Evidence against Christianity: Sources

I want to take it a little slow while we wait for more comments and criticisms about the basic premises. But there’s no reason we can’t go ahead and start, so let’s begin by looking at the distinctive differences between the implicit consequences of the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis, as they relate to what sources we have available to work with to even approach this issue.

According to the Myth hypothesis, God does not exist, and all existing beliefs about Him are rooted in the psychosocial workings of the men, women and children who believe in Him. This has some fairly obvious and distinctive implications regarding what we can turn to as sources of information about Him. For starters, since God does not exist (according to this hypothesis), we would not expect to be able to use God Himself as a source of information. Neither by direct observation nor by personal conversation with Him are we going to be able to acquire any information about Who He is, what He is like, what He wants, or any other theological topic.

Our only available sources of information are going to be human factors: the things people say and think and feel about God. They will be able to share stories about God, and even to pass on rumors and traditions about people who claim to have some sort of special basis for knowing about God. But since God would not exist in the real world to serve as the source of these stories, or as an objective standard against which to measure the reliability of these stories, we would expect these stories to have some distinctive characteristics. We’ll discuss those distinctives later on, but for now let’s just observe that the Myth hypothesis implies some definite and specific consequences about the exclusively human nature of our sources for theological information.

According to the Gospel hypothesis, meanwhile, God is real, and powerful, and both willing and able to serve as an objective and reliable source of information about Himself and other topics theological. We would expect, therefore, to have access to objectively verifiable information about God, sufficient to resolve debates and provide a common and converging basis of understanding, much as scientific studies tend to draw scientists together as they approach a common understanding of the real world. People will, of course, share in this information source, and will be able to serve as secondary sources of information about God, by relaying information obtained directly from the original source. But the primary and authoritative source of information about God would be God Himself.

These two hypotheses offer strikingly different outcomes, based on what we should reasonably expect as the consequences of each set of premises. From the Myth hypothesis, we should expect consequences that reflect the influence of human nature on the only available sources of information about God. We should expect to see theology manifest itself not so much as an exercise in observation and documentation, but as a diverse and diversifying body of lore that reflects the charisma and personalities of individual leaders and scholars, as they try to make a persuasive case for the way they think the truth about God ought to be. We should expect to see conflicts within and without, stories and ideas being co-opted and repurposed, and occasionally taken in an entirely new direction by particularly influential thinkers.

In short, if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to see our sources reflecting the very human weaknesses and social/political undercurrents of their human originators. But if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to see theology behaving a lot more like science. In fact, if God actually exists, and is willing and able to serve as the primary source of information about Himself, then theology ought to be a part of science, and ought to work as objectively and verifiably as any other scientific branch of inquiry. If the Gospel is correct, then we ought to be able to verify the truth about God without the necessity for gullible trust in the words of men; but if the Myth is correct, then we will have no alternative, no way to learn anything about the Christian God without simply taking Christian’s word for it.

Let’s check our premises. If the Myth is true, then God’s non-existence is going to impose precisely the limitations we’ve described, since He can’t give us any information if He does not exist to give it. The only way for Christianity to survive as a religion is if people keep it going by their own efforts, imaginations and superstitions. If the Gospel is true, on the other hand, then we ought to see human testimony as only a secondary source of information about God, because God is willing and able to serve as the primary source. Otherwise, if God is not willing (or not able) to serve as a source of information about Himself, then where did Christians get their information in the first place?

We can postulate a God Who is unwilling and/or unable to serve as a primary source of information about Himself, but this would be a post hoc rationalization—an attempt to reconcile the Gospel premise with the observed fact that our available sources of information are only those predicted by the Myth. We have no reason to make an a priori assumption that a God Who loved us enough to die for us, and Who was willing and able to carry out this wish, would need or want to refuse to allow us access to Himself as our primary source. Our first-order estimation, then, ought to be that the Gospel hypothesis implies the availability of God as a primary source.

Now, what is the evidence that we find in the real world? What sources of information do people have about God? Suppose some atheist found a magic lamp, rubbed it, and got one wish: that overnight, all knowledge, record, and indication of the Christian faith suddenly became as though it had never been. Is there anything in the real world that would allow us to learn once again what the doctrines of Christianity once were? If the Gospel hypothesis were true then the answer ought to be yes; if the Myth hypothesis were true, we ought to find that the answer is no.

And what we find, so far, is that the answer is no. We have the stories told by men about God. We have a Book that men wrote down about God, in which they claim to speak on God’s behalf. We have other men who voted on that Book and decided to call it the Word of God. But we have no way, objectively, to verify whether what men say about that Book is true. There is no primary source, other than the words of men, against which we can measure the Bible to determine how correctly, if at all, it presents its information about God.

We can pray about the Book, and ask God to confirm for us in our hearts whether it’s His word or not. But what are we doing? We’re trusting in our fallible human hearts to tell us what God’s answer is. Like the Bible, that’s yet another human source. We can pray for signs, as long as we don’t ask for anything that would constitute “testing” God (which turns out to be pretty much anything that doesn’t happen to result in the “right” answer), and then give God credit for having provided the answer. But again, we’d just be trusting in human superstition, another human source.

There is no objective, real-world source of information about God that we can use to verify or refute what the human information sources tell us about God. We have no choice but to rely on human sources exclusively for our theological information (even if the human source is our own mind or heart). The real-world evidence matches the consequences of the Myth hypothesis perfectly, without any need for rationalization or harmonization. The consequences of the Gospel hypothesis, by contrast, are substantially inconsistent with the real world data.

This is only the barest sliver of the evidence that is available, of course, and it raises a lot of issues that we’ll need to deal with further. From the outset, however, we ought to note that at its most fundamental level—the level of what sources we have for information about God—the Myth hypothesis describes actual, real-world consequences more accurately than the Gospel hypothesis does. The Gospel needs to be rationalized and harmonized with the facts; the Myth fits the facts right out of the box.

 
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...
Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Unapologetics. 69 Comments »

69 Responses to “Evidence against Christianity: Sources”

  1. Inkfingers Says:

    One of the most compelling metaphors you’ve used in the past is what I call the Sun Metaphor: basically, if God exists and we are to base our faith, trust, and entire lives on that fact, then we should have at LEAST as much evidence for doing so as exists for the belief that the sun exists. I’ve co-opted this metaphor in my own debates with theists, because it’s incredibly powerful and obvious. This metaphor fits beautifully with your argument above. We have many scientists who study the sun, and though they may quibble over various details of how it works, they and everyone else on the earth- every single person- must agree on at least two basic facts:

    1) The sun exists
    2) The sun is hot

    The fact that we as human beings can’t find consensus on whether or not God exists, much less the nature of God, makes for a rather pathetic case for his existence. If stellar scientists were like theologians, you’d find enormous fracturing, with some camps arguing the sun is cold, some arguing it is made of light bulbs, etc., etc.

    As for anticipating attacks on your logic: Though I agree that your Gospel Hypothesis is more or less reflective of contemporary theological thought, generations of apologists have learned how to wiggle their way out of such characterizations. A particularly skilled theologian could dismiss your arguments as straw-man burning, something I know you’re of course trying to avoid. I know you mentioned that your Gospel Hypothesis is a necessary simplification, but I encourage you to flesh it out gradually, anticipating and attacking popular apologist arguments as you go. You certainly have plenty of material after plowing your way through that debacle of a book by G&T, but I’m sure there are much more sophisticated theologians out there.

  2. 5keptical Says:

    DD:
    Great work here! You should be able to build a very strong and consistent case showing that the world is consistent with the myth hypothesis.

    However, any statement about any implication of the “loving father” aspect of the gospel hypothesis will face a barrage of “no true Scotsman” objections which apologists will use to deflect attention away from the core idea that if the christian god did exist then some consistent manifestation should be observed out in the real world.

    Offhand, I don’t see a good way around this. You have enumerate the consequences of the gospel hypothesis to show that they are not consistent with reality.

    I’ve tried to invert this approach and challenged godbots to take any statement about the tenents of christianity and show the method they would use to determine the validity of that statement (at least show that it is not false) such that anyone could use that method to arrive at the same conclusion (i.e. the equivalent of making a falsifiable hypothesis), but failed to get a response.

    The proliferation of christian sects supports the notion that no such method exists.

  3. Facilis Says:

    This doesn’t seem very clear to me
    1)Please define what you mean by “primary source”. When I am reading your blog posts is it a primary source? What if you ad typed it up and given it to someone else to post? Is it still primary?
    2) “But if the Gospel hypothesis were true, we ought to see theology behaving a lot more like science.”
    but doesn’t science “[have] conflicts within and without, stories and ideas being co-opted and repurposed, and occasionally taken in an entirely new direction by particularly influential thinkers.”
    Don’t you remember any influential thinkers who took science in a new direction or scientific theories being co-opted abandoned and refined?
    3)How does this fit with the bible? The bible clearly shows us that God uses the messages of his prophets and disciples to spred his word and gospel.
    Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
    I see many verses where God sends people to spread the gospel but I don’t know of any verses where he promised us “direct access”.

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    1) By “primary source” I mean “the objectively accessible source of information with the fewest degrees of separation from the subject one seeks to learn about.” For elephants, the primary source of information would be the elephants themselves. For unicorns, the primary source of information would have to be the stories and legends people tell about unicorns, since no real unicorn exists to study first-hand.

    2) See the Parable of Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush here.

    3) Don’t worry, we’ll get to the Bible in due time. ;)

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    5keptical:

    My approach to the “straw man” rebuttal is to point out the implications of what they are actually saying. I’m proposing, as the Gospel hypothesis, a God Who loves us enough to die for our sins so that we can be together for all eternity. In order to call that a “straw man,” you have to point out what it is that I’m saying that’s not true. Does God not love us? Is He not willing to die on our behalf to save us from our sins? Is it not His goal to gather His children to Himself to fellowship in Heaven with Him forever? Are these matters insignificant and irrelevant to the Gospel? Where’s the “straw” in this so-called straw man?

    If that’s not sufficient, I can always start reading them some of the teachings of Jesus. When Christian apologists start telling people that Christ’s teachings about God are not true Christianity, there’s not much work left for me to do anyway.

  6. Jayman Says:

    Deacon Duncan:

    For starters, since God does not exist (according to this hypothesis), we would not expect to be able to use God Himself as a source of information. Neither by direct observation nor by personal conversation with Him are we going to be able to acquire any information about Who He is, what He is like, what He wants, or any other theological topic.

    If an individual is convinced that he has acquired information directly from God then, at least for this individual, the Myth hypothesis has been falsified, correct?

    We would expect, therefore, to have access to objectively verifiable information about God, sufficient to resolve debates and provide a common and converging basis of understanding, much as scientific studies tend to draw scientists together as they approach a common understanding of the real world.

    Does not the historical Jesus match this expectation? He is the objective standard and historians can converge on an understanding of him.

    Let’s check our premises. If the Myth is true, then God’s non-existence is going to impose precisely the limitations we’ve described, since He can’t give us any information if He does not exist to give it. The only way for Christianity to survive as a religion is if people keep it going by their own efforts, imaginations and superstitions.

    If a person were to convert to Christianity without speaking to any Christians and without reading any Christian literature, would this disprove the Myth hypothesis? Why or why not?

    We can postulate a God Who is unwilling and/or unable to serve as a primary source of information about Himself, but this would be a post hoc rationalization—an attempt to reconcile the Gospel premise with the observed fact that our available sources of information are only those predicted by the Myth.

    No, it would be based on reading the Bible and realizing that divine revelations are rare.

    We have no choice but to rely on human sources exclusively for our theological information (even if the human source is our own mind or heart).

    I don’t see how you can avoid relying on the human mind (even if we are not dealing with theology).

    The real-world evidence matches the consequences of the Myth hypothesis perfectly, without any need for rationalization or harmonization.

    Our discussion about miracles showed this to be wrong. The skeptic can do nothing but rationalize and harmonize accounts of miracles to fit his currently held beliefs. You said, “if we can’t come up with a better rebuttal [to an account of a miracle] than simple denial, we haven’t got a very good case.” Then in the very same post you went on to deny various aspects of my story in order to harmonize them with your beliefs. Even if we grant the Myth hypothesis is a possibility it can never be a “very good case” for it will always need to rationalize and harmonize “God experiences”.

  7. Jayman Says:

    Inkfingers, can you cite any Jewish or Christian theologian in history that believes (1) believers can never be harmed and (2) that God will physically appear to people on a regular basis? If so, are these views at all representative of Judeo-Christian traditon? If you answer no to either question, don’t you think it’s fair to say the Gospel hypothesis is a straw man?

  8. Jayman Says:

    Skeptical:

    I’ve tried to invert this approach and challenged godbots to take any statement about the tenents of christianity and show the method they would use to determine the validity of that statement (at least show that it is not false) such that anyone could use that method to arrive at the same conclusion (i.e. the equivalent of making a falsifiable hypothesis), but failed to get a response.

    As I noted in the comment to yesterday’s post, all you have to do to disprove Christianity is show that Jesus is a false prophet. The historical method should allow you to determine what he said and did. You can then judge his testimony against reality. Whether to place faith in Jesus or not would depend on whether and to what extent his testimony was judged true. Such an investigation will take a long time and one’s biases and prejudices may get in the way.

  9. Jayman Says:

    Deacon Duncan:

    Where’s the “straw” in this so-called straw man?

    1) Claiming God should physically appear and spend time with everyone

    2) Claiming Christians should never be harmed

  10. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    As I noted in the comment to yesterday’s post, all you have to do to disprove Christianity is show that Jesus is a false prophet.

    You still don’t get it. You have to make a positive statement and demonstrate a line of reasoning leading participants to agree that the implications of that statement are supported by observable facts in the real world.

    Since there are extensive disagreements even amongst devout christians about the very existence of Jesus you’ll have to try something else.

    I want you to provide me with something I can go out and test about your god that aren’t just words of some other human.

    Just telling me “Jesus existed and you can’t show me he didn’t” (proof by “I said so”) is not a statement that has real-world implications. Try again.

    Stop evading. Pick a “testimony” you think is true and let’s do the exercise! I’m sure we can come up with something we both agree would be its present day, real-world implications.

  11. 5keptical Says:

    Re: My approach to the “straw man” rebuttal

    DD:

    Don’t get wrong, your line of reasoning is good!
    I just wish you luck in getting either Jayman or Facilis (or any apologist) to commit to any statement about their god that has any specific implications. After all, god is ineffable and unknowable and mysterious!

  12. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    You still don’t get it. You have to make a positive statement and demonstrate a line of reasoning leading participants to agree that the implications of that statement are supported by observable facts in the real world.

    An historical claim about Christ would be a positive statement. For example, an historical argument for Christ’s resurrection from the dead could be found in N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

    I want you to provide me with something I can go out and test about your god that aren’t just words of some other human.

    In other words, you want to witness God directly, right? Any other scenario would rely on the words of humans, correct?

    Stop evading. Pick a “testimony” you think is true and let’s do the exercise! I’m sure we can come up with something we both agree would be its present day, real-world implications.

    I’ve already provided one. I’ve noted, contrary to DD’s Gospel hypothesis, that Christ says his followers may be persecuted and killed. Granted, you may still have to rely on the words of humans to believe this is still happening today so I’ll await your answer to the above questions.

  13. Parker Says:

    Note from the Peanut Gallery:
    This site is the best because of 1) DD’s devotion to reality and truth and 2) the ability of the subscribers/commenters (both atheist and not) to nitpick an argument and make arguments that aren’t pukefully ridiculous.
    Much obliged to spectate on this whole thing!

  14. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman evoked the distinguished scholar N.T. Wright, who written very well on the subject. I do not have his books, but I did find an interesting bit from a speech by him that seems relevant:


    Third, and last. Several first-century Jews other than Jesus held and acted upon remarkable and subversive views. Why should Jesus be any more than one of the most remarkable of them? The answer must hinge upon the resurrection. If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his implicit or explicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and regard him as its messiah. There were several other messianic or quasi-messianic movements within a hundred years on either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by the authorities or by a rival group. If your messiah is killed, naturally you conclude that he was not the messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family. (Note, however, that nobody ever said James, the brother of Jesus, was the messiah.) Such groups did not suffer from that blessed twentieth-century disease of cognitive dissonance. In particular, they did not go around saying that their messiah had been raised from the dead. I agree with Paula Fredriksen: the early Christians really did believe that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead.10 What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless I say that they were right.

    It seems very clear, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false. We have no objective evidence he did, we have very good objective evidence not one else has. But Wright sees the fact that Christians believed in the resurrection as proof it occurred. I find this rather poor proof myself, as many people have believed there Gods possessed even more powerful magical powers than resurrection. This seems a case of special pleading, that belief in the miracles of Jesus are to be given more credibility.

    N.T. Wright says something I find strange, knowing his stature as a historian:

    What is more, I cannot as a historian see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and regard him as its messiah.

    I wonder how he interprets why Mormons, Scientologists, Muslims, etc continue to follow their prophets, in light of the evidence. Is he making a distinction of messiah vs prophet?

    I wonder, do we all agree that Christianity hinges on the resurrection? That if that event is proven false (I know we can’t) that the religion becomes one of all the other religions that Christians hold to be false?

    If we agree on this point, the strength of a positive statement about Christianity as a religion does lie on the strength of the argument for the resurrection.

  15. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    An historical claim about Christ would be a positive statement. For example, an historical argument for Christ’s resurrection from the dead could be found in N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

    “Historical”? You mean hearsay or do you have independent reports of all the other graves that supposedly opened up on the same day?

    But you’re still missing the point. For example – even if we couldn’t directly observe speciation (and we can) the hypothesis of common descent has myriad of implications about what we should observe about fossils, genetics and anatomy (and we do!).

    So assume the truth of the resurrection. What does that imply about reality? Should we see very pious dead men rise from the dead? Too preposterous? Ok… um… we should be able to re-animated dead flesh after 3 days? Ok. I give up. You have a go and see if you can hypothesis about what present day reality should be like if it’s consistent with a resurrection (that isn’t also consistent with the notion that god is just a myth or isn’t just special case pleading)

    Your second example of a testament with real-world implications: “Christ says his followers may be persecuted and killed – and they were”, is a non-sequitur (besides being a statement that does not conflict with the myth hypothesis whether it is true or false). Now if you’re saying Jesus could foretell the future, does that imply that precognition is in fact possible and we should be able to find people with this ability?

    In other words, you want to witness God directly, right? Any other scenario would rely on the words of humans, correct?

    That’s a high standard! If god showed up in real life we wouldn’t need to have these discussions (thanks DD!). I want you to think about the nature of your god and say “god has/is/does X” and we can discuss the implications of that.

    If you can’t, then you’re still just saying “it’s true because I (or some other appeal to authority) said so”.

  16. R. C. Moore Says:

    5Keptical wrote:


    But you’re still missing the point. For example – even if we couldn’t directly observe speciation (and we can) the hypothesis of common descent has myriad of implications about what we should observe about fossils, genetics and anatomy (and we do!).

    I would add to this that we can also make predictions that are falsifiable, and in this case (speciation) these predictions have become objectively true.

    Christianity has failed several falsifiable predictions, which while not conclusive, do create a weakness in its claim as being “true”

  17. Jayman Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    But Wright sees the fact that Christians believed in the resurrection as proof it occurred. I find this rather poor proof myself, as many people have believed there Gods possessed even more powerful magical powers than resurrection. This seems a case of special pleading, that belief in the miracles of Jesus are to be given more credibility.

    In essence, history involves analyzing the writings of the past and providing the best theory for how those writings came into existence. Wright believes in the resurrection because it best explains the evidence that has come down to us. His conclusions are based on historical data.

    I wonder how he interprets why Mormons, Scientologists, Muslims, etc continue to follow their prophets, in light of the evidence. Is he making a distinction of messiah vs prophet?

    He most certainly is making a distinction between messiah and prophet. As he notes, other messianic movements from the time ended with the death of their messiah while Christianity did not. The historian must explain this.

    I wonder, do we all agree that Christianity hinges on the resurrection? That if that event is proven false (I know we can’t) that the religion becomes one of all the other religions that Christians hold to be false?

    I disagree that the resurrection cannot, in theory, be disproved. If the tomb was not empty and/or the disciples were not convinced they saw the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, Christianity (as we know it) would not exist.

  18. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    “Historical”? You mean hearsay or do you have independent reports of all the other graves that supposedly opened up on the same day?

    You’re trying to merge two different historical claims into one. Regarding Jesus’ resurrection, the beloved disciple provides eyewitness testimony. The rest of the NT provides historical evidence in line with the types of evidence we see for any other historical claim from antiquity. You must decide whether ancient history is a worthwhile study or not (obviously professional historians think it is). If it is, you should be able to study the historical Jesus. If it is not, be consistent and reject the findings of history that have as much or less evidence in their favor than findings pertaining to Jesus. The book I recommended on the resurrection is about 800 pages long. Obviously a detailed study of the historical Jesus is not going to happen in blog comments. However, I’ve provided an objective method (the historical method) which anyone can use to examine the “Gospel hypothesis”.

    But you’re still missing the point. For example – even if we couldn’t directly observe speciation (and we can) the hypothesis of common descent has myriad of implications about what we should observe about fossils, genetics and anatomy (and we do!).

    I see what your point is. The problem is that you’ll apparently only accept evidence that does not pass through another human being. Consider some of your own suggestions. Someone rising from the dead or foretelling the future would not be convincing unless you verified it yourself. Apparently if witnesses told you someone rose from the dead or foretold the future this would not be good enough. If this is your standard of evidence I can only recommend searching for miracles out in the real world. Nothing I write in these comments will be convincing because I’m a human being.

    That’s a high standard! If god showed up in real life we wouldn’t need to have these discussions (thanks DD!).

    Actually we still could have these discussions. I’m not sure if you were here a couple months ago, but we had a long discussion about miracles. I mentioned that I had personally experienced a miracle while DD essentially said the story did not happen the way I said it happened despite the fact he has never met me. If you set your standard of evidence high enough, you can deny anything.

    I want you to think about the nature of your god and say “god has/is/does X” and we can discuss the implications of that.

    Recall, I don’t think the implications of the “Myth hypothesis” and the “Gospel hypothesis” are as different as DD does. With that in mind, your apparent standards of evidence leave little room for discussion. You don’t seem to care for history. The more mundane implications of the Gospel hypothesis do not clearly separate it from the Myth hypothesis. The more miraculous implications of the Gospel hypothesis will be denied unless you experience those miracles yourself since investigating miracles that happened to other people will involve history and the words of humans, both of which you don’t seem to care for.

  19. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:


    Very long winded post that avoids directly answering any question and basically says “the gospel is its own proof”

    So, Jayman, are you telling me that your god has no effect on reality that is in any way measurable?

    If not, let’s start with a short positive statement – like “yes miracles still occur “, or “yes, precognition happens”. Stop hiding in the pages of the bible.

    Once you’ve actually claimed something we can then explore the implications of that claim. I don’t want to put words in your mouth or erect straw men. We won’t proceed on any implication until you agree to that implication.

  20. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman —

    We are definitely on the same page here, but I would like to expand a little:


    In essence, history involves analyzing the writings of the past and providing the best theory for how those writings came into existence. Wright believes in the resurrection because it best explains the evidence that has come down to us. His conclusions are based on historical data.

    I agree, it the context is limited to history, and the facts are determined from historical artifacts. The question is of course how one filters and weights the data.

    It is interesting that the evidence for the resurrection is the same as the evidence for the messiah saying he will return in the lifetime of the disciples. I know it has been suggested that this is not what was meant (an after the fact rationalization perhaps). But to borrow from N.T. Wright’s logic, the disciples obviously believed that the messiah would return in their lifetimes, as their actions lead to no other conclusion.

    So which do we accept, the non-falsifiable story of the resurrection, or the falsifiable (and failed) prediction of the return of the messiah? I think as a matter of faith, you stick with the resurrection. As a matter of history, you stick with the return.


    I disagree that the resurrection cannot, in theory, be disproved. If the tomb was not empty and/or the disciples were not convinced they saw the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, Christianity (as we know it) would not exist.

    By my comment on falsifiability, I meant we, in present times, cannot disprove it. I agree that at the time it could have been disproved. This is contrast to the falsifiable (and failed) claim the messiah would return, which is provable even now.

  21. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    So, Jayman, are you telling me that your god has no effect on reality that is in any way measurable?

    No, I am trying to show how fruitless our discussion will be if you only accept evidence you gather yourself and dismiss all other evidence as “hearsay”.

    If not, let’s start with a short positive statement – like “yes miracles still occur “, or “yes, precognition happens”.

    I believe miracles still occur. But how can I convince you that miracles still occur through my comments? Words of other people aren’t good enough for you so it would seem to an impossible task, correct?

  22. Jayman Says:

    R.C. Moore:

    I agree, it the context is limited to history, and the facts are determined from historical artifacts. The question is of course how one filters and weights the data.

    Filtering and weighing data is never a purely unbiased endeavor. Backing away from a specific case and coming up with an abstract methodology is helpful. What rules of thumb will give us more or less confidence in an historical claim? Once we come up with certain abstract criteria to answer this question we can apply it to specific cases. Even if we disagree on the weight to give to any specific piece of information we can usually still show how it fits a specific criterion.

    John P. Meier has a series of volumes on the historical Jesus called A Marginal Jew. One of the first things he does is lay out the sources and methods he will use. These methods could be applied to any historical claim, not just Jesus. Then he moves, story by story, through the Gospels (the main sources) showing what criteria weigh for or against the historicity of that story. Even if you disagree with how he weighs something, you can at least see what criteria are applicable and weigh things yourself.

    But to borrow from N.T. Wright’s logic, the disciples obviously believed that the messiah would return in their lifetimes, as their actions lead to no other conclusion.

    In Jesus and the Victory of God I believe he links the prophecies you have in mind to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. But he also believes Jesus will return again at the end of history. He does not give detailed reasons for how he reached these conclusions in that book. Perhaps he will go into more detail in future volumes of The New Testament and the People of God.

    So which do we accept, the non-falsifiable story of the resurrection, or the falsifiable (and failed) prediction of the return of the messiah? I think as a matter of faith, you stick with the resurrection. As a matter of history, you stick with the return.

    The historian need not choose one or the other. Jesus had opponents in his own day who thought he was a false prophet and a worker of powerful deeds.

    By my comment on falsifiability, I meant we, in present times, cannot disprove it. I agree that at the time it could have been disproved. This is contrast to the falsifiable (and failed) claim the messiah would return, which is provable even now.

    This appears to be a definition of falsifiability that is different than normal, is it not? To be clear, when I said the resurrection could be disproven, I meant that it is logically possible for this historical claim to be shown false through the historical method.

  23. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman —

    I will have to get a copy of the Marginal Jew. It sounds excellent.


    This appears to be a definition of falsifiability that is different than normal, is it not? To be clear, when I said the resurrection could be disproven, I meant that it is logically possible for this historical claim to be shown false through the historical method.

    No, I don’t think so, because the only historical logic I know of is Bayesian, and highly subjective. Regardless, my definition of falsifiability is the scientific one, based on objective data.

    There is agreement on scientific results, agreement not based upon belief. There is not agreement at all the historical evidence of the resurrection, in fact, it is only generally held to be true by those who are believers first, historians second. Excellent scholars, I am sure, but they would not last long in science.


    In Jesus and the Victory of God I believe he links the prophecies you have in mind to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD

    These are not interesting prophecies to me, as they are not divine or supernatural in nature, and require (to put it mildly) a very optimistic interpretation of biblical passages. The messianic return is the one that fascinates me: it is the only one of any real importance, it is highly specific, it was totally falsifiable, and it failed.

    This is nature of faith of course, believing in the unbelievable. But apologetics seems to put faith aside for arguments of truth. Why does it matter?

    I find this fascinating.

  24. Arthur Says:

    What rules of thumb will give us more or less confidence in an historical claim? Once we come up with certain abstract criteria to answer this question we can apply it to specific cases.

    I don’t know… I just don’t see any reason to abandon the “what is the evidence that we find in the real world?” criterion. It’s got such a track record of explanatory success. And I can’t see any incompatibility with what Wikipedia tells me “historical method” means.

    Am I really supposed to consider that leaving it out will provide us with more “confidence in an historical claim”? If we leave it in, though, shouldn’t we expect to have problems (automatically!) with stories about resurrecting the dead and that sort of thing?

    Actually, I’m not at all sure I could make my brain ignore that criterion even if I wanted it to.

  25. R. C. Moore Says:

    Arthur said:

    I don’t know… I just don’t see any reason to abandon the “what is the evidence that we find in the real world?” criterion. It’s got such a track record of explanatory success.

    Jayman talks about an “abstract methodology” for examining historical claims, and I like this idea, but maybe not in the way Jayman does. I would like an “abstract methodology” that tries to remove biases by building upwards from the objective facts we can know of, assigning them the highest probability, and then adding further facts, with perhaps lower certainty. Base the methodology of a Bayesian filter, and I think we can get somewhere.

    In the case of resurrection, the big objective fact is that no one comes back from the dead. Sort of by definition. Give that a 99.99999% probability. Then begin to add in other facts, like the Gospels, but a much lower probability. Add in the fact we know people create such stories, etc.

    The point is not the final probability which is not accurate, but the trends we can see. And hopefully we get a canceling out of human biases.

  26. R. C. Moore Says:

    One further thought — in my methodology, correct predictions count for a lot. So for those who felt the Gospels were the work of an ancient people creating myths, the prediction was that other Gospels would exist. And of course, they did, in the finding of the Gnostic Gospels. And more recently, in the finding of the Judas Gospel.

    Failed predictions count against you. So the non-return of the messiah in the predicted time frame is a big factor against historical accuracy. All the failed archaeological predictions also, like the non-existence of a contemporary Nazareth. On the plus side is the Pontius Pilate evidence.

    It all has to be weighed.

  27. Jayman Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    I will have to get a copy of the Marginal Jew. It sounds excellent.

    There are currently three volumes published with the fourth volume scheduled to be released on May 26, 2009 (according to Amazon). The Wikipedia page for Meier says there is a forthcoming volume 5 but there’s no information about it. I would guess it would be on either eschatology or the passion or both. I don’t think he’ll address the resurrection, at least in depth, because his volumes try to reach conclusions that Christians and non-Christians can agree on.

    There is not agreement at all the historical evidence of the resurrection, in fact, it is only generally held to be true by those who are believers first, historians second.

    I imagine nearly everyone who believes Jesus rose from the dead is a Christian. This does not entail that they’re a believer first and an historian second any more than the fact that nearly every non-Christian denies the resurrection entails they are unbelievers first and historians second. There are individuals who have become Christians because of studying the evidence for the resurrection.

    Excellent scholars, I am sure, but they would not last long in science.

    We could probably say scientists would not last long in history too. Most people will be less successful in a field outside of their expertise. Anyway, from time to time I do come across someone who is a scientist, historian, and biblical scholar.

    This is nature of faith of course, believing in the unbelievable. But apologetics seems to put faith aside for arguments of truth. Why does it matter?

    The Christian faith is about trust in God. It is not a blind faith but a faith based on evidence and experience. Apologetics concerns itself with the evidence and matters because it is part of the reason we have faith.

  28. Jayman Says:

    Arthur, I did not say we should abandon the evidence that we find in the real world. I said we need a good methodology to objectively (as possible) interpret that data (or evidence as you may call it). Jesus’ disciples knew people did not regularly rise from the dead. That’s why it’s called a miracle.

  29. Facilis Says:

    “I imagine nearly everyone who believes Jesus rose from the dead is a Christian. This does not entail that they’re a believer first and an historian second any more than the fact that nearly every non-Christian denies the resurrection entails they are unbelievers first and historians second.”
    I know Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish historian who accepts the resurrection on the evidence.

  30. Jayman Says:

    R.C. Moore:

    1) Historical methodology does try to build up facts and deals with probabilities.

    2) Everyone knew non-canonical gospels existed way before the find at Nag Hammadi. The Church Fathers name and describe dozens of gospels, including the Gospel of Judas. All the discovery shows is that the Church Fathers were right.

    3) If you’ve thoroughly researched first-century Jewish and Christian eschatology and are confident that Jesus predicted his return within a generation I can respect that. Even though I disagree at least you tested Jesus’ prophethood to the best of your abilities. That’s all I can ask.

    4) Regarding Nazareth, the argument from silence is rarely persuasive. In this case it isn’t even accurate. The Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on Nazareth (vol. 4, p. 1050) notes that the town has been inhabited from the 3rd century B.C. to the present day. In the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 36, one can read about cisterns, silos, and tombs form NT times. A house from NT times lies under the convent of the Dames de Nazareth. The precipice of Luke 4:29 is located on the west side of the present-day Church of the Annunciation. In Excavating Jesus, p. 69-70, we read that the tombs were like typical Jewish burial chambers.

  31. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman

    No, I am trying to show how fruitless our discussion will be if you only accept evidence you gather yourself and dismiss all other evidence as “hearsay”.

    Jayman – it’s called reason. We explore what you think your god is and the implications of that. We form a hypothesis and think about the ramifications of that hypothesis.

    So, you posit that miracles occur. That’s a start. Does your understanding of the nature of your god allow you to deduce anything about miracles? Do they only happen to christians? Are they invoked by prayer or randomly or to only deserving people?

    You tell me.

    If you can’t, then you’re still just assuming your conclusion and arguing either from authority or ignorance.

  32. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman —

    Very good responses, I really respect the thought you put into this.

    I have rebuttals, but I don’t know it you think it will be productive, and maybe we are off topic? (Which is “Evidence against Christianity: Sources”, but reading DD’s original thoughts on the matter, we seem to be moving from philosophy to concrete evidence.

    Let me know if you want to here my responses (you probably anticipate them anyway) , or we can move on to new DD postings.

  33. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    Do they only happen to Christians? No.

    Are they invoked by prayer? Sometimes.

    Do they happen randomly? Sometimes.

    Do they happen only to deserving people? No.

  34. Jayman Says:

    5keptical, by the way, I took “randomly” to mean not in response to prayer.

  35. Jayman Says:

    R.C., you can do whatever you want. I have no intention of going into exhaustive details myself.

  36. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    Do they only happen to Christians? No.
    Are they invoked by prayer? Sometimes.
    Do they happen randomly? Sometimes.
    Do they happen only to deserving people? No.

    So there’s nothing about the nature of your understanding of god that can be used to derive anything about miracles, except that you say (or someone else says a book says) they come from the christian god?

    So I have nothing I can use to determine the truthfulness of any statement about god except holy text?

  37. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    @Jayman:

    “As he notes, other messianic movements from the time ended with the death of their messiah while Christianity did not.”

    So, then, he DIDN’T die for everyone’s sins…

  38. Jayman Says:

    5keptical, once you’ve determined a miracle has happened you can inquire as to its cause without referring solely to holy text.

    ThatOtherGuy, the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins is only half the story. Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). In other words, if Jesus still lay dead in the ground, Christianity is as futile as any other messianic movement with a dead Messiah. A belief that Jesus died for our sins but did not rise from the dead fails to explain why Christianity survived.

  39. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    once you’ve determined a miracle has happened you can inquire as to its cause without referring solely to holy text.

    So you do have a method to determine if a miracle is due to your god, someone else’s god or something else? Tell us!

    Do they only happen to Christians? No.
    Are they invoked by prayer? Sometimes.
    Do they happen randomly? Sometimes.
    Do they happen only to deserving people? No.

    I repeat: So there’s nothing about the nature of your understanding of god that can be used to derive anything about miracles, except that you say (or someone else says a book says) they come from the christian god?

    Answer the questions.

  40. Jayman Says:

    5keptical, if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this method. You probably do the same thing all the time, just not with miracles.

    Perhaps a simple hypothetical example will help. Suppose a being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold. In this scenario it would seem attributing the prophecies to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation for what happened.

  41. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    a being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold.

    So from your understanding of the nature of god, it will show up in person and claim to be god and make predictions that come true? Aren’t we going through this exercise because god seems to refuse to do this sort of thing?

    Notice that no-where am I denying that miracles occur, but you’ve stated that they’re basically random, happening with or without prayer and to good and bad people.

    How does your god act in the world and how can you tell if he/she/it did?

  42. Arthur Says:

    I did not say we should abandon the evidence that we find in the real world. I said we need a good methodology to objectively (as possible) interpret that data…

    It is technically the case that no one has advocated abandoning the evidence we find in the real world. But it seems plain that this conversation is about mitigating the real world’s contribution—primarily, I guess, by looking for an “abstract methodology” which trumps garden variety observation-plus-inference in particular cases (since that can’t be trusted to support resurrecting the dead and such).

    The apologetic moral I take from this thread is that the principle of real-world observation (a.k.a. the self-consistency of truth) is useful, but it must not be allowed off its leash. Show that principle who’s boss, Deacon.

  43. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    “In other words, if Jesus still lay dead in the ground, Christianity is as futile as any other messianic movement with a dead Messiah. A belief that Jesus died for our sins but did not rise from the dead fails to explain why Christianity survived.”

    What kind of sacrifice is it when you get everything back? A sacrifice is supposed to entail ACTUALLY giving something up. Jesus “gave up” life in bronze age Palestine, but then wound up coming back and upgrading to BEING THE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE.

    Try stealing back the money you pay next time you get a parking ticket, then telling them it’s okay because even if you took it back you still gave it up in the first place. It won’t fly.

  44. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    So from your understanding of the nature of god, it will show up in person and claim to be god and make predictions that come true?

    Yes, this type of thing can happen.

    Aren’t we going through this exercise because god seems to refuse to do this sort of thing?

    No, we’re going through this exercise because non-believers deny the claims of those who say they have witnessed or experienced miracles.

    Notice that no-where am I denying that miracles occur, but you’ve stated that they’re basically random, happening with or without prayer and to good and bad people.

    God is a person. He is not a law of nature or a machine.

    How does your god act in the world and how can you tell if he/she/it did?

    What is unclear about “if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle”?

  45. Jayman Says:

    Arthur, I’m talking about historical methodology. You falsely assume that “observation-plus-inference” and the “self-consistency of truth” have no part in this methodology.

    Do you also have objections to the scientific method? It is an abstract methodology after all.

  46. Jayman Says:

    ThatOtherGuy, I saw your post. I’m not going to argue about whether Jesus’ death was or was not a sacrifice because it is tangential both to DD’s post and the discussion R.C. and I were having.

  47. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman said:

    “No, we’re going through this exercise because non-believers deny the claims of those who say they have witnessed or experienced miracles.”

    Jayman, that is true, but to be fair, Christians do the same for every religion other than there own. And non-believers deny such claims using a specific methodology that they consistently apply. Can you say the same about your denials?

    Do you have to give up your core beliefs to admit to this inconsistency?

  48. Arthur Says:

    You falsely assume that “observation-plus-inference” and the “self-consistency of truth” have no part in [historical] methodology.

    Ah, I can see where you might have misunderstood me. Wait, no I can’t.

    You say

    Filtering and weighing data is never a purely unbiased endeavor. Backing away from a specific case and coming up with an abstract methodology is helpful.

    and

    …we need a good methodology to objectively (as possible) interpret that data [the evidence that we find in the real world]…

    This sounds admirable, but it also sounds familiar. I’m pretty sure Deacon, for example, believes that he is stepping back from specific claims and cases, and evaluating the data as objectively as possible with the aid of an abstract methodology.

    As far as I can tell, there are a couple of big, easy ways to tell the two of you apart:

    1) you don’t think the truth or falsity of the Gospel should have a meaningful, observable difference on the real world around us, and Deacon thinks it should; and

    2) you don’t want to accept the self-consistency of truth as your first principle (although perhaps you’d take it as a second or a third) and Deacon does.

    (Of course, I might just be more confused than I think I am. It wouldn’t be the first time, believe it.)

    It’s that second one I’ve been curious about, since I tried to override that first principle for the sake of a thought experiment and couldn’t do it. This spells no end of trouble between me and the Gospel, I suspect.

  49. Jayman Says:

    R. C., I don’t deny non-Christians have witnessed and experienced miracles.

    Arthur, my disagreement with DD is over what the effects of the Gospel hypothesis are, not whether there are any effects. I’ve never run across an individual who thinks truth is not consistent with itself.

  50. Arthur Says:

    Um…touché.

  51. R. C. Moore Says:

    “R. C., I don’t deny non-Christians have witnessed and experienced miracles.”

    Ha, ha, funny … um, I think you are joking?

  52. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    God is a person. He is not a law of nature or a machine.

    And how do show that this statement is true without using scripture? Now that you’ve actually made a concrete statement. We can ask further questions about it. Does he have a corporeal body? Does he have emotions? Etc. Etc.
    So, can you expand a bit on this “god is a person” hypothesis. What do you mean by person?

    5keptical: How does your god act in the world and how can you tell if he/she/it did?

    Jayman: What is unclear about “if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle”?

    Nothing about that statement is clear. It is content-free because it says nothing about what characteristics of your god would allow us to determine if attributing the miracle to yahweh is the more parsimonious explanation. I’m beginning to think you actually don’t know.

    You just keep repeating different variations of “because I say so”.

  53. R. C. Moore Says:


    what characteristics of your god would allow us to determine if attributing the miracle to yahweh is the more parsimonious explanation”

  54. R. C. Moore Says:

    arggh … hit submit by accident.

    Ok, “parsimonious” is not justified to you and me 5keptical, but it is to Jayman, because he is working with a limited set of allowed conditions. His only requirement is that it be internally consistent. (It does not have to be complete).

    When Jayman attributes a miracle to God, he only applies his set of necessary “facts” — which I am fine with, as long as he does not require others to accept this limited standard. His last few posts have either been jokes, or an admission he does, I am not sure which.

  55. 5keptical Says:

    RC Moore:

    I’m attempting to get Jayman to set out (in more than a hand-wavy way) *any* requirement at all let alone enough to perform some Godel-like diagonalization of the rule set.

    However, the real target of this exchange is the 3rd party reader and to demo to DD that one approach to the straw-man and “no-true-christian” attacks to his “evidence again christianity” line of reasoning can be vigorously met with a request to the godbot to actually produce a non-straw-man or true-christian position on the nature of their god which can then be discussed.

    I am truly impressed that you have the patience to engage in any discussion of biblical veracity. I no longer have the energy or time since the resulting exchanges are such long-winded examples of appeals to conflicting experts and weasel words that any 3rd-party reader won’t be able to easily tease out the core arguments. However, kudos to you for making the effort!

    By insisting on definitions first, postings can be short and direct, and as Jayman has so beautifully demonstrated – don’t get past the definition/hypothesis stage without the godbot self-destructing (not in their view of course) in a few posts.

  56. R. C. Moore Says:


    let alone enough to perform some Godel-like diagonalization of the rule set.

    You quite clearly picked up on my allusion.


    one approach to the straw-man and “no-true-christian” attacks to his “evidence again christianity” line of reasoning can be vigorously met with a request to the godbot to actually produce a non-straw-man or true-christian position on the nature of their god which can then be discussed.

    I agree, and I tried that many threads ago. God seems to lack any attributes that stick around for analysis.

    From Orwell on doublethink:


    ..the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies

    This is the nature of the argument, I have found, especially the part: “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed”

    But again, I respect the Bayesian logic processes of others, I just ask that I and other are not asked to engage in, or believe statements such as

    “What is unclear about “if attributing a miracle to Yahweh is the most parsimonious explanation of all the data then we have determined, to the best of our ability, that Yahweh worked the miracle”?”

    I make conclusions after the facts, thank you. Without indoctrination, no one, after removing all other possibilities would arrive at the answer of an undefinable God.

  57. Jayman Says:

    5keptical, I’m not going to go off on a tangent about God’s personhood because you have not appeared to understand anything else I have said.

    You claim that I have not given you any characteristics of God that allow us to determine if he is the worker of a miracle. But I gave you a characteristic, the ability to foretell the future. I will limit myself to one characteristic for now to keep things simple.

    I then gave the following simple, hypothetical example: A being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold.

    Why should we attribute that miracle to Yahweh? First, because he identified himself as such. Second, because the action, foretelling the future, is a characteristic of God.

    If you still don’t get that, then I can only ask how you would go about determining who spoke the prophecies to you in the above example. Perhaps that will give me some idea where you’re coming from.

  58. R. C. Moore Says:


    I then gave the following simple, hypothetical example: A being claiming to be Yahweh spoke to you and predicted 100 future events that you are convinced no human could ever know. In due time those 100 events happen as foretold.

    Your example is not very good. The word of only one person is not good enough. The opinions of many persons with for with Yahweh is a foregone conclusion is not good enough. In neither case are attributes defined, only the claim of attributes. Your limited example does not move the argument forward one iota.

    Now if everyone has access to the predictions, and they are falsifiable, and objectively provable, then they are a real attribute.

  59. Jayman Says:

    R.C., my example showed how you could gain knowledge about God without scripture. That’s all. I’m not sure 5keptical is even getting that point.

  60. R. C. Moore Says:

    Ok, I see. But how do you know to invoke a God who makes predictions unless scripture has first suggested the possibility. No one has a priori knowledge of God.

    Or am I still missing something?

  61. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman, so just to get this straight.

    1) God is a person
    2) God shows up and makes predictions that come true.

    And that is the way to get knowledge without scripture.

    Well, once again you avoid the question – which was how does one actually obtain knowledge about god without scripture – I can’t really use your example because god hasn’t actually shown up in person to anyone recently to make a significant number of predictions and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    So far we have:
    Gospel god -> shows up in person with predictions
    Myth god -> doesn’t show up

    It’s Myth 1, Gospel 0.

  62. 5keptical Says:

    R. C. Moore

    This is the nature of the argument, I have found, especially the part: “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed”

    But again, I respect the Bayesian logic processes of others, I just ask that I and other are not asked to engage in, or believe statements such as

    I guess by definition it’s Bayesian… but wow, aren’t the weights supposed to change when new data comes along? :-)

    I think Dennet is correct about it being a memetic virus that exploits idiosyncrasies of the way neurons organize mental models of the world, perhaps our ape inheritance builds in submission in the presence of an alpha male – imagined or not.

  63. R. C. Moore Says:

    5keptical:

    “I think Dennet is correct about it being a memetic virus that exploits idiosyncrasies of the way neurons organize mental models of the world”

    I like the meme model too. The virus requires forced and repeated inoculation however. People left to their own devices hardly ever to seem to wind up religious. And if they do invent a religion, they never stumble upon the same one, which seem rather strange doesn’t it, given the premise of one true God who rules over all.

  64. Jayman Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    Ok, I see. But how do you know to invoke a God who makes predictions unless scripture has first suggested the possibility. No one has a priori knowledge of God.

    Or am I still missing something?

    You are not considering the scenario where God initiates the contact.

  65. Jayman Says:

    5keptical:

    Jayman, so just to get this straight.

    1) God is a person
    2) God shows up and makes predictions that come true.

    And that is the way to get knowledge without scripture.

    Yes, it is a way to know without Scriptures.

    Well, once again you avoid the question – which was how does one actually obtain knowledge about god without scripture – I can’t really use your example because god hasn’t actually shown up in person to anyone recently to make a significant number of predictions

    My intent is only to show how, in the abstract, you could learn about God without reading Scripture. It is up to you to study alleged miracles or to “make contact” yourself.

    and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    I don’t see how identification can be fool proof. This applies whether we are talking about God, humans, pets, etc. This is why I appealed to the most parsimonious explanation and not the fool proof explanation (which does not exist).

  66. R. C. Moore Says:

    Jayman said:

    You are not considering the scenario where God initiates the contact.

    No, I am, this is fundamental. I can only know a first contact is from God if I am told what God will be like, that is how I make the decision of God/Not God. My desk lamp is not God, my dog is not God, I am not God.

    The Old Testament is very clear on this: When God appears as a burning bush to Moses, he has to tell him:


    “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”
    .

    God obviously understands that without a scriptural background, a talking burning bush is just another talking burning bush. Whatever that implies. More importantly, the writers of the Old Testament understood that no one believes a God without background, be it predictions, or the freeing of Egyptian slaves.

  67. 5keptical Says:

    Jayman:

    My intent is only to show how, in the abstract, you could learn about God without reading Scripture. It is up to you to study alleged miracles or to “make contact” yourself.

    We’re not talking abstract! We’re talking real – reality – now.
    We’re talking epic fail on your part. Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate how a thinking person can reason about the effect your god has on the world and you’ve come up with nothing but abstract, hand-waving full retreat from the issue.

    5keptical: and if he did, nothing in your statement would let me determine if it was god or satan or a really good bookie.

    Jayman: I don’t see how identification can be fool proof. This applies whether we are talking about God, humans, pets, etc. This is why I appealed to the most parsimonious explanation and not the fool proof explanation (which does not exist).

    Who asked for foolproof! You’ve provided nothing, nada, zero, ziltch about anything to do in the real world.

    You say it’s up to me to prove/disprove a miracle? I’m asking you how to distinguish real from fake without assuming the premise.

    A fellow up here in Canada sawed a stranger’s head off in a bus because a voice in his head saying it was god told him to.

    If I start hearing a voice claiming to be god, what questions should I be asking?

  68. R. C. Moore Says:

    5keptical:


    If I start hearing a voice claiming to be god, what questions should I be asking?

    The sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick suffered from such delusions (in his case a voice from outer space). He came up with this rule:

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    When you stop believing in God, he does go away. No one suffers any ill effects from atheism. Atheists are statistically indistinguishable from believers. And of course Christians suffer no ill effects not believing in Mohammad, and Jews suffer no ill effects of not believing in Jesus the Messaih (from God anyway, from Christians and Muslims is another matter).

    I think that if Jayman could find one statistically distinguishable change in reality that results from disbelief in God, we would have a good test, not dependent upon scripture.

  69. 5keptical Says:

    R. C. Moore:

    I think that if Jayman could find one statistically distinguishable change in reality that results from disbelief in God, we would have a good test, not dependent upon scripture.

    Just checking back in to see if anything else had happened in this thread and realized what a little gem this inversion is – neatly encapsulating your previous posts and Hitchen’s more convoluted construct – I shall steal it. :-)