Jason Rosenhouse: there’s no good theology

I’m not a chess fan, and don’t know much math, but I do love Jason Rosenhouse’s website when he goes to town on creationism or religion.  And he’s got a doozy this week: “Where can we find the really good theology? Part one.”  His starting point is theologian Edward Feser’s critique of my approach to theology, and my response yesterday.  But Jason has engaged in his own “theology project,” and has been underwhelmed:

Since then I have read a fair amount of highbrow theology. I have read my share of Augustine and Aquinas, Barth and Tillich, Kierkegaard and Kuhn, just to pick a few names. I have read quite a lot of Haught and Ward and Swinburne. I did not go into this expecting to be disappointed. Conversion seemed unlikely, but I expected at least to find a lot of food for thought. Instead, with each book and essay I read I found myself ever more horrified by the sheer vacuity of what these folks were doing. I came to despise their endlessly vague and convoluted arguments, their relentless smugness towards nonbelievers, and, most seriously, the complete lack of any solid reason for thinking they weren’t just making it up as they went along. I thought perhaps I was just reading the wrong writers, and that I would eventually come to the really good theology. But I never did.

I came to see theology as a moat protecting the castle of religion. But it was not a moat filled with water. No. It was filled with sewage. And the reason religion’s defenders wanted us to spend so much time splashing around in the moat had nothing to do with actually learning anything valuable or being edified by the experience. It was so that when we emerged on the other side we would be so rank and fetid and generally disgusted with ourselves that we would be in no condition to argue with anyone.

I’m starting to realize Jason is right, but, rank and fetid, I press on to become familiar with the opposition.  But he’s now been cleansed in the blood of the Dawkins, so go read his post.

I’ve just noted that Jason has posted part 2 of his critique, also very nice:

But this is just getting silly. Even the most ardent religious fundamentalist does not claim there is no knowledge behind science or that scientists routinely just make stuff up. They might demur from a particular scientific consensus, but they usually bend over backward to emphasize their great love for science. That is because they can see as well as anyone that science produces tangible results. They have no problem with the idea that consistent predictive accuracy (among other characteristics of good science) is a sound reason for accepting a scientific idea.

What science brings to the table in this discussion is a set of investigative methods that everyone regards as legitimate. That is precisely what theology lacks. There is no compelling answer to be given to the question, “How do you know “’original sin’ refers to anything real?” let alone “How do you know that Smith’s understanding of original sin is right and Johnson’s is wrong?”

Or, as Stephen Hawking put it more tersely: “Science will win because it works.”

181 Comments

  1. Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    And is the virtue here that we fellow atheists should accept the words of Rosenhouse and Coyne or, practice the same level of investigation ourselves?

    I’d like to think for myself thanks.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Then I suggest you start doing it … thinking, that is.

      Nobody is forcing you to be here.

      Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.

      • Arthur
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

        Wait, so you want him to leave the site because he’s thinking too much for himself? A bad sign.

    • Lotharloo
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      I also happen to have a list of big collections of books that prove the existence of Allah and why it logically follows that Muhammad is his last prophet. Once you are done reading the obscure language of the Christian theologians, maybe you can give muslims a chance. I also apologize that many of their jargons have Arabic root which is highly difficult for a westerner to memorize or understand but that shouldn’t stop a noble soul like you to spend another 3-4 years of your life. Given Theology’s great contributions to the advancement of our species, we desperately need hardworking and intelligent people who spend a huge fraction of their lives tirelessly studying theology.

      • J
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        “Given Theology’s great contributions to the advancement of our species…”

        Please name one.

        • Lotharloo
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          J, you’ll have to replace your sarcasm detector; it’s broken.

          • J
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

            I do apologize, I considered irony but the apology about the Arabic jargon made your comment sound sincere!

        • Posted July 16, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

          Toilet tissue on deserted islands?

      • Kevin
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Yes. And I’m sure there are many Hindi theologians whose works need to be vetted, and then the Jain, and the B’Hai, and the $cientologists, and Buddhists…and on and on and on.

        A while back, Dr. Dr. Dr. Massimo Pigluicci excoriated Coyne and others because they hadn’t “studied enough” and so weren’t worthy to engage in a serious discussion of the philosophy of science.

        His is exactly the same complaint. “Study harder until you believe exactly as I believe. If you haven’t read ALL of the theologians, you’re not worthy to dismiss any of them.”

        It’s a subtle way of saying “shut up”.

        • bric
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          There’s more than an echo of the ‘no good Scotsman’ meme here – ‘you say you have read deeply in theology, but you can’t have read the right books deeply enough if you don’t agree with me . . .’

        • Marta
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          like this, a lot.

          “Dr. Dr. Dr.” means what, now?

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

            Massimo has three doctorates, a fact he impresses upon us with the same frequency that Kw*k mentions Stuyvesant High School

            • Marta
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

              Ah. I’ll be kneelin’ and kissin’ his ring, then, if I ever meet him in person.

            • Jonathan Morgan
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              Some folks have too much free time. . .

      • Marella
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        Yup, and when you’ve finished with Islam there’s Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and hundreds more to waste your life on! I admire the sheer bloody-minded determination to plough through this crap but I really do think it’s a terrible waste of irrecoverable time.

        “There is no ‘there’ there!”

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure Jerry knows that.

          But it’s like the experiments we all (hopefully) did in science classes in school — measuring the acceleration of gravity, futzing around with buffer solutions, calculating absolute zero, that sort of thing.

          The whole idea behind the social aspect of science is repeatability and independent verification. That’s what Jerry is doing: independently verifying the claim that theology is bullshit.

          Does he have to do it? Well, no. But it’s what scientists do — at least, for subjects they consider important. And I don’t think there can be any doubt that Jerry thinks religion is very important, even though he’d agree with my wish that it weren’t.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted July 16, 2011 at 4:39 am | Permalink

            You’ve been there.
            I’ve been there.
            Studying theology even though we know a-priori that it is a crock-of-fertiliser.

            Why?
            My curiosity was borne of an interest in the nuances of the obvious historicity of this Jesus dude. Which was revealed by facts to be a total fiction.
            Revealed by investigating the theology myself, and not taking anyone else’s word for it.

            A drive courtesy of the revealed juvenile ignorance of the self-proclaimed faithful, coupled with the genocide wrought by religion, my research has morphed into a devastating weapon against their pathetic self-justifying arguments, and a vaccine for onlookers against contracting the toxic meme that is faith.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention the ironically named ‘Scientology’ (where there is neither science nor ‘ology’).

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      I don’t think it takes extensive study to notice the historical and scientific falsehoods and assumptions that have to be taken as a given for Christian theology to be useful at all. I don’t see why you’re so upset about Coyne and Rosenhouse sharing their views on the this stuff… they’re giving their opinions, but its not like they’re closing down theology schools or anything. Low attendance and lack of interest is doing that.

    • Patric
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I know! I was going to think for myself too, but Jerry Coyne broke into my house, burned all of my theology books, tore up my library card, and deleted my Amazon account. Now I have no choice but to believe what he says about theology, because I have no possible way to read about it myself!

    • Dan L.
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      The Bhagavad Gita predates the Torah and Christian Bible, and Hindu theology stretches over a nearly uninterrupted 3000 year span. Have you looked into that yet? It seems to me that if the practice of theology is really progressive in terms of knowledge gained you should start with Hindu theology, which has had a much longer run and should have uncovered more truth about the universe (again, assuming theology is the sort of practice that can uncover truth about the universe).

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        BTW, the Carvaka school of atheism in India also dates back to 3000 years ago.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          For that matter, Epicurus did away with the notion of benevolent deities centuries before Caesar.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      And as for thinking for yourself, is there any chance of you actually doing that ?

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    And how do you know you aren’t arguing with a Christian Atheist from the JJ Altzizer school of Theology? Not all theology exists to protect religion. Some exists to examine its presuppositions. You’ve reduced the school to your preferred caricature and, while it does seem to be an apt description of our current age of Mega-Church fideism, it does not describe the practice.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Which is it?

      An apt description of our current age of Mega-Church fidiesm, or not?

      You contradict yourself within a single sentence and expect to be taken seriously? You acknowledge that the VAAAAAST majority of theology is in service of a particular religious point of view, and then accuse us of making hasty generalizations just because a few fringe characters (who don’t represent 99.99999999999% of the others) are out there?

      Seriously, how deeply is your ox being gored here?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      If he’s already an atheist then I have no reason to argue with him.

    • Nicolae C.
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      “Someone making fun of theology? Not on MY watch!” *throws on Theology Defender cape with large “TD” logo, runs outside, trips on stairs, burbles softly while blaming New Atheists for misaligned steps*

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Well Chuck, according to you we can get objective knowledge via theology.

      So tell us, why is there so much disagreement within different faiths, let alone between different faiths ? There can only be one correct answer if we can get to an objective truth, so why can no one do it ? After all, a lot of the disagreements go back thousands of years. Plenty of time for the truth to have emerged and be recognised for what it is. Science does not have the type of schisms religion does, and yet you claim theology is just a valid means of knowing as science is. So why is science so successful and theology so useless ?

  3. Kevin
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    How do you know that the entity at the end of your Cosmological Argument is named “God”? How do you know it’s an entity at all, and not the all-natural, no-supernatural forces of nature?

    And on and on.

    It’s the enormously egotistical arrogance implied in theology that gets me. Someone literally sits around doing nothing but thinking deep thoughts, and believes that result unveils the absolute nature of the creator of all universes.

    I’ve touched on various theologians in the past. I’ve been exposed to more of the mind-numbingly stupid apologetics (Strobel, Craig, McDowell, et al) more recently. They’re all cut from the some cloth.

    I think the majority of them are either in it to make an easy buck (Strobel) or are really and truly trying to convince themselves that Santa Claus really exists after all, and he rides pink unicorns for fun.

    And then there are the Mohler’s of the world, who appear to be in it for nothing more than their own anger that someone else might be having more fun than them.

    • Observer
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Exactly. At it’s core, the Cosmological Argument simply boils down to “well, something must have started all this!” While it is not at all clear that that is a valid conclusion, even if we grant it, it does not follow that what that “something” is remotely resembles what they conceive as God. All they are doing is anthropomorphising the vaguest of abstractions.

      • Posted July 16, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        No, no, the Great and Benevolent Abstractron does that, because humins are super special.

  4. Tyro
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve taken a few stabs at theology myself. It was a similar story – I had relatives who were (are) believers and since they were smart people, I assumed that there would be some reasonable arguments in their favour. Like Jason, I didn’t expect to be convinced but I hoped to find some good ideas or to at least say “reasonable people could believe, we just differ on a few points.”

    As I progressed, a nagging thought kept cropping up: why were all the popular arguments so terrible?

    In pop science, the best arguments are presented, they’re just simplified a bit, the jargon reduced and only a few lines of evidence are explored. When you read more advanced books, you see the same arguments and the same studies highlighted only now in more depth, with more mathematics and with more precision. When I’ve skimmed textbooks, I see the exact same arguments presented yet again, only now with the full subtleties and details.

    Why do people act like theology should take a different approach? Why do people act like the arguments presented in public are, for some unstated reason, intentionally and consistently chosen to be the worst arguments but more serious works contain completely different arguments. You know, the ones that aren’t founded on fallacies and haven’t been debunked a dozen times already. Are we to believe that apologists know of valid arguments for God but chose to present the hoary old, debunked, fallacious ones?

  5. Bruce Bannister
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “Science will win because it works.”

    Oh, it does, eh?

    Using empirical data, explain the actual origin of amino acids.

    Thank you!

    • Tyro
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Oh snap! You pwned them! What’s the answer smartasses? Bzzt, there is none!

      Let me just open my bible to see what the real, non-scientific answer is to prove to these smartasses just how dumb they are!

      (Uh, sorry. Bruce, I don’t see amino acids mentioned in the bible. The answer is still that God Did It, right? I mean, that’s always the answer I hear in church.)

      Wait a sec Bruce, I see some news reports saying that scientists have found amino acids in comets and dust clouds and they’ve created them in the lab mimicing deep space conditions. That can’t be! Bruce, help me out here, why does it seem like science is winning?

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      I’ll personally admit that I have no such explanation.

      But, please humor me: what is your own explanation for the actual origin of amino acids?

      Oh — one more note: just because science works doesn’t mean that it has all the answers yet — or even that it expects to someday have all the answers. Quite the contrary, it is provable that there are valid questions whose answers can never be known.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        But, please humor me: what is your own explanation for the actual origin of amino acids?

        And please, Mr. Bannister, “God did it” is not sufficient. Tell us how God did it.

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure that they’ve found lots of amino acids in comets and the like. They’re not uncommon… and honestly, not that important to the early origin of life, since amino acids were likely added after the RNA world had been around a while.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Um… The RNA World Theory is good, it is widely accepted amongst scientists in relevant fields, and has a lot of evidence going for it. But amino acids were around back then as well.

        • ritebrother
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. The old “metabolism first” vs. “genes first” dichotomy has been replaced with the idea of a merger of autopoietic systems of amino acids, lipids, and nucleic acids, each of which have been demonstrated experimentally.

        • Sajanas
          Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          Oh yes, that’s definitely true… but I’m uncertain as to how biologically critical they were for the first RNA organisms. And there were probably a lot more biologically relevant amino acids to the early organisms than just the 20 that we’ve settled on from our common ancestor.

          • Jim Jones
            Posted July 18, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            Common sense(?) would indicate that life or its precursors are still being formed today. It may be that the environment now is too hostile for their survival for long but there’s little reason to suppose some epochal point where such ‘creation’ ended.

            One could wonder if the prions(?) which cause mad cow disease are somehow related. There seems to be a natural process creating these.

    • ritebrother
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Bruce,

      Look up the “Miller-Urey experiment”. Also, the more recent work of Stanley Miller before he died, and that of his contemporaries. Most amino acids have been shown repeatedly, by multiple labs, to form spontaneously from fundamental elements and conditions of the early Earth.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        Ah, yes — but you haven’t explained where the Earth itself came from!

        Ergo, would you prefer the white cracker or the whole wheat? I’m afraid the only wine is cheap and red.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • ritebrother
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          Dammit! You got me. Do you have any jam for that cracker?

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

            Sorry, no…just this white mystery spread. And, frankly, I really don’t think you want any of it….

            b&

          • PeteJohn
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            You can’t put jam on that cracker! It’s the actual flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through Him and His everlasting grace, all things are possible. How dare you insist on slathering jam onto His Grace? You… you… you bigot!

            /Bill Donohue-like rant

            • Ken Browning
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

              Why would being slathered in jam be a problem for the Almighty One?

        • Tyro
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          After Stephen Colbert’s comment about curing The Gay with Christ (roughly: getting down on your knees and drinking some wine before putting some dude’s body in your mouth), I doubt I’ll see Catholics the same.

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

            Damn…I missed that one. Not that I watch the show…no TV, so all I ever see of him are YouTube clips people point me to.

            Speaking of which…I don’t suppose you’ve got such a clip handy…

            b&

    • Dan L.
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      …a thought which Bruce expresses by publishing to a virtual environment accessible to millions of people all around the globe nearly instantaneously.

      How do you think the internet works, Bruce? You think the data center workers sacrifice chickens when a server goes down? Think Nortel engineers use tea leaves to diagnose hardware issues?

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        You’re thinking of Level 3, not Nortel. Nortel is a coffee house.

        And the chicken sacrifices are only when times are good. When things go worng, they generally switch to Doritos and Mountain Dew for sacrificial porpoises.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Tyro
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          Someone needs to tell their creditors – finding a stash of Mountain Dew and Doritos could double their assets!

        • Dan L.
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Ben,

          This Nortel:

          http://www.nortel.com/

          Or I completely missed the joke which is probably pretty likely.

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            Yes, that Nortel.

            They get their caffeine fix through coffee, not…

            …oh, nevermind….

            b&

            • Dan L.
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              Gotcha. I interpreted “coffee house” as “cafe” instead of “institution at which coffee is preferred to tea.”

      • Tyro
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Think Nortel engineers use tea leaves to diagnose hardware issues?

        They only used tea leaves to make business decisions, duh.

        Hardware problems were fixed by the sack of rabid monkeys that also managed their finances.

      • Jim Jones
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        They did consume enormous quantities of poutine. You don’t think . . . . . ?

  6. Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Subscribing, just so I can watch the chuckwreck in progress.

    b&

    • daveau
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      lol!

  7. epistememe
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I am reminded of a joke:
    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well, are you religious or atheist?” He said, “Religious.” I said, “Me too! Are your Christian or Buddhist?” He said, “Christian.” I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, “Baptist!” I said, “Wow! Me too! Are your Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!” I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

    • Chayanov
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Ah, but if they encountered a Christian atheist from the J.J. Abrams School of Theology and Auto Repair then they’d soon learn the error of their ways.

    • Dan L.
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      IIRC, this is a joke from comedian Emo Philips’ E=MO^2 recording. His stage persona is a little corny but a lot of his jokes are actually really good.

      • Marta
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Meant to tell you earlier that I thought your responses to Feser at his blog the other day were brilliant.

        • Dan L.
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          There were a lot of anons and I gave up fairly quickly, so you may be thinking of someone else. Thank you regardless.

          • Marta
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Nuh uh. I know you cut out early, but the two or three posts you wrote, they were great.

      • bhoytony
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        I like another Emo Phillips joke:
        “When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I
        realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, didn’t work that way. So I just
        stole one and asked him to forgive me.

  8. Leigh Jackson
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    1 Corinthians 13

    We more of that sort of theology. Love trumps faith. Love rejoices with the truth.

    Paul needn’t have said any more.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Oooh! A game of Bible Babble! Can I play?

      Matthew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

      Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

      Matthew 10:34: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

      Who’s keeping score? How many Jesus verses do I need to beat an extended Pauline quotation? Am I there yet?

      b&

      • Tyro
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        It’s a well-accepted principle of modern theology that one quote from Paul is worth four from Jesus. After all, Paul was a saint.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Ah, damn — I need two more Jesus quotes to win this round, then.

          Well, here goes:

          Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

          Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

          Cheers,

          b&

      • daveau
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        I think Paul always wins, because he made Jesus up in the first place.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Yeah, but Paul stole Jesus from the pagans. Just ask Justin Martyr!

          (Presupposing that “Paul” even vaguely resembling the Biblical character of that name that it makes sense to identify him as the same person, of course.)

          b&

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          What makes you think that this Paul character ever existed?
          Can you point me to any extant contemporary evidence?

          • Tyro
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

            Unless there’s something extraordinary, isn’t the presence of letters in his name sufficient?

            Is there some sort of debate about Paul’s existence or is this some sort of extreme scepticism position?

            • Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

              Where are these “letters in his name”?
              All we have at best are 14th century copies of copies.
              To illustrate my point: we also have letters by Sherlock Holmes.
              There is debate about Paul’s existence, and has been for centuries.
              It is not an extreme position for scholars to assume.
              I ask, what evidence do you have for Paul’s existence?

              • Tyro
                Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                Michael – can you at least tell me if you’re advocating a serious position or trying to illustrate a point?

                Evidence of any sort is difficult to come by the further back we look. If you’re not willing to accept copies of early documents as sufficient evidence for preliminary acceptance, what do you require? I would bet that this standard would rule out what we know of a majority of historical figures, probably an overwhelming majority.

                I ask because if this is the extent of your argument, I can only see it as the sort of extreme skepticsm that’s closer to anti-science than to science. It’s not something I see from genuine historians.

                I’m not saying that Paul definitely exists. Really, I know little about any debate (if there even is a debate) which is why I’m asking.

              • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

                Tyro:
                I am being deadly serious.
                That you take it an aberration is not my problem.

              • Tyro
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                That you take it an aberration is not my problem.

                This sort of hyper-scepticism is a mockery of science, the sort of parody that is trotted out by every religious wingnut who always insists on “proof”, rather than evidence. Setting an absurdly, unrealistically high standard of evidence is what makes them wingnuts.

                If there is a debate about the existence of Paul, I’ll bet that even the contra side will acknowledge that writing in a person’s name is evidence, just that textual analysis and other details are stronger opposing evidence. It isn’t one side demanding better evidence than copies of copies of letters – sometimes that’s just the best we can get.

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                See, the thing is, we’re not talking about somebody like Caesar whose portrait you can buy on a coin minted in his lifetime for about as much as a mortgage payment.

                We’re talking about a side character in an insignificant fringe cult (that later took off in a spectacular fashion, to be sure, but not for centuries late) for whom there’s no better physical evidence than there is for, say, Eurydice.

                Why on Earth should the default position be for his existence?

                Would you argue for the existence of Sasquatch because we can’t expect to do better than paster castings of footprints?

                Yes, it makes sense to refer to the author of the Pauline epistles as “Paul.” But to think that there really was this larger-than-life figure whom no contemporary source noticed…I mean, really?

                How could any historical individual lay claim to the name of the “real Paul” without having been the Jews’ star persecutor-turned-persecutee? And how could the Pharisees have failed to rip such a traitor a new one, in literature if not in fact?

                We’re left with the same thing the apologists do for Jesus himself. They invent a man of the same name who bore not even a vague passing semblance to the Jesus found in any first-millennium source and — without a single shred of positive supporting evidence — declare that this is who Jesus “really” was and that it’s therefore absurd to suggest that Jesus never existed.

                Um, excuse me? A fiction invented to explain a fiction somehow constitutes proof of existence?

                This is supposed to pass academic — let alone scientific — muster…how, exactly?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tyro
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                What percentage of people have coins minted with their faces on them? Why should that be a standard?

                You say Paul is an insignificant character who didn’t do anything spectacular which is exactly why it’s not appropriate to be placing these very high levels of proof. It’s why we accept someone’s claim that they had breakfast or have a friend named “Jim” – they’re innocuous, common claims. We know that these are generally truthful so we accept it unless we have some evidence pointing the other way (for instance, our friend was in a prison where they didn’t serve breakfast, or our friend was in India where “Jim” was a very uncommon name).

                Now you go on to talk about details of the text and the claims. Is the character really that innocuous? Are there other things in the text and what we know of the history which imply that Paul was a creation? Those are interesting, important questions, the kind of additional evidence which can shift the balance.

                This is just the sort of digging that MKG wasn’t doing when he pushed forward his historical denialist position of demanding some sort of absolute proof before believing that any historical figure existed.

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                Tyro, this space is too cramped. I’m going to type my response as a new post at the bottom; please see there…in a few minutes.

                b&

              • Posted July 17, 2011 at 4:32 am | Permalink

                Tyro:
                I am a scientist.
                I have researched this subject since 1969.
                I learned Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Middle English in order to be able to study it in detail.
                I have inspected the earliest source document that we have for the New Testament.
                I have read as much of the Dead Sea Scrolls as am able through photographic copies, and much, much more. (Including conversing with Ben for about a decade on these subjects).

                I have invested decades of hard slog into investigating this in the most rigorous manner imaginable. My search has been anything but “unscientific”.
                I have reached certain inescapable conclusions.

                Sure, my phrasing was terse, but in order that you might do some of the light brain/leg-work yourself, rather than rely on authority.

                If you had honestly pursued my simple starting question, (it was not an assertion, as you accuse me of below), you would be on a thrilling path of discovery of facts, but you instead seem to stick to the logical fallacies of:
                * Appeal to Authority
                * Appeal to Ignorance
                * Appeal to Popularity
                * Appeal to Longevity
                * Ad hominem
                These are “unscientific”, if anything.

                I am in extreme pain at the moment, as well as very busy, and this results in somewhat terse replies, and a lack of stamina when it comes to banging my head against a brick wall, as you might understand.

                You have my sincere apologies if my taciturnity has caused you any offence.

                Ben has far more staying power than I, and for that you are to be thankful.

            • Jim Jones
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

              “isn’t the presence of letters in his name sufficient?”

              Not sure of the meaning of this. The most conservative view is that Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon were written by one person, presumably Paul. And that’s all we really have! It’s best summed up by this:

              “Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”

              — “Misquoting Jesus” – Bart Ehrman

            • Moewicus
              Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

              Robert M. Price has a book coming out soon called “The Amazing Colossal Apostle” in which he argues that the character Paul is identified with the character Simon Magus, and that Simon Magus wrote the Pauline letters.

              • Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:38 am | Permalink

                I really like Price, and he is very good, but not perfect.
                He still seems to have that “hang-over” effect of starting from the premise that the assumptions of the NT are a priori TRUE, and must be argued against.
                Many ex-believers (including Bart Ehrman) fall headlong into this theist trap, crudely fashioned from raw childhood fear & indoctrination.

                I, as a life-long atheist scientist, approach it from the other direction, vis:
                If you cannot show me any credible evidence for your claims, then they remain moot.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Bible deepitys. Many words and little meaning.

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      I don’t know about you, I’ve certainly seen love fail, love be unkind, love be proud. People fall in love and break hearts, destroy relationships, destroy themselves. No one emotion is the key to everything… just as hatred and anger can be used to good ends, so too can love lead you to do stupid, stupid things.

      Or maybe I’m just tired of hearing this read at every single wedding I’ve ever been to.

      • Observer
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        Having been to plenty of weddings recently, I can sympathize. Still, I find find Paul’s sentiment there very hopeful, and ultimately very humanistic. To me he seems to be asserting the value of human connenctions over his sense of the divine, and for Paul that really is a rare moment of, well, wisdom.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          And Corinthians is even one of the books allegedly by Paul which scholars do not suspect of being a forgery.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Paul needed to date more.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha!

          There was a little smiling devil sitting on my shoulder when I posted this here, saying do it do it!.

          I haven’t been to a wedding in a long while. Funerals keep cropping up regularly.

          However cliched, whoever it was who put these lines together created something enduringly beautiful. That this made it into the Christian cannon shows the religion isn’t entirely an unredeemed disaster.

          Few amongst us can probably live up to it; but that’s not to say whoever wrote it shouldn’t have bothered.

          • Jim Jones
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            “… However cliched, whoever it was who put these lines together created something enduringly beautiful. …”

            “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

            — Orson Welles, “The Third Man”.

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted July 16, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

              If if really did take warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed to produce Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance give me the cukoo clock any day.

              Thankfully it didn’t.

          • Notagod
            Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, its like gwshrub, he said one good thing, so his regime wasn’t an unredeemed disaster. You are really plucking at the bottom of the sewage tank.

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted July 16, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              Unredeemed: see? No, hopeless you didn’t get the ironic pun.

              All the miraculous stuff and 3 in 1 stuff and redeemer stuff. In short all the dogmatic supernaturalist stuff is redeemed if you remove it and leave the Corinthians passage as a beautiful epigram hanging in time like other beautiful human creations left hanging in time.

              You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate Leonardo and Michelangelo’s creations. Nor Corinthians.

              It’s you who is a child. A nasty brat at that.

              • Leigh Jackson
                Posted July 16, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

                Apologies!

                The nasty brat is Clainthehighground. I was running ahead of myself.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I know Alex! What are three paragraphs and one sentence of someone just saying stuff that means little to nothing?

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child…” Yup, that about sums you up. Looks like that 12 year old from the earlier post is back.

  9. Jim Jones
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    “Christianity: 2,000 years of everyone making it up as they go along”.

    And the others are no better.

    I’d be happy to read the source documents of Christianity, but four epistles and Josephus are a laughable basis for a cult which has slaughtered its way across the world. And people scorn Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard!

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      I too, would be happy to read the source documents of Christianity.
      Trouble is, they do not exist.
      The pro-xtian bits of Josephus have been recognised as a clear forgery since the late 1800s, and the oldest full epistles that we have are way less than 1000 years old.

      There are NO originals of any kind.
      Yet we do have many extant original theological scrolls from the area at the supposed time of Jesus.

      • Jim Jones
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Of course there is the hypothesis that Luke was cribbed from Josephus (and may have been the first gospel) but there are only a few who try to claim that the TF is not a forgery (and probably assert the same about the Donation of Constantine). Still, apart from Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon we only have the TF since the other epistles are non-Pauline and the gospels are, of course, fully fictional.

        Of course no one can overcome the Philo problem. If anyone should have mentioned Jesus it is Philo – but nothing.

        But then Philo didn’t mention Harry Potter either!

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Never mind Philo — the Dead Sea Scrolls are the actual original documents of Essenes Jews writing in Jerusalem before, during, and after the time all this is supposed to have gone down. And the types of subjects they wrote about are the same ones the Gospel authors were most interested in and had Jesus do and preach about.

          But Jesus is perfectly absent from the Scrolls.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink

            Missing as well:
            * The great zombie rising of 33AD
            * Raising of corpses (ex gratia) [Mk 5:21-43, Lk 7:11-17, Jn 11:1-44]
            * Hydro-ambulation
            * Creation of 10 ex-lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
            * Emulating Fred Hollows (Mark 8:22-26)
            * Making drunk folk unparalytic
            * Making sober folk paralytic
            * Earth-shaking and rock-splitting & curtain-rending.
            * Making a meal-for-one stretch to a multitude
            … for example.

            It is utterly inconceivable that the Essenes might have heard of such (to them) significant events or omens, yet chose instead to reserve their parchments for the correct manner in which to use the toilet. (Which is a surprising amount of what the DSS concentrate upon).

            That reminds me of a somewhat tangential notion.
            Why is not the very first Commandment:
            THOU SHALT WASH THINE HANDS AFTER EXCRETION!

            It would have saved a lot of unnecessary suffering.
            I guess that God ‘moves’ in mysterious ways.

      • Posted July 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        You’re only off by 10-12 centuries, but hey, what’s a millennium between friends.

        • Posted July 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

          Would you to elaborate on that cryptic gybe, please?
          Note that I specifically referred to extant originals.

          • Jim Jones
            Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

            Even if we had copies much closer to the originals in date there’s no reason to trust them too much. The urge to ‘correct’ makes them all unreliable – lacking autographs all must be viewed cynically.

          • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            There are surviving papyri dating back to the late second century. If you’re going to play the “I said only works surviving completely in tact!!!!!” card you’re going to basically throw out most everything. And confirm my long held suspicion that gnus are anti-rationalists at their heart.

            • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

              I am fully aware that there are these fragments of papyrus codexes. I have travelled half-way across the globe to eyeball some of them.
              You seem to have misread what I wrote.
              I mentioned original contemporary source documents. Even if we grant that these tiny fragments are second century, (a very shaky claim, I have to say), they are not original, they are not source documents, nor full gospels.
              The oldest is a small fragment of a single page of John, and mentions nothing of Jesus. It has only been dated by the extremely unreliable method of “orthography”, a notoriously simple-minded system that is very easy to fake.
              It has never been carbon-dated.

              As for your ‘1000 years off’ aside, I see that you were referring to my allusion that we have no complete gospels that date to more than about a millennium.
              Now, you are free to argue what you like, but your disturbing attempts to complain about what I did not say, nor wrote, leaves me puzzled as to what you are trying to prove here.
              If you are going to comment further, please carefully re-read what I actually wrote and claimed first.

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

                Your claim was specifically related to the pauline epistles (you were the one making the absurd claims vis a vis Paul, someone wrote the damned things), not the gospels. Excellent attempt to shift the goalposts, though.

                And there are papyri dating back to the late second century with a very large section of the Pauline epistles; most of Romans, basically all of 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians and Philippians. As an added bonus you don’t even need to travel half way around the world to see it as the papyrus labeled #46 is divided between Michigan and Dublin. So, contra your assertion that we have no copies of the pauline epistles predating the 13th century, we do. So it’s very likely that Paul was a real person with good PR. (Which would be the most likely explanation, but let’s not rationality interfere with a good atheist hategasm.)

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                @Munro:

                Your claim was specifically related to the pauline epistles

                One claim was, yes. But not the claim to which you responded.

                (you were the one making the absurd claims vis a vis Paul, someone wrote the damned things)

                I never claimed otherwise! Obviously someone, or more likely some group wrote them.
                To claim that no-one wrote them would be bordering on the loopy.

                ..not the gospels.

                My second point, I think that you will find upon inspection.

                Excellent attempt to shift the goalposts, though

                …you don’t even need to travel half way around the world to see it as the papyrus labeled #46 is divided between Michigan and

                Dublin.

                Ahh. This is where you reveal your very profound parochial ignorance.
                Not everyone lives in the northern hemisphere, you know.
                A quick search would reveal to even the slowest of wit that I, by geographical neccessity, would have to travel ½ way around the globe to

                visit either of these localities.

                So, contra your assertion that we have no copies of the pauline epistles predating the 13th century, we do

                Are you so fixated with denying my original assertion that you resort to this outrageous distortion?
                I clearly asked for extant CONTEMPORARY evidence, my good man!
                I am fully aware of P46, and have translated it myself!
                But IT DOES NOT SATISFY MY ORIGINAL CRITERIA. Vis:
                Extant, contemoporary & original!!!
                If, in your next reply, you are not able to grasp these basic requirements, I shall be forced, through the exigencies of dwindling tolerance levels, to

                ignore your theistic straw-men.

                So it’s very likely that Paul was a real person with good PR.

                Yes. There is considerable merit to this argument. In fact, one with which I substantially concur!
                But, to pose a question in opposition, as a didactic device to get my interlocutor to cogitate is not a crime.

                (Which would be the most likely explanation, but let’s not rationality interfere with a good atheist hategasm.)

                “hategasm”?
                I like it!
                Mind if I steal it?

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                E.H. Munro, might I ask: which “Paul” is it you’re referring to?

                I ask because the name has so many conflicting definitions.

                Is it the character from Acts?

                Is it the person who wrote the original copy of the “authentic” Pauline epistles?

                Is it a collective name given to all of the Pauline epistles?

                In short, what are the defining characteristics of the person to whom you apply the name, “Paul”? What iron-clad criteria can we apply to know that it’s this particular person you’re referring to as opposed to some other?

                Once you tackle that question, you might realize that a similar but far thornier problem exists for the “Jesus” character.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

                Goren-Sensei:

                …Once you tackle that question, you might realize that a similar but far thornier problem exists for the “Jesus” character.

                In his defence, I do believe that he has conceded that point. The point of the difficulty of the historicity of the Jesus character, but has now shifted to the (admittedly) far less fictional grounds of that of the existence of “Paul”, or “Pauls”.

                Our interlocutor may, in fact, have it the more correct way around, vis: (imagined musings of a god-soaked-ibot)

                Jesus as an historical character is clearly is clearly untenable, so let’s write him off when converting atheist bastards, but perhaps convincing them of the historicity of “Paul” is a way to slip Xtinaity past the historical radar? (Even if I have to ignore their logical imperatives to asset a point. Lying fer Jeebers is OK if I cross my fingers.)

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

                “One claim was, yes. But not the claim to which you responded.”

                Actually, the claims I was responding to were this one and this one. And I’m not sure just how else to interpret statements like “…the oldest full epistles that we have are way less than 1000 years old.” and “Where are these “letters in his name”? 
All we have at best are 14th century copies of copies.” than in the fashion that I did. I.e. that you were claiming that oldest existing copies of the pauline epistles dated to the 14th century, which is utter bollocks.

                If you’re saying that in your dialect of English that those statements don’t mean what they say on their face, then you should specify to the rest of us that your dialect of English is unique and we shouldn’t be interpreting your words to mean what they seem to say.

                “I never claimed otherwise! Obviously someone, or more likely some group wrote them.”

                No, it’s actually more likely that they were written by an individual. That would be the simplest explanation. Not being a conspiracy theorist I don’t go in for the Danbrownian nonsense.

                “This is where you reveal your very profound parochial ignorance. Not everyone lives in the northern hemisphere, you know. A quick search would reveal to even the slowest of wit that I, by geographical neccessity, would have to travel ½ way around the globe to”

                I’m not one of those creepy individuals that googles strangers on the internet to find out where they’re from. I leave that sort of thing for others. Like yourself, apparently.

                “I am fully aware of P46, and have translated it myself!”

                So what you’re saying is that your earlier claims were deliberate lies? Meaning that everything you say should be discounted on grounds of intellectual dishonesty?

                “Extant, contemoporary & original!!!
                If, in your next reply, you are not able to grasp these basic requirements, I shall be forced, through the exigencies of dwindling tolerance levels, to ignore your theistic straw-men.”

                Not only do I grasp them, I actually answered this earlier. I pointed out the very real fact that if we only accept contemporary copies of ancient documents then we have to throw basically all of ancient history in the rubbish bin, so thank you for confirming my suspicion that gnus are antirationalists. History isn’t an empirical science. It requires the use of deductive logic. The Marcionic canon predates P46 by 60-70 years, and yet has the same epistles. You really do need to believe in either miracles or vast conspiracies to explain this anyway beyond the simple one, that there was some guy named Paul that wrote a bunch of letters to the Christian churches of the Mediterranean world. Not being superstitious and all, I tend to opt for the simplest explanation.

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                “E.H. Munro, might I ask: which “Paul” is it you’re referring to?

                Is it the person who wrote the original copy of the “authentic” Pauline epistles?”

                I’m referring to a claim made by an anti-rationalist that the oldest surviving epistles date to the 14th century (before contradicting himself and claiming to have translated a papyrus 1000+ years older). Another excellent try at shifting the goalposts, though. Great teamwork guys. But I’m not the one making any claims here. You guys are.

                “In short, what are the defining characteristics of the person to whom you apply the name, “Paul”?”

                Who cares? I’m not sure what else to reply to this. Why does any of it matter? I made zero claims. Someone else made an absurd one, and demanded that I disprove it. I did. The oldest surviving epistles are 18 centuries old, and we have copies of the same letters in a document that dates from the early 2nd century. There are references to Paul in Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement, all of which date to the late first century. Paul’s existence seems pretty well vouched for.

                “Once you tackle that question, you might realize that a similar but far thornier problem exists for the “Jesus” character.”

                Again, you’re apparently confusing me with someone else. I actually made no claims at all. I simply responded to an absurd one by a person that later confessed to intellectual dishonesty, so I’d consider the matter closed.

            • Jim Jones
              Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

              E.H. Munro said: “There are surviving papyri dating back to the late second century.”

              Yes, but saying what exactly? (Except that the Jews weren’t pyramid building slaves).

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

                Jim Jones said “Yes, but saying what exactly? (Except that the Jews weren’t pyramid building slaves).”

                The discussion concerned the pauline epistles and the rather absurd claim that there was no such person. I was referring to the oldest existing papyrus with a rather large section of Paul.

                You really need to buy into a bizarre conspiracy theory to buy all these nonsense scenarios, and completely ignore the fractious nature of early Christianity to justify them. Marcion was drummed out of the church in the early to mid second century (for, essentially, teaching that the god of the old testament and the god of the new couldn’t be the same), and still assembled his own canon, which was essentially the gospel of Luke and the Pauline epistles. And that canon, used by Churches in Asia of old, dates to the mid second century. Unless someone is proposing time-traveling catholic monks changing those documents it seems that we can safely surmise that Paul was, in fact, a real person, and put that bit of nonsense to rest.

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

                …the pauline epistles and the rather absurd claim that there was no such person

                For the last time, if you cannot provide evidence that such a claim was made, then your thesis is purely hot air.
                I do not believe that you can buttress this apparent fiction.
                I stand to be corrected.

  10. MYron
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    No intellectual sophistication can conceal the crucial point that the entire monotheistic theology is ultimately based on an absurd, nonsensical concept, namely, the concept of a bodiless self-conscious living being that exists nowhere.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      The omnimax God who allowed 6 million of his chosen people be slaughtered. If the Holocaust doesn’t make clear the non-existence, or at least the non-importance, of Yhwh I know not what does.

  11. Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Not a chess fan, Jerry? I think I know what your next reading program will have to be…

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Well if you have any suggestions for those of us who know the rules of chess but are clueless about the tactics and strategy of the game please do a post on your blog with some suggested reading!

      • Marta
        Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Start with the new biography of Bobby Fischer, “Endgame”. Fischer was a lunatic, but probably the best player who ever lived. You will want to play his matches when you read the book.

  12. PeteJohn
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ll take Mr. Rosenhouse’s analogy of a crap-filled moat one step further. After emerging from said moat and saying that yes, it’s been confirmed, the moat smells like feces, the theists will argue:

    “But you’ve not yet wallowed in the feces over by the western bridge! That feces is full of lovely, wonderful smells that you cannot appreciate until you swim in it for hours. After so doing, you must precede to the section of the moat by the large oak tree!”

    If you then do so, and just for good measure swim three laps, they’ll argue you’ve not done it right because you’re supposed to swim four, but the laps have to be swum continuously and the lap-swimming only counts if you’ve done it while really, really believing you were swimming in a moat of clear, cool, and refreshing mountain spring water. Ken Ham may even swoop in and argue you were supposed to swim through it using your Bible-goggles.

  13. Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I think Pat Condell sums it all up quite nicely

    here.

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Damn. And people think I’m strident!

      Not that I’m disagreeing with Pat, mind you…but talk about full-throttle!

      b&

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, and that’s Pat ON his medication! His videos on Islam are equally, er, to the point. However, Pat’s arguments are thought out and not spur of the moment rantings. He’s consistent.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        What was strident about that video?
        I thought it was measured and calm, considering the deliberate genocide that faith wreaks upon the innocent of the globe every second of every day.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

          I’ll wholeheartedly agree with you about the response being appropriate and proportional. But I still think it’s not unjust to characterize it as strident.

          There are times when stridency is not only justified but called for, and an active campaign to tear down the fruits of civilization is such a time if ever there was one.

          Would it mollify you if I added that I think a similar case can be made for calling Dr. King strident, for all his brilliantly effective eloquence that drove the first nail into the coffin of racism in America? (Yes, the corpse is still alive in the coffin, kicking and screaming, but the nails are holding and more are being added all the time.)

          Cheers,

          b&

  14. Cliff Melick
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I am puzzled by what you are doing…reading theology. Since theology is nothing more than speculation based on false assumption, exactly what’s the point? What is it you think you will discover?

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      He’s explained it a number of times.

      In essence, he’s vaccinating himself against the Courtier’s Reply.

      I think, for him, it’s also akin to watching a trainwreck.

      I don’t think I’d personally have the patience to do what he’s doing, but I can at least imagine feeling similarly motivated.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha! Takes me back to my high school days in the log cabin when we had a term paper to write and we were all assigned a “Great Book.” In our school library we had a set of “Great Books” and I got assigned Aquinas!

      So I read the Summa Theologica 1 and 2 and I remember discussing my paper with my teacher. I said something like, “This guy’s supposed to be very smart but I think he’s wrong. Where am I going wrong?” And I was then introduced to the concept of Argument by Authority. Basically, Aquinas, dear heart, was full of shit. I called him on it at age 16.

      Whacks on, whacks off.

  15. Vaal
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Excellent blog reply from Jason Rosenhouse
    to the “Feser Situation.” Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    I’m currently posting over in the comment section of Feser’s blog, interacting with his crowd.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/clue-for-jerry-coyne.html?commentPage=2

    I’m under the screen name “RH.”

    Not surprisingly, I’m greeted with waves of condescension (“Why don’t you start reading some philosophy first”…thanks, but I’ve been doing that for decades) and it’s been tough to get anyone to start replying with some substance. I just want someone there to produce SOME REASON to think their theology has any substance, value or truth, in order to indicate it’s worth time getting in deeper.

    One of the points I have made there is that
    if “our side” is given the same challenge it’s no problem. If some skeptic asked us to explain why the Theory Of Evolution has any value, or should be taken seriously, we don’t have to suddenly produce the whole of evolutionary evidence (mountainous as it is across disciplines at this point). And while we can recommend books for a fuller picture, we don’t have to even start by saying “Go read X, Y, Z books on evolution, then we can talk.”

    Instead, more charitably, and from the confidence born of the theory itself, we can certainly lay out basics of evolution theory, produce some justifications for the theory, explain it’s value, and indicate some lines of evidence etc.

    P.Z does this. I’m sure Jerry has given brief versions in his blog too. As a layman interested in the theory, I’ve many times given condensed arguments for evolution the skeptical request of theists.

    But this apparently is too much to ask of their theology (to this point anyway). It’s all too deep and complicated to do in a comment section and likely too much for my po widdle atheist bwain anyway, until I’ve finished their recommended reading list.

    Vaal.

    • Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Don’t be surprised to receive the Courtier’s Reply when you ask about the Emperor’s new clothes. Especially when there is no emperor in the first place.

      I admire your patience, though. You and a few other commenters at that site are like sane people visiting a lunatic asylum.

  16. Diane G.
    Posted July 16, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  17. Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    What percentage of people have coins minted with their faces on them? Why should that be a standard?

    First, I wasn’t at all trying to suggest that we should have expected there to have been coins with Paul’s face. I was merely contrasting the best-of-the-best — the gold standard, if you will — with the situation for Paul.

    I would submit that it would be unreasonable in the extreme to doubt the historicity of any of the Twelve Caesars.

    Next, I would submit that is equally unreasonable to accept the historicity of the Biblical Adam and Eve.

    On that continuum, the “Paul” character from the New Testament is much closer to Adam and Eve than to the Caesars.

    You say Paul is an insignificant character who didn’t do anything spectacular which is exactly why it’s not appropriate to be placing these very high levels of proof.

    It’s also why we shouldn’t have much confidence in the truth of the claims of Paul’s existence.

    It’s why we accept someone’s claim that they had breakfast or have a friend named “Jim” – they’re innocuous, common claims.

    Ah, but the claims surrounding Paul are far from innocuous and common. The claims are that he profoundly changed the course of a brand-new religion with repercussions reverberating through millennia — and that, in so doing, he went from the rising star of the Jewish persecution of Christians to the most influential post-Jesus Christian figure.

    We know that these are generally truthful so we accept it unless we have some evidence pointing the other way (for instance, our friend was in a prison where they didn’t serve breakfast, or our friend was in India where “Jim” was a very uncommon name).

    Now you go on to talk about details of the text and the claims. Is the character really that innocuous? Are there other things in the text and what we know of the history which imply that Paul was a creation? Those are interesting, important questions, the kind of additional evidence which can shift the balance.

    This is just the sort of digging that MKG wasn’t doing when he pushed forward his historical denialist position of demanding some sort of absolute proof before believing that any historical figure existed.

    So, let me at least point at a bit of said digging.

    First, there are no rabbinic mentions of this preferred Pharisee become famed pariah, and they had a habit of dragging such through the mud.

    Second, at least within the context of the story if not history, it rather beggars belief that he himself wouldn’t have become persecuted and martyred in some spectacular fashion. If the Pharisees had no trouble holding a kangaroo court to do away with Jesus, why not the same for Paul? Or, for that matter, just shove a shiv in his back?

    Lastly…as Michael pointed out, the actual physical historical evidence for Paul really is atrocious. We have documents that were penned a millennium and a half after the fact that are copies-of-copies-of-copies, and that’s about it.

    The excuse of “that’s the best we can do” doesn’t hold; it’s the exact same one the religious use to justify their belief in superstition. “You don’t know! You can’t prove me worng! Ergo Jesus.” No; the proper answer is, “There is no good reason to assume that the claims of the historicity of Paul have any weight to them.”

    At that point, the typical response is, “Well, by those standards, you have to throw out most of what we know about history altogether.” And my response is, “Yes, of course. This is a problem?” Again, the proper response to insufficient evidence isn’t to claim certainty, but to express doubt.

    You won’t find a paleontologist proclaiming with great certainty what T-Res’s roars sounded like. You won’t find an astronomer telling you what the seaside smells like on some random exoplanet for which we have no atmospheric spectral analyses. You won’t find any physicist who’ll tell you the mass of the Higgs outside of a barroom bet.

    Yet we have historians who build these vast edifices of great certainty on nothing more than ancient-yet-not-ancient-enough scraps of paper with no provenance.

    That may make the historians feel good, but it’s certainly no good basis for knowledge.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Jim Jones
      Posted July 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      IMO, Paul was no more Jewish than Caesar. He was a Greek who came up with a Greek religion with a pastiche of Jewishness to give it flavor. His ‘savior’ was as believable as a Jew as Joseph Smith’s claims that American Indians were ancient Jews. Paul himself was a Greek Joseph Smith, starting a new religion for the reasons all such do. A few slight twists of history and we’d all be told repeatedly that Alexander’s Glycon was the “one true god” by the Swaggart’s of the world.

      • Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        While I would be most hesitant to put a name to the originator(s) of Christianity, you may or may not be surprised to find that there is second century evidence to support your theory.

        I would also, incidentally, caution against any sort of automatic assumption that Christianity originated during the reign of Herod Agrippa I. Or, for that matter, any assumption that it had a clear-cut formation at the hands of one person or one set of people. It is far more likely to have followed the mold of of all other religions of the time and period, including Christianity itself up until Constantine: constant simultaneous schism and syncretism.

        Chers,

        b&

        • Jim Jones
          Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          I have no doubt of it. ISTM another case of borrowing and inventing and assuming that ancients were wise. It’s amazing what silly, superstitious creatures humans are.

    • Tyro
      Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Ben,

      Thank you for you detailed reply. I don’t think I can do it justice. I think in many ways you are doing exactly what I look for in a decent scientist or historian. You look at the evidence, describe the claims (eg: “he profoundly changed the course of a brand-new religion with repercussions reverberating through millennia”) and then see how the two stack up.

      I am not versed enough to know what all the claims about Paul are but I didn’t think it was as big as you’re saying. I thought that he converted to a new but pre-existing religion and conversed with distant churches who were going through various problems. He wasn’t the only preacher and I thought that he wasn’t even the most prominent one, but as his (??) writing survived, he’s the one we know most about. That’s why I described him as a relatively innocuous writer – perhaps some minor notoriety within some communities but only one man within a small but growing Christian group.

      As the claims grow, the required evidence grows – this is what you’re saying, it’s what I was saying. I am still left wondering why you go from saying that some aspects of Paul’s life seem farfetched or fictionalized to saying that Paul did not exist. With the Jesus story, mythicists show positive evidence that the early Christians (notably in Paul’s writings) treated Jesus’s appearance as occurring in a spiritual plane. They go through the beliefs at the time and show that this was not far-fetched and support it with quotes and other documents. They talk about the motivations of the writers and the evolution, showing what happened.

      I confess I’m at a loss to understand what argument you’re putting forward here. Paul’s life is unusual/unexpected and so…? He didn’t exist and was made up whole cloth? I’m blanking on the motivations, who wrote these letters, and the background story. What is the alternate claim you’re proposing and what evidence do you have? It’s one thing to say that we’d like to have more evidence but when looking at history, what we’ve got is what we’ve got so if that means we’re left with doubts, strong suspicions or not knowing anything at all then that’s what we’re left with. Problems with the evidence for Paul aren’t much evidence that he didn’t exist (and you can fill in your own examples of where people try this same negative argument and get rightfully ridiculed).

      Yet we have historians who build these vast edifices of great certainty on nothing more than ancient-yet-not-ancient-enough scraps of paper with no provenance.

      I agree – certainty is a rare commodity in historical studies. But as we know with the call for “proof”, demonstrating that we aren’t “certain” about a theory, doesn’t mean that the opposite is any more likely.

      Sorry for the length. MKG’s no-certainty therefore non-existence really grated on me. I didn’t mean to launch such a long diversion. I do appreciate you clarifying things though.

      • Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        I thought that he converted to a new but pre-existing religion and conversed with distant churches who were going through various problems.

        You might not realize it, but you’ve hit upon the single-most important problem when attempting to decide the likely historicity of Biblical characters.

        Specifically, what does it mean for an historical figure to be the “real” person in question?

        I think it quite reasonable to state that Jesus was nothing if not for at least his ministry, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection (or at least a plausible simulacrum thereof). I’m sure every Christian would agree, and it’s consistent with all the documents we actually do have about him. Yet, unfortunately for the Christians, we have overwhelming negative evidence that such a person never existed. It’s the angry elephant in the room that nobody can feel, hear, or smell.

        Once one points out that inconvenient fact, though, the apologists insist that that’s not the Jesus we should be looking for, but we should rather be looking for some random schmuck with that name who liked to ramble to his friends after dinner — and that Jesus is entirely plausible and wouldn’t have left any evidence behind.

        Well, okay. But whoever the hell this person is, he sure ain’t Jesus.

        It’s much the same with Paul. At least according to Acts, he was nothing if not the anti-Christian crusader saved by the grace of Christ….but, not only did nobody notice his crusading, they certainly didn’t notice his defection. It’s most unlikely that that Paul ever existed.

        Was the guy who some of the Epistles named, “Paul”? Maybe. Who knows? Does it matter? It’s the Biblical character people mean when they use that name, and he’s as fictional as most of the rest of the characters with speaking roles.

        Hell, for that matter, those historical characters in the Gospel — John the Baptist, Pilate, Caiaphas, etc. — might as well be considered fictional, as well, for it’s a sure bet that they never did or said what’s attributed to them.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted July 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

          Well, okay. But whoever the hell this person is, he sure ain’t Jesus.

          I should add: whoever the hell this person is, he also didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with Christianity.

          The Pauline epistles are the oldest sources for Jesus in the historical record, at least according to the Christians and ignoring all the problems with dating and provenance. And the Jesus of the Pauline epistles was the eternal co-creator of the universe and lacked a biography. So, the non-Christian apologetic for an historical Jesus has him going from random schmuck to God Almighty Himself to pagan analogue with bio. Thanks, but I’m not buying — but I do have some prime Arizona beachfront property for sale, if you’re interested….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted July 17, 2011 at 4:56 am | Permalink

            And I have a warehouse with 47 tons of splinters from the “True Cross”!
            I suppose I could always turn them in to Lucifers, after dipping in brimstone.
            (I also have the deeds to Sydney Harbour Bridge, if anyone is interested.)

            • Posted July 17, 2011 at 5:37 am | Permalink

              I also have the deeds to Sydney Harbour Bridge, if anyone is interested.

              Hey — I’ve been wanting to add one of those to my collection for a while, now.

              I’ll trade you a thoat coprolite for it. Whaddya say?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted July 17, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

                It’s a fair swap.
                A load of old turds for the genuine deeds to a game of bridge?
                Done!
                (You certainly have been)

            • Jim Jones
              Posted July 17, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

              But who has the 14 genuine foreskins of Jesus – a true miracle of healing?

              • Posted July 17, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                Pssst…that’s not a miracle of healing — it just goes to show that Jesus has more wangs than Siva has arms. Of course the cosmic joke is that Jesus never got to actually use any of ’em….

                b&

              • Posted July 18, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink

                I have seven in stock at the moment.
                But if I rub them enough, and have some Pontious-Porn, I can usually make 14.

      • Posted July 17, 2011 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        Tyro:
        Firstly:
        You assume, without any reference, that I have not done the “digging” required to question the existence of Paul.
        That assumption is totally unfounded, and could have been rectified if only you had asked me, rather than flying off the handle.

        Secondly:

        MKG’s no-certainty therefore non-existence…

        Where did I assert that noxious & unscientific syllogism?
        Clue: It exists only in your mind.
        I did not say any such thing.

        I merely posed a simple and pointed question in order that you might begin to investigate this for yourself, on a point of intellectual curiosity.
        I hope that I have not yet failed in that goal entirely.

        I feel bad that Ben is left to educate you, in place of I.

        • Tyro
          Posted July 17, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          MKG –

          I would dispute some of what you said about our interaction but rather than getting bogged down with defensiveness and accusations, I’m happy to let it rest. We both said our bits, Ben has given us all some food for thought and in the end I think we’re all in close enough agreement that we can return to what’s really important: debating which is best for Easter dinner, braised Jesus’s foreskin in teriyaki sauce or roasted with brown gravy?

  18. Vaal
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Jerry, (if you are still reading these comments)….

    I wonder if this central absurdity has struck you, concerning Feser’s claims about your ignorance and recommendations on which arguments to investigate.

    Did you notice none of his recommendations were to read the Bible?

    Did you notice none of his recommendations were to read defenses of The Bible as revelation (including defenses of the Resurrection?)

    Here we have a devotee of a REVEALED RELIGION, which takes the Bible to be God’s word (in some form) to mankind. And when you ask for the most convincing case for God, he and his pals send you to the esoteric a priori arguments given by a HUMAN living in the 1200s, (Aquinas) whose work fundamentally derives from a Greek philosopher pre-dating Christianity!

    Could the absence of The Bible in this scenario possibly be a bigger red flag?

    God apparently comes down to earth, reveals himself to mankind, gives specific instructions, leaves a record of his revelation….and somehow this fails to be good enough, such that when “smart” Christians want to under-gird their faith or convince others, they have to start looking for the a priori arguments from another age!

    “Yes, yes, God HIMSELF has revealed his will to us directly and all that…but if you really want good reasons to believe in God, but for some reason All Mighty God has not done a terribly convincing job of convincing us He exists. Instead, let me start telling you about Aquinas’s Five Ways…”

    This Elephant-in-the-room should not go unnoticed 🙂

    Vaal.

  19. Vaal
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Whoops, typo, last paragraph should be:

    “Yes, yes, God HIMSELF has revealed his will to mankind directly and all that…but for some reason All Mighty God has not done a terribly convincing job of showing He exists. We appreciate the effort, certainly, of The Lord. But instead, let me start telling you about Aquinas’s Five Ways…”

  20. DSchultz
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I am posting this partial review here since I would have never even known of this books existence if I hadn’t heard of Edward Feser here. I still wouldn’t have tried to read it except that my library had a copy.

    The Last Superstition (A refutation of the New Atheism) by Edward Feser.

    I really intended to read all of it but I have run aground at page 44.

    The problems start with the introduction which begins with a rant against the Supreme Court decision in California on same sex marriage.

    A few quotes from Chapter 1. Bad Religion:

    “For secularism is, necessarily and inherently, a deeply irrational and immoral view of the world…”

    “Only a (certain kind of) religious view of the world is rational, morally responsible, and sane; and an irreligious worldview is accordingly deeply irrational, immoral, and indeed insane”

    (I really like that “certain kind of” bit which he fails to elaborate on. Unless he takes it up later in the book.)

    “Finally, a complete account of the universe and of human nature in terms that make no reference whatsoever to purpose, meaning, and design is not within our grasp and never will be, for the simple reason that such an “account” is in principle impossible, and the hope for it based on nothing more than muddle-headedness mixed with wishful thinking.”

    “As the late David Stove has argued at length, Dawkin’s famous claim that we are all “manipulated” by our “selfish genes” could only be true and interesting if interpreted, absurdly, as a literal attribution of superhuman intelligence and cunning to what are quite obviously mindless bits of biological matter – that is, as an ascription of godlike powers to genes.”

    This last one I found to be very puzzling as I have recently read Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” and I cannot believe that this sentence is about the same book. Perhaps I am too muddleheaded.

    Chapter 2, Greeks Bearing Gifts, begins with a review of ancient philosophy starting with Plato and his idea of forms. Which is basically that everything is a shadow of some ideal form which exists in some nebulous way. I could have gotten through that as a review except that it appears that Feser is going to build everything that follows on this foundation.

    (An aside: These ideal forms that have a real existence – are they always there or do they poof into existence when someone thinks of something new?)

    Where I have ended my reading is Feser’s discussion of realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. Realism holds that these ideal forms really exist, (which Feser appears to believe) nominalism denies that they are real, and conceptualism accepts that they exist only in the mind.

    In arguing against conceptualism he drags out “The argument from the impossibility of communication”.

    “Your idea of “snow” would be entirely different from my idea of “snow,” and since your idea is the only one you’d have access to, and my idea is the only I’d have access to, we would never mean the same thing whenever we talked about snow, or about anything else for that matter.”

    This is remarkably thick. I don’t know about Feser but I didn’t magically pluck the label “snow” out of thin air. Someone else told me that this strange stuff falling from the sky was snow.

    In addition there is the problem that this realm where the ideal forms reside simply is not accessible to us so we have no idea what they are. So communication is no less a problem for realism if you buy this argument. If these ideal forms were accessible to us, it would save a lot of effort. Why muck about with trial and error figuring out how to build a fireplace (for example) that draws air well and doesn’t smoke up the room. Just pluck the ideal form out of thin air and be done with it.

    Then there are all those dictionaries telling us what words mean. (or used to mean)

    Thus ends my attempt to read sophisticated theology. I really wasn’t expecting much but this fell far short of even that low standard.

  21. Jim Jones
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    E.H. Munro said: “The discussion concerned the pauline epistles and the rather absurd claim that there was no such person. I was referring to the oldest existing papyrus with a rather large section of Paul.”

    I happen to agree that there was a Paul. His version of a Greek cult became a large part of current Christianity. However I also hold to the minimalist view that only 4 epistles are written by Paul (presumably by Paul) and there is no other evidence for Jesus. The gospels are, of course, religious fiction, as are the other epistles — and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

    It’s a very slim reed to base a religion on – a view also shared by the RCC who eschew the bible for their catechism.

  22. Jim Jones
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    E.H. Munro said: “I pointed out the very real fact that if we only accept contemporary copies of ancient documents then we have to throw basically all of ancient history in the rubbish bin, so thank you for confirming my suspicion that gnus are antirationalists.”

    There is a qualitative difference. If it turned out that, say, Marcion or Philo were totally fictional characters it wouldn’t alter my life one whit. However if it could be proven that Jesus was fully fictional turmoil would ensue on a grand scale.

    Holy crap indeed!

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      “I happen to agree that there was a Paul. His version of a Greek cult became a large part of current Christianity. However I also hold to the minimalist view that only 4 epistles are written by Paul (presumably by Paul) and there is no other evidence for Jesus. The gospels are, of course, religious fiction, as are the other epistles — and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

      There are other references to Jesus, but not many, and one would hardly expect such a person, if he existed, to have warranted a lot of attention due to location. Put another way, I doubt that any such person’s life or death would have made any impact to anyone outside his family and followers. James is vouched for, though. Polycarp is undoubtedly vouched for, and a contemporary of John. Similarly Peter’s followers certainly vouched for him. So, when we approach ancient history properly, it seems pretty likely that there was a person that was the central figure of the Jewish sect. We can disagree with the gospels (and in fact I do), but historically speaking there likely was such a person.

      “There is a qualitative difference. If it turned out that, say, Marcion or Philo were totally fictional characters it wouldn’t alter my life one whit. However if it could be proven that Jesus was fully fictional turmoil would ensue on a grand scale.”

      But see, here’s the problem, history isn’t an empirical science. It really can’t be falsified. Unless the history’s really recent, and not even then really (see the Battle of Shiloh or the the analyses of the Venona transcripts for good examples of this), a lot of deductive reasoning goes into it. And then you need to get into probabilities.

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        So, you think there was an historical Jesus.

        What, pray tell, was he like? And on what evidence do you base your conclusions?

        That is, what is your Theory of Jesus, and how do you defend said theory?

        But see, here’s the problem, history isn’t an empirical science. It really can’t be falsified.

        I certainly agree with this statement, but not with the conclusions you seem to draw from it.

        My conclusion is, “Historians are often far more confident in their conclusions than they have any right to be. Many times, they’re engaging in little more than speculative fiction set against a plausible historical background — a more scholarly version of a Michner novel.”

        Your conclusion — along with a depressing number of historians and fans of the field — seems to be more akin to, “This is the best we can do, so don’t dare question us because then we’re left with not knowing much about the past at all — and we can’t have that, now, can we?” That’s religion, not sound scholarship.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Jim Jones
        Posted July 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        E.H. Munro said: “There are other references to Jesus, but not many, and one would hardly expect such a person, if he existed, to have warranted a lot of attention due to location.”

        But now we are back to the magic Jesus. He’s not important enough to have been noticed by any contemporary historian but he’s important enough to be personally judged by Pontius Pilate. Crowds instantly form to praise him — and then vanish to be replaced by crowds who condemn him. Characters wander in and out of his story often without even being named. And despite the fact that he started a major religion no one ever thought to jot down his dates of birth or death — or much else.

        This is entirely characteristic of myth making – what were the dates of birth or death or Robin Hood, King Arthur et al? Like a cartoon sketch, his life is just suggested by what is written.

        If he existed, he was neither Jew nor Messiah.

        • Posted July 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          …and of what sense does it make to proclaim an un-evidenced hypothetical non-Jew non-Messiah the “real” historical Jesus?

          Similarly, even if the name of the dude who wrote the commonly-assumed authentic Pauline epistles was “Paul,” what sense does it mean to call him the “real” Paul if he never did all those politically spectacular things in Acts?

          If there was an ancient Briton knight named “Arthur” whose sword wasn’t pulled from a stone and who never was King, was he still the “real” Arthur?

          Apparently, historians would insist so rather than “lose” all “knowledge” of this “important” “historical” figure. But that’s just thinly disguised religious apologetics, and therefore nothing of consequence — and certainly nothing deserving of academic respect.

          b&

      • Posted July 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        “So, you think there was an historical Jesus. What, pray tell, was he like? And on what evidence do you base your conclusions? That is, what is your Theory of Jesus, and how do you defend said theory?”

        I’m not entirely certain why I would need a “Theory of Jesus” for the very modest claim that given that his immediate followers are well vouched for by ancient historical standards, that it’s likely that there was a real person. I can see no claims that I’ve made beyond that one, and I’m not sure why I would need to go anywhere beyond that.

        “But now we are back to the magic Jesus. He’s not important enough to have been noticed by any contemporary historian but he’s important enough to be personally judged by Pontius Pilate. Crowds instantly form to praise him — and then vanish to be replaced by crowds who condemn him. Characters wander in and out of his story often without even being named. And despite the fact that he started a major religion no one ever thought to jot down his dates of birth or death — or much else.”

        Again, I’m not sure how you’re getting all this from my statement that there likely was a central person around whom the sect formed given that his immediate followers are pretty well vouched for by ancient historical standards. That’s pretty much the extent of what I’m saying here. I’ll leave Bart Ehrman and John D. Crossan to go further than that.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted July 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          E.H. Munro said: “Again, I’m not sure how you’re getting all this from my statement that there likely was a central person around whom the sect formed given that his immediate followers are pretty well vouched for by ancient historical standards.”

          It’s far from impossible that the Pauline religion was about a non-physical being since the Christos is a somewhat typical Greek god as described. It may be that at some point the character morphed from non-physical to physical. I simply doubt there was such a real person, as I doubt there was a real Glycon.

          • Posted July 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

            “It’s far from impossible that the Pauline religion was about a non-physical being since the Christos is a somewhat typical Greek god as described. It may be that at some point the character morphed from non-physical to physical. I simply doubt there was such a real person, as I doubt there was a real Glycon.”

            Except that there was a real Peter and a real John and they seemed awfully convinced that there was a real person. The problem with the non-existence position is that it requires an awful lot of coordinated conspiracy (namely multiple people, not all directly connected, all inventing the same story, and relating it to their followers to spread). And is about as unlikely as the gospel accounts being strictly true. So, if I have to choose between the three options, the Magic Man, the vast conspiracy, or a real person around whom tall tales grew, the third option seems far and away the most likely. I mean, history actually works that way. Just look at the tall tales that surround Paul Revere, George Washington, et al. And they’re relatively recent figures.

            • Jim Jones
              Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

              “Except that there was a real Peter and a real John and they seemed awfully convinced that there was a real person.”

              What is the extra biblical evidence for Peter or John? And are you sure those were these?

              • Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

                “What is the extra biblical evidence for Peter or John? And are you sure those were these?”

                Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp amongst others. Ignatius was John’s student as Clement was Peter’s. When arguing against existence there are an awful lot of loose ends that can only be tied up by time traveling monks carrying out a propaganda mission for some vaguely fuzzy future pope, because lord knows that they didn’t have very effective groupware 15 centuries ago and it would have been really hard to coordinate the effort of forging that many documents. So, yeah, option 3 is still the most likely.

  23. Jim Jones
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    E.H. Munro says: “Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp amongst others.”

    But now we are back to non contemporaries of the supposed Jesus and must compare them to Philo. These three were in the time period where myths can grow – something that can happen even these days as the story of Cassie Bernall shows.

    • Posted July 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      “But now we are back to non contemporaries of the supposed Jesus and must compare them to Philo.”

      They were contemporaries of his followers, however. So we know that his followers existed, and from the accounts of their followers, what they believed. So, again, unless you believe in miracles or conspiracies option 3 seems the most likely of the lot.

      • Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        Well, if Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp are reliable sources for historical factual information about Biblical figures, then we also have to conclude that Jesus, indeed, was born of a virgin so he might be crucified and resurrected for our sins. After all, that’s exactly what they’d tell you if you asked them about Jesus. And, I suppose you’ll argue, since they all died for their beliefs, they must be true — they wouldn’t have died for things they knew to have been lies, would they? No, the trio you picked are unquestionably unimpeachable sources.

        We also know that this particular follower of Jesus’s you’re so certain was historical — namely, Paul — was rather curiously ignorant of Jesus’s biography and, indeed, seemed to be operating under the understanding that the Christ was the spiritual form of the divine entity that created Life, the Universe, and Everything. Out of curiosity, how do you think Jesus managed to start life as an historical person, become the ultimate non-corporeal god a few years later, and then finally settled back into being a typical Pagan death / rebirth / salvation demigod with a brand-new-but-recycled biography before the last of these “followers” had died?

        See, that’s why you need a “theory of Jesus.” You’re suggesting Jesus was just some random schmuck because it’s hardly unusual to find random schmucks. But everything we actually do have about Jesus contradicts in the utmost any proposition that Jesus was a random schmuck, so we know that, whoever or whatever Jesus was, he most emphatically wasn’t the random schmuck you think he was.

        And, while we’re on the subject: how many other such demigods do you think were real historical personages. Did Orpheus really sail on the Argo with Jason? How many labors did Hercules really have to deal with? And Arthur — how many knights do you figure could actually fit at the Round Table, and was that with or without armor?

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        “Well, if Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp are reliable sources for historical factual information about Biblical figures, then we also have to conclude that Jesus, indeed, was born of a virgin so he might be crucified and resurrected for our sins.”

        This is a non-sequitir. And not really pertinent. They certainly are repeating the stories that they were being told by their teachers in the new faith, which brings us back to the reality that Peter and John were real. So, again, not being superstitious and all, and not believing in time traveling monks, and having to choose between the three options, option 3 remains the most probable.

        “And, I suppose you’ll argue, since they all died for their beliefs, they must be true — they wouldn’t have died for things they knew to have been lies, would they?”

        You know, when you assume you make an ass of yourself. Again, you’ll find none of this in anything I’ve said. I’d be a real shitty christian evangelist since I don’t actually believe that Jesus died for my sins and was resurrected to sit at the right hand of god.

        “We also know that this particular follower of Jesus’s you’re so certain was historical — namely, Paul — was rather curiously ignorant of Jesus’s biography and, indeed, seemed to be operating under the understanding that the Christ was the spiritual form of the divine entity that created Life, the Universe, and Everything.”

        No, not particularly. Really, hack gnu evangelists are about as authoritative as Pat Robertson on the subject.

        “See, that’s why you need a “theory of Jesus.””

        Actually, I don’t need a “theory of Jesus” at all. What I am doing is looking at the probabilities, and as two of the options are hilariously unlikely, the third option still seems the most probable. I know that you may be young, and have grown up with groupware, but believe me, there was no ancient version of Lotus Notes to help out those clerics in Asia coordinate with the ones in the Middle East and Europe so that they could all make the same alterations to their sacred texts. Sorry. There’s pretty much one option that seems possible. The other two require a level of faith and insanity that I simply don’t possess.

        “You’re suggesting Jesus was just some random schmuck because it’s hardly unusual to find random schmucks.”

        No, I’m suggesting that he was likely a rabbi with some very devoted followers that spread some very tall tales (I mean I can see why you could so easily miss this as I’ve only said it eight or none times). Because the probabilities tell me that that’s the most likely option.

        “And Arthur — how many knights do you figure could actually fit at the Round Table, and was that with or without armor?”

        You realize that a very large portion of the Arthurian tales actually have parallels in three real historical figures, no? One of whom was a Roman cavalry commander (named Artorius, no less, though from the third century if memory serves), another who actually was one of Britain’s war leaders during the fifth century Saxon invasions, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and a British king known by his title Riothamus (a latinized version of the British word for high king). Riothamus being famous for twice invading Gaul, being injured during the second expedition, and vanishing nearby a town named… I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

        • Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          This is a non-sequitir. And not really pertinent. They certainly are repeating the stories that they were being told by their teachers in the new faith, which brings us back to the reality that Peter and John were real.

          Quite the contrary. We have men in the one breath telling zombie stories and in the other breath telling us they learned the zombie stories from the supermen who were really there — no truly! If ever there were a red flag that somebody is spouting bullshit, this is it.

          I’m suggesting that he was likely a rabbi with some very devoted followers that spread some very tall tales

          But here’s the kicker: not only is there not one single bit of positive evidence to support this claim of yours, every single piece of evidence we do have contradicts it.

          The Pauline epistles, allegedly the oldest source, can in no way be read in a way such that Jesus can be interpreted as a rabbit with some very devoted followers. Rather, Jesus was the co-eternal creator, the savior of all who accepted him, nearly devoid of biographical information, and crucified by the “archons” of some earlier age.

          In the Gospels, the authorized biographies allegedly written at the tail end of the first century, Jesus is indistinguishable from a pagan demigod…and everything he does is larger than life. Even if you want to suggest that these are big fish stories, the stories themselves were taken straight from other pagan demigods with the “Jesus” name slapped on them; strip those away and there’s literally nothing left — not even an “ordinary” rabbi.

          In the heresies and apocrypha, Jesus isn’t even recognizable to Christians — let alone your hypothetical rabbi.

          So, again: on what basis do you make the claim that Jesus “was likely a rabbi with some very devoted followers that spread some very tall tales”?

          Can you even cite a single source that even pretends to be reliable that supports your theory?

          Or are you simply engaging in some myth making of your own?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted July 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

            “Quite the contrary. We have men in the one breath telling zombie stories and in the other breath telling us they learned the zombie stories from the supermen who were really there — no truly! If ever there were a red flag that somebody is spouting bullshit, this is it.”

            Really? I’ve actually read Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians and I don’t recall any extensive zombie stories. Most of the references to the founder of the religion concern other matters. And he does speak of Paul in the letter. So, far from your caricature, the document seems a pretty reliable source on the existence of Paul as an actual person. Beyond this, do you have any empirical proof of your accusations besides your own anger at your parents for forcing you to go to church when you were a kid? (I suppose I was lucky in that my parents didn’t force me to go, it saved me a lot of social retardation later in life.)

            “But here’s the kicker: not only is there not one single bit of positive evidence to support this claim of yours, every single piece of evidence we do have contradicts it.”

            No, you don’t have evidence. You have bizarre conspiracy theories that anyone with a single shred of incredulity sees through in a few moments.

            Here’s an inconvenient fact that your ilk tends to… well, you ignore it (and many others besides) because you’re all ignorant of it. The central figure of Christianity didn’t officially become the “son of god” until the fourth century. At the sect’s beginning he was widely considered a human being with no divine attributes (aside from being a prophet). The Ebionite/Nazarene movements (and these would be the actual original christians as they were the Jews that started the sect) largely regarded the central figure as a human being without divine attributes. So contrary to the central pillar of non-existence claims, that Jesus was invented by Paul (who didn’t exist either apparently), as nothing more than a vague divine force, and that that’s what everyone believed before the Nicene Council, the opposite would be closer to the truth. It wasn’t until a significant number of greeks entered the new sect that the central character stopped being human and started the transformation into demigod.

            So, yet again, I have three options, every actual fact seems to point to option three. But, here’s the great thing about being human, if you prefer to believe that time traveling monks cooked up a vast conspiracy to foist a fraud on humanity, you’re free to do so. As a rationalist I assess the probabilities and select the most likely option. Which still remains number three.

            “The Pauline epistles, allegedly the oldest source, can in no way be read in a way such that Jesus can be interpreted as a rabbit with some very devoted followers. Rather, Jesus was the co-eternal creator, the savior of all who accepted him, nearly devoid of biographical information, and crucified by the “archons” of some earlier age.”

            In fact, if you read the epistles, they read like a lot of the others that didn’t make the canon. They were letters of instruction to churches, not intended as evangelical material. They do refer to a real person though, it takes a very convoluted reading, and a profound ignoring of facts, to pretend otherwise. The writers pushing the idea are historical hacks, so I don’t really expect much from them. But you can’t expect me to take you seriously as a rationalist if you try selling me a pile of gnu BS.

            “In the Gospels, the authorized biographies allegedly written at the tail end of the first century, Jesus is indistinguishable from a pagan demigod…and everything he does is larger than life. Even if you want to suggest that these are big fish stories, the stories themselves were taken straight from other pagan demigods with the “Jesus” name slapped on them; strip those away and there’s literally nothing left — not even an “ordinary” rabbi.”

            Actually, if you actually read Acts you’d realise that it had to be written before 70ACE. Because it’s an account of the erly years of the sect, and it’s missing important historical content from the year 70ACE. If it’d been written after that, the events of 70AD would surely have been mentioned, as they were referred to in the gospels (put in the central figures mouth as a prophecy). So it’s not at all clear that the documents were written last Thursday the way that most of you gnus like to claim.

            “In the heresies and apocrypha, Jesus isn’t even recognizable to Christians — let alone your hypothetical rabbi.”

            You understand that way back when rabbis weren’t “priests” right? After everything you’ve told us about your exhaustive study, you do remember that, right? Because surely you must have learned that in your vast study of the history of Christianity (though given your ignorance of the Ebionites & Nazarenes I don’t have a lot of faith in your diligence).

            Technically they still aren’t, but in the absence of actual priests the role of the rabbi has grown to fill the absence. But a couple of millennia ago the word simply meant “teacher”. My reasons for referring to the central figure as a rabbi involve the use of deductive and inductive logic. First, Peter, John, and James are vouched for in the historical documents. (And please don’t try that idiotic “James was added later!!!” GnuBS, because again he seems to have popped up even in copies of The Antiquities maintained in Islamic countries, which was how later Christian scholars figured out that the rest of the Flavian testimony was BS, because it didn’t show up in copies maintained outside Europe. As I don’t believe in evil time-traveling monks, James seems on pretty solid footing.)

            Where was I? Oh, yes. Peter, John, and James are vouched for historically. They certainly seemed impressed with the teachings of their leader, their later tall tales to convince others of the superiority of their teacher were to further a religious movement. Therefore I can safely deduce that their teacher was very likely a religious one. Now we’ll use some inductive logic. Our three followers that turn up in the historical documents were Jewish, they were from the Roman province of Palestine, where there were lots of Jewish people. Therefore the probabilities favour the teacher of Peter, John, and James having been Jewish. Which would, you know, make him a rabbi.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted July 23, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

              Please do not write such long essays on this site; put them on your own website.

            • Posted July 23, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

              The central figure of Christianity didn’t officially become the “son of god” until the fourth century.

              1 Thessalonians 1:10
              2 Corinthians 1:3
              2 Corinthians 1:19
              Romans 1:4
              Romans 8:3
              Romans 8:32
              Philippians 2:21-22
              Galatians 1:16

              That’s just with two minutes worth of effort.

              And it ignores the constant references to “God the Father.”

              With such brazen bullshitting on your part, I don’t see any reason to engage further.

              …unless you’re claiming that the “authentic” Pauline epistles weren’t authored until the fourth century? Or that all those references Jesus as the “son of god” were added in the fourth century?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                …unless you’re claiming that the “authentic” Pauline epistles weren’t authored until the fourth century?

                No, he has made specific date-claims about their creation. Amongst them:

                The oldest surviving epistles are 18 centuries old

                — E.H. Munro

                That would make them dated to 211 AD!

                As well as making this, (or these, Munroe uses the plural), outrageously unsupported & totally unsupportable ludicrous claims *1, Monroe has consistently implied that they are all original, and all intact!

                That is not scholarship.
                I class it as “wishful thinking meets ignorance” at best.

                It was after repeated (failed) attempts to correct these egregious blunders, that I abandoned all hope at didacticism.

                You are to be congratulated on your stamina, Ben.

                ______________________
                *1 Likely referring to P457 (P52).
                Which is a teeny fragment of John, small enough to be entirely covered by a cigarette packet, and of profoundly wonky & biased dating.
                Even given the best will on my part, and granting the optimistic dating on this manuscript, it is ALL that we have from 211 or before that is extant and original.
                And it is NOT an epistle!
                Munroe could not have been more in error.

              • Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

                “That’s just with two minutes worth of effort.

                And it ignores the constant references to ‘God the Father.'”

                You do understand that the canon wasn’t set until the fourth century right? And maybe you can explain to us about the Jewish believers, you know, the original christians, actually not believing in the divinity of the central figure? And why there seem to have been some real arguments in the second century because many believers still didn’t believe in the central figure as anything more than a human being? It was a nice attempt at evasion, though.

                “…unless you’re claiming that the “authentic” Pauline epistles weren’t authored until the fourth century? Or that all those references Jesus as the “son of god” were added in the fourth century?”

                I’m not sure what any of this has to do with the Ebionites and Nazarenes. You made the claim that “Jesus” was universally understood as a divine force until centuries later. I’ve provided you with actual proof that you have it wrong (namely the fact that the earliest Jewish groups’ beliefs were the exact opposite). What the evangelists to the greeks said after the fact isn’t pertinent. You were wrong.

              • Posted July 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

                “No, he has made specific date-claims about their creation. …

                That would make them dated to 211 AD!”

                Could you point out the date 211ACE in any of my posts? P46 dates to the late 2nd/early 3rd century, which makes it around 18 centuries old. But, of course, having translated it personally you knew that, right? Oh, wait, you also told us that there’s nothing predating the 14th century. So were you lying when you made the latter claim or lying when you assured us you translated the papyrus personally? (I’m guessing the latter as you probably never heard of it before googling it after the discussion started.)

                “As well as making this, (or these, Munroe uses the plural), outrageously unsupported & totally unsupportable ludicrous claims, Monroe has consistently implied that they are all original, and all intact!”

                You are incredibly rude. Not only do you take extra effort to spell my name incorrectly, you invent claims out of whole cloth for me to make so that you can “win”. Thus confirming my belief that gnus have no manners. As I said the exact opposite of this, I am going to again call you a liar. The truth, son, is not within you. My point with the absurdity of your standard was that if only 100% complete contemporary documents can be considered anything other than a forgery then we have to throw all of history in the rubbish bin. As I am not an anti-rationalist I find your standard idiotic.

                “It was after repeated (failed) attempts to correct these egregious blunders, that I abandoned all hope at didacticism.”

                Actually, it was after I demonstrated your rank dishonesty that you vanished. it gave me hope that you had a sense of shame, and therefore the potential to develop manners. You claimed that there were no surviving copies of the Pauline epistles predating the 14th century. I quoted you, I linked to the actual statements. You can’t weasel out of this. You lied. Admit it and move on.

              • Posted July 24, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                My, what lovely powered sleds you’ve mounted those goalposts to.

                Let’s, recap, shall we?

                You asserted that Jesus was some random schmuck of a rabbi whose followers later piled up tall tales over the years.

                I pointed out that, from the earliest sources, Jesus has always been a larger-than-life figure.

                You claimed that it wasn’t until the 500s that Jesus was known as the “son of god.”

                I pointed out that that was one of Paul’s favorite epithets for Jesus, and provided several examples for good measure.

                You’re now claiming that, since none of this had somehow been made “official,” it doesn’t really count.

                Well, fine. Two can play that game.

                You do understand that the canon wasn’t set until the fourth century right?

                Very well. By your own words, nothing reliable can be gleaned from anything prior to the fourth century. And you’d have to be completely insane to suggest that centuries-removed documents of a “man” indistinguishable from a pagan zombie god somehow translate into reasonable cause to think it’s anything other than the faery tale it so obviously is.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                “You asserted that Jesus was some random schmuck of a rabbi whose followers later piled up tall tales over the years.”

                No, you asserted that the central figure was universally understood to be a divine force until centuries later. Not only did I not assert the above, I demonstrated that parts of the original Jewish sect held beliefs that are 180º off from your assertion. So, here we go again, if the central figure was “universally understood” as a “divine force” why were many of the original Jewish believers so convinced that he was a human being without divine attributes at all? There’s your challenge, explain the existence of the Ebionites and Nazarenes.

                (As for your nonsense attempt at shifting the ground, please re-read my words, there are no assertions, my entire argument was that amongst the three possible options one of them was most probable. So your attempts to mischaracterize remain a strawman and a goalpost shift. That’s what, strike five or six now?)

                “You claimed that it wasn’t until the 500s that Jesus was known as the ‘son of god.'”

                You do understand that the 500s are the sixth century, right? And that you’ve again mischaracterized what I said to set up an easy strawman to attack. Do you gnus have anything besides “The Strawman Attack!” in your arsenal? Again, here’s the challenge, you can find the debates about the “heresy” in the surviving documents of the early church fathers. They considered it heretical that many believers didn’t regard Jesus as the son of god, because the philosophy of those early Jewish believers attracted followers in significant numbers until the mid to late 2nd century. So, yet again, contrary to your assertion, the central figure wasn’t universally regarded as a divine force until centuries later because many jews of the original sect not only regarded him as a real human being, but one without divine attributes at all (the Ebionites and Nazarenes regarded the central figure the way that Muslims view Muhammad).

                “Very well. By your own words, nothing reliable can be gleaned from anything prior to the fourth century. And you’d have to be completely insane to suggest that centuries-removed documents of a “man” indistinguishable from a pagan zombie god somehow translate into reasonable cause to think it’s anything other than the faery tale it so obviously is.”

                Again with the strawman. Here it is, in plain English, if the central figure was universally understood as a divine force, why were there so many people, dating back to the mid first century, that not only believed that he was a real person, but that he was a real person without divine attributes at all? That’s your challenge. Stop squirming and defend your claim.


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