CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Pick a Card, Any Card

Let's suppose you go to visit your friend, Bobbie. As you spend a fine evening talking about old times, she pulls out a deck of cards and begins to shuffle it. You note that she is shuffling it thoroughly. She fans the cards out and asks you to pick one. You pick one at random and it turns out to be the jack of clubs. Returning the card to the deck, Bobbie thoroughly shuffles the cards several more times then fans them out and asks you to once again pick a random card. You do so only to find that you have picked ... the jack of clubs. What an interesting coincidence.

You return the card to Bobbie and she repeats the process of shuffling the cards thoroughly. Now, being the third time, you are shocked to find that you have once again picked the jack of clubs. You are probably thinking that this is getting weird. After all, picking the same card twice was pretty incredible, but three times in a row? That's pretty darned unlikely.

When she shuffles the cards annd spreads them out a fourth time, and for a fourth time you pick the jack of clubs, it will probably dawn on you that one of two things must be happening: either you are having one of the most extraordinary coincidences that have ever occurred in the picking of cards, or someone has fixed it (probably Bobbie) so that you will always pick the jack of clubs. If you repeat the process a fifth and sixth time, I would bet that you would have lost all wonder at the fact that you have picked the same jack of clubs six times in a row, and started wondering exactly how Bobbie is pulling off this trick. Is she stacking the deck? Are all of the cards in the deck the same jack of clubs? Certainly you'd believe that the odds of this happening by pure chance are way too high for this to be happening naturally. And you'd be right.

The Increasingly Long Odds

The odds of picking the same face card several times in a row is statistically very low. Starting with a standard deck of 52 cards, the odds of randomly picking any one card is 1 in 52 (or 1/52). What are the odds of picking the same card two times in a row? Using the basic probability equation of multiplying probabilities, the answer would be 1 in 2,704 (roughly .03 percent). Not unreasonable that it could happen, and so you would be justified in concluding that picking the same card twice in a row is uncommon, but not unprecedented.

But from there, it begins to become quite dicey. The odds of picking the same card three times in a row is 1 in 104,608 (which is a minuscule .0009 percent). By the fourth time the same card has been selected in a row, the probability has shrunk to only 1 in 7,311,616. The fifth time that jack of clubs appears, you are now experiencing an event that should naturally occur only 1 in 380,204,032 times. The sixth time, the probabilities have now risen to an astronomically small 1 in 19,770,609,664 which means that this should occur only .000000000055 percent of the time. Assuming you could draw six cards every minute without stopping, it would (speaking probability-wise) take roughly 37,615 years to have draw the same card six times in a row.

I don't know about you, but I would be more likely to assume that the game is fixed.

Obviously It's Natural -- You See it Happening

However, some might see the same card turn up six times in a row and comment that of course it happened naturally because obviously it happened. In other words, because I see it happening before my eyes is no reason to assume that the fix is in. After all, this one time that you pick the cards could be that 1 in 19,770,609,664th time -- after all, the one time has to happen eventually. Therefore, that person would argue, it is wrong to assume that there is some type of fix involved even in those long odds.

Yeah, it could be that you happened to have that once in 37,000 year event occur to you. But you already know that it isn't likely. Besides, is it really the case that simply because I happened to be here to see it means that it must not be fixed but must be natural? Seems like kind of unusual reasoning to me.

Yet, this is precisely the type of argument that some skeptics make when confronted with the "just right" qualities of the universe. After all, some scientists (I suspect most) would agree that the universe seems particularly fitted for human life. Consider the usually theistically unfriendly Discover Magazine in an article entitled Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

So, how do skeptics explain this fact? For some, the answer is not to answer but simply to observe the fact as proof of the fact. They pull the old, "it's not surprising that the universe should appear finely balanced to support life because if it didn't you and I wouldn't be here to observe it." An example of this type of argument is found in the comment to a typical atheist blog entitled Saint Gasoline: The Anthropic Principle by "unbeliever" in which he says,

There’s nothing especially surprising in a flipped coin landing on “heads”, a thousand times in a row — if the only time you observe the result of a coin toss is when it lands on heads.

In other words, if the physical constants WEREN’T just right for the development of intelligent life, we wouldn’t be here to notice it. So the fact that, when we ARE here to notice it, the constants ARE just right, isn’t really all that remarkable…

Swinburne's Card-Shuffling Thought Experiment

Well, Richard Swinburne has set up a thought experiment that responds to unbeliever's comment that features not just six identical cards being selected but ten cards being selected from shuffling machines. In The Argument From Design Swinburne posits the following:

Suppose that a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts him in a room with a card-shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten decks of cards simultaneously and then draws a card from each deck and exhibits simultaneously the ten cards. The kidnapper tells the victim that he will shortly set the machine to work and it will exhibit its first draw, but that unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from each deck, the machine will simultaneously set off an explosion which will kill the victim, in consequence of which he will not see which cards the machine drew. The machine is then set to work, and to the amazement and relief of the victim the machine exhibits an ace of hearts drawn from each deck. The victim thinks that this extraordinary fact needs an explanation in terms of the machine having been rigged in some way. But the kidnapper, who now reappears, casts doubt on this suggestion. 'It is hardly surprising', he says, 'that the machine draws only aces of hearts. You could not possibly see anything else. For you would not be here to see anything at all, if any other cards had been drawn.'

Keep in mind that the odds of all ten machines drawing identical cards which is approximately 1 in 145 sextillion chances. The odds are so completely and utterly impossible that the fact that it could have happened is hardly the most likely answer. It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether the results were fixed since the odds of a fix being in is much, much, much smaller than the odds of the ten card shuffling machines picking the same pre-determined ten cards naturally. Swinburne concludes his card-shuffling discussion making this same point:

The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The teleologist's starting-point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but that order rather than disorder is there. Maybe only if order is there can we know what is there, but that makes what is there no less extraordinary and in need of explanation.

Peter Williams, in his fine, on-line critique of Richard Dawkins' arguments concerning the Anthropic Principle entitled Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?, comments further on Swinburne's card-shuffling thought experiment:

The fact that an event is a pre-condition of its being observed does not explain the occurrence of the event, or negate the obvious fact that 'the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong' about design being the best explanation for the event described (which Swinburne offers as being a parallel to the fine-tuning of the cosmos).

Our Finely-Tuned Planet

Exactly how close is the card-shuffling thought-experiment to the fine-tuning of the universe that scientists observe? Our friend Rich Deem at Evidence for God from Science, a scientist himself (holding a M.S. in Microbiology from CSULA) has put together a list of probabilities of seventy-five finely-tuned parameters occurring so that a particular planet could support life. The chart, entitled An Estimate of the Probability for Attaining the Necessary Parameters for Life Support, after running through the necessary parameters, concludes:

By putting together probabilities for each of these design features occurring by chance, we can calculate the probability of the existence of a planet like Earth. This probability is 1 chance in 10 [to the 99th]. Since there are estimated to be a maximum of only 10 [to the 23rd] planets in the universe (10 planets/star, see note below), by chance there shouldn't be any planets capable of supporting life in the universe. Our existence suggests divine intervention and design. The design and care with which the laws of physics, the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and the planet Earth were crafted suggests that God is caring and loving. He put in a lot of time in the design and creation of the universe so that we would have a nice place to live for such a short period of time.

Now, this post began by noting what would be our probable reaction to having the same jack of clubs chosen out of a deck only six times in a row. While I cannot speak for everyone, I certainly would be suspicious that the deck was fixed by the time the jack of clubs was drawn a fourth time in a row. The extra two times (the fifth and sixth consecutive draws) only served to cement the suspicions that would have arisen prior to that time. But the odds in Swinburne's thought experiment are much longer than the mere six cards that I used. Swinburne's card shuffling machine would result in a probability of 1 x 10 to the 16th power (if I have done my math correctly). The convergence of the 75 factors posted on the Evidence from God chart is 1 x 10 to the 99th power. That's an additional 73 zeros at the end of the number beyond the card shuffling example.

Don't We Need To Know Who The Designer Is Before Assuming Design?

Of course, the skeptic can always point out that we know that there is someone in my example who can fix the cards (as Michael Shermer did on his debate with Greg Koukl on Hugh Hewitt earlier today). Bobbie could be dealing the cards from under the deck in my example, and someone could have monkeyed with the machines in the case of the Swinburne example. What certainty do we have that there is someone who could monkey with the universe? Without knowing for certain that such a person exists, we are left with the ideal that the convergence of the 75 factors happened naturally as the best explanation.

I think that is a decent argument. However, I think that there are two things to say in response. First, while the debate rages and not everyone accepts the fact of the existence of such a being who could set up the system to support life, a majority of people in the world do not find this a particularly difficult question. They believe that God, a god or gods exist, and that God, a god or gods would have the ability to set the parameters of creation. They believe this for many different reasons. It seems to me that the person who is going against the vast majority on this issue is the one who bears the burden of proving that God, a god or gods does/do not exist or could not, in fact, have set the parameters.

Second, as the Discovery article makes clear the universe seems designed for us. And it certainly isn't wrong to conclude that design exists based upon the evidence. If we weren't able to look at something and see that it is designed there would be no science of anthropology. For that matter, efforts to break what sounds to be random code (both in war and in connection with the SETI project) would be considered wastes of time. Moreover, we don't have to identify the designer to recognize design. An anthropologist does not have to know prior to determining that a chipped bit of rock that looks like an arrowhead is a created object exactly who the creator might be. That can be determined later. Science is satisfied when the anthropologist looks at the arrowhead and sees evidence that the rock was intentionally shaped to have a purpose, i.e., to act as an arrow. Likewise, a person breaking a coded Morse code message does not have to know who sent the message (and may not even know at the time that she starts to evaluate the various beeps that it really was a message rather than just background noise) to recognize that there is a designed pattern in the noise. Exactly who sent the message can be determined later. The same obviously holds for the SETI alien signal hunters who not only don't know who would send a message, but don't know for certain that a sender is even out there. To give a slight variation to what Greg Koukl said in the debate, one does not need to know that a shoe has been made with a particular tread to recognize that a footprint in the sand is the result of a shoe landing on the sand with a particular tread. Exactly who (or what) stepped on the sand can be determined later.

Conclusion

In sum, if you find it difficult to believe that someone can draw six cards in a row without a fix being in, then you understand the problems presented for skeptics from the Anthropic Principle. The fact that the universe appears designed (or delicately balanced) to support life is a reality that is not removed by noting that it has to be that way or we wouldn't be here to notice. Finally, there is no reason that we have to identify the designer behind the design before recognizing the design.

Today, December 30, 2009, Hugh Hewitt will air a previously recorded debate between Michael Shermer, the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University, and Greg Koukl, Founder and President of Stand to Reason, author of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air with Francis J. Beckwith, and Precious Unborn Human Persons, and adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University.

If you tune in today, the debate can be heard here by clicking the "Listen Live" link. The debate will be broadcast from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm Eastern time and 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm Pacific time. (I know that those of you in the Central and Mountain times are smart enough to figure out what that translates to for your local time.)

Greg has been dropping hints about some of the things discussed in the debate on his own radio show through Stand to Reason, and it sounds great. If you cannot catch the show, the transcript of the debate will probably be posted here at a later date.

(Edited to add: the debate transcript was eventually posted here; the previous link goes to a page of all recent articles or shows Hugh has done, so it's still relevant even if the debate eventually cycles off the bottom of page 1.)

I expect that most readers who are the least bit attuned to popular movies will have seen and can remember the movie Independence Day starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. For the rest of you, let me assure you that Independence Day wasn't the type of movie one would expect to find featured at an art house. It was more of a typical guy movie with lots of explosions, ground-breaking (at the time) special effects and huge crowds at the box office. (The movie grossed a whopping $817,400,878 world-wide, but like most highly popular movies didn't garner any Academy Awards other than the typical "Visual Effects" award.) Interestingly, I think that the reaction to the film by the audience makes a point that many skeptics don't grasp when reading certain Bible passages.

For the small minority who spent the 1990s in an cultural isolation chamber, Independence Day centered around the arrival of several huge alien spacecraft which hung over major cities around the globe. At one point, following failed human efforts to communicate with the alien craft, the alien ships attacked and destroyed several major cities and a large portion of the population of the planet. In the course of the movie, the viewers learn that the aliens weren't your reasonable, fun-loving aliens like Mork from Ork. Rather, these aliens were much more like a swarm of ravenous locusts moving from field to field utterly destroying everything in their wake. There was no way to reason with these aliens. They didn't want to have peace with humanity. They didn't want to share pictures of the kids over a cup o' joe. There was nothing that humanity could offer to make these aliens go away any more than the farmer can convince the locusts to visit his annoying neighbor's farm instead. They had come to feed. Like Galactus of Fantastic Four fame, the alien civilization travelled in a massive spaceship from planet to planet simply to destroy the planet for its resources and move on.

Warning, if you had planned to visit the "classic" or "science fiction" movie section of your local DVD or Blue Ray rental store (or if you are one of those rare people who like to have older movies sent to you via Netflix) to watch Independence Day because you just got out of your isolation chamber, I suggest you do so before venturing farther into this post. If, however, you have never seen the movie but are understandably overwhelmed with curiosity as to exactly what I might say about the movie despite the fact that I will now spoil the ending, then please read on. But don't say I didn't warn you....

Ultimately the two biggest stars of the movie, Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), fly up to the mother ship of this alien force in one of the alien fighter ships that had been recovered at the crash site in Roswell in 1947. (This is, of course, an error in the movie. The movie has the ship stored at Area 51, but everyone knows that the alien spaceship and its occupants were actually kept in underground vaults at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.) Using the cover of the alien fighter, Miller and Levinson slip into the mother ship where they launch a big ol' nuclear weapon right up its ... um ... cockpit. The mother ship is ultimately destroyed in a huge, special-effects nuclear blast and the smaller ships (which are still gigantic in size) that have been wrecking havoc across mother earth are defeated by the remnants of the air forces of shattered humanity.

There are a few Biblical concepts that are buried in Independence Day, and the first is a truth that is not found in the movie itself, but in the audience reaction to the movie: evil must be utterly destroyed. What happened in theatres when the aliens were destroyed? I expect that my personal experience was common. When the heroes turned the mother ship into nuclear soup and the nations of the word brought down the smaller (but still humongous) ships attacking the planet in a glorious show of force, practically every single person in the theatre burst into spontaneous cheers (shock and awe that!).

Why are we cheering? Quite simply, it is the correct resolution of the oldest plot in history: spiritual warfare. Good won and evil lost. Moreover, the evil was utterly and completely destroyed. As in The Lord of the Rings, the immediate evil of Sauron was annihilated. And we, being spiritual beings at heart, cheer at the defeat.

But wait a minute, wasn't the alien civilization totally destroyed -- not a single alien life form is left alive? And we cheer this act of genocide? After all, as the story suggests, the alien mother-ship contains the entire population of this particular race. Like other star-faring races of fiction, the entire civilization is travelling in this nomadic destroy and move-on manner. So, the earthlings (with a very geocentrist worldview) committed genocide against an entire alien culture. Why do we cheer this?

The answer (the one that many skeptics can't grasp) is that evil will ultimately be stamped out in its entirety. Deep down we all recognize that this will be so and that this is necessary for the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth where there will be no evil -- "there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4b NASB). When we see a personification of evil destroyed utterly and completely, we cheer because we recognize that such complete destruction is absolutely necessary for goodness to finally prevail.

"Wait," some may complain, "they were attacking us first! We have the right to self-defense." Absolutely. But that's the point, isn't it? That's the evidence that they are evil. They were out to destroy Earth first, and Earth responded by wiping out the evil it confronted. And we cheer.

"C'mon," others may say, "they were aliens, after all...." Again, yes, they were aliens (and incredibly ugly aliens, at that), but does that really make the difference? Suppose that the alien spacecraft had arrived and tried to make friends with Earth, but we Earthlings responded by attacking them to keep them from taking over the Earth. Would we cheer when the Earthlings defeated these friendly aliens? I wouldn't think so.

What if the Earthlings made the case that such contact with a more advanced civilization ultimately must result in the absolute annihilation of our civilization? After all, history shows that when a more advanced civilization encounters a comparatively primitive civilization, the more primitive civilization has always been either defeated or swallowed up my more advanced civilizations. Michael Medved paraphrases Yale Professor Howard Lamar in The 10 Big Lies About America who made this point when noting what happens when a Stone Age population confronts a more advanced population.

Think about those stories you see in the news about some headhunter in Borneo who's surviving in the jungle in a loincloth and suddenly he sees a plane overhead. He's never even see a knife or a shoe or a wheel, for that matter, and all of a sudden he's looking at a plane. The next thing you know, his tribe is discovered and here come the doctors, the missionaries, the anthropologists. Well, the tribes can't just disappear back into the jungle. They've made contact, so whatever happens next, their old life is finished. If they fight a modern world, they lose quickly, or else they try to accommodate to it and end up swallowed by a more advanced and powerful culture.

*** The outcome can go only one of two ways -- either sad or horrifying.

So, arguably, the Earthlings could claim that a pre-emptive strike is necessary to preserve our less technologically-advanced, non-star faring culture from this more technologically-advanced population. Would we cheer such an attack? No, I can't imagine too many people cheering the destruction of this ship of gentle ET types.

No, the reason that we cheer is because these aliens are evil. Utterly evil. Destroy humanity evil.

Which brings us to the second point: when a being is intelligent, its actions dictate what is evil. Calling something evil does not depend upon whether the evil ones chose to be that way or cannot help themselves. In other words, for intelligent beings it does not matter if the evil is the result of nature, nurture or choice; evil is evil.

The aliens in Independence Day were clearly intelligent. They drove a interstellar spaceship, for goodness sake. They almost certainly created it and they were able to communicate. They used a strategy in attacking the Earth. Yet, David Levinson (if I remember correctly) compared them to locusts. Locusts don't deliberate when they are going to utterly destroy a field. They act on instinct. Could it be that these aliens were instinctively or genetically driven to act as they did? Ultimately, it doesn't matter what their motivation would be. They were intelligent and were capable of deliberating to not destroy another culture. Regardless of what was driving them, because they were capable of deliberation which means that they were necessarily capable of choosing a different course, the fact that they chose to continue with the destruction of the Earth is what makes their actions evil.

In sum, I don't believe that Independence Day should be seen as a source of great theological insight. However, since the story involves the oldest of all plots -- good versus evil -- I thought it worthwhile to consider what we might learn about evil amidst the battles and destruction. The lessons aren't as deep as those that can be learned from The Lord of the Rings, but there are lessons to be learned -- even from a movie that only won the "Special Effects" Oscar. Surprising.

...who not only believe that the single fundamental ground of all reality is rationally active; but who also believe that this independently existent Fact (upon which, or rather Who, all other reality--including us, all our readers, and the evident natural system around us--is dependent for existence) is a self-existent eternally coherent interPersonal relationship...

...and who believe that tomorrow at least represents the day in history when the living Action of this essential Love, having descended into the Nature He loves and for which He gives His own life, was born of a woman; in order to give His own life with utter completeness, fulfilling all fair-togetherness (or 'righteousness' as we tend to translate it in English)--not only for those who love Him, and not only for those who don't know Him, but even for those who are outright His enemies--

--to all our readers throughout the world, whether or not you believe a single word of what I just wrote:


REASON'S GREETINGS!


And, if you are at all inclined to do so (which I hope you will be, someday if not already so):

BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS' SAKE!


{g!}

Not that I ever gave any credence to the Nazareth-didn't-exist-in-Jesus'-life obsession, but it receives yet another blow:


Just in time for Christmas, archaeologists on Monday unveiled what may have been the home of one of Jesus' childhood neighbors. The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood....

Archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which Jews used to ensure the ritual purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.

The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to the first century, Alexandre said. The determination was made by comparing the findings to shards and remains typical of that period found in other parts of the Galilee, she said.

It's just about Christmas time again, which means that 'skeptics' will be trotting out the old hoary 'Christ=Mithras' chestnuts again, while Christian apologists will be having oodles of fun poking holes in the theory. The latter get an early present this year: an excellent demolition job by Chris Romer. Enjoy!

I'm becoming steadily more impressed with the work of the award winning historian Professor Craig S. Keener. Somehow I only heard about him for the first time earlier this year. In the past month I've gotten around to reading his GosJohn commentary. I'm almost through with volume 1, and ironically I've been seriously debating whether to start a new tome of his just recently released, before I've even finished his second (of 2) GosJohn volume!

That new release is The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. (From what I can tell, it's actually vol 1 of a 2-part series, too; the sequel will be about the miracles of Jesus.)

I'm a big fan of progressing systematic analysis, whether in metaphysics (my own forte) or historical studies. So I can't help but adore the layout of this book as indicated in the table of contents. (See the Amazon link above and Search Inside the Book for the ToC.) And I'm a big fan of footnotes: 385 PAGES OF ENDNOTES AND WORKS CITED!! In small point font. And in double columns for the index of ancient works cited. {gggggggg!} (His GosJohn commentary purportedly contains over 10,000 ancient and modern work citations. I can believe it.) I wish they were footnoted instead of endnoted (a definite plus to the GosJohn commentary), but oh well.

Most of all I'm a fan of evenhanded critical analysis of data--an ideal I sometimes fall short of, but one I wholeheartedly believe is worth aspiring to. From reading his GosJohn commentary, and from what I've thumbed through in this book so far (sigh... read now, or later? now, or later...?), I think I can agree with Anne Rice's description that they blurb on the dust jacket. (Yes, that Anne Rice. She reconverted to Roman Catholicism a couple of years ago.) "In seeking to discover and explain what we can know of Jesus in his own time, Keener... is unfailingly generous to other scholars and painstakingly careful in his own well-reasoned arguments."

That doesn't mean I agree with every single thing from the GosJohn commentary--I think he misses a couple of points in places--but I'm more than a little happy with his work so far, and I wanted to share. {s!}


In particular, I wanted to share a couple of pages from Appendix 8 to his recent work. (Edited to add: I had to type the whole thing from scratch, so there were a number of by-eye typos that crept in. I have now fixed them all, I think; if any remain, they should be considered a transcription accident, not part of the original text.) I've long maintained that there are lots of things in the Gospels that even an atheist could easily accept in principle as being good history; and as a former atheist himself, Prof. Keener having studied the data intensely now for years agrees with that assessment. He also has some cutting critiques to make of Christians that, frankly, I have to say I agree about, too. {lopsided g} So hopefully this excerpt won't be too annoying for our sceptical readers to wade through.

(I promise, I'll be putting up Part 2 of my Wolfenism article later, so you'll have something more annoying to gripe about. {g})



[pp 384-388]
My Own Journey
Many scholars today appreciate full disclosure of one's personal presuppositions, recognizing that all scholars have some. Like most scholars, I try to do my historical scholarship as a good historian. Many scholars working in historical Jesus research have personal religious commitments (Christian, Jewish, or other); others do not. But we all try to make a case that can be heard and engaged by others who may disagree with us. Having said that, some of us, myself included, would have gone into other disciplines without the element of religious interest in this particular figure. Before acquiring such interest, I did have enormous interest in the rest of the Greco-Roman world. Nevertheless, I was [at that time] reticent to study Jesus or even ancient Israel because historical study of these subjects connected to modern "religious" discussions in ways that reading about Germanicus or Nero Drusus (or even "the divine Augustus") did not.

When I was an atheist (largely for what I thought were scientific reasons), one of my central (albeit nonscientific) objections to believing anything about Jesus was that eighty percent of people in my country claimed to be his followers, yet most of them apparently lived as if it made no difference for their lives.

In an effort to be provocative, I might ask whether western Christians' frequent way of believing the resurrection is as consistent as most non-Christians' way of disbelieving it. Much of western Christendom does not proceed as if the Jesus of the Gospels is alive and continues to reign in his church. In practice, a gulf remains between their affirmation of Jesus' resurrection and their living as if he is humanity's rightful lord, so that a theological affirmation does not translate into their experience. Their "faith" constitutes mere assent to a proposition, rather than sharing Jesus' resurrection life as depicted in Paul's letters. Likewise, their devotional prayer to God often has little emotional connection to the Jesus of the Gospels; the experience of the early church that connected the Synoptics and Paul is not always their own experience. The experience of Christianity in some other parts of the world is more wholistic; indeed, in many locations Christians even show great interest in Jesus' example and teachings. At the time, however, I had personally witnessed that commitment from only a few persons, whom I thus treated as anomalous.

I reasoned that if I believed that there was truly a being to whom I owed my existence and who alone determined my eternal destiny, I would serve that being unreservedly. But whatever other religion might contain some truth, I concluded that if Christians did not really believe in Jesus, there was surely no reason for myself to do so.

When I later encountered the risen Christ in an unsolicited and unexpected personal experience, hence came to the conviction that he (not to mention the God with whom he was associated) was in fact alive, I understood that the reality of Jesus rises or falls not on how successfully his professed followers have followed his teaching, but on Jesus himself.

Such an encounter will naturally be dismissed as purely subjective by those disinclined to accept it, and admittedly, I did not have a physical "resurrection appearance". I offer this information as an explanation by way of full disclosure, not as an argument, since it functions outside the epistemological criteria used in normal academic historical Jesus work. Many historical Jesus scholars who doubt that Jesus is alive have in fact traveled the opposite direction, moving away from traditional Christian conviction. Some have done so as a result of rigid categories (so that rejecting parts of their earlier faith required rejecting the whole); others through accommodating dominant philosophical trends that made faith impossible; others because faith is often genuinely difficult (though, I think, all the more needed) in a world full of suffering; others for historiographic or other reasons. I can only recount my experience openly, as they are welcome to recount theirs, in the hope that we can dialogue further. Our experiences on both sides inform our presuppositions, for those inclined to skepticism as well as for those inclined to faith.

Concluding "Unscientific Postscript" to Appendix 8
Ending with an "unscientific postscript" runs the risk of having readers paint one's entire work and career as unscientific, especially for those who, scanning a conclusion, suppose they have reconstructed the primary theme of the entire book. (Distinguishing between the body of one's arguments and a concluding personal opinion is, however, why we normally reserve such material for a postscript.) For some readers, being able to pinpoint a scholar as Christian, Jewish, atheistic, or as holding some other view absolves the reader of the need to engage her or his arguments. Yet no scholar lacks personal perspectives, whether they are stated explicitly or not. I do not wish to conceal mine, as I believe that I came by them honestly (even if not in ways that would satisfy detractors), and as I believe that they motivate me to seek truth rigorously because I so esteem the subject matter.

But I also confine this discussion especially to the book's end-matter so as to keep the arguments in the main body of the book as rigorous and independent as possible. Some who will dismiss without consideration that research because they disapprove of my personal perspective have, if they would admit it, personal perspectives of their own.

I believe that there remains in some sectors of academia a prejudice against accepting claims about the reliability of many Gospel traditions, a prejudice that may sacrifice genuine objectivity for the sake of objectivity's appearance. Were the Gospels biographies of Greek or Roman religious figures, the prejudice against them would likely be less, but some assume that anything one tries to say about Jesus historically reflects a modern religious bias. I believe that I have highlighted sufficient evidence to show that there is plenty of historical information available about Jesus for those whose interest in studying him is purely historical, without religious considerations.

The concern about religious bias becomes most acute in the discussion of the resurrection, however. While the charge of bias might be leveled either way, that charge is often invoked before the evidence is even allowed to be weighed. Many explain the resurrection in terms of the disciples' visionary experiences; [and] such experiences can be described without prejudice to their objective content.

But if evidence seems to support the historicity of a more objective event, some view the presentation of such evidence as tendentious support for the claim of one religion (especially when an "act of God" seems the most plausible and parsimonious among proposed explanations). Academicians sometimes thus are predisposed to reject such evidence in the name of religious neutrality (and sometimes, with less pretense of "neutrality", a hostility toward supernatural religion inherited from the most extreme phase of the Enlightenment.)

If, however, our concern is with history rather than the religious use to which some may put it, we must ask first of all where the evidence points. At this point I will try to more explicitly separate the historical and theological questions, while at the same time showing where they bear on each other.

I have talked with a number of skeptics about Christian faith who, after extended conversation, admitted that their objections to the basic Gospel portrait stemmed from their concern that acknowledging more about Jesus historically would entail greater moral demands on their lives. This prejudice is not, however, the starting point of all skeptics, and was not my starting point when I was a skeptic. I was an atheist for what I felt were intellectually satisfying reasons; whether they were genuinely defensible reasons or not, they were not merely morally pragmatic ones. Because of my epistemological orientation at the time, I would have derided the intelligence of someone who rejected historical data out of moral convenience just as I derided most Christians (who I felt accepted their faith because of their upbringing or existential convenience).

I believe that, on historical grounds, an atheist could affirm most of the historical points we have established in this book. They are historical arguments, and I believe that most "neutral" observers would find them more convincing than not. As an atheist no less than subsequently as a Christian, I did desire to follow evidence, even if it crashed my own convenient philosophic system (which it ultimately did, especially the Neoplatonic part of it); I believe that I would have found arguments such as those in this book convincing.

When I was an atheist, however, my concerns were not the sorts of historical issues we have been addressing in this book. Admittedly, I believe that affirming the plausibility of the gospel narratives would have moved me to consider following Jesus in a much more significant way than I was then following various other thinkers (Greek philosophers and other sources). Yet at that point in my explorations, Jesus was an uncomfortable question I had deferred until later, and I knew Greek mythology far better than I knew biblical stories (I had read less than one chapter of the Bible--namely part of the first one, which from my cosmological standpoint revolted me). Although my primary objection to theism was that I thought that contemporary scientific philosophy could explain the universe without that hypothesis, my primary objection to Christianity in particular was that Christians did not seem to take it seriously. But because I esteemed truth as the highest value, I wanted to remain open-minded.

While one can believe many of the Gospel reports about Jesus without being a Christian, it seems to me more difficult to be a Christian while rejecting nearly all of the Gospel reports about Jesus. (Admittedly, this observation depends on how one defines "Christian". If one defines it broadly as "follower of Jesus", however, it is hard to follow the teachings and example of someone whose teachings and example remain virtually unknown.)

Historical Jesus research is a historical question; all researchers have biases, but academic dialogue allows us to challenge and probe one another's biases and seek some central, securely grounded information about Jesus. Because such conclusions usually include the minimum on which most parties can agree, they usually do not resolve (and often do not address) the question involved in religious or spiritual quests for Jesus. The approaches and goals differ, and the limitations of historiographic methodology are not limitations that must be embraced by these latter quests. Nevertheless, if the latter quests mean anything that is distinctive with regard to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, they do invite some historical exploration.

Some scholars have argued that the "Jesus" we can reconstruct from history is irrelevant to faith; others demur. While the historical method does not give us a complete picture of Jesus, however, it does call to our attention some emphases in Jesus' message and ministry that we might otherwise have overlooked. [Endnote 24: For example, McClymond notes that the sources provide not only the comfortable western interpretation of Jesus as "socially inclusive" or oriented toward "family values", but also "a homewrecker", one who favored the poor, "preached fire-and-brimstone" and "was a totalitarian".] Because churches and cultures have too often remade Jesus in our own image, going back to the sources helps to keep us honest. While academic "Jesus research" does this in a different way than pure study of the Gospels (which mostly lacks the former discipline's intractable problem of lacunae in sources), both approaches can highly important features of Jesus and challenge our biases.


Rumor has it that Prof Keener submitted an 8000 page volume on Acts, but was told to revise and resubmit. I kind of believe that rumor, too... {g!} (Though I suspect someone somewhere accidentally typed an extra zero. The GosJohn commentary, which involves both historical and theological Jesus studies, clocks in at 1600 pages more or less, by the way; this historical Jesus commentary, which focuses more on the Synoptics, only runs 393 pages. Plus endnotes, ancient and modern works cited; and the topical/authors indexes which I haven't counted yet. Yes, the apparatus to this book is approximately half its total length!)

Kris Komarnitsky has a guest post on Common Sense Atheism, in which he summarizes the argument he made in his book of the same name, Doubting Jesus' Resurrection. I have not read the book yet and I am sure it contains much more detailed evidence in support of that argument, but if the blog post is an accurate summary I can't say that I'm impressed. What follows are some critical comments.

Komarnitsky begins by noting that one of the most popular arguments for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus construes the latter as the only plausible explanation for the early Christian beliefs summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7:

For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (emphasis mine)
In this passage Paul reminds his Corinthian converts of the traditions he passed on to them, which he had previously received from others. Some skeptics argue that Paul's claim to having received this information about Jesus is on the same level as his claim that the gospel he preached was not of human origin, that he had received it in a revelation from the heavenly Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). But in his letter to the Corinthians Paul is explicit that these traditions were not original to him: "Whether then it was I or they [referring here to the other apostles who had seen the risen Jesus], this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:11) Scholars rightly then take this passage as reflecting the beliefs of a broad cross-section of the very early Christian movement about Jesus' resurrection.

The question becomes how to account for the origin of these traditions (also how they arose and became established in such a short time after Jesus' death). Scholars like N.T. Wright and William Lane Craig argue that the most plausible explanation for these beliefs posits the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Komarnitsky tries to argue that the resurrection is not the only plausible explanation by offering one of his own, based on cognitive dissonance.

He begins by making the strange claim that in focusing on the above passage from 1 Corinthians as evidence for resurrection belief, N.T. Wright "is temporarily granting for the sake of argument the position of many in non-traditional scholarship that the gospels are mostly legends, including the discovered empty tomb tradition." Wright nowhere does any such thing in his work. It is one thing to start one's argument by examining a piece of evidence around which there is a broad and secure consensus as to date and origin-which implies bracketing questions regarding the reliability of other accounts-and quite another to grant, even temporarily, that the other accounts are legendary.

We can see why Komarnitsky has chosen to describe Wright's argumentative move in this way in the very next paragraph: "
If the discovered empty tomb tradition is a legend, not only is Jesus’ resurrection effectively ruled out, but so are several non-traditional explanations for the rise of early Christian belief..." Komarnitsky provides no further argument for the position that the empty tomb tradition is a legend (though I imagine he does so in his book), and I can only surmise that his loaded description of Wright's argument was meant to give some prima facie plausibility to this latter claim, together with the appeal to the 'many in non-traditional scholarship' who concur. He moves directly from having ruled out the historicity of the empty tomb-with no supporting argument whatsoever-to the 'only other' plausible explanation of early Christian belief, that based on cognitive dissonance. This is a very sloppy move, especially since the N.T. Wright website that Komarnitsky himself links to in his post provides a very good summary of the reasons why Wright thinks the empty tomb and appearance narratives are not legendary. Without engaging with those reasons Komarnitsky cannot assume that he has ruled out the traditional explanation.

Komarnitsky then defines cognitive dissonance as "the human tendency to rationalize a discontinuity between reality and one’s current beliefs in such a way that current beliefs are modified or added to instead of being rejected." He does not give a more detailed description of the phenomenon, including the variety of manifestations in different contexts, and he does not explain how this is supposed to apply to the early Christian movement: what exactly was the discontinuity between reality and the beliefs of Jesus' first followers? Was it simply the fact that Jesus had died, or that the anticipated violent overthrow of Roman oppression and the national emancipation of Israel had not been realized? Or both? Or neither of these? And how did this discontinuity lead to the specific form of resurrection belief that Paul outlines in his letter? Komarnitsky simply notes that cognitive dissonance "[s]ometimes...results in extremely radical rationalizations" and that "we have solid examples of this from other religious movements in history, such as the Millerite movement, the Sabbatai Zevi movement, and others." Here too, however, he does not show how the examples of those movements parallel those of the early Christian movement.

Just as he did with the empty tomb traditions, Komarnitsky then simply takes for granted that cognitive dissonance can account for early Christian belief about Jesus' resurrection and then tries to explain the other aspects of Paul's summary as the natural elaboration of the original impulse to reduce cognitive dissonance: "A few individual hallucinations of the beloved leader would not be unusual, nor would a fringe legend of a simultaneous appearance to over 500 people (the latter seeming a reasonable conclusion given that this appearance tradition does not show up in any other literary source)." But Komarnitsky does not discuss Paul's claim that of the 500 people who supposedly saw Jesus at once, most were still alive (though some had died). This is a bold claim to make on behalf of a fringe legend, especially when made by a missionary whose status and authority was being vigorously questioned (to the point where Paul had to concede that Jesus' appearance to him was "as to one untimely born", 1 Corinthians 15:8). Even if it were a legend it could not properly be called 'fringe' if a substantial fraction of the very small early Christian movement endorsed it. There are any number of reasons why the appearance to the 500 does not feature in the Gospels, the most obvious being that there was nothing in it that served the literary and theological interests of the evangelists; at any rate, this possibility seems just as likely as the 'fringe legend' hypothesis given how little we know about it (only its bare mention in Paul's letter). In any case, Komarnitsky does not explain how these 'fringe legends' resulted from the cognitive dissonance reduction process at work in the first disciples, so there is no further grist for the mill.

Komarnitsky further argues that the appeal by Paul and the other apostles to having seen the risen Jesus was conceived as a means to establish a hierarchy of authority in the early Christian movement: "If there was a need to designate leaders in the new movement – those who had the ability to teach, preach, and defend the group’s new beliefs – the traditions of the appearances to the Twelve and to all the apostles could simply be designations of authority." In particular, a visitation by the risen Jesus seems to have been a prerequisite of apostolic authority, as evidenced by Paul's passionate appeal: "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1) Komarnitsky quotes Stephan Patterson's conjecture about why the appearance traditions seem to have expanded in scope, starting with Peter and then extending to the Twelve and others:

Both the Twelve and the church have everything to gain by the assertion that the risen Lord had also appeared to the Twelve. Including the Twelve in the appearance formulae probably derives from a decision on the part of the early church to expand the sphere of authority that was originally confined to the “pillars” to include the Twelve as well. It is not so likely that it derives from an actual experience of the risen Jesus….[This] could also be said about the claim in 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus also appeared to “the apostles”… [We] have in this expression a second authority-bearing designation from earliest Christianity… The inclusion of “the apostles” in this formula… derives from an ecclesial decision to expand the sphere of authority beyond James to include others who could be trusted with the task of preaching. (The God of Jesus, 1998, pg. 234-236)
First of all, there is an internal inconsistency in Patterson's argument. He suggests that an authority which was originally held only by the 'pillars' of the Jerusalem church (Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John; cf. Galatians 2:9) was later expanded to include the Twelve and then all the apostles. But 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 has James receiving a visitation only after those granted to Peter, the twelve and the 500 brethren. If the tradition recorded there reflects the original sequence by which authority was granted to various members of the Jesus movement-and that is the upshot of Patterson's argument-then the authority of the risen Jesus could not have been originally confined to the pillars, since James didn't see the risen Jesus until after many others had done so. So who were the original authoritative seers of the risen Jesus? Patterson's own suggestion seems quite arbitrary, not at all a good explanation for the tradition as it is actually recorded in Paul's letter.

But there is a more serious problem for the overall hypothesis: while it is plausible that the leaders of a new religious movement would claim authority through alleged religious experience, this conjecture does not explain the specific content of that experience. Suppose Jesus had simply died and a movement carried on in his name: why didn't the apostles simply claim to be the tradents of the Master's authoritative word, the guardians of his memory, like the companions of Muhammad after his death? Why did the claim to authority take the specific form of bodily resurrection of a single individual in advance of the general resurrection? Why was seeing the
risen Jesus a prerequisite of apostleship? So we are back to the question of what accounts for the rise of the belief in Jesus' resurrection, which this hypothesis fails to do.

Finally, Komarnitsky suggests that "there would naturally have been an immediate need, almost reflex, in a growing religious sect to ground their beliefs in sacred scriptures." This is certainly true, but finding a grounding for beliefs in the scriptures does not explain the origin of those beliefs in the first place, especially in the case at hand. For one thing, while Paul says that Christ died and rose again 'in accordance with the Scriptures', he does not say that his
burial was in accordance with the Scriptures. This is puzzling, since there was a relevant text that would have been readily available: Isaiah's claim that the suffering servant "was buried like a criminal/he was put in a rich man’s grave." (Isaiah 53:9) This suggests that when Paul refers to Jesus' burial he did not have Scripture in mind, but rather the recollection of an event that was perceived to have actually happened. Furthermore, if the traditions about Jesus' empty tomb and resurrection resulted from scriptural reflection, it is remarkable that, as N.T. Wright observes, "the [empty tomb and resurrection] stories are told with virtually no embroidery from the Hebrew Scriptures...the story the evangelists have told up to this point—of Jesus’ triumphal entry, his actions in the Temple, his teaching on the Mount of Olives, the Last Supper, the arrest, the hearings, and the crucifixion—not only provides a steady narrative crescendo in itself, but also includes a crescendo of biblical quotation, allusion, reference, and echo. Even the burial narrative has its biblical resonances. After this, the resurrection narratives convey the naked feeling of a solo flute piping a new melody after the orchestra has fallen silent. Granted that the evangelists felt so free, as our own scholarly traditions have insisted, to develop, expand, explain, theologize, and biblicize their story sources, why did they refuse to do so, here of all places?"

Of course I have not given a full discussion of these crucial texts in this post. And I grant that Komarnistky has developed these arguments in greater detail in his book, presumably responding to the kinds of objections that I and Wright himself raise against the cognitive dissonance hypothesis. But if Komarnitsky's guest post is meant to be a persuasive piece in its own right, it fails utterly to convince. There are just too many unargued assumptions and shoddy argumentative moves. There may be a plausible secular explanation for the beliefs summarized in 1 Corinthians 15, but Komarnitsky has not given us one.

The latest newsletter from the Associates for Biblical Archaeology contains a very interesting article about Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus entitled, The Slaughter of the Innocents: Historical Fact or Legendary Fiction? by Gordon Franz, M.A. In the article he notes the objection by skeptics that the lack of a secular account of the slaughter makes it unlikely that it ever occurred, then begins to piece together a very good article explaining possible reasons for such secular evidence (which means "anything but the Bible") to be absent.

In the course of the article he discusses the fact that Herod was a bad guy (which is an understatement even using the secular records) and the fact that the event was not so great as many think. The slaughter was not a huge blood bath with hundreds of babies brutally murdered in their mothers arms. Rather, it is likely that only a few mothers had their babies murdered at that time.

Second, the massacre might not have been as large as later church history records. The Martyrdom of Matthew states that 3,000 baby were slaughtered. The Byzantine liturgy places the number at 14,000 and the Syrian tradition says 64,000 innocent children were killed (Brown 1993:205). Yet Professor William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeology in the Holy Land, estimates that the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people (Albright and Mann 1971:19). The number of male children, two years old or younger, would be about six or seven (Maier 1998:178, footnote 25). This would hardly be a newsworthy event in light of what else was going on at the time. Please do not get me wrong, one innocent child being killed is a horrific tragedy.

Of course, none of this is news to the CADRE who has twice before covered this issue. Our own Chris Price has written two fine pieces that anyone really wanting to learn more about this issue should read. The first is entitled The Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew reviews the Biblical account, the paranoia of King Herod, and (contrary to Mr. Franz' article) recounts that there is a secular source (i.e., not the Bible) that does reference the Slaughter of the Innocents and that the reference could (but may not) emanate from a non-Christian stream. The second article, How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?, comes to the conclusion that it is likely that no more than twenty children were murdered by Herod during the slaughter.

All in all, it appears that Christians have made a very strong case for the plausibility of the Matthew account -- even if there is no Jerusalem Post article circa 2 B.C. screaming that Herod should be deposed for such an atrocity. I close with the conclusion of the Franz article:

The slaughter of the innocents is unattested in secular records, but the historical plausibility of this event happening is consistent with the character and actions of Herod the Great. Besides killing his enemies, he had no qualms in killing family members and friends as well. Herod would not have given a second thought about killing a handful of babies in a small, obscure village south of Jerusalem in order to keep his throne secure for himself, or his sons, even if it was one of the last dastardly deeds he committed before he died. As Herod lay dying, raked in pain and agony, the men of God and those with special wisdom opined that Herod was suffering these things because it was “the penalty that God was exacting of the king for his great impiety” (Antiquities 17:170; LCL 8:449-451).

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been hanging out at the Religion and Spirituality page at Yahoo! Answers for awhile. While the majority of the questions and answers on that site are really little more than thinly (and often not so thinly) disguised attacks on religion, there is an occasional gem.

One poster asked: "Do Christians put anything off until the afterlife?" He added:

I heard some say that atheists should make more of their lives since we believe we only have this one life to live. So do Christians not cram as much into their lives as we do, thinking they have all eternity to play with?

I thought that was a reasonable question. After all, we hear about how we are to "go for the gusto" (for those old enough to remember that advertisement) and "live life to its fullest." We only go around once in life (so it is said), so we have to grab all we can.

Is that what Christians do? After all, as the question notes, we don't believe in just this life. We are citizens of heaven and looking towards eternal life.

I think that Christians should live life as fully as atheists. As a person who answered noted, we are called by God to fight the good fight and to press on to the finish. We can't do that if we are sitting back waiting for the next world. Jesus himself, in the parable of the talents, condemned the man who was given talents and merely buried them in the back yard until his king returned. So Christians, like non-Christians, are called to live life to its fullest.

The difference between Christians and non-Christians in this area is in what we pack into our lives. Whereas non-Christians try to get as much of the world as they possibly can, Christians are to strive to live a life where we grow as close to Jesus as possible. This means getting out to help others, love our neighbors, teach them about God. We are to do this with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Visiting Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Majal are all great things. Climbing Mount Everest is a fine goal. There is nothing wrong with those things. But to a Christian, those things are only secondary -- they are pursuing shadows of the worldly which is not what we are called to do. We are called to live lives in holy devotion to Christ with every fiber of our being.

That is something that we cannot and should not put off to the afterlife.

Lately, in an apparent show of masochistic tendencies of which I was previously unaware, I have spent some time answering questions on the Religion and Spirituality page at Yahoo! Answers. With all due respect to Yahoo!, the page should more appropriately be named the ADD Answers or ADHD Answers. Following two to three days on the site, I became convinced that the reason so many one line answers were given was because the people posting can't think beyond one-line, bumper-sticker slogans. The atheists on these sites are brazen, rude and ill-informed. (The Christians, for their part, could be just as bad at times, but it would take someone blind to their own shortcomings to not see that the atheists definitely held a large lead in the total number of rude, condescending and ignorant statements).

One common thread (which is repeated on other unnamed bulletin boards dominated by skeptics) is the mantra that somehow the skeptics have cornered the market (probably a bull market) on reason and logic. When asked by Christians questions like "why do you not believe Jesus rose from the dead?" or "why do you not believe in God?" these particular atheists would default to saying vacuous things like "reason and logic" or "reason and logic and an education" or "because I'm logical".

Personally, I think that the sum total of what these particular atheists know about logic they learned from watching old episodes of the original Star Trek series. (Worse yet, they may only know about logic from the latest Star Trek movie.) One thing that they apparently don't know is that saying "logic" or "reason" is not an answer to the question.

Logic is simply a tool used to evaluate arguments. Logic by itself provides no answers to arguments. Both sides use logic and reason in this debate and it is certainly not the case that saying you used logic somehow vindicates the atheist position. After all, what comes out of logic depends upon what is put into the logic. Allow me to elaborate.

Suppose I were to make the following logical argument:

Premise 1: All dogs are toothbrushes.
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is a dog.
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a toothbrush.

Is it logically valid? Yes. It is a variation on the basic logical argument about Socrates being a man and mortal. The logical form of the argument shows that if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true. But, hopefully, you will note that the premises are almost certainly not true. (At least I don't know how dogs can be used as toothbrushes, and while Richard Dawkins has sad puppy-dog eyes I don't believe is a canine.) So, the argument is not sound because it is quite likely that the premises are not true. Is logic what establishes that dogs are not toothbrushes? Well, it is a tool that can be used in making that evaluation, but other things are needed like observation and a defining of terms.

This same holds true for arguments between skeptics and Christians. For example, suppose I said the following: "If Jesus rose from the dead, he is God." Since I am a Christian the reader recognizes that my unspoken premise is that Jesus rose from the dead and that my unspoken conclusion is that Jesus is God. Putting it into a syllogism, it reads:

Premise 1: If Jesus rose from the dead, he is God.
Premise 2: Jesus rose from the dead.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus is God.

Logically it is a valid argument. Thus, I can certainly hold my head up high and say that I have used logic to prove my point. But, of course, skeptics (at least, those that don't regularly frequent Yahoo! Answers) are smart enough to point out that they don't agree with the premises. They will certainly disagree with the second premise and they probably will disagree with the first. Thus, the argument now involves each of these two premises. How do I resolve them? Logic? Well, logic is a tool that can be used, but as the foregoing demonstrates logic needs to be backed with other things in order to lead to truth. We don't know from logic alone whether Jesus rose from the dead -- that is a claim that can only be evaluated by examining the evidence in context.

Looking at it another way, logic is like a computer program that can help evaluate data. When you put data into the computer, it will process the data and spit out results that are dictated by the computer program. Are the results "truth", i.e., do they correspond to reality? It depends upon the quality of the data put into the computer. Garbage in, garbage out is the rule. Thus, logic does not give us the answer -- only an evaluation of the data which makes up the premises of the arguments will lead to truth. This evaluation can include logic, too, but logic itself rarely serves as the sole basis for finding truth. (If that were the case, Spock would never need Kirk or McCoy, would he?)

Of course, the Yahoo! Answers skeptics may be simply short-handing a much longer answer. Rather than spell everything out, they may want to say that logic dictates that the Christian claim is unbelievable. If that is the case, then the skeptical response to the question is nothing more than a dismissal. But if the skeptics are mearely dismissing the question by this short-hand response I feel compelled to ask: What in the world are these pin-heads doing on Yahoo! Answers where people (at least a few of the people) are looking for answers!?

I will tell you, when I see some skeptic responding to a question about why they don't believe something with a curt statment that they used "logic" or "reason", it communicates to me quite clearly that the skeptic has no clue.

But then, at least on Yahoo! Answers, that seems to be the rule.

Poster Bill Walker (a follower of this blog) going for the "big one" trying to de-convert me )on (Metacrock's Blog) introduces a book:


There is a book that I think may help you. "When God Becomes a Drug.By Bart Aikins. Please vdon't feel that this is a criticism of you. You are a victim- one of countless millions. I am rooting for you.
On the comment page he says:

Joe, I read all of you post. I know you had a tough time. I'm glad you have that bgehind you. Bu god/jesus had nothing to do with it. Ple4ase Joe, read " When God Becomes a Drug." Joe this book w2as written for YOU. You have nothing to lose but your delusions. Join us at ExChristian.net. You will be as welcome as the flowers in May. Share your experiences & your thoughts with us. You may write as a Xian or a former Xian. Many people start with us as Xians, & are 'won over'. But you are very welcome to make posts as a Xian. It is POSSIBLE that you can make some4one revert to Xianity, thru reasoning, tho I haven't seen anyone who did that, to my knowledge. But I reaslly think it will give you the experiences & thoughts of other people who have suffered as you did.

So I looked for this book. I found that He got the author's name so totally wrong it makes me think he's putting me on. Instead Bart Aikins it's Leo Booth. Booth is an Episcopal priest who wrote this book not as a denouncement of all religon but as a warning against the kind of rigid fundamentalism we all know and hate. He is in no way saying that all religion is like this. As one book reviewer says:

"And yet he says that there is nothing in the nature of religion which makes it unhealthy in itself, and that it is possible for a neurotic to use a healthy belief system in an unhealthy way. Booth writes that it is not necessarily the contents of the belief that make a system addictive, but rather the personal rigidity of its purveyors who discourage any kind of questioning or disbelief."
--John A. Speyrer
In spite of this we find the atheist having a field day in their propaganda using this book as though it totally disproves all religion. Shy David's Religion page, (there's a scholarly source for you) does a hack job on the book. Sky David is so balanced and fair minded he opens with the balanced and articulate statement:

Religion has always been used by evil men (and some times women) to inflict evil upon the world. The evil enacted is always either by design or by consequence. The latter generally has two causes: the person engaged in evil believes he is doing good, godly works, or another person or groups of people take the result of someone's good works and builds upon those works with evil acts. A specific example I can readily think of is Islam: when Mohammed founded his religion, he taught liberal reforms such as equality for females and tolerance for infidels. One problem, though: he was illiterate. When the Koran / Qur’an / Alcoran was written by his followers, Mohammed's teachings were drastically altered. Slavery of women became law; infidels were taken hostage and, upon threat of death, ordered to convert; women who did not sexually submit to their owners could be beaten, with the authority of law.



This book is being shamelessly exploited by unscrupulous hate group atheists who are merely using it for propaganda and taking it out of context. See my view in Atheist watch

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