CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The latest comment on my post documenting Leah Libresco's conversion to Catholicism is from an atheist with username "PhaseVelocity" (hence PV). By his tone he seems to be a typical strident, angry New Atheist (not to mention his sloppy grammar and usage) but he does trot out some standard objections to the moral argument so I want to take this opportunity to say a bit more about the grounds and strength of this argument.

Before going into that, let me just note the double-edged bulverism PV uses to dismiss Libresco's testimony:

Claiming you converted to a religion for rational arguments is common. Few people are willing to admit they converted for irrational arguments. Still this is usually the case. Humans base around 80% of their decisions on non-rational grounds. When somebody starts to accept faith for emotional reasons cognitive dissonance kicks in. A posteriori rationalizations are collected and most of the time the individuals involved actually genuinely believe the rationalizations were the main cause of the change in position.
And just like that, PV sweeps the legs out from under every de-conversion testimony on and other sites (just replace 'religion' with 'nonbelief'). But even leaving that aside, it is clear from reading through the archives on Libresco's blog that her conversion really was motivated by intellectual concerns. In my post I document the progression in her thinking by linking to several posts across a period of several years. I invite PV to do his homework instead of tossing out unsubstantiated psychological speculation.

But on to his substantive criticisms of the moral argument:
I have never seen a theist posit even remotely convincing evidence for objective morality that is properly measurable or can be reasoned. They usually say: "Moral horror X is really always wrong therefore morals are objective." All this establishes is that most people have a strong personal preference for moral horror X to be always wrong. It basically is an argumentum ad populum. It does not get much more subjective than that.
I don't recognize that syllogism, which is question-begging and trivial, from any of the prominent theists who defend the moral argument, and it certainly does not establish that most people have a strong personal preference for a certain moral horror to be always wrong (PV seems a bit flimsy on logical inference). Apologists for the moral argument will appeal to moral horrors about which there is a wide consensus, but then they go on to ask WHY there is a consensus about this. Even atheists will use such an appeal, as Greta Christina does when she contrasts the consensus surrounding perception of trees with the (alleged) lack of consensus surrounding perception of God. Unless you are a radical skeptic about subjective experience, believing that all we have access to epistemologically are mental representations that have no implications for understanding the way things are, you should grant that if there is a wide consensus about some perception, that is a strong indication that the perception is objective. 

But we can be a bit more systematic about the reasons for thinking that moral perceptions are objective. Such a case can be made by considering the phenomenology of human moral experience. In his book Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? secular ethicist Russ Shafer-Landau gives a convenient summary of the features of moral judgments that point to their being, at least in principle, objective:

  1. Human beings are committed to the possibility, and indeed reality, of moral error: there are certain acts and practices, such as infanticide or gladiator games, which we today condemn as not just outdated or different than our own moral practices, but as wrong (as in, people ought not to engage in them). Granted that these practices were once endorsed by those living in ancient times, and that we disagree about who is morally in error, the human race seems united in the judgment that some people ARE in moral error. And we make a clear distinction between matters on which people can differ without being in error (such as which side of the road to drive on), which would fall under the label of 'custom', and matters on which people cannot differ without at least one party being in error. I invite PV to try thinking of gladiator games or mass crucifixions as simply a different practice of a different culture at a different time, no more in need of justification and no more capable of condemnation than someone's taste in ice cream.
  2. As a corollary of the first point, human beings fundamentally reject moral equivalence: the conviction that no one person or society's moral judgments are better or worse than those of any other person or society. As Landau says, "When we feel strongly enough to denounce something-terrorism, spousal abuse, torture-we don't for a moment accept the equivalence doctrine. We think our opponents are just wrong. And they couldn't be (nor could we ever be), if moral skepticism were correct...who believes that slavers and abolitionists, for instance, are really holding views of equal merit? That slavery, or its abolition, are both equally morally acceptable?" (p.19) But this would be the logical implication of moral skepticism.
  3. A third aspect of the phenomenology of moral experience, again closely connected to the previous two, is our belief in the possibility of moral progress and the legitimacy of moral comparison. We consider abolition, universal suffrage, and civil rights to be genuine improvements over the state of affairs that existed prior to those movements. Society did not just change its stance on certain issues, it improved that stance. But moral progress would be impossible if moral judgments were mere expressions of opinion or preference, just as scientific progress would be impossible if scientific theories were all equivalent, none of them more accurately corresponding to the way the world actually works. Similarly, the world condemnation of Nazi Germany presupposes that it is possible to compare the moral standing of different societies and decide which one is morally superior or morally inferior. 
In summary, we experience moral decision-making as if moral judgments reflected, at least in principle, the way things are in the world. It was this realization that eventually led Leah Libresco to convert to Catholicism. To quote her again:
With regard to morality, I am in the same situation I might have been in before the eye was better understood. I receive certain sense perceptions which, instead of being ordered with regard to color and hue, are organized according to right and wrong. I can no more explain how I perceive these than I can explain exactly how I parse electrical signals, but, in my day to day life, these questions are not critical. I do know that I am at least as certain that my moral perceptions are meaningful and correspond to truth as I am certain that my visual perceptions do as well. In fact, I would go farther and say that I am as certain that my moral sense is attuned to something as real and urgent as the existence of physical matter.
Or take the agnostic Robin Le Poidevin:
Conscience directs us to moral properties of the acts themselves: the act (of murder, theft, and deceit or charity, compassion, and sacrifice) is itself good or evil. That property does not appear to reside in the mind alone. It may be that an action must originate in an evil thought in order to count as bad, but the badness of the action is not the same thing as the badness of the thought...This is the (real or apparent) objectivity of our moral judgments. Now, if the conscience whose promptings give rise to these judgments is a result of a combination of biological and social selection plus psychological conditioning, where does this sense of objectivity come from?... 
The mechanism is perhaps something like this: we witness, or think about, certain actions, such as deliberate deception, and they induce feelings in us, say of disapproval. This feeling is then somehow projected onto the act itself, resulting in what appears to be a perception of the act's badness. But this projection-if that is what it is-is very puzzling. It doesn't happen when things induce pain in us, for example. The experience of something may be accompanied by pain...but we don't then project the pain onto the thing that causes it. We may recognize a property in the object as the one that causes the pain, but the painfulness remains firmly fixed to the experience itself. Things are not intrinsically painful: it depends how they are presented to us. Why, then, when actions induce moral feelings in us, does the moral aspect of the experience not just stay fixed to the experience itself, rather than being projected onto the action, so that the action is seen as intrinsically good or bad, however it is presented to us?
PV might howl at this point that all I've done is show that human beings are hard-wired to treat moral judgments as objective, not that they actually are. So the question then becomes, what accounts for this hard-wiring? One very good explanation is that this hard-wiring developed in response to certain real features of our environment. After all, unless you want to fall prey to Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, you should believe that in order to better survive and reproduce, human perceptions more or less accurately track important features of their environment. If moral facts do exist, they are supremely relevant to human flourishing and thus it would make sense that human beings evolved to perceive them. I submit that the burden of proof is on the moral skeptic to give good reasons why we should not at least prima facie trust our perceptions in this case.

Another objection PV makes is that "values, moral or otherwise, are by definition subjective. You value something, this is necessarily mind dependent."

But proponents of the moral argument are not arguing that the objectivity of moral judgments requires that they be mind-independent tout court. Indeed, the argument typically ends with the conclusion that moral facts do come from the mind of a Supreme Being. Rather, proponents of the argument reject human, or even better, finite mind-dependence for moral values and facts. Human beings just do not have the authority, knowledge or wisdom to make pronouncements about what they ought and ought not to do 'on their own steam', as it were. Finite, self-centered, survival-driven creatures that we are, our pronouncements would inevitably be driven by those preoccupations. Only the omnipotent, omniscient, magnificent Creator of all things could have the authority to craft and enforce moral facts. This pre-empts PV's further objection that a morality dependent on God would still be 'subjective'. It is, but not in the problematic way that a purely human morality would be.

PV's final objection is as follows:
Moral facts can only exist if the definition of morality is sufficiently precise to have a standard to measure morality by. I have never seen a theist give a meaningful definition of morality so they disqualify themselves even before any discussion would be possible.
His first claim is just wrong. Moral facts would exist whether or not we have sufficiently fine-grained definitions to allow us to 'carve them at the joints', as it were. Definitions are things WE propose and see if they match what we observe in the real world. This is like saying gravity didn't exist before Galileo. The second claim is ambiguous at best, because it's not clear what exactly PV wants here. Unless and until he comes forward with that, he disqualifies himself from the discussion.

Perhaps you have already seen this, but I hadn't until last night. Alvin Planinga may be the smartest living philosopher on the face of the planet. He is a guy who thinks about thinking, and when he makes an argument (as opposed to a throw away thought) it is usually something to sit up and note. When he discusses philosophy, he normally doesn't take the time to condescend to the level of the New Atheists.

Which is why I was surprised to see Alvin Plantinga wrote a brief review/rebuttal of the awful book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. His review, entitled The Dawkins Confusion, does a wonderful job of reviewing Dawkins' arguments against the existence of God. For example, in discussing Dawkins' argument that God is extremely improbable, Plantinga makes a great observation about the actual nature of that argument. 

His detailed arguments are all for the conclusion that it is biologically possible that these various organs and systems should have come to be by unguided Darwinian mechanisms (and some of what he says here is of considerable interest). What is truly remarkable, however, is the form of what seems to be the main argument. The premise he argues for is something like this:
1. We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes;
and Dawkins supports that premise by trying to refute objections to its being biologically possible that life has come to be that way. His conclusion, however, is
2. All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

It's worth meditating, if only for a moment, on the striking distance, here, between premise and conclusion. The premise tells us, substantially, that there are no irrefutable objections to its being possible that unguided evolution has produced all of the wonders of the living world; the conclusion is that it is true that unguided evolution has indeed produced all of those wonders. The argument form seems to be something like
We know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that p; Therefore
p is true.
Philosophers sometimes propound invalid arguments (I've propounded a few myself); few of those arguments display the truly colossal distance between premise and conclusion sported by this one. I come into the departmental office and announce to the chairman that the dean has just authorized a $50,000 raise for me; naturally he wants to know why I think so. I tell him that we know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that the dean has done that. My guess is he'd gently suggest that it is high time for me to retire.
Plantinga does not stop there. He discusses complexity, necessary being and design in a short article. He concludes:
The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion." The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.
If you haven't read it already, I highly encourage reading this excellent rebuttal to Richard Dawkins.

The last time I posted, I cited an article on News 24 which stated that the James Ossuary had been proven to be a forgery. As my post pointed out, the article was dead wrong because the Biblical Archaeology Review had just published an article confirming the authenticity of the inscription. Now, I had never heard of News 24 before, but suddenly it has come up again when I came across another blatantly anti-Christian and ill-informed article that I want to comment upon.

The article is entitled You Want To Be An Apologist For Christianity? posted by someone using the pen name of Rodins Thinker. The article is a rather poor attempt to make light-hearted fun of some of the tactics used by some Christian apologists. To that extent, it is an attempt (a juvenile attempt, at best) to use the same type of humor that worked so effectively in The Freethinkers' Guide to Debating Christians on the Internet. However, whereas the Freethinkers' Guide was clever, this News 24 piece simply attempts to utterly belittle Christian arguments through several logical fallacies while pretending to use logic. Now, initially, I read the article and wondered who this particular author had encountered. Take for example, the author's argument about the Christian apologists' fallacious appeals to authority.

The Appeal to Authority. God MUST exists because person x wrote a book saying he does, or “all historians agree God wrote the Bible/accept Jesus was a real person”. You can also say Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, various Creation Scientists or William Lane Craig have proved God exists. The good thing about this trick is that you don’t have to produce any evidence and can just tell your opponent to read what they’ve said.
I don't know what level of apologetics this writer has encountered, but most of us (at least, those in the CADRE) do not point to these individual authors as proof that the arguments are true. Rather, we make the arguments ourselves and defend them ourselves. When we mention someone like William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga, we do so to cite a source for an argument -- not to substitute for the argument being made. 

When I read this back-handed advice to the Christian apologist wannabe, I began to write a paragraph-by-paragraph refutation of what the author was saying. After all, it is apparent at several places that the person who wrote it makes several statements that prove that he or she is not particularly knowledgeable or logical. For example, the author says of the concept of Biblical Inerrancy:
First, the Bible is inerrant. Remember that! The Bible is the inerrant word of an omniscient god so it can’t be wrong. It’s inerrant. Cling to that in the face of all arguments, evidence and reason. These must all be wrong because the Bible is inerrant, otherwise God wouldn’t have said it was in the inerrant Bible.
The quote shows that the author is not really well-informed. The Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy is not something that arose because God said the Bible is inerrant. No verse in the Bible says that the Bible is inerrant. Rather, the doctrine results from a logical extension of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which reads, "16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So, the Doctrine of Inerrancy holds that if the Bible is God-breathed (meaning not that God dictated the Bible, but rather God used the writers to communicate exactly what he intended) and if God is perfect, then the Bible must be perfect. One does not need to agree that the Bible is inerrant to be a Christian -- many Christians do not agree with the Doctrine of Inerrancy. But there is no question that the author is obviously errant when he or she says that God said "it was in the inerrant Bible."

However, the more I thought about it, the more I decided that this News 24 article is not an article that needs refutation. Rather, it is an article that needs to be shared among Christian apologists to make a point: sometimes Christian apologists engage in tactics that are, quite simply, poor. Sometimes, we are not clear about what we are saying. I perfectly understand how some poor, illogical skeptic may not understand how the argument about the logic for the Doctrine of Inerrancy is not circular -- especially if it is presented in the way that this particular author presents it. More importantly, I suspect that there have been occasions where some poor apologist has presented it exactly the way that this article presents it. Very poor.

Thus, I encourage Christian apologists to read this article -- not because it is right or because it presents arguments that we need to answer. Rather, I want apologists to review the article to see how we are being seen. I want us to see where our arguments are being misunderstood or misrepresented. I want apologists to read this farce to see ourselves in the eyes of those who would ridicule us.

To that end and to no other, this article is worthwhile.


This is in response to the last post by BK. BK defended the idea of the James 'ossuary as legitimate, but skeptics contended that no artifact has gone unexposed as a hoax. While this may be true of small personal items, such as Jesus' comb or face cloth or whatever, it's not true of major locations in archaeology such as the tomb of Christ. Long consider a forgery of pilgrims the archeological evidence supports the notion that we have the tomb and it was the actual tomb.

Professor Biddle (The Tomb of Christ) proves the site of the current Church of the Holy Sepulcher (CHS) is the very sight selected by Constantine for his chapel because he believed it to be site of the tomb of Jesus, the one that turned up empty, and the near the cross of Golgotha. It's only a few yards from the site of the crucifixion (so some believe). In the past atheists have become very angry over this point and gone to great lengths of deception and hostility to avoid the obvious conclusions. Nevertheless, their obfuscations is not impressive, even though their persistence is tiresome. The real question is what made Constantine choose this site? The atheists would do anything to divert belief form the historical claims that the site site was always known to local Christians, they marked it, keep up with it, and told it to the incoming gentile Christians. Some atheists who used to harass this blog will do anything to have you believe otherwise. While they are basically right there is no final proof that is beyond question, there is very good reason to assume that the legend is true.

Here I speak of former regular attackers on my blog:

In their fomentation two in particular, "anonymous" ( aka, "Goliath"--"go lie" as I call him) and "loyal opposition" (LP) tried to convince the reader that only they understood the sources that the only the only sources that mattered were Eusebius and Constantine through Eusebius. Even Eusebius himself they ignored completely because he offered evidence that contradicted their view. They only accepted one quote of Constantine that came through Eusebius that they asserted ruled out any of the other stories and reports no matter who handed them on (see comment section this blog May 21, 2007). There is no hard evidence. They right about that. That does not mean there is reason to accept that site as valid. The likelihood is good. Atheists can't understand likelihood unless it's in their favor. There are sources that need to be considered. Scripture tells us that Jesus' body was laid in a new tomb lent by Josephus of Aremathia. There are a few scant details mentioned all the Gospels. (Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53).John 19:17 no details of tomb but mentions Calvary. John 19:41 says the place of the tomb was near the place of the crucifixion.

New Advent, Holy Sepulcher

No further mention of the place of the Holy Sepulchre is found until the beginning of the fourth century. But nearly all scholars maintain that the knowledge of the place was handed down by oral tradition, and that the correctness of this knowledge was proved by the investigations caused to be made in 326 by the Emperor Constantine, who then marked the site for future ages by erecting over the Tomb of Christ a basilica, in the place of which, according to an unbroken written tradition, now stands the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Christians fled the city with the fall of the temple in 70. Some came back and re-established their community. There are Jewish Christians there at the time of the expulsion of Jews after the barkaba revolt in 135.

The Christians who were in Jerusalem when Titus laid siege to the city in the year 70 fled, it is true, across the Jordan to Pella; but, as the city was not totally destroyed, and as there was no law prohibiting their return, it was possible for them to take up their abode there again in the year 73, about which time, according to Dr. Sanday (Sacred Sites of the Gospels, Oxford, 1903), they really did re-establish themselves. But, granting that the return was not fully made until 122, one of the latest dates proposed, there can be no doubt that in the restored community there were many who knew the location of the Tomb, and who led to it their children, who would point it out during the next fifty years .(Ibid)
We don't have many real mentions of the site by many writers of the era. Those are named usually are quoting Eusebius. Some of those not connected to Eusebius are mentioned but their works are not on the internet and very hard to get. Such are the works of Melito of Sardis.

It is recorded that Melito of Sardis visited the place where "these things [of the Old Testament] were formerly announced and carried out". As he died in 180, his visit was made at a time when he could receive the tradition from the children of those who had returned from Pella. After this it is related that Alexander of Jerusalem (d. 251) went to Jerusalem "for the sake of prayer and the investigation of the places", and that Origen (d. 253) "visited the places for the investigation of the footsteps of Jesus and of His disciples". By the beginning of the fourth century the custom of visiting Jerusalem for the sake of information and devotion had become so frequent that Eusebius wrote, that Christians "flocked together from all parts of the earth".(Ibid)
Alexander of Jerusalem (d. 251) made a trip to the holy lands to investigate the sacred places, and Origen (d. 253) "visited the places for the investigation of the footsteps of Jesus and of His disciples". "By the beginning of the fourth century the custom of visiting Jerusalem for the sake of information and devotion had become so frequent that Eusebius wrote, that Christians "flocked together from all parts of the earth" (Ibid, same New Advent article). Because I don't have a quote by Eusebius that wsay "I read Malito of Sardis and he talks about the tomb" those atheist asserted that he does not. Becasue I can't obtain the original easily this is was certain proof to them that it's a lie. There is of course, no reason to assume such a drastic bit of casuistry. The Scholarship speaks of it, this is documentation enough they provide a better documented source saying it's not true. Dcoumented debate is like dueling sources. You don't need best to support highly probable idea that is basically common knowledge. New Advent documents that "all scholars" (almost) agree with it. The great Biblical Archaeologist Corbo made clear in Archaeology of the Bible book by book (1976) that accepted the tradition as a valid and likely theory.

Helena and Macarius, having made fruitless inquiries as to the existence of the Cross, turned their attention to the place of the Passion and Resurrection, which was known to be occupied by a temple of Venus erected by the Romans in the time of Hadrian, or later. The temple was torn down, the ruins were removed to a distance, the earth beneath, as having been contaminated, was dug up and borne far away. Then, "beyond the hopes of all, the most holy monument of Our Lord's Resurrection shone forth" (Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", III, xxviii). Near it were found three crosses, a few nails, and an inscription such as Pilate ordered to be placed on the Cross of Christ. (Ibid)
There's a great book on the subject of early holy places in Christianity and especially concerned with the Holy Sepulcher: The Sepulcher of Christ and the Medieval West, by Colin Moris (Oxford U. Press). Moris Makes several arguments. Tombs were venerated and were important. The lack of mention of place names but the rapid grouping of many such names around Bethany and Bethphage and Gologthy in Mark indicated that the readers knew the places. Hegesippus tells us that they knew the tomb of James, even in his own day which a century latter. Would they continue to remember the tomb of James and play no attention and forget that of Christ! (G. Schille, ‘Das Leiden des Herrn: die evangelische Passionstraditionund ihr Sitz im Leben’, Zs. für Theologie und Kirche, 52 (1955), 161–162,
and E. Trocmé, The Passion as Liturgy: A Study in the Origin of the
Passion Narrative in the Four Gospels (London, )) (see also Morris,8).

He quotes certain early writers that who relate pretty clearly the tradition that the Temple of Venus was built on top of the site of Jesus' tomb. "Several writers comment that 'the place was hard to find, the persecutors of hold having placed a statue of Venus on it, so that, if any Christian should presume to worship Christ in that place he would seem to worship Venus. Thus the place had fallen into oblivion.'" this quotation he attributes to the Ecclesiastical History of Gelasius (Borgehammar, 54). He continues:

This suggests that there was still a tradition of where Golgotha was However difficult it was of access. The balance of probability is that the site of Golgotha like certain other Biblical sites remained known to the Palestinian Christians during the first three centuries.(14).
It is possible to get the book and investigate further. Just because we don't have Eusebius saying it doesn't mean there's no evidence for the tradition. Go-lie and OP were desperate to disprove anything they could and to divert attention of the the fact that historical probability indicates the tomb was venerated. One of the major arguments they made by quoting a long passage from Euebius that is suppossed to demonstae that Contantine did not have a prior traditon tht he followed for the site but just made it up, pretending it was "form the Lord:"

"He judged it incumbent on him to render the blessed locality of our Saviour's resurrection an object of attraction and veneration to all. He issued immediate injunctions, therefore, for the erection in that spot of a house of prayer: and this he did, not on the mere natural impulse of his own mind, but being moved in spirit by the Saviour himself.....but calling on the divine aid, gave orders that the place should be thoroughly purified, thinking that the parts which had been most polluted by the enemy ought to receive special tokens, through his means, of the greatness of the divine favor. As soon, then, as his commands were issued, these engines of deceit were cast down from their proud eminence to the very ground, and the dwelling-places of error, with the statues and the evil spirits which they represented, were overthrown and utterly destroyed.....Nor did the emperor's zeal stop here; but he gave further orders that the materials of what was thus destroyed, both stone and timber, should be removed and thrown as far from the spot as possible; and this command also was speedily executed. The emperor, however, was not satisfied with having proceeded thus far: once more, fired with holy ardor, he directed that the ground itself should be dug up to a considerable depth, and the soil which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship transported to a far distant place".(III, XXV-XXVII)
I quoted that passage a number of times myself, but when he wanted to sweep aside my evidence also from Euesbius of a prior tradition he would say something to sound disgusted such as "Ok here it is again" then quote that very quote. The quote says NOT that there was no prior tradition, not that he chose the site because God showed him where it was but because but that his motivatin for doing finding it came from the Lord. Not the site itself, but the motive. see above highlighted. I had argued before my siting of the passage what Eusebius says that gives a context to Constantin's undertaking of the search:

The Franciscans (their websites) put this in as the context before the quote given above:

In 325, during the first ecumenical council of Nicea, the bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, invited Emperor Constantine to destroy the pagan temples built atop the Christian holy sites in the Holy City. The Emperor, now Pontifex Maximus of the whole Roman Empire and strong in his position decreed the demolition of the pagan temples built atop the Christian Holy Site. This is how Eusebius describe s the event:
This is an indication that they knew the locations of these sites. Why ask for the pagan temples to be destroyed if they didn't know where the true sites were, or at least if they didn't have an idea where they thought they were.

Where does this leave us? It doesn't resolve the issue or prove that the CHS is the original site of Jesus resurrection. It does give us some interesting ammunition. The atheists at times are given to argue that if Jesus really existed and if he was really crucified and there was an empty tomb why didn't they mark. Don't let them argue this on the premise that we can't prove where the tomb is. We don't have to prove that. We can prove there was a tradition, that ancinet writers claim they marked the site. That's enough to negate their argument. When they say why didn't they mark it, well we have reason to believe they did.

Those of us involved in apologetics are all familiar with the James Ossuary. For those who may be late-comers to the conversation, here's a brief description about the ossuary from an article published today on some website called News 24 entitled The Jesus Artifacts.

In 2002, the news that an ancient ossuary might be associated with James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, created great excitement in the world of biblical archaeology as well as among Christians and those of other religious faiths. The ossuary, or burial box, purportedly had an Aramaic inscription reading "Ya'akov, son of Yossef, brother of Yeshua," translated as "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"
This article, written by someone calling himself "VillageIdiot" puts a very negative spin on the James Ossuary because as his opening paragraph (reproduced below) makes clear, he has no faith that any of the evidence supporting Jesus is true.
The archeological evidence for the existence of Jesus is non existent. So many of the ancient artifacts that have been discovered through the years since the time of Jesus have been proven to be fake. Let’s look at a small selection of them.


However, this was also found to be a forgery. The ossuary was ancient, but the inscriptions were found to be fake. This further substantiates a number of theories. Firstly, Jesus never existed, as any other evidence to support his life is entirely absent. Secondly, the black market prices for ancient artifacts, particularly ones that play to the gullibility of religious fanaticism, ensures a higher price for items which refer to anything found within any of the religious scriptures of the three major religions, being the Bible, the Koran and the Torah. These people are eager to pounce onto anything that might support their respective scriptures, to the extent that they fail to do a thorough investigation.
Is that what we Christiana are? Are we are so dead set on supporting anything that hints of Jesus that we can't recognize something being an obvious fabrication? Is VillageIdiot right that we are just yahoos who will believe anything as long as it supports our belief in the sky-God? Well, there is at least one problem with VillageIdiot's views of the James Ossuary: when he says that the James Ossuary was found to be a forgery is wrong. There have not been any such findings. Did suspicions exist that it was a forgery? Yes and we gullible Christians here at the Christian Cadre (as only one among many places) published several stories about the trial of the alleged perpetrators. (If you don't believe me, please go to the search box and type in "ossuary" and you will see several articles about it.) So, Christians are aware that the ossuary was suspected of being fake, and we were commenting on it. But even more importantly, I came across the first article about the James Ossuary that I think is even more damaging to VillageIdiot's view. This article from The Los Angeles Times which has an incredible headline which reads, Archaeology journal says burial box of Jesus' brother is genuine. What? Say what? How can this be? After all, as the News 24 article points out, "Jesus never existed and and evidence to support his life is entirely absent." So, how can it be genuine? In reading the Los Angeles Times article, I learn that the headline is not misleading. It reads:
A limestone box bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" in Aramaic appears to be genuine, the prestigious Biblical Archaeology Review said Wednesday in a long story written by editor Hershel Shanks. The ossuary, dating from AD 63, has been highly controversial, with Israeli authorities claiming it is a forgery and prosecuting antiquities dealer Oded Golan, who originally sold it. That trial ended in March when a judge acquitted him of forging the inscription on the ossuary, saying that the prosecutor had not proved claims that the ossuary was a fake.
So, I went to Biblical Archaeology Review to see for myself, and found the headline article to read “Brother of Jesus” Inscription Is Authentic! The main point of the article reads as follows: "My bottom line is simply this: There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the inscription on the James Ossuary. Whether it refers to Jesus of Nazareth remains a question." Wow! So according to Biblical Archaeology Review, the inscription that references Joseph, James and Jesus is authentic and not a forgery. So, paraphrasing the question posed by Hershel Shanks, does the fact that it refers to Jesus and James mean that it is necessarily the same Joseph, James and Jesus as in the Bible? Obviously, there is no way to know the answer to this questions with absolute certainty. But Editor Shanks does provide a very interesting analysis by using statistics. Editor Shanks reports that a prominent statistician from Tel Aviv University, Professor Camil Fuchs, has done the background work on answering this question. According to the article, Professor Fuchs used several factors in analyzing the probability that this inscription was genuine including the size of the population of Jerusalem, the period of time in which reinterment in ossuaries was practiced, the fact that the names were all male, the fact that the ossuary is intended to hold adult bones, the strong probability that someone in the family was literate and the rate of literacy (why else an inscription?), the family wealth to be able to afford the ossuary, and the percentage of ossuaries from the period which had inscriptions. He concludes with the following:
Fuchs’s computations also depend on the frequency of the three names in the inscriptions in Rahmani’s catalog. Among the 241 male names on the ossuaries in the catalog are 88 different names. “James” (Yaakov in Hebrew) appears 5 times or 2.15 percent of the time; “Joseph” (and variations) appears 19 times or 7.9 percent of the time; and “Jesus” (Yeshua in Hebrew) appears 10 times or 4.1 percent of the time. Based on the frequency of these names among the 241 male names on the ossuaries in the catalog, the statistical probability of the three names appearing together is 0.006787 percent.

Fuchs concludes that the estimate for the relevant population includes 7,530 men, and the likelihood of someone named James with a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus in this population is 0.0227 percent. That is, the estimate of the number of individuals in that population who bear the three names with this relation is 1.71. Expressed another way, there is a 38 percent chance that only one individual had this combination, a 32 percent chance that two individuals had this combination, an 18 percent chance that three individuals had it and an 8 percent chance that four individuals had it. And Fuchs can state this with 95 percent confidence.
So, does this necessarily mean it is the same Joseph, James and Jesus as described in the Bible? No, but at 0.0227 percent, it appears to be a fairly strong statistical case that it is. So, unless and until something else pops up, I think that the James Ossuary can be put into the category of evidences for Jesus and the truth of the Bible despite objections from village idiots to the contrary.

Some readers may remember (or not, it's been four years already) that a sensationalist documentary, Bloodline, came out in 2008 claiming to reveal new evidence that Mary Magdalene traveled to Southern France, that she and Jesus married, and most damning of all that the resurrection was a big hoax. There was just enough to the story to make me worried that this might actually be the real deal, so I did quite a bit of research and wrote a substantial critique soon after the documentary came out. Even back then, the story was already starting to crumble under the weight of very substantial criticisms, which I documented in my critique (not all of the links are still working, this was four years ago after all, nearly a century in Internet time!). But the 'explorer' who had unearthed these 'artifacts', who went by the pseudonym Ben Hammott, kept stringing people along, promising that a full investigation was underway by the French authorities, which however never came to anything.

At long last, however, after trying to hoodwink the media and authorities about other sensationalist findings, including Loch Ness and the Ark of the Covenant, Ben Hammott finally admitted that it was all a hoax:

Everything I said I discovered is a hoax, planted by me and only me...I have no idea why I did it, or carried on what was at first a stupid prank that escalated out of control. My intention was never to deceive, but then of course it was by doing what I did. Perhaps I did it for the money, though very little was ever forthcoming and realised early on that it probably never would. Did I do it for fame and attention? Perhaps. I did enjoy it at times but it wasn’t the driving force behind it. Maybe I just carried on to see what I could get away with. I really don’t know...I have had nothing since bad luck since I become involved with the Rennes-le-Chateau affair, bad karma, almost certainly. Today I have no money, no family life, no home and now probably very few friends. It is perhaps a well deserved outcome.
A well-deserved outcome indeed. I had quite a few people tell me that I really shouldn't waste my time on this piece, that it was definitely a hoax, but I sometimes get paranoid about these things and Hammott's allegations kept me up many a night worrying whether my faith was all a hoax. That worry has long since dissipated, and I came upon Hammott's confession quite by accident, but it is a fitting coda to the sad story of a seeker of fame and fortune who ended up without either. May God have mercy on him.

My yearly Independence Day link back to my 2008 Cadre article on the philosophically unique connection between trinitarian theism and freedom.

God’s hope to all our readers, around the world, this holiday season!

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