Apr 24 2017

The Evidence for the History of Jesus

Papyrus-Bodmer-VIIIDid a man named Jesus from Nazareth exist in Judea around 2000 years ago proclaiming to be some kind of prophet? Of course this is a controversial question because of the massive implications for one of the world’s major religions.

I do find it interesting to explore a basic factual question that is embedded in an intense ideological issue. It is a good way to explore what I think are the more interesting questions – the power of motivated reasoning, and how do we know anything historical.

I will also state that, even though this is not an atheist blog, I make no secret of the fact that I am an agnostic/atheist. I don’t think the historicity question has significant implications for atheism because it is entirely possible that the person Jesus existed but that Christian mythology is still just that, mythology. There were many prophets walking around the Middle East at that time. That one of them spawned a following that survives to this day is not surprising.

Two recent popular articles take opposite sides in this debate. The first is written by Dr Simon Gathercole in The Guardian, arguing that there is compelling evidence for Jesus. The second is written by Valerie Tarico in Raw Story and takes the position that the evidence for Jesus is weak. There has obviously been a lot written about this topic by many people, but these recent articles are decent summaries.

Which side has the stronger case?

Gathercole offers several lines of evidence, starting with Biblical writing:

The value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed. The first Christian writings to talk about Jesus are the epistles of St Paul, and scholars agree that the earliest of these letters were written within 25 years of Jesus’s death at the very latest, while the detailed biographical accounts of Jesus in the New Testament gospels date from around 40 years after he died. These all appeared within the lifetimes of numerous eyewitnesses, and provide descriptions that comport with the culture and geography of first-century Palestine.

He adds that there are non-biblical mentions of Jesus from Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus. Further, there was no discussion in the ancient world after Christianity became a thing about whether or not Jesus existed. It was taken for granted that he did. He concludes:

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.

I acknowledge, those are solid points. Internal consistency with the historical record is an important criterion. The lack of contemporary doubt is also interesting.

Taken as a whole, however, I think that this evidence is extremely thin. Tarico goes into more detail about what the evidence actually shows:

The more scholars study Jesus, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge has become. Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more —each with a different scholar to confidently tout theirs as the only real one. Instead of a convergent view of early Christianity and its founder, we are faced instead with a cacophony of conflicting opinions. This is precisely what happens when people faced with ambiguous and contradictory information cannot bring themselves to say, we don’t know.

It is important to know that there were more than four gospels. There were many gospels, with extremely conflicting claims. Centuries after Jesus allegedly existed the early Christian church decided on which books were “canon,” eventually settling upon the 27 books of the New Testament including the four “synoptic” gospels. Tarico writes:

None of the four gospels claims to be written by eyewitnesses, and all were originally anonymous. Only later were they attributed to men named in the stories themselves.

While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark. Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors. It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory.

All of the gospels contain anachronisms and errors that show they were written long after the events they describe, and most likely far from the setting of their stories. Even more troubling, they don’t just have minor nitpicky contradictions; they have basic, even crucial, contradictions.

When we look at all the historical documents relating to Jesus and early Christianity what we have is a mess – conflicting accounts, clear forgeries, and multiple edits by anonymous individuals. Even the scant historical references were just referencing early Christian beliefs, not independent evidence.

Further we now know how easy it is for stories to quickly evolve out of nothing but culture and belief. Think of the mythology surrounding the Roswell incident – the crash of what was likely just a balloon with a reflector dish has turned into a crashed spaceship, alien autopsy, and a massive government cover up. This is in a world with photographs, video, and newspapers. Imagine how easy it would have been for myths to spread in a culture that was pre-scientific, where most people were not literate, and where accurate recording of information was scarce.

Another compelling argument that Tarico touches upon but others have more fully developed is that Christian mythology did not emerge from nowhere. The basic elements of the myth all existed for centuries in that part of the world. As I discussed previously, prior myths differed in exact details, but the main themes were all present. Horus and Mithras, for example, were also miraculously conceived or born, were half god- half man, and were saviors who had to make an extreme sacrifice.

In the end we are left with, I think, two main conclusions. The first is that we simply do not know if Jesus was an actual person who existed. The evidence for a historical Jesus is thin, but there is no specific evidence refuting his existence.

The second conclusion, however, is that it doesn’t really matter. Even if a prophet named Jesus lived at that time and some of Christian mythology is based on his life, the core of Christian mythology is not. As Tarico argues, any actual history is muddled by mythology.

It’s possible that details from multiple individuals were merged into the Jesus myth. This is also a common phenomenon, and it would be amazing if this didn’t happen. Stories tend to attach themselves to more famous people. Quotes, for example, are credited to Mark Twain that were actually said by less well-known people.

So once a dominant savior mythology emerged, actual incidents from the lives of other prophets would have attached themselves to this myth. More significantly, the standard savior myth that already existed in the culture would have merged with any stories based in reality. In the end the story of Jesus is almost entirely myth, and any tendril of reality is both minor and impossible to prove.

I think that the Santa Claus myth is a good analogy. There may have been historical characters whose lives inspired elements of Santa Claus, but the modern Santa Claus canon is entirely fiction. The only difference here is that there is no Santa Claus religion.

Another way to look at the Jesus question is this – did the story of Jesus evolve like a work of history or a work of fiction? I would argue it greatly resembles a work of fiction, with a multitude of conflicting details surrounding the core of a story which follows an already popular mythology.  Eventually an official canon evolves, but this canon is largely arbitrary – just those in authority deciding on what elements of the story they will say are official, and discarding the rest.

Another analogy might be the Arthurian legend. King Arthur probably did not exist, and the level of evidence for him is about the same as for the historical Jesus. Again, the main difference being that the main canon of the King Arthur legend was presented as fiction, not as a gospel of faith.

One final thought is that there is a lot of hindsight bias when thinking about current beliefs and religions. There were countless myths and religions throughout history, and most of them faded away. Those that survived to become major religions today might, in hindsight, seem to have been inevitable. In all likelihood, however, they were just lucky. Out of a confusing mess of religious beliefs, some emerged as dominant mostly by chance. Even within those religions, differing sects and competing canons also existed with those surviving getting to write (and purge) the history.

It is entirely possible that early Christians could have chosen a different canon, and today the faithful might think that the Gospel of Judas is the word of God.

194 responses so far

194 Responses to “The Evidence for the History of Jesus”

  1. shackaryon 24 Apr 2017 at 9:03 am

    Quick, pedantic correction: there are 3 synoptic Gospels, not 4. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptics because they describe roughly the same sequence of events in similar ways (and in fact the common understanding is that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source). John is more distinct and so isn’t synoptic.

  2. Daniel Clementson 24 Apr 2017 at 9:21 am

    “He adds that there are non-biblical mentions of Jesus from Josephus”

    That right there is a tip-off that his article is not worth reading.

  3. DrNickon 24 Apr 2017 at 9:35 am

    So how long before Sophie shows up and we spend 100+ comments arguing about the reliability of Raw Story as a source, whether it’s representative of the broader arguments against Jesus’s existence, and other irrelevant nitpicking tangents that have absolutely no bearing on Steve’s post?

  4. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 10:01 am

    I gotta nit pick you a bit here:

    …including the four “synoptic” gospels.

    There are 3 “synoptic” gospels: Matt, Mark, and Luke. These 3 are very similar since Mark was used as a source by Matt and Luke. John is the oddball gospel that has many of its own stories.

    I also gotta criticize Valerie Tarico as well, on a similar point:

    …textual analysis suggests that [the four gospels] all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark.

    I don’t think too many scholars think that the gospel of John was an adaptation of Mark. It’s generally considered an independent gospel. I don’t know where Tarico is getting that from.

    She also seems to tilt the consensus in one direction… in her article, she says about the Testimonium Flavianum that “historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery.” This is very misleading… What most historians believe is that the passage was originally written by Josephus but then additions were made to it, not that the whole thing is a forgery.

    There are probably better articles on this topic. Tarico’s article goes into depth, but contains innacuruacies…. Gathercole’s article is ok.. but only scratches the surface and ddoesn’t always present the best arguments either…

  5. Evhan Sourson 24 Apr 2017 at 10:56 am

    It gets worse! Yeshua (Jesus) and his followers spoke Aramaic, if they existed. The gospels and epistles were written in Greek, meaning that they were, at best, translations of memories in a different language. The Pauline epistles were written shortly after Yeshua may have died, but Paul never met Yeshua or any of his apostles; rather, he claimed to have seen the resurrected Yeshua in a vision. Many of the epistles are obvious forgeries, such as Timothy, and those that weren’t made it clear that Paul believed his visions of Yeshua proved that the end of the world was just around the corner.

  6. Evhan Sourson 24 Apr 2017 at 10:58 am

    I’m honestly not sure if a consensus of historians is as valid, when it comes to topics like this, as a consensus in a scientific community.

  7. Evhan Sourson 24 Apr 2017 at 11:03 am

    Do you know of any historians whose expertise on this topic is truly objective? I really like Bart Ehrman, but I’ve heard some people claim that he can be too uncharitable.

  8. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 11:04 am

    It’s good, Steven, that you bring this up. You have been reluctant to hop into the (new) atheist sewer, and you’ve had to put up a facade of disinterest in the new atheist/Christian debate. It’s about time you dropped the facade.

    I won’t bother with this “debate” about Jesus’ existence. His existence is far better attested than any person in the ancient world–better than Budda, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, anyone. The records of His life are nearly contemporaneous, and the number of very early documents is massive and dwarf any documentation of the life of any ancient person.

    Denial of His existence is a joke, obviously motivated by hatred and fear of who He is and what He represents. It would be more honest to simply deny His divinity (and His miracles and His resurrection) and debate his impact on our world.

    Denial of His existence is crank stuff– a particularly bizarre example of “denialism”. I’m glad you are finally being candid about your metaphysical stance and about the unhinged theories you’ll accept to defend it.

  9. mumadaddon 24 Apr 2017 at 11:26 am

    I really would struggle to come up with a better parody of motivated reasoning than ME’s last post.

    Thanks, Michael.

  10. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 11:26 am

    It seems like the post is jumping around a bit from the issue of whether there is reasonable historical evidence for the existence of some man named Jesus who claimed to be a prophet thousands of years ago and whether the Christian canon contains embellishments, conflations, later elaborations, and external influences, including to the Jesus’ story. The answer to both questions (IMO) on balance would seem to be yes. I think atheists, and I’m speaking here as one, have a tendency to rely too heavily on fringe scholars like Bob Price and dismiss the broader consensus on Jesus’ historicity as being due to a pro-Christian bias in scholarship. I don’t doubt that there is such a bias in the work of some scholars but I’m also not convinced that some of the popular ‘there was no historical Jesus’ writings are not motivated by an inverse bias.

    In general, I freely admit I haven’t put in enough research to have a properly informed opinion but from what research I have done the consensus amongst experts appears to tilt significantly towards the historical evidence for Jesus being comparable to that accepted for many other non-controversial historical figures. Thus, I think the comparison to King Arthur, although often made in atheist circles, is not actually a valid comparison. As per there being competing narratives; why is that at all surprising or evidence for non-existence? In the modern era, even when we have interviews and autobiographies, there are still fierce debates surrounding the character and deeds of people who died decades ago (or even those still living- see Trump/Putin). Jesus, if accounts are to be believed, was a religious revolutionary living thousands of years ago who was executed, so certainly things will have got muddied and there will be conflicting views. Again that doesn’t seem to be strong reason to believe him to be entirely fictional.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the broader sentiment that it doesn’t matter if Jesus lived or not in terms of validating the various supernatural claims attached to him but that’s why I find it strange that so many atheists appear to be so heavily invested in supporting the position that he was not real.

  11. LittleBoyBrewon 24 Apr 2017 at 11:27 am

    Well, I am glad to see Dr.E jumped in replete with ad hominems and claims of fact with no evidence to back them up. Par for the course.

    If the records of Jesus’ life are ‘nearly contemporaneous’ then why did they screw up the day he was crucified? The synoptic gospels all describe Jesus eating the Passover meal with his disciples on the day before he is crucified. John 19:14 describes Jesus being crucified on the Day of Preparation for the Passover.

    They can’t even get the story straight.

  12. landrewson 24 Apr 2017 at 11:30 am

    Better attested than Caesar? Come on now.

    I’ve settled into a position where I place a non-trivial amount of credence to both a historical Jesus who was highly mythicized, alongside pure mythicism. I find it highly unlikely hat we ever have access to truly primary sources that could elucidate the bottom line. And then we would have to make sure that said primary source was authentic in its own right.

  13. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 11:37 am

    LBB:

    [… They can’t even get the story straight.]

    There are innumerable conflicting stories about the Kennedy Assassination– how many shots, grassy knoll gunmen, etc, etc. Even the Zapruder film is the subject of unending doubt and debate. Yet the Kennedy assassination happened.

    Conflicting stories about historical persons and events are not evidence against the historicity of the person or event. Conflicting stories are normal human responses to extraordinary events.

    In fact, the conflicts in the gospels (there are not many, when you look carefully) add to the historical reliability of the accounts, because it demonstrates a lack of collusion between the authors who, if they were constructing a lie or a myth, would have been more careful to get their stories coordinated.

    [I find it strange that so many atheists appear to be so heavily invested in supporting the position that he was not real.]

    I agree. There is room for a massive debate about Christian theology, Christian history, etc. It’s fair to question Christ’s divinity, His miracles, even some of his statements and claims in the gospels. Christianity is a very historical religion, and more than other religions it makes concrete historical claims.

    Denial of Christ’s existence is a step too far–something no one would do unless they had a prior commitment to atheism, or a prior commitment to a locked psychiatric ward.

  14. Evhan Sourson 24 Apr 2017 at 11:38 am

    Let’s, for sake of argument, accept that the biblical account of Yeshua’s actions, dialogue, and miracles is true, including the resurrection. What basis does that provide that Yeshua is, in fact, the messiah? Why couldn’t he have been a level 20 necromancer messing with people?

  15. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 11:42 am

    [Better attested than Caesar? Come on now.]

    The number of documents relaibly dated within a few generations of Christ’s life exceeds the number and proximity to life of documents on the life of any other ancient person, Caesar included. Of course Caesar did exist, and Christ did exist.

    Sane people can disagree on the specifics of their lives. It’s insane to doubt the existence of either.

  16. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 11:46 am

    What’s remarkable about this post is Steven’s step off the crazy cliff– his willingness to embrace bizarre fringe denialism. Kind of puts the lie to his faux “skepticism”.

    Steven: was the moon landing a hoax? Did Neil Armstrong really exist?

  17. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 11:53 am

    Some of the confusions comes from defining what does it actually mean for Jesus to be “mythical” or not. I see 3 broad categories:

    A. Jesus existed and was more or less what the Bible describes. (The Sunday School version of Jesus.)
    B. Jesus existed, Christianity was founded on him and/or his teachings. The Bible story gets some of the main things right (the crucifixion, for example) but contains a lot of exaggerations and invented stories about him.
    C. There never was a Jesus who walked on earth. The whole thing is made up.

    Obviously, Jesus A is “not mythical” and Jesus C is “mythical”. But if it turns out that Jesus B existed, would that still count as Jesus being “mythical”?

    I’ve had conversations where I’m arguing that Jesus existed, and the other argues that he did not.. and we eventually find out that we are both arguing for Jesus B. The argument was only about definitions.

  18. Lobsterbashon 24 Apr 2017 at 11:56 am

    Michael Egnor – What would it take to legitimately change your mind? Think about it. Imagine a situation in which you were actually led to believe that the Bible is predominantly mythology. Can you share with us the details of that hypothetical situation?

  19. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:00 pm

    What’s remarkable about the “Jesus never existed” cult is how recent it is. Historically, no one denied His existence, even people (Jews, Romans, Muslims) who had strong political or polemical reasons to do so. What’s more is that His contemporaries and people in the next few generations didn’t deny His miracles either–it was widely acknowledged that He did extraordinary things. That was never denied.

    He was criticized as a (non-divine) miracle worker, a disciple of satan, a mere prophet, whatever, but His existence was never denied, and His miracles were implicitly acknowledged, even by his enemies.

    Only in modern times has the “Jesus never existed” cult appeared. A sign of the insanity of our times.

  20. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Egnor:

    I won’t bother with this “debate” about Jesus’ existence.

    You seem to be bothering about it quite a bit since that first post of yours…

    Also, you seem to be straw manning Steve as a dyed in the wool mythologist. I’ll reproduce part of his article for you that you may have missed:

    In the end we are left with, I think, two main conclusions. The first is that we simply do not know if Jesus was an actual person who existed. The evidence for a historical Jesus is thin, but there is no specific evidence refuting his existence.

    Looks like he’s on the fence on the question to me.

  21. Lightnotheaton 24 Apr 2017 at 12:04 pm

    ME,
    Insistence on the extreme likeñihood of Christ’s existence is a step too far–something no one would do unless they had a prior commitment to Christianity, or a prior commitment to a locked psychiatric ward.
    It’s amazing how quickly people who have an extensive, breathtaking history of bias and motivated reasoning will accuse others of bias, all the while never, ever answering the objection that they themseives show massive evidence of tailoring the facts to fit their narrative.

  22. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:07 pm

    As per usual, ME takes a running leap and immediately dives off a reasonable point about historical evidence into absurd exaggeration, presenting opinions as if they are fact, and making false equivalences. While I agree that the evidence of Jesus’ historicity is relatively strong, your counter claim that he is the best attested ancient person rings of the hollow confidence typical of intelligent design advocates. Atheists might have a tendency to exaggerate the case against the historical Jesus but Christians definitely have a similar tendency to over embellish/interpret the evidence that does exist.

    Steve might be giving too much credence to a fringe position but most of the points he raises about the fog of time and the messy nature of the Christian ‘canon’ are correct. Jesus’ life is nothing like as well documented or as agreed upon as the moon landing. In fact, while most scholars recognise the historicity of Jesus’ there is a lot less agreement on any other major facts of his life, except that he was probably baptised and probably executed. That leaves a lot more scope for reasonable scepticism than you imply.

  23. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Lobster:

    [Michael Egnor – What would it take to legitimately change your mind? Think about it. Imagine a situation in which you were actually led to believe that the Bible is predominantly mythology. Can you share with us the details of that hypothetical situation?]

    You misunderstand genuine Christian experience. I love and worship Christ (and love and venerate his Mother) because of personal experiences I have had, particularly in prayer. I have encountered Him. I have experienced His presence (in a time of family crisis and often thereafter), and I regularly encounter Him in prayer and in daily life. I also have a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.

    My love for Christ doesn’t come from any particular school of Biblical scholarship. He is not a ‘hypothesis’ for me, nor is He a hypothesis for a billion serious Christians. We know Him, in our prayers and in our lives, and we devote our lives to Him.

    I find Biblical scholarship interesting, but my love for Christ is personal, not academic.

  24. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Everyone has heard of the Pythagorean theorem. Some man by that name came up with it right?

    In reality, we don’t know if it was him who invented it or his cult. Yeah btw there was a cult that believed all sorts of myths about the man. Including that he possessed many supernatural abilities and was the son of a god. Rivers spoke to the him, he was seen in two different cities within the same hour, clairvoyance etc.

    Plato. That’s an interesting name to drop. We know so little about Plato, we don’t even know what his name was. Plato was his nickname possibly or a later addition, it could have meant “broad shoulders.” The historical details of his life are disputed. We don’t know when and where he was born for example. If we assume his family followed Greek naming conventions, it’s problematic because there was no Plato in his supposed family tree.

    Ancient authors which people point to as corroborating evidence for the existence of ancient historical figures, are notoriously unreliable. Many of them are thought to be serious resources on some topics, but these same authors would talk about magical lands and people as if they were real. They would repeat the stories they heard of far off lands as historical fact.

    Pliny the Elder’s natural history, a highly influential book over many centuries, openly refers to magic as if it was real, right down to spells and protection charms. Modern scholars like ignore those parts and focus on his natural philosophy and more objective things. Other supposed historical sources talked about witchcraft as if it was real and their writings were used to justify the murder of innocent women.

    Basically, history is suspect. It’s constantly being rewritten and analyzed. You should assume that some writing from thousands of years ago is deeply flawed. Check out any ancient person’s thoughts on anthropology for example. You will find shocking racism in your hero’s writing.

  25. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:14 pm

    And the evidence for your existence, Sophie?

  26. KeithJMon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Reza Aslan made some really good points about an historical Jesus in Zealot. He looked for places in the story where, if you were making it up from scratch, you would have adjusted the story for greater benefit. The assumption is that they left in uncomfortable parts of the story or twisted them to fit prophecy because the audience already knew some facts about the actual man, so the facts couldn’t be adjusted as easily.

    For instance, any interpretation of the old testament that makes Jesus the Jewish Messiah requires him to be from Bethlehem, but he’s known all across the bible as Jesus of Nazareth. That implies that there was a guy known well enough as Jesus of Nazareth in the time the gospels were written that it was easier to come up with a twisted “alternative fact” of a census that required people to go to their ancestor’s home towns than to just change the name of the main character. That there is no evidence the Romans performed such a census and it’s hard to imagine why they’d care about the ancestral towns of the individual people in this remote province makes it pretty obvious this was trying to fit the story after the fact.

    He has some other similar points, and does a good job of piecing together which parts are likely true and were known by the audience of the time by looking at what parts the original story tellers would likely have wanted to leave out, but included anyway. He makes a good argument that there was likely a guy the stories were based on.

  27. Lobsterbashon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Michael Egnor:

    [You misunderstand genuine Christian experience. I love and worship Christ (and love and venerate his Mother) because of personal experiences I have had, particularly in prayer. I have encountered Him. I have experienced His presence (in a time of family crisis and often thereafter), and I regularly encounter Him in prayer and in daily life. I also have a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.
    My love for Christ doesn’t come from any particular school of Biblical scholarship. He is not a ‘hypothesis’ for me, nor is He a hypothesis for a billion serious Christians. We know Him, in our prayers and in our lives, and we devote our lives to Him.
    I find Biblical scholarship interesting, but my love for Christ is personal, not academic.]

    Thanks for the response. I understand what you’re saying, but I am confused about your intent posting on this forum (in this thread or in general). Are you here to try to convince people to love and worship Christ as well? Do you feel like you are fighting some kind of necessary battle?

    Otherwise, if you are unwilling to change your mind then you and everyone else here will simply talk past each other and get worked up for nothing.

  28. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:24 pm

    CKava, my read of Steve’s point isn’t to say that Jesus definitely didn’t exist, just that the evidence supporting his existence is very thin. If, for instance, we discovered some trove of historical records which showed that Socrates wasn’t an actual person, but someone that Plato invented to discuss a particular philosophical viewpoint, or that in fact Plato had several teachers who over the centuries were forgotten and were replaced with a single individual that combined disparate elements of each, called Socrates, there probably wouldn’t be a big outcry. Historical records relating to ancient people are rare and often unreliable, and I think that Steve’s point is just that this haziness is something to be aware of. We may provisionally accept that a person roughly matching the description of Jesus existed around the time that Christian theology posits that he existed in order to move on to the argument about divinity or his alleged supernatural acts, but it’s worth taking a look back at that provisional acceptance and recognize how shaky the ground that it rests up actually is.

  29. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Test. I had a comment to CKava, but the comments system is telling me that it’s a duplicate, which is odd.

  30. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Huh, and there it is. Very odd. Sorry for subjecting you all to my technical issues! Debate on!

  31. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:30 pm

    @Keith:

    [Reza Aslan made some really good points about an historical Jesus in Zealot. He looked for places in the story where, if you were making it up from scratch, you would have adjusted the story for greater benefit… For instance, any interpretation of the old testament that makes Jesus the Jewish Messiah requires him to be from Bethlehem, but he’s known all across the bible as Jesus of Nazareth. That implies that there was a guy known well enough as Jesus of Nazareth in the time the gospels were written that it was easier to come up with a twisted “alternative fact” of a census that required people]

    Why, then, has it taken 2000 years to question His birth in Bethlehem, etc? From the earliest times when stories about Him began to spread, there were people who could check the facts and the details.

    What’s remarkable is that no one contested the basic facts recounted in the gospels. There was no rabbi or midwife from Nazareth who said “wait a minute–I circumcised (or delivered) Him in Nazareth”. He had countless enemies–Roman and Jewish– and there is no record whatsoever that any of his enemies presented any evidence at all that the basic events recounted in the gospels weren’t true. They had enormous opportunity and motivation to prove Him (and His followers) a fraud, and they tacitly acknoweledged the basic historical truth of the gospel accounts, by the very absence of any record of conflicting accounts.

    Interestingly, there is a record in ancient documents that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier with Mary (and this is alluded to in John 8:38, when the Jews claim Abraham as their father, implicitly questioning Jesus’ patrimony). Yet even this bolsters the gospel account, because it is evidence that Jesus’ conception and birth were known to be controversial at the time. Joseph wasn’t his biological father–even his enemies acknowledged that.

    Modern claims about “mythology” in the gospels lack credibility because such claims were not made, even by Jesus sworn enemies, who had great motive and opportunity to do so.

    We don’t have contemporaneous conflicting accounts of the basics of gospel accounts because the accounts were known at the time to be well-grounded in fact (Jesus’ unusual birth, His remarkable teaching, His miracles), even though his enemies had powerful reasons and motives to do so.

  32. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:31 pm

    I agree with those points MosBen and I don’t buy into Egnor’s ‘best attested figure in ancient history’ nonsense. But I think that Steve’s reading of the general consensus of historians on this issue is misleading. From my research it doesn’t seem like two equally supported camps exist but rather a broad consensus and a smaller fringe group of ‘there was no historical Jesus’ scholars who have a disproportionate following in atheist/skeptical circles.

  33. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Egnor,
    You are intelligent and evasive. You’ve previously established yourself, in comments just yesterday, as someone who likes to cherry pick the historical record.

    You attempted to argue that all of medicine is due to Christianity, when I gave the example of the quintessential physician, Hippocrates, you just Gishgalloped over to something else.

    Let’s talk about the legitimacy of historical sources. Offer up your arguments for the historical Jesus I’ll take them seriously and examine them.

  34. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:39 pm

    @Lobster:

    [I am confused about your intent posting on this forum (in this thread or in general). Are you here to try to convince people to love and worship Christ as well? Do you feel like you are fighting some kind of necessary battle?]

    I would be delighted to have people know Christ, anywhere and anytime, but I am not evangelizing here as my primary intent.

    I am making the point that, to a devout Christian, Christ is a person we know, personally, not a theory and not a mere historical figure recounted in documents whose existence depends on historical scholarship.

    Christianity is a relationship with Christ, not a theory about Christ. You are of course entitled to doubt the reality of that relationship, but it’s important that you know what we actually know and experience.

  35. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:40 pm

    I get a strong sense that Egnor’s confident assertions about history are backed up with the same degree of rigorous research that we find in all other areas he opines on. And no it’s not compelling to interpret silence in the historical record as fitting whatever interpretation suits your personal beliefs best. Have you looked into how many other messianic figures existed during that historical period and if there is any independent refutation of their claims? If not, following your logic it seems that you better get worshipping because obviously all of the claims made about them must be true otherwise there would be thousands of documents from their enemies detailing the problems with their claims…

  36. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Sophie:

    [Let’s talk about the legitimacy of historical sources. Offer up your arguments for the historical Jesus I’ll take them seriously and examine them]

    I lack the time and desire to be your tutor. There are plenty of fine books about the historicity of Jesus. But frankly, if you really doubt His historical existence, you’re not a serious interlocutor and, candidly, not worth the effort.

    Get help.

  37. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:47 pm

    CKava, fair enough. I’m not well-read enough on the subject to take a position on the consensus among historians. But I take Steve’s point to be just that the amount that we can say with any degree of confidence about any ancient historical figure is extremely limited.

    Actually, let me ask a question rather than guess: how common was the name Yeshua at the time? If the consensus among historians is that we can be reasonably confident that there was a man in Judea in around the first century called Yeshua, and that he was probably baptized and executed, isn’t that a bit like saying that there was a man named Martin in the US prison system some time between 1940-1970? Even if it was purely a guess you’d be likely to be correct on that limited inquiry. It seems like even just from a historical perspective the more interesting and important questions would be whether this Martin person was an agitator for civil rights, or if the Yeshua person was a religious radical. From what most people in this thread are saying there’s far less consensus on that question, which I think is the heart of the question of whether the Jesus described in the bible was a historical person, rather than just “was there a person with this name”?

  38. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Man, that was a ramble-y post. Sorry.

  39. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Egnor,
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus

    Well it’s not just me that doubts the Christian belief about Jesus. I guess we all need help.

  40. Lobsterbashon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Michael Egnor:

    [Christianity is a relationship with Christ, not a theory about Christ. You are of course entitled to doubt the reality of that relationship, but it’s important that you know what we actually know and experience.]

    I don’t doubt your emotional/spiritual connection (relationship) with Christ, as it is quite evident it is real and important to you. As it is with millions of people to varying degrees.

    However.

    It’s important to acknowledge that you are choosing to believe what you want to believe regardless of evidence. Some would say it’s OK to do that, just be intellectually honest and open about that fact so as not to be deceptive. Many of those who choose not to have your kind of relationship with Christ (for whatever reason) are interested in pursuing and validating the best evidence available (historical scholarship).

  41. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:49 pm

    @Ckava:

    [Have you looked into how many other messianic figures existed during that historical period and if there is any independent refutation of their claims?]

    You are the one making the argument that the gospels accounts are not historical.

    There were many contemporaries who had intense motives and ample opportunity to refute the accounts on the evidence. Yet they did not, and in fact, generally tended to acknowledge that there were compelling and remarkable things about Jesus, although they denied he was the Messiah or God.

    If, 2000 years later, you are calling the gospel accounts into question, you need to explain why it has taken 2000 years to do so, when His contemporaries could have done so easily and decisively.

  42. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Egnor,
    Did you seriously just make the argument that Christianity is legit because people 2000 years ago did not reject it? I guess you never heard of Nero. Or all those other people that persecuted and murdered early Christians? Or other religious works? Or Judism?

    The level of dishonesty that it must require to say the things you say is truly amazing.

    We are also allowed to question things others did not. We have science now, we can plausibly say miracles don’t really exist, we can see that less and less of them happen, less saints are canonized because science disproves miracles.

  43. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the correction on the synoptic gospels. You are correct, John is the outlier.

    My clearly stated position is not that Jesus did not exist, but that the actual evidence is quite thin. This is partly because all evidence from ancient times is thin, but even by that standard there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Jesus definitely existed. But he may have, it’s an interesting but actually not that important a question. I am certainly not taking an “atheist” position on this. As I stated – I like delving into factual questions that are controversial for ideological reasons.

    Analogies to ancient historical figures are not valid for various reasons. However, the big reason is this – we know of Jesus from religious texts. The gospels were not historical documents, and were never intended to be. They were statements of faith meant to bolster a community.

    The notion that the gospels are consistent is only partly true if you ignore all the other gospels and writings that were eventually rejected from the official canon.

    So, what we have are statements of faith beginning at least a generation after the alleged death of Jesus, reflecting the beliefs of specific communities. While, as I said, these belief systems may have derived from one or more actual people, the core claims are straight out of pre-existing mythology.

  44. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Egnor:

    There was no rabbi or midwife from Nazareth who said “wait a minute–I circumcised (or delivered) Him in Nazareth”.

    So.. the earliest claim of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is in Matthew, which was written about 70 A.D. in Greek, possibly in Syria (in any case, not anywhere near Bethlehem or Nazareth).

    You are proposing that a 90+ year-old mid-wife or mohel living miles away would have read a story in a foreign language, and then would have been able to dispute that story to the satisfaction of an already growing religious movement.

    I think you should stick with your “I experienced Christ” line of argument, cause this one ain’t too good.

  45. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Lobster:

    [It’s important to acknowledge that you are choosing to believe what you want to believe regardless of evidence.]

    Not “regardless of evidence”, but on the basis of incomplete evidence.

    You misunderstand Christian faith. Faith does not mean belief without evidence. It means belief based on incomplete evidence, and it means especially fidelity to that belief. ‘Fidelity’ is a better synonym for faith than ‘belief’.

    We all have faith, understood as belief based on incomplete evidence and fidelity to that belief. We have faith in science, in particular theories in science, and we have faith in our personal relationships, etc. We even have faith that we’ll be alive tomorrow, although we obviously have no evidence for it.

    Evidence matters very much in my fidelity to Christ. I experience evidence of Him daily– in prayer, in Mass, in ordinary experiences of my life. It’s not scientific evidence (there’s no p-value), but then there is not scientific evidence for most important relationships in our lives. No one has scientifically proven that I love my wife and kids, or care about my friends, but I do, and I know that I do with more certainty than an experiment could provide.

    My love of Christ is that kind of experience.

  46. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Do you honestly believe that there has been no criticism of the gospels over the past 2000 years? Do you know anything about how the current canon(s) came into existence? If you believe that dissent and debate surrounding Jesus and what is an accurate account of his teaching/life are a modern phenomenon then you must have done precisely 0 critical research into the topic. Again, not particularly surprising given that on all topics I’ve seen you comment the confidence with which you make statements and claims about facts is entirely independent from the actual evidence in support of them.

  47. Willyon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:03 pm

    The Mormons have a phrase for Dr. Egnor’s feeling of closeness to Christ–they call it a “burning in the bosom” and they experience not through closeness to Christ but when pondering the truth of the Book of Mormon. I have personally spoken with several Mormons about the certainty they feel from their “burning bosoms”. I’m betting betting the 9/11 hijackers (and all other suicide bombers) also had quite the burning bosom feeling.

    “I KNOW it’s true cuz I can feel it in my bones!”

  48. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Steven Novella,
    “Analogies to ancient historical figures are not valid for various reasons… we know of Jesus from religious texts.”
    Yes and we also know about Pythagoras from the texts of the followers of Pythagoreanism. There are many works that form the basis of this ancient belief system.

  49. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:10 pm

    The first Gospel was Mark, written around 70 AD, so about 40 years after it is claimed Jesus died. That is hardly contemporary as a source of objective information.

    Further, the idea that we don’t have records of people at the same time calling the claims of Jesus into question is not very compelling evidence for anything. First, records are scarce from that time. Who would have had the motivation to preserve a historical record of Jesus skepticism? Again, Christianity is only interesting now in hindsight. At the time, who cared?

    Second, we are talking about a culture that was prescientific and took miracles and magic for granted. Their lack of skepticism is not remarkable.

    Also, just a correction, the scholarly notion that Jesus did not exist goes back over 200 years. http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcno.htm It is not an invention of modern atheists.

  50. Lightnotheaton 24 Apr 2017 at 1:11 pm

    ME’s post about his personal, subjective reasons for feeling he “knows” Jesus existed was actually more appealing than just about anything else he’s posted. For once it has the air of authenticity, rather than being an extremely arrogant rant of whatever arguments he can find to support an already decided upon position.

    And having those powerfully felt subjective reasons for his commitment to Jesus is fine; this is a common, sincere theme you hear from many Christians and those of other faiths. And I understand it when these people feel that their powerful experiences are unreasonably belittled and dismissed by skeptics who they feel have not had those experiences.

    But since those experiences are the real reasons for his beliefs, I wish he would stick to that rather than coming up with post-hoc intellectual arguments like a trial lawyer. That kind of stuff makes people like me a lot less willing to take him seriously.

    I would much rather hear him make the case for why the kinds of subjective experiences he describes are a good enough reason to believe something is true. I actually think that a decent case can be made, and would like this subject to be addressed more on this blog. Especially with regard to mystical experiences.

    But I’m pretty sure he’ll just continue with his extremely off-putting rants.

  51. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 1:24 pm

    [So.. the earliest claim of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is in Matthew, which was written about 70 A.D. in Greek, possibly in Syria (in any case, not anywhere near Bethlehem or Nazareth). You are proposing that a 90+ year-old mid-wife or mohel living miles away would have read a story in a foreign language,]

    First, the date of Matthew is subject to some debate, and I think that 70 is much too late. There is no clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 66-70 in any of the gospels, and Luke (a rather good historian) leaves it out of Acts. This implies that the gospel corpus was set down prior to 66, and many scholars (eg Robinson) put the gospels at a much earlier date, even in the 40’s. I personally subscribe to the Two Gospel Hypothesis–originally proposed by Augustine and supported by modern scholars like Griesbach and Farmer. It respects the order of the gospels (Matthew first, etc) and respects external as well as internal evidence. It also does away with the need for the Q document, which I never thought had much credibility.

    You should understand that the gospels almost certainly circulated as oral traditions before they were written down. The ancients were intensly oral and they were very good at it–the Homeric epics were orally transmitted for centuries– and the gospels were almost certainly written for very specific reasons related to evangelization– Matthew to Jewish Christians, Mark as a compilation of Peter’s speeches probably given to confirm the authenticity of Luke’s gospel, which was written (probably at Paul’s request) to evangelize gentiles. John’s gospel was probably written in stages over his long life–John 5 refers to the pool at Bethesda in the present tense, although the pool was destroyed by the Romans in 66-70 and would not have been referred to in the present tense if it no longer existed, expecially in such a dramatic fashion. It would be analogous to dating an account of Manhattan by noting that the account mentions the World Trade Center in the present tense (“There is a skyscraper called the WTC located at …’)–such an account would unequivocally establish the date of the document as prior to 9/11/01. Robinson believes that major parts of John were written in the 40’s, although it was probably amended and compiled later, perhaps as late as 90.

    Therefore, to get back to your objection about elderly mohels, the accounts of Jesus were spreading rapidly and widely and early, certainly in His lifetime. They could have been shot down immediately by any number of people who would have known about the “fraud”, and there was strong motivation to do so. Christ was a very controversial guy.

    Yet no one did. Even His enemies implicitly and explictly acknowledged that He did miracles. Efforts 2000 years later to deny things that His contemporary enemies who had first-hand knowledge didn’t deny ring hollow.

  52. CKavaon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Steve, I’m genuinely curious how deep your research goes on this? Because a lot of what you are arguing seems remarkably similar to the views promoted by biblical scholars popular in atheist/secular circles who do take relatively fringe positions. Take a look at the wikipedia article on the historicity of Jesus, for instance, which gives a pretty fair assessment of the evidence and competing camps. The historical skeptic camp is definitely in the minority- and not just amongst Christian scholars.

    Saying we only know of Jesus from religious texts is also not true. The most contemporaneous references to Jesus are from records made by his community of followers but that is not unusual or unexpected for a leader of an initially fringe religious movement. I also am skeptical that the intended ‘purpose’ of early Christian texts somehow makes them non ‘historical documents’. They certainly aren’t objective historical records but very few historical texts are. Indeed, there are plenty of historical texts that contain hagiographical accounts including of ‘secular’ figures like kings and rulers which nonetheless remain relevant to distilling historical information. It’s pretty difficult throughout most of recorded history to make a neat division between religion and other facets of life. As Sophie mentioned most historical figures have myths attached to them and many massively influential records of history contain impossible details or supernatural references. So dismissing the value of texts because they are ‘religious’ seems a very dubious stance to me. Yes we need to be critical, but historians generally are critical of sources- and yet the vast majority still believe the weight of evidence strongly leans in favour of their being some historical figure.

    We obviously cannot conclude with 100% certainty that Jesus existed and there are good reasons to be skeptical about many, if not most, of the details about his life. However, he is as well attested as many non-controversial historical figures so singling his existence for skepticism does seem to involve some degree of ideological motivation.

  53. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:29 pm

    CKava,
    Yes excellent points. I feel like I was trying to express this as well but came up short.

  54. michaelegnoron 24 Apr 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Interestingly, there is evidence for the widespread belief in Christ’s birth to a Virgin in Paul’s epistles, which probably are the earliest Christian documents. In Galations 4:4, Paul refers to “Christ, born of a woman…”

    Note that Joseph is not mentioned, which would be very unusual in that culture, in which it was paternity, not maternity, by which people were known and addressed. “bland-Bar/Bat-blank” invariably refers to the father as the second name, not the mother. Yet Paul explicitly (and casually) mentions only Jesus’ Mother. This implies that it was widely known and accepted in the Christian community that Jesus’ biological father was not Joseph and was not any known man.

    This implies that such stories as the Virgin birth were circulating very early. Interestingly, as I’ve noted, we have no evidence of any claims at the time that the basic oral/gospel accounts were factually incorrect.

    There of course were claims that Jesus was not the messiah or not God, but the gospel accounts on specific events were treated uniformly as facts.

  55. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Taken as a whole, the evidence of the historicity of Jesus is stronger than for other historical figures assumed to have been real. So I don’t really think there’s much meat in the debate of whether or not Jesus as a person existed.

    The comparison I find most illustrative is Joseph Smith. No rational person argues that Joseph Smith was granted special powers through his direct relationship to divinity. Yet an entire major global religion has formed around exactly that mythology. And the followers have taken active measures to erase from the record any documents or evidence that show Joseph Smith to be all too mundane a human being.

    There is no evidence that the Jesus mythology was anything more than an earlier example of the Joseph Smith-style mythology. Look at the massively complex “alternate” history that Smith created that is accepted by the faithful. That there are still thousands of people willing to give their lives in support of the divinely-inspired words of imprisoned child molester Warren Jeffs is a testimony to the power of Joseph Smiths myth and legacy.

    If such departure with facts and such devotion is possible today in the world of television and investigative reporting, then there is absolutely no evidence compelling enough to accept the reported supernatural powers of Jesus as real.

    But while documents do show that the extent and nature of Jesus’s divinity was very much in dispute in the immediate decades and centuries after his birth, his actual existence was not. So given the evidence of documents and of comparable mythologies, my bet is he was every bit as real (and as mundane) a human being as Joseph Smith.

  56. Sophieon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Egnor,
    You keep referring to religious texts as if they have some kind of historical accuracy and legitimacy to them. The Bible is filled with historical errors. The gospels you refer to contradict each other all over the place and are but a small amount of the early Christian literature that was being spread at the time.

  57. Pete Aon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:50 pm

    The original records that have survived until today, for our current examination and enquiry, are (obviously) only those which have survived. We are unable to examine the plethora of records that have not survived.

    Survivorship bias:
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

    especially the excellent linked-article by David McRaney:
    https://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

  58. QuiteDragonon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:53 pm

    One of the leading scholars on the subject, Bart D. Ehrman ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bart_D._Ehrman ) has a popular, though thorough and in-depth, work on the historicity of Jesus, https://smile.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062206443/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 . I found it to be both interesting and quite informative. I strongly recommend it as an excellent read and a layman’s better choice for the “affirmative” side of the argument.

  59. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Egnor:
    You (correctly) call Jesus mythicism a fringe belief but then cite fringe beliefs yourself regarding the dating and authorship of the gospels… interesting.

    But regarding the elderly mohels: you assume that stories of Jesus’ birth were circulating early enough that a mohel or mid-wife would have still been alive to dispute them*. But the consensus is that the birth narratives are added later, after the oral tradition period. They do not appear until Matthew and Luke, and even then, they are two different stories that use two different methods to place Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. If the nativity story was circulating as early oral traditions, as you claim, the authors of Matt and Luke would have more or less the same nativity story. But they don’t.

    *And assume that the word of one person would stop a story.

  60. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2017 at 1:55 pm

    CKava – who says I am singling him out for skepticism. I take all claims based upon ancient word-of-mouth later written down by superstitious prescientific people with a massive grain of salt.

    Much of my skepticism began with my Jesuit education. The notion that the gospels are a faith-based genre and not intended as historical documents goes back to that. So hardly fringe.

    We know from historical examples that:
    1 – Historical figures can be mythologized when legend and myth are attached to them
    2 – Mythical figures can be historicized, when it is later claimed that they actually existed.

    For example, it was not uncommon for historians 2000 years ago to claim that Greek mythological characters from 3000 years ago actually existed, even though today we would not claim so.

    Did Achilles actually exist and fight in a the Trojan War, and did the Trojan War exist?

    If you go beyond Christian mythology, you will see that the notion of myth, legend, and history are a hopeless blend. One morphs into the other.

    It is probably close to the truth to say that in the ancient world there wasn’t even really pure history. There were stories, and those stories were part of how people understood themselves and their own identity and history. Myth, history, and legend all blended together. This was especially true when you started mixing in the divine.

    So, was Jesus a historical figure? Not in the way a modern person would understand it. It’s pretty clear that some combination of either mythologizing a historical person or persons, or historicizing a mythological person was taking place. It is probably not possible to tease apart exactly what happened.

    There is no reason, however, to think that Jesus was the exception to the almost universal rule that these kinds of processes have taken place surrounding religious or even just heroic characters.

  61. Lobsterbashon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Michael Egnor:

    [We all have faith, understood as belief based on incomplete evidence and fidelity to that belief. We have faith in science, in particular theories in science, and we have faith in our personal relationships, etc. We even have faith that we’ll be alive tomorrow, although we obviously have no evidence for it.]

    Evidence means something specific: “an observation, fact or document that tends to make more likely (support) the conclusion which the evidence is offered to prove.” Without going into all the different kinds of evidence, evidence can have varying degrees of quality. For example, if it’s reliable and independently verifiable, it is probably good, quality evidence in support of some conclusion.

    Have you studied the field of psychology and explored the degree of natural spirituality the brain is capable of? The ease with which it conjures fantastical tales and adheres to them? These questions are among Steve’s points in his post.

    While we certainly do not have answers to everything, we can make educated guesses (assign probabilities) about the validity of various explanations and outcomes. For example, we have considerable evidence that it is physically impossible for our hand to pass through stone with a gentle touch. Yet can we be truly certain whether or not it will do so on the next attempt? No, but we can assign a probability to that outcome, which seems superficially synonymous with your usage of the word “faith.” In that sense, we have faith (pretty damned good odds) that we’ll be alive tomorrow. There’s high probability, which is essentially the same thing as saying we have considerable evidence. Just like there are pretty damned good odds that, given the various equally-valid contradictory and confusing writings about Jesus, his story is (as Steve puts it) “muddled by mythology” and filled with not credible/untenable tales. A pretty basic yet sound conclusion given all the high quality evidence we’ve accumulated in human history on top of the context-specific evidence.

  62. Lightnotheaton 24 Apr 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Interesting how much Michael Egnor arguing against doubters of the existence of Jesus sounds like people arguing against Michael Egnor’s doubt of the existence of AGW. In each case the accepter of the evidence painstakingly explaining why the objections to it are unreasonable and ideologically motivated. The true skeptic stays on the same side in both cases, being careful and critical but in the end accepting the evidence when it’s strong enough, while the Michael Egnors if the world constantly flip from “come on, accept the evidence” to “evidence-shmevidence!” depending on what their ideology is.

  63. nathan-kon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Steve,

    One nit-picky detail: there are only three synoptic gospels in the canon. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar and probably used a common source (called “Q”). The Gospel of John is quite different and does not seem to have used Q. It is not, therefore, a synoptic gospel.

    Also, it seems you started out looking specifically at the question of whether there was a historical man named Jesus who had some type of following. As the article progressed, you switched topics and began to explore the question, Who was the historical Jesus? In other words, what were his teaching and claims?

    The fact that there were divergent viewpoints on that last question among early followers is only surprising to the uninformed. Early Christians convened many councils to debate these topics. Of course, the whole purpose of creating a canon was to combat what they considered errant theologies.

    All this is to say, I think there’s motivated reasoning going on whether one is an agnostic/atheist or a Christian. The fact that you would pose the question of whether an historical figure named Jesus lived in Palestine some 2000 years ago and then call into question the evidence for this claim by citing the fact that there were diverse viewpoints regarding his teachings seems extremely dubious. Did I miss something?

  64. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Egnor:

    Interestingly, there is evidence for the widespread belief in Christ’s birth to a Virgin in Paul’s epistles, which probably are the earliest Christian documents. In Galations 4:4, Paul refers to “Christ, born of a woman…” … Note that Joseph is not mentioned, which would be very unusual in that culture, in which it was paternity, not maternity, by which people were known and addressed. </blockquote

    You are reading stuff into that phrase while ignoring the historical context. At the time, a big debate was over docetism: whether or not Jesus was just a spiritual being who appeared human or was truly human. Saying that Christ is "born of a woman" is to say that he was a real man. Paul is arguing against docetism. Then why not say "born of a man"? Well for starters, biology doesn't work that way… people are usually born of women… but also:

    It's not strange that Paul doesn't mention Joseph in identifying Jesus, because Paul is not trying to provide identification for Jesus. He is not trying to say "Hey, you know that guy Jesus who was the son of Joseph.. you know… the carpenter..". He is saying "Jesus was a real human person. Don't believe what those docetists say. He was born of a woman just like any human was."

  65. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Ahh shoot. i messed up the blockquote tag.
    Sorry bout that

  66. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:21 pm

    overlappingmagisteria – well said (if imperfectly formatted).

  67. Pete Aon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:31 pm

    South Park – Richard Dawkins – What if you’re wrong?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5T1lF7re78

  68. MosBenon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:31 pm

    If we’re asking “Was there a person named Yeshua who lived approximately at the time and in the place described in Biblical texts?”, it seems like most historians think the answer is yes, with lots of qualifications common to ancient people (few historical sources and most of them are unreliable). But when people ask whether “Jesus” existed, they’re probably asking something significantly less general; they’re asking if a person whose biography mostly comports with the account in the Bible was a historical figure. And the answer to that seems to be, “Maybe, but many or most of the details are probably wrong, at least as they relate to this individual.” I think that Gathercole plays a bit fast and loose with this distinction, which is why it’s valuable to read an article like Tarico’s, which correctly places the consensus on a few very general facts.

  69. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:35 pm

    “…..the gospel accounts on specific events were treated uniformly as facts.”

    Not key events like the virgin birth, the nativity or the resurrection. Non-Christian Jews and even some early Christian sects clearly disputed the virgin birth. And everything Paul said about Jesus was (1) faith-based, (2) to promote his position in the community, and (3) either made up or hearsay. Even the gospel accounts themselves are in dramatic conflict on the nativity.

    Lacing some historical facts into the gospel accounts doesn’t make the rest of the story true any more than the discovery of ruins of Troy brings the Cyclops to life.

  70. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Here is a good discussion of historicization: http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/historicity/arthur.htm

    “Given this, no a priori judgements can be made as to whether a figure is, in origin, historical, mythical or fictional — each individual case must (and can only) be decided by a close examination of all the relevant material.”

    This is in the context of Medieval European characters, but it applies more generally.

  71. Dennis Pearceon 24 Apr 2017 at 2:50 pm

    ME argues that contradictions actually strengthen the evidence for existence rather than negate it, because you would expect different writers to all agree on the big picture but show minor differences in detail.

    By this logic Superman must also exist, because all the comic book authors and movie makers agree on the major details but often disagree on the minor ones. And there have been many many more takes on the Superman story than on the Jesus story. How could all these writers agree unless they were actually witness to Superman’s exploits?

    “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
    — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

  72. Johnnyon 24 Apr 2017 at 3:04 pm

    “Of course this is a controversial question because of the massive implications for one of the world’s major religions.”

    Actually it is important for another of the world’s major religions too, Islam. Islam recognizes Jesus (Isa) as a prophet. Though in the case of Islam, Jesus has been comletetely stripped of any sort of historical foundation, and just makes theological pronouncements in line with Islamic beliefs.

    “There were countless myths and religions throughout history, and most of them faded away. Those that survived to become major religions today might, in hindsight, seem to have been inevitable. In all likelihood, however, they were just lucky.”

    I don’t think it comes down just to luck. In the late Roman era, Christianity did have some advantages over its competitors. For example, Mithraism was popular in the Roman army. However it had very little to offer other segments of society. Christianity had an appeal to women, slaves, and other weak and disadvantaged segments within Roman society. They were many more than the soldiers, thus Christianity had a demographic advantage.

    I don’t find it very troubling for the possible historicity of Jesus that he has been claimed by various groups (“urrently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more”). This is to be expected when it comes to a person with such cultural stature.

    Was Jesus a socialist? Perhaps even a communist? Or was he a conservative? Or a libertarian? Or a liberal? You can find all of these arguments being made by proponents of different political ideologies. A more modern example would be Thomas Jefferson. Libertarians, liberals, and conservatives all like to claim him as one of their own.

  73. RedMcWilliamson 24 Apr 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Why is the lack of contemporary refutation of the Jesus narrative compelling evidence that Jesus was real and that the more spectacular stories around him should be accepted as true? Even if we date those stories close to the time of the crucifixion, why would people in the know at that time go out of their way to debunk that particular god-man story? Granted I’m in the laity here, but wouldn’t all those folks have more important things to do than to perform critical analysis of what was likely just one of multiple fantastic stories being traded in the area? And isn’t biblical literalism a fairly recent development as well? I’m not sure people of that time were super concerned with fact-checking.

    Does the fact that we didn’t spend weeks debunking the Heaven’s Gate cult mean that Marshal Applewhite really is on a spaceship right now?

  74. bgoudieon 24 Apr 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Others have observed before that much as evidence of the existence of Scientologists does not equate to proof of the existence of Xenu, comments mentioning the faith called Christianity do not themselves provide any factual record of the man Jesus. Nor does a repetition of the beliefs of said Christians prove any real world basis for their claims.

  75. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2017 at 4:00 pm

    nathan – I did not refer to disagreements regarding his teachings, but disagreements regarding basic details about his life and ministry.

    That in itself does not prove he did not exist, and I did not claim that it does. It simply reflects that we cannot be sure about any of the details of his existence. It shows how muddied the stories are.

    This is especially true if you consider all early Christian writings, and not just the later canon. You cannot dismiss the implications of this by saying that the canon rejected “errant” beliefs. That is begging the question.

    There is no a-priori reason to assume that any one gospel is more historically legit than any other. They are all stories of questionable provenance created for a specific ideological purpose.

    The question is – why would you assume that any gospel was more historically accurate than, say, any modern true-believer book about the Roswell incident? There is a massive amount of evidence from psychology and recent history to show that fantastical stories can be made up either out of whole cloth, or with an extremely tenuous relationship to reality. When those stories conform to pre-existing mythology, that strongly suggests a certain arrow of causation.

    Modern myths tell us a lot about ancient myths, and they don’t favor a literal historical interpretation.

  76. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Bart Ehrman does a nice job of expressing some compelling reasons to believe Jesus was a real person and not invented from whole cloth to elevate the belief system of some weird Jewish sect. I found one of the most convincing reasons was that the gospels (Matt in particular) go to such great lengths to try to make Jesus fit the Jewish messiah prophecies when he clearly didn’t.

    Why invent someone from Nazareth then concoct convoluted and contradictory reasons for him to be born in Bethlehem? Just invent someone from Bethlehem. Why name him Jesus and not Emmanuel? Why have him preach stuff that was often odd and completely at odds with the Jewish myths?

    It’s the odd and the contradictory and the out-of-sync that provides convincing evidence that the early Christian authors were trying to fit the foibles and warts of a real man into a clean, consistent narrative of a perfectly divine being.

  77. overlappingmagisteriaon 24 Apr 2017 at 4:55 pm

    That’s a big one for me too, RickK. Also, why invent a Messiah who doesn’t do the one thing that a Messiah is supposed to do: bring back the kingdom of Israel? The Bible spends a lot of time proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah, but then at the same time changing the definition of what the Messiah is supposed to be. “Jesus is the Messiah! ohh.. but the messiah actually needs to suffer and die… oh and also the Messiah is going to bring back the Kingdom but in a spiritual way and it will probably be later.. oh and the resurrection of the dead is not happening right away either..but soon… oh.. and…”

  78. bachfiendon 24 Apr 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Rick,

    It’s been argued that Nazarene didn’t actually refer to someone from Nazareth. Matthew had Jesus coming from Nazareth to fulfill prophesy, and there’s nothing in the Old Testament having the messiah coming from Nazareth. It’s been argued that it comes from the Hebrew word netser referring to a brach (one of the titles of a messiah) in Isaiah, which was translated to something similar in the Greek translation Matthew was using to scour for prophesies, any prophesies, he could use in his account.

    The other point is that we don’t have the texts for what the early Christians actually believed. The earliest copies of the gospels are from centuries later and reflect what the Christians believed then. Many gospels were written and lost. The existing gospels were copied many times, not necessarily accurately.

  79. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Bach,

    Im not sure what you’re saying. Matthew didn’t want Jesus to come from Nazareth, he wanted the Messiah to come from Bethlehem – that was the prophecy. That’s why he and Luke invented (or copied the inventions of others) different stories to place Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem for the blessed event.

    As for the existence of Nazareth, I find this worth reading: https://ehrmanblog.org/did-nazareth-exist/

    I’m sure there were plenty of villages never captured in the historical record. This is clearly a case where absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    The Jesus myth, with its terrible alignment with prophecy, its contradictory treatment of gentiles, the sometimes weird statements attributed to Jesus all seem to fit the narrative of: Charismatic guy gains following, dies, and followers later inflate him into a mythical figure, wrestling with the fact that the real guy didn’t fit the mythical prophecy. It’s true that what we see today as Christianity is much more Paul’s (and later authors’) creation than Jesus’s. But I find it much harder to believe he never existed precisely because there would be fewer contradictions if he were a creation of his followers.

  80. Grimbeardon 24 Apr 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I’m slightly curious as to how a self-described devout ‘Christian’ like Michael Egnor can possibly be commenting on internet articles. A number of points spring to mind:

    1) Whose computer is Michael Egnor using? It can’t be his own, because a devout Christian would have no worldly goods, as per, for example, Luke 19:22.
    2) How is Michael even here, when according to his god the world ended nearly 2,000 years ago, as per Matthew 16:28?
    3) How does Michael have the education that he apparently has? Surely taking the time to learn things counts as taking thought for the morrow, which no devout Christian would do, as per Matthew 6:34. I suppose he might have acquired his education before his faith, but in that case I hope Michael hasn’t since taken other thoughts for the morrow, such as having a pension, life insurance, or food in the fridge.

    As we have evidence that Michael *is* here commenting on internet articles, the only conclusion I can reach is that he isn’t really a devout Christian. At the very least, we have plenty of evidence that he isn’t following the teachings attributed to Jesus Christ, which I think is a reasonable behavioural definition of a Christian. Maybe Jesus Christ gave him some different rules to follow during those personal conversations they’ve been having – but if so, we clearly can’t believe the gospels because they say something different to what Michael has been told. Of course, if we disregard the gospels then we have no reason at all to think Jesus ever existed – they’re the original, and pretty much the only, sources of ‘information’ about Jesus Christ. (I recommend reading David Fitzgerald’s, Richard Carrier’s, or Raphael Lataster’s excellent historical work on the subject.)

    Of course, Michael could undermine my points by actually following Jesus Christ’s alleged instructions in Luke 19:22 and giving up all his worldly goods. We’ll know he hasn’t done that if he keeps commenting here. So, if you see Michael Egnor here again, you know he’s not really a devout Christian. I’m curious to find out…

  81. RickKon 24 Apr 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Steve’s example of the Roswell incident is a good one – there WAS an incident that got twisted into something “mythical”. My money is on the same thing happening to Jesus – the Jewish preacher born in Nazareth.

    I wish he would come back, meet with the Pope and visit and learn the history to St. Peter’s Basilica. From what I see in the New Testament, I think few things would horrify the simple preacher more than what has been done in his name by powerful, wealthy men.

  82. bachfiendon 24 Apr 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Rick,

    There was a typo’ in my comment. Netser referred to branch. Matthew had the reference in a Greek translation of Isaiah and thought the Greek for netser nazarean referred to a place Nazareth, so he concocted his story to have the mythical Jesus born in Bethlehem (in a house, not a stable) and having to be taken to Egypt to avoid Herod’s massacre of male infants under 2 years, before being brought to Nazareth after Herod’s death.

  83. Willyon 24 Apr 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Dr. Egnor: I find several things pretty odd about your posts today:

    First, your “out of the gate” attacks on Dr. Novella, as if he had finally exposed himself for the evil demon he really is. There wasn’t a single thing in Dr. Novella’s post that was the least bit surprising, vicious, or inconsistent with what he has said and professed for years. I have always found him very even-handed and fair-minded and for you to pretend otherwise is just plain crap, not to mention evidence of poor thought, VERY motivated reasoning, and non-existent comprehension. If you believe questioning the very existence of Jesus is a fringe idea, well, you just aren’t paying attention.

    Second, you claim to have some form of “personal communication” with the Deity. I’d say that if your Deity is the one commonly believed to be Jesus, you aren’t listening to “him” very well.

    Finally, if you really believe that “The records of His life are nearly contemporaneous, and the number of very early documents is massive and dwarf any documentation of the life of any ancient person.”, and “…”and His miracles were implicitly acknowledged, even by his enemies.”, and “…the conflicts in the gospels (there are not many, when you look carefully) …”, well, I’m just gonna guess you are a Trump supporter.

    C’mon, Dr. Egnor, give us firm evidence that your claims are true.

    You can’t.

  84. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Jesus could have existed as a mythologised historical figure or a historicised mythical figure, and the preponderance of the evidence seems to favour the former, but he couldn’t possibly have existed as the popular figure of the vast majority of the world’s Christians. In that sense, it is true to say that Jesus never existed.

  85. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2017 at 11:35 pm

    Michael Egnor,

    “You misunderstand genuine Christian experience. I love and worship Christ (and love and venerate his Mother) because of personal experiences I have had, particularly in prayer. I have encountered Him. I have experienced His presence (in a time of family crisis and often thereafter), and I regularly encounter Him in prayer and in daily life. I also have a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. My love for Christ doesn’t come from any particular school of Biblical scholarship. He is not a ‘hypothesis’ for me, nor is He a hypothesis for a billion serious Christians. We know Him, in our prayers and in our lives, and we devote our lives to Him. I find Biblical scholarship interesting, but my love for Christ is personal, not academic”

    I understand this Christian experience. I was part of it once. Then I turned sixteen. I’m sincerely grateful that I am not part of that experience now. Because it’s not real. It reminds me of a Bjork song “I miss you”. The lyrics continue…”but I haven’t met you yet. So special, but it hasn’t happened yet. You are gorgeous but I haven’t met you yet”. It’s a very emotional song about her ideal lover…whom she has never met. And who she never will meet. Because he doesn’t exist. Pure fantasy and delusion. Being intensely emotionally and spiritually attached to something or someone has absolutely no bearing on whether or not that thing or person is real. If you don’t base your beliefs on objective evidence you live in fantasyland.

    Well, I don’t mind fantasising about Bjork, but I know it’s not real, and that makes a real difference.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WWeoJKouLFk

  86. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2017 at 11:45 pm

    …in case you get the wrong idea, I should add that I grew up with Bjork and that she is now 52 years of age.

  87. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 3:13 am

    About that whole authentic religious experience thing… I never really know how to approach that. I feel like it’s insensitive to just call it a delusion or something if they really believe they talk to god.

    I usually just find myself politely walking away from the discussion at that point. I certainly have never heard god speak to me. I would probably dismiss it as a hallucination. Asimov wrote some interesting things about how when he was getting surgery he felt his atheism weaken.

    I guess if I had to fight the personal communication with god argument I would say how come we can’t all hear it. How come your connection doesn’t give you any insider info that can predict the future. How come you can’t prove to me you are actually talking to god. Why can’t I hear him? Why do the majority of people not here him?

    I used to go to church a lot as a kid. I don’t recall a preacher ever seriously claiming to have spoken to god and heard a reply back.

  88. CKavaon 25 Apr 2017 at 3:22 am

    @Steve

    You may apply your standards universally but I would note that in atheist/skeptical communities there is a disproportionate focus on the issue specifically as it pertains to Jesus. The very fact you are addressing the topic and haven’t (to my knowledge) written articles positing doubt over the historicity of other ancient historical figures is indicative of the special attention Jesus receives. I understand why, given the disproportionate role that Christian theology plays in American life and the fact that many skeptics and atheists are opposed to and often have painful personal experiences with religious dogmatism. But I think that is all the more reason for skeptics to be cautious that they are not engaging in motivated reasoning.

    You have on many occasions invoked the importance of acknowledging the existence of broad academic consensus. I am not arguing that all consensus positions are created equal or that we should not take the nature of the discipline into account but I would argue that skeptics should be aware of when they are promoting a fringe interpretation.

    Several commentators have articulated the point better than I. When it comes to discussing the validity of the standard hagiographic account of Jesus’ life there are obvious problems but that is a separate issue from whether there was likely to be some historical founder figure. In the post above you distinguish these two issues at some points but at others it seems like you are conflating them and using evidence against the hagiographic account to support that their was likely no real founder.

    That doesn’t seem to follow to me and it falls afoul of Occam’s razor. The simplest explanation is surely that a preacher centuries ago established a new religious movement and over time his life story came to be elaborated by his followers. Positing that a religious community developed from a fictional founder is less believable because we know that at the time there were plenty of preachers in the region attracting followers- so why would an invented founder be more likely? The parallels with existing myths don’t solve the issue either as many of these could have been bolted in later or alternatively promoted by the man himself in a syncretic manner to bolster his legitimacy. Again, syncreticism is a pattern we see time and time again in charismatic new religious movements so that it exists in early Christianity is no surprise and it doesn’t provide a strong justification for skepticism over whether the founder was real.

    There is no reason, however, to think that Jesus was the exception to the almost universal rule that these kinds of processes have taken place surrounding religious or even just heroic characters.

    Agreed. But there is also no reason to apply higher standard of skepticism. You say you don’t do this and are equally skeptical of all historical figures, fair enough, but this would still seem to place you in a a position more extreme than the majority of mainstream historians- who are *when it comes to history* usually a pretty skeptical bunch.

  89. SteveAon 25 Apr 2017 at 5:00 am

    CKava: “I think atheists, and I’m speaking here as one, have a tendency to rely too heavily on fringe scholars like Bob Price…”

    It’s been a while since I last dipped into Dr Price’s writing, but I thought his position was that it was ‘possible’ that Jesus was wholly mythological, but that it was just simpler to accept that these stories were spun around a real person.

    The historical evidence for Odin/Wodin is zero, but I have no trouble with the idea that the ‘Allfather’ was based on a real Scandinavian chieftain. It’s a reasonable working hypothesis.

  90. BillyJoe7on 25 Apr 2017 at 6:33 am

    Sophie,

    “About that whole authentic religious experience thing… I never really know how to approach that. I feel like it’s insensitive to just call it a delusion or something if they really believe they talk to god”

    What about someone who believes they talk to aliens?

    Human societies pay, and have always paid, special deference to religion so I understand your reticence.
    But religion doesn’t deserve any special deference.
    Religion has dominated human societies and restricted human freedoms for millennia.
    I don’t want to live in a society where my freedoms are restricted by someone elses religious beliefs.
    Thankfully this is no longer the case and I, for one, hope it stays that way.

    I have no hesitation in describing religious experience as fantasy and delusion.

  91. Steven Novellaon 25 Apr 2017 at 7:02 am

    CKava – I tend to give more attention to topics that are popular in the culture. In this case, two recent and opposed articles prompted my comments. This does not imply in any way that I give disproportionate skepticism to such issues, just more attention (which is entirely warranted).

    I also think you misunderstand my point. I am not saying that, because the standard story of Jesus is likely mythological, then therefore Jesus likely did not exist. I very specifically said, rather, that it doesn’t matter as much as people might think.

    As I wrote above, there are two plausible scholarly hypotheses. The first is that Jesus was mythologized, the second is that he was historicized. I understand that the former is dominant in the mainstream, and I do give this serious consideration. However, I think there is a bias in this consensus because of the role of Christianity in Western civilization. I have also found the arguments of the latter group to be serious and compelling. It is certainly a viable theory, and I never argued it was proven.

    I disagree that Occam’s razor favors the mythologized theory. I think this is also a bias, and this is where my skeptical experience comes in. I find that the scientific mainstream often has difficulty dealing with pseudoscience, and they are not as familiar with mechanisms of self-deception and false beliefs.

    I think people tend to assume that a story has some basis in fact, and can more easily imagine how a real person could be mythologized. It is more difficult to imagine how a narrative can be invented out of whole cloth, and later come to be accepted as real. But as an experienced skeptic, I have no problem imagining this. (There are plenty of examples.)

    And to be clear, I am not favoring the historicized hypothesis. I think that both theories are viable, and we have no definitive evidence to favor either one.

    And – it doesn’t matter (except as an intellectual curiosity). Because either way the standard myth of Jesus is still a myth, that conforms to the standard myths of that time and place, and for which there is no evidence. The only debate is how the myth came to be.

  92. michaelegnoron 25 Apr 2017 at 7:17 am

    [And – it doesn’t matter (except as an intellectual curiosity). Because either way the standard myth of Jesus is still a myth, that conforms to the standard myths of that time and place, and for which there is no evidence. The only debate is how the myth came to be.]

    “The only debate is how the myth came to be.”

    Oh but there is a debate. A passionate profound debate, and it’s been going on for 2000 years. There are people (a billion people or more) who think Jesus is God. There are people who think He was inspired, or a prophet. There are people who think He was nuts. There are people who think He never existed.

    As it turns out, your view–that He was nothing special, and may not have existed at all–is the view of a vanishing minority of philosophically and theologically untutored atheists who haven’t the faintest clue about the actual issues raised by these profound metaphysical, existential and theological questions. You prefer to worship at your cargo cult of science.

    Really, it’s not the conclusions that atheists reach that I find so repellant. These questions about God and Jesus and existence are genuinely difficult and profound, and intelligent thoughtful men can differ. But what repels me about atheists is the lack of insight, the slack-jawed stupidity of what passes for atheist metaphysics.

    “The only debate is how the myth came to be” is a fine precis of that stupidity.

  93. Steven Novellaon 25 Apr 2017 at 7:52 am

    Michael – you continue to embarrass yourself with your obviously biased and intellectually vacuous positions. At least you serve as a frequent dramatic example of the power of motivated reasoning.

    I do not begrudge you your faith, and I do not argue against anyone’s faith. I do not even promote atheism. You admit that your belief in Jesus is personal. That’s fine. But then you confuse your personal subjective experiences for reliable evidence that should somehow be admitted as science.

    Sorry – you can’t have it both ways. What you are doing is trying to introduce evidence that cannot be examined or impeached in any way. That is precisely why it doesn’t work as evidence.

    My discussions take place within the arena of science – what can be known through objective evidence and logic. If you want to roam outside this arena, good for you and good luck. But that is simply not what I am talking about.

    It is unfortunate for you that you do not have the intellectual fortitude or the courage of your faith to simply accept your own beliefs as faith and not require that they be propped up by pseudoscience, bad philosophy, and pseudointellectualism. You also feel the need to attack others who disagree with you. You belittle others who do not share your experience. You attack “elites” but you are the ultimate elite. You think you have a personal relationship with God that trumps all evidence and reason, and you pity those poor suckers who lack the vision and virtue to share that personal relationship.

    Seriously you represent the absolute worst of what it means to be holier-than-thou. It has made you into a blind intellectual bully.

    But I never give up the possibility that at some point you will try to genuinely engage with people here, rather than just use us as a tool to sharpen your self-righteousness.

  94. bachfiendon 25 Apr 2017 at 8:24 am

    Michael,

    I’m bemused that you accept the ‘consensus’ of theologians who believe in the historicity of Jesus (just because it’s in their financial and professional interests to do so), but reject the consensus of climate scientists regarding AGW, accusing them of fraud and wanting them prosecuted and gaoled.

  95. BillyJoe7on 25 Apr 2017 at 9:14 am

    Sophie,

    So there’s that ignorant and illogical obscenity, Michael Egnor, foaming at the mouth again. He has a “personal relationship” with Jesus none the less. Read that paragraph again where he swoons all over Jesus, and then read his last contribution. Get it? He’s all swoony and embarrassingly childlike in his love for Jesus, but he’ll cut you down like a blade of grass if you disagree with the object of his fantasy and delusion.

    Don’t give suckers like him an even break.
    There’s always a demon just below the surface.
    And they’ll cut you down the first chance they get and dance on your grave.

    He loves and worships Jesus, loves and venerates Mary, and has a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes!
    His love for Jesus is personal!
    And he’ll stomp you into the ground.

  96. LittleBoyBrewon 25 Apr 2017 at 9:16 am

    I love it. Dr E uses the argument that the inconsistency of the bible verifies its accuracy!

    I feel like Brian from the old Monty Python movie “Only the TRUE Messiah denies his divinity!”.

    What kind of chance does that give me?

  97. RickKon 25 Apr 2017 at 10:28 am

    “There are people (a billion people or more) who think Jesus is God. ”

    Which doesn’t in any way affect the actual reality of whether there is a deity and whether Jesus existed and had any relationship with such a deity.

    If majority rule determined truth, we’d still be living on a flat fixed Earth with stars rotating around it, and neuroscience wouldn’t exist.

    “As it turns out, your view–that He was nothing special, and may not have existed at all–is the view of a vanishing minority of philosophically and theologically untutored atheists who haven’t the faintest clue about the actual issues raised by these profound metaphysical, existential and theological questions. ”

    Oh baloney again – just because Christianity is your favored moral framework again doesn’t in any way affect the reality of Jesus. Once again we see the Egnorian logic: implications determine truth. Unguided evolution is unthinkable because then there is no objective morality and you don’t have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. But that doesn’t in fact make evolution guided. If Jesus was just a guy who got mythologized, your metaphysical concerns won’t change the facts.

    Just because maintream Mormons are well-organized, morally-upstanding and make great neighbors in no way make the Golden Plates real.

    Michael, your desires don’t determine reality, and you need the intellectual grit to accept that simple truth.

  98. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 10:40 am

    We know that eyewitness testimony is one of the worst forms of evidence. Now take what we are told is eyewitness testimony from oral stories spoken from pre-scientific superstitious people over and over again and then written down decades later, then translated and edited over and over again, and this is supposed to be taken as truth or evidence?

    Dr. E and even many biblical scholars and presuppositional apologist like William Lane Craig will try to come up with scientific arguments such as the fine tuning argument or the kalam cosmological argument where they have to try to define things into existence changing the definition of god from “all powerful” to “maximally powerful”. However, non of these arguments really even convince themselves. The real reason they believe is “personal revelation”.

    But “personal revelation” is less reliable a source of truth than even eyewitness testomony. There are billions of people on this planet that have “personal revelation” that some other god/religion is true. The biggest factor that determines your particular flavor of religion is where where you born, where did you grow up, and what did your parents believe. If Dr. E or William Lane Craig were born in the middle east, today they would be posturing that their “personal revelation” convinces them that Islam is the one true religion, Allah is the one true god and one should worship the prophet Mohammad.

    So how does “personal revelation” lead to truth?

    I’ll give a current personal antidote example. I know a christian woman who, about 20 years ago, was babysitting her 2 year old grand daughter. At this age, one needs to keep an eye on them 24/7. But we all know this is impossible. You have to make food, do chores, etc. So while she was working in the kitchen (or doing some other menial chore), her granddaughter was just in the other room playing. She only has to turn her head an look over to keep an eye on her. As what happens, one gets engrossed in what one is doing, until 2-3-5 minutes go by and you realize that you haven’t heard noise coming from them so you suddenly turn to look to check what they are doing. In this case she turns to look and the child is not there. She gets up and runs into the other room, and see’s she’s no where in site. She frantically starts looking around and eventually finds that the child managed to get the back screen door open, go outside and fell into the swimming pool. Fortunately she was in time and was able to rescue the child and the child was fine. I’ve experienced this type of “feeling” a million times with my own children. You’re doing something, you suddenly realize it’s been a couple of minutes and you haven’t heard anything.. so you check on them. 99.9999% of the time they are fine. This is one of those rare cases where the child was in mortal danger. The first time I heard her tell the story she described it as “a feeling” that she should go check on her granddaughter. Yea, it’s that “feeling” of realization that your attention notices that you haven’t heard them make a sound in a couple of minutes. However, as I’ve heard her tell this story over again a few times over the past couple of decades, this “feeling” that she described the first time I heard the story, has morphed into a growing supernatural experience. The “feeling” became “it’s like an angle was guiding my hand” then it became “I heard a voice call out my name” then it became “Jesus called out my name and led me outside to save my grandchild”. I don’t think she is purposefully lying to deceive. I believe she believes what she is saying.. I just happen to remember the first time I heard the story had non of these supernatural components to it. Each time she tells the story, it gets embellished a little bit and that embellishment becomes part of her memory of the experience. And I nor anyone else (without a video of her retelling the story for the first time 20 years ago) is going to be able to convince her otherwise. She believes that Jesus/God himself came down to her in that moment of crisis and physically (by touch and speaking to her) guided her to save her grandchild.

    Far more likely is that she’s remembering the hits, but forgetting the misses. Not to mention, what about all the children who the parent gets there a few seconds too late and the child drowns. Does God not care about those children?

    But anyway, this type of embellishment of a memory/story happens today. It’s demonstrable. So why in the world would we take as truth outlandish oral stories that were told over and over again by superstitious people 2000 years ago?

    Not to mention that don’t Christians ever wonder why their god always agrees with them personally? And it’s not universally true… whatever one Christian believes about what their religion or “personal revelation” tells them, there are other Christians who believe the total opposite for the exact same reasons. For example, I’ve yet to run into a Christian that has made a statement similar to this: “I really think that gays should be able to marry. I don’t have any issue with gays, their sexuality, their lifestyle, or anything else. They should have equal rights as heterosexuals. However, because God, in the bible, tells me to hate and persecute gays, that it’s a sin, then I’m just going to have to hate on gays, even though I don’t agree with it”. I’ve never seen a christian with a stance like that on any issue. What I see is christians special pleading and cherry picking the bible to fit whatever they “feel” is right. Ergo, if they think that gay sex is “icky”, they are anti-LGBT and cherry pick the bible to justify their position. If they don’t think that gay sex is “icky”, then they cherry pick the bible to justify that position. I have heard christians debate each other on every single controversial issue. Each side says that the other is not interpreting the bible correctly, each side says the others are “not real christians” and each side will site personal revelation as to why they really believe they are on the right side.

    I’ve even seen christians debate non-controversial issues. Just recently listened to a christian pastor proclaim that drinking even one drop of alcohol is a sin. That any time “wine” is listed in the bible, that it is an incorrect translation and the real translation is “grape juice”. He feels that your body is a temple designed by god, and god hates for you to defile his temple. Listening to him further, it comes out that before he was a pastor, he was a police officer. Ahh.. suddenly things come into focus. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that as a police officer he has dealt with more than his fair share of drunk driving and domestic disputes where alcohol was involved. Again, remembering the hits, and not thinking about the misses. Sure, someone drinks and drives, but let’s not forget that at the same time a billion other people had a drink and did not drive. But his experience as a police officer was totally coloring his views on alcohol, so it’s no wonder his motivated reasoning was to find a way to interpret that God does not condone alcohol even though “wine” is mentioned numerous times in the bible with nothing negative associated with it.

    TL:DR – Personal revelation is nothing more than deluding yourself into believing what you “feel” is right. It’s not reliable source of truth by any stretch of the imagination.

  99. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 10:47 am

    bachfiend,
    Your comparison between the consensus of theologians and climate scientists stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s a brilliant argument, logically analogous and powerful. It highlights some really key concepts and cuts so deep into the contradictions Egnor regularly uses. Words are just tools he uses to manipulate, he has no respect for them, and doesn’t handle them with care. If some collection of words supports his current argument, he steals them, if later on that same collection of words contradicts him, he ignores it.

    BillyJoe7,
    Yah it’s getting more and more obvious exactly what’s happening. Egnor’s Jesus belief is deeply personal, but it doesn’t stay personal. I feel like this is the problem with religions, they aren’t happy to just keep to their own business.

    I can’t imagine myself making an account on Egnor’s blog or something equivalent, and staying there for years. This isn’t the ideal audience for him, it’s one of the worst possible places online he can go to express his religious beliefs, other than maybe a firebrand atheist blog.

    Self-Victimization explains it, it’s present in a lot of his writings. He sees himself as a martyr leaping into the fray. Each battle just reinforces his theism and love for the path he chooses to walk. Maybe it would happen to me too, if I saw and talked to Jesus personally, and people laughed at me, I would feel vindicated and righteous no matter how crushing the defeat.

    Or, maybe one time Micheal Egnor and Steven Novella were at the same neuroscience conference. Steven accidentally bumped into Egnor and spilled some juice on his suit. And here we are years later…

  100. Lane Simonianon 25 Apr 2017 at 10:54 am

    One of the more difficult questions that I have received in my years of teaching history is: “How do we know anything in history is true?” Historians rely almost entirely on the written record. When a person leaves no writing of their own (such as Jesus and Socrates), we have to examine what others have said about that person. And while it is possible that later “chroniclers” created someone out of whole cloth that is unlikely.

    The second step is to try to figure out what “biographers” were trying to accomplish. Paul it could be argued was trying to give meaning to the death of Christ and was attempting to (and succeeded in) creating a new religion. Among other things, various gospel writers were trying to assign blame for the death of Christ. This partially explains the shift from the Romans to the Jews–as anti-semitism grew in Christianity. The reliance on different sources may explain some of the differences in the Gospels, but the different perspectives of each of the writers also plays a role.

    I don’t believe in one true religion–but don’t in any way begrudge those who do just as long as their belief (whatever religion it is) does not lead–as it often has through history–to the persecution of those who believe otherwise. My favorite quote on religious toleration comes from the Roman senator Symmachus during the late empire:

    “We watch the same stars; heaven is the same for all; the same universe envelops us: What importance is it in what way anyone looks for truth? It is impossible to arrive by one route at such a great secret.”

  101. RickKon 25 Apr 2017 at 11:14 am

    trumpproctor

    Thanks for your story. It reminded me of the evolution of Brian Williams’s account of his helicopter trip.

    This is human nature. And if “sudden awareness of not hearing child noises” can become “Jesus talked to me” in a few short years of one person’s life, then it’s no surprise at all that over centuries a wandering Jewish preacher became simultaneously the Earthly incarnation of God, the Jewish Messiah, and the idol of a new gentile religion.

    I’m sure Michael’s accounts and memories of his “personal revelations” have gone through exactly that all-too-human evolution over time.

    The big debate in this thread is: “Does factual accuracy matter?” Or, perhaps “Is factual accuracy relevant in deciding what is ‘true'”?

    Or, to put it another way, when facts don’t fit a favored narrative, there are those that choose to change/ignore the facts, and those that choose to alter their narrative. And we see that theme over and over again – in the Flat Earth thread, in the AGW thread, in various evolution threads and in this thread.

  102. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 11:25 am

    Lane,

    One of the things about history is what effect does it have on us personally today. Like for example, if we were suddenly to find evidence that Shakespeare didn’t write certain plays, or that Plato wasn’t a real person, and so on, while interesting, that re-writing of history doesn’t really change much about life today other than correcting some text book. People aren’t trying to pass laws based upon their belief about Shakespeare or Plato.

    I would be fine with religious people if their beliefs stayed just that.. a belief. However, that’s not the case. Their religious beliefs do impact the world we live in. They do try to pass laws, not based upon rational governance, evidence, data, but upon what is said in a book. And not just what is said in a book, but what they personally interpret that is said in a book. I would wager that even most Christians would not want to live in a country that the laws are dictated by the westboro baptist church. And to their credit, they actually interpret the bible more literally than just about any other denomination of Christianity.

    Then of course to the extreme, there are people committing horrendous acts of terrorism, based upon their belief of what they interpret from an ancient book.

    But even more than those obvious examples, when someone believes one thing for bad reasons, it’s likely that the fallacies that cause them to believe one false thing, might lead them to believe other false things, or even to deny true things. Like believe that vaccines cause autism, or that GMO’s are evil. Or deny climate change and so on.

    For further consideration… consider this: I’ve heard many Christians claim that without God, you can’t have morals, and then they will point to the 10 commandments. Needless to say that many of those things in the 10 commandments had already been established by humans as a social species. There is nothing new about the 10 commandments. Secondly, many of the 10 commandments we don’t even follow today. Most Christians just flat out ignore the one about keeping the Sabbath holy and not working on Sunday. And then others about honoring your mother and father. Sure, most Christians treat it as a good idea, but wouldn’t throw their child in jail for dis obeying them.

    But even on a grander note, the 10 commandments aren’t even what most Christians think they are. Most Christians haven’t even read the bible. If we can agree that the 10 commandments are the following:

    1) Spoken by Yahweh to Moses
    2) Written on Stone tablets
    3) Called by Yahweh as “The 10 commandments”

    If you can agree with those 3 statements, the the 10 commandments that you hear Christians parrot over and over again are NOT the 10 commandments. They were just conversationally written in the bible, they were not written on stone tablets and they were not refereed to by Yahweh as “the 10 commandments”.

    If you actually read Exodus 34:14 and on THESE are the 10 commandments:

    1) Thou shall worship no other god
    2) Thou shall make no molten gods
    3) Keep the feast of unleavened bread
    4) The first born male ox or sheep belong to Yahweh
    5) Work six days and rest on the seventh
    6) Thou shalt observe the festival of weeks
    7) Thrice a year all men shall appear before Yahweh
    8) Do not use leaven when sacrificing to Yahweh
    9) The fist fruits you bear belong to Yahweh
    10 Thou shalt not boil a baby goat in it’s mother’s milk

    Yep.. THOSE ARE THE 10 COMMANDMENTS! Spoken to Moses by Yahweh, written on stone tablets, and refereed to by Yahweh as “The 10 Commandments”.

    Don’t take my word for it.. read the bible yourself, again it’s Exodus 34:14 and on.

    Is it any wonder that the church sort of ignores this and goes with the more conversational “rules” earlier in Exodus as “the 10 commandments” because the ACTUAL 10 commandments are stupid?

  103. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 11:35 am

    Small nitpick: The commandments also appear in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The specific translation differs greatly across different interpretations.

  104. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 11:43 am

    Sophie,

    Dueteronomy was Moses speaking after the fact, and no where does it refer to them as “the 10 commandments”. Exodus 34:14 was God speaking in first person, were ACTUALLY written on the stone tablets which were brought down from Mt Sinai, and were called by God “the 10 commandments”.

    Moses recollection in Dueteronomy, directly contradicts what was stated to actually have happened in Exodus 34:14-30

  105. catplanet24on 25 Apr 2017 at 11:44 am

    Steve, I guess the problem I have with your discussion is that Valerie Tarico’s article is filled with mistakes that no scholar of the ancient world, atheist or otherwise, would make. And this is not surprising since she is not a historian.

    (Evidently, she has been working with David Fitzgerald, the author of Nailed, another work which is misleading in regards 21st Century ancient world scholarship.)

    To someone who doesn’t know the field, I can definitely see how their arguments would be “compelling”. But when I see fundamental mistakes being made–and I’m not even in the field–I have to come down on the side that says it is the mythicists who are the ones with the motivated reasoning.

  106. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 12:01 pm

    I was referring to your description of the Ten Commandments. All it is, is a specific translation that differs from the modern language.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments

    You also neglected to mention there are multiple biblical sources for them.

    I’m an atheist. I’m just saying that your argument is not accurate.

  107. MosBenon 25 Apr 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I think that it’s worth stepping back to think about what we really mean when we ask whether a person like Jesus was “real”. If you were asking if someone named Martin Luther King Jr. was real, would your inquiry be satisfied by someone saying that we can be reasonably confident that there was a man named Martin in the U.S. prison system some time between 1940 and 1960? It shouldn’t, since if you knew something about the U.S. prison system from around that time and the commonality of the name Martin you could be reasonably likely to be correct if you guessed that such a man existed. When we ask whether MLK was “real” we mean relatively specific parts of his life story: being a black preacher engaged in the Civil Rights movement seems like a bare minimum to say that the person we think of when we think of MLK is the same person as this historical figure.

    There are several posts in this thread where people say that there is reasonably reliable historical evidence that there was a person named Jesus (or Yeshua) who lived in Judea around the time described in the Bible who was baptized and executed. To me, that seems analogous to someone telling me that a person named Martin was incarcerated in the US at some point in a couple decades of the 20th Century. I haven’t seen people claim that there is reliable evidence that this Jesus/Yeshua person who was baptized and executed was also a revolutionary priest with a significant following, which seems to me like an essential part of the story in order to say that the Jesus of the Bible was a historical figure.

  108. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Great argument. The only commonly accepted facts by scholars are that there was a man by that name who was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

  109. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Sophie,

    Right in your link that you list it refers to the 10 commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 and Dueteronomy 6:6-21. Neither of these verses in the bible are they the three criteria set forth that I mentioned:

    1) Spoken to Moses by God
    2) Written on Stone Tablets
    3) Refereed to God as “The 10 Commandments”

    If either of those verses in the bible meet those three criteria, please direct me to where the verse is that states so.

    However, Exodus 34:14-30 is the only source that I’ve read that EXPLICITLY meets all of those three criteria.

    I get what you are saying. THE 10 commandments as listed in Exodus 34:14-30 are pretty stupid. I can see why Christians are going to do all the mental gymnastics they can to claim the more rational 10 “instructions” being the actual 10 commandments.

    However, the more important point is that even taking those instructions, most Christians today don’t follow half of them. And if these are the MOST IMPORTANT things for this all knowing, all loving being to convey to his creation, why is it not more black and white exactly what the 10 commandments are? AND not only that, I can write a better list of 10 commandments (and so could anyone else). Let’s throw out the commandment about working on Sunday and replace it with “Thou shalt not own another human being as property”. Boom.. one simple change and there’s a better list. 🙂

  110. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 12:33 pm

    The bible has recipes, but it’s not a cookbook. It has guides to completing calculations, but it’s not a textbook. It’s many things to many different people… and it’s filled with contradictions and errors. It’s a very human book by any measure. Filled with petty grievances, insults, misogyny, racism… take your pick.

    It’s exactly what you would expect from a prescientific culture. There is nothing magical or supernatural about it, or it’s authors. The gospels were not authored by the person named at the beginning. The people who wrote the book had no knowledge of the world just a few hundred kilometers away from where they lived. They invented mythical origin stories for themselves. The Jews we not enslaved by the Egyptians, archeology shows us they never lived in Egypt.

    Did Moses really part the Red Sea, and bring commandments down from a mountain, no. The whole Egyptian origin story for Judaism is made up.

  111. jester700on 25 Apr 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Some great discussion here, and good points made by people not named Egnor. Some of the points concerning the bible and apologetics remind me a bit of material I’ve heard from Matt Dillahunty, so I’d like to plug his channel for anyone more interested in such arguments. He was a Southern Baptist for 25 years and in preparing to enter seminary argued himself into atheism; he is now IMO one of its best spokespersons. His Atheist Debates videos summarize many of the classic discussions succinctly, though obviously from an atheist perspective.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/SansDeity/videos

  112. Steven Novellaon 25 Apr 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Here is what I find interesting. The point of this post and following discussion for me is this – to address a central and interesting question, how solid is the evidence that Jesus existed?

    To address this question we need to consider how we know anything about the ancient world. What is the actual evidence for Jesus? What processes exist that could create the false belief in a figure who did not exist? And what is the relationship between what we do know and the Christian figure of Jesus as imagined today?

    What is interesting is that there has been very little disagreements on the facts. There is general agreement that the evidence for Jesus is all second-hand, hearsay, and inferential. We have no writings of Jesus, no contemporary first-hand accounts, no smoking-gun historical records.

    What we have is this – a canon of religious writings, chosen from a larger pool of conflicting writings, written in the context of promoting a new religion and with specific propaganda purposes, that contain at best second-hand hearsay accounts decades after the fact.

    Further, the vast majority of this canon is almost certainly derived from the standard and very common mythology of the day, that was applied to many individuals. (See Apollonius of Tyana for yet another example.)

    What people are disagreeing about here is how best to interpret these facts. Should we follow the consensus, what are the various motivations of different opinions, are we being consistent in the application of skepticism? These are all tangential issues.

    If Jesus were not at the center of a major religion, I don’t think there would be much of a discussion.

    The facts remain. The evidence for the existence of Jesus is thin, by any reasonable standard. Someone named Jesus probably existed at that time, and may have had stuff happen to them that overlaps with the Jesus story in the New Testament. There may or may not be a causal relationship from any such person to the eventual Jesus myth. Maybe elements were taken from many actual people. Or maybe there is no meaningful relationship to any real person.

    All of these interpretations are viable and reasonable. If you want to say that one is more likely than another, go ahead, it’s irrelevant in my opinion. I think dismissing the “whole cloth” hypothesis is naive, but that is the opinion of a skeptic who has seen a lot of “whole cloth” nonsense and studied how easily people fool themselves and make stuff up, especially when faith is involved.

    What is entirely clear, and no one here has been able to refute this in any way, is that the story of Jesus is almost entirely myth. Whether or not there is a kernel of a real person down in there somewhere is academically interesting but entirely irrelevant.

  113. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 1:06 pm

    Jester700,

    There’s a quote from Matt that I really enjoy about the founding fathers. Often Christians will throw up some type of argument that the US is a Christian nation, founded by Christians and the founding fathers were Christian. I would only agree that more people were Christians back then (as a percentage of population), but also it was less acceptable to come out a non-believer. All the other claims I have issue with.

    I believe this argument is thrown out there under some guise that the founding fathers are somehow almost mythically intelligent and infallible. However, I’m paraphrasing here, but Matt said something like this once in a debate: “Even if all the founding fathers were of one mind when it comes to a religious idea, we are no more beholden to that idea today than we are beholden to their ideas about slavery, medicine or quantum mechanics”.

    So if you ever run across this argument thrown out by Christians about the founding fathers, let’s officially label it the “Founding Father Fallacy” and Matt’s reply is a good way to point out the fallacy.

  114. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Christianity – One woman’s lie about an affair that got seriously out of control. 🙂

  115. Greg Shenauton 25 Apr 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I think that recent political events have made it clear that truth is not only a continuum, but that there are (at least?) two dimensions involved. One dimension is ordinary logical truth, including scientific “truths” that are derived logically from empirical observation. The other truth dimension is closer to gut feelings: some things just feel right and true, some things do not. One of the more interesting quadrants of the resulting space is the one where the logical/empirical truth value or likelihood is very low, but the gut-truth is very high. This includes things such as Obama wire-tapping Trump and so on, but I think it also includes many kinds of dogma, including religious and political (and also including what might be thought of as “scientific dogma”, meaning the over-reliance on scientific conclusions from sparse evidence, such as geo- or helio-centrism in ancient times, or such things as Chomsky’s Language Acquisition Device in more modern times).

    Anyway, for a variety of cultural and psychological reasons, the existence of Jesus scores very highly on the gut-truth scale, to the point where it is considered by probably the vast majority to be a silly thing to even wonder about, much less to study critically. Yet, there is very sparse and conflicting evidence for it, so it scores very low on the logical/empirical truth value scale.

  116. Pedarskion 25 Apr 2017 at 1:28 pm

    I haven’t heard much significant refutation of Richard Carrier’s books “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus” and “On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt”, in which he places an grossly generous probability of an actual man at some point named Jesus who acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death and that this is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities and that this is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod) at around 30%.

  117. Herodotuson 25 Apr 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Hello, i’ve never posted a comment on here before but as a long time fan of neurologica, ‘the rogues’, and the SGU I feel sufficiently disappointed by this article too not comment.

    I’m not an expert on matters of history, I have no PhD and career in the field. But for what it is worth I have read the new testament in greek a million times, and I think that for an amateur I have a good working knowledge of the field of ancient history.

    The only substantial statement in this article (by Steve) that I agree with is that the article by Tarico and Fitzgerald is a “decent summary” of the ‘mythicist’ opinion. Which is to say that it is full of errors, exaggerations and distortions. Hardly surprising because both are unqualified to write about this.

    I’m just going too run through the howlers and dopey bits of the Tarico/Fitzgerald article (from here on called TF) and Steve’s without organising them in any particular way.

    TF’s first point that “Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more” is a mess on its face. Virtually all historians regard Jesus too have been both an itinerant preacher AND and apocalypticist. The other views mentioned here are all held by tiny minorities, if anybody. In other words what they say about the “cacophony of conflicting visions” is simply false. Not that it would matter anyway, biologists do not agree on the details of evolution, therefore they should bring themselves to say about whether of not evolution occurred “we don’t know”? This is called a non sequitur. Ironically mythicists themselves don’t agree on anything other than Jesus’ non existence.

    Next TF embarrass themselves with a real howler “While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark. Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors. It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory.” This is an even larger mess than their first. No historian on the planet believes that John is an adaptation of Mark, but otherwise ignoring that basic factual error, what this tells us is that the early Christian authors were looking to earlier more reliable historical sources for their accounts. Other lines of evidence also show this, but I won’t go into detail here. As for the extremely eccentric claim that it “may be metaphor”, well yes obviously, and we MAY find a rabbit in the precambrian, but it isn’t very likely, certainly nobody who is a a serious expert in the field thinks it is going to happen. Mark belongs to the genre of Greco-Roman biography, and of the small minority of scholars who don’t think so, none believe that it is an allegory.

    TF’s next howler is the weird claim that “Today historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery. (For one reason, no one but the suspected forger ever quotes it – for 500 years!) But Christian apologists are loathe to give it up, and supporters now argue it is only a partial forgery.” Most scholars of Josephus are jews (not known for their rampant christian apologism) and they overwhelmingly agree that it is simply a partial forgery. Not least because undoctored manuscripts have been found that look almost exactly like scholars predicted they would. As for the bit about it not being quoted: nearly everything every ancient author says is not quoted so…nearly everything every ancient author says must be a forgery!

    From here on their already weak article degenerates even further. TF state that “Early Christian scriptures weren’t the same as ours.” Well what do you call early? The books of the new testament are among the earliest early Christian literature extant. And the other stuff from the same time like the Didache is so similar it almost made it into the bible. Non-canonical gospels and forged letters don’t become wildly different until well into second century. And the consequence of these wild differences for the existence of Jesus is…nothing. After all why should the differences between things written more than a century later vitiate the historical credibility of Paul and the Gospels?

    In this same segment they make the stupid claim “today scholars identify almost all of the New Testament books as forgeries except for six attributed to Paul (and even his authentic letters have been re-edited).” Of course this is all wrong as well. Scholars identify most books as having been written anonymously, this is not forgery. Forgery means writing a book under a false name. Also there are 7 not 6 undisputed Pauline epistles, I could talk at length about this one because it is so crammed with wrongness, but we must move on.

    Next they scrape the bottom of the barrel and reveal their motivated thinking (not that it wasn’t palpable before this point). “Christian martyrs are not proof (if they even were real).” Few historians make a big deal out of the existence of martyrs vis a vis the historical reliability of the bible. So they are attacking a straw man. And when they ask “No other way to explain the existence of Christianity?” they are broadcasting their apologetic raison d’etre very clearly.

    Believe it or not I could critique TF’s incompetence at greater length. But this is already far far longer than I intended.

    As for Steve’s sorely disappointing article I won’t go into the simple factual errors suffice to say it isn’t much better than TF’s. Instead i’ll just point out two parts that struck me as particularly bizarre. First Steve points too the Roswell crash and the myths that arose. This sounds very confused to me, I don’t know Roswell very well, but as far as I am aware their really was a crash site, where something that really existed hit the ground, which was reported by real people who really existed and talked about it to journalists who wrote about it. This is a great argument for the basic reliability of the gospels. In both cases we start of with a real event- the crash or Jesus’ existence-and around this kernel of truth which remains fairly stable and unchanged a husk of myth and embellishment forms. Historians then have to strip away that husk to find the kernel. In the case of Roswell their really was a crash site with real debris and whatnot, in the case of Jesus their really was a guy who was an itinerant apocalypticist who ended up being crucified.

    The other bizarre claim I will deal with is “Another analogy might be the Arthurian legend. King Arthur probably did not exist, and the level of evidence for him is about the same as for the historical Jesus.” Medieval history is not my thing so I won’t comment on whether or not Arthur existed, but the second about a similar level of evidence existing is truly ignorant. No sane historian on the planet would make this claim.

    I could go on even more, and make positive arguments that Jesus existed while i’m at it. But this is already the worlds longest comment, so i’ll give it a miss and just point out that as near as makes no difference all historians agree that Jesus existed. So just like a creationist has to ask himself what he knows that all the worlds biologists don’t know, I think TF and Steve should have the humility to ask themselves what it is that they know that all the worlds historians don’t get.

  118. Karl Withakayon 25 Apr 2017 at 1:49 pm

    It seems fairly obvious why the purely mythological Jesus hypothesis appeals to some atheists. If correct, it represents a home run refutation against the central beliefs of traditional/modern Christianity. If there was no actual Jesus, then the whole deal is off.

    However, it’s completely unnecessary.

    It’s a huge leap from

    “There was a physical person who lived about 2000 years ago and became the basis of a major religion practiced to this day.”

    to

    “There is a supreme, divine being who is his own son and raised himself form the dead and did all sorts or wondrous things.”

  119. Karl Withakayon 25 Apr 2017 at 1:56 pm

    “Christianity – One woman’s lie about an affair that got seriously out of control. ”

    Or how a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for maiden/ young woman into the Greek word for virgin in the Septuagint became central to a new religion that has problems with sex.

  120. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Karl,

    Or is more like: There is a supreme being who is his own son who sacrificed himself to himself as a loophole for the rules that he himself created.

    On another note, I’ve always had a problem with this so-called “sacrifice”. I define sacrifice as loosing something forever. I hardly think that an eternal being who has existed forever, and will exist forever, being without his son for a couple of days is hardly a sacrifice. His “son” was with him right afterwards. Not only that, he could come back whenever he wants. He could come back every day for the rest of eternity if he so choose to.

    I don’t see how an all powerful being that can do anything, can actually sacrifice anything. It appears to be a contradiction. I know a christian might argue that he can “choose” to sacrifice something even if all powerful, but then again, how is an eternal being, not having his son for just a couple of days a sacrifice? And if god is omnipresent, and he IS his own son, he was there through the whole thing, so he wasn’t without him for even those couple of days.

    Hardly a sacrifice.

  121. bachfiendon 25 Apr 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Catplanet24,

    Care to list some sources discussing the errors David Fitzgerald has made regarding the Ancient World?

  122. Lightnotheaton 25 Apr 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Agree with Steven that there’s a lot of good stuff here, with the main point, about the historical evidence being thin, remaining solid. Again I find myself wishing I had more time to participate. Still waiting for a more relevant thread to talk about New Age/mystical ideas where I do think skeptics are vulnerable to charges of denialism..

  123. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Lightnotheat,
    You can bring it up here I’m sure no one will mind too much. What new age mystical ideas are you talking about? What authors or papers do you find convincing that skeptics deny too easily?

  124. jester700on 25 Apr 2017 at 5:20 pm

    TP,
    There are so many issues with the xian non-“sacrifice”; you hit on a couple. I don’t understand the ethics of the great scapegoating in the first place; it seems immoral to me. If one considers that the all knowing Yahweh character goofed up his creation (more than once) and that we can choose to forgive others SANS blood sacrifice, perhaps the old saw “to err is human; to forgive divine” should be reversed…

  125. Lightnotheaton 25 Apr 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Sophie,
    This thread is too old and I don’t have time. Will largely be playing devil’s advocate, and it will have to do with, among other things, the scientific view as an ideology…

  126. hardnoseon 25 Apr 2017 at 6:41 pm

    There have been many mystics and prophets through the ages, and many religions. Most just died and disappeared.

    Why is Christianity so special, and so popular? Why is Jesus so unique?

    Because, by chance, Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and Rome conquered Europe and forced everyone to become Christian.

    Europe became rich and powerful, and settled the New World, which therefore became mostly Christian.

    Most religions and mystical traditions have similar messages. When people think Christianity is unique and special, it’s because they know nothing about most of the other religions.

    It’s impossible to know how much of the New Testament is based on facts, or partial facts. And it makes no difference anyway.

  127. tb29607on 25 Apr 2017 at 7:29 pm

    To paraphrase the book Faith vs Fact:

    It continues to baffle me how a person, who deftly critiques a peer reviewed, published, scholarly articles, and rips them to shreds, can then turn around, look at a fifth generation (at best) copy (made by illiterate copyists) of a 2000 year old document that is not a first hand account and littered with internal inconsistencies, which describes an unwitnessed instance of reanimation, and say “oh yes, that makes sense”.

  128. MASSiveon 25 Apr 2017 at 7:29 pm

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of the previous comments, but am working on it. It’s a lot of content. So please bear with me as I will likely hit a few previously covered points.

    Firstly, lets be clear. While Steven is a well known skeptic and is involved with well-known skeptic organizations, he is also a Medical Doctor and specializes in clinical neurology. While that does make him immensely knowledgeable, it does not make his opinion on the “thinness” of any historical figure reliable. Furthermore, he has given rather brief insights into only two figures in this debate that hardly represent a holistic view of the argument. I think this is probably taken for granted by many of us, but I’d like to set out with this as some of us seem to be arguing from his position instead of setting out proper definitions and explanations.

    Secondly, his allusions of Jesus to mythical figures is frankly a non-starter. Instead of seriously debating the veracity of Christianity’s historical claims or doing much further research than the two articles he cited, he chooses to make ad hominem attacks against Christianity. Honestly, I would like to see such allusions made about the historicity of Muhammad. Instead, he is often taken more seriously due to the risk of offending the Muslim community. Why is it that we are more concerned with dismantling the Christian narrative than attacking the integrity of things like the Quran which can’t be historically verified as an accurate representation of the original text due to the mass destruction of manuscripts that contain various inaccuracies?

    Ultimately, the reliability of the Bible and its use by historians and archaeologists as a tool to find accurate historical locations should be a starting point for us. If historians’ use of this religious text shows the verisimilitude of it (the fact that it reliably talks about real places, real people and real events) which is able to be corroborated by third party accounts and evidence, that points to the fact that accounts given should be taken with a sense of seriousness.

    Further, the idea that contemporary people not doubting the existence of Jesus isn’t evidence worthy of considering is ridiculous. Paul’s epistles are proven to be contemporary with Jesus’ times. They’re generally dated to around 55 A.D. for the earliest writings. Within these writings, Paul posits that over 500 individuals at once saw the resurrected Jesus and that most of them were still alive at the time of the writing. This would hardly have been something he was able to write if it didn’t happen. Not only would he have lost any credibility, but people would have left the church in droves. It would have hardly inspired the confidence and willingness to die for this cause that was characteristic of the 1st century church.

    Literary critics and New Testament experts (both Christian and non-Christian) attest that Paul’s writings and the canonical gospels were written based on personal accounts of Jesus as well as on a strong oral history that had formed within the 1st century church. Before people begin to engage in chronological snobbery and posit that oral history is unreliable, this is a common cultural (namely Western culture) misconception. Oral histories do not seem credible to our literary society, but they are rooted in concrete concepts and are highly and accurately reproducible. They are also taken seriously by historians and are used by approximately 2/3 of humans alive today.

    The idea of competing gospels is also an argument from hindsight based largely out of a misunderstanding of the contemporary culture. It also stems from a view based solely out of current cultural biases. Aside from the four canonical gospel accounts, the others were written significantly later and were not contemporary with Jesus (generally dating from the 2nd to the 4th centuries). These gospels also blend other ideas into the general basis of the canonical gospels. They include the Gnostic gospels and Syriac gospels. The council that was mentioned in one of the earlier replies was in response to the emergence of these gospel accounts and was an effort to standardize doctrine and form creeds to be used across the Roman empire, as it had been decreed to be Rome’s official religion rather recently. This standardization only makes sense from an organizational standpoint.

    Also, it is a myth that the council of Nicea (the council I just mentioned) had anything to do with the canonization of the Bible. There were preexisting collections of text that were circulating in the churches as early as the 1st and 2nd century and these alternate gospel accounts were widely viewed as flawed representations of the original accounts.

  129. tb29607on 25 Apr 2017 at 8:27 pm

    And I agree wholeheartedly with SN’s original post that the evidence for an actual person is on par with existence of Arthur. Although I would argue that as a myth that has persisted without an attendant religion, Arthur the man’s existence strikes me as more likely than Jesus the man’s. I think both probably existed but see Arthur’s as the more likely of the two (unless there is a King Arthur religion).

  130. trumpproctoron 25 Apr 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Tb,

    That’s a good start, but the list could go on and on.

    It baffles me how a person:

    1) Can point out the fallacies and ridiculous beliefs of any other religion yet are blind tom the exact same things within their own religion.

    2) Believes that the events of the bible are God’s plan for humanity, even though many tenants given to Christ existed in other religions that predate Christianity. Other religions had a savior. Born without a father. Killed and resurrected. Had disciples. Had their own flood myths. And on and on. So God’s great plan to for humanity was to plagiarize from previous “false” religions?

    3) That today, they would not believe for a second someone who claimed that God actually appeared before them and physically spoke to them, without seeing concrete evidence. Yet things like this happen all the time in a 2000 year old text and they believe every word of it.

    4) Will believe the creation story of Genesis even though it flys in the face of multiple lines of evidence, millions of peer reviewed papers, virtually everything we know, and is demonstrable, about the physical universe around us.

    5) Or will believe that the creation story is just allegory, and isn’t factual, but then when you point out that if one story in the bible can’t be taken literally, it’s just poetry, then how do we know what other parts of the bible are literal or allegory? Yet they somehow know for certain that everything about Christ is literal.

  131. CKavaon 25 Apr 2017 at 8:56 pm

    @Steve

    The problem for me remains in your framing, you define the central question as being “how solid is the evidence that Jesus existed”? But then go on instead to focus primarily on the question of whether the Jesus as depicted in centuries of Christian mythology is well supported (clearly not IMO). And actually outright state that the answer to whether a historical figure existed is largely “irrelevant” and that “whether or not there is a kernel of a real person down in there somewhere is academically interesting but entirely irrelevant”. OK, so I guess the ‘existence’ topic is not the central question then but rather the issue is whether “the story of Jesus is almost entirely myth”.

    Another concern for me are the arguments which elevate a minority position (the whole cloth hypothesis) amongst relevant experts to one of equivalence with the mainstream consensus by invoking a supposed bias amongst researchers. I can see why one should anticipate a bias amongst theologians and possibly biblical scholars but why should we presume a Christian bias amongst historians? Should we assume Western historians who have examined the history of Buddhism and Islam cannot be trusted either?

    Steve is an excellent critical thinker but he isn’t a historian nor does he have any expertise that I am aware of in religious history, yet he seems to be relying on how compelling/reasonable he finds the arguments for the minority ‘whole cloth’ position. Isn’t that a similar kind of logic to one that could lead someone to believe in 9/11 conspiracies or intelligent design? Here are another bunch of experts making arguments, many of which seem compelling to non-experts, and claiming that their theories are only a minority position due to the ideological/political biases behind the supposed ‘consensus’. I see some significant parallels in logic but would be interested to hear why I’m wrong.

    The emphasis placed on the lack of contemporary first-hand accounts also seems unwarranted. This wasn’t an age in which everyone was literate and ideas were spread by books and texts being shared. This was very much a time of oral transmission and thus records of an itinerant preacher appearing only AFTER they have established a significant community seems completely normal rather than something that should arouse suspicion. I would put that issue on par with the skepticism raised by the oft-repeated parallels made with existing mythologies. I have no doubt that there are such influences but many of those popularly cited within the atheist/secular communities are based on summaries that over emphasise the parallels. Looking at the wikipedia article for Apollonius of Tyana who Steve referenced, I note that the scholars emphasising the similarities are Bart D. Ehrman and Bob Price, and anti-Christian polemicists in the 17th/18th Century. This makes me immediately suspicious of what the mainstream opinion on the parallels are? I haven’t looked into it but I wonder how deeply you have Steve?

    In summary, I wholeheartedly agree with Steve’s well taken points about syncretism, contradictions and elaborations in the canon, and the skepticism we should attach to the biblical/Christian narrative. What I don’t find as convincing is the suggestion that the ‘whole cloth’/real historical figure positions are equally plausible, because that clearly isn’t the judgment of the vast majority of relevant experts. I also don’t think I hold that view because I am naïve. I’ve been interested in skepticism for a long time and my academic niche is in the history of religions and religious psychology. I am aware that founder figures can be inventions and that there is a propensity to imbue founding figures with mystical powers and hagiographic narratives that obscure the actual history. So I don’t discount the possibility that the Jesus figure is a complete invention but I do take the consensus of relevant experts on the topic more seriously than many of my fellow atheists/skeptics seem to.

  132. MASSiveon 25 Apr 2017 at 9:18 pm

    @tb

    I’d venture to say that you and most others on this site would say that Alexander the Great is a historically verifiable figure. He’s prominent and we are certain that we existed. Did you know that the earliest detailed sources talking about him are dated at over 300 years after the fact? Or that the most prominent of those sources are from about 450 years after the fact?

    Contrast that with the 12 independent sources for Jesus’ crucifixion that are within 100 years (according to Bart Ehrman, an agnostic atheist and Religious Studies professor). It’s a tad over-reaching to say that we don’t have good evidence that Jesus existed.

  133. Sophieon 25 Apr 2017 at 10:30 pm

    CKava,

    You bring up some good points overall. There are some massive problems though:

    The emphasis placed on the lack of contemporary first-hand accounts also seems unwarranted.

    This whole line of reasoning is pointless. Steven is not a religious scholar. He is interested in science and objective facts. For a religious scholar I’m sure it’s very interesting how oral histories were passed around for decades before anything was written down. I’m sure they have a lot of fun teasing out what could have really happened from a written account based on an oral tradition.

    For modern skeptics with no training in this field, these details still tells us a lot of information that is important. Most notably, that the whole story is highly suspect. As skeptics we know that even eye witness testimony is flawed. We also know that human memory is very fallible. Every time you remember something you recreate the memory and alter it.

    An oral tradition passed down for a few decades, is therefore going to contain many inaccuracies and exaggerations.

    As skeptics we also know a little bit about other oral traditions and written mythologies. We as modern humans don’t really believe there was a superhuman named Hercules, a magical sword in a stone, dragons, or a flying horse.

    We assume all of that was just completely made up by prescientific cultures. They could have innocently and organically come up with implausible stories. I don’t think these myths were just made up one day, I think it was a slow unconscious process. Elements added by a bard just to make a song rhyme, could have then been taken literally for example.

    Based on what we know about human memory from modern experiments we can extrapolate the processes that led to the creation of these early Christian texts.

    Your issues with the over emphasis of some religious scholars that you find on the fringe is kind of troubling. Since everyone else I’m seeing references to are theologians who went to religious schools, some of whom are practitioners of that religion.

    Should we trust a priest more than Bart D. Ehrman, to tell us about the historicity of Jesus?

    Please give us a list of some prominent religious scholars that better represent the expert consensus of the historicity of Jesus? If any of those people are theologians (which many of the big ones are) then we have some problems.

    I don’t care how well trained someone is, if the architects, construction company, and engineering team of the World Trade Center tell me that it was an inside job, I’m not going to believe them. They are arguing a horribly flawed and implausible position. They could literally be the best possible references for the situation and we non-experts would still question them.

  134. jester700on 25 Apr 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Sophie,
    I may have misread you, but Ehrman supports the historicity of the man Jesus, and he’s an atheist. Robert Price (a mythicist) debated him and didn’t do well. Richard Carrier has taken the mythicist position as well and makes great points (not all of which I can follow), but hasn’t been around as long as Ehrman.

  135. Sophieon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:12 am

    Yeah I’ll take the correction maybe a bad example, been a while. I just used Ehrman in that example because he was discussed earlier. Point is that the fringe people might be less theology-based. and that atheists might have something interesting to offer.

  136. CKavaon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:41 am

    Sophie,

    Your points are well taken but I think you are doing many of the folks working in this area a disservice by suggesting they probably don’t consider things like how oral stories are subject to change and the fallibility of memory and eyewitness testimony. Those are the kinds of issues that I remember being stressed even back in my secondary school history classes. That said, I still largely agree with you and with Steve’s account of how early texts are formed and altered. So to be clear, I’m not arguing that any of the gospels represent reliable, unproblematic accounts that should be taken as face value. I’m just arguing that the existing historical evidence tilts the scales in favour of there actually being some historical preacher around whom many myths and legends grew. I actually think Steve summarised it perfectly when he said:

    “Someone named Jesus probably existed at that time, and may have had stuff happen to them that overlaps with the Jesus story in the New Testament. There may or may not be a causal relationship from any such person to the eventual Jesus myth. Maybe elements were taken from many actual people.”

    I strongly agree with that assessment, so I really only disagree with Steve’s framing and what I see as a false equivalence being applied to the various possibilities.

    Should we trust a priest more than Bart D. Ehrman, to tell us about the historicity of Jesus?

    Depends on the priest but in general probably not, that’s why I recommended historians over theologians. I actually think Ehrman is a good scholar but one whose more sensationalist claims need to be placed in context. It might also be worth noting that he is one of the sources that I draw my conclusion about the general consensus from (he wrote a book arguing that yes there was likely a historical Jesus). That said, I don’t think someone being religious automatically invalidates their ability to conduct objective scholarship, we should be cautious but so too of the potential bias of atheists. Personally, one of the most critical scholars I know who conducts research on the psychology and potential evolutionary origins of religious beliefs is an Anglican priest.

    I found a comment on a blog where Helen Bond, a well regarded scholar of early Christianity, was asked about the value of faith in researching Christian history and responded:

    I actually think faith can be more of a hindrance sometimes in historical investigation. As far as I’m concerned, historians need to be completely open minded about the past, and ready to go wherever the evidence leads. If faith hinders that in any way, then its not a good thing. On the other side, though, people of faith may well be better able to empathise with Jesus followers of the past (in the sense that they will understand something of how faith can alter people’s lives) so its not necessarily a bad thing. As with all presuppositions, its important to be honest with yourself about it, and to ask whether its hindering or helping.

    That seems sensible to me and reflects the nuance that I see amongst many of the most prominent researcher. She too has written a book examining the evidence surrounding the historical Jesus.

    Please give us a list of some prominent religious scholars that better represent the expert consensus of the historicity of Jesus? If any of those people are theologians (which many of the big ones are) then we have some problems.

    It’s been a few years since I spent any time researching the topic and early Christianity is not my area of expertise so sorry but I’m not inclined to spend my afternoon going through the necessary legwork to provide a list of recommended sources- aside from the two scholars referenced above. A few hours spent on google and google scholar should be enough to identify relevant figures considered unbiased, if you or anyone else is sufficiently interested in the topic. And if you (or anyone else) dig into the topic and find that my assessment of the consensus is inaccurate then I will be very interested to hear about it. When I did my own research on the topic a few years ago, after previously being influenced by the writing of Bob Price et al., it changed my opinions but maybe it won’t for other people. I think there is scope for reasonable disagreement on the topic but such debates are always better when they are informed by engagement with the relevant literature.

  137. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 6:29 am

    CKava – I fully admit I am not a religious scholar, and I absolutely respect the consensus of experts. But, I do have a solid background in Christian scholarship. I went to a Jesuit school and had four years of theology, and I have been reading about these issues for decades.

    Regarding consensus, they are not all created equal. You have to know what the consensus is. Briefly, you can assign two levels to a consensus – how dominant is it (percentage of experts who agree) and how solid/confident is it (what percentage do those experts give to the probability of their position).

    So, for example with AGW, we have a dominant consensus with a 95% confidence. With evolution we have a 98% consensus with a near 100% confidence.

    With the historicity of Jesus my take is that there is a dominant consensus that Jesus “probably” existed, meaning more than 50%. My point is that the confidence of the experts is remarkably thin.

    I have spoken to religious scholars (Jesuit and otherwise) who essentially agree with this.

    Where I think there is bias is that some scholars overstate the confidence, and make lame and naive arguments for doing so. While they may be experts in the facts of history, they are not experts in self-deception and that affects their judgments. Again – there is little disagreement about the facts, just how to interpret them

    You have still not addressed the actual question – the strength of the evidence. I made a case for why the evidence is thin, you have not really disputed it.

    Your one point, that the fact that the accounts were oral tradition for decades is not unusual, is actually a straw man and irrelevant. I am not saying that the fact they were oral for decades is suspect in itself. I am saying that oral tradition is fantastically unreliable. If information had to pass through a phase of oral tradition for even one generation, then, in my opinion, all bets are off. This means, essentially, we don’t know. Any other conclusion, in my opinion, is naive.

    Regarding your framing point, I think you miss my point, which is to discuss what it means to say that the Jesus of the New Testament actually existed. I address this point because I think it’s critical to address what is likely a core unstated premise for many people.

    So yes, I am reframing the question. People think the important question is – did Jesus exist. But in actuality this is two questions. Was there a person Jesus, and what is the relationship between that person and the story of Jesus? The story of Jesus is entirely myth. I think it is fair to conclude that all of the elements of the Jesus story that are shared with other contemporary myths probably represent popular myth, and not any actual person. When we strip that all away, we have very little left.

    So, reframing the question was actually a major point of my article. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  138. trumpproctoron 26 Apr 2017 at 9:11 am

    CK – “That said, I don’t think someone being religious automatically invalidates their ability to conduct objective scholarship, we should be cautious but so too of the potential bias of atheists.”

    True, it doesn’t automatically invalidate their claim, however it does automatically increase the level of skepticism you need to apply to their claims. Just like if an astrophysicist entire world view (to a point equal to it being a “religion” to them, where they can think of no evidence that would ever convince them otherwise) was wrapped around that the universe MUST have started with a big bang, we should probably look at their research about the big bang with more skepticism than may otherwise be warranted. Maybe that’s not a great analogy, but I think you get the point. But plenty of atheist historians believe there may have been a historical Jesus, just not a supernatural one.

    Steve – “If information had to pass through a phase of oral tradition for even one generation, then, in my opinion, all bets are off. This means, essentially, we don’t know. Any other conclusion, in my opinion, is naive.”

    I think, Steve, that even going up to one generation is being far too generous. Passing a story around from person to person during the same DAY, the story will already take on inaccuracies. 🙂

  139. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 9:37 am

    Massive – When did I make an ad hominem against Christianity? Further, what does Mohammed have to do with anything. I live in the US where Christianity is dominant, I have a Christian education and a solid background. I know relatively nothing about Mohammed and so it would take me a lot longer to be able to write about it at all. You falsely assume this is an anti-Christian bias, and you are wrong.

    As for your other arguments, I find none of them compelling. Sure, the bible talks about real people and real places, and some of the books have historical elements. But – it is far from an accurate recording of history. As others have already pointed out, there is no evidence the Jews were ever in Egypt, let alone slaves that built the pyramids. If the Bible can get that major thing wrong, how reliable can it be?

    Your premise that early Christian leaders could not have gotten away with making big claims that were not true is incredibly naive. Seriously, you need more exposure to things like Scientology, the Mormon faith, and humanity in general.

  140. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 9:47 am

    Herodotus – My article was not a review of the two articles I referenced, and you should not assume any point I did not refute I tacitly accepted. I simply used the fact of those two articles as a jumping off point for my own discussion and referenced a couple of points. So your assumptions are not fair.

    Regarding the point about Roswell – yes it was based on a real event, but you are focusing on the wrong thing. The flying saucer was not real. Aliens did not exist. In this analogy, Jesus is more like the aliens. And, even if Jesus is the balloon and reflector (meaning he existed), he has about as much of a relationship to the Jesus of the New Testament as a cardboard reflector has to an alien flying saucer.

    You have also not defended your dismissal of the evidence for Arthur. Here is one summary: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/top-10-clues-to-the-real-king-arthur-2024729.html

    What some people are clearly doing is looking for reasons to conclude that Jesus was real. Others look for reasons that he was not real. Both are susceptible to motivated reasoning.

    If you look at all the evidence, and all the possibilities, I think the conclusion that we simply do not know is unavoidable.

    I also think that the pro-Jesus camp could benefit from studying modern myths, like Roswell or Scientology. when you look at these modern examples, some of their arguments about oral tradition, credibility, etc. are laughable.

  141. trumpproctoron 26 Apr 2017 at 10:05 am

    “Your premise that early Christian leaders could not have gotten away with making big claims that were not true is incredibly naive.”

    *cough* TRUMP *cough*

  142. MosBenon 26 Apr 2017 at 10:25 am

    CKava, a few people have pegged the consensus among historians as being that there was probably a man named Jesus (or Yeshua) in around the places and times described in the Bible, and that he was probably baptized and executed. You add that he was a preacher. Do you have a source for the preacher part? It seems like a lot of people make significant leaps from the actual evidence (man of X name in X place who was baptized and executed) to assumptions about this historical person sharing several biographical details with the character from the Bible.

  143. CKavaon 26 Apr 2017 at 10:50 am

    @Steve

    On the issue of framing, I completely understood your point that whether there was an actual historical man who the Jesus figure is based on is one of the least important/interesting aspects when it comes to examining the Jesus mythos (and I largely agree with that sentiment). So that was clear. The issue I took was in the apparent conflation with “the how solid is the evidence that Jesus existed” question with issues of contradictions, conflations, etc. in the Jesus mythos. The two are related but not, at least to my mind, the same topic. Hence, Bart Ehrman the prominent (atheist) biblical scholar referenced above has written several books focusing on the various inconsistencies in Christian narratives about Jesus but also holds very little doubt about the historicity of Jesus the man (indeed, he wrote another book on that subject). My take could well be idiosyncratic but maybe this clarifies the source of my objection a bit better?

    As per your experiences with religious scholars, that’s interesting but it does seem then that you may have interacted with something of an unrepresentative sample. I know wikipedia isn’t a perfect source but I recommend taking a look at the articles on the Christ Myth Theory and the Historicity of Jesus since both supporters and detractors have motivations to edit them. Both summaries are clear that the ‘Christ was a myth theory’ represents an extremely fringe position amongst scholars, including amongst non-Christians and those who otherwise disagree with the hagiographic accounts. This fits with my reading of the literature, where I would estimate the dominance proportion for those who believe there is good evidence for the existence of some historical figure to be not far off the level of dominance of the global warming consensus and the certainty level, while not as high as 90%, to be much higher than 50/50.

    But admittedly biblical history isn’t my particular area of expertise and it has been a number years since I looked into the topic properly. Furthermore, I have a high level of respect for your ability to to critically examine and accurately assess the relative dominance of theories within fields outside your area of expertise. Indeed, I’ve never previously found your assessments to differ very substantially from my own and hence I’m a little perplexed at how I’ve reached such different conclusions concerning the research literature on this topic. I recognise the Jesus myth position as being very popular in atheist/skeptical circles but not amongst relevant experts- and that remains the case even when accounting for the Christian bias.

    On the strawmanning, I didn’t intend to do so but it seemed that what you are characterising as a dearth of reliable accounts is actually pretty normal when we examine figures from ancient history, especially in relation to individuals who were not royalty or some other notable elite. I don’t dispute that oral histories are subject to embellishment and alteration but I think you are over estimating how quickly details will change.

    To provide one counter illustration: in Japan there were communities of Christians who went underground with their practices during the Sakoku period- the 200 odd years when Christianity was banned and travel was largely prohibited (as referenced recently in Silence). These communities of Hidden Christians passed down oral traditions, rituals, and chants over 200 years based on the teachings they had (imperfectly) received from missionaries. Later when Japan’s isolation period was ended by the arrival of Commodore Perry and the ban on Christianity was forcibly lifted, these hidden Christians re-emerged and at the urging of some open minded priests their oral traditions were written down. We have records of some of these texts and what’s remarkable if you read them is just how much of the biblical narrative is preserved. Yes there are significant changes – Pontius Pilate becomes Ponshiru and Piroto, two samurai’s sent to execute Jesus, for example. But the core events remain and the narrative is immediately recognisable as the biblical story of Jesus.

    Even more remarkably, these communities had also managed to preserve songs they referred to as orashio, which turned out to be phonetic renderings in Japanese of Portuguese prayers that were unintelligible to the communities but which were able to be traced back to their 16th Century Portuguese counterparts because of how well they were preserved. My point here is that although you are correct to emphasise things like the fallibility of memory and human proclivities to invention and embellishment, I think you are underestimating the potential conservative powers involved with cultural transmission, especially as it relates to things considered sacred. If I followed the account you offer for the malleability of oral traditions it seems that these biblical stories retold after 200 years of isolation in a foreign culture should have been almost entirely unrecognisable but that isn’t the case. For anyone interested btw the book is called ‘the Beginning of Heaven and Earth’ (Tenchi Hajimari no Koto) and there is an English translation available.

    Finally, on not questioning the strength of the evidence, to be honest that’s because it’s beyond my level of expertise so I would just be parroting the sentiments of various experts I’ve read. But the distinct impression I got from my previous research on the topic was a) that the evidence was just as high as for many non-controversial historical figures and b) there was an overwhelming consensus amongst relevant experts that the references strongly tipped the scales in favour of there being some historical figure. But beyond broad agreements that said figure was likely to have been baptised and executed there seems to be a whole lot of debate over almost every other aspect of his life. So I think you are right when you suggest we disagree mostly over interpretation and I still agree wholeheartedly with your accounts of the messy mythologising involved with building a canon and a hagiographic account.

  144. Darskion 26 Apr 2017 at 11:00 am

    On Gathercole’s misleading Guardian article:

    http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12334

  145. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 11:37 am

    CKava – the question of the perseverence of culture is interesting. I think context is important. Certainly, culture has a lot of inertia. Cultural ideas can survive for thousands of years.

    But it seems that what survives are ideas, and big brush strokes. Details change rapidly, however.

    So, while the concept of Chi has existed in China for thousands of years, the modern concept is entirely different from the traditional concept.

    Further, it seems that there are times of rapid flux, like the formation of a new tradition. Then there are periods of stability once a canon is established and mechanisms are put into place to maintain it. The concept of Chi was transformed very rapidly 100 years ago, and now the new conception is stable.

    So, for example, we had a fairly rapid evolution of the modern UFO mythology over a few decades.But then as the standard story emerged, it became more and more stable. People settle upon a consensus canon, and then that dominated. Initially there were dozens of types of aliens. Now they are all the grays.

    Again – I think biblical scholars would have a different interpretation of the facts if they were more knowledgeable of modern myths.

  146. yrdbrdon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:14 pm

    MASSive

    allusions of Jesus to mythical figures

    Allusions. You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    I would like to see such allusions made about the historicity of Muhammad.

    Only seemingly a non-sequitur, because we all know that in addition to “Big Pharma,” “Big GMO,” and “Big AGW,” Steve is deep in the pockets of “Big Islam.”

    […] the reliability of the Bible and its use by historians and archaeologists as a tool to find accurate historical locations should be a starting point for us.

    The reliability of the Bible isn’t part of Steve’s thesis, although others have brought it up.

    Paul’s epistles are proven to be contemporary with Jesus’ times. They’re generally dated to around 55 A.D. for the earliest writings.

    Isn’t that 22 years after Jesus’ death?

    This would hardly have been something he was able to write if it didn’t happen. Not only would he have lost any credibility, but people would have left the church in droves.

    What comes after head desk?

    Ite, missa est…

  147. MASSiveon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:22 pm

    The ad hominem attack against Christianity I first mentioned was an unwarranted attack against its historical basis by comparing it to both the Santa Claus mythos and Arthurian legend. While both have a strong oral tradition and historical figures they were likely based on, the biblical accounts in question show a large amount of historical reliability as I have illustrated. This may not be compelling to you, but it does satisfy the evidential requirement that you’ve set forth and provide a reasonable basis for some kind of assumption.

    You are right to say that I have no reason to suspect that you would single out Islam over Christianity, but the fact remains that the vested interest of skeptics is to point out the logical and evidential flaws of all beliefs and worldviews, including skepticism. That being said, I apologize if I unduly made it seem as if the comment was directed solely to you. The tendency to attack Christianity to the exclusion of other worldviews is prevalent in skeptical circles and I had endeavored to point that out. This is especially important as practical Christianity (characterized by professing believers that abide by their beliefs) is beginning to shift away from Western culture to find a focus in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    As for the assertion against evidence of an Israelite nation in Egypt, you correctly point out that there is none. This is due to the fact that on arrival to Egypt, the Israelite nation consisted of one family (Jacob, his 12 sons and any family that they had). However, the archaeological record does exhibit a Canaanite/Semite population during those times. This is consistent with the biblical claim that an Israelite nation did not come to fruition until after the exodus from Egypt and that people from the area of Canaan migrated to Egypt during a period of famine. Further, your argument that this never happened ignores that a pivotal part of the Jewish tradition is structured around the Passover celebration. It is highly unlikely, by the assertion of historians and cultural anthropologists, that this would simply be made up. The assertion that the Jews helped to build the pyramids is also a patent myth. The completion of those structures was approximately 300 years after the period in question. In no way is this the biblical understanding of the events in question.

    Also, please don’t assume my exposure to my surrounding culture and ideologies. This would again make you guilty of an ad hominem attack by labeling me as naive and unaware of my surroundings. I am familiar with those ideologies and the general lack of scholarship surrounding them. Your view of early Christianity as such a system is inconsistent with the reality of the situation. While biblical figures such as Paul have been shown to have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of law, contemporary culture, Scripture and logic, extrabiblical figures such as Polycarp and Ignatius have also exhibited similar characteristics of scholarship. Your view takes a general assumption of the early church’s lack of intelligence and gullibility while failing to acknowledge that this is also true of members of modern skeptical camps as well. You are subjecting Christianity to scrutinies that you would not normally apply to other areas by discounting historical records from Christian viewpoints without making the same requirement for other historical subjects. Would you discount colonial rebel accounts from a study of the American revolution? No, because to do so would be self-defeating and necessarily excluding a valid side of the subject in question.

    Though you arguably may not have encountered this, I question how you are able to quickly discount a prevalent worldview that is able to make a strong and logically consistent case for the state of reality that also matches up with the state of reality. My assumption (although possibly incorrect) is that you are either an atheist or agnostic and are likely a proponent of the unguided evolutionary process. How would you, as a skeptic who seems to place an ultimate value on logical and emperical proofs, reconcile with the apparent problem of evil in the world?

  148. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Massive – the very question at hand is the relationship between beliefs that emerge in cultures with reality. Exploring that issue, and using analogies as with Arthur and Roswell, is not an ad hominem. You need to learn what that logical fallacy actually is.

    I am very thoroughly on record of being extremely skeptical of pretty much everything. You cannot accuse me of singling out Christianity for skepticism. I call each claim on its own merits.

    When considering any historical claim we need to know
    – what is the objective evidence
    – what is the inferential evidence
    – what factors were there that might bias any reporting on the matter

    So, I would not trust a totalitarian government that controls its media who reported on an event with political implications. I would give more trust to a free media in a democratic country reporting with similar evidence. But I would want to know their bias, and look carefully at what we can actually know from the evidence.

    I think the bottom line is this – history is a far greater mess than you think if it is your opinion we can know anything reliable about what happened thousands of years ago. We have to build our knowledge of history carefully, and rely only on those claims that have some corroborating evidence. Written and archaeological evidence is best. Any oral tradition is massively suspect. Any claims made in the context of deeply held cultural beliefs, political propaganda, and belief systems are highly suspect.

    This is basic skepticism.

  149. MASSiveon 26 Apr 2017 at 12:51 pm

    The allusion comment was meant to include various mythical examples. I will grant you that my word choice was poor for that particular situation.

    I have pointed out my meaning behind the Islam comment in my response to Steve. If you’d like that explanation, please see that reply.

    The reliability of the Bible is necessarily part of Steve’s thesis since it questions the very existence of a biblical figure. If the biblical portrayal of Jesus’ very existence isn’t accurate, wouldn’t that come to bear on the Bible’s reliability?

    As I have also pointed out in other comments, our earliest detailed sources for Alexander the Great were 300 years later. Does that mean that Alexander the Great didn’t exist?22 years is considered to be contemporary. The gospel of Mark has also been dated by some scholars to within 10 years of Jesus’s crucifixion. Writing about things that happened within our lifetimes, even without sourcing conventions and attribution is hardly a historical anomaly and numerous historical documents taken as authoritative are dated significantly after the events they portray. If 22 years is suspect then many historical occurrences that we take for fact are as well.

    As for your dismissal of an argument of credibility, it assumes a general gullibility and lack of scholarship in the early church. This wasn’t the case, as I pointed out in a response to Steve. Does the lack of scholarship for some members of the skeptic community thoroughly discount skepticism as a whole? If not, why would it do so for Christianity?

  150. Steven Novellaon 26 Apr 2017 at 1:18 pm

    I assume general gullibility and lack of scholarship as the baseline for humanity, unless proven otherwise, and especially where motivated reasoning is involved.

    You cannot consider the Bible as one book. It is many books, of different origins, and different literary styles and purposes. Making a comment about one book of the bible therefore does not necessary mean the same is true for every book. Some are more historical than others.

    The gospels specifically were not written to document history. They were written as specific expressions of faith to a specific community for a specific religious purpose.

  151. Newcoasteron 26 Apr 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Nice summary of the opposing points of view of Jesus’ historicity. Always a timely and lively discussion at Easter.

    I have read a lot of books and commentaries on the topic over the years and have personally gone back and forth on whether Jesus was an actual historical person, or an amalgamation of several different people or just completely a myth. I think the evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus is pretty weak, but I don’t discount that there may well have been an actual person that the subsequent mythology attached itself to.

    Ultimately, I don’t really care as it doesn’t matter. I’m an atheist, so whether there was an actual person behind the zombie cult of a dying and rising god doesn’t matter. The problem with Biblical errors and contradictions alone is enough evidence that the Bible itself was the flawed result of humans with political, religious and social agendas, and that it’s “message”, whatever you take that to be, is of human origin, not supernatural. There is nothing profound in the Bible.

    Since the words attributed to Jesus account for much less than 1% of the total words in the Bible, one has to wonder how important even Christians think the words of Jesus are.

  152. trumpproctoron 26 Apr 2017 at 2:37 pm

    “Would you discount colonial rebel accounts from a study of the American revolution? No, because to do so would be self-defeating and necessarily excluding a valid side of the subject in question.”

    If those said accounts included talking animals, zombies, invisible beings, parting seas, flooded world, etc. then yes, I would say being incredibly skeptical of these accounts would be an understatement.

    But even if the accounts were totally reasonable (non-supernatural), no one is basing their day to day world view upon minor details of the American revolution. Changing some facts about the American Revolution based upon new evidence has almost zero effect on us today other than updating some history textbooks. IF however, people today were worshiping the American Revolution and wanted to pass laws that govern us all, to the exclusion of rational governance, based upon colonial rebel accounts, then my skepticism of the facts of these accounts is going to rise by orders of magnitude.

  153. RickKon 26 Apr 2017 at 2:54 pm

    MASSive,

    While I think that evidence supports that Jesus was a real person, I’m amused by your citation of the Pauline Epistles as support for the accuracy of verbal tradition.

    Paul by his own admission never met Jesus, yet an enormous amount of Christian thought is based on Paul’s teachings and not those of Jesus. Yes, there is debate as to how far Paul’s teachings actually diverge from those of Jesus and the Apostles. But there’s no question there was tension on matters like the relative importance of works and faith. And there is plenty of quite reasonable opinion that Paul was very much at odds with Jesus and the Apostles.

    The point is – Paul’s writings are enormously influential, and Jesus was just a vision for him, not a teacher. So the fact that we don’t know whether they are consistent with Jesus’s teachings, yet we still give great creed to Paul, rather supports Steve’s point more than it supports yours.

    “Oral tradition” tends to be established and influenced not by those who are most accurate, but by those who talk the most.

    Also, what did you mean by: “How would you as a skeptic … reconcile with the problem of evil in the world?”

    [A quick thanks to Steve for sparking such an interesting discussion]

  154. Herodotuson 26 Apr 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Hello again, yesterday I wrote a very long comment here on this article. I’ve read your reply Steve, and think it would be a good idea to respond in kind. Here goes.

    First, I came to regret the tone of my initial comment yesterday. I don’t regret talking about David Fitzgerald in acerbic tones, because he has shown himself to be a remarkably arrogant disinformation preacher over the years, who is often downright bigoted in his attitude toward people impudent enough to disagree with him. He ought to have learned enough to have stopped all writing by now. I don’t have any such problem with you though, Steve. I know you try to be generous and I should have done the same. Also I will concede that I wasn’t fair in my assumptions about your beliefs. That said, I do still strongly disagree with you on most of the academic points at hand. And I think it was indeed a mistake for you to link to the Valerie Tarico/David Fitzgerald article, since their article was as near as makes no difference 100% garbage. When you link to an article some people who don’t know the subject will take it that you are lending your imprimatur to it, and believe it. You should be more aware of this in future, I think.

    As for the point about King Arthur which I didn’t defend. I think Gathercole’s article which you link to in your post says it quite nicely, “King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.” To the best of my knowledge this sums up very neatly the huge problems with concluding strongly that Arthur was a real person. As for how this compares against the evidence for Jesus’ existence: that will be the main point of this comment. At the end people can judge for themselves whether or not he existed and whether or not “King Arthur probably did not exist, and the level of evidence for him is about the same as for the historical Jesus.”

    I won’t cover all the evidence for Jesus’ existence, entire books have been written on it. But I will go through just some of the most powerful arguments.

    Paul (who wrote his last surviving letters between 50 CE and 58 CE, very early indeed) repeatedly refers to Jesus, his disciples and his family, just as we would expect if he really existed:

    In Galations 4:4 he says ‘God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law’. This means exactly what it sounds like. There is not ambiguity in the Greek text, nor are there any contextual caveats.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul talks about Jesus’ last supper. Here I think the words he puts in Jesus’ mouth are likely spurious. But there is no doubt that he talks about him as someone who lived recently.

    In Galatians 3:1, 1 Corinthians 2;2 and 2 Corinthians 13:4 Paul talks about Jesus having been crucified, as do all the gospels.

    Perhaps even more impressive, in Galatians 1:19-20 and Galatians 2 Paul refers to several eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, including one ‘James the Lord’s brother’. This James is particularly interesting because this title ‘the Lords brother’ is never given to anybody else in any christian literature ever. And not only is this James mentioned here. He is also mentioned in the gospels and Josephus, who are both palpably talking about the same person, who was literally the brother of Jesus. It’s one thing to say our brains are unreliable, but it’s another altogether to think Jesus own brother didn’t know that Jesus is purely mythical.

    This isn’t an exhaustive list but they are representative of the strength of Paul’s’ letters, as regards proving Jesus’ existence.

    I’ve spent so much space on Paul I’ll have to be even more terse for now on.

    The next most important sources are the 3 synoptic gospels. The earliest and most reliable is Mark written about 70 CE Matthew and Luke were probably a little Later about 80 CE. The reason these are important historical documents is simply that we know they contain accurate information. Not every thing they say is accurate to be sure, but there is more than enough too conclude that they were checking their sources and could get basic facts right (like does the guy they are writing about exist!). The gospels mention Pontius Pilate, he existed, John the Baptist, he existed, Herod the Great, he existed, Herod Antipas, he existed, Caiaphas (the high priest), he also existed. None of these people are mentioned anywhere near as many times as Jesus, but he didn’t exist? The things that the gospels get right have been covered extensively by scholars and whatever you may think about their details the overall narrative is accurate.

    Another crucial data point is Jesus birth place Nazareth. All Jews at the time expected the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke developed their famous nativities partly in order to get him to where he needed to be. But all 4 gospels say he was raised in Nazareth. Why would everybody agree that he came from Nazareth (a backwater of no importance whatsoever) and then try to get him to Bethlehem when they could have just had a legendary Jesus born there right away.

    Another point. All the sources agree that Jesus was crucified. There is nothing remotely similar in any contemporary religious thought to the idea that the Messiah would be crucified. Much is known about first century Judaism and there is no reason to believe anybody would have made this up. Paul even calls the crucifixion a ‘stumbling block’ for Jews 1 Corinthians 1:23. Again, why would anybody have made this up? The most parsimonious explanation is clearly that this really happened.

    Finally, the early christians were remarkably unable to agree on even the most basic theological issues, like whether jesus was god and should Christians obey the jewish law. It is remarkable that such theologically diverse groups should all unanimously agree that he existed, without ever mentioning that other group of odd balls who don’t think he did. How could the original Christians who didn’t believe in Jesus’ existence splinter into so many different groups none of which retained the original belief, and all of which came to invent the same myth independently. If this happened we should find some record of the original mythical Christ Christians mentioned somewhere, we don’t.

    Even if somebody doesn’t accept that there are any indisputable proofs that jesus existed, I think the letter of Paul give us just that, all the earliest sources taken together form a composite image that can be trusted to at least let us know that Jesus existed.

    I’ll leave my positive arguments for Jesus existence for now, I think they are clearly much more substantial than the most optimistic arguments for King Arthurs existence. Before I finish I’ll quickly comment on some other points.

    I think it’s easy to exaggerate how unreliable people’s brains are. When I was a child I turned over a log in the presence of my brother and his friend. After doing this an extremely large spider ran out from underneath and made each of us jump back. Or so I thought. Years later I recounted this story and my brother said he, not me, turned over a rock, not a log, and our friend said my brother turned over something, he couldn’t remember, and he thought it was an adder not a spider that came out from underneath. I think this is a good example of a false memory and human fallibility. But I also think it is a good example of why our memories can be trusted to give us the gist of what happened. Each of us remembers roughly the same event, we just don’t remember the details. Bart Ehrman, who is a top new testament scholar, has a good book about this which I recommend called Jesus before the Gospels. In that book he claims that cultural anthropologists who study oral tradition tend to agree that the gist of events can be retained for very long times, even in oral cultures.

    As for “In this analogy, Jesus is more like the aliens. And, even if Jesus is the balloon and reflector (meaning he existed), he has about as much of a relationship to the Jesus of the New Testament as a cardboard reflector has to an alien flying saucer.” I think this is a huge exaggeration. Jesus’ defining characteristics, ignoring theology, are his name, his town of origin, his ministry and death by crucifixion. On each of these points historians unanimously agree that this information can be accurately recovered from the new testament. If you accept that these are defining characteristics, what sense does it make to say this man has little or no relationship to the Jesus of the New Testament.

    I hope my tone is more agreeable this time. And I agree that people could benefit from studying modern myths like Roswell and Scientology, but I don’t think there is anything there that casts serious doubt about Jesus’ existence.

  155. Johnnyon 26 Apr 2017 at 3:36 pm

    The “Hero Savior of Vietnam” analogy is quite illustrating when it comes to Jesus and the believability of that story: https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html#herosavior

    “Suppose I told you there was a soldier in the Vietnam War named “Hero Savior” who miraculously calmed storms, healed wounds, conjured food and water out of thin air, and then was blown up by artillery, but appeared again whole and alive three days later, giving instructions to his buddies before flying up into outer space right before their very eyes. Would you believe me? Certainly not. You would ask me to prove it.

    So I would give you all the evidence I have. But all I have are some vague war letters by a guy who never really met Hero Savior in person, and a handful of stories written over thirty years later by some guys named Bill, Bob, Carl, and Joe. I don’t know for sure who these guys are. I don’t even know their last names. There are only unconfirmed rumors that they were or knew some of the war buddies of Hero Savior. They might have written earlier than we think, or later, but no one really knows. No one can find any earlier documentation to confirm their stories, either, or their service during the war, or even find these guys to interview them. So we don’t know if they really are who others claim, and we’re not even sure these are the guys who actually wrote the stories. …”

  156. MASSiveon 26 Apr 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Steven — An example such as Roswell or Santa Claus in speaking about the historicity of anyone can easily be an ad hominem fallacy, specifically an appeal to ridicule. While it is possible that you did not mean this illustration to make the historical figure of Jesus seem ridiculous, I’d also caution you to be mindful of the audience that you are writing to who may undoubtedly draw such assumptions.

    By your own definition of skepticism, you are supposed look at objective evidence, subjective evidence and bias. Yet, you are insinuating that the claims of the gospels regarding Jesus’ existence, his miraculous works and his deity could not possibly be true and are guilty of cognitive bias yourself. I am not claiming that you have a vested interest in disproving Christianity, but you hardly make a fair or objective argument for it either. How is it that consistent skepticism is able to eliminate all possibility of this without evidence against it? The fact of the matter is that you do not have ancient sources explaining that Jesus’ miracles were fraudulent and how they were really done. Neither do you have ancient sources stating that show Jesus claimed not to be God, in fact you have the opposite. Your argument is not one of evidence against Jesus, but rather an argument from silence. This is to say that you are arguing that Jesus can’t possibly be who the Bible says he is because we don’t have enough historical evidence.

    Your own admission is that these are all separate books with separate authors, but wouldn’t you say that they are remarkably consistent? Even the historical record across thousands of manuscripts shows this. You also haven’t addressed the glaring aspects of the texts that reflect poorly on prominent Christian figures based on the culture at the time. For instance, in 1st century Jewish and Roman cultures, women were given a relatively low status. If the gospels had been attempting to appeal to these cultures, wouldn’t it have been more effective to have one of Jesus’ disciples be the first on the scene at the empty tomb? Rather, they attribute this discovery to women and thus their account is automatically suspect and subject to ridicule within the culture of the time. Further, why would the gospels have recorded Peter’s denial of Jesus when Peter was a prominent and influential leader in the early church? Wouldn’t this be self-defeating?

    Your assertion that the gospels weren’t written to record history precludes the possibility that this religion could have possibly been based on actually historical events. Your understanding of it being historical requires that it omit miraculous events. However, if these actually happened, wouldn’t that make it history? Again, you have an argument from silence here.

    Skepticism is right to question things, especially the historical record. There is much that we don’t know with absolute certainty and the abundance of technology and information has made people lazy and more prone to take logical shortcuts. However, skepticism is also guilty to transcendentalizing empirical evidence. Essentially, you have removed God from a position of absolute authority and put empirical evidence in that position instead. If it is necessary for someone to have sufficient proof for something before they believe it, how can they prove that sufficient proof is necessary? In order to be logically consistent, their presuppositions would require them to continually prove the evidence for their proof and then prove the evidence for the evidence for their proof and so on. It’s logically necessary to have some ultimate authority that is sufficient proof for itself.

    Furthermore, skepticism and hard rationalism fail in a very real way to quantify things like meaning, beauty, the problem of evil, etc. There isn’t something intrinsic to empirical evidence that is capable of explaining why we experience these things. Sure, you can explain how we experience this through neuroscience and human anatomy, as I’m sure you are well aware. But this can’t quantify why we experience these things. Or why you attribute meaning to the study of your field or the contracts that you agree to or the vows that you make to a significant other. Or why we perceive that there are things that are very wrong with the world or that the way that someone else in the world conducts themselves is wrong.

  157. MASSiveon 26 Apr 2017 at 5:09 pm

    RickK — I’m curious what you mean by Paul’s writings being inconsistent with those of Jesus and the Apostles. I’m not sure I know what you are referring to. On the subject of faith and works, Paul, Jesus and the other Apostles are clear that works do not automatically mean you have faith, but that faith displays itself through works. I may be wrong, but I believe you are referring to the doctrine of salvation in that people are not saved by their works. The common Christian understanding of this doctrine is not that works are unimportant or unnecessary, but rather that there is nothing that any person can do to merit the salvation or grace or the favor of God. Rather, it posits that this is extended freely to humanity by God due to Jesus’ atonement and that his grace is received through faith in Jesus’ deity and atonement. This may not be common fare for a skeptic blog, but I believe that the explanation of a doctrine is necessary to make sure that we are at a common definition.

    I would agree that Paul was enormously influential and that he never met Jesus before Jesus’ crucifixion. However, I would disagree with the notion that he was at odds with the other Apostles. For one, the Pauline epistles were immediately received as authoritative. They were recognized throughout the early church as being consistent with Septuagint scriptures and with Jesus’ teachings. There was also the fact that the Apostles disciples took these writings as authoritative. For instance, Polycarp and Ignatius (both disciples of John) take Paul’s work to be accurate and representative of the Apostle’s teachings and Jesus’ teachings.

    Oral tradition can easily be skeptic. I believe that the Apostles most likely recognized the need for something to refer back to and to use in order to retain doctrinal purity, so they wrote the epistles and the gospels for this purpose. The book of Acts and Paul’s various epistles show that the oral tradition was indeed a problem as various types of teachers (primarily Sophists that were addressed by Paul) sought to teach different doctrines and to lead people astray. Numerous times, we see Paul and other writers remind the readers not to stray to these other doctrines and to remember what the Apostles themselves had taught them. We also see that these Apostles traveled to these churches numerous times in order to check on them and ensure they were not loosing the faith.

    By “how do you as a skeptic… reconcile with the problem of evil,” I mean how do consistent skeptics solve the problem of evil? How is it that without a frame of reference to what is ultimately good that you can say that other things are evil? If you regard death and suffering as evil, doesn’t natural selection require that weaker things suffer and die in order for the stronger to survive? Why then is suffering wrong?

  158. trumpproctoron 26 Apr 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Johnny,

    I like that parallel, but one doesn’t even have to make one up. Christian’s are atheistic to Islamic beliefs (and all other religions), just like all other religions are atheistic to the christian’s beliefs.

    It boggles my mind that a religious person can not see that the overwhelming reason they believe their personal flavor of religion is simply a matter of chance by where they were born, and what their parents believe.

    Christians only agree with one another on the “grand scale” of that Jesus died and was resurrected. Christians pretty much disagree with each other on almost every other topic. There’s a joke that says want to know what’s wrong with the beliefs of the first baptist church, just ask the second baptist church. In reality it’s more like if you want to know what’s wrong with the people in the first pew of the first baptist church, just ask the people in the second pew.

    No Christians seem to see that their God always agrees with their internal morals 100%, and all other Christians get many aspects of God wrong. Is it more likely that they understand Gods morals 100% while no one else does, or is it more likely that they agree 100% with their God because he’s an invention in their mind?

  159. yrdbrdon 26 Apr 2017 at 6:20 pm

    MASSive, I think we’re getting pretty off-topic, but I did want to say a couple of things. You seem like a genuinely nice person, and I really mean that. I took some cheap shots and you just took it in stride and kept right on. If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem like the kind of person that I could sit in a bar with, have a few drinks, talk for a couple of hours, agree on practically nothing, but still have a great time. So in that mindset, I’ll just say a couple of things.

    Folks around here (and I’m a great example) can be pretty nerdy, pedantic and nit-picky about terminology, especially when it comes to logical fallacies, which we all spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about. So, while you may very well find it kind of disrespectful for someone to talk about Jesus one sentence, and then Santa Claus the next, if you call that “ad hominem,” someone is likely to snark back “that’s not what that means!” We can’t help ourselves!

    Another thing to keep in mind is that many of us are non-believers, and quite familiar with standard and historical arguments for belief. So, if you raise the cosmological argument, or argument from first cause (which is kind of where you are going with your chain of proof argument, but I could be wrong), you can expect some quick responses, because we’re not likely to find that compelling.

    What I find really interesting though, and what prompted me to reply, is that you seem to question how a non-believer could have a rational basis for a concept like “meaning” in life. I really do find that puzzling. If people find things that they love to do, especially things that help, or motivate, or entertain other people, often things that take many years to develop the required skills, and things that can be practiced for many years, then for those reasons, those things have “meaning” for us. That meaning can be profound, and real, even if’s completely subjective. It doesn’t need to come from any authority; in fact self-discovery and self-actualization for what gives us meaning in life is one of the key signposts of adulthood, isn’t it?

    If you follow my reasoning so far, then you can see how that development of meaning can broaden into a generalized concept of “the good life.” Meaningful, free, prosperous or at least not wanting for basics, healthy, social, not suffering, loving, and so on. All these qualities and others, some very subjective, others less so, equate to good, so from this perspective, evil is the negation of these qualities. And evil, just like good, comes in degrees.

    I also think that the concept that treats “evil” as a concrete object, as opposed to a quality, is a very dangerous concept indeed. To my way of thinking, acts should be judged mostly by their outcomes rather than by the “good” or “evil” nature of the actors. You can probably sense where I am going with that, but to make it clear, it’s dangerous and bad to think that country A can treat its people a certain way and it’s bad because they are “evil” while country B treats there people similarly but it’s OK because they are “good.”

    So even if we don’t agree on any of the above, hopefully you won’t have to worry that non-believers don’t lead meaningful lives or care about good and evil.

    This round’s on me!

  160. Johnnyon 26 Apr 2017 at 6:42 pm

    @MASSive: “Furthermore, skepticism and hard rationalism fail in a very real way to quantify things like meaning, beauty, the problem of evil, etc.”

    Perhaps I’m superficial here, but I’m a member of the national skeptical organization of my country, which in turn is part of the global skeptical movement. Being part of the skeptical movement, and the important work that it does in the world, I find meaningful. It is also very educational and outright fun.

    It’s not the only source of meaning of course, not even for me. But it’s one source of meaning. An important one.

    Besides that, life is full of sources of meaning. No god required.

  161. RickKon 26 Apr 2017 at 7:10 pm

    MASSive,

    You said: “I mean how do consistent skeptics solve the problem of evil? How is it that without a frame of reference to what is ultimately good that you can say that other things are evil?”

    The answer is simple and well understood in secular circles – I’m surprised you’re not aware of it. There is no cosmically objective good or evil. What is evil is a cultural construct. There are evils that vary within different cultures, like how much skin a woman should display to a strange man. There are evils that are consistent across human culture, driven by our moral instincts. Those moral instincts are the result of millions of years of biological and cultural evolution. Those can include things like slavery and the murder of innocents. Yet there is no prohibition against slavery in the Bible, none in Christian teaching, and I’ve quite recently had defenders of the Old South tell me that slavery wasn’t so bad.

    In fact, the people we’re most likely to label “evil” are people who are deficient in those moral instincts – we call them psychopaths.

    Imagine an intelligent alien culture, evolved from something like our ant or bee colonies, where it is good and right to weed out 80% of the young so the remaining can survive. How can we project our “absolute” morality onto them? Short answer, we can’t.

    Imagine a human society on an island with no trading partners and fixed and limited resources. We have examples from history. On Tikopia they launched people in boats off the island with the full expectation of their deaths at sea, and they practiced infanticide. By these population controls, they didn’t over-burden their resources and they maintained a stable society. On Easter Island these controls weren’t practiced, the population over-ran resources, the population collapsed in cannibalism and death. Were any of the practices of either culture evil? [Note, there are recent theories that change the Easter Island story, so being a good data-driven person, I may have to change my conception of that narrative. But it is still useful as a thought exercise.]

    There is no absolute morality, there’s just the morality that seems to best fit our evolved instincts, and every day we must deal with individual variation. And our definition of good and evil is not the same as a gorilla’s, a dog’s, an amoeba’s or a Betelgeusian’s

    If you want a real problem with evil, then YOU have it, and philosophers and theologians have never solved it. If God is all powerful and all knowing and all good, and if there is an objective standard for evil, then why is there evil? You may very well give me some answer, but if you’re familiar with the debate you’ll know that yours is only an opinion, not actually an answer.

  162. chikoppion 26 Apr 2017 at 7:31 pm

    [MASSive] By “how do you as a skeptic… reconcile with the problem of evil,” I mean how do consistent skeptics solve the problem of evil? How is it that without a frame of reference to what is ultimately good that you can say that other things are evil? If you regard death and suffering as evil, doesn’t natural selection require that weaker things suffer and die in order for the stronger to survive?

    Nope. First, selection pressures act on suitability of the population to the changing environment, not some arbitrary notion of “stronger” or weaker.” Second, selection pressures can be positive or neutral as well as negative (sexual selection and drift). Third, and most importantly, “evolution” is not progressing toward some goal. “More” evolution or “faster” evolution is often a reflection of a frequently or rapidly changing environment.

    If I am to have intrinsic value as a human being then others must have intrinsic value as human beings. Plus, humans are intensely social animals. The predominant factor that will determine the quality of my life is the welfare of the society I live in. If I am surrounded by people afflicted by anxiety, uncertainty, and scarce resources then I (and the people I care most about) will suffer as a result. To the extent that justice, compassion, opportunity, and charity are universal then it is more likely that I will indirectly benefit from or have access to those things when needed.

    It isn’t a question of “good” or “evil.” It’s a question of weighing the relative outcomes of choice against a complex array of potential benefits and harms. It is a combination of social contract and ethical decision making. Acts that are obvious and egregious violations of these principles are branded as “evil.”

  163. tmac57on 26 Apr 2017 at 8:18 pm

    If you create a ranking of generally accepted ‘good’ and ‘bad’ traits, and rank them from the best to worst along a very long continuum, you will find in each increment along that continuum people of all faiths, non-faiths, and anything in between, which raises the question: Just exactly how does belief in a god ensure that a person ends up being a better person than those who do not have such a belief?
    To make it more complicated, if you were to ask every person in the world what constitutes ‘good’ behavior vs ‘bad’ behavior, there would be lots of overlap, but there would also be wide divergence even within the same supposed belief system, since apparently, people just pick and choose those parts that they agree with, and discard those that they don’t.
    Essentially, we create our creeds out of our personal milieu, and not from edicts handed down from supernatural forces. We are products of social animals and it shows so clearly from our history and casual observations, that it is odd that so many people have this illusion that it is coming from (or needs to come from) some authoritarian mystical force, as though we are some kind of programmable android.

  164. CKavaon 26 Apr 2017 at 8:25 pm

    I see very different arguments being advanced by Herodotus and MASSive with the former being reasonable and the latter full of the motivated reasoning and tortured logic Steve discusses in the original post. I think it’s important to distinguish between these two different kinds of arguments, despite both offering defences of the historical Jesus.

    Herodotus is arguing that the historical evidence is stronger than Steve suggests while acknowledging that this does not validate any supernatural claims, nor does it make the biblical documents as unerringly consistent (as people like Egnor and MASSive suggest). That seems a reasonable position to advance.

    In contrast we have MASSive, who appears to be personally committed to the biblical story even regarding it as a potential personal attack to consider comparisons between Jesus and fictional figures/events. I agree that the comparison is somewhat off, for the arguments Herodotus advances, but it is most certainly not an ad hominem to entertain the parallels. Similarly, claiming that skeptics taking a stance whereby supernatural claims in ancient texts are not taken at face value is definitely not an unwarranted bias, it is the only rational position. I suspect it is also the one that MASSive adopts when when dealing with stories from other religious traditions that also detail various supernatural stories demonstrating that deity X is real.

    MASSive, also for unknown reasons shifts the topic to the possibility of morality without recourse to an objective morality handed down by God. This is a completely separate issue than anything we are discussing and the reasoning involved is incredibly askew. Recognising that humans and other life on earth developed from processes of evolution that involved ‘survival of the fittest’ battles does not logically require that humans should organise their societies to reflect that dynamic.

    In fact, since one of the most successful advantages that the human species has over other animals is the ability to live and cooperate in large groups and engage in cumulative cultural learning, it would actually be diminishing of fitness to act as if the non-sentient process of evolution somehow demands that we treat weaker things (including people) as worthy of suffering and dieing. In contrast to this portrayal, evolutionary processes actually endowed us with a strong and early developing sense of fairness and empathy and our large brains and social nature enabled us to create cooperative communities that adhere to specified values and norms. Believing that evolution somehow ‘requires’ us to be cruel to weaker things is a misnomer, evolution has no will it is just a natural process so it requires nothing of us. Ironically it is MASSive who is deifying nature and promoting the naturalistic fallacy not Steve or other atheists.

    Moreover, it is misleading to claim that Christians or any other religious individual has access to some objective external morality. Looking at research on religious history and canonization processes makes two things very clear: 1. There are many disagreements about what the authoritative teachings are, including on issues of what is prohibited and 2. Values change over time: certain passages and rules specified in biblical passages go largely ignored in the modern world. There are also acts that appear morally abhorrent when judged by modern standards that are strongly praised in the bible, particularly in the Old Testament which remains an intrinsic part of most Christian canons. What Christians do have is the ability to lay claim to an external morality but here we run into a fundamental problem.

    If the argument is that there is a deity who decides what is ultimately good/evil then you are actually arguing for the existence of an ultimate subjective morality. If said deity had declared murder was good then following said logic you would be bound to agree. And given that most people also argue that their preferred God is omnipotent it stands to reason that where such a God to decide they could appear tomorrow and set out an entirely different moral system where it was stipulated as moral to kill all non-believers. If God is the ultimate source of morality then what God decries is right, regardless of petty human standards.

    That strikes me as a stance that is much more subjective and morally perilous than my own, which does not rely on appeals to some divine authority but rests on basic empathy and recognition that humans flourish in societies where human rights are protected and the circle of moral concern is expanded. But again this is all completely off topic from the discussion of the evidence for a historical Jesus…

  165. trumpproctoron 26 Apr 2017 at 10:35 pm

    MASSive – “how do you as a skeptic… reconcile with the problem of evil,” I mean how do consistent skeptics solve the problem of evil? How is it that without a frame of reference to what is ultimately good that you can say that other things are evil? If you regard death and suffering as evil, doesn’t natural selection require that weaker things suffer and die in order for the stronger to survive? Why then is suffering wrong?

    These questions baffle me. Baffle me in the sense that there is no “problem of evil” in the secular atheist view. That’s a problem for the theist (All knowing, all powerful, all loving God.. hensefore why is there evil)?

    As far as the universe is concerned, there is no good or evil, just physical laws. I’m sure many others can frame this better than I, but as evolved thinking social creatures we learned that corporation is far better for survival and prosperity than not. Once that started its easy to see humans coming together and basically saying “Hey, I would rather not be killed, raped, beaten or have my stuff stolen”. Everyone else agrees, and things go from there and our empathy evolves. So it’s a simple matter of understanding that all people are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So as long as one person’s pursuit of happiness doesn’t infringe upon anothers, that’s a pretty good base to rest most moral questions on. No God required. And as a matter of fact, I would say that modern day Christians morality has surpassed the very God that they worship. The bible expressly condones slavery, yet a vast majority of most Christians (rightfully so) see it as “evil” today because it infringes on the rights of another human.

    And as far as death or suffering.. they are a natural occurrence of our physical world. I don’t know anyone who see’s death as “evil”, unless it was caused by another (murder, not a natural death), that would be one person infringing upon anothers rights. And suffering in and of itself is what we can strive to reduce as much as possible. But again, not necessarily evil depending upon the cause. If I fall down and break my arm and suffer pain.. that’s not evil. If I’m suffering in poverty and near starvation because I live in a country controlled by a greedy dictator, then he’s infringing upon my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.. which would be evil.

    It’s all not that difficult.

  166. MASSiveon 27 Apr 2017 at 12:20 am

    There are a lot of good comments here and I will attempt to address them all, but will most likely fall short in some areas. As most of these comments seem to be directed at me, I’ll endeavor to answer them all with this post.

    Firstly, I’d like to point out that dismissing any argument based on the motivation of the speaker is an appeal to motive (logical fallacy). I have not attempted to question the motives of skeptics here and do not wish to do so, because it doesn’t actually have any bearing on your argument. While I am a Christian, I’m not endeavoring to convert anyone or to prove that I’m right. I don’t believe that I have any prerogative to do that. I do have a prerogative to set forth a defense for my belief and am only endeavoring to show that I do not have to sacrifice reason at the altar of religion in order to believe what I do.

    @yrdbrd, thanks for the sentiment. Like you said, I’m not really trying to start a fight and don’t really take any of this stuff personally. Just trying to defend the reasonableness of my position. You were right to mention the “ad hominem” bit, as I did confuse appeal to ridicule as being a subtype of ad hominem. Regardless, if feel I’m justified in saying the Santa Claus argument was a fallacious appeal to ridicule.

    @trumpproctor, you set forth that the only reason I am Christian is because of where I was born. Doesn’t that also mean that you only hold your skeptical worldview because you weren’t born in Saudi Arabia? By your own logic, your skepticism is no more reasonable than my Christianity if it is simply subject to our surrounding culture. Further, your comments about the doctrinal differences in various Christian churches speaks to a misunderstanding of Christian theology. Christians hold to common essential doctrines that are expressly set out within the Bible. The theological differences you speak of are known as peripheral doctrines and are not explicitly set out within the Bible. These largely take shape in service styles and other issues, but do not violate the central tenets of Christianity. Rather, they are to be held with the knowledge that it is possible these ideas are wrong and others are right.

    To the question of why we have crossed over from historical evidence into philosophical debate, these are ultimately the underlying issues here. I feel I’ve made it clear that the historical evidence for Jesus’ (as Herodotus has argued) is greater than Steven has set it out to be. I don’t feel that this necessarily has any bearing or necessarily validates the supernatural claims set forth. However, there is not authoritative historical evidence that discredits these claims. In no way do I posit that these claims are necessarily true because they aren’t historically refuted. Ultimately, as we have seen, the argument for historical facts doesn’t really get us anywhere. This is primarily because of differences in worldview and philosophy and I have attempted to broach the subject in order to set forth those differences.

    As far as meaning is concerned, many of you have argued for subjective meaning. You’ve also posited that there is no overarching ultimate meaning. Doesn’t your own definition require that the ultimate meaning of life is that there is no meaning? Or at least that all meaning is subjective? Isn’t that an ultimate meaning itself?

    To further a facet of this argument and jump into the moral side of it, RickK, chikoppi, tmac57 and CKava have all forwarded some form of the social constructivism argument. Based on your explanations, I’m sure you have a thorough understanding of this theory. The problem with it is that it passes the buck from an individual’s moral subjectivity to a group’s moral subjectivity. It does little to actually address the issue of how a society determines their moral subjectivity to be greater than another society’s moral subjectivity. Firstly, it still posits absolute moral subjectivity. If all morality is subjective, then where does a society’s authority to call another society’s morality inferior come from? If you appeal to the good of that particular society, you are further appealing to morals. If you embrace absolute moral subjectivity, you are saying that no moral rulings actually matter. Morality, similar to truth and meaning, logically requires some kind of overriding external basis that can provide sufficient justification.

    Many of you, in arguing varying degrees of good and evil, are simply describing the human condition. You aren’t actually setting forth a reason for evil’s existence in the first place or a reason why we attribute this as being evil. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, simply stating that it’s an agreed upon condition doesn’t actually speak to why it is perceived that way. Further, I would endeavor to say that even within societies that support different morality structures than ours (for instance if cannibalism or socially sanctioned murders were allowed) the person that was being violated (the person cannibalized or murdered within that culture) would still feel that they are being violated and wronged, regardless of the corporately agreed upon morality.

    As for the Problem of Evil in sense of the formal argument that was brought up, it is not unsolvable. It’s simply that many people would like the solution to be on their own terms and based in their worldview. This is impossible for me to provide, as these worldviews necessarily precludes my worldview. Therefore, I am going to set this forth on the basis of my authority, just as all of you have set forth your views based on your own authority. Christianity posits that God is good, omnipotent and omniscient. It also sets forth that He created all things and He made them good, without evil. Evil was later introduced in the form of sin through Adam and Eve’s choice to rebel against God. This is known as the Fall. Ultimately, Christianity sets forth that God came to Earth in the person of God the Son, took on human form and human nature while also maintaining his Godly nature (being both completely God and completely man), lived a life that was free from sin, died and took humanity’s punishment for sin upon himself and was resurrected bodily, ascended to heaven and has the authority to judge all mankind. Ultimately, through this sacrifice and atonement, God has made a way to end all suffering and evil in the restoration of creation. Thus, the problem of evil has been solved, but has not reached its full conclusion. While no one has any obligation to take this as fact or as authoritative, it is internally consistent and is able to account for the state of the world.

    As to the assertion that God’s morality is subjective, you are assuming that it is possible for it to change. The Christian and biblical understanding of this is that God’s nature is not subject to change. This includes His morality. Therefore, your assertion of a god that could change his morality necessarily precludes my understanding of God and does not make room for a Christian understanding of God.

    I hope I’ve done at least a decent job of addressing your various points.

  167. chikoppion 27 Apr 2017 at 1:53 am

    Hoo-boy.

    [MASSive] To further a facet of this argument and jump into the moral side of it, RickK, chikoppi, tmac57 and CKava have all forwarded some form of the social constructivism argument. Based on your explanations, I’m sure you have a thorough understanding of this theory. The problem with it is that it passes the buck from an individual’s moral subjectivity to a group’s moral subjectivity. It does little to actually address the issue of how a society determines their moral subjectivity to be greater than another society’s moral subjectivity.

    And? You seem to think calcified moral absolutism is a preferable goal. People, societies, and sometimes even religions, learn. What we consider moral today may not be viewed as such in the future, just as we look back at past societies and view their norms as unacceptable. Ethics is subject to reason. Moral absolutism is not.

    Firstly, it still posits absolute moral subjectivity. If all morality is subjective, then where does a society’s authority to call another society’s morality inferior come from? If you appeal to the good of that particular society, you are further appealing to morals. If you embrace absolute moral subjectivity, you are saying that no moral rulings actually matter. Morality, similar to truth and meaning, logically requires some kind of overriding external basis that can provide sufficient justification.

    “Morality” has to do with the impact of our behavior on others. Do you really think there is no basis upon which to observe the net harm or benefit of a person’s actions on other people? Of course that harm can be cited and qualified as imposed suffering or deprivation.

    This is a troubling retort from the religious camp. The implication seems to be that the only thing stopping them from committing heinous acts is obeisant fidelity to scripture. Nonsense. We are and always have been a social species bound by historically expanding circles of fraternity and mutual support. Violations of that trust are implicitly subject to scrutiny and proscription, which encompasses both social agreement and individual reason and introspection.

    Many of you, in arguing varying degrees of good and evil, are simply describing the human condition. You aren’t actually setting forth a reason for evil’s existence in the first place or a reason why we attribute this as being evil. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, simply stating that it’s an agreed upon condition doesn’t actually speak to why it is perceived that way. Further, I would endeavor to say that even within societies that support different morality structures than ours (for instance if cannibalism or socially sanctioned murders were allowed) the person that was being violated (the person cannibalized or murdered within that culture) would still feel that they are being violated and wronged, regardless of the corporately agreed upon morality.

    Why it’s perceived that way? Because harm is unpleasant. Because selfishness weakens the group. Because security and stability require resources to achieve and the acts of an individual can damage that costly investment. Because uncertainty and threat of harm provokes anxiety.

    I’m not going to bother much with the apologetics, other than to call bull. Omnipotent means just that. If God wanted humans to have free will and neither sin nor suffer, that outcome is fully within the set of “omnipotent” powers. The clumsy retcon of a Bronze Age creation myth is not a sound basis for dealing with the complexities of human behavior and social dynamics.

  168. chikoppion 27 Apr 2017 at 1:55 am

    Damn. Missed a quote on a paragraph above (third to last)…

    [MASSive] Many of you, in arguing varying degrees of good and evil, are simply describing the human condition. You aren’t actually setting forth a reason for evil’s existence in the first place or a reason why we attribute this as being evil. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, simply stating that it’s an agreed upon condition doesn’t actually speak to why it is perceived that way. Further, I would endeavor to say that even within societies that support different morality structures than ours (for instance if cannibalism or socially sanctioned murders were allowed) the person that was being violated (the person cannibalized or murdered within that culture) would still feel that they are being violated and wronged, regardless of the corporately agreed upon morality.

  169. CKavaon 27 Apr 2017 at 2:32 am

    As far as meaning is concerned, many of you have argued for subjective meaning. You’ve also posited that there is no overarching ultimate meaning. Doesn’t your own definition require that the ultimate meaning of life is that there is no meaning? Or at least that all meaning is subjective? Isn’t that an ultimate meaning itself?

    This is a pretty impressive hodgepodge of contradictory arguments.

    Acknowledging that ‘meaning’ is a subjective thing for humans is just recognising a fundamental reality. The meaning you attach to life because of your religious beliefs is still a subjective view, you might claim that it derives from ainw established tradition or what some holy texts claim that God taught but there really is no access to an indisputable ‘objective’ meaning. There is instead a lot of disagreement both between and within religious traditions over what particular deities decried to be the ‘meaning’ of life. Navigating these is a subjective experience and one that has undoubtedly been shaped through your life experiences and personal decisions concerning which sources to heed. There is no single agreed upon moral standard for Christians, there are different traditions and different opinions within traditions, and standards have changed over time. Moreover, if taking any position on ‘meaning’ automatically equates to offering an ‘ultimate’ meaning then the question seems like a pointless tautology. My options are either A) have no opinion or B) acknowledge an ‘ultimate’ meaning, even if my position is that ‘meaning’ is something people derive for themselves with influence from their social environment?

    The problem with it is that it passes the buck from an individual’s moral subjectivity to a group’s moral subjectivity. It does little to actually address the issue of how a society determines their moral subjectivity to be greater than another society’s moral subjectivity.

    No it doesn’t, or at least no more than your position also entails. Almost all the people who have responded to you have highlighted in various ways that, as social primates, evolutionary processes endow us with early developing senses of fairness and empathy. These are the building blocks of moral systems. Talking about morality without making reference to social relationships or broader society also doesn’t make sense. A human not born into at very least one social relationship with a parent will die. Humans cannot fend for themselves for the first few years of their lives so social environments and the values they transmit are impossible to detach from discussions of morality. How did you learn your morals? Did you develop them entirely independently of social interaction by directly accessing Christian texts? I sincerely doubt it.

    As far as arguments for cultural relativism go, that’s again something of a separate point. Is your argument that objective morality is necessary in order to claim superiority? Because if so how exactly do you defend against people in another society claiming that their morality is better because it too was ‘objectively’ provided by a different deity? It doesn’t seem that your religious devotion offers you much protection against this argument except to appeal to a subjective claim that YOUR religious tradition is the only one with access to the TRUE moral system. But even ignoring that this is an appeal that relies entirely on subjective certainty it also rests on extremely shaky ground because Christian morality is not some universal agreed upon standard, atrocities and brutality are praised in certain stories in the bible and throughout history various Christians and Christian institutions have justified a whole host of atrocities based on appeals to religious certainty and claims of moral superiority.

    In contrast, acknowledging that moral systems are created by humans actually provides the shared basis to argue that different moral systems are ‘better’ than others using a range of criteria (e.g. reduce more suffering/provide more freedom/are more in keeping with modern society/are more inclusive and so on).

    In short the reverse of what you suggest is true. Accepting appeals to objective moral system offers no mean to distinguish or criticise conflicting moral systems if they claim divine providence. In contrast, when you recognise that humans construct moral systems criticism becomes both possible and meaningful.

    Many of you, in arguing varying degrees of good and evil, are simply describing the human condition. You aren’t actually setting forth a reason for evil’s existence in the first place or a reason why we attribute this as being evil.

    A naturalistic worldview doesn’t find the existence of ‘evil’ to be surprising or difficult to accommodate. Some subset of humans getting pleasure from exploiting others, enjoying inflicting pain, or prioritising their pleasure above all other things are inevitable given the varieties of human psychology and the social nature of human societies. There is literally nothing puzzling to me about the existence of moral/norm transgressing behaviour that some label ‘evil’, in fact I would find it much more strange if such behaviours did not exist. Simply claiming that the existence of evil is some massive problem for atheists, doesn’t make it so.

    As to the assertion that God’s morality is subjective, you are assuming that it is possible for it to change. The Christian and biblical understanding of this is that God’s nature is not subject to change. This includes His morality. Therefore, your assertion of a god that could change his morality necessarily precludes my understanding of God and does not make room for a Christian understanding of God.

    God’s morality has changed. He once thought it was morally appropriate to destroy entire towns for their sins, wipeout various non-believers and release plagues. He sent an angel to murder the first born children of Egyptians. Are these obviously morally good actions? Did Jesus’ teachings as related in the New Testament reflect the morality of the Old Testament?

    Your arguments are contradictory. You claim God is omnipotent literally giving it the power to do anything but then say it is constrained to not changing its moral standards (ignoring that the morality attributed to God does change, even in texts). Why can God not change moral standards if it is the source of morality? Are humans really able to be so certain of the constraints on an omnipotent and omniscient being? It all seems very convenient- you get to claim God is the ‘objective’ source of morality but simultaneously deny that this removes your ability to recognise that something like murder is immoral if God were to declare otherwise. Following your logic God is ‘omnipotent’ but only within the boundaries that are convenient for humans.

  170. SteveAon 27 Apr 2017 at 5:40 am

    CKava: “I don’t dispute that oral histories are subject to embellishment and alteration but I think you are over estimating how quickly details will change.

    To provide one counter illustration: in Japan there were communities of Christians who went underground with their practices during the Sakoku period- the 200 odd years when Christianity was banned and travel was largely prohibited (as referenced recently in Silence). These communities of Hidden Christians passed down oral traditions, rituals, and chants over 200 years based on the teachings they had (imperfectly) received from missionaries. Later when Japan’s isolation period was ended by the arrival of Commodore Perry and the ban on Christianity was forcibly lifted, these hidden Christians re-emerged and at the urging of some open minded priests their oral traditions were written down. We have records of some of these texts and what’s remarkable if you read them is just how much of the biblical narrative is preserved … I think you are underestimating the potential conservative powers involved with cultural transmission, especially as it relates to things considered sacred. If I followed the account you offer for the malleability of oral traditions it seems that these biblical stories retold after 200 years of isolation in a foreign culture should have been almost entirely unrecognisable but that isn’t the case.”

    It’s a fascinating story, but I don’t think it supports your position. To me the ‘Hidden Christian’ scenario would be a very good way of preserving these traditions. There would be very clear distinctions between these people’s Christian beliefs/rituals and those of the relatively ‘alien’ surrounding Buddhist/Taoist culture, so it would be relatively straightforward to maintain these distinctions. In contrast, a Christian sect plonked down in the Middle East over the same time period would have been exposed to a kaleidoscope of beliefs that shared common origins and outlooks. Here, there would be many opportunities for cross-pollination, so I’d expect far more change as a result.

    To give you an analogy, if I had a population of Great Danes and I left them in a park full of rabbits and monkeys, I’d expect to come back 200 years later and find a population of dogs that looked pretty much like Great Danes. However, if I left the Great Danes in a park full of a dozen other dog breeds, I’d expect to come back to a large assortment of mutts with few, if any, bearing much resemblance to Great Danes.

  171. SteveAon 27 Apr 2017 at 5:43 am

    Steven Novella: “The gospels specifically were not written to document history. They were written as specific expressions of faith to a specific community for a specific religious purpose.”

    To add to this, it’s almost certain that, if the writers of the various gospels were alive today, they would be astonished to find their texts were being laid out side-by-side for comparison. They had no concerns about contradictions because, as far as they were concerned, they were the only ones giving the ‘straight dope’.

    When these gospels were chosen for inclusion in the bible, it was because they were considered the most complete/comprehensive/popular/least controversial. The early church fathers has no way of separating the fact from fiction so they compromised and presented the text as individual documents rather than trying to combine them into a single coherent narrative.

    The situation is analogous to the Old Testament where its compilers were faced with a similar dilemma of competing texts. They made similar choices, with the result that the resulting text repeats itself on occasions e.g. two genesis stories, two ‘tablet’ stories etc.

  172. SteveAon 27 Apr 2017 at 5:55 am

    Erratum.

    I should have said ‘Buddhist/Shinto’…

  173. RickKon 27 Apr 2017 at 8:03 am

    MASSive said: “It does little to actually address the issue of how a society determines their moral subjectivity to be greater than another society’s moral subjectivity. Firstly, it still posits absolute moral subjectivity. If all morality is subjective, then where does a society’s authority to call another society’s morality inferior come from?”

    Yes, it posits absolute moral subjectivity. What is evil/good to humans cannot be assumed to be evil/good to an alien intelligence. But within the limits of humanity, which is all that is relevant here, human moral instincts are no more relative or subjective than human color perception, height or muscle mass. There are individual variations. There are people who are color-blind or of abnormal height, just as there are people who have stronger and weaker senses of empathy. And, like muscle mass, exposure to training can change our morality – to increase empathy or (as in the case of military training) to decrease it.

    But tell me MASSive – how much power do you have to decide your height or how you will see red. How subjective is your ability to bench 350?

    Religious and philosophical systems of morality are simply ways to codify our social instincts and to make arguments for building certain “moral muscles”. Ultimately, as others have said quite well, if a system leads to human flourishing, that’s “good” because we are viewing it from the perspective of being human.

    MASSive said: “Evil was later introduced in the form of sin through Adam and Eve’s choice to rebel against God.” If God created the universe, from where was evil introduced? If God is the creator of all things, and is omnipotent, then everything including evil was God’s creation. And if God is omniscient, then God knew every action Adam (and Alexander and Stalin) would take before the first day of Genesis. Either God created evil with full knowledge, or God is neither the ultimate creator nor all-knowing.

    No time to address the rest now. Suffice to say that, if you step back and look at “The Fall”, you’ll see a rationalization concocted centuries after Christ to address a problem that has no solution. An all knowing, all powerful, all good creator can’t create a universe that has evil. So something is wrong: either there is no creator, the creator lacks those traits or there is no evil. Otherwise the math doesn’t work. And if you think theodicy was solved by Augustine, then you’ve missed out on a lot of reading material.

  174. trumpproctoron 27 Apr 2017 at 11:06 am

    Chikkopi wrote “If God wanted humans to have free will and neither sin nor suffer, that outcome is fully within the set of “omnipotent” powers.”

    RickK wrote: “An all knowing, all powerful, all good creator can’t create a universe that has evil. So something is wrong: either there is no creator, the creator lacks those traits or there is no evil”

    But in the Christian world view.. he can. If Christians believe in Heaven, and if they believe they will have free will in Heaven (which they do otherwise they would just be robots) and if they believe there is no sin in heaven, then God simply could have just created heaven and created us IN heaven. There’s no reason to even create this universe or this world we live in.

    MASSive wrote: “@trumpproctor, you set forth that the only reason I am Christian is because of where I was born. Doesn’t that also mean that you only hold your skeptical worldview because you weren’t born in Saudi Arabia?:

    No.. not at all, you’re missing my point. I was born into a culture, society and even a family that is by FAR dominantly Christian, and yet I see no compelling evidence that Christianity is true. There’s no reason to think if I was born in a muslim nation that is dominantly Islamic, that I would not see any compelling evidence that Islam is true. There are atheist in all areas of the world and in all religious sectors of the world. I’m only lucky in the regard that I was born in an area that I’m not going to be killed for saying I don’t believe.

    However, the BIGGEST factor for why a person is the religion they are, is simply where they were born and raised and what religion their parents were. People born and live in predominately christian areas of the world, born to christian parents.. overwhelmingly (if they become religious) believe in Christianity. Muslims who are born in muslim areas of the world where Islam is dominate born to Islamic parents (if they become religious) follow Islam. And so on and so forth with EVERY single religion.

    Do you honestly believe that if by chance you were born in Saudi Arabia to Islamic parents that today you would be Christian? I’m not saying it’s not possible to convert.. some people do convert from one religion to another (again, usually by becoming surrounded by followers of that religion). But to say that you would still be christian being being born in a dominantly Islamic country with Islamic parents would be intellectually dishonest. However, I was born into a dominatly Christian society with Christian parents and I’m an atheist. As long as I was exposed to critical thinking skills, there’s no reason to believe that I would not be an atheist regardless of where I was born (even if I had to keep it hidden because of fear of death).

    Does this not even give you a seconds pause to look at how the geographic area you are born is the prevailing reason why you believe the religion you do? And why is that any good reason to believe it true when if you just happened to be born in another area you would be following another religion?

  175. trumpproctoron 27 Apr 2017 at 12:16 pm

    And to add.. If I were born in Saudi Arabia to Islamic parents and I was never exposed to critical thinking and understanding motivated reasoning and bias, it’s very possible I would be Islamic and believe in Islam. But that has absolutely ZERO bearing on whether or not Islam is true.

  176. MASSiveon 27 Apr 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Again, lots of good comments. I fear that I haven’t been precise enough in the arguments, so I’ll aim to do better in this post.

    Foremost, my arguments for any form of objectivism or absolutism do not necessarily result in Christianity. While I personally feel that this is the best candidate for these philosophies, Christianity (and really any other worldview) is rationally avoidable. Please don’t assume that in these cases I am arguing for Christianity, but rather for the premises I’ve expressly set out.

    As for the issue of subjectivity, I’d argue that practicing logically consistent with this view in real life is practically impossible and it produces very problematic implications.

    On the front of subjective relativism, we are talking about a view that an action is morally right if an individual approves of it. This is a separate subject from cultural relativism/social constructionism and I will cover that in a moment. This also denies that there is any form of morality which applies to everyone. The issue with this is that it implies that individuals are morally infallible and that different individuals cannot genuinely have a moral disagreement. Further, it provides individuals with no basis upon which to critique the morals of others.

    For cultural relativism and social construtionism, we’re stating that an action is morally right because one’s culture approves of it. This seems to be the general consensus view among many here. This view argues that right and wrong are relative to culture due to the diversity of moral views in different cultures. However, the variety of moral views in cultures does not imply that morality is relative to culture and dependent upon it. Further, this view (carried out to the logical conclusion) also has serious issues. Not only does it imply that all cultures are morally infallible, but it also necessarily means that it is impossible for a social reformer to be morally right. By this conclusion, it would mean that Western culture is necessarily morally wrong because it has undergone numerous social reforms. Further, it provides the cultural relativist with no ability to actually critique other cultures and renders any kind of moral progress impossible (such as the abolition of slavery).

    To those that say that cultural relativism is necessary for tolerance, this is false. The very act of tolerance requires holding all individuals to a certain moral standard that overrides culture. Therefore, tolerance is dependent upon a moral absolute.

    I find it ironic that while you as skeptics place such a high value in empirical evidence, you also appeal to subjective relativism. The term “subjective” means that something cannot be verified by facts or empirical evidence.

    While I may have been somewhat guilty of a naturalistic fallacy earlier, many of you are now culpable of the same crime. You’ve been reducing a definition of evil to things that are unpleasant or undesirable. This is not what I am talking about. It would be intellectually dishonest to say that there are things in this world that aren’t simply unpleasant or undesirable, but that we attribute meaning to as evil. While this may not be a classical example of the problem of evil, there is still very much a problem with evil if there is no framework of what is good.

    @CKava, I can honestly say that I don’t have a fully thought out answer for your examples from the Old Testament because I haven’t sufficiently studied these examples. However, to set forth a possible way of addressing your criticism, one possible idea here is that these were examples of God’s judgement on people that rejected Him. The Bible, in both New and Old Testament, consistently posits that God gives all people sufficient evidence of Himself in nature and in His creation of mankind in his image. This concept of being created in the image of God speaks to humanity being intrinsically endowed with characteristics that reflect the characteristics of God. To clarify the point about the Fall that RickK made, the introduction of sin (or evil) into a good creation has been a common position held by Christianity and Judaism for millennia. This corrupting influence of sin has not destroyed the image of God, but that image serves to remind humanity of its separation from a perfect God. Further, the Bible posits that all of humanity merits the judgement or “wrath” of God and that only those who are faithful to God and His revelation are saved by grace through their faith and the atoning work of Christ.

    Therefore, I’d say that you are focusing on the perfectly loving aspect of God without focusing on the perfectly just aspect of God. Christianity posits that God perfectly loves everyone, but also that He must punish sin. Humanity, in its corrupted state, could not possibly cross the gap of separation from God. Therefore, it required God’s action in order to bridge this gap. The arguments that you’ve put forward from the Old Testament suggest that God simply did these things without reason and fail to recognize that the people of Egypt refused to believe even after miraculous signs. It also fails to recognize that God made himself known to the people of the cities you mentioned or that it is possible that these were acts of a just judgement.

    As for your claims about it being inconsistent with Jesus teachings, Jesus repeatedly condemned Jewish religious leaders that were legalistic and had no real love for God. He stated that they would face judgement for this. He also said that for cities and towns in His own time that rejected Him and His teachings that it would be better for Sodom in the day of judgement than it would be for them. Jesus did not only teach God’s love as you suppose, but also consistently taught God’s justice.

    @trumpproctor, The Christian understanding of sin is that Satan was the first to sin and did so while in heaven. It by no means posits that sin cannot be in your understanding of heaven. Ultimately, the term “go to heaven” has become cliche and fails to recognize more accurate representations of the concepts of heaven and hell as Jesus taught them. If you’d like a more thorough idea of what this heaven and hell might look like, C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” might be a helpful illustration. This is by no means authoritative, but might work to reframe your understanding of the subject.

    The Bible does posit that creation will be perfected and a new heaven and new earth will take the place of the current creation. My question to you is can you say that something has free will if it isn’t able to make another choice? Could we say that God could have created humanity without the ability to sin and with free will if sin is an act of choosing something else over God, or does that preclude the idea of free will?

    I cannot speak to what kind of culture you were born into no more than you can speak to what kind I was. Your definition of how a person determines their worldview precludes the idea that someone could have critically thought about the religion and arrived at it being a logical conclusion.

    In the same way, this has been the result for many Christian converts from Islam (as you mentioned) and other religions who have become prominent advocates for Christian scholarship. By the inverse of your own logic, if a Saudi Muslim were born in California instead, it’s very possible that they would be an atheist. But it has no bearing on whether or not atheism is true. Even if a person’s predisposition for religious preference is that of their immediate family, this factor for belief has no real bearing on the truth of the religion, nor does any other predispositional factor. I’m not really sure of any reason that you would bring it up except in an attempt to be dismissive of religion.

    @RickK, Augustine has a take on theodicy. My representation of theodicy is consistent with his, but is hardly comprehensive nor does it address the Irenaean view of theodicy at all or other views of the issue. I never made any claim about Augustine at all, let alone that he had solved theodicy or that he even gave context to a holistic view of it. I think it should be obvious that I am trying to give a general overview of theodicy rather than an in-depth analysis of it.

    Also, your “either… or” argument about God’s power, knowledge and the reality of evil isn’t representative of the whole issue. The issue very much involves the assertion that God created human beings with an ability to freely choose Him or to rebel against him. Sin has been often referred to as disordered love. This is the act of taking God out of a place of being loved the most and placing something else in that position. This could be putting yourself in that position and “worshiping” or doing so to some created thing or an ideal. In this way, it is possible that the possibility of sin and evil was present in a good creation without having sin introduced by God. Rather, this possibility is a necessary consequence of free will and it is humanity’s fault that evil was introduced into the world.

  177. CKavaon 27 Apr 2017 at 10:32 pm

    MASSive,

    If you recognise that there are multiple competing claims concerning ‘objective’ moralities between religious systems and are not arguing for the superiority of any specific claim then you seem to find yourself in the exact same situation you are lamenting atheists for suffering under i.e. having to rely on subjective assessments concerning the validity of moral systems and moral claims. If you (a moral objectivist) encounters another moral objectivist whose morality differs and yet you both claim your moral systems are stipulated by some divine ‘objective’ source, what do you do? Given the standards you describe I don’t see anyway for you to claim that any moral system is superior without invalidating your core premise or resorting to personal beliefs: No, but my God is the only real one!

    Your response also seems to completely ignore the points that people are making when ironically, it is your position that logically ends up with paralysing cultural relativism, see the scenario above.

    In contrast, those of us arguing that moral systems are a product of human societies and relate to fundamental processes of fairness and empathy that we, as a super-social primate species, all share, do recognise a “shared basis to argue that different moral systems are ‘better’ than others using a range of criteria (e.g. reduce more suffering/provide more freedom/are more in keeping with modern society/are more inclusive and so on)”.

    You haven’t addressed this point at all, you’ve just ignored it and stated that atheists are automatically cultural relativists. They aren’t. Similarly, your inappropriate desire to attach meaningless labels such as ‘Western morality is wrong/right’ is much like your assertions about the ‘problem’ of evil. They rely on accepting your idiosyncratic and problematic definitions. Which Western morality are you referring to? Because as you correctly note what has been considered moral in Western societies has undergone dramatic changes throughout history and even today there is plenty of disagreement both between and within Western societies. And this isn’t an argument for relativism, it is an argument for recognising nuance and using things like logic, evidence, and empathy to address moral issues.

    Your response to the evidence that God’s morality has changed is also entirely unconvincing, it just reads like the standard apologetics. So maybe answer this specific question: Was it morally good for God to send some being to murder the first-born children of Egyptians? Presumably these infants and children bore no direct responsibility for the captivity of the Jews, so how does that read to you morally right now? Is it good for God to mandate the killing of infants of those who would persecute his chosen people? I suspect you won’t answer these questions directly but will obfuscate and avoid acknowledging the obvious point: what you consider ‘good’ does not always tally with the accounts in your holy scriptures of the moral decisions made by your particular God. God mandated the killing of infants as a punishment, in my atheist world that you characterise as morally subjective and uncertain that is a morally indefensible action, what about for you?

  178. CKavaon 28 Apr 2017 at 1:02 am

    It’s a fascinating story, but I don’t think it supports your position. To me the ‘Hidden Christian’ scenario would be a very good way of preserving these traditions. There would be very clear distinctions between these people’s Christian beliefs/rituals and those of the relatively ‘alien’ surrounding Buddhist/Taoist culture, so it would be relatively straightforward to maintain these distinctions. In contrast, a Christian sect plonked down in the Middle East over the same time period would have been exposed to a kaleidoscope of beliefs that shared common origins and outlooks. Here, there would be many opportunities for cross-pollination, so I’d expect far more change as a result.

    @SteveA

    I take your point. However, I would caution that the transmission of Christianity in Japan often involved a hell of a lot of adaption/using references from existing traditions. It’s still the case that many of the elements would have seemed very alien and hence they likely held a transmission advantage but this has to be weighed against the fact that practices/teachings had to be transmitted in secret, including things like disguising statues/prayers in Buddhist/Shinto iconography. So my counter argument would be that there alongside the distinctiveness advantage, the traditions faced countervailing disadvantages because of their prohibited nature.

    It’s definitely an interesting topic though. Thanks for the comment.

  179. chikoppion 28 Apr 2017 at 1:49 am

    [MASSive] (1) On the front of subjective relativism, we are talking about a view that an action is morally right if an individual approves of it. This is a separate subject from cultural relativism/social constructionism and I will cover that in a moment. (2) This also denies that there is any form of morality which applies to everyone. The issue with this is that it implies that individuals are morally infallible and that different individuals cannot genuinely have a moral disagreement. (3) Further, it provides individuals with no basis upon which to critique the morals of others.

    (1) Nope. The fallacy you are committing is assessing an action in isolation rather than as one possible choice weighed against other possible choices. An action can be demonstrated to be more or less moral by evaluating the relative degree of harm or deprivation it causes.

    (2) Nope. Everyone’s choices can be subjected to the same standard of evaluation. People (or cultures) may have differing opinions about the severity or importance of particular injuries, but those injuries can be objectively recognized.

    (3) Nope. There is a very clear standard that can be universally applied, the degree to which an individual willingly causes harm or deprivation by choice of action or inaction.

  180. chikoppion 28 Apr 2017 at 2:08 am

    [MASSive] Therefore, I’d say that you are focusing on the perfectly loving aspect of God without focusing on the perfectly just aspect of God. Christianity posits that God perfectly loves everyone, but also that He must punish sin. Humanity, in its corrupted state, could not possibly cross the gap of separation from God. Therefore, it required God’s action in order to bridge this gap.

    What diabolical tyrant made these cruel rules that God is required to follow? Isn’t God supposedly omnipotent? That would imply in no situation is such a God required to cause suffering to affect an outcome or in any way limited to only those actions that cause suffering. It must necessarily be a conscious and voluntary intent.

  181. catplanet24on 28 Apr 2017 at 10:45 am

    Bachfiend writes “Catplanet24,
    Care to list some sources discussing the errors David Fitzgerald has made regarding the Ancient World?”

    Thanks for this question. I think Herodotus did an excellent job in his first post discussing some of these errors–much better than I could have done.

    My sources don’t address Fitzgerald directly, but have to do with background knowledge on the subject. This is analogous to my college textbook in Biology refuting some ridiculous errors we see in Creationist literature even though textbook writers aren’t necessarily considering their claims directly.

    As a start, one could study the “Great Courses” course entitled The Historical Jesus. It carefully lays of the evidence from the ancient world and gives the 21st Century (secular) interpretation. I think it was made before so many New Atheists latched onto Mythicism, at least before I had heard much about it; so it actually ended up immunizing me against their false claims. And it showed me the view Fitzgerald really should have been arguing against in his book Nailed which he pretty much ignores.

    Another source is Thomas Smith’s “Atheistically Speaking” podcast recently renamed “Serious Inquiries Only” when he interviewed Tim O’Neill (9/12/2016) on various mythicist claims.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/serious-inquiries-only/id803584715?mt=2

  182. MASSiveon 28 Apr 2017 at 10:45 am

    CKava,

    My recognition of competing claims in no way detracts from my own assertion of the truth of my views. The fact that there are competing claims in no way implies that any of them are necessarily true. Rather, I’m appealing to the logical necessity that there is an overriding truth and that it is possible that one of the competing truth claims is true. I’m sure you can understand the difference. I do assert that Christianity is true, but the approach that I’m taking in this is to illustrate the logical need for a truth claim first instead of jumping directly to the conclusion that my truth claim is true.

    When two moral objectivists disagree over a moral issue, the matter in question, like this matter as well, becomes an argument from authority. In this way, it becomes an argument of persuasion, similar to this one. However, both objectivists still have a way of objectively measuring morality which relativists do not have.

    Where are you getting the authority to claim fairness and empathy from if morality is relative to culture? Doesn’t that also make the concept of fairness relative to culture? You are arguing from the basis of an authority that cultural relativism does not provide by saying that some objectively determinable fairness is applicable to all humanity. Further, as you seem to be arguing from an assertion of the unguided evolutionary process, how are we able to make assertions about any truth at all if our brains are simply the product of a random collection of atoms and molecules and such? Doesn’t this mean that we have no basis upon which to trust that any form of logic or reason would be able to point us in the direction of any truth, whether subjective or objective? The basis of the evolutionary theory is that actions and evolutions produce an increased survivability among the given species. This survivability is in no way inextricably tied to a species ability to accurately perceive the truth of any given matter. Rather, as we see with other species, the ability to survive has no bearing on what is actually true.

    Are you saying that logic doesn’t apply to morality or moral issues? That seems to be an untenable position for you since you’ve used some measure of logic to define and justify your own morality. Further, I never posited that every atheist was a cultural relativist. I simply pointed out that many here seem to be cultural relativist because of their statements positing morality’s relativity to culture. This was in no way intended to address every argument, but rather to address the apparent arguments that have been given in this setting.

    Also, your view of a label being meaningless excludes the fact that in talking about morality, we are talking about defining what is morally right and wrong as I did in my explanations. If you wish, we could say that something is the most right or most wrong, but to do so is essentially to say that this is the highest level of rightness or wrongness and is an ultimate right or wrong. To say that these labels are meaningless is to say that any form of morality or definition thereof is also meaningless. If you’d like to posit this, that’s fine. However, that puts you in a rather precarious position as a nihilist, in which case I don’t understand your motivation for being here debating this with me.

    Addressing your concern over the issue of God’s morality, you are over-simplifying the issue. You’ve previously acknowledge that morality is a complicated issue involving numerous factors and a sliding scale of what is good and what is evil. To address this sliding scale, how are you able to posit varying degrees of good and evil without an authority which provides you a basis for what is the most good and what is the most evil?

    Going back to the first issue, you’re ignoring various other factors that were involved in the situation. Chiefly among these other factors is that the various plagues set upon the Egyptians were directed at their trust in the Egyptian gods. Each of the 10 plagues was in direct response to one or more of these gods that the Egyptians believed was more powerful than God. During the preceeding 9 plagues, even the most reverred of the gods had been proven powerless in the face of God. You’re also ignoring that the Egyptians were given a choice. Moses presented the Pharoah with an ultimatum in light of what had already happened and the Pharoah still chose to hope to his faith that God wouldn’t be able to control death. You’ve also ignored that the entire situation that you’ve presented was precipitated from Moses’ request to the Egyptians to allow his people to take some time to worship God. Instead of Pharoah allowing this, he further punished the people for even requesting it.

    Your view of God acting in a moral way requires that God be unable to judge and set punishment (as you would argue that a consistently good God is required to act in a way that is ultimately good in the moment rather than ultimately good in the scope of eternity). If God wasn’t able to punish sin (aka choosing something else over God), wouldn’t that simply mean that He would be condemning everyone to an eternity separated from what is ultimately best for humanity and effecting a greater punishment by His own inaction?

  183. MASSiveon 28 Apr 2017 at 10:51 am

    chikoppi,

    The fallacy you are referring to requires a different worldview than that of subjective relativism. Once the subjective relativist has made a moral choice, they have declared that the choice made was morally right because they have defined it as so. This is a necessary stance. If there was another decision that the person could have made that would have resulted in less harm or deprivation, they have still defined what they have chosen as morally right. Your criticism of this requires that an individual always make a decision that minimizes harm or deprivation which is not consistent with reality.

    Your assessment that the choices of all people can be subjected to the same standard requires that there be an objective standard. Subjective relativism necessarily cannot rely upon any standard that can be applied to all people if those standards are also relative to each individual. Therefore there is no basis from a consistent subjective relativist view upon which to subject other people. My assessment of subjective relativism is based from an objectivist standpoint, but is also requiring that subjective relativism be followed through to its own logical conclusion.

    As to your comment about making rules for God to follow, these are not man-made rules that restrict God, but rather revelations made by God to mankind about His own character and nature. The view that you’ve set forth about God’s causing suffering is guilty of the fallacy of assessing an action in isolation of which you previously accused me. You’re saying that a consistently good God is unable to act in any way that would be perceived in the moment as causing undue suffering. This precludes the ability for God to be just and to punish sin. Rather, God acts in moments in such a way that causes the greatest possible outcome of good in the scope of eternity. To say that a consistently good God could not punish sin and thereby cause suffering, is to say that there is no ultimately good reason for someone to allow or cause any kind of suffering. Rather, if God is acting consistently with his character of being good and his character of being just, this requires him to cause suffering but to also work to reconcile humanity with what is ultimately good. Therefore, God’s conscious and voluntary intent, being consistent with His character and nature, is to cause suffering but to do so in a way that also furthers humanity toward ultimate good.

  184. mumadaddon 28 Apr 2017 at 11:26 am

    MASSive,

    “how are we able to make assertions about any truth at all if our brains are simply the product of a random collection of atoms and molecules and such? Doesn’t this mean that we have no basis upon which to trust that any form of logic or reason would be able to point us in the direction of any truth, whether subjective or objective?”

    A sincere question — do you really think the scientific position on brains is that they “are simply the product of a random collection of atoms and molecules and such”?

    To the wider point about certainty: absolute certainty is impossible; if you dig back down any chain of reasoning you will always end up at an assumption/s. Some of these assumptions we are are forced to accept by practical necessity (e.g. you need to take action to stay alive), others we accept because we simply have no way to test them (e.g. objective reality exists).

    This has no bearing on morality though. Unless you are looking for a standard that is objective in the sense that it exists even in the absence of moral actors, you only need accept that morality relates to human well being to be able to say that one action is objectively better or worse than another. Human well being can be measured — yes, it is subjective, and there may be differences between individuals and cultures, but people in general have enough in common to be able to make judgements based on consequences for most actions. There are situations where moral judgement is difficult, with subtle and/or consequences in play, and there are factors other than consequences that should be considered (e,g, intention) but the way to tease apart the difference is still going to be primarily down to consequences to human well-being.

  185. chikoppion 28 Apr 2017 at 11:27 am

    [MASSive] The fallacy you are referring to requires a different worldview than that of subjective relativism.

    Subjective relativism isn’t the only alternative to moral objectivism. What I’m describing is akin to situational ethics. Is lying always wrong, or in some circumstances might it be the most ethical choice?

    Your assessment that the choices of all people can be subjected to the same standard requires that there be an objective standard.

    Yes. The relative degree of harm and deprivation caused by one’s actions. Do you not know when you suffer harm, are deprived of a resource, or are deprived of the freedom to act of your own volition?

    As to your comment about making rules for God to follow, these are not man-made rules that restrict God, but rather revelations made by God to mankind about His own character and nature.

    So God is bound by his nature to cause suffering in order to enact justice or bring about the greatest good? Seems inconsistent with omnipotence.

    The view that you’ve set forth about God’s causing suffering is guilty of the fallacy of assessing an action in isolation of which you previously accused me. You’re saying that a consistently good God is unable to act in any way that would be perceived in the moment as causing undue suffering. This precludes the ability for God to be just and to punish sin. Rather, God acts in moments in such a way that causes the greatest possible outcome of good in the scope of eternity. To say that a consistently good God could not punish sin and thereby cause suffering, is to say that there is no ultimately good reason for someone to allow or cause any kind of suffering.

    Euthyphro’s dilemma. Is voluntarily imposing suffering moral whenever God says so, or is the imposition of suffering always immoral if it is not necessary? If God is not bound by external rules, then suffering is never necessary for God to enact justice or to achieve the greatest good.

    Rather, if God is acting consistently with his character of being good and his character of being just, this requires him to cause suffering but to also work to reconcile humanity with what is ultimately good. Therefore, God’s conscious and voluntary intent, being consistent with His character and nature, is to cause suffering but to do so in a way that also furthers humanity toward ultimate good.

    So God is bound by his nature. In order to be just God must impose suffering.

    Again, what tyrant was it that invented these rules and subjected God to follow them?

  186. RickKon 28 Apr 2017 at 11:40 am

    “Where are you getting the authority to claim fairness and empathy from if morality is relative to culture? ”

    You keep dodging the simple fact that empathy and fairness are components of evolved human moral instincts. There is middle ground between a cosmic absolute morality defined (but rarely practiced) by a supernatural deity, and “every person gets to choose”.

    What morality aligns best with our moral instincts and leads to a flourishing society? The components of human morality that are universal across all human cultures are a good place to start.

    “Therefore, God’s conscious and voluntary intent, being consistent with His character and nature, is to cause suffering but to do so in a way that also furthers humanity toward ultimate good.”

    That’s a great way to end on a completely meaningless and insubstantial conclusion. Who decides what is “ultimate good”? It is entirely relative to your culturally-driven interpretation of your particular religion. As soon as you start debating with a Muslim or a Hindu on the meaning of “ultimate good” and on which elements of suffering (famine, rape, genocide, murder) are required to get there, you will resort immediately to the very point us “relativists” start from: what maximizes the flourishing of humanity and human societies.

    It is you and the faithful of other religions who are the relativists here – it’s all about your book. It is those of us looking at the characteristics that evolution has given us (no more relative and changeable than our height, size and IQ) who are trying to find a true, firm basis on which to decide. You can only express competing opinions, we seek ways to measure and score the options.

  187. MASSiveon 28 Apr 2017 at 2:01 pm

    @ mumadadd, That was poor wording on my part, but essentially (though certainly not a scientific answer) the unguided evolutionary perspective of the human mind is that it is the product of chance happenings that have produced an increased survivability.

    I agree that absolute logical certainty is impossible. At some point, one must take a position on something and have faith in. For the atheist, they have just as much faith in the proposition that there is no God as I do in the proposition that God exists. This is why I say that all worldviews are, in the end, rationally avoidable.

    I think, ultimately, we’re all getting into an argument of definitions. My question to you is what do you define as human well-being? Because I can guarantee that there are numerous other people across the world that have vastly different definitions of human well-being than you do. So then, whose definition or human well-being do we use?

  188. MASSiveon 28 Apr 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Chikoppi,

    You’re again assuming that I’m positing subjective relativism as the only alternative. There are numerous views and I lined out a couple of them, but you’re only interested in presenting the situation as if I’ve only brought up subjective relativism. The only reason I only mentioned this one in my last comment to you is because it was the one you happened to critique.

    My view of being harmed or deprived is different than other people’s ideas about what those things mean. Doesn’t this mean that I can’t accurately judge how my actions affect others around me?

    Could you explain to me a system in which justice can be imposed without any suffering?

    As I’ve said, God created a scenario in which everything was good, humanity had the ability to decide to love God most or to love something else most and God clearly set out what would happen if humanity didn’t choose God. Your dilemma here is to say that either God should have taken away our free will and thereby our ability to love, or to say that humanity bears responsibility for the state of things and God is acting in a way to bring about reconciliation.

    I don’t really have a further answer for you about omnipotence except to say that the ability to act doesn’t require action. If God does act, it’s consistent with His character and in the best interest of His creation.

  189. MASSiveon 28 Apr 2017 at 2:57 pm

    RickK,

    Define fairness. What is fairness?

    To answer your question about ultimate good, God is ultimate good. Therefore, the end goal is to bring humanity to Himself.

    Your argument is one from authority, just as mine. Instead of defining authority as a revelation from God, you define it as a conclusion about reality that is reached by humanity or a human or scholars or what have you. Therefore, the question is why should I give up my authority for yours? Doesn’t your authority also have innumerably different ways it is understood, possibly more than mine? And doesn’t it continually change as humanity learns more about reality? So what point is there in you making appeals to your authority when in 10 years there will likely be a scientific understanding that completely changes your view on the things about which you argue currently?

  190. chikoppion 28 Apr 2017 at 4:36 pm

    [MASSive] My view of being harmed or deprived is different than other people’s ideas about what those things mean. Doesn’t this mean that I can’t accurately judge how my actions affect others around me?

    Accurately? I’m not sure what that means. You can certainly assess the degree of injury your actions (or the actions of another) will cause as weighed against your understanding of injury. Again, situational ethics is a comparative premise, not an absolute one. Given the opportunity to choose between causing injury and not causing injury, not causing injury (or causing minimal possible injury) is the more “moral” choice.

    Reasonable people can disagree about what types of injury are more or less severe. That understanding can also evolve over time, as we learn about forms of injury that are not at first readily apparent. In fact, that discrepancy can exist between contemporaneous individuals or cultures, which is exactly what we see when groups with different understandings interact. Those discrepancies can be examined and debated and the assessment of moral behavior advanced.

    That’s the problem with moral absolutism. If slavery is just then it will always be just, no matter the extent of injury we learn it causes. If theft is wrong then it will always be wrong, even in situations where the choice to steal results in the least injurious (most compassionate) outcome.

    Could you explain to me a system in which justice can be imposed without any suffering?

    How about one in which the transgressor if gifted with more perfect understanding and forgiveness and the offended is made whole and uninjured? Omnipotence works that way, the omnipotent isn’t required to do anything to achieve a desired outcome, even justice.

    As I’ve said, God created a scenario in which everything was good, humanity had the ability to decide to love God most or to love something else most and God clearly set out what would happen if humanity didn’t choose God. Your dilemma here is to say that either God should have taken away our free will and thereby our ability to love, or to say that humanity bears responsibility for the state of things and God is acting in a way to bring about reconciliation.

    Nope, because omnipotence. 1) God could set whatever rules of causation he wants, 2) God cannot be required to undertake an action in order to achieve a result. If God is omnipotent and unrestrained then there is no need for suffering at any point other than it being intrinsically and needlessly desirable. An omnipotent God can achieve the same ends without introducing suffering.

    Also, doesn’t God necessarily choose and act perfectly and yet love and have free will? Those things are clearly not incompatible or beyond his power to grant as a package.

  191. RickKon 28 Apr 2017 at 5:50 pm

    “Your dilemma here is to say that either God should have taken away our free will and thereby our ability to love, or to say that humanity bears responsibility for the state of things and God is acting in a way to bring about reconciliation.”

    1) Who is to say a universe created without evil has no free will? If the ability to intentionally inflict suffering were removed from you, would you have nothing else to do?

    2) So there’s no love in Heaven?

    3) If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then humanity indeed bears no responsibility. If God is all-knowing, then he knew what Stalin would do in the Gulag or what Dahmer would do in grandma’s basement before the first day of Genesis was complete. If we truly have free will, God is not all-knowing. If he is all-knowing, we don’t have free will – we are simply completing the story that he knew in full before he started it.

    4) For there to be evil in a universe created by God, God had to create it. Which is more indicative of a benevolent God: (a) create a universe full of suffering and watch humans slog through it trying to reach an ultimate good; or (b) create humans in a state of ultimate good. If I were going to pick a deity to worship, I’d worship (b) rather than worshipping the deity that created a hostile, 99.99999% lethal universe full of suffering and death.

  192. mumadaddon 29 Apr 2017 at 6:57 am

    RickK,

    “2) So there’s no love in Heaven?”

    Holy crap — that’s so obvious I can’t believe I never thought of it. Either no suffering or no free will in heaven.

  193. RickKon 29 Apr 2017 at 8:35 am

    Yep – it’s really very simple. Like so many before them, Michael and MASSive both try to complicate it with 2000 years of tangled rationalizations, but in the end the rationalizations fail in the face of facts.

    – The universe has all the characteristics of being random and unguided.
    – Claims of divine/supernatural agency either can’t be proved or collapse upon investigation.
    – If there’s a purpose to life or the universe, Aristotle, Aquinas, Egnor and MASSive don’t know what it is.

    Like the father, ignorant of electrical circuits, who covers his ignorance by telling a curious child that the light switch summons light fairies to the bulb, so MASSive and Egnor cannot live with ignorance of how and why it all started so they cling to and defend a mythology.

  194. Evopodon 02 May 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Why is the argument of no disagreement conceded. Didn’t the mandians and other docetics disagree with a physical human Jesus?
    Was Jesus essene? If we don’t know, then we don’t know much if anything. If we do know then why isn’t he mentioned in the dead sea scrolls?
    Why is there such scant Talmudic reference to any Yeshua. And the one described a century and a half later does not seem to be the one crucified in 33AD, but is more worthy of mention.
    For what it’s worth I grant Ehrmans argument that Paul knew James who knew Yeshua ben Joseph.
    But how significant was he in his time?

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