Let's pick on an Old Earth Creationist

CFI sponsored one of those awful debates between a Christian and a rationalist in Vancouver, BC. It followed the typical sequence: the specific topic was "What's right and what's wrong with Christianity," which the creationist essentially ignored and the philosophy student tried to address, which meant, of course, that neither one was talking to each other.

The one amusing bit is the person defending Christianity: it's Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Ross is unlike Kent Hovind and Ken Ham in that he believes in an old earth…but exactly the same in the way he came to that conclusion, which is that he wrestles the bible into being a science textbook and pretends that his answers are entirely biblical…and further, that the bible is a superior source of information over science. There is no substantive difference between Ross and Ham except that each thinks the other is a charlatan who is going to hell.

Watch the videos at that link to see what I mean. Ross spends his entire time arguing that the Christian bible specifically and accurately and exclusively (compared to all other religions) describes the explanations made by modern physics for the origins of the universe. It's complete nonsense — the book of Genesis is wrong in all the details, vague in all the generalities, and Ross's apologetics reduces to "The Bible says there was a beginning, physics proposes the Big Bang as a beginnning." Whoop-te-do.

His opponent, Brian Lynchehaun, was right to simply ignore the BS.

More like this

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This cracks me up. I regularly look at the Agape Press website for ideas on things I might wanna write about involving church and state or ID. But I had to laugh when I read this (scroll to the bottom): One expert says Islam's worldview is making massive inroads in Europe and could do the same in…

Hugh Ross is not quite as bad as Hovind, and when OECs and YECs 'debate' they tend to say that holding different origins positions is not a "salvation issue."

Ross does at least get physics and astronomy right. His writings on biology are however as bad as YECs, if not worse.

Hugh Ross' shocking fairy tale

He may in fact get physics and astronomy right, but he gets science so very very painfully wrong.

By Crommunist (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

"The Bible says there was a beginning, physics proposes the Big Bang as a beginnning."

(3 'n's in 'beginning', there...)

I listened to the debate from a few years ago between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox (who is not, to my knowledge, an OEC or YEC), and there was this big deal made about that particular detail, too.

Sigh.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

The Bible contains 10 times more scientific information than all other religions combined.

Honestly, I stopped right after that. For about the same reasons why editors sometimes stop reading a manuscript after the first paragraph, and write a big red R on it.

By Armand K. (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

It still baffles me that anyone can regard Genesis as anything other than a cool and very old piece of literature. Why exactly would the ancient Sumerians have gotten the story precisely right?

In actual real life, I'll take the OECs over the YECs any day of the week. Once you get beyond the idea that the Bible is so totally correct that the world can only be 6000 years old it's not such a huge stretch to conclude that the whole biblical account is metaphorical (not to mention inconsistent - there are actually TWO creation accounts in Genesis, and both suspiciously similar to creation accounts in other cultures of that time and place). I'd rather get away from the whole idea that the Bible is more inspired than, say, Jane Austen, but if I can pick the lesser of two evils, I think the OECs are it. Not that that's necessarily saying much...

I'd like to see a debate between some a O.E.C. and a Y.E.C.. I think I might actually pay to watch that. A topic that's like, "Does the Bible support old or young earth creationism?" -- and then just watch the bullshit and nonsense fly.

By a.debaser (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

No, Ross does not get the physics and astronomy right. He uses the Bible as a science textbook -- how much of the Bible gets the physics and astronomy right?

There is a difference between the two, which is that Ross has the "understanding" of the Bible that could allow it to, well, become essentially meaningless. Which is a good thing, since it allows people who won't give up religion to accept some science, and it also allows people to slide away from religion (I'm not all that concerned which way you go, only that you have the ability to think these things through).

But yeah, it's the same denial of science when we get to evolution. Actually, the great thing is that OECs don't agree with YECs and IDiots, which reveals quite well the fact that every single one of them is doing apologetics, and desperately denying science.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

By Glen Davidson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Well, if it's a CFI-sponsored event then presumably Lynchehaun is allowed to discuss the actual history of the universe and the earth, but he's not allowed to affirmatively state that anything in the Bible is not true. So I guess he had no choice but to ignore the bullshit.

By cervantes (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Another fun moment I forgot to mention was the one thing of Ross' that Lychehaun DID refute: the idea of Jesus' disappearing body. To wit:

"I grew up in Ireland. I know a few people who are experts at making bodies disappear. It's not as difficult as you might think."

By Crommunist (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

He uses the Bible as a science textbook

Does he? Or does he simply pretend that the Bible says what actual science tells us?

I am asking, because, although I've heard the name often enough, I know little about Ross.

Yet I'm sure in some cases it must be that he accepts the science and twists the Bible. Otherwise he'd be a flat-earther who believes the sky is a dome over the earth.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

By Glen Davidson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@#4

To paraphrase Penn Jillette, it also contains ten times more pizza than all the other religions combined...

I'm not sure where the issue is :).

By HappyHax0r (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

30 seconds in and my non-scientist brain had started emigrating.

Wow. And this guy is an astrophysicist.

Help.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

"I grew up in Ireland. I know a few people who are experts at making bodies disappear. It's not as difficult as you might think."

So stupid, to grant the historicity of an obvious fiction and then quibble over details like how the body could have been stolen. It's a fucking story, and you're giving up way to much ground to the idiot when you engage with it as if it has anything to tell us about actual events.

I think it was meant to be whimsical and highlight the silliness of the claim that the body MUST have been resurrected as the only "logical" claim.

By Crommunist (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ugh, I saw Hugh Ross at CFI Costa Mesa. He insisted several times (and without evidence, scientific OR scriptural) that the bible predicted the cosmic microwave background. He didn't dispute any of modern physics- he just insists that modern physics is perfectly revealed in his holy book.

You can look at his "evidence for fine-tuning" page here- I actually took the time to look up a few of his citations, and each citation simply says that whatever physical constant exists, or is some paper related to the measurement of that constant. None suggests "fine-tuning" at all.

I'm willing to accept fundamentalists- they're at least internally honest about their motivations and epistemology. When some guy comes up with a PhD saying astrophysics shows evidence for god, then refuses to provide evidence, or lies with citations... that's just something else entirely.

By plattypus1 (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think it was meant to be whimsical and highlight the silliness of the claim that the body MUST have been resurrected as the only "logical" claim.

It certainly is a silly claim, on any set of assumptions. But once you start with the Christian's assumption that anything happened that needs to be explained, you're on their turf. In such a debate, I would try to make the moron fight for every inch of ground.

I walked through the land of Christos, a fertile and happy place, refulgent waters, trees so deep and rich in color they seemed to insist on a new definition of green. And yet, all the beauty paled to the modern marvels they brought before me, enticing me to stay, to join them, to reap the rewards of their knowledge and intellect.

"See here," HR Christos said. "If you are in need of a new body, we will clone one for you." And so they did, and I watched myself grow from zygote to young adulthood in a vat of blue Jell-O. "Incidently, that is real Jell-O," he assured me.

I knew their land was beset on all sides by their sworn enemies, all who coveted the fruits of their knowledge, and all who wept at the strength of the Christos beliefs. To the north were the Liberos. Their western border warred with the Mohammadeans, and the east held an ungentle truce with the Europeanonians.

The south held the greatest threat of all. There, the Atheons plundered the beautiful Christo history, stealing its greatest triumphs for their own revolting, horrendous purposes. The Atheons desired to crush the small land of Christos; but despite the shear number of Atheons, the diamond-like faith of the Christos, sharp and pure and clear, kept them free.

I asked, "How do you defend yourselves against these evil lost souls who wish to see you crushed?"

HR chuckled. "That's our greatest secret. We have lasers we shoot from our eyes."

I gasped. "How do you come by such miracles? The cloned bodies, the lasers. All these marvels!"

"Why, the Bible has given us the knowledge." He said this in a way that made me think it was obvious.

"Lasers," I said. "Surely the Bible does not impart knowledge of lasers. Especially lasers from the eyes! How did you accomplish such a feat?"

"That is easy," HR replied. "John 5:35 instructs us, 'He was a burning and shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.'"

This made little sense to me. "This says nothing about lasers."

HR shook his head, sorrow creasing the space between his eyes. "Surely, Mr. TheBold, you understand the meaning of 'burning light.' There is only one light that burns: lasers."

I saw the flaw in his logic immediately. "What about sunlight focused by a magnifying lens? That surely burns."

He snapped, "Rubbish! The Bible says nothing of magnifying lenses."

My desperation mounted, like the pressure in a cannon at the point of ignition. "But where does the Bible give you knowledge of cloning?

HR smiled. He knew he had me. He knew I could not help but see the purity, the absolute correctness of the knowledge of the Bible, and the revelation of all truths, physical and spiritual.

He said, "God instructed us in cloning in Acts 26:4. We are told, 'And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself.'"

---------------------

(Yeah. It's a shaggy dog story. So put out a contract on me.)

By nigelTheBold (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

So stupid, to grant the historicity of an obvious fiction and then quibble over details like how the body could have been stolen. It's a fucking story, and you're giving up way to much ground to the idiot when you engage with it as if it has anything to tell us about actual events.

You know you're in the minority on that, CJO. Far too many people (Biblical historians, even!) are willing to simply grant the historical existence of Jesus based on tradition. Hell, our own Owlmirror is on the opposite side of the historicity of Jesus.

While I'm firmly in the myth camp, the historical camp is large enough that it's more than worthwhile to point out that many details held up to be significant in the historical account are none too impressive.

I'd like to see a debate between some a O.E.C. and a Y.E.C.. I think I might actually pay to watch that. A topic that's like, "Does the Bible support old or young earth creationism?" -- and then just watch the bullshit and nonsense fly.

Throw in Harun Yahoohoo - if he's not in jail.

I'd rather like to see Ham, Pudgy Whathisface (Warren) and Yahoohaa tear into eachother on stage. They're all "people of faith" after all - and that's all that matters, right?

By Sili, The Unkn… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Paul,
Owlmirror wavers, and mainly seems to take the devil's advocate role in the historicity argument. Certainly he admits that his proposals are more ad hoc than mine when we've sparred over it. I'll convert him yet.

And the details were known to be none to impressive as early as the author of Matthew's rewrite of Mark, as that author already saw the need for an apologetic explanation of how the contention that the body was stolen was started. It just seems to me that if one is going to dispute the gospel accounts, one can do better than arguments already in use ~1900 years ago that are answered within the literary tradition itself.

CJO,

Your point is taken, but this was a debate and not a scholarly review of the literature. The most important thing is to say things that will speak to the audience, and I consider pointing out that "disappearing bodies" are none too impressive to be a nice tack to take there since the religious can place a lot of emphasis on "disappearing body, therefore Jesus is Lord". Granted, I would be more likely to poke fun at the zombie uprising that was only noted by Gospel authors, but I don't think the allowance made was out of place (in the interest of meeting the debate audience where they are, instead of simply assuming they're familiar with the historicity and of associated differences between the Gospels and arguing from there).

@cervantes #9: CFI's positions are not based on that idiot Michael De Dora's blog. That should be obvious, regardless of how CFI's staff have defended letting him write on their blogs.

The CFI speaker was a member of CFI Canada's Vancouver branch. This was actually the second of two 'debates'. Ross refused to appear at UBC unless his 'opponent' had degree in either medicine, engineering or science, so this philosophy student could only debate him in this lower profile church debate.

It is worthwhile to note that there isn't a theory of creationism or creation science.

They disagree among themselves a lot, and there are many creation theories. There are YECs and old earthers and many variants in between. Day age, and so on. Intelligent Design is just creationism with a sheet over it. Rather than make any biblical statements, they just claim not to know anything. The weird one is Last Thursdayism, the one that says the earth is some arbitrary age created to look 4.7 billion years old.

Before they decided to overthrow modern science, they used to fight among themselves and accuse each other of heresy and being bound for hell. Very xian, very amusing as long as they don't get their hands on some heavy weapons.

But once you start with the Christian's assumption that anything happened that needs to be explained, you're on their turf. In such a debate, I would try to make the moron fight for every inch of ground.

This is interesting. Obviously, the most pragmatic approach is to be at ease in both situations: able to speak to the 'facts' of the bible and why they may not suggest what they suggest, and able to question the historicity of the entire account. But I wonder how well the latter would work with believers.

From my experience, the 'facts' of the bible were never to be questioned, but the details or their meanings were. (It's how moderates convince themselves they "don't leave their brains at the door" when they enter church, or a religious class. By all means, debate vocally on the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, and whether or not it's the Can-Can or the Electric Slide that is God's Holiest Boogie, but as for the existence of angels; of course they exist. Why, that's why we're here.) So I can see the utility of shocking moderates out of their complacency by offering compelling arguments for doubting the major points of the doctrine itself ("Wow, I'm used to arguing about why Jesus lost his temper at the money-changers in the temple, but I've never met anyone who thinks he was just one of any number of radical human rabbis who were sick and tired of the entrenched priest-class at the time"), but I wonder how often they'd merely dismiss you as a Jesus-hater.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think it’s high past time we stopped pretending to respect the notion that it’s even worth giving the Bible a second thought as anything other than ancient fantasy.

I mean, it features not just talking animals, but talking shrubbery fer chrissake. And there’re wizards dueling with their magic wands, dragons, sea monsters, zombies — lots of zombies. Hordes of zombies, even, led by the zombie king himself.

Anybody who takes such shit seriously isn’t qualified to engage in adult conversation.

Really, folks. It’s like we’re trying to explain that Santa isn’t real and getting hung up on whether or not a viral infection might cause a reindeer’s nose to appear red enough to say it glows. People! Come on!

Cheers,

b&

--
EAC Memographer
BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
``All but God can prove this sentence true.''

By Ben Goren (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Wow, I'm used to arguing about why Jesus lost his temper at the money-changers in the temple, but I've never met anyone who thinks he was just one of any number of radical human rabbis who were sick and tired of the entrenched priest-class at the time"

Then they've definitely never met anyone who thinks the entire episode is pure symbolic fiction from the pen of the author of Mark.

I wonder how often they'd merely dismiss you as a Jesus-hater.

Oh, I'm routinely dismissed as a crackpot on those grounds and others, even by fellow atheists, hell, especially, since I long ago gave up even dealing with believers on the subject. The assumptions run deep.

The irony, however, is that I have a great deal of admiration for the literary achievement represented by Mark, moreso than the 1st-century Christians who felt the need to rewrite it.

Lenny Flank:

the malignant influence of 'that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world'." (Morris, 1963, p. 93) Indeed, one of the founders of the modern creationist movement, Dr. Henry Morris, has declared that evolutionary theory was given to Nimrod by Satan himself, at the Tower of Babel:

"Its top was a great temple shrine, emblazoned with zodiacal signs representing the hosts of heaven, Satan and his 'principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness of the world' (Ephesians 6:12). These evil spirits there perhaps met with Nimrod and his priests, to plan their long-range strategy against God and his redemptive purposes for the post-diluvian world. This included especially the development of a non-theistic cosmology, one which could explain the origin and meaning of the universe and man without acknowledging the true God of creation. Denial of God's power and sovereignty in creation is of course foundational in the rejection of His authority in every other sphere. . . . If something like this really happened, early in post-diluvian history, then Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution.

"One question remains. Assuming Satan to be the real source of the evolutionary concept, how did it originate in his mind? . . . A possible answer to this mystery could be that Satan, the father of lies, has not only deceived the whole world and the angelic hosts who followed him--he has even deceived himself! The only way he could really know about creation (just as the only way we can know about creation) was for God to tell him! . . . . He refused to believe and accept the Word of God concerning his own creation and place in God's economy . . . He therefore deceived himself into supposing that all things, including himself and including God, had been evolved by natural processes out of the primordial stuff of the universe. . . ." (Morris, Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1974, pp 74-75).

Thus, concludes Morris, "The entire monstrous complex was revealed to Nimrod at Babel by demonic influences, perhaps by Satan himself . . . Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution." (Morris, Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1974, pp 74-75)

According to Henry Morris, founder of the ICR, evolution theory was made up by Satan and handed to Nimrod while he was building the Tower of Babel. BTW, none of what he claims is in the bible is actually in the bible. He just lied about what his magic book said.

Morris:

Morris wrote that the descendants of Ham "possibly" include "all of the earth's 'colored' races". Morris wrote that they have been "[p]ossessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters" compared to the "Japhethites" who have a comparatively "intellectual and philosophical acumen".[17]

Morris was also a polykook and a racist.

PZ writes:

There is no substantive difference between Ross and Ham except that each thinks the other is a charlatan who is going to hell.

Well, yes....and no.

They are both believers in special creation. They both treat the Bible as a science text, and use contorted logic to make reality comport with their understanding. The differences in how to go about the business of making a pretzel understandably is of no great moment to the atheists of this world, eminent or otherwise.

But there is one substantive difference. Ross accepts an old Earth and all the science that points to it, and Ross also uses much better scholarship in terms of reading the original text than Ham. Also, having seen them both in action, I'm pretty sure Ross considers Ham to be misled, but a fellow Christian....whereas Ham considers Ross and those who follow him to be in danger of hellfire for denying the authority of Scripture from the very first verse.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Then they've definitely never met anyone who thinks the entire episode is pure symbolic fiction from the pen of the author of Mark.

Probably not. I hadn't, until I started hanging out here. It's one of the reasons I enjoy the biblical discussions.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've met a lot more folks with solid biblical scholarship mojo among the atheists than I have among the religionists...

The bible is full of falsehoods to be considered an inerrant/truthful textbook.

By jcmartz.myopenid.com (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Owlmirror wavers, and mainly seems to take the devil's advocate role in the historicity argument.

I acknowledge that I am uncertain because I can think of several alternative real-world hypotheses, some of which involve a real person, some of which involve a story, and it's difficult to come to any certain conclusion, or even a most probable conclusion, in the absence of evidence.

Remind me: What's the myth-camp take on "James the brother of Jesus" in Josephus?

Certainly he admits that his proposals are more ad hoc than mine when we've sparred over it.

Hah! I admit no such thing.

One of the biggest problems I see with the myth scenario is that as you've phrased it, it certainly looks like an argument from ignorance and incredulity.

I'm not saying that it's wrong, but I need a bit more than what you've presented.

I'll convert him yet.

Never! I refuse to commit epistemically in the absence of reason and evidence! A thousand doubts for possibilities, but only hard facts and logic for a conclusion!

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

KH:

Evoltuion for the last 200 years has infiltrated modern Christianity. To refute the many doctrinal errors of Dr. Ross in detail would require a huge book and others have already done this job well so I will only reprint some of their comments adding a few thoughts of my own.

Old-Earth Creationism: A Heretical Belief? | Reasons To Believe

However, because Ham's article identifies Dr. Hugh Ross as the main ... The charge that a group's beliefs are heretical is a serious one that should not be ...
www.reasons.org/resources/.../old-earth-creationism-heretical-belief - Cached

According to The Real Creationists, Hugh Ross is a heretic. KH is Kent Hovind but Ken Ham said the same thing.

Fundie xians are so predictable. When they aren't hating atheists, scientists, other religions, they hate each other. Their usual question, "who would jesus hate" has a simple answer. "Hate everyone and let god sort it out."

I went to see Hugh Ross speak when he came to my city last week. I went with a pair of evangelical relatives who wanted me to validate his lecture because they couldn't understand it, aside from the occasional joke related to the astronomical odds-against he kept throwing around. They don't know I'm a staunch atheist infiltrator.

Hugh is an excellent speaker, and he knows he's full of it. It's not during the lecture that this becomes obvious so much as the Q&A period afterwards, in which he exposes how easy it is to pull the wool over the eyes of unscienced people like my relatives. He uses science in the manner of a hermit crab.

Not that his audience made it hard for him. In a room with over a thousand people with an hour and a half of lecture, there were perhaps five softball questions. One lady asked if he knew where the garden of Eden was. Someone asked if he'd been persecuted, or if he made a lot of money. He just blinded them with pseudoscience.

By Lutrasimilis (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't know why people keep clinging to Jesus being real when they stopped worshiping him. I get it when you do, but when you stop taking the bible as evidence?

It's not like we don't have well documented histories of other prophets, where possible. We know for a fact that some folks who manage to create that kind of following lived, like Confucius or Mohammed. And it's not like the Romans didn't keep good records either...

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ross's partner-in-ministry, with the credentials to take care of the biology side of OldEarthCreationism, is a biochem PhD: Fuz Rana.

He indeed could be mistaken for any bog standard anti-evolutionist, including Hovind. Right down to the quotemining.

I don't know why people keep clinging to Jesus being real when they stopped worshiping him. I get it when you do, but when you stop taking the bible as evidence?

For some, it's just convenient convention (or in Owlmirror's case, I think it's parsimony? Simpler to believe they based Jesus on an actual person, rather than creating a religious figure from scratch). For others, it allows them to believe they have some sort of objective grounding for their personal morals even without religion, by leaning on Jesus as a wise teacher even if he wasn't divine. They're not comfortable taking the bigger step that would be required to leave the moral authority behind in its entirety.

#7:

No, Ross does not get the physics and astronomy right. He uses the Bible as a science textbook -- how much of the Bible gets the physics and astronomy right?

At the risk of stating the obvious, I'm not impressed by the bible "getting things right", when all this appears to mean is letting science do the heavy lifting, and then twisting bible quotes to match. This is not useful. Science is not simply an intellectual exercise, or a means of scoring debating points: it gets things done. Where are the predictions made by the bible, later verified by science? If the bible is such an awesome science textbook, then surely Christian scientists (not Christian Scientists) should be mining it for useful hypotheses or techniques, which could then be verified empirically. Come on, guys, we need cheap fusion energy! A workable reconciliation of quantum mechanics and general relativity! Better treatments for cancer! Dammit, where's my flying car? If you want to be ultra-pure, a proof of Goldbach's Conjecture would be nice.

Waiting for science to achieve something, and then piping up with "our book says the same thing, if you squint just right", smacks of a kid wearing a cute little lab coat and playing let's-pretend. Fun for the kid, but not terribly productive.

Simpler to believe they based Jesus on an actual person, rather than creating a religious figure from scratch

I'm not sure it is more parsimonious, but even if we grant it, there's the problem that this approach tends to be applied inconsistently. Granted, I'm not as educated in this as I'd like to be, but I've never seen anyone suggest that Heracles was a real person, or Perseus or Odysseus. I may have heard somebody suggest it of Ajax, though. Can't remember for sure.

Simpler to believe they based Jesus on an actual person, rather than creating a religious figure from scratch

If those are the only two options, maybe. Remember that much of the Bible was recorded decades after a supposed Jesus lived. History's version of the telephone game is powerful.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thank you for the mention, Dr. Myers, I've been reading your blog on and off for a while now. It's nice to be mentioned (and not in a "look what this idiot said now" way). :)

Just thought I'd chime in, as my ears are burning...

#9: I was, absolutely, allowed to address the bullshit. I didn't (address most of it directly) for reasons I'll explain below.

#10: To clarify slightly, I believe that I said that "there are people in Northern Ireland who...", as I definitely do not know any paramiliatary members personally.

And CJO's multiple posts:

What you do and how you respond when involved in one of these debates/discussions depends entirely on your goals.

If you simply want to stand up and be seen to be an implaccable rock of skepticism that polarises the audience into the respect biases, then your approach is ideal.

Before deciding what I was doing (or even participating), I assumed that within any collection of Believers, demographics exist. There are the hardline fools that are represented by Dr. Ross, and there are those who may have never been exposed to any critical analysis or argument before.

The job that I chose to take on was to present the image of a rational skeptic, who isn't argumentative merely for the sake of argument. Engaging in a "no, you're wrong about x, y, and z" is largely a waste of time in that particular setup, because the audience (by and large) don't have the tracts of information in front of them to reason through. Engaging Dr. Ross in his bullshit (and outright lies, he apparently wasn't the "only Christian" at that particular skeptical convention, nor did the various scientists respond how he claims that they responded) would have been a pointless back and forth that went nowhere.

Asserting that the whole 'body vanished from the tomb' thing didn't happen would be *merely* an assertion to those folks that I'm hoping (perhaps vainly) to reach. Pointing out that various bodies have been successfully vanished throughout the ages was intended to introduce doubt into his assertions. I chose Northern Ireland because I'm Irish and people will erroneously assume that I have some level of authority when speaking about Ireland.

In a one on one situation, I tend to adopt a much more direct approach.

One single approach does not achieve all goals under all circumstances. That is as true in religious discussion as it is in scientific discussion. Different tools, different jobs.

This whole “Did Jesus really exist?” debate is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

There isn’t one single vague hint of Jesus in the first half of the first century. (Just to be clear, the time and era was quite well documented by contemporaries, thankyouverymuch, especially including Philo).

The very first record of Jesus is to be found in the Pauline epistles, in which the author establishes his authority by declaring that not only did he never see Jesus in the flesh, but neither did anybody else, either.

The authorized biographies describe as “fact” such incidents as zombie hordes roaming downtown Jerusalem, terrorizing the inhabitants. Not to mention, of course, that the man in question is — as described by his most loving followers, no less — nothing if not the ultimate king of the zombies, poised to turn all those who eat his flesh into zombies themselves.

And, as icing on the cake, we have Justin Martyr who went to great pains to equate Jesus with each and every preceeding mythical hero, as well as Lucian of Samosota giving a detailed account of exactly who wrote the scriptures and why.

This isn’t rocket science. If you can’t figure out that a century-late zombie tale was made up, even when people contemporary with the authors of the tale tell you exactly that…well…perhaps you’re not yet ready for adult conversation.

Cheers,

b&

--
EAC Memographer
BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
``All but God can prove this sentence true.''

By Ben Goren (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Granted, I'm not as educated in this as I'd like to be, but I've never seen anyone suggest that Heracles was a real person, or Perseus or Odysseus.

It would be more accurate to discuss whether they were "based" on real people than whether there really was a demi-god who went through Trials. And I've heard it suggested, but I think it was more in jest. A better comparison to Jesus would be Socrates, in my opinion. What evidence do we have of his existence? Disciples who talk about what an upstanding guy he was, and how they're special because of their association to him. I do find it an interesting question to wonder if any such person existed. But then, Socrates has more contemporary sources referring to him, whereas Jesus only has the Gospels written decades after his death.

If those are the only two options, maybe. Remember that much of the Bible was recorded decades after a supposed Jesus lived. History's version of the telephone game is powerful.

Actually, yes, those are the two choices. Either Jesus is based on a historical figure, or he is not (which I was terming "myth", or where you responded "from scratch" (I don't consider several people taking the same "from scratch" character and elaborating on it to be a separate case)). Your telephone game would be in "history" camp if it started with a nugget of truth, or "from scratch" if it started from a guy coming up with a nifty messiah character for his latest Torah fanfic.

Please do recognize I'm not arguing for historical Jesus. I'm firmly in the mythical camp. I was just trying to answer #36, as I do have experience with religion (and many religion-soaked (as well as recovering from religion) relatives).

Remind me: What's the myth-camp take on "James the brother of Jesus" in Josephus?

If "who was called the Christ" is an interpolation originating as a scribal annotation, it's much more natural to read the passage in its context as referring to the Jesus who was son of Damneus who Josephus tells us in the same paragraph was made high priest as a result of the fallout from the killing of James the brother of Jesus.

The vocabulary is suspicious. The only instances of the word "Christ" in Josephus is here and in the Tesimonium, which is widely agreed to be at least partially an interpolation.

A later tradition arose among Christians that the fall of Jerusalem and the sacking of the temple in the war with the Romans was tied somehow to this unlawful execution of James, but Josephus not only doesn't mention the James brother of Jesus incident in The Jewish War, a more comprehensive account of just that time period than Antiquities, he associates the death of the high priest Ananus (the very figure who had James killed!) with the disaster.

Hah! I admit no such thing.

Okay, sorry. It seemed in our last discussion that you were aware that your scenario of the earliest Jerusalem (proto-)Christians buying off the Roman administration to avoid persecution was pretty damn ad hoc. Several other of your arguments seemed to me to be more of the devil's advocate variety: "ah, but have you considered (x)?" than serious attempts to advance a plausible scenario.

One of the biggest problems I see with the myth scenario is that as you've phrased it, it certainly looks like an argument from ignorance and incredulity.

Specifically the argument from the silence of Paul looks that way if it's not elaborated as a set of very specific silences on points on which it's hard to imagine Paul not appealing to the words and deeds of Jesus in some form if they were available to him and not features of later fictional accounts. The historicist position relies much more strongly on incredulity in my view, specifically that literary invention is insufficient to explain the stories about Jesus that were written.

I'm not saying that it's wrong, but I need a bit more than what you've presented.

I dig it. It's an elaborate argument to make. In a nutshell, I'm more convinced that the gospels, specifically, are not based on any historical information available to the evangelists than I am one hundred percent certain that there was no messianic claimant named Jesus executed by the Romans under Pilate. It's just that on my reading of the literature there's nothing for this figure to have done, and that's really the bottom line on whom we are allowed to call "a figure of history." Historical figures cannot be shown to be such in the total absence of some minimally reliable information about events they participated in and actions they undertook.

I think it more like there were several Jesuses - i.e. anti-establishment Jewish preachers/demagogues of the early first century C.E., who mixed faith-healing with religious reformism and political agitation in various proportions, and whose words and actions form the basis for the Gospels. I believe Life of Brian is quite accurate in depicting 1st century Palestine as seething with Messiahs, and any who retained a significant following for a couple of decades would automatically be credited with many memorable acts or words formerly attributed to others - so "Jesus" of the gospels is a kind of composite portrait, further photoshopped by several layers of writers, editors, censors etc.

By Knockgoats (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Actually, yes, those are the two choices. Either Jesus is based on a historical figure, or he is not (which I was terming "myth", or where you responded "from scratch" (I don't consider several people taking the same "from scratch" character and elaborating on it to be a separate case)).

I don't consider that making it up from scratch. If various bits and pieces about some mythical person (of which there, as I understand it, were plenty of people claiming to be the or a messiah) being combined and filtered and "telephone gamed" into a single representation of these stories and supposed quotes is not what I consider as being made up from scratch.

Being made up from scratch to me represents a deliberate attempt to create this person instead of some evolved being formed from stories passed from one person to another and finally recorded at a time far after the supposed events.

Your telephone game would be in "history" camp if it started with a nugget of truth, or "from scratch" if it started from a guy coming up with a nifty messiah character for his latest Torah fanfic.

Sure and there might have been some nugget of truth that there were people claiming to be messiahs or sons of god or whatever who actually said things that people found interesting or uplifting or spiritual. That doesn't mean it was one person who said the things that were recorded so far after the events. It also doesn't necessarily suggest that the "creation" of the mythical figure Jesus was a deliberate making up from scratch.

So there are other options than real person or made up from scratch.

I can't argue with the obvious either a real person or a myth however.

I guess it was the "from scratch" that I had an issue with.

Please do recognize I'm not arguing for historical Jesus. I'm firmly in the mythical camp. I was just trying to answer #36, as I do have experience with religion (and many religion-soaked (as well as recovering from religion) relatives).

I do recognize that, I'm in the mythical camp as well and I have an assload of experience with religion and religion soaked relatives too.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Bah shit

Missed a blockquote there in the middle

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

But then, Socrates has more contemporary sources referring to him, whereas Jesus only has the Gospels written decades after his death.

Which is why I did not compare him to Socrates, but rather to Heracles and Perseus. There are as many contemporary sources for Jesus as there are for Heracles.

I think it more like there were several Jesuses

However, this doesn't explain why our earliest witness, Paul, writing a decade or so after the putative events recounted in the gospels, had as the focus of his creed a cosmic redeemer figure to whom were attached no "memorable acts or words" whatsoever.

All the acts and words either come from Mark or were written in the service of imitating or co-opting the Marcan Jesus, or are in their more self-consciously Greek-literary form in John, the last canonical gospel to be written. We don't see legendary development in the usual mold; rather, we see a legend being back-formed out of a cosmic myth that ultimately needed only the Jewish scriptures for inspiration.

Which is why I did not compare him to Socrates, but rather to Heracles and Perseus. There are as many contemporary sources for Jesus as there are for Heracles.

So, 40 years after Heracles' death, his disciples were writing about how cool he was to be around? News to me.

So, 40 years after Heracles' death, his disciples were writing about how cool he was to be around? News to me.

I don't understand what the hell you're getting at with this. I don't recall saying anything like that.

  • Nobody who was ever around Jesus wrote about him. People who never met Jesus wrote about him long after he supposedly died.
  • Nobody who was ever around Heracles wrote about him. People who never met Heracles wrote about him long after he supposedly died.
  • People who supposedly knew Socrates wrote about him after he supposedly died.

One of these things is not like the other...

There is good reason to think that the passage in Antiquities of the Jews that mentions Jesus was a forgery written by a Christian apologist to provide historical evidence of Jesus' existence. Parallel sections of Josephus' Jewish War do not mention Jesus. Also some Christian writers as late as the third century who quoted from the Antiquities do not mention the passage.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

The difference between Jesus and Betty Crocker is about 1900 years. They are both made up.

CFI is rapidly rendering itself as a circus for acephalic freaks.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

There's nothing wrong about what CFI did here. Don't confuse a good organization with one nitwit.

I'm not sure it's fair to tar the CFI with the same brush you use for Ross. DeDora aside, the biggest sin that the CFI committed on Saturday was listening politely instead of mocking him. Considering that the event was co-hosted by Reasons, it's pretty good form for them not to take a side. Plus we're Canadian, so politeness comes with the territory.

Personally, I think they did a good job.

By Crommunist (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

At least Ross had a better PowerPoint presentation than Dr. Jerry Bergman!

Hi everyone,

My name is Ethan and I’m the executive director of CFI Vancouver and I’m the one who organized the Hugh Ross debates with Reasons to Believe.

First, I wanted to thank PZ for mentioning us, this was actually a really successful event for us in terms of attendance and interest.

I just wanted to mention a few things that relate to some thoughts that have come up here. (and also echo what Brian already said) We pretty much knew ahead of time that these debates weren’t going to produce any thing “new” in terms of “holy cow Hugh Ross just blew my mind with that argument!” But to be fair, the debate wasn’t for us skeptics; rather it was for the people who might not normally identify themselves as skeptics, people who are curious about the questions surrounding God and Atheism.

The other thing I should point out is that Hugh Ross was coming to Vancouver whether we wanted him to or not. He was going to give a high profile talk whether we wanted him to or not. Reasons to Believe approached us about giving a counter voice and we figured it was better than letting him go without the skeptic/atheist alternative.

I actually just had this debate on Radio Freethinker as well, but again, I think in this case, it was more important to provide the counter position then let Hugh Ross go unchallenged.

I should also point out that we’ll be posting our own video of both debates very soon on our CFI Canada youtube channel so I do encourage everyone to check it out!

Ethan Clow
Executive Director, CFI Vancouver
eclow@cficanada.ca

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

The evidence for the historicity of a Jewish religious figure named Jesus being executed by the Romans is strong, and independent of the interpolated (and likely corrupted) passage found in Josephus. Bart Ehrman is particularly impressed by a passage from Tacitus.

That's good enough for me, but not worth getting all that exercised about. It doesn't prove that the figure (identified as 'Christus') was the Jesus of the Gospels, much less the Resurrection. Nor does it rule out the possibility that accounts of Jesus's life don't meld stories of many different figures, or carry imagery or make claims derived from other mystery cults from the 1st century.

Still, if I were to lose my faith, I would still think that the common-sense interpretation of the facts available point to the actual existence of a real person named Jesus. Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed? I mean, Troy appears to be a real place, but that doesn't mean that a goddess exposed herself to a herdsman in ancient Illium.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I haven't listened to this debate yet, but I attended the Ross debate which happened the night before at UBC in Vancouver.

Ross piqued my interest when off the bat he announced that his organization had a "testable creation model" which was falsifiable. It turns out the "predictions" made using this model included things like "if there was no creator, evidence for god & design would decrease with time". Basically I think that even though he is educated in astronomy, and more or less understands the current literature, but he doesn't understand what a "model" is, or how they are tested. Or else he's willfully lying for Jesus.

The other thing he did which really annoyed me was his blatant bending of bible passages to fit with physics. For example, he mentioned that in Romans 8:21 where it says creation is in bondage to "decay", it was a reference cosmic expansion (or something - physics is not my strong suit). However, anyone who bothered to look it up would see from the context of the passage that the author was referring to the "decay" of sin.

The audience hammered him with questions afterwards. It's nice to be at a relatively godless university.

CJO,
What do you think of this?

Paul was influenced by Greek philosophy and seems to be an edited group of texts made for orthodox consumption. Elaine Pagels wrote a book about the gnostic Paul who was appreciated by the Valentines, a gnostic group.

Given this, I think Paul may have used Joshua as a Jewish example of the gnostic mythology of the awakened man who is able to, upon shedding this body, ascend through the levels of heaven to paradise. Remember that Joshua crossed Jordan into the promised land when Moses was forbidden to do so because of sin. So Joshua is an example for Paul of what can happen for you if you are reborn into a new life. You can pass through this life into eternal paradise.

Of course the Greek for Joshua is Jesus. I surmise that that is how it started; as a Jewish version of Greek gnosticism. The fabricated examples of Jesus' made up life where added later so it could compete with the other religions of the time. At that time Paul's writings were altered to make them seem more orthodox.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I just remembered a couple of other things that bothered me about Ross' speech:

When he referred to his organization, he made it sound like it was a research institute or something, as if they were actively contributing to the physics literature. Of course, when you go to their web site it becomes apparent that the only thing they do is evangelize. So I guess they're more like the Discovery Institute in that regard.

Ross also made reference to a specific physics paper which (according to him) admitted that the cosmological constant implied god's existence. I looked it up. As far as I understand the paper, it didn't say anything like what Ross implied. Another instance of bald face lying.

The evidence for the historicity of a Jewish religious figure named Jesus being executed by the Romans is strong

many, like Avalos, would disagree.

could you provide references?

" 'Wow, I'm used to arguing about why Jesus lost his temper at the money-changers in the temple, but I've never met anyone who thinks he was just one of any number of radical human rabbis who were sick and tired of the entrenched priest-class at the time'

Then they've definitely never met anyone who thinks the entire episode is pure symbolic fiction from the pen of the author of Mark..."

Consider that there are two accounts of the money-changer incident (in different gospels); one occurs near the start of Jesus' ministry, the other very near its end. The dichotomy is amusing to observers and troublesome for believers.

As for historical proof of Jesus' earthly existence, aside from Josephus, there's a monastery in Greece, Turkey, the Balkans - I've lost the reference - which claims to have the original warrant by the Romans for Jesus' arrest - including a physical description which would not appear on Christmas or Easter cards. One is led to wonder why the Romans would trifle with such a document when dealing with what they considered a mere rabble-rouser.

If "who was called the Christ" is an interpolation originating as a scribal annotation

Too much scribal enthusiasm, eh? Mistakes do happen, I suppose.

Yet it's also plausible that "who was called Christ" was there specifically to distinguish him from the son of Damneus.

it's much more natural to read the passage in its context as referring to the Jesus who was son of Damneus who Josephus tells us in the same paragraph was made high priest as a result of the fallout from the killing of James the brother of Jesus.

Hm. Is it plausible that someone from a priestly family could be falsely accused and condemned to death?

And wouldn't it have said explicitly: "James, the son of Damneus"? Or "James, the brother of Jesus the son of Damneus"? I note that the "Jesus son of Damneus" is actually kind of remote from the mention of James.

Interestingly, the Greek text says "τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ [τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ], Ἰάκωβος ὄνομα αὐτῷ"

That is, a more exact translation of the text in its sequence is: "the brother of Jesus [called Christ], Jacob {James} was his name". (The brackets are mine)

Which is an interesting formulation -- his being a brother of Jesus was more important than who he was son of; and his actual name is specified after his being a brother of that person.

Hm. Were there brotherhoods in ancient Judaea?

========

A better comparison to Jesus would be Socrates, in my opinion. What evidence do we have of his existence? Disciples who talk about what an upstanding guy he was, and how they're special because of their association to him.

And also Aristophanes, who was not such a disciple, and did not seem to think that Socrates was special, but rather, satirized him.

========

It seemed in our last discussion that you were aware that your scenario of the earliest Jerusalem (proto-)Christians buying off the Roman administration to avoid persecution was pretty damn ad hoc.

To an extent -- but the "myth" position is equally ad-hoc. Anything that suggests that the myth might not be a myth is part of the myth? Psychological temporal dilation effects?

Several other of your arguments seemed to me to be more of the devil's advocate variety: "ah, but have you considered (x)?" than serious attempts to advance a plausible scenario.

I have not yet seen the myth scenario itself presented in an entirely plausible way. I may need to read more about it, of course.

Specifically the argument from the silence of Paul looks that way if it's not elaborated as a set of very specific silences on points on which it's hard to imagine Paul not appealing to the words and deeds of Jesus in some form if they were available to him and not features of later fictional accounts.

Hm. Establishing sequence seems difficult or impossible -- If Paul says a paraphrase of something that appears in the Gospel, you can always claim that the Gospel-writer took it from Paul. If Paul says nothing, he's being silent about it. Sheesh.

What's the myth-explanation for the Eucharist-formula in 1 Corithians 11, that Paul does mention as having been said by Jesus?

The historicist position relies much more strongly on incredulity in my view, specifically that literary invention is insufficient to explain the stories about Jesus that were written.

But the incredulity seems much worse going the other way -- that the stories could not have arisen as exaggerations and fictions told about a real person who was some sort of cult leader.

. It's just that on my reading of the literature there's nothing for this figure to have done, and that's really the bottom line on whom we are allowed to call "a figure of history."

What more does he need to have done than establish a charismatic eschatological cult/fellowship/mutual-aid-society, and gotten in trouble for it?

However, this doesn't explain why our earliest witness, Paul, writing a decade or so after the putative events recounted in the gospels, had as the focus of his creed a cosmic redeemer figure to whom were attached no "memorable acts or words" whatsoever.

This looks like it ignores certain parts of Paul's letters in order to come to that conclusion.

All the acts and words either come from Mark or were written in the service of imitating or co-opting the Marcan Jesus

Which means what, exactly?

===========

There is good reason to think that the passage in Antiquities of the Jews that mentions Jesus was a forgery written by a Christian apologist to provide historical evidence of Jesus' existence. Parallel sections of Josephus' Jewish War do not mention Jesus. Also some Christian writers as late as the third century who quoted from the Antiquities do not mention the passage.

Yes, that's an argument from silence that mostly looks plausible.

The Testimonium is very likely a late forgery; Origen makes no mention of it despite having very good reason to do so -- and he does reference James, brother of Jesus, which as far as he seems to have known, did include "who was called Christ".

But see above.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ichthyic:

Read this passage from Tacitus, which Bart Ehrman (certainly no friend of Biblical literalists) finds persuasive. Ehrman was quoted on the Infidel Guy Show as follows: ""I don't think there's any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus. There are a lot of people who want to write sensational books and make a lot of money who say Jesus didn't exist. But I don't know any serious scholar who doubts the existence of Jesus."

In fairness, not all scholars agree: Avalos, for example. But even George Albert Wells, who is often considered the most venerable scholar associated with 'the Jesus Myth', modified his position somewhat. According to Robert E. Van Voorst, Wells "now accepts that there is some historical basis for the existence of Jesus, derived from the lost early "gospel" "Q" (the hypothetical source used by Matthew and Luke). Wells believes that it is early and reliable enough to show that Jesus probably did exist, although this Jesus was not the Christ that the later canonical Gospels portray."

I again want to stress that conceding the existence of a historical Jesus in no way counts as evidence for Jesus's miracles, Resurrection, or other supernatural claims. I just think the claim that 'there is no historical Jesus' is hard to credit.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott,

conceding the existence of a historical Jesus in no way counts as evidence for Jesus's [claimed] miracles, Resurrection, or other supernatural claims

If only more Christians would concede the bleeding obvious.

By John Morales (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott Hatfield, #68:
Your first link to Tacitus is borked. There is, however, a wiki article called "Tacitus on Christ".

First note that Tacitus lived 56-117 A.D., so although he could be a non-Christian source, he is still not able to give a first-hand account. The Annals themselves are from ca. 116 A.D. Here are a few tidbits I've gleaned from it so far:

the earliest surviving manuscript containing the passage is an Eleventh Century Christian scribal copy

Pontius Pilate's rank was prefect when he was in Judea.[12] The Tacitus passage mistakenly calls Pilate a procurator, an error also made in translations of a passage by Josephus.[13] (However, Josephus wrote in Greek and never used the Latin term.) It should be noted that after Herod Agrippa's death in AD 44, when Judea reverted to direct Roman rule, Claudius gave procurators control over Judea.[14][15] This was made possible when he augmented the role of procurators so that they had magisterial power.[16][17] Tacitus, who rose through the magisterial ranks[18][19] to become consul and then proconsul had a precise knowledge of significance of the terms involved and knew when Judea began to be administered by procurators. It is therefore problematical that he would use "procurator" instead of "prefect" to describe the governor of Judea prior to the changes that he tells us Claudius brought in.

Personally, I haven't been able to decide what I really think about whether Jesus was historical or only mythological. What I know of the scant evidence leaves open either possibility. As an atheist it makes no difference to me, except on a (very fascinating, if you ask me) scholarly level. What I will not do is accept some "consensus" or "majority" of biblical scholars as constituting some kind of evidence all on its own.

I've been watching these videos, and I am quite amazed at the level of stupid. I'm no Einstein, of course, but Dr. Ross is an "astrophysicist" -- how can this be? Whence cometh evil???

Mr. T:

I apologize for the bad link. My HTML-fu is inferior.

Hopefully this will work.

I've also come across the questions about the Tacitus quote. Ehrman (who describes himself as agnostic) finds it convincing, as do most other scholars in this area. This includes classicists as well as Biblical scholars. Doesn't make it so, but I tend to go with the majority on such things. (shrugs) I can't read Hebrew or Greek at all, and my Latin is perfunctory.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?

I'm not really clinging to the Jesus myth hypothesis, but I'll try to give my perspective.

The kind of Christianity I was educated in (Australian liberal anglicanism for the record) was one tried to sell the historicity of Jesus. So much of scripture at school was the scripture teachers trying to convince the students that a) Jesus was a historical figure, and b) that God is the one true God who is a real force in this world. So often scripture was about the number of documents supporting Jesus' existence, that he was more attested to than the likes of Caesar, the gospels themselves were accurate historical records, God really did set that BBQ alight to show that Yahweh and not Baal was the one true God (curiously enough they left off the next part of the story where the Baal priests were slaughtered).

So from my perspective, the question over the historicity of Jesus is one of whether the gospels are reliable historical accounts. It's simply not important at all whether there was a cult leader at the base of the myth or that it was a complete artificial construction. It's essentially meaningless to speculate.

The question that I find relevant is whether a biblical Jesus and historical Jesus match. If they don't, then I find it appropriate to call Jesus a mythical figure. Take King Arthur. Now while there may be a historical figure underlying the myth, but what good is that to those who claim that the historical figure is the mythic one? When people talk about a historical Jesus, they are implicitly or explicitly talking about a biblical one. That's the Jesus I reject. That there might have been a man behind all that is asking a very different question.

/my two cents

There were any number of Bronze age con-men who operated in Judea and other parts of the Roman empire. Their tricks included turning water to wine, making their staves turn to snakes and even healing the sick. Some of them even claimed to be the Hebrew Messiah. This one, Yeshua ben Joseph, probably existed, and probably did "Miracles."
(I can turn water to wine with the right props)
So ? con-men have been faking people out for millenia, and will go on doing so until we manage to have 2 or 3 generations without superstitions.
(Right, like that's gonna happen)

Peter H.

As for historical proof of Jesus' earthly existence, aside from Josephus, there's a monastery in Greece, Turkey, the Balkans - I've lost the reference - which claims to have the original warrant by the Romans for Jesus' arrest -

Peter, at one time the RCC had up to 18 foreskins of the penises of jesus. As to why jesus needs 18 penises and where he hung them, the crucifixes don't indicate. The last one was stolen a few years ago. I also believe the tomb of jesus was located long ago....all three of them. Of course pieces of The True Cross have become scarce since Lebanon cut down their trees a millennia ago. The Holy Grail is still up for grabs though.

Faking documents and relics of biblical figures was a major industry in ancient times. The traffic in those and Saints relics was one reason for the Reformation.

The chance that that arrest warrant is anything but fake is about zero if it even exists. I doubt the Romans even had such a thing as arrest warrants or wanted posters.

But since you are a True Believer, I need to move $100 million bucks in oil money from an African country. For half, I need your help. Just post your bank account numbers and we will use that to transfer the funds.

Let's say for example that there really was a Jewish cult leader by the name of Jesus and the events were written as they happened. Word for word, event for event that everything in the gospels historically happened as they did from the three wise men following a star to see a young mother giving birth to who they thought the messiah to the torture and death on the cross. Would we be able to at that stage say that Jesus was a historical figure. And I think that question could be answered both ways. On the one hand, we can point to events and places and say "yes, that was a real person". On the other, it's still not satisfying the claim of Jesus as the son of God whose sacrifice meant that one could redeem their personal sin.

This sounds like a word game, but I think it's important to distinguish between the question of a real figure at the base of the narrative and of the theological figure that is worshipped. For a man behind the myth, I'm quite happy to say I don't know and leave it to others to look over. Having verified historical artefacts might be more impressive, it does seem odd that if there was such a historical figure why there aren't any verified historical relics (but plenty of fakes - 7 foreskins of Christ). But I still think it appropriate to say that a Jesus who was God-incarnate, who may have been born of a virgin, who performed miracles, who dictated God's word on earth, who conversed with teh devil, who died to eliminate original sin, who may or may not have conquered hell, and then arose to take the throne besides his father whom if we believe the right thing (or live a virtuous life depending on who you ask) will spend eternity with - I can't see any other way than to describe that figure as a myth.

"I don't think there's any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus. There are a lot of people who want to write sensational books and make a lot of money who say Jesus didn't exist. But I don't know any serious scholar who doubts the existence of Jesus."

this is NOT evidence.

...just to be clear.

this is merely an argument from authority, which, also happens to be wrong, since you yourself are aware of serious scholars who indeed DO doubt the actual historical existence of this person.

wikipedia list of gospels:

List of Gospels
[edit] Completely preserved Gospels
Gospel of Mark (canonical)
Gospel of Matthew (canonical)
Gospel of Luke (canonical)
Gospel of John (canonical)
Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Truth
Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians
Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the "Acts of Pilate")
Gospel of Barnabas
Gospel of Gamaliel[1]
[edit] Infancy Gospels
Gospel of the Nativity of Mary
Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Infancy Gospel of James
Arabic Infancy Gospel
Syriac Gospel of the Boyhood of our Lord Jesus[2]

The Nag Hammadi Library, among which the Gospel of Thomas & the Gospel of Truth were rediscovered[edit] Partially preserved Gospels
Gospel of Judas
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Mary
Gospel of Philip
[edit] Fragmentary preserved Gospels[α]
Dialogue of the Saviour
Papyrus Egerton 2
Gospel of Eve
Fayyum Fragment
Gospel of Mani
Oxyrhynchus Gospels
Gospel of the Saviour (also known as the Unknown Berlin gospel)
Gospel of the Twelve
[edit] Reconstructed Gospels[β]
Gospel of the Ebionites
Gospel of the Egyptians
Gospel of the Hebrews
Secret Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Matthias
Gospel of the Nazoraeans
Gospel of Q (also known as the "Q document")
Signs Gospel
Cross Gospel
[edit] Lost Gospels
Gospel of Bartholomew
Gospel of the Seventy
Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms
Gospel of Perfection
Gospel of Marcion
Gospel of Basilides
Gospel of Andrew
Gospel of Apelles_(gnostic)
Gospel of Cerinthus
Gospel of Bardesanes
Gospel of the Encratites[3]
Gospel of the Gnostics[4]
Gospel of Hesychius[5]
Gospel of Lucius[5]
Gospel of Longinus
Gospel of Manes
Gospel of Merinthus[6]
Gospel of Scythianus
Gospel of Simonides
Gospel of Tatian
Gospel of Thaddaeus[7]
Gospel of Valentinus[8]
The Clementine Gospel

The gospels are literary fiction. We have or know of 60 gospels from ancient times. It has been 2,000 years and they were heavily suppressed by the early xians. Probably there were more.

They vary radically among themselves. Even the four that made it into the bible differ significantly among themselves.

There is no doubt much of the gospels was just made up. Whether there is any truth is hard to say. It may even be impossible. I looked at the scholarly work not so long ago. It has been so long and there is so little solid evidence, that we may simply never be able to tell if there was a real Jesus. I think it likely but regard the whole question as unanswerable.

If jesus was real and was god, he could settle it in a heartbeat. Hasn't happened in 2,000 years.

Scott Hatfield:

I'm sure you've already explained your religious beliefs here quite a lot, but I have some questions I'd like to ask a fairly non-delusional Christian such as yourself.

Which of these claims are you more certain is true? Why?

1. "Jesus" existed, as a historical person.

2. "God" exists.

If only one of those statements is true, which would you prefer is true? Why?

this is merely an argument from authority, which, also happens to be wrong, since you yourself are aware of serious scholars who indeed DO doubt the actual historical existence of this person.

Which should be enough for Hatfield to doubt the credibility of Ehrman, rather than offer him as an authority, if he were intellectually honest .. but he's definitely not.

Hatfield, you write

Bart Ehrman is particularly impressed by a passage from Tacitus.
That's good enough for me ....

and

I tend to go with the majority on such things

Well, which is it? If the majority disagreed with Ehrman, would his being impressed by some passage still be good enough for you? If not, then the fact that he is should be irrelevant, even to an apologist like you. And if so, that would illustrate conclusively that you are driven by confirmation bias.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott,

Still, if I were to lose my faith, I would still think that the common-sense interpretation of the facts available point to the actual existence of a real person named Jesus.

That is exactly the assumption that underlies the entire field of "historical Jesus" research: that the common-sense or most plausible interpretation when faced with a literary tradition is that there must be a historical core, some minimal set of actual events in view. This is a judgement about the evidence made prior to the examination of that evidence, and furthermore is made uniquely about a figure who just happens to be the poster boy for the Western world's most cherished institution. A great deal of the scholarship done under the assumption is bogus, and I challenge the enterprise there, at the root. And the "facts available" are all confined to this literary tradition, with the exception of the few Roman mentions, none of which report anything outside of what would have been the basic Christian confession, derived from the nrrative found in the very same texts.

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?

Without going on at great length, speaking ony for myself, I arrived at the conclusion by learning to reject the assumption in the course of reading (over a couple of years now) a metric crapload of NT scholarship and Greco-Roman history. Seriously, the wife has taken to rolling her eyes and complaining about all the Jesus books lying around when people come over. I started pretty much under the impression that some such person had inspired the tradition, so the whole project has not been out of some atheism-inspired counter-assumption of ahistoricity, but an exercise in interpreting the evidence myself. From my perspective, the clinging is all on the other side. I've let go.

if I were to lose my faith

There is no way for you to know, in your current condition, what you would believe if you stopped being so irrational as to believe things for no reason.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?

The form of your question is very revealing ... you assume that whether atheists hold to an idea is determined by whether it supports their beliefs -- but that's what religious gits like you do.

The funny thing is that you're too stupid to grasp that, for atheists do operate that way, it's useful to deny the existence of Jesus because the non-existence of Jesus implies the non-divinity of Jesus. In terms of your example, if Troy weren't a real place, no goddess could have exposed herself to a herdsman there.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

If Kel didn't already have an OM, I'd nominate them for one for the #73 post.

Just cuts through the whole question concisely.

Kel (#76) writes, in part:

And I think that question could be answered both ways. On the one hand, we can point to events and places and say "yes, that was a real person". On the other, it's still not satisfying the claim of Jesus as the son of God whose sacrifice meant that one could redeem their personal sin....

Which I pretty much acknowledged in my earlier posts, #60 and #68. Obviously, since my chosen touchstone (Bart Ehrman) is an agnostic, then he would agree with that point as well.

Kel continues:

The question that I find relevant is whether a biblical Jesus and historical Jesus match. If they don't, then I find it appropriate to call Jesus a mythical figure.

I don't see it as inappropriate in this forum, either. Ehrman would agree that the former is a mythical figure, largely concocted by Paul, but that the latter was real.

Ichthyic (#77):

this is merely an argument from authority, which, also happens to be wrong, since you yourself are aware of serious scholars who indeed DO doubt the actual historical existence of this person.

I think you are sort of misinterpreting my earlier reply. You asked for evidence, I cited Tacitus as being a line of evidence, among many, that led a highly-regarded (but personally agnostic) Biblical scholar (Bart Ehrman) to conclude that there was a historical Jesus. So that is not, as you seemed to infer, merely an argument from authority.

Citing the opinions of authorities in an argument is not fallacious as long as one does not argue, in effect, 'Aristotle says, therefore it is so.' But I clearly did not make such an argument, as any careful reading of my posts #60, #68 and #77 would show.

raven (#75): You may already realize this, so forgive me if this sounds patronizing. I don't think Peter H. was serious. Perhaps your suggestion that you had a bridge to sell was light-hearted, rather than at his expense? In any case, I did enjoy the foreskins anecdote.

And, yes, of course there are all manner of texts which are not canonical, whether one is talking about the Bible or some other tradition. But that is not the question as I see it.

Are we really to believe that Paul and his contemporaries simply created 'Jesus' out of various sources available to them, many of which they could not possibly control, and that not one of these Gospels (many of which are independent of the Pauline epistolary tradition, by the way) contains any references to the actions of a real flesh-and-blood man?

Is that really less parsimonious than the possibility that a real person existed, and that his death by the hands of the Roman Empire under notorious circumstances helped spread all manner of accounts of his deeds and (somewhat later) his supposed divine nature through the Empire? You folk concede nothing to belief by considering this possibility, other than (apparently) an emotional attachment to an outlier position held by a minority of scholars.

(shrugs shoulders) I guess it's unrealistic to expect emotional detachment on such a topic, but I did expect more. I guess that makes me an outlier, as well. Doesn't make right, of course.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?

If we remove the ad hominem, this translates to

Since Christians could be wrong that Jesus was a god even if he did exist, why do atheists make such a big deal of the possibility that he didn't exist?

The obvious answer, dumbfuck, is because that would prove they are wrong and would invalidate the Christian religion.

One can be a Christian without being too stupid to understand the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions, but it sure helps.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott,

his death by the hands of the Roman Empire under notorious circumstances

To what notorious circumstances do you refer?

By John Morales (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Are we really to believe that Paul and his contemporaries simply created 'Jesus' out of various sources available to them

You have no idea of what Paul and his contemporaries did, moron. But if we take Paul's letters as authoritative, his source was a vision.

many of which they could not possibly control

Paul couldn't control his own imagination?

and that not one of these Gospels (many of which are independent of the Pauline epistolary tradition, by the way)

That's right -- they are inconsistent. But they may have common influences -- duh.

contains any references to the actions of a real flesh-and-blood man?

That's certainly possible, git; we certainly know (not being a stupid faithhead like you) that many of the actions so referenced could not have occurred.

Is that really less parsimonious than the possibility that a real person existed

You mean more parsimonious, moron. And yes, the possibility that someone didn't exist is more parsimonious than the possibility that he did exist if the evidence can be equally well explained in both cases.

I guess it's unrealistic to expect emotional detachment on such a topic, but I did expect more. I guess that makes me an outlier, as well.

It makes you a pearl clutcher.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

BTW, Carrier, who so thoroughly trashes Jesus's historicity in the video I cited above, once had a different view. From

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html

When we compare the standard historicist theory (SHT) with Doherty's ahistoricist or "mythicist" theory (DMT) by the criteria of the Argument to the Best Explanation, I must admit that, at present, Doherty wins on at least four out of the six criteria (scope, power, plausibility, and ad hocness ; I think DMT is equal to SHT on the fifth criterion of disconfirmation ; neither SHT nor DMT wins on the sixth and decisive criterion). In other words, Doherty's theory is simply superior in almost every way in dealing with all the facts as we have them. However, it is not overwhelmingly superior, and that leaves a lot of uncertainty. For all his efforts, Jesus might have existed after all. But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn't exist than that he did. I say this even despite myself, as I have long been an opponent of ahistoricity.

Anyone who is serious about the question should read that piece in full, as well as the rest of Carrier's work on this subject over the years since he read Doherty's book.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

BTW, it's quite remarkable that no one here -- not CJO, not Owlmirror, not even Ben Goren -- mentioned Richard Carrier, a highly regarded atheist historian who has undertaken a rather extensive investigation of the historicity question.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hm. Is it plausible that someone from a priestly family could be falsely accused and condemned to death?

The uproar and outcry over it is what drives the logic of the events reported, it seems to me.

And wouldn't it have said explicitly: "James, the son of Damneus"? Or "James, the brother of Jesus the son of Damneus"? I note that the "Jesus son of Damneus" is actually kind of remote from the mention of James.

Yeah. One hesitates to appeal to scribal enthusiasm at every turn, for fear of the ad hoc. But, same as with the Testimonium, as long as the text as we have it is known to be or could plausibly be corrupted, it’s hard to make an argument from fine details; the frequency and tendencies with which ancient scribes made insertions and deletions, whether due to outright error or intentionally, are well documented. It may be that we have to conclude that we simply don’t know what Josephus wrote here, and this highlights just how few passages we’re really dealing with, in all of Greco-Roman literature. A few ambiguities among a sea of silence and troublesome anomalies suffice to maintain a majority consensus like this only in a permissive environment where central assumptions are not seriously questioned. I can give examples from even extremely liberal scholars (the likes of R. Brown, J.D. Crossan and B. Mack), but that goes beyond my abilities tonight..

Hm. Were there brotherhoods in ancient Judaea?

Surely. There are brotherhoods in the non-Biblical DSS and in Paul: as in “the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” (1 Cor 9:5)

It seemed in our last discussion that you were aware that your scenario of the earliest Jerusalem (proto-)Christians buying off the Roman administration to avoid persecution was pretty damn ad hoc.

To an extent -- but the "myth" position is equally ad-hoc. Anything that suggests that the myth might not be a myth is part of the myth? Psychological temporal dilation effects?

I don’t know what “anything” is. We have to talk about specifics before you can say I’m using this kind of conspiracy-theory fallacy.

Several other of your arguments seemed to me to be more of the devil's advocate variety: "ah, but have you considered (x)?" than serious attempts to advance a plausible scenario.

I have not yet seen the myth scenario itself presented in an entirely plausible way. I may need to read more about it, of course.

Two academics, besides Avalos, to check out are Richard Carrier and Robert Price.

Specifically the argument from the silence of Paul looks that way if it's not elaborated as a set of very specific silences on points on which it's hard to imagine Paul not appealing to the words and deeds of Jesus in some form if they were available to him and not features of later fictional accounts.

Hm. Establishing sequence seems difficult or impossible -- If Paul says a paraphrase of something that appears in the Gospel, you can always claim that the Gospel-writer took it from Paul. If Paul says nothing, he's being silent about it. Sheesh.

Well, don’t go imputing to me arguments on a counterfactual. Sequence isn’t the core issue. Even if Paul were recording an entirely fictional “early tradition” about a Jesus who was a near contemporary known in life to living acquaintances of Paul, whose right-hand man Cephas was, who taught in parables or who made apocalyptic gestures other than dying and rising after proclaiming sacramental wine should be remembered as a martyr’s blood, then that implied familiarity with any earthly figure answering to a minimal portrait of Jesus of Nazareth would disturb the silence.

What's the myth-explanation for the Eucharist-formula in 1 Corithians 11, that Paul does mention as having been said by Jesus?

Too much for right now. Both G.A. Wells and Earl Doherty have written about it, though, and I can get into it tomorrow if we’re still talking.

The historicist position relies much more strongly on incredulity in my view, specifically that literary invention is insufficient to explain the stories about Jesus that were written.

But the incredulity seems much worse going the other way -- that the stories could not have arisen as exaggerations and fictions told about a real person who was some sort of cult leader.

But it’s not that they couldn’t have, it’s that “mainstream scholars” never start from scratch and argue for historicity on basic historical facts and not just the strange development of the NT literature from which scholars fabricate criteria like “multiple independent attestation” and “the principle of embarrassment” and use entirely tendentious reasoning to make assertions about history based on what they judge to be early traditions in their own historical reconstructions.

It's just that on my reading of the literature there's nothing for this figure to have done, and that's really the bottom line on whom we are allowed to call "a figure of history."

What more does he need to have done than establish a charismatic eschatological cult/fellowship/mutual-aid-society, and gotten in trouble for it?

We need to have indications that someone did such a thing outside of anonymously authored narratives of questionable literary intent.

However, this doesn't explain why our earliest witness, Paul, writing a decade or so after the putative events recounted in the gospels, had as the focus of his creed a cosmic redeemer figure to whom were attached no "memorable acts or words" whatsoever.

This looks like it ignores certain parts of Paul's letters in order to come to that conclusion

.
Which parts? (Besides the Eucharist)

All the acts and words either come from Mark or were written in the service of imitating or co-opting the Marcan Jesus

Which means what, exactly?

I have to go to bed now, so quickly: the freedom with which the authors of Matthew and Luke omit, alter, distort, and outright misinterpret material from Mark argues against any constraint of commonly known, pre literary “traditions.” There’s a huge literature on the Synoptic problem and Q, and once I started reading it ‘against itself,’ watching for the circularity that the assumption of historicity inevitably entails, I realized that the problem is one precisely because of the need for such early traditions as a link to the first community and then supposedly to some minimal set of actual historical events (and rarely do two of these scholars agree just which ones belong).

From Carrier's blog:

Two years in the making, controversial even before its launch, and perhaps the most definitive refutation of Christianity yet in print, The Christian Delusion (Why Faith Fails) is now available at Amazon and your local bookseller. Edited by John Loftus, TCD contains fifteen chapters by nine authors, including numerous experts with doctorates in their respective fields. Myself included.

It's a fantastic book. I loved it as I was reading it even in earlier drafts, and I have been anticipating its publication for a long time. You'll all want a copy, trust me. Buy it and read it. And if you like it, give it a customer review on Amazon, critical or laudatory. We'll need honest Amazon reviews to counter the inevitable Christian tactic of low-starring it and lying about it to dissuade fellow Christians from reading it. I'd rather have valid criticisms in there if any.
....

Most of all, taken together, its fifteen chapters are sufficient to establish that Christianity is a delusion. The Christian religion is so manifestly contrary to the facts, belief in it can only be held with the most delusional gerrymandering imaginable. That's a bold statement. I wouldn't have made it myself before reading this book, but now that I have seen it all in one place, I am forced to agree. Richard Dawkins was often criticized for dismissing "The God Delusion" on shallow arguments that didn't address common Christian "rebuttals." The Christian Delusion was specifically constructed to leave no such excuse.

Take that, Scott Hatfield and all other Christian gits.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Two academics, besides Avalos, to check out are Richard Carrier and Robert Price.

Ah, crosspost. Well, it's about time.

Owlmirror should pay a lot of attention to Carrier; he may finally grasp how completely he gets the burden of proof wrong. It isn't just that the evidence does not support the existence of Jesus, but that the arguments for the plausibility of Jesus rest on distortions of the evidence and special pleading.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

DLC wrote:

There were any number of Bronze age con-men who operated in Judea and other parts of the Roman empire.

There were none. The bronze age was long gone by the time of the Roman Empire. Saying that anyone in 1st century Palestine was a bronze age con-man is like saying that Hubbard was a Pre-Columbian SF hack.

truth machine wrote:

There is no way for you to know, in your current condition, what you would believe if you stopped being so irrational as to believe things for no reason.

You're assuming that if Scott lost his faith, it would necessarily be because he stopped believing in things for no reason. That's a bad assumption.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

You're assuming that if Scott lost his faith, it would necessarily be because he stopped believing in things for no reason.

Not really.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

hello? testing...

sorry for the OT

Just in case this gets through, PZ, I've just had a comment held for moderation. It didn't include links, and it's happened before with my Vox account. Last time it happened, I never saw my posts, don't know if you missed them or the thing never got through in the first place. The typepad account I used to use before worked OK that time, but I switched from it cause of the login problems.

truth machine wrote:

Not really.

Then you're just being irrelevant.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

oops I spoke too soon, the same comment with the movable type account also got held. I did copy some code on it for the purposes of quoting, but I've done exactly that before many times.

Then you're just being irrelevant.

Irony.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm not sure it is more parsimonious, but even if we grant it, there's the problem that this approach tends to be applied inconsistently. Granted, I'm not as educated in this as I'd like to be, but I've never seen anyone suggest that Heracles was a real person, or Perseus or Odysseus. I may have heard somebody suggest it of Ajax, though. Can't remember for sure

In his more senile days, Thor Heyerdahl went looking for the historical Odin/Wotan in Russia.

I don't see it as inappropriate in this forum, either. Ehrman would agree that the former is a mythical figure, largely concocted by Paul, but that the latter was real.

Okay, suppose we grant this as a given (I don't know enough about this to say one way or the other), then what does that actually mean? This is what I don't understand, I can't see how it's a meaningful question. The only thing I can come up with is that at least partially that it's pushing the matter to a level of personal preference. i.e. that since there is an underlying figure at the bottom of it, that a biblical interpretation is a possible (if not plausible) account of what happened.

I just don't get it, to me it sounds just like looking at an old Turkish saint giving gifts to the poor as some sort of justification for the belief that Santa goes around giving gifts every Christmas. I just don't see how the historical interpretation matters to the theological one.

It's not like we don't have well documented histories of other prophets, where possible. We know for a fact that some folks who manage to create that kind of following lived, like Confucius or Mohammed. And it's not like the Romans didn't keep good records either...-Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom #36

Ahem. Similar to Jesus, it is not known if Confucius was a real person or a character of legend (unless some evidence has cropped up in the last five years proving he lived that I don't know about).

---

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?-Scott Hatfield, OM #60

Well, the existence of a real person who served as a template for the Jesus in the Bible is a red herring to the truth value of the Christian legend. And it's not that I cling tightly to the Christ Myth, it is that I think the opinion that Jesus was based on a real person is highly suspect. I even sense a bit of Bigfootism in your question as in, "Given all these footprints from the woods, why do some skeptics cling so tightly to the idea that Bigfoot doesn't exist?", since the evidence put forth for the existence of this Jesus person is tenuous at best.

Owlmirror made the most compelling argument to me for the existence of a real Christ fellow on some past thread by pointing out the numerous Christ stories floating about out there (as listed by raven above) that came from different Christ sects and making the case that the divine version of the character didn't have to be the final one adopted by posterity as true. If such an alternate history had happened, I don't think Christianity would have taken off like it did (unless it became the Western version of Confucianism), and I think we wouldn't be having this discussion if one of the non-divine ones had been selected.

On the other hand, if Jesus was a real person with a real grave and real foreskin bracelet, then wouldn't it really make Christianity even more fucked up? It would be no different in essence from the Cult of Mao in that case. So I shall return the question: Why do clear-thinking Christians cling to the idea that Jesus existed?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Everyone here (not just Christian gits) should check out The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.

It's on my "want to read" list, but I've got about a dozen books to read before I even think about buying any more books.

Paul #38:

For others, it allows them to believe they have some sort of objective grounding for their personal morals even without religion, by leaning on Jesus as a wise teacher even if he wasn't divine.

And on the 'wise teacher' hypothesis, they dip into the NT looking for those pearls of wisdom, and find that they're not actually there...

Ben Goren #43:

we have Justin Martyr who went to great pains to equate Jesus with each and every preceeding mythical hero, as well as Lucian of Samosota giving a detailed account of exactly who wrote the scriptures and why.

I can haz linky? (I just browsed several online articles on Lucian of Samosata without meeting any such account)

TM - thanks for the book recommendation.

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the link to the Carrier talk, truth machine. That was awesome.

My favourite bit from the questions, though, when some pompous arsehole spends five minutes telling how he goes around asking everyone to provide their source for the historicity of Jesus: "Back off, Buster! That is the consensus. They're quite right to accept that as common knowledge until we're hashed this out in the peerreviewed literature and convinced our colleagues." (I paraphrase.)

Such a wonderful demonstration of the difference between skeptics and denialists. A fact not missed by the next questioner who suggests he sets up "Answers in Carrier" and skip the tough, scholarly approach.

By Sili, The Unkn… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

The Christian Delusion really is very good. I'll also mention that Richard Carrier will be at Skepticon in the fall, giving you another reason to visit Missouri.

As for the Tacitus quote, Ehrman really fails in his interpretation of that one. It provides no evidence for the historicity of an actual Jesus. It does provide evidence for the existence of Christians in the first century, and that they had a myth of a founding martyr, but nothing more, and none of that was in question, anyway.

First of all, let me thank that worthy opponent (Truth Machine) for the links at #89-90-91-93. Since I am genuinely (if not desperately) interested in the question of Jesus's historicity, I will indeed check these out.

I also have to commend TM for catching my faulty sentence construction in a previous post. This 'moron' really did mean "more parsimonious" rather than "less", thanks for pointing that out.

However, given your worldview, TM, don't you think it's a bit redundant to refer to people like me as 'Christian gits' or 'stupid faithhead'? Kind of ironic, when you get stuff like this wrong, with respect to the claim of historicity:

The obvious answer, dumbfuck, is because that would prove they are wrong and would invalidate the Christian religion.

Nope, O Truthful Machine. Arguments about historicity will never prove anything one way or another. They at best supply grist for the mill of non-belief. As you should know, these kinds of claims are not amenable to disproof. In fact, I know you know this. The fact that you respond the way you do reveals how emotionally invested you are in the claim.

You are on much stronger footing when you can dispassionately argue against the claims of religion in general, excluding the supernatural on logic, than in any attempt to unravel the pretzel logic of a particular faith. But you are very clearly interested in the hope that such an argument, any argument, could (these are your words) 'invalidate the Christian religion'.

Further evidence of your lack of objectivity on this point can be seen at post #86, where you write, in respect to an earlier post of mine: "If we remove the ad hominem.."

Ha. I defy you to show where I've used an ad hominem argument. If it's not ad hominem to call me a 'dumbfuck', (and of course it isn't), it can't possibly be ad hominem to ask why atheists believe what they do.

I mean, this is not hard. Even for a 'stupid faithhead' like me, this is shooting fish in a barrel. I will peruse the links you sent, with the expectation that I will find evidence. I am sure you will agree that we should base our judgements on good arguments based on such, rather than...

1) dubious claims that can't be tested ("we will prove their faith wrong!")

2) ironic claims that are untrue ("stupid dumbfuck Christian faithhead git went ad hominem on me!")

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink
I'm not sure it is more parsimonious, but even if we grant it, there's the problem that this approach tends to be applied inconsistently. Granted, I'm not as educated in this as I'd like to be, but I've never seen anyone suggest that Heracles was a real person, or Perseus or Odysseus. I may have heard somebody suggest it of Ajax, though. Can't remember for sure

In his more senile days, Thor Heyerdahl went looking for the historical Odin/Wotan in Russia.

See also: Euhemerus

"Older than they think", as TV Tropes would say (don't worry - I'll spare you the link this time :) )

By GravityIsJustATheory (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Another big player on the Jesus-myth front is Joseph Atwill. Atwill maintains that Jesus was a literary invention by the Flavians who sought to deify Emperor Titus after his death. According to Atwill, the ministry of Jesus "anticipated" by forty years the conquest of Judea by Titus during the Jewish War. Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on a donkey "anticipated" Titus' triumphant ride into Jerusalem, and Jesus' clearing of the temple "anticipated" Titus' destruction of the temple. It is significant to note that the earliest Christian catacomb was that of Flavia Domitilla, Titus' sister. See
http://www.caesarsmessiah.com/index.html.

Ahem. Similar to Jesus, it is not known if Confucius was a real person or a character of legend (unless some evidence has cropped up in the last five years proving he lived that I don't know about).

I know this is going to be an annoying exception to point out, but the article doesn't seem to say that. It does point out that the Analects don't serve as proof, and that Sima Qian is likely embellishing. A quick glance at Wikipedia gives no indication of the existence of the man being a myth (Though the section for Jesus' mythical-ness is very, very small indeed, so this is also not the proof of scholarly disagreement I'd like), and his descendents are a matter of (apparent) record.

I also note, from same article, that there is no link to records aside from his genealogical tree, which isn't particularly compelling evidence toward. I don't suppose you have something more definitive then "Sima Qian's history is probably embellished, and his supposed works are probably not his final edit as he intended"?

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom #113,

I looked into it years ago so I do not have access to the sources I used, but I got the whole run around that people get when looking for the historical Jesus, and from what I could determine, no evidence has yet been discovered that definitively tells us that what we know of as the works of Confucius were produced by a single man. The life story you see on Wikipedia is most likely based on a traditional reading of the legend. Here is another philosophy website (link) that touches on the historical Confucius. It ends with this cautionary note,

All sources for reconstructing Confucius’ views, from the Analects on down, postdate the master and come from a hand other than his own, and thus all should be used with caution and with an eye toward possible influences from outside of fifth century BCE China.

and has this to say in the opening paragraph,

The tradition that bears his name – "Confucianism" (Chinese: Rujia) – ultimately traces itself to the sayings and biographical fragments recorded in the text known as the Analects (Chinese: Lunyu)... Most scholars remain confident that it is possible to extract from the Analects several philosophical themes and views that may be safely attributed to this ancient Chinese sage.

To me, that sounds very similar to what we hear coming from scholars who lean toward the historical Jesus.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I defy you to show where I've used an ad hominem argument.

Talkijng about atheists who "cling so tightly" to the idea that Jesus didn't exist is ad hominem, you stupid fucking moron.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Kind of ironic, when you get stuff like this wrong, with respect to the claim of historicity:
The obvious answer, dumbfuck, is because that would prove they are wrong and would invalidate the Christian religion.

I didn't get anything wrong, you intellectually dishonest cretin. First, that was in response to your moronic question of why atheists are so enamored of the possibility that Jesus didn't exist -- the more evident that he didn't, the more Christianity is undermined -- duh. Second, by "prove" here, I mean entailment -- the non-existence of Jesus entails his non-divinity -- it proves it, deductively; duh. If one accepts that Jesus didn't exist, then one must accept that Jesus wasn't divine. And the project, undertaken by Carrier et. al., to carefully examine the evidence for historicity so undermines that view that, eventually, the opinion among historians will swing to the point where Jesus is considered to be mythical by all but faithhead gits like yourself.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom,

I found places I went to looking for Confucius the person. One of them was the Warring States Project. They appear to accept the idea that Confucius did exist but that he was mythologized early on:

All these problems are solved by the layer theory of the text presented in this book. All arise from the difficulty of harmonizing the "Confucius" of different layers as a single person. "Confucius," over the course of the Analects, is in fact several different people: the founder as repeatedly mythologized to meet the needs of his successor school. (webpage for the The Original Analects book)

The reviews and responses they link to are also insightful as to the range of scholarly opinion and quibbles on related matters. The researchers have also written a book on Confucius specifically, Confucius: Man, Myth, and Movement.

I believe I also read from Herrlee Glessner Creel's book, Confucius the Man and the Myth as mentioned in the Further Reading section of answers.com/topic/confucius (which is a good read in itself).

By aratina cage (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Just reserved a copy of the Christian Delusion at the local B&N.

I was needed a new book to break up the tech manuals and small business books.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I defy you to show where I've used an ad hominem argument

Talk about irony; that immediately follows your ad hominem excursion about my tone:

The fact that you respond the way you do reveals how emotionally invested you are in the claim.

You've been around here long enough, moron, to know that I respond that way at the drop of a hat (that is, a display of intellectual dishonesty); it doesn't have to be about religion or anything else significant.

You are on much stronger footing when you can dispassionately

Don't crush those pearls.

argue against the claims of religion in general, excluding the supernatural on logic, than in any attempt to unravel the pretzel logic of a particular faith. But you are very clearly interested in the hope that such an argument, any argument, could (these are your words) 'invalidate the Christian religion'.

The Christian religion is obviously invalid, moron; read "The Christian Delusion" for a thorough demonstration of that on a subset of the points. So I don't have to "hope" for anything. It's simply a fact that ahistoricity of Christ proves (logically entails) that the Christian religion is invalid -- anyone who accepts the former must accept the latter.

Further evidence of your lack of objectivity on this point

Further evidence that you're a moron is that you can't grasp what I was referring to as ad hominem even when I demonstrated it by putting your statement along side one that lacked the ad hominem. Your blather about "some atheists" who "cling so tightly" to the idea that Jesus didn't exist, with the implication that their only interest in doing so would be to address arguments that Christians make as to Jesus's divinity, is fully ad hominem and completely ignores the rational reasons that those atheists have for doubting the existence of Jesus, asshole.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

More irony is what preceded Hatfield's blather about atheists who "cling so tightly" to the idea that Jesus never existed despite (as Hatfield demonstrates being too stupid to grasp the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions) his existence proving squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity (and gee, there's the use of "prove" in the same sense I used it):

The evidence for the historicity of a Jewish religious figure named Jesus being executed by the Romans is strong

CLING!

, and independent of the interpolated (and likely corrupted) passage found in Josephus. Bart Ehrman is particularly impressed by a passage from Tacitus.

CLING!

That's good enough for me

CLING!

, but not worth getting all that exercised about. It doesn't prove that the figure (identified as 'Christus') was the Jesus of the Gospels, much less the Resurrection. Nor does it rule out the possibility that accounts of Jesus's life don't meld stories of many different figures, or carry imagery or make claims derived from other mystery cults from the 1st century.
Still, if I were to lose my faith, I would still think that the common-sense interpretation of the facts available point to the actual existence of a real person named Jesus.

CLING!

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

My favourite bit from the questions, though, when some pompous arsehole spends five minutes telling how he goes around asking everyone to provide their source for the historicity of Jesus: "Back off, Buster! That is the consensus. They're quite right to accept that as common knowledge until we're hashed this out in the peerreviewed literature and convinced our colleagues." (I paraphrase.)

Ah, you're referring to 6:00-10:30 in Part 5. I guess "paraphrase" means "misrepresent the character and tone of the questioner (and how long he spoke) and the tone of Carrier's response".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S. I think that Carrier's response missed an important point of the questioner: that Hecht's book is called "Doubt" and yet she didn't seem to display any about the "common knowledge" and couldn't be bothered to direct the questioner to the scholarship on which that "common knowledge" is supposedly based.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Never claimed to have good eyesight, though.

By Sili, The Unkn… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.P.S. Listening to it again, the paraphrase doesn't really mispresent Carrier, but Carrier did significantly misrepresent the questioner as "beating people on the head saying 'no, it's stupid to believe Jesus existed'". Also, Carrier's talk of "consensus" of experts is off base because, unlike the consensus of climate scientists or biologists, this consensus is not based on familiarity with peer-reviewed literature that establishes the claim, but rather is a fallacy of consensus gentium about "common knowledge".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

but rather is a fallacy of consensus gentium about "common knowledge".

Ah. That might be; it's not like I know what's in Doubt.

By Sili, The Unkn… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Still, if I were to lose my faith, I would still think that the common-sense interpretation of the facts available point to the actual existence of a real person named Jesus.

Here are some fair (as in sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander) questions for Hatfield:

Why do Christians such as himself cling so tightly to the idea that Jesus existed, since it proves squat about Jesus's divinity? (Ignoring, as he stupidly does, that the existence of Jesus is necessary to his divinity.)
And why would he cling so tightly to the idea that Jesus existed even were he to lose his faith in Jesus's divinity?

Presumably Hatfield would reject the "clings so tightly" ad hominem and say that it isn't clinging and has nothing to do with his metaphysical beliefs, it is simply his understanding of the evidence. So why doesn't this Christian extend the same consideration to atheists? And would he continue to be such a hypocritical asshole even if he lost his faith?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

unlike the consensus of climate scientists or biologists, this consensus is not based on familiarity with peer-reviewed literature that establishes the claim, but rather is a fallacy of consensus gentium about "common knowledge".

NT scholars are a guild, though, and, as such, they like to pretend that their specialized knowledge of ancient languages and facility with their pet methods of textual hermeneutics really do set their consensus apart as comparable to a body of peer-reviewed literature.

A few months ago, I initiated some online exchanges with James McGrath, who was making ludicrous claims on that blog about the similarity he perceives between creationists (telling, eh?) and doubters of the supposed consensus regarding historicity, and he was consistently dismissive on the grounds that I wasn't equipped to engage with the literature on his level.

Ah. That might be; it's not like I know what's in Doubt.

My point is not about Hecht and what's in Doubt, it's about Carrier saying that people are right to rely on the view of the religious history experts among whom there is consensus. But Carrier himself notes that, were you to read the very best work on the extra-biblical evidence for Christ, you would wonder why its author finds it convincing -- that is not the situation you find in legitimate cases of scientific consensus where there is an overwhelming body of peer reviewed literature. The "consensus among experts" is not reliable because these experts have not carefully examined the evidence, they are simply echoing each other.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

NT scholars ... textual hermeneutics ... the literature

But Carrier is talking about consensus about the extra-biblical evidence.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

scott:

I think you are sort of misinterpreting my earlier reply. You asked for evidence, I cited Tacitus as being a line of evidence, among many, that led a highly-regarded (but personally agnostic) Biblical scholar (Bart Ehrman) to conclude that there was a historical Jesus. So that is not, as you seemed to infer, merely an argument from authority.

um, yes IT WAS. Note that I am referring to the quote from Ehrman, and that indeed is nothing more than an argument from authority. nowhere in that quote, or in any other part of your post, is any actual evidence of any kind presented.

I swear, sometimes I wonder if you are even aware of how dishonestly you present your arguments sometimes.

It was the one thing I respected you for once upon a time (presenting an honest argument), and now I see that when pushed on many points, you seem to weasel quite a lot.

I don't think you do it intentionally, and that's what should really worry you.

Carrier himself notes that, were you to read the very best work on the extra-biblical evidence for Christ, you would wonder why its author finds it convincing

exactly. This is the line Avalos takes as well, which is what got me interested in the topic to begin with.

Many of us grew up in psuedo-religious households where the historicity of Jesus was taken as "given".

It's about bloody time there was more publicity surrounding serious investigations of that claim.

Scott Hatfield,

Do you think a god exists? Why?

Do you think Jesus exists? Why?

If you had been born in Iran, would you be a Christian? How would you defend Christianity against challenges from other religions?

How do you arrive at knowledge? What steps do you go through to get to the answers to the questions that you ask?

Thanks.

I swear, sometimes I wonder if you are even aware of how dishonestly you present your arguments sometimes.

It's notable that Hatfield wants to detach his religious views from his belief that Jesus existed, but makes such a big fucking deal about Ehrman being an agnostic -- in fact, that's what his argument from authority rests on. The fact that Ehrman simply lied about no serious scholar doubting the existence of Jesus and Hatfield knows he lied doesn't faze him.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

The fact that Ehrman simply lied about no serious scholar doubting the existence of Jesus and Hatfield knows he lied doesn't faze him.

I'm not sure he even is able to recognize it at this point.

If so, it's not surprising it doesn't faze him, since his mind is working overtime to ignore it.

Such is the problem when dealing with dissonance; it seems inevitably to lead to denial and projection.

I have yet to meet someone claiming to be a xian who hasn't exhibited these characteristics when arguing about their "faith". They can be entirely reasonable and exhibit excellent critical thinking skills... except when pushed on their religious beliefs.

Hell, I claimed xianity as a teen (family was Presbyterian), and can recall the exact moment I recognized that I myself was exhibiting those characteristics; that I was ignoring actual evidence in favor of a preferred belief. It was the beginning of the end of religious belief for me.

maybe it will be for Scott, too.

whatever. I'm actually really only concerned at this point about adding to what you are already doing; publicizing the work and arguments of people like Carrier and Avalos, just so more people will think twice about the standard acceptance of the historicity of the figures (ALL of them) in this patchwork bit of fairy tales.

It's become apparent to me over the last 20 years that the vast majority of xian scholars have not put a critical eye to much of the "evidence" supporting the historical accuracy of this book, and its various versions and translations.

oh, and since i didn't add the requisite Avalos link earlier, I'll add that to your links to Carrier's presentation:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2569440864215926514

part 2 should be linked on the side.

In fairness

Ah yes, let's be fair, unlike you cited authority.

, not all scholars agree: Avalos, for example

Why then is Ehrman good enough for you, when not only did he lie (or is simply too ignorant to know) about serious scholars with an opposing view, but it's easy to find serious criticisms of the Tacitus argument, e.g., http://www.rationalresponders.com/tacitus_lucian_and_josephus

But even George Albert Wells, who is often considered the most venerable scholar associated with 'the Jesus Myth', modified his position somewhat.

Ah the power of an argument from recanting authority (venerable, yet!) -- Christians love those, like Anthony Flew. But what about those critical scholars who haven't modified their position?

According to Robert E. Van Voorst

A strong proponent of Jesus's historicity. Perhaps we should read Wells's The Jesus Myth to see what he actually says rather than trust your interpretation of Voorst's interpretation of it.

I just think the claim that 'there is no historical Jesus' is hard to credit.

Your intellectual dishonesty is showing.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

I just think the claim that 'there is no historical Jesus' is hard to credit.

What about your claim that Jesus was divine, you stupid fucking faithhead moron?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM:

Gee, musta hit a nerve. What? Seven-eight posts, some long, all abusive, and what have you got?

The repeated claim that I committed 'ad hominem'? Risible. At no time did I make either an 'ad hominem' argument or commit an 'ad hominem' fallacy. How does it possibly attack your character or your beliefs to ask a question about why some people behave a certain way?

The idea that either one of us has scholarship that (your word) proves that Jesus did or did not exist? Equally risible. The problem of induction where sufficiently sweeping or poorly-constrained claims are concerned always raises its head, as your source Carrier himself acknowledges here.

The cute idea that I am projecting by using the word 'CLING' ? OK, your repetitive post on that point did give me a chuckle, especially since it conjured an image of me awash, nay lathered with peach syrup. Yet, in this correspondence I can't help but note that one of us expresses their opinions provisionally, and the other does not. Honestly, I just can't get worked up over it. Doesn't mean I'm right. See what I mean?

As a sidebar, I am enjoying reading the links you listed earlier. Pleasant dreams.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Gee, musta hit a nerve.

projection.

SC, OM, writes (to me):

Do you think a god exists? Why?

I do believe in a conception of god. I could offer a lot of 'reasons' why, but I don't think the claim counts as 'justified true belief.' Personal experience weighs heavily.

Do you think Jesus exists? Why?

Like many Christians, I am impressed by the moral teachings of Jesus. They seem otherworldly and impractical, to the point of being impossible to follow. I'm not convinced that the historical Jesus is the one that most Christians worship, however. I'm not really clear if that makes me a heretic, sorry.

If you had been born in Iran, would you be a Christian? How would you defend Christianity against challenges from other religions?

Well, who knows? There are Iranian Christians, after all. But of course I get your drift: a lot of our religious beliefs are shaped by how we react to the culture in which we are born. It would be dishonest to state, with unequivocal certainty, that I would most certainly be a Christian. And, let's face it, if I was a Christian in Iran, I would have my work cut out for me.

How do you arrive at knowledge?

If knowledge is 'justified true belief', we can not arrive at it through faith. If 'knowledge' includes subjective experience, then it's just something that happens to us that we attempt (but don't always succeed) to integrate our conceptions with our perceptions. I'm OK with the idea that I may be wrong, and that I don't know everything, and that I in fact will never know most things.

What steps do you go through to get to the answers to the questions that you ask?

In no particular order: observation, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, and especially self-doubt. In most cases, the asking of questions is likely to be of greater interest than pretending that we have achieved certainty.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Risible.

stop using that word, Scott. you don't know what it means.

How does it possibly attack your character or your beliefs to ask a question about why some people behave a certain way?

denial.

TM only repeated the offending phrase how many times?

and yes, it is, by your usage, an ad-hominem.

The idea that either one of us has scholarship that (your word) proves that Jesus did or did not exist?

you claim false equivalency here, in order to excuse your own poor scholarship.

sorry, not buying.

burden of proof is on those claiming a collection of fairy tales has basis in historical fact.

If I read a copy of the Iliad, and then say it is entirely a work of historical accuracy, I better as hell be able to back that up with independent, hard evidence.

your repetitive post on that point did give me a chuckle

too bad it didn't give you a clue.

Yet, in this correspondence I can't help but note that one of us expresses their opinions provisionally, and the other does not.

projection.

Honestly, I just can't get worked up over it. Doesn't mean I'm right. See what I mean?

denial.

Pleasant dreams.

*yawn*

I could offer a lot of 'reasons' why

which would apparently all be risible, hence why you don't.

Like many Christians, I am impressed by the moral teachings of Jesus.

...which were written by whom?

If knowledge is 'justified true belief'

wtf does that mean?

*sigh*

[meta]

Scott:

truth machine, OM:
Gee, musta hit a nerve. What? Seven-eight posts, some long, all abusive, and what have you got?

Apparently, tm has hit a nerve.

Scott, tm is quite egalitarian in his multiple posts, does it to clueless trolls too.

You're a regular, you should know that.

Honestly, I just can't get worked up over it.

Well, thanks for telling us you're not "worked up over it". Because it needed to be said, if you hadn't, we'd probably have thought otherwise... ;)

By John Morales (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott, I note you've not responded to my #87.

Tough question?

By John Morales (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Christians love those, like Anthony Flew.

*sigh*

now that he's gone, xians will be able to kick him around forever.

now that he's gone, xians will be able to kick him around forever.

I heard he converted back to atheism on his deathbed....

By Feynmaniac, Ch… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I heard he converted back to atheism on his deathbed....

heh.

One I remember hearing recently was one of the scientists who carbon dated the shroud of Turin now says it is most likely that it really was the burial shroud of Jesus.

There's nothing quite like eyewitness testimony of a supposed truthkeeper. For instance, did you know that Charles Darwin repented on his deathbed, rendering the doctrine of evolution moot? Meanwhile Christians were willing to die instead of repenting - now is Creation or evolution most likely?* ;)

*I have had this put to me

I heard he converted back to atheism on his deathbed....

Ha, all this shows is that to be an atheist you have to be demented.

Checkmate, atheists!

what have you got?

What I have is demonstration of your pathetic intellectual dishonesty.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

How does it possibly attack your character or your beliefs to ask a question about why some people behave a certain way?

Look, you stupid dishonest piece of shit, I have stated repeatedly that the ad hominem was "clings so tightly", and the implication that atheists base what ideas they 'cling to" on their effect on Christians' arguments about Christ's divinity. Now, you could try to argue that that isn't ad hominem, but to refer to asking a question is a transparent strawman; it makes abundantly clear that you are intellectually dishonest garbage.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

TM only repeated the offending phrase how many times?

Exactly. Does Hatfield think that everyone else is so stupid as to not notice that he doesn't address my actual charge?

The idea that either one of us has scholarship that (your word) proves that Jesus did or did not exist?

No, Hatfield, you fucking piece of dishonest shit, it's YOUR word; I just echoed it in a parallel construction. See:

Since that proves squat about the claims that Christians make about Jesus's divinity, why do some atheists cling so tightly to the idea Jesus never existed?

If we remove the ad hominem, this translates to

Since Christians could be wrong that Jesus was a god even if he did exist, why do atheists make such a big deal of the possibility that he didn't exist?

The obvious answer, dumbfuck, is because that would prove they are wrong and would invalidate the Christian religion.

Your use of "proves squat" was not about historical uncertainty, it was about the fact that a historical Jesus does nothing to prove his divinity -- "proves" is a logical connection. I used the word in the same way, and I have repeatedly said that's how I used it, so your assertion yet again that I am claiming that there is scholarship that proves that no historical Jesus ever existed (I not only make no such claim but I deny that it is possible) again demonstrates your appalling dishonesty.

If there really were a hell and an incredibly evil god who subjects people to punishment infinitely disproportional to their crime, as your fucked up religion asserts, then you would have earned a place there.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott Hatfield:

You didn't answer my questions @ #79 about these two claims. You seem willing to respond to SC's questions, so I will repeat mine for you.

----
Think about these two claims:

1. "Jesus" existed, as a historical person.

2. "God" exists.

Which of these claims are you more certain is true? Why?

If only one of those statements is true, which would you prefer is true? Why?
----

You have given some hint at what your answers may be like... In response to SC, you say this:

Do you think a god exists? Why?

I do believe in a conception of god. I could offer a lot of 'reasons' why, but [...]

This is somewhat confusing because it could be interpreted as meaning "I believe I have concepts of X" but not necessarily "I believe X exists". I too believe in a conception of leprechauns, but that does not mean I believe leprechauns exist for Y reason.

You could in fact offer a single reason (lots of them would be unnecessary), but.... I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

I will quote your next response in its entirety, simply because it is so fascinating...

Do you think Jesus exists? Why?

Like many Christians, I am impressed by the moral teachings of Jesus. They seem otherworldly and impractical, to the point of being impossible to follow. I'm not convinced that the historical Jesus is the one that most Christians worship, however. I'm not really clear if that makes me a heretic, sorry.

Very well then. So, moving on... Do you think Jesus exists? Why?

These are fairly simple questions. If you were asked if you think Confucius exists (assuming you also know about Confucius' moral teachings), would you give the same kind of non-response or would you give a straightforward answer?

"Do you think Jesus exists? Why?"
Like many Christians, I am impressed by the moral teachings of Jesus. They seem otherworldly and impractical, to the point of being impossible to follow.

Fuck but that is stupid.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Personal experience weighs heavily.

What bullshit. You and God went out on a date, or what?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott Hatfield wrote:

Like many Christians, I am impressed by the moral teachings of Jesus. They seem otherworldly and impractical, to the point of being impossible to follow.

Are you really so naïve as to think that no-one prior to Jesus had ever come up with those concepts? That's just bizarre.

Slightly OT - it's one of the things that annoys me most about Christianity - that it undermines human social evolution by taking away what we achieved over thousands of years and instead making it something we needed to be taught by a kindly man-god.

This fact is also evident in the vast number of social issues that Jesus didn't seem to think needed changing, like slavery and the subjugation of women - but which we, often despite the efforts of religions including Christianity, have overcome.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm not convinced that the historical Jesus is the one that most Christians worship, however.

Are you saying you think there may be some other Jesus that they worship, or that they worship an entity that doesn't exist?

I'm not really clear if that makes me a heretic, sorry.

If you don't think that Jesus is a divine being, then you aren't a Christian in the sense that is relevant around here. But if you don't, then what is this "if I were to lose my faith" crap?

But this is the way it is with "moderate" faithheads -- they end up spouting meaningless gibberish. At least the fundies make sense, even if their beliefs are completely at odds with the facts.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Are you really so naïve as to think that no-one prior to Jesus had ever come up with those concepts? That's just bizarre.

There's nothing bizarre about being as stupid and ignorant and intellectually dishonest as Hatfield; it's quite commonplace.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

What bullshit. You and God went out on a date, or what?

No, it's not like that. You just don't understand. They're old poker buddies. Play some cards, drink some beers, shoot the shit -- that sort of thing. With God, it was always hard to spot a bluff....

the non-existence of Jesus entails his non-divinity

I can imagine Karen Armstrong trying to explain that away :P

"Jesus is a symbol that points beyond itself."

I can imagine Karen Armstrong trying to explain that away :P

No need to imagine, since Hatfield seems to actually do it right here:

I'm not convinced that the historical Jesus is the one that most Christians worship, however.

See, there's the historical Jesus, and then there's the divine Jesus that most Christians worship and Hatfield has faith in. Even if the former didn't exist, there's still the latter.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

With God, it was always hard to spot a bluff....

LOL! Now I'm imagining a game among God, Poe, and Pascal.

"Jesus is a symbol that points beyond itself."

Yeah, they do say shit like that.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Jesus is a symbol that points beyond itself."

Banned idiot troll Silver Fox used to say stupid, insipid shit like that; one of his favourites was [something along the lines of] 'God is the perfect union of one and itself' - so it's probably not that much of a shock that he's banned.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Windy's comment reminded me of this bit of nonsense from Karen Armstrong.

But Darwin may have done religion—and God—a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped—even primitive. In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call "God" is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.

Thanks for the laughs, Windy!

Scott Hatfield said this:

I'm not convinced that the historical Jesus is the one that most Christians worship, however. I'm not really clear if that makes me a heretic, sorry.

Here is Dawkins, at the end of the same article:

Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.

Even if the former didn't exist, there's still the latter.

They could call him "The Symbol formerly known as Jesus"

John Morales (#87):

Sorry I didn't respond earlier. The 'notorious circumstances' I refer to would be the claim (found in the Gospels) that Jesus's execution by the Romans would be at the behest of the local religious. That would have been something that didn't happen every day.

On the flip side, I think it's fair for critics of the historicity thesis to ask why, if the death was so sensational, do we not see more independent corroboration of it in the historical record?

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Folks, so many questions, so little time. I'll try to answer Mr. T, and TM's latest jabs, sometime later today. I regret not having time now, it's such an interesting exchange. But I have a job to do, so....

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

@166: not "more corroboration". Any corroboration.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink
Simpler to believe they based Jesus on an actual person, rather than creating a religious figure from scratch

I'm not sure it is more parsimonious, but even if we grant it, there's the problem that this approach tends to be applied inconsistently. Granted, I'm not as educated in this as I'd like to be, but I've never seen anyone suggest that Heracles was a real person, or Perseus or Odysseus.

Even apart from euhemerism, it was considered common knowledge in antiquity among Epicureans, Stoics, and/or other adherents of more or less deistic philosophies.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Aratina:

Late, because I was doing stuff for once, but thanks, and noted. The impression I got was that he was a public official, therefore we have definite records of his existing (But not of saying what he said). If we don't have definite records, that sort of makes it a lot less likely that he existed (Because, well, if he was an official of some standing, he'd be recorded in various standard crap if only for doing his job).

So that just leaves Muhammed as definitely existing.

At least, I'm PRETTY SURE that one's right, since he was a political ruler who conquered with force of arms. Pretty sure that sort of thing leaves records.

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Scott @166, thanks for the response.

I lack the erudition to evaluate such a claim, but I find its source (the Christian propaganda) to be rather suspicious.

By John Morales (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Mr. T asks questions:

1. "Jesus" existed, as a historical person.

2. "God" exists.

Which of these claims are you more certain is true? Why?

Wow, that's a really interesting comparison. I am fairly confident that there was a historical Jesus, but not so confident that I would argue that it must be so. I'm not a Biblical scholar or a classical historian, and I don't have all of the necessary skills/background knowledge to weigh competing theses on this point...and I frankly doubt anyone else here does, either. So, how confident? I dunno....90 percent? I should probably take the time to read some of the sources commended here before going that high.

As far as God's existence goes.....hmmphf. I'm probably less confident generally in supernaturalism of any sort than in the existence of the historic Jesus. I'll say less than 50 percent. On the other hand, if we're talking about a Whiteheadian conception of God that accords with a lawful, ordered Universe, my confidence goes way up. E.O. Wilson describes his position as 'provisional deism', and that's pretty close to the way I feel about it. Maybe 95 percent?

If only one of those statements is true, which would you prefer is true? Why?

Oh, that is so easy. As a personal matter I would prefer that the historical Jesus be true, but that there be no God or gods. It would be a wonderfully simplifying thing to demonstrate conclusively that the apparently lawful Universe could invent itself.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks, Scott.

However much I disagree with you or think you're incredibly, fractally wrong, I appreciate your response. Thanks for not confusing the issue too much (I hope) with your belief that Jesus is God.

It's interesting that you might be more confident in God's existence than Jesus', given that the "right" God concept is used. I only wanted you to gauge confidence in your own concept of God. So, I'm assuming your honest answer is 90% on a historical Jesus, and 95% on the God you believe exists. At the same time, you're "less confident generally in supernaturalism of any sort"... You'd prefer that God didn't exist, because it would simply things. You're quite a slippery one.

Mr. T:

Slippery? Maybe. I think the whole topic is a bit slippery. Things are more complicated at the so-called 'science-religion' interface than a lot of Christians would ever admit. Somewhere later on the blog PZ just bitchslaps Frances Collins around for proclaiming that there is no conflict between science and faith.

Well, you know what? Collins needs to be slapped around. There's at least three things wrong with the position he expresses, from my point of view.

Anyway, I honestly would prefer a simplified view of reality. If only it were easy to prove a negative where sweeping, poorly-defined things are concerned. Practically speaking, science has already ruled such things out for the purpose of doing science. It would be nice to see the rest of humanity adopt the same habit for the purpose of living our lives, but that doesn't seem to be the way things have played out.

By the way, if I'm fractally wrong, wouldn't I be fated to constantly approach but never achieve a correct solution? Or would I constantly fated to depart from the correct solution, yet never completely depart from it? Just asking.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

If only it were easy to prove a negative where sweeping, poorly-defined things are concerned.

If the thing is poorly-defined, then what is it and what use is it? Poor definitions exist, but things as they are poorly-defined do not. Self-refuting statements exist, and are necessarily false. There's no reason we should worry about such nonsense, either proving or disproving it. If there is a coherent and substantive definition of "God", and evidence to support it, then I will consider whether such a thing could exist. So far all I've seen is smoke and mirrors.

p.s. - If you're "fractally wrong", according to how I see it, then you're neither approaching nor departing the correct solution. Perhaps you're not even attempting a solution, but a kind of politically-charged pantomime. That is one of the more absurd possibilities.

That you are an intelligent person makes this something of a metaphor, of course. You may just have a blindspot for religion, which is unfortunate. That may sound condescending, and I don't actually mean any offense by it, but it's honestly how I see it.

No offense taken. Honesty appreciated. And, believe it or not, I genuinely think about such things, and doubt.

But I confess that I am never satisfied by the idea that we exclude possibilities on some pre-existing philosophical criteria such as utility, coherence, etc. That's all very well (in fact, often essential) for the purpose of doing work in some area defined by such constraints....such as science.

But the assumption that such criteria are necessarily valid and correct in the widest possible domain, and hence the be-all and end-all of what can be known? That always seems to lead, sooner or later, to increasingly baroque addenda to the whole explanatory framework. Swedenborg and Aquinas especially come to mind.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 23 Apr 2010 #permalink

TM (#157):

There's nothing bizarre about being as stupid and ignorant and intellectually dishonest as Hatfield; it's quite commonplace.

Would it be too much to believe you think the opposite true with respect to your commentary?...:)

See, there's the historical Jesus, and then there's the divine Jesus that most Christians worship and Hatfield has faith in. Even if the former didn't exist, there's still the latter.

Not my position, necessarily. I think most people who are serious scholars acknowledge that the Jesus found in scripture is something of an amalgam from various sources, among them the historical Jesus. For some who have come to this conclusion, the question becomes what aspects of the text are closest to the original source, which is presumed to be the historical Jesus (but might not be, frankly). That's the sort of organizing principle behind the Jesus Seminar, for example. It is interesting that, within scholars interested in this question, there are actually a diversity of views where Jesus's divinity is concerned. This suggests that some degree of uncoupling between the 'two Jesus's' is possible.

I admit to being conflicted about that and I really do intend to peruse the Carrier links you provided. I plead guilty to not being as smart as some people here. I deny being guilty of any willful dishonesty, however. I find that there is a direct correlation between the certainty with which views are expressed and the capacity for self-deception, by the way.

By Scott Hatfield, OM (not verified) on 23 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm certain that 1+1=2; I guess that means I'm highly likely to be deceiving myself about that.

(It's hard to say whether the sort of intellectual dishonesty of that "I find" statement is "willful" or not, especially given the problems with the notion of "will".)

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 24 Apr 2010 #permalink

As an amateur astronomer I was quite offended by Hugh Ross; he did not get his physics and astronomy right; among the bloopers and misleading statements, he claimed there were no other stars like our sun. I haven't yet watched the videos but will when I have time. I recall some of his Powerpoint slides had peculiar statements too. At the second debate Ross said basically the same as at the first and again failed to answer the questions he was asked.
I guess like pathologists, astronomers can go astray too but I was really indignant that a supposed professional could distort his science with such impunity. He should be defrocked of his PhD in Astronomy by the University of Toronto!
Angela Squires

By handsoftheheart (not verified) on 04 May 2010 #permalink