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Showing posts from June, 2009

Answers to Tough Questions

RBC Ministries, the company that publishes the devotional booklet "Our Daily Bread", has undertaken to erect a website that I am certain will be useful to believers but criticized mightly by skeptics as being too limited in scope and detail. The new site is named, Answers to Tough Questions and seeks to address some difficult questions posed by the Bible.

The main categories covered thus far are: Relationships, Personal Struggles, Contemporary Issues, Ethics, World Religions, The Paranormal, The Bible, Christianity and God. Each of these categories is broken down into subcategories, and some of the subcategories are further broken down into additional sub-subcategories.

Winding through the various strata of categories, the questions that are asked are reasonable and the answers are fairly concise and useful. For example, under the subcategory of the Existence of God is the following question: "Is it inconsistent, as Richard Dawkins claims, for believers in God to look f…

John Loftus' Research -- or Lack Thereof -- into the Empty Tomb

A favored tactic of John Loftus is to try and play Christian scholars off against each other. Consistent with this tactic, in his book, Why I Became an Atheist, John Loftus leads off his assault on the empty tomb with this assertion:
Several mainline Christian scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, argue against the empty tomb, including C.H. Dodd, Rudolf Bultmann, Raymond Brown, Reginald Fuller, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, D.H. Nineham, along with many others.
Ibid., page 365.

Loftus provides no citations to support this assertion. When I read this passage while thumbing through his book, the listing of Raymond Brown quickly caught my attention. A moderate Catholic scholar, I seemed to remember that he was at the very least sympathetic to the empty tomb story. I did some research and confirmed my initial reaction, but because I had not read everything written by R. Brown and scholars sometimes modify their positions, I e-mailed John Loftus in April 2009. I asked for his basis in list…

Pliny the Younger Distinguishing Fiction and History

I recently began reading Literary Texts and the Roman Historian, by David S. Potter. He begins by quoting a letter Pliny the Younger had written to a friend:
I heard a true story, but one that seemed like fiction, and one worthy of your broad, deep, and plainly poetical genius. I heard it at a dinner party when various extraordinary stories were being passed back and forth. I trust the person who told it, although what is true to poets? Still, the person who told the story is one of whom you might think well if you were to write history.Literary Texts and the Roman Historian, page 5 (citing Pliny the Younger, 9.33.1).

What I found interesting is the distinction Pliny draws between "fiction" and "history." As Potter writes, "What is perhaps most interesting is the conceptual framework within which Pliny introduced the story. Reliability is defined in terms of dichotomy between poetry and historia, forms of narrative that are at the opposite ends of the spec…

Tacitus' Other Reference to Early Christianity?

Tacitus' reference to Christians in relation to Nero's persecution, including a reference to Jesus as the founder who was executed "by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate," has been widely discussed. Annals 15.44. Its authenticity is a settled question among academics and historians. Less well known, however, is a possible second reference to Christians by Tacitus. The gaps in the manuscript traditions leaves ample room for such a reference. The manuscript tradition for Annals is incomplete, ending around 66 AD -- well before resolution of the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem. Tacitus' Histories is likewise incomplete, ending in early 70 A.D. when it is believed to have recorded events through 96 A.D.

As is usual for ancient writings, fragments of Tacitus survive beyond and outside the manuscript tradition in secondary sources who cited his works, including Annals and Histories. One such fragment may be found in the writings of Sulpicius…

Conflict in science and theology: an analysis and critique, part I

When I first came to college I was sure I wanted to be a theoretical physicist. I took the most advanced introductory classes in mechanics and electromagnetism along with multivariable calculus, linear algebra and differential equations and was on my way to classical and quantum mechanics when I realized that I was more interested in the 'big' questions traditionally addressed by philosophy and theology: why is the world the way it is, what makes science possible, what is the place of human beings in the Universe? I decided to major in religion, but my interest in science did not abate, and I continued to explore my interests in neuroscience, computer science and philosophy of mind. The goal that drove my investigations was to achieve an integration of the best science and the best theology in an intellectually rigorous yet spiritually satisfying worldview. That goal still animates me, as it does some of the greatest scientists alive today (not coincidentally also those who ha…

Please can I call atheists stupid, ignorant and immature now?

I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt even if their religious views strongly differ from mine. I assume that they are honest, intelligent, genuine seekers of the truth with real questions about the world and (possibly) God. I don't like stereotyping and over-generalizing.

But these replies (in the comments section) to a mock request for questions addressed to the deity make me seriously question my general assessment of the intelligence of atheists. I'd like to think even people like Hume and Russell would cringe at this kind of self-indulgent silliness.

Eyewitness Control of the Gospel Tradition: A Game of Whack-a-Mole?

In their defense of the historical reliability of the Gospel traditions evangelical scholars often appeal to the controlling influence of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry: the twelve apostles, other followers of Jesus such as the Seventy, the women who ministered to him, who were present at his crucifixion and who discovered the empty tomb, sympathizers among the Jewish (such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and Roman (the centurion whose servant Jesus healed) authorities, Simon of Cyrene and many others. The argument is that these witnesses would not have allowed false rumors and legends to become embedded within the traditions, and they ensured that these traditions were handed down accurately in missionary, catechetical and liturgical contexts.

To many skeptics this argument seems unconvincing. Leaving aside the question of whether the eyewitnesses themselves were involved in fabricating stories about Jesus, how could they possibly quelch all false rumors about Jesus whe…

Mixed Emotions Following the Death of a Killer

Last Sunday morning, Dr. George Tiller was murdered in the Lutheran Church which he attended Sundays. Dr. Tiller, known for his late-term abortions, was gunned down by Scott Roeder -- a man described by his family as mentally ill. According to Roeder's ex-wife, Lindsey Roeder,

"There has to be mental illness there. He couldn't cope with day to day life," she said. "He couldn't cope with the struggle of paying bills. He couldn't cope with not being able to make ends meet."
There appears to be little doubt that Mr. Roeder's actions were finally motivated by his anti-abortion views and the late-term abortions performed so infamously by Dr. Tiller. According to a news article posted on KWCH.com (which labels Scott Roeder a terrorist), Lindsey Roeder further believes her former spouse killed because of his views on abortion:

"He was determined that if the abortion doctor killed the baby then he didn't have any right to live either, it was jus…