CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


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

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

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

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

see link above

Image result for Metacrock's blog Talmud

  Church at Nazareth dates first century

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

Kirby writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Celsus

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

For more information see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm kind of busy this week, so I asked our recurring fundy atheist punching bag, I. M. Skeptical, to write me a post about the best argument for atheism he could come up with. Here's what he gave me.


There was once a slimy, snotty Christian apologist who made the argument that the banana is an “atheist’s worst nightmare” because it has so many great design features. I used to love that argument when I was a stupid, blind fundy, and now as an intellectually fulfilled atheist I think it is really stupid! In fact, I want to argue now that if anything, the banana proves that God does not exist, or that if he does, he is evil, malevolent, and really snotty! Here’s why:

The banana has a slippery peel which can be thrown on the ground, causing innocent people to slip and fall. The banana has been used for endless, cruel practical jokes (especially on me, and I have the bruises on my butt to prove it!) and this would only be a feature designed by a malevolent creator, or else it would have evolved in a godless, uncaring universe. If there was a God, he would have created trash cans everywhere with targeting vacuum suctions to keep people from using banana peels for practical jokes.

The banana comes in bunches, making it an especially vulnerable target for shoplifters. With many fruits, you can only steal one at a time, but bananas have been an unusual burden on the merchants of the world because they can be grabbed in large bunches. (I know that grapes and cherries, for example, are even worse; but these are yet more proof of either a malevolent creator or a godless universe.)

The banana has an unusual shape which makes it a special target for filthy double entendres. To put it bluntly, the banana is a pornographic fruit! Only a god who was a disgusting pervert could design a piece of fruit this way. The banana also encourages violence because you can hide it under your coat and pretend it is a handgun; or in Australia, you can use it as a boomerang. The banana is a fruit for perverts and criminals.

Bananas have an ugly yellow color and turn an even uglier brown or black when they spoil. What’s worse, they smell terrible when they go bad, and get all squishy and disgusting! That they turn brown or black when they go bad has also undoubtedly contributed to the problem of racism in this country.

“Banana” is spelled real stupid. You can’t keep track of how many “nas” to add, and it’s a real pain in the butt! A loving god would make sure there’d be no confusion, or wasted ink and paper, as a result of adding to many “nas.”

So as you can see, if anything, the banana is prime evidence that if any God exists, he is a mean, nasty, disgusting, stupid, and pathetic moron! And if you don’t agree, you’re a snotty idiot and I don’t want to hear it!

There's been a lot of talk about probability in the context of Christian belief these days. From academic textbooks and journal articles, to message boards and blogs (including this one), material abounds on the probability of God's existence, the probability of miracles generally, and the probability of the resurrection of Jesus given certain facts of history in the light of Bayes' theorem. The guiding assumption behind all this, though not always explicitly stated, is that accepting the more probable hypothesis results in our holding the most rational belief. And most of us want to be rational.
In a recent post here it was argued that the probability of the resurrection of Jesus, given the specific evidence and general background knowledge bearing on the case, is high relative to competing hypotheses. At the least, I suggested, the resurrection should be considered not improbable (hence not irrational to believe). But some people objected that without specific calculations that suggestion is too vague. So now we will "plug in" some numbers. Recall again that per Bayes' Theorem, the probability of a hypothesis H, given evidence E and background knowledge K, equals the conjunction of its explanatory power and prior probability:

             P(E│H & K) x P(H│K)
P(H│E & K) = -----------------------------

If we estimate .25 to indicate a relatively low prior probability (low for me, high for most skeptics) of the truth of the resurrection as a hypothesis, as well as .25 for the probability of our having the particular sort of evidence for it that we do have (high for me, low for most skeptics), and .4 to mean somewhat modest "predictive power" of the hypothesis, we have: 

             .4 x .25
P(H│E & K) = ----------- = .4

So the resurrection in this scenario would be slightly improbable. Does this mean that we should be committed to believe with precisely 40% confidence that the resurrection actually occurred, or to withhold belief until probability exceeds .5? Not necessarily. 
A rational approach would surely consider not only the probability of hypotheses being true or false, but the consequences that would follow from those hypotheses being true or false. There would seem to be nothing especially rational about my taking a shortcut to work by crossing a bridge high over an icy lake where the probability of its collapsing sometime within the next year is "only" .3, for example; or moving into a neighborhood where a full 60 percent of the residents have never been physically assaulted because it's closer to my favorite shopping center. A good and prudent soldier does not lay down his arms whenever the probability of his survival dips below .5 in the heat of battle (indeed, he is far too busy to bother with such calculations, knowing that he maximizes his probability of survival by continuing to fight). A truly rational outlook, then, knows the difference not merely between true and false, or between probable and improbable, but between wisdom and folly.  
What this means it that a rational approach should take into account the expected value of a given decision, in addition to the probability of its success. Whereas expected value is a sophisticated statistical concept, it can be defined informally for non-mathematical sorts like me as "the weighted average of the values that X can take on, where each possible value is weighted by its respective probability"[1] – and where X is a random variable, meaning a variable with different probabilities corresponding to different possible outcomes. For example, a business owner might use an expected value approach to determine the more promising of two locations for a new plant, the one with the highest expected payoff given its probability of success and its profitability if successful. 
Now let us imagine an admittedly arbitrary but finite "payoff" scale of utils[2] to represent the level of happiness or satisfaction that believers and skeptics should expect to receive given the truth value of the resurrection – and given the traditional theological position that the resurrection of Jesus ensures eternal reward for believers, eternal judgment for unbelievers. Let's suppose that 1,000,000,000 here represents the ultimate prize of enjoying eternal life in the kingdom of heaven, in fellowship with Jesus Christ, along with a host of angels and redeemed believers. This signifies the reward of believers given that the resurrection hypothesis is true. 1, on the other hand, is the “loneliest number,” here meaning the despair of eternal judgment upon sin in the kingdom of darkness, in subjection to Satan, along with a host of demons and desolate unbelievers. In other words this is the complete, or virtually complete, absence of hope, joy or satisfaction – the reward of nonbelievers given that the resurrection hypothesis is true. In between are values representing various less extreme levels of expected satisfaction, depending on possible outcomes and their probabilities. In this way each decision outcome can be assigned an expected level of reward on the scale.
For the somewhat conservative (at least for a believer like me) probability estimate for the resurrection mentioned above, this leaves the following:
Posterior Probabilities:
P(R), probability that the resurrection hypothesis is true = .4
P(~R), probability that the resurrection hypothesis is false = 1 - .4 = .6 
Expected Value of Outcomes:
For believers, expected value of R = 1,000,000,000 x .4 = 400,000,000.  Expected value of ~R for believers = +/- 500,000 x .6 = 300,000. As mentioned above, the 1,000,000,000 represents the maximum level of satisfaction a soul can enjoy in principle. The admittedly arbitrary number of 500,000 for the believer means here something like: "life on earth is not too terrible, and still has its rewards – but it's not anything like what eternal life will be." (The important thing to keep in mind here is that this latter number is roughly equal for both believers and unbelievers.) So on our subjective-arbitrary scale the total expected value for believers = 400,000,000 + 300,000 = 400,300,000.
For nonbelievers, expected value for R = 1 x .6 = .6. (This is a level of satisfaction slightly lower than the lowest on our scale, only because the lowest whole number on the scale is multiplied by a probability of less than one, so we can round this up to one). Expected value of ~R for unbelievers = +/- 500,000 x .6 = 300,000 (the same as believers). Again, 1 represents the lowest possible level of happiness a soul can experience in principle. And for nonbelievers, the 500,000 means something like: "life on earth is not too terrible, and still has its rewards – it may not be paradise, but it could always be worse." So for the same arbitrary scale the total expected value for nonbelievers = 1 + 300,000 = 300,001.
The basic idea here is that in terms of the extreme consequences at stake, it would be more rational to accept even a slightly improbable position of faith in Christ because of the substantially higher potential reward. It's true that faith in Christ is costly, in that Jesus calls us to take up a cross, deny self and follow him (Luke 9:23). We are to invest our lives in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). But faith also pays compensating dividends in the way of fruit of the Spirit and a deep sense of purpose and calling. Circumstantially, there is no appreciable difference between the life experiences of believers and nonbelievers. Rain falls on the just (or justified) and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Since life on earth has its ups and downs, pains and pleasures, joys and heartaches, etc., for everyone, the venture of faith, while costly, is relatively low-risk. 
Of course all this is essentially a restatement of Pascal’s Wager. Pascal developed his “wager” as something akin to the risk-reward principle that operates in all of life, from business and finance to romance. Given the relative scarcity of happiness on earth, the abundance of joy in the eternal kingdom of heaven, and the considerable prospect that the Christian gospel is true, it seems to me, as it did to Pascal, that to repent and believe in Christ would be the wisest investment one could ever make. I would say more about Pascal and his development of the wager, but unfortunately I am, like the rest of us, running out of time. 

[2]In microeconomics, happiness is measured by a concept called utility. The standard unit of measurement that microeconomics uses to measure utility is called the util…. The util has no concrete numerical value like an inch or a centimeter. It is merely an arbitrary, subjective and convenient way to assign value to consumer choices and to measure the consumer utility or utils of one choice against another choice.” – Marc Davis, “Microeconomics: Assumptions and Utility,” Investopedia,

 photo Ross_zps2f2f4acb.jpg
Lee D. Ross, Stanford Psychology Dept.

Two studies seem to suggest that Christians project their own social values onto God. Nicholas Epley fins that:

People often reason egocentrically about others’ beliefs, using
their own beliefs as an inductive guide. Correlational, experimen-
tal, and neuroimaging evidence suggests that people may be even
more egocentric when reasoning about a religious agent’s beliefs
(e.g., God). In both nationally representative and more local sam-
ples, people’s own beliefs on important social and ethical issues
beliefs than with estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 1–4).
Manipulating people’s beliefs similarly influenced estimates of
God’s beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of
other people’s beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study
demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reason-
ing about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear diver-
gences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7).
In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas asso-
ciated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning
about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences
about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears
especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.[1]
 The other is by Lee D. Ross

The present study explores the dramatic projection of one’s own views onto those of Jesus among conservative and liberal American Christians. In a large-scale survey, the relevant views that each group attributed to a contemporary Jesus differed almost as much as their own views. Despite such dissonance-reducing projection, however, conservatives acknowledged the relevant discrepancy with regard to “fellowship” issues (e.g., taxation to reduce economic inequality and treatment of immigrants) and liberals acknowledged the relevant discrepancy with regard to “morality” issues (e.g., abortion and gay marriage). However, conservatives also claimed that a contemporary Jesus would be even more conservative than themselves on the former issues whereas liberals claimed that Jesus would be even more liberal than themselves on the latter issues. Further reducing potential dissonance, liberal and conservative Christians differed markedly in the types of issues they claimed to be more central to their faith. A concluding discussion considers the relationship between individual motivational processes and more social processes that may underlie the present findings, as well as implications for contemporary social and political conflict. [2]

This has led some atheists on message boards to advance these studies as proof of the illogical nature of Christianity. It reinforces the atheist's idea that if God did exist it would be impossible to understand what he wants. "So why should atheists (or anyone, for that matter) take theists seriously when theists talk about what God is like, what God wants, what God commands, etc., if theist's are just unconsciously using God as a sound-board for their own positions?."[3]

These studies are put over as a disproof of the veracity of Christian thought, but in reality they are nothing of the kind. They are actually making good points (not that I have evaluated their validity of studies). These are not points that undo the validity of Christian, far from they are points I've thought about deeply since the Reagan era. I think these are things God wants us to think about. We should understand that we have a tendency to project our social projects and our prejudices and our cultural constructs on to God. We should ask "how can we know the difference?" The problem is the atheists make assumptions about the ultimate inability to know God, from a position of unbelief. Thus they blind to the prospect that we can know God. We can understand the distinction between our own ideas and what God wants. We can know God and we can Know what God wants. Before going into that I want to make another argument: it doesn't invalidate Christianity in any way becuase it's certainly not unique to Christianity. It's very much in line with the sort of thing that marks humans as human. In every walk of life, in all politics, atheist are exception, it's an occupational hazard of being human.

The second researcher sited above, Lee Ross,  has another study that was conviently over looked. That study says that Objectivity is not a human characteristic and we all project our things onto others no matter who we are or what our world view.

Important asymmetries between self-perception and social perception arise from the simple fact that other people’s actions, judgments, and priorities sometimes differ from one’s own. This leads people not only to make more dispositional inferences about others than about themselves (E. E. Jones & R. E. Nisbett, 1972) but also to see others as more susceptible to a host of cognitive and motivational biases. Although this blind spot regarding one’s own biases may serve familiar self-enhancement motives, it is also a
product of the phenomenological stance of naive realism.It is exacerbated, furthermore, by people’s tendency to attach greater credence to their own introspections about potential influences on judgment and behavior than they attach to similar introspections by others. The authors review evidence, new and old, of this asymmetry and its underlying causes and discuss its relation to other psychological phenomena and to interpersonal and intergroup conflict.[4]
The Ross article quotes, right after the abstract:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye but
considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
—Matthew 7:3 (King James Version)
The atheist stock in trade is objectivity. They like to employ the fortress of facts idea that they have the big pile of facts and objective thinking and religion is just subjective nonsense with no facts behind it. In fact, humans research according to their biases and objectivity is an illusion. The same criticisms being made of Christianity can also be made of atheism or any other "ism" or any other view point. In fact while this is put over as the triumph of scinece over Christianity it's actually good example of atheists imposing their own views upon scinece. Those who evoke these first two studies without being aware of Ross's second study are merely employing the fortress of facts strategy. Rather than seeking to ask himself "are we doing this ourselves" they are content to assume it's only Christians and thus fall prey to the same idea.

The more insightful theological types are very aware of the metaphorical and analogical nature of all religious language. God is beyond our understanding. We can't discuss directly what we get from religious experience because we get it at a subliminal level. We can only relate to it and discuss it when we filter it through cultural constructs. That's what give each tradition it's won unique character.

It's not less true of secular philosophy or ethics. We are imposing culturally constructed values on scinece. The book Leviathan and the Air Pump by Shapin and Shaffer proved this is the case in the making of modern scinece. All the brave talk about "objectivity" is just so much crap. we are not objective. Look at how afraid the atheists have been to read my studies. not one study have their read. they refused to look at Hood's chapter (Put it up 147 times 2 people looked at it one of them admitted he didn't understand it and the other claimed she did but she didn't). Objectivity on the part of humans is a joke and a propaganda device. Shapin and Shaffer prove that science is based upon political space.

Ross writes:

This familiar biblical quotation describes an age-old double
standard in the way people perceive themselves versus their peers.
We suspect that people not only are subject to this double standard
but also are inclined to believe that their peers are more subject to
it than they are themselves. In the present article, we argue that
people readily detect or infer a wide variety of biases in others
while denying such biases in themselves. We place this argument
in the larger context of theory and research on the relationship
between self-perception and social perception. In particular, the
ideas we advance can be seen as an extension of Jones and
Nisbett’s (1972) conceptual analysis of divergent actor– observer
attributions, with the focus of our analysis shifting from judgments
about traits to judgments about biase. [5]
Of course we as Christians We should be not only self aware but also self critical. We should have the guts and honesty to be brutal enough with ourselves to say "is this really what god wants or is it just me?" How do we know what God wants? Of cousre there is no magic assurance that we get it right. That's the whole point of  Grace. We seek to please God in our hearts and whatever is in the gap or the short coming is covered by God's grace. There's no great mystery about how to know God's will.We have to learn the teachings of Jesus and keep to understand them in terms of general principles then apply those principles to our own context, heuristically, culturally, personally. Where that becomes hard is where it gets int the way of our personal expectations and biases. It's not prejudice that stands in the way of following God but our expectations, what we personally want the way we have it all "cracked up." That's where applying the principles becomes difficult. James 4:3 tells us: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." As the quote above reveals we need to put ourselves in the other guys shoes more often.

The only real "cure" requires diligence and strength but it is to spend time in prayer. The time we spend with God, imbibing of the divine presence and learning to know what is really God from what we want is the difference between maturity and immaturity.


[1]Nicholas Epley, et al, "Believer's estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs." PDF
accessed 9/9/13
[2]Lee D. Ross, et al, "How Christians Reconcile thier Personal Political Views and Teachings of their faith: Projection as a means of dissonance of Reduction." PDF, Department of Pschology Standford University.
accessed 9/9/13
[3] A poster on a message board. accessed 9/9/13
[4] Lee D. Ross, Thomas Gilvoich. "Objetivity is in the Eye of the Beholder: Divergent Perceptions of Bias In Self Verus Others. " PDF  accessed 9/9/13.
Thomas Gilvoich is at Cornell University.
[5] Ibid.

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