CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Of course, I have made the claim that the so-called New Atheists (who are really poorer, more boisterous versions of older atheists) lack substance on several occasions. Today's Wall Street Journal has an article by Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and teacher at George Mason University School of Law, that makes the same claim. According to The New New Atheism, the big selling books by the new atheists lack any real substance.

They [the New Atheists] contend that from the vantage point of the 21st century, and thanks to the moral progress of mankind and the achievements of natural science, we can now know, with finality and certainty, that God does not exist and organized religion is a fraud. The disproportion between the bluster and bravado of their rhetoric and the limitations of their major arguments is astonishing.

Mr. Berkowitz then focuses on the latest in the books attacking Christian and theistic belief, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, and raises several good points. Here is a sampling:

Mr. Hitchens anticipates that critics will point to those crimes against humanity, dwarfing religion's sins, committed in the name of secular ideas in the 20th century. He attempts to deflect the challenge with sophistry: "It is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists." But who is behaving defensively here? Mr. Hitchens is the one who unequivocally insists that religion poisons everything, and it is Mr. Hitchens who holds out the utopian hope that eradicating it will subdue humanity's evil propensities and resolve its enduring questions.

Nor is his case bolstered by his observation that 20th-century totalitarianism took on many features of religion. That only brings home the need to distinguish, as Mr. Hitchens resolutely refuses to do, between authentic and corrupt, and just and unjust, religious teachings. And it begs the question of why the 20th-century embrace of secularism unleashed human depravity of unprecedented proportions.

Even were he to concede that religion doesn't poison everything, Mr. Hitchens presumably still would cling to his claim that the findings of modern science prove that God does not exist. Thanks to the knowledge we have attained of how the natural order actually operates--in particular the discoveries of Charles Darwin and modern physics--he concludes that "all attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule."

This conclusion, however, contradicts that of the late Stephen Jay Gould, to whom Mr. Hitchens himself refers as a "great paleontologist" and whose authority he invokes in support of the proposition that randomness is an essential feature of evolution. Noting surveys that showed that half of all scientists are religious, Gould commented amusingly that "Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs--and equally compatible with atheism."

Later on in the article, Mr. Berkowitz makes a comment that is absolutely enlightened.

In making his case that reason must regard faith as an enemy to be wiped out, Mr. Hitchens declares Socrates's teaching that knowledge consists in knowing one's ignorance to be "the definition of an educated person." And yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.

I know I couldn't have said it better.

20 comments:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Well, that certainly is a lot of response. Since I don't have the time to respond to something that long on a point by point basis, and since I don't want to make this like so many atheist/Christian debate boards where every point is answered and answered ad nauseum, let me make just a few responsive observations.

First, I absolutely reject your idea that somehow Christianity is about myths. We have argued on many occasions that such is not the case and there are hundreds of webpages and books that make the same types of arguments. Your choosing to reject them for reasons of your own does not make your position somehow superior or make your position true.

Second, "slavish literalism" is an approach to the Bible adhered to by a minority of Christians who believe such things as the teaching that the universe and all creatures living on it were created in six 24 hour days, but it is also a view that just about every atheist wants to impose on all Christians. Literalism is an approach that I consisder to be stiff and not taking into account the way the text uses poetry, imagery, etc. Berkowitz' statement is appropriate.

I agree that atheism is a small blip, but it is one that does more harm than good IMHO. It also feeds on unreasoned prejudices. Hence, it should be countered as we seek to do here.

Fourth, Berkowitz obviously wasn't attempting to discredit natural science, individual freedom or human equality. That's a very silly view to hold if that's what really you think.

Fifth, a person doesn't hate a void. A person hates God whether she believes in Him or not.

Sixth, Nietzsche taught that if God is dead, all meaning and value are dead. As a result, man is dead. He didn't rejoice over the consequences of what he believed.

Seventh, I agree that great arguments never expire. That's why the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the teleological argument, the ontological argument, the argument from history, the argument from miracles, the argument from the mind, and a number of other arguments and their variations that tend to establish the existence of God stay around and remain robust despite atheist attempts to dismiss them.

Eighth, I don't know the exact wording used by Hitchens in the book regarding whether religion does or can poison everything, but he sure makes it clear in his discussions on shows like the Hugh Hewitt radio program that all religion does poisons everything.

Finally, your effort to smear religion shows that you have absorbed what Sam Harris writes very well. No wonder you felt obliged to point out that Harris' book was omitted from the list of athiest authors Berkowitz cited. Of course, I'm sure you believe that all so-called "free thinkers" think for themselves and don't follow a-religious leaders like mind-numbed robots so you probably don't agree that you are merely acting as a parrot for the garbage that Sam Harris has thrown out.

Needless to say, I hope that you begin to apply that reason that you seem to feel is so important to your own views. I think you may find that they are not as full of that cherished value as you seem to think.

Actually, after further reflection and discussions with others who are familiar with copyright law (as am I, but I haven't done any copyright work in 10 years), I think it highly likely that the comment by bbrian2 violtates the copyright laws because he copies and pastes into the article the entire text of the WSJ article by Berkowitz. Since I believe this to be clearly a copyright violation (and the two people with who brought this to my attention agree), I am deleting the entire post. Sorry, bbrian2. If you want to repost the substance of what you had to say without cutting and pasting the Berkowitz article, you are welcome to do so.

Here is my response, completely out of context, due to BK's removal of my original post.

I hope the removal of my initial post truly was for purposes of fearing copyright infringement, rather than the substance and thoroughness of my arguments. I mean, the Wall Street Journal's original piece actually had a direct LINK to this page - Without a specific request from them, it seems quite unlikely they would've objected to my quoting of the piece as I refuted it.

For anyone who wants to see my reply IN CONTEXT, go here, where they don't censor posts:
http://richarddawkins.net/article,1419,The-New-New-Atheism,Peter-Berkowitz-WSJ#57010

I have posted everything again, here... and it probably will make little to no sense, without the original text dispersed within the text body. Oh well, here goes...


++ Why not, then, does this phrase not apply to the millennia of mindless religious group-think? Atheism has been the quiet, distant dark horse on the horizon for dozens of centuries, and is much less appropriate for this quote-stamp than is Christianity itself. In the first sentence of the piece, this author has made clear his attempts to reverse anti-religious arguments and place them, unfittingly, on his ideology's adversaries. "An eye for an eye" might be more appropriate for an opening bible verse.


++ If one refuses to adhere "slavishly literally" to the Bible, then why take such writings seriously at all? Either you are reading divinely-inspired text, or you are not. If it is an unknown, mixed bag of human rants and divine guidance, then one must cast all credibility of the Bible out the window, as they would be indistinguishable without a separate, divinely-composed guidebook.

++ Free market supply and demand. A decent portion of the estimated 30 million nonbelievers in this country do actually purchase and read books - go figure. Such deliverance on desired topics have been long-sought and are vastly overdue.

++ What about the book that single-handedly started this avalanche of critical analysis of religion: Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" sold over 250,000 copies, and continues to climb. That puts the number very well over 1 million.

++ Yes, atheism is so fashionable that 9 out of 10 Americans would never consider (or admit to) such a hip trend of thought as to question religion. I guess when you've been asleep at the helm of habitual religiosity for several centuries straight, that small bleep on the radar will sure wake you up. But it's still just a small bleep, at least for now. It's all relative - kind of like 'The Princess and the Pea' from our childhood fairy tales.

++ !GASP! How awful!! Science? Individual freedom?? Human equality??!! No wonder we must write such articles like this, attempting to defame and discredit them!

++ I'm curious -- How does one accomplish the hating of a void? If there's no god to hate, then why spend time on it? I've been trying to figure out how to hate that purple tree that does jumping jacks in my bathroom each morning, but I just can't muster up my sense of anti-denial enough to do so. This unenlightened author is obviously seeing criticism of religious belief and activity and assuming it is misplaced hatred for his precious imaginary deity. How naive.

++ ummm.... WHAT? This guy obviously read zero Nietzsche or Heidegger. He probably had his seminary interpret and summarize what the two said. What an outlandish claim. Nietzsche argued for empowerment through the death of *the idea of* god, not as a catastrophe.

++ Well, that was worded a bit strongly, but he may be onto something there. :)

++ What could count more than the ideals of "science, individual freedom, and human equality??" Yeah, those ideas don't count for jack diddley squat.

++ [insert] ",or any other supernatural force, almost certainly" [end insert]

++ Yes, I would agree with that. The majority of organized religion is most definitely a fraud, as the leaders of such institutions are themselves often without much faith, though pretending to have such faith does fare well for their pocketbook.

++ Wouldn't right HERE be the appropriate place to actually DISCUSS the perceived "limitations of their major arguments"? I guess not. That sure was a empty blustery and braisen statement itself. More unintentional irony.

++ Why does he keep saying "new new atheism" instead of just "new atheism", or even just "modern atheism"... is he trying to put out the impression that a "new atheism" has been done before, or that any timelessly potent arguments have some sort of vogue, contemporary importance or attachment to society? Great arguments never expire. He seems to
be attempting to place atheism into a "phase" or "trend" modus, thus rendering it limited in its threat and importance. Bullocks. Religious folk have still never offered a lucid reply to Russell's teapot, and probably never will. How dare this author smear common sense as being some resurgent phase of pop culture. It is the only idea that was here before religion barged in and corrupted human thought.

++ I would whole-heartedly endorse these sentiments. See? I don't always try to disagree. :)

++ He actually never said this. He said that it "can" compel people to do so. The author is trying to warp Hitchens' words so that people can balk at the book, sight unseen, instead of actually reading it and being persuaded by it.

++ Again, the author omitted the word "can." Hitchens isn't so stupid to say that all religion causes all people to behave such and such a manner. But you would sure guess so, reading that sentence. Garbage smearing again.

++ All people, apparently except this author, whose main argument is that religion's good deeds outweigh its bad deeds, thus rendering the bloodspill as being 'worth it.' Personally, I'd rather have millions of people eating insects and getting wet in the rain than have millions of people massacred, sentenced to death, or tortured (including by refusal of condoms or proper education to AIDS-crippled Africans by most all stripes of aid-giving faith organizations) by religion over the years. Why are lives in the present always more important than lives in the past, when the religion is more or less the same? Combing one child's hair today doesn't free you of the net immorality of torturing a child yesterday. Nor does either circumstance have the slightest bit of bearing on the validity of your god actually existing. If anything, those MORE religious and MORE faithful have been the ones doing MORE of the killing and MORE of the torture. Faith for goodwill is a terrible argument to try and make.

++ Nor did he claim such. But anyone who hasn't read the book surely would've guessed so by that sentence. More misinformation, worded greasily.

++ Actually, he did. Hitchens details the Stanford Prison Experiment and Rwandan child soldiers, and how people have the instinct to fight and kill, as a byproduct of hunting and territorial defense by our evolutionary ancestors. His argument is fortified by reasoning, convincingly with much historical detail, how religion creates in-groups and out-groups, and by and large teaches people to distrust, hate, attempt religious conversion of, or even seek the death of, those who disagree with them. Why? Could you think of any better reason to do something irrational than, "if you don't you and your family will suffer immensely for eternity, rather than be rewarded in a blissful afterlife" ?? This is the issue, and Hitchens highlights it very clearly.

++ Now we're getting to what the author should have opened this piece with. :)

++ Ahh, perfect! So if you are accused of child molestation, and found guilty by a jury, then we will molest you and then let you go. Or if you accidentally shoot your sister, then your other sister is going to shoot you. Or if you are a serial murderer, then we will kill you 11 times. Well, ALMOST 11 times. We'll torture you almost to the point of death, then do it over again 10 more times. Then we'll let you go free, because "an eye for an eye" has been full met. Needless to say, aside from my cynical examples listed here, if we based our justice system on the Bible, that would mean that all adulterers are stoned to death. Seems fair, right? “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” -Deuteronomy 22:28-29 Ahh... sweet Biblical justice. And wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we stoned all disobedient children to death? That's what the bible clearly orders in Deuteronomy 21:18.

++ I would like to echo Mr. Hitchens' sentiments. What in the world is wrong with Abraham??! In our modern, secular justice system, any father who made this physical preparation and threat to his child, should be put away in prison for a long time -- even if he didn't perform Step 3 of the ritual. But in the Bible, it's okay to scar, to scare, and to torture your children to entertain your imaginary friend.

++ and WHY was that a widespread practice?? Because of religion, not for evolutionary fitness. Ugh. This guy totally misses the point, and should NOT be writing op-eds. He makes the WSJ look really bad.

++ Now he's REALLY reading into the story. The text reads: "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Genesis 22:12; Abraham was having his faith (and fear) of Yahweh tested by being asked to sacrifice his son. He was going slit his throat and burn him, and then at the last second, an angel of the lord told him it was just a test. Abraham was going to follow through with it. And that was one of dozens of child sacrifices written about in the Old Testament. Shame on this author for re-interpreting something so plainly written and for glorifying the tactic child sacrifice and torture.

++ Umm... I don't think the author read the book. He must've been reading the chapter titles. Hitchens lays out an assailing argument against the role of Christianity in the drafting of law of the U.S. Constitution by our founding (largely non-Christian) fathers. And yeah, I trust a computer science professor to teach to me about the intricacies of our founding fathers' religious notions as integrated into the law of our land. Take this quote from Gelertner, "No mere secular ideology, no mere philosophical belief, could possibly have inspired the intensities of hatred and devotion that Americanism has." -Then reconcile that outlandish, unjustified statement with this one: "Few believing Americans can show, nowadays, how Americanism’s principles are derived from the Bible. But many are willing to say that these principles are God-given. Freedom comes from God, George W. Bush has said more than once; and if you pressed him, I suspect you would discover that not only does he say it, he believes it. Many Americans all over the country agree with him. The idea of a 'secular' Americanism based on the Declaration of Independence is an optical illusion." Wow - talk about an "astonishing disproportion between the bluster and bravado of their rhetoric and the limitations of their major arguments." George W. Bush now decides what the founding fathers believed. Again - weak, weak, weak. Shame on WSJ for hosting such guano. Guano, because it's crap, but becomes fortified over time if there's enough of it.


++ Like what? Nationalism? Ethnocentrism and racism? Hitchens may be right, but he has nothing to worry about. A secular idea does not necessarily equate to an idea perpetuated by non-religious folk. If you look at the numbers, the constituency of most of these "secular" atrocities is an overwhelmingly religious populous. Next argument.

++ There is no challenge. He is reinforcing his solid argument, so as to insulate it against future challenges from formidable ideological opponents. Apparently, this author missed that bus. On and on he goes, nevertheless, below...

++ Umm... nonbelievers. And for good reason. A) They're the vast minority; B) They have been persecuted for ages for their lack of belief, regardless of validation; and C) His preparations of defense have no bearing on the argument he presents. This author is trying to paint Hitchens as being defensive, thus, "he must have something to hide." No, sir - he is defensive because of silly, whitewashing editorial attack like this piece that pop up on a daily basis against rationality and reason. It's called giving credence to an argument. Learn how to do so. Moving on...

++ It does, as is demonstrated strikingly clear in his book. Note he doesn't claim that religion KILLS everything. Some things recover very well from being poisoned. But the fact remains -- there are very few innocuous religions, and those that do good usually have a lot of [undried] blood on their helping hands.

++ He never said, or even hinted, at that. He hoped that evils done in the name of religion, if emaciated, would make the world a better place. To claim that acts of harm would be alleviated by removing religion is a claim no reasonable person would (or did) state.

++ I'm sure we'll get a great counter-argument on this one...

++ Oops, guess he was too busy to counter the claim. Instead, he avoids it, and switches the question to one of truth and falsehood in human behavior. If that is his angle, then keep in mind that there was no one on the 9/11 flights who believed in their god more than the hijackers did. Authenticity is as much of a problem with religion than inauthenticity. Literal adherents are as frightening, and often more so, then those who piddle-paddle around everything, cherry-picking and re-interpreting die-cut bible verses out of context.

++ Umm... because religion isn't the sole source of wrongdoing in the world. See above. Nationalism and ethnocentrism are among the worst modern offenders. But if religion was such a great proliferate of justice and peace, then why were the vast majority of the forces in WWII were religious (even Christian). In Hitler's Mein Kampf, he details his admiration for Martin Luther and Luther's advocacy of burning synagogues and schools, and the deportation of jews. A VERY Christian idea morphed into a nationalist campaign by many of whom were Christian and did nothing to stop it. What were Germany's Protestant churches during all of this atrocity? Signed up and participating. That's right -- fascism had to get its ideas from somewhere. Insolent 16th century Christianity was the perfect starting block. So let's drop the act of pretending that religion is a net "good" - it is not, and history shows that when you do the research. Why? My hunch is that people care a lot less about their fellow humans, and more about pleasing *their own* god, then they have an afterlife to attend to. Why else would you ruin the world and die for a silly idea? Hitchens argues, "religion."

++ why would he concede something that was demonstrably false, after writing so much to prove exactly that? Okay.. hypothetical... moving on...

++ Of course Hitchens clings to this idea. As would 95% of those who actually did the research enough to know better - something this author obviously cares not to do. Besides, the scientific and philosophical reasoning for the improbability of a deity was a job for Dawkins and Stenger.. you can't have all non-belief books rolled into one. It'd be thousands of pages.

++ He's absolutely right. Let's see if we get some counter-arguments for Hitchens' sound suppositions on this subject...

++ I believe this is a WTF moment. So.. WTF??! How does randomness being involved in evolution have any bearing whatsoever on the solidity of the evidence presented to us through the sciences?? This author must have never taken a biology class in his life to attribute evolution to "randomness." Natural selection capitalizes upon randomness by selecting for the most fit mutants, however much they resemble (or fail to resemble) the whole of their parents. It's called descent with modification. Descent occurs as a new generation is spawned (either sexually or asexually). Modification occurs primarily as a result of random mutation and genetic recombination between mating organisms. This is a clear example of naivety throwing a sheet over reality. This author is getting more and more desperate, reaching into his shallow pockets for evidential weapons he does not possess. Notice the omission of Gould's doubtful(though respectful) agnosticism, painting him as one who had problems with evolution as an overarching explanation, as if Gould thought evolution was insufficient of a mechanism to explain the diversity and complexity of life. Give me a break already.

++ Yeah.. it's called a JOKE. He wouldn't seriously assert that half his colleagues, who he has to work with on a daily basis, are stupid. He is making a point with a dash of humor. Geez.

++ Yes, it MUST be compatible in the minds of his colleagues, otherwise they would quit their jobs in denial of what they have seen! If they continued to believe that evolution could not be a process of their god, then they would be forced to believe that all evidence they have observed was all in their imagination, and that the universe remains magical and without explanation. Instead, they did what any wise religious person would do -- compartmentalize and rationalize, shoving your god into a tiny corner of your brain, so as not to interfere with the reality of science you witness every waking day. Lots of people do this. But none of them give a coherent rationalization for believing both.. it always comes back to "faith" or "a feeling." Never underestimate the power of compartmentalized and segregated thought processes.

++ Ahh, yes... "The Dawkins Delusion" -That monstrous 5X8, triple spaced, 14-point-font, 82-text-page diatribe that annihilates all notions of disbelief. Kidding. This book is a 1-hour read, and a 4 hour laugh. It used very little science (especially considering the biochemistry background of the primary author, which shows that science is not a good angle to take against atheism), but is rather full of allegory, misinformation, and misstatements about religious history, philosophy, and human behavior. It was funnier than reading The Onion. Well, that is, until I realized that people take McGrath's arguments as being true and logical.

++ Such as...? I haven't heard one question to this date that couldn't be dealt with in a scientific realm, considering the tools of the trade and their ever-decreasing limitations, of course. By definition, supernature

cannot exist, as it must as some point interact with nature, thus rendering itself subject to observation and examination - as a result no longer being super-natural, but natural and understood.

++ Scientism: a consistent reliance on reason and evidence to make conclusions about our existence, rather than on fables and emotions.

++ The inflationary big bang is explained beautifully by Victor Stenger, author of "God: The Failed Hypothesis". There is, and has always existed, a net balance of zero between positive and negative energy, thus requiring no initial "mover" to bring about energy, thus matter, in our universe. What is here appears to have always been here. When you fill the gaps of science with god, and then science explains the gap, bye-bye to your god. Sorry... science informs us of reality, religion distorts it.

++ I wouldn't call it an old straw man. Old, yes... but a very hefty and widely hailed emperor pervades people's thinking about the clarity of the bible. And the emperor has no clothes, but he sure is no straw man - this old man is ripe for criticism and realization like he has never felt before.

++ See paragraph one. If you are going to pick and choose what to take literally, then it all goes out the window. Or did god also write (or inspire) "The Holy Bible Guidebook: What I meant, and What You Wrote By Mistake"? I didn't think so. It's divine or it's man-made - You don't get to pick and choose. That was the job for the New Testament Church Council in the year 397, that of picking and choosing based on their own human morals, when they cast out the Apocryphal gospels because they were too R-rated.

++ The writer's point evades me. I think he is saying that we must take the bible in context in order to appreciate it. I'm not sure why he thinks Hitchens fails to understand that. After all, Hitchens does go on and on about the exact same point, from the opposite perspective. He makes clear that it was a primal, Bronze-age peoples who wrote the bible, and that the culture of war, dispute, and papal power is what kept it alive. Near-mandation of its belief, even though most believers never got a chance to read it until the late middle ages, so it was probably quite distorted and misconstrued in its teaching through the church. Looking at it in context makes it clear that it was a bad idea, made worse by those who had no choice but to take it as truth. Now we have tools of research and methods of reason that should keep us immune from such blind reliance on a text that most of its adherents have never fully read.

++ Hitchens never said "wiped out," as this would imply using force or law to do so. Rather, Hitchens is confident and strident about the potential of science and anti-dogmatic dissent in raising people's awareness to eradicate superstitious and primal thinking, without the need for force. People, seeing the light of reason, would be excited to leave behind the dark ages of blind, tripping faith.

++ Au contraire, mon frère. To you, holding a standard of objectivity and empiricism to a claim before believing it equates to dogmatism. That must mean that when watching The Wizard of Oz, I am being dogmatic for believing it to be a fairy tale on a television set, rather than a reality I am immersed in. Being rational and skeptical is not dogma - it is the only way to know truth. Don't get upset and throw your *own* labels onto atheists just because your beliefs can't pass The Reality Test of being verifiable by any method. This reminds me of "I am rubber, you are glue..." and is completely nonsensical. True, people have biases, but in this case, his judgments of what is true and what is not true accord tightly with the discoveries and consensus of empirical academia.

++ I would love to hear about some of these errors. Excesses eschewed by Hitchens could only begin to pile at the feet of the world's religions' excesses. Excess lives lost, excess brains infected, and excess progress made in the name of humanity.

++ If people grow to hate Hitchens, that's fine. I'm sure he's used to it. But that's irrelevant to whether his points are true or not. By raising eyebrows he is helping things. What must slave-owners thought when the first underground railroads began popping up? "But I treat my slaves very well! This is outrageous!" Too bad. Peaceful conflict creates awareness and tends to sort out the truth - the only thing Hitchens is meaning to do here.

++ He wasn't writing a religious differences book, it was on the harmfulness of religion as a whole, detailed by giving hundreds of accounts of religiously-driven harm, correctly attributing and detailing the respective offending group. What more could you ask for? I love how people always expect 8 different books in the space of 1, and focus on the things entirely out of the scope of the book's stated preface - things like 'religious diversity.'

++ What a load of shame. Though it may be true that Hitchens releases some ad hominem attacks, all of those recipients are well-deserving, even by the most respectful standards. All of his accounts are well-documented, and most offenders very overdue for ridicule. Such language does not debase interest in the reformation process, but rather, invigorates those caring about human rights and peace to investigate further. Hitchens can be abrasive, but is unparalleled in his eloquence, scholarship and sharp prose - an Ann Coulter, he is not.

++ Just because we have a common foe does not mean we are friends. Christianity is every bit as unreasonable as is Islam, so don't expect us to treat your faith with kid gloves just because we're on the same side of some issues.

++ and such wonder can be superbly filled, and drawn further, by the study of science.

++ Sometimes, that's very true. The most vile of creatures are also human beings themselves. Science gives us the explanation for this; religion just exacerbates those existing symptoms.

++ More cherry-picking, I'm not surprised to see. The bible is not so kind to women, and such citations show your attempt to sugar-coat the bitter reality of the whole text of the bible. How dare you convey the overarching attitude in the bible as being respective of women. There are far too many sexist, anti-female quotes in the "good book" to name here. Try any of the dozens listed here: http://members.shaw.ca/tfrisen/Bbl/Sexism/Sexism.html
And that's not to even delve into any of the hundreds of stories in the bible detailing treatment of slaves and of those whose faith differs from your own. To exclaim that the bible provides a cogent and desirable moral framework for ethics is outrageous, and shows that a great deal of canonical scholarship is needed on the author's behalf.

++ Good thing, or we'd still believe it right to have slaves and for women to have no rights.

++ In addition to a simple and overpowering innate instinct towards goodwill between neighboring humans, there exists plenty of scientific evidence that humans fare best when treating each other fairly. It is obvious we are all best off being nice to each other - it should come without thinking. Additionally, science has provided us an empirical explanation for these inherent tendencies towards respect and cooperation. Perhaps you have heard of Zoology, Psychology, Paleoanthropology, etc... ? If you need an ancient allegory of awfulness to force you to be nice to people, I seriously feel for your psychological condition.

++ No, it's not. They all fail the Reality Test, and have no inherent basis for beneficial moral behavior. You make judgments on what verses in the bible to follow, using your innate homo sapien instincts for fair treatment. At times, mass civilization, overpopulation, and technology can muffle this instinct towards social goodwill, but overall it is always there and has only been perverted or co-opted by religious institutions in order to further their own goals.

++ Absolutely - no argument there. But help is on the way. Soon, religious-minded folk will no longer need to use superstition and archaic myths and folk tales to become informed about the world in which they live. Scientific

naturalism allows them far more wonder than does religion, and creates a sense of simultaneous pride and humility about how far we've come, how lucky we are, and how little precious time on earth we have to enjoy its sheer brilliance.


Brian

Now here is my response to BK's first post here:

My responses to BK are begun with ++ ...

> BK said...
> Well, that certainly is a lot of response. Since I don't have the time to respond to something that long on a
> point by point basis, and since I don't want to make this like so many atheist/Christian debate boards where every
> point is answered and answered ad nauseum, let me make just a few responsive observations.

++ Fair enough... I (and my schedule) appreciate that - I will also try and be concise in my response. :)

> First, I absolutely reject your idea that somehow Christianity is about myths. We have argued on many occasions
> that such is not the case and there are hundreds of webpages and books that make the same types of arguments. Your
> choosing to reject them for reasons of your own does not make your position somehow superior or make your position
> true.

++ Your mission: Explain to me how 5th-hand, greatly post-mortem accounts of a person's life are any different than the thousands of "miracle workers" and "faith healers" abound today. What makes Jesus's story any more believeable than that of David Wells or Peter Popoff, aside from their lives' timeframe lining up with ours? People have claimed for millennia, and still do, that they are the chosen ones, and that their powers can help and heal. Osiris-Dionysus and Apollonius of Tyana both had the same acclaim and life story as did Jesus, until Jesus's followers came along and co-opted the old myths into the name of Christ instead. Things haven't changed. If Jesus was the savior, then so is Mohammed, and so is Peter Popoff.

> Second, "slavish literalism" is an approach to the Bible adhered to by a minority of Christians who believe such
> things as the teaching that the universe and all creatures living on it were created in six 24 hour days, but it
> is also a view that just about every atheist wants to impose on all Christians. Literalism is an approach that I
> consisder to be stiff and not taking into account the way the text uses poetry, imagery, etc. Berkowitz' statement
> is appropriate.

++ Ahh, I think you've got part of the picture. The bible is allegory - it is parable and example, meant to feed the storytelling animal and provide it with a means of reflection and lesson-learning. To take it literally, AT ALL, is to stand on shakey ground. There is no divine authority on what in the bible is fable or fact. Without such a guide, it should all be taken with a big block of salt.

> I agree that atheism is a small blip, but it is one that does more harm than good IMHO. It also feeds on
> unreasoned prejudices. Hence, it should be countered as we seek to do here.

++ And what harm has atheism done? What lives have been taken in the name of atheism? What minds have been controlled or tortured in the name of atheism? What prejudices have inflicted distress or suffering on any group or person by atheism? None. People find and agree with atheism because they think critically and skeptically, not because they are sheepish and conflict-phobic group-thinkers who swallow ideas verbatim without questioning. That is the ballpark of religious believers. No atheist wants to convert people to their way of thinking. We believe that will come naturally once reasonable people have been exposed to the truth, and I am confident that such discussions as this one will only raise questions and eyebrows for anyone new to the idea of doubt. There is no hatred or harm done by atheism to persons. Rather, the harm is put to mythic illusions and superstitious dogma that have murdered, tortured, and enslaved bodies and minds for many centuries. Just because atheism opposes religion doesn't mean its hands are also bloody. In fact, atheism and rationality are attempting to act as band-aids on the mindless bloodletting we have come to know all too well as a byproduct of silly religious prejudices.

> Fourth, Berkowitz obviously wasn't attempting to discredit natural science, individual freedom or human equality.
> That's a very silly view to hold if that's what really you think.

++ Fair enough. But he shouldn't have drawn a line between the aspired values between religion and science as being different. That only makes him appear to be devaluing natural science. He didn't make any comments about how secular humanism's goals were a good thing - he just moved on after painting a difference. I also hope he meant nothing bad.

> Fifth, a person doesn't hate a void. A person hates God whether she believes in Him or not.

++ Please explain. I thought I did a pretty thorough job of picking apart this flawed logic, but apparently not. If your nextdoor neighbor has delusions of a team of fairies in his tomato garden, then how is it possible to hate those fairies? You cannot hate something you don't recognize as existing. Like the purple tree that does jumping jacks in my bathroom.. I just cannot seem to hate it, no matter how hard I try. Why? Because it doesn't exist, thus my hate would not operate as an emotion without a existential target. Please try and conceive this point. Thanks.

> Sixth, Nietzsche taught that if God is dead, all meaning and value are dead. As a result, man is dead. He didn't
> rejoice over the consequences of what he believed.

++ Nietzsche taught that if god is dead, then all eternal and Platonic universal morals and values are dead. You need to clarify. He was an existentialist, believing that god was not necessary to have personal morals and values. You need to understand the difference. Just because a value or moral isn't eternal or universal, does not mean they cannot be held. He went to great lengths to elucidates this, but apparently many people didn't catch that somehow. He admitted that it was sad that there were no universal truths, but he (and his characters) also gained self-empowerment and urgency in accomplishing their life goals with a limited time on the planet. All is not pointless, but much more important as a result.

> Seventh, I agree that great arguments never expire. That's why the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the
> teleological argument, the ontological argument, the argument from history, the argument from miracles, the
> argument from the mind, and a number of other arguments and their variations that tend to establish the existence
> of God stay around and remain robust despite atheist attempts to dismiss them.

++ Whoa.. can of worms there. I wish you had actually stated specific points so as to keep this debate focused and conversable. However, since you have thrown the entire book of myths at me, I have no choice but to keep my earlier promise to be succinct in my replies. I will remind you that I have already addressed these issues in my former essay. I will also remind you that did not rebut my explanations for scientific reasoning that answers the questions posed by those arguments. If you want to deny scientific consensus, then feel free to deny that baseball is a sport as well. If you have counter-arguments, pick them, and place them in this forum to be addressed. Mentioning debunked ideas does not show them to be valid ideas. This is supposed to be a forum for comment and debate, not for claiming extravagant things without evidence. Keep in mind that to suppose that the universe had a finite beginning must logically assume that a "creator" ALSO had a finite beginning, either by magically appearing or by evolving from something smaller. If something as complex as the universe must have had a creator, then how does something so many orders of magnitude MORE complex just pop into existence from nothing? By creating a god, you create a real problem for that god's origins. Namely, what IS its origin. Science needs no god to explain how the universe exists, demonstrating a net balance of zero between positive and negative energy, thus needing no initial "mover". However, you don't seem to have read my entire post from last time, or you would already understand this.

> Eighth, I don't know the exact wording used by Hitchens in the book regarding whether religion does or can poison
> everything, but he sure makes it clear in his discussions on shows like the Hugh Hewitt radio program that all
> religion does poisons everything.

++ Perhaps you should read a book before deciding to attack it. Attacking the author is a personal attack, otherwise known as ad hominem. It does nothing for the discourse to speak of Hitchens' personality rather than his literature, and shows the tumidity on which you base your decisions of belief -- emotion over substance. I believe he would be hard-pressed to say that Jainism poisons its human hosts, though it could be argued they incur undue mental stress, worrying about killing bacteria and insects every time they move. By and large, it is a correct, though not overarchingly absolute statement. Do you really expect someone in his position to entitle the book, "god is Not Great: How 99.93% of religious dogmatism causes mild to extreme mental or physical anguish amongst it adherents and/or their ideological adversaries" ? C'mon now.

> Finally, your effort to smear religion shows that you have absorbed what Sam Harris writes very well. No wonder
> you felt obliged to point out that Harris' book was omitted from the list of athiest authors Berkowitz cited. Of
> course, I'm sure you believe that all so-called "free thinkers" think for themselves and don't follow a-religious
> leaders like mind-numbed robots so you probably don't agree that you are merely acting as a parrot for the garbage
> that Sam Harris has thrown out.

++ Smearing religion would consist of claims without evidence, which is obviously more in the safe keeping of hands such as your own. I put forth specific arguments and questions with non-anecdotal evidence, at lenghth, just to avoid being accused of "smearing". Funny how no matter how specifically or eloquently one criticizes religion, it always equates to "smearing" instead of discrediting outrageous and widely-held beliefs. Yeesh. If I knew I was going to be labeled a "smear-er", I would've just written 2 lines of ad hominem attacks on religion and SAVED MYSELF 4 HOURS. You really should consider your words more carefully - not all ideas that collide with yours are "smears". Religion does not need any help from me, or anyone else for that matter, to be smeared. It has smeared itself red with its long-waged battles against common sense, disbelief, and scientific discovery. Remember Galileo? Read your history book. Religious ideology has oceans of blood on its hands, and still continues to wallow in its own "red sea." For me to bring this up is justified, not "smearing", and I think the readers of this forum know better. I have qualms with every author I read. Sam Harris still reserves a remotely tiny possibility for the existence of telepathy, though is extremely skeptical about it. I disagree with that. Richard Dawkins doesn't adequately address the possible evolutionary origins of religion in his new book. I wish he had. I don't adhere tightly to opinions - I follow the facts presented, and wherever they lead me if they show themselves to be true. Such authors that have the bend of atheism, by default, have the disposition to doubt things. Therefore, they put down no words on paper that haven't passed the reality test. Skepticism equates to questioning dogmatism. I also follow this principle, not the principle of any author or speaker. Instead of calling me a parrot, which is hugely mistaken, how about next time actually *addressing* the points brought up that devastate your worldview. Talk about defensive verbiage. Geez.

> Needless to say, I hope that you begin to apply that reason that you seem to feel is so important to your own
> views. I think you may find that they are not as full of that cherished value as you seem to think.

++ My reason has been applied to everything my entire life, just like it has to this conversation. Let's get back to the facts, not more rhetoric. That seems to be all I'm getting out of your post. I hope to see a reply. Thanks! :)

Brian,

Please be courteous and resist the lowbrow impulse to impute nefarious motives to those with whom you disagree. Reproducing another person's entire article raises serious copyright concerns. It does not matter whether it is linked or there is any express prohibition or not. I raised this concern and suggested that your post be deleted. And believe me, I was not concerned with the substance of it in the least. This blog exists in large part and with the hope that we will have the opportunity to address substantive responses from critics, skeptics, atheists, and others.

bbrian2,

Lots of talking but lots of underlying assumptions that aren't necessarily true, too. For example, right out of the gate, you say:

"Explain to me how 5th-hand, greatly post-mortem accounts of a person's life are any different than the thousands of "miracle workers" and "faith healers" abound today."

What gives you the impression that these are 5th hand accounts? What gives you the impression that they are "greatly post-mortem"? I ask that not because I am ignorant of the existence of people making such claims, but because there are certainly people (of which I am one) who understand that very good arguments can and have been made that the four Gospels and the Epistles are all written no later than 70 A.D. by the people to whom they have been traditionally attributed. Thus, I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Mark was written by John Mark who wrote down the preaching of the Apostle Peter. I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written either by the Apostle Matthew or his immediate followers who faithfully wrote down what he said. I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Luke was written by Luke, companion of Paul, who wrote down what he learned from his investigation into the life of Christ when he visited Jerusalem (including what appears to be evidence that he spoke with Mary, the mother of Jesus). I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. John was written by the Apostle John or his immediate followers (although this is the most questionable for the four Gospels in terms of exactly who authored it). I can (and have) argued that Paul wrote most of the letters attributed to him, and even the ones that are questionable may still be written by Paul. There is certainly a case to be made that all of these documents were completed before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. with most be completed by 65 A.D. Since Jesus died in or around 31 A.D., we are not talking some huge expanse of time between the death of Jesus and the circulation of the New Testament texts.

So, if you are going to assert that they are "5th hand accounts" and "greatly post-mortem" you had better be aware that such assertions are quite subject to challenge.

How are they different than the thousands of miracle workers and faith healers around today? Are you saying that there are miracles being performed? And how many of these individuals pulled off the ultimate miracle -- self-volitionally resurrecting from the dead? How many of them were foretold in sacred writings that preceded them by Centuries? How many of them do you suppose will be considered anything more than an historical footnote 2,000 years from now? Personally, I think that there are many differences -- many more than the similarities.

What differentiates Jesus from Peter Popoff and David Wells? I am not particularly familiar with either of those two gentlemen, but I did just visit their websites. With respect to Peter Popoff, he appears to be a failth healer who heals in the name of Jesus who is identified as God. Thus, unlike Jesus, Popoff doesn't claim to be God. Likewise, David Wells (assuming you mean David Wells the spiritual healer and not David Wells the pitcher for the San Diego Padres) does not make any claims to be the one and only Son of God. So, that, at a minimum, differentiates those two from Jesus.

The idea that Jesus is a copycat savior is old tripe that has been debunked on countless occasions. My personal favorite book on the subject is Ronald Nash's "Jesus and the Jews". I can also recommend visiting Frontline Apologetics where one of our fellow CADRE members has posted several pieces debunking that old theory. Our Historical Jesus page (http://web.archive.org/web/20060221193012/http://www.christiancadre.org/topics/historicaljesus.html#pagan) has several other articles on this subject.

This is the response to just the first of your several paragraphs. I went into some more detail here to show that we aren't just "rhetoric" like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are. I could go into the same level of detail (and even deeper) on just about everything that you write, but I think this makes the point. The point is this: you are certainly free to believe what you want, but please accept the fact that much of what you have learned about the origin of the belief that Jesus is savior is wrong or, at minimum, subject to a great deal more careful thought than people like Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris give to it. Those people are just recylcing the same old nonsense that has been rejected time and again by people who are truly interested in investigating the basis for the Christian faith.

So, I will end with simply saying that you have made numerous assumptions that are questionable if not downright untrue throughout what you have written. I disagree with much of what you wrote and I invite you to take the time to read material by people who soundly disagree with Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. You may be surprised.

I’ll try and lead you in the right direction, as far as seeing things from outside the box. Your lines are in “” marks, mine begin with ++ …


“”What gives you the impression that these are 5th hand accounts? “”

++ Because Jesus didn’t write the bible. From his alleged words (of which no one could’ve possibly scribed in wax, ink, or stone as quickly as he would’ve spoken) to the Bible you have in your hands is at LEAST 5 generations of hearsay, interpretation, and the good old game of “telephone”. I was being generous. It’s probably more like 10th- or 12th- hand accounts, what you are reading. That is, unless you’ve read the original tablets, scribes, and scrolls… which would themselves be at least 3rd- or 4th- hand themselves.

“”What gives you the impression that they are "greatly post-mortem"?””

Umm… because they were written down decades after the death of the alleged Jesus figure. Imagine trying to keep track today of what Superman said in the July 1965 issue from DC Comics, purely by word of mouth – no written text allowed. Then write down exactly what he said, as was conveyed to you on a purely verbal basis. I think this simile may begin to show you how difficult it might be to keep words and actions historically accurate in depending solely on the oral tradition, which is highly subject to mutation and evolution itself through its carriers, human beings.

“”I ask that not because I am ignorant of the existence of people making such claims, but because there are certainly people (of which I am one) who understand that very good arguments can and have been made that the four Gospels and the Epistles are all written no later than 70 A.D. by the people to whom they have been traditionally attributed. Thus, I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Mark was written by John Mark who wrote down the preaching of the Apostle Peter. I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Matthew was written either by the Apostle Matthew or his immediate followers who faithfully wrote down what he said. I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. Luke was written by Luke, companion of Paul, who wrote down what he learned from his investigation into the life of Christ when he visited Jerusalem (including what appears to be evidence that he spoke with Mary, the mother of Jesus). I can (and have) argued that the Gospel of St. John was written by the Apostle John or his immediate followers (although this is the most questionable for the four Gospels in terms of exactly who authored it). I can (and have) argued that Paul wrote most of the letters attributed to him, and even the ones that are questionable may still be written by Paul.””

++ That sure sounds impressive, until you realize that for 30-40 years, they depended on oral folk legends and scribblings for the whole of the story. Besides, even if Jesus himself wrote the bible, that would by no means make it any more believable than our modern-day DC Comics. I’m not making a case against a historical Jesus (though that could certainly be done). I’m simply illustrating the distance between the source and the final product as being quite expansive, with the source being quite unlikely in the first place, and the great subjectivity and change to which such a story may be exposed to along its long path from folk fable to foundational faith.

“”There is certainly a case to be made that all of these documents were completed before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. with most be completed by 65 A.D. Since Jesus died in or around 31 A.D., we are not talking some huge expanse of time between the death of Jesus and the circulation of the New Testament texts.””

++ Thirty to forty years is an immense amount of time for an eyewitness account to be corrupted. Modern courts of law often throw out any eyewitness testimony over a few years old, as human event memory has been shown empirically by the fields of forensic psychology and neuroscience to be very unreliable in accuracy of event recall after a few years’ time. The human experience idealizes, warps, and smudges reality – a great thing to keep in mind during this conversation.

“”So, if you are going to assert that they are "5th hand accounts" and "greatly post-mortem" you had better be aware that such assertions are quite subject to challenge.””

++ I believe I’ve already demonstrated those assertions to be unfalsified in my reasoning above, but I’ll allow you to be the purely objective judge of that.

“”[How are they different than the thousands of miracle workers and faith healers around today? –my quote] Are you saying that there are miracles being performed?””

++ I’m saying there are just as many miracles being performed today as in Jesus’ time – Zero.

++ How would you dispute the authenticity of these claims?
http://www.creation-science-prophecy.com/miracles/miracles1.html
How about these miracles?
http://aboutfacts.net/Miracles4.htm
Or this one?
http://descant.classicalanglican.net/?p=519
Or maybe this one?
http://jdblundell.blogspot.com/2005/04/modern-day-medical-miracles.html

++ I have a feeling you will dispute these as being non-biblical. These are just a handful of thousands of alleged miracles floating around. How, then, would you prove that they are physically explainable, or results of human misinterpretation? Whatever your answer, imagine using that same line of logic to the alleged miracles contained in the bible, and you’ll begin to get my drift. Miracles now, miracles then… it’s the same ballgame. Misinterpretation and propagation.


“”And how many of these individuals pulled off the ultimate miracle -- self-volitionally resurrecting from the dead?””

++ The same number as do so today – Zero. You are making the truth claim here, I am simply refuting it for lack of evidence. We know by now that verbal folk tales by no means equate to archaeological or anthropological evidence whatsoever. The burden rests on those making the claim. I never claimed anything happened, and have no reason to believe that life was anything but business as usual in that time and place of our world history.

“”How many of them were foretold in sacred writings that preceded them by Centuries?””

++ The same number as now – Zero. You can take any Talmudic prophecy and espouse to fulfill it, create a story about it, and then revere your own work as being inspired by a deity. Just because they had hundreds of years to prepare a story (let alone an actual event) to fulfill those old prophecies gives no reason to think that it wasn’t A) conspired and planned to appear to fulfill those predictions; or B) a coincidence of events that was either i) rounded off at the edges to fit neatly as a prophetic fulfillment; or ii) very remotely resembling anything in prophecy, but was made to appear so much later through canonical writings. You’re putting way too much faith in the belief that humans are not prone to error or misgivings. We are extremely fallible in our oral tradition, not to mention the objectivity and reliability of our initial observations. Just because people think they saw a UFO doesn’t mean that they saw a UFO.

“”How many of them do you suppose will be considered anything more than an historical footnote 2,000 years from now?””

++ Probably not many… I would guess the same amount that acquire the funding and fervor attributable to the stories of Jesus. So, in other words, I think Scientology and Islam have great potential to be the two warring oppositions to Christianity in 50 years. In 2,000 years, I think we will probably have killed ourselves off due to ethnic and religious disparities, or that we may get over our superstitions and finally abandon the absurdity of religious devotion, at which point all of them will be mere footnotes in history.

“” Personally, I think that there are many differences -- many more than the similarities.””

++ I have trouble telling them apart. The only difference between modern and ancient myth? YOU are personally not there to witness the ancient accounts, which by all strokes of logic, should make you LESS inclined to believe them. But, with blind faith and the trust in authority heralded by most all religion, I suppose it is no surprise to find you believing an even less likely or less-verifiable “supernatural” scenario.

“”What differentiates Jesus from Peter Popoff and David Wells? I am not particularly familiar with either of those two gentlemen, but I did just visit their websites. With respect to Peter Popoff, he appears to be a failth healer who heals in the name of Jesus who is identified as God. Thus, unlike Jesus, Popoff doesn't claim to be God.””

++ Well, that’s because that chair has already been taken. Don’t for one minute doubt that Popoff wouldn’t jump into the highchair of “son of god” if his entire congregation hadn’t already accepted Jesus as the son – that is something that creeps like Popoff (and David Koresh) would do. But keep in mind that Jesus didn’t completely claim to be god, either… sometimes he was the holy spirit, sometimes he was god’s only begotten son, sometimes he was the wind and the water of the lord thy god. It’s a pretty ambiguous, thus safe, position to take for the legend of Jesus. If Jesus really would have been god himself, then killing Jesus on the crucifixion would’ve killed god. And I’m sure you would object to that idea, thus showing the character of Jesus was not exactly the whole and complete of Yahweh, but rather an exponent of Yahweh – and neither is Peter Popoff. But Popoff sure exclaims lots of miracles, and of being “chosen by the lord”. I hope you can see less of a distinction through this comparison. Second hand healer… third hand healer… why draw the line of legitimacy at # 2? They both claim divine empowerment and claim to heal the sick… why would the year in which they do it even matter?

“”Likewise, David Wells (assuming you mean David Wells the spiritual healer and not David Wells the pitcher for the San Diego Padres) does not make any claims to be the one and only Son of God. So, that, at a minimum, differentiates those two from Jesus.””

++ You’re drawing an arbitrary line at SON | CHOSEN ONE. Why couldn’t the ‘chosen one’ perform just as many miracles, or be just as authentic, as the ‘son’?

“”The idea that Jesus is a copycat savior is old tripe that has been debunked on countless occasions. My personal favorite book on the subject is Ronald Nash's "Jesus and the Jews". I can also recommend visiting Frontline Apologetics where one of our fellow CADRE members has posted several pieces debunking that old theory. Our Historical Jesus page (http://web.archive.org/web/20060221193012/http://www.christiancadre.org/topics/historicaljesus.html#pagan) has several other articles on this subject.””

++ And could you explain why is it that you don’t worship in the names of Osiris-Dionysus and Apollonius of Tyana? Why is it that you don’t worship Allah through his divine Muhammed? My point is not that Jesus’ story is a copycat of the others, but that the others are just as worthy of your praise and worship, judging by the stories of their acts and accomplishments. I could question you about 750 other holy names here and why you decided not to worship them instead, but I’ll spare you. Explain to me why you chose Jesus, when the other religions state that Christianity is wrong, and that THEIR savior is the only way to eternal bliss? I would argue that it’s a direct byproduct of your culture. Had you been born in Saudi Arabia in an Islamic culture in the 1970’s, do you truly honestly think you would be a Christian right now? The answer is a pragmatic ‘no.’ It’s where you are born, and when you are born – not which religion makes the most sense -- that determines what faith you are. I wish more intelligent Christians like yourself would admit to this fact instead of insisting you have some divine inspiration to finding the correct doctrine by pure chance alone. That assertion clashes sharply with reality.

“”This is the response to just the first of your several paragraphs. I went into some more detail here to show that we aren't just "rhetoric" like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are.””

++ Ahh, yes… Harris and Dawkins are pure rhetoric. All of those hundreds of pages of scrutinously detailed biological, cosmological, and philosophical blisterings contained in their books are just rhetoric. If you have read these books, as you seem to indicate, then what does Dawkins say about the use of rhetoric? He specifically discusses its usage in religious arguments. If you have read his book, you will be able to answer me this. If you haven’t read his book, then please stop making things up off the top of your head about their books being based in rhetoric instead of fact. You must realize that’s not true if you’ve read either book. And I do thank you for going into detail, but I think you’re taking my points the wrong way. I’m not arguing against the historical Jesus. I’m just questioning why you would believe he’s some sort of divine force worthy of worship and devotion, especially when the bible itself gives us enough reason to drop it and check out a different book from the local library. Primal bronze age myths have become your entire waking life in 2007 America, and I find it sad, to be frank. All I want is for you to address this inconsistency.

“”I could go into the same level of detail (and even deeper) on just about everything that you write, but I think this makes the point.””

++ I’m still just as hungry for your explanation of belief as I was a few days ago. The point has not been made, unfortunately for both of our free time schedules. :)

“”The point is this: you are certainly free to believe what you want, but please accept the fact that much of what you have learned about the origin of the belief that Jesus is savior is wrong or, at minimum, subject to a great deal more careful thought than people like Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris give to it.””

++ I should probably disclaim at this point in the conversation that 90% of what I learned about Jesus and Christianity was in spending my entire youth in the church. It was the Church of Christ, to be exact – a non-denominational scriptural restoration church. Attending constantly and studying the bible as if it were a survival handbook, I have plenty of contextual background into which I can read and agree almost completely with authors such as Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. Having been a studious evangelical Christian, I find it peculiar that one might assume that one so interested in religious criticism would find his motivation it that very criticism. Much to the contrary, my fast track to atheism was spurred by no source more prominently than the reading of the bible and all of its horrors, errors, and inconsistencies. I hope in the future that you can give more credit to the legions of nonbelievers out there. Most of them started out just like I did… just like you are right now. I suggest a complete reading of the bible… it might spur some questions of your own that would never be brought up in group readings, discussions, or sermons.

“”Those people are just recylcing the same old nonsense that has been rejected time and again by people who are truly interested in investigating the basis for the Christian faith.””

++ I disagree about the content being nonsense – there is still no good answer for Russell’s Teapot, among many other hundreds of questions. The only nonsense is the faith and devotion being applied into allegorical fables of millennia past. And I agree that these questions are being rejected – If you actually found that there is no substantive or likely truth to these claims, it means you may have spent your entire life on something that doesn’t exist. And so they’re quite wise, considering their ego and sense of accomplishment, to reject these questions out of hand instead of finding that their acceptance requires blind, intemperate faith in folk tales. So keep on believing what you like… but you may want to enjoy this life, because science and reason show no reason to believe that you’ll get anything beyond your gravestone. Just a heads up, because I, too, care about all people’s happiness.

“”So, I will end with simply saying that you have made numerous assumptions that are questionable if not downright untrue throughout what you have written.””

++ There’s that blind speculation thing again that I was warning you about. You have posed no questions to me that have gone unanswered. All I want from you is a shred of evidence that what you believe is true, and that every other religion, both past and current, have been wrong. I predict you will struggle to show this without imploring the use of unjustified trust or unsound acceptance of stories representing physical reality. You (as with all religious folk) are the one(s) making the truth claim here. I believe nothing supernatural happened, and that nothing supernatural will happen, a view that science and reason accord completely with. It is the claimant of such ideas that must show them to be true and demonstrable – the burden of proof of such outlandish things as virgin birth, faith healing, resurrection, and heaven/hell lies on the person putting them forth in the dialogue. Without evidence, all you are left with is empty faith.

I disagree with much of what you wrote and I invite you to take the time to read material by people who soundly disagree with Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. You may be surprised.

++ I’ve actually watched every debate and read every critical (and positive) review of each of these books. It’s a very big issue that I tend to follow quite closely as my school and work schedule allows. Any discrepancy found in the text is either quite unrelated to the author’s main points, or is inconsequential to that respective author’s arguments. There may be a couple out there that I haven’t read, but I would love to hear some specific grievances addressed by you personally – someone who himself is guilty of not reading the requisite resources as called for in a modern debate on this subject. Good day, BK. :)

++ Brian

Thanks for trying to lead me in the right direction. I am encouraged by the fact that you have my best interests at heart.

You say, "Because Jesus didn’t write the bible. From his alleged words (of which no one could’ve possibly scribed in wax, ink, or stone as quickly as he would’ve spoken) to the Bible you have in your hands is at LEAST 5 generations of hearsay, interpretation, and the good old game of “telephone”. I was being generous. It’s probably more like 10th- or 12th- hand accounts, what you are reading."

I read this and I see no point in continuing. I told you before that I am not interested in a long point by point continuous debate. This mischaracterization is all I need to see to know that there is no further point in arguing this since most of what you have said here is simply posturing. I tell you that I can (and have) argued for early dates, and you blow me off with big statements filled with presumptions. No, "why do you think that?" No, "what evidence can you provide?"

I think you have no room in your mind to actually hear a contrary point of view except in criticism. So, with all due respect, I will simply stop and you will, too. If you want to debate endlessly, take it to some bulletin board like TheologyWeb or CARM. I don't waste my time anymore.

I leave what you have already written as the last word of the debate and let others who read iot decided for themselves whether you are making good points or whether (as I contend) you are too narrow-minded in your approach.

Brian,

You do not seem to actually know much about Christian histor, the cultural and religious backdrop to the life of Jesus and the early church, or how information about Jesus was handed down.

I guess it is fine for you to believe that the evidence for Jesus' miracles is the same as for the miraculous events of other alleged historical figures, but if you want anyone to agree with you please demonstrate that is in fact the case. For example, you raise Apollonius as an example and claim that he "had the same acclaim and life story as did Jesus, until Jesus's followers came along and co-opted the old myths into the name of Christ instead."

How this is possible since we know very little about Apollonius until Philostratus wrote The Life of Apollonius of Tyana more than one hundred years after Apollonius' death? There are scattered references before it, but none that I have found which are within 40 years of his death. As John P. Meier notes, “the problem of sources comes down to the fact that we have almost total silence about Apollonius (apart from a few scraps, such as a passing negative reference in the 2d-century satirist Lucian of Samosata) until we come to Philostratus’ work.” Meier, A Marginal Jew, Vol. II, page 577.

As for Jesus, the evidence is clear that his resurrection was announced by his followers in Jerusalem within days of his death. Paul attests to persecuting the early Christians for this belief in his own hand. Further, this was no folk tale, but was a formulated teaching espoused and controlled by those who knew Jesus well, including his disciples--who were his students for three years--and members of his family, including his mother and brothers.

When it comes to Apollonius, we have nothing until more than a hundred years later. It is ludicrous to contend that Jesus is based on Apollonius in any way. Indeed, the evidence flows the other way. It is more likely that Philostratus tried to juice up Apollonius' resume to match the already widely attested life of Jesus.

And what do you mean by claiming that Apollonius had the same "life story" as Jesus? How so?

{{When it comes to Apollonius, we have nothing until more than a hundred years later. It is ludicrous to contend that Jesus is based on Apollonius in any way. Indeed, the evidence flows the other way. It is more likely that Philostratus tried to juice up Apollonius' resume to match the already widely attested life of Jesus.}}

It's better than that, even!--I think there is some serious contextual evidence that Philostratus was trying to carefully edge his Imperial patroness _away_ from being a fan of Apollonius and _toward_ being a fan of some carpenter-or-other who managed to leave behind results in the world worthy of being called a 'god' for.

At the time Philostratus wrote, that would be a good way to get one's self zorched in a collesium. His ending to the story looks _very_ strange, while also being too low-key to be a probable Christian interpolation. But it'd be a dang clever way of evangelizing the Empress. Accept a commission to collect and compile as much Apollonius stuff as he could find; put it together; make him look in some ways as good as possible and in other ways like kind of a inconsequential nit; and then point out that after all was said and done, there was more reason to call a mere carpenter a god because of the real and lasting good left behind, than a man like Apollonius _despite_ all the stuff in his story. It's like a reverse a fortiori!

That speculative theory being said, I agree: Ap supposedly lived and operated at the tail end of the 1st century; the few surviving notes we have of him outside Philostratus postdate that, well into the 2nd century; and Phil was writing, when, early 3rd? Few people even try to date most of the Gospels past the 80s, and there's an increasingly strong and sober push to date all of them pre-70. Any borrowing would have to have gone the other way, unless fringe theories of 2nd century composition are true, in which case the reference to Apol becomes kind of pointless for other reasons. {wry g}

JRP

Brian,

Had you been born in Saudi Arabia in an Islamic culture in the 1970’s, do you truly honestly think you would be a Christian right now?

If you were born in Saudi Arabia in an Islamic culture in the 1970's, do you truly honestly think you would be an atheist right now?

brain is a pretty unfair debater. He posts volumes. I'm thinking of writing a book to answer him. then tells us "i'm not interested in point for point debate." What's he interested in? ranting and slander.

I am sick to death of these guys and slanderous little idotic assumptions. O Christians are evil and stupid the bible is garbage. I didn't got seminary for three and study Greek so I could be told what I study is stupid garbage people who know nothing about it.

"Because Jesus didn’t write the bible. From his alleged words (of which no one could’ve possibly scribed in wax, ink, or stone as quickly as he would’ve spoken) to the Bible you have in your hands is at LEAST 5 generations of hearsay, interpretation, and the good old game of “telephone”. I was being generous. It’s probably more like 10th- or 12th- hand accounts, what you are reading. That is, unless you’ve read the original tablets, scribes, and scrolls… which would themselves be at least 3rd- or 4th- hand themselves."

I would hope intelligent atheists would be embarrassed by this, as well as the rest of his other responses that also have an abundance of undefended assertions.

-Cam

no this sort of thinking is wrong and ignorant. I will address this tonight.

I have obviously spent way more time on this than is warranted by the level of dialog being carried within this board.

Five reasons I'm moving on..

1. Everyone is ganging up on me.. as if I had time to pick apart 5 bad arguments instead of just 1.

2. No one is addressing my main questions, but rather non-surprisingly, taking a couple of quotes from me and running with them as if they were at all integral to the main thrust of my arguments. (for those who missed it, my argument is that religions have no proof for their beliefs, only proof that they are believed) This represents the typical cherry-picking I've come to expect from a forum like this. It doesn't matter whose mythic man-made story came first, as they are all still mythic man-made stories. I wish all of you would simply address that. I myself could write a book, and write within that book that it is flawless and true and divinely inspired and immune to criticism, but it would still be a man-made book with zero evidence for its own validity.

3. The title of this page doesn't even do enough scholarship as to spell the word 'atheist' correctly. That should've tipped me off in the beginning that I was going to be wasting my hot air. Next time, I'll take the high brow approach and write a formal, non-emotional letter to the editor instead of attracting the super-selective and blindfolded critics I've been hounded by in this forum. Maybe you all have learned something, and maybe not. But it's time for me to move on after having 95% of my thousands and thousands of words go ignored.

4. I'm not angry... I'm just flabbergasted at the inability for religious people to think critically and come around to the ways of reason. I did, and I was a very religious person in my youth - so why can't anyone else ponder my points objectively. Ugh.

5. Oh, and for the question that [of course] went unanswered, and was shallowly bounced back to me, I'll actually go ahead and answer it here. If I were born in Saudi Arabia, then of course I would likely be a Muslim, just like all of you. But then being born there would require all sorts of different criteria about my genetics and upbringing that are incomparable to what I know. If my genes and pre-natal care were mirrored, and my worldly experiences brought to me exclusively in Saudi Arabia, I would still most likely be very skeptical - it comes naturally for me once I get over fear of death and fear of not fitting in. But that probably means I would be ostracized or killed before having the chance to be an atheist.

Thanks for the memories, and for the lessons learned on where to place my energy.

These are my last words on this page.

Brian

bbrian:

Sorry, I'm not buying it. You can complain about the level of dialouge on the page, but you are the one who comes on with this an approach which is essentially "you guys must be stupid to believe this." I said that almost from the beginning, and you have cemented it in place. But since you have chosen to respond one last time, I will respond to your five reasons:

1. I don't believe that's the reason you are moving on.

2. If we aren't addressing your main questions its because you throw out so much extraneous material in your posts that I don't know how anyone would recognize what your "main question" is anyway. Come on, you yourself said it took you four hours to write one response. If you had one or two specific things you should identify them. Don't make us write a book in response to each comment to make a response.

If you really want to discuss what you now seem to be singling out as your "main question" ("my argument is that religions have no proof for their beliefs, only proof that they are believed"), then say so. I can discuss that. But if you're gone, I'm not going to do so. But if it turns out that I am only going to have to sift through 100 more errors thrown out in a very condescending manner to do so, then forget it.

Oh, and "they are mythic man-made stories" is your conclusion which is not, in the opinion of a lot of people, warranted by the evidence.

3. Hmmm. Thanks for pointing that out. I suppose that you don't ever make typos . . . .

And the reason that your words go ignored is because, as I have said, they are condescending posturing. If you want to have a discussion, we can have one. But not like that.

4. I am flabbergasted myself by the complete inability of atheists to show respect to people of faith. Of course, that's simply the new battle plan of people like Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens. I am also flabbergasted by how many atheists seem to think that they are perfectly rational. Self-deception can go a long ways.

5. I didn't even get to your question, but I am sorry to hear that you are so completely unable to think for yourself.

Thanks for the memories, too. If you want to come back and have a real discussion sometime, you may.

Brian,

BK has your number on the whining about being picked on for your supposedly extraneous remarks. When you say so much, assert so much, yet demonstrate so little, anything we respond to will seem to be extraneous.

I for one picked out one of the few concrete statements you made: that Jesus was based on Apollonius. Here was a factual assertion on your part that was easy to check. And, as it turns out, displayed remarkable ignorance about the historical record. Jesus predates Apollonius, the sources for Jesus are decades earlier and more varied than those for Apollonius, and it appears that the one characterization of Apollonius describing him as a miracle worker is based on the better attested and accepted accounts about Jesus. Yet in your mind this still proves your point in some way.

Given that you obviously know so little about what you are talking about, why should we take you seriously about all of your other unsupported assertions?

Boldness is only a virtue when tempered with other attributes, such as wisdom, knowledge, intellectual honesty, and--even--some humility.

By the way,

I wanted to mention that Hinman did a long and detailed new blog entry responding to what we all thought was one of Brian's real points (rather than one of his pretend ones?) regarding the 5 or 10 or 12 generations he claims were between Jesus and the recording of his teachings and life.

It doesn't seem like Brian could even be bothered to read it, much less respond in a substantive manner. Frankly, I doubt he has the knowledge to even evaluate many of Hinman's arguments. That is no crime of course. We are all ignorant about plenty of topics. It is only when a debator claim to know enough about a subject to ridicule those with whom he disagrees that the ignorance demonstrated becomes embarrassing.

One might almost suppose Bbrian2 was a fictional character we invented in order to demonstrate to our audiences that the new atheists lack substance...

One of these days when I have less actual work to do elsewhere, I may come back and stab at his various ramblings.

JRP

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