18 Mar 2012

A Clarification of My Views on Christianity

Religious 195 Comments

[UPDATE below with Mencken link.]

There are two very common arguments that people in the comments bring up every week. So I thought I would try to deal with them here “in the spotlight.”

First:: People often ask some variant of, “Much of your evidence, Murphy, for Christianity is actually consistent with other world religions. So how come you think they’re all wrong, but you happened to get the one that’s juuuuust right?”

But this isn’t my view. I am not familiar with the specifics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., to say whether they are literally incompatible with my beliefs. I know a lot of my fellow evangelical Christians are quite strident in their denunciation of Mormonism and Islam, but as I say, I personally haven’t researched those systems carefully enough, to be able to definitively say, “OK yeah, I think those people are flat-out wrong.”

The most obvious example of what I mean is Judaism. Obviously I look to the Hebrew scriptures as part of my own religious heritage, so I certainly don’t think faithful Jews today are “wrong.” Rather, I think they are missing the unbelievably important fact that Jesus is the Messiah of whom their ancient prophets foretold.

It’s a similar thing with a lot of the wise sayings and precepts we can find in Eastern religions, or even Native American traditions for that matter. If there is a God, it would make sense that every culture going back through human history grappled with His existence in ways that were not identical but yet were similar in many respects.

I have given my reasons in plenty of posts before, about why I think the specific claims about the divinity of Jesus are true. What I’m addressing here, is the widespread belief by agnostics that the existence of non-Christian religions is somehow evidence that there’s not really a God after all. I find that a strange argument.

Second: One of my main arguments for thinking Jesus existed, prophesied His own death, and then came back to life, is that (I claim) some of His followers were willing to die for claiming this happened. Here’s the crucial part of that claim: These people would have known firsthand whether He really came back or not. That is what makes these people’s deaths so categorically more significant than, say, me being willing to “die for Jesus.” I actually don’t have firsthand knowledge. However, someone claiming to have seen Jesus Himself would know if he were lying about it or not.

Now I suppose you could come up with convoluted chains where some of the apostles claimed to have seen Him firsthand (even though they really didn’t), and then others lied about claiming to have seen Him just to try to spread the word, but only because these latter ones thought the first guys were telling them truth. So if that’s the kind of objection you want to raise, OK fair enough. But some people are saying things in the comments like, “Well gee whiz Bob, some Muslims died last week for Allah. I guess you think Mohammed must have been telling the truth, right?” And that’s not at all what I’m saying.

Last point on this: The first person who made me think the best hypothesis was that this guy Jesus actually came back from the dead was…H.L. Mencken. I was a hardcore atheist at the time, reading Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods for pleasure. And I thought Mencken conceded way too much to this ridiculous fairy tale, but anyway there it was: The skeptic Mencken didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, but nonetheless he thought the most sensible explanation for the unbelievable success of the gospel was that this teacher Jesus got lucky and predicted his own “resurrection.”

(It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Mencken’s exact description, but I think I’m accurately paraphrasing his position.)

UPDATE: At this link you can start reading Mencken’s discussion from page 222 about the Resurrection. Unfortunately it gets cut off right at the crucial part, where Mencken says, “The indisputable thing…” Earlier Mencken says something like, “Unless the whole New Testament is to be disregarded as moonshine…” and then says it must be the several people witnessed Jesus after his alleged death. However, in context it’s not obvious that Mencken is saying the NT is NOT pure moonshine.

Be that as it may, I know that when I read this part of his book as an atheist, I took Mencken to be saying that he thought it was pretty incontrovertible that there had been a guy Jesus, that he had been publicly nailed to a cross in front of his followers, and that afterwards some of his followers spoke to him. I admit you can’t conclude that from the link above, because the preview doesn’t contain the exact right page.

Also, let me admit that at this site, there is a Mencken quote from later in his career where he seems to say quite definitively that no scientific person can believe in the Resurrection.

195 Responses to “A Clarification of My Views on Christianity”

  1. Yosef says:

    Bob,

    Yes, those people who died for Allah last week are not the analogue of the apostles, but what of those who fought and died alongside Mohammad? Those are also people who saw and learned from him first hand. So why does their willingness to die not lead you to the same level of belief?

    Also, you wrote “It’s a similar thing with a lot of the wise sayings and precepts we can find in Eastern religions”. Considering Christ’s birthplace, what map are you looking at that doesn’t have that as an Eastern religion?

    • Joseph says:

      “Yes, those people who died for Allah last week are not the analogue of the apostles, but what of those who fought and died alongside Mohammad? Those are also people who saw and learned from him first hand. So why does their willingness to die not lead you to the same level of belief?”

      Mohammed never claimed to have performed any miracles (none are attributed to him in the Koran and, in fact, the Koran states that the opposite is true). Mohammed never predicted his own resurrection nor did anyone ever claim that he had been resurrected. In addition, Islam did not have much of a following at first. Mohammed was forced out of Mecca in 622. It wasn’t until after he led several successful military adventures that many people really began following him. So, I’d say that that’s evidence that Mohammed’s contemporary adherents followed him because of his military victories, his political dealings, or, perhaps, his personal charisma. That’s in stark contrast to Jesus’ contemporaries who could look to no military success and no political prowess.

  2. AC says:

    “What I’m addressing here, is the widespread belief by agnostics that the existence of non-Christian religions is somehow evidence that there’s not really a God after all. I find that a strange argument.”

    You may find it strange because that’s not the argument. The point is, there are conflicting beliefs (you don’t need to study them in depth to know that) by very sincere people, when you are using sincerity as evidence.

    I continue to be amazed that someone as skilled in logic as you, is basing your belief in extraordinary claims on the willingness of believers to die. I would concede that Jesus’s followers — if the rest of the story is true — really, really believed it. That doesn’t even come close to convincing me of the truth of their belief.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “The point is, there are conflicting beliefs…”

      For the vacuousness of the argument, see my comment below.

      • AC says:

        I must have missed your brilliant response. You forgot to say “Silly.”

  3. joeftansey says:

    So you’re open to other miracles where firsthand witnesses died because of their conviction/certainty of the miracle’s authenticity?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      joeftansey, yes, I definitely am. What do you have in mind?

      • joeftansey says:

        Plenty of people who knew Muhammad personally died and/or were tortured for their faith.

        https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sumayyah_bint_Khayyat

        Bilal lived with Muhammed and became the first muezzin. He was frequently tortured by his master and asked to give up his belief in Islam, but he refused. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilal_ibn_Rabah_al-Habashi#Living_with_Muhammad

        It’s not the same as dieing, but it’s the same kind of argument. Someone who knew Mohd personally was willing to endure great pain to maintain that belief.

        Similarly with other religions… like I found some Buddhist monks who knew the Buddha and had witnessed his miracles who later died as a result of their conviction, but I didn’t consider the sources particularly accurate.

        But then again, what counts for historical accuracy? I think that’s a real underlying issue here.

        • Ken B says:

          “Plenty of people who knew Muhammad personally died and/or were tortured for their faith. ”

          And I thought *I* was good at amphiboly.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          OK joeftsansey, assuming what you say is true, the next question is: Did Mohammed claim that he was God, and say he was going to perform a certain miracle, that his followers then claimed to have seen him personally perform? And then did he say, “I am God, but Jesus wasn’t”? If all of those things are correct, and we stipulate that you are correct that the people who claimed to witness his miracles and statements then died for those professed beliefs, then I would have a serious problem on my hands.

          But I don’t think a Muslim claims this is what Mohammed did.

          • Ken B says:

            Your substantive claim is that a witness would not be willing to die for a claim he *knew* from personal observation of the alleged event, was false. This event needn’t include a claim to goodhood need it? Raising the dead, stopping the sun would count wouldn’t they? So jft doesn’t need to do all you demand before you have a problem.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Murphy, I will interject here that your position can never be falsified.

            Those additional criteria you just added as “the next question is…”, after evidence was already provided that personal friends and believers of Mohamed were willing to be tortured/killed for the sake of their beliefs, is just moving the goal posts.

            I suspect that if evidence can be shown that Mohamed really did do these two additional criteria (which BTW are completely unrelated to the criterion that you originally laid out by the way) then you would have brought up something else specific to Jesus that distinguishes him from Mohamed. Of course since Jesus and Mohamed are different people, one can always engage in this tactic of saying “Well OK, but did he say/do this?”

            What the heck happened to the seeming sufficiency of your original position, where you were adamant that it was friends of a prophet willing to die for their beliefs that made it evidence that their stories were true? Why are these additional criteria necessary now, which is very suspicious, and why didn’t you bring them up sooner?

            NB Please note, to ask that evidence be provided that Mohamed said “I am God and Jesus wasn’t”, as if it is required for his personal friends being tortured/killed for the sake of their beliefs becoming evidence that they were right, is tacitly presuming that Jesus himself said “I am God and [a past messiah] wasn’t.” But Jesus never said “I am God”, let alone “I am God and [a past messiah] wasn’t.”

            • Dan says:

              Dr. Murphy can correct me if I misinterpret what he is saying but I think the reason he brings up Jesus saying He was God, prophesied His death and resurrection 3 days later is because His followers would’ve known whether it was true or not. It isn’t just that they died for their beliefs, they would’ve died for something they either knew to be true or false. If they knew they were lying about Jesus coming back from the dead then it seems strange to say the least that they would be willing to die for a lie.

              • Ken B says:

                That is his argument as I understand it. It has a certain plausibility if you can take the stories at face value, That is precisely why I have spent so many comments showing you cannot.
                Comments RPM has not responded to.

          • joeftansey says:

            Again, I don’t know what you feel counts as evidence. As a reasonable person, I don’t feel comfortable with most of the sources I find claiming that so-and-so performed a miracle.

            Muhammad didn’t claim that he was god. But he did claim to be visited by the angel Gabriel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad%27s_first_revelation

            Muhammad reportedly performed lots of miracles http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/150/

            Islam is very clear that Jesus is a prophet, not son, of god. Muhammad thought Jesus was the living word of god like all legitimate prophets. http://answering-islam.org/Silas/son2.htm The discrepancy between Christian and Islamic views on Jesus appears to be another “lost in translation” episode.

            I don’t see why Muhammad would have to claim that he was god before you’d believe him. Everything else fits into your criteria. You have to admit that it’s at least possible for god to have never sent himself.

            As for compatibility of Islam and Christianity, I can look up some key differences if you want. Particularly if I’m allowed to include all their other insane holy books that “augment” the Koran.

            But again, I ask, what is allowed to count as evidence? From my perspective these are all probably just myths or embellishments. I don’t buy a word (and neither should you).

            • joeftansey says:

              The miracles of Brohammed have a lot more credibility too. At least prima facie…

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

              Now, it would be one thing if just a bunch of early disciples saw it, but apparently, an Indian King hundreds of miles away saw it too.

              “Kerala is a state of India. The state stretches for 360 miles (580 kilometers) along the Malabar Coast on the southwestern side of the Indian peninsula.[3] King Chakrawati Farmas of Malabar was a Chera king, Cheraman perumal of Kodungallure. He is recorded to have seen the moon split. The incident is documented in a manuscript kept at the India Office Library, London, reference number: Arabic, 2807, 152-173.[4]”

              http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/151/

              That would be a lot harder to dispute if I believed any of the sources were accurate.

              There’s also apparently a really long rift on the moon and some islamic people think this is evidence that the moon really did split.

          • Anonymouse says:

            Bob, let’s make your logic explicit. You’re saying that if someone is willing to die for the belief that they witnessed a miracle, then they therefore witnessed a miracle.

            But obviously, someone could FALSELY believe they witnessed a miracle and then die for FALSE beliefs.

            You claim that:

            1) Jesus existed and had followers

            2) His followers witnessed what they believed was his execution and resurrection

            3) His followers were correct

            That’s quite a lot to be proven. And what is your primary source of evidence? Christian evangelical texts that are not even purported to be eyewitness accounts.

            There are quite a few red flags here. The fact that you remain willfully oblivious to them in no way negates their existence. Imagine Krugman writing a biography of Keynes. Would you wager your eternal soul on its accuracy?

            • Ken B says:

              On point 2 see my remarks on Mark.
              There is a large literature out there on this stuff. The gospels are not objective history. They are devotional texts of some specific confessional communities. They enshrine beliefs, show certain signs of tampering, are late, and fit a literary pattern with many other (contradictory) texts, christian and non. They contradict each other in irreconcilable ways. They were written decades later; John perhaps as late as 110. They are excellent evidence of what people believed. They are (astoundingly) poor evidence for the history behind those beliefs.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              You’re saying that if someone is willing to die for the belief that they witnessed a miracle, then they therefore witnessed a miracle.

              Well, not quite, I’m saying it is evidence that they witnessed a miracle. And you’re right, it’s extremely strong evidence that they believed they witnessed a miracle, which isn’t the same thing.

              So it’s possible, for example, that someone else who looked like Jesus was nailed to the cross in his place, and then when that guy was safely buried, Jesus moved the body and then walked around claiming to have risen from the dead. In fact, my college roommate and I came up with a theory (we were both hardcore atheists) that said Judas looked like Jesus, and let the soldiers arrest him in the garden. (I.e. Jesus kissed Judas’ cheek and led them to believe Judas was actually the guy they were after.) We noted the similarity to A Tale of Two Cities, realized the irony of Judas going down in history as the worst person of all time when actually he was the best follower, and generally congratulated ourselves on being very clever.

              Also, apparently there are some serious scholars who are agnostic/atheist who hold similar views. Like (what I think) Mencken believed in Treatise on the Gods, they thought the best explanation was that Jesus’ followers really thought he had been crucified, and then really talked to him a few days later. So one way to make sense of that, if you are “rational” and “scientific,” is to say that there was a stunt double. After all, it’s not like the Romans would have had a photograph of Jesus.

              • Ken B says:

                Which witnesses? Please cite any sources other than the gospels and Acts. Please explain why they are not named in the earliest extant gospel, Mark.

            • Anonymouse says:

              “So it’s possible, for example, that someone else who looked like Jesus was nailed to the cross in his place, and then when that guy was safely buried, Jesus moved the body and then walked around claiming to have risen from the dead.”

              I like your thinking here. Would you agree that a natural conspiracy is more probable than a supernatural one?

            • Anonymous says:

              I think you are missing the point. It isn’t that Jesus’ followers believed him (like Muhammed’s did) it is that they would have either

              1) Known Jesus raised from the dead and therefore was fully divine and all he claimed to be

              or

              2) Known Jesus did not raise from the dead and therefore was not the messiah or even divine

              If 2 was true the disciples wouldn’t die for a belief they knew was wrong. They may lie for whatever earthly reasons, but no one dies for a lie, especially dies in quite brutal ways, they know to be a lie.

              Many will die for a lie they believe to be true, which is what I would say happens for Muhammed’s followers

  4. Gene Callahan says:

    “What I’m addressing here, is the widespread belief by agnostics that the existence of non-Christian religions is somehow evidence that there’s not really a God after all. I find that a strange argument.”

    Yes, it would be somewhat like someone who said, “Because there are conflicting beliefs about the nature of the physical world, that is good evidence that there is no physical world.”

    • joeftansey says:

      “Because there are conflicting beliefs about the nature of the physical world, that is good evidence that our belief system is somewhere incorrect and could be improved.”

      Fixed that for you bro.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        joeftansey, the statement you just made is absolutely what I agree with. Did you really not realize that I was knocking that statement about the physical world as being silly?!

        Now, fix the other statement as well: “Because there are conflicting beliefs about the nature of God, that is good evidence that our belief system is somewhere incorrect and could be improved.”

        • joeftansey says:

          Yes, I did realize you were knocking it. But no reasonable atheist claims anything similar to that about god or the physical world.

          At worst, they claim that a Christian god can’t exist if the Christian description of him is contradictory. This is true by definition because even if god existed he wouldn’t be Christian.

          And Christians never consider that what’s wrong with their conflicting theological claims is the existence of God. Obviously the same does not hold true in natural sciences since the physical world exists.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            But no reasonable atheist claims anything similar to that about god…

            Well then there must be some unreasonable atheists who post here every Sunday. :) I wasn’t inventing an argument to answer; I was literally responding to things that are thrown at me virtually every week.

  5. Anonymouse says:

    You’re assuming that:

    1) Jesus and the apostles actually existed

    2) The gospels depict events accurately

    I think those are reasonable assumptions to make if you’re an extremely naive person, but someone with a little worldly experience might question the credibility of evangelical religious propaganda written decades after the events in question.

    • Swazi says:

      Many (ancient )historical documentations of events/people were written decades, if not centuries, after the actual events.

      The rest of your comment is propagandizing, naive, and pretty strong evidence that you have no background studying ancient civilizations at any respectable level.

      • Anonymouse says:

        “Many (ancient )historical documentations of events/people were written decades, if not centuries, after the actual events.”

        Yes, and what are we to conclude from this? Should we simply assume that any claim about anything by anyone at any point in time is equally credible?

        “The rest of your comment is propagandizing, naive, and pretty strong evidence that you have no background studying ancient civilizations at any respectable level.”

        I question the credibility of ancient evangelical religious texts written decades after the events they are purported to record. How exactly is that propagandizing and naive?

    • StraT says:

      I agree, some athiests frame the debate as if Jesus existed, the apostles existed, and then go on to quibble about the contradictory nature of their stories, to which a religious person will see no contradiction, due to their mental gymnastics, and cognitive dissonance and will walk away even more fervent.

      That is too concede wayyyy to much. Jesus never existed, the apostles never existed, it was a book made up after a big enough duration so their was no way to prove either way.

      But as usual Bob, I commend you and your dexterity. Arguing faith is probably the hardest thing for many, and it speaks well towards your courage and convictions that you haven’t given up.

      • Anonymouse says:

        Unfortunately, I think Bob will ignore the fact that religious evangelists are not disinterested recorders of history. He will ignore the fact that many of the things written about the past were simply made up.

        In the end, pointing out the obvious will not sway him, because in the back of his mind he “KNOWS” he heard the voice of the Christian god. My point is that he may have in fact heard a voice, but he can NOT credibly claim to know the origin of that voice. That is a key distinction and one I wish he were willing to acknowledge.

        • JTR says:

          You do know that exaggeration and, say, coining whole speeches out of cloth was standard practice for historians of the day, right? It was so standard, in fact, that it was absolutely expected of anyone conveying a historical event.

          So rather than confirming that whoever wrote the gospels were religious zealots who lied to prey on dumb fellow travelers like Constantine, you’ve only given us a good reason to think they were following the common practice of the day and exaggerating to convey dramatic events. (This is not to say, of course, that the gospels are correct or Jesus actually existed, but what you wrote is consistent with him having existed despite the authors taking certain liberties).

          • Anonymouse says:

            “You do know that exaggeration and, say, coining whole speeches out of cloth was standard practice for historians of the day, right? It was so standard, in fact, that it was absolutely expected of anyone conveying a historical event.”

            I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t surprise me. If we can’t blindly trust history books written last year, why would we blindly trust historical claims made thousands of years ago by biased parties with a clear agenda?

            “So rather than confirming that whoever wrote the gospels were religious zealots who lied to prey on dumb fellow travelers like Constantine”

            I didn’t say that. My point, which you illustrated very nicely above, is that ancient texts contain falsehoods, just like contemporary ones.

            And if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that Jesus actually performed miracles or even existed at all.

            “…what you wrote is consistent with him having existed despite the authors taking certain liberties…”

            That’s fine, but I’m inclined to think the entire story was made up, just like the story of Hercules.

            • JTR says:

              “I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t surprise me. If we can’t blindly trust history books written last year, why would we blindly trust historical claims made thousands of years ago by biased parties with a clear agenda?”

              Herodotus had an agenda, but some (not nearly all and he did clearly exaggerate troop numbers) of his important claims have been borne out by additional findings. As to whether this means we can trust any part of the Gospels I’m strongly skeptical, but its not something we can categorically rule out at the moment. That’s all I’m trying to say- and if your going to attack the historicity of the Bible trust me when I say there are far more conclusive and devastating areas with which to do that.

              To a proper historian the texts aren’t assumed to be true, but they are evidence of something (whether its of a. What they are evidence of is very much the matter at hand.

              “And if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that Jesus actually performed miracles or even existed at all.”

              “We” aren’t quick to assume either of these things, but its far from open and shut. Again- that’s the only point I’m trying to make.

              Another thing to note- strong Biblical literalism of the type Bob apparently subscribes to is a fairly recent development.

              “That’s fine, but I’m inclined to think the entire story was made up, just like the story of Hercules.”

              Which is exactly why we have to use historical and archaeological research to sort out what is true from what are clearly fables, etc.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “Which is exactly why we have to use historical and archaeological research to sort out what is true from what are clearly fables, etc.”

                Agreed. And to that I would add textual and literary analysis.

        • Ken B says:

          This is a key point. What we have is *preaching material that has been road-tested and selected for effectiveness*. We do NOT have accounts from non-christian sources of witnesses to the resurrection gladdly suffering death. We have versions of the recruitment stories written down for tendentious use decades later. They tell us a lot about what some coomunities of believers believed and preached, but little indeed about the underlying historical evants (if any).

      • JTR says:

        The evidence for or against Jesus is, to be honest, at best inconclusive one way or the other. Claiming he “clearly didn’t” exist is just as ignorant of the current evidence as someone who won’t even entertain the notion of the bible not being literal.

        On the other hand the evidence against, say, Genesis is pretty much overwhelming so I’d stick with that claim if you ever want to make progress.

        • JTR says:

          Sorry “clearly didn’t” shouldn’t be in quotes even though it does convey what you meant.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Yes, a guy named Bruce actually came up with the doctrines that comprise Christianity, and the Gospel writers just referred to him as “Jesus” because they knew that so many people worship Jesus.

  6. Anonymouse says:

    “The skeptic Mencken didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, but nonetheless he thought the most sensible explanation for the unbelievable success of the gospel was that this teacher Jesus got lucky and predicted his own ‘resurrection.’”

    You’ve brought this up before, but it’s hard to argue against when you don’t provide the actual quote.

  7. Anonymouse says:

    “I am not familiar with the specifics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., to say whether they are literally incompatible with my beliefs.”

    That’s a pretty convenient position to be in. Μακάριοι οι πτωχοί τω πνεύματι!

  8. Major_Freedom says:

    I am not familiar with the specifics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., to say whether they are literally incompatible with my beliefs.

    How long is this going to take place? I never brought it up before because I thought it was a bit unfair to hold your nose to what you don’t know, but at some point, this “I’m not familiar with the other religions” is going to turn from happenstance into rhetorical convenience into outright evasion into intellectual dishonesty. I mean imagine you in your 80th birthday being asked why you’re not a Muslim, and you respond “I am just not familiar with it”.

    It appears (not saying it is though) as a Christian saying “I am just not familiar enough with Darwin to change my mind in an informed manner, so I will continue to believe what I believe.”

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “How long is this going to take place?”

      It is going to take place over a weekend in August.

  9. RPLong says:

    I’m not one to weigh in on your religious posts, Bob, but your first point is something that has often struck me many times with regard to conversations/situations with other people in my life.

    I meet a lot of folks who are extremely religious, but have only bothered to really immerse themselves in one religion, whatever it happens to be. When I compare this to any other passion out there, it just doesn’t make sense. It can be something as lofty as economics, where a passionate capitalist owes it to himself to understand Marxism and Keynesianism in addition to free market theories. Or, it could be something trivial like basketball, where a Bulls fan will still keep up with what’s going on with the Lakers.

    Religion seems to be the exact opposite. The more passion one feels for it, the less one seems to study up on competing viewpoints.

  10. Ken B says:

    BoB (safely palindromic):
    1. The argument from diversity does not disprove any god directly, it undercuts any SPECIFIC historical tales of god. Possibility 1: this tale is passed down because it is true. Possibility 2: there is some other reason the tales were told. Diversity supports 2 quite strongly.
    2. You have not answered my earlier cooments about your sources.
    3. “Even god can quote Mencken”?

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “The argument from diversity does not disprove any god directly, it undercuts any SPECIFIC historical tales of god.”

      By the same reasoning: The diversity of views of the physical universe undercuts any SPECIFIC scientific theory.

      How could anyone actually believe something so patently stupid?

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Of course, the answer to my closing question is easy: having rejected God, who is reason itself, atheists can believe anything.

      • Ken B says:

        Did you read the rest of the comment gene? Or did you just stop when you parsed a full sentence you didn’t understand but disagreed with?

        It’s nice of you however to make the case that islam is the one true religion, and christianity is a fraud. I don’t endorse the claim mind, I just appreciate you making it.

  11. Ken B says:

    BoB:”I am not familiar with the specifics of… Islam, etc., to say whether they are literally incompatible with my beliefs.”

    Surely you jest Bob. You know perfectly well Islam teaches Jesus was not god, nor the son of god. It also teaches that Christians faked their scriptures, and will not be saved. You now know enough to know this particular reliogion really is incompatible with yours. (You can also find out the islamic view of the crucifixion pretty easily.)

  12. Ken B says:

    @Bob: Let’s combine these arguments. I present you with a series of religions, all of which make supernatural claims for a prophet or founder or god figure, all of which contain tales of witnesses to these wonders being martyred for their belief. Would that shake your confidence in your argument?

  13. Anonymouse says:

    Sorry Bob, but your period of ignorant bliss just ended, thanks to Ken B and Wikipedia:

    “Islam rejects the Christian view that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, that he was ever crucified or resurrected, or that he ever atoned for the sins of mankind. The Quran says that Jesus himself never claimed any of these things, and it furthermore indicates that Jesus will deny having ever claimed divinity at the Last Judgment, and God will vindicate him. The Quran emphasizes that Jesus was a mortal human being who, like all other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God’s message.”

    “That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them…”

    – Quran sura 4 (Al-Nisa النساء) ayah 157

  14. Ken B says:

    In fact there were quite a few varieties of christianity before (and long after) the writing of Mark. These different sects had different views of christology. Some believed Jesus was divine, some did not. Some believed he was not human at all. Many gnostics denied the old testament. What tales survived where pruned, and modified by those strains of the faith the prevailed on the ground. (This is why lost gospels, like that of Pilate, treated by some christians as hero, *shock*) Our knowledge of the events of his life (granting he lived) is just about bupkis; what we know about is why *some* christian communities believed decades later.

    Not to be unkind but it looks like Bob’s ignorance of early christianity exceeds his professed ignorance of Islam.

    • JTR says:

      Good point.. and these sects that rejected the Trinity were far from obscure footnotes. Arian Christianity, for example, supposedly was more popular among the barbarian invaders of Rome for years after the Council of Nicaea.

  15. Xon says:

    I guess we’re just unlucky that there are no Christian believers here that are also decently studied up on textual criticism. Because a lot is being said about Mark, the other Gospels, the dates when things were written, the veracity of their accounts, etc., as though it is all just “known” amongst biblical scholars. But in reality, like almost everything else in the academy, all of these things are hotly disputed. The science of trying to understand the dates when ancient texts were written, or how historically accurate they are vs. how much they were written to serve other interests than historical accuracy, has been pursued since the classical age.

    Many aspects of “liberal” Bible scholarship are quite open to challenge, including their dating of when all the books were written.

    For the record, I’m a guy who used to be a diehard conservative Christian, but who lost his faith. I still know what I know, however, and the atheists are getting away with a lot in this thread.

    • Ken B says:

      “I guess we’re just unlucky that there are no Christian believers here that are also decently studied up on textual criticism.”
      Yeah, just an unlucky coincidence. The christians I meet? They just tear Bultmann to shreds over morning coffee.

      It is simply a fact that there is a solic concencus amongst critical bible scholars that Mark dates from after year 70, and the other gospels are later. It is incontestable that the accounts vary in incompatible ways. Was Jesus crucified on passover or the day before? Look in John. I mean look in Luke. Trace Jesus back to Adam; should be easy it’s done twice. Etc.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Ken B, where does it say Jesus was crucified the day before Passover? I’ve never noticed that before.

        • Xon says:

          It says the Jewish authorities wanted to rush the deaths of the crucified because the next day was Passover. They presumably needed to get the bodies down and buried before sundown. That’s why they broke the legs.

          If only Christian history was full of exegetes struggling with these tricky passages for long before the liberals came along. Oh, wait….

          It all comes down to presuppositions, as most things do. When all the college kids are sitting in their LIterature class, wondering how these two passages of a hard book make sense, they don’t conclude that the author contradicted himself. They conclude that they need to think harder.

          It is “incontestable” that the Bible is full of contradictions to people who have no interest in thinking harder about the matter.

          (To be clear, I think it’s pretty darn hard to “prove” a contradiction in a written test. Language is inherently slippery that way. If people are motivated for it not to be contradictory, then there will almost always be avenues of interpretation available to make it so. This is why atheists, even if they are right that the Bible is not inspired by God, are rather wasting their time trying to “prove” it. What a text “means” is not like checking someone’s work in geometry class.)

        • Ken B says:

          Bob
          I will see if I can hunt up a link. In any event this is discussed in some detail in Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted. (Also in less christian-friendly sources!) The key issue is this: when was the last supper in relation to the ritual activities of passover. John times it a day off from the synoptic gospels. John has a lot of differences from the others on a lot of stuff.

    • Jake says:

      Well said. Even an elementary grasp of textual criticism (or even New Testament Studies in general) would show some of these statements are being said without much consideration backing them up.

      -Jake

      • Anonymouse says:

        “Well said. Even an elementary grasp of textual criticism (or even New Testament Studies in general) would show some of these statements are being said without much consideration backing them up.”

        Fascinating, Jake. And which statements would those be exactly?

    • Anonymouse says:

      “I still know what I know, however, and the atheists are getting away with a lot in this thread.”

      Your argument is that you “know what you know”, and therefore can magically invalidate the arguments that have been put forward by the atheists on this thread.

      Let’s try to get serious here. If you’re going to make accusations, why don’t you do us the courtesy of quoting exactly what you disagree with and explaining exactly where we went wrong.

      • Xon says:

        I didn’t make an “argument”, clearly. Thank goodness there are more ways to communicate than that. It’s nice having someone actually want me to argue more, though.

        From reading this thread, a person not knowledgeable about literary and historical criticism in Biblical studies would get the impression that all the arguments are on the skeptical and/or liberal side of the fence. But that simply isn’t the case. Many liberal and skeptical thinkers may carry themselves like they’ve won the field here, but that doesn’t make it so. I was just pointing that out.

        Because we are talking about the actual sacred text of the believers themselves, it is not surprising that many traditionalist Christians (whether Catholic or evangelical) have stayed on top of biblical studies for as long as biblical studies has been an academic discipline. They didn’t just retreat from the academy when secularism took over, as they did for most other subjects way back in the 19th century.

        Blow for blow and inch for inch, traditionalist believers have fought over the real meaning of these Scriptural passages, a proper understanding of the historical context in which they were written, etc. And the vast majority of disagreements between traditionalists and liberals/skeptics/whatevers is, as I said before, presuppositional. If you’re already convinced of the “right” way to look at things in terms of the big picture, then you will be able to confirm your view by studying the texts. But there are no clear objective “oh the liberals are just plain right on that one” arguments out there.

        I was just pointing out that believers don’t need to hide in the corner when “the scholars” come into the conversation. Not when it comes to their own Scriptures that their churches have been actively studying for two thousand plus years.

        • Ken B says:

          They don’t have to hide. They have to cite sources, and make arguments that don’t rely on faith. Aye, there’s the rub.

          “Not when it comes to their own Scriptures that their churches have been actively studying for two thousand plus years.” Absurd. For one thing they mostly studied inferior texts in inferior translations, and suppressed dissentient sources. And they had funny standards too. Did you know that the official church position on manuscript sources was that if Jerome’s latin translation differed from a greek or aramaic source then Jerome’s was correct?

          • Xon says:

            Medieval Catholicism is the definition of Christianity’s position on these matters? Yes, many overseers in the medieval church offered a lot of resistance to the strong humanist movement *within the church* to go back to the sources (ad fontes). And then there was this thing called the Reformation, and the counter-Reformation that adopted many of the reformers’ corrections, etc.

            Plus, I thought we were talking about how the original books were chosen as part of the Christian canon, which means we are talking about events that predate Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin. The early church, not the medieval church, decided that apostolicity was the standard for admitting a book into the NT canon, and they set about figuring out which books were apostolic and which ones were not. Of course, we can come in from the outside and question their judgment on this or that book, but at the same time believers are well within their rights to take “the canon” that the church decided upon as, well, the canon the church decided upon.

        • Anonymouse says:

          You wrote “I still know what I know, however, and the atheists are getting away with a lot in this thread.” I took that to mean that you disagreed with something that was written, but you have yet to quote a single point of mine that you disagree with.

          “From reading this thread, a person not knowledgeable about literary and historical criticism in Biblical studies would get the impression that all the arguments are on the skeptical and/or liberal side of the fence. But that simply isn’t the case. Many liberal and skeptical thinkers may carry themselves like they’ve won the field here, but that doesn’t make it so. I was just pointing that out.”

          This is utterly vacuous. Instead of merely alluding to arguments that may or may not exist, how about actually putting one forward?

      • Xon says:

        “Let’s try to get serious here. If you’re going to make accusations, why don’t you do us the courtesy of quoting exactly what you disagree with and explaining exactly where we went wrong.”

        Where do I start?

        There are decent arguments on both sides that Matthew was written first, not Mark. There are decent arguments on both sides that, whichever Gospel was written first, it was written early (within 20 years of the events recorded), and that all the Gospels were completed before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. (Again, I’m not saying that all of these views are held by the majority; of course they are not. There are presuppositions at play that make one argument look more plausible than another, depending on where you’re coming from).

        There are plenty of ways to reconcile almost all of the supposed “bible conradictions.” The Gospel accounts (all four, including John) of the crucifixion and resurrection are harmonizable. (I didn’t say that atheists will accept the harmonization. But there are clearly ways to postulate that reality went down such that every Gospel passage about those events is true.) At best, the only ones that are left standing might be a couple of numerical ones, which are then usually acknowledged by conservative scholars as amounting to scribal errors in the copying process (as all ancient texts were copied by hand by scribes). Admittedly, there are some conservative scholars who don’t like this explanation because it seems to undermine biblical inerrancy, and they have their attempted reconciliations.

        And then there’s this “Jesus didn’t even exist at all” business spouted by some of the more aggressive atheists. Talk about an argumentative overreach. If they are willing to stand by this claim, then hopefully they are also willing to postulate that every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure, because the evidence for Jesus’ existence is of the same kind (and in far greater number) than the evidence for Homer’s existence, Plato’s existence, etc.

        People talk about textual criticism like it’s a hard science, but it clearly is not. We have mostly fragments of copies of works that were allegedly written sometime earlier, often centuries earlier. That’s all we have for *any* ancient literary works. Reconstructing the “real history” behind the documents is a sketchy business at best. Claiming you can do so in a way that undermines the basic historicity of the figures themselves is just plain delusional.

        If I’m missing something that was brought up above, please point it out as I tried to catch everything.

        • Ken B says:

          Just curious. How early can Paul’s letters be? Not too early when you consider the road to Damascus story, or the circumstance that he was set out to fight the spreading faith. But where does Paul cite a gospel? Paul is by any reasonable defintion the most important — and busiest! — christian of the early church. Shouldn’t he mention any early gospels?

          For those interested some authors: Ehrman, Bultman, Borg, Pagels, Vermes, Saunders. Fascinating stuff.

        • Anonymouse says:

          “And then there’s this “Jesus didn’t even exist at all” business spouted by some of the more aggressive atheists. Talk about an argumentative overreach. If they are willing to stand by this claim, then hopefully they are also willing to postulate that every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure”

          That’s a silly claim. Some ancient figures left behind busts of their faces, the homes where they lived, literary works, arches inscribed with their names, etc.

          Where’s an ancient bust of Jesus? Where’s his house? Where are his writings? Where is his name carved in stone? etc.

          “… the evidence for Jesus’ existence is of the same kind (and in far greater number) than the evidence for Homer’s existence, Plato’s existence, etc.”

          Your implicit logic is that the evidence for Homer’s existence is weak, therefore we should accept weak evidence for Jesus’ existence. But has it ever occurred to you that weak evidence is weak evidence? It doesn’t matter how many scholars have accepted a thing. If it’s weak it’s weak.

          “People talk about textual criticism like it’s a hard science, but it clearly is not. We have mostly fragments of copies of works that were allegedly written sometime earlier, often centuries earlier. That’s all we have for *any* ancient literary works. Reconstructing the “real history” behind the documents is a sketchy business at best. Claiming you can do so in a way that undermines the basic historicity of the figures themselves is just plain delusional.”

          And if the above is true, what part exactly is supposed to convince me that Jesus actually existed?

          • Ken B says:

            I think SOME such preacher existed. Occam’s razor. There is nothing inherently implausible about a charismatic preacher with an idiosyncratic form of Judaism to preach.
            We do know however — and even christians agree — that people made up legends about jesus and about other preachers. How much is legend? Hard to tell.
            I’m in the ‘there was a real guy and he was a legend-magnet’ camp, not the ‘made up of whole cloth’ camp.
            Incidentally there is a good quite specific case for whole cloth with Muhammed [in brief, linguisitc analysis suggesting that muhammed was an adjective for Jesus later personified], although again I think the magnet theory fits Occam better.

          • Xon says:

            Busts of their faces? As the kids would say, LOLwut?

            We have a bust of Plato’s actual face? Not a later sculpture claiming to be of his face? Wow, who knew?

            Again, literary works. We have

            • Anonymouse says:

              “We have a bust of Plato’s actual face?”

              You wrote that denying the historicity of Jesus is equivalent to postulating that “every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure”.

              I explained why that was not so, and you accused me of making a specific claim about Plato, which I did not do.

              • Xon says:

                The point is that we don’t have these kinds of “records’ for any major historical figure. Not busts, not physical remains. Not “Homer lived here.” etched on a house. Kings and lesser rulers occasionally etched things onto monuments that we have found, but other than that we never get even within a generation of the events that are described in any of our classical texts. Except with the New Testament, where we quite possible get closer than that.

                Of course, all writers had their own agendas. Throw ‘em all out if you want. But picking on the Bible because of the agenda its writers had is arbitrary. And my point in saying all this is not to win anyone over to Christianity. It’s to get nonbelievers to see how fruitless it is to try to “disprove” christianity by haggling over the texts.

          • Xon says:

            We have NO original literary works, from anyone in the ancient period. We have copies of copies, and we can’t get anywhere near as close to the actual time of writing for any of these great works as we can for New Testament writings. Even taking the most liberal estimates of Mark puts it a generation after the events. Do we have copies of Plato’s Republic from that close to its original writing? No way.

            And we have far fewer copies of any of these other literary works, as well. That’s understandable, since the Bible was a mater of religious devotion for a large number of people, and was widely copied and distributed. It’s not an automatic “win” for the bible that it has the greatest amount of textual data behind it, but it does mean that you can’t take the Bible’s basic veracity down without undermining a whole bunch of other stuff.

            • Ken B says:

              Not true actually. Nag Hamadi, Dead Sea scrolls. However onto your main point, which seems to be that we can place no more faith in Ovid’s tales than in the Bible’s tales. I agree.

              There is a difference between tendentious writing and more objective evidence. The evidence for the existence of christianity (not christ) at the end of the first century includes writings by non-christians with no motive to invent the sect. That is better evidence than tales of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf, which we have MORE references to.

              Xon has a point though. Many do use inconsistent standards when they demand christians prove a certain preacher existed. I actually think this gives arguments for christianity too much credit. As if christianity would be proven if we turned up a birth certificate.

              • Xon says:

                The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag hamadi library are all *copies* of earlier documents. they were exciting discoveries, in part, because they were the earliest copies we had ever found, but they are not originals.

                I mean, check that. Maybe there were some original record-keeping documents from within the Qumran community itself. But no originals of major literary works, is my point.

              • Ken B says:

                Xon:” we can’t get anywhere near as close to the actual time of writing for any of these great works as we can for New Testament writings.”
                The NH and DS copies are closer in time to *their* source than any signifcant NT copies was my point. I think the earliest NT source is some palm sized scrap.

            • Anonymouse says:

              “We have NO original literary works, from anyone in the ancient period.”

              My point was not about original copies. My point was that some major historical figures wrote stuff, and we now have copies of that stuff. As far as I know, Jesus didn’t write anything, nor was anything written about him by his contemporaries.

              • Xon says:

                Socrates didn’t write anything, either. But people wrote stuff about him soon after he died. At least, that’s the claim. We only have copies of copies of the things that were allegedly written shortly after he died.

                Welcome to ancient textual scholarship. It doesn’t provide grounds for doubting that Jesus even existed, or even that the general events described weren’t based in reality.

                Of course, nonbelivers aren’t going to accept that miracles were done just because someone wrote down that they were done. But that’s not the issue. Bob’s argument here has been about a particular kind of miracle claim, and a particular kind of person who was in a position to know if it was utter balderdash who then gave up his life in that knowledge.

                There is nothing in the textual evidence to “prove” that these stories are false, though. That evaluation comes from an a priori philosophical commitment (which is fine).

              • Anonymouse says:

                “Socrates didn’t write anything, either.”

                You made a claim about “every major figure from ancient history”, and I disputed that specific claim. Socrates is ONE major figure from ancient history. Socrates is not “EVERY major figure from ancient history”.

                “There is nothing in the textual evidence to ‘prove’ that these stories are false, though.”

                There is, but Bob’s not ready for textual and literary analysis yet. His head is still up in the clouds.

              • Xon says:

                You can point me to the “proof” that comes from textual analysis. Fire away.

                I brought up Socrates to show that your argument works as much (more) against him ever existing as it does against Jesus. Similarly, I spoke of “every major figure”, which was I admit hyperbolic. I later acknowledged that some kings carved their names on monuments and the like, which tied them down decently. But the vast majority of historical figures are just a hopeless skeptical cloudy mess on your way of analyzing ancient history. No mummified remains or physical busts or “Augustus was here”? Then they probably didn’t exist at all, for all we know.

                And, again, I’ve said already that I don’t really begrudge you a universal skepticism (all non-Tuts must remain under skepticism), so long as you’re honest about it. I also don’t think that most people in this discussion will want to go that far, and it casts a bit of a pall on the “Jesus didn’t even exist” or “the Gospels are entirely made up propaganda” lines of reasoning. If someone is willing to yawn off the kinds of evidnece that establishes the basic events of the NT (barring miracles) as being grounded in reality of the time, and the people involved as actually existing, then he has to be willing to yawn off a whole bunch of other stuff, too. And this conversation really isn’t about Bob Murphy’s “inadequate” argument from the martyrs any more.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “You can point me to the ‘proof’ that comes from textual analysis. Fire away.”

                I’m sorry, but I’m not going to reveal that just yet. If I could engage Bob in a discussion about statistics, probability, and encoded information, then perhaps we could establish a theoretical framework in which the evidence would have meaning, but I don’t know if he has the time or interest at present.

                “I spoke of ‘every major figure’, which was I admit hyperbolic.”

                Thank you.

                “And, again, I’ve said already that I don’t really begrudge you a universal skepticism (all non-Tuts must remain under skepticism), so long as you’re honest about it.”

                It should suffice to say that I don’t believe everything I read in books.

          • Xon says:

            “Your implicit logic is that the evidence for Homer’s existence is weak, therefore we should accept weak evidence for Jesus’ existence. But has it ever occurred to you that weak evidence is weak evidence? It doesn’t matter how many scholars have accepted a thing. If it’s weak it’s weak.”

            No, my implicit logic was that if some atheists want to say Jesus didn’t exist at all, then they need to be honest and pronounce their skepticism about the great majority of our knowledge of classical antiquity. Which is essentially what you just did, so that was helpful.

            I can respect anyone who says that our ability to know what really happened in antiquity is simply too limited to have any confidence, and applies that skepticism to everything, not just Jesus. If you’re consistent with that, then more power to you.

            • Anonymouse says:

              “No, my implicit logic was that if some atheists want to say Jesus didn’t exist at all, then they need to be honest and pronounce their skepticism about the great majority of our knowledge of classical antiquity.”

              I take things on a case-by-case basis. For example, I’m much less skeptical of the claim that King Tut existed:

              http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44217000/jpg/_44217352_composite416x280.jpg

              • Xon says:

                Right, and, again, if you only accept the existence of people whose remains remain physically presentable to our own eyes today (or some similarly empirical demonstration), then you are indeed being skeptical “about the great majority of our knowledge of classical antiquity.”

              • Anonymouse says:

                Let’s set the record straight, here. You claimed that denying the historicity of Jesus was equivalent to claiming that “every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure”.

                By showing that there are major figures from ancient history for which we have extremely good evidence, I’m demonstrating that your claim above is false. Period. End of story.

                Regarding your other point, I’m not sufficiently versed in “our knowledge of classical antiquity” to make sweeping statements about “the great majority” of it, but suffice it to say that I don’t consider publication to be a reliable proxy for truth.

              • Xon says:

                “Let’s set the record straight, here. You claimed that denying the historicity of Jesus was equivalent to claiming that “every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure”.
                By showing that there are major figures from ancient history for which we have extremely good evidence, I’m demonstrating that your claim above is false. Period. End of story.”

                Yes, let’s set it straight.

                I did use hyperbole initially, but later I was clear that there are things like kings and rulers leaving behind some monuments (or mummies). But, other than those kinds of things, any famous person from the ancient world (the playwrights, sculpters, artists, philosophers, smaller political leaders, etc.) are, for all we know, made-up fictions. Or, rather, they are if we use your “mummies and busts, please” standard of proof.

                And even for the kings and such, we don’t really know if much of the details of their lives that we have been led to accept are accurate. We can basically say about the ancient world “This relatively short list of famous figures (rulers) actually existed,” and nothing else.

              • Anonymouse says:

                This particular tangent in the discussion is threatening to turn into a full-time occupation, so I’m going to end it here, with apologies.

        • Anonymouse says:

          …And I didn’t even mention that some ancient figures were the subject of contemporaneous writings and have tombs and even mummified remains.

          So, we don’t have a house for Jesus, we don’t have a likeness, we don’t see his name written on any objects, we don’t have his writings or writings about him by his contemporaries, and we don’t have a tomb or any remains.

          And yet, with the complete absence of any archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed, denying his existence (or expressing strong skepticism about it) amounts to postulating “that every major figure from ancient history is a made-up figure”.

          How can this claim be anything other than complete nonsense when it is well known that major historical figures have left behind homes, physical likenesses, their names on objects, their writings, contemporary writings about them, tombs, and even their physical remains?

          I would love to be shown that I’m totally off base here, but my intuition tells me I’m not…

          • Xon says:

            Other than kings putting inscriptions on monuments, we have virtually no confirmed artifacts originating with any major historical figures. Who do you have in mind here?

            The vast majority of people who lived and died in antiquity left behind no lasting inscriptions on homes, and no scrolls of personal records that had the good fortune to be preserved in a cave for two thousand years undisturbed. What we do find is just “random” joe schmoe’s. Some dude’s house happens to be dug up in a relatively preserved state, and we can read the inscription, etc. It’s not like we’ve found Homer’s house or something.

            We have to rely on testimony from documentary sources that claim to have witnessed certain things, figure out what things cross-reference OK and “check out” as consistent with other sources, then put down some tentative markers about certain major figures and events that we are reasonably certain of, and then build tentative timelines and histories for everything else from there. The Bible is one huge part of that whole interwoven web of reconstructive scholarship. It is utterly arbitrary to pick on the Bible as made up by people with an agenda but give everything else a pass. That’s all I’m saying. (In the ancient world, *anyone* who wrote had an agenda. Writing wasn’t cheap.)

            We don’t have any “contemporary” busts of famous faces that I know of. We have copies of copies. It’s always copies of copies. Plenty of time in between to claim that zealous disciples gussied it all up.

            Physical remains? Seriously, what?

            • Ken B says:

              ” Plenty of time in between to claim that zealous disciples gussied it all up.”

              Exactly. Which is why when the ONLY sources we have are wild tales from zealous disciples we should be skeptical.
              When we have stuff from a variety sources, including critics, like we do for Plato THEN we have good evidence.

            • Anonymouse says:

              “Other than kings putting inscriptions on monuments, we have virtually no confirmed artifacts originating with any major historical figures. Who do you have in mind here?”

              I have no one in particular in mind, but I’ll tell you WHAT I have in mind: mummies of Pharaohs, Roman senators’ names carved into the seats in the Colosseum, busts of emperors, faces on coins, etc.

              “We don’t have any “contemporary” busts of famous faces that I know of. We have copies of copies. It’s always copies of copies.”

              Even accepting that, for the sake of argument, with Jesus we don’t even have copies of copies. Therefore, the evidence for Jesus’ existence is weaker than the evidence for the copies-of-copies people.

              Also, we have no copies of copies of works purported to be written by Jesus or about Jesus by one of his contemporaries.

              • Xon says:

                What we have for Jesus are extremely early copies of documents about his existence and life, closer to the events in question that any other event-recounting documents we have from antiquity, and in far greater number of sources as well.

                We have recognition from secular authorities that a sect arose claiming something about a “Chrestus” (misspellings of yokel Jewish sayings, holla), etc.

                As far as *textual* evidence goes, Jesus is as good as it gets (particularly for his basic existence, much less so for the details of this or that story, but that’s true of everyone else from antiquity except perhaps some kings). As far as *non-textual* evidence goes, things like physical busts and the like, I was just pointing out that those kinds of evidence are no more original or reliable in principle than written texts are. It is just odd to say that if Jesus had stopped in at a sculpter and had a bust made, then his physical existence would not be in doubt. Yeah, right.

                I have never said the textual criticism should cause a person to become a believer in the Bible stories straight up. Textual criticism really can’t give you that kind of certainty or detail about any of the matters it addresses.

                My point has only been that believers cannot be shown to be irrational by appealing to textual criticism arguments. You can point out that the writers of these scriptures had an agenda, but so did everyone. Clearly, believers and unbelievers disagree as to whether those agendas rendered the writers more or less believable in what they wrote. There is no way for one side to ‘gotcha’ the other here.

                Yet in this thread a number of atheists were puffing out their chests as though textual criticism settles the matter. That is simply incorrect.

              • Ken B says:

                Textual criticism establishes quirte reliably the Bible is unreliable. I have cited examples, documents, authors, books so readers can see for themselves. Xon has denied at length but done none of those things.
                Correction: he gives a psychologiaccly plausible theory of why Judas might betray Jesus, but his theory does not match what the gospels actually say, so it’s irrelevant to the point at hand.
                The thing about textual criticsm is some of it is easy. You can do it yourself. Judas hanged himself in Matthew, died from a fall in Acts. The last supper was on different days in John and Mark. Please do not trust me on this . Check.

              • Xon says:

                What, you want me to cite the names of the scholars who advance more traditional interpretations? You think I don’t have any books or scholars to cite? I’m not engaging in bibliography here. Of course, people are welcome to look some of these folks up if they like. Google is an amazing thing these days. If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, then name that tune.

                I have done far more than simply explain Judas. I also pointed out that all your major points are contested. Yes, you have scholars, but so do the traditionalists.

                The order of the Gospels themselves, the dates of the Gospels, etc.–are all issues about which reasonable scholars disagree. There is no “objective” evidence proving a liberal or skeptical thesis true. I’m sorry, but there’s just not.

                But, of course, i can’t prove a universal negative. I can only offer my own assessment from my own studies, point out to believers in this thread that they need not believe that all the good arguments are with the skeptics, and then, perhaps, respond to particular issues as they are brought up.

                So, for instance, this is what I did with Judas when he was brought up. I exaplained a particular alleged ‘contradiction” in the biblical text so that it was clearly not a contraditction. I acknowledged there that Acts has a different account of his death. Though different does not mean contradictory. (The two accounts of judas’ death are, admittedly, often thought to be the single most difficult possible contradiction to resolve in the whole Bible, so we’re starting with the hard stuff here.)

                As for the Last Supper, it was not necessarily on different days. Again, these alleged contradictions are resolvable….except that atheists engaging in internet debate don’t really give a rip what the Bible says anyway. If the believer comes up with a way to resolve the contradiction, they will simply be laughed at and told that their explanation “does not match what the gospels actually say,” as though any explanation would. The Gospels are, as everyone should be aware, partial accounts. Nobody has ever claimed that everything that happened is in the Gospels, only that the Gospels reveal what is important for believers to know.

                Again, as I’ve said a few times now, the whole idea of combing through someone else’s religious text looking for “contradictions” is rather unseemly. It is even more so when you insist that believers read their text with wooden literalism (something that not even the most naively conservative scholars claim should be done) and demand that they somehow “explain” the Bible without saying anything that isn’t explicitly *in* the Bible. What? Is this a serious challenge?

                We’d be much better off debating the philosophical underpinnings of theism and revealed religion, than debating whether or not Christians can come up with a reasonable harmonization of the synoptics and John regarding the Last Supper.

                But, all that said, what, you’d like to hear me offer an explanation of Judas’ death, or of the timing of the Last Supper relative to Passover? I will (or someone who is actually a believer in inerrancy can do so), but I’m not sure what it will solve. Won’t you just shuffle on to a new alleged contradiction for me to explain?

              • Xon says:

                On second thought, I’d like to apologize for being so stand-off-ish about sources. My apologies, Ken.

                For good “conservative” scholars on NT studies in particular, I’d start with guys like Wright (Anglican), Mouw (Lutheran), Carson (Reformed), etc. Really any of the “New Perspective on Paul” people are very solid, some of them being more evangelical and some more liberal. But NT Wright (already mentioned), Dunn, Saunders are key names here.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “What we have for Jesus are extremely early copies of documents about his existence and life, closer to the events in question that any other event-recounting documents we have from antiquity”

                That’s simply not true. For example, Martial and Satius were employed by Domitian and published poems about him during his reign.

                “We have recognition from secular authorities that a sect arose claiming something about a ‘Chrestus’ (misspellings of yokel Jewish sayings, holla), etc.”

                Can you be more specific about the above (i.e. What authorities, what exactly did they claim, etc.)?

                “As far as *textual* evidence goes, Jesus is as good as it gets”

                You’ve got to be kidding.

                “As far as *non-textual* evidence goes, things like physical busts and the like, I was just pointing out that those kinds of evidence are no more original or reliable in principle than written texts are.”

                They constitute additional evidence of existence. Jesus lacks any such evidence.

                “It is just odd to say that if Jesus had stopped in at a sculpter and had a bust made, then his physical existence would not be in doubt. Yeah, right.”

                Obviously, that’s not what I said.

                “There is no way for one side to ‘gotcha’ the other here. Yet in this thread a number of atheists were puffing out their chests as though textual criticism settles the matter. That is simply incorrect.”

                I understand your thesis.

  16. Xon says:

    As to the “argument from diversity” that alleges to disprove Christianity, or any other specific religion, it remains hard to understand how it does any such thing. Some fields of inquiry might be very difficult to get to the bottom of, and might be subject to many competing theories and accounts. That does not mean that none of the competing accounts are actually correct (even exhaustively correct, in theory).

    Granted, if you are going to embrace one of those accounts as the most correct one (or even as the completely correct one), then you may be asked your reasons for doing so. Which Bob gave, and as a basic starting point for laying things out his answer seems reasonably enough. Christianity is one religion based on specific historical claims about particular events (not all religions are fundamentally built on such historical claims), and it’s central event is one for which people claimed to be eyewitnesses and died. It is not a general argument that any religion with any miracle claims and martyrs must be equally valid. It is a claim about a particular feature of Christianity and the way its miracle claim and martyrs happened to coincide in the first century. There is plenty that can be said in response, but trying to play “gotcha” with martyrs who knew Mohammed misses the point.

    • Ken B says:

      Xon, I asked a specific question. What if I present you with several incompatible faiths with the same rationale as RPM offers; does this undercut your evidence? I think it surely does.

      ” It is not a general argument that any religion with any miracle claims and martyrs must be equally valid. ”
      No. but if the argument-from-martyrs applies equally well in each case — which is my hypothetical — why is it evidence only for one?

      • Xon says:

        Several incompatible faiths, all of which stake their mutually incompatible beliefs on the truth of a claimed historical event, and all of them have people who were alive and witness to events at the time of the alleged events, and those people all continued to say “Yes, I saw it” even while suffering great loss up to death?

        Sure, in that *hypothetical* situation, then Bob’s argument for selecting Christianity would not work to distinguish Christianity from the other hypothetically similar competitors. Duh. :)

    • Ken B says:

      The argument from diversity has been quite explicitly directed at RPM’s proffered reasons not his conclusions. Yet alwys comes ‘that doesn’t disprove the conclusion’.

      example:
      X:”Only god can create 12 legged ants. So 12 legged ants prove god exists.”
      K:”But there are no 12 legged ants.”
      X:”So what, can’t god exist without 12 legged ants? How does that prove god doesn’t exist?”

      • Xon says:

        More precisely, I think:

        B (not X): “I chose religion X because of A reason that I think only X satisfies.”

        K: “But other religions W, Y, and Z also satisfy reason A.”

        B: “Oh, thanks. Let me think about those four then and get back to you.”

        • Ken B says:

          Better. Except of course I end up waiting for Godot.

          But I was addressing your claim, that the argument from diversity was directed at the truth claim under dsipute not the value ffo the evidence. You wrote after all “As to the “argument from diversity” that alleges to disprove Christianity, or any other specific religion, it remains hard to understand how it does any such thing.” My 12 legged example was directed at that kind of claim.

      • Xon says:

        And, to be clear, I wouldn’t say that any of the examples given above (revolving around martyrs for Mohammed) satisfy the reason Bob gave. Something might, in principle, but so far the examples don’t.

  17. joeftansey says:

    Hmm…

    Not all of Jesus’ disciples died for him. Judas sold him out for a chunk of silver. Did Judas really believe that silver > heaven? Or did he know Jesus was a fraud…

    One possible objection is that Judas is only one out of many disciples. But you can only sell out Jesus once… so it’s entirely possible that the other disciples would have done so if given the chance.

    Either way though it’s not obvious why someone who knew Jesus personally would sell him out.

    • Dan says:

      This happened before the alleged resurrection. It has no bearing on the point Dr. Murphy made.

      • joeftansey says:

        But Jesus performed other miracles. Surely they are as much proof of divinity as rising from the dead?

        • Ken B says:

          Not clear. If you read up on the era you will find LOTS of people performing LOTS of miracles. Honi the circle drawer is the only name that springs to mind, but there were many.

          Of course there were others who returned from the dead too. Lazarus for instance, and no-one worships him :)

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Of course there were others who returned from the dead too. Lazarus for instance, and no-one worships him.

            You put a smiley face, so I assume that means you see why this is a goofy point, but I’ll play along: Those Christians are such hypocrites! They should be worshipping loaves of bread and fishes too.

            • Ken B says:

              Jeez Bob, and I was arguing for your side! Jft made the point that other miracles should count as much as the (alleged) resurrection, which is the claim you hang your hat on. I think that is clearly wrong, especially in a world where cures were routinely ascribed to spirits and mystical powers. Not only is it a much grander effect but it is logically possible fort a witness to KNOW it happened. You would not argue that they can KNOW Jesus cured a headache, or Billy Sunday cured arthritis.

            • Ken B says:

              However there IS a substantial point here. There are other legends about crucifixions, raising the dead, resurrections, and virgin births. These were free-floating topoi in the sea of legend at the time. It goes back to my question, why are your tales special?

            • Ken B says:

              Actually Bob, most Christians do worship bread.

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

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Yeah I figured you’d do that. “Wherever there’s a non sequitur, I’ll be there.”

              • Ken B says:

                How long I wonder before Bob has a picture of me on his bathroom mirror?

                Now you know I am not arguing Christians are hypocrites for not worshipping ‘created things’. But you underestimate the worship. In the middle ages (I do not know the current practice) the priest would hold the host aloft and intone ‘behold thy god’.

                Oh, and I’ll be there in the way kids laugh.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      joeftansey wrote:

      Not all of Jesus’ disciples died for him. Judas sold him out for a chunk of silver. Did Judas really believe that silver > heaven? Or did he know Jesus was a fraud…

      Joe, if we take the stories at face value, Judas killed himself shortly after this. So if he were just cashing in on a guy he knew to be a fraud, then that would be an odd action, wouldn’t it?

      And you’re acting as if Christians had never realized up until now that their beliefs required Judas to do something truly heinous. Right, that’s why Dante put him in the lowest circle of hell: Judas knew Jesus had performed all those miracles, and betrayed Him anyway for 30 pieces of silver. That’s what it means when we call someone a “Judas.” We’re not saying, “Ah, you must not really understand why everybody else likes the person you just crossed.”

      • joeftansey says:

        Bob,

        “Joe, if we take the stories at face value, Judas killed himself shortly after this.”

        Did he? I’m not much on Biblical mythology. But there are other accounts that say the disciples stoned him, or that he was killed in some ironic way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_Iscariot#Biblical_narrative Again it all comes back to what you accept as evidence. I also find it likely that Jesus’s friends wouldn’t have an incentive to record the betrayal accurately.

        At any rate, it’s entirely possible that Judas felt guilty for betraying a man and seeing him suffer so greatly, even if he wasn’t the son of god.

        “Judas knew Jesus had performed all those miracles, and betrayed Him anyway for 30 pieces of silver.”

        But that’s my whole point. This is very implausible. If it is indeed true, then yeah, lowest circle of hell yada yada. But it makes a lot more sense if you think that Judas realized Jesus was just a normal man.

      • Ken B says:

        Bob, if we take the Gospel of Judas ‘at face value’ we get a very different story.
        If we take the Gospel of Peter we get a resurrection with a giant Jesus whose head reaches the sky appearing to your martyred witnesses.

        Why do you take only the canonical gospels at anything like face value?

        • Xon says:

          Amazingly, we do this because the church in the Patristic era did its own version of “biblical criticism,” saw that there were a number of gospel accounts out there, and set out to figure out which ones were really written by apostles and which ones weren’t. A real stretch for “dark age” mouth-breathers, I know, but they thought they pulled it off. Of course, now 1700 years later, we think know better than they did, and our arguments are oh so impressive, don’t you know?

          It’s a nice conspiracy theory about all these “suppressed” gospels, but maybe at the end of the day the early church just figured out which ones were fakes and which ones seemed to go all the way back.

          • Ken B says:

            Which is it Xon? Suppressed means the fathers knew and ignored; not suppressed means they didn’t know. Which alternative do you think bolsters the case they got it ‘juuuust right’ and that our arguments are not in fact better? Ignorance or deception?

            • Xon says:

              You are over-reading my use of “suppressed”. I suppose I could have said “unjustly and viciously suppressed,” to conform to the conspiracy theory of early church shenanigans. My view is consistent, however. It is simply that those who wish to defend traditional Christian claims about the reliability of the Bible can do so in a way that isn’t going to fall under a barrage of articles from infidels.org, or from quoting higher textual critics in the liberal tradition.

              There are coherent and logically consistent ways of defending these things. The arguments raised against are not particularly convincing, unless you are already convinced.

              And I say all this as someone who is not a traditionalist Christian.

              • Ken B says:

                No. There is no mutually consistent way to read all the gospels. Especially when you toss the non-canonicals into the mix. I cited examples and sources earlier so won’t here. But there is MUCH more than I cited.

              • Xon says:

                I’m familiar with the literature here, and I disagree. This is not as objective as you are making it out to be. That’s all I’m saying.

                Obviously if you throw in non-canonical gospels it is even more tricky to be consistent, but then that’s probably one of the reasons why the early church took pains to try and figure out which gospels should be canonical and which ones shouldn’t.

                Obviously, if you aren’t a member of the faithful, then you have no reason to think that they got it right. But you also can’t create arguments against those who *are* believers by telling them that they should listen to the non-canonical books. No, they shouldn’t. Those books might be useful or helpful to illustrate this or that, but the whole point is that the church at the time, the church of which they are now faithful adherents, judged some books to be true gospels and some not. Being a believer means that you accept the church’s judgment in these matters.

                Now, there are ways to argue against the church’s assesment of canonicity, but it isn’t by insisting that the church re-consider the books they already rejected.

                Now, if we stick to the canonical books themselves, again I reckon I’m about as familiar with the literature as you are, and I don’t think there have been any substantive, irresolvable contradictions found, other than some numerical errors.

                We can both say “Yeah huh, nuh uh” all day long, i suppose.

              • Ken B says:

                Xon:”Obviously, if you aren’t a member of the faithful, then you have no reason to think that they got it right. ”

                Do you see the circularity?

              • Xon says:

                This kind of “circularity” is unavoidable. It is present in every person who takes a position in a debate in which both sides have different presuppositions. In this regard, I’m with Major Freedom that the real issues worth discussing here are philosophical, and not all this wrangling over texts.

                Bob has not been trying to give objectively convincing arguments that everyone reading this thread ought to become Christian believers and accept the veracity of Scripture. He is, rather, defending his own use of the Scriptural basics for constructing Jesus’ story.

                To put it crudely, he is not arguing that everyone has to trust the Bible. But you also haven’t proven that he is wrong to trust the Bible.

      • Anonymouse says:

        “…if we take the stories at face value, Judas killed himself shortly after this.”

        But why should we take these stories at face value? Do you take Greek mythology or native American creation myths at face value?

        • Ken B says:

          I think Bob’s point was, jft gets his judas point *from the story*, and Bob points out the very tale jft uses includes the suicide.

          • joeftansey says:

            But the suicide it not inconsistent with Jesus being a fraud. You can feel really bad about betraying someone even if they’re just a mortal.

            And there is no “the story”. The ‘ficial New Testament has at least 2 accounts of Judas’ death. One of them is a suicide. The other….

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Thanks Ken B. I realize you don’t agree with my ultimate position, but at least you are trying to play fair.

            SKEPTIC: You Christians are nuts! Even if we accept the story at face value, it makes no sense. Why would Judas betray someone he thought was a miracle worker?

            BOB: Well, Judas killed himself right after doing that, according to the story. Would he feel that bad about betraying a charlatan?

            SKEPTIC: Ha ha, now you’re taking the story at face value?! Man you’re naive.

            • Ken B says:

              Sorry guys but Bob wins this one (minor, insignificant point). Bob’s point about the still-unnamed martyrs can be correct and Judas still be consumed with jealousy and hatred. (Or following orders per Gospel of Judas). Judas can have different motives. Bob just things a willingness to be martyred for something you know is a lie is implausible; he doesn’t argue everyone would choose martyrdom.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Bob just things a willingness to be martyred for something you know is a lie is implausible; he doesn’t argue everyone would choose martyrdom.

                None of Murphy’s opponents are accusing people in the bible to be lying, since it is irrelevant to the question of whether or not they are factually correct, and by extension whether or not the bible is true.

                So there is really no point in defending a position that is irrelevant to the debate anyway.

                As many others pointed out, the fact that people are willing to die for their beliefs, while is does say something about their honesty, nevertheless does not say anything about whether their beliefs are TRUE. That requires more than just honesty, because people can be honest and yet incorrect.

                The sneaky tactic Murphy used was to take the above, and combine it with “If we take the bible at face value”. That is the sneaky way of converting the empirical based “they were willing to die, so they were honest in what they said” to “what they said is therefore true.”

              • joeftansey says:

                No that’s shifting the goalposts. I know it is still *physically* possible for the story to be correct, but Bob’s argument was about plausibility. Selling out the son of god for a chunk of silver is a really horrible deal. It seems more likely that Judas believed Jesus was a fraud.

              • Ken B says:

                @joeftansey: yes, as you note the Judas story is impausible. But Bob was saying ‘IF you wanna talk Judas you don’t get to pick and choose the details without a reason. Sure the story shows him making a blunder buit it also shows him regretting it big time. same story, gotta be consistent’

              • joeftansey says:

                Well Bob’s claim is that the NT is valid. And the NT tells at least two stories of Judas’ death. How am I supposed to know which one Bob subscribes to in advance?

              • Anonymouse says:

                “But Bob was saying ‘IF you wanna talk Judas you don’t get to pick and choose the details without a reason.”

                That’s true and it’s a valid point, but I don’t think that’s what joeftansey was doing. He thinks that Judas killing himself due to guilt over betraying his former spiritual leader is more probable than Judas betraying what he believed to be god on earth.

                joeftansey’s question is: Why would Judas betray god for 30 pieces of silver?

                Bob’s question is: Why would Judas kill himself over causing the gruesome murder of a human?

                I think joeftansey’s question is A LOT harder to answer.

              • Xon says:

                The more common explanation for Judas’ behavior is that he was trying to force Jesus’ hand into shining out with power. Judas had clearly become frustrated with the “tameness” of Jesus’ ministry, as indicated in a few earlier episodes in the Gospels.

                So, Judas figured that if he put Jesus on the spot about to be arrested, that Jesus would have no choice at that point but to go King of Heaven and Earth on everyone, which is what the disciples spend most of the Gospels begging him to do. But he consistently tells them that they don’t get it, that his purpose is to die.

                So, to recap. Judas is actually trying, in his own way, to help Jesus by forcing him to use his powers. Instead, Jesus simply accepts arrest and death. Judas then kills himself, because that really sucks.

                He took so little money because, well, he wasn’t trying to get rich. He was trying to set up a scenario to force Jesus’ hand.

                That version of events does perfect justice to the Gospel accounts, no need to bring in non-Gospel accounts. It casts doubt on the medieval elevation of Judas as “Worst Person Ever,” but that’s no big deal.

                There is still the Acts account of Judas’ death, of course…

              • Ken B says:

                Xon’s tale of Judas is quite plausible (assuming one accepts the events), and as i have noted I’m with Bob on this tiny subpoint but this caught my eye:
                “no need to bring in non-Gospel accounts.”
                No need to consider contradictory evidence!
                Thread over, skeptics win.

              • Xon says:

                The skeptics don’t win, Ken. My point is that Judas’ behavior can be explained on the terms of the canonical gospels themselves. I wasn’t stating a principled refusal to ever consider evidence from other sources. But in a debate about whether the Bible is a reliable or internally-consistent source in its own right, an explanation of Judas’ behavior that sticks to the data contained in the Bible seems to be on point.

              • Ken B says:

                Re: consistent judas tale. fair enough. But it also has to be consistent with what else we know.

            • joeftansey says:

              I should stop running arguments in parallel.

              Anyway, the direct rebuttal is that yes, Judas could feel really bad about betraying Jesus even if he were just a mortal. People commit suicide all the time for less than this.

              The extension of the other point is that other accounts of the betrayal don’t say Judas committed suicide. The Acts of the Apostles in the NT says (if I read correctly) that Judas spontaneously explodes on his new plantation.

              And I’m not copping out by saying you shouldn’t take the stories at face value. I’ve been making that argument all along, but even if you DO take them at face value, it still isn’t clear what to think because the christian explanation for betrayal is so implausible, and there are conflicting accounts of Judas’ death in the New Testament anyway.

            • Anonymouse says:

              Bob, I don’t think your assessment of unfairness is particularly fair.

              “SKEPTIC: Why would Judas betray someone he thought was a miracle worker?

              BOB: Well, Judas killed himself right after doing that, according to the story. Would he feel that bad about betraying a charlatan?”

              Notice that you didn’t answer his question, but instead asked another one. That’s not particularly fair.

              Why would Judas betray someone he thought was a miracle worker (potentially a god) for 30 pieces of silver? Did he have a gambling addiction?

              “Bob: Would he feel that bad about betraying a charlatan?”

              And even though you didn’t answer joeftansey’s question, he answered yours:

              “…the suicide it not inconsistent with Jesus being a fraud. You can feel really bad about betraying someone even if they’re just a mortal.”

              Have you seen the passion of the christ? Could the knowledge that Judas was responsible for the gruesome torture and drawn-out execution of his former spiritual leader have been a motivating factor?

              “SKEPTIC: Ha ha, now you’re taking the story at face value?! Man you’re naive.”

              First of all, Skeptic 1 was joeftansey and Skeptic 2 was Anonymouse. You’re making it sound as if there’s one guy who keeps changing the point being argued.

              My question was “Why should we take these stories at face value?” which is a legitimate question, and one I’m sure your readers would like to know the answer to.

              However, it is distinct from the point joeftansey was making, so perhaps I should have posted it somewhere else on the page, so as not to confuse things.

              • Xon says:

                Because Judas was a “zealot” when he first became a disciple of Jesus, which means he was an advocate of violent overthrow of the Romans. Judas, like the other disciples, thought that Jesus was “king of kings” in the sense that he was literally come to earth to set up a Jewish political order, and overthrow Rome. All the disciples seemed to think this, from various stories in the Gospels, but Judas was the one who came from an overtly revolutionary pedigree.

                With this in mind, Judas was probably trying to force Jesus’ hand. Jesus kept telling the disciples that they didn’t get it, and even eventually that his job is to die, not rule. (Or, rather, he will end up ruling BY dying). He keeps saying things like “my time has not yet come,” etc.

                So Judas figures “If I set Jesus up for arrest, he’ll have no choice but to finally show his hand and rock it out like the King he is.” Thus, he goes to the Jewish authorities posing as a turncoat, accepts a very small amount of money (his point is not to get rich), and sets it up.

                Then, Jesus….accepts arrest and death. That sucks. Judas kills himself. Voila.

              • joeftansey says:

                Judas cared more about jewish nationalism than god? Where does it say that in the Bahble?

              • Anonymouse says:

                “So Judas figures ‘If I set Jesus up for arrest, he’ll have no choice but to finally show his hand and rock it out like the King he is.’”

                Sounds reasonable, but I don’t think it’s the only reasonable explanation out there.

              • joeftansey says:

                I can’t think of any reason to mess with the son of god.

              • Xon says:

                It doesn’t matter if there are other reasonable explanations. What matters is that there *is* are reasonable explanation of Judas’ behavior that makes sense of the Biblical stories on their own terms. So, people saying ‘Why would Judas do such and such, it doesn’t make sense to me” are failing to make a convincing case that the Judas story as found in the canonical scriptures is not true.

                Of course, non-believers do not have to accept my explanation, nor do they have to become believers in the veracity of the Bible. But they do have to stop saying that the scriptural story is incoherent.

                As for “where is that in the Bahble?” Nobody has ever said (not even the most extremely anti-intellectual fundamentalist) that every single thing that happened is IN the text. The most hardline conservative position about the bible–inerrancy/infallibility–is that all the things the scriptures happen to say are true, not that the scriptures say everything that is true. Big difference.

                When you read a story, you have to think about it and fill in things that the author didn’t spell out. That’s just normal.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “…people saying ‘Why would Judas do such and such, it doesn’t make sense to me’ are failing to make a convincing case that the Judas story as found in the canonical scriptures is not true.”

                That may be true, but joeftansey’s comment was the beginning of this particular tangent, and he didn’t claim that the Judas story was not true. He claimed that it could be evidence of Jesus’ non-divinity.

                joeftansey wrote:

                “Not all of Jesus’ disciples died for him. Judas sold him out for a chunk of silver. Did Judas really believe that silver > heaven? Or did he know Jesus was a fraud…”

        • Major_Freedom says:

          joeftansey, Ken B, and Anonymouse:

          Christianity is an apriori way of looking at the world. It is not an empirically derived framework.

          You will ALWAYS see Murphy begin, or at least ground, his arguments on positions like “Suppose the Bible is true” or “If we take the bible at face value” or “Let’s assume the stories in the bible happened”.

          These are the techniques used to make it appear as if the Christian is at first neutral, proposing a hypothetical, when in reality it is just an inevitable outcome of being compelled to introduce the a priori conviction.

          If you notice, every Sunday post that speaks of the bible’s stories, contains an either explicit or implicit a priori position that the bible, and Christianity, are true prior to experience. This is, incidentally, why the “experiences” that “prove God”, e.g. moving objects, are interpreted using this a priori theory and thus considered to be evidence for the Christian theory. The proof of this is easy to see. All one needs to do is approach the same experience with the theory “The invisible flying spaghetti monster exists”, and notice that the all of the experiences would be consistent with that theory as well.

          All the questions, explorations, analyses and reasoning are built on the Christian a priori theory. I think to elevate this discourse into more a productive one, both theists and atheists have to debate each other’s theories using non-hypothetical, non-empirical arguments. This is very difficult to do, but it’s the only way.

          All the atheists and theists on this board, to settle things once and for all, simply MUST find some foundational agreement, something that does not presuppose God nor the non-existence of God, but is neutral to it, and then build off of that by deduction and by empiricism where necessary.

          As long as theists approach the debate with the a priori theory “God can or does exist” and atheists approach the debate with the a priori theory “God cannot or does not exist”, then there will NEVER be any agreement. This realization also presents challenges, because both atheists and theists really have to dig deep, and not look at it like a war or battle of winners and losers, but as truth winning out, for all.

          The question then becomes: What is the foundation, what is the proposition or set of propositions that everyone can agree to at the outset that does not imply or presuppose the existence or non-existence of God? I tried to start the ball rolling a few weeks back, but it fizzled and went nowhere. Maybe others can try it.

          • Ken B says:

            @M_FG: You will note I have pressed RJM for specifics: names of the martyrs, sources, etc. I have emphasized the tendentious nature of the sources, and the conflicting other sources.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Ken, suppose Murphy did find and then provided you with more literature sources, say from around the early 1st millennium, that corroborated the bible’s stories, but are themselves just as tendentious.

              Would that change your mind and would you hold the opposite view you now have?

              • Ken B says:

                No. Two times squat is squat. But I am setting a Murphy trap and you are alerting him to it!

              • Major_Freedom says:

                I kind of sensed it was a trap, and perhaps a part of me wanted to sound the alert.

                It appears that you hold my position that the concept God is inherently problematic. If so, for your sake and for Murphy’s sake, it would be better to debate on those terms. If not, then what WOULD constitute evidence to you that would make you accept the existence of that which you think is an inherently logical concept?

              • Ken B says:

                @M_F’s last:
                A formal proof that (P){P -> ~P}

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Do you think that in principle that be done? Or is it another trap?

              • Ken B says:

                Now now M_F. This isn’t Landsburg’s blog.

          • Anonymouse says:

            “As long as theists approach the debate with the a priori theory “God can or does exist” and atheists approach the debate with the a priori theory “God cannot or does not exist”, then there will NEVER be any agreement.”

            I’m not aware that any of my arguments rely upon the assumption that the Christian god does not exist.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Ah, perfect opportunity.

              If you’ll indulge me…

              What then are your premises that you think Murphy would agree with, that do not themselves presuppose anything regarding God existing or not existing?

            • Anonymouse says:

              “What then are your premises that you think Murphy would agree with, that do not themselves presuppose anything regarding God existing or not existing?”

              I think that was for me…

              To be honest, I’m still trying to find out what Murphy would agree with.

              One of my premises is that supernatural explanations generally have a lower probability of being correct than natural explanations.

              For example, what would you say are the relative probabilities of (1) the gospels being fiction and (2) Jesus being resurrected?

              Fiction in general, and religious fiction, in particular is superabundant throughout history. There is no question at all that the gospels COULD be fictional.

              Miracles, such as resurrections, on the other hand, are not well documented and are controversial to say the least. Bob doesn’t even claim to believe in the “Miracle of the Sun”, even though that is supposed to be the one with the most going for it.

              So, any objective person would start out with the premise that the probability of the gospels being fiction is higher than the probability that Jesus existed and was resurrected.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                One of my premises is that supernatural explanations generally have a lower probability of being correct than natural explanations.

                On what basis? Suppose you’re talking to a theist who a priori believes supernatural events are EVERYWHERE. He looks at an apple and believes the entire nature of it is due to God’s will. He looks at the weather, and believes the entire weather pattern was due to God’s will. And so on.

                For example, what would you say are the relative probabilities of (1) the gospels being fiction and (2) Jesus being resurrected?

                Probabilities is a tricky question when it comes to explaining physical reality, because it presupposes some sort of repetition, or multiple instances. If the universe is one way and no other, than what good are probabilities to explain the universe? This is why cosmologists are thinking about multiverses, to give a probabilistic explanation to our universe by presupposing multiple instances of “universes.”

                Suppose that the theist believes “God is responsible for ALL multiverses”, thus making it impossible to even engage in probabilistic talk. What then?

                Fiction in general, and religious fiction, in particular is superabundant throughout history. There is no question at all that the gospels COULD be fictional.

                The gospels are either fiction or they are not fiction. The Christian theist BELIEVES the gospels are not fiction. The question of them being not fiction or fiction is really a question between Christianity being true or false, which is the whole debate really.

                Miracles, such as resurrections, on the other hand, are not well documented and are controversial to say the least.

                Not to the theist it isn’t.

                Bob doesn’t even claim to believe in the “Miracle of the Sun”, even though that is supposed to be the one with the most going for it.
                So, any objective person would start out with the premise that the probability of the gospels being fiction is higher than the probability that Jesus existed and was resurrected.

                On what basis would the probability be higher? I must confess I am not seeing your reasoning for this.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “On what basis?”

                Historical.

                “Suppose you’re talking to a theist who a priori believes supernatural events are EVERYWHERE. He looks at an apple and believes the entire nature of it is due to God’s will. He looks at the weather, and believes the entire weather pattern was due to God’s will. And so on.”

                He can only persist in such beliefs by ignoring what is actually known about apples and the weather. Willful ignorance is not particularly problematic to my thesis.

                “On what basis would the probability be higher? I must confess I am not seeing your reasoning for this.”

                On what basis could anything be said to be more probable than anything else? It’s based on the number of known cases of fictional miracles (massive) versus the number of known cases of actual miracles (?).

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Anonymouse:

                Historical.

                Historical? So you grant Bob a black swan?

                He can only persist in such beliefs by ignoring what is actually known about apples and the weather. Willful ignorance is not particularly problematic to my thesis.

                But the theist will say the same thing to the atheist. He will say the atheist can only persist in their beliefs by ignoring what is actually known about apples and the weather, namely, they claim to know God did it.

                On what basis could anything be said to be more probable than anything else? It’s based on the number of known cases of fictional miracles (massive) versus the number of known cases of actual miracles

                The theist believes ALL events are “miracles” of God.

                You granting the existence of known cases of miracles means the theist wins.

                If you say you want more cases of miracles, then the theist will just say “OK, if you want miracles that happen more often, then just observe how many childbirths take place, and how many days of life exist on Earth, and how many times we see birds singing. These are all daily miracles that God is responsible for, which you dismiss because…they happen too often.”

              • Anonymouse says:

                “Historical? So you grant Bob a black swan?”

                I’m not sure what you mean. I grant the possibility of a reality external to this one (e.g. the reality outside The Matrix), a super-reality, so to speak.

                “But the theist will say the same thing to the atheist. He will say the atheist can only persist in their beliefs by ignoring what is actually known about apples and the weather, namely, they claim to know God did it.”

                But that is a complete corruption of the concept of knowledge. Knowledge implies the ability to answer specific questions about the past, present, and future (e.g. “What conditions were required for this apple to grow?”, “What is it made of?”, “What will happen if I eat it?”).

                Saying “god did it” doesn’t allow you to know where apples come from, if they are healthy, or how the weather affects their growth.

                “The theist believes ALL events are ‘miracles’ of God.”

                Again, this is a corruption of language. A miracle implies a violation of the fundamental constants of reality.

                “You granting the existence of known cases of miracles means the theist wins.”

                I haven’t granted the existence of any miracles. I’ve granted the possibility of miracles.

                “If you say you want more cases of miracles, then the theist will just say ‘OK, if you want miracles that happen more often, then just observe how many childbirths take place, and how many days of life exist on Earth, and how many times we see birds singing. These are all daily miracles that God is responsible for, which you dismiss because…they happen too often.’”

                I define a miracle as an event that defies the laws of nature. Any other definition will only serve to confuse, not enlighten.

              • joeftansey says:

                Anon,

                I think a better definition of a miracle is anything that violates the continuity equations.

                This definition doesn’t require us to know the laws of nature.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                I’m not sure what you mean. I grant the possibility of a reality external to this one (e.g. the reality outside The Matrix), a super-reality, so to speak.

                I was actually referring to the problem of induction. You know, inferring from seeing white swans all the time in the past, then concluding all swans are white?

                If you say your claims are based on historical observation, then in my philosophy, you would only be observing how things happened to be, not how they necessarily have to be.

                By saying you’re granting Bob a black swan, I meant that he can always say that you can observe 1000 years of something, and God could still appear tomorrow, upsetting your inductive inference.

                But that is a complete corruption of the concept of knowledge. Knowledge implies the ability to answer specific questions about the past, present, and future (e.g. “What conditions were required for this apple to grow?”, “What is it made of?”, “What will happen if I eat it?”).

                Saying “god did it” doesn’t allow you to know where apples come from, if they are healthy, or how the weather affects their growth.

                Understood. But the theist can always say God did whatever it is you thought you learned about apples. Perversion? Not to the theist.

                Again, this is a corruption of language. A miracle implies a violation of the fundamental constants of reality.

                To the theist, a “violation” of a constant of reality is just a sign that God didn’t actually create constants of reality, but rather they are variables, that may be the same for a period of time, then suddenly changing on occasion. The theist can tell you that what you believe are constants of nature, really aren’t constant at all and are subject to change.

                I haven’t granted the existence of any miracles. I’ve granted the possibility of miracles.

                So then you “corrupted” the meaning of “violation.” If you say you believe in the possibility of miracles, then actual miracles could not “violate” any law of nature, if you say nature in principle allows for them.

                I define a miracle as an event that defies the laws of nature. Any other definition will only serve to confuse, not enlighten.

                But if you believe miracles are possible in nature, that the laws of nature can in principle accommodate them, then an actual occurrence of a miracle cannot possibly “defy” the laws of nature.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                joeftansey:

                I think a better definition of a miracle is anything that violates the continuity equations.

                By that definition, wouldn’t quantum phenomena then have to be classified as miracle laden?

              • joeftansey says:

                We model QP as discontinuous. It doesn’t mean they actually are…

              • Anonymouse says:

                “I think a better definition of a miracle is anything that violates the continuity equations.”

                That went over my head. Can you explain it in non-technical terms?

              • Anonymouse says:

                “If you say your claims are based on historical observation, then in my philosophy, you would only be observing how things happened to be, not how they necessarily have to be.”

                I think that’s a technical point that is not particularly salient here. If you agree that we can in fact learn from our past, my point is that one of the things we may learn, for example, is that resurrections are less common than magic shows. We may assign a probability to each and expect to see more magic shows in a given period of time than resurrections.

                “By saying you’re granting Bob a black swan, I meant that he can always say that you can observe 1000 years of something, and God could still appear tomorrow, upsetting your inductive inference.”

                I’m talking about probabilities, which are derived from analysis of the past. I can claim that the probability of something is low (or even infinitesimal) without ruling it out entirely.

                “Understood. But the theist can always say God did whatever it is you thought you learned about apples. Perversion? Not to the theist.”

                They can say whatever they want, but their arguments that god is a necessary condition for such-and-such always fail (e.g. arguments about irreducible complexity). And, if the concept of god is not necessary to explain something, then it’s superfluous.

                “To the theist, a ‘violation’ of a constant of reality is just a sign that God didn’t actually create constants of reality, but rather they are variables, that may be the same for a period of time, then suddenly changing on occasion. The theist can tell you that what you believe are constants of nature, really aren’t constant at all and are subject to change.”

                That’s fine, but they bear the burden of demonstrating that.

                “So then you ‘corrupted’ the meaning of ‘violation.’ If you say you believe in the possibility of miracles, then actual miracles could not ‘violate’ any law of nature, if you say nature in principle allows for them.”

                By “nature” I mean our immediate reality, although I allow for the possibility of a “super-reality”, one that encompasses and supersedes our own. For example, everyone plugged into the matrix is subject to the laws of the matrix, but those who control the matrix can temporarily alter and thus “violate” its laws or create “admin privileges” so only Agent Smith types can teleport or dodge bullets.

                “But if you believe miracles are possible in nature, that the laws of nature can in principle accommodate them, then an actual occurrence of a miracle cannot possibly ‘defy’ the laws of nature.”

                Right, but I’m allowing for multiple levels of reality, so the laws WE are subject to could be violated while other laws remain intact. In other words, there could be a “local” nature subsumed within a “greater” nature.

              • joeftansey says:

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

                There’s also a subsection on QM and how it is consistent with continuity :D

                Anyway, it’s basically just the idea that spatial things are spatially continuous, temporal things are temporally continuous, etc.

                So when you move a book across the table it moves CONTINUOUSLY. I.e., it doesn’t jump.

                If the book jumped across the table with no intermediate movement, or moved across the table at 30 frames per second, or phased in and out of existence every other tick, that would be discontinuous.

                Similarly with energy popping in/out, transferring states, yada yada.

                TLDR the continuity equations are a formal way to express what we mean intuitively by “normal physics”.

              • Anonymouse says:

                “it’s basically just the idea that spatial things are spatially continuous, temporal things are temporally continuous, etc.”

                Makes sense.

  18. Ken B says:

    Bob
    In your martyrs-who-really-know story
    * Which martyrs?
    * What sources do you use? I am assuming the gospels in the bible and Acts.
    * Do you trust them in every detail or only on balance?
    * Do you argue that their points of agreement bolster their reliability?
    * Do you reject non-canonical gospels and related works?
    * Do you extend your argument to all of the claims of the martyrs? That is if I present you with a tale of a purported witness to the resurrection who dies believing say that Jesus had 5 legs would you accpet Jesus had 5 legs?

    I ask for the details as take-it-or-leave-it isn’t really an argument. But all this boils down to one big question: why do you believe just the canonical tales and
    not the conflicting accounts are reliable evidence to the reality of your witnesses,
    the certainty that they did have first hand evidence,
    and the certainty they accepted martyrdom?

    Or even simpler: what makes your stories special?

  19. Bob Murphy says:

    Quick comment everyone:

    (1) I don’t have good, independent evidence of martyrs from the early Church. I am relying a lot on (admittedly biased) Christian believers who strike me as being fair, who say there is a lot of evidence that people who would have known directly whether Jesus came back or not, were willing to die for this belief. Also, it reinforces my view that apparently Mencken himself thought there was reliable evidence that something “big” happened. So I’m not going to argue those points; I admit I need to go learn more. It’s sort of like I think if some of you hear Bob Higgs talk about the adjustments to the government data sets during World War II, and then a Keynesian starts arguing with you. You are confident that the Keynesian’s claims about the history are wrong, but you personally can’t hold your own in the debate since you don’t know the data firsthand.

    (2) If a self-professed Christian in AD 40 is beheaded and says, right before he dies, “Guess what? I saw Jesus walk on water too!” then that by itself isn’t a great amount of evidence that Jesus walked on water. However, since the Christian’s whole worldview is tied up with Jesus having predicted and then fulfilled His own resurrection, the fact that the guy is willing to die “for Jesus” suggests to me that the guy really believed Jesus did those two things. It’s not that the person would believe in Jesus even if Jesus actually stayed dead, and then the guy added some spicy details to get others to believe the message. The guy wouldn’t believe the message in the first place (I claim), if he knew that the central piece of Christianity was a fraud.

    • Ken B says:

      I love the smell of victory in the morning: it smells like napalm!

      More seriously I think Bob has to admit that his argument from martyrs is no stronger than his evidence FOR martyrs and their attendant tales. Which he graciously concedes is lacking.

      Since it is clear Bob won’t walk into my little trap unprodded I will expose its workings with a prediction: Bob, if you press your friends why they believe in that evidence it will eventually come down to ‘this is the word of god’. Et voila, circular.

    • joeftansey says:

      “You are confident that the Keynesian’s claims about the history are wrong, but you personally can’t hold your own in the debate since you don’t know the data firsthand.”

      This is because we are armed with a priori economic theory. What is your analog in the christianity debate? I thought you only had the bible (the very thing in question).

      • Major_Freedom says:

        This is because we are armed with a priori economic theory. What is your analog in the christianity debate?

        THIS is the question that is the seed for eventually settling the debate.

    • Anonymouse says:

      “It’s sort of like I think if some of you hear Bob Higgs talk about the adjustments to the government data sets during World War II, and then a Keynesian starts arguing with you. You are confident that the Keynesian’s claims about the history are wrong, but you personally can’t hold your own in the debate since you don’t know the data firsthand.”

      I appreciate the honesty, and I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think the analogy to economics holds up. The Austrian paradigm is logically sound and well-tested (pardon the empiricism). The Christian paradigm, on the other hand, is full of wholes, contradictions, and questions that no one has an answer to, and on top of it all has a terrible track record (when’s the last time someone successfully used the bible to predict the end of the world?).

      • Ken B says:

        “when’s the last time someone successfully used the bible to predict the end of the world?”

        Next year.

        • Anonymouse says:

          Pardon me while I LOL.

      • Xon says:

        To be fair, the vast majority of Christians throughout history were not premillennial dispensationalists who thought you had to use the Bible to make predictions of future events. That is a “recent” trend (about the last 200 years) among evangelicals, and not universal among them.

        • MamMoTh says:

          Murphy used it to predict the current hyperinflation.

        • Anonymouse says:

          “That is a ‘recent’ trend (about the last 200 years) among evangelicals, and not universal among them.”

          I wonder if Bob falls into that category.

        • Ken B says:

          Prophesying from the Bible goes back a long long way. It’s not just a recent thing. What is recent is having enough literates so that you can sit around Starbucks doing it. The vast majority were illireate, and often punished (by christians) for expressing any religious opinions.

          • Xon says:

            “Prophesying from the Bible” is a far more vague endeavor than making specific predictions of the end of this or that. And, of course making predictions “goes back a long way.” It’s not that *nobody* ever did it; it’s that it was not the majority method for interpreting and applying Scriptural passages.

            Not everything is proof of how awful Christianity is.

  20. MamMoTh says:

    Why is it that if nowadays someone resurrects (like an old chinese lady did recently) we say he/she was buried alive, but in Jesus’ case we speak of resurrection?

    • joeftansey says:

      I was sitting in class and I realized that the word document my professor was showing us had 666 words in it. On the nose. The odds of this happening by chance are very small.

      I guess it’s god’s way of telling me that Kriging is the tool of the devil.

  21. Ken B says:

    Let’s discuss turs, both the sequi and non-sequi.

    jft: surely early christians would count lesser miracles as proof of divinity.
    ken b: no that’s wrong. honi. don’t even have to accept raised from the dead; lazarus. smiley.
    rpm: oh a smiley! ken b is implying christians are hypocrites for not worshipping fish and loaves.

    Bob’s is an odd conclusion. I did not suggest christians should accept lesser miracle, not even reanimation, much less that they must logically worship Lazarus,
    so it’s wrong to infer I am implying they should logically worship any other objects of any other of Jesus’s miracles, be they loaves, fishes, wine, withered hands.

    I score the turs so far:
    jft one non-sequi
    ken b one sequi
    rpm one non-sequi

    ken b: some christians do worship bread. link.
    rpm: referee please charge ken b with a non-sequi! Tom Joad.
    ken b: Mr referee I understand the distinction between worshipping a ‘created thing’ like a body and an imaginary friend.
    I am not sure all christians do, and I cite an example. Surely that falls within the joke-adjusted ambit of ‘worship’. Tom Joad.

    I leave the adjudication to the randomly chosen referee, Anonymouse :)

    • Anonymouse says:

      Naturally, Ken B is correct, although I honestly can’t figure out what you guys are talking about. *scratches head*

      • Ken B says:

        I learned the most important theology lesson of my life in Sunday school in about grade 4.

        “Do we understand?” the teacher asked. “No” she said pausing, “Do we believe? Yes.”

        You have learned well grasshopper.

  22. Ken B says:

    TURING TEST

    I mentioned a Turing Test on the heartland thread. I thought I’d try one here: me as RPM.
    I’m too tall to pass for Murphy, but I’m just about handsome enough, so I’ll try.
    [crouches]

    I am an evangelical Christian who accepts the resurrection and God’s promise of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
    I see my faith as a gift and not a deduction, but I think if you are fair-minded you can find convincing evidence for my core beliefs in the world around us, in the words and deeds of our fellows, in mathematics, and in the stories of the Bible.
    I see God manifest Himself in many ways but let’s talk just about the Bible.
    It records God’s many communications with mankind, over a long period, always expressed in terms mankind was ready for at the time, and it records great deeds done in his name by men and woemn who tell us boldly that they drew strength from Him. I think this counts for something; it’s not chopped liver.
    As a particular case consider the very early Christiasn martyrs.
    Now I think it’s very unlikely that you will find anyone, much less a group of people, willing to martyr themselves for something they know is a lie.
    And we know of some early Christians who were there when Christ is said to have foretold his death, died, and been ressurrected.
    If this story were false these martyrs would have known it. Their willingness to die for these beliefs is strong evidence they knew it was true.
    I admit this argument rests on believing the gospels and Acts are a reliable historical source. I also admit that I haven’t really looked into this question.
    I am though quite confident of this, as confident as I am say that the Keynesians’ claims about history are wrong. In part this is because I have spoken to other honest Christians who are confident.

    Hmmm. I suspect I let a little too much of my poetic soul and legendary kindness bleed through. However.
    You’re a fair guy Bob. How’d I do? I’ll trust your answer.

    My comments:
    1. The argument from martyrs has psychological plausibility. I think it is weaker than it seems at first, especially for early Christians, but I have not made that case yet and I grant it’s a decent argument once you grant the premise. Better than the argument from Landsburg’s paper route.
    2. I don’t think you can reasonably see the Bible as a good historical source, and even if you could you still have to cherry pick which parts of which books, and argue why not other early books. The very best you can ever get (and you can’t get there, to paraphrase the third law) is a huge parlay you can only justify with an appeal to faith or inspiration, rendering the argument circular.

    • Anonymouse says:

      That was a stirring rendition. You could fill in the next time Bob’s busy on a Sunday.

      • Ken B says:

        You really know how to hurt a guy.

        :)

        I AM curious to know if Bob thinks I passed the test, and he has promised to take a look. I’d ask him to try a reverse test, but trying to be me even briefly has reuced strong men to tears. Bob is handsome enough though.

    • Xon says:

      “The very best you can ever get (and you can’t get there, to paraphrase the third law) is a huge parlay you can only justify with an appeal to faith or inspiration, rendering the argument circular.”

      In ultimate matters, everyone’s argument is circular. There is circular-necessary, and there is circular-bad.

      The fact that everyone ultimately rests belief on certain presuppositions is circular-necessary. (For, as Aristotle said, if everything has to be proved, then nothing can be proved.)

    • Xon says:

      I think this was an admirable effort at the Turing Test, Ken. Well done!

      • Ken B says:

        Xon, thank you.
        Any thoughts Bob?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Ken B,

      This is pretty good, but it’s not quite as strong as my actual position. It’s not merely that I’ve talked with other honest Christians who believe it. Rather, I’ve talked with honest Christians who, say, have gone to Princeton to get PhDs in medieval Church history, or to lesser-known schools and have studied this stuff at a very advanced level. That’s why I was saying it would be like the rank-and-file Austro-libertarian listening to Bob Higgs talk about WW2 GDP stats and then get thrown into a debate with a Keynesian.

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