Response to Frank Viola

Frank Viola, a fairly recent addition to the Patheos Evangelical neighborhood, stirred the pot a bit with a post titled There is No Proof of God’s Existence, then followed with Why I am a Christian.

His reasons for the latter are pretty conventional, things like “Because life makes no sense to me apart from Christ. Nor does it have any purpose.” He even brings up Lewis’ Trilemma. But he ends by asking the following:

To my non-Christian readers: Without using my list as a basis for your answer — my list isn’t meant to convince you; so if you want to create a list, create your own without drawing on my points — why do you not follow Jesus?

Just like Viola, I have a lot of different answers. I’m trying to figure out the best answer that fits Viola’s style of reasoning. Like Viola I’m not intending to convince, but I’d like to at least pitch things so that they’ll be understood.

On of his reasons is “Because I’ve never seen the Gospel narratives refuted successfully.” To my ears that’s meaningless. You don’t “refute” an ancient text. No one has refuted the Roman historian Suetonius, but that does not mean I expect you to believe that Augustus was fathered by the god Apollo in the form of a giant white snake.

Based off of that, let me give this answer: When interpreted in the same fashion as other texts from the same period, the Gospels seem to depict Jesus as an apocalyptic Jewish preacher and miracle worker. His message is not so distinct from the Judaism of the time to make me believe that he had a special vision. I see no more reason to follow his teachings than any of the countless other holy men throughout the ages.

  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com Andrew

    “why do you not follow Jesus?”

    For the same reason that I don’t follow Thor …

    • Reginald Selkirk

      And probably for the same reason Frank Viola doesn’t follow Thor.
      (Although this is a bit presumptuous. There are a lot of religionists who are intellectually quite shallow and are satisfied with something like, “I don’t follow Thor because I’m busy following Lakshmi.”)

    • Mark Russell

      I highly suggest you START following Thor. He is a jealous God who will smite you, and HE IS REAL! Otherwise, why would we have a day named after him?

  • Benjamin

    Let me respond to the question with a question of my own. Why should I follow a man who would have me abandon my family (Matthew 10:34), abandon thrift and conserving the world around me (Matthew 6:34, Luke 12:22), and walk the path of an apocalyptic nutjob? Why should I follow someone who asserted without evidence a monopoly on access to heaven (John 3:16), or to threaten waverers with everlasting fire (Matthew 25:14), and then, just for the sheer fun of it, apparently, condemns condemn fig trees (Mark 11:12-14) for not having fogs on them during the off season and exorcising demons to infest the bodies of pigs (Mark 5:10-20)?

    What in all that is worthy of admiration or following? Anything moral he said or taught, others said it first and said it better (Buddha, Pittacus, Plato). What is unique to him horrifies me. So why should I follow him?

  • blotonthelandscape

    Well pitched vorjack. I might drop in on his blog and leave my response there.

  • FO

    “Because I don’t see any reason for following him and a lot NOT to follow him, first of all his cruel and baseless ideas”.

  • Frank Viola

    Thanks for the shout-out. I appreciate it. Ancient texts can be refuted meaning they can be shown to be unreliable or fictitious. “The Gospel of Thomas” is one such document.

    In the near future, I’ll be posting a series on the evidences for God’s existences. As I pointed out, there is no proof for His existence. But I believe there are evidences . . . though they too can be countered. Hence why they do not constitute proof. :-)

    I also plan on writing a post about atheism vs. agnosticism as I want to hear from those who have chosen one above the other and why. And another asking atheists and agnostics to answer a specific question that relates to your observation about Jesus in the first century.

    So keep an eye out for that as I’d like to hear your thoughts. I appreciate both the tone and the reasonableness of this post.

    fv

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com Ubi Dubium

      Atheist writers have written at great length about atheism vs. agnosticism, and how it’s not a clear either/or. Usually it’s both. Most atheists I know, myself included, fall into the “agnostic atheist” category. We can’t prove there isn’t a god, but we have no reason to believe that there is one. Until some strong evidence appears otherwise we go with “there’s probably no god” and live our lives accordingly.

    • Erp

      Have to point out that the canonical gospels contain more easily provably unreliable stuff (impossible virgin birth (not naturally possible), conflicting accounts of the death (one at least of the gospels has to be wrong in some details), conflicting accounts of when he was born (either Luke or Matthew is wrong or both), etc.) than the Gospel of Thomas which as a collection of sayings contains not much historical detail to confute.

    • Nox

      The Gospel of Thomas is just a collection of quotes attributed to Jesus. There’s no narrative to it at all. The only way it could be shown to be unreliable or fictitious is if it could be shown that Jesus didn’t say those things (one could argue that the quoted statements themselves were not true, but that’s clearly not what you meant).

      The canonical gospels can be shown to be at least 3/4 unreliable or fictitious simply by reading them side by side and noticing how many things they disagree about. If Matthew is right then Luke is wrong. If Mark is right then John is lying.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Frank Viola: I also plan on writing a post… And another asking atheists and agnostics to answer…

      You’ll have to pardon me as I ignore your questions and writings. It’s the same old same old, and I’m not impressed by what you’ve put on offer so far.

    • Sunny Day

      What do you call evidence that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny?

      “But I believe there are evidences . . . though they too can be countered. Hence why they do not constitute proof. :-)”

    • FO

      Dear Frank,

      strictly speaking, most “atheists” do not declare that God does not exist.
      They declare that the existence of God is as probably as the one of Santa Claus, the fairies and other supernatural entities.
      They are as sure as the non-existence of god as YOU are of the non-existence of fairies.
      The problem is: how do YOU, Frank Viola, disprove the existence of fairies?

    • vasaroti

      I’m am atheist. However, I accept the possibility that somewhere in this vast universe (or perhaps in Michio Kaku’s multiverse,) there may be beings with characteristics and abilities that are the same as those humans have attributed to gods: immortality, invisibility, wingless flight, etc. By human standards, these beings would be gods, so concedeing that such beings may exist would make me an agnostic.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I also plan on writing a post about atheism vs. agnosticism as I want to hear from those who have chosen one above the other and why.

      SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION ALERT

      In the book I’m currently working on, which I’ve been posting chapter drafts from online, I address the question of how I define my atheism briefly in the first chapter:

      Let’s start with the basics. Atheism is just thinking there aren’t any gods. (Theism, similarly, means thinking that there is a god or gods.) Some people will define atheism as being even less than that, that atheism is mere lack of a belief in God. I don’t bother with that definition, because I’m happy to say I think there aren’t any gods. If a child, say one who’d just watched Disney’s Hercules, asked me if the Greek gods are real, I’d say “no” rather than hedge my bets by saying I lack a belief in them. And I don’t see any reason to treat other gods any differently.

    • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

      Re: “Ancient texts can be refuted meaning they can be shown to be unreliable or fictitious. ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ is one such document.”

      I’d be interested in knowing how you’ve managed to verify that Jesus never delivered any of the teachings that comprise the Gospel of Thomas. Most scholars acknowledge that at least some of them are reflected in other texts, including the four canonical gospels. So if you’ve successfully “refuted” it, you’d be the first to do so.

      Re: “I also plan on writing a post about atheism vs. agnosticism as I want to hear from those who have chosen one above the other and why.”

      Pardon me for wondering why that particular topic would be of interest to a religionist. Most religionists don’t really care what terms non-believers use to label themselves … they just get tossed into the same basket of vile, God-hating insolent reprobates. The only time I’ve heard an apologist address it, it’s something along the lines of, “Look! Those nasty non-believer-types can’t even all agree with each other on what to call themselves! That means none of them could possibly be right!”

      • Yoav

        Actually I found that theists often care about the labels more then atheists do. You will often get a situation, once you identified yourself as an atheist, where the theist you talk to will start playing word games until you will acknowledge, like any atheist I ever met would, that if you use a loose enough definition of god then no, we can’t 100% rule out that a god exists at which point your friendly theist will jump and declare, Aha you’re not really an atheist you’re an agnostic, as if they just scored a major victory.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Frank, I’ll gladly volunteer to contribute to the “why I’m an agnostic/atheist.”

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    There’s a lot of Jesuses to choose from in the New Testament. I can’t buy one particular Jesus, because I’m afraid of having messiah-buyers remorse.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    His reasons for the latter are pretty conventional, things like “Because life makes no sense to me apart from Christ. Nor does it have any purpose.

    He wants life to have purpose. Too bad that wanting is not evidence of existence.

    • Revyloution

      Having a thing is not as pleasing as wanting a thing. This is illogical, yet true.

      -Spock

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’m sorry, but I got to Viola’s reason #5, C.S. Lewis’ trilemma, and I just won’t be able to take Frank Viola seriously.

  • Kodie

    I put some posts over there, and so far doing so has been an opportunity to be bashed with nonsense. Credulous people annoy me.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      Me too. Particularly when they seem utterly flummoxed at being called on their credulity and get defensive about it, for example by immediately declaring somebody who says “coming back from the dead is impossible” is making an arrogant assertion. Because pointing out the way the universe works is arrogant now, somehow. It’s like they don’t even care what words mean, sometimes. And apparently it’s not remotely arrogant to proclaim that somebody came back from the dead and you really should just believe it because there’s this book that says it and another book that says it in a different way with different, contradictory details. I can’t help but feel irritated at what such faith does to a human brain. That kind of gleeful ignorance is as close a thing as I can think of to sacrilege.

  • Rolf Boettger

    I don’t follow Jesus because most of the things he is supposed to have said are non-sensical, against common sense or just plain wrong. As mentioned earlier, if I want to follow Jesus, do I need to leave my family and sell everything I have? When I read “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” I hear him saying that some people who are there will still be alive, physically, when he comes back. That didn’t happen. Also, while there are reports of earthquakes and eclipses from around that time, they didn’t occur together and no one reported an eclipse lasting 3 hours. So I think if I looked around a bit, I could find things in the gospel that could be “refuted.” Like the Quirinius and Herod thing or the fact that no other historian of the time mentions this census that would have displaced thousands because they had to return to their own city. I’ll stop for now. Oh, hang on, no surviving Roman or Greek report about the many holy people who had died that suddenly walked the streets of Jerusalem in broad daylight. And isn’t there a discrepancy between the gospels on the day and the hour of the crucifixion? I really got to stop now.

  • Sunny Day

    The same reasons you will use to dismiss my testimony will work on your own testimony.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viracocha

    Why I Am a Viracochan . . .

    1. Because life makes no sense to me apart from Viracocha. Nor does it have any purpose.

    2. Because I’ve tried to not believe in Viracocha, and I find that I cannot.

    3. Because I’ve never seen the Wiracochan or Tunupa narratives refuted successfully.

    4. Because I’ve never seen the walk across the water refuted successfully. I’ve investigated all the alternative explanations and find them uncompelling.

    5. Because it makes no sense to me that Viracocha isn’t who He said He was – He wandered the earth disguised as a beggar, teaching his new creations the basics of civilization, as well as working numerous miracles. He wept when he saw the plight of the creatures he had created. The stories recorded by Juan de Betanzos ring true here.

    6. He made the sun, moon, and the stars. He made mankind by breathing into stones, but his first creation were brainless giants that displeased him. So he destroyed it with a flood and made a new, better one from smaller stones. The Viracocha story is deeply embedded in the soundtrack of human history and art.

    7. Because every time I meet a true follower of Viracocha for the first time, I feel like I’ve known him or her all my life.

    8. Because Viracocha is the most compelling, intriguing, awe-inspiring, and amazing person I know of who is worthy of the greatest admiration, obedience, love, and (uniquely) worship.

    9. Because I’ve never seen any religion or philosophy deliver people from a life of carnality and bondage to addictions like Viracocha has.

    10. Because I have a deep and unshakeable belief that the Creator of all things is with me and taking care of me . . . and has all of my life. I cannot imagine life without Viracocha.

    11. Because there is no rational explanation for some of the prayers that I (and others I know) have seen answered “in Viracocha name.”

    12. Because I don’t weep easily, but I readily cry whenever I detect the fingerprints of my Wise One or behold His handiwork.

    Again, these are not “proofs.” Just my testimony.
    The same reasons you will use to dismiss my testimony will work on your own testimony.

    • blotonthelandscape

      You may want to link to this; it got moderated on his blog post.

  • Keulan

    Since Frank Viola’s blog manager (who apparently moderates comments there) is away for Thanksgiving, I’ll post my response to him here.
    There are two reasons why I am not a theist. First, and most important, because I have never seen any evidence that any gods exist. Second, because I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of a god in the years that I’ve been an atheist, and none of them are even remotely convincing. They are all full of poor reasoning and logical fallacies.

  • Ryan G

    “why do you not follow Jesus?”

    Because it is a waste of time to follow a mythical being.

  • Thin-ice

    I was going to leave a comment at Frank Viola’s site, but he said his “moderator” who approves comments won’t be back till next week.

    I find it revealing that not a single atheist/agnostic blog I’ve ever been to feels the need to moderate comments, and yet MOST Christian sites do! I guess they can’t stand reading things that aren’t filtered or censored first. It shows a lack of trust, and a fear of honest dialogue.

  • blotonthelandscape

    Comments are moderated here, also at Cammels with Hammers. Also at Richard Carrier Blogs. Also plenty of others. Moderation is not a crime.

    • UrsaMinor

      There are various flavors of moderation. Some blogs screen all comments before deciding if they will be allowed to appear. Other blogs let anybody who can get past the spam filters post, and then practice mop-up operations.

      It is my impression (and this is by no means a robust conclusion, just a personal observation) that theist blogs practice the former type of moderation much more often than atheist blogs do. Content that they deem objectionable is never allowed to appear in the first place. It’s a bit more authoritarian in style than the second approach, which usually seeks to control inter-commenter verbal abuse rather than the philosophical and intellectual content of the discussion.

      • blotonthelandscape

        The former is the policy over at Richard Carrier blogs. Quite frankly, for every drive-by evangelist we get I’m sure they get a drive-by Hitchslapper. I have no issue with heavy moderation so long as the moderation policy is explicit and obvious examples of strong disagreement regularly get through the filters. Benefit of the doubt and all that. Blocking participating readers is a surefire way to lose the interest of others quickly, so I prefer to assume unless otherwise established that the moderation policy is protection from idiots rather than ideas.

  • Paul

    Why I don’t believe in Jesus:
    1 Most everything in the bible was ripped off from previous holy books written about other gods
    2 If I worship Jesus and his dad I may offend any real deity out there who is just waiting for the right moment to smite all the followers of other gods
    3 I like to sleep in on sunday mornings
    4 The constant requests for donations tells me that JC and his dad are horrible at handling money and thus clearly cannot be considered omnipotent
    5 Half of JC’s book was stolen from the Jews who JC’s followers have ruthlessly treated at one pogrom after another.
    6 The other half was not written until well after he supposedly lived, died, resurrected and then ascended to heaven. Books attributed to the disciples and apostles were written well after they had died.
    7 one of his creations – satan – kicks his butt and is much better at getting people to do what he wants, again begging the question of his omnipotence.
    8 every one of his claims can be more easily explained by things in the real world that can be verified without claiming miracles when someone points out its impossibility
    9 bad wins over good more often than not. the poor, the meek and those who believe in JC do much worse over all than those who operate out of their own self interest.
    10 you cannot take ten people from different christian sects and have them agree on what are the ten most important points in the bible. I’m not sure you would do any better if you pick ten from a given congregation.
    11 rather than trying to fix the real problems of people living here and now not to mention future generations, christians focus on what happens after death. If you want to make a paradise folks, make it here, make the world a better place to live where we don’t need to dream of another life that will be better. in the final analysis, christianity is a death cult where people choose to do things in hope of getting a better life when this one.
    12 JC’s churches push us all to close down our conscious, curious and wonderful minds and rather accept as utterly unchanging and absolute the primitive stories of bronze age tribes. Forget about science and all that has been learned, no you must accept without question (which is what faith is) the stories in this book that has been rewritten many times over the millenia since the first chapters of the old testament were written.

    I believe that learning and discovery are the way forward, building new ideas on what came before, adding things together that create a new bit of knowledge that we question and test and often we will find an even better answer or at least we will flesh out the ideas. Darwinian Evolution was based on a small base of observations. Since then paleontologists have added to this and as more discoveries are made, the theory of evolution has been refinded and made more certain all along the way. Methods of measuring the age of things which was so masterfully discussed by Richard Dawkins in his book “the greatest show on earth” shows how we know the age of things in the fossil record.

    I believe too much in the power and inquizitiveness of the human brain to believe that a book cobbled together in the 4th century CE has all the answers and that nobody should bother to look for more or better ones.


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