Dialogue with Rob (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Rob is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began a couple of days ago on someone else’s blog.  I had made some comments on a post there.  Then Rob, who also commented on that post, challenged my comments (by the way, we don’t otherwise know each other) and our dialogue took on a life of its own.  Therefore, I’ve moved it here.  (For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

(If you want to see our initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian? on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.)

In this post I’ll reproduce all our exchanges to this point (with some very minor editing to improve readability).  Then Rob will be able to comment on this post and the dialogue can continue.

Here are the two statements I had made which provoked Rob’s first comment:

 “Jesus read the same Old Testament that [Richard] Dawkins did and it led Him to a life of kindness, generosity, power, self-sacrifice and – summing it all up – love…that has not been achieved by any other human being before or since.”

“I believe what the Bible says about Jesus because it’s logical and persuasive.” 

And here then is how Rob began:

Rob:  Mike, it says in the bible that Jesus lived this oh-so-perfect life, and you assume this to be true…..why?

Obviously the writers of the bible had a bit of a vested interest in having you think that Jesus lived a perfect life. Even so, how do you know that no one before or after did the same, but just didn’t get attention for it? There’s been 20-billion-some people on the planet, and you’re willing to state that Jesus lived a “better” life than any of them?

All you’ve said is “it is logical,” but with nothing whatsoever to indicate why you think so.

Mike:  Rob, I thought I addressed that but I’ll be happy to repeat and elaborate. I accept the story about Jesus in the Bible to be true because it’s logical and persuasive – the same basis on which I accept news reports, weather reports, history books, and anything else I read. Some things we hear are credible and some are not. I find the gospel accounts to be credible history. As for His disciples having a vested interest in making Him look good, I’d say quite the opposite. They had a vested interest in forgetting the whole thing, and indeed they all forsook Him at the crucifixion. Only when He was raised from the dead was their zeal restored. Even then, they knew that their zeal would only lead to the same fate He had experienced. When Dawkins and Hitchens find acceptance for their message it leads to financial rewards and worldly praise – and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But the fellows you think had a vested interest in fudging the story of Jesus had no such hopes. For them, a job well done meant shame, disgrace, and death. They wouldn’t have done it unless the resurrection were the truth.

Yet another strong corroboration is the Old Testament.  When  you read its prophecies of the Messiah, you see that ONLY the life Jesus lived could fulfill them all.  Until Jesus, these prophecies were considered contradictory (“How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”).  It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.

I’ve read and loved books all my life. When I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s I approached as I would any other book. I did not consider it sacred. I only considered it historic. I still read it today as I would any other book. The difference is that it rewards me more than any other book.

Oh, and as for the possibility that some other human life was as great as His, I suppose that could theoretically be possible. However, that point is moot because no other life could have been the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Rob:  Ok Mike, well I guess my standards for credibility wouldn’t include unverifiable ancient texts, but to each his own. At least other things from history (say, Julius Caesar) are corroborated by a lot more sources.

As for the “vested interest,” well, they wouldn’t have written it down if they didn’t have an interest in getting people to follow it. Even if they thought their reward comes in the afterlife.

But maybe even “vested interest” was the wrong term. A better way to look at it is probably almost Darwinian….those religions which were NOT documented in a way that made their founder look particularly impressive, aren’t around today because people weren’t as likely to follow them. So, any religion around today would be expected to be similar in that respect to Christianity….whether it is true or not.

”(How could you have a Messiah who both suffered and triumphed?”) It was a riddle to which Jesus’ life was the only answer.”

Well, ok. And you don’t think that it’s possible….just POSSIBLE….that someone might have altered the story of Jesus to make it fit the prophecy? (as many think they did having him born in Bethlehem, rather than Nazareth)

And… don’t you see the circular reasoning? He only “triumphed” if he really is a supernatural savior. If the atheist point of view is correct, he was simply a guy who was executed in a cruel way, like so many others of his time.

Mike:  Rob, you and I seem to agree that it comes down to this: the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.

To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).

As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. I challenge you to read these documents for yourself with an open mind and come away with the conviction that they made it up.

Rob: 

“…the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament documents were either fabricating the resurrection or telling the truth. I find the latter infinitely more logical than the former.”

Hmmm, really? There is this notion of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” that would seem to apply. If a few people say they saw a car accident, I am inclined to believe they are not lying. If those same people say they saw space aliens come out of a flying saucer, I want a little more than hearsay to back it up. I consider my approach pretty logical, if I am really interested in knowing the truth.

“To believe that the apostles were lying I’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy”

Are you basing this on simply reading the Bible, or have you followed any of the scholarship on the historicity of Jesus?

Because it wasn’t many people that would be involved in the “conspiracy” at all. It wasn’t written down until decades later, and it was then circulated in lands far away from where it supposedly happened, where it was impossible for anyone to fact-check the original story or corroborate with any witnesses. Sure, supposedly a bunch of people witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but this is simply what a few (unknown) authors wrote much later, after most of those people would be dead….and their readers had no ability to verify it one way or the other. Lots of witnesses” doesn’t count for anything if the information, via retelling, gets bottlenecked through a much smaller number of people.

“…and that they all plotted to put forth a fiction about someone whose chief claim was that He was nonfiction (”I am the truth”).”

Oh dear, I don’t know even what to do with this. Because the story says that Jesus said “I am the truth,” that’s really good enough for you? Are you suggesting that, while people might lie, they sure wouldn’t go so far as to lie about someone claiming to be telling the truth….? I’m losing you here. If someone said he saw Elvis in a 7-11, would you give it more credence if he mentioned that Elvis said “I’m really still alive”?

“As the adages go, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and “you can’t make this stuff up.” The New Testament documents are the personal testimonies of His followers about Him. ”

Yes, you can make stuff like that up, and history shows many cases of people making up stranger stuff. (and actually, a lot of very similar stuff) And no, the New Testament was probably not written by his direct followers, it was probably written by unknown people many decades later.

Mike:  Rob, I take the New Testament at face value – that is, that the documents are simply what they present themselves to be (Occam’s Razor, if you will). By contrast, you believe that they are fabrications produced decades after the fact by people who were not Jesus’ direct followers…and that they did this at the peril of their lives because they believed God would reward them in the afterlife for doing so. Talk about extraordinary claims! Where’s your extraordinary evidence?

If someone told me that Elvis appeared and said, “I am the truth,” I would reject the idea because it is inconsistent with what I know of Elvis’ life and sayings. When Jesus says “I am the truth” I read the four accounts we have of His life and sayings, and I see consistency. And His claim to be the truth is one I cannot logically reject.

I should tell you that I began reading the Bible in my late 20’s and did so as a skeptic. At that point, I only considered the Bible as having literary value. It was the text itself that convinced me otherwise. Until you read the New Testament for yourself you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to make an informed decision about the claims Jesus made for Himself.

Rob: Mike, all I can say is that is a strange application of Occam’s razor. You take an ancient document at face value because it is simpler to assume the magical claims of the document are true, than that the author might not be fully truthful? People lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time. Come back from the dead? We don’t see that so often.

I seriously doubt the authors of the gospels put themselves at risk by writing it. People later put themselves at risk by spreading it around, sure. But that happened with numerous other religions, which you presumably don’t accept the truth of. Do you think those who flew airplanes into skyscrapers were “correct”? If you apply Occam’s razor as you have, you’d have to assume they must have been. No, reasonable people would assume they were deeply misguided. Just because someone puts themselves at personal risk in the name of some religion does not bolster the truth.

And I think you missed the point on the Elvis thing. Substitute Harry Houdini if it helps. If Houdini came back from the dead, it probably would have been consistent for him to communicate that he really is him. Regardless, hearing second-hand (or third or fourth hand), that he said “I am really me,” does not in any way strengthen the claim that he came back from the dead. It is bizarre to me that you would quote someone’s claim of being truthful, as if it somehow strengthens the case that they indeed are.

And trying to demonstrate that a work is not fictional simply because it is internally consistent (not that the Bible is known for consistency, but whatever!), makes no sense at all. I’m sorry you don’t see the problem there. You need to look outside the Bible (or Harry Potter, or the myths of ancient Greece, etc) to be able to make any inferences as to its truth. And there is little outside the Bible to back its claims (other than the most basic, such as that Jesus probably did live, get some followers, and was executed … none of which was particularly remarkable).

Thankfully our judicial system has doesn’t use such illogical means of establishing truth.

Mike: Rob, you so frequently misrepresent my positions when you argue with them that I have to assume you are not thinking through what I am saying.

Rob: Mike, you are welcome to clarify. I don’t think I unfairly represented your opinion as being that you believe what the Bible says purely based on the Bible itself, rather than based on any external corroboration. That sort of logic permeates everything you have said, and is incredibly weak evidence, if evidence at all.

If you have a different position, please do state it.

Mike:  Thanks for letting me clarify.

I don’t find the New Testament’s claims “magical” at all.  In fact, the pragmatic nature of the miracles (all of them helped people in practical ways) and absence of titillating embellishment (the New Testament authors do not merchandise or sensationalize Jesus’ accomplishments) lend to their credibility.  I considered the possibility that the documents were falsified but I could not and cannot come up with a plausible motive.  Your notion that a handful of people far removed from Jesus and His lifetime forged the documents in order to get followers does not comport with the uniqueness of teaching and elegance of thought in the New Testament.  In my lifetime, whenever I see religions trying to get followers there is always a motive of self-aggrandizement that appears in one form or another.  I can’t see it in the New Testament for it actually announces the end of organized religion! And indeed, in accord with its prophecies, Jerusalem, the center of Old Testament worship, was destroyed in 70 A.D.  Yes, people do lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time, but the New Testament just doesn’t read like a lie, exaggeration, or myth.

I agree with you that just because someone puts himself at personal risk in the name of God does not mean he is telling the truth.  The 9/11 killers prove this.  And indeed that’s what they were: killers.  What a contrast with Jesus who condemned not just homicide, but even hateful and disrespectful thoughts toward one’s enemies!  Suicide bombers are putting whole societies at risk; Jesus and His apostles put no one at risk but themselves. 

If all we had were third- and fourth-hand claims of Jesus’ resurrection, I would be suspicious of its authenticity.  However, in the New Testament we have first-hand accounts from Peter, John, Paul, and Matthew – not to mention many others whom they reference.  When I read them, they just don’t sound like liars to me. 

As for what you said was “bizarre,” I wasn’t saying that I believe Jesus was truthful because He said He was truthful.  I was saying that Jesus said, “I am the truth,” and after thinking about this claim in light of all that was in the New and Old Testaments I could not logically or in good conscience reject it.  It’s one thing for a person to say, “I am truthful.”  Both honest and dishonest people say this sort of thing all the time.  What Jesus said was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  That sort of boldness invites us to make a decision.  It polarizes.  We must accept or reject such a claim; once we’ve heard it, we cannot ignore it. It’s the kind of statement that would make me think the person uttering it was mentally ill – unless it was that one-in-a-million case where it might possibly be true.  All I have been saying is that after reading the New Testament, I felt far more comfortable accepting His amazing claim than I did rejecting it.

Like you, I want multiple witnesses for an issue as important as this.  For you this seems to mean that you have to go outside the Bible.  But the Bible is not one book; it is a collection, a library.  And I’ve already mentioned at least four different witnesses who said they saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead.  The New Testament says there were over 500 who saw Him.  If such statements were viewed as false at the time of their writing, the writings would have been immediately discredited.  Immediately after the generation of the apostles, many documents sought inclusion as sacred texts, were judged to be false, and were excluded from the collection.  The scores of documents we have in the Bible were the survivors of fierce scrutiny.

If all the evidence for a crime is collected in one folder, I don’t dismiss it out of hand and say it’s not enough to prove the case.  If I do, then there will never be enough evidence because every relevant piece gets added to the folder.  After a while, it’s like saying I can’t believe in the American Civil War because its not chronicled in the history books of India.  Indeed there is corroboration of Jesus’ life in both Jewish and Roman history; of course not in any detail because neither had any interest in prolonging his memory.

Again, I arrived at my position by refusing to take other people’s word for what the Bible said and by reading it – quite skeptically at first – for myself.  Before you completely dismiss Jesus, you owe yourself the same experience.

Your turn, Rob.  Just comment below.

184 Replies to “Dialogue with Rob (re: Jesus and the Bible)”

  1. Mike: I don’t find the New Testament’s claims “magical” at all.

    They are certainly extraordinary, fantastical, supernatural events, outside of the laws of physics as most scientists understand them today. That’s what I meant by “magical.”

    Mike: Yes, people do lie/exaggerate/spread myths all the time, but the New Testament just doesn’t read like a lie, exaggeration, or myth.

    I have read the gospels, and they look to me like any other ancient text that describes myths and legends and fantastical things that we know today to be untrue.

    They are things that I would not expect an educated, intelligent person to read and just say “gosh, that sounds like it is most likely true!” ….unless that person was indoctrinated when they too young for critical thinking.

    Mike: And I’ve already mentioned at least four different witnesses who said they saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead. The New Testament says there were over 500 who saw Him.

    Or, one person, who was told there were lots witnesses, and went on to report that as fact (with a bit of embellishment here and there). Sorry, but it doesn’t count as 500 witnesses if the story is then bottlenecked through one (or a few) secondary witnesses, who then report it. If a good portion of those 500 people somehow each communicated their experience directly…well that would be different. But they didn’t. So they don’t count as witnesses, in terms of bolstering the credibility.

    Mike: If such statements were viewed as false at the time of their writing, the writings would have been immediately discredited

    I’ll be blunt: that’s absurd. You speak as if the gospels were published widely in the land where the events occurred, soon after those events happened. No, they were written much later, and eventually circulated in lands far away. Why would you think the witnesses would be around to “discredit” them?….those supposed witnesses would have been nowhere near, and probably dead by then (if they existed in the first place)….and even so, it wasn’t like the gospels were then put on the 10 o’clock news or newsstands or even book stores soon after they were written.

    It should be obvious that there was no mechanism in place for things to be “discredited” …since those who would know would be so unlikely to ever see the gospels, and they would have no ability to communicate their complaints to anyone who would care. Most people back then were illiterate anyway. You speak as if this happened in the internet age or something, where we have skeptics and investigative journalism and Snopes.com and wikipedia. Frankly, such statements suggest that you know little of the scholarship on the history of the Bible (as Willy points out), the history of the time periods involved, or the history of religions and mythology and literature in general.

    Mike: Immediately after the generation of the apostles, many documents sought inclusion as sacred texts, were judged to be false, and were excluded from the collection. The scores of documents we have in the Bible were the survivors of fierce scrutiny.

    And that scrutiny was..? It certainly didn’t involve interviewing people in the region where the events supposedly happened (if any of them were still alive). Whatever they were scrutinizing it for, it couldn’t have been truthfulness, because they had no way to know — they weren’t anywhere near and too much time had passed.

    Mike: What Jesus said was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” That sort of boldness invites us to make a decision. It polarizes. We must accept or reject such a claim; once we’ve heard it, we cannot ignore it. It’s the kind of statement that would make me think the person uttering it was mentally ill – unless it was that one-in-a-million case where it possibly true. All I have been saying is that after reading the New Testament, I felt far more comfortable accepting His amazing claim than I did rejecting it.

    That was eloquently written, Mike…but not at all convincing, as I think says more about you than it does the texts themselves. Again, you are essentially saying “it just *sounds* so good, I have to believe it, against all probability!”

    Aside from the possibility that Jesus was mentally ill, for all we know such a statement might have been par for the course among mystics and healers of the era. How would you know, 2000 years later? As for being impossible to ignore, I certainly don’t have a lot of trouble ignoring it myself, just as I can ignore the outrageous claims on late night tv commercials, or whatever is blabbered to me by the homeless guy on the subway. What exactly is so compelling about such a statement? Is it that it is somehow poetic or something — maybe it strikes an emotional chord? Or that it seems to be such over-the-top megalomania? I can say it sure doesn’t do anything special for me other than create an icky “wow, that guy is sure fond of himself” feeling.

    Another possibility (the most likely one, in my opinion) is that Jesus may have never even said such a thing at all, but that was simply what an author of the gospels imagined him to have said, after the story was passed down by word of mouth for a few decades. The people passing down the stories weren’t necessarily “lying” per se, but were just being storytellers, and embellishment was part of their craft (they didn’t have TV or printing presses back then, remember….so storytelling was part of their way of life). If you don’t embellish to make it interesting, you aren’t a good storyteller. The authors may have made the honest mistake of thinking the story they heard was more fact than the teller of the story may have intended. I have to imagine that the lines between fact and fiction were a lot blurrier back then, and as I mentioned, people weren’t exactly jumping on the internet to fact check and debate everything.

    There are so many possibilities for how those words could have come to be written. At the end of the day, it appears that you believe they are true because your intuition — not logic — tells you so. You claimed at the beginning that you find the Bible to be “logically persuasive,” and yet you have said nothing which shows a logical basis for belief that it is true. At this point, the real mystery for me is not what actually happened 2000 years ago, but what, psychologically, could cause people such as yourself to buy into such a story simply by virtue of reading a modern translation of an ancient text.

    I guess you can believe what you want to believe….but that’s exactly what it sounds like to me. All appearances are that you really, really *want* to believe.

    1. Thanks, Rob. I’m going to respond to your points one at a time…in the order in which you’ve laid them out. You can respond to my replies as I make them, or wait until I’ve finished them all.

      Rob: They are certainly extraordinary, fantastical, supernatural events, outside of the laws of physics as most scientists understand them today. That’s what I meant by “magical.”

      Thanks for the clarification. “Magical” connotes Disneyesque to me and I find nothing Disneyesque about the New Testament. “Fantastical” seems inappropriate to me for similar reasons. However, I readily agree with you that “extraordinary” and “supernatural” are apt descriptions of the miracles found in the New Testament.

      1. Fair enough. I guess describing something as “magical” has more negative connotations than describing something as “supernatural” or “a miracle.” But they really mean the same thing.

        And that is an important point, worth pondering.

    2. Rob: I have read the gospels, and they look to me like any other ancient text that describes myths and legends and fantastical things that we know today to be untrue.

      They are things that I would not expect an educated, intelligent person to read and just say “gosh, that sounds like it is most likely true!” ….unless that person was indoctrinated when they too young for critical thinking.

      If you’re defining an “educated, intelligent person” as one who does not believe in miracles, then, yes, I can see how you’d be surprised that an “educated, intelligent person” believed the New Testament. But if an “intelligent, educated person” is open-minded – that is, if he says to himself, “I don’t know whether or not miracles occur, but I am open-minded on the issue,” then it would not necessarily be a surprise if he believed what he read in the New Testament.

      You think it’s my predisposition to accept the supernatural that causes me to believe the New Testament. I think it’s your predisposition to disbelieve the supernatural that causes you to disbelieve the New Testament. Only God knows which one of us is right.

      1. Mike: You think it’s my predisposition to accept the supernatural that causes me to believe the New Testament.”

        Well, in science, deferring to the supernatural is a non-explanation. It reminds me of the cartoon where the scientist puts “and then a miracle occurs” in the middle of a scientific equation, and the other scientist says “I think you should be more explicit here in step two”.

        Luckily, the more advanced science gets, the less places where it is tempting to defer to the supernatural. For instance, as much as Newton gave us a mechanistic understanding of the universe, it would still would have been nearly impossible for him to have assumed that all the plants and animals were created by such processes. Then Darwin came along….

        I don’t see a willingness to accept the supernatural as being “open minded,” it strikes me as lazy if you don’t first explore all other possibilities. History has shown that science progresses when people keep looking for natural explanations, rather than just explain things with “and then a miracle occurs.”

        Personally, I think the term “open minded” is misused quite a bit. Are you truly open minded to the atheist point of view, the view that there simply is no God? I’d think if you were, you couldn’t describe yourself as having “faith.” Odd thing is, “faith” is considered a positive thing, and “open-mindedness” is as well. And yet, they are darn close to mutually exclusive.

        Usually, I see “open minded” as a term people use to mean “willing to think that my opinion is likely.” I suggest if you want to say that others are closed minded, take a look at whether you yourself are really open to others opinion.

        I am open minded in the sense that I am open to new evidence, and that I don’t consider anything 0% or 100% “true.” I think there is a chance Jesus came back from the dead, I just think it is very, very small — and I’d need strong evidence to change that oppinion. Same thing with the earth being flat, or the germ theory of disease being untrue. I can’t prove any of them — I have to trust other sources, logic, etc. But if you were to come to me with evidence that the earth is flat, I can tell you that it better be some really strong evidence to counter all the other evidence I have taken in during my lifetime that suggests otherwise. If you want to call it “closed minded” that I would be so hard to budge on the issue of earth flatness, so be it.

        Anyway, although you say you were once a skeptic, I have to assume that you already had your predispostion to accept the supernatural, when you read the New Testament and found it believable.

        Mike: Only God knows which one of us is right.

        Or maybe, no one knows. Just sayin’. 🙂

        1. I’ve seen the cartoon before and agree that it’s funny. I also take the point that scientists work to find scientific explanations and that “a miracle occurred” is not a scientific explanation. However, the Bible does not purport to be a science book. Neither is it a math book or a grammar book. Each of these genres has its own protocols. The Bible is a book about life, truth, and God. It uses narrative, poetry, and other literary forms to accomplish its purpose. You can berate Richard Dawkins if he doesn’t properly footnote his next peer-reviewed monograph but don’t fuss at John because he didn’t give a physics lecture on exactly how that water got to be wine.

          As for open-mindedness, I think we’re all open-minded when we’re searching for an answer and closed-minded once we believe we’ve found it.

          1. Yes, but you have said that after you read it, you were convinced of its truth based on it being logically persuasive. If you want to simply say “you just have to have faith,” fine (although I certainly have arguments as to why that isn’t good enough for me). Or if you want to say “I’m persuaded by the moral teachings of Christ, regardless of whether or not the Bible’s account of supernatural events is even close to reality”, again, fine.

            But that’s not what you said. You said it convinced you that the supernatural events, as described, really happened. That’s big.

            1. Yes, I found the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Bible, including the miracles, taken as a whole, logically persuasive. The Bible did not become logically persuasive because I believed; rather, I believed because the Bible had been logically persuasive.

              If it has not yet persuaded you, I have to conclude that either you have not read it enough or you are simply unwilling to believe it (in which case no amount of reading or proof will sway you).

              1. I assure you, good evidence would sway me. Reading the gospels over and over is not going to strengthen the evidence they provide, though.

    3. Your theory that the New Testament documents are forgeries by people far removed from the scene who lived long afterward robs you of so much understanding that the New Testament would give you – and accounts for much of the disagreement between us.

      Peter and Paul wouldn’t have to live in the Internet age to discredit each other. Neither would those who heard their messages be prevented from calling their hands just because they didn’t have Wikipedia.

      In his letters, Peter bears witness of Paul’s veracity; Paul, in his letters, bears witness of Peter’s veracity. The city of Corinth, the recipient of Paul’s letter mentioning the 500 witnesses, was visited by many Christian teachers from Palestine. Conrinthians could compare notes of all of them. Paul’s letters to Corinth included a defense of his ministry – He was appealing to other sources, sources that could be checked. That the believers in Corinth cherished Paul’s letters, such that they were eventually handed down to us, bears witness to their belief in him.

      Alas, I do not know how to free you from the grip of this theory that the New Testament documents are a long-after-the-fact fabrication except to say that it would take far more faith than I can muster to believe such a thing. I mean no disrepect to say that it simply seems preposterous to me that this quantity, quality, and complex consistency of written record could have been the production of deceit. I say “complex consistency” because deceit would have produced simple consistency – more like one book instead of 27, or one gospel instead of four.

      1. Mike: “Alas, I do not know how to free you from the grip of this theory that the New Testament documents are a long-after-the-fact fabrication”

        I originally assumed otherwise, and also assumed that the events of Jesus’ life were well corroborated by lots of people in the same way that, say, the life of Julius Caesar or various other historical figures were. That was always the implication in Sunday school, and from my parents and whoever else.

        The reason I have changed my opinion on this is because I now know about scholarly research on the subject by historians, of which there is a huge amount. My view on this aligns exactly with almost everything out there on the subject. A good starting point might be the wikipedia article on the Historicity of Jesus…note that there are almost 200 citations at bottom.

        1. I can’t account for your Sunday School and others, but I can say that its unreasonable for you to expect the same volume of historical references to an itinerant rabbi in an outlying province as you’d get for the head of the world’s superpower of that age. Moreover, just like historians of today, historians of old were hallowed for telling of the high and mighty and would be demeaned for giving much ink to this convicted criminal.

          Having said that, there is more than enough evidence to describe the life of Christ. That’s what the New Testament is: 27 different documents written by different people at different times in different places all testifying to the same thing.

          As for your view aligning “exactly with almost everything out there on the subject,” it doesn’t even align with the source you cite. That article includes this statement: “The majority of scholars who study early Christianity believe that the Gospels do contain some reliable information about Jesus, agreeing that Jesus was a Jew who was regarded as a teacher and healer, that he was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, on the charge of sedition against the Roman Empire.” The closest I think you’ve come to this statement is “He may have lived” and “He may have been crucified.” Moreover, you’ve called the documents on which the historical consensus relies, “unverifiable ancient texts.”

          1. Well, to clarify, I think the statement that “Jesus was a Jew who was regarded as a teacher and healer, that he was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, on the charge of sedition against the Roman Empire” is most likely, say 75% likely, to be true.

            None of that is particularly remarkable though , and I think aligns with the gist of what I was saying: that many everyday events in the Bible are likely based in fact. We know people lived, were teachers/healers, were executed, etc. during that era, so to hear that one more person did just that, doesn’t exactly invite a lot of skepticism.

            It’s the other things…that he performed various miracles, behaved more honorably than any of the other 20 billion humans before and after him, and then came back from the dead…that seem most likely to be embellished. Those events are extraordinary in the extreme, and therefore demand increased scrutiny.

            They are also the things that we can imagine a motive for people embellishing…even if that “motive” is sort of a Darwinian selection sort of motive, in that those stories which are not embellished with “miracles” were not interesting and compelling enough for people to spread, so there is strong bias toward miracle-embellishment among the stories which have persisted until the modern age.

              1. If you read carefully, I didn’t say teacher healers were crucified. I don’t know, I imagine people seen as “stirring the sh*t” were, here and there. But all I said was that people were executed, and people were teachers/healers…not necessarily the same people.

                The point is, that it wasn’t really all that remarkable. A reasonable guess is that if the christian church didn’t gain traction as it did, we’d never know about Jesus today. The event was not important enough.

                1. It sounds like our stopping point here is the “long-after-the-fact fabrication/embellishment theory on which you rely. I’ll address this in a summary post below.

      2. Actually I should amend that in one way: the documents weren’t necessarily a fabrication, we can’t know. What we do know from historians is they were long after the fact — decades anyway — which suggests that they were written by people who weren’t actually there, but by people who had heard about the events second or third hand. The other important point is that the events that we know from historians is that the events were not corroborated widely….they were not particularly “big news” in their time, which is why we don’t have any other records of them happening. The only records we have of the life of Jesus are those that were documented by his followers — so we should assume such a bias when trying to determine to what degree, if any, they were fabricated.

        Do you see how my approach is different from simply reading the texts themselves, and assuming them to be true because they “don’t sound like fabrications,” and then justifying it with Occam’s Razor?

        At the very least, I think you should learn more about the history of the time.

        1. I don’t know why you assume that I know less than you about the history of the time. Maybe I do, but why are assuming it?

          As to all the accounts coming from Jesus’ followers, why would nonfollowers care enough to write an account of Him? As the history of Acts makes clear, and common sense would agree, the authorities wanted Him forgotten – not remembered, and certainly not corroborated.

          1. I don’t know why you assume that I know less than you about the history of the time. Maybe I do, but why are assuming it?

            Mostly because of your much repeated assumptions that inaccurate information would somehow be “immediately discredited.” Anyone with a realistic understanding of the time period would know just how easy it was for false stories to spread, and that there was no good mechanism for people to demonstrate their falsehood.

            1. Bible historians can be divided into two camps: conservative and liberal. The former tend to accept the Bible’s documents at face value while the latter tend to dissect the documents finding some passages more reliable than others. Both claim that the evidence led them to their conclusions. I am familiar with both schools of thought.

              Every time you have said something like “anyone with a realistic understanding of the time period would know” you are alluding to the liberal scholarly point of view. Perhaps that’s the only school of thought you know, but, in any case, I didn’t think it was productive to get into a battle of quoting this expert versus that one. Every scholar who has taken a strong position one way or the other has his supporters and his detractors.

              As for your presumption that “there was no good mechanism for people to demonstrate their falsehood,” why do we see Paul so often using his letters to defend his ministry and set the record straight by sending them (not to mention the dispatching of Timothy and other surrogates) to various locations where people spoke falsely of him? According to your theory, he should be throwing up his hands and passively whining that he doesn’t have an Internet with which to defend himself.

              1. Then why do we see Paul so often using his letters to defend his ministry and set the record straight by sending them (not to mention the dispatching of Timothy and other surrogates) to various locations where people spoke falsely of him? According to your theory, he should be throwing up his hands and passively whining that he doesn’t have an Internet with which to defend himself.

                Well first of all, I didn’t mention the internet as a way to defend oneself, but as a way of allowing others to debunk things…

                You were saying, had the Gospels contained false information, that such information would have been “immediately discredited”. I contrasted those days — the first century AD — with today’s world: easier travel, fast long distance communication, the internet, etc. Back then, if someone told you: “50 years ago, 1000 miles from here, someone turned water into wine, and there were 100 witnesses who saw it” you’d have to say “gosh, I don’t know, but there’s no way I can determine whether it’s true or not.” Because even if you could travel to those lands, most of those hundred witnesses would be dead.

                Now, the fact that there were indeed people back then disputing Paul’s words doesn’t exactly weaken my case(!). Sure it was possible then, in some situations, to discredit a false story — that should be fairly obvious.

                What was different back then was that it was easier to spread falsehoods and have them gain traction, especially if there was time and distance between the events and the retelling.

                Today, we have hundreds of millions of people carrying around cameras in their cell phones, and yet, we still don’t have any solid evidence of supernatural events actually happening. Back then, without modern science, people probably assumed that just about everything was supernatural…how else to explain the existance of complex life and the ability to think and talk, etc? So, from a modern perspective, the stories of the gospels would be far more notable….that is, if they were actually true.

                1. Actually, the fact that Paul was disputed in his day, and widely so, does weaken your case because your case is built on the assumption that ancient people lacked the intelligence, knowledge, resources, and will to resist supernatural explanations. But I’ll set you up a better opportunity to respond in a summary post below.

                  1. I think they they were more gullible and had less ability to debunk falsities then. But it should be quite obvious that, if the story was absurd enough, even then people would reject it. Just because people were much more gullible, doesn’t mean they were infinitely gullible.

    4. Rob: And that scrutiny was..?

      The scrutiny was, “Is this document genuine?” That is, “Is this document what it purports to be?” In other words, “Can it be taken at face value?” If they were looking at the Gospel of Matthew, for example, they asked, “Is this indeed the Gospel of Matthew, one of the twelve original apostles?” As you probably know, other documents were ascribed to the apostolic corps and put forth for inclusion, but were rejected as false. Thus, the fact that inclusion in the canon was determined by authenticity, and since documents deemed inauthentic were excluded, we should feel comfortable taking what we have at face value.

      1. the fact that inclusion in the canon was determined by authenticity, and since documents deemed inauthentic were excluded, we should feel comfortable taking what we have at face value

        It was “determined by authenticity”? What does that even mean?

        I think it should be obvious that the criteria for selection into the canon should be whether it is authentic or not. Isn’t the important question how they determined the authenticity?

        As far as I know, the process started with Irenaeus around AD 160, in Lyons, which is in modern France. Now, how in the world is someone going to be able to deduce whether the events described actually happened or not, or even whether Matthew was actually written by apostle Matthew — 130 years later, 1500 miles distant, in an age when most people never traveled 20 miles from their birthplace and there was no way to communicate long distance …?

        Did he just sit and think about it? He said there should be exactly four gospels because “there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds” … none of this sounds very scientific or credible to me.

        Honestly, it hurts my brain to hear someone say that that sort of “scrutiny” is enough that “we should feel comfortable taking it at face value”.

        Again, wikipedia is a good starting point for at least getting an idea of the convoluted process of selecting christian canon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon .

        It sure doesn’t instill me with confidence that I can “take it at face value.”

        1. The process doesn’t seem convoluted at all. As it says in the article you reference, “Writings attributed to the apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities.” This is consistent with what we read in the New Testament, where its writers acknowledged and directed such circulation. Therefore, in succeeding generations there would be multiple copies in multiple regions, making it difficult to change its contents because all copies could eventually be compared. Of course, these weren’t the only documents circulating. There were many false teachers in those days and their writings gained currency as well. And then there could be well-intentioned but misguided people who produced pseudonymous letters. The process of settling on the canon therefore was simply a matter of sorting out the first group from the other two.

          The process would not involve taking an individual letter and attempting to verify each of its constituent facts. That is, you wouldn’t take Paul’s letter to the church at Rome and ask, “Were all these people Paul mentioned in Romans 16 real people and did they really have the characteristics Paul attributed to them and did they really do the things Paul said they did?” All you need to know is, “Is this the letter Paul wrote?” For the idea that the original recipients would have retained a circulated a letter in which the author lied about such things is nonsensical.

          Imagine that sometime before the Industrial Age (whether BC or AD) one generation of a family has a letter from Aunt Millie where she outlined her philosophy of life. They pass this letter down from generation to generation, even making handwritten copies along the way. The only real question for a subsequent generation to ask regarding the document is, “Is this Aunt Millie’s letter?” You wouldn’t dissect the contents of the letter to try to see if there was an Aunt Millie or if the anecdotes she used to convey her philosophy were based on actual events which could be corroborated by historians.

          Now, you may not like Aunt Millie’s philosophy. You may even decide you don’t like Aunt Millie. But you can’t say, “The whole Aunt Millie thing was a fabrication or embellishment by an intervening generation.” They’d have no motive, means, or opportunity to pull off such a caper.

          Note also, that with each succeeding generation a forgery, and especially a conspiracy to forge, gets harder and harder to pull off because there are more copies in more locations. How much luck are people having getting new documents added to the New Testament these days – no matter how much they’re popularized or how many books might be sold on Amazon touting them?

          Face value is the only logical way to take Aunt Millie’s letter.

          1. “Face value is the only logical way to take Aunt Millie’s letter.”

            Unless Aunt Millie describes being abducted by UFO’s.

            Regardless, most scholars conclude that the gospels were written by people who weren’t actually there. But even so, even if they were written by people who were contemporaries of Jesus, that doesn’t mean they were telling the unembellished truth.

            Also, this idea that “all copies could be compared”….well, even the Gospels that made it in tell quite different things. But more importantly, who is going to compare all these documents? This is why I think you have a very poor understanding of the time period. People didn’t have access to the internet, it was the exact opposite of that.

            There are all kinds of ways that things could have gone down, that could easily have produced exactly what we see today, but that didn’t require said supernatural events to have actually occurred.

            1. But you said Aunt Millie didn’t write about UFO’s…that those were embellishments added by later family members who were trying to generate more support for the lady and her letter.

              As for your “even if they were written by people who were contemporaries of Jesus, that doesn’t mean they were telling the unembellished truth,” I agree. That alone doesn’t mean they were telling the truth. But it does mean that we have a set of court depositions from multiple witnesses, all testifying to the same basic set of facts, at the peril of their lives. You can say you don’t believe these witnesses, but you can’t say you don’t know what their testimony is (which is the argument of the fabrication/embellishment-long-after-the-fact theory).

              As for your last statement, that’s pretty sweeping. Are you sure you want to stick with it as written? If not, care to back it up?

              1. But it does mean that we have a set of court depositions from multiple witnesses, all testifying to the same basic set of facts, at the peril of their lives.

                We don’t have multiple witnesses. We have a set of written texts, that could have all originated with a single person (or a small group), with some sort of agenda, making things up. Where are all these witnesses?

                As for your last statement, that’s pretty sweeping. Are you sure you want to stick with it as written? If not, care to back it up?

                I’m sticking with it, but I think I’ve been backing it up all along. People lie and embellish and remember things wrong all the time. There is no strong evidence this is not what happened. No big conspiracy was required…just one person telling some lies, some gullible people repeating it and writing it down, and after enough time passes, no one can prove anything one way or the other.

    5. Mike: What Jesus said was, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” That sort of boldness invites us to make a decision. It polarizes. We must accept or reject such a claim; once we’ve heard it, we cannot ignore it.

      Rob: As for being impossible to ignore, I certainly don’t have a lot of trouble ignoring it myself, just as I can ignore the outrageous claims on late night tv commercials, or whatever is blabbered to me by the homeless guy on the subway.

      Yes, technically you can ignore it. There are many people who have heard it and are ignoring it. My meaning was that such a statement is either accepted or rejected; there is no third way of dealing with it. Ignoring it is simply a form of rejecting it. You went on to say that it’s the more likely possibility that Jesus never actually made this statement. But this is moot, because you’ve said that you’re unmoved by it even if it comes from His lips.

      This leaves us nowhere to go…at least on this point. Such a statement (“I am the way and the truth and the life”) is utterly outrageous. And it’s either outrageously true or outrageously false. We both heard it (albeit you only hypothetically) and come to different conclusions. Until something else changes we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point.

    6. Rob: You claimed at the beginning that you find the Bible to be “logically persuasive,” and yet you have said nothing which shows a logical basis for belief that it is true. At this point, the real mystery for me is not what actually happened 2000 years ago, but what, psychologically, could cause people such as yourself to buy into such a story simply by virtue of reading a modern translation of an ancient text.

      I think the “psychological” answer you seek lies in willingness. That is, while I began reading the Bible with a skeptical mindset, I was willing to have my mind changed. I was willing to submit to God’s commands if indeed He was commanding me anything through the New Testament. Now keep in mind, I did not approach the Bible with an expectation that I’d be commanded to do anything. As I’ve said, I thought I was taking on a literary treasure at best. And my expectation was that I would learn what it actually said so that I could refute all the people I was sure must be misquoting it.

      What surprised me was that I could actually understand parts of it, and that those parts communicated truth to me. This is when the question of willingness arose. Would I be willing to continue reading, knowing that the words might make some claim on my obedience? I chose to be willing. Now at this point, I still didn’t know what that might mean for me. I was not deciding to believe; I was not deciding to obey. The point was that I was willing to follow truth if it was made clear to me. Eventually, enough truth came from my reading that there was something to believe. Rather, there was Someone to believe.

      If, on the other hand, I had internally decided that I was unwilling to follow the truth wherever it might lead, then I doubt my Bible reading would have continued because there would have been insufficient reward or enrichment from it (just as, since I graduated from school, have abandoned reading every book I started when it ceased to be rewarding).

      Nothing can be proven true to the person who is unwilling to accept a truth. The judge who is unwilling to grant a conviction will just keep throwing out all the evidence that points to conviction. On the other hand, the judge who is willing to convict will not necessarily convict. He go where the evidence leads him. And thus willingness does not always lead to faith, but unwillingness always leads to unbelief.

      1. Well, I’m just waiting for that evidence. You haven’t given me anything, other than old literature (which is as unverified as any from that time period), which describes a person who lived such a spectacularly moral life, that you think no one could even have made it up. Therefore — it must be true!

        That’s about as weak evidence as I could imagine.

          1. If I was a judge and someone presented evidence that someone had been killing people by supernatural means (say, witchcraft), I’d consider more than “one technicality.” I’d want EXTREMELY strong evidence.

            This could be true even for certain non-supernatural things….for instance, maybe the murder hypothesis involved aliens from another planet. It’s not that the existence of aliens on Earth conflicts with my views of science, it doesn’t at all. It’s just that we’ve never before had proof such things exist, so convicting someone based on such an extraordinary hypothesis seems highly likely to be incorrect.

            The evidence you give would not be anywhere near strong enough to convict someone for shoplifting….even before you factor in the extraordinariness of the hypothesis.

            I think KC’s post below addresses this whole issue very nicely.

    7. Rob, I want to return to the subject of miracles but from a different perspective where perhaps we can find more common ground.

      It seems the miracles are a significant issue or stumbling block for you. I should make clear that they have never been that big an issue for me. When I’ve said something like this before, you’ve assumed it meant I’m predisposed to believe in miracles. That’s neither true nor what you should infer. What I meant was that the miracles were not what attracted my attention when I first read the New Testament, nor have they been what has kept my attention since. Rather it was the morality I was reading about that arrested my attention. In a world where corruption is everywhere, only varying by degree, it was stunning to see a man who demonstrated integrity page after page. He would not kowtow to the elite; neither would He lord it over the lowly. He did not seek money, fame, or prestige. All He did was show kindness to people who needed it. And when that kindness was rewarded with an abundance of rejection, abuse, and even murder – He did not complain but kept unwaveringly to His course. Even more dramatic to me was that He lived up to everything He taught. Who had I ever encountered that unfailingly practiced what he preached? The morality I was reading about was of a kind I might have hoped for in humanity, but had certainly never seen. If I could believe the morality was real, believing the miracles was easy. (By the way, this is another reason that the fabrication-of-the-gospels theory is illogical – who could make up morality like this? Plenty of people have made up stories of miracles; no one has ever made up a story of such purity of heart.)

      Related to this point, it’s not as if there’s a miracle on every page of the New Testament. Yet there is morality on every page. When the miracles did occur they were God’s confirmation on the unique level of human morality we were witnessing.

      Lastly, the miracles themselves were moral. That is, there were no magic tricks – neither would He perform a miracle when it was demanded of Him as proof of His veracity. He fed hungry people, He raised from the dead the only son of a grieving widow, He walked across a storm-crossed lake to comfort His panicked disciples. In all these things it was the kindness of the act at its heart, not the bestowal by God of its miraculous casing, that caused my jaw to drop.

      Thus the miracles, which seem extremely important to people like you who reject the New Testament because of them, are somewhat important to me but by no means near the center of my faith. Most of the time when I think of the New Testament, my mind is filled with its majestic morality – first, as practiced by Jesus, and then as haltingly learned and practiced by His disciples. As rare as miracles are, that sort of morality is rarer still.

      1. Ok, so a question. Let’s just imagine we figured out how to send a camera into the past, and could see exactly what did happen.

        And imagine that it showed that no supernatural miracles occurred. He didn’t come back from dead, or any of that. It just showed that Jesus was, in all other respects, the upstanding guy that was described.

        Would that affect how you feel about Christianity as a whole?

        1. In your scenario, I would simply feel sorry for Him – or should I say “him.” There would be no basis for worshiping such a person.

          I should make you aware, however, that the key phrase in your scenario was “He didn’t come back from the dead,” for then He could not be the Messiah of Israel as He would only have fulfilled half the messianic prophecies. The water-to-wine, the walking-on-water, the cleansing-of-lepers, and all the rest are not necessary. To use your word, they are “embellishments” (though they were added by God in reality, not by men’s ink in after-the-fact deceit) to demonstrate God’s desire to be actively involved in a life that moral – and to give us all the more reason to believe it. Nevertheless, I do not consider them essential. I could read the New Testament story of His morality (kindness, fairness, integrity, and so on) without any of the miracles (save the resurrection), and worship Him just as wholeheartedly.

          Now, to reciprocate your question, armed with a knowledge of the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and your imagined camera, if you saw Him live and teach as the New Testament describes, would you devote yourself to Him?

          1. if you saw Him live and teach as the New Testament describes, would you devote yourself to Him?

            Absolutely, if that included coming back from the dead, and it was clear it wasn’t faked (I’ve seen pretty convincing magicians). You can bet that, yeah, that would change EVERYTHING for me. I’d probably sign on for everything he had to say.

  2. If all the evidence for a crime is collected in one folder, I don’t dismiss it out of hand and say it’s not enough to prove the case. If I do, then there will never be enough evidence because every relevant piece gets added to the folder. After a while, it’s like saying I can’t believe in the American Civil War because its not chronicled in the history books of India.

    No, but the American Civil War is documented in tens of thousands of completely separate accounts. If they were all compiled into a single folder, and none outside of that folder, you can bet I’d be suspicious. With a crime, I know I can go back to original sources if needed, or at least talk to whoever complied the things into the folder.

    None of this is true with regard to the supernatural events documented in the Gospels. For all we know, they all came from one person who just made them up and told others, who bought into it and wrote them down themselves, resulting in multiple “accounts”. Easy to do in those days, since it would have been so hard for people far away to confirm any of it, especially after a lot of time passed.

    1. You are forgetting that an entire nation arose from the single child of a very old man, and that this nation collected as its national documents (much as we have the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Federalist Papers, and so on) the dozens of books written over hundreds of years by dozens of authors that we call the Old Testament, and that this collection led that entire nation to expect just such an unusual person to arise. (Isaiah 53, for example, reads as much like an eyewitness account as anything written in the gospels – and Isaiah lived over half a millennium before Christ.)

      Expectations for the Messiah were higher in the period Jesus lived than in any other (as your reading of the history of those times should have revealed to you). I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the fever of “Who shot J.R.?” but that was a very mild curiosity compared to the mania about who might be the Messiah. Yet, no one figured out that the Messiah would be crucified and raised from the dead. No one – not even Jesus’ disciples whom He told not long before it happened! No one figured it out until it happened. Your theory that somone figured it out hundreds of years later (when hunting for the Messiah had become passe and knowledge about His prophecies was greatly diminished in public consciousness), is far harder to believe than the eyewitness accounts we have in the New Testament. Could someone make up a story about a guy walking on water or healing a sick person? Absolutely. But no one ever figured out that the messianic prophecies turned on a man who would be crucified in shame and then raised to heaven – until God actually did it.

      1. But no one ever figured out that the messianic prophecies turned on a man who would be crucified in shame and then raised to heaven – until God actually did it.

        You’re saying no one could make that up? Really? What is so amazingly clever about it? I mean, there is some screwy logic involved (in my opinion) — for instance the whole “substitutive sacrifice” thing just doesn’t make sense to me — but I wouldn’t consider it so spectacularly brilliant (or whatever) that a human couldn’t make it up. That is a strange thing to base your faith on….the idea that some work of literature is too [insert adjective here] for someone to have made up.

        1. I could ask you then why no one in Gospel times, when everyone in Palestine was thinking so much about these things, did think of it, but I’ll defer that to the summary post (to come) below.

          1. Well obviously someone did think of it. I’m not sure how you know someone else didn’t think of the same thing, but why that is important I don’t know. Maybe someone thought of this story exactly once. So? What does that prove?

  3. This is actually a really interesting discussion. I have to say though, Mike (and I say this with all due respect) you are a little on the gullible side. I don’t know if you have had a lack of exposure to dishonest people or exposure to honest people with faulty human memories or what, but you seem to give the biblical account of Jesus’ life the benefit of every doubt and don’t seem to approach the issue with a healthy dose of skepticism. Historical documents should always be read with a skeptical eye, particularly those that claim to document events that defy what we know about science and the natural world.

    As a lawyer I’ve had exposure to some of both. People tell boldface lies for little or no reason. Other peoples memory fails them on fairly key details. History is distorted by the passage of time. The fact that the events the bible purports to describe were written down years after the fact is a serious red flag for their accuracy.

    But for me the biggest indictment of the big religions are 1) modern day alleged “prophets” who manage to bring everything from a handful to a few hundred to even thousands of followers. The 900 or so people who killed themselves on Jim Jones’ direction in Guyana tells me that some people will believe anything and follow anyone if they are brainwashed enough. 2) the fact that a LOT of humans to this day claim to witness miracles and/or talk to god when they quite clearly do not.

    It’s one thing to be open minded. It is another thing to believe things humans tell you.

    1. KC, thanks for the fair-minded challenge. I think it’s so helpful and deserves such a response that I have broken it out as a separate dialogue. Therefore, you can find my response to you at Dialogue with KC.

      I want to be quick to add that I certainly won’t always be breaking out comments into separate dialogues. In fact, this approach should be the exception rather than the rule. I’ll only do so when it seems to help the organization of comments and information on the site.

  4. SUMMARY TO THIS POINT

    Rob, I have been stimulated by our interaction thus far and I appreciate your patience in explaining your view to me. Since we have exchanged many thoughts above and the threads of our conversation have reached several levels of nested comments, I thought it might be useful to summarize where we are and then proceed maybe for a little while longer based on that summary, if you are willing.

    I think one fair-minded way of summarizing our respective positions is this: The biggest obstacle keeping you from taking the Bible documents at face value as I do is the implausibility (to you) of the supernatural in them, and my biggest obstacle to taking them as fabricated or embellished as you have described them is the implausibility (to me) of that thesis. Thus, for both of us the issue is plausibility or probability – that is, which scenario seems to us more likely to be the truth. Each of us is holding to the view he thinks is more likely than any other.

    First, could you let me know if you think this is an accurate and useful summary? If so, I propose we narrow our focus to these two issues for the rest of this dialogue, and I will then address all your unaddressed comments above by starting a thread on each these two points (your comments above that I have not fully addressed can all be assigned to one of these two categories).

    My hope of a narrowed focus is to give us a better opportunity to reach a common conclusion, if not agreement. I acknowledge that agreement is highly unlikely, so what I mean by conclusion is that we each feel like we’ve fully heard the other and we’ve each answered the other’s questions to the best of our ability. After that point, anything we said would just be repeating ourselves.

    Are you comfortable with this approach?

  5. Supernatural is possibly too specific a term, “extraordinary” is more accurate. Visits from space aliens would also be extraordinary, but not supernatural. Either one is rare enough (zero cases of either of them happening that is proven beyond doubt) that they deserve far more scrutiny than less remarkable events (such as someone being executed for sedition).

    Secondly, and possibly the bigger issue, is the lack of credibility of the evidence. KC said it well with his example of why we can be relatively sure some other event actually happened: say a battle in WWII, the Norman conquest of England in 1066, or the assassination of Julius Caesar — all of which are supported by many, separate lines of evidence that weren’t subjected to “bottlenecking” long ago.

    Your continued statement that the question of authenticity of the Gospels was “settled” in the 1st century, and should not be questioned now, is simply outrageous and absurd.

    In the case of the Gospels, we have to trust too many people. There is no way we can know that a single person didn’t fabricate the whole story (including saying that there were lots of witnesses), then convince others in places far removed in time and location, and eventually it became accepted as truth. There are also various other possibilities that don’t even involve outright lying, such as someone telling stories without making it clear enough there was speculation, fictionalization, etc., and someone took it more literally than it was intended. Lots can happen in a few decades. There are many, many proven cases of people spreading falsehoods and others believing them, so we know that is plausible.

    Sorry if that isn’t as concise as simply saying that I am less likely to buy into supernatural explanations than you, but that is the best I can do at summarizing.

  6. As for the supernatural issue, let me try to lay out some definition that I hope will jibe with yours. (I’ll have a separate post on the falsification theory issue.)

    I think your distinction between “supernatural” and “extraordinary” is a helpful one. The miracles described in the Bible (Jesus’ resurrection being the most important by far), are indeed extraordinary events. They do not occur often. In fact, when biblical witnesses did record a miracle they did so for the
    very reason that such an occurrence was unexpected and out of the ordinary – and therefore deserved description, attestation, and remembrance. How ironic then that the Bible documents would be dismissed as a credible witness because they included accounts of such events!

    It is very important to make this point that in biblical times miracles were rare, and that the Bible’s documents do not portray miracles as being frequent or commonplace. Far more of the Bible’s ink is spent on the practical issues of right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate. That miracles were so rare in Bible times is one of the things that makes the life of Jesus of Nazareth so distinctive.

    Miracles are also rare in our time. I know there are people today who claim them to be occurring right and left but I see little or no evidence for believing this. People inflate their claims, engage in wishful thinking and rationalization, and use the term “miracle” with such flippancy that it has lost much of its coinage. If there is an actual miracle occurring somewhere, its occurrence is being drowned out and obscured by the din of multiplied false claims.

    The Bible, by the way, not only rarely testifies of actual miracles – it warns of people who make false claims about miracles. Thus, in this regard there is a great similarity between biblical times and modern times – a rarity of true miracles, and an abundance of fakes.

    The infrequency of miracles renders the scientific method inappropriate as a tool for testing their validity. The repeatability required for experimentation is simply not available to the researcher. History (that is, eyewitness reports and written records) is the methodology that must be employed.

    In those rare cases that a miracle does occur, the Bible’s description of it looks about as different from a tent crusade or a Las Vegas magic show as you can get. In the miraculous, there was a seamlessness between the ordinary and extraordinary as they occurred in concert. Thus when the water was turned to wine, servants were instructed to pour water into large containers. These containers were then brought to the headwaiter who was asked to taste the contents, and then pronounced that this wine was quite good. It was not as if Jesus waved His hands and said “Presto Chango!” and a bottle of wine popped up on every table to the delight of an applauding congregation or audience. The actual process was mundane and quite devoid of fanfare. And this is the way miracles in the Bible are usually described.

    If it is indeed the God of creation who performs a miracle, we should not surprised that the extraordinary occurs in the flow of ordinariness. For it is not as if God is intervening in a world controlled by someone else’s processes. The production of wine by miracle employed the same set of physical laws, albeit in different ways, as produced wine in a more pedestrian way – just as manned flight in the 20th century did not require different laws of physics than had existed in all prior centuries. In each case, greater knowledge was applied to existing laws (in the former case by God, in the latter by humanity).

    When a miracle occurs does the Bible provide evidence that it occurred? Yes, eyewitness accounts. Is the miracle conducted as an experiment under the supervision of the National Science Foundation with documented findings submitted to peer-reviewed journals? No. If that’s the kind of evidence you’re
    looking for, you’ve made certain that you’ll never be presented with enough evidence to believe.

    God is not subservient to us that we should demand He jump through our hoops. He was sparing with His use of miracles in biblical times, just as He sparing with them today. And He goes out of His way to make clear that He doesn’t perform a miracle to prove Himself to those unwilling to believe. Among other reasons, it is a waste of everyone’s time for if a person is unwilling to believe, he or she will concoct other reasons post-miracle to justify ongoing unbelief.

    Normally, two or three witnesses are all that are necessary to establish the validity of a fact in court. Yet Jesus chose twelve disciples to be with Him (knowing He would lose one) precisely so we could have an extraordinary number of witnesses for the extraordinary life that He lived. As I’ve said before, the Bible is not one witness – it is the collection of many witnesses like these.

    If you’re looking for the miracles of the Bible to be widely acknowledged as true, even by religious and secular historians, before you believe they actually occurred, then you have adopted the very attitude that will prevent that state from ever being achieved. It’s people saying, “We won’t believe something until the majority of us believe it.” You thus demonstrate that the problem is not the lack of evidence, but the lack of willingness to consider the evidence – and the circular reasoning that keeps reinforcing that absence of willingness.

    Moreover, recency of an event and prevalence of information-sharing technology is no guarantee of uniform acceptance of historicity as you suggest they do. There is probably as much or more attestation to the Holocaust as there was to the Battle of the Bulge, and yet we have people today who deny that the Holocaust occurred. They do not do so because there is insufficient evidence that it occurred, but rather because they find the acceptance of the truth inconvenient to their worldview and agenda. I’m unaware of anyone protesting the historicity of the Battle of Bulge. I can only conclude that this means such history does not similarly interfere with someone’s worldview and agenda.

    I am therefore not surprised that there is controversy surrounding the historicity of Jesus Christ because no one can study those claims disapassionately. Study will lead to a conclusion – either that you don’t, after all, believe those claims and therefore owe him nothing, or that those claims are true in which case you owe Him everything.

    My defense for going on so long here about the supernatural (or extraordinary, as you’ve put it) is the notion that extraordinary claims should be accompanied by more than mere assertion. I owe you this.

    However, I don’t expect that what I’ve written here will change your mind. In fact, I expect you will think it, as you have said before, “absurd and outrageous.” My goal is more modest here. That is, I am seeking to make clear the similarities between the ancient world and the modern one. For indeed the apostles’ assertions were considered “absurd and outrageous” in their day just as they are now. Miracles were rare in biblical times as they are now. Controversy surrounded truth claims that could alter the orientation of a person’s life then as it does now. Knowledge of the physical universe has indeed increased from century to century, even at an increasing rate. However, this increasing knowledge has not altered the fundamental issues of life that every human being has to face, the most important of which is that we must all die. The lens of an enlightened human race looking back on an ignorant one through which you view history is one that distorts the objects in its view. Just because ancient folks knew less about science, doesn’t mean they knew less about everything else or that what they did know wasn’t important. Such a lens would never give a favorable view of Socrates, Plato, or Aristole – and it certainly would never give a favorable view of Christ.

  7. In the “supernatural” thread I put myself out there for you. That is, I gave you an abundance of explanation for why I see the issue as I do. On this, the “falsification theory” thread, I need you to do the same thing for me. That is, I hope you will lay out for me your theory of how the Bible documents were actually falsified.

    Every time you have answered my previous questions about this I have been reminded of your cartoon in which the penultimate step in the scientific equation is described as “and then a miracle occurred.” It’s as if I’m the observing scientist who then says, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two,” to which the scientist with the chalk replies, “Oh, that could have occurred in any number of ways.”

    How about describing just one? You can make it the one you think was most likely. You’ve said that you think one or more people fabricated accounts, or embellished earlier accounts, of Jesus’ life. What I’d like to know is where and when you think this person or these people did this, and a few of the specifics about how this process occurred. Before this falsification, there was no story of Jesus having risen from the dead and after this people began believing Jesus’ resurrection. To me it is such a preposterous-sounding theory that I’m shocked you articulate it. I know there are some biblical scholars who chip away at the Bible’s authenticity, but even they don’t seem to go as far your agnosticism about it. By that I mean that you seem to say that it has become impossible for us to know anything the documents said in their original form. If that’s the case, it’s an utter waste of time to be a Bible scholar – liberal or conservative. If there is an author who outlines the theory to which you hold, you can name him if that will help. But having read some of these people, I have yet to come across one who makes anything close to a convincing case. Maybe among the ones I haven’t heard there’ll be one that’s persuasive. I am willing to be persuaded if the case they make is more logical than the one I am believing.

    Without your providing me something along the lines I’ve requested, all we have are your naked assertions that such a conspiracy could have occurred. It’s as if you’re asking me to believe that the Declaration of Independence we read is not the one that founded the country. Unless you can tell me how someone had the means, motive, and opportunity to pull off this hoax, you’re giving me no reasonable grounds to abandon my conviction and believe you. And I’m forced to think that you don’t have a basis for believing it either, other than the fact that it’s a very convenient way to avoid even the possibility of reaching a conclusion that is unappealing to you.

        1. Then you must know of the Council of Nicea and of the editing process of documents by men, with unknowable motivation, to canonize some Hebrew writings as valid and some as invalid.

          What is your view regarding such a process and what do you know of those men who chose which stories to accept and which to deny?

          Additionally, what would be the motive of those writers of works that were deemed flawed or fraudulent?

          Does that, in any way, prove that fiction was being written, fable was being conflated/co-opted and that it took a council using their own subjective opinions to pick what they liked over what they did not to agree to an orthodoxy?

          Well, my lunch break is over.

          Food for thought I hope, Mike.

          I look forward to your responses.

          1. Thanks for the challenges and the opportunity to respond.

            I am not sure of the precise point you’re making or question you’re asking about the Council of Nicea and the canon, so I’ll wait for clarification. I will, however, go ahead and respond to the more general points you seem to raise.

            My view of the process of canonization of Scripture is that church councils were merely recognizing church practice, not dictating it. Reading the New Testament you can see how its documents were widely circulated throughout the Mediterranean world. For example, Paul’s letter to Galatians. Galatia was a region, not a city. When he wrote to Colossae, he asked that they exchange letters with the church at Laodicea. The book of Revelation was circulated to seven churches in Asia Minor. These letters were not only circulating throughout the known world, copies were obviously being made. This process of making copies would have intensified when a writing apostle was martyred – for he would, of course, be writing no more. Like a dead artist, the works become immediately scarce because there will be no more output. By the time church councils gathered to decide which books ought to be added to the Old Testament canon (which was known in Jesus’ day), the question was a simple one: authenticity. Did it emanate from an apostles’ work? (Of course, you know Mark was an associate of Peter, Luke an associate of Paul, etc.). Who would be able to attest to authenticity? The churches where the letters were sent, received, and circulated.

            As Rob rightly says above, Ireneaus provides us one of the first lists of books that were widely acknowledged as apostolic by virtue of his quotation of 21 of our 27 New Testament books. (Rob is fond of Wikipedia, and I find it useful, too; they certainly have some details on all this if you’d like.)

            An important point to note is that there were many documents considered for inclusion in the canon besides the 27 that passed the test of authenticity. Fables would be ipso facto excluded. Also, note that church authorities had no opportunity to chop up books and take pieces and parts, much less add anything. These documents were widely distributed and any alteration in them would be quickly noticed. Church authorities were interested in maintaining and increasing power. Acknowledging documents that were widely considered apostolic enhanced their power, and gave them the opportunity to write creeds, encyclicals, and all sorts of church law – which, of course, is where all sorts of mischief started. We’re better off sticking with the documents that came from the eyewitnesses of Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to establish the church we see today. He didn’t come to establish church at all. He came to establish the kingdom of God, and church is blocking our view of it.

            1. “I am not sure of the precise point you’re making or question you’re asking about the Council of Nicea and the canon, so I’ll wait for clarification. I will, however, go ahead and respond to the more general points you seem to raise.”

              You addressed my points regarding the Council of Nicea subjectively deciding which books were “good” and which books were “not good” in establishing authoritative church doctrine (aka “canon”) for the chosen select to proscribe to the masses quite well, Mike.

              Thanks for not dodging that difficult issue entirely!

              “We’re better off sticking with the documents that came from the eyewitnesses of Jesus.”

              Mike, who decided which of those purported depictions were valid enough to be canonized into the edited work?

              You seem to recognize that “Church authorities were interested in maintaining and increasing power.”

              They are the only filter you have for the Bible as you now have it (after a few historical revisits and “versions” by assorted men, King James and then the shards of Protestantism abandoning Sola Scriptura…you’re not Catholic are you?)

              Additionally, why do you posit that fables were left out “ipso facto” when we’ve been discussing the purported existence of a talking serpent beguiling a man of dust and a woman of his rib bone as the foundation of the human existence?

              Since you have read the books of the Apocrypha, what are your views on their veracity?

              In particular, what do you think makes a talking serpent real (not fable) and some of the lost books fables, fraud or fiction or even merely “not valid” as depictions from “witnesses”?

              1. Mike, who decided which of those purported depictions were valid enough to be canonized into the edited work?

                As I said, it was not a matter of choosing this or that depiction, or of editing any of the New Testament documents. Church councils simply acknowledged which documents had widespread acceptance among the geographically dispersed churches as having come from the apostles.

                You seem to recognize that “Church authorities were interested in maintaining and increasing power.” They are the only filter you have for the Bible as you now have it (after a few historical revisits and “versions” by assorted men, King James and then the shards of Protestantism abandoning Sola Scriptura…you’re not Catholic are you?)

                They are not a filter for the Bible anymore than Jewish authorities were a filter for the Old Testament for Jesus and the apostles. The Jews and the churches collected and retained the documents…but that’s all. The documents say what they say. In spite of all the different translations and versions we have, they all say the same essential things. Jews and Christians proclaim allegiance to these documents (though the Christians more of them than the Jews, of course), but neither believes them. For if the Jews believed them, they would honor Christ; and if the Christians believed theirs, they would abandon church to honor Christ. As to your question, “Are you a Catholic?” I’ve already told you I’m not anything – except a human being like you.

                Since you have read the books of the Apocrypha, what are your views on their veracity?

                I’ve spent very little time with them. I am open-minded on their veracity.

                Additionally, why do you posit that fables were left out “ipso facto” when we’ve been discussing the purported existence of a talking serpent beguiling a man of dust and a woman of his rib bone as the foundation of the human existence? In particular, what do you think makes a talking serpent real (not fable) and some of the lost books fables, fraud or fiction or even merely “not valid” as depictions from “witnesses”?

                You are overlooking how the canon developed, and, specifically, that the church has had nothing to do with determining the Old Testament canon execept the relatively minor issue to which you allude (the Apochrypha). The Old Testament canon was determined by the nation of Israel and it was settled by the time of Jesus and His apostles.

                I don’t mind telling you that if the only document I had to support my faith was chapter 3 of Genesis or the book of Jonah, I would struggle. However, these narratives must be taken in the larger context. They were parts of the national documents of Israel – what we call the Old Testament. Moreover, Jesus accepted these documents as written. While He never specifically declared whether Genesis 3 was a figurative or literal account, He did compare His impending death and resurrection to Jonah’s experience, thus inviting us to take that literally. So the way (or the sequence in which) I decide these things are: 1) the New Testament appears to me to be an historically reliable set of documents and includes nothing that looks to me like a fable, 2) they tell of Jesus, whom I find plausible not just because of His words and deeds but because of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies which describe Him, 3) ergo since He embraced the Old Testament as completely reliable I do, too. (Note, however, that “completely reliable” does not equate to “completely understood” – that is, I am not claiming that I understand and can explain everything in the Bible.)

              2. Just a quick comment to say that I’ve been pretty busy, but I am watching this discussion with interest. I may jump back in, but Steve, you seem to be doing quite well on it! 🙂 I agree with everything you’ve written.

                1. Thanks Rob!

                  I find Mike’s credulity common with most of my Christian friends and family…who would very much disagree with his interpretive theology using many of his same methods of argument.

                  They too posit that they understand the limitations of attributing editorial authority to men who lusted for power over the masses and then think that they can cleanse the concept of such obvious practices from “their” faith by saying the “correct versions” were those that were “accepted by the Church” of the time…as if “the Church” weren’t those very same men we already agreed we were dubious of to begin with!

                  This cognitive dissonance is very interesting to witness and also common when interviewing cult and gang members.

                  Nice to meet you Rob.

                  Hey, if you are on Facebook, look me up.

                  Off to work, take care.

                  1. Are you unable to distinguish between politicians and the crowds that elect them? Do politicians kiss babies because the crowd doesn’t know who their babies are? No, politicians kiss the babies because they know the crowds will approve.

                    When it came to determining the New Testament canon, church councils merely ratified the broad and long-standing consensus among churches all around the Mediterraean about which documents were apostolic. The reason Irenaeus could quote confidently from so many of these books well over a century before the Council of Nicea is that he knew his readers would accept such authoritative sources.

                    Cognitive dissonance can only occur where there is a contradiction, and this contradiction exists only in your own mind. You don’t know your history as well as you think you do.

                    1. I think I’m about out of room here due to the indentation. Bummer. Regardless I didn’t understand your baby kissing thing, but was glad to see you apply a degree of cynicism there. I think you should apply a little in other places as well.

    1. Better a late reply than none at all. 🙂 Although Steve has been doing an awesome job picking up for my slack…. still I wanted to address a couple points you made.

      Without your providing me something along the lines I’ve requested, all we have are your naked assertions that such a conspiracy could have occurred.

      I made clear (over and over) that I never suggested that anything resembling a “conspiracy” happened. It could have been a single person telling a lie — not a conspiracy. It could have been a single person telling a “story” — with embellishments and speculation, and not meant to be taken literally — and then another person misinterpreting it as being literal truth and retelling it as such. There are any number of variations on this theme that are all plausible, none of which is particularly remarkable. People do that sort of thing all the time, and that is proven by the vast number of myths and legends that have arisen and been perpetuated as “truth” over the ages.

      As hard as it may be to believe, I went to Catholic midnight mass on Christmas eve (let’s just say it seemed to make my girlfriend’s parents happy that I was there). Know what the main part of the sermon was? A story about 3 “other shepherds” near the site of the birth of Jesus. It was clearly “just made up”, but with no intent to deceive on the part of the priest. Still, someone in the audience might have heard it, then retold it as being truth. In a different age, when word of mouth was the only way information was spread, all the more likely. Why you keep insisting that a grand conspiracy would be necessary for untruths to make it into writing is beyond me. (don’t you have friends that forward you emails, that you then have to respond with “please check snopes.com before sending me these debunked urban legends”?)

      You seem to think I must decide which particular way the “myths to canon” process must have happened. That’s silly. If there is more than one plausible (and unremarkable) explanation, we have no need for the supernatural, extraordinary one. Sure, it would be great to know the exact way it happened — who first told it, how it got changed before making it into the gospels — but those likely lost to history. So what? If we have at least one way it could have happened, we can conclude that the supernatural explanation is probably incorrect. Remember, I am not trying to prove the Biblical account false…I don’t need to do so. All I need to do is demonstrate that there is no good reason to believe it is likely to be true. That is an important distinction.

      Imagine someone says he saw lights in the sky, therefore he thinks extraterrrestrials are visiting earth. If I show that either an airplane or a helicopter could create that exact appearance, that should be good enough. We don’t need to know which one it is, all we need to know is there is no good reason to suspect the farther-fetched explanation.

      And I’m forced to think that you don’t have a basis for believing it either, other than the fact that it’s a very convenient way to avoid even the possibility of reaching a conclusion that is unappealing to you.

      I have no agenda here other than following the evidence toward the truth. I don’t know why you’d think the idea of eternal life in heaven is so unappealing to me. It would be awesome if it were true, I don’t think that’s where the evidence leads. My commitment is not to atheism, or to anti-supernaturalism, or anything of the type. It is to ctitical thinking, and to effective ways of estimating what is most likely to be the truth.

      1. Although Steve has been doing an awesome job picking up for my slack….

        I’m happy for you guys to cheer for each other, but as you do so keep in mind that if cheerleading put points on the board South Carolina might not have been pummeled by Auburn in the SEC Championship game.

        I made clear (over and over) that I never suggested that anything resembling a “conspiracy” happened.

        How can I conclude that you are saying anything else when the gospels of Luke and John explicitly swear to be providing eyewitness accounts? By your reckoning, how could any person write such a statement innocently – without it being a fraud?

        Why you keep insisting that a grand conspiracy would be necessary for untruths to make it into writing is beyond me.

        I’m not saying that it’s difficult to put untruths into writing (though it is far easier to do so in modern times than it was in ancient times simply for the reason that writing is so much more easily accomplished in our time). I am saying that to falsify a collection of 27 different documents produced in different times, in different places, by different people, and distributed to yet more different people, and in which all the documents consistently and coherently attest to the same essential set of facts…would require a grand conspiracy.

        Remember, I am not trying to prove the Biblical account false…I don’t need to do so. All I need to do is demonstrate that there is no good reason to believe it is likely to be true. That is an important distinction.

        Yes, I understand that this is your view. But you don’t seem to recognize that in that view is a preconceived notion. To wit: that the defendants are not telling the truth. You have, in essence, said to the prosecutor, “Sir, you do not have to tell me how they did it, you do not even have to tell me when they did it or why they did it; I find their testimony to include things I deem to be beyond belief and therefore all you have to do is say that what they say is not true – that is, you do not even have to accuse them of lying – and I will rule in your favor.” Is there any prosecutor so inept that he could not carry so light a burden of proof?

        I don’t know why you’d think the idea of eternal life in heaven is so unappealing to me.

        I am not saying heaven is unappealing to you. I actually don’t know what about the conclusion is unappealing to you. Maybe it’s what your friends might think of you if you became devoted to Jesus, maybe it’s your fear that He’d want you to alter your lifestyle in some way large or small, maybe it’s something I haven’t thought of. Therefore, I don’t pretend to know why the conclusion that Jesus really happened is unappealing to you. But that it is unappealing I cannot help but conclude by the resistance you show to even the possibility that it is true. As for our respective searches for truth, I’ll say more in a separate comment below.

        1. “I’m happy for you guys to cheer for each other, but as you do so keep in mind that if cheerleading put points on the board South Carolina might not have been pummeled by Auburn in the SEC Championship game.”

          I only just recently caught this statement, Mike, and have to say that there is no “cheerleading” present.

          There is an certainly a rational agreement regarding the respective views that Rob and I hold, which is understandable, and it isn’t necessary to try to devalue them by demeaning them as weak sports analogies.

          1. I wasn’t demeaning your views with the sports analogy. Rather I was, in a light-hearted way, making the point that the number of people who hold to a view does not increase the rationality of that view.

  8. Mike,

    Do you believe that a talking serpent beguiled a woman born of a man’s rib into eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and into further sharing this fruit with the first man made of dust thereby originating sin upon all humankind by disobeying God?

    Do you believe that Hercules was born of a human woman and a God?

    Do you believe the angel Gabriel visited Mohammed in the desert and provided him with divine directives for humanity to abide by?

    Do you believe the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith and provided him golden plates inscribed with divine directives for humanity to abide by?

    Why/why not?

    1. Do I believe, and why/why not?

      The Genesis account – Yes, because Jesus did.

      Hercules – No, because it’s a fable.

      Mohammed – No, because his teachings are inconsistent with Jesus.

      Joseph Smith – No, because his teachings are inconsistent with Jesus.

      1. So, other than your presupposition that one is a fable while the other with identical qualities defining a fable aka “your belief” is not, what empirical method do you use to assess one as valid, factual and literal while the other is not?

        I agree with Rob, you present no evidence other than to simply state the Christian Bible says its true so it must be true.

        Your perspective is on par with the Jew, the Muslim and the Mormon respectively when they say that they are really the right ones with the right stories and the right divine directives for humanity to obey.

        Rob and I just don’t believe in one more religion than you, because they are all consistent with fable equally (come on, talking serpents, really?!)

        This is why your blog doesn’t really present anything new to the discussion.

        It doesn’t provide some newly successful way to make sense of the nonsensical, though it is nice of you to try and shows that you are inherently a good human being to note that everlasting fire and torment is an abhorrent model of ethics purported to emerge from an omni-benevolent deity.

        But, it is the same appeal to emotion and abandonment of critical thought, empirical evidence and rational analysis that we use to walk out the front door instead of the window on the 15th floor…and it simply isn’t a sufficient explanation for the observable and wondrous universe in plain view.

        Point of fact, it is so very far out of proportion to it that that fact itself is evidence enough to disprove the Christian fable as well as the others you and I agree are just wrong.

        I understand that you must feel some sort of obligation to share your faith as directed, but the Christian religion really is the same as any other to one who is not taught since childhood to “just believe” and be reverent.

        My hope is that you come to understand that and find some common ground with atheists.

        After all is said, sung and proclaimed on high…we’re really are all just human.

        1. So, other than your presupposition that one is a fable while the other with identical qualities defining a fable aka “your belief” is not, what empirical method do you use to assess one as valid, factual and literal while the other is not?

          The Bible is a collection of scores of documents written over hundreds of years by dozens of authors, all testifying to the same protagonist and the same essential set of facts, largely archived by a single nation formed for this purpose. I am unaware of any comparable documentation and claims for Hercules, or anyone else for that matter – fictional or otherwise.

          I agree with Rob, you present no evidence other than to simply state the Christian Bible says its true so it must be true.

          What you’ve stated is a circular proposition. Actually, what I’ve said is that I believe the Bible is true because it is logical and persuasive. In fact, I find the abundance and diversity of its witnesses overwhelming.

          Your perspective is on par with the Jew, the Muslim and the Mormon respectively when they say that they are really the right ones with the right stories and the right divine directives for humanity to obey.

          You are correct here when you imply that my central claim (that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth as testified to by the Old and New Testaments) is incompatible with being a Jew, a Muslim, or a Mormon. Of course, since I say Jesus doesn’t care about churchgoing that puts me at odds with Christians, too. What’s a fellow to do? Eschew all labels. I’m a human being – just like you, and Rob, and everyone else.

          Rob and I just don’t believe in one more religion than you, because they are all consistent with fable equally (come on, talking serpents, really?!)

          I don’t find the talking serpent to be the most striking aspect of Genesis 3. Rather, I’m struck by its focus on sin and the devastating impact it has on life. Alas, I have seen its toxic effects in and on my own life and I am far more concerned about that than whether the talking serpent is meant to be taken figuratively or literally. By sin, I mean simply mean doing what a person ought not to do or not doing what a person ought to do.

          But, it is the same appeal to emotion and abandonment of critical thought, empirical evidence and rational analysis that we use to walk out the front door instead of the window on the 15th floor…and it simply isn’t a sufficient explanation for the observable and wondrous universe in plain view.

          Actually, it has been critical thought, empirical evidence, and rational analysis that have led me to my faith. Only when I began reading the Bible for myself in my late 20’s (I am now in my late 50’s) did I begin to appreciate its logic and its relevance.

          After all is said, sung and proclaimed on high…we’re really are all just human.

          Amen!

      2. I think your responses to Steve’s questions are revealing.

        You’ve stated that a major reason you believe the Gospels to be unembellished truth, is that you think it is unlikely the Gospels could have been created falsely and spread, saying it would require an implausible “conspiracy.” And yet don’t apply this same standard to all the other myths and stories that don’t fit your worldview.

        You refer to Greek myths as “fables” — but rather than saying what leads you to conclude that they are fictional, you simply apply a word to them that implies that they are fictional, but without any support for this veiled assertion. (and without any acknowledgement that the Greeks did indeed believe their “myths” to be non-fiction…as did most other ancients)

        The gold plates of the Mormons are perfect examples of something that has been declared “authentic,” and yet you are quick to dismiss them — while you give such credence to the 1st century determination that the Gospels are authentic. What is the difference? You are being extremely inconsistant here.

        You have exceptionally weak reasoning for justifying belief in the Gospels (nobody could have made it up, making it up and spreading it would have required a grand conspiracy, people in the past determined it to be authentic, etc). And then you base your belief/nonbelief in other things based on their consistancy (or lack thereof) with the Gospels.

        1. You recount some of the reasons that I find the New Testament credible while I don’t find Greek fables or the Book of Mormon credible, but not all…and perhaps that is why I seem inconsistent to you. Let me therefore re-cap my view:

          The New Testament is the aggregation of multiple attestations from multiple witnesses which were produced in a variety of locales and circumstances for a variety of purposes, all testifying, in the face of enormous persecution, to a central truth which had been predicted for over a thousand years before that by multiple witnesses in writings produced across many generations of a nation whos existence in history is impossible to deny. I am unaware of this breadth and depth of testimony existing for any other human being (or Greek god, for that matter).

          When I read the New Testament, I found it logical and compelling. This, too, is something I cannot say for Joseph Smith’s writing or the story of Greek gods.

          Lastly, I reject any claim Joseph Smith may make on my life because I am already spoken for in that regard. If Joseph doesn’t like that he can take it up with the One in whose name he professes to speak. As for Greek gods, I am unaware of any claim they have made on my life – I am unaware of even having any Greek blood in me.

          If you still think I am being inconsistent, please tell me where.

  9. “The Bible is a collection of scores of documents written over hundreds of years by dozens of authors, all testifying to the same protagonist and the same essential set of facts, largely archived by a single nation formed for this purpose. I am unaware of any comparable documentation and claims for Hercules, or anyone else for that matter – fictional or otherwise.”

    The Hebrew Tanakh, the Muslim Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, heck even the extremely pre-Christian Vedas of Hinduism all claim the same for their faith system…it doesn’t validate the stories as factual.

    In fact, you seem to recognize fable when you see it (Hercules, hero born of a human mother and a deity father complete with cultural stories, oral tradition, statues and other iconography). Even what we observe now as ancient Egyptian lore and fable was once held as “truth” and Ra was the Sun God among other special deities giving folks heroic tales of power and healing.

    But, when you discuss a talking serpent beguiling the purported first man made of dust and the woman born of his rib bone, your ability to discern fable diminishes completely.

    That religion evolves into myth and is eventually accepted as fable, as other heroic archetypes and cultural stories evolve concurrent with the times, is an empirically recognized fact in history.

    This is quite obvious to those of us from “out of the box” of your faith, just as you don’t believe in the history, documents, etc. of the faith traditions of others that also meet your proposed qualifications for validation.

    The Jews don’t buy into the Christian doctrine and you do not seem to agree with their assertions that Jesus is not the Messiah…yet some of their “documents” you accept to co-opt into your evolution of religious dogma and then present them here to claim some sort of validity over theirs?

    That is hardly logical or persuasive.

    “You are correct here when you imply that my central claim (that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth as testified to by the Old and New Testaments) is incompatible with being a Jew, a Muslim, or a Mormon.”

    I didn’t imply that at all.

    What I plainly stated is that your perspective (that of the validity of your claim and your claim alone) is precisely **on par with** the claim of the Jew, Muslim and Mormon. Y’all are equal in that regard and each have as much claim to validity as the other…namely, none at all.

    They can claim the same set of methods by which you assert only yours is right…to state that only theirs is right.

    “Of course, since I say Jesus doesn’t care about churchgoing that puts me at odds with Christians, too. What’s a fellow to do? Eschew all labels. I’m a human being – just like you, and Rob, and everyone else.”

    I’m still not sure what your on about regarding your aversion to churchgoing, quite honestly.

    It seems a bit Don Quixote to me, but I suppose fellow Christians have more investment in such an issue than me, so I’ll just leave y’all with that.

    “I don’t find the talking serpent to be the most striking aspect of Genesis 3.”

    I only point to it because of the quality of fable it expresses.

    “Rather, I’m struck by its focus on sin and the devastating impact it has on life.”

    Of course, but non-believers don’t buy the fable or the illness and, therefore don’t accept vicarious atonement through brutal human sacrifice as a very moral solution for the imagined problem expressed in the fable.

    This shouldn’t be interpreted to suggest that human beings are perfect. I mean to suggest that being human means that we are subject to the quandaries, problems, anomalies that life holds…and are culpable for our actions, omissions to act, successes, failures and even the ambiguous results that can occur in situations that involve unforeseen elements beyond our control as a result of the dynamics of living in the world of events.

    No deities required.

    “Alas, I have seen its toxic effects in and on my own life and I am far more concerned about that than whether the talking serpent is meant to be taken figuratively or literally. By sin, I mean simply mean doing what a person ought not to do or not doing what a person ought to do. “

    You’d have to take it seriously, Mike, and quite literally if you are to also accept that a human sacrifice was literally necessary to atone for what you perceive to be the results of merely being born human, the progeny of the man of dust and woman of bone whom God could not simply unconditionally forgive, but would also let you be cursed by it.

    Again, the stuff of fables is quite apparent, but if you do believe in the vicarious atonement of the human sacrifice you must also believe it is as a result of a literal event in the Garden of Eden and not an allegory, in my view.

    We’ll perhaps get into the study of “is” and “ought” on a later date if you’re interested.

    “Actually, it has been critical thought, empirical evidence, and rational analysis that have led me to my faith. Only when I began reading the Bible for myself in my late 20′s (I am now in my late 50′s) did I begin to appreciate its logic and its relevance.”

    And very, very good for you, Mike!

    My view is that whatever one chooses to believe in that brings them comfort and makes them behave well and care for others, I’m all for it.

    Much like Hitchens, I engage in debate when offered the invitation and (more often than not) when religious adherents begin to make strides to politicize their faith thereby interfering with human rights, limiting freedom of conscience or retarding our ability to explore scientifically and analyze life, the universe and everything critically (aka to grow and learn).

    I recognize you as the former, so far, and would hope that you are at least supportive of secular government free from authoritative establishment of religious sectarian faith.

    “Amen!”

    See, now…common ground!

    ;0)

    1. Steve, rather than deal with specific statements you have made one by one, I’ll attempt to summarize and address them as themes.

      Re: Religions. Yes, there are varieties of religion in the world. What is a religion? It is an outlook, a worldview, a perspective on existence…that includes God. Not everyone has a religion but everyone has an outlook, a worldview, a perspective on existence – which could also be called a truth claim about reality. None of us can ever prove our truth claims to the others, but we can offer the evidence which has led us to our respective positions. The reason I accept the truth claims of the Bible (i.e. the Old and New Testaments) is that they are logical (i.e. they make sense) and persuasive (i.e. they offer plausible answers to the two biggest issues humanity faces: death and evil). I only reject other truth claims when and as they contradict the truth claims I have accepted. Thus, I don’t, as you suggest, throw out everything that the Jews, the Muslims, the Mormons – or even you and Rob, for that matter – say. I look for points of agreement, and I look for pieces of truth I don’t yet have. If you have accepted atheism as the worldview you think most makes sense and offers plausible answers, then it’s only natural that you would acknowledge all religious truth claims as on a par. Since my worldview includes God, however, I must and do make distinctions between them. Were it not for the historic aspect of the Old and New Testaments, and specifically of the resurrection of the Promised One, however, I don’t think I could be won over to it on a philosopical basis alone. Indeed, I was an agnostic before reading the Bible precisely for the reason that to me all these competing truth claims seemed to cancel each other out.

      Re: Fables. Perhaps it would help if I told you that I regard as a fable any narrative that reads like a fable unless there is some other reason I should consider it differently. Thus, if I were to read an isolated account of a talking serpent I would probably regard it just as I regard the story of Hercules. However, this talking serpent was only cryptically described in a compressed poetic narrative of an event that took place in unprecedented and unrepeatable circumstances and is part of a larger account written by a man whose writings were contemporaneously witnessed by a nation of over a million people, the overall trustworthiness of which (both man and writings) was attested to by the most admirable human being I have ever heard of. This gives me adequate reason to regard it as more than a fable. I must admit that when I hear Ricky Gervais do his sarcastic shtick on the talking serpent he wins over crowds, but, funny as Ricky may be at times, count me among those who prefer the perspective of the humble Nazarene.

      Re: Freedom. I cherished freedom before I encountered Jesus in the pages of Scripture, but even more so afterward. I support not only the separation of church and state, but also the abolition of church. I won’t criticize it in its most malignant forms, for that case should be self-evident to everyone. But even in its most benign forms, it acts as an intermediary between God and a human being when God wants direct relationship. Thus it diverts attention from God. That it does so in the name of God simply means that it is hypocritical as well as wrong. As for me, I am not trying to establish a new religion. On the contrary, I am submitting into the public record certain truths that belong to all mankind. My hope is that individuals will accept and absorb them into their own individual belief system (outlook, perspective, worldview). Of course, every individual is free to accept or reject some or all of what I say. There does not need to be any connection with, much less allegiance to, me. Nor do I claim that I am the only one who makes the truth claims I make. The truth is the truth, and the most any one of us can see is part of it.

  10. Rob, regarding your comment “I didn’t understand your baby kissing thing,” here’s an elaboration:

    As politicians kiss babies, so church councils chose for canonization those books that already had the most widespread acceptance among the churches. That is, church leaders were following public opinion, not leading it. The idea that church leaders went into a room, chose the canon, and then imposed that decision on unsuspecting, compliant, and gullible congregations is completely out of sync with history…and with reality.

    As for the cynicism which you wish to see more often in me, I myself wish you could see how selectively you are applying your own cynicism. I’ll say a bit more about this below.

    1. That is, church leaders were following public opinion, not leading it

      Honestly that sounds even worse, as far as credibility is concerned. At first you argued that the church put it through some test of authenticity, that, while suspect due to various reasons I and KC and Steve have elaborated on, is still better than it being a popularity contest.

      A far better test is whether any of this holds up to modern scientific scrutiny.

      1. Not sure I follow your logic here, but I’m not saying anything different than what I said at first. Authenticity was the test.

        Let’s take an example: the book of Revelation was a letter sent to seven cities in Asia Minor. This we know from the text itself. Bible scholars (across the liberal and conservative spectrum) date the writing as 68-100 A.D. That means that this letter would have existed in a minimum of seven locations. It is highly likely that it was copied and passed on to many other locations, especially after the apostle John who wrote it died. With all the apostles gone, their writings took on even more luster for obvious reasons. Thus in 180 A.D. Irenaeus could quote from it, knowing that his audience would know what he’s talking about. When a church council finally got around to making their list of accepted books (that’s all canonization of the New Testament is), they simply acknowledged which books were considered authentic by the most cities. There would have been at least seven cities who were testifying “We’ve got the real McCoy” and many others who, holding copies and knowing how they got those copies, would say “Us, too!”

        All I’ve gotten from you, KC, and Steve is that the documents “could have been doctored in any number of ways.” You’ve left me entirely on my own to figure out how it was done. And for the life of me I cannot figure out how church leaders were able to get to all those cities and doctor all those copies of all those letters without anyone being the wiser. (Oh, and the copy Irenaeus had in France, not to mention all the copies that lay between Asia Minor and France.). I’m trying, guys, but my head is exploding trying to figure it out. Help me!

        1. So the process of determining which is authentic is simply to determine which ones are determined authentic by the most people? And this happened nearly 2000 years ago? And you trust it to be credible?

          Really?

              1. Widespread acknowledgment of a document’s authenticity was an important factor, but so also would be issues such as “Who had the document?” For example, if Ephesus had the original letter of Ephesians (which they certainly had, though we don’t know for how long) their attestation would matter more than folks in Antioch who had a copy of it that they said was authentic. So, yes, popularity (if you want to use that word) of the document was important, but it would not have been all-determining.

  11. Rob, let’s talk a minute about our respective searches for truth and why I think yours is hamstrung.

    Imagine we are each taking our SAT’s and we come to this question:

    Which item does not belong in this list?
    a. abduction by aliens
    b. sighting of Elvis
    c. Greek fables
    d. Jesus raised from the dead

    I take it from all that you said that this question would have you scratching your head, whereas to me it would have been a no-brainer. This is not because, as you might suppose, “Rob is not a believer and Mike is,” for I was an agnostic when I took the SAT. The reasons that the fourth choice would have stood out to me were several and were obvious. Foremost among them:

    1. The fourth choice speaks to the most important issue that a human being ever faces – his mortality. The first three are silent on this subject. Therefore, the fourth claim (however spurious you might think it is) speaks to an issue that is highly relevant to every one of us.

    2. There are about 2 billion people living today who think there is something to this claim. They don’t all agree about everything by any means, but they definitely agree that Jesus was not a fairy tale. Note carefully that I am not saying this makes it true or even believable. But it does make the statement worth paying some attention to in a way that would be inappropriate for the first three. What sort of people and how many people are making truth claims for the first three today?

    Again, I have not established here that Jesus is the truth, but only that many human beings think it’s a claim worth examining. This leads to the pragmatic reality that we cannot all check out every truth claim with the same rigor and to the same extent simply because life is too short (there’s that mortality issue again).

    What then do we do? We find a truth claim and stick to it until it breaks down on us or another superior one comes along. You are presenting to me a truth claim you believe is superior to the one I am holding. It is based, in part, on the asssumption that the New Testament is a falsified record. Granted you said that you don’t claim a “conspiracy,” that you think it became false through benign means. But even if that were possible, you still end up with a false record. While I believe this highly unlikely, I have conceded that it is possible and on that basis have invited you to give me a description or theory of how it came to be falsified. In fact, I’ve invited anyone to do this in I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point, and so far there are no takers. I’m beginning to conclude, therefore, that “highly unlikely” is overstating the probability. Yes, I said overstating. Thus, I’m now at “exceedingly unlikely,” and will next be italicizing “exceedinly.” Because, in the absence of evidence, what else can I do?

    Now, as for your search for truth. I don’t feel you have been similarly open-minded because with every time you state your principle of “a natural explanation is always more probable than a supernatural explanation” I’ve begun to realize it means “an explanation that doesn’t include God is always more probable than an explanation that includes Him.” And if that’s indeed the case, then your search for truth has ended before it’s begun. You must honestly consider the truth of Jesus as possible before you honestly consider it.

    I do, however, commend you for this: you are willing to engage in a discussion outside of an atheistic echo chamber. I have recently visited a number of atheist websites and have been struck by their similarity to evangelical Christian websites: preaching to the choir, proselytizing, groupthink, superficial soundbites instead of honest dialogue, social pressure to conform opinion, and so on. You could be restricting yourself to such venues, and yet you’re not. Therefore, I think you really do seek the truth even though it may appear to me that you are unwilling to seriously entertain the possibility that record in question has not been falsified.

    1. You are right that the fact that 2 billion people believe Jesus was raised from the dead is not proof he actually was. But the fact that many more billions have believed in some deity or deities, which both you and I agree are false, does say something on the issue.

      Your challenge is not going to attract many participants, because anyone who knows anything is going to admit that there is no way of proving it one way or the other. The evidence, for the time being, is lost to history. Maybe someday someone will produce hard evidence that will demonstrate one way or the other, and they will become very famous when they do. Sorry, but I doubt they will announce it on your blog, though.

      But just as there is no way to prove that there is no china teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars, there is no reason to believe one exists. Even if 2 billion people thinkt it does.

  12. And, Rob, regarding the story told at midnight mass, we both know that’s not going anywhere. Why not? No sustaining force for it. Stories – especially stories purporting to be truth – don’t get picked up and carried along for no reason.

    Based on what you said, no rational adult will repeat the story as truth because they would have understood, as you did, that it was being presented as apocryphal. A child might repeat it but who is going to accept it as truth from a child? Without a reason for people to promulgate, such a story has no sustaining force.

    That’s not to say that every story with sustaining forces is true – not by a long shot. It is only to say that there has to be some reason that a story keeps spreading. And there has to be a distinguishing reason why one story keeps spreading while others come and go. Therefore, the question you need to ask yourself is “Why does the story of Jesus keep spreading when the stories of others have come and gone?”

    You can also ask yourself a derivative question like, “Why does Mike write this blog and believe this way when, by everything else I can see, he seems to be a logical fellow?”

    The answer to these questions won’t necessarily mean that the story of Jesus is truth, but it will provide you reason to give it honest consideration – something the midnight mass fairy tale won’t or alien abductions won’t.

  13. It is only to say that there has to be some reason that a story keeps spreading.

    And there are plenty of reasons the story of Jesus could have kept spreading, none of which bolster its actually being true. How about the “your belief in this story will result in everlasting life” part? If there ever was an ingredient with the potential to cause a mind virus to spread, I’d say a “believe me and you’ll be rewarded, but only in a way that can’t be demonstrated to others since it’s after you are dead” would be a pretty effective one. While that doesn’t prove it untrue, it certainly raises red flags.

    Anyway, I’m trying to break this discussion into manageable pieces. This line of discussion was to demonstrate that untrue stories can easily get started and spread, without any of conspiracy and even without anyone actively trying to mislead. This completely shoots down one of your main arguments, which is that it is so implausible for the Gospels to have come into existence as they did unless they were true, and your comments that “the only logical way to take them is at face value.” That argument is completely absurd, and I (and Steve and KC) have demonstrated so.

    Sure you can pick apart the details of every case I give you, but that is like the anti-evolutionists saying things like “no one ever saw a monkey give birth to a human.” It shows a complete misunderstanding of what happens and what can happen, especially with things that happen in lots of events over periods of time, where we can’t see meaningful results until after the fact.

    Untruths did and do get started and spread ALL THE TIME.

    1. Actually, the argument I have been making is slightly different than what you describe here. And that difference may account for why you think I’m being absurd.

  14. Rob, KC, and Steve,

    I thought you might be interested in this quote which I found today at the site Common Sense Atheism hosted by Luke Muehlhauser.

    If one wants to undermine the reliability of the New Testament, one better not do it through textual criticism. The New Testament contains by far the best-attested and most reliably reconstructed texts of the ancient world.

    Note that these words are written by an atheist, someone who does not believe the New Testament.

    In the same post, as an example, Luke compares the reliability of the New Testament with that of the works of Plato:

    In comparison, we can do no such thing with the works of Plato: our earliest manuscript comes 1200 years after Plato lived! We have no hope of reconstructing Plato’s original text, but when it comes to the New Testament we have thousands of copies, and dozens of manuscripts from within just two centuries of the originals.

    As I’ve said, if you reject the New Testament then reject it. But don’t deprive yourselves of that decision by thinking that the text we read is somehow not what was originally written.

    1. “Originally written” could mean written by a person who heard it word of mouth from someone else. Regardless, one of the possibilities I put forth is that someone who wrote it could have simply lied (although I also suggested other variations). Since we have all witnessed lying, and most of us have not witnessed clearly supernatural events, it seems the lying explanation is the most likely.

      I notice you don’t link directly to the article: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=27

      If you were to continue with the quote, it says almost exactly what KC, Steve and I have been saying as our central argument:
      It is much easier to undermine the reliability of the New Testament using its own numerous contradictions and inherent implausibility. Everyone outright rejects the many other claims of god-men who come to earth, perform some magic, die, and rise from the dead. Why treat Jesus any different? Because a group of people from a superstitious age said so? Seriously?

    2. Well, “originally written” doesn’t mean it was by someone who was a contemporary of Jesus who witnessed the events (specifically the resurrection) himself. It could be someone years later, who heard a retelling. Or, it could be someone who was there, and just made up details. By your standards, that latter case would be “authentic.”

      You selectively quoted, and didn’t provide a url to the actual article. Had you continued, you’d see he completely agrees with the main thing KC, Steve and myself have been saying:

      It is much easier to undermine the reliability of the New Testament using its own numerous contradictions and inherent implausibility. Everyone outright rejects the many other claims of god-men who come to earth, perform some magic, die, and rise from the dead. Why treat Jesus any different? Because a group of people from a superstitious age said so? Seriously?

      1. You’re right that I should have included not just a link to the site but also to the exact post from which I was quoting. I apologize for this oversight and have since corrected it.

        I do not feel, however, that your criticism that I “selectively quoted” is fair. I made clear that the author was an atheist and that he rejected the New Testament, giving you his name and a link to his site. Thus I was completely upfront that he sided with you and not me on the main point of the discussion.

        The reason I feel that the quote was helpful to our discussion was that it could narrow the focus of our disagreement. For prior to this exchange I felt like you were saying to me “I don’t find the Bible logical and persuasive, and besides, these ancient texts aren’t even verfiable.” For example, you had said…

        Ok Mike, well I guess my standards for credibility wouldn’t include unverifiable ancient texts, but to each his own. At least other things from history (say, Julius Caesar) are corroborated by a lot more sources.

        And Steve had made several references to “editorial” work by church leaders, implying further doctoring or embellishment of the story.

        Therefore, my intent was to see if this would enable you to remove the “and besides…” from your argument. For if you say, “I can’t believe what the gospel writers wrote,” then I have a clearer idea of your position than if you say, “I can’t believe what the gospel writers wrote, and besides, we can’t even know what the gospel writers actually wrote because the original texts have been doctored by church leaders over the years.”

        Maybe our discussion will never advance beyond this one step, but can we at least take this one step?

        1. Ok, but I think it becomes difficult when you use the word “authentic” to simply mean that something was written by a particular person, ignoring the possibility that said person was misinformed or dishonest. A further possibility is that we know so little about who the person was, that even if we determine that, say, the Gospel of Mark was really written by “St. Mark the apostle,” we might find that “St. Mark” actually had no direct contact with Jesus and wasn’t anywhere near the supposed events documented in his writings.

          There are so many unanswered questions, that to settle on the conclusion that the documents are “true,” despite all the things that make them implausible, is ridiculous.

          1. Just out of curiosity, do you feel the same way about the letters of Paul, Peter, and John? That is, do you believe there is just as much uncertainty about their authorship as there is about Mark’s gospel?

            1. Why don’t you tell me who you think they were written by, approximately when, and what those people’s relationship to Jesus were…? My understanding is that most scholars don’t think any of the writers were ever in close contact with Jesus, but were relaying most if not all of the information second hand (or third or fourth hand). Also my understanding is that Luke and Matthew were derivative of Mark, and that John is considered less credible than the other three.

              1. Rob, I’ve already told you I take the New Testament at face value. Therefore, I think they were written by who they say they were written by. I believe their respective relationships with Jesus were as the gospels and the book of Acts portray them to be. As far as when they were written, roughly 50-100 A.D.

                Your understanding of scholarship on the issue is inconsistent with mine. My understanding is that while there is some dispute among scholars about the authorship of a few of the letters, most think that we have letters from the Peter, John, and Paul who, as described in the gospels and Acts, had direct relationship with Jesus. As I’ve said before, biblical scholars exist along a continuum from liberal to conservative. Whenever I have referenced them, unless otherwise specified I try to speak of the full spectrum of biblical scholars. I find that atheist web sites, however, generally only consider liberal scholars legitmate so that when they say “most scholars” you have to realize that means “most liberal scholars.” Even then, they often overstate the case (i.e. if they say “most” you can’t always take that to the bank). By the way, I think the same thing happens in reverse when it comes to Christian web sites and their preference for conservative scholars.

                1. Therefore, I think they were written by who they say they were written by.

                  Maybe you can just tell me because I don’t know that they say. Who was Mark, for instance? And did he write the Gospel of Mark? And where does it explicitly say this within the gospel of Mark? What was his degree of contact with Jesus? (I assume not, if you think he may have written it 70 years after the crucifixion)

                  That’s the sort of thing I’m asking. If you don’t want to indulge me on this, don’t, but I don’t understand it to be all that simple a question.

                  . I find that atheist web sites, however, generally only consider liberal scholars legitimate…

                  I don’t care if liberal or conservative, but I’d hope they use the same sort of evidence-based approach as others in academia use to discuss non-religious history.

                  1. Let me break this up and answer in reverse order.

                    I don’t care if liberal or conservative, but I’d hope they use the same sort of evidence-based approach as others in academia use to discuss non-religious history.

                    Practically all biblical scholars – both liberal and conservative – and especially the historians among them, will tell you that it is the evidence that leads them to their conclusions. They are no different than secular historians in this regard. I’m just saying that many atheists suspect the conservative scholars of fibbing on this point, while the Christians suspect the liberal scholars of the doing the same. As for secular historians, while they may not have religious biases to fight, they certainly have others. True objectivity is an ideal to be approached but probably not ever fully reached.

                  2. Maybe you can just tell me because I don’t know that they say. Who was Mark, for instance? And did he write the Gospel of Mark? And where does it explicitly say this within the gospel of Mark? What was his degree of contact with Jesus? (I assume not, if you think he may have written it 70 years after the crucifixion). That’s the sort of thing I’m asking. If you don’t want to indulge me on this, don’t, but I don’t understand it to be all that simple a question.

                    I wasn’t being flippant with you. There’s a short answer to that question and a long one. I gave you the short one. Now that I know you want the long one, I’ll try to figure out how to answer it most efficiently, for it requires, of course, 27 answers.

                    As for Mark, it matter less to me who wrote it than what it says. It’s presented as eyewitness accounts and there were many eyewitnesses. If Mark’s identity were all that critical, the text would have made a point of it. Nonetheless, I have no reason to reject the earliest subsequent testimony that it was written by Mark (also called John Mark) who was mentioned a number of times in Acts and the epistles as an associate of Peter. While it wouldn’t necessarily bother me if it were written as late as 70 years after Christ’s death, I have no reason to reject the scholarly consensus that it was written 30-40 years after Christ. Now, when you get to the letters of Paul it matters very much to me who wrote them. This is because the author claims to be Paul in all the letters. Therefore, if Paul didn’t write them, then they have been falsified.

                    I’ll get back to you on the other New Testament documents when I can figure out the best way to do it. In the meantime, if you have other specific questions I’ll be happy to address them.

    3. Hi Mike and Happy New Year (been a busy one already)!

      The fact that modern Jews (the very folk who should know and be good witnesses) do not accept the authenticity you subjectively choose as valid by mere assertion is one very stark reason to be dubious of the assorted “Books of the Bible“, that even theologians recognize were written by many more than four (first name) authors (most of whom are complete unknowns).

      A Muslim I once discussed the issue of sacred texts and tests for authenticity debunked the Bible as flawed and promoted the Qur’an as truly authentic on the following grounds:

      (1). How was the word of God traditionally preserved?

      The Bible was written and edited in the form of assorted scrolls (laden with myths already found in other cultures), some were left out because they depicted doctrine/behavior not favorable to those in power.

      The Qur’an was transmitted orally from Muhammed, the source, and currently 9 million adherents have it memorized.

      (2) How many versions are there?

      There are about 3,000 versions of the Bible, some books are in some Bibles, some are not depending upon the whims of men.

      There is only one Qur’an.

      (3) Is the content of the holy book entirely from the prophet?

      Jesus did not write anything that is in the bible. What is in the bible today is based on questionable accounts of many anonymous authors and edited into an accepted work centuries later.

      Muhammad recited the entire Quran and his companions wrote it down.

      (4) What year was the holy book first canonized/collected into a single book?

      The Bible was canonized in the year 367 C.E., many years after Jesus. Further revisions followed regarding the acceptance and rejection of some of the books.

      The Qur’an was written down 2 years after Muhammed recited it.

      (5) When was the earliest scripture written and how many years removed from the prophet?

      Speaking extremely generously, the first written depictions were 50 years after Jesus.

      There is no such discrepancy with the Qur’an (0 years).

      (6) What was the language of the first canonized text?

      For the Bible it was first written in Greek while Jesus spoke Aramaic (many translations to follow risking integrity).

      For the Qur’an it was written only in Arabic and Muhammed recited it in Arabic.

      (7) How many changes, editing, additions, interpolations, subtractions went through before canonization, after canonization till the present day?

      For the Bible, we can all agree that it has been numerous.

      For the Qur’an, none at all.

      Do the people of the respective faiths accept translations of the holy book as the word of God?

      For Christians, yes.

      For Muslims, absolutely not.

      Now, Mike, I understand that you may try to argue the validity of such techniques to assess “authenticity” and I would easily apply them to your own recent assertions.

      Besides that, you’ve yet to reconcile (though you do acknowledge) the very problematic issues regarding the many blatant elements of fable within the scriptures (Jonah, the whale, the talking serpent, etc.).

      Sorry, Mike, in these assorted threads you’re simply moving goalposts to favor your own accepted faith when the same methods you posit can also be used by other religious adherents to support their own.

      Again, Rob and I just seem able to apply a far more consistent model of reasonableness that doesn’t start with a presupposition or an emotional appeal to “just believe”.

      As for me, the scriptures (not only the Christian ones) themselves don’t depict a very rational, realistic, moral or ethical allegory in the long run …but we may have already beat that horse enough already.

      ;0)

      1. This is quite a lot of mud you’ve slung at the wall here, hoping, I suppose, that some of it will stick. I’ll deal with it in pieces.

        The fact that modern Jews (the very folk who should know and be good witnesses) do not accept the authenticity…

        Please explain what you mean as I have on my bookshelf a Jewish Bible that has all the same material in it as my Old Testament. They don’t accept the New Testament, of course, for obvious reasons. What’s the issue you’re trying to highlight?

      2. “…even theologians recognize were written by many more than four (first name) authors (most of whom are complete unknowns)…”

        This is your second sweeping generalization in the post without a clear point. While there may not be a consensus among scholars that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the gospel’s bearing their name (many believing they did, many believing only some or none of them did), there is no consensus whatsover that the four gospels were written by “many more than four authors.”

      3. As for your Muslim friend, I haven’t seen that much window dressing on bad case since Johnny Cochran said, “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit.” If this Muslim guy’s in PR, he must be making a fortune.

        If you really care about his arguments, let me know and I’ll deal with them one by one.

      4. Sorry, Mike, in these assorted threads you’re simply moving goalposts to favor your own accepted faith when the same methods you posit can also be used by other religious adherents to support their own.

        Just because you haven’t scored doesn’t mean I’ve moved the goalposts. The Bible’s style of testimony is unique among all ancient texts (religious and otherwise). That is, you have multiple authors across multiple generations all testifying to the same essential facts, central among them that a unique individual would arise bearing certain seemingly contradictory characteristics. This central fact was prophesied for centuries and then reported when it finally occurred. This sort of multi-witness, multi-generational testimony is unprecendented and unrepeated in the history of mankind. You don’t have to believe any of it to acknowledge that this much is true. But once you do acknowledge its uniqueness, I suppose you might be closer to trusting it. This, I suppose, is what’s making you unwilling to acknowledge such an obvious difference between the Bible and all other truth claims (ancient or modern) about God.

      5. Again, Rob and I just seem able to apply a far more consistent model of reasonableness that doesn’t start with a presupposition or an emotional appeal to “just believe”.

        Keep in mind that declaring yourself consistent and reasonable is not the same thing as being consistent and reasonable.

        And that you’d say that I “start with a presupposition or an emotional appeal to ‘just believe'” when I have laid out for you the sequence and anatomy of my faith which is counter to that, only demonstrates that either you’re not listening to me or else you’d prefer to argue with caricatures of my positions rather than the positions themselves.

      6. As for me, the scriptures (not only the Christian ones) themselves don’t depict a very rational, realistic, moral or ethical allegory in the long run …but we may have already beat that horse enough already.

        Actually, I would like to get to dealing with this horse but lately Rob and I have been trying to come to agreement on the horse’s location. That is, we’ve had a thread wherein I’ve sought his agreement on the fact that any corruption of the Jesus story that occurred would have occurred before or as the texts were written, not by church leaders subsequently. I think I’ve won his grudging agreement on this point, but it sounds like you are not there yet. Please do a word search on this page for “Muehlhauser” to find that thread. Once you’ve found it, please weigh in. For if we can’t even come to agreement about what texts we’re disagreeing about, there’s not much productive about continuing this particular dialogue. (In other words, if you don’t accept that the texts we have are the ancient texts, then it’s pointless to argue about whether their contents are plausible or not since we don’t even have agreement about what their contents are.)

        1. I’ve sought his agreement on the fact that any corruption of the Jesus story that occurred would have occurred before or as the texts were written, not by church leaders subsequently. I think I’ve won his grudging agreement on this point

          To clarify, I don’t think I ever claimed the church leaders changed the text so much, but I think they rather arbitrarily selected some texts and rejected others, and I certainly don’t hold in high regard any decision they made in the first century that anything was “authentic.”

          Still my main argument is that there were many, many opportunities for the texts to get false information in them to begin with, and that Darwinian forces were at work: documents that were NOT embellished with lots of supernatural details were generally uninteresting enough that they didn’t get copied around very much, so we have no record of them today. So we should expect a strong bias toward the supernatural/extraordinary.

  15. Long and short of it:

    The crafting of religious memes is historically observable and, in my view, each depict an ancestry dependent upon primitive presumptions of (at one time) honestly trying to make sense of the perplexing natural world and also provide a model for behavior.

    The question that emerges, and one worth discussing often (more than the one of attempting to authenticate rather obvious fable, myth and creation lore) is whether these religious memes have outlived that purpose and are now more of a deterrent toward that fine goal.

    As an aside, Mike, do you believe the Rapture will come May 21, 2011?

    Why/why not?

    http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/may21/index.html

  16. The crafting of religious memes is historically observable and, in my view, each depict an ancestry dependent upon primitive presumptions of (at one time) honestly trying to make sense of the natural world and also provide a model for behavior.

    The question that now emerges, and one worth discussing (more than one of authenticated rather obvious fable, myth and creation lore) is whether they have outlived that purpose and are now more of a deterrent toward that fine goal.

    Out of curiosity, Mike, do you believe the Rapture will come on May 21, 2011?

    Why/why not?

      1. Oh…you’re a preterist!

        I know I shouldn’t be so surprised.

        This may lead us down some very interesting new pathways…and maybe even the same tribunal judging our respective heresies.

        ;0)

  17. (moving to bottom because of indentation: parent )

    As for Mark, it matter less to me who wrote it than what it says. It’s presented as eyewitness accounts and there were many eyewitnesses.

    Well, you seem to bounce around a lot on whether it is important who wrote something, or not. You’ve said the four Gospels were “authenticated”, and you also made clear that that process was simply a matter of determining that they were written by who they say they were. And now you seem to be backing off of that, saying it doesn’t matter. Maybe that is what Steve means when he says you keep “moving the goalposts.”

    My understanding about Mark is that he is traditionally considered to be one of the 70 disciples, and those 70 disciples are only mentioned once in the Gospels, in Luke.

    You claim there were eyewitnesses, but how do you know this? The only reason you seem to know there were eyewitnesses is because it is written that there were eyewitnesses. Do you not see the problem with this? The statement that there were eyewitnesses could have just as easily false, as could the statement about what it was that those eyewitnesses witnessed. It could have been a lie, but it also could have been a simple speculation that was spoken more confidently than appropriate. Speaking confidently about something that is only speculation –without making it clear that it is speculation or opinion — is something many believers do very commonly: I see you do it quite a lot (such as your confidently proclaiming that everyone goes to heaven).

  18. Well, you seem to bounce around a lot on whether it is important who wrote something, or not. You’ve said the four Gospels were “authenticated”, and you also made clear that that process was simply a matter of determining that they were written by who they say they were. And now you seem to be backing off of that, saying it doesn’t matter. Maybe that is what Steve means when he says you keep “moving the goalposts.”

    I can see why you’d say that, but note that I didn’t say “it doesn’t matter” – I only said “it matters less.” I can’t point you to a chapter and verse where Mark is named as the author as I can with, say, 1 Corinthians where Paul is named as the author in chapter 1 verse 1. Nonetheless, its apostolic source (in Mark’s case, his being a colleague of Peter) is important to its authenticity.

    You claim there were eyewitnesses, but how do you know this? The only reason you seem to know there were eyewitnesses is because it is written that there were eyewitnesses. Do you not see the problem with this? The statement that there were eyewitnesses could have just as easily be false, as could the statement about what it was that those eyewitnesses witnessed.

    Yes, I concede that the gospel of Mark could be false, but I do not see that as a problem. I see it as a decision to be made. And when I made my decision about whether the gospel of Mark is credible I made it in the context of all the New Testament documents. And having read them all carefully, I cannot imagine that such a record could be falsified. One gospel? Maybe. Twenty-seven different documents of different kinds with different authors writing in different places under different circumstances with copies all around the Mediterranean all testifying to the same essential set of facts – impossible! Now, let me be quick to say that I don’t impose my decision on you. You can only make that decision if you weigh the same evidence and come to the same conclusion.

    Speaking confidently about something that is only speculation –without making it clear that it is speculation or opinion — is something many believers do very commonly: I see you do it quite a lot (such as your confidently proclaiming that everyone goes to heaven).

    Here, I think you do me a great disservice. I am very circumspect in the things I write on my blogs. I weigh the words and I only say “The Bible says…” after I have read and studied and read again and studied again. The more consequential the words, the more investment in study. Even then, I measure my words carefully and say only what can be backed up with chapter and verse. Thus, what you deemed above to be my moving goalposts was merely an example of my being precise in what I declare the Bible to be saying. With every ounce of conviction I have, Rob, I assure you that I would never have written the words “Everyone is going to heaven” unless I was fully convinced that the Bible had said it before I did.

    I should add that my stand on this and other truths has cost me friends, reputation, and more. I have paid dearly to say the things I say on these blogs…and I will gladly pay more. I do not say any of this to seek your pity or any other favorable attitude toward me. I only say it so that whatever attention you give my words, you will not regard them as glib speculation or opinion. Call me wrong if you want, but do not consider me to be speaking loosely.

    1. Mike to Rob:

      “I only say it so that whatever attention you give my words, you will not regard them as glib speculation or opinion. Call me wrong if you want, but do not consider me to be speaking loosely.”

      Posted the same day from Mike to Steve:

      “This is quite a lot of mud you’ve slung at the wall here, hoping, I suppose, that some of it will stick.”

      My view is that we all can express ourselves, within reason and civility, and still accept that what we may read might hurt our feelings sometimes…while not becoming so distracted by the “noise” that we lose the “signal” and descend into arguing about how to argue.

      Such a descent is one of the last phases of conversation involving conflicting perspectives before someone picks up their toys and stomps off.

      Or, for those married, when you inadvertently say something at the height of being offended at some perceived slight (imagined, real, feigned or otherwise)…that you fire back with all barrels in righteous indignation and then come to regret what you said almost immediately.

      ;0)

      We’re all human beings here, after all.

      1. Agreed. I should add that one of the downsides of even good-spirited banter, especially in a “print” atmosphere which must communicate without the benefit of body language, is that meanings can be inferred that were never implied. Thus you have helped me see that my use of “mud” came across as a harsh criticism. I was only tweaking you with a wink in my eye about what I considered the long list of additional subjects you raised in your post. In retrospect I see now that my mangling of the metaphor made it look like I was accusing you of mud-slinging – which I do not think you have ever done to me. I apologize to you and the readers for my poor use of language, but rest assured that I have not been offended, indignant, or hurt by anything you’ve said.

        1. Hey, no worries, Mike!

          I offered the contrasting post that you sent to Rob in order show how easily one can be offended by points made by those who have other views that run counter one’s own.

          The purpose of doing so was to point out that becoming accusatory doesn’t advance the conversation.

          My view is that there is general agreement that we are all good folks here who enjoy civil and rational discussion and debate.

          So, my default position is to make allowances for certain comments with the understanding that there is probably no malicious intent involved even when they could be perceived as “shots across the bow” to instigate a flame war.

          Time is far too precious to me to spend it on such folly.

          We only live once, you know…

          ;0)

  19. Here, I think you do me a great disservice.

    I’m sorry if I seem dismissive of your work here, but your saying “I say this on authority of the Bible”, when there have been hundreds of thousands who have intensely studied the Bible and arrived at much different interpretations, shows quite a bit of hubris. (of course, my view is that the Bible is cryptic, vague and full of contradictions, so if your audience assumes that it is the literal truth, you can then find a way “prove” just about anything you want to say…)

    I should add that my stand on this and other truths has cost me friends, reputation, and more. I have paid dearly to say the things I say on these blogs…and I will gladly pay more.

    I’m also sorry to hear you have lost friends over having differing views. It saddens me to see such divisiveness in the world over such a silly thing. And I do mean silly: to me it is like people fighting over whether invisible unicorns are pink or blue. Honestly, though, I think you kind of ask for a bit trouble whenever you speak with such confidence about things you can’t possibly know the truth of.

    And whether or not you are guilty of such overconfidence in your conclusions, it sure doesn’t seem far fetched to think that many of those in the superstitious past, may have been guilty of such overconfidence themselves, and therefore reported things as fact when they should have been reported as speculation. That was my main point…

    I only say it so that whatever attention you give my words, you will not regard them as glib speculation or opinion

    I don’t consider them glib at all. I do stand by my statement that you speak with inappropriate confidence, and that it is speculation/opinion. Not trying to be mean, but that is my view.

    …having read them all carefully, I cannot imagine that such a record could be falsified. One gospel? Maybe. Twenty-seven different documents of different kinds with different authors writing in different places under different circumstances with copies all around the Mediterranean all testifying to the same essential set of facts – impossible!

    I don’t see why that’s hard to imagine. Let’s assume those who witnessed the events of the life of Christ were the source of the story. It could have been as few as one person. That person (or those few people) told others, with or without supernatural embellishment. The story then may have been furthur embellished upon retelling, either by outright deception, by someone misinterpreting sincere speculation and/or storytelling as fact, or somewhere in between. Once the story was modified to the point that it had the essential ingredients to be a “hit single,” so to speak, that version of it spread much wider by word of mouth and by the written word. Versions that didn’t have those extra ingredients never got circulated particularly widely, and were lost to history. The expected end result? Exactly what you describe.

    None of this requires the supernatural details of the story being true. And if you think my explanation is far fetched, keep in mind that what I describe is the exact sort of thing that we can show has happened literally thousands of times in history, resulting in the rich tapestry of myths and legends that we have documented today.

    1. I’m sorry if I seem dismissive of your work here, but your saying “I say this on authority of the Bible”, when there have been hundreds of thousands who have intensely studied the Bible and arrived at much different interpretations, shows quite a bit of hubris.

      All major advances in science have occurred when someone has come forward with a theory, an outlook, and explanation which overturns prior theories, outlooks, and explanations. If we limited ourselves only to prior understandings, how would science advance?

      As for hubris, I’m just reporting what I’ve read; I’m not taking any credit for it.

    2. I’m also sorry to hear you have lost friends over having differing views. It saddens me to see such divisiveness in the world over such a silly thing. And I do mean silly: to me it is like people fighting over whether invisible unicorns are pink or blue. Honestly, though, I think you kind of ask for a bit trouble whenever you speak with such confidence about things you can’t possibly know the truth of.

      As I said, I only made that fact known you to so you’d give more attention to my words, not to me. I’m quite content in my circumstances and have no complaints whatsoever.

    3. Honestly, though, I think you kind of ask for a bit trouble whenever you speak with such confidence about things you can’t possibly know the truth of. And whether or not you are guilty of such overconfidence in your conclusions, it sure doesn’t seem far fetched to think that many of those in the superstitious past, may have been guilty of such overconfidence themselves, and therefore reported things as fact when they should have been reported as speculation. That was my main point… I don’t consider [your statements] glib at all. I do stand by my statement that you speak with inappropriate confidence, and that it is speculation/opinion. Not trying to be mean, but that is my view.

      I don’t take you to be mean, so no worries there.

      As for speculations and opinions, I do have them when I read the Bible. Many of them. However, I never write about them on my blogs. I only write about the things I have read, understood, and double-checked.

      Imagine you send me to a science book saying, “Mike, I want you to find out the speed at which the earth rotates around the sun.” I flip through the book and eventually find the information. In doing so, however, I see many chapters about subjects I barely understand. I’m intrigued by them, I wonder about them, I speculate about their meaning. When I put the book down and come back to you, I report, “Rob, the earth rotates around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour,” and that’s all I say. I gave you the information I knew and understood. I didn’t trouble you about the matters I didn’t understand or fully appreciate. As I did with the science book in that imaginary scene so I have done with the Bible in real life – the only difference being that in real life you didn’t ask me to look up the information.

      Therefore, the reason you hear confidence brimming from my blogs is because I only write about things about which I am confident. If I was writing blogs about things I was ignorant about, speculating, or opining on then I could write an infinite number of blogs.

      1. Therefore, the reason you hear confidence brimming from my blogs is because I only write about things about which I am confident.

        Still, it is a little different from the science book example. Anyone who reads the science book is going to come to the same conclusion about earth rotation speed, assuming it actually stated explicitly the speed of the earth. But people read the Bible and come to completely different conclusions from those you arrive at. That’s where I say “you can’t possibly know these things.” No one can.

        1. You are saying that when people don’t agree about what a book says, it’s a sign to you that the book cannot be understood. Don’t you see that this is an illogical leap?

          Just because people disagree about different issues in a book does not mean that no one can know anything from the book. This is a non sequitur.

    4. I don’t see why that’s hard to imagine. Let’s assume those who witnessed the events of the life of Christ were the source of the story. It could have been as few as one person. That person (or those few people) told others, with or without supernatural embellishment. The story then may have been furthur embellished upon retelling, either by outright deception, by someone misinterpreting sincere speculation and/or storytelling as fact, or somewhere in between. Once the story was modified to the point that it had the essential ingredients to be a “hit single,” so to speak, that version of it spread much wider by word of mouth and by the written word. Versions that didn’t have those extra ingredients never got circulated particularly widely, and were lost to history. The expected end result? Exactly what you describe. None of this requires the supernatural details of the story being true. And if you think my explanation is far fetched, keep in mind that what I describe is the exact sort of thing that we can show has happened literally thousands of times in history, resulting in the rich tapestry of myths and legends that we have documented today.

      I realize this sounds like an explanation to you. It does not sound so to me because it begs all sorts of difficult questions about how you harmonize this scenario with history, human behavior, and the New Testament documents. That why I appreciate the fact that you were willing to try to flesh it out over at the other post.

  20. Yes, I concede that the gospel of Mark could be false…

    I don’t really have anything to say on that, but just wanted to acknowledge that you said it. That’s kind of big. 🙂

    …but I do not see that as a problem. I see it as a decision to be made. And when I made my decision about whether the gospel of Mark is credible…

    One thing I notice throughout your logic is that, as you build lengthy chains of “given this” and “therefore thats”, you seem to want to round off every “maybe” to either a “true” or a “false,” and then lock them in. I think that’s a real problem, and flies in the face of open mindedness, a trait you have claimed is desirable.

    I suggest you try revisiting your analysis, but with each question, don’t make a “decision,” make an estimate of probability of it being true or not, and then keep all those probabilities fluid. Otherwise you will not be able to realistically assess anything, especially as new information, or new arguments, become available.

    For instance, I consider the probability that there is a bigfoot-like creature in the pacific northwest to be around 1%, the probability that global warming is mostly caused by humans to be around 75%, the probability that somewhere there are intelligent extra-terrestrials as being around 50%, and the probability that the moon landing was a hoax at around 0.1%. I could go on, but you get the idea. Nothing zero, nothing 100, everything fluid. Anything you want to ask me, I can give you my current estimate of probability of it being true or false.

    It should be obvious that this is the most realistic and intellectually honest way to look at things, even if it can be somewhat unweildy in practice. I suggest that when viewed this way, though, the case you have been building really suffers.

      1. I figure that an acknowledgement that Mark may be false is a pretty big concession, but if you didn’t really mean to say that you think there is a significant possibility that the events in Mark are false, then nevermind.

        However I should point out that your “concession” was in response to my calling attention (for at least the third or fourth time) to your continued use of “there were many eyewitnesses” to bolster the truth of the events in Mark. Once again: eyewitnesses count for nothing if there is only a single witness describing the presence of those eyewitnesses. If you can’t produce any separate testimony from those eyewitnesses themselves, then everything still hinges on the credibility of the report of that single person .

        Webster defines eyewitness as “one who sees an occurrence or an object; especially : one who gives a report on what he or she has seen”. As you use it here in the course of bolstering your case, describing someone as an “eyewitness” when we don’t have any reports from those people seems inappropriate and disingenuous.

        I hope you can at least stop referring to the eyewitnesses unless you want to address this.

        1. As for the gospel of Mark, I was granting you a hypothetical. That is, if Mark’s gospel were the only New Testament document we had then I would have to concede that it could be false because I’d have no corroborating witnesses to what he wrote. In doing this, I trust you recognize the similarity of your reasoning process to mine. Specifically, you said

          Once again: eyewitnesses count for nothing if there is only a single witness describing the presence of those eyewitnesses.

          While I wouldn’t go so far as you do in saying a single witness “counts for nothing,” its practical value would be highlighted limited (I certainly wouldn’t suggest you or anyone else should rely on it). As I’ve said, even God Himself said through the Law of Moses that you should have to have “two or three witnesses” to establish a fact. Fortunately, when it comes to the key facts of the New Testament, we have many more than that.

          1. …you should have to have “two or three witnesses” to establish a fact. Fortunately, when it comes to the key facts of the New Testament, we have many more than that.

            It’s a lot less black and white than that. Witnesses that are here, in the present day, that we can cross-examine (or something similar), are much more valuable than witnesses from 2000 years ago that we can’t even agree on who they actually are, or whether it is being reported first or second or third hand, or who acted as a filter on the words of the witnesses before they reached our eyes. So lets multiply the “2 or 3” by something to compensate.

            Also, when it comes to “extraordinary claims”, the requirement is even higher. So multiply it again.

            So no, I don’t think what is provided in the Bible is quite enough support, despite God’s simplistic assertion to the contrary.

            1. So lets multiply the “2 or 3″ by something to compensate.

              God did. I gave you the 1 Corinthians 15 passage which indicates 14 named and over 500 unnamed witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.

              we can’t even agree on who they actually are

              The New Testament documents are in agreement about who the witnesses are.

              or whether it is being reported first or second or third hand

              The New Testament documents are clear about that, too.

              who acted as a filter on the words of the witnesses before they reached our eyes

              The apostles are not “filters on the words of the witnesses” – they are the witnesses.

    1. As for the rest of your comment here about the logical process, I have to say that our respective logical processes may not be as different as you think. As you’ve laid out yours, let me lay out mine.

      The types of things we’re discussing can be plotted on a continuum stretching left to right as: impossible, possible, probable, and certain. The end point of the continuum on either side is a dot of the first (0%) and fourth categories (100%), and everything in between is occupied by possible (greater than 0% but less than 50%) and probable (greater than 50% but less than 100%). (Of course, technically speaking, probable and certain are subsets of possible, and certain is a subset of probable, but in this context possible means merely possible and probable means likely but not certain.) I think in these broad categories, but also within each category, in degrees across the continuum.

      I think you could take your quantified probabilities, plot them on my continuum, and we'd have ourselves an integrated system that either us of would be comfortable using. Now I hasten to admit that while I do assess things in degrees (that is, I certainly don't in any way assume that everything in possible is equally possible or that everything in probable is equally probable), I do not tend to think in the precise mathematical way you do. For example, in my thinking a faked moon landing is so far to the left in the possible category as to be practically impossible even though it may still be technically possible. (By the way, does anyone ever argue with you and insist that "No, a faked moon landing is really 0.012%?" 😉

      Moving away from the details, however, and getting back to considering this general framework and our common use of it, I don't think either of us would be particularly unique in thinking the way we do for I think most people think in a way similar to this.

      Now, I know I haven't fully addressed your point, but before I go farther I want to see if I've assumed too much or if you're comfortable with how I've described our respective views in this general way. (I know we may disgree about where to plot certain issues that are at or near the end points, but my hope is that I’ve right perceived our commonality on the general model.)

      1. It sounds fine what you describe, and I admit mine isn’t so precisely mathematical as I may have seemed to imply. And yeah, faked moon landing is probably even less likely than I suggested. The important point is that it is non-zero….there is no way I can know that it didn’t happen.

        1. Perfect!

          (By the way, I wasn’t so much suggesting that you had your faked moon landing probability pegged too high, but rather that when we get close to the end of either end of the continuum, quibbling over numbers can be silly. That is, who would want to argue with you that your faked moon landing probability should be 0.15 or 0.05 instead of the 0.1 you gave it? Your point was that it’s highly unlikely and all reasonable and informed people would agree with you.)

          I now want to try to advance this discussion along a couple of lines, so I’ll break them up.

    2. It should be obvious that this is the most realistic and intellectually honest way to look at things, even if it can be somewhat unweildy in practice.

      Now that we’ve established “our integrated model” – or, to put it more simply, now that we see the common way we view such things – I heartily agree with what you say here.

      I suggest that when viewed this way, though, the case you have been building really suffers.

      Now at this point, we have come to disagreement again. For your view is that had I used this method, I would not hold my case. Yet my view is that it is this method that has led me to my case. How can we have such divergent views? I have to attribute that to the fact that the details of my reasoning processes are opaque to you. And when I say “details” I don’t just mean the specific steps, I also mean the effort employed and the time spent in each step. I don’t jump easily from one category to the next, and I certainly don’t jump quickly to the end points. I progress along the continuum, one direction or the other, based on the information that’s coming to me. As I’ve implied, I suspect you and most everyone else does the same thing.

      I’m going to try to think of ways to make my steps more visible to so that perhaps you might eventually become comfortable that our respective reasoning processes are not as different as you have been supposing, even if we are currently sitting at different conclusions. (I will go ahead and say that I think the reason we are currently at different conclusions is not because we have different reasoning processes but because we are processing different information.)

    3. Now let’s focus for a bit on the area of our integrated model where we might – or might not – see things a little differently: the end points.

      First of all, I need to better understand what you mean by “know” something. When you say that you can’t peg the probability of the moon landing being a hoax at 0% is it because you can’t know that particular fact or are you saying you can’t know any fact?

      For example, can you know whether the light is on in the room you are in? Can you know whether it is raining where you are? Can you know the ending of a novel you have completed? (These are not rhetorical, patronizing, or trick questions -I’m wanting to understand your definition of knowledge.)

      To put my cards on the table first, I might say that I can’t rate a faked moon landing at 0% because I can’t know all the constituent facts I’ve have to know to make such a pronouncement. On the other hand, I can know whether the light is on in the room I’m in, I can know whether or not it is raining where I am, and I can know the ending of a novel I have completed.

      What is your answer to all these questions?

      1. I think you are right that, barring ridiculous scenarios (hallucinations, remembering a dream as being real, etc), the examples you provide are so close to 100%, that for all practical purposes, they can be treated as 100%.

        But we often use the word “know” when it is more accurate to say we “are confident enough in its truth that we can ignore the other possibilities.” For instance, I can’t really know the world is round, it could all be an elaborate hoax. For practical purposes we can round it to 100%, but we still keep in mind that it is possible it is not true. Likewise, I don’t know the sun will rise tomorrow, or that the airplane I get in will reach its destination rather than crash into a mountain.

        I think this view, in general, flies in the face of what most people refer to as “faith”. People with faith refuse to acknowledge the possibility that something can be untrue. Scientists, on the other hand, know deep down than nothing is really proven, everything is a probability — even if some probabilities are so close to 100% that it is generally a waste of time to debate them.

        The key word, though, is “generally”.

        Here is an example of a potential for error when rounding off an “extremely likely” event to 100%. Say I make a day to day decision to fly in an airplane, based on my confidence that when airliners go up in the sky, they come down safely. In fact, I am so confident, I stake my life on it. I’ve rounded off 99.9999% to 100%, and that’s good enough for me.

        Now I hear a news story that people died when an airplane crashed. Do I say “that’s implausible, since 100% of plane flights end safely” ?

        Of course not. I should also take into account that very large numbers of people fly, and the news only tends to report when things go wrong (i.e. selection bias). Statistics work in the favor of it actually being very likely to see a plane crash story on the news time to time, and for those stories to be true.

        I think that is similar to what you are doing. You essentially say “this sounds very sincere, and based on my experience, it is implausible that someone who sounds so sincere is actually being deceptive”. That’s fine for everyday things, but this is hardly everyday. You fail to factor in that the events described in the documents are themselves statistically unlikely (to the extreme), and that selection bias has weeded out all those less-convincing documents of supernatural events, so that the ones you actually see tend to extremely convincing, whether true or not. Statistics now point in the direction of it being a deception.

        1. I think you are right that, barring ridiculous scenarios (hallucinations, remembering a dream as being real, etc), the examples you provide are so close to 100%, that for all practical purposes, they can be treated as 100%.

          Whew! I was afraid you were going to contest me on that…which would have left us no common ground at all.

          But we often use the word “know” when it is more accurate to say we “are confident enough in its truth that we can ignore the other possibilities.” For instance, I can’t really know the world is round, it could all be an elaborate hoax. For practical purposes we can round it to 100%, but we still keep in mind that it is possible it is not true. Likewise, I don’t know the sun will rise tomorrow, or that the airplane I get in will reach its destination rather than crash into a mountain.

          I agree with you on all this, too.

          I think this view, in general, flies in the face of what most people refer to as “faith.”

          My faith is not counter to this view. On the contrary, it’s based on this view.

          Therefore, the airplane example you give does not describe the way I look at Jesus and the Bible. Nor do I say, “this sounds very sincere, and based on my experience, it is implausible that someone who sounds so sincere is actually being deceptive.” On the contrary, my experience in life is that no one can sound more sincere than a really good liar (or actor, who is really “lying” but with a legitimate rather than a sinister purpose).

          Merely sounding sincere is never enough for me. When I was a business executive hiring people, I never fully trusted the interview with the prospect. No matter how well the interview went I always wanted to see the prospect’s resume and reference check it. In other words, I wanted witnesses.

          Therefore, your airplane example doesn’t apply to me, but, ironically, it does seem to apply to you. By that I mean that you think of the supernatural the way you say some “people with faith” think of the metaphorical airplane crashes. They (supernatural events like airplane crashes) are absent from your personal experience, and the likelihood of their occurrence is so remote that you live your life as if they are practically impossible. You round up the probability of their nonexistence to 100%. Then, when you hear of one occurring, you dismiss it as a reality and irrationally stick with your 100% probability just like the irrational “believers” you describe (you believing that supernatural events never occur, they believing that supernatural events often occur).

          I agree with you that there are many people who live with an irrational sort of faith. The good news I am bringing you is that Jesus in the New Testament does not invite this sort of faith. Rather, he invites the kind of faith that is based on the reasoning of the first two quotes of yours with which I began this comment.

  21. While on the subject of “eyewitnesses”, I should address
    this post from a few days ago
    that I missed at the time:

    Rob: I made clear (over and over) that I never suggested that anything resembling a “conspiracy” happened.

    Mike: How can I conclude that you are saying anything else when the gospels of Luke and John explicitly swear to be providing eyewitness accounts? By your reckoning, how could any person write such a statement innocently – without it being a fraud?

    Please show me the specific statements in the Gospels that say this, and I will be glad to address them. To my knowledge, there is no explicit statement that says “I, the author of this work, saw this particular event happen with my own eyes”. Even if it did say that, that would simply be a single person lying (assuming the events didn’t happen). That may indeed be “fraud,” but it is not “conspiracy”, which requires multiple people involved in the deception, and only becomes implausible as the number of people involved gets to be more than a few. I think, once again, you are being disingenuous (or sloppy with your wording) if you call such a thing “conspiracy.”

    As it is, the “multiple people” involved (such as those that created the rest of the 27 documents) could have all been simply telling what they thought to be the truth, because they themselves were deceived. I’m a little surprised that we are still debating this obvious point.

  22. I’ll give you Luke’s and John’s explicit statements, plus more:

    See Luke’s opening statement about the fact that he has assembled eyewitness testimony in Luke 1:1-4. He is not claiming to be an eyewitness; rather, he is claiming that his gospel is a compilation of eyewitness accounts.

    While Matthew and Mark do not have a similar statement, their gospels are written in similar styles (so much so that the three are called the synoptic gospels) and present similar, sometimes almost identical, accounts. It would be illogical to regard their accounts as some different way than we regard Luke’s.

    In the conclusion of his gospel, Matthew reports how Jesus instructs the eleven apostles (Judas no longer among them) to be His witnesses to the world (Matthew 28:16-20).

    The apostle John who wrote the gospel of John wrote in John 1:14 that he and other saw Christ. Referring to himself, John closes his gospel with his personal attestation in John 21:24-25.

    In his first epistle John , speaking on behalf of himself and others, repeats that what is being given as testimony has been personally witnessed (1 John 1:1-4).

    Peter explicitly claims to be a witness of Christ in 1 Peter 5:1 and an eyewitness in 2 Peter 1:16-18.

    I could say more but I hope this is sufficient to convince you that I am not putting words in the mouths of New Testament authors when I say that it claims to contain eyewitness testimony. Specifically, the eleven apostles’ very mission in life from Christ’s resurrection onward was to bear witness to what they had seen and heard of His life, death, and resurrection.

    To be clear, I’m not trying to get you to say that you believe them. I’m only hoping you will acknowledge that the documents claim what I’ve been saying they claim: that they include eyewitness testimony from people who knew Jesus of Nazareth personally.

    1. You started off saying that “to believe the apostles were lying, you’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy”.

      Now, you find quotes that essentially say that the texts are a “compilation of eyewitness accounts”, where the witnesses are not even identified. In other words, a very small numbers of people could have simply told lies, or they could have even misinterpreted the speculation of others as being eyewitness testimony.

      This is not a grand conspiracy. And it is not what a court of law would call “eyewitness testimony,” it is what they’d call “hearsay.”

      (I should also point out, in the passages you cite, where it is more explicit about there being a direct link between witness and author, it is much more vague about exactly what was witnessed).

      1. You started off saying that “to believe the apostles were lying, you’d have to believe in a conspiracy involving more people than have ever been involved in a conspiracy”. Now, you find quotes that essentially say that the texts are a “compilation of eyewitness accounts”, where the witnesses are not even identified. In other words, a very small numbers of people could have simply told lies, or they could have even misinterpreted the speculation of others as being eyewitness testimony.

        I can see why it might appear to you that I am contradicting myself but I firmly hold to both positions and believe I can explain to your satisfaction why I do. The short answer is that the two statements are speaking about slightly different things.

        The large conspiracy would involve all the writers of the New Testament for they were in agreement in what they said about Jesus. At a minimum that would mean Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. It would have to also involve scribes and couriers of the letters, such as Timothy and Titus for Paul’s and Silvanus for Peter’s. It would also have to involve the synagogues and churches where these letters were sent. As you see, the numbers add up quickly. (Now, I hasten to add that this is according to my view that the writers were writing factual accounts. In your view, the embellished legend had been established and all the writers simply believed it and wrote it down, meaning they were duped – as you suppose I have been as well. Anyway, I’m still trying to work your view out in my mind so keep telling me whenever I get it wrong. It’s just hard for me to get my mind around the idea that that many people could believe an embellished legend that strongly.)

        As for the seemingly contradictory smaller number of witnesses, these refer to the gospels. The numbers are smaller than for the letters but I don’t believe they’re small per se. You also said something about these witnesses not being identified. All eleven apostles were identified by name. There were also numerous other individuals named through out the gospel, such as Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Cleopas. While the gospels were written late enough for some of these people died, they were not written late enough for all of them to have died. Therefore, including so many names meant that the story could be source checked by anyone wanting to discredit them. And the Roman and Jewish leaders wanted badly to discredit them.

        Therefore, there are two stages on which the New Testament drama was playing out: Israel (especially during the earthly lifetime of Christ) and the broader Mediterranean world (where the apostles were bearing witness and writing their letters after the resurrection).

        If you still are seeing a contradiction, please tell me where.

        1. …. It would also have to involve the synagogues and churches where these letters were sent. As you see, the numbers add up quickly.

          A large number of people being duped is not the same as a large number of people being eyewitness to the facts, and lying about them. The former is not a conspiracy at all, it is simply people (in superstitious times, no less) being told untruths and believing it. That sort of thing has happened a bazillion times, for instance the apocryphal story of George Washington and the cherry tree that came from one person simply “making something up” and reporting it as fact.

          I am amazed that this hugely important distinction really needs to be pointed out.

          1. I think the elephant in the room you are missing, Rob, is the Old Testament (or Jewish, if you will) milieu to the New Testament. When the apostles arrived in a town to tell the story of Jesus, their message wasn’t, “Hey, here’s a guy who did a bunch of miracles and to top it off He was raised from the dead.” No, their message was, “Hey, the Messiah has finally come and let me tell how it all went down.” The apostles then had to demonstrate – from the Old Testament Scriptures – how this Jesus fulfilled the prophecies. Just being able to do miracles or just rising from the dead (fantastic as that might sound to us today) wasn’t near enough to get these people to believe.

            As for George Washington and the cherry tree, I’m unaware of anyone who put his life at risk vouching for the veracity of that story.

            1. “As for George Washington and the cherry tree, I’m unaware of anyone who put his life at risk vouching for the veracity of that story.”

              The martyr defense isn’t a sound approach and I’m actually kind of surprised that you would resort to it.

              Many religious adherents have been brutally oppressed and have died for their faith in horrible ways.

              This abhorrent historical truth isn’t the monopoly of Christianity and the fact that there are martyrs for the cause doesn’t, in any way, prove the veracity of the initial claims.

              Additionally, I would only reiterate that there is currently a lineage of religious folk originating from that very region and era who do not at all believe in the veracity of the claims that assorted men, hundreds of years after events, chose to compile into a text asserting that a Messiah man-god has already arrived.

              They also refute this notion by asserting the authority of their own wise and holy men and even more antiquated documents.

              So, who is right?

              1. I wasn’t saying that the fact that Jesus’ followers were martyred proves that they were right. I was saying that it proves that the cherry tree fable is a flawed analogy. Its genesis and maturation did not face life-and-death obstacles; so what if it sprung up quickly in the absence of such resistance? Because a dandelion springs up quickly, that means an oak tree should spring up quickly?

                A more likely analogy would be the one you raised. And the place I’d begin to answer your question is the obvious difference between Jesus’ apostles and today’s suicide bombers: While both groups were/are willing to die for their faith the former were unwilling to commit suicide or homicide in the course of their mission while the latter are willing and eager to do both. Thus, another flawed analogy.

                Even so, I don’t claim that that difference alone proves that Jesus’ apostles were telling the truth. Rather, it should cause us to ask, “Why were they willing to do this?” And then see where that question takes us.

                1. “I wasn’t saying that the fact that Jesus’ followers were martyred proves that they were right. I was saying that it proves that the cherry tree fable is a flawed analogy. Its genesis and maturation did not face life-and-death obstacles; so what if it sprung up quickly in the absence of such resistance? Because a dandelion spring up quickly, that means an oak tree should spring up quickly?”

                  If that were an accurate statement of your view, Mike…then why reference martyrdom at all and then continue it with your latter inquiry?

                  In my view, you often say one thing, get called on it…and then claim to move away from the initial assertion while still actually maintaining it.

                  Read your last post again for evidence of this practice.

                  By the way, the Bosnian conflict was inclusive of Christians slaughtering innocent Muslims…not Muslims suicide bombers martyring themselves by killing others.

                  Further, there are other historical examples of Christians oppressing and slaughtering non-Christian *religious adherents* in cold blood.

                  You may have heard of the Crusades?

                  1. If that were an accurate statement of your view, Mike…then why reference martyrdom at all and then continue it with your latter inquiry?

                    Just because it’s not decisive doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

                    By the way, the Bosnian conflict was inclusive of Christians slaughtering innocent Muslims…not Muslims suicide bombers martyring themselves by killing others.

                    The Bosnian analogy is not apt either for the Muslims were not being persecuted because of anything they claimed to have witnessed; they were persecuted for who they were. Ethnic cleansing is about ethnicity, not testimony. Ethnicity can’t be changed in the face of mortal threat, testimony can.

                    You may have heard of the Crusades?

                    Yes, and for this reason and others I neither claim to be a Christian nor encourage others to become one. I simply proclaim that the resurrected Jesus Christ is God of all of us.

      2. This is not a grand conspiracy. And it is not what a court of law would call “eyewitness testimony,” it is what they’d call “hearsay.”

        Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought about the first resignation of a U.S. President by doing what Luke did. That is, they talked to people, wrote down their stories, and put them in the record. The only difference is that Luke gave more of the witnesses’ names than they did. The fact that Woodward and Bernstein themselves were not witnesses to the Watergate burglary and cover-up did not mean they couldn’t bring forward eyewitness accounts for people to read. There were a lot of people – Nixon included – who said of the Washington Post articles “It’s all just hearsay; it won’t hold up in a court of law.” Maybe so, but the problem was it was credible, people believed it, and lives were changed.

        1. But those people were still around to talk to, if it came down to it. As were others. And there was physical evidence (tapes), that would have come out if Nixon didn’t resign. And we could directly talk to Woodward and Bernstein about this. And the idea of a leader being corrupt is not nearly as extraordinary as a god-man rising from the dead. And so on.

          1. Once again, I think you’re erecting barriers than cannot be scaled. They didn’t have tape recorders in the 1st Century. You’re not going to be able to talk to Luke directly. Think about the logical outcome of what you’re saying here: that you cannot believe anything that supposedly happened in the 1st Century (or prior to the 1st Century…and maybe for untold centuries after that). Greco-Roman history must be a complete blank for you.

            1. You’re seriously twisting my words if you claim that I am saying that, for an account of a historical event to be considered reliable, it needs to be supported by audio recordings. Obviously I implied no such thing.

              Remember, it was you that made the claim “the only difference [between Watergate and the Jesus story] is that Luke gave more of the witnesses’ names than they did”. I said, no, that is not true, Watergate had a lot of hard evidence backing it up, tapes being one thing. In the end, Watergate ended up being verified by the admissions of those involved, which happened because there were tapes, there was the knowledge that (still living) people involved might speak up, and various other factors.

              As for events of ancient times, they can be supported by other types of evidence, and in all cases we need to weigh that evidence against the extraordinariness of the event. Take Julius Caesar being assassinated. The assassination of someone that powerful is extraordinary in a sense (not to the degree of someone rising from the dead, though!), but it was corroborated by an immense number of people, since it was immediately “world news”, so to speak. Based on that, I’d say the main facts of that story are over 90% probable to be true.

              Other events of the day, such as the death of Cleopatra, have more mystery surrounding them, and we don’t claim confidence that, say, it really was via a snakebite (probably less than 10% chance I’d say).

              Meanwhile, the life and death of Jesus was a relatively obscure event whose documentation would have never have made it to present day except for the fact that a cult/religion formed around it. It’s far more extraordinary than there being a Bigfoot, and its support is far weaker.

              And remember, if new evidence shows us that Julius Caesar wasn’t really assassinated, while it would be a immensely surprising, but it wouldn’t really change anyone’s life in a huge way…not many people today are basing their whole lives on the factuality of Caesar’s assassination, but many are basing an awful lot on the factuality of Jesus’ resurrection.

              1. You’re seriously twisting my words if you claim that I am saying that, for an account of a historical event to be considered reliable, it needs to be supported by audio recordings. Obviously I implied no such thing.

                I didn’t mean that you were literally requiring tape recordings, but it does feel like you are requiring more than the 1st Century can provide. The New Testament is the best attested document or set of documents we have from all of antiquity. If that’s not enough, then I don’t see how you believe any document that comes from ancient times.

                In the end, Watergate ended up being verified by the admissions of those involved, which happened because there were tapes, there was the knowledge that (still living) people involved might speak up, and various other factors.

                The tapes and the other things were what led to the presidential resignation and the convictions of his associates, but people were believing Woodward and Bernstein long before those outcomes.

                And remember, if new evidence shows us that Julius Caesar wasn’t really assassinated, while it would be immensely surprising, it wouldn’t really change anyone’s life in a huge way…not many people today are basing their whole lives on the factuality of Caesar’s assassination, but many are basing an awful lot on the factuality of Jesus’ resurrection.

                Here, you actually raise a new point and I fully concur that it is a highly relevant and most important one. This factor actually accounts for the majority of the controversy around the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament. For if Jesus had not made claims on human obedience, humans wouldn’t have reason to be emotional and feel personally vulnerable when studying the history of His life.

      3. (I should also point out, in the passages you cite, where it is more explicit about there being a direct link between witness and author, it is much more vague about exactly what was witnessed).

        Rob, please elaborate or give me some examples. It’s not intuitive to me what you’re referring to.

        1. Well for instance John 21:24-25 is exceptionally vague about what exactly was witnessed.

          Meanwhile John 20, while not vague about what was witnessed, does not say how he (the author) knows it to be true that Mary Magdelene, Thomas, etc. actually saw those things….the author could have heard it second, third or even tenth hand.

          1. Well for instance John 21:24-25 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%201:1-4&version=CEB is exceptionally vague about what exactly was witnessed.

            If someone wrote words like this at the end of a book, or long essay, it wouldn’t be clear to you that he was testifying to the entire contents?

            Meanwhile John 20 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+20&version=CEB , while not vague about what was witnessed, does not say how he (the author) knows it to be true that Mary Magdelene, Thomas, etc. actually saw those things….the author could have heard it second, third or even tenth hand.

            By virtue of the way he opened (John 1:14) and closed (John 21:24-25) this book (or long essay) it’s not clear to you that he’s vouching for the entire contents. Wouldn’t he be a weasel if he later said his concluding statement only applied to certain parts?

            Remember, the point we’re trying to establish here is not whether the New Testament writers were telling the truth, but first whether they were claiming to be eyewitnesses telling the truth. Therefore, say you think John was lying if you want to, but at least recognize what he was claiming.

            1. I think it is quite a stretch to say that those words claim that John himself saw all of the events, including the risen Christ.

              Still, one person being “weaselly” is not particularly implausible to me.

              1. We consider a person a weasel if he’s evasive, if he equivocates, if he’s misleading and vague. If you read the gospel of John we see that he writes directly, boldly, unequivocally. It is implausible to suggest that someone who wrote this way for almost 21 chapters chose in his concluding statement to write weaselly.

                If you don’t believe John was telling the truth, I think your only other option is to believe that he was boldly lying.

                1. “If you don’t believe John was telling the truth, I think your only other option is to believe that he was boldly lying.”

                  Another false dichotomy.

                  Another, more likely, probability was that the compilation and inclusion of the story of John could have been an acceptable version of what “church fathers” required for their new religious meme co-opted from what they observed was a powerful and useful tool.

                  We do know that they tossed out quite a few stories, after all.

                    1. They could also merely be fiction (well meaning or otherwise).

                      Folks have been trying to make sense of existence with these sorts of tales and memes for generations.

                      This one is no different than any other.

                2. Steve is right that you present a false dichotomy. But beyond what he says (all of which I agree with, I should say)…I think you are being incredibly gullible, in general, if you ever say “so-and-so writes in a way that sounds so genuine that it is implausible for it to be a lie”.

                  Think about that a bit. If you are perceptive enough to tell the truth from a lie from the written word, isn’t it quite possible that John was equally perceptive? If so, I have to imagine that he would have looked at his first draft, said “Gosh, this doesn’t sound so convincing”, then gone back and changed it till it sounded convincing.

  23. I think of possibilities and probabilities in much the same way.

    Further, as in our criminal justice system, such a continuum is based on “probable cause”.

    Probable cause is defined as those “facts and circumstances” that indicate that a crime has been committed and that a particular person or persons committed it.

    To make an arrest an officer needs to meet the criteria of probable cause articulated above. A further review of this probable cause must be conducted by a disinterested third party magistrate to determine if a warrant should be issued.

    It is only after a trial by a diverse collection of folks with their own individual life experiences that a review of the facts and circumstances, after hearing from an adversarial prosecution and defense, will render a determination of the veracity of the case…and only then on the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    In my experience it is uncommon for religious adherents to abide by such a reasonable standard, opting instead for absolutist pronouncements supporting their faith over all others.

    Like the criminal justice model…all critical analysis of claims regarding events along with the scientific method advancing medicine, space exploration and all other human knowledge adjusts assertions and “beliefs” based on what is observed, learned and tested empirically.

    Religious faith, on the other hand, can be historically shown to deny such observations and evidence so that faith and authority can be preserved.

    1. For my part, I am not interested in a criminal justice model or a religous model for assessing possibilities and probabilities. Rather, I am interested in a common sense model.

      This is what guided me as an adult while I was an agnostic and had no interest in spiritual things. It is a model I have continued to use through all my Bible reading in the years since. I have never felt the need to reliquish it or exchange it for any other. People who abandon common sense and conscience in the pursuit of God make me very uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that religious pursuits are the only ones that cause people to abandon common sense and conscience.

      1. The only reason I participated in this discussion is that you said you arrived at your conclusion by applying logic to the evidence, rather than by simply applying common sense or intuition (as most believers seem to do). “Common sense” is hardly a compelling argument, since obviously those of certain mindset will find that the ideas behind Christianity not only fly in the face of common sense, but are simply absurd.

        To me, it seems that you are once again moving the goalposts, since (in my opinion) Steve, KC and I have shown you to have an exceptionally weak case — if you stick to the rigorous “evidence and logic” system used by the criminal justice system as well as by science. But now it just comes down to common sense for you….and your common sense is very, very different from ours.

        For most adherents of Christianity (or most any religion), I would argue that said “common sense” is more accurately described as “the circuits in the brain that were strongly reinforced before the person was old enough to apply independent critical thinking.” Indoctrination, that is.

        Whether or not that applies to you, I don’t know. But if you are unwilling to make your case using the approaches that have shown themselves, time and again, to have the highest resistance to being led astray, and instead just want to say “my intuition tells me this is true,” I don’t think I can spend more time discussing it with you.

        1. The only reason I participated in this discussion is that you said you arrived at your conclusion by applying logic to the evidence, rather than by simply applying common sense or intuition (as most believers seem to do). “Common sense” is hardly a compelling argument, since obviously those of certain mindset will find that the ideas behind Christianity not only fly in the face of common sense, but are simply absurd.

          You apparently define some these terms differently than I do. For me, common sense and logic are synonymous terms. Intuition is something entirely different. Whether I say logic has led me or I say common sense has led me, I have said the same thing. I have never said intuition led me, nor have I ever considered myself a particularly intuitive person.

          To me, it seems that you are once again moving the goalposts, since (in my opinion) Steve, KC and I have shown you to have an exceptionally weak case — if you stick to the rigorous “evidence and logic” system used by the criminal justice system as well as by science. But now it just comes down to common sense for you….and your common sense is very, very different from ours.

          I am puzzled as to how you think I’ve moved the goalposts. I said in the beginning that in reading the New Testament I found it logical and persuasive. I have not varied from that point. If you have not yet found it logical and persuasive, I would have to ask how much time have you actually spent reading it as opposed to talking about it?

          For most adherents of Christianity (or most any religion), I would argue that said “common sense” is more accurately described as “the circuits in the brain that were strongly reinforced before the person was old enough to apply independent critical thinking.” Indoctrination, that is.

          Yes, I know that is your view,and that it is the view of many atheists. I can only tell you that it is not my experience.

          Whether or not that applies to you, I don’t know. But if you are unwilling to make your case using the approaches that have shown themselves, time and again, to have the highest resistance to being led astray, and instead just want to say “my intuition tells me this is true,” I don’t think I can spend more time discussing it with you.

          Whether you continue or not, Rob, is, of course, entirely up to you. But in either case know that you have put words in my mouth that I never uttered, thought, or felt. I don’t hold this against you because you appear to have done so sincerely. I have never heard of anyone who equated common sense with intuition and considered logic something entirely different, but then I have never surveyed the field on the subject.

          At the very least I was hoping you’d help me finish filling out your case for the embellished legend theory. I’m trying earnestly to imagine how it happened. And I’m willing to believe it if it’s more credible that the non-falsified explanation I’m currently believing. I know to you it seems intutive that the legend could easily and quickly evolved, but my mind needs more evidence that indeed this could have happened and that enough people were gullible enough to swallow it whole, write the New Testament, all at the risk of life and limb, in the brief time period required.

          1. You are the one who referred to “common sense” being as opposed to using more rigorous logic, such as that in court rooms and science papers.

            There is good reason why they use these approaches. Do you think they are faulty?

            If it isn’t moving the goalposts, it is still pretty slippery. I suspect there is a reason you don’t want Christianity to be put under that microscope.

            1. My preference for common sense is rooted in its ubiquity, its democratic nature. Not everyone has access to petri dishes, test tubes, and microscopes. Nor has everyone been trained in the formalities Aristotelian logic. Yet every human being can use his or her logical sense. And it’s for this very reason that we call it common.

              Do I think court rooms and science papers are faulty? Not at all. They are useful tools in the proper setting. Common sense logic, however, is useful in every setting – including those two. Thus it is not just the ubiquity of common sense but its utility that attracts me. (By the way, a reminder: “common sense logic” is a redundancy to me but I’m using it to make sure my meaning comes through to you.)

              Now, I should probably go ahead and point out the obvious: that just because common sense is widely distributed among the human race does not mean that it is widely practiced. And there are all sorts of reasons that people abandon their common sense. Nonetheless, we must keep calling ourselves back to it for nothing else can take its place.

              What you see as my resistance to court rooms and science papers in this context is that I don’t see how they’re helpful (in the same way that they wouldn’t be helpful, say, in resolving an important issue between a husband and wife). We’re not going to be able to send Mark Furman to Jerusalem to interview the protagonist or the witnesses. Neither are we going to have blood samples to ship to Richard Dawkins’ lab. So, if you want to play the game by those rules, you’ve guaranteed yourself a victory, albeit a hollow one.

              I am quite happy for Jesus Christ the Bible to be put under the microscope of common sense logic, but, as I’ve said, I am not here to defend church or Christians. (I put it this way because I’m not sure what you mean by “Christianity.”)

              1. As I have said numerous times, all I am asking for is that the story of Jesus be subjected to the same level of scrutiny that other debated historical events are.

                1. I would like that. My complaint continues to be that you are subjecting the story of Jesus to a level of scrutiny far greater than you apply to other historical events.

      2. “For my part, I am not interested in a criminal justice model or a religous model for assessing possibilities and probabilities. Rather, I am interested in a common sense model.”

        No doubt, as am I, and presented the models we commonly use in our criminal justice system along with the scientific method as examples of sound and sensible models for assessing possibilities and probabilities.

        I also presented a “compare and contrast” approach showing that religious models do not use such approaches regarding such empirical and sensible methodologies to examine claims, preferring instead, supernatural and paranormal approaches as directed by representative authority figures.

        The very core of religion is pastoral, where the flock must be shown the way via mandates, doctrine and dogma. This fact is readily observable within said doctrine and reflected in the assorted costumes and rituals they each espouse. I think we share this common view (as I have come to know your position by your posts over the past few days we’ve had these exchanges).

        But, in my opinion, it is continually problematic to make similar interpretive assertions regarding doctrines sourcing the same text about the unfalsifiable, yet equally unprovable, which is precisely what keeps religious memes evolving through human culture as long as we have gaps in our knowledge.

        “This is what guided me as an adult while I was an agnostic and had no interest in spiritual things. It is a model I have continued to use through all my Bible reading in the years since. I have never felt the need to reliquish it or exchange it for any other. People who abandon common sense and conscience in the pursuit of God make me very uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that religious pursuits are the only ones that cause people to abandon common sense and conscience.”

        Good for you regarding the former, Mike, and I agree with you on the latter.

  24. This comment continues from this thread above.

    I think you are being incredibly gullible, in general, if you ever say “so-and-so writes in a way that sounds so genuine that it is implausible for it to be a lie.”

    If I were saying that, I agree that I would be gullible. However, I wasn’t saying that. Rather I was saying that John’s writing is so direct, so clear, and so bold that he was either telling the truth or lying. Which of the two it was can be decided later, but to suggest, as you did, that someone who writes so directly, clearly, and boldly for almost 21 chapters concluded his writing with a weasel passage that would allow him to disavow responsibility for any or all of what he’d just written is illogical.

    There is nothing false about the dichotomy. It is precisely the dichotomy that John, Peter, Paul, and the others intended to leave their listeners and readers. You can disbelieve them if you want, but they’ve made sure you can’t hide behind the claim that they were vague, timid, or confusing about what they asserted to be true.

    An honest person and a good liar, whether in person or in print, always sound the same when telling their stories. Therefore, you always need other factors to sort out the truth-teller from the deceiver. For now, I’m just trying to get you to acknowledge that the New Testament claims to be eyewitness testimony. You asked me to give you chapter and verse, and I did. I don’t think it’s too much to ask you to acknowledge the point.

  25. “As I have said numerous times, all I am asking for is that the story of Jesus be subjected to the same level of scrutiny that other debated historical events are.”

    Well, that’s exactly right, Rob.

    Here we have a story, purportedly documented by up to four “apostles”, but presumably written much later (50 years by most assessments) than events allegedly depicted.

    Then, within the stories themselves, we supposedly have Jesus performing all sorts of magical feats in full public view of the “multitudes”…wine/water, loaves/fishes, blind/sight, demons/pigs, cursed/fig trees, dead/alive, sermon/mount, brutal execution/resurrection)

    …and, yet, an eerie silence pervades in the history of the region…there is no “multitude” of corresponding folk expressing their individual views or convincing (in absolute terms) the population *of the day* or even the Jewish authority, in the same region, at the same time, that what later “church fathers”, channeling documents from a few individually chosen “apostles”, vote into the “canon” as “true and absolutely accurate”.

    The first and primary question we should ask, no matter our potential preconceived notions or long held allegiances are…is, why is that?

    In my view, such displays of (otherwise considered magical) interventions of a God walking this very earth in human clothing/flesh should have, then and there, settled all, in complete and absolute terms.

    Ta-dah, end of all doubt.

    Why is it that it took several men and special councils, *centuries later*, and a “crafting” of selected/de-selected works being “approved” by those proclaiming their authority, out of thin air, to come to a consensus that could be officially “preached” to the world?

    This is meaningful and significant to realize for those interested in a diligent and non-reverent assessment of all of the facts and circumstances.

    1. Here we have a story, purportedly documented by up to four “apostles”, but presumably written much later (50 years by most assessments) than events allegedly depicted.

      On what basis to you make this presumption? (And why are you presuming things?) Even Wikipedia shows your assertion to be an overstatement, both when you say “50 years” and when you say “most.”

      In my view, such displays of (otherwise considered magical) interventions of a God walking this very earth in human clothing/flesh should have, then and there, settled all, in complete and absolute terms. Ta-dah, end of all doubt.

      There’s not much point to blowing the trumpet to herald the end of doubt if you never doubted your views to begin with. It’s apparent that you approach this issue with the conviction that the probability of a supernatural event is zero. Therefore, any survey you undertake of literature which contains such an account will always result in your conclusion that supernatural events don’t occur. Don’t you see that if you presume that the probability of something is zero that any and all evidence you encounter will inevitably lead back to that same conclusion. What better example of circular reasoning could there be?

  26. Ok, is it time to wrap this up?

    I think we’ve each been repeating ourselves over and over. We could go on forever.

    My suggestion: we both write up our final words, and agree to post them at the same time (so that neither is in response to the other).

    1. I’m fine with wrapping up this dialogue, Rob, and I’m happy to give you the last word. Write whatever you like and I will not rebut or add anything after it.

      I do hope, however, that you will continue your construction efforts on a theory at I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point (which I have summarized here). If not, though, thanks for all your contributions and all best wishes to you.

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