Home » Intelligent Design » That uncomfortable subject, religion …

That uncomfortable subject, religion …

Things have been a bit quiet here recently, but in case you wondered, that’s because most list authors are Christians and this is the Triduum (last three days) of Holy Week.

Some are busy with religious matters and others won’t post on principle. I am also indexing a book (always a rush job in principle because the index is the only thing that keeps a book from the press at that point – so no one cares that it’s Holy Week for me).

But as this is Holy Saturday, I am going to talk briefly for a moment about … Religion.

One of the dumbest things I hear “new atheists” say is that faith means “belief without evidence.”

I don’t know what kind of a sheltered life such people can have lived, but their views might have something to do with tenure at tax-supported universities.

Religious doctrines are believed for a variety of reasons. For convenience, I’ll refer only to my own, Catholic Christian, tradition, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, just five reasons for now:

1. Some doctrines are based strictly on evidence. The existence of God, for example, is attested by the nature of the universe. A revealing moment in the Expelled movie was when arch-atheist Richard Dawkins admitted to Ben Stein that space aliens creating life and multiple universes were alternative ideas he’d consider.

What? That’s the best they’ve got? Well, let’s see if I can fiddle the dial and find the Back to God Hour. Glad it’s still on the air …

2. Some doctrines are based on logic. For example, why are there not Two Gods? Well, what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? The point is, it can’t happen. So there are not Two Gods. Or Many.

3. Some doctrines are based on reason. One of the sillier new atheist arguments is “Who designed the designer?” Well, any series can have a beginning. If, as most now think, the Big Bang started the universe, there must have been a wider context. It is reasonable to think this context was the will of God, based on the fine-tuned universe we actually see.

The question of God’s origin, if even askable, lies outside this universe and outside anything the human mind can think. That is why God was traditionally called, in philosophical contexts, the First Cause. That’s like the number 1. Don’t ask which natural number comes before it. The answer is none.

4. Some doctrines are based on the testimony of reliable witnesses – sane, stable people with no record of deceit, who would rather lose their property, liberty, or life than deny what they saw or heard, and have nothing to gain from promoting a story that would cost them all that. The usual way they explain it is “We must fear God rather than men.”

5. Some doctrines are based on experience – a form of evidence. I have observed that a great many people who come to an active faith later in life had an experience that they could only account for by returning to the practice of their faith (or finding a new one). An unexpected healing, perhaps?: The doctors have pronounced the patient’s case hopeless but the patient has decided to try prayer and repentance, and suddenly the burden of illness lifts. After that, the patient takes little interest in the views of new atheists, or the views of any atheists at all, on a permanent basis.

By the way, since I am here anyway, this may be a convenient time to make a “hint” announcement: I will shortly be offering a contest in which interested contributors may win a free copy of the Expelled vid or other works, as arranged. I will ask a question, based on a news story, and all responses will be judged. I will try not to be too partisan; I am mainly interested in rewarding the best contribution in 400 words or less.

More details later, once I get this index out of my life.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

199 Responses to That uncomfortable subject, religion …

  1. Are you implying that the mere possibility that aliens created life means that there exists evidence that they did so?

    I fail to see the logic in #2.

    I have no idea what you are trying to say in #3.

  2. “2. Some doctrines are based on logic. For example, why are there not Two Gods? Well, what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? The point is, it can’t happen. So there are not Two Gods. Or Many.”

    Is it not possible that they would cancel each other out, leaving the universe with no gods? OR, perhaps there were three. Two canceled out, leaving the universe with one. This is fun.

    Regarding number 5, this is a case of correlation vs. causation if I ever saw one. If I were to be convinced of the power of prayer or belief to heal, I would search for it in areas where humans do not heal naturally. If an amputee prayed to (any) god, and regenerated a limb, I would be inclined to believe as well.

  3. Hoki,

    On item one, I think Denyse is saying that the “mere possibility” that aliens created life here on earth (suggested by Dawkins) is utterly preposterous and based, in
    fact, on no evidence. Hence the “That’s the best they’ve got?” comment.

    Recast, the logic of item 2 is simply that if God is the greatest being (an immovable object as it were) the idea of another God is simply illogical, since “greatest” after all means “greatest” no equal to or coextensive with. God’s authority was indeed challenged by Satan, which was promptly dealt with accordingly.

    As for item 3, the doctrine that God is omnipresent, without begining and without end, is logically entailed the previous doctrine she mentioned of monotheism. Thus the argument of “who created the creator” is indeed “silly” if one accepts that God is, if fact, omnipresent and without beginning or end. In short, the Christian formulation of the Godhead has no logical need for a creator of the Creator, since He is the First Cause, both transtemporal and omniscient.

    I know that’s all a bit wordly, so I’ll simply default back to Denyse’s more economical language. Occam’s razor . . .

    I hope this helps.

  4. TheFace, you can’t get more than one omnipotent being, by definition. Think about it.

    Re No. 5: Maybe due to my age, I’ll accept cures from cancers considered untreatable and postponements of amputation surgery that turns out to be unneeded.

  5. theface wrote:

    “If I were to be convinced of the power of prayer or belief to heal, I would search for it in areas where humans do not heal naturally. If an amputee prayed to (any) god, and regenerated a limb, I would be inclined to believe as well.”

    A regenerated limb would cross the line from ‘miracle’, to ‘sign’, and would thus not require faith to believe it. Therefore it would cease to be a matter of religion, let alone an opportunity for salvation by faith.

    I could quote a page-full of scripture references to explain this very simple yet elegantly bulletproof Christian doctrine, but I respect that this is a scientific blog, so I will desist. Suffice to say that most ID adherents on here understand what I’m talking about, and if you’d like to contact me privately, I’ll be happy to explain it.

    Oh, and a Happy Easter to you. It could turn out to be your best one yet.

  6. Re : #5

    People have spiritual and religious experiences in many different traditions (and non-traditions). They are not the exclusive domain of Christianity. Healings too occur in non-Christian contexts. And sometimes the doctrines of those traditions contradict each other. It’s hard therefore to take somebody’s personal experience as any reliable evidence of the veracity of a particular doctrine.

    It does of course raise many interesting questions as to how and why people have these kinds of experiences. But to me the fact that they are not the exclusive property of one particular religious school, suggests something else going on.

  7. Flavinia wrote: “A regenerated limb would cross the line from ‘miracle’, to ’sign’, and would thus not require faith to believe it. Therefore it would cease to be a matter of religion, let alone an opportunity for salvation by faith.”

    That seems a very fine line to me. I don’t that distinction is clear in the Bible. In fact I think Jesus seems to indicate that miracles had a very definite purpose that really fits the bill as a ‘sign’:

    John 10:37,38 “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

    It’s also easy to read the New Testament and come away with the impression that the followers of Jesus should expect to see both “signs and wonders” occur (and many Christian groups, particularly Charismatic groups, explicitly preach this). So it is indeed a very valid question to ask why we don’t see the same kind of miracles/signs today that occurred in the NT.

  8. Re: #2 Some doctrines are based on logic.

    And some doctrines are not only bizarre and arbitrary, but do not pass the test of time. A good example of this is the doctrine of limbo, which the Catholic church recently overturned. It suggests that either the Catholic church is not as tuned into hearing the voice of God, or God keeps changing His mind. Which is it?

  9. “TheFace, you can’t get more than one omnipotent being, by definition. Think about it.”

    By defintion, you actually can’t get ANY omnipotent beings, as omnipotence is a logical paradox (e.g., create a rock that one cannot lift, I’m sure you know this one). As is a being that is omnipotent and omniscient, in that an omniscient god would know all past/present/future events, such as how he/she would eventually intervene in my life. This would insinuate, however, that god could not change his/her mind regarding how he/she would intervene in my life, which insinuates that god is not omnipotent. Though I believe omniscience is logically allowed by itself, it just means that god does not truly have a free will, in that he/she is always aware of how he/she will behave in future circumstances.

    What you are left with, is a god that is “very powerful” and, by definition, that does not preclude any other gods from existing.

  10. If religious doctrines may be based on evidence and logic then what is the difference between “faith” and “current best estimate based on evidence available”?

  11. Flannery (#3):
    On item one, I think Denyse is saying that the “mere possibility” that aliens created life here on earth (suggested by Dawkins) is utterly preposterous and based, in fact, on no evidence.

    So, the ID compatible hypothesis that aliens seeded life on Earth is preposterous?

    Of course, there is no evidence for this and Dawkins never claimed there was either.

    As for item 2: is the claim that there can’t be two gods because there can’t be two omnipotent gods? If that is the case, then I still can’t see the logic.

    As for item 3: maybe she meant what you think she meant. I still don’t get the point of the item, however…

  12. Re: #4

    In the case of Christianity is whether we do indeed have reliable witnesses. All of the canonical Gospel accounts were written at least 30 years or more after the events they portray. And many would question the authorship of these Gospels (at least Mark, Matthew, Luke), that the authors were not in fact eye witnesses. Furthermore we don’t have originals (autographs but copies of copies etc, the earliest of which dates from (I think) the early 2nd century. And there is evidence that suggests that multiple changes (deliberate and accidental) have been made to the manuscripts.

    We also have to deal with the fact that ‘doctrine’ as we know it today was not immediately established; some doctrines such as the Trinity were not established until the 4th – after much politicalizing, infighting and debate within the Church. Similarly, there was the whole controversy of arianism about the very nature of Christ.

    For me that leads me to one inescapable conclusion – that there is reasonable doubt about the origins of Christianity in terms of what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. So, it isn’t so much that there isn’t evidence, but rather that the quality of evidence is poor. I for one am not going to make a life-altering decision based on such questionable evidence – particularly when the evidence we do have suggests that the origins of Christianity are better explained through the workings of man than any supernatural involvement.

  13. Denyse writes: “One of the dumbest things I hear “new atheists” say is that faith means “belief without evidence.”

    That’s because they do not understand the difference betsween blind faith and informed faith.

  14. ——J Taylor: In the case of Christianity is whether we do indeed have reliable witnesses. All of the canonical Gospel accounts were written at least 30 years or more after the events they portray. And many would question the authorship of these Gospels (at least Mark, Matthew, Luke), that the authors were not in fact eye witnesses. Furthermore we don’t have originals (autographs but copies of copies etc, the earliest of which dates from (I think) the early 2nd century. And there is evidence that suggests that multiple changes (deliberate and accidental) have been made to the manuscripts.

    The Gospels were preached orally every day for all those thirty years. What was finally recorded in Scripture had already been part of the belief system and was well established. It was a continuous process from day one.

    —–“We also have to deal with the fact that ‘doctrine’ as we know it today was not immediately established; some doctrines such as the Trinity were not established until the 4th – after much politicalizing, infighting and debate within the Church. Similarly, there was the whole controversy of arianism about the very nature of Christ.

    All the doctrines were there, but not all the implications had been expounded. The early Church fathers believed in the Trinity and all the other articles of faith that are accepted today. The only thing that changed were the words that they used to define the already establshed teaching. You are confusing doctrine, which doesn’t change, with development of doctrine, which takes the same teaching and applies it to ever changing situations. No substantive changes have occurred in the Scriptures. All that is pure myth.

    —–“For me that leads me to one inescapable conclusion – that there is reasonable doubt about the origins of Christianity in terms of what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. So, it isn’t so much that there isn’t evidence, but rather that the quality of evidence is poor. I for one am not going to make a life-altering decision based on such questionable evidence – particularly when the evidence we do have suggests that the origins of Christianity are better explained through the workings of man than any supernatural involvement.

    Your mistaken conclusion is based on your earlier mistaken premise. If the first century Christians had been making things up, their enemies would have called them on it right then and there. Moving back in time, we can say the same thing about the apostles and the events that were being reported at the time. What could be more ridiculous that a bunch of Jewish scribes and Roman soldiers standing around a grave trying to prevent its occupant from rising from the dead. They had more faith than the apostles, and their faith was realized. Some of us celebrate that event tomorrow.

    Fact:

    Mohammed, tomb occupied,

    Confucius, tomb occupied,

    Buddha, tomb occupied,

    Christ, tomb empty.

  15. —-J Taylor: A good example of this is the doctrine of limbo, which the Catholic church recently overturned. It suggests that either the Catholic church is not as tuned into hearing the voice of God, or God keeps changing His mind. Which is it?

    Limbo was never a defined truth of the faith. It was more of a theological speculation than anything else.

  16. I think that I understated the case at #15. Limbo really was more than a theological speculation, otherwise there would have been little controversy about the prospect of doing away with it. At the moment, the Church is silent about it. There is nothing about it in the Universal Catechism ,so it has neither been reaffirmed nor denied.

  17. StephenB: “The Gospels were preached orally every day for all those thirty years.”

    We know this how? Every day? Besides, it is well established that oral transmission is not without issue. Yes, I’m aware that some historians claim that non-literate societies were more skilled at it then today, that maybe true. However, we still have to contend with the basic problems that eyewitness testimony is usually unreliable (as per Elizabeth Loftus’s research). And of course there is no corroborated evidence of Jesus or his followers for those 30 years. For a movement that turned the world upside down they were certainly quiet about it.

    StephenB: “The early Church fathers believed in the Trinity and all the other articles of faith that are accepted today.”

    Which early Church fathers? You mean the ones whose views become the “orthodox” tradition, rather than what was probably the majority view at the time?

    StephenB: “If the first century Christians had been making things up, their enemies would have called them on it right then and there. ”

    People have been making up religions for thousands of years. Yes, and sometimes their enemies do call them upon it, but religious ideas (even very strange ones) have a tendency to take root. If there is one thing that is clear from history is that anybody can make up a lot of bizarre untruthful stuff and people will still believe it many hundreds of years later. Look at recent history and success of Mormonism, or any number of strange cults. Even those that predict the end of the world and fail still seem to manage to survive.

    Christianity just happens to be one of the more successful ones. I see absolutely no reason to treat it any differently from all of the other made-up stories (although I concede it’s possible there was a person called Jesus, but even that isn’t certain).

    But what about other religions – I bet you have no issue that their stories are fabricated or made up. Perhaps you should take John Loftus’s Outsider test?

    Stephen B: ” Fact….Christ, tomb empty.”

    No, it’s an assertion and supposition on your part. Given the extremely improbable nature of such an event, the lack of any external corroboration, the delay in recording this event, this can only be accepted on a faith basis, not as fact.

  18. Re: Limbo

    Firstly, I’m not really all that interested in the ecclesiastical differences of whether it’s theology, doctrine or whatever. I think the point is that this is a teaching that the church promoted for centuries in one way or the other. And I think a lot of believers in the Catholic Church also probably did not understand that difference. Especially when they were faced with the loss of a loved one (especially an unbaptized infant) and the local Priest assured them that their loved one was now resting peacefully (or not) in “limbo”.

    But if we want other strange doctrines we only need to look to transubstantiation, indulgences, purgatory, and of course many would say the Trinity itself is rather a murky concept to put it mildly.

  19. #18
    So, if someone, somewhere, at some time, misunderstood the theology… then it’s proof that they’re not only “…bizarre and arbitrary, but do not pass the test of time”?

    Good heavens, by that definition, no belief in the history of humanity is less than bizarre, arbitrary and fading with time!

    Shall you next say the same of lunar phases, because so many believe they are caused by the earth’s shadow on the moon, rather than by the moon turning?

    Please, please don’t expound on how silly and illogical something is without good information on the topic!

  20. —-JTaylor: “We still have to contend with the basic problems that eyewitness testimony is usually unreliable (as per Elizabeth Loftus’s research).

    Such research is not helpful as a standard for judging the credibility of Chritianity. On the one hand, you have [A] the eyewitness testimony of one person at a moment in time, which can indeed be unreliable [in some cases] and quite reliable in other cases depending on the context. On the other hand, you the have [B] the eyewitness testimony of hundreds, maybe thousands of testimonials that draw on experiences day after day, week after week, and year after year. Further, you have corroborating evidence from hundreds of others on the other side of that testimony that were in a position to refute it if it wasn’t accurate.

    —–“Which early Church fathers? You mean the ones whose views become the “orthodox” tradition, rather than what was probably the majority view at the time?”

    How many Church fathers do you want me to mention? Are you asking for quotes? If so, pick a subject. Where did you get the impression that the majority view was at variance with the orthodox view. In any case, the Catholic Church is not a democracy, so I don’t get your point here.

    ——“People have been making up religions for thousands of years.}

    How does it follow that because some people have been making up religions, all religions are made up. In fact, the Christian religion is based on specific events that occurred in space/time/history. The ones you seem to be referring to [sun God’s etc] were conceived out of thin air.

    —–“If there is one thing that is clear from history is that anybody can make up a lot of bizarre untruthful stuff and people will still believe it many hundreds of years later. Look at recent history and success of Mormonism, or any number of strange cults. Even those that predict the end of the world and fail still seem to manage to survive.”

    There are a lot of strange religions. I will grant you that.

    ——“But what about other religions – I bet you have no issue that their stories are fabricated or made up. Perhaps you should take John Loftus’s Outsider test?”

    I hadn’t heard of that, but I thank you for the reference. Loftus’s point reminds me of the story about someone who once asked Ghandi why he was a Hindu, to which he responded, “Because I was born in India, of course.” How convenient, right?

    There are many other points to take into account that you may not be aware of. For one thing, Jesus Christ is the only religion leader that was foretold. All others just popped up on the scene and said, “trust me.” For another, none of the other leaders claimed to be God.

    Even more astounding, there were 459 Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s life that were fulfilled in New Testament history, including, among other things, the place of his birth, his tribe, his miracles, the virgin birth, the fact that he would be betrayed by thirty pieces of silver, and all sorts of other events. What are the chances that all these prophecies would become manifest in one era? What are the chances that even one of them would become manifest period. It will not do to say that these things were redacted back into the Old Testament, because that simply did not happen. You can’t logically compare this to other religions. It just isn’t the same ball game.

    Are you aware that Roman and Jewish historians corroborated many of the facts written about Christ in the New Testament? Also, Judeo/Christianity gave us Western civilization, modern science, jurisprudential theory, natural rights, and the notion of the “inherent dignity of the human person.” That doesn’t sound very kooky to me. What have the other religions given us?

    ——No, it’s an assertion and supposition on your part. (Christ’s empty tomb) Given the extremely improbable nature of such an event, the lack of any external corroboration, the delay in recording this event, this can only be accepted on a faith basis, not as fact.

    Well, we know that, according to all reports at the time, Christ’s tomb was empty three days after he was crucified. If his enemies knew that such was not the case, they would surely have drawn attention to that fact. So, it seems like a good bet that the tomb is still empty.

  21. JTaylor

    StephenB: “The Gospels were preached orally every day for all those thirty years.”
    We know this how? Every day? Besides, it is well established that oral transmission is not without issue. Yes, I’m aware that some historians claim that non-literate societies were more skilled at it then today, that maybe true. However, we still have to contend with the basic problems that eyewitness testimony is usually unreliable (as per Elizabeth Loftus’s research). And of course there is no corroborated evidence of Jesus or his followers for those 30 years. For a movement that turned the world upside down they were certainly quiet about it.

    Not so fast, JTaylor. First of all, the earliest author, Paul, is writing not 30 years after the crucifixion, but less than 20 years after the crucifixion, in about 50 C.E. I used to think 20 years was a long time…but now that I’m 60 myself, I realize it’s not so terribly long after all! :-)

    In referring to the resurrection, Paul often makes reference to the “traditus,” that is, to “what was handed down;” to “the tradition.” Note especially what he writes (in about 57 C.E.) in I Cor. 15:3ff.

    For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

    Paul, in other words, is writing about 20 years after the events about “the tradition he had received.” Eyewitnesses were available who could confirm or deny what he was writing about.

    John (John 19:35 and John 21:24) refers to himself as an eyewitness, and we know that John was still living when Paul wrote his letters. In fact, as you probably know, John’s gospel was probably written about 30 years after Paul’s letters.

    In turn, the early church father Polycarp, martyred in about 156, knew John. Irenaeus testifies to this in about 185, having met Polycarp in his youth. So there seems to be a continuous line of witnesses to the resurrected Christ which proceeds to the time of the early Church fathers.

    StephenB: “The early Church fathers believed in the Trinity and all the other articles of faith that are accepted today.”
    Which early Church fathers? You mean the ones whose views become the “orthodox” tradition, rather than what was probably the majority view at the time?

    Excuse me? Which other early Church fathers are you referring to here, JTaylor? Please let us hear from the “majority view.” Evidence?? Please??

    The historian Pinchas Lapide (who is an orthodox Jew), after studying the relevant historical documents, noted: “When these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master, and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confidant mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation …. If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception – without a fundamental faith experience – then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself. In a purely logical analysis, the resurrection of Jesus is ‘the lesser of two evils’ for all those who seek a rational explanation of the worldwide consequences of that Easter faith.” The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 1983.

    The existence of the Church, I believe, is itself the most persuasive evidence of the resurrection.

  22. StephenB: “Are you aware that Roman and Jewish historians corroborated many of the facts written about Christ in the New Testament? ”

    I know there are many writers that reference Jesus (or more usually His followers). We have Tactitus, Suetonius, Pliny and others. But not one of these are contemporary. And most are sparing in their details and usually refer to the followers not the person of Jesus. And the one that is most cited and provides the most information, Josephus, is probably not at all reliable (and Josephus was not even alive at the time of Jesus).

    StephenB: “Well, we know that, according to all reports at the time, Christ’s tomb was empty three days after he was crucified. If his enemies knew that such was not the case, they would surely have drawn attention to that fact. So, it seems like a good bet that the tomb is still empty.”

    What reports at the time? There were no reports at the time. All we have are Gospels written by people many, many years after the event, who were not eyewitnesses – and furthermore we’re not even sure who wrote the Gospels. Thirty years is plenty of time for myths and legends to flourish, even with reliable oral transmission. We have no direct eyewitness accounts who wrote down what they saw at the time.

  23. —-JTaylor “And I think a lot of believers in the Catholic Church also probably did not understand that difference. Especially when they were faced with the loss of a loved one (especially an unbaptized infant) and the local Priest assured them that their loved one was now resting peacefully (or not) in “limbo”.

    I agree. When someone says that baptism is necessary for salvation, people start looking for answers to some very difficult questions about the fate of an unbaptized infant. And the Church has to take on all the hard questions. The one thing they just couldn’t buy was Augustine’s reluctant, but painful conclusion that unbaptized infants go to hell. Good call.

    —-”But if we want other strange doctrines we only need to look to transubstantiation, indulgences, purgatory, and of course many would say the Trinity itself is rather a murky concept to put it mildly.”

    I would say that what matters most is whether or not these teachings are true or false. I will take a hard to understand truth over an easy to understand lie any day of the week.

  24. 24
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor: “People have spiritual and religious experiences in many different traditions (and non-traditions). They are not the exclusive domain of Christianity.”

    And this is precisely why it would be faulty to apply miracles as a contextual argument for the efficacy of Christianity. However, the fact that people of many faiths claim to have experienced miraculous healing does cause one to wonder if miracles do happen. It’s not a proof of anything, but it can be combined with other evidences that something other than material forces exist.

    There is no Christian doctrine claiming that miracles happen only to the faithful. Contrary, many of those whom Jesus healed according to scripture were not yet believers.

  25. 25
    CannuckianYankee

    theface: “Though I believe omniscience is logically allowed by itself, it just means that god does not truly have a free will, in that he/she is always aware of how he/she will behave in future circumstances.

    What you are left with, is a god that is “very powerful” and, by definition, that does not preclude any other gods from existing.”

    I think you forget that the god in question, if he/she/it exists, exists outside of time. Time is meaningless in the context of an eternal, omniscient, ominpotent god. Therefore the argument that this god would know what his decisions are in a future (in the pov of a god) is really meaningless. Everything to an omniscient god is in the present (in the pov of a god) or in non-time. It makes no sense to assign temporal properties to a god, when we know by definition that such a god would not exist within the context of what is temporal. Therefore, when you assume that a god could not be at the same time omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, you make all kinds of assumptions from the context of temporality, that are not necessarily the case in an eternal context.

    Obviously there are limits to omnipotence in order to avoid absurdities. An omnipotent god, for example cannot cause himself to cease existing.

    The god we speak of can have all of the attributes in question; however, omnisicience implies logical soundness, thus everything about that god would have to exist without defying logic.

    Assigning “can’t” to the dustbin in order to deny the logic of God’s existence does not take into account the logical arguments for his existence. It seems to me that atheists do this all the time – a sort of bait and switch tactic when dealing with arguments for the existence of God: “can’t not exist” implying that such a god by definition cannot exist and be omnipotent, for example – completely ignoring the cosmological argument showing that a first cause for everything is necessary.

    If a first cause is necessary, it is necessarily outside of everything else, and everything else is contingent on its existence. This understanding leads to the attributes of a necessary being – eternality, omnipotence, omniscience and immutibility. All of these are implied by a first cause. It must have all possible knowledge and power, and it must be eternal – not created in order to escape an infinite regression of causes.

    If you find a contradiction in this, perhaps it’s a contradiction in your own reasoning.

    Omnipotence is an ultimate. It cancels out all other “omnipotentialities” by definition. O’Leary is correct.

  26. Hoki,

    You write, “So, the ID compatible hypothesis that aliens seeded life on Earth is preposterous?” Answer: yes. The only reason it’s “ID compatible” is that ID makes no claims as to the nature of the designer. Thus, among competing theories as to the nature of that designer (which goes well beyond ID), space aliens is, well, preposterous. It is compatible but that’s about all you can say for it. As you admit, there is absolutely no evidence for it.

    If you still fail to see the logic of points 2 and 3 I’m afraid I can no longer help you.

  27. 27
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    For those who need help in their unbelief,

    I found the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist to be a great summary of logical, scientific and historical reasons to be a faithful Christian. And also why being an atheist just doesn’t cut it on any of these levels.

    As a Catholic, I might have concluded it slightly differently, but nevertheless it does provide many forms of argument that are very relevant in today’s world. I have shared the entire book with my daughter as a form of inoculation against the kind of ideas she will be flooded with as she grows to adulthood.

  28. 20 years ago, when I was 30, I had the view that religion was evil and I was not afraid to tell people this.

    Then, six years ago I had a personal encounter with Jesus. This was a life changing event, but I told no one in case they thought me mad.

    Not quite two years ago I discovered “intelligent design” and investigated the historical evidence for Jesus and also the Bible. I found, to my pleasant surprise, the factual evidence for God and Jesus was overwhelming. I was previously under the impression that the evidence was scanty at best. Now if I am challenged about my beliefs I do not have to rely on my personal testimony alone.

    So thank you to you Denyse and the rest of he intelligent design team and may God bless you all this Easter.

  29. “I think you forget that the god in question, if he/she/it exists, exists outside of time. Time is meaningless in the context of an eternal, omniscient, ominpotent god.”

    Lets say that god does exist, as you say, outside of time. In other words, god is atemporal. The act of a first cause is, however, a temporal event (what are the best estimates these days, 13.7 billion years ago?), as would any interventions by god with earth today. How then, do you suppose, that an atemporal being affects events within time? Wouldn’t that being have to become temporal, as the events he/she causes or influences have a temporal “stamp”, if you will?

    “Omnipotence is an ultimate. It cancels out all other “omnipotentialities” by definition. O’Leary is correct.”

    The implications of this are non-sensical. Lets stop by the rock example. Can god create a rock which he cannot lift? If yes, then god is not omnipotent because there is an object god cannot lift. If no, god is not omnipotent because he cannot create such an object. Please explain how this is canceled out by the definition of omnipotence.

  30. The face@29: “Can god create a rock which he cannot lift? If yes, then god is not omnipotent because there is an object god cannot lift.”

    This is like saying: “God cannot create a being greater than himself therefore he is not omnipotent”
    The proposition is self-contradictory.

  31. I agree with EndoplasmicMessenger in reference to the book he suggested (I Don’t have enough Faith to be an Atheist). I thouroughly enjoyed it.

    Another good one I just finished is Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus. I think I enjoyed more than his previous books. It touches on all the fabrications that are being forwarded about Jesus and why they are inaccuarte. It also provides several other relevent books on the subject. As always, I challenge people to look up the evidence for themselves..don’t take Strobel’s word for it.

    And as Lutepisc said, if one reads the works of the early church fathers, you have no choice but to come to the conclusion that comments like this….

    “All we have are Gospels written by people many, many years after the event, who were not eyewitnesses – and furthermore we’re not even sure who wrote the Gospels. Thirty years is plenty of time for myths and legends to flourish, even with reliable oral transmission. We have no direct eyewitness accounts who wrote down what they saw at the time….”

    …are simply in error.

    Read the books….check out the evidence….it’s amazing what you’ll find.

  32. —–J Taylor: “I know there are many writers that reference Jesus (or more usually His followers). We have Tactitus, Suetonius, Pliny and others. But not one of these are contemporary. And most are sparing in their details and usually refer to the followers not the person of Jesus. And the one that is most cited and provides the most information, Josephus, is probably not at all reliable (and Josephus was not even alive at the time of Jesus).”

    Your time line is reasonable, but that’s an awful lot of people saying the same thing from radically different perspectives. How likely is that all the apostles, all their disciples, all their enemies, and all the secular historians got it wrong? Tall tales in conflict with historical facts don’t get those kinds of legs. Tall tales as legends maybe, but not tall tales disguised as historical facts in the face of hostile witnesses.

    —–“What reports at the time? There were no reports at the time. All we have are Gospels written by people many, many years after the event, who were not eyewitnesses – and furthermore we’re not even sure who wrote the Gospels. Thirty years is plenty of time for myths and legends to flourish, even with reliable oral transmission. We have no direct eyewitness accounts who wrote down what they saw at the time.”

    The Gospels are reports from those that were there and who were put to death for reporting it. They are narrations, not mere stories. Not many people, much less whole communities, are willing to be tortured to death for something they know to be a lie. With regard to the alleged thirty year gap, there really is no gap. I hearken back to the continuous unbroken line of preaching, the oral tradition, which was eventually committed to Scripture.

  33. “This is like saying: “God cannot create a being greater than himself therefore he is not omnipotent”
    The proposition is self-contradictory.”

    Unfortunately, the statement is not self-contradictory, rather the concept of omnipotence is a paradox. I would suggest checking out Martin’s analysis of the omnipotence argument in Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Under numerous definitions, omnipotence is logically incoherent, and interferes with omniscience and other attributes typically associated with god. Kind of dense, but it’s a trip.

  34. 34
    CannuckianYankee

    theface: “Lets say that god does exist, as you say, outside of time. In other words, god is atemporal. The act of a first cause is, however, a temporal event (what are the best estimates these days, 13.7 billion years ago?), as would any interventions by god with earth today. How then, do you suppose, that an atemporal being affects events within time? Wouldn’t that being have to become temporal, as the events he/she causes or influences have a temporal “stamp”, if you will?”

    You ask an excellent question, which has an answer found in scripture. The scriptures imply that God is triune – Father, Son, Spirit, but one being. In the Genesis account the Spirit of God moves across the face of the deep, and a personage called God is present with Adam, walking with him in the garden. This implies that God can leave (or rather enter) the temporal realm as He pleases, and affect it. Now perhaps you don’t accept the scriptural explanation – but it does show an example of how such a god could be both atemporal, yet present in the temporal realm. In fact, the gospel accounts claim that Jesus is God incarnate.

    ““Omnipotence is an ultimate. It cancels out all other “omnipotentialities” by definition. O’Leary is correct.”

    The implications of this are non-sensical. Lets stop by the rock example. Can god create a rock which he cannot lift? If yes, then god is not omnipotent because there is an object god cannot lift. If no, god is not omnipotent because he cannot create such an object. Please explain how this is canceled out by the definition of omnipotence.”

    I don’t find the rock example very persuasive – it’s more semantics than reality. Again, I sense that you completely ignore the argument that there needs to be a first cause for all that exists in order to escape the absurdity of an infinite regress. That argument certainly trumps any argument negating the attributes of a necessary first cause or being. Let’s just say that God is omnipotent as far as the definition for omnipotence will allow. The definition does not allow for the semantics you suggest.

  35. 35
    CannuckianYankee

    theface,

    Regarding the rock argument, there is an excellent chapter in “Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview” (J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig – 2003), which addresses just that.

    Moreland and Craig refer to the “Maximal Power” by Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso (1983). Apparently the rock argument is an example of “theologial fatalism,” which can be refuted, but not easily due to the conflation of semantics involved. M & C state that theological omipotence should be viewed less as a term of raw power, and rather as “unlimited in quantity and variety.” Thus, they conclude that the rock argument stems from a “faulty concept of omnipotence.” (pg. 528)

    In other words, we shouldn’t expect that an omnipotent being be capable of anything that is broadly possible. They state that due to the passage of time, there are events, which at one time were braodly possible, but no longer possible in actuality, such as the Phillies winning the World Series in 1997, for example (sorry, I’m a Phillies fan).

    The rock argument, while not limited to the passage of time, is such an example of a broadly possible concept, but not actually possible due to other factors.

    Craig and Moreland delve heavily into the concept of the necessary being, which they also conclude as trumping any argument against the attributes inherent in any necessary first cause or being. Thus, there are limits to any broad possibility – even if there is an omnipotent god. These limits do not necessaily negate such a god’s existence.

    I suggest a heirarchy of arguments regarding God’s existence, whereby the higher arguments trump any foreseen incongruities in the lower arguments. Thus, the necessary being argument is at the top of such a heirarchy, leaving omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, atemporality, etc, while still necessary, but limited in such a way as to avoid contradicting the top of the heirarchy.

    It might sound like a wishful expedience, but if viewed in this way we get the following:

    God exists as a necessary being. As such, he is omnipotent as in unlimited ability in quantity and variety. He is also necessarily omniscient as in unlimited in knowledge that can be known. He is atemporal, yet due to his omnipotence, can be present in any temporal realm He actualizes, and so on and so forth.

    I’m not certain if I have explained this thoroughly and satisfactorily enough, but I assure you that Craig and Moreland go into these concepts much more in depth than I could ever hope to.

  36. 36
    CannuckianYankee

    theface,

    Flannery pointed out in #3 that God is “transtemporal,” leaving another possibility other than temporal or atemporal. I don’t find any logical incongruities in this concept.

  37. JTaylor, your skepticism regarding authenticity and historical authority of the New Testament books is understandable. I used to have much of the same opinion about the subject as you do.

    Seeing that you are interested in the subject I recommend the following book written in 2006. It is rigorous, scholarly study of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony.

    Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

  38. No one here, I presume, is denying anyone the right to hold and express their religious beliefs but is a blog such as this, ostensibly dedicated to the discussion of a scientific proposal, the most appropriate platform from which to allow one individual to promote her personal faith, particularly bearing in mind that she has a number of other personal blogs from which she can do the same without any conflict of interest?

    Would it be correct to assume that agnostics and atheists would not be granted the same latitude here?

  39. theface:

    I am surprised that you cite the Paradox of the Stone as an argument against God’s omnipotence. The paradox has been resolved. I suggest you have a look at a paper entitled “Anything You Can Do God Can Do Better” by Campbell Brown and Yujin Nagasawa, at http://philrsss.anu.edu.au/~yujin/Stone.pdf .

    You also ask why God doesn’t heal amputees. Well, He does. See the following link, which describes a well-documented healing in Spain in 1640 (the miracle of Calanda):

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

    There is also a case recorded in the New Testament (Luke 22: 49-51) of Jesus healing an amputee:

    49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

    51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

    Thus there is no reason for a Christian to argue that God would not work such a miracle, lest it compel faith. God already has.

    You ask: “How then, do you suppose, that an atemporal being affects events within time?” If God is atemporal, God could still timelessly decide to intervene at certain points in history. We would perceive that as an intervention in time, but it would not necessitate a change of mind on God’s part.

    I should add that not all Christian theologians view God as atemporal. Some view God as omnitemporal, occupying every point in space and time. This is the view of Professor William Lane Craig, which he argues for in his paper, “Timelessness and Omnitemporality,” at http://www.leaderu.com/offices.....ality.html . Interestingly, the atheist philosopher David Misialowski also defends such a view as coherent in his paper, “Theological Fatalism, Part 2: Reply to Robert P. Taylor,” at http://www.galilean-library.or.....stid=43828 . The classic view that God is atemporal is defended by Professor Paul Helm in his article “Eternity,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/eternity/ .

    J Taylor:

    Thirty years is plenty of time for myths and legends to flourish…

    Your argument proves too much. If you are right, then similar legends about other characters must have abounded in the days of the Roman Empire. Which raises the question: in that case, how did Christianity ever win so many adherents in the first place? It would have been but one among many “miracle religions,” if the skeptics are right. Some skeptics might be tempted to answer that Christianity triumphed because of Constantine, but that puts the cart before the horse, doesn’t it? For it invites the question: Why did he become a Christian in the first place? What was the attraction? Why didn’t some other religion win out? And why couldn’t Gnosticism out-compete orthodox Christianity?

    If you want to understnad the triumph of Christianity from a sociological perspective, I suggest you read Rodney Stark’s book “The Rise of Christianity” (HarperOne, 1997). The Amazon Web page is here: http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Chr.....0060677015 . Much of the book can be viewed online at http://books.google.com/books?.....4#PPA35,M1 .

    Concerning the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, you write:

    Given the extremely improbable nature of such an event…

    With the greatest respect, that argument (which goes back at least to Hume) begs the question. How do we know that the Resurrection is improbable? Probability assessments can only be formed relative to a set of background assumptions. If one of your assumptions is that the laws of nature always hold, or have always held in the past, then of course the probability of the resurrection will be very low: in fact, it’ll be zero! If, on the other hand, you merely assume that the laws of nature usually hold, then all that follows is that at any randomly selected time in the past, the probability of a miracle occurring is very low. But the whole point of Christian belief is that what happened on Easter Sunday in 33 A.D. was not a random occurrence.

    You also suggest that the Trinity may have been a theological innovation on the part of the early Church. You might like to look at the following:

    “The Doctrine of the Trinity Defended” at http://www.spotlightministries.....fended.htm

    “The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity” by John Bowman at http://www.irr.org/trinity-outline.html

    “Did the Early Christians Believe in the Doctrine of the Trinity?” – a collection of quotes by Catholic Answers at http://www.catholic.com/library/Trinity.asp .

    You also write:

    Perhaps you should take John Loftus’s Outsider test.

    What’s wrong with the Outsider Test is that it ignores God’s supernatural grace. Faith is a gift from God. The Outsider Test assumes that we should make up our minds about which religion to believe from a detached, purely rational perspective, as if we had never been exposed to any of them. In other words, it explicitly rules out the way in which the Spirit of God might move the human heart to faith, as happened with the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

    And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:32, King James Version.)

    We are not Martians, and we should stop pretending to be. A Martian might have a hard time believing in the Resurrection, but then again, God might not expect him/her to. We have all been shaped by history. Some of us have absorbed the faith with our mothers’ milk; others came by it late in life; others have barely heard of it; others, not at all. But “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

    I was raised in the faith, rejected it in my late twenties, and managed to find it again more than fifteen years later, when I finally realized that: (a) what I had thought were knock-down arguments against the Christian faith could in fact be answered; (b) that there was no convincing spiritual rival to Christianity; and (c) that the person of Jesus Christ could be viewed as an Exemplar of what a perfect human being ought to be – a model of whom we all fall far short.

    Anyway, a happy Easter to you both.

  40. RESURREXIT EST!!

    Vere resurrexit est!

  41. 41

    He has risen indeed!

  42. Lutepisc: “Not so fast, JTaylor. First of all, the earliest author, Paul, is writing not 30 years after the crucifixion, but less than 20 years after the crucifixion, in about 50 C.E. I used to think 20 years was a long time…but now that I’m 60 myself, I realize it’s not so terribly long after all! ”

    Yes, you are quite right, Paul did write his letters before the Gospels. I think scholars say they were written from 50-62. And it’s true that Paul talks about Jesus although he was not of course an eyewitness. However, it’s always puzzled me why Paul never mentions the specific details of Jesus’s life (particularly since the Gospels had yet to be written). I know the counter-argument is that people say the recipients of Paul’s letters would already know the story of Jesus’s life, but I’m not sure that is entirely convincing. And of course 20 years is still a long time for oral transmissions to mutate. Yes Paul had “received” some tradition, but can verify that what he received is reliable. Even in modern times, with modern communications, myths and legends are easily propagated (look what happened on 9/11). My issue is that there is always some considerable amount of doubt remaining as to whether these events really took place, or whether the events took place but the stories have become so completely elaborated that we cannot really know what happened. I suppose some people would say I need to just have ‘faith’, but again, if you want me to make a life-altering decision based on this information, I need something more concrete.

    Lutepisc: “Excuse me? Which other early Church fathers are you referring to here, JTaylor? Please let us hear from the “majority view.” Evidence?? Please??”

    Without going into a detailed synopsis of church history (and I admit I’m no expert here), but my brief survey clearly shows that the church fathers were in agreement on all matters – in fact we know from the disputes between Arianus and Athanasius that there were significant disputes over even basic matters of Christology. My reading indicates that what we now understand as ‘orthodox’ faith was only one of multiple doctrinal lines that were in existence at the time.

    Lutepisc: “The existence of the Church, I believe, is itself the most persuasive evidence of the resurrection.”

    Well, yes the Church still persists. But looking at the modern Church today, I’m not sure (IMHO) I see much evidence of the involvement of a supernatural entity. What I do see is a lot of scandal, sexual misconduct, corruption, greed and divisiveness. There are something like over 30,000 cults, denominations, sects (all mainly because nobody can really agree on what the Bible is trying to say). Yes, there are pockets of sincere, well-meaning good people who are trying to follow their religion with all their hearts. I look at the Church especially in America and frankly I found it utterly repulsive. I’m particularly appalled at the way the Catholic church has failed to properly deal with the sexual abuses under its own roof (too little, too late) – how anybody can continue to be associated with such an institution is completely beyond me. I also know a lot of Christians who are quite disappointed with their faith (and often turn to secular therapy to get any real help). If God is working in the church today it is not very apparent. As an outsider looking in it looks and operates just like other human-inspired and human-run religious institutions. For me this is one part of the many lines of evidence of why I think Christianity is not true. So, yes, there is a Church, but I’m not sure what that means.

  43. theface 9:
    If God creates a rock he cannot lift he would still be omnipotent, however he can’t do the impossible so he can’t lift it. He can’t exist and not exist at the same time, he can’t break the rules of mathematics or logic. He can break the laws of nature he himself made. In other words omnipotent doesn’t mean impossipotent.

  44. StephenB: “Such research is not helpful as a standard for judging the credibility of Chritianity. On the one hand, you have [A] the eyewitness testimony of one person at a moment in time, which can indeed be unreliable [in some cases] and quite reliable in other cases depending on the context. On the other hand, you the have [B] the eyewitness testimony of hundreds, maybe thousands of testimonials that draw on experiences day after day, week after week, and year after year. Further, you have corroborating evidence from hundreds of others on the other side of that testimony that were in a position to refute it if it wasn’t accurate.”

    I think the research into eyewitness testimony is actually very relevant; there’s also been considerable research into the reliability of memory in general. It’s quite clear that our brains are not the reliable tools we would like to think they are. Many people can barely remember what they were doing this time last week, and there is no reason to think that people 2000 years ago fared any better. And just look at the way urban myths proliferate.

    As to the testimony of hundreds…in terms of the historical events surrounding Jesus we don’t have this. Yes, I think Acts mentions that ‘many hundreds’ witnessed Jesus – but that is not eyewitness testimony. That’s somebody (one person) writing about an event. Not the same at all. However, if everybody who witnessed that event and then had each individually written about it, that would be a different matter.

    And of course we still have the issue that we don’t have any clear authorship for the Gospels (and even John is disputed) and some scholars even dispute Acts. There is reasonable doubt that they were written as eyewitness accounts. And again we don’t have a single contemporary witness who wrote anything down while Jesus actually lived, despite the fact that there were active historians alive in the area at the time. Not one. That’s rather amazing when you think about it.

    As to the people who draw on their experiences (presumably people living now), again that is also questionable. It’s questionable because we know that many people in different religious traditions, spiritual practices also can claim positive ratification of their beliefs. Buddhists do. Sufis do. New Age practitioners do. Muslims do. They will all speak (at length) to the “experiences” of their faith and how real and tangible these experiences are. And many of these same people will die for their particular version of the truth (that is by no means the exclusive domain of Christians, as we unfortunately witnessed on 9/11).

    What’s a skeptic to do? I look at a number of religious truths, each claiming historical veracity, each claiming that their particular faith provides tangible experiences, even healings. Why should I not believe that this are all manifestations of something that is better explained through natural psychological processes?

  45. to JTaylor: Good points, in this post and others. I particularly think the last two paragraphs of 41 are quite pertinent.

  46. 46
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor: “And of course 20 years is still a long time for oral transmissions to mutate.”

    If you think 20 years is a long time, consider the ancient sources for Alexander the Great; Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin. All of these were written more than 300 years after Alexander. Now there may be historical disputes about the details and reliability of some of these sources, yet no reasonable historian doubts that an accurate depiction of Alexander’s exploits can be gleaned from these accounts.

    On the other hand, we have the gospels, written some 20 to 60 years after the actual events, not to mention the accounts from the Church fathers, writing from 100 to 250 years after the events, and we have “scholars” from such questionable organizations as the Jesus Seminar (who use colored beads and a popular vote) to cast doubt on the very sayings of Jesus as mentioned in the gospels. It’s laughable.

    It’s important to note that the Jesus Seminar is a very media savvy group, which influences popular opinion concerning the gospels more than any other scholarly group in the field of Biblical studies. Yet they only represent a small fraction of the numbers of scholars involved in Biblical studies. Yet because of their broad influence, many believe they speak for a majority. They do not.

    In fact, 20 to 60 years is phenomenal for the source of any ancient history. Most of what we know, with few exceptions are from sources well beyond the events themselves. One such exception would be political leaders like Julius Caesar. However, much of what we know about Julius Caesar from contemporaries comes from his political rival Cicero. Nonetheless the argument falls flat in context with other anceint histories.

    I was involved in a discussion one time when I was exclusively debating atheists online. At that time I didn’t know as much as I know now about the sources of ancient histories. This person explained that one would expect some contemporary writings about Jesus, since he was so influential according to the gospels.

    This might be true in context with current events, but we are talking about the ancient world, when the printing press had not been invented, and average people did not have access to writing materials as readily as we have today. Papyrus was expensive. Those writing the gospels would have had to make sacrifices in order to obtain those materials. Also writing on Papyrus took time. It could take years to write a gospel on papyrus.

    Furthermore, the gospels were written at a time when there was still much official religious and political hostility towards Christianity. There were many religious and political leaders who wanted to suppress any mention of Jesus. It is therefore, in light of these factors, quite phenomenal that the gospels were written at all, and in so short a time after the events – within the same generation, when the eyewitnesses were still living. Given that there were eyewitnesses still living, it seems odd that we don’t have contemporary writings that present a contrary account. In fact, we don’t start to see contradictory accounts of the gospels until the Gnostic accounts, which were written some 300 or more years after the events.

  47. We should also not ignore the example of Scientology. Here we have something that has grown into a huge – and hugely profitable – worldwide cultural phenomenon just a few decades after it emerged from the mind of a man who, up until that point, had been nothing more than a minor science-fiction writer.

    Given that, is it so hard to imagine that the teachings of someone who may have been no more than a maverick Middle-Eastern preacher with a small band of followers – assuming they existed at all – could have caught on and, over the centuries, grown into a worldwide religion?

  48. —–Jtaylor: I think the research into eyewitness testimony is actually very relevant; there’s also been considerable research into the reliability of memory in general. It’s quite clear that our brains are not the reliable tools we would like to think they are. Many people can barely remember what they were doing this time last week, and there is no reason to think that people 2000 years ago fared any better. And just look at the way urban myths proliferate.

    As I pointed out earlier, your point loses its force based on the fact that the Gospel’s offer multiple witnesses, observing at multiple times, and in multiple contexts. Besides, you are alluding to only one study, which may not even be valid. Has your source convinced the U.S. Court systems to stop prosecuting criminals on the basis of eyewitness testimony? I would like to examine this study.

    —–As to the testimony of hundreds…in terms of the historical events surrounding Jesus we don’t have this. Yes, I think Acts mentions that ‘many hundreds’ witnessed Jesus – but that is not eyewitness testimony. That’s somebody (one person) writing about an event. Not the same at all. However, if everybody who witnessed that event and then had each individually written about it, that would be a different matter.

    We have thousands of people witnessing these things. Your only real objection is that you disbelieve all the reports because they are contained in the Bible. But the Bible is not all theology, some of it is history, and much more is narration. Are you aware of the fact that Luke’s Gospel, for example, has been analyzed by secular historians and found to be sound” from a narrative perspective. As an example, his reports of cultural events on the times that people met at temples, the pedigrees of the various tribes, and other matters suggest a careful, thoughtful reporter. So, when he writes that hundreds of people saw things, it seems reasonable to hold that hundreds of people saw things.

    —–“And of course we still have the issue that we don’t have any clear authorship for the Gospels (and even John is disputed) and some scholars even dispute Acts. There is reasonable doubt that they were written as eyewitness accounts. And again we don’t have a single contemporary witness who wrote anything down while Jesus actually lived, despite the fact that there were active historians alive in the area at the time. Not one. That’s rather amazing when you think about it.”

    Most respectable scholars are on board with the attributed authorship of the four gospels and most of the other New Testament books. About the only holdouts are Jesus Seminar freaks and atheists with a chip on their shoulder. Which books in particular do you have doubts about? In terms of writing things down in real time, we have no way of knowing one way or the other. Christ’s disciples may well have written everything down prior to the time that they organized it as part of Scripture. Indeed, I can’t imagine how they got along without doing that. What we do know is that the oral tradition, which may or may not have been written about beforehand, was committed to Scripture, just as Scripture reports.

    —–As to the people who draw on their experiences (presumably people living now), again that is also questionable. It’s questionable because we know that many people in different religious traditions, spiritual practices also can claim positive ratification of their beliefs. Buddhists do. Sufis do. New Age practitioners do. Muslims do. They will all speak (at length) to the “experiences” of their faith and how real and tangible these experiences are. And many of these same people will die for their particular version of the truth (that is by no means the exclusive domain of Christians, as we unfortunately witnessed on 9/11).

    Once again, you are conflating religions that were simply conceived out of thin air with the Christian religion which was based on historical facts. It’s not the same thing at all. With regard to claims about miracles, those things can be tested by scientists and have been. Indeed, it is the scientists and medical professionals who confirm miracles attributed to saints as a part of the Canonization process for the Catholic Church. Do your other religions submit to that kind of scrutiny?

    Yes, some people other than Christians have been known to die for their religion, all of which is based on their “belief” that their religion is true. In any case, having a psychic experience is not the same thing as living through real life events. The apostles died for faithfully reporting on hard facts and historical events, not for holding on to some imaginary earth God or Sun God that they make up in their own minds.

    —–What’s a skeptic to do? I look at a number of religious truths, each claiming historical veracity, each claiming that their particular faith provides tangible experiences, even healings. Why should I not believe that this are all manifestations of something that is better explained through natural psychological processes?

    What about my earlier point about the prophecies being fulfilled as historical manifestations [all 459 of them]? What about the fact that Jesus claimed to be God? What about the fact that the Christian religion produced all the cultural institutions that I alluded to in an earlier post. You seem to be consciously skipping over all the arguments that promise to answer your objections.

  49. In choosing a religion, personally I would be sceptical of one which proffered scientific proof of its integrity.

  50. JTaylor, thank you for your considered and thoughtful replies.

    Even in modern times, with modern communications, myths and legends are easily propagated (look what happened on 9/11). My issue is that there is always some considerable amount of doubt remaining as to whether these events really took place, or whether the events took place but the stories have become so completely elaborated that we cannot really know what happened.

    Yes, let’s take 9/11 as an example. Millions of people were eyewitnesses to that event, yet if you took the time to interview each of them that very evening, it is highly unlikely that any two narratives of the event would be the same. Every one of those millions of people witnessed the event from a different perspective, and brought a different set of investments and emotions to those perspectives. Nevertheless, surely you would agree that something happened. Something huge, in fact. And in many ways it is not possible to get beneath those millions of perspectives in order to give a purely objective account of exactly what happened.

    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New Testament scholars attempted to peel away the unique perspectives which each of the gospel writers brought to the narrative, in order to uncover what Jesus was really like. This agenda has been called “the quest for the historical Jesus,” as you probably know. However, it soon became apparent that those pursuing the quest had their own perspectives and investments, which influenced their determinations about what was “authentically Jesus” and what was not.

    In the latter half of the 20th century, most mainline biblical scholars gave up this quest as futile, and decided instead to mine those differences in perspective and see if we could listen anew to what the gospel writers were trying to say, understanding that they were not acting as journalists as we might think of narrative writers today, but theologians as well. We have learned quite a bit about the unique perspectives of the gospels this way.

    I would agree that an element of faith is involved in affirming that “something happened” about which the New Testament authors are writing (just as a certain amount of faith is required for you to believe that there’s actually a human typing at a keyboard somewhere, producing what you’re now reading). At the same time, I believe there is also a significant amount of evidence that “something happened” which prompted the New Testament writers to write. In fact, this ties in nicely with what I would like to address next.

    You wrote

    Well, yes the Church still persists. But looking at the modern Church today, I’m not sure (IMHO) I see much evidence of the involvement of a supernatural entity.

    Oh, dear. You completely missed my point there, JTaylor. I was not intending to say that the Church is a supernatural entity. My statement about the existence of the Church being the strongest evidence (IMO) for the resurrection was intended to elaborate on the Pinchas Lapide quote I had just given you. Here it is again:

    [A]fter studying the relevant historical documents, [Lapide, a historian who is an orthodox Jew] noted: “When these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master, and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confidant mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation …. If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception – without a fundamental faith experience – then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself. In a purely logical analysis, the resurrection of Jesus is ‘the lesser of two evils’ for all those who seek a rational explanation of the worldwide consequences of that Easter faith.”

    So Lapide also concluded “something happened.”

    And finally, you wrote

    As to the people who draw on their experiences (presumably people living now), again that is also questionable. It’s questionable because we know that many people in different religious traditions, spiritual practices also can claim positive ratification of their beliefs. Buddhists do. Sufis do. New Age practitioners do. Muslims do. They will all speak (at length) to the “experiences” of their faith and how real and tangible these experiences are.

    Sure. I don’t negate those experiences at all…nor do I believe theirs negate mine. Nor do any of those you mentioned negate any of the others you mentioned. (Sufis, in fact, are Muslims.)

  51. So Lapide also concluded “something happened.”

    I’m afraid I still didn’t make my point very clearly, JTaylor. As Lapide might put it (and I probably got this from him), there is a resurrection-shaped hole at ground zero. Correct…no one witnessed the actual blast, but you can see the aftereffects spreading from ground zero clear out to the present, with Christianity the largest religion in the world.

  52. CannuckianYankee: “If you think 20 years is a long time, consider the ancient sources for Alexander the Great; Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin. All of these were written more than 300 years after Alexander. Now there may be historical disputes about the details and reliability of some of these sources, yet no reasonable historian doubts that an accurate depiction of Alexander’s exploits can be gleaned from these accounts.”

    I have no doubt that this is true and that a lot of our history could be wrong. But on the other hand I’m not being asked to make a serious life-altering decision on the life of Alexander or accept him as my savior.

    CannuakianYankee: “On the other hand, we have the gospels, written some 20 to 60 years after the actual events, not to mention the accounts from the Church fathers, writing from 100 to 250 years after the events, and we have “scholars” from such questionable organizations as the Jesus Seminar (who use colored beads and a popular vote) to cast doubt on the very sayings of Jesus as mentioned in the gospels. It’s laughable.”

    It’s not laughable when there is very serious doubt about who actually wrote the gospels. The whole tradition and edifice of Christianity is built then on documents whose authorship is not even properly known.

    CannuckianYankee: “I was involved in a discussion one time when I was exclusively debating atheists online. At that time I didn’t know as much as I know now about the sources of ancient histories. This person explained that one would expect some contemporary writings about Jesus, since he was so influential according to the gospels.

    This might be true in context with current events, but we are talking about the ancient world, when the printing press had not been invented, and average people did not have access to writing materials as readily as we have today. Papyrus was expensive. Those writing the gospels would have had to make sacrifices in order to obtain those materials. Also writing on Papyrus took time. It could take years to write a gospel on papyrus.”

    No doubt that may all be accurate – but it still does not resolve the issue of whether we have a reliable historical account or not. The gospels depict some very improbable and unusual events (miracles, resurrections etc). Given the propensity for human myth-making and twisting of stories (which still happens in modern myths), it’s hard to distinguish what could be real and what isn’t. Until better evidence comes along, I’m still going to take the course of applying reasonable doubt that what we have in the gospels is not entirely historical accurate. Certainly not enough at least to base a life-altering decision. Yes, I could apply “faith” and maybe I’ll even have some spiritual experiences as a result but as we all know from other religions that in itself is not proof either.

  53. StephenB said: “As I pointed out earlier, your point loses its force based on the fact that the Gospel’s offer multiple witnesses, observing at multiple times, and in multiple contexts. Besides, you are alluding to only one study, which may not even be valid. Has your source convinced the U.S. Court systems to stop prosecuting criminals on the basis of eyewitness testimony? I would like to examine this study.”

    I’m not sure how many perspectives the Gospels provide considering that it seems well-established that the Gospel writers borrowed from each other and from “Q”. As to the source I mentioned, Elizabeth Loftus, I believe she and others have attempted to influence the legal system (for example, look up the Center of Psychology and Law at the University of Irvine).

    StephenB said: “We have thousands of people witnessing these things. Your only real objection is that you disbelieve all the reports because they are contained in the Bible.”

    Who are these thousands of people? We have a written report that thousands of people witnessed these things. We don’t have thousands of people who have reported witnessed these things. It would be similar to going to a large even where thousands of people were present and me writing that hundreds of people saw a UFO. That’s very different from individual corroborated accounts. What we have in the Bible is a few witnesses (none of them contemporary) reporting that other witnesses saw these things.

    StephenB: “Most respectable scholars are on board with the attributed authorship of the four gospels and most of the other New Testament books.”

    I would research this more. I don’t think it’s just the Jesus seminar who are disputing this. Just take the Gospel of Mark – it is very unclear who wrote this (the gospel itself is after all anonymous). A lot of authorship attribution is based on tradition, not any real solid evidence.

    StephenB: “Once again, you are conflating religions that were simply conceived out of thin air with the Christian religion which was based on historical facts. It’s not the same thing at all. With regard to claims about miracles, those things can be tested by scientists and have been. Indeed, it is the scientists and medical professionals who confirm miracles attributed to saints as a part of the Canonization process for the Catholic Church. Do your other religions submit to that kind of scrutiny?”

    I think its the historical facts that are in dispute here. I have no reason to believe Christianity has any more historical veracity than Islam or other religions. I’m not going as far as saying Jesus was mythical but there are very good reasons to think that what we know about the historical Jesus is probably inaccurate. As to non-Christian miracles – yes there are some reports from Christian Science, reiki, spiritualism etc that claim they have seen healings that have been medically attested. As to whether they have been as rigorously researched as the Catholic church I don’t know. Another interesting source is to also look a Protestant healing ministry such as Benny Hinn which has a very dubious track record. We must remember too that spontaneous recoveries and remissions occur that have no religious or spiritual context. And let’s not forget that Christian prayer for healing is probably most of the time ineffective and goes unanswered. If healings do occur they are certainly rare and not common.

    StephenB: “What about my earlier point about the prophecies being fulfilled as historical manifestations [all 459 of them]? What about the fact that Jesus claimed to be God? What about the fact that the Christian religion produced all the cultural institutions that I alluded to in an earlier post. You seem to be consciously skipping over all the arguments that promise to answer your objections.”

    No I’m not ignoring the prophecies. And space does not permit a refutation of all them. But certainly many have been convincingly refuted. Here’s a good place to start: http://debunkingchristianity.b.....lenge.html

    And this article poses an interesting question: if one prophecy can be categorically refuted does that not shed doubt on all of them?

  54. To Hazel – many thanks for the compliment. I’ve also been very much enjoying your posts too and wish I had your knowledge and expertise in the philosophical arguments. Keep them coming!

  55. Lutepisc said: “Oh, dear. You completely missed my point there, JTaylor. I was not intending to say that the Church is a supernatural entity. My statement about the existence of the Church being the strongest evidence (IMO) for the resurrection was intended to elaborate on the Pinchas Lapide quote I had just given you. Here it is again:…”

    I think the point you’re making is that Christianity has been enormously successful, despite the fact that its founder was killed and allegedly brought back to life. You argue that “something must have happened” beyond autosuggestion that explains this success. But that argument doesn’t hold much water when you look at other religions. There are about 1.5 muslims in the world. By all accounts that makes it a very, very successful religion. And Muslims can be as revolutionary, fervent, enthusiastic and committed as any Christian. What are we to attribute this to? Are they suffering from autosuggestion or self-deception but Christians are not? So since Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive there are several possibilities: 1) Muslims are self-deceived and Christianity is true 2) Christians are self-deceived and Muslims are self-deceived, or 3) Both religions are self-deceived and there is a psychological process going on whereby large numbers of people build a belief system based on mythical stories. I think 3) is a distinct possibility and a much better fit of the evidence, particularly with what we now know about how the mind works.

    After all some might argue that there is more historical evidence that Mohammed was real person that then is for Jesus!

  56. Forgive me for writing further on religion, rather than on science. I was not going to, and indeed pledged not to in my earlier post, but other posts from Christians with a religious flavour (indeed a fervour) followed mine and were evidently not excised by the moderator (a lapse perhaps in a seasonal concession to Easter?), so I have decided after all to enlarge on my earlier comment regarding miracles.

    For au contraire, JTaylor, the line between ‘miracle’, and ‘sign’ is most specific. Though I confess that in my earlier post I was not bothering to define my terms unless someone took the bait. You have, so here are the definitions; By ‘miracle’ I was meaning any phenomenon regarded as beneficial (sidebar food for thought, can a miracle be ‘not beneficial’?) occurring without immediate natural and/or scientific explanation and thus ascribed as a supernatural event, especially optimistically by adherents of the religion whose supernatural author (ie ‘God’) the otherwise immediately unexplainable event is ascribed to.
    Acts 8:13 mentions both words (‘miracles’ and ‘signs’), thus indicating a doctrinal distinction.

    By ‘sign’ I was meaning that category of ‘super miracles’ which God and Jesus are recorded as accomplishing in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian bible which, in the manner of a regenerated limb, indisputably evidence that something deeply spooky has just occurred. They are thus doctrinally categorized as ‘signs’, in other words, confirmations of God’s existence, and/or confirmations of the authenticity and God-given authority of a prophet, scriptural author, teacher or Messiah.
    Mark 16:20 “…they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”

    A miracle is usually something which assists or encourages people who are already of the household of faith, though it can also function as evidence of God to unbelievers.
    But a sign is much more specific and weighty. It is something chiefly directed at unbelievers which says ‘I am the true God and you can ignore the bleedin’ obvious at your peril’. And many such signs are recorded in the Bible for our (your) edification and spiritual salvation.

    ‘Signs’ are specifically what the unbelieving non-Christian world (and theface) want or indeed expect God to serve up for their benefit as proof of His existence.

    But Jesus said in Matthew 16:4 “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.”

    Noteworthy is that the calibre of signs which atheists demand as proof of God’s existence is exactly that which distinguishes the passages in the Bible which they deny and ridicule the most, ie, six day (or any) universe creation, young earth, sun standing still, Moses’ staff into snake, instant leprosy healings, virgin birth, resurrections, etc etc, plus, to answer another of JTaylor’s objections, the divine preservation of scripture.

    In other words, the critical driving factor to Dembski’s gainsayers in this general debate is not disbelief in God as designer and creator, but rejection of Christ as a personal saviour, mentor and governor. For if our mind is already made up not to submit to Jesus as governor of our life, then we will not be persuaded of the existence of God and Christ’s veracity even if we see an amputated limb regenerated.
    For as Abraham said to ‘Dives’ in Luke 16:29 “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them”. And (Dives) said, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent”. And (Abraham) replied to him, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”.

    Some examples of miracles contrasted with signs:

    God’s creation in Genesis 1 was a miracle, but God’s creation in Genesis 2 of specific animals from the ground in Eden as possible ‘helpmates’ for Adam was a sign. This is not as some would have it, a contradictive cocked up rewriting of the events in Chapter 1. It is God evidencing his creative power and thus lordship in front of Adam’s eyes. For had Adam not witnessed God’s special creation of extra animals and plants in Gen 2, then he too might have concluded that he came about through evolution.

    The confusion of tongues at Babel was a sign.
    The flood was a miracle, but the prior instruction given to Noah for an ark was a sign.
    Sarah’s birth of Isaac was a miracle. Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt was a sign.
    Moses’ staff turning to a snake and back was a sign.
    The parting of the Red Sea was a miracle.
    The Manna from heaven was a sign.
    The destruction of Jericho was a sign.
    Samson’s slaying of a thousand enemies with the jawbone of an ass was a miracle.
    The sun standing still while Joshua fought was a sign.
    The dew only on Gideon’s fleece but not the ground around it was a miracle. But this was not enough for Gideon – He wanted more assurance that there was a God and that God was on his side, so the dew next morning on the ground around, but not on the fleece, was a sign.
    The preparation of a large fish to rescue Jonah from drowning in a storm, preserve him underwater for three days and then deliver him on land again was a sign.
    Elijah being fed by ravens was a miracle.
    Elijah calling down fire from heaven to ignite soaking wet wood was a sign. (and I might incidentally add here that Elijah specifically set this scenario up as a scientific experiment to provide reliable data for current best estimate based on evidence available for which God, if any existed at all, was worth following.
    Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den was a miracle. The survival of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace was a sign.
    The writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast was a sign.
    Christ turning water into wine was a miracle. Christ giving sight to a man notoriously blind from birth was a sign.
    Christ healing a woman who touched the hem of his garment was a miracle. Christ raising Lazarus from the grave was a sign.
    The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ was a sign.

    Occasionally in scripture an entire string of connected miraculous events constitutes, in whole, a sign. Thus, Job’s sufferings and restoration were a sign (to Satan, no less). The whole life of Joseph (Old Testament), a series of ‘lucky’ escapes and coincidences, is a sign, and as such, Joseph is a typification of Christ: Gen 50: 20 “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Compare this to the parallel passage in Acts 2: 22 “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death… …Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

    The apostles and scripture writers continued to display signs of their God-given authority up until such time as the canon of scripture was complete, at which point, signs, being thus redundant, ceased, for their purpose as demonstrated by the apostles and scripture writers was to prove the veracity of their preaching and writing. Miracles however, arguably continue, as testimony, not of God’s existence, or of the veracity of the Bible (for we already have those assurances because of the earlier signs given) but of his continuing goodness and mercy.

    We are saved by grace through faith, faith being the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (Romans 8 and Hebrews 11), and it is for this reason that I repeat, in choosing a religion, I would personally be sceptical of one which proffered scientific proof of its integrity. For God does not stoop to such cheap devices as scientific proof to communicate with man, nor to save him. For it is actions based on belief, not on knowledge, which shape and signify our true moral condition. God does not give us proofs of his existence. Instead, He gives us signs, and the signs, like all good signs, point us in the correct way.

    We have free will to choose a less advisable direction, and we are welcome to fritter away a lifetime scientifically testing numerous hypotheses, whose results, however convincing, we will reject or embrace according to a deeper prejudice entirely disconnected from science.

  57. ” I would personally be sceptical of one which proffered scientific proof of its integrity. For God does not stoop to such cheap devices as scientific proof to communicate with man, nor to save him.”

    I guess then God should not have given me a mind that thinks in logical, scientific ways. Don’t you think though that if God had provided some scientific evidence, it could have saved all of us immeasurable hours in debating and arguing that could have been used more profitably (perhaps caring for the needy?). Your last sentence is a keeper!

  58. JTaylor, “I guess then God should not have given me a mind that thinks in logical, scientific ways.”

    Romans 9: “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

    Sorry, we could go on sparring all night, but it’s 3am and I’m tired now. Thanks for your stimulating arguments – You generate good sermon fodder for me.

  59. I think the point you’re making is that Christianity has been enormously successful, despite the fact that its founder was killed and allegedly brought back to life. You argue that “something must have happened” beyond autosuggestion that explains this success. But that argument doesn’t hold much water when you look at other religions.

    Oy. This can be a frustrating medium!

    I will try one more time, and then give up.

    The point I’m making elaborates on Lapide’s point. (I want to give credit where it’s due.) Like the majority of historians of that period, Lapide accepts the historicity of Jesus. In researching the historical record, Lapide notes that whatever movement Jesus initiated within first century Judaism ended with his humiliating crucifixion. His followers–peasants, shepherds, and fishermen–abandoned him. The disillusionment they must have experienced in the wake of such a decisive, crushing blow to the movement is captured nicely in Luke’s gospel, when two of Jesus’ disciples explain to a stranger, “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

    Nevertheless, very soon thereafter, this ragtag band of formerly disillusioned followers are changed into “a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter.” The rapid growth of the Church in the Roman Empire is a measure of this.

    What happened? What would explain this revolutionary transformation in Jesus’ followers?

    They themselves uniformly attribute the transformation to their encounters with the Risen Christ. But were these encounters merely a function of their grief? Auto-suggestion? Group hallucinations? Self-deception?

    Lapide considers these to be possibilities. However, he notes that believing that they were transformed by their own delusions requires more credulity than believing that they were telling the truth…that they actually had encountered the Risen Christ…and that, indeed is what gave rise to their transformation and to the inception of the Church which would in a couple of hundred years overwhelm the very government which had put their leader to death.

    That’s about as clear as I can make it.

    (Lutepisc over and out…)

    P.S. Of course Mohammed was “a real person.” Is anyone arguing otherwise??

  60. A brief metacomment:

    I find it quite fascinating that this thread should appear and grow to the length that it has on a website that, by its own description, is supposed to be about scientific investigation and empirical verification of the hypothesis that biological evolution has occurred by means of intelligent design. This thread (and the post that heads it) appears to me to be entirely concerned with theological and quasi-historical arguments about the existence and significance of a particular human being who may or may not have lived approximately two thousand years ago and may or may not have said and done certain things, none of them explicitly or implicitly related to scientific investigation. How, precisely, is this related to either evolutionary biology or intelligent design?

  61. Lutespisc: “Lapide considers these to be possibilities. However, he notes that believing that they were transformed by their own delusions requires more credulity than believing that they were telling the truth…that they actually had encountered the Risen Christ…and that, indeed is what gave rise to their transformation and to the inception of the Church which would in a couple of hundred years overwhelm the very government which had put their leader to death.”

    I’m sorry you are frustrated with my reply – I thought I was reasonably clear in my response. I guess what I’m saying is that I disagree with Lapide, because of the simple reason that we can look at the formation and rise of any number of religions or cults and see a very similar phenomena. Religious history has show us over and over that despite the most serious and what outsiders would perceive as a death blow to a person’s faith, people carry on believing. Look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their multiple predictions of the End of the World. They still carried on and still do today. So yes, auto-suggestion, self-deception, mass delusion and probably any number of other psychological processes could have been at play. The fact that Christianity has been successful as a religion is not necessarily evidence of its veracity.

    It’s no wonder that some people hypothesize that religion is perhaps like a ‘virus’ of the mind which once it has a hold is extraordinarily difficult to throw off. As I said above, Christianity has been extraordinarily successful, but again I say we don’t need a Risen Christ to explain that. How do you also encounter for the success of Islam (which by all accounts will eventually outstrip Christianity in membership)?). I’m sure that you wouldn’t attribute that to the glory of Allah.

  62. I have a question for JTaylor: do you concede that the probability of a miracle occurring at a given place and time is greater than zero?

    Of course, if you believe that the probability of a miracle occurring is precisely zero, then no amount of evidence could possibly convince you, and you’d be wasting your time even discussing it, let alone examining it. I would also be wasting my time if I were to engage in debate with you about this or that alleged miracle. But if you are willing to concede that the probability of a miracle is greater than zero, then my question is: how much greater do you think it is? I’d like a number, please, or at least a method for calculating one.

    Why do I ask for a number? Typically, I find that skeptics say that the probability of a miracle is very low, but they never say how low. Then, when you show them a well-attested miracle – and there are many, as anyone can easily find by Googling “Catholic miracles” – they turn around and propose a highly improbable naturalistic explanation for the alleged event, but strenuously insist that however far-fetched their explanation may be, a miracle is still more far-fetched. However, that kind of argument cannot be put forward by someone who thinks the probability of a miracle occurring at a given place and time is one in a million, say. For such a person, if a bizarre event which is alleged to be miraculous takes place, then a one-in-a-billion rival naturalistic explanation of the event in question will cut no ice, as it will lack plausibility.

    So what’s your cutoff point, JTaylor? That’s what I want to know.

    By the way, I think you may like to read Alfred Russel Wallace’s “An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and Others, Against Miracles” (1870) at http://www.wku.edu/~smithch/wallace/S174.htm . Wallace was an avowed evolutionist, yet he was not afraid to follow the evidence, wherever it led. Wallace makes a very suasive case against Hume’s prejudiced refusal to countenance miracles, and his arguments should give skeptics pause.

    Regarding the evidence for Christianity in general and Christian prophecies in particular (which were never meant to persuade 21st-century skeptics like yourself), I think you would do well to look at the writings of an expert Christian apologist. I refer you to Glenn Miller, who I might add is an unfailingly courteous correspondent. Glenn Miller’s Web site can be found at
    http://www.christian-thinktank.com/ . Enjoy!

  63. —-JTaylor: “No I’m not ignoring the prophecies. And space does not permit a refutation of all them. But certainly many have been convincingly refuted. Here’s a good place to start: http://debunkingchristianity.b…..lenge.html”

    I didn’t find that website very helpful. The host of that website does not seem to be familiar with either the quantity or quality of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus or the extent to which they did indeed manifest themselves in historical events. In fact, please don’t be offended, he doesn’t seem to have investigated this matter at all. If I was a skeptic and someone told me that there are 459 Old Testament prophecies about Christ, I would not rely too heavily on someone who lists three or four and ignores hundreds of others. I would get the impression that he was stacking the deck. Wouldn’t you?
    Anyway, here are about seventy five of them. I can list hundreds more.

    As the Son of God Ps 2:7 Lu 1:32,35

    As the seed of the woman Ge 3:15 Ga 4:4

    As the seed of Abraham Ge 17:7 22:18 Ga 3:16

    As the seed of Isaac Ge 21:12 Heb 11:17-19

    As the seed of David Ps 132:11 Jer 23:5 Ac 13:23 Ro 1:3

    His coming at a set time Ge 49:10 Da 9:24,25 Lu 2:1

    His being born of a virgin Isa 7:14 Mt 1:22,23 Lu 2:7

    His being called Immanuel Isa 7:14 Mt 1:22,23

    His being born in Bethlehem of Judea Mic 5:2 Mt 2:1 Lu 2:4-6

    Great persons coming to adore him Ps 72:10 Mt 2:1-11

    The slaying of the children of
    Bethlehem Jer 31:15 Mt 2:16-18

    His being called out of Egypt Ho 11:1 Mt 2:15

    His being preceded by John the Baptist Isa 40:3 Mal 3:1 Mt 3:1,3 Lu 1:17

    His being anointed with the Spirit Ps 45:7 Isa 11:2 61:1 Mt 3:16 Joh 3:34 Ac 10:38

    His being a Prophet like to Moses De 18:15-18 Ac 3:20-22

    His being a Priest after the order of Melchizedek Ps 110:4 Heb 5:5,6

    His entering on his public ministry Isa 61:1,2 Lu 4:16-21,43

    His ministry commencing in Galilee Isa 9:1,2 Mt 4:12-16,23

    His entering publicly into Jerusalem Zec 9:9 Mt 21:1-5

    His coming into the temple Hag 2:7,9 Mal 3:1 Mt 21:12 Lu 2:27-32 Joh 2:13-16

    His poverty Isa 53:2 Mr 6:3 Lu 9:58

    His meekness and want of ostentatious Isa 42:2 Mt 12:15,16,19

    His tenderness and compassion Isa 40:11 42:3 Mt 12:15,20 Heb 4:15

    His being without guile Isa 53:9 1Pe 2:22

    His zeal Ps 69:9 Joh 2:17

    His preaching by parables Ps 78:2 Mt 13:34,35

    His working miracles Isa 35:5,6 Mt 11:4-6 Joh 11:47

    His bearing reproach Ps 22:6 69:7,9,20 Ro 15:3

    His being rejected by his brethren Ps 69:8 Isa 63:3 Joh 1:11 7:3

    His being a stone of stumbling to the Jews Isa 8:14 Ro 9:32 1Pe 2:8

    His being hated by the Jews Ps 69:4 Isa 49:7 Joh 15:24,25

    His being rejected by the Jewish rulers Ps 118:22 Mt 21:42 Joh 7:48

    That the Jews and Gentiles should combine against Him Ps 2:1,2 Lu 23:12 Ac 4:27

    His being betrayed by a friend Ps 41:9 55:12-14 Joh 13:18,21

    His disciples forsaking him Zec 13:7 Mt 26:31,56

    His being sold for thirty pieces silver Zec 11:12 Mt 26:15

    His price being given for the potter’s field Zec 11:13 Mt 27:7

    The intensity of his sufferings Ps 22:14,15 Lu 22:42,44

    His sufferings being for others Isa 53:4-6,12 Da 9:26 Mt 20:28

    His patience and silence under suffering Isa 53:7 Mt 26:63 27:12-14

    His being smitten on the cheek Mic 5:1 Mt 27:30

    His visage being marred Isa 52:14 53:3 Joh 19:5

    His being spit on and scourged Isa 50:6 Mr 14:65 Joh 19:1

    His hands and feet being nailed to the cross Ps 22:16 Joh 19:18 20:25

    His being forsaken by God Ps 22:1 Mt 27:46

    His being mocked Ps 22:7,8 Mt 27:39-44

    Gall and vinegar being given him to drink Ps 69:21 Mt 27:34

    His garments being parted, and lots cast for his vesture Ps 22:18 Mt 27:35

    His being numbered with the transgressors Isa 53:12 Mr 15:28

    His intercession for His murderers Isa 53:12 Lu 23:34

    His Death Isa 53:12 Mt 27:50

    That a bone of him should not be broken Ex 12:46 Ps 34:20 Joh 19:33,36

    His being pierced Zec 12:10 Joh 19:34,37

    His being buried with the rich Isa 53:9 Mt 27:57-60

    His flesh not seeing corruption Ps 16:10 Ac 2:31

    His resurrection Ps 16:10 Isa 26:19 Lu 24:6,31,34

    His ascension Ps 68:18 Lu 24:51 Ac 1:9

    His sitting on the right hand of God Ps 110:1 Heb 1:3

    His exercising the priestly office in heaven Zec 6:13 Ro 8:34

    His being the chief corner-stone of the Church Isa 28:16 1Pe 2:6,7

    His being King in Zion Ps 2:6 Lu 1:32 Joh 18:33-37

    The conversion of the Gentiles to him Isa 11:10 42:1 Mt 1:17,21 Joh 10:16 Ac 10:45,47

    His righteous government Ps 45:6,7 Joh 5:30 Re 19:11

    His universal dominion Ps 72:8 Da 7:14 Php 2:9,11

    The perpetuity of his kingdom Isa 9:7 Da 7:14 Lu 1:32,33

  64. 64

    I don’t know why Oleary titled this post “That Uncomfortable Subject, Religion….” since most here appear to be quite comfortable with engaging in the discussion. Flaminia and Lutepisc have done an excellent (while not exhaustive) job of answering some intriguing questions from JTaylor. I first want to point out that UD does not seem to be opposed to discussions about religion, as ID allows for a religious application due to its implications. I believe that UD does, however, discourage prosteletizing. I’m not certain if any of the discussion here can really fit into that category. After all, Oleary first raised the issue.

    Nonetheless, I think that JTaylor, theface and others raise questions that while intriguing, do have answers in scripture and in theological and scholarly discourses over the centuries. We can’t exhaust all of the arguments here. I can suggest, however, some excellent sources on the subject at hand. All of the following sources are authored by credentialed scholars with advanced degrees with the exception of Frank Morrison.

    Concerning the Reliability of the scriptures:

    For an excellent introduction to the Greek New Testament – the early versions from Erasmus to Textus Receptus and beyond, and an excellent list of the codexes, uncials and miniscules – complicated, but exhaustive, I suggest – By Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland – “The Text of the New Testament.”

    Bruce Metzger has written several volumes on the Canon of the New Testament, and the translations. I would suggest “The Bible in Translation,” which discusses the versions of the Bible from ancient manuscripts up to and including modern translations. Also, “The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance.” Metzger was chairman of the NRSV translation committee.

    By Walter C. Kaiser Jr. – “The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant?”

    By Paul Barnett – “Is The New Testament Reliable? : A Look at the Historical Evidence.”

    By N.T Wright – “The New Testament And The People Of God.”

    By Craig Bloomberg – “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.” And..

    “The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary.” Bloomberg ascribes the Gospel to John the Apostle, as do many other scholars for important reasons overlooked by many skeptics.

    By F.F. Bruce – “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” And…

    “The Canon of Scripture.”

    By Robert E. Van Voorst – “Jesus Outside the New Testament.” – a discussion of the historical Jesus from sources outside of the New Testament, such as Thallos, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and others.

    By John Wenham – “Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke.” He suggests that the synoptics were probably written much earlier than the traditionally accepted dates.

    And I would also suggest an excellent commentary on John’s Gospel from a scholar who spent 10 years on research: By Andrreas J. Kostenberger “John” – Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament. Kostenberger is of the opinion that the Gospel was probably written by John the Apostle.

    And then concerning arguments for the resurrection and the Historical Jesus according to the Gospel accounts:

    By Gary R. Habermas – “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence For the Life of Christ.”

    By Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland – “Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus.”

    By Ben Witherington III – “The Jesus Quest: The Third Search For the Jew of Nazareth.”

    By Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona – “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.”

    By N.T. Wright – “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

    By Luke Timothy Johnson – “The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest For the Historcial Jesus and the truth of the Traditional Gospels.”

    And By Frank Morrison – the classic – “Who Moved The Stone?: A Sceptic Looks at the Death and Resurrection of Christ.”

    And finally, in response to JTaylor: “Given the propensity for human myth-making and twisting of stories (which still happens in modern myths), it’s hard to distinguish what could be real and what isn’t. Until better evidence comes along, I’m still going to take the course of applying reasonable doubt that what we have in the gospels is not entirely historical accurate. Certainly not enough at least to base a life-altering decision.”

    Myths can go both ways. There are scholars who have produced myths concerning the historicity of Jesus (Witherington’s book discusses this at length), and others who prefer to stick with the facts. I have found in my studies of the historical Jesus that it is the skeptics who have produced the most mythical and preposterous scenarios in order to deny the veracity of the gospels. I think you will find that if you research the subject more in-depth, that the true nature of Christianity as a life-changing belief (and not necessarily a religion based in myth) will surface. I should add that there is much myth in the history of Christianity, yet the original accounts are as far from myth as one can get if you take an honest approach. The first disciples were as mystified by the resurrection as anyone else, but they later came to faith.

    I don’t blame anyone for taking a skeptical approach to the gospels, for what they propose might on the surface seem preposterous. However, I have looked into these matters for some 30+ years with some initial skepticism and doubt, and after researching and comprehending much of the skepticism, I have to say that the gospels make more sense as truth than as myth. The necessary first cause of everything that exists had us in mind, and left us with an account of His wrestling with us, and of his incarnation into the world of human beings.

    I’ll end it here as this post has gotten rather long. I hope the sources I provided will lead you in directions you may not have thought of going. Let’s keep the discussion going.

  65. JTaylor:

    How do you also encounter for the success of Islam (which by all accounts will eventually outstrip Christianity in membership)?

    This link might answer your question, at least regarding Islam’s initial success:

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

    A similar explanation could not be put forward for Christianity, as it only became the religion of the Roman Empire three centuries after it had already won numerous adherents by peaceful means. Regarding the story of how Christianity succeeded during its first 300 years, I suggest you read Professor Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity,” (HarperOne, paperback, 1997). It’s a fascinating read, and you don’t have to be religious to enjoy it.

  66. 66

    StephenB: “His coming at a set time Ge 49:10 Da 9:24,25 Lu 2:1″

    I have always been fascinated with this particular prophecy, because it closes all possibilities of there being any messiah apart from Jesus. Daniels prophecy pinpoints the very time at approximately 4 BC (based on the decree to rebuild Jerusalem) when the Messiah would enter Jerusalem. Since the Romans conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, and in so doing, destroyed all of the geneological records, which would be required in order to claim the necessary lineage, the prophecy cancels out any proof for a future messiah apart from Jesus. This is Biblical prophecy at its profound best. I’m certain that God had his hand in the history of that time.

    This is perhaps the reason why early 20th Century skeptical scholars attempted to show that Daniel was written after the fact, but we know that not to be the case based on the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

  67. 67

    Sorry, that would be 30 AD, not 4 BC.

  68. StephenB: “I didn’t find that website very helpful. The host of that website does not seem to be familiar with either the quantity or quality of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus or the extent to which they did indeed manifest themselves in historical events. In fact, please don’t be offended, he doesn’t seem to have investigated this matter at all. If I was a skeptic and someone told me that there are 459 Old Testament prophecies about Christ, I would not rely too heavily on someone who lists three or four and ignores hundreds of others. I would get the impression that he was stacking the deck. Wouldn’t you?
    Anyway, here are about seventy five of them. I can list hundreds more.”

    Sorry you didn’t like the website, although I think John Loftus is an interesting person to read, because of his background (he was a student of William Lane Craig) and has an extensive background in apologetics. I think though the point of the post was to show that if 3-4 prophecies can be refuted, then that could cast doubt on others.

    There are of course many other resources that do refute the prophecies, and convincingly so. My own take on it is one of context. It’s easy to find verses in the OT that appear to fit what then happened in the NT (i.e., cherry picking or quote mining). But I think there’s a lot of post-hoc reasoning taking place (probably not that different from what we see happening with Nostradamus). I suppose the prophecy that Christians like to quote this most is possibly the one from Isaiah 53. Firstly the surrounding context around 53 is not about prophesying a Messiah but about Israel the Nation (the suffering servant). Furthermore the reference to a ‘virgin’ is better translated as ‘young women’. And apologists have much more to say on this too.

    And I think we could apply this methodology to all of the others. I think we’d find the same thing we find in Isaiah 53 – that the first in question is not introduced in a prophetic context (e.g., “it shall come to pass), but the verse is in the midst of another context and is being interpreted (post-hoc) in a prophetic way. Here’s a better link that sheds more light on this:

    http://www.infidels.org/librar.....ecies.html

  69. vjtorley said: “Of course, if you believe that the probability of a miracle occurring is precisely zero, then no amount of evidence could possibly convince you, and you’d be wasting your time even discussing it, let alone examining it. I would also be wasting my time if I were to engage in debate with you about this or that alleged miracle. But if you are willing to concede that the probability of a miracle is greater than zero, then my question is: how much greater do you think it is? I’d like a number, please, or at least a method for calculating one.”

    Obviously if I reply zero I’m probably going to be accused of not being open-minded. On the other hand I would have absolutely no idea how I would go about calculating a number. Can I use an imaginary number? I suppose I would do some kind of historical analysis to look at previous miracles and try to ascertain the probability of whether they really happened or were better explained through natural means. I would also need to thoroughly verify how the miracle was reported, if there was any confirmation bias, or eyewitness testimony issues etc. If that number gave me a zero, then perhaps I would have confidence in saying the number for future miracles is also zero.

    And the problem of course is how do we even define a miracle? If you showed somebody from 400 years ago an iPod or a TV or any other modern device, and asked him to explain how it worked, they may indeed reply that it works through miraculous means. I would say that a miracle is an event that not only appears to work outside the realm of natural laws, but in fact contradicts or breaks those laws. Given the miracles that have been documented to date (which I think are nearly all healings), without trying to resort to hand-waving, it is not clear that these necessarily fit that definition of miracles. This is especially so since there is some growing evidence that there is such a thing as a placebo effect, which (I believe) has a natural explanation.

    I think the other interesting question to ask (of Christians at least), is that if miracles can happen, why so infrequently? Even a casual reader of the NT could come away with the sense that the things that happened in Jesus’s time were meant to continue (“do these things in my name” etc). And many evangelists preach this and try to practice it (e.g., Benny Hinn), but the results (if true) are meagre. Benny Hinn is a good example – despite all of the dozens of healing crusades he holds every year, the actual medically attested miracles/healings are miniscule (worse still there are verified stories of people dying because they stopped taking their medicine thinking they were healed).

  70. 70
    CannuckianYankee

    I looked at the Loftus Blog “Debunking Christianity” and found results of a survey regarding a potential Craig/Loftus debate. Part of the survey was on who would win the debate. Here are some of the results of the survey:

    Loftus by a wide margin 39 (8%)

    Craig by a wide margin 82 (17%)

    Loftus would get trounced ;-) 106 (22%)

    Craig would get trounced ;-) 44 (9%)

    It appears that Craig, an Evangelical philosopher has more support on an anti-evangelical blog than the blog’s own author. Am I reading this incorrectly?

  71. CannuckianYankee said: “I don’t blame anyone for taking a skeptical approach to the gospels, for what they propose might on the surface seem preposterous. However, I have looked into these matters for some 30+ years with some initial skepticism and doubt, and after researching and comprehending much of the skepticism, I have to say that the gospels make more sense as truth than as myth. The necessary first cause of everything that exists had us in mind, and left us with an account of His wrestling with us, and of his incarnation into the world of human beings.”

    I do find it odd that on the one hand that Christianity presents a God, who we are told, is urgently concerned with the welfare of our souls, and will do the utmost to ensure our salvation. Yet, the medium in which this message is delivered, the Bible, is colored and tainted by the ravages of time, controversies, political infighting, translation issues, authorship issues and more. I know, I know -people are going to tell me that in the end I expect it comes down to faith. But if one has to study for 30 years before obtaining some comfort level in the veracity and truth of the message, isn’t that rather a sad state of affairs? Isn’t it rather a waste of our time too if this message is so urgent that needs to reach all of humankind? If this God is so great and powerful, would it (should it?) have been in His power to ensure that His message reached us in a less untainted manner (or at least in a form that could not so very easily be mistaken for a human-made concoction?). I find it hard to reconcile this with a truly benevolent God. Rather than His “Word” being a clear and unambiguous presentation of salvation and hope, it appears to be muddled, human-made, inconsistent, contradictory, and sometimes even irrelevant to our modern lives. Is that really what God intended?

  72. CannuckianYankee said:
    “It appears that Craig, an Evangelical philosopher has more support on an anti-evangelical blog than the blog’s own author. Am I reading this incorrectly?”

    I think so…and from what I’ve read on his blog, John would be the first to admit that Craig is a superior debater. But winning debates, while important, is not necessarily the whole story.

  73. 73

    theface

    “Unfortunately, the statement is not self-contradictory..”

    Unfortunately, the mad doc is correct, your impossibly heavy rock and omnipotent God are contradictory.

  74. 74

    Allen MacNeill–”I find it quite fascinating that this thread should appear and grow to the length that it has on a website that, by its own description, is supposed to be about scientific investigation and empirical verification of the hypothesis that biological evolution has occurred by means of intelligent design. This thread (and the post that heads it) appears to me to be entirely concerned with theological and quasi-historical arguments about the existence and significance of a particular human being who may or may not have lived approximately two thousand years ago and may or may not have said and done certain things, none of them explicitly or implicitly related to scientific investigation. How, precisely, is this related to either evolutionary biology or intelligent design?”

    Isn’t everything that deals with humans, and that humans deal with such as religious belief, a result of evolution? ;) Sarcasm Intended.

  75. 75
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor,

    You raise a valid question. I believe in a reasonable God, not one who appeals only to blind faith. The reason I wrestled so long with the claims of Christianity would be the same for anyone – I am a sinner, and I’d rather not commit to something that does not allow me to justify my own sin.

    But I can’t now deny the reasonableness of those claims. And as such, even though there still seem to be some incongruities, I’m convinced that faith is the way I should go. I say this as a reasonable person, not as one yearning for a religious experience.

    I think the fact remains that all of us are not inclined to accept those claims by faith alone (well some are) apart from reason, and neither should we expect to.

    However, to say that God does not wrestle with our unbelief does not take into account the fact that just as you state that, there are others on here who are giving you reasons why they have faith. I have to wonder if such a phenomenon as people sharing their faith is not in some way God’s way of getting through to us. And I can’t help but wonder – as I look back on my own history of wrestling with these issues, that our resistance is less intellectual as it is a result of our own tendency to deny the obvious. Science invented parsimony, yet fails to apply it to issues of faith and reason.

    I still think that it’s necessary from an atheist perspective (because I have a lot of experience with debting atheists over the claims of Christianity – and have strengthened my own faith because of it) – I still think it’s necessary in our anti-god tendencies to stop begging the question. We can’t escape the logical proposition that all events have a cause. As such, there must be a first cause to all that exists, that was not itself caused.

    I have thoroughly investigated the nature of infinity, and I find it(from a temporal perspective) to be quite impossible when dealing with the problems of space and time.

    All conrary arguments to the cosmological argument for God’s existence appear to be mere speculation with their own inconguities and absurdities, while the cosmological argument appears logically sound.

    So I think God has at least given us a logical argument for his existence, which seems for me to trump all other possible arguments. So He hasn’t left us void of ways to find out.

    I work with mentally retarded adults. They don’t have the ability to rationalize all of the incongruities of any argument. For many of them faith is simple belief. It’s interesting that God seems to care for the “simple-minded” by giving them faith where others struggle. When Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” I think he meant just such people.

    But you and I do not have such blessings. We have to wrestle with ultimate questions, even though there is an obvious answer within our grasp if we would only stop wrestling. But I still wrestle with these questions because I have an inquisitive mind. My mind is made up regarding the gospel, but it is by no means made up regarding other questions of science and philosophy. I have yet to find a convincing argument that would pursuade me in a direction away from faith.

    Now I have known people who for one reason or another have left the Christian faith. I can’t explain that, but I know that for me it is not an option. I have gone too far and have invested too much to go back now.

    The scriptures address unbelief quite thoroughly. For example, Jesus claimed that many would come in his name and claim to be him, and would lead many astray from the faith. I see evidence for that all around. In fact it seems phenomenal that Jesus should have such a perspective of his own influence in the world. Jesus pretty much stated that there would be believers in him right up until the end times. Pretty prophetic if you ask me. Those arguing against prophecy don’t seem to take into account these facts.

    Now I can’t give you exhaustive answers to the questions you raised, because it has taken me many years to be able to answer them for myself. Suffice it to say that the gospel message is simple, but the implications of the message are complicated due to our inquisitiveness, and perhaps due to our propensity to cast doubt on things that might not warrant doubt but rather faith.

    Finally, I leave you with a passage of scripture that has helped me:

    1 Corinthians 1:18-25. It discusses God’s wisdom as trumping all who think they are wise. God confounds the wise because he looks for a humble heart. He’s not interested in our knowledge because quite frankly, his knowledge is greater. Therefore he looks for something much more profound – a humble heart.

    Happy Easter.

  76. 76
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor: “I think so…and from what I’ve read on his blog, John would be the first to admit that Craig is a superior debater. But winning debates, while important, is not necessarily the whole story.”

    I would agree. I’m quite impressed by this. I’ll have to visit his blog some more.

  77. 77
    CannuckianYankee

    Allan McNeil and Clive Hayden,

    Re: #60 and #72.

    I think you will notice that there doesn’t appear to be much discussion on this thread regarding ID. Precisely due to the fact that ID supporters know how to separate their religious views from scientific arguments. What we’ve been stating all along. It’s a consistency. Nonetheless, questions have been raised regarding the veracity of the gospel accounts, and they are being answered – not with scientific reasoning, but with historical arguments and so forth.

  78. A footnote:

    Much of the above reflects the damaging effects of radical hypersketpicism in our age — in effect, if it is possible to be in error on a point, we can dismiss it [taking that reading of Descartes etc] — in our time, and the failure to address its inherent self-referential incoherence.

    Commenting:

    1 –> For instance — per undeniably massive evidence [!!!] –we are finite, fallible and often mistaken in our views and reasoning and memory; etc. So, why should we trust our minds in general, per such hyperskepticism?

    2 –> That is, radical hypereskepticism is self referentially absurd. We can safely dismiss it and its cognates in radical relativism.

    3 –> Beyond that, hyperskepticism is often selectivley applied to that which we are determined to object to, while not being applied to evidentially parallel cases that we are inclined to accept.

    4 –> The inconsistency that results is its own refutation. (For instance, pace Sagan and Clifford, extraordinary claims require ADEQUATE evidence, not “extraordinary” evidence. For instance if you can tell [a] sequence of events and [b] a live man from a violently dead one, you are well equipped to see that on Friday someone was nailed to a certain tree and died, being speared thereafter in the vitals and seeping out separated blood as proof thereof, but by Sunday Evening was supping with you at fish; a week later having Thomas push his hand into the otherwise fearsomely fatal but now powerless wounds. So, he died and THEN rose again.]

    5 –> On balance, we should realise that that error exists is undeniably true, but that this is a known, knowable and well-warranted truth.

    6 –> So, knowledge and truth also exist. We may know true things, but we may be mistaken, so the real issue is warrant that leads to reasonable though in principle defeatable faith. (This is entirely consistent with holding a great many things to be so to moral certainty, i.e beyond REASONABLE doubt.)

    7 –> Thus we come to the vexed issue of alternative and contrary worldviews, applicable degrees of warrant and comparative difficulties.

    8 –> Compressing greatly, every worldview odf consequence has a core warranting claim, e.g. evolutionary materialism claims to be the scientifically justified account of the universe and its contents, conceived as in effect a physical system. (Such would say, never mind the question-begging embedded in Lewontinian materialism and the attempted redefinition of science as in effect the best materialistic account of the cosmos. Oops . . . ]

    9 –> By contrast, the Christian faith sees itself as the account and tradition of the God who in love sought to rescue his fallen ands often rebellious creatures by sending his Son, who died as Saviour, reconciler, liberator and healer and rose, with 500+ witnesses: witnesses who could not be broken — and the experiment was horrendously and bloodily tried; it spectacularly failed, but turned the word for “witness” into something else: martyr, a witness who dies rather than denying the truth s/he knew. On which we have the choice to respond to the tug of God’s Spirit to the truth now, or to face an accounting for why we turned from light to darkness [cf Jn 3:19 - 21, Rom 2:6 - 8], later.

    10 –> How to decide? ANS: on comparative difficulties, within a frame where we apply CONSISTENT standards of (in principle defeatable) warrant. Once we do that, by far and away most of the major or popular objections to the Christina faith melt away, but the evolutionary materialistic scheme at once is seen tot be fundamentally incoherent, unable to account for the credibility of mind, the minds we MUST use to reason. [Cf App 7 my always linked.]

    11 –> In particular, it is true beyond reasonable doubt that the NT is a C1, eyewitness lifetime account of the origins of the Christin Faith, and that that faith rests at root on the resurrection and 500+ eyewitnesses to it. (C2 – 4 Gnostic myths and current recyclings by Jesus Seminar or Dan Brown history Channel et al, have no HISTORICAL relevance.]

    12 –> The notion that miracles are impossible per unexception-able natural law is incoherent and question-begging as the laws are grounded on finite and fallible observations so cannot disestablish the concept that in a wider context, God the Creator-Sustainer can act beyond the usual course of nature for good reason. And, redemption of mankind would be such a good reason. [While you are at it, cf 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, with Acts 2:1 - 47, Ac 8:26 ff. and with Isaiah 53 of ~ 700 BC.]

    13 –> The linked notion that we should prefer any arbitrary naturalistic account to the explanation that a miracle has happened, per the idea that observation firmly grounds natural laws, is again q-begging and incoherent; claiming that we know beyond revision what we cannot know beyond revision. (Or, have we forgotten the importance of testability and falsifiability in science?)

    14 –> As to the rock paradox, I find it utterly incredible that such is seriously considered to be a major objection to the Judaeo-Christian concept of God as omnipotent. (If you want a case of a serious objection held in hand while a major province of thought moved ahead, look at Zeno’s paradoxes on infinity and the rise of modern physics and mathematics, esp. calculus. Even if we had no solid and direct answer that is no proof that the objection is unanswerable and that the preponderance of evidence gives us good reason to reject what we cannot answer, maybe for centuries. In short, ALL worldviews bristle with difficulties, so we have to learn to live with such and operate by comparative difficulties.)

    15 –> And, the rock paradox is multiply answerable. I have been dealing with it in an offline exchange in recent days):

    a –> Our contingent, fine-tuned- for- life and intelligible- moral universe cries out for a necessary being who is intelligent and capable of creating such an entity; that is for God; an awesomely powerful [I specifically do not yet claim "omnipotent"], caring and loving, knowing and communicating God.

    b –> “In” that God, as Paul cited Cleanthes approvingly, “we live and move and have our being.” [That is, he is Creator and Sustainer. (And notice, once one has shown on independent grounds that a claim is reasonable, then to assert it later on is not question-begging.)]

    c –> No physical entity in the cosmos is beyond his power, so the notion of a rock that he can create that he cannot change [including the location thereof] is incoherent. It sounds good on first glance, but collapses into absurdity on a closer look at the kind of God we are speaking of.

    d –> And, as to spiritual creatures, they are just that: creatures, i.e. radically contingent. So, they have no capacity to overthrow God and his purposes; nor is such an inherent constraint of creaturehood a denial of God’s capacity.

    e –> So, we are well-warranted to believe in God as a necessary being who is capable of doing anything that is within the ambit of reason and his holy-loving character.

    f –> Moreover, he is REASON himself [Logos theology . . . ], and he is LOVE himself, and he is HOLINES himself and he is BEING himself. So, these have no independent existence of him, and the alleged paradoxes on such also collapse. [E.g. God commands what is right becasuse it is integral to the character of the ground of all being and so moral being, thence right.]

    Denyse is right, in short. Dead right.

    And VJT is really, really hot. [Could you email me through the link in my always linked? I want to talk about possibilities . . .]

    GEM of TKI

  79. JTaylor:
    “And the problem of course is how do we even define a miracle? If you showed somebody from 400 years ago an iPod or a TV or any other modern device, and asked him to explain how it worked, they may indeed reply that it works through miraculous means.”

    I am of the opinion that the iPod IS a miracle. For, knowing how God halted a major project of human technological advancement at the tower of Babel with a single, artfully bloodless gesture, I hold to the theory that God in his wisdom and grace permits and gifts humans with leaps of creative and scientific achievement that He could just as easily hold back. Even our intelligence is a gift.

    I think I could strip and re-assemble an internal combustion engine if I had to, and my knowledge of that engine always puts me in awe of a DVD burner, compared to the ICE, the preciseness of mechanical tolerances of which are infinitesimal in order for it to do what it does, storing and playing back thousands of bytes of complex information as sophisticated as a widescreen movie in stereo surround sound, and all this for a production cost of less than five dollars per unit, and only cents for the blank disc.
    The (diskless) iPod has no moving parts and therefore no mechanical tolerances to hone, yet is no less marvellous for the complexity and miniaturization of its micro-processor which broadly performs the same job as the DVD burner.
    I believe that these inventions function because God gives their inventors and refiners a little extra help. Remember, we are labouring for our bread against a cursed planet, (Genesis 3:17-19) therefore it is an act of merciful grace from God whenever we successfully harvest a season of grain, let alone invent a machine solely for recreation. And conversely, sometimes an invention doesn’t work or isn’t refined for many years or even centuries, because God withholds that help.

    In short, the iPod works because God ALLOWS it to work.

    He has foreordained the chemical reactions between the elements involved in its components, and who’s to say that such reactions might not instead occur in wholly different ways, or not occur at all? Why should silicon yield such a rich array of useful properties? It is like putting a lump of chalk next to a lump of flint and expecting them both to light up. Yet that is what happens in this miraculous world God has created for us. God decides whether the rocks light up or not, whether x chemical reacts with y chemical or not, and in what way. Is it not miraculous that we have not been spawned and left to live a dull life of mere subsistence on a planet of useless inert rocks? Far from it. Atheists need to expand their thinking to more fully appreciate the wonders of the world we live in.

    It is only human pride, insisting on excluding God from a rational theory of human origins, which is not amazed by an iPod, whether four hundred years ago or now. The basic premise of cargo worship is a valid response in humans who are spiritually alert. It is morally better, to, as a first impression, attribute anything wonderfully unexplainable to a deity, than to human industry. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (1 Tim:6-7) My teenage children take the iPod for granted as pre-existent technology and have not yet matured to the stage of considering the technological beauty of its design and the majesty of its existence. The atheist takes the iPod for granted as a product of solely human creativity. But I regard the iPod’s creation as a reflection of God’s creation of humans, (we are made in His image) a creation of ‘once-removed’ technology made under license from God. I praise God for the iPod more than I praise men, for it testifies of His grace and provision in a fallen universe which without God would be chaotic and without predictable scientific laws allowing us to develop second-generation miracles under license from God, such as the iPod.

    Psalm 10:4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.

    John1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

    Gen 11:5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city…

    …But a few thousand years later, they did manage to build an iPod. And it is a significant eschatological development that the world, interconnected through the medium of the internet and its attendant technologies, is fast becoming once again united in one language, one philosophy, and one purpose. The purpose is to build a civilisation independent of God, to remove the Christian God from world culture, and even to outlaw the Christian faith. It’s happening. The world does not like to retain God in its knowledge. (Romans 1.28). I thank Steve Jobs for the iPod, but I praise God for allowing it to exist. It is a miracle engineered by permission.

  80. ——JTaylor: “There are of course many other resources that do refute the prophecies, and convincingly so.”

    I would be interested about knowing how one refutes a prophecy that becomes manifest in time/space/history. It seems that the most anyone could say is that the prophecy is unclear and subject to interpretation, or that Old Testament passages were redacted after the fact. The latter point would constitute the most egregious kind of fraud, and, as it turns out, didn’t happen and couldn’t have happened. History is inconveniently chronological, so, I don’t think there will be many credible refutations forthcoming.

    —–I would simply remind My own take on it is one of context. It’s easy to find verses in the OT that appear to fit what then happened in the NT (i.e., cherry picking or quote mining). But I think there’s a lot of post-hoc reasoning taking place (probably not that different from what we see happening with Nostradamus).

    I am sympathetic to your notion that due caution is in order on matters such as these. Indeed, the world is already heavily populated with those who believe strongly in religious propositions that cannot be justified rationally. However, in this case, the quantity of prophecies is so impressive and the formulations are so specific, the conclusion seems inescapable. Divinity is at work.

    —–“I suppose the prophecy that Christians like to quote this most is possibly the one from Isaiah 53. Firstly the surrounding context around 53 is not about prophesying a Messiah but about Israel the Nation (the suffering servant). Furthermore the reference to a ‘virgin’ is better translated as ‘young women’. And apologists have much more to say on this too.”

    After having waded through almost five hundred of these prophecies, I have found a few that can be interpreted in a variety of ways and a few others that seem unclear. Still, the vast majority seem obvious enough that we do no need exegetical theologians to perform their hermeneutical surgery on them for us to understand the meaning. So, my response would be, de-emphasize the few that confuse and emphasize the many that don’t. The one thing I would not recommend is discounting the many clear ones on the strength of a few that appear vague, especially since even vague ones make sense if understood in the right context. With regard to the claims against a virgin birth translation, there are contradictory objections which hold that the virgin birth inspired pagan myths. I don’t think that the notion of a “young woman” would have generated copycat religions and Gnostic variations.

    —–“And I think we could apply this methodology to all of the others. I think we’d find the same thing we find in Isaiah 53 – that the first in question is not introduced in a prophetic context (e.g., “it shall come to pass), but the verse is in the midst of another context and is being interpreted (post-hoc) in a prophetic way. Here’s a better link that sheds more light on this”

    To me, this passage does just the opposite. Among other things, it contains several references about the one who was “pierced, “bore our grief,” and was “wounded for our transgressions.” confirming the idea the suffering servant really does refer to an individual and not a nation.

    This takes us back to the facts alluded to earlier. We have 459 prophecies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, all of which became manifest in space/time/history. The idea that this could have happened by chance strains credulity. No other religion tells us that the redeemer is coming, describes the circumstances of his arrival, and then plays itself out exactly in that way. In all other cases, someone just shows up and says, “trust me.” So, it seems reasonable to say, even to skeptics, that this religion is not one among many, but one of a kind.

  81. JTaylor:

    Thank you for your post. In response to my earlier question…

    But if you are willing to concede that the probability of a miracle is greater than zero, then my question is: how much greater do you think it is? I’d like a number, please, or at least a method for calculating one.

    …you wrote:

    Obviously if I reply zero I’m probably going to be accused of not being open-minded. On the other hand I would have absolutely no idea how I would go about calculating a number. Can I use an imaginary number?

    I’m afraid you can’t use an imaginary number, because it’s not between 0 and 1. The number i is the square root of -1, so it’s not even on the real number line. I suspect you mean an infinitesimal number, which is defined as a number which is not zero, but which is smaller than any quantity greater than zero, no matter how tiny that quantity may be. Now, it is important to bear in mind that infinitesimals are a mathematical construct, used by some mathematicians as an aid to explaining key concepts in calculus. Now, in a universe where exact measurements were possible, perhaps one could make sense of the idea of assigning an arbitrarily small probability to a miraculous outcome. For instance, if the natural constants such as the cosmological constant were so finely tuned that even the minutest deviation on either side would cause the universe to collapse, then obviously the odds of a universe being suitable for life would be infinitesimal. If you were prepared to countenance infinitesimally improbable events as miracles, then you might consider the creation of that kind of universe as a kind of miracle. (Actually, St. Thomas Aquinas would say that creation itself was not a miracle, strictly speaking, as miracles are supposed to take place within the created order.) A diehard skeptic would reject even this kind of miracle, of course, by postulating a multiverse to explain the improbable event away.

    But in our universe, such precision of measurement is impossible, as you will be well aware from studying the smudgy world of quantum mechanics. So I’m afraid that infinitesimal probabilities are not open to you. You’ll have to stipulate a number which is measurably greater than zero.

    If I were an honest, open-minded skeptic, how would I select a measurable, non-zero cutoff probability for a miracle? Here’s how I’d do it. (I just thought of this, so here goes. By the way, I’m sincerely sorry if anyone else has had the same idea, independently of me, but I don’t think I’ve read this anywhere before.)

    THE HONEST DOUBTER’S MIRACLE EVALUATION PROCEDURE

    Step 1. Conduct a random anonymous survey of people in the culture in which you live, and ask the people in your sample four questions:

    (1) How old are you?

    (2) (a) Have you ever personally witnessed an event which you think might have been a miracle? (Definition of miracle: an effect which is beyond the power of either natural causes or of any agents we know of, in the natural world?)

    (b) If so, how many of these events have you witnessed?

    (3) If you’ve witnessed an event which might be a miracle, please describe the event in as much detail as possible. [People who've seen multiple miracles would have to describe each event.]

    (4) If you haven’t witnessed a miracle, are there any circumstances in which you would be prepared to believe that one had occurred, based purely on the tesimony of other eyewitnesses? Anyone who answered “No,” to this question I would classify as a dogmatic skeptic. (Example: someone who said, “I’d want photographic evidence.” Why would I call that person dogmatic? Because that person could always hypothesize a weak link in the chain of evidence fro the miracle: “OK, the photo is real, but how do we know it was taken at that time and place? We’re relying on the photographer’s memory, and she may have been hypnotized.” There is no conceivable chain of evidence which is totally free from this kind of potential eyewitness contamination, so in the end we have to trust some eyewitnesses at some stage in assessing whether a miracle has truly occurred.)

    Step 2. Collect the replies to the survey, and then mail out each eyewitness’s description of miracle they’ve seen, to another eyewitness, and ask them: on a scale of 0 to 100%, how sure are you that this was a miracle? Why wouldn’t I ask the original eyewitness? Because they might be inclined to be overly certain (100%) of what they saw, particularly if it turned out to be a life-changing event. A good person to ask would be another eyewitness: someone who has no inclination to rule out miracles, but who also has no personal stake in the miracle whose probability he/she is being invited to assess.

    Step 3. Mail out each eyewitness’s description of miracle they’ve seen, to a non-eyewitness who is not a dogmatic skeptic, and ask them: on a scale of 0 to 100%, how sure are you that this was a miracle? Someone who was not an eyewitness but also not a dogmatic skeptic, would have no particular axe to grind against miracles, and would also have no personal stake in the miracle whose probability he/she is being invited to assess. However, such a person would probably give a somewhat lower probability assessment than a person who had witnessed a miracle. Rather than adjudicate between the two perspectives, I’d be inclined to use them both as upper and lower probability bounds for assessing the probability that an allegedly miraculous occurrence was a miracle.

    Why wouldn’t I ask a dogmatic skeptic for his/her assessment? Because a dogmatic skeptic would answer 0% for purely ideological reasons, which would bias the result.

    Step 4. I’d collect the probability assessments from the anonymous raters who’d witnessed a possible miracle, and then weight the alleged miracles accordingly. I’d then calculate the number of equivalent miracles for the whole sample of people included in my survey – e.g. A has seen a miracle with a probability of 0.2, while B has seen two miracles – one with a probability of 0.8, and the other with a probability of 0.1, so that makes 1.1 equivalent miracles witnessed by A and B. After calculating the total number of equivalent miracles witnessed by the survey sample, I’d calculate the total number of days each person has lived, from their age, and I’d add all the days together. Then I’d divide the total number of equivalent miracles witnessed by the total number of days lived. This result would give me an UPPER BOUND for the probability of someone’s witnessing a miracle on any given day. I could then extrapolate the probability of someone’s witnessing a miracle at some stage during their lives, by multiplying this figure by the average human lifespan in days, for the society in which I lived.

    (It may have occurred to some readers that I might be double counting miracles, as there may have been many eyewitnesses for one miracle – think of the feeding of the 5,000. But this does not matter. I’m not trying to calculate the total number of miracles occurring in people’s lifetimes, but the total number of eyewitness sightings. Two people witnessing the same miraculous event still makes two sightings.)

    (I am assuming, however, that miracles are more or less randomly distributed through time, at least within my own culture. However, this is merely a default starting assumption; further evidence may cause us to question it.)

    Step 5. I’d do the same thing over again, using the probability ratings provided by the non-eyewitnesses who were nevertheless open-minded to the possibiity of being converted to a belief in miracles, purely on the basis of another person’s testimony. This result would give me an LOWER BOUND for the probability of someone’s witnessing a miracle on any given day – and by extrapolation, at some stage during their lives.

    OK. Let’s say that the probability that I’ll witness a miracle during my life comes to 1% (1 in 100) according to the optimistic upper bound calculation, and 0.01% (1 in 10,000) according to the pessimistic lower bound calculation. Now let’s say that I have just had an experience which I think might have been miraculous. Let’s say that I’m so impressed with what I saw that I am convinced that this experience beats any other amazing but unexplained phenomena that I may have seen in mt life, so that I can truly say, “IF I’ve seen a miracle during my life, then THIS event would have to be it.” I can now use the lifetime probability bounds, but first, I’ll have to factor in my age. Let’s say I’m 48 and can expect to die at 80. 60% of my life is over, so I should adjust the upper and lower bounds to 0.6% (6 in 1,000) and 0.006% (6 in 100,000) respectively.

    Now for the crunch. What I should do is try to look for as many naturalistic explanations as possible for the event I witnessed, and calculate the probability that I would experience each of those naturalistic phenomena during my lifetime (48 years, and counting). I should then add all of these naturalistic probabilities, to calculate the total probability of the event’s occurring during my 48 years, given all the known natural phenomena that might account for it. Let’s call this total N.

    Now, if N is greater than 0.6%, then I’d be irrational to believe the miracle; a plausible naturalistic explanation (or at least, a plausible disjunction of naturalistic explanations) is at hand. However, if N is less than 0.006%, then I’d be equally irrational not to believe the miracle, there being no plausible naturalistic account, or even a range of accounts that looked plausible when taken together. If N is between 0.006% and 0.6%, then we are in the grey zone, where reasonable people might offer different assessments of what I should believe, given what I have witnessed.

    Applying this kind of logic to the Resurrection, a Christian might well decide that while there are naturalistic explanations for what happened, their probability falls well below his/her lower bound for belief; hence, these naturalistic scenarios should be rejected as even more implausible than a miracle. (Remember, a Christian is likely to live in a community where people frequently claim to have encountered the miraculous in their lives, so their informal “sample” will be different from that of the skeptic’s circle of friends, none of whom are likely to have witnessed anything extraordinary. At this point, all a skeptic can reasonably object to in the Christian’s argument is the sample itself. The skeptic could suggest that the Christian should “ask around” more, to get a more balanced picture. The Christian might accept this challenge.)

    By the way, I question your assertion that miracles are infrequent. I once lived on campus with an international group of students. There was a guy named George from Cameroon, and he told me that every African he knew had witnessed something supernatural – whether good or evil. It’s only in our own blinkered culture that we’ve learned not to notice these things, thanks to a lifetime of scientific brainwashing: “There ARE NO ghosts / witches / fairies.” “If I can’t see your invisible friend, then he’s not real.” “You must have been seeing things.” “You’ve got an overactive imagination.” “Don’t be silly. You’re making it up.” “Things like that don’t happen. They’re impossible.”

    If you are still skeptical about the frequency of miracles, I suggest you try out the survey procedure I suggested, as a kind of sociological experiment. The results will surprise you.

    Finally, you also wrote:

    If this God is so great and powerful, would it (should it?) have been in His power to ensure that His message reached us in a less untainted manner (or at least in a form that could not so very easily be mistaken for a human-made concoction?). I find it hard to reconcile this with a truly benevolent God. Rather than His “Word” being a clear and unambiguous presentation of salvation and hope, it appears to be muddled, human-made, inconsistent, contradictory, and sometimes even irrelevant to our modern lives. Is that really what God intended?

    I do sympathize with your objection: I felt it very strongly before I converted back to Christianity. I’d like to make four comments here.

    First, the objection assumes that each individual has to decode Scripture all by him/herself. But most Christians don’t read Scripture like that; they interpret it in the light of how the Christian community has traditionally understood it. I should add that Jews don’t read Scripture like that, either.

    Second, the Bible wasn’t written for you. It was written for people the world over, spanning three millennia and dozens of different cultures. And it was written by people whose mindset, language and culture were all utterly different from our own. That means two things: (i) there is NO SUCH THING as “the plain sense of Holy Scripture”; (ii) parts of Scripture will necessarily go over our heads, given the psychological distance between the culture in which we live and the culture in which the Bible was written.

    Third, misunderstandings of Scripture are no big deal unless they actually translate into bad behavior by religious believers. For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter too much whether Jews and Christians regard the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac as an allegory or an historical incident, so long as they don’t actually sacrifice their own sons.

    More serious is the Christian Church’s failure to outlaw slavery until the time of Wilberforce. Slave traders commonly cited Scripture in defence of slavery. How could God allow that? Why didn’t He express Himself more clearly?

    Fourth and finally, I would suggest that the real problem with atrocities committed by believers in the name of Scripture is not the lack of clarity of God’s message, but the hardness of the human heart. Even back in the fourth century, many Christian Fathers wrote about the importance of treating slaves as human beings and fellow servants of Christ. And Jesus Christ himself said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and even “Love one another as I have loved you.” Had Christians practiced the words of their Master that down the ages, many unspeakable atrocities might have been avoided, during the turbulent history of the Christian Church. The same goes for the Church’s attitude towards patriarchy and sexism.

    I hope these comments help.

  82. First of all, “faith is a gift.” Savor the mystery. Second, mauger the muddiness of proofs 2 & 3, Denyse’s basic proposition holds true: evangelists of atheism have a straw man on their altar.

    Let’s start with the extant manuscripts canard. Dear would-be forensic manuscript scientists: please identify the dates of the first complete manuscripts (or even substantial fragments) for the Iliad, the Symposium, the Metaphysics, the Aeneid, the Annals of Rome, the Metamorphoses—or in fact any book written before 1000 AD. The smug tone of your critique shows nothing more than your own preening ignorance.

    Next, why do you insist on confusing mental sloth with depth? God is not who the New Atheists think he is. He is also not who many “Christian” scribblers say he is. God is quite immune to the limitations of human discourse (see Job). Countless examples could be given, but they would require a good deal more mental effort than is seen in Dawkins, Provine, Harris and their sheep.

    Next, Catholic doctrine is in fact quite reasonable and bears no resemblance to the jejune caricatures of its detractors (and no, I’m not Catholic). Isn’t interesting that our uber-critics always seize on one or two outstanding inconsistencies they believe they’ve identified in church doctrine? This sort of thing spreads like a virus on the Web, where ADD is rewarded. But at the risk of repeating ourselves…sloth should not be confused with depth.

    Next, experience of the reality of God is not limited by any means to miraculous healings. What’s really at stake is the following statement: “All things work together for good to those who love God.” Evidence abounds for the thoughtful traveler, but principally for his own edification. Besides, why cast his pearls before swine?

    Finally, Christianity, in the words of its founder, is a Way, not a collection of doctrines. This “way” is really quite sensible—see, for instance, the book of Proverbs, which does not contain a single word of bad advice for how to live a happy and prosperous life. But it also transcends argument because it is rooted in the value of life, not judgment.

  83. allanius @82. A most insightful post!

  84. vjtorley and allanius, great posts.

  85. VJTorley said: “I’m afraid you can’t use an imaginary number, because it’s not between 0 and 1.”

    I was making a joke.

    VJTorley: “I once lived on campus with an international group of students. There was a guy named George from Cameroon, and he told me that every African he knew had witnessed something supernatural – whether good or evil.”

    Sorry, but that’s just classic anecdotal hearsay (try that in a court of law and see how far you get with it).

    VJTorley: “More serious is the Christian Church’s failure to outlaw slavery until the time of Wilberforce. Slave traders commonly cited Scripture in defence of slavery. How could God allow that? Why didn’t He express Himself more clearly?”

    I know you go on to answer this. But this is a classic case of where Jesus could have simply said “Slavery is an abomination”. But instead he said “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes…” (Luke 12:37). Jesus didn’t exactly help matters did he? Think of all the pain and suffering that might have been avoided. You can’t blame everything on poor interpretation.

  86. Allanius said: “Dear would-be forensic manuscript scientists: please identify the dates of the first complete manuscripts (or even substantial fragments) for the Iliad, the Symposium, the Metaphysics, the Aeneid, the Annals of Rome, the Metamorphoses—or in fact any book written before 1000 AD. The smug tone of your critique shows nothing more than your own preening ignorance.”

    As I’ve pointed out previously nobody is asking anybody to make a radical life-altering decision based on the Aeneid or the Iliad. If you want me to completely change my worldview, the way I live, in fact my very purpose for living all based on a historical manuscript, then you can bet your life I will expect a higher degree of authenticity and veracity.

  87. Flaminia said: “I am of the opinion that the iPod IS a miracle. For, knowing how God halted a major project of human technological advancement at the tower of Babel with a single, artfully bloodless gesture, I hold to the theory that God in his wisdom and grace permits and gifts humans with leaps of creative and scientific achievement that He could just as easily hold back. Even our intelligence is a gift.”

    Well, the operation of an iPod may seem quite remarkable, but unlike purported miracles they can be explained purely through natural processes. The science that goes into an iPod has developed other time, often through trial and error. I see absolutely zero evidence that any supernatural entity has any hand whatsoever in either the holding back or the development of the technology that goes into a device such as the iPod. It kind of reminds me of the “miracle on the Hudson” – which frankly was an insult to the skill and training of the flight crew.

  88. Re #81 vjtorley

    That’s a fascinating comment on how to calculate the probability of a miracle.

    You could apply something similar to estimating the probability of seeing aliens in the course of your life time. Use a similar set of surveys about “alien sightings” and rule out ‘dogmatic alien sceptics’. I imagine you would be amazed at the lower bound on how many aliens we see in an average lifetime.

  89. Re: 81 The Miracle Survey

    I agree with Mark Frank – indeed it is an impressive piece of work. But it seems to focus solely on eyewitnesses. Assuming that miracles usually involve some physical manifestation, shouldn’t this also be taken into account and appropriate experts brought in to examine the physical manifestation? In the end if a miracle is a “an effect which is beyond the power of either natural causes or of any agents we know of, in the natural world” shouldn’t it be objectively measurable and independent of eyewitness accounts? Or do you include “miracles” of a more psychological or mental nature?

  90. StephenB @80.

    Thanks for your reply. Obviously we both each have our different perspectives when it comes to interpretation. I can quote refutations, and so can you. But I will do is take a few of the examples you quoted me and do my own analysis (I’ll have to dust off my Bible!), but it might take a day or two. Naturally I will do this from a layperson’s perspective since I’m not a qualified Bible scholar, but I think that should still be valid.

  91. 91
    CannuckianYankee

    I’m afraid as a Christian who accepts miracles, I would have to agree with Mark Frank and JTaylor as far as miracle claims, but to an extent. For example, I believe that much of the televangelist type of miracle claims are bogus. There are natural and economic explanations for them.

    However, as far as the miracles recorded in the bible, I would have to be more open minded, because a resurrection would not have a natural explanation, and God is capable of raising the dead, and prophesying a resurrection thousands of years beforehand, and causing history to mark that historical event as a focal point, and keeping the account of that event preserved throughout history, and……. There’s so much more to the resurrection than meets the eye.

    On the other hand, a Benny Hinn type miracle is easily negated on the grounds that Hinn himself is guilty of heretical teachings, and claims of healing can be explained otherwise.

    Do I believe that miraculous healing takes place? Of course, but I would be more inclined to accept that miracles occur directly from God, rather than through any self-proclaimed prophet like Hinn.

    So I don’t think that eyewitness accounts are sufficient. They are valid, but something else extraordinary must be available as evidence. I view the resurrection as just such an event that has multiple extraordinary proofs in addition to eyewitness accounts.

    The problem is that apologists get boggled down with issues of eyewitness accounts, without looking at the larger picture – prophecy, the existence of God, the reasonableness of redemption, Jesus view of himself as an historical figure, and that view being confirmed by history, etc…

    Atheists attack the singular arguments, such as the eyewitness acounts, and believe by destroying each singular argument, they destroy the whole. This is not the case with the resurrection. One would have to explain away a whole lot of biblical prophecy, including Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks and so forth, and its fulfillment in Jesus entry into Jerusalem, as well as the cosmological argument for God’s existence, and all of the other arguments from history and archeology in order to break down the whole of the argument for the resurrection. It is complex, and I don’t think that a simple argument against eyewitness accounts can have any bearing on the whole of the evidences for the resurrection. Any one of the arguments – eywitnesses, etc, are predicated on the whole, and you can’t break down the whole by showing incongruities in any one of the parts, because those incongruities are not necessarily the case. You can show that some eyewitness accounts for any given event are bogus, but you can’t show that all eyewitness accounts are so. Hence, you cannot break down the resurrection by denying the efficacy of those accounts.

  92. I don’t think we should be obsessing too much over the problem of eyewitness testimony in the context of Christ’s resurrection. Witnessing an empty grave or the risen Christ [on his return] is not at all the same thing as picking someone out of a police lineup. As I read the studies, the question is not about the reliability of eyewitness testimony, as such, but rather the quality of the circumstances in which the eyewitness finds himself.

    If you are fifty feet away from someone whom you have seen once, your chances of making a mistake are quite high. If, on the other hand, you are five feet from someone daily, you are not likely to err. That was the whole point of varying the quality of the distances and texture of the environments, at least in the reports that I read. Eyewitness testimony is great evidence under the right conditions. If someone gets raped often during the day, she will identify the right guy; if she was raped at night by someone wearing a mask, she has problems. The issue, as I understand it, is not about eyewitness testimony; it is about circumstances.

    In fact, there were many who saw Christ daily, witnessed his death, and knew where he was buried. His disciples didn’t raise the stone, and they knew that Christ’s enemies did not raise the stone. So, when all of them, friend and enemy alike, saw the empty tomb, that is very, very good eyewitness testimony. Similarly, when Christ returned after the resurrection, hundreds saw him and could identify him as the same person. So, again, the chances for a mistake were practically non-existent. If you see someone walking through a wall one moment and then see him eating the next moment, and, if you already know who this person is, and, if you saw him crucified, you are not going to make a mistake. Please!

  93. There’s a lot of talk about eyewitness testimony. I’m afraid though I’m stick stuck on whether the Gospels were actually written by eyewitnesses…

    Elaine Pagels writes: “Although the gospels of the New Testament– like those discovered at Nag Hammadi– are attributed to Jesus’ followers, no one knows who actually wrote any of them. Elaine Pagels writes that “the first Christian gospel was probably written during the last year of the war, or the year it ended. Where it was written and by whom we do not know; the work is anonymous, although tradition attributes it to Mark…”

    Are there any good unbiased sources (not Christian) that refute this? (all the sources I have found agree with Pagels).

  94. I’m sorry you are frustrated with my reply – I thought I was reasonably clear in my response.

    No need to flatter yourself, JTaylor. I wasn’t frustrated with your response. I was frustrated with your failure to understand my point. Is that somehow unclear?

    Religious history has show us over and over that despite the most serious and what outsiders would perceive as a death blow to a person’s faith, people carry on believing. Look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their multiple predictions of the End of the World. They still carried on and still do today.

    A non-event such as the non-ending of the world in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is hardly a fit comparison in kind, quality, or intensity with what Lapide is addressing. If the Jehovah’s Witnesses had had their leader unceremoniously and cruelly nailed to a crucifix like an insect specimen after their secondary leadership had denied him, abandoned him, and scattered in fear…then we would have something to talk about. But only if that same secondary leadership were to be found soon thereafter, boldly proclaiming a victorious message and promising that same victory to the rest of the world.

    We would have to ask: What has happened here?

    Cannuckian Yankee: You’ve been paying attention in school! Thank you for your painstaking list of resources. They’re excellent! Would that JTaylor would pay attention…

    To everybody who’s posted since then: sorry, but that’s as far as I’ve read for now! I’m eager to read on…but I do have a life…

  95. Lutepisc: “Cannuckian Yankee: You’ve been paying attention in school! Thank you for your painstaking list of resources. They’re excellent! Would that JTaylor would pay attention…”

    I really don’t appreciate this. I have tried to answer your questions, but obviously since my replies don’t fit your preconceived ideas, you seem fit to insult me. Glad you’re moving on to live your life.

  96. OK, now I’ve read the rest of the posts. Interesting discussion!

    Re: Isaiah 53, there are very early references in Christian literature to the “suffering servant” as Jesus. Consider for example Luke 8:26-35.

    Re: the authorship of the gospels…yes, all have been disputed. So what? The author of the fourth gospel, for example (we could call him Bruce, Dustin, or Taylor, since he doesn’t identify himself anywhere in the gospel…but what the heck, let’s call him “John,” since that’s what he’s been called since ancient times) nevertheless says that he speaks as an eyewitness.

    Many of the books traditionally attributed to Paul are undisputed…particularly the earliest ones, which date to 20 years after the crucifixion. (Incidentally, Paul says that three years elapsed between his own encounter with the risen Christ and his first conversation with Peter [Gal. 1:18]. He adds that 14 more years elapsed between that visit and his second visit to Jerusalem [Gal 2:1]. That means that Paul was persecuting those who were proclaiming the resurrection just a very short time after the crucifixion.)

    And, of course, the source “Q” which is relied upon by both Matthew and Luke antedates them, yet is considered reliable by both of them.

  97. Lutepisc: “Lutepisc: “Cannuckian Yankee: You’ve been paying attention in school! Thank you for your painstaking list of resources. They’re excellent! Would that JTaylor would pay attention…”

    I think perhaps Lutepisc is frustrated because of my refusal to acknowledge that the story of Jesus and his followers is somehow special and the reason for its success could only be attributed to the resurrection. That because Jesus allegedly rose from the death (for which there is not a scrap of physical or contemporary evidence for) it sparked this movement that has been with us for two thousand years (I guess if it hadn’t been this it would have been something else).

    My point is that we know enough about the psychology of belief and the examples of other religions and cults to realize that we do not need the resurrection to be real for people to fanatically belief something that in all likelihood never actually happened. Is it possible that we have been duped for two thousand years and that we have built institutions based on legends and events that never actually happened? Yes, it is entirely in the realm of possibility. It’s unfortunate but no special pleading can alter the sad truth that human beings are quite capable of believing in all sorts of falsehoods even for very long periods of time.

  98. —-JTaylor: “Elaine Pagels writes that “the first Christian gospel was probably written during the last year of the war, or the year it ended. Where it was written and by whom we do not know; the work is anonymous, although tradition attributes it to Mark…

    ”Are there any good unbiased sources (not Christian) that refute this? (all the sources I have found agree with Pagels).

    Now, JT, my good man, I don’t think that the atheists, apostates, and heretics are going to be the very best sources for confirming orthodox interpretations. Perhaps all your sources agree with Pagels because they just might [keep this at a whisper] run in the same Gnostic circles.

  99. JTaylor (85)

    Thank you for your response.

    1. I readily acknowledge that my story about George (who told me that everyone in his country had witnessed something supernatural during their lives) was hearsay, but I wasn’t trying to prove anything with my story, except that miracles are more widely reported in many other cultures. In other words, the point I was making was a sociological one. If someone who appears to be a credible, sane and honest person tells me that everyone in his culture claims to have witnessed a supernatural event of some kind, then I think it is perfectly reasonable to believe that person’s testmony, regardless of whether we credit the events in question.

    2. Why didn’t Jesus condemn slavery explicitly? Good question. Realistically, I’d say that if He had, Christianity wouldn’t even have gotten a toe-hold in the Roman Empire. It was bad enough that it was seen initially as an exotic foreign cult, unlike Judaism, which was accorded legal recognition because it was the religion of the Jewish people. Had Christianity explicitly condemned slavery as well, it would have been seen as seditious and socially destabilizing, and snuffed out.

    Instead, Christianity had a remarkably easy run. What’s really amazing about the martyrs is how few of them there were: just 5,000 in the space of 300 years. Christianity managed to stay under the radar, and when it later became dominant, it quietly effected a social transformation in Europe, so that by 1100 A.D. slavery had been virtually eliminated throughout the continent.

    So I would argue that Jesus put forward a general guide to living (the Golden Rule, which he later amplified to “Love one another as I have loved you,” in John 13:33), in the hope that His Church would later realize what He meant, and act accordingly. To my mind, the great merit of this “softly, softly” approach is that without it, few of us would be free today.

    It is a great shame that after eliminating slavery in Europe, Christians subsequently found excuses to enslave the peoples of Africa and the New World, but those abominable crimes cannot be blamed on Jesus Christ. Anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the Golden Rule would have known that those crimes were truly evil. Nor is it likely that Jesus could have prevented the excesses of the Conquistadors by speaking out more forcefully against slavery and other evils. When people are governed by greed and dazzled by the lure of gold, they tend to stifle the voice of their conscience, for the sake of convenience.

    Mark Frank

    Regarding the detailed miracle evaluation procedure which I proposed in #81, you wrote:

    You could apply something similar to estimating the probability of seeing aliens in the course of your life time. Use a similar set of surveys about “alien sightings” and rule out ‘dogmatic alien sceptics’. I imagine you would be amazed at the lower bound on how many aliens we see in an average lifetime.

    Actually, I would say (in all seriousness) that my procedure could be used to gauge the credibility of UFO sightings. However, you misunderstand the meaning of the lower bound. The lower bound I proposed does not tell us how frequent the event in question actually is. Instead, it’s a lower probability bound to be used when evaluating which reports of the event in question are worthy of credence – which is different from which reports are true instances of the event in question (God alone knows!)

    Regarding UFOs, I don’t think the naturalistic explanations that have been proposed to date can cover all cases – and I have my doubts about the belated CIA admission that the unexplained sightings were either military planes or weather balloons with mannequins riding in them. There are a number of sightings by highly credible observers (pilots) which don’t fit into any of these categories. See the following:

    http://ufos.about.com/od/curre.....pilots.htm

    and judge for yourself.

    Does that mean we should start believing in aliens? No. But it does mean that it would be rational to start believing in UFOs. UFOs are just that – unidentified flying objects. I personally don’t buy the alien explanation, as I don’t see any particular reason to believe it. But I would say that there is something going on which is beyond the ken of present-day science.

    Now, if a person wants to adopt a similar “agnostic” line with the Resurrection of Christ, then I would say that he/she is at least being fair-minded. It’s when I hear people breezily dismiss the apparitions as collective hallucinations that I start blowing raspberries.

    There is one difference between the Resurrection and UFO sightings that I would draw attention to, though. There are well-attested sightings of UFOs, but none of the beings piloting UFOs saying where they are from. Hence agnosticism is reasonable. Jesus, on the other hand, had a lot to say about where He was from.

    JTaylor

    In the end if a miracle is a “an effect which is beyond the power of either natural causes or of any agents we know of, in the natural world” shouldn’t it be objectively measurable and independent of eyewitness accounts?

    No problem. You want objectively measurable miracles? There are dozens of them. Read about them if you dare! Try these ones:

    http://www.therealpresence.org.....gl_mir.htm

    CannuckianYankee

    The problem is that apologists get boggled down with issues of eyewitness accounts, without looking at the larger picture – prophecy, the existence of God, the reasonableness of redemption, Jesus view of himself as an historical figure, and that view being confirmed by history, etc…

    Hear, hear! I have to say that if the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection were the only pieces of evidence I had for Jesus’s life, there’s no way I’d believe the Resurrection. Instead, I’d simply shrug and say, “OK, something inexplicable happened in 33 A.D. What it was, we’ll never know.” It is only because of reading about Jesus’ life and teachings in the Gospels as a whole and the letters of St. Paul, as well as studying the religion of the people of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament, that I feel impelled to get off my lazy behind and make a commitment to belief in Jesus. Before you make such a commitment, you have to consider the man Himself, whom He claimed to be, and the beliefs of the Jewish people to whom He preached His message. That’s the big picture that needs to be taken into account, as you rightly point out.

    JTaylor

    There’s a lot of talk about eyewitness testimony. I’m afraid though I’m stick stuck on whether the Gospels were actually written by eyewitnesses…

    You quote Elaine Pagels as asserting that they were not. Certainly her view is a common one among New Testament scholars, but there are some “heavy hitters” in the world of New Testament scholarship who think otherwise. I refer you to the following links.

    http://www.denverseminary.edu/.....us-christ/

    http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=233

    http://www.christian-thinktank.com/stil23.html

    The fact that Martin Hengel, emeritus professor of New Testament and early Judaism in the University of Tubingen, Germany, and possibly the most learned New Testament scholar alive in the world today, is prepared to robustly defend of the general trustworthiness of the early Church Fathers’ testimony to the origins of the Gospels, should tell you something. Hengel also contends that stronger cases can be made for Matthew, Mark and Luke as the actual authors of the first three Gospels than much modern scholarship allows.

    I suggest also that New Testament scholars are predisposed to disbelieve in the reality of miacles. Author Anne Rice, a former atheist who returned to the faith in 1998 and who wrote her first novel about Jesus, entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, in 2005, stated in the Afterword to her book that she came to realize that many scholars actively dislike Jesus, while reading their works as research for her book. In a susbsequent interview with the Chicago Tribune she stated:

    I think Bible scholarship — skeptical Bible scholarship — started in earnest in the 18th Century, and it started on the premise that Jesus is not God. Many of the Bible scholars I read are skeptical, age-of-reason-type people, trying to show that the Gospels, in their view, don’t make sense, and there were no miracles, no virgin birth. It’s no more than a set of opinions, a set of opinions that have a skeptical worldview. It claims to be science, but what’s being used is a lot of speculation. There’s a huge bias to it.

    I examined all these arguments and found them to be very shallow and very flimsy and assumptions built on assumptions built on assumptions. This is a field where everything is mixed up — religion, history, politics — and people have strong feelings, and often irrational feelings. The skeptics, I found, are as irrational as any religious person might seem.

    Finally, JTaylor, you write:

    It’s unfortunate, but no special pleading can alter the sad truth that human beings are quite capable of believing in all sorts of falsehoods even for very long periods of time.

    Here you are correct. However, I would like to suggest, that if Christianity is false, you should nominate a worldview which is closer to the Truth, and which has had a more beneficial effect on humanity.

    What beneficial effect? I’ll mention just two effects of the three Abrahamic religions: reduction in female infanticide and prevention of suicide.

    1. Female infanticide. It turns out that each of the three monotheistic religions – and none of the others – elevated the status of women in the areas where they spread and flourished. Case in point: in the Roman Empire, the male head of the household could order any female living in his household to have an abortion. What’s more, a married woman who gave birth had no legal right to keep her child unless the male head of the household picked it up and set it down on the family hearth. Otherwise the child had to be placed outside in the street, where it would either die of exposure or be picked up by some unscrupulous rogue and sold into slavery. Girls were exposed far more often than boys: research has shown that the ratio of men to women in the Roman Empire was at least 120:100. (For documentation, check out “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark [HarperOne, 1997]. Given these facts, it’s not hard to see why Christianity, a religion which inherited from Judaism an ethic which was utterly opposed to infanticide, proved immensely popular among Roman women. Islam also succeeded in drastically curtailing female infanticide; however, the pernicious practice continued in India and China.

    “So what’s your point?” I hear you ask. Here’s my point. Population of the Roman empire: about 60 million people. Annual number of births (assuming say, 40 births per 1000 people per year): about 2.4 million, or 1.2 million boys and 1.2 million girls, of whom 200,000 were killed. Enter Christianity: up to 200,000 girls’ lives saved per year, or 20 million per century, or 200 million over a period of a millennium. Do the same math in Arab countries as well, and you get even more girls’ lives saved. Still think religion doesn’t matter?

    2. Suicide. Bertolote and Fleischmann, in “A Global Perspective in the Epidemiology of Suicide”, point out that in Muslim countries (e.g. Kuwait) where suicide is most strictly forbidden, the suicide rate is close to zero (0.1 per 100,000). The suicide rate is highest in atheist countries such as China, where it is 25.6 per 100,000. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. If they were living under the atheistic regime of China, 390,000 of them would be killing themselves every year, or 39,000,000 per century. Anything that saves that many lives has got to be socially beneficial.

    Think about it, please.

  100. 100
    CannuckianYankee

    Lutepisc: “Cannuckian Yankee: You’ve been paying attention in school! Thank you for your painstaking list of resources. They’re excellent! Would that JTaylor would pay attention…”

    JTaylor: “I really don’t appreciate this. I have tried to answer your questions, but obviously since my replies don’t fit your preconceived ideas, you seem fit to insult me. Glad you’re moving on to live your life.”

    I’m not reading it as an insult, JT. I’m not certain he had that in mind. It sounds more like a soft-spoken wake up call. I left a list of sources, which you apparently ignored. I’m not in the least surprised by this, since my experience with atheists over the years shows that they discount Christian sources quite often without reading them. Not saying that’s the case with you. Perhaps you have read them, I don’t know. I have come across many skeptics who read Christian sources, but often end up trying to debunk them, and quite often they are not the best sources – Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and others. I try to leave you with more scholarly sources than them, while I myself appreciate their writings as well.

    But then you left us with sources such as Elain Pagels. I have her book “The Gnostic Gospels,” and while I find her account of the discovery of these gospels in Egypt in the 1940s to be fascinating – the story of Mohamed Ali, who in order to avenge his father’s death, had just finished murdering a man when he and some others discovered the books in a clay jar, and how his mother burned some of the books in order to kindle a fire. This is an interesting account by all means, but then Pagels turns around and plays fast and loose with the New Testament Texts and with the history of Christian belief.

    For example, she states that the gospel accounts picture Jesus after the resurrection as both in the flesh, and as some kind of unrecognizable personage in order to argue that early Christians did not necessarily believe in a literal resurrection in the flesh or at least that the gospel accounts don’t need to be interpreted as literal. (see pg. 5-6 of chapter 1). This is simply not the case in context. But this is precisely what she does in order to make her point – she quote mines from the gospels and Acts, rather than read them in context.

    Thus, while pagels is busy winning book awards, her scholarship is shoddy. She’s inteligent, I’ll grant her that, but she is not a good source for anything regarding early Christianity. She should stick with the subject of the Gnostic gospels and what they contain, rather than attempt to distinguish what the early Christians believed.

    After all, the Gnostic gospels were 300-400 years removed from the New Testament, and more full of preposterous myth than anything I have read. I have “The Nag Hammadi Library,” edited by James M. Robinson. Interesting, but by no means authoritative on the acts or sayings of Jesus, nor the beliefs of the earliest Christians.

    Allow me to offer you some far better and more scholarly sources on Early Christianity:

    By Larry W. Hurtado – “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.” Hurtatdo does not play with the facts. He analyses and critiques in context with the scriptures, and offers a wealth of information from a number of perspectives. It offers a much more exhaustive perspective on the early Christian believers.

    By Everett Ferguson – “Backgrounds of Early Christianity”

    By Adolf Schlatter and translated by Andraes J. Kostenberger – “The Theology of the Apostles”

    And I might add, that since Paul wrote the earliest works of Christian literature as far as we know, you might want to look into the following:

    By N.T Wright – “What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus Really the Founder of Christianity?” Wright is a world authority on the writings of Paul.

    I only hope that these are helpful for you to gain insight into early Christian beliefs.

  101. 101
    CannuckianYankee

    BTW, Lutepisc,

    Thanks for the compliment. I never studied theology in school. I just read a lot. My brother-in-law is in seminary at Talbot, and we discuss these issues often, and he gives me sources to read, and other times I find out on my own. Oh, he’s also an attroney, and knows a good argument. He taught an excellent sunday school class on the book of Daniel. Fascinating stuff.

  102. JTaylor (& StephenB):

    I observe your exchange over OT prophecies and in particular Is 53.

    Now, from C1, this — and NB in light of the existence of C2 BC DSS Is MSS and the Septuagint, this cannot credibly be claimed to have been edited after the fact — has been perhaps the most used OT prophecy that has been used to highlight the significance of advent of a suffering, dying for sins and griefs, rising messiah. And, indeed, this OT passage has been a keystone in the theology of redemption and atonement.

    Now, too, there has been an attempt to brush it aside as in context speaking of Israel as nation, not an individual. However, the fact is, that the passage extends both back up into 52 and onward into a later part of 53 [there are amusing stories on how the chapter and verse divisions were made in ways that so often are plainly arbitrary . . . ].

    Once we look at that wider context, some very interesting features come out:

    ________________

    ISA 52:13 See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

    ISA 52:14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
    and his form marred beyond human likeness

    ISA 52:15 so will he sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him. [What globally celebrated feast did we just have? Why?]
    For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

    ISA 53:1 Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

    [ . . . ]

    ISA 53:4 Surely he took up our infirmities [Cf Mt 8:15 - 17]
    and carried our sorrows,
    yet we considered him stricken by God,
    smitten by him, and afflicted.

    ISA 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

    ISA 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to his own way;
    and the LORD has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

    [ . . . . ]

    ISA 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    And who can speak of his descendants?
    For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

    ISA 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked [cf. Jesus' condemnation in exchange for a malefactor and crucifixion between thieves],
    and with the rich in his death,
    though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth. [Cf Pilate's judicial findings on sentencing him to death]

    ISA 53:10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

    ISA 53:11 After the suffering of his soul,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

    ISA 53:12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

    ________________

    No wonder, then that in the classic NT summary of the gospel we see:

    1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

    1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared . . . [lists the chief "official" witnesses: Peter, James [Jesus' brother], the twelve [less one of course . . . ], 500+ at one go, all the apostles, Paul himself]
    ___________

    Now, JT, how many individuals — note the highlighted contrasts above — despised and rejected by men have been offered up as god’s servant as a sin offering and as a wounded healer, died and yet prolonged their days and carried a message to the nations that has even brought kings to respectful silence?

    How many such individuals have had upwards of 500 eyewitnesses to their resurrection, and in that context upwards of twenty of which are identifiable by name: the circle of women led by Mary Magdalene [not listed in the C1 list as women were not official witnesses then], the 12, the brothers of Jesus, and Paul the former arch persecutor?

    Do you see why Is 52 – 53 is the brightest gem among about 500 prophecies on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?

    And, do you see why it is not so easily brushed aside as you imagine?

    GEM of TKI

  103. PS: A few notes on modernist and hyper-modernist [much more accurate than "post modern"] theology.

  104. vjtorley #100

    “2. Suicide. Bertolote and Fleischmann, in “A Global Perspective in the Epidemiology of Suicide”, point out that in Muslim countries (e.g. Kuwait) where suicide is most strictly forbidden, the suicide rate is close to zero (0.1 per 100,000). The suicide rate is highest in atheist countries such as China, where it is 25.6 per 100,000. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. If they were living under the atheistic regime of China, 390,000 of them would be killing themselves every year, or 39,000,000 per century. Anything that saves that many lives has got to be socially beneficial.”

    This is very crude. Suicide is almost unknown in the Middle East but is also very low in Latin America. It is rather high in atheist China (13.9) but also the USA (11), France (17.6) and Sweden (13.2) and extraordinary high in Russia (32.2) and strongly catholic Lithuania (38.6). The correlation with religion is extremely weak and of course correlation does not mean causation.

    I admit that you could make a good case that it is the Muslim tradition that keeps suicide so low in the Middle East. But you have to trade that against the treatment of women and other extreme losses of freedom.

  105. On the signifance of prophecies

    Has anyone done a list of prophecies in the Bible that have not come true?

    Prophecies are often self-fulfilling. If someone was aware that Jesus was due to rise from the dead then they would interpret what they saw or heard from others in that light.

  106. 106

    Mark Frank [106], I don’t know: that’s a good question. It’s clear that pretty much nobody around Jesus expected him to be killed, so they didn’t interpret anything now said to prophecy a suffering or dying Messiah in those terms.

  107. Mark Frank

    I agree with you that the suicide study I cited proves nothing whatsoever about Christianity. I also agree with your admission that “you could make a good case that it is the Muslim tradition that keeps suicide so low in the Middle East.” That was all I wanted to show: Islam has saved millions of lives above the course of time. Let’s give credit where it’s due. You rightly point out the region’s poor “treatment of women and other extreme losses of freedom.” Still, at least they don’t kill their baby girls – a practice which is still widely prevalent in certain countries:

    http://www.gendercide.org/case_infanticide.html

  108. Sorry. The phrase “above the course of time” should read “over the course of time.”

  109. Re #106

    “It’s clear that pretty much nobody around Jesus expected him to be killed, so they didn’t interpret anything now said to prophecy a suffering or dying Messiah in those terms.”

    David. I am thinking of the predicted resurrection. The people around may not have been expected him to be killed at that time, but they must have expected him to die one day and once he did it seems quite possible that his followers would have been aware of the prophecy – or possibly it was just those who wrote the gospels who were aware of it.

  110. 110

    A few thoughts regarding prophecies and miracles (again it seems awkward posting anything religious in this forum, but oh well.)

    Jesus’ disciples had little idea what was going to happen. When Jesus told them what would happen, Peter told him to be kind to himself, that those things would not happen to him. The prophecies were more valuable for identifying Jesus after the fact.

    Miracles aren’t proof of anything. Jesus and other Bible writers often warned of false signs. Miracles and cures helped to identify the new congregation. Their purpose has ended. It would be pointless to warn us of false signs if every miracle was a sign from God. Pharaoh’s magicians copied many of Moses’ miracles. Obviously it wasn’t enough to believe anyone who could turn a rod into a snake or water into blood.

    God doesn’t always do things the way we would think logical. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God – the first commandment. He said the second greatest was to love your neighbor – “buried” to speak in Leviticus next to a verse about animals. The second greatest law in all the Hebrew scriptures, and it was up to the discerning reader to recognize its significance.

  111. CannukianYankee said: “I’m not reading it as an insult, JT. I’m not certain he had that in mind. It sounds more like a soft-spoken wake up call. I left a list of sources, which you apparently ignored. I’m not in the least surprised by this, since my experience with atheists over the years shows that they discount Christian sources quite often without reading them. Not saying that’s the case with you. Perhaps you have read them, I don’t know”

    Yes I agree I was probably hasty in saying that Lutepisc insulted me. I guess I was frustrated too because I felt I had replied as best I could, but I obviously disagreed with him and the source he(she?) was quoting.

    As to the list of sources you mentioned I have read “Who Moved the Stone” a long time ago. More recently I’ve read a couple of Alistair McGrath’s books (e.g., his refutation to Dawkins’ God Delusion)and some more populist apologetics books. I suppose I could spend more time reading more books and then perhaps in a few years I might eventually convince myself of the authenticity of the Gospels. Perhaps I might even have a profound conversion experience which would solidify my research. Of course we haven’t even discussed the content of the message of Jesus, which is of course not without issue (I’m afrid I’m rather sympathetic to people like Robert Ingersoll who once said: “If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant…)

    But I think though, that that would have to be only one line of evidence that would convince me. A lot of people say that ‘knowing God’ is the ultimate proof of the reality of God.

    It’s interesting at times to conduct a simple thought experiment that goes something like this. Imagine that Chrisianity is indeed not based on a historical person, but nevertheless succeeded in becoming an established religion, and in fact a wildly successful one. What would that look like? And more to the point, would it in fact look any different from what we observe today and have observed in history the last 2,000 years? Although some people will naturally object that such a religion without a founder could have started, we do have plenty of precedents of rather strange religions and beliefs becoming quite successful (Mormonism comes to mind). The human capacity to belief is incredibly strong and there is enough historical precedent to realize that belief does not have to be grounded in facts or even real events.

    And besides, for me one of the things that stops me becoming a Christian isn’t just doubt about the authenticity of the Bible (altbough that’s a large part of it), but it’s also as to whether Christianity really changes lives. If this stuff is real, it is reasonable to expect that it should have some consequences in the lives of its followers – and this should be beyond that which could normally be expected through just the benefits of adopting a belief system. Not everybody would agree with this, but I think many Christians and churches do preach that faith is supposed to be living matter, rather than just a dry cerebral concept.

    I know many Christians claim their lives have been changed, and some even talk about healings or miracles. It isn’t helped much that in the US at least the church seems (IMHO) largely narcissistic, and sometimes unduly focused on materialism (the whole prosperity Gospel movement is completely baffling). In other words, if God is truly alive and working in His church today, I personally have not observed any evidence of this. I know, I know – there are plenty of Churches and individuals that do wonderful things, help people, and sometimes even feed the poor!(although again for a lot of US-based churches that doesn’t seem to be much of a priority). Yes, and there are probably more Christian-based charities than atheist-based charities. I understand all of that. But could that happen just through natural processes of belief without a supernatural originator?

    But in fact there are also quite a number of ex-Christian sources on the Internet that suggest, for some at least, Christianity has been a damaging experience and that they only found real help in their lives once they left their faith. I personally know a few Christians who have struggled with mental illnesses and it’s only been through secular therapy that they’ve obtained any real help. You can’t help think why their faith ultimately, while certainly providing comfort, did not actually have much of a solution.

    So there is good and bad in the church, but is the good caused by a Divine spark, or is it just the natural outworking of having a belief system? If there was no God would the world really look any different to what we see today? Certainly God seems to want no part in intervening in natural disasters (although we apparently give Him credit for safely landing planes in the Hudson, but don’t seem too concerned when he fails to stop the eradication of 250,000 in Asia through a Tsunami.)

    Belief is a powerful driver in peoples lives and can make them do both wonderful (and awful) things.

  112. 112

    I apologize for this being the longest post on here, JT raised some interesting issues that I would like to address. All of the following quotes are from……..

    ….JTaylor: “Yes I agree I was probably hasty in saying that Lutepisc insulted me. I guess I was frustrated too because I felt I had replied as best I could, but I obviously disagreed with him and the source he(she?) was quoting.”

    Well I do that sometimes too. One thing I realize though is that I’m not going to change a person’s mind by any post I have put on here. I might just enlighten some on things that I know, and more often than that I’m enlightened by what others say, whether I agree with them or not. So I have to keep reminding myself not to get frustrated; that people are where they are, and that’s OK.

    “As to the list of sources you mentioned I have read “Who Moved the Stone” a long time ago.”

    Well that particular book, while not by a scholar per se, is a classic in Christian apologetics. It’s interesting, JT, many scholars who are more on the conservative side tend to do less apologetic type work and more solid scholarship, and that’s the type of stuff I’m more interested in. I do this because I want real researched answers to my questions, not assumptions, guesses, assertions, speculation or complete fiction. I try to brush up on biblical studies from a number of perspectives, including those with whom I disagree. It appears as though you do the same.

    “More recently I’ve read a couple of Alistair McGrath’s books (e.g., his refutation to Dawkins’ God Delusion)”

    I haven’t read that one yet. Heck, I haven’t read “The God Delusion” yet either. I plan to.

    “…and some more populist apologetics books. I suppose I could spend more time reading more books and then perhaps in a few years I might eventually convince myself of the authenticity of the Gospels.”

    Interesting, because I could never convince myself of the truth of the gospels. I was more or less convicted of their truth. My tendency was to say “OK, I believe this, but I still have some reservations.” But more recently – over perhaps the last decade, I have become more convinced through both the lives and teaching (we call it discipleship) of Christians I’ve come to know, and also through my studies.

    “Perhaps I might even have a profound conversion experience which would solidify my research.”

    That’s pretty much what happened in my case: seeing more of the whole picture, rather than the snippets that others want me to see from one perspective or another. There is much theology that I disagree with, and that is part of being human. I think this explains why there are so many churches. One thing I have noticed that is common to all mainstream churches – be they Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, is the centrality and deity of Christ. The only exeptions to this seem to be the quasi-Christian cults and organizations, such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a few others. But you will notice a pattern to these churches – they stray from certain orthodox foundations, such as the authority of scripture and in many cases the attributes of God and a denial of the Trinity doctrine. They also seem to have started from the teachings of a charismatic figure, who was unorthodox to begin with (Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Sun Myung Moon, etc).

    I have an excellent book by a former leader in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Raymond Franz is the nephew of former president Frederick Franz, who was among the “transaltors” for the New World Translation of the scriptures back in the 1950s (of course the Watchtower does not officially acknowledge this fact). R Franz’s book tells the story of how he was labeled an apostate due to his questioning certain leadership practices, and how he and his wife left the JWs. It’s probably the best, most thorough former JW book I have read – “IN Search of Christian Freedom.” The book goes into detail about the Watchtower power structure, from an insider’s perspective.

    On the other hand, if you read the doctrinal statements of most mainstream churches (you can read most of them online), Baptist, Presbeterian, Catholic, Evangelical churches, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and even the more charismatic churches such as the Assemblies of God and The Vinyard, and so on and so forth, there is really not much that is different as far as orthodox beliefs. They all affirm the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the historicity of the resurrection, and for the most part the authority of scripture; which are central to orthodoxy.

    “Of course we haven’t even discussed the content of the message of Jesus, which is of course not without issue (I’m afrid I’m rather sympathetic to people like Robert Ingersoll who once said: “If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant…)”

    That seems to be where Dawkins is at right now as well. Of course I disagree with that judgment – I believe that God is more forgiving than He is condemning, but there is evil in the world, and what should be done about it? Do we as imperfect humban beings really have the authority to judge and condemn evil apart from a God given authority? If there is a God, certainly the problem of evil would be the first thing on His mind. Scripture seems to confirm this as the case. Since I am not omniscient as God is, perhaps I might not be the best judge of who should be forgiven and who should be condemned. I can’t read into the hearts of others very well. I would like it best if nobody was condemned, but what are the consequences then for doing evil? I know for certain that for my sin I deserve condemnation, so my attitude is gratitude for forgiveness, which is available for free. That seems to be what the scriptures teach.

    “But I think though, that that would have to be only one line of evidence that would convince me. A lot of people say that ‘knowing God’ is the ultimate proof of the reality of God.”

    I would have to agree with that: The profound release that forgiveness brings. I look at Alcoholics Anonymous as a microcosm of the gospel. An alcoholic has to admit that he/she is an alcoholic, and profess this before the group at every meeting. There is a huge release in that experience. Then that person is more able to talk openly about his/her issues that led him/her to drink, and the result is quite often successfully overcoming the addiction. I am not an alcoholic, but I understand the experience of no longer denying who I truly am, and then being able to relate to others in a more real and less self-conscious, more lovng manner. Of course you could argue that there are also secular organizations engaged in that sort of group therapy, which would of course be the case, but I would argue that it has been Christian organizations, which first set that model in motion, because it comes directly from the gospel. Of course AA has become much more secularized over the years in order to reach out and help people who are not believers.

    “It’s interesting at times to conduct a simple thought experiment that goes something like this. Imagine that Chrisianity is indeed not based on a historical person, but nevertheless succeeded in becoming an established religion, and in fact a wildly successful one. What would that look like? And more to the point, would it in fact look any different from what we observe today and have observed in history the last 2,000 years? Although some people will naturally object that such a religion without a founder could have started, we do have plenty of precedents of rather strange religions and beliefs becoming quite successful (Mormonism comes to mind).”

    Your “experiment” seems more like speculation to me.

    “The human capacity to belief is incredibly strong and there is enough historical precedent to realize that belief does not have to be grounded in facts or even real events.”

    This is absolutely true. I think you will find that Christian apologists are in the forefront of arguing the incongruities of world religions – particularly the ones that stray from Christian orthodoxy. The gospel accounts and the writings of Paul, Peter, James and John do not appeal to esoteric tendencies as do most other religions. They appeal to historical witness. I have not found any other world religion that does this. Reason is above feeling in Christianity – of course not all Christians practice this principle, but those are the ones that are farthest from orthodoxy. The Gnostics are a classic example of this, and there are modern manifestations of the esotericism of the Gnostics and of other ancient Christian heresies. It was the “feeling above reason” cults that the early Chuch fathers stood up against, and if they had not become successful in this endeavor, I don’t believe that reason would have gained the stronghold in the Western world that it has.

    “And besides, for me one of the things that stops me becoming a Christian isn’t just doubt about the authenticity of the Bible”

    Isn’t it interesting though that the Bible begs for being authenticated? Have you ever thought about authenticating the Baghvad Gita, for example? It does not appeal to authentication, because it assumes a particular insight, which does not always rest on reason. Look at the Quran – it’s mostly poetry. While it is much more like the Bible than the Baghvad Gita, it is still more esoteric and “faith” based than the Bible. It does not need to be authenticated to be true. But the Bible boldly appeals to reson, and thus, authentication. It’s no surprise then that the Bible has been more scrutinized than any other religious text in modern history – the age of reason.

    “(altbough that’s a large part of it), but it’s also as to whether Christianity really changes lives.”

    I think there is always an element of free-will going on, along with it’s paradoxical counter-element – predestination. Some believe but have the choice to continue as though they do not. I think all Christians have this experience as part of their Christian journey. So I think it would be difficult to judge change when some people are more along that road to change than others. Let’s not forget that one of the primary teachings in scripture is that we are all sinners. Change takes time and does not happen over night. We learn sin over time, and conversely, it takes time to overcome sin’s habit. Alcoholics do not become healed by going to one or two meetings. In fact, they struggle with the addiction for the rest of their lives, for the most part. But I have seen that the change is real. I think because we live in a country where Christianity has had a huge impact in our institutions and politics, we tend to overlook the very real change that the gospel leaves in a culture. We Americans have institutionalized Christianity perhaps more than any other culture in history. Yet the gospel does not mandate this sort of institutionalization.

    I think missionaries see that change more than most. And most missionaries are not here in the US, but around the world in places you and I would not have thought to go. I have had the great benefit to have known some missionaries – (my young niece is one). One I know who died recently spent the better part of his life in inland China. China is seeing one of the largest growths of Christian conversion in the world today. In fact, China has more Christian believers than most Western countries, but because of the fact that Christian missions are illegal, there is much persecution, and churches for the most part meet in people’s houses, rather than in public areas.

    “If this stuff is real, it is reasonable to expect that it should have some consequences in the lives of its followers”

    well with examples like China and Ethipia, and Indonesia, areas of South America, Middle Eastern countries that have been opened up to the gospel due to wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, I think if you were there you would see the change for the better: hospitals and schools being built – basic amenities being provided that were not available before – giving people a sense of hope in seemingly hopeless situations; missionary work among Aids stricken African countries, where huge numbers of children are suffering from the disease. These are activities that missionaries for the most part are doing in the world, and they do it without judgment of the culture. They are in the culture, and learn from the culture, and the majority of the new missionaries are natives, reaching out to their own people.

    “…and this should be beyond that which could normally be expected through just the benefits of adopting a belief system. Not everybody would agree with this, but I think many Christians and churches do preach that faith is supposed to be living matter, rather than just a dry cerebral concept.”

    Exactly. I think at least that you understand something about Christianity that is supposed to be so. It’s an exciting journey, not a mundane yoke of enslavement. It’s exciting to bring hope to the hopeless.

    “I know many Christians claim their lives have been changed, and some even talk about healings or miracles. It isn’t helped much that in the US at least the church seems (IMHO) largely narcissistic, and sometimes unduly focused on materialism (the whole prosperity Gospel movement is completely baffling). In other words, if God is truly alive and working in His church today, I personally have not observed any evidence of this. I know, I know – there are plenty of Churches and individuals that do wonderful things, help people, and sometimes even feed the poor!(although again for a lot of US-based churches that doesn’t seem to be much of a priority). Yes, and there are probably more Christian-based charities than atheist-based charities. I understand all of that. But could that happen just through natural processes of belief without a supernatural originator?”

    It’s true that the American Church is somewhat complacent. However, Americans are some of the most charitable people in the world (I’m not an American, but I admire what goes on for the good in this country). But if you read the Old Testament, the Israelites became complacent at times when they had so much. It seems to be a natural tendency, and a learning tool. It’s a common insight that the areas of the world where Christianity tends to grow more are places where there is no room for complacency due to persecution. American Christians are not being persecuted, and thus are more complacent.

    “But in fact there are also quite a number of ex-Christian sources on the Internet that suggest, for some at least, Christianity has been a damaging experience and that they only found real help in their lives once they left their faith. I personally know a few Christians who have struggled with mental illnesses and it’s only been through secular therapy that they’ve obtained any real help. You can’t help think why their faith ultimately, while certainly providing comfort, did not actually have much of a solution.”

    Well I have to wonder if those ex-Christians fell victim to the complacency you pointed out. I think it’s important to grasp that Christianity is not life-changing when change is expected without effort, and without involvement in the larger picture – the great commission. If being a Christian does not cause me to reach out to others (which is my free choice), I can see how some could have false expectations for the gospel to change them, when they haven’t invested the necessary perspective that they are a part of a new family, and families help one another and their neighbors. The idea that “God helps those who help themselves” is contrary to Christian teaching. This is a speculation, but I have observed this in reality myself among ex-Christians that I have known.

    “So there is good and bad in the church, but is the good caused by a Divine spark, or is it just the natural outworking of having a belief system? If there was no God would the world really look any different to what we see today? Certainly God seems to want no part in intervening in natural disasters (although we apparently give Him credit for safely landing planes in the Hudson, but don’t seem too concerned when he fails to stop the eradication of 250,000 in Asia through a Tsunami.)”

    I think rather, if there were no God, Christians would not at all be motivated to be a part of the alleviating of suffering in the world. Christianity started a spark that has reached around the world – people coming to see that there is hope in the midst of their mundane and often tragic lives.

    “Belief is a powerful driver in peoples lives and can make them do both wonderful (and awful) things.”

    This is no less true if there is no God than if there is. Belief is not really a motivator for good. It depends on the belief, and the force behind that belief. Some believe that they are mandated by God to murder infidels. Such a belief stems from evil, not God. But the scriptures teach that evil often manifests itself in religious garb. I think if there were no God the world would be in anarchy, and suffering would be a thousand times worse.

  113. 113
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor,

    OK, I’m not done yet – one last point. I have to use as an example the church that my siter and her husband (the lawyer) attend. It’s a large church of several thousand, and there’s lots of wealthy people as members. One could look at this church on the surface and see complacency without looking at the larger picture – and that would be a mistake.

    This church is perhaps one of the best organizations for good that I have seen in my life.

    This church involves its members in all kinds of volunteer work in the local community – including cleanup days at local elementary schools, where hundreds of church members spend a Saturday painting, building playgrounds, gardening and beautifying schools at no cost to the school.

    Also, they have groups that go down to Mexico once per month and assemble prefabricated loft houses for poor mexican families who are accostomed to living in city dumps.

    Every Christmas the members assemble gift packages to bring to the mexican families they have built houses for, while they continue to support these families throughout the year.

    Members of the church are encouraged to volunteer at local food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, as well as in building houses with Habitat For Humanity.

    Doctors who are members of the church go on short-term missionary trips with Doctors Without Borders to bring much-needed medical services to ravished people in remote parts of the world.

    After hurricane Katrina several groups of volunteers made numerous trips to New Orleans and the surrounding areas to provide relief work.

    The church is also a sender and supporter of dozens of missionaries in many different countries, including dangerous places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

    These people do these things from their hearts because they love God. To love God is to do good to others.

    And the leaders of the church believe that this charity is predicated on the notion that to whom much is given, much is required. Yet I don’t sense that these people feel burdened by this work – rather, it gives them a sense that they are a part of something larger than themselves.

    It’s easy to look at the outward appearance of a church with its wealth and prosperity without seeing the inward workings of people devoted to God.

  114. Allanius @ 82 “Let’s start with the extant manuscripts canard. Dear would-be forensic manuscript scientists: please identify the dates of the first complete manuscripts (or even substantial fragments) for the Iliad, the Symposium, the Metaphysics, the Aeneid, the Annals of Rome, the Metamorphoses—or in fact any book written before 1000 AD. The smug tone of your critique shows nothing more than your own preening ignorance.”

    Nobody claims that we have exact copies of the original Iliad, Symposium or any other ancient document. In fact, there may not be any true original document of things like the Iliad and Aeneid. People who have recorded the few story tellers who still operate today have discovered that no two peformances are alike and that the shortest rendition of a tale can be half the length of the longest.

    Likewise, we may be missing huge sections of the Annals of Rome or any other ancient tale.

    Now it doesn’t matter if we only have half the “true Iliad”, but if we’ve only got half the Bible, then any religion that depends on the accuracy of that Bible is in big trouble.

  115. 115

    Going back to the original title of this post, “that uncomfortable subject, religion,” I agree it is uncomfortable but needs to be addressed in terms of the Intelligent Design movement. I think an important aspect that has been missed (as far as I know) is that there is a difference between the believer and non-believer, even among Intelligent Design advocates. Using Christianity as an example, the believer is bound to the Creeds of the Christian Church. We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. We hold our faith as foundational, whereas others may consider science foundational. We can’t go to Church in the morning declaring we believe God made us (included in our doctrine) and to an Intelligent Design conference in the afternoon saying the Designer could be anyone. (It seems that between the comments in the Bible about God creating and all things being created through Christ can cover design.)

  116. I think perhaps Lutepisc is frustrated because of my refusal to acknowledge that the story of Jesus and his followers is somehow special and the reason for its success could only be attributed to the resurrection. That because Jesus allegedly rose from the death (for which there is not a scrap of physical or contemporary evidence for) it sparked this movement that has been with us for two thousand years (I guess if it hadn’t been this it would have been something else).

    JTaylor, thank you; this sheds some light on why we have seemed to be passing like two ships in the night. My point has been that, following the horrors of the crucifixion, with all that it implied for the Jesus movement to that point, something like a resurrection experience in the lives of his followers could fully explain the sudden reversal in the motivations and lives of those followers. But if I’m understanding you correctly, the crucifixion is just as difficult for you to believe as the resurrection. If you question the crucifixion as well…then the whole thing could be a made-up story, and the resurrection narrative has no extra explanatory power at all. Did I get that right?

    Well, there are several extrabiblical historical references to the crucifixion. Tacitus, who has been called “the greatest historian of ancient Rome” covered the period from about 14 C.E. to 68 C.E. (from the death of Caesar Augustus to the time of Nero). His own life (55 to 120 C.E.) overlaps this time. He writes of “Christus,” who “suffered the extreme punishment under the procurator Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberias” . (Interestingly, in referring to “Christus,” he also speaks of “the pernicious superstition” which “repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but also through the city of Rome.” The “pernicious superstition” is thought to have referred to the resurrection…but my purpose in quoting Tacitus here is only to establish the crucifixion, and not to establish the narrative about the resurrection.)

    Also Thallus, a historian whose works are lost to us, but who wrote in the latter half of the first century, is quoted by the second-century historian Julius Africanus, noting that “it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.” Although this passage does not describe the means of death, it corroborates the time of death as the season of Passover, which in line with the gospel narratives.

    Suetonius, a Roman historian writing at about 120 C.E., under the Emperor Hadrian, notes that Christians were expelled from Rome because of Christ (whom he calls “Chrestus”): “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [i.e., Claudius...the Roman Emperor from 41 to 55 C.E., whose biography Suetonius is writing] expelled them from Rome.” Suetonius also records the punishment that Christians were receiving in Rome during the time of Nero (64 A.D.): “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” The punishment inflicted on Christians was the same in degree as that inflicted on their leader…namely, capital punishment.

    Mara Bar Serapion, a Stoic philosopher in Syria, writing a letter to his son in about 70 C.E., asks the rhetorical question, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.” We still have the letter; it’s in the British Museum of History.

    I could go on. There are others.

    But let me ask: if you don’t believe Jesus was crucified, then how do you suppose he died?

    Or is it your thought that there’s nothing here to explain at all, because the whole thing is just made up, and no such person as Jesus ever existed? That would be a rare and, I think, fairly untenable point of view. Even the Jesus Seminar accepts that there was a historic person named “Jesus,” although there is disagreement about what he said and did. As far as I know, there’s never been a peer-reviewed publication in a scholarly, respected history journal which has maintained that position.

    I’m not reading it as an insult, JT. I’m not certain he had that in mind. It sounds more like a soft-spoken wake up call. I left a list of sources, which you apparently ignored.

    Thanks, Cannuckianyankee. Your interpretation is correct. I’ll admit that my words had an edge, though, and I apologize to you for that, JTaylor.

    I personally know a few Christians who have struggled with mental illnesses and it’s only been through secular therapy that they’ve obtained any real help. You can’t help think why their faith ultimately, while certainly providing comfort, did not actually have much of a solution.

    I appreciate your struggle here, JTaylor. Many Christians also confuse “mental illness” with “lack of faith.” Although there is evidence that a faith-filled perspective and regular participation in a religious community have “protective effects” for mental illnesses (cf. for example Dr. Harold Koenig’s many books, including “Faith and Mental Health: Religious Resources for Healing”), many other factors play into the development of a mental illness, and many other factors are involved in helpfully addressing a mental illness. I think it’s important for pastors, in their training, to achieve some acquaintance with the interface and the distinctions between religious practice and mental illnesses, so they can help their parishioners marshall their faith-oriented resources. But there still exist a lot of prejudices and misunderstandings out there, even within religious communities. I am happy to say that most seminary-trained pastors do get this exposure and training.

    Finally, you wrote

    Belief is a powerful driver in peoples lives and can make them do both wonderful (and awful) things.

    I completely agree with you here, JTaylor. Here’s where I think it’s helpful for the religious community to listen to the criticisms of the “new atheists.”

    To me, this is what Jesus was getting at with the parable of the weeds and the wheat (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). A man sows “good seed” in a field. But an “enemy” comes along at night and scatters weeds among the sown wheat. So the man’s servants ask: “Would you like us to go and weed your field?” “No,” replies the man. “Because you might not be able to tell the weeds from the wheat. Let them both grow until the harvest [and then I’ll take care of it].”

    A lot of the “evil” done in the name of religion comes, itself, from “weeding out evil.” St. Augustine advised: “Never fight evil as if it is something which arose entirely outside yourself.”

    Would that we would pay better attention to this!

  117. KariosFocus wrote: “How many such individuals have had upwards of 500 eyewitnesses to their resurrection, and in that context upwards of twenty of which are identifiable by name: the circle of women led by Mary Magdalene [not listed in the C1 list as women were not official witnesses then], the 12, the brothers of Jesus, and Paul the former arch persecutor?

    Do you see why Is 52 – 53 is the brightest gem among about 500 prophecies on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?”

    I still remain skeptical of the “500 eyewitnesses” account, because one person writing that there were 500 eyewitnesses, is not the same at all 500 eyewitnesses individually writing about that event. What we have here is one person who themselves was not an actual eyewitness.

    It would be the equivalent of me writing a report that at a recent soccer match 500 people saw a UFO. Without any corrrobating evidence such a report holds no water.

    As to the Is 53 alleged propehcy, obviosly there are different interpretations, and both sides can make them equally compelling. Again, what’s a skeptic to do…

    But thinking about it, to even accept that an OT prophecy has validity would require that I recognize that the OT has some authoritative voice. That doesn’t of course mean (I hope!) that I would have accept that the OT is a literal account, but it would mean I would have to not only buy into the broad history but also the morality portrayed.

    That brings up some very difficult issues. Firstly I would have to deal with some very fantastical stories: man-eating fish, earth-wide deluges, talking snakes, bears being set on kids, self-combusting shrubs, a vessel that accomodate all species on the planet. Etc. I would have to somehow delineate which is fantastical and which isn’t. Not such an easy task. We can debate whether Jesus was a legend, but it is a hard case to make that many of the more fantastical OT stories are best explained as myths.

    But it gets worse – I would also have to deal with the very questionable morality in the OT – which is basically that of an extreme jealous deity, who has no issue with severely punishing the enemies of His chosen people (or even them directly if they misbehave) – and often in viscious and inhumane ways (even to the extent of violently taking the lives of infants and women – even pregnant women!). If we say these are examples of genocide, it is by no means an exagerration or misuse of the term. And of course we have morality tales such as Abraham and Issac that to an outsider are utterly horrific and anti-family – it’s a wonder they haven’t been expunged from the Bible. No parent in their right mind would or should ever agree to do what Abraham agreed to. And no benevolent and loving God should ever ask of such a thing.

    I know Christians have many explanations for these things – but most of them seem to be elaborate and sophisticated post-hoc arguments – e.g., the people of Israel were extraordinarily wicked, it was a different time, it was pre-NT convenant, God was making a “point” about the difficulties of following the law etc. But there is one inescapable reality here – the same God that did these terrible things is exactly and completely the same God that Christians worship today.

    I guess Christians have become comfortable in rationalizing this – I suppose because it was such a long time ago and in a different culture we can somehow divorce ourselves from the horror. For me (and a lot of skeptics) it remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks to accepting the OT (let alone the NT) as anything but the mythical history of an ancient tribal nation.

    In the end you have to ask yourself – is there ever a circumstance or situation where genocide is allowable. Christians are tacitly saying, yes, there is — that’s not a place I want to go to.

    So, yes, in the end it is not so hard to dismiss the authority of the OT just on this alone.

  118. 118

    JTaylor

    the same God that did these terrible things is exactly and completely the same God that Christians worship today.

    This explanation won’t logically reason away your understandable objections. In fact, I’m afraid it might come across as facetious. But I’ll offer it anyway.

    A Christian doesn’t accept a God that does terrible things. Instead, we believe that if God created everything, he thereby has the authority to set the ultimate standards of right and wrong. If I say that He has acted wrongly, it’s a claim that my conscience and justice and morality are superior.

    If a nation is engaged in deplorable religious practices such as child sacrifice and temple prostitution, and God decides they need to go sooner rather than later, then that’s His decision.
    It’s noteworthy that quite a few people, i.e. the Gibeonites, who were marked for elimination, were spared when they repented.

    It’s like being a small child. (I can still remember.) When our parents made decisions that seemed unfair, odds are it was because we didn’t know what they did. Sometimes our parents told us why. Other times they didn’t, because the reasoning was beyond our limited comprehension. The Bible says that His thoughts are higher than ours as the heaven is higher than the earth. That rules out any hope I might have of perfectly understanding everything.

  119. CannukianYankee @112 & 113

    Firstly thank you for your long and thoughtful replies!

    Thanks for the recommendation on the book by the ex-JW – sounds interesting.

    CY: “Of course I disagree with that judgment – I believe that God is more forgiving than He is condemning, but there is evil in the world, and what should be done about it? Do we as imperfect humban beings really have the authority to judge and condemn evil apart from a God given authority?”

    I think my answer @117 probably addresses this to some extent. To me God violates what I believe is an innate morality that all humans share (well, most) – for example the practice of genocide in the OT, which the majority (I hope) of well-adjusted human beings find abhorrent. And of course many skeptics find the very idea of a God who created humans then decided to effectively banish (for eternity) the majority of them (based on the actions of two individuals) quite at odds with a loving Father. Is this really the reality of the Universe, or a mythical story to explain why ‘sin’ exists?

    Of course we could then discuss where does this innate morality I speak of comes from. Obviously I’m going to reply that this is an artifact of evolution and developed as way to preserve the good of the social group. And I think we can back this up with evidence by observing past and present non-Christian societies (e.g., Japan) or even present-day societies which do not regard Christian morality as the source of their moral behavior (and there are some interesting stats from increasingly secular countries such as Stockholm that not only have very low crime rates but enjoy stability and prosoperity). I can speak of this personally too – as an atheist,despite popular misconceptions, I’m not compelled to perform all kinds of anti-social behaviors just because “I can”.

    CY: “I think rather, if there were no God, Christians would not at all be motivated to be a part of the alleviating of suffering in the world. Christianity started a spark that has reached around the world – people coming to see that there is hope in the midst of their mundane and often tragic lives.”

    I have a lot of doubt here! I think it’s wonderful that some Christians are committed to reducing suffering in the world. The church you described sounds like a good place. But is that motivation caused by a spark from God or is it something altogether more natural? After all there are many other groups, individuals, organizations who are also doing some charitable things, yet these are either affliated to different religions or some are even secular. So we have enough evidence to realize that religion is not necessary as a motivator for doing good. After all, Islam also has a charitable side – but I’m sure many Christians would not attribute that good will to a Divine spark. How can we tell the difference? We’re saying A causes B, but the evidence suggests that X causes B too? Isn’t this really evidence that religion and belief systems cause these kinds of behaviors?

  120. ScottAndrews: “If a nation is engaged in deplorable religious practices such as child sacrifice and temple prostitution, and God decides they need to go sooner rather than later, then that’s His decision.”

    But don’t you think He could at least “dispatch” these people in a humane way? Do you think it’s humane for children and women to die by the sword with God’s full approval?

    ScottAndrews: “The Bible says that His thoughts are higher than ours as the heaven is higher than the earth. That rules out any hope I might have of perfectly understanding everything.”

    So basically, we’re saying we can’t possibly understand God’s ways, and that there are (and have been apparently) when God chooses to practice what we need to label genocide?

    It’s also saying that God, despite wanting to be our Father, never wants us to grow up to the point where we can be taken into confidence that we can understand His ways? Sorry, but it sounds like a cop out.

  121. After all, Islam also has a charitable side – but I’m sure many Christians would not attribute that good will to a Divine spark.

    Why not? This universal and innate sense of morality, which is found in the hearts of Muslims as well as atheists and Christians, is “written on the hearts of men” by God, according to Jeremiah (31:33).

  122. Lutepisc: “Why not? This universal and innate sense of morality, which is found in the hearts of Muslims as well as atheists and Christians, is “written on the hearts of men” by God, according to Jeremiah (31:33).”

    Or I can quote from the Quran:

    “…To be one of those who believe and urge each other to steadfastness and urge each other to compassion. Those are the Companions of the Right. (Surat al-Balad: 17-18)”

    Or I can believe that goodness was dispensed to humans from a pink teapot orbiting the earth…

    Or maybe there’s just a very simple and natural explanation? I think I prefer to be in a position of doubt rather than base my life on ancient writings of dubious provenance…

  123. Lutepisc: “Well, there are several extrabiblical historical references to the crucifixion.”

    Yes, there are several references to Jesus and his death. But many of these references are problematical, for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is that not a single one of them is contemporary (and most of these authors weren’t even alive at the time, not even as children). This is despite the fact that several historians were known to be active at the purported time of Jesus and in the region. Furthermore, many are really of the nature of hearsay…Thallus is a good example of this, as it is third-hand at best. What is striking about them all is that they mostly mention that there was a movement of Christians and that their founder died – other than that there is very little detail of how, when (or of any other details of the life of Jesus). Here’s an alternative view:
    http://www.infidels.org/librar.....ojfaq.html

    I guess I would treat this in the same way we might the story of Joseph Smith. There were certainly reports about Joseph Smith, but that obviously doesn’t validate what Smith believed was real (looks like contemporary newspapers were quite scornful). Undoubtedly the person lived, but I think few people other than Mormons really believe the outlandish stories he conquered up.

    Lutepisc: “But if I’m understanding you correctly, the crucifixion is just as difficult for you to believe as the resurrection. If you question the crucifixion as well…then the whole thing could be a made-up story, and the resurrection narrative has no extra explanatory power at all. Did I get that right?”

    The honest answer is that I simply don’t know. It’s possible he may have been crucified. It’s possible he died a natural death. It’s possible Jesus was a composite figure, composed of the lives of several gurus of the day. It’s possible it was all entirely made-up. I’ve read some of the mythicist books on the subject (e.g., The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty) and there is a plausible case (the silence in Paul’s writing is particularly interesting), although I know that view is not accepted by the majority of NT scholars.

    But I probably lean to accepting that Jesus was a real person, perhaps even a remarkable teacher. But as to anything more than that I’d say there is considerable reasonable doubt whether Jesus was anything more than human. Too many things simply don’t add up – the lack of a historical Jesus, the issues with manuscripts (Bart Ehrman is good on this), the formation of the canon, the rather checkered history of the church, the lack of any evidence of God working today…etc. It’s possible we’ll never have enough evidence. For me personally there simply isn’t enough (or enough quality evidence) to the leap of faith – particularly when I can’t really distinguish Christianity as being particularly unique amongst religious stories.

  124. —-JTaylor; “But I probably lean to accepting that Jesus was a real person, perhaps even a remarkable teacher.”

    That one doesn’t work. Jesus claimed to be God, explained that he came to save the world from sin, and promised to come back at the end of time to judge mankind. Anyone who says that, and is not telling the truth, is not a good teacher or even an ethical man. Jesus was either Lord, lunatic, or liar. There are no other options.

  125. StephenB: “That one doesn’t work. Jesus claimed to be God, explained that he came to save the world from sin, and promised to come back at the end of time to judge mankind. Anyone who says that, and is not telling the truth, is not a good teacher or even an ethical man. Jesus was either Lord, lunatic, or liar. There are no other options.”

    You mean it doesn’t work for you. It is quite a reasonable interpretation of the evidence we have. But you are of cause looking at it through the lens of faith, so some confirmation bias is inevitable. What we have are documents written by anonymous writers claiming that Jesus said these things. Actually we don’t have the documents, we have copies of copies of copies etc. We also have non-canonical writings that claim Jesus said other things (and did some strange miracles). And of course Jesus himself never actually wrote down a single thing that we know of. You can assert all you like that Jesus said these things, but the truth is we simply don’t know. And even if he said it, it doesn’t make it so.

    So for me we have at least four choices: Lord, Lunatic, Liar or… Legend (with a kernel of historical truth).

  126. It’s interesting to note that even William Lane Craig isn’t impressed with C S Lewis’s old chestnut, the trilemma:

    “This basic criticism of the trilemma is echoed by Christian apologist William Lane Craig[3]:

    An example of such an unsound argument would be:

    Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
    Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.
    Therefore, Jesus is Lord.

    This is a valid argument inferring one member of a disjunction from the negation of the other members. But the argument is still unsound, because the first premiss is false: there are other unmentioned alternatives, for example, that Jesus as described in the gospels is a legendary figure, so that the trilemma is false as it stands.”

    (Craig, William Lane, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, revised edition, 1994, pp. 38-39.)

  127. JT, you are missing the the point. You can only say he was a “good” teacher if you believe what he said. You said he was a good teacher, so you are accepting that which was written about him. If he was only a legend, then he was not a good teacher. I wasn’t saying Lord, lunatic, or liar as the only possible choice. I was saying Lord, lunatic, or lunatic or liar IF you accept that he was a good teacher, which you did. See how that works?

    So, you see your example of William Lane Craig isn’t applicable.

  128. JT, it is evident that you passionately do not want to believe in the Christian faith. I discovered that when I noted your reaction to the prophecy argument. Anyone who would ignore the power of hundreds of prophecies and go looking for three or four questionable ones, which as it turns out, are not really questionable, is clearly looking for loopholes.

  129. Gentlemen |esp JT):

    I think the excerpt below aptly sums up the real problem with many exchanges at UD, which beyond a certain limit become utterly fruitless:

    [JT, 117:] I still remain skeptical of the “500 eyewitnesses” account, because one person writing that there were 500 eyewitnesses, is not the same at all 500 eyewitnesses individually writing about that event. What we have here is one person who themselves was not an actual eyewitness.

    It would be the equivalent of me writing a report that at a recent soccer match 500 people saw a UFO. Without any corrrobating evidence such a report holds no water.

    As to the Is 53 alleged propehcy, obviosly there are different interpretations, and both sides can make them equally compelling. Again, what’s a skeptic to do…

    1 –> 1 Cor 15:1 – 11, of course, is the Apostle Paul [by then a public figure who in the same city of Corinth in AD 50 had been before Seneca's brother in defence of his teaching; Seneca being in 55 AD the effective Prime Minister of the Roman Empire in the "good" days of Nero.]

    2 –> Paul is writing in a primary source document in AD 55, to a known (and known problematic; cf Clement’s letter of 96!) church with which he had serious issues and appealing to a fact in common — and indeed the widespread official testimony of the C1 church with 20+ identifiable eyewitnesses (some of whom we also have corroborative written and recorded oral statements from [including the very first ever Christian Sermon, delivered by Peter in Jerusalem six weeks after the crucifixion burial and empty tomb outside its walls, which triggered the birth of the Christian movement in the headquarters city of its fiercest opponents; duly reported by an historian whose habitual accuracy is abundantly demonstrated]) — to resolve an issue in dispute.

    3 –> How likely do you think it is that the cited summary of the official witness was not just that? [And, remember, this is about 25 - 30 years after the event. that he summary was inauthentic or the equivalent of a tabloid newspaper account is simply an incredible, question-begging comparison.]

    4 –> How, then, does the skeptic address this, in light of the general principles of historiography? Simple: brush it aside by using a dismissal that would never be used for any other primary source document on a matter not disputed by the skeptic, and begging the question that the largest, longest-lived movement in our civilisation provides an unparalleled mass of supportive evidence. Selective hyperskepticism, in a nutshell.

    5 –> On Is 52 – 53, c. 700 BC [with direct DSS textual confirmation dating to c 160 BC and translations to Gk dating to about the same time], we have several specific points of prophetic prediction including a distinction between a specific servant of God and the hostile covenant people who abuse, oppress and dismiss him, unjustly handing him over to punishment and death.

    6 –> That individual is cut off from the living and yet is restored to seeing the light of life. What is more, that individual is going to have a global impact all the way up to kings.

    7 –> There is precisely one individual in the long history of Israel who fits that bill. A certain man from Nazareth, c. 30 AD.

    8 –> But, what do we see: in effect, well, you can interpret any which way and can present the interpretation more or less persuasively.

    9 –> ANS: yes, if you ignore the evident textual and associated abundant historical facts on the merits and associated inference to best, well-warranted explanation as the decisive issue.

    _______________

    What is going on in our civilisation’s intellectual culture as modernist rationalism, relativism and hyperskepticism have reached the ultra-stage commonly called “post- modernism” should be plain, and where that is going to end up is equally plain.

    Time to wake up and turn back from the abyss now.

    Before it is too late.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: I cannot but note that the above bears, sadly, more than a passing resemblance (save, I trust, on the side where uncivil conduct emerged) to the debates — and I almost never use that word with a positive context — that have happened in recent weeks on the Weasel 1986 program by Mr Dawkins. [For those interested in it, my summing up on the merits of the weasel issue is here. (And, no, this is not an invitation to further exchanges. There is enough there and in the recent threads for the serious-minded onlooker to make up his or her mind for him or her self. Let's just say that those who beg and refuse to seriously address the central question, and then focus on a tangential issue inadvertently reveal the true lack of strength of their main case. And, even on the side issue, the balance on the merits is not as such may be wont to boast.)]

  130. PPS: On the OT’s authoritative voice on morality issue. I find it first interesting that in a context where Is 52 – 3 is cited as a datable text that documents a specific — and fulfilled — prophecy, we are suddenly distracted by an issue that is at best distractingly tangential.

    So, we need to draw attention to the primary issue, and underscore that the rhetorical resort to tangential issue is a sign of weakness on the primary one; just as in the case of Weasel above. So, let us keep first things first.

    As to he secondary issue, I will briefly note — for those who need an initial outline on where to go to investigate the matter — that personal community level morality and judicial responsibility of those who bear rule are materially different, that God as Creator and Pantokrator is in that position, and observe that the core of OT morality — Love God and neighbour (made in God’s image) and treat them in that context — [and its NT extensions and refocussing on the heart of the matter] have played a pivotal role in the emergence of justice, fairness, mutual respect and liberty as key concerns of our civlisation.

    [So, we would be well advised to look askance at that which trots out litanies of real or imagined difficulties and sins of the Israelite Commonwealth and/or Christendom, without reckoning up the other side of the balance. (By contrast of course the advocates of such litanies of he sins of the Judaeo-Christian tradition far too often fail to reckon frankly and fairly with the patent results over the past century or so of the rise of secularism to power across our civilisations. A fact that 100+ million ghosts of victims of democide will warn us on, not to mention dozens of millions of victims of unbridled slaughter of the unborn on reasons that in the main boil down to convenience.)]

    Indeed, arguably the very same OT and its morality of the state is foundational to the rise of modern liberty and democracy, starting from Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos of 1579 and the Dutch Declaration of Independence of 1581, leading up to the emerging tradition of libertarian thought, and culminating in the US Declaration of Independence of 1776 — on a tax revolt that significantly parallels the secession of the Northern tribes from Rehoboam — and the birth of modern democracy.

    So, let us get back on track.

    The watershed issue on the table is whether we have in Is 52 – 53 an example of a successful messianic prophecy, in the context of 459 or so prophecies, and a furter context of histrorical fulfillment that is if true decisive on the issues of which worldview is better on comparative difficulties of the major ones in front of us.

    Once we settle the main issue we can be in a much better position to address the remaining questions and concerns.

  131. 131

    Jtaylor:

    So basically, we’re saying we can’t possibly understand God’s ways, and that there are (and have been apparently) when God chooses to practice what we need to label genocide?

    It’s also saying that God, despite wanting to be our Father, never wants us to grow up to the point where we can be taken into confidence that we can understand His ways? Sorry, but it sounds like a cop out.

    I’m not going to go to deeply into this, because I think it deserves to be discussed scripturally (this doesn’t seem like the place) or not at all.

    When we apply the term “Father” to God, it describes a relationship. It doesn’t literally mean that we are little baby Gods waiting to grow up. All of creation is designed to function correctly when His authority and role are recognized. When they aren’t, everything breaks down and there are awful consequences. What we see now is a one-time demonstration of that.

    Some people wonder why they can’t have obvious miracles to show them the truth. Others provide Hallmark answers like, “You have to have faith,” which on their own make no sense and do nothing to convince curious, reasoning people.

    Here’s how God and the Bible and creation solve those problems: They give us enough information to reach an accurate conclusion, and then let us decide according to what we inwardly want to believe. We examine the evidence, but it, in turn, examines us. It’s not conventional wisdom, but it empowers each individual to make a decision.

    That’s why I’ll try not to belabor the argument. Because it’s not a limitation of the evidence or one person’s faith or another one’s intellect. It’s a personal preference, a choice that we each make. Another person can sometimes influence it, but can never overturn it.

  132. JTaylor:

    I think I prefer to be in a position of doubt…

    Yes, I suspect this is the bottom line for you.

    Or I can quote from the Quran:

    How does what the Quran says here differ from what the Bible says in the passage I referred to from Jeremiah? They seem to be saying the same thing, although the Quran passage is a little difficult for me to understand.

    Here’s Paul, saying the same thing again: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Rom. 2:14, 15)

    Or I can believe that goodness was dispensed to humans from a pink teapot orbiting the earth…

    Of course you can!

    I guess I would treat this in the same way we might the story of Joseph Smith…Undoubtedly the person lived, but I think few people other than Mormons really believe the outlandish stories he conquered up.

    True. The fact that someone lived doesn’t validate what they taught. In the case of Jesus, though, as you say: “But I probably lean to accepting that Jesus was a real person, perhaps even a remarkable teacher.”

    True.
    Think about it. But not too much. I wouldn’t want to mess with your doubt!

  133. StephenB: “JT, you are missing the the point. You can only say he was a “good” teacher if you believe what he said. You said he was a good teacher, so you are accepting that which was written about him. If he was only a legend, then he was not a good teacher. I wasn’t saying Lord, lunatic, or liar as the only possible choice. I was saying Lord, lunatic, or lunatic or liar IF you accept that he was a good teacher, which you did. See how that works?”

    It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Jesus existed as a person that he was a “good teacher” Although I have to be honest, given all that he could have said and didn’t (e.g., against slavery), he wasn’t a perfect teacher by any means. Maybe we even have some of the sayings of Jesus (perhaps the ones from “Q” which after all, and this is suggestive, just a book of sayings and no more). But legends can and have been built upon the shoulders of real people (probably the history of the saints falls into this category). So it would not be without precedent to say that the story of Jesus is legend based on a real person, but the miracles, the resurrection etc are later interpolations. It is a position that many scholars hold and one that cannot be just dismissed out of hand.

  134. StephenB: “JT, it is evident that you passionately do not want to believe in the Christian faith. I discovered that when I noted your reaction to the prophecy argument. Anyone who would ignore the power of hundreds of prophecies and go looking for three or four questionable ones, which as it turns out, are not really questionable, is clearly looking for loopholes.”

    If I’m passionate about not believing the Christian faith I share this passion with not believing scientology, Mormonism, Islam and a host of other religions and cults for which there is not sufficient evidence. They are all the same. We focus here on Christianity because that is our primary tradition in the West.

    As to the prophecies – that would imply accepting the authority of the OT, and I’ve explained the problems with that above. We could go through each of the 300-400 prophecies and I think many of them would be questionable (and out of context – for example lifting a verse from Psalms and then calling it out as ‘prophecy’ is a stretch). But even the ones such as Is 53, which some dispute, can be explained by the legend making that occurred in the formation of the Gospels.

    And in the end if I don’t want to believe in the Christian faith, is it so unforgivable that I cannot bring myself to worship a God who practices genocide? Does it make you proud of your God when you read those old OT stories?

  135. KF: “On the OT’s authoritative voice on morality issue. I find it first interesting that in a context where Is 52 – 3 is cited as a datable text that documents a specific — and fulfilled — prophecy, we are suddenly distracted by an issue that is at best distractingly tangential.”

    It is not all tangential. You are claiming the OT contains a prophetic voice. I do not know if you are a literalist are not, but even you are not, you must give the same or similar weight to other passages in the OT as you do Is 53. It is completely reasonable to ask the question then as to whether the OT is indeed the voice of God, and whether it is indeed prophetic (at least in parts). As I pointed out there are major issues and problems with accepting this. It’s really the crux of the matter.

    KF: “So, we would be well advised to look askance at that which trots out litanies of real or imagined difficulties and sins of the Israelite Commonwealth and/or Christendom, without reckoning up the other side of the balance. (By contrast of course the advocates of such litanies of he sins of the Judaeo-Christian tradition far too often fail to reckon frankly and fairly with the patent results over the past century or so of the rise of secularism to power across our civilisations.)”

    So does that somehow excuse the God of Israel executing and approving heinous acts because secularists apparently did the same things many centuries later?

  136. Lutepisc: “True. The fact that someone lived doesn’t validate what they taught. In the case of Jesus, though, as you say: “But I probably lean to accepting that Jesus was a real person, perhaps even a remarkable teacher.”

    True.
    Think about it. But not too much. I wouldn’t want to mess with your doubt!”

    I did say “perhaps”…the truth is we don’t really know, and may never know. As I said in another reply there could be same evidence that there was a person called Jesus who may have said some wise things (the “Q” source). Perhaps “remarkable” is an overstatement (I personally like some of the teachings in the NT, but also think that there are many other teachers who have had as much or greater insight).

    As to my doubt – I think it is an honorable position given the evidence available and I’m not ashamed to say “I don’t know”…after all, don’t many people herey hold a similar skeptical position to evolution?

  137. —-JT: As to the prophecies – that would imply accepting the authority of the OT, and I’ve explained the problems with that above. We could go through each of the 300-400 prophecies and I think many of them would be questionable (and out of context – for example lifting a verse from Psalms and then calling it out as ‘prophecy’ is a stretch). But even the ones such as Is 53, which some dispute, can be explained by the legend making that occurred in the formation of the Gospels.”

    Well, sure, if the events didn’t really happen and if Jesus didn’t live, then the prophecies didn’t become manifest. But discounting Jesus existence in time/space/history is a really, really, really big stretch, a far greater stretch than discounting the existence of Alexander the Gread, Plato, or Aristotle. Those people do not have an apostolic succession of bishops or anything else to remind us of their existence, and anyone could have authored their texts. We have far more evidence for Christ’s existence than for any other major figure in antiquity.

    You seem to have forgotten my earlier point that facts in Luke’s gospel have been corrobrated by other historians, and Luke himself has been credited for being an excellent source for some of those facts, BY THE HISTORIANS. That is a lot of credibility extended to a very careful writer. To shug that off is to make another one of those stretches. You are stretching from the front end, the back end, and the middle. That’s dedication!

    I’ll give you credit for one thing, though. You don’t seize on what you perceive to be your adversaries weakest arguments, while refusing to confront the stronger ones. So, you get points for that. Still, all this stretching has got to be loosing up you tendons, so you are probably in good physical health.

  138. Still got some stretching left in me…

    StephenB: “But discounting Jesus existence in time/space/history is a really, really, really big stretch, a far greater stretch than discounting the existence of Alexander the Gread, Plato, or Aristotle.”

    I’m not necessarily denying the existence of Jesus. But you have to wonder about a deity who apparently loved the world so much that he:

    a) Didn’t bother to have anybody write anything down about his chosen Messenger for some 25-30 years after the event
    b) Did not make sure that what was written down was properly preserved and immune from editing and malicious hacking
    c) Did not preserve the original documents
    d) Did not clarify important theological and doctrinal matters so that some key doctrines were not resolved until decades and hundreds of years later. And even today, Christians still spend countless hours squabbling over what the Bible really means – and to the point that it has caused serious factions and divisions in the church
    e) Did not see fit to intervene to remove all of the contradictions, obvious myths, and inconsistencies from His word, thus providing confusion and doubt over what it really means.

    After all, according to Christian belief, this is the very same God that apparently created the Universe we see around us – with its incredibly complex physical laws, with a ~100 billion galaxies,each with ~100 billion stars. The same God that created DNA/RNA. I have to be honest and say that if the Bible is God’s primary message to His people – it is really quite a botched job and does not represent the supposedly awesome and impotent God he is purported to be. If I didn’t know better I’d say it’s much more likely the Bible is purely a human endeavor..

    StephenB: “You seem to have forgotten my earlier point that facts in Luke’s gospel have been corrobrated by other historians, and Luke himself has been credited for being an excellent source for some of those facts, BY THE HISTORIANS.”

    What are the facts that have been corroborated? You mentioned above: “As an example, his reports of cultural events on the times that people met at temples, the pedigrees of the various tribes, and other matters suggest a careful, thoughtful reporter.” Can you be more specific, I’m curious. Of course in some ways that wouldn’t be surprising – even novelists will include real places, real events, and cultural traditions.

    We still have a puzzle though as to who exactly Luke was. Again he himself was not an eyewitness, so by trusting him we are implicitly trusting his sources (probably Mark and Q). I’d say it again we don’t have evidence of a single eyewitness who knew Jesus themselves and wrote something down. Not one.

    I’ll say this again too – maybe we do have more evidence for Jesus or Plato. Possibly. But nobody is telling me I need to accept Plato as my savior and repent of all my sins. The standard of evidence therefore has to be considerably higher.

  139. 139

    JTaylor:

    I have to be honest and say that if the Bible is God’s primary message to His people – it is really quite a botched job and does not represent the supposedly awesome and impotent God he is purported to be.

    The contradiction is that when speaking of a hypothetical creator, you measure him using your own knowledge and wisdom as the ruler. His existence or lack thereof depends on whether he conforms to your standards and does what you think is best.
    If there were, hypothetically, someone smart enough to create DNA, something we don’t fully understand, is it reasonable to expect that every other decision he made would be perfectly transparent to us?
    And your argument regarding the Bible is certainly begging the question, as is this:

    e) Did not see fit to intervene to remove all of the contradictions, obvious myths, and inconsistencies from His word

  140. 140

    JTaylor,

    “I’m not necessarily denying the existence of Jesus. But you have to wonder about a deity who apparently loved the world so much that he:

    a) Didn’t bother to have anybody write anything down about his chosen Messenger for some 25-30 years after the event
    b) Did not make sure that what was written down was properly preserved and immune from editing and malicious hacking
    c) Did not preserve the original documents
    d) Did not clarify important theological and doctrinal matters so that some key doctrines were not resolved until decades and hundreds of years later. And even today, Christians still spend countless hours squabbling over what the Bible really means – and to the point that it has caused serious factions and divisions in the church
    e) Did not see fit to intervene to remove all of the contradictions, obvious myths, and inconsistencies from His word, thus providing confusion and doubt over what it really means.”

    I’ll add to the list:
    f) And give everyone the keys to a new Porsche.
    g) Repair our bodies without the need for food.
    h) Make it to where we don’t have to sleep.
    i) Give us the ability to fly.
    j) Give us all an inherently built-in systematic theology that is totally accurate and a complete knowledge of God’s will.
    k) Provide all that we could ever need or want at our discretion without an ounce of effort on our part.
    :)

    You see where I’m going with this.

  141. —-JTaylor: “I’d say it again we don’t have evidence of a single eyewitness who knew Jesus themselves and wrote something down. Not one.”

    JT, my man, are you saying that John, the apostle “Jesus loved,” and who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament doesn’t count as an eyewitness. This is the same guy who stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother.

    Wait, let me save you the trouble. You aren’t sure that John wrote those books, and if did, he probably made things up, and if he didn’t, he probably leached information from Q, who was hanging out with G, who was trying to recapture the spirit of the ancient sun gods. Did I leave anything out?

  142. ScottAndrews: “The contradiction is that when speaking of a hypothetical creator, you measure him using your own knowledge and wisdom as the ruler. His existence or lack thereof depends on whether he conforms to your standards and does what you think is best.
    If there were, hypothetically, someone smart enough to create DNA, something we don’t fully understand, is it reasonable to expect that every other decision he made would be perfectly transparent to us?”

    But it is believed that God earnestly desires to be reconciled to his creation. That He “so loved the world etc” that He pains for people to turn towards Him. Since the majority of the worlds population that have lived or will ever lived did not have the luxury of living in ancient Palestine, then the primary way people know about this message is through the Bible (delivered through the church).

    So it is not unreasonable to ask since this message is possibly the most IMPORTANT thing that God ever utters (at least to humans), that perhaps He could have done a better job? After all it is quite clear that God does not visit the earth in person these days, and miracles seem hard to come by (well, unless you’re Benny Hinn…)

    No, Clive we’re not asking for Porsches or the ability to fly but some reasonable verifiable historical documentation that Jesus really did live and was the person some make him out to be. Not really that much to ask. Something like an eyewitness report written at the time Jesus actually lived by an unbiased party.

    And the analogy of DNA is to illustrate that God is quite capable of complex and highly intricate work, but it seems to have eluded Him in the creation of the Bible. indeed it appears He was quite happy to subcontract the work out, and the results are extremely poor (perhaps it would have been easy if Jesus had written some of his own work instead of relying on non-eyewitnesses many years later). The quality is so poor in fact that believers and non-believers have spent countless amounts of time trying to figure what the thing actually is trying to see (as indeed we are doing in this thread).

  143. StephenB: “Wait, let me save you the trouble. You aren’t sure that John wrote those books, and if did, he probably made things up, and if he didn’t, he probably leached information from Q, who was hanging out with G, who was trying to recapture the spirit of the ancient sun gods. Did I leave anything out?”

    Not so sure about the sun god stuff, but yep, we don’t have any reliable evidence that the same Jesus that hung out with Jesus wrote the gospel.

    My research indicates that most scholars think John was not contemporary (looks like the gospel was written 90 AD or later) and was written by a non-eyewitness.

    Again, we cannot categorically and conclusively say that we have any written documentation from any eyewitness of Jesus (and of course we certainly don’t have any autographs of even the anonymous works). Doesn’t that trouble you?

  144. 144

    I’m with JTaylor on the authorship of John. It’s clearly later than the synoptics and contradicts the synoptics in all sorts of ways. I don’t mean little stuff, like whether Jesus was crucified before or after Passover. I mean big stuff, like whether Jesus (1) talks mainly in parables and almost never talks about himself (Mark) or (2) doesn’t tell any parables and can’t shut up about himself (John).

    I don’t know if any of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, though Luke certainly wasn’t. But I don’t see any external evidence for the attribution of John to, well, John.

  145. @144 I mean “John that hung out with Jesus” (I guess the Jesus that hung out with Jesus would be the Holy Spirit?)

  146. 146

    JTaylor, the Jesus that hung out with Jesus would be Fractal Jesus.

  147. But nobody is telling me I need to accept Plato as my savior and repent of all my sins.

    So if you don’t accept Plato–or anyone–as your savior, you don’t need to repent of your sins? (Sorry…but you brought the subject up, JTaylor :-) )

    I have to be honest and say that if the Bible is God’s primary message to His people – it is really quite a botched job and does not represent the supposedly awesome and impotent God he is purported to be.

    As a Christian, I believe that Christ is God’s primary message to His people. (Cf., for example, Heb. 1:1-2.) The Bible is “that which testifies of him” (cf. John 5:39). There is a nice example of this principle at work in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).

    You probably know the story. Two of Jesus’ disciples are walking dejectedly along the seven-mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, three days after the crucifixion. They are talking with each other about what has just happened in Jerusalem. A stranger came up and began walking with them. “[The stranger] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” After they arrived at their destination, [the stranger] was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

    Luke is presenting the Resurrected Christ as the key to the understanding of scripture.

    JTaylor, you mention the many conflicting passages and differing understandings of scripture. I acknowledge that this is both confusing for the “outsider” and embarrassing for the “insider.” Nevertheless, there are some general principles at play which bring some order to the chaos.
    Protestants tend to follow a principle called “scripture interprets scripture.” This means that the clearer passages of scripture are used to aid in understanding the less clear passages. You will perhaps acknowledge that some passages are clearer than others.

    At its heart, though, this is known as a “Christocentric” principle. The understanding here is that what scripture does most clearly is “point to Christ.” Scripture at its clearest “shows us Christ.” Luther, for example, said he found Christ “under every rock” in the Hebrew scriptures. This is a metaphor, of course, but what it highlights is that what may be hidden in the Hebrew scriptures is uncovered in the Christ event. This is what StephenB and KairosFocus have been getting at. But it applies to the “New Testament” too.

    For Roman Catholics, the Church has the authority to interpret scripture. As a Protestant, I find some merit in this position, because it safeguards against some of the extremes which can be found in Protestantism.
    Yes…Protestants and Catholics haven’t always seen eye to eye, and that is an embarrassment to both of us. But I have to say: We’re working on it! That’s another post…but I’d be happy to digress in that direction if called upon…

    One last thing. I have to agree with what StephenB wrote about “John.” I was rather cavalier before, but the majority opinion by far is that the gospel was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who was an eyewitness to the crucifixion (and resurrection), whose vocabulary and style betray a thorough acquaintance with Jewish customs and culture, and who is well familiar with the features of Palestinian geography. The final product, as it has come down to us, may have been redacted by a “school of John,” but that doesn’t discount the disciple as the source of the gospel as we have it. We do no literary harm by going ahead and calling the author “John,” the disciple of Christ by the same name (who was the same person).

  148. David Kellogg:

    [Jesus] doesn’t tell any parables and can’t shut up about himself (John).

    That John has a different literary style than the synoptics has been recognized from ancient times.
    But what do you call:
    The Good Shepherd 10:1-21
    or:
    The True Vine 15:1-8
    for example?

  149. 149

    Lutepisc, the examples you gave are extended metaphors (and barely that). Parables are almost always stories. It may be that the author of John was aware of the parable tradition, but these are parables only by a stretch of the imagination.

    It’s not just a different literary style.

  150. John uses the word “parable.”

    You say tomato; I say tomahto.

    But for now, I hafta say sayonara…got other fish to fry.

    I’ll be back, though…

  151. 151
    CannuckianYankee

    This thread is still going on? Oh my.

    Anyway, I wanted to address my thoughts on the trilemna issue and W.L. Craig’s views.

    I think the trilemna is a good argument once certain issues are clarified.

    It is true that it is not possible to accept Jesus as simply a good teacher without begging the question. Jesus did not allow the Jewish leaders to call him good teacher “no-one is good but God.” This indicates that either Jesus was saying that he is not good, or that he is God – I think the scriptures lean clearly towards the 2nd option, and in John Chapter 8 Jesus clearly claims to be God by the “I am” statement, and this confirmed by the Jewish leaders attempting to stone him to death by claiming to be equal with the Father. Furthermore, while John’s gospel is the most clear, there are other statements in the synoptic gospels, which indicate that Jesus is God – leaving the first option out of the question.

    Now this argument is valid provided that we can establish the reliability of the witness of scripture. In other words, a person who accepts the reliability of scripture cannnot say that Jesus was merely a good religious teacher, because the scriptural witness does not allow this. The quasi-Christian cults are simply wrong and inconsistent with Scripture – and notice that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the deity of Christ had to write their own version of the New Testament, changing the meaning of John Chapter One in order to support this theology.

    Now this leads us to the problem: can we trust the witness of the scriptures? I don’t think we can adequately answer that question in this forum, but I provided some sources for answering that question in one of my earlier posts above. I believe it can be resolved satisfactorily.

    So I don’t think Jesus was a liar based on the “good teacher” argument – the scriptures do not allow for this.

    Is Jesus a lunatic? Well if He claimed to be God, this might certainly fit a person with a mental illness – I think “lunatic” is rather strong, but it fits with the trilemna’s 3L presentation.

    But from a good reading of the scriptures, Jesus simply does not show the classic signs of a mentally ill person. His statements are reasonable in relation to Jewish belief. You could make the argument that the Jewish belief system causes one to be delusional, but this would also be question-begging. Some of the Jewish leaders did think that Jesus was somewhat crazy because he claimed to be God; but they said that he had an “unclean spirit.” One would have to believe in unclean spirits to make that assessment, so it’s still question-begging. For the most part, the Jewish leaders did not make Jesus’ “craziness” their point of contention; rather it was certain claims that he made regarding his deity. In short, they too were begging the question, and for that reason they put him to death. They failed to investigate if his claim to deity was the truth. They had no excuse in light of the many miracles they knew he performed.

    And the “Lord” issue is thoroughly dealt with in the New Testament – Jesus is called Lord throughout Paul’s writings, etc.

    So the trilemna is useful only once these and other underlying issues are dealt with. I wont go into all of them, but the apologist has a strong argument with the trilemna once the underlying issues are resolved. I think Craig would argue that C.S. Lewis did not effectively resolve the underlying issues, and therefore, the trilemna is not a strong argument.

  152. 152
    CannuckianYankee

    JTaylor:”is it so unforgivable that I cannot bring myself to worship a God who practices genocide?”

    That would not be unforgivable if the assumption were true.

    What I find fascinating is the extent you go in order to show this. It’s nothing new. It appears that you get all your cues from Richard Dawkins.

    The problem with the argument though, is it isn’t true.

    And even if it were true that God engages in genocide, don’t you thing then that genocide would be something that people who view the Bible as gospel truth would practice? I would think that genocide would be widespread among Christians if God practiced it in reality. But you have absolutely no basis for making such an outrageous claim. All you have is more question-begging. I think you need to read the scriptures more carefully and get a full understanding of how the Jews viewed God before making such allegations.

    But perhaps you get a lot of this from the popular new atheist arguments. I would understand this. But they don’t serve you well.

  153. Okay . . .

    It seems that many of the underlying assumptions, approaches and attitudes that drive how diverse people and movements derive conclusions on the matters under discussion are coming out.

    Pardon, therefore, a few footnotes, for those interested in some balancing words to the ideas, assertions and arguments being propagated by the new atheists and the many Dan Browns of our era:

    1] 25 years . . .

    Someone above tried to dismiss the evidential significance of the eyewitness lifetime NT with a remark that no-one wrote anything down till 25 years had passed. But in fact, this is plainly erroneous and in parts question-begging, as well as ignorant of the USUAL lapse between events and writings in Classical times; in turn rooted in failure to understand the gap between MOST — oral — cultures and our own text-centric one.

    First, on the direct point of what was written when: a glance at Gal and 1 and 2 Thess will show documents dating to the late 40′s; and in Ac 15 we have a preserved letter c. 48 AD.

    As well, Lk, a well tested and proved reliable historian, has record of sermons and court statements that run back to 30 – 33 AD.

    ALL of these are fully consistent with the gospel statement as we have it in 1 Cor 15:1 – 11, which is in turn a written down record c 55 AD of teachings c 50 AD based on a more or less official summary dating to the period 33 or 35 – 38 AD when Paul would have “received” it. (Note how Paul carefully appends and distinguishes his own testimony.)

    Moreover, underlying the text of Mt and Lk there is common material [often reconstructed today as Q] consistent with Papias’ remark on a “Hebrew” [prob., strictly, Aramaic] record antedating the Gospels as we have them, authored by Matthew, who as a tax collector would have been familiar with writings and as one of the twelve would have had immediate access to the events. (NB Lk’s statement in his prologue, <Lk 1:1 – 4 on careful use of prior trusted sources: “1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” In short: ACCURATE oral tradition expressed in community teachings, and rooted in testimony of eyewitnesses, fulfilling the OT prophecies that are highlighted by the community. [Here, cf Ac 8: 26 ff, Mt 8:15 - 17 and 1 Pet 2:24 on how Is 53 is specifically one of those prophecies.)

    In short, it is very likely that across the 30's and into the 40's - 50's there were working notes and even narratives based on immediate recall -- and accurate oral memory and transmission [cf. Paul's remarks in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 on passing on what he received from the 12 etc] of a Rabbi’s teachings was an important duty of the disciple — and/or on actual fresh notes dating to the turn of the 30′s. (That is, the question is being begged.)

    Furthermore, it was typical that major written narratives on lives of famous classical figures were composed a few generations to a few centuries after their lifetime. And, often making for good — credibly reasonably accurate — history. (As to our notions of a “balanced” view, the ancients did not write down what they did not think was significant, and made a point. So, it is tendentious to selectively object to the NT as point-of-view based.)

    All of this was happening in the lifespan of many friendly and some decidedly unfriendly witnesses and that of those who knew them in a community setting. So, it is rather unlikely that grossly inaccurate writings would have been well received.

    In the case of Lk -Ac, a consciously historical account runs from c. 27 AD – 62 AD, and cuts off before the major events across the 60′s into the 70′s: deaths of James, Jewish revolt, Neronian fire and persecution, deaths of Peter and Paul, defeat of Jerwish revolt, etc. that strongly suggests the base compositional date of the sequel to Lk. Thus, Lk as a base document may comfortably be dated 58 – 60 AD, which dovetails with the period when Lk was Paul’s companion in Israel at the time of his last visit there and imprisonment. In Lk, Mk and Q are used as trusted sources, and plainly there was access to eyewitnesses [and especially the women of the company of core disciples]. Mk, we have reason to believe, is Peter through his “secretary,” Mk. And in that context, Mt would be an expansion of Mt’s original notes, with inputs from mk [giving the views and experiences of one of the inner circle of three, Peter.]

    While all this is happening, we have Paul’s occasional correspondence to churches and individuals, ranging from abo0ut 48 to 65+. That correspondence subtly, strongly and undesignedly synergises with the above.

    So, the 25 years dismissive remark is inadvertently deeply revealing . . .

    2] But John . . .

    By all accounts, Jesus had an inner circle, Peter, James and his brother John. [It is likely that the latter two were his first cousins, sons of his mother's sister. And, that aunt was one of the women of the company of the disciples we may see from Lk 8:1 - 3 etc. (This is of course the context of the famous request to have her sons sit on his right and his left in the kingdom.)]

    In the 40′s, this James was put to death by the Herodians, leaving Peter and John. (The other major James ["the just"] of most of the Ac, was Jesus’ brother; murdered in the interregnum between governors in 62 AD. (This incident from Josephus subtly corroborates the climate of a few years previously as reported in Lk, where a conspiracy to murder Paul was entertained by much the same circles.)

    We credibly have Peter’s testimony through Mark. (And note how the tradition carefully preserves the name of the actual author though it would have been ever so convenient to simply re-title this as the Gospel of Peter. That is, the tradition is demonstrably CONSERVATIVE.)

    So, it should be no surprise that we have another gospel tracing to the inner circle’s surviving member, post 64 – 68 AD: John.

    It should be no surprise that his account would consciously seek to complement the Synoptics, either.

    Nor, that — right from its prologue — it would subtly address the range of issues that were emerging as Docetic ideas [cf Paul in Col and Eph] were shading off into the weird syncretism of Platonic dualism, Hebraic thought filtered via Philo et al in Alexandria [cf prob Apollos in Heb], occult mysticism and elements of the Christian tradition, along with dashes of pagan thought. (In C2 – 4 this would emerge full bore as the movements we now term Gnosticism, the first great cluster of heresies.)

    Nor, that it should — in that context — bring up the longer and more didactic public and private discourses and debates Jesus entered into.

    3] Contradictions . . .

    A good note on the nature of true testimony has been passed down to us by Simon Greenleaf, a founding father of the modern theory of evidence:

    Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false . . . .

    [I]n the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the increased number of witnesses to circumstances, and the increased number of circumstances themselves, all tend to increase the probability of detection if the witnesses are false . . . Thus the force of circumstantial evidence is found to depend on the number of particulars involved in the narrative; the difficulty of fabricating them all, if false, and the great facility of detection; the nature of the circumstances to be compared, and from which the dates and other facts to are be collected; the intricacy of the comparison; the number of intermediate steps in the process of deduction; and the circuity of the investigation. The more largely the narrative partake[s] of these characteristics, the further it will be found removed from all suspicion of contrivance or design, and the more profoundly the mind will rest in the conviction of its truth. [pp. 39 - 40, Testimony of the Evangelists, Kregel republication 1995.]

    The NT accounts pass that test of artlessness with flying colours.

    On incidental details — the matters usually blown up into charges of “contradiction” — we find instead the pattern of diverse independent and truthful witnesses: agreement of core details, diversity of observations and difficulties on peripheral, especially incidental matters.

    (If you are interested, some years ago now I took up a case that was trumpeted in the Jamaican media on the events of the first Easter Sunday, and which ended up in a sponsored public debate. I used the principle that contradictions will be un-reconcilable, but if an explanation makes the matters consistent they cannot be contradictory. I then — with the aid esp. of Prof. John Wenham’s work on the subject — constructed a timeline. I found (to my astonishment!) that it was possible to pull in all the significant details into a coherent, step by step narrative. Thus, the very point where the NT is most accused of being a morass of contradictions is the point where it vindicates itself most powerfully. [NB: the point is that if such a timeline is able to resolve contradictions, then claimed contradictions are not so. This is independent of whether or not he integrative timeline is the actual one. But, I think as well that my construct suggests that there is a real timeline thast is reflected in teh narratives. Perhaps, it is not that far from Prof Wenham’s summary.)

    ______________

    In short,t he NT accounts are a lot more credible than many are wont to acknowledge.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: On the tangential matters of the OT and moral authority etc, I note that I have already pointed out that ALL worldview alternatives will have difficulties, and that the difficulties can best be addressed in light of first dealing with the core warranting arguments on a comparative difficulties basis. Insistence on the tangential is a sign of weakness on the core issue, here, the line from Is 52 – 3 etc and the events in the Gospels, Acts 17:16 – 34 and 1 Cor 15:1 – 11. (And in that context, resort to loaded and question-begging language such as “genocide” is itself revealing. FYI, our strength of feeling and perceptions have little to do with warranting the substantial truth or falsity of a matter. Only when our feelings rest on an accurate perception of circumstances do our emotional judgements tend to lead us aright. And in turn the accuracy of the perceptions is precisely what is to be resolved starting from the core issues outwards.)

  154. CY: “That would not be unforgivable if the assumption were true.”

    It is true that (as far as we know) that God is not currently practicing genocide. However, it’s also true that God seems quite content to sit back and let genocides continue without any intervention on His part. I guess the explanation for this is that, according to the “rules” of the game (that God Himself came up with), He is not permitted to intervene because it’s all our fault because of the Fall. Or something like that. It’s quite the cosmic game.

    My comment really was about the genocide practiced i the OT and despite the advent of the new covenant, it still speaks to the overall character of God, who is after all the same unchanging God throughout all eternity.

    I was thinking of things like:

    Hosea 13:16
    “The people of Samaria must bear the consequences of their guilt because they rebelled against their God. They will be killed by an invading army, their little ones dashed to death against the ground, their pregnant women ripped open by swords.”

    (so much for pro-life!)

    I could go on to mention the Flood, the Passover, the conquest of Canaan, and many more verses.

    Biblical scholar Raymond Schwager:

    “… has found 600 passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Bible [a.k.a. Old Testament], 1000 verses where God’s own violent actions of punishment are described, 100 passages where God expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason. Violence … is easily the most often mentioned activity in the Hebrew Bible.”

    I suppose some people are going to say that I shouldn’t take these at face-value or that as CY says I need to ” get a full understanding of how the Jews viewed God before making such allegations”. Perhaps the problem is that I don’t understand the extraordinary wickedness of the Jewish people, or that Gods ways are “higher” ways that I cannot understand, or that God had an instructive purpose. No doubt with the right theological perspective and exegesis I could get to a point (after many years of course) of understanding the atrocities in the OT. Which is interesting when you think that many Christians (as in comments above) are quite happy to accept OT prophecy at face-value (usually completely out of context). It seems people want it both ways sometimes.

    But it isn’t just the past atrocities. For a start I don’t think genocide is ever forgivable, or that there is any kind of rationalization that could explain it (although that hasn’t stopped theologians). But the scary thing is according to the NT, God isn’t done yet! He has plenty more of this kind of thing waiting up his sleeve. According to Revelation (or at least one of the two million ways it can be interpreted) non-believers are going to be in for a rocky ride sometime in the future during the “end times”. One person I read estimated that at least 2 billion people will be killed.

    And then of course we cannot forget what awaits us beyond that, according to mainstream Christian theology. Those that (like myself) decided that simply was no evidence to submit my life to God (and why would I want to subject myself to such a tyrant anyway) – and because two of my most ancient ancestors apparently did some terribly unforgivable thing (wanting knowledge!) are going to be thrown in a lake of fire (or worse) for all eternity. When you write it down like this it almost makes Scientology sound rational!

    CY: “It’s nothing new. It appears that you get all your cues from Richard Dawkins.”

    I had formed my ideas long before Dawkins wrote his books, as you say it’s nothing new.

  155. —JTaylor: “My research indicates that most scholars think John was not contemporary (looks like the gospel was written 90 AD or later) and was written by a non-eyewitness.”

    Now JT, are you employing that “Jesus Seminar/Depok Chopra/ Davinci code” methodology again as a means of identifying authors and dates. The reasonable range of dates for John’s Gospel, which he almost definitely wrote, is from 67-85 AD. So, if your sources are telling you differently, well, they are probably not very good sources. The range itself should tell you something about the speculative nature of this exercise. The book of Acts and Luke’s Gospel were written around 63 AD.

  156. StephenB: “Now JT, are you employing that “Jesus Seminar/Depok Chopra/ Davinci code” methodology again as a means of identifying authors and dates. The reasonable range of dates for John’s Gospel, which he almost definitely wrote, is from 67-85 AD. So, if your sources are telling you differently, well, they are probably not very good sources. The range itself should tell you something about the speculative nature of this exercise. The book of Acts and Luke’s Gospel were written around 63 AD.”

    I can assure you I pay no credence to either Deepek Chopra – perhaps that’s one thing we can both agree on! I think the guy is a New Age fruitcake..his ideas on consciousness are just completely out there. As to the Da Vinci code, entertaining as it maybe (and that’s very questionable too), it hardly qualifies as scholarship.

    I’m not surprised you find different dates for John’s Gospel – I’m always finding that different sources provide different dates, and probably the best we can do is provide a range as you’ve done. In other words it’s very hard to pin down any of the dates with any certainty (which of course is another reason to have easonable doubt about it all).

  157. 157

    JTaylor:

    So it is not unreasonable to ask since this message is possibly the most IMPORTANT thing that God ever utters (at least to humans), that perhaps He could have done a better job?

    Do we allow for even the slightest possibility that if it seems like a lousy job, the flaw could be in our ability to understand why it is the way it is? Maybe we completely misunderstand its purpose. It doesn’t meet the need we feel it should, but it fulfills its intended purpose perfectly.
    I could look at the Mona Lisa, observe the missing eyebrows, and conclude that Da Vinci was a bad artist. You see, I set the standards, and if he had painted her correctly, then he would qualify as a great artist.
    It couldn’t be that I don’t understand his reasons for leaving off the eyebrows. Any other explanation is acceptable, but not that one.

  158. KF @153

    Re: 1. This is an impressive piece of work. I would have to ask did you come up with this prior to coming to faith or afterwards?

    However, in many ways it reads like a hypothesis. There are lots of ‘ifs and buts’ in the argument, lots of “it’s likely that”. Perhaps one might also call it a “just so” story. But it does not seem to address my fundamental point that we still haven’t (and probably won’t ever) established the simple fact whether there eyewitnesses to Jesus who personally wrote anything down at the time. Yes, you can surmise that there may have been “working notes” (for which there is zero physical evidence). And even though the writings of Paul can indeed be dated to the 40s and later, we still have the concern that no biographical details of the life of Jesus were written down until probably 25 years or later (Mark being first). As many have noted what we can get from Paul is at best a thumbnail sketch of the life of Jesus (and as some such as Earl Doherty argue more of a “spiritual” being than an earthly one) and suggests that Paul did not have concrete information about the details of the life of Jesus. Yes maybe there were earlier written accounts, but we simply don’t have them.

    We also have to deal with the fact that none of this is self-evident – it’s only by this elaborate hypothesizing that we can come up with a story that we think may explain how these things came to be. That goes to my point earlier – if God is so passionately concerned with saving souls His chosen medium to communicate this seems deeply flawed and obtuse. Yet being an omnipotent God He could have easily seen to a more reliable transmission method had He chosen (at least to make Christianity not look just like one of many world religions…)

    Perhaps you think my surmising is also just a “just so” story and perhaps it is! I think it probably shows that there is just a great deal of uncertainty about what really happened and when. That’s the point.

    For myself, I have to look at the evidence and ask myself can I accept this with no reasonable doubt that these things happened? I cannot get to that point (particularly when there isn’t just doubt about the Bible but about so many other lines of evidence pertaining to Christianity). I think asking to be able to move beyond reasonable doubt, is actually, well emm, reasonable!

    It’s one thing to say that the evidence is on a par with other classical literature. That may be so. But on the other hand you are asking me to accept that the most extraordinary of extraordinary events occurred – that a person was literally brought back from the dead. Yet when I investigate this I cannot find any external corroboration for this event until many decades later (and then the details are sketchy to say the least) and that if there were any eyewitnesses to this event, they relied on oral tradition to pass it down. It’s argued that oral tradition in those times was more reliable than it is today, but we cannot rule out that even with good training, human beings are fundamentally extremely poor at this kind of activity.

    Besides, I could take every single one of your points that you make and easily find a scholar who would refute them (and I’ve already done a few searches, and it’s not hard to do), and in just a compelling way as you think your points are made. I suppose you would say that these scholars are biased, but how do I know that confirmation bias has not colored what you are saying too? That’s why I’m impressed with the likes of scholars like Bart Ehrman and others who started off as evangelical and convinced believers and in their journey of studying the BIble realized that something was very wrong. What’s a skeptic to do?

    KF wrote: “insistence on the tangential is a sign of weakness on the core issue, here, the line from Is 52 – 3 etc and the events in the Gospels, Acts 17:16 – 34 and 1 Cor 15:1 – 11. ”

    I know you would like to ignore the tangential aspects, but we cannot. The key to accepting the prophetic voice of the OT is also accepting the authority of the OT. To do that we have to examine whether the OT is both a historical record and inspired scripture. I believe it fails on both accounts. From an historical record, we cannot find any extra-biblical corroboration for important events such as the Exodus. Same for many of the leaders depicted in the Bible (although there might be some slight evidence for David but others are apparently do not appear else where in other historical records). And of course the morality issues are enormous problem – accepting the prophetic voice of a God who routinely practiced genocide is a huge stumbling block for many of us. I cannot in the same breath accept that God is talking about Jesus in Isaiah 53 and also acknowledge the divine authority of God to slaughter innocent women (and children) throughout the OT. To accept that God did these things (under any circumstances) is to bow down before a monster. If you wish to be enslaved to such a monstrous deity that is of course your prerogative (and in the country I live in I’m happy to say it is your right), but it utterly collides with my innate sense of morality.

  159. ScottAndrews: “I could look at the Mona Lisa, observe the missing eyebrows, and conclude that Da Vinci was a bad artist. You see, I set the standards, and if he had painted her correctly, then he would qualify as a great artist.”

    It’s an interesting analogy but I’m not sure it works.

    Here’s another analogy from my own field. I work in Information Technology (IT) primarily in the field of software development. One of our biggest challenges is to create software systems that actually meet the business requirements of the customers who are requesting the software. There’s a variety of ways of doing this, but usually it is done through the writing down of requirements by a person who is trained in the job (usually called a Systems Analyst); these requirements are then reviewed with the customer. But this process is fraught with problems. It’s often the case that the requirements are ambiguous, or incomplete or do not really reflect the true needs of the business. It is not unusual for a software developed to take those requirements, misinterpret them and create an entirely different system from the one the customer wants. This in fact happens all the time, and the IT industry has ways to try and deal with it but it’s still an inherent problem largely due to issues with the nature of written communications.

    The written word then is extremely prone to improper interpretation – even to the point that it can have some quite devastating results (and in the case of IT very expensive ones). Our brains will read something and make all kinds of assumptions and incorrect interpretations. I see this in action everyday in my work. One must presume too that God, being omniscient, also understands the weaknesses that humans have with the written word.

    That’s why I’m suspicious that the “Word of God” really is God’s message, given the fact that is been allowed to be so mangled, altered, miscopied, edited, and even redacted over the years. I cannot pretend to be God, but I can say that he would make a very, very poor Systems Analyst! And I cannot think of a very worse time to introduce this message to the world then the time chosen!!!

  160. 160

    JTaylor,

    “No, Clive we’re not asking for Porsches or the ability to fly but some reasonable verifiable historical documentation that Jesus really did live and was the person some make him out to be. Not really that much to ask. Something like an eyewitness report written at the time Jesus actually lived by an unbiased party.”

    We have that in scripture. James was Jesus’s brother, John was an eye witness, Peter was an eye witness. Paul met Jesus. You can’t be an un-engaged, unbiased, disinterested third-party when you meet your Creator my friend :). My illustration about the Porsche and being able to fly goes to the heart of your question, because it deals with us actually working, trying, studying, striving, working out our own salvation. God “could” have done a lot of things, and still could do a lot of things, like repair our bodies without food. But instead He allows us to do blunderingly and falteringly what He could do perfectly, and in the blink of an eye. It’s ultimately for our benefit. Work is prayer, the old saying goes.

    Consider the following essay from C S Lewis:

    “In every action, just as in every prayer, you are trying to bring about a certain result; and this result must be good or bad. Why, then, do we not argue as the opponents of prayer argue, and say that if the intended result is good God will bring it to pass without your interference, and that if it is bad He will prevent it happening whatever you do? Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they’ll come clean without your washing them. If He doesn’t, they’ll remain dirty (as Lady Macbeth found) however much soap you use. Why ask for the salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything?

    We know that we can act and that our actions produce results. Everyone who believes in God must therefore admit (quite apart from the question of prayer) that God has not chosen to write the whole of history with His own hand. Most of the events that go on in the universe are indeed out of our control, but not all. It is like a play in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise.

    It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.

    Pascal says that God ‘instituted prayer in order to allow His creatures the dignity of causality’. It would perhaps be truer to say that He invented both prayer and physical action for that purpose. He gave us small creatures the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. He made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers. If it is foolish and impudent to ask for victory in a war (on the ground that God might be expected to know best), it would be equally foolish and impudent to put on a mackintosh – does not God know best whether you ought to be wet or dry?

    The two methods by which we are allowed to produce events may be called work and prayer. Both are alike in this respect – that in both we try to produce a state of affairs which God has not (or at any rate not yet) seen fit to provide ‘on HIS own’. And from this point of view the old maxim laborare est orare (work is prayer) takes on a new meaning. “What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest. But there is an important difference all the same.

    You cannot be sure of a good harvest whatever you do to a field. But you can be sure that if you pull up one weed that one weed will no longer be there. You can be sure that if you drink more than a certain amount of alcohol you will ruin your health or that if you go on for a few centuries more wasting the resources of the planet on wars and luxuries you will shorten the life of the whole human race. The kind of causality we exercise by work is, so to speak, divinely guaranteed, and therefore ruthless. By it we are free to do ourselves as much harm as we please. But the kind which we exercise by prayer is not like that; God has left Himeslf a discretionary power. Had He not done so, prayer would be an activity too dangerous for man and we should have the horrible state of things envisaged by Juvenal: ‘Enormous prayers which Heaven in anger grants’.

    Prayers are not always – in the crude, factual sense of the word – ‘granted’. This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind. When it ‘works’ at all it works unlimited by space and time. That is why God has retained a discretionary power of granting or refusing it; except on that condition prayer would destroy us. It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, ‘Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school. But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you must come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then-we’ll see.’”

    Work and Prayer, God in the Dock.

  161. Clive:

    Excellent reminder of the power and responsibility of moral being that has been given to us. For, virtue requires the power of choice.

    CSL is ever so often a breath of fresh air!

    +++++++++++

    JT:

    Pardon: you first of all need to take time to look carefully at whether your skepticism about Christian origins can be reasonably and coherently applied across the field of knowledge of the past; especially that of classical times.

    I suggest to you — here’s why — that it cannot.

    The simple truth is, that there is a Jesus-shaped hole in C1 history, and only one Person fits. (And, just-so stories — I am well aware of your turnabout rhetoric attempt — do not fit into widely diverse historical patterns as I have described and cross referenced to the frame of Greenleaf’s assessment of evidence. For, it lieth not in the arts of man to construct a tale that is THAT deeply coherent and congruent to the paths of history and archaeology. So, I submit, it is the ring of truth that you are hearing.)

    As to my summary on the provenance of the NT documents, I point out that I am pointing out that the credible reconstruction of the past is an exercise in inference to best explanation, anchored to the evidence we do have; much as happens day by day in our courtrooms.

    So, the real issue is not a matter of making dismissive objections to the sort of summary I have put up — and if you are unfamiliar with it, then that means you are deeply unfamiliar with a world of scholarship such as this — but that (on a massive body of evidence) we must see which explanation best fits the facts, is most coherent and has greatest explanatory power.

    I also simply add this: by 95 – 112 or so AD, 25 of the 27 NT documents we know were being cited or alluded to familiarly as authoritative writings of the Apostles and their close associates, in the very first Church Father’s writings that have survived: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp. The last being a disciple of John in old age.

    [And, John evidently lived to nearly 100 years, dying c. 95 AD. How easily we forget that eyewitness lifespans can run that long! Add in Polycarp and Irenaeus, and we see a chain of custody running to 180 and beyond. We thus see documents fair on the face and coming from proper chain of custody. The proper burden of argument therefore lies with those who object, not those who accept such. That we consistently see the turnabout attempt and Humean question-begging against the possibility of A God who can act into history beyond the usual course of nature instead tells us that there is but little warrant for the case made by the objectors.]

    Then, too, by ~ 125 AD, we have a codex — modern “book” form — copy of John professionally scribed off and found in Egypt [~ 300 mi from Ephesus its probable location of composition] in the form of the Rylands fragment.

    When it comes to the prophecy in Is 52 – 53, I again simply repeat: we have every reason to understand this was written c 700 BC. We certainly know it was translated into Gk c. 300 – 200 or so, and that we have DSS MSS, one dating to C2 BC.

    The passage predicts in the name of YHWH, and in predicting it describes an individual who makes a 1 Cor 15:1 – 11 shaped path through history. A path that such a victim of injustice could not control or determine, especially the part about seeing the light of life after being put to death.

    And in the aftermath, we can see that the terrified and disheartened followers of the crucified messiah were suddenly and unstoppably transformed.

    So, we must ask a few questions on the driving forces behind that improbable turnabout in the trend of history:

    _________________

    N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . .

    Why did it win? . . . .

    We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not – how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] – we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Morison, Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]
    ___________________

    Similarly, Craig Evans in the above linked 2004 Benthal Public Lecture observed:

    My purpose tonight is to lay before you what I believe are key facets in the scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus. In my view there are five important areas of investigation and in all five there has been significant progress in recent years. I shall frame these areas as questions. They include (1) the question of the ethnic, religious, and social location of Jesus; (2) the question of the aims and mission of Jesus; (3) the question of Jesus’ self-understanding; (4) the question of Jesus’ death; and (5) the question of Jesus’ resurrection. All of these questions directly bear on the relevance of Jesus for Christian faith and some of them have important implications for Jewish- Christian relations . . . .

    The story told in the New Testament Gospels—in contrast to the greatly embellished versions found in the Gospel of Peter and other writings— smacks of verisimilitude. The women went to the tomb to mourn privately and to perform duties fully in step with Jewish burial customs. They expected to find the body of Jesus; ideas of resurrection were the last thing on their minds. The careful attention given the temporary tomb is exactly what we should expect. Pious fiction—like that seen in the Gospel of Peter— would emphasize other things. Archaeology can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection, but it can and has shed important light on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and missing corpse . . . .

    Research in the historical Jesus has taken several positive steps in recent years. Archaeology, remarkable literary discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and progress in reassessing the social, economic, and political setting of first-century Palestine have been major factors. Notwithstanding the eccentricities and skepticism of the Jesus Seminar, the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding, i.e., as proclaimer of God’s rule, as understanding himself as the Lord’s anointed, and, indeed, as God’s own son, destined to rule Israel. But this does not mean that the historical Jesus that has begun to emerge in recent years is simply a throwback to the traditional portrait. The picture of Jesus that has emerged is more finely nuanced, more obviously Jewish, and in some ways more unpredictable than ever. The last word on the subject has not been written and probably never will be. Ongoing discovery and further investigation will likely force us to make further revisions as we read and read again the old Gospel stories and try to come to grips with the life of this remarkable Galilean Jew.
    _______________

    Such should tell us something, if we are inclined to listen.

    GEM of TKI

  162. PS: While I am at it, let me note on the summary of the extra NT corroboration, from Barnett:

    _______________

    On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:

    1.Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 – 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 – 36). [Tacitus]

    2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]

    3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]

    4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]

    5. He was called “the Christ.” [Josephus]

    6. His followers were called “Christians.” [Tacitus, Pliny]

    7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]

    8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]

    9. His brother was James. [Josephus]

    [Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]
    ___________________

    Any alternative account for the origins of the Christian faith has to also reasonably account for facts like these, while being coherent and neither simplistic nor ad hoc.

  163. PPS: Finally, there is a question of method here. In effect, you are trying to choose a worldview rhetorically, off debate-points. That does not work, at least if we are to be serious.

    Debate, echoing Jefferson [a lawyer . . . thus, a professional rhetor], is that wicked art that makes the worse seem tot be the better case, being therein aided and abetted by rhetoric, the art of manipulative persuasion, not proof.

    So, I comment:

    1 –> All of us in the end have core first plausibles that decisively shape our view of the world and how we should then live.

    2 –> Think about why you accept a claim A, which leads to evidence and argument B, which calls forth C, etc. Since infinite regress is absurd, we stop at first plausibles, F, our point of faith. So the issue ends up at which faith-point makes best sense why. (And let us note on straight thinking basics while we are at it.)

    3 –> All such faith-points/ worldview cores bristle with difficulties, e.g. in your remarks above you assume the validity of morality as binging on persons. And yet, relative to evolutionary materialistic views, it is seriously arguable that both mind and morals are immensely and insolubly problematic.

    4 –> In short, a responsible approach is to address major alternative worldviews on inference to best explanation, with particular foci on the central warranting arguments and the comparative difficulties.

    5 –> Such an exercise is hard and humbling, but that is what a responsible addressing of the sort of worldview and culture path issues that have come up in this thread demand, for those of us who stand up in more or less public advocacy. (The just linked will show that I have taught this to evangelical seminary students, at the specific invitation of the leadership of the institution. That should tell you something about my degree of tested confidence in my worldview; including on having looked at the sort of issues that you are raising on the OT. But, first things first, or all ends in confusion.)

  164. 164

    The Fabric Of Time – A Powerful Video Establishing The Authenticity Of The Shroud Of Turin –

    Part 1 of 3

    http://www.dailymotion.com/vid.....me-13_tech

    Part 2 of 3

    http://www.dailymotion.com/rel.....6c61746564

    Part 3 of 3

    http://www.dailymotion.com/rel.....6c61746564

    ————————–

    Carbon Dating Of The Turin Shroud Completely Overturned by Scientific Peer Review

    There were a number of people after 1988, including several scientists, who were not convinced that the carbon dating results were right. In part, this was because there was a mountain of other evidence that suggested a much earlier provenance for the shroud and there were some very puzzling mysteries about the nature of the image. Some speculated on why the carbon dating might be wrong but none of the proposals seemed very scientific. It was mostly hypotheses that could not be falsified (ala Popper).

    Two researchers, Sue Benford and Joe Marino, who were not scientists, proposed that the cloth had been mended in the seventeenth century in a corner from which the carbon dating samples were taken and thus what had been dated was probably a mixture of original cloth (presumably first century) and newer thread.

    Raymond Rogers, a Fellow of the Los Alamos Laboratory was perplexed by this proposal that seemed to him very unscientific. As a chemist, he had personally examined the shroud in 1978, warning church official that he would report whatever he found. As it turns out, he did offer an opinion on the cloth’s authenticity because there were too many unanswered questions. However, in 1988, he accepted the carbon dating results and withdrew from further shroud study. When he read about what Benford and Marino were suggesting, he was certain that they were wrong. They were, as he put it, part of the lunatic fringe of shroud research. He was certain that he could prove they were wrong. He had some material from the sample corner and set out to do so.

    Much to Rogers’ surprise, Benford and Marino were right. Rogers not only found substantial evidence of mending, he found stark chemical differences between the corner from which the carbon dating sample had been taken and the rest of the cloth. If there were chemical differences then the sample could not be reliably considered to be representative of the whole cloth. This invalidated the carbon dating.

    Before publishing his findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Thermochimica Acta (vol 425 [2005] pp 189–194) in 2005, Rogers, with Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan, published an informal paper in 2002. Though it was widely distributed, it received no comment from those who had been involved in the carbon dating. It wasn’t until 2004 when the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST, U.S.
    Government Printing Office) published an important paper by Lloyd A. Currie. Currie, a highly regarded specialist in the field of radiocarbon dating and an NIST Fellow Emeritus, wrote a seminal retrospective on carbon 14 dating. Because the Shroud of Turin was such a famous test, Currie devoted much of his paper to it.
    Like Rogers, Currie dismissed any argument that radiocarbon labs had done anything wrong in dating the Shroud of Turin. Currie also rejected, as Rogers also had done, other very unscientific proposal. But Currie did acknowledge that disguised mending was a viable explanation. He cited the work of Rogers and Arnoldi. He found it credible.

    Rogers also asked John Brown, a materials forensic expert from Georgia Tech to confirm his finding using different methods. Brown did so. He also concluded that the shroud had been mended with newer material.

    Since then, a team of nine scientists at Los Alamos has also confirmed Rogers work, also with different methods and procedures. Much of this new information has been recently published in Chemistry Today.

    http://shroudofturin.wordpress.....s-of-time/

    The following is the 2005 peer reviewed paper which completely refutes the flawed Carbon Dating of 1988:
    Why The Carbon 14 Samples Are Invalid:
    http://www.ntskeptics.org/issu.....oudold.htm

    per: Thermochimica Acta (Volume 425 pages 189-194, by Raymond N. Rogers, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California) The abstract in Thermochimica Acta reads in part: Preliminary estimates of the kinetics constants for the loss of vanillin from lignin indicate a much older age for the cloth than the radiocarbon analyses. The radiocarbon sampling area is uniquely coated with a yellow–brown plant gum containing dye lakes. Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud. The fact that vanillin can not be detected in the lignin on shroud fibers, Dead Sea scrolls linen, and other very old linens indicates that the shroud is quite old. A determination of the kinetics of vanillin loss suggests that the shroud
    is between 1300- and 3000-years old. Even allowing for errors in the measurements and assumptions about storage conditions, the cloth is unlikely to be as young as 840 years. The paper in Thermochimica Acta, is available on Elsevier BV’s ScienceDirect® online information site. note: Raymond Rogers was the lead chemist on the Shroud throughout the entire STURP investigation of the Shroud.

  165. Onlookers:

    You will observe that above, I have underscored the need to put first things first, to address core worldview issues in a context of their foundational principles and fit to the world, coherence and explanatory power. In that context I have recommended comparative difficulties as the best way to approach worldviews choice; underscoring that ALL worldviews bristle with difficulties, so the only reasonable way forward is a balanced examination, not to decide on the mere impact of rhetoric we happen to have encountered [some of it in the guide of "education"].

    I now present some follow up remarks, especially for those troubled by New Atheist talking points and rhetorical techniques. (NB: Vox Day’s rebuttal is a good, easily accessed 101 read on that movement.)

    Pardon a few further points:

    1] On the right way to build a worldvierw . . .

    Rationalists, Atheists, Skeptics and fellow travellers frequently imagine that “faith” is inherently irrational, and that it is a sign of intellectual weakness.

    Many compound this by resorting to Descartes’ error: if I can doubt, I can dismiss. (The error: The implication of this is that finite and fallible minds cannot get started in reasoning. And, that just described us all.)

    Similarly, some are caught up in Kant’s error: making too sharp a cut between the world of things as they are and how we perceive them. (In fact, to know that error exists is to imply that we undeniably know that truth exists, which is a clear knowledge of the external world. We may err but not always.)

    A safer view is that we inevitably accept certain first plausibles, some of which seem to be self evidently or undeniably true. In that context, we then set out to understand the world and live in it. Wisdom is to understand that we can err in that process, but this implies humility not the self-referential absurdities of denying that knowledge of the truth is possible.

    Thus, reason is not the opposite of faith, it is inescapably premised on it. Wisdom therefore is to be willing to learn, including changing our minds when that is warranted. And, in that process — given that all worldviews of consequence bristle with difficulties — we should use comparative difficulties, as already outlined and linked on.

    2] On being mindful, moral beings . . .

    We find ourselves to be thinking, and morally bound beings. Indeed, we find ourselves with the conviction that a good enough fraction of the time to be important, our thinking and moral convictions are trustworthy and even correct.

    A part of that conviction is that evil exists and is objectionable — indeed the arguments from evil that often are used by atheists are premised on this intuition. (BTW, since the turn of the 1970′s the serious forms of the argument from evil were blunted by Plantinga’s free will defense. Cf here for a summary in a nutshell.)

    But, too, that evil credibly exists has some implications that Koukl aptly points out, implications that do not auger well for a materialistic view of the world:

    To say something is evil is to make a moral judgment, and moral judgments make no sense outside of the context of a moral standard. Evil as a value judgment marks a departure from that standard of morality. If there is no standard, there is no departure.

    Evil can’t be real if morals are relative. Evil is real, though. That’s why people object to it. Therefore, objective moral standards must exist as well. This discovery invites certain questions. Where do morals come from and why do they seem to apply only to human beings? Are they the product of chance? What world view makes sense out of morality? . . . .

    The first thing we observe about moral rules is that, though they exist, they are not physical because they don’t seem to have physical properties. We won’t bump into them in the dark. They don’t extend into space. They have no weight. They have no chemical characteristics. Instead, they are immaterial things we discover through the process of thought, introspection, and reflection without the aid of our five senses.

    This is a profound realization. We have, with a high degree of certainty, stumbled upon something real. Yet it’s something that can’t be proven empirically or described in terms of natural laws. This teaches us there’s more to the world than just the physical universe. If non-physical things–like moral rules–truly exist, then materialism as a world view is false

    There seem to be many other things that populate the world, things like propositions, numbers, and the laws of logic. Values like happiness, friendship, and faithfulness are there, too, along with meanings and language. There may even be persons–souls, angels, and other divine beings.

    Our discovery also tells us some things really exist that science has no access to, even in principle. Some things are not governed by natural laws. Science, therefore, is not the only discipline giving us true information about the world. It follows, then, that naturalism as a world view is also false.

    Our discovery of moral rules forces us to expand our understanding of the nature of reality and open our minds to the possibility of a host of new things that populate the world in the invisible realm . . . [More]

    3] YHWH as “moral monster”

    As a linked argument, the New Atheists and their followers often stridently raise objections that amount to putting the God of the Bible in the dock and accusing him of being immoral to the point that he is undeserving of respect much less worship. (Then also, by extension, his followers are threats to the good order of society — i.e. we see atmosphere poisoning here. [Often, complete with litanies of the real and imagined sins of Christendom and/or the OT Jewish economy, unaccompanied by any entries on the other side of the balance. Some of the new atheists go so far as to try to argue that the sins of Stalin, Mao et al were not due to the living out of the amoral and nihilistic implications of their secularist- materialist views, but that hey formed themselves into quasi-religions. Of course, as Rom 1 warned, if one kicks God off his throne in a community, one is going to be irresistibly tempted to make up a new occupant for the throne. Politically messianistic idolatries are just a new wrinkle on an old problem. And 100+ million ghosts from the just past century warn us on the consequences.)

    Much of the rhetorical effectiveness of that turns on the public's being ignorant of the core and balance of Biblical morality and its vital contribution to the rise of modern liberty, liberation and democracy: love God and love man, live by that, for love does not harm one's neighbour. (How many know for just one instance that when Locke set out to ground liberty as a keystone of the law of [human] nature, he cited “the judicious {Richard} Hooker” in his Ecclesiastical Polity on the implications of our all being equally made in the image of God and thus mutually bound to love and respect? [Cf 2nd Essay on Civil Govt Ch 2.])

    {. . . ]

  166. 4] responding to the Dawkinsian “moral monster” thesis . . .

    Above, I have already linked a discussion on the specific issues raised by Mr Taylor.

    On more broad matters, Paul Copan has some interesting remarks on the tendency of new Atheists to echo Mr Dawkins’ fulminations that “What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh-and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us.”

    In particular, notice the way he speaks to the issues of exemplars in a context of a culture that is to be morally reformed across time while respecting the personhood of its people; i.e. the God of the OT is precisely not an arbitrary, vindictive and irrational being, but one who works with us as we are to move us towards where we should be, laying out the core principles that should lead us. And in that path, showing us the implications of actions of the good and the evil sort, by way of tellingly instructive example:

    ____________

    The new atheists . . . have not handled the biblical texts with proper care, and they often draw conclusions that most Christians (save the theonomistic sorts) would repudiate. And this judgment is not the refined result of some post-Enlightenment moral vision, but the biblical writers themselves point us toward a moral ideal, despite the presence of human sin and hard-heartedness. These new atheists give the impression of not having the patience for careful, measured replies, yet this is exactly what is required . . . .

    God’s activity in history-particularly in Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt-largely generates the motivation for Israel’s own treatment of slaves, foreigners, and the underprivileged within its borders . . . .

    Recently, Richard Burridge has forcefully argued [that] . . . The four Gospels present Jesus’ life and deeds, not merely his teachings, in the Greco-Roman genre of biographical narratives or “lives”-bioi or vitae-to inspire mimesis (“imitation”) in the reader . . . .

    OT historical narratives often present role models in action who make insightful moral judgments, show discernment, and exhibit integrity and passion for God-aside from the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Wisdom books, which also provide moral illumination . . . . while Christians can rightly criticize negative moral exemplars and actions with the best of the new atheists, we should also recognize commendable characters and their virtues well-Abraham’s selflessness and generosity toward Lot (Gen. 13) or Joseph’s moral integrity and sexual purity as well as his astonishing clemency towards treacherous, scheming brothers (Gen. 39, 45, 50) . . . . As we read the OT narratives, we detect a clear Ethos (a moral environment or atmosphere), as Eckart Otto affirms, rather than an Ethik (mere moral prescriptions).[33] These stories and role models in the OT canon remind us that lawcodes and rule-following are inadequate. Rather, we see in them a spirit directing Israel to higher moral and spiritual ground . . . . we see from 1 Corinthians 10 that many of Israel’s stories involving stubbornness, treachery, and ingratitude are vivid negative role models-ones to be avoided. The OT’s “is” does not amount to “ought.” . . . .

    Any treatment of the Hebrew Bible with regard to ethics, especially as an ethical resource to contemporary communities, must acknowledge the impediment created by the simple fact that these texts are rooted in a cultural context utterly unlike our own, with moral presuppositions and categories that are alien and in some cases repugnant to our modern sensibilities.[38] . . . . Rather than attempt to morally justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code, we can affirm that God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ANE context.[39] Yet this God desires to draw them in and show them a better way:

    if human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the “better way” must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand . . . .

    As Alden Thompson argues, God is incrementally “humanizing” ANE structures within Israel to diminish cruelty and elevate the status of, say, slaves and women-even if such customs are not fully eliminated.[41] So when Joshua kills five Canaanite kings and hangs their corpses on trees all day (Josh. 10:22-7), we do not have to explain away or justify such a practice. Rather, this reflects a less morally-refined condition. Yet such texts remind us that, in the unfolding of his purposes, God can use heroes such as Joshua within their context and work out his redemptive purposes despite themselves. Indeed, we see a God who endures much rebellion and moral decline throughout the time of the judges and during Israel’s monarchy, when idolatry was commonplace and religious reforms were rare. Even later on when the Jews returned from Babylon, Nehemiah was properly appalled by Jews opening themselves up to idolatry by marrying foreign wives (for example, Neh. 13, esp. v. 25). Throughout the OT, we see a God who is actually quite patient as he seeks to woo and influence a stubborn, idol-prone people.[42] God’s legislation is given to a less morally-mature culture that has imbibed the morally-inferior attitudes and sinful practices of the ANE . . . . after Israel had to wait over four hundred years and undergo bondage in Egypt while the sin of the Amorites was building to full measure (Gen. 15:16), God delivered them out of slavery and provided a place for them to live as a nation-”a political entity with a place in the history books.” Yahweh had now created a theocracy-a religious, social, and political environment in which Israel had to live. Yet she needed to inhabit a land, which would include warfare. So Yahweh fought on behalf of Israel while bringing just judgment upon a Canaanite culture that had sunk hopelessly below any hope of moral return (with the rare exception of Rahab and her family)-a situation quite unlike the time of the patriarchy . . . .

    Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh’s explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture. Second, the language of Deuteronomy 7:2-5 assumes that, despite Yahweh’s command to bring punishment to the Canaanites, they would not be obliterated-hence the warnings not to make political alliances or intermarry with them. We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves.[67] Third, the “obliteration language” in Joshua (for example, “he left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” [10:40]) is clearly hyperbolic. Consider how, despite such language, the text of Joshua itself assumes Canaanites still inhabit the land: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (23:12-13). Joshua 9-12 utilizes the typical ANE’s literary conventions of warfare.[68] . . . .

    In Matthew 19, Jesus sheds light on matters Mosaic when he comments that the Law tolerated morally inferior conditions because of the hardness of human hearts. Jesus’ discussion of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (which deals with a certificate of divorce permitted under Moses) marks moral progress that moves beyond the Mosaic ethic. Jesus acknowledges Deuteronomy 24′s limits to permitting divorce due to human hard-heartedness: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matt. 19:8). Jesus’ approach reminds us that there is a multilevel ethic that cautions against a monolithic, single-level approach that simply “parks” at Deuteronomy 24 and does not consider the redemptive component of this legislation . . . . Jesus would frequently point to the spirit or divinely-intended ideal toward which humans should strive.[80] God’s condescension to the human condition in the Mosaic Law is an attempt to move Israel toward the ideal without being unrealistically optimistic. Rather than banishing all evil social structures, Sinaitic legislation frequently deals with the practical facts of fallen human culture while pointing them to God’s greater designs for humanity . . . . The new atheists tend to view OT ethical considerations in a static manner-a one-size-fits-all legislation for all nations. They fail to note the unfolding “redemptive-movement” of God’s self-revelation to his people even within the OT.[82] As we read the Scriptures, we are regularly reminded of an advancing, though still-imperfect, ethic on the surface while various subterranean moral ideals (for example, the divine image in all humans, lifelong monogamous marriage, and Yahweh’s concern for the nations) continue to flow gently along . . . .

    Though Dawkins accuses Yahweh of being a moral monster, one wonders how Dawkins can launch any moral accusation. This is utterly inconsistent with his total denial of evil and goodness elsewhere:

    If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies . . . are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention . . . . The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.[97]

    In The Devil’s Chaplain, he asserts: “Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical. That is a matter for individuals and for society.”[98] If science alone gives us knowledge, as Dawkins claims (actually, this is scientism), then how can he deem Yahweh’s actions to be immoral? . . .

    ___________

    An excellent question indeed, and one that 100+ millions of ghosts from the past century remind us, is not without a certain urgency.

    I strongly recommend a read of Koukl, of Miller and Copan, as a beginning.

    But, having laid out the abcvoe, it should be noted tha tthis is not an invitation to run off on one rtangential issue adfter anotehr. instead, i am pointing out resources for those distracted and troubled by the impact of now commonly used talking points.

    For, if tangential matters are repeatedly used to pull us away from that which is central, and from sound worldview choice method, that is inadvertently revealing of the weakness of he new atheist case on the merits. As I have already pointed out.

    In particular, let us again note the way that selectively hyperskeptical dismissals on issues of empirical evidence from the past point to self referential inconsistencies in the skeptical approach. And, such incoherence on handling of evidence on so simple and accessible a matter as whether or no Jesus of Nazareth existed in C1 — complete with the idea that written accounts within 25 years of the event are somehow discredited by that relatively brief lapse of time — should give us pause as we see how they claim expertise in handling weightier matters from a more remote past. And, indeed, as they look at the information rich molecules and associated information processing system in the heart of cell based life.

    GEM of TKI

  167. 2. Some doctrines are based on logic. For example, why are there not Two Gods? Well, what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? The point is, it can’t happen. So there are not Two Gods. Or Many.

    Another doctrine rooted in the Bible says God suffers from jealousy. I just wonder who is/are the object(s) of his jealousy?

  168. Deuteronomy 25:11-12:

    If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

    Kairosfocus, could you please offer us a lengthy rationalization of how the abhorrent command I quoted above is actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses, offered to the Israelites by none other than their omniscient, merciful, loving Creator?

    And having done so, could you go on to explain why your rationalization is to be preferred to the obvious alternative: namely, that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and barbarous because the people who invented Him were cruel and barbarous.

  169. Mauka:

    Please, take time to read the very carefully worked out discussion by Mr Copan, who — along with the majority of competent scholars — at no point advocates that particular case-law (or incident) in an ANE context will be a perfect solution in all contexts and times.

    You will understand from above that I decline to play the “decide your worldview by rhetoric” game. Instead, I again invite you to the table of serious, balanced comparative difficulties; in light of the principle that ALL worldviews bristle with such difficulties.

    For illustrative instance, your argument is an appeal to moral outrage.

    Now, — on assumption that a relevant worldview for such objections is the new atheist position, I ask you, citing Copan:

    In The Devil’s Chaplain, he asserts: “Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical. That is a matter for individuals and for society.”[98] If science alone gives us knowledge, as Dawkins claims (actually, this is scientism [I add,this is precisely the thesis of Lewontinian materilaism]), then how can he deem Yahweh’s actions to be immoral?

    In short, before appealing to moral outrage/ the moral monster thesis as a premise for dismissing the God of the Bible, one must first show us why we should take such an appeal seriously, on a worldview — comparative difficulties — level.

    Otherwise the argument you present is little more than manipulative, one sided rhetoric. Rhetoric that ignores the specific moral reformation, redemptive context of the relevant Law.

    (Not to mention that the cited incident is case law, evidently based on an incident where a wife did what is described, probably in a context where there were other credible options for parting the fight, and issuing in serious damage to the man so pulled out of the fight. That is, the likely situation is one of there was an act of “comparable” punishment for “comparable” damage in an ANE “hardness of heart” context (where there were probably members of his clan clamouring for her life for having willfully unmanned her husband, thus cutting off hopes of “issue”). And, no this is not an invitation to go down a lengthy list of one-sided proof texts out of their context.)

    Observe, secondly, how Copan notes:

    . . Rather than attempt to morally justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code, we can affirm that God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ANE context.[39] Yet this God desires to draw them in and show them a better way:

    if human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the “better way” must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand . . . .

    As Alden Thompson argues, God is incrementally “humanizing” ANE structures within Israel to diminish cruelty and elevate the status of, say, slaves and women-even if such customs are not fully eliminated . . .

    So, until you either acknowledge the reality of evil and its implications [cf Koukl as linked and cited above] or else present a case where we can see how the invited moral outrage has grounds that are more than mere emotions and manipulation of popular sentiment [just like such emotions and sentiment have been manipulated over the past generation to justify the slaughter of 48 million unborn children and to now use their remains in high tech cannibalism aka embryonic stem cell research . . . see, I can play the outrage card too . . . and in cases that are a lot closer to home], then we need not take your argument seriously.

    Especially, since the new atheist position is known to be a scientism- based one.

    As to the reality or otherwise of the God of the Bible, I would suggest you would do much better to start from the case of the 459 prophecies in the OT, esp. Is 52 – 53 and proceed to the evidence from C1 on their fulfillment in a particular person, starting from the document at 1 Cor 15:1 – 11 in the context outlined in Lk-Ac.

    In that context we can then deal with difficulties as difficulties within a serious worldview option [in a wider context of comparative difficulties analysis of such options], not distractions used as talking-point rhetorical dismissals.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Cabal, you need to do a little homework on the relationship protective nature of jealousy in a covenantal context. Jealousy is not simply to be equated with childish pique.

  170. PPS: or his assailant if you take that reading.

  171. Deuteronomy 25:11-12:. . .Kairosfocus, could you please offer us a lengthy rationalization of how the abhorrent command I quoted above is actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses, offered to the Israelites by none other than their omniscient, merciful, loving Creator?

    I always find it ironic how people who hate God always wind up attacking Jews and Judaism.

    And having done so, could you go on to explain why your rationalization is to be preferred to the obvious alternative: namely, that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and barbarous because the people who invented Him were cruel and barbarous.

    And people who say things like that don’t understand the Old Testament nor human nature nor history.

    Tell me why do you think it unjust to cut off a woman’s hand if she interferes in a fight by grabbing one of the combatants by the privates? Do you get this enlightenment from the non-Jewish foundations of Western Culture such as sweet and sensitive and oh-so-feminists Greeks or Romans or Germans or Norse?

    People who hate God use self-delusion and pretzel logic to justify it.

  172. 172

    offer us a lengthy rationalization of how the abhorrent command I quoted above is actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses

    Everyone agrees that there are moral limits to our actions. We only differ on who gets to set the standards, and those differences can be arbitrary. One country slaps you on the wrist for stealing. Another puts you in prison. Another cuts off your hand. We can all argue which is the better choice, but on what basis other than our own personal opinion?
    My point is that when someone argues that some biblical judgment or account is “abhorrent,” they have no foundation other than their own opinions or those of others. They are saying, in essence, ‘I weigh that statement against my reasoning, my own wisdom, and fine mine preferable.’ And that’s fine, but let’s call it what it is.
    Ask some 75-year-old man who just went back to work bagging groceries instead of retiring because some corrupt suit destroyed his savings to pad his own. Maybe a few cut-off hands over the years would have saved him and lots more like him, and he’d have no problem with that trade.

  173. 173

    ps – that’s ‘find mine preferable.’

    And no, I’m not advocating cutting off hands. (I won’t find fault with it either.)
    The OT standard was that if you stole, you had to pay it all back a few times over. There was no prison. That’s a lot more productive.
    Except there was no reason to steal, because there were provisions to keep a certain amount of wealth in each family, and if you really fell on hard times you could obtain food without begging. And when you got old, your children took care of you.
    I reflect on that when some poor octogenarian who lives in a tin can asks me ‘paper or plastic?’
    We are like little children. We see what seems fair to us right here, right now. Our inability to see the long-term outcome of our decisions gets us, well, right here.

  174. Everyone agrees that there are moral limits to our actions.

    Not everyone. Think of Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot, who also made it a point of hating God.

  175. 175

    This is a precise bunch. I like that. :)
    Generally speaking, most of us agree that there are moral limits to our actions, and that some actions should be met with specific punishments.
    It’s only the specifics that we disagree on.
    Where I was going with my rambling post is that we often have no basis for claiming that our preferred limits and punishments are better than the next person’s. When we call something ‘abhorrent’, we’re likely being arbitrary.

  176. kairosfocus wrote:

    Please, take time to read the very carefully worked out discussion by Mr Copan, who — along with the majority of competent scholars — at no point advocates that particular case-law (or incident) in an ANE context will be a perfect solution in all contexts and times.

    Who said anything about ‘all contexts and times’? My question was about the specific context in which God gave this command:

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12:

    If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

    To repeat my question: How is this commandment from God, describing to his people how they must behave, actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses?

    Why should we read this command as the wise and providential decree of an omniscient, merciful, loving God, and not as an attempt by a morally primitive society to justify a sadistic, unfair and pointless practice by claiming that God commands it?

  177. 177

    mauka:

    How is this commandment from God, describing to his people how they must behave, actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses?

    It’s safe to say that as a result of the law, the crime wouldn’t be committed.
    Keep in mind, you’re taught from childhood how important it is to be able to reproduce, and that if you ever attacked a guy by grabbing his privates, you would get your hand cut off. This is your warning.
    It’s not unfair. You could only bring this harm upon yourself by choosing to harm someone else in a significant way.
    Probably in your whole life you would never hear of this crime happening. And you can’t say it’s an unfair burden on on the criminal, because it would have to be a deliberate act. (I’ve never heard of this happening accidentally, ever.)
    So by highlighting the seriousness of a crime, it’s prevented.
    If that’s not a perfect solution, I’d like to hear a better one.

    Here’s another way of looking at it: Someone destroys the Mona Lisa, and now he owes $500 million. If I think that’s unfair, then maybe it’s because I don’t realize how valuable the painting was.

  178. Scott,

    Let’s make this more interesting. Suppose that you are a judge in Israel. You witness an attack by one man on another. Just when the assailant is about to kill his victim, the victim’s wife, in desperation, grabs the attacker’s ‘privates’ and twists as hard as she can. All of the witnesses at the scene agree that she does so deliberately, in order to save her husband.

    Do you, Scott, obey God’s commandment and order her hand to be chopped off, ignoring her pleas for mercy?

  179. mauka — Ok, since it seems you want an honest answer:

    How is this commandment from God, describing to his people how they must behave, actually the perfect solution to the problem it addresses?

    This question can probably not be answered to your satisfaction. For instance, if you believe in an all-wise, all-knowing perfect God, the answer is self-evident. You would be able to imagine yourself back in that time with full knowledge of the cultural baggage of the people, and seeing their daily behavior, and you would say “that was a pretty smart thing the Lord just ordered.” Further you would understand that failure to give such a command to the wives and mothers, and wives and mothers-to-be, would result in a stupid and unloving society akin to the worst American trailer park exponentially multiplied by a large number.

    OTOH, if you don’t believe in a perfect God, then you will judge the command on your terms without, perhaps, reflecting on why you might find such a command distasteful.

    Why should we read this command as the wise and providential decree of an omniscient, merciful, loving God, and not as an attempt by a morally primitive society to justify a sadistic, unfair and pointless practice by claiming that God commands it?

    Because the rest of the Old Testament is filled with commands and examples about not committing murder, loving your neighbor, not stealing, not cheating, treating women with respect (and even equality), not committing adultery, being merciful, not taking vengeance etc.

    Further, the OT is filled with examples of the Israelites violating hard-and-fast commands from the Lord such as keeping festivals and refraining from sabbath work and not worshipping idols with the Lord refraining to do what He had threatened in such circumstances.

    In order to understand the Bible, you first have to understand that you are a sinner, and that without God you’d be just one more resident of that big trailer park constantly paranoid and constantly plotting.

  180. tribune7,

    If I believed in an all-wise, all-knowing, perfect God, I would not think the Old Testament was his word. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is just one of many reasons to doubt the divine provenance of the Bible.

    What amazes me is that so many Christians would rather believe that their God ordered brutal amputations in these cases — “show her no pity”, it specifically says — than to consider the possibility that Deuteronomy is not the word of God.

  181. 181

    mauka:

    Do you, Scott, obey God’s commandment and order her hand to be chopped off, ignoring her pleas for mercy?

    You’ve created a pretty good worst-case hypothetical. And I’ll concede that reading about it and enforcing it are different experiences.
    That being said, was grabbing his genitals really the only option? Did she cry out for help, strike him with an object, or grab his neck? Perhaps she could have kicked him instead – maybe “grabbing” them implied an attempt at harm that’s lost in translation.
    It’s entirely possible that the law wouldn’t apply in the case of attempted murder, because the assailant’s life was forfeit and anything else was a lesser penalty.
    There’s a reason why they had judges, not just laws.
    After all that, if it was determined that the law applied, then I would not substitute my own judgment for God’s.

  182. mauka–If I believed in an all-wise, all-knowing, perfect God, I would not think the Old Testament was his word.

    OK, so you weren’t looking for an answer. Your mind is and was made up, and you are simply looking for straws to grasp to justify your atheism.

  183. Re: All of KF’s posts comments above.

    KF is appears to be a knowledgeable person both about the history of the NT and probably the ancient world in general. He/she has provided some interesting points to ponder over (interesting to note that he/she assumes I’m a he but I haven’t said one way or the other). I appreciate too the time has been put into the replies. As for myself I’m certainly not a qualified NT scholar, and neither really an amateur either. I have a passing interest in this topic, along with many other interests, but claim no expertise.

    Clearly somebody like KF can probably run circles around me in coming up with hypotheses on how we can determine the veracity of the NT. I in turn could go and follow the many useful links KF has provided and start my own research (and I have looked up some of them). Or I could simply take KF’s word for it (whoever he/she is) and convert to Christianity. That’s probably not going to happen, not just because I don’t accept the authenticity of the NT, or the issues with morality with the OT, but because these topics represent only a couple of the many issues and challenges I have with Christianity (not least of course is the actual content of the message itself).

    Now Mauka has joined the fray and shares a similar distaste for the atrocities outlined in the OT. KF’s primary response seems to be that we have not undertaken a proper and careful reading of the OT, and/or have not read sufficiently widely in consulting OT scholars to properly understand the context in which these things are written. Or that we don’t understand proper debate or worldviews. Perhaps so, but if that’s the case it yields some very useful information. It tells me that the OT (and probably the NT too) are not self-evident documents. If we were discovering the OT manuscripts for the first time today, I wonder what our response would be? Would we come to the conclusion that the God of Israel was on the whole a righteous and good God and that He was wholly justified in the violent acts performed both against His chosen people and their enemies? Somehow I doubt it – I think a casual reader is going to be quite shocked and alarmed at much of the barbarism presented. Sure, we might be somewhat impressed with some of the poetry of the Psalms and wisdom in the Proverbs, but I cannot think the overall impression would be a negative one (and one of extreme violence).

    The rationalizations that try to explain this sound empty and hollow; in fact, the reader is blamed for not properly appreciating the wickedness of the Jewish people, or having a right understanding of the cultural mores of the day, or appreciating the sovereignty of God and His ultimate end-game. It’s rather reminiscent of the argument that some in the US has used recently in justifying torture to interrogate terrorists. In their minds they can make a strong moral case and point to a “higher cause”. But for many of us (and I hope the majority of American citizens), there is no situation or even the most horrific of terrorist acts that should cause the US to negate or dilute their values. I think the same applies to the OT; the case of Abraham & Isaac is a good example of this. No amount of sophistry or theological wrangling should ever justify a God asking for a human sacrifice. If this is a “higher way” than count me out. I remember going to church and hearing sermons on this – even when I was more sympathetic to Christianity I inwardly cringed. I remember reading an apologetic on Elijah and the bears that were set up on the boys that laughed at him. It was a sophisticated argument that drew upon the culture of the day, the background to the story. It was very learned. But in the end it does little to disarm the fact that God (the same God that’s worshipped) today felt it was a suitable punishment to have a few kids mauled by a wild animal. If this means that I’m not sophisticated enough to properly understand this things or don’t have the right understanding of “worldviews”, then I think I would be glad of this, rather than have to stoop and rationalize such abhorrent acts.

    If then, the only way we can come to a proper understanding of the true nature of what happened in the OT, is by consulting various ‘enlightened’ scholars, what does that tell us about God? How is this truly compatible with a God who anxiously seeks reconciliation with a lost people, who apparently gave up His own Son? Why does it seem that these things are so hidden, cryptic, ambiguous and so buried in history that the reality is we’ll probably never know anything with much certainty? I know I’m going to be accused (again) of begging the question, but I do think it’s a valid question to ask? If God so loved the world, why has He provided us such a murky, impenetrable message when it was clearly in His power (and His motivation) to do otherwise? Just look at this very conversation we are having. Was this God’s intent that His people would spend countless hours arguing of His (managled) Word, when surely He real aim is salvation?

    It’s the same story with the NT – through careful exegesis, apologetics, assumptions. and reconstructions (linking this verse to that verse etc), we could convince ourselves that this is indeed an accurate history (although my own research shows there is no uniform consensus here by any means – it’s not hard to find an equally competent scholar who can easily refute everything KF is saying – after all KF is only quoting mostly scholars who are sympathetic to his own position).

    It tells me that for whatever reason, the only way we can make sense of all of this is through elaborate, sophisticated, post-hoc argumentation – often so arcane, complex, and involved that the lay person becomes really quite bewildered. Of course we could do as many do, just simply “believe” but unfortunately that is not an acceptable alternative for many of us.

  184. 184

    JTaylor:

    the reader is blamed for not properly appreciating the wickedness of the Jewish people, or having a right understanding of the cultural mores of the day, or appreciating the sovereignty of God and His ultimate end-game.

    Again, you’ve ruled out your own lack of understanding as a possibility.

    That our ability to perceive right and wrong is enhanced or limited by our knowledge or lack thereof is an unchangeable fact.

    My 3 year old son might want ice cream in the morning, or he wants a toy that everyone else has. Can’t go swimming even though I promised? That’s the greatest injustice ever, even if there is lightning.

    He doesn’t know what I know, and he can’t see beyond the next five minutes. So to put aside what I know and replace it with his wisdom and reasoning would endanger him and his long-term happiness.

    I’m trying not to be tactless or offensive by making a direct comparison to the discussion at hand, but you can read between the lines.

  185. ScottAndrews:

    “Again, you’ve ruled out your own lack of understanding as a possibility.”

    Yes, it’s possible I don’t understand. But what is also incomprehensible to me is that there actually couldbe a viable explanation of some of the acts in the OT. I know that this is the “argument from moral outrage” that KF described above; but nevertheless it would be similar to saying that there were mitigating circumstances in what the Nazis did to the Jews in WWII. Sadly, there are people in the world that do in fact make those arguments. But well-balanced and rational peope do not, and know that line would be crossed should they attempt to go there. How is the OT any different?

    So if I follow the parent-child analogy, then it follows that the God of Israel is permitted to conduct genocide (sorry there isn’t a better word for it), and that my objections to this are really akin to those of a child who doesn’t see the “bigger picture”? Are you going to be comfortable sharing all of your eternity with this Deity? What if He changes His mind (again?)

  186. ScottAndrews wrote:

    My 3 year old son might want ice cream in the morning, or he wants a toy that everyone else has. Can’t go swimming even though I promised? That’s the greatest injustice ever, even if there is lightning.

    He doesn’t know what I know, and he can’t see beyond the next five minutes. So to put aside what I know and replace it with his wisdom and reasoning would endanger him and his long-term happiness.

    Scott,

    The parent-child analogy only works if we

    a) know that God exists,

    b) know that he is all-powerful, perfectly good, perfectly loving, and perfectly wise, and

    c) know that the Old Testament is his word.

    If we were certain of all three of those things, then of course we wouldn’t question the morality of the Old Testament.

    The problem is that all three are highly doubtful; and even if we assume for the sake of argument that a) and b) are true, c) remains a huge problem.

    The parent-child analogy comes into play only once we’ve established that the Old Testament is the word of a loving, merciful, wise and all-powerful God. Why should we believe that it is? Why should we believe that chopping off a woman’s hand was ever the punishment that a loving God would prescribe for the “crime” of defending her husband? Why should we believe that “turn the other cheek”, “forgive thy neighbor”, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “you shall cut off her hand; show her no pity” are all the words of the same loving God?

    It makes no sense to me.

  187. Onlookers:

    Observe the deleterious impact of rhetorical approaches to worldview issues at work above: tangential issues are used to pull away our focus from the core matter on the table.

    So, let us pause for a moment, and re-inject Ms O’Leary’s focal issue: One of the dumbest things I hear “new atheists” say is that faith means “belief without evidence.”

    1 –> Underlying this, is the too often found (and sometimes uncivilly acted out) rationalist/ hyperskeptical presumption that those who dare differ with their latest “scientific” view of the world are “ignorant/ stupid/ insane/ wicked.”

    2 –> As is now an often cited illustration here at UD [for all too excellent reason], Mr Lewontin — in reviewing Mr Sagan’s last book in the NY Review of Books in 1997 — has put that “scientific view” in an inadvertently telling nutshell:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . . the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth . . . . The vast majority of us do not have control of the intellectual apparatus needed to explain manifest reality in material terms, so in place of scientific (i.e., correct material) explanations, we substitute demons . . . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

    3 –> Immediately, Mr Lewontin reveals his profound ignorance of the foundational history of modern science, as can be seen in for instance Newton’s General Scholium to the Principia.

    4 –> Namely, that the Judqaeo-Christian theists who founded modern science saw themselves as studying the intelligible works of the God of order and plan, so that science was envisioned as manifesting his glory through revealing that order; “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” (And in that context, the miraculous, to stand out as a sign that points to God REQUIRES a general order to the cosmos, not chaos. Just that God the Creator- Sustainer, for good reasons, can act into that order beyond its usual course; especially connected to the works of redemption of a certain rebellious creature, man.)

    5 –> having painted a strawmannish bogeyman, Mr Lewontin then resorts to censorship of science. So, he subverts it from being the unfettered (but intellectually and ethically responsible) pursuit of the truth about our universe based on evidence, into an apologetic for materialism. This is censorship of the worst kind, and sadly it is now increasingly the official policy of major institutions of Science and Science education.

    6 –> But underneath this, there is the issue of the presumption of materialism as The Unquestionable Truth about our world.

    7 –> In short, a major worldview claim has been smuggled in and pushed into the foundation of science, while frankly censoring the opportunity to assess its merits on the comparative difficulties basis that is the best practice methodology of philosophical investigation. (Notice, onlookers just how consistently my invitation to address the matters at stake on the merits of such comparative difficulties is being dodged or ignored; in favour of new atheist talking points.)

    8 –> But in fact, we can easily see that when we assert a claim A, it is in light of claimed evidence/argument B. In turn B needs C, D . . . (That is, we either find ourselves facing an infinite regress or else we must face a point of first plausibles F, out Faith-Point. So too, the imagined dismissal of faith as irrational is itself profoundly ignorant and irrational: it fails to observe and responsibly address the most basic structure of our reasoning.)

    9 –> To escape the problem of worldview level circularity, we must then resort of comparative difficulties across the major alternative worldviews: all bristle with difficulties, so one must fairly summarise the live option alternative start-points for reasoning, identify the central warranting arguments for each, and assess the relative strengths, in light of the difficulties faced.

    10 –> for instance, the credibility of the C1 historical basis for the Christian faith has been challenged, so the issue of historical warrant has been raised above, in light of the issue that one may not reasonably use selectively hyperskeptical standards to dismiss what one does not want to be so. (To that we see at the last point, the idea that records that are 25 years after the event, records in this case of solemn summaries of evidence listing up to 20 or so identifiable witnesses dating to within a few years of the events, can be simply brushed aside. If consistently applied, we would lose all of the history of classical times of consequence. [And, as someone who vividly recalls and could write down summaries of events of 1984, personal and general, I have excellent reason to understand that eyewitness lifetime historical record is about as good as historians are going to get for many things. "Extraordinary" events do not need Mr Sagan's "extraordinary" evidence; just adequate and reasonable evidence.])

    11 –> Similarly, one of the most profound indicia of God acting into history would be prophecy. And, in the case of Is 52 – 53 put in parallel with Lk -Ac [plus the onward history of the church that triumphed precisely because of the unstoppable power of its witness to the resurrection of Jesus backed up by 500+ eyewitnesses and a steady stream of miracles of salvation, transformation and reformation, healing and deliverance down to this day . . . ] and 1 Cor 15:1 – 11, we have a pretty serious test case. (And we can see above, that the objection on “multiple interpretations” founders at once on the content of the C700 BC text; which BTW in the lead-up has an allusion to the then recent Assyrian invasions of Israel of the 700′s BC, i.e the context is self-dating; entirely apart form the DSS MSS and the Septuagint translation.)

    [ . . . ]

  188. 12 –> Onward, objections have now shifted to the idea that if a one-sided litany of case law and events from the history of Israel can be put up, the YHWH as moral monster thesis can be sufficiently made plausible that he can be rhetorically dismissed. Of course this ignores the basic principle that one responds to a true and fair view of a worldview, not a strawmannish caricature.

    13 –> More importantly, it opens up an important issue. Scientism — the presumed most likely worldview stance offered up as an alternative [onlookers, notice the all too tellingly typical absence of articulation of such an alternative] — as we have seen, has serious problems grounding either morals or mind itself. So much so that if it acknowledges the reality of evil as the basis for justifiable outrage, then, as Koukl pointed out, that decisively undercuts the credibility of evolutionary materialism.

    14 –> If on the other hand, it refuses or fails to ground the reality of evil on its presuppositions as the basis for outrage, it is plainly resorting to the emotional manipulation of perceptions, as it is an inherently amoral scheme of thought. For, as Hawthorne has aptly summed up:

    Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ [the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces]. (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.) Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an ‘ought’. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action. Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. (This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic.) We’ve conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we’ve started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded in print. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action. If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan ‘if atheism is true, all things are permitted’. For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

    15 –> To this key worldviews level issue, we can find nowhere above a serious engagement. Instead we see yet another rabbit trail leading out to yet another strawman, that the NT and/or OT documents are not “self-evident.” [FYI Onlookers, self-evident truths are those which on understanding what is claimed in light of our existence as intelligent persons in an intelligible world, we see that they MUST be so; on pain of absurdity. (E.g., a finite whole is more than any of its proper parts, or an asserted truth cannot be true and false in the same sense of the claim -- the law of non-contradiction. So also "error exists," and "All men are created equal . . .")]

    16 –> The problem with the claim is that of course there is no such claim that the documents are self evidently true; and indeed you will see that we have addressed historical warrant as a basis for taking their claims about the state of the world in certain relevant part of our past seriously.

    17 –> What instead is claimed — e.g. in Rom 1:19 ff — is that [a] God is self authenticating (just as your mom is self authenticating — if she was not, you would not be either . . .); and [b] he has left us sufficient evidence in the world around us and in the acts he has made into history and the current world that one may only deny his reality by suppressing what one knows to be so — or, worse, should know to be so. That is, we have no legitimate excuse.

    18 –> E.g. cf. above on the issue and implications of the reality of evil and of our being thus morally bound to do the right, which was used in the failed attempt to indict YHWH as a moral monster. (The attempt presumes the reality of evil and morality, which fatally undermines the credibility of the new atheist worldview. the acceptance of evil as real, destroys th foundations of materialism, and the rejection of evil as real leads tot he implication that all that is going on is manipulative rhetoric in service to a dubious agenda.)

    19 –> But on accepting that God wishes to redeem and restore his fallen creation, while respecting our freedom of mind and will [and the power of choice is the premise of being moral and capable of virtue, starting with love to God and neighbour], then the sort of picture of laying out covenantal principles that challenge culturally embedded praxis and ameliorating customary praxis towards reformation, makes a lot of sense. (They also outline a historically sounder strategy for getting to the sustainable good in the culture that the attempts of the past 250 years — rationalistic, ideologically based, secularist and/or neopagan revolutions — have as a rule ended in failure and oppression. the revolutions that have really worked were within the covenantal view of man, liberty and government under God, e.g. the Dutch, Scottish, Glorious and American revolutions.)

    20 –> Indeed, the power of the softening of hard hearts approach comes out powerfully in comparing the Mosaic regulation of the EXISTING praxis of divorce [you must put it in writing so the poor woman has some proof of why she is no longer in your house] with Mal 2:16′s “I hate divorce says the LORD . . . ” and Jesus’ remark in Mt 19:1 – 6 that Moshe regulated divorce for the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so, as God made man and woman as mutually complementary for the covenant of marriage.

    [ . . . ]

  189. 21 –> Other examples include how God provided for kingship among the covenant people though as 1 Sam 8 makes plain, he disapproves of it. He then worked with it, up to promising that Messiah would come of the line of David, and even — rather democratically — worked with the creation of a secessionary kingdom in response to foolish and arrogant oppressive taxation. (This of course comes right back to the foundations of the American republic for which the 2nd para of the DOI of 1776 is very parallel to the events under Jeroboam in response to Rehoboam’s oppressive folly. [Cf. 1 Kings 11:42 - 12:24.])

    22 –> In such a context, we EXPECT to see that we have laws that regulate and ameliorate the culture of the times, and lay out the principles that make for the development of a better practice in a time when the culture (backslidings meanwhile notwithstanding) has matured enough to stand the reformation. A reformation process that is contingent on accepting the principles and ameliorative regulations that are the beginning of the process.

    23 –> And that is exactly what the OT lays out for us. Indeed, here is one of the most profound prophetic aspirations in it, given in the precise context of corrective judgements for backslidings:

    jer 31: 3 The LORD appeared to us in the past, [a] saying:
    “I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

    4 I will build you up again
    and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.
    Again you will take up your tambourines
    and go out to dance with the joyful.

    5 Again you will plant vineyards
    on the hills of Samaria;
    the farmers will plant them
    and enjoy their fruit.

    6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
    on the hills of Ephraim,
    ‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
    to the LORD our God.’ ” . . . .

    10 “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations;
    proclaim it in distant coastlands:
    ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
    and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

    11 For the LORD will ransom Jacob
    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. . . . .

    31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
    “when I will make a new covenant
    with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah.

    32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their forefathers
    when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to [d] them, [e] ”
    declares the LORD.

    33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
    after that time,” declares the LORD.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

    And, of course, I cannot conclude this without adverting to the way Galatians extends this to all peoples:

    gal 3:13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the ETHNOI [= nations] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit . . .

    Which in turn brings us full circle tot he prophecy in Joel 2:28, fulfilled all over the world since that fateful first Pentecost Sunday. here we see Peter preaching the very first ever Christian sermon, with thousands of eyewitnesses in Jerusalem, on the occasion of the first outpouring of God’s Spirit under the new covenant prophesied in Jer 31:

    Ac 2:16 . . . this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

    17″ ‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people . . . .

    21And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

    22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him . . . .

    32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all [-- 120! --] witnesses of the fact. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

    ” ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
    35until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.” ‘[g]

    36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

    And so, to this day, the challenge to us is what we must do in response. Peter’s answer remains the call of the church to this day:

    Ac 2:38 . . . “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

    With the resulting first 3,000 converts int eh stronghold of the enemies of Jesus who had put him to death, and within walking distance [~ 1/2 mile at most] of his now empty tomb, the church was launched, an unstoppable force that — its many sins and faults notwithstanding (it is made up of cracked clay pots, sot hat the power and glory shining out through the cracks are evidently NOT from the clay!) — has utterly transformed the course of not only many lives and families but history for good.

    __________

    So, now, onlookers, we — all of us — have a choice before us.

    GEM of TKI

  190. kairosfocus writes:

    Onlookers:

    Observe the deleterious impact of rhetorical approaches to worldview issues at work above: tangential issues are used to pull away our focus from the core matter on the table.

    KF, you disappoint me! I was expecting a lengthy disquisition on how chopping off women’s hands is all for the best.

  191. Mauka:

    Either deal with the serious issue seriously, or stand revealed as playing irresponsible rhetorical games.

    That’s your choice.

    GEM of TKI

  192. KF,

    When people believe that their God, whom they worship passionately and adoringly, has commanded the amputation of women’s hands, the stoning of recalcitrant children, and wholesale genocide, that’s a serious issue.

    When they believe that God, in his Holy Word, told the Hebrews how hard they could beat their slaves (fatally is okay as long as they don’t die right away) — that’s a serious issue.

    When a deeply flawed, obviously human work is taken to be the authoritative word of God, that is a serious issue for all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

    You can ignore the issue and try to change the subject. That doesn’t make it any less serious.

    It’s your choice.

  193. Mauka

    Sadly, your persistent twisting of what the OT and those who have tried to discuss with you have said into strawmen to serve a dubious rhetorical agenda show that you are not a serious participant in a worldviews level dialogue.

    (As in, what part of “amelioration of current customary praxis that reflects hardness of hearts, joined to enunciation of the principles of further reform, is a stage to onward reform” do you not understand? As in, onlookers, you may wish to observe the relatively peaceful abolition of first the slave trade then slavery in the British empire across C18 – 19 in the teeth of entrenched opposition, as an illustrative example; one largely driven by Evangelical Christians acting in the specifically Biblical worldview. As in, i tis the heritage of Jerusalem that served as the prophetic counterweight to Western culture, reforming its worst evils across time: a gift from Jews and Judaism to the world, especially through those far-seeing C1 Jews, Jesus and Paul. In short we see here a twisting of the record of history that scapegoats Jews and Christians for the ills of the world. (I invite serious onlookers to read here to see just a first level corrective of the slander, on the rise of modern liberty and democracy. Ask yourself why the original sources cited and the specific citations used are not a usual part of the way we typically learn that history.))

    Above, even though it is on a tangential matter [and raised to hijack a thread from dealing with obviously unwelcome and inconvenient truths on the arrogant assertion by new atheists that those who differ with them are irrational or ignorant or stupid at best and evil at worst], several of us have taken time to reasonably address any legitimate concerns you may have.

    You, even more sadly, have chosen — a la classic village atheist — to insist on strawman and question-beggingly loaded language tactics that utterly misrepresent and slander Jews, Judaism, the Bible, Christians and the Christian faith; not to mention the God of the Bible.

    [Onlookers, all of M's latest accusations are patiently corrected above and in onward links, from several participants. As well, the basic issue that new atheists refuse to address, at worldviews level, is put up for our consideration: if evil is real, their materialism falls apart. By contrast: if evil is not real, then they are simply playing on our emotions through manipulative rhetoric. Until they resolve that dilemma, we need not take them seriously.]

    You, M, have unfortunately made it plain that you are not a serious participant in worldview level discussions.

    I have no interest in entertaining selectively hyperskeptical rhetorical games that boil down to dragging distractive red herrings across the track of truth, led out to strawmen soaked in slanderous ad hominems and turnabout accusations, and ignited to cloud and poison the atmosphere.

    And, enough has been said for those who want to find out a serious approach to serious issues, to find a way forward.

    So: Good bye.

    GEM of TKI

  194. JTaylor –the reader is blamed for not properly appreciating the wickedness of the Jewish people

    Actually, it’s more like the reader is blamed for not properly the wickedness in himself or herself.

  195. KF: “One of the dumbest things I hear “new atheists” say is that faith means “belief without evidence.”

    Speaking for myself I would restate this as “belief without sufficient evidence”. There’s a difference and that’s the gist of my argument – do we have sufficient evidence to belief or is there reasonable doubt?

    KF: “Onlookers – Observe the deleterious impact of rhetorical approaches to worldview issues at work above: tangential issues are used to pull away our focus from the core matter on the table.”

    Onlookers – please note that these are not at all tangential issues. They were brought up in response to KF claiming that the OT is an authority we can trust in regard to prophecy. The counter-argument is that if this is so, then we must deal with the other baggage in the OT, namely the atrocities and violent acts performed by the Jewish deity. To many non-believers they are major issues and cannot be hand-waved away as “rhetorical” arguments.

    It’s again interesting that KF brings up the prophecy quotes again. I get the impression that there is no issue taking these at face value, despite the fact that if these are read in proper context it is hard to see the prophetic element. Yet, apparently though if we try and take the more violent acts portrayed in the OT at face va;ie, then this is somehow breaking the rules and violating a “worldview” principle. It seems like a double standard and makes no sense.

    KF said: “what part of “amelioration of current customary praxis that reflects hardness of hearts, joined to enunciation of the principles of further reform, is a stage to onward reform” do you not understand?

    Is KF making a funny? Does anybody actually have a clue as to what this sentence really means?

    KF: “And, as someone who vividly recalls and could write down summaries of events of 1984, personal and general,”

    That’s impressive. Most of us can’t even remember what we had for dinner two days ago.

    KF: “To escape the problem of worldview level circularity, we must then resort of comparative difficulties across the major alternative worldviews: all bristle with difficulties, so one must fairly summarise the live option alternative start-points for reasoning, identify the central warranting arguments for each, and assess the relative strengths, in light of the difficulties faced.”

    I have no absolutely no idea what KF is trying to say here. It seems like tautology to me.

    KF: “The problem with the claim is that of course there is no such claim that the documents are self evidently true; and indeed you will see that we have addressed historical warrant as a basis for taking their claims about the state of the world in certain relevant part of our past seriously.”

    Unless of course we are talking about prophecy….

    KF: “What instead is claimed — e.g. in Rom 1:19 ff — is that [a] God is self authenticating (just as your mom is self authenticating — if she was not, you would not be either . . .); and [b] he has left us sufficient evidence in the world around us and in the acts he has made into history and the current world that one may only deny his reality by suppressing what one knows to be so — or, worse, should know to be so. That is, we have no legitimate excuse.”

    The problem here of course is the word “sufficient”. And of course the difference with God and my mom, is that I can touch her, see her and talk with her directly. As to the “acts made into history” – that’s the sticking point for a lot of us. When we delve into that history we find it ambiguous and lacking authenticity. God would have done better to arrive in the TV age. It’s not excuses then we are looking for but this “sufficient” evidence.

    KF: “Instead we see yet another rabbit trail leading out to yet another strawman, that the NT and/or OT documents are not “self-evident.”

    It’s not a strawman. It’s a very legitimate and serious question. Given that we know God wants earnestly to reach his lost ones, then why is it not self-evident? The delivery and reliability of God’s message is not congruent with a God who would do anything to win back his lost children. Instead we have a God who seems to delight in tautology and obscurity. After all, the very fact that we even have theologians is arguably indicative of a failure on God’s part to properly impart his truth. It seems God wants us to spend more time trying to understand His word rather than spread it. I have yet to see you seriously address this.

    KF: “And, enough has been said for those who want to find out a serious approach to serious issues, to find a way forward.”

    As I’ve said before if taking a “serious” approach means years of study, and reading endless tomes of dry academic exegesis, and that the Bible cannot be treated as a self-evident and accessible document, what does that ultimately tell us? I’m not sure I have the mental gymnastic capability to try make sense of it al!

  196. Tribune7: “Actually, it’s more like the reader is blamed for not properly the wickedness in himself or herself”

    Very insightful.

  197. JT:

    I will comment on a few points, as much for onlookers as for you:

    1] Theme for thread

    This was set by Ms O’Leary, whom I merely cited.

    And, its relevance is that there is a known, notorious, atmosphere poisoning new atheist rhetorical agenda to accuse theistic, Judaeo-Christian thinkers of being “ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.”

    Such atmosphere poisoning is rude, unfair, slanderous and uncivil, to the point where in some regards it is dangerous to the health of our civilisation.

    Above, I therefore called for instead a focus on a more serious approach to worldview choice, comparative difficulties. An approach that while indeed att he top level it calls fro top level examination, on the fundamentals is not that far from the average high-school educated person willing to invest a few hours of effort to start at the 101 level; especially since we need to clear the air from a lot of clouding and poisoning rhetoric.

    2] “Insufficient” evidence vs selective hyperskepticism

    Once we deal with the realm of matters of fact, we are unable to provide deductive proof relative to generally accepted axioms. And, even in mathematics, it now turns out post Godel that mathematical systems are themselves unable to provide certainty of conclusion.

    We all must live by faith, so the issue is: how reasonable?

    For that, on worldview issues, the question is that of comparative difficulties across live options, recognising that there are significant difficulties in ALL positions.

    This is precisely the point where the rhetorical tactic of selective hyperskepticism seeks to dismiss by inconsistent and unfair criteria; usually in service to a position that is at least as difficult, if not moreso.

    3] Counter claims vs distractions.

    Onlookers, JT unfortunately distorts the record.

    In response to the general issue as set above, SB raised the question of the 459 prophecies pointing tot he messiah whose life and passion culminating in his witnessed resurrection and its impact are the central warranting argument of the Christian perspective within the Judaeo-Christian worldview. his point being, that the One who predicts the future centuries in advance, provides authentication for the one who fulfills the predictions.

    Within that context, I drew attention to the particularly important case Is 52 – 53, and its reported fulfillment as summarised in Lk-Ac and in 1 Cor 15:1 – 11; all of which are eyewitness lifetime record; about as good as historical evidence for classical times gets. There were then selectively hyperskeptical attempts to fallaciously dismiss the credibility of such records; on grounds that do not stand scrutiny – e.g. 25 years is historically speaking, an eyeblink, and is well within the lifetime of witnesses. Similarly, it is not hard to see — just read it — that the cited text discusses an individual who undergoes a specific series of experiences that are both beyond his control ["he is oppressed . . ."] and culminate in a resurrection from the dead in vindication of his despised, rejected and disregarded service to YHWH that triggers oppression to the point of unjust death.

    Compounding this was the injection of the Dawkinsian “God is a moral monster” thesis, which served as an ad hominem laced distractor.

    To this,the response was that we should distinguish between the warranting core of a worldview, and the general difficulties it may have; as the latter may best be addressed in light of the former, multiplied by the wider context of comparative difficulties. [In particular, Dawkins and co have no right to appeal to moral considerations until they can ground morality on their evolutionary materialist worldview grounds. This in turn points to a major and central difficulty of evolutionary materialism as a worldview: its origins scheme -- which happens to be its central warranting argument -- ends up undercutting the credibility of the mind and morality; i.e. it is evidently self-referentially absurd. And, we have a right to be able to make an informed choice with that issue on the table as well.]

    In short, if we are reasonably confident on the reality of fulfilled prophecy tied to the passion and resurrection of the predicted Christ (who has poured out his Spirit in life-transforming, miracle working power for 2,000 years down to today — with millions of witnesses to the fact), it puts us in a much better position to reasonably address the difficulties that surround the theology of [1] reformation of the nations, and [2] judgement of defiantly unrighteous nations; the latter including [3] the historical judgements of Israel for its sins (including by the very same means of conquest that attended the Amorites once the cup of their defiant iniquity was full to brimming over). [It is not without relevance to observe that the nations of our own civilisation are pretty much at the threshold of destructive judgement for similar rebellious and resentful defiance of God in the teeth of many signs of his lovingkindness, today.]

    4] Worldviews choice . . .

    JT, You know or should know that I (and others) have repeatedlty said and warranted that all worldviews and their arguments have core unproved and unprovable assumptions, so we all MUST live by faith. The question is to have reasonable faith, as opposed to blind faith or the absurdities of seelectively hyperskeptical rhetoric.

    And, as I have linked several times, the means to that is comparative difficulties across factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power. The precise path I have repeatedly (and confidently, having walked the path myself for many years now) invited us to walk along together.

    5] prophecy and self evidence

    JT — sadly — distorts, again.

    I have pointed out that history is a matter of fact, and so is prophecy of that history.

    Was there a document that can be dated to c 700 BC? Does it contain a prediction that we can credibly show is before the fact? Is there reason to see that the facts align with the predictions? Are the reports on the facts trustworthy?

    These are all contingent matters of fact, not self-evident issues of what (once we understand the terms and how they are connected to one another) we can see must be so, and — as a reasonably informed person — you should know that. Your dismissal rhetoric is strawmannish, unfair and unwarranted.

    Specifically, self-evidence is a rather special category of claim, which is not directly relevant to most of the matters of fact on which we must make momentous decisions. (E.g. we usually assume and take for granted that A and NOT-A cannot be true in the same sense at the same time for the same object. We decide in irts light, not based on first proving it in every case. And, this and other similar cases are not capable of proof; e.g. this one is the key premise of all proofs.)

    Thus, to in effect insist that matters of contingency that are matters of fact should now meet the criterion of self-evidence or they will be dismissed, is to play at selective hyperskepticisms.

    [ . . . ]

  198. 5] God must prove himself to me . . . to my standard of proof, and that without much effort on my part

    The basic biblical response to this hypersketpical theme is that — on the precise contrary — we have a duty to the truth we know or should know, truth that in fact is “not far from us” as “in God we live, move and have our being.”

    Starting from, our very existence in a cosmos that points to its designer [note, this goes beyond the science to the worldviews issues; cf. my always linked on the science], and our human nature as having minds and finding ourselves being bound by morality — OUGHT is real, in a world where the merely physical IS cannot ground it:

    Rom 2:5 . . . because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”[a] 7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

    In short, God is not so much concerned that we get it all right — as finite and fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed creatures we can only strive and haltingly progress to the right, not fully attain it — but that we be found striving in the path of the truth and the right.

    That implies a persistent struggle to seek and to live by the truth we know or should know, including moral truths and the testimony of the world around us and our hearts and minds within, which are plainly “not far from us.”

    In our civilisation at this stage, that includes that we have had 20 centuries of witness to the reality of God in the face of Jesus the [predicted and manifested] Christ, who “according to the [prophetic] scriptures” died for our sins, was buried, rose — with over 500 eyewitnesses — poured out his empowering Spirit, and has unleashed an unstoppable tide of transforming, miracle working, healing, saving and liberating power, with literally millions of cases in point. A tide that not even the sins of the Church and of Christendom have been able to stop. A tide that continues to this very day, with literally millions of accessible cases all around us. That is, the gospel has the precise powers that it promises.

    So, when we turn to the records that we so easily have in our hands [the commonest example of access to primary source documents in our civilisation, up to the fact of translation (and original language and MSS are accessible too . . . )], we are not looking at strange and remote dusty documents found in some cave and unknown to us otherwise. Not at all, we are dealing with the fair on the face and coming- from- good- chain- of- custody historical, eyewitness lifetime documented foundations of the most dynamic movement of our civilisation; one that for all its sins, has an unparalleled record of doing good.

    So, selective hyperskepticism in response to such record is its own refutation.

    However, what has happened is that for centuries, clever men have erected rhetorical and academic barriers [cf a few remarks on that here] to learning such in principle easily accessible truth: there are, after all, millions all around us TODAY who have come to know the God of Creation in the face of Jesus the risen Lord and Saviour. Just as the gospel promises.

    So, despite the dismissals of those who would demand that there be “extraordinary” proof [by criteria which will never be met, this side of A Certain Day] — the life-transforming, miracle-working, culture transforming impact of that encounter down to today, is a well-known matter, with millions of instances. God is not at all locked up in dusty tomes, he is very much here and now, within reach of the penitent sinner. So, our challenge is to deal with what we do know or — worse — SHOULD know.

    But, if our minds have been clouded by the selectively hyperskeptical rhetoric in today’s version of the classic platonic cave, the turning from the power-backed myths of the shadow-land to the evident truth is a hard and unpopular task; one that in some cases can indeed take years of effort. For, one of the worst features of believing a false view — such is the power of deception — is that it may lead us to systematically misunderstand, distort and dismiss the truth. As Jesus sadly had to warn many in his own day:

    Jn 8:43 – 5: Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say . . . because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!

    Instead, on worldview choice, let us insist on hearing out the key claims and issues surrounding the major options, with the comparison of difficulties. And, let us insist on the test of experience: what happens to the lives of those who live by these principles? For, if a view is the truth, it will have an impact on life — so this is a part of the test of factual adequacy.

    6] Evolutionary Materialism’s core challenge:

    This, I have summarised [a discussion is in App 8 my always linked]:

    >> . . . [evolutionary] materialism [a worldview that often likes to wear the mantle of "science"] . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

    But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as “thoughts” and “conclusions” can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance ["nature"] and psycho-social conditioning ["nurture"], within the framework of human culture [i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism].)

    Therefore, if materialism is true, the “thoughts” we have and the “conclusions” we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity. Of course, the conclusions of such arguments may still happen to be true, by lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” them. And, if our materialist friends then say: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must note that to demonstrate that such tests provide empirical support to their theories requires the use of the very process of reasoning which they have discredited!

    Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.” For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

    In the end, materialism is based on self-defeating logic . . . .

    In Law, Government, and Public Policy, the same bitter seed has shot up the idea that “Right” and “Wrong” are simply arbitrary social conventions. This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self-destructive public policies.

    “Truth is dead,” so Education has become a power struggle; the victors have the right to propagandise the next generation as they please. Media power games simply extend this cynical manipulation from the school and the campus to the street, the office, the factory, the church and the home. >>

    In short, evolutionary materialism has a few difficulties to answer to, difficulties that they should not be allowed to suppress or dismiss unanswered.

    Evolutionary materialism is not at all to be assumed true by default or by merely being able to don the lab coat of the scientist.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Onlookers, if you have need, you may find above linked discussions on the OT morality difficulties that have been raised. (I again list: cf. here and here, as a start-point for a more balanced reflection on this secondary issue. Again, while the difficulties are real, a responsible approach will examine them in their specific context [as the just linked give a good basic introduction on], but also that of the core of the Judaeo-Christian worldview, and the comparative difficulties of the alternatives being put forth. [It is not without significance above, that the objectors seem very reluctant to engage in open comparative difficulties analysis, which here must include the grounding of morality and the judgement of what "evil" is. Notice that evolutionary materialism has the dilemma that if evil and moral obligation more broadly exist, such are non-material realities, and that if such do not exist beyond a matter of perception, community conventions and feelings, then appeal to reject something as "evil" is a mere matter of manipulation of perceptions. Think, very carefully, about where that points,and the history of what has happened over the past 100 years as worldviews based on such thought have gained power. Listen, especially, to the warning being moaned out by over 100 million ghosts from that history.] )

  199. Onlookers:

    Discussions seem to have shifted to here.

    GEM of TKI

Leave a Reply