Star Trek – “Who Watches the Watchers?”

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 28, 2009 in Atheist Film & TV

star trek watchers

When I reviewed Star Trek: The Final Frontier as a movie with atheistic themes, reader John D suggested I also review episode 52 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, called “Who Watches the Watchers?” [Watch is online.]

The Enterprise visits planet Mintaka III to help out some anthropologists who are studying a primitive Bronze Age people. A Mintakan sees Picard, and also sees the “magical powers” of his people (teleportation, etc.), and concludes that “The Picard” is a god. He tells his fellow Mintakans what he saw. Then, the Mintakans discover an injured member of the anthropological team, Palmer, in a cave – confirming the Mintakan’s story about The Picard who was looking for “Palmer.”

The Mintakans decide to keep Palmer safe so they can please The Picard, hoping The Picard will grant them favors in return. Two crew members of the Enterprise pretend to be Mintakans, and they help Palmer escape, but one of them is captured. The Mintakans decide they will search for Palmer, but if he is not found, they will harm their captive in order to please The Picard.

To avoid this, somebody suggests that Picard appear to them and give them commands and such. But this would violate the Prime Directive to not interfere with the cultural development of pre-warp societies. One of them asks, “But won’t this belief in a god turn into a religion?”

“It’s inevitable,” comes the answer. “And without guidance, that religion could degenerate into Inquisitions, Holy Wars, chaos!”

“Horrifying,” says Picard. “Dr. Baron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement? To send them back into the Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!”

So Picard decides to bring a leader of the Mintakans, Nouria, aboard the Enterprise and explain that his powers are not magical but technological:

“Nouria, your people live in huts. Was it always so?”

“No. We have found remnants of tools in caves. Our ancestors must have lived there.”

“So why do you now live in huts?”

“Huts are better. Caves are dark and wet.”

“So if huts are better, why did you once live in caves?”

“The most reasonable explanation would be that at one time we did not know how to make huts.”

“…just as at one time you did not know how to weave cloth, how to make a bow?”

“That would be reasonable.”

“Someone invented a hut. Someone invented a bow, who taught others… Now, Nouria, suppose one of your cave-dwelling ancestors was to see you as you are now… Put yourself in her place. She cannot kill a hornbuck from a great distance. You can. You have a power she lacks. ”

“Only because I have a bow.”

“She has never seen a bow! It doesn’t exist in her world. To you, it’s a simple tool. To her, it’s magic.”

“I suppose she might think so.”

“Now how would she react to you?”

“I think she would fear me.”

“Just as you fear me.”

Back on Mintaka III, there is a storm, and one of the Mintakans interpret it as the anger of The Picard. He decides to kill their captive, Troy, from the Enterprise to appease The Picard.

Troy protests:

“Are you sure you know what [The Picard] wants? That’s a problem with believing in a supernatural being. Trying to determine what he wants.”

“But we must do something!” Liko says.

Liko’s daughter asks, “But what if it’s the wrong thing, father?”

A lot more happens, but I just wanted to highlight this episode, an explicit commentary on humanity and superstition. And that’s what makes Star Trek so interesting – its ability to explore all manner of philosophical and cultural ideas, each on its own planet in the vastness of space. They could make an episode about Rene Girard’s theory on the origins of religion, or James Fetzer’s, or Rudolph Otto’s, or others.

Now, if only the writing and acting wasn’t so hokey!

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{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

John D December 28, 2009 at 9:52 am

I am glad you followed my recommendation, but I am slightly disappointed: Hokey writing and acting? For shame – I really enjoyed that exchange on the bow and arrow. And I think Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are great actors. Admittedly, listening to Troy always makes me want to bang my head repeatedly against a brick wall.

There are plenty of imperfections in Star Trek, just as there are imperfections in many of Shakespeare’s plays, but we can always piece out these imperfections with our minds.

Anyway, I am planning to write a blog-series on the philosophical themes explored in every episode of TNG. Will be up on my blog….eventually.

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Mark December 28, 2009 at 11:21 am

Yes and the thing that makes Star Trek so awesome is that Kirk and the gang rule NOTHING out. Their eyes and ears are opened to anything and every possibility. In this way, the enterprise boldly goes where atheists won’t.

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Bill Maher December 28, 2009 at 11:55 am

Mark: Yes and the thing that makes Star Trek so awesome is that Kirk and the gang rule NOTHING out. Their eyes and ears are opened to anything and every possibility. In this way, the enterprise boldly goes where atheists won’t.  

are you sure that doesn’t make them the complete opposite of a theist?

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Jake de Backer December 28, 2009 at 12:48 pm

I remember the previous star trek post. Most notably, for me at least, was ayer’s unyielding refusal to answer any of the dozen or so questions I posed him.

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ayer December 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Jake de Backer,

I only have so much time in the day, but I went back to your post and will be happy to answer your questions now:

“What good or gain does God incur; How might it pacify one who already possesses everything; What satisfaction might there be in watching, let alone condoning, even endorsing and other times blatantly mandating sacrifices animal or human, tithing to our holy buildings –which God is conspicuously absent in maintaining?”

If you are referring to Christianity, the purpose of Old Testament animal sacrifice was to prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ and bring home to the Israelites their inability to atone for their own sins outside of the grace of God. The purpose of tithing is to bring home to Christians the need to eschew reliance on material things and remind them that all they have is due to God’s grace.

“If God knew, which by his conveniently defined characteristics he must, how abhorrent many of the planets more morally cultivated individuals would find the holy literature, why not continue to offer new inspiration every few centuries? Why not keep up with the moral tide and demonstrate his paternal concern for our well-being after seeing how “out of context” (according to theist logic –an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) most believers take their scripture while executing infidels or displaying other detestable feats of faith derived from their holy books?”

Not sure exactly what your expectation of God is here–God went to the lengths of becoming human himself and dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world; if that is not enough for these “morally cultivated” individuals, then the fault lies with them.

“How many more souls would be saved and kept with him in celestial Disneyland if his precepts matched Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, etc.?”

This is where the elitism comes in–why assume the abstract God of deism would be more appealing to people than the God of the Bible? Which one has more converts today?

“Why does the creation supersede the Creator in every marker of comparison? Why is the bible’s prose and poetry, beautiful and moving as it may be in some places, entirely outdone in a single paragraph of Shakespeare or Milton? Why are the proposed methods of government nowhere near being held up with Montesquieu or Montaigne? Why do the values and morals upheld in the bible rot before our very eyes compared with Hobbes or Hume or for a more contemporary (of the bible) feel; Marcus Aurelius, Cicero or Confucious?”

Those are all matters of opinion with which I disagree. Many literary scholars consider the Bible to be at least the equal of Shakespeare (indeed, Shakespeare was a Christian who was steeped in the Bible). Jesus proposed no “method of government”; as he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” As for values and morals, the ethical teaching of Jesus (sermon on the mount, parable of the good samaritan) is not generally considered “rot” as compared with those French intellectuals.

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EvanT December 28, 2009 at 4:36 pm

(resubmitted, attempt to edit resulted in the comment being erased as spam)

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek exactly because of the moral grey lines the protagonists have to maneuver through (and it aired in Greece just in time for my teen soul-searching phase). Babylon 5 also features a decent exploration of the aspects of religion (gotta love the Minbari). (Certainly better than Battlestar Galactica’s take of religion, that’s for sure).

Apologies Luke, but I’d also like to comment on Ayer’s comment (even if off-topic)

ayer: The purpose of tithing is to bring home to Christians the need to eschew reliance on material things and remind them that all they have is due to God’s grace.

The Qur’an is pretty explicit on this without the need of apologetics (ditto on the purpose of fasting). Should we all turn to Islam because of this?

ayer:
Not sure exactly what your expectation of God is here–God went to the lengths of becoming human himself and dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world; if that is not enough for these “morally cultivated” individuals, then the fault lies with them.

I see this argument paraded around quite often. But doesn’t this type of expression demand that God has some anthropomorphic attributes? If God went “to lengths” in order to become human and “die”, it directly implies that He had some sort of ego to overcome and “deign” to walk the Earth with the exterior of one of His creations. Plus, you know that atheists generally don’t buy the “sacrifice” bit (dead today, alive and kickin’ a day and a half later). Why waste time on that?

ayer: This is where the elitism comes in–why assume the abstract God of deism would be more appealing to people than the God of the Bible? Which one has more converts today?

I’ll agree with you here. The basis of religion is basically an exchange (personal sacrifice for a benefit or control of an aspect of life). It’s obvious that the deistic non-interventionist God cannot compete on that level.

ayer: As for values and morals, the ethical teaching of Jesus (sermon on the mount, parable of the good samaritan) is not generally considered “rot” as compared with those French intellectuals.  

It’s sad that credit isn’t given, when credit is due. Of course, it can be argued that the Christian God doens’t know to economize. It doesn’t take 2000 pages to write “love thy neighbour” Nor is it a sign of theophany to be given a “holy spirit-inspired” book and have to trudge through a septic tank of moral decadence to find a bit of decent morality worth ascribing to.

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Haukur December 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

EvanT: Certainly better than Battlestar Galactica’s take of religion, that’s for sure

The one where the good guys are pagans, the bad guys are monotheists and the really, really bad guys are atheists? Yes, I can see how you’d like that one less than I did.

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Tony Hoffman December 28, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Now, if only the writing and acting wasn’t so hokey!

I believe that Gene Rodenberry grew to loathe William Shatner and his Shakespeare-in-the-park style of over-acting. (Which I consider a gift to us all; someday, we wil miss that man.) And I’d bet that Bill Shatner didn’t like most of his lines, or care much for the stories.

For me, the wonder that is Star Trek is the begrudging collaboration among all participating to put aside their aspirations (I imagine everyone, except maybe Rodenberry, started out wanting to do something else) to collectively portray ideas, in melodrama. Yes, the special effects are dreadful, the acting dodgy, the sets in danger of being trampled by dwarves, the costumes weird, the makeup unflattering, but it’s yet to miss hooking any of us at the age we first came to consider ideas important.

It also serves an important role in our culture, that of the common mythical reference. 200 years ago they had only Greek gods and the Bible to quickly evoke a broad concept of shared human experience. Thankfully, we have probably well over 200 of these episodes, and I’d say we are far richer for it.

So here’s a post-derived question: which is more valuable to us in our shared intellectual lives — the Bible (or the Koran), or the complete episodes of Star Trek, and the other series it engendered?

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ayer December 28, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Tony Hoffman: It also serves an important role in our culture, that of the common mythical reference. 200 years ago they had only Greek gods and the Bible to quickly evoke a broad concept of shared human experience.

I think folks are remembering Star Trek as more atheistic than it was. In the original series, e.g., the ship had a chapel at which weddings were conducted and crew members prayed.

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Tony Hoffman December 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I think folks are remembering Star Trek as more atheistic than it was. In the original series, e.g., the ship had a chapel at which weddings were conducted and crew members prayed.

I think this has nothing to do with my point. Although I can’t remember the episode to which you’re referring, and I think you’re dreaming if you think the show had a denominational or religious or cultural bias; on the contrary, it was obviously and explicitly humanist. To pretend that people tuned in, or became fans, because it affirmed a Christian perspective is to totally miss what I was saying (that Star Trek, and its derivatives, are probably more useful today as intellectual reference than say, the Bible), and to pretend that the show was popular for exactly the reasons it was not.

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ayer December 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Tony Hoffman: To pretend that people tuned in, or became fans, because it affirmed a Christian perspective is to totally miss what I was saying (that Star Trek, and its derivatives, are probably more useful today as intellectual reference than say, the Bible), and to pretend that the show was popular for exactly the reasons it was not.

It was popular (with me, anyway) because it dealt with moral issues in an intelligent and serious way, the same moral issues all humans must deal with, whether they are Christian or atheist

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Justfinethanks December 28, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I think folks are remembering Star Trek as more atheistic than it was.

I think people to deny the atheistic undertones of Star Trek don’t realize that Gene Roddenberry was a flaming atheist.

“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes”

-Gene Roddenberry

In fact, a humanist streak was intentionally a part of the show.

In Gene Roddenberry’s imagining of the future (in this case the 23rd century), Earth is a paradise where we have solved all of our problems with technology, ingenuity, and compassion. There is no more hunger, war, or disease. And most importantly to the context of our meeting here today, religion is completely gone. Not a single human being on Earth believes in any of the nonsense that has plagued our civilization for thousands of years. This was an important part of Roddenberry’s mythology. He, himself, was a secular humanist and made it well-known to writers of STAR TREK and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.

http://sidmennt.is/2006/08/16/every-religion-has-a-mythology/

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ayer December 28, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Yes, it’s true that Roddenberry was an atheist, but it’s also clear that the show was not a “flaming atheist” show; e.g., that episode I cited above with the chapel shows that the statement “On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist” is wrong. And as I recall, the original series had several other references to God, as did Star Trek V, where Kirk makes the quasi-Plantingan statement that “we know God in the human heart” (or something like that; I like Star Trek, but I’m not “trekkie” enough to have quotes memorized).

Also, didn’t Star Trek III (the movie) revolve around the fact that Spock had an immaterial, eternal soul?

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Justfinethanks December 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

that episode I cited above with the chapel shows that the statement “On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist” is wrong.

It was a WEDDING chapel, i.e. it served a secular purpose. Do you think the huge number of wedding chapels in Vegas prove that it is a deeply religious town?

as did Star Trek V, where Kirk makes the quasi-Plantingan statement that “we know God in the human heart”

Yeah, that quote doesn’t help your case, actually.

Captain Kirk: “Cosmic thoughts gentlemen?”

Bones McCoy: “We came speculating. Is God really out there?”

Captian Kirk: “Maybe he’s not out there, Bones. Maybe he’s right here. (Pointing to his chest.) The human heart.”

This doesn’t represent theism or even religion, its more like the hippy dippy sort of secular spirituality that you were condemning in another thread. I don’t think Plantiga would agree that God isn’t “out there” but he is in our heart.

This website does a pretty thorough analysis of religion in star trek, documenting probably every mention of religion or God, and also includes this (pretty apt in my opinion) analysis.

Religion seems to be largely absent from the futuristic and secular world of the Federation and in particular from human society. Star Trek’s takes on religious topics are often critical, and they almost routinely close with a victory of science over faith.

Also, this choice quote from Roddenberry

I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will — and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain

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Jake de Backer December 28, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Ayer,

(Original post) “What good or gain does God incur; How might it pacify one who already possesses everything; What satisfaction might there be in watching, let alone condoning, even endorsing and other times blatantly mandating sacrifices animal or human, tithing to our holy buildings –which God is conspicuously absent in maintaining?”

(Your reply) If you are referring to Christianity, the purpose of Old Testament animal sacrifice was to prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ and bring home to the Israelites their inability to atone for their own sins outside of the grace of God. The purpose of tithing is to bring home to Christians the need to eschew reliance on material things and remind them that all they have is due to God’s grace.

(Rejoinder) How exactly does it follow that in order to “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ”, there needed to be animals sacrificed? Even if it that despicable practice were in deed demonstrated to be integral to “Christ’s forthcoming” (which is certainly, as of yet, quite far from Q.E.D.), why did it need to be so? What was it about the roasting flesh God so loved that it was seemingly the only way to get his son, or rather himself, down to earth so he could sacrifice himself to himself for his creation? Ayer, come on. Is this type of apologetic gymnastics not a bit comical to you? Christ, you people will conjure up ANY ad hoc explanation to make it appear as though the way it’s documented in the bible not only happened, but must have happened. Not only did they sacrifice animals, but they had to so as to, what was it.. “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ.” I wonder how convincing for you this type of “reasoning” is from other belief systems. “You don’t seem to understand, Jake, Zeus had to commit adultery on his wife and fuck human women, it was the only way he could create Hercules who could then…”

As far as tithing is concerned then, the method by which the bible “eschews” the reliance on material gains is by institutionalizing the central beliefs into millions of well-furnished material buildings and having people offer their material gains to the buildings themselves rather than on, say, their kids education or the homeless and hungry or those in need of medical attention? It seems Kant’s crooked timbers are never more lucidly revealed then when considering the pitiful construct of that man-made book. The church endorses a practice whereby their congregation are meant to do without their material gains by means of depositing as much as possible into the church itself. My. God.

(Original post) “If God knew, which by his conveniently defined characteristics he must, how abhorrent many of the planets more morally cultivated individuals would find the holy literature, why not continue to offer new inspiration every few centuries? Why not keep up with the moral tide and demonstrate his paternal concern for our well-being after seeing how “out of context” (according to theist logic –an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) most believers take their scripture while executing infidels or displaying other detestable feats of faith derived from their holy books?”

(Your reply) Not sure exactly what your expectation of God is here–God went to the lengths of becoming human himself and dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world; if that is not enough for these “morally cultivated” individuals, then the fault lies with them.

(Rejoinder) Ayer, the problem isn’t what God did, it’s what is supposed to be the consequence of what he did. By allowing himself to turn himself into a human version of himself and be killed, he is supposed to have taken upon himself the sin of mankind. That is the most immoral concept of any religious doctrine I’ve yet encountered. Vicarious redemption, as noted by Paine and quite a bit by Hitchens is a detestable practice. We rightfully condemn the primitive ritual of “scapegoating” where it was believed the sins and evildoings of each tribal member could be cast upon a village goat and he could be killed thus removing the sins of the tribe. The entire concept attempts to remove personal responsibility from the person and throw it en masse onto an innocent being for your benefit. As Paine observed, I may pay your debts for you if it should please me to do so. I may even go so far as to serve your jail term if we were close enough and I’d taken enough pity upon your case. But I can not alleviate you of the responsibility of the crimes of which you are charged.

(Original post) “How many more souls would be saved and kept with him in celestial Disneyland if his precepts matched Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, etc.?”

(Your reply) This is where the elitism comes in–why assume the abstract God of deism would be more appealing to people than the God of the Bible? Which one has more converts today?

(Rejoinder) This is entirely misinterpreted. Perhaps I should have been more clear with the use of “precepts”. I did not intend to represent their deistic precepts which they indisputably held, rather their contribution to the cultivation of moral precepts. What if Jesus had delivered, rather than the trite and unoriginal material which ranged from platitudinous to full blown lunacy, a speech on toleration matching Voltaire? Or introduced the concept of democracy so as to effectively eliminate the “Divine Right of Kings” tyranny which presided over man’s worst collection of centuries? What if he expounded on the use of logic and critical thinking like Aristotle? Or gave us new mathematical insights like Archimedes or Euclid? Jesus was at best a representative from the party of mediocrity and my point was that if he would have furnished his attending listeners with information of that caliber, it would have made it much more difficult for me and those like me to so easily dismiss his rantings about cheek-turning and enemy-loving.

(Original post) “Why does the creation supersede the Creator in every marker of comparison? Why is the bible’s prose and poetry, beautiful and moving as it may be in some places, entirely outdone in a single paragraph of Shakespeare or Milton? Why are the proposed methods of government nowhere near being held up with Montesquieu or Montaigne? Why do the values and morals upheld in the bible rot before our very eyes compared with Hobbes or Hume or for a more contemporary (of the bible) feel; Marcus Aurelius, Cicero or Confucious?”

(Your reply) Those are all matters of opinion with which I disagree. Many literary scholars consider the Bible to be at least the equal of Shakespeare (indeed, Shakespeare was a Christian who was steeped in the Bible). Jesus proposed no “method of government”; as he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” As for values and morals, the ethical teaching of Jesus (sermon on the mount, parable of the good samaritan) is not generally considered “rot” as compared with those French intellectuals.

(Rejoinder) Shakespeares beliefs themselves are irrelevant in comparing the nature, quality and style of writing. (Incidentally, The 1914 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia questioned not only Shakespeare’s Catholicism, but whether “[he] was not infected with the atheism, which…was rampant in the more cultured society of the Elizabethan age.” I’m not saying I believe he was an atheist and if he were he’d be a moron to ever even leave evidence suggesting it, I only mean to say that one can be moved by liturgical allusions and references and not necessarily be committed to them.) More apropos, I think, is that it took thousands of men, over a thousand years to compose what we have of the bible. Shakespeare did it mostly alone and in about 52 years. Checkmate. And as far as Jesus’ sermon not being “rot” comparable to “french intellectuals”, fair enough. Perhaps I should rescind rot and in it’s place, say, lacking novelty or anything to suggest divinity of any kind.

Now accepting tithes (Contact iamjakeurnot@aol.com for pay pal account information. Allow me to tighten your bond to the immaterial Father by permitting you to unload all your malevolent material gains on me or rather, in an offshore account.),

J.

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Edson December 29, 2009 at 3:34 am

“How exactly does it follow that in order to “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ”, there needed to be animals sacrificed?”

I see. Jack, apparently, the animal sacrificing does not make sense in your mind. But does it follows that if you dont understand something, then that something is senseless, in a real sense of the word? Obviously, not so.

“What was it about the roasting flesh God so loved that it was seemingly the only way to get his son, or rather himself, down to earth so he could sacrifice himself to himself for his creation?”

Well, you find this to be a despicable eccentric behaviour on part of a Biblical deity Yahweh, but I find this to be an amazing act of a mysterious love and humility of a supposedly ever magnificent deity who would rather have his Son get killed or get killed himself, but save the people he loves.

“By allowing himself to turn himself into a human version of himself and be killed, he is supposed to have taken upon himself the sin of mankind. That is the most immoral concept of any religious doctrine I’ve yet encountered.”

Well, the philosophical implication of the Atonement doctrine is to instill in the mind of the sinner, that to to sin is extremely dangerous to such an extent of bringing, not only the mere animal (a lamb, a goat or a cow), but also the son of God to an exruciating death. And the consequence of the doctrine is clear: We have many people in this world who would rather not commit immorality, not because if they do otherwise they will receive any sort of punishment, but out of the awareness of what sinning is capable of unleashing – killing the Son of God, which seems to me to be a superior way of moral reasoning, than say, other religions who strive to act morally out of fear of a punishing and rewarding deity. This is not to say a Christian deity will not or does not reward good deeds and punish evil, I’m saying that it is much easier to be motivated to act morally under the precedent of what immorality is capable of doing on such a Holy Man as was the case with Jesus.

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Edson December 29, 2009 at 4:34 am

“Why does the creation supersede the Creator in every marker of comparison? Why is the bible’s prose and poetry, beautiful and moving as it may be in some places, entirely outdone in a single paragraph of Shakespeare or Milton?”

I’m baffled at this question. Are we interested in poetry or truth? If you are of the assumption that the Bible does not speak truth or cannot be from God because its literally prowess does not match that of Sakespeaer, Ingresoll or Chesterton, friend, that will be the most terrible way of reasoning. I only see this kind of reasoning by Muslims who holds the Quran to be the Word of God because it has “lyrical beauty during recitation” (whatever that means).

“Perhaps I should rescind rot and in it’s place, say, lacking novelty or anything to suggest divinity of any kind.”

It depends on what you mean by lacking divinity. It is obvious that Jesus did not intend to introduce something out of this world, just to show by example the character of God whose character was awfully misinterpreted by the Hebrews, and to perfect what is intrinsically known to us to be a perfectly moral personality. Given that all governments historically and contemporalily get ruled by imperfect persons, it gives a glimpse that a goverment ruled by a person who is absolutely morally perfect as a fact of his indisputable nature will be a Messianic government.

The good thing is that we can live in this Messianic bliss right here on Earth, in fact an ideal Christian lives in this kind of bliss whereby Christ is spiritually idolized as a King or a President. The bliss is not absolute because a Christian still lives in the physical world where the leaders are imperfect humans and somehow this ideal Christian is going to be affected by the decisions of his imperfect leaders, thus her unceasing prayers, “Oh Lord, thy Kingdom be evident physically as it does spiritually”. Or to rephrase, “Oh Lord,your will be done on Earth as it does in Heaven!”

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Reginald Selkirk December 29, 2009 at 5:55 am

ayer: In the original series, e.g., the ship had a chapel at which weddings were conducted and crew members prayed.

You’re thinking of Nurse Chapel. Captain Kirk frequently worshipped in that Chapel.

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Tony Hoffman December 29, 2009 at 6:12 am

Ayer: It was popular (with me, anyway) because it dealt with moral issues in an intelligent and serious way, the same moral issues all humans must deal with, whether they are Christian or atheist

Exactly. And I’d say it did so more relevantly than, say, the Bible.

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ayer December 29, 2009 at 6:56 am

Justfinethanks: It was a WEDDING chapel, i.e. it served a secular purpose.

I really feel like a trekkie now, but I researched that episode. It was titled “Balance of Terror,” and it showed a member of the crew praying on her knees in a chapel after the death of her fiancé. Also, in another episode called “Who Mourns for Adonis?”, Kirk tells a powerful alien who wants the crew to worship him as a god that “we find the one God is sufficient”.

Also, as to Kirk’s quote in Star Trek V, if the message of the show was “flaming atheism” why wouldn’t Kirk respond, “There is no God. We have outgrown that childish belief.”(?) Maybe Roddenberry lost that editorial battle, along with others in the original series.

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Tony Hoffman December 29, 2009 at 7:16 am

I find it interesting that (any) theists would be a fan of Star Trek, because I thought the anti-religious themes and overt humanism to be so dominant that it would offend the religious.

It’s gratifying to hear that the overt position didn’t overwhelm the fact that the issues are dealt with thoughtfully. So, anyway, Kudos to all you Christian Trekkies out there.

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drj December 29, 2009 at 7:50 am

Edson: I’m baffled at this question. Are we interested in poetry or truth? If you are of the assumption that the Bible does not speak truth or cannot be from God because its literally prowess does not match that of Sakespeaer, Ingresoll or Chesterton, friend, that will be the most terrible way of reasoning. I only see this kind of reasoning by Muslims who holds the Quran to be the Word of God because it has “lyrical beauty during recitation” (whatever that means).

I think this sort of misses the point, as I saw it anyhow. What Jake really did was invoke a type of “Argument from Biblical Mundane-ness”. In other words, its a wholly unremarkable book in most respects. In fact, it is clearly outdone, in many respects, by other pieces of man-made literature, either in its moral message, its scientific knowledge, and yes… even in its level of literary competence. These facts might steer a reasonable person to the conclusion that there really is no divinity involved in its authorship. Honestly, I think a reasonable person should find that notion inescapable… but thats just me.

I think its reasonable to expect that a book with allegedly divine authorship/inspiration should generally excel in some remarkable way, beyond the contemporary literature of the time in which it arose… even in literary competence. The Bible does not.

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Jake de Backer December 29, 2009 at 9:39 am

I don’t have the patience to respond to ayer and Edson’s posts (Incidentally – Edson, my name is Jake. Not Jack.) from my iphone on the beach but I will tend to them both this evening. For now, I will commend drj for comprehending and subsequently expounding on the point I was raising which is not a subjective opinion concerning literary preference, but that there is not one mark of divinity in that collection of mundane documents. No more than the Qur’an, Talmud or any other book of “Holy” work. It’s facts are disproven. It’s morality is surpassed. It’s marital advice is at best deplorable and on and on…

More to follow,
J.

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EvanT December 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Haukur: The one where the good guys are pagans, the bad guys are monotheists and the really, really bad guys are atheists? Yes, I can see how you’d like that one less than I did.  

That’s plain mean :-P I meant that their attempt at formulating a theology was childish, at least compared to Babylon 5. (and don’t forget that the atheist turns into a nice lil’ monotheist half way through the show).

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Thomas Reid December 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Jake de Backer:
I don’t have the patience to respond to ayer and Edson’s posts (Incidentally – Edson, my name is Jake. Not Jack.) from my iphone on the beach but I will tend to them both this evening.For now, I will commend drj for comprehending and subsequently expounding on the point I was raising which is not a subjective opinion concerning literary preference, but that there is not one mark of divinity in that collection of mundane documents.No more than the Qur’an, Talmud or any other book of “Holy” work.It’s facts are disproven.It’s morality is surpassed.It’s marital advice is at best deplorable and on and on…More to follow,
J.  

Please indulge a few questions, since I’m unsure if you aspire simply to satirize and engage in circumlocution, or actually seek answers:
1. What would you consider evidence for a divinely-inspired piece of literature?
2. If the answer to #1 is “nothing”, then should you expect the theist, or God for that matter (not that the former should presume to speak for the latter), to care about your questions? Or more directly: how are your objections about the mundaneness of scripture not vacuous?
3. If the answer to #1 is substantive, whence did you derive such standards?
4. Why would God care what are your standards? That is, how confident are you in your definition of God such that you could ascribe to Him motivations to care for your standards?
5. Whence do you derive an objective standard of morality that allows you to pronounce the Bible’s morality “surpassed”? This question grants that the Bible’s morality could be surpassed (whatever that nebulous phrase is intended to mean).

(the following questions tangentially relate to the above post but are relevant to your protestations on this thread):

6. Is belief (or disbelief) in God strictly a matter of erudition? How much?
7. If “yes” to #6, why do you think this?
8. If “no” to #6, what are the appropriate methods to establish the truth or falsity of the proposition “God exists”?
9. What do you think are the purposes of tithes, so defined in the Bible?
10. Do you think biblical animal sacrifices were an end unto themselves, or a means to an end?

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Haukur December 29, 2009 at 4:03 pm

EvanT: That’s plain mean :-P I meant that their attempt at formulating a theology was childish, at least compared to Babylon 5. (and don’t forget that the atheist turns into a nice lil’ monotheist half way through the show).

The villainous atheists I was thinking of were the Cavils rather than Baltar. But, yes, Baltar goes from being a corrupt, hedonistic atheist responsible for the destruction of nearly the entire human race to being a borderline insane, fanatical, monotheistic cult leader. And, yes, the show does sort of portray that as an improvement.

The quality of the show declined substantially in the final season as it became apparent that the writers had been flying by the seat of their pants. The final episode, in particular, did not tie things up in a satisfactory manner – I think that’s clear whatever one’s religious views.

I’ve been meaning to give Babylon 5 a watch for a long time, maybe I finally will.

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Tony Hoffman December 29, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Thomas Reid,

You seem to miss the fact that the Christian is claiming that the Bible is a divinely inspired piece of literature, and thus bears that burden of proof. Seeing as how the Bible fails to provide factual evidence that it was divinely inspired (predictions of future events, evidence of natural understanding beyond the ken of those who wrote it, etc.), I can imagine why the Christian would like to retreat to the weaker claim of literary inspiration.

While I think the claim of literary divine inspiration is unprovable for the Christian, it does invite the opportunity to mock. Do Christians really want stories that are supposed to be historical relegated to literature? Do Christians really want the oddest of the Bible stories examined by those who conduct literary criticism, and compared to the later works? (Do you think, for instance, that Beowulf would compare favorably to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy?)

Since you are carrying the claim that the Bible is divinely inspired literature, what are your standards for literature? If they are “God wrote it,” doesn’t that seem so obviously circular that it’s a non-starter? And since the Bible appears neither original in its stories nor unsurpassed in its imagination, on what does the claim of literary inspiration stand?

As for the morality of the Bible, the Christian suffers from similar problems as above. Claims of objectivity are demolished by obvious and ongoing disagreement among Christians about virtually every issue of morality, what we know about the origins of the Bible, the selection of the canon, etc.

Regarding both literary merit and morality, non-Christians can reasonably and persuasively point out that the Bible is often both bad literature and shabby morality, but without retreating to circularity the Christian appears helpless to demonstrate otherwise.

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ayer December 29, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Tony Hoffman: Regarding both literary merit and morality, non-Christians can reasonably and persuasively point out that the Bible is often both bad literature and shabby morality, but without retreating to circularity the Christian appears helpless to demonstrate otherwise.

You seem to be assuming that evidence of divine inspiration must come from the words of the Bible itself. But if the resurrection of Jesus occurred (which can be argued from evidence in the New Testament arrived at by secular historical standards), then that vindicates the radical claims of Jesus to be the Son of God who himself relied on the Old Testament and inspired the writing of the New Testament through the Holy Spirit. So if the resurrection is accepted, divine Biblical inspiration follows inevitably.

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Jake de Backer December 29, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Edson,

(Me) “How exactly does it follow that in order to “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ”, there needed to be animals sacrificed?”

(Your reply) I see. Jack, apparently, the animal sacrificing does not make sense in your mind. But does it follows that if you dont understand something, then that something is senseless, in a real sense of the word? Obviously, not so.

(Rejoinder) As an elf, you could be providing this “argument” on Santa’s behalf regarding his annual around-the-world-in-one-night endeavor. I obviously am not claiming that since I don’t understand something, it must therefore be senseless. I am not committing the Creationist’s Argument from Ignorance. For instance, I have little familiarity with Quantum Mechanics but given it’s evidential support both in theoretical application and empirically, I am quite confident in assenting to it. But the difference is, there are people who do, despite Feynman’s witticism, understand Quantum Mechanics. Who could articulate the fine points of it’s effects which can be at least to some degree, demonstrated in the physical world. Coming back now to our point, do you understand why God needed animals to be sacrificed? Can you explicate the nature of a being who is omni-benevolent and yet is somehow benefited by the members of one of his creation slaughtering the members of another of his creation?

(Me) “What was it about the roasting flesh God so loved that it was seemingly the only way to get his son, or rather himself, down to earth so he could sacrifice himself to himself for his creation?”

(Your reply) Well, you find this to be a despicable eccentric behaviour on part of a Biblical deity Yahweh, but I find this to be an amazing act of a mysterious love and humility of a supposedly ever magnificent deity who would rather have his Son get killed or get killed himself, but save the people he loves.

(Rejoinder) You’re not addressing my point which was the fact that all the ad hoc explanations you can come up with, and you and your theological ancestor’s have been unsuccessfully conjuring them up for the better part of 20 centuries, it doesn’t remove the prodigious non-sequitur that animals must be sacrificed so as to, in ayer’s eloquent phrasing, “prefigure the forthcoming atonement”. I may throw a rock through my father’s car window and when he inevitably asks me “What the fuck?!”, I may say “I was hungry.” That may qualify to some degree as an explanation. But not a legitimate one and certainly not a reasonable one. So after reflecting on the course of events which according to the bible are chronologically; animals sacrificed, then Jesus arrival, you can say well one must entail or necessitate the other which was ayer’s choice or you can be honest and abandon the ad hoc imaginary explications and admit that the behavior of those people is unequivocally execrable and you can’t account for it. In my experience, the only reasons I’ve ever heard for biblical events of this nature have been:

1) The passage is being taken out of context.
2) Things like sacrifices and taking virgins captive was permissible because of cultural context.
3) God’s ways are not our ways.
4) The Christian make’s an attempt to sew together a narrative so as to make sense of what is otherwise senseless. The explanation is usually without scriptural support and ad hoc.

(Me) “By allowing himself to turn himself into a human version of himself and be killed, he is supposed to have taken upon himself the sin of mankind. That is the most immoral concept of any religious doctrine I’ve yet encountered.”

(Your reply) Well, the philosophical implication of the Atonement doctrine is to instill in the mind of the sinner, that to to sin is extremely dangerous to such an extent of bringing, not only the mere animal (a lamb, a goat or a cow), but also the son of God to an exruciating death. And the consequence of the doctrine is clear: We have many people in this world who would rather not commit immorality, not because if they do otherwise they will receive any sort of punishment, but out of the awareness of what sinning is capable of unleashing – killing the Son of God, which seems to me to be a superior way of moral reasoning, than say, other religions who strive to act morally out of fear of a punishing and rewarding deity. This is not to say a Christian deity will not or does not reward good deeds and punish evil, I’m saying that it is much easier to be motivated to act morally under the precedent of what immorality is capable of doing on such a Holy Man as was the case with Jesus.

(Rejoinder) I read over this passage a few times hoping to hear where you would mention, much less refute my claim that vicarious redemption is immoral in the most profane way; robbing us of our personal responsibility upon which the foundation of all we call morality must rest. To say that entire paragraph was neglected wouldn’t be overstating it. “And the consequence of the doctrine is clear:…” the whole section which follows this remark is not at all clear to me given what precedes it. In other words: Sinning is dangerous, it can even result in an innocent person being killed so make sure you don’t act well out of hoping for a reward or not bad so as to avoid punishment. Am I being fucking punk’d or is this whole post supposed to be a demonstration of non-sequitur’s? Either you’re making this shit up as you go or I am the most obtuse mother fucker on this site.

J.

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Jake de Backer December 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Thomas Reid,

Thomas Reid:
Please indulge a few questions, since I’m unsure if you aspire simply to satirize and engage in circumlocution, or actually seek answers:
1.What would you consider evidence for a divinely-inspired piece of literature?
2.If the answer to #1 is “nothing”, then should you expect the theist, or God for that matter (not that the former should presume to speak for the latter), to care about your questions?Or more directly: how are your objections about the mundaneness of scripture not vacuous?
3.If the answer to #1 is substantive, whence did you derive such standards?
4.Why would God care what are your standards?That is, how confident are you in your definition of God such that you could ascribe to Him motivations to care for your standards?
5.Whence do you derive an objective standard of morality that allows you to pronounce the Bible’s morality “surpassed”?This question grants that the Bible’s morality could be surpassed (whatever that nebulous phrase is intended to mean).(the following questions tangentially relate to the above post but are relevant to your protestations on this thread):6.Is belief (or disbelief) in God strictly a matter of erudition?How much?
7.If “yes” to #6, why do you think this?
8.If “no” to #6, what are the appropriate methods to establish the truth or falsity of the proposition “God exists”?
9.What do you think are the purposes of tithes, so defined in the Bible?
10.Do you think biblical animal sacrifices were an end unto themselves, or a means to an end?  

1) Do you ever confuse, say, a mountain for a human? Such should be, and I imagine would be, the distinction between literature composed or inspired by men and Gods. That it’s divinity is even disputable is in itself evidence against it’s divine nature. I could never confuse a line of scribble written by a barely literate 4 year old with Shakespeare and I imagine the aperture separating God from men is considerably wider.

3) Those standards are applicable everyday in every way. My perception of what is from what isn’t is what prohibits me from sitting on my stairs to drive to work. I know where the fuck my car is and that no matter how much I drink, my stairs don’t move.

4) If he cares about me and my agnostic/atheistic kin spending eternity with him, which is what I’ve been lead to believe is in fact the case, I think he should pay some mind to “what [my] standards are.”

5)I would say it doesn’t take much to surpass a book demanding the murder of those with differing beliefs, sexual orientations, disobedient children, or for working certain days of the week to name a few. In fact, I’d say any book concerning morality which doesn’t require murder for those actions already has a leg up.

6) I would never attempt to outright settle a standard for assent to the proposition God exists once and for all. That would require colossal conceit. I would say for me, it’s not necessarily a matter of erudition, but I doubt I could desist my intellect on behalf of my feelings concerning a philosophical proposition. The appropriate methods for determining the truth or falsity of any proposition could and often do occupy several volumes of several books and are to say the least, contentious. Epistemology is, as I’m sure you know, not a universal congregate of people in agreement with one or another on how to ascertain the truth or validity of a proposition. I would say for the standards I approve of, (i.e. internal coherence, explanatory power, evidential strength) the Bible fails miserably.

9)Regarding tithes, despite Ayer’s “don’t rely on materialism” approach, 1 and 2 Corinthians seems to consider tithes as a matter of supporting the church. As far as the role they play, it was different for Old Testament Jewish traditions and to my knowledge there are no command’s to tithe in the New Testament.

10) As far as the two options laid out for what I think animal sacrifices were used for: neither. I believe the barbaric, degenerate individuals engaged in that practice thought it was doing them some good by propitiating a God who claimed to love the smell. Therefore, perhaps the latter option comes closer to articulating what the people who made these offerings thought of them.

J.

My turn.

1) What about the bible convinces you of it’s divinity? Which passages in particular represent to you something which could not have been written by a first century Palestine resident of mediocre accomplishments and education?

2) What extra-biblical sources or standards are you in possession of to confer “divinity” upon the bible which don’t require you to presuppose it’s truth?

3) Using your extra-biblical standards of discerning true from false claims of the divine composition of literature, what is it about the Qur’an and Talmud that distinguishes them as lacking divine origins?

4)How do you explain the immutability of God’s laws in place in the Old Testament which were largely discarded by those carrying out God’s work? Why set rules in place which you will later command your creation to treat with abandon?

5) How much does erudition account for when weighing the reasons for your belief?

6) Do you agree with Ayer that it was necessary to offer these animals so as to “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ?” Or do you have your own ad hoc explanation for those events?

J.

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EvanT December 30, 2009 at 1:42 am

Haukur: I’ve been meaning to give Babylon 5 a watch for a long time, maybe I finally will.  

You haven’t watched Babylon 5?!
Hop to it man! (just be patient through the first season; it’s a bit introductory, get-to-know-the-characters. It gets addictive after the first 10 episodes.)

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 6:58 am

Jake de Backer: 1) What about the bible convinces you of it’s divinity? Which passages in particular represent to you something which could not have been written by a first century Palestine resident of mediocre accomplishments and education?

Your questions all seem to revolve around a misunderstanding of the doctrine of biblical inspiration. For example, the evangelical interpretation (to which I hold) provides that the Bible is “a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors’ works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inspiration#The_Evangelical_view)

You are confusing the Christian with the Muslim view of the Koran (which, as I understand it, holds that the text of the Koran itself is so well-written that it constitutes a self-evident miracle). As I noted above, divine inspiration of the Bible follows inevitably if the resurrection of Jesus occurred, and the resurrection can be argued for based on strictly secular historical standards. The fact that the style and manner of the specific writers of the books of the Bible is preserved is irrelevant to whether it was divinely inspired.

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Tony Hoffman December 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

Ayer: You seem to be assuming that evidence of divine inspiration must come from the words of the Bible itself.

No, Thomas Reid raised the issue when he asked “What would you consider evidence for a divinely-inspired piece of literature?”

You can choose to change the subject by arguing for historical accuracy, etc., but my reply was related to Thomas Reid’s apparent stand on the Bible’s being divinely inspired based on its literary merit. Maybe you should ask Thomas Reid what he meant by his questions, as it seems he does not hold to the same interpretation as you.

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Walter December 30, 2009 at 8:11 am

ayer:
Your questions all seem to revolve around a misunderstanding of the doctrine of biblical inspiration.For example, the evangelical interpretation (to which I hold) provides that the Bible is “a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors’ works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inspiration#The_Evangelical_view)You are confusing the Christian with the Muslim view of the Koran (which, as I understand it, holds that the text of the Koran itself is so well-written that it constitutes a self-evident miracle).As I noted above, divine inspiration of the Bible follows inevitably if the resurrection of Jesus occurred, and the resurrection can be argued for based on strictly secular historical standards.The fact that the style and manner of the specific writers of the books of the Bible is preserved is irrelevant to whether it was divinely inspired.  

Unfortunately for Christian apologists, Jesus’ resurrection cannot be proven by historical methodology. Miracles are never considered the ‘best’ explanation when there are plausible, natural alternatives to what occurred 2000 years ago.

Christian’s believe before they ever examine the evidence. It is all about faith for the believer; apologetics comes later while trying to stem the tide of doubt.

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ildi December 30, 2009 at 8:27 am

which can be argued from evidence in the New Testament arrived at by secular historical standards

Do you think if you keep repeating this, ayer, that makes it true?

(Philosophical question: can a computer simulation be considered to lie if it just keeps repeating ad nauseam what it is programmed to state?)

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 8:44 am

Tony Hoffman: my reply was related to Thomas Reid’s apparent stand on the Bible’s being divinely inspired based on its literary merit.

Actually, I don’t see him taking this “apparent stand” regarding literary merit in his answer; but of course he can clarify that. The best evidence for a divinely-inspired piece of literature is confirmation that you are pointed to that literature as divine by a divine source, and that is what the resurrection of Jesus gives you.

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 8:45 am

ildi: Do you think if you keep repeating this, ayer, that makes it true?

Do you think if you keep denying it, it makes it false?

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 8:48 am

Walter: Miracles are never considered the ‘best’ explanation when there are plausible, natural alternatives to what occurred 2000 years ago.

Two problems with your statement: (1) your Humean presupposition against miracles is wrong (see http://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127382/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262191647&sr=8-1) and (2) the naturalistic explanations are less plausible.

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Walter December 30, 2009 at 9:11 am

ayer:
Two problems with your statement: (1) your Humean presupposition against miracles is wrong (see http://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127382/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262191647&sr=8-1) and (2) the naturalistic explanations are less plausible.  

I respectfully disagree.

A quote from Robert Price:
10.Nor is ‘naturalism’ the issue when the historian employs the principle of analogy. As F.H. Bradley showed in The Presuppositions of Critical History, no historical inference is possible unless the historian assumes a basic analogy of past experience with present. If we do not grant this, nothing will seem amiss in believing reports that A turned into a werewolf or that B changed lead into gold. ‘Hey, just because we don’t see it happening today doesn’t prove it never did!’ One could as easily accept the historicity of Jack and the Beanstalk on the same basis, as long as one’s sole criterion of historical probability is ‘anything goes!’ [Robert M. Price, By This Time He Stinketh]

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Tony Hoffman December 30, 2009 at 9:17 am

Ayer: Actually, I don’t see him taking this “apparent stand” regarding literary merit in his answer; but of course he can clarify that.

In the meantime I think you should re-read his questions 1 – 4 regarding divinely-inspired literature, standards, etc. We are told that we can’t judge the Bible’s claims to being divinely inspired based on facts (predictions, knowledge beyond the capacity of the time), what else do we have to evaluate its divine origin? Of what use is a claim of divine inspiration if the only evidence is that some men say that there was divine inspiration?

You, and Thomas Reid, hold that the Bible is divinely-inspired. Okay, I’m game. Come up with one piece of evidence for this claim that is not circular, not mundane, and not special pleading. Your claim. You should come up with, you know, the evidence.

Ayer: The best evidence for a divinely-inspired piece of literature is confirmation that you are pointed to that literature as divine by a divine source, and that is what the resurrection of Jesus gives you.

This strikes me as a circular thing to say. (Is the best evidence that a rock is divinely inspired that a divine source points us to that rock. If that’s true then there’s no such thing as a divinely inspired rock per se, just a rock that a divine source points us to.) Statements like that take the intellectualism out of your apologetics and replace it with a more forthright version of fideism. While I appreciate the honesty, it gives us little room for discussion.

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Walter December 30, 2009 at 9:19 am

ayer: (2) the naturalistic explanations are less plausible.

Again I disagree.

There are several ways that Christianity could have started that seem more plausible to me than accepting that a Galilean preacher popped back up out of the ground after a day and a half. We both look at the evidence and come away with polar opposite conclusions. This is why I say that the believer is employing faith to persuade her that the evidence points to her presupposed conclusions.

I consider myself to be more agnostic than strong atheist, but the evidence has led me away from an uncritical belief in the biblical tales.

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Tony Hoffman December 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

Ayer,

The discussion about naturalism and history reminds me that I don’t believe you have ever answered my question about whether or not you accept this account as historically accurate:

Another miracle was the flowing of water through Muhammad’s fingers when his companions got thirsty and had no water except a little in a vessel. They came to him and told him that they had no water to make ablution nor to drink except for what was in the vessel. So, Muhammad put his hand in the vessel, and the water started gushing out between his fingers. So, they drank and made ablution. They were one thousand five hundred companions.

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ildi December 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

Do you think if you keep denying it, it makes it false?

No, I go with the fact that there’s no plausible evidence “arrived at by secular historical standards.” Your idea of evidence is Craig saying “I don’t think it’s implausible.” That’s not evidence arrived at by secular historical standards. You go with “I believe the Bible to be divinely inspired, therefore it happened.” That’s not evidence arrived at by secular historical standards.

Lies make baby Jesus cry.

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Jeff H December 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Wow, that’s a lot of new posts. Forgive me for going back to some of the earlier ones, but I have points to bring up that have not been said.

In terms of animal sacrifice “prefiguring the crucifixion of Jesus”, this strikes me as very odd. Are you really saying that the thousands of animals that the Hebrews/Jews slaughtered throughout their history were simply a nice little metaphor for an event to come and actually do something useful? Like really…God commanded the deaths of innocent lambs and goats and cows and turtledoves just to make a fucking object lesson? Really, come on. Couldn’t God have just said to people, “Okay, look. A few thousand years from now, I’m going to send my own Son (who’s really me…don’t worry about it) to earth, and he’s going to die in order to absolve all of you of your sins. All you have to do is believe this by faith, and remember this every time you sin. Ask me for forgiveness, and if you really mean it, you’ll be okay.” I mean, seriously…the Hebrews were apparently pretty good with their oral tradition. Just get them all to memorize that, pass it on to their children, and boom! Now they suddenly have much more food they can eat. And the Levites can get real jobs.

Think about it. Christians today don’t have to sacrifice animals in order to “post-figure” the crucifixion. They can just read over the Bible story of Jesus’ death, or think about it in their minds, and then ask for forgiveness. If that works for them today, why wouldn’t it work for a future event? Why the senseless killing of thousands of animals and the intricate details about exactly where to smear the blood and what animal to choose for what sin and what defects to look for to make sure that the animal was okay….he could have made the book of Leviticus into a freakin pamphlet. He could have just handed out colour photographs of Jesus dying on the cross and left it at that. “Look how much pain he’s in! That could have been YOU!”

Anyway, the only other point I want to bring up is this:

You seem to be assuming that evidence of divine inspiration must come from the words of the Bible itself. But if the resurrection of Jesus occurred (which can be argued from evidence in the New Testament arrived at by secular historical standards), then that vindicates the radical claims of Jesus to be the Son of God who himself relied on the Old Testament and inspired the writing of the New Testament through the Holy Spirit. So if the resurrection is accepted, divine Biblical inspiration follows inevitably.

There’s a poor argument if I’ve ever seen one. Think about it for a moment. Even if Jesus really was raised from the dead…that doesn’t prove that he inspired the Bible. The Gospel writers could have been completely wrong on everything else except the resurrection…Paul could have been completely wrong about all his theology. It’s not like Jesus penned the Bible himself. That’d be a much more convincing way of doing things, of course. But seriously. If Josephus had witnessed the resurrection and wrote about it, does that mean the rest of his history is inspired? If he then continued on to talk about flying monkeys and UFOs, would that have to be true too? And if he went on to start a cult that reinterpreted the Old Testament and threw away sacrifices, etc., would that have to be the real path as well? Historical accuracy of the resurrection doesn’t prove the inspiration of the Bible unless you’re willing to argue that modern history textbooks must be inspired by God as well – simply because they relate true events.

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Thomas Reid December 30, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Tony Hoffman: You seem to miss the fact that the Christian is claiming that the Bible is a divinely inspired piece of literature, and thus bears that burden of proof. Seeing as how the Bible fails to provide factual evidence that it was divinely inspired (predictions of future events, evidence of natural understanding beyond the ken of those who wrote it, etc.), I can imagine why the Christian would like to retreat to the weaker claim of literary inspiration.

No, I appreciate that the Christian has a burden of proof if he makes a claim, I just wanted to see how heavy Jake thought it was. If he thought it was immovably heavy, then that establishes there’s no point in having the conversation about the particulars. Additionally, I assume you don’t think OT prophecies have been fulfilled, or that NT evidence for such fulfillment is not sufficient for you?

While I think the claim of literary divine inspiration is unprovable for the Christian, it does invite the opportunity to mock. Do Christians really want stories that are supposed to be historical relegated to literature? Do Christians really want the oddest of the Bible stories examined by those who conduct literary criticism, and compared to the later works? (Do you think, for instance, that Beowulf would compare favorably to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy?)Since you are carrying the claim that the Bible is divinely inspired literature, what are your standards for literature? If they are “God wrote it,” doesn’t that seem so obviously circular that it’s a non-starter?

Well I don’t think the Bible is merely literature, it is also history and biography – it depends on what you are reading. For example, the Psalms are more poetry, the Acts of the Apostles are more history. Agreed? Let’s not confuse things: I was asking for Jake’s definition of “divinely-inspired literature”, since he was presuming sufficient expertise on the subject to establish that there was none in the Bible. I do maintain that the Bible is divinely-inspired, in that God providentially ordained every piece of it, and used the authors throughout history to reveal His truth to us.

And since the Bible appears neither original in its stories nor unsurpassed in its imagination, on what does the claim of literary inspiration stand?

Well, divine inspiration stands, I think, primarily on the confirmation of Christ’s message, evidenced by his resurrection. It can be confirmed by the Holy Spirit. It can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth.

As for the morality of the Bible, the Christian suffers from similar problems as above. Claims of objectivity are demolished by obvious and ongoing disagreement among Christians about virtually every issue of morality, what we know about the origins of the Bible, the selection of the canon, etc.

The orthodox position would be to maintain that each created person recognizes at least some moral truths. Disagreements about the morality of some acts is not necessarily evidence that there is no objective right and wrong. Indeed if there is a disagreement, each party is presuming that there is a truth to be found.

Regarding both literary merit and morality, non-Christians can reasonably and persuasively point out that the Bible is often both bad literature and shabby morality, but without retreating to circularity the Christian appears helpless to demonstrate otherwise.

In reference to morals as evidence for divine inspiration, without context I’m not sure what to say in response. I don’t know how to defend very well the destruction of all of the Canaanites for example (I have some ideas, but none that seem overtly compelling to me). However, as soon as I rely on an objective standard of morality by which to contemplate such acts, I ascent to evidence for the existence of God.

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Walter December 30, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Thomas Reid says:
inspiration stands, I think, primarily on the confirmation of Christ’s message, evidenced by his resurrection.It can be confirmed by the Holy Spirit.It can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth.
  

So the message is ‘confirmed’ if you are already convinced it is truth. Christians believe first, then seek evidence to justify their presuppositions.

Why don’t believers just admit that they are using faith to determine truth?

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Jake de Backer December 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Ayer & T. Reid,

Why all this “I maintain the bible’s divine because the resurrection is true”, shit? Why does the bible’s divinity rest contingently on Jesus’ resurrection? Couldn’t and shouldn’t the bible’s divinity be conclusively arrived at independently of any of the specific claims made therein? Can the bible’s divine origins not be argued for on their own merits? Luke, I have a new argument to add to the list of shitty theist arguments…

J.

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Tony Hoffman December 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Thoms Reid: Additionally, I assume you don’t think OT prophecies have been fulfilled, or that NT evidence for such fulfillment is not sufficient for you?

Yes, you assume correctly. Please feel free to demonstrate how the Bible prophesizes without being circular.

Thoms Reid: Let’s not confuse things: I was asking for Jake’s definition of “divinely-inspired literature”, since he was presuming sufficient expertise on the subject to establish that there was none in the Bible.

Actually, I think that Jake was pointing out that for a book that is purported to be divinely-inspired, the Bible sadly lacks anything that would provide evidence for even this meager claim, and that in fact it is mundane from a literary standard as well.

For instance, I could claim that Don Quixote is divinely inspired – after all, many literary scholars consider it the first novel. Or Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood could be divinely inspired, as it is viewed again by many as a new kind of literary work, version of which we see on bestseller lists to this day (and not before). But, of course, the Bible doesn’t really even rise to that standard, and that’s what I believe Jake was saying.

I do maintain that the Bible is divinely-inspired, in that God providentially ordained every piece of it, and used the authors throughout history to reveal His truth to us.

And I can maintain that I can fly and bullets bounce off my chest. Demonstrating this, however, is another story.

Well, divine inspiration stands, I think, primarily on the confirmation of Christ’s message, evidenced by his resurrection. It can be confirmed by the Holy Spirit. It can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth.

And statements like “inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth” is just another way of saying that it is demonstrable to the extent one is willing to accept circular arguments.

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Tony Hoffman: And statements like “inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth” is just another way of saying that it is demonstrable to the extent one is willing to accept circular arguments.

Here, I believe Reid is referring to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, which is a perfectly legitimate method of knowing scripture’s truth, since the Spirit uses scripture as part of that witness; but that subject was discussed ad infinitum in a previous thread.

But the argument for divine inspiration from the resurrection is not at all circular: (1) scripture is sifted by New Testament scholars to determine the reliability of the data it presents using secular historiographical criteria; (2) the best explanation of that data (in particular, the facts regularly defended by Craig in debate) is the resurrection of Jesus, which vindicates his radical claims to be Son of God; (3) the divine inspiration of the Bible as a whole is taken on his authority as Son of God, since he relied on the Old Testament as authoritative during his life and told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” after his death (when the New Testament was recorded).

You may not agree with the conclusion, but the reasoning is entirely sound and coherent.

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Jeff H: Like really…God commanded the deaths of innocent lambs and goats and cows and turtledoves just to make a fucking object lesson?

I am not some kind of vegan, so it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it served as a powerful way of bringing that object lesson home to the Israelites.

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Jeff H December 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

ayer:
I am not some kind of vegan, so it doesn’t bother me at all.In fact, it served as a powerful way of bringing that object lesson home to the Israelites.  

Not being vegan, and being okay with slaughtering animals for no other purpose than a metaphor are two very different things. Would you be okay with your pastor bringing a puppy into the church some Sunday morning, making a point about this world is not always just, then breaking the puppy’s neck as an object lesson? Would you be okay if your pastor brought a goat in, set up a fake altar, and then slit its throat to demonstrate the Old Testament sacrificial system? Like, come on. Just because you’re not a vegan, doesn’t mean you can’t say that this is needless slaughter. An omniscient God must be able to think of some better way to drive the point home than having an entire race of people slaughter animals for nothing more than a foreshadowing of something else. As a non-omniscient being, I can think of several ways myself. I gave a couple already – colour photographs of Jesus’ crucifixion, oral tradition. I could add maybe a dramatic recreation of Jesus’ future death. He could have instituted it as a ritual, given detailed instructions as to how to put on the drama, and had people do THAT every year instead of Passover. Seriously. Which one would be a better object lesson – killing a sheep that is supposed to represent a human being, and killing it in a way that does not resemble the crucifixion at all; OR, putting on a play that shows a real person acting out a crucifixion event, and stating explicitly that this person was supposed to represent the Son of God?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good allegory, but not when it needlessly causes the slaughter of animals. I have no problem with people who say they are justified in killing and eating animals. I get the argument for that. I do have a problem with people who try to justify why an omniscient and omnipotent God made thousands of people slaughter thousands of animals so they could smear blood around, for a metaphorical representation of something to happen thousands of years later…that’s not a justifiable “use” of nature. That’s just ridiculous. If you want to argue against this, tell me how my idea of a ritualized dramatic presentation is not vastly superior to killing and burning sheep. If the intent is a clear communication of a very important message, I think mine wins hands-down. If the intent is to butcher animals and create a job for the Levites, then fine – you win.

/end rant

But the argument for divine inspiration from the resurrection is not at all circular: (1) scripture is sifted by New Testament scholars to determine the reliability of the data it presents using secular historiographical criteria; (2) the best explanation of that data (in particular, the facts regularly defended by Craig in debate) is the resurrection of Jesus, which vindicates his radical claims to be Son of God; (3) the divine inspiration of the Bible as a whole is taken on his authority as Son of God, since he relied on the Old Testament as authoritative during his life and told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” after his death (when the New Testament was recorded).

Premise 1 is fine. Premise 2 is shaky. Even if one accepts that the resurrection is indeed historical, a) that doesn’t mean that the Gospels got everything else right (plenty of ancient historians got some things right and some things horribly wrong), and b) there are other justifiable interpretations of the resurrection other than the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. We have plenty of examples from early Christian sects – some thought he was all man, some thought he was all God, some thought he was man but was adopted by God…the interpretations are endless. Maybe God just raised him up because he thought he was a particularly good chap, even though he wasn’t right about being the Son of God.

Premise 3 suffers from the same weaknesses. If the resurrection doesn’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God, then perhaps he was wrong about the inspiration of the OT and about the Holy Spirit. The historical fact of the resurrection (if we grant that, remember) lends no credibility to Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or Jude. It simply doesn’t follow. You’re already assuming that the Bible is a unified whole and that Jesus-as-Son-of-God is the only possible interpretation before you even examine the evidence. That’s circular.

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Jake de Backer December 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

ayer:
I am not some kind of vegan, so it doesn’t bother me at all.In fact, it served as a powerful way of bringing that object lesson home to the Israelites.  

This is exactly what I meant. Don’t try to act like there was some cosmically compelling force binding primitive men and women to sacrifice livestock which could have been utilized for productive purposes. Just be honest. And you were. There have been a few times in the history of my posting where I honestly don’t feel like my argument could be better stated then those trying to refute it. Case in point:

Ayer,

(After being confronted on the senseless murder of innocent animals)

I am not some kind of vegan, so it doesn’t bother me at all.

Moving stuff, Ayer. Why care about the Holocaust? I mean, it’s not like you’re some kind of Jew? Because unless you’re some crazy animal-loving hippie, who should give a fuck about the animals whom we share a planet with? Fuck’em if they can’t take a joke.

In awe of Ayer’s compassion and sophistication,
J.

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ayer December 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Jake de Backer: Moving stuff, Ayer. Why care about the Holocaust? I mean, it’s not like you’re some kind of Jew? Because unless you’re some crazy animal-loving hippie, who should give a fuck about the animals whom we share a planet with? Fuck’em if they can’t take a joke.

Human beings are created in the image of God and are to be treated as ends in themselves. Animals are under the stewardship of human beings and should be treated humanely, but there is nothing morally wrong with killing animals for food or for a religious ceremony. Are you saying that you see the killing of animals in, say, the beef or chicken industry to be the equivalent of the Holocaust?

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Walter December 30, 2009 at 7:30 pm

ayer:
Here, I believe Reid is referring to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, which is a perfectly legitimate method of knowing scripture’s truth, since the Spirit uses scripture as part of that witness; but that subject was discussed ad infinitum in a previous thread.  

And Mormons claim to feel a “burning in the bosom” which validates their doctrinal beliefs.

In fact, I am having a “burning in my bosom” as well. It validates my belief that I should not have eaten that last taco.

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Jake de Backer December 30, 2009 at 7:47 pm

ayer:
Human beings are created in the image of God and are to be treated as ends in themselves.Animals are under the stewardship of human beings and should be treated humanely, but there is nothing morally wrong with killing animals for food or for a religious ceremony.Are you saying that you see the killing of animals in, say, the beef or chicken industry to be the equivalent of the Holocaust?  

Ayer,

I’m not saying that at all. But then again, I actually waste silly things like compassion and sympathy on the useless and often brutal slaughtering of animals to ensure the sun rising or crops production. And I’m not even a vegan…

I wonder if you might specify animals which qualify as being “under our stewardship”.

J.

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Thomas Reid December 30, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Jake de Backer:
1) Do you ever confuse, say, a mountain for a human? Such should be, and I imagine would be, the distinction between literature composed or inspired by men and Gods.That it’s divinity is even disputable is in itself evidence against it’s divine nature.I could never confuse a line of scribble written by a barely literate 4 year old with Shakespeare and I imagine the aperture separating God from men is considerably wider.

Reliance upon the mere raising of an objection as evidence for the objection itself is specious – that argument has zero force. Furthermore, your standard defines as evidence for God’s revelation that which only God could understand. Could a barely literate 4 year old plumb the depths, nay, skim the surface, of Shakespeare? As such, you have defined out of existence evidence for divine inspiration that mortals could understand. Therefore, your protest grounded in literary criticism is baseless, since you already assume that no evidence for the divine could be found (by us) in any literature.

3) Those standards are applicable everyday in every way.My perception of what is from what isn’t is what prohibits me from sitting on my stairs to drive to work.I know where the fuck my car is and that no matter how much I drink, my stairs don’t move.

But see, now that you’ve defined out of existence any evidence for divine inspiration, you can’t turn around and presume yourself to be sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject such that you may conclude what qualifies. As such, you certainly can’t place it on par with such basic beliefs as perceptions of the external world. If that’s not what you meant, then what’s all this business about the analogy with your car and stairs?

4) If he cares about me and my agnostic/atheistic kin spending eternity with him, which is what I’ve been lead to believe is in fact the case, I think he should pay some mind to “what [my] standards are.”

Well, the problem is on your view He can’t, since your standard rejects any evidence available to mere mortals out of hand. Even if He did care, according to you there’s nothing He could do to reveal himself through the written word since we aren’t able to comprehend it.

5)I would say it doesn’t take much to surpass a book demanding the murder of those with differing beliefs, sexual orientations, disobedient children, or for working certain days of the week to name a few.In fact, I’d say any book concerning morality which doesn’t require murder for those actions already has a leg up.

If you’re looking for a defense of every act committed as recorded in the Bible, I couldn’t do that. But my question was not, what don’t you like or find detestable in the Bible. The question was, from where do you identify an objective standard by which to draw these conclusions?

6) I would never attempt to outright settle a standard for assent to the proposition God exists once and for all.That would require colossal conceit.I would say for me, it’s not necessarily a matter of erudition, but I doubt I could desist my intellect on behalf of my feelings concerning a philosophical proposition.The appropriate methods for determining the truth or falsity of any proposition could and often do occupy several volumes of several books and are to say the least, contentious.Epistemology is, as I’m sure you know, not a universal congregate of people in agreement with one or another on how to ascertain the truth or validity of a proposition.I would say for the standards I approve of, (i.e. internal coherence, explanatory power, evidential strength) the Bible fails miserably.

Thanks for that explanation.

My turn.

1) What about the bible convinces you of it’s divinity? Which passages in particular represent to you something which could not have been written by a first century Palestine resident of mediocre accomplishments and education?

I infer the divine inspiration as a result of [a] being convinced of the truth of several of the claims contained therein, [b] the remarkably accurate and comprehensive description of the state of man, and [c] the coherence of the message even though it was written over a vast span of time by many human authors.

2) What extra-biblical sources or standards are you in possession of to confer “divinity” upon the bible which don’t require you to presuppose it’s truth?

None.

3) Using your extra-biblical standards of discerning true from false claims of the divine composition of literature, what is it about the Qur’an and Talmud that distinguishes them as lacking divine origins?

I have no strong opinion either way. Although I will say that the former contains nothing forcing one to accept or deny such a radical claim as one person being the salvation for all mankind, and the latter is an even less threatening rabbinical commentary. Within the context of the conversation, I think both pale in comparison to the Bible in terms of the demands placed upon the reader.

4)How do you explain the immutability of God’s laws in place in the Old Testament which were largely discarded by those carrying out God’s work?Why set rules in place which you will later command your creation to treat with abandon?

Well it should not be surprising that although the Israelites had the law, they broke it over and over. Such is the state of man that we do what we know we ought not, right? But beyond this, can you give an example of immutable laws that were then treated with abandon upon a command from God. I’d rather not guess at what you had in mind.

5) How much does erudition account for when weighing the reasons for your belief?

It is useful in several ways, such as a search for defeaters and additional reasons to believe.

6) Do you agree with Ayer that it was necessary to offer these animals so as to “prefigure the forthcoming atonement of Christ?” Or do you have your own ad hoc explanation for those events?

I do indeed agree that the sacrifices prefigured the atonement. I also reject the notion that this is ad hoc, as it was prophesied in several instances, most notably Isaiah 53.

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Thomas Reid December 30, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Tony Hoffman:

And statements like “inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth” is just another way of saying that it is demonstrable to the extent one is willing to accept circular arguments.  

Can you explain a little more clearly how inferring divine inspiration based on the veracity of certain claims is circular? I see you tack this way consistently, but I’m at a loss to understand what you mean.

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EvanT December 31, 2009 at 4:15 am

I honestly don’t get us atheists from time to time? Why do we bother starting conversations on Scripture, when the God-concept of Christianity has gaping holes by its very definition?

Geez, Jeff… you’re asking Christians if it’s OK that millions of animals were slaughtered over an allegory, when they already believe that (and I’m entering a straw-man danger zone here, sorry) it was OK for their [all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, achronous, merciful] God to wipe out all of humanity with a flood and then say he regreted doing that… or that it’s OK to punish a person and all his descendents for making a choice when he can have no understanding of the consequences and no concept of right and wrong (I’m talking about Adam and Even, of course).

The Christian God concept is so flawed that, had they been born in a Buddhist community, they’d be laughing along with us at such absurdities.

Thomas Reid: Can you explain a little more clearly how inferring divine inspiration based on the veracity of certain claims is circular? I see you tack this way consistently, but I’m at a loss to understand what you mean.  

You’re right about this one. That’s not a circular argument. It’s false generalization. (unless he has another line of reasoning in mind).

“The Bible accurately describes human behaviour.
The Bible is correct here, so it must be correct as a whole.
The Bible says it was divinely inspired.
Ergo, the Bible is divinely inspired.”

You can find a whole bunch of factual accuracies and they still cannot make the above reasoning valid. Furthermore, you’d have to validate why that reasoning should not be applied to other holy texts.

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ildi December 31, 2009 at 7:29 am

I surfed some Xian web sites that talked about animal sacrifice, because, really, the entire concept is so barbaric that I had to see it explained in as many ways as possible:

This one is just creepy:

That killing to appease a god or gods is counterintuitive makes the biblical account most plausible, as the God of the Bible, the Creator God, mysteriously allowed the actual original sin, the iniquity found in the heart of Lucifer, to enter the world through Adam’s sin, requiring the sacrifice of a lamb, whose skin covered Adam and Eve, saving them the embarassment of their awareness of their nakedness, which they gained with the knowledge promised by the Serpent, Satan, the fallen Lucifer, and so, death entered into the world, the result of the entrance of sin through Adam’s disobedience, in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Then there’s this one:

You may be asking yourself, why animals? What did they do wrong? That is the point—since the animals did no wrong, they died in place of the one performing the sacrifice.

In summation, animal sacrifices were commanded by God so that the individual could experience forgiveness of sin. The animal served as a substitute—that is, the animal died in place of the sinner, but only temporarily, which is why the sacrifices needed to be offered over and over. Animal sacrifices have stopped with Jesus Christ.

This concept of justice is incomprehensible to me. Oh, but, yeah, gods are supposed to be incomprehensible, I forgot.

This one is most interesting:

The reason God asked Israel to make animal sacrifices is unknown. There are some similarities between the sacrificial system of Israel and those of Babylon and other nations.

Animal sacrifice was found among many Semitic peoples long before Israel became a nation. Thus, it is possible that the Israelites developed their sacrificial system by using some of the same practices found among other Semitic peoples.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

I know this is getting long, but there’s a theme here.

Some of the prophets didn’t seem to think so. “For in the day that I [the Lord of Hosts] brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” [Jer 7:22] (If you want to check this out, don’t use the NIV translation since it mistranslates this verse. The KJV and any of the standard versions are OK.) Hosea said “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [6:6] This is an important verse because Jesus cites it himself [Mat. 9:13].

When the New Testament writers tried to express the “Jesus event” in a way comprehensible to Jews, they used the language of sacrifice and atonement that meshed with the religious sensibilities of their readers. But Christians are no longer Jews and we need not restrict our understanding of Jesus to a Jewish framework. When Jesus saves us from sin, it is not by erasing numbers from some eternal accounting ledger through being the ultimate child sacrifice, Jesus saves us from sin by freeing us from the artificial barriers between us and God erected by primitive religion and the financial needs of the priestly caste.

Sorry for the length, but there you go Xians! There’s a way to read the Bible and not have to believe that creepy, barbaric animal or human sacrifice is necessary to get next to your deity or to be forgiven for some ancestral sin, or whatever.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 8:04 am

Jake de Backer: But then again, I actually waste silly things like compassion and sympathy on the useless and often brutal slaughtering of animals to ensure the sun rising or crops production.

But surely you see that that is not the Christian/Jewish claim here? Your argument (I believe) is that even if the Israelites were correct in understanding God to have instituted the animal sacrificial system (not because of a superstition regarding the sun rising, etc.), it was still an immoral system. But if it is the monotheistic God who actually institutes it, that justifies it morally (just as using animals for our food morally justifies killing them). So the Christian/Jewish view of the Old Testament is perfectly morally consistent (even if you disagree with it).

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 8:08 am

Ayer: Here, I believe Reid is referring to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, which is a perfectly legitimate method of knowing scripture’s truth, since the Spirit uses scripture as part of that witness…

Which is another way of saying that it’s true because you know its true. Doesn’t it ever bother you that so many apologist arguments retreat so often to a dogmatic circularity?

Ayer: (1) scripture is sifted by New Testament scholars to determine the reliability of the data it presents using secular historiographical criteria;

Along with circularity, there is a peculiar attribute of apologists that repeating things in a mantra-like phrase makes it true. You should know this: secular historians do not consider any of the supernatural events described in the Bible to have occurred. Those events are considered myths, legends, and made up events, promoted by religious zealots, for the purposes of conversion.

New testament scholars can’t use some secular historiographical criteria, then abandon it when it suits their religious bias, and still claim to be using secular historiographical criteria. It is a clear mark of bias to not apply a standard consistently, and this should bother the apologist.

Ayer: (2) the best explanation of that data (in particular, the facts regularly defended by Craig in debate) is the resurrection of Jesus, which vindicates his radical claims to be Son of God;

Do you understand that circular arguments are fallacious? The above basically reads that Jesus’s claim to be the son of God is vindicated by his being the son of God. That’s a tautology, one that appears devised to disguise the improper assertion that a supernatural explanation is ever a best historical explanation.

Have you ever studied non-religious history on a college level? Even high school AP courses should have been enough to inoculate you from Craig’s nonsense.

Ayer: (3) the divine inspiration of the Bible as a whole is taken on his authority as Son of God, since he relied on the Old Testament as authoritative during his life and told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” after his death (when the New Testament was recorded).

No way — a circular argument. Who would have thought? So, Jesus is the son of God because he was the son of God, and the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.

Please try and do more than demonstrate that circular arguments are enough to satisfy your curiousity. Otherwise it makes it seem like the best case for your apologetics isn’t worthy of discussion here.

PS. You have replied to my comments to Thomas Reid, but still ignore my direct question to you regarding Muhammed’s magic fountain fingers.

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 8:48 am

Thomas Reid: Well, divine inspiration stands, I think, primarily on the confirmation of Christ’s message, evidenced by his resurrection. It can be confirmed by the Holy Spirit. It can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth.

Me: And statements like “inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth” is just another way of saying that it is demonstrable to the extent one is willing to accept circular arguments.

Thomas Reid: Can you explain a little more clearly how inferring divine inspiration based on the veracity of certain claims is circular?

I define circularity as assuming that which it sets out to prove.

The statememt “[Divine inspiration] can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth,” reads to me as if you are saying that in order to infer divine inspiration one needs to be convinced that divine inspiration is true. So, concluding that divine inspiration stands require that you assume your premise, that divine inspiration stands.

You have other circularity problems above as well that are related to the statement I pulled out. You cite Christ’s resurrection as evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration, but Christ’s resurrection is only found in the Bible. Do you not see how it is circular to cite the thing itself as evidence for that thing?

The Holy Spirit reference is admittedly not circular, but it still fails as evidence because is has yet to hold up under scrutiny that doesn’t devolve to another term for special pleading.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 9:00 am

Tony Hoffman: No way — a circular argument.

I have to agree with Reid that you are confused as to the meaning of the term “circular argument.” You need to respond to his question before any further discussion can be fruitful, which was: “Can you explain a little more clearly how inferring divine inspiration based on the veracity of certain claims is circular? I see you tack this way consistently, but I’m at a loss to understand what you mean.”

Tony Hoffman: my direct question to you regarding Muhammed’s magic fountain fingers.

Regarding Muhammed’s miracles, if Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible as divinely-inspired final revelation of God, then that precludes any miracle of Muhammed as divine (just as if Islam is true, then Jesus is not the Son of God, did not rise from the dead, and the final revelation did not occur until the Koran).

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 9:07 am

Tony Hoffman: You cite Christ’s resurrection as evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration, but Christ’s resurrection is only found in the Bible. Do you not see how it is circular to cite the thing itself as evidence for that thing?

No, it is not circular because it is not the veracity of the entire Bible that is cited as historical evidence for the resurrection; only those portions that pass muster under purely secular historigraphical criteria (i.e., by playing by the secular rulebook). Once the resurrection is demonstrated using those criteria, and thus Jesus’ divine authority is established by that resurrection, then a blanket of authenticity is thrown over those portions of the Bible that were not included in the analysis of the resurrection, and we can accept their veracity based on Jesus’ authority. I know you don’t agree with that argument, but there is nothing circular about it.

As for the knowledge that scripture is true based on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, as noted in the thread on that subject, that is not an “argument” used to convince a skeptic, it is simply the proposition that such knowledge is properly basic, and thus the skeptic has the burden of presenting a defeater for that knowledge if he intends to convince the believer that the believer is wrong.

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ildi December 31, 2009 at 9:19 am

only those portions that pass muster under purely secular historigraphical criteria

Since you love repeating this mantra, ayer, why don’t you back this up with some actual data? Maybe some citations of secular historians’ work that support your contention?

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Walter December 31, 2009 at 9:36 am

Despite the oft repeated claims of William Craig and Gary Habermas, secular historical methodology does not consider a supernatural resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the events of 1C Palestine and the rise of the Christianities(plural).

Miracles-by their very nature- would always be considered the least probable explanation for any event that happened at some point in history. Historical methodology looks for the most plausible explanation of events.

There are several good naturalistic theories advanced about the birth of the Christian Resurrection motif. Any naturalistic hypothesis has a higher probability than a miraculous explanation.

Christian belief resides in the realm of faith, not secular history. Believe if you want, but don’t pretend that there is historical proof of Jesus’ coming back to life.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 10:08 am

ildi:
Since you love repeating this mantra, ayer, why don’t you back this up with some actual data?Maybe some citations of secular historians’ work that support your contention?  

Sure, a good survey of the literature from 1975 onward is here:

http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 10:18 am

Walter: Despite the oft repeated claims of William Craig and Gary Habermas, secular historical methodology does not consider a supernatural resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation of the events of 1C Palestine and the rise of the Christianities(plural).

No, that’s not the point. Secular historical methodology does consider the basic data to be explained to be historical (e.g., 1) Jesus’ burial 2) the discovery of his empty tomb, 3) Jesus post-mortem appearances, 4) the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection). An inference to the best explanation is then made that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of that data that is agreed to be historical by the consensus of New Testament scholars using secular historigraphical criteria (e.g., multiple sources, enemy attestation, criterion of embarrassment, etc.) See http://www.apologetics-wiki.com/wiki/index.php/Minimal_facts for details. The explanation, e.g., is better than proposed naturalistic explanations (e.g., the disciples stole the body and then concocted the resurrection story even in the face of martyrdom and persecution, Jesus was not really dead but moved the stone himself and tricked the disciples into believing he was resurrected, etc.).

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ildi December 31, 2009 at 10:23 am

What part of secular historian do you not understand?

Gary Robert Habermas (born 1950) is an American evangelical Christian apologist, philosopher, and theologian. He is a prolific author, lecturer, and debater on the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus.

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Walter December 31, 2009 at 10:25 am

For ayer:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/indef/4e.html

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/resurrection.html

I do not agree with Habermas’ minimal facts approach. No big surprise to you, I am sure.

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Jeff H December 31, 2009 at 10:44 am

Ayer, I noticed that you still haven’t responded to my latest post, despite obviously having made several replies to others. Perhaps you missed it? I’d appreciate a response – in particular to my question about animal sacrifice versus dramatic representation. Thanks.

As far as Craig’s and Habermas’s five facts, or seven facts, or eleven facts (depending on how confident they’re feeling at the time, I suppose), I know this is a bit off-topic, but I’d like to address it anyway. While this seems like a good approach – take five facts that everyone agrees on and then find the best explanation – the problem is that there are many more facts that are also well-attested by historians that lend weight AGAINST it. Taking only these five facts divorces it from the general context in which they are placed. For one thing, the general assumption that the processes of today are the same that occurred in the past. For another thing, the fact that resurrection narratives, miracle stories, etc. are extremely common in other religions of the time period.

There are others that I won’t get into, but taking these five facts and only these five facts ends up being a poor way to do historical analysis. It’s like saying, “1) Hitler had black hair. 2) The “Aryan race” was supposed to be a superior race that consisted of people with blond hair and blue eyes. Therefore, the best explanation is that Hitler had nothing to do with this Aryan race ideology.” This, of course, ignores all the other relevant facts that play into this idea. Despite the perhaps well-meaning intent of Craig and Habermas (I do think that it is a good idea to take into account the well-evidenced facts that historians generally agree on), it ultimately is a very poor way to determine history. One could severely twist the facts in this manner to come up with any pet theory they wished to advocate.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 11:03 am

ildi: What part of secular historian do you not understand?

Habermas’ article surveys the entire field of New Testament scholarship, which applies secular historiographical standards to the New Testament (i.e., it does not accept it a priori as inerrant and treats it the same as any other ancient text). If you are saying that all the scholars have to be certified as atheists, that is absurd (just as it would be absurd to require that all cosmologists, etc., be certified as atheists). The methods are secular and not religious, that is the key point.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 11:18 am

Jeff H: If you want to argue against this, tell me how my idea of a ritualized dramatic presentation is not vastly superior to killing and burning sheep. If the intent is a clear communication of a very important message, I think mine wins hands-down.

I guess we just disagree. If the intent is to bring home the message in a powerful way, actual animal sacrifice seems like a very good method. It has certainly caught the attention of the atheists on this thread.

Jeff H: Taking only these five facts divorces it from the general context in which they are placed. For one thing, the general assumption that the processes of today are the same that occurred in the past. For another thing, the fact that resurrection narratives, miracle stories, etc. are extremely common in other religions of the time period.

If your “general assumption” is just the Humean presupposition against miracles, then as I said previously (in this or another thread, I’m not sure which), that presupposition has be shown to fail by John Earman (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_0_9?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=hume%27s+abject+failure&sprefix=hume%27s+ab). All of the naturalistic explanations are examined under the procedure of inference to the best explanation; but in this case, they are inferior to the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead. As to the other religions, it is important to keep in mind that the very idea of a dying and rising Messiah was entirely foreign to Judaism. Jews of that time period expected a conquering Messiah, and for any resurrection to be one that occurred for all Jews at the very end of time. So for the disciples to come to defend and die for the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again in the 1st century A.D. is entirely unexpected and demands an explanation other than “some other religions had miracle stories.”

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Walter December 31, 2009 at 11:18 am

Why the Minimal Facts Model is Unpersuasive
from the Evaluating Christianity blog:

http://evaluatingchristianity.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/why-the-minimal-facts-model-is-unpersuasive/

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Thomas Reid December 31, 2009 at 11:21 am

Tony Hoffman:
I define circularity as assuming that which it sets out to prove.The statememt “[Divine inspiration] can be inferred by its contents if one is convinced of its truth,” reads to me as if you are saying that in order to infer divine inspiration one needs to be convinced that divine inspiration is true. So, concluding that divine inspiration stands require that you assume your premise, that divine inspiration stands.

But if you are convinced that the claims recorded therein actually did occur, the claims are of such a nature to lend themselves to a conclusion of divine inspiration. I’m afraid I don’t see the circularity. You of course have to be willing to accept the possibility that God could ordain providentially the assemblage of such a testament, but that merely demonstrates that you have to be open to accepting a certain conclusion, it doesn’t serve as a premise to the argument.

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 11:26 am

Ayer: No, it is not circular because it is not the veracity of the entire Bible that is cited as historical evidence for the resurrection; only those portions that pass muster under purely secular historigraphical criteria (i.e., by playing by the secular rulebook).

Tell me, please, what accounts of Jesus’ resurrection do we have outside the Bible?

What accounts of Jesus’ divine authority do we have outside the Bible?

I laugh out loud at someone who says that it is not circular to cite the Bible’s account of the resurrection as evidence that the Bible’s accounts are inspired. I’m sorry, but your repeating this nonsense so doggedly means you deserve the scorn of thinking people everywhere.

Do you understand that “playing by the secular rulebook” means that historians must, perforce, consider any of thousands of plausible natural explanations for the Bible rather than supernatural ones? That playing by the secular rulebook means that the supernatural events of the Bible are never even on the table, let alone considered plausible, let alone considered “best?”

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Walter December 31, 2009 at 11:29 am

ayer:
As to the other religions, it is important to keep in mind that the very idea of a dying and rising Messiah was entirely foreign to Judaism.Jews of that time period expected a conquering Messiah, and for any resurrection to be one that occurred for all Jews at the very end of time.So for the disciples to come to defend and die for the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again in the 1st century A.D. is entirely unexpected and demands an explanation other than “some other religions had miracle stories.”  

You are not accounting for the syncretic influence of Greek mystery religions on Hellenized Jews.

Further, all we have are church traditions about the martyrdom of the disciples. We know almost nothing about any of the disciples.

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EvanT December 31, 2009 at 11:42 am

I’m confused as to what you people consider normal historians. When a historian reads Herodotus writing: “and then Zeus cast his lightning bolts helping the Athenians defeat the Persians” they don’t assume Zeus exists, but just keep the fact that the Athenians defeated the Persians in that specific battle.

So, why exactly a historian would take into consideration about any mention of supernatural activity in an ancient text (especially as biased as the New Testament) and with no secondary sources for backup?

You can go on and on, but the bottom line is that no professional historian (and especially no non-entangled historian) will put his academic career on the line to support that a supernatural religious event (described by someone who already accepts that religion) actually happened. I don’t know many Christian historians claiming that Buddha really was an avatar of Vishnu, just because that’s the only conclusion that properly explains the “facts” described in hindu holy texts.

ayer: e.g., the disciples stole the body and then concocted the resurrection story even in the face of martyrdom and persecution

Why do people commit premeditated murder in the face of life in prison or execution?

Umm… strong emotions or lotsa money? IF one takes New Testament accounts seriously, the disciples were already living quite nicely stealing stuff and living off of donations. Sounds like a decent life. Definitely better than hauling fish all day long. Plus, there were bonuses!! (the Ananias incident in Acts stinks to the High Heavens and looks like typical cult behaviour.) THAT part hasn’t changed. Religion was and is a lucrative business. Ask Hubbard. He would know.

Why did the Heaven’s Gate cult commit massive suicide? Clearly their willingness to die must mean that there was a spaceship in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp ready to transport them away from the planet. Why else would they sacrifice their lives? They couldn’t have been ridiculously deluded, could they?

Empedokles thought he was a god and marched into Etna’s crater to prove his point. That must have meant he really was a god! Why else would he risk his life? He couldn’t possibly have been a nutcase, could he?

I love it when we all play the “let’s rehash old arguments from both sides and see the conversation evolve in a ridiculously predictable manner” game.

You christian guys HAVE heard these counter-arguments before, right?

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thomas Reid: But if you are convinced that the claims recorded therein actually did occur, the claims are of such a nature to lend themselves to a conclusion of divine inspiration. I’m afraid I don’t see the circularity. You of course have to be willing to accept the possibility that God could ordain providentially the assemblage of such a testament, but that merely demonstrates that you have to be open to accepting a certain conclusion, it doesn’t serve as a premise to the argument.

And why are you convinced that the claims recorded in the Bible actually did occur? Because the Bible says so, not because of any external corroboration. The evidence for the divine events of the Bible either do not exist or contradict what the Bible claims – humans go back more than 6,000 years, there was no global flood, talking bushes, rising from the dead, etc.

Thomas Reid: I’m afraid I don’t see the circularity.

The evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration can only be found in the Bible’s account of itself. Citing it as you have is circular. I don’t really know any other way to point this out to you.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 11:59 am

Tony Hoffman: The evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration can only be found in the Bible’s account of itself.

Are you entirely clueless as to the histiographical methods of New Testament scholarship? “The Bible” is not treated as a seamless whole under this method; portions of the Bible are ranked according to criteria of reliability. It just so happens that the data from those portions deemed most reliable under these methods (by the overwhelming scholarly consensus) is best explained by God raising Jesus from the dead.

Your bizarre assumption appears to be that if every single passage of the Bible is not deemed equally reliable by historiographical methods that the entire thing must be thrown out. That assumption would put an end to the practice of all ancient history and is just silly.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 12:04 pm

EvanT: IF one takes New Testament accounts seriously, the disciples were already living quite nicely stealing stuff and living off of donations.

I see, the whole thing was a fraud to get a nice lifestyle of persecution, imprisonment, death, etc. Sorry–not plausible.

EvanT: Why did the Heaven’s Gate cult commit massive suicide?

Because they sincerely believed their cult’s ideas about the comet–you are asserting that the disciples died for a fraud that they knowingly perpetrated. Again, not plausible.

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EvanT December 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

ayer:

I see, the whole thing was a fraud to get a nice lifestyle of persecution, imprisonment, death, etc. Sorry–not plausible.

LOL… it’s not that they wanted or hoped to get persecuted. It just happened. Why do people commit fraud all the time? Because they don’t think they will get caught. If the reasons you’re discounting this for were valid, no one would be committing any crime. Why would Bonny and Clyde turn to a life of bank robbery, when they KNEW they would end up being hunted down and thrown in jail (possibly for life?). And imagine that Bonny and Clyde didn’t have possibly naive followers to support and defend them.This portrayal of human motives is too naive.

ayer: Because they sincerely believed their cult’s ideas about the comet–you are asserting that the disciples died for a fraud that they knowingly perpetrated. Again, not plausible.  

I’m not trying to form a coherent theory here. This is an independent possibility. Charismatic leader brainwashes bunch of people and creates a cult. Happens all the time. [For me, this is the most probable theory (more probably than the previous one). I personally think that an actual historical person being responsible for this jewish heresy is a lot more probable than the complete lack of a historical leader figure of the cult]

And I’m not even touching the subject that the 12 disciples are almost mythical figures themselves. Even from the New Testament we get zilch info on them (apart from Paul and Peter). The rest is just legends (Phillip in Ethiopia, Thomas in India, John in isolation in Patmos and a grand religious tourism industry in place since the byzantine era).

BTW, (again independent comment) I notice that you assume that if the disciples were frauds and they knew it, if after being arrested they had renounced their beliefs, they would have been set free and not put to death… Do you know a lot of authorities that would release someone who had just admitted to being a liar and a fraud and had disturbed the peace with “new daemons”? (Socrates was executed for that and he wasn’t given the opportunity to recant either; granted, 400 years earlier)

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 1:09 pm

EvanT: I’m not trying to form a coherent theory here.

That now seems obvious.

EvanT: And I’m not even touching the subject that the 12 disciples are almost mythical figures themselves. Even from the New Testament we get zilch info on them

That is irrelevant if the resurrection occurred, the argument for which is constructed using facts admitted by the overwhelming consensus of scholarship. And if the resurrection occurred, a blanket of authority is then thrown over the entirety of the scriptures, the veracity of which is then established based on that authority.

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Ayer: It just so happens that the data from those portions deemed most reliable under these methods (by the overwhelming scholarly consensus) is best explained by God raising Jesus from the dead.

What a convoluted and obviously false thing to say. So, the most reliable account from the Bible is of Jesus’ resurrection? Is that what you mean to say?

Let me count the ways this is false:

The problems with the document…
1) Jesus’ resurrection from a tomb in the synoptic gospels is contradicted by earlier accounts, none of which mention it;
2) The synoptic Gospels are best explained as riffs on Mark, with alterations that best explain their speaking to different audiences, and these four accounts of the resurrection do not comport with one another and sometimes contradict (Jesus is seen and not seen; Jesus can walk through walls and can eat fish and is made of flesh, etc);
etc.
The problems with the methodology…
3) We have thousands of thousand of analogs in human history where people have been deceived, have deceived themselves, religions have sprung up from natural events and as a result of the human condition, etc.
4) By the overwhelming scholarly consensus that says the Resurrection occurred you are repeating the Habermas deception, which is the equivalent of saying that the only people who can determine if the earth is flat are those willing to devote years of their life to Flat Earth Studies.
5) Oh, yeah, and MODERN HISTORIANS DO NOT, EVER, ALLOW THAT ANY SUPERNATURAL EXPLANATION IS BETTER THAN A NATURAL ONE. Your saying otherwise is the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and shouting at us so as not to have to confront an unpleasant fact.
etc.

On the plus side, you do show real skill in packing a great deal of self-deception into a very few words, and I do admire that ability to be concise.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Tony Hoffman: What a convoluted and obviously false thing to say. So, the most reliable account from the Bible is of Jesus’ resurrection? Is that what you mean to say?

Hmm, no, but at this point your wall of obtuseness appears inpenetrable. The best EXPLANATION of those FACTS deemed most reliable by the consensus of scholarship is the resurrection. Just as the best explanation of the fine-tuning of constants at the big bang–a fact recognized by both theist and atheist physicists–is God. If someone (like you) rules out a supernatural explanation a priori, then yes, any naturalistic explanation will do, no matter how implausible. But then you have simply fixed the result in advance by refusing to consider all explanations.

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Tony Hoffman December 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Ayer: Hmm, no, but at this point your wall of obtuseness appears inpenetrable. The best EXPLANATION of those FACTS deemed most reliable by the consensus of scholarship is the resurrection.

And thus my 5 listed reasons why this is obviously false stand untouched. My reasons for your statement being false need to be obviated if you ever seek to convince anyone other than yourself. And that is your real problem, not my supposed obtuseness.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Tony Hoffman:
And thus my 5 listed reasons why this is obviously false stand untouched. My reasons for your statement being false need to be obviated if you ever seek to convince anyone other than yourself. And that is your real problem, not my supposed obtuseness.  

1 and 2 are just disagreements with the scholarly consensus. They are minority positions, but at least that is where the case needs to be attacked.

For 3, that does nothing to establish what occurred in this case. You have to grapple with the evidence itself to do that (which you sort of did in points 1 and 2).

For 4, that could be leveled at any field of study (e.g., evolution should be dismissed because the only people who become evolutionary biologists are those predisposed to believe in evolution; the reports of the media should be dismissed as liberal bias because surveys show only liberals become reporters; etc.)

For 5, that is just wrong, because New Testament scholars are modern historians using secular historiographical methods. And the scholarly consensus endorsing the evidence used in the “minimal facts” apologetics includes the non-Christian scholars.

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Jeff H December 31, 2009 at 4:18 pm

ayer:
That now seems obvious.
That is irrelevant if the resurrection occurred, the argument for which is constructed using facts admitted by the overwhelming consensus of scholarship.And if the resurrection occurred, a blanket of authority is then thrown over the entirety of the scriptures, the veracity of which is then established based on that authority.  

NO! No, no no. No, no no no no no. NO! NO! NO!

Repeating the same arguments over and over do not make them any more true. EVEN IF the resurrection occurred, the Gospel accounts would STILL only be interpretations of why that event happened. Let me give you one ridiculous example just to show you. If it is even logically possible, then your argument is wrong.

Zeus is up in heaven, sipping on ambrosia, and he’s watching this Jesus guy. He’s got some pretty impressive material, some nifty tricks, and he seems like a pretty good guy. He is, of course, wrong about that whole Yahweh thing, but it’s a minor offense. Then Jesus gets arrested for being a troublemaker in the temple, and executed by the Romans. Zeus gets pretty pissed off about this, and so just to show everyone what a cool guy Jesus is, he raises him from the dead. He brings him up into heaven and then they both sip on ambrosia together.

This explanation, as ridiculous as it is, accounts for all five facts, and allows for a real resurrection, all without giving an ounce of support to the rest of the Bible. Hell, not even to the rest of the Gospels. The fact that people could get one event in history right does not lend credibility to anything else they say. Otherwise, everyone could write at the beginning of their books, “George Bush was at one point president,” and everything else they say would be taken as truth.

Please get this through your noggin. Even if you grant that the resurrection occurred, it doesn’t make the Gospel accounts right. Doesn’t make Jesus the Son of God (although it’s an option). Doesn’t even make Jesus right. You’re still accepting the authority of the Biblical interpretation of the events based on nothing but your own existing beliefs. Historical accuracy doesn’t lend weight to theological accuracy. At all. Ever.

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Jake de Backer December 31, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Jeff H,

Driving on my 7th of my 11 hour drive back home so must be brief. LOVED THAT POST.

Briefly,
J.

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Jeff H: This explanation, as ridiculous as it is, accounts for all five facts, and allows for a real resurrection, all without giving an ounce of support to the rest of the Bible.

You do understand the difference between an explanation that is entirely ad hoc (such as yours) and one that is derived from the religio-historical context? Just because you can come up with a theological scenario that is not impossible does not mean that it is not ad hoc (just as the 9/11 “truthers” can come up with explanations that are not impossible but are still entirely ad hoc). Craig dealt with this effectively in his debate with Ehrman when Ehrman made a similar move.

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lukeprog December 31, 2009 at 7:37 pm

ayer,

What could possibly be more ad-hoc than offering an explanation that never, ever happens like resurrection of a dead man to an eternal body???

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Thomas Reid December 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Tony Hoffman:
1) Jesus’ resurrection from a tomb in the synoptic gospels is contradicted by earlier accounts, none of which mention it;

That is not a contradiction.

2) The synoptic Gospels are best explained as riffs on Mark, with alterations that best explain their speaking to different audiences, and these four accounts of the resurrection do not comport with one another and sometimes contradict (Jesus is seen and not seen; Jesus can walk through walls and can eat fish and is made of flesh, etc);

No contradictions here either, simply documentation of different encounters. I also don’t understand what you mean by “comport”. I’m guessing you wish they were more similar to one another in content than they already are? If so, then as a general comment I will note that regarding historical documents, it seems maladroit to both object that there is no independent corroboration of specific events, and also object that two purported independent accounts of the events do not record the same exact information. What kind of corroborating yet identical attestations do you demand? If they all recorded identical information, would you not object that they weren’t independent?

3) We have thousands of thousand of analogs in human history where people have been deceived, have deceived themselves, religions have sprung up from natural events and as a result of the human condition, etc.

If you are using this as a reason for denying the resurrection, you are following in the footsteps of Hume here. Engage the evidence for the claim – doubt is not evidence for a conclusion. You and I discussed this several threads back.

4) By the overwhelming scholarly consensus that says the Resurrection occurred you are repeating the Habermas deception, which is the equivalent of saying that the only people who can determine if the earth is flat are those willing to devote years of their life to Flat Earth Studies.

No response, I didn’t understand your comment.

5) Oh, yeah, and MODERN HISTORIANS DO NOT, EVER, ALLOW THAT ANY SUPERNATURAL EXPLANATION IS BETTER THAN A NATURAL ONE. Your saying otherwise is the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and shouting at us so as not to have to confront an unpleasant fact.

Right, supernatural explanations are not permitted by definition. It should not be surprising then what kind of explanation must be posited to account for the facts. But that is metaphysics, not history.

Happy New Year!

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ayer December 31, 2009 at 9:38 pm

lukeprog: What could possibly be more ad-hoc than offering an explanation that never, ever happens like resurrection of a dead man to an eternal body???

You must not have read Jeff H’s scenario–it assumed the resurrection happened, but offered an alternative theological explanation completely divorced from the religio-historical context. Any explanation, to be plausible, must be drawn from that religio-historical context (the context being: a Jewish religious figure asserts divine and messianic authority, dies, and his followers later claim that he was resurrected and commissioned them to spread the Gospel that he is the Son of the Jewish God, which they proceed to do). Jeff H.’s Zeus scenario, while possible, is not plausible in that context.

(Just as an anti-capitalist conspiracy theorist could assert that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by a wealthy investor who had shorted stocks and wanted to trigger the market downturn that would be triggered by the catastrophe, but hired Arabs to make it look like an al-Qaida operation. Sure, that is possible. But in the politico-historical context of the year 2001, it is ad hoc and absurd).

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EvanT January 1, 2010 at 2:35 am

I wrote this a couple of comments back, but our Christian friends passed it by:

EvanT: When a historian reads Herodotus writing: “and then Zeus cast his lightning bolts helping the Athenians defeat the Persians” they don’t assume Zeus exists, but just keep the fact that the Athenians defeated the Persians in that specific battle.

We have 4 people who beliebe their rabi died and was raised from the dead. One writes a book, the other two copy off of him and add stuff of their own, the last one writes largely independently. The books obviously make religious claims.

Now, can someone tell me… A historian reads Herodotus and Mark. WHY should he discount the supernatural claims in the History of the Persian Wars and accept them in Mark?… When in fact we have a lot more proof that the Persian Wars happened than the events in the gospels.

If a historian started worshipping Zeus because Herodotus writes about him, wouldn’t you consider that absurd?

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Walter January 1, 2010 at 5:43 am

EvanT:If a historian started worshipping Zeus because Herodotus writes about him, wouldn’t you consider that absurd?  

Christians often fall back on the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit” to validate their beliefs. They will claim that there is no subjective experience associated with Zeus belief.

Never mind that ‘orthodox’ Christians will reject the same subjective evidence from a Mormon who claims his beliefs are validated by the warm fuzzies, aka inner witness of the spirit.

Historical methods will never be able to prove the events in the bible happened. Craig and Habermas pull their “minimally accepted facts” data from a pool of NT theologians who are already committed to belief in the Resurrection. It is nothing but a case of selection bias.

Of course, New Testament scholars–who are predominantly Christian–will accept several of Craig’s ‘facts’.

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ayer January 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

Walter: Craig and Habermas pull their “minimally accepted facts” data from a pool of NT theologians who are already committed to belief in the Resurrection. It is nothing but a case of selection bias.

Right, just as a young earth creationist (YEC) claims that supporters of evolution pull their data from a pool of evolutionary biologists who are already committed to belief in evolution. Claiming “bias” just because you don’t like the results of professional research may be comforting for you and for YEC’s, but that doesn’t make it plausible.

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Walter January 1, 2010 at 7:45 am

ayer:
Right, just as a young earth creationist (YEC) claims thatsupporters of evolution pull their data from a pool of evolutionary biologists who are already committed to belief in evolution.Claiming “bias” just because you don’t like the results of professional research may be comforting for you and for YEC’s, but that doesn’t make it plausible.  

It is not comforting for me, ayer. I wish that I could make myself believe, but I cannot.

At best the evidence (or lack thereof) warrants agnosticism. I won’t say that it is impossible that a Galilean preacher resurrected; I just don’t see sufficient evidence to warrant a leap to dogmatic certainty.

Minimal ‘facts’ which are accepted by Christian scholars who are a priori committed to belief in the bible is not a very compelling argument–at least not to me.

There are plausible, naturalistic scenarios which can account for the birth of the Christian faiths, but I am sure that you will reject them out of hand.

I think it comes down to the fact that most people want absolute certainty that they will exist forever. Our egos are too big to accept that we may die and disappear from the universe forever. Thus people cling to religious hope of an afterlife, reincarnation, or whatever.

I guess I will let you have the last word because it is pointless for me to keep arguing with dogma. Nothing I say will ever dent the armor of faith.

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ayer January 1, 2010 at 8:11 am

I’m afraid the charge of wish-fulfillment can cut both ways, as candidly admitted by prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel:

Nagel: “In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

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lukeprog January 1, 2010 at 8:33 am

Ah, okay.

Yes, supernatural resurrection by Zeus is ad-hoc compared to supernatural resurrection by Yahweh, but supernatural resurrection by Yahweh is still extremely ad-hoc in comparison to just about any naturalistic explanation.

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lukeprog January 1, 2010 at 8:45 am

ayer,

I wrote about that earlier, too. See my post Atheist Philosophers Don’t Want God to Exist.

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Tony Hoffman January 1, 2010 at 9:31 am

Me: 1) Jesus’ resurrection from a tomb in the synoptic gospels is contradicted by earlier accounts, none of which mention it;
Thomas Reid: That is not a contradiction.

Yes, that is not a contradiction; that was sloppy writing on my part. I should have used a word like “undermined” instead.

No contradictions here either, simply documentation of different encounters.

Well, either Jesus returned in a manner that allowed him to walk through walls, or he returned in a manner that allowed him to eat fish and have people touch his sides. To avoid contradicition you can say he was both at different times, like Zeus was sometimes in the form of a swan and sometimes just Zeus, but it seems that some of the New Testament writers thought of his resurrection being bodily only and others were under the impression that he was ghostlike. (There’s also an interesting take on “reveal” in the earlier New Testament documents that, if its interpretation is correct, shows that an understanding was that Jesus’s death was staged in the lower levels of heaven, and that he had not yet walked the earth. I didn’t bring that up earlier, but this would be better evidence of a contradiction regarding Jesus’s resurrection.)

I also don’t understand what you mean by “comport”. I’m guessing you wish they were more similar to one another in content than they already are?

I don’t really “wish” that they were anything other than what they are. By failure to comport I mean that they all vary and disagree in ways that show evidence of story-tampering. The Gospel writers all clearly have agendas and audiences in mind, and (surprise!) their accounts vary from each other in ways that are best explained by their having those agendas. The accounts of past events from unbiased parties varies in unpredictable ways; interested parties differ along narrative lines, and the documents of the New Testament clearly fall into this latter class.

If so, then as a general comment I will note that regarding historical documents, it seems maladroit to both object that there is no independent corroboration of specific events, and also object that two purported independent accounts of the events do not record the same exact information.

See my above. There’s nothing maladroit about complaining about lack of independent attestation and signs of narrative bias. Both are damaging to an event’s reliability.

What kind of corroborating yet identical attestations do you demand? If they all recorded identical information, would you not object that they weren’t independent?

In order for me to find an account credible, I would expect at least these things: 1) archaelogical evidence of Jesus’ tomb having been enshrined (why would Christians, who enshrine things with a vim and zeal as great as any other religion, forget to mark the location of their greatest religious event with as much as a stone tablet?); mention of Jesus by any non-Christian contemporaries of Jesus the man; mention of any of the supernatural events of the New Testament in non-Christian sources, such as the sun being blotted out during Jesus’ death, etc.

But these are all quibbles compred to the fact that above and beyond all of these in order for me to find the accounts of the NT credible I would expect a supernatural event to actually occur in real life. Without such an occurrence, in our time, I have no reason whatsoever to think that all of the supernatural events of the New Testament could have actually occurred. In fact, absent supernatural occurrences in real life, it should be obvious to even a child as to what happened 2,000 years ago.

Thomas Reid: If you are using this as a reason for denying the resurrection, you are following in the footsteps of Hume here. Engage the evidence for the claim – doubt is not evidence for a conclusion.

If you are using your Christian belief as reason for denying all other religions, you are following in the footsteps of virtually every religious believer in history. Aggressive gullibility for one set of religious claims (the one you were brought up with – surprise!) is not a good reason to believe.

Me: 4) By the overwhelming scholarly consensus that says the Resurrection occurred you are repeating the Habermas deception, which is the equivalent of saying that the only people who can determine if the earth is flat are those willing to devote years of their life to Flat Earth Studies.
Thomas Reid: No response, I didn’t understand your comment.

Habermas contends that because something like 75% of all New Testament scholars feel that Jesus’s resurrection is the best explanation for the events described in the New Testament, we should bow to this authority. This is ridiculous on several grounds:

1) The study of history in no way demands specialized skills like those associated with the hard sciences, where we are truly better off trusting in the consensus of these highly trained specialists. In other words, an educated person can evaluate the NT claims of supernatural occurrences in the NT about as well as an educated person can evaluate the claims that the earth is flat.
2) New Testament scholars are not just a variety of historians like those who focus on, say, the history of The New Deal. In fact, they are not really historians if they allow that supernatural explanations are valid. If you include “Historians” instead of Habermas self-selected and highly biased sample of “New Testament Scholars”, his 75% figure for those who think that supernatural explanations are best would pop down to the fringe number it actually represents in its field. And every field has a percentage of quacks and cranks.

Right, supernatural explanations are not permitted by definition. It should not be surprising then what kind of explanation must be posited to account for the facts. But that is metaphysics, not history.

No, it really is history. You can’t study History in any credible university without the understanding that supernatural events are not available explanations. If you want to play with the supernatural as explanation you can become a New Testament scholar, but this suffers from the same problem you seem to decry above in that it only allows for one very specific kind of supernaturalism — that of the Jesus kind. And as you say, the outcome isn’t so surprising then, is it?

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Thomas Reid January 1, 2010 at 11:38 am

Tony Hoffman:

If you are using your Christian belief as reason for denying all other religions, you are following in the footsteps of virtually every religious believer in history.

From where do you assert this? I don’t use it for such purposes, and didn’t think I gave that impression here or anywhere else. Additionally, one doesn’t need to know all other belief systems are false to know that a particular one is true.

No, it really is history. You can’t study History in any credible university without the understanding that supernatural events are not available explanations. If you want to play with the supernatural as explanation you can become a New Testament scholar, but this suffers from the same problem you seem to decry above in that it only allows for one very specific kind of supernaturalism — that of the Jesus kind. And as you say, the outcome isn’t so surprising then, is it?

Someone who is open to the possibility of either natural or supernatural explanations of events can accept either as an inference given certain data. A metaphysical naturalist can only accept one kind of explanation – they are committed to a natural explanation from the beginning.

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Jeff H January 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

ayer:
You do understand the difference between an explanation that is entirely ad hoc (such as yours) and one that is derived from the religio-historical context?Just because you can come up with a theological scenario that is not impossible does not mean that it is not ad hoc (just as the 9/11 “truthers” can come up with explanations that are not impossible but are still entirely ad hoc).Craig dealt with this effectively in his debate with Ehrman when Ehrman made a similar move.  

Right, except I wasn’t offering it as an actual explanation of the events. I was offering it as a logical possibility to go against your extremely weak argument that:

1. The resurrection occurred historically.
2. The Bible records this event.
3. Therefore, the Bible’s interpretation of the theological significance of this event must be true.

It also goes against your slightly modified argument:

4. The resurrection occurred historically.
5. If the resurrection happened, Jesus must be the Son of God.
6. Jesus says the Bible is true, and if he is the Son of God, it must be.
7. Therefore, the Bible is true.

My explanation, as admittedly odd as it is, is still a logical possibility, and there are countless other less ridiculous examples I could give to explain even a literal, historical resurrection without granting to you the logical jump to (3) or premise (5).

Mind you, didn’t you say earlier that Jewish tradition had no concept of a specific resurrection before the general resurrection of the dead? So where exactly is this “religio-historical context” that you speak of? You would like to claim both of these:

1. The resurrection account is plausible because it is unique within the Jewish religious milieu of the time. (criterion of dissimilarity/discontinuity)
2. The resurrection account is plausible because the explanation is derived from the religio-historical context. (not ad hoc)

I’m sorry, but I can’t let you get away with that. Either there was a religious context for it, or there wasn’t. So which is it? If my explanation is ad hoc because I just made it up, then under claim #1, the Christian explanation is ad hoc as well.

Of course, I could also argue that my explanation isn’t all that ad hoc, despite some anachronistic terminology. Would it be better if I called him by his Roman name Jupiter instead of Zeus? As far as I’m aware, the Roman empire was in full flourish at that point, so stories about Jupiter don’t seem to be all that strange. Just because it might not have been told by a Jew, doesn’t mean it’s ad hoc. So here’s a question for you: if you were a first-century peasant, and two people ran up to you, and one of them said, “Man, this guy just got raised from the dead by Yahweh! So cool!” and the other one said, “No way, he just got raised from the dead by Jupiter! Amazing!” How would you determine which interpretation was true, assuming both had equal knowledge of the event?

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Steven D. January 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Isn’t it a common human phenomena to refuse to believe in the death of a beloved public figure? Even in modern times we have rumors of people (like Elvis or Michael Jackson or JFK) faking their deaths? We even have sightings. My grandpa assured me he saw Elvis in the parking lot at J.C. Penny.

Transplant this impulse to the superstitious followers of a religious cult, and I think you can account for the story and spread of the resurrection quite plausibly. I think his followers were sincere, but mistaken.

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ayer January 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Jeff H: My explanation, as admittedly odd as it is, is still a logical possibility, and there are countless other less ridiculous examples I could give to explain even a literal, historical resurrection without granting to you the logical jump to (3) or premise (5).

As I said earlier, it may be a logical possibility, but so what? We are dealing here with judgments of plausibility, not syllogisms. It is logically possible that an evil capitalist orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to cash in on shorting the stock market, but that does not make it plausible.

Jeff H: I’m sorry, but I can’t let you get away with that. Either there was a religious context for it, or there wasn’t.

Your two alternatives are not contradictory. The resurrection explanation draws upon the Jewish concepts of messiah, resurrection, Yahweh, etc., in the context of the Jewish religion, but arranged in a way that was unexpected for a Jew of that time–Jesus is the Messiah, but the Messiah dies for our sins; there is a resurrection of the dead, but the Messiah rises first as the “firstfruits” of that resurrection, etc.

Your scenario, on the other hand, is just made up after the fact with no connection to the context on the ground. So I leave it to an the undecided observer to determine which is more plausible.

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Tony Hoffman January 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Ayer: As I said earlier, it may be a logical possibility, but so what? We are dealing here with judgments of plausibility, not syllogisms.

You lose all credibility by saying that you are dealing with plausibility when you determine that Jesus’ resurrection (an event that has never occurred in human history) is more likely than that some people mistakenly believed a deception or made a mistake, which happens with such reliable frequency. Your more “plausible” event is not even so unlikely as to have no known frequency, many would argue for its impossibility. And yet in the bizarro world you appear to inhabit your scenario is the more plausible. Yes, I do hope that the undecided observer makes up her mind on your argument.

Your scenario, on the other hand, is just made up after the fact with no connection to the context on the ground.

You might want to check out a mirror someday with that comment.

PS. Jeff H., enjoyed your last comment. Good stuff.

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ayer January 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Tony Hoffman: Yes, I do hope that the undecided observer makes up her mind on your argument.

Well, at least we can agree on that–and that Star Trek is good tv :)

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Tony Hoffman January 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Me: If you are using your Christian belief as reason for denying all other religions, you are following in the footsteps of virtually every religious believer in history.
Thomas Reid: From where do you assert this? I don’t use it for such purposes, and didn’t think I gave that impression here or anywhere else. Additionally, one doesn’t need to know all other belief systems are false to know that a particular one is true.

I was paraphrasing (maybe parodying is more accurate) what you felt my skepticism entailed – naturalism, close-mindedness, etc.

But I think you shouldn’t be so coy about what Christianity entails. Are you saying that you don’t take seriously the part about being the one god, having none before him, that salvation comes through Jesus alone, etc.? Because that has always sounded a lot to me like the case is closed on seriously entertaining other religions.

Someone who is open to the possibility of either natural or supernatural explanations of events can accept either as an inference given certain data. A metaphysical naturalist can only accept one kind of explanation – they are committed to a natural explanation from the beginning.

Just as the Christian is close-minded to the claims of other religions and supernatural claims that are not attributed to the Christian God.

But really, your statement above is not true. I don’t discount or preclude the existence of the supernatural. I would entertain it. But if God is so desperate to communicate with me, he should do so in real life, not through men who say they talked to him somewhere and this is what they want me to do.

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Tony Hoffman January 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Ayer: Well, at least we can agree on that–and that Star Trek is good tv.

Yes, we’ll always have Paris, so to speak.

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Jeff H January 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm

ayer:
As I said earlier, it may be a logical possibility, but so what?We are dealing here with judgments of plausibility, not syllogisms.It is logically possible that an evil capitalist orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to cash in on shorting the stock market, but that does not make it plausible.

But in order to determine plausibility, we must have some independent standard for measuring the plausibility of each explanation. The 9/11 attacks give us plenty of details that we can use to establish which event is most likely – also, parsimony can play a role. But we don’t have the level of detail necessary to make any justifiable conclusions about the plausibility of an explanation of the resurrection. My point is that we should not prefer any interpretation over another in this case.

If you wish only to use parsimony, though, which account is simpler? That Jupiter decided to raise Jesus from the dead because he was a nice guy, or that Yahweh raised him from the dead because he was the Son of God offered to save us from our sins and establish a kingdom of God on earth? If you have any other good criteria for determining the plausibility of an event for which we have very little detail (to the point that many scholars reject it even happened), feel free to discuss them, but I really don’t see how you can have a leg to stand on – unless you wish you resort to a question-begging reference to the details mentioned in the Bible. Remember that’s our ultimate goal: to see if the Biblical interpretation is true.

Your two alternatives are not contradictory.The resurrection explanation draws upon the Jewish concepts of messiah, resurrection, Yahweh, etc., in the context of the Jewish religion, but arranged in a way that was unexpected for a Jew of that time–Jesus is the Messiah, but the Messiah dies for our sins; there is a resurrection of the dead, but the Messiah rises first as the “firstfruits” of that resurrection, etc.Your scenario, on the other hand, is just made up after the fact with no connection to the context on the ground.So I leave it to an the undecided observer to determine which is more plausible.  

Point taken. However, my explanation draws upon the Roman concepts of Jupiter, ambrosia, resurrection, etc., in the context of the Roman religion, but arranged in a way that was unexpected for a Roman of that time – Jesus is wrong about theology, but Jupiter liked him and raised him up anyway. I fail to see how one explanation is any more ad hoc than another. Perhaps it’s because it’s me that’s presenting it instead of a 1st-century Roman. But think about it. If your average Roman peasant witnessed a resurrection, would they not come up with some similar explanation? Their “religio-historical context” would produce an explanation of its own. So again the question comes back to not which is more ad hoc, but how one determines which explanation is more probable given only the historical facts, and very few of them at that.

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ayer January 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Jeff H: But in order to determine plausibility, we must have some independent standard for measuring the plausibility of each explanation.

Yes, the standard criteria for testing an historical descriptions are: explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, ad hoc–ness, accord with accepted beliefs, and superiority to rival hypotheses (elaborated on by Craig here: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/visions.html

Jeff H: However, my explanation draws upon the Roman concepts of Jupiter, ambrosia, resurrection, etc., in the context of the Roman religion, but arranged in a way that was unexpected for a Roman of that time – Jesus is wrong about theology, but Jupiter liked him and raised him up anyway. I fail to see how one explanation is any more ad hoc than another.

If Jesus had been a Roman prophet preaching Jupiter in the city where the Roman religion was founded, seeking followers of the Roman pantheon, while proclaiming himself to have the divine authority of Jupiter, and after his death his followers proclaimed that he rose again and commissioned them to spread faith in Jupiter, after which they did so at great risk to themselves–if all of that obtained, then your scenario would be less ad hoc.

Jeff H: If your average Roman peasant witnessed a resurrection, would they not come up with some similar explanation?

The average Roman peasant was a polytheist and would likely attribute the resurrection to the god whom the witnesses of the resurrection attributed it to–Yahweh.

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EvanT January 2, 2010 at 8:10 am

Thankfully, not all ancient people were always so gullible. For instance, Herodotus, even if spewing all sorts of divine intervention in his histories, was quite skeptical of the story of Zalmoxis. A nice Jesus parallel, if one of the least known ones (much better than the syncretism attempts with Horus or Mithras).

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ildi January 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

Well, ayer, I read the article to which you linked; is that really the best you can do?

To recap, your premise is:

divine inspiration of the Bible follows inevitably if the resurrection of Jesus occurred, and the resurrection can be argued for based on strictly secular historical standards

I’ll ignore for the time being the logic leap you make that the resurrection only implies divine inspiration. I could make just as probable an argument for an alien intelligence intervening; what would seem like a miracle to us (bringing back someone from the dead) could just be advanced medicine for them (to continue the Star Trek theme).

You still have not given evidence for the crux of your belief in Yahweh/Jesus; namely that there is evidence for the resurrection on strictly secular historical standards. I have to ask again, did you actually read the article you linked to as evidence?

For one, you link to an article where the author himself states:

This study attempts to map out some of the theological landscape in recent and current resurrection studies.

Do you not know the difference between theological and secular historical?

For two, Habermas’ idea of reviewing the resurrection “research” is by sorting the scholars by location? wtf?

One way to group these general tendencies is by geography and language.

When I first read this sentence, I thought he was going to sort the evidence by geography and language. But, no, he means the scholars.

How about this sentence?

I have compiled 23 arguments for the empty tomb and 14 considerations against it, as cited by recent critical scholars. Generally, the listings are what might be expected, dividing along theological “party lines.”

I assume that the 14 against also include those scholars who argue that the tomb may not have even existed, because, you know, there’s not even secular historical evidence for that. The party lines part is pretty telling, too, don’t you think? Makes you wonder how objective these scholars are… oh, wait, they’re mostly theologians, not objective scholars. What was I thinking?

I could go on about the shoddy quality of this article, but let me just wrap up with this gem:

By far, the majority of publications on the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection have been written by North American authors. Interestingly, my study of these works also indicates an approximate ratio of 3:1 of moderate conservative to skeptical publications, as with the European publications.

First of all, research is not decided by a majority rule but by the quality of the results, which really can’t be determined by this article, since he really doesn’t present it.

Second, notice, if you will, his definition of moderate conservative:

For the purposes of this essay, I will define moderate conservative approaches to the resurrection as those holding that Jesus was actually raised from the dead in some manner, either bodily (and thus extended in space and time), or as some sort of spiritual body (though often undefined).

Notice that he’s lumping those theologians who believe a spiritual resurrection occurred into the majority number? How disingenuous! No wonder you like this guy!

This is in his summary:

Most crucially, current scholarship generally recognizes that Jesus’ early followers claimed to have had visual experiences that they at least thought were appearances of their risen Master.

This statement is not equal to saying “there is secular historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Care to try again?

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lukeprog January 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Could we maybe stop condescending to each other and just look for mutual understanding?

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ildi January 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

lukeprog: Could we maybe stop condescending to each other and just look for mutual understanding?  

Oh, I think the understanding is there, at least on my part…

I would describe my attitude as annoyed. I assume people argue in good faith, and when I’m sent to the second link in a row that says either the opposite or vastly different from what is claimed, I get annoyed. I’m still open to the possible reasons why ayer does this, and if the reason is an inability to really understand the difference, then I think this definition of being condescending is warranted:

to put aside one’s dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with one regarded as inferior: He condescended to their intellectual level in order to be understood.

However, I think it’s worse than that. I think that ayer has the intellectual capacity to understand the difference between secular historical evidence and theological arguments. I’m posting my (annoyed) responses for those who don’t go to the trouble of reading the links and seeing that in this case the article does NOT present a summary of secular historical evidence for the resurrection.

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ayer January 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm

ildi: I assume people argue in good faith, and when I’m sent to the second link in a row that says either the opposite or vastly different from what is claimed, I get annoyed

I obviously disagree with your characterization of those links, and believe you are the one who is giving them a tendentious reading. But I would encourage readers to go to them to see who they agree with.

ildi: I think that ayer has the intellectual capacity to understand the difference between secular historical evidence and theological arguments.

I understand your apparent position to be that New Testament scholarship is not the practice of “real history,” and you are free to believe that. All I can say is that it is considered a legitimate field of study in distinction from theology, and anyone who looks into it will find that to be the case. Habermas is pointing out that when you control for the theological commitments of New Testament scholars, a consensus exists for the minimal facts used to make an inference to the resurrection (even among scholars who reject the physical resurrection on theological grounds). Again, I encourage readers to read the links for themselves.

In fact, I saw on the blog today that Luke had a podcast interviewing Habermas’ colleague Mike Licona, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to; but I’m sure Luke is quite familiar with the minimal facts approach I am defending here. You may not agree with it, but it is defended sincerely.

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Tony Hoffman January 2, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Ayer: Yes, the standard criteria for testing an historical descriptions are: explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, ad hoc–ness, accord with accepted beliefs, and superiority to rival hypotheses (elaborated on by Craig here:

Um, I don’t know what you’re even trying to pass off here. Craig is a philosopher, not a historian. The section you characterize as “standard criteria for testing an historical descriptions” (wtf?) makes no sense to me, and at I was an undergraduate major in History. And most oddly, the link you refer to doesn’t say anything about historical descriptions as does your citation above, but hypotheses.

It’s seems that you have a mistaken impression of what the field of History is, how it is studied, and what tools are considered available to those who write about it. Have you read much history that’s not about Biblical times – American, European, Medieval, etc?

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ayer January 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

Tony Hoffman: Um, I don’t know what you’re even trying to pass off here. Craig is a philosopher, not a historian. The section you characterize as “standard criteria for testing an historical descriptions” (wtf?) makes no sense to me, and at I was an undergraduate major in History.

Actually, Craig has two PhD’s: one in philosophy and one in New Testament studies. Perhaps they don’t get into historiographical hypothesis testing at the undergraduate level; are you familiar with the work of, e.g., C. Behan McCullagh? He has an extensive discussion of the criteria I mentioned (e.g., explanatory power, explanatory scope, etc.):
http://www.amazon.com/Justifying-Historical-Descriptions-Cambridge-Philosophy/dp/0521318300

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Thadeus January 3, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Sorry to barge in, but these sorts of discussions always puzzle me. What exactly is the point here? History asks the physical question “how”, religion the metaphysical “why”. Answering one in no way relates to the other (if asking the other does at all make sense). You can perhaps cheekily say that the problem with religion is its perpetual ambition to also tell the “how” – but really, placing any contemporary religion within the historical framework effectively defines it as a myth(ology), equivalent to the extinct beliefs of ancient cultures.

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Tony Hoffman January 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Ayer: Actually, Craig has two PhD’s: one in philosophy and one in New Testament studies.

And you seem immune to disparagement of “New Testament Studies.” I’ll lay it on the table for you; I think New Testament Studies (and this could be my own ignorance here) is related to History the same way that Alchemy is related to Chemistry, or Theology to Philosophy. It appears to be a weaker field that borrows on the respectability of those disciplines that it borrows from to prop up a credibility it fails to establish in its own practice.

You should look at what kind of universities offer PhD’s in New Testament Studies. In general, they are not among the elite places of learning, or they obviously provide a version that is vestigial, like our little toe, to that university’s origins.

Perhaps they don’t get into historiographical hypothesis testing at the undergraduate level; are you familiar with the work of, e.g., C. Behan McCullagh?

Or perhaps the term “historiographical hypothesis testing” is a fringe element to the actually study and writing of history?

I did look up McCullagh online. There’s also an excellent expose on Craig’s (mis)use of McCullagh here:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/01/pages-from-dr-hector-avalos-book-end-of.html

I’d highly recommend you read it. Like I said before, it appears that your interpretations of history (among other fields) are based largely on Craig et al., and it seems as if you don’t realize the degree that their voices misrepresent or mischaracterize mainstream scholarship.

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Tony Hoffman January 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Thadeus: Sorry to barge in, but these sorts of discussions always puzzle me. What exactly is the point here?

Sorry; Star Trek was the original point. I think. But, if you like the show, you should also realize that can lead just about anywhere. Hence.

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Thadeus January 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Tony Hoffman: Sorry; Star Trek was the original point. I think. But, if you like the show, you should also realize that can lead just about anywhere. Hence.

And I do – in both cases. I never said I mind the off-topic talk; I just think it leads nowhere. I’ve always thought it obvious that history equates all religion with mythology – placing “supernatural” interpretations among myths. But I suppose I’m just repeating you guys in the process.

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Tony Hoffman January 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Thadeus: I’ve always thought it obvious that history equates all religion with mythology – placing “supernatural” interpretations among myths. But I suppose I’m just repeating you guys in the process.

Well, I think you’re repeating me at least. Ayer, not so much.

What I think most odd about Ayer’s position isn’t that he appears to think that supernatural (mythological) explanations should be considered by historians, but that this view is also the mainstream.

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Thadeus January 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Tony Hoffman: What I think most odd about Ayer’s position isn’t that he appears to think that supernatural (mythological) explanations should be considered by historians, but that this view is also the mainstream.

Obviously the mainstream view gives full credence to the ancient Greek, Mayan and Norse legends…

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David August 18, 2011 at 10:36 am

I just saw this episode on NetFlix. What amazes me is that I had never seen it on reruns in the many years I used to watch TNG reruns.

Clearly the media wanted us to not see this episode.

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