent useful HJ research to proceed owing to the nature of the data currently available.

            Because of your legal expertise (don’t sue my pants off :) ), how do you suggest that HJ studies could move forward to an ultimate resolution different from the current perfect/imperfect approach? I can’t think (true most of the time) of a more efficient way, and an issue as complex as the HJ just takes time and persistence by systematically moving one step at a time. I suppose I’m too old to expect instant answers.

  • Nofun

    The only 1st century history that mentions Jesus is the roman historian Josephus Flavius written in 95 CE, but mentions of Jesus were added later by editors, not by Josephus. Most of the rest are about Christians.

    Its odd that even in the bible Paul, often credited with spreading what would
    become Christianity, never refers to Jesus as a real person. Paul is unaware of the virgin mother, and ignorant of Jesus’ nativity, parentage, life events, ministry, miracles, apostles, betrayal, trial and harrowing passion,’ he writes.

    Paul knows neither where nor when Jesus lived, and considers the crucifixion metaphorical.

    The Jesus tale is a re-telling of the Egyptian Horus and Persian Mithra legends.

    • Mark

      Ah there it is, the mythicist credo.

      • Ken Campbell

        This is simply a presentation of the evidence. Evidence, by the way, that can be verified.

      • Nofun

        Just read the Egyptian Book of the Dead and say hello to Jesus 1.0.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      Paul… considers the crucifixion metaphorical.

      Ironically, Carrier’s entire theory is based on the attempt to show that a heavenly crucifixion is a very real, concrete event. Unfortunately for Carrier, the one text that supposedly offers support to his theory – the Ascension of Isaiah – actually undermines it. The firmament, where Christ is supposedly but not actually killed, is inhabited by Satan and his demons. It is not inhabited by mortal creatures of flesh and blood. If Jesus assumed the form of one of the demons and was then killed, then his death was not a real death.

      • Jim

        Speaking of lunar sacrifices, when do you feel that AoI was written? Do you go with the ~150-200 CE for the earliest portion? Also, do you know the date of the oldest fragment of AoI discovered to date?

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          It could be late first century. The AoI is similar to the apocalyptic literature that was being written after 70 CE. A number of texts have the theme of an ancient figure, such as Enoch or Abraham, being taken up to heaven and given some revelation. The ascent of Isaiah in the AoI is very much like the ascent of Enoch in 2 Enoch. The AoI should be understood in this context. It was modelled on a literary form that was popular at the time.

          On a different note, it seems that Harry McCall has now departed from Debunking Christianity. John Loftus was unhappy about the promotion of mythicism on his site. I am now feeling rather guilty.

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

            I think that John would have been fine with the mythicism if McCall had even attempted to make a half-decent argument. McCall’s posts were so bad that I thought he was trolling John and pretending to be an atheist while actually out to discredit them. I don’t think there is any reason for you to feel guilty.

          • Jim

            Unfortunately for McCall, his recent post re atheist assertions along with his attempt to start up an HJ debate (and try to drag Tim O’Neill into it), seemed to be heavily charged with personal emotion.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Yes, the more he spoke on the subject, the more irrational he sounded. He ended up having a lengthy debate about having a debate, and that debate never actually happened – if you see what I mean.

          • Jim

            Dare I ask Santa if you’ve been naughty or nice?

      • Nofun

        Since he was a god, death was never a danger anyway.

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

      The reference to Horus shows that you give uncritical acceptance to internet memes without basis in primary texts or scholarship.

      You are surprised by things that have a natural historical explanation, such as the idea of Jesus’ virginal conception being something attributed to him later than Paul’s time – Paul explicitly views Jesus as of the seed of David according to the flesh, not virginally conceived without help from a father who was of the line of David.

      Most historians and scholars think the reference to Jesus in Josephus was tampered with rather than being a complete interpolation, and almost all consider the other reference, to James the brother of Jesus called Christ, to be authentic.

      • Nofun

        Horus is not am internet meme as anyone can read the Egyptian Book of the Dead and see the exact parallels. Its all a cracking story retold with different character names and settings …you aren’t suppose to believe it though,

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

          Feel free to list the exact parallels that you have seen without looking through the lens of an internet meme, perhaps even with some references to scholars who consider them substantive.

          • Nofun

            1.Both were conceived of a virgin.

            2.Both were the “only begotten son” of a god (either Osiris or Yahweh)

            3.Horus’s mother was Meri, Jesus’s mother was Mary.

            4.Horus’s foster father was called Jo-Seph, and Jesus’s foster father was Joseph.

            5.Both foster fathers were of royal descent.

            6.Both were born in a cave (although sometimes Jesus is said to have been born in a stable).

            7.Both had their coming announced to their mother by an angel. Horus;
            birth was heralded by the star Sirius (the morning star). Jesus had his
            birth heralded by a star in the East (the sun rises in the East).

            8.Ancient
            Egyptians celebrated the birth of Horus on December 21 (the Winter
            Solstice). Modern Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December
            25.

            9.Both births were announced by angels.

            10.Both had shepherds witnessing the birth.

            11.Horus was visited at birth by “three solar deities” and Jesus was visited by “three wise men”.

            12.After the birth of Horus, Herut tried to have Horus murdered. After the birth of Jesus, Herod tried to have Jesus murdered.

            13.To
            hide from Herut, the god That tells Isis, “Come, thou goddess Isis,
            hide thyself with thy child.” To hide from Herod, an angel tells Joseph
            to “arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.”

            14.When
            Horus came of age, he had a special ritual where his eye was restored.
            When Jesus (and other Jews) come of age, they have a special ritual
            called a Bar Mitzvah.

            15.Both Horus and Jesus were 12 at this coming-of-age ritual. Neither have any official recorded life histories between the ages of 12 and 30.

            16.Horus was baptized in the river Eridanus. Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan.

            17.Both were baptized at age 30.

            18.Horus was baptized by Anup the Baptizer. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

            19.Both Anup and John were later beheaded.

            20.Horus
            was taken from the desert of Amenta up a high mountain to be tempted by
            his arch-rival Set. Jesus was taken from the desert in Palestine up a
            high mountain to be tempted by his arch-rival Satan.

            21.Both Horus and Jesus successfully resist this temptation.

            22.Both have 12 disciples.

            23.Both walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, and restored sight to the blind.

            24.Horus “stilled the sea by his power.” Jesus commanded the sea to be still by saying, “Peace, be still.”

            25.Horus
            raised his dead father (Osiris) from the grave. Jesus raised Lazarus
            from the grave. (Note the similarity in names when you say them out
            loud. Further, Osiris was also known as Asar, which is El-Asar in
            Hebrew, which is El-Asarus in Latin.)

            26.Osiris was raised in the town of Anu. Lazarus was raised in Bethanu (literally, “house of Anu”).

            27.Both gods delivered a Sermon on the Mount.

            28.Both were crucified.

            29.Both were crucified next to two thieves.

            30.Both were buried in a tomb.

            31.Horus
            was sent to Hell and resurrected in 3 days. Jesus was sent to Hell and
            came back “three days” later (although Friday night to Sunday morning is
            hardly three days).

            32.Both had their resurrection announced by women.

            33.Both are supposed to return for a 1000-year reign.

            34.Horus is known as KRST, the anointed one. Jesus was known as the Christ (which means “anointed one”).

            35.Both
            Jesus and Horus have been called the good shepherd, the lamb of God,
            the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, and the
            winnower.

            36.Both are associated with the zodiac sign of Pisces (the fish).

            37.Both are associated with the symbols of the fish, the beetle, the vine, and the shepherd’s crook.

            38.Horus was born in Anu (“the place of bread”) and Jesus was born in Bethlehem (“the house of bread”).

            39.”The
            infant Horus was carried out of Egypt to escape the wrath of Typhon.
            The infant Jesus was carried into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.
            Concerning the infant Jesus, the New Testament states the following
            prophecy: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.'”

            40.Both were transfigured on the mount.

            41.The
            catacombs of Rome have pictures of the infant Horus being held by his
            mother, not unlike the modern-day images of “Madonna and Child.”
            Noted English author C. W. King says that both Isis and Mary are called “Immaculate”.

            42.Horus
            says: “Osiris, I am your son, come to glorify your soul, and to give
            you even more power.” And Jesus says: “Now is the Son of Man glorified
            and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will
            glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

            43. Horus was identified with the Tau (cross).

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

            As I said, an internet meme which you haven’t bothered to fact check.

          • Nofun

            I don’t see you producing any refutations.

            All you need to do is read the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

            Its available cheap.

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

            I don’t see you either producing evidence, or fact-checking the claims that you copied and pasted from online while pretending that that was not what you were doing.

            When in doubt, check Snopes…

            http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=94;t=000406;p=1

          • Jim

            How does any of this have anything to do with a historical Jesus? Your comments seem to be solely focused on a theological Jesus (maybe your mommy forced you to go to Sunday school?). Maybe after relaxing and having a beer or two, you might be able to recognize that there is a vast difference between the theological churchy Jesus and the historical Jesus. Then you can look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I realize the difficulty that academic (not internet) HJ scholars face in working thru all of this” … otherwise you really are Nofun.

          • Nofun

            Not at all. A historical Jesus must be the Jesus of the bible. It can’t be any old Jesus. You can’t divorce the two.

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

            You were warned to improve the quality of your comments and to begin to take the conversation seriously. Instead you post a nonsensical statement that suggsts that historians not only could but must read and accept the Bible uncritically, which is the opposite of the truth.

            If you ever decide to inform yourself about this subject from reliable sources, and would at that time like to begin commenting here again, please contact me and let me know and I will happily rescind the ban. While you may just be the run of the mill internet troll, if you are just someone who wandered into a conversation in which they were out of their depth, and didn’t realize just how poorly informed they were and that discussions of history require detailed knowledge of an extensive array of source material, I am happy to show some leniency with respect to my comment policy.

          • Jim

            That’s an awesome idea about a Bible Jesus. Now should I go with a Jesus who was born at the time of Herod or around 6 CE; should I go with a Jesus whose parents where originally from Nazareth or originally lived in Bethlehem and moved to Nazareth via Egypt; should I go with a Jesus who descended from Nathan or Solomon; should I go with a Jesus who was crucified just before the Passover or a day later. Or maybe I should just go with the HJ scholars who are constantly working on providing an expert analysis of the most probable historical Jesus based on the existing documentation?

      • Nofun

        You aren’t going to say that everyone agrees with the bone box, or ossuary, allegedly bearing the Aramaic inscription “Yaakov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua” (“James, son of Joseph, brother of
        Jesus”) are you?

        The Israelis debunked that one long time ago. Just google “jesus brother evidence”. If that’s all you got the historical Jesus theory is stone dead.

  • Ken Campbell

    There is no such thing as atheist dogmatism. There is such a thing as rational expectations when it comes to the analysis of evidence.

    • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

      Doesn’t this sound like “atheist dogmatism”?
      “Why Atheists Must Assert Jesus Never Existed” by Harry H. McCall on Debunking Christianity.

      Notice, “Atheists Must…”

      • Ken Campbell

        There is no rule. An atheist would only assert that Jesus was not a god. There are many atheists (myself included) that think Jesus was a real person

        • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

          Glad to see you aren’t dogmatic, or is it “godmatic”;-)?

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    What is a fundamentalist christian?
    And why is he wrong?

  • John Thomas

    I would call it legendary embellishments. Gospel writers are not alone in this, those outside Christianity in the period also did the same. But that doesn’t make us deny the historicity of the persons around whom legends are developed.

  • John Thomas

    Do you call every historical record from past to be lies? If not, what are your criteria to not call it lies? Give me an example of a historical record from first century that you do not call it lie.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    I don’t think I follow you. Are you saying that the first Christians believed in a resurrection of the body, and then Paul converted them to a belief in a spiritual resurrection?

  • John Thomas

    Christians may have used lies, but that does not prove that Jesus as a human being did not exist. Even if we accept your claim that entirety of narrative in gospels are lies, the teachings of Jesus still stands; one might still have to give an account of who said those sayings, if Jesus did not exist to say it. On a side note, do you believe Socrates existed? Or did Plato make him up?

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

    Sorry, what is it that you think “Christ” means?

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

    I am going to ask that you try to word your comments more clearly. It is really hard to figure out what you are trying to say here.

  • John Thomas

    I don’t see any evidence for an institutionalized fabrication as you are trying to implicate. There was no established church in the first three centuries. There were only individual sects with different beliefs. I don’t believe that Church existed as a monolithic entity from Jesus onwards until now. It was written by a group for given motive, the documents came into the hands of next generation who found value in it and later, following tides of history, these documents eventually became foundational documents for a religion that enjoyed patronage of an empire.

    There was a tendency to write legendary accounts about persons whom they adore across various belief systems. It is not an issue that can be attributed to gospel writers alone. So it would be wrong to isolate gospel writers alone in this criticism. Philostratus wrote a legendary account of Apolonius of Tyana, Plutarch and Suetonius were historians who included supernatural accounts in their historical accounts.

    But my whole point was that none of these is a reason for a historian to conclude that Jesus did not exist. A historian just need to approach the historical record and make inferences about what all instances would have most likely occurred in the life of a given person about whom the account is written.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Let me see if I have got this right. Paul persecuted the early Christians because they claimed that someone had literally risen from the dead. Then Paul had a “stroke” of illumination – i.e., some malfunction of the brain – which led him to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead – but spiritually, not physically.

    This is what you believe now. You used to believe Carrier’s theory that Jesus was originally a heavenly being who was later turned into a historical character, but you no longer believe that. Am I on the right track?

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    I was genuinely confused by what you said. Several of your comments made me think that you rejected mythicism, but then you appeared quite unexpectedly (from my point of view) to endorse mythicism, or at least to entertain it as a possibility.

    Confusion can arise in these discussions when people fail to make a distinction between the following questions:

    Did the Gospel Jesus exist – i.e., someone who was born of a virgin, worked miracles and rose from the dead?

    Was there an actual man who, although different from the Gospel Jesus, inspired the Gospel tradition?

    Further confusion may arise if we ask how different the “real” Jesus must be from the Gospel Jesus before we would no longer be justified in saying that “Jesus” existed.

    In my experience, discussion of the last question tends to be unfruitful. All I would say is that if Paul met people who had been closely associated with Jesus, then it is reasonable to state that Jesus existed, even if the Gospel accounts are greatly embellished.

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

    So you are commenting publicly and quite dogmatically about this subject, and yet are not sufficiently familiar with the relevant sources to know that Paul had met Jesus’ brother?

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    That, I am afraid, exemplifies the dubious logic of mythicists. Paul doesn’t mention that Peter was a disciple; therefore, Peter probably wasn’t a disciple. By the same reasoning, one might argue that Paul doesn’t tell us Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem; therefore, Paul thinks the crucifixion happened in outer space.

    In fact, Paul only briefly mentions his own dealings with Peter and James. He does, however, say that James was the brother of the Lord, as Dr. McGrath has pointed out.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    So you concede that Paul may have met people who had been disciples of Jesus?

    It sounds to me as if you are interested in debunking Christianity but haven’t worked out what the best strategy is for doing that. If mythicism works you will give it a try, but if not, you will find another approach.

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

    How does accepting a fringe view – one which historians regard the way scientists regard creationism – help you debunk Christianity? Surely if anything it proves precisely that atheists can be as easily duped into embracing nonsense as religious people can? Demonstrating that cannot possibly help your case.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    When you have a messianic movement in first-century Palestine, it makes sense to suppose that there was a messianic figure on whom the movement was centred. Those who try to deny that there was a real person at the centre run into obvious difficulties.

    Richard Carrier has argued that the messianic figure existed only in the imagination of the early Christians. According to Carrier, the first Christians considered Jesus to be a purely heavenly figure who never lived on Earth. This means that the crucifixion itself must be located in heaven.

    This seems like a desperate attempt to deny the obvious. Why not accept that Jesus existed?

  • John Thomas

    So what should I deduce from your statement in a discussion about historical Jesus:
    “I am aware of Philostratuses, Apoloniuses, Plutarches, and Suetoniuses, but none of them were forced through terror of holy wars, burning of heretics, destroying other civilization as did a totalitarian religion for more than a thousand years, until it created the delusion of “free will” to accept it.”

    None of that have any relevance for a historian who is trying to say a historical Jesus might have existed in the same way historical Socrates existed.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    OK. You should be aware that there is a lot of misleading information about mythicism. Mythicism is rejected by virtually all experts in the relevant field, but it is enthusiastically promoted by amateurs. In that respect it is like creationism. If you look for arguments in favour of mythicism, you will have no trouble finding them, but you need to think about who is advancing the arguments.

    For example, Valerie Tarico recently wrote an article that presented the case for mythicism – http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/here-are-5-reasons-to-suspect-jesus-never-existed/

    The article is worthless. Tarico declares that there is no first-century secular (which presumably means non-Christian) evidence for Jesus, but that is false. She fails to mention Josephus, who very probably referred to Jesus.

    The best information about mythicism can be found on this very site, courtesy of James McGrath. You could also try reading “Did Jesus Exist” by Bart Ehrman.

  • Jim

    From reading your earlier comments I understand that English is not your first language, but from what you have written, and if it represents your thoughts relatively accurately, your comment clearly exposes that your primary focus is to debunk Christianity while an actual historical understanding is only secondary for you – as John has implied in his comments.

    So for example re your earlier comment, ” … you admit that it is historically documented that Christians used lies to propel their religion”; wtf (f = fluorine … of course) does that have to do with the existence of a historical Jesus? Any straightforward reading of much of the NT (whether Paul, the synoptic gospel writers, or the later writers of Peter and Revelation) show that many of the early Christians were primarily focused on the return of Jesus in their lifetimes. Their primary goal would therefore not have been to start/propel a religion, but to prepare for the arrival of the kingdom (i.e. the original gospel or good news). The primary tenants of “the religion” only began to develop when it was realized that this indeed may not be the case.

    You are clearly projecting a mid-2nd century to 4th century evolving Christianity anachronistically back onto the 1st century.The next typical mythicist move is to pull back to the last quarter of the 1st century and point out the legendary aspects in the gospels. Do you actually think that’s something new for people working on the HJ?

    This highlights, at least to me, one problem that many mythicists have regarding HJ studies – i.e. their complaints stem from anachronistic interpretations while claiming they understand what the study of a historical Jesus entails.

    Now I understand that I have been uber-terse, but I feel bad for Dr. McGrath who has to encounter this same argument time and time again.

    Rantaciously yours,

    • arcseconds

      Tungsten-Tantalum-Flourine!

  • arcseconds

    John Thomas isn’t defending Christianity, and it’s not Christianity that he says is complex and nuanced, it’s the history.

    And you’re still ranting. No scholar would describe the relationship between Aquinas and Aristotle as one of theft.

    It’s also obviously totally irrelevant to the issue of whether Jesus was a real person.

    Why would you say such irrelevant things and put them in such prejudicial terms, except out of an animus against Christianity?

    Such an animus will not help you. Get rid of it.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Hi Cygnus

    You could say that the role of messiah was one that the Jews were looking for a person to fill. Unfortunately, they were never going to find the man for the job, because the job was to overthrow the Romans, and that was impossible. So what do you do when your would-be messiahs keep getting killed by the Romans?

    The answer is that you redefine the role. You decide that it is actually the purpose of the messiah to die. This is a neat solution to the problem, but remember that the tendency of messianic claimants to get killed was a very real problem at the time. There was no need to invent a fictional example of this problem when there were so many real examples.

    I get the impression that you have recently rejected Christianity and are looking for confirmation that you have made the right decision. It would certainly wrap things up nicely if it could be shown that Jesus never existed. A lot of atheists seem to have the same attitude. They would very much like to believe that Jesus never existed.

  • Jim

    Thanks Cygnus for taking the time to respond. I suppose the first thing I should do is reiterate that I am interested in knowing how the “very earliest” Christianity began to spread. To me, that likely wasn’t carried out using a hammer.

    So “Why would Christians throw away such a “good” new ideology of a “resurrection” of a Christ, even if the “second” Jesus coming failed to actualize?”

    For me this is not really a likely consideration because the very earliest Jesus followers were Jewish, were for the most part illiterate and appear to have been interested in maintaining a strong Jewish focus (Paul’s complaint). Further evidence for this is that by the early 2nd century, the Jewish followers virtually disappear (not a big following?). As Cecil mentions above, pumping a message of an executed Messiah would not have gone too far in the Jewish communities, as “executed” and “Messiah” are oxymorons. So I can’t envision this early group of mainly uneducated Jewish Jesus followers being in any position to push their ideas on anyone academically or ideologically.

    The idea of a crucified Messiah took off in the Gentile communities in part because they knew what crucified meant but probably had little concept of what Messiah meant, so it sounded good. But the Gentile communities during their first one hundred years or so, were definitely not on the same page regarding Jesus as can be evidenced from the recorded internal heretic versus proto-orthodox battles of the 2nd-3rd century. It’s not until Christianity became a unified machine, that it was in a position to kick asparagus.

    To me, both Christian apologists and many atheists jump to uninformed conclusions about Christian origins because of emotional agendas based on anachronisms.

    Finally, I wonder why some atheists get their panties in a bunch, so to speak, over a historical Jesus. A historical Jesus likely doesn’t help the case for the theological Jesus as the latter is a faith-based construct that incorporates a lot of legend.

  • arcseconds

    The issue here is whether a Jesus was a real person, or “historical”. What are you talking about?

    How is Aquinas relevant to this? What are you talking about?

    You say the topic is the historicity of Jesus, but you’re harping on about what a bad philosopher Aquinas was, and how awful the Christian government of the Roman empire was, etc. etc.

    None of this is at all relevant, and the only plausible reason for you to mention them at all, and to mention them in such disparaging terms, is an animus against Christianity. If you don’t want me to believe this, then explain why Aquinas’s abilities as a philosopher or lack thereof is relevant to the historicity of Jesus.

    The playground rejoinder of ‘no you’re the stupid one! What you say is what you are full-stop you can’t say it back!’ doesn’t work among serious adults, so I wouldn’t bother trying it any further.

  • arcseconds

    Is this supposed to be a reply to my question about the relevance of Aquinas?

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    I know that an incipient religion needed a “Christ” to get the monotheism of the Jews out in the world

    With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that spread of Jewish monotheism depended on the figure of “Christ”. However, that doesn’t mean that people like Paul understood how history would play out over the coming centuries and planned accordingly.

    Consider an analogy: incipient human beings needed to come down out of the trees in order to evolve into us. That would be a bad way of describing our evolution, would it not? We would not be here if our ancestors had not come down out of the trees, but the reason why they did so had nothing to do with any plans for the distant future.

  • Mark

    Why not just chuck ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the present inquiry? Moralism and polemic make historical cognition impossible, same as they make all thought and cognition impossible.

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

    Does a historical L. Ron Hubbard support Scientology’s claims about Xenu? Your question is bizarre. No conclusions of historians support theological claims. The latter may sometimes offer interpretations of historical events, and may sometimes believe things to be historical which historians conclude are not. Is that a concept you can understand?

  • Jim

    I would agree with you that the resurrection was a key to the beginnings of Christianity. I favor Bart Ehrman’s hypothesis that one, or maybe a few, of Jesus’ closest followers had experienced a vision/hallucination of a resurrected Jesus. They then told other Jesus followers about their vision(s) and some of them believed this while others were skeptical. The belief that Jesus had been resurrected among those who believed these initial reports was, at least to me, the thing that got the ball started. That seems more probable to me than the idea that some illiterate Aramaic speaking people from rural Galilee all of the sudden began to read complex Greek classics literature in an attempt to historicize a celestial figure into their cultural setting.

    At the initial stages monotheism didn’t seem to be an issue and from Paul’s writings, Jesus had been promoted to his new status upon his death. The impression was one of subordination. It wasn’t until later when the idea that Jesus was (and always had been) God that orthodox Christians faced the charge of being polytheistic. They argued that their trinity notion was still a monotheistic position.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    If your aim is to assess the merits of Christianity as a belief-system, then it is appropriate to consider its overall history. But the later history is not relevant to an understanding of the origins of Christianity.

    In my view, there is no reason to doubt the basic story of Christianity’s beginning. Jesus was a historical figure who lived in first-century Palestine. He attracted followers; he was crucified by the Romans, and after his death, some of his followers had an experience which made them believe that Jesus was in some sense resurrected.

    Attempts to argue that Jesus never existed have completely failed to persuade biblical scholars. Mythicism is the preserve of cranks.

  • Jim

    Verifying that a resurrection had occurred 2K years ago is out of a historian’s hands. Dead people do not typically resurrect, while people having a vision of a lost loved one does occur with some frequency. So the idea that some disciples had a vision of Jesus after he was executed is reasonable. This however, would not entail things like left behind bones, empty tomb etc.

    And regarding deliberate scams, I think it’s good to take into account that people in that era viewed things much differently than we do today. For example, there were some miraculous portents reported in connection with Julius Caesar’s death. That’s just how biographical type materials were written back in the day. So I don’t know if say, the writer of gMark was deliberately trying to scam anyone, or if that’s the oral traditions that he had come across about Jesus and he just believed them. I’m not sure I can pin a motive, all I can say is I just don’t know.

  • arcseconds

    What makes you think that the more expert a scholar is on the historical Jesus, the more the existence of God, of which Christianity claim, is proved?

    You still seem to be thinking that the claim that Jesus existed is being used to support the claim God exists, despite being told otherwise by McGrath. Maybe if the Gospel Jesus existed this argument could be used, but the historical figure asserted by the experts didn’t have superpowers, so he’s no better proof for the existence of God than any other ordinary human.

    And I don’t think any bona fide biblical scholar actually makes this claim. Certainly Bart Ehrman and R. Joseph Hoffman don’t, as they are atheists, but are nevertheless biblical scholars who think a historical Jesus existed. James McGrath doesn’t make this claim. No regular on this blog would make this claim. etc.

    I mean, what’s all that time wasted in those debates for?

    I’m sure biblical scholars would love to avoid wasting any more time in these debates, as they regard the matter as completely settled (or at least, as settled as any question could be in ancient history that doesn’t leave physical traces). The problem is that there’s a small group of amateurs who think the scholars are completely wrong, and they do have some influence in the public.

    This is one of the many respects in which it parallels the creationism/evolution debates. Virtually all the experts, and the vast majority of scientists outside the area, regard the matter as settled: the cosmos is old, marcoevolution has occurred, and mutation and natural selection are the main causes of this. But a bunch of amateurs disagrees, so the experts have to leave the research they’d rather be doing and go around trying to convince everyone that no, actually, they are the experts, and they know what they’re doing.

    Debating the existence of a historical corpse of a guy called Yeshuah is not something an atheist seeks…

    Tell that to Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald. They have basically adopted this as their profession.

    For that matter, tell that to Bart Ehrman and R. Joseph Hoffman, athiests who do other biblical-scholarshipy things with their time, but do occasionally argue that Jesus existed.

    It’s probably true that most atheists aren’t particularly interested in this question. Certainly the ones I have talked to who aren’t otherwise connected to this debate aren’t terribly interested in the question, although they also have no difficulty with the idea that Jesus existed.

    They also aren’t very engaged in some kind of project to debunk Christianity…

    maybe the debate is interesting for some Christian scholars experts who want to score on that long list of items of Christians quarrels since the incipience of Christianity: Eucharist, Trinity, etc.

    Maybe, just maybe, the question of who Jesus was and what he did has historical interest apart from Christian apologetics? After all, people like Julius Caesar are usually regarded as being very interesting, despite the fact that the Roman Empire no longer exists and no-one any more is personally committed to enforcing the Pax Romana.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Atheists generally deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus. Their reasoning is that once miracles are ruled out, the Gospel Jesus disappears automatically. This is premature. It is not necessarily the case that a Jesus from whom the supernatural has been subtracted and the Gospel Jesus will be two different people.

    In the Gospels, Jesus casts out demons. This is the sort of thing that you may wish to dismiss out of hand. However, you don’t have to believe in demons in order to believe that Jesus was an exorcist. You should think of demonic possession in the same way as you think of hypnosis. The victim of possession and the hypnotised subject are both following a kind of script. People see demonstrations of hypnosis and they “learn” how a hypnotised person is supposed to be behave. There isn’t some altered state of the brain which causes a hypnotised person to behave in a certain way. Hypnosis is a culturally-determined phenomenon.

    It is the same with demonic possession. There are certain “rules” which govern the way that a “possessed” person must behave. These rules are culturally determined. Once you recognise this, you can see that there is nothing implausible in the idea that Jesus was an exorcist. That isn’t to say we know for a fact that Jesus was an exorcist. But the possibility can’t be ruled out. If the “real” Jesus cast out demons (in the sense explained) and taught in parables, then he would be close enough to the Gospel Jesus for our purposes.

    There is really nothing to be gained by saying that Jesus could not have existed. Nor is there anything to be gained by arguing that he did not in fact exist. This possibility has been considered and rejected by biblical scholars.

    • Nick G

      Atheists generally deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus. Their reasoning is that once miracles are ruled out, the Gospel Jesus disappears automatically.

      I’m not sure where you get the “generally”; I’ve seen a few atheists say something similar, but my hunch is that most atheists would not question the existence of a historical Jesus, either from a mythicist viewpoint, or from the “an ordinary human Jesus is not the gospel Jesus” viewpoint you describe here. Such views are probably more common among argumentative andor online atheists, but even there I doubt they’re a majority. There will likely be a strong auto-selection effect: only those with “HJ-denying” views are likely to mention the issue spontaneously.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    If atheists accept even the existence of the Gospel Jesus but continue to say, “Jesus never existed,” then they are in danger of being misunderstood. If they merely wish to deny that God was involved in the life of Jesus, it would be better if they said that.

    In fact, the quarrel about the existence of Jesus doesn’t take place in the ivory tower. There is almost complete agreement among biblical scholars that Jesus existed. The Jesus myth theory is promoted almost entirely by amateurs, and the debate takes place mainly on the internet. There is no debate in scholarly circles.

    I don’t think there is much of a quarrel between atheists. The recent falling out between John Loftus and Harry McCall was unusual. John Loftus was obviously concerned that Harry McCall was making a fool of himself and thereby letting the side down. It is not so much that Loftus is particularly opposed to mythicism, as that he just didn’t want the case for it to be made so incompetently on his blog.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Why do biblical scholars get upset? I think they are upset because the general public are being encouraged to believe a theory that nearly all scholars reject.

    When I am sure 100% that the claims made by theists about the existence of a historical Jesus… are false

    I can’t say that I am 100% sure of what you mean by that. I thought you had accepted the existence of a historical Jesus. Perhaps you mean that a divine Jesus never existed.

    I haven’t read Lataster’s book, but I imagine that the title – “A Debate Among Atheists” – implies that the debate should happen among atheists, because Christians can’t be trusted. Personally, I don’t think any advocate of the celestial crucifixion theory should be trusted.

  • arcseconds

    But using the word ‘Christianity’ does not mean the merits of Christianity are being discussed.

    You apparently can’t distinguish between discussing Christianity and defending Christianity, and that is a real impediment to you understanding what is being discussed.

    If you want to discuss this further, find a specific example of a comment here that you think is discussing the merits of Christianity (that’s not one of yours)

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    A point which James McGrath has made before is that you have to separate the historical claims from the theological claims. A good example of the failure to make this distinction is N.T. Wright’s book “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. In one sense, it is a serious scholarly work. Wright examines how the idea of resurrection would have been understood in Jesus’ time, and he does so in an informative manner.

    However, he then oversteps the limits of historical investigation and argues that, as a matter of fact, Jesus must have risen from the dead. That was inappropriate and unnecessary. If Wright had wanted to make the case for the resurrection, he should have done so in a popular book, not in an otherwise scholarly work.

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

    How would it help me keep my job at the secular university where I teach, if I were to inappropriately make theological claims under the guise of history? And why would it not rather imperil my job?

  • arcseconds

    More than an illiterate peasant could mean almost anything, though, couldn’t it?

    It could mean anything from a literate peasant to God Incarnate.

    Fortunately John tells us exactly what he means in the rest of the comment: he means that he thinks Jesus was probably literate, familiar with the Torah, and courageously pushed a reformist interpretation.

    There’s no evidence here that John is even Christian, let alone thinks Jesus is divine or even worth a modern person following, and it just seems absurd to suppose this is promoting Christianity.

    I mean ‘our founder could read! And he didn’t run away and toss his disciples under a bus!’ isn’t exactly a winning pitch, is it?

    (John may well be Christian of course, we just can’t tell it from this comment)

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    The fact that Jesus came to be regarded as divine is something that scholars will try to understand in terms of the historical context, but it is not their job to endorse this view of Jesus. And there is certainly no conspiracy to preserve Jesus as a cultural icon.

    When people from a conservative Christian background embrace atheism, they tend to think that they have cast off the shackles of irrationality. Ironically, they often end up exchanging one form of irrationality for another. These are the people who embrace not only mythicism, but also the view that biblical scholarship is one big conspiracy.

    On one side we have the academic establishment, and on the other we have… Richard Carrier – someone who has not even been able to get a proper job. Betting on Richard Carrier is not the rational thing to do.

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

    Is there any particular reason that you prefer to imagine what happens in university classrooms and what is written in scholarly books, rather than taking one or reading one?

  • arcseconds

    I don’t understand the point of this example. More than what? An illiterate peasant? History certainly attests that Julius Caesar was more than an illiterate peasant. I’ve no idea about your father, but being an illiterate peasant is unusual in this day and age. Jesus was in all probability a preacher of some sort, and therefore not a peasant for the historically important part of his life, up to you whether this counts as ‘more than’.

    I also don’t understand your question. Do you think I think that I think that history doesn’t attest to Jesus being God Incarnate, but nevertheless think he was?

    Or are you asking me why it’s only Jesus that other people pick out for special treatment?

    The answer to that question is of course there are numerous people thought by some to have miraculous powers and a close relationship with the divine. Jesus is not unique in this regard.

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    “Embrace” was used idiomatically. Idiom is like humour: it can sometimes be misunderstood. The literal meaning of “embrace” is to put your arms around something. When you embrace an idea, you wrap your mind around it. Admittedly, I was deliberately stretching the idiom, by suggesting that people might wrap their minds around a negative belief.

    What should not be in doubt is that – as the title of this post indicates – atheists can be dogmatic about Jesus. There is no reason why they should be: the belief that there are no gods does not entail the belief that a historical Jesus never existed. But it seems that many atheists would feel safer if all trace of Jesus could be expunged.

  • Jim

    Wow, I just popped in and this conversation is still going.

    I would like to ask you two questions:
    (1) did Jesus live before Christianity became a religion?
    (2) if so, about how long did he live before Christianity became a religion?

    If you agree that a historical Jesus existed for some finite period of time before Christianity became a religion, then in theory, wouldn’t historians studying the time period of the adult life of this historical Jesus up to the time when Christianity began to formalize their theological Jesus, actually be striving to analyze the historical Jesus less the later theological baggage?

    In short, wouldn’t historical Jesus scholars focusing on this narrow time window, actually be making a conscious effort to minimize religious bias introduced by theologies from later time periods? (Admittedly, it’s impossible to totally remove all bias, but this is true in any human endeavor, so consensus is a good thing.) One of the challenging tasks historical Jesus scholars face is to separate out the historical from the theological when studying historical personalities from antiquity who become religiously significant.

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

    Are you sure they were scholarly books? It doesn’t sound like it from your description, although you also seem to have the bizarre idea that historical reconstruction should not and could not involve imagination. You really haven’t researched this, have you?

  • arcseconds

    You keep saying things that everyone here already agrees with as though you think it’s news to us, and a point of disagreement.

    When are you going to understand there are no apologists here?

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

    As I said, you seem not to have actually read scholarship on this topic, but to be content to imagine what you think it must be like.

  • arcseconds

    Cygnus, we have just been over this. Would it help if I put it in capitals?

    NO-ONE IS HINTING AT ANYTHING!

    You just keep assuming you’re being preached at in some ultra-subtle way, but this is only happening in your imagination.

    John thinks Jesus was literate, and a reformist preacher. I didn’t hint at God Incarnate, I explicitly used the phrase, but only because you seem to think John is hinting at it.

  • Jim

    Yup, if the historical Yeshuah had ever uttered the term “Christ”, that would imply either that he could speak some Greek along with Aramaic, or that he banged his thumb with a hammer and swore in Greek a lot when he was a carpenter. :)

    In any case there is nothing wrong with establishing the conclusion that all that can be concluded as historically probable, is that “Jesus, said something wise between 30-33 CE, when wandering in Palestine.” and “That’s all folks!”

    That’s more than we can ascertain for a majority of people in antiquity. Also, it’s a reasonable conclusion that at the least, rules out the possibility of a Jesus who was originally some mythical celestial figure who was later historicized. To me, that’s a major first step.

  • arcseconds

    Because that’s what you thought John was saying.

    Let’s recap:

    – I asked for an example of something you felt was ‘discussing the merits of Christianity’.
    – you quoted John as saying ‘but it seems to me he was more than that’.
    – I pointed out that being more than an illiterate peasant could mean almost anything, but that fortunately John had clarified exactly what he meant.

    Then after a confusing interchange during which I assured you there are no apologists and no hinting in this conversation, you accuse me of ‘hinting’ (and presumably of apologetics) on the basis of the phrase ‘God Incarnate’.

    But I only used that phrase to demonstrate the range of interpretations ‘more than an illiterate peasant’ might cover.

    And I was clear about this.

    And the only reason I went for this extreme was because you appeared to think it was what John was hinting at. Whereas in fact he was only proposing something quite mundane.

    The only person hinting at anything here is you. You appear to be quite paranoid that you’re being secretly preached at, and so interpret mentioning Christianity as defending Christianity, ‘more than an illiterate peasant’ as meaning ‘God Incarnate’ (or something of the sort), and me pointing out that this is what you’re doing as more apologetics.

    So please stop it already! If you want to argue with apologists, there are plenty of places to do this, you don’t have to misinterpret me (and John) to do it.

  • arcseconds

    Of course you do, because when you’re presented with a text saying ‘Jesus was probably more than an illiterate peasant. He could probably read, was familiar with the Torah, and courageously preached a reformist message’ you read the first sentence and conclude this really means ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ or something.

    You could find apologetics in a shopping list.

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

    I have had enough of your nonsense. The Damascus Road story is not in Paul’s letters, it is in the much later Acts, which is the second volume in a two-volume work which depicts Jesus as a completely human figure who is filled with God’s Spirit and whom God exalts and installs as Lord and Christ poshumously. You do not know what the primary sources say, and yet you dogmaticall insist that they are at odds with there having been a historical Jesus. What will it take to get you to realize that you are speaking without knowledge and should go away and inform yourself first, and only then engage in conversation?

    • Jim

      “broad is the road that leads to trolling … and narrow the road that leads to informed discussions, and only a few find it.” :)

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

    Then I can only conclude that either you have not read any scholarly books, or that when you encountered words you did not understand (which must have occurred quite often), you simply guessed what the words meant, resulting in your reading a book that was what you imagined, not what scholars said.

    You are wasting the time of everyone here. You say you have read things and yet the knowledge you would have acquired from them is not reflected in your comments. You do not merely misunderstand, but seem to deliberately misrepresent, what others say. And you will not accept when people seek to correct your misunderstandings. I think the time has come for you to either change your behavior or say goodbye and go to other parts of the internet where such behavior is welcome. Here it is not. I expect any future comment you make here to show that you have read this and taken it into account.

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

    Oh for goodness sake, he was trying to explain to you that you were reading particular things into a phrase that did not necessarily mean what you assumed it did.

    I have lots of patience for people who struggle with another language, but if you cannot understand enough to communicate meaningfully then you should refine your skills elsewhere before trying to have a serious academic-level discussion. If that is the issue, then should go do that, and then contact me if you wish to be allowed to return. But I am not sure whether you genuinely do not understand, or are pretending not to in order to get away with trolling. Either way, goodbye, at least for now.

    • lapona

      OK James, I already said that I will end that discussion.
      Is that reason to ban me?

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

        Your behavior here was reason enough to ban you. Your decision not to contact me by other means as asked, but instead to try to bypass the ban in order to continue commenting, is enough reason to categorize you as a troll and ban you permanently. Goodbye, and good riddance.