Is Religious Faith Irrational? »« The Joy Of Theoretical Non-Monogamy: The Blowfish Blog

What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith

Prayer“You have your faith in your relationship. In your friends. In your talent. In yourself. How is that different from my faith in God?”

I want to talk about the difference between secular and religious faith.

I’m irritated by the argument that, because atheists don’t have faith in God, we therefore don’t have faith in anything. And at the same time, I’m irritated by the argument that, because atheists do have faith in things and can take leaps of faith, therefore an atheist’s secular faith in love and whatnot isn’t really any different from religious belief.

At the risk of sounding like I’m quibbling over language, I think secular faith and religious faith are very different animals. They’re not entirely unrelated, but ultimately they’re not the same thing at all. In fact, they’re so different, I’m not sure they should even share the same word.

So let’s take this one at a time. What is secular faith?

AisleLet’s use an example. I have faith in Ingrid. What does that mean? It means that I trust that she loves me; I trust that she’ll act with my best interests at heart; I trust that she’ll keep her promises. It means that I rely on her, and that I believe my reliance is justified. And it means that I don’t need a 100% ironclad guarantee of these things. It means that I know what a ridiculous expectation that would be — we can never have a 100% ironclad guarantee of anything — and that I’m willing to trust her anyway. It means that I’m willing to take the evidence that I have, the evidence of her feelings and character that I have from her actions and words, and then take a leap of faith by trusting that they mean what they seem to mean.

Ballot_boxsvgOr let’s use another, more complicated example. I have faith in democracy. That’s a tricky one, as democracy has let me down time and time again. But I have faith in it. I have the conviction that, while far from a perfect political system, it’s still the best one we have, offering the best hope we have for a better and more just life for everyone. And I have hope that, with commitment and hard work, its problems can be… not eliminated, probably, but mitigated.

AvatarAnd one more example before I move on with my point: I have faith in myself. Possibly the most complicated of all, as I’ve lived with myself for my entire life, and have therefore probably let myself down more than anyone or anything else that I’ve ever had faith in. (With the possible exception of some notable ex-lovers and the Democratic Party…) But I have confidence that, when I set my mind and my heart to it, I can accomplish the things in my life that are important to me: being a good partner, a good writer, a good worker, a good citizen, a good friend. And when I take on a big new task — writing a book, moving to a new city, getting married — I have confidence that, if I seriously commit to it and put all my energy and talent and intelligence into it, I’ll be able to accomplish it.

So now we have some pertinent synonyms for “secular faith.” Trust. Reliance. Confidence. Conviction. Hope.

Keep those synonyms in mind.

And religious faith is… what?

See_no_evilI don’t agree with certain hard-line atheists who insist that religious faith is always blind faith; that it always means refusing to question or doubt; that it always means absolute obedience to the authorities and precepts of one’s religion. Sure, it often means these things. Many religious and formerly- religious people have said so, in so many words. But I’ve also known believers who do question, do doubt, do think for themselves, do have their eyes open. For at least some believers, a faith that can’t weather questioning is a weak-ass faith that isn’t worth having. Faith in honest doubt, and all that.

So religious faith is… what?

In writing this, I didn’t want to be a jerk and assume that I know better than believers do what faith means to them. I always hate it when theists assume they know what atheists think without actually bothering to check, and I don’t want to commit that error myself.

4_religious_symbolsBut it was surprisingly difficult to find definitions of faith from organized religions. I spent many hours looking at websites of different religious organizations — Islam, Judaism, Hindu, Bahai, and many Christian sects including Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist (American and Southern), UCC, and MCC. And I didn’t find definitions of “faith” on any of these. (The Catholics were an exception; see below.) Lots of religions clearly state what it is they have faith in: but what exactly it means to have faith is either ignored, or it’s just assumed that everybody knows. “Our faith is in (X, Y, Z)… and what that means is that those are the things we believe. Believing (X, Y, Z) is what it means to be in our faith.”

That being said, here are a few definitions of religious faith that I did find.

Faith_3“Divine faith, then, is that form of knowledge which is derived from Divine authority, and which consequently begets absolute certitude in the mind of the recipient.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, www.newadvent.org)

“…since faith is supernatural assent to Divine truths upon Divine authority, the ultimate or remote rule of faith must be the truthfulness of God in revealing Himself.” (catholic.org)

“Faith therefore is to believe that which you do not see, truth is to see what you have believed.” (St. Augustine”)

“‘Faith’ involves a growing recognition of who Jesus is… It is much more like an intuitive perception — a kind of ‘sixth sense’ — about this person Jesus: an inner prompting which compels us to go after him, to engage with his words and character, to ‘relate’ to him… But ‘faith’ is also not just about the intuition to seek. ‘Faith’ consists in taking Jesus at his word. This story illustrates clearly that ‘faith’ is characterised by a willingness to grasp what is being offered in the encounter with Jesus… ‘Faith’ in this story is not primarily some settled and serene conclusion reached at the end of a chain of philosophical reasoning. No, faith is rather the readiness and eagerness to receive what is offered to us in Jesus Christ. It is the hand that grasps the gift of God in Jesus and makes it our own. This is biblical faith.” (Revd Dr Paul Weston, ely.anglican.org; emphasis mine)

“Assent to the truth is of the essence of faith, and the ultimate ground on which our assent to any revealed truth rests is the veracity of God.” (Christiananswers.com)

“The dictionary definition of faith is, ‘the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.’ For a Christian, this definition is not just words on a page it is a way of life. Faith is acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts. Faith is a belief that one-day we will stand before our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Allaboutreligion.org; emphasis mine.)

“Biblical faith, however, is specific and unique. It describes the person who chooses to believe, trust, and obey God. This principle is vital — the object of faith determines its value. Thus, it is very important that what we believe, what we have faith in, is really the truth!” (Herbert E. Douglass, The Faith of Jesus: Saying Yes to God’s Love)

Duererprayer“Faith means an individual’s personal, existential connection with the reality and power of God. Faith is not a ‘thing’ that is possessed or an ‘idea’ that is pondered, but rather a relationship that infuses divine power and creates an attitude and a vision for living and acting.” (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew)

“Faith is not a power or faculty in itself which “moves” or “compels” God. It is an attitude of confidence in God Himself. It always points to the One in whom it is placed.” (inchristalone.org)

“Faith, then, is like the soul of an experience. It is an inner acknowledgment of the relationship between God and man.” (John Powell, A Reason to Live! A Reason to Die)

“Faith saves our souls alive by giving us a universe of the taken-for-granted.” (Rose Wilder Lane, The Ghost in the Little House)

“Reason is an action of the mind; knowledge is a possession of the mind; but faith is an attitude of the person. It means you are prepared to stake yourself on something being so.” (Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1961–74)

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

So let’s sum these up, and make it as simple as we can without being simplistic.

GodReligious faith means believing in God. (Or gods, or the World-Soul, or the immortal spirit, or whatever. For the sake of brevity, let’s say God for now.)

And it means believing in God no matter what. It means an unshakeable belief in God. It doesn’t necessarily mean an unquestioning belief in God — again, many believers do ask questions, and hard questions at that — but it means a belief in God that survives those questions, and any questions. It means having belief in God, not as a hypothesis that so far has stood up to the evidence but might not always do so, but as an axiom. A presupposition.

GenevabibleNow, it isn’t the case that religious faith always means faith without evidence. Some of the more fundamentalist religions actually say that evidence is an important part of their faith. But the things they consider “evidence” — namely, the Bible, and its supposed inerrancy — are themselves objects of faith. Despite the Bible’s historical and scientific errors, its contradictions, its moral atrocities, etc., the belief in its inerrancy is itself, for these believers, an unshakable axiom.

Here’s a test that I’ve found to be extremely useful. Central to my whole thesis, in fact. In Ebonmuse’s excellent Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, he makes this observation: “Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, ‘Nothing — I have faith in my god.'” He then goes on to offer several examples of the types of evidence that he, as an atheist, would accept as proof that a given religion is true.

El_greco_the_repentant_peter_3But only two people have taken up Ebonmuse on his challenge, stating the evidence that would convince them that their religious faith was incorrect. And both replies consisted of either physical and/or logical impossibilities (things like, “Proof that all miracle claims are false,” or “Falsifying the resurrection of Christ”)… or irrelevancies, non-sequiturs (things like, “If it could be demonstrated conclusively that I was deluded in thinking that life has meaning, I would deconvert.” As if the fact that people experience meaning proves that this meaning was planted in us by God… and as if creating our own meaning was the same as being deluded.)

Only two responses to the challenge, “What would convince you that your faith is mistaken?” And both those responses are strikingly unresponsive.

Now. In contrast. Let’s return for a moment to secular faith. And let’s offer one of the examples I mentioned before: my faith in Ingrid.

Is there anything that could convince me that my faith in Ingrid is mistaken?

Sure. Yes. Absolutely.

She could murder all my relatives. She could set our house on fire, purely for the thrill of watching it burn. She could clear out our joint bank account and run off to Brazil with Keith Olberman. She could be revealed to be a Russian spy (or a Cylon agent), who’s pretended to be in love with me all these years simply to gain information. She could shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

None of these things is logically impossible, or physically impossible. (Well, except the one about being a Cylon.) They’re not very likely, of course… but they could happen. And any of them would convince me that my faith in her was mistaken.

EvidenceSo my faith in Ingrid isn’t irrational. It’s reasonable. It’s based on evidence — the evidence of her past behavior. It’s true that I take a leap of faith with her every day: I can’t be 100% certain that she has never done any of these things and never will. And more to the point, I take leaps of faith with her every day that are both smaller than these and more serious. I have faith that she puts the right amount of money into our joint bank account; that the medical advice she gives me is as unbiased as she can make it; that she really is going to dance practice every Tuesday instead of seeing a lover she hasn’t told me about. These are all leaps of faith… but they’re leaps of faith that could conceivably be overturned by evidence.

And that doesn’t make them weaker, or less valuable. Quite the contrary. It just makes them rational. It makes them grounded in reality.

Let’s look at those secular synonyms for “faith” again. Trust. Reliance. Confidence. Conviction. Hope. Those are the things that secular faith means. They mean a willingness to move forward in the absence of an ironclad guarantee. A willingness to hang onto the big picture in the face of small failures and setbacks. A willingness to persevere during difficult times.

But not one of these synonyms for secular faith implies a willingness to maintain that faith in contradiction of any possible evidence that might arise. Even when people’s secular faith leans towards the irrational — faith in lovers who repeatedly cheat, faith in leaders who repeatedly let us down — it still could theoretically be contradicted by evidence. Yes, some people maintain their faiths in the face of ridiculously obvious evidence to the contrary. But I think there are very few, if any, people whose secular faith in their lovers and leaders, their plans and ideologies, could not possibly be shaken by any imaginable evidence whatsoever.

Even if there are some people like that… how shall I put this? That kind of unshakability isn’t inherent to the very nature of secular faith. It isn’t a necessary and central part of the definition. Even if there are people whose faith in their cheating lovers could never be shaken even if they caught those lovers actually having wild naked sex with another person… I don’t think anyone thinks that that’s what it means, by definition, to have faith in your lover. I don’t think anyone thinks that giving up on your faith in your lover’s monogamy when you see them screw someone else somehow means that you didn’t really have faith in the first place… or that your faith wasn’t strong enough. (An argument that does get aimed at atheists who once had religious faith.)

BlindfoldIn fact, when someone hangs onto a secular faith in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we stop calling it “faith” at all, and start calling it less complimentary words. Words like “pigheadedness” or “blindness,” “willful ignorance” or “delusion.” (Our current President is a prime example.)

And that, I think, is the difference between secular and religious faith. That is why my faith in Ingrid, in democracy, in myself, are fundamentally different from a theist’s faith in God. I have faith in Ingrid… but it’s not a central defining feature of that faith that nothing could ever shake it, even in theory. I don’t answer the question, “What would convince you that your faith in Ingrid is mistaken?” by saying, “Nothing. Nothing could convince me that I was mistaken. That’s what it means to have faith.”

Barbara_ann_scott_studing_leap_1948We all have to make leaps of faith. We can never have all the relevant information when we make a decision; we can never have a 100% ironclad guarantee that our beliefs and actions will be right. So it’s not irrational to have secular faith; it’s a calculated risk (unconsciously calculated much of the time, to be sure), necessary to get on with life in the face of uncertainty.

What’s irrational is to maintain one’s faith in the face of any possible evidence that might arise. What’s irrational is to assert ahead of time that no possible evidence could ever shake your faith; to assert, essentially, that your faith trumps reality. And what’s profoundly irrational is to insist that doing these things is a virtue, an admirable trait that makes you a good and noble person.

Which leads us to a somewhat explosive question: Is religious faith irrational?

And that’s the subject of tomorrow’s sermon.

(Many thanks to Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism for his help compiling the “definitions of faith” list.)

Comments

  1. says

    I think it’s important to note that religious faith in definition (unshakable, perhaps irrational) and religious faith in practice can be very different things, as evidenced by theists who have “deconverted” to atheism.
    Nice post, can’t wait for tomorrow’s. :)

  2. says

    Greta wrote:
    -snip-
    “None of these things is logically impossible, or physically impossible. (Well, except the one about being a Cylon.)”
    So you’ve got a mirrored ceiling and you’ve confirmed her spine doesn’t glow?
    :^)

  3. says

    Total tangent, but Steve raises an interesting (if entertainingly trivial) question. Does NOBODY in the BSG world do it doggie-style?
    Sorry for the hijack, but it had to be said.

  4. says

    Speaking of BSG, I’m glad that they are showing more of Rehka Sharma’s Tori Foster. Television suffers from a dearth of hot looking Indian babes!
    And who knows, Season 4 is still young. There’s always a chance that there will be some Baltar/Tori doggie action going on!

  5. Andy says

    Greta, great post, as always!
    There’s a question you didn’t ask:
    – “What it would take to convert you into a theist?”
    You can change “what” above for “what amount of evidence”.
    Personally if, for example [what most people identifies as the image of] God itself appears before me, I’d rather seek professional psychiatric advise than a church.
    So, insight tells me that although we rant a lot about how difficult is to convince religious people that they are mistaken, even with tons of evidence on our favor, the converse is also true. Think about it.
    Kind regards,
    Andy

  6. says

    My favorite quote on faith comes from Mark Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
    It is said by Pudd’n Head Wilson in “Following the Equator”, an excellent book by the way.

  7. says

    “I don’t agree with certain hard-line atheists who insist that religious faith is always blind faith; that it always means refusing to question or doubt; that it always means absolute obedience to the authorities and precepts of one’s religion.”
    And then you go on to argue precisely the opposite, that religious faith *is* always blind faith.
    “But I’ve also known believers who do question, do doubt, do think for themselves, do have their eyes open. For at least some believers, a faith that can’t weather questioning is a weak-ass faith that isn’t worth having. Faith in honest doubt, and all that.”
    I’ve argued earlier that the believer’s “doubt” is just as substantively and fundamentally different from skeptical doubt as the believer’s faith is different from skeptical “faith”.
    I think it’s unhelpful and confusing to use the same word to describe two fundamentally different concepts except in the most throwaway informal context (which this article is not). Just because all natural languages are somewhat equivocal does not mean that we should embrace that equivocation in formal expository writing.
    The skeptic’s “faith” isn’t faith. It’s *confidence*: belief on the basis of evidence. The believer’s “doubt” isn’t doubt, it’s *angst*: questioning without answering, questioning and then dismissing the question.
    “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

  8. says

    What an excellent entry, I’ve struggled to articulate this difference between secular and religious faith and you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s entry.

  9. David Harmon says

    A brilliant piece!
    Even when people’s secular faith leans towards the irrational — faith in lovers who repeatedly cheat, faith in leaders who repeatedly let us down — it still could theoretically be contradicted by evidence
    In practice, a lot of those cases aren’t so much about “irrational faith” so much as about post-abuse and Stockholm syndrome. Plus some contribution from non-obvious “confounding rewards” — i.e., Shrub’s early investors all got nice tax write-offs for his failures.

  10. David Harmon says

    Bah, I keep forgetting no italics here. (Can you please do something about that?) The first big paragraph above is, of course, yours.

  11. says

    “”There’s a question you didn’t ask:
    “- “What it would take to convert you into a theist?”
    “You can change “what” above for “what amount of evidence”.”
    Actually, I did ask it, Or at least, I mentioned it. But I did it very much in passing, and it’d be easy to miss.
    That’s exactly what the piece by Ebonmuse that I keep referring to, The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, is about. It’s a list of evidence that he would accept to convince him that any given religion was true. I keep meaning to write a list of my own, but Ebon’s is close enough to what mine would be that I just keep on being lazy and pointing to his instead. :-)

  12. Kagehi says

    I am reminded of a post by some clown describing his *certainty* that his and only his definition of god, Jesus and the end of times BS was right, so he wouldn’t *believe* any of it, unless it happened exactly how he envisioned. The reply to this, on PZ’s site, was:
    —-
    Imagine that a great bearded man, 10 miles tall, suddenly manifests himself on Earth, and shouts out in a voice every human being on the planet can hear, “I AM JEHOVAH, LORD OF LORDS, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, ULTIMATE JUDGE OF YOUR WORTHINESS,” and he’s accompanied by a flock of winged angels with trumpets, and all the birds and beasts congregate around him, bowing and acknowledging his majesty, everyone who uses his name in vain abruptly bursts into green flame and crumbles to ash (I won’t even mention the horrors that descend on those who break the other commandments), laws of nature are suspended, televangelists are teleported to his outstretched right hand and stand there wearing crowns of gold, etc., etc. etc.
    Every atheist will be saying “Right, well, I guess I was wrong then—there is an almighty awesome being.” And we’ll be rummaging in our closets for that tatty old bible we got from our devout spinster aunt years ago.
    Stanley Fish, on the other hand, will be standing there squeaking, “I can see him, therefore he isn’t a god.”
    —-
    The other posters are right Greta, you basically contradicted yourself when claiming that you where not going to call religious faith “blind”. Its a bit hard to argue otherwise, when *real* discussions between the faithful and non-believers, no matter how good they start off, always, at some point, regress to the theist going, “You are right about a lot of what you have argued, especially about why I believe, but I ***know*** I am right!”, and the non-believer going, “If you admit I was right about 99.9% of all of it, how the frack do you still justify believing this BS?”, and the later always getting the former statement as the answer.

  13. says

    Actually, I’m going to defend my position that religious faith isn’t necessarily blind faith.
    When I think of the phrase “blind faith,” I think of… well, blindness. Not seeing. Either willfully refusing to look at the possibility that their faith might be wrong, or literally being unable to see the possibility that they might be wrong, or just not being very interested in looking at the questions.
    Some examples: Seeing people who don’t share their faith as evil (and actively trying to remove them from the community to prevent contamination). The “Those questions come from the devil” trope. Trusting whatever their religious leader says without considering the questions for themselves. “Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”
    And while that kind of faith is certainly common, it’s not universal, and it’s not inherent to the nature of religious faith. There are believers who can see the problems of religious faith very clearly, who take those problems very seriously, and who have asked themselves very hard questions about it. And they don’t stop asking them. In fact, many serious religious thinkers speak out quite strongly against blind faith.
    Religious believes certainly have blind spots… but then, so do people with secular, small “f” faith. Having a blind spot, being unable to see an error in your logic, isn’t blind faith. That’s just the rationalizing human mind at work.
    It’s a fine point, I’ll grant you, and we may ultimately just be quibbling about language. But I really think that “blind faith” isn’t necessarily the same as irrational faith. Blind faith means not asking questions, not even being willing to consider the possibility that there are questions to be asked. Irrational faith means using a faulty algorithm for coming up with answers.

  14. Nurse Ingrid says

    I think Andy raises a fair point, and it’s one I’ve thought about a lot in these sorts of discussions.
    I agree that if some 10-mile-high bearded guy appeared and started doing miracles, I’d be more likely to think that I needed some psych meds than to think that I must really be seeing God.
    But I do think I know exactly what would convince me:
    If our life experiences in the world were different. If, for example, people’s prayers were answered — more often than could be attributable to random chance. If the faithful really did live longer, healthier, happier lives than nonbelievers. If there were some observable, measurable, tangible benefit to being religious (other than good fuzzy warm feelings).
    As long as good and bad fortune continue to be randomly distributed among all humans throughout space and time, I’m going to continue to say that I see no evidence of an interventionist god.

  15. says

    I’m actually in the middle of an ongoing discussion with a third person who’s offered an answer to my challenge. I’ll post a link once we hash out a few more issues which I’ve asked him to clarify. To give you an idea of the kind of criteria he’s offering, though, one of the things he says would change his mind would be if we invented a time machine that allowed us to look back into the past, as if we were watching TV, and observe that it happened exactly how scientists describe it in every detail. This was a typical item on his list.
    In a powerful piece of confirmation for your thesis, Greta, I asked him the obvious follow-up question: Why don’t you insist on the same standard for Christianity? He said it was because “Christianity does not claim to be the result of scientific research”. In other words, because Christianity *asks* its followers to evaluate its claims using a lower standard of evidence, that’s what he does.
    Very much along the lines of what you said would shake your faith in Ingrid, I offered him the following thought experiment:
    “Let’s say I suspect my wife is cheating on me, and I hire a private investigator to follow her around. He takes photos of her in another man’s car and entering his apartment. When I present her with this evidence, though, she says that she loves me and I should take it on faith that she’s been trustworthy. Since she’s offering that explanation on the basis of faith and not claiming it to be scientific, should I evaluate it using lower standards of evidence?”
    He hasn’t answered so far. I think examples like these are quite useful in pointing out the difference between secular and religious faith (a difference which apologists often seek to obscure) – as well as showing the implicit absurdity of a religious person trusting in God when, by their own rules, he’s done things that would be more than enough to shatter their trust in any human being.

  16. Alice says

    I’ve been thinking about what would convince me of the existence of God — I read Ebon’s list a while ago. I think that actually a lot of the stuff on his list wouldn’t convince me, at least not immediately. Faced with something like the 10-mile-high bearded guy, I think I’d look first for a brain-chemistry explanation (have I totally lost it?) and then for a science fiction explanation (I find the idea of highly-advanced aliens showing up and messing with us easier to imagine than the God hypothesis).
    So what would convince me? I think I came up with a simple one: I’d be convinced if the laws of probability were consistently distorted in favour of the members of some particular religion. If randomly-occurring bad things happened to them less often than to the rest of us, and randomly-occurring good things happened more often, that would be pretty convincing!

  17. says

    Some Christians (Wm. Lane Craig and Tony Campolo come to mind off the top of my head) have written books in which they argue that their faith is reasoned and reasonable. And it is — to a point.
    I wouldn’t mind if Christians said, as you did (paraphrasing here): my faith is not 100% (and it never can be), but the degree of certainty is high enough for me to accept it and work with it. Moreover, should contrary evidence force me to scale back the degree of certainty, then I will have to re-evaluate, and possibly revise or scuttle completely, my faith.
    Instead, Christians often try to fill the certainty gap with “inner knowledge,” or the “witness of the holy spirit,” or some similar mystical dreck (woo, if you prefer). If they admit any degree of uncertainty, then, if they are honest with themselves and others, they’ll have to re-examine the sources of their beliefs, which are very shaky indeed. It was precisely such hard, honest examination that decimated my religious faith.

  18. says

    In substance, I think what you say is spot on in every respect. In style, I have to throw my vote in with Barefoot Bum above: Even if you explicitly say “this is the same word used two different ways meaning different things,” you only encourage the very confusion you seek to oppose by talking about religious “faith” and secular “faith” side by side like this.
    For my part, I find the characterization of any belief based on anything less than 100% absolute certainty as a “leap of faith” to be particularly obfuscatory. Justification for one’s beliefs is not about absolute certainty, and believing a claim which is a conclusion drawn from evidence and reason does not require a “leap of faith” just because we cannot have all possible evidence and certifiably airtight reasoning. Certainty’s hard to come by outside the realm of axiomatic abstractions like math and symbolic logic: In the altogether messier real world where we don’t get to define ambiguity out of existence and set up all the rules and basic principles in advance, demanding certainty is a sucker’s game. The demand for certainty is usually no more than a bit of cheap theatrical rhetoric when aimed outward, and a transparent bit of rationalization when aimed inward. Calling belief based on anything shy of absolute certainty “faith” – however qualified – stretches even this malleable word’s definition beyond recognition. Please stop.
    As someone who has argued that faith is not merely irrational but is also a moral failing (link below), I look forward to part II.
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=166

  19. says

    Ebon: You are fucking kidding me, right?
    That is so totally bass-ackwards, it makes my head hurt. If anything, it should be the other way around. Science doesn’t claim to be anything but a good approximation of the truth, gradually improving over time, arrived at by flawed humans. But if religious texts are divinely inspired, then why should they be anything other than perfect in every way?
    A time machine? Sheesh.

  20. Andy says

    Ingrid, the problem with the evidence you mention is that is highly subjective. Believers already say that they live happier and healthier lives because of religion.
    Happiness is different for every one. For some, it may mean having money. For others, having love. Yet for others, having power. And it goes and goes.
    They claim that they are happier than the rest… How do you PROVE it?
    About living longer, I’m sure we could name hundredths of more mundane motives (less drug abuse, less sexual promiscuity — at least between the true believers) to dismiss the possibility of divine intervention.
    Face it: before you accept evidence to change you into a believer, you’d demand to be proved without a shade of doubt. I’d do it. I’d say that exceptional claims calls for exceptional tests and keep seeking natural explanations for any “clear evidence of god intervention”. And if I can’t find any, I’d still insist that the natural explanation is there and that it will eventually be found by some future scientist.
    I’m kind of ashamed to say it loud, but I think I can’t be converted into a believer by any amount of evidence. Does that make me a fundamentalist atheist?
    Kind regards,
    Andy

  21. says

    “Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, ‘Nothing — I have faith in my god.'”
    I see a big catch in this: what about those who’ve deconverted? Obviously, such people did have an answer to the question, “What would convince you that you were mistaken?”, because, well, they obviously found something that convinced them that they were mistaken. Wouldn’t that imply that deconverts never had what you would describe as “religious faith”?

  22. says

    Andy, I get what you’re saying, and for the most part I agree. No matter what “evidence” was presented to me, I’d feel compelled to rule out just about any other naturalistic explanation before I’d be willing to conclude that there really was a God.
    And that’s very much in keeping with how science works. If new evidence comes along that contradicts everything we thought we knew, we don’t just throw up our hands and say, “well, that’s that.” First we check the evidence: was the study designed well? Was the measuring equipment functioning properly? Was there some bias we didn’t account for?” and most importantly, “can we replicate these results?” The more well established a theory is, the more evidence you will need to argue that it ought to be changed.
    That being said, I’m confident that if there really were measurable benefits to being a believer, it would be easy to prove. And I’m not talking about whatever benefits come from the sense of community, warm fuzzy feelings, etc. that some churchgoers probably do get. I’m talking about benefits that come from God, not one’s fellow humans.
    Here is the study that I would propose: pick some instances of truly random bad fortune. Childhood cancer, say, or one’s house being destroyed by a tornado or a flood. If you could show a real difference in the instance of such events in the families of churchgoers who prayed for God to watch over their families, versus nonbelievers, in a study that controlled for drinking, smoking, socioeconomic status, etc., that would certainly give me pause.
    I feel confident saying this, of course, because I know that such a study would reveal NO such difference. And if it did, I wouldn’t believe it until it was replicated many times. But I do think that if such evidence truly existed, I would be forced to rethink my atheism.
    So no, I am NOT a “fundamentalist atheist.” If believers have evidence, they should BRING IT. Like any good scientist, I am ready to be proven wrong.

  23. says

    The question a couple of people have posed — “If religious faith is irrational and can’t be undermined by any evidence, then how and why do people deconvert?” — is a good one, and it’s one I’m going to have to think about more carefully. But my initial response is this:
    I’ve read a fair number of deconversion stories, and while rational arguments and evidence often play a significant role, they don’t always, or even usually, play the deciding role. They soften the ground, put deep cracks in the foundation… but it seems like the final step is often a very subjective, emotional one. People who have deconverted often say things like, “One day I was praying, and I realized that it felt like I was talking to the ceiling.” And while a rational observation of contradictions in their religion often plays a large part, an emotional and moral revulsion against the horrors of the religion (such as the horrors of hell, and the unfairness of does and doesn’t go there) often plays just as large a part, and in many cases more.
    Interesting question. I’ll have to think about it more, and do a closer study of deconversion stories.

  24. says

    Nope, Greta, I ain’t kidding. :)
    Another item on his list was “Conclusive evidence agreed upon by ALL scientists, not just a consensus of the majority of mainstream scientists.” I can only interpret that as saying that he won’t accept the scientific view of the world unless there’s not one single doubter to be found anywhere. Again, needless to say, this is not a standard that’s likely to be met in any field of inquiry ever in history; and again, it’s obviously not a standard he applies to his own religious beliefs.
    As you said in your post today, these three people represent the sum total of responses which I’ve had in the almost seven years this essay has been posted on the web. I think this is a case where the exceptions really prove the rule when it comes to the claim that religious faith is designed to be independent from evidence.

  25. Andy says

    Ingrid, thank you for answering.
    If I gave the impression that I accused you (or anybody else) of being a fundamental atheist, please forgive me. That is not the case. I was just talking about me.
    I was only exposing my own shame on realizing that I’m no better than theist people that refuse to give up believing in presence of evidence. It seems that I won’t start believing even in presence of evidence that god exists.
    The experiment you mention won’t work for me, sorry.
    Even if stars in the sky change position to form a triangle with an eye inside (or something like that), I’d still be a non believer.
    I too, am ready to be proved wrong, and have been in the past, many times. It is just that I can’t imagine how atheism could be proved wrong scientifically.
    It is interesting to note that the last part of Ebonmuse’s commentary above: “religious faith [or lack of thereof, let me add] is designed to be independent from evidence” seems to work BOTH ways, at least for me.
    Thank again to you and also to Greta for providing the means of having this excellent exchange of thoughts.
    Kind regards,
    Andy

  26. says

    I have to disagree with those who say we shouldn’t use the word ‘faith’. It should be used cautiously, of course, but in a context like this, where it’s clear that there is a difference between what Greta calls ‘secular faith’ and ‘religious faith’, I’d say that outlining secular faith highlights why religious faith isn’t necessary and what’s wrong with it.

  27. says

    Greta Christina: “I’ve read a fair number of deconversion stories, and while rational arguments and evidence often play a significant role, they don’t always, or even usually, play the deciding role. They soften the ground, put deep cracks in the foundation… but it seems like the final step is often a very subjective, emotional one. People who have deconverted often say things like, ‘One day I was praying, and I realized that it felt like I was talking to the ceiling.’ And while a rational observation of contradictions in their religion often plays a large part, an emotional and moral revulsion against the horrors of the religion (such as the horrors of hell, and the unfairness of does and doesn’t go there) often plays just as large a part, and in many cases more.”
    My case may be a bit unusual, but for me, emotional and moral revulsion didn’t play that big a role. As I started seeing the cracks in my old beliefs, I certainly felt freer to say, “You know, that really is pretty ugly and senseless when you think about it,” about parts of those beliefs, but that was secondary. Then again, even as a Christian, I did have an answer to the question, “What would it take to give up your faith?” The answer was a natural explanation for the biblical resurrection accounts that didn’t look clumsy and ad hoc.

  28. Nurse Ingrid says

    Andy, no apologies are necessary. I think we are basically in agreement. To my mind, this question is simply an interesting thought experiment.
    I’m guessing that you would agree that the “study” I proposed, if carried out, would not show any “God effect” whatsoever. I believe that strengthens my position, rather than weakening it.
    As I have said before on other threads, if there really were an interventionist god, the effect would not be subtle. It would be glaringly obvious, and it would indeed be foolish to remain an atheist in the face of such strong evidence.
    That’s why I’m an atheist — because I know the evidence isn’t there.
    And I don’t think you have anything to be ashamed of.

  29. Laura Deal says

    As a non-fundamentalist Christian I would have a problem coming up with what would make me lose my faith because my belief isn’t in the Bible it’s in God. I see the Bible as a collection of writings written over a long period of time by a lot of different people trying to define, explore, explain, and celebrate their relationship with God. I consider some of the writings mythology, some of it reports on historical events which have been gathered from oral reports, spoken and then written by people who are fallible and like all people, view events through their own lens. So like any collection of writings on any subject I care about, some of it feels true or partially true to me and some of it doesn’t. So what I believe is based on what is in my heart. This is why I call it faith and not fact.
    I question what I believe a lot and none of what I believe contradicts anything that I’ve learned in science class or observed in the world. I believe in evolution and gravity and that the earth revolves around the sun. I believe that shit happens and some of it is random and unfair. I also believe there is a divine energy in the world that all of us can connect to and that it can be a force for good in the world if we let it. I believe there are many ways to connect to this spirit, I find the easiest way for me to connect is through the teachings of Jesus, but I don’t think that means that everyone needs to follow that path. I believe that prayer has power, but I don’t believe that being “good” and praying for something always gets you what you want. I see prayer as connecting with God for guidance and support. I sort of see it as being loved and supported by a perfect friend or parent In times of trouble, your friends and family (well the family part is theoretical for me- I don’t find support or guidance from my biological family) give you love, and can help you find answers to your questions but they rarely solve your problems for you- though they can offer help. This is my experience with prayer. When I pray, I sometimes find answers or solutions to my questions or problems, but mostly I just find strength and comfort.
    I believe that God is powerful but only partially interventionist. I believe that not only do people have free will but nature does as well. Could God control the weather? I don’t know and I don’t have an opinion either way. Does God control the weather. I still don’t know, but my opinion is no. Since nature and people have free will then I believe that God only intervenes when invited. I believe that only people invite it, so prayer can only bring intervention if everyone involved has agreed to be intervened with. I know this sounds like I pulled all this out of my ass, but it’s actually a belief formed by my experiences and observations. For example when I was out of college working a dead end job I hated, (selling burgers) but couldn’t afford to take time off to go look for another job and even if I could, I had no idea what I wanted to do. During an especially bad day at work I prayed. I told God I needed guidance, I didn’t know what I wanted other than not this, I wanted to do something I would love, something important, I asked for help finding that. About 5 minutes later a woman from my church walked in to buy lunch. I didn’t know her very well and I’d never seen her at the restaurant before, but I knew who she was. She got halfway up to the counter and then stopped in her tracks and stared at me like she’d seen a ghost. She walked up to me and said, “This is going to sound really weird but I think you might be the answer to my prayers.” Turns out she’d been driving around town, crying and praying because the after-school program at her school was completely falling apart. She’d hired and fired a bunch of people and nobody could get the program to work. She pulled over because she needed to stop crying and eat something before she caused an accident. So she had been praying in the parking lot for strength and guidance at the same time I had been praying. She had seen me interacting with the kids at church but she hadn’t been to church for awhile due to her husband’s health issues so we really didn’t know each other and she hadn’t thought of me for the job. Long story ending- she offered me a job at her school and 20 years later I’m still a teacher. This could all be coincidence and it’s proof of nothing but it feels real to me and it’s one of the reasons I believe about prayer what I do. Now I also know that if I had sat on my ass praying 24/7 and hadn’t also played with children in the church yard or if I hadn’t rocked the job she gave me, I wouldn’t still be teaching. I think free will is a gift from God and if you don’t use it then you are not fully connecting to God and therefore your prayers are hollow.
    I am fully aware that there is no proof for what I believe but I can’t think of what could disprove what I believe. Maybe some of the prayer stuff could be proved wrong, but then I would change that part of my belief, it wouldn’t prove to me I was wrong about there being a God, it would just prove to me that I don’t know or understand everything about God, but I already know that, so it wouldn’t shake me up too much.
    So I couldn’t honestly tell you what would convince my I’m wrong because the nature of my faith doesn’t conflict with any reality I’ve ever experienced or read about. I embraced my faith as an adult who had always been a critical thinker. I was raised to think for myself and I was never a kid who believed something just because I was told so by a grown-up. I don’t think something is true because it’s in the Bible or because someone says God told them it was true. I look at the evidence and if there is a way to prove or disprove something I consider it a fact (with of course the knowledge that even “facts” can wind up being wrong, but still- you go with the best evidence). Then there are things that haven’t been proven or disproven. With those things I go with my gut and move on with the realization that they are beliefs and shouldn’t be treated the same way facts are. My gut tells me that there is a God. My gut tells me that God is love and calls on us to care for one another and strive to honor the divine within every living thing. I look at this belief and accept that I could be wrong but it’s not like if somehow I’m proven wrong I will be all “Damn, I wish I hadn’t tried to care for people and honor the divine in them.” The truth is my faith isn’t the only reason I try and care for people. If I didn’t believe in God I would still believe in Good. But I do believe in God and it makes it easier to care about people I don’t like. It makes it easier to care about myself. Would I still try and do the right thing if I knew there was no God. Yes, would I still think redwood trees were awesome and be filled with joy at the sight and smell of them? Yes. Would you still go on living and laughing if you had never met Ingrid? Yes. Are you glad you met Ingrid? Yes. Do you value her love even though you were a complete person before you met her? Yes, just like I value my faith. It’s different, but not entirely.

  30. Valhar2000 says

    Does NOBODY in the BSG world do it doggie-style?
    Well, perhaps in the feministic, egalitarian, enlightened society of the futurte, people are too busy licking carpet…

  31. Eclectic says

    Andy, if you have a hard time imagining proof of a god’s existence, have a look at Carl Sagan’s book _Contact_. The (fictional) proof discovered at the very end dropped my jaw. That would convince me that the universe was created by an intelligence of literally unimaginable power.
    Screw Clarke’s third law, there is no technology *that* advanced. I don’t think the abrahamic YHWH is capable of pulling a trick like that. Maybe he could fool us into thinking that we saw that evidence, but actually create it? The folks who wrote those stories didn’t have the vision to imagine a being that powerful.
    (Note that this proves that atheism is wrong, not that any existing religion I’ve ever heard of has it right.)

  32. Andy says

    Eclectic, I’ve read the book many many years ago. The proof discovered at the end is a very good trick indeed.
    While I agree that discovering something by those lines will shake my view of the universe, I always thought that you can’t really draw a perfect circle using square pixels in a square gird.
    Anyway, that *would* be enough or be very very close to a proof that the universe was “designed”.
    Kind regards,
    Andy

  33. says

    This is a great post, very clear and concise display of the argument and differences between dogma and reason.
    Generalizing here but I feel like 99% of the time an atheist and a theist get into an argument they start talking about stupid things like how all the animals couldn’t possibly fit onto Noah’s ark or how Jonah couldn’t have lived in a whale’s stomach for 3 days. These arguments miss the forest for the trees. The real issue is that of using faith vs that of using reason.

  34. says

    Thank you! You have a way of articulating these things which make me think, “I wish I’d written that!”
    I say thank you because articles like this can be “cut-out-and-keep” arguments that I’m likely to find useful!

  35. jemand says

    hmmm, Andy’s probably long gone but my reading here, I’m both agreeing and disagreeing with him. Thing is, there’s already so much evidence I have that does NOT make sense in the context of an involved divine being, plus the evidence that people’s sanity is sometimes lost, that if all of a sudden the laws of probability appeared to change, or if apparitions just suddenly appeared, my memory of previous evidence plus seeing on the outside other people going insane would leave any rational fragment of my brain left certain that I was experiencing a psychotic break.
    That’s very different than to say what would have convinced me were I to have existed in another reality, one where no one ever went insane, where in fact the laws of probability did favor certain religious groups, god appeared and talked to everyone regularly, etc.
    So… any sudden change in reality’s appearance would be very suspect from a rational understanding for me, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have been a permanent believer or couldn’t have been permanently convinced in another context. It’s also not to say that there could not possibly be a rational explanation for the sudden change, just that it would have to be exceedingly convincing.

  36. Harold Ennulat says

    ‘So now we have some pertinent synonyms for “secular faith.” Trust. Reliance. Confidence. Conviction. Hope.’ from your post.
    The secular faith definition you offer, I have no problem applying to my Lord and my God.
    My evidence is the Bible and science and what I observe around me.
    Your citations of religious faith convinces me that there are lots of other definitions out there. Some of the definitions do however include the terms you cite in your secular definition.
    If I may cite the NASB version of Hebrews 11:1 referenced in your article, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Note the use of the two synonyms you use for secular faith, namely hope and conviction.
    This faith does not mean there are no doubts or uncertainties, but that we are willing to act on it none the less because we have nothing better to act on.
    While some, perhaps even many, theist may insist that religious faith is much more of a blind faith, does it make any sense that a belief in the true God (if he exists) should require this? Even the passage from Hebrews 11:1 doesn’t seem to require this.
    What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.
    There is one more observation that I should make. Many of these discussions give the impression that we get to choose what we believe about God. If God is real and if he has revealed himself we need to let God speak, and follow that path believing what God wants us to believe to the extent that it is possible. That said, it is impossible to convince a believer in God to believe something else, if he believes that God is saying otherwise. To convince Bible believing Christians requires undermining the Bible itself because this book claims itself to be the “word of God” (whatever that means) and has lots to say about who God is and what he wants from people.
    It occurs to me that our faith systems if we have spent any time on them at all (either theist or atheist) are each a puzzle of pieces that we have fit together in a fairly complete picture, for many of us anyway. It takes more then just showing that a few pieces don’t fit any more before we are convinced about our faith. For example, I have learned that for a Mormon to leave their faith after learning there is something wrong with it, averages around 10 years. That’s once they are more or less convinced! (Perhaps Ms. C.L.Hanson can confirm this).
    That’s a lot of blogging if this also applies to the theist/atheist dialogs….

  37. says

    What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.

    Then let me introduce you to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible: outlining in detail the internal inconsistencies, logical absurdities, and gross scientific and historical inaccuracies that are in every chapter of the Bible, and practically on every page. (Not to mention the moral horrors.)
    If your “evidence” is the Bible, I strongly encourage you to get better evidence. The Bible is as reliable as Kleenex in a hurricane. If it weren’t for the fact that so many people have based their religion on it for so many centuries, nobody would take it seriously as anything other than an interesting document of the culture of the time.
    And if your response to the massive number of errors in the Bible is to defend it anyway and come up with elaborate rationalizations for why these mistakes aren’t really mistakes… then you’re pretty much proving my point. Which is that many believers think their belief is based on evidence… but when pressed about how poor and unreliable their “evidence” is, they fall back on faith, the religious version — i.e., believing no matter what, despite having no good evidence to support the belief and lots of good evidence that contradicts it.

  38. Harold Ennulat says

    Thanks, I’ll look. I’m very interested in what is considered so inconsistent, etc. to cause the Bible to be thrown out whole sale.

  39. Maria says

    I’m very interested in what is considered so inconsistent, etc. to cause the Bible to be thrown out whole sale.
    Is this for real?? O_o

  40. Harold Ennulat says

    Wow what a cool web site! I did not know anything like this existed, the entire Bible with skeptical commentary and a Christian commentary to the skeptic commentary.
    And yes I am serious. I did not know that these views we so well documented. I see that there are some atheists that at least claim to have reasons for their views as opposed to just not choosing to believe because they want to make all their own decisions about their life rather then giving God authority over their life.
    Greta, as for the “the internal inconsistencies, logical absurdities, and gross scientific and historical inaccuracies” identified in the “Skeptics Annotated Bible”. Aren’t most them already address in the Christian response?
    Wouldn’t you agree that the author of the SAB is just using a shot gun approach to question everything that doesn’t make immediate sense? In looking at Luke 1 he questions the drinking of wine when it says that John the Baptist will not drink wine, he questions weather anyone can be just or righteous when in the first case it was talking about a range of people from “disobedient to the just” and in the latter it defined righteousness as someone who was genuinely diligent in keeping Gods commands, where just a few things I noticed. As a specific, Luke 1:20 where the angel says “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, because thou believest not my words..” were rated cruel or violent, absurd, and inconsistent as if God is cruel to take away someones speech temporarily for unbelief and to convince Zacharias about what was about to happen. This passage was also rated inconsistent because he did not do this to Mary. The Christian commentator notes how these were different. More importantly though, can’t God do as he wishes? How can anyone have more wisdom then God to call him inconsistent? Absurd: An Angel visiting someone is not your everyday experience
 However can God not act as he chooses? I’m not sure how this is absurd unless one believes in advance that this is not the work of God, which is not being objective.
    That is not to say that some of the questions and comments are good questions and comments.
    The Christian commentator seems to do a pretty good job of answering the objections based on a review of the summary items for Luke. Most of them seemed well reasoned.
    Some of them may well be “elaborate rationalizations” as you say, but all or most of them? Have you looked over the Christian comments section placed next to the SAB comments? Do these not strike you as at least plausible?
    I guess the question to ask is “What is this document called the Bible?” Is it reasonable to take an ancient text and demand that it be scientific, or use western logic (it’s an eastern text after all), or to demand that it record history the way we would expect today? Or does it need the church or any person to give it “a boost” or status that it itself does not claim? The Bible is what it is and we need to examine it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be or doesn’t want it to be. I trust that would be fair for both the theist and the atheist. Does this seem fair to you?

  41. Maria says

    Is it reasonable to take an ancient text and demand that it be scientific, or use western logic (it’s an eastern text after all), or to demand that it record history the way we would expect today?
    Uhhhh… It was YOU who claimed the bible was reliable to such an extent that you would believe there is a god for no other reason than that this document is O_o
    WE have never demanded this of the bible, because WE know fully well that it isn’t scientific or logic or records history in a way we expect today. The only reason we keep pointing this out is because theist keeps insisting it is!
    The Bible is what it is and we need to examine it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be or doesn’t want it to be. I trust that would be fair for both the theist and the atheist. Does this seem fair to you?
    Then why don’t you do that? This is not a problem for atheists! That’s what we have been doing all along!
    “not for what someone wants it to be…”? O_o Is this the worst case of projection I have seen in some time!? WE see exactly what it is. YOU wanted it to be a reliable proof for god, which after you have read the site Greta linked, should be quite clear on that it is not! Don’t you see how strange it is to first have such expectations on an ancient text, and then when shown that those expextations are absurd, turn around and say WE are wrong to have those expectations?
    And your faith in god is as solid as ever I gather?

  42. Harold Ennulat says

    What does O_o stand for?
    I like the fact that were able to identify the most salient points.
    You deny that I believe them however when I say I do. Or perhaps there is some misunderstanding. For example just because I note that the Bible doesn’t record history the way we do today doesn’t mean it doesn’t record history at all… it clearly does. Does it get all the details right or does it use details to give general context? Or is our own understanding that needs examimination? etc…
    I’m also sensing that perhaps there is the expectation that if God were to write a Book that it would be perfect? The Bible is written by people and inspired by God is what the Christian churches say.
    There are principles of interpretation that need to be applied when looking at any text especially an ancient text, such as context, literary style, references to common beliefs or common sayings, historical setting… In reading over the SAB comments just in one chapter it is unclear what principles are being applied when commenting, but they seem fairly literal and often out of context. I pointed out that at least some things noted as inconsistent is doing nothing more then noting that God acts differently in different situations…. actually wouln’t God not be God at all if he doesn’t get to do as he pleases?

  43. Maria says

    What does O_o stand for?
    Sorry. That’s an emoticon that stands for eyes staring wildly in unbelief at what you are reading. I guess I’ve just been too much in some fandoms that uses it. But yeah, that’s my general feeling about this, I suppose.
    I’ll be busy today so I will have to get back to you on this a bit later.

  44. says

    Harold: You don’t get to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the evidence provided by the Bible”… and then, when presented with its massive body of factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions, say, “Well, it’s not fair to judge the Bible by today’s standards of evidence and reason.”
    You don’t get to have it both ways. You’re using circular reasoning: you’re saying “The Bible is my evidence that God exists” — but when it’s pointed out that the Bible isn’t a reliable source of evidence, you make excuses for it, based on your faith in God.
    Which is exactly what I talked about in this piece. I quote myself: “But the things they consider ‘evidence’ — namely, the Bible, and its supposed inerrancy — are themselves objects of faith. Despite the Bible’s historical and scientific errors, its contradictions, its moral atrocities, etc., the belief in its inerrancy is itself, for these believers, an unshakable axiom.”
    I also find it interesting that you focused in your comment on the logical contradictions in the Bible, as opposed to its flat-out factual errors in history and science. Those are what I find most compelling — if the Bible is such a reliable source of information, why would it get actual, simple, verifiable facts so wrong? But I will address one of your points about inconsistencies that jumped out at me.

    More importantly though, can’t God do as he wishes? How can anyone have more wisdom then God to call him inconsistent?

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. You say that the Bible, and the actions of God in it, are reliable and consistent, and you use this as evidence of God’s existence. But then, when inconsistencies in God’s actions as described in the Bible are pointed out, you say, “Hey, God gets to do whatever he wants, who are we to judge?” I hate this argument for a lot of reasons — mostly because it makes a mockery of the entire concept of good and evil (more on that in my piece The Problem of Suffering). But I also hate it because it’s so circular. “I know God exists because the Bible is reliable and consistent — but when God’s actions as described in the Bible seem unreliable and inconsistent, we have to just trust in God.”
    I agree that the authors of the SAB point out both trivial errors and big, important ones. I sort of wish they wouldn’t, as it makes it harder to sort out the big important ones. But the point remains: You said that you believe in God because of the reliability of the Bible. If that’s true, then when the massive unreliability of the Bible is pointed out, then yo should be seriously questioning your faith. If instead, your response to “The Bible is unreliable” is to shrug and make excuses, then you’re making my point for me — which is that religion faith is not based on evidence, and is not falisifable.

  45. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: You are giving me lots to chew on here. Let me take what I think is your main point: My Evidence for God IS the Bible, but it is not the only evidence. Also, some of it is just definitional. For example by definition God gets to choose his actions. By definition God is smarter then we are. We just aren’t in a position to question him. And besides if we do it doesn’t change anything about his existence (or non-existence). The SAB commentator seems to think it does.
    As for the Bibles “massive body of factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions”, I think we need to break this down a bit. I mentioned some of the principles previously. I also cited examples from Luke 1 where things called inconsistencies are not really inconsistent or at least not necessarily inconsistent, and anything miraculous is considered absurd. What would you consider a good test case to examine some specific “factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions”? I picked Luke 1 because that’s what our family was reading, but I’m game for something hard. I keep thinking of the resurrection passages because they are pretty out there.
    By the way, I don’t believe I have yet said that I believe the Bible in spite of the evidence against such a belief. For now I’m questioning your claim to “massive errors….” because in examining Luke 1 at least, I didn’t find it very fair in the SAB commentary. If I comment negatively on everything you say in one of your articles, that doesn’t prove your writing has “massive errors”, Wouldn’t you agree? The SAB commentary has that kind of a feel to it, not just pointing out trivial errors, but it seems clear he points out errors that we would not really consider errors.. (such as making Zacharias mute and not Mary).

  46. Harold Ennulat says

    “if the Bible is such a reliable source of information, why would it get actual, simple, verifiable facts so wrong?”
    You mean like the cock crowing 1, 2, or 3 times in the Gospels?
    Or more like the Genesis story being completely out of wack with Evolutionary Theory?
    Things like how many times the cock crowed when Peter denied knowing Jesus concerned me a lot too. However once I discovered that the Bible is 66 different books each with its own literary style and purpose written by men then this did not concern me as much. On the one hand it seems odd that they didn’t get this detail right. On the other hand they all mention that Peter denied Jesus before the cock crowed the last time. It can be argued that this makes this account more believable because clearly they weren’t copying each other and either did not properly recall how many times the cock crowed or did not think it important. Or possibly some of the authors omitted the extra crowing details to get to the point quicker. So is it fair to say that this makes it un-credible or does it actually make this more credible because all three say Peter denied Jesus?
    The Genesis story, I can only offer some possibilities. One possibility is that it is only suppose to give an idea of what the beginning of man was like and to communicate that God created everything in a perfect world, man rebelled against God by disobeying God and eating the apple, etc. The actual creation details were taken from the best data available at the time….
    Another possibility is that physical laws may have been different back then. A stretch? Yes and No. Consider this. If you were God and you could create a man, how old would he appear to be on the day you created him? If God wanted to make light and darkness without a sun couldn’t he do it?
    While this latter view is the view I favor, I don’t hold it super tightly. It goes in the area of one of those things I don’t really understand. However, I don’t have to throw all reason out to believe it when there is a God in the picture who by definition can do such things if he wanted.
    My point in all this, is to point out that there are answers to many of the cited “factual errors” that allows one to have faith without just outright ignoring the evidence as I keep hearing is the only way a believer in God can have faith. I hope I’ve demonstrated there is no need to throw out reason to have faith in God.
    I guess I changed the language a little from evidence to reason. The book of Genesis is the evidence. How we interpret it is by reason. (Not sure about this but I’m just now seeing that evidence and reason need to go together somehow).

  47. Maria says

    Harold, you have to realize that it is completely useless to even try to discuss this with you if you are just going to dismiss any argument with that god can change everything by magic. Someone, I don’t remember who, expressed it as it would be like trying to nail jelly to a wall to have such a discussion.
    If we say 2 + 2 = 4, you will say that a god can make it 5, and then see that as a good reason to believe in such a human construct of the mind. Why is the obvious, that your god does not exist, the only alternative that you refuse to consider? What is so scary about reality? You have to try to see that just because the human mind can think such concepts up, it doesn’t mean that it is actually true.

  48. Harold Ennulat says

    “Why is the obvious, that your god does not exist, the only alternative that you refuse to consider?” Sorry, but I don’t understand this. I think I am considering it. In fact I very much agree that a God who hasn’t performed miracles doesn’t exist. Isn’t that the God you are talking about and insist he has to be? If so, then it’s quite understandable why nothing makes sense. Christianity requires the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. It requires the belief in a God that performs Miracles? Why is this so difficult a concept?
    I would submit that you need to consider a God who can perform miracles.
    However if you won’t consider a God who can perform miracles I accept your choice.

  49. Maria says

    I do now consider a god who can perform miracles… OK, I rejected it based on that there are no evidence for such a thing. OK, this is a completely boring an childish game, but all right, we’ll keep going a while longer. So.. let’s see.. Now I am considering an invisible troll dancing in my living room. OK, now I rejected that because of lack of evidence. OK, now I consider the possibility that it’s our Scandinavian gods that are the true ones. We will all go to Hel when we die, unless we are warriors who dies in war, then we’ll go to Valhalla… OK, rejected that because of lack of evidence. Hmm… fairies! It is fairies who makes my dinner for me every day… Oh.. no wait, there’s actually some evidence that it’s me who does it. OK, rejecting that too. Hmmm… what now. Ahh yeah, of course!! There’s another fictional character that does roughly the same things as the Christian god. Star Trek’s Q. He has actually exactly as much going for him when it comes to claims of being real, and he’s kind of cooler too! Maybe I shouldn’t be so fast in rejecting him…

  50. Maria says

    Christianity requires the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. It requires the belief in a God that performs Miracles?
    If it required some actual critical thinking skills, you wouldn’t be in this mess.

  51. says

    Harold: I’m going to break this down into two discussions — the question of the Bible’s factual errors of history and science, and the question of its internal contradictions. Those are related but ultimately very different questions, and I don’t want to confuse them.
    First: The Bible is shot full of factual errors about history and science. It makes many, many claims that the overwhelming body of evidence simply does not support — not just trivial errors, but major ones. It gives the age of the earth as about 6,000 years, when in fact it’s four and a half billion years. It gets basic, major facts of taxonomy wrong (for instance, saying that bats are birds). It gets basic, major facts of history wrong (for instance, there is no evidence that the Flood ever happened). It gets basic, major facts wrong about the order of events in the universe (for instance, saying that plants were created before the Sun). Etc. Etc. Etc.
    And that’s just a handful of major errors from just one book in the Old Testament — the book of Genesis. Now to major errors in the New Testament: There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that Herod’s slaughter of the innocents ever happened. There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that there was a major earthquake or three hours of unexplained darkness over the entire earth at around the time of Jesus’s death. Mental and physical illness are not caused by demonic possession. And maybe most importantly: Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him — a prediction that clearly has not come to pass. Etc. Etc. Etc.
    The question is not, “Could an omnipotent God have (for instance) created plants before the sun?” By definition, an omnipotent God could have done that. The question is, “Is there any evidence at all that this is what happened?” There is not. The overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. About every single one of these questions.
    If the Bible were any other book, nobody would take it seriously as a reliable source of information about anything. Nobody would take it seriously as anything other than as an interesting document of what a certain culture believed thousands of years ago.
    Your response to all this is Exhibit A in what atheists call “moving the goalposts.” You yourself said, just three days ago, “What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.” We have shown you that the Bible in unreliable in many, many major ways. Your response to this is to say, “Oh, well, that was the best data available at the time, and it depends on how you interpret it.” You have totally backed down on your promise.
    If your belief in God is based even partly on the Bible, you need to now start thinking about whether that belief is valid. At the very least, you need to admit that your belief in God is not based on evidence — it’s an assumption you make without evidence, into which you’re twisting all the evidence to make it fit.
    (Stuff about contradictions in the next comment.)

  52. Eclectic says

    Internal contradictions in the bible are truly plentiful. The easiest one for me to point out is Genesis 1 vs. 2. Which came first: plants or man? Genesis 1 clearly says that plants (1:11) came before man (1:27). Genesis 2 clearly says that the world was barren of plants (2:5) when man was created (2:7) and the plants were created later (2:8).
    Another reason to regard the bible as unreliable is that we don’t even know what the text *is*. For the old testament, there are two major sources: the Masoretic text, passed down through generations of jewish copyists, is in the original language, but has many copying errors. The Septuagint, a greek translation, was copied far less, but suffered the major distortion of translation.
    And while they are obviously the same story, many details differ, or are out of order, and there are paragraphs that are present in one that are absent in the other.
    All of a sudden, we are forced to use some extrinsic standard to judge the bible, to choose among the varying texts all claiming to be “the” bible.
    (Of course, if we consider it simply a popular collection of fairy tales, like Grimm’s or the Robin Hood stories, the variety of tellings is far less problematic.)
    I wish I could recall now the name of the famous bible scholar who, a few hundred years ago, listed some tens of thousands of contradictions.

  53. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: Let me start at the top of your list with the first item: To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?
    More later…

  54. Harold Ennulat says

    I think you got me in a corner on showing the Bible is unreliable
. The way you put it I can see your reasoning is good
. “If the science is in error then how can we know that we it says about God is also not in error”? I think is the question
 I wasn’t satisfied with the answer I was coming up with
.
    However, I’d still like your answer on my previous post….

  55. Maria says

    To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?
    She DID answer that! There is no reason to believe this, or to assume this when there is absolutely no evidence for such a creature being able to do such things. It’s a construct of the mind. Your ‘what-if’-questions are meaningless and we can play that game all day long and it will get us nowhere!

  56. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta, do you agree with Maria that you answered this and your answer is as Maria indicates?
    Maria: It’s not clear to me what you mean. I think you are saying that you won’t believe in a God who performs Miracles? Is that right?

  57. Maria says

    I would believe in a god who performs miracles if there was any evidence for such a thing. There isn’t.
    The question is, do you believe in all the thousand upon thousand upon thousand of fantastical concepts that humans have thought up? Do you believe in them all? If not, how do you rationalize before yourself why you believe in this one? There are exactly as much evidence for the god you are talking about as there is of Santa Claus (a human concept who is also defined as a fictional character who performs miracles and bends the law of nature at will). Do you believe in Santa Claus too?

  58. Indigo says

    Harold, the problem is this: no matter what we come up with to say “But everything we know contradicts that,” you’ll just say, “Ah, but God is capable of circumventing everything we know, so you’re *still* wrong.” Do you see why atheists find this rather frustrating?

  59. Harold Ennulat says

    The evidence for miracles is in the Bible which is why we are discussing this. The evidence is also in nature by the very fact that we exist.
    I must admit I don’t really understand your line of deliberately silly questions. Somehow there is a connection between that and a God that performs miracles?

  60. Maria says

    This is circular reasoning. The evidence can only be in the bible if it’s true that god inspired it, and the only source we have of that god inspired it, is in the bible. The evidence is most certainly not in nature. All of these arguments for gods existance have already been dealt with, and have been found lacking. Ebon Musings have a good page on it:
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/unmovedmover.html
    You really don’t see the connection?
    How can I explain it any clearer? Both Santa Claus and god are inventions of human imagination. They exist only as concepts and have several similar definitions. How did god create the universe in six days – he perfomed a miracle. How does Santa deliver presents to millions of children all over the world in such a small sleigh and during only one night – he performs a miracle. Both have millions of people believing in them, both have zero evidence for their actual existance. Yet you choose to believe in one, and (probably, but who knows) not in the other. Why?
    Why is it a silly question to want to know why you believe in the Christian god of the bible? He has no more going for him than any other god, or mythical creature.

  61. says

    Harold:

    I think you got me in a corner on showing the Bible is unreliable… The way you put it I can see your reasoning is good…

    Before I move on, I want to thank you for saying that. A lot of people I debate with won’t acknowledge when they’re mistaken. I appreciate you doing so.

    “If the science is in error then how can we know that we it says about God is also not in error”? I think is the question

    Yes. That is exactly my point. (Only adding “history” to “science,” as the Bible gets lots of historical facts wrong as well.) If you’re going to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the Bible as a reliable source of evidence,” then once the Bible has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God, or let go of belief in him.
    Replying to this:

    To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?

    I’m not quite sure what your point is here, so I’ll address what seems to be your point. (If I get it wrong, my apologies.)
    If you’re going to say, “An omnipotent God could have changed the physical laws, he could have created the universe in one day but made it seems as if it came into its current state of being over the course of 14 billion years, he could have created plants before he created the sun and then concealed the evidence of that”… that’s what we call an unfalsifiable hypothesis. By its very nature, there is no way to prove it right or wrong. And therefore, it’s a useless hypothesis, with no power to explain or predict, and we should reject it purely because it’s unfalsifiable.
    To make it clear why an unfalsifiable God hypothesis is useless: There are thousands of different God hypothesis that different people believe. If all of them are unfalsifiable, if all of them can explain any possible event no matter what… how are we to decide which one is right?
    So the question isn’t, “Can we imagine a hypothetical omnipotent God who created the Universe as described in the Bible, and then changed the physical evidence and laws of nature to conceal how he did this?” The answer to that question is “Yes — but so what? We can imagine all sorts of hypothetical things that can’t be disproven.” The important question is, “Do we have any evidence or reason to think this happened?” And the answer to that question is a resounding, “No. We don’t.”
    As for our very existence being a miracle… it’s really not. The theory of evolution explains it quite nicely. And unlike the God hypothesis, the theory of evolution is supported by a massive body of evidence from virtually every branch of science. (It’s also falsifiable — any number of possible pieces of data could have proved it wrong. So far, none has.)

  62. says

    Now, as promised: my reply to the question of inconsistencies in the Bible.
    I’m not talking here about the Bible saying “X” in one place and “the opposite of X” in another. There are plenty of examples of this, and I think they fall into the same category as “scientific and historical inaccuracies” — reasons why the Bible is not a reliable source of information.
    But Harold, I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about when you talk about inconsistencies. You seem to be talking about inconsistencies in God’s behavior as described in the Bible: places where he does one thing in one chapter and something very different in another, or where his moral compass seems to spin wildly from one chapter or book to the next.
    And your response to that seems to be, “God is God. He can do whatever he wants. Whatever he does is okay, simply because he’s God.”
    Here is my problem with that. (This isn’t about whether the Bible is factually reliable, btw: it’s about whether the Bible is morally reliable, a very different question from the one we’ve been debating — which is why I’m replying to it in a separate comment.)
    Here’s my problem. To say that whatever God does is good, no matter what it is, renders the whole idea of good and evil meaningless.
    And to say that whatever God does is good, simply because he’s powerful and brought us into being, is like saying that power and goodness are the same thing.
    Let me make an analogy. Parents bring their children into the world. Does that give them the moral right to treat them any way they want? Does that give them the right to beat them, to starve them, to torture them, to deliberately make them sick, to emotionally abuse them, even to kill them? Does the fact that they’re more powerful than their children, and that they’re responsible for their children existing, mean that anything they do to their children is by definition okay?
    And if not — then why would that be true for God?
    If you believe that an omnipotent God exists, then you have to believe that he does terrible things to his children. I’m not talking about evil caused by humans. I’m talking about drought; famine; painful, drawn-out illness; tsunamis and earthquakes and other natural disasters; birth defects; pediatric cancer; mental illness… I could go on and on.
    If any of us did any one of those things, it’d be seen as unspeakably evil. To say that it’s not evil just because it’s God who’s doing it renders the whole idea of good and evil meaningless. It says that what it means for God to be good, and what it means for people to be good, are completely different concepts — not even relevant to each other.
    If God causes horrible suffering for the duration of people’s lives when he has the power and know-how not to, and yet is nevertheless somehow good, then what it means for God to be “good” is so far removed from what it means for us to be “good” that it becomes an irrelevant abstraction.
    And I, for one, don’t think the concepts of good and evil are, or should be, irrelevant abstractions. I would much rather see good and evil as human concepts about how to alleviate suffering and get along with each other, wired into us by millions of years of evolution as social animals, than to think of them as one set of rules God hands down to us and another he applies to himself — simply because he’s powerful enough to do whatever he wants.
    More on this in my piece The Problem of Suffering.
    Finally, I feel like it’s important to say this:
    I realize that I’m asking a lot. I get that it’s hard to question your religious beliefs, and to look objectively at whether they’re really supportable or plausible. And the more you’ve based your life on your religious beliefs, the harder this is to do. (I remember when I was letting go of my own beliefs — it was very hard for a while.)
    So I want to say this now, in case you ever get to a place where you’re seriously questioning your faith but are afraid to let it go:
    Atheism is okay.
    Atheists are good people, ethical people, happy people. Atheists have great joy and meaning and purpose in our lives. There are things you have to let go of when you let go of religion — but there are wonderful compensations, great new sources of joy and purpose and meaning and just flat-out fun. I, for one, would not go back for anything.
    And if you do get to a place where you’re seriously considering letting go of your faith, there is a large and fast-growing atheist community to provide support. (That wasn’t nearly as true when I was letting go of my religious beliefs, and it made it harder, since I had to go through a lot of stuff alone. It’s much better now — and it’s getting better every day.)
    A lot of believers can’t imagine a happy, meaningful, responsible life without religion. I want to tell you that it’s more than just imaginable — it’s entirely possible. People do it every day.

  63. Eclectic says

    Harold, I can’t find your previous comment about the age of the world, so this is my general response to “couldn’t God have just made the universe so it looks old?”
    Yes, a truly omnipotent being could have done such a thing. But this takes us straight into Last Thursdayism, when the world could have been created at any time at all, including last Thursday. My memories of my life before that time were created along with the rest of the universe.
    The question is, is the illusion of age so perfect that it cannot be penetrated? If there is a difference between an apparently-old universe and an actually-old one, let’s look for that difference and see which is correct. If there is no difference, then it does not matter which I believe.
    I choose to believe that the Universe is actually-old only because of Occam’s razor, but I do not have any actual quarrel with people who believe it’s apparently-old (but a perfect illusion), because we both expect the universe to behave exactly the same and we will both have exactly the same experiences throughout our lives. They just expend a little more breath saying “as if” where I say “is”.
    It all comes down to the “religion is a hypothesis” thing: does your religion claim there is an observable difference between the universe it hypothesizes and a universe where no god exists? If there is no difference, the religion is meaningless. If there is a difference, then show me!

  64. Bruce Gorton says

    It is a hypothetical game, because without having seen evidence that would convince us, we can’t really say what would.
    But, on a hypothetical level:
    What would convince me?
    If the following happened:
    If archeologists found, in English, a paper written by Jesus of Nazereth (dated to the era in which he was active by several different reliable testing methods in order to eliminate fraud) in which he accurately explains the exact workings of an internal combustion engine.
    It is not be perfect proof, but it would show that either someone managed to invent a time machine or that Jesus was in possession of knowledge in advance of his time.

  65. Harold Ennulat says

    Some initial comments for now.
    1. I think we need to step back from our discussion about the reliability of the science recorded in the Bible. The reason for this is because we need to review what evidence actually is.
    I propose the Bible would be the evidence. (It may be all wrong, it may be all right, it may have some things right and some things wrong, but it is still evidence). If we agree, then what we need to do then (it seems to me) is to examine this evidence and draw conclusions. Since we are talking about the existence of God (or non-existence of God) we are ultimately trying to decide the weight of the evidence and judge based on the balance of the weight of the evidence on one side or the other.
    While I am willing to concede that the science in Genesis is not supported even by direct observations… Actually, all I can really say is that there is a conflict in the 2 views and that the astronauts have shown us that the “stars in the firmament” are clearly farther out then the ancients thought. If you believe it is iron clad that is OK too. In reality we each have our own scales anyway to do this weighing and ultimately many of us are weighing this all the time… Either way this argument goes in favor of Atheism in both cases.
    It occurs to me however that there is so much more evidence that needs to be considered yet in the Bible.
    Let me give a bit of a testimony here. This discussion has forced me to consider how I came to faith in God in the first place some 30 years ago now. It was not in reading Genesis. Rather it was being introduced to Jesus as recorded in the New Testament portion of the Bible and then studying this with a group of Christian students while I was in college.
    I don’t propose going through every passage of the Bible. I’d like to keep dealing with things at a summary level as we have. However I would like to switch the conversation over to the New Testament with the focus on the Gospels and Letters of Paul, James and Peter. Not because it is easier (I think it will be however) but because this is central to the Christian faith as this is where we learn about Jesus. People still thought the world was flat then, but at least we don’t have to deal with a text that was written so much after the fact.
    2. Another reason I want to get away from the Old Testament in the Bible is because there are so many more issues that need to be addressed there. It is more likely that we’ll get tied up in a lot of important but less critical topics. Jesus is central. Even if the Old Testament could be completely discredited based on science or even history, If Jesus says it contains valuable lessons about God in history it would be hard to not use the Old Testament for matters of “faith and practice” anyway.
    3. I had never heard the concept of “falsifiable” till I read about it on your blog. I need to study this a bit more before I can really comment on this. I’m not understanding yet why something would need to be falsifiable to be a candidate for being something that is the truth?

  66. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta from your Dec 12th comment: “Now to major errors in the New Testament: There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that Herod’s slaughter of the innocents ever happened. There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that there was a major earthquake or three hours of unexplained darkness over the entire earth at around the time of Jesus’s death. Mental and physical illness are not caused by demonic possession. And maybe most importantly: Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him — a prediction that clearly has not come to pass. Etc. Etc. Etc.”
    Initial comment: Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur. If it is recorded in the Bible and it is not confirmed elsewhere, this does not mean it did not happen. It only means there is no corroboration.
    What is the basis for sayng that being demon possessed could not cause physical and mental symptoms? I don’t believe it is saying that all physical illnesses are because of demon possession, is it? If so what is the basis for this claim?
    This leaves the observation that “Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him”. That’s a good one. Happens to be another one I don’t have the answer for. Let me see what I find. In the mean time I could concede this.
    However is this the only major error in the New Testament? What do you think are the major errors in the New Testament? Perhaps we can look at those.

  67. Eclectic says

    Bruce, there’s actually a lot more. Hell, anything written in any modern language reliably dated 2000 years ago would necessitate some serious re-thinking.
    As would fossil rabbits in the precambrian, a map of the far side of the moon buried in a cave somewhere, a description of DNA and the the 3-base-pair structure of the genetic code, or any of a million other anachronisms.
    It wouldn’t be conclusive, but I’d be quite interested in any religion that advised its followers to vaccinate themselves with cowpox. Or maybe how to use pennicilium to treat infections. There’s a nice simple useful thing that an omnipotent god could share with earthly followers to show favor.
    To convince me of, say, the correctness of Reformed Northern Baptist Missouri synod reformation of 1915 (as opposed to Reformed Northern Baptist Missouri synod reformation of 1879) requires a lot more speculation.
    I expect that any such actual evidence of divinity would prove all contemporary christian sects wrong.

  68. says

    All right, Harold. If you want to focus on the New Testament, we’ll focus on the New Testament.

    If it is recorded in the Bible and it is not confirmed elsewhere, this does not mean it did not happen. It only means there is no corroboration.

    I’m sorry, but no. If these events had happened, they would have been massively important. We’re not talking about minor events: we’re talking about (to use just these three examples) three hours of darkness all over the world, a major earthquake followed by walking corpses, and the systematic slaughter in an entire city of all male children under the age of two.
    There were plenty of contemporary historians during the time Jesus supposedly lived, documenting the major events of the day (and many minor events as well). If events as earth-shaking as these had actually happened, some or all of those historians would have written them down. The fact that there is no contemporary corroboration completely undercuts the claim that they really happened.

    What is the basis for sayng that being demon possessed could not cause physical and mental symptoms?

    And again, we come to unfalsifiable claims. So let me explain a little more about that idea in general, before I talk about how it applies to this topic in particular.
    In order for a hypothesis to be useful — in order for it to explain past events and predict future ones — it has to be possible to prove it wrong. (Example: The theory of gravity could be proven wrong if you dropped a hammer and it just hung there in midair.) If any possible event that anyone could imagine can be fit into a hypothesis, then that hypothesis isn’t useful. It doesn’t tell us anything about the world. There’s no way to test it and see if it’s right or wrong. And there’s no way to distinguish it from the thousands of other hypotheses we can think of that also aren’t falsifiable. I could sit here all day and make up unfalsifiable hypotheses. (There might be a three inch tall pink pony behind my sofa, which teleports to Guam the minute I look back there. Can you prove it isn’t true?) If there’s no way to test them, how do we know if any of them are right or wrong? There are thousands of different religions making different claims: if none of them are testable, how can we decide which one is right?
    Here’s more about falsifiability, in case it still isn’t clear.
    So let’s come back to demonic possession. Is it hypothetically possible that illness (mental and physical) is sometimes caused by invisible demons? Like I said yesterday about the hypothesis of an omnipotent God: The answer to that question is “Yes — but so what? We can imagine all sorts of hypothetical things that can’t be disproven.”
    But do we have any evidence at all that this is so? We do not. What we have is a massive, overwhelming body of evidence showing that mental and physical illness are caused by physical cause and effect: germs, viruses, chemical imbalances, birth defects, poor nutrition, trauma, etc. No serious medical researcher thinks that illness is caused by demonic possession. That hypothesis was discarded ages ago as entirely unfounded. We can be as certain of this as we are of anything. So when Jesus says in the Gospels that he’s curing illness by casting out demons, he was mistaken.
    And this isn’t a trivial, passing idea. The healing of the sick by casting out demons is one of the most common themes in the New Testament.
    As for Jesus’ inaccurate prediction that Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him (which you do concede might be a real error): That is a HUGE mistake, regarding one of the most important parts of this theology. Even if there were no other mistakes in the New Testament, I would think this mistake by itself would be enough to give someone doubts as to whether the New Testament is reliable and accurate.
    There are other historical and scientific errors in the New Testament other than the ones we’ve discussed here. I don’t have time to get into them all in detail. Here are some other examples. There’s actually serious doubt about whether the historical Jesus even existed — more on that here. Even if you accept that the historical Jesus did exist, it’s clear that the New Testament is not an accurate description of his life and the events surrounding it.
    Which leads me back to my point:
    If the science and history of the New Testament are demonstrably in error, then we have no reason to treat it as a reliable source about anything — including God. If you’re going to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence,” then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God — or let go of belief in him.

  69. Eclectic says

    Harold: Ah, Falsifiability! Yes, it’s a bit paradoxical at first, but it really does make marvelous sense.
    To be true, a statement has a say something. That is, it has to go out on a limb a little bit and make a prediction which has a chance of being false.
    It’s possible to make statements which have essentially no chance of being false. “After the storm, the weather will improve” is a classic “Well, duh!” statement. As is almost anything written in any horoscope column. “You will go o n a long journey”. Well, gee, as long as I, sometime in my life, go on journeys of different lengths, then some of them are longer than others. Does this mean that I’m going to get a job offer in Asia or that I’m going to have to drive to a second grocery store because the closer one is out of my favorite soda?
    Such statements are only true in the most trivial, useless sense.
    If you have a hypothesis about the world, the more specific its predictions, the more useful it is. As long as I’m on the surface of the earth, things dropped will fall down at 9.8 m/s². This is very useful. With corrections for air resistance, altitude, and latitude (Helmert’s equation), I get an even more precise figure.
    This is a very specific prediction. If you can find a place on the earth where things fall at 9.7 or 9.9 m/s², then something is badly wrong.
    Physicists are seriously worried about the Flyby anomaly observed in some spacecraft: flying by the earth at about 10 km/s, their velocities end up a few mm/s (less than one part per million) different from predicted.
    This is because they have a very specific theory of gravity, and it doesn’t have room for an error that large.
    This very specificity makes it an incredibly useful theory. It enable all kinds of things from moon rockets to reconstructing gushots from ballistics to figuring out how to bank high-speed curves so nothing goes flying off.
    On the other side of the spectrum are predictions so wishy-washy that they don’t disallow anything at all. Which means that they don’t actually predict anything at all.
    Such statements cannot be judged either true or false (because they cannot be judged at all). Such statements are “not even wrong”; they are useless.

  70. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: I thought that “Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur” was a well accepted logical axiom.
    Also your argument about doubting the existence of Jesus just demonstrates that there is not a great body of written history as you seem to think when talking about earth quakes and the like. Besides each king writes their own history, Jerusalem was nothing to Rome to have cared to write. I don’t pretend to be an expert however. What is the writing from this period that we might refer to… that is, just to get a sense for the body of knowledge available to back up your claim.
    Even then however it wouldn’t be conclusive. No authority would want to record a history that provides evidence that another deity might exist that could trump their own. My understanding is that the “history is written by the victor” was certainly true of the Roman government. The only other source I can think of, might have been the Jewish religious establishment, but they had no motivation to record such a thing either. Acts also makes this clear… err makes this claim….
    If you want to claim that these things never happened, we’ll need more evidence to support this claim. I have now given 3 arguments, one from what I think is accepted logic, 1 from an understanding of how history gets recorded, and a question about the body of knowledge that is actually available on the history of this period.

  71. says

    I thought that “Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur” was a well accepted logical axiom.

    Harold: It doesn’t prove it with absolute 100% certainty. But in a practical sense, when you would ordinarily have every reason to expect something to be there and it’s not, you have to account for the fact that it’s not.
    Let’s use the analogy Ebonmuse uses in his piece Choking on the Camel. Let’s suppose there were lots of writings about a figure named George Washington, who was supposedly the father of our country, the first President, etc. — writings that told specific stories about acts of Washington and other events that took place in his life. But when you looked more closely, you realized that all of these writings were written decades after his death, by people with a vested interest in convincing you that these events took place. When you look at contemporary writings from the time he supposedly lived, there’s not a single mention of Washington’s existence, much less of the events described in the stories about him. And the writings about Washington written after the fact are contradictory, inconsistent, and get lots of basic known facts wrong.
    Does that absolutely prove that Washington didn’t exist, and that the stories about him aren’t true? No. But what’s the most plausible conclusion? The most plausible conclusion is that Washington was a myth: that he either didn’t exist, or that he did exist but that the stories told about him weren’t true.
    Bringing it back to the New Testament: We would absolutely have every reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians. Your analysis doesn’t hold up — the events we’re talking about don’t disprove the religions of the time, and there was no reason for contemporary historians to omit them. If King Herod really had slaughtered all male children in Bethlehem under age two, it wouldn’t have had any effect on their religion: “Herod killed a lot of kids this year” doesn’t prove “Therefore the Roman religion is wrong, and some boy who was born this year is going to be the new Jewish Messiah.” (And contemporary historians did record similar atrocities by other political leaders.) Ditto with the earthquake and the three hours of darkness. Without the New Testament saying that these events were caused by Jesus’ death, why would anyone think “I can’t write this down, it proves my religion wrong”? Why would anyone think of it as anything other than a weird natural phenomenon, worth documenting?
    And then you get the internal inconsistencies in the New Testament story. I don’t mean moral inconsistencies in God’s or Jesus’ behavior. I mean places where the New Testament says one thing in one place and something completely different someplace else. See more about those here. Those also cast doubt on the reliability of this text as a historical document.
    And you haven’t yet addressed the mistakes Jesus himself made as quoted in the Gospels: mistakes about medicine, about science, about history, about his own prophecy of when he’d return. (Mistakes not just limited to demonic possession.) Even if you assume that Jesus existed and the Gospels more or less accurately describe his words… his words aren’t exactly reliable, either.
    The only way to see the Bible — New and Old Testaments — as a useful and accurate source of information is to start with the assumption that it is a useful and accurate source of information, and shoehorn the facts to fit that assumption. (And then to use circular, unfalsifiable reasoning to defend this assumption.) If you step back from that assumption, if you look at the Bible simply as a text, written decades after the events it supposedly describes, and written by people with a strong vested interest in persuading readers that the events happened… the most logical conclusion is that it’s not a reliable source. It can’t be proven with 100% certainty that the events didn’t happen — but that’s really not the most plausible explanation.
    And again, if you’re going to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence,” then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God — or let go of belief in him.
    Oh, btw: Do you get it now about falsifiability and why it’s so important? Did Eclectic and I make that idea clear?

  72. Harold Ennulat says

    Is Ebommuse where you are getting all this?
    I’ve now read his questioning of any historical Jesus at all. It’s well done and will send me into a rabbit hole for a while. I never heard the argument for denying a historical Jesus this detailed before. I’m not sure if I can trace this belief, but I must go there next.
    This could take a while.
    I certainly understand that it is perfectly reasonable that you are atheist given the information you have at your disposal.
    On falsification: This sounds like a scientific method thing… that is it needs to be repeatable. If so then it could not apply to history since it only happens once…
    One final question I must ask you to consider. Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?
    It just seems like there is a lot of smoke and mirrors on both sides that is making this tedious.

  73. Indigo says

    “Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life”
    Are you a Christian because you don’t want to accept that life is meaningless in the face of oblivion by the Elder Gods, or is it because you want to skip the cycle of karma and go straight to enlightenment?

  74. Maria says

    “Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life”
    That is not always the case, Harold. I was never a believer in the first place for example. The kind of belief in a Christian god that you show here is uncommon here where I live (and I live in a historically Christian country, it’s not because there is another religion which is common here). Almost all people around me lived secular lifestyles when I grew up, and almost all people around me do so now. I knew ONE person in school who was an active Christian.
    I read the bible a lot as a kid. I saw it as a collection of fairy tales just like the thousand and one night and H.C. Andersen and Grimm’s fairy tales, and that’s what you will see it like if no one plants the thought in your head that it’s suppose to be holy in some weird way. God was a fairy tale character just like the genie in the bottle, and just like the genies, god was prone to sadism and could work magic. Already as a five year old I understood that none of them was suppose to be believed in as being real and existing and be able to affect your life in any way, and certainly not be worthy of any sort of worship.
    Religion mostly only looks sensible if you are brought up within it. If you never have been and look at it all from the outside, it looks exactly – as I’ve mentioned several times before – as if you would believe in any fictional or mythological character.
    When I hear “…accept the authority of God over your life…” I know where you’re coming from since I am not unaware of religion, religious people, and religion’s role in history and today, but it still sound as logic as if you had said “…accept the authority of Donald Duck over your life…”
    No, fictional characters never had that influence over my life, and why should they? To me that would be absurd.

  75. Bruce Gorton says

    “One final question I must ask you to consider. Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?”
    I was a Catholic before becoming an atheist. My parents are atheists too, but my grandmother is a staunch Catholic and so I was baptised and sort of raised to it.
    In South Africa at the time atheism was linked to communism, we had school prayer and Bible classes, as well as religion being tied to our sense of nationhood.
    Then Apartheid ended, and suddenly it turned out the communists were kind of the good guys – and a lot of South Africans became uneasy with religion mixing with our politics.
    Anyway, what led me to my atheism was this: First I started picking holes in the theology – the arguments for God that we learn as children became less and less satisfactory.
    So the first thing that led me to my atheism was neither evidence nor a rejection of authority, but plain, simple, reasoning.
    I started asking questions like “Where did God come from then?” and realising the basic dishonesty of Pascal’s wager. The arguments filled my head and I read the Bible.
    I had already gone through a phase of being deeply interested in evolution, you know, dinosaurs, those kids’ magazines on wildlife, a bit on geology that spurred a rock collection etc…
    I was never a great student, but as I read Genesis I contrasted it with what the science I devoured told me.
    I had also gone through a phase of really being into mythology, and I began comparing the claims and trying to figure out why one set of claims should be accepted why another should be rejected.
    I couldn’t resort to “Well everyone else believes the Bible” because everyone else once believed the mythology – in fact some of the greatest minds of all time believed the mythology.
    I looked into just what science is – and began to realise that crucial difference between fact and belief.
    So evidence was the second step towards being the atheist I am now. When I took it I became an atheist proper, but of the “faitheist” type.
    From there I began to really look at the behaviour of religions, and I began questioning the nature of authority.
    I began to notice the abuses of human rights, the dangers of anti-secularism in politics.
    And I began to question the nature of my morality – slowly arriving at a home-made democratic principle of morality.
    I don’t mean democratic in the sense of the majority decides what is right or wrong, but more in this:
    In a feudal system of morality, morality is judged by the top. Your duty is to your king, your country, your God. To be powerful, is to have those who you have power over duty-bound to you.
    In a democratic system of morality, morality is judged by the bottom. Your duty is to the poor, the oppressed and the weak.
    To be powerful, is to be dutybound to those you have power over.
    Thus it is that we act with particular disgust when a man steals his worker’s pension fund, or parents beat their children.
    And this is why ultimately, after all of that evidence led me to my atheism, it was then that I understood that even if God existed I would reject his authority.
    I am no longer the soft form of atheist, I no longer wish I had faith, I am what they would term a “new atheist”, just like many before me have been going all the way back through history.
    I am no philospher, or great thinker of my time, I can’t claim this as some great insight, but it is what I strive to live my life by. You may find a different way, it is your world to live in just as it is mine.

  76. Harold Ennulat says

    Some observations:
    1. Comparing the lack of evidence for a historical figure from 200 years ago with one 2000 years ago doesn’t seem like a reasonable comparison.
    2. The arguments for no extra Biblical evidence for the baby killing, etc. have extra weight if you already believe that the the Gospel writers were making up the entire story of a historical Jesus. Consequently the argument would have less weight if there was a historical Jesus.
    3. It seems like we need to look at the dating of the Gospels compared to the death of Jesus. From what I can figure Luke was written before about 65 CE. Jesus death was around 30 CE (going by memory).

  77. Harold Ennulat says

    “Herod killed a lot of kids this year” would certainly beg the question “Why?”
    Also I found this snippet on King Herod at http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great02.html “The story about the slaughter of infants of Bethlehem in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is not known from other sources, but it would have been totally in character for the later Herod to commit such a terrible act.”

  78. Harold Ennulat says

    If there is agreement on the dating, then the time between the death of Jesus and writing of Luke would by 35 years at the most.

  79. Harold Ennulat says

    Sorry for the incomplete thoughts…
    The reason the dating is important is because that is the time that the myth and legend of Jesus could have been developed. The idea being that it is easier to understand how a myth could have developed the more removed from the actual event the myth was generated.
    So now the question is, “is it reasonable that a Jesus myth would be recorded about a historical Jesus so soon after he was reported to have died if in reality there was no historical Jesus”?

  80. Harold Ennulat says

    On Falsifiability: From the link Greta supplied (what’s the secret to adding real links) at
    http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Falsifiability
    It is now quite clear that this is talking about the ability to test a scientific hypothesis when it says “falsifiability of theories is … the prime test for whether a proposition or theory can be described as scientific.
    It seems history and science is being combined in ways that aren’t really possible. It is not possible to repeat the experiment that Julius Caesar lived. He only lived once…
    While science plays a role, handling evidence is more like judging a case in a court of law then deciding something using the scientific method.
    Or am I not understanding this properly…

  81. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: From your Dec 14th 7:04pm comment “We would absolutely have every reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians.”
    Here is what I found on any contempory writings that have survived from the entire first century. (Reference: http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/jexfound.html).
    “…we have very little information from first-century sources to begin with. Not much has survived the test of time from A.D. 1 to today. Blaiklock has cataloged the non-Christian writings of the Roman Empire (other than those of Philo) which have survived from the first century and do not mention Jesus. These items are:
    • An amateurish history of Rome by Vellius Paterculus, a retired army officer of Tiberius. It was published in 30 A.D., just when Jesus was getting started in His ministry.
    • An inscription that mentions Pilate.
    • Fables written by Phaedrus, a Macedonian freedman, in the 40s A.D.
    • From the 50s and 60s A.D., Blaiklock tells us: “Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from these significant years.” Included are philosophical works and letters by Seneca; a poem by his nephew Lucan; a book on agriculture by Columella, a retired soldier; fragments of the novel Satyricon by Gaius Petronius; a few lines from a Roman satirist, Persius; Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis; fragments of a commentary on Cicero by Asconius Pedianus, and finally, a history of Alexander the Great by Quinus Curtius.
    Of all these writers, only Seneca may have conceivably had reason to refer to Jesus. But considering his personal troubles with Nero, it is doubtful that he would have had the interest or the time to do any work on the subject.
    • From the 70s and 80s A.D., we have some poems and epigrams by Martial, and works by Tacitus (a minor work on oratory) and Josephus (Against Apion, Wars of the Jews). None of these would have offered occasion to mention Jesus.
    • From the 90s, we have a poetic work by Statius; twelve books by Quintillian on oratory; Tacitus’ biography of his father-in-law Agricola, and his work on Germany. [Blaik.MM, 13-16]”
    If this is true then “We would absolutely have no reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians.”

  82. says

    Harold:

    Comparing the lack of evidence for a historical figure from 200 years ago with one 2000 years ago doesn’t seem like a reasonable comparison.

    All right. Let’s use a comparison that’s close in history to the events we’re talking about. This will also give me a chance to make a point about corroboration — and why it’s so important in understanding history.
    Let’s say there are four or five contemporary historians who wrote about Augustus Caesar. (There are more than that, really, but I’m deliberately making this example harder on myself.) Let’s say that all these contemporary historians agree that Augustus Caesar had one child, his daughter Julia. Now let’s say there’s one text saying that in addition to Julia, Augustus also had a son — Fred.
    But the Fred text isn’t contemporary — it was written decades after Augustus died. And the Fred text also makes a lot of other claims that aren’t corroborated by any other source (ones that you would expect to be, since the claims are extraordinary): it says that when Fred was born, Augustus ordered all girl children in the Empire to be kidnapped and moved to Rome so Fred could have his pick of wives when he grew up; and it says that when Fred died, every tree around the world instantly turned bright pink for three hours. And the Fred text frequently contradicts itself about a number of claims: for instance, in one place it says Fred was born in Rome, and in another it says he was born in Athens. And finally, the Fred text was written by people who believed that Fred was the son of Augustus Caesar and the goddess Venus, and that we should all worship him — it was written with the specific purpose of persuading others to believe in Fred’s divinity.
    Would you then say, “Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur”? Would you then say, “The fact that the Fred text isn’t corroborated by any other source doesn’t prove that Fred didn’t exist”? Would you think that the claim of Fred’s existence, and the stories the Fred text tells about his life, are plausible — simply because no contemporary historian mentions Fred one way or the other?
    Or would you say, “This Fred text clearly isn’t very reliable, and without better corroborating evidence, I’m not going to assume anything it says is correct”?
    That’s what the Bible is. Old and New Testaments. From any perspective other than assuming in advance that the Bible is reliable and twisting all the evidence to fit that assumption, the Bible is an unreliable source: internally contradictory, scientifically inaccurate, historically uncorroborated at best and historically inaccurate at worst.
    FYI, the principle of falsifiability does apply to historical claims. It was originally developed for science — but it applies to any truth claim. Example: If you claim that Caesar Augustus only had one child, that claim could be falsified by reliable documents showing that he had more than one. Historical claims aren’t experiments that can be replicated — but they can and should be falsifiable. There are and should be ways to prove them wrong.
    But I also want to say: I didn’t just bring up falsifiability to respond to the New Testament’s claims about history. (“The slaughter of the innocents might have happened — you can’t prove that it didn’t!”) I brought it up in response to the New Testament’s claims about science. (“Mental and physical illness might sometimes be caused by invisible demons — you can’t prove that they aren’t!”) And I brought it up in response to the entire foundation of Christian theology and other religious belief. (“By definition, an omnipotent God could do anything, and anything you see could be caused by him — you can’t prove that he didn’t!”)
    Like I’ve said, I can tell you the kinds of evidence that would persuade me God exists. That makes my atheism — my conclusion that God almost certainly doesn’t exist — falsifiable. When I asked you, “What would persuade you that your belief in God was mistaken?” you answered very straightforwardly, “What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.” But when we showed you that the Bible was unreliable, you changed that to, “You have to show me that the New Testament is unreliable.” And now that we’ve shown you that the New Testament is unreliable, you seem to be changing that again, to, “You have to prove beyond even the faintest shadow of a doubt, not only that the events described in the New Testament did not happen, but that they could not have happened.”
    That’s what atheists call “moving the goalposts.” And it’s really not playing fair. It’s part of what we mean by unfalsifiability: if you say “(X) would falsify my claim,” and then (X) is shown to be true, and you then say, “Well, never mind, let me change, that, (Y) is what really would falsify my claim” — then you’re making your claim unfalsifiable in any practical sense.

  83. says

    If this is true then “We would absolutely have no reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians.”

    Why on earth not?
    If the events described in the New Testament actually took place, many of them would have been monumental. A massive earthquake in the area? Three hours of unexplained darkness? A king ordering the slaughter of every male child in a particular city under the age of two? What makes you think none of the writers you list would have recorded any of these events?
    Not to mention the life and acts of Jesus himself. Plenty of other messianic figures of that time and place had their lives and acts recorded, by Josephus among others. If Jesus had had anything like the massive following described in the New Testament, he would have been among the most widely followed of the lot. It seems very likely that his life and work would have been recorded — probably not in a very complimentary manner, but it would have been recorded.
    As Ebonmuse wrote in his Choking on the Camel piece: “Events such as these create historians. To assume that not a single person who witnessed these monumental events would have felt compelled to write them down, or that no one bothered to preserve those records if they had, violates all standards of credulity.” You keep just saying, over and over, “There’s no reason to think any contemporary writers would have written this stuff down.” But you’re overlooking how earth-shaking these events would have been if they had taken place.
    Do you have an answer to this?
    It’s not my only argument: the mistakes made in Jesus’ own words as recorded in the N.T., the scientific and historical mistakes he made, and the massive error he made in predicting the date of his return and Judgment Day, are also compelling evidence of the N.T.’s unreliability. As are its own internal inconsistencies: not just about moral teachings, but about basic factual claims. There are lots of reasons to think of the N.T. as unreliable — the lack of historical corroboration is only one.
    But it is an important one. And you still haven’t answered this basic question: Why would events as monumental as these not have been recorded by anyone writing at the time?

  84. says

    Finally (for tonight, anyway) I want to answer this:

    Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?

    Harold, I’m going to assume you weren’t aware of this: you seem to be debating in good faith, and you’ve been doing so in a very civil manner. But just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist. It’s one of the most common pieces of bigotry aimed against us: “You became an atheist because you don’t want to follow God’s rules — you want to lead a self-indulgent life with no morals.”
    The answer to your question is No. An emphatic No. I did not become an atheist because I could not accept the authority of God. For one thing, the God I believed in was not authoritative, and didn’t have rules. And I am a very ethical person, who thinks carefully and agonizes hard over difficult moral choices. Which is true of almost every atheist I know.
    I became an atheist because the evidence was increasingly being borne in on me that my religious beliefs were not consistent with the facts, and that I mostly believed them out of wishful thinking.
    No, I did not become an atheist because it was easier in any way. Letting go of my religion was very painful. I had to let go of a lot of things I was very attached to: including, most obviously, the idea that I and everyone I loved would in some way live forever. I’m very glad now that I’m an atheist — for one thing, I don’t have that constant uneasy feeling that I’m lying to myself — but it was not easy getting here, and it often still isn’t easy.
    And I’m one of the lucky ones — my family are non-believers, I live in a city that’s (relatively) tolerant of non-belief. Many atheists become alienated from their social support network when they become atheists, and have to find new support — or else they stay in the closet. This is not a step that people take lightly. And it is not a step that people take just so they can avoid having to follow God’s rules.

  85. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: “Why on earth not?”
    Did you read the reference? Do you not believe that there are only a handful of contemporary writers with only one pseudo historian whose writings survived?! If so please say so. Don’t just ignore it.
    It seems incredible that you are ignoring this factual evidence I present and continue to insist these things should be recorded in records accessible today.
    Now you are not being straight with me and perhaps not yourself either.

  86. says

    Do you not believe that there are only a handful of contemporary writers with only one pseudo historian whose writings survived?

    No. Of course I believe that. That’s not my point. My point is: Given the monumental nature of these events described in the New Testament, it seems incredible that not a single one of these handful of contemporary writers would not have mentioned even one of them. The earthquake? The three hours of darkness? The slaughter of the innocents? These would have been massively important events. And many of these contemporary writers whose writings have survived were writing about events very similar to these: natural disasters, natural wonders, political and military actions of kings. The idea that not one of these contemporary writers would have documented even a single one of these events stretches credibility. It’s hypothetically possible — but it doesn’t seem in the least but plausible.

  87. Harold Ennulat says

    Look carefully at the list. Look at the dating of the sources. Then look at what you are saying.
    Tell me if you see even one reference to a document that has survived from around AD 34 when Jesus was crucified or around AD 1 when he was born?

  88. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta you wrote, “just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist.”
    Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I did not intend it to be insulting. I really want to know. A close relative of mine won’t believe in God mainly because she does want anyone else controlling her life. She told me so quite plainly. I’m learning there are types of Atheists. You are not like my sister. Thanks for the background.
    My Apologies.

  89. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta you wrote, “just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist.”
    Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I did not intend it to be insulting. I really want to know. A close relative of mine won’t believe in God mainly because she does not want anyone else controlling her life. She told me so quite plainly. I’m learning there are types of Atheists. You are not like my relative. Thanks for the background.
    My Apologies.

  90. says

    Tell me if you see even one reference to a document that has survived from around AD 34 when Jesus was crucified or around AD 1 when he was born?

    I will quote again from Ebonmuse’s Choking on the Camel:
    “It is not as if there were no capable historians at the time. There was, for example, Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BCE to 50 CE. His own beliefs were influenced by Platonic elements that were in some ways similar to Christianity, and his writings show interest in other offshoot sects such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae; he wrote about Pontius Pilate and he was, by some accounts, living in or near Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death and, presumably, the attendant miracles. Yet none of his works contain any mention of Jesus or Christianity.
    “Other writers of the time show the same pattern. Justus of Tiberius, a native of Galilee who wrote a history around 80 CE covering the time Jesus supposedly lived, does not mention him. The Roman writer Seneca the Younger, who was born around 3 BCE and lived into the 60s CE, wrote extensively about ethics but says nothing about Jesus or his teachings. The historian Pliny the Elder, born around 20 CE, took a special interest in writing about science and natural phenomena, but his thirty-seven-volume Natural History says nothing about an earthquake or a strange darkness around the supposed time of Jesus’ death, although he would have been alive at the time it happened. In fact, not a single contemporary record exists of the darkness, and there was a widespread failure to note the earthquake, much less the appearance of the resurrected saints.”
    I really don’t see your point here. Are you saying there are no records of that time and place at all? That nobody who lived at that time made a written record of events that happened in that time and place? That’s just simply not true.
    In any case, I’m sort of getting tired of this particular argument. It seems very clear to me that “there’s no external corroboration of these events, events which would have been monumental and would have attracted the attention of just about every writer of the day” is a persuasive argument for the New Testament being unreliable — not 100% convincing, but persuasive. But you don’t seem to find it convincing, and I doubt that anything I can say further will persuade you.
    And in any case, while I think this is a good argument for the N.T.’s unreliability, it’s far from the only one. I think it’s interesting that you’re focusing on it to the exclusion of every other argument. What about the inconsistencies within the N.T., places where it makes a factual claim and then makes a contradictory one elsewhere? What about the inconsistencies in its teachings — places where it tell us to do one thing, and then a few pages later tells us to do the complete opposite? What about the mistakes in Jesus’ words — major mistakes about science and history? What about the HUGE fact that Jesus predicted that he’d return and bring about Judgment Day within the lifetime of some people listening to him? “Predicted” is actually the wrong word — Jesus presumably has the power to come back whenever he wants. Why did he get this wrong? Was he lying? Did he change his mind?
    There are plenty of reasons to see the New Testament as an unreliable source of information. The fact that not one of the monumental events it describes are corroborated by a single outside source is only one of those reasons.
    And again, if you’re going to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence,” then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God — or let go of belief in him.

  91. Bruce Gorton says

    Greta Christina | December 15, 2009 at 10:19 PM
    Another two elements which are totally false – the census and the tradition of clemency.
    The census story doesn’t make logical sense – why would the Romans even care where Jospeh’s pre-Roman ancestors came from?
    And there are no copies of it. If you ground an entire province’s economy to halt in order to get this information (Which is what the Biblical account would have entailed) then there should be some record of it somewhere.
    The second one was probably one of the most evil things in the Bible for all the misery it has caused.
    The tradition of clemency was made up – we know this because we actually know what Rome’s laws were (They after all, form part of the basis of our current laws) – in order to smear the Jews as “Killers of Christ.”
    Rome letting Jesus go because the crowd wanted it – would be like America letting Osama Bin Laden go because he is popular with the Arabs. Israel was a rebellious province, and Rome, though barbaric by our standards, was not stupid.

  92. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta you wrote “I really don’t see your point here. Are you saying there are no records of that time and place at all? That nobody who lived at that time made a written record of events that happened in that time and place? That’s just simply not true.”
    The answer to you question is Yes.
    Since you provided a number of sources that could have mentioned Jesus when I did not see any (from my source), I have more work to do to check this out.
    As for being tired of dealing with this one issue. I’m with you. I wish this were easier. This is a lot of work… on this point I see you have put the ball back in my court…
    As for not dealing with your other points. I would like to. I picked this topic because it was next on the list of topics. It’s a lot easier to ask a lot of questions… it’s a little harder to answer, especially when I don’t know myself…
    To counter, I don’t belief you addressed all my questions either yet
.

  93. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta, you wrote, “And again, if you’re going to say, “I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence,” then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God — or let go of belief in him.”
    For an atheis you are quite the evangelist! …ask for a decision with every message…
    I would like to keep our discussion mainly on the evidence and the reason or logic applied in evaluating it. We need to recognize that the conversion if any comes will likely not be immediate
. either mine
 or yours… or anybody elses
.
    I was very concerned when I read Edons “Camel” article. I hope to get opportunity to respond to this a bit later.
    In the mean time, here is a web site that addresses “Why did contemporary writers not mention Jesus?” http://www.tektonics.org/qt/remslist.html

  94. says

    To counter, I don’t belief you addressed all my questions either yet…

    Fair enough. I realize that the “blog comment discussion thread” isn’t the most well-organized form of discourse in the world (to put it mildly!), and important points can be missed. What questions of yours have I not yet addressed that you want me to?

    We need to recognize that the conversion if any comes will likely not be immediate

    That’s certainly true. I don’t expect immediate conversion, and I wouldn’t want it. I don’t want you or anyone else to change your mind just on my say-so. I want you to look at the evidence, talk with advocates on both sides, and decide for yourself which hypothesis is more plausible. I’m not asking for a decision right away; I’m just pointing out a true “if/then statement”: if your evidence for belief in God is the Bible, then once the Bible has been shown to be unreliable, the logical consequence eventually has to be either finding better evidence or giving up the belief. But I don’t expect that to happen overnight. And it shouldn’t.
    I’ll look at that tektonics website and see what I think of it. And I’m glad you’re taking Ebon’s “Camel” article so seriously. While you’re considering that, I’d also like to suggest that you look at Bruce Gorton’s examples of factual inaccuracies in the New Testament (a few comments above this), as I think they may be even stronger than the ones I gave.
    And I have to say that I’m impressed with your willingness to take this seriously. Usually when I debate with believers, they quickly move from “Here’s my evidence” to “Here’s why it’s unreasonable and mean of you to expect me to show evidence, I’m just going to keep believing what I believe no matter what.” Thanks very much for not doing that.

  95. Harold Ennulat says

    Regarding the first source, Philo, you correctly point out quoting from Edon “Yet none of his works contain any mention of Jesus or Christianity.” Not knowing who Philo is or what he wrote about I found this web site. (I tried to pick a theistically neutral one)
    http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/p/philo.htm#H2
    Some relevent findings that you can examine at the web site above:
    “The major part of Philo’s writings consists of philosophical essays
.”
    “The third group includes historical-apologetic writings: Hypothetica or Apologia Pro Judaeos which survives only in two Greek extracts quoted by Eusebius. The first extract is a rationalistic version of Exodus giving a eulogic account of Moses and a summary of Mosaic constitution contrasting its severity with the laxity of the gentile laws; the second extract describes the Essenes. The other apologetic essays include Against Flaccus, The Embassy to Gaius, and On the Contemplative Life. But all these works are related to Philo’s explanations of the texts of Moses.”
    So I have to ask, What reason would he be writing about Jesus or Christianity? Let alone about any kind of current history? Philo is a Greek Jew interested in merging Greek philosophy with his Jewish religion. Does he mention anything from current events? Does he name any contemporary rulers mentioned in the Bible if not by name by role such as the chief priest, the Roman governor, the Jewish ruler in Jerusalem, etc? It would appear not.
    Or do I need to go through the rest of the list?
    I am new to this level of study and it is hardly exhaustive, however if this is confirmed then Ebon (or where ever he is getting this) is blowing a lot of smoke. He knows that the average person could not possibly examine each point. So instead of quality (which is looking more and more like he does not have) he is compensating with quantity. I mentioned from the outset when looking at the Skeptics Annotated Bible that he is shot gunning any thing that looks suspicious and not examining things critically himself, (unless it is convenient to make his argument). This seems like yet another example.
    Greta I think its your turn to look at some of the remaining so called sources that should have recorded something about Jesus or the earthquake, or the darkness, or the killing of infants. Find even a casual mention of Herod who did the killing.. Or how about say any mention of current rulers by contempory writers. My impression is that even that will be quite thin if you limit it to the same list that you site even from Edon. Find an example of any mention of the weather or a narrative about anything they saw that was contemporary.

  96. says

    First, I should say: I’m not a historian, and I don’t have these facts at my fingertips. That being said, here’s what I dug up with just a little Googling.

    What reason would he be writing about Jesus or Christianity? Let alone about any kind of current history? Philo is a Greek Jew interested in merging Greek philosophy with his Jewish religion.

    You just answered your own question. Christianity is, among other things, a merging of Jewish religion with Greek philosophy. If there had been a popular Messsianic figure who was also attempting to do that, it seems likely that Philo would have been interested.
    But more pertinently:

    Find even a casual mention of Herod who did the killing.

    You’re really barking up the wrong tree on this one. Herod the Great’s life is pretty well documented — primarily by Josephus — and even Christian theological and historical scholars mostly agree that the slaughter of the innocents almost certainly did not happen.

    Find an example of any mention of the weather or a narrative about anything they saw that was contemporary.

    You’re kidding, right? Of course contemporary writers wrote about the weather. It was hugely important to their lives — to agriculture, to military operations, etc. There is, for instance, an entire book, based on contemporary sources, solely on the topic of Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome. And here’s a quote from Tacitus’s Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola: “Thule too was descried in the distance, which as yet had been hidden by the snows of winter. Those waters, they say, are sluggish, and yield with difficulty to the oar, and are not even raised by the wind as other seas. The reason, I suppose, is that lands and mountains, which are the cause and origin of storms, are here comparatively rare, and also that the vast depths of that unbroken expanse are more slowly set in motion. But to investigate the nature of the ocean and the tides is no part of the present work, and many writers have discussed the subject. [emphasis mine] I would simply add, that nowhere has the sea a wider dominion, that it has many currents running in every direction, that it does not merely flow and ebb within the limits of the shore, but penetrates and winds far inland, and finds a home among hills and mountains as though in its own domain.”
    And, I would like to point out, a major earthquake and three hours of unexplained darkness around the world hardly qualify as “weather.” The latter especially would qualify as a very freaky phenomenon.

    Or how about say any mention of current rulers by contempory writers.

    Again… you’re kidding, right? You don’t think contemporary writers were writing about Augustus, Tiberius, etc.? Here’s a reasonably good list of contemporary writers who wrote about, among other things, current rulers and military leaders.
    And what about the points raised by Bruce Gorton — the inaccuracies of the New Testament census story and of the “clemency to a prisoner” story? Stories that run completely counter to what we know about Roman law of the time? You haven’t mentioned those yet.
    You seem to think that contemporary writings documenting the period of roughly 0 C.E. to 40 C.E. are almost non-existent. They’re not. They’re not as common as we would like… but they do exist. And not one of them corroborates the stories told in the New Testament — and some of them flatly contradict those stories.
    Oh, and by the way: It’s Ebon, not Edon.

  97. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta you wrote: “and some of them flatly contradict those stories.”
    Which contemporary sources contradict events in the new testament?
    In checking out the 2 links you offer, I could not figure out when these writers actually lived and wrote compared to the history they are recording
 It does look like many of the references are histories from what I can tell. They also appear to cover a much larger period of time then what we are talking about. Finally, pointing me to a large list in one case and an Amazon.com web page really is not very helpful.
    I hear you maintain there is a lot of contemporary information from this period 0 – 40 CE, but you are not producing any evidence we can actually look at.
    You inserted a narrative but don’t mention when this occurs, and when it was written. Tacitus wasn’t even born till around 56AD from my Google search. He was hardly contemporary with Jesus time. Please don’t cloud the issue. If you are claiming there should be contemporary sources, shouldn’t you provide a contemporary source?
    We were trying to examine Philo who appears to have the largest body of writing during this period as Edon appears to agree with. Did he mention Herod or any of the leaders even in the current Jewish establishment?
    If Philo doesn’t mention leaders from his own faith what possible reason would we then expect him to mention Jesus or Christians?
    You sound surprised that I would ask the question about contemporary writers writing about contemporary leaders during the first century. It just seems like a logical next question. If the references you cite show this, you’ll (we’ll) need to get a bit more specific. We need the writers name, date of writing or of the authors life, contemporary figure name and dates of his service or life and of course the source of this data. If this can not be provided then it would seem clear that we don’t have much information about this period from contemporary authors.
    Just to be clear, so far we have not produced even one (1) fragment about any contemporary event by a contemporary writer for the years 0 – 40 CE (AD).
    Sorry to press you on this, but we need to stop accepting what we’ve been told and see if any of this holds up! I don’t even blame you for blowing smoke at me and make me go down some of these rabbit holes. It’s what probable has been adequate in the past and you’ve never had to “look under the hood” so to speak about where your information is coming from
. Lets see if we can shoot a little straighter with other
.

  98. Harold Ennulat says

    You mentioned Herod, Here is an interesting tidbit about Herod and the historian Josephus whom you cited as contemporary.
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_wanted_to_kill_baby_Jesus
    Concerning our knowledge about Herod this article says “We have this information from Josephus, who was not born until some 40 years after Herod’s death. Josephus relied heavily on the writings of Nicolaus of Damascus, who was Herod’s close friend and long time advisor, and who tended to gloss over some of Herod’s worst atrocities and maximise his accomplishments.”
    Josephus is not contemporary. Even the life of Herod did not come from first hand information.

  99. says

    Harold, let’s shift gears here for a minute, as I’m in the difficult position of (a) being asked to prove a negative (i.e., that something did not happen 2,000 years ago), and (b) being asked to find contemporary sources when I’m not a historian. I thought the sources I found responded well to your requests — you said “Find a contemporary writer writing about the weather,” I did; you said “Find a a contemporary writer writing about other current leaders,” I did. But it seems increasingly clear that nothing I say on these three topics — of the slaughter of the innocents (which again, almost all historians, even Christian ones, agree almost certainly did not happen) and of the earthquake and three hours of darkness at Jesus’ death — is going to convince you of their implausibility.
    So let’s talk about what I think are even better examples. Let’s talk about the examples Bruce Gorton gave in this comment — the examples of the census supposedly taken at the time of Jesus’ birth, and the Roman clemency of prisoners supposedly made available to Jesus but given to Barrabas by the Jews.
    It’s not just that there’s no other contemporary historical citation of these supposed events. It’s not just about proving a negative in this case. It’s that these events run directly counter to known facts about Roman law of the time. It’s not just that we have no independent corroboration of them happening — it’s that we have independent corroboration that they almost certainly did not happen, as they would have been completely contradictory to known laws and practices.
    And again, what about the other errors I keep mentioning? The errors Jesus himself made about science and medicine and history and his own eventual return? The internal inconsistencies within the story, places where it contradicts itself — not just about moral teachings, but about factual claims?
    I’ll try to dig up some more contemporary sources for you on the stuff we’ve been talking about. (If I have time — as much as I’m enjoying this conversation, I’ve already spent way too much time on it.) But these three questions we’re stuck on are very far from my only reasons to think of the New Testament as unreliable, and while I don’t concede these points, I’m about ready to drop them for the sake of argument and move on.

  100. Harold Ennulat says

    Since we are stepping back a bit. I think it would be good to at least attempt to establish a ground rule. It gets back to what would it take to get you to believe. If it is Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, then I’m not seeing how I can convince any atheist. There is no way I could possible address every supposed factual error to your satisfaction. So far you remain unconvinced about even something that is fairly factual. How much evidence is there for contemporary writers?
    So far it appears that if there is even one “error” in the Bible, it must all be thrown out. Actually according to the “Theist Guide
 “, even that would only be considered circumstantial evidence.
    After having read the “Theist Guide
.” My conclusion was that it was not possible to convert an atheist using this criteria. The standard for belief can not be dealt with by presenting evidence, so why bother.
    Actually, doesn’t this guide sounds rather “tongue in cheek”? It really does not have an objective ring to it. When a theist prepared a list of what it would take to convince them that atheism is true the author (Andrew?) makes an equally “tongue in cheek” response Atheist’s Guide to Converting Theists. The theist response was deemed to strict by the atheists, but somehow no one observed that he was applying an equally “high” standard.
    What I think would be objective is to look at it like a court of law where evidence is presented and it is examined using reason, in an attempt to make a judgment. In our case we are trying to make a judgment about God and about Jesus by examining the evidence in the new testament. On one level, we are each the lawyers making our case. On another level we are weighing this in our own minds.
    If this is not agreeable you might be able to persuade me, but I could never hope to persuade you. However I want to know if my faith is based on evidence that would hold up in the “court of reason”.
    As for the Bible being “inerrant” or “the inspired word of God”, these things are judgments that people have made. Also that the Bible is “choke full of errors” is also a judgment. For the sake of this discussion these type of judgments need to be suspended as we weigh the evidence.
    Neither one of us has answers to all the questions anyway.
    Does this seem like a more reasonable way to evaluate evidence?

  101. Harold Ennulat says

    “Can Theistic Faith Be Based Only On The ‘Secular Faith’ Definition?”
    These commentaries actually got started to claim that my faith is not any different then secular faith. The discussion about the evidence for “this and that” is to show that at no point am I applying a “leap of faith” to my faith. I’m using the evidence and reason model, that I suggested we both adopt in my previous comment.
    Since we have stepped back, I thought it would be a good time to review this. Do you agree that a theist could have faith that is like faith in the chair holding us up 1 second from now? If you do not agree, please point out where I’ve taken a “leap of faith” or exercised “blind faith” of the type you discuss in your article.

  102. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: To now respond specifically to comments made in your last post:

    “I’m in the difficult position of (a) being asked to prove a negative (i.e., that something did not happen 2,000 years ago), and (b) being asked to find contemporary sources when I’m not a historian.”

    That was the point about “arguments by omission” not proving anything. I do agree that it may be reason to look further, which is what we are doing, but it does not prove anything one way or the other by itself. If there is only one source that says something happened, why not just take it at face value? Is it only because the claims are so incredible?
    I’m not a historian either. However if you accept Ebon as a source for “many contemporary writers during the time of Jesus who should have written about him or the earthquake
” etc, and then upon looking deeper in the same source and find a thin list of contemporary writers who really had no reason to write about such things, then doesn’t this call the source into question? Why would he not back up his own claim? I think there is only one logical conclusion.
    For my part, I am willing to put this on hold. The ball is in your court on this one however.
    The difficulty with moving on is that we need to reach agreement to be able to move on to other items, even if it is just tentative. The reason for this is that this is actually a fairly easy issue to address. If we can’t agree on “not enough contemporary writers during the time of Jesus life”, then we are just going to do the same thing for every other argument you don’t have an answer for.
    I think I’ve been up front with you right away with saying I don’t know something. I’d like you to do the same. BTW, where is that verse about the judgement or the kingdom of God coming in the life time of those who heard the voice of Jesus. I know the verse you are talking about, I’m having a little trouble finding it
.

    “I thought the sources I found responded well to your requests –“

    Seems like you missed or ignored my response. You actually did not find even a single reference to the weather or a general observation about the land during the time of Jesus by a writer that lived during this time.
    That’s what I’m talking about. How can I convince you of anything if you don’t examine the evidence that countered your “reason” and now you just reaffirm your reason without comment about my concerns about your intial reasons.
    I must propose that being unreasonable and exercising blind faith is something that is not reserved for Theists. You certainly seem to be confirming that atheists have this problem too.
    Should this really be a surprise? What I was surprised about was your Post on Faith claiming that Atheistic faith was not a faith. I don’t get that. If you believe God does not exist or I believe that he does doesn’t sound so different to me.
    This kind of leaves us stuck
. Or at least it seems a bit unfair
.

    “So let’s talk about what I think are even better examples. Let’s talk about the examples Bruce Gorton gave in this comment — the examples of the census supposedly taken at the time of Jesus’ birth, and the Roman clemency of prisoners supposedly made available to Jesus but given to Barrabas by the Jews.”

    OK we can add these to our active discussion, but these are also “arguments by omission” and by themselves don’t prove anything
.

  103. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: here is Bruce Gortons comment on the census you wanted to discuss:

    ”The census story doesn’t make logical sense – why would the Romans even care where Jospeh’s pre-Roman ancestors came from”?
    “And there are no copies of it. If you ground an entire province’s economy to halt in order to get this information (Which is what the Biblical account would have entailed) then there should be some record of it somewhere. “

    How is this argument any different from the “no evidence for an earthquake, or darkness over the area when Jesus died” argument? If there are no contemporary writers how could this possibly be verified. Help me to understand.
    Even the “logical sense” doesn’t make sense. Certainly taking a census is not being questioned. Only the why would they go to their ancient home is in question. Asking a question and drawing a conclusion just because a question is raised is totally illogical. If I’m missing something, please, share it!

  104. Harold Ennulat says

    Concerning

    “clemency of prisoners supposedly made available to Jesus but given to Barrabas by the Jews
. we have independent corroboration that they almost certainly did not happen, as they would have been completely contradictory to known laws and practices.”

    I see the claim, but no evidence, so why should we consider this?
    My question is “How much latitude did the local Roman governor have in executing justice?” The Bible reports that the roman governor actually did not want to execute Jesus as “he found no fault in him.” The charge against him was that he claimed to be the “king of the Jews”. When Jesus was questioned this Roman governor realized that Jesus did not claim to be an earthly king and so he did not see him as a threat to Rome. And yet he executed him. This would have been against Roman law as well

    It seems clear from the Biblical account that the local Roman rulers had at good deal of latitude in exercising their rule. In fact, if you read the history of Herod you will find he did a lot of things on his own initiative that Rome likely did not agree with. I think I just read about him going to war with some neighboring king and killing members of his own family without trial. Roman law was clearly not what we think of as rule of law where we have built in accountability…
    Of course why should we now believe any History of Roman Law. Has this been reported by contemporary writers?!
    Let me know when you think I’ve proven the point that much of what we know from ancient times is not known from contempory sources but historians who are at least somewhat removed from the events they report.

  105. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta: from you Dec 16th, 5:20 comment, you write

    ”And I have to say that I’m impressed with your willingness to take this seriously”

    This cuts both ways. I’ve been very direct wanting to focus on the points that are being made. You have not allowed this dialogue to deteriorate into name calling and such. The focus has been on the points being put forward. It is a lot of work to even get one major point addressed to its logical conclusion. I hope we stick to it however till we draw a common conclusion based solely on the evidence and our reasoning (not on evidence we think is or should be there), or at least agree why we continue to disagree.

  106. Harold Ennulat says

    Greta, from you Dec 12th 3:02pm comment you wrote:

    “And maybe most importantly: Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him — a prediction that clearly has not come to pass”

    The verse you are referring to I believe is this one:

    ”Matt. 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. ”

    I had also taken this verse to mean his second coming and that is why I said that I don’t know the answer to this one. However in looking at the sentence there is a somewhat strange pair of words to my thinking at least, and that is the phrase “coming in”. My thought immediately thinks “coming again” and I therefore also think of the second coming (or judgment day as you put it). However in just reading the text, he is not talking about “coming back to earth” rather he is talking about “coming in to his kingdom”. Commentators say this is either talking about his resurrection or the transfiguration which is a story told immediately after this one.
    The phrase “there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” I thought meant that most will die before they see him “coming in his kingdom”. In light of the observation that he was talking about going into his kingdom it seems he meant that only some of those alive will see him coming into his Kingdom. In the case of the transfiguration there was only Peter, James, and John. In the case of the resurrection there were perhaps 500 people who saw him alive after his death and a number of people were standing around when he ascended according to Acts.

  107. says

    Harold: Just letting you know that I’m not ignoring you, but I probably won’t be able to get back to you on any of this for a few days. I’m very slammed with deadlines right not, not to mention the holidays, and while I’m enjoying this conversation, I really don’t have time to pursue it right now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

  108. Harold Ennulat says

    On the subject of Scientific Evidence for Answered Prayer
    The Theist Guide to Converting an Atheist lists double blind scientific studies that prayer works to be convincing evidence that God exists. If prayer works, it should be easy to demonstrate, right? I certainly thought so, however here is a tidbit from a web site that does show that prayer does make a difference in scientific double blind studies, but suggests a difficulty in controlling for prayer in a scientific study

    A quote from http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/prayer.html#xzXpc9VkaeCb

    ‘One problem with studied prayer in Human beings, is, how do you get a sufficiently controlled, control group? If you divide people into two groups, one that is being “officially” prayed for and one group that is not being “officially” prayed for, how to you eliminate “UNofficial” prayer? Even if you divided people up by religious beliefs as well as by similarity of health problems, what rules out friends and relatives from praying for the supposedly nonprayed for control group? How do we rule out subconscious prayer?’

  109. solomon says

    Bibles are re written by man, one book that could not be the reference for truth. Qoran is the book of truth, apart from Torah & Injil.

  110. Nathanael says

    Late comment but this was really interesting.
    Greta, for reference, one deconversion I know was triggered by the thought “If there is an omnipotent God, he’s not someone I want to know or worship, because he sure made things suck. Perhaps there just isn’t one.”
    After that she needed to deprogram herself using _Leaving the Fold_, but the key was the fundamental dissonance between “God is omnipotent and loves you” and “Good grief, life sucks in totally arbitrary ways”.
    But then this was someone who had a strong rational streak and was simply brought up brainwashed. She was only staying in the religion because of “cognitive loops” (self-reinforcing circular reasoning embedded in the brainwashing) which she didn’t recognize, and learning what they were broke her out of it. I think only people previously inclined to rationality can really go “Wait, I believe in the Bible because I believe in God, and I believe in God because I believe in the Bible… but that doesn’t make sense!”
    There are much more subtle and pernicious loops, such as “Non-believers are less happy”. When someone who’s been brainwashed with this deconverts, the stress and upset they feel makes them unhappy, and this idea planted in their head appears to be reinforced, and makes them go back. In fact the unhappiness is from the change and will wear off if they stick with non-belief, but it’s a powerful brainwashing trick.

  111. Derick says

    You will not get your answers regarding proof of God’s existence from religious institutions. It just isn’t there and never will be. You need to speak to a real believer. One who believes in God. I do not support the religious corporate and will answer your questions. devanzlive@hotmail.com.

Leave a Reply