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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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On a message board long ago and far away an atheist called "1337" argues:

I contend that the theistic version of god doesn't exist. Why do I say this? Because the assertion that there is a personal god seems to be baseless. In fact, it is christian apologists that eroded my faith away. They continue to make qualifications about why it seems that god does nothing, until eventually the view that god exists is no different from the view that he doesn't exist.

People assert that god makes a difference in their lives. My question to you is, what would the world look like if that god didn't exist? What differences would we notice?

(NOTE: If anyone responds by saying "without god the world couldn't exist at all" I'll just ignore it, that's not the point of the discussion)

In the discussion that ensued this turned into a reverse design argument. It's reversal because he's saying basically that Christians can show anything that would actually be different if there wasn't a God.

I made two criticisms. They have both gone unanswered.

(1) It's the same mistake the design argument makes, it doesn't have another universe to compare to.

(2) It treats belief in God as though it's just adding a fact to the universe instead of a whole other universe. Belief in God entails a totally different universe than the one atheists believe in.

The Second issue is the one I will focus upon: the "reverse design argument."

The reverse design argument does exactly what the design argument does, which is probably reason enough to disregard it; it reasons form the apparent state of the world to the probable non-existence of God. If it is illogical to reason from the world to God, it is equally illogical to reason from the world to not God. For this reason I swore off design arguments years ago. I have violated that oath twice, but for good reason (I'll get to those in a minute). In any case, there is a great deal wrong with this argument, and in figuring up all the many problems I see it I began to think of two things:

(1) Perhaps it would be instructive to delineate the cases under which one can argue from the state of the world to the existence of God.

(2) In pondering this question, I began to think about perhaps what might be the ultimate God argument.

If you think about it, almost all probabilistic arguments are really arguing from the state of the world to the probable existence of God. But somehow this seem less drastic in some cases than others. I know there are those who just turn off at any kind of God argument. But for us Connoisseurs of God arguments, this should be a thorny issue. After all, what's the real difference between arguing form the contingency of the world, and arguing from the design of the world? Well, off hand the real difference is that one can be compared to something, the other can't. That's one of the major problems with this atheist argument, which was advanced at one point by Richard Carrier. We do not have a designed universe to compare ours to, so we don't know what we are observing, design or random development?

The argument says if we were to consider a random universe that came about by accident, you couldn't do better than our own. It really looks accidental. Life is precarious and rare, the universe is very hostile to it. It's vast, far more vast than it has to be. On the one tiny oasis we know of where life took root it blossomed into something as glorious as Richard Carrier's ego, we have no really obvious clue that God exists. If we were to consider what a purposeful logical creator would do we should expect sign posts to his existence everywhere, right? Well, maybe. maybe not. That's the problem the argument is nothing more than begging the question. It assumes we know what God would do, and after constructing a straw man God who behaves the way we want him to, we just assume we know what he would do and than access the tragic fact that it hasn't been done. So by golly, there must not be a God, because this non God doesn't' follow my advice! Of course the model for his straw God is fundamentalism. Atheists are so afraid to take on liberal theology honestly, but it's because they are all secretly fundamentalists. What I mean by that is they are the "tails" to the fundies "heads." Like communist and anti-communists, they are both parts of the same thing.

The difference in this argument and one that actually has something to compare, a base line from which to work, should be obvious. The atheist who argues for Carrier's idea must forge his own base line by setting up a straw man (um, God) and then privileging his assumptions about the nature of religion in such a way that he just nixes the possibly of any other kind of theology. That's not a real comparison. The fine tuning argument can compare fine tuning to lack thereof, compare target levels to the actual mark that is hit. The contingency arguments (quantum and other forms of cosmology) can compare contingency to necessity. Religious experience arguments are drawn from the results of experience, they compare experience to non experience. The two instances in which I do use design arguments are those in which comparisons can be made between the nature of the world and state of existence known to lack that attribute as known non designed reality; the use of the "God Pod" as evoking innate ideas. We can compare reactions to God talk to other kinds of talk and see that our brains only react to God talk in the way that they do. Thus we can compare the innate ideas of God to reactions to other ideas. The other instance is the fine tuning argument,which has already been explained. But the Carrier reverse design argument has nothing to compare except Ricard's idea of what he thinks God should do. With that as the standard for assumptions, we have no basis upon which to draw conclusions about the nature of God from the state of the universe.

This argument does have one other troubling application. It could be a "possible defeater" for proper basically. To be properly basic an idea must be logically apprehended as it is, with no possible alternative explanations, or "defeaters." The argument is a possible defeater only if we understand it to be indicative of the kind of universe God would not make. But we can't make that assumption because we can't pretend to know all the things God would do. Once can find many alternative theological explanations that involve both Evangelical views of God and non Evangelical views. The most obvious non Evangelical view is that of process theology. The atheist can only think of God as a big man upstairs. This is the basic image they rebel against. The will of the father is their Kryptonite. They foresee a big man on a throne who decides and deliberates such a potentate wants to be served, they reason, and thus must make a universe in which he is known commonly to all. So we should expect the universe to be smaller, easier to navigate, easier to understand, filled with sign posts of God. No disease, no problems and everyone automatically given tons of faith so the world would be a paradise. If some serpent spoiled it, it should be put right immediately so that we can go on in our little heavens, where no doubt we get to listen to Richard Dawkins directing the chores of angels.

The God of process theology, on the other hand, is more like the Hegeian dialectic, or like some organizing principle. This is not a God deliberates and decides. this is a God who is potential in one realm, and who micro manages (literally) creation in the other; almost a law of physics, changing with creation, bringing subatomic particles into being and ushering them out of being. This is more of a stage director in the play of the universe (and in other bipolar structure stage director and producer) than a big king on a throne. Such a God would start the process of life and allow it go where it will, then embrace (to whatever extent possible) any beings that evolve sufficiently to come up to its level.

Another version would be my own idea of God as being itself (Tillich's idea--). This version of God is much like the process God, but I fell that God is too sacred a mystery to pin down to bipolar structures or to analyze all of "his" ("her," "its") doings. God is the great wholly (Holy) other. WE cannot know except through mystical union what God is doing. But such a God is the basis upon which being proceeds into concrescence and the basic reality of the Platonic forms. Such a God does not design or make plans, but the whole of creation is a non deliberating plan in the sense of being an expression of God's charter indwell; yet not necessity the result of raciocentination. Thus God starts a principle of life emerging from the nature of being, because that's what being does it spreads the beings, it "let's be" (John Mcquarrie). The evolutionary course that is followed may be assisted in an automatic sort of way, not as a plan, not as a deliberate gesture, but as the result of a nature that has to manifest itself creatively. This being doesn't' say "I will make men, and men will serve me." But men evolve out of the storm and the wastes of the abyss and they naturally come to find God because that's the nature of being, it is there to be found in the sense of the numinous. When humanity reaches a point where it comprehends the numinous, it seeks God and finds God.

Humanity finds God in a million different places. It finds God in flowers and trees, in brooks (and in books), in grass, in each other. It finds God in storms and scary things, and in the night. It finds God in the sky and the stars in the darkness of a vast and endless expanse. It reaches out for what is there because it has been put into it to do so; not because God sat and said "I will make men and men will seek me" but because God provided for the reality of the Imago Dei to evolve and develop in whatever species reached the point where humanity has come to. God did this automatically as an aspect of self expression, as an outgrowth of consciousness. This kind of God would make a universe of the type we see around us. This type of God would also place in that universe hints so that whatever species reaches that level that God's manifestation would be waiting to show them God's solidarity with them. God would plant a thousand clues, not as a matter of deliberation like one plants Easter eggs, but as the result of being what God is--self communicating and creative. Thus we have design arguments and fine tuning arguments, and contingencies and necessities and the lot. We can find the God Pod in our heads that lights up when it hears God ideas. We can do studies and determine that our religious experiences are better for us than unbelief, because the clues are endless because the universe bears the marks of its creator.

Yet these marks are sublet for a reason. This is where the Evangelical view of God can also be a sophisticated view. The Evangelical God can also be the God of Tillich and the God of process, after all, these are all derived from the same tradition and the Evangelicals have as much right to escape anthropomorphism as anyone. The Evangelical God seeks a moral universe. This God wants believers who have internalized the values of the good. We do not internalize that which we are forced to acknowledge. Thus God knows that a search in the heart is better to internalizing values than is a rational formally logical argument, or a scientific proof. Thus we have a soteriological drama in which we can't tell if there is or is not a God just by looking at the nature of nature. That must remain neutral and must enlighten us because it is not given to us to have direct and absolute knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is a privilege. We must seek it through the heart, that's where it is to be found. It's a privilege but faith is a gift.

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If one were to review the various lists of the greatest literary classics, it would be hard to call any list complete which didn't include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ("Huck Finn")  by Mark Twain. No less a writer than Ernest Hemingway praised the book stating,

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.
Of course, many years have passed since Hemingway made that statement, and while more novels have been written that deserve consideration for that list, I can't think of any that have had the magnitude of impact both in history and literature as Huck Finn . The almost flawless writing of the book using the "voice" of the people - writing in a way that uses the natural accents and verbal styles used in everyday talk in America of the 1800s -- makes the book stand out as unique at the time and a harbinger of novels to come. So, when Huck Finn touches on Christianity and ethics, I think it is worthwhile to consider what Huck Finn says, and (for purposes of this blog) the accuracy of the vision it projects of Christian ethics.

Background to the Struggle

Since most Americans are required to read Huck Finn in high school (or, at least, it was largely considered required reading prior to the present age which has sought to downplay the past greats of American literature in favor of a more diverse ethnicity in literature and prior to the rise of the ongoing effort to remove books from the schools that use language considered incorrect in today's world ), I don't plan to spend much time on the plot of the novel. It is sufficient to note that the book follows the adventures a young boy, Huckleberry Finn ("Huck"), who lives prior to the American Civil War, and who runs away from his abusive father in Illinois. He connects up with Jim, a slave he knows who is owned by his benefactor's sister, Ms. Watson. Together (and with great consternation for Huck), the two try to leave slave country and head to where Jim can be free. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the two find themselves heading down the Mississippi River further and further into the pro-slavery south. For further information and details about the plot, the reader is invited to the summary of Huck Finn on Spark Notes.

One of the most important chapters of Huck Finn is Chapter 31 where Huck gets separated from Jim, and learns that Jim has been sold by two of their traveling companions to some slavers for $40, and these slavers plan to collect the $200 reward. Huck, who is young and poor, has no money to redeem Jim from the slavers, and so he begins to consider the available alternatives. He considers writing to his friend, Tom Sawyer, to have him tell Ms. Watson that Jim was being held by slavers in recognition that Jim's former life with Ms. Watson had been preferable to a life of a slave in the deep south. But Huck initially rejects this course of action out of concern for Jim and how he will be treated by Ms. Watson and others who would identify him as a former runaway. Returning Jim to "his owner" may be better than staying with the slavers, but as a slave who tried to escape it also may be worse for Jim - much worse.

Moreover Huck also worries about his own fate. If he did elect to return Jim, once it became known that he had helped Jim escape it was likely that Huck himself would be marked by his culture as having engaged in shameful conduct. Huck comments (please note, Huck Finn uses language that is not acceptable in today's society and may even shock the conscience of some; it is certainly language that I never use in my own speaking, but in the interest of accurately portraying the novel and Mark Twain's thoughts [as channeled through the fictional Huckleberry Finn], I will not censor the language of the book as originally written):
That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”
Huck's ethical dilemma and the times

Huck's struggle is understandable in light of the times in which he lived. He has been taught that Jim, as a slave, is the property of Ms. Watkins - nothing more. And in the culture where he has been raised, this was not only legal, it was seen as the proper order of things. Having been taught the Biblical injunction against stealing and having been taught in the pro-slavery state where he was raised that slavery was "Christian," it is understandable that his immature understanding of Christianity would lead him to believe that helping Jim escape was the same as stealing. He notes that if he had attended Sunday School, he would have been taught that his act of helping Jim escape would lead him to "the everlasting fire." That's why Huck feels "the plain hand of Providence" (God) slapping him. Huck believes that God has seen what he has done, and is telling him that his actions were wrong.

Huck tries to pray, but realizes that he cannot pray when he is deep in the depths of a sin. So, he sets aside his initial reservations, and decides to lift the burden of sin from his shoulders by writing the letter to Ms. Watkins telling her of Jim's whereabouts. After composing the letter, he feels good because he has done "the right thing," i.e., he was returning Jim to his owner, and therefore had stopped the sin of theft of her property.

Still, as Huck sits and contemplates the fact that he has rid himself of the guilt of having stolen Ms. Watkins' property, he begins to think back on his time with Jim on the raft,
And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
In these words Twain introduces the readers to Huck's ethical dilemma. He has two competing ethical obligations: an obligation to obey the moral injunction against stealing, and a moral obligation to help a man who has become a friend. He knows that his culture and God's law (as it has been taught to him) requires him to not steal - which he sees himself as clearly doing -- but in his time on the river with Jim he has learned a basic truth: slaves are people, too. Unfortunately, Huck believes what he was almost certainly taught in his Sunday School in the pre-Civil War South (a teaching that was reinforced in law by the horrible Dred Scot v. Sanford decision of the United States Supreme Court), i.e., slaves are property not people. But the time spent with Jim confronted Huck with the simple fact that Jim was much, much more than a horse, a house or a shoe.

Christianity doesn't present the dilemma Huck encounters

The sad part is that the ethical dilemma presented to Huck need not have been as vexing as it was except that the teachings of the church in the Old South made it difficult. You see, by the time Huck Finn was written, most of America's ministers were arguing forcefully from their pulpits that slavery was an affront to God. The earliest pamphlet published against slavery (that I found) was published by Judge Samuel Sewell in 1702 entitled "The Selling of Joseph" and began its arguments by first and foremost citing the Bible:
The Numerousness of Slaves at this day in the Province, and the Uneasiness of them under their Slavery, hath put many upon thinking whether the Foundation of it be firmly and well laid; so as to sustain the Vast Weight that is built upon it. It is most certain that all Men, as they are the Sons of Adam, are Coheirs; and have equal Right unto Liberty, and all other outward Comforts of Life. GOD hath given the Earth [with all its Commodities] unto the Sons of Adam, Psal 115.16. And hath made of One Blood, all Nations of Men, for to dwell on all the face of the Earth; and hath determined the Times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: That they should seek the Lord. Forasmuch then as we are the Offspring of GOD &c. Act 17.26, 27, 29.
Bruce T. Gourley, author of books about religious belief and the Civil War, noted that in the 1820s, "many Baptists North and South were anti-slavery, reflective of larger views in the South at that time, a legacy of a pre-cotton economy." It was the growth of the Cotton Industry in the South and its demand for hours of heavy labor that led many of the Southern pastors to change their opinion and support the "peculiar institution." Still, outside of the South it was rare to find an American pastor who believed slavery was Biblical. But for the hardening of the hearts of those in the South by their economic interests and Southern pride, it is an almost certainty that slavery would have been abolished by the arguments of the abolitionists over time.

As a side note, I recognize that there are people today who wrongly assert that the Bible condones slavery (and I fully expect someone to post a litany of Bible verses that superficially appear to support slavery), but that argument has been roundly rejected by virtually all Christian churches since the Civil War. Nevertheless, the purpose of this particular article is not to make the Biblical case for the anti-slavery position, but accepts that nearly unanimous agreement that the Bible teaches the equality of all men before God, and the understanding that slavery is an abominable practice that the Bible ultimately condemns.

(For those interested in pursuing the argument against slavery, I recommend Ravi Zacharias International Ministries article entitled "Does the Bible Condone Slavery?"  and Richard Deem's "Does God Approve of Slavery According to the Bible" which both provide a basic background for a Biblical understanding of the rejection of slavery. Another good source of the abolitionist arguments can be found in an online paper entitled "Slavery - The Abolitionist Movement" by David Meager.  I would also recommend reviewing some of the current arguments against Human Trafficking which is, of course, just a modern form of slavery. Two quick resources are's paper on Human Trafficking, and All About's article on Human Trafficking Victims) I will not re-fight the Civil War here, and those that do try to do so in the comments will either be ignored or deleted.

A deontological struggle?

Unfortunately, Huck wouldn't have been privy to the arguments rejecting slavery. If he had been, he might have more correctly reasoned that his real dilemma wasn't choosing between two of God's ethical mandate. His ethical dilemma was between choosing to follow an obligation to obey the state and return a person who is a slave according to the earthly authorities of the state or the obligation to obey God's law and help Jim be free. That was the real dilemma facing Huck, and it was a dilemma that thousands of people understood and decided correctly when they formed the underground railroad.

In a choice between following God and following the law of man, the Bible is clear - following God is the moral thing to do. But Huck didn't know that. He had been taught that slaves were property and not people. So, Huck was left with a much more difficult, albeit inaccurate, ethical dilemma - follow God's proscription against stealing and return Jim (thus, denying his humanity) or continue to help Jim escape (recognizing his humanity) and violate the law against stealing.

People encounter this type of dilemma all the time, and those that choose the first believe that God is more interested in rules than he is in souls. In today's language, choice one would be seen as promoting a deontological approach to ethics - the belief that it is our responsibility to do the "right" thing, i.e., follow the rule or prescriptive behavior , regardless of the "good" of the outcome. As noted by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Deontological Ethics:
The most familiar forms of deontology, and also the forms presenting the greatest contrast to consequentialism, hold that some choices cannot be justified by their effects—that no matter how morally good their consequences, some choices are morally forbidden. On such familiar deontological accounts of morality, agents cannot make certain wrongful choices even if by doing so the number of those exact kinds of wrongful choices will be minimized (because other agents will be prevented from engaging in similar wrongful choices). For such deontologists, what makes a choice right is its conformity with a moral norm. Such norms are to be simply obeyed by each moral agent; such norm-keepings are not to be maximized by each agent. In this sense, for such deontologists, the Right is said to have priority over the Good. If an act is not in accord with the Right, it may not be undertaken, no matter the Good that it might produce (including even a Good consisting of acts in accordance with the Right). 
In today's society, one commonly sees deontological thinking in the area of lying. Leviticus 19:11 says quite plainly, "Do not lie," and the New Testament echoes this injunction in Colossians 3:9 when it says, "Do not lie to each other." (Both, NIV) And God Himself is not a liar. (Titus 1:2) And God's ethics certainly call on us to be truthful in all circumstances. But what happens when that injunction against lying might cause injury to another person creating an ethical dilemma? Talk show host Dennis Prager uses the illustration of a person hiding Jews during the Holocaust who is confronted by Nazi soldiers who demand to know if any Jews are in the home and the only acceptable answers are "yes" or "no." The example is intended to set up an dilemma: if the person hiding Jewish people responds "yes" thereby keeping the moral directive to not lie, she does so at the expense of the lives of innocent Jews and therefore follows deontological reasoning. If, however, she says "no," she breaks the moral directive by lying but she saves the lives of the innocent people hiding from persecutors, thus following the teleological or consequentialist approach to ethics. (People sometimes develop fanciful alternatives where one somehow saves the lives without lying, but the point of the dilemma is that there is no other choices - lie and innocent people live, or don't lie and innocent people die.) What is the moral thing to do?

Huck is faced with a similar dilemma, but in his mind he has temporarily elevated the proscription against stealing above the obvious humanity of Jim. Fortunately, Huck is able to pierce the fog of what he has been incorrectly taught to believe, and he finds emerging a simple truth - he cares for Jim, and Jim is more than property. And this simple fact leads him to a final decision:
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.
No Huck, you won't go to hell for following God's law even when you don't recognize it as God's law. It's just a shame that the Southern ministers contributed to his belief that helping a man made in the image of God to find freedom is less important to an obligation to return stolen property -- especially where the property isn't really property at all.

It's been three years since I put out m ebook Jesus Was a Mushroom and Other Lies You Won't Believe. To celebrate the anniversary, and the fact that we have a President now who thinks Alex Jones is a great guy, here's a bit of the ebook on the Washington Monument.
This one would have to be a second favorite of the conspiracy theorists. It stands right at the axes of the nation’s capital (Michael Bednar, L’Enfan’t’s Legacy), so it serves the very purpose we’ve said an obelisk is supposed to serve. If that’s the case, why read more into it?
The first thing that makes the conspiracy theorists suspicious is that the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid by Benjamin French, who was a Freemason. Well, it’s true that he was, as confirmed even by the National Park Service.  But so what? That’s only a problem if you assume the Masons are up to no good. But as we’ll see later in this book, there’s no reason to think they are.
Second, it might be pointed out that a lot of Masonic lodges contributed to the building of the Washington Monument, and left memorial stones in it. Well, it’s true that some lodges did this, about 24 of them, but that’s out of a total of 193 memorial stones, which means Masons have contributed only about 12% of the stones. That’s not very impressive for a vast conspiracy, especially when you also had a lot of stones contributed by groups like, "The International Order of Odd Fellows."
The third thing that gets these guys upset are the measurements of the Washington Monument. For them, these numbers add up to bad news:
“At the ground level, each side of the Washington Monument measures 55.5 feet, which is 666 inches.”
The math is right, but the measurement isn’t. It’s actually 55 feet, one and a half inches, which makes it 661 ½ inches. Maybe instead of the Mark of the Beast, it can be the neighbor of the beast!
“The height of the Washington Monument is 555.5 feet which is 6,666 inches.”
Again, the math is right, but the measurement is wrong. Or maybe it isn’t. The thing is that there has been more than one report of the height. According to the National Park Service, the Monument's height has been variably reported between 555.43 feet and 555.75 feet. Maybe the Washington Monument is only the Mark of the Beast on the weekends!
Now, someone might say, “OK, but that’s so close on both counts, someone was obviously up to something.” Really? Like what? Here are a few things to consider.
First, there’s a good deal of the Monument that’s below ground, which makes the actual height of the structure more like 592 feet. Second, we have to ask: What do conspiracy theorists think anyone was trying to accomplish by matching up the height to the number of the beast? Do they think people will want to worship the beast because of it? Is this supposed to be some kind of subliminal advertising for Satan? Do you know anyone who’s converted to Satanism because of these measurements? I sure don’t!
Some of these guys tell us that the numbers convey a message to the initiated about the importance of America in the plan of some New World Order. Well, can I ask a really dumb question? Why would the “initiated” need the Washington Monument to get this information? Can’t they just tell each other verbally, or with secret signs? Or, how about just talking in a corner somewhere? They obviously have to do something like that to tell each other what these numbers mean in the first place. So why bother spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction costs towards engineering a giant obelisk to relate the same message? Or, is this some kind of weird, childish, "ha ha we know something you don’t know" game the “initiated” are playing with the rest of us?
If that’s what it is, I’d say let the conspiracy run its course. The "initiated" are so dumb that they’ll likely all soon die in some sort of freak accident involving a calculator.

Everyone loves Mr. Spock - except those people who mistake him with Dr. Spock, the baby doc, whose advice to mothers in the 50s ruined a generation (but that's another story for another day). No, Mr. Spock is not Dr. Spock. Mr. Spock (or Commander Spock) is that lovable, living, breathing computer-of-a-man who has dedicated his life to logic and facts. For those of us who grew up watching Mr. Spock - which pretty much includes everyone 60 years of age or younger - he represented something to which all could aspire; a person who values logic above emotion. And of course, whenever I do apologetics on the Internet, both sides try to claim the mantle of Mr. Spock. Everyone wants to claim that they are the one being logical while the opponent is being illogical.

Because I already know based upon the comments that twist what I have written in previous posts that someone is going to claim that "BK hates logic" or some other similar nonsense, let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with trying to be logical. It's crucially important that we avoid using logical fallacies when arguing - both formal and informal. In fact, failure to follow the rules of logic will result in nonsensical arguments. Consider, for example, the following syllogism:

Syllogism 1:
Premise 1: All atheists are fools,
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is not a fool.

If Syllogism 1 causes your blood pressure to rise, you are probably an atheist. If it causes you to chuckle, you are probably a theist. But regardless if the syllogism makes you angry or amused, it is not the emotional response that determines if the syllogism is valid. Rather, it is the logical form. Effectively, this syllogism is in the form of:

Syllogism 2:
Premise 1:All X are Y,
Premise 2: Z in an X,
Conclusion: Therefore, Z is not Y.

But wait, that syllogism doesn't make sense, does it? If Z is an X, and all X are Y, then it must be the case that Z is Y. My syllogism concludes that Z is not Y. So, obviously the syllogism fails as written. In other words, it's form is not valid. Instead, it should conclude that Richard Dawkins is a fool.

Syllogism 3:
Premise 1:All atheists are fools,
Premise 2: Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion: Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a fool.

That, then, is a valid logical argument.

But wait, one might ask, what about the premises? What if they aren't true? After all, I am certain a large number of readers would disagree that all atheists are fools even if Richard Dawkins is a fool. Well, the truth of the premises goes to the "soundness" of the argument. The soundness of the argument isn't based on it's logical form, but on the truth of its premises. There are always two questions that need to be asked in any argument: (1) is the form logically valid, and (2) are the premises true? If the answer to both is affirmative, then the argument becomes sound.

I feel confident that we can all agree that logic is important in making arguments. If we make an argument using a flawed logical form, i.e., the formal logic is flawed, we ought to be called out and corrected. The problem is when someone makes the "you're argument is illogical" claim, it is very rare that they are pointing out that an argument is not valid, i.e., the formal logic does not lead to the conclusion because it is flawed (like Syllogism 1 and Syllogism 2, above). So, most of the time, when someone tries to bring out their inner-Spock and claim the argument high-ground by claiming that something is illogical, what they almost always really mean is: (1) one or more of the premises are untrue, or (2) the argument uses an informal logical fallacy. I will not deal with the second problem here (I believe posts should be short), but I do want to make one point about the first.

I am certain that there are very few people making arguments about God, Christianity or the Bible who do not believe that their premises are true. (I expect there are "fake arguments" just like there is "fake news", but I think that very few people make an argument knowing or believing that their premises are false. That would be deceitful, and while there are certainly some people who are being deceitful, I choose to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.) But often the problem isn't that the premises aren't true. Instead, especially when arguing about the truth of the premises in the field of religion, the biggest problem is often a lack of common language. In other words, we are using different definitions or come from different world-views which those unfamiliar with the language's use in particular cultures mistakenly call "illogical."

As an example, consider Syllogism 3, above. My first premises is pretty controversial: All atheists are fools. Atheists and others may read that premises as meaning that all atheists are unintelligent, half-witted, or lacking in good sense. They justifiably believe that's what the syllogism means because those are all perfectly legitimate definitions or synonyms of "foolish." But that may not be what I meant at all. I may simply using the term consistent with the Biblical statement that "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1) In other words, my definition of a fool may simply be "a person who has said in their heart that there is no God." If that is true, then let's substitute what I may have meant into Syllogism 3:

Syllogism 4:
Premise 1:All atheists are people who have said in their heart that there is no God,
Premise 2:Richard Dawkins is an atheist,
Conclusion:Therefore, Richard Dawkins is a person who has said in his heart that there is no God.

Is Syllogism 4 valid? Yes, the form of the argument has no flaws. Are the premises true? Yes, I would doubt that anyone would argue that the premises of Syllogism 4 are false. Is the argument sound? Yes, the form is valid and the premises are true. Is Syllogism 4 any different than Syllogism 3 when the terms are defined? No, they are the same argument - both are equally sound. Yet, I expect that people will still object to Syllogism 3. But understand that the reason you are objecting is due to the connotation that the word "fool" carries, but it is not because it is illogical. If you object that Syllogism 3 is illogical after having the definition of the term "fool" given, then you are simply allowing emotion to overtake your logic and you would not be living up to the high calling of Mr. Spock to be logical.

The call that someone is not being logical is way overused in Internet debate. I would like to encourage everyone - theists and atheists alike - to try to be more gracious and give people the benefit of the doubt that they are logical, thinking beings.


Addendum 2/16/2017 - After posting this, it occurred to me how it could be turned into something I did not say. So, let me add an additional thought. This post does not represent a call to come up with independent definitions of words. I could see something like this occurring:

Person 1: "All Christians are jerks" (or something worse).
Person 2: "Well, that's kinda' offensive."
Person 1: "Well, I'm defining 'jerk" (or the even more offensive term) as a really nice person, so you have no right to be offended."

I am not using this to call for this type of banter. What I am doing here is simply suggesting that in reviewing arguments for logic, we stick to logic. And when we review things for logic, we don't call things logical fallacies that are not logical fallacies. Talk that is wrong is wrong regardless of its logical component. It is not an invitation to start re-defining words.

At the always interesting Thinking Christian blog, Tom Gilson does a quick review of part of a new book by the alarmingly short-sighted John Loftus.  Personally, I don’t like to give the aforementioned Mr. Loftus any recognition on this blog because he is remarkably uninformed about Christian thought even by atheist standards. (For the remainder of this post, I will treat him like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter by referencing him as “he-who-shall-not-be-named” in this post, I don't do so because I am afraid of him or his arguments, but only because he tends to ensnare poor agnostics in his web of deceit and should not be given a further platform from which to be heard.) But since Gilson raises his new book in the Thinking Christian blogpost, I have little choice but to mention his name at least at the outset.

In his post, Gilson responds to an argument advanced by he-who-shall-not-be-named in his latest book (which he uncharacteristically sent as a promotional copy to Gilson – something that he wouldn’t do for me when he learned that I would attack the arguments in his first book). The argument advanced is that God is incompetent because “God, if he exists, failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe.” Gilson, as usual, puts that argument in the trash heap rather quickly. And he does so by correctly pointing to the free will defense. As Gilson points out:

For there is a very long and strong tradition of teaching, both in Christian theology and apologetics, that God created humans to be able freely to love and follow him. Such freedom necessitates the possibility of choosing otherwise.
Gilson later adds:
[He-who-shall-not-be-named] wants a God who would coerce all of us by the irresistible power of deity into believing in him, while leaving us free to make our own choice whether to like God or not. Either that or else he wants a God who would force us both to know and to love him. So much for being human.
I am writing this post to add one more thought to what Gilson has already so ably written. The thought is this: Even if God discloses Himself to doubters like he-who-shall-not-be-named in all of God’s glory, those who have freewill are not forced to accept Him for who He is. In other words, even if God were to provide full evidence that He exists by absolutely revealing Himself to every man, woman and child on Earth, it does not mean that every man, woman and child on Earth would follow him. I believe that this is the case for two reasons.

Mankind's unending capacity to deny the obvious

First, mankind has an extraordinary ability to deny the obvious. While I know that fiction is fiction, I believe that novels and stories can reveal a lot about the human condition. Thus, when I speak about people denying the obvious, I think of Charles Dickens’ great, short classic, A Christmas Carol. The story is so familiar it hardly seems necessary to detail the plot, so I will simply note that in one scene in the first chapter, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his ex-partner, Jacob Marley. At first, Scrooge is terrified, but then he begins to reject that he is being visited by a spirit from the dead. Marley and Scrooge then engage in this bit of repartee:
“You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.

“I don't," said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"

“I don't know," said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?"

“Because,'' said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!''
Now, I am not suggesting that skepticism isn’t appropriate, but for some people (like he-who-shall-not-be-named) skepticism has become an end and not the means to an end. It is to the point where an Angel could appear at the foot of his bed, blow a trumpet to announce that God was about to enter the scene causing all of the windows in the room to shatter, and he-who-shall-not-be-named would still doubt what he is seeing. In fact, he wouldn’t just doubt what he witnessed with this own eyes, he would treat the Angel's appearance like a magician’s trick that needs to be solved. Skepticism as a means is replaced by skepticism as an end.

God's full revelation wouldn't change anything for the unbeliever

Second, the Bible already shows that simply seeing God face to face does not prevent someone from falling into sin. The most readily known example is Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. They walked with God in the garden as you and I might do with a friend, yet they were deceived by the devil (another being who should also be called he-who-shall-not-be-named) into sinning against God. They had come to know God, but due to their desire to be “in charge of their own lives” (effectively to be their own gods – a fault we continue to share these many millennia later), they chose to turn away from the one who had revealed Himself.

He-who-shall-not-be-named may argue that God had not revealed himself “in all of his glory” to Adam and Eve, and possibly cite Exodus 33:22 for the proposition that no one can see God’s face and live. To that point, I respond by pointing to Old Scratch – the aforementioned devil – who demonstrates that one can see God in his full glory and still not love Him or be accepting of His Kingdom. Satan definitely saw God in all of His glory while Satan was one of God’s angels in heaven. But seeing God in all his glory was not enough to Satan. He loved himself more than God, and as a result he fell from high heaven. And he wasn’t alone – he took a third of the heavenly hosts with him. (See, e.g., How Did Lucifer Fall and Become Satan? by Ron Rhodes)

Does he-who-shall-not-be-named have a high opinion of himself? Unfortunately, he is like many atheists who believe themselves to be smarter than the rest of us (which is demonstrated easily by their efforts to name themselves “Brights”).  Pride, after all, was the cause of the fall of Satan. The desire to have things their own way was the cause of the fall of Adam and Eve. This is the reason that God wants us to love him and not just believe in Him. Even the demons believe, but they perish (James 2:19). It is only those that love Him and accept His gifts who receive salvation. Those that love themselves more than God will spend eternity with themselves rather than with God – that is a natural consequence when self-love is elevated over love of God, and that self-love doesn’t happen because God has not revealed himself fully enough, but because the skeptic foolishly loves himself too much.

No, God has not revealed Himself too little. Billions of people throughout history have responded to the call of the Gospel and recognized that loving God is far better than loving one’s-self based upon the evidence we have been given. The evidence is more than sufficient to any who is truly seeking God rather than seeking to elevate themselves.

excavation in 1999

Saturday, August 18, 2012

This was written back im 2012 I have no idea where the Naz question is today, But this was the last I wrote on it, This is a side bar to the article i did last Monday on sophistical Jesus,

December of 2010 I did a piece updating a controversy from the early days (late 90s) of my apologetical life: the question of Nazareth as inhabited in the time of Christ. Of cousre the mythers say no. The Pfan excavation, which they had been sighting as documentation for their view (it was going around big time, every message board had posts on the mythers using Pfan excavation. I'm the who actually got hold of the guy to find his findings and who read his article to see they were misquoting him. Now a new gang is saying his findings were no good (now that they know he doesn't back them).

my most recent article on this topic, both on the Religious a prori and on Atheist watch is found here. My oldest article is on Doxa.

I recieved a comment to that old post from 2010:

Anne Carly Abad says:

I read this article about Nazareth:

And the author debunks the dating of some of Pfann's findings, claiming "It consists of eleven small pieces of pottery—shards to which the NVF scholars assign an early date but which the standard textbook dates as late as the second century CE. In other words, the NVF scholars were choosing arbitrarily early dates for a few objects, and resting their Jesus-case on what amounts to mere preference. Significantly, in my book I show that the rest of the material from the Nazareth basin dates after the time of Jesus. So, an early dating for the NVF objects in question is not consistent with the evidentiary profile for the area."

What is your take on this?
Looking at the sight she documents this is one of the most biased pro-myther sights.
Mythicist Papers
Resources for the study of Christian origins

(American Atheist, January 2009. Used with permission.)

an article entitaled "Nazareth, Faith, and the dark option an update:"

By René Salm

American Atheist has always championed the no-nonsense view of religion, and readers may note with a certain pride that this magazine has now emerged as a leading—if not the leading—advocate for the wholesale revision of Christian beginnings. Atheists have never shirked the challenge to take on the goliath of establishment Christianity, and today that challenge must include the controversial archaeology of Nazareth, which Frank Zindler has called “the Achilles’ heel of a popular god.” Readers will recall two articles in previous American Atheist issues on this topic [1], articles which preview and alert readers to my recent book, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus(American Atheist Press, March 2008). The opposition has now responded with the literary equivalent of a scream, and I’d like readers to know that the popular Christian god is in a heap of trouble and may be teetering.
How is that for strident? There's no question these guys are in a war, they fighting an evil enemy, they are the good guys (or course) they have the truth. It's pretty clear from their article that their real arguments revolves around commercial interest who seek to make money off of the "Jesus home town" thing. That has nothing to do with Pfan's excavation. If you look at the history of this site these same guys have been spewing the same propaganda for years. they have produced a mounds of lies about it. Most of the Google picks are from these sites, the same people the same lies. They are all basically filling in the data for the two major atheist authors, Rene Salm, The Myth of Nazareth And Frank Zindler. Zindler is is currently the editor of American Atheist Magazine and Director of American Atheist Press. A member of scientific organizations such as New York Academy of Science. No indication he has any degree in Archeology. I am not able to find any credentials for Salm. The best article I've found defending the idea of habitation in the time of Christ, and arguing specifically against the original work of Zindler and Salm is an article on an apologetic site by a Kyle Butt. I'll come back to him latter in this article.

They always ignore the previous findings, they never reveal that they first used Pfan as their own before they understood him. They pretend the pot shards are the only pro Naz evidence and totally ignore the terraces, the houses, the first two excavations that are just written off because they were done by Franciscans. In the day (1930s--50s) Franciscan archaeologists were authoritative scholars. This was before the new atheist refused to believe anything a religious person says. These are the same guys and the same Orwellian movement that run around going "we don't to know what theolgoians we know they are stupid."

This is hardly scholarly stuff. So who is the alleged scholar making the statements about Pfan's findings? You don't just look in a text book to determine the dating pot shards. I no longer have the original stuff I used to use on Nazareth, nor the article on Pfan's work but as I recall there's a lot more to it than just some pottery. There were prior excavations to his that arleady determined Nazareth was inhabited. Some of my research can still be seen on my old site Doxa. From that article:

First of all it's important to realize that Nazareth was only four miles from a major metropolis. It's hard to believe it wasn't inhabited until so late being that close to a major city.

There two mentions in Antiquity:

"Despite the Hellenization of the general region and the probability that Greek was known to many people it seems likely that Nazareth remained a conservative Jewish village. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. This, by the way, is the sole known reference to Nazareth in antiquity, apart from written Christian sources... (next paragraph) Some scholars had even believed that Nazareth was a fictitious invention of the early Christians; the inscription from Caesarea Maritima proves otherwise." Paul Barnett[BSNT], Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, IVP:1990, p.42:

Also from my original article:

occupied since 7th century BC 

"Despite Nazareth's obscurity (which had led some critics to suggest that it was a relatively recent foundation), archeology indicates that the village has been occupied since the 7th century B.C., although it may have experienced a 'refounding' in the 2d century b.c. " ([MJ]A Marginal Jew--Rethinking the Historical Jesus, (vol 1), p.300-301)...cites Meyers and Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity, Abingdon:1981. pp.56-57
Galyaah Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible Book by Book .(NY: Harper and Row 1976) p. 284 "What concretely about first century Nazereth? In the first two centuries AD it was a modest village built on Rocky soil in a valley far from the main trade routes [this was before Sarapis was discovered]...Two excavations, one led by Fther P. Viaud the other by Bagatti led to the discovery of the traditional site of the annunciation to Mary and the place which Jesus frequented as a growing lad...excavations of inscriptions there bear witness to a Jewish Christian cult of Mary from the very earliest times..." Some of those inscriptions also go back to the middle of the first century and identfy the place as the that of Jesus' boyhood home!

Excavations of Naz
Nazaraeth The Village of Jessu, Mary and Joseph
Franciscan cyerspot
The church of the Annunciation stands over the extreme southern end of the ancient village. Having examined the site occupied by the church of 1730, the outline of the Crusader church became clearer. In the northern nave the Crusaders had left the rocky elevation of the grotto and between two pilasters had made a stairway to the shrine. The excavations of 1955 unveiled the plan of the Byzantine church. Orientated as that of the Crusaders, it had 3 naves, with a convent to the S and an atrium to the W. It was 40 m. in length. Delving under the Byzantine construction the franciscan archaeologists found plastered stones with signs and inscriptions, which certainly formed part of a preexisting building on the site.

Excavations of the church led the pre Pfan archaeologist to conclude the place was already inhabited since pre Christian times. There's a lot about Pfan's work on that site too. I suggest the reader read the original article.

The mythers have been so angered they have over the years published a huge amount of Bull about this topic. most of what you find on Googling it is their propaganda. For example the site "Nazareth the town that theology built" is nothing but pure hog wash. The arguments on that site are so contradictory that he starts out making arguments from sensible 'the gospels don't tell us much about Nazareth" as though that disproves it's existence. then he also says the Gospels don't mention the major city it's near, Sepphoris, as though that somehow disproves its existence! Not mentioning Nazareth disproves Nazareth and not mentioning a place we know for a fact did exist also disproves Nazareth?

A source so unlikely it can't possibly be confused with Christian apologetic, the left leaning Guardian publishes an article about the discovery of Roman Baths at Nazareth, implying it was a Garrison town.

The American excavators are convinced that what Shama has exposed is an almost perfectly preserved Roman bathhouse from 2,000 years ago - the time of Christ, and in the town where he was raised. In a piece of marketing that is soon likely to be echoing around the world, Shama says he has stumbled across the "bathhouse of Jesus". The effects on Holy Land tourism are likely be profound, with Nazareth becoming a challenger to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as the world's most popular site of Christian pilgrimage.
Professor Richard Freund, an academic behind important Holy Land digs at the ancient city of Bethsaida, near Tiberias, and Qumran in the Jordan Valley, says the significance of the find cannot be overstated. Over the summer he put aside other excavation projects to concentrate on the Nazareth site. "I am sure that what we have here is a bathhouse from the time of Jesus," he says, "and the consequences of that for archaeology, and for our knowledge of the life of Jesus, are enormous."

David Hall, an amateur researcher.

Bellarmino Bagatti reported that during construction of shops along the Tiberias road there were found artifacts from the Iron, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods outside of the central Franciscan area. These finds were unpublished until Bagatti reported them Excavations in Nazareth, Bagatti, 1969, pg. 237. The Tiberias road passed by within about a couple of blocks to the north-east of the the Church of the Annunciation. A Franciscan guidebook indicated the Roman village of Nazareth was between the Church of Joseph and the Church of the Annunciation on a hill bounded by two valleys that are at this time partially filled in. Tombs were located outside of towns during Roman and Talmudic times. Hebrew tombs have been found to the N, S, and W of the ruins. Guide to the Holy Land, E. Hoade, Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1976

Bagatti also reported Herodian lamp fragments from grottos and rock carved silos under the Franciscan churches and subterranean areas of church compounds. All types of pots, jugs, jars, plates, pans, bottles, etc. from the Roman and Byzantine periods were found on church grounds. There were also Hellenistic forms found on church grounds with photos of the Hellenistic- Roman series of lamps provided. Bagatti stated that the area was occupied before and after the first Jewish revolt (66-70 A.D.). Herodian lamps and lamp fragments were distinctive in style and part of the evidence used to date the area. The Jewish Herodian lamps were at the height of their popularity before the Jewish revolt. After the Jewish revolt the Darom type lamp that was not wheel made, but mould made like other Roman lamps instead, was popular.

In 2002 Archaeologist Stanislao Loffreda published drawings of a rare type of lamp unique to first century Galilee. The lamp was found in Nazareth, Capernaum, Magdala, and Karm er-Ras (near Cana). The lamp was found in a datable strata in Capernaum. Capernaum yielded numerous Roman coins to the excavators, thus the strata and context there was more readily understood. This is additional evidence in support of the first century habitation of Nazareth.

Kyle Butt M.A.
(Yes I see it, it's no joke)

The town of Nazareth is “located in the southern end of the hills of Lower Galilee at about 1200 feet above sea level” (McRay, 1991, p. 157). Nazareth is about four miles southwest of Sepphoris. During the time of Christ, Sepphoris was the capital of Galilee, a major center of political and economical activity, and home of Herod Antipas (DeVries, 1997, p. 318). Primary research was done on the city in the mid-1950s by Bellarmino Bagatti. He discovered that the village during the time of Jesus was “an agricultural settlement with numerous winepresses, olive presses, caves for storing grain, and cisterns for water and wine” (1969, p. 25). McRay noted that pottery found in Nazareth dates “from Iron Age II (900-600 B.C.) to the Byzantine period (330-640), including Roman pieces from the time of Christ” (p. 158). Bagatti stated:
The entire village of Nazareth has very many subterranean cavities, some used as
The Church of the Annuciation in Nazareth
stores, some used as tombs. The earliest documentation is indicated both by their form and the ceramics found therein. The latter put us in the presence of tombs already existing in the Middle Bronze Period, and silos already in use in the Iron Period (1969, p. 25).

So it was inhabited before Christ, the people went away, then came back after the time of Christ? For the atheist propaganda to be true that would have to be the case. In fact this is the theory proposed by the atheist propagandist Rene Salm, the Myth of Nazareth. He bases that on his asserton that no artifacts are found between 700bc t0 50 AD. His argument is argument from silence and it's disproved not only by Pfan but all three excavations found evidence of first century habitation. In 2009 achaeolgoical evidence of a house was found at the site.

In December of 2009, Nazareth made worldwide headlines. Archaeologist Yardena Alexandre and her colleagues uncovered a small structure that they dated to the time of Christ (Hadid, 2009). The Israel Antiquities Authority official press release hailed this discovery as the first of its kind in which a residential structure was uncovered. The announcement noted the importance of the discovery, and quoted Yardena:
The discovery is of utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CENazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period (as quoted in “Residential Building...,” 2009). (ibid)
Salm's book was in 2006 so he didn't know about the data. Now the problem is this data was done by pottery too but there's no reason to think Yerdena's Pottery dates are wrong.

The dating method used by Yardena and her team, of matching pottery from the site to other pottery in an attempt to properly identify the time frame of the dig, is one of the most frequently used dating methods in archaeology. McRay mentioned this dating method as one of the most effective:
The potters of antiquity were careful imitators but reluctant innovators.... At any rate style did seem to change from period to period, slowly but decisively, and we are now able to observe those changes in style and from them establish a chronology. The methodology is not exact, but within reasonable limitations it does provide a workable typology upon which to construct a fairly reliable chronology (1991, p. 32). (ibid)

Another major dating method is lamps. Salm plays fast and loose with the lamp evidence. He adopts the date range that does his theory the most good and ignores that fact that a lot of evidence exists to date the lamps at the earlier range which would put habitation in Nazareth as late as 37 bc that would destroy his theory that they went away and came back. As Butt points out, even we accept the latter range as does Salm that still implies habitation in the time of Christ.

The incipience of a village is not equivalent to the arrival of the first settlers at the site. No village springs up overnight. It requires a certain amount of time—perhaps a generation or two—to come into existence.... The presence of tombs [in Nazareth] indicates both permanence and population, and it is strongly suggestive of a “village.” Thus, the earliest tomb at Nazareth is a significant clue regarding the existence of a village. Determining its date will be an important goal of these pages. The period of tomb use can be revealed by dating funerary artefacts found in situ (pp. 156-157, italics in orig.).
There are lamps found in the tombs. These are the bow spouted lamps that indexed in dating from their use in Jerusalem.

Thus, according to Salm’s reasoning, tombs show the presence of a village, and settlers in the area could/would have been in the area possibly two generations before that village came into existence. Using Salm’s personally concocted date of A.D. 25 for the earliest date of the lamps, that means that the earliest tomb could possibly date to A.D. 25. And, if settlers were in the area two generations before that (using 40 years as a generation), that would put people in the area in about 55 B.C. Taking that into account, there is absolutely no way that Salm can prove that Nazareth was not inhabited during the time of Christ. The most he can do is suggest that, if his arbitrarily chosen dates are adopted, it seems improbable. Yet even this “improbability” does not accord well with the ranges of dates that are often adopted for such artifacts as the “Herodian” lamps. (Butt article)

I recommend Jesus and His world: the Archaeological Evidence by Carig Evans.

Craig A. Evans is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. The author or editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles, Evans is a regular guest on many national media outlets, including Dateline NBC, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, and BBC. He is an internationally distinguished authority and lecturer on the historical Jesus. For more information, visit
Evens is the only real scholar in this article. His book is highly authoritative but written to be accessible tot he layman. The publisher's blurb:
In this provocative work, world-renowned scholar Craig A. Evans presents the most important archaeological discoveries that shed light on the world of Jesus of Nazareth. Evans takes on many sensational claims that have been proposed in recent books and peddled in the media, and uses actual archaeological findings to uncover the truth about several key pieces of Jesus' world. For example, what was the village of Nazareth actually like in the time of Jesus? Did synagogues really exist, as the Gospels say? What does archaeology tell us about the ruling priests who condemned Jesus to death? Has the tomb of Jesus really been found, as has been claimed? Evans's engaging prose enables readers to understand and critique the latest theories--both the sober and the sensational--about who Jesus was and what he lived and died for.

Evans article in Huff Post
Posted: 03/26/2012 7:30 am

The archaeological evidence shows that Jesus grew up in a small village, Nazareth, about four miles from Sepphoris, a prominent city in the early first century C.E. This city had a Greco-Roman look, complete with paved, columned street, but its inhabitants were observant Jews. The evidence further shows that Nazareth was linked to a network of roads that accommodated travel and commerce. The quaint notion that Jesus grew up in rustic isolation has been laid to rest. The youthful Jesus may well have visited Sepphoris, whose theatre may have been the inspiration for his later mockery of religious hypocrites as play-actors.

The evidence for the existence of synagogue buildings in the time of Jesus is now quite strong. Archaeologists have identified at least seven such buildings that date before the year 70. It is in the context of the synagogue that Jesus would have matured in the religious tradition of Israel and heard Scripture read and interpreted. Although some historians think rates of literacy in the first-century Roman Empire were quite low, archaeological finds, such as the tablets found in Vindolanda, England, near Hadrian's Wall, or the thousands of graffiti etched on the scorched walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum, suggest that at least a crude literacy was widespread and reached all levels of society. This evidence, along with the Gospels' portrait of a Jesus who debates scribes and ruling priests, asking them if they had ever read this or that passage of Scripture, suggests that Jesus, founder of a movement that produced and collected literature, was himself literate.

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