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Atheists: What Question Would You Ask a Catholic Biblical Scholar?

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Filed under AMA, The Bible

Question

In a few days, Dr. Brant Pitre, one of today's premier Catholic biblical scholars, will release a new book titled The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (Random House, 2016). It seeks to debunk many skeptical attitudes toward the Gospels put forward today by scholars such as Bart Ehrman.

Here's a brief summary:

For well over a hundred years now, many scholars have questioned the historical truth of the Gospels, claiming that they were originally anonymous. Others have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth did not think he was God and never claimed to be divine.

In The Case for Jesus, Dr. Brant Pitre, the bestselling author of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, goes back to the sources—the biblical and historical evidence for Christ—in order to answer several key questions, including:
 

  • Were the four Gospels really anonymous?
  • Are the Gospels folklore? Or are they biographies?
  • Were the four Gospels written too late to be reliable?
  • What about the so-called “Lost Gospels,” such as “Q” and the Gospel of Thomas?
  • Did Jesus claim to be God?
  • Is Jesus divine in all four Gospels? Or only in John?
  • Did Jesus fulfill the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah?
  • Why was Jesus crucified?
  • What is the evidence for the Resurrection?

As The Case for Jesus will show, recent discoveries in New Testament scholarship, as well as neglected evidence from ancient manuscripts and the early church fathers, together have the potential to pull the rug out from under a century of skepticism toward the traditional Gospels. Above all, Pitre shows how the divine claims of Jesus of Nazareth can only be understood by putting them in their ancient Jewish context.

Since these are all questions we discuss and debate regularly here on Strange Notions, I reached out to Brant and asked if he'd be willing to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on our site, answering whatever questions we threw at him. Thankfully, he accepted!

He's particularly interested in hearing from skeptics and atheists. So whether you doubt Jesus was a real historical person, or that the New Testament offers reliable testimony, or whether the earliest Christians really believed that Jesus rose from the dead, we want to hear from you!

What question would you ask a Catholic Biblical scholar?

What makes you most skeptical about Jesus or the Bible? What's that query you've posed to Christians and never received a good answer?

Again, we're particular interested in questions from skeptics or atheists, but everyone is welcome to submit questions. And they don't have to be challenges or "gotcha" questions. We're interested in plain old curiosity questions, too.

(It should go without saying, but if your question is disrespectful or snarky, it won't be chosen.)

Just type your question below in the comment box, and over the next few days we'll select a handful. Brant will then share his answers here within the next 1-2 weeks. Thanks!

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    To my understanding, there is now reasonable scholarly consensus that the Gospels are best understood as belonging to the genre of bioi or Graeco-Roman biography. First of all, do you agree that this is a correct and useful classification? If so, what are some of the most noteworthy differences between that genre and the genre of modern historical biography? In particular, what liberties might we reasonably expect authors of bioi to take that a modern biographer would not, and what are some of the literary devices might we expect authors of bioi to use that modern biographers would not?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    To what extent do you believe that the gospels record history vs theology? For example, Matthew 27:51-53 tells of the tombs in Jerusalem being opened and saints walking out and appearing to many people. My understanding is that the author of Matthew is not recording an event that actually happened, but making a theological point about resurrection. Similar things have been said about the nativity stories. How much of the gospels actually happened and how much was written in to support a belief?

    • Ignatius Reilly

      And, how do you know the difference between historical happenings and theological points?

    • neil_pogi
    • Chris Snowden

      Overlapping, that is a good question. The phrasing of both your questions (First and last sentence) seem to put history at odds with theology. The gospels, and salvation history, are essentially the opposite, namely theology entering history. The two most theological moments of the gospels are quintessentially historical moments (incarnation and crucifixion). The theology, is thus explaining the depth immutable reality of God that occurred in history. I hope that helps a little.

    • pearlridgeview

      According to Dr. Richard Carrier, NONE of the major stories of Jesus has a basis in history, as I recall. He doubts the historicity of Jesus.

  • Shawn Pierce

    A question that was posed to me by an agnostic/atheist friend of mine was this: "How can I believe in a book (the Bible) that is written mostly by men?" While I don't consider the claim a debunking of the Bible's historicity, it points to a cultural reason why some may be averse to the Bible and reading it. Many may find the answer, whatever that may be, to offer a keener historical lens when reading the Bible.

    • "How can I believe in a book (the Bible) that is written mostly by men?"

      To clarify, by using the word "men", do you think your friend doubts the reliability of the Bible because it was written by males (as opposed to females) or humans (as opposed to God/gods)? Thanks!

      • Shawn Pierce

        Sorry, I see the need for clarification. He meant males, not men as in humanity. It was the first I have ever heard someone use that as an argument against the Bible. I was quite taken aback and was unsure how to move the conversation on from there.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Oh gosh.. that is a bad argument! Part of me hopes, for the sake of the article to be written, that Dr. Pitre interprets your question as meaning "humanity" since that at least vaguely resembles a valid reason not to trust the Bible. I've heard people say "why trust a book written by fallible humans?" Not a rock solid case, for sure, but at least it has some meat to it.

      • Raymond

        I thought the idea was that we were providing questions for Dr. Pitre - why are we debating these questions now?

    • neil_pogi

      maybe because women were busy doing their household chores, and at that time, women are not entitled to several rights, including the right to writing.

      • Shawn Pierce

        Neil, that could be some of the reason. I'm going to need to do a little research into Jewish society, in particular the roles of women.

    • ben

      Your "friend" needs to ask rather:
      1. What was the status of women in the whole world at that time?
      2. If the status and dignity of women has been elevated, when, where, in what culture? In Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity?

  • SpaceGhoti

    Why should I believe any of the supernatural claims made in the Bible?

    • Thanks for the questions, but it's very broad. Mind asking about one specific supernatural claim?

      • Will

        In the past, I have tried and failed to get comments on this miracle from Mark 9. It seems to be a text book case of epilepsy, though it was deemed and "unclean spirit". I'll quote for clarity

        17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19 He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy[e] to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy,[f] and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus[g] asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,[h] “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”[i]

        Symptoms of a grand mal seizure (specific list from Mayo clinic here) include convulsions, foaming at the mouth, screaming, and loss of consciousness after the seizure. Epilepsy usually starts to show in childhood, just as the story suggests.
        First question, if Jesus were divine, why would he call a neurological disorder an unclean spirit? The disciples new something was different, as likely other "unclean spirits" were simply psychosomatic and believing you are healed would potentially result in actual healing, placebo can be quite powerful. Second question, how can we have confidence the boy was actually healed? Jesus and the disciples left the town right after according to the next verse, and an extended period of observation would be required to have any idea if the condition had improved.
        Epilepsy has often been confused for demon possession. Here is a terrible case where a poor epileptic girl died during prolong attempts at exorcism. The priests were found guilty negligent homicide.

        • Do you think it's possible that the narrative could be describing a case which *both* involves epilepsy and an unclean spirit? That unclean spirits, if they exist, could cause some, but not all, epileptic seizures?

          • Rick Bateman

            Isn't that contrary to Occam's Razor? (If we already have a well-established explanation for something, it doesn't make sense to add an additional hypothesis that hasn't been validated.)

          • Great question, Rich. I don't think it violates Occam's Razor because I agree with Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and other classical thinkers that 1) there are multiples forms of causality (material, efficient, formal, final) and therefore 2) to identify one form of causality (i.e., to give one explanation) does not necessarily exhaust all forms of explanation.

            For example, if you walked outside and saw a man on fire, sitting in the middle of the road, you would naturally wonder, why is that man on fire? Suppose your neighbor answered, "Oh, because he poured gasoline over himself and then lit a match. The gas and the match caused it."

            You wouldn't be satisfied.

            That may provide what Aristotle calls the “material cause” of the man on fire, but it doesn't give you the full picture. You're missing the other forms of causality, such as:

            - Efficient cause (“The man set himself on fire, as opposed to someone else doing it. He was the cause of the immolation.”)

            - Formal cause (”He set himself on fire because he was a political activist and wanted to be a visible, provocative symbol. That was the cause of the fire.”)

            - Final cause (“He inflamed himself in protest over the passing of an unjust law. The unjust law caused him to be set on fire.”)

            Why am I explaining all this? Because it shows that one causal explanation doesn't necessarily provide the complete picture.

            In the case of someone suffering a seizure, epilepsy may be the “material cause” of the seizure but unclean spirits may be the “efficient causes” behind it, just as the gas/match may be the material (i.e., scientific) cause of the man on fire, but he and his political motivations, etc. are the efficient/formal/final causes.

            For more on the four causes, see this article:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes

          • Rick Bateman

            To boil it all down, are you suggesting that "unclean spirits" can cause epilepsy?

          • Sure, it's possible. Why not? Do you see any logical contradiction?

            I think unclean spirits can cause epilepsy. But that doesn't mean they're responsible for most, some, or even any cases, just that it's logically possible.

          • Rick Bateman

            Well, I really couldn't say whether it's logically possible or logically contradictory, because "unclean spirits" is an undefined term. There's no reference point in the real world for what an unclean spirit is or what it can do, so if you want to define unclean spirits as being able to cause epilepsy, then I can't say it's logically contradictory, but I certainly can say it's ad hoc. And I will, too; it seems like a purely ad hoc explanation for just one of many places where the Bible's understanding of how things work in the world (which allegedly comes from an all-knowing God) seems to go against the modern understanding we have through verifiable facts.

            But, since you're talking about causality, I think this story still poses a problem even with the ad hoc explanation. The story indicates that the way Jesus solved the kid's problem is by casting out the unclean spirit; it doesn't say anything about a physical healing. Your explanation is that the spirit was the efficient cause of the epilepsy. If that were true, if a spirit caused the boy to have epilepsy (a physical malady), then there would be a real, physical change in the boy's body. That being the case, casting out the spirit which caused the epilepsy wouldn't actually fix the physical problem.

            To go back to your analogy of the man on fire, it would be like if a man set himself on fire because of a law he thought was unjust, and then as he was burning to death, one of his friends runs up and says that they repealed the law, but he doesn't bother to extinguish the fire. "Four causes" aside, would that actually help the man? Obviously not. If the kid had real, physical epilepsy, then casting a demon out of him won't fix that.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The problem here is that we know what causes epilepsy and what sort of events increase the likelihood of epilepsy. You are claiming that there is another cause (other than the known medical ones like lack of oxygen during birth, brain tumors, and genetics) that we cannot test for. If I said that some cases of epilepsy were caused by undetectable space waves, would that also be logically possible? It share the same epistemic justification as unclean spirits.

            The problem here is that the reason why unclean spirits were thought of as the cause of diseases in the Gospels, is because that was the attitude of Jews living in Palatine in the 1st century. In ancient Judaism disease, angels, and demons were inextricably intertwined. The unclean spirit is a statement about the culture Jesus lived in. It should not be taken as a medical statement or a statement about exorcisms.

            In the modern west, we have a germ theory of disease, which has proven quite effective in diagnosing diseases and treating them. On pragmatic grounds, we should reject demons causing diseases and stick with theories that actually work like germs and genetics.

          • ClayJames

            The problem here is that we know what causes epilepsy and what sort of events increase the likelihood of epilepsy. You are claiming that there is another cause (other than the known medical ones like lack of oxygen during birth, brain tumors, and genetics) that we cannot test for. If I said that some cases of epilepsy were caused by undetectable space waves, would that also be logically possible? It share the same epistemic justification as unclean spirits.

            We know what can cause epilepsy, but this does not exclude every other possible cause (or different type of cause) of epilepsy, especially one that is undetectable by science. The idea that a natural event can have a supernatural cause is not just limited to sickness. Most Christians believe that god can grant someone something asked in prayer and just because we know how that same event can come about naturally does not mean that we know it can´t also have a supernatural cause.

            I would say that there is nothing logically impossible about epilepsy being caused by undetectable space waves, however, there is no reason to believe that this is cause is possible so it should not be accepted. On the contrary, Chrisitians would say that the idea that the supernatural exists and that it can effect natural events does have reason for its belief and that it is possible and therefore, in the absense of reason for its impossibility, it is an acceptable belief to hold.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We know what can cause epilepsy, but this does not exclude every other possible cause (or different type of cause) of epilepsy, especially one that is undetectable by science.

            We have no reason to suppose undetectable causes of epilepsy.

            Most Christians believe that god can grant someone something asked in prayer and just because we know how that same event can come about naturally does not mean that we know it can´t also have a supernatural cause.

            It just calls into question the existence of the supernatural cause. If a supernatural cause can only be added on as an undetectable appendage to natural causes then we cannot know that they exists or anything about them.

            On the contrary, Chrisitians would say that the idea that the supernatural exists and that it can effect natural events does have reason for its belief and that it is possible and therefore, in the absense of reason for its impossibility, it is an acceptable belief to hold.

            No. This is equivocation. There is a difference between X being possible and for having reason to believe X. There is a difference between saying that the supernatural exists and that the supernatural is a cause of epilepsy. You are not justified in ascribing unclean spirts as a causative factor in epilepsy.

            The fact remains that the reason the demonic/sin imagery is in involved in the cures during Jesus's ministry is that in 1st century Palestine sin and demons are inextricably intertwined with disease. One cannot be cured of a disease till their sins were forgiven. That is what they believed. All healers were exorcists.

            So, if you read the story in its proper cultural contexts, you will see that we basically have two different theories of disease. The 1st century one which is about demons and sins, and the modern one which involves germs and genetics and physical causes.

            Basically you are advocating for the position that Christians are justified in believing that there are cases of epilepsy that are caused by demons and would be cured via exorcism. Is this a reasonable position? No. Has it caused preventable deaths? Yes:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anneliese_Michel

          • ClayJames

            We have no reason to suppose undetectable causes of epilepsy.

            How would it look like if we did have reason to suppose undetectable causes of epilepsy?

            No. This is equivocation. There is a difference between X being possible and for having reason to believe X. There is a difference between saying that the supernatural exists and that the supernatural is a cause of epilepsy. You are not justified in ascribing unclean spirts as a causative factor in epilepsy.

            When did I say that the supernatraul is a cause of epilepsy? I am not trying to show that at all. My point was trying to refute the false analogy that attempts to show that a belief is invalid simply because we can think of another undetectable belief (space waves) without regarding the positive reasons for each undetectable belief.

            So, if you read the story in its proper cultural contexts, you will see that we basically have two different theories of disease. The 1st century one which is about demons and sins, and the modern one which involves germs and genetics and physical causes.

            I have no problem accepting this as a possible explanation.

            Basically you are advocating for the position that Christians are justified in believing that there are cases of epilepsy that are caused by demons and would be cured via exorcism.

            No, I am advocating for the position that Christians are not unjustified in believing in supernatural causes. I personally do not believe that epilepsy is caused by the supernatural, but I also do not hold that this is impossible or that it can´t be believed.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How would it look like if we did have reason to suppose undetectable causes of epilepsy?

            We would have cases of epilepsy in which there were no known causative factors. We would find other situations in which there were no undetectable causes. Science would not work.

            No, I am advocating for the position that Christians are not unjustified in believing in supernatural causes. I personally do not believe that epilepsy is caused by the supernatural, but I also do not hold that this is impossible or that it can´t be believed.

            So, are Christian also justified in believing that God's angels occasionally cause lightning? Usually it is an electrostatic discharge, but sometimes angels cause it undetectably. Sometimes they cause it in conjunction with an electrostatic discharge. I could do this for every possible thing that you can imagine. It is absurd.

            There is no justification for believing that unclean spirts cause epilepsy. There is plenty of justification for believing that they do not. While nobody can prove that unclean spirits do not cause epilepsy, no person acting reasonably will do so. It is irrational to take the viewpoint that unclean spirits can cause epilepsy. It is a viewpoint without justification.

          • ClayJames

            So, are Christian also justified in believing that God's angels occasionally cause lightning? Usually it is an electrostatic discharge, but sometimes angels cause it undetectably. Sometimes they cause it in conjunction with an electrostatic discharge. I could do this for every possible thing that you can imagine. It is absurd.

            This does not follow from what I said. My point is that the fact that epilepsy can be caused by natural causes does not make it unjustified to accept that it can also be caused by the supernatural. It doesn´t follow from this that one is justified to believe that the supernatural can cause epilepsy since one has to provide justification in order to hold this. I personally have not heard of a justification for angels causing lightning but the fact that lightning happens naturally does not make it unjustified to believe that it can happen supernaturally.

            This is not really that controversially of a point for a theist since in order to prevent a naturalistic infinite regress, one must believe that all events have a supernatural cause. When you bring a personal god into the mix, the added belief that a natural event can have an immediate supernatural cause is not that much of a stretch.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Personally, I feel like this whole conversation on "unclean spirits" has gone sprinting off the starting line without even knowing where the race course is. I would think that one of the first questions should be, "What did these authors even mean, when they referred to 'unclean spirits'". Is it even clear that the term had the "supernatural" connotations that we associate with it? (That's a rhetorical question; my answer is "surely not", because they didn't conceive of "the supernatural" in the neo-Epicurean terms that we tend to). If we translate "unclean spirits" as "damaged liveliness", or something along those lines (I think that would be a reasonable translation - Greek and Hebrew scholars can correct me if I am wrong), we end up with a completely different conversation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So, I've been reading books on/about Jesus due to some conversations at the other place. Vermes:

            In the world of Jesus, the devil was believed to be at the basis of sickness as well as sin. The idea that demons were responsible for all moral and physical evil had penetrated deeply into Jewish religious thought in the period following the Babylonian exile....

            edit: clarity

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's interesting.

            In a similar vein to my just-previous question, I would be curious if your book addresses this point: Did these references to demonic forces carry the same "supernatural" connotations that we now associate with them? Or was it something closer to what we would call "chaos" (i.e. not something removed from the world that "swoops in to muck stuff up", but rather a destructive side of the "freeness" that runs through the heart of everything)?

            An N.T. Wright quote that I recently shared at the other place is germane to this topic:

            The majority of westerners today simply do not realise either that they are Epicureans by default or that Epicureanism was always only one philosophy among others ... It is now widely believed by would-be Christian apologists that part of the task is to defend something called ‘the supernatural’, in which a normally distant divinity invades the ‘natural’ world to perform ‘miracles’ or even, in the Christian story, to become human. But this merely reinscribes and perpetuates the Epicureanism which still serves as the framework for the discussion ... In the ancient Jewish worldview, the one God was not removed from the world, but was mysteriously present and active within it, at least in theory, so that if he remained absent, as in the second-Temple period, there was precisely a sense of that absence. And the modes of his presence and activity were concentrated on the major Jewish symbols: Temple, Torah, land, family, and not least the great narrative which was continuing and would be fulfilled even though it might have seemed for the moment, like a submerged stream, to be running underground ... And the task of describing, from an emic viewpoint, the mindset and motivation of the earliest Christians is thus one for which the Epicurean worldview is singularly badly suited.

            http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_StAndrews_Inaugural.htm

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not sure. Im still on the chapter in which Vermes fits Jesus into the context of Jewish healers and exorcists. It seems to me that he take a position contra Wright.

          • George

            Should finding a logical contradiction be the main barrier to this belief? Should it be the only one? What do you think?

            We can grant lots of stuff as being logically possible, especially if we use that in the sense of "well I can just imagine it that way"(in the case of, for instance, Trent Horn saying the universe doesn't have to exist). But that seems to be applying a rather low standard to the question, doesn't it?

            Maybe we should start from the other direction, and ask why we should believe in these unclean spirits. What are they? In what sense are they real and relevant? Should I lend more weight to the idea of those spirits than to Carl Sagan's invisible, immaterial dragon in the garage?

          • Will

            Is there any reason for me to think unclean spirits exist and can somehow interact with someone's brain? If so, how do they interact with it, influencing electric fields? Is there a reason we never detect these kinds of demon disturbances in general electric fields. I'm an electrical engineer, and the behavior of electricity is generally reliable, though software and electronics are often buggy, and we sometimes joke that something is "possessed" until we figure out what the physical problem is. It's never a ghost or demon, of course :)

        • ben

          "... It seems to be a text book case of epilepsy(!)..." How old is the science of psychiatry? That's a totally baseless presumption, especially since the victim was not subject to your examination.
          Also, given the fact that you, and most psychiatrists, are atheists, it is apparent that neither you nor they are capable of discerning the spiritual components of any illness, especially the mental. Maybe that's why psychiatrists have the highest suicide rate among doctors and other professionals.

          • Will

            Epilepsy is a neurological problem, and it is treated by clinical neurologists, not psychiatrists. There is a pretty significant difference for people who actually know about these things. Clinical neurology is very successful in treating epilepsy these day, if demons were involved, they would not be able to achieve success without involving priests. The fact that we can solve the problem means we generally understand the problem ;)
            Medical doctors, in general, have the highest suicide rate. Why? Because they see the pain and suffering inflicted on their fellow human being day in and day out without end. They see the people they help die over and over. Psychiatrists, in particular, spend their life hearing nothing but other people's problems. Besides, doctors, more than most people, know exactly how to successful kill themselves if they wish to do so.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissus-in-all-us/200908/the-occupation-the-highest-suicide-rate

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Also, given the fact that you, and most psychiatrists, are atheists, it is apparent that neither you nor they are capable of discerning the spiritual components of any illness, especially the mental. Maybe that's why psychiatrists have the highest suicide rate among doctors and other professionals.

            Will any of our theists friends push back on this? You have packed a lot of unevidenced claims into a few sentences.

            1) Most psychiatrists are atheists. Evidence?

            2) Mental illness have "spiritual components." Evidence?

            3) Psychiatrists have the highest suicide rate among professionals. Evidence?

            4) This alleged high rate of suicide is caused by them not believing in the supernatural rather than the very difficult job that they do. Evidence?

      • SpaceGhoti

        Any of them, really. Take your pick. Why not the big one: the resurrection? Even if we assume for the sake of argument that Jesus was a real person wandering around Judea preaching until he sufficiently antagonized the ruling class enough to get crucified, why should I believe the Bible's claims about the resurrection?

  • GuineaPigDan .

    I guess I'll give one a shot. How come prophecies of Jesus weren't more specific, like just plainly saying "your messiah will be Yeshua, born around 4BC and is also the 2nd Person of the Trinity and will be crucified, resurrected and end sacrifices." For instance Isaiah 7:14 is said to foretell the virgin birth, but many Jewish translations would have it read "the young woman is pregnant" and note that in Hebrew the word is almah (young woman) and not bethula (virgin). Likewise Isaiah 53 is thought to be messianic but reading the chapters before tell you the suffering servant is the nation of Israel (an interpretation which Origen acknowledges Jews had back in the 3rd century) http://outreachjudaism.org/gods-suffering-servant-isaiah-53/ Having the Jews develop one idea of the messiah but then suddenly told "psych! This other person was the messiah" is a bit like reading a mystery novel where the reader didn't get a chance to guess the ending on their own.

    I realize pretty much any question I'd ask wouldn't be novel. I'm sure if I flip through the Summa Theologica I'd find Thomas Aquinas attempting to answer questions I'd come up with. I might come up with more later.

    • Jason Sylly Crabtree

      Regarding prophecy, much of it comes from older, pagan, origins, and is based off astrology and observation.
      (If you see wolves howl at a full moon, and observe how often the full moon happens, you can make a whole bunch of prophesies on wolf howling behaviors.)
      Zodiac traits are based off such, is much older than the greek version we commonly use, and holds true across different parts of the world. (It's not specific to religions of Abraham.)

      To answer easily to specificity, Meteorologist can predict hurricanes coming in hurricane season, and even supposed tracks, but don't have enough knowledge/understanding to make accurate predictions.
      Actual vision of prophecy includes "True" influence, with pre-established religious influence, and individual imagination/interpretation. The result makes specificity nearly impossible.

  • sepheranz

    Considering all the original apostles were Jewish men, why are the only gospels we have written in Greek instead of Aramaic with explanations of Jewish traditions for gentiles provided in Mark? This is striking to me because Mark is the earliest synoptic gospel we have (excluding the potential Q) and Mark appears to be written for a non-Jewish Roman audience.

    Obviously the transmission of the gospel to the Jews could have been exclusively oral, but rabbinic literature was still, as far as I know, written in Hebrew and Aramaic and we have a robust body of it from this period because the Jewish people began to write down everything that had formerly been oral tradition after the destruction of the Second Temple.

    So, why no gospel for the Jews?

  • GuineaPigDan .

    Here's another, although it's not really New Testament related. What's the Catholic view on the Talmud, Mishnah, and other Jewish collections of their traditions?

  • Rick Bateman

    I believe it’s generally accepted that, when a crime is committed but the offended party does not wish to press charges, then justice does not demand punishment for the crime. If that is the case, then how can the Christian say that even if God wants to forgive us, his quality of justice demands that he punishes us for our sins unless we accept his substitutionary sacrifice to take the punishment on himself? In other words, the Christian doctrine is that someone needs to be punished no matter what. But if God is the offended party for any sin, then why should there be any demand for punishment, if the offended party could simply choose to drop the charges? Even if perfect justice is an innate quality of God’s nature, wouldn’t justice still be satisfied if the offended party simply forgave the crime unsolicited (instead of demanding that punishment must be given, but then offering to take the punishment himself)?

    Analogies are tricky, but I feel like this whole concept of God (and indeed this construct to rationalize why the Biblical God is not monstrously unjust) is kinda like someone who sues a person who wronged them, for millions of dollars of punitive damage. When the judge makes the ruling that the plaintiff won the case, then justice demands those millions of dollars must be paid. So then the plaintiff goes home and posts on their Facebook page that they are the loving and forgiving sort, so they would be happy to pay the fine themselves (to themselves?), just as soon as the debtor gets in touch with them and makes their own free decision to accept this generous gift. Unfortunately, the person who lost the lawsuit is not one of their Facebook friends (and maybe they don’t use Facebook at all, which is hardly a bad thing), so they never see the message and are thus deeply in debt for the rest of their lives. May I suggest to the would-be plaintiff in this hypothetical case, if you truly are the loving and forgiving sort, maybe just don’t file the lawsuit at all in the first place? If a person who was wronged makes a free decision without coercion to not press charges against the person who wronged them, then there is absolutely nothing unjust about the crime going unpunished. Especially when (breaking out of the analogy a little) we’re talking about a punishment that has absolutely no value for deterring future crimes and is purely for the sake of punishment itself. I cannot accept that such an action is both just and loving.

    Now, here’s another thought. I was just rereading the first paragraph, which ends with “instead of demanding that punishment must be given, but then offering to take the punishment himself.” That got me thinking; you know, God really didn’t take the punishment himself. The punishment that his justice apparently demands for everyone else is eternal torture in hell. But Jesus, who was supposed to be taking the punishment for us, did not suffer eternal torture in hell. Therefore, God saw fit to change the nature of the punishment in that one case, so how can it be said that it would be so horribly against his just nature if he did the same for us (without needing to wait for us to ask him to)?

    • ClayJames

      I believe it’s generally accepted that, when a crime is committed but the offended party does not wish to press charges, then justice does not demand punishment for the crime.

      I disagree with this. If a snotty kid ruing my neighbor´s car with grafitti, I believe that justice does demand punishment for that crime even though my neighbor does not wish to press charges. In this example, I believe that the punishment (in this case, no punishment at all) is unjust especifically because I believe moral values and dutties objectively exist regardless of whether by neighbor, the snotty kid or anyone else accepts them.

      • Rick Bateman

        I think it would entirely depend on why your neighbor didn't want to press charges. If they didn't want to because they were worried about some kind of retribution from the kid's friend, then that wouldn't be justice, but it also wouldn't be a fair analogy to God, because there's nothing anyone could ever do retributively for him to be afraid. However, if your friend didn't press charges because they sincerely didn't mind the graffiti (for whatever reason), then can you seriously say that the kid should still be punished for doing something that didn't harm anyone?

        Even if objective moral values and duties did exist (which I categorically disagree about), there's no objective moral law that says "thou shalt not graffiti." The reason graffiti is wrong (whether objectively or conventionally) is because it causes harm. So if the neighbor didn't press charges because they sincerely felt (without duress) that it didn't harm them, then what objective moral law would the kid actually be breaking?

        You know, honestly, this is a big problem I have with the disparity between what Jesus taught and how Christians actually behave. Modern Christians seem much more focused on justice and a vindictive attitude of divine retribution than love and kindness and charity.

        The greatest commandment is love, not justice.

        • David Hardy

          However, if your friend didn't press charges because they sincerely
          didn't mind the graffiti (for whatever reason), then can you seriously
          say that the kid should still be punished for doing something that
          didn't harm anyone?

          I agree with aspects of your post (that objective moral values do not exist, and that there are a number of Christians who seem to overemphasize a vindictive form of thinking, although I would disagree that it is general enough to generalize to "modern Christians"), but I thought I would address this particular point. Taking a non-vindictive stance, this issue in Christianity can still potentially be resolved. One of the key features of many forms of justice, at least at an ideal level, is that it is not just to benefit the victim, but also the perpetrator. A good example would be a parent who takes time to correct a child who is engaging in negative behavior in order to promote positive behavior instead which will benefit the child should he or she engage in it.

          Taking your example, consider if the child in question sprayed the graffiti for the intended purpose of causing harm. Even if the neighbor was not harmed, and did not want to press charges, the parent of the child might still take corrective action in response. Please note that I am specifically saying "corrective action" instead of punishment, because a number of actions might have a positive effect on the child: explaining the sort of harm it causes, having the child get to know the neighbors and trying to foster empathy, or helping the child reflect on how someone else doing the same might affect him or her.

          In any case, one could argue that, where the action comes with malicious intent, justice may require that we respond to address that intent, even if harm was not caused. In this case, the justice can be conceived of as a part of love, seeking to correct for the good of the perpetrator. Likewise, God might be conceived less as a wrathful judge as a liberating parental figure seeking to correct and encourage, without which the negative intentions and patterns of behavior of the person, and the suffering they cause, are less likely to be successfully corrected.

          From this view, Hell is a place reserved for those who ignore this correction, and its suffering arises from the unaltered negative intent and choices of those there, as well as their rejection of the (corrective) influence of God. Likewise, heaven a place for those who allow themselves to be conformed to the positive intentions and behaviors that are in line with the will of God. I know a number of Christians who take exactly this position, although of course it is by no means a universal position in Christianity.

          Now, I still think there is an issue of why we are not created naturally conforming to the will of God, what the value of giving people a choice to do evil truly is, and why we do not see evidence of corrective action in many cases of evil, but those would be additional points beyond whether justice may require a response even when no harm was caused.

  • Rick Bateman

    Why did the disciples/apostles wait until after Jesus had ascended to heaven to start preaching that he had risen? Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to start preaching while he was still around? For that matter, why didn’t Jesus continue preaching while he was still around (to anyone but the disciples)? For that matter, why did Jesus leave at all? Doesn’t it seem just a little convenient, not unlike the kind of explanations they might’ve come up with later if he hadn’t really come back to life at all?

    • Jim Jones

      > For that matter, why did Jesus leave at all?

      Always a biggie. After all, he was death proof. Why didn't he stay and fight crime like Batman instead of promising to come back 'someday', like the Lone Ranger?

      • Will

        Actually, he was supposed to be right back to take over the world and set up God's kingdom on earth. The gospels say it was to be in the same generation and Paul thought he would live to see it. Didn't happen, of course.

        • pearlridgeview

          The Kingdom Hall of the JWs here in Honolulu have a big sign visible from the freeway..... "Jesus Coming Soon". Makes you wonder what the definition of "soon" is. They have repainted that sign at least twice that I know of.

  • Rick Bateman

    If God created everything, doesn’t that necessitate that he created evil as well? Or, at the very least, he created the thing that created evil. (I know I’m not breaking any new ground there, but it’s still a question that needs to be asked.)

    • neil_pogi

      for me, God introduced evil in this world. since the first couple have sinned, death (evil) follows its course. evil has become a part of natural law, we have prey and predator, laws of entropy, laws of disorder and chaos, old age, diseases.

      • Jim Jones

        Why do rich children suffer so much less than poor children? You'd think there'd be no correlation.

        • neil_pogi

          i didn't say that? it's all in your imagination!

    • sepheranz

      To be fair, Isaiah 45:7 makes it pretty clear "I am the Lord and there is none else, I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create [woe/calamity/evil/affliction/distress/misery/disaster]--I the Lord do all these things."

      There's no way to spin that word to say God doesn't cause terrible things to happen no matter how you translate it.

      Similarly, Amos 3:6 reads "When a ram's horn is sounded in a town, do the people not take alarm? Can [misfortune/evil/disaster/affliction] come to a town if the Lord has not caused it?"

      Also, compare 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 and remember there's not necessarily any contradiction in these passages because there was no devil in the Jewish lore of the time but God would send contending angels down to do his will. Like in Numbers 22:22. You can see the use of "satan" in the sentence here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib//tan/num022.htm

      Of course, if there's an alternate explanation I'm open to it but as far as I'm aware God created evil as far as the Old Testament can be taken literally.

      • GuineaPigDan .

        Thomas Aquinas was aware of Isaiah 45:7 saying that God creates evil and came up with this rebuttal.

        Nevertheless the order of justice belongs to the order of the universe; and this requires that penalty should be dealt out to sinners. And so God is the author of the evil which is penalty, but not of the evil which is fault, by reason of what is said above... These passages [Isaiah 45] refer to the evil of penalty, and not to the evil of fault."

        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1049.htm#article2 So I guess he's saying the "evil" God creates is really sinners getting their comeuppance? I wonder how he'd explain the sufferings of innocent people like Job? (I found he actually does has a very lengthy commentary on the book of Job; I'll try reading it later). On the other hand though, Jews say that God did create evil, plain and simple. http://outreachjudaism.org/who-is-satan/

  • Brandon Rader

    Not once in the entirety of human history have two unconnected cultures met and shared the same god/gods/religion/belief structure. Doesn't that bother you? Shouldn't that bother you? If the truth of god is divine, why do I have to be told about it, shouldn't I know?

    Religion is shaped by your geography.

    • Mike

      so is monotheism somehow 'determined' by lots of sand and sun?

      • Brandon Rader

        I've read your post about 5 times. I have no idea how you've come to this rather bizarre conclusion.

        • Mike

          you said that religion was determined by geography didn't you? so monotheism developed first in the middle east.

      • Truth Seeker

        That's more just geology and climate rather than geography in general.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      How did the Germanic word "God" ever come to be applied to the Judeo-Christian God, if not through a recognition on the part of those pre-Christian Germanic tribes that "Gott" and YHWH (and Elohim, and El, etc) were different ways of referring to the same "thing"?

      For that matter, why did the Greek translators of Hebrew scripture feel so at liberty to use the word Theos (same root as Zeus, if I understand correctly) and why did the Latin translators so freely use the word Deus, if not also out of a recognition that these pre-Christian words also referred to the same "thing" as their Biblical counterparts?

      • Brandon Rader

        Because what you're referring to is language. Language is important when it comes to assimilation. If you want this new culture you just met to worship your god, it's not enough just to teach them about it. You have to convert them into it. You take their holidays and make them your own (hello Saturnalia). You use their words to make it familiar.

        What you're describing is a method of conversion.

        What I asked is much simpler. Why didn't two cultures with no prior contact ever share the same religion? Not once did a European settler arrive on some foreign land and ask "Hey have you heard about Jesus", and the people they met say "Hell yeah, we got his book right here brother".

        Religion is about where you were born. You have a pretty good chance at being some form of Christianity if you were born in the US or Western Europe. If you were born in the middle east you are likely a Muslim. India, Buddhist...

        Most people inherit their religion from their parents. They are born into it. Religion is not divine, it's geographic.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I agree that cultural assimilation of new ideas proceeds most often, and most successfully, via analogy to the familiar (though it can sometimes also proceed via prophetic contrast with the familiar). The point is, for an analogy to work, the things being compared need to be more similar than dissimilar. The pre-Christian world was presented with a portrait of God that was not identical to the portraits they would have previously painted of God, but was similar enough to enable successful analogy. The fact that the portraits were "similar enough" suggests (to me) that they had the same referent.

          As for your simpler point, I can only say that I have different expectations as to how truth and goodness advance in the world. We don't begin with a world that is uniformly blanketed with truth and goodness. Life emerges from non-life in one place (or in relatively few places) and spreads from there. The human invention of the alphabet began in one time and place and spread from there. So with great scientific and mathematical discoveries. So with politically effective methods of non-violent resistance. This is just the way things work. We have specific people, and specific events who lead the way, who are out ahead of the curve. Reality is not flat and homogenous.

  • Rick Bateman

    Has Jesus' prayer in John 17:20-23 been answered?

    • neil_pogi

      some prayers are answered and some not

      • Rick Bateman

        Yep, which is exactly what it would be like if God didn't really exist, and people sometimes got the things they asked God for (and sometimes didn't) purely by coincidence and random chance.

        • neil_pogi

          if God would allow all prayers to be answered, then, all free will is crap

          • Rick Bateman

            I'm not saying God should answer all prayers, I'm asking why in the world he wouldn't answer this one. It came from Jesus, who according to mainstream Christianity, is God himself. So, if God prays a prayer to himself, for the express purpose of making the world know that he sent himself, why would God take that prayer from himself and not answer it?

            I can completely understand why God wouldn't answer the prayer for one team or the other to win the Super Bowl, but of all the prayers in the history of humanity, this one should be a slam dunk (if Christianity were true).

          • Jason Sylly Crabtree

            Unity through Understanding, the Prophecy of Aquarius, my interpretation of the purpose of Christ's return. (Thus not Yet answered).
            However, If God has a plan, what good is prayer (except for thanks)? As if thinking prayer is a good enough reason for Him to change his plan.
            [I don't believe in Jesus' divinity, and when I say Christ's return, I don't specifically refer to Jesus, or the way John describes it in Revelations.]

          • neil_pogi

            if God answers all the prayers in the world, then, humans will just depend on Him to sustain all their needs. Jesus came on this planet not to feed all the world's population (remember Jesus feeds only about 5,000 people in juts one meal only)

          • Truth Seeker

            Does "answer" mean answer affirmatively?

          • neil_pogi

            yes

          • Truth Seeker

            Then why not answer 75% of prayers?

        • ClayJames

          This doesnt follow. This line of reasoning would also apply to our very own parents when we were children and the fact that sometimes got what we wanted and sometimes not, is not evidence against their existence.

          • Rick Bateman

            We have plenty of other evidence that our parents exist, though. (And also, see my other reply "I'm not saying God should answer all prayers...").

          • ClayJames

            And theists would say that we have plenty of evidence that God exists.

          • Rick Bateman

            But for pretty much all the theists I've ever encountered (even major "reasonable faith" apologists like William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel), the acceptance of that evidence as valid only came after they already had purely-emotional reasons to want that evidence to be true.

            Anybody can convince themselves that there is evidence for something, if they have already accepted by faith that the thing is true.

          • ClayJames

            This certainly applies both ways. I don´t agree with WLC on many things and I would criticize some of his shortcomings, but he is far more logical and less emotionally driven than most of the New Atheists who can´t even put together logical arguments to defend their positions. I also disagree with you that 1) they accepted evidence only after purely-emotional reasons for wanting it to be true and 2) what you mean by ¨faith¨, as if faith is can be reduced to believing in something without evidence.

            When the most read and popular atheist of our time says that his central argument for atheism is to simply ask ¨Who designed the designer?¨, it is difficult to objectively charge the popular proponents of the other side as unreasonable..

  • Rick Bateman

    If God is a perfect entity, and being perfect means nothing else being better than that entity, then how could Jesus be God when he said “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28)? If Jesus was God and therefore perfect, then how could anything be greater than him (even another person of the Godhead)?

    Is observable physical evidence more important and valid than what the bible claims to be true?

    Why didn't Philo of Alexandria write about Jesus or Christianity?

    If somebody else told you that God told them to kill their son, how could you tell them they were wrong? You can’t say God wouldn’t do that, because he already did in the Bible. What possible appeal could you make, from the standpoint of religiously-driven morality, that would trump a person’s sincere belief that God had spoken to them?

    If the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist literally become the physical and blood of Jesus, then why does the wheat in the erstwhile bread still affect Catholics with celiac disease?

    If after the flood was when God gave the okay to eat meat, why did Abel have flocks to tend so long before that? What would you need a flock of animals for if not food? Was the point of the entire flock just to clothe one family (and the occasional sacrifice)?

    Are women saved through childbearing? (1 Timothy 2:15)

  • Mike

    where/how did the gospel writers learn to write in Greek when they spoke Aramaic apparently and weren't educated men?

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I assume that by "gospel writers" you mean the traditional gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

      • Mike

        yeah

    • Ignatius Reilly

      What makes you think the gospel writers spoke Aramaic?

      • Mike

        wasn't that the day to day language of the jews then? i've read that hebrew was reserved for liturgy etc.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          The gospels were written after the destruction of the Temple. Mark shows familiarity with Latin and Greek, but is ignorant of the geography of Jesus's ministry.

    • neil_pogi

      the gift of receiving 'tongues' is revealed in NT.
      The first occurrence of speaking in tongues occurred on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. The apostles went out and shared the gospel with the crowds, speaking to them in their own languages: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). http://www.gotquestions.org/gift-of-tongues.html

      if God can do wonders for apostles to speak in different languages (tongues) then why not in writing?

      you may think that they were 'uneducated' men, in what sense? Jesus didn't choose His disciples to be really 'educated'. Peter's just a fisherman for example.

      as long as these peple can write and observe things, no one can classify them as 'uneducated'. they were chosen just to record things. you need not to be a 'BS' (bachelor of science)or a PhD.

      • Will

        You mean like this speaking in tongues?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm_NNLZiusg

        • Truth Seeker

          What language is that?

          • Will

            Gibberish? This is popular in many churches, primarily Pentecostals.

        • neil_pogi

          'speaking in tongues' is interpreted by some 'born again' christians very differently from some mainstrean christian churches. the apostles begin to speak, for example, a greek language, even though greek is not their native tongue

    • Truth Seeker

      Maybe they had amanuenses.

  • Rick Bateman

    Wanna take a crack at my "Fulfilled Prophecy Challenge?" First, read this little questionnaire, and see if you agree that all of the following cases should not be considered fulfilled prophecy...

    1) If Joe Smith won the lottery yesterday, and then today I told you that I predicted Joe Smith would win the lottery, but there’s no record of my prediction that’s verifiably from before it happened, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then there must be verification that a prophesy was made before the event it prophesies.)

    2) If I say that something good is gonna happen to Jane Smith this month, and then after she wins the lottery, I say that’s what I meant all along, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then vague or ill-defined prophesies don’t count.)

    3) If I predict that somebody will win the lottery this year, but don’t say who or when, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then we can’t count something as fulfilled prophecy if it was common or likely to happen anyway.)

    4) If I made a prediction that Jane Smith would win the lottery this month, but I’m the only source you can find who says Jane Smith did win the lottery this month, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then the event which fulfills a prophesy must be independently attested by people who aren’t trying to prove those prophesies true.)

    5) If I predict that Jane Smith will win the lottery this month, but when it doesn’t happen, I say that the promotion she got was what I really meant, because the good fortune and increased income are kinda like winning the lottery, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then prophesies which are reinterpreted after the supposed fulfillments should not count.)

    6) If I made a prediction last week that Joe Smith was going to go buy a lottery ticket today with a specific sequence of numbers, and then Joe did that because he wanted to make my prediction come true, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then prophecies which are fulfilled by people intentionally trying to make the prediction come true don’t count.)

    7) If I predicted that Jane Smith would win the lottery this month, and Joe Smith won instead, should that be considered a fulfilled prophesy? (If not, then prophesies which are “close enough” don’t count.)

    ...If you think any of these cases should be considered fulfilled prophecy, I'd like to hear why. If you don't, then can you name any Biblical prophecies that do not fit into any of these categories?

    • neil_pogi

      if i'm gonna buy a lotto ticket, and i prophesy that i'm going to win then, my prediction becomes true if i win the major prize! does that mean that i became a true 'seer'? for example, 10 million people bought that ticket and each of them is 'prophesying' a sure winner, but only one person is entitled to that major prize, therefore, those 9,999,999 persons are deluded and only 1 person got his prophesy fulfilled.

      read: http://www.whiteestate.org/books/bhp/bhpc06.html

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      None of your scenarios describe prophecy in the biblical sense. Prophecy in the biblical sense is not "oracular prediction". The function of prophecy in the bible is to draw a contrast between what is and what should be. Prophets "paint a picture" of the way the world should be (thereby also expressing a hope in the way that the world will be). Prophecy is "fulfilled" when the thirst expressed in those "painted pictures" is finally slaked.

      • Rick Bateman

        I mean, that's a nice opinion, but that's not how most Christians (or religious people in general) talk about prophecy. And frankly, I don't think it's how the Bible talks about prophecy. Remember that God said the way you know a prophet didn't come from him was if any of their prophecies didn't come true. That's hardly just drawing a contrast between what is and what should be; that's something that only makes sense if the purpose of prophecy is to predict future events. But hey, if you can convince all the other Christians that their idea of prophecy is wrong, then I'll stop disagreeing with their claims that the Bible has fulfilled prophecy.

      • David Hardy

        An interesting description of prophecy. I am curious, from this position, would you say that prophecy is both 1) a picture of what should be and 2) something that will ultimately be brought about due to the "thirst" for it needing to be slaked? Or, is it a picture of what should be that may not actually ever be brought about? If the former, it seems to still be a form of oracular prediction, as it is making a prediction of something that purportedly will happen at some point in the future. If the latter, is it distinguishable from an idealized outcome goal?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I don't think I am putting forward an original or controversial view here. (At least, I don't think it is controversial from a scholarly perspective. Popular piety admittedly seems to diverge from scholarship on this point). I think the idea is that prophetic visions will come to pass, but since they are generally poetically described visions (e.g. Isaiah 11:6-9), the observance of fulfillment can only be made through aesthetic identification, not through empirical measurement.

          • David Hardy

            I see. Thank you for the clarification, it has helped me better understand the distinction you are making. If you don't mind a further question, I am wondering how, given the subjective nature of aesthetic evaluation, one can discern which interpretation of whether and how a biblical prophecy has fulfilled is best?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I am not sure that aesthetic evaluation is entirely subjective, but I can agree that it has a subjective dimension. Because of that subjective dimension, I don't think there is any universally applicable algorithm for determining what is "aesthetically true". I think you have to make your own judgement, coming to the best assessment you can, by hook or by crook. Some personal judgements will be good, and others will not be good. You do that best you can. I don't mean to be glib about it, but I don't know what else to say.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not sure that aesthetic evaluation is entirely subjective, but I can agree that it has a subjective dimension.

            Since the Super Bowl is coming, I will make this analogy. If I was a GM, it might be difficult for me to pick between Tom Brady and Rodgers, but if I picked Nick Foles instead I would be out of a job. I think aesthetics is similar. There are cases when it is difficult to judge, but I think if you know what to look for quasi-objective aesthetic judgements are possible.

          • David Hardy

            It helps in games and sports because there is a clear, agreed upon standard as far as what one is trying to achieve, and one can use this to get a sense of how well specific subjects "measure up", even if not rigorously measuring. In other cases, there may be no clear, agreed upon standard, and those standards that are used may vary sharply from group to group. I find that understanding the standard a person uses, and why they believe that standard is best, often tells me as much or more about their perspective as the conclusion they come to.

          • David Hardy

            Okay, thank you for the further clarification. It is not always easy to respond when you are not sure how best to do so, but it has helped me further understand your position.

          • Will

            If I'm reading you right I agree with you on prophecy. In sociology and economics this seems similar to the principle of reflexivity. Belief in prophecies can cause them to be fulfilled (nothing supernatural it just affects our actions). The establishment of the state of Israel is a good example, as it would not have occurred if the Jews did not believe they had divine right to the land (not ignoring the role of sympathy over the holocaust).
            This principle can have positive and negative effects. In a way, the establishment of Israel has been positive for the Jews but negative for Palestinians and peace in the region. In economics, inventions and engineering feats are positive, but the housing bubble was an example of beleifs about a market ignoring the fundamentals of a market which eventual resulted in an overcorrection that was also fueled by negative beliefs and reactionary pessimism. The bubble was fueled by excessive optimism, and it can be very hard to judge the fundamentals separate from market influences fueled by beliefs. It's no surprise that Christianity is big on faith, it can have a powerful effect on the human mind, and in reality via human hands :)

            Sorry typos, on mobile with fat thumbs.

      • George

        None of them?

        The emergence of the modern Israel is widely regarded as a fulfilled prophecy by apologists and preachers.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Oh no. Did I forget to consult my secret cabal of fellow apologists? Let me check in with them and get back to you with the right answer!

  • Richard Allen

    I was raised a Catholic and I totally believe the positive concepts of modern Catholicism. As an adult, I do not accept the afterlife, Heaven or Hell. Parables were meant to convey a message or lesson. My question is simply " Did Jesus actually exist " or was it like a parable to convey a better way of living our lives

    Like · Reply · 27 mins

    • neil_pogi

      if Jesus didn't actually exist, then why His disciples chose to be persecuted? even Peter has disowned Him but lately confessed his sins!

      • George

        Where is the evidence for that persecution?

        • neil_pogi

          i thought you have 'digged' all the Jesus' records?
          and you failed to read apostles' persecutions?

          • Jim Jones

            I have read many of the books where Perry Mason saved innocent people from prison or death. Does that mean Perry Mason is Jesus - or god?

          • neil_pogi

            there were so-called 'saviors' in early christian times. they even wrote gnostic gospels

          • Jim Jones

            And Erle Stanley Gardner wrote all the Perry Mason books, and many more.

          • George

            what records? what documents are there proving that the apostles were persecuted? what proof is there, assuming there's some record, that those persecuted were even given the chance to recant in exchange for mercy?

          • neil_pogi

            i am thinking that you chose not to read those historical persecutions done to early apostles.

    • Sparrow Opal
  • Mike

    why didn't the early church consolidate the 4 gospels into one 'master' text that could be easily copied and that would include all important data from each gospel?

    • neil_pogi

      nobody can answer that question but only them (matthew, mark, luke and john).

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Matthew and Luke did the next best thing. They borrowed from Mark.

      • Mike

        but why not consolidate into 1 though?

    • Arthur Jeffries

      Tatian did just that in the second century. Google "Diatessaron."

      • Mike

        interesting thanks.

    • Truth Seeker

      You'd have to leave stuff out.

  • Wayne

    How can anyone justify believing in a god if the believing in a supernatural agent either promotes tribalistic seperatism or irrational, anti scientific thinking or both as contributors to the evil propagated on humans in the name of god, as well as giving credence to a sypernatural agent who allows evil in general while ostensibly being all good and loving promising believers magical intervention in this non-magical world?

    • neil_pogi

      only fanatics (in atheism, in catholicism,in muslims, in protestatntism) can do all that (tribalistic seperatism or irrational, anti scientific thinking or both as contributors to the evil propagated on humans in the name of god,). for example, when science prove that one atheistic theory (ex: non-living things evolve to living things) failed experimentations, these fanatic atheists still insist it is possible!! they are truly anti-science,

    • Mike

      do you think the world would be a better place if there was no God or gods only the laws of science?

      • Jason Sylly Crabtree

        If people put nearly as much effort into caring for others and nature as they put effort into their respective religions, I certainly believe the world would be a better place. However, it's naive to believe that such godlessness would promote such humanitarianism.
        Thus, better place if everyone believed the Same thing (regardless if it's God or not.)

        • Mike

          doesn't the thing matter more than whether everyone agrees on it?

      • Wayne

        The laws of science are ultimately only meant to represent reality "as it is," not some belief system. This concept of reality is meant to undermine what is falsifiable, what is unrealistic, and surely what is fantastic. Take as an alternative all the suffering which you have experienced in your own life, combined with all the suffering each person currently living has experienced in their lives, combined with all suffering that everyone who has ever lived, combined with all the suffering that everyone who will ever lived, and then explain this with a good God and good Believers. Does this good God and good Believers make for a better place? What if instead we all bind together as imperfect people living in an imperfect and painful world struggling in an imperfectly, ungodly, world? Does this not provide a better place of reality and solidarity (minus tribalism and irrationality) for all of us?

        • Mike

          well at least you had the presence of mind to include this: (minus tribalism and irrationality).

          if there is only the laws of science then nothing matters at all.

          • Wayne

            I am making no claims for science as belief or as founding value. In fact I am saying that value is quintessentially related to human solidarity, what believers sometimes call love. What I am claiming is that believing becomes inherently dangerous and damaging via tribalism and irrationality which leads to hypocritical and anti-loving actions and devaluation. Believing in science or anything else creates similar false ideology and devaluation of our solidarity for human compassion. Hypocrisy due to religious belief (and other similar types of ideology such as communism) has led to religion being disbelieved by more than those who believe, just as communism is now discredited--and for good and similar reasons.

          • Mike

            i agree with you. a healthy skepticism and a healthy faith are good for everything and everyone.

        • ClayJames

          What if instead we all bind together as imperfect people living in an imperfect and painful world struggling in an imperfectly, ungodly, world? Does this not provide a better place of reality and solidarity (minus tribalism and irrationality) for all of us?

          Why would we do this? Why would I care about solidarity over my own well being?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Your well being is tied up with solidarity. Can't have one without the other.

          • ClayJames

            Not necessarily. What you mean is that there is a high correlation between our own well being and solidarity because this is how society is designed, but this correlation changes with time and space. In the US, that correlation might be around 97%, in Eastern Europe 85%, in Latin America 80% and in parts of Africa and the Middle East less than 65%.

            But even if you live in a country with a high correlation, why not just focus on maximizing well being (which has a 100% correlation with well being) instead of focusing on maximing something else that has a high correlation with well being but it is not 100%?

            How can you really say that the heads of the banks that made decisions that lead to the financial crisis that affected many people, knowing that they were going to be bailed out and that their well being was going to increase because of their corrupt practices, were doing anything wrong since this definetly increased their well being while diminishing the well being of society?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Do you think the heads of these banks are happy? Studies have suggested that once you attain a certain annual salary (70kish) there is no increase in happiness for greater incomes. Instead happiness levels are a matter of genetics and personal choice.

            The point is that as an atheist I do not believe that happiness/joy/contentment is found by selfishly looking out for your own gain at the expense of others. Your Christ would agree with me. If the happy life is a virtuous life. Selfishness is not a virtue

          • ClayJames

            Do you think the heads of these banks are happy? Studies have suggested that once you attain a certain annual salary (70kish) there is no increase in happiness for greater incomes. Instead happiness levels are a matter of genetics and personal choice.

            I was talking about well being, not happiness. Even though happiness is an aspect of well being, it is not the only consideration. So even if their overall level of happiness might not increase, their well being certainly might as they obtain more assets, power and self importance and in this sense, it does not follow that well being is tied up with solidarity.

            The point is that as an atheist I do not believe that happiness/joy/contentment is found by selfishly looking out for your own gain at the expense of others. Your Christ would agree with me. If the happy life is a virtuous life. Selfishness is not a virtue

            And as a hypothetical atheist, I see no reason to accept your subjective standard that, even if true, is nothing more than a byproduct of a random evolutionary process. I think that it is also important to consider that the happiness studies you cite come to those conclusions either because 1) we are truly ordered toward giving of ourselves for others or 2) we act as if our evolutionary development is really a lot more virtuous and important that it is. Given 2, I see no reason to hold this to any higher standard than a selfish approach to life.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was talking about well being, not happiness. Even though happiness is an aspect of well being, it is not the only consideration. So even if their overall level of happiness might not increase, their well being certainly might as they obtain more assets, power and self importance and in this sense, it does not follow that well being is tied up with solidarity.

            Once you have reached a certain level of financial security, your well being is not particularly enhanced by gaining more assets and power.

            The best way to live your life does not change based on whether or not there is a god. Gods are simply ontological crutches for belief systems. (I.E. We should live like X because god made us to live like X.) Atheism does not imply that selfishness is the best way to live your life.

            If any gods exists (doubtful), we can at best perceive them dimly and there is no basis in fact for a CatholicYahwehJesus, but rather CatholicYahwehJesus is an ontological support for other positions that you take.

            The norse perceived the universe as bleak. Their religion provided an ontological basis for that perception.

            You are trying to twist atheism into providing an ontological basis for selfish nihilism, which it cannot do. Gods are ontological crutches. Atheist are left without such crutches, and our worldview will succeed or fail on its own merits.

            And as a hypothetical atheist, I see no reason to accept your subjective standard that, even if true, is nothing more than a byproduct of a random evolutionary process.

            Evolution by natural selection is not a random process. Anyway, I'm not sure what you are trying to imply here. Are you saying that atheists cannot discover the best way to live one's life, because we are just byproducts of evolution. (So what?!?!? Some really interesting things are the byproduct of evolution.)

            You see no reason means that you are conveniently ignoring psychology. There are many reasons to live non-selfishly that have nothing to do with gods or demons.

            I think that it is also important to consider that the happiness studies you cite come to those conclusions either because 1) we are truly ordered toward giving of ourselves for others or 2) we act as if our evolutionary development is really a lot more virtuous and important that it is.

            Do you think the happiness studies are true? Is well-being A) a product of a combination of factors like good social relations, compassion, love, financial security, appreciation of beauty, etc or is it the result of B) living selfishly and amassing wealth and power while not worrying about anyone else?

            If A is true what does God have to do with it? And if B is true, is your belief in God the only thing keeping you from being a moral monster?

          • ClayJames

            Atheism does not imply that selfishness is the best way to live your life.

            Atheism doesnt imply any best way to to live, that is my point. If I determine to tie my well being with money and power with a smaller focus on incremental increases in happiness, then the best course of action in certain situations would be ones that go against solidarity, which would show that you are wrong to say that well being is tied to solidarity.

            Anyway, I'm not sure what you are trying to imply here. Are you saying that atheists cannot discover the best way to live one's life, because we are just byproducts of evolution.

            I am not saying that atheist cannot discover the best way to live their life. I simply disagree with your point that given atheism, I must define my well being to be what you tell me it should be and that I should tie this well being to solidarity. As an atheist, I am warranted to tie my well being to anything I want, even if that means going against solidarity.

            There are many reasons to live non-selfishly that have nothing to do with gods or demons.

            Absolutely. I am not arguing against this. I am arguing against your claim that I shouldn't define my wellbeing to be whatever I want and that I must tie my wellbeing to solidarity.

          • Wayne

            Solidarity is the simple value of being a member of society in which it has been demonstrated that to value others is to value self in reciprocity, not over or under you own well being, but for it.

          • ClayJames

            Do you think it is possible, within a society, to act on improving one´s own wellbeing at the expense of the wellbeing of others?

          • Wayne

            Clay-James, I agree that solidarity is not solid in the context of ought, only valid in the context of is, an ontological given.

          • ClayJames

            Thisis a key point because it is not always the case that solidarity maximizes our well being. There are instances, even in the most developed of societies (and certainly in less developed ones), where going against solidarity can improve one´s well being. My question to the naturalist is why, in those situations, should I not do what is better for me (however I may define that) and instead do what is better for society?

          • Wayne

            I do not advocate a naive solidarity, but one which traverses from the passive herd mentality and burden bearing of the Camel, to the aggressive rebellion of the Lion, finally to the assertive and creative stage of the Child/Artist, as Nietzsche has shown in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Amor Fati.Human solidarity is a human trait in the end--trust me.

          • ClayJames

            That does not answer my question. Solidarity might be a human trait that is a product of how we have evolved and that still does not tell me why I should not act against that solidarity. We chose to act against evolved human traits all the time and no one bats an eye.

          • Wayne

            “Morality is neither rational nor absolute nor natural." (Nietzsche)

            Nietzsche and Spinoza both challenged the validity of morality based on transcendent or universal values. They both argued that moral restrictions are based on weakness: Nietzsche via enslavement by harboring vengeance or "resentment" against life ( Genealogy of Morals), Spinoza via enslavement to passive affections.

            In both, the transcendent moral division between Good and Evil is replaced with an immanent, ethical differentiation (the noble versus base modes of existence for Nietzsche and the active versus passive affections in Spinoza). What determines a good ethic, then, is not the appeal to transcendent or universal values, but the manner in which one is capable of increasing in capacity, creativity and power.

            Ethical Power as a function of Desire:
            Deleuze responds to both Nietzsche and Spinoza by positing that an appeal to transcendence in morality is what prevents positive ethical behavior and thus "perverts" desire such that we can repress our own desire and separate ourselves from our own capacities and powers. Not by conscious will, not by conscious decision making, not by preconscious Marxian interests, but only by reference to unconscious drives (desires) can we understand ethics.

          • Wayne

            Nietzsche's concept of the will to power was first developed from his concept of drives: "Every drive is a kind of lust to rule, each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm" (WP, 481). It is through our drives that we interpret the world, and are thus perspectival, not through our consciousness or perceptions.

            What we call thinking, willing and feeling are "merely relation[s] of these drives to each other." (BG&E 237) When we speak of "I" (ego) we are merely speaking of the current predominant drive, beneath which are more distant drives, not me, but it (the Id). To will is to use the predominant drive to command, while the other drives obey (largely unconsciously).

            More significant than that we can never get beyond our representations of the world (from the phenomenal to the noumenal), as with Kant, is that we can never get beyond the reality of the drives, as with Nietzsche. Perhaps the greatest fiction is that we are subjects endowed with free will–"the fiction of a force separated from what it can do" (Deleuze).

          • Wayne

            We assume that behind every deed there is a conscious doer (Nietzsche) when in fact we are at the mercy of our unconscious drives. When we do not express our impulses outwardly, we turn them inward and generate "bad conscience," and false guilt (a function of the Freudian superego)—the reification of transcendent moral values above and beyond the value of life itself.

            Good ethics thus enable an entity's power to actualize (not rationalize) its creative potential as a physical body with affects (which yield the ability to influence actively or be influenced), whether organic or inorganic. There is no appeal to the transcendental, universal "God" or "Subject." Morality (top down, transcendent, universalizing) thus becomes truly unrealistic, inauthentic, destructive and fundamentally anti-ethical (ethics being bottom up, immanent, singular).

            “Everything is singular and thereby collective and private at the same time, particular and general, neither individual nor universal.” (Deleuze, Logic of Sense, p. 152)

          • Wayne

            Ask any child playing a game if it is ok to cheat is a simple answer. More philosophically, without providing an ought, you can apply Rawls position and make decisions as if you were a blind man and did not know if your decision was going to be made for either party. Some truths are held to be self evident and pragmatic. I always find it interesting how there is such a great fear of cheaters here, though society has its laws (and dont ask me why in this thread).

          • ClayJames

            And we are not children. Children are either taught to not cheat or have the intuition not to cheat. Given naturalism, this intuition is a byproduct of sociobiological evolution, a process that like the rest of nature, has no interest in doing what is ¨good¨ or ¨bad¨. So unless you are trying to argue that we must act according to how we evolved, I fail to see the point of the child example.

            Why should I apply the Rawls position? I am not a blind man and given naturalism, this is the only life I have until I cease to exist. People also know where they stand in society and what they can and cannot get away with. Why should they act as if they don´t know this? It seems circular to use this position that embraces solidarity in order to show that I should embrace solidarity.

            Finally, I do agree that some truths are self evident and logical and metaphysical truths fall into this group. For the theist, moral truths can certainly be labeled as self evident but I see no way that given naturalism, moral beliefs are self evident. How can you justify this?

          • Wayne

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory

            You can read above about attachment theory where the originator, John Bowlby believed that the tendency for primate infants to develop attachments to familiar caregivers was the result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behavior would facilitate the infant's survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements.

            So yes I am arguing that there is sociobiological evolution in which there is considerable interest in doing what is good regarding staying alive, and that bonding between mother and infant is the basis for both solidarity and compassion, based originally on the drive to stay alive. There is perhaps no better insight into the human condition than studying the mother infant relationship as a basis for how life best works.

            You do not have to apply Rawls position, I’m just saying that it provides a rational basis for reasonable social behavior. It’s a pity you have such little faith in human nature, but I am not trying to convince you of this, just present my viewpoint. Bless the beasts and the children.

          • ClayJames

            You are simply offering reasons why things are the case but morality answers the question of what should be the case. No one is saying that naturalists do not have a basis for social behavior, I am asking why a naturalist cannot have a basis for anti-social behavior when they see fit and simply offering me reasons why humans are social animals does not bridge the is/ought gap.

            If you are trying to say that how we have evolved should determine how we ought to behave, then it would lead to many silly contradictions. For example, you would have to conclude that couples that do not want to reproduce are being immoral since most of our natural instincts push us to reproduction.

          • Wayne

            The simple response is that is does determine ought, because human bonding is the basis of human civilization. Empathy is by definition pro-social behavior. Its in the nature of the critter. Regarding ought as morality see my response on the other post.

            Why do you want to establish a basis for anti-social behavior? If you want to achieve that, just treat children like happened to orphans in Romania housed and fed without human interaction. That created the attachment disorder known as Disorganized Attachment Disorder--and a 90% later involvement with the law (antisocial orientation)--cause and effect. You do not even need a theory of mamalian development for this one. Sometimes facts are just facts.

          • Wayne

            "A cosmic present embraces the entire universe, in relation to the unity of bodies among one another." Deleuze, Logic of Sense, p. 13

          • Wayne

            My current concern is the oligarchic hegemony which has destroyed democratic-social values.

          • Rick Bateman

            Are you really saying that the only reason you would have care about other people is because you feel like God is pressuring you to do so? I've been out of the church for five years, and it turns out that I don't need God to care about other people. If your argument is that we need religion because all the religious people would just become completely selfish and self-motivated if we took religion away, then all you're really doing is supporting the argument that non-religious people are more moral than religious people.

          • ClayJames

            That is not at all what I am saying. Naturalist can act as if solidarity and altruism are moral ends in and of themselves, and I believe this is what most naturalists do. My question to the naturalist is why should I take solidarity and altruism as a end instead of as a means to an end, the end in mind being my own well being. And since morality and altruism are just means to an end, why should I not disregard them in favor of the subjective end that I determine which is my own well being. So in the case where my own well being is benefited by going against altruism and solidarity, why should I not act accordingly?

          • Rick Bateman

            Do you enjoy hurting other people? If not, then doing so would not benefit your own well-being.

          • ClayJames

            I don´t think this is true. Someone can not enjoy hurting people and still hurt people in the process of achieving something that they want more. I gave the example of the executives that were responsible for the housing crash and took actions that would hurt other people but they took those actions because it was the best thing for themselves (whatever they determined that to be). Clearly these people do not enjoy hurting people, but given naturalism, there is no reason that they ought not do so in order to improve their wellbeing.

            I find it absolutely fascinating that it is extremely rare to find a naturalist that truly embraces the complete subjectivity of morality that logically follows from their view.

          • David Hardy

            I find it absolutely fascinating that it is extremely rare to find a
            naturalist that truly embraces the complete subjectivity of morality
            that logically follows from their view.

            I find this position absolutely fascinating. When I come to the conclusion that most of a particular set of people "should" think a certain way given my understanding of what their belief system logically entails, my response is not this one, which requires assuming that the majority of people holding the belief system have not really thought it through. It is rather that I am missing some important aspect of their position, and this is why I have come to a different conclusion than those who actually hold it about what the belief system supports. As a result, I return to my own understanding with a highly critical eye, trying to understand what would be needed to support the position that those holding the belief actually take. It is an interesting contrast in how we think about alternative positions to our own.

          • ClayJames

            Could you clarify? Are you saying that I am missing an important aspect of a moral position that says one should hold solidarity above all else, or that others are missing an important aspect of the naturalistic moral position I gave that my own personal wellbeing (however I define that) can be the main consideration in morality?

            If you are trying to say the former, let me clarify that I am not saying one should not hold solidarity as an end instead of a means to an end since morality is completely subjective. My problem is that time and time again, I am told by naturalists one should not hold a moral code that prioritizes one´s own definition of wellbeing above solidarity without any valid reason as to why this is the case.

          • David Hardy

            No, I am saying that there are many naturalists who hold that morality is not completely subjective, and that their belief system supports this position on morality. If it seems to you that this belief is impossible to support within a framework of naturalism, there are two possibilities:

            1) The many naturalists who hold that morality is not completely subjective have somehow failed to grasp that their own worldview cannot support this.

            2) You have not grasped the framework of naturalism and the sort of morality they propose sufficiently to understand how the former supports the latter.

            Which answer you hold as more likely is entirely up to you, since both are logically possible.

          • ClayJames

            Correct. I am simply asking to be shown #2 so that I don´t have to hold #1.

            Can you show me #2? Or stated in another way, can you show me that #1 is false?

          • David Hardy

            Being shown something and grasping it are different things. If you are interested, I would be interested in trying to help you grasp how naturalism and a not-completely subjective morality are coherent, but I do not think trying to show you would be the most effective route, since I do not know what your assumptions are regarding naturalism and naturalistic morality. To understand how these are consistent, it would first be necessary to identify and replace assumptions that are not generally held by those who hold the position we are discussing. Therefore, to begin I would need to know your assumptions, which will require a series of questions. I will pose the first, and continue on if you respond. However, if you decide this is not of interest, feel free to stop responding at any point -- I will not be offended.

            First question: What are the basic premises of modern naturalism? (Don't need an essay, just a brief list of the most fundamental beliefs of naturalism)

          • ClayJames

            Very generally, I would define naturalism, as it refers to this conversation, as the belief that nature is all that exists and therefore naturalists hold the positive claims that the supernatural (that beyond nature) does not exist and there is nothing beyond the physical world.

          • David Hardy

            A good summary, with a few additions. First, "the physical world" includes aspects of existence that may not intuitively be described as physical. For example, gravity, in observable through its effects rather than as a discreet object, as well as particles and waves that would not generally be considered physical by many people. Equally important, naturalism holds that we should base truth claims upon observable factors, and that truth claims are often descriptive, describing things as they appear to be.

            Second question: Within a naturalistic framework, what does it mean to talk about something's purpose or nature? (It may help to contrast this to what a theist would mean when talking about purpose or nature)

            Edit: Corrected a typo.

          • ClayJames

            I agree with those additions.

            I would define a purpose as the reason why something is created, brought about or used. For the naturalist, purpose can be used to refer to the individual goals that we can determine for ourselves.

          • David Hardy

            Here is where we appear to have come to the first contrast. A theist might agree more with your position than a naturalist -- it assumes that there must be a reason something exists that makes sense in relation to an intelligent agent (which might create or use something). In naturalism, when someone talks about the purpose/nature of something, especially in the natural world, they are usually being descriptive. For example, in naturalism, the purpose of hunger might be described as an instinct driving us to take in nutrition. However, it does not describe how specific people might "use" the instinct, or suggest a creator of the instinct (although one could then move to evolution, which would also be descriptive of how instincts appear to have arisen based on current research). It also does not include whether people "ought" to take in nutrition. When a naturalist talks about something's purpose or nature, they are generally beginning from the position of describing what is observed, rather than how or why it might have been created or used. Does that make sense?

          • ClayJames

            I have no problem accepting that descriptive definition of purpose for the sake of this conversation and even though I am already forseeing some problems in this line of thought when applied to morality, I will wait until you get there before addressing them.

            I do have one caveat. While some naturalists do take this descriptive definition of ¨purpose¨, many also hold a similar definition to the theistic one that is instead based on one´s own goals. There is nothing descriptive about someone´s purpose to become an actor or a lawyer and I would say the majority of times naturalist talk about purpose, they are refering to these subjective self-imposed goals instead of descriptions of themselves and the world around them. If you ask a group of naturalists what their ultimate purpose in life is, very few would actually just describe what their insticts are driving them to (survival and reproduction) and instead talk about non-descriptive self imposed goals that they want to achieve.

          • David Hardy

            I have no problem accepting that descriptive definition of purpose for the sake of this conversation

            Excellent. My only goal is to provide insight into the naturalistic perspective, not convince you it is true.

            I am already forseeing some problems in this line of thought when
            applied to morality, I will wait until you get there before addressing
            them.

            Also good, because if this were the end of the conversation, there would be problems with naturalistic morality being anything but subjective. However, there are additional important points that shape naturalistic morality.

            I do have one caveat. While some naturalists do take this descriptive
            definition of ¨purpose¨, many also hold a similar definition to the
            theistic one that is instead based on one´s own goals.

            A fair point. Naturalism does not prevent one from also using purpose in terms of personal goals, which do relate to an intelligent agent. However, I will point out, for the moment, that we are talking about rooting some degree of objective morality into a framework of naturalism in a coherent way. By objective, I mean something that can be perceived regardless of a particular individual's subjective bias, and does not co-vary with bias.

            So, with that aside, my next question (actually two related questions) is this: What sort of evidence does a naturalist accept as valid in supporting a particular position, and what qualities are considered to increase the strength of that evidence?

          • ClayJames

            This question can be answered in many ways depending on the level of detail that you want. Very generally, evidence is anything that we experience through our senses and evidence is strengthened by confirming that experience through the senses of other people.

          • David Hardy

            A good answer, but I feel that I need to emphasize something. Generally, the primary form of evidence supporting a position in naturalism is empirical data, as you said (experienced through the senses). Verification by multiple people adds to the strength, so does replication and controlled settings that can eliminate other possible factors. Modern naturalism is closely aligned with the scientific method and approach, and empirical data from well formed research holds especially strong weight in this framework, given the added lengths to form clear measures and procedures and control for other variables. A prescriptive position in modern naturalism (what we should do), which any moral position would be, will still rest upon descriptive data, and a prescriptive position unsupported by descriptive data, or at least less supported by such data, is considered a weaker position in this framework.

            With that, I want to move from naturalism in general to naturalistic morality with my questions:

            What is the nature of morality from a naturalistic perspective (keeping in mind the answers from the prior questions)?

          • ClayJames

            This is why I said that the definition of evidence depends on how specific you want to get. Yes, empirical evidence is linked to the scientific method, but there are also other non-scientific forms of evidence that the naturalist can hold, including those that lead to beliefs that the scientific method requires for its implementation.

            Based on your answers to prior questions, considering that morality determines what one ought do and taking into account that you said that nature and purpose are descriptive observations that do not include ¨oughts¨, it seems that it would follow that morality has not intrinsic nature or purpose given naturalism.

            I don´t think this is the answer you are looking for and I would like to go more in depth with the point I think you are trying to make but I´ll wait until you specifically give me an answer that I definetly do not agree with.

          • David Hardy

            there are also other non-scientific forms of evidence that the
            naturalist can hold, including those that lead to beliefs that the
            scientific method requires for its implementation.

            I am not fully sure what you mean here, but I would suggest you closely consider whether you are referring to evidence that leads to the beliefs that the scientific method requires, or whether these are premises within naturalism. Aside from observable data, naturalists will generally accept certain a priori arguments, but these are fairly limited (purely abstracted mathematical positions, for example, or tautologies).

            it seems that it would follow that morality has not intrinsic nature or purpose given naturalism.

            This is definitely a major issue, then, in understanding naturalism. Right now, we are talking about nature, which I previously said is descriptive. What I am looking for here is a description of observable things that fall under the category of morality, or are strongly related to those observable things. In other words, if someone asked "what is the moral qualities that appear in this context?", and you described the thoughts and behaviors of various ethical thinkers and people attempting to engage in morality, then you would be describing an expression of the nature of morality within a naturalistic framework.

            For example, "do not kill or steal" from others in your social group is a moral position common in many societies. "Have as many children as possible" is a less common moral position, but still shows up enough to warrant consideration. At a more detailed level, there are genetic components that are associated to moral behavior, which are expressed in biological structures and functioning in the body and develop through specific environmental factors. In addition, it is associated with social integration, since failure to follow moral behaviors in many cultures often leads to the group organizing to punish the individual (formal and informal justice systems). More on this in a minute, however.

            However, and this is important, we are still not talking about prescriptive morality in naturalism. Talking about the nature of morality at this point is taking a general survey of what the category includes, not what aspects of it we should accept. This is an important distinction, because what we are discussing now is the descriptive data that will latter become the body of evidence that is considered valid in naturalism when taking a prescriptive position.

            I´ll wait until you specifically give me an answer that I definetly do not agree with.

            When you reach that point, I would suggest that you ask yourself this: Do I disagree because I am not a naturalist and do not accept its premises, so I equally reject its conclusions, or do I disagree because this conclusion and how it was formed is inconsistent with the premises of naturalism?

            I will hold off on my next question (the last before we can move to what prescriptive morality in naturalism looks like and its objective base), until you signal whether we need to address anything I stated here.

          • ClayJames

            However, and this is important, we are still not talking about prescriptive morality in naturalism. Talking about the nature of morality at this point is taking a general survey of what the category includes, not what aspects of it we should accept. This is an important distinction, because what we are discussing now is the descriptive data that will latter become the body of evidence that is considered valid in naturalism when taking a prescriptive position.

            Sounds good. At this point, you are simply taking a survey that contains opinions about morality, you have not yet stated what is moral or immoral and how this can be the case without it being subjective.

            When you reach that point, I would suggest that you ask yourself this: Do I disagree because I am not a naturalist and do not accept its premises, so I equally reject its conclusions, or do I disagree because this conclusion and how it was formed is inconsistent with the premises of naturalism?

            It is absolutely the latter and everything that I have said comes from a assumption that naturalism is true. So yes, my disagreement exists because the moral code that I have offered is completely consistent with a naturalist worldview and naturalists say that it is not without giving a valid reason why this is the case.

          • David Hardy

            you have not yet stated what is moral or immoral and how this can be the case without it being subjective.

            Bear in mind, I said naturalistic morality can have an objective foundation, not that there are not subjective elements.

            the moral code that I have offered is completely consistent with a naturalist worldview and naturalists say that it is not

            I have two thoughts on this. First, naturalism is broad enough to support a number of moral positions. For that matter, a wide range of moral positions have been drawn across groups of Christians, all of which could be said to be consistent with that framework. That a position is consistent does not mean, however, that it is well supported or widely accepted.

            The second thought is that this comment may be highly relevant to my final question before moving to naturalistic morality, and it is a question that is vital to this discussion: When proposing or evaluating a prescriptive moral position, what would a naturalist consider to be evidence relevant to whether that position is valid and supported? (Feel free to offer examples of a position and supporting evidence, if this is too broad)

          • ClayJames

            When proposing or evaluating a prescriptive moral position, what would a naturalist consider to be evidence relevant to whether that position is valid and supported?

            I think I need to clarify something before answering this question so that we are on the same page. I feel like we are getting into Sam Harris Objective Morality territory so let me make something clear before moving on.

            If I want to run a 6 minute mile, then I should do X, Y and Z

            This is a simple conditional statement where the ¨then¨ statement is valid if we can show that X, Y and Z helps achieve the condition. Science can definetly help you come to this determination. However, this is not a moral statement and for this to be a moral statement we must show that one ought to run a 6 minute mile. In other words, a moral statement is not valid by showing that the ¨then¨ accomplishes the ¨if¨ but instead by showing that one ought do the ¨if¨ to begin with. This is what differentiates a simple if/then statement from a moral statement.

            Given naturalism, there is no aspect of reality that one ought do the ¨if¨ and therefore, the ¨if¨ can only be a subjectively moral position. My previous point in this comment section was to accept this type of subjective morality and to show that the ¨then¨ (then we must act in favor of solidarity) did not necesarily accomplish the ¨if¨ (if I want to improve my well being).

            You are trying to argue something different, that naturalist morality is not completely subjective and that it does have an objective component. In order to do this, you must show that it is objectively true at some level, that one ought do the ¨if¨, not that the ¨then¨ follows objectively to the ¨if¨.

            Based on this, if you are simply talking about the validity and support of the ¨then¨ accomplishing the ¨if¨, then this would require a straightfoward analysis that depends on what you are talking about, that might consider using logic, science, psychology, sociology or a myriad of other tools to show prove this. However, this is not morality.

            So to answer your question, when proposing or evaluating a prescriptive moral position (in other words, a moral position that someone else holds) I do not believe that the there is any objective way to determine if that position is supported since this would require me to say that one ought do the ¨if¨. Given naturalism, the ¨if¨ statement is entirely subjective and therefore, cannot be invalid.

          • David Hardy

            Based on this, if you are simply talking about the validity and support
            of the ¨then¨ accomplishing the ¨if¨, then this would require a
            straightfoward analysis that depends on what you are talking about, that
            might consider using logic, science, psychology, sociology or a myriad
            of other tools to show prove this. However, this is not morality.

            Research can chart how people learn and apply moral behavior, including moral thinking, and physiological changes associated with moral and immoral behavior -- it is observable, measurable and definable, and significant research has been done on it. The objective truth in morality has to do with the genetic and structural components that shape how moral behavior forms, and helps define what range of behaviors can be construed at a widespread level as moral despite cultural/environmental variance.

            Now, let's try to bring this back to understanding naturalism. You said morality is different and can't be shown to have this objective base in naturalism. I just pointed to observable data saying your position is wrong. In a modern naturalistic framework, that puts my argument as more supported than yours, and warrants me to reject your conclusion, unless you can either show that the entire body of research of moral behavior is invalid, or provide some other strong observable, replicable data supporting your position that morality defies research in this mode that outweighs the current body of research. This is why your position is unconvincing to naturalists -- Morality being beyond the realm of science and the province of religion is a position based on a religious framework, completely at odds with the actual research being done and with naturalistic assumptions about the nature of morality.

            You may choose to reject the research, but understand that this research does support the objective base of morality in human behavior, which is genetic, and is based itself on the fact that moral behavior does involve a range of observable factors. If you do not understand and engage current research findings on morality, no naturalist who does will accept your arguments as valid. It is akin to someone with no understanding of Christianity trying to tell Christians that accept the doctrine of the Trinity that they are polytheists -- it does not even engage the actual position, but operates on assumptions that no one who holds the position accepts. Hopefully that makes sense.

          • ClayJames

            The objective truth in morality has to do with the genetic and structural components that shape how moral behavior forms, and helps define what range of behaviors can be construed at a widespread level as moral despite cultural/environmental variance.

            The question being discussed is not ¨what do people think is moral¨ but rather ¨what should people think is moral¨. Simply studying what people think is moral does nothing to answer the latter. We could do a similar study on what people think of music, art and fashion and this does not help to establish what we should think about music, art and fashion. I think you have completely misdiagnosed the problem.

            Now, let's try to bring this back to understanding naturalism. You said morality is different and can't be shown to have this objective base in naturalism. I just pointed to observable data saying your position is wrong.

            You have done no such thing and your argument here is an example of a bait and switch. Instead of talking about what ought to be moral, you are simply trying to show what people think is moral, but I don´t think anyone here (not even the atheists) are saying that one ought to do X because other people feel like they should do X and this is the gap that you must cross in order to get from your discussion of morality to mine.

            You may choose to reject the research, but understand that this research does support the objective base of morality in human behavior, which is genetic, and is based itself on the fact that moral behavior does involve a range of observable factors.

            No one is rejecting the reseach. Your problem is that in order for the research to support an objective base of morality, you must show that the research determines what one ought do and you havent done so. I could equally show a multitude of things people do and why they do it and this does not help to establish that they or anyone else, should do it.

            I also reject the idea that naturalists are simply taking a description of moral thought instead of asserting what ought be moral. You have repeated this many times as an attempt to show that I am the one talking about something different when it is you who are actually doing this.

            If we are to save this conversation we have to bring it back to something more concrete because after all these questions it is clear that you are talking about something entirely different.

            My question to you is the following: Given naturalism, if I determine that the best way to maximize my well being in any one situation is to act in a way that goes against solidarity and altruism, why should I not act this way?

          • David Hardy

            I will bypass most of your post, as I believe that it has missed my point, and make one final attempt to present prescriptive naturalistic morality and the objective base it has. If this does not make sense, I will accept that I am unable to present the information in a way that is acceptable to you as a valid position. I will do this by trying to answer your question.

            Given naturalism, if I determine that the best way to maximize
            my well being in any one situation is to act in a way that goes against
            solidarity and altruism, why should I not act this way?

            First of all, you could be wrong. You could think it will achieve an outcome that it will not, and research may have guided you to a different choice if you were aware of it. Alternatively, you could have a definition of well-being that it quite different from most -- you might define well being as elevated stress, poorer health, imprisonment, conflicted relationships, and so forth. In the second case, it is no different than a person who accepts the existence of the Christian God but rejects being moral or seeking salvation as the right way to live. It says little about the objectivity of morality or well-being, but rather that the person in question rejects it as desirable.

            If the first, perhaps a comparison will help you understand naturalistic morality:

            A person wants to eat a healthy diet. They know they are hungry, and what constitutes food. They turn to research on what balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as minerals and vitamins, will maximize their health. They then further compare this to their personal situation -- any food allergies, available foods, needs based on exercise level, and so forth. From this, they develop an idea of what sort of meals they should be eating.

            There is a certain fluctuation in diet that can occur, but also a genetic and physical base that plays a strong role in this choice. One can ignore that base and eat whatever one likes, but certain outcomes will be poorer for it.

            A person wants to act in a moral way. They know that they have a conscience in regards to how they treat others, want a positive relationship with others, and want to maintain physical health. They turn to research on what behaviors tend to maximize trust and resilience in long term relationships, lead to positive outcomes in short term interactions, and also tend to produce lower stress levels and greater overall health in both those engaging in and experiencing certain behaviors (they could do further research and find that these outcomes are due in part to genetically based structures in the body, such as mirror neurons and oxytocin produced by the hypothalamus, to name two). Those behaviors supported by research include a pattern of treating others in certain ways that are quite similar to a number of moral codes across cultures. They then further compare this to their personal situation -- Their cultural background, the background of those around them, and the local social conditions such as laws and community programs. From this, they develop an idea of what sort of code of conduct they should be engaging in with regards to others.

            There is a certain fluctuation in morality that can occur, but also a genetic and physical base that plays a strong role in this choice. One can ignore that base and do whatever one likes, but certain outcomes will be poorer for it.

          • ClayJames

            First of all, you could be wrong. You could think it will achieve an outcome that it will not, and research may have guided you to a different choice if you were aware of it.

            Correct, but this equally applies to anyone else´s moral judgements. Even if someone´s decides to behave altruistically, they could still be wrong about this improving their well being or even about a specific action helping society. I am not saying that we should disregard research, just that you could equally use research to do something that benefits you at the expense of society.

            Alternatively, you could have a definition of well-being that it quite different from most -- you might define well being as elevated stress, poorer health, imprisonment, conflicted relationships, and so forth.

            I would answer this in two different ways.

            The first one is to point out that this is not necessarily the case because while there is a strong correlation between acting in solidarity and a definition of well being that most people follow, in our society the correlation is not 100% and in other societies the correlation is significantly lower. So someone that holds a similar definition of well being that you hold can realize that he should act in solidarity most of the time but against solidarity in the instances where he has a strong conviction that he can achieve power, money, status, etc. without having to sacrifice imprisonment or conflicted personal relationships. I gave the example of the executives who did not take actions to prevent or diminish the effects of the housing market crisis, benefited economically and personally off their decisions and will not face imprisonment for going against solidarity and altruism.

            In the second case, it is no different than a person who accepts the existence of the Christian God but rejects being moral or seeking salvation as the right way to live. It says little about the objectivity of morality or well-being, but rather that the person in question rejects it as desirable.

            The second point is that even if someone defines well-being differently than you would (this is a possibility, even though it is not necessary for my argument) this is in no way analogous to your example regarding the Christian. If Christianity is true, then objective moral values and duties really do exist and they are part of reality. Someone who does not accept these real duties is not accepting reality and just like we ignore someone who is trying to make a logical point while chosing to disregard basic laws of logic, we can ignore some who tries to make moral points while chosing to reject objective moral duties. This rejection is not meant to be pejorative and it is simply the unstated understanding that we want to discuss what really exists and when someone choses to deny what really exists, they are having a different conversation.

            This is in no way analogous to naturalism since moral duties do not really exist so if someone disregards they we should do X, they are not rejecting reality.

            A person wants to eat a healthy diet. They know they are hungry, and what constitutes food. They turn to research on what balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as minerals and vitamins, will maximize their health. They then further compare this to their personal situation -- any food allergies, available foods, needs based on exercise level, and so forth. From this, they develop an idea of what sort of meals they should be eating.

            There is a certain fluctuation in diet that can occur, but also a genetic and physical base that plays a strong role in this choice. One can ignore that base and eat whatever one likes, but certain outcomes will be poorer for it.

            Like I said before, my argument works even if you assume a healthy diet, it just points out that there is not a 100% correlation between achieving a healthy diet and solidarity.

            A person wants to act in a moral way. They know that they have a conscience in regards to how they treat others, want a positive relationship with others, and want to maintain physical health. They turn to research on what behaviors tend to maximize trust and resilience in long term relationships, lead to positive outcomes in short term interactions, and also tend to produce lower stress levels and greater overall health in both those engaging in and experiencing certain behaviors (they could do further research and find that these outcomes are due in part to genetically based structures in the body, such as mirror neurons and oxytocin produced by the hypothalamus, to name two). Those behaviors supported by research include a pattern of treating others in certain ways that are quite similar to a number of moral codes across cultures. They then further compare this to their personal situation -- Their cultural background, the background of those around them, and the local social conditions such as laws and community programs. From this, they develop an idea of what sort of code of conduct they should be engaging in with regards to others.

            There is a certain fluctuation in morality that can occur, but also a genetic and physical base that plays a strong role in this choice. One can ignore that base and do whatever one likes, but certain outcomes will be poorer for it.

            A person wants to act in a moral way. They want the best for themselves and their family in terms of their economic, psychological and overall well being and they know that to do this, they have to behave in an altruistic fashion so that society does not affect their well being. They turn to research on what behaviors tend to maximize trust and resilience in long term relationships, lead to positive outcomes in short term interactions, and also tend to produce lower stress levels and greater overall health in both those engaging in and experiencing certain behaviors (they could do further research and find that these outcomes are due in part to genetically based structures in the body, such as mirror neurons and oxytocin produced by the hypothalamus, to name two). Those behaviors supported by research include a pattern of treating others in certain ways that are quite similar to a number of moral codes across cultures. They also acknowledge that they can improve their well being by sometimes acting against solidarity. They use the same tools and research to determine when those opportunities exist and realizing that altruistic behavior is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself, they determine it is valid, when necessary, to act against altruism. They then further compare this to their personal situation -- Their cultural background, the background of those around them, and the local social conditions such as laws and community programs. From this, they develop an idea of what sort of code of conduct they should be engaging in with regards to others.

            Where is the error in the above reasoning?

            There is a certain fluctuation in morality that can occur, but also a genetic and physical base that plays a strong role in this choice. One can ignore that base and do whatever one likes, but certain outcomes will be poorer for it.

            You aluded to the conscience that we all have that in theism is regarded as an experience of objective moral values and duties that exist in reality. Given naturalism, this is nothing more than the byproduct of the evolutionary process and there is no reason that one ought to follow it (even though one certainly can chose to). Similarly, feeling attraction is a byproduct of the evolutionary process pushing us to mate and reproduce, but no one would say that we should try to reproduce very time we feel attraction. We are free to disregard this byproduct the same we disregard many others.

            Finally, it is not true that wanted outcomes will be poorer because someone decided to define morality in their own terms that goes against their own predispositions. This is clearly not the case. There are many people that have decided to go against solidarity for their own personal gain and did so with the understanding that they would not suffer repercussions and they were right. This is true in the US and it is certainly true in societies where there is a lower correlation between solidarity and well being.

          • David Hardy

            Thank you for the obvious thought and effort you put into your reply. As I said, I intend to leave it here, since my goal was to present naturalistic morality as it is, not defend it. However, for whatever it may be worth, I am going to offer something that I believe to be the case, based on my conversation with you. Feel free to ignore it, it is always possible that I am wrong:

            1) You do not seem to understand how evidence is used to support a prescriptive position in naturalism. Your response appears to involve pointing out that there are exceptions and gray areas, which can be found in many moral systems, to infer unfavorable or weak motivations of those acting morally within a naturalistic framework, and to minimize the strength of evolutionary traits. This view promotes dismissing naturalism as a position, not understanding it as those who hold it do. I would recommend that you continue to reflect, when engaging naturalists, as to what assumptions they hold about evidence to offer it in the way that they do and draw the conclusions they do, and what naturalism looks like to those who hold and respect it. I would also suggest considering what assumptions they seem to hold in how they reject the way you believe naturalists should evaluate as evidence and draw conclusions. Unfortunately, it appears my approach is less than successful in helping in this area, but I hope that I have offered you something of value in this dialogue. It has helped me understand your view of naturalism.

          • Wayne

            There is no solidarity over or under your own well being, but for your well being in the sense that society, the well being of all, is based on reciprocity.

      • Wayne

        Given the history of religion, do you believe there has been greater value or grater damage. Pay attention to the Crusades and today's resurgence via ISIS, as well as the presence or absence of humanitarian values among believers versus non believers. The current consensus world-wide is that religion is not believable.

        • Mike

          have you ever read this book: http://www.amazon.ca/The-Gulag-Archipelago-1918-1956-Investigation/dp/0813332893

          its an insiders look into a real God less society

          just seems to me that w/o some kind of supernatural moral authority we are destined to butcher each other for money, power, prestige, resources, culture, fashion, ideologies, and on and on and on.

          • Rick Bateman

            Emphasis on a godless society. It's not hardly the only one there's ever been; in fact, there are plenty such societies right now. Most of the region around Scandinavia is highly secular and predominantly atheistic, and they're doing quite well. The problem with Russia during that time wasn't that it was godless, the problem was that it replaced theism with Statism.

          • Mike

            can you name one northern european country that does NOT have a christian cross on its flag?

          • David Nickol

            Estonia
            Ireland
            Latvia
            Lithuania

            But what does a cross or the lack of one on a flag prove???

          • Mike

            for a ppl to put a christian cross on their flag is for them to acknowledge the christian character of their nation - that's what flags do they bring ppl together around a common idea or belief.

          • Rick Bateman

            What does that matter? I don't deny that those countries used to be very Christian; so they kept their national flag from back then, so what??

            The fact that a geometric shape commonly associated with one religion is on their flags does not change the fact that they are secular/atheistic countries. You made an absurd claim that without a god, the world would descend into absolute chaos, but there are millions of people around the world who don't believe in a supernatural moral authority, and yet are living perfectly decent, unselfish lives without God. Meanwhile, there are billions of people around the world who do believe in a supernatural moral authority, who already butcher each other for money, power, prestige, resources, culture, fashion, ideologies, and on and on and on.

            The results are in; the facts refute your claim, never mind what type of lines are on some countries' flags.

            ---

            This is something I wrote in reply to someone else on this page, but it bears repeating here:

            I've been out of the church for five years, and it turns out that I don't need God to care about other people. If your argument is that we need religion because all the religious people would just become completely selfish and self-motivated if we took religion away, then all you're really doing is supporting the argument that non-religious people are more moral than religious people.

          • David Nickol

            While Mike's argument based on flags is preposterous, you said the following:

            Most of the region around Scandinavia is highly secular and predominantly atheistic, and they're doing quite well.

            Actually, according to Wikipedia, the Scandinavian countries are Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and they are 79%, 76.7%, and 65% Christian, respectively. Finland is 74.9% Christian, and Iceland is 85.3% Christian.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I believe that there is an American sociologist who wrote a book about the nonreligious climate in Scandinavia several years back. I believe he found that while most Scandinavians are registered with the national churches of those countries, they neither practice nor believe and are baffled by those who do. I'll spend sometime looking later and see if I can find the title.

            EDIT: The book is "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment" by Phil Zuckerman. There ares several videos of Zuckerman discussing the book on YouTube.

          • Rick Bateman

            That doesn't agree at all with the numbers I've seen; I think those figures come from a very loose definition of "Christian" (like, go to a Christian church but don't necessarily believe that Jesus was the son of God).

            Looking specifically at Sweden, here's an article that supports that hypothesis: http://www.thelocal.se/20110615/34370

            Only 15 percent of members of the Church of Sweden say they believe in Jesus, and an equal number claim to be atheists according to the results of a recent survey.

            Just in case you glanced over it too quickly, that's not saying 15% of Swedish people in general believe in Jesus, that's saying only 15% of Swedish churchgoers believe in Jesus. And another 15% of Swedish people who are church members identify as atheists! So, my surmise would be that your numbers are simply based on church membership, not on specific personal ideology.

          • Mike

            well when they put that walking fish on their flags then i'll concede they have for all intents and purposes no longer christian cultures.

          • Rick Bateman

            Yeah, we should definitely just ignore real people's personal philosophies in favor of what shape is on the flags. Lol.

          • ClayJames

            Those countries are also all predominantly white, which brings up the point that correlation certainly does not mean causation, even if you are right about the secular percentage in those countries.

          • Rick Bateman

            You're right, correlation does not mean causation; that cuts both ways, though. The positive, healthy societies in Scandinavia aren't necessarily like that because they're predominantly atheist/secular, but by the very same token, the example of an unhealthy society Mike brought up is not necessarily like that because it's a "godless" society either.

            And that's really all I'm trying to say. I'm not claiming that an atheistic society is automatically better; people are still people (though I do think it's pretty clear from both history and modern events that theocracy doesn't work). All I'm saying is that giving one example of an atheistic society that didn't do well doesn't automatically mean that any atheistic society is going to be in similarly bad shape. It's a classic example of Hasty Generalization, and it's a fallacious argument that theists rely on far too commonly.

          • Will

            Keep in mind that only 22% of the population of Norway, for example, believes in God. In these countries, it's fine to call yourself culturally Christian and be an atheist. The vast majority of people in these countries are atheist, though many (44% in Norway) will claim to believe is some sort of life force or something like that. Not sure what that makes them, "the force" probably isn't a synonym for God (at least according to Bishop Barron from a post here a while back).

          • David Nickol

            That's interesting, and I didn't know about the disparity between "official" church membership and private beliefs. But neither Mike nor Rick Bateman is making very compelling arguments about societies with theist majorities and atheist majorities. And of course even if you can demonstrate that "godless" societies have many more negatives than theistic ones, it doesn't prove there is a God. If I understand Mike, he believes that it would be a terribly unjust world if there were not rewards and compensations in an afterlife. I believe that myself, but it may just be that life is very unjust, and there's no afterlife. It may simply be wishful thinking to believe that all scores are settled in an afterlife.

          • Will

            It may simply be wishful thinking to believe that all scores are settled in an afterlife.

            I agree and wish this were true myself, as long as the afterlife is actually just. I have a hard time with it, as I was taught a very unjust version of the afterlife...I prefer none to making things more unjust than they already are.

          • Rob Abney

            My understanding is that there will be perfect justice, so I'm not sure how it could be worse than the imperfect justice we have now. But there will also be mercy so that we don't get what we necessarily deserve, because even the best of us will pale in comparison to perfect goodness. Settling all scores seems like a perjorative statement but maybe its meant in a positive way.

          • Mike

            used to be? check out where ALL of their kings and queens still get married? in protestant cathedrals!

            "a geometric shape" HA! so the swastika on a nazi flag is just a buddhist symbol for health?!

            "without a god, the world would descend into absolute chaos" YES! see the gulag archipelago. but things take a long time to come to fruition. teach ppl there is no God or ultimate morality and that we are ultimately nothing but molecules and in time ppl will begin to see not God in each other but an enemy...a class enemy or a racial enemy etc etc.

          • Rick Bateman

            > used to be? check out where ALL of their kings and queens still get married? in protestant cathedrals!

            Yeah, protestant cathedrals where only 15% of churchgoers believe in Jesus. In other words, really nice buildings that have no philosophical significance to most people there.

            > "a geometric shape" HA! so the swastika on a nazi flag is just a buddhist symbol for health?!

            No, because it meant something different to the Nazis, at that time. It was a new symbol that they implemented to represent their new order, it wasn't just something they left on their flag because it had already been there for many generations. Obviously.

            > "without a god, the world would descend into absolute chaos" YES! see the gulag archipelago.

            In other words, only look at the examples that fit your preconceptions, and ignore all the examples that don't. Ever hear of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy? 'Cause you're doing it.

          • Mike

            ok so when sweden gets rid of its christian cross and its royals stop marrying in christian cathedrals i'll concede the culture has lost basically all of its christian heritage.

          • Rick Bateman

            Oh, now you're just moving the goalposts. Before, you took issue with my statement that those countries used to be very Christian, now you're just saying that they have a Christian heritage. I never said they didn't, but the fact is, they're not particularly Christian now. And yet, they still haven't descended into the cesspit of wanton, ceaseless immorality that you claimed was the destiny of a godless society.

          • Mike

            don't forget too that sweden is basically 1 giant family. they are all related from the same group and are a very very small country in a very very safe military location. comparing 8 million cousins who live near the arctic and are protected from mainland europe by sea to a country like algeria is unfair.

          • Wayne

            Mike--it is just your fear that has generated the centuries of belief in a supernatural agent in hopes of protection, and that belief has created in-group tribalism, religious crusades and anti-scientific sentiment that does not recognize global warming as a threat. In other words, the hope in a supernatural agent has divided us natural agents from working together with intelligence. The majority of the world is already non religious, so the genie is out of the bottle. Perhaps we can be better people with each other as a result.

          • Mike

            funny bc for me coming to belief in God came originally from a thirst for justice not fear.

  • David Nickol

    My compliments to Brandon for coming up with this topic and arranging with Dr. Brant Pitre to answer selected questions. I look forward to seeing more questions and to seeing Dr. Pitre's answers. One thing does bother me, though. One might conclude that if you ask a Catholic biblical scholar a question, you will get the Catholic answer. But there are many points, not a few of which might be considered major points, that Catholic biblical scholars disagree on. For example, was the Last Supper a Passover meal? Some say yes, some say no. Some say the Synoptics cannot be reconciled with John regarding this matter; others say they can be.

    • "My compliments to Brandon for coming up with this topic and arranging with Dr. Brant Pitre to answer selected questions."

      Thanks, David! Glad you like the idea.

      "One might conclude that if you ask a Catholic biblical scholar a question, you will get the Catholic answer."

      On some questions, yes, Dr. Pitre can offer the Catholic answer because the Catholic Church has a definitive teaching on the topic. On others, no: you'll get a (well-informed, respected, scholarly) Catholic answer

  • LaDolceVipera

    Being an atheist I do of course not believe that the bible is the word of God but I have no problem with the fact that Catholics do. My question is why American Catholics have such great difficulties to accept that the Bible was written in a particular period of time, in a particular cultural context. Thousands of years have passed and times change. Yet so many American Catholics refuse text interpretation, exegesis, hermeneutics. Many of them are real fundamentalist. I am very shocked by that. It is a problem that I do not encounter when I talk about religion with some of my best friends. Hermeneutics is the common approach.

    • Will

      Fundamentalist Christianity in the US is strongly linked to the political right, especially in the south. The general culture of a region seems to have a huge impact on how one interprets there religion. I am not alone in viewing religion as a subset of culture in general.

      • Mike

        weren't the fundies all democrates in the 50s?

        • David Nickol

          What are "democrates"?

          • Mike

            whoops Democrats.

        • Will

          No, as far as I now. I think there was somewhat of a reversal going back to the 1850-60s (civil war era) but don't quote me on that. Compared to today, everyone was a fundamentalist of some sort in the 1800s.

          • Mike

            yeah but i've read that what was his name i think it was byrd, the longest serving member of the senate was a kkk member and he was a democrat.

            this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Byrd

          • pearlridgeview

            Look up Dixiecrats. Democrats of the south who still held a grudge against the Republican north ......something about a certain Abe Lincoln and a war, or whatever.) so joined the Democratic Party. Until the Dems. got on board with the whole civil rights thing and the Repubs saw that they could pick up the whole south if they dodged way right and became bigots. That was the beginning of the end of the Rebub party, and we are seeing the death throes every day. They are comfortable with the fundamentals because they are all authoritarians. Like church hierarchies.

          • Mike

            ok

    • Rob Abney

      Maybe its that American Catholics accept authoritative hermeneutics but have difficulty with private interpretations. You didn't cite any specifics but it would be interesting to know what interpretations you are unhappy with.

  • pearlridgeview

    How can a supreme supernatural being who has had an eternal plan.....for an eternity, it would suggest..... ever be able to answer a prayer that would in any tiny way alter his eternal perfect plan, much less a perfect PERSONAL plan for YOU? Any answered prayer which wasn't already a part of the plan would incrementally alter the plan and diminish the perfection of the plan. If it seems that your prayer was answered, then you were lucky enough to ask for something you were already going to get. So prayer is a waste of time.

    Another thing. It seems to me that a supreme being would have to be an atheist. That makes it good enough for me.

    • ClayJames

      Why can´t God´s plan include an answer to your prayer that you have freely decided to ask for? This does not mean that you are not free to ask for it or not free to ask for something else, just that god´s omniscience would allow him to know what you would have freely done. And it is in that knowledge that him granting you a prayer request does not have to alter his plan but rather help to fullfil it.

      • Rick Bateman

        But God can't know that something will happen unless it really does end up happening, so if he knows that you will ask for a certain thing in prayer at a certain time, then that action is locked, and there is no possibility that you will deviate from it. It may still have the illusion of free will to the person making the decision, but if there is only one possible route you can take with zero possibility of deviation, then it's not really free will in any meaningful sense.

        • ClayJames

          Its actually the other way around. Its not that you chose something because God knows what you will chose. You have the free will to chose A or B and God, because of his omniscience, know what you will chose. It does not follow from this that you have no free will.

      • pearlridgeview

        Still, the only prayer of yours that he could answer is one which was already part of the plan. In other words, he can't change anything that is already predestined. Answered prayers are just good luck.

        • ClayJames

          He would answer a prayer that fits his will, but it does not follow that answering that prayer was predestined since the person praying would have been free to not ask for that particular thing. Just because God is omniscient and he knows what you will pray for does not mean that you have no free will to not pray for it or to ask for something else entirely.

          • pearlridgeview

            So......... if you pray for something that is NOT included in gawd's plan, can it grant it? Or will that fuck up it's eternal perfect plan? If it does fuck up it's eternal perfect plan, why would you ask for it and why would it want to grant it to you?

          • ClayJames

            So......... if you pray for something that is NOT included in gawd's plan, can it grant it?

            He can grant it but he wouldn´t grant it.

            If it does fuck up it's eternal perfect plan, why would you ask for it and why would it want to grant it to you?

            You would ask for it because you do not know what his plan is or you do but you fail to ask for something that goes according to his plan. And, as I said earlier, he wouldn´t want to grant you something that goes against his plan.

          • pearlridgeview

            As I said earlier, it's not clear that gawd COULD grant a prayer that required a deviation from an eternal perfect plan. Presumedly gawd would be part of that plan, too, hence unchanging and unchangeable. Any change would render it less than perfect and if the change instead made it perfect, then it had not been a perfect plan for all of eternity.
            Now, do you think your gawd is an atheist? You may try to argue that it believes in itself, but that isn't entirely true. It KNOWS it exists. No faith required and that is the core of theism. Belief without knowledge or proof. Atheism and theism are about belief, while gnosticism and agnosticism are about knowing.

    • Wayne

      pearlridgeview what a hilariously good post. (Sure hope the Catholic scholar responds) Can we only conceive of a God who is omnipotent and omniscient like Donald Trump? Can we not conceive of a God riding into the promised land on an ass who gets hijacked by politicians, publicly humiliated and sent to hell? (Like you or me) Or maybe a chaos which necessarily creates order due to gradient differences, and continual interactive asymetry providing a cosmic present embracing the entire universe with no causes nor effects but only causes in relation to one another, one for another, a Destiny as the extension of a cosmic present. This supreme being does not need to believe in itself or in believers, only in becoming. Let's get it on.

  • Jim Jones

    Here are mine:

    1. Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible (or any other gospels).

    2. If a member of a religion other than Christianity prays and their prayer is granted, who granted their prayer?

    3. How do you know all other gods except Yahweh are false?

    4. How do you counter Eric, the god eating magic penguin?

    5. Is it fair that Jesus died on the cross so that Adolf Hitler could go to heaven and Anne Frank would go to hell? Is it just that Jesus rose from the dead so that Jeffrey Dahmer could go to heaven and Carl Sagan would go to hell?

    6. Why didn't Paul write a gospel?

    7. Why didn't Jesus write anything at all?

    8. Why do so few Christians emulate the example of Fred Rogers?

    9. How do you determine if what someone is telling you comes from genuine religious experience or if they are simply delusional? How do you prevent your personal biases from affecting your judgement of this?

    10. What is an example of religion being wrong about something, anything, and religion (and not science) finding this out? What is the proof that religion is correct now?

    11. If the Latter Day Saints are wrong, what is the proof? Why are Joseph Smith's visions and revelations false but the anonymous ones of the bible are not? And what about Scientology?

    12. What happens when different people pray to different gods for something only one of them can get?

    13. Why didn't Philo of Alexandria write about Jesus or Christianity?

    14. Why does 'god' seem like an abusive partner?

    15. What if there is no heaven?

    16. What if there is no hell?

    17. Why does the concept of heaven and hell match exactly what we expect from con-men, pimps and blackmailers?

    18. Would you still be a Christian if you were born in a predominantly Muslim country to Muslim parents, and were brought up Muslim?

    19. If you don't take the whole bible literally, how do you decide which parts are to be taken literally? How do you decide which rules must be followed and which not? If some parts are not literal how do you know the 'god' part is literal?

    20. If god talked to me I would believe it existed (presumably). But god doesn't talk to me, other people do. What is fair about sending people to hell because they do not believe other people? Many other people have lied to me in the past. None have performed miracles, except via science.

    21. If Christianity wasn't true, what would be different about it?

    22. When you ask Christians about slavery in the bible they say, 'It was a different time!' Asked about homosexuality in the bible they say 'It's still evil!' Why is this?

    - Finally, why do Yahweh's actions, words, needs and desires differ so little from those of any North Korean dictator?

    • Here is the problem with asking these questions of a theologian.
      Even I could provide the answers, they will be unhelpful as they are not good questions that draw out inconsistencies in theology. In theology anything can be rationalized, because it is not subject to the standards of empirical endeavours like science and history. It allows for all this to be filtered through a the lens of Jesus, which allows for all kinds of gymnastics.

      1) No one, the gospels are the sources of our reasonable belief in Jesus' story as well as the unbroken historical tradition passed on through the church since the events themselves.

      2) Only God can grant prayers. I do not think that God would grant prayers to other deities, but this may indeed happen.

      3) Through the testimony in scripture, it has four independent early accounts that historians recognize as a source of historical facts. No other religion has this historical basis.

      4) Easily, Eric the God eating penguin is a silly invention lacking the stringent historical basis in history and philosophy.

      5) It is fair to say that Jesus died to redeem all sins of those who would accept him. As Catholics, we do not know who will or will not be saved, we know no one could without Jesus' sacrifice, it may be that all or none of the people you mentioned will be saved.

      6) Who knows? You would have to ask Paul. Likely because he never met the per-resurrected Jesus, so he did not have an eye-witness account of those stories.

      7) We do not know.

      8) Not sure what you mean but if you are asking why do Christians sin? All humans are sinners, including Mr Rogers. People sin because they choose to they prefer rewards of the flesh instead of the goodness of God.

      9) We do our best by using critical thinking.

      10) The catholic religion was wrong about many things, Galileo, the crusades, fish on Friday. Through critical thinking and good theological scholarship we have corrected those errors. The proof Catholicism is true now is a long answer. Briefly, we have the 5 ways of Aquinas and other philosophical proofs that an immaterial, all good, mind is the ground of all being and created the material reality. We know this creator was Jesus Christ through scripture and Catholic tradition.

      11) They are wrong for various reasons, but we are here to discuss the scripture not other religions.

      12) God answers all prayers made to Him in good faith. This doesn't mean you "get" what you "ask" for. Sometimes the answer is "no".

      13) You would have to ask Philo. Millions of people have lived who did
      not write about Christianity, in antiquity, surely many did whose
      writings did not survive.

      14) God does not sound like an abusive partner, those quotes are not from God.

      15, 16 ) Then there is no heaven or hell. We believe there is heaven and some consequence of refusing Jesus' gift that is called hell. We can justify this through reason and history.

      17) Heaven and Hell do not sound like propositions from con-men. pimps, and black-mailers. Getting into heaven is not a deal or a trade or a blackmail. It is the result of accepting Jesus' gift. Refusal of this gift deprives one from God's eternal presence, which may be called "hell".

      18) I might not, I would hope that if I heard the Gospel I would convert.

      19) Through a critical approach to theological and scriptural interpretation. We believe all parts of the Bible are true and did occur in some sense. Much of it is poetry. It takes study to understand these details, but the Gospel message is easy and clear.

      20) God is available to anyone who asks for a relationship with him in good faith. You may not be asking or you may be misguided. Catholicism can help you ask and listen and recognize God.

      21) All kinds of things! It would not have the rational and historical basis for belief.

      22) That is not what Catholics say, it is true that what has been translated as slavery in Scripture was very different and less abusive than slavery in the United States. But in any event those laws must be interpreted through Jesus. When they were written down they were for Jews with whom God was working to be ready for Jesus. In retrospect we recognize through Jesus that slavery is wrong. Catholicism does not say that homosexuality is evil, but it is sinful, it is contrary to God's purpose for humans as shown by the natural order and should not be condoned.

      God's actions differ enormously from any North Korean dictator.

      • Jim Jones

        > 1) No one, the gospels are the sources of our reasonable belief in
        Jesus' story as well as the unbroken historical tradition passed on
        through the church since the events themselves.

        The gospels are obviously fiction, and they are from a collection of books which is itself entirely fictional. All the 'history' in them is incidental and too often wrong.

        'Tradition' is a code word meaning "it was all made up".

        • ClayJames

          So you don´t even think Jesus existed?

          • Jim Jones

            No, it's clear he didn't. He's just like John Frum, Ned Ludd, Robin Hood, King Arthur and William Tell.

          • ClayJames

            Why do you think that the large percentage (I would say majority) of educated atheists that do believe Jesus existed are wrong?

          • Jim Jones

            Everyone assumed that so much shit couldn't be based on nothing.

            Turns out it actually is based on nothing.

            Jesus never existed

            The Fable of the Christ

            -- 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not

            Top 10 Reasons Jesus Christ Never Existed

            Jesus never existed site

            5 reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed

          • David Nickol

            Anyone can find a handful of links to support any position, no matter how preposterous. Your message makes no contribution to the debate.

          • Jim Jones

            So much wishful thinking. So little evidence.

          • ClayJames

            Those are not serious sources. You posted a reddit thread and also another post that took atheist Bart Ehrman´s words out of context. This is an unfounded atheist internet talking point that is completely disregarded by the vast majority of Biblical scholars, including those that are also atheists.

            Speaking of which, Bart Ehrman (who is an atheist) just wrote a book specifically debunking this belief and here is a brief video of him answering this very charge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4q3WlM9rCI

          • Jim Jones

            > "the vast majority of Biblical scholars"

            This is code for "pulling it out of your rear end". There is no such consensus - just people like you desperately inventing such. Ehrman is wrong - actual scholars have commented on how poor this book is and how unsupported his claim is.

            Come back when you have something valid.

          • Will

            It's not clear Jesus didn't exist. It's actually possible that the legends of King Authur were based on an actual person. It depends on how history is interpreted.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's actually possible that the legends of King Authur were based on an actual person.

            Let's assume they were. What does that tell us about the likelihood that any event reported in Le Morte d'Arthur actually occurred?

          • Will

            Not much, if anything.

          • Doug Shaver

            Just so. That is why I wonder what it even means to identify anyone as the "historical King Arthur" or "the man on whom the Arthurian legends were based."

          • Will

            I suppose we could use Gilgamesh as an example. We have unbelievable legends of Gilgamesh, but we find him on the Sumerian kings list, that is believed to be historical. About all we think is historical is that he was the King of Uruk, and impressed people enough to write stories about how awesome he was. Not much. Pharoahs like Sneferu have more evidence behind him, his pyramid and that of his son Khufu stand to this day. Of course, I'm pretty confident the parable of the Golden Lotus didn't happen, though who knows, maybe one of his concubines did lose a necklace in the sea (though his magician parting it seems impossible).

            http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythglotus.htm

            The Egyptians were excellent record keepers, but we still can't be but so confident in those records. Besides, no one is asking me to accept Egyptian religion as the one "truth" ;) Evidence for the pharoahs is definitely better than that for a Jewish Rabbi named Yeshua, but I think there is more evidence for the him than King Arthur.

          • Doug Shaver

            I suppose we could use Gilgamesh as an example. We have unbelievable legends of Gilgamesh, but we find him on the Sumerian kings list, that is believed to be historical.

            I've done zero research on the Sumerian king list, so I'll have to withhold comment on that one.

            Evidence for the pharoahs is definitely better than that for a Jewish Rabbi named Yeshua, but I think there is more evidence for the him than King Arthur.

            I agree that the evidence for a historical Jesus is better than the evidence for a historical King Arthur.

        • Well, you are entitled to that opinion, but it is out of keeping with the vast majority of historians who specialize in this area.

          I agree that tradition is not a reliable source for history. But I think it a prime source for theologians, which is the point. I wouldn't say made stuff up but broken telephone and acceptance of myth as truth.

          • Jim Jones

            > the vast majority of historians who specialize in this area

            Those people are called theists.

          • No, they are called professors of history with a specialization in New Testament studies and they are theists and non-theists.

          • Jim Jones

            That's some mighty fine delusional thinking there.

          • I don't think you're delusional, you're just over generalizing and straw-manning.

          • Jim Jones

            I'll leave that up to you.

      • ClayJames

        In theology anything can be rationalized, because it is not subject to the standards of empirical endeavours like science and history.

        Are you really claiming that without empirical evidence, anything can be rationalized? How is this also not a problem for the atheist in nontheological and nonempirical beliefs?

        • No, I have plenty of empirical evidence of anything being rationalized on theology. Particularly the númerous posts on this websites devoted to rationalizing the dark passages of the bible, in which genocide, murder of children, slavery, torture are repeatedly rationalized as good if they are viewed "through the lens" of Jesus. I would say that adopting this approach is a theological perspective, not a historical reading or a critical analysis of literature.

          Atheist or empirical approaches can also be rationalize absurdity. The way to minimize such rationalizations is skeptical empiricism. Which means applying critical thinking to that which can be observed.

          I know that scientists, historians, and many other disciplines apply skeptical empiricism, others like fine art and theology do not seem to on my opinion. But I would very much like for a theologian to explain what distinguishes theology from history.

          • ClayJames

            No, I have plenty of empirical evidence of anything being rationalized on theology. Particularly the númerous posts on this websites devoted to rationalizing the dark passages of the bible, in which genocide, murder of children, slavery, torture are repeatedly rationalized as good if they are viewed "through the lens" of Jesus. I would say that adopting this approach is a theological perspective, not a historical reading or a critical analysis of literature.

            The only thing you are saying here is that you have reasons A through Z that show religious people are wrong, the religious can rationalize A through Z, therefore the religious can rationalize anything. First of all, this doesn't even logically follow but most importantly, this can apply to any other view that one does not agree with. I can equally say that A through Z are reasons why god does exist, the atheist can rationalize A through Z, therefore atheists can rationalize anything!

            This is nothing more than a silly way to say that everyone who disagrees with you lacks objectivity and critical thinking skills.

      • Wow! Bravo! Brian Green Adams, the proto-Catholic! :)

        You made my day.

        • Stewart Felker

          Weren't these supposed to be parodies of good answers, not actual good answers?

      • Mike

        booyah! nice.

  • ben

    Too bad most of the posts are tangential ricochets rather than substantive questions for Dr. Brant Pitre.

    • ClayJames

      I don´t know, even though many of these are not on point, I find the flood of questions very interesting.

    • There are some good ones here :) We have enough to get Dr. Pitre going.

  • Jason Sylly Crabtree

    I'm a fan of John, though his Gospel doesn't really support Jesus' divinity.
    Some of the more popular verses: John 3:16, believing in Jesus' works and connection to the Father leads to everlasting life (compared to the common interpretation that believing Jesus is God leads to such)
    Truth, way, life. Only way to Father is through Christ (forget the verse off the top of my head). Implies following the way and life as by the example set by Christ will lead to the Father. The way to the Father is through the example set by Christ (not the common interpretation that Jesus is God).
    In most everything in John, Jesus talks Of the Father, knowing the Father, and executing the will of the Father, but not being the Father. IIRC, nowhere in the bible Jesus says, "Worship me, for I am God", (though that may be what some heard). Being the right hand of God doesn't imply divinity.
    Even in Revelations, John describes his vision of Jesus vividly (and I often wonder why we don't see more pictures of Woolly haired, Fire eye'd, Feet glowing, Sword mouthed Jesus), but still doesn't infer divinity.

    It is the works of St. Paul that brings this divinity aspect to Jesus. It pollutes the whole purpose of Jesus, and makes Jesus' last week (via interpretation of divinity) more important than Jesus' message and the associated example on how we should live, resulting in the mislead state that is Christianity.

    That's not really a question though...

    I'm an Atheist, I believe Jesus existed, but what real support is there to the claim of his divinity (inside, and especially outside the bible)?

    (Then there's the greater question: Given the numerous translations and edits leading to the numerous current versions, as well as the age of such text, why should I consider any of it reliable? I read the Bible like a documentary, "Based on a true story". There is truth in the Bible, but I can't critically believe it is complete and absolute truth.)

    Edit:
    Also, Jesus is depicted as a loving, tolerant, respectful individual. Why would he come back to create an army, be The Destroyer, and pretty much be the opposite of the person he taught others (and the Father taught him) to be?

    • David Nickol

      I'm a fan of John, though his Gospel doesn't really support Jesus' divinity.

      I'd be very curious to know how you interpret John 1:1-11.

      Or perhaps just John 1:1 and 1:14

      In the beginning was the Word,
      and the Word was with God,
      and the Word was God.

      And the Word became flesh
      and made his dwelling among us,
      and we saw his glory,
      the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
      full of grace and truth.

    • Arthur Jeffries

      I'm a fan of John, though his Gospel doesn't really support Jesus' divinity

      It is the works of St. Paul that brings this divinity aspect to Jesus. It pollutes the whole purpose of Jesus, and makes Jesus' last week (via interpretation of divinity) more important than Jesus' message and the associated example on how we should live, resulting in the mislead state that is Christianity.

      I don't see how Paul's Jesus is more divine than John's. Actually, the Pauline Jesus is arguably less divine than John's, in that Paul repeatedly, explicitly, distinguishes between God and Jesus and makes it clear throughout his letters that Jesus is subordinate to God. If anything, the distinction between God and Jesus is comparably more muddled in John's gospel, not less.

      The basic Christian belief that the passion and death of Jesus was an expiatory sacrifice was not invented by Paul, but is present throughout the New Testament. There is no reason to doubt that pre-Pauline Christians taught that the death of Jesus replaced the need for the Temple cult. What Paul and the original followers of Jesus disagreed on was whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity should become Jewish or not. There is no indication anywhere that they disagreed on the purpose of Christ's death.

  • David Nickol

    Did Jesus fulfill the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah?

    If the answer in Dr. Pitre's book is "yes," what are the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled? Also, what does it mean to "fulfill" a prophecy? Perhaps a better question would be, "What was predicted or foretold in the Old Testament about Jesus?" Or were the "prophecies" outside (and after) the Old Testament? (The word Messiah is not found in the Old Testament.)

  • Stewart Felker

    Doing actual critical scholarship involves legitimately entertaining the truth of non-orthodox interpretations/positions -- sometimes alongside the possibility of pro-orthodox interpretations/positions, too, of course; though there are obviously instances where the latter are demonstrably inferior to the former, and/or ad hoc.

    What does it say, though, that when there's academic dispute about something that's de fide, "preserving orthodoxy" means being forced to bank on the mere _possibility_ that a pro-orthodox interpretation is correct, irrespective of what the most _probable_ critical interpretation/position is?

    What I'm really asking here is, why are people so quick to suggest that critical work and orthodoxy can be reconciled (cf. "verum vero adversari haudquaquam potest"), if the former can be so easily subjugated to the latter -- or if, when critical scholarship has virtually _proven_ the truth of some non-orthodox interpretation, this conclusion is often simply cast aside as "irrelevant to the true fundamentals of faith" or whatever?

    (And I definitely have the Catholic position on Biblical inerrancy in mind here, which I know you've characterized as one of complete inerrancy.)

  • Stewart Felker

    John 21:25 talks about how limitless the earthly deeds of Jesus were, omitted in the gospel for the sake of brevity; but then why do we never really hear of any non-Bíblical deeds of Jesus -- or sayings -- from apostolic tradition?¹

    Conversely, why was there a common apostolic tradition where, say, Jesus was thought to have lived to be 50 years old, where this so baldly contradicts the Bíblical data?

    As for more general apostolic teachings: why weren't there really any specific patristic traditions attached to specific early apostolic personages (as they were in rabbinic texts) -- like "I know this tradition from Peter," or from Barnabas, or Junia -- except for when they're recounting teachings from the Biblical texts ascribed to these?

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    1. I'm aware of a very small number of non-Biblical sayings, e.g. in Papias, that are preserved. Funny enough though, these hardly ever seem to receive attention.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Vermes writes:

    Although founded on evidence which can only be described as confused and fragile, belief in the resurrection of Jesus became an increasingly important and finally central, issue in the post-Synoptic, and especially post-Marcan stage of doctrinal evolution. This development is all the more astonishing since the idea of a bodily resurrection played no part in any significance in the preaching of Jesus. Moreover, his disciples did not expect him to rise from the dead any more than their contemporaries expected the Messiah to do so.

    Since the doctrine of the resurrection and the evidence for evolves over the years (Mark has women finding an empty tomb, but later writers buff the sources), resurrection was not part of the Jewish idea of the Messiah, resurrection played an insignificant part in the teaching of Jesus, and the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise (they hid), why should we believe that the resurrection was historical?

    The only evidence we have that it is historical in Mark is that a few women found an empty tomb. Maybe it was the wrong one. We also have the fact that nobody expected Jesus to rise, even though Jesus supposedly kept telling them his plan. The suggestion that the disciples did not understand Jesus when he told them about the resurrection seems like a way of covering over an inconvenient historical fact.

    edit: formatting. bolded the question.

  • LanDroid

    "...We know almost nothing about (Jesus); and of the little we know, what is most certain is that he was wrong - this last referred to his putative belief that the world would quickly come to an end."
    - Huston Smith, The World's Religions

    There are several passages where Jesus warns that some in his audience would see the kingdom of God in their lifetime. What are we to make of these incorrect predictions 2000+ years later?

  • My question is: what distinguishes history from theology?

    • Jim Jones

      Dates.

      • What do you mean dates?

        • Jim Jones

          Actual history books have dates. Like births, deaths, battles, murders.

  • I would love it if Brandon had actually asked a historian for his views on this subject rather than, what appears to be a theologian. I am not at all sure what the standards of theology are or historical theology.

    I would defer to Dr Erhman or Dr Martin's views on what historians say about the gospels and old testament, and would encourage Brandon to find a historian specializing in New or Old Testament studies for this kind of discussion.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Brian. This is the first time we're doing this here--can't meet all your desires on the first attempt.

      Also, per usual here at Strange Notions, let's try not criticize a post/initiative for what it doesn't attempt to do, namely provide biblical analysis by trained historians. I agree that would be interesting, it's just not the this initiative. Maybe the next one!

      (Ironically, you wish for a historian but the first example you cited was Bart Ehrman.....who isn't a historian. He received his PhD and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a New Testament scholar. In other words, he's a religious studies and New Testament textual critic, not an academic historian. Dr. Pitre received his PhD from Notre Dame while studying Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity and has also done significant work in biblical archaeology. He's no historical lightweight.)

  • Arthur Jeffries

    A number of Biblical scholars (Bruce Malina, Robert Coote, John J. Pilch, David Ord, etc.) have argued that it is anachronistic to refer to the Israelites of the Second Temple period as "Jews" and suggested that we should refer to them instead as "Judeans" and to their religion as the Judean religion. They have further argued that our Biblical translations should reflect this distinction The basis of their argument, as I understand them, is that the Judaism of today is a creature of the Babylonian Talmud, which in turn came out of Ben Zakkaism, which is rooted in the destruction of the Temple. What is your opinion on this?

  • Wayne

    Are there any reasoned, rational arguments, (not the merely classic logical proofs), for the (existential) existence of God--more substantial than the classic argument from nature--not mere assertion of Jesus being God--and yet philosophically friendly?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Some Biblical scholars and historians regard Paul and other early Christians as henotheists, rather than monotheists. They point out that angels and archangels have the same attributes as lesser deities in other cultures. Are they correct?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    What is your view on the existence of "Q"? Mark Goodacre, Michael Goulder, and other scholars have argued against its existence, mostly in academic papers (though several books have also been written). However, the consensus seemingly remains unchanged.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    How do you interpret Christ's cursing of the fig tree in Mark's gospel? Robert Hamerton-Kelly interprets not only the cursing of the fig tree, but also the cleansing of the Temple, as prophetic acts symbolizing the end of the sacrificial system of the Temple cult. Do you agree?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Why does Paul call James the brother of the Lord? Judging from Acts, it seems that the James he is referring to is the brother of John, and the only other James that Acts mentions is the son of Alphaeus. Acts 1:13 mentions both Jameses, but neither is identified as one of Jesus' brothers, who are mentioned but not named in Acts 1:14.

  • David Nickol

    Can a Catholic biblical scholar argue that the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis can be interpreted in such a way as not to require belief in two and only two human beings as the "parents" of the entire human race? Can the Catholic concept of Original Sin still stand without a sin committed jointly by a first true man and first true woman who then became the progenitors of the entire human race?

    • pearlridgeview

      How could two people with no knowledge of good and evil know that it is evil to disobey gawd? So how can they be punished for something they could have no knowledge of and why would a loving gawd pass the sin along to us? The Iriquois planned seven generations ahead, so I would think that would be long enough for gawd to hold a grudge.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    How can Paul's first person account in Galatians 1:5-18 and 22-23 be reconciled with Luke's account in Acts 7–9?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Last Year, Trent Horn debated the historicity of Jesus with Richard Carrier.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep-AN7U4OLg
    I would like to know if you have any plans to debate Carrier, and if you intend to debate Bart Ehrman at some point.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    In their Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, John J. Pilch and Bruce Malina write that:

    In an anti-introspective, nonpsychologically minded, collectivistic society, the word agape is best translated "group allegiance."

    Continuing on the use of the term "love" by Paul, they later write:

    The term "love," for example, is best translated "group attachment" or "attachment to some person." To "love" the light is to be attached to the enlightened group. There may or may not be affection, but it's the inward feeling of attachment, along with the outward behavior bound up with such attachment, that love entails.

    Do you share Malina and Pilch's view on this?

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Many of the scholars whom I have studied believe that the Jesus of the gospels taught that the fictive kinship group he gathered around himself replaced the biological kinship group of the family (edit) for both himself and his disciples. In my opinion that view is well supported in the gospels, but I've never heard anything like it in a homily. Should this change? Do you agree with these scholars?

    • David Nickol

      Did this fictive kinship group include a fictive mother? Why would not the real (biological) relatives of Jesus have believed in him? If the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the Bible were cousins or children of Joseph by a previous marriage (as Catholics apparently believed), would they not have noticed they had a sinless brother and a sinless aunt or step-mother?

      In short, if Jesus was at all a remarkable person—God incarnate—wouldn't his closest relatives have noticed? I live approximately 750 miles away from my brother and two sisters, but if any of the three of them healed the sick and raised the dead, I guarantee you I would know about it.

      • Rob Abney

        Do you think there is any truth in this verse: "No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'" And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown."

        • David Nickol

          Are you arguing that Jesus was not accepted by his own family?

          • Rob Abney

            Not by all of them, and not by many of his closest disciples, and not even by all of his own apostles.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        Jesus' biological kin would have been able to join his fictive kinship network by believing in him, and it appears that Mary and Jesus' brothers did just that, since they are counted among the rest of Jesus' fictive kinship group in Acts. As for the sisters of Jesus, the Bible says nothing.

        As to why Jesus' mother and brothers did not initially believe in him, and it certainly seems that they did not, we can only speculate.

        I'm not sure what sinlessness would look like in practice. Would it be noticed? I'm not sure. I suppose if Jesus and Mary had annually observed Yom Kippur, this would imply to those around them that they were are as sinful as everyone else, but, again, we can only speculate.

        • David Nickol

          As to why Jesus' mother and brothers did not initially believe in him, and it certainly seems that they did not, we can only speculate.

          While I think it is quite possible that Jesus had relatives who did not believe in him, I think you are going a bit too far for most of the believers here on SN to imply that Mary the Mother of Jesus did not believe in him from the moment of conception onward. If there is any truth the the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke, or if the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana is true, then Mary could hardly have doubted Jesus.

          I'm not sure what sinlessness would look like in practice.

          I am not sure, either. But assuming for the sake of argument the Catholic notion of sin, it is difficult for me to believe one could be sinless (even without Original Sin) without it making some kind of impression.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            You're probably right about my going too far for SN, but both Tertullian (while still orthodox) and St. John Chrysostom viewed Mary in the same way. Among modern exegetes, the late priest-scholar Jerome Murphy O'Connor also shared my view, and without censure by Rome.

          • Will

            Your view is consistent with Mark 3:21 "When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” There is good reason to think Mary was one of the relatives from a slightly later verse. The case that Mark was the first gospel and that the infancy narratives were later theologically fueled additions is very compelling.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Do you know of any nice hotels in downtown DC where I could afford to put up a family of 5 for a few nights on April vacation?

    This is Ask Me Anything, right?

  • bdlaacmm

    Dr. Pitre,

    Does it matter which Gospel was written first? I all too often hear people say such-and-such a Gospel was the first written and therefore the "most reliable" (which in itself is kind of interesting, since no one today thinks a book written about WWII in 1946 is for that reason more reliable than one written in, say, 1985 - in fact, usually it's the reverse). The downside of such thinking is that anything in the other three Gospels is then downplayed or even "suspect".

    And at this point, is it even possible to determine the order of composition?

    (Cards on the table, I suspect they were written in the order we now see them in the New Testament.)

    • David Nickol

      . . . . since no one today thinks a book written about WWII in 1946 is for that
      reason more reliable than one written in, say, 1985 - in fact, usually
      it's the reverse . . .

      This comparison just doesn't work. Besides the vast difference in terms of literacy, documentation, and record keeping in the 1st century and the 20th century, there is also the vast difference between the life of an itinerant preacher and a global war!

      The reason we might very well value a history of World War II written in 1985 or even 2016 more than one written in 1946 is because it is quite possible that the book written later contains much more contemporaneous material from 1939-1945 than the book from 1946. Memoirs and other first-hand accounts, government archives, and other material collected during the war takes years to come to light. The Gospels, on the other hand, were oral tradition committed to writing.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I have a hard time understanding Paul's teaching on the Sabbath. My study of the Pauline epistles and of the work of those who have studied the Pauline epistles leads me to believe that Paul understood the necessity of keeping the Sabbath to have come to an end, along with the need for dietary laws and, most importantly, circumcision. While Paul was sympathetic to Messianists (Jewish Christians) continuing to observe the Sabbath, he was against Gentiles doing so, and hoped that Messianists would give up the Sabbath as they became stronger in faith. What is problematic for me is that, besides the Sabbath being so important that it is imagined to be part of the created order and is even observed by God himself (Gen. 2.3), the keeping of the Sabbath is instructed in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20.8-11; Deut. 5.12-15).

    Now, Catholicism had traditionally dealt with this issue by teaching that Sunday, the Lord's Day, is the Christian Sabbath and that by observing Sunday as the Lord's Day the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is fulfilled. As far as I know, such thinking can be traced at least as far back as Alcuin in the late 8th century, with Peter Alphonsus explicitly referring to the Lord's Day as the Christian Sabbath several hundred years later in the 12th century. However, it does not appear that such views were widely held in the Church until much later. Adolf Adam writes in The Liturgical Year that: "The scholastics of the High Middle Ages clearly distinguished Sunday from the Jewish sabbath and based the prohibition of servile work on the fact that it facilitated attendance at Sunday worship." In any case, nothing in Paul seems to anticipate the development of the Lord's Day into the "Christian Sabbath", and the question of how he reconciled his abandonment of the Sabbath with the place of the Sabbath in the decalogue remains unanswered. How do you interpret Paul's teaching on the Sabbath?

    • neil_pogi

      the Sabbath is saturday. even the catholic history books say that!

      • Arthur Jeffries

        That doesn't answer my question.

  • Andrew Y.

    I have a close friend who would consider himself spiritual though decidedly non-Christian. He does not deny the historicity of Jesus or the gospels. However, he believes that even if the gospel accounts are correct, the miracles Jesus performed do not themselves prove that Jesus was God. He believes people throughout history have had certain unexplainable powers, and even the ability to influence the minds of others after death is not in itself evidence that someone was in fact God, regardless of their own claims.

    For my part, one of the strongest cases for the authenticity of the gospels was the fact that after Jesus was crucified, the apostles suddenly left the upper room, going on to proclaim Jesus until being put to death themselves. I found this sort of evidence particularly convincing because it is inferred from the actual events themselves, and not just a claim that was made.

    But even this argument requires further investigation. Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance, studied in When Prophecy Fails (1956), provides a reasonable non-supernatural explanation for the apostles' behavior. With respect to this study, it would not be a stretch to consider Jesus exherting such a powerful influence over his closest followers, especially if he did in fact have other unexplainable powers. This is different than the so-called "hypnosis" or "hallucination" theories; the apostles needn't have hallucinated anything or even been hypnotized, only influenced enough to accept that what they believed would come to pass had actually happened when the time came.

    So my question is this: what other indirect evidence can we infer from the Bible—given at least that the gospel accounts are historically accurate—that supports the position that the resurrection actually took place, and that Jesus' claims were authentic?

    • neil_pogi

      the Bible even say that miracles are not only good attributes to God but also to demons. that's why the Bible says; 'test the spirit' (1 John 4:1)

  • Rob Abney

    How can biblical and historical evidence about Jesus help unbelievers? I've just read Bart Ehrman's book "God's Problem", he is likely as knowledgeable of the bible as any scholar yet he is an atheist. From my reading, he does not accept any of the philosophical proofs of God's existence. He also judges God's revealed nature univocally and doesn't express any belief in anything supernatural. But he is not like the earliest generations of converts because they seemed to be more accepting of supernatural nature and that God exists.
    What role do you expect your book to play in the influencing of those who presuppose that God doesn't exist?

    • GuineaPigDan .

      Ehrman actually self-identifies as agnostic. http://ehrmanblog.org/an-interview-about-my-agnosticism/
      EDIT He says he's both agnostic and atheist around 3:50 in the video. My bad.

    • Will

      You make a good point actually. My problems with the existence of God and moral disagreements with Christianity are largely philosophical, and there is no ancient text one could discover that would change that. I find the history of Christianity interesting because of its affect on western society, and that is largely the reason why Bart thinks his work is still important. He started out Christian, of course, and that is why he pursued New Testament textual criticism. He lost his faith along the way, and God's Problem explains why. Whether you agree with him or not, he is very knowledgeable and a good writer.

      • Rob Abney

        William, I just finished God's Problem. What do you think of Ehrman's conclusion, he seems to understand the book of Ecclesiastes to be saying that we can't understand God's plan but He will make good come from it? But then he says he can't agree with that because he doesn't believe in God, but he doesn't believe in God because of the problem of evil. This seems to be circular reasoning.
        Also, he has about 100 references listed but not one (as far as I can tell) is from a Catholic author, even though the Ecclesiastical reading is consistent with the Catholic understanding. Do you know if he addresses Catholic thought on the problem of evil elsewhere?

        • Will

          William, I just finished God's Problem. What do you think of Ehrman's conclusion, he seems to understand the book of Ecclesiastes to be saying that we can't understand God's plan but He will make good come from it? But then he says he can't agree with that because he doesn't believe in God, but he doesn't believe in God because of the problem of evil. This seems to be circular reasoning.

          Change it to "we see no evidence of a divine plan", and it's not circular reasoning. I don't think Ecclesiastes indicates God will make good come from evil, the author just has no idea why God allows evil to befall the righteous, and allows the wicked to prosper. I really like both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Here is one section I find particularly interesting, Chapter 2

          14The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness.Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. 15 Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. 16 For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.[c]

          In general, this is a central concept in Buddhism. Everything is transient (though vain might be a bit excessive and borders on nihilism) thus grasping after and trying to make permanent what is transient is ultimately futile. Of course, we remember the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes to this day, so perhaps he is wrong about permanence of intellectual progress (assuming the human race or some derivative survives to keep it permanent).

          Do you know if he addresses Catholic thought on the problem of evil elsewhere?

          I haven't seen it specifically, as most of his work is on textual and historical issues. Aquinas is much later, and past his historical "jurisdiction" so to speak. Personally, I don't find the idea of evil being a deprivation of good very compelling as a mental model of good and evil, and I haven't seen anyone even mention (though I'm sure some have) outside of Catholic circles. I assume that's what you mean about Catholic thought on the POE.
          Even if Catholics are right, I find it immoral on God's part to allow evil to befall small children because Adam and Eve ate a fruit 5000 years ago. If you were hanging off a cliff, and I said, "Well, your great grandpa did some nasty stuff way before you were born, so I'm just going to let you fall", I'd be guilty of moral evil by allowing you to die for such silly reasons. This is a racist view of guilty, which is completely contrary to individualism. A person is only guilty of his/her mistakes, not responsible for the mistakes of their parents or further ancestors.
          Of course, Ehrman has not problem with liberal Christians, his wife is still a Christian. His primary beef is with fundamentalists who believe in Biblical inerrancy. The Bible is full of errors and contradictions, to say otherwise is to basically lie, in my opinion (and his).

          • Rob Abney

            His primary beef is with fundamentalists who believe in Biblical inerrancy.

            I agree, that seems to be his main purpose.

    • neil_pogi

      he is just a fanatical atheist. it's a sickness and no known cure

      • Rob Abney

        Neil, if you are referring to Ehrman then I understand your feelings, but I don't agree that he should be called fanatical or sick. I do question his understanding of philosophy, the preamble to faith according to Aquinas, without that understanding any biblical convictions are on shaky ground.

        • neil_pogi

          the existence of Jesus is overwhelming. he just denied it according to his preference and not on evidence

          • Doug Shaver

            the existence of Jesus is overwhelming. he just denied it according to his preference and not on evidence

            You're saying that Ehrman denies the existence of Jesus?

          • neil_pogi

            no. actually, he's a former christian and became an agnostic atheist after struggling with the philosophical problems of evil and suffering. and because of this, most of his studies regarding the Bible and Jesus, he dismissed them as fabricated and forgeries.

          • Doug Shaver

            most of his studies regarding the Bible and Jesus, he dismissed them as fabricated and forgeries.

            Yes, but that isn't the same as denying Jesus' existence, which you said he did. He actually wrote a book defending Jesus' existence.

          • neil_pogi

            is that before he became an atheist?

          • Doug Shaver

            No, he wrote that book long afterward, only about four years ago.

          • neil_pogi

            if i become an atheist, naturally, my tendency is to confront every theists' claims on Jesus' existence, his early mission and miracles performed. i would believe He probably exist because history claims that He really exists.

            the problem of evil doesn't follow or guarantee that atheism is true. first, atheists should explain well how an 'infinitely small dot' created the universe, how a non-living matter became living, and how a single-celled organism evolve eventually to a human. if atheists can satisfactorily explain that, i will become an atheist.

            the existence of evil has become nature's part in order to consumate lives. remember, the bible teaches that because of man's rebellion, sin was the introduced, therefore all life is subjected to death. if there is no evil, then no death!

  • Rudy R

    Whenever I debate a Catholic about some immoral act or atrocity the god of the Old Testament either endorsed or condoned, I always get the response of "Aha, we don't follow the old covenant!" And then I get some word salad explanation between the Old Covenant and the New, which frankly, only makes sense to the converted. I get that the god of the OT had a covenant with the Israelites, and then did a bate and switch, and offered his new covenant with all humans. But exactly where in all of this is genocide, slavery, and stoning adulterers no longer moral? Jesus, after all, stated "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved." Of course, to nobodies surprise, Catholics will cite some other scripture that will refute Matthew 5:18. My question is, don't you think it's disingenuous to pick and choose what laws should be observed in the OT?

    • Arthur Jeffries

      The atrocities of the Old Testament aren't part of the Law of Moses.

      • David Nickol

        The atrocities of the Old Testament aren't part of the Law of Moses.

        Unfortunately, not true. See Deuteronomy 7:

        1 When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which you are about to enter to possess, and removes many nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—2 and when the LORD, your God, gives them over to you and you defeat them, you shall put them under the ban. Make no covenant with them and do not be gracious to them

        Deuteronomy 2:34 reads as follows:

        At that time we captured all his cities and put every city under the ban,* men, women and children; we left no survivor.

        A footnote to that verse explains

        Under the ban: in Hebrew, herem, which means to devote to the Lord (cf. 7:1–5; 20:10–18). The biblical text often presents herem as the total extermination of a population as a manifestation of the will of the Lord. It is historically doubtful that Israel ever literally carried out this theological program.

        It may be historically doubtful that Israel ever exterminated a population as commanded by God, but it cannot be doubted that that the text of the Bible portrays God as requiring "the ban."

        In 1 Samuel 15, we have the following:

        1 Samuel said to Saul: “It was I the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel. Now, therefore, listen to the message of the LORD.
        2 Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will punish what Amalek did to the Israelites when he barred their way as they came up from Egypt.
        3 Go, now, attack Amalek, and put under the ban everything he has. Do not spare him; kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

        Is Samuel (the prophet) not relaying faithfully the commands of God to Saul here?

        • Arthur Jeffries

          I thought we were discussing Second Temple Judaism.

          Jesus, after all, stated "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved."

          Surely, Mathew's Jesus was referring to the Law as understood in his time, when neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were looking for Canaanites and Amalekites to kill.

          • David Nickol

            Surely, Mathew's Jesus was referring to the Law as understood in his time, when neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were looking for Canaanites and Amalekites to kill.

            And the Law, as understood in the time of Jesus, certainly would have included the Torah (the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Just because some of God's commands in the Torah applied to historical situations did not mean they were not God's commands. But the problem isn't as simple as what Jesus meant or did not mean by "the Law." The problem is that the Old Testament depicts God as requiring genocide. Given Catholic beliefs about the inerrancy of scripture, how can it be explained that God demanded genocide? Did he really? Many Catholics would say yes, God can command those faithful to him to slaughter men, women, children, and animals, and God's faithful would be bound to obey.

            So the question is the following: When the Old Testament depicts God as commanding genocide, is the Old Testament accurately reporting the will of God himself, not merely what the OT authors understood to be the will of God?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I agree that those are very reasonable questions. I only take exception to Rudy R. conflating OT genocides with "the Law" as understood by Matthew.

            Personally, I do not believe that much of the Old Testament, including the genocides of the OT, is historical. However, I do not know what it means for a legend to be inspired or inerrant. I suppose there are Catholic theologians who have written about this problem, though I am not aware of their conclusions.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            N.T. Wright has what I consider to be a very adept way of addressing that question in this essay: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

            A motivating excerpt:

            But much of what we call the Bible—the Old and New Testaments—is not a rule book; it is narrative. That raises a further question: How can an ancient narrative text be authoritative? How, for instance, can the book of Judges, or the book of Acts, be authoritative? It is one thing to go to your commanding officer first thing in the morning and have a string of commands barked at you. But what would you do if, instead, he began ‘Once upon a time . . .’?

            (Of course you were asking about Catholic theologians, and Wright is not a "big C" Catholic, but his view on this topic seems to me to be very consonant with (Roman) Catholic teaching.)

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Wright is always a pleasure to read. Thanks.

        • neil_pogi

          the laws of Moses is divided in 2 parts: ceremonial and moral laws. ceremonial laws are: 1. circumcision 2. that all the lands should not be used for 7 years 3. dietary laws (although this law is beneficial to humans) 4. annual sabbaths, etc.

          moral laws: ten commandments

      • GuineaPigDan .

        Yes they are. This Jewish site http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm lists all 613 commandments and under the last section "Wars" you can
        see commands such as "Not to keep alive any individual of the seven Canaanite nations," "To exterminate the seven Canaanite nations from the land of Israel," and "Not to offer peace to the Ammonites and the Moabites before waging war on them, as should be done to other nations." The last three commands involve destroying the seed of Amalek and to always remember and never forget what Amalek did to the Israelites.

        • Arthur Jeffries

          The concept of "613 commandments" dates to the third century after Christ. Are you suggesting that Matthew somehow had the 613 commandments in mind when he wrote his gospel?

      • Rudy R

        So the Church hand waves away every thing in the OT but Moses laws. So much for a god inspired book.

        • Arthur Jeffries

          Jesus is understood by orthodox Christianity to have fulfilled the law of Moses, which, for Christians, is no longer efficacious. Paul goes into a lot of detail about this in his letters. That said, the Church does not wave away everything in the OT.

          • Rudy R

            Presumably, the Church waves away the morally repugnant bits.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The Church does not have a doctrinal position on those portions of the OT, except to say that they are part of Sacred Scripture.

    • Mike O’Leary

      To piggyback on that, the Catholic Church teaches that all scripture is true (either in a literal sense or one of three non-literal senses). Often times when, as you say, you point out an immoral act or atrocity attributed to God they will dismiss the literal connotation. At the same time they won't or can't provide a non-literal reading that still doesn't make God appear to either perform or allow for evil being done.

    • neil_pogi

      in the first place, atheists don't believe in absolute or objective morality. atheists always quote several evil stories in the Bible. in what sense you consider killing children as just 'evil'? if God will reason out for you, He might say: 'well, i am the author of life, and i have the prerogatives/rights to take all the life that you have'!!

      • Rudy R

        Some atheists believe in objective morality and they have a good argument. If you define morality as promoting human well-being, which is indeed a subjective definition that doesn't include a supernatural source, then all other actions that promote well-being could be argued to be objective, i.e. life over death, equality or inequality, health over unhealth. On the other hand, it can be argued that theists don't believe in objective morality. The god of the Bible condones slavery, rape, and genocide but modern society does not.

        • neil_pogi

          what atheists think of humans and other living things is that, humans are just 'collections of chemicals banging with each others'... so in essense, what's the point why atheists are complaining about God's 'condoning slavery, rape, and genocide?

          as i've said: 'God is the author of life, and since man committed sin, evil was allowed, the laws of entropy has taken its rule against the law of orderliness.. and since death is the sentence, naturally, diseases of all sorts, disordly attitudes, characters and behaviors come, as well

          • Rudy R

            Atheists don't believe in gods, so wouldn't have a reason to complain about a god. I only asserted that it is atheists, not theists, who believe in objective morality. Don't Christians claim they derive their morals from their god? Since your god's moral commands are arbitrary, how would that be objective?

            If I understand you correctly, your god allowed evil because of sinful man. Would you agree that your god allowing evil is tacit approval of evil? Wouldn't you agree that approving evil is immoral?

          • neil_pogi

            and why you, atheists believe in the Bible's 'evil' stories/events when the fact that you consider it as 'collections of myths' when it pertains to God? but deny His existence when the Bible presents His goodness? a slice of cherry pickers? if you believe there's no such entity as God, then, don't quote the Bible's evil stories to be as true, because in the first place you don't believe in (a) God? that makes you idiot!

            the Bible thoroughly explains why evil is allowed, and i already explained that!

          • Rudy R

            you consider it as 'collections of myths' when it pertains to God?

            In addition to considering the Bible a collection of myths as it pertains to god, atheists also believe the Bible is not historically reliable, is not the literal word of god, is not divinely inspired and that the supernatural events did not occur.

            but deny His existence when the Bible presents His goodness?

            I don't deny his goodness or evilness; your god doesn't exist.

            a slice of cherry pickers?

            Where in my previous comment did I cherry pick Bible scripture? Since Christians use the Bible as the source of their moral values, the Bible is open to critique. That being said, since your god's moral commands, as written in the Bible, are arbitrary, how would that be objective?

            if you believe there's no such entity as God, then, don't quote the Bible's evil stories to be as true

            I never quote the Bible's evil stories to be true. I quote Bible scripture to prove a point, just as I would any other source, fiction or nonfiction.

            the Bible thoroughly explains why evil is allowed

            So you agree that your god allows evil. Would you agree that your god allowing evil is tacit approval of evil? Wouldn't you agree that approving evil is immoral?

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'I don't deny his goodness or evilness; your god doesn't exist.' - but why many quotes from the Scriptures the 'evil' events? when someone quotes heavily from the Scriptures, it only follows that he believes that the events (be it evil or not) were historically true! if i were an atheists i won't quote that because i am only affirming that they were historically true!

            cherry pickers - because atheists only believe in the evil events in the Bible but dismiss those that were good!

            quote; 'So you agree that your god allows evil. Would you agree that your god allowing evil is tacit approval of evil? Wouldn't you agree that approving evil is immoral?' - how then you know that those were evil? when the fact that, according to your belief systems, rape, for example, is only relative and not absolute evil?

          • Rudy R

            when someone quotes heavily from the Scriptures, it only follows that he believes that the events (be it evil or not) were historically true

            I don't quote heavily from the Bible, whatever that means. Secondly, when someone quotes from a source, it doesn't only follow that the person believes that those events true. Many people quote from fiction, fully realizing those events never occurred in history. Quoting a source can be used as evidence just to prove a point.

            if i were an atheists i won't quote that because i am only affirming that they were historically true!

            If that's your reason for not quoting, that's your choice. But most everyone else is not hamstrung with that illogical reasoning.

            when the fact that, according to your belief systems, rape, for example, is only relative and not absolute evil?

            No where did I claim rape is moral. It's immoral because it's contrary to human well-being. Like I stated previously, my moral code is based on human well-being, and I would argue, every culture's morality is derived the same way. There's no relative about it. The authors of the Bible codified their morality during their day. What was once acceptable 6000 years ago (slavery, rape and genocide) is now unacceptable. How again does a Christian claim that morals are objective, since there are Biblical morals not accepted in today's society?

            I'll ask a third time:
            So you agree that your god allows evil. Would you agree that your god allowing evil is tacit approval of evil? Wouldn't you agree that approving evil is immoral?'

          • neil_pogi

            the souurce of morality is from God, theists never claim that morality comes from the Bible, morality is already 'hardwired' to our mind. even the murder of Abel, is already considered a sin. (since the commandments were given to israelites after the exodus)

            i agree that God allowed evil because man transgressed His law! so what's your problem? theists have that explanation and atheists just ignore that.

            even in nature, you can see animals that are preys, and animals that are predators! good and evil should exist, or should be in harmony because they are part of nature! we inhale oxygen (good) and exhale CO2 (evil), but sometimes oxygen supports combustion that may destroy our homes, and CO2 is very beneficial to plants and trees.

            i just wanted to say that atheists have morals too because morality is 'hardwired' to their mind!

          • Rudy R

            the source of morality is from God, theists never claim that morality comes from the Bible, morality is already 'hardwired' to our mind.

            Since you don't get your morals from the Bible, you believe the morals cited in the Bible are not those of the Christian god? If I understand you correctly, the Bible is not the word of the Christian god. If not from the Bible, how do you know the Christian god hardwired morals in your head? From intuition? From revelation?

            Some Christians believe the death penalty is immoral while others believe it's moral. Some Christians believe abortions are immoral while others believe it's not. Whose hardwired minds are correct? Who is the arbiter for these moral delimmas and decides the Chistian god's intentions?

            i agree that God allowed evil because man transgressed His law!

            So you admit your god approves of evil.

            How again is CO2, a gas, capable of immorality and malevolence? So those "collections of chemicals banging with each others" are capable of morality then. BTW, without CO2, all life on Earth would be unsustainable. Not too evil, huh.

          • neil_pogi

            you said that christians derived morality from the Bible, i said that morality is 'hardwired' in our mind. when Cain murdered Abel, he know he committed a crime, a sin, therefore, before the bible is written, murder is considered an immoral act. so how do you why murder is an immoral act? is it derive from chemicals? if so then explain!! i know morality comes from God because He created life (as i've said, life is not a product of natural processes)

            quote: 'Some Christians believe the death penalty is immoral while others believe it's moral.' - some atheists believe that too. but death penalty is immoral. why react if death penalty, abortion, stealing are just relative and not absolute? if Hitler killed millions of people, why atheists and theists condemned him if they believe that hitler's action was just relative? if hitler survive, then he might say, 'i killed those million jews because they're corrupt'. therefore killing, whatever the reason is, is absolute immorality.

            how many times i said that God allowed evil for consumation purposes! if without evil, the earth will be over-populated. if without predators, these predators will die sooner. (you didn't address, or ignore why predator and prey exist together. it only shows that life is created, is designed).

          • Rudy R

            he know he committed a crime, a sin, therefore, before the bible is written, murder is considered an immoral act.

            How do you know the Bible is an accurate, historical account of Cain and Abel? Moses has been attributed to writing the Pentateuch, but most Biblical scholars have determined that the Pentateuch was composed by a number of unknown authors. We also do not have the original manuscripts, but only copies. With that being said, the Pentateuch is more probable of being fiction than nonfiction. So what is your best evidence that Genesis is historically accurate and why we should believe the Cain and Abel story is true?

            i know morality comes from God because He created life...

            What's your best evidence that God created life?

            how many times i said that God allowed evil for consumation purposes!

            Your god approved of eating meat in Genesis 9:3. How did you come to the determination that killing for food is an immoral and malevolent act?

            it only shows that life is created, is designed.

            Evolution can also explain why animals prey on other animals for survival. God is not the only explanation.

            Since you didn't answer my prior question, I'll ask again:
            Some Christians believe the death penalty is immoral while others believe it's moral. Some Christians believe abortions are immoral while others believe it's not. Whose hardwired minds are correct? Who is the arbiter for these moral dilemmas and decides the Christian god's intentions?

          • neil_pogi

            and why you believe that a rock (a non-living matter) evolved into living matter?

          • Rudy R

            I don't believe that. Why would you believe that a supernatural being used magic to create life?

          • neil_pogi

            you don't believe a non-living matter such as a rock evolved into living matter? then what's the atheist's position on life's origin now?

            and nowhere did i tell you that God use magic wand to create things. All he did is the command of his voice.

            can you tell me how a non-living became a living matter?

          • Rudy R

            you don't believe a non-living matter such as a rock evolved into living matter? then what's the atheist's position on life's origin now?

            No, I don't believe a rock evolved into living matter. I'm agnostic on all the origin of life theories. Fact is, science doesn't have the answer. Neither do theists.

            and nowhere did i tell you that God use magic wand to create things. All he did is the command of his voice.

            Magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. How does the command of god's voice differ from magic? Can you explain how vibrations that travel through the air can produce matter?

            can you tell me how a non-living became a living matter?

            No, and neither can you. Claiming god did it is only answering a mystery with a mystery. You need to show more evidence than citing your god's incantation.

          • neil_pogi

            if somebody believes that a watch has a watch-maker, then i believe that Someone created me. i don't know fully the details on how He created. only conscious beings can create. only intelligent conscious beings can create 'specified complexity' of living things. you can't even prove atheism is true based on your above explanations? i'd rather stick to my belief that a God, a creator, a mind, exists thru all eternity, rather than a NOTHING, (i don't know how a 'nothing' can create a 'something'... only exists in the imagination of krauss)

          • Rudy R

            i don't know fully the details on how He created.

            Then you should suspend belief until you do know the full details.

            if somebody believes that a watch has a watch-maker, then i believe that Someone created me.

            Of course watches have watchmakers. Doesn't prove that life has life-makers. What if you went further down the beach and found a shoe. Would you assume that a watchmaker made that shoe? Of course not, you would assume a shoemaker. Therefore, according to your analogy, created life must have a lifemaker, the moon a moonmaker, and water a watermaker. This implies that there are several creators in the world, responsible for all kinds of creation.

            The things used by the watchmaker to make watches already exists, but theists claim that their god created things ex nihilo, from nothing. So the analogy is false here too.

            When you walk through the woods and see a watch, you recognize it as designed not because of its complexity or by contrasting it with the surrounding nature, but because you have seen other watches and all of those watches have, to your knowledge, been engineered by people. It is also clearly not safe to judge whether or not an object is designed purely by its complexity. A perfectly smooth perfect sphere is an extremely simple shape. However, if you found a perfectly smooth perfectly spherical wooden ball in the woods, you would recognize it as most likely not having arisen naturally, but rather been carved and sanded into that shape.

            only conscious beings can create.

            Crows fashion tools from twigs, feathers and other bits of debris to snare food from hard-to-reach places. Are crows conscious beings? And if so, if crows were the only animals known to create things, would this be a good example for intelligent design?

            only intelligent conscious beings can create 'specified complexity' of living things.

            Again, show your work. Just stating something doesn't make it so. Evolution explains, by using available evidence, how life gave rise from simple organisms to complex organisms. What evidence do you have that the evolutionary path was guided by a supernatural agency? Occam's Razor applies here: the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Take away the guiding hand of a god and you still have evolution.

            i'd rather stick to my belief that a God, a creator, a mind, exists thru all eternity, rather than a NOTHING

            Why? because it makes you feel good? As George Bernard Shaw so eloquently stated: The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.”

          • neil_pogi

            quote; 'Then you should suspend belief until you do know the full details.' - then why should i suspend my belief in a creator it;s just because i don't know the details on how He created? how about you, how did you know for sure that all things (living things and the universe itself) were just 'accident' 'unguided process' 'blind and chance'? maybe because atheists don't know the explanations?

            quote: 'Of course watches have watchmakers. Doesn't prove that life has life-makers. What if you went further down the beach and found a shoe. Would you assume that a watchmaker made that shoe? Of course not, you would assume a shoemaker. Therefore, according to your analogy, created life must have a lifemaker, the moon a moonmaker, and water a watermaker. This implies that there are several creators in the world, responsible for all kinds of creation. - --------

            'Creator' is the creator of all things. you are comparing Him to a human who has limited ability to perform several tasks, like, a dentist who can't perform a psychiatric diagnosis, or a carpenter who can't do electrician's works.

            quote; 'Doesn't prove that life has life-makers' -- then prove to me that life is not created. prove it.

            quote: 'Crows fashion tools from twigs, feathers and other bits of debris to snare food from hard-to-reach places. Are crows conscious beings? And if so, if crows were the only animals known to create things, would this be a good example for intelligent design?' -- i said further that only intelligent conscious beings can create things that are highly specified. examples: watch. so can you demonstrate for me how nature can create a watch? even if i lay down complete parts of a watch to the table, do you really expect that after millions of years, they will 'self-organise' themselves and voila!! at last, a watch is assembled! crows are conscious beings too. i don't know why you didn't know that! what about unconscious things? can they create? (blind, unguided process)

            quote: 'Again, show your work. Just stating something doesn't make it so. Evolution explains, by using available evidence, how life gave rise from simple organisms to complex organisms.' -- micro evolution only happens AFTER life. you can't even know how life originated here on earth. your secular scientists can even create life in the lab despite the fact that they already know the chemical compositions of the cell! micro evolution is an intelligent activity with goals to achieve. macro evolution is not observed, tell me how sex evolve.. no 'make believe' stories pls!. what's your evidence that a human evolve from cabbage? or a human evolve from aardvark? or a human evolve from philippine eagle?

            quote; 'Why? because it makes you feel good?' -- it's because i don't believe that i just 'pop'.. that i was 'fearfully and wonderfully made' (psalm 139:14). but wait, atheists have a creator too, the 'self-replicating molecule' :-)

            what's the problem if i believe that there is a Creator?

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'How do you know the Bible is an accurate, historical account of Cain and Abel? Moses has been attributed to writing the Pentateuch, but most Biblical scholars have determined that the Pentateuch was composed by a number of unknown authors. We also do not have the original manuscripts, but only copies. With that being said, the Pentateuch is more probable of being fiction than nonfiction. So what is your best evidence that Genesis is historically accurate and why we should believe the Cain and Abel story is true?' - these were recorded manuscripts written by different biblical authors (moses), and passed it down thru oral traditions

            quote; 'What's your best evidence that God created life?' - since you're an ardent atheist, surely you reject this argument, and since atheists can't explain how life's origin came, you need a lot of explaining how a non-living things became living. i don't need 'just so' and 'make belief' stories, only scientific explanations (should be tested thru verification process and experiments)

            quote: 'Your god approved of eating meat in Genesis 9:3. How did you come to the determination that killing for food is an immoral and malevolent act?' - God allows consumation of certain clean animals when the earth is still under the flood, but even after the flood, He allowed it (as i've said, He is the Author of life, He can sustain life or destroy it. death is the sentence given to man by God when he disobeyed Him.. is that hard for you to understand??)

            quote; 'Evolution can also explain why animals prey on other animals for survival. God is not the only explanation.' - evolution only happens (micro) AFTER the life is introduced. Darwin never explained how life came on this planet. so the only explanation why there are preys is because of evolution. is that all? i need you to explain step by step how preys and predators came!

            how do you know that a death penalty is just relative? if atheists think that it is, then, you have no right to condemned hitler on why he killed millions of jews. christians are also divided on death penalty issue. maybe it depends on situation, but it's still an absolute immoral (if God will take away my life, i won't complain because He is the creator of my life.)

          • Rudy R

            these were recorded manuscripts written by different biblical authors (moses), and passed it down thru oral traditions

            You can believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch but you'd be wrong. The majority of your Christian Biblical scholars agree they don't know who wrote the Pentateuch. And since you haven't actually heard those oral stories verbatim from someone during those times, how would you know they are factual and have been 100% accurately scribed on paper? Since we don't have the original manuscripts, how do you know that the copies are perfect reproductions? Until you know these things, then you can't rely on the Pentateuch as fact.

            If you make a positive claim that a god created life, then the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence. I'm not making that claim. My answer is that I don't know what/who created life. So I ask again, what's your best evidence that God created life?

            God allows consumation of certain clean animals when the earth is still under the flood, but even after the flood, He allowed it

            So killing to eat meat is not a sin. Can we agree that animals killing other animals is not evil?

            i need you to explain step by step how preys and predators came!

            Nice try with the equivocation. The argument is killing for food is not evil.

            christians are also divided on death penalty issue. maybe it depends on situation, but it's still an absolute immoral

            If morals are hardwired on the mind from god and the death penalty issue is divided, how did you determine that your hardwiring is correct on the death penalty issue and the other Christians are wrong?

          • neil_pogi

            1. in the year 4000, some people discovered several ancient collections of writings from secular scientists, let me say the year of those writings were from 1950s to 2020s. and they discovered one 'writings' that say that its author was richard dawkins. since 2,000 years have passed, the majority of people didn't believe that the book was written by someone like r. dawkins, even though some writings have claimed that the book was written by him. since it was written 2,000 years ago, nobody believe it. now, it's up to you if you believe that the book was written by r. dawkins.

            2. if there is no killing, then the world will be over-populated. it is evident that prey and predator should exist together in order to balance nature. if there is no prey, then how can a predator survive? you failed to explain why there's such living things as prey and predator. all i heard from you is that evolution did that! you can't even explain how a single cell organism became something like a human or a cabbage! if natural selection aids for survival of an organism, why, for example, a human, can't grow long hair in order to survive the cold temperature of north and south poles, canada, greenland, iceland? if natural selection is needed in order for an organism to survive or to adapt to its environment, then why blind man or animal are still blind and no new eyes are developing to replace the diseased eyes? and if a human has gills, then how can he develop it when the fact that he can only survive below water in just less than 10 minutes? and if a man has a tail, then, what's its use for him? these are just the foolishness of evolution. macro evolution per se is not observed, from the past, today and in the future. you can't even prove, even in your dream, that a single-cell organism can survive on its own without food for days, let alone the thousand or millions of years.

            3. then how do you classify death penalty as just relative or absolute? but you know that it is wrong, be it relative or absolute. therefore, i would say that death penalty is immoral, be it relative or not. it is hardwired to my mind that it is immoral. only God can sentence a living being to death penalty because He is the Creator of life. anyway, according to your secular scientists, life is just chemicals, and why so concern or bother yourself if a chemical someone is killed by a chemical someone?

          • Rudy R

            Response to comment 1: Historians have methods that determine a probability of an event. The more credible information, the more probable an event occured. If historians don't know the name of the author of a source, the probability that the information containted in the unknown author's work is less probable to be an event, if there isn't credible corraborating evidence. If 4000 years from now, all credible evidence has been lost that would prove Richard Dawkins existance, than we would have to conclude that Dawkins probably did not exist. It does not mean that he didn't exist, just that it is more probable that he didn't exist than it is probable that he did exist. in other words, it would be more than 50% probability that he didn't exist. That's how ancient historical scholarship works. You can believe whatever you want, but scholared historians have a methodology they apply to accounting for history, and since we don't know who wrote the Gospels, the information contained is suspect. How do we know that the unknown authors of the Gospels didn't have another agenda, one that didn't include historical accuracy? Paul and the Gospel writers were laying the foundation for the Christian religion; not being held to the same criteria and methodology that historians require.

            you can't even explain how a single cell organism became something like a human or a cabbage!

            No, I can't, and neither can you. Since you are making the positive claim that god created life, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence. Stating god did it is akin to stating magical faeries did it. Show the evidence.

            i would say that death penalty is immoral, be it relative or not. it is hardwired to my mind that it is immoral.

            Why isn't it hardwired into the minds of Christians that beleive the death penalty is moral?

            why so concern or bother yourself if a chemical someone is killed by a chemical someone?

            Only a theist would make such a ludicrous claim. I care because I'm a sentiant animal who has the desire to pursue happiness and avoid pain and suffering. It's that simple: no god required. Other people have the same basic desires. And to achieve our common desires, humans realize that the desires are easiest to achieve in an environment where the infliction of death and suffering are prohibited and the pursuit of happiness is permitted.

          • neil_pogi

            1. if that were your explanations then i would believe that Jesus' historical events were true.

            quote; 'No, I can't, and neither can you. Since you are making the positive claim that god created life, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence. Stating god did it is akin to stating magical faeries did it. Show the evidence. ' - that's why theists rely on the design argument of the universe. theists have shown that the universe has a beginning, prior to that, naturalism didn't exist, because naturalism follows after the creation of the universe. life itself can't be originated from naturalism because it takes many design parameters in order to create it. naturalism has no power, no intelligence and no intelligent consciousness. i can say that the pyramids of egypt were the result of intelligent activities, (even though nobody from the present time have witnessed building them), i can deny that the pyramids were the result of millions of years of process (sands stick together or self-organise themselves in order to create a pyramid). the DNA, life, were evidences that an Intelligent Agent was involve in creating that. and since God is immaterial, science can't discover Him... or maybe God is at the 'edge' of our universe and creating multiverse, for the sake of atheists. and you can't even prove that 'we' descended from a single-celled organism. you can only prove that by mere 'make believe' stories told to you by your imaginative darwinist scientists

            quote: 'Why isn't it hardwired into the minds of Christians that beleive the death penalty is moral?' - because christians can even change his worldviews. we seldom see some christians became atheists, and vice versa.

            quote: 'Only a theist would make such a ludicrous claim. I care because I'm a sentiant animal who has the desire to pursue happiness and avoid pain and suffering. It's that simple: no god required. Other people have the same basic desires. And to achieve our common desires, humans realize that the desires are easiest to achieve in an environment where the infliction of death and suffering are prohibited and the pursuit of happiness is permitted.' -- actually, its the fanatics (christians, moslems, atheists, etc) who create terrorism. when muslim terrorists (fanatic moslems) attacked the twin towers, why moslem governments condemned them? when sciences proved that non-living matter can't evolve into living, then atheists deny that (atheists and fanatic atheists), so who really is anti-science? why is it so hard for you to accept that fact? as i've said, God introduce 'evil' in this universe because man disobeyed Him. God has given him explanations that when he choose evil, he will suffer the consequences? is that hard for you to understand? atheists want happiness, we want it too. as i've said, evil has become a part of nature. every living things will die, and nobody knows when.

            and why preys are not complaining when they are killed by predators?

            i never consider myself a 'sentiant animal' because i'm a unique creature. a creature that mirrors the image of God.

          • Rudy R

            life itself can't be originated from naturalism because it takes many design parameters in order to create it.

            What's your evidence that "many design paramaters" are only the cause of a creator? Evolution is a scientific evidence-based explanation for how life evolved. Injecting magic is not an explanatory alternative. Also, natural selection can account for any known form of life, and requires no supernatural agency in its evolution. How life started on Earth is a mystery, but how life evolved is not.

            naturalism has no power, no intelligence and no intelligent consciousness.

            So what? Naturalism does not require a supernatural agency that is intelligent and powerful; that's the realm of theism.

            since God is immaterial, science can't discover Him.

            Without the scientific method, how do theists reliability know a god exists? What leads you to believe that your own intuitions are more reliable than the scientific method?

            you can't even prove that 'we' descended from a single-celled organism.

            The Theory of Evolution explains it quite well. Why again is magic a better explanation?

            you can only prove that by mere 'make believe' stories told to you by your imaginative darwinist scientists

            Those so-called make-believe stories are the foundation of science. You rely on stories, parables, and mythology of a 2000 year old book that will never change and I rely on a million-book library that has evolved over 2000 years, discarding books that are later proven inadequate, and retaining those that have been proven through the test of time. How again is your one book more reliable in reflecting what is more probable to be true than a massive, scientific library?

            we seldom see some christians became atheists, and vice versa.

            The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. It's simply not true that we seldom see Christians become atheists. Your "hardwiring" mind is built on a moral house of cards, which is about to crash down. You still haven't adequately explained the moral dilemmas Christians hold and why one side of the dilemma is right and the other wrong.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Evolution is a scientific evidence-based explanation for how life evolved' -- as i've said, evolution requires life. explain to me first how life originated 'naturally' on this beautiful planet!

            quote; 'So what?' -- then why, according to you, 'naturalism' produces many different forms of life if it has no power to do it?

            quote; 'Without the scientific method, how do theists reliability know a god exists? What leads you to believe that your own intuitions are more reliable than the scientific method?' -- because science is not the only paradigm or parameters to know the truth. even one of your ardent atheist believe 'science doesn't prove anything'.. i know a creator exists because i was 'fearfully and wonderfully made'. atheists have a creator too, 'self-replicating molecule' ...

            quote; 'The Theory of Evolution explains it quite well. Why again is magic a better explanation?- so tell me what was the common ancestor of lucy? the cromagnon man? nebraska man? the common ancestor of chinese cabbage? were they evolved from frankencell? it's just MAGIC. yes, you hate magic and yet believe firmly in macro evolution.

            quote; 'Those so-called make-believe stories are the foundation of science.' -- therefore it lacks experimentations and tests. therefore, all the researches that are not subjected to experiments and observations are to be believed by blind faith!

            then why there are 1. relative morality and 2' objective or absolute morality? they fall together under umbrella, MORALITY

          • Rudy R

            I'll leave you with the last word.

  • Darren

    Dr. Pitre;

    Thank you for this opportunity. My question is, how do you regard the historicity of the Golden Plates, delivered by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith, as compared to the historicity of the appearance by the resurrected Christ to “the 500”?
    Should you view the historicity of one of these events as more or less likely than the other, by what criteria and using what methods do you make that determination?

    Best regards.

    • Rob Abney

      Darren, would you agree that one eyewitness is less credible than 500?

      • David Nickol

        Darren, would you agree that one eyewitness is less credible than 500?

        The problem is that we do not have testimony from 500 eyewitnesses who claim to have seen the risen Jesus. We have a claim from one person that Jesus appeared to 500 people (1 Cor 15:6):

        After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

        Where did this appearance take place? Who were some of the 500? What exactly did they claim to see? What did Jesus say to them?

        With all due respect, what is so frustrating to skeptics and atheists is that there is no evidence at all that a group of "500 brothers" saw the risen Jesus. There is a one-sentence claim by Paul in a 2000-year-old letter that can in no way be verified. You believe Paul's claim is true because it is in the Bible, and you believe the Bible to be true. But just because you believe it does not mean it is evidence. So what is frustrating to me and (I am guessing) to others who are skeptics and atheists is this: How can you and others who claim "500 eyewitnesses" not see that there is no testimony from 500 eyewitnesses??? There is no evidence.

        • Rob Abney

          No, you make assumptions. I believe it because it was integral to the establishment of the real live community of believers. I don't think those believers needed a letter from St. Paul because they were in close proximity to eyewitnesses and martyrs who convinced them of the truth.

          • David Nickol

            I don't think those believers needed a letter from St. Paul because they were in close proximity to eyewitnesses and martyrs who convinced them of the truth.

            They were? Corinth and Jerusalem are about 800 miles apart by air, and the driving distance is 2300 miles by car. Of course, there were no planes and cars in the first century, so Corinth and Jerusalem were very far apart. Paul's letters to the Corinthians were also written in the early to mid 50s, twenty years after the crucifixion. I gather you are assuming that what Paul says to the Corinthians was common knowledge, but on what basis would you assume that? How close were the ties between Corinth and Jerusalem? How did the earlier Corinthians know what had taken place in Jerusalem? With whom did the Corinthians in the 50s check to verify what Paul said? Even if it was common knowledge in the 50s (in Corinth) that Jesus had appeared to 500 people in Jerusalem in the early 30s, would that make it true? Would that make it a historical fact?

          • Rob Abney

            " I gather you are assuming that what Paul says to the Corinthians was common knowledge, but on what basis would you assume that?"
            Yes, that is what I'm assuming. I base it on my understanding, however limited, is that the Christians began meeting, praying and offering mass very early and that that is where the new testament originated. Christians wrote the new testament .

          • Will

            Keep in mind that Paul is addressing Christians in the church at Corinth who did not believe Jesus had risen. That was the reason he brought up the 500, but he does not say he knew the 500 personally, it could have been rumor. Note that Paul had visions of Jesus, which could have been dreams or even hallucinations for all we know. The context of 1 Cor 15 shows us that there were a number of early christians who did not accept the resurrection as fact

          • David Nickol

            I have no objection to anything you say, except that I think it is anachronistic to call the earliest Christian eucharistic celebrations "mass." But how in the world the above amounts to evidence for one uncorroborated claim by Paul is beyond me. Of course there was a "Jesus movement" following the crucifixion. At first it was among a small number of Jews, but it soon spread among the gentiles and then largely vanished among Jews. Of course the New Testament was a product of the early Church. It did not come first, before Christianity. But this in no way proves—or even lends significant weight to—Paul's claim that there were 500 witnesses to an appearance of the risen Jesus.

          • Rob Abney

            My point is that Paul's letter was never intended to stand alone as the definitive proof for the resurrection. It was one component of the practice of Christianity. And that practice has continued ever since. So I don't have to find one historical letter from 2000 years ago but can instead also rely on the continuity of the Church and its continual understanding of the resurrection.
            As to Darrens question, 500 claimed witnesses still is more credible than one, wouldn't you agree?

          • Of course it would be, but that is absolutely not what Paul's letter to the Corinthians is. it is not even one witness as, if this happened, Paul was not there. We have a statement from Paul saying this happened.

            Such a statement is hearsay and would be inadmissible in any court of law as being more misleading than proving anything.

            But it is worse than that. We know that Paul was aware of Christianity. In fact, he was persecuting Christians. Surely he was aware of these claims of people witnessing the resurrection at that time? But he didn't believe them, he didn't convert until he met Jesus himself!

            So by any recourse to the 500, you are asking us, essentially to take Paul's word for something he himself was not convinced by.

          • David Nickol

            So by any recourse to the 500, you are asking us, essentially to take Paul's word for something he himself was not convinced by.

            Great point!

          • Rob Abney

            Surely he was aware of these claims of people witnessing the resurrection at that time?

            Objection, more hearsay!

            But Paul didn't just meet Jesus, he had an experience of God like only a few others in the Bible have had. It seems like almost everyone has accepted that he had more than just a meeting, so to change his actions drastically is not unbelievable.
            Also, I don't think he had known of the 500 until he had learned of it from other disciples.
            I do agree that my first comment about 500 witnesses vs 1 witness was not simply a case of numbers, but I think a good historian would find Paul's claims to be credible based on his character throughout his known life, he simply couldn't afford to make wild conjectures because he was already risking his life spreading the gospel.

          • Well, you don't need to go back 2000 years to documentary evidence if you think the road to Damascus experience counts as credible evidence of the resurrection. You can find thousands of people today who claim to have met the resurrected Jesus.

            If Paul did not meet the 500 it is even worse, it is triple hearsay. I don't dispute that Paul believed that Jesus appeared to the 500. The question is why should we believe. Basically the evidence is that someone who lived 2000 years ago mentioned that Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. The writer didn't witness this appearance, nor did he get this info from anyone who did. Very weak.

        • pearlridgeview

          And the letters to the believers in Corinth (hence Corinthians) is certainly an amalgam of letters that Paul, and someone or several someones wrote. Corinthians is a particularly bad place to look for historical accuracy.

      • Darren

        Rob wrote,

        Darren, would you agree that one eyewitness is less credible than 500?

        As the old saw goes, the plural of anecdote is not data.

        Rob, would you agree that a second (or third) hand report of 500 un-named, unknown, witnesses at some unspecified time and unspecified place is less credible than a signed affidavit from one named witness, with an address and a date?

        Book of Mormon Witnesses

        • Rob Abney

          I was initally responding only to numerical superiority. But you are correct that there should be tests of credibility. If Dr. Pitre answers then we may have a better idea of how a historian weighs such events.
          Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about Paul's 500:

          Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ's Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message.

          The Wikipedia article you linked to doesn't speak as highly of the character or motives of the Mormon witnesses.

          • Darren

            Rob wrote,

            Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ's Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic
            life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message.

            OK, _that_ is just adorable. I was hoping for something a bit more sophisticated than, "'cause the Church says so."

            The Wikipedia article you linked to doesn't speak as highly of the character or motives of the Mormon witnesses.

            I guess that's it for Mormonism, then. Well done.

          • Rob Abney

            I thought I was being more sophisticated than you by using the Catholic Encyclopedia rather than just wikipedia! Maybe Dr. Pitre will have acceptable resources.

          • Darren

            Rob wrote,

            I thought I was being more sophisticated than you by using the Catholic Encyclopedia rather than just wikipedia!

            You are doubling down on the adorable credulity.

            Wikipedia, the "mainstream media!" of the internet age.

            You do have a point, though. It is hardly comparing apples to apples to put up historic factual claims made by a religious organization in support of its established faith tradition .vs. historic factual claims by an open source (nominally) secular program like Wikipedia. I suppose I should have pitted the Catholic version against the substantially less skeptical "official" LDS version of events.

          • Doug Shaver

            any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered

            Does it always happen that when a deception is discovered, nobody believes it any more?

          • pearlridgeview

            The "Roswell Incident" happened in my parent's lifetime, with photography, TV, radio, newspapers and they didn't believe it was a flying saucer from another planet. I don't either. Same reason. No evidence. Lots of claimed witnesses, some of whom are still alive, I believe.

          • pearlridgeview

            How does anyone know what the character of the "500" was? They may have been high on bad wine or LSD infused wheat. Both were likely present at the time.

          • Rob Abney

            It doesn't seem very likely that 500 people were all in a drug induced state, but it is more probable than a Man rising from the dead so its tough decide based on those two variables. Fortunately there are plenty of other variables supporting the resurrection.

          • Sample1

            Sorry to jump in on this old thread but I'm up and this comment of yours strikes me as very interesting.

            I'm a naturalist, materialist who doesn't believe any of the religious stuff you do but I kind of want to understand something about you and how you form positions.

            Can we play a thought experiment here, no judging on my part. I want to know if you would feel differently about the veracity of that particular story if instead of 500 the figure was 1.

            Thanks,

            Mike, faith-free

          • Rob Abney

            Mike, thanks for the question. I don't believe I would feel much different if it was 1 witness rather than 500, mainly because that is just one point of data in my belief about the resurrection. To get to the very foundation of that belief, I am convinced of the existence of God logically, from there I can understand how God could become incarnate, and if He did then I believe what He said "I came not of my own accord, He sent me". Its not just blind faith, its a lot more information.

          • Sample1

            Thanks.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            You're welcome. What are the results of the experiment?

          • Sample1

            Well, I gathered from you what I strongly suspected: a confirmation that you wouldn't feel much different.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            Mike, how many witnesses would it require for you to believe in the resurrection?

          • Sample1

            This is begging the question that witnesses can be shown to exist and are reliable.

            However, because I view experiences naturally, I would doubt my own conclusions first if I ever started to think a god (like those in the bible) and all the claims with them (minds surviving death of their brains and subsisting elsewhere in the cosmos, demons, many classes of angels) knocked on the door of plausibility.

            You may not like that I'd doubt myself, but that's how I operate. I am a very easy person to fool.

            Mike
            Edit done.

          • Rob Abney

            "I am a very easy person to fool." That's funny, I like your humility.

          • pearlridgeview

            Oh really? Such as? How about some proof that there were ANY witnesses?

          • Rob Abney

            What proof would be convincing to you?

          • pearlridgeview

            Given that Joseph was in fact a convicted con-man, I would give the supposed witnesses little credence.

      • Doug Shaver

        would you agree that one eyewitness is less credible than 500?

        It depends. I might be able to judge the credibility of one witness whom I can identify. But one person tells me, "500 people saw this happen" without telling me the first thing about who those people were, then I know nothing of their credibility.

        • Rob Abney

          What if you already knew the first thing about those people?

          • Lazarus

            This is a very plausible theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            What I would infer about their credibility would depend on specifically what I knew about them. There are some things I could know that would make me consider them highly credible. There are other things I could know that would make me inclined to doubt them.

          • Rob Abney

            How many of the 500 would have to be credible for you to believe that they witnessed the resurrected Jesus?

          • Doug Shaver

            Identify five of the 500 (that's 1 percent) and tell me why you think they are credible, and we can talk further.

          • Rob Abney

            I can only identify them as a group. Its not really "their" credibility that matters though. Paul's credibility is acceptable at a high level for most and he believes the 500 witnessed the Risen Christ. He mentioned them because contemporary peers could know that there was a large number of people they could ask if they doubted him. The other point is that the Resurrected Jesus did appear in public not just in the upper room, and when he appeared to those who likely had a role in condemning him to death he did not rebuke them or threaten to haunt them, he invited them to believe.

          • Will

            Why did the Risen Christ stop appearing so quickly? If his appearance was required to convince his own disciples, why not show up now to convince the rest of us? Why did his disciples not have faith without seeing him themselves, and why is anyone else expected to have more faith than those who actually met Jesus?
            In order to have faith in a Resurrected Jesus, one must also have faith in the credibility of Paul (in spite of the possibility of neurological causes of his visions, ect.) who saw fit to persecute the followers of Jesus until his own visions. In other words, Paul was not only convinced that the disciples were unreliable until his visions, he considered them heretics and went after them.
            I'm not persecuting Christians, even though I'm critical of their truth claims (like Paul, just not nearly as bad). Why doesn't Jesus appear to me?

          • Rob Abney

            Of course he had to appear, he demonstrated that there was something new, namely life after bodily death. How else would they know? But he doesn't have to continuously appear in the resurrected form, he is here on earth through the church that he established.
            That was his plan, for the church to spread the gospel and provide the sacraments.
            Maybe you could have devised a better plan or maybe that is just a prideful reaction ;) ;)

          • Will

            Personally, I don't think that was the plan at all, but I have no desire to get into that today, too nice of a Friday :)

          • Rob Abney

            Ok, share your perception with me sometime when the weather is bad.

          • pearlridgeview

            You think life after death was a new idea? Explain the Egyptian tombs, then.

          • Rob Abney

            It wasn't a new idea but it was a new reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            why not show up now to convince the rest of us?

            If he did that, maybe it would have some negative effects on the church's claim to have some authority over the rest of us. If we didn't have to take the church's word for it that Christ is risen, what else might we not have to take the church's word for?

          • pearlridgeview

            And then why would we need a church to be an intercessor? We would have direct knowledge. Always better than third hand hearsay.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's a problem even for Protestants. They may talk about sola scriptura, but if you push them on why we should believe even scripture, they sooner or later appeal to patristic traditions: the church fathers said it, we believe it, and that settles it.

          • pearlridgeview

            It seems that gawd was making regular stops here on earth back then, too. I guess he takes another train nowadays.

          • Doug Shaver

            I can only identify them as a group.

            OK. Different strokes. That doesn't work for me.

            Paul's credibility is acceptable at a high level for most

            Most of whom? Christians? I get it that Christians believe Paul was divinely inspired when he wrote about those appearances. I don't.

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, the first Christians especially but also the Jews of his time apparently considered him very credible. Not even referring to divine inspiration.

          • Doug Shaver

            the Jews of his time apparently considered him very credible.

            According to whom?

          • Rob Abney

            Based upon the number of those who followed his teachings

          • Doug Shaver

            What percentage of "the Jews of his time" was that number?

          • David Nickol

            What do you think John 1:11 means?

            He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

            Or, to quote the KJV rather than the NAB:

            He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

          • Rob Abney

            Are you saying that He had no Jewish followers?

          • David Nickol

            Obviously not, but you said, "The Jews of his time apparently considered him [Paul] very credible." If that is so, why is Paul known as the Apostle to the Gentiles? If the Jews considered Paul "very credible," why didn't he convert them? On what do you base your claim that "the Jews of his time apparently considered him very credible"? Where is that in the New Testament?

          • Rob Abney

            Paul is probably called the Apostle to the Gentiles because of his insistence that they did not need to be circumcised. That would surely make him popular.
            His credibility with Jews is based on his rabbinical training, his intelligence, and the fact that so many followed him. Thats not from a verse in the bible but from a broader reading of it.

          • David Nickol

            Paul is probably called the Apostle to the Gentiles because of his insistence that they did not need to be circumcised. That would surely make him popular. . . . Thats not from a verse in the bible but from a broader reading of it.

            You seem to have a very slim knowledge of the Bible and no inclination to do research before you express an opinion. According to Acts, Paul was chosen to convert the Gentiles, and Paul referred to himself as "Apostle to the Gentiles."

            But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man [Saul of Tarsus], what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” [Acts 9:13-16]

            Now I [Paul] am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. [Romans 11:13-14]

            But when [God], who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. [Galacians 1:15-17]

            Of this I became a minister by the gift of God’s grace that was granted me in accord with the exercise of his power. To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things . . . . [Ephesians 3:7-9]

            You say:

            His credibility with Jews is based on his rabbinical training, his intelligence, and the fact that so many followed him.

            So many followed him? How many? Can you point to any passages in the New Testament that claim Paul had a significant following among the Jews? Who wanted to kill Paul? The Jews of Jerusalem. Who kept him in prison for two years. The Jews. Read Acts of the Apostles 21-24.

          • Rob Abney

            Why should I have to do research before I express an opinion? My opinions are based on my understanding of Christianity.
            Whereas you seem to base your understanding and mistrust of Christianity on the precisely written word only, and even the precisely written word is often not precise enough such as Brant Pitre's writing.
            I do appreciate it when I have to look more closely at passages to understand your rationale for disbelief.

            I read Acts 21-24. Yes, the Jews were condemning Paul, but I don't take that to mean ALL the Jews were condemning him.
            He convinced many of them that he was proclaiming that Jesus was God not only because He appeared to him but also based on his Pharisitical doctrinal training (Acts 26:5).

          • Will

            Your lack of research shows you have no interest in scholarship. Do you even understand what biblical scholarship is? The Catholic Church has had some very good scholars. I'm interested and in scholarship, not some guy on the internet's (you) opinions. Considering your lack of knowledge, your condescending attitude at times reminds me of Jesus bullies who I had to avoid when I was younger until I could escape the fools and fools they certainly were.

          • Rob Abney

            Tough times for you. Did you ever go back and confront the bullies? Did you bully them, did you befriend them, did you forgive them?

            You and I will not agree on what constitutes valid biblical scholarship. Mainly because I accept the philosophy of the Catholic Church and view the bible through that lens. I think that what comes across to you as condescension may be my positive affirmation in my belief in the Church's teaching. (although I did make a comment about pride in a way that you could attribute it to yourself, that was uncharitable and I apologize for that)

          • David Nickol

            Why should I have to do research before I express an opinion?

            As someone once said, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

            I do appreciate it when I have to look more closely at passages to understand your rationale for disbelief.

            What we are talking about here is not a matter that has anything to do with belief in Christianity or not. Paul was Apostle to the Gentiles. You were claiming how much the Jews respected him and how many Jews followed him. It's simply not to be found in the New Testament. It's in your imagination.

            P.S. There is no such word as "Pharisitical."

          • Rob Abney

            Then we agree that opinions don't require research.

            But our disagreement might be based on qualifiers. I asserted that Jews followed Paul and were influenced by his testimony, I didn't mean ALL Jews so I should say some Jews but I do not know how many.
            You are not saying that NO Jews followed him. Do you mean that not many or very few Jews followed him?

            Pharisitical is a word.

          • David Nickol

            The other point is that the Resurrected Jesus did appear in public not just in the upper room, and when he appeared to those who likely had a role in condemning him to death he did not rebuke them or threaten to haunt them, he invited them to believe.

            Where in the New Testament is there an instance of Jesus appearing to any persons or group not already followers?

          • Lazarus

            Would Saul/Paul count?

          • David Nickol

            Would Saul/Paul count?

            I suppose he would in response to the narrower question I asked, but I don't think Paul would count as one "who likely had a role in condemning" Jesus to death. As far as I know, Paul never heard, saw, or knew about Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection.

          • Lazarus

            And his conversion experience, meeting Jesus, seems completely different from the other earlier reports. This experience is also not shared by his fellow travelers.

          • Rob Abney

            What timeline are you asking about? Pre-resurrection or post-resurrection?
            Because they may have been followers post-resurrection and also have been involved in condemning him.

          • David Nickol

            Because they may have been followers post-resurrection and also have been involved in condemning him.

            Where in the New Testament do we learn of Jesus, after the resurrection, appearing to anyone "who likely had a role in condemning him to death"? It would be an awesome story. Is it in the Bible?

          • pearlridgeview

            There are NO original texts to examine for Corinthians, or any Pauline letters. The writing style of Corinthians changes dramatically about half-way through. It is almost certainly the combined writing of at least two and as many as 7 authors and who knows how many mistranslations or mistakes in copying over the ages. May as well be talking about what the Roswell aliens ate for breakfast before they crashed.

        • pearlridgeview

          If the 500 were in a home for people with schizoaffective disease and the 1 was a pretty well known skeptic. Then I'm going for he one.

    • Mike

      were any miracles attributed to J. S. after he received those tablets? did he heal ppl's blindness? did he appoint any followers and did they perform miracles?

      • pearlridgeview

        Any confirmable evidence that J.C. did that, either?

        • Mike

          yes

  • David Nickol

    The New American Bible (mores specifically, the notes, not the translation), approved and published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is considered by some "conservative" Catholics to be unreliable at best and even at times heretical. What is your opinion of the NAB as a work of Catholic biblical scholarship?

  • GuineaPigDan .

    Bishop Barron once made a video talking about the "hard passages" of the Bible and how it might be better that wars described in the OT should taken more allegorically. With that in mind, how should a Catholic respond to fundamentalists like Brian Fischer using such passages to encourage prejudice against non-Christians such as Native Americans?
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/bryan-fischer-suggests-native-americans-were-justifiably-removed-their-land
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/30/christian-fundamentalists-plan-teach-genocide

  • Why do you believe in the Exodus when there is zero archæological evidence it ever took place, and there is plenty of evidence it never did?
    Why do you believe in a deity that is clearly just a pagan Semitic one that had a strong cult?
    How could you accept Lumen genitorum as binding doctrine when it clearly says ‘through me alone’?
    How could Jesus be fully human if he never sinned?

    • neil_pogi

      quote: 'Why do you believe in the Exodus when there is zero archæological evidence....' - and why atheists still insist that,despite no evidence for the creative power of a 'nothing', they still believe it has? or about the origin of the universe, 'give us time, plenty of time, in order for us to study more about universe's origin'!

      theists don't say; 'give us more time for exodus evidences to come up' because the evidences are already there!

      quote: 'How could Jesus be fully human if he never sinned? - He only partake it in order for Him to know how a human feels pain and agony

      • There was never ‘nothing’. There was always ‘something’, same way you believe there was always ‘God’ and nothing created it.
        And by the way, scientists have made huge strides and can pretty much explain the origin of the universe without relying on deities needlessly complicating the system.
        I can’t believe you actually thought that was a good answer. I’m embarrassed to have the same first name as you (especially since I picked mine and had it legally changed); I take solace in the fact I spell it differently (‘Neel’).

        • neil_pogi

          how about the so-called 'self-replicating molecule'? a matter that is eternal? why believe the 'self-replicating molecule' to be an eternal entity and not believe the God?

          according to astronomers, the universe began to exist from nothing. according to krauss, the 'nothing' created the universe. hahaha just provide evidence that your 'nothing' has some creative power. what scientific tools are your scientists using?

          • It’s called math, physics, telescopes, radars... Those kinds of tools.

            Also, biologists can now create self-replicating molecules. are they God now?

          • neil_pogi

            only God can create something out of nothing.

          • So either you completely misunderstood what scientists are saying or scientists are God now. Somehow I’m banking on the former.

          • neil_pogi

            if you read closely what you've posted above, it only affirms that life can not be created thru natural means, life is created very meticulously and need more effort. (and even those scientists you mentioned above that created 'self-replicating molecules' then what happen how? were those 'self-replicating molecules' began to 'evolve' into new forms of life? tell me?

          • Look up ‘evolution’ and leave me alone. You’re not worth my time.

          • neil_pogi

            i thought atheists play fairly? hahaha! the first theory, the origin of life, atheists theories failed all the time. they can't prove life's origin a natural process.

            well, i considered you a fanatical atheist. fanatics are just dangerous. if you can't prove scientifically all your theories, why insist they are facts??

  • bpqa

    Dr. Pitre, obviously you think that the fundamental historical claims of Christianity are supported by the biblical texts. My question is: do you think the textual evidence is strong enough that any rational and unbiased student of the texts should come to the conclusion that Jesus did in fact claim to be God, die and rise again, etc., or does the evidence merely make the case that the Christian claims are plausible and not irrational to believe? If the latter, is a personal religious experience necessary to become convinced of the truth claims of Christianity? If the former, what biases do you think those students are operating under who reject the biblical textual evidence for the claims of Christianity?

  • VicqRuiz

    Dr. Pitre:

    How do you decide, upon reading the Biblical account of an event, determine whether it is (1) a factual account of something that happened in history as described, (2) a retelling of an actual event perhaps containing some symbolic or allegorical elements, or (3) a purely allegorical story designed only to explain a deeper truth?

    • neil_pogi

      then how did atheists know that the first single cell evolved and created atheists? how did atheists know that the fossil of an ancient tooth was the closest common ancestor of man?

  • neil_pogi

    if i were an atheist, i would like to ask SN apologetics: why good and morality exists? why design exists?

  • David Nickol

    Here's the problem. A Catholic biblical scholar and an atheist biblical scholar will always have serious areas of disagreement about interpreting the Bible. In fact, a Catholic biblical scholar and any non-Christian (atheist or theist) biblical scholar will always have serious areas of disagreement about interpreting the Bible. This is because Catholics (and many other Christians) believe—as a matter of faith, not fact—that the Bible is to be approach unlike any other document in the history of the written word. Catholics believe scripture to be inspired and inerrant. Unlike any other collection of writings, the Bible has a supernatural origin and was produced by a supernatural process. Non-Christians, even if theists, cannot accept this, otherwise they would be Christians. (Jews may accept the supernatural origin of what Christians call the Old Testament, but they won't accept it for the New Testament.)

    The Catholic claim is that the Bible must be read as one coherent work. To vastly oversimplify, if something in the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament, then the interpretation of the Old Testament must be modified to accommodate the New Testament. To take the example some of us have been discussing, if God as understood from the New Testament cannot be believed to have ordered the slaughter of the Amalekites, then somehow 1 Samuel 15 must be interpreted to teach something other than that God ordered the slaughter of the Amalekites, even though that is what the text says, taken at face value.

    Now, a "reasonable" view, which even atheists could accept, is that the Bible is ancient religious literature, written and compiled over hundreds and hundreds of years. As such, the Bible could reflect the development of moral understandings, and the evolution of an ever more sophisticated concept of God. And in fact it is often the claim of Catholics the God's leading of his followers was gradual, starting with the Jews (and even their forefathers) as something like diamonds in the rough who could only be cut and polished over a long time span.

    The problem is that despite these "concessions" about the earlier figures in the Bible and their limited moral development, the writings they produced (the Old Testament) were nevertheless inspired by the Holy Spirit and must be taken to be inerrant. Therefore, if the writers actually believed what they wrote—say, believed that God commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it must be imagined that they were unknowingly writing about "deeper" truths, perhaps metaphorical ones.

    So to the atheist, or to the theist non-Christian, the method of interpreting the Bible advocated by the Catholic Church—reading it as an inspired, inerrant document that is one coherent whole—is simply out of the question. At best, Catholics can make it clear how the Catholic Church reads the Bible. They can never convince others to read the Bible in the same manner without first convincing them to become Catholics (or at least Christians who approach the Bible similarly). No non-Christian is going to look at 1 Samuel 15 and say, "We have to interpret The Book of Revelation first before we can fully understand 1 Samuel 15."

    • Arthur Jeffries

      Is it necessary for Catholic scholars (and other Christian scholars) to be guided by the belief that Scripture is inspired, inerrant, and is a coherent whole in their exegetical work? Certainly those beliefs guide theological interpretation of the Scriptures, but there is nothing inherently religious about applying the historical-critical method to the Bible. Pope Emeritus Benedict seems quite comfortable with the work of John P. Meier, but he would probably not have granted the same latitude to a work of theology, which by its very nature would be a work of faith (faith seeking understanding) and would therefore need to adhere to the rules of orthodoxy.

      • David Nickol

        Unfortunately, for Catholic scholars, if a conclusion based on the historical-critical method cannot be harmonized with Catholic doctrine, then it must be explained away. While I admire John P. Meier immensely, A Marginal Jew does not purport to tell us the truth about the "real" Jesus. As Meier himself explains, it is to be imagined as a consensus document hammered out by believers and nonbelievers. So, for example, while I believe both Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier conclude that based on the evidence in the Bible alone, the most natural reading of the text is that Jesus had siblings, as a Catholic one must assent to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Theoretically, one might try to argue that the doctrine makes a theological point and need not be taken literally, so as a consequence, Mary might have given birth to other children and yet the doctrine of her "perpetual virginity" is true theologically and not biologically. But that is not going to be accepted by the Catholic Church, even thought there may be Catholics who argue that something like the story of Samuel, Saul, and the Amalekites is not to be taken as historical.

        It seems to me, and I hope Dr. Pitre will address this point, that if anything in the Bible should be taken as purely theological, it is the story of Adam and Eve. Yet the Catholic Church seems to hold to the idea of a single man and woman as the "first (biological) parents" of the human race. This is apparently because no one can come up with a satisfying theological explanation for original sin and the various pronouncements about it down through the ages. To hold onto the doctrine, it must be maintained that the language of the story is "figurative," nevertheless there really were two first human beings who committed some sin, and the sin has been "transmitted" to all of their descendants (the entire human race). So no matter how incompatible this is with modern genetic findings, it can't be given up. (Or can it?)

        • Rob Abney

          David, Do you think the Bible is understood differently based upon whether or not you embrace the metaphysical proofs for God's existence? Before I studied any of the proofs I had much more skepticism about some of the stories. The ancient Jews probably accepted the stories in a different way than we do today because of their understanding of God as real. I've mentioned that I read Bart Ehrman's book recently, and what struck me was that he had no noticeable belief in the metaphysical nature of God's existence and so he seemed to base his belief based on how he interpreted the bible but he only believed in God when he interpreted the bible in a certain way.
          Do you think many people's Catholic education include a vigorous study of the proofs? If so and they reject those proofs do you think they can believe in God's revelations based only upon the bible, as many people do.

          • Will

            I rejected the Christian stories while I believed in God, just fyi. Now that I don't believe in God (metaphysically or philosophically), I'm not sure it matters, I never believed that God directly meddled in the affairs of humans since high school, or a bit earlier. The whole thing seem ridiculously abused, with people even thinking their ball team won because God intervened. If most of the stories about God intervening that you know about seem horribly construed and exaggerated, why not extend the to the Bible and multiply it in proportion to how old it is.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm wondering how someone would interpret the bible if he had accepted metaphysical proof for God as reality. I think it does matter, but it doesn't sound like you had that viewpoint prior to your exposure to the bible. Ehrman didn't either, from what I can tell. We have several former Catholics here at SN who claim agnostic or atheistic beliefs despite their solid Catholic education, I'm curious if that education included metaphysics and philosophy as precursors.

  • GuineaPigDan .

    Here's another question I came up with, though it's not Bible related. What's the truth behind some very weird (though most likely bogus) conspiracies about the Catholic Church, eg the "real" third secret of Fatima wasn't revealed, Cardinal Siri was elected pope, or Pope John Paul I was assassinated?

  • Grant Mohler

    I was wondering how Christians interpret the expanding universe in regards to the Gospel of John where it says the world was created by the word of God. Is the word still being created by the "word"?

  • Serena

    As I understand it even Orthodox Jews don't believe in a literal Satan/Devil/Lucifer. So at what point did Christianity believe in a literal figure, and is it necessary to Christology?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think this is a great question and I also would like to hear Dr. Pitre's response, but I have a question about your question.

      If I say that there is something in my experience which, though I can only successfully describe it in poetic language, it is nonetheless as real as anything else in my life, then would you say that I believe in that thing literally, or metaphorically?

      • Serena

        Well, I believe in evil and it does exist, evil is not a metaphor. The question is there such a thing as evil incarnate the way we are suppose to believe there is love incarnate, Jesus.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Thanks, I think that's a good way to phrase the question.

          The catechetical answer, of course, is that Satan is not incarnate, because he/they is conceived of as an angel(s), and angels (in the way that that term is used in the catechism) are understood to be non-corporeal.

          That said, I agree that it would be interesting to hear a biblical scholar comment on the ways that the standard catechetical answer does or does not correspond to the more variegated "collage of Satan" that emerges from scripture.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    This question might be too late, but I've wanted to ask it of a Catholic biblical expert for a while. Tragically, it slipped my mind when this post first went up.

    In 1 Samuel 6, the Ark of the covenant is returned to the people of Israel from the Philistines. According to the New American Bible, Revised Edition (bolding mine):

    The descendants of Jeconiah did not join in the celebration with the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh when they saw the ark of the LORD, and seventy of them were struck down. - 1 Sam 6:19, NABRE

    (The unrevised NAB is similar.)

    However, every other translation that I have found will say something like:

    But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord.
    - 1 Sam 6:19, NIV

    Why the change in translation? I could not find any justification for it.

    I'm sure it should be obvious why this is an important question that must be accounted for. As I'm sure you are aware, when Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood were held captive as the Nazis opened the Ark, Indy instructed Marion to close her eyes and not look into the ark. He knew that keeping their eyes shut would spare them the wrath of God (face melting, head exploding, lightning type of stuff) because he had studied 1 Samuel 6. But had Indiana Jones been reading from the NAB, this crucial information would have been kept from him. We can all be glad that Indy was not raised Catholic!

    So was there an active effort by the the translators of the NAB to put archaeologists at risk? What do they have against Indiana Jones?

  • dippu dixit

    Does this testimony conflict with the Gospel reports that Christ received an honorable burial

    http://www.lovemarriagemantra.com/solve-inter-caste-marriage-problem/

  • Amrita Sharma

    He's particularly interested in hearing from skeptics and atheists. So
    whether you doubt Jesus was a real historical person, or that the New
    Testament offers reliable testimony, or whether the earliest Christians
    really believed that Jesus rose from the dead, we want to hear from you!

    http://www.karmakandapuja.com/hindu-rituals-to-ward-off-evil/

  • pearlridgeview

    Is it possible for gawd to have a sense of humor? As the essence of humor is the unexpected twist, the punchline, an entity who knows what will be said before it issues from the jokester's mouth would not be surprised and so would not find it funny. If you doubt my hypothesis, try telling the same joke four or five times at a party, to the same people.

    • Rob Abney

      Who is gawd? Is that an auto-spelling problem on your device? Or do you mean God but want to convey your disdain by using your own unique spelling?