Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“To deny that [Jesus] was a solid historical figure is to my mind a certain indication that standards of rationality have been left behind."

Sam and Jamie both think there's good evidence that Jesus was a real historical figure. The Rev. Sam says:

“To deny that [Jesus] was a solid historical figure is to my mind a certain indication that standards of rationality have been left behind."

Jamie suggests there's as much evidence for Jesus as there is for Socrates, whom we all accept was a real person.

Let's compare the evidence for Jesus and Socrates. In both cases we have a few documents thousands of years old saying this person existed.

First some minor points:

One difference is, those writing about Socrates actually knew him and heard him speak. Not so in the case of the four Gospels written decades after Jesus supposedly lived. Nor, in the case of Socrates, do we have a lot of other documents (other Gospels) that contradict these four. Nor do the Socrates documents contain many internal contradictions. Nor do the Socrates documents report many amazing events that, if they really happened, would almost have been reported elsewhere (such as the earthquake after Jesus' death resulting in the splitting of the Temple and the dead coming out of their tombs and roaming the streets of the City where they were, as Matthew reports, "seen by many") - there being no other records of these events at all.

I could go on, but this is all small beer compared to the real evidential deficit, which is this.

If two friends tell me that a man called Bert visited them at home last night, I have every reason to believe them. That's evidence enough.

But if they then tell me that Bert flew around the room, then dropped dead, and them came back to life again, before turning the sofa into a donkey, well then that's no longer nearly good enough evidence that they are telling the truth, is it?

In fact, not only am I justified in rejecting their testimony about the miracles, I would now also be wise to suspend judgement on whether any such person as Bert even exists, let alone did the things they claim.

The moral is pretty obvious, I think. No one claims Socrates performed extraordinary miracles in front of audiences of thousands. The gospels claim Jesus did. That is why we need rather better evidence for his existence than just the say so of four rather inconsistent documents written by the faithful decades after the event.

My view is - I just don't know whether the historical figure Jesus existed. There's not enough evidence. The parallel drawn with the historical evidence for Socrates is misleading.

39 comments:

Jamie said...

On your first point, how do you know the writers of the NT didn't know Jesus? The Gospels are (supposedly) written by four men who were students of Jesus (just like Plato to Socrates) every day for three years. Other NT writers were also (supposedly) contemporaries of Jesus.

In your analogy, let's say your two friends not only attested to the supernatural (Bert flew around, etc.) but you believed them to be otherwise honest persons, they were brought up on trial before the Supreme Court of the land, facing the death sentence, and still did not recant that Bert flew around the room. In fact, were sentenced to death through several appeals and died without recanting. Wouldn't that increase the probability that their story - as outlandish as it seemed to you who weren't there - might be true?

You might say, "No, it just proves they were insane." But then you're making a leap of faith that there was something wrong with them when all other indications is that the were normal men who held jobs, paid taxes, functioned in society, and lived a life as a teacher (just like Plato).

Jamie said...

I meant
"indications are that they were normal men who held jobs, paid taxes, functioned in society, and lived their lives as teachers (just like Plato)."

Matt M said...

Isn't there a difference between establishing that a person (most probably) existed and establishing what that person was like and what they did?

There seems to be some debate over how trustworthy the depictions of Socrates are.

Paul Power said...

Stephen's analogy didn't include what is perhaps the most telling difference: that no one is claiming that Bart is god incarnate and that we must rearrange our entire lives to accomodate this belief .

anticant said...

Without wishing to offend Jamie or Sam, I think a certain quite natural wish to be "on the side of the angels" comes into play here. It is always gratifying to believe that one is the privileged possessor of esoteric knowledge not vouchsafed to humanity at large - it is the hallmark of all cult followers.

The problem with Christians of the Jamie and Sam type is not that they are intentionally dishonest, or self-deceiving, but that they stretch the supposed evidence for the Biblical Jesus beyond the bounds of rational assent and in the teeth of probability.

Why cannot they just accept that the universe, and our presence in it, is mysterious and wonderful enough, without all the supernatural garnish?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Jamie: "The Gospels are (supposedly) written by four men who were students of Jesus."

No, the actual documents were written many decades later, by anonymous individuals. Many Christians that that three of the gospels have a common source - Q.

Some Christians claim "Matthew" was written by the apostle St. Matthew. Ditto "Mark" by St. Mark. But it's all very contentious, isn't it?

As to whether the actual authors of the four documents we now possess died for their beliefs, who knows.

Of course, lots of Christians have died for their beliefs, but as for those who developed the original Jesus stories (true or not) we surely have little idea.

terence said...

Jamie,

Do a bit of research. The Gospels were not written by the apostles, they were written down later (a hundred years or more after the time of the apostles) to record the teachings of the apostles. In other words, these "teachings" were oral teachings communicated from person to person for a hundred years or so.

People honestly believe and attest to all kinds of (oftentimes strange) things all the time. That they believe them, that they are willing to die for their beliefs, doesn't make the beliefs true. Buddhist priests were tortured and killed in China for refusing to recant their beliefs -- does this prove Buddhism is true?

terence said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gospels

Stephen Law said...

This chap seems fairly well-informed:

http://www.dougshaver.com/christ/socrates/socrates.html

Stephen Law said...

Thanks for wiki link, Terence. Very useful.

anticant said...

Oral tradition is very unreliable. Ask any three eyewitnesses of a particular event what happened, and you will get three entirely different answers.

There was a well-known First World War story about a message passed back from the front line to headquarters by word of mouth. The original message was "Enemy advancing on left flank. Send reinforcements". The message received was "The enemy are dancing on wet planks. Send three and fourpence."

Paul C said...

Wouldn't that increase the probability that their story - as outlandish as it seemed to you who weren't there - might be true?

It would have no bearing whatsoever on whether their story was true, although it might have some bearing on whether you believed their story was true.

My family is the best family that ever existed, and I'm prepared to die for them. Does that convince you that my family are the best family that ever existed? Somehow I doubt it.

anticant said...

All the world's queer save thee and me, and even thee's a bit odd.

Paul Power said...

As we're now discussing psychology, it's instructive to look at Festinger's experience as a (fake) member of a real cult. See http://www.geocities.com/tarob01/Festinger as an interesting summary.
"Festinger and two colleagues posed as cult members and infiltrated a cult group to test his cognitive dissonance theory. He had read a newspaper article concerning a Minneapolis woman that had supposedly received messages from superior alien beings. The aliens had warned the woman that a great flood would destroy the United States, and bring the end of the world.

Festinger and his confederates successfully assimilated into the cult and regularly attended meetings. Cognitive Dissonance Theory predicted that most cult members would not change their belief or opinion about the woman if the predicted flood did not occur. According to the theory, most cult members would continue to faithfully believe in the woman, even when she was proven wrong. That was exactly what happened. Many cult members sold their possessions and quit their jobs in anticipation of the end of the world.

Some members became disillusioned and quit the group when the predicted apocalypse did not occur. However, the majority of cult members remained loyal believers in the woman's prophecy. Festinger cited this study as the basis for his Cognitive Dissonance Theory. His hypothesis had accurately predicted the cult member's group behavior. Some members would abandon the woman and the cult, but the majority would grow stronger in their original belief even when the prophecy did not come true. "

Doubting Thomas Tang said...

Hi Stephen,

Care to take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus as well?

"Nevertheless, historicity is still regarded as effectively proven by almost all Biblical scholars and historians."

Doubting Thomas Tang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Law said...

Hi Doubting Thomas

Yes, it says:

"Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, was accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was sentenced to death by crucifixion.[1]"

I know lot's of Biblical scholars think there's good evidence for Jesus' historicity. Trouble is, they tend to be true believers! That's I'm not too impressed by arguments from authority in this context.

I wouldn't, and don't, rely on Biblical scholarship either way here. Both wiki entries clearly say however that the Gospels were written decades later, by anonymous individuals, which is the key point. They also indicate most scholars believe in a common source - Q, etc. So, Matthew was not written by St Matthew, etc. then.

Fergus Gallagher said...

I would also like to recommend:

The God Who Wasn't There

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man

Misquoting Jesus

Stephen Law said...

I don't know why I keep putting apostrophes in "lots". sorry. Lot's.

Nick said...

Jamie said: "In your analogy, let's say your two friends not only attested to the supernatural (Bert flew around, etc.) but you believed them to be otherwise honest persons, they were brought up on trial before the Supreme Court of the land, facing the death sentence, and still did not recant that Bert flew around the room. In fact, were sentenced to death through several appeals and died without recanting. Wouldn't that increase the probability that their story - as outlandish as it seemed to you who weren't there - might be true?"

Hume's dictum is apposite here:

"When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

Jamie, I am interested to know why you think it more likely that the miracles attributed to Jesus really happened as described, as opposed to them having far more mundane explanations: lies, exaggerations, delusions, myths, tricks etc?

Perhaps you regard the willingness of Christians to be persecuted and martyred as impressive evidence in favour of Christianity's truth? If so, then your argument might be written as follows:

P1: If a set of beliefs is held very strongly (perhaps to the point of being prepared to die for them), then these beliefs are likely to be true
P2: Some people hold (or have held) Christian beliefs very strongly (perhaps to the point of being prepared to die for them)
C: Therefore, Christian beliefs are likely to be true

Whilst I accept P2, I'm afraid that P1 is not self-evidently true, so it needs further justification on your part. In fact, as people have held and continue to hold a great number of mutually contradictory beliefs that they have been prepared to die for, then P1 is looking rather weak. If you think that P1 (or some version of it) is true, then please provide your justification for it. I'm afraid that it won't do to just assume that it is true.

Perhaps you are specifically thinking of the early Christians, and concluding that they must have been party to some very convincing evidence if they were willing to be persecuted and martyred for their beliefs? If so, then your argument seems to be the following:

P1: If some of the early Christians had very good evidence for the truth of the Christian beliefs, then they would be willing to die for their beliefs
P2: Some of the early Christians were willing to die for their beliefs
C: Therefore, they had very good evidence for the truth of the Christian beliefs

However, you should note that this is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent, so this argument is invalid. There are many others possible explanations for the willingness of some early Christians to die for their beliefs, other than them having very convincing evidence for the truth of Christianity. If your actual argument is neither of the ones that I have given, or you think that your argument can be salvaged, then please demonstrate this.

On the subject of early Christian persecution and martyrs, you might find the following to be enlightening:

this

and

this

anticant said...

Stephen: "I don't know why I keep putting apostrophes in "lots". sorry. Lot's."

Maybe you were hankering after Lot's wife :)

anticant said...

Atheist Ethicist [Alonzo Fyfe] has just posted an impressive statement he's like to make to the US Democratic Convention. I do urge you all to read it:

http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2008/08/democratic-forum-on-morals-and-common.html

Andrew Louis said...

Let’s say that reason is true because it works following William James who said, “truth is what works by way of belief.” Reality always is what it is, we do nothing more then array our way of speaking about it to serve a particular human purpose.

So reason works for humanity in a certain sort of way, mainly in the realm of objective science which leads to simpler more comfortable lives, but not necessarily more content. On the other hand, you have religion; which is obviously not a science and certainly not a philosophy. It’s irrational, doesn’t fit the scheme of reasonable thought today (so it seems), can’t be used to cure cancer or design cars, yet there it is. We have this “way of talking” about “things”. But, are we talking about “things”, or a condition, a certain state of mind? Are we building what Sam would call Wisdom? If we agree that there is such a thing as wisdom, can reason build it? And what is it about religion that makes it a great tool for the task?

Does the validity of religion stand and fall based on the objective evidence? If we somehow came to find out that Jesus was totally bogus and in fact never existed, so what?

When science discovers over and over again that what we used to believe is not actually true, there’s no great disturbance in the force (if you will). People simply give it a half shrug and move on; again, experience hasn’t changed, only the way we talk about it. Just because what we used to believe was discovered to be wrong, doesn’t necessarily mean that our old forms of thought didn’t “work”. If Jesus never existed it only means that the language we use to cultivate a certain sense of spirituality and wisdom is not longer reasonable. Furthermore (I’d suggest) the forms of thought that lead to religion will still exist and something equally irrational in nature may take it’s place.

I don’t yet have a good argument for what I’m saying here, but to some degree what I’d suggest is that religion is not some thing to be taken as objectively factual, but a language which serves as a path to a certain sort of enlightenment. It stands and falls not on objectivity, but on whether or not it works. To some extent, perhaps religion is a natural phenomenon (however not as in Daniel Dennett’s diaper, “Religion as Natural Phenomenon”). Is there room to accept that the sort of irrational thought existing in religion serves a human purpose and speaks to something yet unknown; what we now call God?

Sam Norton said...

Amazing. Now where to begin?

First, a distinction between believing that Jesus was a historical figure and believing, eg, in the resurrection or other miracles. The latter is, obviously, much more open to debate and that _isn't_ what I'm asserting here.

My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago. To deny this is good prima facie evidence that non-rational factors are at play in forming a judgement, the same sorts of non-rational factors that Stephen criticises as being parallel to believing in fairies. Denying that Jesus was an historical figure, is, I contend, an equally egregious intellectual error.

So, that's the assertion, and bringing in red herrings like Bert flying around the room is just muddying the water - effective rhetoric but nothing more substantial. Biblical criticism has historically spent a lot of time discriminating between the (supposed) "legendary" bits (= 'flying around the room', miracles generally) and a more robust historical core. Dismissing _all_ of the historical evidence on the basis of a philosophical disagreement about what is humanly possible plays to prejudices nothing more.

Why am I so blunt on this? Well, a bit of autobiography first - I have studied this subject at undergrad and postgrad level - indeed you could say I have a professional interest in it - and I suspect that's something not widely shared amongst this readership. But is this just special pleading from biased sources? (Stephen: "I know lot's of Biblical scholars think there's good evidence for Jesus' historicity. Trouble is, they tend to be true believers! That's I'm not too impressed by arguments from authority in this context.") No, for the simple reason that the formative tutor for me in NT studies was himself an atheist who was quite prepared to see the miracle stories as largely made up. He isn't an exception, there are lots of Biblical scholars and scholars in related disciplines (Ancient Near Eastern history) who share the consensus that Jesus was an historical figure. I repeat - point to someone with expertise in the subject matter who disagrees!

But in a more mind-boggling comment Stephen goes on to say "I wouldn't, and don't, rely on Biblical scholarship either way here" - so how and why is your position fundamentally distinct from that of a Creationist vis-a-vis evolution? Creationists display no regard for the consensus of opinion within the relevantly qualified community, you're displaying no regard for the consensus of opinion in this relevantly qualified community (an opinion, I repeat, shared across Christian, agnostic, atheist etc).

Now that is why I believe that to assert "I just don't know whether the historical figure Jesus existed" is at best disingenuous. It is not the product of a dispassionate search for the truth, and it is not, I believe, a viewpoint that any reasonably informed and neutral observer would ever hold. I repeat - it simply shows, as with creationist argumentation, that common standards of rationality and respect for truth have been left behind.

~~~

Postscript on the minor points - a) oral cultures, contra to Anticant's point, were very good at preserving the fundamental integrity of testimonies; b) the references to Jesus aren't just the four gospels, there are also the various epistles, especially Paul's, written within 20 years of the crucifixion; c) the "received wisdom" being quoted here (eg from wiki sources) tends to reflect the state of Biblical scholarship at least one generation ago, and nearer three; d) the idea that the gospels are fundamentally eye-witness perspectives is, if not quite a consensus at the moment, certainly a defensible and respectable position to hold (see, eg, Bauckham's book, 'Jesus and the Eye-witnesses').

On the Socrates analogy, I'd need to check, but I'm pretty sure that the gospels stand up well in comparison (eg how do we know that Plato i) wrote what is attributed to him and ii) wrote down what Socrates actually said, as opposed to putting words into his mouth? compare the different presentations of Socrates across the different authors); the distinction between an oral and a literary culture is also relevant (let alone the different linguistic paradigms).

Anonymous said...

True believers believe that Jesus is a solid historical figure and the Son of God, and true unbelievers believe that Jesus is not a solid historical figure and not the Son of God.
If you really believe that only what you can see and touch is real then you obviously havent seen a replicant crying in the rain and been moved by it.

terence said...

Andrew,

It's not a matter of "reason being true"; reason is a process not a conclusion/belief so it can't be true.

The rest of your post reminds me of something Joseph Campbell said -- to paraphrase, we all have our metaphors, its when we take them as literally true that all manner of mischief arises.

I suggest that putting those metaphors (religions) under critical scrutiny (reason) helps us to see that they really are not literally true and just metaphors. Albeity important, useful metaphors.

Anonymous said...

Jesus is Betrayed and Arrested (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-11)
The Religious Leaders Condemn Jesus
(Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71)
6 a.m.
Jesus Stands Trial Before Pilate
(Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:1-5; John 18:28-37)
Jesus Sent to Herod
(Luke 23:6-12)
7 a.m.
Jesus Returned to Pilate
(Luke 23:11)
Jesus is Sentenced to Death
(Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:23-24; John 19:16)
8 a.m.
Jesus is Led Away to Calvary
(Matthew 27:32-34; Mark 15:21-24; Luke 23:26-31; John 19:16-17)
The Crucifixion
9 a.m. - "The Third Hour"
Jesus is Crucified on the Cross
Mark 15: 25 - It was the third hour when they crucified him. (NIV). The third hour in Jewish time would have been 9 a.m.
Luke 23:34 - Jesus said, "FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING."(NIV)
The Soldiers Cast Lots for Jesus' Clothing (Mark 15:24)
10 a.m.
Jesus is Insulted and Mocked
Matthew 27:39-40 - And the people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. "So! You can destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, can you? Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!" (NLT)
Mark 15:31 - The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. "He saved others," they scoffed, "but he can't save himself!" (NLT)
Luke 23:36-37 - The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (NLT)
Luke 23:39 - One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (NIV)
11 a.m.
Jesus and the Criminal
Luke 23:40-43 - But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus answered him, "I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE." (NIV)
Jesus Speaks to Mary and John
John 19:26-27 - When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, "WOMAN, HE IS YOUR SON" And he said to this disciple, "SHE IS YOUR MOTHER." And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (NLT)
Noon - "The Sixth Hour"
Darkness Covers the Land
Mark 15:33 - At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. (NLT)
1 p.m.
Jesus Cries Out to the Father
Matthew 27:46 - And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (NKJV)
Jesus is Thirsty
John 19:28-29 - Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures he said, "I AM THIRSTY."A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. (NLT)
2 p.m.
It is Finished
John 19:30a - When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "IT IS FINISHED!" (NLT)
Luke 23:46 - Jesus called out with a loud voice, "FATHER INTO YOU HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (NIV)
3 p.m. - "The Ninth Hour"
Events Following Jesus' Death
The Earthquake
Matthew 27:51-52 - At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (NIV)
The Centurion - "Surely he was a good man/the Son of God!"
(Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:47)
The Soldiers Break the Thieves' Legs (John 19:31-33)
The Soldier Pierces Jesus Side
(John 19:34)
Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
(Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42)
Jesus Rises from the Dead
(Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-9)

anticant said...

Andrew: “If Jesus never existed it only means that the language we use to cultivate a certain sense of spirituality and wisdom is no longer reasonable.” Not necessarily. It only means that it is metaphorical, rather than historically accurate. Myth and metaphor are an invaluable component of any culture. Their value depends upon the wisdom of their teaching – not on whether the events they describe are factually true.

I agree with Terence that the epistemological trouble and much fruitless debate stems from committed believers like Sam and Jamie claiming, without producing any convincing evidence, that their beliefs are literally true and not just metaphors for some important truths. Jesus, after all, is said to have taught in parables which often mystified his hearers. It’s ironic that his present-day followers are unable to see that the Jesus story may simply be just another parable, but not necessarily less valuable for that.

Sam’s assertion that “nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago” is indeed a strong one! I regard myself as tolerably sane, but I have seen no convincing evidence of this “fact” outside scripture. But anyway, if it IS a fact, so what? Nothing in particular, as Sam now blithely says that belief in the resurrection or other miracles “is, obviously, much more open to debate and that _isn't_ what I'm asserting here.” This really DOES surprise me! Sam is, I believe, an ordained minister of the Church of England, and has presumably signed the Thirty Nine Articles. Which of them did you have mental reservations about, Sam? And do you feel comfortable about drawing your stipend? You sound suspiciously heretical to me.

I too have some professional specialisms the details of which I won’t bore you with except to say they include a Cambridge degree in history, membership of the English Bar, and a Diploma in Counselling Skills. So I’m reasonably well acquainted with the requirements of critical thinking, and have been a lifelong student of religion, because I sincerely wish to know whether, and in what way, it is true.

My conclusion at the present time is that no religious claims about the actual existence of gods or the supernatural are probable or even likely if they are taken literally. But this does not diminish from the value of much religious and spiritual teaching and insight. I don’t, however, consider that Christianity provides either the deepest wisdom or the highest ethical code that humanity has so far produced.

anticant said...

Sorry, Sam - that was a bit mean! But I WOULD like to know what you believe about the resurrection and the miracles?

i was stopping by and i said...

I know that Jesus is alive today, he lives within my heart.

You can debate all of this folly until doomsday, but the proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the words of the Gospel. To those who really know Him, they are truth. To those who do not know Him, they are foolishness. Pick your side and show your stripes.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. There is no way you can prove to me that the words of wisdom contained in Scripture are not truth, because I have lived with those principles abiding in my life. I don't need historical proof because I have living proof today.

Stephen Law said...

Hi stopping by. Thanks for the comment. But you know that's the sort of thing all cultists say, don't you? With their eyes kind of glazed over. "I just know in my heart...."

Actually, this is, in a way, perhaps the best response for the theist to make. Plantinga would defend it's reasonableness, I suppose.

I was just stopping by and i said...

Well, there are a few differences between me and the cultists...

I don't drink kool-aide
My eyes are clear
I don't sleep in a commune at night
I question the teachings of those who claim to know it all
No tattoos
Not packing for when the aliens come to pick me up

But who knows, perhaps I have been sucked into some mind-trap set by someone far cleverer than me. Or maybe you have been. Much like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop, the world (as we know it) may never know...

Jamie said...

Okay, last post and I'm done. This has gone faaaar afield of my original email to Stephen basically asking why he didn't mention the Fall as a theory to explain the "problem of evil" (which is a misnomer, we agreed) when he mentioned concepts like free will.

Stephen "No, the actual documents were written many decades later, by anonymous individuals."

Ok. Let me be more precise. The Synoptic Gospels were supposedly written decades after Jesus to preserve the personal accounts of men who were first generation students of Jesus (whether or not there was a "Q"). To me this seems similar to how St. Paul apparently dictated his books to a scribe. Today we might call that ghostwriting, which doesn't automatically make the content false or unreliable. Further, John was supposedly written by the apostle John during his own lifetime. And, of course, Paul, Peter, James, the other John and Jude supposedly wrote all their books.

"As to whether the actual authors of the four documents we now possess died for their beliefs, who knows."
No one "knows". I stated that I think there is reasonable historical secular and biblical evidence that the apostles were real men and that most of them were killed for their belief that Jesus was God (martyred) or died naturally not recanting that idea. That is a rational statement that does not rely unreasonably on faith.

There is more to say to Nick's post, but I'll have to think on it some more.


NOTE: I am making the following counter-point in response to two posts, with all due respect, and in humility (I could, of course, be wrong). I am not condemning, preaching, hating, etc.

Paul Power "Stephen's analogy didn't include what is perhaps the most telling difference: that no one is claiming that Bart is god incarnate and that we must rearrange our entire lives to accomodate this belief "
I think Stephen's analogy was fine for what he was trying to get across. But Paul brings up a significant point. If what atheists say is true -- Jesus is not God -- then I'm believing a lie, deluding myself, and being kind to other people for no rational reason. If what I/Chirstians say is true -- Jesus is God -- then atheists "must rearrange [their] entire lives to accommodate" that truth, or according to Jesus as God, be damned to hell. That's some significant motivation to prove that Jesus was not God.

Of course, as Anticant says, the converse of my position is also true "I think a certain quite natural wish to be "on the side of the angels" comes into play here." And I do like to be on the side of the angels!

Thank you, Stephen, for a wonderful conversation and all that you taught me. I thank my God when I think of you because you make people better thinkers. God bless and good night!

Paul Power said...

Jamie wrote:
'I think Stephen's analogy was fine for what he was trying to get across. But Paul brings up a significant point. If what atheists say is true -- Jesus is not God -- then I'm believing a lie, deluding myself, and being kind to other people for no rational reason. If what I/Chirstians say is true -- Jesus is God -- then atheists "must rearrange [their] entire lives to accommodate" that truth, or according to Jesus as God, be damned to hell. That's some significant motivation to prove that Jesus was not God.'

I think that's the wrong way around. Something so important to you requires you to have significant grounds to accept it. You don't have such grounds.

Sam Norton said...

Anticant: "Nothing in particular, as Sam now blithely says that belief in the resurrection or other miracles “is, obviously, much more open to debate and that _isn't_ what I'm asserting here.” This really DOES surprise me! Sam is, I believe, an ordained minister of the Church of England, and has presumably signed the Thirty Nine Articles. Which of them did you have mental reservations about, Sam? And do you feel comfortable about drawing your stipend? You sound suspiciously heretical to me."

Sam: You misunderstand my point. I do believe in, eg, the resurrection. My point is that you don't have to believe in the resurrection to believe that there was an historical figure called Jesus, and it is the latter which is being discussed. The existence of Jesus is something that can be accepted (and is accepted) by people of all faiths and none.

Mursu said...

I have always thought that claims of Jesus's non-existence are made only for the shock of it. And they make you associated with some rather unsavoury characters.

I have always found it more likely that there really was a Jewish preacher who died an unfortunately death. But his agenda was not to start a new religion. Nor did he think himself as a god. "Son of God" was a title much used those days. And many prominent people were born of a virgin, like Julius Caesar.

anticant said...

I don't misunderstand your point, Sam. I simply fail to understand its relevance to orthodox Christian doctrine. Will you please explain? Doubtless there were umpteen itinerant preachers, whether called 'Jesus' or not, rambling around Galilee in those days performing miracles as authentic as Lourdes, Fatima, or Knock.

So What?

BTW. have you read "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay LL.D [1841/52]? If not, you should - but please don't ask me why!

Jon said...

There are many, many scholars that agree that the Person of Jesus did in fact exist. Most of them now agree, whether they believe all the claims of Christianity or not, that Jesus truly was a historical figure. Also, the Gospels were actually written by men who walked and talked with Jesus. The rest of the New Testament shows proof of that. This shows that they were written alot earlier than some have claimed on here. I am currently taking a class on the historical Jesus and there is much proof, both secular and Christian alike, that can agree on earlier authorship of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

titus said...

Inclination of subjective belief is stronger than proofs in human nature.Orwell's "double think" reveals this same vunerability.That is why conclusive unbiased research is ignored by the indoctrinated masses concerning such matters. especially religion!