Monday, November 26, 2018

The Case For Christ - Examining The Record - Rebuttal (part 4)

Following on from my rebuttal of Examining The Record from The Case For Christ, where the major points discussed were that Dr. Blomberg confirms to Lee Strobel that the gospels were eyewitness records, and that the early church fathers had no problem with ascribing the names of the anonymous gospels to the commonly-named authors.

In this post, I want to highlight another two issues that Strobel's presentation on pp 33-34 raises:

1) Dr. Craig Blomberg states that the fact that the gospels were named after lesser figures as opposed to the 'superstars' that the apocryphal gospels are named after, adds to the credibility that the canonical gospels were authored by those named (thus bolstering their authenticity).

2) On p34, Dr. Blomberg states that John's gospel was 'edited later, by someone closely associated with John'.

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1) Using the naming of the gospels to decide authenticity.

Comparing the naming of the canonical gospels to the naming of the apocryphal gospels, claiming (by inference) that the canonical gospels were 'authentic' because they were named after lesser figures, and then, by comparison, making the apocryphal gospels to be inauthentic, is not quite the full picture.

To burst the Fundamentalist bubble, it is simply not the case that there are only four gospels. There are approximately forty gospels that were written by Christians in the first three centuries of Christianity's existence, ranging from the Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Marcion, Gospel of Mary, etc.), the Jewish-Christian Gospels (Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazarenes, etc.), Infancy Gospels (Protoevangelium of James, History of Joseph The Carpenter, etc.), amongst many others.

However it was Irenaus, Bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon) who declared that:


"But it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the 'pillar and ground' of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human afresh. From this fact, it is evident that the Logos, the fashioner demiourgos of all, he that sits on the cherubim and holds all things together, when he was manifested to humanity, gave us the gospel under four forms but bound together by one spirit. 
- Against Heresies 3.11.8

Read: because everything in nature pointed to the number 4, there should only be four gospels - no more and no less.

Irenaus here confirms the belief that there were four zones in the world in which people lived. This was a classic belief of Flat Earth-ism at the time.
A guy who believed the earth was flat somehow became in charge of deciding what you should be reading about Jesus.

But this doesn't answer the question - how did it come to be that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John's gospels were chosen? The long answer, I don't know, but the short answer is church politics.

At the time that Irenaus was busy pushing his version of Christianity, there was another guy, Marcion of Sinope (85 - 160 CE) who had a version of Christianity that followed a Gnostic theology which was also popular - in short, the church was split. In fact, Marcion had his own canon long before our standard canon was confirmed!
The Marcion form of Gnostic theology (in brief) was that Jesus wasn't actually a human and was completely different from the God of the Old Testament, whereas the orthodoxy held that Jesus was God, the God of the Old Testament, in human form.

So it was clear that the church of the time was split, in the same way that the church is split now, such as the divisions between Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, the Christadelphian faith, the Jehovah's Witness faith, Seventh-Day Adventism, et al, though there is a lot less intra-faith persecution happening now.

So in order to shore up support for and belief in an historic, walking and talking Jesus, the church fathers (in my opinion) selected gospels that closest reflected the beliefs that they wanted you to accept, as opposed to the canon of the Marcionites and others.


But because there were so many gospels and so many different theologies around at that time, there then exists a trilemma for Fundamentalist Christianity:

a) If we assume, for arguments sake, that all of the apocryphal gospels were blatant, outright forgeries, then this means that forgery must have been the norm of the early Christian movement.
Let's say there were 40 apocryphal gospels (forgeries) and only 4 authentic gospels (the canonical gospels). This represents a ratio of forged accounts to authentic accounts at 10:1, which means over 90% of the Christian literature produced was apocryphal forgery.

In a field of literature that has a 90% forgery rate, what guarantees and what safeguards do we have that the canonical gospels aren't also forgeries, aside from the opinions of the proto-orthodox church fathers? Just because these select gospels made the canon is no testament to their authenticity - it was only a testament to their acceptance by the early church fathers.

And opinion is not evidence.

b) If some of the apocryphal gospels were not forgeries, but genuine retellings of the life of Jesus and of the things of God, then this means that the church fathers could have accidentally left out things that were true, thus the Bible is not a completely true and accurate record of the life and theology of Jesus.

c) If some of the apocryphal gospels were not forgeries, but genuine retellings of the life of Jesus and of the things of God, then this means that the church fathers could have deliberately left out books and writings that had truth to them.
So what did the church fathers have to lose by including these apocryphal texts? Surely, more truth and more information is welcome in a religion attempting to establish itself as The Way.
However, if the apocryphal gospels indeed had some dangerous truth in them, what were the Proto-Orthodox church fathers trying to hide?

So then, what about the names attached to those apocryphal gospels? We see that some of the gospels were named after 'superstars' such as Mary and Joseph and Thomas. But then we also see there was a gospel of Judas, i.e. the guy who betrayed Jesus for money, and also a Gospel of Philip, and also a Gospel of the Egyptians. Judas, Philip and the Egyptians hardly represent names you would hitch your credentials to, especially Judas.

In my opinion, the argument that the naming of the gospels after lesser figures testifies to their authenticity is no testament to their truth - only their acceptance (read: opinion) of the church fathers.

And again, opinion is not evidence.


2) Dr. Blomberg claiming that John's gospel was edited by a close associate, but in no way detracts from the overall gospel.

If John's gospel was edited by an associate, then this raises the question - how MUCH did John's editor chop and change things, especially since we don't have the original manuscripts to compare against?

Given the apparently late time of authorship (scholars hold that John was written well after the Synoptic gospels were written. The advanced theology John contains should help prove this point), and the apparent rate of forgery (see previous point above), as well as very marked differences between John and the Synoptics such as:

a) Lazarus being the disciple Jesus loved - why does no other gospel mention this?
b) Jesus clearing the temple at the start of his three year ministry, not at the end of his one year ministry.
c) John's Jesus being incredibly obsessed with 'the Jews' that he mentions 'the Jews' 63 times - as opposed to 16 times in total in the Synoptics, and of those 63 references, 31 are hostile.
Did John (or his editor) decide that the Synoptics didn't hate the Jews enough and they needed to ramp up the anti-Semitism, while conveniently forgetting the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, as well as his followers?


I don't accept that explanation that John merely sat back, waited for the Synoptics to be written and disseminated, then decades later write his own account as a way of tying the message of Jesus up in a neat little package, while a later editor tidied things up.

We have to consider, which hypothesis best explains the evidence?

a) That John wrote his gospel by having separate copies of the other three gospels in front of him for cross-referencing, then wrote his own to fill in the missing details. Or;

b) At a time when there was 10:1 ratio of forgery to authentic texts, that John wrote his gospel as a response to Matthew and Luke's gospels (not as a supplement), hereby giving John the license to add new details not found in the other gospels (in some cases completely contradicting them) while using his text as a theological get-square against the other gospels and against the other Christianities at the time.

And then we add the admission of an 'editor' into the mix, which leads to the big question:

If all scripture is God-breathed, and John was so divine as to even be considered among the contenders for 'the disciple that Jesus loved', then why did God's spirit-inspired word need an editor?


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Until next time, be good to each other, and stay skeptical!

-Damien

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Case For Christ - Examining The Record - Rebuttal (part 3)


It feels like my rebuttal of The Case For Christ is going slowly, especially since I spend a lot of time creating each post – drafting, writing, proofreading, reading, making changes, etc – but I want to be thorough for two reasons:

1 – The Case For Christ is one of the most popular evangelism tools created, thus, a rebuttal should indeed be very thorough.

2 – If anyone is in a debate with Christians and they think that The Case For Christ contains solid arguments, I want this blog to be a reference for arguments that either confirm or refute the book.

So far, all the evidence presented in The Case For Christ makes the case fairly weak.
Granted, I am only in the first chapter – but if Lee Strobel wants to make an argument to convince skeptics like myself, he better hurry.

Also, to clarify, because I believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (as per Carl Sagan), and that the gospels are making extraordinary claims, as a skeptical rationalist I therefore want there to be extraordinary evidence to back up the gospel's extraordinary claims.

Two points that I want to discuss from p32 and 33 of the book:

1 – The gospels being considered eyewitness records.

2 – The uniform belief of the church fathers that the names attached to the authors were indeed of the actual authors.

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1 – The widespread belief that the gospels are eyewitness recording of the life of Jesus Christ.

News flash (as term I'm sure Strobel is familiar with): only two of the four the gospels, at most, can be considered eyewitness documentation.

The familiar tale is that the Matthew was the tax collector who is conveniently mentioned in Matthew, and that John was the disciple John, whom Jesus loved. However, some critics also suggest is was another John who may have authored this gospel.

Then we have Mark and Luke, and this is where the story breaks down.

Mark is thought to have been a disciple of the original disciple Peter, and Luke is thought to have been the personal doctor of Paul the apostle.

a) If Mark is writing a collection of histories handed to him by Peter, then Mark simply cannot be considered an eyewitness, thus his gospel is not an eyewitness record.
Even if Peter was in the thick of the action, so to speak, the fact that he is not the author of the gospel of Mark automatically discounts Mark an being an eyewitness record.
Mark may contain things that were eye-witnessed by Peter, but this isn't the same.

It's comparable to a book called Vietnam: The Australian War by Paul Ham – I have no doubt that Paul Ham interviewed eyewitnesses involve to gain first-hand accounts of the Australian involvement in the Vietnam War – but is Ham's book an eyewitness account of the Vietnam War? No.

Then, neither can the gospels of Luke and Mark be.

b) – Even if Mark made no mistakes or mischaracterisations whatsoever in dictating down what Peter told him, it doesn't mean that the gospel he wrote is most definitely an accurate account.
For instance, how would Mark know Peter isn't slipping in something to pump his own tires up, or how would Mark know Peter isn't slanting a story to make the other disciples/apostles look weaker or foolish?

And this is where it comes down to it - being able to compare the gospel record against actual recorded history.

Does Mark's gospel accurately record history that we can ascertain and verify?



2) – Strobel asks “How uniform was the belief that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John were the authors of the gopels?”, to which Dr. Blomberg replies, “It wasn't in dispute”.

To me, this doesn't prove that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the actual authors – it just proves that there were people who believed that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John were the authors.

But what evidence is there to justify this belief? Unfortunately, in this section of The Case For Christ, none is presented and no scholarship is cited. For someone who is looking for actual evidence, rather than just an assertion, I found this disappointing.

Furthermore, we know that the early church was rife with splits and schisms, and that there was a lot of documentary destruction as well as cross-sect persecution.

Is it possible that the authorship wasn't in dispute because those who had disputed the authorship were rubbed out and/or had their documents destroyed during a heretical purge?

In my estimation, yes. As I like to state when debating Christians on FaceBook:

"When studying the history of the early church, the question we should be asking is not how can we emulate the faith of the church fathers, the question we should be asking is what were they trying to hide?"

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Until next time, stay healthy and happy!


-Damien 


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Case For Christ - Examining The Record - Rebuttal (part 2)


Continuing on with my rebuttal to Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ where I am going through the book page by page, section by section, to rebut bad arguments (and accepting good arguments).

Please don't take this as an atheist being po-faced for the sake of it, but so far, there just aren't ANY arguments in this section of the book that would convince skeptics.
It's like this book was written before rational skepticism became cool, so the arguments may have been slightly convincing in 1990, but are really lousy in 2018.

But The Case For Christ has to answer a hard question: is it a book to convince atheists, or is it a book to shore up Christian belief? Right now, it is reading like a book to shore up Christian belief, which means it's not trying hard to convince atheists.

Anyway, on with the rebutting:

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On pages 30-31, Lee Strobel calls Dr. Craig Blomberg:

"...one of the country's foremost authorities on the biographies of Jesus, which are called the four gospels..."

Now, is it right to call the gospels biographies of Jesus, since the gospels give only some page space to his birth and infancy years, much less space to his adolescent years, and absolutely zero space to the twenty years of his life leading up to his public ministry?

I may be speaking from a 21st century mentality here, but to use the modern word 'biography' and then call the gospels 'biographies' is eating your cake and having it too.
The problem is further compounded when we read actual biographies written by other professional writers/historians of Roman antiquity and find that those texts incredibly detailed and reliably accurate.

So then, why are the biographies written by Roman historians detailed and accurate, yet the biographies written by early Christians so lacking and haphazard?
The only rational conclusions I feel we can reach are that either a) early Christians weren't, or didn't have access to, professional writers, or b) that they weren't writing professional biographies.
One answer to this question is answered by looking at the textual style of Mark. We can see Mark wrote in fluent Greek prose (though deliberately in an low dialect) – Mark wasn't no dummy – so the only other conclusion left is that Mark wasn't writing a professional biography.

Which then means that the Synoptic Gospels have a problem - only 3% of the text of Mark is unique only to Mark, meaning 97% of Mark's non-biography has been cribbed/borrowed/reworded by the other gospel writers.

To look at it another way - it's like Jesus, the walking, talking incarnate son of God, did virtually nothing of note after he was a child (save for an incident here or there), absolutely nothing of note as a young adult, but then Jesus hits 30 and all of a sudden people take interest and rush to pump out literature.

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My second issue with this part of The Case For Christ relates to Lee Strobel's portrayal of Dr. Craig Blomberg.

In my opinion, Lee Strobel writes such a glowing appraisal of Dr. Blomberg, including what the man hangs on his office walls and his long list of academic credentials, that I am left with two overwhelming thoughts:

1) Lee Strobel was not trying to grill Dr. Blomberg - not at all. The questions Strobel raises are just swatted away by Dr. Blomberg, and Strobel rarely presses Dr. Blomberg for anything more than a “How convinced are you about [x]?”, “Very”, “Oh, OK!”. 

There is nothing that could even be considered skeptical in this interview. It's like Strobel is looking to justify his own faith, rather than try convince skeptics of it.

2) Given that I don't have the interview transcripts it is very hard for me to comment, and I don't want to detract from anyone's character, but the very soft-ball nature of the questioning leads me to think that there is more than meets the eye.

Either Strobel was indeed a skeptical attack dog but left it out of his book; Dr. Blomberg only agreed to the interview on the condition that it was a soft/friendly interview; or Dr. Blomberg knew the interview was going to be soft/friendly because he knew Lee Strobel wasn't a skeptic attack dog.

I can only hope that in the following chapters, Strobel gets his attack dog on, finds that there is indeed a rational case for Christ, and is able to put it into his book to convince rationalist skeptics like me.

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Until next time, stay skeptical, stay rational, stay healthy, love yourself and others.

Friday, November 16, 2018

IDHEFTBAA - Introduction - Rebuttal (part 3)


Wow. The introduction to I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is giving me more writing material than I bargained for.
That's OK. The more material, the better. Just like what Donald Trump is to the mass media, IDHEFTBAA is the gift that keeps on giving!

In this post, I want to look at a series of statements that Geisler & Turek make in a heading called What Kind Of God?, where they classify every single world's religion in to three broad categories:

Theism, pantheism, and atheism.

And then, the real reason I wrote this post, a picture they use in order to represent how God interacts with the world in each theistic category.

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1) The classification of the world's religions.

Geisler & Turek not only have created their atheist strawman out of imaginary moral relativists, but they also simplify to the point of misrepresentation.

This happens in four ways:

a) The theism classification really should be broken up in to polytheism and monotheism. This is because firstly, it isn't the case that monotheism is just simplified polytheism with all the basic tenets carry across. The polytheistic and monotheistic religions of human history are all very different. Secondly, the Abrahamic monotheist religions are actually polytheistic henotheist or monolatrous religions, depending on your definitions - God is the supreme god over a number of lesser divinities that have their own powers/abilities/domains, thus by definition making them gods as well, hence polytheistic.

b) Hinduism is so polytheistic that the number of gods in their religion numbers in the millions. 

c) Atheism isn't a religion. It's a position with regards to religious claims. As I have written before on this blog, atheism isn't a faith.

d) Under atheism, they put religious humanism. It would have been simpler and more accurate to just say Humanism, as there is some (though little) distinction between religious humanism and secular humanism.
But this leads to the question - why did they not use the simpler and better term Humanism? What were they trying to convey by saying 'religious humanism' instead?

Either another oversight by the editor, or a small falsehood that has been allowed in to try prove a bigger point - the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

But this kind of argumentation confirms my suspicions that Geisler & Turek are not committed to accuracy and reason, but in pushing an agenda, thus they concede the middle ground and cannot make themselves out to be reasonable and fair.


2) The view of the world with regards to theistic categories.

This got a small chuckle out of me.



Geisler & Turek attempt to show that with theism, God holds the world in his hand, in pantheism, God IS the world, however in atheism, there is no God holding the world.

Question: If we sent a rocket to outer space and took a picture of earth from tens of thousands of kilometres away, what would it look like?


It would, funnily enough, look a lot like this.

Do you see a god holding the world up with his hand? No.

Which theistic category of Geisler & Turek does this picture closest represent? Atheism.

By trying to present God as necessary to the world's existence, they've accidentally accurately represented what the real world actually looks like.

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Until next time, be good, stay warm and be healthy.

-Damien



IDHEFTBAA - Introduction - Rebuttal (part 2)




Continuing on with my rebuttal to the Introduction to I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist:

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The whole point of the Introduction chapter is to tell us that God is the box-top to the puzzle of life. The analogy they are trying to convey is two-fold:

1) When you are trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle, you refer to the picture on top of the box that the jigsaw puzzle came in to see what the completed puzzle looks like, thus you have an overall idea of what you are trying to do.

2) The puzzle box-top is what keeps the packaging all together - one box with a lid keeps all the little pieces together (which follows on from the 'unity in diversity' tripe from the page before).

The implications I think the authors are trying to draw here are that a) non-Christian religions have the wrong box top, thus getting an incorrect overall picture, and b) atheism has no box top, thus atheists are aimless.

This, combined with their imagined culture war against moral relativists (whoever and wherever they are), sets up a very big and convenient strawman - make atheists out to be people who don't believe in truth, imply they have no clue about life because they have faith in something nebulous and irrational, attack that atheism as if you have referenced and covered all atheists, then declare victory - "See, atheism doesn't make sense - but our God does!".

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This is flawed reasoning, for a couple of reasons (aside from the complete mischaracterisation of atheism):

1Let universities teach and let the philosophers waste paper.


The box-top analogy follows on from the assertion that 'unity in diversity' is what universities should actually be teaching (not this scholarly research and experimention crap) i.e. that when you go to university, what you learn there should be part of a wider field of unified scholarship that gives the answers to life itself (the box-top to life, you see).

Um, no (#1). When I went to university, I just wanted to know as much as I could handle about my chosen field. Why should I, studying mathematics, be forced to know how mathematics also ties in with what the physics, the economics or the liberal arts departments are teaching with regards to the philosophy of life.
If I want philosophy, I'll study philosophy, dammit.

Um, no (#2). Maybe in Christian universities, it is acceptable to railroad the students in to unifying their studies towards a greater political purpose, but ideally you want your studies to be as applicable as possible to the real world where not everyone will share your biases.

Wishful thinking at best. Hopelessly out of touch at worst.

2) Why does there have to be a box-top to life? 


I don't quite get why Geisler & Turek think life needs an overarching picture, and why it is God of all things that gives the overarching picture. 

This all reminds me of a theistic argument I once heard that God exists because there must be some sort of cosmic justice in the universe - the good guys must always win and the bad guys must always lose (even if this has to happen in the afterlife), only the Christian God is big enough to provide that cosmis justice - therefore God!

I'm sorry, but you don't just get to make stuff up just because you want it to be true. Your beliefs should be concordant with the best objective evidence available.

And the best evidence available shows that life is not some long-running episode of The Twighlight Zone where, no matter how bad and strange things get, there is an imaginary scriptwriter who ends the story with justice being served every time. 
Any rational look at the genocides of the 20th and 21st century, or at the torture that Christians have inflicted on heretics during the last two millennia should put paid to this idea.

But it is this kind of wishful thinking that Geisler and Turek have delved in to - "There has to be a God tying all things together! Otherwise, life makes no sense!".
To Dr. Geisler and Mr. Turek, I say this - life has no scriptwriter - you have to write your own.

As a famous man once said, "The truth will set you free - but it may slap you in the face first".

3. The opposite of God is not nihilism.


Unfortunately, for whatever reason, theists of all kinds (but particularly Christians) have it in their belief system that the moment you reject their theistic worldview, you automatically subscribe to a worldview that is nihilistic.

And what I mean by nihilistic is that:

a) Without moral absolutes you have no morals, therefore all the nasty things like rape, murder and torture are acceptable.

b) Life has no meaning, therefore you may as well die.

This, I find completely absurd, as well as factually incorrect. In response:

a) People of all walks of life have found reason to hurt and do harm to one another. Do I need to mention that the Catholic Church has been running a paedophile protection racket for decades? Do I need to mention the Puritans of the 1600's who were torturing people for thought crimes? Do I need to mention the human right violations that took place during the 1800's in the American South?

b) Life is what you make it. If you can't find a meaning to life, then you need to see a mental health professional.

From my personal experience, being an atheist has been liberating, not detrimental.

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Until my next post, be good to each other and to yourself.

-Damien


Thursday, November 15, 2018

IDHEFTBAA - Introduction - Rebuttal (part 1)


Turek and Geisler start off the Introduction to their book with the heading "Finding The Box Top To The Puzzle Of Life", and begin with a story about Turek attending an Old Testament Studies class at University of Rochester.

The story goes that the professor warns the students beforehand that he was going to challenge their beliefs, but that he was also going to be as objective as possible.

As the course continued, a religious zealot in the class increasingly took offence at the professor, which culminated in him accusing the professor of nothing less than desecrating the word of God and storming out, never to return.

After the last class finishes in the course, Turek walks up and says to the professor, "I enrolled in this class to find out if there really is a God or not...well, is there?". The professor answers, "I don't know", to which Turek was stunned and incredulous.

Turek then follows this up with:

"I later learned that my expectations were too high for the modern university. The term 'university' is actually a composite of the words 'unity' and 'diversity'. When one attends a university, he is supposed to be guided in the quest to find unity in diversity - namely how all the diverse fields of knowledge fit together to provide a unified picture of life". (paraphrased, emphasis added)

We're only three pages in to the introduction and already there are a handful of logical and factual fallacies.

Guys, strap yourself in - going through this book is going to be a long journey!

Thus begins my response to IDHEFTBAA, starting with Turek's anecdote as reproduced above.

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a) You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain


Turek, without realising it, has become the zealot he was ridiculing in his anecdote - he now believes that his God is the master of the universe, that atheists aren't really atheist (just closet agnostics who aren't really sure of themselves), and that if you are an atheist, you also think paintings somehow create themselves.

He is so convinced of his faith that he feels the need to write a book to convince you of it as well.

I posit that if Turek were to time travel back to that course and listen to what that religious studies professor was saying, I have little doubt that he would also accuse the professor of desecrating the word of God - or be very, very inclined to - just like the zealot in the story.



b) Turek's (lack of) acceptance of his professor's answer.


After reading the anecdote, I actually applaud the professor - the professor gave the most honest answer he could. As confusing and unpleasant as it may sound, sometimes 'I don't know' is the best answer to give.
I would rather say "I don't know!" than give an answer I believe is misleading or unable to be substantiated.

Maybe Turek would have preferred his professor lie to him to make him feel comfortable?

This mindset is actually symptomatic of what I find with Christians in general - when it comes down to it, Christians prefer the comfortable lie rather than the inconvenient truth.

God answers prayer - except for all the times when he didn't or hasn't.
God knows everything - but never bothered to tell us that germs cause disease.
God is everywhere - but yet we still can't see him.
God is merciful - except when he orders his enemies to be killed en masse.
God does miracles - except when there's a camera or a skeptic around.

Put it like this - if Christians were able to be persuaded by facts and logic, there would be no Christians.


c) The etymology of the word 'university'.


Turek may be trying to be cute in making a point by giving his take on the word university, but it is so completely and absolutely wrong that it actually makes me wonder how their editor didn't pick this up, and what other falsehoods the two authors will or are trying to slip in.

To see how bad this analogy is, if I use Turek-speak, the word studying is a composite of the words 'student' and 'dying'. It's funny, poignant, but utterly false (unless you ask my teenage daughter!).

For accuracy's sake, the etymology of the word 'university' comes from the Latin word "universus", meaning 'whole' or 'entire' (with regards to a body of knowledge) - nothing about 'unity in diversity'.

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But I still don't get this thing about 'unity in diversity'. It makes no sense, unless they're trying so hard to fight a culture war that I don't think is happening that they will strawman not only atheists, but university scholars as well.

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One last observation I will make is the lack of references and notes. Where I want references, I just find assertions. As a comparison, as well as reading 
IDHEFTBAA and The Case For Christ, I am also reading On The Historicity Of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt by Richard Carrier.

OTHOJ is so well-referenced and footnoted that on some pages, the footnotes and references take up 2/3 of the text space available, but IDHEFTBAA has relatively few notes or references in comparison - there are almost as many references and footnotes for the introductory chapter of OTHOJ than there are in the Introduction and Chapters 1 & 2 combined of IDHEFTBAA.

I know that they are two different styles of book, but I can't help but admire that OTHOJ is so well referenced that it makes IDHEFTBAA look like a personal rant in comparison.

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I want to be objective and fair to G&T, but I can't help, but ask: what is truth when you have numerous atheist strawmen to defeat, like Turek and Geisler do?

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To my dear readers, until my next post, be kind to yourselves and each other.

-Damien


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Case For Christ - Examining The Record - Rebuttal (part 1)

I don't claim to know more than what a PhD in the field of Biblical Studies would know, or what a PhD in the New Testament would know, or the Old Testament, or of Ancient Religion, would know, but what I find I am good at is picking up on logical fallacies, on logical inconsistencies, and on people who think talking louder or with more words or by name-dropping means you are winning an argument.

Have all the 'evidence' you want, but if you apply incorrectly what the evidence actually is or what is says or what it means, or take it out of context, then it's like being handed $1'000'000 to invest, but you spend it all on genetically-engineered squid (read P.J O'Rourke's Eat The Rich to get the reference).


So no, I'm not a qualified expert in the field of biblical studies...but I know when someone is making a bad argument, hence why I give myself permission to criticise books that contain material or interviews from experts well above my pay grade.

The way I look at it, if I'm right, I have just confounded the experts. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, and hopefully someone out there will be kind enough to correct my errors.

With that in mind, I wish to begin my rebuttal to The Case For Christ, beginning with Strobel's part 1, 'Examining The Record'.


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Chapter one starts off with the heading titled The Eyewitness Evidence: Can The Biographies Of Jesus Be Trusted, and begins with an anecdote about a guy named Leo Carter who witnessed a murder in his neighbourhood and was almost killed by relatives of the accused before he could testify, but he lived to see justice served.


But already I can see what Lee Strobel is doing - by making eyewitness testimony out to be the highest form of evidence possible, particularly in an historical context, and then finding a biblical scholar who is willing to vouch that the gospels are either eyewitness testimony (or the closest thing to it), then it's an open-and-shut case: the gospels are eyewitness, the Bible is true, God is real, you're going to hell.


(OK, I added that last part in).


But there's one thing that Lee Strobel conveniently overlooks. Actually, two - firstly, eyewitness testimony has been found to be incredibly unreliable at times, and secondly, in Strobel's anecdote, we actually know there was a murder that took place - there was a dead body, a murder weapon, and an accused.


I won't focus too much on the first issue (a cursory Google search will give you enough to go on), but I want to write a bit about the second point.


If we were to apply what we have in the gospels to a modern day murder case, the analogy would look like this:


You are accused of committing a murder fifty years ago. However, no body was or ever has been found, no murder weapon was ever recovered, and no specific date, time or location has been given to say when and where you murdered the victim.


But to further complicate the case, there just also happens to be no external record that this murder victim ever actually existed - no birth certificate was produced or commissioned, no drivers license created, no entry was ever put in the electoral roll for the victim, no tax file number recorded, no business registration details listed, no record of entry in to the country, no missing persons report was ever filed - in short, there is no contemporary documentary evidence that this person was even actually around. So as far as government records are concerned, this murder victim never existed.


The only evidence against you comes in the form religious hagiographies written decades after the murder victim was last seen alive. Further, these hagiographies are all anonymously authored, and in some cases they contain information that could only be described as third-hand.


If you feel the case is already on shaky ground, you're right. But also consider this - those same people who read and copy those hagiographies used indict you also claim to have seen the murder victim, repeatedly, during vivid hallucinations over the course of decades since the victim died - and in one instance, the murder victim dictated entire letters to at least half a dozen communities across two continents sixty years after his death.


This analogy shows why the case for Christ is flimsy from the outset - there is simply no evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed outside of written records. 
Further, the written records we do have for Jesus are the worst kind of written records (hagiographies, written by supporters pushing a theological line, with very little attention to historical accuracy), not the best and most robust.

In any court case, eyewitness testimony needs physical evidence to be contrasted against - the testimony of Leo Carter needs a dead body and a weapon to be validated, and that's what the testimony of Leo Carter validates.


What do the gospel writers validate? Nothing that we can substantially check the historical record for. No statues. No busts. No coins. No tomb. No letters. No senatorial or imperial decrees. No trial records. No civil wars.


It was like Jesus' death and crucifixion happened only on paper.

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But to get back to the book. Quoting Strobel:



"Do we have any records from first-century 'journalists' who interviewed eyewitnesses, asked tough questions and faithfully recorded what they scrupulously determined to be true?"

Talk about leading the witness! Strobel again plays innocence-by-association - "Yes, of course the gospels are eyewitness documentation. Why wouldn't they be?". Strobel, from appearance, has never read up on any of Robert Price or Richard Carrier's work.


But let's answer the question - do we have dispassionate and accurate records from first century 'journalists'? No. One of the best and most thorough historians of the time was Flavius Josephus, and in his writings Josephus has zero authentic references to the Jesus of the gospels, but funnily enough has time discuss in detail the life and crimes of all manner of fake messiahs.

This theme is continued when we survey other contemporaries of Josephus or of Jesus himself.
The first authentic, undisputed reference to Jesus outside of the gospels is Tacitus writing in 116CE, and even then, it gives no detail that the gospels themselves (already in circulation by that time) didn't mention.

A very weak case, so far.


Did the gospel writers ask tough questions? In my mind, no. The gospel writers were not trying to write neutral or dispassionate biographies.


Firstly, if they were writing biographies, they would get a lot more detail about the childhood of Christ, including what happened to Joseph. After the narrative of Jesus' conception and birth, there is only one mention of Joseph - you know, the guy who was the earthly father to the son of God - and that one mention is the story of when the boy Jesus hung at the temple for three days without letting his parents know (Luke 2).

Secondly, we know the gospel writers aren't writing biographies because in Mark's gospel, Joseph is not mentioned even one time, and in John, Joseph is mentioned only twice. It's a bit hard to claim you're writing a biography, but don't mention your subject's parents or how or when they died.

So we can see that the gospel writers weren't writing biographies. Instead they were writing wonderfully structured Greek prose (particularly Mark), making use of tropes found in the Greek literature of the time, and no consideration is given to historical sources or contrary references.

No tough questions were asked.


Did they faithfully record the evidence? This is hard to say, because when it comes to the gospels, we have zero originals. This isn't the death knell for the reliability of the gospels, but you have to consider this fact alongside other facts:

a. The earliest complete New Testament dates from around 200CE. So between the first gospels being written, and a whole collection, there is a gap of roughly 100 years between the events and the most recent available documentary records.

b. The earliest complete Bible we have is the Codex Siniaticus, dating from the 4th century, which encompasses a 300-year gap.

c. There is so much variation in the available manuscripts we do have that Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, is quoted as saying:


"There are more variations in the (New Testament) manuscripts that we have than there are words in the New Testament"

There are approximately 130'000 words in the New Testament. If scholars have found more than 130'000 variations in the text, it's a pretty safe bet that the text we have is not a faithful recording of the events concerned.

And d. The gospels are anonymous. The names attached to the gospels were only added in the second century at the earliest, by people guessing and inferring from the internals of the text. Further, the Greek titles attached to the gospels use a Greek word, kata, meaning 'according to' or 'passed down from' - To Kata Markon Evangelion, "Gospel According to (handed down from) Mark".
This is like having a friend come up to you and say, "According to Mark, you were supposed to be paying for the tickets!".

A text that purports to be a thorough and complete analysis of historical events, indeed, one of the most history-shattering events in the history of mankind, finds a way to minimise manuscript variance, keeps as many of the originals as possible, or keeps the variances as close to the original as possible, and does not have the names of the authors left off.


Did the gospel writers scrupulously determine that what they were writing is trueThe only way we can be sure they were is by comparing what the gospels say happened, when it happened and where it happened, against what we already know about the world of Roman antiquity.
Unfortunately, the gospels also fail in this regard.

Some (and I mean some) things the gospels got wrong:

a. Instead of being weak-kneed, vacillating, and trying to stop the Jews from reporting him to his boss, Pontius Pilate in reality had no problem offending the Jews of early Palestine. He didn't do what they asked him, and he did what they asked him not to do. Pilate was recalled by the emperor Tiberius exactly because he was brutal and heavy-handed towards the Jews.
The gospels have not accurately portrayed history in this regard.


b. There was no Roman custom where the governor or procurator of the province released a prisoner of the crowd's choice. And there is no way a Roman governor would willingly release a man who has been accused of murder and insurrection. The Romans of all people were tough on insurrectionists.
So again, the gospels inaccurately portray Roman antiquity.

c. The Sea of Galilee in not a sea or ocean - it is just a mere lake, called Lake Kinneret, measuring 21km by 13km. And it doesn't take all night to row across a 13km lake, as the gospels report.
(By comparison, Lake Superior in North America measures 560km by 260km).


d. The Sea of Galilee also is not capable of producing life-threatening waves. At best, a lake as small as the Sea of Galilee would produce small surfing waves, not something that you would need to cry out to the son of God for help with.
Yet again, the gospels have not accurately portrayed reality.

e. Matthew reports in his gospel, in 27:53 that a number of Jewish prophets rose from the dead and wandered Jerusalem after Jesus' death. No other gospel reports this, no Jewish writer reported this (and I'm sure the Jews would be glad to report that their prophets rose from the dead!) and no Roman historian reported this either.
Is this an example of something that 'the gospel writers scrupulously determined' was true?


Given this, I am not convinced the gospel writers were scrupulously recording history.

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To be continued.


Stay classy!


-Damien

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