The embarrassing gospel

One of the problems with writing a blog is that you have to keep coming up with something to write about. I think, though, that I’m going to have no shortage of material for the next few days, thanks to our new commenter, Ben, and his arguments from Christian apologetics. Continuing with his second comment, he presents us with the Christian version of the criterion of embarrassment.

The second self-authenticating feature is our justification in applying, to several key details in the Synoptic Gospels, the so-called criterion of embarrassment. This is a principle of historical analysis which states that any detail problematic to an ancient account can be presumed true on the logic that the author would not have invented a detail problematic to his account.

The criterion of embarrassment can indeed be used as a legitimate tool by historians. But, like any tool, it can also be misused, whether by incompetence or malice, much like the same chisel can be used both to carve the sculpture and to destroy it. We thus need to not only identify the use of the tool, but also verify whether it has been applied correctly.

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CS Lewis’ argument from literary style

Most believers who comment on my blog are kind of drive-by commenters: one post and then they’re gone. But there are exceptions, and not all of them are outright trolls. Sometimes, they even provoke some interesting discussions, and I think (I hope!) that we’ve got one now.

By way of background, this past Easter season brought a lot of attention to a post I made in February 2012 about Matthew’s story of the guards at the tomb. It has been getting consistent hits in my “Popular Pages” log, and has attracted a few comments, most of which are of the “post and run” variety. Two of them, however, are from a commenter named Ben, and these are the ones I’m referring to.

The second of these is quite long, but he brings up some interesting material, and I’d like to address some of it here, starting with his citation of CS Lewis’ argument from literary style. Ben writes:

Here you, the nonbeliever, loudly object that the Gospel forms the main part of the evidential basis for its own claim. And on the face of it this would appear to be a formidable objection…

[The] problem is one which Christian apologists are able to meet with surprising assurance and lucidity. And they do this by drawing our attention to the unique self-authenticating features of their source material.

I can definitely agree that their assurance is surprising, given the nature of their argument.

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NPR, science, and God. (And magic.)

In a commentary posted on the NPR web site, Nancy Ellen Abrams writes:

“God” is a word. If we define it, even subconsciously, as something that cannot exist in our universe, we banish the idea of God from our reality and throw away all possibility of incorporating a potent spiritual metaphor into a truly coherent big picture. But if we take seriously the reliable — and, thus, invaluable — scientific and historical knowledge we now possess, we can redefine God in a radically new and empowering way that expands our thinking and could help motivate and unite us in the dangerous era humanity is entering.

I actually have had similar thoughts myself, once upon a time, and can still feel a bit of sympathy for this point of view. I think, however, that any comment I could make on this article would be best made by restating her arguments with one slight substitution. Instead of taking this as an argument for a “scientifically real God,” what if we view it instead as an argument for magic?

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A world(view) without morals

Imagine living in a world where you had absolutely no insight into good and evil, a world where you were completely incapable of seeing anything inherently wrong with assault, torture, rape, mutilation, and murder. Imagine being taught a morality so twisted and perverse that the only way you could be persuaded not to do such things is if you imagined some immensely powerful, magical being threatening to hurt you for a very long time if you did them.

Imagine living in Phil Robertson’s world(view)WARNING: Graphic rape/torture/murder fantasy, compliments of Christian hero Robertson, at the other end of that link.

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Your memes are trying to tell you something

I saw a couple interesting memes on Facebook recently. One was a guy saying something to the effect of “Complaining that God is silent when you don’t read your Bible is like complaining you don’t get text messages when you turn off your phone.” The other was a story about some kid who got shot in the eye, and survived, to which a believer added a caption giving God credit for his survival. Both memes were similar, in that they were inspirational, superficial, and rich in implications that betray the fundamental fraud of the Gospel.

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Gospel Disproof #55: The God who could not count to three

One of the differences between a true story and a made-up story is that the made-up story is not consistent with anything that actually happened in the real world. In fact, that’s the essence of what it means to be a made up story. As a consequence of that difference, the made-up story has something else that the true story does not: spontaneous inventions.

For example, let’s consider the curious incident of the Messiah in the tomb.

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Good without God

I like the phrase “good without god(s),” because it reminds us that morality does not come from supernatural sources. But there’s a flip side to that: if we can be good without God, then we can also be evil without the devil, as has been horrifically demonstrated in the Chapel Hill shooting.

The thing is, atheism is just a fact, like the speed of light or the law of gravity. We don’t get any moral impetus from the fact that we obediently accelerate towards the center of the earth at about 32 feet per second squared. Knowing the correct value for the acceleration of gravity may give us a scientific advantage over people who don’t know, or who choose to believe in erroneous values. But that give us no moral advantage.

And it’s the same with atheism. Seeing the absence of the gods, understanding the superstitions and rationalizations that lead people to believe in beings that aren’t there, knowing the history of religion with its triumphs and tragedies—these are all simply observations. They’re not a source of moral guidance or motivation.

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Objective Deliciousness

The NPR blog has a shortish post on “What If Heaven Is Not For Real,” written by self-declared agnostic Adam Frank. You can probably guess what he’s going to say, and I’m not going to say much for or against it. But I do want to take note of the comments, and this one in particular.

JW: That is a very profound verse. Do you believe that there is objective morality?

I’ve heard that argument so many times, and read it in so many books of apologetics (including C. S. Lewis et al), and of course it’s a huge red herring. But just for fun, let’s see how many ways we can come up with to try and make it clear, even to believers, that this is a bad argument. My entry: “Objective Deliciousness.”

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Truth-seekers and god-slayers

PZ Myers is annoyed by the fact that, when it comes core, fundamental, human values, many atheists are as bad as believers, if not outright worse. In the eyes of some, “atheism” means only “lack of god-belief,” which means atheism cannot imply anything more than that, which means that atheism implies some kind of amoral anarchy, above and beyond mere unbelief. So which is it? Does atheism imply nothing more than absence of belief, or does it imply that “they’re right and you’re wrong?” You can’t have it both ways.

In truth, atheism absolutely does have implications beyond mere absence of belief in supernatural father figures. A world without gods to take responsibility for everything is a world where we ourselves are responsible. Atheism implies that we have work to do, morally, socially, and scientifically. And maybe that’s the reason why some unbelievers would rather not acknowledge anything more than just the absence of gods. But I suspect it goes deeper than that. I think what we’re seeing today is the emergence of two broadly-defined tribes within atheism, two different types of atheists, whom I designate as truth-seekers and god-slayers.

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