My nonconversion story, follow-up: Resurrection addendum

I hadn’t initially planned this post as part of the series, but OverlappingMagisteria had a question in comments that I thought deserved a full post to answer. On top of that, I also wanted to thank you all, because I was delighted by all the interest, the questions, and the positive comments. I spent months planning this series (not to mention years prior to that of having it in the back of my mind as something I wanted to write), but I didn’t know whether anyone would actually want to read it; I’d braced myself for everyone either being bored or telling me the whole thing was stupid. So, I’m thrilled that people liked reading it, and thank you for all the feedback.

By the way, I was also extremely amused that the site (which seems, as far as I can see, to be some sort of bot-run Christian site) picked up the last part of my series and posted the entire thing on their site. It’s very bad form that they’ve made it look like work from their site rather than crediting it properly, and in any other situation I’d be highly annoyed by that; but the fact that their bot has managed to post something explicitly anti-apologetic is so delightful that I’m just going to leave it be. I hope someone sees it and finds it useful.

Anyway, on to the question I’m answering here:

Did you ever have any resolution to your question of why the disciples would say that Jesus was resurrected? Or did that just fall away along with the rest of Christianity with what you described in this post?

Yes! Yes to both, in fact; once I’d finally established that the answer clearly wasn’t ‘Because he actually was resurrected AND, HEY, THE BIT ABOUT HELL IS TRUE AS WELL’, I stopped worrying about it. But the topic still interested me, so I was thrilled when, years later, I started finding potential answers on the Internet. Back in Part 3, where I first mentioned this, I did link in passing to the two articles on the subject that I’d found most helpful; but it’s probably worth writing a bit more about it, since it was important to me and is probably important to at least some of the people out there. So here we are.

First, however, a pre-emptive point. There are now a number of apologists trying to counteract these arguments, and the counter-arguments most often used boil down to ‘That can’t be the explanation because it doesn’t explain X, Y, and Z about the story’. What that doesn’t take into account, however, is that the early development of Christianity was – like most turning points in history – almost certainly multifactorial. It’s perfectly reasonable to look for a combination of plausible events that could explain it, rather than holding out for The One Uberexplanation To Explain Them All.

Hence… yes, I do know these explanations aren’t sufficent in themselves to account for why the gospels report multiple group appearances/a physical Jesus who could share the disciples’ dinner and show off his wounds. But that’s a total non-issue to me, because that has never been the part I had trouble explaining; even reading those stories as a teenager, I could see how exaggeration as the story got passed along, or people flat-out making things up to make it sound better to potential converts, could account for those parts. Similarly, ever since I read Maccoby’s The Mythmaker I’ve known that Paul’s influence is the most likely explanation for how Christianity developed such anti-Jewish ideas as traditional Christian salvation theology and a Messiah who was divine. (While Maccoby’s theories are highly speculative and it’s entirely plausible that he had the details wrong, we do have good evidence that Paul was highly influential in the church’s development, was going with what he believed theologically even where this conflicted with what the Jerusalem group were teaching, and had a much more Hellenised educational background than the disciples seem to have had, so we have a recipe for things going off in a new and unexpected direction.)

So, I was already OK as far as explanations for those parts were concerned. The part of the puzzle I was looking to fill in was, specifically, how the disciples could have originally come to believe that Jesus worked miracles and was resurrected. (And, as per apologist teaching, why the early church’s opponents wouldn’t just go and retrieve Jesus’s dead body as evidence if he was really still dead; however, I now recognise the obvious answer to that one because I’m no longer a teenager with an utter lack of understanding of how other human beings work. Just in case there’s anyone out there who’s still wondering who isn’t me or an apologist, the short answer is that, however much people might want to prove a point, they do not normally resort to grave-robbing in order to do so. You’re welcome.)

So; explanations. Let us now flash back to the turn of the century, when I found the website and first read historian Richard Carrier’s detailed multipart essay Why I Don’t Buy The Resurrection Story.

It was very much a ‘Where has this been all my life?’ moment (rhetorical question to which the answer was ‘Nonexistent, for the most part’; Carrier only wrote it a few years before I found it online). It was exactly the kind of detailed breakdown and debunking that I’d longed for. By the way, it also indirectly became how I found FreeThoughtBlogs in the first place. I randomly wondered one evening many years later what that guy who wrote the resurrection debunking was writing these days, and it turned out that at the time the answer was ‘a blog on a blogging platform that seems to have quite a few interesting posts on; should hang around and check this out’. And the rest is history. (Including the part where Carrier left the site three months later under a major cloud and then tried to sue us, so that was an unforeseen twist in the whole story. But I digress.)

Anyway, Carrier did exactly what I’d always wanted to see someone do; he went through various possible explanations in detail. He thought the most likely explanation to be that the disciples had had some sort of grief hallucinations that they took for appearances of a resurrected Jesus, and that the story spread from there; however, he also weighed up the chances of other explanations, concluding that even the vanishingly unlikely ones couldn’t be ruled out completely. Finally, I had some plausible suggestions for possible explanations as to what could have ignited the resurrection belief.

Carrier also, separately, wrote about how common it was at the time for people to claim and/or believe miracle stories. Apologists often talk as though the disciples would have been hardcore naturalistic skeptics, or at least would have had to convince hardcore naturalist skeptics in order to get anywhere; but those assumptions don’t really hold up. I began to see that the question here could more accurately be framed as “In a culture where belief in divine miracles was widespread, how could a group of people who desperately wanted to believe that their admired leader/their Messianic hopes were still alive have possibly come to believe such a thing?”, and to realise that perhaps that wasn’t, in fact, the kind of inexplicable mystery that required nothing short of a genuine bona fide resurrection to explain.

The other particularly helpful article was one I found several years later. I had by then discovered the blog of postgraduate history student Matthew Ferguson, who has produced some delightfully interesting posts debunking apologetic claims (such as his superbly comprehensive takedown of the oft-made claim that we have more evidence for Jesus’s life than for Caesar’s). This particular post, however, was a guest post; Kris Komarnitsky’s The Rationalization Hypothesis: Is a Vision of Jesus Necessary for the Rise of the Resurrection Belief?

Komarnitsky’s hypothesis builds on a feature of human psychology that’s been increasingly well explored in recent years; our responses to what is formally known as ‘cognitive dissonance’. In simple terms, cognitive dissonance refers to the sensation of holding contradictory beliefs or values, and the study of cognitive dissonance looks at the effects this has and the various ways in which we deal with it.

In most cases, we’re talking about simple ordinary day-to-day issues (for example, if you’ve ever wanted to have that bar of chocolate but also wanted to lose weight, that’s cognitive dissonance), but it’s also known that people who desperately want to hang onto a belief in the face of the evidence can sometimes come up with extreme rationalisations. Such as, for example, people who are faced with evidence that should logically shatter a powerfully-held religious belief. Some people deal with this by reluctantly accepting that their religious belief was incorrect, some deal with it by ignoring evidence to the contrary… and sometimes people, unable to do the latter or to face the former, manage to find a new explanation that will let them hang onto the previous one in the face of evidence to the contrary, even if the explanation seems to fly in the face of evidence or logical sense. Komarnitsky presents several case histories of religious or cult groups in whom this behaviour has been observed, of which all are interesting but the most notable, in this context, is the last one; the case of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Schneerson was a rabbi widely believed by Hasidic Jews to be the long-awaited Messiah… a belief barely dented by his death from old age in June 1994. That’s right; just a few years after I struggled with apologists’ insistence that nothing short of an actual resurrection could have led Jews to believe that their dead would-be Messiah was still alive, a group of Jews started insisting that their dead would-be Messiah was still alive. Almost thirty years later, his followers still insist he’s the Messiah, and there have been several reported sightings of him since his death.

I haven’t seen much about the Lubavitcher Rebbe in apologetics, in case you were wondering, but I did find this essay by Michael Brown insisting that the differences between this story and the Jesus story are enough to prove that the claims of Jesus’s resurrection can’t possibly be due to cognitive dissonance but must be the real thing. It’s reminiscent of those God of the gaps arguments in which the gaps keep shrinking; a ‘resurrection of the gaps’ argument. Make of it what you will, but the fact remains that we do now have conclusive proof that it’s possible for people to become convinced that their dead would-be Messiah is still alive even in the absence of an actual resurrection. I think it’s pushing it to require a documented example of a naturally-caused situation that turned out exactly the same way as the Jesus stories before believing that those stories might have been caused by something other than a genuine resurrection.

But, finally… what I’ve learned is that it’s OK not to know exactly what happened, and that that doesn’t mean we have to default to believing in the resurrection. When my daughter was little and would wake up scared in the night, she would sob to me that she’d heard a funny noise and thought it was a ghost coming to get her. And, when I didn’t know what had caused whatever she’d heard, she would say “But how do you know it’s not a ghost?” So there I was, in the middle of the night and half asleep, trying to explain to a three-year-old that the probability of our house being the one place ghosts would ever show up after ghost-hunters had utterly failed to find convincing evidence of them anywhere else was actually negligibly low, unlike, say, the probability of the funny noise having been air in the pipes or some other natural explanation. And, no, I don’t think I explained it as well as that at the time, though I think I eventually got the message across. But I also got the message myself.

Setting aside, for a moment, anything you do or don’t believe about the existence of gods or miracles or resurrections (or, if you prefer, assuming for the sake of this argument that all of them might exist)… Christian theology would require me to believe that Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead in order for him to show himself to what can be calculated on even the most optimistic estimates to be an infinitesmally small fraction of all humanity, in order to get across a message that was supposedly vital for the salvation of all of said humanity despite conflicting with what Yahweh explicitly told his people in the past. And, yes, yes, gods are gods and they get to do whatever they want even if it seems incomprehensible to mortals and all that, but the problem is that Christian theology also requires me to believe that Yahweh considers this message of vital importance for every human soul to hear… and that is extremely at odds with a method of delivery that would miss so many (not to mention that it would be deliberately ignored by so many others on the grounds of contradicting what were supposedly Yahweh’s express words). It’s not just that Christianity asks me to believe incredibly improbable things, it’s that it asks me to believe impossibly inconsistent things.

So, when Christianity is claiming that all of the above is the explanation for a sequence of events for which we do, in fact, now know of plausible natural explanations, then, no, I’m not going to believe that that is the case. Yes, I’ve loved getting actual alternative explanations after all the years of wondering. But, even without knowing exactly what caused the funny noises that my daughter heard in the middle of the night, I still think it’s fair to conclude that it wasn’t a ghost; and even without knowing the exact sequence of events that led the disciples and then Paul to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, I still think it’s fair to conclude that it wasn’t Jesus actually rising from the dead.

The Proselytising Thread

The question has come up of how to react to proselytisation attempts on my blog. Yannoupoika, one of the contributors to the recent discussions on here about abortion, has been making a number of statements and claims about the religious belief that he follows (Christianity, if you were wondering). Another commenter objected to the discussion of this subject in a non-religious discussion on an atheist blog.

My thoughts on this are:

  1. I’m happy with people trying to convert me. This is not because I have the least desire to be converted, but because I enjoy the ensuing discussions.
  2. Most people, from what I can see, do not feel this way. Therefore, if a thread about something else starts filling up with debate over apologetics/religion, probably most or all of the other people who wanted to read the thread won’t want to read the religious debate. I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but it seems a shame to spoil a thread for a high percentage of the people who want to read it.

And thus, to reconcile 1 and 2, I’m creating this post; a comment thread specifically for such discussions. You can join in with an existing discussion, or bring a discussion here if it’s broken out in another thread as happened this time, or jump right on in and start one. Or, if you prefer, ignore it completely and read other bits of my blog instead.

So… if you want to have a shot at convincing me that your god is real/that I should convert to your religion, or if you want to respond to someone who’s raised the subject in another thread, go right ahead! Just take a few minutes to read over the rules and guidelines, which are thus:


  1. Show respect for the religious beliefs of others, including agnosticism/atheism. No rudeness, no dissing, no sneering, no insults or name-calling. You might have excellent reasons for having a low opinion of someone else’s belief system and, if so, I hope you find a good place to vent about them, but this ain’t it. Be polite or take it elsewhere.
  2. No assumptions about why anyone believes/disbelieves what they do. If you’re wondering whether someone’s belief is due to an ulterior motive, ask them, don’t tell them.
  3. Be careful about accusations of lying. A lie is a deliberately false statement made with the intent to deceive. An unintentional inaccuracy is not a lie. A difference in opinion is not a lie. This happens to be something I feel quite strongly about, so… if you don’t have reasonably good evidence that someone meant a false statement to be deliberately deceptive, don’t throw out accusations of lying. By all means call them out on the inaccuracy, but do it without throwing out unfounded accusations.
  4. I reserve the right to delete comments in whole or in part if they break these rules. If I do so, I will indicate in the thread that I’ve done so. I would prefer not to do so and will try where possible to keep to warnings instead, but don’t abuse that slack.


These, as you can deduce from the fact that they’re in a separate section, are not rules; you won’t be deleted or barred for not following them. They’re my thoughts on how any discussions can be more interesting/productive/coherent.

  1. There really isn’t much point just making statements about your beliefs and expecting that to have an effect. For example, if your argument consists solely of statements such as “We’re all sinners but Jesus died to save you!”, then there is not going to be much I can say other than “I get that you believe that. I don’t. Have a nice day.” Which is going to be rather dull as discussions go, so you’ll be better off thinking of some actual arguments, questions, or both.
  2. Massive long infodumps about your faith will, in practice, be a bit hard for me to answer, so, for example, C&Ping chapters from your apologetics book or asking for my opinion on an entire website are probably not going to get very far as discussion goes; I’m not going to have time to write lengthy essays. (Admittedly this will not necessarily stop me, given my long history of getting sucked into answering things I really didn’t have time to answer. However, you’ll have a better chance of having your comments answered if they stick to a reasonably short number of points.)
  3. I’m not that interested in abstruse philosophical arguments. That’s just my personal preference. If you still want to make them… whatever, go ahead, I’ll try to answer if I can.
  4. If you try to convert me to your religion, the resulting discussion is likely to end up including reasons why I disagree with you. If you don’t want to hear those, think twice about whether you want to start the discussion.
  5. If you post here as a way of bringing a debate from another thread here, it’ll help if you say that that’s what you’re doing, put a link back to the original debate in your comment, and then put a link to your comment in the original thread. That way, anyone reading the discussion here knows the context of what you’re replying to, and whomever you replied to in the original thread will know where you’ve taken it.

I think that’s it, although I’ll amend the rules or guidelines if anything comes up that I haven’t thought of. Play nicely, everyone… and have fun!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Final sections and final thoughts

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Puffing and panting on, finishing line in sight…

The cadets’ story is now finished. The final sections in the book are as follows:

  • Instructions for Using the Website. The instructions are one short paragraph telling readers to go to the website and watch the videos/do the activity sheets there. We didn’t.
  • A Challenge from J. Warner Wallace. The challenge being to get out there and evangelise.
  • Sample Fill-in Sheets. Worksheets for each chapter. They are, quite frankly, head-bangingly boring and consist of regurgitating back points from the story in each chapter, either by answering questions or filling in the blanks in sentences. If I was a child whose interest in Christianity had been piqued by the book (which might well have been my reaction to this book as a child), you can bet that this would have put me straight off it again. It ends with an advertisment for the original book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’, aimed at the parents.
  • Certificate of Promotion. A fancy certificate for children to cut out and keep (if they’re using the book version; families using the Kindle version can get the same certificate from the website) where parents can fill in their child’s name to state that they have successfully completed the Cold-Case Christianity Cadet Academy. (I thought for a moment this was meant to be a picture of one of the cadets’ certificates, and thought ‘Huh, Jeffries is having an unusual moment of honesty about the course.’)

And that’s all I got to say about most of that, but Katie and I both had some thoughts on the Challenge section.

This is the section where Wallace is trying to persuade all his new converts to get actively into the evangelism business. You believe in Jesus now! You’re part of an important team! You need to tell other people about this! In fact, you should love the idea of telling other people about this, because it’s such awesome news! Tell your friends, tell your church group, tell your family, use the next holiday get-together as a chance to tell everyone there all about your cadet academy training just in case they don’t already believe in Jesus!

“And then they’ll say that makes no sense,” Katie observed.

I feel sorry for any shy readers of this book; these expectations sound like torture for them. Not to mention the family members who’ll be stuck with sitting through excited and/or embarrassed evangelism, not wanting to hurt a child’s feelings. Curious, I asked Katie what she’d say if a friend tried to do this with her.

“I’d probably say to them ‘Well, personally I believe that it’s not really all that true. But if you want to believe in it, then, sure, that’s kind of what my religion’s about. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt or upset anyone, I’m OK with it.”

I’m proud of her; what a tactful way of dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

Meanwhile, what struck me most about this section was Wallace’s sheer enthusiasm for his religion. (To the point where I honestly don’t think it’s occurred to him that his expectations are likely to set up some seriously awkward and unpleasant family conversations. He genuinely thinks he’s doing people a favour by not only telling them all about Jesus but pushing others into doing so; after all, he’s happy with these beliefs, why wouldn’t everyone else be?) ‘I was excited about what I discovered and about what God had done for me,’ he writes. ‘I was so happy to finally know the truth’.

This struck me because it was so very different from the reaction I’ve always had to the basic tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, you’re talking about a religion that teaches that non-Christians are going to burn eternally in hell. That the one way out of burning in hell is a route that, in the nature of things, has been unavailable for most people throughout history simply because of the time and/or place of their birth. That good people are going to be abandoned by God to an eternity of torture. And I can never get my head round the mentality that hears about this and feels anything other than horrified at the thought.

To be fair, Wallace seems to be one of the people who thinks of hell as separation from God, so I suppose he’s not actually reading all this and picturing people being tortured. Still, to me it’s a strange and alien way of thinking.


Anyway… we finished that section, zipped through the others, and that was it… the end of the book! Almost fourteen months after first starting it, we had made it through!

I asked Katie for her final thoughts on the book.

“Well, for a start I thought it was a very biased opinion,” she told me. (To be fair to Wallace, it was never intended to be anything else.) “And also, it overlooked major plot points and also told… I wouldn’t call them lies because they weren’t intentional, but there were some really huge flaws in it. There were facts missing and facts that weren’t correct and stuff, and there were huge, huge, huge over-exaggerations. Stuff like that.” She didn’t feel it had changed her mind about anything, except possibly Wallace’s sanity level.

I would say that Wallace missed the mark with a member of his target audience there, but, during the time I spent reading this book, it eventually dawned on me that Katie was never his target audience. I’d started out assuming this book was aimed at non-Christian children and written with the aim of converting them. Naive of me; of course, it’s actually written for Christian children with Christian parents who want their children to stay Christian and want a resource for strengthening their faith. (I figured this out for myself, but a quick look on Wallace’s blog has confirmed it.) As far as I know, Katie and I are the only atheist parent-and-child team to have read and reviewed it; I’m pleased to have broken new ground there.

I chose this for my first review book on here mainly because I liked the idea of doing a review together with my daughter, and I’m so pleased I did, as it’s been great fun; but I also liked the idea that she would get the chance to read about a completely different belief, and that I would get the chance to talk to her about my reasons for not holding that belief. As far as religion is concerned (as far as quite a few things are concerned, in fact), my main priority for my children is that they learn to think for themselves. That’s far more important to me than having them grow up with the same beliefs about religion as I have.

This, of course, is easier said than done, so I don’t want to pat myself on the back and assume I’m getting it perfectly right; that’s just a one-way route to getting it wrong. But I’ll leave Katie with the last word on this one, from her comments during the final part of the review and what she thought about Wallace’s arguments. “I listened to you and to what you said,” she told me, “because what you said held up much better.”


And that, folks, finally is it; we have finished the review of Cold Case Christianity For Kids. My first book review on here is done. I hope you join me for many more, and for that matter I hope I manage many more. Do please come back for upcoming attractions. In the meantime (putting on Richard Ayoade voice) thank you for reading, if indeed you still are.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Postscript

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

We’re nearly at the end. I was planning to collect all the final sections together and blast through them in one post, but Katie did have quite a few thoughts on these and so I might take two posts to cover them properly. I still want to blast through, though; I have loved doing this, but I have two shiny exciting new projects waiting for me and I am ready to put this one to bed and move on. Let’s get cracking.

Postscript: Belief THAT or Belief IN?

We’re still in the cadet academy frame story (don’t worry, this really is the last cadet academy scene; hang on in there). Everyone except Jason, Jeffries, and Insert Character has left the room. Jason’s hung back because he has a question. (Insert Character has apparently hung back for reasons of plot necessity.)

Jason has now, apparently, concluded that he believes the Bible is telling him the truth about Jesus. (Oh, Jason, my skeptic, I had such hopes of you. It’s such a shame you didn’t get to hear a different viewpoint.) Anyway, the question he has is whether this conclusion means he’s a Christian?

In response, Jeffries tells him that Jesus said there’s a difference between belief that and belief in. No, Jeffries, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not, in fact, quoted anywhere as saying that. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement, but that doesn’t mean you can just attribute it to Jesus. Jeffries reads out John 3:16, which, as many of you will know, is the verse about anyone who believes in Jesus getting eternal life.

“I guess that means I’m never going to believe in Jesus,” Katie told me. “Because… eternal life? That sounds good on paper, but come on! It would get really boring! Just going on and on, not able to die… I just want some peace!”

Probably not the effect that the author of gJohn was going for, but a very valid point.

“Plus,” Katie continued, “being put into heaven is kind of a way to be reborn – reborn as a perfect form in heaven – and my interpretation of reborn is, as you know, terrifying.”

That was a twist on things that I hadn’t expected. What Katie was referring to was an idea she’d come up with in her drawings a little while ago; the Reborn, a group of zombies. I pointed out that, despite Christianity’s flaws, it was fair to say that it does not actually teach that going to heaven involves becoming a zombie.

“I know, but it still seems awful,” Katie told me. “I hate the prospect of being reborn. I just hate it.”

Although Katie, I found out in the ensuing discussion, apparently thinks that hell involves becoming a zombie. “The thing with my religion,” she told me, “is it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter what you think, as long as you’re nice to other people and accept them. But, if not, then you get condemned to the other life, the land of the Reborn. And there isn’t a way out, you just become a bloodthirsty monster.” Due to the lateness of the hour at this point and my desire to get on and get finished with the book, I did not, I regret to say, explore in greater detail how this fits in with Potatoisum. Must ask her about this another time.

Anyway… back in the book, Jeffries tells Jason that if you read what the Bible says about Jesus, you’ll end up believing that Jesus worked miracles, rose from the dead, etc. (except, of course, for all those of us who don’t, who are conveniently ignored at this point), but belief in is a different matter. To have belief in, Jeffries tells us, you need to see what the Bible says about you. He doesn’t back this up with any actual examples of what he thinks the Bible says about you, but then, when I had a look at Wallace’s blog to find out more, it seems that what he had in mind was the we-are-all-terrible-sinners lectures from Paul and similar rants from Jesus, so I actually think he made a good call not including those in a children’s book.

The points Wallace/Jeffries wants to make here are:

  • You’re not perfect.
  • God is perfect. Or, at least, if God is all-powerful and create everything from nothing, then God ‘could be’ perfect, which apparently counts as the same thing in Wallace/Jeffries’ chain of logic. (I did at this point flash back to Katie’s rather more interesting logical deduction in Chapter One, where she hypothesised that a god might potentially be really good at creating universes but not so good at, say, sports.)
  • We can’t live in eternity with a perfect god when we’re not perfect, because our imperfection would spoil his perfection.
  • Our mistakes, ‘whether large or small’, must be punished.

“Except,” Katie objected, “if God really was so perfect, he would accept everyone for what they are instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re not perfect, you don’t get to be with me, you’re contaminating me, eugh, gross’. I can imagine that in one of those teenage girl voices,” she added.

Right on, kiddo. Nicely put.

“Also,” Katie continued, warming to her theme, “you have to be punished for your every mistake. I mean, if you deliberately choose to do something wrong, then fair enough, but your mistakes? If you accidentally stumble and fall into someone, then you have to be punished? I mean, come on, he’s a huge jerk! I realise I’m condemning myself to hell by saying all this, but, hey, whatever, I don’t care. God, I’ve decided you’re a huge jerk and I hate you and I hate Jesus too.”

Score one for Wallace’s evangelical efforts, folks! Sounds like they helped Katie make her mind up, anyway!

Anyway, back to Jason, who’s looking understandably worried at what Jeffries is telling him. Fear not, Jason! Despite the Christian God’s apparent utter inability to plan a decent afterlife for His own creations, there is a solution! God came to humans as Jesus, lived ‘the perfect life’, and ‘willingly accepted the punishment we deserve’. This means that, if we ‘accept what Jesus did for us on the cross’, God will now forgive us, despite being apparently either unwilling or unable (it’s not clear which) to do so without his version of self-harm being involved (which, among other things, makes me wonder what exactly was supposed to have happened after death to the souls of all the people who lived and died in the thousands of years before Jesus’s birth). We aren’t told how any of this is supposed to solve the problem of God being unable to tolerate imperfect people in his presence for eternity, but it’s kind of vaguely handwavingly implied that this is somehow solved, so… don’t think about it too hard, I guess.

Jason says he thinks he gets it, which is more than I do. Oh, well, never mind the problems with the ethics or logic of this theology; let’s get this done. I hoped Wallace wasn’t going to end with some horribly awkward scene of Jeffries leading Jason through reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, and this hope at least was granted; Jeffries tells Jason that this is a decision everyone has to make on their own and that he should think about it and tell God what he’s decided. So that bit, at least, I liked a lot better than the scenes I’ve seen in Christian books where impassioned missionaries lead a tearful new target through praying and converting on the spot. Jeffries tells Jason and Insert Character that he expects to see both of them at the police station sometimes (I assume he meant for visits rather than because they’ve been arrested), and the story ends with Insert Character thinking ‘deeply’ about what they learned from Jeffries.

Still not quite it, as there are a few final sections; these should be quick to deal with, so my next post really should be the final one. Nearly there!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 3

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So, as expected, Lacey was the skateboard owner, and, as not expected but should have been, Jeffries pretty much hands this one to the cadets rather than helping them work it out themselves. I forgot to update my prediction accuracy count, but this, of course, brings it to three accurate out of five; which, alas, is where it stayed, as my daughter had an unusually long episode of rationality while reading this and thus did not at any point randomly utter any of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’. You win some, you lose some.

Time to wrap this up:

We get a bit more information from Lacey, including the fact that she kept the board in the shed. What the hell is the security at this school like? A shed on school grounds containing potentially dangerous tools should be locked. Also, of course, it’s supposed to be filthy in there; surely her parents would have noticed her continually turning up at home with smudges on her face or cobwebs in her hair? She put the sticker over her initials when she was about to graduate as she didn’t want to risk her parents seeing her initials on a skateboard, although since she seems to have just left the board in the shed permanently at this point it’s not clear why she thought it would be an issue. Oh, and she did eventually confess all to her parents.

I went back after reading this and checked the earlier parts of the book, and Wallace has completely borked his own continuity.

  • The conclusion drawn by the cadets in Chapter 2 is that the skateboard is at least nine years old (appearance, plus sticker with the school’s previous name on it), which is why Daniel asked Lacey about it in the first place (she’s ten years older than him).
  • In Chapter 4, Lacey tells us that Lincoln Singleton, the board’s previous owner, moved away five years ago.
  • When the cadets go to see Mr Warren, the school custodian in Chapter 5, we learn that he’s worked there for three years. We also get the following history from him:

“[…]A boy named Lincoln gave it [the skateboard] to Mr. Templeton, the first custodian of the school. When he retired, he told the temporary custodian, Mr. Jenkins, about it, and Mr. Jenkins told me. I didn’t really want to throw it away, and one day a nice, polite girl asked if she could have it, so I gave it to her. Then sometime later it appeared in the shed again—and there it stayed, until you guys found it.”


  • After all that business about ‘nine years ago’, it turns out Lacey would have to have owned the board in the last three years.
  • Except that, at the beginning of Chapter 4, it’s stated that Lacey attended that school ‘many years ago’. So, for some reason, she was hanging around the school and keeping the board there despite having left the school long since and (most likely) being clearly out of its age range.
  • Mr Warren, despite being familiar enough with the skateboard to remember in detail what Mr Jenkins said about its history, somehow didn’t notice that it was being left in the shed every night during the time Lacey owned it. (Or, more worryingly, that a student was regularly entering the school shed, and also regularly carrying something out of the school shed.)
  • If Lacey knew that Lincoln had put it there, why did she wait for over two years before asking Mr Warren for it? Alternatively, if she didn’t know at the time but found out since then… how? Did she see it there? What is it with this school letting children poke around in a shed full of rusty tools? Why was she even there when, according to the timeline, she should already have left the school?

Sigh. Absolutely none of this plot makes any sense. I much prefer ridana’s version.

On the plus side, we’re nearly at the end of the chapter:

Jeffries is delighted that the cadets finally see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Well, that’s more than I do.

“Just like there was enough evidence in this mystery to figure out who owned the skateboard, there’s also enough evidence to figure out the truth about Jesus.”

An apt comparison; in both cases, Wallace/Jeffries has been giving the cadets the evidence he thinks appropriate, and holding back on evidence when he thinks it appropriate. But I still don’t see how there was enough evidence to figure out who owned the skateboard. I mean, Daniel didn’t ask Lacey about the skateboard because there were clues pointing to her; he asked her about the skateboard because she happened to be the one person he knew who’d been at that school at what the cadets thought was around the time the skateboard had been left there but which I’ve just worked out wasn’t the time the skateboard had been left there. And we still don’t know how Jeffries figured out who owned the skateboard.

Aarrrgghhhh. Since I know perfectly well that the answer to all of the above is ‘Wallace didn’t care about his plot beyond the point where it provided a handy vehicle to pass on his views to children’ I will shut up about it and get on with wrapping this up.

Jeffries gives the cadets one last summary of his reasons for believing the Jesus-story is true, complete with lists on the whiteboards that are basically just going over the same stuff that’s been done so I won’t bother repeating them here. Hannah exclaims “Wow, I guess we really did learn a lot about evidence!” (sigh). And Jeffries calls the cadets up to receive their certificates. This last is illustrated by a line drawing of Jeffries and a cadet holding a certificate with a ‘Congratulations Cadets’ sign in the background. Unfortunately the quality of the drawing is… pretty much on the level of the quality of the plot, which meant my daughter found it severely freaky.

“Don’t you mean ‘Congratulations, demons??” she broke in, indicating the figures in the pictures. “The eyes are different sizes! That face is going to haunt my nightmares! It’s like so simple, but so complicated. That does not work! Aaaaaaah!”

Personally, I thought it was one more piece of evidence that the rest of the class was in fact populated only by cardboard cutouts.

And that’s the end of this chapter, but not quite the end of the book yet; we still have some final bits. I hope to wrap them up in one further post, but we’ll see how it goes.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 2

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

I assumed a few things about this book as I went along, and one of them was that the final-chapter Solving Of The Skateboard Mystery would be done by actual detective work from the cadets. Sure, I wasn’t expecting Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, and I also figured Jeffries would probably have to guide them with some leading questions… but I did expect that resolution would come in some kind of ultimate burst of discovering and/or connecting clues to give the cadets the answer. Not only was this the one bit of any actual detective work that the cadets got to do, but there was still the matter of the witness statement that Jeffries – despite promptly ignoring it for the next fortnight – did stress the cadets should be closely analysing.

Well… here’s how it actually went down.

Jeffries tells the cadets that they’re going to ‘wrap up the mystery of the skateboard’. He opens the door. Ta-daaaa! Lacey walks in! Jeffries tells them ‘”As it turns out, Lacey is the key to solving our mystery.”‘ Insert Character suddenly realises that Daniel’s – and therefore Lacey’s – surname is Bolan, making Lacey’s initials LB, the initials they found on the skateboard. Insert Character yells out ‘”You owned the skateboard!”‘ Lacey agrees. Ta-da. Mystery solved.

So… I guess technically I was not completely wrong. After all, the Insert Character does have one ‘Aha, so that is what that clue means’ moment. But:

a) this happens only once Jeffries has literally put the answer slap bang in front of them, and

b) this happens only because Insert Character is friends with Daniel and thus knows the family’s surname.

So, none of the other cadets – you remember them, even though Wallace doesn’t? The children from other schools who are supposedly also in this class even though none of them ever, ever gets named or says anything? – had a look-in here. And it would have been so easy for Jeffries to do that differently; all he had to do was to start Lacey’s witness statement off with a ‘State your full name for the record’. Apart from anything else, surely getting the witness’s full details is normal practice for a witness statement?

But, nope. Didn’t happen.

Daniel wants to know why Lacey didn’t say anything earlier. I’d assumed that this was because she didn’t want her illicit skateboard-riding to get back to her mother. But… nope. Instead, we get this:

“Because Detective Jeffries told me not to,” she explains. “Once he solved it, he asked me to play along and let you guys try to figure it out on your own.[…]”

Where. To. Start.

1. I can quite understand that Jeffries would want the solving of this case to take a bit more effort than Daniel happening to examine the board at home and Lacey walking in and saying “Hey, that’s my old skateboard!”. However, this goes further; Lacey’s actually kept quiet about her involvement when explicitly asked if she knows anything about the board, to the point of downright deceptiveness. Her response when Daniel asked her about it was “I’ve seen it before… At least, I think I have.” The first statement was technically true, but the second one wasn’t; she knew perfectly well that she’d seen it, because she’d owned it.

Which means that the one bit of detective work the cadets got to do during this entire fake cadet class – solving the mystery – has been mucked up for them by Jeffries deliberately suppressing evidence. Heck… even if he didn’t want Lacey handing Daniel the solution on a plate, the obvious thing for him to do would have been to lead the class through analysing that damn witness statement and help them see what further questions to ask. It would have been great teaching and really interesting for the cadets. Bloody hell, Jeffries. You couldn’t even let your class have that much.

2. It’s disturbing that Lacey managed to lie to her brother so smoothly when he first asked her about the skateboard. Did Jeffries coach her in this?

3. How and when did Jeffries solve the case? He apparently managed it before Daniel first asked Lacey about the skateboard, and that happened between sessions 3 and 4, so he managed it fairly early on. And Jeffries would have had no obvious reason to ask Lacey; Daniel didn’t ask her because any clues had pointed to her at that stage, he asked her purely because she happened to be someone he knew who’d been at the school at around the right time. The other people the cadets have spoken to – the custodian and the person at the skateboard shop – didn’t mention anyone else coming round asking questions about the board (though, who knows, maybe Jeffries told them to keep quiet as well).

4. Did it not occur to Daniel at any point that, if he was looking for a girl who’d been at the school several years ago who had the initials ‘LB’, there was someone right there in his family who fitted the bill?

5. Could we all just take a minute to reflect on the irony of the fact that, within minutes of Jeffries assuring us that this clearly wasn’t a conspiracy, we find out that he was in fact conspiring with Lacey?


Sigh. Why am I even shocked by any of this? Jeffries told the cadets they’d discover the truth about the skateboard if they kept searching; but what he actually did was to give them the evidence he wanted, when he wanted to. I have no idea why I didn’t see that coming.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 1

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Chapter 8: Resist Conspiracy Theories: Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!

“Final chapter!” I announced to Katie. “What do you think of the book so far?”

“It’s a whole load of nonsense,” she told me.

I asked her what she expected to happen in the last chapter. “I presume that Jeffries is going to come up with some sort of nonsense, stretching the truth, ignoring huge issues, to make it seem like Christianity is true even though there are huge flaws in it?” she suggested.

So, subtle there, but I think if you read carefully between the lines you can spot a hint or two that my daughter was less than impressed with this book. What do you think?

Anyway… after this chapter there’s still an epilogue and a final section from Wallace pushing apologetics, so we’re not quite there yet, but this is the home stretch. As we go through, I’ll update my predictions for this chapter to see what I got right and what I got wrong.

It’s the last session of the cadet academy aka Bible class, and Jason ‘has spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries said’. Foolishly, I thought for a moment this meant that he’d realised it was their last chance to solve the skateboard mystery that everyone else seems to have stopped caring about and that he’d spent the week thinking over something Jeffries said on the subject in hopes of figuring things out. I know, I know, I’m naive sometimes.

Jason has actually, of course, spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries has said about Jesus. At the beginning of the session, before Jeffries has come in, he tells the others he still has his doubts because he wonders if the disciples who wrote about Jesus were ‘all just lying’.

Dr Sarah’s prediction accuracy tally, two paragraphs in:

  • Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument: check
  • Skateboard-to-apologetics segue: nope. Wallace has actually changed things up a bit in the final chapter and decided just to plunge straight in with the apologetics.

So, the running total is one right, one wrong, and three remaining to be seen.

Back to the chapter. We have a grey insert box defining the word ‘conspiracy’ and telling us that successful conspiracies are ‘incredibly hard to pull off’. “If you think you know about a successful conspiracy, it wasn’t successful! If it had been, you wouldn’t know about it!” Wallace tells us.

“That, or there’s a chance that it was actually completely successful but you’re actually from a different time period and it bamboozled the people of that time period but you’re from a different time period so it hasn’t bamboozled you,” Katie pointed out. Which was kind of irrelevant with regards to Christianity, which I don’t believe to have been a conspiracy at all, but I didn’t bother getting into that one as I just wanted to push on through.

Insert Character, faced with Jason’s doubts, replies “But remember what Jeffries said about the fact that the disciples didn’t have a good reason to lie? Why would they all choose to suffer like they did if they were only lying?”

Hah! And, to emphasise this, I’m just going to skip ahead and quote Jeffries from a bit later in the chapter:

“Worse yet, they suffered like we described a few weeks ago. They were under incredible pressure to change their story, but they never did.[…]”

Hah! What did I tell you? Well, all right, technically what I told you was that the line would be ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted’, but this is close enough. Dr Sarah’s prediction tally, three paragraphs in: Two right, one wrong. Not bad going.

Anyway, back to where we were… in comes Jeffries, ‘holding a stack of graduation certificates’. A stack? Just how many were there of the nameless, wordless other class members who didn’t get to be part of the plot at all? Quite a lot, apparently, unless the stack is because Jeffries wrote these graduation certificates on stone tablets. I feel sorry for the other cadets, condemned by the plot to week after week of sitting voicelessly while Jeffries lectured on evangelism and the few people for whom Wallace bothered to think of names lapped it all up.

And – surprise, surprise – Jeffries’ planned subject for the day is also an explanation of why Christianity wasn’t just a big conspiracy. Convenient, that, isn’t it?

“I’m confident he was listening in. Which he really should not be doing,” Katie told me. She might have a point.

We do in fact have a brief skateboard-to-apologetics bit inserted at this point, but not the one I was expecting; Jeffries asks the cadets how they know there was ever a skateboard mystery at all. How do they know it wasn’t all a big conspiracy cooked up by the custodian, the owner of the skateboard shop, and Lacey? Well, because that wouldn’t make any sense, that’s why. Ding ding ding! So now you can see why Christianity wasn’t all just a big conspiracy on the part of the apostles! And Wallace/Jeffries proceeds to give an explanation of what’s needed for a successful conspiracy theory that probably would have interested me if I hadn’t been all ‘strawman, bored now’ about it. I might go back to it some time if I’m having to deal with a ‘scientists are all conspiring to put autism in vaccines’ theory or whatever.

Oh, and we get this:

“[…]Remember what Hannah said a few weeks ago? There were five hundred people who said they saw Jesus all at one time.”

Er, no. There’s a claim in one of Paul’s letters, in what might be a formal creed, that Jesus appeared to ‘more than five hundred people’, but we have no details at all of what this ‘appearance’ involved, and it’s not mentioned in any of the other accounts of the resurrection appearances.

A quick note: When I first read this claim, I assumed Paul must be making it up. After all, this is the same Paul who seemed quite happy to misrepresent himself to potential converts if he thought it would win them over. A few years ago, I started thinking about it a different way; was there any event in the early church that might have genuinely been misinterpreted as a mass appearance, as rumours grew? There was, I rapidly realised; Acts 2 tells the story of a huge public sermon leading to mass conversion among the audience. The standards for what counted as an ‘appearance’ don’t seem to have been that high (from Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion, it seems Paul didn’t even see Jesus in his road-to-Damascus moment), so it’s quite plausible that an event at which a large crowd of people experienced some sort of religious ecstasy could have been interpreted, by eager members of the early church, as Jesus ‘appearing’ in some form to them to cause this ecstasy. So I now suspect that the ‘more than five hundred’ story actually refers to the Pentecostal sermon described in Acts 2. At any rate, that sounds a lot more plausible than the idea that there was a genuine mass vision of a resurrected Jesus which, for some reason, absolutely none of the other NT authors consider worth mentioning.

“And how could all these people stay in touch with each other to get their stories lined up, especially since they were scattered all over the Roman Empire?”

I have to wonder whether Wallace really believes that this mention of ‘more than five hundred people’ was only made after the purported five hundred had each individually been carefully interviewed, the interview records compared for consistency, and the process then repeated some time later to see whether anyone was willing to crack and confess to it all being a conspiracy. That is, after all, what he seems to be implying here. Who does Wallace believe would have been tracking down these people, checking their stories, and using any inconsistencies to blow the roof off the Christianity story? Who does he think would have bothered? People who didn’t believe in the early church’s claims wouldn’t have joined it, and authorities who suspected them of breaking laws or creating a public disturbance would have arrested and tried them on those suspicions; who does Wallace think would have been going to enormous effort to debunk it?

(Side note: Also, why does Wallace think the ‘five hundred’ would have ‘scattered all over the Roman empire’? That’s quite an assumption to make about a group of people about whom we know nothing. He honestly seems to be inventing this stuff as it suits him.)

Jason says that maybe the disciples managed a successful conspiracy because they were good friends and that helped them stick to their story, and Wallace/Jeffries comes up with the rather odd claim that this wouldn’t apply to Matthew, because, apparently, he wasn’t their friend:

“He wasn’t raised around the other disciples and wasn’t their friend when he met Jesus. Instead, he was a tax collector named Levi, disliked by the others.[…]”

So… anyone know of anything to support the idea that Matthew, whatever his status when he first met the disciples, didn’t become friends with them in the supposedly three years that they all lived and journeyed and strove towards a common goal together? Or is this another place where Wallace seems to have just invented stuff? I mean, yeah, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theory anyway, but this is a weird argument. But it did set Katie off on another thought; she thinks that Jesus would have pushed them into being friends whether they wanted to or not.

“‘You’re all worshipping me so you should all be friends in peace! Even though I’m going to bully you into believing in me so I’m secretly a huge jerk!'” she hypothesised. “Jesus is really a huge jerk, though, isn’t he?”

And on that note, I will break this post here and return for the next part of the chapter, in which the skateboard mystery finally, and underwhelmingly, gets solved. If you’re on the edge of your seats… well, don’t be, it’s soooo not gonna be worth it.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids: Chapter Seven

My eleven-year-old* daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

*Yes, she has had an age upgrade. Yes, this means I have now been doing this review for over a year.

Chapter Seven: Separate Artifacts from Evidence: Clean Up Your Crime Scene!

So, you know how at the end of my review of the last chapter I pointed out what a bad idea it would be to finish that session without discussing the statement Lacey gave? And how I suspected this was exactly what Wallace/Jeffries was going to do, but as it wasn’t specified that the session ended at that chapter ending, I was prepared to give Jeffries the benefit of the doubt?

Turns out that not only did that session indeed end, but Jeffries shows zero interest in going over the statement this week either. Having told the children how important it is to hang on every word in a statement if you want to get those cases solved, he is now quite happy to leave the details of Lacey’s statement to get fuzzier in the cadet’s minds for an entire fortnight while he keeps going with Bible class. Priorities, and all that.

Oh – and it’s just occurred to me that the children also show zero interest in discussing Lacey’s statement any further. Even though – as Wallace points out in the opening words of the chapter – there are only two weeks left of the course, they show no apparent concern over the fact that they’re all completely ignoring an important lead while their window of opportunity for closing this case as a group is rapidly closing. I guess this is one of these books where the characters all secretly know that they’re in a book where everything’s going to get wrapped up in the final chapter.

Apart from that whole glaring problem… well, I found this chapter pretty uninteresting. It’s the chapter on how we shouldn’t worry about the problem of textual changes in the gospels over time, and it really doesn’t work well here. Well, not that it would have worked well anywhere considering that we have the perennial problem that this was originally meant to be a Police Cadet Academy course and not a Bible class, but it makes even less sense for it to be in this bit of the book, when narratively we should be ramping up skateboard investigation suspense. I did have some fun reading it to Katie in a hyped-up dramatic tone and wisecracking the whole time – which she also enjoyed – but, as far as this review is concerned, I’m just going to shoot on through this as fast as I can.

So… At the beginning of the chapter, Jason takes the skateboard home and examines it. He finds a squiggly white line on the top edge which nobody noticed before despite the fact that all the cadets made a detailed examination of the skateboard back in Chapter Two and have been looking at it every bloody week since then. He gets excited about this in case it’s an Important Clue, but at the meeting next week Daniel tells them he thinks it’s just a drip from the cans of white paint that were sitting next to the board in the shed. There is a joke about Hannah calling the mark a ‘squiggly’ and the Insert Character wisecracking ‘I missed the class on squiggly evidence’, which would possibly have worked better if these poor kids had been having any classes on any evidence instead of just getting a Bible course, but, as it is, just felt sort of poignant to me.

On that same note, Jeffries tells them that every time he enters a crime scene he expects to find two different kinds of objects, dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN, and everyone leans eagerly forward because they’ve been ‘waiting for Jeffries to share something about a real crime scene’, and, oh dear sweet innocence and naiveté, JEFFRIES IS NEVER GOING TO TELL YOU THINGS ABOUT REAL CRIME SCENES. THIS IS NOT A REAL CADET COURSE. YOU HAVE BEEN LIED TO. Anyway, the two kinds of objects are ‘evidence’ and ‘artifacts’; the things that are related to the case, and the things that aren’t but are nevertheless related to what Wallace wants to tell his readers about the Bible this week. OK, so the last bit was my interpretation.

Entirely irrelevant side note: In medical school we got taught about artefacts on histological slides (and, yes, that’s how we spell it, I guess it’s another of those British-vs-American spellings) and so the medical school’s drama group was called Artefacts as a medical pun. So this chapter did have the benefit of triggering some fond memories of the fun we had there.

Back to CCCFK. Jeffries uses the ‘artifacts’ thing as his cue to explain to the cadets about how there are also artifacts in the Gospels caused by people making mistakes as they copied things out, but, hey, kids, not to worry, none of the changes are important and the scholars can aaaaaalways figure out what the original said. No, Jeffries does not tell them that scholars now believe that these changes include the addition of the story of the woman taken in adultery and the story of the resurrection appearances in Mark, neither of which I would describe as unimportant changes. No, Jeffries does not invite the children to consider the implications of the fact that two stories now thought probably not to be authentic were assumed to be authentic for centuries until gospel scholars read some older manuscripts; he does not point out that this means it’s possible that some of the stories we now think are authentic might turn out, if we ever find any even earlier manuscripts, to also be later additions. And no, Jeffries does not mention the fact that even the very oldest complete manuscripts we have are from hundreds of years after the gospels were written and even the oldest fragments we have are from a few decades after, allowing a substantial window of opportunity in which such changes could have happened. But then, we all knew he wasn’t going to tell the cadets any of that, didn’t we?

Jeffries illustrates the way scholars figure things out by writing three different versions of a sentence in which different letters are missing/changed in such a way that it isn’t possible to figure out the meaning from reading any individual one of them but, by looking at the bits we have in all three, it’s possible to figure out what the sentence said. So, there you go, we did get one bit that was interesting. Unfortunately he then describes this on the next page as ‘two inaccurate copies’ when it was actually three, so, whoops, but I deleted my initial snark about that; it’s surprisingly easy for errors like that to creep in during successive edits and then get missed on proofreading. But, hey, Wallace, something for you to change if you ever write an updated edition.

We also get this:

“Well, scholars and Bible experts have thousands of ancient copies of the Bible documents to compare to one another—more ancient copies than any other book in history. It’s an amazing collection of early documents.[…]”

“Do you know where those thousands of copies come from?” I asked Katie.

“No.” (Which is fair enough, since she’s eleven years old and I asked it as a rhetorical question.)

“They come from monks in Anglo-Saxon and medieval times who copied the Bible out thousands of times. So they’re not ‘early documents’. They’re from hundreds of years after the Bible was written.”

Katie highlighted the words ‘thousands of ancient copies’ in my Kindle app, clicked ‘Add Note’, and typed in ‘NOPE!’

And we also get one of those grey insert boxes about Bible quotes, this one asking what God compares his words to in Matthew 4:4. The answer is ‘Bread’, in case you’re wondering. “Why is he comparing his words to bread?” Katie asked. “I only compare mine to mushrooms!” So, there you are, that was Katie’s one comment on the chapter. (And, no, she does not actually compare her words to mushrooms. She just likes saying ‘mushrooms’ a lot. Along with ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’, ‘jalapeños’, and ‘chickeeeeeeen’.)

Anyway, the sentence that Jeffries gave Jason to figure out is ‘If Jason is a good detective, he will stand!’ and Jason figures this out and stands up and everyone applauds, and it turns out Jeffries chose this sentence for SYMBOLISM (and indoctrination), as the chapter then ends with Jeffries telling the cadets that they can be ‘sure enough about the words in this Bible to take a stand for Jesus’.

And, there you go, we have finished the penultimate chapter! I am so pleased to have gotten through a chapter this quickly. And to be this close to finishing the book. Since it’s this close to the end, I’m going to come up with predictions for the final chapter:

Things I expect to happen in the final chapter:

  • As I previously mentioned, Daniel’s sister Lacey will be revealed as the skateboard owner. (Apart from the clues in her witness statement, she’s also almost the only other character who’s shown up in the entire book, so it’s pretty much a ‘Murder At My Friend Harry’s’ literary situation here.)
  • I looked at the contents list and the title of the final chapter is ‘Resist Conspiracy Theories – Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!’ so I think it’s fair to guess that the apologetics topic for this chapter will be the Demolishment Of The Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument. (For those not familiar with apologetics, this is the one about how the apostles wouldn’t have just made the whole thing up, so obviously it must all be true because apparently the only possible two alternatives are ‘someone deliberately invented this story’ and ‘this story’s true’.)
  • Following on from the above, we will get the ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted!’ line, because, despite there being little evidence that most of the disciples died for their beliefs and none that recanting would have saved them, this argument always shows up in the Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument (which I think I might shorten to ACTSA). In fact, Wallace used it a few chapters back. Betcha we get it again.
  • The inevitable skateboard-to-apologetics segue will consist of the cadets finding out that Lincoln was helping Lacey keep her skateboard ownership secret from her skateboard-disapproving mother and Jeffries using their discovery of this secret as an example of how Lies Are Hard To Keep and thus all the non-existent people who think the resurrection was a hoax cooked up by the disciples are wrong.
  • My daughter will randomly utter at least one of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’ at some point while we’re reading it.

Things that I regretfully do not expect to happen in the final chapter, although it would be really cool if they did:

  • An outraged parent storming into the class demanding to know why the police station is running an illicit evangelising class under the guise of a police cadet class.
  • The cadets turning up for their final class and finding that Jeffries has been suspended for running said evangelising course illicitly on police time and property (Lies Are Hard to Keep, Jeffries!) and that the other police officers, contrite about not having spotted what he was up to, have put together a really good class on actual police work for the cadets’ final session.
  • Any of the cadets calling Jeffries out on any of the misleading information he gives them.
  • Anyone apart from Jason, Daniel, Hannah or Insert Character getting any lines. (Seriously, Wallace… you’re barely giving them any sort of characterisation anyway and it’s not like they’re actors who have to be paid extra if they get speaking parts. Could you not have thrown in some more names along the way so that we could feel like this was a class instead of four people plus a bunch of cardboard cutouts standing around the walls?)

A thing I hope doesn’t happen in the final chapter

  • The cadets all falling on their knees and being led by Jeffries through a tearful and impassioned rendition of the Sinner’s Prayer. That would feel seriously awkward to read.

Well, we will soon find out! I might be able to go through the final chapter with Katie tonight. Are you excited? I’m excited.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 4

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So far in Chapter Six:

  • Daniel’s sister Lacey visited the class so that Jeffries could ask her what she remembered about the skateboard.
  • Jeffries asked her a few questions and proceeded to ignore her completely in favour of starting this week’s apologetics lesson.
  • Lacey clearly knows more about the skateboard than she’s letting on, but this went unexplored in this chapter as Jeffries, as usual, considers apologetics more important than actually teaching cadet-related stuff.
  • I suspect Lacey herself of being the mysterious former owner, but we have not yet been told whether this is the case or not.
  • Jeffries is claiming that a report of someone else’s report counts as an eyewitness statement. I’m fairly sure it doesn’t.
  • Jeffries believes we have good evidence that gMark (the gospel according to Mark) was written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter.

So far in background information:

And now… Jeffries is going to explain to us/the cadets what his evidence is for gMark having been written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter! Yay! This is the bit I’ve been looking forward to.

Because I was genuinely interested in this part, I did quite a lot more background reading than I usually do for these posts. After reading the CCCFK chapter, I went on to read the corresponding section in Cold Case Christianity (which, as you probably either know or can work out, is Wallace’s original ‘how to use police methods to investigate Christianity’ book and is aimed at adults) in order to get Wallace’s full argument. Then, I found an online Bible site where it was possible to get the whole of each gospel on one page, searched each gospel in turn for mentions of Peter under either of his names, made a list of all sections in each gospel that mention Peter, drew up a comparison table of the different Peter-mentioning stories in each gospel, and used my copy of Gospel Parallels (all right, all right, my parents’ copy that I borrowed in my teens-and-twenties phase of investigating Christianity and never gave back) to read and compare the different versions of the stories in each of the synoptic gospels, using an online Bible site to read the corresponding stories in gJohn. Sometimes you just gotta let your geek flag fly.

I wish I could say I’d reached some deeply profound conclusion as a result of all this, but I didn’t (I’m not counting the conclusion that I spend far too much time on trivia; I knew that long ago). Still, it was interesting.

(A quick note: Wallace, of course, refers to the author of this gospel as Mark all the way through this section. Since the entire point of this particular discussion topic is that we don’t know who the author is, this is technically somewhat question-begging. However, to be fair, it’s also more convenient, so I will do the same thing. If the author’s name was not in fact Mark, then my apologies to him, whoever he was.)

The explanation in CCCFK consists of a list of five points, followed up by Jeffries giving a short explanation of each (plus doing more whiteboard-drawing to illustrate each point; on this occasion his drawings included a calculator and a microphone, which struck me as a bit incongruous, but in fairness I suppose they’re just meant as symbols).

The list of points Jeffries gives in CCCFK is:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

The corresponding CCC list contains one extra point, which is:

Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’.

OK… let’s work through.

Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel.

Jeffries’ explanation in CCCFK is ‘Mark’s gospel mentions Peter a lot more than Matthew’s gospel’. This, unfortunately, isn’t accurate even according to Wallace’s info; in CCC, I learned that gMatthew actually mentions Peter three times more than gMark does. What Wallace means is that gMark mentions Peter proportionately more, once you take the shorter length into account. I’m pretty sure Wallace’s inaccurate statement in CCCFK was an inadvertent result of his attempts to simplify the argument to child level rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead his child readers, but it’s a bit sloppy.

I also can’t help feeling Wallace has given himself a bit of a problem here, as far as gospel authorship is concerned. If the proportionately greater number of mentions of Peter in gMark compared to gMatthew did mean that Mark was likely to have known Peter personally, wouldn’t the flip side of that be that the author of gMatthew was less likely to have known Peter personally? And wouldn’t that then cause problems with the traditional Church teaching that gMatthew was written by the apostle Matthew, who would have known Peter very well indeed? Wallace seems to be coming up with an argument in favour of traditional Markan authorship that effectively stands against traditional Matthean authorship. Not sure you thought that one all the way through, Wallace.

Anyway… looking at the argument Wallace is aiming for here (that Mark mentions Peter proportionately more often for the length), how well does it stand up as evidence for Markan authorship?

I don’t think it does. The extra material included in Matthew compared to Mark largely consists of a) the nativity/infancy narrative, b) the Sermon on the Mount, c) the long ‘scribes and Pharisees’ rant, and d) a short description of resurrection appearances. (If I’ve missed any major bits I should have included on that list, do let me know.) Peter obviously wouldn’t be expected to get a mention in Jesus’s nativity story, and there’s no obvious reason why he would get mentioned in a sermon Jesus is giving to multitudes or in a rant against another group of people. We could reasonably expect him to get a mention in the resurrection appearances (as he does in both Luke and John), but then, that whole argument leaves us with the awkward question of why Mark doesn’t mention the resurrection experiences at all, so that doesn’t really help Wallace’s case here.

In short, Mark doesn’t seem to be mentioning Peter disproportionately more than would be expected considering the material he and Matthew are covering. (In fact, I found several places where another gospel mentions Peter yet the equivalent passage in Mark doesn’t, or Mark leaves that story out entirely.)


Mark writes about Peter as a friend

The phrasing, again, is a product of Wallace’s attempt to simplify this for children; in CCC, this point is phrased as ‘Mark identified Peter with the most familiarity’. The CCCFK phrasing struck me as a bit ironic, because Mark actually doesn’t write about Peter ‘as a friend’; the entire gospel is narrated dispassionately in third person, with no direct statement or suggestion at all that Mark knew Peter.

The point Wallace is actually trying to make here is that Mark only ever uses one of Peter’s names (‘Simon’ or ‘Peter’) rather than calling him Simon Peter in full. He’s the only gospel writer who doesn’t use the name in full at any point; Wallace contrasts him with John, who, apparently, uses ‘Simon Peter’ seventeen times. From another quick wordsearch, I confirmed that Matthew and Luke do indeed each use the term ‘Simon Peter’ once, so Wallace is technically correct in saying that Mark is the only one never to use it. Given how often both Matthew and Luke use single names for Peter, I didn’t find that particularly significant; it seems both of them were also quite happy to refer to him by his first name. In fact, that’s the way people generally were referred to in those times, since surnames weren’t widely used at that time.

Interestingly, another problem with Wallace’s argument here is that he seems once again to be shooting himself in the foot. If the use of just ‘Peter’ rather than ‘Simon Peter’ is an important indicator that the author knew Peter well, then, conversely, the author of John would seem to be the one who knew Peter least well, since he uses the full name far more often than any of the other three. Yet, of course, Church tradition – and Wallace’s belief – has it that the author of this gospel is none other than the apostle John. John was an apostle together with Peter and a pillar of the early church together with him and James after Jesus’s death; they spent most of their adult lives together as companions and workmates. John would have known Peter even better and more closely than one of his followers. If Wallace’s argument about naming actually does hold water, wouldn’t that mean that he’s just given us a good reason to believe that the gospel of John wasn’t written by John?


Mark treats Peter kindly

Wallace’s claim here is that Mark ‘seldom says anything unkind about Peter’ even when writing about his mistakes. In CCC, Wallace gives examples of this:

  • In the account of Jesus walking on water, Mark does not include Peter’s failed attempt at doing the same or Jesus’s consequent description of him as a doubter/a man of little faith.
  • Mark doesn’t include the story of the miraculous catch of fish, which portrays Peter as doubtful of Jesus.
  • There are incidents (not specified by Wallace) where other gospels attribute some awkward question or statement to Peter but where Mark doesn’t give an attribution.
  • In the account of Peter declaring that Jesus’s death would never occur, the ‘most edited and least embarrassing’ version occurs in Mark.

This claim, I couldn’t help but notice, contradicts what Church father Papias has to say about Mark’s gospel; Papias states that Mark ‘took especial care not to omit anything that he had heard’ in writing his account of Peter’s teachings. Does Wallace really want to claim that Papias is wrong? Since this same quote from Papias is our earliest claim about the authorship of Mark’s gospel, that could have unfortunate implications for his argument.

Anyway, more to the point… Mark also includes the story of Peter being unable to stay awake to watch with Jesus and getting rebuked for it, the triple denial, and the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ scene. I’m really not convinced that Mark’s tried particularly hard to avoid showing Peter in a poor light.


Mark shares little things that only Peter would know

The corresponding claim in CCC is milder; rather than claiming that only Peter could have known these details, CCC says that the details ‘point to Peter’s involvement in the shaping of the text’. Examples are:

  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter (Simon) and the other disciples went looking for Jesus when he was praying on his own.
  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter was the one who commented on the withered fig tree.
  • Mark was the one who named the specific disciples who asked Jesus when the destruction he was predicting would happen
  • In the account of Jesus visiting Capernaum, Mark writes that the people heard Jesus had ‘come home’ even though Capernaum wasn’t Jesus’s home. Wallace points out that it was Peter’s home, so Peter might well have described Jesus’s visit there thus.

The last point is a really good one; I hadn’t noticed that comment in Mark, and it is pretty odd. So, yes, that could point towards a story that came originally from Peter.

The others are not actually that impressive in context; when I read through the different accounts together, I noticed that each of the gospels seem to mention Peter in some context where the others don’t. gMatthew names Peter as the disciple who asks about the handwashing parable.  gLuke names Peter a few times; in the scene with the woman with persistent bleeding he’s the one who expresses surprise that Jesus asks who touched him, in the scene where Jesus tells the parable of the thief in the night Peter is the one who asks whether this is for them or for everyone, and in the scene where Jesus asks the disciples to talk to a man to get the Passover meal ready Peter is named as one of the two disciples sent. Luke and John both include Peter finding the empty tomb. gJohn has the ‘Feed my sheep’ scene. Did Mark choose to leave all these out? Or is it just that Peter, as the main disciple, was an obvious choice to refer to when a gospel author wanted to add a bit of verisimilitude to the tale? Either way, the mentions in gMark don’t seem particularly convincing as a sign of the author having known Peter.


Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

What this means, apparently, is that neither Mark nor Peter includes the birth narratives or ‘other details of Jesus’s private life that are found in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels’ (Wallace doesn’t specify here which ones). Which could mean that Mark got his story from Peter, or could mean that, at the time Mark was writing, the extra details hadn’t been added to the tradition yet.


Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’

This, Wallace explains, means that Peter is both the first and the last disciple mentioned in the text of Mark’s gospel, which Wallace states to be an example of ‘inclusio’. Inclusio is, apparently, a literary device used often in the Bible in which a particular phrase or theme is echoed at the beginning and end of a section in order to emphasise the section. I’m not sure this particular example counts as inclusio, since technically it’s neither a phrase nor a theme (there’s no particular similarity between the first mention of Peter and the last mention of Peter). I do think it fair to say that those mentions are one of the indications that the author wanted to emphasise Peter as a significant character – and, of course, Peter is a significant character in all four of the gospels – but it’s really a bit of a stretch to say that this indicates he got his information from Peter.


So, that’s the list. Bottom line… This analysis had the benefit of being something new in apologetics, which does not happen all that often. However, most of the points Wallace presents here as evidence don’t really hold up, and the overall level of evidence does not stack up well against the reasons for doubting traditional Markan authorship.

And that’s the end of Chapter Six (which I have reached just barely in time to avoid another tiresome round of footnoting the initial blurb with a ‘Katie is actually now X+1 years old even though she was X when I reviewed this chapter with her’ update).

One final point, from me; Remember Lacey’s evidence, guys? The witness statement that Jeffries completely dropped so that he could give his apologetics talk for the day? Well, we’re now up against an interesting question; did Jeffries come back to that statement at all in this session, or is he leaving it until the next session? Leaving it the way he did was bad enough, but leaving it for an entire week would be even worse. Everyone’s memories of it will be pretty fuzzy by then, and either they won’t have Lacey there to check any follow-up questions with her or Lacey will have to make an extra trip back to the police station because Jeffries didn’t have the courtesy to get her part of things wrapped up while she was actually there. And, since Wallace has so far stuck to the one-session-per-chapter format, it seems extremely likely that this is indeed meant to be the end of the session.

However, the book doesn’t specifically say this to be the end of the session, so we have a Schroedinger’s Ending situation; it is technically possible that Chapter Seven will be a continuation of the same session. So, Jeffries, you get the benefit of the doubt for a little longer on this point. We’ll find out in the next chapter.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 3

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

I finished my last CCCFK post by declaring that the next one would discuss Wallace/Jeffries’ explanations of why, in his opinion, analysis of the gospel of Mark shows it to have been written by a close follower of Peter. However, I then worked on the next post for a while before realising that I was going to have to start with a general discussion of Wallace’s approach and some problems thereof, and that putting everything in one post would make it far too long. So, this post is the general discussion, and next post on the topic will be the one that goes into the specifics of the explanations.

Although Wallace doesn’t say so in CCCFK, what he’s using here is based on a technique he’s been trained in using as a detective, called Forensic Statement Analysis. I initially saw this mentioned in one of the blurbs about this book, and was intrigued enough that I read the corresponding chapter in Cold Case Christianity to find out more. This is Wallace’s description, in CCC, of how he carries out this method:

I routinely asked suspects to write down what they did back on the day of the murder, accounting for their activity from the time they got up in the morning to the time they went to bed. I provided each suspect a blank piece of lined paper and a pen. Any alterations in their statement would have to be scratched out, and as a result, I was able to see what they initially wrote and where they were uncomfortable with their original choice of words. I would then examine this statement, asking several important questions. What kinds of words did the suspect use to describe the victim? Does the suspect ever inadvertently slip from the present to the past tense, giving away his or her presence or involvement at the scene of the crime? Does the suspect compress or expand the description of events in order to hide something or lie about how something occurred? Does the suspect over- or underidentify the victim in an effort to seem friendlier or disinterested in the victim? In essence, I examined every word to see if it provided any clue related to the suspect’s involvement in the crime.

Wallace gives us some examples of how this might work, and goes on to tell us that when he started reading the gospels – by which time he had already been using this technique for years – he “approached the Gospels like I would any other forensic statement”.

I found all this genuinely interesting; the technique sounds fascinating in itself, and I love the idea of using it to analyse the gospels and see what comes up. However, it’s also important to note the limitations of this technique, particularly when applied in this way… and Wallace (not too surprisingly) doesn’t really go into these.

Here are some things we need to consider:

How accurate is this technique, overall? Remember that this isn’t a method used to provide definitive evidence about whodunnit; it’s a method used to give detectives clues about which suspects need further investigation.   It sounds extremely useful for that purpose, but how accurate is it by itself? Out of the times Wallace has used it, in what proportion of cases have the suspicions raised by this method ultimately proved to be unfounded?

It’s noteworthy that, in the section of CCC where Wallace gives examples of different word choices people might make, he also points out different possible meanings of the choices. “We’d have to spend some time with him [the suspect] to learn more” he writes at one point. We have no way of spending more time with the gospel authors; we can’t learn more. Without that confirmation, how accurate are the conclusions we draw from this statement going to be?

How accurate is this technique going to be in this situation? The problem with approaching the gospels like ‘any other forensic statement’ is that the gospels aren’t forensic statements. There are crucial differences between the statements Wallace analyses and the gospels.

For one thing, when a suspect writes Wallace a statement, it’s because an authority figure (Wallace) has given that person a specific directive (to write down everything they did on a particular date). When the gospel authors wrote their gospels, it was because they had a particular story that they themselves wanted to tell. Does that affect their word choice, and, if so, how? We don’t know, so that’s another potential inaccuracy in using this method here.

However, there’s a more serious problem here. Katie, for all that she hasn’t had much to say about these chapters, did make one comment on this one that nailed it; “I think it’s important to note,” she typed into my notes, “that we don’t have a clear picture of the Bible’s original words and their meanings, yet Wallace is using said original words as so-called ‘valid evidence.'”

Exactly. Wallace has told us that, for his method, he looks at the original handwritten statement in order to be able to see where a word or phrase originally chosen was corrected. We can’t even get close to doing that with the gospels. Not only do we not have the original handwritten versions of what the gospel authors wrote, we don’t even have the final versions of what they wrote. Even the earliest manuscripts we have are copies of copies of copies (and we have no idea how many times the ‘of copies’ should be repeated in that sentence), and not only will the copyists have made mistakes here and there as they transcribe the scripts, it’s very likely that now and again they also changed something deliberately; either because they thought they had a better way of saying it, or because they genuinely, if inaccurately, thought something in the version they were copying must be wrong and thus tried to help out by ‘correcting’ it.

Wallace is trying to use a technique that relies on knowing exactly what words the author chose… in a situation where we have only at best a general idea of which words the author chose. Used in such a situation, how accurate is his method?

How much do cultural differences affect the accuracy of this method? They clearly do affect it to at least some degree; again, in one of Wallace’s examples, he points out that the expression he describes his ficticious subject using might mean something of significance to the investigation… or it might simply be a regional or cultural figure of speech. Well, the gospel writers came from a different region and a different culture from us. And, although it’s a much-studied culture, it’s also a culture that existed two millennia ago, meaning that even the best available knowledge about it is going to have some limitations. (I’m also guessing that Wallace’s knowledge about Jesus’s culture is not, in fact, the best available.)

That’s also going to have an effect on how well we can interpret their words. It means we can’t be sure when the gospel writers are making cultural references that their audience would have gotten but we won’t, or when we’re reading our cultural assumptions into their words in ways that aren’t warranted.

(The flip side of this, by the way, is that the knowledge we do have about the geography and culture of this area at this time has strongly contributed to the conclusion generally held by scholars that the gospel of ‘Mark’ probably was not written by a follower of Peter. This is something I’ve mentioned in my last post on this topic; at one point the author of this gospel makes a significant geographical error by describing Jesus as travelling through a city that would in fact have been in the opposite direction from him, and at another he makes a cultural error in describing Jews as referring to King David as their ‘father’. While these mistakes would be easy for a stranger to make, they seem unlikely for someone who got his information directly from an eyewitness, and that casts significant doubt on whether the author of this gospel actually did get his information from an eyewitness. If Wallace really wants to analyse the significance of every word in reaching his conclusions about the gospels’ authorship, shouldn’t he be analysing the significance of the words that cast doubt on his claims?)


Wallace, as per the quotes above, does touch on some of the problems above when describing how this method works. But, when he describes how he used it to determine the author of gMark, that caution seems to go out of the window. In CCC, he describes the evidence he’s come up with as a ‘reasonable circumstantial case’ for the authorship of this gospel, which ‘becomes even more powerful’ when combined with the mentions we have of gMark’s authorship from the early Church fathers.  In CCCFK, he tells us that there are ‘very good reasons to believe’ that the author of gMark got his information directly from Peter. Given the significant possible sources of inaccuracy around this method, describing the evidence with such certainty does not seem warranted.