CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

More on the Census in Luke 2

Over at Hypotyposeis, Stephen C. Carlson continues his exploration into his alternative reading of Luke 2:2 ("this became a very important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria"). In his latest argument, Carlson focuses on the implications of the context of Luke 2:1-7 on his translation. Therein, he makes a point I had earlier made -- the "decree" of Augustus ("Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth") should not be understood to require a single one-time census. Carlson states:

If full credit is given to the precise and apparently deliberate usage of the present vs. aorist infinitives in this passage, then it looks like the writer is not envisioning that Augustus's decree or decision (δόγμα) has inaugurated a single-census to be conducted all at once but a policy of conducting censuses throughout the whole civilized world, which to a chauvinistic Roman would not be much different from the Roman Empire.

I made this point in my post, "Some Comments on the Newsweek Article -- The Census":

The notion that a census would occur simultaneously throughout the entire Empire at one point is an anachronism. That’s the way we do it in the United States, in a highly centralized process administered by the federal (central) government during a discreet time period. Such a feat was not possible in ancient times. And note that Luke does not actually describe the census being carried out through the entire empire. He merely states that Augustus decided and made it official policy that the entire Roman world be registered.

Carlson adds considerable weight to the argument based on the Greek. It's quite readable, though, and worth checking out.

And Carlson takes it a step further and argues that this understanding of the decree adds weight to his translation. Because the reference to Quirinius' census is in a parenthetical, Carlson believes that Luke is placing the census including Joseph and the census of Quirinius (two different registrations) into the larger context of August's policy of enacting census and registrations across the empire.

This last part is persuasive and I'd really like to see what a wider academic audience would make of his discussion. Hopefully, he will get one.

Finally, Carlson attempts to link the mention of Qurinius' census to establishing a terminus post quem in the 80s for the Gospel of Luke. Though I find a date from 75-85 CE a reasonable one, I am so far unconvinced that the mention of Quirinius' census adds weight to that range.

LDS Tops Google Search for "Jesus Christ"
Some other search engines have different results that are, at heart, the same.

UK blogger Adam Warnock has noted that if you search Google putting in the name "Jesus Christ", the first position is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, i.e., the Mormon church.

Searching Google for "Jesus Christ" shows the Mormons as top

Wesleyblog wonders wether listings at Google are rigged and asks "how did the Mormons get the top spot?". Well the answer is no the results are not rigged but yes they are very sensitive to links especially those found on blogs.

The mormon site will appear at the top for the search "Jesus Christ" simply because more websites link to that page with the words Jesus Christ in their link. A few sites down is a Campus Crusade site about Jesus from the film. Thus, if you would prefer to see this site as top rather than the mormons simply add a link to the page which is entitled "who is Jesus Christ?" as I have just done, and if enough of your readers also do the same thing the Campus Crusade page will be first and not the mormons.

Actually, when I did the search, I found that not only is the top spot held by the LDS, but the second link is also to an LDS affiliated organization that searches for your family tree. When I run the same seach on Mamma, the first spot is held by PBS Frontline page which describes itself as "an intellectual and visual guide to the new and controversial historical evidence which challenges familiar assumptions about the life of Jesus and the epic rise of Christianity." I am familiar with this page and its reliance upon Jesus Seminar types like L. Michael White and references such gnostic works as "the Gospel of Thomas" and "the Gospel of Mary" as primary sources about Jesus.

The first two links on both Yahoo and Webcrawler appear to be links to sites that are Christian sites (good news). MSN is mixed, listing the entry about Jesus Christ from the Catholic Encyclopedia as the first entry, and the Frontline PBS program as the second.

All in all, it appears that a search for the words "Jesus Christ" on the Internet, depending upon the search engine, could lead one to follow a blind alley in search of God. I hope that Christians will start linking to more Christian sites to move some of these other non-Christian organizations down on Google and Mamma.

Top Religious Events of 2004

The year is about to close and tradition demands that we discuss the top religious stories of 2004. I thought a good place to start would be a USA Today article that discusses the top seven religious stories of 2004. I list them below, noting why USA Today picked it and adding some of my own comments:

1. Conservatives Flex Their Political Muscle

This notes the conservative influence over the 2004 Presidential election, noting that Bush won big among Protestants and Midwestern Catholics, and that Kerry had to watch his step as a Pro-Abortion Catholic candidate.

Good or bad? Good, in my opinion. People should not be criticized for supposedly voting their “values” over their self-interest.

2. Gibson’s The Passion Stirs Passions

Many Christians loved it, some people criticized it as anti-Semitic. Fears were raised that it would increase anti-Semitic acts in the United States. It did not.

Good or bad? I thought it was an excellent film, though not a completely historical one. The controversy was good too, showing that Hollywood can make successful films that respect, rather than denigrate, religion.

3. Conservatives vs. Liberals in the Anglican Church

The U.S. Episcopalian Church takes steps towards liberalism (appointing an openly gay Bishop) that shock more conservative elements. Some more traditional U.S. congregations cut ties with their liberal U.S. counterparts and form relationships with more conservative Bishops and Anglican Churches in Africa.

Good or bad? The increased liberalization of the Episcopalian Church is disappointing but not surprising. But what I think is most fascinating about this story is the alliance between U.S. traditionalists with African leaders and Churches. Racial distinctions are becoming ever less important, especially in light of common religious ideals.

4. Gay Marriage Debate

Activist judges and mayors try to force recognition of same-sex marriages. The public is more resistant however, and 11 states join other states to ban same-sex marriages by public referendum.

Good or bad? I loathe judicial and executive activism, especially on such basic issues as “what is a family.” The activism depresses me, though I am somewhat encouraged by public response. But if history is any judge, judicial activism will outlive public resistance.

5. Taking God out of the Pledge

The Ninth Circuit found the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court reversed. However, it did so on a procedural issues known as standing – leaving the bigger question of whether “under God” is an unconstitutional phrase.

Good or bad? Bad. Though I’m pleased that the Ninth Circuit decision was reversed, I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court did not clarify this issue once and for all. The notion that a phrase such as “under God” is unconstitutional may be required by our present church-state precedents, but that merely points out how erroneous are those decisions.

6. The U.S. Catholic Church Continues to Struggle with Scandals

The Catholic sex abuse scandals continue to do damage to the U.S. Catholic Church. Lawsuits continued to breed massive monetary settlements and raise questions about how much the Catholic Church knew about some of these cases and how it handled them.

Good or bad? Bad that such events occurred. And much of the media’s coverage was bad too, painting with much too broad a brush. But on the good side, hopefully some reforms will be instituted to prevent and discourage such actions (and omissions) in the future.

7. Pope John Paul II: Fragile Strength

Though suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Pope maintained an active pace that has marked his 26 years in that office. He is arguable one of the most influential popes of modern times. His tenure is getting close to an end and speculation on his successor continues to mount.

Good or bad? All good things must come to an end. Though a dedicated Protestant Charismatic, I have much respect for this Pope. As a stalwart of freedom during the Cold War, Pope John Paul II stood against atheist tyranny in its communist form. He has also done much to revitalize Catholicism. It is sad to see his health decline, but such is God’s lot for man.

I think USA Today hits some of the significant points, but overlooks other stories, such as the continuing surge of Pentacostal/Charismatic growth, the "discovery" of the James Ossuary and uncovering of an apparent fraud ring in Israel, and the efforts of secularists to remove Christmas from popular culture (and Christian response). I'm sure that USA Today and I have missed some stories. Feel free to point them out.

A Humerous Review of _The Da Vinci Code_
by Laura Miller at

Perhaps because it is such an easy target for debunking, Ms. Miller has quite a bit of fun in this review of _The Da Vinci Code_, and while some of it might be considered over the top, several of her points are quite apt. The fact that it is a clear rip off of _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_, though not unknown, is one that is likely to get considerably more attention, as the authors of the latter seem prepared to take the case to court. But here I would like to offer a few of the gems I found in this review, as it is my hope that anyone reading this book remains open to valid arguments against many of its claims.

"Fortunately, Bart D. Ehrman, who chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has just published "Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" (Oxford University Press), a book-length expansion of his list of 10 errors in Brown's novel, first circulated widely on the Internet. Ehrman's specialty is the ancient history of the Christian church, and he is the author of two books, "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew," and "Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament" (both Oxford University Press), so he can hardly be accused of participating in a coverup of the unorthodox and heretical early Christian texts that the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and Brown claim support their theories.

"Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" is written in eminently clear, basic English (a pleasant surprise, because Ehrman's previous books can be pretty heavy sledding), and its tolerant, "more in sorrow than in anger" tone is probably more effective than the annoyance to which most of the novel's critics (including this one) succumb. It's a little repetitive, but given the many relatively unsophisticated readers Ehrman is addressing, that's probably justified.

Ehrman methodically demolishes a sizable chunk of the conspiratorial claims in "The Da Vinci Code," which are mostly cribbed from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." To hit some of the high spots: Early Christian texts excluded from the New Testament did not depict Jesus as human rather than divine; in fact, quite the opposite. The emperor Constantine was not involved in establishing the New Testament's canonical texts; it was a process that began before his reign and continued after his death. Jesus' experiences and teachings were not recorded by "thousands" of his followers during his lifetime, as nearly all of them were almost certainly illiterate. It was not unheard-of for a Jewish man of Jesus' time to be either single or celibate, particularly if he was part of the apocalyptic prophetic movement of the day, as Jesus most likely was.

Some of Brown's mistakes are minor but telling. For example, his "Grail expert," Leigh Teabing, smugly declares that "any Aramaic scholar will tell you" that the word "companion" used in the uncanonical Gospel of Philip in describing Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus, "in those days, literally meant spouse." But, as Ehrman explains, the Gospel of Philip is written in Coptic, not Aramaic, and the word in question is borrowed from yet another language, which is also not Aramaic, but Greek. And it does not mean "spouse" or "lover," but "companion," and is "commonly used of friends and associates."

Even more damning is the exposure of the fraud behind the "Priory of Sion".

"The Priory of Sion did exist -- sort of -- but not in any form even remotely resembling the fantastical claims of the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" or Brown. (In one of his few unqualified claims to nonfiction, Brown includes the sentence "The Priory of Sion -- a European secret society founded in 1099 -- is a real organization" on a page labeled "Fact" placed before the prologue of "The Da Vinci Code.") In reality, the Priory of Sion was the invention, in the 1950s, of a man named Pierre Plantard who had a history of fraud, embezzlement and membership in ultra-conservative, quasi-mystical and virulently anti-Semitic Catholic groups. These tiny extremist groups sought the reunification of Europe under the dual leadership of an orthodox Roman Catholic Church and a divinely ordained monarch, somewhat like the Holy Roman Emperor and preferably French.

Plantard learned of rumors surrounding a town in southern France, where the late priest's unexplained affluence led to talk of buried treasure in the local church. (The priest's wealth actually came from charging superstitious Catholics to have Mass said on their behalf, and he was censured for it by the church.) Plantard capitalized on the "mystery" of Rennes-le-Château by insinuating into the grapevine further rumors: that the priest had discovered evidence of an explosive secret and was being bribed to keep it under wraps.

Plantard wanted to pass himself off as the descendant of the Merovingian dynasty, a family of medieval French kings and, ultimately, of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (In reality, he was the son of a butler and a cook.) With his accomplice, a genuine but dissolute aristocrat and expert forger, Phillipe de Chérisey, he produced a set of fabricated parchments full of encoded and suggestively prophetic verse alluding to this Merovingian fantasy. With a restaurateur interested in drumming up tourist business for his establishment (located in the priest's former villa), they disseminated a story that the priest had discovered these parchments in the church, inside a hollowed-out pillar of Visigoth origins. (The pillar was later determined to be solid.)

The parchments and a variety of other faked documents pertaining to the Priory of Sion and the Merovingians -- including that list of past Grand Masters, featuring Leonardo and Newton -- were planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. This institution, alas, cannot be said to run a tight ship, and there are apparently no records indicating who exactly deposited the infamous "dossiers secrets" in their collection. However, investigators eventually determined that the printing press used to produce them was the same press used by Plantard to print his right-wing newsletters and broadsides.

The entire case for the existence of the Priory of Sion and the bloodline of Jesus extending into the French monarchy rests on this cache of bogus documents. There is no other "proof" anywhere that the Priory of Sion ever existed. A third confederate of Plantard and de Chérisey's, Gérard de Sède, who seems to have bought the story initially, published a lurid bestseller about the "mystery" of Rennes-le-Château. At this point, once a truly interesting sum of money entered the picture following the book's success, the three men fell out, quarreling over who deserved how much of the proceeds."
(Ms. Miller links to a web site that provides documentation exposing the fraud of the Priory of Scion found here)

Finally, much is made, by Dan Brown, of the fact that Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper includes a very feminine looking John sitting next to Jesus. Ms. Miller correctly points out that this is typical of the paintings of the Da Vinci's time, but adds something that I did not know about Da Vinci's style in general.

"If there's no real reason to suspect Leonardo of believing in a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, why should we see that figure as a woman? Yes, the figure looks somewhat feminine but, in addition to following established conventions in representing the disciple John, Leonardo was quite fond of painting androgynous-looking young men."

She then links to a rather startling portrait of John the Baptist done by Da Vinci, and found here.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun reading this review, and hope others here find it both amusing and informative as well.



Piltdown! Man the Gates
A humorous poem by Tom Graffagnino

Tom Graffagnino, an artist (and it looks from his website like he is a pretty good one) sent us an e-mail with a humorous poem he has written about the struggle by the purveyors of Darwinism to guard the gates of science, entitled "'More Gators in the Moat!' or ('Piltdown! Man the Iv'ry Towers!')". Here is a portion of the poem:

The Supernaturalists are coming!
Egad! By land!...
....By sea and boat!
Piltdown! Man the Iv'ry Towers!
Quick! .....
More 'gators in the moat!

Don't they know our Theory's Fittest!?
How dare they challenge you and me!?
O my Gawd! Can you imagine!?
We shan't allow this Heresy!

Call the Bio-Bishop Council!
Convene the Cardinals from their perch!
Yo! Onward Evo-Soldiers!
We must defend Pope Darwin's Church!

Kids today know how we got here....
It took a while....
But they believe!
Magik Microbe straight to Shakespeare!
What more could "Lucky Mud" achieve!?

No! We mustn't give them access,
To our children made so bright.
Darwinistas! Man your stations!
No Debate!
Comrades, Unite!

Battle Cry: "From Scales to Feathers!"
Battle Hymn: "From Mud to Man!"
And the drumbeat in the background?....
Impose the Ban!

Heh, heh! It goes on. Please fell free to read the remainder here.

The Ressurrection of Christ: Historical? Or Hisotry Making?

Prologomina to Resurrection Arguments on Doxa

I. Overview:my position

A. Religious Symbol and Historical Likelihood.

I affirm the literal resurrection of Christ, as I affirm the Nicene creed. Unfortunately, affirming it and proving it are two different things. Many apologists try to use the Resurrection as proof in itself that Jesus was the Son of God. The problem is, the event itself has to be proven, and is of equal dispute to the claims of Christ deity. Thus, I doubt that it makes a great tool for verifying the claims of the faith, since it is itself such a claim. On the other hand, let us ask ourselves, "was the true purpose of the resurrection as a proof of Jesus validity?" I think not. I think the true purpose was not offer modern scientific "courtroom evidence" of the event, but to confirm in a religious way, for insiders, by provision of an important symbol. Tillich says that a symbol participates in the thing it symbolizes. Thus a bull fighter dying young is a symbol of darning courage going awry, but a non specific figure like the American flag is not a symbol but an emblam. Thus the resurrection of Christ can be a theological symbol and stil be a real event! Thus the true importance of the event is its theological significance and not its market place value as an apologetical tool.Be that as it may, the event of Christ's resurrection offers more to the unbeliever and the cause of Christian apologetics than one might think given what I wrote. Rather than give up on it as an argument, we need to put it into a different context: we need to abandon the "court room" model of proof in apologetics, and take up a historian's persecutive. The point is not that we can prove the resurrection "really happened." The importance of historical evidence surrounding resurrection is its possibility as a history making event. By that I mean, it's not as important to prove "conclusively" that it happened, as it is to show that the permitters shaped by the evidence still leave open the validity of the possibility that such an event occurred, once one clears away the ideological clutter of naturalism. The evidence need only point to the fact that the belief tenet is still "in the running" as a possibility, not that it actually happened, although we believe, as Christians, that it did happen. The event described cannot included as a historical event, because history as a modern social science is constructed upon naturalistic assumptions; but it can be understood as a history making event, one that shaped the nature of our society and culture.

B. Away with the Court Room Model

So much past apologetics has been based upon the model of a court room debate, then declared to "prove history." We see this most especially in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Virdict (the classic case). We also see it in the works of a vast array of apologists who say things like, "the man who invented rules for evidence in court (Greenleif?) argued for the Resurrection, and he was a smart lawyer, so he must be right." But historians do not "prove" historical 'arguments' by holding courtroom debates! If we are going to make historical claims for the resurrection, we have to think like historians, and not like lawyers. We have to hold the evidence to the permitters of historical evidence, not to those of jurisprudence.

C. The View from the History DepeartmentHistory is probability.

It's not mathematical probably, but it is probabilistic. One cannot go back in time and verify the assumptions of historians, all we can do is argue from extrapolated data as to the most likely conclusion based upon the "facts." But how are these "facts" ascertained? They are not derived from debate, they are not derived from physical artifacts, and they are certainly not given in any kind of absolute certainty. Many skeptics place the level of confirmation they seek on a par with a TV camera recording an event it happens. History is documents! History is not a documentary featuring live footage, although such material is no doubt going to be included in future historical records. But history is the impression we find most likely as a probabilistic guess based upon the data we find averrable in written documents of the past. Historians do debate documents, but they do not say things like, "would this be accepted in a courts of law?" Historians don't a flying spit wad about what is accepted in a court of law (but one hears that phrase in apologetics quite a bit). Thus, in accessing the prospects for the validity of the resurrection, one cannot worry about courtrooms, or about exact proof as though we could take a TV camera to the tomb and watch the angel move the stone. The best we can ever do is to access the possibility and its place int he likelihood of events, given our world view assumptions vis a vie, supernatural events.

III. The History Making Concept.

Skeptics are too quick to argue that the resurrection is not historical fact. Before they jump into this fray, they should first ask themselves about the nature of historical facts. Most historical "facts" are not proven. "History" (whatever that is) says that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, yet evidence indicates he did not. History, like science is a social construct, and is determined by those with the clout to write history. In modernity we have gained an anti-supernatural bias, and so the believer is forced to ask rhetorical questions like "did Jesus raise form the dead?" and then to answer them rhetorically. The German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann changes the rules. Rather than ask if the resurrection is "historical" he merely argues that it doesn't have to be, it is history making. We change the rules of the debate because predicated upon the preaching of the resurrection is one of the most profound developments of world history; the growth of the Christian faith which has shaped the entire Western tradition. We view the Resurrection of Christ as history making because the belief in it did change history, the doctrine of it has made history, and belief today shapes the basis of all Christian doctrine. We put aside the hypocritical skepticism of naturalistic circular arguments and allow ourselves to accept the verdict of a history that has been made by faith in the event, in light of the fact that there is enough there to base faith upon. (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1968).The doctrine furnishes the basis for hope, when grasped in faith, that offers a much more profound answer to any of questions about life and death than any form of skepticism or pride in confusion ever could. Rather than merely declare a rules change, I will argue that this rules change is warranted based upon the evidence. In other words, not that the resurrection can be "proven" in the same sense that any other aspect of historical research can be proven, but that the resurrection evidence is credible enough that one can feel confident in asserting its truth as a tenet of faith. The actual case can never be proven, or disproven, but the evidence allows one to believe with impunity.In keeping with my policy of enlightening the reader about my sources, I must point out that I do lean heavily upon two major evangelical sources here: F.F. Bruce, and William Lane Craig. Bruce is, however, one of the most highly respected Evangelical scholars, even among the liberal camp, and Craig is renown as a highly credible and effective apologist. The other sources such as D. E. H. Whiteley, Stephen Neil, Gaalyah Cornfeld, and Luke Timothy Johson are basically liberal or modernate.A few major liberal theologians, such as Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have defended faith in the resurrection.

A. Historical Verdict Reversed

"The real case for skepticism of the resurrection of Christ was actually developed by 19th century liberal theology, and though they don't know it, the objections of most Internet skeptics today are echoes of those arguments. But in the postwar era even major liberal theologians began to defend the resurrection. Ernst Kasemann, student of Bultmann, at Marburg in 1953 argued that Bultmann's skepticism toward the historical Jesus was biased and Kasemann re-opened a new Quest for the historical Jesus. The great modern liberal theologian Wolfheart Paennberg argued for the resurrection of Jesus. Hans Grass argued that the resurrection cannot be dismissed as mere myth, and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen defended the historical credibility of Jesus empty tomb." (in William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Chrsit," Truth, 1 (1985): 89-95."Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead."(Craig, Ibid.)"According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.:"(Ibid.)

B. Not Historical but history making

Jurgen Mosltmann, the greatest living Protestant theologian, has argued in Theology of Hope, that the rules of history exclude the miraculous. This is because historians, as heirs to the enlightenment, automatically exclude the supernatural. For this reason the resurrection cannot be seen as historical, a priori, for the rules of making history are set by an ideology of metaphysical assumptions which dogmatically exclude anything miraculous. History must be predicated upon the assumption of a coherent natural world, therefore, the supernatural cannot be part of history. (Motmann, 176)Moltmann's solution: change the rules. The resurrection is not historical, it is history making. "The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence, and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God...does the rising of Christ become intelligible as nova create [new creation]. is necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the tech scientific world." (179)"The resurrection of Christ is without prattle in the history known to us. But it can be for that very reason regarded as a 'history making event' in the light of which all other history is illumined, called into question and transformed." (180)The point of making this distinction between history and history making is to change the rules which ideologically limit the possibility of God's actions in the world, and limit the horizon of hope for human being which responds in faith and is transformed in light of the resurrection. To claim that the resurrection is a historical even makes no seen for the reason that no such event could be, history exclude consideration of such things. But by the same token, the skeptic's objection that it is not historical and lacks "historical proof" is also meaningless. How could it help but lack historical proof? IT cannot be a historical assertion. Only faith can tell us about the resurrection. But the resurrection has make the faith of millions of people to an extent that that faith became a history making faith and altered the course of human events profoundly. It makes no sense to assert historically ether way, but the evidence suggests that there is a rational warrant to believe. There is a nice sturdy platform from which make a leap of faith. That being the case we can declare the history making aspects of the ressurrection.

The real genius of Moltmann is that his history making concept is really a rules change, that allows us to get under the modern construct of hisoriogrophy and ignore the naturalsitic assumptions forced upon us through the concstuction of modern history.

III. Conclusion

The standard I set my arguments:The Resurrection was a history making event. Whatever truly happened, the actual events which are make by the claims of witnesses and faith in the veracity of those witnesses, the upshot of it all is that the historical probabilities suggest the likelihood of an event, and that event shaped the nature of history itself. The faith claims cannot be historical claims, but they don't have to be. The faith itself is justified, it cannot be ruled out by history, but instead lies at the base of modern history in some form. We can suggest throughout the strength of the evidence that those actual events were the very events attested to in the Gospels. We cannot prove this claim with absolute certainty, but the warrant provided by the evidence itself is strong enough to make the historical nature of the religious hope valid. Some religious hopes are just ruled out by the facts. For example, the idea that the Native Americans are part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; this can be dispelled by genetics as well as dentistry. The Resurrection, on the other hand, can be accepted as likely Given the suspension of ideological objections of Naturalism.

Tsunamis and Theodicy: Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

As my friend Bede has noted, atheists have wasted no time in attempting to exploit the tragedy of the tens of thousands of deaths resulting from the tsunamis spawned by the 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean. I could not even wish our readers a Merry Christmas without a skeptic raising the subject. Nevertheless, the deaths of up to (or more than) 100,000 human beings as a result of a geological event does raise certain questions. How can we believe in a good God who allows such evil to occur?

The typical response to the question of evil is to argue that God has given humans free will and sometimes they abuse it. Though persuasive regarding evil caused by humans -- such as murder or rape or bitterness -- does it have any relevance for evil caused by nature -- such as earthquakes, floods, or tsunamis? One Christian response has been to link human abuse of his free will to natural evil. Josh McDowell’s comments are representative:

Because of the fall, the world now is abnormal. Things are not in the state they should be in. Man, as a result of the fall, has been separated from God. Nature is not always kind to man, and the animal world also can be his enemy. There is conflict between man and his fellow man. None of these conditions were true before the fall. Any solution that might be given to the problems mankind faces must take into consideration that the world as it stands now is not normal.

A Ready Defense, page 412.

Although I think that this argument may explain some “natural evil,” it falls short. I do not believe, for example, that it explains deadly geological events such as the earthquake that spawned the tsunamis.

Another explanation which I believe goes further in explaining such “natural evil” is that they are the result of natural laws which are a necessary prerequisite for the ability of humans to exercise free will. It is only by knowing with a reasonable amount of certainty that x action will lead to y result that humans can exercise free will. Predictability, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite to the exercise of human free will. And predictability requires natural laws. And natural laws will be indifferent to their results – whether good or evil.

Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne perhaps adds additional weight to this argument by noting that we must also consider the reason that God gave humans free will. It is not ultimately to give them the ability to choose good or evil. That is a means to an end. Rather, it is to allow humans to exercise their free will to do good. And the predictability of nature, as well as the challenges it poses, explains why a good God can allow natural evil.

A creator who is going to create humanly free agents and place them in a universe has a choice of the kind of universe to create. First, he can create a finished universe in which nothing needs improving. Humanly free agents know what is right, and pursue it; and they achieve their purposes without hindrance. Second, he can create a basically evil universe, in which everything needs improving, and nothing can be improved. Or, third, he can create a basically good but half-finished universe — one in which many things need improving, humanly free agents do not altogether know what is right, and their purposes are often frustrated; but one in which agents can come to know what is right and can overcome the obstacles to the achievement of their purposes. In such a universe the bodies of creatures may work imperfectly and last only a short time; and creatures may be morally ill-educated, and set their affections on things and persons which are taken from them. The universe might be such that it requires long generations of cooperative effort between creatures to make perfect. While not wishing to deny the goodness of a universe of the first kind, I suggest that to create a universe of the third kind would be no bad thing, for it gives to creatures the privilege of making their own universe. Genesis 1 in telling of a God who tells men to "subdue" the earth pictures the creator as creating a universe of this third kind; and fairly evidently — given that men are humanly free agents — our universe is of this kind.

. . . .

So, I have argued, there seem to be kinds of justification for the evils which exist in the world, available to the theodicist. Although a good creator might have very different kinds of justification for producing, or allowing others to produce, various different evils, there is a central thread running through the kind of theodicy which I have made my theodicist put forward. This is that it is a good thing that a creator should make a half-finished universe and create immature creatures, who are humanly free agents, to inhabit it; and that he should allow them to exercise some choice over what kind of creatures they are to become and what sort of universe is to be (while at the same time giving them a slight push in the direction of doing what is right); and that the creatures should have power to affect not only the development of the inanimate universe but the well-being and moral character of their fellows, and that there should be opportunities for creatures to develop noble characters and do especially noble actions. My theodicist has argued that if a creator is to make a universe of this kind, then evils of various kinds may inevitably — at any rate temporarily— belong to such a universe; and that it is not a morally bad thing to create such a universe despite the evils.

Is the idea that natural laws with value-free results are a prequisite for the exercise of free will meritorious? And if so, how much does it explain? Does it explain the amount of natural evil in the universe? Could God have possibly made a univere in which there was no natural evil resulting from natural laws that enabled us to exercise free will?

To the extent that it has some explanatory power but perhaps not enough to explain the level of natural evil, does Swinburne's article add anything to the argument? At the least, Swinburne's comments take us into helpful territory. Is free will an end in itself? Or is it a means to an end? Certainly God cares how we exercise our free will. The hope is that humans will use their free will to make the right choices. Did God create the universe in such a way that there are additional motives and interests in choosing the good? And what role does natural evil play in that purpose?

Obviously, I do not have all the answers. Those who have read my writings know that my main interest has been historical arguments regarding the New Testament and early Christianity. But, I will be looking into this issue more. At present, I can say that although I used to be more perplexed by the problem of natural evil, the more I look into the problem of evil the more I understand that it is consistent with a good God. Or at the very least, we do not know enough to prove that it is likely inconsistent with a good God.

Adult v. Embryonic Stem Cells
There should be a mercy rule in this game

Suppose the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Chicago Cubs in a baseball game, and the score in the game was 56-0. If you were like me, you'd go home. Game over. Nothing left to see here.

Well, according to our friends at Imago Dei, that is the score in the adult v. embryonic stem cell battle to find cures for various diseases.

Speaking of the mainstream media and confusing "potential" and "actual", Newsweek makes this error in their year-end "Periscope" segment:

Stem cells Even Nancy Reagan and Christopher Reeve couldn't budge Bush from limiting life-saving research. Ah-nold to the rescue.

You may think it difficult to make a large error in a one sentence statement, but Newsweek does not let us down. "Life-saving research" implies that human lives are being saved from this research. Yet, as The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics explains, not one human being has even treated with embryonic stem cells, let alone had their life saved. Adult stem cells are treating 56 human diseases today, but embryonic stem cells have caused big trouble in animal studies.

Newsweek: can you show one person who has been "saved" from embryonic stem cells, or does your periscope also have a crystal ball attached?

Unfortunately, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics' website is down at the time of this writing, so I cannot confirm what Imago Dei has claimed. But assuming they are right (and they have always been right in the past when I have checked), isn't it interesting that the score is so lopsided? Looks like California has bought some swamp land with Prop. 71.

A Criticism of my Essay Responding to a Counter-Clockwise Paley
It really isn't much of a criticism

Several months ago, I read an essay by a gentleman who I consider to be a rather articulate defender of atheism, Kyle J. Gerkin. He has written an essay which is available over at the Secular Web entitled "A Counter-Clockwise Paley." I wrote a rather lengthy response (too long, now that I am re-reading it) to his essay which I entitled "Trimming the Wrong Hedge" which can be found on the CADRE site on the Answering Skeptics page.

In "Trimming the Wrong Hedge", I got right to the heart of the defect in Mr. Gerkin's argument: the argument assumes that God had to be a created being. I said:

While I believe he too easily dismisses the two objections, Gerkin completely overlooks a third possibility, to wit, that the intelligence may not be “the product of” anything. The intelligence that could be in existence may have been the “uncaused cause” or “uncreated creator” that has been parts of theistic thinking for centuries.

You see, with all due respect to Gerkin, a person who has been identified by J.P. Holding as “smarter than the average atheist,” he, like most atheists, is thinking “naturalistically.” He has adopted (and his argument requires everyone reading it to adopt) the belief that the universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. His first premise of S1 appears to assume that worldview, and fails to take into account the possibility that an intelligence need not to be “the product of” anything.

Now, my writing has been criticized on a site called "Atheology: Strong Atheism" in an essay entitled "Argument from Evolution." The author, Francois Tremblay, had this to say about what I wrote:

. . . even if we posit that some mechanism can exist in the "supernatural realm", this mechanism and that realm would itself require a Creator. The only viable solution for the theist is to claim that intelligence can pop out of nothing, which goes against our scientific knowledge.

An objection has been raised in that line by William Kesatie in "Trimming the Wrong Hedge". Keasatie [sic] argues that the argument only applies to material entities, because God was uncaused. This is a lame objection, and he must be aware of that : whatever position one has, one has to uphold an uncaused entity, material or not. In this view, Kesatie only highlights the absurdity of the theistic position in assuming the existence of an uncaused intelligence.

First, it should be noted that Mr. Tremblay has not shown that my statement is in any sense irrational. Rather, he has chosen to call it "lame". Why is it lame? Because the idea that an intelligence can "pop out of nothing" goes against "our scientific knowledge." Three things can be said to that:

1. Nowhere did I, or any other theist of which I am aware, say that God (the initial intelligence) "popped out" of anywhere (nothing or otherwise). Rather, the claim about God is that He was preexistent. He is the "thing" from which all other things proceeded. I am not claiming that God came into existence at all. That is the point. Thus, Mr. Tremblay, like Mr. Gerkin, has trimmed the wrong hedge.

2. While we have learned a lot about our universe through the study of science, and like most people I have little doubt that we will learn a lot more, science is not so complete that we can unequivocally assert that things which go against our scientific knowledge are untrue.

3. Mr. Tremblay does not even himself believe that our scientific knowledge goes against the idea that intelligence can pop out of nothing. Scientifically speaking, there is evidence that things happen "uncaused" at times. Consider Mr. Tremblay's arguments in response to William Lane Craig's description of the Kalam Cosmological Argument's premise that "whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence I think is so intuitively obvious that scarcely anybody could sincerely deny that it is false." In an essay entitled "Dr. Craig's Unsupported Premise," Mr. Tremblay asserts:

Dr. Craig is no doubt aware, however, that to infer a necessary causality on a whole - the universe - on the basis of observation of such attribute in the parts - the existents around us - is a fallacy of composition. The attribute being transposed here, being caused, is relational and therefore cannot be transposed. Thus he cannot generalize from caused entities around us to the universe in this matter.

We do agree that causality is a necessary principle for our understanding of the universe. This does not mean, however, that we are prevented from realizing that an entity or property breaks this principle.

Of course, I expect that Mr. Tremblay would say that his statements were not dealing with intelligence, but I would counter that such an objection would be lame considering the way in which he objects to Dr. Craig's clarification of what he meant in his statements.

More importantly, I find it odd that a rational person (and I assume that Mr. Tremblay is a rational person) would argue that positing an uncaused entity is a lame objection. If that is the case, I guess that Mr. Tremblay would find the arguments of many of the most influential philosophers throughout history (e.g., Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas) to be "lame." I guess I should be humbled to be criticized by a person who is so much more intelligent than Aristotle that he should be able to pronounce that his arguments were "lame."

He continues:

Basically, the Argument from Evolution demands that the theist accounts for the intelligence of this god. In this he is caught in a Catch-22. If he claims that intelligence is a very mundane thing to exist, then the existence of the universe and material intelligence is a much more mundane thing. If he claims that intelligence requires design, then he cannot claim that his god is intelligent.

With all due respect, this is a logical fallacy known as "false choice." He has not proven that this is the choice the theist is left because he has not come close to showing that a pre-existing intelligence could not be the first cause. Does this minor problem stop Mr. Tremblay? Of course not. He continues to praise Mr. Gerkin's original argument as having been shown to be sound.

Gerkin's argument does something that few atheological arguments have ever done, putting into question the intelligence of the god-concept, and using a purely scientific argument that is so simple as to be available to the common reader. This is a very powerful argument that I think deserves to be known and used.

I, for one, remain unimpressed.

Is the ACLU Increasing Giving to Religious Organizations?
Is it response to attacks on religion in the public square?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an editorial entitled "Whence Came The U.S. Tradition To Give and Give?" in which it discussed the historic generosity of the American people in the form of charitable giving. Daniel Henninger, the author, notes that "[o]rganized American giving--philanthropy and charity--is almost wholly salvific. When we donate money (several hundred billion dollars annually), as individuals or institutions, we strive to ensure that someone gets uplifted."

In an on-line essay by Christopher Price entitled "Pagans, Christianity and Charity", he makes a great case that the charitable giving is the natural result of our common Christian heritage. It points out very nicely that the pagan world was not interested in charitable giving, and it was historically the result of Christian charity that has led us to be interesteded in helping those less needy. I encourage everyone to explore this enlightening essay.

But what I found interesting about the Wall Street Journal Essay was a few lines near the end. Mr. Henninger points out:

The overwhelming amount of individual giving, 57%, goes to religious institutions.

And so it has come to pass that courts, managers and principals can kick creches and menorahs out of the public square, make "Christmas" a forbidden word and banish Bethlehem from the mouths of schoolchildren, but the American people will still pour most of their spare change directly into churches, synagogues and other religiously affiliated institutions. Maybe that outpouring is not in spite of official secularization but in response to it. The ACLU could be the greatest religious fund-raiser in history.

Is the "outpouring" of giving to religious institutions a backlash against the ACLU's heavy-handed tactics? While I doubt it, I certainly wouldn't doubt that some of the giving is in response. After all, people are honestly upset about the attacks on Christmas (which, contrary to claims made on Air America Radio is not being drummed up by Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly), and I do believe that some people are looking for an avenue of giving that will permit them to oppose these attacks. Still, I expect that most giving to religious institutions represents the regular Sunday offering that is given at 1000's of churches each week.

Too bad. If millions started pouring into the Thomas More Law Center, the Alliance Defense Fund or the ACLJ after each attack on religion in the name of "freedom of religion" by the ACLU, perhaps these attacks would not be so widespread.

Merry Christmas from Layman

I have been defending the nativity narrative of Luke for a few days now. But today I'll refer to a passage from Matthew that I think nicely captures the significance of the incarnation and the reason we should celebrate this day with joy:

"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." -Matthew 1:23.

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas

I cannot speak for the other bloggers, but I will be off-line to spend time with my family for the next few days. I hope to blog again early next week. In the meantime, may the love and joy of our risen Savior's birth warm you this Christmas.

Pool of Siloam located
It doesn't prove Jesus actually cured the blind there, but . . . .

From the Herald Sun comes an article entitled "Miracle Pool Identified" which reports that the Pool of Siloam has been identified.

Archeologists in Jerusalem have identified the remains of the biblical Siloam Pool, where the Bible says Jesus miraculously cured a man's blindness.

The archeologists are slowly digging out the pool, where water still runs, tucked away in what is now the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan. It was used by Jews for ritual immersions for about 120 years until the year 70, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple.

* * *

In the past four months, archeologists have revealed the pool's 50-metre length and a channel that brought water from the Silwan spring to the pool.

The miracle of Jesus that takes place at the Pool of Siloam is described in John 9:1-11.

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?"

Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, "Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?" Others were saying, "This is he," still others were saying, "No, but he is like him." He kept saying, "I am the one."

So they were saying to him, "How then were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went away and washed, and I received sight." (Emphasis added)

It should be noted that the discovery of the Pool is not new--the Jerusalem Post ran a story about it in June 2004 which can be found here. I never will understand how these older stories can suddenly make the rounds after sitting without any real recognition for months. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

As Christians, we need to be careful about how we describe the importance of this finding. There is, of course, no way to undeniably prove that Jesus actually performed a miracle using the Pool of Siloam. Like so many of Jesus' miracles, there would be no archaelogical evidence left behind of the healing because it is not the type of thing that would leave evidence. One time, I was challenged to provide indisputable archaeological proof of the miracles of Jesus. I responded: "What do you want? Left over bread crumbs from the feeding of the 5,000? Plaster cast footprints from Jesus walking on water?" You see, there is probably never going to be direct archaeological proof of any of Jesus' miracles. Rather, the evidence will always be indirect pointing to the fact that the Gospel writers knew what they were talking about.

In this case, the fact that the Pool of Siloam is specifically referenced tells us, once again, that John knew the area. This is much like the discovery that the pool known as Bethesda did, in fact, have five covered colonnades, just as John described in John 5:2. While this find will not have the same impact because there will be no details discovered about the pool that can affirm or disaffirm John's knowledge of the pool (since he gives almost no detail about the pool), and since I don't believe anyone actually has doubted the pool's existence, it still adds to the general credibility of John.

Consider the following from "The Gospel of John" from one of the Introduction to the New Testament courses on the Atlantic Baptist University website:

1.2.1. The author is familiar with the geographical features of Palestine

  • A. He is familiar with Galilee, Samaria and Judea (see 1:28 [11:1]; 2:1, 12; 3:23; 4:20; 11:54; 12:21).
  • B. He is also familiar with the city of Jerusalem (see 5:2; 9:7; 11:18; 18:1, 28; 19:17) and the Temple (2:14, 20; 8:2, 20; 10:23).

  • What does this familiarity with the geographical features of Palestine imply about the author?

    The fact that the author possessed such detailed geographical knowledge about Palestine implies he was a resident of Palestine, who had frequented these places.

    1.2.2. The author is acquainted with the social and religious conditions of Palestine (see 4:9; 7:35; 11:49; 18:13, 28, 31, 39). Likewise, he is also familiar with Jewish and Samaritan religious beliefs (see 1:41, 46; 4:9, 25; 6:15), and he is well acquainted with how Jewish festivals were celebrated at the Temple and with purification rites: Passover (2:13, 23; 6:4; 13:1; 18:28); Tabernacles (7:2, 37); Dedication (10:22); Purification rites (3:25; 11:55; 18:28; 19:31). What does the fact that the author has such knowledge imply about him?

    To have such detailed knowledge of the social and religious conditions of Palestine and Jewish and Samaritan religious beliefs implies that the author had first-hand experience of Jews and Samaritans, which suggests that he is from Palestine. His good knowledge of the Temple and Jewish festivals implies that he was a participant in the various Jewish festivals, which suggests that he was a Palestinians Jew. His knowledge of Jewish purification rites is consistent with first-hand experience.

    So, it seems as if every time archaeology confirms the existence of a particular place (in this case, one which would have already been destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.) that is mentioned by the author of the Gospel, it adds credibility to the idea that he was a person who was familiar with the area and circumstances around Palestine in the First Century. Moreover, if this were written more than 50 years after the destruction of the Pool, one would expect that the author of the Gospel to believe it necessary to explain more about the Pool (what it was, and what purpose it served in Jewish ritual) to hammer home the point of the miracle. But the author doesn't do that, and it suggests (when combined with all of the other evidence for an earlier dating) that the author was not writing well after the fact without any first hand knowledge.

    So, let's not go overboard about this discovery, but let's not dismiss it as irrelevant, either. It is just another piece of archaeological evidence that can be used to support the authorship of the Gospel by the Apostle John or someone else who lived in or was very familiar with Palestine in the First Century and knew the teachings of the Apostle John.

    Owner of "James Ossuary" to be Indicted for Fraud

    Oded Golan, the man who owns the Ossuary bearing an inscription "James, the Brother of Jesus," will be indicted by the Israeli Government for fraud in connection with the Ossuary and several other artifacts. Six other people will be charged in the case as well.

    The Ossuary made a big splash when several scholars and anqituities experts concluded that it was authentic and therefore the most important archeological find related to the New Testament. The Israeli Antiquities Authority thereafter concluded that the inscription was a fake. Lines were drawn in the sand and, as far as I know, some experts still support authenticity and the IAA is still maintaining that it is a fraud. No word on whether the indictment will change any minds.

    Golan maintains his innocence.

    Another Alternative Translation of Luke 2:2

    On his blog today, Stephen C. Carlson states his disagreement with the translation of Luke 2:2, favored by Nigel Turner and N.T. Wright (among others) which has Luke referring to a census "before" the one under Quirinius. I recently posted about this translation and on the likelihood that there could have been an earlier census. Nevertheless, Carlson agrees that the more common translation, "first registration, taken when Quirinius was Governor," is problematic. He agrees that the entire passage is -- as he puts it -- "exegetically challenging." As a result, Carlson would translate Luke 2:2 to state:

    This registration became most prominent when Quirinius was governing Syria.


    This [decree to get registered] became the/a most important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria.

    So, Carlson has Luke writing about the registration process begun by Augustus, but continuing over the years until the more well-known census under Quirinius is taken (also pursuant to that process). In Carlson's own words:

    I think that it is a parenthetical digression to the effect that, though Joseph's travel to Bethlehem was occasioned by Augustus's decree (i.e. the registration of 8 BC), the most important registration from Augustus's policies was the one that took place when Quirinius was governor (and that led to the revolts in Galilee). Thus Luke is distinguishing the registration that Joseph obeyed from that most prominent one in AD 6, not confusing it.

    The advantage of this translation is that it solves some of the problems I mentioned in my earlier blog (such as having Luke make such an obvious blunder about the political situation under King Herod or getting the census wrong when he seems aware of its significance in Acts). It also is consistent with the author of Luke's tendency to place his events in the context of the larger Roman world. But is it a superior translation to rendering Luke 2:2 as referring to a census before the one under Quirinius? Frankly, I am not qualified to judge as I do not have the knowledge and experience in Greek as these commentators. I will say that what impressed me about the alternative expressed in my previous post -- in addition to the circumstantial evidence -- was the number of respected scholars who accept it as a reasonable one. I hope, however, to see what other scholars make of Carlson's proposal.

    There is one thing in Carlson's post that I disagree with. He goes on to suppose that Luke's reference to the Quirinius census was prompted by Josephus' mention of it in Jewish Wars and Antiquities:

    The reason this parenthetical would have been important is the view that Josephus published in his books on the Jewish War in 75 or so and in his Jewish Antiquities around 93, identifying the AD 6 census as a major cause of the Jewish War sixty years later. Since I date the composition of Luke to be quite a few years after 70, it is only natural that Luke would want to mention it, even if it was not the census Joseph[] was responding to.

    I think this conclusion is erroneous because it misplaces the causation for the census' notoriety. It seems more likely that Josephus wrote about the census because it was well known, rather than Josephus' writing about it is the only cause for its notoriety. There is no reason to suppose that Josephus' writing about it, rather than the significance of the event itself, was the reason Luke refers to the Quirinius census.

    UPDATE: In a Comment to this post, Stephen Carlson makes clear that his point does not rest on Lukan dependence on Josephus' writings:

    I'm using Josephus for evidence that the importance of the AD 6 census was well-known in high-ranking Roman circles (where I locate "Theophilus") at the time most scholars and I think that Luke was composed. It is not strictly necessary for my argument that Josephus be the actual source of the prominence for this census, though it could well have been the case.

    I would only add that I tend to share a dating of Acts between 75-85 AD, though I do not rule out an earlier date.

    Have Archeologists Found the Site of Jesus' First Miracle?

    According to the AP, archeologists digging at modern day Cana in Israel have "found pieces of large stone jars of the type the Gospel says Jesus used when he turned water into wine at a Jewish wedding in the Galilee village of Cana." They have determined that the shards date from the Roman period when Jesus was ministering in Galilee.

    The miracle story is found at John 2:1-11. Defending the significance of the find from more skeptical colleagues, Israeli archeologist Yardena Alexander notes that the diamter of the jars (12-16 inches in diamater) are similar to those described in the Gospel of John: "Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each." 2:6.

    Alexander, whose find competes with an American execavation also claimed to be the site of cana, points to other indications that this was the Biblical Cana:

    Other evidence that might link the site to the biblical account includes the presence of a Jewish ritual bath at the house, which shows it was a Jewish community. Locally produced pottery was used at the simple house, showing it could have been from the poor village described in the Scriptures.

    Typically, it's hard to know the true significance of the find based on a short AP story. To me, the evidence seems short of being able to pinpoint the specific jars or wedding site, of the miracle recorded in the Gospel of John. On the other hand, this does -- at the very least -- show that the miracle described in the Gospel of John is accurate in its context, even down to the proper size stone jars holding the wine.

    Let's hope we hear more about it. But if we don't, then that probably tells us something as well.

    Religious Doctors Helping Patients Feel Better

    As it turns out, most doctors are quite religious. A news article titled, "Science or Miracle?; Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles" reports on a survey of more than 1,100 U.S. doctors. The survey found that U.S. doctors overwhelmingly believe in miracles, pray for their patients, and think religious is a valuable and necessary guide to life.

    Some of the highlights:

    -72% believe that religion provides a reliable and necessary guide to life.

    -74% of doctors believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 73% believe that can occur today.

    -58% attend worship services at least one time per month.

    -55% believe that medical practice should be guided by religious teaching.

    -55% said that they have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous.

    -59% pray for individual patients.

    And what are doctors proscribing in addition to medicine?

    -67% encourage their patients to pray.

    My Amazon Review of Earl Doherty's The Jesus Myth

    I've been meaning to write a lengthier review of The Jesus Puzzle for some time, and I have penned several lengthy articles about specific shortcomings in his theories (here, here, here, and here). But I finally bit the bullet and wrote a shorter review for, here.

    If you like it, please give it a helpful vote. If you hate it, give it an unhelpful vote and tell me why with a Comment. If you are not sure, ask any questions or make any comments here as well.

    Here it is in full:

    Clever, Expansive, and Unconvincing (& check those endnotes), December 21, 2004

    Though dead among scholarly circles - even among moderate and liberal ones - the idea that Jesus never existed has visceral appeal to many with negative attitudes towards Christianity. Though not a serious academic work (it's published by the "Canadian Humanist Publications", whose bias is obvious and shared by the author), this book distinguishes itself from similar efforts by laypersons in its expansive scope. Rather than skirt the Pauline references to Jesus' human life, it embraces them and claims they support the notion that Jesus never existed. Rather than accept the consensus among historians and New Testament scholars that Josephus referred to Jesus on two occasions in Antiquities, the book rejects the idea that either reference is valid. The book's use of purported Middle Platonism to undercut seeming references to Jesus' human life in Paul's letters and Hebrews is especially clever (not the least because so few readers will have any understanding of what Middle Platonism is).

    On style, the writing is uneven and at points amateurish and simplistic. The chapter titles and subheadings are often of no help in understanding what any particular chapter or section is about. There is no scripture or ancient writings index, though some of these are in the general index. The use of endnotes instead of footnotes (or even endnotes at the end of each chapter rather than lumped together at the end of the book) is particularly unhelpful because so much of the argument rest on the supporting references or discussion. And as I learned, checking Doherty's endnotes is vital given how unsupported many of his key arguments turn out to be.

    But, what about the substance? Space constraints obviously limit, but I will comment on some of Doherty's central points.

    Doherty's attempt to explain away references to Jesus' human life in Paul's letters (and Hebrews) is ambitious but unconvincing. As the book goes through these passages, it becomes clear that time and again he resorts to unsupported translations, far fetched interpretations, misrepresentations of Middle Platonism, and creative - to say the least - use of secondary sources in order to support his theory. This foundation is shaky and gets weaker the more closely it is examined. One example which taught me to check the endnotes closely was the book's assertion that the phrase "according to the scriptures" in 1 Cor. 15 when referring to Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection had nothing to do with fulfilled prophecy but meant instead that Paul had learned about these things from the Old Testament - not James and Peter and the other Christians. The support for this interpretation? It is not in the text and the reader is referred to an endnote. To my surprise, the endnote does not refer to Paul's use of the phrase elsewhere. Nor does he refer to another NT writer's use of the phrase. Or to any Greek Lexicon. Or to any other Greek writer using the term as Doherty claims Paul uses it. All that Doherty refers to is an extraordinarily anachronistic modern day example of reading a newspaper. I was genuinely surprised at how weak and anachronistic the support was for such a crucial point.

    The rest of the book's explanations for the troubling Pauline and Hebrew references to a human Jesus are no more convincing and are ad hoc. Rarely does Doherty conduct any sort of meaninful textual discussion of how Paul uses these phrases elsewhere in his writings. This is especially true of his attempts to dismiss Paul's statements that Jesus was "born of a descendant of David according to the flesh" in Romans.

    Another problem throughout Doherty's book is his use of secondary sources. Often they are quoted so selectively that they are offered to support points that the source's author would denounce in the strongest terms - as is the case with his use of C.K. Barrett's fine commentary on Romans (while trying to dismiss Rom. 1:1-4 as a reference to Jesus' becoming human).

    Regarding other issues, Doherty relies on theories that have already been debunked, such as his attempt to dismiss Acts as a source for early Christian history by referring to V. Robbins' oft-refuted theory about the we passages, or his insistence that neither of the references to Jesus in Josephus are authentic (despite overwhelming contrary opinion and evidence). A continuing flaw in Doherty's argument is his rush to expalin things in terms of Middle Platonism, while ignoring obvious Jewish influence, parrallels, and beliefs. Finally, the dismissive classification of the Gospels as midrash is so brief and so uninformed that it is of almost no worth (and his radically late dating of them unsupported by the evidence)

    This may be the best presentation of the Jesus Myth argument in print. Nevertheless, any informed and rational investigation into it will lead the reasonable person to conclude that if this is the best that the Jesus Myth has to offer, there is little to commend the theory.

    Random Designer
    A new look at God's interaction with Nature

    Recently, I wrote a short essay which arose out of an article in the Wall Street Journal concerning Prof. Colling. Since that time, he and I have opened up a dialogue, and I wanted to express my appreciation for the tone of the dialog we have been having. I (in case you haven't noticed) am a strong supporter of I.D. As such, I was critical of his comments on the issue in the Wall Street Journal story. I have now learned that Prof. Colling has a book that he has just released, and I am looking forward to picking up a copy after Christmas (I put it on my Christmas list, so I don't want to buy it only to get it as a present, too). In the meantime, I wanted to pass along the website for his book to our readers in the even it is of interest to you, too.

    At least as of this moment, I am not endorsing the ideas of the book (not yet having read it), but his e-mails to me have encouraged me that our differences may not be that great after all. You can find his website here, and the blurb reads:

    Random Designer casts a compelling new vision of creation - random design. The essence of random design is elegantly simple: No limits! From the formation of chemical elements to the development and nurture of life itself, all possibilities are tested. Thus, in unexpected and extraordinary ways, random design endows the entire world with boundless creative potential.

    More significantly, random design reveals a creative genius extending beyond traditional scientific and religious boundaries. Come explore a new vision - the vision of the Random Designer. It’s not really random at all!

    Could There Have Been An Earlier Census? -- Further Thoughts on Luke's Nativity

    Even if Luke is properly translated to refer to a registration which occurred before the famous one under Quirinius, it is argued that it is impossible that there was any census in Judea prior to the one under Quirinius. This is mostly an argument from silence based on the fact that -- other than Luke's reference -- there are no direct mentions of any such census. Since arguments from silence are problematic, especially when -- as here -- our records and history are incomplete, critics attempt to bolster this argument by arguing that there were no census' in client-kingdoms under Roman rule. That is, though under the control of Rome, Rome let a local king run the province. At the time of Jesus’ birth, that king was King Herod. However, there are at least two responses to this argument. First that Herod conducted his own system and second that Rome ordered such a census be conducted. I will deal with the first response in this post – the possibility that King Herod conducted his own census to please his Roman masters.

    A. Judea as a Roman Client-Kingdom

    The scope and significance of Judea's status as a "client-kingdom" under a "client-king" is often misrepresented or misconstrued. It is true that Judea was not governed directly by a Roman governor, but by a client-king: Herod. However, it is clear that Israel was a part of the Roman Empire. It had been conquered by Emperor Pompey and "placed under Roman tribute and in short order a sum of more than 10,000 Talents was extracted from them." Ben Witherington, New Testament History, page 51. Eventually, Herod maneuvered himself into the good graces of Rome, and was officially appointed King of Judea and eventually gained actual control of Judea by force of arms. His tenure was lengthy, but it was never doubted that he ruled as a subject of the Roman government. "Herod successfully retained power as King in Judea from 37 to 4 BC by consistently making himself useful to the Romans. From the viewpoint of Rome he reliably fulfilled the role of a client king whose power ultimately derived from Rome, but whose cultural ties with the people he ruled made Roman influence more palatable." Richard L. Niswonger, New Testament History, page 43. Herod never used his position to stress Judaean independence or resist the wishes of his Roman patrons. In fact, "he used his great political and diplomatic gifts to ensure that he always had the backing of whoever was in power in Rome." Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, page 110.

    Now that we have a better understanding of Herod's submissive role under his Roman rulers, we can consider three possible, perhaps probable, ways in which a registration would have been undertaken under Herod, King of Judea.

    B. Herod May Have Conducted His Own Census

    It is possible that the census of Luke 2:2 was Herod's own, undertaken to please his friend Augustus and/or govern Judea in a Romanized fashion. It is undisputed that Herod undertook many building projects and wars which placed a heavy tax burden on his people. Accordingly, it possible that Herod established a relatively efficient system of taxation that -- like his Roman counterparts -- relied on a census. Such a census would also have the added benefit of establishing more social control over his people (also a known concern of Herod's). It is undisputed that Herod 1) had a great and constant need for an income, 2) attempted in many ways to emulate Roman governance, and 3) was a paranoid ruler who (correctly) believed that he was not all that popular with the common man. In fact, Herod had his own secret police and attempted to keep the upper hand in the social as well as military control of his people.

    Herod’s attempt to emulate Roman culture was not just a matter of his personal admiration for their culture – though that too existed. It was also part of Herod's job as a client-king to help “romanize” his population. Regarding client-kingdoms, Rome "interfered with their affairs so far as to appoint princes who would rule in her interest, and whose task it was to tame and civilise their subjects till they were fit to come directly under Roman rule." W. T. Arnold, The Roman System of Provincial Administration to the Accession of Constantine the Great, page 14. Moreover, "client kings were encouraged to foster urbanization and general economic improvement; when their kingdoms had reached a level compatible with that generally prevailing throughout the Empire, they could be and usually were incorporated so as to become provinces or parts of provinces.... [And Augustus] had made it unmistakably clear that client kingdoms possessed no more than an interim status: annexation was always intended as soon as they were sufficiently romanzied." E.T. Salmon, A History of the Roman World from 30 BC to AD 138, pages 104-05, 130. Given the Emperor’s policy of registering the entire Roman Empire, Herod would have had good reason to follow suit and conduct his own census.

    Herod himself had gladly accepted Roman citizenship, and was therefore a direct subject to the Emperor. Herod also established a Roman theater in Jerusalem. He built a large Roman-style amphitheater on the plain outside of Jerusalem. He instituted Roman-style games. To be sure, Herod accommodated the beliefs of his people -- by taking down trophies in the stadium considered to be idols for example. But these were concessions that made romanization more amenable, not earnest efforts on the part of Herod to reject romanization.

    So, it is very possible that Herod adopted a census to tax his own people, and Luke is referring to this practice. As Dr. Pearson notes, "We cannot think that in the process of romanizing his kingdom, he would incorporate Roman architectural, military, religious, and recreational techniques, models, and practices, but would reject their incredibly efficient administrative systems--or that he would be allowed to do so by his overlords." Brook W. R. Pearson, "The Lucan censuses, revisited", The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Apr 1999.

    Dr. Pearson also believes that there is evidence that a census was undertaken by Herod during his reign. Among other arguments, Dr. Pearson cites to an interesting passage in Josephus referring to "village scribes" under Herod. The same term is used in other ancient documents to refer to a position closely associated with census-taking. Although Richard Carrier of has criticized Dr. Pearson’s arguments, his attack falls short. He overlooks (or ignores) the forceful argument that Dr. Pearson makes that Herod -- as a direct subject to the Emperor and a client-king serving at Rome's whim -- was expected by his Roman overlords to romanize Judea. Carrier also claims that Dr. Pearson fails to consider what other tasks "village scribes" might do while he himself seems to ignore Dr. Pearson's references to many ancient documents showing that the term used by Josephus was closely linked to census taking duties.


    The argument that even if Luke was referring to an earlier census, he is still in error because there was no earlier census rests on an argument from silence. Though such arguments may be useful from time to time it is not convincing here. It is very plausible that Herod could have conducted his own census pursuant to what he knew the Emperor’s policy to be. Herod also could have seen such a census as part of his responsibility (and desire) to romanize Judea. Finally, there is some indirect evidence from Josephus that officials uniquely related to census taking were present under King Herod. Frankly, I do not know that this was the case, but it is certainly a possibility. In a later post I will deal with the possibility that Rome itself ordered the census under King Herod.

    I Don't Get the Praise for Thomas Paine
    Beyond authoring Common Sense, what did he do?

    It never fails. Whenever a discussion comes up about the faith of the founders of the country (the "Founding Fathers"), someone will point to that most famous of phantoms, common knowledge, to say that they were largely deists. Almost certainly, they will support that proposition by citing four things: 1) Thomas Jefferson's rather interesting views on religion, 2) James Madison's anti-Christian prattlings, 3) Benjamin Franklin's view and 4) Thomas Paine. Much can be said about each of these gentlemen and what they had to say, but I want to focus for a moment on Thomas Paine.

    Thomas Paine, in his later years, wrote much which attacked Christianity or promoted his atheistic/deistic views. You can find links to much of his material on the Internet Infidels website's Thomas Paine page. But it wasn't for these materials he was considered a founding father.

    What exactly did Thomas Paine do to put himself on that list of "Founding Fathers"? He didn't sign the Declaration of Independence. He wasn't a member of either of the Continental Congresses that wrote the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution. He was never a Congressman and had no input into the creation of the Bill of Rights. In all sincerity, he seems to have had little to do with any of the documents that serve as the organic founding documents of the United States. No, it appears that his designation as a founder lies on two documents he wrote during the American Revolution: Common Sense and the Crisis. He is described as follows on the website:

    "These are the times that try men's souls." This simple quotation from Thomas Paine's The Crisis not only describes the beginnings of the American Revolution, but also the life of Paine himself. Throughout most of his life, he was a failure, living off the gratitude and generosity of others, but his writings helped inspire a nation. He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States. He had a grand vision for society: he was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly. But his radical views on religion would destroy his success, and by the end of his life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.

    After describing his early life, the article speaks of his contribution to the American revolution:

    In 1776, he published Common Sense, a strong defense of American Independence from England. He joined the Continental Army and wasn't a success as a soldier, but he produced The Crisis (1776-83), which helped inspire the Army. This pamphlet was so popular that as a percentage of the population, it was read by more people than today watch the Superbowl.

    But, instead of continuing to help the Revolutionary cause, he returned to Europe and pursued other ventures, including working on a smokeless candle and an iron bridge.

    Following this, the article reports that he did continue to write, but it does not appear that his writings had any further influence on the founding of the United States. In fact, according to the article, "Paine remained in France until 1802 when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. Paine discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views. Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City."
    So, it appears that while Paine was a deist/atheist, such views were not incorporated into the founding documents. In fact, his later views were so disdained that his earlier works which were admittedly important were, as the article says, "eradicated."

    Did his earlier writings reflect the same anti-Christian/anti-theistic views as his later works such as The Age of Reason? Fortunately, both Common Sense and The Crisis are available on-line, and both show an acceptance of the Christian view of God. Consider the following from Common Sense where Paine addresses how kings came to exist:

    Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the Christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust!

    As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. "Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's" is the scripture doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.

    Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not wonder, that the Almighty ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven.
    (Footnotes omitted from all quotes from these books.)

    Later, still talking about the appointment of kings, Paine wonders how the first king became chosen such that his heirs should also automatically serve as kings, and says:
    If the first king of any country was by election, that likewise establishes a precedent for the next; for to say, that the right of all future generations is taken away, by the act of the first electors, in their choice not only of a king, but of a family of kings for ever, hath no parrallel in or out of scripture but the doctrine of original sin, which supposes the free will of all men lost in Adam; and from such comparison, and it will admit of no other, hereditary succession can derive no glory. For as in Adam all sinned, and as in the first electors all men obeyed; as in the one all mankind were subjected to Satan, and in the other to Sovereignty; as our innocence was lost in the first, and our authority in the last; and as both disable us from reassuming some former state and privilege, it unanswerably follows that original sin and hereditary succession are parallels.

    Consider his summary of his argument against the Divine Right of Kings:

    In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) but the world in blood and ashes. 'Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.
    (Emphasis added.)

    The Crisis is not without its own underlying Christian language. Consider the following from Letter II:

    If ever a nation was made and foolish, blind to its own interest and bent on its own destruction, it is Britain. There are such things as national sins, and though the punishment of individuals may be reserved to another world, national punishment can only be inflicted in this world. Britain, as a nation, is, in my inmost belief, the greatest and most ungrateful offender against God on the face of the whole earth. Blessed with all the commerce she could wish for, and furnished, by a vast extension of dominion, with the means of civilizing both the eastern and western world, she has made no other use of both than proudly to idolize her own "thunder," and rip up the bowels of whole countries for what she could get. Like Alexander, she has made war her sport, and inflicted misery for prodigality's sake. The blood of India is not yet repaid, nor the wretchedness of Africa yet requited. Of late she has enlarged her list of national cruelties by her butcherly destruction of the Caribbs of St. Vincent's, and returning an answer by the sword to the meek prayer for "Peace, liberty and safety." These are serious things, and whatever a foolish tyrant, a debauched court, a trafficking legislature, or a blinded people may think, the national account with heaven must some day or other be settled: all countries have sooner or later been called to their reckoning; the proudest empires have sunk when the balance was struck; and Britain, like an individual penitent, must undergo her day of sorrow, and the sooner it happens to her the better.
    (Emphasis added.)

    There are many more such quotations in these two writings by Thomas Paine that reflect an underlying Christian worldview. It may be that Mr. Paine did not really hold that world view at the time of these writings, but his writings reflect that world view, and these documents were accepted by the masses because they could relate to them. It shows, at a minimum, that Paine knew that his readers would have that world view and wrote to them to reflect that world view. As such, there is simply no question that Thomas Paine's later, anti-Christian/anti-theistic writings were not influential in the founding of the country. Rather, his writings at the time which were heavy with language incorporating a Christian world view were the reason that he was considered one of the founding fathers.

    Mr. Paine's later works will stand or fall on their own. I am not suggesting that just because the views weren't accepted in America does not mean that they may not be right (I have no reason to believe they are, but that is another argument altogether). What I am focusing on here is the fact that it is not appropriate to point to Thomas Paine's later writings and then say "See, the Founding Fathers were deists and their views were incorporated into the Constitution." Such a view can be responded to with three points:

    1. Thomas Paine did not have a hand in writing the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights.

    2. His writings that were important during the Revolutionary War had a Christian world view--not a deistic one.

    3. The fact that he was later shunned in the United States due to his anti-Christian/anti-theist writings shows that such views were not only not part of the underlying beliefs that were incorporated, but shows that the majority of Americans believed such views to be counter to their views.

    Use of Content

    The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at