Monday, December 31, 2018

The Argument From Suffering (Part 1)

In my many debates with Christians, both online and face to face, I often hear an argument that goes a lot along this line and shares this theme:


[Suffering I have gone through] confirms [something I believe is true] because [something I believe is true] therefore [something I believe is true].


This line comes in such forms as:

[I once was diagnosed with heart failure, but now the doctors tell me my heart is healthy] confirms [God is good] because [God is my healer] therefore [God is good!]


This, unfortunately, tells us nothing about God except that you believe in God, you received adequate medical care and that you have a heart that needs constant monitoring. Congratulations!
(By the way, if you got professional medical help for your heart condition, then why does God get the credit and not the professionals who treated you?)

Or its converse:

[Something I believe is true] confirms [something I believe is true] because [suffering that someone has gone through] therefore [something I believe is true].

This comes to us in the form of such arguments as:

[God will stand by people who believe in him] confirms [God is good] because [this particular Charismatic church was sued by an Islamic group for religious vilification] therefore [God is good].

It turns out that Jesus may be King of Kings, but that won't stop you being found of having breached the Australian Charities Act 2013, your tax-free status being revoked and being required to back-pay tax on hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations.

Or, most widespread of all, you may have heard the well-worn apologetic of:

The disciples knew what they believed was true and were willing to die for it, therefore it is true that Jesus rose from the dead!


All of this combined is the apologetic I call The Argument From Suffering. For reasons I will outline below, it's not a good apologetic, and definitely isn't strong argument - it makes a great sob story, but it is no good way to convince a rational atheist.

The relative to Argument From Suffering is the Argument From Blessing:


Without God, I wouldn't have/be [insert circumstance here]!

For example:

"Without God, I wouldn't have [been able to go to university]!"
"Without God, I wouldn't have [this nice house/apartment]!"
"Without God, I wouldn't have [this awesome job]!".

Again, from a rationalist point of view, the fact that plenty of atheists go to university, have nice houses and awesome jobs doesn't as evidence for God's existence, unless you want to entertain the possibility that atheists can do and have awesome things without needing God's help.

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But to refute the Argument From Suffering, we need to start with the big one - the claim that:

The disciples of Jesus were martyred because they knew the Jesus they followed died and was resurrected - they wouldn't die for a lie!

This idea behind this argument is that the disciples of Jesus knew that Jesus rose from the dead and they were willing to die in defence of that truth, instead of recant to save their lives.

However, this is nowhere near a solid argument. The amount of people that die for a belief is no validation to the truth claims of that belief.

Consider the following: 

a. Muslim jihadis blow themselves up somewhere in the world on seemingly a weekly basis because of the conviction of what they believe, and of what you don't believe

Does this make Islam true?

"Au contraire" the Christian apologist says. "Yes, Muslim jihadis blow themselves up, but they're only doing that because of what they have been told. Jesus' disciples and the apostles were killed because of what they knew - they knew Jesus firsthand, or knew people who knew Jesus firsthand, and they knew that Jesus rose from the dead!".

So then you have to consider:

b. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, was killed by a mob while awaiting trial for treason while in Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844. Smith and his brother were charged with treason because Smith (as mayor of Nauvoo, a nearby town) had ordered a printing press belonging to a newspaper critical to Mormonism be destroyed.
If anyone was in a position to know if Mormonism was true or indeed just made up, it would have been Joseph Smith himself. Smith could have easily saved his life and recanted the very religion he founded as the mob were baying for his blood. But as it stands, Smith died because he attempted valiantly to defend Mormonism. 

Does this make Mormonism true?

c. Respond with "How do you know the disciples were martyred for the Christian faith? Were you there?" (and I am cheekily invoking Ken Ham's argument against methodological naturalism here).

Answer 1. "It says so in the Bible!".

Fact: The only book of the Bible to mention any actual and detailed post-Jesus martyrdoms is The Book Of Acts, in chapters 7 and 12.
However, as The Mystery Of Acts by Richard Pervo discusses, Acts makes liberal use of Greek mythosymbolism and was written to make the apostle Paul both the new Jesus and the new Peter - not to document church history. It is what might be deemed historical fiction - and proto-orthodox Christian literature is rife with fiction, historical or otherwise.
Further, we do not actually know who wrote Acts or when it was written, and no originals to compare manuscripts against. This makes claims of documentary reliability incredibly tenuous.

After Acts, the only other martyr story we get is in The Book Of Revelation 11:3-8, which mentions 'the two witnesses'. But, Revelation is exactly that - revelation. And in Christian-speak, 'revelation' is a euphemism for 'hallucination'.

(Just to add further fuel to the unreliability of the narrative sprouted by the modern church, consider this - the apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer, mentions no martyr stories whatsoever in his epistles. This is very strange, as Paul himself was involved with the stoning of the very first martyr in Christian history in Acts 7. 

How does Paul omit, even by accident, any mention or any details of any Christian martyrs, when he was involved in the very first one?)

Answer 2. "Church history shows a long string of Christian martyrs!". 

Fact: Most of the documentation regarding the earliest Christian martyrs comes from the same time period that the apocryphal gospels were written - decades, if not centuries, later than the events they describe, and possibly by the same people.
If mainline Protestant Christians don't/can't/won't accept the apocryphal gospels, then they can't (or shouldn't) accept the equally as late and equally as apocryphal writings about the martyrdom of the apostles.

They can't have it both ways. Either the apocryphal writings are true, which makes both the Christian martyr stories true, but also the stories of Jesus killing other children for mocking him for being illegitimate true as well. Or, Jesus (thankfully) didn't kill other children, but neither did the apostles die horrible deaths.

In short, the only information we have that even indicates that the apostles died for the cause of Christ comes from the historicising sect of Christianity - all the histories and stories and theologies of the other sects of Christianity were wiped out!

Now, I agree, there were Christians killed by Romans and by Roman authorities, as numerous historians of Roman Antiquity write, but we have to ask a very important question:

Were any of those Christians killed because they were Christian, or were they killed because they were found to be seditious or treasonous?

If they were seditious, were they being seditious and treasonous in line with a command of Christ, and if so, which one?

If they were seditious without a command from Christ, then they were being seditious and treasonous for the sake of being seditious and treasonous.

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Until next time where I will expand further on the Argument From Suffering, have a great new year, make time for the important things, and stay healthy!

-Damien

Friday, December 28, 2018

IDHEFTBAA - Chapter 3 - Rebuttal (part 2)

This section I would have loved to title Creationism Under Fire, but it would then make the titles of my rebuttals to the book I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist out of whack, and it is also the case that this section is a direct follow-on from the previous post discussing this chapter.

In this post I won't discuss a direct point the authors have raised, but I will discuss the general vibe of the chapter so far (only three pages in). This will focus on two points:

1) The origin of the term 'Big Bang'.

2) Creationism In Crisis, or, How Christians View The 'Big Bang Theory' Depending On How Literally They Interpret Genesis.

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1) The Origin Of The Term 'Big Bang'.

I find it slightly amusing that Geisler and Turek use the term 'Big Bang' to their take on Biblical cosmology, considering how the term 'Big Bang' was first coined. And for this, we need to thank Fred Hoyle.

Did Hoyle believe in an expanding universe? Actually, no. He coined 'Big Bang' as a pejorative to the idea that the universe had a beginning - Hoyle was a Steady-State theorist, much like Einstein was until his fateful trip to Mt Wilson.

So this is where the 'Huh'-meter gets turned up: Einstein, a person who actually changed his mind in accordance with the evidence, becomes the butt of an incredibly childish remark by the authors because of an error that Einstein eventually owned up to (and some have speculated may not be an error after all), whereas Geisler and Turek see no irony in using a term originally created as a pejorative for their theory, by the guy who didn't change his mind according to the evidence, much like religious people do whenever they are confronted with evidence that goes against their book (Answers In Genesis, anyone?).

Hoyle stubbornly attempted to reinterpret the data to make it fit his model - and has been shown to be incorrect through numerous studies.


2) Creationism In Crisis.

I'd love to see what Ken Ham would say to Geisler and Turek about all this if we got them in to a room to slug it out.

But why is it in crisis? Well, Geisler and Turek, in trying to side with science when it shows that God created the universe, use the fact that Einstein observed that the universe is moving apart from a central point (thus discovering The Truth ™), comes in direct conflict with Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis who state that there was no Big Bang - God merely created the universe in one day and that's all there is to say about that!

So which one is it? Did God use the Big Bang, or didn't he? As it is logically impossible for both something to happen, and for that something not to happen at the same time as well, Christianity needs to make up its mind, and those who want to speak for Christianity need to kick harder against those who destroy its reputation from within.

And this is where we come to the crisis - I can tell you now that God isn't going to tell anyone the answer. Considering the advances in science that improve health and prevent humans from dying unnecessarily such as vaccines, germ theory, mental illness treatment, food refrigeration, et al, had to be discovered by humans and not by God handing these things down on a scroll from heaven, it's pretty safe to say that God isn't going to reveal how the universe was actually created.
Someone speaking on God's behalf may give an answer, but then this leads to the next question - how do we verify that what God's person is telling us is factually correct?

Three scenarios:

a. If God's prophet/prophetess tells us that God created the universe just like the Big Bang model describes, then we didn't actually need God to tell us that - science has already taken measurements of the universe and come up with a theory to fit the data, hence God is useless.

b. If God's prophet tells us that God created the universe as we see it and did it all in one 24-hour period, then if that really is the case - God created everything in an instant - then God has deliberately set up a faith that requires us to disbelieve our senses, our capabilities and our technologies, thus making God either irrational at best, or deceitful at worst.

But the follow-on from this is an absurdity: we have galaxies that are billions of light years away, which means that the light from a particular galaxy has taken 13'000'000'000 years, travelling at maximum speed, to reach us. What the Creationists want us to believe is that those galaxies that were created on the fourth day, and would have to have been seen by Adam and Eve, somehow travelled 13'000'000'000 light years away in the space of less than 6'000 years - which means either light somehow travelled faster than what understand the speed of light to be (but this has the unfortunate effect making mass proportionally decrease to infinitesimal values, as per E=m c-squared, so if c increases by a factor of at least 2.16 million, mass has to decrease by as much to keep the energy value the same), or that God is playing tricks with our telescopes.

Why else would God create the entire universe in one day, leave all this evidence that the universe was created billions of years ago, then make it your fault that you don't believe in this God based on the evidence?

Or a third scenario - a prophet tells us God created the universe neither in one day, nor using the Big Bang model, but an alternate model of the beginning of the cosmos. For this to be proven correct, we would need to acquire tools, technology and skills to verify this alternate model.
And until that model is proven correct, or at least explains the available data better than the Big Bang model, God is at best unverified, or at worst unverifiable.

-----

I accept the Big Bang Theory as the best explanation so far for how the observable universe came to be the way it is, and it looks like many Christians do as well, so I am glad to see that we have something in common.

But my contention is this: just because the universe had a beginning does not mean that Jesus rose from the dead.

To say that there was an intelligence or a super-power behind the creation of the universe does not mean that that intelligence or that super-power is the Christian God. You, the Christian, have to conclusively prove that it was your God who indeed created the universe before you casually out-of-hand dismiss the creation claims of other religions.

A Muslim could just as quickly say that it was their god that created the universe. Atenists could just as easily argue that the universe was created due to the actions of the pantheon of Egyptian gods. A Bahai could also argue that their god is so majestic and powerful that the only way to explain the universe's existence is because of the glory of their god.

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Until next time, have a good Christmas and New Year, stay safe, don't eat too much...or don't eat too much for too long!

-Damien

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

IDHEFTBAA - Chapter 3 - Rebuttal (part 1)

Geisler and Turek now start to move away from philosophical arguments, into arguments that have co-opted science and/or scientists to the Christian fundamentalist cause.

Thus begins their chapter 3, which is titled "In The Beginning There Was A Great SURGE", and the reason surge is in capital letters is because it is an acronym for a 5-fold argument that they hope to explain that the universe had a beginning, and that God is the only possibility for that beginning.


And thus begins my rebuttal which will focus on two points:


1) The co-opting of Albert Einstein to the Christian cause.


2) How Einstein came to see The Truth
.


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1) The co-opting of Albert Einstein to the Christian cause.


The leading quote for this chapter comes from no less than Albert Einstein:

Science without religion is blind. Religion without science is lame.
And already, I see a problem - when Einstein says the word 'religion', he was in no way referring to the Christian religion. Throughout Einstein's lifetime, he complained that his quotes and views on religion have been co-opted to either make him seem like a devoted Christian, or at the very least make him incredibly sympathetic to the cause.
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

So for Geisler and Turek to take a quote that could equally apply to any religion, from a man who adhered to no organised religion, and then polish it and shine it up so that it props up their religion is incredibly disingenuous to say the least!
But again, what is truth and adherence to the facts when there are atheist strawmen to be burnt down?

The only way in which Einstein could even be imagined to be supportive of Christianity lies in two facts:

One, he was raised Jewish and went to a Catholic high school, and two, he wasn't antagonistic towards Christianity in the same way Richard Dawkins is.

And that is it! He grew up around Christianity and didn't explicitly hate it or attack it, therefore every time he mentions religion, he is obviously speaking about Jesus THE KING 0F KINGS AND LORD 0F LORDS AMEN!!!


Give me a break...


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2) How Einstein came to see The Truth
.


[Before I expand on this, there is a reason why I cheekily use the Trademark symbol alongside Truth with a capital T - Christian apologists have a bad habit of thinking they have the truth The Truth simply because their book tells them they have The Truth - no need to rely on evidence, but feel free to ride the coat-tails of science when science backs up conclusions they're comfortable with].


The next part of Geisler & Turek's co-opting of Einstein comes in a story of how Einstein came to see that the universe is indeed expanding.


To tell this, they recount the story of how Einstein was uncomfortable with the implications of his Theory of General Relativity, so he introduced what is described as a 'fudge factor' to cancel out the effects of gravity that would lead to either an expanding or contracting universe. The driving force behind this was the idea that the universe has been, and should be, in a steady-state.


Then into the story comes Alexander Friedmann who exposed some errors in Einstein's calculation. Geisler and Turek here take a cheap-shot at Einstein by writing:

By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann had officially exposed Einstein's fudge factor as an algebraic error. (Incredibly, in his quest to avoid a beginning, the great Einstein had divided by zero - something even school children know is a no-no!)
[As an aside, is this is how Christian apologetics is done in the modern era? Make snide remarks about a person who has contributed more to society in half of one lifetime than what most people will do in five lifetimes, including these two authors? Well done, guys.]

But au contraire, again, Geisler and Turek don't give you all of the story or all of the facts, something I suspect I will see much more of in this book. That's OK - allow me to explain a bit.


It simply isn't the case that Einstein put a zero in his equation because he was looking God in the face and he had to turn away - the way Freidmann showed that Einstein put a zero in the Theory of General Relativity was by using a hyper-specific instance of Einstein's Theory that ended up making of the one denominator's equal to zero. Simple as that.


Friedmann then demonstrably showed that Einstein had things wrong, to which Einstein is reported to have said:

It was the biggest blunder of my life.
And again, this is the beauty of science. You prove someone wrong, you make history!

But again, Geisler and Turek don't give you the complete story - there are some scientists who believe Einstein's fudge factor may have been correct all along. Space.com have an article from November 2010 stating as such.


The rest of the anecdote regarding Einstein shows that he went to the Mount Wilson Observatory in California and used the massive telescope they had there to indeed see first-hand the red shift, which indicates that intergalactic objects and bodies are moving away from our vantage point on Earth, indicating that they are all moving away from a common point.


They're all moving away from a common point? Well, that must mean that the universe had a beginning! And the Bible says that God made everything, which means the universe had a beginning! Therefore, Einstein discovered The Truth! Hallelujah! Amen! Praise God!!!


But everything we see in this anecdote from Geisler & Turek highlights exactly what is wrong with religion, in particular Christianity, and everything that is right about science and the scientific method:


For Einstein to see that he was wrong, all someone had to do was show him how he was wrong. And someone did exactly that. No reliance on inerrant scripture. No referencing sermons or preachers or proto-orthodox church fathers or long-dead theologians (or even currently living theologians). Someone went out, did the maths, came back and showed Einstein was wrong, Einstein admitted he made a mistake with the maths, then he went to an astronomy lab and saw for himself, seeing the evidence first-hand, that he had made a mistake in his working model.

Einstein then went and changed his believe in accordance with the evidence.

And this is exactly how science works - someone observes a phenomena, creates a hypothesis, gathers data, determines a method of testing that hypothesis against the data, checks the results, writes up a report, shares that report with other experts in their field who then discuss and criticise it, but the process doesn't stop there - if someone has a better idea than you, a contradictory idea, a competing idea, revised working of your idea, or a better method, or anything of that sort, then they can prove you wrong - and if you prove someone wrong, you get credit and prizes (Nobel, anyone?).


Christianity has nothing like this! In Christianity, the more fundamental you are, the less likely you are to accept that there are even any mistakes in the Bible, let alone fundamental errors, and that is because to fundamentalists, the Bible is God, God is the Bible, and neither could ever be wrong about anything.

This is exactly the point of Creation groups like Answers In Genesis, whose own Statement Of Faith confirms that they will not accept any evidence, from any field of science, if it makes the Bible look bad.

Furthermore, in Christianity, if you doubt something is wrong, it's YOU who has the problem - not the church, not the church leadership, not the Bible, not God, not nothing, and I know this from first-hand experience!


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Until next time, keep having a merry Christmas, a happy new year, and work hard for your dreams!


-Damien

Friday, December 21, 2018

IDHEFTBAA - Chapter 2 - Rebuttal (part 1)

My apologies for skipping ahead with my rebuttal to I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. However, as I have misplaced my notes that I kept when I was reading through the previous pages, and that the pages I am reading now annoy me, I may as well write my say on it, and if I do find my notes, I'll be sure to write them up.

The title of Chapter 2 of this book is titled 'Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?', and lo and behold, it actually makes some points I agree with. Truth is something that can be known, or as far as human capacity goes, understood to the point of effective usage, and that it is better to believe something that is true rather than something that is false.
However, while this chapter makes some points I agree with, the authors continue the fallacies of:
1) the progressive atheist straw-man, and;
2) the fallacy I like to call 'nihilism is the opposite of God' - this is where Turek and Geisler (as well as fundamentalist Christians in general) make the inference that anyone who does not believe in any god whatsoever (but specifically their God) is automatically a nihilist, i.e. they have no morals, purpose or direction in life. 

This is patently untrue. I would argue (from personal experience, if that is to be considered an argument at all) that being an atheist has made me a better, more caring and considerate person and has allowed me to find my own direction in life, which is reaping financial benefits.

One of the points I do agree with with comes in a section titled 'Western Logic vs Eastern Logic' where Ravi Zacharias (of all people) makes a point that not all logic systems are created equal or are equally useful (my paraphrasing). Completely agree!
But of course, Turek and Geisler keep on shooting at those mythical moral relativist university professors, the same ones I would also take issue with (if I could find any), and then act as if they have defeated every atheist - the very definition of the strawman fallacy. I know it shouldn't upset me, but it does - Turek and Geisler keep shooting down the irrational atheists and the progressive atheists and the atheists who are atheists because it's fashionable, but they are yet to (so far) take on arguments from rational atheists.
It wouldn't annoy me too much if they titled their book "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Irrational Atheist" or "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be A Liberal Progressive Atheist", but they call their book "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist", and then Christians keep telling me that this book is the best argument against atheism in general when (so far, two chapters in) it clearly isn't.
The fact that they keep defeating and then trumpeting victory over progressive idiot atheism, then acting as if that defeats atheism as a whole - especially my kind of rational atheism - annoys me. It annoys me to the point I went out and bought this specific domain name to create a website to refute their arguments.

Turek and Geisler's next argument then comes in trying to apply The Roadrunner Tactic to David Hume and Imannuel Kant, no less.
The Roadrunner Tactic, you ask? It's their word-play game that shows that some statements made by atheists (read: moral relativists) are self-defeating and useless. Well, surprise surprise, I agree with that as well. That's why I don't subscribe to irrational atheism which uses self-defeating statements.

So their schtick is to make Hume's Principle of Empirical Verifiability out to be self-defeating by recounting a story of when one of the author's attempted to be a smart-alec during a university course and state that because Hume's Principle was not either true by definition or verifiable empirically, it was self-defeating and thus false.

Just to recount, Hume wrote:
If we take in our hand any volume — of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance — let us ask, “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?” No. “Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?” No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Which then leads to the statement that there are only two kinds of meaningful propositions - those that are true by definition (i.e. mathematical, logical, et al), or those that are empirically verifiable. This forms the basis of study called Logical Positivism.

So Geisler, trying to make Hume sound self-defeating, he actually misses Hume's point. By resorting to word games and sophistry to make Hume seem wrong, it shows he hasn't got any arguments to prove Hume wrong on the point he actually made. All Geisler has to do to prove Hume wrong is to show that there are meaningful propositions that aren't true by definition, or that there are meaningful propositions that aren't empirically verifiable - but of course, Christians cannot win on logic or facts, so they do the Presuppositional tactic of twisting definitions to make the square peg fit in the round hole.

But all this misses yet another point - Hume is, at the end, correct! Hume, in stating that meaningful propositions are ones that are true by definition, is the definition of his Principle!

And again, Geisler and Turek miss yet still another point - by (thinking they have succeeded in) defeating Hume, they think they have defeated atheism. They have not defeated atheism, because atheism is not defined by or owned by one person. You can defeat as many people as you want and as many logic positions as you want, but if you cannot prove a god exists, you have not defeated atheism.

Memo to the enemy: If you want to defeat us atheists, all you have to do is either show us a god (whichever one it is you want to prove to us) which would prove that a god exists, or prove beyond objective doubt (i.e. not relying on sophisticated philosophy) that there is a god.
We will no longer be atheists. We may not worship the god you show us, but you will have convinced us our atheism is wrong.

The next part of the chapter takes a swipe at Immanuel Kant, who is quoted as saying, "The structure of your senses and your mind forms all sense data, so you never really know the thing in itself. You only know the thing to you after your senses and mind form it".

And the problem here is what exactly? Kant isn't wrong. The truth about reality is that your brain is a reality interpretation machine. Everything you sense is because your brain facilitates the senses for you.

I was never a big reader of Kant, so the rest of the stuff they write about Kant to refute him, I don't really care for. They can talk as much smack about Kant as they want, but again, just because they defeat one proposition from one atheist at one point in time doesn't mean they've defeated all of atheism for all time.

Anyway, this chapter goes on and on about truth and logic stuff, plays the straw-man a bit more, then ends with this prescient point:

"The bottom line is this: regardless of what the real truth is concerning religion and morality, our lives are greatly affected by it today, and perhaps even in eternity".

Yep. And in my view, theists are yet to prove their god exists, but have no problem in making sure we act as if their god exists.

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Until next time, merry Christmas, happy new year, look after yourselves and each other.



Friday, December 14, 2018

The Case For Christ - Examining The Record - Rebuttal (part 5)



Apologies for the infrequent posts recently.

Business has picked up (you know, the one that helps me feed my family), and being in a family where 3 of the 4 members of the family have diagnosed mental health issues, and the other 1 doesn’t want to get professional help for theirs, makes life challenging.
Put it simply, Lee Strobel has been the least of my concerns.

Today I want to write about another issue which I think damages Lee Strobel’s case to convince atheists of the validity of the gospels, and by extenstion, Christ.

On page 35 of The Case For Christ, Blomberg cites the words of proto-orthodox church authority Papias of Hierapolis who wrote the following circa 125CE regarding the Gospel of Mark :

Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements

Read plainly, Papias is stating that Mark did not omit anything, and did not put anything fictitious or made up in to his gospel - Mark's gospel is gospel truth (pardon the pun).

But for this statement to be taken literally (as Fundamentalists would have you believe), then there are three challenges that need to be overcome for Papias to be correct:

1) If Mark wrote anything that is demonstrably wrong, then Papias is wrong.


2) If any of the other gospels contradict Mark, then either those other gospels are wrong, or Mark is wrong, therefore Papias is also wrong.


3) The time gap between the initial writing of Mark’s gospel and the Papias’ writing confirming Mark’s accuracy brings Papias’ own accuracy in to doubt, particularly without external evidence.


The only defence left if any of these challenges stands up is in the inference from the statement 'Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them' - any mistake Mark makes could simply come down to Mark not remembering some things correctly. But if Mark remembered some things incorrectly, then biblical inerrancy goes out the window.

Can Papias survive these challenges?


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One problem I have with Christian apologists, and Christian apologetics in general, is that for them to be correct, they have to (and definitely do) stretch definitions and rational credulity to make their spin on things seem plausible.


Hence why it is hypocritical when Young Earth Creationists mock the theory of evolution by saying:

So you believe that everything we see just made itself and your ancestor was a rock?
When it is Young Earth Creationists who believe that everything we see was created by an invisible sky daddy who used magical words to poof everything in to existence, including the vast universe and everything we see in it being created in less than 144 hours, then used a golem spell to create the first human from dirt, used another to create the second human from a rib forcibly taken from the first human, had the man name every single animal (at least 8.7 million species), then got angry when the mud-man and the rib-woman were deceived by a talking snake into eating magic fruit that was somehow able to give humans knowledge of good and evil, when every fruit we eat nowadays only gives us fibre and nutrients.

But no, that's not ridiculous at all, is it?


So, when it comes to defending the gospel, for the Christian apologist to be correct, they have to not only stretch morality, they also have to stretch and twist logic and history, and stretch and twist them in such ways that has one of two unintended consequences:


Either no history can be thought of a accurate and reliable (which destroys everything in its path, including Fundamentalist Christianity), or all history and recorded events have to be taken as accurate and reliable, including those that Christians see as heretical such as Mormonism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, et al (which then dilutes the claims of Fundamentalist Christianity).


So we then need a proper method for determining what actually happened in history. And whatever method professional historians use to determine history, that method is not accepting history when and only when it lines up with the Bible.


But let's go through the challenges to Papias' claims:

1) If Mark wrote anything that is demonstrably wrong, then Papias is wrong.

This is fairly elementary - Papias states that Mark got Jesus' life absolutely correct. So if Mark got something wrong, Papias' argument falls apart.

Did Mark get anything wrong? Sorry to say, yes! Michael Sherlock, on his blog, lists two very simple, but fatal errors for Mark:

Mark references the wrong prophet, and he got the name of a famous priest wrong.


So biblical inerrancy is already out the window, and Mark wrote falsehoods in his gospel, thus Papias is clearly wrong when he says Mark wrote nothing fictitious. If Mark is not writing fact, he is clearly writing fiction.

Reality 1 - Papias 0.


2) If any of the other gospels contradict Mark, then either those other gospels are wrong, or Mark is wrong, therefore Papias is also wrong.

We need only look at the triumphal entry in to Jersualem to answer this question: 

Did Jesus ride in to Jerusalem on one donkey, or both a donkey and a colt? In Matthew 21:6-7, it clearly states that Jesus rode on top of both a donkey and a colt, but in Mark 11:7, Jesus is clearly riding only one animal.

Jesus can't ride both a colt, and a donkey and a colt, so someone got it wrong. Either Matthew got his gospel account wrong, which again defeats biblical inerrancy, or Mark got his gospel wrong by fictitiously taking one animal out, which makes Papias' statement about Mark incorrect (as well as shattering biblical inerrancy).

Logic 2 - Papias 0 - Biblical Inerrancy 0.


3) The validity of Papias' assertion with reference to the time gap between the gospel of Mark and his statement of Mark's inerrancy.

As far as I see it, there is no hard evidence to support Papias' assertion that Mark is inerrant, except for unwavering belief. Yes, he lived at lot closer to the time of the original events than you or I, but if you accept Papias on account of his unwavering belief, you then have to (as a comparison) accept the unwavering belief of any JFK conspiracy theorists who were alive at the time of JFK's assassination. Given that that event happened 54 years ago (at time of writing), there should still be people alive today who can vouch that there was a deep and far-reaching conspiracy to have JFK killed.

But to me, Papias' statement falls down with respect to the time frame between him and Mark. Again, you have to accept one of two uncomfortable conclusions:

1) For Papias' assertion to carry weight without evidence, he needs to be writing within a 50 year window (which I am being generous with) from Mark's gospel. 
We know that Papias wrote his statement about Mark in 125CE, so for Papias to have any weight, the earliest Mark could write that we could even begin to accept Papias is 75CE, with a window of 75CE to 125CE.

For Papias to carry weight, Mark needs to be written between 75CE and 125CE.


But leads to problem number 2.

2) The later Mark writes, the more weight Papias' statement has because Papias is writing closer to the time of Mark, thus giving Papias credence in his writing. But then that takes Mark further away from Jesus - the further away Mark gets, his accuracy and reliability with regards to Jesus diminishes, especially without any solid evidence or clear historical method. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Trouble With Literal Reading

During my years as a Christian, particularly during the late 1990's and early 2000's where I was as Christian as I could make myself to be, I studied and read up on Christian apologetics in order to be able to defend my faith. I wanted to be a good Christian!

One theme I remember seeing throughout the apologetic literature was that the Bible is meant to be taken as literally as possible, and anything that isn't or couldn't be literally true was meant to be taken as myth or metaphor (though there was no true and proper demarcation, except for personal incredulity - if you personally thought there was no way a Bible passage made sense literally, particularly from a scientific viewpoint, then the passage was obviously meant to be figurative or poetic!).

So if the Bible says the world was created in six days, well, science obviously puts paid to the notion that the earth took 6 days to form, so what the Bible writers really meant when they wrote the world was created in six days was that they meant six time periods, not six literal days (this is what is now referred to Day-Age Creationism).

And how do you explain the diversity of life we see on planet Earth? Well, God made all the animals according to their kind - we have the dog kind, the cat kind, the fish kind, and so on, so there was no need for devilutio...I mean, evolution!


In short, there was always an answer. No matter how hard you have to contrive and needle for one, there was always an answer.

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Now that I am reading through The Case For Christ (long after I stopped being a Christian) I am reminded a lot of the apologetics materials of my youth, because just like Lee Strobel is doing, Fundamentalist apologetics is not trying to give a fair and dispassionate account of the available evidence (despite what Lee Strobel says). Far from it.

The mentality with Christian apologetics is "God wins at all costs", no matter what the battleground, be it science, philosophy, history or morality. 
And as I have found when challenging Christians with the numerous atrocities (such as genocide, slavery, sexism and execution for thought crimes) that God commanded in the Bible, sometimes that cost is humanity and decency.

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So Lee Strobel, in interviewing a PhD scholar, is attempting to portray the four gospels in the Bible as reliable, eyewitness testimonials that could not possibly have any errors or falsehoods in them.

What Lee Strobel doesn't (seem to or want to) realise is that rationalist apologetics can fight back and is fighting back. And is fighting back hard.

Rationalist apologetics is not only winning the science battle. Rationalist apologetics is not only winning the philosophy battle. 
Rationalist apologetics is not only winning the history and archaeology battle, but most importantly of all, rationalist apologetics is winning the morality battle.

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What we have come to realise in this age of emerging rationality is that you don't need to be religious to be a good person. You just need to be a good person to be a good person.

And on the contrary, we find:

1) the more religious a society is, the lower is scores on various criteria, and most telling of all, highly religious societies score lower on Human Development Index scores than nominally religious or atheistic societies.

2) years ago when we trusted the church (in general) with our children and our money, they abused both, covered up the crimes, demonised the victims and shielded the perpetrators from justice.

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Until next time, stay rational!

-Damien

Guest Appearance On Unwoke Ungit Podcast

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