Tag Archives: christianity

Reason this

My excitement over next week’s Reason Rally continues to grow, particularly over the recent news that members of the Westboro Baptist Church will be attending.  As you may not be aware, this is the Christian group famous for picketing the funerals of dearly departed kittens and puppies, usefully informing the world at such events that God hates America, fags, and polyester.

So why am I in such a tizzy? Because other Christian groups besides Westboro plan to attend the rally too.

Curiously, all these Christian visitors have upset some within the atheist/skeptical community.  But where they see only downsides, I see golden opportunity!

You see, Christians disagree with the declaration that atheism is reasonable, and they’re coming to argue it is Christianity that’s reasonable.  I’ve noted before that such a position contradicts their own scriptures, not to mention the teachings of their major theologians.  Nevertheless, I propose we take them at their word and provide them the chance to demonstrate the rationality of their beliefs – demonstrate, that is, to their fellow Christians!

The elephant in the Christian church is its thousands of sects, many of whom hold long-standing, diametrically opposed beliefs which all cannot be true.  Such a situation seems inexplicable for an allegedly reasonable religion like Christianity.  After all, other, far younger enterprises that are based on reason and evidence – science is a good example – for the most part lack this splintering.  So, the Reason Rally is in reality a fantastic opportunity for these Christians to resolve their differences in polite, meaningful, and reasonable exchange.    Does God really hate gays?  Is America irrevocably doomed to damnation?  Will my wearing a cotton shirt, wool shorts, and a silk tie offend the Almighty? I’m sure such contentions questions will be reasonably settled by reasonable Christians who, after all, worship the God of Reason.

The stakes are high.  Christians certainly don’t want to ward off potential converts with contradictory messages.  Besides, does not the Bible warn of other gospels that put us under God’s curse if we were to be misled by them? Dispelling false Christian doctrine once and for all would pay huge dividends in souls saved.  Finally, billions speaking in a unified voice would set Christianity apart from its squabbling cousins and provide powerful evidence of its veracity.

Let the first test of Christianity’s reasonableness be whether it can convince its own adherents to shed incorrect gospels and unite behind a single doctrine.  This achievement seems trivial for a religion that’s truly reasonable, one headed by a deity who is supposedly no author of confusion.

In search of greener grass?

Interrupting my irregularly scheduled apatheism, I bring you the following irony…

A video gone viral recently among the Christian blogosphere argues that religion should be shunned.

A video gone viral recently among the atheist blogosphere argues that religion should be emulated.

Well, perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but you have to appreciate the surprising switcheroo.

If you’re going to watch just one video, I recommend the second.  Its point is that religion provides us –  atheists included – many of the things we need to prosper – things such as a moral framework, and community.  Even as societies abandon religion, the needs it fulfills remain.  The question the video answers is how best to do that, and with what.  Its title is apt: Atheism 2.0.

I found the first video interesting from the perspective of a student of the religious phenomenon.  It explicitly agrees with many of the critiques of religion made by the so-called new atheists, which suggests a significant influence even among believers.  But it takes the bold tact of attempting to divorce Christianity from religion by redefining the former.  Historically and theologically, I find that a daunting and problematic – if not predictable – task.  Christianity 259,761.0.

So what’s this about apatheism?

Increasingly, I feel that arguing over the existence of god is like arguing over the existence of the Tooth Fairy.  The arguments for such a being or beings just seem silly to me, and become more flabbergasting when they involve the claims of particular religions.  If you’re a believer unable to relate, consider your stance vis-à-vis Scientology.  The question of its truth is something you likely find patently absurd, hardly worth sparing a moment of your time for.  This is how I presently feel about the god question.

Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy identifying incoherencies in religious belief.  I’ve lately been thinking about faith; in particular, how a religious believer can justify it for themself, but dismiss it of others.  Hopefully, a blog post with some scattered thoughts will see the light of day soon.

16:9-20 & 666 – numbers that debunk the Bible

Dr. Richard Carrier recently published a comprehensive article on Mark 16:9-20.  If you’re not aware, these final verses in Mark are unquestionably a later interpolation, i.e., falsification or forgery.  This is a pretty devastating verdict on the Bible’s own claim of divine inspiration.

Some Christians, no doubt, will reject this verdict, so allow me to present an even more devastating proof.  If you tally up the number of verses in Mark, less the interpolation, what do you get? 666!  That number, of course, is the Mark of the Beast (no pun intended), aka, Satan!  Satan has provided an unmistakable sign of his influence on the New Testament!  Muslims were right all along; the Bible is corrupted, and not just be its authors, but by the Lord of the Underworld himself.

This second “proof” is made completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, but there are many Christians who take great stock in biblical numbers.  Christian end-times prophecy is particularly indebted to creative numerological exegesis, yet Mark’s verse count is certainly as clear-cut, if not more so, than anything they’ve come up with.  Will they thus renounce the Bible?  Don’t hold your breath.

Nonetheless, whether it’s damning evidence or evidence of damnation, many Christians will shrug their shoulders and ask, “So what?”  Inerrancy is of no great concern to them, and I gotta say, that confuses me a lot.  If the creator of the universe’s main way of getting you to know him was through a book – which by itself is fraught with problems – you’d think he’d take great care to ensure its integrity.  That he didn’t is a huge gimme point for Bible skepticism.  It opens the door to legitimate doubt about any Biblical claim.  Or, as one apologist website put it even more starkly:

The issue is not simply “Does the Bible have a mistake?” but “Can God make a mistake?” If the Bible contains factual errors, then God is not omniscient and is capable of making errors Himself. If the Bible contains misinformation, then God is not truthful but is instead a liar. If the Bible contains contradictions, then God is the author of confusion. In other words, if biblical inerrancy is not true, then God is not God.

Any Christian who denies inerrancy care to refute such logic? (Bonus question: What is your method for delineating between errant and inerrant scripture?)

The Holy Spirit is worse than useless

Something that completely vexes the Christian believer is why non-Christians are not at all convinced by their testimony of the witness of the Holy Spirit, the aspect of God which is said to confirm the truth (1 John 5:6, John 14:17).  The short answer is that this alleged being appears everywhere, “confirming” indisputably contradictory theology.  It visits Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – as well as Catholics, Orthodox, Quakers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists.  And now, it’s making an appearance among preachers of the prosperity gospel too!  Consider the following testimony from a congregant of Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, yes that Eddie Long, the homophobe who was recently accused of sexual dalliances with several young men, and, perhaps less well-known, one of six Christian preachers whose finances were investigated by Congress a few years back.

“I’ve been going [to New Birth] for 10 years, and I’ve never felt God’s presence the way I feel it here,” says Ms. Katrina Maben. “My life has changed since I came here.”

What I’d like to do here is examine the implications of Ms. Maben’s sentiment, and why hers and similar tales fail to impress the skeptic.  Further, the problem I uncover should lead believers to always doubt their own “inner witness”.

Ms. Maben’s claim, assuming she’s sincere, presents us with three scenarios:

1)      Her feeling is authentic and the Christian god really is confirming the truth of the message she’s hearing.

2)      Her feeling derives from some other agency that seeks to fraudulently mislead her.

3)      Her feeling is a self-created delusion.

While most people, including Christians themselves, would probably agree with number 3 (or even perhaps 2), we’re compelled to consider the first scenario.  If it’s objectively true, the implications are pretty devastating for all other Christians, for it means their “inner witness” feeling for the gospel they believe in is either fraudulent or delusional.  But how would these Christians know?

What if scenarios 2 and 3 are objectively true?  Well, as above, how would Ms. Maben know it is she who is being misled or deluded?  She feels what she understands as the Holy Spirit and understandably concludes God endorses the message (not to mention the messenger…).  Some may think they can reason Ms. Maben out of her error by pointing out this or that scripture, but ironically Christian apologists have given her the ammunition to defeat such entreaties:

“the testimony of the Holy Spirit trumps all other evidence.”

“the witness, or testimony, of the Holy Spirit is its own proof; it is unmistakable; it does not need other proofs to back it up; it is self-evident and attests to its own truth.”

In other words, no argument or evidence is superior to what the believer regards as a confirmation by the Holy Spirit; the feeling alone is sufficient to establish the truth.  Absent begging the question, on what grounds can Christians deny the authenticity of Ms. Maben’s witness, or prove their own?  As far as I can see, none whatsoever. 

The central conundrum, inherent in our three scenarios above, is that the feeling of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – as a completely subjective experience, but one held to be authoritative – offers no means for authentication. It is indistinguishable from that of a fraudulent or delusional feeling.  Consequently, even if there is a single Truth, it will constantly be obscured by error, which will compound itself as error begets error begets error ad nauseum.  This partly explains the permanent mutation of the Christian religion (or any religion for that matter which propounds such feelings as evidence of its truth).  Therefore, the method the Christian god is alleged to impart truth among his followers is not simply ineffective but detrimental. 

Further, in the face of sincerely held claims of an inner witness by others with beliefs contradictory to his own, the Christian believer must always have some doubt as to whether her own witness isn’t counterfeit.  In fact, given the thousands of Christian sects in existence, the Christian must regard it very possible, if not probable, such witness is counterfeit.

For the skeptical outsider, it’s all quite simple.  The believer makes the claim that the truth value of their religion is validated by a unique personal feeling (e.g., “inner witness”, “burning bosom”, etc.).  We see, however, that this personal feeling is common among believers who maintain contradictory doctrines.  Therefore, since the claim leads to arbitrary results, the skeptic is within her epistemological rights to reject it.

What the Christian god, if he exists, needs to do is provide the equivalent of a scientific method with which truth can become manifest and all error-filled doctrines become disproved.  An omniscient being who desires unity would have created a superior means to authenticate truth.  The fact that this omnipotent being’s signal is impossible to distinguish from the noise is justifiably regarded as evidence against his existence.

Atheists/agnostics know more about Christianity than Christians do

The revelation that atheists and agnostics are the groups most knowledgeable about major world religions has, unsurprisingly, gone viral among atheist blogs and sites.  One interesting tidbit that seems to have been lost, however, is that they’re even more knowledgeable about the Bible and Christianity than Christians, as an aggregate, are.  If you don’t consider Mormoms as Christians, as many Christians don’t, then the knowledge gap is even larger, since Mormons top everyone, and thus skew the results in Christians’ favor.

Atheists are generally not surprised by the news, as we’ve been saying for a long time that the Bible, taken as a whole, is a powerful tool against Christianity.  To maintain faith, it has to be sanitized, processed, and effectively censored for the believing masses.  How many Christians are aware, for example, that the Bible says their god tortured and eventually killed an innocent newborn for the sins of its father?  And this is simply one barbarism among dozens of others.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, summed it up nicely:  “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people.  Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.”

The Pope is a Pious Fraudster

Or he’s insane.  But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Speaking in Great Britain yesterday during his trip funded at the expense of the English taxpayer, Benedict characterized Nazi tyranny as “atheist extremism”.  Coming from a man who once said that condoms increase the risk of contracting AIDs, which was simply one more lie among a long string, this gross distortion of history shouldn’t shock anyone.  Who said, “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out…We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion”?  Yep, you guessed it, that notorious author of “atheist extremism” himself, Adolf Hitler.

What’s behind Benedict’s misinformation campaign is not hard to discern.  The land the Catholic Church once practically ruled for so long has become increasingly denuded of followers.  Churches stand empty.  Fewer and fewer enter the priesthood.  For the most part, a sweeping secularization can take credit.  This is especially troubling to the Vatican because it can expect far less deference when its criminal activities come to light.  The aggressive police raid on Catholic churches in Belgium a few months back is likely just a taste of things to come.  Severely down in the polls, Benedict is doing what any other Machiavellian politician would do in a similar situation: sling mud, dissemble, and lie.

The sweet irony of the Pope’s fraud is that it’ll only hasten the very process he and his henchmen rail against.  I say this in full seriousness: the Pope is a godsend to secularists everywhere (and, well, pretty much anyone else who abhors the Catholic Church, which includes a sizable number of fellow Christians too).  It’s not simply his knack for offending anyone and everyone, but the clear fact he’s woefully inadequate to face the mounting challenges confronting his faith.  It’s hard to differentiate the actions this Pope and his lackeys have taken from those of someone who would actively sabotage it:

Claim the mantle of victimhood while your criminal activities are exposed – Check

Hide behind dubious grants of sovereignty – Check

Blame your troubles on invisible nefarious forces – Check

Insult the very hosts who are paying for your jaunt to their country – Check

The cumulative effect of all this just confirms one of the bylines of the so-called new atheism: religion poisons everything.  In a time when the entire edifice of faith has come under increasing scrutiny, thanks in no small part to the Four Horsemen, the last thing religion needs is a prominent liar for Jesus.  A few decades ago, the damage might have been mostly confined to within Catholicism, but I think people are beginning to agree with us skeptics that the mendacity is the inevitable product of minds beholden to magic and faith, minds which largely dwell within a “demon-haunted world”.

I wish the Pope a long life to continue his crusade.

Return God to the classroom!

Johann Hari tells us that Britain is now “the most irreligious country on earth…[having] shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else.”  He attributes religion’s – by which he means Christianity’s –  decline to “a free marketplace of ideas” that has debunked religion’s claims as rationally baseless.

Good stuff so far, but Hari strongly laments the remaining special privileges afforded Christianity in that country, such as the law requiring every school in Britain to make its pupils daily engage in “an act of collective worship of a wholly or mainly Christian nature” and the set-aside in the unelected House of Lords for 26 bishops.

So, let me get this straight.  Britain has struck on the most successful model to date for reducing religious national incidence and Hari is complaining?

To be fair, Hari is responding to British Christian cries of “Christophobia” and bullying.  How strange that is when Christianity retains such an elevated status, is Hari’s point.  I don’t mean to suggest it isn’t sound, because he’s spot on, just that, Hari may be missing the forest for the trees.  He’d no doubt say British Christianity has declined despite its privilege, but, perhaps with tongue in cheek, cannot one make a reasonable case for the opposite?  Namely, that the decline is because of the privilege?  After all, the same “free marketplace of ideas” reigns in the U.S., perhaps even more so, and yet it has not matched Britain’s secularizing experience.

I’m still a committed secularist, but Britain’s quixotic and ironic results remain intriguing…

Blame, where blame is due

A shocking and sad video of a baby drowned to death from a baptism is rapidly making the rounds on the internet, particularly within the atheosphere.  My first reaction was to post a series of ways Christians would no doubt minimize the tragedy (e.g., “The baby’s got a free ticket to heaven”), but after further consideration, I thought better of it.  After all, there are vanishingly few baptisms that result in death, at least as far as I can determine.  The priest was simply criminally negligent, no different than the criminally negligent in hundreds of other non-religious fields.

Believers deserve approbation for many things, but I submit it should be based on their actions as directly derived from their faith-based doctrines that consistently result in harm—such as the withholding of medical care in favor of “prayer and anointing”.  Anyone, believer and skeptic alike, can make a tragic mistake.

A Christian makes the case for separation of church and state

Members of a society’s dominant religion often think it perfectly natural that faith and politics should overlap. Here in America, for example, Christians whip themselves into a frenzy whenever the privileged status of their religion is taken down a notch, such as when the National Day of Prayer was recently ruled unconstitutional.  To the long-standing principle of “separation of church and state,” many of them they say pffft!  Removing God and His laws from the public sphere inevitably leads to rampant immorality and invites His wrath.  This is a Christian nation, by gum!

It’s unfortunate so many are ignorant of the rationale behind the Establishment Clause of our constitution.  Efforts to circumscribe or role back Christianity’s encroachment on the public sphere are instead interpreted as a commie-liberal-socialist-nazi-atheist-NWO plot to destroy it.

The site Religion Dispatches today runs the perfect rejoinder to these loons.  Not only does it compellingly make the case for separation of church and state, it does so by recalling just why the Founders regarded it as so critically important for the protection of believers themselves:

For the historically minded among us, the reasons for not bringing our spiritual authority into political campaigns are blood red. For nearly 2,000 years our faith fore-fathers were persecuted and oppressed, not always by the irreligious, but more often by competing tribes within Christianity. Clerics would jockey for favor in the kingdoms of men, then use any clout gained to suppress the views of their theological enemies.

Over and again we stamped out those who did not fit into our au courant idea of orthodoxy and we entrenched ourselves into division, using the steel of our ruler’s swords to proclaim our theological certainty. Christians have killed and tortured more of their own than any other group in history, and this was possible solely because of the unholy union of church and state. Pastors gave rulers their blessing, and rulers returned the favor by silencing the pastor’s critics, a fantastic deal for the pastor who courts the powers, but a dangerous and painful reality for those who do not.

Best of all, the article is not authored by one of the usual suspects but by a Christian believer and alumni of Liberty University (RD calls him a “conservative Christian,” a label I cannot confirm), which makes him a tad more difficult to dismiss.  My only quibble with the piece is that it could reinforce the point by citing examples of American intra-Christian killing, thus proving how readily “blood red” history can repeat itself even here.

It’s sad to think such an outstanding article from an unimpeachable source will likely have no impact on the views of the Christian theocrats, for in my experience they’ve largely immunized themselves against reason and sound argument.  I would not have them be reminded – the hard way – why they tread a dangerous path.

Debating Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ

More than blogging, I enjoy a good online discussion, which I’ve continuously engaged in since the days when Usenet was pretty much the only game in town for that sort of thing.  In fact, I probably post more on other peoples’ blogs than I do my own, simply for the debate.

A couple months ago, I came across a Christian, Ron, who apparently found Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ so undeniably compelling, he decided to give it a fuller airing on his blog. Unusual for a Christian, however, Ron practically invited skeptical responses to his posts.

A little background: Lee Strobel is very popular among some Christians who are not entirely comfortable taking their religion’s claims wholly on faith.  His books, which have sold very well, provide a seemingly solid rational defense of Christianity.  Skeptics and freethinkers, acknowledging this popularity, have reviewed Strobel’s works and have come away…less than impressed.  Their main criticism is that, while Strobel strives to position himself as a skeptic by posing questions to experts a skeptic would allegedly ask, the fact of the matter is, Strobel is an unabashed advocate who’s presenting his case on its best possible terms.  This is crystal clear by the soft-ball questions he asks – and doesn’t ask – but also by the “experts” Strobel interviews, who almost without exception share the exact same beliefs he does.  An excellent recent demolishing of an example of the Strobel façade was recently concluded by Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism.

I don’t think Christians are aware of how poorly Strobel’s works are viewed by outsiders.  They’re often recommended to us by Christians who cannot see the works’ inherent fallacies and obvious bias.  Demonstrating this to Ron, it seemed to me, would be a worthwhile pursuit.

Although for various reasons it’s taken Ron a little longer to respond than he intended, he’s finally posted a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to my first set of brief objections to The Case for Christ. Because Ron has obviously put in a significant amount of time and effort into his rebuttal, I think it only proper I respond in kind.  My conclusion is that Ron doesn’t significantly refute or materially address my objections.  He’s also mistaken on more than a few matters, as I will show.

My first objection was to note that the omission of full disclosure about Strobel’s first expert, Dr. Blomberg.  I regarded this as important information in assessing Blomberg’s credibility.  For instance, say someone recommends you buy a new product.  Very well, lots of people – from friends to strangers – do this.  But then you discover this person is a paid salesman for the product’s manufacturer.  This information will naturally cause you to treat that person’s recommendation with heightened skepticism.  You know that person has special motives, in this case, a financial interest, in you following their advice.  Further, you highly suspect that person will give you only the most positive information about the product and not any negative.  This is why full disclosure is so important.

I noted to Ron that Dr. Blomberg is an evangelical Christian (as is Strobel), and this should have been mentioned.  Why?  Because evangelicals stress “conversionism” and “activism”, according to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.  Essentially, they’re Christianity’s aggressive salesmen.

Ron dismisses this objection on the following grounds (summarized):

1)      It’s irrelevant

2)      Everyone has an agenda

By raising this objection, Ron accuses me of committing the fallacy of “Circumstantial Ad Hominem”.

Referencing that last link will show why Ron’s rebuttal is invalid.  To be a true fallacy, I would have to dismiss Dr. Blomberg’s claims based on his background, but this is not something I ever did.  Instead, I merely noted that he’s not a neutral expert, but “one who’s trying to put the best possible spin on the  evidence, by both highlighting certain things, and also not disclosing other things.”  As the nikzor.org citation states:

There are times when it is prudent to suspicious of a person’s claims, such as when it is evident that the claims are being biased by the person’s interests.

And this is precisely the basis for why I object to the failure to disclose all of Dr. Blomberg’s background.  He has a personal commitment in getting you to believe what he believes, and therefore we should greet his claims with some suspicion.

Moving along, I charge that Strobel is either ignorant of New Testament (NT) gospel problems, or does not raise them because he’s an evangelical, primarily due to the failure to raise the synoptic problem.  To the second charge, Ron repeats the accusation that I’m committing the fallacy of circumstantial ad hominem. I already dealt with this accusation, showing that it misunderstands what the fallacy actually is.  As to the first charge, Ron dismisses it as “just a baseless personal attack”.

Why is the failure to address, let alone discuss, the synoptic problem significant?  Because Strobel and Blomberg attempt to bolster the credibility of the gospels by claiming they’re based on eyewitness testimony.  Yet, if eyewitnesses actually wrote the gospels, then why do the synoptic gospels “share a great number of parallel accounts and parables, arranged in mostly the same order, and told with many of the same words”? (emphasis mine)  This is extremely strange – inexplicable, in fact — if they’re truly independent, eyewitness accounts as Blomberg and Strobel would have us believe.

Curiously, Ron includes a lengthy, meandering discussion of the synoptic problem—not so much what it actually is, mind you, but over whether the synoptic problem is a problem in and of itself.  That Ron felt the need to discuss the topic in depth, of course, only demonstrates just how important the question is, thus supporting my point that to exclude it bespeaks an agenda, not scholarship.  Perhaps Ron didn’t read carefully all of what he posted, but the conclusion of his discussion practically proves this.  As he quotes from a Christian scholar:

The issue is not a matter of believing or not believing the Bible; it is a matter of believing, and then seeking to understand as best we can that which we believe (“faith seeking understanding”).

In other words, don’t follow the evidence to arrive at a belief, but believe first, and then find the evidence to support your belief.  This, I submit, is the real purpose of The Case for Christ: to provide that “understanding,” no matter how flimsy or biased, to bolster a pre-existing belief.

Next up, I noted a rare, critical concession by Blomberg.  As he admits, “strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”

Perhaps after his long discourse on the synoptic problem, it was getting late and Ron wasn’t thinking clearly, because he replies, “While it is true the gospels are strictly speaking anonymous, it does not logically follow we do not know who wrote them.”

Sorry, but not knowing who wrote something is the very definition of anonymous.  He cites another source explaining how we would know, say, the Gospel According to Matthew was in fact written by Matthew (Levi).  But if true, that would no longer make the gospel anonymous, would it?  Thus, Ron’s own authorities are in disagreement.

Continuing on the subject of authorship, I’m not impressed with Blomberg’s claim that there was “unanimous testimony” in the early church that the gospels were written by their putative authors.  The question of authorship didn’t arise until well into the second century (long after their real authors were dead), and when it did, just how the church fathers ascribed authorship shows how much it was based on guesswork and conjecture.  Perhaps Ron overlooked it, but on his own blog, in a reply to someone who challenged my objection, I linked to an article by Dr. Richard Carrier titled “Ignatian Vexation” showing how truly muddled the question of authorship and dating of the gospels actually is.  Blomberg actually weakens his argument by noting the uncertainty over the authorship of John, but falls back on the “unanimous testimony” defense.  What he doesn’t mention – and Strobel fails to follow-up on – is that this uncertainty is a result of historical critical scholarship of the NT conducted over the past couple centuries.  Clearly, then, the early church was more interested in attaching names to works than finding out just who its authors were.

To my point that, even if assuming the gospels were written by their putative authors, Mark and Luke are not eyewitnesses, and so their gospels would in truth be hearsay, Ron concedes.  But he says I imply by this that “second hand information or hearsay should not be admitted to the conversation or is not worthy of belief”.

Not really. My real point is to undercut the whole notion that the gospels are “eyewitness evidence,” which is the chapter heading in Strobel’s book.  Second, I mention it to attack their credibility, that we should treat their claims with greater suspicion.  After all, they were not at the scene of the events they described.  They relied on someone else’s recollections, which, in the case of the gospels, were finally written down many decades later (can you remember with any specificity a conversation you had last month, must less 40 years ago?).  This hardly makes for accurate history.  And then there are the problems with poor copying, redaction, embellishing and so forth, which we have indisputable proof occurred over many centuries. For a riveting elaboration of this subject, I highly recommend the Evans/Ehrman debate on whether the New Testament misquotes Jesus.

I realize Ron is simply repeating an old Christian chestnut when he references the ancient documents rule in support of gospel reliability.  This rule, which modern NT scholars, even Christian ones, no longer reference, holds that if a document is “at least twenty years old; in a condition that makes it free from suspicion concerning its authenticity; and found in a place where such a writing was likely to be kept,” it is deemed authentic.  Only the first condition applies to the gospels.  There is no single document of any of the gospels.  The earliest versions of the gospels are fragments.  These fragments are copies, of copies, of copies, etc., of the originals.  And finally, the originals don’t exist.  In other words, the ancient documents rule cannot possibly apply to the gospels.

On the topic of dating, I fault Case for glossing over just how unsettled the subject is among scholars, and reference the site earlychristianwritings.com for a more balanced discussion.  Ron, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree, but then launches into an attack on this website.  For example, he says that some documents are dated to 30 AD, which “can not possibly be correct” because 33 AD is the actual year of Jesus’ death.  Also, some of the documents are “not Christian at all” but heresy.

I mention these objections because they show critical gaps in Ron’s understanding of some basic history.  The reason for the 30 AD date is because NT scholars cannot precisely pin down the year of Jesus’ death, due to an irreconcilable dispute between the gospels of Matthew and Luke over just when Jesus was born.  This comes out in Case (pg. 42), where Blomberg says, “If Jesus was put to death in A.D. 30 or 33…”  Also, it’s indisputable that early Christians were utilizing a wide variety of gospels and other writings that didn’t make it into the canon.  Calling them “heresy” is an ad hoc charge from the perspective of the victorious Christian sect which had eliminated all its rivals after many centuries.  See Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities for more.

Ron doesn’t like that I called the mention of “hostile witnesses” in the discussion about gospels dating a red herring.  First, Ron says Blomberg actually stated “hostile eyewitnesses”.  True, he does, but “hostile witnesses” is the phrase that Ron used in his original post.  No biggy.  To the meat of my objection.  Inclusion of hostile eyewitnesses in the subject of gospels dating is irrelevant because there’s no evidence provided such eyewitnesses existed.  It’s also irrelevant because the presumed existence of hostile eyewitnesses is germane to the topic of gospels accuracy, not dating.  Blomberg and Strobel would likely answer there’s no record of hostile eyewitnesses because the gospels were accurate; thus, such witnesses would have nothing to write about, presumably having verified the accuracy of gospel “facts” ( then wouldn’t they have written that too?).  But I have a better explanation: history doesn’t record any hostile eyewitnesses because no one cared about such a tiny religious sect, among the thousands of others existing in that part of the world.

Ron replies that of course some cared: local Jewish authorities opposed Christianity from the beginning; within 30 years of Jesus’ death the Romans were persecuting it, putting to death Peter and Paul.

Putting aside the accuracy of these claims, Ron is sidestepping the issue.  Our discussion is about gospel accuracy.  When I say no one cared, I mean, no one cared about the veracity of a tiny religious sect’s theological claims.  Political and religious authorities of course would care if citizens went around spreading “heresy” or undermining the official religion—which was the basis for Christian persecution.

Someone else who didn’t seem to care much about gospels “facts” is, ironically enough, the Apostle Paul himself.  Nothing in his epistles references any of Jesus’ supposed sayings, miracles, travels, parables, key sermons, prophecies, exorcisms, his divine birth, or even the location of his crucifixion and resurrection!  Ron, argues that this objection is a fallacious argument from silence, since Paul’s silence is taken as evidence of his ignorance.  What Ron doesn’t realize, however, is that the argument from silence is valid when two conditions are met: “the writer[s] whose silence is invoked in proof of the non-reality of an alleged fact, would certainly have known about it had it been a fact; [and] knowing it, he would under the circumstances certainly have made mention of it. When these two conditions are fulfilled, the argument from silence proves its point with moral certainty.” (Gilbert Garraghan, A Guide to Historical Method, pg. 149).  To use one of Ron’s own examples to show the many instances in which these conditions were met, when the Thessalonians inquired of Paul as to the timing of Christ’s return, it was not for wont of Jesus’ own predictions on the question that Paul cited none of them (cf. Mark 13:24-31, Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27).  How better to reassure the Thessalonians than to harken back to the words of the Son of Man himself?  Earl J. Doherty has compiled a list of 20 compelling silences which provide even further validity to this argument from silence.

A favorite Christian apologetic is to claim there wasn’t enough time for legendary development to occur from the time of Jesus’ death to the writing of the gospels, thus supporting their historical authenticity.  I objected that’s bunk, because history records other indisputable examples of legendary development which occurred even faster.  Ron chides me for providing no such examples, and true enough, I didn’t — at the time I wrote that.  But in a follow-up post on his own blog, before Ron crafted his lengthy reply, I did provide such examples:

Alexander the Great – Within 30 years after his death, “remarkable” legends appeared.

Sabbatai Sevi – A “dizzying whirl” of legends appeared in the very first year of his seventeenth century messianic movement.

The Angel of Mons – WWI legend developed over a period of just months.

These are a few examples of mythical growth from the book Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened Inside the Black Box?

I’m not at all clear about Ron’s point in his mention of verses from the Pauline epistles 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Colossians.  It’s not my contention that Christianity emerged from a completely blank slate, nor is it my view that theology requires legendary development.  Yes, some things mentioned in the gospels are also mentioned in the epistles.  So what?

Ron seems not to appreciate my point about how much the NT authors relied on the Old Testament (OT), for he merely replies that they cited it insofar as to show how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.  No, no, no.  It goes much deeper than that.  There is so much of Jesus’ “life” that has an  OT parallel or reference that some scholars, such as Robert M. Price, wonder whether any of it is authentic at all (see esp. his book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man).

I thank Ron for taking such effort to advance the debate and answer criticisms.  I’ll continue to post objections to Case on his blog and defend my views here.