CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One of my projects this week has been an examination of claims by one of the supposedly better-educated atheist critics out there. I'm finding that, as usual, even when they have degrees, the education these folks have pretty much stops at the tip of their own noses.

One of the arguments made by this character is that the Gospels don't deserve our trust because they lack certain features of what they take to be reliable histories. For example, they quote the following from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

For perhaps readers who are already familiar with Hieronymus, Timaeus,
Polybius, or any other historian that I mentioned a short while ago as being careless in their works, when they do not find many things in my own writings that are mentioned in theirs, will suspect me of fabricating them, and will want to know where I learned of such things. Lest anyone should hold such an opinion of me, it seems better that I should state in advance what narratives and records I have used as sources.

According to this critic, the Gospels would have a lot more credibility if they included stuff like this where the authors discuss their sources.

Yeah, right. If you believe for one minute that any atheist would suddenly give the Gospels more credibility if only Matthew or Luke or whoever had gone on some skein like the one above, I have some land here in Florida to sell you. It's a great deal, you just have to evict the giant mouse living there right now.

That's the most obvious problem, but here are a few more. The first is that this amounts to a ridiculous argument that no author has e.g., made use of sources unless they say something like the above. The second is that while an author like Dionysius had plenty of scratch available to publish their works, the authors of the Gospels generally did not -- especially because they were publishing for a mass audience, whereas Dionysus was publishing for a small group of like-minded peers. I have yet to see an atheist critic take any serious accounting of the fact that this wasn't a world where you could pop down to Office Depot and buy a ream of paper for $5.59. This was a world where paper (or parchment or whatever) was an expensive luxury. Yet they have a fit when the Gospel authors don't expend their limited resources to lay out what amounts to methodological window dressing.

The last problem I'll note, though, is the most significant one, and it indicates a blind spot in atheist critics that is as serious as that of a KJV-Only fundamentalist. Basically, atheist critics often take a profession of critical examination (like the one above by Dionysius) and turn it into a citation from inerrant Scripture. You've seen it before: For example, all Carl Sagan had to do was babble, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and suddenly he became a deity who could say and do no wrong, not even when it comes to his screwed-up history of the Library of Alexandria.

What escapes such critics is that a statement like the above is anything but a profession of objectivity and careful source-filtering. Basically, here's what it is really for: Dionysius is covering his backside in case he is called a liar. He is concerned about his personal honor, which was the primo #1 concern of members of honor-shame societies. What the critic takes to be an explanation by Dionysius of historical rigor is actually little more than an extended pre-emptive exercise in covering his own posterior and protecting his honor rating, and that undoubtedly from peers all too willing to savage it in a context where honor was seen as a zero-sum game.

There were plenty of other motives for Dionysius to say stuff like this, and a cynic who treated his work like the critics treat the Gospels might be apt to pull those out also. The basic description of Dionysius' work indicates that Dionysius "states that his objects in writing history were to please lovers of noble deeds and to repay the benefits he had enjoyed in Rome." Read that through the lens of that social world, and it amounts to him writing as a way to repay the favor shown to him by his patrons or others from whom he had received benefits. Put in a nutshell, his history was a work of quid pro quo.

The standard description also says that one of Dionysius' purposes was to "reconcile Greeks to Roman rule." That sure sounds like an objective measure, doesn't it? Sort of like, a 19th century slave owner writing tales of how happy all the slaves were as a way to "reconcile" their chattel to slavery. Yes, using that logic, we definitely have someone here who was writing the A-1 Steak Sauce Objective History of Rome, don't we?

In light of all that, it's more than a little laughable when critics downgrade the Gospels for being documents meant to encourage faith in Christ. Dionysius was writing for people who wanted to hear things they wanted to hear; a cynic might argue that he was under what amounted to a censor's control and that his history was therefore to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Therefore, it could be argued, his work is entirely untrustworthy. If anything, if we follow this logic to the end, the Gospels are clearly more objective histories than those of Dionysius, because at least the authors don't fill their text with a lot of self-serving descriptions of how gloriously competent they were, and they also at least were not in the pay of some patron who wanted them to make the local home team smell like a rose garden in order to placate the guys who were being compelled to spade the manure.

I'm not actually arguing that, of course. But I am pointing out just how easy it is to allow your ideology to govern the discussion. And that's exactly what atheist critics do when they complain that the Gospels deserve an F because e.g., they don't imitate Dionysius' self-serving rhetoric.

Though it sounds like it could be the name of a distant planet in a sci-fi novel, the Tetragrammaton is actually the arrangement in Hebrew of the letters said to represent the very name of God, as first revealed by God himself to Moses in the Old Testament. Rabbi Jacobs says, "The Tetragrammaton is the four-letter name of God formed from the letters yod, hey, vav, and hey, hence YHVH in the usual English rendering."[1] Most commonly the divine name is translated into English letters as YHWH, and sometimes the vowels A (some say for another divine name, "Adonai") and E (for "Elohim") are inserted between the two H's to make the more readily pronounceable "Yahweh."
"The original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton," continues Jacobs, "has been lost, owing to the strong Jewish disapproval of pronouncing the name. The pronunciation Yahveh or Yahweh is based on that used by some of the Church Fathers but there is no certainty at all in this matter."[2] This is a rather striking fact, that a community of many millions of people would be so averse to uttering a certain name for God that its pronunciation was finally forgotten and left a complete mystery to succeeding generations. All this naturally leads to the question: "Just why were the ancient Hebrews so reluctant to use that name?" 
One possible answer is found in a passage from Leviticus: 
“Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.  And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death" (Lev. 24:15-16).
That helps explain things, in that the Jews weren't keen on the idea of breaking the laws of God that carried the death penalty. But certain Israelites were evidently willing to run that risk, at least when it came to things like breaking the Sabbath, committing adultery or cursing their parents. The question remains why the particular injunction against blasphemy was treated with such extreme seriousness. To answer that we may need to trace further back to the beginnings of the Hebrew nation, to God's revelation to Moses at the burning bush. There Moses directly asked God for a name to identify him before Pharaoh and to distinguish God clearly from the gods of Egypt:
And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you" (Exodus 3:14). 
There the Tetragrammaton first appears. According to Jewish scholars the name refers primarily to being, and thus means something like, "I am that I am," or, "I will be that I will be."[3] Jacobs adds that while names like Elohim are used of God in a universal sense, "the Tetragrammaton is used of God in His special relationship with Israel."[4] In other words this is the name God uses of himself in a highly personal way – which implies that if that name were to be misused God would likely "take it personally." 
Sometime later, following the Exodus from Egypt, the fledgling Israelite nation found herself in direct contact with God himself at Sinai in the wilderness. There God met with Moses, as the mountain burned with fire and the people trembled in fear below:
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:18-19).
From all indications, then, the Israelites' abhorrence of the particular sin of blasphemy arose from their experience, and ongoing national memory, of God's holy presence in the wilderness. So frighteningly powerful was this experience that they collectively decided to take no chances, and in a demonstration of reverence left off pronouncing God's name altogether. This makes Israel unique, in being the only nation on earth whose present existence cannot be adequately explained apart from some powerful historical interactions with the Almighty. That being the case, the reality of YHWH, the God of Israel, best explains the origins of Israel. As John Bright argues, “The history of Israel is the history of a people which came into being at a certain point in time as a league of tribes united in covenant with Yahweh… Since this is so, Israel’s history is a subject inseparable from the history of Israel’s religion."[5]
Fast-forwarding some 1500 years from the Exodus brings us to the time of Jesus and the apostles, and another set of unexpected divine-human historical interactions. God again appears to his people, this time in a resurrected body following three years of teaching and miracle ministry culminating in a brutal crucifixion at the hands of Roman authorities (and at the instigation of jealous religious leaders). This time he appears to a handful of men and women, whom he charges with the responsibility of preaching the gospel (good news) of his kingdom throughout the world. Again the people chosen are (mostly) Jews, and again history changes course to reflect the will of God. 
The Israelites were afraid to so much as utter the name of YHWH. Now God's people, having seen Jesus risen and having been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, boldly preach God's salvation in the name of Jesus Christ to anyone who willing to listen. This saving ministry of Christ is all the more astounding when we realize that Jesus was crucified not for committing crimes or acts of sedition against the state, but for committing the ultimate blasphemy, that is, claiming for himself the very identity of the God of smoke and fire who met with Moses on the mountain so many centuries before. "Before Abraham was," Jesus declared to some very powerful and pious religious authorities, "I AM" (John 8:58).
At the cost of their livelihoods, their reputations, and even their lives, this small band of disciples thus managed to spread the gospel throughout the first century world. Just as God's revelation to Moses arguably best explains the origins of national Israel, so the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to his disciples seem to best explain the rise of the early church. As a result people like me to this day can confidently proclaim that the God of Abraham has acted again in history; that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.

[1]  Rabbi Louis Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton," My Jewish Learning,
[2]  Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton."
[3]  Crawford Howell Toy & Ludwig Blau, "Tetragrammaton," Jewish Encyclopedia,
[4]  Jacobs, "The Tetragrammaton."
[5]  John Bright, A History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p. xvii.


Jurgen Moltman

I affirm the literal resurrection of Christ, as I affirm the Nicene creed. Unfortunately, affirming it and proving it are two different things. Many apologists try to use the Resurrection as proof in itself that Jesus was the Son of God. The problem is, the event itself has to be proven, and is of equal dispute to the claims of Christ deity. Thus, I doubt that it makes a great tool for verifying the claims of the faith, since it is itself such a claim. On the other hand, let us ask ourselves, "was the true purpose of the resurrection as a proof of Jesus validity?" I think not. I think the true purpose was not offer modern scientific "courtroom evidence" of the event, but to confirm in a religious way, for insiders, by provision of an important symbol. Tillich says that a symbol participates in the thing it symbolizes. Thus a bull fighter dying young is a symbol of darning courage going awry, but a non specific figure like the American flag is not a symbol but an emblam. Thus the resurrection of Christ can be a theological symbol and stil be a real event! Thus the true importance of the event is its theological significance and not its market place value as an apologetical tool.

Atheists have argued, but more importantly historians have argued, that a view like that of the resurrection of Christ can't be understood as a historical event, thus can't be proved by historical evidence becuase history is intrinsically naturalistic. Historians must make naturalistic assumptions thus miracle can't play role in history. The first thing to notice about this argument is that far from contradicting what I've said, it supports my position in that I argue that atheist's only have ideological objections to the resurrection. There's no historically based disproof. If untrained non-historian apologists mistakenly argue "this is historical" their objections are not based upon disproving the historically based evidence they are only based upon ideological assumptions. Evoking the rules of history is also ideological assumption.

Secondly, I don't say "O I'm going to prove the resurrection historically." In the heat of argument I may have said words to that effect, but my actual position is not "yes we definitely prove the resurrection." There is no way to prove something that hapepned 2000 years ago, at least not to the point of making it indubitable. The only way to do that would be to go back in time and watch it happen. It's as unfair a requirement that it be "historical" as it is to say we are going to prove it historically. Either way is an unfair requirement becuase it's not something that can be proved. The prohibition on supernatural evidence in history not withstanding it's unrealistic, and therefore, unfair, to expect it to be proved. Be that as it may all is not lost for the historically minded apologist. There is still a good argument to be made for the resurrection and it invovles historically-based evidence.

The better decision making paradigm is not "proof," that is unrealistic, but "warrant." If we don't claim we proving historical events but rather that understanding an event in a certain way (as true) is warranted by the evidence, then we are not imposing the unrealistic burden of proof nor are we evoking the category of "history" to explain it thus we are not transgressing historical protocols. Rather we are finding that the placing of confidence in a hypothesis for private belief is warranted by the evidence. Toward this end we need to see text as an artifact. So rather than say "this is true becasue so and so says it,"we are saying "this is what the early community of faith believed as evidence by their texts. To the extent that we can trust their testimony we can place confidence in the hypothesis that this belief may communicate a truth. Thus private belief that this is the case is warranted. Thus the resurrection, not put in the cateroy of "historical fact" is nevertheless understood as both a religious symbol and a likely event.
Religious Symbol and Historical Likelihood.

Be that as it may, the event of Christ's resurrection offers more to the unbeliever and the cause of Christian apologetics than one might think given what I wrote. Rather than give up on it as an argument, we need to put it into a different context: we need to abandon the "court room" model of proof in apologetics, and take up a historian's perspective. The point is not that we can prove the resurrection "really happened." The importance of historical evidence surrounding resurrection is its possibility as a history making event. By that I mean, it's not as important to prove "conclusively" that it happened, as it is to show that the perimeters shaped by the evidence still leave open the validity of the possibility that such an event occurred, once one clears away the ideological clutter of naturalism. The evidence need only point to the fact that the belief tenet is still "in the running" as a possibility, not that it actually happened, although we believe, as Christians, that it did happen. The event described cannot included as a historical event, because history as a modern social science is constructed upon naturalistic assumptions; but it can be understood as a history making event, one that shaped the nature of our society and culture.

Away with the Court Room Model

So much past apologetics has been based upon the model of a court room debate, then declared to "prove history." We see this most especially in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict (the classic case). We also see it in the works of a vast array of apologists who say things like, "the man who invented rules for court room evidence (Simon Greenleaf--1783-1953 ) argued for the Resurrection, and he was a smart lawyer, so he must be right." But historians do not "prove" historical 'arguments' by holding courtroom debates! If we are going to make historical claims for the resurrection, we have to think like historians, and not like lawyers. We have to hold the evidence to the perimeters of historical evidence, not to those of jurisprudence.

History is probability. It's not mathematical probably, but it is probabilistic. One cannot go back in time and verify the assumptions of historians, all we can do is argue from extrapolated data as to the most likely conclusion based upon the "facts." But how are these "facts" ascertained? They are not derived from debate, they are not derived from physical artifacts, and they are certainly not given in any kind of absolute certainty. Many skeptics place the level of confirmation they seek on a par with a TV camera recording an event it happens. History is documents! History is not a documentary featuring live footage, although such material is no doubt going to be included in future historical records. But history is the impression we find most likely as a probabilistic guess based upon the data we find available in written documents of the past. Historians do debate documents, but they do not say things like, "would this be accepted in a courts of law?" Historians don't a flying spit wad about what is accepted in a court of law (but one hears that phrase in apologetics quite a bit). Thus, in accessing the prospects for the validity of the resurrection, one cannot worry about courtrooms, or about exact proof as though we could take a TV camera to the tomb and watch the angel move the stone. The best we can ever do is to access the possibility and its place int he likelihood of events, given our world view assumptions vis a vie, supernatural events.

The History Making Concept.

In his great ground breaking work, Theology of Hope (1964) Jurgen Moltmann did something radical. It suited Moltmann to be radical because he was one of the major influences upon radical theology of the 60s, including liberation theology. Being German Moltmann took the structures of historical scholarship very seriously. He knew that historiography of the nineteenth century had ruled out any but naturalistic assumptions in the category of "historical." Moltmann argues, the rules of history exclude the miraculous. This is because historians, as heirs to the enlightenment, automatically exclude the supernatural. For this reason the resurrection cannot be seen as historical, a priori, for the rules of making history are set by an ideology of metaphysical assumptions which dogmatically exclude anything miraculous. History must be predicated upon the assumption of a coherent natural world, therefore, the supernatural cannot be part of history (176). Yet he felt it was important to make a place for the resurrection in modern thought. So he argued for changing the rules. Rather than calling the resurrection "historical" he calls it "history making." The belief itself has shaped the outline of historical event. This is apart from the question of its truth content, the fact of belief in it made history what it is. This introduces the concept of understanding the belief as history making thus the evidence that supports the belief is also history making. His solution: change the rules. We wont call it "historical" but "history making."

"The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence, and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God...does the rising of Christ become intelligible as nova create [new creation]. is necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the tech scientific world." (179)

"The resurrection of Christ is without prattle in the history known to us. But it can be for that very reason regarded as a 'history making event' in the light of which all other history is illumined, called into question and transformed." (180)

Skeptics are too quick to argue that the resurrection is not historical fact. Before they jump into this fray, they should first ask themselves about the nature of historical facts. Most historical "facts" are not proven. "History" (whatever that is) says that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, yet evidence indicates he did not.* History, like science is a social construct, and is determined by those with the clout to write history. In modernity we have gained an anti-supernatural bias, and so the believer is forced to ask rhetorical questions like "did Jesus raise form the dead?" and then to answer them rhetorically. The German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann changes the rules. Rather than ask if the resurrection is "historical" he merely argues that it doesn't have to be, it is history making. We change the rules of the debate because predicated upon the preaching of the resurrection is one of the most profound developments of world history; the growth of the Christian faith which has shaped the entire Western tradition. We view the Resurrection of Christ as history making because the belief in it did change history, the doctrine of it has made history, and belief today shapes the basis of all Christian doctrine. We put aside the hypocritical skepticism of naturalistic circular arguments and allow ourselves to accept the verdict of a history that has been made by faith in the event, in light of the fact that there is enough there to base faith upon. (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1968).

The doctrine furnishes the basis for hope, when grasped in faith, that offers a much more profound answer to any of questions about life and death than any form of skepticism or pride in confusion ever could. Rather than merely declare a rules change, I will argue that this rules change is warranted based upon the evidence. In other words, not that the resurrection can be "proven" in the same sense that any other aspect of historical research can be proven, but that the resurrection evidence is credible enough that one can feel confident in asserting its truth as a tenet of faith. The actual case can never be proven, or disproved, but the evidence allows one to believe with impunity.

In keeping with my policy of enlightening the reader about my sources, I must point out that I do lean heavily upon two major evangelical sources here: F.F. Bruce, and William Lane Craig. Bruce is, however, one of the most highly respected Evangelical scholars, even among the liberal camp, and Craig is renown as a highly credible and effective apologist. The other sources such as D. E. H. Whiteley, Stephen Neil, Gaalyah Cornfeld, and Luke Timothy Johnson are basically liberal or moderate.A few major liberal theologians, such as Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have defended faith in the resurrection.

Historical Verdict Reversed

"The real case for skepticism of the resurrection of Christ was actually developed by 19th century liberal theology, and though they don't know it, the objections of most Internet skeptics today are echoes of those arguments. But in the postwar era even major liberal theologians began to defend the resurrection. Ernst Kasemann, student of Bultmann, at Marburg in 1953 argued that Bultmann's skepticism toward the historical Jesus was biased and Kasemann re-opened a new Quest for the historical Jesus. The great modern liberal theologian Wolfheart Paennberg argued for the resurrection of Jesus. Hans Grass argued that the resurrection cannot be dismissed as mere myth, and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen defended the historical credibility of Jesus empty tomb." (in William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth, 1 (1985): 89-95. "Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead." (Craig, Ibid.)

"According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.:"(Ibid.)

Before the apologist can even posit the turth of the resurrection, his truth is refuted by the very nature of historical "facts" as modern thought construes them; supernatural events cannot be part of history. But Moltmann turns this around on the nature of modern thought by arguing that before modern thought can posit a naturalistic history, the content of history is already shaped by supernatural claims.

In response to the issue that history must make naturalistic assumptions, thus miracles must be excluded.

Yes but that's just a simple matter of you not understanding my argument. I"m not saying "this is true because they say it is." I'm saying:

(1) Gospels are historical artifact that ques us in to a historically validated set of readigns that can be understood as even older artifacts.

(2) these artifacts testify to the early nature of the empty tomb as a belief of the community.

(3) community contained eye witnesses. so this fact would have been screened out if it as false.

(4) It was spread about from an early time thus we can infer form it that the eye witnesses to the situation approved.

(5)not proof but it is a good reason to assume it's valid as a belief.It has historical verisimilitude.

The standard I set my arguments:The Resurrection was a history making event. Whatever truly happened, the actual events which are make by the claims of witnesses and faith in the veracity of those witnesses, the upshot of it all is that the historical probabilities suggest the likelihood of an event, and that event shaped the nature of history itself. The faith claims cannot be historical claims, but they don't have to be. The faith itself is justified, it cannot be ruled out by history, but instead lies at the base of modern history in some form. We can suggest throughout the strength of the evidence that those actual events were the very events attested to in the Gospels. We cannot prove this claim with absolute certainty, but the warrant provided by the evidence itself is strong enough to make the historical nature of the religious hope valid. Some religious hopes are just ruled out by the facts. For example, the idea that the Native Americans are part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; this can be dispelled by genetics as well as dentistry. The Resurrection, on the other hand, can be accepted as likely Given the suspension of ideological objections of Naturalism.

*Crockett died at the Alamo the evidence clearly indicates that (I would have to assert it anyway,I am rom Texas). The point is it's not something we can prove. We call it "fact" but it's only assumption based upomn perponderence of the evidence.

Despite claims to the contrary, we're still waiting for an academically sound defense of the "Jesus didn't exist" position, one that doesn't rest primarily on gyrations, begged questions, cherry picking, and/or paranoia. For this post I'd like to share two reviews of one such attempted defense, Thomas Brodie's Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. One was written by me in 2013; the other was written by Nick Peters just this past week, and the original draft was done  without having seen my review first. We both manage to point out some of the same weaknesses. Might be something to that.


Readers familiar with Jonathan Swift's satirical tale Gulliver's Travels may remember Laputa, the third country visited by the adventurous Gulliver. A perfectly circular island measuring close to five miles in diameter, floating above the earth with the use of magnetism and navigated via Newtonian mechanics, Laputa is ruled not by small-minded, short-sighted politicians, as in the kingdom of Lilliput, but by astronomers and mathematicians obsessed with natural science. A secular prophet of sorts, Swift vividly portrayed the myopic (and often morally indifferent) visions of certain scientific intellectuals in his day, and in our own. Allan Bloom describes a preoccupation with all things abstract and theoretical among the Laputians, along with a herd-like groupthink, which together restrict their understanding of the everyday world: "The men have no contact with ordinary sense experiences. This is what permits them to remain content with their science. Communication with others outside their circle is unnecessary."[1] 
These men are science purists who have tapped into the power of knowledge in order to live in a world above their intellectually inferior neighbors. But as a result of living in this detached, self-elevated state, they miss some important aspects of reality. They don't seem to notice or care that their clothes don't fit, for example, nor even that their wives are committing adultery. The parallels between Laputa and certain sectors of the twenty-first century scientific establishment are not difficult to see. Many scientists today indeed hold their science high above all other intellectual endeavors, and in some cases seem to proffer it as the basis for a new and superior morality. Steven Pinker, for example, pronounces that science has emerged triumphant over all other forms of explanation for all observable phenomena:
We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are.  
Notice how Pinker presents the second statement as if it somehow followed from the first – when of course it doesn't. Pinker's argument holds only if it is true that "the laws governing the physical world" operate not only without any goals or purposes, but that they operate uniformly at all times, places and circumstances. If it cannot be demonstrated that natural laws are necessarily uniform, or universally binding (and Hume of all people demonstrated exactly the opposite), then clearly there is nothing to prevent the actions of providence, or divine retribution or answered prayer. He continues: 
And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today…. In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science.[2]  
Here Pinker suggests not only that science alone can inform "moral and spiritual values," but that beloved moral and spiritual convictions (such as my belief that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and now calls me to serve and honor him) are subject to decisive falsification – though I notice he doesn't mention how or when I can expect this falsification to actually occur. But what of his own convictions? Are his beliefs not also time- and culture-bound? I don't doubt that Pinker and his colleagues are brilliant theorists, capable of discoursing on topics and deriving mathematical theorems that people like me can scarcely begin to understand. But it seems as if these promoters of "hard science" have forgotten all the difficult lessons of the logical positivism movement from the previous century, or the long history of failed scientific theories underlying the theory of pessimistic meta-induction. At any rate, a monk-like detachment from the world of everyday life – work, responsibilities, interactions with ordinary people, economic transactions and so forth – and immersion into the theoretical world of, say, quantum cosmology, can evidently lead even brilliant theorists to embrace some wildly speculative, even irrational notions. 
Consider "Boltzmann Brains," the product of a thought experiment first postulated by the nineteenth-century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann. According to Boltzmann, the universe is in the low probability, low entropy state that it is because, well, only in such a state can a brain exist to observe the universe in the first place. He considered further that a stand-alone disembodied observer would be far more likely to emerge from any given thermodynamic state far more often than would an embodied brain from a much more structured environment. Because even in equilibrium (or thereabouts), fluctuations may occur which give rise to any number of highly improbable configurations, an infinitely old universe would give rise to a vast number of fully functioning (if short lived) brains, perhaps complete with apparent memories. Some have suggested that the Boltzmann Brain hypothesis escapes the implications of fine-tuning, that our universe has been constructed precisely as it is so that living, self-aware observers can thrive within it. After all, Boltzmann observers would be expected to emerge often – at least relative to an infinitely old universe – from a virtually featureless thermodynamic soup. Cosmologist Sean Carroll elaborates on some of the disturbing implications of Boltzmann's random quantum fluctuations:
If we wait long enough, some region of the universe will fluctuate into absolutely any configuration of matter compatible with the local laws of physics. Atoms, viruses, people, dragons, what have you. The room you are in right now (or the atmosphere, if you’re outside) will be reconstructed, down to the slightest detail, an infinite number of times in the future. In the overwhelming majority of times that your local environment does get created, the rest of the universe will look like a high-entropy equilibrium state (in this case, empty space with a tiny temperature). All of those copies of you will think they have reliable memories of the past and an accurate picture of what the external world looks like — but they would be wrong. And you could be one of them.[3]  
Bizarre. Now as Carroll himself points out, actually believing this is epistemically problematic. We cannot know the Boltzmann Brain scenario to be true because a theory dependent on random fluctuations is, as he says, "cognitively unstable. You can't simultaneously believe in it, and be justified in believing it." But others argue that because it hasn't been falsified, it remains a viable hypothesis that potentially lends credibility to a multiverse or eternal-inflationary universe scenario, which in turn may help explain fine-tuning of our own universe apart from divine intervention. Of course Boltzmann was only able to concoct his theory under a huge set of finely-tuned conditions necessary for his own brain to function and thereby observe the universe. To devise an unfalsifiable theory which suggests that those same conditions may in fact not be necessary for a brain to observe a universe seems self-defeating from a scientific-empirical standpoint. And that's the standpoint which most atheists assume before ever attempting to defeat the argument from fine-tuning. 
Moreover, regions of low entropy could just as easily generate other wildly improbable entities. In addition to disembodied brains Carroll mentions dragons, but he may as well have included invisible pink unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, and various other fantastic beings subjected to ridicule by atheists in every other context. And as mentioned, a disembodied brain cannot be more likely to spontaneously emerge from a temporarily low entropy region than an embodied brain complete with a life-supporting environment, because a brain requires a host of quite specific physical-environmental conditions (a functioning host body, for example) in order to function, even if for only a few moments. The mere fact, then, that a disembodied (functional) brain appears "simpler" than an embodied (functional) brain does not somehow make it less improbable.
All this brings us full circle, back to the strong implications of fine-tuning for theology. Minds in physical universes require brains, which require bodies living in a finely-tuned, life-conducive environment, which requires the careful planning and execution of an unimaginably intelligent and powerful Creator. Our observation of the universe, in short, requires the mind of God.

[1] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 294.
[2] Steven Pinker, "Science is Not Your Enemy," The New Republic, August 6, 2013.
[3]  Sean Carroll, "The Higgs Boson vs. Boltzmann Brains," August 22, 2013,

On the debate over JP's Banana postPaplimnton linked to a Wiki article (an article flagged as needing work be that as it may) saying:

 Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of "self" and a concept of continuity.[1][2] There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead which is evidence of the use of ritual. The use of burial rituals is thought to be evidence of religious activity, and there is no other evidence that religion existed in human culture before humans reached behavioral modernity.
That is supposed to prove that religion is made up entirely by humans with no
God involved. I suggest that evolutionary nature of religion in and of itself is not enough to rule out God,After all of God users evolution in creation then we should expect God to allow evolutionary nature of religion to shape human development. Here is my article (part 1) showing how the evolutionary nature of religious development is not contrary to God.

see link above

Image result for Metacrock's blog Talmud

  Church at Nazareth dates first century

Here I will deal with his straw man on the Talmud.[1]Remember Kirby is doing a straw man argument, making the alleged "best case" for Jesus historicity so he can tear it down and say "I made the case and it doesn't stand up to my fierce onslaught." That's what I expect from a coward who is so threatened by better scholars that he chases them off his message board with the flimsy excuse that they have too many posts on the bard. So here we have the section where he makes his straw man version of the Talmudic Evidence for Jesus' Historicity.

Kirby writes:

This is the Jewish tradition regarding the trial of Jesus, found in the Babylonian Talmud, b. Sanh. 43a. While this text was finalized sometime in the fifth or sixth century, by its nature it incorporates many traditions that are very old, as it collects and quotes traditional commentary of the rabbis.
It was taught:
On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying]: “Yeshu the Notzarine will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel [to idolatry]. Any who knows [anything] in his defence must come and declare concerning him.”
 But no-one came to his defence so they hung him on the Eve of Passover....According to David Instone-Brewer, who has undertaken to analyze the talmudic traditions generally for their date of origin with an eye to seeing which may predate A.D. 70, the introductory formula is: normally used for traditions originating with Tannaim – ie rabbis of Mishnaic times before 200 CE – though the presence of such a formula is not an infallible marker of an early origin. However in this case, it is likely that these formulae are accurate because this helps to explain why the rabbis regarded this Jesus tradition as if it had comparable authority to Mishnah. Further, he notes, an independent attestation in Justin Martyr brings the most likely date before 150:
Outside the Talmud, two charges are recorded by Justin Martyr who said that as a result of Jesus’ miracles, the Jews “dared to call him a magician and an enticer of the people.” (Dial. 69)[Btw hanging was a euphemism for crucifixion]

Kirby then draws again upon Instone-Brewer [2] in discussing the date of this writing. He argues that the date of the trial and excision being so close to Passover and the charges (sorcery not in the NT) would not be brought by a Rabbi or Pharisees since: (1) Rabbis and Pharisees would seek to discourage activity so near the Passover, (2) they would want the charges to reflective of Torah and rabbinic halakha (teaching on the law). The account is not coming from new testament and not made up by Rabbis since they would make up time and charges they wanted. This implies a real event recorded in the memory of the common people and echoed in Rabbinic literature. Kirby makes the point that the event would have been remembered f0r the unusual date, the charges reflect would not have been interpolated by Christians. So this is good historical evidence for Jesus' existence.

That's ok for a beginning but that's the end of his argument. That is pathetic. There is a far more devastating case to be made. I will not go into great detail but just list a few points he could have raised that would strengthen the case tremendously. The first point involves his own source for documentation. one thing that makes the case for Jesus from the Talmud so hard o prove is the deniability od the rabbis. They will argue that is is not Jesus of whom the text speaks. They were afraid of being persecuted by Christians, not without good reason, so they censored the literature themselves to take Jesus out of it. We know they did because we copies of the pre-censored texts. In some cases they used epithets to talk about him, such as "such a one."
*Ben Stada
*Ben Pantira [3]

When we e see these names we know it's probably Jesus of whom they speak. It does give then plausible deniability but there are a couple of reasons why we can know it's him. One of themajor reasons is we have some of those documents and two of the scholar who are major in making this argument include Dr Peter Williams and Dr David Instone-Brewer "look at the Munich Talmud, which contains traditional Jewish teaching, and discover how even the deleted text provides evidence for Jesus' crucifixion!" [4]  Kirby researched this guy  why didn't he know that?

On the video seen below (fn 4) Instone-Brewer shows that from one of these pre-censored documents they can show that the text is derived from the original charge sheets read against Jesus. They can show this because the term hanged in the pre-censored document was changed to "stoned" in the censored version. Hanged means crucified. So they changed it because (he thinks) as not to reflect the Roman method of execution. I think it was to distance it from the Jesus story. If they are right that is direct proof Jesus existed in history. I am counting that as two points. (1) the basic fact o censoring. hat are they censoring? If it's not to Jesus out? Then (2) that specific example of the charge sheets, (3) Celsus.

The geneology of Jesus was known to the Jews, is mentioned in the Talmud and shows up in the use of the name "panteria." This is duscussed above where it is said that the use of that name is the jewish preference for a geneological connection. Another quotion above:

R. Shimeaon ben 'Azzai said: I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, "Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress." McDowell and Wilson state, on the authority of Joseph Klausner, that the phrase such-an-one "is used for Jesus in the Ammoraic period (i.e., fifth century period)." (McDowell & Wilson, p. 69) [see fn4]

So geneological connections tie the figure of Pantera to Jesus of Nazerath. Of course mythological figures would not have geneological connections. Jesus Mother, brother, and family are mentioned throughout many sources.

II. Celsus

Celsus demonstrates a connection to the material of the Talmud, indicating that that material about Jesus was around in a leaast the second century. Since Jewish sources would not have been reidaly avaible to Celsus it seems reasonable to assume that this information had been floating around for some time, and easier to obtain. Therefore, we can at least went back to the early second, late frist century.

Origin quoting Celsus:
Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god." [5]

Celsus was obviously reading the Talmudic sources, he has the same materi9al they do and he as much as says so:
Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumourss about the true and insavoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery?" ....
I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts).  [6]

These three reasons in addition to Kirby's point.  (1) the charge sheets, although that is an expansion of the point Kirby made. (2) the fact of the censored documents, (3) the evidence of Celsus. That is really the nail in the coffin of mytherism.
 The religious a priori

For more on Jesus in Talmud see my age on Religious  A Priori


[1] Peter Kirby," Best Case for Jesus:(d) Babylonian Talmud (and Justin Martyr)"Peter Kirby (blog)
Jan. 22, 2015, Online resource, URL: accessed 1/18/16

[2] David Instone-Brewer, "Jesus of Nazareth's Trail in Sanhedrin 43a," PDF, pre publication copy

[3] Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson's He Walked Among Us Here's Life Publishers (1988)

[4 ] Expert Evidence on the Crucifiction of Jesus.Be Thinking blog
Dr David Instone-Brewer Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament, Tyndale House, Cambridge

the Be Thinking Blog reflects a much bigger body of literature demonstrating Jesus in the Talmud, something else Kirby didn't want to talk about.

For more information see:

“Jesus of Nazareth’s Trial in Sanhedrin 43a” (Jerusalem Perspective, 2011) by Dr David Instone-Brewer
- a detailed discussion of the dating of the different layers in this tradition. (Pre-publication version)
Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Pess, 2007) by Peter Schäfer
- an up-to-date discussion of the historicity of all the censored passages
Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London: Williams & Norgate, 1903; New York, KTAV, 1975) by R. Travers Herford
- a list and analysis of all the censored passages
'Jesus of Nazareth: a magician and false prophet who deceived God's people?' by Graham Stanton; in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: essays on the historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, ed. by Joel B. Green and Max Turner (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1994): pp.164-180. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle, Eng: Paternoster Pr, 1994). A detailed discussion of the charges against Jesus in other literature.

[5] Origin quoting Celsus, On the True Doctrine, translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University Press, 1987, 59

Let us imagine what a Jew- let alone a philosopher- might say to Jesus: 'Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumourss about the true and in savoury circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in the royal David's city of bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman soldier called Panthera she was driven away by her husband- the carpenter- and convicted of adultery?" (57). "I could continue along these lines, suggesting a good deal about the affairs of Jesus' life that does not appear in your own records. Indeed, what I know to be the case and what the disciples tell are two very different stories... [for example] the nonsensical idea that Jesus foresaw everything that was to happen to him (an obvious attempt to conceal the humiliating facts)." (62). "The men who fabricated this genealogy [of Jesus] were insistent on on the point that Jesus was descended from the first man and from the king of the Jews [David]. The poor carpenter's wife seems not to have known she had such a distinguished bunch of ancestors." (64). "What an absurdity! Clearly the Christians have used the myths of Danae and the Melanippe, or of the Auge and the Antiope in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin birth." (57). "After all, the old myths of the Greeks that attribute a divine birth to Perseus, Amphion, Aeacus and Minos are equally good evidence of their wondrous works on behalf of mankind- and are certainly no less lacking in plausibility than the stories of your followers." (59).

[6] McDwell and Wilson, op. cit. 57, 62

The mention of this particular pair of charges, in this order, is hardly likely to be a coincidence.
To resolve the internal difficulties of the text and its parallels elsewhere in the Talmud, Instone-Brewer proposes that the original form of this tradition was simple: “On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine for sorcery and enticing Israel.” The proposed expansions before and after the charges explain the unusual date of the execution, in that an especially lenient period allowed people to come to his defense and that his execution occurred at the last possible time, while still occurring publicly while crowds were there for the holiday.
Since the New Testament account gives no account at all of a charge of sorcery at the trial of Jesus, instead emphasizing charges of blasphemy and treason, it is difficult to see this account as deriving from the Gospel story. Moreover, Instone-Brewer argues:
The origin of this tradition is also unlikely to be rabbinic or Pharisaic. Although it has been preserved in rabbinic literature, there are two reasons why it was unlikely to be authored within this movement. First, a rabbinic author or their Pharisee predecessors would want the order of the charges to mirror Torah and rabbinic halakha. Second, rabbinic traditions and the major Pharisaic schools tried to dissuade people from working on Passover Eve, so they would not have invented a tradition which said that they decided to try Jesus on this date.
Because the Jewish leaders of the first century were in a position to know the circumstances of such an execution, which would have been remembered for taking place on an unusual date, it is plausible to see this rabbinic tradition, late as its written record may be, as stemming from the historical Jewish memory of the execution of Jesus on Passover Eve with charges of sorcery and leading Israel astray.
You could even say that it’s more probable than not, in which case what we have right here is an argument for the historicity of Jesus. I value it more highly than both Josephus and Tacitus, as it certainly did not come from a Christian interpolator (unlike Josephus) and actually has a decent argument to the effect that it did not derive from the Christian tradition about Jesus (unlike Tacitus).
Summing Up the Argument from Non-Christian Sources

The absence of an ancient tradition questioning the existence of Jesus isn’t exactly telling, positive evidence for us today. While Josephus could be devastating evidence for the historicity of Jesus, it seems more fair either to regard the text as moderate evidence against on account of silence regarding Jesus or simply as too difficult a textual question to hang your hat on. Tacitus likewise is only faint as direct evidence but does raise a good question: with references like these, does doubt have anything to recommend it? Finally, even though its late date of compilation makes it impossible to rule out the possibility of a Christian source to the tradition with certainty, the Jewish tradition (recorded in the Talmud and with an echo in Justin Martyr) provides actual evidence for a historical Jesus. This tradition says that Yeshu the Notzarine was hung on the Eve of Passover, accused of sorcery and enticing Israel to idolatry.
(Sidenote: Some might not find the Talmudic tradition to be enough evidence to fill in a picture that meets their minimum definition of the historicity of Jesus. For example, without more information, he might have lived “one hundred years before Christ,” as proposed by G.R.S. Mead and Alvar Ellegard.)
(2) The Best Case: The Gospels and Related Traditions
Continuing my attempt at a best case for the historicity of Jesus, I’d proceed directly to the Gospel texts and related traditions. They are the most extensive source of details regarding the life of Jesus, so our estimation of them is an essential part of the process of evaluating the evidence.
(2) (a) The Gospel of Mark
The genre and purpose of Mark is a vexing question in New Testament studies. There’s still a plausible argument to be made that the author is a fairly unsophisticated writer, who has padded out his narrative of the ministry of Jesus with little stories here and there that he has heard (alongside some of his own inventions), and the best case for a historical Jesus might capitalize on such an argument. The incorporation of Aramaic material, by an author that seems more likely to know only Greek and Latin; the inclusion of obscure Palestinian geography, by an author that gets the basics wrong; the references to the family of Jesus, by an author that has no use for them; all of this suggests an author that has taken up bits and pieces of prior tradition while creating his story.
Richard Carrier makes a valiant effort to show that Mark 15:21 is “just as likely on minimal mythicism and on minimal historicity,” offering that the passage here may be intended as a symbolic reference to Alexander the Great and Musonius Rufus, a Stoic philosopher (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 446-451).
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mark 15:21)
Only the Gospel of Mark contains this reference to Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Right away we can then form two objections to Carrier’s tentative hypothesis. First, the other example of a symbolic message in the Gospel of Mark (“the number of loaves and baskets in Mk 8.19-21”) had no trouble getting copied in Matthew and Luke, proving that the evangelists were capable of copying these symbolic messages. The omission from the other synoptic Gospels suggests that, even at the early date of the writing of Matthew and Luke, this reference in Mark was not understood as symbolic. Second, it’s just a bit of a stretch to suggest that two names centuries apart, who could not actually be sons of Simon of Cyrene, are just as likely an interpretive option as, say, two names of people that were known to the audience and that were sons of Simon of Cyrene, just as Mark 15:21 actually says.
Carrier asks that we should always look for “strong external corroborating evidence (such as we have for the existence, at least, of Peter and Pilate), in the absence of which, for any detail in Mark, we should assume a symbolical meaning is always more likely” because of all the known examples in which Mark tells stories with “some esoteric allegorical or symbolical purpose” (On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 451).
We should distinguish between allegorical fiction and false tales, in that the author of Mark may have been a fabulist who wanted his stories to be believed and thus authenticate the good news of Jesus as the Messiah. Thus the evidence regarding stories constructed out of the Septuagint is evidence of falsehood of some kind but not necessarily evidence of allegory. As popular literature with the purpose of promoting belief in Jesus Christ, with a near-contemporary setting, the Gospel of Mark could even be argued to make more sense as unabashed invention, meant for belief, rather than as a sophisticated symbolic tale.
(Sidenote: Why don’t we have more people simply positing that an author was, to put it plainly, a liar? There is a real danger of overuse of the “allegory card,” which can be played to avoid making pointed “accusations.” This is history. All claims are equally worthy of proposal, in the pursuit of an accurate account of events.)
But there is a trace of evidence that could help us to place Alexander and Rufus in history, or at least the latter person. In the letter of recommendation for Phoebe, also known as Romans 16, we find the words of Paul: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.” Here we learn that there was a Christian named Rufus known to Paul. We also hear about his mother but not his father, which might suggest that she was a widow. While it is impossible to prove, it is plausible that this Rufus and his brother Alexander were sons of Simon of Cyrene. This in turn means that the author of the Gospel of Mark, by drawing attention to Alexander and Rufus, who were known to Mark’s audience, could easily be exposed as a liar if they had never heard of their father carrying the cross for Jesus. This suggests the existence of a very early tradition which, like an early tradition that Jesus had a brother named James, would lead most people to suspect that there was a historical Jesus.
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