CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In Part One, I discussed the famous paragraph from Josephus’ Antiquities known by its nickname the Testimonium Flavianum: the testimony of ‘Flavius’ (Josephus’ patron Roman name) to the life, death, and appearances-after-death (at least) of Jesus Christ.

The internet hardly needs another article on the TestiFlav, of course, as it's quite famous, and has been chewed over repeatedly by proponents and opponents on all sides of the aisle. I wouldn't even have written Part One at all, except I wanted to remind readers of the principles for why and how scholars across the board, conservative and liberal, from true believers out to even some hypersceptics, accept the testimony as being mostly original to Josephus. (Some hypersceptics think the entire passage is an interpolation, and not everyone agrees about what the value of the passage is even if it's original, but that's a whole other issue.)

That's because there's another version of the TestiFlav which not even many scholars know about, which has long been rejected as a total interpolation (i.e. some pious Christian added it completely to a text); and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to apply the principles of commonly accepted TestiFlav analysis to it.

So, beware, be very a-ware: this article will be VERY MUCH LONGER than Part One. All ye who are willing to slide into it, though -- to the Prattjump!

(Edited to add: by "recently" I mean mid-March 2010. My schedule is odd. {lopsided g})

Recently, our compatriot Victor Reppert reposted a link to Chris “Layman” Price’s fine essay on the major testimony from Josephus about Jesus (which can be found archived here.) Readers may be surprised to learn that there are a few other references to this testimony in ancient documents, which we can analyze for comparison with text-critical principles, to help derive an idea of the original text. But what happens when we turn those same principles on a very late source for the Testimonium, which has been (almost?) universally rejected as material for comparison--including by Chris? I think the results, while far from conclusive, are at least interesting!

But first, some background for comparison.

(Note: this entry deals with facts and theories very well-known among students of the early history of Christianity, especially on questions of the historical Jesus, and so could be skipped by people familiar with the case so far. Alternately, you could read Chris’ more extensive article, linked above.)

Josephus and the Testimonium Flavianum

As most students of historical-Jesus studies (pro or con) are well aware, a passage exists in the work of the Jewish historian Josephus known as the Antiquities, where Josephus in the midst of relating numerous stories indicting the competency and honor of both the Sanhedrin under the faction of Annas and also the Palestinian governor Pontius Pilate, takes a moment to discuss how they handled a man named Jesus.

The passage is found in all extant copies of this particular book of the Antiquities (18.3.3 lines 63-64), which is admittedly not all that many--like other ancient texts the textual record is poor compared with the New Testament canon documents, but excluding that set as abnormal Ant. is much better than average in the number of copies (and their place/date provenance ranging) which we have available for text-crit purposes.

As it stands, this paragraph, which has received the nickname of the “Testimonium Flavianum” (after Josephus’ patronage name of Flavius, the Imperial family for whom he was writing this history of the Jews from ‘antiquity’ up to his present times), runs as follows in English, more or less:

Around this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is right to call him a man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who accept the truth with pleasure. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Messiah. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross. [but] Those who had first loved him did not cease [doing so]. For on the third day he appeared to them alive again, because the divine prophets had prophesied these and a thousand other things about him. To this day the tribe of ‘Christians’ named after him has not disappeared.

Even though we lack direct external testimony (so far as I know) showing a copy of the Ant. to have any other form than this paragraph, the vast majority of scholars on all sides of the ideological aisle regard the passage as having been slightly but seriously tampered with at some point in its transmission.

One short phrase, “if indeed it is right to call him a man”, and the blunt declarative statement, “He was the Messiah,” seem to be completely out of character for Josephus. He would be risking his life telling his Imperial patrons that a Jewish wise man was the anointed king of the world; or else they would have no idea what the phrase was even supposed to mean. (No qualification is present for explanation. The relevant meaning is assumed to be known by the reader.) More importantly, Josephus in uncontrovertible passages elsewhere shows that he not only has a low opinion of Messianic candidates, whom he blames for the troubles of the land, but also that he considers Vespasian (the military warlord and eventual Emperor who had defeated the Jewish rebellion) to be the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy! It is utterly unlikely that Josephus would be totally reversing this in a throwaway paragraph intended otherwise to be another piece of evidence against the administrations of the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.

A longer and more complex sentence is typically regarded as interpolation as well: the one that begins “For on the third day” and ends at “other things about him.” Personally I’m on the fence about it, for the language could be read as expressing the opinion of the people who had loved Jesus from the first and continued to believe in him after his execution (unlike other Messianic candidates of the time, as Josephus relates elsewhere.) This sentence would also serve the immediate apologetic purposes of Josephus, for without it the critique against the “leading men among us” and Pilate would be merely implied at best. Moreover, Josephus does want his patrons to respect the divine prophets of the Jews, and goes to a lot of effort to help them be acceptable elsewhere in the Ant.

The main problem against this sentence, is that if Josephus is prepared (for his apologetic purposes) to accuse the Sanhedrin and Pilate of wrongly executing a man foretold by divine prophets of YHWH, thus by implication a super-important agent of YHWH himself, it is peculiar that he doesn’t spend more time on him in other regards! Against this complaint it might be objected that Josephus was aware that Christians in his day were making divine-authority claims of Christ over against Caesar (including with parallel terminology). To me this seems more likely to be a reason for Josephus to paint Jesus in more acceptable lights (to Roman Imperial eyes) in the passage we do know about--which would mitigate against the inclusion of this sentence as well as the two short ultra-probable interpolations. Most importantly, though, if Josephus wants to impress his Imperial readers with the foretelling of this man’s appearance by the divine prophets whom he elsewhere wants his Imperial readers to respect, then it is odd that elsewhere in the paragraph the language can be easily interpreted to be more neutral: “amazing deeds” is literally “paradoxical deeds”, and the word for “pleasure” is “hedonism” which had no more positive connotations for them at the time than it would for us today. (On the contrary, it’s a bit negative!)

Consequently, then, while I can see some good arguments for retaining the sentence, I typically omit it, too, following the lead of the vast majority of analysts.

There are very few analysts among scholars who try to argue for massive interpolation or outright forgery of the whole passage--a position most popular among Jesus Myth proponents who, understandably, don’t want it there, or at least don’t want it to be referring to the Jesus of the Gospel stories. There are perhaps a few more analysts among scholars who try to argue for the originality of the whole passage--and at least it can be said that they do have positive textual data on their side! (There is a 10th century Arabian-Christian report of the TF, which looks rather like a reconstruction removing interpolations, but which includes the Messianic statement with the qualification “maybe”. However, it is not a copy of the Ant. itself, but a notice from Agapius’ Universal History. More on this in a moment.)

But I accept the general reasoning involved, that in a previous stage before our current copies of the Ant., the TF read as follows (with a more neutral interpretation of meaning):

Around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. [For?] he was a worker of paradoxical deeds and was a teacher of people who lustily accept truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross. [but] Those who had first loved him did not cease [doing so]. To this day the tribe of ‘Christians’ named after him has not disappeared.

I certainly would have no problem including the sentence about why those who had loved Jesus from the first did not cease doing so. But I don’t need it in there, either.

Yet on the other hand, the report of the TF from Agapius’ Universal History (in a 10th century Arabic copy), keeps a lot of the received full version of the TF, in a tamped-down form (I owe this information to Robert E. Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament, 2000, pp.97-98):

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

This form is interesting in that the sentence about paradoxical deeds and people who lustily accept the truth (which could have slightly negative connotations) is completely absent; and a sentence with a positive but not flagrant approbation is included instead: his conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. The “men among us” are not mentioned at all, as being implicated in Jesus’ death or otherwise--not present in Agapius’ version (which he states he’s getting from Josephus)? Or simply elided past as unimportant (by either Agapius or his 10th century copyist)?

The short phrase “and to die” is mentioned as an addition to Pilate’s condemnation. The reason for why his disciples kept following him is given, but in arguably a tamped-down form compared to the known extant TF texts: the appearances are presented specifically as a report of the disciples. Most importantly, the three most problematic statements in the received TF are either missing (“if indeed it is proper to call him a man”), or found at the very end in a more careful form (“perhaps he was the Messiah” “concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”) This replaces the final sentence of the received TF, which might have been considered pointless by someone in the chain of copying to the 10th century source.

It’s difficult in some of these cases to guess whether the differences occur due to a different form being used by Agapius (or his own copyist!), or whether he is making small clarifications and eliding other topics as being unimportant. (It is even more difficult, though interesting, to ponder to what extent apologetics against Muslim incursion could be expected to result in inclinations to alter the TF in the 10th century Arabic copy, and how-or-why-or-how-far!) Also, it is hard to gauge whether the whole replacement of the sentence concerning paradoxical deeds etc. indicates that this sentence, in the received version, is itself an interpolation, or whether Agapius (or someone before him) thought it sounded too potentially negative and so replaced it with the solid but restrained affirmation of Jesus’ basic decency.

However, I am impressed by both the existence of part of the explanation for continued discipleship, along with the porting of the other part of that explanation to be put, at the tail end, with a more circumspect affirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship. Two of the three widely modern guesses about interpolation are found at the very end (in place of a sentence that would be of little importance to Agapius’ audience), and the third guessed interpolation is completely absent. Yet it isn’t the whole of the longest guessed interpolation which is absent--only the portion that would make the most implausibility coming from Jospehus.

I consider this to be serious (though not decisive) evidence that some phrase about appearances (whether as in the received TF or in Agapius’ version) was found in a prior form of the TF. Fitting such a phrase into the wide-majority consensus reconstruction, would produce something like:

Around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. [For?] He was a worker of paradoxical deeds and was a teacher of people who lustily accept truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. [Perhaps including here, ‘...who believed him to be the messiah’.] Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross. [but] Those who had first loved him did not cease [doing so]. [For?] They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. To this day the tribe of ‘Christians’ named after him has not disappeared.

However: this might not in fact be the original form of the Testimonium Flavianum either! For there is another highly interesting but little-known version of this paragraph, found not in a commentary borrowing from Josephus’ book on Jewish history, nor in any copy of the Antiquities itself, but in one copy of the other most famous book from Josephus, The Jewish War.

I’ll discuss this in Part 2 (now available here), as well as explain why the title of my article refers to the Testimonium Slavianum.

Footnote: R O'Brien has left a comment on at Victor's post "What did Josephus Really Say about Jesus?", posting some remarks from Alice Whealey's 2008 article on the TestiFlav in Syriac and Arabic (Whealey, A. 2008. "The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic". New Testament Studies. 573–590)

She argues that the version preserved by Michael the Syrian is closest to the original:

"In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become. The implication of this is that supposedly Christian-sounding elements in either the textus receptus or in Michael’s Testimonium cannot be ruled inauthentic a priori."


"This study thus also implies that it is Michael’s Testimonium that is much more important as a witness to Josephus’ original text about Jesus than Agapius’ Testimonium. By far the most important aspect of Michael’s Testimonium in terms of recovering Josephus’ original passage is its reading ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’, because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, and because it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore the most important aspect of Agapius’ text is its reading that Jesus was ‘perhaps’ the Messiah, because this reading lends weight to the hypothesis that Michael’s qualification of Jesus’ Messianic status was based on an older exemplar of the Testimonium rather than being created by Michael ex nihilo."


"In arguing that Agapius’ Testimonium was closer to Josephus’ original passage about Jesus than any extant Testimonium, Pines followed a long line of earlier scholars who assumed that Josephus’ original passage about Jesus must have been very different from the textus receptus Testimonium, which these same scholars assumed to have been substantially rewritten by a Christian forger.43 In contrast, in arguing that Michael’s Testimonium, which is generally close to the textus receptus Testimonium and which has clearly been taken from a recension of the Syriac Historia Ecclesiastica, is more authentic than Agapius’ Testimonium, this study implies that the textus receptus Testimonium is much closer to the passage that Josephus originally wrote about Jesus than is often assumed. Indeed, the evidence of Michael the Syrian’s Testimonium, used in conjunction with the evidence of Jerome’s Testimonium, indicates that the only major alteration that has been made to Josephus’ original passage about Jesus is the alteration of the phrase ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’ to the textus receptus phrase ‘he was the Messiah’."

Back in 2007, I posted a piece wherein I explained why I think that Atheism is a religion. The piece was unimaginatively entitled, WhyI Believe Atheism is a Religion, and in reviewing it for the preparation of this particular blog entry I found that the ensuing years have not changed my mind. In fact, news stories that have been published in the years since that time have only cemented in my mind the correctness of my original arguments.

Today, for example, a colleague of mine in the work of Apologetics whose base is a fine website called The Apologetics Response (hopefully, he will add the CADRE to his friends roll on his blog) referred me to a story on the CNN Belief Blog that has served to confirm my convictions even more. The article is entitled, Church without God – by design and is a story about two churches in Massachusetts and Louisiana which aren't really churches at all – at least, not if the atheists who claim so adamantly that Atheism is not a religion are correct. You see, these churches are churches of Atheism.
It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community. A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community. Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church. If so, it’s a church without one big player: God. Sunday’s congregation in Cambridge is a meeting of the Humanist Community at Harvard University and the brainchild of Greg Epstein, the school’s Humanist chaplain. A longtime advocate for community building, Epstein and his group of atheists have begun to build their Cambridge community and solemnize its Sunday meetings to resemble a traditional religious service.  

So now we have a gathering of these Atheists on Sunday mornings, no less, to sing songs and rhapsodize about their humanist beliefs. They call themselves a congregation, and they even have a chaplain – a humanist chaplain it seems, but he calls himself a chaplain. I suppose it never occurred to these Atheists that a chaplain denotes a chapel which, of course, is a place for religious worship. Or perhaps it has. After all, if Atheism is to advance as a religion, they need to begin having services and symbols, and this congregation, led by a chaplain, singing their a-religious songs (from “An Atheist Album” no less), and attending Sunday school classes is just the way to get there.

Seriously, Atheists can deny that they are a religion, but they are showing all of the signs of being one. And I certainly don’t disparage them for stepping up and forming a congregation. After all, they must recognize deep down that there is something missing from their lives, and gathering with other Atheists on Sunday mornings to sing the Atheist version of “Kum Ba Ya” (which is probably John Lennon’s “Imagine” or  “Give Peace a Chance”) is a good way to try to capture the fellowship that is missing from Atheist society. I don’t begrudge them their meetings any more than I begrudge Hindus or Buddhists from meeting. They have the right in this free country.

There are, however, two things that concern me. First, the fact that they are taking a step towards adopting religious symbols and language without making the clear admission that Atheism is a religion. C’mon people, it’s time to do the AA thing and recognize that you have to be honest about who you really are before you can become cured. Atheism is a religion and the quicker Atheists acknowledge it the better off they (and society) will be.

Second, the article makes a point that this particular congregation is not a place to attack theists.  The article notes:
There's little talk about organized religion, positive or negative. Likewise, down in Louisiana, said his atheist services will not be anti-religion. "What we are looking at doing is different," DeWitt said. "If you are a religionist and you come and sit in our pew, the only way you can leave offended is because of what you don’t hear and what you don’t see. We won’t be there to make a stance against religion or against God."

I certainly don’t doubt Chaplain DeWitt when he says the services (another religion-laden word) will not be anti-religion – at least, not under his watch. But my problem is that there are radicals in his religion. Many of his fellow Atheists are not willing to coexist or play nice. Just the other day on Facebook, a friend of mine posted one of the supposedly funny (but not really), captioned photos that made a reference to “worshipping a deity that demands that you live in a perpetual state of fear.” My wife responded to our friend by noting that “The God I worship I do not live in fear. The fear that is noted in the Bible refers to a very healthy respect.” But, naturally, our friend had one of the radical Atheists as a friend who immediately went on the attack.
Your "God" sounds like a spoiled little child that lashes out in vain and punishes you if you dont [sic]  spoil him with affection and attention. You can keep your imaginary friend. I'll stick to REALITY. P.S if you believe the only way to experience or understand love, compassion, and justice is through religion then you are sadly mistaken.
This person is a hater. He is a radical Atheist who is a follower of the Ayatollah’s of the New Atheists – people who say that religion should be shown no respect. These people hate Christianity and religion because they have been falsely taught that religion is the cause of everything wrong in the world. And these people are not a small part of the Atheistic religion – they are a large and growing branch.

Given that the Atheist churches will not be tied down to any dogma (the article notes that Atheists “don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system”), what’s to prevent them from having radical Atheists in their midst? What centralized principal in their dogma-free world says that people who hate historical religions (such as Christianity) should be excluded or told that they are out of place? When Chaplain DeWitt leaves, who says that the next Chaplain won’t be a disciple of the Ayatollah Dawkins and spew hatred and disdain on other religions? And when the group is now emboldened with their thinly-disguised religious zeal, who is to say that they won’t become a hotbed of anti-Christianity, anti-Semitism, and anti-other religions?

Yes, I have concerns, but at least they are beginning to come out of the closet and show what they really are. 

Today on Metacrock's blog I talk about a shocking development in the chruch that I has to be looked at. It's called "The Day Evangelical Christianity Stood Still." Not about making conservatives feel back or gloating about the elections. I do think being a Christian is about a personal relationship with Jesus not about accusing other groups of secret alien worship. It's not about rapture escapism or about tax breaks for the wealthy. Please take a look and think about it.

A engagement of the fundamentalist world is actually claiming that the Catholic chruch is a secret alien worship cult. Yes, Alien, as in Klatoo Barta Nico. Beam me up Scotty, that sort of thing. In this case I guess it's "Beam me up, Peter."

Metacrock's Blog



Obviously I am following up on fellow Cadrist BK's excellent article from Wednesday, which I recommend reading first. (See also Metacrock's sociological article at his weblog.) And I will reiterate what I said in the comments to another recent article of his, that I am far from being the world's biggest fan of arguments from socio-cultural utility.

To this I will add that, just as obviously, no idea 'promotes' anything unless a person acts coherently in concert with the idea. Even people who believe (and promote) the idea that all human ideas (tacitly excepting their own human ideas, or this human idea of theirs anyway) are only irrational reactions to memetic stimulations, would agree that unless the 'idea' (or the electro-physical impulses which on this theory are the actual and only reality behind what we call an 'idea') stimulates a reaction along the same lines as the 'shape' of the 'idea' (or words to that effect, somehow, mumble mumble), the 'idea' will not be promoting (or rather provoking) anything.

But as long as we're going to talk about arguments from socio-cultural utility, what idea about fundamental reality best matches up with the idea that persons ought to be kind to one another?

The idea that the single most fundamental reality essentially is a socio-cultural utility, with multiple persons being kind to one another?

Or any idea that the single most fundamental reality essentially is anything other than a socio-cultural utility?

Is there any principle doubt about which category has the most potential to coherently promote fundamental kindness between persons? -- the category that is coherent to the goal, or the category that is incoherent to the goal?!

(Jump into an unpacking of "duh" as the answer by clicking here.)

In doing a little research for a post that I am working on, I came across a blog post by Austin Cline of the Atheism and Agnosticism page of The page, which was entitled, “Pleasures of Atheism: Why Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics Find Joy in a Godless Existence,”  lists seven reasons for believing that Atheism brings more pleasure than theism (and more particularly, conservative faith in Christianity). One of the reasons he states is that an Atheist is free to be kinder. Here’s what Cline wrote:
A common misconception that many theists labor under is the belief that the only kind people are those who follow a particular god or religion. To this, any atheist or freethinker with common sense will no doubt reply ‘rubbish.’ British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a well-known secularist himself, made the following statement in his essay ‘The Faith of a Rationalist:’ “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case.” In other words, one doesn’t have to believe in a god to be a kind person. Many atrocities in past history have clearly demonstrated that religion and kindness were worlds apart.
Cruel People Choose a Cruel Religion?

If I understand this argument (which isn’t really so much an argument as an assertion), Cline believes that non-belief in God allows the Atheist to be kind. Yet, his paragraph on kindness does not really support this idea. He apparently agrees with Bertrand Russell’s statement (which I believe to be nonsense) that, “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case.”

This is so obviously rubbish (to use his own word) I am surprised that Cline (and more importantly, Russell) actually contends that it’s true. One need spend only a moment perusing the Internet or any Christian bookstore to find a plethora of testimonies by or about individuals who were once unquestionably cruel individuals who, upon encountering Jesus, totally changed their ways. Just one example can be found here.  It’s the story of a convicted murderer who later converted to Christianity in prison. He was definitely a cruel man. According to his own statement,
We began to persuade prisoners to [the Brown Power movement] and when Christians would try to witness to me I would threaten them or beat them up. I remember beating up one Christian and banging his head against the prison cell bars until blood was flowing from his head and he was hollering for the guards to rescue him simply for speaking to me about Christ.
Obviously, Christianity changes people – it has turned (and will continue to turn) cruel people into kindly people.

Why would being Atheistic Lead People to be Kind?

Still, even if Russell’s statement were true, it doesn’t mean that kindness is part of the freedom of atheism. After all if Russell is accurate, the cruel man will be cruel and the kindly man will be kindly regardless of his belief or non-belief in God. So, exactly what motivates the Atheist to be kind? It cannot be his Atheism because nothing in Atheism promotes kindness. Starting with its evolutionary base, Atheism necessarily accepts the notion of survival of the fittest. Does that attitude better promote kindness or a winner-take-all mentality?

Having said that, I understand how Atheism allows for kindness if the religion in vogue is a cruel religion. The Atheist, not being beholden to the god being preached by that cruel religion, can certainly reject the cruelty and be kind. But that is not unique to Atheism. A Christian, who is taught directly that they are to love their neighbors and love their enemies and that God is love, is also free to reject the cruelty of the cruel god of the cruel religion. In fact, unlike the Atheist, kindness, gentleness and humility are all part and parcel of being a Christian since these are all gifts of the Spirit that come as the Christian grows in his faith. The Atheist, however, is not under any compulsion to be kind. Just as the Atheist can certainly reject the cruelty of the cruel religion and be kind, so too can an Atheist, not being beholden to the God being preached by the kind religion, can certainly reject the kindness and be cruel. Each of these choices are equally valid moves in the Atheistic universe. No moral judgments are involved.   

So, it is certainly true that a Atheist can be kind, and it is equally true that Atheism allows people the freedom to be kind. But that is not the important question. The important question to ask is whether Atheism promotes kindness over cruelty. I see nothing in Atheistic philosophy that requires or even promotes the Atheist to be kind. (Please don’t tell me about the Humanist Manifesto – Atheists are obviously free to reject that as well.) Meanwhile, Christians are told to be kind and are told that as they advance in God’s kingdom, kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit that follows from following Jesus. So, if you want to be kind, want a belief system that teaches kindness, and want the tools to become kind, Christianity is clearly the path to follow.

An atheist friend of mine (yes, I have atheist friends) posted the following on Facebook. 

We need to make this very clear. Atheists are not trying to "take you down". We want to take down your beliefs. Sure, a lot of good things have been done in the name of religion, but they were done by human hands, out of human hearts. And yes, religion has brought peace to people in times of need, but (having been religious myself), finding truth and living free of the chains of religion has brought me more happiness than I could have ever dreamed possible. Atheists (most of them) are not full of hate. We are disgusted by the things we see, and are frustrated that more people cannot look at our world more objectively. We are tired of the lies. Tired of the delusion. Tired of the smoke and mirrors. Who can possibly even turn on the news these days without thinking that something is terribly, terribly wrong? Something has got to change. Would ridding the world of religion solve everything? Absolutely not. There will always be a few bad seeds. However, it would decrease the violence and oppression by a massive amount. Honestly, we shouldn't even be having these discussions. There shouldn't even have to be a group of people who must identify themselves as atheist, freethinker, humanist, skeptic, anti-theist, etc. We only have these terms because religion exists. If we tossed out religion - if we took the mythology and fantasy out of the equation - we would have one less thing dividing us. One less thing to argue about. One less thing to judge one another on. One less thing to lie about. One less thing to fear....And one less thing to murder in the name of. We do not need (a) god(s) to be good. We are not born into sin. We should not be living with a fear of hell - a punishment doled out by a supposedly loving "father". We should be maximizing our time here and now. This is our heaven, my friends. Let's at least try to make it a paradise. Step one: Open your eyes.

That is by far and away the most nonsensical thing I have read today. It's saying, "Sure Christianity has done a lot for the world, and sure some [I read many] atheists are full of hate, and sure taking down religion won't solve the world's problems, but let's do it anyway because religion is one thing among many that divides us." 

Wow, what a selling point. I thanked my atheist friend for making me laugh.

Our old friend, pseudo-Christian John Shelby Spong, has apparently written a new book entitled The Fourth Gospel, Tales of a Jewish Mystic. Those who are long-time readers to the blog may remember that I first addressed Bishop (a title that he doesn't deserve) Spong's work in a post entitled The Theology of John Shelby Spong. I was going to make it a series, but our own Jason Pratt beat me to the punch by coming out with a series that had titles about JRP v. Spong, beginning with JRP v. Bishop Spong v. Judas Iscariot: Round 1.  Needless to say, we didn't think much of Bishop Spong's theories. 

Now, with a new book out I was afraid I might actually have to read it (which would be pure torture). But fortunately, the always thinking Rob Bowman at the Parchment and Pen blog has written a wonderful review of the new book in a post entitled John Shelby Spong on the Gospel of John (sort of rhymes, doesn't it?).  I highly recommend reading it before you waste your time on the book as Rob shows that the book contains nothing new -- just more of the same absurdity that Spong has spouted in his other books dating back 30 years. 

Oh, and as an extra attraction, if you read the comments you may come across one from our own Jason Pratt. Good job, Jason!

I love reading what certain skeptics have to say about my writings. When they take notice (which is admittedly not as often as I would like) they usually discuss the content among themselves using the typical, pompous, condescending tone that was captured so well in the parody, The Freethinkers' Guide to Debating Christians on the Internet. I honestly think that they see themselves as positioned atop a mountain (I’ll call Mt. Skepticism for the same of brevity) looking down compassionately on us poor, ignorant, deluded Christians. They then speak to themselves about how sad it is that Christians cannot climb the heights to understand their deep, brilliant thoughts. Such was the case with some skeptical comments pointed out to me with respect to my latest post on How should a Christian respond to the Invisible Pink Unicorn?

On what appears to be a pretty typical atheist blog entitled The Ace of Clades, the author, a gentleman posting under the name of Aron Ra (possibly his real name, but being a skeptic about such things I won’t jump to that conclusion), recently posted an article entitled, Here come the loonies, in which he criticizes people criticizing him. In the comments, a commenter had read my piece on the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU, for short) and decided to comment on it from Mt. Skepticism. Commenter 1 wrote:

I stumbled through links onto this gem [referencing my Invisible Pink Unicorn, or IPU, article], which IMO demonstrates how so many of our counter-arguments just sail over the heads of these types.

“These types”? Nothing bigoted about that comment, is there? Oh, he must mean people who don’t share his faith in the religion of atheism. Anyway, a second commenter decided that it is safe to jump on board the bandwagon (which is, incidentally, the favorite tactic of skeptics on discussion boards). Commenter 2 added:

That gem is indeed special, though I would note that in the same way our counter-arguments sail over the heads of these types, so too do the obvious proofs (scientific!) of the existence of God.

Apparently. At least, that’s what one of the comments says.

I’ll forgo the inevitable troll of commenting on that site, but … yeah. The invisible pink unicorn and the flying spaghetti monster being flippant/satirical/an in-joke/and so forth.

The Christian should then point to the Invisible Pink Unicorn [PatrickG: Synonymous with FSM by author's admission] website and the quote that I have set forth above which represents an atheist admission that the IPU is nothing more than a parody of Christian arguments. The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so as a rhetorical tactic, nothing more.

A rhetorical tactic is often used to convey a point. This individual has clearly missed said point, and no caterwauling that rhetoric (RHETORIC!) was used can obscure that.

Finally, one last individual (Commenter 3) jumps on the bandwagon:

Forgive me, if I am wrong, but historically, aren’t rhetorical forms, the accepted format for discourse? It’s like he’s saying, “The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so, by defending the IPU.”

Four points arise out of these comments.

A.  Yes, Christians understand the point of the IPU

Naturally, according to the skeptics looking down with pity from Mt. Skepticism, Christians are too stupid to understand the high intellectual positions of the skeptics who employ the Invisible Pink Unicorn approach to atheistic apologetics. In the words of Commenter 1, the IPU argument simply “sails over their heads.”Well, allow me to attempt to disabuse them of that notion.

The IPU argument is designed to “place the Christian in the position the skeptic is normally forced to inhabit,” as well-stated by an anonymous commenter on the CADRE website. According to this argument, Christians are defending a non-existent being. In doing so, Christians employ arguments that could just as easily prove the existence of other mythical beings. The purpose of the IPU is to set up a new chimera which can be substituted for God in the same arguments advanced by Christians. This, it is argued, demonstrates to the thinking Christians (as if one actually existed) that the arguments for the non-existent being known as God are not really proving the existence of anything real. The argument believes that if Christians would simply see the brilliance of this particular stratagem, they would understand why their arguments for God don’t really prove that God exists because the same arguments can be used to prove the existence of the IPU.

In fact, the argument is an attempted variation on the reduction ad absurdum argument in logic which takes an argument and carries it to its logical and absurd extreme as a means of demonstrating that the argument is flawed.  

Do I have it?  That is the point of the IPU (and its equally non-existent sister, the FSM), right? Can we agree that the argument does not “sail over” my head?

Sorry, but the IPU doesn't do what the skeptics occupying Mt. Skepticism hope. And it doesn’t do it for the very reason that apparently these self-congratulatory skeptics missed in my earlier post. So, let me try it again so that even the pseudo-intelligensia can understand what I mean when I say that the argument is simply rhetoric.

B.  Rhetoric has two meanings

Commenters 2 and 3 both played dumb (at least, I expect that they were playing dumb) about my use of the term “rhetoric” by alluding to the fact that rhetoric is not a bad thing.  Commenter 2 stated, “A rhetorical tactic is often used to convey a point.” Commenter 3 added, “[B]ut historically, aren’t rhetorical forms, the accepted format for discourse?”

The answer to both comments is that they are correct. Rhetorical forms are historically a very important part of argumentation. In fact, the study of rhetoric (the art of persuasion) was considered one of the fundamental studies in ancient times. However, as with many other words, rhetoric has multiple meanings. Rhetoric also means empty argumentation as brilliantly defined by Nevill Coghill, Geoffrey Chaucer, Longmans, Green and Co, 1956, p.15 (as quoted on Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany): 

Rhetoric has come to mean a windy way of speech, marked by a pompous emptiness and insincerity, and trotted out as a trick on any occasion calling for solemn humbug.

Now I suppose it is possible that these two commenters were unaware that rhetoric had this second meaning. I suppose it is even possible (although much less likely) that they were totally unaware that words can actually have more than one meaning in the first place. One should not eliminate either possibility, so I will not accuse them of falsely dismissing my arguments by equivocation. Rather, I will simply say that when I refer to the IPU as rhetoric, I am referring to rhetoric in this second, uncomplimentary sense.

C. Many skeptics use the IPU dishonestly

In order to advance the IPU argument, many skeptics lie. At least my experience is that when skeptics use the IPU they will almost always lie to the Christian. They tell the Christian that they honestly believe that the IPU or the FSM actually exists knowing full well that it is a made up rhetorical device. Does this mean all skeptics lie? No, even though I have never run into a skeptic who employs the IPU without lying about it doesn't mean that they all lie. I cannot even say that most lie, although my personal experience is that the majority of the skeptics who use the IPU lie because the nature of the argument almost forces skeptics to lie.

Consider what the anonymous skeptic who argued in favor of the IPU on the CADRE blog said: the IPU argument is designed to “place the Christian in the position the skeptic is normally forced to inhabit.” If the skeptic does not adopt the position that the IPU is real, then the Christian is not put in the same position as the skeptic because the Christian obviously contends that God is real. So, I am rather certain that many skeptics (and probably most) who employs the IPU lie to do so.

But that’s the problem. The IPU by its nature introduces falsehood into the conversation. The skeptics on Mt. Skepticism may not (and apparently do not) realize it, but planting that seed of dishonesty into their argument makes them less credible when they do seek to tell the truth.  As Edward Murrow expressed, “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.” By using a falsehood in advancing their argument, skeptics lose credibility, believability and persuasiveness.

D. The IPU is insulting to Christian belief

Finally, the IPU (and even more so, the FSM) is insulting to Christians. It takes something that Christians strongly believe in – a great, glorious and loving creator – and equates him with some equine beast or an animated plate of pasta. If skeptics are hoping that the IPU will convince Christians, they would have been much better off to compare God to something more glorious than a invisible pink pony or a plate of boiled noodles. As it is, the argument turns most Christians off before it is even heard because it is obviously condescending. So, exactly, how does this silly argument advance the cause of skepticism? I don’t believe it does. My post was simply pointing out to the good Christians who encounter this argument what they might do to move the skeptic off arguing about fantasy and to deal in real arguments about real things.

That’s the point. I hope the skeptics occupying Mt. Skepticism don’t have this one go over their heads, too. 

As I discuss the evidence for the existence of God with various people, I occasionally run across a skeptic who somehow believes that she is making a case against God’s existence by countering every Christian contention for God’s existence by arguing that the same argument makes an equally strong case for the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (or its even more absurd relative, the Flying Spaghetti Monster). By this method, the skeptic concludes that she has shown that the Christian arguments for God’s existence to be nonsense because they can be used to support these chimeras.

Rather than split time between the absurd Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) and the even more absurd Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), I will focus my attention on the IPU. So, the first question becomes what is the IPU and where did it come from? According to the website (which I take to be the definitive word on the IPU):  

The Invisible Pink Unicorn (blessed be her holy hooves) is a fictional female deity in the form of a unicorn. The goddess was invented at the usenet discussion group alt.atheism as an alternative to other parody deities like Church of the SubGenius "J.R. Bob Dobbs" or Eris of the Discordianism. Quoting from the alt.atheism FAQ:

Like most Goddesses, she's invisible and highly unlikely to exist. However, there is much argument as to her exact colour, her shape and size, and other properties of her nonexistence. She burns with anger against theists, and allegedly grinds them beneath her holy hooves.

The "believers" famous sayings about faith in the invisible pink unicorn is that, like other religions, it is founded in science and faith. Science - that states that she must be invisible, since we cannot see her. Faith - because we know in our heart that the invisible pink unicorn exists. This is of course a parody of the theological reasoning of other religions.

The use of the IPU in a discussion about God might go something like this: when a Christian states that God is immortal and invisible, the IPU-skeptic argues by reflecting back that the IPU is also immortal and invisible. The Christian then asks on what basis the skeptic believes that and the skeptic cites some allegedly holy book. The Christian then says something like, “But you don’t really believe that.” The skeptic assures the Christian that he does believe it and that if the Christian is free to believe in his god then the skeptic can believe in the IPU.  

So, how might a Christian respond when confronted by the IPU? The Christian could take the claim seriously and try to show what is intrinsically obvious: the entire idea of an invisible pink unicorn is ridiculous. For example, our own Richard Deem, author of the God and Science website, has written a nice article arguing from science that it is scientifically impossible for a thing to be both pink and invisible (which is obvious) and scientifically extremely unlikely for any living creature to be truly invisible (leading him to take a “strong aunicornist stance”). But despite their alleged allegiance to science, it is my experience that this type of argument makes little impact on the skeptic largely because the skeptics know that the entire argument is not about proving the existence of an IPU.  Rather, the whole argument about the IPU is a farce and an intentional one.  The skeptic is wedded to the idea that by substituting the IPU for God in any Christian argument, they have proven the Christian argument wrong.

When someone uses the low-level tactic of the IPU, they have stopped engaging in legitimate discussion – they are appealing to flippancy. C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters describes flippancy as the lowest form of humor and the type of humor that is farthest from the joy that God desires. According to the devil Screwtape in Letter XI, the flippant person makes fun of things like virtue (or God) by assuming that a joke has been made and having others laugh along with the supposed joke.

Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

The IPU is a flippant approach to discussions about Christianity. It attempts to make a joke out of God by comparing him falsely to an invisible pink unicorn, and all of the flippant-minded atheists laugh thinking that something really funny or clever is being said. But merely parroting what the Christian says is neither clever nor persuasive. It is not a logical refutation of the Christian argument because logic is not involved in the argument. It does nothing to advance but only hinders discussion. Thus, when a skeptic plays the IPU card, productive discussion has ended.

So, what is a Christian to do? It seems to me that the Christian should simply call the skeptic out by identifying his rhetoric for what it is. The way to do this is to point out the obvious: the skeptic does not and cannot really believe in the IPU (or the FSM or whatever other invented creature they will next fabricate) whereas Christians actually believe in God and have valid arguments to prove it. The skeptic, if he remains true to the tactic used by the skeptics with whom I have argued, will insist that he does believe in the IPU. (They do that to maintain their argument that there is no difference between arguing for God and arguing for the IPU.)

The Christian should then point to the Invisible Pink Unicorn website and the quote that I have set forth above which represents an atheist admission that the IPU is nothing more than a parody of Christian arguments. The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so as a rhetorical tactic, nothing more.

At this point, the smart skeptic should abandon the argument. But history shows that many skeptics would not qualify as smart, so some may continue to attempt to counter this. They may say that the IPU website is a fraud. They may point to websites that are written by other skeptics that say that Christianity is a fraud (which are easily distinguishable or which, at least, move the argument onto a different ground). They may simply continue to contend against the evidence that the IPU exist. No matter what the course taken by the IPU skeptic (other than giving up on the argument), there is one avenue left for the Christian.

The Christian should respond to something like the following: “It is apparent to me that you are being terribly dishonest. I have shown you that the IPU is nothing more than a rhetorical device, but you are continuing to try to tell me that the IPU exists. I can only conclude from this that you are not interested in the truth. Thus, I am going to end this conversation. If you want to really discuss God’s existence honestly, let me know and I will happily engage you. But I have no desire to continue to discuss this with you if you are going to lie to me.”

It isn't pretty. It isn't a logical argument. It’s a straight shaming of the individual in a nice way. But the truth is that if a skeptic is insistent that the IPU is somehow equivalent to God or that it somehow represents a legitimate argument that God doesn't exist, the skeptic is either dishonest or incredibly ill-informed. 

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