August 15, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “The Ridiculous Argument from Accurate Names” (6-12-18; update of the original, dated 9-22-14), Bob stated: “Archaeology says that the Exodus didn’t happen.” Many archaeologists say there is little or no archaeological evidence, it’s true. There are plenty of biblical skeptics (not just atheists) and those who wrongly think that the Bible is an unreliable document for historiographical purposes. But it’s difficult to make an absolute statement like this in archaeology and other sciences.

Even if someone said, “we have not yet found any archaeological evidence for the Exodus,” that’s not logically the same as claiming that “the Exodus didn’t happen.” The latter is a far stronger, and far more skeptical claim. Seidensticker (an intelligent and educated man) should know better than that, but his strong anti-Christian bias precludes care and precision in his grandiose claims.

I submit that there is at least some evidence from history and archaeology. It’s not totally absent. Of course most if not all of the evidence is for only parts of the biblical story: verifying it, etc. But if it’s consistent with the story, it is some sort of corroborating evidence. I shall now present some of this for your consideration (links with some quotations):

1) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (James K. Hoffmeier, Oxford University Press, revised edition: 18 March 1999).

Abstract: Scholars of the Hebrew Bible have in the last decade begun to question the historical accuracy of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus. The reason for the rejection of the exodus tradition is said to be the lack of historical and archaeological evidence in Egypt. Those advancing these claims, however, are not specialists in the study of Egyptian history, culture, and archaeology. This book examines the most current Egyptological evidence and argues that it supports the biblical record concerning Israel in Egypt.

Reviews: “This is historical research at its best, with constant attention to primary sources…[Hoffmeier] retains a broad perspective and leaves no stone unturned in his quest to have the epigraphic and archeological evidence shed light on the biblical record of Israel’s sojourn in and exodus from Egypt.”–Gary Rendsburg, Cornell University

Israel in Egypt is one of those rare works that one cannot read without taking notes on nearly every page. For biblical scholars, who are seriously interested in the Exodus and the issues revolving around the historicity of the Bible, especially regarding the origins of Israel, Israel in Egypt could not be more highly recommended.”–Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

“This volume is a bold and important attempt to infuse the current debate with a reasoned appraisal of biblical, archaeological, and philological evidence. Hoffmeier is uniquely qualified to make such an attempt because he is one of the few scholars who can handle both the Egyptian evidence and the biblical materials.”–Asbury Theological Journal

“This volume will become a classic text for a positive and conservative evaluation of the literary and archaeological evidence for the ‘historicity’ of the Israelites in Egypt.”–Walter D. Zorn, Lincoln Christian College and Seminary

“This well-presented case brims with the type of knowledge most never bother to attain.”–J. Julius Scott, Wheaton College

“The best and most good-spirited defense yet of the conservative position that takes the Biblical “Exodus-Conquest” narratives literally as history.”–William G. Dever, University of Arizona

“Hoffmeier’s study represents the fruit of many years of study in Egyptology and the Old Testament. The work is a substantial contribution to the ongoing discussion on the subject of Israel’s presence in Egypt and represents a view that is in harmony with an appreciation of the Bible as a valuable historical source….This is an excellent volume for introducing the subject it covers.”—Denver Journal

“Hoffmeier’s book is an important contribution to the study of the Hebrew experience in Egypt. Its two major strengths are the author’s powerful refutation of hyper-critical views on the narrative and his presentation of the latest Egyptological data.”–Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

James K. Hoffmeier (PhD, University of Toronto),  has taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels for more than thirty years, and is  professor of Old Testament and Near Eastern archaeology at Trinity International University. He was born and raised in Egypt.

2) “The Exodus Controversy” (Associates for Biblical Research, 2002):

Limits of Archaeology

Many critics who doubt the historicity of the Exodus share a problem: over-reliance on what archaeology can prove. Archaeology is, in fact, a limited and imperfect area of study in which the interpretation of findings, as archaeologists readily admit, is more of an art than a hard science.

Archaeologist Edwin Yamauchi points out the limits of this science when he explains:

(1) little of what was made or written in antiquity survives to this day;

(2) few of the ancient sites have been surveyed and a number have not even been found;

(3) probably fewer than 2 percent of the known sites have been meaningfully excavated;

(4) few of these have been more than scratched; and

(5) only a fraction of the fraction that have been excavated have been published and data made available to the scholarly world (1972: chapter 4).

Considering not only the limits but also the positive side of archaeology, it is remarkable how many Biblical accounts have been illuminated and confirmed by the relatively small number of sites excavated and finds uncovered to date. Even though, regrettably, some professionals go out of their way to present a distorted picture of what archaeology does reveal, it does provide some of the strongest evidence for the reliability of the Bible as credible and accurate history. . . .

3) “The Exodus Is Not Fiction: An interview with Richard Elliott Friedman” (ReformJudaism.org):

Richard Elliott Friedman, who holds a Th.D from Harvard, is the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and was a visiting fellow at Cambridge and Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He is the author of seven books, including the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? and Commentary on the Torah. . . .

[Y]our readers may have concluded that scholarship shows that the Exodus is fictional, when, in fact, that is not so. There is archaeological evidence and especially textual evidence for the Exodus. . . .

At a recent international conference entitled “Out of Egypt” on the question of the Exodus’ historicity, one point of agreement, I believe, among most of the 45 participating scholars was that Semitic peoples, or Western Asiatics, were in fact living in Egypt and were traveling to and from there for centuries. And the evidence indicates that the smaller group among them, who were connected with the Exodus, were Levites. The Levites were members of the group associated with Moses, the Exodus, and the Sinai events depicted in the Bible. In the Torah, Moses is identified as a Levite. Also, out of all of Israel only Levites had Egyptian names: Moses, Phinehas, Hophni, and Hur are all Egyptian names. . . .

[T]he architecture of the Tabernacle and its surrounding courtyard matches that of the battle tent of Pharaoh Rameses II, for which we have archaeological evidence, as was shown by Professor Michael Homan in a brilliant combination of archaeology and text (To Your Tents, O Israel, 2005). Professor Sperling had emphasized in the RJ article that, archaeologically, there are no Egyptian elements in Israel’s material culture. But in the Tabernacle we do have those Egyptian elements. . . .

[R]eal evidence exists that the Exodus is historical, with text and archaeology mutually supporting one another. What lies next for us is to give due consideration to this evidence and refine it further in our work.

4) “The Exodus: Fact or Fiction? Evidence of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt” (Biblical Archaeology Society Staff, 3-28-18):

Although Biblical scholars and archaeologists argue about various aspects of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, many of them agree that the Exodus occurred in some form or another.

The question “Did the Exodus happen” then becomes “When did the Exodus happen?” This is another heated question. Although there is much debate, most people settle into two camps: They argue for either a 15th-century B.C.E. or 13th-century B.C.E. date for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. . . .

A worker’s house from western Thebes also seems to support a 13th-century Exodus. In the 1930s, archaeologists at the University of Chicago were excavating the mortuary Temple of Aya and Horemheb, the last two pharaohs of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, in western Thebes. The temple was first built by Aya in the 14th-century B.C.E., but Horemheb usurped and expanded the temple when he became pharaoh. (He ruled from the late 14th century through the early 13th century B.C.E.) Horemheb chiseled out every place where Aya’s name had been and replaced it with his own. Later—during the reign of Ramses IV (12th century B.C.E.)—the Temple of Aya and Horemheb was demolished.

During their excavations, the University of Chicago uncovered a house and part of another house belonging to the workers who were given the task of demolishing the temple. The plan of the complete house is the same as that of the four-room house characteristic of Israelite dwellings during the Iron Age. However, unlike the Israelite models that were usually constructed of stone, the Theban house was made of wattle and daub. It is significant that this house was built in Egypt at the same time that Israelites were constructing four-room houses in Canaan. The similarities between the two have caused some to speculate that the builders of the Theban house were either proto-Israelites or a group closely related to the Israelites.

A third piece of evidence for the Exodus is the Onomasticon Amenope. The Onomasticon Amenope is a list of categorized words from Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. Written in hieratic, the papyrus includes the Semitic place name b-r-k.t, which refers to the Lakes of Pithom. Even in Egyptian sources, the Semitic name for the Lakes of Pithom was used instead of the original Egyptian name. It is likely that a Semitic-speaking population lived in the region long enough that their name eventually supplanted the original.

Moreover, I have done a lot of research about an archaeological finding regarding Joshua: “Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal: Findings of Recent Archaeology” (7-22-14: three months before I visited Israel). Dr. Adam Zertal, Professor, Dept. of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, discovered Joshua’s altar, described in the Bible, in April 1980. Various datings of the site put it shortly after the proposed “late” time of the Exodus (13th-12th century B. C. ). Many archaeologists had been in the habit of utterly denying the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites. This evidence expressly contradicts them.

Dr. Zertal wrote in November 2004:

The cultic site on Mt. Ebal satisfies the three criteria necessary to identify a biblical site: chronological (beginning of the Israelite settlement), geographical, and the nature of the site (a cultic center with a burnt-offering altar). In view of this analysis, the identity of the biblical story and this site as the first inter-tribal center of the Israelite tribes can hardly be doubted. This is the first time a complete Israelite cultic center, including an altar for burnt offerings, is available for study. . . . The altar on Mt. ‘Ebal is not only the most ancient and complete altar, but also the prototype of the Israelite burnt offering altar of the First and Second Temple periods. The Mesopotamian architectural influence on the structure of the altar is also very interesting, both in its stepped construction and in the orientation of its corners to the north, south, east, and west.
*
. . . The varieties of animal bones discovered are evidence that the laws of sacrifice were followed from the very beginnings of the Israelite religion. Despite the presence of wild boars in the region, not a single bone of this animal, not fit for sacrifice, was found on Mt. ‘Ebal.

I visited the fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyafa during our visit to Israel (and even collected several artifacts from it. It has been dated to the time of King David (about 1000 BC), and was discovered in 2007.  We also visited the City of David, just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Eilat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist, announced in August 2005 that she had found the palace of King David. Meanwhile, there is archaeological evidence of King David (whose existence and/or kingdom had also been questioned):

The Tel Dan Stele [discovered in 1993-1994], an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase ביתדוד‬, bytdwd, which most scholars translate as “House of David”. . . . it is likely that this is a reference to a dynasty of the Kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David. The Mesha Stele [discovered in August 1868] from Moab, dating from approximately the same period, may also contain the name David in two places, although this is less certain than the mention in the Tel Dan inscription. (Wikipedia: “David”)

Lastly, I’d like to reply to one of Seidensticker’s flawed arguments, about biblical accuracy:

If you only want to say that the Bible makes some verified historical claims and so other as-yet-unverified natural claims should also be considered seriously, that’s fine. But surely these Christians want to go further. Surely they want this to support the Bible’s supernatural claims.

I’m happy to grant that the Bible makes many accurate historical references, but having accurate names of people and places merely gets you to the starting gate. It’s the bare minimum that we demand of a historical document. You haven’t supported the supernatural claims; you’ve simply avoided getting cut from the list of entrants being considered. . . . 

Christian apologists tell us, “The Bible isn’t inaccurate in some of its testable claims!” That this counts as a apologetic says a lot for what passes for compelling argument in some Christian circles.

I’ve been doing Christian apologetics for now 37 years, and have been a full-time professional, published apologist for 16 (with ten “officially” published book to my name). I can testify that no reputable, credentialed apologist would make an argument this silly and insubstantial. Of course, one can always find any Tom, Dick, or Harry online, making a pretense of being an “apologist” and doing it, but the point is that those are the exceptions to the rule, and poor examples.

Seidensticker’s constant methodology in his incessant Christian-bashing is to present the poor argument as the usual, or normative one in Christian circles. He rarely differentiates between the arguments of scholars and that of less educated laymen. That is what is called in logic, the “straw man fallacy.”

The legitimate argument from established biblical accuracy is not that this “proves” either biblical inspiration or the supernatural events recorded in the Bible, but that it simply rules out a common objection (a far less ambitious claim). If the Bible were shown to be massively and systematically inaccurate in details, then this would be a strong argument against its inspiration from God. Our true contention, then, is as follows:

1) The Bible has been shown to be accurate again and again by archaeological and historical research.

2) Such accuracy is consistent with (though not proof of) its biblical inspiration. In other words, if the Bible is in fact inspired, we would expect it to also be accurate in details.

3) Therefore, the argument against the Bible’s inspiration based on its alleged historical inaccuracy is defeated.

*

***

Photo credit: Mohammed Moussa (9-12-13) Mt. Sinai, Egypt: where Moses received the Ten Commandments [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

August 14, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 2)” (6-22-18; update of a post originally from 10-1-14), Bob stated (the high irony in relation to his post title being almost unbearable to endure): “[T]he evidence for the very existence of Jesus is paltry . . .”

Bob also wrote elsewhere on 6-11-14: “[T]he techniques Christian apologists use to conclude that the Christ story is historical would also lead historians to a similar conclusion about Superman.”

On 12-9-11, Bob opined in his post, “Jesus and Santa: a Parable on How We Dismiss Evidence” (reprinted and modified on 12-14-13, just in time for Christmas):

I can’t prove Santa doesn’t exist. Nor can I disprove leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God. The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception. [he then cites a bumper sticker for his famous end-quotation: Jesus is Santa Claus for adults.”]

Reiterating on 12-8-17, Bob in his infinite wisdom advises us: “Be careful about dismissing the existence of Santa, because that reasoning may demand that you dismiss Jesus as well.”

And again, on 5-26-14:

Jesus could appear to you, but he doesn’t. He appeared to Paul after he died, so it’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He could appear to give you advice for a tough decision, give you comfort in person like a friend would, or just assure you that he really exists. He doesn’t. . . . 

How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you? Jesus is imaginary.

He clarified the above remark on 8-20-18What I meant was, “Jesus as a god who could do magical things, like appear to people, is imaginary.” Since the Christ Myth theory is something I don’t talk about, the nuance of Jesus as a man vs. Jesus as a god isn’t something I usually worry about.

And on 3-5-14“Or maybe Jesus never existed. “

On 8-17-18 Bob made a very revealing comment:

I was concerned about shrillness in the Bart Ehrman camp, the “Of course Jesus existed, and anyone who says otherwise is a dolt!” camp. . . . a reasonable research question should be, “How do you know Jesus isn’t 100% fiction?” I’d put the emphases on the “How do you know?” I’m happy with a Christian scholar saying that Jesus 70% existed or even 90% existed, but the popular attitude seems to be, “Oh, please. Only a hack would even dream to suggest that Jesus didn’t exist as a real person.” That position may be embarrassing 20 years from now, if trends continue.

And on 8-16-18:

Ehrman seems to have made this a big deal such that he’d have an embarrassing time walking back his position, and I don’t know why. Does he just have a thing against Price or Carrier? . . . Your “How do you know it’s not 100% fiction?” is a nice way of focusing the question. Popular Christian apologists try to lampoon the idea, but methinks they doth protest too much.

And yet another on 8-16-18:

The big deal in my mind is that when an atheist says, “Anyway, Jesus didn’t even exist,” they can jump on that with a fairly reasonable argument, citing a broad consensus and Bart Ehrman as an atheist scholar who agrees with them. Avoiding the Jesus myth claim keeps things a little more on track, but if someone wants to jump into that fight, I’ll happily watch. Greg G and others have made a great defense of mythicism, for example.

And another and another and a third on the same day:

The story I’ve heard is that Moses mythicism was in the same camp in the fairly recent past, but it’s held as a very plausible view now, if not the consensus of scholars. The anti-Jesus mythicists might want to focus on the argument and tone down their shrillness just in case posterity turns against them as well.

I’m not a mythicist. But since when did inconvenient facts get in the way of the Armstrong juggernaut?

I don’t deny that Jesus existed.

And on 8-19-18Y’know, if I thought Jesus never existed, I’d probably say something like, oh I dunno, maybe “Jesus never existed.” Or, if you really, really cared so much about what I think, you could just ask me. What a moron. Reading others’ comments have made me consider the Christ Myth theory more favorably, but (as I tried to explain to you) it is not useful to me. So it’s me following the interesting ideas of the commenters, not vice versa.

And on 8-20-18I wonder if some of the strongest evidence for Jesus is just that “well, some dude could easily have been there at the beginning” is the null hypothesis.

And again on 8-20-18And we don’t know when the “events” took place. Yes, the gospels sort of place them in history (Herod vs. Quirinius for the birth and Pilate for the death), but that’s just what they say. If there was a real Jesus, who knows when he was actually born?

Normally, I simply ignore the belief that is called “Jesus mythicism” as intellectual suicide and outlandishly absurd and unworthy of further attention. In my opinion (and not just mine, but the vast majority of historians), anyone who holds to this nonsense is likely to be incapable of rational discussion about theology (or history or philosophy). But since this is a series (and since more and more people believe this hogwash), I’ll make an exception to my rule. I’ve collected a lot of scholarly resources that abundantly refute this historiographically ridiculous position, so I’ll list some and quote from some, too:

Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ (Catholic Encyclopedia)

“You Can’t Trust the Gospels. They’re Unreliable” (Paul Copan)

The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder Of Christianity (R. T. France)

Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (book by Maurice Goguel, 1926)

A Summary Critique: Questioning the Existence of Jesus [G. A. Wells] (Gary R. Habermas, 2000)

Seldom have recent scholars questioned or denied the historical existence of Jesus.  Of the very few who have done so, G. A. Wells is probably the best known.  In this article, I will outline and then respond to some of his major tenets.

Before turning to this topic, I will first note that the vast majority of scholars, both conservative and liberal alike, generally disdain radical theses that question the very existence of Jesus.  For example, theologian Rudolf Bultmann asserted, “By no means are we at the mercy of those who doubt or deny that Jesus ever lived.” [i]

Historian Michael Grant termed the hypothesis that Jesus never lived an “extreme view.”  He charges that it transgresses the basics of historiography: “if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”  Grant summarizes, after referring to Wells as an example: “modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory.”  These positions have been “annihilated” by the best scholars because the critics “have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.” [ii]

Digressing to a personal story, a potential publisher once asked me to contact a reviewer.  An influential New Testament scholar at a secular university, he had voted to publish my manuscript, but only if I deleted the section dealing with Well’s hypotheses.  He said that Well’s suppositions were virtually devoid of serious historical content.  He only relented after I convinced him that Wells still had some popular appeal.

Wells is aware of these attitudes towards his works.  He acknowledges that “nearly all commentators who mention the matter at all, [set] aside doubts about Jesus’ historicity as ridiculous.” [iii]  He adds, “the view that there was no historical Jesus, that his earthly existence is a fiction of earliest Christianity . . . is today almost universally rejected.” [iv]  He concludes the matter: “serious students of the New Testament today regard the existence of Jesus as an unassailable fact” (HEJ 223).  Even Michael Martin, one of Wells’ few scholarly supporters, draws the rather restrained conclusion that “Wells’ thesis is controversial and not widely accepted . . . .” [v]

[ . . . ]

Wells’ treatment of the many nonbiblical references to Jesus is also quite problematic.  He downplays those presenting difficulties for his position (Thallus, Tacitus), and suggests late dates for others, again in contrast to the wide majority of scholars (Thallus [perhaps second century AD!], Polycarp [135 AD!], Papias [140 AD]).  Yet, he provides few reasons why these dates should be preferred (DJE, 10-15, 78, 139; HEJ, 15-18).

The most important problem for Wells’ treatment is Josephus’ testimony.  In order to dismiss this important Jewish documentation, Wells resorts to questioning both of Josephus’ references to Jesus.  Not only does he disallow them as interpolated comments, but he asserts that this is also “widely admitted” by scholars (HEJ, 18; DJE, 10-11).  But he is so wide of the mark here that one is tempted to question his research altogether.

While virtually everyone thinks that portions of Josephus’ longer statement in Antiquities 18:3 has been added, the majority also think that a fair amount still came from Josephus.  Princeton Seminary’s James Charlesworth strongly concludes: “We can now be as certain as historical research will presently allow that Josephus did refer to Jesus.” [xi]  John Drane adds that “most scholars have no doubts about the authenticity”of the passage’s nucleus. [xii]  Written about 93-94 AD, Josephus’ statement, among other claims, clearly links Jesus to his disciples and connects his crucifixion to Pilate.  It is independent of the gospels, according to Wells’ dating.

Josephus’ second statement refers to James as the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ (Antiquities 20:9).  This also hurts Well’s thesis significantly, because it likewise links Jesus to a first century person who was known to Paul and other apostles. [xiii]  In spite of Wells’ dismissal (without citing a single scholar who agrees–HEJ, 18), Yamauchi concludes, “Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage.” [xiv]

Thus it is no wonder that Wells would dearly like to squelch Josephus’ two references to Jesus.  Both clearly place Jesus in a specific first century context connected with the apostles and Pilate, cannot be derived from the gospels on Wells’ dating, and come from a non-Christian.  Wells even notes that such independent data would be of “great value” (DJE, 14).  So it is exceptionally instructive, not just that Wells dismisses both, but that he clearly wishes his readers to think that contemporary scholarship is firmly on his side when it very clearly is nowhere close.  Charlesworth specifically refers to Wells’ treatment of Josephus, saying that, “Many solid arguments can be presented against such distortions and polemics.” [xv]

[ . . . ]

Why do scholars reject Wells’ thesis?  Because it cuts out Christianity’s heart and even critics refuse to face this (DJE, 205)?  I have argued that there is another reason.  One does not impress scholars by maintaining a thesis at all costs, consistently resorting to extraordinary means to overlook any bit of data that would disprove one’s view.  Even ally Martin realizes that Wells’ arguments may sometimes seem “ad hoc and arbitrary.” [xviii]

But at several points, this is clearly what Wells does.  He often admits that a natural textual reading devastates his theories.  Then he dismisses every historical reference linking Jesus to the first century, making some bizarre moves in the process.  This most obviously occurs in his treatments of James, Jesus’ disciples, and Josephus.  Along with dating the gospels decades later than almost everyone, these and other factors combine to produce the sense of ad hoc argumentation.  But it all seriously undermines his system, as well as eroding his credibility.

Wells appears to declare virtually anything rather than admitting Jesus’ historicity.  Yet, one by one, his house of cards collapses.  This is precisely why the vast majority of scholars reject Well’s claims: he fails to deal adequately with the historical data.

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels (Gary R. Habermas, 2005)

[A]pproximately one-and-a-half dozen non-Christian, extrabiblical sources confirm many details from Jesus’ life and teachings as found in the Gospels.8 Early Christians such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp provide even more confirmation, writing just 10 years or less after the completion of the New Testament.9 Archaeological sources do not contribute as much corroboration in New Testament studies as they do in Old Testament studies, but there are a number of indications that, when the details can be checked, the New Testament is often confirmed.10

There are a number of pieces of evidence that, especially when taken together, confirm the traditional picture regarding the life and teachings of Jesus. This is not to say that all the pertinent questions have been answered;11 but the available evidence from a variety of angles confirms the strong foundation on which we can base the general reliability of the New Testament reports of the historical Jesus.

Qumran Evidence for the Reliability of the Gospels (Larry W. Hurtado, 1968)

The Historicity of Jesus Christ (Wayne Jackson)

[T]he Jewish Babylonian Talmud took note of the Lord’s existence. Collected into a final form in the fifth century A.D., it is derived from earlier materials, some of which originated in the first century. Its testimony to Jesus’ existence is all the more valuable, as it is extremely hostile. It charges that Christ (who is called Ben Pandera) was born out of wedlock after his mother had been seduced by a Roman soldier named Pandera or Panthera.

Respected scholar, the late Bruce Metzger of Princeton, has commented upon this appellation:

The defamatory account of his birth seems to reflect a knowledge of the Christian tradition that Jesus was the son of the virgin Mary, the Greek word for virgin, parthenos, being distorted into the name Pandera (1965, 76).

The Talmud also refers to Jesus’ miracles as “magic,” and records that he claimed to be God. It further mentions his execution on the eve of the Passover. Jewish testimony thus supports the New Testament position on the historical existence of Jesus. . . .

Another line of evidence establishing the historicity of Jesus is the fact that the earliest enemies of the Christian faith did not deny that Christ actually lived (see Hurst 1897, 180-189).

Celsus, a pagan philosopher of the second century A.D., produced the oldest extant literary attack against Christianity. His True Discourse (ca. A.D. 178) was a bitter assault upon Christ. Celsus argued that Jesus was born in low circumstances, being the illegitimate son of a soldier named Panthera (see above). As he grew, he announced himself to be God, deceiving many. Celsus charged that Christ’s own people killed him, and that his resurrection was a deception. But Celsus never questioned the historicity of Jesus.

Lucian of Samosata (ca. A.D. 115-200) was called “the Voltaire of Grecian literature.” He wrote against Christianity more with patronizing contempt than volatile hostility. He said Christians worshipped the well-known “sophist” who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced new mysteries. He never denied the existence of Jesus.

Porphyry of Tyre was born about A.D. 233, studied philosophy in Greece, and lived in Sicily where he wrote fifteen books against the Christian faith. In one of his books, Life of Pythagoras, he contended that magicians of the pagan world exhibited greater powers than Christ. His argument was an inadvertent concession of Jesus’ existence and power.

Extrabiblical Witnesses to Jesus before 200 A.D.  (Glenn Miller, 1996)

Did Jesus Exist? Books for Refuting the Jesus Myth (Christopher Price)

Did Josephus Refer to Jesus?: A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum (Christopher Price, 2003)

Scholarly Opinions on the Jesus Myth (Christopher Price, 2003)

I have often been asked why more academics do not take the time to respond to the Jesus Myth theory. After looking into this question, I discovered that most historians and New Testament scholars relevant to the topic have concluded that Jesus Mythers are beyond reason and therefore decide that they have better things to do with their time.  Here are some examples.

Howard Marshall

In his book, I Believe in the Historical Jesus, Howard Marshall points out that in the early to mid 20th century, one of the few “authorities” to consider Jesus as a myth was a Soviet Encyclopaedia. He then goes on to discuss the work of GA Wells which was then recently published.

There is said to be a Russian encyclopaedia in current use which affirms in a brief entry that Jesus Christ was the mythological founder of Christianity, but it is virtually alone in doing so. The historian will not take its statement very seriously, since … it offers no evidence for its assertion, and mere assertion cannot stand over against historical enquiry.  But more than mere assertion is involved, for an attempt to show that Jesus never existed has been made in recent years by GA Wells, a Professor of German who has ventured into New Testament study and presents a case that the origins Christianity can be explained without assuming that Jesus really lived. Earlier presentations of similar views at the turn of the century failed to make any impression on scholarly opinion, and it is certain that this latest presentation of the case will not fare any better.

Professor Marshall was correct that neither any earlier attempt nor Wells have swayed scholarly opinion. This remains true whether the scholars were Christians, liberals, conservatives, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, or Catholic.  And even GA Wells himself has now conceded that a real figure called Jesus lay behind some of the teaching contained in the synoptic Gospels.

Michael Grant

In his book Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, Atheist historian Michael Grant completely rejected the idea that Jesus never existed.

This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth…. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms…. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.’ In recent years, ‘no serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.

[ . . . ]

Rudolf Bultmann

Even the famously liberal Professor Bultmann, who argued against the historicity of much of the gospels, questions the reasonableness of Jesus Mythers themselves in Jesus and the Word.

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.

***

Someone informed Bob of this paper. His response was as follows:

I can’t imagine I’m missing much by not reading it. (link)

Why read it? He has no credibility. Posts like that are the equivalent of The National Inquirer or Weekly World News. (link)

I haven’t read enough to have an informed opinion, so no, I’m not a mythicist.

I’m sympathetic to the mythicists’ arguments, and I own the relevant books by Carrier and Price, but I haven’t read them. As a result, I don’t want/need to engage with those arguments.

For my purposes (showing the foolishness of Christianity), mythicism isn’t a useful tool. I’m sure that if I read those books, I’d have yet more information that would be useful, but the main argument is just a tangent. Getting into that morass simply allows the Christian to say, “Well, Bart Ehrman says you’re wrong, so whaddya gotta say about that??” and so on. (link)

Bob appears to want to play it both ways, as to the existence of Jesus. He compares belief in Jesus to that of Santa Claus, and makes a direct comparison to Superman (a mere cartoon character), and also to leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He states flat-out that “Jesus is imaginary.” He talks about Jesus needing to assure usthat he really exists. He doesn’t.” That doesn’t sound like a very robust existence to me, or like existence at all. Does it to anyone else?

Either he is unwittingly contradicting himself (in his overall haze of confusion), or he is cleverly playing it one way to atheists and another to Christians. Or else (to give the most charitable slant possible to this data, which I sincerely hope is in actuality the case), Bob used to deny the existence of Jesus and no longer does, though he remainssympathetic to the mythicists’ arguments.” People change their views over time. I certainly have. If this is the case, then he needs to go revise (and/or retract) the mocking, smart-ass “doesn’t exist”-type statements that I have documented, lest he confuse his readers as to his position.

Bob’s responses under fire to a fellow Catholic, on his blog (on 15-16 August 2018), suggest that he has either forgotten his own statements (the most charitable, “amnesiac” / “I’ve written 1000+ posts” take) or is deliberately misrepresenting them (the cynical, Bill and Hillary Clinton / obfuscation take):

I’ve never argued that Jesus never existed. Pro tip: taking what Armstrong says at face value can embarrass you when it blows up in your face. He has a tenuous grasp on the truth. You need to fact-check whatever he says. (link)

I’ve never argued either way. What’s your reluctance? Are you remembering all those posts where I argued the question? Point them out to me. Oh wait–I have a stalker who hangs on my every word. Maybe you could ask him. But be sure to get links to the quotes because he has a hard time with reality. What’s hard to understand here? “Jesus never existed” is an argument that doesn’t help me. It’s a tangent. I have far more useful arguments if I were to argue against Christian claims. (link)

Getting back to the atheist propensity to ignore solid criticism: “Grimlock”: who was active on my blog for months and claimed to be interested in dialogue, also commented:

Why should I read anything by Armstrong? I see no compelling reason to do so. (link)

Obtaining valuable information and knowledge are certainly things to strive for. But that doesn’t mean I will be getting that from reading the article to which you linked. Why should I think the article will provide valuable information? (link)

And on 8-15-18, Bob reiterated that he has no intention of interacting with my critiques:

I have no interest in visiting his blog anymore, and if it becomes a cesspool of thoughtless yes-men, then that’s Dave’s loss. Every now and then one of his dittoheads might come over here, and we can show them how their logic stands up in the real world.

***

On 27 June 2019, Bob showed that he was still playing the same game: talking out of both sides of his mouth, so that he won’t alienate his more fanatical atheist brethren who (unlike him) outright deny Jesus’ existence. He says just enough to make them believe either that he is “one of them” or close enough to be a would-be ally in the battle against established historical truth and facts:

6. “Bonus: Jesus did not (or probably did not) exist.”

“This is so foolish, I have never met more than one relevantly trained atheist who believed it.”

You need to get out more. I’ve met two, Dr. Richard Carrier (doctorate in history) and Dr. Robert M. Price (two doctorates: one in Systematic Theology and another in New Testament).

I’m not well read on the historical Jesus issue and so don’t make this argument, but I also avoid it because it’s tangential. There are much simpler and more effective attacks on Christianity.

Some religions start with real people who actually lived (Joseph Smith for Mormonism, Mary Baker Eddy for Christian Science, Bahá’u’lláh for Bahá’í), and some may not have (Buddha for Buddhism, Lao Tzu for Taoism, Zoroaster for Zoroastrianism). “Jesus was just a myth” is hardly a radical claim. Said another way, providing overwhelming evidence that Jesus was historical would be a difficult challenge.

And in the combox:

All that supernatural stuff surrounding the Jesus story makes me wonder if that makes it inherently less plausible. There’s nothing supernatural around the Robin Hood story. Or William Tell, or John Henry, or King Arthur (ignoring the Merlin bit). And if there is, the story survives after you remove the supernatural. In the case of Jesus, nothing remains if you remove the supernatural stuff. (6-27-19)

Yeah–Jesus as a real man or not doesn’t change things for me. Nevertheless, some of the more erudite commenters here have studied it (Greg G comes to mind), and I find their comments quite interesting. (6-27-19)

I don’t make the “Jesus was a myth” argument, though that to me is a very plausible possibility. . . . Lots of people, even non-Christians can believe that Jesus existed as a real person. Jesus as a myth or legend remains very plausible. (7-18-19)

***

Photo credit: Head of Jesus (1891), by Enrique Simonet (1866-1927) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 14, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob stated:

The Bible record many instances of God imposing on people’s free will. “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12), for example, and he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26). “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

Likewise, Bob waxes eloquently on 8-11-14: “Am I an atheist because God hardened my heart? If so, why do I deserve hell when it was God’s doing?”

Let’s take each claim in his first statement above in turn. I’ve already written elsewhere about most of this, so I trust that the reader can forgive me if I provide a link. But I’ll cite key portions of papers I cite, for readers’ convenience.

“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Romans 9 is perhaps the very favorite Bible passage of Calvinists, because they deny human free will; therefore, they welcome this passage that appears at first glance to support their position. Upon closer inspection, it does no such thing. I wrote about this in my paper: Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation. It involves somewhat subtle and complex argumentation, and analysis of the Hebrew way of thought, which was very different from our western, Greek-oriented classical logic thinking, and so will have to be read.

In it, I cite biblical scholar Marvin Wilson, author of Our Father Abraham, (which I have in my own library). He talks about the notion of Hebrew “block logic”:

[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension — and often illogical relation — to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic. . . .

Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God’s purposes.

He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12),

I’ve dealt with this objection at great length and in great depth; examining the biblical data, and in reply to a Calvinist. The easiest way to explain that this is not a contradiction of human free will is to note not only the passages where God is said to have “hardened” someone’s heart, but also the ones where they hardened themselves:

Exodus 8:15 (RSV) But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, . . . (cf. 8:19)

Exodus 8:32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.

Exodus 9:34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. (cf. 9:7, 35)

Deuteronomy 15:7 you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,

1 Samuel 6:6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? . . .

2 Chronicles 36:13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnez’zar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel.

Job 9:4 who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?

Psalm 95:8 Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Proverbs 28:14 . . . he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Hebrews 3:8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:15  while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

The two motifs have to be harmonized, and they easily can be, once Hebrew thought is better understood. It may be a biblical paradox (one of many), but that’s not the same as a logical contradiction. Here’s how I explain it in my “biblical” paper above:

God allows such people their freedom to rebel, which in turn entails the devil getting in there and making things worse (just as God allowed the devil to tempt Job: Job 1:12). So in a sense to say that “God did so-and-so” when He simply allowed it to take place, is an assertion of God’s overall Providence. God is asserting that He is in control. . . .

Strictly speaking, that isn’t how God thinks or acts, but it was an anthropomorphism to help practical, concrete, non-philosophical Hebrew man be able to relate to the mysterious, transcendent God.

The bottom line is that men harden themselves in rebellion and God allows it. . . . If people rebel, God will withdraw His grace and protection from them, and so in a sense He did it. But it was always essentially man’s rebellion.

he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26).

This is simply a variation of what we saw in the last two examples. Rebels against God hardened their hearts against him, and so it is said in a particular sense that God hardened them (meaning that He allowed it, incorporating their free will into the equation). He didn’t cause it or make it inevitably come about, as if they had no free will. The larger passage shows this clearly. Seidensticker, with his nefarious motivations of always mocking the Bible and God, only shows that par t that seems to support his contention. Here’s the context:

Romans 1:18-26 (RSV)  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; [21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. [26] For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.

See how the causal chain works there? Humans with free will decided to not believe in God or follow His will. Then God “gave them up.” In other words, He let human free will take it’s course. It’s as if God were saying, “okay; you don’t want to follow Me and do what is best for you? You know better than do about that? Very well, then, I’ll let you become blind and deluded. See how well off you’ll be then.”

I’ve put the key actions of rebellious human beings in the passage in red, and God’s response in blue, to make it more clear. It’s all in the bolded text. They decided in their free will to sin and not believe in God. “Therefore” and “For this reason” God gave them up: “because” of their sins. It’s quite clear and undeniable that they have free will and that it;s their fault. God caused none of it. He simply decides to let them have their way and withdraw His grace at a certain point. It’s like someone who loves someone else with an unrequited love for twenty years. It’s never returned, so at length they finally decide to give it up and stop desiring the other person, or hoping they will act accordingly.

“The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

This is an instance of God’s judgment, which, I suppose, is an act contrary to man’s will (who wants to be judged?), but it is a perfectly just one, and not at all contrary to God’s will. It’s the same motif again, that we have seen in the above three examples: men reach a point of rebellion that is so determined and :hardened” that God gives up on them and judges them. Sometimes it is entire nations, as in this verse. Hence we have in Scripture, many “if . . . then” conditional prophecies:

Joshua 24:20  If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.

2 Chronicles 7:17-20 And as for you, if you walk before me, as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,[18] then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, `There shall not fail you a man to rule Israel.’ [19] “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, [20] then I will pluck you up from the land which I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

2 Chronicles 15:2 If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

If a person or nation rebels against God and is intransigent and won’t repent, then God will eventually judge. But it never had to be that way. It wasn’t predestined, or fate, and God didn’t cause it or overcome their free will. They freely chose to reject Him. And this rejection and this judgment can also include entire nations, because responsibility in the Hebrew / biblical worldview is not just individual, but also corporate. I’ve written a lot about the judgment of nations:

Judgment of Nations: A Collection of Biblical Passages

Judgment of Nations: Biblical Commentary and Reflections

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations)

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist

God’s “Punishing” of Descendants: Unjust?

Conclusion: As usual with anti-theists, Bob chooses to blame God for things that are clearly man’s fault. He butchers the Bible in order to supposedly use it as a hostile witness against God. I submit that that attempt of his abysmally fails, as just shown.

***

Photo credit: God the Father, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 13, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob stated: “Atheists have better mental health than religious people.” He linked to one article, that in turn cited one scientific study. Of course, virtually any question or issue that would be the subject of a scientific study won’t yield unanimous results in such studies. One can always find one study that will support just about any conclusion. The task, then, is to look over the literature devoted to a given topic, and find some sort of overall consensus, if there is one to be had. This is how science (including medical and social and psychological science) works. Sometimes the results are very mixed and inconclusive. One must follow the facts one way or the other, and mixed results compel us to conclude, “studies at the present time are inconclusive, so we can’t say that we know for certain about topic x. Further studies are needed, . . .”

I followed the latter procedure, which I submit is both more objective and scientific than Bob’s quick potshot (his almost constant modus operandi), based on one lone study. I shall cite five, and several of those note many other concurring studies in their own reviews of the relevant literature on mental health as related to religion. As is well-known, one of the talking-points of atheism for hundreds of years is to claim that religion is itself a mental illness, and/or that Christians are so gullible and devoid of reality in their beliefs, that it amounts to a scenario whereby the religious person can be said to be mentally afflicted, or at any rate, much more so overall than atheists. Anyone can talk a good game. What does the psychology research actually suggest (I minored in psychology and majored in sociology in college, by the way)? Make up your own mind:

1) “Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review” (The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, May 2009):

[S]ystematic research published in the mental health literature to date does not support the argument that religious involvement usually has adverse effects on mental health.

**

While some studies report no association between religious involvement and mental health, and a handful of studies have reported negative
associations, the majority (476 of 724 quantitative studies prior to the year 2000, based on a systematic review) reported statistically significant positive associations. [Dave: that’s 65.7%]

**

Prior to 2000, more than 100 quantitative studies had examined the relation between religion and depression. Among 93 observational studies, two-thirds found significantly lower rates of depressive disorder or fewer depressive symptoms among the more religious.

**

Prior to 2000, at least 76 studies had examined the relation between religious involvement and anxiety. Sixty-nine studies were observational and 7 were RCTs. Among the observational studies, 35 found significantly less anxiety or fear among the more religious, 24 found no association, and 10 reported greater anxiety.

**

Unfortunately, there are relatively few studies—particularly from the United States or Canada—that have examined the relation between religion and psychotic symptoms. In an earlier review of the literature, Koenig et al identified 16 studies. Among the 10 cross-sectional studies, 4 found less psychosis or psychotic tendencies among people more religiously involved, 3 found no association, and 2 studies reported mixed results. The final study, conducted in London, England, found religious beliefs and practices significantly more common among depressed (n = 52) and
schizophrenic psychiatric (n = 21) inpatients, compared with orthopedic control subjects (n = 26).

2) “Religion and Mental Health: Current Findings” (Dr Simon Dein, Royal College of Psychiatrists):

In the past twenty years there has been increasing attention given to the relationships between various dimensions of religiosity and mental health. By now several thousand studies have been conducted demonstrating positive associations between the two (Koenig, King and Carson 2012). On balance those who are more religious have better indices of mental health.

**

[O]n balance it appears that being religious improves mental health . . .

3) “A Systematic Review of Recent Research on Adolescent Religiosity/Spirituality and Mental Health” (Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2006, Issue 2):

Abstract: Twenty articles between 1998 and 2004 were reviewed. Most studies (90%) showed that higher levels of R/S were associated with better mental health in adolescents. Institutional and existential dimensions of R/S had the most robust relationships with mental health.

4) “Explaining the Relationships Between Religious Involvement and Health” (Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 13, 2002, Issue 3)

Abstract: There is increasing research evidence that religious involvement is associated both cross-sectionally and prospectively with better physical health, better mental health, and longer survival. These relationships remain substantial in size and statistically significant with other risk and protective factors for morbidity and mortality statistically controlled.

5) “5 reasons atheists shouldn’t call religion a mental illness” (Chris Stedman [himself an atheist, who consulted atheists in the article] Religion News Service, 2-24-14)

“Religion and mental illness are different psychological processes,” said atheist and mental health advocate Miri Mogilevsky in a recent email exchange. “[Religious beliefs may] stem from cognitive processes that are essentially adaptive, such as looking for patterns and feeling like a part of something larger than oneself.” . . .

“People who cannot leave the house without having a panic attack or who feel a compulsion to wash their hands hundreds of times a day are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives,” Mogilevsky said. “Except in extreme cases, religion does not operate this way.”

**

“Religion is many things—a famously indefinable concept—but for our purposes we can use the word to refer to supernatural belief systems and institutions built around them,” said David Yaden, a researcher at The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center who works in collaboration with UPenn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, in a recent email exchange. “If that is our definition, religion absolutely cannot be [categorized] as a mental illness.”

“In fact, empirical evidence sometimes points to the opposite conclusion,” Yaden said, citing the work of Dr. Ken Pargament. “When it comes to facilitating mental health, empirical data demonstrates that religious people have more positive emotion, more meaning in life, more life satisfaction, cope better with trauma, are more physically healthy, are more altruistic and socially connected, and are not diagnosed with mental illness more than other people.”

***

Photo credit: Clard (Nov. 2017) Schizophrenic art fantasy [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

August 12, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob flatly stated: “Christians are not more generous.” He linked to a separate detailed post: “Top Religion Story of 2012” (12-31-12). In that piece, he notes a study described in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (10-3-17). This indicated that Christians gave more to charity, but Bob spun that finding as follows:

Drop religious donations, and the Bible belt drops from the most generous part of the country to the least. . . . But why discard donations to religious organizations? Because, though they’re nonprofits, religious organizations’ charity work (feeding or housing the needy, for example) is negligible.

Okay, that’s an interesting take (I observed several other atheists using it, while researching this post, so it appears to be “playbook”); he contends that charity given to a church is less so because churches have relatively more overhead than groups like the Red Cross. That may very well be (I grant this claim for the sake of argument), but I would submit that that’s irrelevant to determining how generous the giver is. For the giver, the amount they give is what it is, and indicates their heart, regardless of how efficiently their donation is used. Apples and oranges. Thus Bob’s dismissal of the poll findings here appears rather desperate.

By his reasoning if Person A gives $100 to an organization that uses 70% of it for overhead to maintain itself, and Person B gives $50 to an organization that uses 20% of it for overhead, Person B is more generous, even though he or she has given half the amount, because $40 of the $50 goes to the actual work of charity, whereas only $30 of the $100 does. But again, that is no reflection on the generosity of the giver! It may reflect badly on how wise or informed his or her choice of charity was, but not on the generosity exhibited.

Another study in the same magazine (11-25-13), reported:

The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.

Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.

About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.

Everyone knows that political conservatives as a group are more religious than political liberals. Studies also show that conservatives are significantly more generous than liberals. And again, religion (specifically factored in one portion of the survey) was key. Nicholas Kristof, in an op-ed in The New York Times: “Bleeding Heart Tightwads” (12-20-08) observed:

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, Who Really Cares, cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so. . . .

It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives. . . .

[I]f measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes. . . .

Conservatives also appear to be more generous than liberals in nonfinancial ways. People in red states are considerably more likely to volunteer for good causes, and conservatives give blood more often. [book title italicized; in the original it was in quotation marks]

A Barna Research study (6-3-13) shows the same:

A person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in. Evangelicals were far and away the group most likely to donate money, items or time as a volunteer. More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months. Comparatively, 27% of those with a faith other than Christianity say they made no charitable donation in the last year—a number more than double the national rate (13%). One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans.

So does research from the BBC (reported in The Telegraph on 6-9-14):

Research commissioned by the BBC found that people who profess a religious belief are significantly more likely to give to charity than non-believers. . . .

Overall as many as seven in 10 people in England said they had given money to a charity in the past month. But while just over two thirds of those who professed no religious faith claimed to have done so, among believers the figure rose to almost eight out of 10.

John Stossel and Kristina Kendall reported for ABC News (11-28-06):

[T]he single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation.

Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And Arthur Brooks told me that giving goes beyond their own religious organization:

“Actually, the truth is that they’re giving to more than their churches,” he says. “The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities.”

And almost all of the people who gave to our bell ringers in San Francisco and Sioux Falls said they were religious or spiritual.

The Philanthropy Panel Study concurs as well (article of 10-30-17):

David King, director of the Institute on Faith & Giving at the school, said the “Giving USA Special Report on Giving to Religion,” released on Oct. 26 by The Giving Institute, reaffirms what many researchers in the field have long known: that there is a “substantial connection between religion and giving.”

“Religious affiliation really matters,” Mr. King said. “Someone with a religious affiliation was more than two times more generous than someone without a religious affiliation. And among those with a religious affiliation, religious intensity really matters. Those who attend services were much more likely to give, whether it’s monthly or weekly. We really see the connection grow with continued involvement in a religious community.” . . .

[R]eligious people also contribute to other types of charity at similar or higher rates than their secular counterparts.

***

Photo credit: angiechaoticcrooks0 (3-2-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons  license]

***

 

September 10, 2019

I continue my critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

The first thing we notice is that the Hebrew God is pictured with a body, just like the gods of their polytheistic neighbors. The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God fro what we read in the early parts of the Old testament. What we have in the Bible is an evolving understanding of the nature of God, so we find later statements to the contrary. In the New Testament, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). (pp. 259-260)

As to the “evolving God in the Bible” myth, see my papers:

*
Did the Jews ever believe that God had a body? According to Encyclopedia Judaica (“Anthropomorphism”), no:
[I]t is accepted as a major axiom of Judaism, from the biblical period onward, that no material representation of the Deity is possible or permissible. . . . 
*
The evolutionary approach to the study of religion, which mainly developed in the 19th century, suggested a line of development beginning with anthropomorphic concepts and leading up to a more purified spiritual faith. It argued, among other things, that corporeal representations of the Deity were more commonly found in the older portions of the Bible than in its later books. This view does not distinguish between the different possible explanations for anthropomorphic terms. It especially fails to account for the phenomenon common in the history of all cultures, that sometimes a later period can be more primitive than an earlier one. In fact, both personifications of the Deity as well as attempts to avoid them are found side by side in all parts of the Bible. . . . 
*
More important from a theological perspective are the anthropopathisms, or psychical personifications of the Deity. Scripture attributes to God love and hate, joy and delight, regret and sadness, pity and compassion, disgust, anger, revenge, and other feelings. Even if one explains these terms as being nothing but picturesque expressions, intended to awaken within man a sense of the real presence of God and His works, nonetheless they remain personifications. . . . 
*
Ultimately, every religious expression is caught in the dilemma between, on the one hand, the theological desire to emphasize the absolute and transcendental nature of the Divine, thereby relinquishing its vitality and immediate reality and relevance, and on the other hand, the religious need to conceive of the Deity and man’s contact with Him in some vital and meaningful way. Jewish tradition has usually shown preference for the second tendency, and there is a marked readiness to speak of God in a very concrete and vital manner and not to recoil from the dangers involved in the use of apparent anthropomorphisms. . . . 
*
There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites). Even the golden calves of Jeroboam represented, according to the view of most scholars, only a footstool for the invisible God. In archaeological excavations no images of the God of Israel have been unearthed. . . . 
*
Although Jews have speculated on the anthropomorphic nature of God, visible representation of the Deity was clearly forbidden by the Mosaic law.
See also my own papers: 
*
*
*
*
According to the Bible, God has arms. God has ears. God has eyes. God has hands. . . . God even has nostrils. (p. 260)
*
According to Loftus’ wooden literalism in biblical interpretation (very common among atheists), we’re to believe that the ancient Hebrews also thought God had wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4), and/or looked like (take your pick), a cloud (Ex 13:21-22; 33:9-10; Num 12:5; 14:14; Dt 31:15; Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 99:7; Ezek 10:4, 18), fire (Ex 13:21-22; Num 14:14; Neh 9:12, 19; 2 Chr 7:1-4), or a burning bush (Ex 3:2-6). Even Loftus is not silly and foolish enough to believe that (I think!). So he is forced by logic to qualify his literalistic reading of descriptions of God.
*
If we read these passages in light of the ancient embodied gods and goddesses in the polytheistic surrounding cultures, it becomes clear that the Hebrews thought their god had a body, too. (p. 261)
*
This doesn’t follow. For the skeptical / atheist biblical “exegete” [cough / choke], everything is derived from surrounding cultures, and all is explained that way. It’s essentially the “anthropological” method of Bible interpretation. But Loftus is ignoring the stark difference between Hebrew monotheism and polytheism. Monotheism means what it means: one God, not many:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (RSV) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; (cf. Mk 12:29; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19)

Deuteronomy 32:39 . . . there is no god beside me . . .

Isaiah 37:20 . . . thou alone art the LORD. (cf. 37:16)

Isaiah 43:10 . . . Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 44:6 . . . I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 44:8 . . . Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. (46:6, 9; Mal 2:10)

Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; . . . (cf. 45:6, 22)

Isaiah 45:21 . . . And there is no other god besides me, . . . there is none besides me.

Isaiah 46:9 . . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

In the first commandment we read, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” They were not to worship other gods, divine beings presupposed to exist by the commandment itself. In some of the Psalms we read only that the Hebrew God is the “God of the gods” (Ps. 86:8; 95:3; 96:4,9; 135:5; 136:2; 138:1). Why didn’t the text deny the existence of any other gods at this point? The Hebrews started out believing in a plurality of gods, which was progressively brought down to the belief in just one God. (p. 269)
Loftus, in his list of supposedly polytheistic Psalms, lists 96:4: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” He conveniently omits the next verse, which interprets this: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens” (cf. 1 Chr 16:26). Psalms 135:15-18 also explains in context the reference to “gods” in 135:5, on Loftus’ list (see the almost identical 115:3-8 below). Other Psalms (contrary to Loftus’ groundless skepticism) refer to idols which are supposedly gods, but in fact are not:
Psalms 31:6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD.
Psalms 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!
Psalms 97:7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols;
Psalms 106:36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
Psalms 115:3-8 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. [4] Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. [5] They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. [6] They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. [7] They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. [8] Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (cf. 135:15-18)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (“Psalms”) states:
The dating of individual psalms poses an extremely difficult problem, as does the question of their authorship. They were evidently written over a number of centuries, from the early monarchy to post-Exilic times, reflecting the varying stages of Israel’s history and the varying moods of Israel’s faith. 
King David reigned around 1000 BC. Even this renowned secular source holds that at least some of the Psalms date back to his period. If even some of the above passages are that old, this would completely overturn Loftus’ myth about the Jews being thoroughgoing polytheists at that time and for several centuries afterwards. The Psalms are solidly monotheistic, just as the Torah is.
When other “gods” are referred to in the Old Testament, this must consistently be understood as rhetorical only, since the same Old Testament (including in the Torah) states that they are not real:

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 32:21 They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. . . . 

Isaiah 37:19 . . . for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone . . .

Isaiah 42:17 They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, “You are our gods.”

Isaiah 44:10 Who fashions a god or casts an image, that is profitable for nothing?

Isaiah 44:15 . . . he makes a god and worships it, he makes it a graven image and falls down before it.

Isaiah 44:17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol; and falls down to it and worships it . . . 

Isaiah 46:6-7 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! [7] They lift it upon their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.

Isaiah 48:5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, `My idol did them, my graven image and my molten image commanded them.’

Habakkuk 2:18 What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For the workman trusts in his own creation when he makes dumb idols!

(cf. Ex 32:1-8 [golden calf] and New Testament: 1 Cor 8:4-6 [“so-called gods”]; Gal 4:8 [“beings that by nature are no gods”]) 

If the ancient Jews (in their codified religious writings) rejected polytheism, why is it out of the question that they would reject a corporeal God as well (God with a body)? They clearly went their own way. If we are to speculate about and posit supposed similarities and causative factors with regard to other cultures, we have to also take into consideration stark contrasts.
*
But Loftus also needs to seriously consider the stark, strict ancient Hebrew prohibition of all images of God. Now, if in fact they believed that God had a body (which Loftus — not understanding anthropomorphism at all — seems to think is self-evident from the Bible), why would this be? An idol would simply be a visual representation of God, just as Christians have crucifixes and statues of Jesus, as aids in worship (which we say are permissible because of the Incarnation; God became man).
*
It all seems perfectly natural and permissible to me: if that were the case. Why would there be such a strict, binding prohibition? Obviously, it’s because God was communicating that He did not have a body: that images of Him would be distortions of reality. Here are the prohibitions:
Exodus 20:4 [Ten Commandments] You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; (cf. Dt. 5:8)
*
Leviticus 26:1 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them; for I am the LORD your God.
*
Deuteronomy 4:16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, (cf. 4:23, 25)
As the Encyclopedia Judaica stated (above): “There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites).”

*

***

Photo credit: Clandestino (4-23-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

***

September 9, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 5 is entitled, “Does Morality Come from God?” (pp. 103-126).

Christians claim their moral foundation is superior to others in that their faith provides the only sufficient standard for morality. Other moral systems either do not, or cannot provide one. (p. 103)

This is simply untrue. To the contrary, we believe in natural law and conscience, and believe that it is innate in all human beings, and put there by God. St. Paul appears to teach this in Romans 2, and we have no less of an apologist than C. S. Lewis stating:

I send you back to your nurse and your father, to all the poets and sages and law givers, because, in a sense, I hold that you are already there whether you recognize it or not: that there is really no ethical alternative: that those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated or expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript. (Christian Reflections, chapter four, “On Ethics” [1943?])

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting in into an unum necessarium. (Christian Reflections, chapter six, “The Poison of Subjectivism” [1943])

I noted in installment #4 of this series how Lewis compiled a list of common ethical precepts in different moral / religious systems:

All religions and indeed ethical systems (whether religious or not) have great commonalities. This was a central thesis of C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man. Anyone can word-search the free online version for “Appendix Illustrations of the Tao” to find many examples of commonalities in ethics. For example, Lewis found the Golden Rule in the Analects of Confucius: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

It’s been argued that Confucianism is not even (technically) a religion, and that it is either a form of atheism, or that — for all practical purposes — an atheist could at least consistently practice it. The Wikipedia article “Confucianism” explains:

Tiān (天), a key concept in Chinese thought, refers to the God of Heaven, the northern culmen of the skies and its spinning stars, earthly nature and its laws which come from Heaven, to “Heaven and Earth” (that is, “all things”), and to the awe-inspiring forces beyond human control. . . . 

The scholar Ronnie Littlejohn warns that Tian was not to be interpreted as personal God comparable to that of the Abrahamic faiths, in the sense of an otherworldly or transcendent creator. Rather it is similar to what Taoists meant by Dao: “the way things are” or “the regularities of the world”, which Stephan Feuchtwang equates with the ancient Greek concept of physis, “nature” as the generation and regenerations of things and of the moral order.

Lewis is very widely considered the greatest Christian apologist in the second third of the 20th century. G. K. Chesterton (most would agree) filled that role in the first third. And he concurs with Lewis:

It seems to me that the mass of men do agree on the mass of morality, but differ disastrously about the proportions of it.  The difference between men is not in what merits they confess, but what merits they emphasise. Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. (Illustrated London News, “The Proper Emphasis in Morality,” 10-23-09)

Christianity satisfied the previous cravings of mankind. (Illustrated London News, “The Neglect of Christmas,” 1-13-06)

Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; . . . One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. (The Superstition of Divorce, 1920, chapter six)

Now, if the great Chesterton and Lewis and even (I contend) St. Paul all agree with this natural law which is universal and innate in all human beings, and enshrined in the conscience, I think we can safely say that Loftus has grossly misunderstood, if not misrepresented, this aspect of Christian belief as regards morality.

Loftus’ caricature above might apply to the fundamentalist Christianity that he (and so many other atheists) came out of, but not to the vast mainstream of thinking man’s Christianity. He would do well to better comprehend the latter, or else he should change this book’s subtitle to “. . . Rejects Fundamentalism” rather than “. . . Rejects Christianity.”

I agree (over against divine command theory) with Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland, cited in the book (p. 105): “Morality is ultimately grounded in the nature of God, not independently of God.”

In a quick potshot against the Bible’s moral injunctions, Loftus notes, “the man would be the domineering patriarchal head of the house in which a wife is to ‘obey’ her husband just like Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6).” Of course, Loftus conveniently omits the next verse: “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered” (RSV). Dr. Scott Hahn in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, comments: 

Genesis gives no indication that Abraham, for his part, lacked respect for Sarah or considered her a mere slave under his authority. . . . the weaker sex: The statement is made in reference to a woman’s physical constitution, not her moral character or intellectual ability. Because a man’s natural strength exceeds that of a woman, the husband is called to honor his bride, lest he misuse his physical advantage to intimidate or abuse her.

And as to “submission” we should also briefly consider the “classic” passage: Ephesians 5:21-29. Paul makes a general statement to all Christians:  “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Then after saying “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (5:22): the passage so despised by radical feminists and atheists alike, we see what he commanded the husbands to do: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (5:25).

This is a far more difficult command. The husband has to love the wife like Christ loved, which is the royal commandment: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). And how does Jesus love His disciples? He washed their feet (Jn 13:5). Then He explained to them:

John 13:13-17 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. [17] If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 

This is the furthest imaginable thing from a husband “lording it over his wife” or abusing her as an inferior. Jesus elaborated on this same theme:

Matthew 20:25-26  . . . “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. [26] It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” 

This is true Christianity: not the caricatures of the skeptic and the atheist polemicist. Loftus took his shot by citing one passage out of its overall context of biblical teaching on marriage (which I provided in a nutshell form). He knew he could get “mileage” out of it. All he sees is legalistic bondage and oppression. The true teaching, on the other hand, is a beautiful partnership (not an ugly thing), with the husband (of the two partners) having the greater responsibility to serve his wife.

Now, do Christians husbands habitually fall short? Of course; this is the human condition (it’s why we continually need grace, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and a Savior). But Loftus attacked the biblical teaching on marriage, and I have shown how it was unwarranted. 

Loftus soon moves onto a long laundry list of alleged characteristics of God (especially as revealed in the Old Testament), claiming that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is a “moral monster” (section title on p. 108). It’s a full-fledged attack upon God Himself: arguing that He is evil and wicked (like Satan).

Since this sort of thing is often the “passionate heart” of much anti-theist atheist polemics (what they feel is one of their “silver bullets”), and because the portrayals are so unjust and outright twisting of biblical teachings, I would like to spend considerable time on it. Fortunately, I have already dealt in depth with many of these “anti-God” claims in other papers, and so can simply link to them, where applicable.

[T]he biblical God, Yahweh, is a hateful, racist, and sexist God . . . (p. 108)

He customarily punishes people, even babies, for the sins of others beginning in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-18) . . . (p. 108)

This gets into original sin, which is a long discussion, but suffice it to say that Christianity believes that the fall of man was a corporate one:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

We all rebelled through Adam’s disobedience (Adam represented mankind), and we all can be saved (sufficient grace is available) through Christ our savior. So in that sense it is not judging one person for the sin of someone else. When it comes to the actual sin that each person commits, Scripture makes it clear that we’re all accountable for our own sin and no one else’s:

Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (cf. 2 Ki 14:6; 2 Chr 25:4)

Jeremiah 31:30 But every one shall die for his own sin . . .

Ezekiel 18:19-20 “Yet you say, `Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 

[H]e punishes . . . the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of the parents who worship other gods (Exodus 20:3-5) . . . (p. 108)

I have dealt with this very passage in depth.

He even makes the parents of Jerusalem cannibalize their own children . . . (Jeremiah 19:9) (p. 108)

Jeremiah 19:9 And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and every one shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger explains this in his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). It’s also available for free, online. He explains the linguistic factors that explain this odd verse (pp. 823-824):

4. Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do. Thus: . . . 

Ex. iv. 21. — ” I will harden his heart (i.e., I will permit or suffer his heart to be hardened), that he shall not let the people go.” So in all the passages which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. . . . 

[I have written about this at some length, showing how all the passages taken together indication God’s permission, not causation]

[ . . . ]

So the A.V. Jer. iv. 10. — ” Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people ” : i.e., thou hast suffered this People to be greatly deceived, by the false prophets, saying : Ye shall have peace, etc.

Ezek. xiv. 9. — ” If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet “: i.e., I have permitted him to deceive himself.

[the previous chapter 13 describes the “foolish prophets” (13:3) who “prophesy out of their own minds” (13:2), who have “spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, ‘Says the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them” (13:6). God is “against” (13:8-9) “the prophets who see delusive visions and who give lying divinations” (13:9). Clearly God utterly opposes them, and 14:9 is non-literal metaphor for God allowing them to prophesy falsely]

Ezek. XX. 25. — ” Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good ” : i.e., I permitted them to follow the wicked statutes of the surrounding nations, mentioned and forbidden in Lev. xviii. 3.

Jeremiah 19:9 utilizes the same figure of speech. In similar cross-references (Dt 28:53-57; Lev 26:29; 2 Ki 6:26-29; Ezek 5:10; Lam 4:10), it’s clear that God is not in favor of cannibalism, but rather, is describing free will sinful actions of the Israelites. Jeremiah 19:9 has the same meaning, but contains the figure of speech, so it can be misinterpreted, as Loftus and other atheists have done for their purposes: not understanding this aspect of Hebrew literary genre.

Many other passages that Loftus cites in order to indict God have to do with judgment, including the death penalty in many cases regarding Jewish Law: which God as the prerogative to do. This is perfectly plausible and understandable, by the analogy of human laws and judges who enforce those laws. I’ve written about this many times:

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations) [2-16-07]

“How Can God Order the Massacre of Innocents?” (Amalekites, etc.) [11-10-07]

Did Moses (and God) Sin In Judging the Midianites (Numbers 31)? [5-21-08]

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment [9-28-14]

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist [10-30-17]

God’s Judgment of Sin: Analogies for an Atheist Inquirer [9-6-18]

Did God Immorally “Murder” King David’s Innocent Child? (God’s Providence and Permissive Will, and Hebrew Non-Literal Anthropomorphism) [5-6-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #9: Clueless Re Rebellion & Judgment [8-7-19]

David Madison vs. Paul and Romans #11: Chapter 11 (“Scary” & “Vindictive” Yahweh? / Endless Stupefied Insults of God / Judgment Explained Yet Again) [8-30-19]

Loftus argues that hell is unjust and indefensible (pp. 108-109). I’ve written about that many times, too:

Dialogue w Agnostic on Basic Differences and Hell [5-17-05]

Replies to Some Skeptical Objections to the Christian Doctrine of Hell (“Religion Is Lies” website) [5-24-06]

Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just [12-5-06]

Hell: Dialogue with a Philosophy Graduate Student [12-26-08]

Dialogue: Hell & God’s Justice, Part II [1-2-09]

Can Hell Actually be Defended? My Shot … [10-7-15]

A Defense of Hell: Philosophical Explanations of its Plausibility, Necessity, and Factuality [12-10-15]

Exchanges with an Atheist on Hell & Skepticism [12-17-15]

Hell as a Deterrent: Analogy to Our Legal Systems [10-3-18]

Loftus (p. 109) goes after references to slavery in the Bible. I’ve dealt with that, also:

*
*
Loftus claims that God favors rape (p. 109). No, He does not, as I have explained: Seidensticker Folly #6: God Has “No Problem with Rape”?  On the same page, he attacks the divorce of foreign wives (Ezra 10:1-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). But God had forbidden this practice, due to the influence of false religions which the foreign wives adhered to (e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). That‘s why they were sent away.
*
Loftus falsely claims that God commands child sacrifice (p. 110). This is sheer nonsense, which I have refuted. He cites Exodus 22:29-30 and Ezekiel 20:25-26 as supposed proofs of this. The argumentation here is among the most shoddy and embarrassing of Loftus’ long list of alleged errors and eisegesis of Holy Scripture. Amy K. Hall at the Stand to Reason blog demolishes this very argument (citing Loftus’ use of it), and shows that all that was meant was a dedication or consecration of the firstborn child to God.
*
The Ezekiel passage uses the same figure of speech seen above, in the discussion of Jeremiah 9:9, and in fact, the scholar and expert on biblical figures of speech, E. W. Bullinger, included this very passage, in what I cited from him (see above). See a long list of biblical condemnations of child sacrifice (and abortion, which is a species of that).
*
Loftus (p. 111) goes after the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. I’ve written about it. Nor can God be blamed for Jephthah’s daughter (same page).  Loftus argues (p. 111) that the prophet Micah is advocating child sacrifice (Micah 6:6-8) . He’s not at all. Pulpit Commentary explains:
Micah exactly represents the people’s feeling; they would do anything but what God required; they would make the costliest sacrifice, even, in their exaggerated devotion, holding themselves ready to make a forbidden offering; but they would not attend to the moral requirements of the Law. It is probably by a mere hyperbole that the question in the text is asked. The practice of human sacrifice was founded on the notion that man ought to offer to God his dearest and costliest, and that the acceptability of an offering was proportioned to its preciousness. The Hebrews had learned the custom from their neighbours, e.g. the Phoenicians and Moabites (comp. 2 Kings 3:27), and had for centuries offered their children to Moloch, in defiance of the stern prohibitions of Moses and their prophets (Leviticus 18:212 Kings 16:3Isaiah 57:5). They might have learned, from many facts and inferences, that man’s self-surrender was not to be realized by this ritual; the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6), the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:13), all made for this truth. But the heathen idea retained its hold among them, so that the inquiry above is in strict keeping with the circumstances.

We even read where the King of Moab sacrificed his son, which caused the Israelites to retreat in defeat. Moab’s sacrifice created a great “wrath” (ketzef) . . . indicating that his sacrifice caused some divinity to act on behalf of Moab (2 Kings 3:26-27). (p. 111)

I dealt with this very passage when fellow Bible-bashing atheist Bob Seidensticker tried to eisegete it:

There is nothing whatsoever in the text about some supposed defeat of God (Yahweh) by a false Moabite god. . . . Nor is it proof that God turned against Israel / Judah simply because the word “wrath” (RSV) is present (KJV: “indignation”). Bob assumes that too. The Hebrew is qetseph, which is usually used of God’s wrath, but not always, and not necessarily. For example, Esther 1:18 (RSV): “This very day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will be telling it to all the king’s princes, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty” (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:17). It can also be plausibly interpreted as the wrath of the king of Moab against Israel. The Bible refers (RSV) to “a king’s wrath” twice (Proverbs 16:14; 19:12).

The translation of 2 Kings 3:27 that Bob uses is the NET Bible: a relatively obscure translation. It’s very unusual (perhaps even singular) in that it inserts “divine” into the passage, making it definitively a case of God’s wrath against Israel. But I can’t find any other translation that does this. No one need merely take my word on this. They can consult the online pages with multiple translations of the passage (one / two) just as I did.

God’s prohibition of child sacrifice as an outrageous abomination is very clear. I found 18 passages concerning this in my paper, The Bible’s Teaching on Abortion. Jesus compared the ancient sacrifice of children to hell itself (particularly, child sacrifice to Ba’al or Molech).

Seidensticker ignored this counter-argument, as he has 34 more of my papers that respond to his arguments. Loftus gets in a dig against Jesus, implying that He was a bigot, and he employs an old atheist chestnut (these things are simply recycled over and over) that distorts a Bible passage, as usual:

[H]e also called a Syrophoenician woman part of a race of “dogs” and only begrudgingly helped her (Mark 7:24-30). (p. 123)

Mark 7:25-30 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. [26] Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni’cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. [27] And he said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [28] But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” [29] And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” [30] And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Apologists Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt thoroughly dispense of this “objection” (complete with a good dose of sorely needed humor) in their article, “Was Jesus Unkind to the Syrophoenician Woman?”:

To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy-dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. In fact, the term Jesus used for “little dogs” could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any type of unkind insinuation. In his commentary on Mark, renowned commentator R.C.H. Lenski translated the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as “little pet dogs.” . . . Lenski goes on to write concerning Jesus’ statement: “All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews…. Any share of Gentile individuals in any of these blessings can only be incidental during Jesus’ ministry in Israel” . . . 

Consider that Matthew had earlier recorded how a Roman centurion approached Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed servant. Jesus did not respond in that instance as He did with the Syrophoenician woman. He simply stated: “I will come and heal him” (8:7). After witnessing the centurion’s refreshing humility and great faith (pleading for Christ to “only speak a word” and his servant would be healed—vss. 8-9), Jesus responded: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (vs. 10, emp. added). . . . 

[see my related paper, David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #7: Ch. 7 (Gentiles) ]

What many people miss in this story is what is so evident in other parts of Scripture: Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman, while at the same time teaching His disciples how the tenderhearted respond to possibly offensive truths. . . . 

Before people “dog” Jesus for the way He used an animal illustration, they might need to reconsider that “their bark is much worse than their bite” when it comes to insinuating that Jesus was unkind and intolerant. In truth, they are simply “barking up the wrong tree” by attempting to call Jesus’ character into question. They need to “call off the dogs” on this one and “let sleeping dogs lie.”

***

Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

***

September 5, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 2 is entitled, “Faith, Reason, and My Approach to Christianity” (pp. 39-63).

It’s well beyond my purview and purpose in these critiques to tackle all of the various brands of philosophy of religion and strains and varieties of Christian apologetics. Reasonable Christians (and atheists) can differ in good faith about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

So I’ll confine myself to what I think are outright misunderstandings of misrepresentations of  Christian views: particularly as expressed in inspired Scripture. I agree with Loftus when he writes (p. 44): “I understand these are complex issues, which unfortunately, I can’t devote the needed space to . . .” He knows that this is a “large and lumpy” area of thinking; so do I.

I maintain a very extensive Philosophy, Science & Christianity web page, if readers want to see how I argue various positions, and how I come down on all the internal differences about how to defend Christianity and larger theism. I summed up on Facebook — in a very “nutshell” way — my overall philosophy of religion:

My Opinion on “Proofs for God’s Existence” Summarized in Two Sentences

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But . . .

I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

In my first installment, I noted how Loftus stated that “I present a cumulative case argument against Christianity. . . . I consider this book to be one single argument against Christianity, and as such it should be evaluated as a whole.” (p. 15; his italics)

I replied:

That’s exactly how I view my body of apologetics (50 books and over 2500 blog articles) in favor of Christianity and (in particular) the collection of diverse argumentation I have set forth in critique of atheism.

Just as Loftus considers his overall case against Christianity long and multi-faceted and complex (laid out in “one single argument” in a densely argued 536-page book); likewise, I consider my case for Christianity and against atheism to be very multi-faceted and complex and only able to be fully understood with very extensive reading of my 2500+ articles and 50 books (not all, of course, but quite a few!).

What our views have in common is that we both regard them as “a cumulative case.” There is no one single argument on either side (I think he’d agree, as I’m pretty sure would most atheists and apologists and philosophers of religion) that is a “knockout punch”. Loftus agrees, on page 54:

When it comes to Christian apologetics, the best approach seems to be the cumulative case method of the late Paul D. Feinberg . . . This best explains why there is no single apologetical approach that will cause people to convert, and it bets explains why there is no silver bullet argument that will convince believing Christians to abandon their faith.

***

Scientific evidence, the evidence of the senses, and reasoning based on this evidence is what counts. (p. 44)

[W]hen I came to see things differently, sufficient evidence derived from science-based reasoning became the only game in town, so to speak, . . . the scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth . . . (p. 57)

Here is where Loftus runs into what I consider to be insuperable problems, and self-refuting tenets. What he just described is empiricism, which is the philosophical outlook that senses and observations of physical things allow us to discover facts and truth. It’s fine as far as it goes (it’s the fundamental basis of science), but it just doesn’t go far enough or explain everything. There are many different ways of knowing (even mathematics and logic: both basic building-blocks of science, are axiomatic and non-empirical). We readily observe that this very sentence from Loftus is self-defeating:

1) He makes an epistemological statement about “what counts” [strongly implied, all that counts] in determining truth.

2) This very statement is not empirical. It is strictly philosophical, or metaphysical: about the relative value or worth of empiricism.

3) But if empirical observations are all that we can trust, and all that “count”, then his sentence has to be discounted, since it is not an empirical observation.

4) Ergo, it is self-defeating and self-refuting.

I’ve dealt with this false, misguided, tunnel vision “science only” or “scientism” mentality (very common in atheism) many times and from many different angles:

Atheist Myths: “Christianity vs. Science & Reason” (vs. “drunkentune”) [1-3-07]

Reply to Atheist Scientist Jerry Coyne: Are Science and Religion Utterly Incompatible? [7-13-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields [8-20-10]

Simultaneously Dumb & Smart Christians, Atheists, & Scientists [10-9-15]

Is Christianity Unfalsifiable? Is Empiricism the Only True Knowledge? [5-6-17]

Science, Logic, & Math Start with Unfalsifiable Axioms [1-6-18]

Science: “only discipline that tells us new things about reality” [???]: Scientism or Near-Scientism as a Very Common Shortcoming of Atheist Epistemology [8-9-18]

Rebuttal of Seidensticker’s Anti-Christian Science “History” [8-11-18]

*
I have never thought that Pascal’s wager was a particularly strong argument: if an argument at all. But it is a clever thought experiment and something to definitely seriously consider. Again, this is beyond the purview of my purposes, so I’ll pass. Though I love Pascal (and Alvin Plantinga, Kierkegaard, William Lane Craig, the Late Norman Geisler, gary Habermas, and others he mentions in this chapter), I’m not here to defend every school and argument of the entire history of apologetics. I’m already devoting what will be many hundreds of hours to this long project. My purpose is to critique errors I see in Loftus’ own views, per my titles: “Loftus Atheist Error # . . .” 
*
On pages 50-51, Loftus develops an interesting (though thoroughly fallacious and weak) “New and Better Kind of Wager.” He reasons that it would be a better state of affairs if God asked us “if we want to be born, knowing the risks involved”: including the calculus and consideration of a possibility of ending up in an eternal hell. “Why wouldn’t God give us a choice in the matter? It seems unethical for him not to do so . . . If I were given the choice, I would simply say, ‘No, count me out! Put me out of existence now.’ “
*
This stimulates several responses in my mind (which is a major reason why I absolutely love dialogue and back-and-forth discussion: because it can do that):
*
1) I think it’s foolish to imagine and posit that he himself and many or most people would choose to be annihilated rather than to live a life on the earth. There is no good reason to believe this, that I can see. It’s essentially the view that we would all commit suicide, given the choice in the beginning: except that it would be an assisted suicide, with God’s help. I see no indication — by analogy of how relatively few people commit suicide in this world — that many folks would make this choice.
*
And if Loftus would have done so, then, by his own reasoning (and a reductio ad absurdum) he would have to argue that people (including he himself) should kill themselves today (if they thought there was a God and a hell, or even that both might exist), since the potentialities and hypotheticals remain the same. Atheist or no, the great bulk of people in the world are simply not that hopeless and nihilistic.  Of course, Loftus doesn’t believe in God, and all of this is a mere hypothetical and mind game. But he is attempting to make a reasoned argument against the biblical God, and this doesn’t succeed in that purpose at all.
*
2) I note in passing (consider this a “footnote”) that it is highly ironic that a person who believes in legal abortion is making an argument that all of us: at the beginning of our existence, should be asked whether we want to live or not. To be consistent, the one who is pro-abortion and who has an abortion, would contradict this: all the more so in the atheist’s case, since they eliminate the only life that baby will ever have (there being no afterlife). If Loftus thinks “it seems unethical for him [God] not to do so” I don’t see how he can possibly favor legal abortion, since it is radically anti-choice for the baby about to be killed (and in atheist metaphysics and ontology, annihilated and made nonexistent forever).
*
3) I submit that it is absurd for God to ask a question of a human baby (which would presuppose that God temporarily gave them a mind that could reason enough to even have such a momentous discussion) about these things, when there are so many unknown factors. Obviously, in Christian belief, God is omniscient, and He deems it a good thing for human beings to “be fruitful and multiply.” For God, and for us Christians and pro-lifers, who consider life infinitely valuable and priceless, the very scenario is meaningless. Of course, life and creation as a whole is good and wonderful, and it is better to exist than not to. This is virtually self-evident for all who haven’t committed suicide, and the extremely strong instinct to preserve our own lives is evidence of it as well.
*
4) In making his argument, Loftus smuggles in many notions that are false premises, to start with: thus making his conclusion erroneous or at the very least, dubious and indefensible.
*
a) He says “we might not be raised in the right Christian family and might therefore be sent to hell because of it.” This is silly, simplistic argumentation. Granted, we all can have good or bad influences in many ways, that was beyond our choice.  But in the end, the biblical view is that each individual is given enough grace and power to be saved, if they make that choice, and that each will be individually responsible:
Ezekiel 33:17-20 (RSV) “Yet your people say, `The way of the Lord is not just’; when it is their own way that is not just. [18] When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it. [19] And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does what is lawful and right, he shall live by it. [20] Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
*
Romans 14:10-12 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;  [11] for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” [12] So each of us shall give account of himself to God. 
We’re not sent to hell, so much as we choose to go there, by rejecting God’s free offer of grace for salvation and eternal life in heavenly bliss:
Joshua 24:15 And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 
b) [T]he odds, according to most evangelicals anyway, are that most of the people who are born in this world will end up in hell.
*
First of all, Christian theology is not determined by a head count of evangelicals, but by Scripture and unbroken apostolic tradition, passed down. Appealing to what evangelicals think is silly on two levels: 1) it’s the genetic fallacy, and 2) evangelicals are only a portion of Protestants, who are a small minority of all Christians, now and through history (they didn’t even exist until the 16th century).
*
Secondly, the mainstream Christian position is that we simply don’t know how many end up in heaven and hell, proportionately. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
*
Luke 18:8 “. . . when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
On the other hand, in a recent argument that I came up with myself, I examined two of Jesus’ parables, which were about salvation and damnation, to see if they provided any clues about this, in a reply to atheist David Madison:
In the next chapter we have the great scene of the separation of the sheep and goats at the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). . . .  No indication in this text is given of relative numbers of the saved and the damned. In two of His parables nearby, however, He does give indication. . . . 
*
In the parable of the ten maidens with lamps (Matthew 25:1-13), five were foolish and were damned (“the door was shut . . . I do not know you”: 25:10, 12) and five were wise and received eternal life (“went in with him to the marriage feast”: 25:10). . . . It’s a 50-50 proposition.
*
The parable of the talents follows (25:14-30). Here, there are three servants, who are given five talents, two talents, and one talent [a form of money], respectively. The ones who are saved are the first two (“enter into the joy of your master”: 25:21, 23), while the servant with one talent, who did nothing with it, was damned (“cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness”: 25:30). So this parable suggests a 67% rate of final salvation and a 33% rate of damnation. 
Moreover, St. Paul expressly taught that even those who have not heard the gospel or Christian message could be saved, based on what they know (thus leaving open a wide potential for salvation indeed):
Romans 2:13-16  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.  

Bottom line: we just don’t know for sure, but we know that there is grace for all and that there is significant indication that a huge proportionate number will attain heaven. In the end, each of us has to live our life and be judged as to how well we have done, by others, and by God.

c) “God should already know what the odds are and not choose that risk for us.”

This is what free will entails. God gives us all a choice: to follow Him and His moral laws or reject Him and go our own way. He can’t reasonably be blamed if we deliberately reject Him, in our free will. He thought that was better than a bunch of robots who could do not other than what He programmed them to do at every instant. I totally agree! I want free will to choose as I wish; not to have no choice and be totally controlled.

d) “And yet here I am, without any choice in the matter apparently condemned to hell.”

He is not “condemned to hell” at all. He has a free will and choice to repent and become a Christian again, and get on the road to salvation. What he says may be the Calvinist view, but of course they are a minority of a minority (with very few remaining adherents today), and not the be-all of Christianity. They believe in predestination to hell; virtually all other Christians today and throughout history do not. But even John Calvin stated that no one could know for sure who was among the elect. So Calvinists and fundamentalists can’t say John he is definitely hellbound, nor can I, nor can anyone else or he himself. If he repents, he can be reasonably assured that he is heaven-bound, provided he stays the course.

None of us could decide to be born into this earthly life (many now are prevented by abortion and infanticide from even having this life, whether they would have wanted to or not). Sorry, John: your parents thought your existence was a good thing. But we have a full choice as to where we decide to spend eternity., which is far, far more important if indeed we do have an eternal existence, since if that is the case, this life represents only an infinitesimally small portion of our entire existence (like one atom compared to the entire universe):

Psalms 39:4-5 “LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is! [5] Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! . . .” (cf. 39:11)

Psalms 144:4 Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. (cf. 78:39)

James 4:14 . . . What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

***

Loftus argues (pp. 59-60) that the Israelite worldview prior to the exile to Babylon (after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC) was polytheistic (just as neighboring cultures’ religious view was). Well, duh! This is why God judged them (through Nebuchadnezzar) in the first place: precisely because they had forsaken Him, and monotheism, and adopted polytheism and idolatry: directly and deliberately against what He had urged and commanded them to do, for their own good.

This was the prophet Jeremiah’s message of warning prior to the Babylonian exile:

Jeremiah 1:15-16 For, lo, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the LORD; and they shall come and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. [16] And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. 

Jeremiah 7:9-15 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, [10] and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, `We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? [11] Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. [12] Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. [13] And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, [14] therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. [15] And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of E’phraim. 

Jeremiah 11:9-13 Again the LORD said to me, “There is revolt among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. [10] They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. [11] Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing evil upon them which they cannot escape; though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. [12] Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. [13] For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to burn incense to Ba’al. (cf. 13:10; 16:11-13; 19:1-9; 22:8-9; 35:15; 44:2-6, 15-17)

God allowed the temple to be destroyed because He had had enough of the disobedience and idolatrous compromises and hypocrisy and empty worship of too many of the Jews who worshiped there. They had to learn the hard way (so often sadly true of human beings and whole cultures), and so off they went in slavery to Babylon.

But alas, here comes Loftus “informing”us that the 6th century BC Israelites were polytheistic, as were their neighbors, as if this is some startling new insight unknown to Christians (or Jews)? It’s almost comical. It doesn’t follow at all that the actual teachings preserved in the Old Testament and the very rich Jewish oral tradition were not known and taught back then (which is, no doubt, what Loftus is driving at or insinuating). They were, but they were rejected and not followed.

This, in fact, is the central theme of the entire Old Testament: the continual straying of the Jews, followed by judgment and renewal, and then cycling toward to rebellion again. It was still happening in the New Testament when most of the Jews rejected Jesus, Who was indeed their expected Messiah.

So how is it that this supposedly casts doubt on the Bible: when it is teaching exactly the same thing? I hope that Loftus will explain this if he ever interacts with these series of critiques of his book. I’ve dealt with this nonsense that the earliest “formal” Jewish belief (not what was always practiced) in the times of Abraham, Moses, and even into David’s time (1000 BC) was in fact, polytheistic, in two replies to atheist Bob Seidensticker:

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? (God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding) [9-18-18]
*
In every case when it comes to my reasons for adopting my skeptical presumption, the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that it’s “not impossible.” (p. 62)
*
[W]e want to know what is probable, not what is possible . . . Probability is what matters. (p. 63)
*
As I’ve already stated above, this is not my view at all. I’ll repeat my view again:
I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

One sees nothing of “possible” or “not impossible” here.  I’m arguing from accumulation of various arguments and probability (exactly as Loftus advocates) and also plausibility.

***

Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

***

 

August 21, 2019

Jesus Predicts His Passion & Death / Judgment Day / God’s Mercy / God as Cosmic Narcissist?

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “‘Great’ Bible Texts…that Really Aren’t So Great: Extreme religion in disguise” (2-22-19).

Moreover, the cult was dead certain that Jesus would soon (not ‘any century now’) descend through the clouds to set up a Kingdom of God on earth reserved for the lucky few (the members of the cult) Everyone else would be killed off; that was Jesus’ view on how it would all unfold.

Really? How odd, then, that all these passages are in the Bible, from Jesus’ own lips. I see nothing about His quick (“soon”) return, followed by judgment (except for saying that He would rise again in three days, and allusions to His post-Resurrection appearances):

Matthew 16:21 (RSV) From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Matthew 17:22-23 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, [23] and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 

Matthew 20:17-19 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, [19] and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 

Matthew 26:1-2 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, [2] “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

Matthew 26:31-32 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [32] But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 

Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 10:32-34 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; [34] and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 12:1-11 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. [2] When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. [3] And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. [4] Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. [5] And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. [6] He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ [7] But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ [8] And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. [9] What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. [10] Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; [11] this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Luke 9:22 . . . “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 

Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” 

Luke 18:31-33 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. [32] For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; [33] they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

John 2:19-21 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body. 

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 

John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, . . . 

John 10:15, 17-18 . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” 

John 12:23-24 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

John 12:31-33 “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; [32] and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what death he was to die. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (cf. 14:18-19, 27-29)

John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; . . . (cf. 16:7, 16-22, 28; 17:13)

See also the excellent article, “Passion Predictions,” by Paul Zilonka, C.P.

I dealt with this nonsense that only a very very few would be saved, according to Jesus (like during Noah’s Flood), in my paper, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming.

But after Paul had departed the scene, the gospel writers took on the task of inventing the Jesus story, . . . Mark conjured the figure of Jesus that has become so familiar to us. 

Oops! I forgot about that . . . 

How does this [parable in Mark 12] square with Mark 4:10-12, where we read that Jesus told parables to prevent people from understanding his message.

Explained that here: Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance?

As the next section of chapter 12 illustrates. Mark does not give his Jesus a lot of ethical teaching, but in verse 31 we find the ‘second’ great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But Mark’s primary concern in the final portion of this chapter is to coach the cult, explain what is expected of the followers. And here we find a demand (it’s called the first commandment) that is a marker of extreme religion:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Heart, soul, mind, strength. All. Focused on God. This is not the way even most believers function in the world—nor do they want to—and begs the question of why a self-sufficient god wants or needs unrestrained adoration. But cults thrive when people can be coaxed to this dark side; when they can be roped into zealotry. The reward promised by the Jesus cult was eternal life; but, as is usually the case, there must have been ego satisfaction for the cult leaders, including a propagandist like Mark.

The folks in the pews have been so used to hearing, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, yada, yada, yada,” in sermon and song, seeing it in stained glass and embroidery—well, don’t they just expect that sort of thing from the preacher? So it’s hard to notice just how jarring, how bizarre it really is.

I disposed of this hogwash, in my reply: Madison vs. Jesus #6: Narcissistic, Love-Starved God?

***

Dr. Madison’s critique of Mark 13 contains nothing new. He merely regurgitates fallacious arguments that I have already refuted in this series of rebuttals or the previous one. When he can’t come up with anything new, he recycles his trash. Likewise; his critiques of chapters 14-16 are primarily a reiteration of radical biblical skepticism (complete with ample citation from the intellectually suicidal Jesus mythicists): which I have explained in my standard introductions in this series (see above) why I won’t enter into. So this concludes my series of (total of eleven) rebuttals, as regards the Gospel of Mark.

***

Photo credit: The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 7, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s tenth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 11:22-24, Jesus gets demerits for saying this about prayer.” Here is the latest “outrageous” saying of Jesus (or, oops, the fanatical cultist evangelists who supposedly made up His words):

Mark 11:22-24 (RSV) And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. [23] Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. [24] Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This is a shallow, silly promise, and Jesus gets major demerits for this. . . . Jesus was wrong. . . . How much damage has this teaching caused? How many very devout people have prayed with all their might for a sick child to be cured, but the child dies? And then — far from blaming God for not delivering — they beat up on themselves for not having (you guessed it) enough faith. This damages people. This is harmful religion. . . . Jesus sounds like countless other cult fanatics that have come and gone in human history. . . . Why aren’t Christians themselves shocked by the cheap gimmickry? . . . baloney that Jesus has taught about prayer . . . 

First of all, of course this — especially the “mountain” reference — is a use of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), which we have thoroughly dealt with in installment one of this series of twelve rebuttals, and so need not reiterate here. It’s simply exaggeration, to make the literal point: “you can do some truly extraordinary things through faith and prayer.”

And (equally obvious) we all speak like this today, all the time. We observe people who are rather confident in their abilities in various areas, who will say, “I can do anything!” No one takes it literally. Or one can think of married couples who truly believe that their love can “conquer all”, or a parent telling a child who is now a young man or woman, considering a career: “you can do anything you want with your life. The sky’s the limit!”

These things are common because exaggeration or hyperbole is present in all languages and cultures. The problem is that a double standard is often applied to the Bible and Jesus: as if the ordinary complex aspects of language somehow don’t apply in those cases. They do; and this double standard or miscomprehension is the cause of countless atheist errors and fallacies in their endless polemical attacks.

Ironically, in this very podcast, Dr. Madison was discussing the parable of the fig tree, that occurs earlier in the same chapter, and states: “seeing the story in the context of this chapter, it seems to be Mark’s metaphor for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple . . . it is a literary device.”

Great! This is truly progress, as Dr. Madison has now recognized the perfectly obvious fact that the Bible contains literary devices and various genres, which include things like metaphor, exaggeration, anthropomorphism, and various non-literal poetic specimens. Yet he can’t see this when it comes to the text we are presently examining. And he — more often than not –, misses them altogether.

He does make a good point that there are many Christians (who interpret the passage as he is doing: as if Jesus intended it absolutely literally) who read this and think that God answers absolutely every prayer and heals absolutely everyone, just for the asking, and/or with enough faith in the person praying or the one afflicted.

This is indeed an actual and serious problem among far too many Christians, and a legitimate concern. But it comes from ignorance and stupidity in Bible interpretation (precisely the same error Dr. Madison is committing in every podcast in this series). These folks are taking things literally that were never intended to be so.

Again, I have dealt with both these errors in other papers, and so will cite them here. I addressed the “unanswered prayer ‘problem'” in my article, “No Conditional Prayer in Scripture?”: one of my 35 refutations of atheist Bob Seidensticker, which he has utterly ignored and left unreplied-to. Here are two instances, where the Bible shows that not all prayers are or should be answered:

Prayer is conditional upon being consistent with God’s will. So if we pray (to use an extreme example) for a difficult neighbor to be struck down and not able to talk or walk, that wouldn’t be in God’s will and God wouldn’t answer it.

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Even something not immediately immoral or amoral wouldn’t necessarily be in God’s will, because He knows everything and can see where things might lead; thus may refuse some requests. When Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” etc., it’s in a familiar Hebrew proverbial sense, which means that it is “generally true, but admits of exceptions.”

Moreover, St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (thought by many Bible scholars to be an eye disease) was expressly turned down by God (2 Cor 12:7-9). I gave a few other examples in that paper:

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

But wait! Bob says, after all: “The Bible has no qualifiers” and “No limitations or delays are mentioned [for prayer].” Really? It’s sort of obvious, by now, ain’t it?: that Bob often is quite ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. He displays his biblical illiteracy and ignorance rather spectacularly . . . 

Now, one might say that, “okay, some of these are obvious examples where God wouldn’t answer, because someone would be harmed. But why wouldn’t God answer all prayers for healing, because that is a good thing, and He has the desire and power to do so, if He is an all-loving and omnipotent Being?”

And that leads to the large, complex area of healing, as taught in the Bible and Christianity. The fact is that the Bible does not teach that everyone would or should be healed for the asking, or with enough faith. It’s not nearly that simple. I have already provided the example above of the Apostle Paul, who certainly had enough faith and holiness. It simply wasn’t God’s will to heal him. We don’t know all the ins and outs of why God heals in some instances and not in others.

We don’t know everything and can’t figure out everything God does. We should never logically expect to, given other truths expressed in the inspired revelation that all Christians accept, since He is omniscient and our knowledge is very limited. But I’m here to inform anyone who will listen what the actual biblical teaching about healing is. I documented it at great length in my paper, “Divine Healing: Is It God’s Will to Heal in Every Case?”

Sometimes people are supernaturally healed; most times they are not, or are healed through natural means that came from thinking and brains and medical science, by means of the abilities to learn that God gave us. And sometimes prayers are unanswered, per the reasons above.

There is nothing whatsoever in this passage — correctly understood — that isshallow, silly, wrong, harmful religion, sound[ing] like countless other cult fanatics, cheap gimmickry, baloney . . .” It’s Dr. Madison (in his ludicrous felt superiority to our Lord Jesus) who has been shown to be “silly” and “wrong”: as throughout these ten installments. There are many people who have a hard time properly interpreting the Bible, and he is assuredly one of ’em.

***

Photo credit: Healing of the Blind Man (1871), by Carl Bloch (1834-1890) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

Follow Us!



Browse Our Archives