Monday, November 10, 2014

Historical Arguments for God


I read this article by Peter Kreeft with eight historical arguments for God, in the hopes that it would be based on evidence, and not just another piece of simple-minded apologetic clap-trap.  I should have known better.

First:  Meaning and purpose.  "If atheism is true, there are no adventures, nothing has intrinsic significance ..."  As with the teleological argument, the a priori assumption is made that there is no purpose or meaning without God.  This is pure horse-pucky.  Of course, there is meaning and purpose.  We all agree about that.  We disagree about where it comes from.  We humans assign meaning to things.  We have purpose insofar as we have our own goals and desires.  This is simply human nature, and God plays no role in any of it.

Second:  Moral design.  "Whenever God's laws are followed, the people prosper. When they are violated, the people perish."  Really?  This is nothing but wishful thinking.  History (and indeed, the bible itself) is replete with tales of innocents who suffered and died, and of wicked people who never felt the consequences of their actions.  The bible ponders why people suffer, and it is not always because of their own sins.  (See Bart Ehrman: God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer).  This is arguably the single biggest reason that thinking people turn away from theism.  There is no moral design revealed in history or the bible.

Third:  Providential coincidences.  "Insightful and unprejudiced examination of these "coincidences" will bring us at least to the suspicion, if not to the conviction, that an unseen divine hand is at work here."  On the contrary, insightful and unprejudiced examination of evidence is what we call science.  And it certainly does not lead to the conviction that God is in any way involved with the unfolding of events.  For every outcome that appears providential, there are perhaps many more other outcomes that don't appear so providential.  It is only the predisposition of theists that leads them to conclude the existence of God, when the evidence is flimsy at best.

Fourth:  Miracles.  "The evidence is there for those who have eyes to see or, rather, the will to look."  This statement reveals the truth about evidence of miracles.  You have to have "eyes to see".  That is, you have to be predisposed to interpret what you see as miraculous.  The bible does not contain one single eye-witness account of Jesus' resurrection, nor does it contain one single story written by someone who actually knew Jesus during his lifetime.  Yet Christians are convinced that it is rock-solid evidence.  A substance with the properties of the blood of St. Januarius can be re-created with materials and techniques available to Medieval artisans.  And what about all the contradictory accounts of what was witnessed at Fatima?  Skeptical scientists who examined the Shroud of Turin have in fact concluded that it is Medieval in origin, that the negative impressions can be reproduced using a simple technique similar to stone rubbing, that the blood stains are actually red ocher, and that geometry of the impressions doesn't fit a normal human body in 3D.  Christians love to claim that they are looking at the evidence objectively, but they accept extremely sketchy evidence as being convincing, while dismissing any evidence to the contrary as being unconvincing.  They have it exactly backwards.  It's not evidence that leads then to a conclusion.  It's their a priori belief that gives them eyes to see which bits of evidence they will accept and which bits they will dismiss.

Fifth:  The person of Jesus.  "Which is he—Lord, lunatic, or liar?"  I always find it striking that Christians so easily dismiss a fourth, and far more likely possibility:  that that stories about Jesus are, at least in part, fabricated.  The earliest writings in the NT (from Paul) don't ascribe to Jesus any kind of divine status during his lifetime.  The oldest of the gospels indicates that Jesus was a normal human, adopted by God as his son at the time of his baptism, and the later gospels push that divinity back to an earlier timeframe.  If you take an honest, objective look at the NT (including the oldest available manuscripts), you see clear evidence of a story that developed over time - one that started out with Jesus being an ordinary human and making no claims of divinity, and that evolved into a story of an eternal divine being who does miracles and rises from the dead.

Sixth:  The saints.  "If there is no God, how can life's most fundamental illusion cause life's greatest joy?"  I've never known a saint, so it's hard for me to say whether the actual life of a saint (as opposed to the stories) is evidence for or against Christianity and God.  And I think most Christians should feel the same about it, unless they are predisposed to believe whatever stories reinforce what they want to believe.

Seventh:  Conversion.  "Christ won the hearts of men by the miracle of "amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.""  It's called delusion.  People are deluded about all kinds of things, but no delusion is more common among mankind than religious belief.  It's not mysterious.  People are comforted by the delusion that they will live forever.  It distracts them from the often painful realities of life and the certainty of death.  This is not unique to Christianity.  Religious delusions have always comforted mankind.  Jesus is a relative latecomer to the party.  But the message of Christianity is basically the same:  toe the line and bear the burdens of this earthly life, and you'll get your reward, once you're dead.

Eighth:  Life's experiences.  "all the agnostic has to do is to seek, sincerely, honestly, and with an open mind, and he will find, in God's way and in God's time."  The assumption here is that this hasn't been tried already.  We unbelievers are supposed to be hard-hearted, and unwilling to seek religious belief.  But we come from the same society and the same backgrounds as believers.  Many of us were avid believers until the evidence convinced us otherwise.  Many of us left the fold after years of desperately trying to hold on to our beliefs in the face of doubts.  They did seek, and they eventually found a different truth.

47 comments:

  1. Thank you. I noticed that we made some of the same points.

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  2. Bob,

    You commented in Victor's blog: "but what really makes Skep look silly are statements such as this: ..."

    You ignored the part of my statement that said "during his lifetime". The passages you cite do not ascribe anything supernatural to Jesus while he lived as a man. Read the greetings in Romans. This is a clear indication of Paul's view that Jesus was a man, descended in flesh from David, whose resurrection established him as the son of God in spirit. Paul never spoke of a virgin birth, never spoke of his miracles, never said that Jesus spoke of himself as being divine.

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    1. But Skep... Jesus was (and is!) a Man. It's right there in the Creed. And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man. Paul also writes of Christ as "born of a woman", and "a descendant of David", affirming His true Humanity. I would hope that even you are not so ignorant as to not be aware that Christ is True Man and True God. So we should find nothing surprising or unusual in Paul's saying so.

      "Paul never spoke of a virgin birth, never spoke of his miracles."

      So? He also never spoke of Him as being a carpenter, or mentioned how tall He was, or what color His eyes were. Argument from silence, Skep... you who claim the moniker "skeptical" of all people ought to know how utterly bogus that is.

      "[Paul] never said that Jesus spoke of himself as being divine."

      But he did - in fact quite emphatically. I already gave you the citation over on DI. Read First Corinthians:

      For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

      Who makes covenants with Mankind other than God Himself? In the Old Testament, we read of the Lord God making a covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. No one else does this, but God alone. Paul's quoting Jesus as making a New Covenant is like putting up in blazing neon lights for all to read and understand: Jesus is God - the same as who made the covenants with our ancestors.

      (Oh, and by the way. I would say that turning bread and wine into one's body and blood just might count as a miracle. So here's at least one case of Paul mentioning one.)

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    2. Oh, and one more thing. You wrote "Paul never spoke of a virgin birth", and I wondered - is that really true? Well... with St. Peter's caveat always in mind ("There are some things in [Paul's letters] which are difficult to understand"), without even trying hard I was able to find a half dozen passages that hinted at the subject, while never quite coming right out and saying so. Chief among them (in my opinion) was 1 Corinthians 15:47 ("The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus] is from heaven."). But more importantly, nowhere does Paul say anything that contradicts the doctrine, whereas he (indirectly) supports it in numerous places.

      Somewhat related, people all to too often unthinkingly say that Mark and John never mention the Virgin Birth, although Mark too obliquely (yet strongly) hints at the doctrine in Mark 6:3 ("Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?") Why not the son of Joseph, as would be the norm in the 1st Century? Also, in John 9:29, the Temple authorities dismiss Christ with the words, "as for this man, we do not know where he comes from", indicating that there were some quite unusual and perhaps startling rumors surrounding Christ's origin, even prior to His Resurrection.

      The New Testament as a whole is absolutely soaked in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth - it's not just in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. It's just that it is most clearly elucidated there.

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    3. Yet you still can't point to a single instance of Paul telling us that Jesus was born of a virgin. Romans tells us that he was of the seed of David. No miracles. No transubstantiation. Just symbolism.

      I agree that discussion of the new covenant is a departure from the earlier views of Jesus. Scholars seem to feel that Paul promoted his own theology. This was all part of the evolution of Christianity. And I know that your own beliefs are strongly influenced by the church, so it is expected that you would see these things the way the church taught you to see them.

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    4. I'm still planning to continue the series on biblical alterations, but I've been pretty busy.

      I also find your out-of-hand dismissal of Ehrman disturbing. He was a born-again Christian who studied the bible intently from the perspective of a believer. But he saw problems with it, and he wanted to learn more. He wanted to know the truth.

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  3. "No transubstantiation. Just symbolism."

    Really? Really?

    As they say in the NFL, let's go to the tape. Christ says, "This is my body." He does not say, "This is a symbol of my body", or "This represents my body", or even "I want you to think of my body when looking at this bread". No, He says, "This is my body." Period. Full stop. Couldn't be clearer - not a hint, not a shred, not a shadow of ambiguity. A simple, declarative statement, impossible to misinterpret.

    And if that ain't a miracle, then I don't know what is.

    "This was all part of the evolution of Christianity."

    Amazing, this "evolution", for it to have attained such levels of advanced Christology, to include the divinity of Christ and the Sacramental nature of the Eucharist, all before the Gospels were supposedly written! (What's even more amusing is the "scholars" who love to point to a supposed increasing divinization of Jesus through the various Gospels, conveniently overlooking the fact that Paul has already largely surpassed even John in theological sophistication before any of the Evangelists set pen to paper (or whatever it was they were writing on back then).

    As for what Paul did or did not write, so what? Were you aware that you could read aloud at a conversational pace every last word we have from Paul, to include his speeches in Acts, in just a few hours? Just how much do you think could be covered in such a short space of time? (Actually, it demonstrates the greatness of Paul's intellect that there is nevertheless so much packed into so small a space.) Besides, what you're forgetting is that, other than Romans, Paul's letters are not even works of theology at all, but rather pastoral counseling (addressing specific issues at specific communities, with "theological" matters brought up only in passing, and/or where they shed light on the problems being dealt with).

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  4. "He was a born-again Christian who studied the bible intently from the perspective of a believer."

    So am I.

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    1. "So am I."

      The difference is that he is a real scholar, and he wanted to learn the truth - not just believe whatever the church says.

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  5. "and he wanted to learn the truth - not just believe whatever the church says."

    And you know what I "want" to believe how? I'm getting the impression here that you like Ehrman because you "want" to hear such things, and impugn my own motives for the conclusions I've come to because you do not wish to hear them. I recall a text about calling out the speck in another's eye while ignoring the log in your own. You can look it up.

    I may not be a "real scholar" (whatever that means), but after a 34 year career in intelligence, I damn well know how to access data and evidence.

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  6. I know that you have been unwilling to consider any concept or theory that doesn't adhere rigidly to church dogma, and you show no sign of ever having read any of Ehrman's books, yet you dismiss whatever he says. "Ehrman? You cite Ehrman??? Ha, ha, ha, ha, HA , HA !!!" It would be one ting if you at least acknowledged that you understand the points he makes. But I see no sign of that.

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  7. Extremely interesting posting. You write, "you show no sign of ever having read any of Ehrman's books", even though I have. Makes me wonder... what would be a "sign" recognizable to one supposedly as skeptical as you of having read them? Would it be perhaps agreeing with everything Ehrman writes? Classic begging the question (using the term properly here). You appear to be under the impression that Ehrman is so convincing that the mere act of reading him would compel one to say he has reached unquestionably correct conclusions about the New Testament. Has it ever occurred to you that exposure to Ehrman might actually result in the reader seeing just how utterly off the mark he is? There is more than one possible outcome here. You sound laughably like John Loftus, who insists that if you take his "Outsider Test for Faith" (trademark) and not instantly convert to atheism, that you have done it wrong!

    Do you read, for instance, something by Ann Coulter and "reason" that if you do not automatically become a right-winger, then you are "showing no signs" of having read her books?

    I stand by my response ( "Ehrman? You cite Ehrman??? Ha, ha, ha, ha, HA , HA !!!") Ehrman is a joke. His saying "What I argue in the book is that during his lifetime, Jesus himself didn't call himself God, didn't consider himself God and that none of his disciples had any inkling at all that he was God." is all by itself justification of calling him that. Every part of that sentence is false, and demonstrably so.

    And again, "you show no sign of ever having read any of Ehrman's books. No, what there are no signs of is you having read them with the least ounce of your claimed skepticism.

    "I know that you have been unwilling to consider any concept or theory that doesn't adhere rigidly to church dogma"

    You're quite wrong there. For you see, I (unlike you) display a soupçon of skepticism when I read. You appear to swallow unquestionably anything, just so long as it doesn't agree with the dreaded Church Doctrine (horrors).

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  8. Sorry, Bob, but I go by evidence. I don't automatically believe whatever Ehrman says. There are things he says that I disagree with. But his writing is filled with evidence to back up claims such as the fact of biblical alterations, evolving Christology, etc. This is what distinguishes his writing from Ann Coulter. Unlike Ehrman, she's a blow-hard with lots of opinions and no evidence. I have reason to believe much of what Ehrman writes.

    You, on the other hand, have never acknowledged any of that evidence. You merely laugh at it and dismiss it, with no explanation or evidence of your own to show that Ehrman is wrong. You do adhere to church dogma, and you do reject any evidence to the contrary. Just claiming that Ehrman is a joke without backing it up with a solid counter-argument really makes me think that you haven't read or understood what he says. I may wrong about that, but you have given me absolutely no reason to think otherwise.

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  9. "You, on the other hand, have never acknowledged any of that evidence."

    I don't need to - at least there is no need to go into book-length postings to do so. It's already been done many times over by men far better and more erudite than me. There are libraries full of refutations of his "scholarship". Why should I re-invent the wheel? If you truly wish to know just how wrong Ehrman is (and I don't really believe you honestly do), then read Richard Bauckham, Jimmy Akin, or Scott Hahn, or Robert Barron, or James Martin, or John Robinson, or heck - for that matter, read Saint Ignatius of Antioch or Saint Jerome. 'Cause I'll be brutally honest here. All I'd be doing if I were to "acknowledge any of that evidence" is basically repeat what people such as these I just listed have already written. What is the point of that? I've read both Ehrman and the people who say he's full of it, and have weighed the evidence, and concluded that Ehrman is one of two things: (1) a sincerely deluded individual who has honestly but nevertheless sadly gone off the deep end, or (2) a coldly cynical fraud who figured out where the book sales, money, and fame lay, and consciously and deliberately took the path of falsehood to advance his career. There is no third alternative. He is no different than those annual court jesters who are trotted out every December for the mass media, such as Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. Ehrman has all the believability of Dan Brown.

    So OK. I'll meet you halfway here. I'll withdraw the "Ha, Ha, Ha!" and replace it with "Sad, Sad, Sad!"

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  10. Sorry. I really should have placed at the top of that (or, for that matter, any) recommended reading list the three volume Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. The one absolutely essential work of New Testament scholarship for our generation.

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  11. OK, Bob. That's fine. I still haven't heard you say a single thing that actually refutes the claims of Ehrman, or even that indicates you know what he is saying. The people you mention above are all dyed-in-the-wool Christians who toe the same party line that you do. Not one of them is interested in listening to real evidence. A quick search revealed several statements made by some of them about Ehrman and his books that were factually wrong. If you are actually interested in learning something at risk of deviating from your faith, I recommend expanding your reading list. But somehow, I don't believe you will ever take that risk.

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  12. "The people you mention above are all dyed-in-the-wool Christians who toe the same party line that you do. Not one of them is interested in listening to real evidence."

    And here you give the game away, and reveal that your "skeptical" moniker is a giant fraud. Are you truly unable to see this? In all honesty here and in no way trying to be trollishly offensive, but are you really that dense?

    Can you not see that your statement "the people you mention above are all dyed-in-the-wool Christians who toe the same party line that you do" might simply mean a person who has examined objectively the evidence and realized that Jesus Christ was and is God Himself?

    Thought experiment here: assuming that a person's examination of the evidence did lead him to such a a conclusion, would it make any sense at all for him to not be a "dyed-in-the-wool Christian"? They would be fools to not be.

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  13. Thinking about my last comment, I don't believe I expressed myself strongly enough.

    You appear to dismiss anyone who is a "dyed-in-the-wool Christian" as being not objective in discussing the Scriptures. But as I said above, please give this matter a moment's thought. Imagine that a person has honestly examined all the evidence for and against the historicity of the New Testament, and then concluded that everything convincingly points to the conclusion that Christ did indeed say and do the things attributed to Him in the Gospels, that He is, in matter of plain and literal fact, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth (and of one's own self), and Judge of the living and the dead. Would it not be supremely reasonable for such a person to become a "dyed-in-the-wool" Christian as quickly as possible? He would be insane to not do so!

    By dismissing anything such persons say or write means you have begged the question, and assumed (prior to examining the evidence) that only one conclusion is permissible. This is the very definition of not being "skeptical".

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  14. It means they are absolutely blinkered by their religious faith, and constitutionally incapable of looking objectively at evidence. And that ain't skeptical.

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  15. So then, you think they would be more intellectually honest by totally ignoring the consequences of their conclusions? Really. What you're suggesting is that these people (and me) ought to do something like the following:

    1) My doctor tells me I have a deadly disease which if left untreated will surely kill me.
    2) Wanting to be sure he's correct in his diagnosis, I do some investigating.
    3) After examining the evidence, I conclude that he is correct. I must take the treatment if I wish to continue living.
    4) I then do nothing, and do not follow his advice.

    I guess that if I took the treatment, I would be labeled by you as "absolutely blinkered". Amazing.

    This ain't some game being played over the internet for idle amusement. The stakes could not possibly be higher. The answer to the question "Is Jesus God?" more than anything else determines how one should live, what one's priorities should be, and whether or not there is any purpose to life. The idea of concluding that He is indeed Lord of Heaven and Earth and then doing nothing about it would be the height of insanity. Your expectation that no writer should be a "dyed-in-the-wool" Christian despite the evidence is the very antithesis of skepticism. It is you who are "constitutionally incapable" * of objectively looking at evidence. Were you not, you would not be so immediately dismissive of anyone who actually acts upon what they have learned.

    * At the moment. Things (and people) can change - even you. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't waste my time here. But the mere fact that you spend so much time on these subjects shows you know in your heart of hearts that your assumed mantle of "skepticism" is not the answer you are searching for.

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    1. Bob,

      Let me tell you a little bit about skepticism, and what it means to me.

      First, I'm not dyed-in-the-wool anything. To take a staunch position and refuse to listen to any evidence to the contrary is the exact opposite of skepticism. I want to challenge my own beliefs. I want to put them to the test, and if they don't hold up, I hope I can have the courage and honesty to recognize that, and then change what I believe.

      Faith, especially religious faith, dictates that you stick with your beliefs, through any challenges you might encounter. That's what the church teaches you. Faith requires that you cast aside your doubts and resolve to steel your allegiance to the belief. That's not skepticism. It's the opposite of skepticism.

      I know you think that your evidence is superior, and you think that gives you rational justification for your beliefs. But that is a delusion. Your evidence, if examined dispassionately and objectively, is seriously flawed. That's the conclusion I came to when I tried to examine it honestly. But before I could do that, I had to decide that faith is not epistemological tool that would allow me to conduct that examination.

      Why do you think I spend time around Victor's blog? Because I'm searching for religion? Hardly. It's because I want to understand questions from both sides. I want to hear the arguments, and try my hand at refuting them. I want to know if there is something more to them than I have come to believe already. Why? Because that's what a skeptic does.

      Don't try to tell me that I'm not skeptical because I don't buy the same flimsy evidence that you do. I've looked at it. I've been on the other side, and I came to realize how poor that evidence really is. If you think evidence for the resurrection is solid, it is only because of your faith. The evidence wouldn't convince even a child who looked at it objectively. If you think the earliest Christians believed in a virgin birth, you are ignoring evidence to the contrary. There is evidence right there in your own bible, and you won't see it. Because of your un-skeptical faith, which has been drilled into you all your life.

      I don't expect that you or your apologists should drop your faith and become skeptics. I never said any such thing. I understand that it's not easy to do, and it might even be outside the norms of human behavior. People have religious faith, despite the evidence, despite rational arguments. I don't expect you to change. The best I can do is to hold myself to a higher standard.

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  16. "Faith, especially religious faith, dictates that you stick with your beliefs, through any challenges you might encounter. That's what the church teaches you. Faith requires that you cast aside your doubts and resolve to steel your allegiance to the belief. That's not skepticism. It's the opposite of skepticism."

    Only half-true. And half truths are almost always ultimately further from the mark and far more dangerous than outright lies.

    First: "Faith ... dictates that you stick with your beliefs, through any challenges you might encounter." Half truth. Faith means sticking to one's beliefs in the face of irrational challenges, such as emotion, fear of ridicule, temptations of worldly gain, peer pressure, or even persecution.

    Second: "That's what the church teaches you." Again, half true. It teaches basically what I just wrote in the last paragraph.

    Third: "Faith requires that you cast aside your doubts" Now this would be laughable, were it not so demonstrably untrue. Not half true in this case, but wholly untrue. Faith tells the believer to "resolve" to face one's doubts head on, and deal with them appropriately - either to refute them through further study or to accept them with humility.

    " It's the opposite of skepticism." Hmm... What is the true opposite of skepticism is your dismissing any person's argument out of hand with a label. "Oh, he's just an apologist, a dye-in-the-wool Christian, a theist, a believer, [or whatever]" That doesn't address the argument. It doesn't even acknowledge it. It certainly is not skepticism of one's own beliefs.

    "you think that your evidence is superior" Guilty as charged. I've dispassionately examined the New Testament over a period of several decades, going back to my teenaged years in the 1960s. The evidence in favor of its genuineness and veracity is frankly overwhelming. I would be pigheaded indeed if, in the face of what I have over the years read, heard, seen, and experienced, still refused to acknowledge that what it says is, to put it as plainly as I can, true.

    "and try my hand at refuting them" If that is indeed your motive, then you have failed miserably. But I really don't believe you here. Sorry, but I do not. Your soul hungers for the truth, even when you deny it. (Everyone's does.) Deep, deep down, you know damn well that your professed materialism is a dead end. You come back to DI (and possibly sites like it - I don't know what other sites you read) because you know you can now and again catch a glimpse of bright reality.

    "Don't try to tell me that I'm not skeptical because I don't buy the same flimsy evidence that you do." But I don't deny your professed skepticism because you don't "buy" the evidence. I deny it because you dismiss it out of hand, preferring labels to arguments.

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  17. "Faith means sticking to one's beliefs in the face of irrational challenges, such as emotion, fear of ridicule, temptations of worldly gain, peer pressure, or even persecution."

    No. Faith goes beyond that. The catechism of your own church says so. Faith is above reason. That's what your church tells you. I cite the catechism directly here.

    "Faith tells the believer to "resolve" to face one's doubts head on, and deal with them appropriately - either to refute them through further study or to accept them with humility."

    On the contrary. Your catechism teaches that "faith is certain". There can be no room for doubt. If there is a conflict between faith and science, it is because science hasn't got it right. That's what your catechism says.

    "I've dispassionately examined the New Testament"

    No, you've examined it from the perspective of a faithful believer, and that's not dispassionate.

    "Your soul hungers for the truth, even when you deny it. (Everyone's does.)"

    Yes, we all hunger for the truth, and I don't deny it. But your idea of truth (being based on religious conviction) is very different from mine (being based on evidence).

    " I don't deny your professed skepticism because you don't "buy" the evidence. I deny it because you dismiss it out of hand, preferring labels to arguments."

    Bob, I don't dismiss any argument without even having heard it. I certainly don't laugh people off the way you have laughed off Ehrman without considering what they have to say. Yes, I said the people you mentioned are all dyed-in-the-wool Christians, and that is true. Or do you deny it? The point I was making is that arguments based on faith do not look dispassionately at the evidence. But you never presented any of their arguments, much less refuted Ehrman's. And I have not dismissed them out of hand. Present an argument, and I'll consider it. You haven't done that.

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  18. "Faith is above reason."

    You are correct. That is 100% true. However... Note that it does not say that faith is oposed to reason, or that it is in conflict with it, or that faith and reason lead to differing conclusions.

    "Your catechism teaches that "faith is certain"." Once again, 100% true. But once again, however... The content of Faith, the Faith of the Church, may be "certain", but an individual's Faith is far from it. Every saint in history wrestled with his doubts, as did the patriarchs and the prophets. ("How long, Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?", and much, much more like this.)

    "If there is a conflict between faith and science" Well, I can answer that one easily. There isn't!

    "No, you've examined it from the perspective of a faithful believer" Not when I started. Only after I was convinced beyond all reasonable doubt was I a faithful believer. That took many years.

    "without considering what they have to say But I did, Skep, I did. I read his books and I've heard him speak, and found him (dare I say it?) laughable. The laughter is a result of my consideration. I laugh at his conclusions the same way that I laugh at Ken Ham's. They're equally absurd.

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    1. Bob,

      I understand that you would very much like to believe that your faith is perfectly grounded in reason and based on evidence. How else can you go through life without suffering from cognitive dissonance? But you need to face the truth. The catechism makes it perfectly clear that faith takes precedence over reason.

      You speak of the faith of the church as opposed to the faith of the individual. Institutions don't have faith. People have faith. And when they are experiencing doubts, that's what we call a lapse of faith.

      And yes, there are conflicts between science and faith. What science explains how dead people can get up and speak? The only way you have to resolve this is to explain it away as being outside the scope of science. That's your faith taking precedence over reason.You can spin it any way you like, but your faith definitely conflicts with science.

      "Only after I was convinced beyond all reasonable doubt was I a faithful believer."

      Right. Because reading a story that says that 500 people saw it convinces you beyond all reasonable doubt that Jesus really did rise from the dead. As I said before, this is the flimsiest of evidence, and it is convincing only to people who are already convinced. You are only lying to yourself.

      Finally, regarding Ehrman again, what arguments of his do you find laughable, and what evidence that he has presented do you reject?

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  19. "And when they are experiencing doubts, that's what we call a lapse of faith."

    No, Skep. What we call a lapse of Faith is a person allowing his emotions, or a threat of persecution, or a fear of ridicule, or peer pressure, or the lure of some worldly benefit to cause him to abandon his Faith for those reasons. A person who experiences doubts and deals with them we call a saint. Did you not read the quote I cited in my last comment? Those are not some idle words, they're from The Psalms. No matter what erroneous view you might hold, right there in Scripture is God's own seal of validation on having doubt. Are you so arrogant that, despite not believing yourself, you nevertheless feel entitled to tell believers what they're supposed to think about their own Faith?

    "The only way you have to resolve this is to explain it away as being outside the scope of science.

    First off, a point of clarification: no "explaining away" is necessary.

    Now that that's out of the way, of course it is outside the scope of science! There are lots of things outside the scope of science: love, art, literature, beauty, good and evil, meaning and purpose, bravery and cowardice, stories and history, and yes, the Resurrection. No sane Christian has ever attempted to "explain away" the Resurrection - he proclaims it. "Christ is Risen!" is the Easter call. It needs no more "explaining away" than a newscaster needs when announcing "The war is over!" or "The miners are rescued!". You can't "explain away" an historical event. You just have to spread the word.

    And no, science cannot "explain how dead people can get up and speak: - that's why we call it a miracle. (And I must regrettably digress at this point and point out that the Resurrection was in no way a "dead person getting up and speaking". It was (and is) a New Creation. Christ did not simply return to life, like some patient having a near death experience. The Resurrection was the first act of The Eighth Day of Creation.) In any case, there's no conflict with science because science isn't even relevant here. Your "reasoning" here is like the drunkard searching for his lost car keys under a lamp post, despite the fact that he lost them elsewhere, because "The light's better here!"

    "a story that says that 500 people saw it"

    That is the smallest, most insignificant piece of evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection. You are right. That particular piece of evidence all by itself might not be very convincing. But even you know that that story is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. But most fatal for the idea that the Resurrection is not an actual, physical, historical event is the abject failure of every last attempt to provide an alternate explanation for what actually occurred on Easter morning, A.D. 33. Every last attempt. After 2000 years of trying, no one, not one single person, has managed to assemble a coherent substitute narrative that is able to stand against the least scrutiny. Now, if the Resurrection were indeed false, then that would be a miracle!

    "Finally, regarding Ehrman again, what arguments of his do you find laughable, and what evidence that he has presented do you reject?"

    I'll make you a deal, Skep. I'll answer your question when you first:

    - Identify which portions of Scripture have been modified to comply with Church dogma (chapter and verse, please).

    - Give us the "before" version, so we can confirm that it has actually been modified.

    - Explain what dogma was being complied with by said modification.

    You first.

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  20. Like I said, explain away and spin. You're lying to yourself. I know better.

    And as I said earlier, Bob, I still intend to continue my series on biblical alterations. But I'll give you a quick one from the gospel of Mark.

    Chapter 1, verse 1.
    Before: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    After: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

    The common view of the earliest Christians was that Jesus was human, descended from David. That view was reflected in the earlier versions of Mark's gospel, which makes no mention of a virgin birth or godly parentage, but says he came to be adopted by God at the time of his baptism. Now, there's nothing in the original text that explicitly denies that Jesus was born the son of God, and why should there be? But it helps bolster the subsequently adopted dogma if a few choice words are added.

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  23. Let's try this again

    (Split into two postings, because of length.)

    I'll rule this one a foul ball, Skep, because you did make contact with the ball, although it veered off into the left field stands. The variant wordings are just that - variant wordings. They're not "modifications" by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the case - since we don't know which variant is the older version. You contend that the words"Son of God" were for some inexplicable reason added to the text in order to buttress a doctrine so widely held that it needed no such buttressing. But the problem is, they could just as easily been omitted by some scribal error in a particular surviving manuscript.

    This should be no problem to any serious scholar (i.e., one who does not have a polemical axe to grind before doing his research). Allow me to illustrate. Now most of my library is boxed up right now in preparation for my impending move, but among those few books I kept where I could get at them in the interim is the poetry of Charles Williams. I actually have four copies of his Arthurian poetry, all by different publishers. Now here's the interesting thing. In The Arthurian Poetry of Charles Williams, in the poem "Taliessin in the Rose Garden", we read "Women's travel holds in the natural the image of the supernatural", whereas in Arthurian Poetry, Charles Williams we see "Women's travail holds in the natural..." Again, in the first mentioned volume, in the poem "The Coming of Galahad" we come across this line: "Mercury, thinning and thickening, thirsting to theft", but in the second named book it reads "Mercy, thinning and thickening..."

    Amazing. Here in our contemporary world, with all the advantages we have of computerized, digitized, machine-driven printing, we come across two (rather significant) textual variants in a manuscript. Now let's go back to the First Century, a world with no such advantages as our enlightened age (that's sarcasm, in case you missed it), we find multiple surviving manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, a document of approximately 11,270 words in the original Greek. Of these, there are (depending on how one counts them) 174 variant readings. Nearly all of these variants are stuff like "He went preaching" vs "He was preaching", or even "this" vs "that". Yawn...

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  24. (Part Two)

    Now in the case of Mark 1:1, you are correct (though once again, only half correct). Some early manuscripts do indeed read Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ, whereas others omit the last two words. Added or omitted? At this point, we just do not know. For emotional and polemical reasons, you want them to be an addition, and have constructed a neat little story that fits your preconceptions. Yet there is no compelling evidence for that to have been the case. Their absence could just as easily have been a scribal omission.

    But in any case, you're missing the main point here. For the sake of argument, let's allow them to be an addition to some hypothetical original text. So what? Their inclusion points to no tiniest alteration of doctrine. Even you admit that the letters of Paul were likely written prior to the Gospels. Well. Right there in the opening to Romans, to which you referred in an above posting, we read "Paul ... set apart for the gospel of God ... concerning his Son" See? So even before Mark wrote his Gospel, we have the doctrine of Christ's divine sonship explicitly laid out.

    As for my own opinion (and that is all that it is), I think they were not in the original (whatever that means) draft. But I see no relevancy to that fact. I in fact rather assume that all four Gospels were probably composed not in one fell swoop, but more likely over some extended period of time. Just as when I write an e-mail such as this one, words will be added or dropped out during the process of putting it together. In a world without computer screens and the backspace key, it is not only possible, but positively probable, that multiple variants of the same document would survive. See? No nefarious motivation, no Dan Brown conspiracy, no modification of Scripture to comply with doctrine.

    The count is now 0 and 2, and there's no one on base.

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  26. "Apologist" is not a dirty word. In fact, I'll take it as a compliment. Please use it again.

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  27. Oops. I took away my reply. Here it is again.

    Explain away and spin. Like most apologists, you're pretty good at that, Bob.

    The fact is that those don't appear in the oldest available manuscripts, but they do appear in later manuscripts. And this is no word variation, like the ones you cited (mercy vs, mercury). This in an insertion of text. Furthermore, it is unlikely to be a copying error, given that it's an insertion rather than an omission, and it appears in the very first sentence of the very first chapter of the book. The scribe was likely not fatigued and had not lost his place when he put those words there.

    No, Bob. The most likely scenario is that those words were added for a reason. And given the adoptionist view of the original text, they certainly help to give it a more orthodox stance.

    I don't give a damn about your lame scoring of my efforts. I'm only trying to get at the truth. I can't say with certainty that I'm correct about this, but neither can you say with credibility that I'm wrong.

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  28. "I don't give a damn about your lame scoring of my efforts."

    Ha! That sounds like a losing politician saying he pays no attention to the polls - and is about as convincing.

    The fact is, Skep, your example is not even close to a textual alteration. I am frankly at a loss to understand how you can consider it as such. You appear to have some idea that the New Testament is like what the Muslims claim the Koran is - i.e., dictated verbatim from the mouth of God to the ear of the Evangelists. It's not that way at all. The original texts are like the quantum stew that existed in the primordial universe, where nothing can be pinned down with precision as to position or motion, and even time itself cannot be meaningfully measured. (Hmm... I rather like that analogy. It just occurred to me now, but it's quite apt.) In like manner, there is no "original text" of the Gospels. There are indeed textual variants (and quite inconsequential ones at that). But not, as you insist, purposeful insertions or omissions with malice aforethought.

    Face it, Skep. We have many examples of mythic accretion over time of various stories in history. Perhaps the most famous is the Arthurian Legend. But a greater contrast between how these legends developed and how the doctrinal understanding of who Christ was became clear cannot be imagined. In the Arthurian case, we can see the legend gradually become more and more fantastic over time, absorbing and syncretizing the increasingly diverse imaginative elements until we arrive at the story as we know it today. In contrast, the exact opposite occurs with the New Testament and Christian doctrine over the first centuries. The hyper-imaginative and clearly fictional gnostic "gospels" are ruthlessly rejected, along with all other spurious attempts to embellish and mythologize the straightforward factual narrative of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

    Had a mythicizing process actually occurred in the Early Church, such "improvements" would have been enthusiastically embraced, and we would have an unrecognizably different Christianity today. Why weren't they? Why is Christianity such a glaring exception to an otherwise universal process? For one reason only: because of the Holy Spirit protecting the Church, who Christ promised explicitly would guide the apostles and their successors away from error ("The Holy Spirit ... will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. ... He will guide you into all Truth.").

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  29. So, no matter what textual changes I show you, you will claim that they are all "quite inconsequential". The inserted ending of Mark that adds a tale of resurrection to the story means nothing important. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

    Bob, your example of Arthurian legend undermines your thesis that there was no such evolution in Christian mythology. Clearly, there was, and the tales of Arthur are a good example of how the dynamic plays out.

    "Had a mythicizing process actually occurred in the Early Church, such "improvements" would have been enthusiastically embraced, and we would have an unrecognizably different Christianity today."

    The "improvements" were embraced, as is evidenced by the biblical modifications that we see, and the Christology of today, while being substantially firmed up the time of the Nicene Council, is very different from what it was when he was alive.

    I'm still waiting to hear what you have to say about the evidence presented by Ehrman that you reject.

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  30. "inserted ending"

    Why do you insist on using the loaded word "inserted", instead of the more neutral (and, incidentally, the more skeptical) "written separately"? I myself am the author of 3 books. In each case, after initially "finishing" them, I later revisited them and added more material - in one case nearly doubling the original length of the text. Should those additions be spurned as "insertions" rather than acknowledged as part of the compositional process? The same can be said for the Longer Ending of Mark. There is nothing whatsoever in those 11 verses that contradicts or adds to anything said elsewhere in the New Testament (with the possible exception of "if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them," but no identifiable doctrine hangs on those words).

    "the tales of Arthur are a good example of how the dynamic plays out"

    Exactly so. You are simply rephrasing what I wrote in my last comment. And you'll note that there is no least hint of such a dynamic playing itself out in the development of Christian doctrine. Quite the contrary. After all, the apostolic writings were surrounded by a cloud of pseudographia and gnostic tracts, each trying to embellish and add to the plain narrative of the Gospels. Had the mythicizing dynamic been operative, such details and filigree would have simply been incorporated into an amorphous, developing story line.

    But no, what did happen was the exact opposite. Such mythologizing was roundly and decisively rejected by the Early Church. You can see this not only in the New Testament itself (warnings against doing so are all over the place in Paul's letters), but also in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Read Saint Ignatius of Antioch and see how he spurns all such attempts to alter or embellish the apostolic message. So "the "improvements" were not embraced" - they were actively resisted.

    "very different from what it was when he was alive"

    Again, no. (This is getting tiresome. Are you trying to wear me out?) It was very "developed". For a good explanation of the process, see HERE.

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  31. You can believe what the church tells you, or you can look objectively at the evidence.

    And I'm still waiting to hear what you have to say about the evidence presented by Ehrman that you reject.

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  32. I've actually covered that in my comments already posted to this conversation. Ehrman insists that the narrative kept changing and mutating from Gospel to Gospel, and that there is an alleged "refinement" of the doctrinal underpinnings behind them. But any unbiased reader of the four canonical texts (i.e., someone who has not concluded prior to reading them that they are not reliable) will see that his thesis is built on nothing but conjecture and presupposition.

    Ehrman says, "Jesus himself didn't call himself God, didn't consider himself God and that none of his disciples had any inkling at all that he was God" in full contradiction to the easily verified fact that Jesus did indeed identify Himself with God on multiple occasions, as did His disciples, and this was done during His lifetime. Ehrman maintains that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, despite that fact that (as I said above) no one in 2000 years of trying has ever come up with an alternate story that stands up under even the least scrutiny. Now if something happened, and every single explanation other than a literal Resurrection totally fails under examination, then the only thing left one can logically conclude is that "Christ is Risen". In fact, Ehrman's favorite "explanation" - that the disciples hallucinated Jesus's Resurrection, is one of the easiest to punch holes a mile wide through. This fact alone (that Ehrman favors the hallucination hypothesis) justifies a hearty belly laugh. Renowned biblical scholar Michael F. Bird goes even further than me in his contempt for Ehrman. "His overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chik-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoir—which is to say, not convincing at all."

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    1. So you quote one line from Ehrman (that you probably got from one of your apologists), and make no mention at all of his evidence, and why you reject it.

      And with regard to the resurrection, he actually maintains that belief in the resurrection is based on faith and not evidence.

      Not very convincing, Bob.

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  33. "You can believe what the church tells you, or you can look objectively at the evidence."

    What exactly do you mean by this? I see no inherent contradiction. The two acts may lead to an identical conclusion. If you deny this possibility, then you have once again proven that you are the very antithesis of skepticism by prejudging the outcome.

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    1. You really don't know what skepticism is.

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  34. Just a heads up here, Skep. Get your comments in fast, if you wish to see a response from me. I am (finally!) downsizing from my suburban house to a one-bedroom apartment next Wednesday, and one of the things that I am not taking with me is access to the internet from my home. Starting November 20th, I will be logging on only sporadically from nearby coffee shops, and never more than a few minutes each day to read e-mails and conduct necessary business. But my days of extensive commenting (as well as reading others' comments) are going to abruptly end.

    So if you've got something to say that you want me to see... say it now!

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    1. I think you should get internet service.

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  35. Skep

    I gotta make at least one more point concerning Mark 1:1. You wrotre, "That view [Christ having no divine sonship] was reflected in the earlier versions of Mark's gospel, which makes no mention of a ... godly parentage" Not so.

    Let's look elsewhere in this same Gospel. In Mark 5:7, the Gerasene demoniac says to Christ, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Or here, in Mark 14:61-62, "Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" [i.e., God] And Jesus said, "I am."

    There are many other examples as well (Mark 8:38, for example), but these two should suffice.

    So you see, even if the two words υἱοῦ θεοῦ were indeed a later "insertion", they add absolutely nothing to what has already been adequately expressed elsewhere in the text. There is no doctrinal modification, no embellishment of the narrative, no mythologizing process, and least of all no "bolstering of a subsequently adopted dogma". It was all there already.

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  36. Descended from David in the flesh, adopted by God in the spirit. That was the Christological view when the book was written.

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