Friday, May 19, 2006

The Agnostic and the Atheist

This article from the Washington Post is about Bart Ehrman. There is a cold emptiness in the story of how he lost his faith, made more grievous by the fact that it happened even as he was digging deeper into the original language manuscripts of the New Testament.

The Post makes mountains out of textual molehills in their coverage, but I don't blame them per-se--they're not Biblical scholars, so they can't be expected to realize what is significant or not. I'm guessing they are relaying what they've been fed, though in my estimation they've way overplayed their "noble skeptic" angle.

And as bitter icing for this distressing tale, we have Simon, whom we last saw discussing the Gospel, using this as yet another justification for his own rejection of God. (He gets the Hat Tip on the Ehrman article, BTW).

Update 05/23/06
Dan Phillips has posted his take on the Ehrman article at Pyro. As a bonus, he also includes a link to a piece he wrote awhile back: How To Make Your Very Own Jesus (including the blink command if you use Firefox.)

40 comments:

Simon said...

So, do you think the bible would hold up as evidence in a court of law?

Gummby said...

Simon: In all candidness, I don't know.

What is more interesting to me, though, is how you look at the evidence. You indicated on Frank's blog that you had looked at the evidence, and it wasn't compelling, so I'm curious about two things:
1) What have you looked at that wasn't very convincing?
2) What evidence would convince you, if any?

Simon said...

1) The supposed historical accuracy of the story of Jesus amounts to very little.

2) I don't work that way round. Imagine if I came up with a theory for gravity, but you're not convinced. It's not up to you to say what evidence would convince you. You say "go away and work on it and when you've got more convincing evidence, show me."

BugBlaster said...

On your second point Simon, the problem I would have is that perhaps nothing will convince me about your gravity theory. If that's the case, then it's an utter waste of time and effort for you to "go away and work on it," since I won't tell you my criteria for "convincing evidence."

If I won't give you and idea of what kind of evidence would convince me of your gravity theory, then my un-belief in your theory amounts to dogma.

From where we rationally sit, your unbelief in the evidence supporting the Bible, while giving us every indication that no evidence would be sufficient to convince you, amounts to a belief system that is not based on rationalism.

Gummby said...

Simon: by "The supposed historical accuracy of the story of Jesus," I assume you mean the Gospels. What about the Gospels do you find historically inaccurate?

Simon said...

Matt, the Jesus bit.

bugblaster, I've already had a lengthy debate, as matt indicates in his post, where I laid out my problems with your belief system. All my cards are on the table, so don't accuse me of not giving anything away.

If you feel you can answer my questions differently, go ahead. If you are in agreement with those who have already tried, then I think we can agree, a further debate will not achieve anything.

BugBlaster said...

Hi Simon,
The impression I got from that debate was that there could not exist evidence that you would accept.

I got the impression that you have a belief system that at its core does not want to examine competing evidence, that at its core is dogma.

The impression may mistaken.

I make no bones about my beliefs. The supporting evidence is voluminous, but at their core my beliefs are based on faith.

Your belief also appears to based on something akin to faith.

Gummby said...

Simon: So you're saying that the Gospel writers took a bunch of actual people and places and inserted their mythical figure in there as though he actually existed, like sort of a 1st Century Forrest Gump?

Simon said...

The impression I got from that debate was that there could not exist evidence that you would accept.


Don''t you mean that there "does not exist" evidence, bug?

So, what do you think my "belief system" is then?

You people do go on about this supposed mass of evidence without actually presenting any.

Matt, can you demonstrate to me the identity of the gospel writers, from non-biblical references?

Also, do either of you think the gospels would stand up in a court of law as evidence?

If you want compare Jesus to Forrest Gump, I'm not going to disagree with you - you said it. Of course, Gump hasn't built up the cult following in quite the same way as Jesus. Perhaps this is because i) he doesn't promise anyone an afterlife and ii) even stupid people know Tom Hanks is an actor playing a character and it would be very hard to create a mysterious mythology based on him.

If you want to create a powerful myth it's best to use characters from the distant past. That way its much easier to pass of fiction as truth.

BugBlaster said...

Hi Simon,
Actually I mean both. You will not accept the evidence that does exist, and your presupposed beliefs prevent you from accepting any Bible-supporting evidence that will ever be presented to you. i.e. It's not possible to convince you based on any evidence, no matter how valid or strong it is.

Based on the stuff at Frank Turk's blog, and here, and your own blog, and your hit and run comment at my blog, here is your belief system as I see it.
1. NO ONE is going to tell you what is wrong or right, least of all some so-called god.
2. If you can't see it, or empirically examine it, or taste it, or read about how someone else has verified it and examined it, then it's not real for you, (this would hold for whatever "it" we're talking about). You call this rationalism.

How far am I off?

BTW I don't call it rationalism. I call it unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand everything there is to understand and observe.

Here is one piece from the "supposed mass of evidence." If you have the desire, many more can be brought out, one at a time.

The DIDACHE is a primitive Christian writing dated somewhere between 50 and 160 AD, but most scholars, including non-Christian scholars, date it to the second half of the first century. The dates 60-80 AD are frequently mentioned. The DIDACHE specifically refers to Jesus as an historical person, and specifically refers to forms of church government and rites that are different and less developed from those practiced in the second century; hence one of the reasons for the 1st century dating. The DIDACHE is evidence for an historical Jesus, because it talks about him only 17 - 67 years after his death. The Normans who wrote about William the Conqueror 67 years after his death were no more certain about his existence than the DIDACHE writer(s) were of Jesus' existence.

I predict that you will dismiss or ignore the evidence of the DIDACHE based on your pre-existing beliefs.

Regarding the court of law, you need to tell me which court of law you are referring to, the question being asked the court, and the rules of evidence for this court, before I can answer.

Gummby said...

Re: the court of law, I don't really know. I'm not a solicitor, so I couldn't really say for sure. My guess would be "no," but I will qualify by saying that a court of law probably isn't the place to judge a literary work, and that I doubt any ancient text would stand up to the scrutiny of a modern court of law, with the need for physical evidence (ala CSI). I'm still trying to track down the source, but if memory serves, the manuscript evidence alone for the New Testament is so overwhelming that if you were to throw it out, you would have to throw out every other document from antiquity on the same basis.

I also agree with Bugblaster, it depends on the court. Evidence is an interesting thing--what he and I see as compelling might be ruled inadmissable by you, so to speak. Is the problem the evidence, or the person viewing it? You might just take a moment to consider that question, because if you're really honest, you have a clear bias against any information that doesn't fit your naturalistic way of thinking, so you're predisposed to ignore or rule out said evidence.

You said: can you demonstrate to me the identity of the gospel writers, from non-biblical references?

Well, since all four Gospels are anonymous, anything I would show you would have to be extra-Biblical. Of course, the problem I'm going to run into is that when I say church tradition testifies to the four authors, you are going to say that's not a valid source. But there are no secular sources--sources outside of the church fathers (that I'm aware of anyway)--that say who the Gospel writers were.

But here's why that doesn't bother me too much. Let's say that I ask you, using only your atheist friends, to tell me who the four speakers were at the recent Together for the Gospel conference. Could you do it? Would you even care?

Exactly!

I think what's been lost here in all of this is that Jesus was pretty obscure. Oh, there were times when he drew big crowds, but when he told them to believe that he was the son of God instead of just filling their stomachs, most deserted and went back home. Same for when he entered Jerusalem--the people hailed him as the conquering king, but when it turned out he wasn't going to overthrow Rome, they crucified him instead.

The problem I have with your approach is that we're not talking about believing miracles here (yet); we're talking about ancient documents and claiming to know more about what happened two millenia ago than those who were actually there.

You said: If you want compare Jesus to Forrest Gump, I'm not going to disagree with you - you said it.

However, what I said was: Simon: So you're saying that the Gospel writers . . .inserted their mythical figure . . . like sort of a 1st Century Forrest Gump. I was trying to flesh out what your previous answer, "the Jesus part," might mean.

I'm sympathetic to your argument--that these guys could pretty much say whatever they want & no one would come out and contradict it, because they didn't have Google, bloggers, or the Beeb to get the real scoop. The difficulty with that view, though, is that if that was the issue, then why are the writers are all banking on the fact that people are going to check the facts, and confirm that what they are saying is really how it happened? Of course, as I believe Bryan Flemming pointed out, the writers acting like they are writing something historical and trustworthy doesn't prove that it is; but someone like Paul could have made it a lot easier on himself by making vague claims that no one could verify. Instead, he makes this statement: Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:6, ESV)

This is precisely where Flemming's comparison of the Book of Mormon to Luke's gospel falls flat, by the way. The Book of Mormon talks about places that, to the best of our knowledge, no one can find. He said that the original was written on golden plates that are no longer around. Compare that to Luke's statements over and over, where even small details are historically accurate, and (while we have no original), we have many extant manuscripts; these two writings are clearly not in the same league.

Finally, you said: If you want to create a powerful myth it's best to use characters from the distant past. That way its much easier to pass of fiction as truth.

I don't really understand your point here; are you saying that we moderns are using characters from the past, or that the Gospel writers were doing this? If the former, then I'm really confused. But if the latter, then I think you'll need to make the case that the Gospels were written way after the fact.

Here's where I put the Gospels; where do you date them?
Matthew: well before a.d 70, and perhaps as early as a.d. 50 (I happen agree with the majority of historical scholarship that Matthew was the first Gospel written)
Mark: sometime during a.d. 50s
Luke: a.d. 60-61
John: a.d. 80–90

Simon said...

You guys don't half go on.

bugblaster: "It's not possible to convince you based on any evidence, no matter how valid or strong it is."

How do you know that? Because I don't agree with you are other Christians?

bugblaster: "BTW I don't call it rationalism. I call it unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand everything there is to understand and observe."

But you have unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand the things you believe in - the gospels were made by human witnesses, weren't they? Don't you trust them, then?

bugblaster: "The Normans who wrote about William the Conqueror 67 years after his death were no more certain about his existence than the DIDACHE writer(s) were of Jesus' existence."

But we have a whole heap more evidence for Williams existence - archeological stuff which backs up the story written about him. Even so, anything written about him will have to be interpreted by later historians depending on who was writing about him. If the guy was pro-Norman, he would obviously want to make William out to be a hero.

matt: "My guess would be "no," but I will qualify by saying that a court of law probably isn't the place to judge a literary work, and that I doubt any ancient text would stand up to the scrutiny of a modern court of law, with the need for physical evidence"

So is the bible merely a literary work? See, people don't devote their lives to Julius Ceasar (even though there's much more evidence he existed), so it's not so important that ancient texts about him or anyone else in history are subjected to such rigorous examination.

What you're saying is, people should devote their lives to man called Jesus because a text called the bible exists, even though that text would not stand up to a legal-style scrutiny.

matt: "You might just take a moment to consider that question, because if you're really honest, you have a clear bias against any information that doesn't fit your naturalistic way of thinking, so you're predisposed to ignore or rule out said evidence."

You're assuming you know more about me than you do. Why should I have a bias against Christianity? All I do is point out what I see is wrong with your belief system. Are you suggesting I have some secret, underlying motive to rubbish your belief, other than simply to get to the truth?

BugBlaster said...

me: "It's not possible to convince you based on any evidence, no matter how valid or strong it is."

Simon: How do you know that? Because I don't agree with you are other Christians?


I don't know it, but that what I think based on the little interaction we've had. Your eyes are closed to evidence that supports the existence of Jesus.

me: "BTW I don't call it rationalism. I call it unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand everything there is to understand and observe."

Simon: But you have unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand the things you believe in - the gospels were made by human witnesses, weren't they? Don't you trust them, then?


I do trust the Gospels, yes. I don't follow your logic that says I don't...

Even though the evidence is strong, you're absolutely right that my confidence ultimately is not based on the evidence. It is based on faith that God exists. But your belief is based on faith that nothing exists that can't eventually be proven or observed by humanity. Both of us base our beliefs on faith.

me: "The Normans who wrote about William the Conqueror 67 years after his death were no more certain about his existence than the DIDACHE writer(s) were of Jesus' existence."

But we have a whole heap more evidence for Williams existence - archeological stuff which backs up the story written about him. Even so, anything written about him will have to be interpreted by later historians depending on who was writing about him. If the guy was pro-Norman, he would obviously want to make William out to be a hero.


This was just one piece of evidence that was trotted out. There is other evidence for Jesus' existence as well. My point was that the DIDACHE writers were writing with confidence an individual who lived in their recent past, only a generation or two ago.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, I really am curious. I said I understood your belief system, and you said okay smarty pants, what is it, and I told you what I thought it was. How close was I?

On your responses to Matt, you're misquoting him. He said the Bible is a literary work... of course it is! It's full of poetry and parallelism and allusions, etc. But unlike your misquote, he did not say that it is merely a literary work. It is a literary work that is also the Word of God.

Here's another misrepresentation/misquote:
Simon: What you're saying is, people should devote their lives to man called Jesus because a text called the bible exists, even though that text would not stand up to a legal-style scrutiny.

Matt did not say it wouldn't stand up. He said he didn't know if it would. And he said it would depend on the rules of the court, and the rules on admissibility of evidence.

The subtle twisting of our meanings in order to misrepresent what we say may win brownie points with the peanut gallery at your own blog, but it doesn't logically help your case.

We're not atheists. Help us to understand how we're wrong.

Maybe you'll convince us and we'll join you and your friends and come up with witty "I was once a Christian" handles. But you won't be able to do it by twisting our words. That doesn't convince us. On the contrary, it makes us wonder why you can't argue atheism's case on its merits.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, one last thing. The DIDACHE was written by Christians, so even though it is reliable, you may be predisposed to reject it. (Although you never really expressed an opinion on the evidence that it presents...)

Circa 116 A.D., Tacitus the pagan Roman historian wrote of Christians during the time of Nero, and he wrote that they were followers of Christ, who was executed by Pontius Pilate. Tacitus was considered the most reliable Roman historian. Some scholars think that the Christ reference is a later addition by Christians, but most do not. What do you think? Do go against the scholars and reject the evidence of Tacitus?

Simon said...

Matt did not say it wouldn't stand up. He said he didn't know if it would.

He actually said: "I'm not a solicitor, so I couldn't really say for sure. My guess would be "no," but I will qualify by saying that a court of law probably isn't the place to judge a literary work".

So, Matt's instinct is that the bible wouldn't stand up as evidence in a court of law. Yet you guys act as if it is indisputable truth.

bug: I don't know it, but that what I think based on the little interaction we've had.

But you made a statement suggesting you knew for certain. And now you say you don't know, but you're prepared to make assumptions based on very little: a few words written on a blog. That's a nasty theist habbit you have there.

bug: "BTW I don't call it rationalism. I call it unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand everything there is to understand and observe."

Simon: But you have unmerited confidence in humanity to observe and understand the things you believe in - the gospels were made by human witnesses, weren't they? Don't you trust them, then?

bug: I do trust the Gospels, yes. I don't follow your logic that says I don't...


I'm saying it's hypocritical of you to accuse me of wrongly placing my trust in humanity's ability to observe and understand things - and then at the same time place your trust in the humanity's ability to observe and understand things. ie: your god.

Both of us base our beliefs on faith.

Well, that depends on your interpretation of the word "faith".

I trust in the things that can be understood by logic. I trust people that say "perhaps", "maybe", and "I think this might be the way things work, as far as we know at this point in time", "all the evidence suggests" (scientists)

I don't trust people who say "I know the absolute truth", or "My way is the only right way" or "This book written 2000 years ago about some guy who does magic spells and describes talking donkeys and 7-headed dragons is the absolute difinitive truth about the Universe" (Christians)

Call me eccentric if you will.

BugBlaster said...

Hi Simon,
bug: I don't know it, but that what I think based on the little interaction we've had.

simon: But you made a statement suggesting you knew for certain. And now you say you don't know, but you're prepared to make assumptions based on very little: a few words written on a blog. That's a nasty theist habbit you have there.


Come on Simon, you've written more than a few words on your blog. And you're twisting words again (still). I said things like "I get the impression" and "my impression may be mistaken", and "your belief appears to based on something akin to faith"

Then you said, "So, what do you think my 'belief system' is then?"

You asked. And in response to your question I gave a straight answer.

To refresh your memory, here was my answer:
Based on the stuff at Frank Turk's blog, and here, and your own blog, and your hit and run comment at my blog, here is your belief system as I see it.
1. NO ONE is going to tell you what is wrong or right, least of all some so-called god.
2. If you can't see it, or empirically examine it, or taste it, or read about how someone else has verified it and examined it, then it's not real for you, (this would hold for whatever "it" we're talking about). You call this rationalism.


Then I asked you a question, and later asked it again:

How far am I off?

You have yet to answer it. I'm getting the impression that this may be a nasty habit that atheists have: not giving straight answers to straight questions.

How far am I off?

It's not a hard question. In order to keep from muddying the water, I'll stick to one point and save responding to the rest of your points or on pressing you further on Tacitus until you feel inclined to answer this question, or until a few days go by, in which case, I'll assume (rightly or wrongly) that I'm not far off at all.

Simon said...

On point 1 - people can tell me what they think is right or wrong. I'll make up my own mind.

On point 2 - well, I've never qualified by thoughts in such a way. I'm prepared to believe anything. After all, I'm prepared to believe there may be 13 dimensions and alternative realities (even though these ideas can't yet be touched, smelt, seen or empirically tested).

But that doesn't mean I'm a sucker. Your belief system is clearly flawed. It's not even slightly believable. It amazes me that so many people buy into it.

At least the people who are working on String Theories are trying to take us forward, instead of holding us back to some antiquated moral belief system invented by 1st century Palistinian peasants.

BugBlaster said...

Oh man, I love reading about string theory. It's fascinating stuff. What have you read on it? I have read Brian Greene's first book, and am working on Roger Penrose's book, but it's tough sledding.

Thanks for answering Simon. Got to head to work now, but will get back to irritating you perhaps later tonight. ;-)

Gummby said...

Simon: I've made a lot of statements here, and some I think have been misconstrued by you. So let me try to rephrase: I think your "law court" scenario is a red herring. If you're trying to claim that the reason you don't believe in God is that He can't be proven in court, that's pretty lame. You also can't disprove Him in court.

More importantly, I think we've lost track of the point here. The point is not whether it will stand up in a court of law; the point is why you don't accept it. Thus far, you've been long on rhetoric and short on reasons.

The idea of bringing up the literary nature of the work is that it should be subjected to the same tests that other historical books are subjected to, and judged on that basis. Those tests include original manuscripts and copies, internal evidence--in this case, what do the Gospels claim, and external evidence--how does the reporting of the facts square with the world around it. This has the added benefit of giving you something you can evaluate.

You want to claim that Jesus is a mythical character--completely made up. Don't you think that it strains the limits of credibility, though, when you claim that someone like Luke is meticulous about his research of little details, cities and rulers, yet simultaneously he boldly inserts this mythical character into the history?

Once again, I'll ask you, if Jesus never even existed, then why do not only the Gospel writers, but all the writers of the New Testament act as though he did? Why do they make bold claims, like Paul saying that 500 people saw Jesus at once, and most of them are still alive? For you to have any credibility as a skeptic, you've at least got to have a theory as to why these guys all believed the lie.

Simon said...

Matt, my angle is that, like with the Arthur legend, fact and fiction have become so muddled in the retelling (and inevitable embellishing) that we can no longer tell what is real and what isn't. It could, apart from historical details which can be verified by other means, be 100% fiction.

Based on my own experience of the world, I'm pretty certain a donkey didn't actually speak, that the universe wasn't actually created in 6 days, that we aren't all decended from a nice couple called Adam and Eve, that a guy called Jesus didn't actually come back from the dead.

Why? because I've read many fairytales in my life and these sound very similar in tone.

ps: Josephius' mention of Jesus appears to be as if spoken by a Christian - so it must be considered of doubtful authenticity.

On the subject of a court - it is not up to my defnce lawyer to prove I am not a muderer. That would be silly. We'd all be found guilty, if that was the way law was conducted.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Gummby said...

Yes, but you're mixing up the issues. We're not talking about extraordinary claims yet. We're talking about whether Jesus existed. If we were talking about miracles, like what you mentioned above, that would be one thing. But we're just talking about "did Jesus exist?" The reason I said you're not willing to look at the evidence is that you see something that talks about miracles, and so you reject the things that you can verify, without verifying them.

As for the telling & retelling, I would love to hear your timeline for the publishing of different NT books. It's one thing to say "fact and fiction have become so muddled in the retelling," but where is your proof? The Arthur legend documents are spread over a timeframe of 1000 years ((see here, for example). In contrast, the NT documents were all published within about 100 years of the incident. In fact, the embellishments that you refer to don't appear until the Gnostic writings, some of which are 100 to 200 years later. If you do some homework on legends, myths, and embellisments in history, those things require time, something which isn't the case in the NT documents.

BugBlaster said...

Hi Simon,
I'm not going to monopolize Matt's blog comments anymore, but I will jump in if I feel like it. I posted your ugly mug at my blog. Come on over and talk about strings!

Simon said...

Matt, this says it better than I could...

"It is now generally accepted that the gospel writers engaged in an anachronistic portrayal of Jesus, projecting back onto him a highly sophisticated and elaborate Risen Christ motif. The scholars who sought to remove this superfluous motif from the historical man soon found that, like a peeled onion, nothing was left behind once the layers of christological material were stripped away. Albert Schweitzer signaled the end of the first quest by concluding in his watershed book The Quest for the Historical Jesus that Jesus could not be found in the gospel accounts at all and that his "image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which came to the surface one after another.""

and

"Bultmann concluded that the early Christians had very little interest in the historical Jesus and that Jesus was forever buried under the mythology of Pauline Christianity. However, Bultmann found a silver lining in existentialism and wrote that even "mythology expresses a certain understanding of human existence.""

Simon said...

and this:

"As we move further in time away from the historical figure, the Christ of faith gradually becomes less and less recognizable. The first impulse of pagan converts to the new religion was to see Jesus as a virgin-born god. Speculations about Jesus' divinity first began appearing in Christian literature about two centuries after his death. The New Testament has nothing to say about the tripartite nature of God, nevertheless, these interpretations about Jesus solidified over time in the post-Easter Church. With the Chalcedonian Definition of 451 CE, Jesus Christ was formally received into the Church as both a god and the second member of the Holy Trinity.

The claim that Jesus was an intentional founder of what would become Christianity is referred to by scholars as Jesus' "self understanding." In the earliest gospel traditions about Jesus (beginning with the gospels of Q at about 50 CE and Original Mark at around 70 CE) Jesus is not depicted as a supernatural god. His familiar maxims such as "do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you" are actually Pharisaic in origin and this particular phrase was said by the famous Rabbi Hillel about80 years prior to Christ. The early material puts Jesus squarely in the Jewish world and his background as a Jewish peasant in Galilee assures that his education as a youth must have come from the Pharisees. Later gospels, particularly the canonical Gospel of John, mythologize Jesus and portray him as a divine Logos or "mind" of God. However, these post-Easter interpretations developed later by the Church should be viewed for what they are: stories about a Risen Christ and not historical facts about the real historical Jesus. Once we sort out the historical Jesus from the Risen Christ--the facts from the myths--we can better appreciate the Jewish peasant that changed the Western world."

BugBlaster said...

Hi Simon,
Which author is this?

Simon said...

James Still

BugBlaster said...

Simon,
As you might expect, I disagree with most of what you've excerpted from Mr. Still.

Not to denigrate him, but I note that he has been very active in some activist atheist organizations. He's coming from a certain place.

Mr. Still's presupposition is exactly the same as yours: that supernatural events are unbelievable. It is then no surprise that he attributes all accounts of supernatural events in the life of Jesus to fanciful inventions after the fact. His presupposition will allow him to do nothing else.

On a couple specific non-supernatural points:
- Mr. Still claims that the notion of Jesus' divinity first appears 200 years after Jesus' death (i.e. approximately 230 A.D.). Mr. Still is just plain wrong about this. I doubt if you have the patience, but we can haul out document after document that speak of Jesus as divine, and all of them from well before 230 A.D. And the New Testament itself has numerous direct attributions of divinity to Jesus. Not even you Simon have claimed that any of the New Testament was written after 230 A.D. In the Gospel of John for example, Jesus explicitly claims to be divine several times.

- Mr. Still claims that the tripartite nature of God is not a New Testament concept. He is wrong. The New Testament is exactly where the doctrine of the Trinity came from.

- Pauline Christianity is not a brand of Christianity. It is Christianity. Paul's earliest New Testament letters were written in the 50's A.D, less than 20 years after Christ. I quickly count eighteen separate occasions in the letters of Paul where he refers to Christ literally dying. I know I missed some. I quickly count twenty-eight occasions in the letters of Paul where he explicitly refers to Christ rising from the dead, or being literally alive, not to mention that the entire tone of Paul's letters are that he serves a literally living Christ.

- Paul wrote his letters to living people, many of whom were around when Christ was alive. He referred to hundreds of witnesses that were living at the time of his writing. If he had been blowing smoke about this, surely there would be a document from that time period contradicting him. But there has not been a single document from the time of Paul's letters that say hey you mythmaker, you're making all this stuff up.

Ultimately it appears to be coming down to presuppositions. You and Mr. Still are presupposing that supernaturalism can't, doesn't, and never did happen.

Question for you... As an exercise, can you suspend your disbelief for a time? Imagine that supernaturalism (the occurrence and existence of things that are beyond the realm of human understanding) can happen. If you were not predisposed to disbelieve a supernatural story, how might the Bible play out for you? How might your evaluation of the Bible's reliability change, if you weren't predisposed to reject it just because it includes a talking donkey?

Simon said...

But there has not been a single document from the time of Paul's letters that say hey you mythmaker, you're making all this stuff up.

This is a telling statement. Even if some people had seen Jesus rise from the dead, and this guy Paul went round sending letters to people, surely there would be many rejecting his claims.

Bug, if there were written rejections, that would be evidence for your case, not against it. This is the problem with finding the historical Jesus - no-one else seems to have noticed, even the people you say were supposedly told.

If I believed in stuff that had no evidence - yes, I might just believe the Bible was fact.

What's your point?

BugBlaster said...

Simon, if there were extant documents opposing Paul, you can't seriously expect me to believe that you would take them as evidence FOR the reliability of Paul. On the contrary, you'd be trumpeting them as evidence AGAINST Paul. At least be honest with yourself.

And I assume you accept the overall point that Mr. Still's credibility is not solid, given that you made no attempt to refute that overall point.

Simon said...

Mr Still sounds like an very well informed Bible reader to me.

On the contrary, you'd be trumpeting them as evidence AGAINST Paul. At least be honest with yourself.

Bug, are you sure you understand how historians work? Do you think a good hostorian will gather all the information which backs up his argument and ignore anything that doesn't?

No, this is what religious people do. Or anyone flogging a doctrine - eg: Hitler when he wrote Mein Kampf.

If Paul sent these letters, where are the replies? Are you expecting me to believe everyone who heard Paul's story just bought it straight away, without criticising it? That's absurd.

When Darwin put forward his ideas, there was mountains of criticism. Does that make it any less convincing? - no. It makes it more realistic. Because that is what you would expect to happen when someone makes extraordinary claims.

So, what are you saying - Paul sent out all these letters saying Jesus was the son of God and everyone just went "OK, fine. I'll be a Christian then."

Come on, Bug, at least be honest with yourself.

BugBlaster said...

Simon, you win on my letters against Paul argument. It was ill considered and off the cuff.

Your admiration of Mr. Still's biased opinions is so strange for someone who says they want to rely on well considered evidence. If Mr. Still sounds like an informed Bible reader to you, then you don't appear to have the makings of a good historian. And you, haven't read the Bible yourself (only bits and pieces as you say), so you wouldn't have the ability to recognize an informed Bible reader.

Mr. Still and you are ignoring information that doesn't back up your argument. And he is perpetrating falsehoods like the demonstrable nonsense about there being no divinity claims before 230AD. This in itself zaps his credibility.

Mr. Still and you are doing what you claim religious people do.

Gummby said...

Mr Still sounds like an very well informed Bible reader to me.

Now this is a very telling comment to me.

And this one: (from BugBlaster's site): I'm not really interested in every detail of what the Bible says - I'm more interested in what Christians believe it says and how that stacks up with reality.

What this tells me is that you haven't studied the Bible very much, and don't intend to. You haven't done any actual thinking about whether the Bible describes reality. Kinda puts the lie to your rational, unbiased stance.

Look, if you want to dismiss all of the Bible because it contains thing that can't be backed up by empirical evidence, that's fine. But don't act like you've weighed the evidence and found the Bible wanting when you won't even crack open the book. At least be honest with yourself.

Now, as far as Still goes, rather than write a point-by-point rebuttal of his nonsense (which you'll probably just ignore anyway), I'll just say this: I've asked you repeatedly for your dating of the NT Gospels, and you've ignored my requests. The reason I asked you for that is because, when some psuedo-intellectual like Still makes claims like he does, it's helpful to look at the facts and see if they match up with what he's claiming.

Even if you accept that Mark was first (I don't), and even if you were to accept the existence of the mythical document Q (I don't), you still have the problem, as BugBlaster pointed out, that the Gospel of John, last of the Biblical gospels, was written at between 80-90AD. Surely even someone who plays fast and loose with the facts can at least admit that there was no established church that early on. So the established church didn't rewrite the Gospels after 400AD--that's ridiculous!

As far as Mark being merely the happy Rabbi peasant book, Mark taught Jesus was the Christ. Now, you might want to split hairs here, and say "the Christ," "Messiah," or "Annointed One" doesn't mean God, but it's certainly not incompatible with it. Either way, Still's implication is that Mark is just a collections of moral sayings, with no moral or supernatural content, is patently false.

Here are just a few quotes from the book of Mark, courtesy of the English Standard Verision.

Mark 7:27-31
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

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

Mark 9:30-31
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

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


That is three different times he talks about rising from the dead, just in Mark.

If the Still article really does say it better than you, and you're willing to believe it over actual history, then there isn't going to be anything I can say to convince you, because you're so invested in your worldview that you're willing to believe lies rather than the truth.

Quoting from an anti-historical source like Still just because he agrees with you is a pathetic substitute for a real argument. But if you decide to use some critical thinking skills instead of criticism and sarcasm, just let me know.

Simon said...

bug: Your admiration of Mr. Still's biased opinions is so strange for someone who says they want to rely on well considered evidence.

Can you point me to some unbiased opinion? (Obviously, Christian historians are not unbiased.)

Surely, anyone who makes claims against Jesus being exactly who you say he is will be considered by you to have a Christian-bashing agenda.

How can we possibly agree on whose opinion is the right one? - you will be inclined towards pro-Christian opinion, I will probably be inclined towards the Jesus-as-myth opinion.

Matt: But don't act like you've weighed the evidence and found the Bible wanting when you won't even crack open the book.

Matt, I opened the Bible recently and found it contradicting itself within the first few pages. I didn't see any reason to read further - it had already lost me.

If the writers of the Bible, in all the time they had to work on it, couldn't get the first few pages of the story right, in all honesty, why should I bother?

The writers were clearly trying to cover all bases and hope no-one noticed. You can explain it away any way you like - but I know what I read and what it said to me, loud and clear.

Gummby said...

I'd be interested in hearing about those alleged contradictions you keep referring to. To date, you've provided no substance, only sizzle. Of course, that may be because you prefer to shadowbox instead of fence. That's fine, but then don't pretend you're really trying to understand the Bible.

If this comment is true--You can explain it away any way you like - but I know what I read and what it said to me, loud and clear.--then it is probably a moot point to explain it anyway. But the least you can do is be honest enough to admit that you're rejection of the Bible isn't because of any rigorous inquiry but rather a cursory glance of something you're predisposed to disbelieve anyway.

What's really sad about this? I'd love to meet someone from your side who could actually put together a real argument, especially if the Bible is as full of contradictions as you obviously think it is. For the record, "uh, oh--miracles--I can't believe anything the Bible says" isn't an argument--it is a cop out.

BugBlaster & I have repeatedly tried to engage you in discussing actual content and history, only to be met with derision. All of which shows me that it is you who refuses to actually think about things.

Nevertheless, my offer still stands: If you actually want to discuss the content of the Bible, or what happened in history (as opposed to revisionist dreck like that Still article), I'm happy to oblige.

And none of this changes the most important truth of all: the Bible says that we are all sinners, and there is no other name except Jesus under heaven by which men must be saved.

Simon said...

Matt, your debate has been reduced to a personal attack on me. All I've ever done is question your beliefs. Of course, if you're unable to defend your beliefs, the best thing to do is attack the person questioning them.

OK, I know you have some contrived answer prepared, but I'll ask anyway - why does the Bible go to all the trouble of showing Jesus' bloodline from David through Joseph, then in the next line say Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus as Mary was got up the duff by some holy spirit, or something?

BugBlaster said...

Simon,
It's Matt's blog, so he can do what he wants, but my opinion is that he shouldn't answer you since you've decided in advance that his answer will be contrived. You're sort of proving our point that you are wearing blinders by refusing to listen to anything that doesn't support your beliefs.

You don't appear to be asking the question in good faith.

Are you asking in good faith? If you say yes, then you need to take back the accusation that the answer that hasn't yet been given is contrived.

Gummby said...

Matt, your debate has been reduced to a personal attack on me.

I must confess to being somewhat suprised at this comment. Particularly from someone whose first comment I ever read said (in part) "if you're stupid enough to think this idea of an afterlife or a god brings an extra meaning to your life on Earth, what can you do?"

However, if I crossed the line from expressing frustration into something more personal, I'm sorry. That was not what I intended.

But that said, I have to echo Bug's question: why should I bother to reply to your question if you've already judged the answer as "contrived?"

Simon said...

If you want to stake your claim for the Bible's historical accuracy, do it. I'm not qualified to judge it either way, as I'm not a historian. So what we're left with is you quoting various references at me, then I quote some references back contradicting yours, but then you cry foul, claiming my references are biased. But, of course, there aren't any unbiased references to quote from, because you will consider anything other than "Jesus was the son of God" as anti-Christian with an agenda, and I will consider anything which makes that claim to be unreliable.

We can't win this argument. We can even get anywhere with this debate if either side will not accept any points from the other.

But of course, as none of us are historians, we're all basically quoting stuff we've read.

I say, with all honesty, when I read the Bible recently, I immediately saw the contradiction of Jesus lineage. I didn't need to read any book, or anti-Christian source to tell me that. It was only later that I discovered others had noticed this contradiction too.

Can you provide me with an honest explanation which doesn't come from something your read? If so, put it forward.

BugBlaster said...

Don't agree with you, Simon. Big surprise, eh?

We're not saying your sources are biased just because they don't believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We're saying your sources are biased because they say with certainty that He is not, and they reject the credibility of the Bible on that basis. That position is the starting point and the premise of your sources.

And we've demonstrated that Mr. Still is not credible, whether or not you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We're not just saying it. His own words are not vouched by the facts.

I sincerely hope that Matt doesn't answer you without reading and researching. I don't care to know what someone thinks unless they've actually studied it and read about it and contemplated it. That's not just quoting stuff we've read.