CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

A few years ago, Mo Collins and Bob Newhart teamed up to create a very funny skit about a woman who visits a psychiatrist due to her fear of being buried alive in a box. Bob Newhart, obviously comfortable with playing the part of a psychiatrist after playing the same role for many years on the Bob Newhart show, gives Mo Collins some advice that she does not expect.



Obviously, Newhart plays an awful psychiatrist in this clip, and it is fortunate that psychiatrists and psychologists generally exhibit more knowledge, skill and care than Newhart's psychiatrist in the skit. People afflicted with any number of a wide array of emotional and mental wellness issues will almost certainly not respond well to a directive to "stop it" as the best method for treating a person with deep-seated psychiatric concerns.

While it is possible to make light of psychiatric issues, the issues themselves are quite real and require the care of a knowledgeable and caring psychiatrist or psychologist. In fact, in my present primary job I work with a lot of people who suffer from various emotional wellness and mental health issues. I have worked directly or indirectly with people who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD and borderline personality disorder. Caring for these issues is incredibly difficult even with the help of trained psychiatrists and psychologists. And these are the issues that are actually harder for trained professionals to handle than conditions that are the result of dysfunction in the brain such as seizures.

Have you ever observed a seizure? The first time you see a grand mal (aka tonic clonic) seizure, it can totally freak you out. Several of the people that I support have seizure disorders, and I have grown accustomed to seizures and recognize them as simply a part of life for many people. While the majority of the American population has never observed a seizure, seizures remain among the most common neurological disorders. Around 65 million people around the world are afflicted with a seizure disorder. One may ask, if seizures are so common, shouldn't those that study the brain would know everything about them? Despite expectations, the answer is that doctors still no very little about seizures. According to WebMD,

Although epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders involving the nervous system, experts often cannot explain exactly how or why the disease develops and how or why the abnormal electrical activity in the brain occurs. Epilepsy does not always follow a predictable course. It can develop at any age and may get worse over time or get better.
The simple fact is that while doctors know that seizures are primarily caused by an interruption of electrical activity in the brain, and while they know some of the past events in a person's life that may lead to seizures, no one is really sure what causes any particular individual to develop a seizure condition or what can be done to fix the brain so that the person is "cured" of having seizures. The most common and least perilous treatment that doctors can undertake is to prescribe medications that reduce the incidents or moderate the severity of seizures. The only other somewhat common seizure treatment is for doctors to remove portions of the brain that are experiencing seizures if the seizure disorder significantly impacts a person's life or may have become so severe as to threaten the individuals' health. Naturally, given the risks associated with surgery to the brain (especially the corresponding risks of the consequences that may follow from removing part of the person's brain), doctors are extremely reluctant to use surgery in response to seizures other than in extreme situations.

This is not too surprising because, in all sincerity, despite years of study and a great deal of funding of research, scientists know very little about the brain or its working. As the New York Times points out in an article appropriately entitled "Learning How Little We Know About the Brain":
Yet the growing body of data — maps, atlases and so-called connectomes that show linkages between cells and regions of the brain — represents a paradox of progress, with the advances also highlighting great gaps in understanding. So many large and small questions remain unanswered. How is information encoded and transferred from cell to cell or from network to network of cells? Science found a genetic code but there is no brain-wide neural code; no electrical or chemical alphabet exists that can be recombined to say “red” or “fear” or “wink” or “run.” And no one knows whether information is encoded differently in various parts of the brain.
This lack of understanding of the workings of the brain contributes to the fact that we simply don't know all that much about psychology. As the website Data Science & Psychology (a website maintained by Ravi Iyer, holder of "a PhD in Psychology from the University of Southern California and remains an active researcher, having published 20+ articles in leading peer-reviewed psychology journals over the past few years, most of which concern the empirical study of moral and political attitudes") points out:
The conclusions I reach on this blog are, like all social science research, uncertain, as no research on human psychology can really be conclusive, given the nature of the subject. The best we can do is to provide evidence toward any conclusion, and if enough evidence accumulates, then the chances of our conclusion being right are greater.
Now, if professionals cannot fully explain seizures (which is largely a physical condition - something is wrong with the mechanics of the brain), how much more difficult is it for them to explain psychological issues which are not primarily caused by physical problems in the brain? I can't tell you how many times I have heard from professionals words to the effect of "we simply don't know very much about the causes of these kinds of things." Please understand, I am not writing this to slam any psychiatrists or psychologists; they are largely good people who are working hard at coming to some type of understanding of how people think. The simple fact is that psychiatry is one of the least certain of all of the sciences because they simply have not been able to crack the details of how the brain works or how we really think.

Thus, I was more than a little surprised when someone recently made a comment on Cadre Comments and referred me to an article on Psychology Today by Psychologist Todd P. Kashdan, Ph.D. entitled "Why does religion persist? A look at bizarre ideas, hypocrisy and God's obsession with sex" as proof that Christianity is no more than a social construct. Specifically, the individual stated:
The overwhelming evidence suggests an explanation for why christianity [and all religions for that matter] persists is not that its narrative is true per se but that it is an epiphenomenal by-product of our need to make sense of the genetic and evolutionary drivers for human behaviour in the absence of modern scientific knowledge and understanding two thousand years ago that we now are so thankfully privy to.
Given how little we understand about how the brain and thinking work, I found it more than a little odd that someone would consider an article about how we think as constituting some type of incontrovertible truth that Christianity (and, in fact, all religion) is nothing more than an "epiphenomenal by-product". The author of the note did use the article to bolster his claim, but several reasons lead me to conclude that the supporting article is of doubtful value.

First, the article itself reflects little more than a prejudiced work of an atheist psychologist-- one who writes more like the silly New Atheists than like a person who has the temperament to think sufficiently carefully about the issues to become a Ph.D. One would expect that a Ph.D. would be a little careful with his claims, but not so with Dr. Kashsdan. Consider the first paragraph of the article where Dr. Kashdan states that his article is part of an on-going debate about religion in the pages of Psychology Today:
There has been debate as to the future of religion. I, for one, believe that religion is going to last for quite a long period of time. Despite scientific facts, philosophical arguments against the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient creator, undeniable evidence for Darwin's evolution theory, and ridicule, religion remains the norm.
Nothing like an unbiased article, eh? Oh, but the author isn't finished. Consider the second paragraph:
As a psychologist, the most interesting questions have nothing to do about whether or not God exists. An idea that cannot be proved or disproved and thus is trite, contrived, and appallingly boring.
Well, at least Dr. Kashdan and I share one viewpoint: an idea that cannot be proved or disproved is trite, contrived and appallingly boring. That's why I won't bother quoting from any of the rest of his article -- I carry a deep aversion to being bored. (Besides, it doesn't take a great psychoanalyst to recognize from the remainder of the article that Kashdan's real objection to Christianity is his own obsession with sex and how he thinks that religion represses it. Sad, really.)

Despite the obvious negative bias and lack of provability of his assertions, there are two other problems with the view that Christianity (and religion generally) is simply an epiphenomenal by-product. The first is that Dr. Kashdan's viewpoint certainly does not represent the views of all psychologists - and I would expect it doesn't even represent the views of a majority of the psychologists (admittedly, that is merely conjecture, but wild-eyed atheism doesn't attract as many converts as soft-spoken atheism). In fact, there are Christian psychologists - people who have the same degree as Dr. Kashdan -- who not only disagree with his prejudiced views, but who believe that psychology works best when Christian principles are part of the resolution. Thus, I don't believe that one atheist (who is obviously ill-informed about Christian thought) who hold an anti-religion bias writing an article (even if it is published in Psychology Today) provides insurmountable proof that Christianity (and religion generally) is somehow a by-product of brain processes.

Additionally, let's suppose for the sake of argument that the person who published the comment is correct and that religion is an epiphenomenal by-product, i.e., it is something that we would believe as a by-product of brain functioning or some type of evolutionary hang-on. Here's the question: does that mean that it is untrue?

There is an old saying which Joseph Heller used in Catch-22, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." Psychological states may make us more likely to believe something. They may incline us to believe or disbelieve a certain state of affairs as being true or right. But unlike many other religions, Christianity is not a religion that relies upon states of mind. Christianity is a religion that claims to be true based upon facts. It asks people to look at its claims and judge the truth of Christianity based on the evidence.

Some people will look at the evidence and reject it -- I think that they are wrong, but that's what the debate is about. Others will look at the evidence and agree that it is true. And while it is possible that one party may be more inclined to accept the evidence and the other party more inclined to reject the evidence based upon epiphenomenal influence, the question isn't whether one person's thinking is correct and the other person's thinking is deficient -- in fact, they are both equally influenced by their brain states, but that influence is not controlling for either party. The question is whether Christianity is true, and that is a question that can be answered independently of our brain states.

While I work on some baseline projects for Tekton, I'm going to repost a 2010 series that I originally posted on the Ticker blog back in 2010.  Looking at it again...it has only become more relevant today.

***
I have a series of commentaries to offer on the process of modern evangelism and its relation (or rather, in practice, lack thereof) to apologetics. We’ll begin with a thesis that I want to not only rock the boat with, but perhaps sink it as well:

Personal testimony is a damaging, destructive, and undesirable form of evangelism that ought to be abandoned.

This is a hard thesis to swallow, I know. Every evangelistic program makes personal testimony the centerpiece of evangelism. “Jesus can change your life, like he did mine” is the theme of every evangelist from Billy Graham on down the line. But let’s face it, for all the respect Graham and others may have accrued, it is clear that their practices have in the long run produced a raft of shallow converts (who sometimes “walk the aisle” and “make a decision” multiple times in their lives) and a church that is slowly dying in the West, and may well disappear in the next 30 years. As the saying goes, it is not so much foolish to do something that does not work, but to do it again and again expecting different and better results.

Here I’d like to start by explaining why personal testimony has been, and always will be, such a regrettable and ultimately useless (in the long run) evangelistic practice. I’ll present five reasons why personal testimony needs to be abandoned as a practice in evangelism. Then I’ll move to describing what I think needs to be put in its place.

Background to start: Some years back I wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal titled “When Apologetics Was Evangelism” which you can read at http://www.equip.org/PDF/DA820.pdf . I’ll be referring to it frequently in these next few essays; in part what I say here is an update to, and continuation of, what I wrote there, after some years of reflection. I’ll still allow that personal testimony can have a certain limited use -- inasmuch as it is a form of evidence, albeit of the weakest, most questionable sort – but I’ll further develop in later essays some points about how I think evangelism should be conducted (obviously – no secret here – with a far more apologetic slant). For today, though, here is one of five reasons why personal testimony should be generally banished from our evangelistic arsenal.

Reason One: It has enabled the illogical, absurd argument that Christianity’s truth claims can be gauged by the behavior of confessed Christians.

We’ve seen it time and time again from all the doubting sources - one of the most recent ones is William Lobdell, author of Losing My Religion.

Here’s how it goes, simply put: Benny Hinn or Jim Bakker or my Christian Aunt Fannie did this or that or other nasty thing, and how can we believe in a religion where the people do that? It’s an absurd argument, for it is patent that just because Bakker ripped off millions, or Aunt Fannie kicked her cat, has no bearing on whether Jesus rose from the dead in first century Palestine. It may tell us how sincerely such Christians believe in and adhere to their system, or apply it to their lives, but it has zero effect on determining the factual basis for that belief.

And of course, no atheist seems to gauge the truth of their belief based on the actions of Stalin; contrarily, they may raise the specter of Bakker or Aunt Fannie, but if they do, why aren’t St. Francis or William Wilberforce or my nice Aunt Susie an argument for Christianity? Are they going to convert if we count the noses and find more good than bad? Then switch back if "bad" gains numbers, and back again when "good" is more numerous, and on and on? Somehow, I don’t think so.

We can go on about the obvious illogic of the argument for a while – it also runs into the matter of some who try to use the likes of Jim Jones as disconfirming evidence! -- but the main point here, today, is that this sort of argument has been enabled by the use of personal testimony as an evangelistic tool. When, “Jesus changed my life” becomes one’s argument for someone to convert, “well, he obviously didn’t change so and so very well” becomes a legitimate counter. It isn’t sound as a response, for the reasons noted above. And obviously, I am not saying people would not make this sort of absurd argument anyway, even without personal testimony playing such an important role: These critics don’t need our help to make illogical arguments and do quite well on their own with them. But the point carries a lot more force when it is assumed that changing of life and behavior is the basis for conversion – and the primary basis at that, as is presented in modern evangelism.

If I am right here, it may be justly asked why it is that some people have had their lives changed as a result of becoming Christians. There’s an answer for that, and it has little to do with whether personal testimony is a valid means of evangelism: It is inevitable that giving someone a purpose for living – as inevitably, even a watered-down form of Christianity can do – will give them new direction, new purpose, and a new lease on life. With that of course will come something that can be made into what we call a personal testimony. But this doesn’t really give personal testimony a leg up as a tool for evangelism, because what people are “converting” to in these situations is more like an emotional experience and a guarantee of a changed life than a contractual or covenantal commitment to Christ as Lord.

I venture to say that some such people may not even have crossed the line into salvation; but such would be beyond what can be rightly judged, in general, and it is safest to say what is in evidence, in the very least, which is that we get from these conversions mostly shallow converts with no epistemic basis for their life in Christ.

And that, in turn, shall be the focus of my second reason for abandoning the practice of personal testimony, which will be posted next time.



One of the most well-known events in Scriptures is Jesus' exchange with Pontius Pilate at his trial as described in John 18. In verse 38 of that chapter, Pilate asks the question that may be the most ironic in the history of the world, "What is truth?"

A less known but equally intriguing saying of Jesus from an apologetics viewpoint can be found in Jesus' response to an earlier question in the same trial. It is a question that is not often quoted, but on those rare occasions when it is quoted, Jesus' response is often overlooked as not particularly important or relevant to today's world. However, it is my experience (as well as the experience of many people who have truly spent time studying the Scriptures) that little, if any, of what Jesus said in the Bible lacks significance across time.

To best understand the response, it's important to see the response in context. The situation is this: Jesus has been arrested following His betrayal by Judas Iscariot. He has appeared before the Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest, and is being brought by the Jews to stand trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate, for his part, appears to be rather shrewd, and discerns that the Jews are bringing Jesus to him with some unspoken, ulterior motive. Pilate asks, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" (John 18:29) Pilate wants to know what charges justify Jesus' appearance before Pilate, but it is reasonable to conclude that he really wants to know why the Jews are bringing Jesus before him instead of handling the situation on their own. The Jews answer in rather vague language, "If this man were not an evildoer we would not have delivered him to you." (John 18:30) Not much in the way of specifics are stated in their response - just an assurance that Jesus is evil and his appearance before Pilate was appropriate. Pilate tries to dismiss their efforts to involve him and responds, "Take him yourself and judge him according to your law." (John 18:31a)  The Jews, however, argued that Jesus deserved death for what he had done and he could not be killed without the Pilate's consent. More specifically, they want Jesus crucified under Roman law as an example to the people of the cost of standing up to the Pharisees.

Although the text does not specifically say everything that Pilate and the Jews said in their exchange, it is apparent that either Pilate already knew that Jesus was called the King of the Jews or the Jews accused Jesus of being the King, because Pilate went in and asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" If Jesus were leading a rebellion, that might constitute grounds for crucifying him under Roman law. Thus, it appears clear that Pilate is asking Jesus the question because he is trying to get him to say something to justify crucifixion.

What Jesus says next is actually quite significant even though it can be (and has been) treated superficially. According to John 18:33-34:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered, “ Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?"
Most commentaries interpret this verse as Jesus calling out Pilate for being a puppet of the Jews. In other words, they suggest that a good restatement of what Jesus is saying here would be: "You wouldn't be asking me that question if the Jews had not put you up to it." This is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of Jesus' words, and if that is how people understand/interpret it, I won't tell them that they're definitively wrong. But, at the same time, I don't think that that interpretation is the only way to understand Jesus' words, and it may be a rather shallow understanding of what Jesus meant. Just as many Bible verses have more than one layer of meaning, so too can Jesus' words in verse 34 be read as having a deeper application.

Instead of simply accusing Pilate of being a mouthpiece for self-righteous Jews who were seeking to gain political cover for his execution and have Jesus crucified as an example, perhaps Jesus was also asking a question of Pilate about the importance of the question to him personally. When Jesus asks Pilate if he is asking this of his own accord, perhaps a better interpretation of his words might be, "Are you asking because you want to know for yourself, or are you asking because you are seeking justification to hurt me?" In other words, Jesus was asking Pilate to confront his own heart. "Are you wanting to know if I am the King of the Jews because you want to know the truth about me, or are you asking on behalf of those who hate me?"

In this age of Internet evangelism, there are lots of people who spend time on discussion boards and who write or comment on blogs who are asking the question that has been asked since Jesus first asked the question of his disciples: Who is this Jesus? ("Who do you say that I am?) Is Jesus really God incarnate (God with us) or is he just a religious myth or fraud? As I have pointed out repeatedly, the problem is that many times those asking the questions in the toxic environment of the Internet are not serious when asking questions. They don't really care if he is the divine redeemer sent by God to redeem mankind from sin. Their motivation for asking questions about the Bible isn't to discern the truth, but to seek to dismiss him and to find fault with his body (which is his church, i.e., Christians).

Pilate, for his part, wasn't asking Jesus if he was the King of the Jews in order to find the truth of the claim. He was asking Jesus if he was the King of the Jews to establish a basis to do what the Jews were asking him to do - crucify him. Jesus, who had the ability to see into men's hearts (Luke 9:47), knew why Pilate was asking the question, and he was definitely not interested in the truth. In fact, when Jesus later tells Pilate that he has come to testify to the truth, Pilate responds with the aforementioned infamous question: "What is truth?" How can he be interested in truth when he doesn't know what truth is?

After years of engaging in discussions of the truth of Christ on-line (I have been engaging in Internet apologetics on-and-off for 17 years), it has become apparent to me that many (not all) unbelievers arguing against Christianity are very similar to Pilate. They ask questions - lots and lots of questions - but they ask not to learn the truth, but to attack Him or those who believe in Him. I expect that if they had ears to hear and asked honestly and openly, Jesus might give them the answers they seek and they might be open to actually hearing the truth. But alas, that is not what they do since that is nowhere near their heart.

The truth is Jesus is the truth. The truth is Jesus is the King. Search your heart and ask yourself, am I really asking these questions to seek the truth or to crucify Christ?

No Alternate Versions



 photo sacred-tree_zps54533af1.jpg
The tree of life from the creation story in Gilgamesh.

There are no alternate version's of the Jesus story. There are minor differences in different telling's but there are no other versions. For at least 200 years after the original events the very same major outline is kept as it was written in stone. Myth always proliferates but when everyone knows a story is true they don't dare change it. The fact that there's only one basic Jesus story tells us that it's probably a true story.

Argument:

1) Mythology tends to proliforate:multiple story versions are common

2) When historical facts are known to a wide audience, people tend not to deny the basic facts of an event.

...a) eye witnesses keep it stairght

...b) People who try to invent new aspects of the event are confronted with the fact that most everyone knows better.

...c) people know the story for a fact and just dont' bother to change it.

3) Story proliforations would probably influence further tellings, thus creating many more documents with different versions of the same story.

4) If a myth proliforates we would tend to find more versions of the same story, when there is only one version we can accept a degree of certainty that the story did not proliforate.
5) We do not find a proliforation of versions of the Jesus story in any sources we know of.
6) The most logical way to account for this single Jesus story is through p2, that everyone knew it was the case, there were too many eye witnesses to spread new versions.
...a) It is illogical to assume that everyone just liked it so they didn't add to it.

...b) There was no canonization process in place in the early period, and the single unified verison existed from the earliest trace of the story.

7)Therefore, we can assume that it is probably the case that the masses were familiar with the story of Jesus because the story reflects events known by all to be factual.

The main thing that myths do is change. Given enough time, a myth will transmography until the names of the heroes are different, how they died is forgotten and retold so many times, there came to be multiple versions of their death. Myths change over time, but history does not. People remember a basic event they know its real, they don't forget it. Herclues has two deaths, in one he's poisaned, in another shot with an arrow. There are about 14 versions of the Tamuz myth. But there is only one way for the guys at the Alamo to die, there is only one death for Arthur, and there is only one way that Jesus Christ is ver portrayed as dying, that's by the cross. Why? Because that's how he really died. No one could deny it, so no one ever propossed another method.

I have made the argument, on message boards, that there are no alternate versions of the basic Gospel story. The point being, there are many versions of most myths. The fact that with tons of "other Gospels" not a one of them before the fourth century gives an alternate account of Jesus life, death, burial and resurrection is a good indication that everyone knew the basic facts, they were public knowledge because they were history; these things happened before the community of Jerusalem, the whole community was a witness and no one could deny it.Now skeptics have responded that certain alternate Gospels deny the resurrection. They name the Apochraphon of James. This is not true. As will be seen from what I quote below James does mention the resurrection. Some of the latter Gnostics denied the theology of the Virginal conception, but they still allude to the story. They denied that Jesus' death was real, but they do not deny that it happened, only that he was not a flesh and blood being and so could not die. What they accept is that the illusion of a flesh and blood man lived on the earth and was taken for a real person why all who saw him.

That is a fundamental mistake of Dohrtey (the champion of the "Christ-myth" theory), he thinks all the action originally was set in a heavily realm, that is not the case. The Gnostics generally accepted that the illusion of a man was seen on earth and seemed to be living among men. So they just spiritualized the history of Jesus.Below I will quote from several "other Gospels" to show that they affirm the deity of Christ, the resurrection, that they include references to many of the stories and periscopes in the canonical Gospels, and that they assume the general outline of the story that we call "fact."

Of course this in and of itself is not "proof" of the Jesus story, but taken together with the other evidence, it makes a compelling case.

Myths have Multiple Versions

Myths Encyclopedia: Myths and Legends of the world.

"Hinduism and Mythology," accessed 10/23/15
"Most myths occur in several different versions, and many characters have multiple roles, identities, and histories. This seeming confusion reflects the richness of a mythology that has expanded and taken on new meanings over the centuries."

Read more: http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Go-Hi/Hinduism-and-Mythology.html#ixzz3pQPJKLPF Or:

Examples and documentation of Multiple versions of myth Mithra

Mithra comes from Persia and is part of Zoroastrian myth, but this cult was transplanted to Rome near the end of the pre-Chrsitian era. Actually the figure of Mithra is very ancient. He began in the Hindu pantheon and is mentioned in the Vedas. He latter spread to Persia where he took the guise of a sheep protecting deity. But his guise as a shepard was rather minor. He is associated with the Sun as well. Yet most of our evidence about his cult (which apparently didn't exist in the Hindu or Persian forms) comes from Post-Pauline times. Mitrha changed over time from Hindu patheon to persian sun god, to mystery cult savior.

(Marvin W. Meyer, ed. The Ancient Mysteries :a Sourcebook. San Francisco: Harper, 1987,, p. 201).

Dionysus

The Greek god Dionysos is said to be the god of wine, actually he began as a fertility god in Phrygian and in Macedonia, Thrace, and other outlying regions. The origin of the cult is probably in Asia. (Charles Seltman, The Twelve Olympians, New York: Thomas Y. Corwell Company, 1960.)
In some stories Dionysos is torn apart by the Titans. IN other stories it is Hera's orders that he be torn apart. (Edith Hamilton, Mythology, Mentor edition, original copywriter 1940, pp. 61-62).
Tamuz Easter: Myth, Hallucination or History by Edwin M. Yamauchi Leadership u. Updated 22 March 1997 (prof. of History at Miami University, Oxford Ohio)

"In the case of the Mesopotamian Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi), his alleged resurrection by the goddess Inanna-Ishtar had been assumed even though the end of both the Sumerian and the Akkadian texts of the myth of "The Descent of Inanna (Ishtar)" had not been preserved. Professor S. N. Kramer in 1960 published a new poem, "The Death of Dumuzi," that proves conclusively that instead of rescuing Dumuzi from the Underworld, Inanna sent him there as her substitute (cf. my article, "Tammuz and the Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXIV [1965], 283-90). A line in a fragmentary and obscure text is the only positive evidence that after being sent to the Underworld Dumuzi may have had his sister take his place for half the year "(cf. S. N. Kramer, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 183 [1966], 31). "Tammuz was identified by later writers with the Phoenician Adonis, the beautiful youth beloved of Aphrodite. According to Jerome, Hadrian desecrated the cave in Bethlehem associated with Jesus' birth by consecrating it with a shrine of Tammuz-Adonis. Although his cult spread from Byblos to the GrecoRoman world, the worship of Adonis was never important and was restricted to women. P. Lambrechts has shown that there is no trace of a resurrection in the early texts or pictorial representations of Adonis; the four texts that speak of his resurrection are quite late, dating from the second to the fourth centuries A.D". ("La 'resurrection' d'Adonis," in Melanges Isidore Levy, 1955, pp. 207-40).
The "Great" Cybele
"Cybele, also known as the Great Mother, was worshiped through much of the Hellenistic world. She undoubtedly began as a goddess of nature. Her early worship included orgiastic ceremonies in which her frenzied male worshipers were led to castrate themselves, following which they became "Galli" or eunuch-priests of the goddess. Cybele eventually came to be viewed as the Mother of all gods and the mistress of all life." (Ronald Nash,"Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?" The Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994, p.8)

In some versions of the myth, Attis's return to life took the form of his being changed into an evergreen tree.(Ibid)

The cult changes over time and the story changes:Lambrechts has also shown that Attis, the consort of Cybele, does not appear as a "resurrected" god until after A.D. 1 50. ( "Les Fetes 'phrygiennes' de Cybele et d' Attis," Bulletin de l'lnstitut Historique Belge de Rome, XXVII 11952], 141-70).

Osiris

The Cult (Osiris) moved to Rome where it was at first rejected, but finally was allowed into the city between 37 and 41. Only after the next two centuries did it become a rival of Christianity. Its eventual popularity came from its elaborate ritual and hope of immortality, although this was a latter development which post dates Christian origins and does not include Osiris. During the Osiris phase the immortality aspects were very minimal. 3) Early phase of cult no savior, in period of clash with Christianity, no Osiris! Thus, during the early part of the cult they had no great savior figure and no salvation aspects to speak of, and in the phase where they competed with Christianity (two or more centuries after the Gospels) they had no dying or rising savior figure. (Ronald Nash, "Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?" the Christian Research Journal, Winter 19994, p 8)

Global phenomena

It seems to be a universal law of mthology that myths transmutate over time. Here is a report about mythology of the Northwestern United States and it's native people. It states that they have multiple versions of the same myths.

DRAFT: CASCADIA MEGATHRUST EARTHQUAKES IN PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS

by Ruth Ludwin, University of Washington Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences 12/29/99 DRAFT

"Incomplete as the preserved oral history of Cascadia is, many stories are repeated in multiple versions, with some "mixing and matching" of story elements, and some of the stories are geographically wide-spread."

Here are (not all) basic points of agreement between all Jesus sources from before the fourth century.

All The most basic details about these mythological figures changes and froms mutltiple myths. Who they were, what they stood for, their function, how they lived, how they died, even their country of origin all change. A god like Mirthra begins as an unimportant figure in Indian pantheon and winds up the sun God, the God of shepards in Persian and then something else in Rome. All of these mythical figures change over time, but not Jesus. There is basically one Jesus story and it's always the same.

1) Jesus lived on earth as a man from the beginning of the first century to AD 33.

2) That his mother was supposed to be a Virgin named "Mary"

3) Same principle players, Peter, Andrew, Philip, John, Mary Magdeline.

4) That Jesus was knows as a miracles worker.

5) he claimed to be the son of God and Messiah.

6) he was crucified under Pilate.

7) Around the time of the Passover.

8) at noon.

9) rose from the dead leaving an empty tomb.

10) several woman with MM discovered the empty tomb.

11) That this was in Jerusalem.

There were hundreds of sources, different books and Gospels and Acts, that never made it into the New Testament. The Jesus story is re-told countrless times from early days (around AD50 first written) to the fourth century, before there was ever a major alternatiion in any of these basic details. Even after that time, no one ever disagreed with these points listed avove.

The most flagrant exception might seem to be the Gnostics who claimed that Jesus was not flesh and blood but illusory so he didn't really die on the cross. Yet, the didn't deny that there was an event where he seemed to die on the cross. Even when their ideology contradicted the history they still could not deny the seeming facts. they just re-interpreted the facts. 

I have always contended that the primary reason to believe in Christianity is because its true. I have said in prior blogposts that if Christianity were false, we should abandon it. Why? Because Christians, who are followers of the one who identified himself as "the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), should be dedicated to the truth above everything else.

Frank Turek, proud purveyor of Cross-Examined, has posted a video entitled "One Question You Should Always Ask an Unbeliever." It is pretty insightful, and the question that should always be asked really does get to the heart of the earnestness of the unbelievers in their views.

If

If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? It's a pretty straightforward question. The straightforward answer should be either yes or no. In a sane world, I would expect almost anyone answering the question in an equally straightforward manner would answer yes, but Turek points out that some of the people to whom he asks this question actually answer no. In other words, they are not interested in the truth at all and are honest enough to admit it. (That's pretty ironic if you think about it.)  I expect that if you run into a person like that, Turek's analysis is correct - they are really after what they think makes them happy and not about truth. The approach to take with such a person isn't to contend for the facts of the Christian faith but rather to challenge whether they are truly happy or whether personal happiness should be the end for which we should live our lives.

Having said that, while I love Frank's question when meeting people face-to-face or in a personal way, I don't see the question as being particularly helpful in most Internet discussions about Christianity because I don't think most unbelievers will answer the question no. Instead, I believe that they will respond in one of three ways: answer yes, answer no with a lengthy explanation or dodge the question altogether.

The Dodgers

Some will say something to the effect of, "Christianity isn't true, so it's a nonsense question." This is the exact type of answer I expect from people who cannot think sequentially. The question asks them to put aside their preconceptions and consider what their response would be if it were the case that Christianity is true. What if God really does exist, and God really sent his Son to die for our sins (as millions of Christians already recognize as true)? Would you really be willing to follow the truth?

It is a fair question for both sides. Paul already answered it from the Christian side. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul basically answers the question, "If Christianity is not true, should you stop being a Christian?" He answered:

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In a nutshell, if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, i.e., if Christianity is not true, then we are wrong and we shouldn't follow it. Not only that, Christians should be pitied for following a falsehood. It is a straightforward response that Christians are happy to give because they truly believe (with evidence even if some don't know it) that they have truth on their side. So, if an unbeliever won't even respond to the question with a definitive yes or no, it demonstrates that they are not truly willing to consider truth or they are so uncertain of the truth that they must deflect. If they have any willingness to actually dialog rather than just engaging in a soliloquy against Christianity, you should challenge them on this. Don't let them be a dodger.

Those who deny with an explanation

Another expected tact would be for the unbeliever to say something like, "I wouldn't believe it because...." The explanations will vary. Perhaps it will be, "...because Christianity has resulted in so much evil in the world." Or maybe, "...because Christians are all hypocrites." Given time, I can think of dozens of other explanations/excuses to avoid the effect of answering no.

Again, I think that the unbeliever who says no is, at least, being honest in acknowledging that the truth doesn't matter to her. The explanations accompanying these types of responses are not honest because they are irrelevant to the question. Even if Christianity has resulted in more evil in the world or Christians are hypocrites, if Christianity is true then these are no more than excuses. It is ultimately the case that the person is communicating that they simply are not interested in the truth when it comes to God.

It may be possible to work with the person who says no with some explanation or excuse. Most of the problems that people can point to are answerable in a Christian understanding of the world. Sin, man's fallen nature, separation from God and human imperfection all play into the reasons that Christians have been less than Christlike in our attitudes and actions. If Christianity is true, these things do not deflect from Christianity, but rather are completely consistent with a Christian world view.

Those who say yes.

Ah, here are the most promising ones...at least they might be promising. If the person is truly willing to follow God if Christianity is true, that is the rare unbeliever. If they admit it, you have common ground on which to speak with them. After all, both parties are now agreeing that the basis for the discussion should be the truth or falsity of both the Gospel and their own understanding of the world, and that should create fertile ground for discussion...provided, of course, that the person is not lying.

Lying is the biggest problem that I experience in these discussions, and it is a problem that exists primarily on the Internet among people who engage in religious forums.(You see a lot of it in forums on politics, too, but that is not my focus here.) Outside of the Internet, in a one-on-one conversation with another person, it is easy to read by their attitude and demeanor whether their "yes" is really a yes or whether they are just mouthing something that they don't really believe. And in most cases, when you interact personally with another person (rather than using the handles and pseudonyms of the Internet), they are more likely to be truthful about how they really feel.

On the Internet -- and especially on religious discussion boards or in comments to blogs like this -- too often people are not there to engage in a real conversation. They are there to attack your point of view. They are there to win a debate. They will lie to you about what they think to keep you in the game. That person's "yes" to the question is no more than a way of saying, "I really don't care what you have to say, I am here to pound you with my opinion which I will dress up as fact and pretending to be interested in the truth will keep you involved longer." They may even believe the lie themselves -- but their willingness to follow the truth only extends to the truth that they have falsely convinced themselves is the truth. The sad thing is these are the people who need the truth the most yet they are the hardest to reach of any of the groups.

I really do like Frank's question. In a different forum than the Internet, I will use it. But I don't expect it to be of much use over the Internet. There are just plain too many trolls strolling along the digital highway for conversations of this sort to be productive.


I'm taking a break from my own blog this week for various reasons, so my post here is a repost of a 2010 post from my own blog. And yet, it could have been written yesterday as accurate as it is when it comes to the plague of erroneous information we suffer from today.

I'll explain one reason why at the end.

***

A reader asked me to have a look at something I’d rather have not seen: The Wikipedia page on the historicity of the book of Acts.

Yes, of course: It’s a perfect example of why I call Wikipedia, “the abomination that causes misinformation.” Not just because it has outright errors, but because ideology can readily slant any of its pages when someone comes along with a bug in their nostrils.

In this case, it is fairly clear that someone has come along who has been reading all the standard liberal commentators (eg, Haenchen) and thinks they’re gospel. Nearly all of the objections raised are old hat; I’ll put links to answers below, just for the sake of completeness. For that sake as well, I’ll answer here the only one I did find that was new to me (and it is a good one, since it only makes it more clear why I disdain Wikipedia as a source).

Acts 6:9 mentions the Province of Cilicia during a scene allegedly taking place in mid-30s AD. The Roman province by that name had been on hiatus from 27 BC and was re-established by Emperor Vespasian only in 72 AD.

Actually, the word “province” isn’t in the text. If anyone errs here, it is translations like the NIV for inserting the word “province”. Here “Cilicia” would more likely have a more informal designation used by those who lived in the region; they hardly would simply give up the name just because the provincial designation had been put on hiatus (something the average peasant probably might not have known or even cared had happened until 72 AD!). Indeed, the very fact that the province was reinstituted with the same name shows that it stuck in people’s minds all that time.

At any rate, back to Wikipedia. In a few cases it is clear that some folks have tried to add in answers to some of these objections. For example, regarding Acts 4:4, it gives an objection about Jerusalem’s population, which is then answered. In other cases what we have may as well not even be there. As of this writing, a section titled “Acts 24: Paul’s Trial” has nothing under it but:

Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

And that’s it. Why anyone would think this would warrant a section of its own is hard to say. It also doesn’t belong under the section name, “Passages of alleged historical inaccuracy,” as coherence of presentation isn’t even a “historical accuracy” issue.

In any event, all we have is a sound bite culled from a single scholarly work dated to 1963 (without, as Wikipedia notes, even a page number offered!). I looked up that work, which is available online, and the questions presented by the scholar to allegedly demonstrate incoherence amount to questions of inscrutable personal motivation (eg, “Why did Paul not wait for a decision instead of appealing to Caesar?”) that do not logically demand a verdict of historical inaccuracy. (The answer to that question, by the way, is that Paul likely anticipated an unfavorable verdict – or else that he sought some sort of honorable vindication from the Emperor’s court.)


It doesn’t get much better after that. Someone else later got the bug of the darkness at the crucifixion in their nostrils, and, though the article is about the reliability of Acts, inserted a complaint about the allegedly unreliability of Luke, in reporting that darkness. Gibbon’s stale objections are specifically resurrected for this purpose.

There’s a lot that would need to be done to bring this Wikipedia entry up to any sort of reputable standard. As it stands, it is a hodgepodge of random objections, mostly poorly formulated, few given any sort of adequate treatment, some added on to with answers, some of those good and some not so good…and so on. In other words, it is just what we would expect from a page that is authored by everybody and assigned responsibility by nobody. And this is just one page out of millions Wikipedia has running.

How long would it take to fix this mess, on just this one page? I could pop in there with plenty of material, taking a few hours to do so – only to find it erased next week. Or to find some fundy atheist has added some new and outdated objections which I would then have to fix. And so on. I could start a whole new ministry dedicated to fixing Wikipedia.

It is sorely tempting for me to try an experiment with Wikipedia as an object lesson, much like the one performed by Shane Fitzgerald (see link below). I have access to all sorts of obscure databases listing all sorts of obscure books, most of which are not readily available anywhere. It would hardly be difficult at all to find some obscure title on some important topic, post some reputed “fact” about it on Wikipedia, and cite that obscure book as a source. Who would be the wiser? Skeptics everywhere got away with listing the fabricated Pope Leo X quote, and some even added a reference to Encyclopedia Britannica to substantiate it. How hard would it be to fool Wiki’s mostly average-Joe volunteer editors the same way?

Not hard at all. I could easily out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald on that score. And that’s something to think about.


The Ticker will now take some time off for the holidays…here are those links in close. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all…a Wikipedia-less night.


http://www.tektonics.org/lp/lukeandjoe.html


http://www.tektonics.org/ntdocdef/actspaul.html


http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qtheudy.html


http://www.tektonics.org/af/censuscheck.html


http://www.tektonics.org/qt/thallcomp.html


http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/technology&id=6807750 (story on Shane Fitzgerald)


**
 Now as to my one special reason why this remains relevant...

 Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

This phrase may or may not be gone from Wikipedia, but 7 years later, it's still floating around on other websites as a claim. Do a search and see what I mean. It's an illustration of the fact that no matter how long it is, crap like this stays online and has to be re-addressed again and again as it deceives people anew.

Due to being busy on other projects, and also fighting off a nasty round of spring allergies, I didn't do an Easter series on the Cadre this year; and besides Joe was taking point on that this time. So I'll just put up a post for handy links to the first two parts of an ongoing series I've previously been working on, and call it a season. {g}

Let me clarify and stress that the point of this series, is NOT to argue (directly anyway) for the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in any religiously Christian sense -- although, since I have somehow been mistaken by some fans of Richard Carrier in thinking I don't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, I'll also clarify here that I do, with full trinitarian Christian theological meaning. (They were referencing a discussion I was having with Keith Parsons where I was taking the side of bodily resurrection vs a mass hallucination theory, not referencing this series; but eh, fans of Richard Carrier, in my experience over the years they tend to get confused easily.)

On the contrary, this series is just an intellectual exercise, for self-critical purposes (interesting to me anyway), in seeing how far I'd get in accepting various historical claims around religiously Christian claims about Jesus of Nazareth (including but not restricted to resurrection claims), if I was not only a dedicated atheist (so bracketing out my religious beliefs per se and subbing in disbelief for the existence of any type of ultimate God), but also starting from the most feasibly extreme sceptical positions I can find (albeit "feasible" by my estimation, keeping in mind that people have varying estimates of feasibility) and working forward from there only where I see logical advantages to increasing belief vs scepticism. Considering that I start with an unknown author totally inventing his whole text in an unknown year for unknown reasons, and considering options from there, I don't think I'm starting mild! But then of course I'm factoring in, sometimes at shorthand, various details about the situation I've learned about over the decades.

One point I'm provisionally importing as a prior conclusion, is that no amount of historical argument can logically stand as deductive ground for deciding that my atheism is false. At most it might give me grounds for re-evaluating why I think atheism is true and theism false, but that's rather a different intellectual operation going back to metaphysics. Nor do I mean to introduce this provision as some kind of belief foreign to my real beliefs; since I am on record (here now as elsewhere) as believing and arguing the same thing as a theist (and as a trinitarian theist): historical conclusions are not metaphysical conclusions and should not be elided between. This is why I have never once tried to use historical arguments to convince atheists (or alt-theists) to be theists (or my kind of theist). This is also related to why in my historical arguments I either specifically argue along lines I would accept even if I held a different philosophy (though admittedly any philosophy that allows for real history and other topics related to historical arguments), or else if I'm factoring in various levels of my actual religious beliefs I clearly qualify what I'm doing with acknowledgements that those who don't agree with my beliefs might or will certainly consider the matter differently.

Consequently, I do not expect to reach a conclusion that Jesus Christ was raised by God (including by His own power, in trinitarian theology) from the dead; I'm provisionally expecting that this is even impossible to reach as a purely historical conclusion. I am not, on the other hand, provisionally expecting that it is impossible that Jesus was raised bodily from death by some other means: atheism just excludes theism being the cause. Technically, atheism doesn't even exclude supernatural causes, just not supernatural theistic causes. I might think that zero point energy is supernatural energy, substantially independent of natural reality and upon which natural reality depends for existence. But I wouldn't think the zero point energy was God. If I was a naturalistic atheist, then I'd be excluding supernatural causes, too, even if ultimately still atheistic. But for purposes of this extended exercise I'm acting as agnostic on the naturalism/supernaturalism question, with a majority expectation however for natural causation based on past experience to the best of my knowledge. Consequently I don't expect to conclude in favor of a supernatural cause for the shape of the data, even though I'm not philosophically ruling that out as a prior metaphysical conclusion.

In one sense I haven't gotten very far yet: I haven't even strictly concluded I would believe Jesus was executed on a cross yet, although I've gotten close. (I've even most recently argued that, ironically, sceptical arguments about Paul positively not referring to burial in a tomb, necessarily rely on at least implicitly accepting a crucifixion as historical background, even though the tomb burial is equally attested in the same material attesting the crucifixion. Passing by the topic that way, I'd be pretty close now to accepting that Jesus was crucified as a historical fact.) But in another sense I've already decided in favor of a number of topics, and passing close to accepting a number of others (some of which will likely soon feature in future stages of the series -- I've been working on it for fifteen years or more now, so I move pretty slowly.)

Here then is a quick linkset to my sections and chapters of this series so far, with some brief descriptions.

SECTION ONE: A CURIOUS KEY TO A HISTORICAL JESUS
------------------------------------------------

Key evidence? -- introduces the topic with the story of the guards' report toward the end of GosMatt, and considers an exhaustive number of options for its existence including total fabrication by the GosMatt author.

A pauce list of possibilities -- from the one small conclusion of historical accuracy (a certain prevalent number of Jews were saying to GosMatt's intended audience, "the disciples stole the body,") further implications and sceptical options are considered.

A shape of results, and other shapes -- collating implications of the analysis so far, including the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the missing body of Jesus.

They ain't got no body -- some implications of the guards.

No body knows the trouble they seen -- more implications of the guards.

The backhanded strength of a weak story -- if a weak story is still being used against GosMatt's audience, what does that imply?

Hints of a particular person and place -- putting various things together so far, someone rather like Joseph of Arimathea (by function and capabilities anyway) and something very much like a tomb emerge.

So why a theft? -- this particular detail of the opposition provides further implications (of various strengths).

Some body, give us a summary! -- at least 40 historical conclusions from the Key, even starting from extreme scepticism. (The number was accidental.)

An appendix considering an alternate theory of fabrication rounds -- what if both sides had been inventing details against each other, never corrected on either side by any actual facts, and without contact with each other?

Why didn't the Sanhedrin produce a fake body of Jesus? -- an interesting side effect to the preceding argument, in solving a subtle strategic problem for historical body disappearance theories.


SECTION TWO: DID GOSMARK'S AUTHOR POSSIBLY INVENT THE EMPTY TOMB? (NOPE.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
A sepulchral no -- introducing the topic, acknowledging its validity as a question (not metaphysically impossible or nonsense), and a quick number zero answer I won't be using. Also discussion of Crossan's novel theory (of the tomb, and Jesus rising from the tomb, being invented long before GosMark, as a poetic figure, later mistaken for history.)

If it waddles like a tomb and quacks like a tomb... -- importing relevant conclusions from the previous section: i.e. something tomb-like from which Jesus' body disappears, substantially predates GosMark.

A flock of tombs -- the tomb is accepted immediately without trace of authoritative competition, which has implications for historicity and against literary invention not often noticed.

Love a tomb -- inventing the women as the first allies to find the tomb empty, doesn't help the tomb as a literary invention.

Oblivion-gushing does not help -- problems with inventing the rejection of the women, and with inventing the women being wrong about a mundane explanation, for an invented tomb theory.

Special authoritative snowflakes shattering on a tomb -- the (near-)total disassociation of the subsequent Christian authorities from the tomb, is pretty much fatal for an invented tomb.

Disappearing acts of the tomb -- the example of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, over-against arguments from silence about lack of explicitly mentioning a tomb in various sources. Plus implications of Paul in Acts, if the author is otherwise concluded to be generally trustworthy in reporting mundane historical data.

Like one untimely born -- the irony of trying to count Paul's terminology in 1 Cor 15 explicitly against a tomb burial: such an argument against expecting a tomb burial, relies totally (if implicitly) on a historical claim which shows up joined repeatedly and explicitly to a historical tomb burial.


Were the Canonical NT Authors Bowing to Popular Pagan Converts? Part 1 and Part 2 -- a sidebar, between sections in effect, which explains why, even as an atheist, I'd be vastly sceptical of theories of pagan syncretism to explain content of historical claims about Jesus.

I expect to add to this linkset whenever I get around to adding more series entries (or perhaps relevant side posts).

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