CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Here is a very helpful resource for evaluating Internet sources of information. Since a very active and often aggressive debate over the existence of God and the rationality of belief takes place on the Web, with multiple blogs and websites competing for visitors and influence, it is extremely important to pay close attention to what exactly these sites are offering. It should be a truism that 'just because it's online doesn't make it true', but sadly it seems that many times this point has to be made again and again. Readers of this blog and any other would do well to evaluate it by the standards the author outlines (I am confident in the case of this particular blog, however, that it would pass with flying colors:)

A common tactic among Jesus Mythers, and not a few liberal New Testament scholars, is to approach with suspicion any part of Jesus’ life or teaching that recalls Old Testament stories or prophecies. The theory is that the early Christian communities invented actions and teachings of Jesus to match Old Testament expectations.

New Testament Similarities to the Old Testament


There are many problems this approach, and especially with those who take it to the extreme to argue that Jesus himself was a mythical figure. I have pointed out these problems here and here. In the most recent post, I explained three reasons that early Christian authors would refer to historical events in ways that recalled the Old Testament.

1. Christians were given to recounting actual events in ways that reminded them of the Old Testament. Which events in an episode to highlight, what terms to use to describe those events, and how to summarize events or speeches could be used to emphasize the continuity of actual historical events with the Old Testament.

2. Sometimes a coincidence is a coincidence. The Old Testament covers a lot of ground and has many diverse stories. Though there had been improvements in technology and society by then, the worlds were still quite similar in many ways. The cultures were largely agrarian, the governments authoritarian, and the cities laid out similarly (including having walls to prevent raids or attacks). Not only is it unsurprising to find similarities in the narratives of the New Testament, it should be expected.

3. Most Christian narratives involved Jewish or Christian actors who were just as aware of the Old Testament as we are. They also believed that God worked through human history. Knowledge of Old Testament prophecies or stories lead many to cast their own actions or teachings in the terms or narratives of the Old Testament.

In the prior posts, I provided many Christian and Jewish examples of verified historical events being cast in Old Testament terms. My conclusion is that the similarities to Old Testament narratives, teachings, and prophecies provide no basis for discounting the historicity of the implicated New Testament passage.

Alexander the Great Similarities to Homeric Narratives

As I was reading Will Durant’s Life of Greece, a non-Jewish, non-Christian example occurred to me: Alexander the Great. Alexander, though not attested by any extant contemporaneous writer, is one of the most influential and surest figures of the ancient world. So it is very interesting how much Alexander had in common with the largely legendary Achilles, central character of Homer’s Iliad. Both were famous warriors of royal blood renowned for their personal bravery and ability in combat. Both were said to be descended of gods. Both were products of Greek culture. Achilles and Alexander could be moody, allowing their emotions to affect their decisions. The mother of each prince played notable roles in their lives, even as adults.

Other similarities reveal an even greater level of detail. When launching his invasion into the Persian Empire, Alexander followed the accepted route of the Greek army as it attacked Troy. Alexander called his tutor by the name "Phoenix," who was Achilles’ tutor. When Achilles defeated the Trojan Prince Hector in combat, he dragged his dead body behind his chariot before the walls of Troy. When Alexander defeated Batis of Gaza in combat, he dragged his lifeless body before that city’s walls.

Alexander had a very close warrior companion Hephaestion, who some believe was also his lover. Achilles also had a very close warrior companion, Patrokolos, who was said by some to be Achilles’ lover. When Patrokolos died, Achilles suffered from a sever depression and had an elaborate funeral. When Alexander’s friend Hephaestion died, he too suffered from a severe depression and had an elaborate funeral.

Finally, both Achilles and Alexander died in their youth, accomplishing great deeds but with obvious unfilled potential.

Explanation of These Similarities

Given these similarities, and the legendary accomplishments of Alexander the Great, should we assume that he was a fictitious literary figure? Or at least do we conclude that all the parts of Alexander’s life similar to that of the mythical warrior Achilles? That would be difficult, given the broad scope of the similarities.

Some of the similarities can surely be chalked up to coincidence or historical context. Most ancient warriors whose stories have come down to us were noted for their skill, courage, and victories. And if they were leaders, they were usually royalty, as were Achilles and Alexander.

Many of the similarities are most likely explained by the pervasive influence of Homer, ancient epic poet behind the Iliad and Odyssey. These stories held a place in Greek culture roughly comparable to that of the Old Testament in Jewish and early Christian culture. Just as the Old Testament infused all of Jewish and Christian culture as religion, literature, and history, so too did Homer’s writings have an expansive effect on Greek culture in the areas of history, literature, and religion. As explained by Ennis Rees, “The two Homeric poems became the primary and most important educational influence on Greek culture.” Introduction his translation of The Illiad of Homer, page vii.

Homer’s subject matter, the Trojan War and the return of Odysseus to Ithaca, was almost universally believed to concern beliefs that really happened and persons who really existed. Homer, in short, was history. It did not need to be invented. What he said about events, men, the gods and most other matters was for a long time accepted as part of the traditional beliefs of the early Greeks.

T.J. Luce, The Greek Historians, page 1.

But rather than assume this only resulted in prompting creativity, we must recognize that it first fostered emulation. It is unsurprising, therefore, that growing up Alexander was fascinated by Homer's Iliad. It was the character of Achilles -- the hero of the story and the exemplar of all manly virtues -- that especially attracted him. Sometime in Alexander’s formative years he decided to model himself after Achilles. His teacher Aristotle encouraged him to do just that. According to Plutarch, Aristotle personally annotated a copy of the Iliad for Alexander, who kept it with him throughout his later travels, even keeping it under his pillow as he slept.

An ambitious young man determined to conquer all, Alexander worked to evoke in others, and perhaps himself, the belief that Alexander was the present day fulfillment of the great heroes of old. Achilles being the greatest of these heroes, he was Alexander’s prime historical example and model.

Thus, for example, it was Achilles’ dragging of Hector’s body behind his chariot before the walls of Troy that inspired Alexander to treat his enemy in a similar fashion. As explained by classical historian Jon Prevas,

This was done in emulation of the Greek hero, Achilles, who nine hundred years before had dragged he lifeless body of the fallen Trojan Prince, Hector, around the walls of Troy in a similar manner. What occurred at Gaza had been a sadistic and barbaric episode, yet it was an incident that was consistent with Alexander’s romantic notions and neurotic misconceptions of himself as a Homeric episode like Achilles.

Envy of the Gods: Alexander the Great's Ill-fated Journey Across Asia, page 23.

The same is probably true for Alexander's choice of invasion routes in to the Persian Empire, the name he used to refer to his tutor, and the extended period of mourning he undertook upon the death of his companion, Hephaestion. Historians believe that Alexander was consciously imitating Achilles’ grief over the death of his companion, Patrokolos.

We should also not overlook the direct impact of Homer and his Iliad on the historians and biographers who wrote about Alexander. If anything, they were more influenced by Homer than the rest of Greek culture. “The debt of the ancient historians to Homer is enormous…Everyone accepted the epic tradition as grounded on hard fact, and the Homeric heroes were believed in some sense to be the forebears of the Greeks of later times.” Michael Grant, Greek & Roman Historians, page 25. This influence cannot be limited to hypothetical fictitious invention, but clearly affected the selection and presentation of material. Accordingly, when it comes to the selection and editing of material, ancient Greek historians and biographers selected and editing their material to emphasize the similarities between Alexander and Achilles.

Conclusion

All told, the study of Alexander and Achilles adds further support to the conclusion that similarities with Old Testament passages or prophecies are, at best, a precarious basis for doubting authenticity. Sometimes coincidences are just coincidences. And when they are not, it cannot be claimed that ancient writers were inspired by their culture to invent material based on significant culture antecedents without also admitting that those antecedents would also have inspired the actions or teachings of the writers’ subjects. Nor can we ignore the fact that ancient writers may have selected and edited existing historical material with an eye towards evoking memories of significant culture characters. Indeed, it may be because of such similarities that the author chose his subject.

A friend mentioned to me that he ran into an argument I had not heard for a while. Apparently, in A World Full of Gods, Keith Hopkins states that given the extremely low lifespan of the average Middle Eastern person, the eyewitnesses to Jesus must have died out fairly quickly, maybe even by the fifties AD. It goes like this: since the average life expectancy during ancient times was low, reports of eyewitness authors of the gospels or eyewitnesses speaking about Jesus' life in the second half of the first century are unreliable. According to the average life expectancy, no one would have lived that long.

How likely is it that eyewitnesses to Jesus' life survived the 50s? A 20 year old at the time of Jesus' death would have been 49 in 62 AD. A 25 year old would have been 54 by that time.

How likely is it that Papias--reportedly living from 60-135 AD-- had access to eyewitnesses? A 20 year old would have been 65 in 77 AD. A 25 year old would have been 70 by that time.

How likely is it that an eyewitness, whether John Zebedee, Lazarus, or some other disciple, wrote the Gospel of John in the 90s AD (assuming for the sake of argument that it was written that late). If the author was 25 at Jesus' death, he would have been 84 in 92 AD. A 20 year old would have been 79 by that time.

Average life expectancy does not tell us how long people tended to live. It does not even tell us the average age reached by most people. It includes babies and young mothers who die in child birth and children who die from disease. These skew the average downward. Once a man survived childhood, the numbers increased dramatically.

According to this Life Table Approximating Roman Population, once a person reached the age of 30 in the ancient Roman empire, their average life expectancy was 59. If they reached 40, their average life expectancy was 63. If they made it to 60, the life expectancy was 70. And so on. At any given time, over 17% of the population was 50 or older. Almost 5% of the population was 65 or older.

According to Paul in 1 Corinthians, there were in excess of 500 witnesses to the resurrection itself. There were likely others who followed Jesus at one time or another, or who heard his teachings and joined the movement later. Thus, there were at least several hundred witnesses to Jesus’ life who were active in the early Church. Obviously these witnesses had survived child hood. Just from a numbers stand point, therefore, it seems very likely that many of these eyewitnesses would have lived well into the second half of the first century.

Stepping away from the statistics for a moment, let us look at some examples of ancient Greek and Roman historians and biographers. Many of them reached their senior years.

Polybius was a first-hand witness of much about which he wrote, including the Third Punic War and the destruction of Carthage itself. Taking Hopkin’s approach to the numbers, there is no way Polybius could have lived long enough to witness all these events and write his books. But Lucian reports that Polybius lived to 82, and would have lived longer had he not fallen from his horse after a day of hunting.

The Roman historian Livy lived past his 75th birthday. Plutarch, a prolific Roman biographer, lived to be 81. Another ancient biographer, Cornelius Nepos, lived past his 75th birthday. Although estimates vary, the best reconstruction is that Cassius Dio lived to be 74.

Philo, the Jewish writer and biographer of Moses lived to be 70.

Early Christian writers also demonstrated longevity. Polycarp was over 85 when he was martyred by the Romans. Justin Martyr died at 65 when he met a martyr’s death. Origen lasted 69 years and Tertullian made it past 75.

If I spent more time researching this issue, I could come up with a very, very long list of ancient persons who lived long lives, even by today's standards. Thus, there is nothing at all improbable about eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection attesting to their memories while the gospels were written and when Papias was collecting information about Jesus.

From Understanding Islam Sermon Series:

Since the Islamic influence worldwide can no longer be ignored, what do we do? Christians can know how to respond, and must react with a biblical worldview approach.

A set of five-part messages on “Understanding Islam” is available for download to help educate and prepare today’s Church regarding this major influence on today’s culture worldwide. Prepared by a CEN ministry partner, these messages can be used, referenced and distributed…consider offering them as a resource to your church in response to September’s National Preparedness Month.

The five topics are: Islamic History, Islamic Scripture (The Qur’an), Islamic and The West, Islamic Followers, and How to Minister to Muslims.

As stated by the messages’ author Dr. Stan Reeder, “We can’t just sit around and do nothing. As John Wesley says, ‘The church has nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work.’”

Developed and preached the summer of 2007 to his congregation, these teachings connect the Truth of the Bible to today’s happenings and to what is yet to come. Pastor Reeder shows the importance of having one’s total being captivated by Christ in order to understand and comprehend God’s relentless pursuit of those who do not yet know Him.

"You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:24)

Bart Ehrman, author of the surprisingly popular book Misquoting Jesus recently had an article written about him in the Danville Register Bee entitled Bible's words up for debate. In typical newspaper fashion, the article is entirely too gracious to him -- accepting his words without any serious attempt to determine if there is any substance behind them. (Which brings to mind the question: why has the press lost all ability to question people about religious statements unless they are evangelical Christians?) In fairness to the reporter, Susan Elzey, she probably doesn't have the knowledge base to be able to challenge Ehrman. So, as usual, it's left up to us to point out some statements reported in the newspapers are . . . well, let's say a little bit suspect.

In this article, Ehrman makes the following point:

"The only way to spread [the books of the New Testament] around then was to make copies, and the only way to make copies was by hand," Ehrman said.

Copying, of course, meant mistakes, which continued to be copied and added to new mistakes, he said.

"This goes on year and year, and eventually the original gets lost or worn out," Ehrman said. "We have lots of copies that survived, and no two are alike. Some say God wouldn’t allow mistakes, but we have them. At last count, there are 5,400 copies of the Greek New Testament.

"Most of the mistakes are completely minor, insignificant, immaterial and don’t matter and show nothing more than the scribes could spell not better than students today."

Some matter a whole lot, however, he said, and look like they are intentional changes to the manuscript.

Ehrman cited as an example the story of Jesus being found in the temple by Mary and Joseph when he was 12. Earlier manuscripts read, "Your father and I have been looking for you," while later ones change to "Joseph and I" and then to "we were looking for you."

Ehrman explains that scribes, realizing that Joseph was not the father of Jesus, changed the manuscripts intentionally.

Stop right there. Let's take a closer look at these claims. First, I don't personally know if Ehrman is being accurate in claiming that these later versions exist. For purposes of this post, I accept that these variants exist.

Second, note that Ehrman makes no allowance for the fact that the Hebrew people were an "oral culture." The fact that it was an oral culture has been discussed many times in many places. It was recently the subject of Layman's fine post, Was the Gospel Tradition Like a Game of Telephone? (the answer being, of course not). The mere fact that the Gospels were originally spread largely orally making multiple numbers of people familiar with both the story and the particulars of the Gospel appears to be ignored.

Third, it is critical to note what his post actually says. It notes that most of the differences between manuscripts found in the Gospels are minor changes such as word order. In Lee Strobel's interview with Dr. Bruce Metzger in The Case for Christ, Strobel asks Metzger whether the changes in the manuscripts tend to be more minor than substantive. Metzger, an acknowledged expert, says:

Yes, yes, that's correct. The scholars work very carefully to try to resolve them by getting back to the original meaning. The more significant variations do not overthrow any doctrine of the church. Any good Bible will have notes that will alert the reader to varient readings of any consequence. But again, these are rare.

Apparently unphased by the fact that Metzger would find his argument specious, Ehrman presses forward with the argument that the original text of the story of Jesus in the temple uses the phrase "your father and I" have been looking for you as some point of proving that the Gospel's cannot be trusted. Ehrman doesn't explain why he thinks that this variant is important, but I think one fairly obvious possibility would be that Ehrman is trying to make the point that the earliest writers of the Bible didn't believe that Jesus was conceived by God through the Mary while she was still a virgin. After all, why else would the writers of the Bible try to cover up the language that Joseph was Jesus' "father"? But is this really a good argument? I think that if this is his argument, it is flawed for several reasons.

First, I think that its pretty obvious that the use of the phrase "father and I" is considered pretty benign in most circles. My own NIV Study Bible has the phrase "my father and I" and not "Joseph and I" or "we" in Luke 2:48. Thus, to the extent that there may have been efforts by later Christians to change the text to not read "your father and I", such changes are not even reflected in modern translations of the Gospel of Luke.

Second, if there were attempts to change the original language, one doesn't necessarily need to ascribe evil motives to the effort. The person doing the re-writing of the text may have been doing it solely to clarify that Jesus' real father was God and they didn't want the issue confused (more on this in a moment) in the same fashion as Ehrman. After all, when people see the word "father" it is only natural that they would assume that the word means "biological father" -- it is an easy connection. It certainly is possible that some well-meaning but mistaken copier of the texts thought something like, "Some might make that connection, so to make it clear, I am going to change the wording to reflect the intent of the writer and avoid the confusion." Such an action would be wrong, but it would not reflect the effort to change the Bible but rather an attempt to make it easier to read while remaining consistent with the original intent.

Third, the phrase "father" is the Greek word pater which can mean, according to the Blue Letter Bible lexicon, "one who stands in a father's place and looks after another in a paternal way." Thus, there is certainly no reason to conclude that the use of the phrase "your father and I" means that the authors of the text originally thought that Joseph was Jesus' biological father.

Fourth, and most important, the whole whole idea falls flat is that the verse that Ehrman singles out is found in Luke 2:48. Consider that Luke is the Gospel that contains the most detail about the birth and childhood of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel of Luke it is made abundantly clear that Joseph is not the father of Jesus. It is Luke 1 where the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son, and Mary objects, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) Is there any question that Luke is saying that Joseph is not the father of the baby? Is there any question that verses like Luke 1:34 were not part of the original text of Luke? To my knowledge, the answer is no.

Also, right after the "your father and I" line is used, Jesus clarifies the relationship Himself. Jesus responds to Mary's statement about "your father and I" by making sure it is understood that He has a different father to whom he holds higher allegiance. Jesus says: "And He said to them, 'Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's {house?}'"

In all sincerity, Ehrman seems to be focusing on a minor, insignificant change that has no impact on the text at all while ignoring the monster in the next room that is screaming over and over that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. Ehrman, straining at the gnat of the change in language, swallows the camel because he igores the fact that Jesus' virgin birth is taught elsewhere in language which, to my knowledge, has no later variants. Is he saying that all of these other verses were also changed? That's a might broad claim that seems unlikely that he has, or will be able to, prove.

Is it enough to point that later changes occurred to the text to prove that we can't rely on the earlier text? That argument, at least seems a little better to me, but it also fails. The fact that we are able to track so many different families of the Bible and track back the changes that occurred, it is pretty clear that the present translations that we have of the Bible are demonstrably based on reconstructions of the texts from very early copies (if not the originals). Thus, if there were earlier versions of the entire Gospel of Luke, given the oral culture and the ability to trace back the language from the multitude of early copies, it is very, very, very doubtful that any changes would be significant -- at least not so significant as to allow for Jesus to have suddenly have had a virgin birth added to his biography without some of the apostles or their followers objecting.

I find Ehrman's effort strained, at best. The changes he points to seems mainly to provide evidence of the fact that Bible translators have already taken into account the variants such as the change from "your father and I" to "we" to produce an honest, reliable reconstruction of the original text of the books of the New Testament. Imagining undiscovered earlier versions of the language of the New Testament books based upon such flimsly evidence is strikingly desperate.

Would you like some fries with that camel, Mr. Ehrman?

Free (Almost) Debate on MP3.

Here is the description:

"This is the famous formal debate between Dr. Bahnsen and atheist promoter Dr. Gordon Stein held at the university of California (Irvine) in 1985. Hear how hard it is to deny God's existence and how intellectually rigorous the Christian position actually is."

Get it here.

I have a scholarly friend who tells me this is the best debate to listen to in order to learn the transcendental argument. He tells me he has listened to it 15 times.

I just downloaded it onto my ipod. I am on my first of fifteen hearings. ;-)

(Hat tip: The Christian Mind)

When it was first announced that Anthony Flew -- perhaps the leading atheist philosopher of our time -- had converted to theism (though not orthodox Christianity), atheists responded in a number of ways. One such way was to claim that he was a nice enough fellow, but he was old after all, and perhaps was mislead by some dastardly Christian apologists and had recanted his conversion in any event.

Thankfully, Anthony Flew has written a book explaining his beliefs about God and how he arrived at them. It is not-so-subtly titled: There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. That should leave little room for doubt that his conversion real and enduring.

From Amazon's book description:

In one of the biggest religion news stories of the new millennium, the Associated Press announced that Professor Antony Flew, the world's leading atheist, now believes in God.

Flew is a pioneer for modern atheism. His famous paper, Theology and Falsification, was first presented at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club chaired by C. S. Lewis and went on to become the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last five decades. Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He now believes that such evidence exists, and There Is a God chronicles his journey from staunch atheism to believer.

For the first time, this book will present a detailed and fascinating account of Flew's riveting decision to revoke his previous beliefs and argue for the existence of God. Ever since Flew's announcement, there has been great debate among atheists and believers alike about what exactly this "conversion" means. There Is a God will finally put this debate to rest.

This is a story of a brilliant mind and reasoned thinker, and where his lifelong intellectual pursuit eventually led him: belief in God as designer

Much has been said (often with good reason) about the failing of popular-level Christian apologetics. I must admit that I have trouble surpressing a sigh when I pick up a volume by McDowell or Zacharias and find the same oft-refuted cliches repeated over and over, with no attempt to seriously engage the issues with sophistication and intellectual modesty. But of course that is also true of popular (and even more sophisticated) atheist apologetics as well. When I heard of the forthcoming publication of Victor J. Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis, given his training in physics and previous engagement with religion-and-science (see his Has Science Found God?) I was expecting a major new defense of atheism that would take a great deal of thought and effort to refute. To say I was disappointed when I finally picked it up is an understatement. The book is short, simplistic and unsatisfactory at every turn. But I'm not going to review the book here. I want instead to list (in a rather satirical fashion) the 'ingredients' of a (undeservingly) successful popular atheist apologetic, as I have noticed after reading quite a bit of it myself:

1) The most important point you can make (and you should make it early on to impress your readers with the profundity of your religious thought) is that everyone is a skeptic...with respect to everyone else's religion! Having awed your readers with this deep insight, you should go on to give specific examples of defunct religions that no one (or almost no one) believes in, such as Norse mythology, the Gods of Olympus and of course the final slam dunk...the flying Spaghetti monster! Ask in a benignly condescending tone if creationists would accept the teaching of all these other religions along with creationism in the science classroom. Of course don't bother to do serious comparative and philosophical work on the phenomenology and vitality of these belief systems, because you might discover that the proposed analogy is weaker than daytime television and doesn't get you ANY argumentative mileage whatsoever (for rebuttals to this and other equally fascile skeptical 'arguments', see here and here). Acknowledge in advance that your arguments (good as they are) are not likely to convince any 'true believers', but if it can at least open some eyes then your work will not have been futile.

2) If you do happen to dip your wick into the history of religion, limit yourself to a poorly documented repeat of the standard (and false) story of the transition from animism to mythology to religion to science. Religion started out when nobody knew what was going on, see, and so it is nothing but the first stories that people told to make sense of a frightening world, before Science (capital S) came along and people starting using Reason (capital R). A quote (but no more than that) from David Hume's Natural History of Religion to the effect that religion results from the attempt to put labels on the unknown causes of everyday phenomena would not go amiss.

3) Devote no more than a few pages to dismissing (oops, sorry, I mean disproving) the classical philosophical arguments for God's existence, after helpfully informing your reader that these are theism's only shot at an intellectually respectable case for belief. Even better, refer them to Richard Dawkins' sharp, witty yet intellectually impeccable 'critique' in The God Delusion. If you anticipate that someone will complain that Dawkins is no theologian and how would a biologist feel if a musician tried to criticize current biological models, turn it (oh, the irony!) back at them and shrewdly observe that if even a non-theologian can do such a good job at demolishing theological arguments, theology must not be a very respectable discipline at all!

4) Having closed off the philosophical front (perhaps with a final assessment that it is so much 'metaphysical hand-waving' anyway) move swiftly on to the design argument. Quote a few lines from Paley, then triumphantly announce that Darwin with the help of Richard Dawkins has proved him WRONG, referring the interested reader to The Blind Watchmaker (N.B. the cool thing here is that you don't actually have to have read any of the above, Darwin himself least of all! Just show that you've heard of the books in question and that instantly elevates you in the eyes of your now captive audience of readers, who later on in amazon.com reviews will recall that they found themselves 'ticking off points' in their head in agreement with your judicious and careful examination of these arguments). But for heaven's sake (which you don't believe in anyway) leave out any mention of Richard Swinburne, Rodney Holder, Holmes Rolston, Mark Wynn or Robin Collins. The interested reader might find that the conversation has moved on just a bit since Paley. Close with an insinuating remark about how Intelligent Design (which is so clearly ID-iotic, another chuckle of agreement from the captivated reader) is just 'creationism redux' and is part of a sinister effort to corrupt our children's education.

5) Religious experience is easy to dismiss: it's all in the head. Remind your readers that Freud proved that religious beliefs were just illusions (without asking exactly what he meant by that word) and then make a reference to Michael Persinger's "God Machine" and the psilocybin trip you took during your hippy days in college (it was, like, intense, man, one-with-everything and all that). And of course any attempt by theists to argue that neurology and God might not be competing causes of religious experience is just a desperate attempt to ward off the relentless advance of science. Don't bother to mention the work of Caroline Franks Davis, Fraser Watts or Philip H. Wiebe. The latter in particular will cause serious trouble.

6) Your chapter (does it really have to be that long?) on the historicity of Scripture will be greatly aided by two heaven-sent (again the vacuous use of that word!) authors: G.A. Wells and Earl Doherty. Didn't you know it, they actually proved that Jesus never existed! Actually, your chapter can consist almost entirely of quotations from their books, as they do the job so well. If you do quote any scholars from 'the other side' limit your selection to Josh McDowell (it doesn't hurt to add that when you were in high school you thought that his arguments were iron-clad and dared any of your skeptical friends to disprove him), maybe Lee Strobel at a pinch (helpfully referring your readers to, who else, Earl Doherty's refutation in Challenging the Verdict). Jesus didn't exist, or if he did exist the Jesus seminar has proved that he was a wandering cynic talking head who certainly didn't think he was God and certainly didn't rise from the dead (after all, biology proves that 'dead bodies stay dead', right?). Don't bother with James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, John P. Meier, Ben Witherington, Gregory Boyd or Craig Blomberg. They're all just theologians dabbling illegitimately in history anyway, as Earl Doherty points out.

7) In the field of religion and morality, Sam Harris is your go-to man. His eye-opening expose of the harm caused by religion throughout history is matched only by Christopher Hitchen's delightfully witty and sarcastic god is not Great. Pluck some OT verses out of context, accuse God of promoting genocide and slavery and your job is done. Don't so much as breathe names like Alasdair MacIntyre, Servais Pinckaers, Richard Hays or Robert M. Adams (chances are you haven't heard of them anyway).

8) Having led your captivated readers on a whirlwind tour of the case for atheism, end with some calm and humane remarks about what we can replace religion with. Remind your readers that they don't have to believe in God to appreciate the beauty of a sunset or even enjoy an oratorio of Handel (your knowledge of the name will also indirectly establish that you're something of a Renaissance man, as all good atheists are). The future will be bright indeed if we abandon our childish beliefs in God (the metaphor of growing up is always helpful here; no need to mention the countless believers throughout history who converted as adults) and trust in Reason and Science to show us the way.

This is not to suggest that all atheistic apologetics is like this. But unfortunately it does represent a rather large cross-section. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it seems to convince so many people. Maybe we are really the irrational, gullible species that skeptics take us to be.

I ran across a report on Christianity in North Korea in the most unlikely place. One of the websites I frequent is Strategypage.com, a website that "provides quick, easy access to what is going on in military affairs. We cover armed forces world wide, as well as up to date reporting on wars and hotspots wherever they may be." It is a good clearing house to get facts from around the world, but it does not usually cover religious news. That is, unless they relate to military affairs. In this case, they provide a brief account of developments in the North Korean army:

September 5, 2007: The North Korean Army has started a special propaganda effort to discourage soldiers from practicing religion. There's apparently an outbreak of Christianity in the ranks, and it's so widespread that the generals are getting nervous.

As best I can tell, the Strategypage folks have contacts in military and intelligence services in the United States, and perhaps in other countries. They obviously do not always divulge such sources, but from what I have read they are generally reliable.

This would be a significant development. Although Christianity was widespread in North Korea prior to the Korean war, communism and the cult of their great leader has -- from what we can tell -- succeeded in largely stamping it out. I have seen reports placing the number of Christians from 5,000 to 12,000. But North Korea may be the most closed society on earth, perhaps in history, so any estimate is a shot in the dark. Here are some other recent items related to Christianity and North Korea:

*
Rick Warren was invited to preach to 15,000 supposed Christians in a North Korean stadium. Despite some criticism, he accepted the invitation but last I heard had postponed the trip. The criticism is that the 15,000 will not be real Christians, that Warren's trip will give North Korean propaganda ammunition, or that he may be there to draw out real Christians for persecution. Pastor Warren, on the other hand, says he realizes that North Korea intends to use him, but that he will in fact be using them as the gospel will be preached to 15,000 who likely have never heard it before.

* Persecution of Christians continues in North Korea and is very intense, despite claims that there are officially sanctioned churches in the North. Christianity Today has a good interview with Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, author of Faith that Endures: The Essential Guide to the Persecuted Church. He tells about how he sent a non-Christian by a supposed North Korean, official church, to check it out on Easter Sunday. The "church" was closed and doors locked. He also provides details about how Christians in North Korea are persecuted.

* This blog includes a testimony from a North Korean who became a Christian and escaped. Very interesting to see how influential Chinese Christians could be in bringing revival to North Korea.

One of the biggest claims leveled by skeptics against the accuracy of the New Testament is that it represents copies of copies made over a long period of time. Certainly, no one believes that we have the original handwritten copies of the New Testament documents, and often the battle is over whether the copies we have accurately reflect the original writings or if the New Testament documents contain significant changes written in by the early church.

Now, however, David Walker, president of Right Hand Ministries, believes that he has found a document that is an original sworn testimony to Jesus. In an article published in the Herald Tribune entitled Lost, and found, in Bible translation by Cynthia Kane, it is reported that a document has been recovered from a Judge's legal chambers from the first century A.D. which may be very important in Biblical studies -- at least according to Walker.

His theories are based on Greek translations he completed of a photocopied document believed to be an ancient Latin page that was recovered from a Roman judge's chambers in the first century A.D.

Walker believes the text was penned in the decade after Jesus Christ's crucifixion, purposefully written in legal terms and not in the common Greek vernacular.

"The Latin was a transcript of the sworn testimony...circa 44 A.D.," Walker says. He believes Luke's author conducted legal interviews, sworn depositions, with people who were witnesses to the Crucifixion and to other events, including Jesus' mother and soldiers.

The article continues:

Walker, president of Right Hand Ministries in Englewood and a retired teacher and General Motors draw die specialist, believes the author of the photocopied words is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke.

Walker's findings, should experts lend credence to them, suggest Luke was written earlier than some of the other gospels.

The findings also could mean Luke bears sworn accounts from people who witnessed Christ's death, not simply one man's narrative of what he believed happened.

To add to the interest, Walker believes that modern translations of Luke make a mistake in believing that the Gospel was written in Koiné Greek, the then-common language. He asserts that the language used in the Gospel is actually a more formal variation of Greek written for legal matters.

He then grew convinced it was a basis for part of the Gospel of Luke. He also made a discovery he calls pivotal: That gospel should have been translated using legal Greek, not common Greek as is contained in the Bible.

Such a change, based on the nuances between common Greek (the widely accepted translation for the gospel) and legal Greek, lead to a similar but more evidential version of the gospel.

Furthermore, contends Walker, the full text of Luke is a common-Greek translation based on 36 transcripts that should have been translated using legal Greek.

This would alter the whole gospel, creating startling twists. Consider such meaning changes as, during Jesus' temptation, the devil saying, "since thou be the son of God, command this stone," rather than "if thou be the Son of God, command this stone" (as is recorded in the King James Version).

If the Latin document he has translated is a formal legal document about the life of Jesus Christ from around 44 A.D., it certainly adds credence to the theory, promoted by some, that Luke's Gospel was written as a legal brief. Some have speculated that Theophilus was Luke's defense attorney in Rome, and thus it would be natural for Luke to use information previously garnered in the form of legal testimony to send to Theophilus as a basis for presenting Paul's defense.

The one problem with all this: Walker has declined to let anyone see his documents. According to the article:

Since his copied parchment is Latin, it is evidence the testimony on which Luke is based was legal in nature, he says.

Yet he has not provided Southeastern Baptist's Black with a copy.

"They're packed away," he says of the page and his research work, as his house has been for sale for months and he and his wife are prepared to move.

Walker has tried to get the first 15 "deposition" translations, from the legal Greek, published: "I've submitted this to all kinds of publishers...I'm still waiting on an answer" from one, he says. And he has ideas of a movie script. But for whatever reason, he's holding the document close to his chest.

So why should anyone put stock in his theories?

Walker fires back, "Because they can go to the text of Luke and translate using the legal and get exactly what I got." And, "It changes the dating of the New Testament. One of the first persons he interviews is Mary," Jesus' mother. "We can honestly say," based on his theory, that "Luke's the first (gospel) written."

He has them packed away? Oh, please. Mr. Walker, if you are reading this, please please unpack the papers and let experts review them. This type of information should not be hidden away or made subject to guesswork. Even if we read the Gospel of Luke and agree that it is a legal document (as I have been inclined towards believing for some time) it does not provide any proof whatsoever of the existence or the translation of the document that you claim was part of the legal documents found in the First Century judge's chamber. If what you have found is what you claim, you should share it with the world. Without the backup, the entire story can be dismissed by every single Internet atheist, and I personally wouldn't blame them.

Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, will be "walking through the Jesus Puzzle: Twelve Points, One at a Time." Over at his blog.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic.

The topic of this Section of chapters [beware!--long summary paragraph approaching! {g}] is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument; after which I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation. My conclusion was that although the technical possibility would always remain (just as it does for God in a way), I can expect (if trinitarian theism is true) that God will never annihilate me or allow me to be annihilated. An insistence on my part to continue loving and enacting my sin would, however, lead to progressively worse results in me; with this continual degradation being, ironically, a perverted shadow of the death that God (in the Person of the Son) sacrificially undergoes in order for any creation at all to exist (including myself.) On the other hand, I cannot emulate (and share in) the highest death the Son Himself undergoes, without thereby being freed from my sinning: this is the death-into-life I should have always been sharing with the Son, but being a rebel I have been choosing to enact other deaths instead--deaths that do not lead back into life, for myself or for other people affected by my sinning. Those sinfuls deaths lead to effects other than an abundance of life: injustice for other people, sufferings that they did not deserve. Other results would be a critical hampering of my relationships with God, with God's created Nature (in which I live and of which I am partially constituted), and with other created persons. These results from enacting such a sinful death, not only appear to be a condition I was born in, but also appear to be endemic to the race of Man (and other races?) throughout known human history. Creation itself, and mankind in particular, has apparently Fallen; and the probabilities point (in mankind's case) to an original pair, male and female, of fallen humans. The story in my own religious tradition, of Adam and Eve, happens to illustrate the principles fairly well: the sin they enact is essentially the same as the sin I enact--they rebel against what light they can see, for no good reason at all. In doing so, they do receive the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that is good to have--but they receive it in the wrong and fatal way. Now their relationships with God, with the Nature created by God, and with each other, must change for the worse.

In my most recent entry, I ended by asking, "But, once they realize the penalties they have brought on themselves, can Adam and Eve choose to put the shape [of their lives] back exactly as they found it?"

This entry concludes chapter 40, "a history of the Fall", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.


.......[excerpt begins here]

They might want to [put that synthetic shape back to its original 'specifications', so to speak]; and that would be a good thing, as far as it goes. Indeed, love and justice on God's part would suggest that He will institute ways for them to know they have made a serious mistake that should be fixed.

It might be purely self-serving for Adam and Eve to want this; but the problem to be fixed is the result of their intentions to be purely self-serving. This cannot be fixed by being merely self-serving again. To truly want to fix it, must involve at least a partial negation of that intention. It is the first step, or one of the first, on the road of repentance.

But can they do it?

Basically the question is: once they have hampered their connection to the source of their knowledge and power, how can they have enough knowledge and power to put themselves back? [Footnote: If my Christian brethren here mutter something about ‘gnosticism’, let me preliminarily reassure them: I am perhaps the least gnostic Christian on the planet! Just bear with me a little longer.]

Either they can, or they can't. If it had been flatly impossible for them to be saved from this, God would have annihilated them. More to the point, God would not have designed them so that a rebellion was necessarily unfixable, precisely because He would not have wanted to annihilate them if they chose that choice.

God certainly would know how to help, and would certainly want to help them. But one of the things they have hampered is their communication ability with God--and they have hampered it from their own 'side' of the contact.

Let us say I take a razorblade to my own eyes, and slice them badly. Then I prudently say, "Opps! That was a bad idea... um... I need to fix this. Someone show me how." But it shall be rather difficult to 'show me how', with my eyes all sliced up!

The situation of the Fall, however, is far more fundamental than that. Although some change to the synthetic shape (which I think I can conclude would involve some type of subordinate change at the natural level) has been accomplished, it is not simply a matter of our ancestors 'wanting' to put that shape back right, if they could. The shape is already the result of their willful (not merely instinctive) wanting. [See first comment below for a longer footnote here.]

Okay, but can they not just sit down and transcendentally meditate, or something like that, and fix the problem?

I fully admit that this might help to fix the problem! But the problem, is that they have intentionally hampered their relationship with God. It might be somewhat helpful to meditate on how to re-achieve that relationship. But merely meditating on the abstract issue of the problem, won't solve the problem, even if they managed somehow to find the right answer. They have messed up their personal relationship to God as a Person, and to fix the problem that personal relationship is what they have to fully re-establish, not some intellectual theory or emotional feeling about the relationship. [See second comment below for another extended footnote here.]

So, to sum up: they need to get back in unity with God's character as a Person. But they have hampered their communication with God, so they have hampered their ability to discover or understand what that character is. Nearer is certainly better, but they should be right on the dot to achieve a full and proper unity. And remember, this is not like searching for a page in a book, or even quite like tuning a radio: what needs to be fixed is a personal relationship between active people (God and the individual). A magic codeword or passcard, or even knowledge about some metaphysical doctrine (do I know and accept the “Athanasian Creed” perfectly?--it says I will be hopelessly condemned if I don’t!), won't fix the problem. A personal relationship isn't like that.

Will God help them? Of course! But, again, a magic codeword or passcard (or even some kind of forceful shifting of the synthetic shape by Him) cannot possibly accomplish the cure. God will work to help them, as people themselves, to understand and (even more importantly) to relate to Him as a Person again.

He will try to communicate with them.

But part of the problem is that they have messed up the 'radio' (so to speak) on their side. [Footnote: ‘Tuning the radio’ would not fix the problem by itself--but it is certainly part of fixing the problem.] His means of communication shall be more limited now, thanks to their own actions.

Yet God will still take every advantage He can of the newly limited channel of communication. He always has at least one foothold: He Himself continually acts to keep up their existence as active entities themselves. Whatever their own opinions or beliefs, He Himself still will relate to them as Person to persons. The Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the Divine Unity, still operates with the bare (yet still crucial) remnant of divine communication: find and accept truth, reject falsehoods. God would not have designed our predecessors so that any possible shifting of the synthetic shape could excise this contact of Person to persons--for this contact is what keeps the persons in existence.

No matter how far I try to harden my heart, to resolutely set my face against reality, reality still shall affect me. Reality is Personal; and I am a person. One way or another, that communication shall still continue, whether I recognize it as such or not.

So, if I choose to deal with truth to the best of my ability (however poor that ability of mine may be), then I am to that extent working with the Holy Spirit.

But remember that Truth is not itself abstract. Truth is Reality--more specifically, 'truth' is the relationship of a person to actual facts, and at the deepest level of reality this means that Truth is the actual relationship of God to God.

Our perceptions and communications of Truth may be abstract to one degree or another--I myself have had to use abstractions to try to communicate to you, my reader, what I have perceived to be true, even concerning the relationship of God to God.

But the foundational Truth itself is not abstract--it is actively real.

Consequently, while contemplation of truths (or even Truth) may be helpful in some ways, it is wasted without subsequent actions taken by us upon the truths we discern. [See third comment below for a footnote here.]

And those subsequent actions need to be taken with an intentive choice on our part, to remain true to 'the truth'--not necessarily to what we think is true; because our thoughts about what is true might be obstinate self-delusions, or they might simply be in error. Neither condition can possibly be healed unless we choose, as a goal, at every moment, even if beginning right now, even if we stumble and fall and pick ourselves up to try again--to be consistently for the Truth.

You, my reader, may not agree with me about the specific characteristics of ultimate Truth; but that is less important than whether you and I are actively committed, by our own choice, to pursue the objectively real truth--at the expense of our own preference-feelings, if necessary. [See fourth comment below for an extended footnote here.]

The first sinners would be in the same condition as I, in this respect. Would they, or would they not, as individuals, 'repent'? Would they change their willed intent back to embracing the truth?

Perhaps they would; perhaps they wouldn't. But even if they didn't, God still would be pursuing them, for the sake of fulfilling His love and His justice to them.

And the extent to which He would pursue them (and to which He does pursue you and I!) will be discussed throughout the remainder of this book.

Meanwhile, complications arise.

These first sinners, our human progenitors, do not exist in a vacuum. They exist within a vast and reactive Nature, which shall be busily going about its 'business' over time, even over mere moments of time. And they exist for some purpose; a purpose (or set of purposes) that must have been very important to God: for He let them do something quite astonishing, given their current rebellious condition.

He let them breed.

I will discuss the implications of this, in the next chapter.

[Next up: the children of the first sinners]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

I recently gave a favorable review of Mark D. Robert’s Can We Trust the Gospels? His approach, though well-informed, is more pastoral than academic. One of his examples that I found particularly helpful was about the “Telephone game.” You have probably heard skeptics refer to this as an argument against the Gospel's reliability. As Dr. Roberts explains about “Telephone” on his website,

That’s a game where one person writes out a sentence, and then whispers it secretly to the next person, who whispers it secretly to the next person, until it comes to the end of the line. The sentence uttered publicly by the last person is usually an obvious and humorous corruption of the original. “There you have it,” the skeptics conclude. “The Gospels can’t be trusted.”

I do remember playing this game in elementary school, with a humorous example about the teacher’s cat. I have also seen skeptics raise it as an example of why the Gospels are unreliable. They are, it is supposed, the end product of a decades-long game of Telephone.

There are many problems with the Telephone analogy. Here are three.

First, even setting aside the likelihood that the Christian community had members specially trained in handling oral tradition accurately, our culture is written one rather than an oral one. The early Christian community, however, arose in a predominantly oral culture (though with growing literary elements). As Dr. Roberts puts it, “Telephone only works in a culture that is not like the oral culture of the first century A.D. People in an oral culture become quite proficient at remembering and passing on oral material.”

Second, whereas Telephone involves the passing along of a message from one person to another in low whispers, the early Christian community passed along the teachings and actions of Jesus in a corporate setting while publicly proclaiming it to others. The teachings were repetitive, being discussed and passed on over and over again. This would be like altering the rules of Telephone so that the teacher would openly and loudly repeat the message to be passed along to the entire class over and over again. Then, the first person would repeat it to the next person loudly and repeatedly. If he made any mistakes, other members of the class familiar with the tradition would correct him. And so on and so on down the chain. This likely would not be as fun, but that is because it is much more likely to accurately preserve the message.

Third, the message involved in Telephone is trivial. In my class, it had something to do with the teacher’s cat and what it had to eat. I had no stake in the message and did not particularly care about its content. Not so with the early Christian community and the traditions about Jesus. As Dr. Roberts puts it:

Most of the earliest followers of Jesus believed that He was the messiah of Israel. Soon, in fact, He was believed to be the Lord Himself. His teachings were regarded as divinely-inspired and, indeed, the ultimate source of divine guidance for living, not to mention salvation. Thus there would have been strong reason to transmit the sayings of Jesus with considerable accuracy.

If the rules of Telephone were changed so that any inaccuracy in the passing along of the message resulted in flunking the class, then I daresay that the results would be very different.

This post is obviously not a comprehensive defense of the accuracy of the Jesus tradition in the early Christian communities. Rather, it simply dispels an oft used but seldom discussed dismissive treatment of the Gospels. Since Dr. Roberts prompted this post, I will give him the last word in summary:
• Unlike Telephone players, the first Christians lived in an oral culture that had trained them to be proficient at passing on stories and sayings.

• Unlike Telephone secrecy, the passing on of the traditions about Jesus occurred primarily in public settings that ensured the basic integrity of the transmission.

• Unlike Telephone sentences, the sayings of Jesus were believed by those who passed them on to be the most important words ever spoken, essential for salvation and for abundant living. Thus the early Christians had strong reason to remember and to repeat the sayings (and stories) of Jesus accurately.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument; after which I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation. My conclusion was that although the technical possibility would always remain (just as it does for God in a way), I can expect (if trinitarian theism is true) that God will never annihilate me or allow me to be annihilated. An insistence on my part to continue loving and enacting my sin would, however, lead to progressively worse results in me; with this continual degradation being, ironically, a perverted shadow of the death that God (in the Person of the Son) sacrificially undergoes in order for any creation at all to exist (including myself.) On the other hand, I cannot emulate (and share in) the highest death the Son Himself undergoes, without thereby being freed from my sinning: this is the death-into-life I should have always been sharing with the Son, but being a rebel I have been choosing to enact other deaths instead--deaths that do not lead back into life, for myself or for other people affected by my sinning. Those sinfuls deaths lead to effects other than an abundance of life: injustice for other people, sufferings that they did not deserve. Other results would be a critical hampering of my relationships with God, with God's created Nature (in which I live and of which I am partially constituted), and with other created persons. These results from enacting such a sinful death, not only appear to be a condition I was born in, but also appear to be endemic to the race of Man (and other races?) throughout known human history. Creation itself, and mankind in particular, has apparently Fallen; and the probabilities point (in mankind's case) to an original pair, male and female, of fallen humans.

In my most recent entry, I considered principles of an original Fall, and borrowed the story of Adam and Eve as an illustration of those principles.

This entry continues chapter 40, "a history of the Fall", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.


.......[excerpt begins here]

The first sinners have breached the derivative unity between themselves and God, insofar as it was possible for them to breach it. If God did that to Himself, utter death would immediately entail for Himself, and for all of reality. We humans can only have been designed along similar, if derivative, principles. These creatures with great power and responsibility had chosen to rebel against the reality upon which they nevertheless inescapably depended.

As I reach this point, I remember something I deduced earlier [in some currently unpublished chapters]: humans are 'human' to whatever degree, due to what I have called the synthetic shape. This shape is itself the most fundamental relationship to God that we have: all our other relations to Him, including our personal relations to Him, depend on that shape. In fact, all our relations to anything depend upon that shape. [Footnote: Before I am accused of putting too much value on that shape, let me redress the balance by reiterating that the shape itself depends ultimately on the intentions of God, including the actions He takes which are subsidarily a part of His primary action of self-existence.]

But our first ancestors must have decided to intentionally push themselves away from God, to change the relationship from one of harmony to dissonance. They had the capability to do this, and that is what they chose.

And one consequence to choosing that act, would be the changing of the synthetic shape.

The intentive actions grounding that shape are God's, but He has partially disassociated Himself from them, so that His 'wooden puppets' can be 'real boys and girls'. But this means we (or at least our ancestors) have had some ability to help shape our individual relationships to God.

When our ancestors willed themselves into opposition against God, not out of some accident of calculation or ignorance, but consciously setting themselves as people against the conscious Person Who was grounding their whole existence (including their ability to take such actions), then one result must have been a change in that synthetic shape--the relation, even the physical relation, of their wills to the underlying will of God. They might as well have said: "We want the shape to be like this instead of like that."

And in essence, that's what happened.

But the shape of that synthesis also grounded their ability (and still does for you and I today) to interact with other aspects of reality--and what they had been synthesized into existence within, was the automatically reactive field of Nature.

Their choice would consequently involve immediate reactions within them at the natural level--because that is the way 'Nature', as 'Nature', works.

Whatever those results could be, one thing at least must be true: the results could not possibly have granted equal or better efficiency (considering the overall sum of our efficiency) in our first ancestors' relationship with Nature.

But I think I can go even further than that. God would have created them to be masters of Nature; but now their relationship, not only to Himself but also to Nature, must change. They have demanded that it shall be so; their demand in and of itself would make it so.

This was not a situation where they could make their demand, and then God could say: "Petition refused, and for your own sakes I might add!" I do agree that such petitions and such a response would have been possible then (and still are now): our first ancestors might easily and excusably have asked for something out of ignorance or incompetence (they cannot be omnicompetent, for they are not God), and God might have then refused it for their own good.

But this demand was something that, by being what it was, automatically entailed the granting of their wish.

There were other actions even of that particular sort which they must have been capable of (and of which we still are today), but those actions would only be something of a joke: "God, I wish I could make wishes!" "No problem!"


But to wish to rebel against God, is not a joke. It is itself the first act of rebellion.


The action has been taken, and consequences of some sort shall follow, must follow. God gave them the ability to contribute to the changing of derivative reality, including themselves and their relationships; they chose to change; change must follow, or else God did not actually give them that ability to make changes.

But remember that none of this would (strictly speaking) have taken God by surprise. Our history is brought into existence and given the divine contribution of shape by what amounts to one infinitely complex act on God's part. [Footnote: Or more accurately I should say ‘one unimaginably vast, and always expanding, but finitely complex act’, for neither Nature nor derivative history can be infinite.] The infinitely positive efficiency of God's Unity is present at all points of our space and time: what He sees us doing in one place and time, He knows elsewhere and elsewhen.

This does not compromise our freedom to act: if I see you act, does that mean you are not free to act? If I saw you act five minutes ago, and see you act now, does my seeing you now somehow compromise the freedom you had five minutes ago when I was also watching you?

No. It is because God sees us and knows us at all points of space-time that we (or even space-time itself) can exist, and also that we can act within each of those points of space-time which we individually intersect.

But even if we picture God as traveling along the space-time continuum with us, and having total foreknowledge of possibilities in history, God still would plan ahead for every contingency. [Footnote: Although I think this is an inferior analogy, and certainly wrong as a direct proposal, thus open to more error.]

All of which is to say: if He goes to the trouble to design derivatively active creatures intimately linked to their natural environment, then He will also design into them what shall happen to them if they rebel against Him.

He will have safety valves.

A servant assigned to be a steward with power and responsibility over a kingdom, cannot be allowed to exercise all that authority and power once he has rebelled. Disruption in the kingdom shall already follow; but God will minimize it as far as possible--within the boundaries of other plans of His.

So, for instance, to minimize the disruption absolutely, God could have simply annihilated Adam and Eve on the spot. But that hardly fulfills love, or even justice, to Adam and Eve--for they would be completely gone, and so would not exist any longer to be recipients of God's love and justice! Since God never has nor never shall (on peril of reality's self-destruction) set aside His love and justice, then I think annihilation must necessarily be out of the question. Some other plan must have been put into effect by the 'Fall'.

Would it be love and justice to our first ancestors to let them stay forever in the misery that they shall necessarily engender by their attempts to refuse the source of their own lives? God created them as purposeful creatures; but they cannot fulfill at least some of those purposes (His and theirs), because in their current condition they are in dissonance against God (and thus against His creations also) to one degree or other. And it would not be love to simply let them stay that way forever--and God, Who is love, will never set aside His love for us.

Yet, justice must not be set aside, either; not even the negative justice that occurs from committing injustice. Consequences must follow contingently upon those specific actions, as part of the fulfillment of fair-togetherness (i.e. of righteousness) even when that fulfillment must be against unrighteousness; consequences these newly fallen sinners shall have to face, one way or another--and, of course, how they 'face those consequences' is itself an action, entailing more consequences, which they must also choose how they shall meet, and so on, and so forth.

One of the consequences that must follow is, as I have said, the changing of the synthetic shape. Shall God merely 'poof' it back to normal? No; He gave those people power as people to help choose how that shape shall be, and for God to 'reset them' (the way I might reset a computer if one of the computer-controlled pieces does something that threatens to ruin my game) would be for God to cease treating those people as people. If they had not already become people, then He might have chosen to 'reset' them--it is certainly possible for Him to do this. But they had already become real people, or else they wouldn't have been able to rebel in the first place.

So the new shape must stay, even if the people must be removed to another part of the playing field (so to speak); and whatever God may choose to do with that new corrupted shape, He will not infringe, for love’s sake, on the personal ability of those people to keep contributing to the shape. Surely He will have tweaked, and will continue to tweak, the synthetic shape as much as possible within the parameters of what else He wants to accomplish; but that is still a limit, though a self-imposed one on His part.

So the synthetic shape remains--but in a new and necessarily more inefficient form.

But, once they realize the penalties they have brought on themselves, can Adam and Eve choose to put the shape back exactly as they found it?

[Next up: a first question of salvation]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument; after which I returned again to considering the relationship of sin and death in me, raising the technical possibility of annihilation. My conclusion was that although the technical possibility would always remain (just as it does for God in a way), I can expect (if trinitarian theism is true) that God will never annihilate me or allow me to be annihilated. An insistence on my part to continue loving and enacting my sin would, however, lead to progressively worse results in me; with this continual degradation being, ironically, a perverted shadow of the death that God (in the Person of the Son) sacrificially undergoes in order for any creation at all to exist (including myself.) On the other hand, I cannot emulate (and share in) the highest death the Son Himself undergoes, without thereby being freed from my sinning: this is the death-into-life I should have always been sharing with the Son, but being a rebel I have been choosing to enact other deaths instead--deaths that do not lead back into life, for myself or for other people affected by my sinning. Those sinfuls deaths lead to effects other than an abundance of life: injustice for other people, sufferings that they did not deserve. Other results would be a critical hampering of my relationships with God, with God's created Nature (in which I live and of which I am partially constituted), and with other created persons.

In my most recent entry, I noticed that the results I can expect from enacting such a sinful death, appear not only to be a condition I was born with, but also appear to be endemic to the race of Man (and other races?) throughout known human history. Creation itself, and mankind in particular, has apparently Fallen; and the probabilities point (in mankind's case) to an original pair, male and female, of fallen humans within our species.

This entry begins chapter 40, "a history of the Fall", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.


.......[excerpt begins here]

In the previous chapter I deduced, that given the universality of certain observations (observations sceptics not only agree with but often use as grounds for their scepticism!), and given the validity of previous deductions on my part concerning the existence and character of God; the human race as a species is in a condition we must have 'fallen into' through the willful intransigence of (at least some of) our progenitors. I do not think I successfully deduced that there must have been only two ancestors to our species--an Adam and Eve--but I think I successfully induced that such a pair, falling either simultaneously or in quick succession, grants the highest intuitive probability of the condition spreading successfully throughout the whole human species so early, so prevalently, and in the face of what must have been so many inefficiencies contingent to the new condition. [Footnote: in other words, the fewer the fallens and the more the unfallens in a population, the more unlikely the fallens would have superceded the species--yet the species has been superceded by the fallens.]

For sake of simplicity in the next stage of my discussion, I will speak as if there was an original pair who fell. I think the probabilities point that way, and it certainly gells with the tradition I consider authoritative (even with many other traditions); but I remind my reader that it is not strictly necessary to my argument. It is, however, the easiest way to speak for convenience.

Many [currently unpublished] chapters ago, I went through some inferences, from principle to principle, to conclusions about how derivative sentiences (such as you and I) must relate to God. I concluded that my ability to derivatively act must proceed from a synthetic supernatural/natural 'shape': a shape formed physically, and also formed (superordinately to the physical) by God's own actions.

This must have also happened to the first sentient humans (and I provided two 'stories', one traditional, one more modern in form, which more-or-less described the process). This was the shape God intended for them to be in--they were 'made in His own image'--and I think that even many sceptics would agree (for they use this argument themselves!) that God's love and justice would not be such that He would make us as we are now. So there must have been some significant differences, as well as similarities, in these first sentients; including differences concerning how well they interacted with Nature.

Potentially speaking (and perhaps even in original actuality) they would have been far more powerful than you and I. Having been (one way or another) 'grown' into Nature, this power over Nature would have been a factor of the synthetic shape. These first sentients may or may not have been full masters of Nature, but that was what they were being groomed for. God, working in a process, might have created them in such a way that they were still incompetent in some, or even many, aspects of life and action; but no love or justice would have been shown by God if He had made them automatically fatally incompetent. These people were people: not merely another preliminary organism sharing Nature's intrinsic characteristic of purely automatic reaction to stimuli. They were, within this Nature at least, something, or rather 'someone', new.

How long they lived before they discovered God, I do not know; how long they could live in this Nature, I do not know. But God would want to relate to them as Person to persons, as soon as possible. And so eventually, one way or another, communication must have been established. Perhaps it was only through urges in the conscience as to right and wrong, or perhaps it was much more articulated--God would certainly have wanted it to be much more articulate eventually. And perhaps they had even gotten to that later stage.

At any rate, I deduced several chapters ago that the primary base of communication from God to man would at least be related to man's acceptance of discovered reality, and man's rejection (in principle) of contradictions.

This, in some fashion, must have been part and parcel of any communication God established with these people. But to recognize that I should reject contradictions in principle, entails the corollary recognition that I can attempt to embrace contradictions.

And so this also must have been a consequent to the first sentient humans' communication with God. This, I emphasize, is at the least: the potential for treachery, to themselves, to each other, and to God's reality, might have been greater to almost any degree.

Here is only one example, that I draw from my own tradition, and that I present, not as being authoritative (although I think it is very much so, one way or another), but merely because it is popular, simple and gets the principles across.

God tells the first sentients of this Nature--these first people--Adam and Eve--that they have permission to eat almost any of the fruits in the garden. There is only one tree of which they must not eat the fruit: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they do so, He warns them, they shall die.

Now, there is something here worth noting in order to avoid spurious interpretations of this story. It is not 'knowledge' in and of itself which God forbids to Adam and Eve--although admittedly, and very unfortunately, this is how the story has often been interpreted, even by acceptors of this tradition, especially in the last several hundred years when the great heresy of the faith/reason disparity was being most prevalently spread. Why would God forbid His children knowledge in total, when there cannot be much point to being sentient without accruing and using knowledge? Indeed, to be sentient is to be such that accruing some kind of knowledge is unavoidable! [Footnote: At least among derivative sentiences. I am unsure whether God could ‘avoid’ accruing any knowledge or not--probably the event would be a factor of whether He chose to create or not.]

No--God forbids them one category of knowledge: the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Does He forbid this permanently? Not according to the story I am familiar with; and such a knowledge would be necessary for them eventually in order that they should mature as people.

But if God wanted them to have that knowledge, He would not have wanted them to get it one particular way. What way was that? By doing something evil. They would then get that knowledge, surely--but it would come with disastrous results.

The 'tree' was not poisonous--its fruit was "good to eat". I take this to mean, by the way, exactly what I mentioned a moment ago: the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not something God absolutely forbade, but He was forbidding them to get that knowledge through ways which would ultimately hurt them.

Perhaps God meant for them to be exposed to this necessary knowledge through the next step that happened. In my tradition, Satan now enters the story.

I haven't said much (and have argued nothing, yet) concerning the existence of a supernatural chief rebel. And metaphysically speaking, he isn't a necessary feature of the story, at this point in my discussion. I can assure my reader (in fact I have done so already) that there are times when I willfully transgress against what I myself think is 'right', without needing the excuse of a tempter. That does not mean a tempter doesn't exist; I think he does, and I am also sure that I have been tempted, successfully and unsuccessfully. All I am saying is that the tempter is (in a way) incidental to the story here. And since I am speaking of the Fall of Humanity, not (yet, anyway) of the fall of entities prior to humanity, I think I can functionally ignore the tempter for the moment. [Footnote: Notice, by the way, that within this same tradition of mine, the tempter needed no tempting to rebel!]

Let me go back a little, briefly: taking into account what I deduced about our creation as a species, and taking into account God's existence and characteristics (also previously deduced), and taking into account the condition in which I find myself and humanity-in-general now and throughout recorded history; I am trying to work through what must have happened to the first members of our species. God would have made them (within a range of parameters) 'this' sort of way; and (again within a range) He would have communicated to them in 'that' sort of way; and I know how this portion of the story must historically end. It is rather like solving a complicated math equation: fill in the variables (whether with ranges or determinant integers), and deduce the character of the missing pieces.

Our first ancestors, one way or another (the story in Genesis 2 represents one way to 'solve for the ranges'), would have been presented with some permissive restriction to their behavior, once they began to communicate with God. I think it would have been necessary for them to be presented with this choice, and I think God would have given it to them in as concrete a form as possible, as soon as He considered it prudent to do so.

The basic choice I am speaking of, is this: God has said I should not do something, and has even given me at least one cogent reason why I should not (for example, 'If you eat this fruit, you shall die.')

Apparently I can do it, though.

Shall I do it?

This is the most basic form of the choice for or against rebellion. In the story of Adam and Eve, there is not one good reason (either ethically or in 'mere' logic) for disobeying God.

It is not like some of the ethical dilemmas you and I face today, where we may be required to choose between a number of options that all seem to involve some sort of 'necessary evil', and we agonize over the choice because we don't want to do the wrong thing.

The fruit (in this story) is good to eat--the Knowledge of Good and Evil is something good to have: whatever God forbade to our first ancestors must have been something which, in and of itself, they would not be naturally repelled by, and it may have even been something He intended to give them later. The forbidden act must have been something for which there could be no justification--something which would involve their willing embracement of unreason.

I know God, I know (something sufficient of) what and Who He is, and I know I can trust Him; yet, I will convince myself that I cannot trust Him, purely so that I can do what I want. What He says I should not do, knowing Him as I do (however far that is), must be what I should not do; but I choose to do it anyway, to satisfy my self. What He says shall happen to me is something I certainly do not want and, knowing Him as I do, it must be what shall happen; yet I want to do it, so I will choose to do anything I can to convince myself that the consequences shall not happen--that God either lies, or is mistaken.

I have every reason to accept that something is true; but I don't want it to be true. Therefore, I will refuse it to be true to the utmost of my ability. I will decide what is true, and it shall be whatever I want; even though every ounce of real reason says otherwise. Reality shall be the way I want it--no, the way I will it--to be; not the way I know it to be.

I shall supplant reality; I shall be God.

That is the choice, whatever form it was presented in; and it is the same choice I am faced with today--and at which I sometimes still fail.

No--'fail' is too safe a word.

It is a choice at which I sometimes still fall.

Had our first ancestors refused to act that way, I think they would have indeed received the Knowledge of Good and Evil after all. They wouldn't have gotten it the wrong way.

But I can spend twenty minutes paging through a newspaper, or flipping across television channels, or surfing on the internet; and I can discover pretty easily how they must have chosen to act.

Putting it analogically (perhaps it even happened literally): our first ancestors decided to eat the fruit.

Now what shall happen to them?


[Next up: the fate of the original sinners]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

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 christiancadre@yahoo.com.