Thanks Jordan Peterson, I’ll Take Sam Harris From Here

Thanks Jordan Peterson, I’ll Take Sam Harris From Here July 30, 2018

Well, that escalated quickly.

When I published this piece on the Jordan Peterson/Sam Harris debates a week ago today, I expected it would pick up some attention. I’m active in various Jordan Peterson fan groups on FaceBook and Reddit, so like a good Patheos author I hustled it about. For a couple of days, it did quite well. Both the Peterson and Harris fanbases, typically at each other’s throats, enjoyed a rare bipartisan moment by giving me almost universally positive feedback. This was unexpected, but welcome. By the third day, however, my analytics showed the predictable downhill trend on the other side of a healthy peak. Ah well, I thought, that was nice while it lasted. Then this happened:

Needless to say, there was… a bit of a spike in my analytics, plus nice tweets, comments and fan mail from a lot more people, including but not limited to Michael Shermer and the guitarist from Third Eye Blind. So, it’s been a fun week.

Let me just say first of all, I take my hat off to the good doctor for giving the thumbs up to a piece this critical. I am, in point of fact, a big fan, in case that wasn’t clear. But while I think Peterson more or less routs Harris on his utilitarian framework for morality, I make no bones about my belief that Harris has Peterson’s number on pragmatism. And harsh as it came off, I thought Harris’s line about letting “stupid people” have their myths had a sharp point: Don’t patronize the layman. Assume he can handle the truth. Then tell him the truth. That’s a sentiment I can actually get behind.

However, I am also deeply sympathetic to Peterson’s Cassandra-like terror of what dominoes might fall if we did rock that cradle on a mass scale. At times, I sense Jordan wants to grab Sam by the lapels and whisper fiercely, “Shhhhhh! Western Civilization is sleeping! If you wake this baby up now, God help you.”

God help us, indeed. The twist for many of my readers, of course, was the discovery that I happen to believe He already has.

I gave co-conversator Douglas Murray a generous section in the piece as well, because I believe he is, in some profound sense, at the center of all this. His book The Strange Death of Europe was one of my most haunting summer reads. Unlike Peterson, Murray does not seem to have made his peace with agnosticism. As Peterson noted in an intriguing passing line, “Douglas identifies as an atheist, and I’m not sure how he’s feeling about that at the moment.” One palpably senses that Murray has left a piece of himself behind in the Church. His writing still bleeds liturgy and King James English, as does mine, thanks to my own Anglican upbringing. In conversation, I suspect we would enjoy the poignant camaraderie of two people who share the same dying language. I’m grateful that he also tweeted out my piece, and I look forward to engaging further with his work.

However, I think Murray’s doubts can be answered, not by fideistic platitudes but by solid, reasoned arguments. And when Harris presses Peterson for an answer about what evidence we have for the special provenance of the Bible, or the reality of the Resurrection, I believe we can offer those answers as well. A number of people have asked me, via email and social media, what resources I might recommend to the end of exploring that evidence. Today, I’d like to provide a small sample thereof, including a few names that I’m pretty much 99% sure most of you have never heard of, because they’ve been dead for a while. These guys are basically the vintage vinyl of Christian apologetics. Please keep in mind that this is by no means comprehensive and that there are whole areas I am leaving untouched. This includes Sam’s whole attempt to derive “ought” from “is,” which as I said above, I think Peterson has already pretty much nailed him on.

First, feast your eyes on this spiffy old-timey collage I made with Sam Harris + a couple of the old guys I’ll be introducing. I don’t think they look very impressed, do you? George Campbell down there in the lower right-hand corner be all like: “Hume again? Really? We’ve been over this.”

L: Sam Harris, Upper right: William Paley, Lower right: George Campbell

First, Douglas Murray recommends…

Just to break the ice, many thanks to Douglas Murray for quoting David Berlinski’s book The Devil’s Delusion on stage in the Oxford debate and prompting me to read it again. It’s been much too long. This is an erudite, savagely funny take-down of, as subtitled, “atheism and its scientific pretensions,” explaining that if atheists think they have “solved” everything with Science… think again, sunshine. Berlinski does not write from a fundamentalist perspective or, indeed, any religious perspective in particular. He’s just a really pissed off agnostic Jewish dude. And he can write. Oh boy, can he write. Advice: Don’t drink liquid while reading.

 Oh, it’s Hume Again

“The philosopher David Hume made a very nice point about believing in miracles…” (The Moral Landscape, p. 252)

The “very nice point” Sam is referring to, in context, is Hume’s famous assertion that “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish…” Harris goes on:

This is a good rule of thumb. Which is more likely, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have sex outside of wedlock and then feel the need to lie about it, or that she would conceive a child through parthenogenesis the way aphids and Komodo dragons do? On the one hand, we have the phenomenon of lying about adultery—in a context where the penalty for adultery is death—and on the other, we have a woman spontaneously mimicking the biology of certain insects and reptiles. Hmm…

Hmm… How do I put this… Hume was wrong. Like, technically wrong. As in, if you take his argument against miracles and turn it into math, the math is wrong. Mathically. I’d recommend the agnostic philosopher John Earman’s book on this but it’s kind of pricey, so here, completely free, is a refutation from one of Hume’s own contemporaries: A Dissertation On Miracles, by George Campbell (1762). It was Campbell of whom Hume himself said in private conversation with a friend, “The Scottish theologue hath beaten me.” Earman confirms: Campbell gets it. Hume does not.

Crisis of Doubt

Unfortunately this was one bit of The Strange Death of Europe where Douglas Murray showed he just has a gap in his history, because this whole notion that all the really intelligent religious people in the 19th century discovered higher criticism, became atheists and never looked back… yeah, it didn’t quite happen that way. This book deserves and will probably get its own post, but Timothy Larsen has pretty much put this to bed with his work Crisis of Doubt. Yours truly actually gave Jordan Peterson a copy of this book during a brief but memorable meeting this year. (Memorable for me that is.) Basically, the freethinking movement ran into this little problem where a bunch of their best guys started reconverting to Christianity after becoming adult deconverts. It was, like, really embarrassing. Especially since these reconverts then started going around explaining that this was because they had decided the evidences for Christianity were actually good. In fact, really good. These were guys who could truly say they had been there, done that. They had read, literally, all the things. Thomas Cooper basically memorized large sections of Strauss’s Life of Jesus. So if he tells you “Yeah, I read Strauss… not convinced,” you might want to give him a listen.

Unfortunately, Crisis of Doubt is OOP and a little pricey, but fortunately all the stuff written by the dudes in it is out there for free. I really like this little gem by Cooper, The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time.

Another one of the several formidable scholars who took on Strauss & Co. at their own game was J. B. Lightfoot. I confess I still need to tackle his Essays On the Work Entitled Supernatural Religion, but to say it looks thorough would be an understatement. (This particular collection brutally dispatches the British Tubingen popularizer William R. Cassels, who wrote anonymously at the time but was eventually revealed.) As with all these PD works on Google Books, note that the pages are much less densely packed than in contemporary books, so books that look intimidatingly long might actually not feel as long as all that if you actually dig in.

“Let’s put this probabilistically…” 

Sam asked Jordan to do this apropos of the Resurrection and I am so glad he asked, because actually this has been put probabilistically, and it’s really neat! It’s a bit of a doozy though, Sam. Like Eric Weinstein’s tweets, may contain math. You sure about this? From the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, I give you “The Argument From Miracles: A Cumulative Case For the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” (McGrew & McGrew).

Don’t have time to read a 75-page article? Here’s a reader-friendly blog post by one of the authors that ties it back to Hume’s central probabilistic error in a clear, accessible way, asking and responding to the question “Is the Resurrection Unbelievable?”

Interruption: But look, I made a chart showing all the contradictions in the Bible!

Oh right, I guess we should pause and mention that Sam really likes this graphic, a dazzling display of graphic design purporting to be the ultimate CHECKMATE to Christians who take the Bible seriously. Each line in the rainbow represents a place where two passages contradict each other, about anything.

Anything at all.

Fun drinking game: Take a Bible, and start going through the contradictions in the chart. Take a drink every time…

*Context is ignored to create contradiction.

*Silence is confused with negative statement (“X DID NOT happen” as opposed to no record X did happen)—this is called the argument from silence and it is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad argument. Seriously. It’s just bad.

*Fact that multiple people may have the same name is not considered.

*Fact that some people have more than one name is not considered.

*Fact that words can have more than one meaning depending on context is ignored. (Actual example: 1 Corinthians 13:7 says love “believeth all things” meaning that’s a “Yes” to the question “Should we believe everything?” whereas in Proverbs it says don’t be gullible and believe everything you hear, so that’s a “No.” CONTRADICTION, CHECKMATE. You think I jest? I jest not. Here’s a link.)

And so on, and so forth. These constitute entire classes of drummed-up “contradictions,” all of which collapse under a minimal amount of careful reading. That doesn’t mean there are none left at all. There are a few that require somewhat more specialized knowledge, and the occasional textual tension for which there isn’t an immediately satisfactory resolution. Of course, the rainbow wouldn’t be nearly as impressive for Sam Harris to use in his PowerPoint slides then. Hey. Not my problem.

Back to the books…

Sorry about that. I’m not sure where I was so when in doubt, I’ll just recommend Paley. His classic A View of the Evidences of Christianity may be a bit outdated, but it surveys everything from theistic arguments to textual authenticity to resurrection evidences. His famous “blind watchmaker” argument for design doesn’t make an appearance in this work. However, I’ll throw out that in the realm of design arguments in particular, contemporary breakthroughs have only strengthened his case. (See Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell, and Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, for a couple examples.)

So yes, that was a little random, but this should get you started, eh?

For further questions, comments or snark, you’re welcome to check my About page and avail yourself of the e-mail there. Thanks for reading!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Peter Grice

    Esther, thank you so much for this helpful guide! An enjoyable read, too.

  • Stan Perkins

    C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Chrstianity” was a book I got a lot out of. I am not sure how it is viewed in academic circles but it made a lot of sense to me.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    Firstly, I (and I am sure others) appreciate that you detailed these things. I had not heard of Larsen’s “Crisis of Doubt”; that looks interesting. As for the McGrew’s case for the resurrection, hopefully it has a better methodology than N.T. Wright’s case, and I hope to read it.

    However, partly as regards a view of the intersection of science and theology, it seems you are recommending a broadly Intelligent Design paradigm. Having come out of Young Earth Creationism I find this concerning. ID may fall into fewer errors than YEC (as far as I can tell—I’ve given plenty of time to YEC and also to unguided universal development, but only some time to ID), but it still seems to suffer from many of the same things which are often considered (by the scientific community and by my own professional experiences in science) to be less than good science. Why is ID compelling to you? What possible flaws are you aware of in the ID framework?

  • Alot of the issues atheists bring up as contradictions in the biblical texts are pedantic and do not remove the thematic elements of the text. The issue is that, particularly for Protestants, the text’s *complete inerrancy* is crucial to its reliability and utility. This is understandable. I was reading recently about a conversation between Billy Graham and Charles Templeton, and one quote from Graham struck me (full context at the link below): “I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.”

    https://www.templetons.com/charles/memoir/evang-graham.html

    If there is one single problem/issue in the text, the authority of the Bible is diminished entirely, under this system of thought. To be clear, I don’t think that is true. It doesn’t make any sense to me why a sacred text might contain one error or bad teaching, and therefore the whole of an entire religious tradition is garbage. But at any rate, Graham’s line of thought makes the whole system strong *as long as it is completely unquestioned,* but brittle and susceptible to break entirely from the smallest crack. I was pretty much a new atheist for years on a journey that started because of the entirely unsatisfactory answers I got from religious people regarding the issues at the end of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Later I came to reject both anti-theist atheist and conservative evangelical approaches to the Bible and religious authority generally. It has not served evangelical youth people well. In fact it produced a pipeline producing a steady stream of new atheists from the evangelical movement. All because the metaphysical questions *must* be answered clearly and firmly (ala Billy Graham above), rather than allowing them to be sustained in mystery. I have grievances with Peterson, but Peterson is discerning enough to know the trap in store for any theist claiming their tradition or source of authority is infallible/inerrant. Not in the internet age, friends.

    So this is the primary issue (and it applies to other traditional orthodox systems with authority sources other than the Bible, such as the Quran or the Catholic magisteria). The ascendency of the new atheists in the aughts was due in some ways to traditionalists falling into this trap, of putting all their chips into the one basket of biblical inerrancy. The resurgence of faith now, I think, is due to the adaptations theists have made to atheist arguments. Meanwhile, atheists like Harris have moved on to other things for the most part, and not noticed the shift.

    TL;DR: if theists want to defeat the new atheists, embrace mystery rather than trying to rush to provide what you think is the bullet proof solution. I assure you it’s less bullet proof than you imagine. Atheists like Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris are not fond of mystery, as it puts them in the position of needing to adopt the burden of proof that science can offer solutions to the *significant* problems of morality and meaning. They’ve already discovered its a tougher job than it first appears to sustain a community built only on the negation of God, and no other uniting metaphysical principles.

  • Illithid

    That is a hefty list of links, which I’ll get to later. I’d like to agree with you about the silliness of the “big chart of Bible contradictions”. As Matt Dillahunty says, pointing out lots of little nit-picky ‘contradictions’ that aren’t really contradictory weakens the atheist’s case against the truth of the Bible, rather than strengthening it.

    I just this morning had my attention drawn back to the previous article… wow, did that blow up.

  • james warren

    Self-identified atheists make a profound mistake. They define truth as that which is factually correct. They seem to believe that science,rationality and logic are the only ways to finding truth.

    They overlook, in my view, the existence of myth, metaphor, paradox and poetry as valid ways of revealing truth.

    When a sportscaster says a certain champion runner is a “deer” every native speakers of English knows what s/he is saying.
    Metaphor points to a truth that is more encompassing, richer and descriptive than a list of statistics.

    They unwittingly align themselves with the fundamentalists and evangelicals they claim to criticize. In a word, they hold sacred the church dogma that supernatural theism is what truth is all about.

    Sometimes I ask my atheist friends to describe the qualities and character of this God that they don’t [and can’t] believe in.
    They then almost always describe the Christian God of supernatural theism.
    Fundamentalists see this theology as literally true while nonbelievers often say it is nonsense.

    Metaphor and myth are the closest ways to describe absolute truth. Truth is not in ONE side or the other. It is found in the RELATIONSHIP between them.
    Truth is what highlights the conflict between opposing ideologies.

  • TinnyWhistler

    I’m not an atheist, but this jumped out and bothered me: “They overlook, in my view, the existence of myth, metaphor, paradox and poetry as valid ways of revealing truth.”

    I’d argue that so do many Christians. This is particularly annoying to me as someone who loves learning about the natural world and has 4 years of undergrad education in physics (at a Christian college no less!). Specifically, it’s annoying when it comes to creationism and the age of the earth. I won’t get into it, but I really encourage Christians to not completely discount the possibility of the earth being old and the beginning of Genesis as being myth and/or metaphor.

    The usefulness of Scripture does not vanish if one believes that the earth is old. Give the Bible a bit more credit than that. God gave us the ability to write science textbooks, He didn’t need to do that for us. Treat the Bible as a book about God, not a book about whether the Grand Canyon was cut quickly or over a long period of time.

  • TinnyWhistler

    It’s always been amusing to me that much of Islam has to do with preventing the types of arguments that Jews, Christians, and yes, Muslims get into within our own religions. The Quran was handed to Mohammed by an angel intact so there should be no argument about a canon. Classical Arabic is a sacred language so that everyone has to keep speaking it and there won’t be any misunderstandings. Islam was supposed to be the ultimate “fix-it” religion. Of course, none of that really worked as intended because humans are human and we change over time and also manage to disagree about just about everything.

  • TinnyWhistler

    The problem with ID is that it just says “nope I don’t like this theory so I’ll just say God did it! Problem solved!” which isn’t useful as a framework for scientific study. In my experience, ID tends to just apply a general “replace natural process with God” algorithm for things deemed incompatible with the user’s interpretation of the Bible.

    Speaking as someone with a physics background, it’s WAY more fun to see science as the process of discovering *how* God did things, rather than *that* God did them. Why would God make people with the minds and curiosity we have and then stick us on a planet that looks old, in a universe that looks old? At some point your options are 1) Science is a conspiracy to suppress God, 2) God is testing our faith by trying to deceive us, or 3) The earth’s pretty darn old. Point 2 is probably the one that bothers me the most but hey! if it’s easier to reconcile “God created the world in a deceitful way to trick us” with the Bible than “The beginning of Genesis is part metaphor and part myth intended to tell us something about God and humanity rather than teach a science lesson” than go for it I guess…just stop trying to sabotage the education of the rest of us.

  • Well done.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Self-identified atheists make a profound mistake. They define truth as that which is factually correct. They seem to believe that science,rationality and logic are the only ways to finding truth.”

    Speaking for myself as an atheist, I have NEVER seen an atheist defining truth. The definition of truth has nothing to do with atheism…
    other things that have nothing to do with atheism are the big bang theory and the theory of evolution, but believers keep bringing those up when discussing whether a god exists or not & what an atheist believes.

    Atheism is a single position on a single question: does a god exist?

    The atheist position is that because we have seen no evidence for the existence of a god, we do not believe a god exists.

    “They overlook, in my view, the existence of myth, metaphor, paradox and poetry as valid ways of revealing truth.”

    How are you defining the word truth?

    “Metaphor points to a truth that is more encompassing, richer and descriptive than a list of statistics.”

    Nope. Metaphors enrich the language & allow it to be more artistically descriptive.

    The example you presented: ” a sportscaster says a certain champion runner is a “deer” every native speakers of English knows what s/he is saying.” is not a statement of truth that the runner is a deer. It is a way to describe how the sportscaster is viewing the athlete’s display.

    “Sometimes I ask my atheist friends to describe the qualities and character of this God that they don’t [and can’t] believe in.”

    If your atheist friends bother to try answering that question, they are fools.

    If someone claims a god exists, the atheist’s only response should be “do you have any evidence to prove that claim?”.

    The atheist has no burden of proof and has no obligation to define any god. It is up to the person making the claim to define what they mean by the word god & to prove the claim.

    “Metaphor and myth are the closest ways to describe absolute truth.”

    Can you define what you mean by the term “absolute truth”?

  • Illithid

    Okay, so I’ve read what I could access of your linked books and articles (though I didn’t complete the “Argument from Miracles” piece). I’m no Biblical scholar; I’m not qualified to comment on the Q document or archeological details in Acts. One thing that did stand out to me is the supposed refutation of Hume’s ideas on miracles.

    I hadn’t been aware that he had said that no level of evidence could establish a miracle; I agree that’s too strong. However, his example of a hypothetical 8 days of darkness over all the Earth, attested by every account of the times from every region of the globe, reminded me of the three hours of darkness reported in Matthew. The contrast should be obvious: where is any independent account of this darkness from any other source? Matthew, of course, also reports the resurrection of loads of Jewish saints, who roamed the streets of Jerusalem without attracting enough notice for their appearance to be recorded by anyone else. Hard to see “Matthew” as a credible source after reading that.

  • Illithid

    I have seen atheists try to define truth. “That which comports with reality” is one such attempt. Trying to figure out what statements actually describe reality, and how we decide, are difficult follow-up questions, of course.

    As I assume you do, I find “I read it in an old book”, and “a voice in my head told me” fairly poor guides to truth.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “I have seen atheists try to define truth”

    They may do so or try to do so. But it has no bearing on their being an atheist.

    It would be like asking an atheist if they prefer Star Wars or Star Trek ( or chocolate ice cream over maple ripple)… you could get their personal opinion on that question, but it has nothing to do with their atheism.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    I think this is the point where we need to talk about what Esther calls the “argument from silence.”

  • Illithid

    It’s sometimes a reasonable point and sometimes not. It depends on how likely it is that the silence would exist if the claim were true. If, for instance, I claim to have been involved in a twenty-car pileup on Hwy 8 in Houston today that resulted in ten deaths, the absence of news reports detailing this crash is sufficient reason to conclude that this claim is likely false (assuming a thorough search has been made).

    If I claim that the crash was caused by an alien spaceship that landed in the road, my claim becomes utterly unbelievable, because that would definitely be all over the internet, from a hundred cell phones, all at once.

    Obviously, the state of the art in media wasn’t the same in A.D. 33 Jerusalem, but I find the absence of historical remarks on the two purported events I mentioned to be reason to doubt that they occurred, and this lessens the credibility of the author for other claims. Well, in addition to the fact that there are no reliably evidenced cases, or demonstrable mechanism, for dead people to come back to life and walk around.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    Have you ever explored what would happen if you tried to apply this kind of reasoning to other historical events? It’s surprisingly easy to make an argument from silence against things that really happened.

  • Illithid

    Can you give an example? I say this not in a baiting intent, but specifics are easier to discuss.

    While no particular instance springs to mind, it reminds me of times I’ve heard apologists complain that historical accounts of mundane history (the deeds of Julius Caesar for example) aren’t treated with the same skepticism as greets religious stories. My reply is that yes, they are. There were claims of supernatural events in the life of Caesar (so I’ve heard), but he doesn’t have a modern cult, so those claims are dismissed out of hand, as they deserve. Actually, as far as I can tell, the miracle claims of Christianity are accorded much more scholarly weight than they deserve, solely due to the number of people who currently believe them. If there were no modern Christians, the Gospels would be viewed in a similar light as Greek or Norse myth.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    Sure.

    Marco Polo does not, anywhere in Il Milione, mention the Great Wall of China — and such a structure did exist in his time, and he must have crossed it.

    Ulysses Grant left us two volumes of his memoirs of the Civil war, clearly drawing on dated diary entries. He never mentions the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Neither Xenophon, nor Aristotle, nor any other contemporary writer mentions any of Thucydides’s works. We first hear about them from Polybius, two and a half centuries later.

    No surviving first-century source mentions anything about the life and writings of Josephus. (Except, of course, for Josephus himself.)

    Josephus (Against Apion 1.12) remarks that neither Herodotus, nor Thucydides, nor any of their contemporaries mentions Rome.

    Voltaire spent nearly two years in England, and lived, by his own account, a full year of that time near Alexander Pope, whom he habitually visited. Yet, in all Pope’s correspondence of those two years (a correspondence with men who certainly would have received with interest any news of Voltaire, and who probably knew him personally), there is not a single allusion to Pope’s acquaintance with him.

    Such examples can be multiplied almost indefinitely.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    That’s not far from my concerns with ID, and why I don’t find it compelling.

    I think, with your three options, that you need to parse option #3 into at least two options worth considering (with some variations within each branch of that bifurcation): 3A. the Universe is old and God had some involvement in its’ existence, and 3B. the Universe is old and developed without divine involvement (or at least, as one possible interpretation of this: we have yet to observe anything which specifically indicates that). Yes, option #2 never made much sense with the character of a good God, and recognizing that option #1 didn’t make sense of how the scientific community and evidence work was one among many reasons I rejected YEC.

    As for ending the sabotaging education, I agree.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    “it’s WAY more fun to see science as the process of discovering *how* God did things, rather than *that* God did them.” It seems this is advocating under the assumption that God already exists and going from there. How then do you justify your belief that there is God in the first place?

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    One begins to wonder if the US—through its’ constitution—is encountering much the same problem in a legal (not religious) setting.

  • camainc

    The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    I think if Christians did a better job with epistemology and origins, (places of knowledge where a perspective of “mystery” are often a hindrance instead of a benefit) it would be easier to take Christian perspectives on morality and meaning seriously. A moral framework that doesn’t have its’ facts straight is unlikely to produce moral behaviors, and finding meaning from something that likely does not exist is ultimately to commit one’s emotions to nothingness after all. That being said, in the most abstract areas of our thought, there is some need for a perspective of humble mystery—personal meaning and moral issues included.

  • Illithid

    Excellent examples, thank you. I’ll just use the first one.

    Stipulating that it’s well established that Marco Polo did travel in that area (I honestly don’t know, but let’s assume it’s the case), then if we only had a few second-hand accounts of people seeing a giant wall in China, but no physical evidence of its existence, then Polo’s failure to mention it would be evidence against its existence. Not necessarily strong evidence, certainly not conclusive. But it should lower our estimate of the likelihood that such a thing were real. In this case, since we have overwhelming evidence that the Wall does and did exist, it works in reverse: Polo’s silence might indicate he never went to that region of China. If other evidence indicates that he did, we can only speculate as to why he might have omitted it, or shrug and say we don’t know.

    In any case, it wouldn’t be quite a parallel situation, because a large earth-and-stone wall is something completely mundane, explicable, and within our experience… unlike walking dead people.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “Not necessarily strong evidence, certainly not conclusive. But it should lower our estimate of the likelihood that such a thing were real.”

    In something like the sense that my glancing around the room and not seeing any spiders lowers my estimate of the likelihood that there are spiders in the room — it’s technically evidence, but it’s weak, since there is a reasonably high probability that I wouldn’t see them even if they’re here.

    “If other evidence indicates that he did, we can only speculate as to why he might have omitted it, or shrug and say we don’t know.”

    I think this is the right reaction. My point is simply that the argument from silence itself is generally quite weak in historical work, so it can be offset by even a modest amount of positive evidence. In the case of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27:52-53, one reasonable speculation about why we aren’t told more (by Matthew or by others) if this really happened might take a clue from John 12:10.

    “In any case, it wouldn’t be quite a parallel situation, because a large earth-and-stone wall is something completely mundane, explicable, and within our experience… unlike walking dead people.”

    The claim, of course, is a little different — they were walking live people who merely used to be dead. 🙂

    Two quick points here. First, the discussion has shifted away from the argumentum silentio, moving on to the question of the improbability of miracles. I think that is where it should go. Silence wasn’t really what was doing the heavy lifting on the negative side of this debate.

    Second, the resurrection of some saints as reported in Matthew 27 is a peripheral event, bereft of details. Matthew doesn’t even seem to be saying he was himself a witness of it. It’s nowhere near as well attested as Jesus’ resurrection, and as far as the truth of Christianity is concerned, it’s nowhere nearly as important. If Matthew passed on a second- or third-hand report on that minor point and it happens to have been wrong, the doctrinal impact is solely on one theory of inspiration. How about if we focus instead on the one that’s really at the heart of it all?

  • I think I see where you are coming from. Speaking as someone who has many doubts but still finds great solace in the core transcendent moral teachings of Christ (and much of Christianity), I have to say that I have found people more spellbound by *pointing to the truth* obliquely. Think of the way Jesus delivered his parables, for people to tease out the meaning rather than having “the facts” delivered to them like a new city ordinance.

    Some truths cannot be captured completely, but only given a rough outline, by our religious traditions. Acknowledging that helps people to use the “map” of religious imagery and iconography without getting caught up in all the details. This is something that Peterson seems to be aware of. For him the historical “truths” are eclipsed by the metaphoric “truths” as applied to people’s lives. He may not in fact believe in a historical Resurrection for instance, but in a sense he thinks that the Resurrection is “truer than true” – deeper than physical historical reality. I do believe this accounts for a large chunk of his appeal – that and his free speech advocacy. I have alot of sympathy for people who are attracted to his philosophy, even though I have other gripes with him personally.

    Theists have been arguing a long time for the rational grounds for their beliefs. This is understandable as the onslaught of the new atheists has mainly been on grounds of religious doctrine’s irrationality. On that battlefield, faith has been fairly bloodied and beaten up. It’s not hard to poke holes in someone’s pristine systematic theology, or attempts to “prove” the Bible right scientifically, ala young earth creationism. But looking at the facts on the ground – not many people are actually convinced of God’s existence by Aquinas or Plantinga or lay apologists like Josh McDowell. Those arguments shore up pre-existing faith, perhaps. But I’m not sure moral frameworks are that strengthened by having your facts straight. Sam Harris’ own view is that a moral landscape will reveal itself simply by having more knowledge of science and holding a few precepts. To me, Harris’ “moral landscape” is hopelessly naive, and many secular philosophers agree with me on that score.

    It is the experiential, the transcendent, the mystical that reify God’s existence for most people. Christianity can provide a path to navigating that unknown terrain, especially through ritual (which many Protestants give short shrift to). But expecting people to be brought to faith by philosophical or logical precepts is putting the cart before the horse. That’s my take anyway.

  • TinnyWhistler

    I’m coming at this from a “intersection of science and theology” perspective. Breaking 3) into “God exists” and “God doesn’t exist” expands the question beyond that. I’m not trying to convince people that science needs God, I’m trying to convince them that they don’t have to throw out all of “science” because of a few chapters of metaphor in the Bible.

    If we’re concerned about “the prospect of potentially building a worldview on a (quite possibly) insufficient theory of origins [being] a stumbling block” that’s where I’d start, not “science can prove God is necessary.” I’m not out to convince someone of God’s existence, just that science doesn’t *disprove* Him. (or prove Him. Or really say anything about Him, except possibly indirectly through stuff like “wow God sure made the world complicated” which isn’t a scientific conclusion but rather a theological one)

    As far as my personal opinion goes, I don’t really see a distinction in “the Big Bang spontaneously happened” and “God used the Big Bang” from a scientific perspective. At some point, spacetime started as we understand it today and it doesn’t bother me if people ascribe that to God or not. It doesn’t actually change anything except the framing of scientific pursuit from “how does the world work” to “how did God set up the world to work” which is a semantic difference when it comes to actually, you know, pursuing science.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Meh, I’m writing this starting from a “God exists, how do we reconcile the Bible with science” perspective. I’m not super interested in going into whether that’s a reasonable starting point right now, I’m more interested in trying to convince Christians that modern science isn’t the devil.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Wasn’t it Jefferson who believed the Constitution should be completely rewritten from scratch every few decades because needs would change over time?

  • TinnyWhistler

    “Acknowledging that helps people to use the “map” of religious imagery and iconography without getting caught up in all the details.”

    My dad grew up attending a Quaker meeting since that was the closest church to his house and his biggest takeaway form that was the idea that because God is so big and perfect it’s impossible for any one human/group of humans to actually comprehend all that God is, and thus various factions of Christianity all have their own interpretations based on the little bits they can see. Think of that story of three blind men encountering different parts of an elephant and thinking an elephant is like a rope, a snake, and a tree, respectively.

    Of course, this isn’t palatable to anyone who’s convinced their specific church has perfect theology and suggesting it usually gets a chorus of “moral relativist!” and “but what about absolute Truth!” in my experience, including from my mom.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    “I’m more interested in trying to convince Christians that modern science isn’t the devil.” My hat is off to you there. 🙂

  • What you put your finger on is the vulnerability of religious liberalism to relativism, which in extreme cases ends up washing out the particularities of a given tradition and reducing it all to a sappy, mushy Moral Therapeutic Deism spiritual-but-not-religious gruel. Individual people can be temporarily sustained by it, but communities that imbibe it are doomed in the long run. You bring up a good point with the elephant analogy – the religious scholar Stephen Prothero pointed out that the implication of the analogy is that traditionalist Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, etc. only see a part of the whole, while some “neutral” and presumably wise third party observer sees the entire elephant. In reality that sort of religious universalism/syncretism is just as much a leap of faith as any hardcore orthodoxy or fundamentalism. We’re all blind men. None of us can see the whole elephant, it’s always an issue of faith. Being honest about our profound religious disagreements is more honorable in my opinion, than pretending they don’t exist or scrubbing them away and losing the texture of our traditions. People like your mom can see the danger in that relativism, clearly.

    So that is the danger on one side. The danger on the other end of the spectrum is myopic dogmatism and intolerance, arrogance disguised as piety. The path forward is not easy. To bring it back to the main topic – this is why I sympathize (somewhat) with Peterson when he begins hedging his bets and adding caveats when asked if he is religious, or if he even believes in God. I think he’s attempting to not frighten away many of his irreligious followers. He ought to be more straightforward about that discomfort.

    Being open about doubts is seen as a weakness. I think its one of the bravest things you can do. These days most people on social media paper over their doubts with cynicism and irony, but it is there just below the surface.

  • @EstherOReilly

    I find the design argument compelling (unhitched from age of the Earth as you’ve noted, as far as that goes I see old Earth as best evidenced), because it seems to be the most logical conclusion by inference to the best explanation. The metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly is just one particularly stunning example among many that makes it extraordinarily difficult to brush off the hypothesis of detectable design. I frequently see people touting some study or piece of data as “evidence for evolution,” but I don’t think the word “evidence” means what they think it means. If naturalistic Theory A and supernatural Theory B explain the data equally well, with Theory B if anything possessing many more explanatory virtues, then you can’t say your data is *prima facie* evidence for Theory A. The work still lies before you to explain why Theory B is out of the game. Example: We note some similar structure in a dolphin flipper and a human hand. Do we say “This is evidence of evolution” straight off the bat, even though such similarity could be equally well explained by a designer working with similar blueprints?

    As I said in a different discussion with someone, many people in the scientific establishment have chosen to view the absence of supernatural elements as an explanatory virtue in and of itself. While I agree there can be classes of supernatural events/explanations that may be safely discounted (e.g., we can safely assume God wouldn’t personally intervene to make sure MY kid’s team wins the ballgame), the creation of the universe is no trivial matter. Ditto for a man rising from the dead. Also, the notion of an uncaused cause, a first mover, designer, etc., is far more logical to begin with than the notion of other fanciful beings, like gremlins in the attic. If I hear noises above my head, needless to say I’m not going to give “gremlins having a bowling party” as much weight as mice in my hypothesis pool. But nobody could even begin to mount an argument that gremlins are necessary beings, or point to other salient clues that gremlins are living and active in the world.

    As for what flaws have been suggested, I’m aware that Michael Behe has come under fire for irreducible complexity, but he’s answered his opponents in detail. I’m also aware that there’s disagreement over common descent. But I’m also aware that politics lies behind many of these debates, and that almost invariably they wind up being arguments over philosophy rather than science. This is one reason why I recommend the Berlinski, because he’s seen how the sausage is made, and he knows how often the much-touted Scientific Method ends in a question mark, or ends in constructions that could be fairly compared with the constructions of Christian theology.

  • @EstherOReilly

    I think you’re conflating the work of folks at an institution like AiG with the work of an entity like the Discovery Institute. They do not rely on a “God of the gaps” fallacy, as Steve Meyer has explained in some detail.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Meanwhile, I’m interested in trying to explain that Young Earth and intelligent design are not synonymous/interchangeable. 😉

  • @EstherOReilly

    I don’t discount Old Earth, but we shouldn’t be in a rush to throw out a historical Adam, or the special direct creation of humans.

  • Illithid

    Glancing around the room and seeing no elephants, on the other hand, reduces the probability that elephants are present to practically zero, in an ordinary room. The strength of the argument from silence isn’t always weak. It varies with circumstances. I’ll agree that it’s not the major reason for the lack of credibility that I assign to the miraculous claims of the Bible.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to dismiss this issue so cavalierly, however. This is one of the three synoptic Gospels, the first one encountered in the NT. If Christianity is true, and accepting Jesus’s sacrifice is the only salvation from eternal torment (or the only way to reconcile one’s soul with God), then this is a good candidate for being the most important book ever written. It was carefully selected by a group of a few hundred church leaders to lead the whole thing off and convey the message of Christ to the world. If parts of it are ludicrous, why should anyone take the rest seriously?

    As for the more central claim, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, well, we can discuss it if you like. It’s likely to be a frustrating exchange, though. I’ve read the Gospels, I’ve read apologetic defenses of them, and they’re simply not convincing. If you’ve ever read the Book of Mormon (and are not a Mormon), perhaps you can grasp my position emotionally even if you disagree: Christianity and the claims thereof seem transparently, obviously false, to the point where I find it difficult to comprehend how even someone raised Christian from birth and indoctrinated into the faith can believe it. That doesn’t mean that I think Christians are stupid, or bad people, just very mistaken one this one issue.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “Glancing around the room and seeing no elephants, …”

    Exactly. Now, if the game were worth the candle, I would argue that we’re dealing with spiders rather than elephants in the case of the risen saints. But you seem willing — mostly — to go for bigger game.

    “I’ve read the Gospels, I’ve read apologetic defenses of them, and they’re simply not convincing.”

    Fair enough. I’ve read some apologetic defenses that I found unconvincing as well. So that I don’t waste your time, would you be willing to tell me what you’ve read already on the subject? If so, please feel free to include things on the negative side; that’s helpful to know as well.

  • @EstherOReilly

    To PalyRedivivus’s comment, I will add that I’m familiar with the history of Mormonism and Joseph Smith, and to say that Mormonism’s origins are disanalogous to the origins of Christianity would be an understatement. I don’t dismiss the Book of Mormon merely because it’s not “my” Holy Book. I’m simply saying that as a matter of objective historical investigation, when we apply the same tests of veracity to both, Christianity endures where Mormonism crumples like a tinfoil knife.

    If by “transparently, obviously false,” you simply mean that it’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around how a man could rise from the dead when you or I have never observed a man rising from the dead, nobody is arguing the fact that Jesus’ resurrection was an extraordinary event. Indeed, Jews understood that dead men generally stay dead in the natural course of events. (Witness Martha to Jesus: Why are we opening Lazarus’ tomb? His body is decayed by now!) This is precisely why Peter and the apostles were shouting it from the rooftops, as documented in the book of Acts.

  • Illithid

    I merely meant to convey the “feel” of my point of view, in a way that might translate well to a non-Mormon Christian. I’ll agree there are large differences between the two religions and their texts. I do not consider the Gospels to be deliberate fabrications, for one thing, while the BoM demonstrably is.

    It’s noteworthy, however, that the story of Smith’s golden tablets is attested by 13 witnesses whose names we know, who never recanted even after breaking with Smith and the LDS. That’s more direct eyewitness testimony than we have for anything in the Gospels, AFAIK.

  • Illithid

    Well, I’ve read Summa Theologica (mostly… as an author, Aquinas makes a good insomnia cure), Mere Christianity, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Case for Christ, and The God Delusion. I’ll note for future reference that I don’t have any of these books available to me now. I’ve also read a lot of essays and watched numerous debates, though I don’t remember most of the names. William Lane Craig is one. I read a lot of religious and atheist blogs on Patheos. I’ve seen a lot of the Atheist Experience show.

    Just for background, I first investigated the Bible at 13, after a brief but intense conversion experience in a shopping mall. It didn’t take. I read through from the beginning, and as I already knew a fair bit of science, I’m going “Nope, that’s wrong. No way. That’s not the way that happened. That didn’t happen at all. And wow, God is a jerk who murders people a lot.” Took about two weeks of reading to discard any semblance of belief. Four decades and a biology degree later, it still seems to contradict many things I have good reason to think are true.

  • @EstherOReilly

    I will grant you that a few OT passages where God is recorded as mandating the killing of innocents by men are not aligned with our intuition, or other scriptural passages, for that matter. This is one reason why I find inerrancy untenable. However, for God directly to take life isn’t in the same category of action as man taking life.

  • Illithid

    I agree, it’s worse. I may be forced to take a person’s life, in self-defense or in defense of another. I have limited options, and killing someone might be the path of least harm. God (were he to exist) could solve problems in other ways.

    For example, God is said to have killed every first-born son of every non-Israelite family in Egypt, after coercing “Pharoah” (which one? It’s like saying the American colonies fought the Revolutionary War against “King”. But I digress.) not to free the Israelites after the other plagues convinced him to do so. This was pure gratituous slaughter for no reason. Oh, wait, there was a reason: God even tells Moses what it is. “…in order that my name may be magnified in the land of Egypt”.

    In another story, Aaron’s two sons attempt to steady the Ark of the Tabernacle when it seemed about to fall. God struck them dead. Then he threatened Aaron, saying that if Aaron showed the signs of mourning for his dead sons, God would kill him, too.

    One of the worst things about religion is how it makes decent people feel compelled to defend morally indefensible things.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    How it is that a historical Adam is epistemologically salvageable, when a world-punishing historical flood is certainly not (which was more recent and, when it’s grander scale is also considered, more likely to be retold accurately in 2000+ years of oral transmission), is not something I have found understandable.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    As for the special direct creation of humans, I really don’t see how that matches with current anthropological results. At what point in the past can we say “this was not a human, but it was like a human” then “here we see a human”?

    It’s kind of like the reverse of the supposed “missing link” problem. Where is the missing discontinuity—the point at which the miracle of divine intervention gave us… whatever makes us human (which is what? A soul, walking upright, knowledge of God, knowledge of right & wrong, fire/cooking, language, rigorous learning… It’s not particularly clear what to look for.)?

  • Widuran

    Historically Jesus Christs existence cannot be disputed. The question is do you believe he is alive? Do you accept him as Lord and Saviour?

  • Elzbieta Kraszewski

    Was Jesus crucified the day after Passover (as in the synoptic Gospels) or was he crucified the day before Passover (as in John’s Gospel)? Did he whip the money changers at the beginning of his ministry (as in John) or right before he was targeted for arrest (synoptics)? How many angels were at the tomb and to whom did the resurrected Jesus appear? None of these are trivial matters. If John is correct, the Last Supper did not occur as celebrated in the sacrament of communion. And that’s just for starters.

  • @EstherOReilly

    You don’t have to camp out on only one narrow interpretation of “worldwide,” any more than you have to insist “day” must mean literal 24-hour day in Genesis 1. This is a running problem I find with various atheist arguments–they take the fundamentalists’ word for it that their interpretation is the only possible reading, then knock it down.

  • @EstherOReilly

    The anthropological results are mired in conjecture and guesswork. I realize this isn’t a popular thing to say, but the historical Adam has not been “debunked,” by any means.

  • chemical

    As an atheist: Your point about running like a deer (or fast as lightning) is actually revealing the sloppiness of using the English language to describe reality. But English is how our brains work, and we don’t have a better tool besides other languages, which are equally flawed. Saying something like “The runner is as fast as lightning!”, I’m not going to take that as “The runner is running at approximately 100,000,000 m/s (the speed of actual lightning bolts)”, but rather something closer to “The runner is running at a rate near the limit of what a human is capable of doing in ideal circumstances”. The thought process behind “The runner is as fast as lightning” is lightning speed = very high speed, therefore “The runner is as fast as lightning” = “The runner is running really quickly”. The thing is, “very high speed” is a completely meaningless phrase. Very high compared to what? If you mean other humans, then I could see that. My point is, though, there are a lot of hidden connections that your mind makes automatically when you use a metaphor like “fast as lightning”, and you’re glossing over those.

    The absolute truth about how the runner is running means you have have to define a unit of distance and time (meters and seconds in this case), and then compare the change in distance over time, and then you can figure out the rate of movement. Basically, you need to apply physics to it.
    Speed of lightning bolt: 100,000,000 m/s
    Speed of Usain Bolt: 12.27 m/s
    And it’s clear that no, the runner is not actually running as fast as lightning.

  • TinnyWhistler

    What do you mean by a historical Adam, and what criteria do you need him to fill? I ask because I know there’s TONS of disagreement on this.

  • @EstherOReilly

    A first man, directly created body and soul by God. Otherwise you have humans interbreeding with non-human hominids, and body and soul completely divorced from each other in terms of imago Dei. If someone breezily asserts that this is just “how it was,” anyone who thinks human exceptionalism is worth holding onto should refuse to simply let it drop without further push-back.

  • cowalker

    I still enjoy reading different points of view on religious belief. But I’ve found as I’ve gotten (a lot!) older and more distant in time from when I believed, the more absurd religious faith appears. Homo Sapiens has walked the earth for about 200,000 years. The earliest stories in the Judaeo-Christian go back to maybe 2000 BCE. Presumably all those ancient souls, who were primarily animists, had as good a shot at salvation as any of us. God wouldn’t discriminate against them for living during during the first 97.5 per cent of human history up until now. Yet modern believers feel they must have books of revelation and theologians to guide them. God absolutely requires Right Belief and Right Action based on extremely flawed historical documents and modern (last 2000 years) tradition. Doesn’t the absurdity of attributing this course of action to an immortal, omniscient, infinitely powerful being who exists outside of time strike anyone else?? Probably it does but they’re not hanging out on Patheos. 😉

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I know too much to be a christian, but not enough to be an atheist. Forgot who said it, but it fits my own mindset…quite well.

  • TinnyWhistler

    So, to clarify, you’re saying that God intervened at some point and dropped two individual fully human, sentient people who were different from the entire rest of the population of contemporary humanoids (Neanderthals, Denisovans) somewhere in the world, and that subsequently no intermixing whatsoever took place?

    I do also want to point out a little pet peeve. “The anthropological results are mired in conjecture and guesswork.” That can arguably extended to literally every single area of study. It’s a very easy accusation to throw about and impossible to counter since it indicates that you’re fully prepared to move goalposts.
    “If someone breezily asserts that this is just “how it was,” anyone who thinks human exceptionalism is worth holding onto should refuse to simply let it drop without further push-back.”
    I’m struggling to avoid breezily interpreting this as you being unwilling to think critically about your position because you’ve 100% made up your mind. If that’s the case, that’s ok. That’s your line in the sand. However, there are other Christian interpretations of all this like this article that talks about Adam as a spiritual ancestor of all humanity much in the same way that Abraham was the spiritual, not literal, ancestor of all Israel: https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/a-historical-adam

    I’m not a geneticist, nor do I play one on tv so I’m not trying to get into a detailed discussion about genetics and why genetic studies may or may not be correct in concluding that intermixing took place a few dozen millennia ago.

  • TinnyWhistler

    The problem with Intelligent Design is that it’s no use as a framework of scientific study. It does not help us better understand the natural world.

    “many people in the scientific establishment have chosen to view the absence of supernatural elements as an explanatory virtue in and of itself. ”
    That’s because using God as an explanation does not lead to future study. Using God as the answer to a question does not invite further digging into the question. Looking for a natural process that leads to the observed result doesn’t answer the question, it creates more questions! And that’s awesome!

    “they wind up being arguments over philosophy rather than science. ”
    My main beef with ID **is** an issue with philosophy.

    Scientific study is not a courtroom. There IS NO prima facie case. Scientists try to come up with mechanisms and models that explain and predict the observations they see in the world. Sometimes, those explanations seem pretty darn prima facie. Newton’s law of universal gravitation was taken as the whole story for hundreds of years. Inconsistencies with his theory of how gravity works (such as the precession of Mercury’s orbit) were explained by things like additional, undiscovered planets (interestingly, a similar issue with Uranus led to the discovery of Neptune!) until Einstein’s theory of general relativity tied special relativity to gravity and created a new theory of spacetime that DID account for those irregularities. And there are still problems that come from predictions made by general relativity (dark matter).

    In the meantime, stopping at “God hung the planets in the sky and moves them according to His plan. All we can do is observe and report what they do, trying to explain why is too complex” isn’t a very fun stopping place for astronomy!

    I’d actually be really interested to know if any new areas of study have come about through an ID framework. What has ID contributed to the study of the natural world other than a theological pat on the back?

  • summers-lad

    Well said! I absolutely agree, both with your statements and how you apply them.

  • summers-lad

    I think that, to all intents and purposes, they are synonymous, even though ID claims otherwise.

  • chemical

    As far as the “much-touted scientific method ending in a question mark”, that’s something scientists are OK with. Scientists aren’t infallible, and science isn’t all-knowing. In science, it’s important to recognize that you don’t know everything! Science is a framework for working out problems and learning about the natural world. Mistakes get made, and when they do, and this is really important, science rejects the previous theory when a better one comes along. Major paradigm shifts in science are rare, though, but they have happened.

    It’s also important to note that at no point since we started doing science about 400 years ago, has a religious or supernatural explanation overthrown a scientific theory.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    ID? I think you mean CP for Cdesign Proponentsism, a flubbed scam.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Please, use the honest term ‘Cdesign Proponentsism’ not whatever “intelligent design” is.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Uh, the Discotute uses nice stock photos instead of their non-existent labs… That’s… something…

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2012/12/inteliigent-design-think-tanks-institute-is-a-shutterstock-image/

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    The trouble is we never had a historical “Adam” (1 male human ancestor) based on genetics. We all have one male ancestors’ Y chromosome, but then we also have a broken vitamin C gene from our ape ancestors (which is why we needed sauerkraut to help us sail the seas).

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    An argument from consequences was your go-to?

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Claiming the Bible is “supernaturally” inspired brings up some big questions, too. What does a “God” whose not going to die and who has no spatial limitations need with a book? Any apologetics books Christians want people to read their own God can read, making the apologetics completely redundant. Text and immortal omnipresent persons do not mix, but text is the only place we find these beings, as if they are just human creations.

  • Jim Dailey

    Hopefully you are not a sportswriter.

  • Lacunaria

    To be fair, adherents of every moral ideology do that (e.g. Marxists defending communism), but I don’t know any believers who read those passages and conclude that it is therefore moral for us to kill people for using the wrong incense or touching the Ark, because other more direct Biblical principles prevent that.

    Instead, they overwhelmingly conclude that it is exceptional — God must have had his reasons which we don’t understand, or they make more nuanced arguments about God’s permissiveness in ancient Hebrew culture, mixing sovereignty and free will. e.g. it doesn’t make sense for God to harden anyone’s heart against Himself, so something else must be meant.

  • Illithid

    I don’t mean to imply that Christians will take these passages as a guide to their own actions. They (and you) illustrate a more subtle problem, which is the status of certain beliefs as unquestionably true. God must be good, therefore the acts ascribed to him must somehow be morally correct. Also, this particular book must be trusted as a vehicle of revelation about the nature and deeds of this God.

    It makes perfect sense within the narrative for God to harden “Pharoah’s” heart, because the Israelites were his chosen people and no one else was of equal moral worth. It’s only in light of modern moral sensibilities that this becomes a difficulty. Today we (most of us) recognise that human value is not based on membership in a particular ethnic or religious group. At the time of the origin of the myths written in Exodus, this was not the case. All the children of an enemy tribe get killed? What of it? They’re not our tribe.

    So we have a conflict. A supposedly moral God is portrayed as committing obviously immoral acts. One can attempt to rationalize the acts as somehow actually being moral, one can question or downplay the accuracy of the account of his actions, or one can conclude that the God portrayed in the account is not good. The first option leaves the believer defending reprehensible acts. The second leaves the believer worshipping a being without any guide to the nature or attributes of that being. I think that the only rational and moral choice is the last one. I also happen to think that the events described in the accounts I cite are fiction, and that the being described is imaginary (which mixes in a dash of choice #2 as well), but that is a seperate issue.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    I guess that depends on what we are looking for if we are searching for a “historical Adam” such that we can consider what past evidence is relevant to his possibility of existing, and similarly when we draw the line a “debunked”.

    And, yes, I’m catching a theme in some of your statements of a frustration with some who take scientific results and then harp on them as disproof to a degree that isn’t warranted—something you are alluding to again here. This is a fair concern.

    There are formulations of a “historical Adam” which I can think of which are far from debunked—namely because they would be virtually impossible to find evidence regarding such a person. There are other formulations (such as, say, “the man from which all other humans are descended who was the husband of the woman from which all humans are descended”) which are so unlikely as to be worth calling “debunked”. (Population genetics really doesn’t leave space for the existence of a two-person bottle-neck in our human family tree.)

  • @EstherOReilly

    Actually, the bottleneck hasn’t been conclusively ruled out either. Ann Gauger comes to mind as one researcher who has done some very sophisticated work on this and remains unconvinced.

  • Lacunaria

    You’re right, it is a dilemma, which often leads to reinterpretation of the Bible or leaving it as an unknown. That’s a variation of your #2 where there’s sufficient guide to a good God in the rest of the Bible to reconcile or defer to. Christians tend to simply defer to the New Testament, for example.

    There was certainly a lot of tribalism but religion is tricky because it is merged with moral standards of behavior which can legitimately affect moral treatment. And if mere membership is what gave Israelites moral worth then God wouldn’t reject them based upon their bad behavior, as He repeatedly did.

    The Bible was written in hindsight and I think that the authors of these parts were trying to make sense of why some things happened and inferring God’s will and actions, like we do today. Why is this the priestly line? Because these others defied God and died. Or why is this person such a thorn? Because we defied God and didn’t rout or kill their tribe during the war or let them change us.

    These don’t make much sense to us today, nor do they really matter since they aren’t morally instructive.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    This is true.

  • TinnyWhistler

    As far as I can tell, Meyer argues that it’s not a God of the gaps fallacy because the gap in question is information encoded in DNA, and to him that’s a SPECIAL gap that doesn’t count.

    Is there another rebuttal he gives that accusation?

    I find it hard to be charitable to the Discovery Institute since they’re pretty much at the forefront of trying to insert ID as a framework for scientific study into public schools. I strongly disagree with that because I don’t think ID is useful for fostering inquiry, as I wrote in my other comment.

    Sorry, I’m finding bits of half-written comments in various tabs and trying to finish them up.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Depending on how you define what needs to be intelligently designed, ID can be synonymous with just about ANY attempt to reconcile the Bible and science.

    If anything other than a literal reading of Genesis bothers you, an intelligent designer is needed for absolutely everything.
    If you’re a flavor of OEC that’s fine with the timescales but not development of life, development of DNA, emergence of humans etc, use ID to plug those bits
    If you’re 100% on board with accepted scientific conclusions, you could say that God is the origin of the “laws” of physics that seem to constrain the world, and/or that He sparked the Big Bang.

    All of that could reasonably be described as things being intelligently designed. Most people who defend ID as a thing mean repeating Discovery Institute talking points (hey, ID, DI! just noticed that! haha)

  • TinnyWhistler

    That’s actually hilarious.

    If they have a lab, why not just use a snapshot from it? It’d be cheaper than purchasing rights to a stock photo, and presumably they had a photographer around anyway when they were shooting the video. It doesn’t even need to be that hi-res.
    Or do what my college did for their promotional stuff where professors talked about the programs. Just shoot the video in the lab.

    It doesn’t really matter, but it is funny.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Also worth noting that “the scientific method” doesn’t involve the hypothesis -> experiment -> theory -> experiment -> law hierarchy that gets thrown around to middle schoolers.

    The scientific method by its NATURE invites more questions! If getting an “answer” doesn’t lead to more questions, you’re doing it wrong in my experience. Also, it’s no fun. All the explanations we get from science are models at best. They can always be tweaked to be better, though there certainly is an element of diminishing returns.

  • Illithid

    I think your second paragraph is answered by your third. It’s another example of people being unable to revisit their premises. The Israelites believed their god was real, and supremely powerful, and that they were his chosen people. Being conquered by other nations can thus only occur at the will of their god, and they rationalized it as a punishment. Punishment for what? Well, it’s not hard to come up with some transgression. “You weren’t devout enough”, for example, is difficult to contest.

    The only alternative to believing they were being punished would be to conclude that either their god had abandoned them, wasn’t supremely powerful, or didn’t exist (which most of them probably didn’t even consider). Possibly some Hebrews did reach these conclusions and merged with the conquering cultures; the Hebrew scriptures we have are the writings of those who remained. If you start, not with the question “why did God do this?”, but with the question “how would people who believed in this God explain their history?”, the writings of the prophets make perfect sense.

    And they definitely do matter. The NT is rooted in the Torah, inescapably. If you worship the God that Jesus is portrayed as praying to, you must own the deeds ascribed to that God in the Hebrew scriptures. The problem, of course, is that those deeds are morally reprehensible to any decent person today. Well, and that some of those alleged deeds evidently never occurred.

  • Illithid

    Depends on how you define “atheist”, I suppose. I don’t know anything about any god. Therefore I have no belief in any. Therefore, atheist. Not that I really care what someone else calls themself. But believers often portray the atheist position as one of being certain that no gods exist, while self-described atheists generally do not hold that position.

  • LastManOnEarth

    “. e.g. it doesn’t make sense for God to harden anyone’s heart against Himself, so something else must be meant.”

    For example, it could simply be the product of ordinary human mythmaking, which of course happens all the time throughout human history across a multitude of cultures.

    This hypothesis fits all the available evidence without ad hoc supposition, excuse making, hand waving or appeals to “mystery”.

  • LastManOnEarth

    It can, I don’t, and of course not.

  • Lacunaria

    Kind of, but I don’t think of it as all or nothing. If there is a God, then the Bible may be what you’d get when humans have run-ins with Him and try to rationalize the rest.

    Of course, it’s also possible that God doesn’t exist, but He’s extremely useful, much like free will. e.g. even if free will doesn’t exist, we are built to believe it does and we should.

    Your second paragraph embeds the problem of evil, which is also answered by free will (the only meaningful act of omnipotence is to create beings you don’t control). I think the Hebrews likewise struggled with this and predestination, just as we do today and their language about God reveals that.

    Overall, you take a very literal, fundamentalist view of Scripture that I don’t quite share, but the typical fundamentalist answer is, “God is exceptional and has His reasons”. I don’t find that satisfying but it’s also not worth debating unless they are going to apply that immoral behavior to their lives.

  • Lacunaria

    Well, that particular example seems to me like an outgrowth of the conflict between determinism and free will that we still struggle with today.

    But more generally, I agree, it could be mythmaking. And then we’re led to accept that myths are useful. And then questions which once seemed essential, like, “does God exist?” become less relevant than, “What affect is your belief in God having in your life? What good is He?”

  • PaleyRedivivus

    What line of argument leads you to think that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Passover according to John? If it’s just Bart Ehrman’s argument, you might want to reconsider.

    Most of these detail issues resolve themselves upon a little study — as they do when we find them in secular historical work.

  • james warren

    A man who is said to be running like a deer is a simile.
    A man who is called a deer is a metaphor.

    Resurrection is a metaphor that points to the fact that after Jesus’ death, his followers still felt his power & presence abiding with them after his death.

    No one, any time or anywhere causes a person who has been dead three days and comes to consciousness and walks, talks, eats, etc. So something else is going on.

    When we say someone is as “fast as lightening” is not taken as literal.
    It is a simile.

    To say that someone IS lightning, that is a metaphor.

    There are two kinds of truth: the factually correct version and then the metaphoric version.

  • james warren

    One could say that a person is a fool because they know nothing about explaining their own position, how they define it, and basically, what are they trying to communicate?

    All truth is provisional. The phrase probably comes from the Enlightenment where science, logic and rational thought gained a foothold.

    We began with the Enlightenment to think that ancient peoples (“other” peoples) told dumb, literal stories that we were now smart enough to recognize as such.

    Not quite.

    Those ancient people told smart, metaphorical stories that we were now dumb enough to take literally.

  • james warren

    I see the Bible as a human product that contains different traditions, different theologies, different cultural “takes” on our social environment, etc.

    All the writers had their own agenda. John’s gospel was focused on presenting a Jesus that died for human sin. This is why he includes those beautiful and powerful “I AM” statements–Like I AM the Lamb of God.
    The unblemished lamb who is killed and consumed on the Day of Preparation. John asserts that Jesus was crucified on the day BEFORE the Passover holiday.

    And this reveals that the other three gospel writers insist Jesus died on Passover.

    John was willing to change the tradition in order to account for the Lamb of God’s sacrificial death.

  • Widuran

    It cannot be disputed historically not if you believe in facts. You don’t believe and not accept him but all this proves is it is confirmation bias on your part.

  • LastManOnEarth

    Belief in a god or gods based on the beliefs and cultural mores of ancient cultures is kind of a crapshoot. Some good, some bad. Some sensible and some nonsensical.

    We can cherry-pick the good and ignore or explain away the bad, but ultimately both have the same foundation.

    If myth is useful, should we then not select or create the most useful myths, to maximize the good and minimize the bad? We can’t, of course, because belief in myths is irrational, and we are stuck with what we’ve got.

    Reason is not so constrained. We can maximize good according to our goals and best knowledge directly, without the middle man of myth, and revise as we learn more.

    Pragmatically, justifying belief in myth, sincere or otherwise, seems to lose to well-reasoned Humanism. Any utility from ancient myth is secondary and accidental; Humanism treats it as a first principal.

  • LastManOnEarth

    I believe in facts. The fact is that there is precious little evidence and it is of the most unreliable and suspect type. I don’t think either side is justified in making strong claims of certainty or high probabilities. IMO the only justifiable position is that we don’t know and don’t have enough reliable evidence to know.

    The authentic letters of Paul make only a few tenuous and indirect references to an earthly living Jesus but frequently reference to him as a being revealed in scripture and visions. Nothing corroborates the “gospel” Jesus portrayed by the author of Mark, who is far more fluent with formal Greek rhetorical technique and literary tropes than second temple Jewish practice or Palestinian geography. Everything else is derivative: letters forged in Paul’s name, plagiarized gospels, historical fiction and so on.

    IMO the Doherty hypothesis fits the evidence at least as well as the historicist hypothesis, but it is lacking in direct evidence in favor. For me its main utility is in demonstrating significant weaknesses in the historicist hypothesis, and particularly in the historical reliability of the “Gospel” Jesus.

    You may not agree with such analysis, perhaps to your own cornfirmation bias, but the historicist position isn’t as universal nor as indisputable as it’s proponents like to claim.

  • Lacunaria

    Do you believe in free will? Is that a myth? Is believing it irrational?

    Why would utility from myth be secondary? If God exists then we’d expect utility to match perfectly, right?

    Humanism is a fair abstraction of Christianity that has the convenience of perpetually matching modern sensibilities when challenged, but it lacks holistic meaning and structure. Humanistic gatherings seem like pale imitations of Christian traditions and community from what I can tell, but maybe it’s my sampling.

    How do Humanists approach prayer, for example? Intentionally articulating, analyzing and sharing your ideal petitions is useful for the speakers and the hearers, even if God is not among them. Humanists could surely establish such a widespread tradition, but will they?

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “It’s noteworthy, however, that the story of Smith’s golden tablets is attested by 13 witnesses whose names we know, who never recanted even after breaking with Smith and the LDS.”

    Actually, Martin Harris backed out to saying that he saw the golden plates with a “spiritual eye.” (Memorandum of John H. Gilbert, Sept. 8, 1892, reprinted in H. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, p. 206)

    The story with the eight witnesses is a bit different, as they never claimed to have seen the angel, just some plates (in a language no one but Smith was able to translate). The statement they signed was written by Joseph Smith himself and reads, in its entirety:

    Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

    Though the circumstance of all eight of these witnesses being related to two of the leaders of the sect — they were all members of the Smith or Whitmer families — is more than a little suspicious, I would be willing to entertain the hypothesis that Smith did indeed show them some engraved metal plates. More than that, however, does not follow from their own testimony taken at face value.

    As for the manner in which those plates were shown to them, we have the testimony of Smith’s own brother:

    Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

    He replied, “I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow-frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother’s history.”

    Bro. Briggs then asked, “Did any others of the family see them.”

    “Yes,” said he; “Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family.”

    [“]Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?”

    “No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then.”

    “Didn’t you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?” said Bro. B.

    “No,” he replied; “for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; ‘No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.’ Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before.”

    The Deseret Weekly 48 (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News Publishing Co., 1894), p. 179.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “In another story, Aaron’s two sons attempt to steady the Ark of the Tabernacle when it seemed about to fall. God struck them dead. Then he threatened Aaron, saying that if Aaron showed the signs of mourning for his dead sons, God would kill him, too.”

    I think you’re blending two stories together here. The guy who tried to steady the ark of the covenant was Uzzah — no particular relation to Aaron. (Numbers 4:15) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for offering unauthorized sacrifices. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

    I realize that these details aren’t at the heart of your objection. Still, lest history swerve, etc.

  • Illithid

    You’re quite right, thanks for the correction.

  • Illithid

    You’re kind of right about me taking a fundamentalist view; that’s the sort of Christian I’m used to debating. It does get a little frustrating, though, when a Christian doesn’t seem to take their own scriptures… looking for a word: literally? Seriously? It often seems to be a matter of convenience which passages are considered factual and which metaphorical. It makes it hard to figure out what you actually believe about your God. Although, your words above make me think you’re considerably more relaxed in your outlook than most.

    It’s puzzling, though. I mean, Jesus is quoted in the Gospels referring to the Law and the Prophets. The Gospel authors attempt (poorly) to anchor their Messianic claims about him to particular scriptural passages. Jesus refers to purported events in the Hebrew texts, like the flood of Noah. Presumably a Christian thinks Jesus was divine, was God incarnate. Did he not know what he was talking about? If the genocidal portrayal of YHWH wasn’t right, why not correct it?

    Perhaps the idea of gods was useful at one time. I’ve read speculations that religion served to reinforce social cohesion as human societies grew too large for everyone to know everyone else in the group. I’m not sure whether it’s needed now. There are obviously valuable social functions that have been performed by churches, and we don’t have really good nonreligious substitutes yet. Perhaps as nonbelief gets more popular, spreading beyond the cantankerous loner types (waves hand), that will change.

    I don’t know to think about free will. It feels like I make decisions, but all the evidence I have indicates that our actions are products of our brain states and of the stimuli we experience. Can I really decide to do something completely out of character? I could make a wacky face or spout gibberish just to show my unpredictability, but can I get up off the couch and punch my wife right now? It’s physically possible, but I don’t think I could decide to do that.

  • Widuran

    You are the one with conformation biase as proven above

  • Elzbieta Kraszewski

    Just to be clear, while I have read much of Ehrman’s writings and have found them compelling, my minor at university was in religious studies and Biblical study has always been a major fascination of mine. I know that if one has a Master’s of Divinity, this background amounts to very little, but I do want to say that I have studied the Bible under experts and there are several major contradictions like the ones mentioned above that are usually simply ignored or glossed over by the faithful (truly amusing is the argument of how an account which features one angel could imply that there were two but simply decided to focus on the one. Huh? I can’t imagine, in a court of law, claiming in one account that two men robbed me, then saying it was only one. I would be seen, rightfully, as not credible, and my case would likely be dismissed).

    I write these questions because I honestly would like to know if there are logical reasons for believing in Christianity. As far as I can tell, after having been raised in the Catholic Church my entire life, having read major apologetic works (Lewis, Chesterton, Strobel), and having completed my university studies with a focus in this area, the answer appears quite obvious that if one has not been raised in the faith, he/she is highly unlikely to become Christian later in life due simply to reading the Bible and rational evidence (most adult converts do so to join their spouse’s faith or because of some significant crisis). I would like to give Christianity its due, though, and would welcome any evidence which supports the claims (especially the supernatural claims). Sadly, most of the historical secular sources are quite lacking in this regard. There was never a Roman census which required that all citizens return to their ancestors’ hometowns (the way the Gospels manage to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem). Herod, though a tyrant, was never cited by any source outside of the Gospels as having slaughtered all the Jewish boys under the age of two. I know you will claim that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” but surely some Roman or Jewish historian would have noticed such an atrocity and would have written about it, no?

    Just to conclude, I’m sympathetic to Peterson’s argument. Most cultures do benefit from having a defining narrative to describe their worldview, ethical structure, and divine allegory. Religion is unsurpassed in community-building and encouraging self-sacrifice for the greater good. However, these benefits work only when a significant portion of the populace actually believes the claims made by the faith; no one will truly dedicate his/her life to something he/she sees only as an allegory. I believe that’s where Peterson fails. He loves the idea of religion but, like myself, cannot bring himself to actually believe the claims due to lack of concrete evidence. He dances around this by trying to redefine God in some poetic, abstract sense that absolutely no one truly believes in or worships rather than embracing the reality of the situation.

  • Ed Senter

    Jesus was crucified on Passover. The day begins at 6PM. So, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples on Tuesday night at 6PM. He was crucified on Wednesday and in the tomb by 6PM. The first day after Passover was the Feast of Unleavened bread which was a High Sabbath when no work could be performed. What John calls “Preparation Day” was the day before a sabbath when no work could be done. Jesus lied in the tomb for 3 days (72 hours) and rose on the first day of the week after Passover, Feast of First Fruits, at 6PM Saturday. Because Thursday and Saturday were both Sabbaths when no work was done, the women had to gather the spices for burial on Friday. That is why they went to the tomb on Sunday. It all makes complete sense.

  • The reason that Humanist meetings are similar to Christian community building is the recognition that religious groups do a good job of community building. In trying to build new communities to build the gap between many Humanist groups rely on the best practices of their own experience in religious groups. The idea of not having a structure and holistic meaning is a two edge sword. By not having a hierarchal structure like religion allows greater flexibility in building the local community that is needed without having to worry about dogma passed down from on high. Not having that structure does mean humanist miss out on having national or regional organization for support financially. This is critical when looking at providing Humanist Chaplains for educational institutions as those Chaplains are paid via the supporting theological organization. The Humanist Society (the branch of American Humanist Association non-profit that provides accreditation for Humanist Celebrants/Chaplains) is relatively new and does not have the money to pay for Humanist Chaplains for all schools.

    As for the Humanist approach to prayer, there is a growing practice of using mediation (without the spirituality) for personal growth but the idea of “Intentionally articulating, analyzing and sharing your ideal petitions” is not useful unless human can act upon those petitions. Humanist believe that the only way to make this short life we have on earth better is for humans to work together to fix those issues that we are facing. Putting petitions out into the ether, from the Humanist perspective is just wishful thinking unless there is something actionable associated to the petition.

    That being said the advantage of a Humanist Chaplain is that they can sit down and praying with someone of a different faith as this is not an issue for them as there is no dogma associated with participating in other faiths. For example, a Humanist Chaplain in the military would be available to perform any religious right or tradition without violating their conscience. Even though all Chaplains are supposed to perform any sacrament that a solider requires there are some Chaplains who have a hard time with this because their faith is exclusionary.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “All truth is provisional”

    Nope. Something is either true or it is not true. There is no such thing as my truth & your truth. We can have different opinions, but then we are discussing personal subjective opinions, not objective truths.

  • Lacunaria

    The Bible actually feels more serious to me when I allow it to be a realistic work of men encountering God — where useful myths and rationalizations are naturally part of, but not dispositive of, the whole work.

    In any case, when we encounter contradictions in millennia-old writing, we can either conclude that it is nonsense or infer context and reinterpret until it makes more sense. Atheists are invested in the former and Christians in the latter, which is why their debating the Bible is rarely productive.

    I sympathize that it seems convenient to reinterpret until it makes sense, but we do the same thing with other historical works. Even more recent works like the US Constitution, we reinterpret it in context, trying to explain slavery, for example.

    There are a variety of partial explanations put forth today, but neither explaining the flood nor destruction of tribes were practical issues in Jesus’s time.

    I share your view that some of the Messiah references are so thin that it feels like they are reaching. But maybe it meant more to Jews at the time and how they reasoned.

    I also agree that religions can aid social cohesion but there seems to be inherent limits to substituting Humanism, as I’m discussing with Mark Landes regarding prayer.

    You have well-ingrained moral blocks to punching your wife, so I wouldn’t recommend that as a good test of your free will, but I think free will and its moral implications are key to identifying the compatibility of God with our reality.

    By the way, I’m an even odder Christian than you might imagine. No Trinity. No eternal torment. But I can argue these views from the Bible (they are mostly born of syncretizing Judaism with Greek philosophy).

  • Lacunaria

    Thank you for your thoughtful response regarding modern Humanism, Mark! 🙂

    The Humanistic approach of incorporating the practical benefits from evolved, chosen religions sounds reasonable.

    I think that humans do act on their own petitions, consciously and subconsciously. Analyzing and articulating what they want is the first step, followed by sharing them with others. This is common practice for Christians throughout the day — e.g. awakening, meals, and bedtime.

    It is further useful that prayer be to a third-party embodiment of good, because that shapes desires and validates them with others who are united in that same formulation of good. It’s not ego-focused or other-focused, it’s an independent good-focused.

    Even if it is not directly actionable, this builds shared purpose, trust, and cooperation. The divorce rate, for example, is substantially impacted by daily praying together.

    By “structure”, I didn’t mean hierarchy, which I agree has its pros and cons, but rather the structure of an integrated religion: beliefs, (moral) values, and practices.

    I do see Humanism picking up more of that, but a large subset of Humanists are anti-religion and resist it out of principle.

    And while a Humanist Chaplain who can perform any religion’s sacraments may be ideal for the military, even otherwise useless standards can actually engender greater trust and cohesion because they are an exclusionary hurdle.

    So, I don’t see Humanism reaching the same useful degree of community as other religions. Granted, it avoids challenges associated with that closeness, but people nonetheless find it useful.

  • Serious question: how does Harris create objective values for humans from his subjective presuppositions for the purpose of humanity?

  • The claim that the divorce rate is substantially impacted by daily prayer is quite a claim and would love to see a scientific study on that claim as it would appear that open communication would have a more substantial impact regardless of whether the couple pray together.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201105/lowering-the-odds-divorce-ways-boost-your-marital-longevity

    Not sure what ‘belief’ you think the Humanist would need as that word is not used by Humanists. Also Humanist are not all ant-religion as there are Christian Humanist, Jewish Humanist, Catholic Humanists and even Muslim Humanists in addition to those Humanist who are agnostic or atheist. Humanism is not a religion there is no belief nor dogma.

    As for moral values we share many moral values based upon the aspirations outlined in the Humanist Manifesto. As for practices our celebrants (myself included) are building practices for weddings, memorial services, and naming/re-naming ceremonies that are focused on the individual/individuals and the impact they have on those who love those individuals.

  • Lacunaria

    The Couple that Prays Together provides a summary of a 1980’s Gallup study and a 2010 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

    You might broadly categorize prayer under “open communication”, but I’m not aware of scientific studies showing that they are substitutable. This seems to be Humanism’s basic approach: generalize and assume substitutability.

    Similarly, it seems like you’re conflating or switching to a very broad definition of Humanism. Is it belief in the religion of the first Humanist Manifesto? Or are you defining it as simply valuing human agency and rationality over dogma or superstition? Do Christian Humanists classify the Bible or God as dogma or superstition?

    What does Humanism assert that is concrete and controversial?

  • Illithid

    Were I a Christian, I would also not be a Trinitarian. The idea does not seem well-supported. Particularly, I don’t see the justification for considering the Holy Spirit as a distinct entity in any sense. Also, I’m unconvinced that Jesus ever thought of himself as divine.

    Regarding the Torah, I don’t regard it as nonsense, but as an orally-transmitted (and later written) mythical origin story of the Hebrews. It happens that the more dramatic parts are evidently untrue, such as the Exodus, the (global) Flood, and the Cananite conquests. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense, as a story. But when I look at this collection of writings and ask if it is likely that the deity it describes actually exists, the answer is no. I just don’t see anything in it that couldn’t easily have been simply the imaginings of the people alive at the time. I don’t reject the existence of Zeus and Apollo mainly because the Greek myths have contradictions internally or with modern science, but because there is simply no reason to believe in them.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to be emotionally invested in the falsehood of the Bible to find it unconvincing. I think it’s inherently unconvincing unless you’re invested in believing it. Even that often isn’t enough, as the majority of (U.S.) atheists who are ex-Christians attests.

    I like many odd Christians, though. Much less likely than average to try telling me how to live my life.

  • Thank you for the links and I was not trying to say that open communication was substitutable for prayer, I was unaware of the scientific studies. I have not had a chance to fully read the study but I found two additional studies I would recommend using in the future as society has changed a great deal since the 1980’s. I would recommend these follow up articles:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232478236_Praying_Together_and_Staying_Together_Couple_Prayer_and_Trust

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d4da/f07c4a80683f666cca68731ee4b57ee717c6.pdf

    The first Humanist Manifesto was based upon reason and scientific understanding at the time it was written 1933. The Humanist Manifesto has changed twice since then and it is as stated is a lifestance “—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. ” I am using the definition as outlined on the American Humanist Association website on the the Third Humanist Manifesto page: “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

    Even the principles outline in the Third Manifesto are aspirations for Humanist to live up to and not as per the definition of dogma “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” That is the whole point of the development of the Manifesto is that as our knowledge and experience continues to group those principles can be updated. Many incontrovertible truth as claimed by many religions have proved to be false (flat earth and Heliocentrism among others) and religion is either slow to accept or completely deny the reality that dogma as no longer being true.

    I do not know if Christian Humanist view humanism above the dogma or superstition but in reality there is a great deal that Christianity as preached by Jesus have in common with the Humanist life stance. Much of the Beatitudes as outlined in Matthew and Luke display the compassion for other that is essential to Humanism. Also the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew and the Good Samaritan are all examples of how we should be treating our fellow men beyond just the Golden Rule.

    This is a more in-depth discussion of the common ground between Humanism and Chrisitanity. https://americanhumanist.org/paths/christianity/

    The only thing that Humanism asserts is that we only have this one life and planet, and the best thing that we can do with this one life is to make the life of every human being fulfilling here and now and to make life on this earth better. The only controversial aspect is that Humanists are not relying on a supernatural being to fix everything either now or in the long term (after life) as there is no evidence supporting those propositions.

  • Lacunaria

    It’s funny, I was just reading about Douglas Petrovich and his argument that Hebrew was the world’s oldest alphabet and his subsequent translation of previously indecipherable hieroglyphic inscriptions, including those mentioning Moses provoking astonishment. It was previously indecipherable because the hieroglyphs were actually used as letters for proto-Hebraic words.

    Anyhow, I agree that simply reading the Bible wouldn’t give much reason to (wholly) believe it. I think people are convinced of religion (or not) by the actual beliefs, values, and practices they see people live.

    Speaking of not telling people how to live their lives, I also find resonance in the Christian origins of classical liberalism.

  • Illithid

    I searched Dr.Petrovich, and I’m finding not respectable scholastic references, but book promotions and appearances on Creationist websites and at a Young Earth Creationist conference. I’m afraid this completely puts his credibility in the toilet, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ve encountered numerous decent people who are Christians, IRL and online. That doesn’t make me likelier to find their beliefs convincing, but it does make for friendlier conversations.

  • Lacunaria

    Dr. Petrovich’s Academia.edu page has replies to a few academic peers’ cursory evaluations, but from reading them I see that he has had difficulty eliciting engagement since the academic community has largely already written off the historicity of the Bible, as you have described.

    Religious groups have the most to gain, so it’s not surprising that they are the ones advertising it most, but Petrovich’s research is of such a precise and explicit nature that it should be relative easy to disprove if he is wrong.

    I don’t think “decent” is enough. Conversion happens when people are dissatisfied with their own life and they see a better way to live, including a better community. I think religion is basically utilitarian.

  • james warren

    The famous atomic physicist Niels Bohr once observed that there are two sorts of truth:

    “Profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.”

    Truth is what highlights the conflict between opposing ideologies.
    It is not found IN one thing or IN another thing.
    It is found in the relationship between the two.

    Is Jesus Lord, Son of God, Savior of the World?
    Or is Caesar [who was known by those EXACT SAME TITLES]?

    Both statements are claims of faith. They are not factually true.

  • james warren

    Those are not metaphors. A metaphor is when a man IS a deer, not that he is “LIKE” a deer.

    Logic and rationality are not the only ways to express truth.

  • james warren

    Truth is what highlights the conflict between opposing ideologies.
    Anyone who is unable to answer a simple question is foolish, in my opinion.
    There are several separate kinds of atheism.
    If the idea of truth is not a part of any atheist, then are you willing to acknowledge your post is untrue?

    The interesting thing about asking an atheist to describe the Christian God is that they always choose the God of supernatural theism.

    As far as I see, this kind of belief is nonsensical. This view allows the believer to passively worship Christ instead of following the teachings of Jesus.

    “Love your enemies.”
    “Pray to the Father in secret.”
    “Why do you call ME good? Only God is good.”
    “The Father makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
    “Friend, who made me a judge over you?”
    “Give to everyone who begs from you.”
    “You cannot love God and be chained to a bank account [Scholars’ Version translation].”
    “Go and learn what this means: [God] desires mercy, NOT sacrifice.”
    “Do not judge.”

  • james warren

    I see the Bible as a collection of different books, written at different times and historical circumstances and in different geographical areas.

    It was written by inspired men who were moved to write down their own beliefs about “God.”

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Truth is what highlights the conflict between opposing ideologies.”

    And something is either true or it is not true.

    “Anyone who is unable to answer a simple question is foolish, in my opinion.”

    Here is a simple question for you, I await your answer: Do you believe in leprechauns?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “There are several separate kinds of atheism.”

    I would define it as different levels of atheism, not separate kinds.

    “If the idea of truth is not a part of any atheist, then are you willing to acknowledge your post is untrue?”

    Nope.

    You said: “”I have seen atheists try to define truth”

    I replied: They may do so or try to do so. But it has no bearing on their being an atheist.

    Atheism is a SINGLE position on a SINGLE question: does a god exist?

    The atheist position is that because they have seen no evidence for a god, they do not believe a god exists.

    My point is when someone states they are an atheist, all you can determine from that statement is that the person does not believe any god exists.

    If an atheist defines anything else ( in your example, define truth), it has nothing to do with their atheism because all atheism is concerned with is whether or not the person believes a god exists.

    It is like a theist asking an atheist if they accept the big bang theory or the theory of evolution. The atheist may answer you, but their answer has nothing to do with the fact that they do not believe a god exists ( their atheism).

    “The interesting thing about asking an atheist to describe the Christian God is that they always choose the God of supernatural theism.”

    The interesting thing is that having asked an atheist to describe the Christian god you would expect a description that is NOT a god of supernatural theism. Using the Bible’s description of god, the definition would have to be a god of supernatural theism.

    “. This view allows the believer to passively worship Christ instead of following the teachings of Jesus.”

    With no evidence being presented for the existence of a divine Jesus rather than a historical non-divine Jesus, there is no reason to believe a divine Jesus exists.

    “Love your enemies.”
    “Pray to the Father in secret.”
    “Why do you call ME good? Only God is good.”
    “The Father makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends his rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
    “Friend, who made me a judge over you?”
    “Give to everyone who begs from you.”
    “You cannot love God and be chained to a bank account [Scholars’ Version translation].”
    “Go and learn what this means: [God] desires mercy, NOT sacrifice.”

    You left out these teaching of Christ:

    “till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 )

    “It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid.” (Luke 16:17)

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17)

    In other words, all the old testament laws are still in effect & must be followed. There are 613 commandments in the old testament.

    Don’t forget the teachings of Jesus regarding the proper treatment of slaves:

    Luke 12:46 the master of that slave will come on a day which he does not expect, and at an hour which he does not know. And he will cut him in two, and assign him his part with the unbelievers.
    47 But that slave having known the will of his master, and not having prepared or acted in accordance with his will, will be beaten many blows.
    48 But the one not having known, and having done things worthy of blows, will be beaten a few blows.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Don’t forget these teachings of Christ:

    Take no thought for tomorrow. God will take care of you. ( Matthew 6:25-34 & Luke 12:22-31)

    Do you have insurance? Saving for your retirement? Putting away some money to help your children attend university?

    If so, you are not following the teachings of Jesus.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Truth is what highlights the conflict between opposing ideologies.”

    Truth is what is used to determine which of the opposing ideologies is correct.

    Ideology 1: leprechauns exist but I can present no evidence to prove this belief
    Ideology 2: with no evidence for leprechauns, there is no reason to believe leprechauns exist

    Which of those 2 ideologies would you say is truth?

    “Is Jesus Lord, Son of God, Savior of the World?
    Or is Caesar [who was known by those EXACT SAME TITLES]?

    Both statements are claims of faith. They are not factually true.”

    And since no one has presented any evidence to prove either of the claims, there is no reason to believe either of them is truth.

  • Illithid

    Well, rather than say that the academic community has written off the historicity of the Bible, I’d say that the accumulated evidence in numerous applicable fields has led to the scholarly and scientific consensus that the Bible is not historically accurate. For one example, geologists in Western Europe in the 19th century were generally Christians who accepted a young, created Earth and a Noachian global flood. Many of them were priests. It’s just that the evidence to the contrary kept piling up to the point that an honest researcher could no longer hold that position. So the honest ones changed their positions.

    It’s not up to anyone to disprove his conclusions. If he has compelling evidence, he will overturn the existing consensus. It’s up to him to provide it. I’m not a historian or a linguist, so I can’t evaluate his case myself.

    It makes sense, I suppose, for someone dissatisfied with their life to try a radical change. This happens in lots of religions, and also in many who leave religion. For myself, I’m happy with my life as it is, and unlikely to convert to anything for emotional reasons even were that not the case. I just wanted to emphasize that I didn’t think that Christians were horrible people per se.

  • Lacunaria

    That is fair regarding a global flood and young Earth, and it’s a shame that many Christians have committed to those beliefs since they are so ancillary to their religious lives.

    Overturning consensus is only possible if they are open to it, which they have not been until recently. I hope their debate continues since it is enlightening even for laymen such as myself to read. I do think that they have a positive responsibility to do so to justify their social status as experts.

    Thanks, I don’t think atheists are horrible people per se, either. 🙂 And I didn’t mean to imply that conversion was primarily emotional, but rather due to dissatisfaction for good reasons and with better options available. Again, I think of religion as basically utilitarian.

  • Illithid

    I’m curious what you mean by that last statement. I might agree. I think the value of religion was that it increased social cohesion as human societies grew in size beyond the point where everyone could know everyone else in their group. It still can provide valuable social support. I just think its factual claims about the universe and afterlife and such are false, and that it often promotes harmful moral values. I think we will be better served by attempting to replicate these beneficial factors on a non-supernatural basis.

    I apologize if I have repeated myself. I am conducting several simultaneous conversations, and Disqus or Patheos is malfunctioning such that I cannot easily refer to our past exchanges.

  • Lacunaria

    I view the useful purpose of religion as essentially moral (not scientific) and, by extension, social (including cohesion), but I don’t think all religions are morally equivalent, so I can’t defend “religion” generically, except to say that living by a standard is usually better than not even having one.

    I agree that there are dysfunctions and harmful moral values that develop, but I think that removing religion will leave a religion-shaped hole that has historically been filled with moral values which can be just as harmful.

    For example, atheists I’ve debated often lay the horrors of Communism at the feet of religiousness absent the supernatural. Similarly, excepting my atheist libertarian friends, the state seems to be a natural replacement god as people become less traditionally religious.

    It’s also not clear to me that something like Humanism can even replace every part of religion, such as the psychological and social utility of a third-party embodiment of good.

    I haven’t noticed repetition from you, so no worries. I hope Disqus starts working for you! 🙂

  • Illithid

    Disqus is behaving once again. I have but two minor points to add.

    Communism was an ideology that forcibly suppressed religion. Not a good thing IMO, either morally or pragmatically. Cultures in which religion is dying a natural death by gradual voluntary deconversion, or by more people simply not being raised in a religion to begin with, fare rather better. The Scandinavian countries are the go-to example, but I’d include most Western European nations as well, and Canada. People need to decide for themselves, and societies need time to adjust.

    Humanism is fairly recent, and they maybe haven’t worked out all bugs yet. But the basics seem good as I understand them: base beliefs in objective reality, and since you don’t like it when people are mean to you, don’t be mean to them. That last ethical guideline isn’t new, of course.

    Oh, third comment: it doesn’t necessarily have to be one thing that replaces every function of religion. I get companionship from my tabletop gaming group, but usually not my moral philosophy. Well, sometimes… 🙂

  • Lacunaria

    Yeah, having official religions, as the Scandinavian countries do, actually correlates with a professed lack of religion. But the real problem they face is low birth rate. Alas, time is not on their side.

    I agree — traditional religions are not often being replaced by integrated systems, but rather ad hoc ones, which means that it will be harder to identify (sociologically, legally, etc.) what substitutes for it.

    I don’t see how it is possible to match some of the unique qualities of traditional religions, but your emphasis on voluntaryism gives me hope either way. Cheers. 🙂

  • john cummins

    They also make the profound mistake to take a lot of “science” at face value not looking into basic assumptions (such as the “law” of Uniformitarianism in geology). I’ve been a professional biologist for over 30 years and in my own observations I’d wager that up to 80% of “settled” science is mere FakeScience and JunkScience. No, it takes an extreme Blind Faith to be an “atheist” and to “trust” “science”. It is an exceptionally naive way to look at life.

    This is especially true with “sciences” like cosmology, geology, and pseudo sciences such as psychology and sociology.

  • john cummins

    Your problem starts and ends with “I see”

  • josephPa

    After reading ‘The Bible for Grownups’ in Sunday school class, it is pretty obvious to me that the average Presbyterian, in our church anyway, stopped thinking about the bible pre-teen. So much mining of the old testament to back up Paul’s story of Jesus the deity. And it is all presented as prophesy fulfilled.

  • james warren

    That is my way of being accountable for my own subjective opinion.

    I am not arrogant enough to claim “The Bible IS a human product.”
    That would be a proclamation of absolute truth instead of just a human opinion.