Quantcast

«

»

Oct 14 2011

What kids learn in Sunday School

This is one of those e-mails where, if I’m going to take the considerable time it will require to answer it, more than one person should benefit. So, rather than reply directly to the correspondent, I think the blog is a better venue for this sort of information. A lot of what “AS” has to say below is the same disinformation I was handed as a young person growing up in a fundamentalist, literalist church. At least two items are pretty much exactly what I was told. And so I feel compelled to respond.

First of all, nothing below matters in the least unless a god exists. If no god exists, then there was no sacrifice. If no god exists, there was no deity who walked among us. If no god exists, the Bible is not divinely inspired. And so on. In the same way it makes no sense to say “Fairies make the flowers bloom, and if you doubt me, I have but to show you a blooming flower,” it makes no sense to say “God is responsible for X, and if you doubt me, I have but to show you X.” And X can be filled in with “coming to earth as a man,” or “inspiring the Bible,” or “creating the universe,” or whatever your heart desires. Whatever you think god has done, until you demonstrate a god actually exists, you haven’t made your point.

That being said, a lot of the refutation below becomes moot. BUT, it may have significance to theists who care about whether or not the church is lying to them, or whether or not what they believe and promote is even likely to be true. And so, I put myself through the pointless paces below because it’s possible someone, somewhere might benefit.

First of all the sacrifice of Jesus wasn’t for God himself, it was for His Creation. because God is a holy and righteous God He CANNOT look upon sin, because he gave His Creation free will, we’ve ALL chosen to sin, and because of that we can’t be in God’s presence. If we’ve accepted Jesus Christ God CAN then and ONLY then look at us as sanctified, and then worthy enough to be with Him.

Please note that AS’s god “cannot” look upon sin, which means that the Bible is not correct in Matthew 19:26 when it says “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” AS here has identified something that is not possible for god.

And we also know then that god is not everywhere. If god can’t be in proximity to “sin” (can’t even look at it—does god have eyes?)—then where there is sin, god is not. So, not all powerful, not everywhere—it becomes less and less god-like with each claim about it. But most importantly, where is AS getting this information? Has someone examined god to determine any of this? To see what the limits of a god are—where a god can/can’t go, what a god can/can’t do? I’m guessing not. And yet, like Big Foot researchers, not having access to one to actually study doesn’t seem to stop them from telling us all about them.

Then, we have the problem of free will. While we can debate whether it exists in any meaningful sense, or what it might represent in reality, the question can be answered with “Does god have free will?” If yes, then it is possible to be all good and have free will. If no, well, then there’s another thing god is restricted by. But if god has free will, then man could have been created all good and having free will, just like god.

Then we have the issue of god creating people as he chose to create them, presumably knowing precisely how they would act, and then getting upset at people for doing what he designed them to do. If I build cars with brakes I know will fail, and then declare failure is unacceptable, is it reasonable to get angry at the cars? If, before I build them, I already know thousands of people will die as a result, who is responsible for the resulting carnage?

But let’s look at human free will in this sense. I am not sexually attracted to children. In fact, I have a strong aversion to the thought of such an act. But, according to AS, I, as a human, have free will. It is inescapable, then, that any/all humans could have an innate aversion to sex with children, and all still have free will—just like me. So, why did god instill some with a desire to have sex with children? If he could have averted child rapes and still given people free will, is it moral that he arbitrarily chose to include “wanting sex with children” as a human attribute in some of us? That’s a sick choice, from any angle. Like saying I’ll build some cars with really, really defective brakes that are just bound to get some people killed—not because I need to. It’s just that’s how I’d like to roll.

And actually there’s TONS of evidence, in Isiah 53: The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

[And here AS quotes the full set of verses 1-12, abbreviated below.]

1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Quoting the Bible is not “evidence.” This has nothing to do with demonstrating anything about anything. This is a passage that Jewish scholars (and after all, it’s their book, right?) assert is a personification of the nation of Israel and the trials and suffering it endured. Of course, Christians go back and re-interpret everything through their own Jesus-colored goggles, and claim this is about Jesus. And to the reasonable rebuttal “that’s crazy, this author lived many long centuries before Jesus, and would have had no knowledge of Christianity,” the Christian declares “And that proves it’s divine prophecy!” Because it couldn’t possibly be a passage about Israel written by an ancient Hebrew author, right? Far be it from the Jews to be able to interpret their own writings. Good thing the Christians came along to explain to them what their own culture produced.

if you just read the Bible, instead of Choosing what you “want” it to be then it would actually make sense. And that was only ONE chapter out of the Whole OT.

Pot, meet Kettle. See above.

And about the Jewish captivity I’ve heard you say didn’t happen, how do you know 100% sure that it’s not real?

Well, there’s this thing called “burden of proof.” It means that when someone makes a claim, they have an obligation to support it—with actual evidence, not just more claims.

there’s actual history books, on that fact.

Then it should be no problem to demonstrate this “fact,” right? Please provide evidence this story ever happened in reality, because historians currently admit it appears to be a fabrication. In fact one thing I love to do is use people who agree with a position I don’t, to show the flaws. In this case, here is a Jewish promotional site talking about this very issue. The person replying to the question is basically admitting there isn’t a shred of real evidence to support the claim that the Exodus occurred, and that believers just have this Hebrew story. And the person replying declares that’s where “faith” comes in—to help you believe a claim about history for which you only have a story but no supporting evidence. If it’s a demonstrable “fact,” why do you need “faith” to believe it?

http://www.jewishpost.com/archives/cyber-rav/did-the-exodus-story-really-happen.html

I agree with them that there’s no evidence, but in my view, that’s a reason to assert the book appears to not coincide with what we can demonstrate about historic fact, not a reason to believe it’s accurate. If one book were written that claimed George Washington was a cross dresser, but when you looked into the claim, you found no actual evidence to support the claim—why would you accept it as true? The person making the claim needs to demonstrate why anyone should accept it. If they can’t, then it’s just an unsupported claim, and why would anyone believe it?

Just like there’s history books on Pilate/ and even HE was in the Bible.

Correct. There is more than the Bible to substantiate the existence of particular Roman rulers. And when we are presented with more evidence than just Bible stories, we tend to give the claims more weight. In the same way, Homer wrote stories about battles and rulers, too. And because we have more information than just Homer’s stories, from excavation, we are willing to accept these figures in his stories represent real people—where it’s justified to do so. But where Homer suggests that the Greek gods came down to do battle with the armies, we tend to say maybe Homer was fudging just a bit for dramatic effect, don’t we? Why? Why, after we learned that the people in Homer’s tales were real, did we still reject that Greek gods came down and participated in the battles? Didn’t the fact that he talked about real people in his stories mean they had to be totally true? Isn’t that what you’re suggesting a person should do? I don’t think that would be reasonable. So, I don’t agree that’s what people should do when evaluating stories. Not all claims are equal—even claims within the same story. Some require more evidence than others. And “just a story” about gods fighting in a battle is not enough “evidence” to make that claim believable, no matter how many people believe it or tell it, and even when it’s paired with mentions of other real people we know lived, and places we know existed.

And how then do you know all of the historical stories, or even science books for that matter are correct,

That actually requires two different set of criteria for evaluation. Historic claims have to be investigated and the best, most reasonable, most educated evaluations should be made, because we can’t go back in time to confirm them. Some historic claims are easier to confirm than others—such as claims of Roman battles where we are able to excavate and find evidence of Roman battles. Other claims are harder to verify—such as whether or not a guy named Robin Hood ever existed. Our best guesses about history, then, can still be incorrect; but we have only whatever evidence remains to examine and expert opinion to go on.

This is not the same with claims about science or claims about how things are currently in reality. These are claims we can (and should) actually verify through testing, observation and repeated verification. So, if someone makes a claim about gravity, we simply test it to see if it’s true. Or if we can’t test it, then we have to wait until someone devises a test in order to know whether the claim is true or not—and until that time we don’t have any cause to believe the claim. So we wait to see if it should be believed before we lend it our belief.

With a claim of “god exists,” for example, we should be using this method, not a historic evaluation, because, if god exists right now, and has any influence or impact on anything right now, then we can examine that in real time, right now. We don’t have to go back and try to make a best guess—because what we want to know is here now, and if people claim to know it’s here now, they should be able to provide the rest of us with the evidence that this thing is here now—just like gravity is here now, and we can test for that. If the people making the claim can’t provide any evidence to support their god exists in the here and now, then the rest of us can only wonder why they think there is “something” there, when they can’t demonstrate anything is there at all. Carl Sagan wrote up a nice, easy-to-understand analogy about why this fails:

http://www.users.qwest.net/~jcosta3/article_dragon.htm

well it’s the same with the Bible. think of the Bible as one big historical book. It’s the same thing in a court room, where people write/type down what exaclty is happening.

OK, and just as with other history books, when we evaluate them, the most reasonable expert evaluation should be accepted. And when we have a test such as the Isaiah passage you provided earlier, here is what we have to choose from:

1. An ancient Hebrew wrote about his own nation’s trials and tribulations and used personification as a literary technique, or

2. A god inspired a guy to write a story about how this god would come to Earth centuries later and offer himself up as a human sacrifice in human form to save the world from an eternal torture chamber; and he made the story seem like an ancient Hebrew writing about his nation’s trials and tribulations using personification as a literary technique, but really it was magical prophecy that nobody would really understand the true meaning of until centuries later.

Is there really any choice there?

The Bible is infallable.. without error….many people including atheist have tried to dis-prove it, but from many speculations, and in-depth studies has come to the conclusion, that it is real.

The Bible is real, I agree. It’s just not divinely inspired. Nor is it correct in all cases. Nor is it error free, as you claim. As before, the best rebuttal to Christian disinformation is a good religious source. The men and women, with degrees in theological disciplines and ancient Biblical languages, who have devoted their lives to translating the Bible from manuscripts I wouldn’t even be allowed to breathe on, and who work for companies who produce and sell Bibles for profit, are the same people who point out the errors and problems right there IN the Bible’s own pages. The marginal notes in the Bible are the Bible’s worst enemy when it comes to claims of “perfection” in the text or translation. Please check out passages like John 7:53-8:11:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%207:53-8:11&version=NIV

Translator’s note, in the text: [The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

And like Mark 16:9-20

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+16&version=NIV

Translator’s note, in the text: [The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]

When you say it’s perfect, you’re disagreeing with the men and women who are best qualified to make that decision. Additionally, they make their living by producing Bibles, and so have every reason to support the book; and yet they have to be professionally honest and admit evidence does not support the claim that it is perfect. The book you have in your hands every Sunday is not considered, by the best available Bible scholars, to be error-free. That’s a Christian claim that, again, not surprisingly, defies actual expert opinion.

Additionally, do you know who selected the books and put them together as the Bible? Do you know when that was done? Do you know why? Do you know who commissioned it? Do you know what methods they used to select the books they included and reject the books they didn’t? Do you know that your Bible Canon is not the only official Canon in Christianity? Do you know that the other Canons are not based on the same base set of manuscripts? Do you know why? I’m guessing not. But all of this should interest you. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask yourself why a church that preaches the Bible is god’s word hasn’t informed you about how this book actually, historically came to exist. Think: Does that seem even a little bit odd? All that Bible study, and not a single class on the history of how that book came to end up in your hands?

And maybe I’m wrong. But honestly, I think if you knew those answers, you wouldn’t be asserting it’s a perfect book.

And about the flood, again try to dis-prove it. I’ve actually done a study on the flood. Did you know they found fish fossils on mountains. In Mountains all over the world one can find sea shells and other marine fossils. These include the Sierras, the Swiss Alps, the Himalayas and many more. Just look it up!!

One of my most embarrassing moments as a young Christian was when I trotted out this piece of fail, myself. And I was immediately reminded of a fact I knew, but my cognitive dissonance had let me set aside: Mountains are often formed from land masses that were once submerged under water. And also, they are formed often from glacial movement, where sheets of ice move from ocean locations across land and push up masses of earth. The water then melts over time. Mountains with sea fossils on them would not be indicative of a world-wide flood that covered mountain peaks. In fact, modern geology does not hold that our planet’s history included a global flood. And if you aren’t home schooled, you’ll recall this from your younger years when you studied Earth’s basic geology.

Plus the BIGGEST evidence of all. If you look at a world map you’ll see that ALL of the continents when put together, fits together.

Plate tectonics proves god?

And at the tower of Babel when people were trying to get up to miss the flood, God dispersed the languages, so that the people could NO longer communicate with each other. Therefore that why we have different languages(Tower of Babel Gen: 11:6) , and seperated continents (Flood Gen: 6:9-8:22) It also shocked me too, I was once a non-believer, and I actually sat down and read the Bible, and it told me everything.

I suggest you read the story of Babel again. It has nothing to do with the flood. It was about people building a tower due to personal pride, not to escape a flood (Gen 11):

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…

And there is no mention of plate tectonics in Gen 6-8. If you have a specific passage you think I’ve missed, let me know. But I don’t recall god moving continents after or during the flood. And I’m not going to quote three chapters at this blog to demonstrate it. Anyone who would like to look it up and read it can. If I’ve overlooked anything, feel free to let me know.

But, let me go back to Babel. Here, again, the Bible conflicts markedly with scholarship in the area of how languages evolved and moved around the globe. Especially with the advent of written language forms, we were able to trace language development between people over time, and we know how language changes, and we can make some pretty expert links between languages based on word roots and structures. Language moved around the globe and changed as a process that was quite natural over lengthy periods of time. There is no evidence of all known, different languages cropping up at a single time in a single location. That’s actually in conflict with linguistic models.

Try your best but I don’t think you’ll be able to get around this easily.

In order to accept your claims, I would be required to disagree with expert opinion in a variety of well studied fields. I’m not prepared to do that. If the book disagrees with what is known about our world, why wouldn’t I draw the conclusion the book is wrong? To assert the book is right, I have to reject actual scholarship and evidence. And if I do that, what am I using as my guide for telling fact from fiction? If the goal is to judge whether the book is correct, isn’t the fact that it doesn’t align with reality evidence of its failing? It is to me. If we’re going to reject evidence and expert opinion, and just go with the book—what is the point of even examining reality to see it if coincides? Isn’t that just a waste of time?

These are tired pieces of disinformation that have been promoted by churches since I was your age. It was fail then, and it’s no less fail now. I totally understand how easy it is to accept it. Your preacher, your family, your “information” (which consists of apologetic sources right now), all support your beliefs. But if you ever decide to see what actual scholars have to say about the evidence/facts on these subjects, and not just what other Christians assert, you’ll find it’s not what you’ve been told.

I’m 16 years old and I know I may not hve studied as long as some of you but I’m trying to find out the truth and show others it can be found like I did.

So you’re trying to “find” the truth—but you’ve “found” it? It’s one or the other. If you believe you have it, then you’re not still looking. And if you’re still looking, you’ll find in short order that this “truth” you’ve been handed is a pack of fables.

So thanks for your time and I’ll wait for your responses. Let me know if you find any errors in my logic and whether or not you have been convinced…

As I noted already, a huge part of what drove me to reply to this was simply that you sound so much like I did at your age. It pains me to realize what was done to me, and to see it still being done, no matter how much information is so much more readily available to young people today than it was to me when I was your age. It almost makes me wonder if there will ever be a time when real information will be available enough to keep people from being able to successfully lie to their children. And yet, you wrote to our show—and that’s a damn sight more resource than I would have had access to at 16. So, that’s something.

And let me end on the note upon which I started. Nothing at all above matters, unless you, or anyone, can demonstrate a god exists. If no god exists, there is no point to discussing or debating any of the above points—not a single one. They’re useless exchanges, until and unless it can be demonstrated that there even is a god that exists. Until that time, we have no method to verify any claims regarding any gods (what they’re like or what they do)—to what could we compare the claims in order to determine if they match reality?

Thanks for writing.

37 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Jason

    Just wanted to commend your level of poise in handling his response. This kid obviously wants to know more and likely has a good-enough head on his shoulders, but just needed some -real- answers from someone who’s in the business of reality, not fantasy, and it sounds like it got exactly what was warranted, and asked for.

  2. 2
    Brian Utterback

    I was thrilled when I discovered that Leonardo da Vinci figured out for himself in the 1500′s that the sea fossils on top of mountains could not have come to be there because of The Flood. Without plate tectonics or any theory of fossils or geology, he was able to shoot that hypothesis out of the water (heh). What a guy!

  3. 3
    jacobfromlost

    Please, Tracie. The next thing you will be saying is that the X-Men were not involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Now, I know Bush’s Press Secretary Dana Perino (like most of us) had never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I looked it up and IT HAPPENED. It’s even in the history books!

    Therefore the X-Men are real, and when they were younger they just happened to look like some actors of today, but that’s just a divine coincidence to get people interested in the X-Men revelation.

    ___________________
    End Satire.

    When nonevidence is acceptable as evidence, then evidence is no longer evidence and, quite literally, anything goes (which means that the meaning of “evidence” has just been rendered meaningless, and useless).

    The nature of evidence is that it indicates ONE thing, not many. If you have a video tape of me shooting my neighbor, my fingerprints on the gun, my blood/DNA at the scene, 3 eye witnesses that agree that I did it, and I have no alibi–then THAT is evidence I committed the crime.

    But if the only “evidence” you have against me is that I have an index finger capable of pulling a trigger, and I live next door…THAT IS NOT EVIDENCE…except of the fact that I have an index finger.

    I really wish some of these believers would first learn what the word “evidence” MEANS before laboring in these debates.

    1. 3.1
      Aaron

      When a lot of theists talk about “evidence”, what they’re actually talking about is “things that I feel supports my opinion/preconception” in terms of debate, rather than an open-ended inquiry. As one theist told me, “you have to decide what you believe and then find the clues (i.e. ‘evidence’) to support that”. Same as when theists talk about “truth”: they don’t mean “reality” but often it means “hope”. For example “Have you heard the Truth about Jesus?” means “Jesus gives me hope”. These differences in the lexicon is one of the reasons why theists and atheists often talk past each other.

      1. jacobfromlost

        “For example “Have you heard the Truth about Jesus?” means “Jesus gives me hope”. These differences in the lexicon is one of the reasons why theists and atheists often talk past each other.”

        Well, I think you are being too charitable. Often theists KNOW what these terms mean in other contexts. The only context in which they redefine them or use a different “lexicon” is in this one situation. It’s just a rhetorical magic trick in which the theist has an entire deck of aces up their sleeve. Suggesting this is just a difference in our lexicons is analogous to an audience member telling everyone else in the audience that the magician simply didn’t KNOW that deck of Aces were up his sleeve, and that they only happen to be taken out whenever the trick demands it. (And doesn’t anyone else find it odd that the aces don’t match the other cards in the trick? lol)

  4. 4
    Jasper of Maine

    Just like there’s history books on Pilate/ and even HE was in the Bible.

    Each individual claim has to be individually confirmable. Claims aren’t true-by-association.

    If I write a book that states 1000 claims about lightning, and the first 999 are confirmably true, the 1000th – “Lightning comes from Zeus” – isn’t true because of the other 999 claims in the book.

    In this way, because one archaeological claim from the Bible is demonstrated lends exactly 0 credibility to any other claim in the book.

    1. 4.1
      Jasper of Maine

      Hooray for both not closing a tag and not previewing.

      1. heicart

        LOLZ! :D

      2. jacobfromlost

        Combining my point and your point (which were really the same point anyway)…let’s change “guilt by association” to “truth by association”.

        Satire again…
        If some element is in a story, spoken or written, and it is surrounded by some demonstrable and confirmably true things, then OBVIOUSLY it must be true too, right? It’s just not POSSIBLE to weave truths and lies together the way all myths do (and good liars, and good storytellers) so that the lies are consistent with the truths that the speaker/writer chooses to include, right?

        I can’t imagine how an untrue thing could be associated with a true thing in a way that would be consistent in an incomplete picture, therefore Jesus.
        End Satire…

        I wonder how such a person with such a mindset would do in a job where they were CONSTANTLY lied to. Cop? Judge? High school teacher? lol (I try to imagine “Judge Judy” accepting the lies she is constantly subjected to just because the surrounding elements in the story are demonstrated true. What fun would that be, and how would it ever get to the truth? It would not be fun, and it would not get to the truth, and liars and cheats would have a happy day indeed. “That guy destroyed my car with his laser eyes. Here’s a picture of my car all burned up. I have 3 witnesses that have seen that my car is now all burned up. Evidence!” Judge Judy turns to the defendent. “Well, can you prove you DIDN’T destroy this car with your laser eyes?” “No.” “Judgment for the plantiff in the amount of $5000!”)

      3. Jasper of Maine

        Combining my point and your point (which were really the same point anyway)

        Honestly, when I read things like this, and I hit one of those points, I pretty much just stop reading everything and dart to the comment box.

        1. jacobfromlost

          Damn. So you missed my “Judge-Judy-laser-eyes-destroying-car” analogy?

          1. Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

            As a Judge Judy watcher (it’s something my mum and I do together), I appreciated it.

      4. Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

        Did the same thing, only mine was an unclosed blockquote tag. Much messier.

  5. 5
    razzlefrog

    Good reasoning.

  6. 6
    Jasper of Maine

    I’ve actually done a study on the flood. Did you know they found fish fossils on mountains.

    Yes, and that’s basic tectonics. Mountains are created by one tectonic plate sliding beneath another, pushing the other one up. Thus, sections of earth that were once on the ocean floor are pushed upwards.

    The Himalayan mountains are a great example, as the Indian plate is subducting beneath the Asian. The Himalayas are STILL getting taller to this day.

    It’s a classic example of the problem of exclusion. The given piece of evidence supports multiple possibilities, and for some reason, the apologist picks the most far-fetched possibility available, over the other, far more likely possibilities, arbitrarily.

    It’s betrays a complete and utter failure of logic and critical thinking of the arguer.

    What evidence does he have that the God-possibility is more likely than the well-established well-supported tectonic plate possibility? If he has nothing, he has not excluded the other possibilities yet, and is thus in error to have picked one conclusion over the others for literally no good reason.

  7. 7
    warren grubb

    I thought this letter was a POE until the last paragraph when they said they were 16. Maybe I missed that part in the intro (I admit, I skipped some preamble to get to the meat), but it explains a lot.

    Hopefully they will look into your rebuttal and actually take the time to research better before making so many “factual” claims in the future.

  8. 8
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Can I first say that you’re awesome, Tracie? A thorough answer that tries to educate rather than smoosh (smooshing can be reserved for adults who ought to know better, right?).

    I just have one minor, minor quibble. I know exactly what you were trying to get at here:

    Our best guesses about history, then, can still be incorrect; but we have only whatever evidence remains to examine and expert opinion to go on.

    and here:

    We don’t have to go back and try to make a best guess

    but as a historian (by education, though not currently by profession), I don’t think “guess” is the best word to use. History isn’t the only discipline that has to use the evidence that remains of the past to determine what happened before now (e.g. archaeology, geology, cosmology, paleontology, anthropology), but we don’t usually say that “it’s our best guess that the Big Bang occurred” or “we guess that the Himalayas formed when the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia”.

    In many contexts I wouldn’t mind the usage (e.g. “Historians have long guessed that the Black Death was caused by the bubonic plague, and this has now been confirmed by DNA analysis.”), but in a correspondence like this, I’d want to stress that historians don’t just make blind guesses about things and hope that we’ve come close. We do rigorous examination of the evidence we have, and use the scientific method to predict where the search for more evidence will prove productive. We employ multiple sources of data to corroborate this piece of evidence with that in order to form as complete a picture of the past as we can. [/quibble]

    Something you touched on that your correspondent needs to understand (in case they’re reading this): not only must we correctly place the burden of proof, which, as Tracie says, is on those trying to establish the accuracy of a historical source, but we must also consider absence of evidence to itself be evidence when we would expect such evidence to be present. Say for example, we have an anonymous document that describes the siege of a city during the reign of a certain king two hundred years before. But every other historical source that we have written during the period when the king was ruling says nothing about any siege. Is it more likely that document A is correct, or is it more likely that there *was no siege*? The answer becomes even more obvious when we take the writer’s cultural background and possible political motivations into account, or when we compare the description with a lack of physical archaeological evidence.

    Also, the Bible is not a single text, but a collection of writings, orally transmitted, then written down by different men in different political and religious and cultural environments over the course of centuries, redacted and edited by others, translated and copied by still others. And collected by others yet again. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff, some of it based on events that occurred, much of it made up, embellished, and adapted. I’d suggest reading a basic college level introductory text book on the Old and New Testaments. And one on early Christian history and theology.

    With a claim of “god exists,” for example, we should be using this method, not a historic evaluation, because, if god exists right now, and has any influence or impact on anything right now, then we can examine that in real time, right now.

    Science will demonstrate that we don’t need a god to explain things in the present (i.e. that there’s no evidence that god acts or influences the universe), history will demonstrate that every definition and description of god(s)’ nature and behaviour was created and written by men* for the purposes of men.

    *Yes, the evidence points to men, not women.

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Sorry for that mess! Let me try again….

    Can I first say that you’re awesome, Tracie? A thorough answer that tries to educate rather than smoosh (smooshing can be reserved for adults who ought to know better, right?).

    I just have one minor, minor quibble. I know exactly what you were trying to get at here:

    Our best guesses about history, then, can still be incorrect; but we have only whatever evidence remains to examine and expert opinion to go on.

    and here:

    We don’t have to go back and try to make a best guess

    but as a historian (by education, though not currently by profession), I don’t think “guess” is the best word to use. History isn’t the only discipline that has to use the evidence that remains of the past to determine what happened before now (e.g. archaeology, geology, cosmology, paleontology, anthropology), but we don’t usually say that “it’s our best guess that the Big Bang occurred” or “we guess that the Himalayas formed when the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia”.

    In many contexts I wouldn’t mind the usage (e.g. “Historians have long guessed that the Black Death was caused by the bubonic plague, and this has now been confirmed by DNA analysis.”), but in a correspondence like this, I’d want to stress that historians don’t just make blind guesses about things and hope that we’ve come close. We do rigorous examination of the evidence we have, and use the scientific method to predict where the search for more evidence will prove productive. We employ multiple sources of data to corroborate this piece of evidence with that in order to form as complete a picture of the past as we can. [/quibble]

    Something you touched on that your correspondent needs to understand (in case they’re reading this): not only must we correctly place the burden of proof, which, as Tracie says, is on those trying to establish the accuracy of a historical source, but we must also consider absence of evidence to itself be evidence when we would expect such evidence to be present. Say for example, we have an anonymous document that describes the siege of a city during the reign of a certain king two hundred years before. But every other historical source that we have written during the period when the king was ruling says nothing about any siege. Is it more likely that document A is correct, or is it more likely that there *was no siege*? The answer becomes even more obvious when we take the writer’s cultural background and possible political motivations into account, or when we compare the description with a lack of physical archaeological evidence.

    Also, the Bible is not a single text, but a collection of writings, orally transmitted, then written down by different men in different political and religious and cultural environments over the course of centuries, redacted and edited by others, translated and copied by still others. And collected by others yet again. It’s a hodgepodge of stuff, some of it based on events that occurred, much of it made up, embellished, and adapted. I’d suggest reading a basic college level introductory text book on the Old and New Testaments. And one on early Christian history and theology.

    With a claim of “god exists,” for example, we should be using this method, not a historic evaluation, because, if god exists right now, and has any influence or impact on anything right now, then we can examine that in real time, right now.

    Science will demonstrate that we don’t need a god to explain things in the present (i.e. that there’s no evidence that god acts or influences the universe), history will demonstrate that every definition and description of god(s)’ nature and behaviour was created and written by men* for the purposes of men.

    *Yes, the evidence points to men, not women.

  10. 10
    quantheory

    I am impressed with this response. I would like to make one additional point:

    “But if god has free will, then man could have been created all good and having free will, just like god.”

    You can additionally ask the same thing about people in heaven. Do they sin? Do they have free will? If the answer to both questions is “yes”, then why weren’t people just created in that state at the beginning? If the answer to one or the other is “no”, isn’t it a weird sort of “heaven”?

    1. 10.1
      Martin

      You can additionally ask the same thing about people in heaven. Do they sin? Do they have free will? If the answer to both questions is “yes”, then why weren’t people just created in that state at the beginning? If the answer to one or the other is “no”, isn’t it a weird sort of “heaven”?

      I think you need to pose the first question in such a way that a “yes” answer means that there is no sin in heaven. Which means that heaven is a sinless place and its denizens have free will, then you can ask why they weren’t created to be like that on earth.

  11. 11
    Matt

    It hurts to read stuff like this. Primarily because I know people who are exactly like that kid — only he is 16 and the people I know are closer to 30.

    I was once like that too, and I was able to escape; but the former-friends I mentioned never did. So there may be a chance for him, but I don’t have much hope. When I was his age, I was introspective and always thinking about these problems. Maybe that’s how I was able to get out of it. The people who were bringing it up with others and starting the debates at 16 are the people who are still doing it today, and have never changed (and never truly thought about what they were saying).

    Anyway, I hope I’m wrong. It just makes me really depressed.

  12. 12
    AbnormalWrench

    I just offer this as an analogy, but the internet is amazingly easy to hide different opinions, just because of the structure. One argument often leads only to similar arguments.

    A few years ago I was intrigued by the gold standard as a economic policy, and found a wealth of videos and arguments supporting it. I was overwhelmed by how much support it had, and wasn’t finding much argument against it. I was tentatively giving it some credit for several months, until I finally found the equivalent of talkorigins.org that not only pointed out how absurd the gold standard is, but also points out how it is nearly unanimously disparaged by all academics. You would think that shouldn’t be so hard to find….but it was.

    In short, the cranks crank out large volumes of misinformation, and can make it seem convincing.

  13. 13
    dave

    I’m not well versed in the Bible at all, just a quick question about the Tower of Babel comment, was he saying that people built the tower to escape the flood, but built it two or three verses after the flood? I suppose I could just read the passeges to find out.

    1. 13.1
      Peter N

      I think “AS” was trying to say that as a consequence of the people building the Tower, the continents were split apart, dividing the world’s peoples (as well as their languages) — so the fact that there are distinct continents instead of a single land mass confirms the story of the Tower.

      If you start with the conclusion and work to make the evidence fit, you almost always end up with a mess like that!

  14. 14
    helenaconstantine

    1. When I read where you say that there is no evidence for the Jewish Captivity, I was somewhat taken aback. Anyone familial with religious studies would interpret that rather odd phrase to mean the Babylonian captivity (for which there is evidence,a t least of a general sort), and it was uphill going for a while until you finally made it clear you meant the bondage in Egypt (which is purely a folktale).

    2. It is true that archaeologists starting int he 1870s discovered that a much higher level of civilization existed during the Middle Bronze Age than in Homer’s time (the Geometric and Archaic), and that that civilization ended abruptly with almost every city brunt to the ground at the end of the Late Bronze Age, and that many of the prominent centers of the Middle bronze age are described as being important places in Homer, despite them being mere tels in later times, but there is no evidence whatsoever that anything like the Trojan War happened or that any of Homer’s characters correspond to real persons.

    3. Strange that he should compare the Bible to stenographic records, and strange that you should let him off so easily. Stenographic records were sometimes kept in antiquity (for example, the two Homeric poems appear to be stenographic transcriptions of a live performance given sometime in the first half of the sixth century). It is quite probable that, if Jesus was ever tried before Pilate (and that is a reasonably big if, since the Sanhedrin had the power to execute anyone they chose who wasn’t a Roman citizen, e.g. Stephen, James and all the Christians Saul killed, why send him to Pilate?), a stenographic record would have been kept. Such records are very occasionally quoted by surviving ancient historians (a few places in Suetonius and in Dio as I recall). But its obvious from its very nature that the authors of the Gospels knew nothing of any such evidence related to Jesus.

    1. 14.1
      Tom Foss

      for example, the two Homeric poems appear to be stenographic transcriptions of a live performance given sometime in the first half of the sixth century

      It’s been a long time since my only Classics course, but I recall my professor explaining that the Iliad has the hallmarks of being a transcription of a story that had been passed down and retold repeatedly for a long time (where things like the chapters describing all the ships were examples of jazz-like bits where people could improvise and add their own details and spin to things, some of which were then incorporated and clumped into the transcribed version), while the Odyssey’s relative straightforwardness suggested composition by a single author.

  15. 15
    tracieh

    >but there is no evidence whatsoever that anything like the Trojan War happened

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy#Archaeological_Troy

    >Troy VII, which has been dated to the mid- to late-13th century BC, is the most often cited candidate for the Troy of Homer. It appears to have been destroyed by war.[31]

    >or that any of Homer’s characters correspond to real persons.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War#Historical_basis

    > While they give a general description of the political situation in the region at the time, their information on whether this particular conflict took place is limited. Andrew Dalby notes that while the Trojan War most likely did take place in some form and is therefore grounded in history, its true nature is and will be unknown.[215] Hittite archives, like the Tawagalawa letter mention of a kingdom of Ahhiyawa (Achaea, or Greece) that lies beyond the sea (that would be the Aegean) and controls Milliwanda, which is identified with Miletus. Also mentioned in this and other letters is the Assuwa confederation made of 22 cities and countries which included the city of Wilusa (Ilios or Ilium). The Milawata letter implies this city lies on the north of the Assuwa confederation, beyond the Seha river. While the identification of Wilusa with Ilium (that is, Troy) is always controversial, in the 1990s it gained majority acceptance. In the Alaksandu treaty (ca. 1280 BC) the king of the city is named Alakasandu, and Paris’s son of Priam’s name in the Iliad (among other works) is Alexander.

    Again, I acknowledged it was mythologized, but to say there is no evidence for the characters being real and that “nothing like” the war occurred is overstating the points of controversy. It may be the subject of some debate, but it is mainly not considered legendary any longer. There was a time when it was considered to be a complete fabrication, but it is my understanding that today that is no longer the case.

    >strange that you should let him off so easily

    Yes, because my post wasn’t long enough, and there is no other points I could have made that I didn’t. Thanks for calling out that it’s not a legitimate comparison he made. But I hardly see it as “strange” that I (1) missed or (2) did not hit any particular point. There are many points not made in the above post. That isn’t “strange,” it’s just that there are many paths that could be gone down, and I went down as many as I’m willing to devote time to. While I certainly appreciate the added input of others in comments, including yours, I can’t agree that points not addressed in my post are anything odd.

    And I hit this specifically because it’s a criticism often levied at TAE generally. Any time we address a caller using Avenue A, we get letters from people saying they can’t believe we didn’t use Avenues B-Z. Life is economy, and not everyone thinks to or desires to explore any particular avenue or all avenues available. There’s nothing odd about it–it’s quite normal and common.

    1. 15.1
      helenaconstantine

      Imagine that! my whole life spent studying and teaching the Classics overturned by a quick reference to wikipeida!

      Yes, Troy VII was burned to the ground, but there is no reason to think it was done by a coalition of armies from mainland Greek cities. Almost every city in Greece was sacked at about the same time, and there is some archaeological evidence it was done by invaders from the Balkans (Dorians if we want to tie that in to Greek myth). The statements you quote from Wikipedia are Maximalist–they propose that everything in Homer is basically true unless there is direct evidence to the contrary. The proper approach for a skeptic–and for a scholar though it is rare enough there–is minimalist: nothing in Homer can be considered historical evidence (except in a highly provisional manner)unless it can be substantiated by other evidence. The Kingdom of Achaea is a long way from Agamemnon. Schliemann would have been better to say, “I have beheld the face of an important noble. possibly a king, from late bronze age Mycenae” But then he was crazy.

      You’re probably more familiar with the OT which is in many similar to the issues discussed here. Using a maximalsit approach, Albright was able to find the conquest and David and Solomon, but Finkelstein doesn’t find any trace of them.

      1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

        Minimalism *IS* maximalism. To assume that nothing in a piece of writing is true unless it is otherwise proven by things outside of the writing to be true is the maximalist paradigm applied to a position of truth denial.

        That is not at all the proper approach for a skeptic. Taking that approach, no amount of writings would prove something happened, as each is untrue unless proven to be true. Not being proven true, they provide no supporting evidence for any other document. Thus those other documents are also entirely false.

        The proper position for a skeptic is to accept, provisionally, the most reasonable interpretation of the totality of the evidence. If we have many jigsaw pieces that *could* fit together a certain way, and other theories either require a larger number of independent events so as to explain a less integrated picture *or* require that no piece of evidence relates to any other piece of evidence, it is reasonable to assume the fewest number of things to explain the existence of that evidence. If one document asserts a royal Aleksander living approximately 3200 years ago in what is now western Turkey, and another document asserts that same, there is no *proof* two royal Aleksander’s existed and no *proof* that one Aleksander is the subject of both documents, but the most parsimonious explanation is, in fact, that the documents speak of the same person.

        One sees this in Archaeology as well. If, within related strata (a specific time period, like “approximately 3200 years ago”) within a constrained area (a specific region, like “what is now western Turkey”) one finds fragmentary remains of adult theropods of the same scale in multiple places, the parsimonious explanation is that these unconnected bones – perhaps an ankle in one area, a tail in another, and a skull in a third – belong to a single species. One doesn’t presume that one has described 3 different species and name them all uniquely.

        If evidence exists that conflicts with an interpretation, I am not saying ignore that evidence. If the Aleksander above was certainly living on the Black Sea coast in one document and the Mediterranean coast in another, then by all means, accept the evidence and assume 2 Aleksanders. But assuming that the evidence isn’t unrelated is just as bad as, if not worse than, assuming the evidence is mutually reinforcing. One tentatively accepts the relationships that are parsimonious and tentatively rejects those that are non parsimonious, while assuming nothing and fully accepting only that which is fully proven (that the document in question exists, that radio-dating proves X about when the stone was cut/ clay was marked/ papyrus was grown, etc).

        Please don’t pull the maximalist/minimalist fallacy again. Minimalism is not the sign of a good skeptic. Minimalism is the position of Climate Change Deniers. “Maximalist” interpretations of Genesis typically coincide with “Minimalist” interpretations of evolutionary evidence.

        Extremism is extremism.

        So, when you say that there is *no* evidence that “anything like” the Trojan War happened, you’re giving a good skeptical argument. You’re not giving reasonable arguments. That statement, in fact, is demonstrably false. There is **some** evidence that a Trojan war happened. There is not proof – or even evidence – for quite a number of things in the Iliad. But it’s far from true to say that there is **no** evidence such a war occurred. There is some evidence to believe such a war occurred, but not enough that it is reasonable to accept the Iliad as accurate by default anywhere it is not specifically contradicted. There is even some evidence that if such a war occurred, certain things would likely have been necessarily different – a lack of evidence for burned ships where we would expect to see remnants of same, for instance.

        But “no evidence”? Minimalism is the valid skeptic position?

        Wrong on both counts.

  16. 16
    Martin

    Nice article Tracie.

    One extra point about God being unable to “look upon sin”: Didn’t He make a bet with the adversary, who is said to be sin incarnate, in the Job story?

  17. 17
    Dana Hunter

    Loved most of this, but my inner geologist is cringing. You might want to strike out that bit about the glaciers – they carve mountains up, they deposit moraines, but they don’t actually do what you implied they did, i.e., plow up ocean floor to build mountains. And, as a former history major, must agree with Ibis3 @#9.

    But quibbles aside, on the whole, this is just what a young believer needs in order to stop spouting regurgitated nonsense and start thinking. Bravo!

  18. 18
    michael

    I’ll bet this guy is already talking to his friends, telling them how he took on the atheists and won a decisive victory.

    He has already declared that he has found the truth and his ego will not allow him to admit that he could have made a mistake.

    In fifty years from now he’ll still think that fish fossils on mountain tops are proof of the Flood (and God’s existence).

  19. 19
    tracieh

    Dana:

    Thank you for an opportunity to clarify. I wasn’t trying to say glaciers plow up ocean floor to carve mountains. Here is my quote:

    “Mountains are often formed from land masses that were once submerged under water. And also, they are formed often from glacial movement.”

    The “And also” is significant, as it indicates a new train of thought, separate from the prior statement. There are mountains that are created from what was once submerged land, and there are mountains which are formed in part by glacial movement:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_the_Rocky_Mountains

    >The Rocky Mountains took shape during an intense period of plate tectonic activity that resulted in much of the rugged landscape of the western North America. The Laramide orogeny, about 80–55 million years ago, was the last of the three episodes and was responsible for raising the Rocky Mountains.[1] Subsequent erosion by glaciers has created the final form of the mountains.

    My point was two fold. Some mountains are formed when land submerged under ocean water are pushed up (such as is the case with coastal ranges that were formed when land masses collided–such as with the Himalayas [http://library.thinkquest.org/10131/geology.html]); and some are formed including ice sheets that travel carrying frozen water from cold ocean areas, leaving deposits as they slide and move across the ranges (carving the ranges as they move).

    If I am mistaken, I’m open to correction; but I intended the two statements (ocean floor pushing up to make mountains, verses the glacial deposits and formation) as separate mechanisms of forming mountains and not to be conflated. But again, thanks for the opportunity to clarify if “And also” was not sufficient to demonstrate a separation for the reader.

    1. 19.1
      Jonathan flint

      I know this might be a bit late – but when it says “Subsequent erosion by glaciers has created the final form of the mountains.” it means the shape. The rock is subtracted from the uplifted blocks by glaciers, to leave the final form – like how a scupltor subtracts from a block to leave the form of the statue. Glaciers are like rivers – they do not fight gravity and push things up except on a purely local level.

      Glacial till is also one of the least stable forms of “drift”. If the Rockies were composed of Glacier deposits, they would have washed away except for scattered boulders.

  20. 20
    tracieh

    Also, with Ibis3, I did not offer a rebuttal, because I don’t take issue with the further clarification; however, I will add that I did include quite a bit of qualification in the article that was included with “best guess.” Just to offer some of what I expressly stated as an example:

    “Historic claims have to be investigated and the best, most reasonable, most educated evaluations should be made, because we can’t go back in time to confirm them. Some historic claims are easier to confirm than others—such as claims of Roman battles where we are able to excavate and find evidence of Roman battles. Other claims are harder to verify—such as whether or not a guy named Robin Hood ever existed.”

    I really don’t see how this could be confused with “blind” guessing or wild guessing or uneducated guessing; BUT, again, I’m happy for the clarification, because if one person missed my point, others may as well, and I don’t mind Ibis3 added such commentary, because she is correct that it isn’t just a wild guess. However, I don’t think I indicated that in the article. But if it came across that way, I’m happy for someone to explain it further in comments.

    1. 20.1
      the gamekeeper

      What do you mean Robin Hood may not have existed, I went to University in Nottingham and have seen his statue………..

  21. 21
    tracieh

    Upon further reading, I think the glacier confusion may have occurred with this sentence:

    “…where sheets of ice move from ocean locations across land and push up masses of earth.”

    It may have been better to describe this as carving the land rather than pushing it up. I agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>