Monday, November 05, 2012

Methodology Vindicated

As most who interact with me know…I often focus more on the method one approaches a problem, rather than the problem itself. I utilize the method commonly associated with the American Justice System—providing all the arguments, facts and alternatives to a neutral party who makes the decision what is more likely than not.

Of course, when it comes to theological discussions, apologists run and scream from this method, primarily because it does undermines their beliefs..

Once in awhile it is nice to have confirmation as to how viable the method is.

More than two (2) years ago, I mentioned a California lawsuit where an individual named David Coppedge argued he was originally demoted and eventually terminated because of his belief in Intelligent Design aka Creationism. I wrote an initial post regarding the basic facts with a follow-up applying the facts as they existed within my method.

I indicated, utilizing my method, David Coppedge would lose, because he came across as an obnoxious employee and was more likely terminated for that, than for any philosophical scientific disagreement. Subsequent Facts bolstered my initial impression and further sustained the methodology’s initial determination.

Well…the Judge rendered a decision. And with little surprise, it came out exactly as I predicted. To demonstrate just how little apologists understand this method, the Discovery Institute wrote a short article stating,
Whatever the judge's ultimate ruling in the case, the evidence remains what it is, and people can (and should) evaluate it for themselves.

A neutral party (the judge) did. And found against them.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Where I’ve been—off being disappointed with Christian Apologists

Recently I became more involved in refereeing soccer (for any readers outside America—football.) Each weekend presents 5 or 6 opportunities to referee players at various levels. There are three referees in each game—a “center” referee (the one with the whistle and the cards) and two “assistant referees” (commonly referred to as “AR”’s) who run up and down the touchline (what most people call the “sideline.”)

As an AR, we are only a few feet from the parents of the players, and therefore hear almost every coaching statement, encouragement and groan…but mostly we are inundated with the complaining:

“Why don’t you call that, ref?”
“She wasn’t offside!”
“Offside, Ref!!”
“Hand Ball!”
“Hand Ball!”
“Hand Ball!”

The two most commonly misunderstood laws—by these parents—are offside and deliberately handling the ball (commonly shortened to “hand ball.”) I won’t go into the technical details of these laws—not important—but it is often very clear the parents don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

Not every player who appears (to the parents) to be offside actually is. Some players who do not appear to be offside (to the parents) actually are. And not every single time the ball strikes a hand is it a “hand ball.”

So behind me, I hear a chorus of shouts, “Offside! Offside!” and when I do not raise my flag, immediately hear groans and whines about how I won’t make a call that was obvious to a blind person in a dark room, and I clearly favor the other team and I am the most incompetent referee ever. Doesn’t bother me; I have very thick skin and part of the soccer experience is to hear complaints from coaches and parents. Not only is it home vs. visitor, but there is a bit of coach vs. referee and parents vs. referee as well. At times, I am secretly amused by how wrong (and uninformed) these parents are.

Which is where I am more likely to get in trouble. See, these are the times I want to explain why it is I am calling their son offside; or why their daughter’s actions constituted a “hand ball” whereas the opposing player’s did not. I want to explain, because in my mind I am thinking they would like to be informed regarding the laws, so they will know better in the future.

But these parents are not interested in being informed. These parents are not there to learn the laws of the game. The last thing these parents want is game instruction. They want their child’s team to win. Win, win, win! And any call (or lack of call) by the referee standing in the way of winning is the equivalent of a deadly insult.

I know this because I watch what happens when their own players commit the same actions and the parents are strangely quiet. Ball hits an opposing player’s hand? “Hand ball! Hand ball!” Ball hits own teams’ hand? Not even crickets chirping.

Last week I was refereeing and the red team’s player collided with the blue team’s player—the red player ended up on the ground. Behind me I heard, “Foul, ref! He just knocked our kid to the GROUND and you aren’t going to call anything?” (There wasn’t any foul.) About two minutes later, a red player tripped a blue player and the blue player ended up on the ground. The center (correctly) whistled for a tripping foul. The exact same parent yells, “Just because they end up on the ground, doesn’t mean there was a foul!” I wanted to laugh out loud—they didn’t even realize their own contradictory statements.

So at times, I have an initial reaction where I want to explain to the parents why it is the call is being made the way it is…

Parent: “Offside! She is way past the last defender!”*
Me: [in my mind] “True…but she is not past the ball, and therefore does not meet all the requirements of offside.”

*I know it is technically the second-to-last defender, but no parent ever shouts this.

But I wisely keep my mouth shut. Why?—because that parent has no interest whatsoever in why the offside was not being called…all they care about is a perceived infringement going unpunished that could result in their team not winning. My explanation would only inflame them.

I have the same reaction to Apologists. I am happy to discuss with them, but my approach is unlike their own. I figure they genuinely are interested in a counter-factual, or opposing argument, or even the differing positions from other Christians.

They are not.

They are interested in one thing only—to win at all costs. My explanations only inflame them; my arguments are dismissed before being read. My statements ignored through claims of “bias,” my claims discounted because I am an atheist and therefore anything I say MUST be incorrect.

Once, I did it for the lurkers. Now, I do it because it amuses me much like soccer parents. And before apologists get offended by this statement—you only bring it on yourselves.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Warrior Dash 2012

Another year; another Warrior Dash.

Last year it was exciting—we had never done one, we were into running and already had a few races under our belts. This year…not so much. However, the week before, we all began to infuse each other with excitement, looking forward to the “newbies” on the course, and their Facebook lamentations regarding the possibility of death.

And we finally decided our uniform of choice—ugly shirts. Basically we all went to a thrift shop and bought the ugliest shirt we could find. The winner—a red silk shirt with Dogs Playing Poker on the front and back. Iconic. On Friday Night we went out to eat in our shirts at Bad Brad’s (the best BBQ in Detroit Area.) It was humorous how many people from other tables were wearing shirts that fit right in with ours.

Next day…off to Mt. Morris, Michigan for the 1 p.m. running. This year the obstacles were very different—harder. Still had the Cargo Net, leap over fire and mud pit crawl at the end. Had the tires/old car and swamp stomp in the middle. But the hardest (for me) was a swim, climb up on raft, swim, climb up on raft, swim. Took the most time.

Because of the difference in obstacles, it is difficult to gauge whether one improved on their time. Additionally, last year I ran with my son, so I wasn’t running my normal pace. I was three minutes more than I wanted, but I hadn’t expected so much time on the obstacles, either.

Without further ado…here I am entering the final mud pit (with barbed wire so you had to crawl.) No, I am not going in gracefully; yes I am falling:

View of me crawling through mud pit:

And "racing" to the finish line:

Final Result:

Signed up for next year. This time, the whole family (Wife, two daughters and son) doing it as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ethical Questions on Vacation

Some thoughts on a few situations from this past weekend.

We were flying home on vacation with a connection in Denver, Colorado. Originally, we had about one (1) hour between flights. However our first flight was delayed—due to weather—for 2 ½ hours. Needless to say we (along with the majority of the plane) missed our connection.

Off we all trouped to “Customer Service” to obtain a new flight the next morning, and vouchers for dinner, breakfast and a hotel room. The vouchers were “use-it-or-lose-it”; no cash would be returned if the amount wasn’t used. We were allotted up to $60 (for four people) for dinner and $60 for breakfast. Upon finding an airport restaurant, we ordered more than enough food (more than we would normally get) and the total came up to around $40. We then had the following conversation, repeated almost verbatim the next morning at breakfast:

Cashier: You still have money left…what else do you want?
Me: Nothing, thank you.
Cashier: We don’t give cash back.
Me: Yes, I know. That is enough.
Cashier: You sure you don’t want to order some food to go, or bottles of water, or something?
Me: No, we don’t need it.

I figured we were delayed for no fault of the airline. It happens. Why “punish” the airline by using up the voucher buying food we didn’t need? The cashier looked at me as if I was crazy. (Of course the restaurant was making money on the MORE things they sell, so it made sense to push me to use the entire voucher.)

The next morning, due to the early hour, the only airport restaurant open was McDonalds. I saw many of the same passengers from the night before in line—all of us with our vouchers. Now…we had $15 each to spend. I have never spent $15 per person at McDonald’s. Ever. So…again…I ordered what we would normally eat. Again had the same conversation about money left, no cash back, why don’t I order more?, etc.

The vouchers are “up to” a certain amount…not spend it like money was made on trees. I was a little surprised people felt so obligated to spend the entire amount; I was shocked how people found it odd I didn’t want to spend $60 at McDonalds on four people. The Fat Man next to me proudly grinned, “I spent $14.93,” as I looked over his two (2) bags of food (including 2 cinnamon bites), large coffee, large orange juice and large milk.

I found it curious.

Scenario #2—the Fat Man.

In these situations, a sort of camaraderie develops amongst the victims. In Durango, Colorado, we all commiserated about the flights we would be missing before our take-off. In Denver, we all stood in the same “Customer Service” line. We rode the shuttle to the hotel and back again. We saw each other in the airport the next day.

“Where you headed?”
“What flight did you get?”
“How much did they give you?”

We endured the pain together.

The Fat Man went straight to the front of the line at Customer Service (by-passing about 25 people) and informed them he could not stand in line because of his heart condition, his diabetes and his breathing problems. Further, he informed everyone within hearing range that he was quickly running out of medicine and needed to get home (Atlanta) in order to re-supply.

It sounded serious.

He sat down next to my family who were waiting for me to get to the Customer Service Counter. Upon learning we were from Michigan, he piped up how he once lived in Michigan. As the conversation developed, it came out we support Michigan State University.

Fat Man: Oh, I root for University of Michigan.*
Wife: Did you go there?**
Fat Man: No, I went to a private school in South Carolina.
Wife: Bob Jones University?
Fat Man: [somewhat hesitantly] Yesss…
Wife: Oh, we have a relative who works there.

*If you lived in Michigan, you would know some of the biggest rivalry is between cheering on MSU as compared to UofM.
**They never do. A common saying is, “MSU fans went to Michigan State; U of M fans went to Wal-Mart.”

At this point the Fat Man was relieved to find fellow Christians, and began to regale us with tales of his past two weeks missionary work amongst the Navajo Indians, and his previous two weeks at some other place, doing God’s work. Luckily, our situation was resolved at that minute; we were able to break away with (relieved) exclamations of “Well…good luck!”

Now I was watching these vouchers for the same hotel being handed to passenger after passenger, and wondered if the airline was making reservations as well, or just handing out vouchers. I called the hotel, did not receive a clear answer--so to be safe, I reserved two (2) rooms. (They only had single king-size rooms, and our family was not all going to fit in one (1) king-size bed!)

We would only be at the hotel for six (6) hours.

With our rooms assured, we ate leisurely, and caught the airport shuttle to the hotel. In the hotel lobby, there was a ruckus. Even a bit of a snit. A number of our fellow passengers were milling about and the Fat Man was yelling about how “I have a VOUCHER, and I must have a ROOM, and we were promised we could STAY HERE!” The harried clerk said again and again, “I am sorry, people, but all the rooms are booked.”

Upon seeing us, the Fat Man continued to yell, “Good Luck getting a room, Your ‘VOUCHER’” (he almost spit the word) “is worth NOTHING! They won’t even let me sleep in the Lobby—they said they would call the police!”

Now at that moment, it seriously crossed my mind to tell the Fat Man to wait, see if our two rooms were being held (they were), and see if we could somehow accommodate to fit all of us in one room (with blankets, roll-aways, whatever) and give the Fat Man the other room. As it turns out, the rooms were large enough, it was certainly feasible. And we were only going to be there a few hours anyway.

I really, really wanted to say, “Fat Man—you can have one of our rooms. And just know it was an atheist—not a Christian—who charitably gave it up for you.” But then I thought, “This is the type of guy who will go home and entertain his entire congregation with a story about how God provided a hotel room for him (not thinking about all the other passengers who were missing out) and how God has such a sense of humor, He even used an Atheist as the tool to provide for God’s child!”

And if I didn’t say I was an atheist, he would still tell the story of his “rescue” miraculously provided by God with a small mention of the human involved. Whereas the reality is—one human (me) happened to be a little more pro-active.

I didn’t give up the room.

The next day I saw the Fat Man spend $14.93 at McDonalds.

When I told my wife I felt slightly guilty for not giving up the room for him, she was aghast. “Him?” She told me the Fat Man confessed to her his insurance had lapsed, and that was the reason he was running out of medicine—not the timing of the trip. He gleefully admitted he was using the “running out of Medicine” as a means to get service.

Yet I still wonder if I should have given the Fat Man the room.

Not because I am a particularly nice person—I just love the delicious irony it would take an atheist—not a God, not a fellow Christian—to resolve this boorish Fat Man’s problem. Even if he never knew…I would.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Strawpeople…Strawpeople Everywhere

We are quite familiar with the strawperson argument—claiming your opponent makes a false statement when it turns out that is not what your opponent is saying at all. For example, making the argument:

“1) Scientists claim we will some day know everything.
“2) We will never know everything.
“3) Therefore scientists are wrong.

While a brilliant argument…the problem is that no scientist says we will some day know everything. One has built the strawperson—“Scientists make this claim”—and then burned it down—“the claim is wrong”—to no avail. Looks good; means nothing.

The issue I am beginning to see in theological debates, is how one can preface a statement, “Some ___ claim ____” and we can eventually find some theist or non-theist who indeed makes such a claim. Therefore, it is not technically a strawperson—the argument simply happens to only address a very small minority. “Some Christians claim we must follow Mosaic law.” “Some Christians hold to geocentric theory.” “Some atheists believe we must all dance naked at midnight on the Summer Solstice.” One could make any claim and eventually manage to scrounge out some person of a particular belief who does hold to such a premise.

For me, personally, to determine how “strawish” an argument is, I rely upon Google. A very simplistic method—plug in the claimed statement in a search, start reading through results, and determine how prevalent this claim really is. I am disappointed, when discussing with Christians, how often I hear, “Well, this is something a lot of atheists I know tell me in person” yet I find no such claim on the internet. If it was so common to hear…at least a few such items would pop up on-line. I pointed this out in a comment section and another Christian honestly conceded what was being claimed as “coming up so often” was oddly completely missing from the internet.

How is it all these atheists or Christians are making these statements in person, yet when we try to narrow them down with any precision on-line, we find nothing? I think it is because the person is hearing something different than is being said.

In a recent blog entry, ”Do people become atheists for Only intellectual reasons?” a statement was made, ”What is funny, is that some who embraced atheism on intellectual grounds, from say thinking that teaching on evolution proves there is no God,…”

The question was then brought out how many non-theists made the claim, “Evolution proves there is no God.” And whether this statement was a strawperson—are there non-theists who say, “Evolution proves there is no God”?

Now what do you think I did? Of course…I plugged “Evolution proves there is no god” into Google to see how common this claim was being made. And found (not surprisingly) a few persons who did, indeed say this. We have a Yahoo Question, “Does Evolution Prove there is no God?” where the “best” answer (by votes) responds, “Of course it does,…” However, if we scroll through the other answers provided, a number of people said, “No, these ideas are mutually exclusive.”

On the other hand Talk Origins states evolution does not say anything about a god—proof or disproof. If you bothered to pour through the Google results, the primary hits involve Christians who claim scientists allege Evolution proves there is no God (the problem I will focus on it a minute), the secondary hits are non-theists debunking the idea Evolution proves there is no God, and by far, far last place, a few hits regarding people claiming Evolution proves there is no God.

Is it a strawperson? No. Is it speaking to a miniscule small percentage (less than 1%, I would estimate). Yep.

So why…if so few non-theists are claiming it…do Christians think non-theists are saying, “Evolution proves there is no God”?

Simple—because the very core of the Christians’ belief is that their God does not utilize evolution in its creation of this world. If evolution is true—their God is not. So for us to say “Evolution is true” they are hearing “Your God is not.” And since there can only be one God—their own—these Christians translate “Evolution is true” to “There is no God.”

To demonstrate this in action, notice the comment from Bill Pratt in the Tough Questions entry:
In the God Delusion, he said the following about evolution: "Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that—an illusion."

In the context of the book, this statement means that we don't need God to explain how life arose - evolution does that. Since the creation of life has commonly been attributed to God by theists, then the fact of Darwinian evolution is a serious blow to the existence of a God who supposedly created life.

I am nodding my head as I read along. “Yep. Dawkins is definitely arguing evolution proves there is no non-evolution-using God.” (sorry for the double negative) But it doesn’t say anything about proving no God exists—just that any such God that did would be utilizing evolution. As Andrew Ryan wisely responded—our determination of how lightning occurs did not disprove God, it only impinged the lightning-bolt-throwing Zeus God

See, to us non-theists, we are looking to see if any god exists. Whether it is the Mormon God, the Islam God, the Hindu Gods, the North American Spirits, etc. So for some particular argument, proof or truth to prove “No God Exists” it would have to eliminate every single one of these. Yes, we certainly can eliminate some gods, or some particular characteristics of gods. If one claims God made the world 6,000 years ago, we would certainly say we have proved that particular God does not exist. Or the theist is incorrect about that particular aspect of that God.

Does the age of the earth prove no God exists? Of course not.

But the Christian is so certain they have the aspects of their God correct—certain items MUST be true—to argue against it or prove this one detail incorrect causes the entire house of cards to fall. So when we say, “The Bible has errors” if inerrancy is such a key requirement, they hear, “There is no God.”

“Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead.”
Physical resurrections hear “There is no God.”

“The earth is 4.5 Billion years old.”
YEC’s hear “There is no God.”

“Evolution is true”
Intelligent Design theorists hear “There is no God.”

It is this confusion where the non-theist is puzzling, “But I’m not saying there is no God—I am saying your God-concept does not align with reality. Either modify it, or present compelling reasons why.” And all the Christian hears is, “If this part of God is incorrect, then there can be no god whatsoever.”

I had another similar strawperson discussion over at Dr. Clay Jones’ Blog. There, the confusion seems to arise regarding what the Christian was saying and the non-theist (Dr. Ehrman) was hearing, although it is not quite clear.

We have an obligation to clarify when we are discussing a particular topic: Reality removes or greatly diminishes certain aspects of possible gods. But there is no one line-item, or one proof, or one fact disproving all Gods.

If the Christian cannot understand that (and I fear most cannot), then we have done our duty and I would move on.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Information Age—Scarier Than you Think

No question the internet has provided us far greater access than we could imagine 20 or 30 years ago. Want a recipe for Prime Rib? Google it. You can even find a video giving step-by-step audio-visual instructions. (By the way…I have used this method repeatedly and it works every time. Outstanding.) Need an unusual bolt for a 1978 refrigerator? You can find it (with instructions how to replace it), order it, and even have it delivered overnight if you are willing to pay enough.

We have answers to technological questions—“why does my computer keep crashing?” We find debates, and answers and practical hints on literally everything from aardvarks to zythepsary. (A brewery—make sure to work it into your vocabulary today.) However, there are two significant problems with this abundance of information:

1) Some of it is wrong. As we know, one can create a blog or website to justify just about anything--including the geocentric theory of the solar system, faked moon landing claims, and aliens building the pyramids. Now we may chuckle at the obviousness of websites being wrong, but lest we forget, we even require websites like to tell us when website claims are wrong! Have you used I have. So clearly it is not always evident what is correct or incorrect.

2) We don’t have the individual expertise to discern what is correct. I will use myself as an example. There are a few things in life I know very well. I am familiar with certain aspects of law. I am comfortable with many biblical claims. I am pretty familiar with running. This past weekend I had an opportunity to visit a horse show—I have never been. I don’t know what the judges were judging, what to look for, what each competition meant, why one person held the reins one way, and another held it another (because of the type of bit in the horses’ mouth, depending on the horses’ age.) I kept asking my friend, “Why are they doing that? What are they looking for? What is important here?” Luckily my friend is knowledgeable, and could inform me.

Without his expertise I wouldn’t even know what I should have known.

Likewise, I am not very educated when it comes to evolution. At times, I will see an anti-evolutionist claim, and be tempted to engage in debate. What is my first inclination? Why…to google the question, of course! A simple tactic: type in the question, start reading through the string of links, find one opposing your opponent’s claim, and copy-and-paste a response (giving proper citation, obviously.) Voila—instant response. However, as we all know, I am not really discerning whether the evolution claim is correct—I don’t know enough about the topic to make a determination! I am just looking for an opposing view.*

*I should note this is different than finding an opposing view and replying with, “I found this website here that claims differently—can you explain how you would respond to it?” That is legitimate inquiry.

Often I have made claims on a biblical questions, and been opposed. When I type in their response, in quotes, in google, I find precisely where they obtained the information, and find an inaccurate, incomplete and inadequate website. I realize the person didn’t have a clue how to respond, so they just “borrowed” from someone else, assuming it was accurate. When it was not.

O.K., none of this new to my readers as just by being here, you have been engaged on the internet long enough to know (and give your own countless examples) these two glaringly evident points. So what? Recognized common internet happenings; as ubiquitous as trolling, spam and porn.

For a moment, think about an issue extremely important to you. Imagine being involved where a governmental entity will make a decision on this issue. You present your position, the other side presents their own, and you counter. You engage in this arduous process over years, making numerous appearances, reviewing each position’s facts and claims; countering as best you can. Finally the day comes when a decision will be made…and the governmental entity says, “I googled the question and found a website.” A website never presented and given a chance to respond. A website that could be incorrect. A website helping make one of the most pivotal questions in your life. And you learn of it for the first time, in the decision being made!

This is happening in the United States Supreme Court. (Not to mention other appellate courts across the country.) You can download Supreme Court Fact Finding for free. The author reviewed decisions since 2000, looking for situations where the Court engaged in fact-finding outside of the briefs submitted. He found numerous instances where the court relied upon websites (indeed, Justice Breyer is extremely forthright in indicating his use of the internet, with citations) to support their particular positions.

Websites never mentioned, briefed, or responded to in any of the pleadings before the court. Not at the trial level, the Circuit level, or in any of the participant’s briefs. You have argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and first learn it is relying upon (in part) a website you have never heard mentioned until the decision itself.

Our Judicial system is inherently designed to be adversarial—we expect and even demand an opposing view question the position. Our court rules are designed upon this foundation, giving guidance how we interact with the opposing side. Our rules of evidence anticipate the other side limiting what facts we present; the judge does not yell out, “Objection!”—it is opposing counsel’s obligation to do so. Our procedures are forged around and adversarial system—defendants are allowed to respond to plaintiffs; plaintiffs then rebut defendant’s claims.

We expect and anticipate the judges to not be informed about the topic. It is our job to present the evidence and make arguments TO inform them, using witnesses and experts in the field. Oh, one may occasionally come across a judge who happens to be familiar with a topic because of their life experiences, but the system itself does not anticipate this. It presumes the judge knows nothing and is ONLY informed through admissible evidence.

Could you imagine holding a court case and then the judge making a ruling, “Yeah, I talked to my neighbor who appears to know quite a bit on this subject, so I will defer to her opinion.” Or arguing Kitzmiller and hearing the judge say when rendering his opinion, “Last night I went on and they had some interesting things to say.”**

**Bit off-topic, but Judge Jones is oft criticized for copying portions of a party’s brief in his opinion. This is quite common. Indeed, if the court is agreeing with that party, there is every reason to do so.

Yet as information becomes more available via the internet, the Supreme Court is deriving more information from its own google search

We want our judges (especially at the Supreme Court level) to be as informed as possible. We want them to utilize resources. But the question has become—how much is too much? The author of the law article speculates the terrifying scenario where a litigant deliberately creates a biased website on an issue in the hopes the Court will find it on the Google search.

There really isn’t an easy solution to this problem. Perhaps the most we can do is be ever-vigilant in pointing out missteps and errors on-line. To continue to direct people to, alternative statistics, and counter-arguments.

Who knows…a Supreme Court Justice may be reading that article later…

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The English Language is Older than you thought

Because the blog is moderated, I don’t comment on it, but this comment is simply too much to ignore:

Vaughn Ohlman: …That is why I, as you know, don't use words such as 'single' or 'homosexual'; preferring the Biblical words 'unmarried' and 'sodomite'.

Does Mr. Ohlman realize not a single word of the Bible was written in English? If he wants to use “biblical” words—I suggest talking in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek as appropriate. Anything else would be……well….…just……not………biblical.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Myth Methodology: How do we determine what is myth? Part One

Dr. Bart Ehrman recently published Did Jesus Exist?” causing a stir amongst the internets. For a sampling, you can review Vinny’s current blog entries or Sam’s blog. Both provide numerous links to other articles, likewise providing more links.

More words have been written about Dr. Ehrman’s book than are in Dr. Ehrman’s book.

My joining the scrum would only add to the cacophony…but as I review the issues, more and more I am in agreement with Dr. Carrier’s forthright assessment: “…the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked.”

In the spirit of the 20 anniversary of Rodney King’s famous quote, “Can we all get along?” I will start with where we agree. Every person who has studied claimed historical accounts regarding Jesus falls into one of only two (2) categories:

1) Everything written about Jesus’ actions on earth are fictional;
2) Some of the things written about Jesus’ actions on earth are fictional.

Notice the universal agreement? Everyone agrees at least some things about Jesus were made up. (We must be careful to not limit our review to canonical works.) We all agree there is myth* surrounding Jesus; we all demark at least some stories as, “No…that didn’t historically happen.”

*There is discussion regarding the difference between “legend” (exaggerated stories regarding a living person, like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree) and “myth” (stories regarding a non-historical person like Hercules’ task.) Vernacular Jesus studies have resulted in this becoming “myth” v “historical” so I will continue to use “myth” even for those stories about an actual 1st Century travelling Messianic apocalyptic preacher.

Since we are already doing it, the next question we have to ask is how?—What method are we using to eliminate [at least] some stories from contention? And, the next step, if we continue to utilize that method, would it eliminate all stories from contention?

I submit the primary method being used—not that we like to admit it—is familiarization; we have become so indoctrinated with cultural Jesus stories those more familiar are called “historical” and those less familiar are deemed “myth.” Take this simple test, or give it to your friends, and think about your initial reaction:

Myth or Fact: Did Jesus say:

1. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
2. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he ties up the strong man. Then he can rob the house.”
3: “Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”**

The first one shines out as “Oh, that is a Jesus statement” even though textual criticism has demonstrated it a later addition. The next two are more difficult, right? Why? Because we are deliberately looking for “Jesus-like” statements! Did you catch yourself thinking, “Hmm…is this something Jesus would say?” If so, you are using familiarity as a method.

Myth or Fact: Did Jesus:

4. Appear to Paul on the road to Damascus.
5. Appear to Peter on the road from Rome.
6. Amazes Teacher with knowledge of Greek alphabet.
7. Amaze Jewish Teachers with his answers.
8. Travel to Egypt as a child.
9. Travel to India as a child.**

Like a quiz in Cosmopolitan, we easily pick out the “correct” answers by recognizing the story. Ask the average person on the street about Jesus. Ask about specifics. You will get “born in a stable,” (although no stable is mentioned!) “walk on water,” “the Lord’s Prayer,” “Crucified, cave resurrected,” and “Pilate washing his hands.” Jesus is so familiar in our society, we use his sayings in political cartoons and everyone immediately recognizes who that Jesus is—and the humor in the cartoon. We recognize his face even though he could have looked like Flavius Josephus or this reconstruction.

After living in our society for any time we “know” what Jesus is supposed to look like, we “know” what Jesus is supposed to say (“Yeah poor people! Boo dogmatic religious leaders.”), we “know” what he is supposed to do. Like a song we have listened to over and over, upon hearing someone strike the wrong note we immediately cringe, squirm and cry out, “No—that note is wrong!”

But what if we have always listened to a version of the song with a wrong note, and we happen to be hearing the correct note for the first time? Like asking, ”Why do all those old bands keep copying Glee songs?” We have reached the point where we eliminate dissimilar as being incorrect, and therefore non-historical.

We have bought our own sales pitch.

Lest you think this is limited to “person-on-the-street” the point was driven home rather forcefully recently when Dr. Ehrman indicated James, the leader of the church was identified as Jesus Brother in Acts of the Apostles. Upon questioning, Dr. Ehrman correctly retracted the statement, but why would he even state it in the first place? Because, I submit, he is already familiar with James the leader being the same as James the brother of Jesus, and relying on that familiarity simply assumed Acts stated such.

Alas, he doubled-down by then embracing the familiarity as proof they are one and the same.

We all seem to agree there is myth-making when it comes to Jesus. We likewise (I hope) agree this commonly used method of familiarity is a poor means to determine historicity. Next time I will look at other possible methods to look for myth-making.

**1. John 8:7 (not in the earliest manuscripts)
2. Mark 3:27
3. Gospel of Thomas 6
4. Acts 9:3
5. Acts of Peter 35
6. Infancy Gospel of Thomas 5:8-10
7. Luke 2:47
8. Matt 2:14-15.
9. Life of St. Issa--the lost years of Jesus’ childhood.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Losing the Fear of Hell

Recently I was asked how I lost my fear of hell; how I came to be ambivalent about the topic. Obviously there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem—I can only relate what happened to me. Repetition. Repeated inability to maintain belief in the supernatural consequently causing me to apply the same method to the afterlife and realizing there isn’t one.

I was raised Calvinist where the oft-heard phrase was “Once saved; always saved.” Once you became a Christian, no matter what you did, no matter what happened—your salvation was assured. BUT (and this was a huge asterisk to the whole doctrine) there were people who seemed to have converted, but subsequently did not live like Christians. We wrote those people off to “not being saved in the first place.”

Meaning you are assured of your salvation, unless you aren’t. Real helpful, right? Since one was never quite certain the original salvation took hold. (Worse, there were testimonies from people who claimed they made a salvation prayer as a child, but later realized it was insufficient, and became Christians later in life. Here was irrefutable proof, just because you said the right thing, you may not have made it in yet!)

Having now deconverted--I hear the same accusation made by Calvinists acquaintances; informing me I wasn’t saved in the first place. Looks like my childhood worry was well-placed, eh?!

Further, we believed in the Rapture, so a great test of one’s salvation would be the day where 100’s of millions of people (including everyone I knew) disappeared. If you were left standing here…well…there you go! Not-saved. I can still recall moments in stores, being separated from my mother for longer than expected, and thinking, “The Rapture happened, and I was Left Behind*”

*Yes, those where the exact words we thought, and yes, they were always capitalized. There was always a doctrinal question whether a person who thought they were saved could get another chance after the Rapture…it was heavily intoned one could not. One would live (at best) another 7 years and be doomed to hell, knowing all 7 years that hell was coming.

Or I would come home from school, and unexpectedly no one was home. I remember calling friends and their parents, figuring if no one answered, I was Left Behind.

How do you talk someone out of fear? You can tell me all day long about the safety of parachutes and sky diving and statistics regarding incidents, and procedures and anything you want. I would be scared and staining my shorts jumping from a plane. You don’t “talk” someone out of fear.

I recall my first jury trial. I was nervous, sweating, scared. How do I present my case to a jury? How do I object? What do I wear; where do I stand; how loud do I speak? Now, I look forward to jury trials.

Why? What is the difference? Simple—repetition. After doing them over and over, I have learned the answers to those questions. I know what to expect. Are there still surprises and new experiences? Sure…but having had other surprises and new experiences, one learns how to adapt.

I imagine if I jumped out of a plane a coupla hundred times, I won’t have the fear. Maybe…

But how does one “repeat” the opposite of an in-grained belief? I was raised in a Christian home, I said the right prayer, I lived a Christian life. And each Sunday I was assured I was saved…”BUT”…and each Sunday it was reiterated there were those who were not. And while debates may rage as to who was in heaven; Hell’s citizenship was certain: Hitler, Nietzsche, Darwin and atheists.

Upon initial deconversion, I was still fearful of Hell. Actually, that is not quite accurate. I was more fearful I had lost Heaven. We had been taught there was this sublime place where one can eat and not get fat. More importantly, one can see those who had passed on before—grandparents, parents, siblings, children and friends. Even more importantly, justice would be dispensed—wrongs righted; rewards delivered. And most important of all (to me) knowledge would be provided. We would finally get theology correct.

And now Heaven…didn’t…….exist. The more I lost belief in Heaven (it really is a fantasy if you think about it), the same I lost belief in Hell. One does not exist without the other.

I enjoy life just as much—even more—without the worry about getting the afterlife correct. I have my hands full getting this one right. Sure there are moments where I find a twinge of regret we only have a few years. The idea of Heaven is a fun fantasy. But then I shake my head and deal with the reality we have. A world desperately in need of human compassion without the easy relinquishing of responsibility by claiming some god will swoop in and solve all our problems.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Titanic Sank: He is Risen Indeed!

Ahh…Easter. When it becomes popular to dredge up some “new” facet to improve readership. “Jesus Tomb Found!” “Pilate’s Ancestors Finally Speak Out On Trial!” “Peter was a Pimp!” Those sorts of things. And the requisite apologetic defenses on the Resurrection make the blogsphere rounds.

This year, Reclaiming the Mind is doing a ten part series of short (2 minute) videos from Dr. Licona “dispelling” Myths surrounding the resurrection.

The first dealing with contradictions falsifying the account. As this month marks the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it only appropriate Dr. Licona raises the following familiar canard:

“No credible historian believes contradictions within the account discredit the account itself. For example, when the Titanic sank in 1912 there were some survivors that said the Titanic broke in half before sinking and others who said, ‘Nuh-uh, it sank in one piece.’

“You are out there in a lifeboat—how do you get that wrong? We really don’t know. However one thing is for sure, historians didn’t conclude the Titanic didn’t sink. We just knew there was a peripheral detail we didn’t know what happened.”

[I did not transcribe this precisely word-for-word, but this is extremely close. If you want precision, go watch the video. It will cost you two minutes.]

For non-historian buffs, a long debate raged as to Titanic’s final moments—specifically whether (as some claimed) it sank in one piece or whether it broke into two, as others claimed. Once the wreck was discovered…in primarily two (2) pieces…the debate ceased. Those claiming it broke up were avenged. If you want further details, this site provides the various witness accounts.

This month’s National Geographic has a long article regarding the Titanic. Based upon the statements, and the condition of the wreck, it is believed the bow (front) filled with so much water, it lifted the stern (back) fully out of the water. Unable to sustain its back (stern) weight, the ship broke almost in two, only the very bottom still connected at the break point. At this point, the bow (front) tore free (the stern did not have enough buoyancy to hold it up) and plunged relatively straight down to the ocean floor. The Stern section re-righted, but now filled with water from the gaping hole, and sank. Because the stern was not aerodynamic, it cork-screwed down, twisting its own metal.

There are three (3) points to consider regarding the differences between the Titanic sinking and the Resurrection:

(1) We have multiple lines of independent evidence regarding the Titanic sinking; not just conflicting statements.
(2) Even within the debate, historians agreed one of the claims was incorrect; the ship either sunk in one piece or two.
(3) The witness’ conflicting statements were weighed for credibility.

1. Multiple lines of independent evidence.

Dr. Licona is unclear, unperceptive or disingenuous on this point. Why do historians say the Titanic Sank? We have a ship leaving harbor, and not arriving at its destination. It sent out a distress signal. Other ships arrived on scene with multiple lifeboats in water. The water was frigid, not a place people voluntarily get out of a perfectly good ship to ride around in water and/or lifeboats. 1,514 people on the ship “disappeared” that night. Wreckage washed up on shore. Multiple independent people agree the ship was sinking.

Oh, and we found two great big pieces of it on the bottom of the ocean.

Notice we are NOT solely relying upon conflicting witness statements—we have multiple independent, observable data points all leading to the conclusion the Titanic sank.

But what do we have with the Resurrection? We have conflicting unattributed witness accounts. That is it. No tomb to observe. No body walking around still.

Rather than compare the Resurrection to the Titanic, it is much more akin to Bigfoot. We have multiple conflicting statements regarding size, locale, shape, habitat, etc. Would Dr. Licona agree with me contradictions within the accounts do not discredit the accounts themselves? That there really must be a Bigfoot, even those these accounts contradict?

Or what about alien snatching? Many people claim to be snatched by aliens for a time—there is disagreement about the ships, the aliens, the purpose, the time, etc.? Sure…multiple conflicting accounts—but do all these “credible historians” think aliens are snatching people?

See, people agree the Titanic sank from all these multiple data points. There is disagreement (by human nature) as to minor details such as precise timing, or the manner it occurred. But people go into the research already presuming it sank—that is not a question on the table.

The same way Christians approach the Resurrection—they already presume it happened. So details as to what day, or who was there, or what was said are “peripheral details”—Christians cannot see the difference between the conflicting accounts in the Titanic and the Resurrection. (Yet would immediately reject Bigfoot and Alien abductions.)

2. One (or more) of the conflicting statements were wrong.

In the Titanic account, the very cause of debate was that one statement was wrong. Those holding to a whole ship sinking claimed the statements regarding it breaking up were wrong. Those claiming it broke up said the whole ship people were wrong.
Even those “credible historians” were not claiming everyone was correct. Yet how does Dr. Licona approach the Resurrection account? He claims these contradictions are “harmonizable.” (his words.) Unlike historians with the Titanic, he performs no task, makes no method to determine under the contradictions, whether one (or both) are incorrect.

He presumes all accounts can be harmonized.

3. Witness credibility weighed.

It was noted the ship’s officers tended to be the ones on the “whole ship” side to support the engineering of the ship, whereas passengers, with no such agenda tended to be on the “break up” position. Where people were in relation to the ship was reviewed—where they at the rear, the side, the bow? The ability to see (it was night, of course) as well as the difficulty of reviewing at horizon level.

These were questions brought in by historians reviewing the Titanic sinking.

Is such inquiry going on in Christian apologetics as discussed by Dr. Licona? The problem is we have no credibility weighing. We agree some Gospel authors copied others, but cannot agree who copied who. We agree Gospels were written down—disagree as to when and by whom. We agree myths developed surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—cannot agree when or what.

We don’t have enough data to perform the types of witness credibility evaluation we could with the Titanic.

In short, the next time someone raises this simple statement, I would ask them this, “If you believe conflicting accounts do not discredit the account as a whole—do you believe Bigfoot exists despite the conflicting accounts? Do you believe aliens are abducting people? Because that is precisely the type of evidence we have for the Resurrection, and you are telling me to ignore the contradictions in the Resurrection accounts—why don’t you ignore the contradictions in Bigfoot and Aliens?”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doing my job by predicting the outcome

Almost two (2) years ago I mentioned the Coppedge v JPL lawsuit. To catch up…David Coppedge (Plaintiff) claims he was discriminated against by his employer JPL (Defendant) because Coppedge was handing out pro-Intelligent Design material and told to stop.

Anyone familiar with Expelled: the Movie will immediately recognize what is being claimed—the Scientific Community is deliberately barring Intelligent Design by firing, demoting, refusing to hire and generally ostracizing any person supportive of Intelligent Design.

And…in our present situation…Coppedge’s claims fall in the same line. I wrote a second entry on Coppedge where I outlined problems seen at the very onset. Amazingly (or not so amazingly, really) my predictions have roughly fallen into line.

It would seem the First Amendment claim was thrown out. As predicted. The Plaintiff Coppedge attempts to portray himself as someone who would never be pushy. As predicted.

And the Defendant employer is now providing situations where Coppedge WAS pushy and disliked and a problem employee. As Predicted. There are instances where Coppedge was (uh-oh) informed he was “too opinionated and unwilling to listen” regarding items that had nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

Worse, Coppedge is failing to answer the questions of JPL’s Lawyers, and the judge has admonished him—demonstrating Coppedge is opinionated and unwilling to listen! Further, JPL has numerous co-workers lined up to testify how they don’t like working with Coppedge because of his demeanor—not necessarily what he said.

Did I mention he got in an argument over Proposition 8 (same sex marriage in California) and complained the “Holiday Party” should be called “Christmas Party”?

Simply put—he was exactly what I said he looked like from the very beginning. A problem employee. (If you would like to follow along, the Sensuous Curmudgeon is doing a day-by-day blow on the trial through the media coverage.)

Unfortunately, “Christianese” does not translate well into the rough-and-tumble real world. As I have seen time and time again, when only confronted with those who already support you, Christians become convince their own beliefs are justifiable when scrutinized. Pastor Jim believes it. Sunday School Teacher Tracy taught it. All their friends agree. All their friend’s friends agree.

And this invulnerability feeling is shocked when others don’t quite see it the same way. How could JPL impose employment sanctions unless it had to do with Intelligent Design? It couldn’t be that Coppedge was a difficult person to work with…why…all his Intelligent Design friends just LOVE him, don’t ya know!?

As I though at the time, and continue to think—Coppedge is a pawn in the Discovery Institute’s machine. If he wins (he won’t) they can proudly claim poor Intelligent Design is picked on by NASA. If he loses (he will) they will write it off to “activist judge” and bury the story.

Oh…one final interesting note. Plaintiff Coppedge waived a jury and personally choose to have his case held before the judge. Get that? Any claim of “activist judge” will be ridiculous, because it was Coppedge’s choice to have the judge—not a jury.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Promise Keepers, Demons and Charismatics

At Tough Questions Answered, Walt Tucker brought up an incident from his trip to India. He asked how skeptics could provide a natural explanation for what he thought was an obvious supernatural intervention of demon(s) possessing a woman.

In 1994 or ’95 I attended Promise Keepers conference—where Christian men are challenged to be Men, yet encouraged to be soft, sensitive and sorta metrosexual at the same time. At this historical point, this was “the current hot Christian thing” that everybody---EVERYBODY…had to get on board with. There were even bumper stickers.

So every local church sent out banners and buses, registered blocks of testosterone, and we managed to pack the Silverdome full of Christian men all but lathered up to learn how to be better fathers, sons, husbands and brothers…but mostly how to be Men. This meant we had a mixture of Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Non-Denominationals, Lutherans and…Charismatics.

I grew up Baptist—we were known as “God’s Frozen Chosen” for a reason. We never clapped (unless it was a children’s program), never even swayed to music, certainly never raised our hands when we sang and never, EVER ran up and down the aisles like hooligans whenever the feeling…er…”spirit”…moved us. We sat still and looked grim like God expected proper Christians to look.

We found Charismatic believers fascinating. Occasionally one would wander in our midst, and upon putting up their hands at the first song, a collective “gasp!” would issue forth, and the reproving stares would immediately inform the miscreant they were an outsider and such flagrant displays were not welcome here. Those upward-pointing hands would be discussed in the car on the way home from church, I can assure you.

Yet as much as we were repulsed by their terrible doctrine, we were enthralled by their antics. Like monkeys in a zoo—we wouldn’t want to BE one, but we loved to watch them.

So anyway…back to Promise Keepers…our particular set of stoic attendees was seated in the first section, dead center, maybe 10-15 rows up. Excellent view of the stage and the crowd of men seated at floor level. At the first song (yeah…they sing at these things) we discovered a whole pack of Charismatics seated on the floor—we knew because they all raised their hands. It looked like a heavy metal concert without lighters.

But what we didn’t know (and quickly discovered) is that there were actually two (2) separate Charismatic groups who happened to sit near each other. Men…being men…were not satisfied with the adequacy of only performing as their competitors.

At the next song, one pack (per usual) raised their hands, while the other tribe successfully one-upped them by raising their hands and standing up! Quickly the first team realized they were trailing in this spiritual warfare, and likewise stood up with arms raised. Any student of Dr. Seuss recognizes escalation was a mandatory response.

The plot was hatched. A new song…group number 2 again stood and raised their hands, foolishly believing all they needed was status quo. With barely concealed smirks, Clan No. 1 stood, picked up their chairs and held them over their heads! Winning by height, mass, volume, strength and exuberance.

You couldn’t have torn us away from this feud if you offered free buffet in the lobby. We had a packed Sports Stadium where every person was acting as if they were “singing to the Lord” yet in reality were transfixed by the contentious sporting event taking place before us, while pretending it wasn’t happening. As if we were just singing away to Praise Jesus.

At the break the two teams huddled together clearly discussing what plays to call in the Second half. The rest of us waited with bated breath as to who would make the next move; we hoped for the next song just to watch the competition unfold. Unfortunately, they forgot the fundamental rule of all team sports—there is no “I” in team.

When the next song broke out, leadership failed and pandemonium ensued. Some (in each group) held up chairs; others (in each group) stood on chairs; still others took to the aisles dancing. One enterprising guy picked up a chair and swung it in a circle! We all moved to the edge of our seats, not wanting to acknowledge the unchristian desire he swung a little wide and brained some fellow Charismatic with the resulting spray of blood confirming this to be a legitimate sport. Alas, his seatmates had moved to safety.

They were holding things up, they were dancing, they were moving, in our estimation they were completely out of control. Nobody, but nobody, could determine how to score this or who was winning. Eventually, out of sheer exhaustion, it calmed down and they muddled back to their seats. By the next song, the two teams were too fatigued from battle to do much more than stand and lift their hands.

For the rest of us, the Battle of the Charismatics was the highlight of Promise Keepers.

As a Christian, this is how I viewed “healings” as practiced by the Charismatic movement. Did God Heal? Absolutely, often by deftly moving the able fingers of a surgeon, of course. But God intervened occasionally and removed tumors, or balanced chemistry or performed some act curing the person. Did God heal by some preacher striking the poor sod on the head? No—those were antics.

As a Christian, I believed there was a natural explanation for these spiritual “healings” allegedly performed by the likes of Benny Hinn. It was fakery. This is still the belief of my Christian family. My Christian former friends. Every Christian church I attended. Millions and Millions of Christians who believe God can and does heal, finds such “miracles” to have natural explanations. It is not just us non-theistic skeptics.

As a Christian, I believed it was possible for a God to miraculous cause someone to speak in a foreign language. But tongues as practiced by the Charismatic movement? Again—all fake. Natural explanation. One doesn’t need to be an atheist to be persuaded there is subterfuge going on—Millions and Millions of Christians (again, including my family, former friends and former churches) agree.

Demon possession? As we believed the Gospels were historical, and Jesus tossed out demons possessing people, we obviously believed it could happen. But every instance of claimed demonic possession? Naw…even we knew those were not real. We enjoyed discussing them—every tale of demons involved topics normally taboo outside of Church, let alone within a church—there was nakedness and cursing and sexual-laden references. Or blood and rituals and severed limbs.

But we understood those tales were outlandish. Like a horror film…fun to hear and be scared that night, nothing beyond.

Occasionally missionaries would return from missions and give accounts about witch doctors, dark forces of evil and demon possessions. (Only missionaries to deepest parts of Africa, South America or Asia, of course. Not the ones to cities like Paris or Berlin.) We treated these tales with as much fascination and belief as we did Charismatic tales of healing.

Look, was it possible God, on some rare occasion, actually stepped in at the moment Benny Hinn smacked that person’s face and removed the root canal? Sure—God can do what he wants. But likely? No—one chance in a 100 million. Same thoughts with Demon possession. Was it possible? Mmmm…maybe. But far likely not.

If, as a Christian I believed in the possibility of such things, but doubted the stories regarding the same (again, just like all the Christians I associated with who would continue to doubt the same today) how much more now I am a naturalist?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Devil Made Me do it

Have you ever wondered what Satan’s motivation would be?

According to standard Christian dogma, God decides to make some eternal servants--known to us humans as “angels”—and the No. 1 Servant (Lucifer) decides he can stage a coup d’etat and take over God’s position. Of course Lucifer fails, God castigates him to the role of villain, and for millennium thereafter the two bicker and argue. It is all very Greek Tragedy.

Lucifer…or Satan as we shall call him…enters the Garden of Eden with God’s permission and mucks things up for every human thereafter. Satan gets into a bet over Job, and tempts Jesus. Ever since faithfully assuming the role and blame of being Enemy No. 1 on God’s list.

But why would Satan mess around tempting humans, getting involved in human affairs, etc? Look…he would know the book of Revelation as well as we do. It is not some secret code; some hidden language only “true Christians” can read and we have cleverly kept secret from Satan and his spies for the past 2000 years. Satan has read “Left Behind.”

In the end, he is going in the Lake of Fire along with the rest of us heathens. Contrary to popular cartoons, Satan (according to Christian dogma) will not rule Hell. He will not be in charge. He will not be enjoying Jack Chick Torture with sadistic fetish. He will be screaming and whining along with the rest of us heathens.

And Satan…who already tried to take on God once, and has been around since the very beginning…would know this. He doesn’t get reduced time for the more souls that join him; he doesn’t get credit for fewer people in heaven. He does not get more people to rule, the larger the census in hell. He gets the chop with us.

[If some Christian wants to argue Satan thinks he can take on God and win…one wonders what good humans will do in this effort. Does he get a nuclear pitchfork every time an unbeliever dies?]

Oh sure, maybe for the first few centuries, he may have tried to convert a few just to piss God off…but what fun in that? Satan played his biggest trump card in the Garden—now every human is doomed by default to hell. Even better, human nature (again, according to Christian dogma) is such we have a propensity to do more evil.

Satan doesn’t have to do a thing. Heck, God even helps out by occasionally whacking off whole lots of evil people—babies and all—by genocide, tsunamis, earthquakes, flood, famine and volcanoes. Not to mention a war or two. It would be hard for Satan to keep up!

So why would Satan care about tempting humans? Even under Christian dogma…

I ask because Dr. Jones argues the Devil is portraying heaven as boring. That cartoon and modern media’s depiction of heaven, with St. Peter at the Gates, and clouds and harps and singing and time stretching out into tedious infinity is some nefarious plot on the Devil’s part to…I don’t know…keep people from relishing death?

Really? After tempting and observing humans for 1000’s of years (according to Christians) this is the best plan Satan can come up with?

Look, we don’t buy things because we find the competitor’s products undesirable; we buy things because we want them. “Don’t buy Fords—they are only meh.” No, no, no, no. “Buy OUR Car! It will make you Sexy! It will make you go fast! It will save you money!” The only time an advertiser demonstrates the shoddiness of a competitor is to immediately compare it to their own—“Look at how much stain is left when you use theirs; our product removed it better! Faster! Safer! Cleaner!”

If Satan is running down heaven, this is only half the job. The Devil would need to replace it with an alternative even better than heaven. Which got me to thinking…assuming arguendo there was a demi-god Satan, in competition with God, what would Satan do to keep as many people out of heaven as possible (assuming Satan had such a goal?)

What would I do?

Well…obviously one would need to develop on alternative religion. One that was close enough to the truth to sound legitimate, but not sufficient to get one into real heaven. One that claimed a greater reward than real heaven…with less work.

So first we would make it simple to get in. Not too simple—then no one would believe it. Further, make it a little uncertain, so humans keep reassessing their position and re-confirming the little thing they must do. Manufacturers long know the real money is in replacement parts; not just the original purchase.

Make the humans feel good about themselves to further solidify the belief. For example, create the concept of really, REALLY big sins, and as long as they are not doing those…why…the human is just fine. Be willing to mold with the times; as long as the person acts within the current societal norms, they qualify.

Never explicitly quantify a promise. Be opaque. Don’t say, “I will be there at noon on Tuesday;” say, “I am coming soon.” Don’t promise to heal them if they perform the correct ritual; explain you will comfort them. And if (Satan Forbid) they expect some response, make it so it is their fault when the response doesn’t arrive. They are too stupid, too insincere, desire the wrong things, too immature, too human.

Put the reward out of verification…only once you die you will have candy and health and love and peace and money and adulation and power and whatever you want.

In short…if I was Satan and I wanted to create an alternative religion to keep people out of heaven…I would create Christianity. The perfect placebo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Seven and Final

And so we come to the final chapter in the book. The one cited by Christian apologists most often. It is broken into two (2) sections—the first on Roman Citizenship (this is the third time Sherwin-White has discussed it) and the second on what he titles, “The Historicity of the Gospels and Graeco-Roman Historiography.”

I just finished an extremely long discussion regarding this section over at Grace and Miracles blog, and am thankful for that discussion to clarify my thoughts. First what Sherwin-White states (with my notations in brackets):

Another example. The internal synoptic divergences, such as arise in the narrative of the trial of Christ, are very similar to those that Roman historians meet in the study of the tribunate of Gaius Gracchus.

The objection will be raised to this line of argument that the Roman historical writers and the Gospels belong to different kinds of literature. Whatever the defects of our sources, their authors were trying to write history, but the authors of the Gospels had a different aim. Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the basic historicity of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting. That the degree of confirmation in Graeco-Roman terms is less for the Gospels than for Acts is due, as these lectures have tried to show, to the differences in their regional settings. As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem [i.e. the Trial], the confirmation begins. For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is over-whelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.
What to an ancient historian is most surprising in the basic assumption of form-criticism of the extremer sort, is the presumed tempo of the development of the didactic myths—if one may use that term to sum up the matter. We are not unacquainted with this type of writing in ancient historiography, as will shortly appear. The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time, much more remote from the events themselves, than can be the case. Certainly a deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the event, whether for national glorification or political spite, or for the didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas. But in the material of ancient history the historical content is not hopelessly lost.

Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.

The impression of historical tradition is nowhere more strongly felt than in the various accounts of the trial of Christ, analysed in Roman terms in the second lecture. Consider the close interdependence of Mark and Matthew, supplementing each other even in particular phrases, yet each with his particular contribution, then Luke with his more coherent and explicit account of the charges and less clear version of the activity of the Sanhedrin, finally John, who despite many improbabilities and obscurities yet gives a convincingly contemporary vision of the political pressure on Pilate in the age of Tiberius.

Taking the synoptic writers quite generally as primitive historians, there is a remarkable parallel between their technique and that of Herodotus, the father of history, in their anecdotal conception of a narrative. [emphasis added]

As we have seen throughout this review, Sherwin-White’s method is arguing by example—he makes an argument, and then finds an example supporting this argument. Of course, the huge error in doing so is that it only takes one (1) counter-example to undermine the argument!

It was pointed out to me that Dr. Richard Carrier addresses Sherwin-White’s claims in The Empty Tomb: (again my clarifying thoughts in brackets)

To be exact, Sherwin-White never used the word ‘legend’ in the chapter [where Sherwin-White discusses historicity in documents and myth development] Craig quotes. Nor does he [Sherwin-White] discuss the empty tomb narrative, or any miracle at all—his [Sherwin-White’s] remarks are confined solely to the trial of Jesus. In this context [the chapter on general historicity and myth development timing] Sherwin-White talks mainly about ‘myth’ (pp. 189,190, 191, 193), case sometimes as ‘propaganda’ (pg. 186), ‘contradictions’ (p. 188), ‘falsification’ (p191), the ‘didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas’ (p. 189), or ‘deliberate…embroidery’ (p. 193), all of which he [Sherwin-White] admits can arise within two generations. He [Sherwin-White] generally has in mind any false story, of whatever origin, that is later believed to be true. Yet his [Sherwin-White’s] argument from Herodotus rests merely on a single case, and even that contains the full admission that a legend was widely believed true at the time. The only difference is that Herodotus challenges it as he [Herodotus] did many claims. But we have not even a single example of such a method or approach being employed by the Gospel authors; they never challenge or even question anything they report, and unlike Herodotus they never once name a single source, or consciously weigh the evidence for or against any claim.

“Thus the analogy with Herodotus fails. The Gospel writers are much more akin to the people who believed the legends, than they are to a careful crucial historian like Herodotus himself, who often doubts them. And yet even Herodotus believed without question many obvious legends (as we shall see), a point Sherwin-White curiously neglects to mention, probably because it would have undermined his argument for the historicity of Christ’s trial. Worst still, Sherwin-White’s one case study [of Herodotus] is so dissimilar to the empty tomb story that no analogy can be drawn between them, and thus it is inappropriate for Craig to employ it in such a way. [emphasis in the original]

An analogy to Sherwin-White’s method: “Cars do not rust within two years. Here is a two-year-old Ford with no rust.” This claim is proven incorrect by one (1) car less than two years old with rust. It only takes one counter-example to undermine the argument. (Why it is such a poor method to begin with.)

Conforming to his typical methodology, Sherwin-White claims “even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition” and then provides the example of Herodotus and Hipparchus.

Carrier provides numerous counter-examples. Including examples within Herodotus, examples with the contemporary writer Josephus, and examples with other historical events—Saint Genevieve and Roswell.

“Here’s a rusty one-year-old car; here’s a rusty one-year-old car; here’s a rusty one-year-old car.”

(Craig’s claim Herodotus made numerous other mythical accounts [and Sherwin-White was aware] only hurts Sherwin-White’s method; it doesn’t help it! Being aware of counter-examples is insufficient; one must address the counter-example!

“Sure Herodotus also claimed PLENTY of cars less than two-years-old had rust.”)

It gets worse. Carrier points out, even in the Herodotus example Sherwin-White utilized, there were counter-examples—legends arising surrounding the Hipparchus’ murder—and that Herodotus’ ability to maintain historicity in the face of these myths is the exception. to the legend. What about the very counter-example in the same account?

“Herodotus was able to pick out the two-year-old Ford without rust amongst all the rusty two-year-old cars.”

It gets even worse. Carrier points out the gospels correlate closer to legendary accounts than Herodotus’ historical accounts:

1) Herodotus challenges conventional legend; the gospels make no challenges.
2) Herodotus names sources; gospels do not.
3) Herodotus weighs evidence; gospels do not.
4) Event in Herodotus’ city; Gospel accounts not in author’s city.
5) Inscription regarding the actual history existed; gospels have no such inscription.
6) Herodotus consciously wrote history; Mark’s Gospel is more akin to didactic hagiography.

“The gospels are 1978 Datsuns, and Herodotus picked out a ’78 Ford amongst ’78 Toyota’s. Toyota’s are more similar to Datsuns than Fords.”*

*The late 70’s Japanese cars were notorious for rust issues.

In short, Sherwin-White (as typical) uses argument by example for this point. Carrier demonstrates how Sherwin-White fails to address counter-examples (made even worse by Craig’s emphasizing Sherwin-White knew counter-examples), fails to address the counter-example implicit in the example used, and fails to correlate the example to the documents in question to see if they parallel the example or the counter-example.

Now how Sherwin-White has been abused…

Christian Apologist authors have assumed, as style, taking quotes from perceived non-Christians to bolster their argument (presumably to claim lack of bias.) Any skeptic discussing the resurrection is certain to hear the Gerd Ludemann (a known atheist!) quote. Discuss Acts, and Sir William Ramsay will make his appearance. Crack open a creationist book; the quotes come spewing forth.

Poor Sherwin-White receives the same treatment. The rest of his book is discarded, overlooked or forgotten. (How many internet Christian apologists who cite Sherwin-White agree with his assessment on Quirinius? Or that Luke disagrees with Mark on the Sanhedrin and is probably incorrect?) But Sherwin-White is not blatantly writing a Christian apologetic book. He is a (perceived non-Christian) historian. And he writes this one itty-bitty line about timing, myth development and “hard historic core.”

Now the Christian apologist author can do what s/he always does: Take the quote from Sherwin-White, tack on some timing and…voila!—they have an “unbiased source” supporting their claim:

P1: Sherwin-White says two generations is ‘too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.’
P2: Mark’s Gospel was written within 2 generations:
Conclusion: Jesus walked on water.


Conclusion: Jesus fed 5000.


Conclusion: Jesus’ Tomb was empty on Sunday.


Conclusion: [insert whatever one pleases]

That’s the con. The conclusion does not follow from the premises because the person is extrapolating far too much from Sherwin-White.

The question is this:

Define “hard historic core.”

Think about it; really contemplate it. It must be something that feasibly (under the Sherwin-White “formula”) will completely and utterly disappear in 3 or more generations. What could it be?

Or look at it another way. Take a myth, like Robin Hood. What is the “hard historic core” of Robin Hood? A brigand? A brigand good with a bow? A brigand, good with a bow who leads men? What requirements are there for the “hard historic core” within Robin Hood? At what point do we differentiate the Robin Hood story from other highwaymen?

Carrier raises this point admirably within the Roswell Alien story. What is the “hard historic core” in that story? Do you know? What was it causing people to believe a saucer crash landed? If there was an actual item from the sky, does that constitute a “hard historical core” not eliminated by years of alien stories?

See…this isn’t how myth-making works! Myths can take actual events and/or people and do one (or more) of three things:

1) Add;
2) Subtract: or
3) Modify.

How can we determine “hard historical core” when one can feasibly argue EVERY myth has a “hard historical core”? (Again, I would point out, under Sherwin-White, it must be something that could disappear in three or more generations, if this is a hard-and-fast formula.) Animals walk in the woods—BAM! Big Foot has a hard historical core. Pontius Pilate really governed in Judea—BAM! The Gospels have a hard historical core.

This is what I thought about Herodotus. What is the “hard historical core” in his fantastical stories? One could argue EVERY story has a historical core. There was Athens, hence the burned Olive tree has historical core. Troy fell, the Trojan horse has historical core.

Do you see what I mean? “Hard historical core” is sophistry giving no real definition and no insight.

This small sentence is “full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.” I understand the Dr. Craig’s want to utilize it. We should ignore the con and ask this one question: Define “hard historic core” with specificity so we can see how it would be utterly lost by the third generation.

It is not how myth-making works. Sherwin-White is not to blame; those trying to bolster this sentence into a formula are.

The reason for this long (and dull) review was to once again dispel the claims made by Christian apologists, once brought to full light.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A blog on being Gay and Christian

I came across a blog entry , written by a fellow who is:

1) Christian.
2) Gay.
3) Celibate.
And I’d burn every earthly possession I have, empty my bank accounts, quit my job, and terminate every relationship I have for a pill to change over—in a heartbeat—I’d walk away from that pyre buck-naked, unemployed, broke, but straight.

But unlike my heroes of my youth, my secret identity clings to me and I am forced to hide from what is called to be most loving, compassionate place on the planet—the church.

When the basis for the morality—including the forbidding of homosexual acts—is so poor to begin with…it is human-made…I find it impossible to see how charity work performed by Christians out-weighs the abuse doled out by the same hands.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Six

In Lecture Six, Sherwin-White enters the Galilean world, stating “The material of the Gospels is not capable of the sort of treatment that historians since [William] Ramsay have given to the Acts. From the Graeco-Roman point of view, this poses a problem.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White then highlights certain aspects of the Gospels.

I found this the most interesting chapter by far.

First, he notes specific historical references are few, and (with one exception) are concentrated at the beginning and the end. The beginning with King Herod the Great, and the end with Pilate.

But even those references give us issue, as Sherwin-White indicates—the “reference to Herod and Archelaus [Herod’s son] keeps bad company in Mathew, is absent from Mark, and even in Luke is involved with the difficult question of Quirinius and his census.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White will deal with Quirinius in a latter lecture. The sole exception in the middle is reference to Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee with John the Baptist (Matthew & Mark) and appearance four times in Luke.

Sherwin-White continues, “Not only are there no other precise historical cross-references inside the narrative, but he narrative of all three Gospels is largely devoid of other material references that might tie to the Roman period.” Pg 123. For example, the “centurion” with the palsied servant at Capernaum. (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). He can’t be a Roman centurion, Galilee was not part of Rome until 44 CE. But he is not Jewish either. Sherwin-White concludes (without providing us a reason) he is one of Tetrarch Herod’s soldiers who affected Roman terminology.

He then notes the various coins listed throughout the Gospels. Mark has Roman denarii and Roman quadrans. Matthew has Roman as, Greek didrachma and Greek stater. Luke has denarii, as, Greek drachmae, mina,and lepta. No wonder they needed money-changers in the temple! (Especially, as Sherwin-White notes, the Jewish Temple only took Jewish coins.)

Sherwin-White also discusses taxes, noting the peculiarity of tax-gatherers in Capernaum (Galilee) in Matthew 17:24-27. Curiously the term is ”cesum” (in Greek form) meaning a Roman tax, yet Galilee is not in a Roman province. Other authors have suggested this was a Jewish temple tax, but what is curious is Matthew has Peter obtain a sater--a Greek coin to pay the tax. It is possible the coin could be changed, but if Jesus was performing a miracle, why not get the Jewish coin in the first place?

Sherwin-White does not discuss this anomaly.

He goes on to discuss villages and cities, noting most villages were concern solely with internal affairs. Only a very few cities controlled (by governmental means) areas outside their specific walls. Sherwin-White notes Matthew and Luke “sadly confuse” the terms of city and villages.

By the way, Joesphus notes villages could consist of 15,000 people.

Sherwin-White contrasts the Roman city with the agricultural villages of Galilee in terms of government, topography, and “little kings.” By the end of the First Century (the conquest of Galilee and Judea) the area became more Roman in nature. Thus, Sherwin-White argues, the Galilean parables of Jesus regarding kings, servants and cities reflect a first century Palestine.

Sherwin-White provided interesting information in this chapter, despite Galilee and Jewish history being outside his expertise comfort.

Lecture Seven

Sherwin-White goes over some specifics regarding Roman Citizenship as a whole. Roman citizens obtained a proof of citizenship or registration of birth made before a magistrate and seven (7) witnesses. “Whether Romans carried such certificates about with them…we simply do not know. They were convenient in shape and size, being small wooden diptychs. But it is more likely that they were normally kept in the family archives.” Pg. 148-9. If they were not carried about, Sherwin-White speculates this could be a reason Paul rarely asserted his citizenship rights.

Sherwin-White concludes speculating how and when Paul’s family obtained its citizenship is a fruitless task.

He spends some time, going through Roman nomenclature, and how the various names in Acts do not provide much information as to the status, citizenship or class of individuals, due to lack of specifics. Again, Sherwin-White addresses various scholars’ opinions in this regard. A very dry topic in my opinion, with a great deal of “it is possible” and speculation.

Sherwin-White closes the lecture with a short section on Quirinius. “Luke dates the birth of Christ by connecting it with the census of Judaea taken, as is made abundantly clear in Josephus, when Sulpicius Quirinius was governor of Judaea after the annexation of the province in A.D. 6. This date conflicts with that of Matthew, who connects the nativity with the last years of Herod and the accession of Archelaus, ten years earlier. [4 BCE]. Luke’s date also conflicts with his own setting of the nativity of John in the ‘days of Herod the King of Judea.” PG. 163.

Sherwin-White dispenses with the apologetic Quirinus was governor of Syria twice—finding it lacks plausibility. He finds Luke is explicit with dates—such as Luke 3:1, “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius”—and believes Luke is equally deliberate with the dating of the birth. Sherwin-White says, “The taking of the Roman census in Judaea made a tremendous impact in Jewish history. The author of Luke cannot have been under any doubt or confusion when he selected that date. But its selection was a deliberate rejection of the tradition of Matthew, which connects the nativity with Herod and Archelaus.” Pg. 167.

All would be well and good, but Luke confuses the date with John the Baptist’s birth at the time of Herod.

Sherwin-White gives no solution to this problem, except saying Luke may be trying to “link” the Messiah’s birth to the last Messianic Prophet—John the Baptist. Sherwin-White concludes, “Luke should mean what he wrote.” Pg. 171. It would appear Sherwin-White would place Jesus’ birth in 6 CE, according to Luke, and decide it is beyond his acumen to find a way to explain the problem of Luke referring to John the Baptist being born around the same time, yet in a period 10 years later.

And this is typical Sherwin-White. Say one thing, note the counter argument and then “Harumph. Aren’t we glad that is settled?” leaving you to scratch your head as to what the conclusion is, or how he reached it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Five

Sherwin-White enters the next lecture about Paul’s various trips to cities, as recorded in Acts. The first anachronism Sherwin-White addresses is the question of how Paul could be beaten by authorities (Acts 16:22 & 2 Cor. 11:25) when Paul indicates it is unlawful to beat him as a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:25).

Sherwin-White goes through a number of examples regarding various communities, their authorities and their jurisdiction to impose law. He notes it is possible authorities could exceed their powers and concludes, “the narrative agrees with the evidence of the earlier period that a Roman Citizen of any social class was protected against a casual beating (without trial), whereas the humiliores of the late empire had lost this protection.” Pg. 76 I had great difficulty following Sherwin-White’s analysis, nor how he came to this particular conclusion. I finally gave up.

Sherwin-White notes the charge in Philippi was in two forms: 1) causing a riot and 2) introduction of alien religion. However, Sherwin-White correctly indicate the official position of Rome was to prohibit certain religious practices, typically if such practices did not cause a disturbance, they were allowed to continue. With occasional crack-downs. This charge, Sherwin-White says, “…though it is unusual, it is not entirely unparalleled in Julio-Claudian usage.” (pg 82)

Sherwin-White states the procedure followed in Ephesus was that reminiscent of the first and Second Century. Acts does not show detailed knowledge of any other city, as compared to Ephesus. When discussing the other cities, Acts uses far less specifics, and general titles, rather than the correct term for Clerk of the City, etc. Although Acts is aware of the correct and fairly unusual title of Thessalonica’s city magistrates.

I found Sherwin-White quite dry at this point, in referring to these events. It did seem he generally wanted to favor Acts, rather than be critical. Where Acts was accurate, it was highlighted. Where Acts was not, it was excused.

The next Lecture dealt with Paul appearing before the proconsul Gallio. (Acts 18:12-17) Where the proconsul actually turns on the accusers and drives them out. Sherwin-White says, “It is not certain that the charge made against Paul at Corinth was intended to refer primarily to Hebraic Law, though Gallio found it convenient to take it that way….It is the way of Acts to summarize and at times to garble the charges variously brought against Paul.” Pg. 101

Sherwin-White responds to many claims by critics, including the lack of specific charges, and that we do not know a proconsul Gallio of Achaia. (It is unlikely such a minor official would be recorded within the histories we have.)

And finally, within this lecture, Sherwin-White addresses who Paul would see in his appeal to Rome. It is extremely unlikely he would have been taken to Nero himself, as Nero avoided all jurisdictional functions. He also addresses criticism regarding the two-year delay, concluding it was possible for such a delay to occur.

Curiously, Sherwin-White notes Seneca, one of Nero’s principal advisors, attempted to instill clemency in Nero, and states, “Perhaps Paul benefited from the clemency of Nero, and secured merely a casual release. But there is no necessity to construe Acts to mean that he was released at all.” (pg 119)

Sherwin-White gives us no information as to who Paul would have seen in Rome, or what would have happened to him.