Sketches on Atheism

What Would Make You Believe?

upsidedownThe always-artful Ark has been doing a splendid series of articles (here, here, and here), asking Christians a very simple question: Why? Why are you a Christian?

The answers, perhaps predictably, have been less than convincing; each ultimately falling back on the cultural bedrock of childhood indoctrination, as opposed to any rational or verifiable evidence acquired in adulthood. Simple indoctrination, though, is proving a disastrous policy for the religious as “faith” (unjustified belief) cannot win in the marketplace of ideas. In his book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John S. Dickerson, notes: “260,000 [US] evangelical young people walk away from Christianity each year.” Those numbers are far higher in every other advanced country on the planet where reason has already supplanted superstition.

Following on from Ark’s investigation, I’ll ask the naturally accompanying question: What would you, the atheist, need to believe? What would convince you of the truth of any religion, including Christianity?

Now, this very question was asked to Bill Nye in his recent debate with Ken Ham, and his answer was as eloquent as it was brief: evidence. What, however, would that evidence look like? In the opening session of Moving Naturalism Forward Richard Dawkins noted that he had a “hard time even trying to imagine what anything but naturalism would look like,” and I have to agree with him on this point.

So the question stands: What would it take for you, the atheist, to believe?

For me I would be compelled to seriously look at any religion if one or two things could be established without any ambiguity:

  1. If it could be determined without doubt or hesitation that a religion had revealed anything to us, at any time, that we didn’t already know (meaning not a delusion or solipsistic error which has to be taken on “faith”)
  2. If any religion had emerged – or deity envisaged – twice anywhere on the planet, completely unassisted.

 

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263 thoughts on “What Would Make You Believe?

  1. At first I was planning on offering an answer along the lines of every human waking up with the same message imprinted on their subconscious but reconsidered as this sounds as much like mind control as indoctrination.
    In the end, I will have to side with Dawkins thought.
    It is simply too “out there” to consider a valid proposition, especially with all the baggage it would inevitably come with.
    Thanks for the links by the way.

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    • They spoke about that in the video i linked to, Moving Naturalism Forward. Finding some “I MADE THIS, LOVE GOD” etched into the atomic structure… but it was quickly dismissed as that can be hoaxed very easily and wouldn’t be evidence of the supernatural.

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  2. When I lived in the world of woo I was involved with some ´healers’. I was never convinced by what we were doing but at the time I found it fascinating, and when people hear what you are doing they want you to practice healing on them. There was much talk of angels and such like within our group and in the end I said I would do healing if an angel appeared before me and told me this is what I should be doing. It would have convinced me! I don’t need to tell you that no such apparitions appeared. I now live a very skeptical life, or try hard to 🙂

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  3. Evidence of heaven and the afterlife. Not that kind from an unconscious near-death experience discussed as early as Raymond Moody’s 1975 Life After Life book. A fully awake transportation to the realm of what Xians call HEAVEN. A chance to see those who have gone before us and ask them questions, especially the skeptics.

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    • Oh, nice one. Indeed, since man became (what we consider) “man” 6,600 generations ago roughly 17 billion unique human beings have been born, walked the earth, and have subsequently died. 17 billion and not one of those 17 billion have ever returned to the earth or managed to get some message back to our biosphere to confirm the existence of some ethereal netherworld beyond.

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      • Oops … you forgot ol Geez~! (A mental lapse on your part, no doubt.)(So would just one black swan in seventeen billion whiteys blow the “all swans are white” theory?)

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      • Well … there y’are then. The great Geez dun it. And came back carrying his Death Certificate—I know, it was so unlikely even his best pals didn’t believe, which just goes to show how ignorance and/or Satan can confuse and befuddle even the Chosen dozen—

        “Mr Argus, Sir?”
        “Yes, Little Ollivia?”
        “Why always a dozen, Sir?”
        “… … I think it’s something to do with the logistics of Supply and Distribution of loaves and fishes, my sweet child. In fact, we still do it even today in this decimal age when a decem of eggs makes better divisibility — see, yet another proof of the Bible!”

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  4. As a child i also received the indoctrination and while i questioned some of the premises early in life, i was a believer for many years. I would just look around at the trees, the mountains, the rivers and streams and convince myself that a superior force (God) had created all this. This could not be man made. However as I looked at mankind and the actions of mankind I became less and less of a believer. Continuing education and scientific evidence convinced me that God is just a cop out for those that refuse to accept reality.
    Sorry but, I can think of nothing that would make me a believer. (:

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    • That’s a fair answer, Larry. After having peeled away all the colourful decoration and seen down on to the core of utter nonsense it really is then a difficult question to find an answer to.

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  5. Absolutely nothing could or would make believe, even if the/a g-d manifested its-self, I still could not believe. As for the tenants of the global religions, I find them shallow and coercive ways to manipulate and control a population through demogogery and rarely for the greater good of humankind.

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  6. Even if there was evidence of a deity’s existence, what could I possibly get out of believing? If there was a god who wasn’t a jerk, who actually loved helping people and making this world happier, and didn’t ask me to compromise my relationships with religious rules…well, I just may as well wish for the existence of Superman!

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  7. So the question stands: What would it take for you, the atheist, to believe?

    Testable, reliable, empirical evidence that everyone would have access to, just for starters. And the willingness of said ‘deity’ to say whoops I royally screwed this one up, coupled with willingness to frack right off and leave us be if we desired it.

    Tough question John.

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      • If you said deity then both you and I would therefore be accepting its existence, which we don’t, so the whole thing is a circular impossibility…like god lol

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      • But if we want to be fanciful, I think proper, government issued ID would suffice. I mean, we need that to vote now, so that seems fair 😉

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      • Lol no I’m not a theist, I’m an English makor: we just like expansive thinking and perpetuating metaphor. Literal analysis is illogical to us.

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      • And that’s exactly what the bible seems like, what life is like; all of what we are or might be is just the results from how we play with the numbers. Everything resembles something else, which gives us endless metaphor and analogy to increase our understanding of what we see and what we do not see. For that which we see, it helps us explain stuff to others, and try to figure how things work; for that which we do not see, it is merely a place to play.
        Mandelbrot sets, however, have boundaries (the human imagination) and points, so they are limited to our human constructs (kinda like god). Sometimes it’s similar to what atheists’ literal interpretations seem to be. I think they are important however, just as are our numbers sets, in helping us, pardon the pun, divine a purpose for ourselves.
        As no religious texts or faith-based ideas can apply to absolutely every creature or every situation, they can have a comforting and helpful universality.
        In agreement with atheists, when they are used to manipulate, they are useless as proof of anything more than human failure. I think I could find more god in roadmap than any “word of god” especially since only humans have deemed it so.
        I consider the earth under my feet and the space around me more divine than anything in a hymnal, and the laws of nature are better checks and balances than one hundred commandments.
        But I get the faith thing. I don’t always need to rip it down to tangible pieces to understand its usefulness. Because I’ve seen how it helps people overcome the most horrifying disasters in their lives. They do not blame god for causing them, they just accept shit happens. They do not ask him to fix it, they don’t ask god for strength; when faith is done properly, they just talk. They unload their burdens into the air (to the casual observer), but inside they feel that someone is listening, who understands. I think real faith is like that. Just the belief that someone gets it. If the talk needs to be directed to an external source so be it–it’s absolutely no different than positive self talk. And it’s better than falling into a little detail ball and feeling sorry for yourself. Take your strength where you can get it; life is rough.
        The other things we loosely call faith, the claims that god is watching or controlling events somehow, I think is a joke. That’s just us humanising to serve some selfish need or underdeveloped point of view.
        I think religious texts are great stories, and I support their reading and analysis as much as I promote the same with Shakespeare or Poe.
        And I wholeheartedly believe that reading in a quality way leads us to many makors.
        But as a mark against theism, using them to gain power over another is just as reprehensible as what the media does to the public. I don’t believe god would have an agenda. When my nephew creates his Lego owns for his Hot wheel cars, he doesn’t have a plan; he just likes he busy work and the pretty colours.
        Does that help explain it any better?
        I guess you’d have to label me agnostic because when someone asks if I believe in god my answer is,”Dunno, never met one”

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      • I think that is a stupendously marvelous statement, my friend!

        “I think I could find more god in [a] roadmap than any “word of god” especially since only humans have deemed it so.I consider the earth under my feet and the space around me more divine than anything in a hymnal, and the laws of nature are better checks and balances than one hundred commandments.”

        Gorgeously worded. And I’m right with you on the power of the stories. A hopeless fan of folklore and fairytales I am. My skin crawls, though, when the “truth claim” is made. When I was interviewing all those rabbis last year I was particuly struck by the answer Rabbi Steve Greenberg (Director, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) gave me regarding “truth.” He said:

        “There are different ways to see a leaf, in plastic arts, biology, literature, even music and physics. None of them are false but eminently incompatible with one another.”

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      • Thank you, John, appreciated praise to be sure. What were you interviewing them for? Can you explain why he felt they were incompatible? Seems to me some combinations are almost co-dependent?

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      • It was for a series of posts on how Rabbi’s actually perceive the Tanakh. Fascinating stuff. There were 4 posts, i think, but this one was the biggie:

        https://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/of-course-what-you-say-is-true-but-we-should-not-say-it-publically-13/

        I think by incompatible he was meaning an artistic rendering of a leaf (an aesthetic representation) exists in a different perceptual universe than, say, a leaf being viewed under a microscope where the observer might see its function before its overall beauty. The object is the same, but the emotional position of the observer differs. In context, we were talking about truth being found in the Pentateuch. Historically, it is not true, it is a myth. That, however, does not mean the reader (the observer) cannot find “truth” inside the myth.

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      • And I loved your response btw, that made me laugh. Mandelbrot sets, probably have to steal that one some day 🙂

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      • Bugger. I thought that as rational beings we’re allowed to hypothesise?

        I’m happy to accept a hypothetical flying snowman every Christmas (movie, great music!) on that basis …

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      • If I hit my finger with a hammer when nailing then I unburden myself into the air with unrestrained abandonment—but it doesn’t mean that I think anyone floaty-wispy being is listening.

        Anyway, lots of folks talk to themselves.
        I’d only be worried if I got answers, out of the air …

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  8. A check. I’m thinking in the +2 million euro range. It would have to be deposited into an offshore account because of taxes, but for that amount I’m happy to believe anything.

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  9. I’m not nearly as sophisticated a thinker as many of those who have commented here. Simply put, I would need evidence independent of someone’s subjective belief (and attribution) that could be demonstrated to seem to be the same for anyone anywhere anytime. That’s easy to say, but what might that ‘something’ actually look like?

    Well, if anyone anywhere at anytime could pray to a specific deity (like the christian god and/or its proxies, for example) and receive consistent and reliable evidence of this prayer’s efficacy – especially causal efficacy that presented stuff contrary to our ‘natural’ explanations of then (say the regrowing of an amputated limb by directed prayer to Jesus or Patecatl – then I think I would have to believe… to remain intellectually honest. After all, we all believe all kinds of stuff (I believe this year will be different and my favourite sport’s team really is going to win the championship); the difference in quality of those beliefs is how well they are justified by reality’s arbitration of them (okay, maybe my sports team isn’t nearly as good as some of the others and, in fact, their record-breaking losing streak is the envy of the chronically depressed everywhere). If reality provided me with compelling evidence (independent of the beliefs I carried with me) for the actuality of a specific deity (activated by directed prayer and demonstrated to be a causal agency) then I would justify my belief in such a deity the same way I justify my belief about all kinds of explanations that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time.

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    • Answered prayers, predictably and consistency… Great point. It’d then make the belief falsifiable, and therefore a working Theory. The Templeton Foundation has gone down this path, and failed. Good on them for at least trying.

      If for no other reason than to just see what the hell he actually looks like, i’d LOVE for Patecatl to be real! The renderings of him conjure images of Timothy Leary unexpectedly exploding inside a museum of modern art.

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  10. That is a great question.

    I suppose having some type of rare revelation of some sort where a divine being presented itself to me. A revelation that in no way was explainable by any means. Of course, being the skeptic that I am, I would still question my understanding of the event, whether it was real or not, or whether it was just the bad batch of bratwurst I had had the night before. Anything that presents itself to me as proof will always be met by skepticism. For me to ever believe, that divine event would have to forcibly remove my skepticism. I am, after all, called to question.

    Besides is that not what faith is supposed to be all about, a belief that is unprovable but still one chooses it based on faith. I am not an absolutist and I always challenge Christians on the faith the claim they have as not being faith but an absolute belief. A belief which has no place for doubt or questions.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

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    • Cheers Called!

      It’s a little known fact, but you’re right, bad Bratwurst has in fact been responsible for most of the world’s lesser known religions.

      I like your answer, but wouldn’t it drive you mad if it’d just been you who’d witnessed it? There is a way of telling if it were a self-generating delusion; whether or not any new information was given. If there was then you’d have reason for pause.

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      • Dammit … wrt my earlier, I suppose I’h have to give the dude a lift ashore for all the verifications?

        Or not—the question was to the effect what would it take to make ME believe. (So I don’t have to after all: let the Bugger walk! Er, squelch?)

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  11. I have several but one would be if this god knew every intricate detail, function and potential of the human brain it created, and an educational, non-stratified, non-male or female dominated, prosocial book with one Commandment.

    “Protect Thy Brain”.

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  12. Oh, easy one – at least in regard to the New Testament version. Let there be one church where EVERY medically diagnosed sick member, regardless of ailment, was cured by being prayed for by the elders and deacons of that church (this just happens to be an unfulfilled NT promise). Daggoned if I wouldn’t believe! Hospitals would cease to exist due to the influx of converts.

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  13. Wait. I thought “Atheism is a religion too”. You mean we don’t get to just dogmatically hold our view against all evidence? What’s the point of being called a religion then? We get zero of the standard benefits? 🙂

    I think that a definitive statistically measurable effect from prayer in a religion would carry notable weight for me.

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    • Tildeb said the same above, and its a good one. Predictable occurrences of answered prayers (like Amazon delivery) would prove something was on the other end of the Wishing Well. There is a hitch, though, which i just thought about. It could be faked by a highly advanced, highly mischievous alien species. They intercept the prayers and just for giggles answer them… or maybe its not even for giggles. Perhaps they think they’re doing good, but for any number of reasons (the Prime Directive, for example) are shy to make themselves known. That’s to say, there’d really be no way of knowing exactly “who” or “what” was answering the prayers.

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      • Awwww, gentlemen, gentlemen~! Come ooooooon! Every day there’s no shortage of folks praying for their lost causes and being heard.

        Your problem is that you refuse to believe them, or if you did listen you’d refuse to accept it as the miracle it is. You’d blame it on coincidence or suchlike. Tut!
        But why take my word for it? Get thee along to church and listen to all the lepers there throwing away their crutches, often after a whole lifetime of prayer but sometimes effective immediately on conversion.

        Oh! Silly me (heh heh~!) you mean your own prayer.

        Geez, bad dog, dumb dog …

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      • Yes, John, you have a point but as I said, I would have a ‘justified’ belief in the same way that all of us have a justified belief in the ‘classical physics model’ that offers us an explanation that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time… except when you get to the very large and very small where quantum fluctuations then render the confidence in the model unjustified. Yes, aliens could be playing head games with us but there’s no way for us to know that because the model of a specific causal agency called God when prayed to seems to work and can be shown to do so with reliability and consistency. But then, this conversation may be the dream of the lotus…

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  14. Words spontaneously appearing on a piece of paper that have personal connection and from a page that clearly could not have been tampered with in any way shape or form. Then I would likely begin questioning my disbelief in a God that defies understood physics.

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  15. If Jesus came to my house everyday for a month and turned my bottled water into Cabernet. Then I might begin to have a little faith.
    If he wanted to cut down on his trips, say to 14 days, he could turn it into Gin instead: More Bang for His Miracle Shekle.
    (Sorry for being flippant, But The Devil made me do it)
    Cheers

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  16. I think I’d find it awfully hard to maintain my faith in atheism if—even just the once, and never to be repeated—I’m way out fishing in a boat when I look up and see a bronzed Aryan bearded hippie type* with big bleeding holes in his feet strolling totally unconcerned across the waters to me. He wouldn’t even need be juggling loaves into fishes as he walks, or have my happily smiling deceased Mother on his arm …

    Failing that I think I’ll maintain the faith in things that can be rationally explained. But hey—you did ask …

    * All the images are of a heroic idealised Aryan (almost Nordic) type … we never see a Semite, why is that?

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    • I did. Walking on water is a pretty easy trick, though, even if its out at sea. A couple of divers with re-breathers (no bubbles) and a movable perspex platform and Viola! Bobs your uncle.

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      • Sadly I’d be cynic enough to poke my head under water and check before helping him (couldn’t he just float?) into the boat.

        But given the conditions and meeting them, I’d happily be a believer … sing hosannas … go to church every Sunday and empty my wallet into the Padre … take up sacred arms, go overseas to the heathen and bomb the snot out of their weddings and funerals …

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  17. I have no idea what would make me believe in such far fetched ideas as gods. But if there were any gods that actually were concerned for me believing in them, they should know. Yes? They could provide me whith the free will to make, that choise. At this point I have not met anything but cultural heritage of demands for faith, in obviously human ignorance being satisfied whith imaginary answers, which kind of go against any freedom of will, or even a possibility for conscious choise in the matter.

    Perhaps, I could become a believer the same way some other people do, but since I was not born in a religious family, that door remains closed to me. Or maybe, if I turned into some sort of abuser of chemical substances, I could at my weakest hour find solace from any particular religious social group who are always on the prowl for people who have lost controll of their own lives… Altough, I am pretty sure, that because I was not born in a religious family that door remains closed to me.

    So, I guess my answer has to be the same old boring – evidence.

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    • It’s disturbing how many “find” god when in the pits of despair. Hardly an encouraging statistic. But yes, clean, verifiable, repeatable (falsifiable) evidence would have to be it.

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  18. I guess the first order of business would be to get one to show up. After that several demonstrations of godly powers, with all of science on standby to investigate these godly powers. I suppose it would take a godly powered event of enormous magnitude to get me to believe, perhaps arrange the stars in the sky to say “I told you so” Even then I would have my doubts as to the authenticity of these godly powers as well as the intent of this new/old god with godly powers.

    I think I will die an atheist. Too much time invested in bullshit already for something to come along with the claim of the real deal. I fear I would never cease looking for the man behind the curtain with a habit of looking for a handout and an obsession with intelligent ape sex…

    …and even if a godly god with godly powers came along and was able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of everyone these magical godly powers, I would have a laundry list of questions to ask the son of a bitch.

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  19. I take you mean Christianity specifically, and that’s a difficult one. It couldn’t have sprung up twice anywhere because it depended on word of mouth transmission of the message from Jesus. There would have to be a revelation along the lines of the god God saying the Bible is a twisted pile of nonsense and that she got unexpectedly delayed in another dimension, and didn’t have the power to intervene. Some flawed creator that made a bit of a mess and feels terribly guilty about it all.

    That would be the story, but I’m not sure what manner of revelation could make me believe either my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me (post trauma) or someone with access to technology I don’t know about was attempting a new religious control movement. It’s difficult to imagine how our scepticism could be removed given all the tricks of religion we’re aware of down through history.

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    • Agreed. i said somewhere above that even answered prayers could be the work of a hyper-mischievous alien species. I think all revelation is out, too. That’s pure personal/neurological nonsense. An Apology Tour has merit, though. I’d have to see some massive repair of the earth, or something else supernatural to actually believe, but it’d be a start.

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      • That’s a good point. There’s the whole problem that aliens are more probable than gods. If smart aliens wanted to control our species for some reason, they would most obviously use the traditional trick of gods.

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      • If we consider the possibility that there really isn’t much entertainment in the Universe as a whole, then the likelihood of hyper-intelligent, hyper-mischievous aliens conducting a Truman Show type thing on us is certainly more probable than a cosmic overseer who never actually does any overseeing.

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  20. Your Question:
    “What would convince you of the truth of any religion, including Christianity?”

    Well, since you didn’t define “religion” for us, here are some of my replies:

    (1) Wiccan
    I’d believe if the gals weren’t so strange, and they spent more time in the woods naked.

    (2) American Zen Buddhism
    I’d convert if they weren’t trying so hard to be Japanese.

    (3) Taoism
    I’d embrace if they included “Yoni” with “Yin” and “Yang”

    (4) Unitarian Universalist
    I’d enroll if you didn’t have to be a damn Democrat

    (5) Tibetan Buddhist
    I’d line up if they thought themselves a little less special, and gave up their Tibetophilia.

    (6) Atheist Plusists
    I dance along if they weren’t hard-core Humanists, self-righteous Hyper-rationalists and didn’t feel all so much better than other religionists. But heck, I’d forgive all those traits if they just had a few more pretty women and not so down on us sexists.

    Give me some special treat, and I will sacrifice rationality any time!

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  21. Reblogged this on ccithink and commented:
    I found this article very interesting. It was written, of course, by an atheist but should be of great interest to thinking Christians. So, I would ask Christians, what brought you to belief in Christ? Is it reasonable to demand that God reveal Himself on our terms? Is there something to the Augustinian precept of “believing that we may understand”? Read the article and respond here to my questions or begin a dialogue with atheist John Zande.

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  22. Pingback: What Would Make You Believe? | the superstitious naked ape | scottythinks

  23. Pingback: What Would Make You Believe? | the superstitious naked ape | The Christ and Culture Update

  24. I suppose John if a deity would remove all evil from earth instantly, after all he / she / it created it to begin with, and issued a human wide apology , I would have to seriously consider the evidence.

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    • Ah yes, “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I am the LORD that does all this” Isaiah 45:7. Bit of an awkward passage for the apologist, that one.

      I like your answer, though. The immediate elimination of all unnecessary suffering (emotional, psychological, and physical), and an apology. Violet said the same thing, and I think one is in order.

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  25. Dear John,
    I am writing in response to your question: “What would it take for you, the atheist, to believe?” particularly in regards to it being “determined without doubt or hesitation that a religion had revealed anything to us, at any time, that we didn’t already know (meaning not a delusion or solipsistic error which has to be taken on ‘faith’). I am not sure I will have the time to answer fully, but if you will allow, I may have to reply in several installments.
    I was an atheist for 16 years. I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. We went to church on Sundays, received the sacraments, and even went to Catholic parochial school. I read the stories of the saints when I was a little boy, and very much hoped to be a priest when I grew up. I didn’t really know God–Himself, the spiritual being–but my experience with the Church had been a good one. My Dad died when I was nine, and things started to become less pleasant for our family, and when we moved away and my Mom married a divorced man, church began to become less and less a part of our lives. I embraced atheism at 14 when my 9th grade science teacher–a former Jesuit priest–very convincingly taught me about evolution, completing the deconstruction of my tattered childhood faith.
    I remember how much pleasure I took, as a young adult, when Jehovah’s Witnesses would come to my door—the poor souls. I remember the looks on their faces as I tore their faith to shreds as well. I knew they would never go to another door with confidence again, and that thought gave me, for some reason, a deep, deep satisfaction. And as I became successful in my career, I began to feel powerful and secure. My relationship with my wife, however, was another matter, and she asked me to go to a Marriage Encounter weekend. On that weekend, during a talk called “Encounter with Self,” I began to take stock of myself—what I was doing, had done, with my life, and I felt the emptiness inside—like a big, black hole, and it gnawed at me. I became grieved at the man I was—the utter ugliness of “Self” that filled my life. It is really a wonder that I did not run out of that place.
    In the next talk, the couple presented a proposition to us: “What if you were offered a chance to live a whole new life? To replace the one you had been living with a totally new one, would you do it? Would you accept the offer?”
    John, if you will allow me, the next time I write, I will try to explain the part that rational thought has played in my life since I accepted the offer that was made to me that day.

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    • Hi Richard

      Thanks for the story, but it’s slightly off the page from what this post is asking. If you follow the links at the top, a fellow blogger, Ark, has been asking the question to theists: Why are you a Christian? This post is primarily to atheists, asking the question: What would make you believe?

      That said, you’re certainly free to continue posting your story. It’s a free forum, and I might even direct Ark to this thread as he’ll be particularly interested in what you write.

      Just out of curiosity, why did you take pleasure in tearing down the JW’s? Sure, they can tremendously annoying and staggeringly ignorant of their own faith (most evangelicals are), but “militant” atheism (“the noise reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs”) doesn’t mean hurting theists.

      Cheers, and thanks for popping in.

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      • Re: “Just out of curiosity, why did you take pleasure in tearing down the JW’s?” I think the answer is part of what I was going to say in the next part of my story–which is heading toward the discussion of rationality and religion–on that Marriage Encounter weekend, toward the very end of it, I think it may have been in a talk called “Sacrament and It’s Graces,” I started to think that I had a big chunk of unforgiveness–bitterness–like a log-jam in my heart, and that I needed to forgive God for taking away my father when I was a little boy. I wept like a baby. And when I was done, I felt clean and different, like a big, heavy weight had been removed from my life. In response to your question–no one has ever asked me that before–I think it was that bitterness, a cynicism. I wanted the Jehovah’s Witnesses to feel the way I felt–to have their hearts torn out, the way mine had been. And their pain, I guess, cauterized mine.

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  26. What am I being asked to believe in? I haven’t heard that yet. I’ve never heard it; all I’ve ever been asked is to acknowledge possibilities, which is an all-day sucker if there ever was one. That’s problem #1.

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  27. I had always thought that God’s voice speaking through a break in the clouds would be confirmation enough. As he does midway through this video:

    In other words, archaeological correlations and (attempts at) biblical infallibility are no longer acceptable to me as reason to believe.

    If God exists, then imagine the power. He could make his presence known without equivocating and prevarication.

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  28. Wouldn’t Christians need proof that a God could die, you know, to absolve the sins that god made them do? So, if He wanted to show up and die, I could arrange for more than a few volunteers to “arrange” it. (Chicago style, if He would like.) But if he didn’t stay dead, then we would know it was a trick, so this would be like, um, you know, like the test for a witch: throw her in a pond and if she sinks (and drowns and dies) then she was innocent.

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  29. Good question. As far as the god of the bible goes, about the only thing that might make me consider believing again is if the rapture began happening all around me. And even then, I still wouldn’t drop to my knees and worship him, because he’s just not worthy. Although, like someone said above, I could probably be bribed to believe, if it were a large amount of money. I’d give them all the glory hallelujahs they wanted for a few million.

    As far as a god in general? I’m not sure what it would take. Even as an agnostic who is willing to give the idea of a supreme being the benefit of a doubt, I can’t really think of anything I would accept as evidence. Since I think that any such being would be completely unknowable, incomprehensible and unfathomable to the human mind, I would also expect that any evidence that could be provided should also be incomprehensible and unfathomable to our human minds, if that makes sense.

    Not the usual miracles or answered prayers or healings, because that’s simply assigning the characteristics of a man-made deity to this hypothetical supreme being. It would have to be something that the human mind and human culture hasn’t yet encountered. And with all of the religions, UFO cults and such out there, there’s already a lot of “been there, done that” in this world. So any evidence would have to be something that is beyond what is already known

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    • Hi Panda!

      I think that’s precisely what Dawkin’s was trying to say: it’s hard to even imagine what something “supernatural” would even look like. If i was standing in, say, the late 19th century had to make a prediction of what “theism” would look like in the 21st Century i would have said most people (those who wanted or needed to believe in something) would be dogma-free pantheists. How monotheism has survived into this century is beyond me. You, I think, sound as baffled as me on this point.

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      • “How monotheism has survived into this century is beyond me. ”

        Your comment brings to mind something I wrote in my blog today, that I think the god of the Old Testament might never have survived without Jesus to counteract and re-invent the less-likable image of the Old Testament god. An extreme makeover.

        I think the reason monotheism has so strongly survived is because the church continues to re-invent both god and Christianity. Back in the early to mid 1900’s, you had your hellfire and brimstone preachers slamming their bibles on the pulpit, warning believers that god was a wrathful god, a demanding god, shouting at their congregations that they’re all worthless sinners going to hell. These days, you have preachers who are no more than fluffy kittens compared to those old tigers, preaching “god is love”, “he doesn’t ask for much from us”, and pleading “won’t you please accept Jesus into your heart, he loves you soooo much.”

        I think monotheism survives much in the same way the wheel survives, through the constant re-invention of the presentation of the message and the image presented of the god in question.

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      • Reinvention without any details. Crafty, underhanded, but certainly clever. Anglicans now say Hell no-longer exists, which is nice of them, and the Vatican caved on Purgatory a few years ago. What was the name of the little Dutch boy who plugged up the leaky dyke? 😉

        I just read your post, laughed hard at your line: “Go home god. You’re drunk.”

        Hey, Panda, you need to have a Follow Blog by Email widget thing. And why don’t you have a comments section?

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      • Oh. Well, it’s like this…when I first signed up a few days back, not knowing if I’d be staying or not, I went curiously browsing through all of the neat stuff down the left side of the dashboard, and I might have checked and unchecked a lot stuff, not really knowing what they were all about, and… the rest is history. As for the widget thing, I have no idea what I’m doing here, or what I should be doing, or how to undo what I might not even be aware of having done…curiosity always was my downfall.

        I don’t recall that the little boy had a name, did he? It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that story.

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      • No, I don’t think he a name apart from “The little…”

        I didn’t know anything about widget things either. Still don’t, except that they’re in the Appearance box. There’s a Follow Blog, and a Follow Blog By Email. The email one means your followers get an email (funny that) when a new post goes up. As for creating a comments section, I have no idea, sorry. I thought it’d just be standard.

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      • I found the Follow Bog via Email thing and added it. I think I did, anyway. I’ll have to poke around through all of the menu’s when I have time, because apparently I’ve obliterated my comment section if it’s supposed to be standard. Thanks for the help, John 🙂

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  30. Good morning, John
    I would like to address the question: “What would it take for you, the atheist, to believe? For me I would be compelled to seriously look at any religion if one or two things could be established without any ambiguity: If it could be determined without doubt or hesitation that a religion had revealed anything to us, at any time, that we didn’t already know (meaning not a delusion or solipsistic error which has to be taken on “faith”)”

    There are a number of areas in which this is true: 1) epistemology – where one asks the question: “how can I know what is true?”, 2) ontology – where one asks the question: “what exists?” or “what is real?”, 3) cosmology – “where did everything come from?” 4) theology – “is there a God?” 5) metaphysics – “what is my purpose?” and “what happens when a person dies?” 6) ethics – “how should I live?” and “why does it matter?”

    Let’s start with epistemology – “how can I know?”, “what is true?” In a society where the State is all-powerful (think the Roman Empire at some points, Nazi Germany, and various dictatorships [Communist or not]), the State expresses the idea that it has the right to say what is true, what we should think. In religious-oriented States (I am thinking the middle-ages now, or Islamic States, or even, I must admit some Puritan States – I am thinking Oliver Cromwell now) the State still tries to tell people what to think. In George Orwell’s 1984 and Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” series, Newspeak is the norm – Society tells us what to think, or trains us not to think. And even in “democratic” societies such as ours, we think we are free to think, but we do not consider the “tyranny of the 51%,” the majority telling everyone else what to think and say and do… But Biblical Christianity has always made an unusually forthright claim, that there are some things we just cannot know with any certainty. For example, the past. No one, not even Richard Dawkins–in all his sincerity–can honestly tell us for certain what happened beyond the reach of tree-rings and radiocarbon dating. And what about the future? Biblical Christianity contains prophecy – foretelling of future events, many from the lips of Jesus Himself. So Biblical Christianity offers much in the area of epistemology – what we can know – to those who are interested and perhaps willing to give credence to the Bible and the words of Jesus recorded therein.

    As far as ontology – “what exists?”, “what is real?” Biblical Christianity stands in contrast to eastern thought – that the physical world is an illusion, and materialism – that the physical universe of energy and matter and space is all that is and ever has been. Biblical Christianity presents the view of a dualism — the existence of both physical and spiritual realities existing at the same time, and that both are important. And what is particularly fascinating is that Biblical Christianity teaches that God, the spiritual beings He created, and man (a physical being with a soul or spirit) are able to operate in both realms.

    Cosmology – “where did everything come from?” Biblical Christianity teaches that God created the universe, the earth and man. It is interesting to note that the biblical account is IMPOSSIBLE to reconcile with evolutionary teaching. It is absolutely fascinating to watch youtube videos on human anatomy, especially for example, about the sodium potassium exchange pump, or to read about the hydraulic system of trees. I often wonder how anyone who considers these things (thinks deeply about them) can honestly hold a naturalistic cosmological position.

    Theology – this used to be called the “queen” of sciences, I think because it really was the mother of other streams of thought. The idea that the universe was created in an orderly fashion by a Designer gave early scientists confidence that they could discover that order. Johannes Kepler, for example, the man who is credited for discovering the elliptical patterns of the planets, said that in his efforts, he was thinking God’s thoughts after Him. I remember reading of another man known as “The Pathfinder of the Seas” who was stirred to study and write the first textbook on modern oceanography based on things he had read in the Bible. And John Locke based much of his thinking based on Puritan ideas. In fact, the first State constitution written in the American colonies was the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” based upon principles from the Book of Deuteronomy. Confidence in the veracity of the Bible gave people in all areas of endeavor a stable platform of truth upon which they could explore and build.

    Metaphysics – the questions of “what is my purpose?” and “what happens when a person dies?” I am thinking of Camus and Hemingway now, men who explored these questions (“For Whom the Bell Tolls” was a personal favorite). Talent and physical resources – America is full of them, and our college students ponder these questions. Yet drug abuse, alcoholism, antidepressant medications, and even suicide are all too prevalent. Education is a wonderful thing. Having a good-paying job with lots of leisure time is a wonderful thing, but these things have proven themselves unable to provide meaning and purpose. And even the man or woman who attains self-actualization and have created their own meaning through the confident assertiveness of their modern secular-humanist life faces the dilemma of all men–“what will happen to all I have wrought after I am gone?” At some point, all turn to metaphysical questions. Jesus–the man–has been pretty well accepted to have lived in Galilee 20 centuries or so ago. He said a lot of things. The Bible says that He once said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It also quotes Him as saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever.” Got to go to work now. Blessings…

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    • Morning to you, too, Richard. Thanks for the detailed synopsis of apologetic methods, but apart from a lot of special pleading I fail to see a single point where you’ve actually identified something “new” which any religion has ever revealed.

      Cosmologically speaking, all religions have failed abysmally. Epistemology is just the intangible study of knowledge acquisition. Ontological word games may, with a great deal of creative manoeuvring, serve to “conclude” a god, but never actually “demonstrate” it (the Templeton Foundation has spent, to-date, over a US$1 billion trying, but failing, to find any evidence of a spiritual reality). Metaphysics deals only in the ethereal and demands a mountain range of special pleading to be meaningful (but only ever on a superficial level), and as for Theology, I’ll simply cite Thomas Paine’s deeply accurate 1794 observation that:

      “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.”

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  31. I’m gonna believe so I can save my ass from eternal damnation, avoid the lake of fire, and the seven last plagues. Plus, if I’m raptured when Jesus comes, it’ll prove that I’m better than you. 🙂

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  32. I would believe if I had some kind of vision where a spiritual being revealed itself to me. I know that people experience moments like these all the time and they might be dreaming, or mentally ill, etc. etc. …but if I truly felt that something beyond this world had reached out and touched me, I’d believe. My own experience is all I have.

    And I’m just saying… having the kind of revelations St. Teresa did sounds like a damn good way to be converted. 😉

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    • If its deeply meaningful to you, personally, then that could certainly do it. It’d be powerful to others if the message contained information you did not know, which would mean you did not generate the vision.

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    • I don’t know if you’ve read St. Teresa of Avila’s The Book of Her Life. Spiritual testimonies, assorted writings, but she makes it pretty clear that she hates life BECAUSE she loves her god.

      She says “It is is right for anyone who cares about heaven to have a continual solicitude about pleasing God and despising the world (ch 37 p 328). After another ‘vision’ she says she wanted to remain in this state always and not return to everyday living “…for the contempt that was left in me for everything earthly was great; these things all seemed to me like dung, and I see how basely we are occupied, those of us who are detained by earthly things.” (ch 38 p 331) “Now death seems to me to be the easiest thing for anyone who serves God, for in a moment the soul finds it is freed from this prison…” (ibid). She talks like this incessantly., dripping out inanities about following god’s wishes, granting temporal authority to clergy, while ‘suggesting’ the right and proper paths for individuals to follow because she just so happens to have god’s words mumbled into her ear.

      If any of this happened to you, I would sincerely hope you would seek proper medical treatment rather than fall to your knees and start instructing the rest of us to hate life.

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      • I was being glib. All I know about her is that the famous statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa appears to show her at a moment of orgasmic pleasure brought to her via angel. That’s not a bad way to hypothetically be alerted to God. 😉

        As for the rest, thanks for sharing such interesting tidbits… I’m quite happy here on Earth, and am in no hurry to leave.

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      • I suspected as much because she’s not only brutal to read but being canonized is a pretty good indicator of the opposite history being closer to the truth.

        I also think she had a choice: to present her seizures as either standard evidence of vice via demonic possession or turning them into a virtue, namely, conversations and direction from god. Surprisingly, she had the wits to follow the latter.

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  33. Hi John,
    I am kind of sifting through your last comments. Quoting Thomas Paine bothers me a but, because I consider the man a hypocrite and a user. He employed the Bible to spur the American Colonists to declare independence when he himself personally only mocked it. There was no integrity in the man. And interestingly, at the same time he made that statement, France, which had recently removed the crucifixes from its churches only a few years earlier, was embroiled in the Reign of Terror, while William Wilberforce, himself a convert to Christianity, was expending his life in the fight against slavery, which he won when it was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833.

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  34. John, my new friend, truth is a powerful thing (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/an-american-hero-is-arrested-in-france). I studied about Paine about 7 years ago, and was saddened by the truth. It makes a big difference as to the value of his opinion about theology. “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.” Maybe that was true in France, deTocqueville wrote extensively about the truth and power of American churches in our early days: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.” (Alexis De Tocqueville: “Democracy in America”)

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    • Hi Richard.

      Again, your personal opinion of Paine does not modify the truth of his observation. You’re certainly free to try and contest his points, identifying perhaps what predictions Christian theology has proffered over the last 1,500 years so we can measure those in an empirical manner, but personal impressions matter not in the marketplace of ideas and approximations of truth.

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      • 🙂 well 1. I sent you a link that talked about the reactions of both the French and American people to Paine. 2. I told you that I had studied about Paine (I taught a class about “Common Sense” in 2008-2009). I referred you to the contradictory comments of someone who was a contemporary of Paine’s. Yet you ignored all of that, stuck to your position, dismissed my arguments as “personal opinion,” and went on to another matter. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of your blog is anymore.

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      • 1. Personal opinions
        2. Again, personal opinions.

        Does liking or disliking Cecilia Payne make her paper, Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars, any less true?

        If you’d like to actually contest Paine’s observation, then please do.

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  35. “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.” Biblical Christian theology is the study of who God is–who He says He is in the Bible. The New Testament, in particular, is a collection of the writings of the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they say claimed to be God. It is founded upon that claim. It rests upon it. But it also rests upon the Holy Spirit of God who is active in the world in many ways, including convicting men of God’s majesty and power and the reality of His existence. Christianity is not like other religions because although it can be considered intellectually, it is, at its heart, spiritual. In other words, it is the result of God’s revelation of Himself to the person. The data of Christianity is the millions of changed lives (like my own) as a result of the power of the Spirit of God working through His Word, the Bible. It’s pretty simple. Got to go now.

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    • Hi Richard

      While true one can study any given text, in the case of scripture the word “study” is best replaced with the noun “review,” as any activity is limited to interpretation: hermeneutics. Nothing “new” is being added to the body as a whole except, of course, where an external discipline, such as archaeology, astronomy, or biology can prove or disprove the claims made in the text. Excluding biblical archaeology, no field of tangible research proceeds from, or is directed by, scripture. No discovery in any field of human endeavour can trace its root back to scripture… not even basic geographic discovery. Nothing. The object of review is, therefore, inert… standing only on its elaborate claims; none of which have ever been established as true. Indeed, the only intellectual contribution Christianity has ever produced is ontological thought exercises designed over 1,100 years ago to conclude a maximally great being (synthetic truth), not demonstrate it (analytic truth). I can use the exact the same word games to conclude a maximally wicked being. This doesn’t, however, render a maximally wicked being any more real than its opposite number.

      What are Christianity’s predictions? What new information has been generated and insights revealed? Above I mentioned Cecilia Payne’s remarkable 1925 paper, Stellar Atmospheres. This work explained solar observations, but more importantly it made falsifiable predictions which could then be tested. That work, unlike Christian text, was (and remains) a living thing.

      To your credit you do concede that Christianity is essentially spiritual, ethereal, but conversion stories are anecdotal, and whereas the size of the fan club can be measured, it is at the same time a meaningless dataset regarding any truth claim. There are over 30,000 Harry Potter fan club chapters across the globe. Does this denote truth in Harry Potter?

      If Paine overreached it was only in glossing over Christianity being founded on a story, but I feel his point was more directed to that story being in a state of unsubstantiated paralysis.

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  36. That image is so cool and yet it gives me the worst kind of vertigo.
    I think I’d need more than one example of new knowledge, even the religious can have revelations. 🙂
    I’ve always thought an alien race having the exact same religion and holy books and all that would be convincing. Then again maybe our radio transmissions would have made it to them.

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    • Agreed, if some other culture (human or alien) had arrived at the exact same belief system (deities, stories, codes and cannons) entirely independently then we could say something quite remarkable was going on.

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  37. Hello, John. I really appreciated your comments.As time permits, I will try to address them in order. to begin with, I disagree with your assessment that Scripture can only be “reviewed” while other texts may be “studied.” There is no reason why the Bible cannot be reviewed by any other book, whether it is written by Herodotus or Solzhenitsyn. When I read it, I recognize that the individual book (Isaiah, Acts, etc) was written by a human being to contemporary human beings. The author was impressed to deliver a message which was written down and preserved. I try to understand the author (with whatever information is available to me, and I try to understand the setting – what was happening at the time?, who were the recipients? After that, I read it as I would any other book. If there is language I don’t understand, I look it up. Since the books were predominantly written in either Hebrew or Greek, I try to look up words or verses in those languages. Probably 80% of the Bible is pretty straight-foward and easy for anyone to understand and agree upon. Now, I’ve been reading it and studying it (forgive me) for about 29 years now, so I have been working on the 20% for a while now, and I find that just becoming familiar with it helps me to better understand what seemingly obscure parts are saying. So let’s say there’s like 15% that I still find difficult to understand, and that many people interpret differently.
    I don’t feel that anyone has to prove the Bible to be true or false. In my case, I had read the book of Genesis as a youth, and stumbled at chapter 4. Yet later, when I had an experience with God, I found that the Bible explained what had happened to me so clearly that I suddenly felt “connected” to it, and began the practice of reading it every day (a practice I have never set aside), and over time (probably 25 years ago) I began to believe that when I read it, it seemed God was speaking directly to me about my own, personal cares and concerns. That’s what I meant when I called it spiritual. The concept that God is supernatural is somewhat unsettling, I think all supernatural things are, whether they are good or evil. But I have become convinced that God is good, so that makes it easier to be ok with His supernatural-ness.
    You said, “Excluding biblical archaeology, no field of tangible research proceeds from, or is directed by, scripture. No discovery in any field of human endeavour can trace its root back to scripture… not even basic geographic discovery. Nothing.” I only have a few moments now, but to touch on this.. I contend that wherever Biblical Christianity has been embraced in a meaningful way, the world has been change. I am thinking of William of Orange, who cut the dykes in Holland to prevent Louis XIV from taking over Europe. I am thinking of the faith of William Wallace who gave his life for Scottish Independence. I am thinking of of Stephen Langton, the Catholic bishop credited with adding the system of numbered chapters and verses to the Bible who was the central figure in the writing and reluctant acceptance of the Magna Charta by a truly wicked ruler, King John of England. Biblical Christianity has added much that is good to our world.
    Be blessed, Rich

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    • @Richard

      The author was impressed to deliver a message which was written down and preserved.

      Define “impressed” because making up stories is way different that what you seem to be postulating.

      “I don’t feel that anyone has to prove the Bible to be true or false.”

      This is a non-answer.

      Really? Then why expect others and society to accomodate a risible manual of stupidty? Why should rational people show respect a work that may or may not be true?

      Yet later, when I had an experience with God, I found that the Bible explained what had happened to me so clearly

      How is this not just confirmation bias writ large? If you had spent 29 years studying the Koran, would it not be allah, instead of jebus, tickling your fancy?

      But I have become convinced that God is good, so that makes it easier to be ok with His supernatural-ness.

      This godly-dude casts people into fire to burn for eterninty. How does that fit *any* definition of good?

      I contend that wherever Biblical Christianity has been embraced in a meaningful way, the world has been change.

      For the worse, of course as clinging to ancient texts for guiding a society is like hoping a lead ballon will get your zepplin over the mountains. If you contend this, show us information you are basing it on because the current facts of the matter pretty much say the exact opposite as the more religious a nation/country/state is the worse of it is.

      So, if facts matter, what you’re saying is wrong and you should consider changing your views.

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  38. Hi Arbourist…
    I am in the middle of a homework assignment for Applied Linear Algebra, but I will try to at least address your comments. When I say “the author was impressed to deliver a message” I mean several things. For example, Paul of Tarsus was a missionary who set up churches around Asia Minor and Europe. As he was involved in one project or another, he would become concerned about one of the churches for one reason or another and felt compelled to write letters to them. Various historical records were set down in writing by various authors for various reasons, like the books of Genesis, Ruth, or Nehemiah. Another case would be the writings of various prophets, like Isaiah, Amos, or John, who saw certain things going on in society and felt compelled to write about them.
    When I say that I felt that no one has to prove the Bible, I said that because I think everyone is free to make up their own mind about it. It was offered by the Hebrew people and the early Christian church for use by themselves and anyone else who felt that it warranted study. In fact, during the Hellenistic period, it was quite common for non-Jews to be attracted to the Jewish people and to study their writings.
    As far as the Bible being a risible manual of stupidty… I have to be honest, I don’t think I have ever heard it called that before. I believe that it is the best selling book of all time. I know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis were students of it. I believe that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln pored over it constantly. I believe that Frank Borman read from it while orbiting the moon. Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday were students of it. The list goes on and on. And although you are entitled to your opinion, I am not quite sure how you arrived at that conclusion.
    And lastly for today, as to your statement, “This godly-dude casts people into fire to burn for eterninty. How does that fit *any* definition of good?” This is difficult to explain in a way that sounds benevolent. In a garden, weeds have to be removed for the sake of the other plants. Weeds are living organisms with just as much right to live as tomato plants or squashes or lettuces, yet almost all gardeners remove weeds from their gardens. The same concept applies to pruning of trees. An afterlife filled with all of us who are alive today would not be a good place. So God is pruning all of us who will respond to pruning, making us whole and healthy. Those of us who cannot be rectified through pruning are pulled. The gardener decides what is best.
    Got to go. Thanks for talking with me.

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    • @Richard

      I mean several things.

      Fantastic. That is always an aid to clarity during a conversation. But anyhow, thank you for elucidating your position.

      I said that because I think everyone is free to make up their own mind about it.

      With the exception of children of course who are indoctrinated in whatever specious religious belief the parents happen to be afflicted with.

      It was offered by the Hebrew people and the early Christian church for use by themselves and anyone else who felt that it warranted study.

      And then promptly taken from the people during the Dark Ages by the church to ensure their power over the ignorant masses was absolute.

      I have to be honest, I don’t think I have ever heard it called that before. I believe that it is the best selling book of all time.

      Some 30 billion flies will attest that shit is the best thing since sliced bread. Or did you wish to argue further along the argumentum ad populum line?

      I know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis were students of it. I believe that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln pored over it constantly. I believe that Frank Borman read from it while orbiting the moon. Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday were students of it.

      I see you would rather argue from authority. Well whatever floats your boat.

      And although you are entitled to your opinion, I am not quite sure how you arrived at that conclusion.

      You mean coming to the conclusion that the Bible is an ahistorical, inconsistent, self-refuting tumbled mass of jabberwocky dreamt up by scared ignorant people and isn’t worth the paper it is printed on? Fancy that.

      This is difficult to explain in a way that sounds benevolent.

      Because it isn’t.

      A benevolent being could create as much heaven real estate as necessary for everyone to be there.

      And why trust his standards? Mass murders if they repent go to heaven, unbelievers like myself, despite any earthly good works, get go to hell

      Not a nice god in any case.

      The gardener decides what is best.

      Your ‘gardener’ makes Hannibal Lector look like Kindergarten teacher in terms of sheer malevolence.

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  39. Dear Arbourist,
    I live on Long Island in New York and it is a beautiful, beautiful day. I am listening to very, very good music, and drinking my first cup of coffee of the day. I want to thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me, and it is my sincere hope that I would grow from it. Re: the indoctrination of children in whatever specious religious belief the parents happen to be afflicted with-that’s true. I’ve been married since 1978. Four of our five “children” (between 32 and 22) were home for Mother’s Day yesterday, and we were watching home movies. Every time I watch them, I can’t help thinking what an immature jerk I have been in so many ways. Yet the “kids” are really good people to be around. It is so much responsibility to be a parent, and there’s so much that can go wrong that people outside the home cannot know about before it’s too late. I have been reading a series of books by Stephen R. Donaldson (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), and the author characterizes Christianity similarly to the way you seem to think about it–a harsh, hateful, damning thing. I have been a Christian for a pretty long time, and although I am aware that things like that go on, I am happy to say that that has not been my experience. We’ve had two pastors–one for 16 years, and one for 11, in two churches, and though the churches and pastors are very different, both pastors are genuine and love their congregations. My experience, although not with certain problems, has been growing in what I consider spiritual, emotional, and intellectual health. Over these years, we have done everything we can to share our faith with our children (because we believe it to be true and in their best interest for us to do so). But once they went off to college, we knew our job was pretty much over–that they had to chose for themselves…
    As for your comments that the Bible was “taken from the people during the Dark Ages by the church to ensure their power over the ignorant masses was absolute.” You are absolutely correct. The Dark Ages were in most cases an ugly combination of religion and governmental power (both in the hands of corrupt, self-serving tyrants). But John Wyclif and Jan Hus confronted that paradigm and led to all kinds of good results (Hus paid for it with his life).
    Regarding my argument from authority, I was trying to respond to your comment that the Bible was a “risible manual of stupidty.” How can someone reply to such a claim? What do you base that position on? For example, the 12th chapter of the book of Proverbs (which I read this morning) says, “A capable wife is her husband’s crown…” It also says, “A righteous man cares about his animal’s health.” Are those stupid sayings? It says,”The one who works his land will have plenty of food” and “the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I could go on. There is so much in the Bible that I think anyone would say is so true and good and valuable. But I understand that there are other things that are difficult and confusing and should lead a thinking person to question–why? why would a loving God do this thing? I understand that, and people of good intent should be willing, I think, to talk about those things.
    And finally, about your conclusion that the Bible is an “ahistorical, inconsistent, self-refuting tumbled mass of jabberwocky dreamt up by scared ignorant people and isn’t worth the paper it is printed on?” There’s so much in that statement. Firstly, I absolutely refute your contention that it is ahistoric, and would be prepared to dialogue on that more if you really believe that. As far as inconsistent and self-refuting, I kind of think the opposite is true. In Genesis 3, God talks about the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and promises deliverance. In Romans 5, Paul of Tarsus really gives a good discussion of this. And in Revelation 21-22, John, the last remaining disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, gives a clear picture of what the deliverance looks like.
    About the Bible being dreamed up by scared, ignorant people… the historical Moses is not normally described that way, nor are David and Solomon the kings. Paul and Peter started out as scared people (Paul cannot be described as ignorant), yet they are credited with leading a movement that changed Europe forever. I admit the the mixture of Roman politics into Christianity was a bad, bad thing that had serious negative consequences, that does not take away from the truth of authentic, Biblical Christianity.
    If you sense that I am a sincere, logical person willing to conduct an honest dialogue, I welcome the opportunity to talk together more. It is my sincere hope for the very best for you and yours.
    Regards,
    Rich

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    • Richard, if i may jump in briefly. Are you saying the NT is historical, or the entire Bible, including the OT? And just for future reference, Revelations was penned no earlier than 95CE, some two generations after Jesus, so it’s safe to say the author did not know the character.

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    • @Richard

      I want to thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me, and it is my sincere hope that I would grow from it.

      You are welcome.

      I have been a Christian for a pretty long time, and although I am aware that things like that go on, I am happy to say that that has not been my experience.

      Oh, well…. I’m glad that your experience with the indoctrination has been a happy one. It isn’t such a pleasure for others, nor when enforced on the rest of society.

      You have not commented on my assertion that religion is a bad for society, along with the associated study. I’m going to assume then that you agree that on the macro level belief in magic isn’t good for society.

      One could also point to the religious red state vs the more secular blue state divide in the US. Red States lag far behind on all primary socioeconomic indicators, education, access to health care, et cetera. This is not primarily the fault of religion as many variables are involved – however, the level of religiosity is a contributing factor.

      Regarding my argument from authority, I was trying to respond to your comment that the Bible was a “risible manual of stupidity.” How can someone reply to such a claim? What do you base that position on?

      Part of the basis of my position. Warning, wall-o-text incoming.

      The bible is Rapetastic:

      More Murder Rape and Pillage (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)

      As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.

      -What kind of God approves of murder, rape, and slavery?.

      Nine more examples here.

      The bible endorses murder:

      Kill Old Men and Young Women

      “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the LORD. “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms. With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer. With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens. With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers. “As you watch, I will repay Babylon and the people of Babylonia for all the wrong they have done to my people in Jerusalem,” says the LORD. “Look, O mighty mountain, destroyer of the earth! I am your enemy,” says the LORD. “I will raise my fist against you, to roll you down from the heights. When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of rubble. You will be desolate forever. Even your stones will never again be used for building. You will be completely wiped out,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 51:20-26)

      -(Note that after God promises the Israelites a victory against Babylon, the Israelites actually get their butts kicked by them in the next chapter. So much for an all-knowing and all-powerful God.)

      God Will Kill the Children of Sinners

      If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins. I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted. (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

      20+ examples of the joys of murder in the bible here.

      The bible endorses slavery:

      When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

      -So these are the Bible family values! A man can buy as many sex slaves as he wants as long as he feeds them, clothes them, and screws them!

      Many more biblical slavery approved bits here.

      So maybe, just maybe, relying on a document produced some 2000 years ago by scared ignorant people isn’t such a hot idea?

      As far as inconsistent and self-refuting, I kind of think the opposite is true.

      Huh. You would be wrong then. See this helpful infographic at my blog, or here at John’s for evidence of precisely how inconsistent the bible is.

      Side note: You still have not answered my query from the last post – so…do facts matter?

      Small version to break up my text. 🙂

      About the Bible being dreamed up by scared, ignorant people… the historical Moses is not normally described that way, nor are David and Solomon the kings.

      Are you arguing that people in the bronze/iron age were not fundamentally ignorant of the world around them versus our level of knowledge today? If so, please show how vis-a-vis today’s level of empirical knowledge how they could be classified as anything other than scared and ignorant.

      If you sense that I am a sincere, logical person willing to conduct an honest dialogue, I welcome the opportunity to talk together more.

      Certainly.

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  40. Hi John,
    I am saying that the entire Bible is historical. Most dating of Jesus death is around the year 30. If John were a young person (17 or 18–that’s the way I think of him) at the time, 65 years later would have made him in his eighties. Most dating of John’s death that I have seen are around 90 years of age.
    Rich

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    • Richard, that’s quite a stretch, and as the author never makes any claim to have known Jesus (none of the anonymous gospel authors do) I think we can just leave that where it is. Now, you might not be aware, but not even Jewish Rabbi’s today maintain that the Pentateuch is historical. In fact, its common knowledge that it is a work of 6th Century geopolitical fiction. The Patriarchs, Egypt, Moses, Exodus and Conquest are dead subjects in the field of serious archaeology. They were dismissed as myth well over two generations ago, and nothing has changed in that time to alter this consensus. As Israel’s oldest daily Newspaper, Hareetz, stated recently:

      “Currently there is broad agreement among archaeologists and Bible scholars that there is no historical basis for the narratives of the Patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan, nor any archeological evidence to make them think otherwise.”

      Now, this is not new information, nor is it a secret. As Professor Magen Broshi, Chief Archaeologist at the Israel Museum explained: “Archaeologists simply do not take the trouble of bringing their discoveries to public attention.” So, you can be forgiven for not knowing.

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  41. Wow, guys, i only have a lunch break! John, you gave me much to think about, and I will have to sort through it and get back to you. I truly thank you for what the info and the opportunity to learn… Arbourist, there was so much in your comments, it is difficult to land in one spot, but I would like to take on your criticisms of the Bible sanctioning rape, violence, and murder. I do not profess to be speaking with any authority in these comments, and I am not speaking for any sect or church now–just personal opinion (which I believed to be informed by my study of the Bible). I believe that there is a spiritual dimension to human behavior. I believe that there are spiritual beings who are more powerful than human beings, and that they are always working to influence human behavior–of individuals and of nations. And I believe that God allows individuals and nations to experience suffering so that they will come to a place where they are looking outside themselves for help–where they have come to the end of themselves and begin to look up. I know that to modern and postmodern people that sounds absurd. However, that is what happened in my life. At some point I just became willing to hope, to believe, that there was someone else out there that could help. God allows such things for our benefit. If He didn’t, we would be born and live and die and believe that we were all that–that we were great and powerful and good, when in reality we are none of those things. People and nations who resist God, who reject Him, devolve, they don’t get better. Look at the American educational system. Look at our culture in general. We are not great, powerful or good. God, as Creator, at some point says, “Enough.” When an individual or a nation devolves to a point where they can no longer be turned back. When they are hardened beyond reclamation, God puts an end to it, for the good of others. It is my opinion, based upon texts like Leviticus 20, that that is what God did with the ancient residents of Palestine. And that is what God did to the Jews as well when they devolved to the same level in Jeremiah’s time…

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  42. @Richard

    I believe that there is a spiritual dimension to human behavior.

    I believe that small purple dragons harass me in my sleep in and malevolent elves hide my keys on a a regular basis. Your claim and mine, rationally, should be given the exact same amount of argumentative weight.

    I believe that there are spiritual beings who are more powerful than human beings, and that they are always working to influence human behavior–of individuals and of nations.

    Oh sweet! They must be genocidal then –

    About 29,000 children under the age of five – 21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.

    More than 70 per cent of almost 11 million child deaths every year are attributable to six causes: diarrhoea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth.

    And I believe that God allows individuals and nations to experience suffering so that they will come to a place where they are looking outside themselves for help–where they have come to the end of themselves and begin to look up.

    Looking up to god over your distended belly as the life drains out of you over the eyes of your impoverished mother is your solution? Frackn-a-bro! I suspect praying would be part of your solution as well; all about as effective and useful as pissing up a rope.

    I know that to modern and postmodern people that sounds absurd.

    Because it is. Illogical, irrational and immoral. Belief in illusion is harmful for individuals and society.

    At some point I just became willing to hope, to believe, that there was someone else out there that could help.

    Good works are done by people not your genocidal sky-daddy.

    God allows such things for our benefit.

    He also allows the children to die at horrendous rate every minute of every day, day in day out… tell me more about how benevolent your god is…

    People and nations who resist God, who reject Him, devolve, they don’t get better.

    There is no fucking evidence for that. I wish, for one microsecond you’d get your head out of your ass and stop such egregious confabulating. The majority of evidence, statistical and otherwise, points toward religiosity being a negative influence on modern society.

    If this isn’t the case why isn’t Vatican City growing and thriving – why has the holy empire been shrinking (giving up power, territory and influence to the surrounding secular states) since its inception. If your argument was correct this would not be happening.

    they don’t get better. Look at the American educational system.

    Under assault by the fanatical religious right that somehow think that their magical mumbo-jumbo should be part of the curriculum. Also, the educational system is under the classic right wing assault of being horrendously under-funded and then, summarily, branded ineffective.

    God has nothing to do with the state of the american educational system, other than the idea is being used to destroy the rational secular basis of public education.

    Look at our culture in general. We are not great, powerful or good. God, as Creator, at some point says, “Enough.” When an individual or a nation devolves to a point where they can no longer be turned back.

    Are you ascribing limits to an infinite being? Or are you just projecting your own desires onto your god-head about how society doesn’t fit into your conception of ‘good’ and therefore giving yourself an ‘out’ because if god has forsaken society your responsibility is limited to praying (see pissing up a rope) and bemoaning how terrible it is – instead of actually doing something about it.

    It is my opinion, based upon texts like Leviticus 20, that that is what God did with the ancient residents of Palestine. And that is what God did to the Jews as well when they devolved to the same level in Jeremiah’s time…

    Ah, so the prescriptions of scared ancient people are once again brought to the table and presented as being somehow (?!) relevant to the discussion.

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  43. Good morning, John…
    A took a final until 11:00 last night, but as time has permitted, I have been thinking about your last post re: archaeology. I took a look through Google Scholar yesterday for a few minutes, and am thinking that most of the articles are written from either side of the spectrum, both with a priori positions– for or against the truth of the Bible. I also took a look at your article at https://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/how-we-know-the-pentateurch-is-historical-fiction-11/, and there is so much to discuss. I think it’s going to take a while to work through all of this. However, I started to think of how archaeology should be able to have input into this discussion, and I put together a partial list of things I would like to investigate together:
    Thoughts about the Bible and Archaeology
    Event 1: Creation
    Event 2: Noah’s Flood – archaeological evidence?
    The Ark – made of wood – thousands of years ago
    Evidence of oceans high as the highest mountains. I have heard of seashells found on mountains, etc.
    Mid-Atlantic Ridge
    Event recorded in histories, legends and myths
    Event 3: Tower of Babel
    Specifically said to have been brick, not stone
    Pretty similar to the idea of ziggaruts
    Study of languages – do they radiate from Middle-East, less closely related as they move away? That would be good evidence.
    DNA studies – common ancestry
    Event 4a: Abraham leaves Ur and goes to Haran
    Archaeological find of Ur?
    Archaeological find of Haran?
    Event 4b: Abraham leaves Haran and enters Canaan
    Archaeological find of Canaan?
    Event 4c: Abraham goes down into Egypt and returns to Canaan
    First mention of Egypt. Not long after Tower of Babel. Would be pre-pyramid, I would think.
    Event 4d: Abraham rescues Lot from the Battle of the kings
    Any evidence of the kingdoms referred to?
    Event 5: Sodom and Gomorrah
    If under Dead Sea, has any study of floor been done?
    Does chemical composition of Sea have an effect?
    Event 6: Isaac and the Philistines
    Archaeological evidence of Philistines? Their origin?
    Event 7: Joseph in Egypt
    Any evidence of the Joseph story?
    Event 8: the Exodus
    Any evidence of the Moses story?
    Event 9: Conquest of Canaan (Jericho)
    Archaeology of Canaan/Jericho?
    Any evidence of Joshua story?
    Event 10: Samson and the Temple of Dagon
    Archaeological evidence?
    Event 11: The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Dagon
    Archaeological evidence?
    Event 12: The Jebusites in Jerusalem
    Archaeological evidence?
    Event 13: Solomon’s Temple and Palace
    Archaeological evidence?
    I intend to begin, as time permits, to research these things.
    Regards,
    Rich

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  44. I would like to respond to Arbourist’s comments for a moment. As I grow older, I am learning. I am sitting here thinking how much I truly enjoy face to face dialogue — sitting down and talking with someone over a cup of coffee, and doing so over time, perhaps years, developing a meaningful relationship. Is there any other way to interrelate with one another? I think I can express my thinking pretty well on paper, but to what end? I am a husband–I’ve been married for going on 36 years. I have five children–32 through 22. I’ve been in two churches–one for 16 years and one for 11 years. I’ve been working at the same job for 16 1/2 years, with many of the same people for many of those years. Of the 15-20 people I consider my friends, I have known most of them for 10-30 years. What I am saying is that it takes time to develop the kinds of relationships that give us the right to speak into the lives of others. I try to speak the truth. And that has caused me a number of issues over the years, yet relationship is what carries us past that. In my posts to this blog, that is what I am hoping for–that over time we can develop relationships with one another that will allow us–give us the mutually granted right–to speak what we believe to be truth into one-another’s lives.

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    • @Richard

      I would like to respond to Arbourist’s comments for a moment.

      Given what you have demonstrated so far in this particular thread I doubt that.

      Is there any other way to interrelate with one another?

      Stop avoiding/ignoring the arguments being made.

      I try to speak the truth.

      Do you? You’ve demonstrated to me, that when faced with inconvenient facts you talk around them, ignore them or simply do not respond.

      –give us the mutually granted right–to speak what we believe to be truth into one-another’s lives.

      You are into the New Age thing too, eh? Fantastic. I am skeptical that we’ll be able to speak truth to each other because you fail to deal in the honest currency of debate; namely facts.

      You’ve spent ‘x’ amount of years spinning this woolly religious fabrication around your intellect, rationalizing myth and magic, thus and I highly doubt that our conversation is going to be significantly life changing for either of us.

      Rather, I imagine that this conversation will (yet, again) affirm to me that the belief in magic and mythology is the very antithesis of modern civilized society and the rational foundations it is founded on.

      What I am saying is that it takes time to develop the kinds of relationships that give us the right to speak into the lives of others.

      I’m sure you are a nice person, a decent person even. Nice decent people, however, can hold stupid beliefs and opinions close to their heart. I’m (mostly) not commenting on *you*, but merely the vapid, unsupported, monkey-muffins of arguments that you are injecting into the thread.

      So again – You still have not answered my query from the last post(s) – so…do facts matter?

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  45. Good morning,
    I have set today aside to study in prep for my last final on Tuesday, but I wanted to quickly speak with John and Arbourist. Firstly, I want to thank you for the questions you have posed to me, because you have made me think, and to have to do some work to be able to respond to you properly. I don’t have time right now, but just a quick update. John, as I said previously, I have been looking through Google Scholar for articles having to do with seashells on mountains. I’ve been bookmarking some pages, and will be reading them when time permits. Arbourist, I have to say that in taking time to think about your comments, and I am referring here to your post of 5/12, where you talk about the war, rape, slavery that are in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc. Thinking about your questions–not preparing to answer, but just listening to them and thinking about them, I realize that I have not really thought of them in the way that you do. I am not going to give you some pat, off-hand answer. I am going to re-read the passages thoughtfully and get back to you. However, I want you to know that I respect your compassion for the suffering of others. Give me a chance to consider the Scriptures you referred to and I’ll get back to you.
    Rich

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      • Ahhh 🙂 Still, it did remind me of walking over the Himalaya. Beneath your boots are seashells, countless trillions of them broken down into a rough sand, carried up with the mountains.

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      • 🙂 … I was beginning at the top of the list I’d made: Event 2: Noah’s Flood – archaeological evidence? Thinking: how can one support the biblical account of Noah’s flood through archaeology? I just thought about it and figured seashells on mountain tops would be pretty good evidence. I was also going to look into the formation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and how the event recorded in histories, legends and myths.
        I found three articles that looked interesting so far, but haven’t read them yet: http://www.jcu.edu.au/etropic/ET12-2/Lansdown.pdf, http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projGall/jeck/, and http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=lang_en&id=ZoQ03oq8oD4C&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=seashells+on+the+tops+of+mountains&ots=IR3YbVvZS1&sig=SSVouJBHf8a9tP61oAGEO4usb5s#v=onepage&q=seashells&f=false

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      • Hi Richard. Seashells are all over the Himalaya (a very young mountain range in geological terms), for example, simply because the seafloor was pushed up as the subcontinent slammed into Asia. This is basic geology. Nothing to do with archaeology.

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      • Rich, investigating the biblical flood – like any religious claim about reality – is a scientific hypothesis; can we make a model based on what occurs in local flooding, expand (where appropriate) the same kind of affects we see to the proposition of a global flood and then check with reality to see if it fits the evidence reality provides. We can do the same with a young earth hypothesis and a creation hypothesis and see how well the evidence as a whole comports with our biblical explanatory models. The more the evidence from reality comports with a model, the more deserving is that explanatory model with our confidence. If that explanatory model can fit with all the evidence over time, then we elevate the status of that explanatory model to be called a ‘theory’.

        Knowing this ahead of time can save us a great deal of individual enquiry if those involved with using a model demonstrated to work reliably and consistently well have a very high degree of expertise in that area.

        Archeologists, for example, are people with a great deal of expertise in archeology as a subject. This is important to understand when we have a vested interest in some particular archeological matter (say, a biblical historical claim) because their job isn’t to make the evidence suit our vested interests (doing this is called ‘cherry picking the data’ when only selected data is applied to the model because it fits and ignoring evidence that doesn’t) but to fit a much broader historically valid narrative. Archeologists have no evidence to work with, for example, about the biblical claim for an exodus of Jews from Egypt and, in addition, have found no evidence where there should be evidence if the biblical account were true. This is the kind of information all of us need to have first before we begin investing ourselves and our confidence in explanatory models that don’t work. Exodus as a historical story has no archeological legs to stand on; it stands purely on religious legs but believers claim it to be historical. Archeological evidence disagrees. They can’t both be right; either the story isn’t history or reality is lying to us.

        In this latest questioning about the biblical Flood (by looking for sea shells on mountains and pondering how they might have gotten there), one only needs to look at the white cliffs of Dover to appreciate how much time would be required for a global flood to produce these chalk layers made of – you guessed it – sea shells. And this layer runs continuously under a good portion of France and the lowlands (sort of like a bowl) including the North Sea. Using this geological model of how sedimentary layers are made by natural process, oil companies look for these kinds of deposits to indicate to them where oil and gas deposits are much more likely to be found. These companies wouldn’t make such huge investments drilling where they do if the same geological models didn’t work reliably and predictably well.

        It’s not just pointy-head scientists who grant a very high degree of confidence to these models (presumed by many who don’t understand the scientific process to be because of some theoretical desire to do so); these explanatory models deserve our highest confidence because they work for everyone everywhere all the time. In comparison, the biblical flood deserves a very low degree of confidence because its explanatory power doesn’t fit the evidence reality has provided us. Reality has arbitrated the claim, so to speak, and found it wanting. And wanting to believe the biblical flood to be true doesn’t alter this fact.

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  46. @Richard Re: The Flood

    Please please please don’t go there.

    The next claim after the flood is proof that earth is flat and their is a firmament of the heavens above our heads..

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  47. Good morning Tildeb. I was just listening to a wonderful song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRspIyKhniw by The Ragamuffin Band called “A Man of No Reputation.” I believe that it is important to say a couple of things. 1. I acknowledge that archaeologists are people with great expertise. I feel the same can be said about good car mechanics who can keep our hybrids running (like my best friend, John) and about systems and network administrators (which is what I am going to school to become). 2. I often think about the Renaissance — a time when people were able to be accomplished in more than one area of expertise in their lifetimes. This brings to mind America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush… 3. I think it is also important to mention once again that a priori suppositions affect everything for everyone, even archaeologists. When we say “sedimentary layers are made by natural process(es)” or when we talk about the creation of stars or the Grand Canyon, or about how seashells arrived on the tops of .mountains, it is difficult not to really reflect (excuse me, John) our epistemological position. Using the scientific method, a person with expertise in a field can look around and observe what is happening in the present–how sedimentary layers are laid down, how stars are created. The scientific method also allows us to build models by which we can extrapolate theories of what may have happened in the past and may happen in the future. However, the scientific method cannot tell us that something did happen or will happen. When we look back at the past, we can only surmise what we think happened based on some set of principles, and if our epistemology does not include the possibility of intervention from outside the system (of how things happen now), we have no room for the possible effects of cataclysmic events or the supernatural. Naturalism, materialism, are not scientific positions. They are philosophical ones. My philosophic position, my starting place, allows me to believe that anything is possible. It may seem simplistic, but I am still curious about the seashells, and I am still going to look into it. 🙂

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  48. Rich, you say When we say “sedimentary layers are made by natural process(es)”… (snip)… it is difficult not to really reflect (excuse me, John) our epistemological position.

    You are trying to assert that that ‘natural process(es)’ is an a priori assumption and apply that to what I said. This is not true and it’s not part of the foundation of what constitutes the scientific method.

    What I said was “Using this geological model of how sedimentary layers are made by natural process, oil companies look for these kinds of deposits to indicate to them where oil and gas deposits are much more likely to be found. These companies wouldn’t make such huge investments drilling where they do if the same geological models didn’t work reliably and predictably well.”

    My point is exactly contrary to your assertion (that the method of science takes on board from the get go an epistemological assumption that you hint precludes divine intervention). Because the geological model works without any need for making room for divine intervention, this demonstrates why the addition you want to make for god is not productive. There is ZERO evidence for any such intervention and overwhelming evidence against it. This is reality’s arbitration of your claim and not mine or any group of scientist’s a priori assumption.

    To then grant confidence to YOUR assertion that there could be intervention is empty of anything from reality to back it up. That assertion you assume has epistemological value is wholly religious and divorced from reality. There is no justification from evidence adduced from reality to tell resource extraction companies that the geological model they use that works reliably and consistently well (an upon which they gamble billions and billions of dollars) might contain some heretofore supernatural component. It’s a claim as devoid of knowledge as it is evidence in its support. It is a faith-based belief not just divorced from reality but imposed on it to serve some theological – and not knowledge-driven – purpose.

    So when you suggest that we reflect on our how we gain knowledge about the reality we share (our epistemological position) and then turn right around and empower an incompatible religious epistemology that either ignores or supersedes reality role to arbitrate claims made about it, then you are the one who needs to revisit your epistemological position and find out where you went so badly astray to make such a colossal methodological blunder.

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    • Tildeb, my point about epistemology was about the past and the future. One can extrapolate predictions from the present in both directions. And scientific and technological people do all the time, but it must be admitted that these are guesses, albeit educated ones. My epistemological position allows for the possibility that there were events that took place that I might not be able to know about using the scientific method, experimentation and modeling. The same is true for the future.

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      • Rich, you say that My epistemological position allows for the possibility that there were events that took place that I might not be able to know about using the scientific method, experimentation and modeling.

        I understand your epistemology allows for that, which IS a problem if you maintain confidence in the possibility of unexplained events in specific examples like sedimentation. There is zero evidence of any unexplained event in sedimentation. It is a physical process fully understandable assuming all other naturally occurring factors remain stable over time (ie. the laws of physics). By assuming that these factors can and do change (and are, in fact, changeable) is a scientific hypothesis. What evidence you have to support this claim? If you have no evidence, then the possibility is as low as it can be. The claim is not supportable by evidence adduced from reality but imposed on it for reasons OTHER than pursing knowledge. If you are trying to do something else than find out FROM how it operates, by what mechanisms and agencies, then be honest about it and stop pretending that this a reasonable ‘alternative’; it’s an epistemology with a different goal altogether. And the goal you seek I think is obvious: to rationalize and privilege a priori faith-based assumptions on reality and then pretend it is adduced from it. This is inherently dishonest.

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  49. @Tildeb

    It is almost like you’ve had this argument before. Very nicely put.

    It is the long form of saying that believing in magic is unjustified and irrational.

    I’d add stupid, but that’s just me. 🙂

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    • What I’m saying is that it is a common tactic to present faith-based belief as if it is adduced from reality when, in fact, it is imposed on it. And this is clear when the burden of proof is accepted, namely, that when asked for this convincing evidence, the believer can produce none from reality to directly support the claim independent of the confidence the believer imports to it.

      Obviously, the claim gains confidence not from reality that produces little if any compelling evidence to justify the confidence granted to the claim but by some other means, from some other source, privileging some other consideration than what reality alone contains.

      The thing is, this same tactic is used to justify confidence in all kinds of woo claims that supporters then pretend is justified not by their credulity and gullibility and non critical acceptance but revealed by reality… usually by feeling special to have accessed this ‘other’ reality, this ‘higher’ plane of existence, this ‘hidden’ truth unavailable to the those who are ‘too close to the trees to see the forest’. That’s a clue….

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      • I’m not quite understanding your comments. The article seems to be talking about uniformitarianism as subject to fits and starts. In an effort to verify that my understanding of the article is correct, I did more research this morning and came up with “Updating uniformitarianism: stratigraphy as just a set of ‘frozen accidents’” by Andrew D. Miall at http://sp.lyellcollection.org/content/early/2014/04/08/SP404.4.abstract. I found this article in its entirety at http://www.cspg.org/documents/Conventions/Archives/Annual/2012/004_GC2012_The%20Nature_of_the_Sedimentary_Record.pdf. In it, the author says: “It has long been understood that the stratigraphic record is fragmentary. Blackwelder (1909) recognized that the cratonic sedimentary cover of North America consists of a suite of unconformity bounded successions, later termed “layers of geology” by Levorsen (1943) and “sequences” by Sloss (1963). Barrell (1917) in a paper that was many years ahead of its time, was the first to clearly understood 1)
        the importance of what we now term accommodation, the space available for sediments to accumulate, and 2) the very episodic way in which accommodation is created and removed by geological processes. He demonstrated that under typical conditions of base-level rise and fall only a fraction of geologic time may actually be represented by accumulated sediment. This was emphasized by Ager (1973) who remarked that “the stratigraphic record is more gap than record.” In a later book, following a description of the major unconformities in the record at the Grand Canyon, he said, (1993, p. 14): “We talk about such obvious breaks, but there are also gaps on a much smaller scale, which may add up to vastly more unrecorded time. Every bedding plane is, in effect, an unconformity. It may seem paradoxical, but to me the gaps probably cover most of earth history, not the dirt that happened to accumulate in the moments between. It was during the breaks that most events probably occurred.” This all makes me think of Stephen Jay Gould’s Punctuated Equilibrium.

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      • The previous comment I made was in response to Arb, who suggested that what I had written was “the long form of saying that believing in magic is unjustified and irrational.” I clarified that my comment was more about revealing the order of justification used by believers, which was often dishonest, namely, pretending their beliefs were adduced from reality when it was demonstrably imposed on it.

        As for the article, let’s revisit what uniformitarianism means in geology: the landscape has been developed over long periods of time through a variety of slow geologic and geomorphic processes. This hypothesis was developed by Hutton.

        When this hypothesis was presented (late 1700s), the prevailing principle to explain landscapes was called catastrophism (landscape as a result from the biblical global flood). He argued that geologic history could be interpreted in terms of processes currently observed. This was a revolutionary concept because we don’t see bedrock weathering, we don’t see isostatic rebound, we don’t see ice ages, we don’t see continental glaciation, we don’t see plate tectonics and mountain building, and so on. (Yet all of these explanatory global models work to accurately describe local geological processes). What we do see is local and tiny. Hutton suggested these small scale and local processes (like erosion of creek beds and sedimentation from local flooding) could be extrapolated to be in effect on a large scale, which could reveal an estimated calculation of what kind of time scale we were looking at.

        I get the impression that you assume that geologists think sedimentation rates are stable and ought to be uniform to produce the sedimentary layers we find in reality and on this belief that time calculations about, say the age of the earth, are made.

        No, on all accounts.

        Sedimentation rates vary across a very wide spectrum and are affected by all kinds of conditions that themselves change over time. And we see this in our local creek. Take a half dozen core samples across the creek bed and another half dozen up- and downstream and you will have a dozen different examples of variable sedimentation. But you will also find uniformitarianism at work, namely, the same sedimentary layers composed of the same materials spread across the same order of particulate size with the same catastrophic evidence if there (perhaps an ash layer from a volcanic eruption or forest fire, maybe a meteorite element layer, and so on).

        What you won’t find is the kind of geological evidence for a global flood, meaning the layers necessary to reveal geologic evidence for a global flood at an historical time. The particulate layer from such an event should be present globally and found in the same historical order of the layers as any other catastrophic event, and its just not there.

        As for calculating ages of sedimentary rock, we use an array of dating methods to validate approximations. The most fundamental is the order, meaning that the lower rock layers probably are older than the shallower layers. This isn’t always the case, however; sometimes we find sections reversed. How to explain this?

        Welcome to the world of geology where a life time of study isn’t enough to find all the explanations to all the questions we have. But we do have remarkable success creating geological explanatory models that work from the local to the global. That’s why uniformitarianism is an accepted principle upon which all our knowledge of geology is based. If this principle is wrong, then it is mind-bogglingly astounding that our knowledge base built on it continues uninterrupted to work for everyone everywhere all the time predictably and reliably well… by some strange yet ongoing coincidence.

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    • Rich, you cannot go wrong looking to reality, examining what you find, and THEN coming up with an explanatory model to then be tested against new incoming data. This is methodological naturalism at work and it produces applicable knowledge about reality – knowledge that all of us use successfully on a daily basis. This method also contains the means to falsify claims made about reality by allowing reality to arbitrate claims made about it. It can also reveal supernatural intervention. It hasn’t… yet.

      You cannot help but go wrong if you apply a belief TO reality and then search for whatever data fits and call this ‘evidence’ for the belief while philosophically and metaphysically diverting data that doesn’t. This is faith-based methodology at work and it assumes supernatural causal effect by intervention. Not surprisingly, everything examined then becomes evidence for it because it assumes the conclusion as its premise. This method has no means to differentiate the natural from the supernatural because it doesn’t allow reality to arbitrate these claims but relegates it to be a servant of the belief. As a result, this method has yet to produce any applicable knowledge.

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  50. @Richard

    the author is making a similar argument to the one I am making.

    I am curious as to why we should go see someone else making erroneous claims? Maybe you should quote the relevant material here, as it is you who are making the claim?

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  51. I have not really looked into these things in any depth for a few years now, but looking into it, I am interested to find that Hutton himself was not trained as a geologist, but in medicine, and that he was a farmer. It appears that he published his “Theory of the Earth” in 1795, and that his work was based on the following a priori supposition: “The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now… No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.” Now, when I was taking Earth Science in high school (in the 1970s), I was taught without equivocation that uniformitarianism meant that the sedimentary layers of the earth had been laid down by means of natural processes that had remained and still remain uniform through time (“such as rivers depositing layers of silt, wind and water eroding landscapes, glaciers advancing or retreating”). That was just a little before Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “Charles Lyell (with whom the idea of uniformitarianism is generally associated) was a lawyer by profession, and his book is one of the most brilliant briefs published by an advocate… Lyell relied upon true bits of cunning to establish his uniformitarian views as the only true geology. First, he set up a straw man to demolish. In fact the catastrophists were much more empirically minded than Lyell. The geologic record does seem to require catastrophes: rocks are fractured and contorted; whole faunas are wiped out. To circumvent this literal appearance, Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence. The geologic record, he argued, is extremely imperfect and we must interpolate into it what we can reasonably infer but cannot see. The catastrophists were the hard-nosed empiricists of their day, not blinded theological apologists.”
    I refer you to http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/10/9/455.abstract, published by http://www.geosociety.org/, which says the following:
    “Although uniformitarianism is widely recognized as the basic principle of geology, the geological literature is riddled with false and misleading statements as to what uniformitarianism means. These misconceptions must be eliminated so geologists feel free to propose any scientifically reasonable hypotheses and because they open geology to unwarranted attack from outside science. The twelve specific fallacies identified herein are that uniformitarianism (1) is unique to geology; (2) was originated by Hutton; (3) was named by Lyell, who established its current meaning; (4) should be called ‘actualism’ because it refers to ‘real’ causes; (5) holds that only currently acting processes operated during geologic time; (6) holds that the rates of processes have been constant; (7) holds that only gradual processes have acted and that catastrophes have not occurred during Earth’s past; (8) holds that conditions on Earth haven’t changed much; (9) holds that Earth is very old; (10) is a testable theory; (11) is limited in both time and place; and (12) holds that the laws governing nature have been constant through time. Geologists should abandon the terms ‘uniformitarianism’ and ‘actualism’ because they are fruitless, confusing, and inextricably associated with many fallacious concepts. Instead, the fundamental philosophical approach of science should be recognized as basic to geology.”
    My original point was about epistemology. I said that one can only “extrapolate predictions from the present in both directions. And scientific and technological people do all the time, but it must be admitted that these are guesses, albeit educated ones. My epistemological position allows for the possibility that there were events that took place that I might not be able to know about using the scientific method, experimentation and modeling. The same is true for the future.” And that is still my contention–that Science’s ability to say what happened in the past is limited. I think that is an honest assessment of my position. And I do not understand how you can honestly disagree with it.

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    • Rich, you say My epistemological position allows for the possibility that there were events that took place that I might not be able to know about using the scientific method, experimentation and modeling. The same is true for the future.”

      I responded to that already and asked you for evidence to support the likelihood of such events. You have not produced any; instead you have tried to criticize uniformatarianism, as if by doing that you somehow strengthen your claim. That is not a substitute for evidence.

      Could such events have happened? Yes. But that’s not epistemology; it’s ontology. And is here where the rubber of epistemology meets the road of ontology. Does reality support the ontology? Does reality offer us some kind of justification for such a claim? Unless and until reality arbitrates the ontology to be a conclusion with merit outside of your willingness to empower it, you’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book: believing your beliefs empower reality.

      This confusion is how magicians and conjurors and con men and snake oil salesmen make their living: off the credulity and gullibility of their clients… people convinced they have access to knowledge unavailable to others. And rationalizations for increased credulity and gullibility are the hallmarks of a very poor epistemology.

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  52. Dear Tildeb,
    You say: “Could such events have happened? Yes. But that’s not epistemology; it’s ontology. And is here where the rubber of epistemology meets the road of ontology. Does reality support the ontology? Does reality offer us some kind of justification for such a claim? Unless and until reality arbitrates the ontology to be a conclusion with merit outside of your willingness to empower it, you’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book: believing your beliefs empower reality.”
    You see here is the crux, in my opinion, of the discussion. Epistemologically, you say accede to the idea that there are things we cannot know–that are outside of our ability to know. But then you turn to Ontology and quickly define “Reality” for us, immediately framing the discussion for us. What is Reality? Based on your comments, I would have to say that for you Reality consists of the matter-space-time universe. I understand that. That is a reasonable hypothesis based on your experience, because you have never walked into a room and felt–experienced the awesome, humbling, somewhat frightening, but inexplicably attractive sense of the Presence of God–the feeling I have right now listening to a song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzc9fqSHuGU. And I expect you have never felt the horrible unpleasant feeling of walking into an attic in someone’s home and thinking “Oh my, this looks like a place where someone might have held satanic rituals,” only to later go down into their basement and find multiple satanic signs hung by paperclips from a clothesline… The hair on my arms is standing while I write this. Tildeb, you speak with great confidence about things you know nothing about. Framing a discussion and then demanding that I comply with that framework does not make you right. It just makes you in control.
    Now about the idea about people being “convinced they have access to knowledge unavailable to others,” I say–that is your choice. To change that, all one has to do is say, “God, if You exist, I am willing to humble myself before Your power, before You, in the hope that You really are good. Please reveal Yourself to me,” and the knowledge will be available to you too.
    I read a poem today that I would like to share with you:

    “It’s good at first to be out in the night, naked to the cold mechanics of the starts. Space hurls outward, falconswift, mounting like an irreversible injustice, a final disease.

    I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly – as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink.

    …this one frail, foolish flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity.

    I too am learning, ordeal by ordeal, my indignity. It’s all I have, my only weapon for smashing through these stiff coffin-walls of the world. So I dance in the moonlight, make foul jokes, or labor to shake the foundations of night with my heaped-up howls of rage. Something is bound to come of all this. I cannot believe such monstrous energy of grief can lead to nothing!”

    I came to Christ accidentally–I was not looking for Him. But the experience of His Presence was irresistible for me. I found in Him everything I searched for all my lonely life. It was after I encountered His personhood–the Reality of it–that I began to address my intellectual questions, which I have and do and welcome.
    Be blessed…

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    • Rich, I say you have confused epistemology (HOW we come to know) with ontology (WHAT we claim to know).

      You say your epistemology allows for the possibility that there were events that took place that you might not be able to know about using the scientific method. Then I say you cannot ‘know’ anything about WHAT you claim to know.

      For example, you claim to ‘know’ something about which the scientific method cannot examine, namely, experiences you’ve had. Ironically, you try to use reality to back up these claims (that you presume I cannot equivalently ‘know’ anything about), saying that (as a comparison) I’ve never walked into a room and felt… the way you have, that I have not listened to a piece of music and felt…., climbed into an attic and felt…. Do you see what you’re doing here?

      You’re using yourself in a physical environment subject to physical stimulation to which you respond with some measure of limbic arousal, and then ATTRIBUTE your feelings to be an indication for something more causing your attribution from reality, some influence causing your attribution beyond reality, some agency causing your attribution to be sourced outside of reality. You have assumed that your attribution of these personal experiences is evidence for the merit of the attribution!

      How could you ‘know’ if your attribution (WHAT is being described) was correct using this method, this epistemology (HOW you know) was correct?

      Well, when you assume it is, you’ve mixed up the premise for the conclusion. You cannot falsify such an attribution so you, in fact, do not KNOW if the attribution was correct. You assume it was because you assume it was correct.

      This is actually compelling evidence that your epistemology is unreliable. Covering up this unreliability with pious assertions doesn’t strengthen it; it strengthens your faith-based belief that your beliefs describe reality, that your attributions are trustworthy, that your ontology is therefore sound and can be presented as if knowledge. Your faith-based beliefs are privileged by this method you use and you continue to have no means at your disposal to find out if that privilege is deserved on its own merit, its own knowledge value supported by reality, rather than be fully dependent on your faith (change the epistemology leads to a change in the power of faith leads to a change in attribution leads to a change in ‘knowledge’ leads to a change in the ontology).

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    • I meant to add to that last paragraph (demonstrated by the content of the parenthesis) that this method you use reveals your ontology to be based on faith and not knowledge.

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  53. Dear Tildeb, your comments remind me of two of my favorite things. The first is the movie “Judgment of Nuremburg.” Toward the end, there is a private conversation between Judge Haywood and the prosecuting attorney, Herr Rolfe. The attorney comes to see the judge and tells him how pointless his efforts have been, and the judge replies, “Herr Rolfe, I have admired your work in the court for many months. You are particularly brilliant in your use of logic… But to be logical is not to be right, and nothing on God’s earth could ever make it right.” Your comments also remind me of a book by C.S. Lewis–“The Abolition of Man””–in that you have created a discussion all about my feelings and declare that they are the issue and not the experiences which fostered them.
    You say, “For example, you claim to ‘know’ something about which the scientific
    method cannot examine, namely, experiences you’ve had. Ironically, you
    try to use reality to back up these claims (that you presume I cannot
    equivalently ‘know’ anything about), saying that (as a comparison)
    I’ve never walked into a room and felt… the way you have, that I have
    not listened to a piece of music and felt…., climbed into an attic and
    felt…. Do you see what you’re doing here?” Let’s work through this– 1) Yes, I have had experiences to which the scientific method cannot adequately be applied. 2) I use the word “felt” here in the sense of “discerned”– noticed, became aware of, etc.
    You use the term “limbic arousal,” and I must confess that you have me at a disadvantage here. However, looking up the term it sounds like something Scientologists think a lot about. But this argument is right of Abolition of Man. I warrant to say that deeply-affecting experiences are stored in my amygdala, but that does not mean they did not happen.
    Tildeb, you say, “This is actually compelling evidence that your epistemology is
    unreliable. Covering up this unreliability with pious assertions
    doesn’t strengthen it; it strengthens your faith-based belief that
    your beliefs describe reality, that your attributions are trustworthy,
    that your ontology is therefore sound and can be presented as if
    knowledge. Your faith-based beliefs are privileged by this method you
    use and you continue to have no means at your disposal to find out if
    that privilege is deserved on its own merit, its own knowledge value
    supported by reality, rather than be fully dependent on your faith
    (change the epistemology leads to a change in the power of faith leads
    to a change in attribution leads to a change in ‘knowledge’ leads to a
    change in the ontology).”
    You continue to demand that my life-experiences fit into your frame of reference. Now I cannot say why. I cannot read your mind. Nor do I know your heart.
    I was an atheist. I was an atheist because I was convinced by someone that evolution was a fact. Evolution as fact gave me the freedom–an excuse–to ditch God. Ditching God did nothing for me, it just made me feel better to get back at the Creep who had ruined my life. And I lived in my atheism through my young-adult life. It took an experience with God to get me to take another look at evolution, and when I did I found that it was not the air-tight argument I had accepted as a 14-year old. Like the hero in Ender’s Game, I had been lied to. But I’m not 14 anymore, and I–like Judge Haywood–am no longer intimidated (or bullied, if you will) by logicians and logical positivists. One of my favorite C.S. Lewis books is called “That Hideous Strength,” which interestingly is also called “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups.” In it, Lewis describes a future world (it was written in 1945), I would call it a post-modern world, where “truth” is no longer a thing unto itself, but what writers say that it is. It’s a frightening world. And what I find the most interesting, is that while the wheels of secularism grind away, creating a godless tomorrow, there are several older folks–Christians too–who are not quick to be swept away by convincing-sounding argumentation. I do not argue here for ignorance, nor for stupidity. I argue for authenticity.

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  54. @Richard

    You continue to demand that my life-experiences fit into your frame of reference. Now I cannot say why. I cannot read your mind. Nor do I know your heart.

    Because you keep retreating into your wacky fun-world where if you say it is “true for me” that is good enough. Instead of dealing with what Tildeb is saying, you’re waving your hands about trying to show people that choose reality as a “frame of reference” how amazing your wacky fun-world is.

    It isn’t.

    It took an experience with God to get me to take another look at evolution, and when I did I found that it was not the air-tight argument I had accepted as a 14-year old.

    So you looked at Evolutionary Theory and decided that, despite the massive weight of evidence in its favour, somehow isn’t the best way of describing reality?

    What were your objections? I’m guessing “my sky-daddy told me so” is close near the top of the list.

    is that while the wheels of secularism grind away, creating a godless tomorrow,

    Oh you mean progress and modernity. Gotcha.

    Christians too–who are not quick to be swept away by convincing-sounding argumentation.

    If there is a flaw in the argumentation you should clearly point it out.

    I do not argue here for ignorance, nor for stupidity. I argue for authenticity.

    Authentic what? The authentic right to believe in mendacious bullcookery – go hard.

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  55. Good morning, Arbourist. I’ve had a pretty full week. Took finals in Applied Linear Algebra and Scripting Languages (Python, Perl, etc) and passed (by the grace of God) both classes. Became concerned that a 24/7 health clinic would be unable to administer treatment over the holiday weekend, so I configured a computer, ran it out there and installed it. Then I spent the weekend renting yard equipment and getting our yard under control. That is my “whacky fun world” you referred to.
    I have taken a pretty extensive look at Evolutionary Theory over the years, and I honestly hate to even get into this discussion, but I see that I have no choice. My own intellectual journey after accepting Christ began with a movement from naturalistic to theistic evolution, but it wasn’t too long before I began to understand that the Bible account of Creation is irreconcilable with any form of evolution. The Bible says that God created the earth first, and the sun and moon later. The creation of the stars is presented in an off-hand, seemingly careless manner: “He made the stars also.” The Bible also stands in the face of the evolutionary theory regarding plants, declaring that grasses and fruit trees were created alongside the simplest forms of plant life. There is no way to attempt to resolve the differences between the Bible and evolution in any intellectually honest way. If the world is millions of years old, the Bible is false, and if it isn’t that old, evolution cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, possibly be true. Are you prepared to accept that idea?
    I remember reading something a number of years ago that I have never forgotten. It’s from a New York Times review of “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by Carl Sagan by Richard Lewontin:

    “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism…”

    I think of evolutionary theory as a three-legged stool. The three legs being: 1) natural selection, 2) change over time, and 3) millions of years. Take away one leg and the system of thought goes down with it. Would you agree with this?

    Leg #1 – Natural selection — the idea that nature favors certain characteristics under certain circumstances, is I would think, without much controversy. Our oldest daughter’s name is Melanie, so our family has become cognizant over the years of the properties of melanin. And we all know about peppered moths and Darwin’s finches. So let’s agree that this leg of the stool is pretty solid.
    Leg #2 – Change over time — dog and horse breeders (and the wonderful people who develop new varieties of roses) explore this idea all the time. How far can they tweak the genetic material to produce desired characteristics? I submit that change in the characteristics of populations over time is a fact. However, what would be the mechanism for moving outside the limits of the original genetic material? I submit that that is more problematic, and that there is much dispute about it. It is my understanding that evolutionary theory accepts the limits of genetic material as problem and answers it with the idea of mutations. Here again, I submit that the likelihood of favorable mutations not only allowing an organism to thrive–but to supersede a prevailing population—is so remote as to be virtually impossible. Unless one were given…what is, for all intents and purposes, an unlimited amount time.
    Leg #3 – Millions of years — how can we know the age of the earth? This leg—by necessity—must be the crown jewel of evolutionary theory. I do not think this can be overstated. In the Bible, Jesus is recorded as having said, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” Similarly, millions of years must be acknowledged to be the rock upon which an evolutionary belief system must be built. But what if that rock is not solid? What will happen to those who cling to it?

    I found a number of quotations that are worth looking into, and I offer some below for your consideration, but there are so many that time does not permit me to enter more here. However, Arbourist, reading all these things, I find such a sadness coming over me, and once again I find myself thinking of C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength.” When I read the words of Julian Huxley (in “A New World Vision”):

    “It is essential for UNESCO to adopt an evolutionary approach…the general philosophy of UNESCO should, it seems, be a scientific world humanism, global in extent and evolutionary in background… The struggle for existence that underlies natural selection is increasingly replaced by conscious selection, a struggle between ideas and values…”

    Why? Why is evolution “essential” to UNESCO? According to Huxley, the mission of UNESCO was to “help the emergence of a single world culture, with its own philosophy and background of ideas, and with its own broad purpose.,” and that evolution “allows us to distinguish desirable and undesirable trends, and…shows us man as now the sole trustee of further evolutionary progress…” What does that mean? Huxley says, “But once more a new and more efficient method of [evolutionary] change is available… conscious selection (consisting of) a struggle between ideas and values in consciousness…(but also extending to) deliberate eugenic measures…”

    He says:
    “There are instances of biological inequality which are so gross that they cannot be reconciled at all with the principle of equal opportunity. Thus low-grade mental defectives cannot be offered equality of educational opportunity, nor are the insane equal with the sane before the law or in respect of most freedoms. However, the full implications of the fact of human inequality have not often been drawn and certainly need to be brought out here, as they are very relevant to Unesco’s task…
    Still more important, any such generalisations will give us a deeper understanding of the variations of human nature, and in doing so will enable us correctly to discount the ideas of men of this or that type…

    “There remains the second type of inequality. This has quite other implications; for, whereas variety is in itself desirable, the existence of weaklings, fools, and moral deficients cannot but be bad. It is also much harder to reconcile politically with the current democratic doctrine of equality. In face of it, indeed, the principle of equality of opportunity must be amended to read ‘equality of opportunity within the limits of aptitude.’

    “Biological inequality is, of course, the bedrock fact on which all of eugenics is predicated. But it is not usually realised that the two types of inequality have quite different and indeed contrary eugenic implications. The inequality of mere difference is desirable, and the preservation of human variety should be one of the two primary aims of eugenics. But the inequality of level or standard is undesirable, and the other primary aim of eugenics should be the raising of the mean level of all desirable qualities. While there may be dispute over certain qualities, there can be none over a number of the most important, such as a healthy constitution, a high innate general intelligence, or a special aptitude such as that for mathematics or music.

    “At the moment, it is probable that the indirect effect of civilisation is dysgenic instead of eugenic; and in any case it seems likely that the dead weight of genetic stupidity, physical weakness, mental instability, and disease-proneness, which already exist in the human species, will prove too great a burden for real progress to be achieved. Thus even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for Unesco to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that now is unthinkable may at least become thinkable.”

    I submit to you Arbourist, that there are those who are using you, who are using those who adhere to evolutionary teaching—even when the support for it is questionable, because it fits in with their social and political schemes. That is what “That Hideous Strength” was all about.

    I quote again from Lewontin:
    “First, we are told that science “delivers the goods.” It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most. Scientists and their professional institutions, partly intoxicated with examples of past successes, partly in order to assure public financial support, make grandiose promises that cannot be kept.”

    And again:
    “It is repeatedly said that science is intolerant of theories without data and assertions without adequate evidence. But no serious student of epistemology any longer takes the naive view of science as a process of Baconian induction from theoretically unorganized observations. There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become “observations” we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view, and the experiments that produced them are not revisited.”

    And again:
    “It is said that there is no place for an argument from authority in science…. But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be.”

    I submit the following quotes regarding radiometric dating techniques for your consideration:

    “There has been in recent years the horrible realization that radio decay rates are not as constant as thought, nor are they immune to environmental influences…and events that brought the Mesozoic to a close may not be 65 million years ago, but rather within the age and memory of man.” Jueneman

    “It is obvious that radiometric techniques may not be the absolute daring methods they are claimed to be. Age estimates on a given geological stratum by different radiometric methods are often quite different (sometimes by hundreds of millions of years). There is no absolutely reliable radiological clock.” Stansfield

    “No relevant geophysical or paleontological data are free of compromising assumptions and technical difficulties. Agreement among three independent lines of data does not add reliability to the conclusion.” Olsen

    “Subjective and, in many instances, incorrect use of radiometric data has become endemic in the earth science literature. Mathematical analysis of imperfect and in many cases, highly subjective data sets leads to dubious conclusions.” Baski

    “It is self-evident that a contaminated sample will give an erroneous date, but it is frequently impossible to ascertain if a sample has indeed been contaminated.” Bradely

    “The U-pb and Rb-Sr systems are known to be highly susceptible to resetting by hydrothermal. digenetic and metamorphic processes.“ Toulkeridis

    “The accuracy of any age can only be guessed at in that we do not know the true age of any geological sample.” Nature

    “The intelligent layman has long suspected circular reasoning in the use of rocks to date fossils and fossils to date rocks.” Rourke

    “It is widely believed that studies of lead isotopes in terrestrial samples provide a well determined age of the Earth. We show this to be incorrect, even though a roughly accurate answer is sometimes obtained, but is not necessarily at all related to the formation of the Earth,” Harper and Jacobsen

    “…To obtain the age of formation of a rock or mineral, the material must have remained a closed chemical system since its formation…unfortunately, geological environments and materials do not often meet this requirement.” Durrance

    “…The assumption that during the whole life of the rock volume being analyzed, neither the radio-active element nor its decay products have moved into or out of this volume is practically unlikely to be realized in nature at all or, if it is, it occurs only in exceptional cases.” Skobelin

    Like

    • Poor Palazzo,

      To quote Jeff Goldblum in his masterfully performed role of the highly intelligent Dr. Ian Malcolm:

      That is one big pile of shit.

      “I think of evolutionary theory as a three-legged stool”

      Going by the amount of different sources of support, it’s more like a millipede.

      “I submit the likelihood of favorable mutations not only allowing an organism to thrive–but to supersede a prevailing population—is so remote as to be virtually impossible”

      You do a lot of this “submitting”. Your submissions carry exactly zero weight. Evolution happens. We’ve watched and documented it happen to many species. There are people watching and documenting it happening right now. Indeed, it happens so often in every life form observed, that so far the likelihood is pretty much 1 in 1, the exact opposite of impossible.

      -On your barrage of quotes

      A collection of non-sequiturs, straw-men, unsubstantiated claims, and complete idiocy. Going back to my own quote, instead of throwing about heaps of fecal matter and hoping some of it sticks, perhaps invest your time into one or a select few of what you consider to be your best points. With the extra depth of thought, you may discover how ludicrous those points are. If nothing else, you will be able to present your actual thoughts instead of the incomplete, copy/pasted thoughts of others.

      Like

    • @Richard

      Took finals in Applied Linear Algebra and Scripting Languages (Python, Perl, etc) and passed (by the grace of God) both classes.

      You would have failed by the grace of god as well. Systems of thought that deny human agency are corrosive to ethical behaviour.

      That is my “whacky fun world” you referred to.

      I don’t take issue with every day happenings Richard, only when you decide to attribute actions and events to magical beings and mythology and then wonder where these atheists get the audacity to point out this departure from reality.

      My own intellectual journey after accepting Christ began with a movement from naturalistic to theistic evolution, but it wasn’t too long before I began to understand that the Bible account of Creation is irreconcilable with any form of evolution.

      The terms ‘intellectual journey’ and ‘movement from naturalistic evolution to ‘theistic evolution’ do not belong in the same sentence. If one is evaluate the evidence fairly it clear that there is no contest between the science of evolution and the mythology of creation. This distinction is at the very heart of this discussion. I mentioned in an earlier post, evolution is the most reasonable conclusion to come to, if facts matter.

      If facts don’t matter, then frack-ya, everything is possible. The mighty Sno-Cone Goddess Doubledippia created the heavens and the earth when she sneezed on the Celestial Sno-Cone from her mucousy goodness woman and man were formed…yadda yadda yadda.

      What makes Jebus *any* different that Doubledippia?

      The Bible says that God created the earth first, and the sun and moon later.

      So is the flat earth the center of the Solar System too as the bowl-like firmament of the heavens passes us by? Or, do we properly dismiss this biblical wisdom as rubbish because we now know better?

      If the world is millions of years old, the Bible is false, and if it isn’t that old, evolution cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, possibly be true. Are you prepared to accept that idea?

      I am prepared to accept wherever the evidence takes me. To date the answer is almost conclusively for the naturalistic evolutionary explanation.

      Here again, I submit that the likelihood of favorable mutations not only allowing an organism to thrive–but to supersede a prevailing population—is so remote as to be virtually impossible.

      That is precisely what happens. And it doesn’t take unlimited time, but a time dependent on the life cycle of the organism. Why do we have to get a new flu shot every year? – Because, though mutation the flu viruses change over time to become more successful than the prevailing population at spreading their genetic material.

      But what if that rock is not solid? What will happen to those who cling to it?

      The earth is old so sayeth the CBR. And what gentle readers is CBR, lets look to wikipedia for that lovely answer.

      Cosmic Background Radiation.

      No carbon dating involved – The earth is damn old – Next objection?

      Like

  56. Dear Arbourist (and Mystro),
    I do not believe in evolution because it disagrees with the Bible. I have spent years—many years—answering my own questions…

    I mean how could a Being exist for eternity? How could He know everything? How can He know my thoughts? How can He be aware of everything that happens to everyone everywhere? Why does He let people die—people we care about and love? Why does He let little children die? Why did He allow 9-11 to happen, and Mogadishu?

    It is, to my mind, understandable for a person to become an atheist.

    And I would think that a natural response to that statement would be to say, “Fine, then go away and leave me alone in my atheism.”

    And I guess I could, and perhaps should, do that. But to be honest, I feel that in some way, we have become friends…even Mystro…

    I work with a group of people I’ve known for many years, and many of them have become very dear to me. I have family members, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, who I love deeply…

    My whole life—the purpose of my life as I see it—is to be available, to be willing, to allow God to use me to somehow touch the lives of other people, especially those I love…

    I believe with all my heart that the future that we are heading toward is one where politicians and large corporations will create an ugly fascist global state, where people who don’t conform to the state model will be eliminated. This is right out of Rousseau’s Social Contract. Robespierre experienced it, millions in China and Russia have experienced it, and millions of Cambodians experienced it.

    Today, many laugh when the Nazis are brought into a conversation, but there such a classic case, a model, if you will. Another of my favorite movies is called “Mortal Storm,” and it shows the progression of the rise of Nazism in Germany, from the inside, through the eyes of one family (I believe the father is a biology teacher). It is a sad, sad story that begins with the joyful hope of secularism and follows the natural progression–the fruit, the outcropping of its ideas.

    Secularism is built on atheism. Secular humanism looks forward to a bright tomorrow. But that is not, based on historical precedence, realistic. The vision of Humanist Manifesto I, II, and III is consistent with what I wrote yesterday about UNESCO. There is a vision of a utopian tomorrow, and those in power in every field are working toward it, and they intend to weed out whom-ever for the sake of the general will. It is not, I think, an accident that one of the first books that influenced Darwin was Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population.”

    Karl Marx once wrote:
    The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain,
    Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed.
    See this sword?
    The prince of darkness
    Sold it to me.
    For me he beats the time and gives the signs,
    Ever more boldly I play the dance of death.”

    There is a Bob Dylan song I know (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xrdn20_bob-dylan-gotta-serve-somebody_music ), in which he says “It may be the devil, it might be the Lord, but you’ll have to serve somebody.” That notion is so foreign in postmodern America. But I tell you that in the end it is true. I often think about the play Les Miserables—about the young men singing behind those barricades, and I think about the Paris Commune of 1871.

    I am thinking of Les Miserables—the bishop who changed Jean Valjean’s life forever. The world had mistreated him and beaten him down—the book contains much more than the play—the injustice–the broken dreams, the disappointments–of post-Revolutionary France, and the ever-present Inspector Javert. It wasn’t the State that extended mercy to Valjean, but a small and unknown individual, a bishop. The State is cold and hard—it has one job—to enforce order—the Law. That is where Secular Humanism is heading. Is that where you want to go?

    Like

    • Friends, huh? Your tactics now include completely ignoring the points presented to you. While it is in no way surprising – apologists do it all the time – it is still rude, dishonest, and no way to treat a friend. Your fluffy language cannot hide your conduct.

      Further, your first three paragraphs illustrate how it doesn’t matter to you that your position doesn’t make sense, or that opposing views do make sense, you will stick with your beliefs in the face any amount of evidence to the contrary. That’s called being willfully ignorant.

      Willful ignorance and dishonesty also explains your fatuous presentation of humanism. Does it hurt pulling so much out of your behind, or has it gone numb from continuous practice?

      Like

    • @Richard

      I believe with all my heart that the future that we are heading toward is one where politicians and large corporations will create an ugly fascist global state, where people who don’t conform to the state model will be eliminated.

      It is not an improbable outcome given present day conditions. The answer however is not sticking our heads further into the sands of religious irrationality, but rather raising the consciousness of our fellow human beings, so together we can oppose unjust governance.

      a sad, sad story that begins with the joyful hope of secularism and follows the natural progression–the fruit, the outcropping of its ideas.

      Using Nazi Germany as secular model of development seems inappropriate, considering the religious nature of Germany at the time. What is wrong with choosing a model of secularism that has been working and continues to do so – Norway, Sweden and Finland are all prime examples of people ‘doing it right’.

      But that is not, based on historical precedence, realistic.

      But believing a fable about a omnipotent dude’s adventures on Earthland is realistic? Shall we examine just a brief snippet of holy-dudes adventures:

      This was his ‘to do’ list…

      1.Magic-rape a virgin so he can born – because apparently the creator of the universe *can’t* just make himself a body – he has to violate a woman to get shit done.

      2.Do some magic shit to inspire ignorant people – (Fishes! Loaves! Flatulence! Opa!)

      3.Get captured – despite being omniscient dude

      4.and torture himself – dude on dude action!

      5.Die, but not really – Omniscient creator of the Universe most pressing agenda item -“create cheesy soap opera in middle east” on back-water Earth for scared ignorant people.

      6.Came back – says the dude hates this place (the dude who created this place, doesn’t abide with this place) spins up the fucking magical disco ball and ascends back to his throne which he was still occupying because dude is STILL actually 3 dudes fucking with variations of himself on this jerkwater speck of dust in the armpit of the Universe because: REASONS!

      7.Laugh himself silly at 21st century people who take the ramblings of quasi-literate goat herders for the realz.

      8.Okay I made 7 up, but if I was Omniscient I would be pushing the boundaries to see what I could make people believe – Like hey, lets make my religion about “love” what symbol should I use…oh hey how about a instrument of heinous torture? Those idiots down there couldn’t possibly be that stupid…. oh damn, I already know the answer to that…

      9.Therefore we have proof: If god exists he’s a fucking dick.

      And you have the audacity to lecture people about historical precedents? Are you actually attempting to lecturing us on fucking realistic expectations? Really? Really, really, reeeeeeaaaaallllyyyy?!?!?!?

      I think, an accident that one of the first books that influenced Darwin was Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population.”

      Do you know who the easiest person to fool is?

      Yourself.

      It is a primary attribute of humans to delude themselves with whatever bullshit makes them happy.

      That is why science is *hard*. Science is not hard because of differential calculus, stoichiometric calculations or general relativity. Science is hard because we have a mean streak of confirmation bias that shits at regular intervals into the gears of rationality if we let it.

      “Richard’s Deep Voyages into the Dreamy Land of Confirmation Bias” has been the leitmotif of every fracking post I’ve seen here – you start with the assumption that the Dude is real and look for evidence that fits your particular set of fatuous beliefs – is it any wonder you keep accumulating “evidence”?

      The State is cold and hard—it has one job—to enforce order—the Law. That is where Secular Humanism is heading. Is that where you want to go?

      Yes!.

      Anywhere is better that the latest incarnation of Les Misérables.

      -Russel Crow sing-speaking….*shuddering forever*.

      Like

      • -Russel Crow sing-speaking….*shuddering forever*.

        Oh man, I was just getting over that inner ear wound and you went ahead and reopened it.

        Damn.

        Like

  57. Arbourist, I have heard people say all kinds of horrible things about God, and I understand that. There are so many reasons–so many horrible things that happen to people… But, honestly, I have never heard anyone say such horrible things about Jesus of Nazareth… I have to admit, you have deeply hurt me with those comments. Mary, the person the Bible records as Jesus’ mother was such an admirable person–a woman who suffered very much. The recent movies “The Nativity Story” and “The Passion of the Christ” depict so poignantly her suffering, especially the scene where Mary watches helplessly Jesus falls under the weight of the cross. His torturers–my Italian ancestors-took such sadistic pleasure in torturing Him–the story itself (whether you believe it to be true or not) is quite heart-breaking… Now regarding the “magic-rape” — the Bible depicts the nobility of Mary’s character in that she says, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” She willingly accepted what she knew would be a very difficult life as an act of obedience to God. Now as far as Jesus’ magic. He didn’t have to do it–any of it. He healed all those people–even when the authorities around Him opposed it–out of love–and his enemies hated him for it–with an unnatural hate. And they killed Him for it. The Bible says He could have called legions of angels to come and help Him–to rescue Him, but instead He let Himself be killed. And they mocked Him for that too. This man who had only a week ago raised someone from the dead, allowed Himself to be brutalized and murdered. C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” especially the movies, do an excellent job of portraying this. The demons around Him, mocking Him, laughing, crazily jumping in glee and delight at the horrible spectacle of the innocent allowing himself to be killed.
    I love Jesus. He rescued me from a meaningless existence filled with hate and self-condemnation. I hated everyone and delighted in torturing them. Jesus somehow–by that very death on the cross that brought Him so much humiliation–rescued me and gave me a whole new life. I am not ashamed of Jesus. I bow my knee before Him, and praise Him!
    I pray for all the blessings of heaven to be poured out today on John, and Tildeb, and Arbourist, and Mystro, and anyone else who is listening–in Jesus Name!

    Like

    • Hi Rich,

      Can you name a single thing Jesus (allegedly) said or did which was original and/or marginally useful? Something truly new and unique; something that hadn’t already been said by someone earlier.

      Just one thing….

      Like

    • “I have never heard anyone say such horrible things about Jesus ”

      Oh dear, and I thought he was going easy on the guy.

      “She willingly accepted what she knew would be a very difficult life as an act of obedience to God”

      According to your myth book, a vengeful jealous deity “asked” Mary. That kind of difference in power equates to coercion. Your point would be like someone saying, “She did say she consented, it can’t be rape. Well, yeah I had a gun to her head, so what?” It’s absolutely disgusting.

      “He let himself be killed”

      Not really. According to you, he ain’t dead. That means he wasn’t killed in the same sense as all those other victims of crucifixion were killed. He knew his “death” was temporary, not even a blink of an eye for an eternal being. There is nothing noble about this “sacrifice”. Especially since it was to appease his own blood lust. That’s just messed up.

      Jesus advocated for thought crime and slavery, and quite happy to burn and torture people forever if they don’t play by his rules. He is the worst kind of hateful tyrant. That so many are duped into thinking he has anything to do with love is one of the most depressing things I can think of.

      On top of all that, much of the bible flies in the face of mountains of evidence – some of which already discussed on this very thread. Remember all those points you were (and still are) ignoring? As such it has proven itself to be a very unreliable document, to say the least. It’s nice to know that the monster jesus, as described in your bible, doesn’t exist.

      Like

    • @Richard

      But, honestly, I have never heard anyone say such horrible things about Jesus of Nazareth… I have to admit, you have deeply hurt me with those comments.

      Sorry Richard.

      He rescued me from a meaningless existence filled with hate and self-condemnation.

      I’m pretty sure you rescued yourself, no magic involved.

      Jesus somehow–by that very death on the cross that brought Him so much humiliation–rescued me and gave me a whole new life.

      Torture-porn for the winz?

      I am not ashamed of Jesus. I bow my knee before Him, and praise Him!

      Sweet. How is this not like the soft blanket from childhood? I loved my woogie for a long time. Maintaining good mental health isn’t a particularly mysterious equation people do it without resorting to magic all the time.

      I pray for all the blessings of heaven to be poured out today […]

      Err…thanks? Maybe next time do something useful instead?

      Like

  58. Hi John,
    If someone were writing a history of events happening in the U.S., or New York, or Long Island, where I live, I don’t think anything I’ve done would make it into the book. However, my children, my friends, those who knew me intimately might write something about me.
    You asked, “Can you name a single thing Jesus (allegedly) said or did which was original and/or marginally useful? Something truly new and unique; something that hadn’t already been said by someone earlier.”
    Let me apply that test to myself—have I ever said or done anything that was original? I don’t think so. I am not sure what my kids would say. I remember a day when I went with two of my daughters to find Mount Washington, where George Washington had a fort in New York City. We had a hilarious day and eventually did find the thing, a three-foot high rock protruding through the concrete in a park over the spot in Washington Heights (300 feet above sea level—we know because we walked every foot of it—on a hot July day). We also dipped our feet in the Hudson River and found a small red lighthouse nestled under the George Washington Bridge. We later tried to find the site of the Polo Grounds and went to Grant’s tomb. That’s one of the most original things I ever did… Oh, and I just remembered that when Make-a-Wish Foundation sent our family on a 9-day trip to England back in 2002,we saw the spot where William Wallace was condemned to death, and the place where he was drawn and quartered. On that trip, we also walked on the walls of York, climbed trees in Sherwood Forest, and went to visit Scrooby—and the very same manor house where William Brewster and the Pilgrims had held their early church meetings—it’s still there. I am not sure if any of the things we did will make history books, but they were special to us.
    If I were an itinerant preacher who got executed alongside two common criminals (something that was pretty common in the Roman Empire), I am not sure that would make it into any books. I can’t imagine why the Romans would care, and I don’t think the Jews would want to record the incident. Jesus’ followers, those who knew Him and saw what he had done, and what had happened, were probably the only ones who might have documented any of it. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Bible at least contains these records.
    If that is the case, and again for the sake of argument, I am going to proceed from that possibility, then we might be able to answer your question from its pages. Did Jesus ever say anything or do anything original? Well, who came before Him?
    1500 BC – the Vedas
    500 BC – Buddha
    500 BC – the Tao
    500 BC – Confucius
    400 BC – Socrates
    380 BC – Plato
    350 BC – Aristotle
    100 BC – Cicero
    I honestly don’t know all of these writings well enough to say if Jesus said similar things as those who preceded him. I have no doubt that He did. The only things that were original are that: 1) Jesus referred to Himself as God’s Son—which the Jews of the time are recorded to have considered being equal with God; 2) Jesus claimed to have been alive before Abraham (like 2000 years earlier); 3) Jesus allowed Himself to be worshiped as God; 4) Jesus is said to have predicted His death and resurrection; 5) He is also said to have resurrected. Another thing that He did that was original (at least, I think, as compared to those I listed above) is to have claimed: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
    As far as being marginally useful, I can think of a number of situations. I think of John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield, who changed their generation—completely transforming both British and American Society—probably for 100 years. I have heard it said that it was only their work that prevented another French Revolution from occurring in Britain. And one of their converts, William Wilberforce almost single-handedly put an end to the slave trade in Britain. Another thing that comes to mind is the work of Charles G. Finney in upper New York State, whose work resulted in complete transformations of whole cities, eradication of drunkenness and crime of all kinds.
    Jesus Himself was a virtual unknown—He invested His life into a small number of people. He was not famous or powerful. But He influenced the lives of His followers and empowered them to go out and make a difference, and they did. Paul of Tarsus was such a man. He was an educated man who knew both Greek literature and Hebrew Scriptures. He knew also Roman Law, and stood before magistrates, governors and emperors. He wrote:
    “Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something so that no one can boast in His presence.”
    That is what—ultimately—is unique about Jesus of Nazareth—His Presence. And nothing valuable has ever been done in His Name without it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G_scWoaJeU

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    • 1) There have been many “son’s of god.”
      2) People have claimed all sorts of things… and Abraham wasn’t even a real historical character.
      3) You think Jesus was the only person who wanted to be worshipped as a god?
      4) Many people have made predictions.
      5) Others have claimed the same thing.

      So, Rich, you can’t actually name a single thing Jesus said or did which was original or truly unique.

      I’d suggest you meditate on this revelation…

      Like

  59. Good morning John,
    I would like to address your statement that “Abraham wasn’t even a real historical character.”
    To my experience, that is an unusual position. Most people I have run across either accept that he was or couldn’t care less. To find someone who has such a strong negative opinion on the matter is unusual for me, so naturally I find myself wondering why.
    The picture comes to my mind of the scene from “The Diary of Anne Frank,” when the Jewish people hiding away in an attic from the Nazis solemnly celebrate the Passover. The word “holy” comes to mind, for that was a holy moment for me—sacred—that those people cared so much about their Jewish heritage that they would not forgo the Passover, even when they were in danger of losing their lives…
    And I am thinking of Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars,” when the Norwegian people risked their lives to get their Jewish neighbors to safety.
    And I am thinking of the wonderful little book, “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok, where two Jewish leaders—one Orthodox and one Conservative—argue about the establishment of the Jewish State in Israel, and one of them says, “I am tired of waiting for the Messiah.”
    Who can blame the Jewish people—after Hitler—for giving up on the Messiah, and even for giving up on their cherished traditions?
    There is a portion of Scripture that has always intrigued me in regard to the Jewish people. It’s in the Book of Isaiah. The prophet is asking how long he should keep preaching to the people who seem never to be listening to him. And the Lord is recorded as replying:
    “Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,
    houses are without people,
    the land is ruined and desolate,
    and the LORD drives the people far away,
    leaving great emptiness in the land.
    Though a tenth will remain in the land,
    it will be burned again.
    Like the terebinth or the oak
    that leaves a stump when felled,
    the holy seed is the stump.”
    A tenth—that’s the percentage that would listen, and remain faithful, like a stump that remains after the tree has been cut down and removed…

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  60. “The representation of a course of history is a priori to be regarded as untrue and ahistorical if supernatural factors interpose in it. Everything must be naturalised and likened to the course of history.” (Frank)
    “The familiar intercourse of the divinity with the patriarchs constitutes for me one of the determining considerations against the historical character of the narratives.” (Kuenen)
    “We cannot intelligently nor safely overlook the palpable bias against the supernatural which has infected the critical theories… All the acknowledged leaders of the movement have, without exception, scouted the reality of miracles and prophecy and immediate divine revelation in their genuine and evangelical sense. Their theories are all inwrought with naturalistic presuppositions, which cannot be disentangled from them without their falling to pieces.” (Green)
    “The fact becomes apparent, there is indeed, not the least attempt to disguise it–that, to a large and influential school of critical inquirers–those, moreover, who have had the most to do with shaping of the current critical theories–this question of a supernatural origin for the religion of Israel is already foreclosed; is ruled out at the start as a ‘a priori’ inadmissible.” (Orr)
    There was a movie, produced in 1943, starring the wonderful actor, Henry Fonda, called “The Ox-Bow Incident.” I highly recommend it. It is a moving drama, set in the Old West, and revolves around the lynching of an innocent man. The character that Fonda plays suspects that the man might be innocent, and even makes a weak attempt to defend him, but when the majority vehemently insists they are right, and go ahead and lynch the man, the Fonda character quietly acquiesces to the general will. Of course, they all find out later that the man was innocent, and the Fonda character feels ashamed and tries to make amends by taking a letter back to the man’s wife.
    Interestingly, Fonda also starred in a 1957 film, “Twelve Angry Men.” In this movie, the Fonda character is the sole juror in a murder trial who stands up for the innocence of an accused man, and this time, he argues against the majority until eventually, each is swayed to his opinion, and the man is acquitted.
    It is possible for the majority to be wrong.
    “The ultimate reasons for rejecting the Resurrection evidence are not historical. As Sabatier truly says, ‘Even if the differences were perfectly reconciled, or even did not exist at all, men who would not admit the miraculous would none the less decisively reject the witness. As Zeller frankly acknowledges, their rejection is based on philosophic theory, and not on historical considerations.'” (Benoit)

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    • The rejection is based on lack of evidence.

      Want to know the quickest method to quell the skepticism regarding the historicity of the resurrection? Produce this resurrected fella named Jesus, and let us (like Thomas) examine the nail holes and wound in his side for ourselves.

      When can you arrange the meeting?

      Like

  61. Consensus…to be honest with you John, I am not overly impressed with the concept of consensus. My favorite sport is baseball. Baseball has always struck me as unique because, although it is a team sport, when push comes to shove, individuals determine the outcome of the game. The pitcher pitches to a batter, the batter swings, the fielder attempts to catch the ball. Responsibility rarely falls upon the aggregate. It is usually, or ultimately should fall upon the shoulders of a single person, who bears the brunt of what he does.
    After reading your comment, I thought of a situation that occurred in the Bible account of one of Paul of Tarsus’ missionary journeys:

    Acts 17:10-12
    “As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men.”

    The Greek word translated here, interestingly, as “open-minded” is eugenēs. It means “well-born,” “of noble race,” “noble-minded.”

    I am thinking of a personal anecdote that my older brother told me recently. He said that when he was a young man, he was eating lunch with his co-workers, and they began to complain about their boss and their wages. So they appointed a couple of their fellows, including my brother, to go and make their case to their employer. The delegation went to see the boss, who quickly pointed out all of the times when he had absorbed the costs of their idleness and various mistakes and sent them on their way. But, as they turned to leave, the boss called my brother back into the room.
    The boss, Mr. Goltzman, said to my brother, “Al, haven’t I always paid you well? Have I ever turned down any request you’ve ever made to me? When you’ve come to me and asked me for a raise, have I ever turned you down?” My brother shamefacedly had to agree with all Mr. Glotzman said. “Then, why?” he asked my brother, “when these other men were talking against me, did you join them? From now, if you have something you have to say, have the courage to come to me personally. Don’t throw in with people like that, who don’t have the ability to stand on their own.”
    My brother said that he never forgot that, and that he has lived by that philosophy ever since.

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    • Ah, so you’re not particularly fond of expert consensus when it contradicts what you want to believe, but you’re all for it when it supports your position, like in the case of a historical Jesus.

      Interesting….

      Like

  62. Hi John,
    I figured that the best way to tackle a consensus opinion is to go back and see where the consensus began. Everything points to Wellhausen. It looks like Wellhausen took long-existing questions about the Pentateuch and in his “Prolegomena to the History of Israel” (1878) applied new Darwinian evolutionary ideas to develop his documentary hypothesis based upon variations in the text and studies in comparative religion. The philosophic ideas behind his assertions–the a priori assumptions–were 1) Darwinian evolution was a fact; 2) the only explanation for textual differences has to be different authors; 3) studies of comparative religion have shown an evolution in religious practice from polytheism to monotheism, therefore the Bible record of the de-evolution of Israel’s religious practices downward from monotheism to polytheism must be false.
    Got to go…

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    • Oh, so you’re just going to ignore the 100 years of extensive physical archaeology conducted across Israel and her environs, the cross-textual analysis, the population maps and settlement patterns, the steles, reliefs, amulets and diplomatic correspondences.

      I see…

      Like

      • @JZ

        I see…

        You expected more?

        Brief Richard: God *argle-bargle*, wall of text + dubious quotes.

        Response (JZ, Mystro, Ron, Arb etc.): X,y, and z are wrong and here are the reasons why – please respond to these issues.

        Richard: New Topic *argle-bargle* + wall of text + dubious references.

        Response: WTF is this gish-gallop?

        Richard: Yet another new, but still fatuous topic….

        What the hell Richard? When will you be done pissing up this particular rope? Almost every ‘point’ you’ve made has been called into serious contention but rather than defend *any* of them you just post more stuff hoping for something, *maybe*, will sound reasonable?

        The spaghetti method of argumentation is tiresome at best. Oh hey, that important question from my first response to you:

        Richard, do facts matter?

        Still haven’t answered that.

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      • Well, I have to say, I’ve never seen anyone blame Darwin before for the total absence of archaeological corroboration of the Pentateuch. I thought that was quite inventive… Insane, sure, hilarious even, but inventive nonetheless 🙂

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  63. Hello, Arbourist…

    Dear John,
    Regarding your June 3rd post about 100 years of extensive physical archaeology, cross textual analysis, population maps, steles, reliefs, amulets and diplomatic correspondences…
    I would like to write a scholarly article in response, but our first grandchild is due any day, and we’re leaving tomorrow morning for a 10-hour trip to Virginia. I will try to do the best that time allows and we can talk more at another time…

    There is so much to tackle here that I am not quite sure where to start. In my last post I referred to Wellhausen. When you say the past 100 years—at least regarding textual analysis, I am assuming you are referring to the work of Smend, Kegel, Kennett, Eissfeldt, Lohr, Morgenstern, Volz and Rudolph, and Pfieffer. Regarding their work, I refer to K.A. Kitchen’s “Ancient Orient and Old Testament” (1966):

    “Through the impact of the Ancient Orient upon the Old Testament and upon Old Testament studies a new tension is being set up while an older one is being reduced. For the comparative material from the Ancient Near East is tending to agree with the extant structure of Old Testament documents as actually transmitted to us, rather than with the reconstructions of nineteenth-century Old Testament scholarship – or with its twentieth century prolongation and developments to the present day.

    “Some examples may illustrate this point. The valid and close parallels to the social customs of the Patriarchs come from documents of the nineteenth to fifteenth centuries BC (agreeing with an early-second-millennium origin for this material in Genesis), and not from Assyro-Babylonian data of the tenth to sixth centuries BC (possible period of the supposed ‘J’, ‘E’ sources). Likewise for Genesis 23, the closest parallel comes from the Hittite Laws which passed into oblivion with the fall of the Hittite Empire about 1200 BC. The covenant-forms which appear in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua follow the model of those current in the thirteenth century BC- the period of Moses and Joshua – and not those of the first millennium BC.”

    Got to go. Hope to be able to speak more in the days to come.
    Rich

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  64. Good morning all,
    Since my last post, I have been doing some reading whenever time permitted. Our grand-daughter, Kara Jayde was born on Sunday, and all are well! Mom and Dad and baby came home from hospital yesterday…
    Now as far as my research, I will endeavor to try to put it together in some sort of coherent system of thought. In working toward that purpose, I am going to try to focus on the Biblical record of the life of Abraham. We are told he was born in Ur of the Chaldees. Sir Leonard Woolley excavated the Royal Cemetery at Ur in the 1920s. The British Museum contains artifacts that he discovered. Today Ur is known as Tell el-Muqayyar. University of Manchester archaeologist Jane Moon seems to be working in that area now, and its pretty clear there was a highly civilized community in the area. The Bible says that Abraham left Ur to go to Haran. It is my understanding that 15,000 textual records were found in Mari northern Syria which document the existence of Haran. These texts also indicate that a number of cultural practices from the Bible record were practiced at the time. It is also my understanding that they are also corroborated by Egyptian execration texts.
    The Bible tells us that Abraham left Haran and went to Canaan. Canaan is described as a collection of city-states. I don’t have enough time available today to go into this as deeply as I would like, and I intend to pursue it more in future posts, but it appears pretty clear that five ancient cities have been found by Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub under the Dead Sea, two notably being referred to as Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira.
    Got to go…

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    • Richard, are you aware of the term, Historical Fiction? Tom Clancy’s, The Hunt For Red October, is a work of historical fiction. Many place names in the story, like Moscow and Washington, are real, the names of the characters are period-accurate, and many of the fantastic technologies and toys mentioned in the tale are actual technologies and toys in use at the time of the yarns setting. This does not make Tom Clancy’s, The Hunt For Red October, a work of non-fiction.

      Like

      • @JZ

        I loved the hunt for Red October! I used to read Clancy quite a bit, my favourites was Red Storm Rising and Executive Orders.

        I don’t read TC anymore because his libertarian american exceptionalism made his books too gross to read after awhile. :/

        Like

      • Hey, i went through a Clancy phase shortly after arriving in Brazil. I devoured all his books… but also became a little turned-off after watching interviews on the interwebs.

        In a Robert Reed phase right now, and loving it.

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  65. Good morning, all. I am back home again, and am looking forward to continuing our dialogue. I am still intrigued with the life of Abraham, and would like to pursue that more. I don’t have time this morning, but will try to post something later.
    Regards, Rich

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  66. I think your point about historical fiction is well taken. However, what is intriguing me is this: Your contention is that the Bible’s account of the life of Abraham was written in the 6th century BC. But what if there are things–events, cities, people–that are in the account that people living in the 6th century could not have known about? That is what I am going to be looking into.

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    • Rich, Abraham apparently had many camels. Camels, the authors of Abraham’s tales say, were everywhere. We know today, though, that camels were first on the Levant only in the 9th century BCE. Similarly, Abraham is constantly harassed by the Philistines, yet the Philistines didn’t arrive until 1150 BCE. You see, these are just two of numerous other examples of the authors spinning a tale with that which they had around them at the time of authorship, yet tossing that tale back into an imaginary time. The Pentateuch is peppered with such era-specific script blunders, and this is one of the reasons why all reputable biblical scholars today (and Jewish rabbis) say the work is nothing butt inventive historical fiction.

      Like

  67. Hi John,
    I typed “domestication of animals neolithic camels” in Google and got back site after site that talk about early domestication of camels.
    Rich

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  68. Personally, this is a question that is slightly harder for me to answer than I’d like to admit. If, for example, God revealed himself to me, I would almost certainly reject this as a subjective and therefore mistaken experience. How did he reveal himself? Did I see him? Then I’d ask if I was having visual hallucinations, etc. Did he speak to me? Then I’d ask if I was having auditory hallucinations.

    Now, on the other hand, if God revealed himself to everyone on the planet at the same time, I’d like to say that this would be sufficient evidence to believe in him. However, the concept of God would still make absolutely no sense to me, so I would begin by asking if something occurred in our atmosphere such that the entire human race was affected. If this were the case, each hallucination would presumably be different, and thus we could probably identify a standard by which objectivity could be established. Also, we could test the atmosphere, etc.

    At any rate, if something akin to the latter scenario occurred I would probably believe in God. However, I’d still have reservations, and I’d want several other questions to be answered before I could even consider God worthy of my love. And, of course, the idea of worship is so foreign to me that I’d probably have a hard time climbing aboard that train if it was required. Nonetheless, I could acknowledge God’s existence upon receipt of objective evidence. Everything that follows is conditional on subsequent inquiries.

    Like

    • I love the way your mind works, Ryan.

      “if God revealed himself to everyone on the planet at the same time, I’d like to say that this would be sufficient evidence to believe in him”

      In his book, “Why is there Anything,” Matt Rave (physicist and writer of The Many Worlds blog) has a set of numbers forever floating in the sky. There is no explanation as to why these numbers are there, who put them there, or what they mean: they’re just there. One of the two protagonists point to the numbers as proof of God, the other isn’t at all convinced. I think you’d enjoy the read.

      As to worship and love, i completely agree. Despots require to be worshiped, and if this universe is the work of a designer, then I’d have some serious doubts about that designers competence, and, more importantly, motives.

      Apart from that, how are you, old man? Enjoying campus life?

      Like

      • Quite the complement! I thank you, fellow heathen.

        I haven’t started yet… My first semester will be in January, but I’ve made a couple trips up there and I like what I see. Lots of young ladies (I’m hoping to exploit my worldly experience on that front). 🙂

        How are things with you? Enjoying football in the adopted mother country?

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      • I be fine, but taking the winter off from posting. On the days Brazil plays things do slightly insane, but this is a fun country, so no complaints.

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  69. Good morning…
    R.L.: I think your point: ” I’d want several other questions to be answered before I could even consider God worthy of my love,” is valid. It seems to me that the God who created the human mind would very much want it to be used.
    John: do you have Erez’s email address?

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  70. Hi dear John,

    Your posts are so ready- witted and clever…
    I liked when you say here above that religion is a result of cultural bedrock of childhood indoctrination and I truly agree with you…

    You have recently commented at my blog and made an interesting point regarding Eros, the winged God of Love (also known as Cupid in roman mythology)…

    Before being considered Aphrodite’ son, he was considered as a sort of primordial deity.

    ____

    Quoting these ideas:

    “In Hesiod’ s “Theogony” he is represented as a cosmic force which emerged self-born at the beginning of time to spur procreation.

    Hesiod was making reference to the Protogenos (primordial deity) of procreation who emerged self-formed at the beginning of time. He was the driving force behind the generation of new life in the early cosmos.

    According to Hesiod, Eros was the fourth god to come into existence, coming after Chaos, Gaia and Tartarus (the Abyss or the Underworld)”.

    He also held that Eros was one of the fundamental causes in the formation of the world, as he was the uniting power of love, which brought order and harmony among the conflicting elements of which Chaos consisted.
    And thus Hesiod said that there was Chaos, then came Ge, Tartarus, and Eros, the fairest among the gods, who rules over the minds and the council of gods and men.

    ______

    The specific excerpts of Hesiod’ s “Theogony” regarding cosmogony are 120, &c.
    Link to Hesiod’ s “Theogony” (lines 120 and further):

    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0130%3Acard%3D104

    ____

    I can see an inner straight connection between the idea of Primordial deity and God…
    But well considered, also this could be a sort of biological principle, which would help these greek guys to explain the origins of the Universe!.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
    All the very best to you, Aquileana 😀

    Like

    • Tell how at the first gods and earth came to be … In truth at first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth … From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether2and Day, [125] whom she conceived and bore from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bore starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.

      Love it. It really does set the imagination flying to wonder about the conversations had when Anaximander (611-547BCE) declared the earth wasn’t a disk (surrounded by the river Oceanus), but rather round and free-floating. Oh to be a fly on the wall!

      I remember now that Hesiod called “Chaos” a sort of “yawning nothingness,” which is similar in theme to the earliest known Vedic creation myth (Rig Veda, Purusha Sukta), 1100 BCE. To paraphrase:

      In the beginning there was a swirling dark chaos. Enveloping this thing that was neither non-existence nor existence there was a cosmic man, a giant named Purusha who had a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet. Although there was nothing he pervaded everything and even stretched ten fingers’ breadth beyond. Purusha was all that was and all that would be, which presented certain, unavoidable problems. Before doing something, anything, Purusha realised that he would have already done it. The future was the present and the present was the past. Doing everything but nothing at the same time left Purusha just one option for his first (and last) ever action: he sacrificed himself, and from his body parts came all that is.

      Like

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