• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Bart Ehrman, Benedict XVI, and the Bible on the Question of Miracles

EhrmanJesus

“At its core, the debate about modern exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate.” - Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

My reflection today revolves around this poignant line from Joseph Ratzinger’s 1988 Erasmus Lecture in which he famously called for a “criticism of criticism.” In penning these words, the German cardinal was looking for a self-criticism of the modern, historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. On the part of those involved in the craft of exegesis today, this would entail the effort to identify the philosophical presuppositions we bring to our reading of the biblical text and to consider honestly the degree of certainty warranted for the conclusions we draw when it comes to things biblical.

Joseph Ratzinger: Pure Objectivity Does Not Exist

Ratzinger’s comments a generation ago remain as relevant as ever for the sort of discussions we have here at Strange Notions. Whether we are aware of it or not, both Christians and atheists bring different philosophical presuppositions to the table when we sit down to debate about the Bible. These first principles are ‘spectacles’ we wear which color our entire view of reality, including what we think is going on within Scripture. Ratzinger for his part argues that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies here: “pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction,” for “the observer’s perspective is an essential determinant of the outcome of an experiment.”

What this means in terms of present purposes is that the answers to particular questions we ask of Scripture are in large part determined before we ever open up the text in the first place. What are we to make of Jesus’ miracles and of his resurrection in particular? If one is an atheist, then a natural explanation will be adduced for these phenomena. Such an explanation could take many forms: for example, a putative healing miracle could be explicable in light of modern medicine, or perhaps it was invented by the Gospel authors decades after Jesus’ life in order to convince others of his divinity.

On the other hand, a person who approaches the text assuming theism to be true will likely take the healing story at face value and attribute it to Jesus’ divine mastery over the natural order. Or perhaps the believer might take a position similar to that of the atheist but with the understanding that God in his providence shows us the face of Jesus by working through natural causes, whether that be medicine or human authors with their own agendas.

My point here is not to adjudicate which if any of these explanations best explains a given miracle story in the Gospels. Rather, I simply wish to underscore the reality that our conclusions about a given text are in large part governed by principles and commitments we had before opening up the Bible.

Throughout his career, Ratzinger has shown himself to be at once a great admirer and practitioner of modern exegesis as well as one of its most incisive critics. Far from rejecting a modern approach to Scripture, Ratzinger nevertheless admits that it “has brought forth great errors” caused in no small part by an unquestioning allegiance to certain “academic dogmas.”

A key mainstream assumption he finds particularly problematic is the belief (and I use that word here deliberately, to mean something one cannot prove) that God cannot enter in and work in human history. However improbable divine intervention in our world might appear, Ratzinger argues that this cannot be excluded a priori unless one has definitive proof that God does not exist. The miraculous is by its very nature, if you will, something unexpected and improbable. The jump from calling it improbable to impossible is what Ratzinger finds problematic, and he thinks that many people today read the Bible in this way without reflecting upon whether assuming such a conclusion is warranted or not.

Bart Ehrman: Everyone Has Presuppositions

Since this site is dedicated to fostering dialogue between believers and nonbelievers, I think it is only fair that we attempt to glimpse the same phenomena described by Ratzinger through a competing lens. One of my favorite authors in this regard is Bart Ehrman. The bestselling author, who describes himself as an agnostic, has written several books popularizing modern exegesis and challenging believers to consider more thoughtfully the origins of the Bible and Christianity. The reason I like reading Ehrman, as opposed to many other agnostic or atheist authors, lies not only in his accessible style but above all in his intellectual humility often lacking in believers and nonbelievers alike.

For this post, I simply wish to share some of his thoughts on doing historical biblical study as articulated in three of his recent books. I think there are many points of convergence with what Benedict is saying, even as the two authors ultimately come to quite different conclusions about the Christian faith.

Misquoting Jesus

In this book Ehrman rightly takes issue with those who dismiss modern scholarship out of hand as if it were only practiced by the godless. I suspect that the author is right in remarking that his own books are sometimes written off by those who—whether consciously or unconsciously—perceive his arguments as threatening to their faith. In response Ehrman remarks, “These scholars are not just a group of odd, elderly, basically irrelevant academics holed up in a few libraries around the world.”

In a real sense Christians owe our modern, translated Bibles to such people—some of whom are not believers. These academics have dedicated their careers to producing Bible editions that present us, as closely as possible, with the “original” texts of Scripture.

Most people fail to realize just how complicated was the origin of the biblical texts we now take for granted as “the Bible.” For one thing, we do not possess the original letters of the New Testament fresh from their authors’ pens. Moreover, the (many and much later) copies of texts we do possess contain important variants and points of seeming contradiction among themselves.

As if that were not enough, we then still have to consider the question of how to interpret what we do have. Which manuscripts ought to be considered authoritative? Which, if any, is the one Christians are supposed to consider inspired? As Ehrman says, “If texts could speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a text would agree on what the text says.” For better or worse, that is clearly not the case.

Jesus, Interrupted

Ehrman here again goes to great length to make clear his conviction that modern biblical exegesis is not exclusively the domain of agnostic or atheist thinkers:

"My personal view is that a historical-critical approach to the Bible does not necessarily lead to agnosticism or atheism. It can in fact lead to a more intelligent and thoughtful faith— certainly more intelligent and thoughtful than an approach to the Bible that overlooks all of the problems that historical critics have discovered over the years."

The author mentions more than once that his closest friends are both scholars and believers. According to Ehrman, “[I]t was the problem of suffering, not a historical approach to the Bible, that led me to agnosticism.” He discusses the reasons for his conviction elsewhere in his book God’s Problem.

While I do not share his convictions regarding the problem of evil as an insurmountable obstacle to belief in God, that is the topic for another thread which receives frequent attention on this site. For our purposes, let us simply recall that Ehrman’s basis for professing agnosticism has primarily to do with the problem of evil, not the problems unearthed by modern biblical scholarship.

In my estimation, Ehrman does both sides of our debate a great service in debunking the notion that we hold our respective convictions on the basis of certain proofs. For example, he writes that we can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection:

"I am decidedly not saying that Jesus was not raised from the dead. I’m not saying the tomb was not empty. I’m not saying that he did not appear to his disciples and ascend into heaven. Believers believe that all these things are true. But they do not believe them because of historical evidence. They take the Christian claims on faith, not on the basis of proof. There can be no proof."

These words may alarm some Christians who think that we can “prove” the resurrection with the internal evidence of the New Testament or any other evidence for that matter. To be sure, we Christians can and must adduce reasons for our belief and be prepared to defend our faith against objections. But Ehrman is perfectly right to push us on the reality that these reasons do not amount to a definitive proof. That, indeed, is why we call it faith, not science.

Again, the Catholic position is by no means saying that faith is “unscientific” or at odds with science. Rather, the point here is that the Christian and the atheist may look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions because of our prior commitments which involve a decision to view the Bible through the lens of faith or not.

How Jesus Became God

Ehrman probes the issue of belief in the resurrection at greater length in his most recent work. Here he rightly criticizes an all-too common response of Christians when they are faced with the findings of modern biblical scholarship:

"The reason historians cannot prove or disprove whether God has performed a miracle in the past—such as raising Jesus from the dead—is not that historians are required to be secular humanists with an anti-supernaturalist bias. I want to stress this point because conservative Christian apologists, in order to score debating points, often claim that this is the case. In their view, if historians did not have anti-supernaturalist biases or assumptions, they would be able to affirm the historical 'evidence' that Jesus was raised from the dead."

Unfortunately, I have seen plenty in my years of teaching a mostly-Catholic audience to confirm Ehrman’s observations. Sometimes Catholic writers and speakers write off modern scholarship tout court with the use of scare quotes, calling modern thinkers “scholars” as if they were not actually scholars because they lack or at least seem to lack the faith that the Christian thinks is required for them to have any competence at all in their field.

Regarding evangelical Christians—Ehrman’s former self which I take to be his principal audience—the author adds a fascinating point to his criticism above:

"I should point out that these Christian apologists almost never consider the 'evidence' for other miracles from the past that have comparable— or even better—evidence to support them: for example, dozens of Roman senators claimed that King Romulus was snatched up into heaven from their midst; and many thousands of committed Roman Catholics can attest that the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared to them, alive—a claim that fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians roundly discount, even though the 'evidence' for it is very extensive…Protestant apologists interested in 'proving' that Jesus was raised from the dead rarely show any interest in applying their finely honed historical talents to the exalted Blessed Virgin Mary."

This point of criticism is difficult for any Christian to address, and a robust response is needed. While it is not my point here to take on this problem, I would simply note that for the Catholic tradition God’s grace (including the possibility of miracles) is not constrained within the visible confines of the Catholic Church. Unlike some Christians, Catholics are not intrinsically opposed to the possibility of a non-Christian performing or experiencing a miracle.

In a later section of this book, Ehrman turns aside from the above considerations to consider in more detail the fundamentals of how to do history properly. At a pivotal point he says something which I could have mistaken as coming from the pen of Pope Benedict had I not known otherwise:

"The first thing to stress is that everyone has presuppositions, and it is impossible to live life, think deep thoughts , have religious experiences, or engage in historical inquiry without having presuppositions. The life of the mind cannot proceed without presuppositions. The question, though, is always this: What are the appropriate presuppositions for the task at hand?"

This is one of the questions that interests me most and which I think lies at the heart of Pope Benedict’s statement that the debate in exegesis is at bottom a philosophical one. We can never completely suspend our biases, but we can at least do our best to remain conscious of their presence and engage in a self-critique that helps to purify our thought and attune it with the breadth of knowledge we can gain from the sources available to us.

In this critique, a few pivotal questions emerge: Whose philosophical presuppositions best position us for an accurate understanding of the nature of things? Which ones best enable us to live well? And what would the process for making such a determination look like? These are issues I hope to take up in my next post at Strange Notions, but here my concern remains much more basic in showing that there is a problem recognized by good thinkers on both sides of the religious/non-religious aisle.

I would like to draw these remarks to a close with a word on complete objectivity which Ehrman, like Benedict, rejects as a possibility in our effort to interpret the Scriptures. As Ehrman states, “This is one of the great ironies of modern religion: more than almost any other religious group on the planet, conservative evangelicals, and most especially fundamentalist Christians, are children of the Enlightenment.”

Both modern Christians and modern skeptics yearn for a level of certitude that simply does not exist or exists for only a very limited range of truth claims. In Ehrman’s words, “[F]aith in a miracle is a matter of faith, not of objectively established knowledge.” For instance, if Jesus really did perform the miracles the gospels claim he did, then this would help explain how Jesus’ opponents could deny these actions in the face of evidence that God was working through him.

It is the same dynamic that we find in Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man suffering in Hades begs Father Abraham to send someone to his living relatives and warn them about the place of torment, to which Abraham replies, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Here again, people could look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions, a process largely determined by their prior convictions.

So did Jesus really come back from the dead as the above parable intimates? And was this parable even uttered by the historical Jesus in the first place? These are important questions which—for both believers and nonbelievers alike—are often answered even before they are asked. In the following post we will continue the conversation in more detail, but for now this is a good place to begin our discussion.
 
 
(Image credit: Marc Cz

Dr. Matthew Ramage

Written by

Dr. Matthew Ramage is Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College. Before coming to Benedictine, he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University, worked in campus ministry, and taught Religious Studies at the University of Illinois. He is a language buff and has competence in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Follow his writings at TruthInCharity.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • David

    Since this site is dedicated to fostering dialogue between believers and nonbelievers...

    LOL!

    • Mike

      Is this how you normally start your dialogues?

      • David

        The dialogue here was over awhile ago. Mass bannings and deletions can do that.

        • Mike

          What are YOU doing here then?

          • David

            From time to time, I find the comments worth reading.

          • Mike

            Aha! Ok then, enjoy ;)

  • GCBill

    I don't think many modern skeptics yearn for certainty in historical interpretation of Biblical claims. At least I know I don't. One reason I remain skeptical of Catholicism regardless is that historical methods are incapable of producing infallible truths. This concern would remain even if I thought the Resurrection actually occurred.

    • Mike

      Would you say the main issue then is that the church seems "too certain" of itself? Just curious but would a church that i don't know but somehow appeared less certain that changed what it believed through time something like that would that make it more compelling in some sense?

      I guess what i am asking is how "bothered" are you by its insistence on its own truth?

      • William Davis

        The biggest flaw of most Christians is to present their faith as fact. It's a faith, not a fact. Confusing the two isn't helpful. This problem is problem with most people really, it is a result of a lack of intellectual humility. The oracle at delphi said Socrates was the wisest man alive, simply because he knew that he did not know. Ehrman's separation of knowledge from belief is very important for anyone to have a valid conversation. I think I've proven Christianity false, and I firmly hold that belief, but I cannot KNOW it is false. One of my problems is that I think it is human arrogance to believe God would care about humans, if he does actually exist. I don't think you'll hear that many atheists say that ( I surely can be arrogant at times, but I do try to keep it in check ;)

        • Mike

          Maybe it's a belief in a fact, the fact of the world, the fact of existence the fact or a place called antioch the roman empire, the fact that there is such a "thing" as pride, arrogance, jealousy, evil, good, etc.?

          • William Davis

            What does any of that have to do with Christian ity?

          • Mike

            Everything.

          • Papalinton

            That could equally apply to Dan Brown's "The Davinci Code". All the places in the novel are real, factual places, including the fact that there is such a "thing" as pride, arrogance, jealousy, evil, good, etc. But I am pretty sure you and I are on the same page when it comes to determining its historicity.

          • Mike

            Those facts, i believe "point" to something beyond, their very existence points to a "mind" an intelligence, information, data, DNA, abstract match, theoretical physics, virtual particles etc. etc. all seem to "require" somekind of intelligence but you folks believe it's more likely that all of this complexity caused itself...this is why so many atheists btw become buddhists bc it's essentially buddhism.

          • Papalinton

            Mike: "Those facts, i believe "point" to something beyond, their very existence points to a "mind" an intelligence, information, data, DNA, abstract match, theoretical physics, virtual particles etc. etc. all seem to "require" somekind of intelligence ...."

            Yes, they 'seem' to point 'to a mind'. But some pretty extensive, albeit provisional, neuroscientific research is providing a glimpse into why this occurs. You might want to LOOK AT THIS INFO to acquaint you with this rather fascinating area of research. I probably would add, even compelling, for those genuinely interested in knowledge and understanding.

          • Mike

            So you're saying not only that it does occur but also that we seem to be even designed in a way to almost 'make sure' that this happens, we seem to be 'programmed' to see things 'pointing'?

            I agree! i think that the more 'physical evidence' we find for this the MORE not less that it seems to be 'ingrained' in us and maybe for good reason.

            It's not HOW some process came about that is 'interesting' but that it exists in the first place, that's what's really fascinating; like evolution, what's interesting about it is not HOW it works although that is interesting in itself but THAT it works and that is seems to "favor" life and "favor" adaptation and children, offspring, family stability etc.

          • Papalinton

            More importantly the research is inferring that the existence of demons, angels, gods, devils, satan, nephilim, are simply creative conjurations of the mind, no different than the way we can recreate mental images of leprechauns, fairies at the bottom of the garden, unicorn, all of which can be imagined but are not real in any ontological sense.

            And yes, it seems 'designed' if by that 'design' means natural selection and random mutation. It certainly puts any notion of being 'teleologically designed' under enormous pressure to come up with the evidence if such a conjuration is to legitimately hold a place at the philosophical table. To date, apart from a reliance on faith, no evidence has been forthcoming, despite 2 millennia of theological scholarship.

            Acknowledging THAT evolution works and that survival of the organism and the species, its capacity for adaptation and propagating offspring is highly successful, isn't the basis for the growth of knowledge and understanding. It is the HOW questions hat constitute the fundamental drivers of knowledge and understanding. This neuroscientific research provides a compelling alternative and an epistemologically robust explanatory paradigm for why we think and perceive the way we do that will only be refuted by an even more compelling and credible alternative in the marketplace of ideas.

            I suspect [and research bears this out in the US for example] theology/religion is depreciating at an increasing tempo principally because their role as an authentic competitive explanatory tool for distinguishing between what is reality and what is not has been found to be irrevocably problematic. This accounts for why it is that this debate continues to generate the heat it does after 2,000 years of debate. But at bottom, the numbers in support of each paradigm is changing rapidly, with theology/religion losing ground over time.

          • Mike

            Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_Reason

            Look i would think atheism much more likely if say religion and belief in gods/devils etc. was really really rare in history. Say that there was only 1 or 2 major religions now with say maybe a couple million followers and in the last say 5,000 years only 3-4 civilizations seem to have believed in gods whereas the overwhelming majority of them had no discernible beliefs about gods etc.

            So say the romans had no gods, the greeks no gods and the egyptians seemed to have worshiped a god at some point but that only lasted a couple hundreds years and indians some 2,000 years ago had a god but by 1,000 years ago they too abandoned the idea. And say ancient jews had the OT but there has been no major concentration of jews anywhere in the world in say 1,000 years. And of course no christianity or it was around for some 200 years.

            If religion were a quirky boutique thing in history i'd think atheism more likely.

            But of course the opposite is true.

          • Doug Shaver

            Look i would think atheism much more likely if say religion and belief in gods/devils etc. was really really rare in history.

            Why? Because we know that whatever most people believe is likely to be true?

          • Mike

            Bc atheism seems to be a boutique exotic belief that is a rarity in history regardless of culture, background etc.

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree that it's a minority view, but that doesn't answer my question.

          • Mike

            The weird thing is that its always been a minority view and indeed STILL IS! even in uber secular holland i think it's still in the minority...that is strange but only means that there seems to be something "ingrained" in humanity that makes belief in God/s "natural".

          • Doug Shaver

            .that is strange but only means that there seems to be something "ingrained" in humanity that makes belief in God/s "natural".

            The kind of thinking that is characteristically religious does seem to come naturally to us.

          • Mike

            I wouldn't say the thinking but belief in something transcendent...but i see what you mean.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't believe that specific beliefs can be encoded in any of our genes. We're not hard-wired to believe that gods exist.

          • Mike

            Not that gods exist but that there is a transcendent aspect to reality to our consciousness...that is probably not "coded" in genes but is just something that seems to continue to "express itself" in ppl's thoughts...like i can't seem to imagine all of "this" order, beauty, tragedy etc. NOT having purpose and just being an "accident"...just seems intellectually so impossible for me to grasp.

          • Doug Shaver

            It would have very useful to our survival to perceive that something could be quite real even though we couldn't see it. Natural selection would have favored such a cognitive ability. But natural selection would have found it difficult, if not impossible. to fine-tune it to where we could both easily and reliably distinguish between unseen real things and unseen unreal things.

          • Mike

            why does natural selection want us to live and survive? why does it have this effect and why does it select for those things that increase our life chances? seems like it might have been programmed like that or else it seems to have a "purpose" no?

          • Doug Shaver

            why does natural selection want us to live and survive?

            It doesn't. Natural selection doesn't want anything and doesn't care who survives. It just sets the conditions that will be met by all who do survive.

          • Mike

            Seems an awful lot like meaning some outcome...if you set some parameter a particular way, like fine tuning, you expect a certain outcome...if there really were no purpose but this was just a fluke i'd expect the mechanism to have created only say 'blobs' that could reproduce extremely quickly or just insects or whatever but nothing something as sophisticated as rational beings.

          • Doug Shaver

            if there really were no purpose but this was just a fluke i'd expect the mechanism to have created only say 'blobs' that could reproduce extremely quickly or just insects or whatever but nothing something as sophisticated as rational beings.

            Why? On what do you base that expectation?

          • Mike

            On what we know about purpose less systems they're random they have no internal rules there is just chaos; like in simulation theory chaos theory unless there is some hidden structure there is just random meaninglessness.

          • Doug Shaver

            On what we know about purpose less systems they're random they have no internal rules there is just chaos

            Who is this "we"? I don't know anything of the sort. All I know is that that is what you think.

          • Joe Ser

            Don't be coy. Of course you know that. Science knows that.

          • Doug Shaver

            Science knows nothing. Scientists know things.

          • Joe Ser

            Yes.

          • Doug Shaver

            And they don't know that purposeless systems have no rules.

          • Joe Ser

            Do you have an example of such a system?

          • Doug Shaver

            No. I'm not saying they exist. It was your claim that (a) purposeless systems don't have rules and (b) scientists know they don't.

          • Mike

            doesn't chaos theory basically say that unless there is some structure imposed that random ness can not lead to non randomness? isn't that why computers need programs?

          • Doug Shaver

            doesn't chaos theory basically say that unless there is some structure imposed that random ness can not lead to non randomness?

            No, it doesn't. Chaos theory is not about randomness. It is about extreme sensitivity of a dynamic system to initial conditions.

            isn't that why computers need programs?

            Computers need programs for the same reason airplanes need wings: They can't fly without them.

          • Mike

            BTW isn't that just a self evident a tautology that without some structure, some imposition of intelligence there is only chaos?

          • Doug Shaver

            Self-evident and tautologous and not the same thing. I don't accept self-evidence as an argument for anything. I'll accept tautology, but it cannot just be asserted. It has to be demonstrated, and the demonstration must begin with definitions. Tell me exactly what you mean by intelligence and chaos, and then we'll see whether in the absence of the former, the latter is unavoidable.

          • Mike

            by intelligence i mean parameters or rules of any sort, some first axiom of any sort, without a first axiom there can only be chaos but with a first and even if only 1 there can in principle be at least some "low" level of order.

            Without some rule even 1 being "set" or "established" there can only be chaos but a "rule" or "axiom" or "first principle" can not in principle be derived from the pre-existing chaos therefore it must come from "outside"/"beyond" the system in question: ergo some intelligence must've laid down that first "Rule" or setup the system's primary parameters.

            BTW as you know i am not a philosopher so my terms are not defined as well as they should be.

          • Doug Shaver

            by intelligence i mean parameters or rules of any sort

            OK. I would so classify the laws of nature.

          • Mike

            ok and these laws just are, just have been maybe, and maybe "just will be". I don't know but to me that's like discovering that the robot that's been "building our cars and homes and even say people" for as long as we can remember has actually been programmed and someone figures out the language that the machine's program is written in and this leads him to think, geez maybe something wrote this? to which his friends say not that's going to far, it probably just is and even if it were written by someone there's no way we could ever know what their intentions were so it's better to just not get too interested in it and move on.

            I guess that's what it comes down to.

          • William Davis

            Novella's lecture's on critical thinking have actually helped me be better at "life" and work. Being able to dismiss much misinformation in the age of misinformation is an added benefit. Big fan of his work, and Ehrman's. We atheists need our own "saints", lol.

          • Papalinton

            I too have benefited from Novella's work.

            "Being able to dismiss much misinformation in the age of misinformation is an added benefit."

            Yes, I think this is the essence of building and organising humanity's knowledge base and understanding going forward. Christian thought, that had dominated Western civilisation over the past millennium or so is slowly loosening its hegemonic grip and rightsizing in the marketplace of ideas, Catholicism's 'my way or the highway' was largely tempered by the schism of Eastern Orthodox in the 11th C and the Protestant Revolution some centuries later. However, both Catholicism and Protestantism were fundamentally and irrevocably affected by the onset of the scientific revolution that during the Enlightenment period ushered in a very different philosophical approach, one founded on its own principles, sweeping away the entire set of presuppositions that had formed the foundations of and guided the earlier era of philosophical thought, inextricably bound as it was to Christian theology.

            There is much erstwhile intellectual activity, not the least heralded by Erhman, that is now robustly challenging the very fundamentals of the Christian religious narrative only to reveal much that had simply been given a free pass as a consequence of this hegemonic control over the free association and expression of ideas. The historical record [Galileo, Bruno, and the period of the Inquisition] is a measure of the power exerted by the Church of what were essentially, imagined thought crimes against the prevailing paradigm.

          • William Davis

            It will be interesting to see where it all leads. I personally think that if Christianity isn't strong enough to bend and adapt, it will simply break and die. That would be a bit of a shame, there is clearly some good stuff in the religion. Flexibility, however, is an important trait for survival ;)

          • Papalinton

            In many respects much of the good bits of Christianity were universal truths appropriated by it. They were truth long before Christianity came onto the scene. One only needs to read the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi to understand . Do not murder, treat your neighbour as yourself, don not steal/lie, do not covert they neighbour's wife's ass are all humanist universal truths. Perhaps of the Decalogue, the first four commandments will be shed in the light of global ecumenism while the rest will continue to form the foundation of human relationships and appeal to our better nature going forward.

          • William Davis

            I think Christianity has some of it's own inventions, like everyone being a child of God or "one in Christ" (thanks to Paul, though I find his concept of original sin quite repugnant). It's funny that the oldest law code is called Ur-nammu (even older than Hammurabi's) and Abraham was supposedly from Ur. It was much more advanced than the Jews law. I actually like many of the Sumerian gods, especially Shamash, the god of justice. Hammurabi claimed Shamash inspired him to create the law code. The God of the Jews was incredibly unjust in my opinion, and the idea that that all the bad things that happen are somehow our fault because of Adam and Eve is so repugnant it actually pisses me off. When it comes to Christianity, I'm mixed between limited admiration and anger, lol. I enjoy talking about the connections between Genesis and Sumerian/Babylonian mythology to fundamentalists (not to mention El being a Canaanite god) it makes their heads spin.

          • Papalinton

            Yes. There is a deep and fundamental disconnect between what Christians believe and tout as exclusively Christian truths and the reality of the historical record on where and when these truths were first known, recorded, acknowledged and practiced. It is, in the main, a profound intellectual disconnect borne out of great ignorance or wilful concealment of the historicity of these truths. Christian faith is based on a paucity of historical facts, all tendentious and highly problematic at best, that intermingle among those by a far greater extent that were expropriated from other and earlier civilisations in the Middle East such as the Sumerians, Akkadians, Chaldeans etc in Mesopotamia more broadly. A good deal of the Old and New Testaments also reflects a rehash of Egyptian religious symbols, themes and beliefs that predated Christianity.

        • "The biggest flaw of most Christians is to present their faith as fact. It's a faith, not a fact."

          Most Christians don't, at least in my experience. For Christians, faith is not a fact itself but is based on facts, such as their personal religious experience, the existence of objective morality, the contingent world around them, the death, burial, and post-mortem appearance of Jesus, etc.

          For Christians, faith is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen", which they deduce from the facts above.

          • William Davis

            I was raised by fundamentalists, and live in the same area as Ehrman, NC is still much more fundamentalist than Catholic. What you say is true of almost no fundamentalists I've met, but is true of many Catholics (but not all). We live in two different worlds where "most Christians" has a different meaning. At least we've narrowed it down to our biases :)

            Honestly, there is a romantic appeal about faith in Christ, and I value both Jesus and Paul as important historical figures an moral thinkers ahead of their time. I think I'm naturally a determinist, it does seem to be a consistent bias for me that I've always had. I can't help but hold the view of Thomas Payne when it comes to miracles, but I enjoy conversing about it and I enjoy debate itself, it is excellent mental challenge.

            “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie. ”

            Looking at the lies in the New Testament (see my post to Kevin) can you blame me? The faith of those who come to this site and remain Christian is powerful indeed. I mean that as a compliment, and I work to harness the power of faith in my own life, it is a powerful and great thing if properly directed (and true or not, I think Christianity has a role to play in the world).

          • Joe Ser

            There is no natural explanation for Fatima. The miracle of the sun, the healings, the drying of the earth and clothes were witnessed by believers and non-believers.

          • Mike

            The miracle of the sun is very strange indeed as there were gov. secular anti-clerical journos there who reported the same thing as the peasants...very strange incident either way.

          • William Davis

            I find mass delusions interesting, this is from wikipedia

            "No movement or other phenomenon of the sun was recorded by scientists at the time.[6] Not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance". Some people only saw the radiant colors, and others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.[14][15]

            Various explanations have been advanced. Auguste Meessen, a professor at the Institute of Physics, Catholic University of Leuven, points out that looking directly at the Sun is known to cause phosphene visual artifacts and temporary partial blindness. Meessen contends that retinal after-images produced after brief periods of sun gazing are a likely cause of the "dancing" effects, and the colour changes were caused by the bleaching of photosensitive retinal cells.[16]Meessen observes that solar miracles have been witnessed in many places where people have been encouraged to stare at the sun. He cites the apparitions at Heroldsbach, Bavaria, Germany (1949) as an example where exactly the same optical effects as at Fátima were witnessed by more than 10,000 people.[16] Another theory is a mass hallucination stimulated by the religious fervor of the crowd."

            Obviously the sun did change, no one anyone else in the world reported the phenomena and some in the crowd didn't even see it.

            "Lúcia became a postulant at the Dorothean convent in Tui or Tuy, Galicia in 1928. Francisco (1908–1919) and Jacinta Marto (1910–1920) died in the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-20; they were declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in a public ceremony at Fátima on May 13, 1989. He returned there on May 13, 2000 to declare them 'blessed' (a title of veneration below that of sainthood; see Canonization). Jacinta is the youngest non-martyred child to be beatified."

            Where was Fatima when these poor children died of a horrible flu through no fault of their own. Free will wasn't involved here, if God exists he either brought this flu on, or allowed it to happen. If Lady Fatima healed anyone, she killed these children.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_F%C3%A1tima

            Here's a pretty cool list of mass delusions. One delusion similar to Fatima was studies by sociologists in Puerto Rico. They were present for the delusion and did not experience it.

            http://www.csicop.org/si/show/mass_delusions_and_hysterias_highlights_from_the_past_millennium/

          • Phil

            Hey William,

            I think the hardest part to write off of the Fatima miracle is that all their clothes, religious and secular alike, were dry right after the miracle. One could attempt to explain the dancing sun in several ways, but explain how all their clothes were suddenly dried--that's much harder. It is also quite a convenient "mass delusion" in that first an angel, and then Our Lady had appeared for several months and told them when this "mass delusion" would happen (it was attempted to be stopped through imprisonment as well). When Our Lady tells us when a mass delusion will happen, I think that is called a confirming miracle! ;)

            But no worries, in the next several years I think we will see some clarification on the Fatima apparitions. First, through the consecration of Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart as originally asked for in 1929, which will begin to release graces from her Heart upon the world amidst the darkness of economic collapse, and the continued escalating violence from terrorism and war.

            The Fatima prophecy will then come to its complete fulfillment when the pope, bishops, priests, and lay persons are martyred in Jerusalem.

          • William Davis

            I agree, this is a pretty well documented case. I'd like to see something like this now, in the age of camera's everywhere. Photo evidence would be very useful. As far as prophecy, I think it is likely bad things will happen in Jerusalem at some point in the future, vague prophecies like this with no specific time frame aren't that useful, but that is my opinion. As a determinist, I think with enough information, predicting the future, at least to a certain extent may be possible, this is what scientific theories and experimentation is all about. One proof of methodological naturalism is the high predictability in experiments. If we lived in a supernatural reality, we would see anomalies in experiments all the time. The anomalies we do see are always traced to problems with theories of methods of testing. Clearly my belief in naturalism biases my opinion of Fatima, but it is still my bias :)

          • Phil

            With not being a determinist, I think a distinction between "prophesy" and "future-telling" can begin to take shape. In regards to the latter, one tells exactly what is going to happen. But in regards to the former, the true free will of humans must be taken into account. Prophecy speaks of what will happen, but the exact way it will happen is not set in stone since our free will is respected.

            A great example of this is the Consecration of Russia. Our Lady has asked for it beginning in 1929, but that specific request has not been fulfilled yet because free will is respected. But as Our Lady said at Fatima, Her Immaculate Heart will triumph so there is no reason to lose hope!

            While I do agree that there are certain "natural laws" that material nature follows, there is nothing that does not allow these laws to be "lifted" at certain times (i.e., what we call a miracle). Obviously, we must also hold that humans do have some sort of free will, that is above deterministic natural laws.

            In regards to your "cameras everywhere" comment; one way this could happen is at Medjudorie (let me be clear that the private revelations are still claimed to be on-going, so therefore the Church has not ruled officialy yet on these like she has in regards to Fatima). But it is claimed that there will be several things that will be announced publicly 10 days before they take place, one of which will be a public visible sign on the original spot of the apparitions which cannot be explained fully scientifically that will be permanent until the 2nd coming. This does not mean that this will bring everyone to belief, but it will be a great sign to those open to belief.

            But in the end, we must simply live our life in faith, hope, and love as Christ calls us to!

          • William Davis

            You are right, the more I read about it, the more I think it warrants a more thorough investigation. Thanks for adding your view. Mass delusions are pretty common in history, but they usually are more vague than Fatima.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What is the message of Fatima?

            Repent of your sins, or else you will burn in hell. This happens to many people, for "souls fall to hell like snowflakes". So it would seem that the first secret tells us to fear hell.

            Second Secret:

            You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.

            For your sins, God will not only send you to hell, but punish (so much for God allowing evil) you with war like the world has never known, famine, persecutions, and the holocaust. Nations will be annihilated. Is this what the Catholic Church teaches? This God is a monster.

            This is the message of delusional children full of fear. This is not the message of an all-loving God.

          • William Davis

            This is a recurring theme in Christianity. Pagans had one big advantage, they could blame bad things on bad gods, and good things on good gods. The idea that everything comes from one God and he thinks like a human is quite mad. If God exists, and thinks (all of which I doubt), he would think nothing like us, so I don't know why they think they could possibly represent God's thought processes. It's quite arrogant really.

          • Joe Ser

            God is also perfectly just. Suppose God has given us the power through free will to chart humanities course. The more we turn from Him the greater the discord. Makes all the sense in the world...

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So finite offenses = infinite punishment is just?

            The message itself says absolutely nothing about justice. It talks about punishment beyond the scope of the crime. Punishment that is cruel and unusual. This God is not just.

            The message does not say that due to humans misuse of free will, very bad things will happen, but rather that because we are offending God he will punish us.

          • Joe Ser

            Where?

          • Phil

            Hey Ignatius,

            It seems you are reading the words only as you personally wish to read them. Our Lady uses many images, and always has. Much of this is so that this can be understood by the educated and uneducated alike. So remember that we must read them by placing them in the whole of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. God only gives us what our free will truly desires. It is not God that sends us to hell, we send ourself to hell.

            Our Lady spoke, and continues to speak to this day, ultimately not of death and sin, but of great hope. Great hope that is found in her Immaculate Heart where Jesus' love resides. She speaks of repentance because she wishes for us to be truly happy--and true joy and peace comes only from from Jesus' Sacred Heart!

            In all, Fatima is very well documented in its "dancing of the sun", as well as the lights that lit up the sky as WWII was beginning. As I mentioned above, we will see that Russia will be consecrated to Mary's Immaculate Heart and those great blessings will be released! Hopefully this will happen as Our Lady wishes in 2016-2017, which would be the 100th anniversary of Fatima (which will also be amidst the coming darkness of economic collapse and violence). But of course it is up to our free will to actually do this. And the Pope will be martyred in Jerusalem which will plant the seeds of the papacy being re-established in Jerusalem instead of Rome.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think I read the message as the message is written. There is no monolithic tradition through which all Catholic apparitions must be interpreted. There have been different strains of thought running through the faith since its very inception. One cannot appeal to tradition.

            Regardless, the God who says "Repent or I will punish you with horrible things" is a monster. I do not see an argument as to how that is not a primary message of Fatima.

            The idea that we can be reasonably hopeful that everyone is saved, I suppose is heretical? Fatima clearly states that many do in fact burn.

            I was Catholic for most of my life. I have found that the Catholic Church will often lie or be duped about miracle claims. In my opinion, the Catholic Church lied to me, when I was Catholic. This does not lead me to put any trust in miracle claims like Fatima, especially when the message is so revolting.

          • Phil

            In my opinion, the Catholic Church lied to me, when I was Catholic. This does not lead me to put any trust in miracle claims like Fatima, especially when the message is so revolting.

            I am so sorry to hear that. Know that you will continue to be in my prayers so as to come to experience the great peace and joy of the blessings of God. Know that I will never personally knowingly lie to you; as you know, I try to be pretty blunt and straight forward about things!

            The idea that we can be reasonably hopeful that everyone is saved, I suppose is heretical? Fatima clearly states that many do in fact burn.

            There is no contradiction between holding hope that hell could be "empty" and also believing the Fatima messages. Remember, the vision of hell does not need to be a vision of the souls in hell at that very moment in time (which hell really isn't "in our time"). Sometimes we can anthropomorphize things, as if our way is the only way.

            We do pray that all souls go to heaven, but unfortunately the danger of souls choosing to be separated from God is real. That's a main take-away from Lucy's vision of hell.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The apparition telling us when a miracle will happen is called priming. It makes it more likely that something weird will be seen not less. As to clothes drying, it is quite easy to believe that one experienced something that never happened, especially when you are told that you experienced it.

          • Phil

            As to clothes drying, it is quite easy to believe that one experienced something that never happened, especially when you are told that you experienced it.

            Say you and I went to Fatima, as reporters out of curiosity, on October 13, 1917. It was a downpour and we were soaked. Suddenly we are able to look at the sun for minutes at a time with great ease, and without it hurting out eyes. The sun dances and then as the sun "lodges" itself back in the sky, we look around and all our clothes are dry.

            But say someone simply tells us that our clothes are actually dry--there is no way that if our clothes were actually still wet that we would then suddenly agree. It is not as if these people were dumb. They are very smart people, they would know if their clothes were wet or not! It would be very arrogant for us to believe that common sense is a recent phenomenon. And the fact that secular reporters relayed these things, which ten of thousands of people experienced, just lends it to be that much more credible.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The sun dancing has a natural explanation. Not all witnesses saw it, and not all witnesses saw the same thing.

            Why do you think that the whole are clothes is dry thing happened at the time of the apparition? If a couple days later I was told that everyone's clothes dried and I believed that something miraculous happened, I would probably agree that my clothes also dried. Human memories are very malleable.

            There have been multiple instances of supposed Catholic miracle being proven false or suspect. The same is most likely true of Fatima. Do you believe the miracle stories of the Greek and Romans and of the other world religions? Did Mohamed ascend into heaven?

          • Phil

            Sure, but just because there could potentially be natural explanations does not automatically mean that it was a purely natural phenomenon. In the end, I think from a rational POV, too many things line up with the whole Fatima apparitions and miracle, including the events of the following decades and up to our own day that go back to Fatima. Because of this, it is very hard to completely write off from a rational point of view.

            There have been multiple instances of supposed Catholic miracle being proven false or suspect. The same is most likely true of Fatima. Do you believe the miracle stories of the Greek and Romans and of the other world religions? Did Mohamed ascend into heaven?

            Sure, there have absolutely been Catholic "hoaxes". But we can't put them all these events on the same level. Some we have more reason to believe than others. But that is why the Church has rigorous "tests" for apparitions and the like, and then only officially approves of a very small amount of them.

            In regards to other world religions and pagan religions, there have not been accounts or proof of apparitions or miracles like we have seen in connection to the Catholic Church. Whether or not one believes in the miracles associated with the Church, there is a distinct difference between those claims and all others, especially over the past 300 years. Why does Mary suddenly begin appearing in profound ways since the mid-1800s? (The answer ultimately is that God wishes to exalt Mary's Immaculate Heart, along with the Papacy and Christ's Church; this is so that all may come to know the Father more intimately.) So again, either the Church is very right, or very wrong.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think the Catholic tests are very rigorous. For instance, in the case of Mother Teresa, the miracle that lead to her canonization was considered a healing by natural causes by the patient's doctors. The catholic church no longer has a devil's advocate.

            Why is it that the number of miracle claims has decreased as science as been on the rise?

            You know that some Marian Appartitions have actually caused schism within the church. I don't think any of the Marian Appartions are particularly noteworthy, although they have given us some beautiful iconography. I think we can attribute the increased frequency of appartitions to the copy-cat effect. How do you feel about Medjugorje?

          • Phil

            I think we should recognize that there are some differences between looking at tests for canonization and apparitions as well, though many of the same principles come into effect.

            It is actually interesting because the Church has 2 groups of people that look at these miracles for sainthood. The first is purely a group of medical doctors. The second is a final group of Church persons and theologians. The medical doctors try to find a natural explanation, and if they can't find a reasonable one they push the case to the next group. The interesting thing is that, if I recall correctly it was something like less than 5% of cases get through them. Of these 5%, a miniscule amount are actually declared to be a miracle by the second commission. That is relatively rigorous. (The theologians are actually more rigorous than the doctors too, go figure.)

            How do you feel about Medjugorje?

            Let me first say that Medjugorje is still being investigated by the Church, and has not been officially ruled upon one way or the other. Whatever the Church decides to rule on it, I will act in obedience to what they direct.

            But my personal opinion is that the original 5 visionaries, some of which still receive words to this day, are valid. I think we shall have some confirmation one way or the other at some point, because at some point it has been said that at least some of the 10 "secrets" will be announced; this will happen 10 days in advance. The final one is said to be a permanent sign on the hill of the apparitions that will be there until the end of time. This sign will not be able to be fully explained by natural means. So if these things happen as the visionaries have claimed, I think that lends much credence to the words.

            (If you have some time for reading, Our Blessed Mother has been speaking to a soul here in America since about 2011. She wishes to prepare the world for the coming darkness of economic collapse and violence. I actually know the spiritual director who discerned the validity of these messages, and it does lend them great credence off the bat. Again these are private revelations and not ruled upon by the Church. http://www.locutions.org/)

          • Joe Ser

            That is why the church has skeptics as part of the miracle process. We do not know there are less miracles as science advances. Who is keeping track?

          • Joe Ser

            Deniers will always claim some sort of illusion. Perhaps their own illusion they should question.

          • I don't see any evidence that any God exists. Am I just deluding myself? If you have good evidence, why not share it? Why is someone who takes the null position the one who's under an illusion? Why isn't it instead the one who claims that something exists without evidence the one who's under an illusion?

          • Joe Ser

            Over and over the evidence has been shared.

            The entire issue rests on why God does not lay down a lab table for you to examine Him yourself.

          • Lab table? Any evidence of its existence would suffice.

          • Joe Ser

            I do not think any evidence could convince you except you examining Him. You undoubtedly have seen the evidence and arguments before.

          • How am I supposed to examine a deity for which I see no evidence?

          • Joe Ser

            There is evidence that I accept and you reject.

            I doubt you are new to the discussion. What evidence do wish was stronger?

          • Anything, really. What do you think is some of the best evidence for God?

          • Joe Ser

            Outside of personal experience I find philosophical arguments compelling. From a science perspective - cosmology.

          • Okay. The arguments I'm aware of suggest only the existence of at least one deity, not the Catholic God. Could a deity exist? I guess so, but I don't see why I would want to worship it or why it would care about humans.

          • Joe Ser

            Philosophy takes one to God. Theology tell us who He is.

          • So that's it? Your best evidence for God?

          • Joe Ser

            You find the Catholic God through theology.

            No need to conflate at this point. You stated - "I guess so, but don't really see why......."

            If you find yourself believing in God, and then the Catholic God you will love Him.

            '

          • Quite a claim. Pretty sure that every non-Catholic, non-Christian theologian would disagree. It's frustrating how every believer is so sure that they've found the one true religion.

          • Joe Ser

            It is frustrating. With all the different claims they cannot all be true though. If one is searching for truth, we just may disagree with the others. Do they disagree. We are after truth after all aren't we?

          • I think we all like to think we're searching for truth, myself included.

          • Joe Ser

            It is a good place to be.

          • In my opinion, truth is not "a place to be," but a concept worth striving toward. Those who claim they've already found truth seem close-minded to me.

          • Joe Ser

            Truth is narrow.by nature.

          • I have no idea what that's supposed to mean.

          • Doug Shaver

            Deniers will always claim some sort of illusion.

            I don't always claim illusion. I usually claim error.

          • Joe Ser

            The skeptics are trying to pick away at a solid oak trunk. None of these claims are new. They have been rebutted over many years. Ehrman just is repackaging to sell books.

          • Doug Shaver

            None of these claims are new. They have been rebutted over many years.

            Of course they have, but a rebuttal is not the same as a refutation. The intransigence of believers is no vindication of what they believe.

            Ehrman just is repackaging to sell books.

            That is not even a rebuttal. It is an evasion.

          • Joe Ser

            What do we call a guy who takes old arguments and puts a modern cover on them?

          • Doug Shaver

            Whom are you including in the "we"?

            If they're good arguments, I call him a popularizer. If they're bad arguments, I call him an apologist.

          • Joe Ser

            Apologist in the Catholic realm is a theological science.

          • Doug Shaver

            theological science.

            Not a concept I can recognize.

          • Joe Ser

            Can't or won't?

          • Doug Shaver

            For the moment, can't. I see nothing in theology to which the methods characteristic of science can be applied.

          • Joe Ser

            Yes, the mass delusion explanation has been around for a while. The problem is that other things as I mentioned happened. The miracle was seen 15-25 miles away. None of these people had any expectation of what the miracle would entail.

            Ten Greatest (And Hilarious) Scientific Explanations for Miracle at Fatima

            Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/ten-greatest-and-hilarious-scientific-explanations-for-miracle-at-fatima#ixzz3SOOVaz00

          • William Davis

            Notice that there were a ton of mass delusions of all kinds in the early 1900s. Since the invention of the camera and much greater emphasis on science and naturalistic cause and effect, mass delusions are becoming much more rare, but they still occur in poorly educated countries. Highly educated people are still vulnerable, collective thinking is part of human psychology. Here are some from around the same time period. People see strange things in the sky all the time, and memories of such things can actually be constructed in people over time who had no original memory. The fact that there were people there who didn't see it, is all I really need to know. Some people are much more resistant to mass delusion.

            British South Africa, 1914

            In the war scare setting of British South Africa in 1914, local newspapers erroneously reported that hostile monoplanes from adjacent German South West Africa were making reconnaissance flights as a prelude to an imminent attack. The episode coincided with the start of World War I. Despite the technological impossibility of such missions (the maneuvers reported by witnesses were beyond those of airplanes of the period and their capability of staying aloft for long periods), thousands of residents misperceived ambiguous, nocturnal aerial stimuli (stars and planets) as representing enemy monoplanes (Bartholomew 1989).

            Island of Banda, Indonesia, 1937

            During March 1937, the first Indonesian Prime Minister, Soetan Sjahrir, was living on the Moluccan island of Banda, where he described a head-hunting rumor-panic which swept through his village. The episode coincided with rumors that a tjoelik (someone who engages in head-hunting for the government) was operating in the area and searching for a head to be placed near a local jetty that was being rebuilt. According to tradition, government construction projects will soon crumble without such an offering. Sjahrir (1949) said that “people have been living in fear” and were "talking and whispering about it everywhere” (162), and after 7 p.m. the streets were nearly deserted. There were many reports of strange noises and sightings. Sjahrir stated: “Every morning there are new stories, generally about footsteps or voices, or a house that was bombarded with stones, or an attack on somebody by a tjoelik with a noose, or a cowboy lasso. Naturally, the person who was attacked got away from the tjoelik in a nick of time!” (164). Sjahrir described the scare as an example of “mass psychosis."

            USA, 1938

            On Halloween Eve 1938, a live fictional radio drama produced by Orson Welles was broadcast across much of the United States by the CBS Mercury Theatre. It depicted an invasion by Martians who had landed in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, and soon began attacking with heat rays and poison gas. Princeton University psychologist Hadley Cantril (1940) concluded that an estimated 1.2 million listeners became excited, frightened, or disturbed. However, subsequent reviews of Cantril's findings by sociologists David Miller (1985), William Sims Bainbridge (1987), and others, concluded that there was scant evidence of substantial or widespread panic. For instance, Miller found little evidence of mobilization, an essential ingredient in a panic. Hence, it was a collective delusion and not a true panic. Cantril also exaggerated the extent of the mobilization, attributing much of the typical activity at the time to the “panic.” In short, many listeners may have expressed concern but did not do anything in response, like try to flee, grab a gun for protection, or barricade themselves inside a house. Either way one looks at this episode, it qualifies as a collective delusion. If, as Cantril originally asserted, many listeners were frightened and panicked, it is a mass delusion. Conversely, if we are to accept the more recent and likely assessments that the “panic” was primarily a media creation inadvertently fueled by Cantril's flawed study, then erroneous depictions of a mass panic that have been recounted in numerous books and articles for over six decades constitute an equally remarkable social delusion.

          • Joe Ser

            When one examines Fatima in context one sees that the Miracle of the Sun stands amid other events, a highpoint if you will. It is mass delusion that dries and cleans my clothes? Prophecies were given, the children told the day and why 70,000 people gathered. Healings go on today. Jacinto Marto's body is incorrupt. The water that sprang up at the site Our Lady appeared.

            There are two miracles that are going on today that you yourself could go see. Juan Diego's cloak and the eyes. And the painting in Las Lajas

          • William Davis

            https://www.google.com/search?q=picture+of+fatima+sun+miracle&rlz=1C1LENP_enUS504US504&espv=2&biw=1536&bih=758&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=AhTqVP6eKsf2yQS2yIHgCQ&ved=0CB0QsAQ

            Photographic evidence is very poor, healings work by confirmation bias (you ignore all the people who don't get healed). Placebo is one of the best medicines. You have to be a Catholic to appreciate this stuff :)

          • Joe Ser

            Healings can work by faith. Before the Church accepts them, the search for natural causes must be negative. http://www.livescience.com/38033-how-vatican-identifies-miracles.html

          • William Davis

            I would say most of these are a result of misdiagnosis. Doctor's take an educated guess, called a prognosis, and often it can be wrong. When they are wrong and the person dies early, they are highly criticized, so they tend to err on the negative side. You call an incorrect prognosis a miracle, I call it a mistake. Note no amputees have ever been healed, that would be a real miracle. You might find this interesting, these things may be happening all the time unnoticed:

            http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0302/074_cancer_miracles.html

          • Joe Ser

            Actually there have been amputees that have been healed. The servant in the garden was healed by Jesus. He also healed the shriveled hand. St. John Damascene's hand after it was chopped off. St. Anthony is also the patron saint of amputees and reattached a foot.
            Of course many atheists will dismiss these. Mother Angelica writes in her biography she was miraculaously healed (not from an amputation). Assumptions made are we should/would know of every event. Public investigatable healings would show God exists., a kind of cooking the books, so to speak. Satan knows He exists yet will not love Him. Faith needs to be a free will choice.

          • Doug Shaver

            Faith needs to be a free will choice.

            You say so.

          • Joe Ser

            You prefer that it be imposed?

          • Doug Shaver

            My preference is irrelevant to whatever is actually the case.

          • Joe Ser

            Not at all. The prognosis has to be be 0% chance, not 10%. Certainty is key here. Can they make a mistake? Sure. None of that matters to the healed. It only matters to the skeptics.

            Your cannot prove a negative, so your claim no amputee has ever been healed is not valid.

          • William Davis

            We call cases were the prognosis is 0% and the person recovers "anomalies". Anomalies are very useful for scientific progress, understanding them has led to great advances (Einstein created his theories of relativity in response to "anomalies" like problems with orbits and the oddity that light's speed is always measured constant, always. From the article I linked:

            Spontaneous tumor regressions are among the rarest and most mysterious events in medicine, with only several hundred cases in the literature that can be considered well documented. Regressions have most often been reported in melanoma and in kidney cancer. But the phenomenon may, in fact, be an everyday one, taking place beyond doctors’ eyes. A recent study suggests that as many as 1 in 3 breast tumors may vanish on their own before being detected by a doctor.

            Why do some patients get lucky? Scientists are finding tantalizing evidence that the immune system, the body’s defense against disease-causing microbes, kicks in to play a critical role in combating cancer. If that’s the case, then Schou and Burrows are more than just lucky patients. They are clues to how doctors may someday save thousands of lives.

            It discusses patients who recovered from 0% prognosis. We're paying attention, but we look at it very differently. Jesus said the key to prayer is simply in believing that you received answer, nothing about changing objective reality. Mark 11

            23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours.

            To me, this explains it, we call it confirmation bias. If you count all the people who are "healed" or go to a place for "healing", it doesn't work mathematically, a random sample of people would yield the same results. Does the Catholic Church record how many have prayed to be healed, and not healed? How many have visited these place, and left to die? One of the most thorough studies of prayer ended very badly for the Christians who paid for it, because reality simple doesn't work the way they think.

            You see, we scientific type have been studying this using our pesky scientific methods, here are the more recent and methodical studies, all report no effect, and one of the largest (Templeton) reported negative affects, perhaps performance anxiety, on those who knew they were being prayed for. A major study that was positive for prayer turned out to be major hoax (not a surprise for me). You have a clear pattern if multiple well controlled studies point in the same direction.

            Sicher[edit]

            In 1998 Fred Sicher et al. performed a small scale double-blind randomized study of 40 patients with advanced AIDS.[14][15] The patients were in category C-3 with CD4 cell counts below 200 and each had at least one case of AIDS-defining illness.[16] The patients were randomly assigned to receive distant intercessory healing or none at all. The intercession took place by people in different parts of the United States who never had any contact with the patients. Both patients and physicians were blind to who received or did not receive intercession.[16] Six months later the prayer group had significantly fewer AIDS illnesses, less frequent doctor visits, and fewer days in the hospital.[15] However, CD4 counts and scores on other physiological tests had no significant variation between the two groups of patients.[16]

            Mayo clinic[edit]

            A 2001 double-blind study at the Mayo Clinic randomized 799 discharged coronary surgery patients into a control group and an intercessory prayer group, which received prayers at least once a week from 5 intercessors per patient. Analyzing "primary end points" (death, cardiac arrest, rehospitalization, etc.) after 26 weeks, the researchers concluded "intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit."[17]

            The IVF-ET prayer scandal[edit]

            In 2001 the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published an experimental study by three Columbia University researchers indicating that prayer for women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer (IVF-ET) resulted in a double success rate (50%) of pregnancycompared to that of women who did not receive prayer.[18] Columbia University issued a news release saying that the study had been carefully designed to eliminate bias.[19] The most important skeptic was Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of California at Irvine, who not only found the experimental procedures flawed,[20] but also discovered that some of the authors were frauds.[21] The first-named author, Kwang Y. Cha, never responded to any inquiries. Daniel Wirth, a.k.a. John Wayne Truelove, is not an M.D. but an M.S. in parapsychology and was subsequently indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, committed apparently during the time the study was said to have been conducted, and he pleaded guilty. On November 22, 2004, Wirth was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release (parole). In December 2001 an investigation of Columbia University by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) revealed that the study’s lead author, Dr. Rogerio Lobo, first learned of the study six to twelve months after the study was completed, and he subsequently denied having anything to do with the study’s design or conduct and indicated that he had only provided editorial assistance. The name ofColumbia University and Lobo were retracted.[22]

            Retroactive intercessory prayer[edit]

            A 2001 study by Leonard Leibovici used records of 3,393 patients who had developed blood infections at the Rabin Medical Center between 1990 and 1996 to study retroactive intercessory prayer.[23] To compound the alleged miraculous power of prayer itself, the prayers were performed after the patients had already left the hospital. All 3,393 patients were those in the hospital between 1990 and 1996, and the prayers were conducted in 2000. Two of the outcomes, length of stay in the hospital and duration of fever, were found to be significantly improved in the intervention group, implying that prayer can even change events in the past. However, the "mortality rate was lower in the intervention group, but the difference between the groups was not significant." Leibovici concluded that "Remote, retroactive intercessory prayer was associated with a shorter stay in hospital and a shorter duration of fever in patients with a bloodstream infection." Leibovici goes on to note that in the past, people knew the way to prevent diseases (he cites scurvy) without understanding why it worked. In saying so, he suggests that if prayer truly does have a positive effect on patients in hospital, then there may be a naturalist explanation for it that we do not yet understand. After many scientists and scholars criticized this retroactive study,[24] Leibovici later stated that it was "intended lightheartedly to illustrate the importance of asking research questions that fit with scientific models."[25]

            The MANTRA study[edit]

            A 2005 MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings) II study conducted a three-year clinical trial led by Duke University comparing intercessory prayer and MIT (Music, Imagery, and Touch) therapies for 748 cardiology patients. The study is regarded as the first time rigorous scientific protocols were applied on a large scale to assess the feasibility of intercessory prayer and other healing practices. The study produced null results and the authors concluded, "Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterization or percutaneous coronary intervention."[26] Neither study specified whether photographs were used or whether belief levels were measured in the agents or those performing the prayers.

            The STEP project[edit]

            Harvard professor Herbert Benson performed a "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)" in 2006.[27] The STEP, commonly called the "Templeton Foundation prayer study" or "Great Prayer Experiment", used 1,802 coronary artery bypass surgery patients at six hospitals. Using double-blind protocols, patients were randomized into three groups, individual prayer receptiveness was not measured. The members of the experimental and control Groups 1 and 2 were informed they might or might not receive prayers, and only Group 1 received prayers. Group 3, which served as a test for possible psychosomatic effects, was informed they would receive prayers and subsequently did. Unlike some other studies, STEP attempted to standardize the prayer method. Only first names and last initial for patients were provided and no photographs were supplied. The congregations of three Christian churches who prayed for the patients "were allowed to pray in their own manner, but they were instructed to include the following phrase in their prayers: 'for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications'.[28] Some participants complained that this mechanical way they were told to pray as part of the experiment was unusual for them. Major complications and thirty-day mortality occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1), 51 percent of those who did not receive it (Group 2), and 59 percent of patients who knew they would receive prayers (Group 3). Some prayed-for patients fared worse than those who did not receive prayers. In The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, "It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence: 'performance anxiety', as the experimenters put it. Dr Charles Bethea, one of the researchers, said, 'It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?'"[29] Study co-author Jeffery Dusek stated that: "Each study builds on others, and STEP advanced the design beyond what had been previously done. The findings, however, could well be due to the study limitations."[30] Team leader Benson stated that STEP was not the last word on the effects of intercessory prayer and that questions raised by the study will require additional answers.[31]

          • Joe Ser

            Can Prayer Heal?

            Does prayer have the power to heal? Scientists have some surprising answers. http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal

            We will see what those studies will yield. In any case people are not compelled to report their healings. One problem is that science by its own definition cannot test the supernatural.

          • William Davis

            For starters, I know quite a bit about medicine (I'm not a doctor, I just figure if I own a body I should know how to maintain it and diagnose problems), and webmd is a terrible web site. Ask any doctor, also look at this link or goodl webmd criticisms

            http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/magazine/06FOB-Medium-t.html?_r=0

            The site is constantly bought off, offers misinformation, presents anecdotes as evidence, and treats pseudoscience as equal to science. I say this not to criticize your attempt to defend prayer, but as a serious warning, don't use webmd for medical advice, it can lead to disastrous outcomes. Mayo clinic is infinitely better.

            There can be internal positive effects from prayer. These result from reduced stress and other measurable factors. I engage in mindfulness meditation myself, and it not only does it have a calming effect, it has helped me lead a happier, fuller life, by helping me actually pay attention to my life. These effects, of course are purely natural.

            While science cannot detect the supernatural itself, science surely should be able to detect any supernatural effects on the natural world.

            The webMD article you linked presents all kinds of anecdotal evidence, but little real data. What it the person says about the MANTRA study is actually false when you look at the NUMBERS. Numbers are the key to real understanding, not what someone says are "feels like". From Duke's own website

            "The researchers found no significant differences among the treatment groups in the primary composite endpoint. However, six-month mortality was lower in patients assigned bedside MIT, with the lowest absolute death rates observed in patients treated with both prayer and bedside MIT. Patients treated with bedside MIT also showed changes in self-rated emotional distress prior to catheterization and stenting."

            http://corporate.dukemedicine.org/news_and_publications/news_office/news/9136

            I think it is safe to say that by omitting this important information, WEBMD IS LYING. This kind of irresponsible behavior makes me a bit angry, but here you are clearly the victim. I use critical thinking on everything, and misinformation is everywhere sadly. I'm in my 30s, so surely you can understand I MUST be highly skeptical to survive my own era, the age of misinformation.

          • William Davis

            I dealt with MANTRA, let me deal with the other studies WebMD mentions but does not provide the conclusion to the study (I'm just pointing out WebMDs TERRIBLE approach to science)

            I like Herbert Benson, the first doctor mentioned in the article, but here is what they left out:

            CONCLUSIONS:

            Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

            Believing someone is praying for you made outcomes WORSE. Why didn't WebMD include that warning?

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569567

            The next person WebMD mentions is from Mayo clinic

            CONCLUSIONS:

            As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11761499

          • William Davis

            I will say that religious people tend to live longer, depending on where they live. This is likely due to right living (not smoking, drinking, picking up disease through promiscuity). I'm with religions 100% in this arena, but I impose my own rules based on cause and effect and scientific understanding. Helping people and being compassionate directly reduces stress levels and can lead to a longer and better life. What you do matters so much more than what you believe. I think you are a good person and take your view of the world seriously. Other than beliefs about the nature of reality, we probably have a lot in common :)

          • Joe Ser

            There are some good stats in this read:

            America's Blessings - How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists http://www.amazon.com/Americas-Blessings-Religion-Benefits-Including/dp/159947445X

            "Americans benefit immensely from being an
            unusually religious people--blessings that not only fall upon believers
            but also on those Americans who most oppose religion." Interacting with a
            wide-ranging bibliography of over 350 studies (listed at the back of
            the book), Stark argues that, compared to less religious and
            nonreligious people, religious people

            * engage in less criminal behavior and more prosocial behavior (chapter 2);
            * experience higher marital happiness and lower divorce rates, while producing more and better-behaved children (chapter 3);
            * report more and better sex with their spouse, and less cheating (chapter 4);
            * experience better mental health, and probably better physical health too (chapter 5);
            * give more generously in terms of money and time (chapter 6);
            * and are better educated, more successful, and less credulous (chapter 7).

          • William Davis

            I'm basically a scientific buddhist. Though I'm an atheist, I'm not non-religious :). To me, there is a certain religious beauty to science and understanding the marvelous universe we live in. I'm also a humanist, and though I may be criticized for it, humanism pretty much qualifies as a non-theistic religion :)

          • Joe Ser

            What do you see as the scientific basis for reincarnation?

          • William Davis

            I don't really buy into their mythicism (Buddhism doesn't care, it's a take it or leave it religion) but I am a reincarnation of my forefathers. We are all different, but more the same than we like to notice. I'd argue that you are an incarnation of me, just with slightly different genes and circumstances. I invest myself in my offspring and the human race. As long as it carries on, I don't mind if all of my memories and neural structure disappear with me, there is plenty more "me's" where I came from. Losing attachment to self is one of the keys to being happy. Probably the only thing I'm really attached to is my family and the pursuit of understanding.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your cannot prove a negative

            Can you prove that?

          • Joe Ser

            The claim he made was they never happened.

          • Doug Shaver

            I suspect there are many things that you believe never happened but cannot prove never happened.

          • Joe Ser

            Why would you assume every person there would be healed?

          • William Davis

            We are pretty good at preserving bodies, the Soviet's kept Lenin's body in great shape and on display for an incredibly long time (I'm sure this wasn't a miracle). Many things catholic's call miracles I call pareidolia. I'm not trying to be negative, it's just how I look at it with my naturalistic bias. This article makes a good point when it comes to that.

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

          • Joe Ser
          • William Davis

            The Egyptians were the first to be big on this, they believed in a physical resurrection like Paul. We have mummies from thousands of years before Christ.

          • Joe Ser

            Mummies are a different deal as the climate and dryness are conducive. The Incorruptables are in climates unlike Egypt.

          • William Davis

            Notice how much more detail this site has that is debunking it. Dates, people, ect. I want to know as many details as possible, and more details usually equals less miracle.

            http://skepdic.com/incorrupt.html

            There are many more where this came from.

          • Joe Ser

            Including this link at the bottom of the page: Cruz, Joan Carroll. (1977). The Incorruptibles: A Study of the
            Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati. Tan
            Books & Publishers.

          • William Davis

            I have not done Fatima due research, I'll check it out more and reconsider, thanks for pointing it out.

          • Joe Ser

            Here is some additional info:

            Circumstances and Dialogue of the 1917 Apparitions

            Yet another astonishing aspect of the Miracle was that all of the
            thousands of people, most of whom were soaked to the bone and dirty from
            the mud, suddenly found that their clothes were dry and clean.
            "The moment one would least expect it, our clothes were totally dry." (Maria do Carmo)10

            "My suit dried in an instant." (John Carreira)11

            The academician Marques da Cruz testified:

            This enormous multitude was drenched, for it had rained unceasingly
            since dawn. But – though this may appear incredible – after the great
            miracle everyone felt comfortable, and found his garments quite dry, a
            subject of general wonder … The truth of this fact has been guaranteed
            with the greatest sincerity by dozens and dozens of persons of absolute
            trustworthiness, whom I have known intimately from childhood, and who
            are still alive (1937), as well as by persons from various districts of
            the country who were present.12

            In one aspect, this is the most astonishing effect of the
            miracle and an indisputable proof of its authenticity: The amount of
            energy needed to accomplish this process of drying in a natural way and
            in such a short a time, would have incinerated everyone present at the
            Cova at that time. As this aspect of the miracle contradicts the laws of
            nature radically, no demon could ever have achieved it.

            Frère François de Marie des Anges, Fatima: The Astonishing Truth, p, 179.
            Ibid.
            Ibid.

            12 Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume I, p. 340. See also Father John de Marchi, I.M.C., Fatima From the Beginning, (Missoes Consolata, Fatima, Portugal, 1981, third edition, first published in 1950) p. 141; and Joseph A Pelletier, A.A., The Sun Dances at Fatima, (Doubleday, New York, 1983) pp. 129-130.

          • Joe Ser

            Here is some insight to the rigorous investigation of miracles - Lourdes cures and their medical assessment - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1440112/pdf/jrsocmed00220-0012.pdf

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no natural explanation for Fatima.

            That depends on what really happened at Fatima. All I've heard are stories. It's easy enough to explain stories.

          • Joe Ser

            All I hear are stories about the American Revolution.

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you going to argue that I cannot have any good reason for thinking one set of stories is true but not the other set?

          • Joe Ser

            I hope you apply the same criteria.

          • Doug Shaver

            I do, so far as I can tell.

          • Joe Ser

            How do you really know? Has someone objectively rated you?

          • Doug Shaver

            I said, "so far as I can tell." How certain do I need to be about my state of mind before I'm justified in telling you what I think it is?

          • Joe Ser

            With an evolved brain only interested in survival and not a reliable truth detector you cannot.

          • Doug Shaver

            You say so.

          • Joe Ser

            Instead of blind faith Catholics have a reasonable faith with evidence from history, science, nature, experience, etc... God is knowable to natural reason. Faith and reason are not opposed.

            I contend that atheists have blind faith, the faith that everything came from nothing.

            From NewAdvent - In the Old Testament, the Hebrew means essentially steadfastness, cf. Exodus 17:12, where it is used to describe the strengthening of Moses' hands; hence it comes to mean faithfulness, whether of God towards man (Deuteronomy 32:4) or of man towards God (Psalm 118:30). As signifying man's attitude towards God it means trustfulness or fiducia. It would, however, be illogical to conclude that the word cannot, and does not, mean belief or faith in the Old Testament for it is clear that we cannot put trust in a person's promises without previously assenting to or believing in that person's claim to such confidence.

            Faith is reasonable

            (a) If we are to believe present-day Rationalists and Agnostics, faith, as we define it, is unreasonable. An Agnostic declines to accept it because he considers that the things proposed for his acceptance are preposterous, and because he regards the motives assigned for our belief as wholly inadequate. "Present me with a reasonable faith based on reliable evidence, and I will joyfully embrace it. Until that time I have no choice but to remain an Agnostic" (Medicus in the Do we Believe? Controversy, p. 214). Similarly, Francis Newman says: "Paul was satisfied with a kind of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus which fell exceedingly short of the demands of modern logic, it is absurd in us to believe, barely because they believed" (Phases of Faith, p. 186). Yet the supernatural truths of faith, however they may transcend our reason, cannot be opposed to it, for truth cannot be opposed to truth, and the same Deity Who bestowed on us the light of reason by which we assent to first principles is Himself the cause of those principles, which are but a reflection of His own Divine truth. When He chooses to manifest to us further truths concerning Himself, the fact that these latter are beyond the grasp of the natural light which He has bestowed upon us will not prove them to be contrary to our reason. Even so pronounced a rationalist as Sir Oliver Lodge says: "I maintain that it is hopelessly unscientific to imagine it possible that man is the highest intelligent existence" (Hibbert Journal, July, 1906, p. 727).

            Agnostics, again, take refuge in the unknowableness of truths beyond reason, but their argument is fallacious, for surely knowledge has its degrees. I may not fully comprehend a truth in all its bearings, but I can know a great deal about it; I may not have demonstrative knowledge of it, but that is no reason why I should reject that knowledge which comes from faith. To listen to many Agnostics one would imagine that appeal to authority as a criterion was unscientific, though perhaps nowhere is authority appealed to so unscientifically as by modern scientists and modern critics. But, as St. Augustine says, "If God's providence govern human affairs we must not despair or doubt but that He hath ordained some certain authority, upon which staying ourselves as upon a certain ground or step, we may be lifted up to God" (De utilitate credendi); and it is in the same spirit that he says: "Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, nisi me Catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas" (Contra Ep. Fund., V, 6 — "I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not oblige me to believe").

            (b) Naturalism, which is only another name for Materialism, rejects faith because there is no place for it in the naturalistic scheme; yet the condemnation of this false philosophy by St. Paul and by the author of the Book of Wisdom is emphatic (cf. Romans 1:18-23; Wisdom 13:1-19). Materialists fail to see in nature what the greatest minds have always discovered in it, viz., "ratio cujusdam artis; scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur ad finem determinatum" — "the manifestation of a Divine plan whereby all things are directed towards their appointed end" (St. Thomas, Lect. xiv, in II Phys.). Similarly, the vagaries of Humanism blind men to the fact of man's essentially finite character and hence preclude all idea of faith in the infinite and the supernatural (cf. "Naturalism and Humanism" in Hibbert Journal, Oct., 1907).

            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05752c.htm

          • Damon

            I contend that atheists have blind faith, the faith that everything came from nothing.

            Recently I've heard several Christians say this. It seems to be a fairly common belief that the paradox of the First Cause is strong evidence in favor of theism. Human beings have traced the origins of the universe back to the Big Bang, but why did the Big Bang happen? Supposedly, the answer is "God!"

            But what makes anyone, even devout religious people, think this at all helps to solve the paradox? Why isn't the next obvious question, "Where did God come from?" Saying "God is uncaused" leaves us in the exact same place as the scientist who says, "The universe began with the Big Bang." It still leaves us wondering why the whole system exists in the first place, and why some things are uncaused but not others.

            This has point seemed so obvious to me since the age of four. How come so many people don't notice this?

          • Joe Ser

            Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
            The universe began to exist.
            The universe has a cause. We call this God.

            Actually the why question is disabling for materialists. So we ask God. The short answer - Love.

            Catechism:

            I. CATECHESIS ON CREATION

            282
            Catechesis on creation is of major importance. It concerns the very
            foundations of human and Christian life: for it makes explicit the
            response of the Christian faith to the basic question that men of all
            times have asked themselves:120 "Where do we come from?"
            "Where are we going?" "What is our origin?" "What is our end?" "Where
            does everything that exists come from and where is it going?" The two
            questions, the first about the origin and the second about the end, are
            inseparable. They are decisive for the meaning and orientation of our
            life and actions.

            283 The
            question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object
            of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge
            of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms
            and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater
            admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him
            thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives
            to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who
            gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the
            world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of
            all things, taught me."121

            284 The great interest
            accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of
            another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural
            sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe
            arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the
            meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind
            fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good
            Being called "God"? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and
            goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible
            for it? Is there any liberation from it?

            285 Since
            the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to
            the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and
            cultures produced many myths concerning origins. Some philosophers have
            said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the
            development of the world is the development of God (Pantheism). Others
            have said that the world is a necessary emanation arising from God and
            returning to him. Still others have affirmed the existence of two
            eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked, in
            permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism). According to some of these
            conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the
            product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind
            (Gnosticism). Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a
            watch-maker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself
            (Deism). Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world,
            but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed
            (Materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and
            universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively
            human.

            286
            Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to
            the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known
            with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason,122
            even if this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error. This
            is why faith comes to confirm and enlighten reason in the correct
            understanding of this truth: "By faith we understand that the world was
            created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things
            which do not appear."123

            287
            The truth about creation is so important for all of human life that God
            in his tenderness wanted to reveal to his People everything that is
            salutary to know on the subject. Beyond the natural knowledge that every
            man can have of the Creator,124 God progressively revealed
            to Israel the mystery of creation. He who chose the patriarchs, who
            brought Israel out of Egypt, and who by choosing Israel created and
            formed it, this same God reveals himself as the One to whom belong all
            the peoples of the earth, and the whole earth itself; he is the One who
            alone "made heaven and earth".125

            III. "THE WORLD WAS CREATED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD"

            293 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: "The world was made for the glory of God."134 St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things "not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it",135
            for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness:
            "Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand."136 The First Vatican Council explains:

            This one, true God, of his own
            goodness and "almighty power", not for increasing his own beatitude, nor
            for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection
            through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute
            freedom of counsel "and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing
            both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal. . ."137

            294
            The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and
            communication of his goodness, for which the world was created. God made
            us "to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of
            his will, to the praise of his glorious grace",138 for
            "the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man's life is the vision
            of God: if God's revelation through creation has already obtained life
            for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word's
            manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God."139
            The ultimate purpose of creation is that God "who is the creator of all
            things may at last become "all in all", thus simultaneously assuring
            his own glory and our beatitude."140

          • Damon

            Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
            The universe began to exist.
            The universe has a cause. We call this God.

            You can call the First Cause whatever you like. I can name it "Damon" after myself. It is insignificant what we call it because we are simply assigning a name to something that falls outside all categories of thought. Calling the First Cause "God" does not resolve the paradox, it just raises another question.

            Actually the why question is disabling for materialists.

            Of course it is! That's why it's called a paradox.

            So we ask God. The short answer - Love.

            This answers the question, "Why did the Big Bang happen?" only if we presuppose the existence of God. And if our reasoning for presupposing God's existence is that the universe (starting with the Big Bang) had a cause, this becomes rather circular. Thus, the paradox remains.

          • Joe Ser

            No, one can arrive at the uncaused cause without prior knowledge. Why is explained after it began. We get to the uncaused cause from our daily experience that everything that begins to exist has a cause. We do not see otherwise. If a rabbit just pops into existence right now on your table, you will naturally seek a cause. To avoid infinite regression we posit the uncaused cause.

            Without Revelation we remain ignorant. Then Revelation begins and we get parts of the puzzle until a pretty good picture results.

            We can reason or way to God, and then we add Revelation.

            Imagine walking down a beach and you only see two left footprints. Do we have a deceiver at work? A joker? Done with purpose? So we follow the trail and we see a guy sitting on the dunes and we ask him about it. He reveals to us that he observed a person walking at the edge of the water and all the right footprints were washed away. Can we trust what he tells us? Is it reasonable?

          • Damon

            To avoid infinite regression we posit the uncaused cause.

            Which is really just a semantic stop sign intended to halt the obvious continuation of the question-and-answer chain into infinite regress. It doesn't resolve the paradox.

            Q. Where did the uncaused cause come from?
            A. It didn't, it has always existed. It has no beginning and no end.
            Q. How can something have no beginning if everything that exists must have a cause
            A. Because this is the uncaused cause, the one thing that never had a cause and is the cause of everything that exists.
            Q. How come the uncaused cause doesn't need a cause but everything else that exists does?
            A. Because it just does, OK! Stop asking questions.

            Imagine walking down a beach and you only see two left footprints. Do
            we have a deceiver at work? A joker? Done with purpose? So we follow
            the trail and we see a guy sitting on the dunes and we ask him about it.
            He reveals to us that he observed a person walking at the edge of the
            water and all the right footprints were washed away. Can we trust what
            he tells us? Is it reasonable?

            If what he says is consistent with what we already know about waves and sand, and we have no reasons to distrust this man, then yes. If his story was inconsistent with what we knew about sand and waves, if, for instance, he said that the footprints were made by supernatural water fairies with two left feet, we would have reason to doubt this claim on the basis of what we already know about how the world works.

          • Joe Ser

            No, everything that exists does not need a cause. Things that BEGIN to exist need a cause.

            Exaclty. You trust him. He could have told you though that just for kicks he erased the right footprints. Or the guy hopped down the beach.

          • Damon

            Regardless of what you call it or how you define it, the uncaused cause is simply a necessary semantic stop sign to prevent the insanity of infinite regress. I'm not denying the existence of an uncaused cause, only pointing out that no matter what you call it, "God", "Quantum energy", "The Architect of the Matrix", it does nothing to resolve the First Cause paradox, it only stops us from thinking about.

          • Bob

            Actually, everything that begins to exist in our experience has a material cause, but I suppose you won't let a little thing like that bother you.

          • Joe Ser

            What evidence do you have?

          • Bob

            Interesting question and one that kind of proves the point.

            Do you believe that something can come from nothing, in the strict philosophical sense of the word nothing?

          • Joe Ser

            No. Everything comes from something. Only God creates Ex Nihilo, but God is not nothing, He is something, the uncaused cause.

            We know see physicists trying to redefine nothing. They should either get philosophy training or stick to science.

          • George

            I could call the cause Godlessness for all the content your conclusion has.

          • Joe Ser

            Name it anything you want.

          • Mike

            Just for argument's sake: even if something created God AT LEAST it still makes more sense that God created the universe than that it created itself, no?

          • Damon

            If something caused God, it would then make more sense that God caused the universe than the universe caused itself. But then the question is, "Where did God come from?" and after that, "Where did God's cause come from?" At some point you're going to invoke some uncaused causer if only to stop the question-and-answer chain. And arguing about which uncaused causer makes more sense is futile since we are talking about something inconceivable that falls outside all categories of human thought.

          • Joe Ser

            Indeed, the uncaused cause we call God. AS our human abilities are limited we cannot know God fully. We can know some of His attributes though:

            The Attributes of the Divine Being

            God is absolutely perfect. (De fide.)

            God is actually infinite in every perfection. (De fide.)

            God is absolutely simple. (De fide.)

            There is only One God. (De fide.)

            The One God is, in the ontological sense, The True God. (De fide.)

            God possesses an infinite power of cognition. (De fide.)

            God is absolute Veracity. (De fide.)

            God is absolutely faithful. (De fide.)

            God is absolute ontological Goodness in Himself and in relation to others. (De fide.)

            God is absolute Moral Goodness or Holiness. (De fide.) D 1782.

            God is absolute Benignity. (De fide.) D1782.

            God is absolute Beauty. D1782.

            God is absolutely immutable. (De fide.)

            God is eternal. (De fide.)

            God is immense or absolutely immeasurable. (De fide.)

            God is everywhere present in created space. (De fide.)

          • Damon

            And you know all these things how?

            Also, do you really mean "know" as "I know for a fact these claims are true with 100% certainty," or do you mean "believe" as in, "I hold these claim to have a high probability of being true."

          • Joe Ser

            DeFide - A term meaning "of Faith," used to identify those doctrines of the
            Church which are infallibly true. Their infallible certitude derives
            ultimately from divine revelation, but proximately from the fact that
            they have either been solemnly defined by the Church's magisterium or
            have been taught by her ordinary universal teaching authority as binding
            on the consciences of all the faithful.

          • Damon

            The best definition of faith I ever read was from C.S. Lewis, "Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted." If the Church expects people to accept and hold on to the things which she considers to be infallible, she better provide compelling evidence for our reason to accept them as undoubtedly true.

          • Mike

            To you it makes no sense but to me it answers deep metaphysical "questions" as i think that existence itself and everything it entails "points" to a mind NOT to a self existing unprogrammed "machine".

            I am saying that even if God was also created God still makes more sense than "the universe created itself".

          • Damon

            More accurately stated as "the universe caused itself." The word "created" presupposes a creator, which is why the sentence "the universe created itself" sounds silly on its face.

            Again, the notion of an uncaused cause may be necessary, but calling it God does not answer any more questions than naming it after yourself.

          • Mike

            Maybe to you it doesn't answer any qs but obviously to billions of ppl it does plus it at least makes more sense than a cyclical eternal self generating illusion ala buddhism in which all things are merely coming in and out of existence without purpose or intention just a mysterious glorious contingency of "becoming".

            Either way positing a "mind" makes more sense of the purely physical structure of reality vis a vis mathematics/physics than matter/energy/nothingness...to me anyway and to the billions upon billions of ppl who at least believe in some kind of god/gods.

            IMHO atheism snookers itself unnecessarily by denying an afterlife from the get go.

          • Joe Ser

            Correct, that is why we need an answer from outside our frame of reference. When asked what name should we call Him, He answered "I am who am".

          • Doug Shaver

            even if something created God AT LEAST it still makes more sense that God created the universe than that it created itself, no?

            Since I don't believe that the universe created itself, your hypothetical is irrelevant.

          • Mike

            There is no other option: either it somehow caused itself or it was caused by someone or something no?

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no other option

            Yes, there is. It might have had no cause.

          • Mike

            All of these causes with no 'original cause'? that sounds strange to say the least...anyway that sounds to me like a basic eastern belief in continuous rebirth, but even they say the point is to escape the wheel of samsara by "doing good" or whatever not that there is nothing to "escape" in the first place as atheism believes.

          • Doug Shaver

            All of these causes with no 'original cause'?

            It might be counterintuitive, but there is no logical problem with it.

          • Mike

            I disagree but now where just repeating ourselves.

          • William Davis

            This is the God I believe in, Albert Einstein came to believe in it as well as when he discovered that space-time is a substance by Spinoza's definition. Even in a vacuum, matter and anti-matter appear and disappear, so even a vacuum isn't "nothing". In fact, we find no correlate to "nothing" in nature, so "nothing" doesn't exist, we just made it up. Spinoza argued that there is only God, nothing else exists because God is the single substance of the universe with infinite properties. This God has held up much better to scrutiny than some God we have made in our image. God did not make us in his image, we made him in ours, and have exploited what we have made to control the minds of men. We can argue about details all day, but I have yet see anyone have reasonable objections to this philosophical proof. Like you, I am certain of my convictions because I am certain of their philosophical foundation. Here is a summary of the philosophical proof from Stanford's website:

            “On God” begins with some deceptively simple definitions of terms that would be familiar to any seventeenth century philosopher. “By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself”; “By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence”; “By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” The definitions of Part One are, in effect, simply clear concepts that ground the rest of his system. They are followed by a number of axioms that, he assumes, will be regarded as obvious and unproblematic by the philosophically informed (“Whatever is, is either in itself or in another”; “From a given determinate cause the effect follows necessarily”). From these, the first proposition necessarily follows, and every subsequent proposition can be demonstrated using only what precedes it. (References to the Ethics will be by part (I-V), proposition (p), definition (d), scholium (s) and corollary (c).)

            In propositions one through fifteen of Part One, Spinoza presents the basic elements of his picture of God. God is the infinite, necessarily existing (that is, uncaused), unique substance of the universe. There is only one substance in the universe; it is God; and everything else that is, is in God.

            Proposition 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.

            Proposition 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another. (In other words, if two substances differ in nature, then they have nothing in common).

            Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other.

            Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes [i.e., the natures or essences] of the substances or by a difference in their affections [i.e., their accidental properties].

            Proposition 5: In nature, there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

            Proposition 6: One substance cannot be produced by another substance.

            Proposition 7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.

            Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.

            Proposition 9: The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it.

            Proposition 10: Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.

            Proposition 11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. (The proof of this proposition consists simply in the classic “ontological proof for God's existence”. Spinoza writes that “if you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore, by axiom 7 [‘If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existence’], his essence does not involve existence. But this, by proposition 7, is absurd. Therefore, God necessarily exists, q.e.d.”)

            Proposition 12: No attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided.

            Proposition 13: A substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible.

            Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

            This proof that God—an infinite, necessary and uncaused, indivisible being—is the only substance of the universe proceeds in three simple steps. First, establish that no two substances can share an attribute or essence (Ip5). Then, prove that there is a substance with infinite attributes (i.e., God) (Ip11). It follows, in conclusion, that the existence of that infinite substance precludes the existence of any other substance. For if there were to be a second substance, it would have to have someattribute or essence. But since God has all possible attributes, then the attribute to be possessed by this second substance would be one of the attributes already possessed by God. But it has already been established that no two substances can have the same attribute. Therefore, there can be, besides God, no such second substance.

            If God is the only substance, and (by axiom 1) whatever is, is either a substance or in a substance, then everything else must be in God. “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God” (Ip15). Those things that are “in” God (or, more precisely, in God's attributes) are what Spinoza calls modes.

            As soon as this preliminary conclusion has been established, Spinoza immediately reveals the objective of his attack. His definition of God—condemned since his excommunication from the Jewish community as a “God existing in only a philosophical sense”—is meant to preclude any anthropomorphizing of the divine being. In the scholium to proposition fifteen, he writes against “those who feign a God, like man, consisting of a body and a mind, and subject to passions. But how far they wander from the true knowledge of God, is sufficiently established by what has already been demonstrated.” Besides being false, such an anthropomorphic conception of God can have only deleterious effects on human freedom and activity, insofar as it fosters a life enslaved to hope and fear and the superstitions to which such emotions give rise.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

          • Baron Von Bon Bon

            Post-mortem appearance of Jesus? that's a very debatable 'fact'. If we are to take the Bible at face value, then we must note the claims it makes and the propensity of those claims to be utterly wrong. How a god inspired series of cobbled together books can so often get the facts wrong is astounding. Even more astounding is how adults talk themselves into believing whatever dominant religion in their culture is the 'correct one' based on 'facts'. I do enjoy how Christians (and other religious, but here we are talking about Christians) tend to pick and choose the 'facts' and ignore the 'facts' of the Bible that clash with reality and what is known to have been borrowed from earlier religions. For example, citing Jesus return... while ignoring the fact of every failed Biblical prophecy about that return, including Jesus' own words. There are no exclusive 'facts' that allow any particular religion to claim to being the one true and correct religion, they all make the claim based on the same kinds of 'facts'. So if a Christian deduces their faith is correct because they base it on facts, why then are not all religions and faiths as correct as Christianity? Faith is not made up on facts, rather belief based on 'spiritual conviction rather than proof.'

          • Doug Shaver

            the death, burial, and post-mortem appearance of Jesus, etc.

            The facts are the existence certain documents containing accounts of his death, burial, post-mortem appearances, etc. It is an article of faith that those accounts are themselves factual accounts.

            This is not to deny that apologists such as William Lane Craig offer arguments, purportedly avoiding appeals to faith, for the factuality of those written accounts. When those arguments are carefully scrutinized, though, their bases in certain articles of faith, such as scriptural inerrancy, become apparent.

        • Phil

          I think those comments you make on intellectual humility are good. For me it all comes down to it being rational to believe that which is most true beyond a reasonable doubt. So I have reason to hold that Christianity is true, beyond a reasonable doubt, and until there would be reasonable doubt to believe it, there is no reason to change. In the end, I think it comes down to a personal encounter with our Lord--intellectual, "heady" stuff is great, and shows that there are rational reasons to hold the Christian faith. But it is normally only once one experiences our Lord personally in some way that life-changing steps take place.

          • William Davis

            I think it really does come down to biases, some learned, some possibly inborn. I was brought up Christian, and I remember trying to talk to God as I was taught, but it felt like talking to myself. It has always felt like talking to myself. I've always been naturally deterministic, looking at things as a matter of cause and effect. Combine these two things, and you get a very specific bias that leaves only one path to God, reason. I believe in real spiritual experiences, but I get mine studying physics and biology, odd as that may sound. If God exists, perhaps he's big enough for both our perspectives, but there is something that inherently feels wrong to me about imagining God as a person. I enjoy stories about gods, from the Bible and elsewhere, and I can imagine what it's like to believe in a personal God, it just isn't my default state of mind. If you read Blaise Pascal's religious views (which are considered heretical) you can see he also believed in determinism, and struggled to reconcile that with Christianity. I don't doubt I would have been a Christian if I were born even 100 years ago, but things look very different to someone like me in this age. I think an important part of being open minded is to admit that you can't be fully open minded, and understand your own biases as well as possible, and own them. Here we surely agree (and for the most part I agree with Christian morality and enjoy its metaphysics). Catholic notions of Christianity are much more compatible with my views than the fundamentalism I am used to, I'll definitely say that.

          • Phil

            Thanks for some good thought there! A couple comments:

            I think an important part of being open minded is to admit that you can't be fully open minded, and understand your own biases as well as possible, and own them.

            Great point--we always have to work towards a more proper "open-mindedness"; though with the knowledge that in our wounded state it is not fully possible. The interesting thing is as we become more conformed to the image of God, which is simply what it means to be holy, the more open-minded we become.

            To be open-minded does not mean to accept everything, but rather it means to be prudent in listening to what we need to listen to and then being able to disregard what is false and retain what is true. And obviously the closer conformed we are to God--to Truth itself--the better a person will be at this (and not because of anything they do, but because it is God working in, and through, them).

            As the Eastern church says, God became man so that he could make us like God. Oh happy fault that allowed us to be "divinized" by God! If only people knew who and what we were created for!

            but there is something that inherently feels wrong to me about imagining God as a person.

            You hint at this later on, and I agree that we don't want to imagine God as a "person". In fact, Christianity doesn't say God is a person, he is rather personal. God being personal is the only way that a person could "speak with Him".

        • Faustina11

          Please believe me when i say that i ask you this question very seriously. If you are an atheist, why do you think you shouldn't be arrogant? Or at least, why don't you want to be perceived as being arrogant?

      • GCBill

        Too certain on articles of faith which depend on historical analysis, at the very least. This particular criticism doesn't pertain to those articles which the CC claims to know through other methods such as philosophy.

        • Mike

          I hear you...but what if it says in response, well "we" were there at the beginning and we "believe ourselves" that this is generally how it happened and we believe we have good reason to believe it.

          Isn't that like what England might say about the Magna Carta or Greece about ancient athens? I only mean to point out that tradition seems to be something that is an accepted form of "remembering the past" in the world.

          • William Davis

            Sure, the problem is the writers of the Torah had forgotten about Sumeria. The beginning of Genesis is just retellings of Sumerian myths. Even the name of God, El, came from someone else, King Melchizedek the High Priest of El Elyon. I can make a really long post about the relationships between Genesis and Sumerian Mythology (that is at least 1000 years older than the Torah) if you're interested. If history is any indicator, polytheism is the true religion.

          • Mike

            I agree that polytheism is more likely to be true than atheism.

            But are you saying that bc the Sumerians seem to have believed in 1 god and in an origin story like genesis that this makes is LESS likely to have occurred? To me it seems to make it MORE likely since its origin goes farther back in history and is attested to by more than 1 group.

          • William Davis

            The Sumerians were polytheists, Enki, who later became El was at the top of their pantheon. The stories of Genesis have some significant variation from the Sumerian myths they were derived from. From a historical standpoint, the retelling is likely to be less accurate than the original story, but in the end, we're talking stories. Check a few, out, I really like the epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest story written as far as we know. It includes the first action hero, Gilgamesh, a "bro-mance", a 7 day and night sex scene, the Garden of the gods, Noah (Utnapishtim), fights with monsters, a tragic death, a quest for immortality, and the theft of that immortality by a serpent, all the elements that still make a great story today. The story probably predates Genesis by at least 1000 years, maybe more. The fact that you think this backs up your view goes back to biases, as the author of this article rightly points out. I don't mind you see it, different, Sumerian mythology is good stuff, and if you don't expect me to believe it, I enjoy the stories in the Hebrew Bible too.

            Here's a copy of Gilgamesh, luckily the oldest story ever is way out of copyright ;)

            http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf

            Oldest known flood myth, Eridu may be the oldest known city

            http://www.piney.com/EriduGen.html

            Here's a link on El and Enki

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_%28deity%29

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

            Lot's more where this came from if you're interested, Enuma Elish is hard to read, so save that for a more serious study :)

          • Mike

            It just seems to me to support the idea that there really was something that happened long ago, so to me it would corroborate it not make it less likely to have been a total fabrication.

          • Damon

            To me it just seems that people have been rebooting their favorite stories since long before Hollywood.

          • Mike

            Some themes seem to have a very very powerful ability to resonate with ppl...a very curious ability wouldn't you say?

          • Damon

            Yes and no. My favorite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, the themes in that story resonate with me strongly. But a lot of people I know find the film incomprehensible, boring, and impossible to sit through. To each his own.

          • Mike

            The movie may bore but i doubt the "themes" of what is intelligence, can machines have real intelligence, can they be jealous or evil, are universal i would argue, even if the ways in which those issues are "expressed" differ by culture.

          • Damon

            Actually I think the film's themes symbolize Man's evolution in his search for higher powers, and I suspect it would have had more widespread appeal if its themes were less mythological / religious in nature and instead focused more on the sentient A.I. sci-fi aspect of the movie, but I digress.

          • Mike

            Well it's a great movie either way.

          • Doug Shaver

            a very curious ability wouldn't you say?

            The human imagination is a fascinating thing to behold, yes.

          • Joe Ser

            Let's look at a couple of the Giglamesh vs Bible points:

            1. Size of ark

            Bible - 450x75x45

            Gig - 200x200x200 - ( a cube? probably not seaworthy)

            2. How did deity react to flood?

            Bible - God is in control

            Gig - gods ran away from waters

            3. How long did it rain?

            Bible - 40 days

            Gig - 7 days

            4. What was the roof made from?

            Bible - wood

            Gig - slate

            5. Who made the decision to flood?

            Bible - God

            Gig council of gods

            6. What happened after the flood?

            Bible - God promised to destroy humanity by a flood ever again

            Gig - gods quarrel with each other, god Ea lies to Enlil. Utnapishtim and wife given immortality like the gods

            Bible - God tells Noah and his family to procreate

            Gig - Ea and Mami created 14 human beings to procreate

            7. What was the reason for the flood?

            Bible - people were wicked

            Gig - people were nosiy

            Bible - God is sorry He made men because of their wickedness

            Gig - gods could not sleep

            8. When told about impending flood

            Bible - Noah warned his neighbors

            Gig - Told by Ea to lie to neighbors so that they would help build the ark

            How was the ark launched?

            Bible - by flood

            Gig - pushed to the river

            How long did flood last?

            Bible - 370 days

            Gig - 14 days

            Giglamesh is a corruption of the Hebrew account.

          • William Davis

            "The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian exilic period (c. 600 BCE) and that it was completed by the Persian period (c. 400 BCE).[4]"

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

            "The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. Dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC), it is often regarded as the first great work of literature."

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

            So the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) were written 1500 years later. That's like saying someone rewriting the New Testament today has it right, and the much more ancient stories are corrupt and not related to events in their time....yeah...

          • Joe Ser

            Others believe that prior written and oral information was available to Moses and he compiled the Pentateuch not authored it.

          • William Davis

            Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BCE;

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

            So we are talking 800 years before Moses. The Sumerians SURVIVED the flood and lived to tale the tale. Here is the oldest flood myth, Eridu is likely the oldest city EVER DISCOVERED. Sumeria was so old that the writers of the Bible had forgotten it existed, they thought the first empire was Babylon (see Daniel), dead wrong. First I'll mention the Barton cylinder

            "The Barton Cylinder is a Sumerian creation myth, written on a clay cylinder in the mid to late 3rd millennium BC, which is now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Joan Goodrick Westenholz suggests it dates to around 2400 BC.[1]"

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

            Eridu Genesis was probably from around a similar time frame, obviously after the flood (which was around 2900 B.C.)

            http://www.piney.com/EriduGen.html

            The Sumerian king's list is very interesting, it show pre-flood, and post-flood cities and king's. We have some knowledge and tablets from before the flood, but they are very hard to decipher, some of the first writing

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

          • Damon

            Giglamesh is a corruption of the Hebrew account.

            This is like saying that H.G. Well's 1898 novel War of the Worlds is a corruption of the Spielberg loose film adaptation from ten years ago.

    • "One reason I remain skeptical of Catholicism regardless is that historical methods are incapable of producing infallible truths."

      And why would you think Catholics disagree? Where has the Church taught that solely by using historical methods, we can arrive at infallible truths?

      (Note: I'm using the word "infallible" above as you seem to be using it. But technically truths cannot be infallible. To be infallible means to be incapable of failure or error, which presumes an agent, such as a person, expressing a truth claim. Infallibility refers to a person's future capability; not the veracity of a particular statement.)

      • GCBill

        They didn't explicitly teach that, but they elevated claims to the level of dogma despite their dependency on historical interpretation.

        • Which claims are you referring to in particular? And when you note the particular truths, can you please explain how the Church defended them through exclusively historical methods?

          • GCBill

            Which claims are you referring to in particular?

            All of them which depend on God entering into history: Jesus is God the Son Incarnate, Jesus rose from the dead, etc. etc.

            And when you note the particular truths, can you please explain how the
            Church defended them through exclusively historical methods?

            Some of them (like the Incarnation) don't depend exclusively on history. But I'm not sure why you think exclusivity matters. The annoying thing about induction is that it leaves within your arguments a locus of error you can never be rid of. Scientists don't exclusively employ induction either, and yet they incur its limitations anyway. The fact that claims about Jesus depend at all on history is enough to prevent them from attaining the certainty that is in principle attainable through sheer logical demonstration.

      • Doug Shaver

        Infallibility refers to a person's future incapacity to err, not the veracity of a particular statement.)Isn't the pope said to be infallible only at certain times, on certain occasions?

  • Krakerjak

    A very well written and well balanced piece by Dr. Ramage.
    I enjoyed it very much.
    Here is a short interview offering some personal insight into Bart Ehrman and how he arrived at the position he takes on the Christan faith. Only about eight minutes long.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeFdhyuVyzI

    • William Davis

      I agree, and I'm a big fan of Ehrman myself. I'll have to read again to find something to criticize, lol, Nothing stood out on the first read. As an atheist, reading Ehrman's works has given me a much better appreciation of early Christianity. Understanding that many Pauline letters were likely forged (the pastorals almost certainly) has also made me appreciate Paul better, even though I sometimes still wonder what he was smoking when he came up with original sin. Maybe that was from midrash?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        > Many Pauline letters were likely forged.

        I take it you "mean the production of a spurious work that is claimed to be genuine, as a coin, a painting, or the like."

        I think I have read you make this charge before. I would call it a "charge" because the connotations of the word "forge" are negative.

        • William Davis

          It is a charge, and a big reason to distrust the early church. Read Ehrman's book "Forged", he dispels the notion that people thought this was ok in ancient times, the ancients clearly considered it to be lying. Catholics use the term pseudo-epigraphy to make is sound better.

          http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Paul-Disputed.htm

          1 Timothy 2

          8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman[b] learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman[c] to teach or to have authority over a man;[d] she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

          So this liar, forging a document in the name of Paul, thinks women need to shut up and have babies....yeah. What did Paul have to say?

          1 Corinthians 7

          Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

          Paul was not only against sex, but when allowing for marriage (since people can't control themselves) recommended a certain, commendable equality, well ahead of it's time. This is consistent with his view that we are "one in Christ". Are you really going to defend the fool who wrote 1 Timothy?

          Some scholars even think 1 Corinthins 14:34-35 was added later

          http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2010/01/is-1-cor-1434-35-interpolation.html

          Not a surprise, we know they added the longer ending to Mark, the parable of the adulteress women, ect. Here's a list of verses that have been REMOVED from modern translations, the article even mentions Ehrman, who should be commended for bringing the TRUTH to light

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

          Textual criticism is fascinating, you should check it out :) I highly recommend Ehrman's books, but you can find your own.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How is your claim that a writing that is "disputed" as who wrote it prove that it is forged or that writing in another's name was considered out of bounds in that time. Your link does not.

            The two passages you cite can easily be harmonized.

            Calling the author of the first excerpt a liar and a fool is inflammatory and unproductive if you want to have a dialogue with anyone.

            How does the theory that two verses have been interpolated into a text render that text a forgery?

            Why does argument that some verses in one part of the Bible got copied in other parts of the Bible much later render those books forgeries?

          • David Nickol

            On the one hand, any "forged" documents in the Bible are nevertheless accepted as canonical by the Catholic Church, and even if some ancient evidence were to come to light identifying the true authors, there could be no question of excluding the documents from the canon at this point.

            On the other hand, as the OP notes, there is no single "objective" view of the Bible, and if some people wish to give more weight to the letters of Paul that are undisputed than to the ones that are doubtful, that is their prerogative.

            In any case, for those who accept the Bible as authoritative (inspired, etc.) , it does not make much sense to cite one canonical document to discredit another canonical document. But presumably William Davis does not regard the Bible as the kind of authoritative source that you do.

          • William Davis

            Did you really look at the link?

            "For the other four letters, about 80% of scholars think they were not written by Paul himself, but by one of his followers after his death:

            Ephesians is almost definitely a later expansion of Colossians, since they are so similar in structure and theology, but quite different from Paul's earlier letters; Ephesians was probably written to serve as a “cover letter” for an early collection of Pauline letters.

            The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) were most likely written late in the first century by some member(s) of the “Pauline School” who wanted to adapt his teachings to changing circumstances."

            80% is beyond disputed, 80% is CONSENSUS, consensus that is is forged. I've seen some scholars write that everyone they talk to takes it for granted they are forged. From Bible.org:

            "But was pseudepigraphy a normal convention? F.F. Bruce writes that Origen rejected many letters “not only because they falsely claimed apostolic authorship (as some of them did) but more especially because they taught false doctrine.”5 So we can see that early church fathers used this as one criterion. We also have Paul’s words in Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, 2Thessalonians 3:17 and Philemon 1:19 in which he states that he is writing that section with his own hand. Why would he do this? Perhaps someone was circulating letters in Paul’s name and to counter this he signed them himself.6

            We also have the evidence of ancient literature itself. Although there is evidence that some pseudepigraphy was accepted, the only known examples are of apocalyptic literature.7 There are only two known examples of pseudepigraphical letters that fit the epistolary format (Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans and 3 Corinthians), but neither one of these was accepted into the canon.8 Therefore, the critics should not claim that it was an accepted convention when dealing with New Testament epistles.

            Guthrie concludes that if pseudepigraphy was accepted into the New Testament canon, it was done without awareness of the epistle’s true character.9 We can conclude, therefore, that the claim that 2 Peter is pseudepigraphy does matter. Pseudepigraphy of this nature would definitely be considered deceptive and not an accepted characteristic of an inerrant canon. Therefore, we need to examine the critics claims. On what basis do the critics derive their conclusions? Each criticism will be explained and then examined as to its validity in order to determine if it is based on provable fact or assumption."
            https://bible.org/article/authorship-second-peter

            In the same article, he says almost everyone thinks 2 Peter is forged.

            The two passages you cite can easily be harmonized.

            Calling the author of the first excerpt a liar and a fool is inflammatory and unproductive if you want to have a dialogue with anyone.

            How can you claim they can easily be harmonized and then not proceed to harmonize them? What kind of debating is that?

            Whoever would right that women should not only shut up and have babies, but also that the "fall" was all their fault (the part about Eve being deceived and not Adam) is a chauvinistic fool. I'd rather not think Paul was a chauvinistic fool. The fact that you would rather defend the Bible than your wife, mother and daughter says something about your character. The fact that so many Christians have failed to examine these issues is also a sign of intellectual laziness, sad really. Isn't it bad when an atheist knows more about the Bible than most Christians?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "The fact that you would rather defend the Bible than your wife, mother and daughter says something about your character."

            Not only are you a brilliant Scriptural scholar, you can even read men's hearts via the internet.

          • William Davis

            The fact that the passage didn't seem to bother you at all, bothered me, sorry if I'm wrong, you still haven't directly denied it, but I believe you if you tell me I'm wrong.

          • Damon

            Let's try not to get too emotional about what the author of the First Epistle to Timothy wrote in his letter 2,000 years ago. The author (whoever he was) expressed what was once considered to be solid and satisfying religious content of that era. Even if Kevin thinks the words came from Paul of Tarsus I'm sure he is just as fine with women speaking, braiding their hair and wearing fancy dresses as the rest of us.

          • William Davis

            You're right, I'll tone it down. I just figured he could have said something, maybe Paul was doting in his old age.

          • Joe Ser

            I do take issue with the scholars of recent vintage especially those of protestant nature. They are viewing the Bible like it just fell from the sky and just started researching it without the benefit of any Tradition and long held commentaries.

          • Mike

            Oh yeah but 100% of atheist historians believe that ALL of the bible is a myth not based on any reliable historical evidence ;)!

          • Doug Shaver

            Oh yeah but 100% of atheist historians believe that ALL of the bible is a myth not based on any reliable historical evidence ;)!

            No, they don't. Some atheist historians think there is some historical fact in the Bible.

          • Mike

            Well that's a relief ;)

          • William Davis

            Catholic resources is talking about Christian scholars (of various denominations). I think Jesus mythicists are irrational, there is clearly a lot of history in the Bible, I've been called a liar and a fraud by several fundamentalist atheists who are mythicists, but they are a minority.

          • Mike

            I agree but the CC does NOT base it's faith entirely on revelation as 'captured' in holy scripture...the books of the bible are holy and primary but from there alot of work still needs to be done; just bc they are 'primary' in a sense does not mean that they are somehow 100% "correct" inthe modern video audio scientific sense...heck look even when we do have video some incident say we still bicker about what "actually" happened...just think of the guy who couldn't breath and that was all caught on tape but STILL there were at least 2 perspectives.

            So look i've never even read the entire new testament before let alone the old but i am certain personally that atheism is false and that christianity is the least wrong belief.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've been called a liar and a fraud by several fundamentalist atheists who are mythicists, but they are a minority.

            It's really unfortunate how many atheists think their disbelief in religion is sufficient evidence of their intellectual superiority.

          • Joe Ser

            I can tell you my writing style has changed over the years. You might even claim they were written by three or four different people.

          • Doug Shaver

            I can tell you my writing style has changed over the years. You might even claim they were written by three or four different people.

            If I have a document with your name on it, and if I could ask you whether you wrote it, I will probably take your word for it if you say you did.

            I cannot do anything like that with documents having Paul's name on them.

          • Authenticity presents as a matter of degree, in general, and the defensibility of pseudepigraphy, of which there are several forms, in particular, also presents in degrees.
            Only one such form is considered dishonorable or forgery.

            That the Bible's an admixture of divine inspiration and clearly human elements can be well established independent of the charge that a forged book somehow made its way into this or that canon (protestant, catholic or orthodox). I suppose one's susceptibility to being scandalized has way more to do with inappropriate expectations than with the determinations of literary and historical criticism, which are well-known by believers and unbelievers, alike.

          • William Davis

            A more salient issue, that's of no interest to Ehrman, is why any given pseudepigraph (forgery or other form) made it into the canon.

            I take it you haven't read Ehrman's books, this is of HUGE interest to Ehrman. He makes the compelling case that their were wars between different theologies to become "orthodox". Both sides used forged books to protect their theological views. Another reason was that Jesus failed to return in spite of his promise to do so within the lifetime of the Apostles. Heaven and hell needed to invented, and views "altered" to move away from that expectation. Forged books surely change theology and alter perception. Just look at the contradictory views about women between 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Paul and Jesus also clearly believed in a physical resurrection of the body, the immortal soul stuff came from platonic philosophy. As we have essentially disproven the soul, the original materialistic resurrection of the dead seems much more plausible than anything made up later. Look at all the non-canonical Acts, gospels and apocalypses we have found, all this adds up to a war, and church fathers talked about the wars. Read Ehrman's books, they are very good. I have yet to see anyone address his major points, they usually stick with trivial details.

          • To be more clear, I meant that ---
            Ehrman 1) offers historical, not theological, judgment re: canon 2) properly distinguishes between questions re: an author's identity and the veracity of what was authored 3) affirms that canonical inclusion wasn't based on historical but theological critique.

            Apart from the issue re: the facts or historical evidence, stipulating (but not convinced) that they're not controversial, there are interpretive issues re: what that evidence means, theologically, for an orthodoxic Christology and/or ecclesiology, and normative questions re: any orthopathic and orthopraxic implications for spirituality. Those interpretations and norms are highly controversial.

            I certainly wouldn't stipulate that the Jesus Seminar, in general, is not highly controversial regarding its methodologies and conclusions, nor that Ehrman's thrust, in particular, represents some type of consensus view.

            I've read Ehrman and viewed 24 half hour lectures of his re: historical Jesus.

            So, too, have I engaged Luke Timothy Johnson's books & lectures. I find Johnson, N.T. Wright and similarly minded scholars much more compelling.

          • William Davis

            I've seen a few articles from N.T. Wright that seem pretty good, I should read more of his work.

          • Joe Ser

            3 And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you: I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be.

            Haydock Ver. 3. commentary
            I will come again: not only by rising the third day, but at your death, and at the day of judgment: that where I am, you also may be, and may receive the reward of eternal happiness in my kingdom.

          • William Davis

            I think John is completely unhistorical. It tells an unrelated story to the synoptics, was the last gospel, and was written by the "Johannine community." I'm only interested in what the historical Jesus and Paul thought. I don't expect you to share my view, but sticking to Mark and the undisputed Pauline letters, here is what we come up with as the likely views of Paul and Jesus.

            1 Thessalonians 4
            Note: the original greek has "fallen asleep" in lieu of "died" for notes h, ect.
            13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[g] about those who have died,[h] so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.[i] 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.[j] 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

            1 Corinthians 15

            12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died[e] in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

            20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.[f] 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end,[g]when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.

            Clearly Paul was eagerly awaiting the resurrection of the righteous. For Paul, if there is no resurrection of the dead, all is in vain, there is no afterlife. Jesus's death was important not only as atonement for sin, but also as the first fruits (the general harvest was always right after the first fruits) of the general resurrection, which he was certain would happen before their death: 1 Thess 4: 15 "For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died." What word of the Lord? Mark 9:1 " And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with[a]power.”

            Mark 13

            17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’[c] or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs[d] and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything.
            24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
            the sun will be darkened,
            and the moon will not give its light,
            25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
            and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
            26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
            28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[e] is near, at the very gates.30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
            32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert;[f] for you do not know when the time will come.

            Christians often quote "no one knows the day or hour" but clearly this generation will not pass before these things take place. Combine that with "some of you will not taste death" and Paul's verse about The same passage is in all synoptics, they all felt it necessary to copy Mark here. Notice the first verse in the passage, 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Paul heard this message loud and clear, see 1 Corinthians 7:1 "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” Of course having sex is bad because it may make a woman pregnant, and since the last days were here, that would be a terrible mistake by Jesus's own words.

            Here's a quick passage from the mouth of Jesus in Mark 12:

            18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man[b] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married the widow[c] and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection[d] whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

            24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

            The Sadducees clearly did not believe in the resurrection, the Pharisees, however did. Sheol (where both the righteous and the wicked went after) may have been a view held by the Sadducees, that is why Jesus said "He is God not of the dead, but of the living." He also mentions Moses, Moses is an Egyptian name meaning "son of" (think Thutmoses) and the Egyptians clearly believed in a physical resurrection, that's what all the mummies were for. This particular argument is very telling about the views of Jesus if you no something about history and different historical views of the afterlife. Just a note, Solomon may not have believed in an afterlife (assuming he wrote Ecclesiastes):

            Ecclesiastes 3: "19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?"

            Hopefully I've made a clear point that the Christian view of heaven and hell are an incredible minority when it comes to scripture. The egyptian style resurrection was the afterlife view of the two founders of Christianity. This is from wikipedia's article on the Sadducees:

            The Sadducees rejected the belief in resurrection of the dead, which was a central tenet believed by Early Christians. The Sadducees supposedly believed in the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol for those who had died. According to the New Testament, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection, but Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, claims that the Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good people would be reincarnated and “pass into other bodies,” while “the souls of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.” [12]

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadducees#General

            Views of the afterlife were all over the map in those days. When my son was born, it was my "resurrection" :)

          • Joe Ser

            Johns was an eyewitness. He does not always retell what was told in previous scripture but fills in the blanks and adds what is important.

          • Doug Shaver

            Authenticity presents as a matter of degree, in general, and the defensibility of pseudepigraphy, of which there are several forms, in particular, also presents in degrees.

            When the church stops arguing from authority, I will start to care less about whether a document was actually written by the particular authority that church says was its author.

          • In theory, it's not as bad as all that. There's a plurality of "witnesses to revelation" that includes oral and written traditions, ecclesiological participations and theological interpretations, by the faithful and by theologians. In theory, the magisterial teaching office only passes on what it has gathered from listening to this "sense of the faithful" in matters of faith and morals. This doesn't seem as problematic regarding dogma as it does with certain church disciplines and moral doctrines. In the latter categories, the sensus fidelium-magisterial circuits seem to have a short, which some have described as a creeping infallibilism. In practice, the theory's not playing out well. The authority thereby subverts its own authoritative influence, scandalously so, which, in my view, is a shame because a return to its roots and resourcement would bolster, not undermine, such as the canon of scripture or the liturgical tradition.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not really trying to argue with the church as an institution. When I'm debating with a particular apologist for the church, I will address whatever that apologist says, and some of the ones I've encountered in this forum do argue from authority.

          • Joe Ser

            No one is born in a vacuum. We all have learned from one authority or another. It becomes a worldview choice.

          • Doug Shaver

            We all have learned from one authority or another.

            Of course we have. But some of us have learned not to regard any of them as infallible. I will disagree with any authority about anything, if I believe I have discovered a good reason to think they are mistaken.

          • Gotcha.

          • Joe Ser

            The Church needs authority to transmit the truth. The three legged stool of scripture, Tradition and Magisterium do this. Take one away and the stool topples. We see the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and thousands of protestant communities that all interpret scripture their own way.

          • Doug Shaver

            The Church needs authority to transmit the truth.

            You believe it has that authority. I do not.

          • Joe Ser

            That is the reason Jesus set it up. He founded one church not many.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is the reason Jesus set it up.

            So says the church.

          • Joe Ser

            So says the Church who has scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium whose job it is to faithfully pass it on.

            The protestants had that very same data and then decided 1500 years later to protest. Once they went sola scriptura it was over. They have no authority and anyone group can interpret scripture the way the want. The fruits are as follows:

            Catholic Church - one, holy and apostolic
            Non - Catholic - many, splintered and founded much later. Many with diametrically opposed views.

            Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.

            16 You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
            17 In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit.
            18 A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit.
            19 Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire.
            20 I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your quarrel with Protestants is irrelevant to me. I have no reason either of you has any real authority.

          • Joe Ser

            Of course you wouldn't. One can rule out logically that protestant groups who are opposed cannot have authority. Parsing through this one is left standing, the CC.

          • Doug Shaver

            One can rule out logically that protestant groups who are opposed cannot have authority.

            If two groups are opposed, the only thing I can rule out is that both have authority. The fact that Protestants disagree among themselves means that most of them are wrong, but it doesn't mean they're all wrong.

          • Joe Ser

            How so? One could be right because of authority.

            RIght, they are not all wrong. They retain many of the truths. They do interpret sola scriptura, which leads to error.

          • Doug Shaver

            One could be right because of authority.

            Possibility does not imply probability. You cannot infer "is right" from "could be right."

          • Joe Ser

            Yet scientists argue that all the time. Protein folding for example falls into the designed probability, but many evo scientists hold out for the chance possibility against all odds. Why? They cannot let the Divine foot in the door.

            "Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common
            sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between
            science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of
            the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure
            to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite
            of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated
            just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to
            materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science
            somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal
            world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori
            adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and
            a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how
            counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.
            Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine
            Foot in the door. "
            Richard Lewontin

          • Doug Shaver

            Yet scientists argue that all the time.

            You can't prove that by quoting just one of them. And the one you quote does not say, "If it is possible, then it is certain."

          • Joe Ser

            An interesting article:

            Science Turns Authoritarian - Science is losing its credibility because it has adopted an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by politics.

            http://www.aei.org/publication/science-turns-authoritarian/

          • Doug Shaver

            An interesting article:

            It's an interesting example of certain polemical techniques, but the authors provide no solid support for their thesis. And their thesis is not relevant to what you and I were just discussing.

          • Joe Ser

            "And what, in any case is the precise force of the word 'cannot' in connection with allowing a Divine foot in the door? If, as Lewontin says, science does not force us to be materialists, then the 'cannot' clearly does not refer to science as being incapable of pointing in the
            direction of a Divine foot. It must simply mean that 'we materialists cannot allow a Divine foot in the door'. Well, of course, it is a tautology to say that 'materialists cannot allow a Divine foot in the door'. Materialism rejects both the Divine foot and, come to think of it, the door as well. There is after all, no 'outside' for a materialist - the 'cosmos is all that is, was, or ever shall be'. But that rejection carries no implications whatsoever about the existence of such a foot or door beyond the mere unsubstantiated assertion that Lewontin personally does not believe in either of them."

            "The primary problem is not to provide the public with the knowledge of how far it is to the
            nearest star and what genes are made of .. Rather, the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth." John Lennox

          • Doug Shaver

            That seems to have nothing to do with what is implied by the possibility of some authority being right.

          • Doug Shaver

            You say he founded a church. I have no reason to take your word for that.

          • Joe Ser

            Don't. I did not make it up. This is the constant teaching and tradition of the Church.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. The church says it, you believe it, and that settles it.

          • Joe Ser

            I trust that they have faithfully handed down what Christ said and did. You place your trust in modernistic critics who have tried but failed. I too have weighed the evidence and found the criticisms lacking.

          • Doug Shaver

            I trust that they have faithfully handed down what Christ said and did.

            You have made your trust obvious. You have not made it so obvious that I ought to have that same trust.

          • Joe Ser

            Do you trust scientists?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't trust scientists any more than I trust other people. I trust the method they use, but without forgetting that the method is being implemented by human beings with the same failings that all the rest of us have. If I accept the conclusion of a scientific argument, it isn't because scientists make the argument. It's because the argument is logically cogent no matter who makes it.

          • Joe Ser

            This is logically coherent.

            Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.

            The universe began to exist.

            Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.

            We agree - human reasoning is a weak link.

          • Doug Shaver

            This is logically coherent.

            Coherence is not the same as validity, but I will grant that your argument is valid. Validity is irrelevant without soundness, however, and I don't grant the soundness of your argument.

          • Joe Ser

            An interesting article:

            Science Turns Authoritarian - Science is losing its credibility because it has adopted an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by politics. http://www.aei.org/publication/science-turns-authoritarian/

          • Joe Ser

            The method though is limited to the natural by its own a priori bias.

          • Doug Shaver

            The method though is limited to the natural by its own a priori bias.

            Could I trouble you to tell me how you define "bias"?

        • Doug Shaver

          I would call it a "charge" because the connotations of the word "forge" are negative.

          That works for me. If Paul didn't write some of the letters attributed to him, then that's a negative for the credibility of those letters.

          • Joe Ser

            It is important to understand that in Biblical times a recorder may have written the material as it was dictated or memorialized.

          • Doug Shaver

            The scholars who deny Pauline authorship are aware that he may have used the services of scribes. When they say he didn't write some of the letters attributed to him, they mean that he had no involvement in their production.

          • Joe Ser

            I am going with the constant Tradition until it is proven otherwise.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your loyalty to the church is noted.

          • Joe Ser

            Why not? As I said scholar's speculation is not compelling.

          • Doug Shaver

            You must have responded before I deleted the comment. To answer your question: I have no reason to think the church's traditions are historically reliable. I need reasons to believe, not to disbelieve.

          • Joe Ser

            What would convince you they are?

          • Doug Shaver

            What would convince you they are?

            Reliable independent confirmation.

          • Joe Ser

            As in extra biblical sources?

          • Doug Shaver

            They would not be independent if they were intrabiblical.

          • Joe Ser

            Hmmm, let us really examine this. If we go around today collecting materials on WWII we would set forth a canon to determine if they belong. Naturally, those that were would be in the compendium.

            That aside, we do have some extra biblical sources that I am sure you are aware of.

          • Doug Shaver

            If we go around today collecting materials on WWII we would set forth a canon to determine if they belong.

            Yes, we could do that. But if we did, we wouldn't be doing history. Real historians don't do canons.

          • Joe Ser

            Sure they do or they wouldn't be real historians.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, then, you and I just have very different ideas about what constitutes real history.

          • Joe Ser

            Real history has to be true. A real historian has to get closest to the truth he can.

            I believe absolute truth exists. You do not. Any history you read is then unreliable. Why even bother then......

          • Doug Shaver

            Real history has to be true.

            If you and I are looking at the same book, which purports to be a work of history, which of us gets to decide whether it's a true history?

          • Joe Ser

            Excellent point. In every case we will have to trust someone before us. The only exemption would be if you could time travel and be a witness.

            The evidence has to add up. Revisionist history is an issue. Trying to look back at old data with a modern eye might introduce bias. In the case of Christianity, the writings and practices of the early church fathers is a basis. Are the beliefs of the church the same as then? Yes.

            Organic development is built upon those foundational truths.

          • Doug Shaver

            In every case we will have to trust someone before us.

            OK. But the people I trust disagree with the people you trust. Now what?

            The evidence has to add up

            When I examine the evidence, it seems to add up against Christianity.

            Trying to look back at old data with a modern eye might introduce bias.

            I'll admit that that's a possibility. Will you admit that it's a possibility the old eyes had their own biases?

          • Joe Ser

            I'll have your people talk to my people. LOL

            I give my vote to the eyewitnesses.

            You give yours to the modern critics.

            We need a tiebreaker.

            The issue I have with the old people bias is eyewitness accounts. They were martyred and yet refused to concede a charade. The bias I will concede is one toward truth.

          • Doug Shaver

            I give my vote to the eyewitnesses.

            Maybe I would, too, but you're not trusting any eyewitnesses. You are trusting people who say there were eyewitnesses.

            We need a tiebreaker.

            I think I have learned to distinguish between the facts in evidence and various conclusions that have been inferred from those facts. That distinction has, for me, broken lots of ties.

          • Joe Ser

            I think your bias goes much deeper.

          • Doug Shaver

            You may assume that all who disagree with you are biased, once you have proved yourself to be lacking bias.

          • Doug Shaver

            They were martyred and yet refused to concede a charade.

            One example, please. Pick your favorite.

          • Joe Ser

            Just about any of the Apostle's except John.

          • Doug Shaver

            There are legends about their deaths. Why should I believe those legends?

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe absolute truth exists. You do not

            I don't recall saying whether I believe absolute truth exists.

          • Joe Ser

            Does it?

          • Doug Shaver

            That depends on what you mean by absolute truth. How does it differ from whatever other kind of truth you think exists?

          • Joe Ser

            Absolute truth would of course be unchangeable. Searching for truth means it exists. It would be the highest truth, an ultimate authority. Absolute truth applies to everyone whether they believe it or not. It cannot be relativistic, as in, my truth is as good as yours. It is the total absence of falsehood.

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe that many propositions are true regardless of whether anyone believes them, and that they always have been and always will be true. Is that absolute enough for you?

          • William Davis

            The evidence points to the fact that the church is highly unreliable. Added endings to books, added parables, many verses are now in brackets or removed because they were added later. They were clearly making it up as they went along.

          • Joe Ser

            Additions somehow make it unreliable? There are many valid reasons for additions. Publishers make mistakes, translation issues, clarification, etc are some reasons. We see it all the time. Finding new or additional material and adding it to a collection does not invalidate it.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've read the work of some of those scholars. I see plenty of argumentation that is anything but mere speculation.

          • Joe Ser

            Give me the top 3.

          • Doug Shaver

            The top 3 in whose judgment? Mine?

          • Joe Ser

            Yes, I would like to see your point of view.

          • Doug Shaver

            Most of the scholarly heavy lifting has been done by people whose work I have read about but not examined myself. Two exceptions are Robert M. Price and Bart Ehrman. I've read several of each's books, and I'd put them in first and second place. Third place would be a tossup between Burton Mack and John P. Meier, of whose books I've read one each.

          • Joe Ser

            Did they discuss the motivations and unproved assumptions? Who is Q? Bismark and his issues with the Church? Just wondering......

          • Doug Shaver

            Did they discuss the motivations and unproved assumptions? Who is Q? Bismark and his issues with the Church? Just wondering......

            It's been a few years since I read them, and I wasn't taking notes. I was reading for pleasure, not to prepare for a test. I remember very clearly, though, that what I read was not "mere speculation," as you characterized it.

            In all of my reading, as best I recall, I have never seen anyone attempt to identify the author of the Q document with any particular person or group. I am personally not entirely convinced that there was such a document. Neither can I recall any references to Bismarck's opinions about the New Testament or the origins of Christianity. I was unaware that he had any such opinions until I did some googling in response to your question.

          • Joe Ser

            Bismark's anti-church position is one of suspicion. Yet the Protestant world followed his lead.

            I believe "Q" is a fantasy and a dead end.

            When we say leading scholars believe, they are mostly Protestant. Admittedly, there are Catholics who bought into this too. The Pontifical Biblical Council was against it in the early 1900's. As I posted earlier Benedict XVI holds Matthew to be first.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was a Protestant when I was a Christian. When I stopped being a Christian, I stopped being a Protestant.

            I believe "Q" is a fantasy and a dead end.

            I don't think it's a fantasy. I believe that the scholars who think it existed have good reasons to think so. Their reasons just aren't quite good enough, in my judgment, to settle the issue.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you applied textual criticism to all the writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes and you found that certain passages or even whole examples of his opinions were not written by him (based on their style) would you call them forgeries or not credible? No, because they were written for him by his clerks and he put his name on them.

          • Doug Shaver

            The quality of a legal opinion is judged independently of any question about who wrote it. No lawyer in his right mind would tell a judge, "Your honor, this court must rule such-and-such because Oliver Wendell Holmes said so."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm talking about someone saying, OWH could not have written this because it is not written in his usual style.

          • Doug Shaver

            about someone saying, OWH could not have written this because it is not written in his usual style.

            OK, so someone says that. Does some say he did write it, and if so, why do they say so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            William Davis says Paul most likely did not write the Pastoral Epistles so they are probably "forged."

            The letter does begin by naming the author, Paul.

            As for authorship, the editors of the New American Bible say this:

            From the late second century to the nineteenth, Pauline authorship of the three Pastoral Epistles went unchallenged. Since then, the attribution of these letters to Paul has been questioned. Most scholars are convinced that Paul could not have been responsible for the vocabulary and style, the concept of church organization, or the theological expressions found in these letters. A second group believes, on the basis of statistical evidence, that the vocabulary and style are Pauline, even if at first sight the contrary seems to be the case. They state that the concept of church organization in the letters is not as advanced as the questioners of Pauline authorship hold since the notion of hierarchical order in a religious community existed in Israel before the time of Christ, as evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Finally, this group sees affinities between the theological thought of the Pastorals and that of the unquestionably genuine letters of Paul. Other scholars, while conceding a degree of validity to the positions mentioned above, suggest that the apostle made use of a secretary who was responsible for the composition of the letters. A fourth group of scholars believes that these letters are the work of a compiler, that they are based on traditions about Paul in his later years, and that they include, in varying amounts, actual fragments of genuine Pauline correspondence.

            If Paul is considered the more immediate author, the Pastorals are to be dated between the end of his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:16) and his execution under Nero (A.D. 63–67); if they are regarded as only more remotely Pauline, their date may be as late as the early second century. In spite of these problems of authorship and dating, the Pastorals are illustrative of early Christian life and remain an important element of canonical scripture.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've been reading about this debate for years. The NAB commentary is a nice summary of what I've learned.

          • Doug Shaver

            William Davis says Paul most likely did not write the Pastoral Epistles so they are probably "forged."

            Davis can speak for himself, but I would not call them forgeries if I were convinced that Paul dictated them to a scribe or was in some other way personally responsible for their content.

          • William Davis

            80% is a huge number of Christian scholars who think Paul did not write the letter, or any of the "pastorals" some scholars say "virtually all" think it was "pseudoepigraphical". There are many books in the NT where this is the case, including second Peter. The early church only allowed items written by Apostles in the canon, so if they are forged, they should not be a part of the canon. Tons of historical evidence suggests that there were many theological wars in the early days of Christianity, and everyone was writing forged apostolic documents to back up their own theological views. The side that one ended up with their lies in the canon. If you actually read some of Paul's letters, and then read 1 Timothy, you can tell. It isn't just vague statistics, it contradicts Paul's theology has a different understanding of faith, it's by a different author. The passage I pointed out that tells women to shut up and have babies, the fall is their fault (and thus ever bad thing that ever happened) completely contradict Paul's views that sex is bad, but if you must have sex, get marriage and treat each other equally as one in Christ. There is a quiet war about this going on inside Christianity, tons of evidence of it on the net if you look. Bart Ehrman is just bringing out the truth about it. Should a skeptic be surprised they were making crap up as they went along? No, but lying in the name of an important Apostle is pretty low, and putting that crap about women in his mouth ticks me off. Wouldn't Jesus and Paul be mad about it too? Sometimes the hypocrisy really bothers me...

          • Doug Shaver

            and he put his name on them.

            If I knew that to be a fact, I would not call them forgeries.

          • Joe Ser

            Again, my writing style has changed over time. I also write with a different style depending on my audience. I may be more expansive of details than I used too. With the benefit of age I may see and try to explain the big picture better.

    • William Davis

      My Dad is a fundamentalist preacher, bringing up many of these things about the Bible results in him walking away. It's sad we can't have an open and honest discussion about Christianity, and what the actual views of Jesus and Paul seem to be. In my experience, fundamentalists care more about Paul than they do Jesus which has always been a bit bazaar to me(it's supposed to be Christianity, not Paulianity right?). Good video.

      • Mike

        "actual views of Jesus and Paul seem to be"

        Do you mean that view which seems to resonate with you most?

        • William Davis

          Nope, miss my negative comment on original sin? I'm talking undisputed Pauline letters and the gospel of Mark, the oldest books of the New testament. You should read ehrmans books, they are very good.

          • Joe Ser

            I do not subscribe to Mark being the oldest. I go with the Clementine composed order, Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. St Jerome put it in order of publication Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

          • William Davis

            "Marcan priority has been accepted by most scholars since the late nineteenth century and forms the foundation for the widely accepted two-source theory, although a number of scholars support different forms of Marcan priority or reject it altogether.[1][2]"

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

            Marcan priority is the consensus.

          • Joe Ser

            Consensus does not make it correct. Up until a few hundred years ago no one had any issue with the traditional order. Early on Clementine and Jerome both put Matthew first. I believe that we are starting to see a movement away from Marcan priority.

            Dei Verbum and the Synoptic Gospels
            - http://www.ewtn.com/library/SCRIPTUR/DEISYN.TXT

          • William Davis

            I think the biggest reason is Marks primitive Christology (becoming divine at the Baptism) and subordination to John the Baptist Mark 1

            9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[h] with you I am well pleased.”

            The Temptation of Jesus

            12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

            The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

            14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[i] of God,[j] 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k] repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]

            You see, Jesus does nothing until his mentor, John the Baptist is taken of the seen. Matthew rewrites this to make it look like John is subordinate to Jesus. If Mark had been copying Matthew, it wouldn't have worked that way, Matthew was copying Mark, Matthew 3

            13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

            Mark knows nothing of the virgin birth, Mark 3

            Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

            28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

            31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.

            His family thought he was out of his mind. If they had been through the trials of both Matthew and Luke's virgin birth, they would have known something was. One thing funny about Matthew is that he gives Joseph's geneology. If Jesus was born of a virgin, how does Joseph's geneology matter. Jews claim since Jesus wasn't of David's Paternal line (born directly of God an all) he couldn't be the Messiah. David and Solomon were also sons of God, 2 Samuel 7:

            13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take[b] my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me;[c] your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

            Mark represents a Jewish understanding of "Son of God" as the line of David. Matthew's virgin birth represents a pagan understanding of son of God in a literal sense, like Hercules or Romulus.

            John, the last gospel, has Jesus as divine starting at the beginning of time as a manifestation of the Logos (a loaded word in greek philosophy). John seems unconcerned about the virgin birth as well. Luke maintains Matthews Christology, but further embellishes the story with the book of acts. The progression starting with Mark, then Matthew, then Luke/Acts, finally John shows a clear evolution of Jesus's divinity. The fact that Paul also mention's Jesus's brothers completely contradicts the perpetual virginity of Mary.

          • Joe Ser

            Benedict's XVI remarks:

            BENEDICT XVI

            GENERAL AUDIENCE

            Paul VI Audience Hall
            Wednesday, 30 August 2006

            Lastly, let us remember that the tradition of the
            ancient Church agrees in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the
            First Gospel. This had already begun with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in
            Frisia, in about the year 130.

            He writes: "Matthew set down the words (of the Lord) in
            the Hebrew tongue and everyone interpreted them as best he could" (in
            Eusebius of Cesarea, Hist. Eccl. III, 39, 16).

            Eusebius, the historian, adds this piece of information:
            "When Matthew, who had first preached among the Jews, decided also to
            reach out to other peoples, he wrote down the Gospel he preached in his
            mother tongue; thus, he sought to put in writing, for those whom he was
            leaving, what they would be losing with his departure" (ibid., III, 24, 6).

            The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew or Aramaic is no
            longer extant, but in the Greek Gospel that we possess we still
            continue to hear, in a certain way, the persuasive voice of the publican
            Matthew, who, having become an Apostle, continues to proclaim God's
            saving mercy to us. And let us listen to St Matthew's message,
            meditating upon it ever anew also to learn to stand up and follow Jesus
            with determination.

            http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20060830.html

          • William Davis

            Problem is, Justin Martyr, before Papias, calls them "Memoirs of the Apostles", but he quotes from nearly all. They were not named yet. Papias likely made up the name, and we also have strange stories from him about Judas. Another thing is Papias liked to talk about handling snaked, and that is the content of the forged longer ending to Mark. Perhaps Papias and his followers added that all current Bibles show as NOT ORIGINAL AND WRITTEN BY SOMEONE ELSE. I like and trust Justin Martyr, I don't trust Papias.

          • William Davis

            For the record, I just got done defending the existence of Jesus of Nazareth against a goofy mythicist who thought Samson was a Nazarene (Samson was a Nazirite, lol). My standard for evidence is different from a Christian, I'm very picky about who I trust for evidence and their motivations. I'm confident Yeshua of Nazareth was a historical person.

          • Marc Riehm

            No good can come from a movement away from Marcan priority, believe you me!

          • Joe Ser

            Explain.

          • Marc Riehm

            Just a joke, because of my name.

          • Joe Ser

            Ahhhh, didn't see that coming.... LOL

  • David Nickol

    This is one of the best pieces to appear on Strange Notions in quite some time. I am looking forward to the second part.

    It seems to me quite true that we all approach the Bible with presuppositions (if we approach it at all!). But sometimes those presuppositions are about reality, and sometimes they are presuppositions specifically about the Bible. Those who believe miracles are impossible and those who believe they aren't are obviously going to regard the Bible differently. They will have to sort out their differences (if possible) before even getting into a discussion of the Bible. But then there are people (the extreme case being fundamentalists/literalists) who have beliefs about the Bible itself. These beliefs are not arrived at by reading the Bible and finding it convincing. They are beliefs inculcated perhaps prior to any meaningful engagement with the Bible itself, and they dictate how the Bible is to be approached and interpreted.

    • William Davis

      I agree completely, and apologize for being abrasive. It just bothers me that someone could lie over something so important, making me not trust the gospels as a whole. Credibility is very important, I struggle with letting the presence of distortions in the texts discredit the whole New Testament, the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead is an extremely important one.

      • Joe Ser

        When the earliest Gospels and letters were written there were alive witnesses who could refute them. Instead they gave support to the writings and teachings.

        Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity.

        • William Davis

          I agree, I've taken Pascal's wager seriously.

          • Joe Ser

            Pascal's wager is meant for agnostics to get them thinking. It is not proof but a pretty good reason to believe.

          • Mike

            It "works" for me; i don't think it is a good positive reason but it makes atheism very very difficult imho to defend in practical terms.

          • Have you looked into how poorly the wager holds up? It's barely an argument worth considering. Greta Christina has one of the best responses to it I've come across: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2011/02/why-pascals-wager-sucks.html

          • Mike

            I can't see how it isn't a very very strong argument AT LEAST against atheism as atheism is very up front about afterlifes: no possibility, none full stop.

            If one "road" is 100% a dead end then no matter what even if there are a trillion others at least you know that that one is a none starter so at least you get a chance no matter how small of picking the right road.

            I can't see how it doesn't "defeat" atheism completely. I am being honest.

          • Since I doubt you read a 3500 word article in less than seven minutes, I'll just say that you should consider reading it sometime.

          • Mike

            Ok, thanks.

          • Mike

            Hold on the piece is called "why pascal's wager SUCKS?" Come on is that really supposed to be a serious refutation? With the word sucks in it?

          • Greta Christina is a fairly well known and respected voice. Either read it or don't.

          • Mike

            Is she an atheist?

          • Mike

            Whoa i take that back i just looked at her wiki, apparently she's been in porno films and she's proud of that? Well i know you think i am just a repressed christian but that's gross. anyway all the best.

          • Ad hominem much, Mike?

          • Mike

            Come on dude, she's an extremist any way you stretch it...anyway i think pascal's wager is a dead end for atheism if it denies "life after death" but that's only a tautology so maybe int that sense you're right it's a weak argument bc it only restates what atheism asserts which is that once dead everything disappears for ever.

          • I'll make sure to only link to articles written by conservative, heterosexual men that do not contain PG-13 words in the future.

          • Mike

            Dude, she's an extremist...anyway this is getting silly...don't take the wager, but if you don't take it then really don't take it don't just say well if an afterlife does exist i'll just be wrong so it won't matter anyway bc i'll end up having an afterlife just like anyone else...bc that will only prove you're really an agnostic in your heart and are too "chicken" to deny God and afterlife seriously and face the "real consequences"!

          • Yes, I'm an agnostic chicken God afterlife real consequences denier.

          • Mike

            HA! Ok.

          • Krakerjak

            Grinning broadly ;-)

          • William Davis

            LOL.

          • Doug Shaver

            it only restates what atheism asserts which is that once dead everything disappears for ever.

            Atheism asserts nothing about what happens to us after we're dead.

          • Doug Shaver

            i just looked at her wiki, apparently she's been in porno films and she's proud of that?

            And that's supposed to prove that she doesn't have a good argument?

          • Mike

            She's an extremist; she doesn't want God to exist bc she doesn't want to have to account for her lifestyle so she finds any scraps of "evidence" she can find to cobble together a case against his existence ;)

          • Doug Shaver

            she doesn't want God to exist bc she doesn't want to have to account for her lifestyle

            What she wants is of no importance to me. She either has a good argument or she doesn't. Whether she likes the conclusion she reaches does not matter any more than whether you or I like it.

          • Mike

            i know i was reversing the believers are afraid of death so they believe trope...just having a bit of fun.

          • Michael Murray

            And that's supposed to prove that she doesn't have a good argument?

            It's a phallacy.

          • William Davis

            Try a whole web site dedicated to it, lol

            http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/

          • Mike

            WOW! Me thinks the atheist doth protesteth too much if you know what i mean ;).

          • William Davis

            Blame Blaise Pascal, lol.

          • William Davis

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

            "In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism.[6] His father died in 1651. Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits. In that year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetical triangle. Between 1658 and 1659 he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids."

            Is Jansenism still a part of Catholicism or is it some kind of heresy?

          • Mike

            I have no idea.

          • Mike O’Leary

            WOW! Me thinks the atheist doth protesteth too much if you know what i mean ;).

            I'm not sure if I do. Usually when we say that someone doth protest too much it's when a person makes a repeated assertion (often at a far greater rate then those making the opposite assertion) and revealing that they in truth aren't aligned with the assertion they are making. For example a person who feels the need to state often that they are not sexist might be demonstrating to others how sexist he or she really is.

            So as far as Pascal's Wager goes, from what I gather that you think the person who made the Rejection of Pascal's Wager site is protesting too much and in some way might secretly fear that the Wager is accurate. Am I correct? The problem with that is there are many people who will argue strongly and repeatedly as to the value of the Wager. You yourself have done so on this page alone. To say that someone making a site arguing against the Wager protests too much ignores the number of people who argue for it.

            Occasionally people will also use the term "doth protest too much" as a way to sidestep actually tackling the argument being made against their position. I hope that is not the case here.

          • Mike

            Don't take the wager then; if you're right we'll all be gone for ever and it will be as though none of this ever happened ;)

          • Mike O’Leary

            My post had nothing to do with whether Pascal's Wager is worthwhile or not, but what might have been implied when you suggested the atheist "doth protest too much". I wanted to know if you meant what I thought you meant by using that phrase, and if so then it was not a valid criticism by you of that atheist.

          • Mike

            My point was that atheists seem insecure when it comes to taking the wager especially a site devoted to one of the simplest arguments for Christianity vs atheism there is...it's a very simple argument; it doesn't need a 3,500 word essay refuting it all it needs is an honest atheist to take the wager pray sincerely and move on or admit that not taking it doesn't make sense if atheism is true.

          • If you think that praying sincerely is all it takes to get to heaven, then I'll see you there, along with every other atheist who seriously examined their faith before rejecting it. But that's not what the Bible says. Following the Bible involves sacrifices. I can't believe that an atheist has to be the one who tells you this.

          • Mike

            Don't worry, if you leave room for God then we may be reunited but if you reject God AND insist that you do not WANT God then for your sake i'd hope atheism is right ;)!

          • Damon

            all it needs is an honest atheist to take the wager pray sincerely and move on or admit that not taking it doesn't make sense if atheism is true.

            Taking the wager doesn't makes sense regardless of whether atheism is true because it's such a lousy wager no matter which way you look at it. So many relevant variables are completely ignored like they don't even matter:

            What are the odds that the religion you happen to bet on turns out to be the right one?

            What are the odds that your experience in the afterlife is dependent on your religious beliefs in this life?

            Assuming you do somehow bet on the right religion, and that your fate in the afterlife is dependent on your beliefs in this life, what are the odds the god deciding your fate will be fooled by this "fake it 'til you make it, what have you got to loose" approach to faith, that's not really faith at all?

            If the point of Pascal's wager is really just to get agnostics and atheists to give your god a shot and attempt to start a relationship with him, then stop trying to be clever about it and just be honest. You can say, "Hey, I know I have no way to substantiate this claim, but God is real, he's there to be interacted with. I know, I've experienced Him and you can too if you just give it a shot." That would seriously get you so much farther.

          • Mike

            The wager is a low appeal no doubt which is exactly its beauty...look the wager "works" bc atheism cuts off one path, namely existence after death, the wager just "exploits" that fact that atheism insists on.

            The only way i believe the wager actually doesn't work is if one believes that NOT existing is preferable to existence, which is exactly what atheism assumes.

            BTW who cares if some hindu theology turns out to be the right one as if you don't "buy a ticket" you are 100 % guaranteed to lose; at least if you buy a ticket you get a chance.

          • Damon

            Those who believe that there is no life after death do not believe this because they find oblivion preferable to an afterlife. I think you and I would both agree that mankind, in general, has an apparent need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. We Epicureans simply admit that these apparent needs are hopes, and believing them doesn't make them true.

            If you want to say that "winning" is simply discovering upon your death that there is, in fact, an afterlife, then both you and I will "win", so long as I am incorrect. If we are both incorrect and Buddhism or Hinduism is true, then it doesn't matter, we both "win".

            Of course, if we are both incorrect and Islam is true, then you and I can talk then about whether this actually counts as "winning" while we're suffering in indescribable agony together in Jahannam.

          • Mike

            Islam is only a christian heresy the God is the same.

            My and the wager's point is that atheism is the worst choice; agnosticism is not atheism btw.

          • Damon

            So what if you think it's a "heresy"? It has the same infinitesimal likelihood of being correct as Catholicism, and in the very unlikely scenario it turns out to be true both you and I will damned for all time.

            As far as I'm concerned, atheism is a null hypothesis. It's the accepted default position that there are no gods because there is not sufficient evidence to believe that there are any gods.

            The point of Pascal's wager, as I understand it, is to set aside the issue that there is no evidence for your god (or any god) and get the atheist to give your god a shot because he has "nothing to loose, and everything to gain." But the wager fails six ways to Sunday and in the end serves as nothing more than a wily distraction that veers the conversation away from facts and evidence, trying to construct an ingenious reason to reject the null hypothesis without actually running an experiment.

            The worst part is that it's completely unnecessary! It's end goal can be completed faster, simpler, and easier by just being honest! Tell the atheist upfront that you recognize there is insufficient evidence available to show belief in your god as reasonable, but assure him/her that your god exists regardless, and that by attempting a relationship with him you will receive all the evidence you need through prayer. I honestly have no idea why theists continue to lean on Pascal's wager when this approach would be a million times more effective.

          • Mike

            1. that's not at all what islam says but that's neither here nor there. Plus again they worship the SAME god not some other "islamic" god.

            2. i would say the default is theism or at least agnosticism but definitely not atheism but again let's not go around in circles.

            3. not quite: the point is to help the person who just can't honestly decide how to WEIGH the evidence; it's to give them an "incentive" in that no matter what atheism leads to death and only death nothing else nothing just disappearing and that's it. So if the person agrees AT LEAST that "being" is better than "not being" they can try taking the wager.

            4. there is imho abundant evidence for god/gods, however imho there is "just enough" to believe and to deny so there has to be another "part" to it and that is the most important i believe...that part that is "truly" "Damon"...what does Damon "really" want? I mean really in his heart of hearts? and the wager helps that person try it.

            PS I do think you should pray and ask God to reveal himself to you but if you're "stuck" the wager is not a bad starting point...like i said it worked for me, a naturally non-committal give the benefit of the doubt kind of person who didn't take christianity seriously until he started to take atheism seriously.

          • Damon

            1. When I was a Christian a devout Muslim friend of mine (who I believe honestly meant well) explained to me that if I took seriously and faithfully the claims of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, and lived out his teachings in my daily life, I would come to the full realization that Jesus was not divine, that he never claimed to be, and that he was in fact a prophet of the One True God (Allah). Then I would convert to Islam and be saved. If I failed to do this before my death and continued to worship God's prophet, Jesus, as one with God himself I would surely be sentenced to Jahannam upon Judgement Day. I do not know enough about Islam to know if this is orthodox Muslim theology (I know it differs between Sunni and Shia) but I have never heard it explained differently.

            Also, whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God is irrelevant, it depends whose theology is correct. If my Muslim friend's theology is correct, both you, I, and all non-Muslims will roast together in Jahannam. This works among Christian sects as well. If certain Protestant sects teach the correct theology, and Roman Catholicism turns out to be a heresy, it won't matter that you worshiped the same Jesus Christ that they did. You and I will still suffer for eternity together.

            2. Theism can't be the null hypothesis since it's the claim being tested. If you want to say my description of atheism is really more accurately thought of as agnosticism, go ahead. When I look up the definition of atheism, though, I find it defined as, "disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods" which is precisely the null hypothesis I'm referring to.

            3. Right, the point is to set aside the fact that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of any god and push the balance of evidence in favor of your god (and your particular interpretation of that god) because doing so provides the (unjustified) hope of an afterlife. This is intellectually dishonest. It would be far better to be upfront, admit that the available evidence is insufficient, but insist that the God who is real and able to be interacted with will send you the necessary evidence if you only ask Him to.

            4. If your point is to get me to admit that I want life in the hereafter as badly as the next person, then yes, I do. Who doesn't? But as that great song goes, "You can't always get what you want." And I'd add that hoping for something, however sincerely, doesn't make it real.

            If you believe that God exists and the way to know this for a fact is to develop a relationship then that should be your starting point, "I know it's crazy, but trust me on this." Pascal's wager is inherently dishonest, designed to rig the test in favor of the outcome we want to be true, regardless of where the evidence leads us. If you want us atheists and agnostics to reject the null hypothesis don't tell us to disregard the evidence. Show us where we can find more conclusive evidence!

          • Mike

            1. i think that you are mistaking theological attempts at figuring out what is true with actualizing what will be true: the various muslim/christian/jewish beliefs differ greatly on finer points but they all worship the same god and generally agree that he is merciful etc. so setting up your own booth ala the protestants including islam will not mean that the god changes but anyway that's another discussion.

            2. i think the default is "There is something" and from all common sense all human civilizations seemed to have argued first that therefore something must have created that something ergo "god"...if you doubt me look throughout history and notice how much god talk there's been and STILL is...god is definitely the default position of 99% of all humanity throughout history and should be imho.

            3. if you mean that there is insufficient evidence for God i would strongly disagree but if your point is that there is insufficient to tip the balance for someone who is naturally skeptical and a dyed in the wool materialist like you seem to be then yes there is just enough to believe and not believe...the wager makes the choice real: even if the evidence for atheism were way way better why choose something that is intrinsically a dead end.

            4. doesn't that seem curious to you that you WANT life so badly even though you believe there is NO evidence for it? what could account for that? seems like it's "human nature" if EVEN an "convinced" atheist wants life! seems very strange.

            The wager is not dishonest it takes the atheist/agnostic where he is and says ok if there seems to be something to both views how about settling like this in this novel way: why not go with the thing that promises life when you haven't got anything to lose. The wager is NOT a replacement for metaphysics natural theology, etc. it's a low appeal but very powerful as it exploits atheisms most obv. weakness a weakness that even you feel very strong about as you just said.

            Again i think God can be believed in for many reasons not just metaphysics but also praying beauty etc. etc. see peter kreeft's 20 reasons for believing in god...the wager is after all those seem to not move the person in any direction.

            It's like if you know at flood is coming but refuse to buy insurance as you don't believe the company will pay or that it doesn't exist or that if you buy the wrong one you could still be swept away or if you buy the wrong one and no flood comes you'll lose lots of money or the policies are too complicated...but you yourself continue to insist that a flood is coming and yet you do not buy any policy at all not even the one many many many ppl are desperately trying to convince you to buy.

          • Mike O’Leary

            Just because an argument is simple doesn't mean that it's correct or that it's refutation will be just as simple. Also the counter-arguments to Pascal's Wager can be summed up fairly succinctly, but the resistance to them continues. Sometimes it helps to get wordy so there is absolutely not the slightest bit of confusion as to what is being said. Top that off with the fact that while the wager is simple it utterly fails in a great number of ways so it takes multiple refutations to get at all the nooks and crannies.

            all it needs is an honest atheist to take the wager pray sincerely and move on or admit that not taking it doesn't make sense if atheism is true.

            This might be the root of the problem. By stating that those that disagree with you aren't honest you're trying to convince us (and possibly yourself) that you don't have to address the many counter-arguments that are being presented to you. Tackle why you think the people who don't favor the wager are wrong reasonably instead of just painting them with the false claim of dishonesty.

          • Mike

            Ok, take care...thx for engaging.

          • Marc Riehm

            Taking the wager makes no sense if you don't truly believe, and if God is omniscient. Doubt I could fool him.

          • Mike

            I am sorry but i don't think that makes sense.

          • Marc Riehm

            If god exists and is omniscient, he knows that I don't believe in him. And he knows that I specifically reject the core Christian doctrines.

            I could take the wager, and pretend to believe. But it wouldn't be sincere. He would see through this. So there's little point.

          • Joe Ser

            Right, God cannot deceive or be deceived. Jesus told us that the truth would be protected by the Holy Spirit. Your position then is: I reject the truth.

            He does know though whether or not you will come to accept Him in the future.

          • Damon

            atheism is very up front about afterlifes: no possibility, none full stop.

            Mike, I know we've gone down this road before but this is a false argument. There are a number of atheists that do believe in an afterlife (see Buddhists), and there's absolutely no reason to presume that if those who don't believe in an afterlife happen to be wrong, they are automatically screwed for eternity.

          • Mike

            Ok you know that when i say atheists i don't mean buddhists.

            Which atheists do think that an afterlife is a real possibility? Come one none do, or no serious "legitimate" schools of atheism do.

            NO they are not screwed at all just that if atheism is correct then there is nothing at all, for anyone, it all ends with nothing an eternal infinite nothing, no past no future no present, nothing a deep metaphysical nothing...which is a dead end so why not buy a ticket to another show, who knows it may end up being right.

          • Damon

            A survey compiled last year by The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture reveals that 32% of Americans that identified their religious tradition as "Nothing/Atheist/Agnostic" believe in an afterlife of some kind.

            http://relationshipsinamerica.com/religion/do-people-still-believe-in-life-after-death

            NO they are not screwed at all just that if atheism is correct then there is nothing at all, for anyone, it all ends with nothing an eternal infinite nothing, no past no future no present, nothing a deep metaphysical nothing...which is a dead end so why not buy a ticket to another show, who knows it may end up being right.

            Because what is true is already so, regardless of what "ticket" you bought. And if you want the highest probability of being right you should not believe in an afterlife since such a belief comes packaged with quite a few associated absurdities and puts a heavy strain on our standard model for how the world works.

            If you happen to be wrong, then great! Enjoy the afterlife! Not believing in something that's true doesn't make it go away.

          • Mike

            Ah so you are a betting man afterall...you're doing the wagering but being coy about it.

            If an afterlife is true it won't matter i believed it not true bc it will be true so i don't need to take the wager bc it will be true or not....except that implicitly concedes that an afterlife is a real possibility even if one doesn't want to admit it "intellectually".

            Do you see that?

          • Damon

            Properly formed beliefs are probabilistic, Mike. Based on our current understanding of neuroscience and the laws that govern the universe, we can assign the probability of an afterlife existing as being extremely low (far less than one percent). But if your point is merely to say that we can't rule it out a priori then fine. But I don't see what good that does for you.

          • Mike

            No my point is only that anything is worth betting on except atheism bc it is by definition a "loser" in that it denies an afterlife and if it's right it won't matter bc everyone and everything will disappear for ever.

            So why not take the wager and bet on something anything but why atheism if by definition it's only certain promise is utter total nothingness for ever and ever.

          • Damon

            Because if you care about anything, you should try to the best of your ability to hold only true beliefs. False beliefs have consequences, sometimes innocuous, sometimes tragic. You never know until you correct a previously false belief.

          • Mike

            But that's why pascal's wager is brilliant bc it takes the possibility of atheism being true VERY SERIOUSLY, like i did when i rejected atheism.

            It takes it at its word: if it is true then at the very least apart from anything it may be correct about, everything is "destined" for a complete total metaphysical nothingness of eternal and bottomless proportion, not even the faintest echo of you and me and everyone else will remain, not even a dim trace.

            A false belief about the Christian God will end in nothingness if atheism is true not even "being proven wrong" but just nothingness so why not bet?

            We're going around in circles, but Damon when you die and God shows you these posts don't say you weren't warned ;).

            Take care and thx for engaging.

          • George

            I recommend you watch "betting on infinity" by Theramintrees on YouTube.

          • Mike

            I will if i have time, thx.

          • Doug Shaver

            A false belief about the Christian God will end in nothingness if atheism is true

            Yes, if atheism is true. But if some other religion is true, then a false belief about the Christian God could have consequences you won't like at all.

          • Mike

            Yes but they will AT LEAST be better than eternal nothingness...plus i can't think of another major religion/view of the world that claims that if you believe in the christian god you will suffer punishment. Jews don't say that and neither do muslims and neither do buddhists or hindus, so i am not sure if your hypo is relevant.

            BUT even if judaism say did assert that if you believe in christ you will "go to hell" or whatever and it turned out to be right it would still be better to have given it a shot than to not have.

            Say you know you will die in 1 year bc of some poison in your body and there is 1 serum that can save you out of say 1,000,000 possible out there...how much sense does it make to refuse to try one? You'd be mad not to. And then imagine that there are many many ppl who swear that out of the 1 million that 1 is by far the best option whereas for the other 999,999 there are few ppl who believe they are the best choice. (also suppose that at worst the other serums are going to cause some headaches and may even give temporary feelings of happiness or whatever but none are going to hurt in any serious way)

            If i were a convicted atheist i would immediately pray to God for the grace to come to believe in him and for evidence for arguments for whatever to help me to come to believe in the contractor from judea and i'd pray it seriously and sincerely...afterall i'd having NOTHING to lose and everything to gain

          • Doug Shaver

            According to Christianity, Jesus' death and resurrection constituted God's plan for saving me from my sins. My wager is that if the story is true, then the plan worked. I cannot give serious consideration to any suggestion that I have the power to prevent God from implementing any plan he decides to implement.

          • Joe Ser

            He will honor your free will choice of denial. He does foresee your decision though. Faith is a gift. Like any gift it can be accepted or rejected. Since God is perfectly just, He will honor your decision.

          • Doug Shaver

            He will honor your decision.

            My decision, if he exists, is to accept his decision.

          • Joe Ser

            Eternity is a very very very long time.

          • Doug Shaver

            So what? I am told that God is the omnipotent ruler of the universe. If he exists, he will do with me whatever he wants to do with me.

          • Phil

            And what he wants to do is respect your free will, in love. So he will give us all what we truly desire. :)

          • Doug Shaver

            So he will give us all what we truly desire. :)

            Well, then, I have nothing to worry about, do I?

          • Phil

            I guess it all depends on what our free will actually desires, in regards to whether we ought to worry or not!

            (This can change up to the moment of our death, when the final decision will be made.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I guess it all depends on what our free will actually desires

            Whether I desire something depends on what I think I know about it. If it turns out to be different from what I thought it was, then I don't regard that as getting what I desired. And if the person who offered it to me knew that it would differ from my expectations, then I will believe that they tricked me.

          • Phil

            I think that gets to the heart of the question of what does it mean to actually "deny God". Because to ultimately choose hell is to actually have the option of the God of love placed in front of one's will, deny Him, and then desire to be separated from Him--and this is only possible because of our pride.

            This then can get at the fact that we can never judge anyone to be in hell, because what they actually desired is impossible for us to tell.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think that gets to the heart of the question of what does it mean to actually "deny God".

            Whatever God thinks denial of him means, I'm very sure that he doesn't think I'm doing it when I don't believe certain people when they assure me that they know what God wants me to do.

          • Phil

            Whatever God thinks denial of him means

            Well, I mean there is actual denial; it's not like God makes it up randomly what denial of him is. We either deny him in our hearts and by our actions, or we do not. It is not like God is out there trying to "trick us". He desires us to love him, not for his own good, but for our own good and happiness. Love of God and love of neighbor--the important grounding commandment.

            I'm very sure that he doesn't think I'm doing it when I don't believe certain people when they assure me that they know what God wants me to do.

            Maybe these people do know what God desires of you and I, or maybe they don't. That takes discernment by each one of us when someone would propose something to us.

            (An example would be me stating above that God desires us to love him, for our own sake. I cannot force you to love him, but I invite you to come to love him. That could be taken as me "knowing what God wants you to do".)

          • Doug Shaver

            Maybe these people do have an idea of what God desires of you and I, or maybe they don't.

            Yeah, maybe.

            That takes discernment by each one of us when someone would propose something to us.

            You say I need discernment. I say I need a reason to believe what you are telling me.

          • Phil

            You say I need discernment. I say I need a reason to believe what you are telling me.

            Yes, and that is definitely a part of discernment.

          • Doug Shaver

            I consider it a necessary part.

          • Joe Ser

            Catholics understand God to be almighty. Not exactly, you have a lot more to do with it than you think.

          • Doug Shaver

            you have a lot more to do with it than you think.

            And I should believe that just because you say so?

          • Joe Ser

            No, because of what He said. If "He exists" as you posted, we have to take Him at His word.

          • Doug Shaver

            If "He exists" as you posted, we have to take Him at His word.

            Maybe, but I don't have to take your word for that you know what his word about anything is.

          • Joe Ser

            Correct, I am not an authority, but I can reference authority.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have read the arguments of those regarded as authorities on God's word. In those arguments, I find no reason, aside from their own self-confidence, to think they know any more than I do about about what God has said on any subject.

          • Joe Ser

            I think you are not following the trail all the way back to the source.

          • Doug Shaver

            When I follow a historical trail, I don't assume beforehand that I know where it will end.

          • Joe Ser

            Nor do I.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you have an argument that doesn't make that assumption, we can see where it leads us.

          • Doug Shaver

            Since God is perfectly just, He will honor your decision.

            Perfect justice means I get whatever I want?

          • Joe Ser

            If you choose to turn your back on Him, He will honor that choice. If you choose Him and you want heaven but need purgatory first, you will have to be cleansed. Fair is fair. You aren't the only soul you know.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you choose to turn your back on Him, He will honor that choice.

            I have never made that choice.

          • Joe Ser

            You are a believer?

          • Doug Shaver

            No. Rejecting a belief is not the same as rejecting the object of that belief.

          • Mike

            Sounds like you may have already taken the wager.

            But either way God will not force you if you don't believe in him and don't want to...it sounds like you do but can't that's different.

          • Marc Riehm

            In the past, I prayed for some kind of revelation. It never came.

            Never once, not a single time in my life, have I ever experienced anything that requires a supernatural explanation. Nothing.

            When I do, I shall believe. But not until then.

          • Mike

            I've never experienced anything like that either; but look at michael shermer and that broken radio which started to play for no apparent reason.

            DO NOT think that 'supernatural' "things" MUST happen to you to believe; the CC only affirms that they have happened and can happen not that they happen to everyone "catholic" or whatever.

            Like i keep repeating Catholicism is NOT "sophisticated magic" so don't expect it to do "tricks".

          • Marc Riehm

            The problem is there is so much superstition and supernatural and fantastic belief out there. From bigfoot and UFO abduction and "truthers" and spirits and djinns and demons and reincarnation and life-after-death and all the rest of it.

            We humans are extremely credulous creatures, and we invent the supernatural to provide meaning and explanations for the randomness of life.

            There are so many different voices, all claiming such different experiences and credos. It's a cacophony.

            The Catholic Church is just one voice among the multitude. And all voices believe equally in their correctness - that they have the answers!

            There is no reason to believe one over another. And all of these ideas just seem so unbelievable to me. So the only way I will believe is when I experience something supernatural myself, which directs me in some direction.

            And so I wait.

          • Joe Ser

            The Catholic Church occupies the high ground. There is evidence to believe one or the other. Just because there is noise doesn't rule out a beautiful song.

            The Church has nature, science, logic, philosophy and history etc on its side.

          • Mike

            That seems reasonable although i would say let's be honest and admit that the CC has alittle more "going for it" than ufos, big foot or the raelians or scientology/other cults or even hinduism or buddhims. The church is along with atheism the only real intellectual choice i think and although you will deny it for the sake of not appearing to concede anything i think you agree. So i wouldn't say that an institution as significant as the catholic church is is just as likely as some crack pot made at home cult.

            Anyway that doesn't matter. Wait but wait with an open mind and more importantly open heart and something strange is surely to "happen" to you. Hey if michael shermer the atheist horseman could have the radio thing happen to him than why not me and you.

          • Marc Riehm

            Well, I'm glad you know my mind so well. Not much point in me trying to express it, I suppose!

          • Mike

            How many prominent scientists/philosophers have become hindus or big foot believers or raelians in the last 20 years? not many, even buddhism has become a sort of therapy for liberal white folks who feel the need for some kind of 'spirituality' w/o the cultural grossness associated with traditional religion.

          • Marc Riehm

            I follow Shermer on Facebook, and I saw when he posted that. From most people, I would assume overactive imagination. But from him?

            I have to admit that it shocked me, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.

          • Mike

            I think honestly that maybe his atheism/materialism wasn't as strong or as sophisticated as he thought it was, or maybe it was more emotional than really "Scientific" bc it could easily be dismissed as a fluke electrical quirk not something "from the beyond" but i suppose the emotionally charged context in which it happened made it seem "strange".

            I've never had anything like that happen to me BUT i've had LOTS of strange "coincidences" happen to me...little things but just kinda weird.

            just off the top of my head

            1. a friend's baby just died 1 hour after being born and was totally healthy so maybe the cord got wrapped or whatever, they named him Julian, i go to read at lunch the very same day i find out a new story in my book of short stories and the lead character's name is Julian and the story is about suffering in a general way - just kinda weird since julian is a very rare name today.

            2. i am in my office theres a bee on the other side of the glass i say god could you just do this tiny little trick for me and put the bee inside just as a dare i think this to my self, then about 10 mins later i hear a buzzing and i swear the bee is inside the office - this has NEVER happened before or since and i sat in that office for 3.5 years. Could've gotten in via the HVAC but still seems strange.

            Others have happened longer ago.

          • Doug Shaver

            i can't think of another major religion/view of the world that claims that if you believe in the christian god you will suffer punishment.

            It depends on which Christian God you're talking about. I used to belong to a Christian sect that claimed anyone who believed in the Catholic God was going to burn in hell.

          • Mike

            Theology does not change God; God is the same no matter what jews/christians/muslims say.

            Anyway try catholicism you won't be disappointed.

          • Doug Shaver

            God is the same no matter what jews/christians/muslims say.

            <I don't doubt for a minute that if he exists, then no matter what he is, he is that no matter what any human being thinks. But we weren't discussing his true nature. We were discussing what people say his nature is, and I have no way of discerning which of those people, if any, speaks truly.

          • Joe Ser

            There really is no serious contender to Catholicsm.

          • Marc Riehm

            So you say from the inside. So every believer of every faith imagines. Of course I'm going to live forever in paradise! Of course I'm following the One True Path. My theology makes sense, and the others are all poppycock, and their believers damned for eternity.

            As Gandhi said, there are as many faiths as there are believers.

            Atheists (and many agnostics) recognize the silliness of the "making the right choice" game and decide that the only logical conclusion is that they're all wrong.

          • Joe Ser

            We have the ability to test the claims ourselves. We can compare the truth claims of each and assess. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth. Most often Christianity is the target of attacks as the other are not given serious consideration. It really does come down to atheism or Catholicism. Because one does parse, means none are true? I do not find this logical at all. One has to emerge as the front runner.

          • Marc Riehm

            What you fail to see is that every believer of every other faith could say exactly the same thing, and be as equally convinced as you are.

            I have encountered a lot of very thoughtful arguments on this website. It is, on the whole, far better than other sites I've hung out on in the past.

            But the basic theology of ensoulment, fall, , god-incarnating himself-to-provide-redemption, and eternal life for those who think the right thoughts - that theology I cannot accept. It is, to me, utterly foreign and nonsensical and unbelievable.

            As are the truth claims of every other religion.

            p.s. Atheists in Saudi Arabia aim their sites at Islam, of course. Like the church in Galileo's time, you imagine yourself to be at the center of the universe.

          • Joe Ser

            None of them even have any truth at all?

          • Marc Riehm

            Okay, let me qualify my statement: none of the supernatural claims of any religion have any basis in truth.

          • Joe Ser

            Let's stick with the natural claims for a while. Do you object to any of Jesus' teachings?

          • Marc Riehm

            I can't pretend to know them all. Offhand, I cannot think of any of his teachings from the gospels that I object to.

            I do believe that he was a most incredible man, and that there is much to be learned from him.

          • Joe Ser

            Do you believe He was a liar?

          • Marc Riehm

            Well, we rarely ask that question so generally about someone, since everyone lies from time to time. We might ask, "do you think he's lying about X?", or perhaps, "do you think he is a pathological liar?"

            I will make a presumption that you mean, do I think he lied about his godhood? 

            I don't know. As an atheist, I of course do not accept at face value all that I read in the NT (and don't get me started about the OT!). And of course there are huge issues about translation and interpretation. 

            I have always found it interesting that he is said to have referred to himself as "the son of man". And the jury is out about what that means. 

            We will never know whether or not Jesus actually called himself the messiah. If he did, perhaps he was lying, or perhaps simply mistaken. But also accounts of him are certainly wrong, so perhaps it's as simple as that. 

          • Joe Ser

            For my own information - have you ever or when was the last time you read through the Gospels?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you believe He was a liar?

            I don't know whether he made any of the statements attributed to him. I'm prepared to assume, however, that whatever he actually said, he believed every word of it. Therefore, to answer your question: No, I do not believe he was a liar.

          • Joe Ser

            Boiling it down.... Is your disbelief rooted in doubt of Scripture? Do you accept a creator through logic and philosophy?

          • Doug Shaver

            I doubt that scripture is historically reliable. Logic and philosophy tell me that a supernatural creator is unnecessary.

          • Marc Riehm

            I do not believe that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent deity would ever set the rules of the game in this way. "Believe the right thing, and live forever in paradise. Believe the wrong thing, and suffer infinitely." And then permit a huge amount of ambiguity about it all!

            Every branch of every faith believes that it has the answer. Agnostics and atheists are outsiders to it all, and look on in bewilderment, with no good reason to choose one sect over another. If we accept the Wager, which sect should we adopt? Guess wrong, and perish!

            And would God really play this game, damning so many to infinite suffering because they happened to be born in the wrong family, in the wrong community, in the wrong faith, and followed the faith they were taught?

            These are the rules of a psychopath. Of a bully. Of a five-year-old. It would be an insult to any decent adult to attribute such behaviour to him or her. Why imagine god to think like that?

            If by chance there is a deity, I trust that when my time comes he will nod at me with respect for thinking about it a bit, and for thinking better of him.

          • Mike

            No problem...your last paragraph, however coyly, implies you've already taken the wager!

            Thx for engaging.

          • George

            Its not a loser if it turns out that the afterlife is real but is one of suffering and torment reserved for those who believed in an afterlife. You can't prove such a thing is impossible.

          • Mike

            Existence is ALWAYS better than complete metaphysical destruction and none existence...it's better to have loved and lost than not loved at all...we know that; that's why most ppl continue to risk having kids and even ppl who suffer greatly do not commit suicide at rates we'd expect...we want life so badly indeed evolution seems to "value" life over death which is itself a weird teleological pointer.

            Plus don't be a literalist fundamentalist be a catholic and see what the catechism says about "eternal punishment in hell".

          • Joe Ser

            We have some evidence of life after death with NDE's. Neuroscience cannot open your skull and pull out your consciousness.

          • Damon

            But it can pull out a chunk of your brain and severy impair your consciousness. It can also alter the chemical balance of your brains neurons and artificially induce an "out of body experience." It can observe and predict our neurons firing as we form memories, learn, laugh, and love. Neuroscience can't tell us how consciousness is formed (yet) but there is enough evidence to conclude that "the mind is what the brain does."

          • Joe Ser

            Consciousness is expressed through the body. If the body is damaged it inhibits that expression. When you die this ability/expression totally ceases. I have 2 separate experiences with people I know who have reported things to me that support this. What convinced me was reports from others thousands of miles away who independently reported what they could not have known. One was in jail at the time.

            In science we also see support. Language, symbols and maps all come from a mind. The DNA code we know see has come from a mind.

          • George

            Joe ser, NDEs are not DEs, Death Experience, so I don't see how they carry any weight. And neuroscience can actually manipulate my consciousness by manipulating my brain.

          • Joe Ser

            Try it.

            Neuroscientist Sees 'Proof of Heaven' in Week-Long Coma ... - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfaDOmT82gk

          • Marc Riehm

            Well, gawsh, Skipper, if it's on Youtube, it must be true!

            --Little Buddy.

          • Doug Shaver

            When my car is running, it produces torque, which the transmission transfers from the flywheel to the driveshaft. I haven't found a mechanic yet who can take out that torque and lay it on a workbench so I can look at it.

          • Joe Ser

            An interesting example and admission.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, I am admitting the existence of consciousness.

          • Doug Shaver

            you know that when i say atheists i don't mean buddhists.

            How is anyone supposed to know that? Lots of Buddhists don't believe in any god. According to every dictionary I've checked, that makes them atheists.

          • Mike

            Yeah but Buddhists are still very very far from 99% of the western atheists the materialists the naturalists whatever.

          • Doug Shaver

            Buddhists are still very very far from 99% of the western atheists

            Whatever fraction they are, their existence falsifies this statement that you made: "atheism is very up front about afterlifes: no possibility, none full stop."

          • Doug Shaver

            atheism is very up front about afterlifes: no possibility, none full stop.

            Atheism does not say that. Most atheists probably do, but atheism is just disbelief in any god. You don't need a god to make an afterlife possible.

          • Mike

            I know but you know what i mean which is the 99% of "legitimate" atheists in the western world who all deny an afterlife.

          • Doug Shaver

            but you know what i mean

            All I know is what you wrote. I can't count how many times I've embarrassed myself in forums like this by assuming that somebody meant something other than what they wrote.

            99% of "legitimate" atheists in the western world who all deny an afterlife.

            If that is an accurate figure, I would not be a bit surprised. But that is only because, for most of us, the reasons we have for doubting God's existence are equally good reasons for doubting the reality of an afterlife.

          • Joe Ser

            What do you need?

          • Doug Shaver

            Call it a soul or anything else you like. Any version of mind-body dualism can do the job.

          • Joe Ser

            The idea of a soul goes back to antiquity what animates life, in plants and animals. Man has a rational soul as well as an immortal one. I offer the double slit experiment and Godel's theorem. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem - in a nutshell.

            “Anything you can draw a circle around cannot explain itself without referring to something outside the circle – something you have to assume but cannot prove.”

            This is interesting: Russian scientist photographs the soul leaving the body at death http://www.esotericonline.net/profiles/blogs/russian-scientist-photographs-the-soul-leaving-the-body-at-death

          • William Davis

            One word, pseudoscience.

          • Joe Ser

            Double slit and Godel are not pseudoscience. We will see what develops from the last. I only included it because it seemed interesting.

          • William Davis

            Sorry, I was only talking about the Russian and his "pictures". At this point, the Russian are the biggest scammers in the who world, it sad their culture has gone to the pits. Even their elections are a fraud. I'm in tech, and a huge percentage of all viruses come from Russia at this point, they are probably the world capital of cyber crime. Anyway here is a site debunking the photos and showing their original sources. Pseudoscience annoys me, I love science. I don't doubt if you did thermal scans of a person dying, you would see the temperature of the appendages drop before the center of mass and head (the body pulls blood back to the heart and lungs as a final survival attempt).

            https://www.metabunk.org/threads/debunked-soul-leaving-body-photo-russian-scientist-konstantin-korotkov.2447/

          • Joe Ser

            I withdraw that point. I agree with you on the love of science.

          • Marc Riehm

            I work in software development, and some of my coworkers are Russian (-Canadian). They are whip-smart and they possess excellent work and social ethics. (They're also glad to be in Canada!)

            I know that you weren't slamming all Russians. But still, I just had to say this.

          • William Davis

            I agree they are very intelligent. Sergei Brin, one of the founders of google is Russian. Russia's underworld is a huge waste of talent, that is one of the big things that annoy's me about it, lol.

          • Doug Shaver

            The idea of a soul goes back to antiquity

            You were asking how an atheist could believe in an afterlife. I answered that question. Do you now wish to change the subject?

          • Joe Ser

            This was your answer - "Call it a soul or anything else you like. Any version of mind-body dualism can do the job."

          • Doug Shaver

            This was your answer - "Call it a soul or anything else you like. Any version of mind-body dualism can do the job."

            Yes, it was. Do you have a problem with it, or do you find it acceptable?

          • Doug Shaver

            i don't think it is a good positive reason but it makes atheism very very difficult imho to defend in practical terms.

            Difficult for you, maybe. I have no problem defending my atheism.

          • Mike

            I don't understand how if you honestly believe that after you die there is utter complete nothing for all eternity, in fact there isn't even that but a deep metaphysical nothingness, no past, no present, no future, no nothing...emptiness for ever and ever and ever, like as if none of this ever happened.

            BTW i know what you're going to say, and i know we keep going around in circles but honestly i think atheism has snookered itself with its belief that once dead it's like we never even existed.

          • Damon

            It's not like the dead never even existed. The dead did exist, in the past. They just don't anymore.

          • Mike

            But from their perspective which is "everything" as you have only ever and will ever ONLY "know" "life" from Damon's perspective never from anyone else's only yours so once you're dead all of "reality existence whatever" will disappear into a bottomless void of nothingness.

            So it won't be like you're dead and gone for ever but some part of you "thinks' or "considers' the ppl left behind bc along with "you" everything will "disappear" bc you only know existence yourself.

            So in that sense it "will be like" the past never even existed.

          • Damon

            "From their perspective" doesn't make sense in this situation since the dead have no working senses with which to form a perception.

            When you die, it won't be like anything for you, because you won't exist anymore. Kind of like before you were born it wasn't like anything either, because you didn't exist then.

          • Mike

            EXACTLY!

          • Doug Shaver

            but honestly i think atheism has snookered itself with its belief that once dead it's like we never even existed.

            I understand the difficulty of grasping the concept, but what about before you were born? You certainly didn't exist then, did you? Is that any easier to grasp?

          • Mike

            Don't get me wrong it's very easy to grasp but that's precisely why i think it's the worst option available it's the only one that defines itself by an eternal nothingness.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's an option I don't like one bit, but aside from that, I don't see what so bad about it. I learned a long time ago that the universe doesn't care a fig about anything I want.

            Like it says in this poem by Stephen Crane:

            A man said to the universe:
            “Sir, I exist!”
            “However,” replied the universe,
            “The fact has not created in me
            A sense of obligation.”

          • Mike

            I agree the universe doesn't care one bit about us bc it can't but God does.

          • Doug Shaver

            but God does [care about us]

            Not that I've noticed.

          • Mike

            I am sorry about that.

          • Doug Shaver

            Defining is a strictly human activity. Nothing defines itself. We do the defining.

          • Marc Riehm

            Believe from fear? From FEAR? To me, this is the absolute best reason to reject the wager. No self-respecting instance of infinity would set the rules of the game to be, "believe this story, or suffer for my eternity."

            If there is a god, when I meet him, I trust that he will respect me for not thinking so little of him.

          • Joe Ser

            Before a child can reason fear is used to keep him from burning his hand in a fire. A healthy fear (aka respect in scripture) of deep water is prudent. Eventually, this respect can progress to love.

            So too with humanity. God speaks according to the ability to comprehend. As mankind matures He can speak and we can better hear love.

            Again, the wager is not a proof but a consideration. It is playing the odds so to speak. We humans make decisions based on this all the time. If the odds were too high your plane might crash, most would not get on. But the plane might not crash at all in reality. The wager should compel one to investigate more.

            It is not believing a story. The wager is set before the story even begins. It is a philosophical question. Philosophy leads to God, theology tells us who He is.The choice is ours to make.

            There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.' C. S. Lewis

          • Marc Riehm

            Again, I say that any self-respecting omnipotent god worthy of worship would not set the rules of the game in this manner.

            In positions of power, what humans would set the rules in such a way for those underneath them, demanding absolute fealty or delivering death? Bullies. Tyrants. Psychopaths.

            I'm reminded of Galadriel, in Lord of the Rings, imagining herself to have absolute power, "All shall love me, and despair."

            You say that the infantile fear can change into love. But to nurture love as parents, we do not treat our children in this way. In marriage, we do not love our spouses in this way. As respectful citizens, we do not love our neighbours in this way.

            "Love" is never so absolutely demanding, so black and white.

          • Joe Ser

            Show me how you would set the rules.

          • Marc Riehm

            We should live our lives well, treating our families and friends and neighbours with respect and love. If we do not, we degrade our relationships and our society.

            There is no afterlife, no judgment. When we die, we cease to exist, and it is only memories of us and what we created while we were alive that are left behind to affect others.

            It is impossible to derive a just mechanism for the judgment of our lives that would determine how we would live on for eternity. That is particularly true for a binary, black-and-white kind of judgment, but it is also true for more nuanced afterlives that might be imagined. This is one reason I do not believe in the afterlife.

          • Joe Ser

            My initial response is why? If our evolutionary formed brain is only interested in survival and not a reliable truth detector why would we even love or seek love? Who cares if we degrade society?

            But what if there is an afterlife? You could be wrong.

            Your last point I disagree. God is love, justice and mercy. We are limited human creatures with limited reasoning. We cannot fathom the depths of His love, mercy and justice.

            Yet we desire this love, justice and mercy. You can only desire something that corresponds to a real object that can satisfy it. That we know as the afterlife, aka life with God.

          • Marc Riehm

            Why love? Why cooperate?

            We are social creatures. Like other social creatures, we strike a balance between acting for the group and acting for the individual.

            Yes, our inability to "fathom the depths of His love" is always trotted out as an excuse to accept the dogma, despite the inability to rationalize it - particularly the edge cases.

          • Doug Shaver

            Who cares if we degrade society?

            I care. I've lived in a degraded society. It's a lousy way to live.

          • William Davis

            I would also expect God not to behave as a bratty child.

          • Mike

            So why not bet on an afterlife, what have you got to lose? Nothing! So islam's conception is the right one, at least you've gotten closer. So Hindus are correct, you'll be back as a rabbit; but if atheism is true you won't even know you were wrong as "you" will "disappear" into an eternal "nothingness".

          • William Davis

            Because I don't believe it, I can't believe it, it isn't in my nature. I'm naturally deterministic and reductive, this is just who I am :)

          • Mike

            It has NOTHING to do strictly speaking with your 'nature' or your 'inclinations' ... use your intellect and try to conform your will to what you 'know' from your intellect to be most true...that's actually the definition of faith: to 'accept' that which reason has revealed to you...heck even some 'scientific' revelations still require sometimes continuous faith.

            But that's the "trick" we ALL want i mean all even hitchens want justice happiness joy reunion with loved ones peace and love BUT TIME IS RUNNING...who knows i may not even be here tomorrow...so the moment of truth is approaching..what do we in our heart of hearts Want?

          • William Davis

            I think Naturalism have proven itself to be the correct philosophy, it is what my reason accepts.

          • Mike

            So be it but that statement you just made is not based on naturalism and can not be verified by it so you don't limit yourself to naturalism when speaking as yourself...so keep on searchin'!

          • Doug Shaver

            what do we in our heart of hearts Want?

            It doesn't matter what I want, and I can no longer pretend otherwise. There was a time in my life when I could, and I did, but that time is gone.

            Granted, we all believe some things because we wish them to be true, but there are limits to how far we can conform our beliefs to our desires. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I watched on television as the World Trade Center towers burned, and I witnessed the moment they collapsed. The last thing I wanted to believe was that what I was seeing was really happening, but I was quite incapable of believing that it wasn't happening.

          • Mike

            I hear you; i agree that it can feel like a charade, a great big lie you tell yourself bc the alternative seems so depressing; in that context atheism can feel like a great big relief like a light that finally seems to makes sense of reality. I hear you.

          • Marc Riehm

            At the age of 53 I understand the Hindu concept of Maya.

          • Mike

            Are you a hindu or is that what seems most correct to you if anything religious?

          • Marc Riehm

            No, I think it's all equally wrong ;). But there are some good thoughts in much of it.

            Sometimes it seems like life is an illusion, a dream. This idea is captured by the Hindu as Maya.

          • Mike

            Yes that's the buddhist conception too that we are all 'trapped' or being 'tricked' into believing there is right wrong good bad purpose etc but it's all evil desire (btw this is why buddhism thinks sex is evil/bad) or 'attachment' - it's a very depressing worldview that seems to attract atheists who get "spirituality" out of it w/o having to admit they long for deeper meaning in their lives.

            I agree that life seems like a dream sometimes...those existential moments when we get the "heebee jeebees" when we become so aware of our own existence..it's kind of a creepy feeling...but that's another piece of evidence for me that there may be more to reality.

          • Marc Riehm

            And that is exactly why religion exists. We don't want to die. We cannot imagine this world continuing on without us. But what we wish for does not change the reality.

            Actually, that being said, I do not think it is true that we all would want to live forever. An eternity without risk sounds mighty dull to me. Nothing to debate anymore, anyway. :D

          • Mike

            i know what you mean but i don't think it's so much wanting to live as wanting "things to be put right" justice, love things like that that motivate ppl most i think.

            An eternity w/o risks does sound dull i agree but from here from earth from this perspective it does i don't know if the same can be said for an "eternal" perspective.

          • Doug Shaver

            that's actually the definition of faith: to 'accept' that which reason has revealed to you

            Some believers so define it. Other believers define it differently.

            If it pleases you to say I'm exercising faith when I accept what reason reveals, you may do so. I will not confuse matters by using the word in that way myself.

          • Mike

            Well whatever the definition all ppl "live by faith" we all "have" faith in ourselves in our minds in the regularity of nature etc.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well whatever the definition all ppl "live by faith" we all "have" faith in ourselves in our minds in the regularity of nature etc.

            No, not by whatever definition. Only by some definitions. The way some Christians define faith, I can guarantee you that I don't have any.

          • Marc Riehm

            I can't twist myself to believe in something that does not make rational sense to me. Many years ago I tried and failed. I cannot do it.

            Anyway, if god exists and he is omniscient, he knows what's in my mind, and there's no use in pretending otherwise on the surface.

          • Mike

            I think i agree that "taking the wager" can take more than 1 form as in 'wanting' to believe or a willingness to accept God but not wanting to parade around as a fake. The wager "exposes" the inherent problem with atheism's own most basic assertion that there is and can not be life after death; in this sense it does nothing but take atheism seriously - it's a low appeal but one that can slowly help a person come to grow their faith.

            It worked for me: i was a cultural atheist who took atheism seriously enough to realize that if there was no "real" truth than i could "indulge" my interest in christianity without worry, but that was a mistake bc the more i found out about it the more i came to believe it may actually be true.

          • Marc Riehm

            The wager does not show any problem with atheism. Those who accept the wager are not confident in their worldview. Those who reject the wager are being consistent and confident in their worldview.

          • Mike

            Confident they are but for what end? To be proven right and disappear? or to be proven wrong and wasted a life time of getting to know your maker? what a waste either way you look at it...but now we're just going around and around...anyway thx for engaging.

          • Doug Shaver

            So did I, until I realized it was a sucker bet.

          • William Davis

            You are correct. I think Pascal would reject his own wager if he lived today, but I'm probably biased ;)

        • Doug Shaver

          When the earliest Gospels and letters were written there were alive witnesses who could refute them.

          So says church tradition.

          Does church tradition also say that whenever Joe writes a book about something that happened, and Bob comes along and says, "I was there, and it didn't happen the way Joe says it happened," then from that time forward, nobody believes what Joe wrote?

          • Joe Ser

            Say Joe wrote a book that Pearl Harbor was bombed in Dec 7 of 1942. There are still witnesses alive to refute it. Something this big would certainly be challenged and Joe would have to correct the mistake.

          • Doug Shaver

            Say Joe wrote a book that Pearl Harbor was bombed in Dec 7 of 1942.

            1942? OK.

            There are still witnesses alive to refute it.

            And therefore, what?

          • Joe Ser

            They will call upon the author to correct it. They will tell others of the error. They will refute it.

          • Doug Shaver

            Does it always happen that when some people say, "That's not true," they are believed?

          • Joe Ser

            No, but if you get a phone call that says your brother is dead, yet he comes to visit, you just might call the person back.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, I might. Or I might not. It would depend among other things on who the call came from and whether I thought they were just mistaken or were being malicious.

          • George

            And we know falsehood can endure and spread anyway.

        • George

          By that standard we could declare that misinformation is never spread today. today there are people who can and do refute 911 conspiracy theories, moon landing conspiracy theories, young earth creationism, New Age medicine, yet those ideas continue to have followings.

          • Joe Ser

            In this case the misinformation was spread by the Jews and Roman soldiers. But a sufficient number of people witnesses Jesus alive. They were not able to produce a body. It is remarkable how Christianity grew to such proportions despite the attempts to silence it including torture and martyrdom. The impact on the world is irrefutable. The goodness and love of Jesus is self evident.

          • Doug Shaver

            They were not able to produce a body.

            It would have made no difference if they had. Christians would have said, "That can't be Jesus' body." Even if DNA testing had existed at the time, Christians would have said the tests were either faked or improperly conducted.

          • Joe Ser

            Uh no. The Apostle's were shocked and terrified that Jesus died. They were convinced He died. They were equally shocked when they saw Him. Doubting Thomas had to probe His wounds. The Jews and Romans both needed a body. However, any body would not due with a real live Jesus walking around.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your counterargument presupposes that it all happened just like the canonical writings say it happened. If I could share that presupposition, I would not have any doubts in the first place.

    • Matthew Ramage

      Thanks, David.

  • Doug Shaver

    Ratzinger for his part argues that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies here: “pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction,” for “the observer’s perspective is an essential determinant of the outcome of an experiment.”

    Without reading Ratzinger's essay, I can't be sure what his point was. But I have seen Heisenberg's principle frequently misapplied by apologists for both religious and secular dogmas. If I visit Rome and stand outside St. Peter's Basilica, I know that the building I'm looking at is really there in front of me. Nothing Heisenberg ever said proves otherwise.

    • Mike

      So does a felled tree make a noise if no one is there to hear it? ;)

      • Joe Ser

        Interesting. When one stands at the edge of a pond, the observer determines whether the photon reflects off the top of the water or strikes the bottom. This idea of an observer and frames of reference (quantum mechanics) can also be a case for God, an ultimate mind.

        • Mike

          Well bc if the tree falling creates vibrations in the air the rocks around it don't have ears and a brain so there is no sound but those vibrations are there...like color, does it exist without eyes?

          • Joe Ser

            A mind is involved.

          • Doug Shaver

            Color is how our minds perceive electromagnetic radiation of a certain frequency range. That radiation, at those frequencies, exists independently of our minds.

          • Joe Ser

            Substance and accidents are how we explain transubstantiation.

          • Joe Ser

            Substance and accidents are how we explain transubstantiation.

            Yet there are frequencies that our senses cannot detect.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yet there are frequencies that our senses cannot detect.

            That is irrelevant to what we're discussing.

            Substance and accidents are how we explain transubstantiation.

            I know you use those words, and I know you got them from Aristotle.

        • Marc Riehm

          Frames of reference are important to the theory of relativity, but not to quantum mechanics.

          • Joe Ser

            I disagree. They are very relevant in quantum mechanics.

          • Marc Riehm

            Explain how, please.

          • Joe Ser

            Physics within a quantum reference frame - http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003491613001358

          • Marc Riehm

            I stand corrected, and what I said was hasty and foolish. Reference frames are very important in classical, quantum, and relativistic physics.

            However, reference frames do hold a special place in relativity, above and beyond the considerations for classical and (non-relativistic) quantum physics.

      • Doug Shaver

        You can define "sound" so as to make the answer yes or no. Which definition you use depends on why you're asking the question. Definitions are neither true nor false. They're just more or less useful.

        • Mike

          But it depends on the observer does it not? It is "true" that it makes a noise if "ears and a brain etc. " are there but only a "sound" if there isn't.

          Wouldn't that imply that observe does "interact" with the matter?

          BTW have you ever considered if trees are green if no one is there to see them? I don't think they are but i am not sure.

          • Doug Shaver

            But it depends on the observer does it not?

            How you define the word depends on you. How your interlocutor defines the word depends on them. If you and they wish to talk about the same thing, then you and they need to agree on a definition that you will both use.

          • Mike

            It seems to me that the world "requires" an observer that it is incoherent without one and maybe that it would even not even exist without one.

          • Doug Shaver

            To think we are that important strikes me as paradigmatically wishful thinking.

          • Mike

            Not "important" but necessary as observers...like the universe wouldn't be coherent without observers.

          • Doug Shaver

            Necessary but unimportant? More incoherence.

          • Mike

            I think i just meant that "importance" is a value judgement whereas necessity does not have to be.

          • Doug Shaver

            I must admit that in my old age, I'm a little more cynical than I used to be. I'm just not believing that any ordinary human being would not place a very high value on supposing themselves necessary for the universe's existence.

          • William Davis

            "In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a medium such as air or water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.[1]"

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

            Using the physics definition, the tree makes a sound whether anyone hears it or not, using the psychological definition, it only makes a sound if someone hears it. Easy.

          • Mike

            I know ;) but the observer seems to play a critical part in it doesn't he?

          • William Davis

            That, of course, depends on your definition of critical ;)

            "It depends on what the definition of the word is is"
            -Bill Clinton

          • Mike

            liberal metaphysics at their finest ;)

          • Doug Shaver

            The observer plays a critical part in the psychology of sound. In the physics of sound, observers are irrelevant.

    • "Without reading Ratzinger's essay, I can't be sure what his point was..."

      That's easily fixable. Dr. Ramage linked to the actual essay. It's worth the short read.

      Before commenting on the essay's point, it's only fair that you familiarize yourself with it.

      • Doug Shaver

        Dr. Ramage linked to the actual essay. It's worth the short read.

        My bad. I have read it now.

        Before commenting on the essay's point, it's only fair that you familiarize yourself with it.

        I admitted not knowing what the point was. I made a general comment about the frequency with which Heisenberg's principle is misapplied. Anyone could have responded: But Ratzinger does not misapply it in this essay.

        Now that I've read it, though, I see that he follows the trend. Heisenberg's principle does not mean what he says it means in the context of historical research.

    • One might enjoy this:
      http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/opinionator/2013/07/21/nothing-to-see-here-demoting-the-uncertainty-principle/

      Ratzinger would've done well to refer, instead, to Wittgenstein to convey such epistemological insights. (He couldn't, I reckon, because, from other of his writings, it appears he also misinterpreted Wittgenstein.)

  • Doug Shaver

    These are important questions which—for both believers and nonbelievers alike—are often answered even before they are asked.

    Yes, they often are -- because we often argue in circles.

    Obviously, if I investigate the evidence for Jesus' resurrection with an antecedent belief that miracles cannot happen, then no matter what that evidence is, it will not convince me that Jesus rose from the dead. At the same time, though, a Christian with an antecedent belief that his religion cannot be in error will regard any evidence at all as sufficient to justify the proclamation "Christ is risen."

    But I don't believe that miracles cannot happen. What I believe is that they probably don't happen, and I can justify this belief by appealing to facts that are not disputed even by people who are convinced that some miracles have happened. Those people simply must deny that those facts are relevant to the stories reporting the miracles that they accept.

  • Phil

    Thank you Dr. Ramage for taking the time to address this topic; I am very interested indeed!

    As I was reading this, the statement that one can never prove or disprove the resurrection hit me like never before. Obviously we would trust that there was a reason God laid out salvation history in this way. But I also realized that this makes sense because the only way to truly "prove" the resurrection is to personally experience the risen Christ right now in our daily life--through prayer, others, creation, etc.

    So this fact seems to point us to the relationship with Himself that God intends. And since Christianity is ultimately not about some set of ethics or doctrinal rules, but about being in relationship--in a love affair--with the living God, this can provide some clarity to the unfolding of salvation history!

    • Matthew Ramage

      Right on, Phil. Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree, which is why the argument from non-resistant unbelievers is so powerful. As a non-resistant unbeliever the lack of a relationship or even any clear communication from any God is strong evidence that no such god exits. Despite my many attempts to initiate such a relationship.

      • Phil

        To add on to what you are saying--the relationship between you and God (and God and each person as well) already exists, we are just simply not aware of it much of the time. To be a mystic is simply to live in a near constant awareness of the presence of God, both within the depths of one's heart and in all creation, at each moment of the day.

        That is why I suggested a while back, and I promise again--if you go humbly "all in", God would love to reveal himself in profound ways! God will not play games with us, if we honestly seek to encounter him, He will not keep hiding himself somewhere harder and harder to find. But it is us that gets in the way most of the time experiencing this presence of God.

        Again I suggest, find a local church that has a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is kept reposed during the day. Commit yourself for a month going near daily, and just ask and tell God all your frustrations and questions. The first one being his existence, and if he actually exists. Go all in and allow the Lord to work in the depths of your heart!

        • Phil, I expect you, like most Catholics are a pretty decent, loving, empathetic individual. I expect you believe in things like freedom of and from religion, not harming, torturing or oppressing others. I really do, and please keep that in mind when you read what is below.

          The comments you make about "Nothing could ever change the truth of this", that you will never compromise on your belief, that this is the most important question AND that you do not characterize your basis for holding this belief as rational, I get concerned.

          From a loving Catholic, it might sound inspiring. From a young man inspired by ISIS, it might sound utterly frightening.

          We humans get things wrong, all the time. Especially when it comes to what "god(s)" are and what they expect us to do. Even the Catholic church, or at least its followers, in burning heretics, sponsoring crusades, approving of torturous inquisitions was pretty wrong. If you are right about Catholicism, you need to note that most of humanity has been dead wrong about what God is and what church to join.

          I do not want to live in a world in which people base their positions on the most important issues on things they admit are not rational, and then say they will not compromise or ever change their minds.

          All my convictions are open to being changed, even the shape of the earth and my disbelief in God.

          • Phil

            The comments you make about "Nothing could ever change the truth of this", that you will never compromise on your belief, that this is the most important question AND that you do not characterize your basis for holding this belief as rational, I get concerned.

            Don't worry, all of what you said are good concerns and nothing is taken personally; because we must not suppress reason!

            Faith must not be blind or irrational, as that leads to something like ISIS. Faith is not irrational (i.e., contradicts reason), faith is supra-rational (i.e., goes beyond reason). There is a difference between false faith and true faith. True faith is build upon trusting a person that we have reason to trust; for example, like having faith (trusting) that one's wife is faithful, and will be faithful.

            This is why I can rest assured in my basic trust in God. I have good reason to believe and have that trust. So I hold my claims only because they do not contradict reason. In the end, I have both rational
            and personal experiential reasons for believing what I do. What I was trying to point out, is that the rational
            point towards the personal proof.

            We must have reason for our faith. Faith and reason must always act as the complementary two wings of the soul, as St. John Paul II proclaimed.

            I will be honest, my basic belief in the existence of God, and my trust in Him is the only belief that I put at this "radical" level. Everything else is open for changes, from small or radical changes.

          • Well, if all faith means is having good reasons to trust, we can leave the term out of the conversation.

            Of course all fundamentalists will say exactly the same things as you, they just reach different theological conclusions. They all have their apologetics, most of which are the same as the ones we see here, just instead of relying on the Gospels and Catholic Church, they have their own documents and traditions in identifying who the god pointed to by natural theology is.

            I expect similar to you they would say:

            "One of the big reasons that ISIS (and terrorists in general) has been,
            and will be, such a big issue in the coming several years is they have
            such a great fervor from their true faith. The problem is that the
            most Muslims have lost much of their fervor from faith, a true faith that could
            easily destroy the western infidels and hegemons like US and UK, if we only relied on God's
            wisdom and not our own. Right now, world leaders are trying to rely on
            their own reason and limited intellect to defeat us, Putin, and a
            China that is slowly becoming more emboldened. But the with every victory of the Caliphate and death of the martyrs, they will be humbled, and hopefully that will wake enough
            people up so as to turn back to God and receive his great helps!)"

            I didn't need to change many words.

          • Phil

            I will tell you that from personal experience, there is going to be less of a emphasis on reason from a fundamentalist point of view. Some may take a more "blind faith" approach than others. Though most would take a "scripture alone" point of view, and this is already to deny reason its proper place--that is, "scripture alone" is ultimately not able to be defended rationally.

            But if you are saying that fundamentalists are closer to Catholic Christians than ISIS is to Catholic Christians--that would be correct!

          • There is nothing inherently unreasonable from relying on personal experience to form beliefs. I do it everyday. It only becomes unreasonable if you decline to apply critical thinking to you experience, like anything else.

          • Phil

            Amen to that. Knowledge comes through 3 ways that must work together--reason, experience, and authority.

            (And applying this to my personal experiences of our Lord-- reason supports and cannot undermine the personal experiences that I have had. So I accept them for what they are.)

        • I thought I had responded to this, but I don't see it.

          In a different vein, I do not accept that I am in a relationship that I am unaware of, and unaware that the other party even exits or what it is supposed to be.

          And no, I will not spend several weeks going to a chapel and pretending I believe in a God. Like you say, if he really exists "if we honestly seek to encounter him, He will not keep hiding himself somewhere". If he exists, he knows I am serious and genuine and he can just communicate with me right now. I want him to, I want him to exists and I am certainly open to it. I do not accept that he will ignore me if he exists because I am not close enough to his "sacrament" or because I don't try to brainwash myself into believing in him. A friend of mine did this. Not because she wanted to start believing, but because she did not want to stop. She would literally pray for hours, go to church every day. Nothing happened and she is now an atheist author. (Who incidentally, is trying to tell her story on this site.)

          http://www.amazon.ca/Still-Small-Voices-Testimony-Born-Again/dp/1497511267

          My other comment was to the effect that it is of concern to me when people say they will never change their mind on something, especially when it is an important issue, even more when they also state their basis for this belief is not rational.

          I am open to change my view on anything if there is a good reason to, even the shape of the Earth.

          • Phil

            I guess a question of mine would then be--It seems that I have had these most intimate encounters with our Lord, and our Lady as well, that I consider impossible to deny, even for a rational and logical person such as myself. In fact, to put this in perspective, I would have no problem being murdered right now rather than deny the experiences I have had. If a member ISIS asked, have you experienced and encountered the God of the universe, and threatened to behead me, I could not lie to them. And I pray that torture would not bring me to lie to them. That's how real they have been and I have no doubt about this encounter. It is more real than the earth is round.

            Yet, as you propose above, you are very welcoming and actually desire God to reveal himself to you! Why do you propose that God has seemingly granted certain people this grace (it is a pure gift after all) to experience him intimately and it seems that he has not granted you this gift yet? Because if the God of the universe exists as serious Christians hold, then he wants you to fall in love with him more than we could ever know.

          • David

            Not sure I'd call your insanity a gift.

          • Phil

            I'd say I'm rationally insane! Guilty as charged!

          • David

            Your religious delusions will earn you a spot in the nut hut. There is nothing rational about your rantings here.

          • Phil

            As long as that "nut hut" includes Jesus and Mary, and enough Guinness for all eternity--I'm game!

          • Phil

            Though it is very interesting how in our "rationalistic" and "enlightened" society, that even people of faith are afraid to use phrases like mystical experiences and such. As if the experiences of the saints suddenly stopped happening. Of course, the experience of God will be both similar in some ways, and different in other ways for each person. This comes from the fact that we are each completely unique, so there will be slightly unique ways that each one of us encounters God.

            It appears that many simply assume that a person cannot be rational, religious, and a mystic at the same time. In the end, there is nothing overly "out there" about the mystic--they simply live each moment of the day intimately aware of the presence of God at each moment.

            Oh glorious day when God reveals himself to us, because then we know that we have found the "pearl of great price" that our heart longs for--joy, peace, and love itself!

          • I am open and as no -resistant as I can be to the catholic and other representations of gods. I don't see why anyone would chose to resist such a deity.

            If such a god exists and is selective in who he reveals himself to, I would conclude that the God could not be omni benevolent. But this is not established, what is established is that some people claim to have direct unmistakable experiences with Jesus, Mary, the god of Islam, aliens, ghosts and other claimed phenomena. We also have people who have such experiences but now say they realize they were mistaken.

            How do I account for such claims? I conclude so far that they were probably mistaken. It depends on the claim. A friend of mine was utterly convinced she heard the voice of god, she became catholic and was so devout she took higher education courses in I theology and even learned ancient languages to better understand scripture. She never had any indication or experience again and is now an atheist.

            Even today we have a catholic priest who claimed to have died for 48'minutes and met god and says god is a woman.

            Certainly not all these people can be right, but they can all be wrong. I've not heard anything from you or anyone else to explain how one can be so sure they they are properly interpreting their experience. Sane, intelligent people hallucinate. Some for example hear clear unmistakable music. See Sachs musicophilia. Other, some delusional others not have vivid unmistakable hallucinations of other people or deities. I don't doubt their experience, I do doubt that what they experienced was outside their heads

          • Phil

            I agree with most all that you say--and yet I still would rationally hold that millions over the centuries, and even today, have had true encounters with our Lord.

            People can be deceived and that's why we need intelligent, and holy, spiritual directors and leaders. Remember, Catholicism does hold that God exists and desires to encounter us. But we also hold that he has allowed evil to exist, firstly through the fallen angels' choices to deny God, and then through our free will to deny God. So the Evil One, and all his minions, have some limited power to nudge us and point us in wrong direction and keep us blinded to the truth of reality.

            One of the biggest mistakes of modernity was denying that Satan truly exists, and that sin in general exists. Once Satan has been able to blind us to his very existence, he can have almost free reign to guide those as he wishes (obviously God will not allow him complete free reign)! Satan can slyly get people to believe that things are "their right" or that it "must be tolerated" or that "it is their freedom to do X, Y, or Z".

            But God sent his Son, Jesus, to free us from the grips of the Evil One. God became human--wow!! Just think what that means for us humans; we can be divinized, by God, as the Eastern church has put it. This journey is not easy, but how joyful and peace filled is life when one is completely immersed in the love of Jesus and Mary!

  • Marc Riehm

    This is not a central point to the discussion, but I would like to point out that Ratzinger's reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is, at least as depicted by the OP, misguided.

    The uncertainly principle has nothing to do with the preconceptions and biases of the observer. It describes fundamental limits of predictability and measurement in the universe. At the microscopic levels in which quantum mechanics dominates over classical mechanics, it is impossible to measure particle states without disturbing those particles and disrupting the states being measured.

    It is possible to draw reasonable analogies to the HUP from within the social sphere. An example might be that a newspaper reporter who investigates (measures) city hall corruption and reports on it, causes change within the government.

    But, again, observer biases have nothing to do with QM and the HUP.

    • Matthew Ramage

      Well stated. But I think ratzinger is aware of the analogy's limits as you indicate. I think the key common thread he sees between exegesis and the HUP is the fundamental limitation of our ability to measure (in the analogy, this "measurement" refers to our ability to know a text's meaning, for example). in the case of exegesis ( in contrast with the HUP itself such as I underst it) this is due to our preconceptions. Thanks for your above comment/ clarification.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Not at all. He is fundamentally incorrect about the uncertainty principle. Ratzinger says, "Heisenberg has shown that the outcome of a given experiment is heavily influenced by the point of view of the observer. "

        The uncertainty principle is not a statement about observers. It does not even suggest that the outcome of an experiment is influenced by an observer. It says that there is a limit to the precision that we can know, say, the momentum and position of a particle. It is a property of quantum systems, regardless of the observer. Ratzinger simply does not understand the physics, and thus made a very bad analogy.

        There is something called the observer effect, but it is not completely appropriate in Ratzinger's analogy either. It's actually quite frustrating when writers make analogies to physics that are completely off base.

        • Matthew Ramage

          This point is helpful. I had thought I learned this in college, but apparently like Ratzinger did not grasp it fully. Nevertheless, I think the overall point made by Benedict and Bart stands even if this analogy has not been correctly drawn.

          I can empathize with you about people outside my field making analogies that are off base. I see such issues happen with regard to theology and philosophy all the time. All the same, I appreciate it when someone like Benedict at least tries to learn from another field. The key is being open to corrections like yours above. For me this is one of the more rewarding aspects of dialogue. Thanks.

          • Marc Riehm

            Matthew I think your very reasonably worded article helped me to maintain a reasonable tone, too. Thanks.

  • I don't think a belief in a god or that Jesus was a god is a philosophical presupposition.

    Methodological naturalism is, and it is necessary for historical criticism of a text.

    Supernatural causation I'd think is a necessary presuppositon of theology.

    Id say that this is what separates these approaches.

    But the lay reader of the gospel need adhere to neither of these. We can look at whether the text makes it more likely or not that the supernatural claims occurred, compared to less rare non supernatural explanations

    • Doug Shaver

      I don't think a belief in a god or that Jesus was a god is a philosophical presupposition.

      It doesn't have to be, but it can be, depending on who is doing the supposing. You have to examine the argument being presented to see where the proposition of God's existence of Jesus' divinity fits into the logic.

  • "So did Jesus really come back from the dead as the above parable intimates?"

    People answering in the affirmative here can only do so by faith. There simply is very poor historical evidence that Jesus was anything other than an itinerant rabbi for whom was claimed a litany of miracles. We have zero extrabiblical evidence for any of the miracles narrated in the gospels (Josephus and Tacitus say nothing of the resurrection or other wonder-workings).

    In the case of Jesus, this absence is only surprising if you subscribe to a Jesus who worked miracles and raised people from the dead, including himself. It's not a problem if you accept that within the surviving sources a historical kernel connected to an itinerant sermonizer-cum-apocalyptic prophet can be found, little removed from the scores of other messianic claimants during that time period who and for whom were claimed many of the same things.

    For me, it's never been about presuppositions. It's about the evidence. Show me good evidence, and I'll believe anything.

    • Da Jamma

      "Show me good evidence, and I'll believe anything."

      This is an interesting statement for you, considering the gross dismissal of evidence you display in other threads. Why, it's almost like you're a bully who thinks that merely using big words is enough to be persuasive.

      Do let me know when you can hold yourself to the same standard you want to sneeringly demand of others, hotshot. ;)

      • Do please try to stay on topic. Did you have something to contribute to this specific thread?

        • Da Jamma

          Yes: exposition of your hypocrisy.

          Always a valuable contribution.

          • OK this is bordering on harassment at this point. I am asking you to please give it a rest. Let's forget the other thread you're referring to, stop following me around to other threads and if you have something to contribute to this thread that's on topic, feel free to do so.

          • Da Jamma

            You should go back and read my reasons. :)

            Don't cry about the punishment for your intellectual dishonesty, just admit to it and stop doing it. Hell, I don't even want an apology; just a cessation of the type of puerile distortions of other people's quotes in which you have engaged.

            That's all that a civil society requires.

            Are you up to it?

          • I asked you nicely to stop. Now if you have something to contribute to *this* thread and the comment to which you originally replied, please proceed.

          • Da Jamma

            I asked you nicely to cease your dishonesty. If you wish to end this exchange, then either stop replying or admit to your disgraces.

          • DevinDenver

            Who made you the tribal leader? Ever hear of the Bill of Rights, jackwad?

          • Da Jamma

            lolwut? Do you know what the Bill of Rights actually is? If so, then please instruct me as to how it applies to an internet chat forum.

            This should be good.

          • DevinDenver

            Free speech douche bag.

          • Da Jamma

            Yes. You do know that the Bill of Rights applies to the government, right? Not free citizens, like me, telling you and your alter ego to stop being intellectually dishonest.

            Wow you failed hard.

          • DevinDenver

            Yes, I do. As you will notice, I asked who appointed you tribal leader. Geez

          • DevinDenver

            Right to free association

          • DevinDenver

            Don't need your permission tp post, dyckhead.

          • Da Jamma

            Are you vying for the Non Sequitur of the Week award? ;)

          • DevinDenver

            Are you running for dyckheadof the internet? you won

    • Roman

      Since you appreciate "good evidence", I assume that includes circumstantial evidence. Our legal system certainly values circumstantial evidence. More than 90% of capital murder convictions in this country are based on circumstantial evidence. The relevance to Jesus is that there is circumstantial evidence outside the bible to support the belief that he performed miracles and was resurrected from the dead. You mention, for example, the "scores of other messianic claimants during that time period for whom were claimed many of the same things". ....but what you're missing is that none of these other messianic claimants inspired a group of followers that accepted execution rather than deny Jesus's divinity and grew over 2000 years to 2 billion strong. A perfect example of such messianic claimants was Bar Kokhba who lived in the early 2nd century and was believed by many Jews to be the Messiah. He went to war with the Romans in 132 AD, was killed, and his movement died. So, if Jesus was just another itinerant preacher and messianic claimant, why didn't the Jesus movement die with Jesus's death? There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of messianic claimants that lived during the first and early second centuries. Where are their followers?

  • Stephen Bender

    "I am decidedly not saying that Jesus was not raised from the dead. I’m not saying the tomb was not empty. I’m not saying that he did not appear to his disciples and ascend into heaven. Believers believe that all these things are true. But they do not believe them because of historical evidence. They take the Christian claims on faith, not on the basis of proof. There can be no proof."

    Does not the established trustworthiness of a witness fall under epistemological criterion in the nature of knowledge? Why then is the witness of the apostles not historical evidence but an act of faith? In my mind, it is this proof that separates Christianity from all other religions. The resurrection is not an act of faith but a fact in history.

    • David Nickol

      Why then is the witness of the apostles not historical evidence but an act of faith?

      One thing to consider is that the weight of scholarly opinion is that we cannot know whether we have the "witness of the apostles." We have the Gospels, which were written decades after the fact and are not believed to be eyewitness accounts (except by a small minority of scholars). What we have is oral tradition, passed down over a minimum of thirty years and written down in by people who were not present when the events occurred.

      • Stephen Bender

        That's interesting. I would have thought Paul's epistles would have settled the matter.

        • David Nickol

          That's interesting. I would have thought Paul's epistles would have settled the matter.

          Paul is, of course, very important, but he was not a follower of Jesus before the crucifixion, and his personal accounts of encountering the risen Jesus are so extraordinarily vague that there is no clear picture of what happened. We do not have any eyewitness account from a follower or followers of Jesus who knew him during his earthly life and who walked, talked, and ate with him after his resurrection.

          • Stephen Bender

            True but Paul did know the twelve and we can say that Paul was a trustworthy witness. Also, the martyrdom's of the apostles adds veracity to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One could say their lives gave eyewitness testimony to the resurrection. In my mind, belief in the resurrection is not an act of faith but rather, a solid foundation of knowledge in the historical sense.

          • David Nickol

            True but Paul did know the twelve and we can say that Paul was a trustworthy witness.

            No, you are mistaken. Paul did not know The Twelve. He met only Peter. He also met James the Brother of Jesus—not one of The Twelve (and according to the Catholic Church, not the brother of Jesus). But this was only after he had begun preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-19):

            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. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas [i.e., Peter] and remained with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.

            Paul takes pains to demonstrate that he was independent of The Twelve and that he was "commissioned" by God himself. H is very clear that he is not preaching the Gospel as received from The Twelve. The facts are quite the opposite from what you contend.

            Also, the martyrdom's of the apostles adds veracity to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            I have not attempted to look into the question of what happened to The Twelve other than Judas and Peter, but I think most of what we have is tradition with a small T. That is, we have pious stories from non-biblical sources with little or no historical reliability.

          • Doug Shaver

            we can say that Paul was a trustworthy witness.

            Why can we say that? What do we know for a fact about him that says we should believe whatever he says?

          • Valence

            One could say their lives gave eyewitness testimony to the resurrection.

            Does the self-martyrdom of jihadists give eyewitness testimony to the truth of Allah and veracity of the Quran? Do the deaths of the kamikazi indicate the emperor of Japan was really divine? The fact that people are willing to die for their beliefs is certainly emotionally appealing, but it doesn't indicate those beliefs are correct. I don't doubt Paul believed what he was saying, but it's quite unclear what the true nature of his visions of Jesus were.

          • Doug Shaver

            but Paul did know the twelve

            He knew a group of people to whom he referred as "the twelve." He does not say they were disciples of Jesus. He never refers to anyone as a disciple of Jesus, not even Cephas.

          • David Nickol

            The only time Paul refers to the Twelve is in 1 Corinthians 15:5—"that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve." There is no reason in the world to believe that he was referring to anyone other than the apostles when he said "the Twelve." However, he takes pains in Galatians 1:18–20 to make it clear that of the Twelve, he personally met only Peter (Cephas), and not at the beginning of his mission to the Gentiles. Paul was intent on showing that his authority to preach the Gospel came directly from God, not from the apostles.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no reason in the world to believe that he was referring to anyone other than the apostles when he said "the Twelve."

            Not if we presuppose the accuracy of the historically orthodox story of how Christianity got started. Without that presupposition, we can note that in Paul’s account of the risen Christ’s appearances, he references “the twelve” and “the apostles” as if they were two distinct groups.

            However, he takes pains in Galatians 1:18–20 to make it clear that of the Twelve, he personally met only Peter (Cephas),

            In that passage, he identifies both Peter and James as apostles, not members of the Twelve.

            Paul was intent on showing that his authority to preach the Gospel came directly from God, not from the apostles.

            Not just his authority. He says he got the gospel itself—the message he was preaching—by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. He specifically denies having gotten his gospel from other men.

          • David Nickol

            I think you've got it reversed. There is no ambiguity in the New Testament about who "the Twelve" refers to. It refers to the people whom we call the Twelve Apostles. The problem is that apostle is sometimes used to refer to an important first-generation member of the Jesus movement who was not one of the Twelve. So the Twelve were the Twelve Apostles. Everyone who was a member of the Twelve was an apostle, but not everyone called an apostle was a member of the Twelve.

            Of course, for mythicists or extreme skeptics of some other kind about the earliest Church, it would be basically a pointless question to ask who the Twelve were or who the apostles were.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no ambiguity in the New Testament about who "the Twelve" refers to.

            Of course not, if you assume what the church says about its origins.

            The problem is that apostle is sometimes used to refer to an important first-generation member of the Jesus movement who was not one of the Twelve. So the Twelve were the Twelve Apostles. Everyone who was a member of the Twelve was an apostle, but not everyone called an apostle was a member of the Twelve.

            So says the church. Paul doesn't say it.

          • David Nickol

            So says the church. Paul doesn't say it.

            The church? I think any historian, whether Christian, Jew, or "secular" would acknowledge that when Paul referred to "the Twelve," he meant the twelve Apostles. For example, Michael Grant (a "secular" historian) in Saint Paul has this definition in the glossary:

            Apostles (Greek meaning 'messengers'). The Twelve, whom according to the New Testament, Jesus sent out to preach the Gospel. (After the death of Judas Iscariot he was replaced by Matthias). Paul also claimed the status of apostle for himself, and the term was used for other missionaries and leaders.

            Are you really a mythicist, or are you just trying to bug the Bible believers here?

          • Doug Shaver

            I was sure I'd already posted this, but I don't see it now. If it shows up twice, my apologies.

            I think any historian, whether Christian, Jew, or "secular" would acknowledge that when Paul referred to "the Twelve," he meant the twelve Apostles.

            OK, but why would they say that?

            Are you really a mythicist, or are you just trying to bug the Bible believers here?

            Yes, I'm a mythicist. I'm also trying to bring to light certain inconsistencies that I perceive in the orthodox account of Christianity's origins. That is bound to bug some Bible believers, but bugging them is not my intended purpose.

    • Valence

      The resurrection is not an act of faith but a fact in history.

      Have you ever read Paul's letters? Clearly the "fact" of the resurrection wasn't generally accepted in his time, and he was writing much closer to the events than the gospels. Our first gospel, Mark, did not include an account of the resurrection, only an empty tomb. An account of the risen Jesus was added quite a bit later (this is documented in all modern Bibles and beyond reasonable dispute). Anyway, back to Paul, 1 Cor 1

      21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

      Why would a well confirmed fact be foolishness by Paul's own words? If the resurrection happened in Jerusalem, why is it a stumbling block for the Jews? The resurrection certainly seemed to controversial in Paul's on time, right after the event.
      A simple question, if the resurrection was such a well witnessed and documented fact, who was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection?

      • Stephen Bender

        Have you ever read Paul's letters? Clearly the "fact" of the resurrection wasn't generally accepted in his time, and he was writing much closer to the events than the gospels. Our first gospel, Mark, did not include an account of the resurrection, only an empty tomb. An account of the risen Jesus was added quite a bit later (this is documented in all modern Bibles and beyond reasonable dispute). Anyway, back to Paul, 1 Cor 1

        What's your point here? People were converted because they believed the testimony of the disciples. That some didn't is reasonable since it is an extraordinary event. I'll grant that. But, consider the martyrdom of the disciples and their testimony becomes even more believable. Anyways, in Mark's gospel, what do you suppose an empty tomb is supposed to indicate? They probably added the resurrection account later because some knucklehead didn't get it. ;)

        Why would a well confirmed fact be foolishness by Paul's own words? If the resurrection happened in Jerusalem, why is it a stumbling block for the Jews?

        Who said it was a well confirmed fact? I said there was eyewitness testimony and that is all one needs to have certainty. Anyways, the Jews were expecting a Caesar. They didn't expect the Messiah to die. That is why it was foolishness to them.

        A simple question, if the resurrection was such a well witnessed and documented fact, who was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection?

        Mary. A simple question for you. Who was the last person to see Jesus Christ alive?

        • Doug Shaver

          People were converted because they believed the testimony of the disciples.

          Do we have any convert's word for that? Is there one document, known to have been written during the first century, in which the writer says,"I believe Jesus rose from the dead because one of his disciples told me so"?

          • Lazarus

            Now if only they had Facebook back then ... Status : I've seen Jesus rise from the dead.

            More seriously- would such a note really have carried any weight with the skeptic? Paul tells us so much of his own experiences, and yet so much meh. Luke and others claim to relate true experiences. Would it have mattered.

          • Doug Shaver

            would such a note really have carried any weight with the skeptic?

            That depends on the skeptic. It wouldn't convince me, but I've known a few Christians who claimed to be former skeptics and said they were converted by evidence that I thought was a lot less conclusive. My point, though, was that no such note exists, and without it, claims that anybody was converted by a disciple's testimony are simply unsubstantiated by good evidence.

            Paul tells us so much of his own experiences, and yet so much meh.

            Nothing in his own writings mentions anything about his conversion experience. Given his claim to have persecuted the church, he must have had one, but he doesn't say what happened that changed his mind.

          • Lazarus

            His own conversion experience?

            How about :

            "And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:14-18)

          • Doug Shaver

            I said, "in his own writings." Paul didn't write Acts.

          • David Nickol

            But that's not Paul talking. It's Luke writing.

            You may not believe this, but I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach earlier upon reading the commentary in the Anchor Bible volume The Acts of the Apostles, by Joseph Fitzmyer, whom I hold in very high esteem. Here's a brief excerpt:

            The speech that Paul delivers before King Agrippa II, Bernice, and their entourage is a finely crafted discourse, one of the finest in Acts. It is substantially a defense (apologia), but toward the end it becomes a missionary speech (vv 23, 28), as Paul preaches Jesus as the one promised by Moses and the prophets of old. In effect, it is a Lucan composition, a repetition of the story of Paul's conversion (9:1-30), once again in the form of a discourse, as in 22:3-21. . . .

            Though the discourse purports to be a defense of Paul, its hidden agenda is a defense of Christianity, which is now set out in its relation to Judaism. In fact, this speech of Paul, together with the reactions to it (vv 24-32), formulates the christological climax of Acts. O'Tool has shown that it functions as the christological climax of Paul's whole defense (22:1-26:32); but it is also the christological climax of the whole of Acts, for Luke makes Paul formulate the role of faith in the suffering Messiah. In this way Paul is a "prophet," a spokesman for God.

            Why the sick feeling? Because even after all these years, it still is disturbing that what I learned in Catholic school (and not just early grade school) was so oversimplified as to be false. It just isn't accurate to cite Luke's account of Paul's conversion as if it were Paul's own account, and to a great extent, it is not accurate to present it as what actually happened. It is a composition by Luke for his own purposes. While it may not be created out of whole cloth (I don't doubt that Paul had a conversion experience), Luke was not writing history as we expect history to be written today. While Fitzmyer argues early in the volume for the "historical reliability" of Acts, he makes it clear that doesn't mean Acts gives anything like a journalistic account of "what actually happened" or that the speeches by Paul or anyone else were the things they actually said.

            What was presented in Catholic school was all so simple and straightforward. I suppose that believing Catholics can tell themselves that it does not matter to what degree things in the New Testament can be taken at face value, because it's all inspired by God and "true" in some way or another. But even so, I don't think it is acceptable to set forth Paul's speeches in Acts as the words of Paul. To the best of my knowledge, Fitzmyer never even bothers to take up the question of how Luke would have known what Paul said.

            A small but interesting point: Acts 26:14 reads as follows:

            We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’

            In the Greek text of Acts, Jesus is said to be speaking in Hebrew (Aramaic?), but "It is hard for you to kick against the goad" is actually a Greek proverb not found in Jewish literature.

          • So what is the point? You assume that something that acts as an appropriate climax can't be historically accurate because history is never that nice? That makes sense if you assume that God is not working in history to make it work out nicely for His own purposes.

            Acts 26:14 is a good example. If you assume Jesus would not know Greek proverbs then this would show the account is unhistorical. Yet that assumption is precisely what is in question. Is Jesus God and did He really rise from the dead? If He did then believing He can use Greek idioms is hardly a stretch.

          • David Nickol

            I think even most of the atheists here would agree that if God exists, he could do anything. So, for example, he could have had Luke (based on no sources at all) write a journalistic account of Paul's experiences on the road to Damascus, complete with a word-for-word transcript of what Jesus said to Paul. And certainly Jesus, being himself God, could have said something to Paul in Hebrew that would translate into Greek as a proverb known only in Greek but not in Hebrew. If this is the way you want to approach God and the Bible, then I can't argue with you.

          • The point is you need to deal with the theory as it is. You can't disprove a theory based on premises that the theory would not accept. The key question is not whether the bible is disprovable. It isn't. So your heart does not need to sink. The question is whether the data is such that a natural explanation is not plausible. Having listened to many attempts to create such a plausible natural explanation I have to say that there is nothing close.

            BTW, Luke and Paul were companions. How does "based on no sources at all" even come into it. It seems Paul told everyone who came within earshot about the "road to Damascus" story. I suspect Luke heard it so many times he could recite it in his sleep.

          • David Nickol

            How does "based on no sources at all" even come into it.

            It was a hypothetical statement. By your theory of the Bible, I don't see why it is even important that any biblical author be an eyewitness or have direct knowledge of the events he wrote about. You believe the Bible to be a "supernatural" document guaranteed by God. So what difference does it make if Luke knew Paul? God would have inspired Luke to get his facts right no matter what his sources or lack thereof.

            The key question is not whether the bible is disprovable. It isn't.

            I am not even sure what it means to ask whether the Bible is disprovable. There are certainly internal contradictions and historical errors in the Bible. For believing Catholics, this does not discredit the Bible as the source of religious guidance, nor does it even "disprove" the Bible was not divinely inspired. But the Bible certainly is not history as modern-day history is written. It would have been perfectly in keeping with Graeco-Roman biographical writing for Luke to be the principal author of the speeches in Acts, even the speeches of Paul. You are being more Catholic than the pope here in insisting Paul's speeches in Acts had to be journalistic transcriptions.

          • Actually it matters a lot if Luke knew Paul. Even when you are convinced it is true, every detail that sheds light on it and let's you understand it better is important.

            Contradictions do matter. If the bible was impossible to reconcile with sound reason that would be cause to reject it. Of course, many intelligent people have been able to believe in both scripture and consistent logic so it is possible to make it work. So really it comes down to which is most plausible. We see both sides and we pick one for whatever reason.

          • Lazarus

            That, and there seems to me to be an unfair criticism of Paul in not describing the Damascus road experience more often or in greater detail. This is the guy that skeptics accuse of creating Christianity, of writing stories all over the show. And yet, this important part of the alleged fiction he leaves to others to narrate.

            How implausible is it to simply accept that he did not regard this as the most essential part part of his message and that others would have discussed it more than he would have? If Paul was writing fiction he could have done a better job in getting his own backstory straight and emphasized.

            And if those events are in doubt, why did he convert so dramatically?

          • David Nickol

            Randy Gritter: It seems Paul told everyone who came within earshot about the "road to Damascus" story. I suspect Luke heard it so many times he could recite it in his sleep.

            Lazarus: How implausible is it to simply accept that he did not regard this as the most essential part part of his message and that others would have discussed it more than he would have?

            It doesn't seem to me that you two are even on the same page. RG seems to think Paul told this story over and over and over to anyone who would listen, whereas you seem to believe he would not have made much out of it.

            What I find interesting is that you are so defensive when presented with commentary by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, one of the "biggest names" in Catholic biblical scholarship, written (I might add) in a book that bears an Imprimi Potest, Nihil Obstat, and Imprimatur.

            It seems perfectly within Catholic orthodoxy to me that Luke had a bare-bones account of Paul's conversion experience (either from Paul himself or from other sources) and fleshes it out for his theological message in Acts. As I said, the practice of writing speeches instead of figuring out a way to come up with word-for-word transcripts by Graeco-Roman biographers is well understood. It seems to be the assumption here that it is wrong to believe anything other than that the New Testament authors were (miraculously) writing as modern journalists and historians rather than as people employing the conventions of their own times.

            No biblical scholar I am aware of has ever maintained that the Magnificat, the discourses in Acts, or even the Sermon on the Mount was a word-for-word transcription of words spoken two thousand years ago at a specific time and in a specific place. It seems to be the job of "our Theist Friends" on Strange Notions to resist even the best of Catholic biblical scholarship as some kind of heresy.

          • Lazarus

            You come to that conclusion because you think I'm being "defensive". I am speculating on various possibilities, as you and Fitzmyer and others are doing. Is any discussion not in line with your own observations "defensive"?

            I am also not a Biblical literalist, never have been, so that's another mischaracterization.

            From that flows my opinion that your sarcastic remark about "our Theist Friends" is as unfounded as it is uncharitable.

          • David Nickol

            Let me apologize, since I clearly have offended you. I take very seriously everything you say. I have even bought a copy of Searching for Jesus at your recommendation.

            I do not believe I characterized you as a "biblical literalist." Let me make it clear that I don't think you are.

            I'll just leave it at that for the moment, although in the absence of a new topic for over two weeks, I think the only thing that could reignite interest in Strange Notions at this point is a really good fight!

          • Lazarus

            You dress funny!!

          • Lazarus

            No, not offended. More probably my aggressive a$$h@$&Le lawyer switch was still in the "on" position. I must have that seen to ;)

          • Doug Shaver

            This is the guy that skeptics accuse of creating Christianity

            Some skeptics say that Paul created Christianity. Many of us think nothing of the sort.

            If Paul was writing fiction he could have done a better job in getting his own backstory straight and emphasized.

            Some of us skeptics believe that the gospels and Acts are works of fiction, but we don't think Paul had anything to do with writing them. A fictional story is a narrative, and there is hardly any narrative in the writings attributed to Paul. They are almost entirely expository.

          • Lazarus

            Of course I accept your explanation of your own views here, and how different non-believers have differing views. I however note with some amusement how non-believers are starting to point out this self-evident fact while for years it caused great irritation and frustration among (some of) them when believers pointed out that a particular proposition did not cover or apply to their specific belief. The evolution of atheism. Soon you will be another belief system. Maybe even get your own channel on Patheos ;)

          • Doug Shaver

            I however note with some amusement how non-believers are starting to point out this self-evident fact

            We're just responding to believers who talk as if they were under the impression that all unbelievers think alike.

            for years it caused great irritation and frustration among (some of) them when believers pointed out that a particular proposition did not cover or apply to their specific belief.

            We are human, too. It is human nature to think in terms of we versus they and to suppose that they are all alike.

          • Paul does refer to his conversion in his epistles. He assumes his readers are familiar with the story but it us not like he does not mention it.

            Paul wrote letters for specific reasons. All are addresses to Christians so he is really not concerned with convincing his audience Christianity is true.

          • David Nickol

            He assumes his readers are familiar with the story but it us not like he does not mention it.

            What is the evidence he assumes his readers already know the story? One possible reason for what strikes many to be Paul's omissions is that he assumed knowledge on the part of his audience. But nowhere that I know does Paul actually say he is omitting something, or giving a brief account of something, because he assumes his readers already know it. For example, Paul never mentions the virgin birth. (And neither, for that matter, does Mark or John.) One possible reason is that he assumed (or even was certain) that they knew of it, but another reason is that Paul himself knew nothing of such a claim. He does say Jesus was "born of a woman." Why would he not say "born of a woman, who was and remained a virgin"? It's a perfectly reasonable question to ask, and it's perfectly reasonable to say that one possible answer is that Paul knew nothing of the virgin birth.

          • Paul does say Jesus appeared to him in 1 Cor 15. He assumes there his audience knows the details of all the appearances of Chritst or he would never have gone over them so quickly. He talks about his sufferings for the gospel. He talks about miracles. These are not things you mention in passing unless you audience has heard many such stories.

            As for the virgin birth, I do think Luke and Paul were close. Yet if you suppose they were not could that part of the gospel have not been passed on to him? Perhaps. It would not cause a problem if that were true. Paul was just so well travelled. He would visit with Mary and Matthew as well as Luke. Hard to see but if they somehow never discussed it then what does that mean?

          • Doug Shaver

            He assumes his readers are familiar with the story

            Why should I believe that? The pastor of the Pentecostal church I belonged to was a former Roman Catholic and often mentioned his conversion in his sermons. But in the four years I belonged to that church, I never heard the story of his conversion, either from him or from any other member of the congregation.

          • So you conclude from that he didn't convert? I think he was assuming you knew the story. Just wrongly assuming in your case. You should have asked him to tell you. You probably still can.

          • Doug Shaver

            So you conclude from that he didn't convert?

            No, not at all. Not any more than I have concluded that Paul never converted. My only point what that we don't know anything about Paul's conversion from anything he himself wrote. I don't doubt that either Paul or my pastor had a conversion experience.

            I think he was assuming you knew the story. Just wrongly assuming in your case.

            I don't think so, but if he did, he was not just wrong but unjustified. He had no reason at all to think I knew anything about his conversion other than that it happened. What I think was most likely was that he didn't regard the details of his conversion as relevant to his preaching.

          • Doug Shaver

            The question is whether the data is such that a natural explanation is not plausible. Having listened to many attempts to create such a plausible natural explanation I have to say that there is nothing close.

            I agree that if we assume the Bible to be historically accurate, then natural explanations of what it reports are not plausible. But I am aware of no good reason to assume its historical accuracy.

          • We should not assume it is accurate. Yet if it is not accurate we need to ask why did people come to trust it so much. Really the individual books need to be talked about separately because they were not grouped together until later. Still, why would the Gospel of Mathew be accepted by early Christians? It contains a bunch of miracle stories, a bunch of divinity claims, claims about fulfillment of prophesy and a rather emphatic resurrection account. If none of those things are factual then why does it get written and why does it get accepted? That is something non-Christians have not given a plausible answer to. They just pretend the problem does not exist. Really they pretend all the legitimate scholars who ask that question don't exist.

          • David Nickol

            If none of those things are factual then why does it get written and why does it get accepted? That is something non-Christians have not given a plausible answer to.

            The prevailing view among mainstream biblical scholars, believers and nonbelievers alike, is that the Gospels consist of oral tradition which circulated for at least thirty years before being written down. What separates believers from nonbelievers is the degree to which they believe the oral tradition remained reflective of "what actually happened" and the degree to which the various deeds of Jesus became embellished in the telling and retelling.

            It is simply not true that a plausible answer has not been given to how miraculous events could have been written about and believed at the dawn of Christianity. The mechanism is clear: oral tradition that was embellished as stories were told and retold. Pretty much everyone agrees on the mechanism, as I have already said. What separates believers from nonbelievers is to what degree they believe the stories were embellished.

          • To say oral tradition does not make it more plausible. If the stories change wildly over a few decades why does nobody notice? What do the apostles say? Do they know Jesus is this completely unremarkable guy? Do they make stuff up or does that happen in the next generation? We can read stuff from the early church fathers. Do any of them make any sense in the secular scholars world? There are just so many questions ignored it is hard to take it seriously.

          • Doug Shaver

            What do the apostles say?

            Other than Paul? In any extant document? Nothing.

          • That is always the dodge. Like extant documents written by the person in question are the only way to know something. The truth is we have books written by Peter and John and Matthew who were apostles. So you are implying a huge question beg. Even if you assume they wrote nothing they must make some sense. Did Peter claim to see and experience what is recounted in the gospels? If not, what is his story? Why let all these things he knows to be false be repeated? So he can die a martyr?

          • Doug Shaver

            Like extant documents written by the person in question are the only way to know something.

            That is not my claim. I'll accept other sources, but not without a good reason.

          • Doug Shaver

            we have books written by Peter and John and Matthew who were apostles.

            So says the church. But if that were reason enough to believe something, I wouldn't be an atheist in the first place.

          • Doug Shaver

            If none of those things are factual then why does it get written and why does it get accepted? That is something non-Christians have not given a plausible answer to.

            I have no idea which skeptics’ theories you’ve looked at, but there are plenty out there that I don’t find the least bit plausible, either. We who are not Christians have nothing in common except that we don’t think Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate. Whether my own response to your question is plausible depends on how you define plausibility, but I should hope you mean something besides “something Randy Gritter will believe.” There are things I will say are plausible even though I don’t believe them myself.

            Why was Matthew’s gospel written? Why has any book ever been written? I’m a writer (not a successful one, financially speaking, but I do write), and I think the number of reasons for writing books is approximately equal to the number of people who write books. But sure, there are some commonalities. Usually, we have some ideas to which we hope other people will, at the very least, give some consideration.

            To determine the motivations of any particular author, we generally need to know something about that author as an individual. In the case of the canonical gospels, however, we don’t have that information. (We don’t have it for any of the non-canonical gospels, either.) They were all written anonymously, according to the overwhelming consensus of non-conservative New Testament scholars. And my own personal research has failed to turn up any undisputed fact that is inconsistent with that consensus. The traditional attributions are just that — traditions — and I know of no reason to assume that those traditions were based on anyone’s actual knowledge of the gospels’ origins. This is not to say they could not have been. It is only to say that we who are not committed to a defense of any Christian dogma are not obliged to think they were. It is not necessary, logically speaking, to prove X is false in order to justify not believing X is true.

            What then, if we know nothing of the authors’ intentions, can we reasonably believe about why they were believed? We may first note that there is no clear evidence that anybody was even aware of these writings before sometime during the second century. Their very existence is not unambiguously attested before Irenaeus mentions them around 180 CE, and by that time, apparently, certain church authorities (at the very least, Irenaeus himself) had declared them to be authoritative. We might perhaps be entitled to presume that this was because they themselves believed the traditions about who wrote them, but in any event, the authorities said it, their parishioners believed it, and that settled it.

            I get it that you will find little or none of this to be plausible. So be it. Everyone else reading it will have their own notions of what is and is not plausible.

          • The idea that the gospels were written anonymously simply has no evidence to back it up. None at all. Liberal scholars quotin each other does not count. So you start there. in the absence of any contrary evidence and supposed absence of any bias we would take the best evidence we have as true. They don't. So you follow them but you should not.

          • Doug Shaver

            The idea that the gospels were written anonymously simply has no evidence to back it up.

            It doesn't need any. For any document, whoever says so-and-so wrote it is the one who needs evidence.

          • Lazarus

            Brant Pitre in "The Case for Jesus" does a great job of providing that evidence. He has a 12 page chapter on that, graphs and all.

          • David Nickol

            Do you really believe that Brant Pitre successfully debunks the scholarly consensus in 12 pages? Should I purge from my personal library any books about the New Testament that say the four gospels were anonymous? Pitre says:

            By the end of the twentieth century, when I was a student, the assumption that the four Gospels in the New Testament were not originally attributed to anyone was so widespread that it was rarely ever discussed, much less questioned. As a result, many scholars today believe that we do not know who wrote the four Gospels, which are our primary historical sources for what Jesus did and said.

            He has a section titled "The Anonymous Scenario Is Incredible." If it is truly incredible, why have so many of the greatest biblical scholars accepted it? While reading Fitzmyer's Anchor Bible volume on Acts of the Apostles, I noticed that he has written rather extensively (in various other publications) that he thinks the most likely author of Luke-Acts is indeed the same Luke to whom the Gospel has been traditionally attributed. Should I consider Fitzmyer to have been wasting valuable time by not simply saying, "It says The Gospel According to Luke on the title page, for heaven's sake. What more proof do you need?"

          • Lazarus

            Pitre claims to have shown conclusively that the Gospels were in all probability not anonymously written. He has certainly convinced me on that issue. I know that you have read the book, you do not seem convinced.

            As to Fitzmeyer, Brown and so on, these are dissenting opinions, and that is all good. The Church values this type of debate despite popular opinion to the contrary.

            The question is also not one of huge importance to me, personally. Whether Matthew or his uncle Chaim wrote that Gospel relates to authenticity and credibility, for sure, but ultimately I have to deal with its contents, with how it was lived since early times, and how it impacts on my life.

            And that much vaunted "scholarly consensus" is also a very nebulous beast. It is often claimed and hardly ever proven or even substantiated. Rightly or wrongly, there is certainly recent developments that claim to be showing that much of the more traditional approach to the Gospels are warranted -in addition to Pitre see eg Pope Benedict, Hutchinson and Levering.

          • Valence

            How does Pitre explain Justin Martyr calling the gospels "memoirs of the apostles" when he quotes them? Also, does Pitre go with Markan Priority with regard to the Synoptic problem or does he go with the Q hypothesis.

          • Lazarus

            I would really suggest that you read Pitre, if possible, because these topics are covered extensively, and a combox discussion could hardly do justice to his argument.

            One quote from the book may give you some idea of how he deals with the Justin Martyr reference :

            "For example, in the second century AD, Justin Martyr refers to the Gospels as “the memoirs of [the] apostles” and interprets them as having “recorded” what Jesus actually said and did (see Justin Martyr, 1 Apology , 66; Dialogue with Trypho , 100.4). By referring to the Gospels as “memoirs” (Greek apomnēmoneumata ), Justin is using language from the biographical tradition in the Hellenistic world and thus giving us a clue as to how the Gospels were read by ancient readers. 2 Along similar lines, Augustine of Hippo described the four Gospels as “trustworthy testimonies,” based on the “remembrance” of the disciples, of “the words heard from his lips, and the deeds wrought by him beneath their eyes” (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels , 1.1). In light of such examples, New Testament scholar Graham Stanton concludes: “There is little doubt…that early Christian readers of the gospels did read them as biographies.” 3 Fast-forward almost fifteen hundred years, and a dramatic shift takes place. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some scholars began insisting that the Gospels were not biographies. "

            As to the Synoptic Problem, Pitre deals extensively with several popular and current theories, such as the Two Source Theory, Farrer etc, expresses concerns about all of them and then puts together a theory, a so,union that really is too long to set out here. Suffice it to say for now that it investigates and builds on the Acts of the Apostles, specifically the ending thereof, and he then concludes that:

            "In essence, there are compelling historical reasons to conclude that the Gospels are not the late-first-century end products of a long chain of anonymous storytelling. Instead, they are ancient biographies written by the students of Jesus and their followers, written well within the lifetimes of the apostles and eyewitnesses to Jesus."

          • Valence

            "For example, in the second century AD, Justin Martyr refers to the Gospels as “the memoirs of [the] apostles” and interprets them as having “recorded” what Jesus actually said and did (see Justin Martyr, 1 Apology , 66; Dialogue with Trypho , 100.4). By referring to the Gospels as “memoirs” (Greek apomnēmoneumata ), Justin is using language from the biographical tradition in the Hellenistic world and thus giving us a clue as to how the Gospels were read by ancient readers. 2 Along similar lines, Augustine of Hippo described the four Gospels as “trustworthy testimonies,” based on the “remembrance” of the disciples, of “the words heard from his lips, and the deeds wrought by him beneath their eyes” (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels , 1.1). In light of such examples, New Testament scholar Graham Stanton concludes: “There is little doubt…that early Christian readers of the gospels did read them as biographies.” 3 Fast-forward almost fifteen hundred years, and a dramatic shift takes place. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some scholars began insisting that the Gospels were not biographies. "

            Sure, but does he mention this is one major reason scholars think the earliest records were anonymous? He never refers to the gospels by a name. If he does not even discuss this, he is really not covering the issue of authorship thoroughly. The only Bible Scholar I've read that doesn't profess to be Christian is Bart Ehrman. Why would a non-Christian want to be a Bible scholar? It certainly wouldn't be difficult to take a poll, but according to Bart, at least, most scholars don't want to put their name on an opinion, especially in evangelical circles, for fear of backlash. I thought I saw you write Pitre claim that everyone assumed they were anonymous...doesn't he work at a Catholic University/Seminary? Are most of the scholars there secular?

            https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/04/09/theologian-whose-views-evolution-differed-his-church-loses-tenured-job

          • Lazarus

            I believe that there are lots of secular NT scholars. Without Googling I can think of people like Hector Avalos, Bob Price, Richard Carrier - I'm sure there are more.

            The Justin Martyr argument, if I can refer to it like that, is not a major part of Pitre's discussion.

            Maybe we should have a look at the prevalence of secular scholars in the NT field.

          • Valence

            Well, here is a huge list...would take some time to categorize them :)

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Biblical_scholars

            Carrier isn't a Bible scholar, he's a "historian" who seems to also seems to think standard historical method is flawed. His arguments diverge from consensus pretty far, and without very good reason (I think). It's theoretically possible he is right, but I put the probability pretty low. If you google his wiki article it will never say he is a Bible scholar, as far as I can tell.

            Robert Price is a Bible scholar, and he used to be a Christian, just like Ehrman. If you glance through the Bible scholars list, you'll find most are Christian, and most scholars I've seen referenced in books are also Christian...at least they profess to be Christian. It would be nice if we had better data to draw upon here...perhaps I'll get lucky and find some :)

          • Lazarus

            I see Carrier is also nowadays, amongst his other skills, a plaintiff.

          • Valence

            Lol, against someone who seems tries to preach atheist religion...which, to me, is nonsense.

          • David Nickol

            As to Fitzmeyer, Brown and so on, these are dissenting opinions, and that is all good. . . . And that much vaunted "scholarly consensus" is also a very nebulous beast.

            No, they are not the dissenters. Richard Bauckham, Brant Pitre, and a handful of others are the dissenters. They even make it clear in their own works that they are a minority view. Here's a passage from the Introduction to Matthew's Gospel from The New American Bible:

            The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

            The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material . . . .

            I know the NAB is very unpopular with the more conservative Catholics here on Strange Notions, but how plausible is it that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops would authorize a Bible for the United States that is filled with the work of "liberal dissenters"? If you look these things up in an encyclopedia or any basic reference work (including Wikipedia) you will find that there is indeed a widely and broadly held view that the Gospels are anonymous. (Wikipedia: The Gospel of Matthew is anonymous: the author is not named within the
            text, and the superscription "according to Matthew" was added some time in the 2nd century.) Father John McKenzie, who wrote Dictionary of the Bible says flat out that Matthew is not the author of the Gospel of Matthew. J. C. Fenton, in Saint Matthew (The Pelican New Testament Commentaries) does not even discuss who the author of Matthew was, but he does say the following in noting that Matthew copied from Mark: "Thus, whereas in Mark's Gospel we may be only one remove from eyewitnesses, in Matthew's Gospel we are one remove further still." My Anchor Bible Volume on Matthew by two major scholars (William Foxwell Albright and C. S. Mann) does find Matthew to be a plausible author, but they do not accept that Matthew copied from Mark, which is certainly the majority view.

            Now, of course, what the majority of scholars in a certain field believe isn't necessarily true. But I think if you are going to challenge the prevailing view, you have to do a lot better than Brant Pitre. It's getting late. I may comment on Pitre's arguments in a day or two. As you may recall, I had a very negative opinion of the book. Immediately after reading it, I read N. T. Wright's Who Was Jesus? and the difference between the two was like the difference between night and day.

          • Doug Shaver

            Brant Pitre in "The Case for Jesus" does a great job of providing that evidence. He has a 12 page chapter on that, graphs and all.

            Does he reveal any evidence that was not already generally known among apologists?

          • Lazarus

            I couldn't say that he claims new evidence. His argument seems to be a new approach though. His work is really worth the read.

          • Doug Shaver

            His work is really worth the read.

            If I can find an affordable copy, I'll think about it. My list of books to buy when I get the spare change is already pretty long, though.

          • Lazarus

            Fair enough. That book was also discussed here at SN at some length if that is an easier reference.

          • Doug Shaver

            I remember that thread, and I've seen comments on the book on other websites.

          • There is obviously evidence for the traditional authorship. Like the fact that all the oldest copies of these documents are attributed to those authors. What you are asserting is an earlier anonymous version. You just need to admit that assertion is based on your atheism and not based on any data.

          • Doug Shaver

            You just need to admit that assertion is based on your atheism

            If that were the case, no Christian scholar would make the assertion.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is obviously evidence for the traditional authorship.

            How are you defining "evidence"? What exactly does the word mean to you?

          • I would say anything that makes the proposition more likely. I would even say that the fact that some scholars assert an anonymous version existed is technically evidence. The fact that the scholars are biased and their arguments are incoherent makes it weak evidence but it is still evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would say anything that makes the proposition more likely.

            We might have some common ground here. Let’s explore it a bit. By “more likely,” do you mean “more likely than it would be if the evidence didn’t exist”?

          • Sure

          • Doug Shaver

            By “more likely,” do you mean “more likely than it would be if the evidence didn’t exist”?

            Sure.

            Good. I’ll now offer some thoughts of my own.

            This likelihood-without-evidence is what a Bayesian would call prior probability. In any historical context, this is an unavoidably subjective assessment, but not for that reason irrational. If an event either did or did not happen, then strictly speaking, its actual probability is either 1.0 or zero: It can’t be anything in between. In a Bayesian analysis, probability generally means what is often called epistemic probability, which can be interpreted as a measure of the confidence with which we are justified in thinking the event actually happened (often called “degree of belief”) while admitting that we cannot be absolutely certain one way or the other. This notion is as controversial among philosophers as among everybody else, but some of us think it’s a pretty useful idea. Given a stipulation that our degree of belief should bear some correlation to both the quantity or quality of evidence, a Bayesian analysis attempts to quantify that correlation. It assumes that a proposition with a low prior probability needs better evidence — “better” in some sense that I won’t immediately try to define, but maybe in due course — to justify belief than one with a higher prior.

            The particular event we’re discussing is reported in the statement, “The document called the Gospel According to Matthew was originally written by a disciple of Jesus who was a former tax collector known by that name.” That would be the hypothesis in a Bayesian analysis. The issue is whether we have evidence that is sufficient to justify our believing that statement, and Bayesians typically think the answer is affirmative if the calculated consequent probability is greater than 0.5.

            So where do we get a prior probability for this particular statement? We might begin by asking, “Before we have looked at any evidence, where do we get the notion that this particular man was the author of this particular document?” Presumably, from the document itself. Every copy we have, if it includes the first page (and almost none of the oldest manuscripts do), includes in its title the phrase “according to Matthew,” and the narrative includes references to a disciple by that name. It is not unreasonable, then, to initially suppose that the author was claiming to be that disciple.

            But what kind of probability should we assign to “not unreasonable”? Here we appeal to background knowledge, which any complete rendition of Bayes’s Theorem says we must do. Background knowledge is just that — everything we knew or thought we knew about the world before we started our investigation, and that is pertinent to our investigation. So we might then ask: Of all ancient documents containing the titular phrase “According to X,” what fraction are generally believed by scholars of relevant competence to have been written by said X? And here I must confess to having no idea. In all my reading on this subject, I have seen no reference to a pertinent survey of ancient literature. I have seen it alleged that this was an unusual way for an author to identify himself, the more customary method being to identify himself at the start of his narrative, as Thucydides and Josephus did, but I know nothing of the data on which that allegation is based.

            What I do know is that when someone writes in a document, “This is what happened according to so-and-so,” they are not ordinarily crediting so-and-so with authorship of the document, i.e. the author is not claiming to be so-and-so. They are claiming that so-and-so was the source of whatever information is presented in the document. Now it could be argued that if the disciple Matthew was the source of the gospel’s narrative, then he might as well have been the author. And we could stipulate that, but not without revising our hypothesis. Being the author of a document and being the author’s source are not the same thing. Authors can’t be any more reliable than their sources, but they can be a lot less reliable.

            Taking all this into consideration, I suggest we consider the following options. One: Stick with the original hypothesis of direct authorship. If we do this, then I think the prior probability should be set a bit below 0.5, saying around 0.4. Two: Revise the hypothesis to say: “The document called the Gospel According to Matthew was originally written either by a disciple of Jesus who was a former tax collector known by that name or by an unknown writer in reliance on information provided by that disciple.” If we do this, then I would argue that I don’t have any more prima facie reason to believe the statement than to disbelieve it, in which case my epistemic probability is, more or less by definition, 0.5.

            I’ll stop for now and await your response thus far.

          • It seems to me that all the Bayesian stuff is just assigning numbers based on your bias. You make the same calls. St Irenaeus says Matthew wrote the first gospel. If I want to arrive at the conclusion that Matthew was the author then I just need to assign a high number to that evidence. If I don't I pick a low number. Yet that is the same situation we have without Bayesian analysis. So I am not sure how this helps.

            I program computers for a living. People say that it does not matter if all the numbers you enter are guesswork. Once you put them in a computer and output it in a fancy way nobody dares argue with it.

          • David Nickol

            St Irenaeus says Matthew wrote the first gospel.

            Irenaeus says:

            Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

            Two questions.

            If Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, why is the Gospel of Matthew in Greek?

            Also, why does Matthew's Gospel repeat so much of the material found in Mark? (As I am sure you know, the majority opinion of biblical scholars is that Matthew copied from Mark. Also, the Greek text of Matthew gives no sign of being a translation from a Hebrew text.)

          • I am not sure if there was a Hebrew version of Matthew out there and of the Greek version is the same or not. It is an interesting question. My point is Irenaeus defended the 4 gospels not because that was the official Christian position. It wasn't yet. He simply knew what he knew based on what the previous generation of Christians knew. He talks about being schooled by Polycarp. Scholars tend to distrust Christians simply because they are Christians.

            You seem to be very focused on the majority of scholars. It seems like you are incapable of being counter-cultural. The truth is there are many fine scholars shut out of the big name universities because they are Christian. So it a gerrymandered majority. Like the Bolsheviks in Russia. Chesterton talks about the degrading slavery of being a child of your times. You can't avoid it unless you stop caving in to the majority of scholars line.

            Did Matthew copy from Mark? I think it more likely they both copied from oral tradition. Some segments of each gospel might have been circulated before the whole thing was complete and they could have both copied from each other. The Hebrew/Greek thing makes this more complex. I have heard much of Mark translates easily into Hebrew perhaps indicating someone with Hebrew as a first language was involved. Maybe Peter. These are wild speculations that might be completely inaccurate. Yet it is fun.

          • Will

            I program computers for a living. People say that it does not matter if all the numbers you enter are guesswork. Once you put them in a computer and output it in a fancy way nobody dares argue with it.

            I work with computers too, and in my field what you say here certainly isn't the case, and I don't believe it's the case in any computer field. What exactly are you programming?
            I make digital devices control buildings, from hvac, to lights, to doors. People flip out if my stuff doesn't work exactly as they expect it too. Obviously the IRS doesn't care if you accounts come from a computer, they understand the GIGO rule (garbage in, garbage out).

          • Doug Shaver

            If I want to arrive at the conclusion that Matthew was the author then I just need to assign a high number to that evidence.

            We can leave it at that if you wish. But then, what do you mean by "likely" when you say evidence makes some proposition "more likely"?

          • The concept of "likely" is more intuitive. Adding numbers to it does not make it less so. Sometimes it helps when you have some evidence that has really solid probability numbers associated with it. Then you can calculate how sure you have to be about your intuitive data to tip the scales the other way.

          • Doug Shaver

            The concept of "likely" is more intuitive.

            I can work with that.

            Adding numbers to it does not make it less so.

            What the numbers add is a way to test our intuitions for consistency. If I affirm in good faith that I have no more prima facie reason to disbelieve than to believe the proposition that the traditional attributions of gospel authors are correct (meaning that I accept a prior probability of 0.5), and if I also affirm the reasonableness of any intuition making P(E|H) > P(E|~H), then I contradict myself if I deny the reasonableness of believing the traditional attributions. If the consequent probability turns out to be (just to pick a number) 0.7, and I still insist, “No disciple of Jesus had anything to do with writing the gospels,” then logically speaking, I’m in a heap of trouble.

            Sometimes it helps when you have some evidence that has really solid probability numbers associated with it.

            It helps to settle disputes about whether or how much the evidence actually supports the hypothesis. If the disputants both accept a certain prior probability for the hypothesis but cannot agree at all on appropriate estimates for P(E|H) or P(E|~H), then they at least have exposed the actual basis of their disagreement about the consequent probability. And if they wish to continue their dialogue, then they now know exactly what it should focus on.

            You mentioned in a previous post:

            I program computers for a living. People say that it does not matter if all the numbers you enter are guesswork. Once you put them in a computer and output it in a fancy way nobody dares argue with it.

            That sometimes happens, but a conspicuous counterexample would be the controversy over The Limits to Growth following its publication in 1972. A computer model, like any other model, has some assumptions built in to it, and you can question any output by questioning the assumptions on which it depends. But if you’re going to do that, it’s a really good move to identify the particular assumption you’re challenging and offer a reason for challenging it. The simple objection “One of your assumptions must be wrong” isn’t going to get you very far, at least for rhetorical purposes.

          • David Nickol

            The fact that the scholars are biased and their arguments are incoherent makes it weak evidence but it is still evidence.

            Why do you think the US Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the New American Bible (which can be found both on the USCCB and Vatican websites), which by your standards often states as fact what you consider biased and incoherent arguments (e.g., Matthew the Apostle could not be the author of the Gospel of Matthew)? How could a collection of successors to the Apostles be so wrong and you so right?

          • The New American Bible is a bit of a fiasco. Stuff like that happens. Infallibility does not guarantee the church never makes a misstep. It guarantees the church will eventually be led into truth. They really said Matthew the Apostle could not be the author of the Gospel of Matthew? Like there is no chance at all? You pay much more mind to this sort of thing than I do. Lots of people say lots of stuff. When they come up with an actual argument then I want to know about it. When it is just the usual suspects coming up with the usual stuff then I am not.

          • David Nickol

            The New American Bible is a bit of a fiasco. Stuff like that happens.

            This is from the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

            The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

            Released on March 9, 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by a group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors. The NABRE includes a newly revised translation of the entire Old Testament (including the Book of Psalms) along with the 1986 edition of the New Testament.

            So you are saying the United States bishops have presided over a "fiasco" of a Bible for 30 years, through two editions? Of course, as every Catholic knows, bishops are successors to the Apostles. And you believe a group of roughly 250 bishops over the course of 30 years has not just permitted, but approved, a "fiasco" of a Bible—a work which bears the Catholic "seals of approval," the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur?

            Who are you to criticize the work of the USCCB?

          • David Nickol

            Addendum: I should add that Catholics are not obliged or compelled to agree with the conclusions of the scholars responsible for the translations or the notes in the NAB. However, to characterize the notes as heretical (which I have known a number of Catholics to do) is to scoff at the authority of the Church and the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat.

          • Actually we are supposed to criticize bishops and popes. Many of great saints did it frequently. In the age of abuse scandals who doesn't criticize some of the things bishops do? The first English translations of the liturgical texts were a disaster as well. The church recently moved to correct that. Not everything done by the church is perfect or even good. In fact, one of the great miracles of the church is that she can survive the frequent, gross incompetence of her leaders and still managed to remain true to the faith.

          • Valence

            Actually we are supposed to criticize bishops and popes.

            Lol! Tell that to Galileo, Bruno, and other heretics that have been tried and imprisoned/killed throughout the ages. I find it amazing how much this anonymous gospel thing seems to upset you. Can I ask why you get so emotional about it?

          • Rob Abney
          • Valence

            I'm aware of all that, it has nothing to do with my point here which is simply that the Catholic Church historically hasn't taken criticism cheerfully. That's ok, it's human nature...and certainly the Church isn't the only organization to be extremely hostile to criticism (think Nazis and Communists for starters).

          • I have read this book by Brant Pitre recently. I was surprised how little there was to support the anonymous gospel theory. I had previously been accused of not giving these scholars enough respect. I found out I was giving them too much. They deserve much stronger criticism than I was giving them. Am I emotional about it? I don't know. I feel good about the facts being on my side.

          • David Nickol

            Brant Pitre, in The Case for Jesus, does not present any of the evidence why the majority of scholars believe the Gospels were anonymous. He just presents a weak, one-sided argument that they were not. I would have to say that in over thirty years reading books about the Gospels, I can't think of a worse book that I have read. If you're only going to read books by conservative Catholic apologists, then of course you are going to be amazed at how right conservative Catholics apologists are.

          • Very prompt and very predictable. What evidence did you expect him to present? Valence had a link that went over a long list of alleged reasons why scholars believe in this anonymous gospel theory. None of them were new to me. Also, none of them seem very strong. Not a single one deserves to be brought up and refuted. They are just a bunch of random noise that don't lead to any conclusion. So what evidence would you have him bring up? It is not true he presented none of it. He quoted Ehrman more times than I can count.

          • David Nickol

            It is not true he presented none of it. He quoted Ehrman more times than I can count.

            Here is his summary of the "evidence" he presented:

            In his recent book How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman provides a concise summary of the theory of the anonymous Gospels. It can be broken down into four basic claims.

            First, according to this theory, all four Gospels were originally published without any titles or headings identifying the authors. . . .

            Second, all four Gospels supposedly circulated without any titles for almost a century before anyone attributed them to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. . . .

            Third, it was only much later—sometime after the disciples of Jesus were dead and buried—that titles were finally added to the manuscripts. . . .

            Fourth and finally, and perhaps most significant of all, according to this theory, because the Gospels were originally anonymous, it is reasonable to conclude that none of them was actually written by an eyewitness. . . .

            This, in a nutshell, is the theory of the anonymous Gospels.

            Point to me where, in this summary or in the entire chapter, Pitre presents any of the evidence that caused the majority of scholars to conclude that the Gospels first circulated anonymously. What Bart Ehrman is presenting is the conclusions of biblical scholars, not the evidence that led them to the conclusions.

            Let me ask you this. Suppose Matthew and John the Evangelists were Matthew and John the Apostles. Can you tell what events in their Gospels they witnessed personally and which they are relying on other sources for? One simple reason (among a great many more complex ones) for believing the Gospels are anonymous and not written by eyewitnesses is that there is simply no point in the Gospels (when the story of Jesus is being told) that there is any recognizable "voice," as we have in the letters of St. Paul.

          • He does present the "according to" phrasing in the attributions as being significant to some scholars. Again, the evidence is so weak and so diffuse that it is difficult to know which bit of it people expect to be taken seriously.

            Your "voice" reason is just not a reason. There is just no way to logically move from Matthew was not written in the first person to Matthew could not be the author. Oral tradition seemed find its own style or voice. The gospel writers seemed to mimic this to not draw attention to themselves. Remember these gospels were intended to be read at mass. Paul's letters were likely not intended that way so he put more of his personality into them.

            John does break the narrative of the crucifixion to attest that he actually saw the blood and water flowing out of the side of Jesus. He knows the significance of it in terms of Old Testament prophecy. He wants to be sure nobody is thinking he is being at all figurative.

          • David Nickol

            Again, the evidence is so weak and so diffuse that it is difficult to know which bit of it people expect to be taken seriously.

            Again, Pitre doesn't examine the evidence. He just disputes the conclusion. You don't find out anything from Pitre why scholars would conclude the Gospels were not the work of eyewitnesses.

            Your "voice" reason is just not a reason.

            Of course it's a reason. It is just not a conclusive or particularly compelling reason. But it is the first of many questions to be answered.

            Oral tradition seemed find its own style or voice.

            Why are you bringing up oral tradition? Allegedly, from your point of view, we don't have any oral tradition. We have either first-hand eyewitness accounts (Matthew and John) or second-hand accounts (Mark and Luke) written by people recording the testimony of eyewitnesses known to them personally. How do you even pretend to know what oral tradition sounds like?

            The gospel writers seemed to mimic this to not draw attention to themselves.

            This possibility is raised in a book I am now reading, Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition, but you have absolutely no evidence for it. It is kind of like the anti-evolution theory that God made the earth about 6000 years ago with all the fossils in it. What evidence can you possibly present that the Gospel authors wrote so as to mimic the appearance of oral tradition? If the Gospels sound like transcribed versions of oral tradition, then clearly the first possibility to consider is that they indeed are transcribed versions of oral tradition. It is not scholarship to invent hypotheticals to salvage your theories. You have to have evidence.

          • I never said oral tradition didn't happen. It likely did for a few decades. Part of what Matthew, Mark and Luke did was to assemble the oral tradition out there. If they wrote from their own memories they would not sound so similar so often. Yet the people who were the best assemblers of apostolic records were either apostles or close associates of the apostles. They were not some obscure people who knew nothing and nobody. That just makes no sense.

            So you think the voice argument is not that compelling either? Can you see what is happening? We have a lot of small arguments. None seem very strong. You feel they still add up to something. Pitre and I don't. They are interesting questions to ponder but they don't support any grand conclusion like some anonymous version of each gospel once existed.

            So what would you have Pitre do? Rehearse all the minor items and declare each to be irrelevant? He is writing popular theology which tries to avoid details.

          • Valence

            I feel good about the facts being on my side.

            Those on the opposite side also feel good that they think the facts on their side. Personally I think the situation is far from clear and in those cases I go with expert consensus out of habit, especially if leaning one way or the other changes nothing significant for me. It seems this is significant for you, and that's fine...I definitely can't be certain you are wrong. It could be that the gospels were written anonymously but Christians figured out who wrote them and later labelled them correctly. This idea would make you both right, imagine that ;P

          • Valence

            The fact that the scholars are biased and their arguments are incoherent makes it weak evidence but it is still evidence.

            It's fascinating that you think so highly of your fellow Christians. I'm fine with saying they are biased, everyone is biased, including me or you, but incoherent? I'd expect atheists to accuse Bible scholars of being incoherent...you are Christian right?

          • Atheism is really born out of some philosophical assumptions. The new atheists just follow those assumption to their logical conclusion. Many people try and accept that philosophy and still remain Christian. This is why atheism is so important even though very few openly embrace it. Liberal Christianity is just an atheism that does not know it is atheist. So no, I don't think the alleged religion of any of these scholars matters much. What matters is if they can say Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and rose from the dead on the third day and really mean those things as literally and historically true. If their philosophy does not allow them to do that then they won't be able to approach the New Testament with any sort or objectivity.

          • Valence

            The new atheists just follow those assumption to their logical conclusion.

            No, it does not follow that if atheism is true that religions are the primary cause of the world's problems.

            So no, I don't think the alleged religion of any of these scholars matters much. What matters is if they can say Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and rose from the dead on the third day and really mean those things as literally and historically true. If their philosophy does not allow them to do that then they won't be able to approach the New Testament with any sort or objectivity.

            The vast majority of these scholars do think Jesus rose from the dead...I wouldn't call them Christian if they didn't. I personally don't think Paul or the writer of Mark thought Jesus was born of a virgin. Why on earth would it even matter if he was? According to Paul the key to salvation is faith in the resurrection, the Virgin Birth is irrelevant to that. Can you explain to me why God would care if I believe in the Virgin birth? To me, caring what I believe there seem trite and silly...surely an omnipotent/omniscient God isn't trite or silly. In fact it seems he should primarily care about how I live my life...and this is exactly what Jesus says he cares about in the early gospels. Did you know that Jesus never once says that faith is required to make it to heaven in Mark's gospel, the oldest gospels (not including later endings?

            Matthew 25

            “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

          • Were we talking about religions being the primary cause of the world's problems? Not sure where that comment came from. I think the fact that religion has caused so much disagreement points to atheism being false. We disagree about things that matter. If religion is completely irrelevant then why would humans fight over it?

            Scholars often talk about the resurrection as a purely spiritual thing. Some have said that if you put a camera in the upper room during the appearances of Jesus you would see nothing. That is why I qualified the kind of belief in the resurrection I was talking about.

            The Virgin Birth is interesting. It is a very good question to ask why God wants us to believe it. You should expect an answer. You might also ask why God prepared the nation of Israel to receive the Messiah? He spent centuries doing that. Why not just send him back in the days of Adam or Noah or Abraham? He needed a Holy Nation and He needed a Holy Family. Why? You are right that it is not consistent with much of what you hear about salvation from various Christian groups.

            Does Mark talk about faith? The first words of Jesus in Mark 1:15 are:

            The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

            So it is not like Jesus never connects these concepts. People look for something they can say is missing. So people who are unfamiliar with the New Testament can be shocked. You are right that focusing on faith alone is no what Jesus or Paul taught. Yet faith is needed to get it started. How can you believe Jesus' words "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me" unless we have faith? This is why Hebrews says that without faith it is impossible to please God.

          • Valence

            Were we talking about religions being the primary cause of the world's problems? Not sure where that comment came from.

            You mentioned New Atheists. New Atheists differ from "regular" atheists in that they think many or most of the worlds problems are due to religion. Personally, I think if we weren't fighting over religion, we'd find something else to fight about ;)

            Does Mark talk about faith? The first words of Jesus in Mark 1:15 are:
            The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

            I never said Mark doesn't talk about faith...he talks about faith quite a bit, he just never indicates it's needed to make it into the kingdom of God. Love seems to be more important, according to some verses...I genuinely like Mark's gospel compared to some others where Jesus comes off a bit pompous and preachy...who knows what he was really like.

            This is why Hebrews says that without faith it is impossible to please God.

            How can we tell if we are pleasing God? Do we have to take in on faith that we can't please God without faith? Now we are entering into the realm of meta-faith :)

          • Valence
          • Thanks for that. He still relies heavily on references to scholars say this and scholars doubt that. That is even in a log article explaining why scholars doubt something he repeatedly goes back to it is because other scholars doubt it. So the circular nature of this reasoning comes across strong.

            He does make a few points. He puts s lot of stock in the fact that the gospels are introduced with phrases like "according to." It seems quite weak. It comes from a failure to understand Christianity. Christians believe that there is one true gospel brought by Jesus. That even accurate eye witness testimony would still be an incomplete representation of that gospel. It is a glimpse into something bigger. Into the biggest thing possible. So when you understand that then all these grand conclusions they draw from this small phrase are more then a stretch. They are making something from nothing.

            The other thing he does is create nothing from something. He dismisses the beloved disciple evidence for not good reason. He dismisses the use of the personal pronoun "we" in Acts the same way. Again he appeals to scholars and does not see the issue of being circular.

            Anyway, the issues of the education of Matthew and John are interesting. They don't make anything impossible. They might have had a more interesting upbringing than we suppose. They also might have educated themselves later because they didn't write right away. It is a bit of an elitist idea that appeals to scholars who look down on anyone who does not have the right degree from the right school.

            Then we have the problems of Matthew copying from Mark. Of course, that is not the only possibility. It is possible both relied on the same oral tradition with Mark checking some details with Peter and Matthew changing things based on his memory as an eye witness.

            Anyway, it gets long and complicated but it seems like it is based on a pattern of ignoring evidence on one side and make minor problems seem huge on the other. It is always possible to do that.

            Still Irenaeus makes no sense just asserting some recent fiction has origins that go back to the time of Christ. Then somehow everyone believes him. Irenaeus was mentored by Polycarp who was mentored by John so he had a very direct oral tradition. Would he have given his approval to documents that were not consistent with that?

          • Valence

            From what I've read, most Bible scholars are Christians so it seems pretty odd to claim Christian Bible scholars are clueless about Christianity.
            Personally I think the best positive evidence for anonymous authorship comes from the very early and important figure, Justin Martyr. He quotes the gospels many times, but always refers to them as memoirs of the apostles, or generic gospels.

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Martyr

            It seems the most parsimonious explanation is that these memoirs were the products of all the apostles, none claiming specific credit. It's also pretty clear that the authors of Matthew and Luke copied Mark or a third source Q. Thus, regardless of authorship, they certainly aren't independent accounts. Anonymity certainly does not mean the accounts are false.

          • Anonymity does not mean they are false. Who wrote them is secondary. The more important thing is when were they written and what were the ties of the authors to the events being related. So Justin Martyr's testimony actually helps. It is early and affirms their apostolic connection. He was an educated convert so he would know all the objections the pagan philosophers would raise.

            Whether you call it Q or oral tradition the gospel stories were almost certainly told at mass for decades before they were collected in what we now call the 4 gospels. The traditional authors were not writing from scratch. They were writing from numerous account that would have come from eye witnesses. Bishops were the successors of the apostles and they decided what could be read at mass as scripture and what could not be.

          • Valence

            I agree with most of what you say here. It seems that many Christians think claiming the gospels were anonymous is an attack on Christianity, but I think that reaction is misplaced.
            Personally I'm not a Christian for philosophical reasons thus gospel authorship is somewhat beside the point, though interesting. I will say that I think Jesus has been largely a positive influence on western culture.

          • Doug Shaver

            Anonymity does not mean they are false.

            It does mean that we don't know who wrote them, and it's hard to judge the credibility of someone if you don't know anything about them. We certainly can't just assume that we should believe whatever they say.

          • Yes, that is why it is good we do know who wrote them. Think about it. Justin Martyr is quoted as the best evidence for anonymity. Yet what does his failure to identify the authors mean? He was an apologist. That means he was primarily talking to non-Christians. It was not like today when even non-believers would recognise the names of the 4 gospels. He wanted to avoid a long digression so he just say the apostles or the gospels. It is not even a minor surprise he did not quote scripture like we do.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, that is why it is good we do know who wrote them.

            You say we know.

          • Valence

            Did you know that even today, Christian read the work of apologists more than non-Christians? The same is true of Justin Martyr's works. Don't you believe that quoting the author of the gospel makes it more authentic to a non-believer? If not, why even care if someone thinks the gospel is anonymous? If you think it is more credible, why didn't Justin? There is a far more pragmatic reason why we name the Gospel we quote from, so someone else can easily go look it up to verify our quote? Surely Justin would have used the name of the gospel for that important reason, if nothing else.

          • Access to books was rare in Justin Martyr's day. Access to scripture even rarer. People today can look up something online or find a bible just about anywhere. That was not true back then. If he would have said John 3:16 it would have just confused people. Partly because chapters and verses didn't exist back then but also because saying "The Gospel of John" would have required a long explanation. It is very understandable that he chose to go with the short version of just explaining that these writings come from the apostles.

          • Valence

            Partly because chapters and verses didn't exist back then but also because saying "The Gospel of John" would have required a long explanation.

            Justin: "Such and such is in the memoirs of the apostles"
            Pagan:"Who are the apostles"
            Justin: "The followers of Jesus Christ"
            Pagan:"Do they have names? Maybe I have heard of some of them"
            Justin:"Absolutely" He lists names
            Pagan: "So which one wrote what you are quoting?"

            You can see that most of the explanation would be in who the apostles were...adding a name would follow naturally from explaining who the apostles are. Hopefully you can see why most Christian scholars believe the best explanation is that Justin is quoted from either unnamed gospels, or a source that no longer exists. You are, of course, entitled to disagree, as I am entitled to think your rationalizations are really terrible :)

          • So if I quote from Romeo an Juliet and don't mention Shakespeare by name then the best explanation for that would be that Romeo and Juliet was written by some anonymous author and only later attributed to Shakespeare? The suggestion that I might have quoted the play and neglected to mention the author's name would be a terrible rationalization? Whatever.

          • Valence

            Everyone knows who wrote Romeo and Juliet and obviously you are quoting the title of the work. If the title of the Gospel of Mark was just that, then he would have every reason to call it that. I would have thought all of this to be quite obvious.

          • Doug Shaver

            Everyone knows who wrote Romeo and Juliet

            Almost everyone. There are dissenters from the conventional attribution. I think a study of that debate can be enlightening for those interested in the issue of gospel authorship.

          • Doug Shaver

            So if I quote from Romeo an Juliet and don't mention Shakespeare by name then the best explanation for that would be that Romeo and Juliet was written by some anonymous author and only later attributed to Shakespeare?

            Maybe, maybe not. It would depend on what you seemed to be trying to prove by quoting whatever you quoted.

          • Lazarus

            Who reads more atheist work? Christians or atheists?

          • Valence

            Atheists. I'm confident this applies to all ideologies. Language barriers have often reinforced this. Historically how many Christian works have been in Hindi, Chinese, or Arabic?

          • Lazarus

            I really have no idea how many such works exist(ed). I would presume a relatively minor percentage.

          • Lazarus

            Edited to remove unnecessary crankiness.

            Maybe "most" Bible scholars are Christian because they study the Bible in depth. Maybe Randy is right and most of them are secular, clueless as to context and application. Pope Benedict certainly believes that Biblical scholarship needs to be revisited, and we have seen several important works in recent years showing a marked return to more traditional approaches to the NT.

            In any event, the so-called "scholarly consensus " in NT studies is often just a vague claim used by apologists on both sides of an argument.

            And how important should "independent accounts" really be, given the development of the early Christian community? If four or forty authors wrote about their experiences, and that community's lived reality, of events spanning years, then surely that process would have its own independence and momentum. Here again much current discussion of the independence of these sources in any event tend to be unaware of work done by people like Richard Bauckham, Pitre and others on the probability of and arguments for parts of the Gospels being eyewitness accounts.

            I like your idea though of the Gospels being a collective product of all the apostles work. The only weakness in that argument would be why we then have four Gospels, and not one or two at most.

          • Valence

            I like your idea though of the Gospels being a collective product of all the apostles work. The only weakness in that argument would be why we then have four Gospels, and not one or two at most.

            Here is a list of entire and partial gospels we've recovered. While some are late enough to be ignored, some are fairly early, often close to when John was believed to have been written:

            Gospel of Thomas – possibly proto-Gnostic; 1st to mid 2nd century; collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, 31 of them with no parallel in the canonical gospels
            Gospel of Marcion – 2nd century; potentially an edited version of the Gospel of Luke or a document which predates Luke (see: Marcionism)
            Gospel of Basilides – composed in Egypt around 120 to 140 AD; thought to be a gnostic gospel harmony of the canonical gospels
            Gospel of Truth (Valentinian) – mid 2nd century; departed from earlier gnostic works by admitting and defending the physicality of Christ and his resurrection.
            Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms – mid 2nd century; thought to be a gnostic cosmology, most likely in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples.
            Gospel of Mary – 2nd century
            Gospel of Judas – 2nd century
            Greek Gospel of the Egyptians – second quarter of the 2nd century
            Gospel of Philip
            Pseudo-Gospel of the Twelve – A Syriac language gospel titled the Gospel of the Twelve. This work is shorter than the regular gospels and seems to be different from the lost Gospel of the Twelve.[1]
            Gospel of Perfection – 4th century; an Ophite poem that is only mentioned once by a single patristic source, Epiphanius[2] and is referred to once in the 6th century Gospel of the Infancy
            The Gospel of the Lots of Mary - 6th century.
            Jewish-Christian gospels[edit]
            Main article: Jewish-Christian gospels
            Gospel of the Hebrews
            Gospel of the Nazarenes
            Gospel of the Ebionites
            Gospel of the Twelve
            Infancy gospels[edit]
            Armenian Infancy Gospel[citation needed]
            Protoevangelium of James
            Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae (Gospel of the Nativity of Mary)
            Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
            History of Joseph the Carpenter
            Infancy Gospel of Thomas
            Latin Infancy Gospel (Arundel 404)[citation needed]
            Syriac Infancy Gospel
            Other gospels[edit]
            Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Coptic collection of 37 oracles; ca. A.D. 500)[3]
            Partially preserved gospels[edit]
            Gospel of Peter
            Fragmentary preserved gospels[α][edit]
            Gospel of Eve – mentioned only once by Epiphanius circa 400, who preserves a single brief passage in quotation.
            Gospel of Mani – 3rd century – attributed to the Persian Mani, the founder of Manichaeism.
            Gospel of the Saviour (also known as the Unknown Berlin gospel) – highly fragmentary 6th-century manuscript based on a late 2nd- or early 3rd-century original. A dialogue rather than a narrative; heavily Gnostic in character in that salvation is dependent upon possessing secret knowledge.
            Coptic Gospel of the Twelve – late 2nd century Coptic language work – although often equated with the Gospel of the Ebionites, it appears to be an attempt to re-tell the Gospel of John in the pattern of the Synoptics; it quotes extensively from John's Gospel.
            Reconstructed gospels[β][edit]
            Secret Gospel of Mark – suspect: the single source mentioning it is considered by many to be a modern forgery, and it disappeared before it could be independently authenticated.
            Gospel of Matthias
            Lost gospels[edit]
            Gospel of Cerinthus – ca. 90–120 AD – according to Epiphanius[4] this is a Jewish gospel identical to the Gospel of the Ebionites and, apparently, a truncated version of Matthew's Gospel according to the Hebrews.
            Gospel of Apelles – mid-to-late 2nd century; a further edited version of Marcion's edited version of Luke.
            Gospel of Valentinus[5]
            Gospel of the Encratites[6]
            Gospel of Andrew – mentioned by only two 5th-century sources (Augustine and Pope Innocent I) who list it as apocryphal.[7]
            Gospel of Barnabas – not to be confused with the 16th century pro-Moslem work of the same name; this work is mentioned only once, in the 5th century Decree of Gelasius which lists it as apocryphal.
            Gospel of Bartholomew – mentioned by only two 5th-century sources which list it as apocryphal.[8]
            Gospel of Hesychius – mentioned only by Jerome and the Decree of Gelasius that list it as apocryphal.[9]
            Gospel of Lucius[9] – mentioned only by Jerome and the Decree of Gelasius that list it as apocryphal.
            Gospel of Merinthus[10] – mentioned only by Epiphanius; probably the Gospel of Cerinthus, and the confusion due to a scribal error.
            An unknown number of other Gnostic gospels not cited by name.[11]
            Gospel of the Adversary of the Law and the Prophets[12]
            Memoirs of the Apostles – Lost narrative of the life of Jesus, mentioned by Justin Martyr. The passages quoted by Justin may have originated from a gospel harmony of the Synoptic Gospels composed by Justin or his school.
            Fragments of possibly unknown or lost (or existing) gospels[α][edit]
            Papyrus Egerton 2 – late 2nd-century manuscript of possibly earlier original; contents parallel John 5:39–47, 10:31–39; Matt 1:40–45, 8:1–4, 22:15–22; Mark 1:40–45, 12:13–17; and Luke 5:12–16, 17:11–14, 20:20–26, but differ textually; also contains incomplete miracle account with no equivalent in canonical Gospels
            Fayyum Fragment – a fragment of about 100 Greek letters in 3rd century script; the text seems to parallel Mark 14:26–31
            Oxyrhynchus Papyri – Fragments #1, 654, & 655 appear to be fragments of Thomas; #210 is related to MT 7:17–19 and LK 6:43–44 but not identical to them; #840 contains a short vignette about Jesus and a Pharisee not found in any known gospel, the source text is probably mid 2nd century; #1224 consists of paraphrases of Mark 2:17 and Luke 9:50
            Gospel of Jesus' Wife – 4th century at the earliest.
            Papyrus Berolinensis 11710 – 6th-century Greek fragment, possibly from an apocrpyhal gospel or amulet based on John.
            Papyrus Cairensis 10735 – 6th–7th century Greek fragment, possibly from a lost gospel, may be a homily or commentary.
            Papyrus Merton 51 – Fragment from apocryphal gospel or a homily on Luke 6:7.
            Strasbourg Fragment – Fragment of a lost gospel, probably related to Acts of John.

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

            Clearly, writing gospels was a common thing Christians did in the early Church.

          • Lazarus

            I'm not sure if we are on the same page here. My point was that if the Gospels were in fact a collaborative effort by the apostles then we should expect only one or two Gospels, not four (or four hundred).

          • Valence

            If we had a collaborative effort like Q or Memoirs that was lost, what we would expect to find is anonymous synthesis based on those memoirs. Where they made it into the canon would depend upon their theological correctness and overall writing quality. Certainly fluent greek writers would be capable of writing a better greek gospel than native hebrew speakers. We would have to trust the greek speakers to get it right, but that isn't a huge leap of faith. If the gospels were individual efforts wouldn't we expect one from each Apostle?

          • Lazarus

            There are various views as to why the Gospels were eventually written down. I'm not sure that twelve (or eleven) rough guys would each have been bothered with writing something down, even if they were still alive at such time.

            The canonization of the Gospels would also not have been a factor in their assessment as that process most probably only started after the last Gospel was written.

          • David Nickol

            There are various views as to why the Gospels were eventually written down.

            I think one thing that is often forgotten in forums like this in discussing the Gospels is that they each have a unique point of view and were written for a specific audience (community). It is not as if the four evangelists thought to themselves, "Somebody better write down all of the things we remember about Jesus, lest they be forgotten. I'll do it myself." Each of the four evangelists has a different "take" on the Jesus story. For example, Mark has Jesus trying to keep his messiahship (and miracles) a secret. John has Jesus openly proclaiming himself the messiah even to the Samaritan woman at the well. These cannot simply be historical or journalistic accounts of "what actually happened." If they were, why would Matthew and Luke omit and change material that was in Mark?

          • Lazarus

            I agree that each author probably had his own agenda, or his own interpretation as to how to reach a real or perceived goal.

            But that does not mean that the Gospels do not reflect, on certain essential elements, a simple consensus. Differences in details do not detract in itself from the veracity of a rendition.

          • David Nickol

            Differences in details do not detract in itself from the veracity of a rendition.

            Well, you won't find me denying that Jesus existed or claiming that his life and teachings are not what inspired the Gospels. However, I do think there are differences in the four Gospels that are not mere "details." One huge difference, as I have noted before, is the way Jesus speaks in the Synoptics and the way he speaks in John.

            A highly recommended book here by those who take a more :conservative" view of the Gospels is Richard Baukham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. A few years ago I read another book by Baukham titled Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. One of the things he says is the following:

            John seems to avail himself of the permission generally allowed ancient historians to put into his own words the sort of things Jesus would have said. So the discourses of Jesus in John are peppered with traditional sayings on which John has expanded with his own reflective interpretation. The more interpretative nature of John's Gospel makes it appropriate, on occasion, to treat this Gospel's handling of a topic separately from that of the Synoptics.

            This is Richard Baukham, not Bart Ehrman. I would hazard a guess that you are not particularly troubled by this point of view, but I am wondering how Randy Gritter and other more "conservative" Bible believers feel about it.

          • Lazarus

            I love that book, I read it last year.
            I am comfortable with his speculation, even though I don't believe he gets John right.

          • David Nickol

            I am comfortable with his speculation, even though I don't believe he gets John right.

            I would say that what you call "his speculation" is basically considered a fact by contemporary biblical scholars.

            Could you explain what you mean by him not getting John right? Do you believe the discourses in John are faithful reports of things Jesus said?

            P.S. I think it was a very good book, too.

          • Lazarus

            I think, based on quite a few authors and opinions that I respect, that the interpretation of gJohn as pious fantasy, creative storytelling and so on is unfounded. We must remember that John says very specifically things like :

            "He who saw it has borne witness his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth that you also may believe. (John 19:35)"

            Bauckham does not go far enough, in my view, to see John as containing some very real, actual historical events (see eg Hutchinson). It's really a question of degree, I would say.

            I grew up with an understanding that the Synoptics were "real history" but that John was more interpretive, less "real". I'm not so sure of that anymore.

          • Valence

            Edited to remove unnecessary crankiness.

            I'm trying to imagine what I would have said to make you cranky. Am I inadvertently offending you with this conversation? That certainly isn't my intention.

          • Lazarus

            Not at all. I was doing ten things at the same time and posted something that could very well have been seen as crankiness. I enjoy our discussions.

          • Doug Shaver

            Liberal scholars quotin each other does not count.

            How about conservative scholars? Should I trust them when they quote each other?

          • Absolutely. Agreement is good but agreement from within the person's own school of thought is weak support unless you happen to think that whole group is typically right about things. If you think that then you should ask why you think that but that is a deeper question.

          • Doug Shaver

            That’s an interesting position. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone state it so forthrightly until now. For the moment, rather than critique it, I’ll just state my own position.

            If there is an issue I’m interested in, then it is my epistemic responsibility to conform my thinking to whatever pertinent evidence is available. However, my ability to examine that evidence firsthand will likely be constrained by time and other resources at my disposal. I will thus be dependent on what has been reported by people who did have the necessary resources to examine the evidence firsthand. But then I have a problem if I become aware that those people—let’s call them “experts” just for the sake of convenience—don’t agree among themselves on what the evidence actually proves.

            It is not a problem without solutions, though. One option I could take would be to simply suspend my own judgment. In other words, I can say, “Since the experts don’t agree, I’m not entitled to have any opinion of my own.” Another is the one you seem to be suggesting. That is to observe that one group of experts seems more sympathetic than the other to my overall worldview and so accept their judgment about the issue in question.

            I think a third option is best if I am to have the best possible justification for whatever conclusion I reach, and that is to carefully study the arguments used by each side in the debate. I will likely discover that one side is assuming certain facts that are (a) not actually in the evidence itself and (b) also not in the background knowledge shared by all participants in the debate. If so, then I can probably infer that the other side has the more cogent argument for its conclusion.

          • I do think the 3rd option is relevant in my case. The one group does assume nothing supernatural occurred. That is not only not in evidence but is really precisely the issue in question. So I take them as advocates for that side. Like a defence lawyer only argues facts that point his clients innocence. He is interesting to listen to even if I think his guy did it. The fact that a good defence is made is what makes one sure the guy is guilty. The fact that so many smart people are trying to make the anti-supernatural thing work just makes me more sure it fails.

          • Doug Shaver

            The one group does assume nothing supernatural occurred. That is not only not in evidence but is really precisely the issue in question.

            If the issue whether we know who wrote the gospels, I fail to see how the possibility of supernatural occurrences is even relevant.

          • Sure it is. If you say Matthew wrote Matthew as the evidence shows then you either have to say the miracles and statements of Jesus are accurate or you have to say Matthew is a very strange character. So it helps to remove the author from the events. That is no evidence for that. It is necessary to avoid saying Jesus did miracles, Jesus accurately predicted a number of events and, most of all, Jesus rose from the dead.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you say Matthew wrote Matthew as the evidence shows then you either have to say the miracles and statements of Jesus are accurate or you have to say Matthew is a very strange character.

            You might think it very strange if someone's disciple said something about him that wasn't true. I don't. I would think it a very ordinary sort of thing to happen.

          • It is not a matter of disagreeing with something in the gospels. It is a matter of disagreeing with everything. There are so many miracle stories that if you don't want to believe in miracles the gospels are a problem. If you don't want to believe Jesus spoke and acted in the person of God you have a problem. If you don't want to believe Jesus rose from the dead you have a problem. You have to explain why many people close to Jesus not only believed these thing happened but believed they saw them with their own eyes.

            It becomes a liar, lunatic, legit trilemma. They don't want to say Matthew is lying. They don't want to say he is crazy. They don't want to say he got Jesus right. So what is left? They talk around in circles and toss out strange theories. Then somehow, some way the church acquired the idea Matthew wrote it and God inspired it. Nothing indicates that except you personal unwillingness to believe the natural interpretation of the evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            There are so many miracle stories that if you don't want to believe in miracles the gospels are a problem.

            Suppose I do have that problem? How does it compel me to deny that we know who wrote those stories?

            You have to explain why many people close to Jesus not only believed these thing happened but believed they saw them with their own eyes.

            All I need to explain is how somebody came to write a book claiming that many people believed those things because they saw them with their own eyes. It would be trivially easy for me to do that even if I were convinced that the author was one of Jesus' disciples.

          • I guess if you choose to just ingot the evidence that would be trivially easy. I give the scholars credit in that they don't find ignoring such eye witness testimony easy. Much of what we accept as historical fact would go away if can't accept this kind of written evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            Whether I am ignoring any real evidence or not has nothing to do with whether I believe in miracles.

          • Lazarus

            How does that work? Ignoring "any real evidence" could very well have a huge impact on whether you believe in miracles or not.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ignoring "any real evidence" could very well have a huge impact on whether you believe in miracles or not.

            I'm sorry I wasn't clearer. I was referring in particular to evidence relevant to determining authorship of a certain book. Since I would not need to believe in anything supernatural in order to believe that one of Jesus' disciples wrote a book about him, any prejudice I could possibly have about miracles is just beside the point if gospel authorship is the subject of our conversation.

          • Lazarus

            Ok, understood thanks.

          • Doug Shaver

            Like a defence lawyer only argues facts that point his clients innocence. He is interesting to listen to even if I think his guy did it. The fact that a good defence is made is what makes one sure the guy is guilty.

            One would hope for the defendant's sake that the jurors didn't all have your mindset.

          • Lazarus

            Yes, I missed Doug's requirement of Paul's own writing.

            i will deal with that in his post.

          • Rob Abney

            How would you have preferred for this subject to be taught to the young David Nickol? Should it be taught as one part of a much larger story or reduced to the study of the writings of one man (Luke)? A Catholic school education most likely was intended to teach the much larger story.

          • David Nickol

            My laments about my Catholic education are not prompted by a belief that, in attempting to teach young people complex truths, the educators of the time oversimplified to the point where, as my generation grew up, we felt disillusioned. To the contrary, they taught us precisely what they believed to be true in the 1950s. It would never have occurred to the nuns who taught me in elementary school (and perhaps not even to the brothers who taught me in high school) that Luke's account in Acts of Paul's description of his conversion was a Lukan composition or that the Magnificat or the opening of the Gospel of John were early Christian hymns. Also, I don't know how well versed in Church history my teachers were, but from what they taught us, we got the impression that from the dawn of Christianity, there were priests to hear confessions, perform marriages, say mass, and so on.

            Regarding the Bible, I just took another look at Dei Verbum, and progressive as it was for 1965, it still strikes me as far too conservative. For those of us who read modern biblical scholarship, including the work of the most prominent Catholic scholars, it is extremely difficult to reconcile it with Dei Verbum (even though it was a compromise document that has deliberate ambiguities).

          • Rob Abney

            we got the impression that from the dawn of Christianity, there were priests to hear confessions, perform marriages, say mass, and so on.

            Is this the type of teaching you received?
            "According to the Council of Trent, the consensus of all the Fathers always understood that by the words of Christ just cited, the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and their lawful successors (Sess. XIV, c. i). It is therefore Catholic doctrine that the Church from the earliest times believed in the power to forgive sins as granted by Christ to the Apostles. Such a belief in fact was clearly inculcated by the words with which Christ granted the power, and it would have been inexplicable to the early Christians if any one who professed faith in Christ had questioned the existence of that power in the Church. But if, contrariwise, we suppose that no such belief existed from the beginning, we encounter a still greater difficulty: the first mention of that power would have been regarded as an innovation both needless and intolerable; it would have shown little practical wisdom on the part of those who were endeavoring to draw men to Christ; and it would have raised a protest or led to a schism which would certainly have gone on record as plainly at least as did early divisions on matters of less importance. Yet no such record is found; even those who sought to limit the power itself presupposed its existence, and their very attempt at limitation put them in opposition to the prevalent Catholic belief." Pius X in the Decree "Lamentabili sane" (July 3, 1907)

          • David Nickol

            What am I supposed to make of the above? It is not a quote from Lamentabile Sane by Pius X. It is a quote from the old online Catholic Encyclopedia (published 1907-1912). Lamentabile Sane is otherwise known as the "Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists."

          • Rob Abney

            At what point did priests start hearing confessions if not at the dawn of Christianity?

          • David Nickol

            The 11th century.

          • Rob Abney

            Can you provide a reference?

          • Valence

            The wiki article isn't bad

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacrament_of_Penance

            The protestant Church I attended in youth went with public confession, or to an individual if that was most appropriate. Obviously there was always confession directly to God. Even if God does not exist these seem to be beneficial practices, especially forgiving people who have wronged you.

          • Valence

            If you don't like writing, the catechism discusses the evolution of the practice in paragraph 1447
            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm

          • David Nickol

            Here's an excerpt from a Catholic website that gives a very brief history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

            The first thing to know is that the early church didn’t have any kind of ritual celebration that we would recognize as reconciliation. Baptism washed away all sin, and that was at first thought to be sufficient to reconcile people to Christ. It didn’t take too long to see the problem here, however.

            Not everyone who was baptized stuck to their baptismal promises with equal zeal. In the case of serious offences (for example, adultery, murder, or apostasy), the offender would be kicked out or “excommunicated.” It was a simple solution. If you cannot keep your commitment to Christ, you cannot share in the eucharistic fellowship.

            However, imagine you are an early century bishop. You have tossed out an apostate because he denied Christ. A few months later, the guy goes all “Prodigal Son” on you and asks to be readmitted to the church. What do you do?

            Second Baptism

            Sure, today, the answer seems obvious. But at the time it was a real crisis for the church. Some thought the sinners should be permanently excluded (e.g. Heb 6:4-8). Others argued they should be re-baptized. The eventual solution was to impose a penitential practice that was very similar to the catechumenate.

            This practice was called a “second baptism,” not because the penitents were actually re-baptized, but because they were given a second chance to live up to the baptism they had already celebrated. The disciplines were very severe, and it was a one-time-only option. If a penitent sinned gravely again, there was no provision for him or her to return a second time. Only those guilty of capital sins were required to undergo this serious form of penance. As an ordinary practice, majority of the faithful engaged in daily, informal penance through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

            Private confession

            That worked for a while. But in the fourth century, the emperor of Rome converted to Christ, and the church went viral. Now the church was dealing with huge numbers of people who were signing up more out of allegiance to the emperor than allegiance to Christ. As a result, most people remained catechumens so that they wouldn’t have to undergo the severe penitential process after baptism if they happened to fall into serious sin. Saint Augustine was one of those lifetime catechumens until he had a true conversion later in life.

            Around the seventh century, the monks of Ireland came up with a more pastoral process. Rather than making reconciliation a public, arduous, once-in-a-lifetime process, they began a practice of having the younger monks and the lay people they met with engage in a private, repeatable process of confessing one’s sins to a monk and then performing a penitential act that was considered appropriate to the level of sin that had been confessed. This was the precursor to our modern practice of the sacrament of reconciliation.

            Notice the 7th-century practice here is described as a precursor to what we call Confession. The Wikipedia entry for Sacrament of Penance says: "Beginnings of practising the sacrament of penance in the form of individual confession as we know it now, i.e. bringing confession of sins and reconciliation together, can be traced back to 11th century."

          • Rob Abney

            The practice of how penance was prescribed has changed but priests have been hearing confessions from early Christianity.
            When do you say that priests saying Mass began?

          • David Nickol

            The practice of how penance was prescribed has changed but priests have been hearing confessions from early Christianity.

            Perhaps I should have made my original statement clearer. I said the following: "Also, I don't know how well versed in Church history my teachers were,
            but from what they taught us, we got the impression that from the dawn
            of Christianity, there were priests to hear confessions, perform
            marriages, say mass, and so on."

            What I mean was we got the impression that the mass and the sacraments were virtually unchanged since the time of Jesus. We got the impression that from the first (or perhaps second) generation of Christians, priests set up hours for parishioners to come in, make their confessions, get a penance (something like five "Mail Mary's" and five "Our Father's), and be given absolution. We got the impression that if the earliest Christians wanted to get married, they went before their parish priest and he married them in a Catholic wedding. We got the impression that if we went back to the earliest Church, we could attend mass and receive communion in the form of communion wafers.

            When do you say that priests saying Mass began?

            It depends on what you mean by "priests" and by "mass." If you are going to say that the Apostles and early Bishops were "priests," and that any eucharistic celebration was "mass," then of course "mass" was said by "priests" in the earliest Church. (Did you know, by the way, that the first actual church was not built until the early fourth century?)

            But there is something strange going on here. You are the believing Catholic, and I am the Catholic-educated but skeptical agnostic. Yet I am the one providing the detailed information about Church history. Here's a challenge for you. Tell me about marriage in the early Church. When did priests start performing marriages? When was marriage declared a sacrament?

          • Rob Abney

            I appreciate your responses. I was questioning you because it seemed you were saying that you were taught incorrect information, but it is understandable that in your youth you didn't understand the same as you do now, and weren't expected to.

            I've just read The Bones of St. Peter, (spoiler alert) the researchers concluded that the area near his tomb (which is now three levels below the current altar in St Peter's Basilica) should be considered the first church as well as the first cathedral based on the liturgical uses of it.

            Regarding matrimony,
            Here is a section from St John Paul 2 about marriage in the early church: In a deservedly famous page, Tertullian has well expressed the greatness of this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty: "How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? ...How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.
            And wikipedia quotes him also: Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) noted as early as the second century that Christians were "requesting marriage" from their priests, and was satisfied ("Ad Uxorem") how a priestly blessing could transform a sinful act into a sanctified one; provided it was sanctified in moderation and only if children might be born of it.

            The Church declared marriage a sacrament at a council which indicates to Catholics that it was always a sacrament, not that it became one when it was declared.

          • David Nickol

            I was questioning you because it seemed you were saying that you were taught incorrect information, but it is understandable that in your youth you didn't understand the same as you do now, and weren't expected
            to.

            I have tried to make this clear, but apparently have failed so far. I am not complaining because my Catholic education in the early grades consisted of "age-appropriate" simplifications which would be deepened and expanded on as I matured. I did, after all, go to Catholic high school and receive what was then a very fine Catholic education. I think I was taught things throughout my Catholic education that I can no longer believe as an adult but which many adults here seem more than willing to defend as true. There are, of course, more "liberal" Catholics (especially since Vatican II) who attempt to take the "old time religion" and reinterpret it in ways that are more acceptable to contemporary, well educated adults. One example is Pope Benedict's thoughts on Original Sin, which amusingly, I can always locate by doing a Google search on "benedict original sin heresy." But it seems to me the charges from the extreme right are quite understandable, because I don't see how to reconcile Benedict's thoughts on this matter with what I was taught in school or what I read now in the Catechism.

          • Rob Abney

            I am interested in hearing your definition of liberal vs conservative Catholics; I don't consider the writers at Novus Order to be conservative, instead they clearly reject the authority of the Church.
            I haven't read the article yet though so am not sure where your disagreement is with what you were taught. But the issues you listed previously seemed to demonstrate that the nuns' teachings were more correct than incorrect.

          • Rob Abney

            The nuns must have used Wikipedia, "testimonies of the early Church show that in most cases offences were known to the priest alone. When a penitent did publicly confess his/her sins, decision to do it was always by the private initiative of the person, a free act of Christian faith for spiritual motives. The public character of early penance should be understood as prayerful participation and support given by the community to a sinner, and not as public humiliation" Thanks Valence.

          • Valence

            Note that the fact that priests often kept offenses private doesn't mean confession existed then like it does now. From the beginning, that was the point David seemed to be trying to make, though I agree that the difference isn't radical, depending on your perspective. To quote the relevant catechism, not that it specifically says "new practice" clearly indicating it didn't exist before. I'd regard it as an improvement for most cases and it helps prevent a sort of mob justice that could occur with public confession.

            1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this "order of penitents" (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the "private" practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.

        • Valence

          Mary. A simple question for you. Who was the last person to see Jesus Christ alive?

          Paul says it was Cephas 1 Cor 15

          3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.[d] 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

          Matthew says it was the women (not just Mary). What does Luke say

          2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e]
          The Walk to Emmaus
          13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,6 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[g] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

          So here we have Cleopas. Who saw Jesus first? Why believe Matthew over Luke and Paul? Remember the original ending to Mark as well:

          7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[a]

          Not only did they not see Jesus, but they never said anything to anyone about what they saw. It seems every "witness" contradicts each other about what happened.

        • Valence

          Who was the last person to see Jesus Christ alive?

          Sorry, forgot to answer this. Assuming you mean before his death, it would likely be quite a few people...everyone present at the crucifixion.