Pharyngula

The dead are dead

One of the most important tools for promulgating religion is fear, and one of the biggest sources of fear is the inescapable fact of personal mortality: we’re all going to die someday, and we all know people we’ve loved who have died. Religion steps up to the challenge of death in its usual glib and dishonest way, and promises a mysterious “afterlife,” in which you’ll get to go on being you despite the inconvenience of your flesh rotting away. None of the proponents of this belief have the slightest scrap of evidence for their claims, other than an appeal to emotion and desire, and sometimes some really bad experiments and sloppy observations of phenomena that vanish when a little rigor is applied.

Usually, the defense of belief in an afterlife falls along a couple of lines. One is the absence of a defense; you really want to live forever, so go ahead, simply believe this claim of immortality. It’s easy! Most religions simply do that, assert with no evidence but a hefty demand that you take the story on faith…which the believers have no difficulty providing.

The other strategy is to claim evidence while not having any. Without exception, this approach is appallingly stupid; I have never read anyone claiming to have solid evidence of life after death who fails to provide a train of fallacies and distortions. And if you want appallingly stupid fallacies, there is one man you can always turn to to provide: Dinesh D’Souza. He recently took part in an interview in which he defended the notion of a Christian afterlife.

Kengor: If there is life after death, how do we know that the Christian view of the afterlife is the correct one?

D’Souza: One way is to test a uniquely Christian claim: Remember that while all the religions of the world say there is life after death, only one religion says that it has actually happened. Jews and Muslims, for example, believe that there is a resurrection at the end of the world. But Christianity asserts that its founder, Jesus Christ, died and came back to life. No other religion claims that its founder–say Moses or Muhammad–physically returned from the dead. In one of the later chapters of my book, I examine the resurrection as a historical event. I take the facts that the vast majority of historians would accept–the fact that Christ lived and preached, that he made enemies, that his enemies killed him, that he was buried in a tomb, that his disciples claim to have found the tomb empty, that they said Jesus appeared before them several times after his crucifixion, and that this event filled them with conviction and propelled a movement of conversion that was sustained even in the face of Roman persecution and resistance. So these are the facts, and how do we account for them? If the resurrection stands up to historical scrutiny, if it is an historical event by the standards of historical verification, then the Christian view of the afterlife rises above the pack. It is the one to take seriously.

Wow. He’s making a historical argument while clearly utterly ignorant of the history. Resurrections and visits to the afterlife are practically staples of just about every religion. Osiris was killed, chopped into pieces, and resurrected, yet this is not evidence that the Egyptian pantheon existed. Gilgamesh made a visit to the underworld and returned to report on its existence and conditions, but we aren’t worshipping a mob of Mesopotamian deities now. How can anyone claim that Christianity is unique in having a dead god returning to life when it’s a standard feature of many old pagan religions?

The resurrection of Jesus is not a reasonable historical event. There are no primary, contemporary accounts of his existence. The books of the Bible that describe him were written decades after the purported event, and most of the biblical accounts are second-, third-, or distant-hand hearsay written by people with a vested interest in promoting a religion. The accounts we do have are inconsistent or contradictory, or inconsistent and contradictory. By the standards of historical verification, Jesus and his miraculous resurrection are myths. Nothing more. Maybe something less.

This is the kind of idiocy we’ve all come to expect from D’Souza. Another tactic that believers resort to, other than pseudohistory, is pseudoscience. This is remarkably popular, especially among the New Agey set, and the usual science that gets mangled is physics. The quantum is usually involved, too. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be an exception, so when Robert Lanza asks in the Huffington Post (you already know what kind of fluff you’re going to get from the information given just this far), “Does Death Exist? New Theory Says ‘No’“, you can count on yet more nonsense.

Lanza has respectable credentials as a stem cell biologist, but he’s also the author of one of those all-encompassing, total-explanation-of-the-universe, crackpot theories, which is his, and which belongs entirely to him, called “biocentrism.” We know this because his tag line in the article is “Robert Lanza, MD is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is the author of “Biocentrism,” a book that lays out his theory of everything.” I’ve noticed that leading scientists tend not to have to introduce themselves by declaring that they are a leading scientist, but that’s another issue.

Lanza recently lost a sister in an accident, and most of his article seems to be a kind of emotional denial, that this tragedy cannot have happened and his sister really is alive and well somewhere. I feel for him — I’ve also lost a sister, and wish I could see her again — but this is not a reason to believe death doesn’t happen. I’ve stubbed my toe and wished with some urgency that it hadn’t happened, but the universe is never obliging about erasing my mistakes.

But then Lanza goes on to babble about quantum physics and many-worlds theory.

Although individual bodies are destined to self-destruct, the alive feeling – the ‘Who am I?’- is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain. But this energy doesn’t go away at death. One of the surest axioms of science is that energy never dies; it can neither be created nor destroyed. But does this energy transcend from one world to the other?

Consider an experiment that was recently published in the journal Science showing that scientists could retroactively change something that had happened in the past. Particles had to decide how to behave when they hit a beam splitter. Later on, the experimenter could turn a second switch on or off. It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle did in the past. Regardless of the choice you, the observer, make, it is you who will experience the outcomes that will result. The linkages between these various histories and universes transcend our ordinary classical ideas of space and time. Think of the 20-watts of energy as simply holo-projecting either this or that result onto a screen. Whether you turn the second beam splitter on or off, it’s still the same battery or agent responsible for the projection.

I have heard that first argument so many times, and it is facile and dishonest. We are not just “energy”. We are a pattern of energy and matter, a very specific and precise arrangement of molecules in movement. That can be destroyed. When you’ve built a pretty sand castle and the tide comes in and washes it away, the grains of sand are still all there, but what you’ve lost is the arrangement that you worked to generate, and which you appreciated. Reducing a complex functional order to nothing but the constituent parts is an insult to the work. If I were to walk into the Louvre and set fire to the Mona Lisa, and afterwards take a drive down to Chartres and blow up the cathedral, would anyone defend my actions by saying, “well, science says matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore, Rabid Myers did no harm, and we’ll all just enjoy viewing the ashes and rubble from now on”? No. That’s crazy talk.

We also wouldn’t be arguing that the painting and the architecture have transcended this universe to enter another, nor would such a pointless claim ameliorate our loss in this universe.

The rest of his argument is quantum gobbledy-gook. The behavior of subatomic particles is not a good guide to what to expect of the behavior of large bodies. A photon may have no rest mass, but I can’t use this fact to justify my grand new weight loss plan; quantum tunnelling does not imply that I can ignore doors when I amble about my house. People are not particles! We are the product of the aggregate behavior of the many particles that constitute our bodies, and you cannot ignore the importance of these higher-order relationships when talking about our fate.

The rational atheist view is simpler, clearer, and I think, more true. Lanza’s sister is dead, and so is mine; that means the features of their independent existence that were so precious to us, that made them interesting, thinking, behaving human beings, have ceased to exist. The 20-watts of energy are dissipating as heat, and can’t be brought back. They are lost to us, and someday we will end, too.

We should feel grief. Pretending that they have ‘transcended’ into some novel quantum mechanical state in which their consciousness persists, or that they are shaking hands with some anthropomorphic spiritual myth in never-never land, does a disservice to ourselves. The pain is real. Don’t deny it. Use it to look at the ones you love who still live and see what you can do to make our existence now a little better, and perhaps a little more conducive to keeping our energies patterned usefully a little longer.

Comments

  1. #1 octopod
    December 10, 2009

    Damn, I spend all this time confirming that I’ve got the right IPA character and FOUR of you guys get the jump on me.

    (it’s pr?r)

  2. #2 Quidam
    December 10, 2009

    Ursulamajor #32

    Better place my ass

    That’s a religon we can all follow. ;)

  3. #3 windy
    December 10, 2009

    Does death exist? The fossils say NO!

  4. #4 Celtic_Evolution
    December 10, 2009

    Vashti

    It worked for me using a strong (South) Boston accent.

    Ha! It took 4 or so years and much hard work, but I finally shed my (Charlestown) accent after I left the Boston area. I had to or else I would be in jail for beating the bloody hell out of people who kept asking me to say stupid shit that ends in “ar” for chuckles.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    December 10, 2009

    … which is why, actually, I’d be quite happy to refer to myself as ’20 Watts of pure power, baby, (rowr!)…’

    Powers.

  6. #6 Vashti
    December 10, 2009

    Celtic_Evolution,

    but I finally shed my (Charlestown) accent after I left the Boston area. I had to or else I would be in jail for beating the bloody hell out of people who kept asking me to say stupid shit that ends in “ar” for chuckles.

    It took me 10 years and I still hate Mars Bars!

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    December 10, 2009

    Thanks, everyone. That was a possibility I considered, but it sounded just too implausible. I’ve learnt something :-)

    Does death exist? The fossils say NO!

    Thread won, I can go home.

  8. #8 Kel, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Does death exist? The fossils say NO!

    That made my morning.

  9. #9 The Pint
    December 10, 2009

    I completely understand the impulse behind desiring the comfort provided by the idea and belief in an afterlife, especially when it’s fueled by the loss of loved ones. Between the ages of 12 and 16, I lost my mother, my father and my best friend and even 15+ years later, I can remember how much their loss hurt then (and still occasionally hurts now) and how nice it was to think that maybe there would be a chance to be with them again if such a thing as an afterlife existed. However, wishing doesn’t make it so and while I like the IDEA that something like a soul exists and that there’s a chance to be reunited with those lost to death… that’s all it is, a wishful idea. The reality is quite likely that dead is dead and those we’ve lost are gone forever, so we better damn well appreciate those we love while they’re here, and live to the best of our abilities because this is the only chance we’ve got. It hurts like hell, but then that’s the reality of the human experience: pain as well as happiness, with no guarantee of one or the other in equal measure.

    And using that pain of loss and the fear of death that we all have as human beings to entice/badger/blackmail others with promises of eternal life after death (with the quality of said eternal afterlife dependent on how well you adhere to an arbitrary set of principles) is beyond reprehensible. Not to mention the idea that death is ok “because God wills it” is utterly screwed up beyond belief. I had been baptized as a baby and went to summer “bible school” at the local church (although I suspect my parents sent me there more due to location and that it was free summer child care), but had never been much of a practicing Christian. Having people tell me that it was ok my parents had died and left me and that my best friend had died in a random hit-and-run because “God has a plan” or “they’re in a better place now” didn’t just nudge me out the door of Christianity, it caused me to run away as fast as possible. Not only was it fucked up that a deity thinks it’s EVER a good idea to take not just one, but BOTH parents from a child’s life for some unfathomable cosmic reason known only to said deity, it was fucked up that other people thought it was entirely OK for those deaths to have occurred because “God must have had a good reason.”

    PZ wrote: “The pain is real. Don’t deny it. Use it to look at the ones you love who still live and see what you can do to make our existence now a little better, and perhaps a little more conducive to keeping our energies patterned usefully a little longer.” That. Exactly that. Denying the pain you feel at the loss of loved ones not only runs the risk of resulting in serious emotional issues (and I know that from experience – trying to ignore how badly I hurt from those early losses worked in the short term but eventually came back to bite me in the ass in a big way), it puts you at risk for falling prey to pretty promises of reuniting with lost loved ones if only you accept [choose your religion/belief system], no proof necessary (because who wants to be confronted with the fact that there is no proof at all of an afterlife when you so desperately want it to be true?).

    So as much as I sympathize with Lazna’s loss, his attempt to prove the existence of an afterlife with bad science is both pitiable and laughable.

  10. #10 Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus
    December 10, 2009

    A MEDITATION ON DEADNESS
    by Smoggy Batzrubble
    ——————-

    I wish I didn?t have to die,
    It fills me full of terror,
    That now ?I am? but soon ?I ain?t??
    Must be a fucking error!

    I know! I need an afterlife
    Where I can hang around,
    And eat and drink and have a shit
    Not moulder in the ground.

    But which one should I choose myself?
    I know there?s quite a few.
    I want one that?s a bit of fun
    With lots of folks to screw.

    That scrubs out Heaven straight away,
    The least exciting spot,
    Who wants to pray their time away
    For some mad old despot?

    The Greek Gods have a high old time,
    Carousing on their mount,
    But Hades has no sun to shine,
    And fucking shades don?t count.

    Egyptian Gods have stately sex,
    My ba might be quite happy,
    I?d like to practice bas relief,
    And wear a Pharaoh?s nappy.

    I once though Paradise might suit,
    I often play the martyr,
    But forty virgins! What a drag!
    I like an old self-starter

    Who knows all ways to get it on,
    Learned from a thousand fucks,
    A virgin?s cherry pops but once,
    And then you?re shooting ducks.

    Do I really want eternal life?
    Each paradise sounds boring,
    With bully gods and servitude,
    And very little whoring.

    I?ll seek my heaven here on earth,
    Life?s short but very sweet,
    And with no gods to foul my mind
    It?s paradise?s seat.

    AMEN
    Smoggy Batzrubble
    Missionary to the Atheists

  11. #11 Jadehawk, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Ha! It took 4 or so years and much hard work, but I finally shed my (Charlestown) accent after I left the Boston area. I had to or else I would be in jail for beating the bloody hell out of people who kept asking me to say stupid shit that ends in “ar” for chuckles.

    I sympathize. My boyfriend keeps on trying to trick me into saying things like “california”, “chopper”, and “it’s not a tumor”

  12. #12 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkIrdjba1zQuAUsr8hbr86udaSCULR4JOs
    December 10, 2009

    A much better example than Jesus is the Dalai Lama. He’s the 13th reincarnation of Gendun Drup, the first Dalai Lama. You can even see him on TV. From that we can deduce the existence of life after death.

  13. #13 chuckgoecke
    December 10, 2009

    When I have to contend with friends or family grieving the loss of someone close to them, I usually tell them that person lives on within them and all his or her friends and family; any one that person touched throughout their life. Our personalities are a three-way construction of nature(our genes), nurture(our surroundings) and our development(the ways and timing of how nature and nurture interacted throughout our life). Our associates, friends and family make up a big part of our nurture and development. Our personalities are in large part an amalgamation of the personalities of all the people we’ve touched throughout our lives. All their personalities, likewise contain something of us. Thus we live on in the memories and personalities of people we’ve connected with during our life.

  14. #14 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    –leepicton@#80–

    Feel free to use it, uncredited, and if anyone asks you can point them to my blog, or just tell them “oh, that… yeah, the author is Cuttlefish”, and turn away, just to see what happens.

    I am deeply honored that you are using it, and need no other recognition than that. Very happy to be a part of such a special occasion! I hope he lives long enough to regret having had a party so terribly prematurely!

  15. #15 lose_the_woo
    December 10, 2009

    We’ve all been dead before at least once.

  16. #16 efrique
    December 10, 2009

    #54 Mr Fire:

    Hey thanks for that link – I’d never realized that “Philosophical zombie” is sometimes abbreviated to P-zed!

    That’s … just too funny a coincidence.

  17. #17 echidna
    December 10, 2009

    Matthew chapter 5 portraits a Jewish leader who is advocating that people follow Jewish law to such a level that is beyond the law (don’t murder, don’t even feel anger), and a level of purity that is clearly unsustainable. This would be in keeping with a religious movement seeking God’s help to overthrow the oppressors (understandable, given the destruction the Romans were wreaking on the Jews).

    Paul existed, and doesn’t seem to care anything about the teachings of an earthly Jesus (who, if he did exist, was very pro-Jewish-Law ). Paul was the one who gave Christianity its shape, and was clearly at odds with James. Paul advocated the ditching of Jewish law almost entirely.

    Paul was both Jewish (though not very observant) and a Roman citizen, which may well indicate that he was a Herodian (he sends greetings to the newest member of his family: Herodion) – a family appointed by the Romans to govern the Jews. Paul would have had an interest in quelling the Jewish uprising, and encouraging them to submit to (Roman) authority.

    The best evidence for the existence of Jesus comes from Paul, who was in the process of developing a mystery religion, and for whom Jesus’ earthly existence doesn’t seem to have any importance.

    My opinion is that Jesus is an amalgam of several historical and mythological figures. If he did exist, I don’t think that he bore much resemblance to the meek and mild figure fondly imagined today.

  18. #18 realinterrobang
    December 10, 2009

    Between January 6, 2007 and January 6, 2008, I had two relatives and my dad’s best friend die, plus my great-aunt was murdered. Being as my family is nominally religious and comes from one of those British Isles working-class backgrounds where it’d be absolutely unthinkable not to have some kind of religious figure preside over a funeral (because whether or not you’re religious, that’s the done thing), I spent a lot of time sitting in various funeral homes and chapels and things, listening to various flavours of shiny-eyed Christian clergymen drone on.

    What struck (and infuriated) me the most was how the Christian prescriptions for what to do after a death are exactly contrary to one’s natural inclinations. One wants to be angry; the clergydroid tells one to be at peace. One wants to grieve, and the clergydroid tells one to rejoice. One wants to mourn, and the clergydroid tells one to anticipate (the day when one will be reunited with the deceased in the afterlife). It made the social-control aspect of Christianity absolutely transparent, as far as I was concerned — here’s this disinterested outsider telling me I have to behave in a completely unnatural way, and holding the threat of social stigma over me if I don’t.

    I also heard a lot of meaningless word salad from Paul or whoever’s passing for him these days, which didn’t improve my mood any.

    Fortunately, I think they’re so full of shit I spent most of those funeral services scowling meaningfully and sitting with my hands up my sleeves, so I could give them the stealth finger. Both hands.

  19. #19 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmkHHqiISdnCiblJiISj7WU5xdSNCOFkf4
    December 10, 2009

    Ursulamajor #32
    Better place my ass!
    I was a 10-year old “daddy’s girl” when my father died. He was electrical engineer and a respected member of the church and community. So what did people say to “comfort” me? “Your father was so smart and wise, such a good man, that God must have really needed him.” Some god, huh? Omnipotent? Not if he needed an electrical engineer from S. Illinois. Loving? Not if he took the loving husband and father of 1 wife and 4 kids? More like a selfish incompetent. Or more like…nothing at all.

  20. #20 echidna
    December 10, 2009

    realinterrobang,
    Spot on.
    Social control – the purpose of Christianity from the word go.

  21. #21 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 10, 2009

    #1 If you read the whole thing (and I don’t recommend it) the wave function of his bullshit ultimately collapses into what I take to mean that time is an illusion

    But if you don’t read it, the wave function doesn’t collapse…a kitten lives and the stupid will have no precise location within your synapses to survive.

  22. #22 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 10, 2009

    @CJO #37 and others…I get the feeling that Crossan just finds Yeshua of Galilee (as opposed to King Christ) too interesting to really question his existence openly. But whether Jesus existed or not seems irrelevant. If he did exist, all we know of him (other than the persona created by his followers a generation after his death)….is that he was associated with John the Baptist, lived in Galilee and dies in Judea. If he didn’t exist, we can ignore these pieces of information too, which is not a big loss. It doesn’t really matter if he existed or not.

  23. #23 mrcreosote
    December 10, 2009

    “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality by not dying” – Woody Allen

  24. #24 tjgueguen
    December 10, 2009

    Of course D’Souza probably never considered the possibility that Jesus for whatever reason is the exception to the rule, that Jesus is the only being ever capable of experiencing literal life after death. Or that Jesus never said everyone who followed him would experience eternal life, that this idea was added on for whatever reason by later followers. Imagine the horror for so many if he appeared at some point and said, “Hey, the only people who get to live forever are the ones God and I find interesting enough. You, over there, Joe Smith? Sorry, but you’re way too boring to make it worth the bother.”

    It would be utterly ironic if there was a Jesus, and yes, he “rose from the grave.” But unfortunately for the faithful he did so because he actually wasn’t dead, merely so badly injured he appeared to be dead. He managed to recover sufficiently to escape his tomb before dying elsewhere without his body being discovered.

  25. #25 SEF
    December 10, 2009

    The dead are dead

    Apart from the undead of course!

    And that’s another bit of the Jesus myth notably missing from real history – all those zombies supposedly bimbling around in the city (eg Matthew 27:52-53) somehow went completely unremarked upon by all real records-keepers of the time. No budget was allocated for killing and re-entombing them, nor repairing the facilities which got broken.

    How could a zombie uprising not be worthy of note (outside of a work of religious fiction – viz the bible)?!

  26. #26 IanW
    December 10, 2009

    Anri #51:

    Yeah, we all know it’s correlated with brain activity, but how?

    In exactly the same way that the ‘strength’ of steel is an emergent property of its molecular structure.

    The strength of steel is an objectively observable property that has an objective explanation in physics. Subjectivity has no such explanation within known physics – not even a conceivable one.

    How can subjectivity be generated by a bundle of objective processes, when subjectivity is simply not in the causal language of current physics? If you told a physicist that a dynamic physical process “felt” something, he would look at you funny (but a neurobiologist wouldn’t).

    And, presumably, if one was well-versed in both subjects, you’d have divided by zero and the world would end.

    The point is not that the world would end, but that known physics cannot explain subjectivity. What should be trusted more, your own observation, or what physics is currently capable of explaining?

    Subjectivity is not an observable object, force, or property of any system in the universe (except your own, if you are a believer in consciousness).

    Except by inference, very much like a black hole. You can’t see it, but you can determine its effect on things around it. I can infer the subjective experiences of other people by talking with them and experiencing thoughts that (as far as I can tell) did not originate within myself. Not proof, merely evidence.

    Actually, a black hole is a very good analogy, requiring something a bit more than conventional chemistry and physics to explain.

    It’s called the explanatory gap. If you disagree, then please tell us how. Design a machine and prove to me that it is conscious. Until you can fully explain it, the woo will persist.

    Well, meybe we’d best ask computer people to work on that.
    We could call it something intersting… something having to do with intelligence… but it would have to be artifical. Any ideas for what we could call a field of study like that?

    Let me know when the AI (actually AC) people have succeeded, and proved that they have. I was one of them once, for quite a while.

    Oh yes indeed, there is a definite observed correlation between physical processes and the subjective – just have a neurosurgeon stimulate parts of your brain, or take a shot of morphine, or even watch a movie, and you’ll see. In fact, every material interaction that you can have appears to causally affect your subjective experience. But that doesn’t really explain anything.

    What would you expect such an explaination to look like?

    I don’t know, what would you? See, that’s what “unexplained” means.

    All you’ve done is show a correlation between some physical process (macroscopic, neural, or molecular) and your subjectivity.

    In the same way that showing a correlation between gravity and ionic bonding of concrete is usually accepted as an ‘explaination’ of a dropped egg smashing on the pavement.

    Except that both of those are objectively observable things. Subjectivity is not an objectively observable property of anything.

    You haven’t explained how, nor can you with current physics.

    Emphasis on ‘current’.

    Precisely.

    If current physics was all there was, we should be unconscious automatons, with no subjectivity. Processes in physics, no matter how complex, have objective properties, and that’s all.

    Apparently not, as we are pysical processes, and have subjective properties. If you have evidence that we are more than this, please publish and accept your Nobel.

    I make no claims. All I ask for is an explanation. Objective physics does not appear to be capable.

  27. #27 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Physics cannot explain subjectivity because the question is asked at the level of analysis appropriate for psychology.

    On the commentary to this post ( http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2009/02/daniel-dennetts-darwin-day-delivery.html ) three of us discuss the problems of trying to explain [in this case, consciousness, but it could just as easily have been subjectivity] or to simply attempt to employ physics to try to reduce the problem to absurdity.

    Answers are generally better when stated in the same level of analysis as the question. You did not ask a physics question, so demanding an answer of physics is… silly.

  28. #28 IanW
    December 10, 2009

    Maybe we are. Unconscious automatons I mean. This whole consciousness thing could simply be an elaborate illusion; An evolved response to external stimuli. An incredibly complex interlocking, overlapping series of complementary components developed at different times, for various environmental reasons.
    Maybe that’s it.

    Yes, that’s the approach of Dennett and the Eliminationists et al. I guess you have to be your own personal judge. I can’t buy into it. If there is an illusion, then something must be experiencing the illusion. An unaware automaton would not be subjectively aware of any illusions – or anything at all for that matter. There are other more complex reasons why I can’t accept that, but I won’t get into them here.

  29. #29 Traveler
    December 10, 2009

    anti-theist @85,

    If the bible was correct in the description of Jesus I believe it obvious he was a narcissistic schitzophrenic with many psychopathic tendencies. He obviously suffered from dissociative identity disorder, grandious delusions and most likelely severe depression(poor shit).

    So what you’re saying is that Jesus had the distinction of being the first lunatic to suffer the delusion that he was Jesus?

  30. #30 Kel, OM
    December 10, 2009

    If current physics was all there was, we should be unconscious automatons

    I’ve never understood why this should be the case. Why can’t experience be a form of function? Of course I can’t prove this either way, merely I’m relying on the success of the physical model to explain things at the atomic level (of which we are composed) and of all that shows that mental cognition indeed correlates to brain activity.

    In other words, I’m really not sure why there is a hard problem of consciousness. Why is it we can rule out that experience comes from function and thus necessitates a rethink of the laws of physics? It feels like the hard problem of consciousness is like the hard problem of life or the hard problem of species; that is to say how can life come from non-life or how can one species turn into another species? That what could be a continuum is treated as discrete and thus creating a harder problem to solve than need be.

  31. #31 Kagato
    December 10, 2009

    It would be utterly ironic if there was a Jesus, and yes, he “rose from the grave.” But unfortunately for the faithful he did so because he actually wasn’t dead, merely so badly injured he appeared to be dead. He managed to recover sufficiently to escape his tomb before dying elsewhere without his body being discovered.

    Or maybe he didn’t escape the tomb.

    When the women visit the tomb, the stone has been very slightly moved; and inside they find Jesus, hands bloodied as he clawed at the stone in vain, now dead all over again. To hide this embarrassing discovery, the body is stolen away and a fanciful lie is invented as a cover-up. Amazingly, they get away with it…

  32. #32 Pierce R. Butler
    December 10, 2009

    lordshipmayhem @ 25# : The Romans were for their era fairly diligent records-keepers.

    Yeah but the Italian government has changed its filing system a few times since then, and certain documents still can’t be located.

    Even the courts-martial and execution certificates for those asleep-on-duty tomb-guardian centurions seem to have been misplaced.

  33. #33 JBabs073
    December 10, 2009

    From post #116

    You learn something new everyday…

    I totally never caught the zombie uprising before. I am intrigued and amused. Oh, that silly Bible…

  34. #34 SEF
    December 10, 2009

    It’s apparently not something the Christian leadership likes to advertise in sermons – too much of a giveaway perhaps (even for people capable of believing in talking animals etc).

    Example link (KJV)

  35. #35 llewelly
    December 10, 2009

    Kel, OM | December 10, 2009 6:23 PM:

    In other words, I’m really not sure why there is a hard problem of consciousness. Why is it we can rule out that experience comes from function and thus necessitates a rethink of the laws of physics?

    If consciousness is the result of physics, there is no need for soul, and huge swathes of religion become demonstrable garbage. And for most of those opposed to the idea that physics is sufficient (via chemistry and biology) to explain consciousness, that is all there is to it; they simply cannot accept the consequences of such an explanation.

    Unfortunately – religions – especially certain types of Christians – have long used the notion of “free will” (or “free agency”) to put the blame for God’s evil on mere humans. These blame-transfer exercises require that choice – and therefor consciousness – be a result of the soul. As a result, “free will” is frequently framed in terms which require it to contradict a physical explanation of consciousness. So frequently, that this bad idea has spread to many non-religious people. Thus many people believe “free will” contradicts a physical explanation of consciousness. And so a physical explanation of consciousness is also opposed because it is perceived as taking away freedom.

  36. #36 Kel, OM
    December 10, 2009

    If consciousness is the result of physics, there is no need for soul, and huge swathes of religion become demonstrable garbage.

    But to be fair to Chalmers, it doesn’t seem that such a characterisation is what he is advocating when he talks about the hard problem. [from his paper]

    The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.

    Why are the easy problems easy, and why is the hard problem hard? The easy problems are easy precisely because they concern the explanation of cognitive abilities and functions. To explain a cognitive function, we need only specify a mechanism that can perform the function. The methods of cognitive science are well-suited for this sort of explanation, and so are well-suited to the easy problems of consciousness. By contrast, the hard problem is hard precisely because it is not a problem about the performance of functions. The problem persists even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained.

    When it comes to conscious experience, this sort of explanation fails. What makes the hard problem hard and almost unique is that it goes beyond problems about the performance of functions. To see this, note that even when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioral functions in the vicinity of experience – perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report – there may still remain a further unanswered question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience? A simple explanation of the functions leaves this question open.

  37. #37 nejishiki
    December 10, 2009

    Has D’Souza dealt with this classic objection?

    “When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.”

    David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

  38. #38 Pierce R. Butler
    December 10, 2009

    Glen Davidson @ # 52 – … oh, never mind.

    Michael Longergan @ # 62: Maybe in a sense we do live on, in the memories of those who were important to us, and in the lives of those we have touched.

    I think it was in his sf novel The Crucible of Time that John Brunner had an alien character say, when asked about life after death, “Our vector sum persists in the universe.”

  39. #39 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Yes, that’s the approach of Dennett and the Eliminationists et al.

    Dennett is an eliminativist, not “eliminationist”,and he’s an eliminativist in re qualia, not consciousness — of course we are automatons … conscious automatons, and consciousness is a physical phenomenon. To deny that is to be a mystic or vitalist. As for explanation of consciousness, Dennett gave one in “Consciousness Explained”. To deny that it was an explanation, to claim as some do that the book would better be called “Consciousness Explained Away” (would one complain that Darwin “explained away” design in nature?), is to engage in circular argument — nothing will do as an explanation if one insists that “objective” explanations of “subjective” phenomena aren’t possible (it would take a much longer post to explain why this objective/subjective distinction is nonsensical). That’s the point of the question “What do you think an explanation would look like?” — to the vitalists of consciousness, no explanation of experience will do unless actual experience is embedded in the explanation — a category mistake. Chalmers, as bright as he is, actually talks in terms of zombies being “all dark inside”, as if the brains of conscious beings are lit up. He says it’s “just a metaphor”, but a metaphor for what? It’s not a metaphor, it’s a gross misconception; consciousness isn’t light or being lit up, it’s a cognitive process performed by a physical mechanism, and zombies, being physically identical to their human counterparts, are necessarily just as conscious.

  40. #40 F
    December 10, 2009

    No other religion claims that its founder–say Moses or Muhammad–physically returned from the dead.

    Say what?!

  41. #41 Icarus
    December 10, 2009

    “When you’ve built a pretty sand castle and the tide comes in and washes it away, the grains of sand are still all there, but what you’ve lost is the arrangement that you worked to generate…”

    Wow PZ, you must have been reading my contributions on Yahoo! Answers R&S! I’ve been using that analogy for several years, and you’ve reproduced it here almost word for word. It works very well :-)

  42. #42 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?

    Rocks experience erosion and amoebae experience dessication. The vitalists will insist that there is some obvious and essential difference between that sort of experience and “subjective” experience, but they can’t state what it is without getting intensely circular.

  43. #43 Sven DiMilo
    December 10, 2009

    one ‘s’ two ‘c’s

  44. #44 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Daniel Dennett Debates Dinesh D’Souza

    (A contrast of opposites if ever there was one.)

  45. #45 SC OM
    December 10, 2009

    It’s possibly the longest leap in terms of human psychology. I talk to my father and my best friend on a, um, weakly basis. I know they’re gone. I don’t think acknowledging that has ever been easy for anyone in the fucking history of the earth.

  46. #46 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Off topic, but…
    Seeing that truth machine is posting, I have to say:

    I heart truth machine.
    This is not pentameter
    But it is still true

  47. #47 Carlie
    December 10, 2009

    oops, hit post too soon, meant to add that a lot of Americans pronounce prayer as if it had one syllable and was spelled “prair”

    Now I feel terribly provincial. What other way is there to pronounce it?

  48. #48 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    @Sven Thanks for the correction.
    @Cuttlefish You are too kind … and I feel the same about you.

  49. #49 IanW
    December 10, 2009

    #133 Rocks experience erosion and amoebae experience dessication. The vitalists will insist that there is some obvious and essential difference between that sort of experience and “subjective” experience, but they can’t state what it is without getting intensely circular.

    Do you really think that rocks experience time? Consciousness is very intimately associated with the concept of the present, or now. But the problem is that now is not a physical concept at all, even though many implicitly believe it is. It is not needed to describe any system, except consciousness. In fact, a real physical now would be a serious problem in many areas of theoretical physics. Einstein himself doubted that a theory of the present would ever be possible, and you’ll lose a good deal of street cred if you even try to propose such a theory. Even though now is a word we use every day, there is no objective physical standard to define what now is. It is what you think it is. There is no now for a dead man, or for an unaware automaton – except possibly for the now that you project upon them. For a completely unconscious person – and by extension for rocks, any finite amount of time passes instantly – even quadrillions of years. So the problem then becomes: how can a specific, subjective, moving now emerge from a static timeline with an infinite number of equal, non-preferred nows, or from a timeless universe? And remember that if now is subjective, and it divides that past and the future, then the past and the future are also subjective. Do you really think that rocks or dead people experience the present? Since the present is so fundamental to our experience of reality, someone in science has some serious explaining to do.

  50. #50 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Do you really think that rocks experience time?

    I seem to have lost you.

  51. #51 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 10, 2009

    No other religion claims that its founder–say Moses or Muhammad–physically returned from the dead.

    Abraham was the founder of Judaism. But he didn’t return from the dead either.

  52. #52 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    It is what you think it is.

    In other words, it’s not something you experience. What you are talking about is a concept, not an experience; zombies have concepts just as humans do — just read what they write (which is, ex hypothesi, identical to what we write). That people have a concept of “now” has no metaphysical import — that’s where I lost you (note that I mean that, not the reverse).

  53. #53 IanW
    December 10, 2009

    #141 I seem to have lost you.

    I don’t think so. I don’t think that many of us believe that rocks have any subjective experience. Most of us would also agree that subjective experience is intimately associated with the experience of time.

  54. #54 Jadehawk, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Now I feel terribly provincial. What other way is there to pronounce it?

    with two syllables, like “pray-yer”

  55. #55 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    For a completely unconscious person – and by extension for rocks, any finite amount of time passes instantly – even quadrillions of years.

    No, rocks experience quadrillions of years over quadrillions of years, not “instantly”. When you say “For a …”, you seem to have in mind some homunculus occupying the rock that doesn’t have any concept of “now” and thus “experiences” the passage of time instantaneously. This is conceptually confused on multiple levels.

  56. #56 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    @#140–

    “Now” is a wonderful word
    Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.
    Though dead men, or ‘bots,
    (Whom we say have no thoughts)
    With no concept of time
    Nor of reason, nor rhyme
    Find a concept like “now” quite absurd.

    “There is no now for the dead”
    I have heard (or the similar) said
    Though the newly deceased
    Have not claimed that, at least
    To my knowledge. The claim
    Is most often, the same
    Made by those who are living, instead

    We generate circular claims
    For our own philosophical aims,
    But our own points of view
    (Mine is me; yours is you
    Which no other can see
    (Yours is you; mine is me
    Hasn’t changed since the writing of James!

    (erm… William James, late 1800’s, early 1900’s, fantastic writer, used introspection to investigate the self. Introspection, sadly, would work much better if we had sensory neurons in the brain itself.)

  57. #57 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    I don’t think so.

    And yet you immediately demonstrate it.

    I don’t think that many of us believe that rocks have any subjective experience.

    What did I say about circularity? You are assuming that “experience” is “subjective”, when I just made the point that unconscious things have experience. I just said that vitalists insist that there is some essential difference between “subjective” experience and the other sort, but they can’t say what the difference is without circular reference — repeating ad nauseam that experience is subjective.

    Most of us would also agree that subjective experience is intimately associated with the experience of time.

    Do you really want both instances of “experience” there? It seems redundant, or circular.

    All experience is associated with time — experience refers to something that happened.

  58. #58 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    Actually, Cuttlefish, even more than hearting you, I am in awe of you.

    Introspection, sadly, would work much better if we had sensory neurons in the brain itself.

    There’s a sense in which we do: the thoughts we have register upon our neurons, changing their state — we can remember thoughts that we have, and thus we must sense having them. But these sensations are crude and limited — much like our other senses, the limitations of which we have found ways to overcome to a point.

  59. #59 mrcreosote
    December 10, 2009

    Even if we accept D’Souza’s argument at face value, he still hasn’t established the fact of the afterlife. The only thing that the Jesus and Lazarus stories tell us is that the dead can be re-animated. Nowhere do they talk about an actual afterlife. Where does it say that Lazarus said anything about what he experienced while he was dead?

  60. #60 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    P.S. As with rocks and amoebae, our neurons experience things. If one insists, counterfactually, that “experience” is “subjective”, then it is no surprise that one reaches the conclusion that “the subjective” isn’t physical — in fact, it’s inevitable.

  61. #61 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    P.P.S. The experience that a neuron has isn’t the same as the experience a mind has. As Cuttlefish noted, the latter is psychological experience, which occurs at a different descriptive level.

  62. #62 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    tm, mutual admiration.

    do we register process, or outcome? registering outcome is certainly consistent with both neuro and psych. registering process is what we do not do. so it is no surprise that it feels like magic.

  63. #63 echidna
    December 10, 2009

    Which regions of the English-speaking world pronounce “prayer” with two syllables?

    Not Aussies (we tend to shorten words more than most).

  64. #64 Carlie
    December 10, 2009

    Jadehawk – thanks. I use that pronunciation for a different word entirely, as in “Josh is going to be our pray-er tonight, ’cause he’s got a lot to say to God”.

  65. #65 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    thanks, monotreme! (er… echidna)

    I wondered the same myself, but was otherwise occupied while this thread answered the phonological question.

    This sort of thing is not just interesting, but crucial to those of us who occasionally need to find rhymes and meter.

  66. #66 truth machine, OM
    December 10, 2009

    do we register process, or outcome? registering outcome is certainly consistent with both neuro and psych. registering process is what we do not do. so it is no surprise that it feels like magic.

    Yes, quite so, and this is a key point that Dennett makes, that the contents of consciousness are those “drafts” that have more “fame” or “clout” in the brain. So you’re right that we can’t directly perceive the process of consciousness from inside the brain — but the same is true of our other senses: e.g., consider trying to look at these pixels without seeing them as words; there’s no such thing as direct vision, and the process of reading or hearing language seems like magic if we stop to examine it. But neuroscientists have made tremendous headway in understanding how this magic is done.

  67. #67 Kel, OM
    December 10, 2009

    It seems quite odd to reflect on the oddity of time in this matter. If it does hold that to a rock the passage of time is “experienced” instantly, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the erosion presented. That the process will slowly occur and the rock will be gradually worn away.

  68. #68 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    tm–“how this magic is done”. Nicely chosen phrase. Never “why”, but very nicely “how”. When searching for causation, reduction is never an answer, but always just a different view of the question. Our consciousness is changed by changes to our environment, across our history with that environment (yes, always assuming genetics, which are the accumulated effects of environmental selection).

    Very nice summation of the active/i> role of sensation; sensing is an active behavior, not a passive intake. I agree wholeheartedly (because your analysis fits the evidence in the field–no surprise there!) Neuroscientists have made great headway, I agree completely–at their level of analysis. At another level, despite decades of active opposition, behavior analysis has proven its worth (you selected language, so… ) in “acquisition” of language. Developmentally disabled, autism-spectrum disorders, and non-labeled, the new and sexy “ABA” is the same “B-MOD” that your parents warned you about. In other words, the level of analysis that focuses on the behavior of the whole organism, as a function of changes in the environment, is (no shit?) the most pragmatic level of analysis for learning language learning.

    There are tons of theories of how the environment interacts. Bottom line is, it does. (I know, tm, you agree with this. sorry, I have strayed from a simple comment about your comment.) If we wish to look for explanation, we can find reductionistic “how”, or environmental “why”. I prefer the latter, but really enjoy the former. What I dislike is the former pretending to be the latter, which probably can be traced at least to Chomsky, if not to Plato.

  69. #69 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 10, 2009

    damn. italics fail.

  70. #70 Owlmirror
    December 10, 2009

    He says they met the risen Jesus after his death. Paul evinces no interest in any feature of the Jesus of the Synoptic account: no miracles, no teaching, nothing. All he knows, he tells us explicitly, is “Christ crucified.” And when he does get around to a face-to-face with Peter, supposedly, in the later tradition, the chief disciple of this figure in life, they get in an argument about circumcision and purity laws. Paul, inexplicably on the historicity assumption, is studiously uninterested in what you would think would be some pretty salient pointers he could pick up from Peter.

    I think that a rebuttal could be constructed to this on psychological grounds… It’s tentative, of course, but I think it holds together.

    Posit that Jesus was a real human, and that Paul had some sort of seizure or hallucination where he experienced what he thought was Jesus. OK, Paul had a conversion experience, like people have done and still do, and with a convert’s fervor, he wished to become a leader in this new cult/church, and help promote it.

    But as with all fervent religionists, there is still a certain cognitive dissonance regarding various religious concepts, especially Jesus-the-man. He doesn’t ask Peter about Jesus-the-man because he doesn’t want his internal concept of Jesus to be contradicted by any inconvenient facts about the man that Peter might relate.

    Another reason for Paul to not bring up Jesus-the-man is because he is promoting himself as a new church/cult leader, and changing what Christianity means into a belief-based system, with a deprecated Jewish Law. Precisely because he is in disagreement with the older Judeocentric Christians, he would want to downplay and ignore their personal knowledge of Jesus-the-man.

    Paul has no problem being self-deprecating, but not on grounds we would expect, were he the only apostle who did not know Jesus in life. Nowhere does anyone in the earliest literature make any distinction between Paul and any other member of the new “elect” on what would seem to be reasonable grounds, and nowhere does Paul allude to correcting this gap in his experience, for instance, by reporting some of the teaching he presumably could have picked up from Peter.

    Is it not the case that the earliest literature that we have besides the synoptics is all from Paul and his followers? Again, it might be precisely because he was basically schisming from the primary Apostles that he wanted to emphasize that his authority was as great as theirs, and would not want to emphasize that they knew Jesus-the-man while he did not (and by extension, his followers would want to downplay this distinction as well).

    I’m just remembering now something from Friedman’s book about the Documentary Hypothesis: Aaronid priests did not (could not) claim that Moses did not talk to God (because the legends were too well known by then, and their own authority also derived from them), but they could emphasize that God spoke to Moses and Aaron equally (in their stories and redactions of stories), and that Moses did things that made God angry, thus gaining ground against the Mushite priest rival faction.

    Understanding that scripture is written by factions may help explain some of the puzzles that lead some to the conclusion that Jesus was wholly mythical. I claim no certainty, of course, but I tend to lean with Jesus existing as a human being at some point (even if he was a complete or partial fraud).

    But feel free to show where I have erred.

    That reminds me: Is there an explanation in the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp for why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem (by an absurd kludge), then return to Nazareth to grow up?

  71. #71 F
    December 10, 2009

    From Michelle R @ #6

    “How can anyone claim that Christianity is unique in having a dead god returning to life when it’s a standard feature of many old pagan religions?”

    Look no further than that. Christianity steals from every damn religion and claim they invented it. It’s just common practice.

    So, Christianity is like Microsoft? :p

  72. #72 dmcclean.myopenid.com
    December 10, 2009

    “20 watts of energy”? Et tu, PZ?

  73. #73 echidna
    December 10, 2009

    Cuttlefish, or should I say Sepioidea:
    You are most welcome. Anything for you.

  74. #74 F
    December 10, 2009

    2*10^8 erg/s is sexier anyway.

  75. #75 Jadehawk, OM
    December 10, 2009

    That reminds me: Is there an explanation in the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp for why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem (by an absurd kludge), then return to Nazareth to grow up?

    probably for the same reason the wedding guests at cana were getting drunk on grape juice: you work with the story you have.

  76. #76 CS
    December 10, 2009

    And the alive are alive…deep stuff Mister Beardy Man

  77. #77 aratina cage
    December 11, 2009

    Celtic_Evolution #12,

    It’s a curse of sentience, really… from the moment we became self-aware, we began to fear loss of that self-awareness at death.

    And yet we lose self-awareness every time we sleep and regain it when we dream and waken. Believers in souls generally ignore the cyclical nature of self awareness and don’t have a good answer for what happens to the self-aware soul when we undergo dreamless sleep. (Apologies if this has already been said. I am only on comment #12.)

  78. #78 Tulse
    December 11, 2009

    To say rocks have “experiences” is to equivocate on the word. I can just as easily say that rocks “feel” heat and cold, but I don’t think anyone argues they need blankets.

  79. #79 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Oh, man, I avoided this post/thread precisely because it seemed so pointless/silly/stupid. Then I saw who was making the claim: Dinesh D’Souza. I watched an old debate between him and Christopher Hitchens last night and he made Hitchens look like Miss Manners. The following describe D’Sousa (and not Hitchens given the context!): smarmy, douchey (it’s a word now), smug, glib, obnoxious, and idiotic (okay, this one never applies to Hitchens). Christopher Hitchens is better at applying the Golden Rule than Dinesh D’Souza. And I hate to say it, PZ, but they both make you look positively cordial.

    I think we should all label him a “New Theist” and proceed to whine ceaselessly about his lack of civility. Oh wait, that wouldn’t accomplish anything.

  80. #80 truth machine, OM
    December 11, 2009

    There’s naive or caricatured reductionism — “X is just Y” — and valid reductionism — “phenomena at the X level can be explained in terms of relationships among entities at the Y level”. Why is the sky blue? Why did the dinosaurs die off? Why do autistic and non-autistic children have different expectations in the Sally-Anne test? These can all be answered, at some level, in terms of how things work. But sometimes answers at that level are unhelpful, or even inscrutable — see Dennett’s Two Black Boxes: a Fable

  81. #81 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 11, 2009

    In the southern regions of the US, “prayer” is pronounced with two syllables. And very slowly. I have always been interested to know if linguists have devoted much time to the very unique dialect that southern ministers seem to speak. I wish I had the phonetic capabilities to get this right, but the pronunciation of “God” is almost disyllabic (Gaw-ud). They also use prepositions weirdly. You have belief “on” rather than in your heart. Children are not merely raised, but “raised up”. “Fellowship” has been enverbiated. “Homosexual” is pronounced “haw-muh-sex-yul”. And rather than being convinced, people are “convicted”.

    On a different note, Brother Jed Smock was preaching on my campus today. This guy was wizened 19 years ago when I first saw him rail against “proMIScuous weemen” on the campus of Ohio University…still spreading the message of hate, and far afield at that.

  82. #82 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmnNE2pFt98pKdyV1uLiCqA2dJ8HsqY0E4
    December 11, 2009

    This is clearly an emotive and important topic!

    A couple of things seem to be clear from the evidence of the post and the comments. This is a highly emotive topic even for atheists and people are relatively impatient and eager to get their voice heard. People also seem very sure of things.

    Now I personally don’t doubt that the academic integrity and rigor of 99.9% of pro-faith advocates is lacking. I am also sure that for each of these rhetorical tactics are important practices.

    I understand that it is frustrating when what appears to be nonsense is believed by many. But I’m not convinced that dogma will beat dogma & unfortunately one of the things that people forget is that the only thing science ought to be dogmatic about is science. Even Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell manages to treat people who have faith, or faith in faith with enough courtesy that they read through his arguments.

    For that kind of reason I think it’s a shame that the only people who will really benefit from the insights in this post already belive what it has to say.

    It’s worth noting that if we agree with the title of the post (which I’m assuming we do) then it would be fair to say that the beneficiaries of religion are still alive. The next thing that is worth noting is that there are far more people who give to the church (time or money, and time could be taken as just attending) than recieve from it materially, so they must feel that there is a benefit to them.

    I think it’s worth noting that some form of religious practice is not just universal to societies across the globe today but, that in addition the Cro Magnon were thought to have some form of burial ritual (they did bury their dead).

    Now it seems to me that if all these things are the case then religion is a phenomenon that won’t be washed away with fierce and often irreverent arguments about the greater integrity & knowledge of the scientific community.

    For these reasons personally I look forward to fair treatments of peoples arguments rather than arguments that assume everyone agrees in the first place.

    Now as a scientific and fair minded person I would be happy to be fairly criticized for my point of view.

  83. #83 truth machine, OM
    December 11, 2009

    To say rocks have “experiences” is to equivocate on the word.

    Tulse we’ve had this debate several times before — you demonstrate the same density and circular reasoning as Ian. To deny that rocks experience erosion or that amoebae experience desiccation is to commit a falsehood; experience is what happens to something: rocks, people, neurons, brains, minds — all have experiences of different sorts. What we call “subjective” experience is the experience that minds undergo. One can better understand the nature of consciousness and the mind once one grasps what is common about experiences — not unlike when Newton understood commonalities among motions or Einstein understood commonalities among accelerations — I’m sure that stupid people accused them of equivocating; likewise Darwin has been accused of equivocating between natural and artificial selection.

    I can just as easily say that rocks “feel” heat and cold, but I don’t think anyone argues they need blankets.

    No, it is false that rocks feel heat or cold, because feelings are emotions and rocks don’t have the mechanisms for emotions.

    Also, the bit about equating feeling cold with needing blankets is stupid — the Apocalypse tapestry at Angers was draped over orange orchards to protect them from frost, yet oranges don’t have feelings, and lepers or others who have lost the sensation of cold have no less need for blankets. Both oranges and people experience frosts, both oranges and people need blankets, but only people feel cold — something that evolution has produced to motivate us to takes action to avoid injury.

  84. #84 F
    December 11, 2009

    @ Jadehawk, OM

    Your boyfriend needs to get with the program. The secret is to try and get you to say “chowder”. Conversely, the other secret is for you to avoid this at all costs. ;)

  85. #85 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 11, 2009

    The next thing that is worth noting is that there are far more people who give to the church (time or money, and time could be taken as just attending) [AE: suckers] than recieve from it materially [AE: crooks], so they must feel that there is a benefit to them.

  86. #86 aratina cage
    December 11, 2009

    IanW #117,

    known physics cannot explain subjectivity

    Bah! Subjectivity is concealed by its dispersion throughout the brain in the form of billions of memories (or more depending on how memory ultimately is stored), which is different for each person and different at each moment in time for the same person. The only one with access to all those memories for the time being is the individual possessing the brain in which those memories are stored.

  87. #87 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Another reason for Paul to not bring up Jesus-the-man is because he is promoting himself as a new church/cult leader, and changing what Christianity means into a belief-based system, with a deprecated Jewish Law. Precisely because he is in disagreement with the older Judeocentric Christians, he would want to downplay and ignore their personal knowledge of Jesus-the-man.

    This still doesn’t account for Paul’s complete silence on the teaching material, even when he’s addressing concerns treated explicitly in saying or parable by the Synoptic Jesus. It is curious, also, that closeness to the man himself should grow in importance with the passage of time. Paul is in defense mode at several points in the genuine epistles, notably in Galatians Ch 1, again admitting that he had persecuted the church, but not apparently troubled by what would seem to be the easiest charge to make if his apostolic authority was being questioned.

    Is it not the case that the earliest literature that we have besides the synoptics is all from Paul and his followers? Again, it might be precisely because he was basically schisming from the primary Apostles that he wanted to emphasize that his authority was as great as theirs, and would not want to emphasize that they knew Jesus-the-man while he did not (and by extension, his followers would want to downplay this distinction as well).

    We shouldn’t assume, first of all, that the pseudepigraphical Pauline literature was all penned by “followers.” A point was reached where Paul’s and Peter’s names afforded a text enough authority, if the attribution was acceped, to pass muster despite espousing obviously un-Pauline theology. The division you’re positing reminds me of Burton Mack’s formulation of “Jesus movements” inspired by the Jerusalem elect, focussed on an ethica Jewish piety and transmitters of the teaching tradition, and the “Christ cults,” outward-oriented (or universalist) apocalyptic movements with significant Hellenic influence and Greek “godfearer” adherents. It doesn’t contradict anything we know, but it has alays struck me as an ad hoc ‘bridge’ between events in the 20s or 30s CE, from which era the nucleus, at least, of the teaching material must have been established if Jesus was its originator, and the Synoptic narratives decades later. The texts we have from 50 to 70 CE give us only the Christ cults, and it seems that the teaching tradition was not established; in any case the earliest literature is silent on the words of Jesus that become so important later.

    That reminds me: Is there an explanation in the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp for why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem (by an absurd kludge), then return to Nazareth to grow up?

    I don’t know, but by way of an oblique approach to the question, I’ll say that I find it dubious that the author of Luke is unaware of Matthew. I’m with the two-source hypothesis insofar as they both have Mark in front of them. But if Luke has Matthew too, that helps explain why the authors of Luke and Matthew both take the narrative of Mark in outline and add exactly the same elements: an annunciation story and a virgin birth narrative, with geneaology; large blocks of thematically arranged wisdom and teaching material, with a central sermon incorporating the Beatitudes; and an extended post-resurrection account, with appearances of the risen Lord to the disciples. If the author of Luke and his audience are already familiar with Matthew then the correspondences, each with its own Lukan twist, become coherent. It has to be different at every turn, yet it has to treat nearly every significant event in Luke’s Greco-Roman, novelistic mode to contrast with the scrupulously Jewish Midrash presented by Matthew. The census and the forced excursion to Bethlehem could be one such necessary variation typical of the author’s style of pseudo-historiography, connecting the narrative with a dimly remembered onerous decree of Herod. Also, the author lacks the author of Matthew’s interest in Moses parallels via a journey to Egypt, but maybe he wants a voyage as an element in his birth narrative for other reasons?

  88. #88 wheatdogg.myopenid.com
    December 11, 2009

    Holy crap! Back in my younger days (before I studied physics in depth), I had the same idea as D’Souza – that the “energy” of our brain/soul/whatever would somehow be “conserved” upon death and recycled someplace else.

    I had this idea when I was maybe 12. Then I realized (after suitable schooling in science) that it was a really stupid idea, and thought no more of it.

    Now, to think I could have expanded on this flimsy concept, written two or three books on it, and made some money off of it! Damn it! I knew I should have signed up for Hucksterism 101 as an elective my freshman year.

    Can I sue D’Souza for infringing on my intellectual property rights instead?

  89. #89 wheatdogg.myopenid.com
    December 11, 2009

    Sorry, I meant Lanza, not D’Souza, but same difference.

  90. #90 IanW
    December 11, 2009

    I forgot – I should probably issue a disclaimer: I am definitely an atheist, and I think most of the important philosophical contributions to consciousness have come from atheists (including Chalmers), even when we’re at odds with the majority. Remember that atheists are a very diverse group. Just because we think consciousness is unexplained does not mean that materialism is invalid, or that there is a “soul”, or that even if there were something resembling a soul, that there is a God. Those would all be huge leaps of faith without evidence.

    There is also alot of quantum woo out there which should of course be disregarded. Some would like to believe that consciousness or a “soul” is somehow fundamental in creating or defining reality, which would make souls valuable objects for powerful opposing forces to fight over. They don’t realize that there must also be an objective bird’s eye perspective to that scenario, thereby contradicting the soul’s putative reality-defining properties (might make for a good fantasy novel, though).

  91. #91 WowbaggerOM
    December 11, 2009

    Your boyfriend needs to get with the program. The secret is to try and get you to say “chowder”.

    “Say it Frenchy. Say chowda!”

  92. #92 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    This still doesn’t account for Paul’s complete silence on the teaching material, even when he’s addressing concerns treated explicitly in saying or parable by the Synoptic Jesus.

    Well… Again, Paul might have wanted to avoid appearing to contradict Jesus (when he was contradicting Jesus), especially if the teaching material derived from the Judeo-Christians. And citing it when he agreed with Jesus might have caused problems because people might then have looked at it more closely when he did contradict Jesus. That might be a bit weak, but Paul obviously had his own agenda and his own way of doing things.

    Is there a consensus (in the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp) on why the synoptics do contradict Paul, especially on what Jesus said about his ministry (being to the Jews only), and the status of the law?

    Oh, and is there a reason for “Nazareth” at all, in the mythic view? If Jesus was just a reified suffering servant, why not have him come from Jerusalem, or someplace else known to be religiously significant? Or why not just say he was born in Bethlehem, and be done with it? Why have an origin in an obscure village in the north, which Luke had to work around by his kludge?

  93. #93 F
    December 11, 2009

    The census and the forced excursion to Bethlehem could be one such necessary variation typical of the author’s style of pseudo-historiography, connecting the narrative with a dimly remembered onerous decree of Herod.

    “Pseudo-historiography” and “dimly remembered”, indeed. The census story makes no senses.

  94. #94 tenebra98
    December 11, 2009

    PZ, I do not comment very often here, although I read your blog quite often.

    The last two paragraphs that you wrote here, are so true! I lost a sister to, about 2 and a half years ago. She was 26 years old at the time…

    I am in pain, and that pain will never go away. I know that and I have faced that. I know that my sister is dead and will never come back.

  95. #95 WowbaggerOM
    December 11, 2009

    The concept of the afterlife (particularly heaven and hell) are enough – for me at least – to be a serious flaw in any consideration of a religion, Christianity in particular.

    If, deep down, God wants us with him in eternal paradise why not just put us there in the first place? It just makes no frickin’ sense.

    Similarly, the idea of an eternity of punishment is astonishingly unjust – so much so that even a few Christian sects have distanced themselves from it – which completely undermines the concept of the divine being involved being anything a long the lines of benevolent, let alone the ‘loving’ god the Christians believe in.

  96. #96 Kel, OM
    December 11, 2009

    I forgot – I should probably issue a disclaimer: I am definitely an atheist, and I think most of the important philosophical contributions to consciousness have come from atheists (including Chalmers), even when we’re at odds with the majority. Remember that atheists are a very diverse group.

    Ever since I read Chalmers’ main papers on the matter (and a couple of rebuttals) I’ve always wondered just why experience can’t be function. That problem of looking at consciousness as a discrete element contradicts to me what we know about life and evolution. Chalmers’ position to me seems quite odd. It’s defining a problem that may not necessarily be there and from that concluding that there’s a whole new aspect to reality that we are neglecting.

    It seems pretty brash to posit an entirely new aspect to the most fundamental nature we could possibly think of for what really seems a biological problem. Perhaps I’m not grasping Chalmers properly, so I would appreciate any input on the matter.

  97. #97 F
    December 11, 2009

    @
    hxxps://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmnNE2pFt98pKdyV1uLiCqA2dJ8HsqY0E4 Author Profile Page

    A couple of things seem to be clear from the evidence of the post and the comments. This is a highly emotive topic even for atheists and people are relatively impatient and eager to get their voice heard. People also seem very sure of things.

    Seeing as death really is not the subject of argument in the posts, although the tangential historical Jesus and something of the nature of consciousness are, I’m not sure where you are going with this. Yes, it is emotive. When people try to console grieving atheists with fairy stories, and bad ones at that, it pisses us off. Impatient? If you say so.

    I understand that it is frustrating when what appears to be nonsense is believed by many. But I’m not convinced that dogma will beat dogma & unfortunately one of the things that people forget is that the only thing science ought to be dogmatic about is science.

    Dogma has no place in science. Or anywhere, really. Like inappropriate attire.

    Even Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell manages to treat people who have faith, or faith in faith with enough courtesy that they read through his arguments.

    For that kind of reason I think it’s a shame that the only people who will really benefit from the insights in this post already belive what it has to say.

    It isn’t all that expected that the general faithful will come by here to challenge their beliefs. Most that do come, come to troll. And they have no courteous arguments. No actual arguments at all, in fact. It is mostly a discussion among atheists, not a place of proselytizing.

    I think it’s worth noting that some form of religious practice is not just universal to societies across the globe today but, that in addition the Cro Magnon were thought to have some form of burial ritual (they did bury their dead).

    I’m not sure that is particularly worth noting at all. I can only imagine it applying as a faitheist
    tactic.

    Now it seems to me that if all these things are the case then religion is a phenomenon that won’t be washed away with fierce and often irreverent arguments about the greater integrity & knowledge of the scientific community.

    Again, we don’t post here trying to convince anyone. Religious types don’t listen to reason or facts, and make no use of these themselves.

    For these reasons personally I look forward to fair treatments of peoples arguments rather than arguments that assume everyone agrees in the first place.

    You will find fair treatment of any actual argument. Don’t expect, however, that folks will respond nicely to the same old demolished attempts at arguments repeatedly. Also, the exchange of ideas can get rather heated. This can be a rather good thing. But again, in dealing with religious “arguments”, atheists can be rather dismissive of rehashed evidence-lacking belief trolling.

    Now as a scientific and fair minded person I would be happy to be fairly criticized for my point of view.

    Well, you get a little criticism, maybe, and some explanation, hopefully. I’m certainly not the elected spokesperson of the Pharyngula community, by any means, so my views do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone.

  98. #98 truth machine, OM
    December 11, 2009

    I think most of the important philosophical contributions to consciousness have come from atheists (including Chalmers), even when we’re at odds with the majority. Remember that atheists are a very diverse group.Just because we think consciousness is unexplained does not mean that materialism is invalid

    That’s rather clueless, since Chalmers’ whole argument is against physicalism, which is entailed by materialism. It is indeed possible to be a materialist while thinking that consciousness is not explainable by “objective physics” — e.g., one can be a mysterian like Colin McGinn, or a non-reductive materialist (although Jaegwon Kim has pretty much refuted non-reductive materialism), or one can just be confused — but Chalmers is no materialist; in The Conscious Mind he has a chapter called “Naturalistic Dualism”, the first section of which is called “An Argument Against Materialism”. Chalmers is generally considered the banner carrier for “modern” (non-Cartesian) dualism.

    That problem of looking at consciousness as a discrete element

    This is what Dennett calls the “Zombic Hunch”:

    The Zombic hunch is the idea that there could be a being that behaved exactly the way you or I behave, in every regard ? it could cry at sad movies, be thrilled by joyous sunsets, enjoy ice cream and the whole thing, and yet not be conscious at all. It would just be a zombie. Now I think that many people are sure that hunch is right, and they don?t know why they?re sure. If you show them the arguments for taking zombies seriously are all flawed, this doesn?t stop them from clinging to the hunch. They?re afraid to let go of it, for fear they?re leaving something deeply important out. And so we get a bifurcation of theorists into those who take the zombic hunch seriously, and those who, like myself, have sort of overcome it. I can feel it, but I just don?t have it anymore.

    Interestingly, Robert Kirk, who originated the term “zombie” as a philosophical construct in his 1974 paper “Sentience and Behaviour”, is now a physicalist and wrote a book in 2005, Zombies and Consciousness, that argues against the possibility of zombies, and which he has referred to as “doing penance”.

  99. #99 Kel, OM
    December 11, 2009

    People also seem very sure of things.

    I find such statements really odd. The life cycle is pretty well established, yet anyone who posits there may be something more somehow thinks that the theoretical (in the most colloquial sense) possibility constitutes an equal merit.

    It’s not about being sure of oneself, it’s that stating a possibility doesn’t mean that it’s worth consideration. Am I certain that when I die that will be it? No. I just have no reason whatsoever to consider otherwise, and any claim presented without evidence is nothing more than blind speculation.

  100. #100 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    @ Owlmirror #161:

    why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth

    I recall it being found to be the case that Nazareth didn’t even exist back then (ie when the Jesus myth has been officially dumped into our time-line)! So it could be about amalgamating yet another story, featuring a Nazarene, whose religious or socio-political significance we don’t know / got lost (eg a hat-tip to a VIP who really was from Nazareth). Or perhaps it was merely some place that the later writer knew to write about in “convincing” detail. Or I suppose there could have been a real, but later, human who was being retrofitted into the proto religion.

    NB Google’s first link was this. I leave finding the actual source for the information as an exercise for someone else.

  101. #101 Josh
    December 11, 2009

    This isn’t an really important distinction to make, but I’m feeling cranky this morning.

    For those of you talking about what rocks do or do not experience, you’re not really thinking about erosion when you’re putting together your comments. The process you’re actually thinking of is weathering. Weathering is the process of breaking down a geological material. Erosion is the transport of those weathering products somewhere else.

    The line between the two processes becomes one when we’re talking about a completely unconsolidated geological material, such as an unconsolidated soil horizon or a gravel deposit. In this case, erosion is the primary process (because the gravel deposit is nothing more than a pile of weathering products (the sand and cobbles and such)) and the some of the same processes that weather can also erode.

    If the clasts (sand grains, clay minerals, soil pedons, whatever) are glued together at all, however, such as these “very lightly” cemented sands and muds in South Dakota, USA

    http://shltrip.com/sitebuilder/images/2s_badland-reduced-SD-ND-WY-4_298-988×749.jpg

    then weathering must break that cement apart/down and liberate* those clasts before actual erosion happens (the moment when they begin to be transported, even if by gravity down a cliff face). Similarly, if we have a granite that is a mass of interlocking crystals

    http://www.beg.utexas.edu/mainweb/publications/graphics/granite-400.jpg

    –these crystals must be broken out of the fabric of the rock (notice how rounded this outcrop is) by weathering (see the pink sand in this photo–those clasts are minerals that were part of those granite “boulders”–that sand is all weathering product) before they can be eroded (moved away from that rock):

    http://www.accessscience.com/loadbinary.aspx?name=qa&filename=Chemical_Weathering_Granite.jpg

    I’m pretty sure weathering is the process you’re referring to, not erosion. Weathering tends to be a very a slow process; erosion tends to be fairly fast.

    But overall, this comment is just me being a nitpicky fuck.
    Carry on.

    *FFFREEEEEEEEDDDDDOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!

  102. #102 Andreas Johansson
    December 11, 2009

    truth machine wrote:

    Tulse we’ve had this debate several times before — you demonstrate the same density and circular reasoning as Ian. To deny that rocks experience erosion or that amoebae experience desiccation is to commit a falsehood; experience is what happens to something: rocks, people, neurons, brains, minds — all have experiences of different sorts. What we call “subjective” experience is the experience that minds undergo.

    I hate to argue from the dictionary, but you’re using the word “experience” in a fairly unusual sense. It’s not even among the four senses Wiktionary lists:

    1. Event(s) of which one is cognizant.
    2. Activity which one has performed.
    3. Collection of events and/or activities from which an individual or group may gather knowledge, opinions, and skills.
    4. The knowledge thus gathered.

    And I do not see how you can label the more restricted sense IanW and Tulse are using (more or less Wiktionary’s (1) above) as “false” when you yourself recognize an equivalent category as “psychological experience”.

  103. #103 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 11, 2009

    why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth

    Maybe Jesus was a real guy from Nazareth? I dimly recall being told that the birth in Bethlehem tied Jesus to temple-Judaism, and prophecy. Also, to reinforce the credibility of the descent of Jesus (a Galileean) from the Davidic line, there had to be some tether to Judea.

    Question for the mythical-Jesus camp…if the canonical Jesus were not based on the life of a real man, why would they tie him to Galilee at all. Wasn’t it sort of a backwater?

  104. #104 petrander
    December 11, 2009

    Well, I, of course, am one of those pesky agnostics who won’t dismiss the existence of an “afterlife” just because the lack of evidence for it. But I have to admit that Lanza’s argumentation is utter bullshit and PZ is completely right on this one.

    A whole lot more sophisticated, although perhaps not more substantiated, are what Penrose and Hameroff are suggesting, namely the brain as a quantum computer plus quantum entanglement being responsible for at least NDE, and, perhaps even (although they don’t want to go THAT far) an “afterlife”.

    Admittedly there is little or no scientific substantiation for these speculations, but who knows? The universe may be even stranger than we have discovered so far. I still don’t believe in a cosmic deity person, ‘though.

    Feel free to shoot holes in my post. I probably need it! :-)

  105. #105 petrander
    December 11, 2009

    Geez, why can’t I use arrow buttons and copy/paste when posting comments!?

  106. #106 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    December 11, 2009

    Feel free to shoot holes in my post.

    *shrugs* You posted some idle speculation and basically labeled it as such. There’s nothing wrong with speculation. The problem occurs when someone claims their idea must be true because they want it to be true despite a lack of evidence or, worse, a conflict with evidence.

  107. #107 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Wow, this thread is jam-packed with theology and metaphysics. I know the topic sort of prompts it, but really, how much do a study of the “genuine epistles” or the “experience of rocks” help us deal with death?

  108. #108 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 11, 2009

    Destlund, once started, these threads have a life of their own, going off on sometimes weird tangents, especially after a hundred or so posts.

  109. #109 Pierce R. Butler
    December 11, 2009

    Owlmirror @ # 161: … why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth …

    I vaguely recall – and don’t have the time, nor the books at hand, to look up – that there was some sort of prophecy which had to be “fulfilled” (i.e., written into the script), involving a Hebrew word (meaning forgotten (by me)) al-nazar (or somesuch).

    By writing in a town called Nazareth, JC could then be called Nazarene, and lo! thus it came to pass!

  110. #110 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    The Nazarene has left us… A SHOE! Or a gourd! Who cares! Prophecy is fulfilled somehow!

  111. #111 sqlrob
    December 11, 2009

    Subjectivity has no such explanation within known physics – not even a conceivable one.

    Non-linear feedback loop. Next question?

    Just because you can’t conceive of it does not mean it is not conceivable.

  112. #112 Vashti
    December 11, 2009

    @ https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmnNE2pFt98pKdyV1uLiCqA2dJ8HsqY0E4

    F in #180 gave you a very lucid response but I am not feeling so patient this morning (rattles empty coffee cup).

    people are relatively impatient and eager to get their voice heard. People also seem very sure of things.

    What? Did you have to wait in a queue to comment? Were there impatient, eager, sure-minded atheists pushing you aside in their mad rush to be heard? (Or were you just having trouble registering?)

    Now I personally don’t doubt that the academic integrity and rigor of 99.9% of pro-faith advocates is lacking. I am also sure that for each of these rhetorical tactics are important practices.

    Are you trying to say that rhetorical tactics are important for academic integrity and rigor? Really not sure what this is about other than an attempt to demonstrate your own anti-faith position.

    Even Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell manages to treat people who have faith, or faith in faith with enough courtesy that they read through his arguments.

    Oh, I see. This must have been what you meant by rhetorical tactics – being nice.

    The next thing that is worth noting is that there are far more people who give to the church (time or money, and time could be taken as just attending) than recieve from it materially, so they must feel that there is a benefit to them. I think it’s worth noting that some form of religious practice is not just universal to societies across the globe today but, that in addition the Cro Magnon were thought to have some form of burial ritual (they did bury their dead).

    What exactly is your point? Religion has been around a long time and some people like it – so?

    Now it seems to me that if all these things are the case then religion is a phenomenon that won’t be washed away with fierce and often irreverent arguments about the greater integrity & knowledge of the scientific community.

    So you don’t think religion can be easily demolished (agreed) and therefore anti-religious arguments should not be so fierce (how boring). By the way, “irreverent” is a very poor word choice if you are trying to demonstrate your scientificity . Implying that harebrained religious arguments should be treated more reverently is utter nonsense. You might as well lecture atheists on their piety.

    For these reasons personally I look forward to fair treatments of peoples arguments rather than arguments that assume everyone agrees in the first place.

    You clearly either haven’t read the comments on this post or you didn’t understand them. Assuming that everyone agrees is not a mindset that lasts long here. At that, I doubt you read D’Souza’s interview or Lanza’s article. Both were given exactly the fair treatment they deserved. Not all arguments are equal and deserving of respect and it is disingenuous (or just very naive) to argue so.

    Now as a scientific and fair minded person I would be happy to be fairly criticized for my point of view.

    Your point of view seems to be merely that atheists should be nicer and treat religious arguments fairly. This is a rather tired point.

  113. #113 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    One of the most important tools for promulgating religion is fear … of … the inescapable fact of personal mortality

    Something which is made extremely obvious by the lyrics of many Christian hymns/carols*. It’s a constant obsession of theirs.

    * Eg the one on which I’m currently working: the “Good Christians All” mutation of “In Dulci Jubilo”.

  114. #114 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    Another couple of links about the Nazareth issue:

    René Salm
    http://www.nazarethmyth.info/

  115. #115 Becky
    December 11, 2009

    I challenge any religion to top Poontology for a fine afterlife. Muslims get their 72 virgins (who wants that?). Heterosexual men & Lesbian women get 72 women of considerable experience. Straight women & Gay men get whatever, I’m still deciding what that is, the religion is under development.
    May the Goddess Krystal smother you with love! As she spins on her pole

  116. #116 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    I recall it being found to be the case that Nazareth didn’t even exist back then (ie when the Jesus myth has been officially dumped into our time-line)!

    But that makes even less sense for Jesus-as-wholly-myth.

    I vaguely recall – and don’t have the time, nor the books at hand, to look up – that there was some sort of prophecy which had to be “fulfilled” (i.e., written into the script), involving a Hebrew word (meaning forgotten (by me)) al-nazar (or somesuch).

    This might be a garbled recollection of the word nazir (Hebrew would not use the Arabic article al-), and I see that some have tried to argue about this, pro and con, but I don’t think it works for a couple of reasons:

    1) There’s nothing that suggests that there is a prophecy associated with the Messiah being a nazir, so far as I know.

    2) A nazir is an ascetic, more or less (see the full Wiki article for Nazirite, or Numbers 6). There is a Greek translation for that concept (in the LXX, nazir is translated as something like “one who makes a vow” or “one who is pure/holy”). Since the concept of a nazir was known, and would have been understood by the Jews who heard about it, why confuse that concept with a place?

  117. #117 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Nazareth is indeed a puzzle. The sources and lexicons I’ve read (and I do not read Koine Greek) suggest that the linguistic transition from “Nazareth” to “Nazarene” is a difficult one (i.e., given “Nazareth”, “Nazarene” is not how one would naturally construct the Greek for “from Nazareth”), and that “Nazarene” was in use before it was connected with Nazareth.

    So best guess is the earliest adherents of the proto-Christian sect were called Nazarenes (the Wiki for the term gives a number of possible derivations), and the author of Mark, which is the first narrative Christology we know of, was either confused (his knowledge of the geography of the region is suspect at best) or simply didn’t know the older meaning of the word, and so makes Jesus a Nazarene from Nazareth.

    Question for the mythical-Jesus camp…if the canonical Jesus were not based on the life of a real man, why would they tie him to Galilee at all. Wasn’t it sort of a backwater?

    The simplest answer is that the original sectarians lived in or came from the Galilee and some of the first “resurrection experiences” occurred there. The Calming the Storm and Walking on the Sea pericopes, I believe, were originally derived from legendary reports of theophanies, encounters with the mythical risen lord that got incorporated into the later historicized narrative of the life of Jesus. As for having the early setting being a backwater, it fits with the Pauline myth that gave rise to the narrative character. For Paul, whose Jesus is the risen Christ, the man who had fulfilled the scriptures by being delivered up for suffering and death on the cross was obscure in his own time. Decades later, as the teaching tradition grew and the Passion narrative was fleshed out but still without explicit setting, a narrative devised to tie all these threads together would stick with humble origins and obscurity in early life (and see above re: “Nazarene”). Remember that the author of Mark, again, the earliest gospel, has no knowledge of the birth tradition and no need of the Davidic connection via Bethlehem. The locale also helps set up the conflict with the scribes and the Pharisees. Not only was Galilee a backwater, it was classic rugged, out-of-the-way bandit and insurrectionist territory. For Judaeans, and Romans, only trouble could come from Galilee. A Galilean peasant rabble-rouser was a type, a ready-made narrative springboard for the author of Mark.

  118. #118 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    But that makes even less sense for Jesus-as-wholly-myth.

    How so? It certainly doesn’t work in favour of any real person (ie of the right name, in the right place and doing approximately the right/wrong things) back then!

  119. #119 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    1) There’s nothing that suggests that there is a prophecy associated with the Messiah being a nazir, so far as I know.

    That’s with our knowledge of scripture, facilitated by years of study, information gathering, and manuscript comparison. We also lack whatever oral traditions were present at the time of the NT canon being written.

    Is it so hard to believe that those writing the Synoptics had a faulty understanding of scripture? Or even ideas of what comprised Scripture that vary from ours (cf. Joshua 10:13 on the Book of Jasher, “the book of the wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14), the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), “the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning genealogies” (2 Chronicles 12:15), the Book of Jehu (2 Chronicles 20:34), “the sayings of the seers” (2 Chronicles 33:19)). Any of those could contain information that was used to alter the Jesus narrative in ways that don’t otherwise make logical sense to us based on our knowledge of the canon.

    Further, Matthew claims that Jesus’s living in Nazareth “fulfilled [that] which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (2:23). No such scripture exists in the Old Testament based on our current canon. That did not stop such from being mentioned in Matthew. As such, one would tend to assume it was either a common belief at the time and thus worthy of inclusion, or it was an idea Matthew was trying to impose for unknown reasons. Either way, that scriptural belief being present or advocated in the Gospel gives reason to place Jesus’s conception and upbringing in Nazareth to fulfill the faux prophecy, even in the absence of a historical Jesus.

    Biblical references were cribbed from Ebon Musings.

  120. #120 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    René Salm’s essay looks interesting…

    When one door closes another opens. If Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, then the enigmatic term ?Nazarene? (or ?Nazorean?)?frequently found in Mark and in the other gospels?cannot refer to a place at all but must refer to something else, something long forgotten. This makes sense, for in the Acts of the Apostles (24:5) Paul is accused of being a ?ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans.? Obviously, he was not the ringleader of inhabitants of Nazareth! The Semitic root of Nazarene means ?guard, preserve? (verb) and ?branch, shoot? (noun). Thus, Paul was accused of being a leader of people who were trying to preserve something they considered precious. What that was has yet to be determined. In any case, the (probably pre-Pauline) religion of the Nazarenes must have been very different from the Christianity we know today.

    Hm. I’ll have to think about that.

    http://www.nazarethmyth.info/

    This, too, is interesting… but it suggests that Jesus really (whatever that means) came from Capernaum, which is to say, was not wholly mythical.

    I’ll have to review those pages and their supporting information more. The archaeological data looks particularly interesting, too.

  121. #121 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    My mother died when I was five years old, and over the years (I’m 49 now) my intermittent longing to see her again, touch her again has often insidiously slipped into a feeling that she still must, somehow, be somewhere. Sober argument doesn’t help much, except on later reflection.

    I think that if I could know she still existed in some other bubble of the multiverse, I’d be happy for her sake; but, sadly, I only have access to this bubble, and not even most of it. It would be, at best, a partial consolation.

  122. #122 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    On the subject of a historical vs. mythical Jesus: one reason I think the man actually existed was that the early Christians specifically preached a crucified Messiah. There’s no mention in any Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible of a Messiah executed like a slave or felon (I of course don’t believe that the Songs of the Servant in Second Isaiah are Messianic prophecies–and they don’t mention crucifixion anyway). Preaching that Jesus was, indeed, executed was a horrific embarrassment for the young movement (remember Paul’s “scandal” of the cross), and probably a big reason why most Jews weren’t convinced by its claims. One good reason why Christians would nonetheless preach such a thing is that it actually happened.

  123. #123 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    Excuse me, I meant Robert Price’s review of René Salm’s book.

    But that makes even less sense for Jesus-as-wholly-myth.

    How so? It certainly doesn’t work in favour of any real person (ie of the right name, in the right place and doing approximately the right/wrong things) back then!

    Perhaps I misunderstood the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp, but if the claim is that the myths existed before being written down in the synoptics, why would the myths have involved a place that didn’t exist when they were first being told?

    Of course, if “Nazareth” didn’t mean a place originally, that might explain things better — but that works for both Jesus-as-wholly-myth and Jesus-as-man-whose.

    I’m not sure that it can be ruled out that Nazareth might have been a place whose name was forgotten and whose archaeology has not been discovered yet, but of course, that’s a very tentative notion indeed.

    I’m still wondering, though, why Paul contradicts the synoptics about Jesus’s ministry, and the status of the law.

  124. #124 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    Excuse me, I meant Robert Price’s inclusion of Frank Zindler’s review of René Salm’s book.

    Fixed. Bah.

    but that works for both Jesus-as-wholly-myth and Jesus-as-man-whose-life-became-conflated-with-myth.

    Fixed.

  125. #125 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    Perhaps I misunderstood the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp, but if the claim is that the myths existed before being written down in the synoptics, why would the myths have involved a place that didn’t exist when they were first being told?

    I can hardly speak for some whole camp! However, I don’t see why the original stolen myths had to include a place-name which could instead have had special significance for (or merely result from a misunderstanding on the part of) later writers trying to justify themselves and the position they wanted to claim for their religion.

  126. #126 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    One good reason why Christians would nonetheless preach such a thing is that it actually happened.

    I really don’t buy it for the same reason I think it’s ridiculous that “Resurrected Jesus showed himself to the women first, and this is meaningful because female testimony was considered worthless” is considered a profound testimonial. One could just as easily argue that picking something that was a disgrace and sticking to it as a claim would lend more credibility, which is why it was chosen. If someone tells another person they’re rich, the person tends to disbelieve them without outside evidence. If someone tells you they’re poor, people are more likely to believe them since who would lie about being poor?

    Not that I consider one’s financial status to be an indicator of personal worth, of course. But you can see the same phenomenon at play. Credibility by self-deprecation.

  127. #127 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    Paul was staging a coup – and it worked. The Roman Catholic Church became the huge and murderous monstrosity we know and despise and most modern “Christians” are, in reality (ie when you trick them into citing the bits they actually care about), Paulians rather than Christians.

  128. #128 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    Oops – sorry, I shouldn’t have said “most” there. I only mean most of the vocal ones. Which is certainly “many” but not necessarily “most”. In particular, it doesn’t apply as well to the most feak and weeble versions of Christianity, such as modern Unitarianism (which is rather like modern Buddhism in having ditched insistence on the supernatural gubbins and preserved only some sort of middle-class niceness factor).

  129. #129 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    I should add that the “credibility by self-deprecation” I was bringing up in 217 isn’t really an uncommon trope in the Bible. You have the risen Jesus appearing first to the women. David was the least imposing son of Jesse. Paul describes himself as the “least of the apostles” while simultaneously founding a new religion based on his principles, shunning earlier Judaic Law.

  130. #130 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Why is Peter so important to the RCC then?

  131. #131 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    Why is Peter so important to the RCC then?

    Because “rock” sounds more intimidating than “small”?

    I think they also like the “whatever you hold true on earth, I’ll hold true in heaven” that was imparted to the first Pope, Peter. It imparts much credibility and power to the Pope. But the vast majority of their theology is Pauline.

  132. #132 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    #217: You don’t address the entirety of what I was getting at. I was saying, among other things, that we know of NOTHING in previous Messianic speculation regarding a crucified or otherwise executed Messiah. That’s an argument from silence, and so obviously not a clincher; but, until someone discovers a previously unknown pre-Christian prophetic or apocalyptic document that mentions an executed saviour, we’re stuck with this remarkable departure from what appears to have been the prevalent conception(s) of the Messiah.

    Knowing what those conceptions were, Christians then go out and preach, not a Messiah who has come and inaugurated the kingdom, but a Messiah who came, was executed like a common felon, but rose from the dead and will come again to do that kingdom stuff at an undisclosed future date. This does strike me as very unlikely to have the ring of credibility for most people who heard it–and as the sort of special pleading you’d likely be reduced to–if your candidate for Messiah had actually been bumped off.

    I grant that the psychology of religious people is complex and mysterious, and maybe the fiction of a murdered Messiah would have appealed to any number of impulses and longings–but it seems to me a more economical hypothesis that the Christians were trying to make lemonade out some especially bitter lemons.

  133. #133 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    On the subject of a historical vs. mythical Jesus: one reason I think the man actually existed was that the early Christians specifically preached a crucified Messiah. There’s no mention in any Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible of a Messiah executed like a slave or felon (I of course don’t believe that the Songs of the Servant in Second Isaiah are Messianic prophecies–and they don’t mention crucifixion anyway).

    Whether you believe the Servant Song was a messianic prophesy doesn’t really matter; the authors of the Synoptics certainly did. Isaiah 53 reads like a sketch of the Passion narrtive. There’s hardly a salient event in the Passion that doesn’t have a parallel passage there, and the few that don’t find their inspiration in either the Psalter or OT prophetic literature other than Isaiah. Of course you’re right that crucifixion isn’t referred to specifically (53:5 is the closed we get, with “pierced for our transgressions”), but we would hardly expect to find explicit mention of a characteristically Roman practice in literature written centuries before the Roman presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    Preaching that Jesus was, indeed, executed was a horrific embarrassment for the young movement (remember Paul’s “scandal” of the cross), and probably a big reason why most Jews weren’t convinced by its claims.

    First, I don’t think we need many extra reasons why most Jews weren’t convinced. Most Jews weren’t Essenes or Pharisees in the 1st century, either. It’s pretty much inherent in the idea of a sect that there’s a mainstream against which the identity of the sectarians as such can be defined. What I think we see in the texts we have is the development of a myth gradually into a historicized narrative, with specificity accumulating incrementally along the way. The pre-Pauline proto-Christians (Nazarenes?) believed the messiah had come to earth as an obscure figure who was executed “according to the scriptures” (the Servant Song etc.) but may not have specified the method. It could have been Paul himself who added crucifixion to the story. Josephus tells us, and the Nahum Pesher from the Dead Sea Scrolls corroborates, that at the end of a civil war in Judaea in the early 1st century BCE, Alexander Jannaeus, the Hasmonean king, crucified 800 of the rebels, who were Pharisees, or at least associated with that sect. This atrocity certainly would have lingered in the collective Pharisaic memory, to which Paul likely had access, and it may have been this very event in which he imagined that the Lord’s servant met his earthly end in order to rise as Christ crucified.

    As for the so-called principle of embarrassment, and why the early Christians would preach a salvation supposedly begotten in such ignominy, it’s a classic reversal, commonplace in ancient Near Eastern myth. Paul often denigrates “the wisdom of this world.” Such worldliness sees crucifixion as a “scandal” or a “stumbling block,” and, for Paul that’s a feature, not a bug. Paul seems to exhort us: Cast off the ordinary, of-this-world belief that a shameful death is one far from God and embrace the unthinkable (and so, not of this world) for an acceptence of God’s unfathomable ways, that He can take one laid so low and raise him up to be, yea verily! even the savior of the whole world. (I hope I didn’t just convert anyone!)

    One good reason why Christians would nonetheless preach such a thing is that it actually happened.

    That’s only a good reason if the hearers of the message could reasonably be supposed to have the kind of information that would allow them to make that distinction. In all these discussions I think we need to keep in mind just how narrow, in time and place, the experience of the typical ancient person was. We have no warrant to say that factual, historical accounts of the crucifixion of one religious radical in Jerusalem one Passover were spread around so widely that there was any advantage in telling a “true” story about it. The basic principle is that “sticking to the truth” only makes a story believable if your audience has heard it before somewhere else.

  134. #134 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    I never really bothered to question whether Jesus existed, lived, preached, and was finally crucified as a revolutionary cultist. Except for the “kill your parents” type stuff, he seemed to have a nice proto-revolutionary-socialist philosophy going on for a bit. Of course I think a lot of cruft got piled into the Christian schtick by the time it got written down, but I still don’t see any reason to doubt that Jesus existed any more than I have reason to doubt that David begat Solomon by way of Uriah. I mean that’s how it works, isn’t it: history becomes legend, legend becomes myth.

    Whether anything Jesus said was true, useful, or divinely inspired, however, is another story. And no, I don’t have evidence beyond what’s written in the bible that Jesus existed. I just don’t see the merit in trying to prove that he didn’t.

  135. #135 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    “Whether you believe the Servant Song was a messianic prophesy doesn’t really matter; the authors of the Synoptics certainly did. Isaiah 53 reads like a sketch of the Passion narrtive.”

    What’s implausible, then, about concluding that the early Christians CHOSE to read the Servant Songs as messianic prophecy to explain what happened to their candidate for Messiah? Absent a suffering, dying candidate, there’s no compelling reason to interpret these passages as having anything to do with the Messiah.

    “That’s only a good reason if the hearers of the message could reasonably be supposed to have the kind of information that would allow them to make that distinction.” Saying something happened because it actually happened is ONLY a good reason for saying it if the hearers could reasonably be supposed to be in a position to make that distinction? Obviously, if my hearers are in a position to determine whether I’m lying or not, prudence, if nothing else, may dictate that I tell the truth. But if they’re not in a position to know that I’m telling the truth, I don’t then infer that I have no good reasons to say what actually happened. I’m belaboring the point, I know; but it seems rather silly to me. People often report what happened because, well, it happened–quite independently of any characteristic of their audience.

    I don’t doubt that the crucixion was a feature, not a bug, for St. Paul, and for many others. but I don’t think this fact by itself goes very far in the direction of proving the whole story was confabulated.

  136. #136 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 11, 2009

    @CJO-Thanks. I have always thought this stuff was interesting, but I’m a little on m own, so all of your expertise is most appreciated.

  137. #137 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    I mean that’s how it works, isn’t it: history becomes legend, legend becomes myth.

    I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the power and purpose of myth. Even in the modern world this isn’t true: think of urban legends. What historical, factual events give rise to them? None. They work as stories, and are transmitted as such; though they may be believed by some, they were at their inception deliberate inventions by somebody telling a tall tale. And they persist to the extent that the story resonates with some tension or anxiety in the lives of its hearers. David and Solomon are not figures of history, either. David is a cue-name: it just means “Beloved (of God).” No doubt there was “a house of The Beloved,” as a matter of royal propaganda, but the stories in the Bible about this supposedly foundational, historical figure betray no interest in history; their world is a literary world.

    Myth and history are orthogonal approaches to constructing narratives about the past.

  138. #138 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 11, 2009

    @destlund

    history becomes legend, legend becomes myth.

    Isn’t that from the Lord of the Rings?

  139. #139 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    @CJO, if that’s true then why does anybody try to glean a historical narrative from the Bible? Oh, wait.
    @Antiochus, I LOL’d.

  140. #140 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    I don’t doubt that the crucixion was a feature, not a bug, for St. Paul, and for many others. but I don’t think this fact by itself goes very far in the direction of proving the whole story was confabulated.

    Nor do I, but that wasn’t the point of my comment. I’m dealing with objections one by one (it’s great exercise for my mostly unarticulated theory, so thanks everybody for asking good questions), and trying to show how, taking every text we have, and everything we know, all together, the ahistoricity stance makes better sense of it all than the traditional approach, which is to concede a limited historicity to the Synoptic account but deny the miracles and the resurrection as mythical. So you raise a point, and I try to fit the answer in with a larger explanation. I can’t be asked to show that the answer to each objection, taken alone, “goes very far in the direction of proving the whole story was confabulated.” My aim is merely to show that my account is still a viable, internally consistent alternative account of how we came to have the texts we have.

  141. #141 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    Whether anything Jesus said was true, useful, or divinely inspired, however, is another story. And no, I don’t have evidence beyond what’s written in the bible that Jesus existed. I just don’t see the merit in trying to prove that he didn’t.

    Nobody’s really trying to prove he didn’t exist. That’s not feasible. But it’s fair game to point out that the evidence isn’t conclusive regarding the existence of a historical Jesus (it’s non-existent or suspect, for the most part), and pointing out that a “consensus” (even among experts) built on suspension of belief instead of archaeological or historical evidence is meaningless. That’s pretty much what started the whole subthread.

    What’s implausible, then, about concluding that the early Christians CHOSE to read the Servant Songs as messianic prophecy to explain what happened to their candidate for Messiah? Absent a suffering, dying candidate, there’s no compelling reason to interpret these passages as having anything to do with the Messiah.

    Plausibility does not equal historical fact. You’re begging the question regarding the Messianic candidate having existed in your plausibility argument. It’s just as plausible that there was no physical Jesus, and when they took the mythical Jesus and tried to retrofit him into history they were sure to point out his legitimacy by finding prophecies and applying them to him (see #210 for an example from Matthew, where a prophecy that isn’t even in the OT is applied).

  142. #142 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    #231:

    Yes, I grant your point in this latest post; it’s the same reason why I tackled, seriatim, your points in the previous post, not just one of your points. For the reasons I’ve already given, I don’t think that, even taken together, your arguments come anywhere near clinching what you’re arguing for. I don’t think anything precludes me from saying, re one point, “by the way, that one definitely doesn’t take us very far.”

    #232:

    You wrote: “You’re begging the question regarding the Messianic candidate having existed in your plausibility argument.”

    No, I’m not. I’m arguing that, given that the early Christians applied these passages to their Messianic candidate, it’s plausible to believe that they did this because he actually suffered and died. No begging of any questions here.

    I suppose we’re reaching the point of irreducible disagreement here. I for one find my scenario much more plausible than that they made somebody up out of whole cloth who fit so poorly the apparent traditional criteria for a Messiah. You will no doubt continue to find this latter possibility more plausible.

    I will, however, address this statement: “Plausibility does not equal historical fact.” I think that’s correct, but for much of Ancient History, all we get, and all we’re going to get, is consideration of what, given the available evidence, is plausible. For example, I happen to think that the mention of Jesus by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 20.9 is probably genuine, whereas the passage in Antiquities 18.63-64 is certainly fraudulent (though it may have replaced a neutral or hostile reference to Jesus). I can understand why others differ, thouth I disagree with them. Unfortunately, we are all equally distant from Josephus and what he actually wrote and will remain so.

  143. #143 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Is there a rule about Occam’s razor entering a conversation about religion/history? If you take out the miracles and outrageous claims, the story of Jesus sounds like a pretty common one. I’d imagine there were scads of revolutionaries in Roman-occupied Judea. Even if you only cut out the miracles, the group of revolutionaries becomes a cult whose leader was executed to defend the common order, and I’d imagine there were plenty of those. The story seems to make sense and fits the history from my perspective. Why would it be necessary to invent a dead leader when they could have so easily followed a real one?

  144. #144 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    “Even if you only cut out the miracles”
    What I mean is the miracles the disciples witnessed as opposed to claims Jesus may or may not have made regarding his divine origin, miracles he performed before he met them, etc.

  145. #145 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    No, I’m not. I’m arguing that, given that the early Christians applied these passages to their Messianic candidate, it’s plausible to believe that they did this because he actually suffered and died. No begging of any questions here.

    Fair enough. I read that section uncharitably, and you didn’t argue degrees of plausibility. Similar topical argument is actually present on another blog simultaneously, so I may have been projecting something else I read onto your statement. My apologies. I think it’s obvious that my reply is that it’s also plausible that they chose the passages because they can be used as justification from the OT that their Messiah is legit. One thing I note is you did say the following:

    Absent a suffering, dying candidate, there’s no compelling reason to interpret these passages as having anything to do with the Messiah.

    This is another reason why I jumped to call begging the question. I read it as building off plausibility in order to say there’s no compelling reason to interpret the passages as anything to do with the Messiah. And while it may not be compelling to you, it is quite plausible (heh) that the early movement was taking anything that looked like it could be interpreted as Messianic prophecy in the OT and applying it to their Messiah construct (which is incidentally how you get things like Matthew 1:23 citing prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 as applying to Jesus, when Isaiah’s prophecy referred to himself and was fulfilled in Isaiah 8:3-4).

    I think that’s correct, but for much of Ancient History, all we get, and all we’re going to get, is consideration of what, given the available evidence, is plausible.

    Unfortunately, we are all equally distant from Josephus and what he actually wrote and will remain so.

    Looks like we have no further argument, really. I just lean towards finding it silly to state as fact something that there is so little positive evidence that it is not feasible to distinguish whether it is myth grounded in fact or myth grounded in legend. Much as in my atheism, absence of positive evidence leads me to assume the thing does not exist until such evidence is provided.

  146. #146 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    I for one find my scenario much more plausible than that they made somebody up out of whole cloth who fit so poorly the apparent traditional criteria for a Messiah.

    Well, clearly those criteria were outdated in the Roman era or otherwise unacceptable to a sectarian group on either scenario. That is, a living Jesus, even before his crucifixion, provided he was a Galilean peasant as we’re told, could hardly have been a viable candidate on the old criteria anyway, so your idea that the Suffering Servant was retrofitted to a messianic prophesy as a response to the demoralizing death of a leader to whom had been applied messianic expectation still requires us to imagine on just what that expectation was based. And the synoptics make a great deal about the disciples’ misunderstanding and failure to accept that the Son of Man must suffer and die. To them, as characters in the story anyway, the old expectations are in effect and they want Jesus to behave in a traditional messianic fashion.

    So, in your scenario, are these aspects of the story projected back onto the past after things turned out so badly, or are they more or less accurate accounts of Jesus going around saying that the messiah wasn’t a great king or military leader, but a servant who must suffer and die? And, if the latter, then the idea wasn’t imposed on his memory after his untimely and inexplicable death, but came from him, either directly or via an earlier tradition from which we have no surviving record. And if not directly, then just such a tradition could have been the originator of the new messianic ideas and we’re back to having this extraneous historical person for whom we have no other evidence.

  147. #147 aratina cage
    December 11, 2009

    destlund,

    If you take out the miracles and outrageous claims, the story of Jesus sounds like a pretty common one.

    If you remove the magic and divinity from the character, then it isn’t the Jesus of Christianity anymore, is it? Christians are not worshiping the teachings, they are worshiping the deity. Can’t we say that once you add factual claims of superpowers to a person (real or imagined), you have in effect stopped talking about that person and started talking about a new fictional character?

    Count me in the Jesus-as-wholly-myth camp. The Jesus of Christianity could not have been a real person.

  148. #148 Peter Magellan
    December 11, 2009

    When people start banging on to me about an afterlife, I generally ask them how long they think they’ll be there:-)

  149. #149 Aaron Baker
    December 11, 2009

    CJO,

    I’m just finishing up work and my brain is seeping out of my ears. I may get back to you on this tomorrow; don’t think it’s because I regard your post as unworthy of a response.

    Paul,

    Pretty much the same. Interesting comments, and I’m happy to to discuss this stuff further, probably after a stiff drink.

    Take care.

  150. #150 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Is there a rule about Occam’s razor entering a conversation about religion/history?

    Yes, the parsimony argument goes like this: We have the texts; a literary tradition existed beyond a doubt. Literary activity is commonplace and it needs no subject in actual history, though it may have one. It is less parsimonious to require the literature to have as its inspiration a specific person in a specific time and place (where there is no extra-literary corroboration of his existence) when ordinary imaginative literary activity can explain the texts.

    If you take out the miracles and outrageous claims, the story of Jesus sounds like a pretty common one. I’d imagine there were scads of revolutionaries in Roman-occupied Judea. Even if you only cut out the miracles, the group of revolutionaries becomes a cult whose leader was executed to defend the common order, and I’d imagine there were plenty of those. The story seems to make sense and fits the history from my perspective.

    As Paul and I keep saying, plausibility doesn’t determine what we can call facts of history. Evidence does, and there is no contemporary evidence for Jesus’s existence. I can’t get into it right now, but the story (meaning the synoptics taken together) doesn’t make much sense, or fit the history particularly well; everyone (I don’t care about apologists) agrees a lot of it is fiction, I merely go one better. Furthermore, the problem I have with “taking out the miracles and outrageous claims” is that they are not optional elements. They are the point of the story.

    Why would it be necessary to invent a dead leader when they could have so easily followed a real one?

    You make it sound like reporting a mystical vision or writing a story would have been harder and more perilous than actually following a religious radical with a death wish into a city under the control of the world’s greatest military power.

  151. #151 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    If you remove the magic and divinity from the character, then it isn’t the Jesus of Christianity anymore, is it? Christians are not worshiping the teachings, they are worshiping the deity. Can’t we say that once you add factual claims of superpowers to a person (real or imagined), you have in effect stopped talking about that person and started talking about a new fictional character?

    Essentially, yes. But it seems sort of silly to claim the person on whom the character was based never existed. Not that Christians are going to listen to us anyhow, but when you start claiming there never was a Galilean named Jesus, you’re going to get dismissed as crazy. It’s one thing to say Jesus made unverifiable, probably false claims*, it’s another to try to make him vanish from the record altogether.

    *I’m sure many, but probably not all, of the claims were made after he died. In fact I’ll wager that Jesus was among the biggest sockpuppets of all time.

  152. #152 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Aaron, hey, no worries. Thanks for the conversation, and enjoy your Friday night. I plan to enjoy mine.

  153. #153 Paul
    December 11, 2009

    It’s one thing to say Jesus made unverifiable, probably false claims*, it’s another to try to make him vanish from the record altogether.

    We’re not taking him out of the record, he never was part of the record in the first place. He was part of a literary work, which spurred a religion that subsequently hacked him favorably into some writings from Josephus and was reported on by a guy named Tacitus. There is no record to make him disappear from. He just never was “there” in the first place.

  154. #154 sqlrob
    December 11, 2009

    It’s one thing to say Jesus made unverifiable, probably false claims*, it’s another to try to make him vanish from the record altogether.

    That’s been CJOs entire point. What record? Point to it.

  155. #155 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    It is less parsimonious to require the literature to have as its inspiration a specific person in a specific time and place (where there is no extra-literary corroboration of his existence) when ordinary imaginative literary activity can explain the texts.

    But why would a cult spontaneously form and invent a dead leader to push on the world? Your version of history sounds like some sort of Da Vinci Code conspiracy, when the actual texts seem like bad biography covered in hundreds of epic supernatural kludges in an attempt to perpetuate a story. Yes, it’s mostly fiction, but why is it unlikely that Jesus ever existed?

    Furthermore, the problem I have with “taking out the miracles and outrageous claims” is that they are not optional elements. They are the point of the story.

    This is true. That’s why they were added. “Dead cult leader is dead” doesn’t really keep a cult going, let alone spread the ‘good news’ over the face of the earth.

    You make it sound like reporting a mystical vision or writing a story would have been harder and more perilous than actually following a religious radical with a death wish into a city under the control of the world’s greatest military power.

    It’s not so hard.

  156. #156 John Morales
    December 11, 2009

    It’s not so hard.

    That’s a Piltdown-moment there, destlund.

    CJO refers to the differential credibility of potential bases for the cult narrative, not to its effectiveness; you’ve deftly sidestepped addressing that.

  157. #157 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    He was part of a literary work, which spurred a religion that subsequently hacked him favorably into some writings from Josephus and was reported on by a guy named Tacitus.

    I know classical Roman biographies tended to be heavily laden with propaganda, but I thought fictional biographies of fictional people as literature was a more modern phenomenon.

  158. #158 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Yes, it’s mostly fiction, but why is it unlikely that Jesus ever existed?

    Bullet points:
    *No contemporary reports
    *Complete silence of Paul
    *Widely divergent early traditions
    *Late development of the wisdom tradition
    *Pattern of literary and mythical development in the tradition, apparently unhindered by historical considerations
    *Obviously ahistorical elements of the narratives (besides miracles, etc.) and contradictions among them

    If you have further interest, check out The Jesus Puzzle. It’s not just for crazies anymore! (And believe me, if I could parlay it into Dan Brown-type money, you can call me crazy all you want)

  159. #159 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 11, 2009

    That’s a Piltdown-moment there, destlund.

    Destlund, Piltdown Man was Cat-o-lick apologist who wanted to revert to about 1100-1300 AD, when the church was running things. He also could never bring himself to criticize religion, and especially the RCC, despite their child molestation scandals. A real moral scumbag. Almost as bad as the liberturdians….

  160. #160 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    That’s a Piltdown-moment there, destlund.

    Jeez. Harsh. My point was that it’s a lot easier to fall into some guy’s cult and to continue to justify it with a lot of nonsense after it all goes horribly wrong than it is to conspire to write a book about a cult that never existed.

    CJO refers to the differential credibility of potential bases for the cult narrative, not to its effectiveness; you’ve deftly sidestepped addressing that.

    I think you misapplied the statement I was trying to make. If they were reporting a mystical vision, they would likely have said so, and if they were just “making literature” it wouldn’t have come out like that. It simply makes more sense that they got razzle-dazzled by a charismatic cult leader and “figured out” the “greater meaning” of the whole experience after the fact. Then they wrote some books on the experience that they liberally sprinkled with woo-woo to heighten the appeal.
    I really hate feeling like a troll, but I just don’t get it. I want to, but I don’t.

  161. #161 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Nerd of Redhead, so he was comparing me to a silly troll and not a paleontological hoax? I’m not sure which is worse.

  162. #162 WowbaggerOM
    December 11, 2009

    Whether anything Jesus said was true, useful, or divinely inspired, however, is another story. And no, I don’t have evidence beyond what’s written in the bible that Jesus existed. I just don’t see the merit in trying to prove that he didn’t.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to ‘prove’ that Jesus doesn’t exist, but I think it is a good thing to be pointing out that – despite what Christians claim – the entire story of Jesus (miracles and so forth) isn’t considered incontrovertible.

    From what I can tell, one of the reasons some Christians are Christians is because they believe that Jesus was literally born of a virgin and was visited by three wise men, performed a bunch of miracles, was crucified, died and was resurrected – and that this is history in the same sense as the Norman conquest of 1066, that guy with the three ships who showed up in the US in 1492 and the arrival of the first fleet in Australia in 1788.

    I’ve said to Christians who’ve cited parts of the bible as fact (I don’t mean Genesis and the flood and so forth) that perhaps what was in it wasn’t actually ‘true’ in the sense of it actually happening, and they’ve looked at me like I’d suggested that the sky was yellow and not blue because so much of it had been taught to them as if it were an historical record.

    That the bible isn’t a ‘hard’ history book per se needs to be made more common knowledge. If people want to remain Christian after having that pointed out to them, fine by me; I just think it’s worth getting the information out there so that those who aren’t aware are given a chance to do some critical thinking.

  163. #163 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    destlund,
    Well, follow that link and read some of the Jesus Puzzle stuff. I’ve done a lot of reading on my own, and I don’t agree with everything on that site. But it’s as comprehensive and well-researched a treatment as you can find of the mythical Jesus idea.

    And you shouldn’t feel like a troll. John called that a Piltdown moment because of Pilty’s practice of linking to disturbing pictures to make his point. I started my research into the question from pretty much where you are. On the face of it, what’s so crazy about the idea that there was this charismatic Jewish radical, and etc? Nothing, really, but once I got into the details, I realized it’s an open question in history whether he actually existed, papered over with a tenuous expert “consensus” devoted to ignoring the fact that the Emperor is naked. I’m drawn to questions like that.

  164. #164 John Morales
    December 11, 2009

    destlund,

    Jeez. Harsh.

    Sorry. It was that link to an image without other comment that did it.

    It simply makes more sense that they got razzle-dazzled by a charismatic cult leader and “figured out” the “greater meaning” of the whole experience after the fact.

    But that’s a just-so story. As, way back, CJO wrote:
    It’s not a matter of how plausible a de-mythologized version of an outline of the Synoptic account might be. History doesn’t depend on plausibility, history depends on evidence. As matters stand, there is no evidence that such a person existed at the time and place in question, therefore, history is silent on the matter.

  165. #165 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Oh CJO I forgot to mention: link no workie…

  166. #166 truth machine, OM
    December 11, 2009

    I hate to argue from the dictionary

    And yet you do it anyway, despite it usually being a bad idea in philosophical discussions. Aside from the fact that “subjective experience” strongly suggests that there are other kinds, and that lexicographers notoriously replicate anthropomorphic biases that don’t reflect the actual range of usage (just google “experience erosion” for one of the many instances of experience in non-“subjective” contexts), it totally misses the point, which is that people make extravagant metaphysical claims by insisting that “experience” is some special woo-woo “subjective” sort of thing — but definitions can’t establish metaphysics. The standard philosopher’s “trick” in the case of such point-missing linguistic objections is to coin a more general word, “experience*”, which lacks any inherent restriction to “subjective”. “experience*” is that which something undergoes. And what is it that undergoes something during so-called “subjective experience”? It’s the mind, which is a physical process of a physical brain. Our experience isn’t some weird mystical non-physical woo or something that can’t be explained by physics, any more than is the experience* of any other process implemented by a physical object.

  167. #167 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    It was that link to an image without other comment that did it.

    OIC. I meant it to be tongue-in-cheek, but I guess it was a bit of a fail.

    But that’s a just-so story. As, way back, CJO wrote:
    It’s not a matter of how plausible a de-mythologized version of an outline of the Synoptic account might be. History doesn’t depend on plausibility, history depends on evidence. As matters stand, there is no evidence that such a person existed at the time and place in question, therefore, history is silent on the matter.

    Just-so story? It seems like a logical inference when looking at a de-mythologized version of an outline of the Synoptic account. Bear in mind the de-mythologization (word?) doesn’t leave much account left:
    There was a Galilean named Jesus who recruited some followers to follow him around Judea listening to him preach. The powers that be deemed him a threat and had him executed.
    The reason history is silent on the matter is that Jesus did not himself impact history. He lived and died the leader of a small sect/cult/commune on the outskirts of BFE. Christianity did impact history, big time, and that’s why there is lots of historical evidence of that. I agree that the narrative was embellished beyond recognition when it was finally written down, to the point of being, on the whole of it, nearly completely false, and that we’ll never know who Jesus was or what he said. It’s fair to say that it is possible that he never existed, it just doesn’t seem likely to me.

  168. #168 Eric
    December 11, 2009

    Hi Truth Machine

    I’ve never come across an eliminativist account of intentionality that isn’t self refuting (i.e. that doesn’t presuppose intentionality while rejecting it). Do you know of any?

  169. #169 truth machine, OM
    December 11, 2009

    P.S. Looking at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/experience

    the synonym section is particularly revealing:

    encounter, know, endure, suffer. Experience, undergo refer to encountering situations, conditions, etc., in life, or to having certain sensations or feelings. Experience implies being affected by what one meets with: to experience a change of heart, bitter disappointment. Undergo usually refers to the bearing or enduring of something hard, difficult, disagreeable, or dangerous: to undergo severe hardships, an operation.

    Encounter, endure, undergo, being affected by what “one” meets with — it’s all about what happens to something, but with the definition of “experience” being narrowed, pointlessly and in an ad hoc fashion, to conscious persons. But if we just want a word to express what has happened to something without assuming that it is conscious, what word do we use? What if we want to talk about an _________ed zombie rock climber, one that has climbed many mountains and thus has developed extraordinary skills? If it doesn’t have experience, what does it have?

    This is the problem that is faced when trying to disentangle these difficult subjects — assumptions are built into the language. To make any headway, one must at least recognize that.

  170. #170 SEF
    December 11, 2009

    @ destlund:

    I already gave (a working version of) the link to the Jesus Puzzle earlier in the thread.

  171. #171 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009

    Bullet points:
    *No contemporary reports

    Inconclusive either way.

    *Complete silence of Paul

    Addressed above.

    *Widely divergent early traditions

    Interaction between traditions of Jesus-the-human and Messianic eschatological mystics?

    *Late development of the wisdom tradition

    More interaction between traditions of Jesus-the-human and Messianic eschatological mystics?

    *Pattern of literary and mythical development in the tradition, apparently unhindered by historical considerations

    More sophisticated descendants of original believers trying to retcon stuff (and doing it badly)?

    *Obviously ahistorical elements of the narratives (besides miracles, etc.) and contradictions among them

    Including Pauline theology contradicting the [putatively later] synoptics on the essential points of who Jesus had come to minister to, and the status of the Law?

  172. #172 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    SEF:
    Sorry about that – I looked it up on my own, but I’ve only just taken a peek. Interesting stuff.

    I actually took a couple of semesters on the history of Christianity at UT Austin, and my professor made a big point of omitting the Jesus part. He didn’t go so far as to deny his existence; I got the feeling his thoughts were analogous to mine: “Sure, there was probably a guy named Jesus, but he’s pretty much been forced out of the picture by this big construction called Christianity, the seed of which was probably planted in his lifetime, but the real roots were laid long after he died. We’ll never know the real story there, so let’s move along to the facts.” I could just be putting words in my professor’s mouth, though. I did make a C one of those semesters.

    I’m about to read The Jesus Puzzle; if it’s great, I might just track down that professor. I’ve still got his course packets around here somewhere.

  173. #173 earthbound01
    December 11, 2009

    I’d just like to say that I’m sorry for your loss.

  174. #174 destlund
    December 11, 2009
    *Obviously ahistorical elements of the narratives (besides miracles, etc.) and contradictions among them

    Including Pauline theology contradicting the [putatively later] synoptics on the essential points of who Jesus had come to minister to, and the status of the Law?

    Would you mind elaborating on this point? I haven’t given much thought to this stuff in such a long time, but I do find it fascinating. It just takes rather detailed knowledge to even be able to follow the arguments. The weird part is none of us even believe this stuff.

  175. #175 CJO
    December 11, 2009

    Okay, I won’t bother to repost the link, thanks SEF.

    destlund,
    The reason history is silent on the matter is that Jesus did not himself impact history.

    Two ways of saying the same thing. So there’s still not a reason for history’s silence. (Of course, as Owlmirror says, silence alone is inconclusive.)

    He lived and died the leader of a small sect/cult/commune on the outskirts of BFE.

    So it is said, on no evidence. Two factors here are the intuitive historigraphy that says plausibility can be freely substituted for evidence when evidence is lacking, and the intuitive sense that mythmaking often or usually follows the progression you outlined before, from history to legend and then myth. I question both of these intuitions.

    Christianity did impact history, big time, and that’s why there is lots of historical evidence of that. I agree that the narrative was embellished beyond recognition when it was finally written down, to the point of being, on the whole of it, nearly completely false, and that we’ll never know who Jesus was or what he said.

    Say there happened to be a boy alive in the Mississippi valley named Huckleberry Finn 40 years before Mark Twain wrote the book. Maybe Twain heard the name, maybe he heard a story about him, we don’t know. What would the minimal concordances between this individual’s life and the story as written be for us to say “The book is about this real person”? Does he know a slave named Jim? Does the slave need to be named Jim? Is a ride on a raft absolutely necessary, or is that later mythmaking and maybe he saw a boat once? Ignore the implied absurdity here. I’m not trying to belittle. The point is that the gospels are not about “a Galilean named Jesus who recruited some followers to follow him around Judea listening to him preach.” They’re about a semi-divine salvific figure, capable of feats of awesome power and bearing a message for all mankind. They’re about a Galilean who recruited some followers to help him end Satan’s reign on Earth and establish the Kingdom of God.

    And the god-man was a common theme of literature from all over the Mediterranean at the time and had been for millennia. Why does Jesus pass the plausibility test so much better than all the others, whom no one is prepared to consider existing until proven mythical?

    It’s fair to say that it is possible that he never existed, it just doesn’t seem likely to me.

    Fair enough. I believe the possibility should be considered more seriously by academic historians and religion scholars. Read some of Doherty’s stuff. It’s all pretty interesting either way, as a puzzle, just as it says.

  176. #176 Owlmirror
    December 11, 2009
    Including Pauline theology contradicting the [putatively later] synoptics on the essential points of who Jesus had come to minister to, and the status of the Law?

    Would you mind elaborating on this point?

    I’m thinking particularly of (Should the gospel be preached to everyone? )and (Are the laws of the Old Testament still binding? (scroll down for the verses in the NT where Jesus says they are))

    The weird part is none of us even believe this stuff.

    If we lived in Hindustan, we’d probably be arguing over whether there was any historical basis at all to the Ramayana.

  177. #177 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    The point is that the gospels are not about “a Galilean named Jesus who recruited some followers to follow him around Judea listening to him preach.” They’re about a semi-divine salvific figure, capable of feats of awesome power and bearing a message for all mankind. They’re about a Galilean who recruited some followers to help him end Satan’s reign on Earth and establish the Kingdom of God.

    Think about it. If you start with the part where he “recruited some followers to help him end Satan’s reign on Earth and establish the Kingdom of God,” you’ve got the perfect storm for a cult. Add the cult leader’s execution and the cult adherent’s unflappable faith, and you get motivation to start Lying for Jesus by inserting “a semi-divine salvific figure, capable of feats of awesome power and bearing a message for all mankind.” Sure, it’s inference. It’s not positive historical evidence, but it sure as hell makes sense.

  178. #178 sqlrob
    December 11, 2009

    If you start with the part where he “recruited some followers to help him end Satan’s reign on Earth and establish the Kingdom of God,” you’ve got the perfect storm for a cult. Add the cult leader’s execution and the cult adherent’s unflappable faith, and you get motivation to start Lying for Jesus by inserting “a semi-divine salvific figure, capable of feats of awesome power and bearing a message for all mankind.” Sure, it’s inference. It’s not positive historical evidence, but it sure as hell makes sense.

    So? And it makes just as much sense to have made up said “leader that was executed” to cement the claims of the cult, whether or not it’s true. How many modern cults claim persecution?

  179. #179 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Well it doesn’t quite work in modern cults either way, does it? Evidence today is unavoidable. If you want to posit that Jesus was entirely fabricated, IMHO you need at least a motive. The cult must exist in order for there to be a need to cement the claims of the cult. Why would the apostles conspire to invent a Christ if Jesus hadn’t been around pushing their buttons in the first place?

  180. #180 Kel, OM
    December 11, 2009

    Hi Truth Machine

    I’ve never come across an eliminativist account of intentionality that isn’t self refuting (i.e. that doesn’t presuppose intentionality while rejecting it). Do you know of any?

    Eric, can you expand on this a little?

  181. #181 destlund
    December 11, 2009

    Thanks Kel, I didn’t want to sound like an ignoramus by asking WTF he was talking about, exactly.

  182. #182 Kel, OM
    December 12, 2009

    tbh, I just think it a little poor form to just assert like that without expanding. Perhaps there’s the justified assumption that Truth Machine knows what Eric is talking about, though for those following along it can in my mind be a little frustrating to understand properly.

    It would be like saying post modernism is self-refuting without explaining why.

  183. #183 CJO
    December 12, 2009

    Think about it. If you start with the part where he “recruited some followers to help him end Satan’s reign on Earth and establish the Kingdom of God,” you’ve got the perfect storm for a cult. Add the cult leader’s execution and the cult adherent’s unflappable faith, and you get motivation to start Lying for Jesus by inserting “a semi-divine salvific figure, capable of feats of awesome power and bearing a message for all mankind.” Sure, it’s inference. It’s not positive historical evidence, but it sure as hell makes sense.

    We’re talking about history, though, and that doesn’t allow us to say a scenario just “makes sense” as an isolated narrative outside of the context of all the other relevant facts about history that we know. Your narrative does make this kind of sense; I’ve been admitting its plausibility all along. But take two facts of history from the immediate (future) context in which the events outlined by that narrative must have occurred.

    Within a few years of the supposed date of the crucifixion, Peter’s faction is operating openly in Jerusalem under the gaze of the same implacably ruthless military administration, famously intolerant of dissent, that publicly executed the founder of the movement by a method mostly reserved for political offenses.

    Around the same time, a zealous convert begins preaching the good news to the diaspora synagogues and the gentile “godfearers” associated with them, yet in none of his passionately pious exhortations to his proselytes does he once refer to the words or deeds of his savior, even though they were within recent memory and he was in contact with those who supposedly knew the man closely in life.

    So it’s not just that Jesus made no impact on history while he was alive, and acheived this by running a furtive little cult and getting crucified while nobody was looking. This perhaps not-so-charismatic figure leaves no traces in the aftermath, either: his closest disciples organizing a sect in the name of this dissident is just peachy with the Romans, and the most prominent convert to the cause knows nothing of his life.

  184. #184 Owlmirror
    December 12, 2009

    Within a few years of the supposed date of the crucifixion, Peter’s faction is operating openly in Jerusalem under the gaze of the same implacably ruthless military administration, famously intolerant of dissent, that publicly executed the founder of the movement by a method mostly reserved for political offenses.

    This is something that is a problem for the Jesus-as-man. Certainly, the depiction in the gospels of the arrest, trial, and execution is absurd.

    One possibility is that politics makes strange bedfellows; there may have been political reasons for leaving Christians alone. Perhaps some rich early converts paid off the right officials, or otherwise pulled strings?

    Another, more speculative notion that has occurred to me is that the whole thing, including the crucifixion, was a hoax.

    Ingredients: One cult leader, three-five additional accomplices.

    One accomplice pretends to sell out the cult leader.

    Two dress up as Roman soldiers.

    One or two dress up as Roman officials.

    The latter two groups join up and pretend to arrest the cult leader.

    The cult leader isn’t brought to trial, or maybe there’s a mock trial. The fake “soldiers” have a cross put up, and attach the cult leader. Maybe they use real nails, maybe they don’t; it depends on how masochistic the cult leader is. Maybe they want to be sure to evoke the suffering servant, so they do use real nails. The fake “soldiers” then guard the cross.

    The cult leader hangs there for a while. Before the end of the day, the cult leader “dies”. One of the fake “soldiers” stabs the cult leader with a fake spear; actually a prop whose head breaks a bladder as it goes into the shaft, spilling out “blood” — maybe even lamb blood? — perhaps diluted so that it won’t coagulate. The cult leader is taken to a “tomb” and laid there by the fake soldiers, who later take him out of the tomb and away. The empty tomb is then discovered, and then the cult leader comes out of hiding, claiming to have been resurrected.

    Then the cult leader changes his name and appearance, styles himself as an apostle, and buggers off.

    Ta-da!

    Maybe the alleged original Passion was actually the first Passion play.

    I completely made this up myself, so far as I know, but hey, it could work, right?

  185. #185 SEF
    December 12, 2009

    So did the rest of the cult groupies dress up as the zombie saints and go round the city on a halloween meet and greet?

    I suppose they could have snuck into the temple and arranged to rip the “veil” on cue but how did they arrange for the earthquake?

  186. #186 janegael
    December 12, 2009

    I wish I’d seen this earlier. My mother’s heart stopped while she was in the hospital – they never found out why. The nurse found her without a pulse and called a code. My mother, meanwhile, had left her body and was floating up by the ceiling. She said she felt no fear, only wonder at what was happening and pity for the poor body laying on the bed because it was so sick and damaged (she had a lot wrong with her.)

    As the team was working on her the attending went down the hall to the nurse’s desk. My mom was curious about what he was going to say, so she followed him and listened to him basically say they had no idea why her heart stopped and to call her personal doctor. Then she followed him back. She saw “the light” and felt that her parents were near but, being mom, was more interested in what was happening to her and her body.

    They got her heart started and she said she was “sucked” back in. She was really pissed off because she knew she was about to start a wonderful adventure and the doctor spoiled it. She didn’t want to be in that fat handicapped body!

    When the attending came in the next day I was sitting with her and she asked him why they didn’t know what happened. He didn’t know what to say. She told him she’d left her body and he patronized her and started to tell her about hallucinating and she asked him how did she know what he said – and proceeded to repeat his conversation with the nurse! I’ve never seen a person leave a room so quickly.

    She asked that I share her story so that people know that there is something after death. It’s interesting and not at all scary. It has NOTHING to do with religion, it just seems to be a fact like gravity is. She died for real about a year later and I’m sure since she had an inquisitive mind that she’s enjoying herself.

  187. #187 destlund
    December 12, 2009

    CJO:
    We only have what Peter and Paul wrote, which is not a complete record of what they preached. Their silence [in writing] on Jesus would actually seem to follow the narrative of a political execution. When they started getting a little more ballsy about it, Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded. I think it’s safe to say they expected their executed savior to pop into hell, subjugate the prince of the air and all that, then zoom up to heaven to take his throne, immediately after which he would start his messianic rule. After a few decades, they probably realized this was never going to happen this was apparently going to take a little longer, so they got together and immortalized their lord-and-savior in writing.
    When all is said and done, all I really have is an argument from incredulity. That and four very unreliable eyewitness accounts. I mean you could also argue that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John never existed, and that the texts were planted by some future superpope with his time-traveling popemobile. It just seems like a waste of time to do so.

    Owlmirror:
    I’m not sure which side your example is meant to support, or whether it’s intended to support either. I’m guessing you’re pointing out that both sides of the argument have little more than hearsay and speculation on which to form an opinion.

    janegael:
    That’s a sad story and I’m sorry for your loss, but I don’t think “OOBE therefore immortal soul” is a winning argument here.

  188. #188 SEF
    December 12, 2009

    No OOB-er has ever seen anything they couldn’t have made up or heard anything they couldn’t have picked up by perfectly normal means. In particular, somehow they never seem to have been able to read (or even notice) the test cards set out in some operating theatres especially to catch any of them out/at it!

    You’re supposed to talk to coma etc victims precisely because hearing is one of the things which works longest/best during a shut-down (the same as it does in anaphylactic shock). A heart stoppage is not the same thing at all as brain death. So there’s no reason to suppose she couldn’t still be hearing real events and dreaming a new point-of-view for long enough on the existing levels of oxygen in her tissues. Oxygen starvation actually makes the weird imaginings of OOB even more likely – as shown in other experiments.

  189. #189 Sven DiMilo
    December 12, 2009

    there is something after death. It’s interesting and not at all scary. It has NOTHING to do with religion, it just seems to be a fact like gravity is.

    hmm. Can you spot the difference between “gravity” and “ND and/or OOB experience”?

    I knew you could.

  190. #190 truth machine, OM
    December 12, 2009

    I’ve never come across an eliminativist account of intentionality that isn’t self refuting (i.e. that doesn’t presuppose intentionality while rejecting it). Do you know of any?

    As I said, Dennett is eliminativist in re qualia, not consciousness … and certainly not in re intentionality, so I have no idea why you’re addressing this silly question to me.

  191. #191 truth machine, OM
    December 12, 2009

    P.S. Your assertion that eliminativist accounts of intentionality are self-refuting, that they presuppose intentionality, is surely something that would be denied by the proponents of those accounts, so you need to demonstrate that each such account is self-refuting, not just assert it, as Kel suggests.

    Kel and destlund: For what Eric is talking about, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliminative_materialism and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/#SelRefObj

  192. #192 truth machine, OM
    December 12, 2009

    P.P.S. For Dennett’s view of eliminativism in re folk psychology and beliefs, see

    http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/twocontr.htm
    http://www.hku.hk/philodep/courses/rm/phil2230/phil2230l12.html

  193. #193 destlund
    December 12, 2009

    truth machine,

    I see. It sort of reminds me of why I stay out of philosophical discussions. Makes me woozy. I’d rather wait for Deep Thought to give us The Answer, but chances are we won’t like it anyway.

  194. #194 Owlmirror
    December 12, 2009

    Owlmirror:
    I’m not sure which side your example is meant to support, or whether it’s intended to support either. I’m guessing you’re pointing out that both sides of the argument have little more than hearsay and speculation on which to form an opinion.

    It might be in support of a synthesis: A group of messianic mystics obsessed with the suffering servant text/mythos have a cult leader who takes on the role of the suffering servant, for whatever reason. Hey, maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Then the cult leader changes his name and appearance, styles himself as an apostle, and buggers off.

    It might be even more amusing if the name he changes to is “Saul/Paul of Tarsus”. This would definitely explain Paul’s silence on the topic of Jesus-the-man. His cover identity is someone who never knew Jesus personally, but he would also have no interest in feigning to want to know about the man he formerly was when arguing with his former disciples.

    It might also explain Paul contradicting Jesus: The synoptics are from a source that arises from the preaching of Jesus to the Jews, where Jesus (not yet Paul) aimed his preaching and “miracles” at his fellow Jews. But Paul (no longer Jesus) travels and becomes more cosmopolitan, and changes his mind on the whole preaching only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” thing, and stops caring about the whole “Law” business.

  195. #195 destlund
    December 12, 2009

    Owlmirror,

    Hmm. Makes sense. I guess that’s why so many people believe such different things about him, whether he was ever crucified, was resurrected, ascended into heaven, or even existed.

  196. #196 Owlmirror
    December 12, 2009

    Regarding OOBEs: I want to again recommend Mary Roach’s Spook here, where she records her investigations for any hint of a supernatural soul that continues to exist after death.

    The results are all pretty inconclusive, and strongly suggest confirmation bias in those who have positive claims.

    There’s anecdotal incidents of someone floating up during an operation and seeing something high up which was not visible from any perspective below (oddly enough, the thing is very often a shoe). But these are all anecdotes.

    There are also researchers who are trying to confirm OOBEs by specifically having something high up that not visible from below in patients’ rooms. So far, not even a hint of a hit.

  197. #197 Kel, OM
    December 12, 2009

    Thanks for the links Truth Machine, they will make for good morning reading.

  198. #198 Stephen C
    December 13, 2009

    If one were, like me, to track the ‘leading lights’ geared to converge on (their own self-absorbing) once-and-for-all ultimate—and per force initiating—truths, people such as Lanza, like Chopra, Dossy, are really at the level of school children as far as being charlatans.

    Ken Wilber? Middle school. Roger Scruton? High school.

    What you want is undergraduate level certainty. Plantinga. Or, take Cynthia and Tim McGrew, and their The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. pdf

    Grad level? You need Edward Feser .

    Incidentally, Feser’s Thomist argument against naturalism ends up at (his) straw man of Eliminativism.

    Both Feser and Lanza’s supranatural foundationism hang on slightly different versions of the ‘soul’.

    Biocentrism, The Book!, is a tough haul, but the first few chapters are jaw droppingly silly. Bishop Berkeley! ‘The kitchen ceases to exist when you walk away from it.”

  199. #199 David Marjanovi?
    December 13, 2009

    See, truth machine, things like comment 130 are what you got your Molly for.

    I sympathize. My boyfriend keeps on trying to trick me into saying things like “california”, “chopper”, and “it’s not a tumor”

    California, of course, is properly pronounced with the German word Ohr in the middle. That’s how the Törminehter does it.

    This sort of thing is not just interesting, but crucial to those of us who occasionally need to find rhymes and meter.

    I have often noticed that you have carefully cherry-picked the accent of English which has the most mergers, which gives you the greatest possible number of rhymes. :^) As a rather trivial example, bot and thought rhyme for you (comment 147) and most Americans, but not for Brits.

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

    And very slowly. I have always been interested to know if linguists have devoted much time to the very unique dialect that southern ministers seem to speak.

    Looks like they speak “slowly and clearly” and with lots of redundance to make sure they’re understood…

    And rather than being convinced, people are “convicted”.

    That actually makes sense in Latin. Sort of.

    why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth

    Some have suggested it’s because of the Nazoreans ? the Essenes.

    If, deep down, God wants us with him in eternal paradise why not just put us there in the first place?

    So that we learn how to behave adequately for heaven. At least that’s how it was explained to me.

    Completely fails to address the question of why we need to learn that in the first place. Why isn’t it inbuilt…?

    Since the concept of a nazir was known, and would have been understood by the Jews who heard about it, why confuse that concept with a place?

    There’s a lot in the Gospels which shows the authors didn’t understand Judaism very well.

    On the subject of a historical vs. mythical Jesus: one reason I think the man actually existed was that the early Christians specifically preached a crucified Messiah. There’s no mention in any Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible of a Messiah executed like a slave or felon

    Take Osiris, mix him up with Greek beliefs about how everything from the sphere of the moon onwards is perfect and unchanging…

    Preaching that Jesus was, indeed, executed was a horrific embarrassment for the young movement (remember Paul’s “scandal” of the cross), and probably a big reason why most Jews weren’t convinced by its claims. One good reason why Christians would nonetheless preach such a thing is that it actually happened.

    This is the credo quia absurdum argument. :-)

    She asked that I share her story so that people know that there is something after death.

    Seeing the light comes from a lack of oxygen in the retina.

    For vertebrates, that is. Cephalopods would see darkness instead.

  200. #200 SEF
    December 14, 2009

    So the cthulhu mythos really was the product of the dreams of squiddly dudes imposed on a human writer and not from the human writer’s own imagination … ;-)

  201. #201 destlund
    December 14, 2009

    So that we learn how to behave adequately for heaven. At least that’s how it was explained to me.

    Completely fails to address the question of why we need to learn that in the first place. Why isn’t it inbuilt…?

    Ooh I know! I know! [angelic 6 year old voice with missing teeth] Because angels are boring, so God made us complicated, petty, and confused. That our antics might entertain Him [/angelic...]
    God must be loving climate science these days. Oh, wait. God doesn’t believe in climate science.

  202. #202 CJO
    December 14, 2009
    why Luke had to have Jesus conceived in Nazareth

    Some have suggested it’s because of the Nazoreans ? the Essenes.

    That identification is nowhere near certain though, even leaving aside the posasible connection with Nazareth and the gospels. Josephus mentions a split within the Essenes but doesn’t name the other sect and claims that the point of contention was marriage. Really, there’s a lot of twaddle out there about the Essenes, and some very confused harmonization of contradictory sources. A major reason for this confusion is the persistent belief that Qumran was the main or only Essene “monastery,” even though Josephus does not characterize the group as primarily separatist, but says they form a minority group throughout Judaea. This Qumran-centrism has led to some serious absurdities, like the claim that “Damascus” in the Damascus Covenant actually means Qumran, like, y’know, in code. Certainly by the time of the war of 66-73, Qumran was a military fort, and there has never been the slightest shred of evidence of any literary activity at the site. I truly believe that something as simple as the order in which the manuscripts from the Qumran caves came to light prejudiced the scholars who first got their hands on the scrolls as to the nature of the Essenes. Just to take a single point, there is no particular reason to believe The Community Rule describes the actual practices of a historical community, as opposed to outlining the aspiration to form a community so constituted and call it the new Israel, but since to some scholars every passage in every sectarian text found at Qumran describes what was happening there and nowhere else, we get this blinkered view of the potential for reading a greater diversity of voiced in the texts. Sorry for the digression. We were talking about Nazoreans=Nazarenes=Essenes. I consider it possible that the earliest Nazarenes were called so by others, and that the term was just basically descriptive of a sect: (Nazir: branch, Nazarenes, on a branch (of Judaism, or, in a sect, otherwise not described), and that Nazarenes became Christians, or, the earliest Christians had been Nazarenes. Identification of this sect with the Essenes seems tenuous, but they could have been “the branch people” to ‘core’ Essenes. Sects within sects: add your own dirty joke!

    Since the concept of a nazir was known, and would have been understood by the Jews who heard about it, why confuse that concept with a place?

    There’s a lot in the Gospels which shows the authors didn’t understand Judaism very well.

    There’s a lot in Vatican II that shows the pope didn’t understand Christianity very well, if you take Christianity to be identical with, say, Pentacostalism.

    There was not “Judaism,” there were Judaisms, and the authors of the gospels aspired to create or define one of them. Keep in mind, also, that they must have understood things about the tradition that are simply lost to us. What looks incoherent at this remove may be due to our lack of understanding, not theirs.

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