What Ehrman actually says

Richard Carrier takes a look at Bart Ehrman’s article at the Huffington Post on the did-Jesus-exist question. One point Richard makes jumped out at me, because the same thing jumped out at me in Ehrman’s book.

Mistake #2: Ehrman actually says (and I can’t believe it, but these are his exact words):

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.

He actually says we have such sources. We do not. That is simply a plain, straight-up falsehood. I can only suppose he means Q or some hypothesized sources behind the creedal statements in Paul or the sermons in Acts, but none of those sources exist, and are purely hypothetical. In fact, barely more than conjectural. There is serious debate in the academic community as to whether Q even existed; and even among those who believe it did, there is serious debate about whether it comes from Aramaic or in fact Greek sources or whether it’s one source or several or whether it even goes back to Jesus at all. [Read more...]

Second-guessing subjective experiences

Mark Vernon wrote a response to Julian’s Heathen’s Progress series. It’s got to do with the fact that cognition is embodied, which Vernon somehow takes to mean that subjective convictions are trustworthy, or something along those lines.

…the modern sceptic is suspicious of subjective convictions. They fixate on the many ways in which individuals can be self-deluded, and forget that they can also be wonderfully discerning. They miss truths that can only be known by acquaintance, which is to say, by letting them in. [Read more...]

Thinking about thinking about thinking

More discussion of facts and belief, of Ward and Coyne, of science and philosophy, of evidence and reasons to believe. Jean Kazez did a post a couple of days ago, which I didn’t see until today, and Russell Blackford did one at Talking Philosophy.

I find Jean’s post very interesting because it talks about the same things I talked about in Ward’s brief Comment is Free piece replying to Julian Baggini. Ward’s piece might seem too slight to bear all this examination, but it’s about the place where some fundamental and important disagreements are born, so it’s worth all the close peering. [Read more...]

All of empirical inference

There’s another entry for the What to call it problem. It comes from a comment by Richard Wein on Dan’s post replying to Dr Coyne.

Much of the confusion over “science” and “scientism” arises from the tendency of some New Atheists (including Coyne) to stretch the word “science” to mean all of empirical inference. I think this stretching is based on a correct realisation that all of empirical inference lies on a continuum, with no clear lines of demarcation between formal science, philosophy, history, everyday inference, etc.

That’s exactly what I was talking about.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law, history, forensics and detective work, critical thinking, using what one knows and understands to navigate relationships and work and the world.

It’s all of empirical inference, that’s what.

If they retain their appearance

And another thing. This transubstantiation nonsense – another thing about it is that it’s a teaching.

Transubstantiation is the teaching that during the Mass, at the consecration in the Lord’s Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

What I wonder is, how do they know the teaching is right? If the bread and wine retain their appearance then who actually knows that they are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus, and how do those people know it?

I don’t see how there can be any way to know that. Clearly “retain their appearance” means “all the way down,” so that there is no instrument or process by which anyone can demonstrate that aha at this level we can observe that the bread and wine are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus. Is there? (Did I miss something?) So…well, how can anyone have anything but doubts on the subject? What causes Odone to hold the “belief” that transubstantiation gets something right and that her beliefs on this subject are better than those of her husband the Anglican?

Just wondering.

Many people of faith are filled with doubts

An amusing passage in the conversation between Dawkins and Odone in the Guardian:

CO: I’m a Catholic and my husband is an Anglican, and transubstantiation is an issue between us. Do I want my daughter to take up my Catholic beliefs? Yes I do. Do I believe my beliefs are superior in any way to his? Yes I do. But do I want to teach her that mine is the only way? No I don’t. What I want her to feel is that there are some beautiful principles in all religions. In your new book you say scientists cheerfully admit they don’t know, “cheerfully” because not knowing the answer is exciting. What’s so funny is that I feel about religion in the same way. You musn’t think that religion is stuck in its inquisitorial phase; religion is capable of evolution and many people of faith are filled with doubts. [Read more...]