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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Varieties of accommodationism

This post is a bit of a place marker, but I'm trying to get clear the varieties of accommodationism in the religion/science debate. I don't have an exhaustive typology, but there seem to be a few ways that people try to make a truce between religion and science.

1. The NOMA theory - science is authoritative about empirical issues, while religion is authoritative about issues of morality, "meaning", "purpose" and so on.

2. Natural and supernatural - science examines the "natural" world, while religion reports on a supposed "supernatural" realm involving gods, spooks, and so on.

3. God at work in the gaps - there is room for God to work in nature in ways that we can't detect. Science is authoritative about the natural world, but not in a way that excludes the providence of God.

Are there others? Although these are probably related in various ways, they don't seem to me to be all the same thing, and they address slightly different issues. What they have in common, though, is the idea that science gives us findings about which we can feel justified confidence, including findings about the evolution of life over many millions of years, but there is still an important place for religion. More specifically, these are views that someone might adopt if wanting to defend scientific findings that offend some religionists, while not wanting to offend religionists in general or to deny that religion has a valuable social role.

If, like me, you seriously question the value of religion's social role, you're going to be less impressed by great effort in such a direction.

Edit (since Brian's comment): I've been thinking a bit more about this. It does look as if most positions that could be called "accommodationist" fall into one of these three categories. E.g. Gould's NOMA was essentially 1., and something like this is presented very sympathetically by the NCSE on its website. By contrast, the NAS seems to promote 2., while Francis Collins and BioLogos promote 3.

Of these, 3. is the one that is most likely to be damaging to science. Because it wants to locate a space for certain kinds of divine activities to be carried on in certain kinds of gaps, it could have some tendency to discourage research that aims to plug those gaps. Accordingly, it's at least worthwhile drawing attention to the highly speculative nature of specific hypotheses about how God acts in the gaps (such as by using some sort of interference in quantum-level events in order to guide the process of evolution). Even if we can't disprove such claims, we can emphasise that they are contrivances with no scientific backing. They are transparent attempts to preserve pet religious dogmas, and should in no sense be viewed as science. Their only basis is reasoning that: "Something like X or Y must be true or else religious doctrine R will be falsified. But I can't admit that R is falsified, so something like X or Y must be true."

But, while I can see why hard-pressed scientists get annoyed by this sort of thing, I actually have more sympathy for theists such as Francis Collins than I do for non-believers (atheists, agnostics, sceptics, whatever) who adopt a position such as 1. or 2. in order to grant authority to a religion whose doctrines they don't actually believe. This is appeasement - it's ceding important territory to religion without a fight. Religion does not deserve any grant of authority in the moral sphere - it has no such authority, and that should be the end of it. Nor does it have any plausible claim to reveal supernatural truths about such entities as gods and spooks. But it's as if some non-believers are prepared to give religion whatever authority it wants as long as they are allowed to teach evolution.

But that's not the whole game or even the main game. Religion tells us what we can and can't do with our lives, despite the lack of any credible authority to do so. This is precisely where we should be subjecting its claims to harsh, sceptical scrutiny. Just what credentials do religious leaders have that authorise them to lay down the moral law, or attempt to impose their version of it by the exercise of political power? Absolutely none. It's not good enough to tell religious leaders that we'll accept their claims as moral leaders or experts - or as experts on a spooky realm that mysteriously affects our lives - as long as they'll get off our backs and let us teach science. That's surrender. Conditional surrender, perhaps, but still surrender.

These people are not moral leaders or experts, and there is no such spooky realm. Or, if I'm wrong, let's see what they have to say in their defence. How did they come to have authority on moral issues? Why should we believe that there is any such spooky realm? Let them answer those questions if they can. Until they do, we ought to regard them as essentially charlatans, and we shouldn't be afraid to say so.

117 comments:

Brian said...

I think that's fairly exhaustive. It's sad that it's seen as necessary to accommodate science with religion. But when the majority are religious or receptive to religion being good or moral, and science is seen as threatening, then I guess pragmatism requires some soothing of the religious beast.

Anonymous said...

We saw what non-accommodating atheists (Nazis, Communists, Stalinists, Maoists, Khmer Rouge)did back in the 20th century.

Alltogether they murdered about 70 million people.

Russell Blackford said...

What a stupid comment, Anonymous. What kindergarten did you get that one from?

Anonymous said...

Not kindergarten, but history.

For example, A.N. Wilson in "God's Funeral" comes very close to laying the horrors of the 20th century at the feet of the atheistic philosophers of the 19th century. He sites two main philosophical branches: the Carlyle/Nietzsche branch in which God is replaced with the hero or superman, and the Hegel/Marx branch in which heaven is replaced with a workers utopia. The first gave us the atrocities of the far right, the other the atrocities of the far left.

Or as essayist and author Tom Wolfe noted in "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died":

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not." Why should we bother ourselves with a dire prediction that seems so far–fetched as "the total eclipse of all values"? Because of man's track record, I should think. After all, in Europe, in the peaceful decade of the 1880s, it must have seemed even more far–fetched to predict the world wars of the twentieth century and the barbaric brotherhoods of Nazism and Communism. Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man's powers of prediction?Which brings us back to the necessity of religion for the promotion of morality.

If religion was not responsible for the development of moral behavior we should have any number of historical examples of societies which have developed successful moral codes independent of religious belief. Such is not the case. Your argument would actually have some weight if you could point out one example from all of human history of a wide-spread, successful moral code completely divorced from religious faith.

Attempts to create a secular moral code have a lousy track record. Historically revolutionaries who have tried to create a purely secular moral code either end up creating a demoralized mess (like the former Soviet Union) or end up sending their own kids to parochial school in order to give them a moral grounding (such as the atheists and deists of the French Revolution). To quote the agnostic Renan:

"Let us enjoy the liberty of the sons of God, but let us take care lest we become accomplices to the diminution of virtue which would menace society if Christianity were to grow weak. What would we do without it? If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experiences of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder." Instead of superior morals (or even adequate morals) what atheists did give us was the Terror, the Holocaust, the Gulags and the Killing Fields.

Greywizard said...

If you have one tiny fault, Anonymous, it is lending too much credence to what you read. AN Wilson may well come close to laying all the horrors of the 20th century on the atheists of the 19th, but that doesn't make it so. Nor is Renan an unquestionable authority on the causes of the Terror of 1793-4.

In fact, as you point out, it is probably impossible to find an example of a working society with a morality which does not at some point, or amongst some members, claim religion as a foundation. Given the moral disaster of the 20th century, and the increasingly disastrous role that religion is playing in the unfolding events of the 21st, perhaps it is time we started looking elsewhere for moral foundations.

Religion is not only not necessary for underwriting morality, it is often self-serving, inconsistent, and violent. But the claim that religion is clearly necessary for morality, because there are no contrary examples, is a simple non-sequitur. You can't get to there from where you are, without assuming the very thing you want to prove, which of course would make it circular.

There is, however, every sign that society with a non-religious basis for morality is possible. Sweden, for instance, is not remarkably religious, but enjoys peace and prosperity. Is it living on the moral capital of Christianity? It's doubtful. The Swedes have rejected much of Christian morality, and seem to be doing just fine.

Blake Stacey said...

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

Anonymous said...

While Renan and Wilson are not absolute, perfect sources they remain more than credible and adequate. The point being that there has never been an officially atheistic regime that did not commit mass atrocities.

Given that the "moral disasters of the 20th century" were caused by atheistic regimes why should we be looking elsewhere than religion for moral guidance?

While a successful non-religious moral code remains hypothetically possible, there is no historical basis for making such a claim. Nor is it a non sequeter to point out this fact.

And yes, Sweden is most definitely living off the accumulated moral capital of its Christian heritage. In contrast, Revoultionairy France and the Soviet Union are examples of those who tried to completely reject such a heritage and break with it completely.

Besides non-religious != atheist. polls confirm that Europeans remain very spiritual even as they avoid attending church.

Anonymous said...

As a follow uo concerning Europe's declining religions, I'd like to recommend an article entitled "Oh, Gods" by Toby Lester in the 2002 February Atlantic Monthly. The article deals with religious demographics and especially New Religious Movements (NRMs) and the introduction sums up the article's main theme nicely:

"Religion didn't begin to wither away during the twentieth century, as some academic experts had prophesied. Far from it. And the new century will probably see religion explode-in both intensity and variety. New religions are springing up everywhere. Old ones are mutating with Darwinian restlessness. And the big "problem religion" of the twenty-first century may not be the one you think."

So why is it declining in Europe? From the article:

"The essence of the idea is this: People act rationally in choosing their religion. If they are believers, they make a constant cost-benefit analysis, consciously or unconsciously, about what form of religion to practice.

This is a rather interesting idea: that religious belief should be categorized like any other consumer market. Believers make rational "purchases" of religious "products and services" which meet their current emotional and psychic "needs and wants". This implies that the traditional state supported religions (e.g. the Church of England) are essentially no different than the old state run economies of the former Warsaw Pact, and just as lacking in choices and products to meet consumer needs. Perhaps this explains why Western Europe (especially compared to the US) is spiritually moribund. Apparently Westminister and Chartres are as bad at meeting the spiritual needs of their "consumers" as the old GUM department store in Moscow. Like the former East Block, Western Europe also has its religious equivalent of the black market: newly arrived religious movements like Mormonism and Islam or locally derived non-Abrahamic religions like neo-paganism and druidism.

Assuming that state supported religion is (ironically) the last bastion of old style socialism, what would be the effect on the religious and spiritual "market" of Western Europe if state support for religion were completely discredited and ended? I believe it provides a neat explanation for the apparent paradox that America, while being more religious in belief than secular Europe, has no state support for its religion.

It's hard for Europeans to get spiritually interested in what is essentially just another government department. So if you're looking for a culprit look at socialism not secularism.

Anonymous said...

Yes Blake, the Nazis were atheists.

The Nazis, Hitler especially, despised Christianity as a belief fit only for weaklings, not for the coming Superman. With the possible exception of Himmler and his bizarre paganism, the Nazi ruling circle was composed of atheists. Though he called himself a Christian in Mein Kampf and in several speeches, it is well to remember that these were pronouncements for public consumption and were made by a consummate liar/politician. For his real views on the subject see his Table Talk, surreptitiously recorded by Martin Borman and never intended for the public. These statements represent his real views (more on this below).

Hitler had every intention of destroying the Christian faith and replacing it with Nazism when the time was ripe. His accommodations with the Roman Catholic Church and German Protestant churches were purely tactical. For a more in depth look at this issue see the OSS post war report on Nazism and the churches at www.lawandreligion.com run by Rutgers University. For a shorter version, see pages 477-478 of Weinberg's "A World at Arms" (IMHO the best single volume history of the war). Religious faith was the common enemy of atheistic regimes of both the far right and the far left.

An historical article from Christianity Today sums up the conclusions of the OSS report quite nicely:

Donovan's Nuremberg report undermines the assertion, made by Feldman and so many others, that because several key Nazis had ties (however tenuous) to a church, and because the Nazis advanced insidious policies, then those insidious policies must be inherently Christian. To what extent elements of popular Christian ideology fed Hitler's anti-Semitism is a separate and valid question, but the "if A then B" connection fails because insidious anti-Christian policies do not fit the syllogism above. A plan to eradicate Christianity can hardly be construed as Christian, and persons supporting such a plan can hardly be considered believers of any standing.Perhaps we can now put that "Nazis were Christians" canard into the same waste heap as holocaust denial. Now, as for Hitler's Table Talk:

Outside of the officially atheist Soviet Union, what politician in the 1930s (or even today, at least here in America) would publicly (or even privately)admit to being an atheist? Hitler was a skilled politician and a consummate liar (the two often go together). Mein Kampf was for public consumption and expressed only those views most likely to get him elected. To really understand what such a man believes, it is necessary to view those words that were not intended for public consumption, as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper makes clear:

We must go direct to Hitler's personal utterances: not indeed to his letters and speeches-- these, though valuable, are too public, too formalised for such purposes-- but to his private conversations, his Table-Talk. Table-Talk, like notebooks, reveal the mind of a man far more completely, more intimately, than any formal utterance. (cont.)

Anonymous said...

In Table Talk the following statements on Christianity by Hitler will be found:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. Bolshevism practises a lie of the same nature, when it claims to bring liberty to men, whereas in reality it seeks only to enslave them.

Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.

Being weighed down by a superstitious past, men are afraid of things that can't, or can't yet, be explained-that is to say, of the unknown. If anyone has needs of a metaphysical nature, I can't satisfy them with the Party's programme. Time will go by until the moment when science can answer all the questions.

Christianity, of course, has reached the peak of absurdity in this respect. And that's why one day its structure will collapse. Science has already impregnated humanity. Consequently, the more Christianity clings to its dogmas, the quicker it will decline.

A movement like ours mustn't let itself be drawn into metaphysical digressions. It must stick to the spirit of exact science. It's not the Party's function to be a counterfeit for religion.

If in the course of a thousand or two thousand years, science arrives at the necessity of renewing its points of view, that will not mean that science is a liar. Science cannot lie, for it's always striving, according to the momentary state of knowledge to deduce what is true. When it makes a mistake, it does 10 in good faith. It's Christianity that's the liar. It's in perpetual conflict with itself.

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

Pure Christianity-the Christianity of the catacombs-is concerned with translating the Christian doctrine into facts. It leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind. It is merely whole- hearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics.

I adopted a definite attitude on the 21st March '933 when I refused to take part in the religious services, organised at Potsdam by the two Churches, for the inauguration of the new Reichstag.

Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity. It will last another hundred years, two hundred years perhaps. My regret will have been that I couldn't, like whoever the prophet was, behold the promised land from afar.

The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing. And, if he does not succeed in getting himself transferred in the meanwhile to the Collegium Germanium in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts, no "T" will remain uncrossed, no "I" undotted!

Christianity is an invention of sick brains.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I made a mistake in my initial post concerning thenumber of people murdered by atheistic regimes, it was far more than 70 million.

From Prof. Rummel's study on "Deomocide" by totalitarian regimes of the 20th century:

So, the famine was intentional. What was its human cost? I had estimated that 27,000,000 Chinese starved to death or died from associated diseases. Others estimated the toll to be as high as 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put it at 38,000,000, and given their sources, I will accept that. Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday's estimate of "well over 70 million." This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

The total for the three largest atheist regimes of the 20th century (Stalinist, Nazi and Maoist) comes to approximately 160 million over 70 years. This does not include mass murder by secondary Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Khmer Rouge and other totalitarians. A.N. Wilson is correct, the horrors of the 20th century stem from atheism and were carried out by atheists.

By comparison, from an FAQ on the Inquisition:

How many were executed by the Spanish Inquisition? By most standards, the records of the Spanish Inquisition are spectacularly good and a treasure trove for social historians as they record many details about ordinary people. Nothing like all the files have been analysed but from the third looked at so far, it seems the Inquisition, operating through out the Spanish Empire, executed about 700 people between 1540 and 1700 out of a total of 49,000 cases. It is also reckoned that they probably killed about two thousand during the first fifty years of operation when persecution against Jews and Moslems was at its most severe. This would give a total figure of around 5,000 for the entire three hundred year period of its operation.

Anonymous said...

Oh Mr. Blackford, please feel free to apologize for the "kindergarten" remark at anytime.

luke said...

In a way this is getting annoying.

--"It's not good enough to tell religious leaders that we'll accept their claims as moral leaders or experts - or as experts on a spooky realm that mysteriously affects our lives - as long as they'll get off our backs and let us teach science."--

--"How did they come to have authority on moral issues? Why should we believe that there is any such spooky realm?"--

See, it's hard to tell if you understood what you've already said.

Here's a quote from your review of Rocks of Ages.

--" He does not attack religious beliefs in a relatively young Earth merely on the basis that it is irrational to maintain them in the light of well-established scientific knowledge. Instead, he argues that it is illegitimate in principle to have any religious beliefs with empirical consequences."--

Two points, if you understand what you say above, Gould is clearly taking "supernaturalism" out of the picture, that it is not reality. Of course, you can't hold this view because to argue against 3, you hold that science can study the "supernaturalism" (clearly not fully grasping that science makes no use of the "god" - "supernatural force" hypothesis).

He is undermining the very thing used to grant themselves authority, that is divine revelation, which Gould only grants as part of the human story and metaphor. He was simply separating science and religion. No one has authority on the "supernatural" if you understand the point here, we have scientific authority on "supernaturalism" if you understand it as part of the human brain (part of the belief systems). It is amusing that you will argue what is actually granted authority with regards to "supernaturalism" while saying science can study the "superantural" (of course in the wrongly approach that this is needed argument against your 3).

Of course, any hint of what you term "accomdationism", regardless of how you frame the debate, will be seen as wrong for a simple reason. This reason has little to do with forwarding and defending science, and everything to do with religion.

However, we've already been down some of this road. You simply see the "supernaturalistic" claims as not apart (well, at least how you like to frame the discussion anyways) from what science is actually doing (thereby giving the false impression, as you seem to like to do, that science is falsifying the "supernatural", that the "supernatural" hypothesis is somehow formulated scientifically). So, there's really no way around this, you will continue to propagate false information regarding science for the sake of a little propaganda (though, I'm sure you'll see this propaganda as the good kind of course). But, it is also funny that you don't realize the impenetrability of "supernatural" argument (do you?), or will you distort that to mean I am saying don't argue against "supernaturalistic" beliefs? I'd be curious to know if you do understand that last sentence...

luke said...

I can't help but to say something on the conversation with "anonymous".

It has to do with this. When it comes to Hitler and atheism, we see the usual two arguments used. What I find funny is how atheist won't apply Dennett's "belief in belief" to Hitler most times. To say he actually wasn't a Christian, he "believed in the belief" as formulated in Dennett's book, "Breaking the Spell", which offered a few ways to view "belief in belief".

The paradox of course is how quickly certain atheist will apply "belief in belief" in other context, but when it comes to Hitler (even knowing full well of the bizarre beliefs found in the Reich and the obvious advantage taking of Christian and the two way self promotion with the Catholic church) they will state he was Christian (or religious) with the confidence they say they're atheist.

Lincoln Cannon said...

Russell, I consider religion to be to communities as spirituality is to individuals -- analogous to the relation between communal law and individual will. Religion is a way of promoting unity and stability through the reconciliation of diverse individuals' spirituality. I have a rather Nietzschean perspective on spirituality: an esthetic from which we moralize and establish context for seeking knowledge toward empowerment. Likewise, I consider religion to be a communal esthetic, resulting in analogous moralizing and mobilization toward empowerment. Thus, as I seek to understand the relation between science and religion, I am seeking to understand how a relatively new epistemic process relates to an ancient esthetic. Not everything about ancient esthetics is worth maintaining, nor is everything about them worthless. Some see science as the end of religion. I see it as a transformative agent. The religion of the future will be as different from contemporary religions as the contemporary are from the ancient. In some ways, the future religions may be as atheistic in relation to our contemporary understandings of gods as we may be today toward the ancient gods. However, I suspect many of us will continue to acknowledge an enduring relation between the religions of future and past, and continue to consider the change as progress in the relation between divinity and humanity, even as we become something approximating the kinds of persons we once worshipped, consequent to an increasingly empowered communal esthetic. If that happens, I suspect we, humans here on Earth, will not be the only or first to do so. Does this count as another form of accommodationism between religion and science?

Go Democrats said...

As much as Anonymous thinks that he is impressing all of us with his command of 20th-century history, the error in his reasoning is the assertion that atrocities "stem from" atheism.

It's just as easily to argue that the atrocities of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition "stem from" Christianity. There is no moral requirement in either atheism or Christianity that made either the gulag or the Crusades necessary.

Neil said...

The three methods that you've got there are all varieties of what you might call accommodation-by-separation, but perhaps we might also consider attempts at accommodation-by-unification.

I'm thinking of Quantum Mysticism stuff from people like Fritjof Capra, the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and maybe those who try to see the Biblical account of creation as somehow being a metaphor compatible with the Big Bang theory. They allow overlap of various kinds, but with a fuzzy enough view of the science and a good dose of speculation they can argue that a convergence of religion and science is just around the corner.

Though I guess you might like to call them Compatibilists or some such, rather than Accomodationists.

wsinda said...

Anonymous, it is you who needs to apologize. You hijacked a thread by spouting lengthy posts that are not related to the topic of Russell Blackford's post. And you did not even use a proper name.

Use Google. There are hundered of sites about atheism where you can find your arguments soundly refuted.

J. J. Ramsey said...

I can think of another sort of accomodationism, which is the idea that religious beliefs are tolerable if they can accommodate themselves to scientific facts as we know them and aren't falsifiable in practice. In a sense, that's a variation on NOMA where science is still authoritative about empirical issues, yet religion is not assumed to have a positive value but just stays out of the way.

sailor1031 said...

For those who think that morality has anything to do with religion please see this web page:
http://www.bandoli.no/hammurabi.htm

For those who think that mass slaughter is the unique province of atheists consider that world war 1 was started by, led by and fought by people of religion - all of them christians except the turks. Estimated death toll circa 20 million.

Regarding accommodating science and religion, Richard Feynman's talk at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964 ("the role of scientific culture in modern society", essay #4 in "The pleasure of finding things out")in part observes that if we believe in religious phenomena we should investigate them scientifically. He ends by observing that in science we must always doubt, that if we insist that we know the whole thing then there is no room for further progress. These are of course the gaps that religionists try to sneak god into. It seems to me that it is inconsistent to try to reconcile science with religion. The reconciliation must be the other way around - religion reconciled to science. Perhaps de Chardin goes further than many but the problem is he starts with religion as the answer and tries to reconcile things from that viewpoint. This introduces the problems of what do you as a religionist continue to accept as revealed truth and what do you throw out without throwing out the basis for your beliefs.....very tricky, that! Still I suppose he's the closest thing to a catholic intellectual they have.

Brian said...

Well at least anonymous demonstrates that I'm not the only ignorant krank to post on your blog Russell. :)

Russell Blackford said...

Brian, I have more than my share of ignorant cranks of late. Have you looked at Jerry Coyne's blog recently?

Brian said...

Will have to check his blog again. Isn't he the source of the krank infestation?

Matt said...

I like that anonymous somehow "forgets" the entire history of colonialism. United States genocide of Native Americans - death toll about 20 million. Mexican genocide of Native Americans about 5 million. South American genocide of Native Americans another 15-20 million. All done by Christians.

African slave trade around 6 million dead, not to mention maybe 12 million ENSLAVED by Christians.
Another 19 million dead in the Islamic slave trade over 13 centuries of raiding and slavery.

Several centuries of colonialism resulting in massive death tolls from Christian countries. Congo under Leopold II and 8 million more dead. And that's just one country in Africa. India under British colonial rule maybe 6-10 million from famine. The list is very, very long. It makes the Inquisition look pretty tame.

Oh, I forgot. This is an Australian blog. So how about the genocide of 90% of the aboriginal population (by Christians) which is a paltry 1 million dead, including, if I recall correctly, every single native Tasmanian. Oh, and turning Tasmania into a concentration camp that would have made the Nazis blush. Very moral. Good Christians torturing good Christians.

Honestly, anonymous, there was a world before the 20th century and, big surprise, religious people were doing what you accuse all the atheists of doing. Almost like it's people themselves, and not their belief or lack of belief, who decide if they are moral.

And have you read the old testament? If I had a dollar for every time Yahweh calls for mass killing or genocide or the slaughter of children or the random death of animals I could quit my job.

Oh, yeah. And I think religious accomodationism is Bullshit. Moral high ground my ass...

Steve Zara said...

luke-

He was simply separating science and religion.No, he wasn't. Gould specifically stated that religious ideas had merit when discussing matters of morality. He talked about such ideas helping with the "gaining of wisdom".

He wasn't just separating science and religion, he was giving religion a territory of human understanding and saying it was of use there.

This is a bit of a thing of mine right now - I find Gould's ideas politically worrying.

Anonymous said...

If I may take the time for several responses...

Go Democrats - Congratulations you have refuted one of the major arguments made by atheists against religion. Well done, sir.

Wsinda - Those of us who never made it past kindergarten have easily hurt feelings, hence the request for an apology. My other replies were simply responses to claims made by others (such as Blakes tired old canard of Nazis being christians). As for the length of my response, I prefer to be thorough.

sailor1031 - I think if you take time to read history you'll notice that religin had nothing to do with the stat of WWI. The culprit in this case was the relatively new concept of nationalism.

Brian and Mr. Blackford - Apparently "krank" has a somewhat different meaning at this blog: "someone who presents factual evidence to back up a claim so that others have to resort to ad hominems". However, it's always interesting to see atheists indulge themselves in logical fallacies.

Matt - may I refer you to McNeil's "Plagues and Peoples" where you'll learn that Native Americans were decimated by the diseases (mumps, whooping cough, measels and especially small pox) that the Europeans brought with them. Prior to 1492, the New World lacked large domesticated animals such as the pig, the horse and the cow. Europeans had lived for generations in close proximity to their herds (peasants useusllay slept in the same building as their livestock), exposing themselves to viruses that regularily mutated and made the jump to human hosts. The Europeans that survived contact with these diseases passed this immuity on to their offspring. The result of contact with diseased but immune Europeans was therefore devastating to the Native Americans. There was no deliberate, coordinated plan of genocide by the colonizers.

As for the aboriginies, their shameful treatment was the result of racism, pure and simple.

Now that I've managed to educated you about the effects of diseases on Native Americans populations perhaps I can also provide you some perspective on the issue of slavery. During the Age of Discovery, slavery was endemic and world wide. Prior to Europeans enslaving Africans, millions of Europeans were enslaved by Africans (primarily Barbary pirates) a practice that continued well into the 18th century. The issue of European enslavement rarely comes up in literature though Neal Stephensons' "Baroque Cycle" makes it a major plot line. Back then everyone enslaved everyone else, whether it was Chinese eunuchs, Turkish janissaries, Arab mamelukes, Aztecs preying on rival tribes for sacrifical victims, Euros enslaving Africans or Africans enslaving Euros. Slavery was a common and acepted practice by everyone everywhere.

That is until Christianity (especially the Quakers) and Christian nations helped to end first the slave trade then slavery itself.

Unfortunately, slavery reappeared in the 20th century thanks to the atheistic ideologies of the far right and far left. It was common practice in the gulags of the Soviet Union and the mines and factories of the 3rd Reich. Hitler's V2 factories and Stalin's Kolyma gold mines were far worse hell holes than any southern plantation.

Which historically is what happens when the restraining influence of religious morality is removed from a society.

Anonymous said...

As for the proper relationship between science and religion, the best description I've ever heard was:

"Faith and reason are the two shoes on your feet. You'll get farther wearing both than you'll ever get only wearing one".

Reason allows us to avoid the ignorance of the fundamentalist, while faith allows us to avoid the nihilism of the atheist.

Brian said...

"someone who presents factual evidence to back up a claim so that others have to resort to ad hominems". However, it's always interesting to see atheists indulge themselves in logical fallacies. You do realise that an ad-hominem is an informal fallacy? That is, the argument is valid, and it's only a question of whether it's appropriate. And it is quite appropriate when the character of the interlocutor is in question. Which after presenting egregious propaganda that is so full of formal fallacies and a-historical crap, and with you acting like a krank, is where your character resides. Thus, calling you a krank when you post crap is perfectly legitimate. Of course, you probably thought it was a formal fallacy, and thought you'd won the argument.

The funniest thing is how precious you get when called something so innocuous as a krank, when you deserve much more spite for peddling such vile dross.

Brian said...

Reason allows us to avoid the ignorance of the fundamentalist, while faith allows us to avoid the nihilism of the atheist.

The first clause seems acceptable. The second is just rubbish. Have you polled every, or most atheists and found them nihilistic? No atheist I know of, including myself, is a nihilist. In fact, knowing that this is the only life you get, and you're so lucky to exist and that this is not a rehearsal for the next life engenders an appreciation for life, and concern about the world that is most definitely not nihilist. I suspect that you think atheists are believers without God. A believer thinks the world only makes sense with God. Take away God and there's nothing, nihil (but I repeat myself). An atheist doesn't start with the premise that God is required, so without God, there is everything there could be given the vicissitudes of life and such that all people experience. So, an atheist, is most definitely not a nihilist.

Anonymous said...

Please provide list of ahistorical claims with detailed descriptions as to why they are false.

Surely you can do better than just make a blanket claim unsported by factual evidence.

Steve Zara said...

Something I find a bit unfair about NOMA (1) is the way it treats people who are rationalists but not scientists. It is all very well for some scientists to say they are happy with religion being authorative about "meaning" and "purpose", but they should surely have asked the philosophers about this first, rather than handing all that over to theologians and preachers.

Anonymous said...

Atheism inescapably leads to nihilism.

Whithout a God, existence is but a meaningless (if fortunate) accident.

Without a soul, consciousness and the Self are merely an illusions incapable of free will or volition necessary to create meaning.

Furthermore, all actions in an inherently meaningless universe, no matter how devoted or passionate, are themselves meaningless gestures in a cold indifferent universe.

I would further recommend Hans Kung's "Does God Exist?", in which he makes a convincing case that atheism is inherently nihilistic. A short hand version of the argument can be found in the internet encyclopedia of philosophy article on "Nihilism":

"In the twentieth century, it's the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) defining preposition for the movement, "existence precedes essence," rules out any ground or foundation for establishing an essential self or a human nature. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. Nothingness reveals each individual as an isolated being "thrown" into an alien and unresponsive universe, barred forever from knowing why yet required to invent meaning. It's a situation that's nothing short of absurd. Writing from the enlightened perspective of the absurd, Albert Camus (1913-1960) observed that Sisyphus' plight, condemned to eternal, useless struggle, was a superb metaphor for human existence (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942). The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism." In other words, in a world that is inherently nothing more than a meaningless accident, no amount of individual effort will result in true meaning or purpose. All such attempts will be in vain.

Steve Zara said...

Anonymous-

The supposed existence of a God or souls is irrelevant to your arguments unless they can be demonstrated with a reasonable degree of confidence. As they can't, then they provide no basis for the foundation of meaning (not being a NOMA-ist I won't concede that point).

You are left trying to work out what the meaning of life is whether or not you believe in a soul.

So all your arguments about politics and history and nihilism are of no relevance at all unless you can demonstrate that the supernatural entities you propose are real. Unless you can do that you are in no better position than atheists to determine what is moral or meaningful. In fact, I would claim you are in a worse position as you using ideas that have no foundation.

Anonymous said...

Neither the existence or non-existence of God can be proven or disproven either empirically or logically. Theism and atheism are therefore both faith claims. Neither claim is testable or falsifiable. Both are therefore non-scientific and meaningless in a Popperian sense. Neither can be demonstrated with any degree of confidence.

And yes a Creator is requried to give existence inherent meaning. Only a Creator who deliberately created the universe with a purpose and goal in mind can give existence meaning.

The other alernative is an accidental (if fortunate) universe that came into being purely by random chance as a result fo the Big Bang. Accidents by definition have no meaning. They are without purpose or reason for existing.

Steve Zara said...

Neither claim is testable or falsifiable.I disagree with that point, but let's move on.

And yes a Creator is requried to give existence inherent meaning. Only a Creator who deliberately created the universe with a purpose and goal in mind can give existence meaning.I disagree with this too, but ...

Not of what you have said has the slightest relevance to the point I was making.

You may believe that the universe has intrisic meaning, but that belief in itself is of not the slightest value in finding out what the meaning actually is.

The difference between you and us atheists is that we don't pretent to know what the meaning is. We work out our own meanings, hopefully though intellegent and educated discussion.

Unless you can point to what the meaning is... and I am pretty sure you can't, then you should be using the same fair and democratic method as we do: we work out meaning together, and don't pretend to have special powers to know what some supernatural meaning is.

Anonymous said...

You may believe that the universe has intrisic meaning, but that belief in itself is of not the slightest value in finding out what the meaning actually is.Well if there is no meaning there would be nothing to find in the first place, now would there? So if the universe is inherently meaningless, any attempts to find out what that meaning actually is would be doomed to failure as there is no meaning to find out.

I make know claim or pretense to know what that meaning or purpose is. I only point out that there can be no meaning (whatever that may be) without the deliberate act of creation by a Creator.

Steve Zara said...

I only point out that there can be no meaning (whatever that may be) without the deliberate act of creation by a Creator.And if pigs had wings, they would fly.

But I see no flying pigs, so we have to cope without airborne bacon.

Matt said...

Anonymous,

I am well aware that the majority of deaths of Native Americans was due to disease. Perhaps you have heard of smallpox blankets, the practice of taking the bedding of colonial victims of smallpox and "gifting" it to the locals.

Oh, and slavery was morally ok because everyone was doing it? Is this more "cultural context" bullshit?

And the Australian genocide was racism. And this somehow magically invalidates my point that it was commited by Christians. The holocaust was racism, too. Does this magically invalidate any of your points?

And the proud history of colonialism and all the damage that it did? Still wondering about that one.

I am not arguing that Stalin, a firm unbeliever, didn't commit genocide. Same for the Maoist regime in China. Same for the Nazis, although most Nazis were Christian even if the leadership was not. I am pointing out that it is not the belief or unbelief in any god(s) that leads to genocide. It seems to be a human belief that what is being done is right/justified coupled with some healthy megalomania and lust for power.

I like that you move the goalposts a lot though. You should argue on the creationist side of the evolution/creation debate. You in no way managed to invalidate my point that Christians and other religious groups are equally capable of great evil.

Oh, and if you want a modern country that is not "living off the accumulated moral capital of its Christian heritage" and yet socially seems to have it's act together, try Japan. Duh. It's about as non-religious a country as you can get. Goal-post moving in five, four, three...

luke said...

I agree with Stephen J. Gould that understanding that our existence as the human animal, being the fluke it is, is freeing, liberating.

Without believing in the "supernatural", which I agree is unfalsifiable (though beliefs in the "supernatural" (such as Gods) are completely within the realm of scientific explanation - as well as philosophical) I am truly free.

luke said...

Steve Zara

I am NOMA-ist, completely. I disagree that I am giving any ground. In fact, it is quite the opposite situation. Politically, I see even greater advantage.

In a very real way, the debates concerning NOMA, and the insistence by certain atheist and the religious that science does involve itself with the "supernatural" (or potentially) beyond the belief systems is becoming increasingly troubling as the "culture wars" show no sign of becoming anymore rational (those debates can only work to the disadvantage of science, or in the least the advantage of the supposed "supernatural realm" because of its false connection to science).

NOMA is truly the most rational approach, and for me, satisfying solution. This idea that ground is given in moral debate is ridiculous, truly a foolish position (you don't need to be a 'Gouldian' to understand this fact). The "supernatural" is not reality, as I keep telling Russell the claims that are falsified are regarding nature (and the so-called "proofs of god" are nothing more than nature), not the "supernatural".

Russell is another atheist who argues strongly that the "supernatural" (gods and ghost) are within the realm of science, thereby confusing what science is actually doing (oh sure, they can be real things, I'll grant that - but you are either living on or come from another planet not to know what the "supernatural" is and to argue so forcefully it is within the realm of science, it is disturbing).

Nickname said...

Matt,

Let's see how good I am at thinking like a godbot. I predict anon's reply will be something along the lines of:

Ah, but Japan did have Christian morals imposed on it by two atomic bombs and Douglas MacArthur.

Something along those lines I think. Let's see.

Steve Zara said...

luke-

I am passionately anti-NOMA-ist. There is no form of NOMA that I can see makes any philosophical sense, and NOMA (1) gives religion a politically dangerous privilege.

The only possible form of accommodation with religion that I can see is to tell it to shut up and become a purely personal matter.

I can't speak for Russell, but my interpretation of what he says is that supposed phenomena which are commonly identified as supernatural can be investigated by science. That is not a concession to any idea that the supernatural exists, it just recognises common uses of words. Even if that isn't his interpretation of the situation, it is mine.

Anonymous said...

But I see no flying pigs, so we have to cope without airborne bacon.Pity, I'm rather fond of bacon.

So then, we are in agreement that without a Creator, the universe can only be an accident. Accidents are inherently devoid of meaning. Being devoid of meaning is the essence of nihilism.

Atheism therfore leads directly and inescapably to nihism.

Steve Zara said...

Anonymous-

A final response, as I am self-indulgently posting off-topic.

If I tell you to 'look to your left', do you have a problem with it?

But how can you manage that, when there is no absolute left in the universe... no cosmic standard for 'left' or 'right'?

As with 'left' and 'right', so with 'right' and 'wrong'. We have our personal moral senses. We collaborate to work out something more general than 'left' and 'right', such as 'east' and 'west', but there are still no universal references for those.

We do the same with morality. We collaborate to get meaning. Why should the lack of absolute meaning be any more of a problem than absolute direction?

You don't require God to provide absolute direction before you set off to drive to the shops.

luke said...

Anonymous

Probably better if I stay out of your debate, mainly because the issue of meaning, is well, meaningless. However...

---"So then, we are in agreement that without a Creator, the universe can only be an accident. Accidents are inherently devoid of meaning. Being devoid of meaning is the essence of nihilism.

Atheism therfore leads directly and inescapably to nihism."---

Yes, we are an "accident", a fluke (speaking of the human animal) of nature. As Gould liked to say, nature doesn't give a damn about us, metaphorically speaking.

And yes, morality is in the same boat. Nature did not decide to grant morality, there is no morality inherent in the "universe". The human animal, morality, meaning, are all aboard the same ship - nature had no forethought of us being here with our morality and meaning, there was no plan. These are obvious facts of nature, by placing this all in the context of nihilism to paint an ugly picture simply doesn't work. It is not ugly, it is beautiful and liberating, for me an many others. I consider myself a very moral person, with high ethical standards (though I am sure we would agree on many points), I find meaning in rather simple things of life and in the oddest of places.

That's all to put it simply....

luke said...

Steve Zara

---"I am passionately anti-NOMA-ist."---

I have little problem battling people on this subject. I am passionately anti-anti-NOMA, I find the anti-NOMA-ist to be partially deluded and often confuse the debate over science and religion. Their main gripe seems to be mainly about giving religion a "Magisteria", I say to bad, it's time to grow the hell up!

Since you don't offer much in the way of argument (ala Russell, outside of making statements and claims), then that's all I have to say (unless you offer real argument - and save the "religion is bad" lines, that's not debate on the issue - but, I am sure that won't stop you, don't take personally, it's a common tactic).

Anonymous said...

Matt -

There is only one recorded deliberate use of smallpox infected blankets as a means of killing Native Americans. It occured during the French and Indian War at Ft. Pitt (modern Pittsburgh). Background information can be found here at the usually reliable (and fun to read) Snopes:

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1088/did-whites-ever-give-native-americans-blankets-infected-with-smallpox

However, large scale common use of smallpox infect blankets against other Native Americans is an urban legend:

http://www.plagiary.org/smallpox-blankets.pdf

I never said slavery was OK simply because everyone was doing it. What I said was that it was endemic - until Christians ended it. At least until atheists revived it in their labor camps.

Racism of any kind is born not of ideology but of visceral fear of the "Other". Christianity had nothing to do with what happened tthe aboriginies. OTOH mass murder of those who are the same race (be they Jews, Gays, Gypsies, the handicapped, Kulaks, class enemies, etc.) requires a motivational ideology. In the 20th century, that ideology was provided by atheists of the far right and far left.

As for evolution, why should that conflict with faith? As long ago as the 5th century, St Augustine warned against the foolishness of a literal interpretation of Genesis:

"...Christians should not talk nonsense to unbelievers. ...Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men." - "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis",

Colonialism, like slavery is endemic to the human condition and has always existed throughout human history. Nobody likes to be occupied but whether it is the Pax Romana or the introduction of democracy into India, not all aspects of imperialism are bad. The truely evil colonizers, like Belgium's King Leopold, were motivated by greed, not ideology.

As for Japan, surely you and Nickname are aware of Japan's ancient Shinto religion and buddhist influences that molded Japanese culture, morals, rituals and ethics?

Anonymous said...

And have you read the old testament? If I had a dollar for every time Yahweh calls for mass killing or genocide or the slaughter of children or the random death of animals I could quit my job.My apologies for not addressing this point previously.

I must admit that I have no ready answer to the issue of God ordering his followers to to do evil things (no matter what the justification, no matter how evil the the infant sacrificing Canaanites may have been, if Joshua was alive today he'd be sharing a jail cell with Slobidan Milosovic). Nor can I in any way justify when he does such things Himself (as in Noah's flood). Nor can can I account for his inconsistency (destroying Sodom and Gomorrah and letting Lot and his family escape, then later refraining from destroying a city for the sake of "of one good man"). A fundamentalist acceptance of such stories simply contradicts the basic premise that God is good. There is no way around that embarrassing fact.

Fortunately I'm not a Fundamentalist. I am in agreement with CS Lewis when he wrote the following:

"The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'so there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.' Believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him 'good' and worshipping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible."

As a non-fundamentalist Catholic I don't have to believe that Genesis is literally true, that Exodus occurred exactly in the manner described, or that the historical books are more accurate than any other oral history written down at a later date (the book of Joshua may be no more "accurate" than the Iliad). So you can either believe God is good or believe the scriptures are inerrant. You can't believe both.

pebird@pacbell.net said...

I propose a slightly different view of NOMA and its relationship to accommodationism. The dualism of objective and subjective needs an additional layer of materialism, creating 4 categories.

1 Subjective : Immaterial
2 Objective : Material
3 Objective : Immaterial
4 Subjective : Material

Category 1 is the realm of universals - freedom, truth, love, god, etc. This is where philosophy and theology meet.

Category 2 is where science is situated - explaining the world in terms of material interactions and proof of existence through repeatable demonstrations.

Category 3 contains social relationships - politics, psychology, etc. This is also the realm of religion practice, as opposed to pure theology

Category 4 is the interesting area. This is where fetish rules. Fetish is an attempt to take a universal category and give it material existence. Money is a popular example - an object that "contains" value. Totems and other relics are other ways that infinite power or saintly virtue is seen to be embodied in an object.

We can tell these are not containers of universality because the effectiveness of a particular fetish declines over time.

We have to think about the need to materialize universals - at a minimum it is a response to doubt or lack of faith - maybe the fetish reinforces belief for an individual. But there is a political aspect to this - the fetish also has the quality of distortion - it disguises a social relationship by asserting universality. So the fetish can be used to divert attention from something else - I would argue that it diverts attention from a decaying social structure.

Accomodationism falls into two categories - 1) an attempt to re-establish Categories 1 and 2 (NOMA), and 2) acceptance of fetishism in the spirit of "discussion".

When someone insists that god must "exist", if they are saying that god must objectively exist, they are creating fetishes. You can see this in some fundamentalists that assert that the Bible does not "contain" the word of god, but "is" the word of god. They may not realize they are fetishizing the Bible - creating an idol, a false god, but they are.

So trying to find god "in the gaps" is a sophisticated form of fetish. There is already a irreconcilable gap - that of the subjective and objective realms. Saying that god physically exists in gaps of materiality that have not yet been investigated by science, is a kind of technological fetish. They need to explain why god disappears when science resolves these physical "gaps". They don't want to do that, so the only response is to say that the science is "bad".

But we can understand why religion is so opposed to science - science continually overturns the power of religious fetish by showing there is no god "substance". But this is basically a political question - one of social relationships - and not an discussion of universals (god, soul, etc.).

Without the concept of fetish, adopting NOMA is a dangerous accommodation because religion cannot stay within the context of universals - that is what theology does. Religion is politics by other means, while it claims to be concerned with understanding the soul, consciousness and the meaning of life, it only uses them to maintain its internal structure, and becomes extremely dangerous to the rest of us when those structures are threatened.

luke said...

Steve Zara

---"That is not a concession to any idea that the supernatural exists, it just recognises common uses of words."---

I have a strong feeling you've read Russell on the subject because the comments you have made regarding them. I am not saying he is granting they exist, in fact his whole argument rest on the idea of how strongly he doesn't hold a belief in their existence.

He further argues that how we say things, define terms, etc. does not tell us if god and ghosts exist. He could be a 6 out of 7 on the Dawkins scale and make this argument (in fact, Dawkins makes a similar argument).

I get told I'm being dogmatic repeating myself that science concerns itself with natural phenomena, not the "supernatural". That Coyne's argument that scientist could be convinced of the "supernatural realm" if something happens (like a 900 foot tall Jesus suddenly appearing) is just childish talk (as was recognized by Darwin in the quote he used to make his argument that "supernaturalism" was within the realm of science). Of course, my argument is meant with complaints that I am ignorant of such argument that Russell forwards (truly bizarre move on his part, right out of the gate too).

However, the "supernatural" is not reality, he can make his arguments to the theist that claim they find god hiding in nature, but don't confuse science, stop using science as weapon in an imaginary world where there's sound bit claims of a "war between naturalism and supernaturalims" (which is a meaningless claim in the scientific sense).

Of course, these are more reasons I fully support NOMA, because from both sides we find ridiculous statement made regarding the "supernatrual realm" and science.

luke said...

pebird

I think you're right and wrong on several point, though an interesting outlay you have there.

However, all you are doing is illustrating why "supernaturalism" is/or can be impenetrable to science and rationality. We can keep pushing a belief beyond the realm of science, this should be obvious in these discussions. I am not saying that science can not tell us something about the "supernatural" at least with regards to belief systems,or that we should not argue moral points or about beliefs (of course this goes for other belief systems as well). It is up to the "believer" to change their belief, they can accept what science does tell us about reality, how their beliefs are often contradictory to scientifically revealed facts, theories and truth. That is what we are dealing with most times, contradiction between reality and belief systems (and we could go for days on the history of religion, why people believe, what theories their are etc. etc.). Religion as dangerous is valid, it is fact. However, I think the approach to go the distance of what to me is unjustified fear mongering with regards to NOMA (a common tactic amongst certain atheist), is simply wrong headed.

There is nothing about NOMA that stops or slows or anything like that with regards to science (in fact quite the opposite), nothing to say we don't engage in moral debate, or that it suddenly makes the "supernatural" real.

Find it dangerous all you want, but at least attempt to make your argument within reason, or is it your fetish to make to go to bizarre lengths to make the claim.

Steve Zara said...

There is nothing about NOMA that stops or slows or anything like that with regards to scienceOh it certainly does.

For example Gould said that the concept of the soul was useful in moral debate, and did not influence science.

Tell that to someone fighting political pressure from the religious to prevent them doing embryonic stem cell research.

NOMA isn't just nonsense. It is non-existent in principle. Moral concerns affect much of scientific research. Do we want Bishops reviewing what science should be doing because of their privileged status as judges of morality?

luke said...

I Wrote:
--"There is nothing about NOMA that stops or slows or anything like that with regards to science:--

Steve Zara Wrote:
---"Oh it certainly does.

For example Gould said that the concept of the soul was useful in moral debate, and did not influence science.

Tell that to someone fighting political pressure from the religious to prevent them doing embryonic stem cell research.

NOMA isn't just nonsense. It is non-existent in principle. Moral concerns affect much of scientific research. Do we want Bishops reviewing what science should be doing because of their privileged status as judges of morality?"---

First, just claiming "yes it does", actually doesn't make it so.

As far as soul, it's pretty well understood he was talking about a soul in metaphorical terms, thereby saying its understanding is better seen light of reality, such as what it may tell us about ourselves.

The political debate on the moral issue of those who hold out the "supernatural" soul as real and meaningful, have no argument based in reality. It would be better if they accepted the natural explanation for a soul. But, that is the shared border of moral debate Gould referred to, and I'm pretty he as someone who forwards NOMA, that my argument, which does not accept the soul as real, as a none argument and who also supports the freedom to have an abortion and stem cell research (the idea of a soul does not affect how I argue, again, it is not reality to argue the soul is real, it is only useful as a metaphor).

What does "non-existent in principle" mean, it simply does not follow to say that moral debate does not effect science, it obviously does, same with moral debate in politics (where you can find the debate most often take place which affects science). Your comment on the Bishop is a bogus straw man. You have a completely distorted take on NOMA (as I said it is often the anti-NOMA stance is deluded).

luke said...

Ah crap.

Let me fix one here of mine from my last post, though this won't be much better... (I suppose writing my thoughts out somewhere else besides these little comment boxes would help, I apologize)


..and I'm pretty sure as someone who forwards and supports NOMA, that my argument, which does not accept the soul as real, and thinks the soul as real as a non-argument, and who also supports the freedom to have an abortion and supports stem cell research, thinks their argument can win...

Steve Zara said...

As far as soul, it's pretty well understood he was talking about a soul in metaphorical terms, thereby saying its understanding is better seen light of reality, such as what it may tell us about ourselves.But religion does not talk about the soul in metaphorical terms.

Gould did not just say that the ideas of religion could be useful, he said that religion itself was authoratitive; a source of wisdom. That is why my mention of bishops is certainly not a straw man.

I would like those who support Gould to really careful read (or re-read) exactly what he wrote. I found it quite shocking, both in terms of its pandering to religion, and its philosophical and political naivety.

Matt said...

Anonymous,

Lots of religious people were just fine with slavery. Look at the American South, the most religious part of the US. They were willing to fight and kill and die to protect what was called by some a "divine institution." Many church leaders took the position that the only slavery that mattered was a spiritual slavery, and as long as you were preaching to the slaves, jesus was cool with that. There is no part of the bible that explicitly says slavery is wrong, or evil. Just different interpretations or "readings".

Lots of atheists were against slavery. In fact, every atheist that I know is against slavery. Even though they don't believe in god. How crazy is that? They also don't walk around plotting to kill and rape and steal, even though they have no fear of divine retribution. Hard to believe, I know.

You say: "Racism of any kind is born not of ideology but of visceral fear of the "Other". Christianity had nothing to do with what happened tthe aboriginies. OTOH mass murder of those who are the same race (be they Jews, Gays, Gypsies, the handicapped, Kulaks, class enemies, etc.) requires a motivational ideology"

So racism doesn't require ideology, unless you kill lots of the race you don't like? What? Does this make sense to anyone?

So when Andrew Jackson (a devout Presbyterian who believed in divine "manifest destiny")had the remaining eastern Native Americans rounded up and mercilessly marched across the country to their concentration camps, excuse me, reservations, that was just racism requiring no ideology?

When the Mormon church refused membership to black people and considered them cursed by god until the 1970's, that was just racism requiring no ideology?

When the KKK lynched black people, that was just racism, requiring no ideology? Or was that just fear-driven racism because they didn't get around to killing enough people?

But when Hitler did it, he did it only because he didn't believe in god. In that one, it wasn't racism, plain old racial superiority like the type that justified slavery or killed all the Australian Aborigines. it was his lack of belief in Christianity. If he had just been more Christian he would have loved the Jews. Just like Christians have always historically loved the Jews. No ideologically driven racism there! *cough* Pogroms *cough* Just fear of the "other"...

Matt said...

Anonymous,

I also have some questions for you. As a non-fundamentalist Catholic, how do you decide which parts of the bible to believe? The parts that you like the best? The ones that fit your non-immutable moral standards of life in the 21st century? Why don't you believe in the racist parts? Or the homophobic parts? Or the owning slaves parts? Or the beat your kids parts? Or the give away all your worldly possessions parts? Actually, I have yet to meet any Christian who does what Jesus actually preached. He says over and over again to give away everything you own and go spread peace and love...

Do you cherry-pick your beliefs and then have faith in the infallibility of them? This seems rather intellectually dishonest.

"The truely evil colonizers, like Belgium's King Leopold, were motivated by greed, not ideology."

Of course Stalin wasn't motivated by his greed and lust for power. It was just atheism. One day he said to himself "You know, if there's no god, I think I'll become the most oppressive dictator so far of the 20th century and kill everyone who has a problem with this" I'm sure that's just how it happened.

And one day Mao and his fellow revolutionaries said "Man, if only there was no god. Then we could totally seize power and remake society as we see fit, regardless of the cost in human life." Again, not power hungry, just atheist.

If only they had believed in some kind of god(s), then that never would have happened. Because no person of faith has ever... wait, no, never mind. It's just when the faithful do it it's unrelated to ideology. When atheists do it it's only because they're atheists. Not that they are greedy and power hungry, just like religious people can be. Now I understand.

When Napoleon said to himself "You know, I think I'll try and conquer Europe" that was just megalomania and lust for power. You know, because he was Catholic. Although he did dis the Pope, so maybe he was a closet atheist.

luke said...

Steve Zara

First, that was a straw man, as I illustrated.

I understand NOMA, clearly better than you do. Your claim above is garbage, plain and simple. It's just not worth consideration on my part.

Just making claims like you do and thinking this makes an argument (or the second level of delusion to think anyone should just take it as truth) really needs to be corrected on you part.

luke said...

Steve Zara

--"But religion does not talk about the soul in metaphorical terms."--

I missed this part, it was bunched in with my words.

Oh, really, no kidding, I was raised Catholic, they didn't tell us souls were real (what an insulting remark on your part for a debate point really, stating the obvious is simply ridiculous when, why would I mention metaphor in the first place). Yet, more evidence you haven't a clue to what you are talking about, still wanting to make baseless claims and spread a bit of unjustified fear mongering while your at it.

luke said...

"your" in last sentence should read "you're" as in "while you are at it"

Anonymous said...

When atheists do it it's only because they're atheists.Not exactly Matt. They do it because of their atheism. Again, I refer back to Wolfe's essay "Sorry but your Soul Just Died":

Which brings us to the second most famous statement in all of modern philosophy: Nietzsche's "God is dead." The year was 1882. (The book was Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science].) Nietzsche said this was not a declaration of atheism, although he was in fact an atheist, but simply the news of an event. He called the death of God a "tremendous event," the greatest event of modern history. The news was that educated people no longer believed in God, as a result of the rise of rationalism and scientific thought, including Darwinism, over the preceding 250 years. But before you atheists run up your flags of triumph, he said, think of the implications. "The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future."Nietzsche was a prophet and the 20th century proved him right.

BTW, Napoleon was an atheist.

Actually, I have yet to meet any Christian who does what Jesus actually preached. He says over and over again to give away everything you own and go spread peace and love...Nobody meets the standards set by Jesus. That we are a fallen race of unworthy sinners saved only by God's grace expressed in the sacrifice of the cross is basic Christian theology. That is why I like being a Christian. All other religions require worshipers to make sacrifices to their gods.

Christianity is the only religion where God sacrifices Himself for us.

luke said...

Anonymous

---"God sacrifices Himself for us."---

And you know this how?

O.k.; you say the Bible (right?).

I say; how do you know the Bible is right (you've played this game, right?).

You say; it's the word of God (am I close?).

Then I say; (well, what do you think I'd say?).

pebird@pacbell.net said...

Luke:

What I am saying is dangerous is that NOMA asserts these independent majestic realms for the purposes of "making peace". But Gould matches science with the wrong opponent - he thinks it is religion, but it is actually theology. Theology has authority in the realm of "supernatural" and other universal categories. Religion - which is by nature political - doesn't really care about theology other than as an instrument for its own purposes.

Science has no issue with theology, they may disagree about the rules of their disciplines, but it is a principled disagreement. Religion plays by rules it makes up on the fly.

One cannot accomodate this - it is basically negotiating with terrorists.

We confuse religion with theology and end up making bad deals - NOMA is an agreement that is unnecessary - because it doesn't involve who you are really fighting with. It's basically naive.

The "supernatural" debate is in essence the age-old philosophical discussion of the mind/body split. It's not going to be resolved, but huge value can be generated when science and philosophy/theology exchange views. But no NOMA agreement was ever needed to make that discussion happen.

The only justification I can think of for NOMA is to separate theology from the religious political force - but I don't think that is its intent, nor is it effective in doing so. Besides, theology and religion split apart a long time ago. It's the lay people who go to religion to gain understanding about questions of human existence and end up being misled through the fetishism of religious politics who need to recognize this. NOMA doesn't address them.

Basically I think Gould's error was confusing theology with religion, he did this to make a political point, but was naive.

pebird@pacbell.net said...

Luke:

BTW, with regard to "God sacrifices Himself for us.", the answer to "you know this how?" is "it's not knowledge it's faith, and I know the difference, do you?"

luke said...

pebird

---"BTW, with regard to "God sacrifices Himself for us.", the answer to "you know this how?" is "it's not knowledge it's faith, and I know the difference, do you?"---

If you like, it's not where I was going though. It actually shows a lack of faith to claim that what is revealed through science provides gods handy work. Nature does not "give a damn about us", to quote Gould.

If anonymous provides an answer to my question(s), then we'll see if they go in the direction that is the only one that makes sense. Perhaps you don't recognize the game...

luke said...

pebird

You may not like this, but here is the wiki page for theology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology

---"Basically I think Gould's error was confusing theology with religion"---

Absolutely foolish. There is no reconciling science and religious faith, it's really not hard to understand. You are either up for the challenge of moral debate or you're not, whining about authority is a cop-out, as illustrated by Russell Blackford's continuous attempts to paint himself in a corner and wanting to take science with him, hell with that, I say.

luke said...

On that last point, NOMA in no way says "don't be skeptical of religious claims to morality", that's just B.S., it's a straw man argument. No one is asking Blackford to accept religious authority, I think he should spend his time being skeptical of religion, in a rational way, instead of wasting his time making bogus arguments about how science can study the "supernatural", and complaining about us atheist who don't fall in line with his approach. I'm actually getting annoyed with this whole bit, I can understand a good deal of it, and I do appreciate open criticism and debate, but nothing much is being said that wasn't said already by Harris and Dawkins. Talking about surrender! I actually think it's time to start fighting back, stop pretending its all good in atheist land.

pebird@pacbell.net said...

Luke:

Despite the fact I don't agree with NOMA, I do believe it important to respect someone's faith regardless of how they may argue. Trying to trap someone with a knowledge vs. faith trick may have been fun when a sophomore, anyway...

I fully agree that depending on material existence for belief is not a sign of faith. And I agree with the Gould quote with the addition that "there is no Nature to give a damn about either", but I'll forgive him that.

I don't believe I did a good job of explaining my thinking. Of course there is no reconciling science and faith (I'll leave out the religious part because I contend that religion is NOT about faith, but about politics). But that lack of reconciliation is NOT a problem. The "authority" I was talking about was not an absolute authority, but the authority that comes from being consistent about its methods. Theology is consistent - it allows criticism, change, discussion, etc. Religion does not - that is why they are separate in my thinking.

The basic difference between theology and religion is that theology is the STUDY of the concept of personalized universals (e.g., god) and the individual's relationship to this notion. Theology is NOT the development of doctrine - that, along with the practice of doctrine is the realm of Religion. I am using religion in a very specific sense, not the broad popular definition. The reason for this is to illustrate the problem I have with NOMA - there are subtle differences which religion is using to the detriment of science and secular society. And I think Gould misses it, that's all - I might be wrong, but only convinced by argument.

With regard to the challenge of moral debate - by all means lets have one. I see morality as the relationship between an individual and the universal principles they value. I think ethics is much more important than morality as it involves the impact of an individual's actions to others. Arguing about morality is like arguing about god - exhausting but never a resolution. For example, there are moral dilemmas - hypothetical situations that put moral beliefs in conflict. But contrast with ethical choices - where an action must be taken that results in harm - the vast majority of moral thinking is of no help here.

BTW, I also see strong atheists in the same light as believers. Weak atheists claim a certain type of god does not exist (Dawkins) - strong atheists claim god does not exist, regardless of type. This latter view is basically a positivist/materialist stance - it has to deny the immaterial subjective realm, which eliminates any possibility of universal values. This is where consciousness is reduced to an "effect" or a "mistaken notion", etc.

I think the proper atheist stance is to not really care - to realize that god has forsaken thee - he isn't at home - this isn't agnostic/undecided, but deciding that the question has no meaning.

You're right - all is not good in atheist land.

luke said...

pebird

---"Trying to trap someone with a knowledge vs. faith trick may have been fun when a sophomore, anyway..."---

If you're talking about my questions to anonymous, then you're assumption above is simply wrong (is it the word "game" that has you bothered?). Instead of just asking me (or providing your own answer which I wasn't asking for from you in the first place) you are now claiming it's a some "knowledge vs. faith trick." Seriously, what the hell is that about?

---"You're right - all is not good in atheist land."---

Right.

My so-called 'view' on gods goes something like this: I have come to the tentative conclusion that gods do not exist. Supposedly, Blackford finds agreement with my view here, though I highly doubt it and he probably feels more comfortable somewhere on an imaginary line of disbelief (or lack of belief) as described by Dawkins in 'the god delusion'.

luke said...

"you're" should be "your", or "yer", yes, "yer" sounds better.

pebird@pacbell.net said...

Luke:

This is what it's about...

Knowledge is in the domain of science, faith in the domain of belief. Asking someone how they *know* that "God sacrifices Himself for us" is making the assumption they are speaking from knowledge, when it s/b clear that is a statement of faith.

I meant to say "You are correct - all is not right ..." I will try to avoid contractions in the future. Unless I missed a "you're" somewhere else in the comment - I can fat finger on blogs with the best of them.

At any rate, I find it boring to worry about the existence of god(s). They clearly exist in the mind - just as clearly as they do not exist in the world. As you can see, I have a dualist view - but I prefer to call it a split view - but let us (let's) not haggle.

The nature of this existence in the mind is of interest to me - and what exactly existence means there.

If you think that the concept of infinity is real - that there are *things* that have the quality of the infinite - then perhaps you do hold some belief in universals - maybe that tentative conclusion of yers will shift.

luke said...

pebird

---"Knowledge is in the domain of science, faith in the domain of belief. Asking someone how they *know* that "God sacrifices Himself for us" is making the assumption they are speaking from knowledge, when it s/b clear that is a statement of faith."----

Yes, I realize what you wanted to say. In fact I had offered that if that was how you wanted to approach it, that was fine with me. The only problem I had was you decided to go on with the idea that I was trying to trap anonymous in a knowledge vs. trick trick. I'm not out to trap anyone, that is your conclusion, it is also not a trick, it is a well understood problem that will likely reveal itself if anonymous answers in what is the really only reasonable way (which I highly doubt now, if anything I'll get some contorted answer do to wanted to display the unexpected). I'm sure you know where I'm going, it is a simple tautology.

Anonymous said...

Neither claim is testable or falsifiable.I disagree with that point, but let's move on.OK, how exactly do you falsify the existence of God?

And yes a Creator is requried to give existence inherent meaning. Only a Creator who deliberately created the universe with a purpose and goal in mind can give existence meaning.I disagree with this too, but ...Why? Have you found a way for random accidents to be meaningful?

If I tell you to 'look to your left', do you have a problem with it?No, but if you simply said "look left" without refering to my left, I would have no idea which way to look. This would be the situation we would find ourselves in if we lived in a universe completely devoid of meaning.

Anonymous said...

---"God sacrifices Himself for us."--- And you know this how? I don't, that is where faith comes in. But as a Catholic I follow the principle laid down by Aquainas that "faith must pass the test of reason". Faith must be a reasonable faith based on available evidence and subject to the rules of logic. This separates Catholics from Fundamentalists. Catholics also read more than just the Bible. God has another book, the Book of Nature. Again, going back to Aquinas we can descern the nature of God through the study of science. This also separates us from Fundamentalists. It is also why the RCC has never had a problem with evolution. We have understood Genesis to be a metaphor as far back as Augustine - which is why JPII declare evolution to be "more than a theory".

So my faith in God's saving sacrifice is based on reasonable assessment of available information.

We know that Jesus was one of perhaps dozens of wandering rabbis and perhaps not the only one who claimed to be the Messiah. Evidence exists that many of these would-be Messiahs were put to death either by the Jewish leadership or by the Romans. Invariably, the followers of these dead men (assuming they were not executed as well) would either find a new religious leader to follow or return home to try a restart their lives. The same pattern has been seen in modern apocalyptic communities and religious fringe groups where the leader predicts the end of the world. When that end fails to come, or if a Jonestown type tragedy occurs, the remaining followers typically lose faith and slink home.

What makes Jesus unique is that his movement did not collapse with his death. Quite the contrary. Instead of scurrying back home in embarrassment to live lives of safe obscurity, the Apostles were emboldened and motivated by Jesus' hideous and humiliating death on the cross. They were inspired to the point of risking (and often losing) their own lives in order to spread Jesus' teachings. This strongly suggests that something unique happened after what should have been a typical crucifixion to produce an atypical result.

Something very unique.

The story of the empty tomb also requires examination. There is at least one little detail which doesn't add up if the resurrection story were mere fiction. Women in first century Palestine were not considered competent witnesses under Jewish law, and were forbidden from testifying in a court of law since there testimony was considered worthless (it being assumed that they were mentally inferior to men). Yet the authors of the resurrection story state that it was the women who witnessed the empty tomb and informed the cowardly apostles of the risen Jesus. Now what I can't figure out is why a "fictional" story would be written as to reduce the credibility of the tale by having women who were not considered credible witnesses, instead of men, find the empty tomb.

Furthermore, the highly unflattering portrait of the apostles cowering behind closed doors while the women go boldly force to tend to Jesus' cadaver is not something a writer of fiction would include — especially in the strongly patriarchal society of first century Palestine.

An author once said that the only difference between fact and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. It makes no sense for an author to write a fictional account of the resurrection that lacked credibility (having women as the witnesses to the empty tomb) and was embarassing (showing the apostles as cowards). It makes less sense for someone to be willing to die (as the apostles did) for something they know to be fiction.

And so we are left wondering why the greatest mass movement in human history survived, even thrived, after the humiliating death and utter physical defeat of its founder.

Brian said...

Empty tomb? Demonstrate, or even provide evidence that is non-biblical that there was an empty tomb. Don't appeal to the bible, as you're just begging the question. There's not question to answer about any empty tomb, as there's no reason to suppose that there was a resurrection nor empty tomb.

Anonymous said...

Empty tomb? Demonstrate, or even provide evidence that is non-biblical that there was an empty tomb. Don't appeal to the bible, as you're just begging the question. The Jewish authorites could have easily discredited this growing new movement by pointing out that the grave was still occupied and physically showing this to be the case by displaying the corpse.

There's not question to answer about any empty tomb, as there's no reason to suppose that there was a resurrection nor empty tomb.You haven't read what I wrote, so let me summarize. Given the very atypical response of the apostles to the humiliating death of their movement's leader, we have every reason to beleive that something very unique occured after the crucifixion to cause this response.

The apostles certainly believed Jesus to be risen, and willingly died for this belief. Nobody willingly dies for what they know to be a lie.

BTW, I'm still waiting for that list of ahistorical claims you said I made.

luke said...

Anonymous

I was going to just ignore this discussion, but thought this was worth a second look.

---"The Jewish authorites could have easily discredited this growing new movement by pointing out that the grave was still occupied and physically showing this to be the case by displaying the corpse."---

The problem of course is you're taking the Bible as historically accurate. It's likely the story was formed decades after Jesus' death (or possibly lived, I don't know either way - though, I'd personally like to think he did, makes the stories much more interesting). There would be no corpse to take out of the tomb as the stories were being formed by a group of 'christians' decades later. Of course by this time no one would really know where to look for which tomb was possibly his, and I doubt anyone was really interested in checking to see if there were bones, alone.

Anonymous said...

The problem of course is you're taking the Bible as historically accurate.We have no reason to beleive otherwise.

The major charaacters in the Gospels (Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod) were historical figures who existence has been proiven by other source documents and engravings. Pilate went on to be tried for corruption, extortion and cruelty as governor of a province in Gaul (which must have really bad since the whole point of being a Roman governor was to corruptly extort as much money from the natives as possible).

Pilates initial reluctance to try Jesus becomes understandable if we assume he was merely seeking a bribe from the accused (instead of being sympathetic to his plight).

Pilate lived in fear of Tiberius, especially so after Pilate's associated Sejanus (the commander of the Praetorian guard) was executed by Tierius on the grounds of treason. Pilate was walking on egg shells after that, willing to do anything to avoid the emperor's attention. So instead of residing at his normal residence in Ceasarea, Pilate took up quarters with the legion garrison in Jerusalem during the High Holy days. He needed to personally crush any incipient rebellion as quickly as possible to demonstrate his loyalty and competence to the paranoid emperor. The Jewish leadership knew this, which is why they shouted "we have no king but Caesar" - making Pilate understand that they would tell Tiberius if he let Jesus walk.

(cont.)

Anonymous said...

The description of the execution conforms with what we know about Roman legal practices and captial punishments.It was already mid-afternoon when Jesus died. The communication with Pilate and the formal release of the body took still more time. As this was Friday, and sundown quickly approached, the Jewish sabbath would soon begin. It was Jewish custom to have their dead buried by the beginning of the sabbath. However, before the body could be released from the cross, one last act was necessary. In modern day executions, such as by a firing squad, we see a parallel procedure. To insure the demise of the victim, the condemned is shot a point blank range in the head. The Roman parallel was to employ a sword or lance with equal efficiency. A soldier would approach the body from the right side of the victim, and impale his weapon through the right anterior mid-thoracic region to penetrate the right atrium of the heart. This approach from the right side was traditional, and stemmed from their military, where soldiers were taught to carry their shield in the left hand, while wielding their weapon in their right. Thus, to attack, they approached from the right side of the opponent to defend against opposing blows from the opponent's right side and avoiding the shield he carried on his left.

Not only was it SOP, the Gospel account is in accordance with medical reality. The gospel states that a Roman lance penetrated Jesus' heart, describing both water and blood flowing from the woond. When a person dies the right auricle of their heart fills with blood but not left side of the heart. From John 19:34 we therefore understand that the soldier pierced the heart of Jesus with his lance from the right side although the heart is on the left side. If he had pierced Jesus from the left side no blood would have flowed out. However, the experts have similar but somewhat differing explanations for the presence of the water as well as blood in the flow from the wound.

One view concerns the pericardium, the sac which surrounds the heart, and which contains a small amount of watery fluid. When the body undergoes great stress, as crucifixion would certainly entail, the amount of fluid increases and the sac expands. The Roman lance would then have passed through Jesus' pericardium and into the right side of his heart, which is filled with blood even after death. As the lance was withdrawn, it would draw out the blood from the heart and the watery fluid from the expanded pericardium.

There is another possible explanation for the water flow. The severe scourging caused internal hemorrhaging in Jesus' chest, and the pleural cavity filled with blood. The blood settled on the bottom of the chest cavity while a clear liquid was left on top. The Roman lance entered the chest and, upon being withdrawn, released the blood and the water from the chest.

Both of these views may be partially correct. The lance could have passed through the pleural cavity, through the pericardium and into the heart. The blood could have come both from the pleural cavity and from the right side of the heart, while the water could have come from both the upper chest cavity and from the pericardium.

pebird@pacbell.net said...

Here's the point with faith - it doesn't MATTER if what you believe happened or not - it can be a myth, a story or it could have happened or not - it does NOT matter. It is immaterial.

Faith is not determined by a "reasonable assessment of available information". It is generated through an act that reveals hidden truth. Faith is NOT reasonable, it is unreasonable - you cannot reason with faith.

Trying to engage people of faith on the basis of scientific truth demonstrates either a lack of understanding or utter disrespect.

This is why the conversation never proceeds beyond "this is what I believe" and "well prove it".

Questions about historical accuracy of the Bible or trying to prove if some event *actually* occurred just stays on the surface and avoids more important issues.

It is perfectly reasonable to be a christian and not accept the literality of the bible. Why? There were christians before there was a bible - it has never been a precondition of faith.

The power of faith is that is does not require *proof* - in fact it gets stronger in face of contradictory evidence. As mentioned earlier, a faith that requires physical proof is no faith at all, a sham.

I am much more interested in why people of "faith" seem to need physical evidence - this insistence that something "actually happened". But engaging on this level ends up with the secular feeling vindicated that sufficient proof cannot be offered and the faithful knowing that the secular "just don't get it".

It's been happening for centuries.

Doing the same thing, getting the same results and hoping for something else - what's that called?

I prefer to accept the faithful at their word for the sake of interaction and try to determine if there is consistency within their own sphere of thinking.

For example, only god is perfect - human's physical existence is fundamentally fraught with error. OK. So why is it that a description of physical change based on error (evolution) is inconsistent with that tenant? In fact, evolution reinforces this view. So why have an outside physical force create the world - why reduce god to some extraterrestrial being. Is that what the faithful really want - some version of ET?

Another example - why have there been so many different christian religions over the years? Why all the splits, the variations, why is there no unity? It has to be more than just a style - brown vs. black pants. By this time you would think there would be some kind of agreement, but in fact the opposite is true. If christians can't even agree among *themselves* on doctrine, what authority does any individual church have to claim truth? Maybe truth is generated in the individual believer interacting with an other and truth CANNOT be held by organizations, which appear to be structures that are inherently corrupt.

luke said...

Anonymous

All you're doing is retro-fitting. Do you really think they would not be able to describe an execution at time of the first writings of the Gospel, which would be decades after Jesus lived?

Perhaps you took my historical accuracy comment to literally. Though, it's interesting that your argument is still used these days.

Anonymous said...

The medical descrioption adds to the story's veracity. The gospel account conforms with the historical situation of the time.

Its a clever writer that could have back dated the historical situation as well and thereby create the world's first historical novel (a narrative form that did not exist in the ancient world). Your claim is too much of a strech to be credible.

The most important character of the story, Jesus, can also have his existence verified historically. Actually we have more on the existence of Jesus than many another ancient figure. For example, until the recent discovery in Israel of a stele with his name on it, we had no physical evidence that King David ever existed (outside the OT
books). Jesus is similar to Socrates in that he himself never wrote anything that we know of. Both men's teachings and life story come down to us through their disciples (Socrates had Plato, Jesus had the authors of the gospels). Furthermore, non-Gospel sources such as Josephus,
Pliny and Suetonius mention him as an actual person.

To quote Will Durant (my favorite historian and atheist) from his
"Caesar and Christ":

"...in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies - e.g. Hammurabi, David, Socrates - would fade into legend. Despite the
prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere invention would have concealed - the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus arrest, Peter's denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of
ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels."

Michael Grant, respected and prolific ancient historian, shares Durant's point of view (from his "Jesus: An Historians Review of the Gospel"):

"More convincing refutations of the Christ-Myth hypothesis can be derived from an appeal to method. In the first place, Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seems so
entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event took place just because pagan historians, for example Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. That there was a growth of legend around Jesus cannot be denied, and it arose very quickly. But there had also been a rapid growth of legend round pagan figures like Alexander the Great; and yet nobody regards him as wholly fictitious. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-Myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars'. In recent years 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' - or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary."

Anonymous said...

And you have yet to answer my points as to why a writer of a fictional gospel would make them less credible to his audience by having women witness the empty tomb and by portraying the men as cowards.

Steve Zara said...

Anonymous-

I think the gospel writers made the story lack credibility by having the hero rise from the dead. I think any slight sexism is the least of your worries.

luke said...

pebird

---"why reduce god to some extraterrestrial being. Is that what the faithful really want - some version of ET?"---

Reminds me of Shermer's last law:

"Any sufficiently advanced ETI is indistinguishable from God."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shermer%27s_Last_Law

Some of your comments urges me to quote myself from these comments:

---"It actually shows a lack of faith to claim that what is revealed through science provides [evidence for] gods handy work. Nature does not "give a damn about us", to quote Gould."---

An extension to this argument of course is that science is provisional in nature. Taking something like the Big Bang, or quantum mechanics as understood today as evidence of god, not only shows a lack of faith, but begs the question of what happens if the theories or mechanisms turn out wrong or different.

luke said...

Anonymous

---"Its a clever writer that could have back dated the historical situation as well and thereby create the world's first historical novel."---

Barely so, we are not talking the stone age here. I actually don't think it would be the first "historical novel" actually (certainly not if you include story telling without written word). By the time of Jesus there had already been Empires built and lost and writing dates back thousands of years before Jesus, though things greatly started to improved in certain areas around a 1,000 years before the time of Jesus.

luke said...

To add to my last post, your comment also reflects an idea it all came together at once, the New Testament I mean.

I also wish I worded my comment stronger, in the least it should start "Hardly so", dating back decades going on information already available through other means is no big shakes (plus already building on other traditions in the process). Again, you're reto-fitting and trying to make the interesting seem to incredible for more down to earth explanation.

Anonymous said...

I think the gospel writers made the story lack credibility by having the hero rise from the dead.Well then, why exactly did the apostles risk and even loose their lives for something they must have known to be a lie?

Steve Zara said...

It's just a story, mate. You might as well ask about the motivations of Frodo in Lord of the Rings.

Anonymous said...

So unable to refute my arguments you simply declare the whole thing to be a lie. Interesting debating tactic.

But very poor scholarship.

liamo said...

Anonymous

As far as I am aware, the balance of evidence rests on the positive claim. 'God' is described as an externally existent entity, like the yeti, ghosts or Nessie. It is up to the believers to provide evidence that such entities exist, by providing evidence such that the probability that the evidence is false is lower than the probability the entity exists.

As for unhistorical elements in the New Testament, as far as I am aware:
1) No one else mentions the slaughter of the innocents, not even Josephus, who catalogues most of Herods atrocities
2) Josephus' mention of Christianity is considered a later forgery by historians
3) Suetonious wrote many years after the alleged death of jesus, and can not be seen as a contemporary account.
4) nor can Pliny, who didn't not see any of the events descibed
5) No Roman census actually involved the movement of people to different towns to register themselves, like the journey to Bethlehem
6) There is no record of Pilate or any other Roman procurator or governer offering to free prisoners to mobs of locals for any reason
7) The women went to the tomb to anoint the body, having been unable to do so previously
8) The gospels disagree on how many women actually went
9) The gospels disagree on what they saw; an empty tomb, one person, two people, one angel, two angels etc
10) The accuracy of the description of the method of execution is only mysterious if it was not a method still in use at the time the gospels were written.
11) The apostles were frequently presented in the gospels as stupid and disappointing - peter betrays Christ, they fall asleep in the garden of gethsemenae etc. Is this a sign of truth, or that the writers had some kind of agenda?

For my own part, I would argue that atheism did not cause the atrocities you mentioned. Each of the movements you subscribed to it's own ideology; ideologies become dangerous when they decide the benefits or truth of the ideology outweigh the value of some people's lives, and people need not be convinced of the truth of the ideology, but should be coerced to comply.
Such Coercive Ideologies include Communism, Nazism etc. Christianity has shown itself to also be a CI, albeit with supernatural elements, (SCI, if you will).
Atheism is not an ideology, and people don't kill because they are atheists- -they kill because they are something else.

Dr S T said...

The wwhole discussion is silly. If we think religion gives morality and in particular Christianity we have to explain
Q Are apartheid and slavery morally acceptable?
Q as almost universally we seem to agree that they are not how could the confederacy and the apartheid regime get suport from people who were swearing by the Bible?
As for a morality without religion one existed for 2500 years it is called Confuscianism
The problems are being discussed adnausum without having a wider perspective

liamo said...

DR ST

I agree the discussion is silly.
if religion teaches morality, then why was it ok for god to kill every first born in Egypt, (killing babies, no less) because pharoah refused Moses, after god had 'hardened pharoahs heart' to make him refuse?

the mental gymnastics necessary to reconcile this behavour with morality are Olympic standard.

Anonymous said...

1) No one else mentions the slaughter of the innocents, not even Josephus, who catalogues most of Herods atrocities

The punative raid on an obscure peasant village would have merited little notice in the horror show that was Herod's reign. Such actions, however, were well in keeping with Herod's cruelty and paranoia.

2) Josephus' mention of Christianity is considered a later forgery by historians

What was a forgery was the later addition of the words "he was the messiah". The original reference by Josephus to Jesus (before the forgery words were added) was true and accurate.

3) Suetonious wrote many years after the alleged death of jesus, and can not be seen as a contemporary account.
4) nor can Pliny, who didn't not see any of the events descibed

It may not have occured to you, but historians usually describe people and events that happened in the past. By your standards any modern history of Churchill or Lincoln couldn't possibly be true becasue the hsitorian "didn't see any of the events described". Could you possibly be any sillier?

5) No Roman census actually involved the movement of people to different towns to register themselves, like the journey to Bethlehem

We know from other sources that the Quirinius mentioned in the gospel was governor of the provinces of Syria and Judea when he instituted a census in AD 6/7. Josephus describes the census in his "Antiquities". The gospels usually translate the only information we have on this event as ‘This was the first (or "Prior to") census, which took place while Quirinius was in charge of Syria’, which indicates that the *policy* of a regular census was introduced - we don't know which particular census was involved in the Nativity (Josephus says that this new policy triggered the Zeolot revolt). For example, papyri collected in Egypt, have shown that the Romans undertook periodic censuses throughout their empire. In Roman Egypt, for example, from A.D. 33 until 257 A.D., 258 different censuses were taken at 14-year intervals. As for traveling to Bethlehem,
historians have found that in A.D. 104, Vivius Maximus issued an edict that states, "It is essential for all people to return to their homes for the census." It may not have been SOP, but returning to your home town may have been required by certain imperial census takers.

Anonymous said...

6) There is no record of Pilate or any other Roman procurator or governer offering to free prisoners to mobs of locals for any reason

See previous remarks I made concerning Pialtes delicate situation due to the fall of his mentor Sejanus and his fear of the paranoid emperor Tiberius.

7) The women went to the tomb to anoint the body, having been unable to do so previously
8) The gospels disagree on how many women actually went
9) The gospels disagree on what they saw; an empty tomb, one person, two people, one angel, two angels etc

So next time I read an accident report where witnesses describe what happened from different viewpoints and leave out certain details included by other witnesses, I can conclude that the accident never happened and was a hoax? When one gospel gives only the name of Mary Magdelan it does not say that she was the ONLY person going to the tomb, she was merely the only one considerd by that gospel's author to be prominent enough to mention. Other gospel authors so fit to name the other women. Neither story contradicts the other.

10) The accuracy of the description of the method of execution is only mysterious if it was not a method still in use at the time the gospels were written.

This is easily your most stupid statement. The Romanas had always used crucifixion for execution. For example, centuries before Jesus the entire rebel slave army of Spartacus was crucified along the length of the Appian Way. There were two revolts in Galilee during Jesus' childhood that were crushed by the Romans who crucified the captured rebels enmasse. Could you possibly be more ignorant?


11) The apostles were frequently presented in the gospels as stupid and disappointing - peter betrays Christ, they fall asleep in the garden of gethsemenae etc. Is this a sign of truth, or that the writers had some kind of agenda?

If someone has an agenda, the apostles would have been preented as being perfect. A "warts and all" preenetation is always indicative a truthfull rendering.

In summary the whole Christ Myth concept is to biblical scholarship what Von Daniken is to archeology and Velikovsky is to astronomy - the home of loony cranks with ideological axes to grind.

sailor1031 said...

It must be very comforting to anonymous to know that he is absolutely right about absolutely everything despite established facts to the contrary. This is religious certitude of the highest order and falls into the classification of invincible ignorance. I particularly admire the way he is able to adopt conflicting viewpoints when it suits him to do so, without a hint of cognitive dissonance. Well done anonymous.

Keith Douglas said...

Neil: I'd call those "distortionists" or something, since in order to make the accomodation, they have to distort the science into something it isn't. The quantum mechanics nonsense is just part of it, albeit a commonly brought up case.

--
Anonymous has also failed to make his case even on his own terms. Even if we grant the dubious "table talk" as evidence, the argument is presumably about whether or not Hitler was a *theist*, not whether or not he was a Christian. Hence denouncing Christianity is not sufficient ...

pebird@pacbell.net: Why think that there *is* anything immaterial? Looks to me like psychological functions are (at least) processes in some nervous system, social systems are composed of gregarious animals, etc. Just a little comment which might help to avoid a "thin end of the wdge".

Anonymous said...

It must be very comforting to anonymous to know that he is absolutely right about absolutely everything despite established facts to the contrary.

Really? How exactly am I wrong? Details Please.

Even if we grant the dubious "table talk" as evidenceDubious? How are the recorded and written notes of HItler's personal secretary, Martin Borman, and their documentation by noted history Hugh Trevor Roper considered to be dubious?

And if Hitler wasn't a Christian, what kind of theist was he exactly?

liamo said...

"1) No one else mentions the slaughter of the innocents, not even Josephus, who catalogues most of Herods atrocities

The punative raid on an obscure peasant village would have merited little notice in the horror show that was Herod's reign. Such actions, however, were well in keeping with Herod's cruelty and paranoia."

This is honestly the first time i have ever heard anyone suggest the slaughter was limited to only one village. I was educated in a Catholic school, and this slaughter was always described as occuring across the entire kindom, which is why Joseph and Mary fled into Egypt.

"5) No Roman census actually involved the movement of people to different towns to register themselves, like the journey to Bethlehem

We know from other sources that the Quirinius mentioned in the gospel was governor of the provinces of Syria and Judea when he instituted a census in AD 6/7. Josephus describes the census in his "Antiquities". The gospels usually translate the only information we have on this event as ‘This was the first (or "Prior to") census, which took place while Quirinius was in charge of Syria’, which indicates that the *policy* of a regular census was introduced - we don't know which particular census was involved in the Nativity (Josephus says that this new policy triggered the Zeolot revolt). For example, papyri collected in Egypt, have shown that the Romans undertook periodic censuses throughout their empire. In Roman Egypt, for example, from A.D. 33 until 257 A.D., 258 different censuses were taken at 14-year intervals. As for traveling to Bethlehem,
historians have found that in A.D. 104, Vivius Maximus issued an edict that states, "It is essential for all people to return to their homes for the census." It may not have been SOP, but returning to your home town may have been required by certain imperial census takers. "

None of which actually implies that Joseph would have had to travel from Nazereth to Bethlehem. 'Return to your homes' is more likely to mean ones normal village of residence, from which ones taxes will be collected, than an ancestral village ones family hails from, but which today has no practical, administrative relevance. why on earth would the romans want people to register themselves far from where they were actually living?

"6) There is no record of Pilate or any other Roman procurator or governer offering to free prisoners to mobs of locals for any reason

See previous remarks I made concerning Pialtes delicate situation due to the fall of his mentor Sejanus and his fear of the paranoid emperor Tiberius."

None of which is actualy proof, but only speculation of what Pilate may have been feeling, and how he may have reacted, and what the comment by the Sanhedrin may have been interpreted by Pilate as meaning. this is the Graham Hancock school of Antiquities, especially since the 'mays' and 'ifs' are used to explain why someone did something that was utterly out of character.

liamo said...

"7) The women went to the tomb to anoint the body, having been unable to do so previously
8) The gospels disagree on how many women actually went
9) The gospels disagree on what they saw; an empty tomb, one person, two people, one angel, two angels etc

So next time I read an accident report where witnesses describe what happened from different viewpoints and leave out certain details included by other witnesses, I can conclude that the accident never happened and was a hoax? When one gospel gives only the name of Mary Magdelan it does not say that she was the ONLY person going to the tomb, she was merely the only one considerd by that gospel's author to be prominent enough to mention. Other gospel authors so fit to name the other women. Neither story contradicts the other."

Leave out certain details? One gospel says she saw the empty tomb, became afraid, ran away, and told no-one. in another, three women see angels in all their glory proclaim 'He is risen'. This kind of discrepancy would have eyewitness testimony thrown out in a court of law. That you think that the gospel author knew the names of the other women, and just decided not to mention them, is merely your opinion, and doesn't fit the rest of the story where she became afraid and told no-one. There is plenty of flat out contradiction in the Easter story; was the stone in front of the tomb, or rolled away? The only detail common to the different accounts is that the tomb is empty.


"10) The accuracy of the description of the method of execution is only mysterious if it was not a method still in use at the time the gospels were written.

This is easily your most stupid statement. The Romanas had always used crucifixion for execution. For example, centuries before Jesus the entire rebel slave army of Spartacus was crucified along the length of the Appian Way. There were two revolts in Galilee during Jesus' childhood that were crushed by the Romans who crucified the captured rebels enmasse."

You presented the accuracy of the crucifixion as part of the evidence that the story of Jesus was essentially historical, belonging to a particular time period. Since, by your own admission, the Romans used the method over several centuries, the accuracy of the description cannot date the gospels to a small time frame."11) The apostles were frequently presented in the gospels as stupid and disappointing - peter betrays Christ, they fall asleep in the garden of gethsemenae etc. Is this a sign of truth, or that the writers had some kind of agenda?

If someone has an agenda, the apostles would have been preented as being perfect. A "warts and all" preenetation is always indicative a truthfull rendering."

Unless there were different factions in early christianity, keen to be considered more athoritative than others.We know that Paul never met Jesus, but had visions of Jesus, which was the basis of his preaching. We know that he travelled far and wide, and set up many different communities. Those who followed church founded by an apostle may have considered those from the communities of Paul to be less authentic than themselves, and vice versa. The fact that the apostles appear incredibly stupid, needing to have basic parables explained to them, in a culture where parables are frequently used as a teaching method, and that Jesus is frequently reported to get angry with them because of their stupidity, is more than just 'warts and all', but may be a 'hatchet job', to undermine different traditions in early christianity. this is only speculation, but then, so is the idea that it was a 'warts and all' expose

liamo said...

"3) Suetonious wrote many years after the alleged death of jesus, and can not be seen as a contemporary account.
4) nor can Pliny, who didn't not see any of the events descibed

It may not have occured to you, but historians usually describe people and events that happened in the past. By your standards any modern history of Churchill or Lincoln couldn't possibly be true becasue the historian "didn't see any of the events described".
it may not have occured to you, but what these people wrote is only evidence of what contemporary christians believed about the origin of their religion, not evidence that a man called jesus actually lived. Historians usually research contemporary records to discover the facts of the past; since there are no contemporary accounts in the Roman or Jewish records, the only accounts available are from a movement of people who worshipped him as the son of God. The Jews, a highly literate people, never recorded such a mass movement, nor the feeding of multitudes, nor the sky going dark at three pm when he died, nor anything else in the gospels. Nor did contemporary Romans. They appear to have missed them. by your logic, we should accept ancient accounts of the Trojan war as historically accurate, based on the archaeology we have found, and conclude Achilles was a real person.

"Could you possibly be any sillier?" Could you possibly be more ignorant?"
I suppose I could try, but then people might confuse me with you.

Anonymous said...

1. This is honestly the first time i have ever heard anyone suggest the slaughter was limited to only one village.Then you and your teachers need to actually read your Bible: "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi." Located only 5 miles south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem at that time was a tiny village of about 300 people located on the boundary of farmland and grazing land (hence the shepherds). That's about 50 to 100 families with no more than few to a dozen boys under the age of 2. A night raid accomplished in a few hours by Herod's mounted guard to kill a few infants would not have been noticed by serious historians.

(Nice of you to concede point 2)

3. 4. Historians usually research contemporary records to discover the facts of the past; since there are no contemporary accounts in the Roman or Jewish records, the only accounts available are from a movement of people who worshipped him as the son of God. The Jews, a highly literate people, never recorded such a mass movement, nor the feeding of multitudes, nor the sky going dark at three pm when he died, nor anything else in the gospels. Nor did contemporary Romans. They appear to have missed them. by your logic, we should accept ancient accounts of the Trojan war as historically accurate, based on the archaeology we have found, and conclude Achilles was a real person.There ARE contemporary accounts of Jesus, as in the original Josephus.

Shortly after Jesus death,the Jews were in revolt against the Romans, who crushed them and burnt Jerulsm and its temple to the ground in AD 70. Any offical temple records of any events prior to this would have perished in the flames.

Oddly enough Schlieman used the Iliad to discern the location of ancient Troy and determine that Bronze Age Troy VII was sacked and burned to the ground. furthermore, Hittite cuniform reords from the same period make refernce to Acheans (Greeks) attacking Wilusa (Ilium).

5. None of which actually implies that Joseph would have had to travel from Nazereth to Bethlehem.According to papyri of Roman records that is exactly what happened in other Roman provinces. A Roman census document, has been discovered in Egypt, in which citizens were specifically commanded to return to their original homes for the census. Why would the Romans require travel in Egypt but not in Judea? Furthermore, this requirement was especiall important to keep tabs on landless peasants, migrant workers, and others without permananent ties to a particular locale. Joseph was a landless artisan, among the poorestof the poor (lower than even peasants who at least owned some land), and he would be subject to this requirement.

6. None of which is actualy proof, but only speculation of what Pilate may have been feeling, and how he may have reacted, and what the comment by the Sanhedrin may have been interpreted by Pilate as meaning. this is the Graham Hancock school of AntiquitiesActually ,it's good solid forensic work and creates a whole, consistent and complete narrative that provides the background and motivations behind Pilates actions and Jesus' trial.

Anonymous said...

7. 8. 9. Leave out certain details? One gospel says she saw the empty tomb, became afraid, ran away, and told no-one. in another, three women see angels in all their glory proclaim 'He is risen'. This kind of discrepancy would have eyewitness testimony thrown out in a court of law. Actually I would be suspicious of multiple eyewitness accounts that jived perfectly with each other. My first reaction would be to assume collusion between the witnesses. This is especially of incidents recorded years years later of people wandering through the dark and unable to tell the time. If all four accounts were identical under thses cicumstances I would be very suspicious - as would any reasonable investigator. But your claim to the contrary, the Easter stories do not directly contradict each other, each provides additional details that the others leave out. The acounts are not contradictory but supplementary. They can all be made to fall into a place in a single orderly and coherent narrative.

10. You presented the accuracy of the crucifixion as part of the evidence that the story of Jesus was essentially historical, belonging to a particular time period. Since, by your own admission, the Romans used the method over several centuries, the accuracy of the description cannot date the gospels to a small time frame."Sure I can, by their references to Pilate, Tiberius, herod, Caiaphas and other historical personages. You have actually read these gospels that you claim to be an expert on, haven't you?

11.Unless there were different factions in early christianity, keen to be considered more athoritative than others.So in order to refute the veracity of the gospels you are reduced to conjuring up a conspiracy theory based on... nothing. When the gospels were written Christianity was a small persecuted sect whose theology had not been developed to the point where doctrinal differences were apparent (the great heresies would occur centuries later). Furthermore you wouldhave the early Churhc Fathers chose as ofcial those gospel accounts intended to discredit Christianity. Dan Brown is a beter scholar.

Why don't you cease now and stop making yourself look foolish? It's painfull to watch.

liamo said...

"There ARE contemporary accounts of Jesus, as in the original Josephus."

Josephus wrote the antiquities in 93CE, and he was born in 37 CE. One only has to look at how quickly the cargo cults in Asia began and the religion of John Frum to see how quickly information could become distorted.

"Shortly after Jesus death,the Jews were in revolt against the Romans, who crushed them and burnt Jerulsm and its temple to the ground in AD 70. Any offical temple records of any events prior to this would have perished in the flames."

not any private records made by individual people. There are a lot of Jewish writings from before, during and after Jesus' time. Even today, Jewish rabbis study the writings of people from around that time. They are silent on jesus. Why would only the accounts of jesus be destroyed?


"Oddly enough Schlieman used the Iliad to discern the location of ancient Troy and determine that Bronze Age Troy VII was sacked and burned to the ground. furthermore, Hittite cuniform reords from the same period make refernce to Acheans (Greeks) attacking Wilusa (Ilium)."

After his excavation of Mycenae, Schliemann sent a telegram to the king of greece, 'I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon'. Nobody thinks he actually had, nor does anyone think the significant historical details in the Iliad actually mean the characters named were actually real people.

" You presented the accuracy of the crucifixion as part of the evidence that the story of Jesus was essentially historical, belonging to a particular time period. Since, by your own admission, the Romans used the method over several centuries, the accuracy of the description cannot date the gospels to a small time frame."Sure I can, by their references to Pilate, Tiberius, herod, Caiaphas and other historical personages. You have actually read these gospels that you claim to be an expert on, haven't you?"

I made no such claim. But you claimed that the details of the execution itself added credence, which would only be true if that form of execution only occurred in that time period, which it did not, by your own admission. that was my point.

liamo said...

"Furthermore, this requirement was especiall important to keep tabs on landless peasants, migrant workers, and others without permananent ties to a particular locale. Joseph was a landless artisan, among the poorestof the poor (lower than even peasants who at least owned some land), and he would be subject to this requirement."
The Bible presents jesus as growing up in Nazareth. Joseph may well have been a migrant worker, (but i don't believe that is actually mentioned), but that doesn't explain why he would pack up his family and register himself in Bethlehem. Migrant worker returning home i can understand; but this journey to bethlehem with a heavily pregnant wife is ludicrous. And how could the tax collectors in bethlehem collect all these extra taxes after the people left? It makes no administrative sense for the romans to ask for this, nor is the mass transit of people, (all the inns were full in Behlehem), recorded during any of the other census'.

".Unless there were different factions in early christianity, keen to be considered more athoritative than others.So in order to refute the veracity of the gospels you are reduced to conjuring up a conspiracy theory based on... nothing. When the gospels were written Christianity was a small persecuted sect whose theology had not been developed to the point where doctrinal differences were apparent (the great heresies would occur centuries later). Furthermore you wouldhave the early Churhc Fathers chose as ofcial those gospel accounts intended to discredit Christianity. Dan Brown is a beter scholar."
I offered this only as a possible hypothesis, which is all you have thus far presented; possible interpretations of history that don't contradict the gospel accounts, but not the only possible interpretation, and certainly not the most plausible.

"But your claim to the contrary, the Easter stories do not directly contradict each other, each provides additional details that the others leave out. The acounts are not contradictory but supplementary. They can all be made to fall into a place in a single orderly and coherent narrative."
One does not equal three, no matter how much theology you have studied. Witnesses that disagreed this much would actually be considered as lying.

"Why don't you cease now and stop making yourself look foolish? It's painfull to watch. "

Easily done. Don Barker has a simple challenge concerning the Easter story. Simply put all the events of Holy week into chronological order, leaving nothing out, placing the in the correct part of the day, (as accurately as you can), detailing who did what and when, using all four gospels. I believe there is a cash prize to anyone who can do it, though I may be wrong.

liamo said...

"Actually ,it's good solid forensic work and creates a whole, consistent and complete narrative that provides the background and motivations behind Pilates actions and Jesus' trial. "

It is nothing of the sort – anyone can create a whole, consistant narrative, that doesn’t mean that it happened. Watch, here I go:

Like St Patrick, Jesus is a composite character, drawing elements from three sources:

1) A Zealot leader, who came to “set brother against brother, father against son” etc, commanded his followers that ‘whoever has no sword, let him sell his cloak and buy one’, organized a triumphal procession into Jerusalem, even declaring war on the Roman occupation by 1) killing a herd of pigs romans raised for food,( that’s terrorism, that is), 2) attacking the money lenders in the temple, because they changed Roman coins into Jewish ones. Terrified he would provoke the Romans to destroy Jerusalem or the temple, , (which they did do a few years later, thus showing the Sanhedrins fears were completely rational), the Sanhedrin had him arrested. One of his followers resisted, thus showing that advice about buying swords wasn’t metaphorical. They handed him over to the Romans to show their loyalty, and organized a mob to beg Pilate to execute him, just in case Pilate was tempted to display the brutality for which he was famous. (This later got turned into Pilate offering the Jews a choice, because he was reluctant to kill an innocent man. Yeah, right. Roman governers were famous for that. But you can’t convert the Romans to your new religion if they are the bad guys.). Pilate had him crucified, and he died. The crown of thorns and the sign saying ‘King of the Jews’ were completely apt, as he had claimed to be the Messiah. To prevent his body being put on display as a warning, some of his followers stole it. Some may then have tried to keep the movement alive by saying he wasn’t really dead, but ‘will come again, leading the armies of heaven’, like King Arthur, the Mahdi etc, and the movement developed a marked hatred for the establishment, subsequently attributing all kinds of anti establishment remarks to the original leader.


2) A Wandering preacher/ miracle worker, who traveled round offering cures and words of wisdom. These were apparently common at the time, and the tradition associating Jesus the zealot with jesus the preacher may have originated in the similarity of the apocalyptic preaching common at the time, or because these wanderers were the only holy men to visit zealots hiding in the desert, or because zealots affected this persona when traveling into the cities. Both were outcasts from mainstream society, and so probably were closely associated. This image became useful later on to disguise the original zealotry of Jesus, and the destruction of the pigs turned into some kind of outdoor exorcism taking place close to a cliff, and some wit coined the phrase ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’, thus making the religion Roman friendly.

3) Christ, a mystical figure that appeared to people as part of a non-mainstream visionary cult of the kind popular at the time, ie Paul’s visions. The belief in a dying and resurrected god got mixed up with the failed zealot leader, whose military failures were transformed into a spiritual message when it was clear he wasn’t coming back any time soon.

Put in a (melting) pot, leave to simmer for ten years in underground religious groups, throw in a few charismatic preachers, and hey presto, Jesus the Son of God.

There you go, anyone can create a narrative that covers all the bases. So what? It’s not evidence.

Anonymous said...

Oh wonderful, I'm wasting my time with a "Jesus never existed and was only a Myth" nut case.

You forgot to mention that Jesus is also responsible for most Bigfoot sitings, placed the thermite that brought down the WTC on 911, was the shooter on the grassy knoll that kill JFK, operates most UFOs flying around Area 51, helped space aliens build the pyramids and the Nazca lines, and is a charter member of the Illuminati.

This may not do any good but I'll repeat my quotes from two RESPECTED scholars:

To quote Will Durant (my favorite historian and atheist) from his "Caesar and Christ":

"...in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies - e.g. Hammurabi, David, Socrates - would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere invention would have concealed - the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus arrest, Peter's denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels."

Michael Grant, respected and prolific ancient historian, shares Durant's point of view (from his "Jesus: An Historians Review of the Gospel"):

"More convincing refutations of the Christ-Myth hypothesis can be derived from an appeal to method. In the first place, Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seems so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event took place just because pagan historians, for example Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. That there was a growth of legend around Jesus cannot be denied, and it arose very quickly. But there had also been a rapid growth of legend round pagan figures like Alexander the Great; and yet nobody regards him as wholly fictitious. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-Myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars'. In recent years 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' - or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary."

Assuming you are capable of logical thinking, why don't you ponder these two statements. In a moment of self reflection it might occur to you that your thought processes (such as they are) are no different than Holocaust Deniers and Young Earth Creationists. In the meantime, would you please tell the Trilateral Commission's NWO to lose the black helicopters. They are so 1990...

Jeez, and they say theists have a lock on the loony fringe....

liamo said...

“Oh wonderful, I'm wasting my time with a "Jesus never existed and was only a Myth" nut case. Blah blah conspiracy , black helicopters”

Oh wonderful, I've wasted my time with a functional illiterate. If you actually read what I wrote, I was making a point about YOUR thought processes; namely, that anyone can introduce ad hoc hypotheses to cover over weaknesses in their argument. You claim Pilate was motivated by fear of Tiberius' wrath, but have no possible way of knowing this to be true. You claim that the Sanhedrins claim that their loyalty was to Caeser was a veiled threat; again, no evidence at all as to why this interpretation must necessarily be true. One could just as easily claim that the Sanhedrin were in cahoots with Jesus and had invited him into Jerusalem, then changed their mind when he attacked the money lenders. Their claim of loyalty would then be an attempt to cover themselves as they hung Jesus out to dry. Any one of a dozen different interpretations may fit the facts, only a dogmatic fool would insist that one and only one is correct in the absence of further evidence.
Secondly, the hypothetical scenario I presented is not actually my opinion, but an illustration of how you can support any interpretation if you are allowed to prop it up with ad hoc justifications.
It's also interesting to note that one of the sources you qouted mentions that legends became attached to Jesus very quickly. Well, isn’t that the story I presented? A zealot/medicant preacher around whom a mystical religion began? My story didn’t actually say he was a myth, but that around the central character information from three sources coalesced. No doubt you object to the idea that the historical jesus was some kind of zealot, who led a failed revolution. And so you should, for I have absoulutely no evidence that that interpretation is more correct than any other. But there is also not much evidence for any other interpretation….
If you accept that legends grew up around Jesus, as the authority you quote states, then which parts are actually legends, and which ones actually happened? The Resurection? The miracles? Which parts are dramatizations? The interview with Pilate? The Sanhedrin? How can you tell? Did Jesus really curse a fig tree? Did it actually wither? How can you establish historically the occurrence of a supernatural event? How can you be so sure you can discriminate the facts from the legends?

Anonymous said...

Well, unlike you (and every other conspiracy theorist) I try NOT to violate Occam's Razor when thinking. Furthermore, in addition to seeking the simplest answer I try to take human nature into account when evaluating claims and eye witness accounts. When something doesn't add up I try to speculate what could have caused an atypical situation.

Many things in the Gospels make perfect sense (the time and place, the setting, historical figures and events, descriptions of peasantlife in Judea, evaluations of the legal proceedings and medical aspects of the crucifixion, etc.)

Many things, however, do not. Like why would a fictional account of the resurrectin be made LESS credible to its first century audience by having it witnessed by women, portraying the apostles poorly as dullards and cowards, or why they would later willingly die for something they must have known was a lie.

I'm still waiting for your explanation for these last three. A simple explanation the hopefully doesn't violate Occam's Razor or involve unprovable conspiracies.

liamo said...

“Well, unlike you (and every other conspiracy theorist) I try NOT to violate Occam's Razor when thinking.”

Occam’s Razor dos not mean taking the simplest answer, but ensuring that there are no more elements in ones description of nature than are necessary to explain nature., ie naturalistic explanations may be more complex, but are preferred over explanations that introduce supernatural elements. Perhaps you are also aware of Humes’ advice on miracles; that no amount of eyewitness testimony can ever establish that a miracle occurred, as the probability that the witnesses were mistaken or dishonest is always greater than that the laws of nature were violated?

liamo said...

“Furthermore, in addition to seeking the simplest answer I try to take human nature into account when evaluating claims and eye witness accounts. When something doesn't add up I try to speculate what could have caused an atypical situation.”

This is my point. “Facts without theory is trivia; theory without facts is bullshit.” Your speculations, in the absence of independent, supporting evidence, are just bullshit. There is absolutely no reason to think that things actually happened the way you speculate they did, not some other way. That YOU subjectively find a hypothetical scenario more plausible than another is not evidence, not at all.
And built into the above statement is Confirmation Bias; when things don’t add up you try to think up a scenario that would explain away the discrepancy; but do you even consider the possibility that discrepancies show that the Gospels are wrong? In the absence of falsifiability, it is your thinking that takes on the qualities of conspiracy theories.

liamo said...

Like why would a fictional account of the resurrectin be made LESS credible to its first century audience by having it witnessed by women, portraying the apostles poorly as dullards and cowards, or why they would later willingly die for something they must have known was a lie.

But you’re assuming that it is necessary for someone to sit down to create a deliberately false account for people to end up believing something false. If you actually took into account ‘human nature’ and ‘eye witness accounts’, (by reading up on the research on the degree to which eyewitnesses differ, what happens to stories that are repeatedly retold, and how fallible human memory is), you would know that no deliberate deception is actually necessary.

Eyewitnesses to the same event frequently do give differing accounts of the same event, especially immediately after the event. But the gospels are not police reports of eyewitness testimony recorded immediately after the fact, but were written down many years later, after the event was discussed and retold. When witnesses sit down and talk about what they saw, discrepencies are ironed out, and they converge on a consensus of what happened, which is usually filled with errors. We would expect the witnesses to the empty tomb to discuss their experiences, or be questioned by others about it, and go through just such a process, and a consensual narrative to emerge.
The Chicago Jury Project highlighted how group discussions tend to suffer from a variety of sources of error; polarization, where discussion tends to make ones initial opinion more extreme; group discussions tend to be dominated by extraverts, many of whom have higher levels of the ‘Just World’ delusion, which skews their interpretation of events. Soloman Asch showed how important conformity was in group discussions, with dissenters unwilling to voice their opinions. Repeating things that one knows to be untrue has also been shown to reduce people’s conviction that it is untrue; being made to repeat a lie convinces people the lie must be true. These are all well established phenomenon and the reason witnesses in court cases are not allowed to talk to each other.

liamo said...

Also, Loftus has recently shown that is quite simple to implant into suggestible people entirely false memories. Human memory is not like a video recorder; it is ridiculously fallible, and suggestible people can be convinced of the most outrageous things, merely at the hint of an authority figure. This does not require any conscious act of deception on the part of the authority figure; any kind of leading question can lead to people reexamining their memories, and ‘discovering’ things they had forgotten, expanding on them, and over time, completely altering their perception of the past. ‘The Myth of Repressed Memory’ contains a lot of information on this line of research, both in adults and in children.

Finally, throw into the mix a cultic milleu, a small group of intensely bonded individuals who see themselves as having the ‘truth’, but ignored or persecuted by others, and you have some extremely powerful psychodynamic and group processes that are garunteed to create serious distortions, way beyond the usual level of exaggeration people normally engage in.

Two modern examples serve to illustrate these effects happening.
1) Alien abduction cases. There are thousands of people, perhaps millions, who genuinely believe they were kidnapped by aliens. Their initial suspicions are reinforced by a community of people who support them, and are bonded together by the fact no-one believes them - well, most people don’t believe them. Psychiatrist John Mack was so moved the agony of his patients who claimed abduction that he became convinced the abductions must be real. This is hardly a safe conclusion to reach, but it shows that the people involved were genuinely suffering as a result of these false beliefs.
2) Satanic Ritual Abuse; for the record, there is never been a successful prosecution of nor discovery of an intergenerational, Satanic ring of pedophiles. Yet, there was an enormous moral panic about them in the 80’s and 90’s, based on the testimony of adults remembering events in their past, and children recalling ‘ritualized abuse’ only days previously. While pedophiles certainly exist, the vast satanic conspiracy of ritual abuse and child sacrifice, as described in ‘Michelle Remembers’, is complete nonsense. But it was not a lie; it was an example of how far you can go when these distortions are not checked. Karmen, (2001) ‘Victimology’ even cites a case of a parent who was accused of being in a satanic pedophle ring by his children. Then by his own wife, who ‘recovered’ memories of his and her own involvement. This destroyed his life, obviously. Without any evidence, he could not be prosecuted. Desperate to reconnect with his now estranged family, he began to question himself – his wife and children couldn’t be lying, could they? Why would they do that? But maybe, if they could ‘repress’ being the victims of abuse, maybe he was ‘repressing’ being the victimizer? Bingo, he started having ‘memories’ of himself in ritual garb performing abusive acts, the acts becoming more severe with time. The entire episode was eventually disproved, and conclusively shown to be false. But that perfectly normal, healthy couple had both ‘remembered’ being engaged in satanic ritual abuse of their own children – a completely false memory, but not a lie.

You only have to flip through a magazine like ‘Fortean Times’ to find more examples of similarily mutually reinforced beliefs from around the world.

liamo said...

That a deliberately written piece of fiction would have changed the sex of the people going to the tomb, or any other detail, is not evidence that the account MUST be true, but that it is not a deliberate lie. These elements of the story may have been present in its original form - women discover an empty tomb - and from that, the above processes result in the generation of the resurrection story.

However, I still find it odd that there is quite so much discrepancy in the gospel accounts. They have less in common than the immediate reports of eyewitnesses, almost as if the witnesses immediately left the scene and never spoke to each other about it again until years later when they were asked to recall the details.
Eg Mark 16:8 (King James Version) “ 8And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”
Luke 24:9 (King James Version) “9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.”
There is an earthquake in one account, but not in the others etc. It’s almost as if each gospel account was written by someone who knew only the barest outlines of the story, and decided to fill in all the details themselves, without checking what the witnesses actually said had happened, (which probably would not have been accurate, but would have become more consistant over time).

Anonymous said...

"Finally, throw into the mix a cultic milleu, a small group of intensely bonded individuals who see themselves as having the ‘truth’, but ignored or persecuted by others, and you have some extremely powerful psychodynamic and group processes that are garunteed to create serious distortions, way beyond the usual level of exaggeration people normally engage in."

You've just described crazy people, like the followers of David Koresh or Jim Jones.

But in the case of the Apostles, they would be crazy people who went on to preach a faith of brotherhood, love, peace and forgiveness.

Sure, that happens all the time.

liamo said...

‘You've just described crazy people, like the followers of David Koresh or Jim Jones.”

No, I am describing ORDINARY people. The people who believe they are abductees are, by and large, ordinary people, as are the people with false memories. The man who 'remembered' being in a satanic cult was a small town sherrif in the USA. The Chicago jury project dealt with jurors - enough said. These processes, already strong enough to create false memories, do have a much stronger effect on people who are members of small, persecuted, marginalized groups, which tend to attract the poor, powerless and more vulnerable , which is pretty much what early Christian groups were. I didn't even bother to mention how the highly emotive atmosphere of a religion where people claim visions of a deity, (Eg paul), could lead to even greater distortions

liamo said...

“But in the case of the Apostles, they would be crazy people who went on to preach a faith of brotherhood, love, peace and forgiveness. “
As for preaching brotherhood and love etc, this is actually quite common. It is extremely prevalent in the victims movement:

from "The Courage to heal"; 'part of our healing is the healing of the Earth. ... It's not the abusers who are going to write letters to our government, imploring them to stop funding slaughter in El Salvador"

From 'I Never Told Anyone"; 'I am sharing in the restoration of conciousness where the rape of children - as well as the rape of women, of forests , of oceans, of the earth, - is a history to be remembered only to assure it will not happen again."

From 'Victims No Longer'; ' From where I look it's all about the same thing. Children. The ocean. Fish. The earth. How can we heal the world unless we heal ourselves?"

Universal brotherhood is also found in the ufo community, many of whom think aliens are coming go 'save' us and usher in universal peace. The most obvious example of this would be the the Raelians , who preach universal brotherhood and peace.

Obvious examples from ancient times would be Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, and even Zorastarianism. All of these religions espoused the values of compassion, charity, and peace to all men.

“Sure, that happens all the time.”

Actually, it does. Early Christians were far from unique in preaching universal brotherhood and compassion. See above.

To paraphrase from one of your earlier sources, the bigger miracle would be to believe that these processes were NOT operating in early Christian groups.